§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Hesketh.)
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly at this moment to explain why it is not my intention to move three amendments that are on the Marshalled List. I am advised that this is the right moment to make the intervention. If I were to intervene when the amendments were called I should be out of order in giving an explanation and then not moving them. Since there is a Motion before your Lordships' House, I am allowed to speak now.
I refer to Amendments Nos. 376C, 376D and 377CA. I put them on the Marshalled List two days ago. I allowed them to remain there because I thought it proper that noble Lords should see their import. However, since it was agreed at an earlier stage of the Committee that I would have the opportunity to discuss with the Minister another group of amendments relating to freedom of information, and since they fall within that category, I hope that the matter can be determined by discussion before Report stage. Therefore it is not my intention to move those amendments today.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]2267
§ Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 376A:
§ Before Clause 133, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Amendment of hazardous substances legislation
. Schedule (amendments of hazardous substances legislation) to this Act (which contains miscellaneous amendments to the legislation relating to hazardous substances) shall have effect.")
§ The noble Lord said: I propose to speak also to Amendments Nos. 379B, 390A and 402A. Government Amendments Nos. 376A and 379B are to rectify shortcomings in the legislation controlling the location of hazardous substances in England, Wales and Scotland. They will enable this important new control system, which is not yet in force, to be introduced on a much more satisfactory basis than would be possible under existing provisions. The new clause to be inserted before Clause 133 gives effect to a new two-part schedule. Part I amends the hazardous substances legislation applying to England and Wales. Part II similarly amends the equivalent legislation applying to Scotland. The repeals to be added to Schedule 14 are linked to these amendments.
§ The legislation concerns the storage and use of substances which could present major hazards to people in the surrounding area. Hazardous substances consent will be required where named substances are present at or above specified amounts. There are transitional provisions designed to give existing users of hazardous substances an entitlement to a deemed consent in respect of their existing operations. The intention was that these deemed consents would relate to the situation in the 12-month period preceding the introduction of the new controls.
§ After considering representations from industry, we have concluded that the standard conditions which would attach to all these deemed consents under the existing legislation are effectively unworkable. They would mean that a substance would have to be kept and used in the same place and manner as it was immediately before the new controls came into force. This would contradict the objective of basing deemed consents on activity in the whole of the 12 months prior to the commencement date. Indeed, a substance used regularly during these 12 months may not even be present immediately before the commencment date. Therefore, paragraph 4 of Part I of the new schedule deletes the two offending conditions and enables revised conditions to be prescribed in regulations.
§ This is the most crucial defect. But there are other shortcomings in the legislation which we should like to remedy. These concern the position of statutory undertakers, arrangements for charging fees for applications, and technical points relating to conditions and compensation. Similar amendments are made in Part II to the equivalent Scottish provisions. Our consequential Amendment No. 402A has been replaced by Amendment No. 403A.I beg to move.
The Earl of Balfour
I regret to say that I am not fully up to date with town and country planning legislation. After looking at pages 10 and 11 of the Marshalled List can my noble friend say which Act inserted Sections 56B to 56G in the Town and 2268 Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1972? When one is carrying out research into the Government's plans it helps to know where legislation comes from.
§ Lord Hesketh
On this rare occasion I must write to my noble friend to give him a concise and accurate answer.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Heskethmoved Amendment No. 376B:
Before Clause 133, insert the following new clause:
("Public registers of land which may be contaminated
contaminative use" means any use of land which may cause it to be contaminated with noxious substances;
land subject to contamination" means land which is being or has been put to a contaminative use;
local authority" means —
substance" means any natural or artificial substance, whether in solid or liquid form or in the form of a gas or vapour.").
§ The noble Lord said: The new clause deals with the serious and difficult problems of contaminated land. Contamination of land can come in a wide range of forms indicative of this country's long industrial history. It cannot be the subject of a single definition but, where it is found to exist, there is a need to make working assessments of the hazards that may be involved and to consider suitable remedial and protective action at specific sites, particularly when changes of land use are proposed.
§ Such action needs to be based upon the best possible information and knowledge. We provide technical guidance for dealing with contamination. But an essential element in any policies must be to consider ways of gathering information and to see how this might most usefully be supplied for public use. This has been a vexed question for some time. Any attempt to compile information can begin to 2269 involve the compiler in making judgments on the condition of land which might affect its value. This difficulty of blight on prospective sale or development requires careful consideration. Information needs to be available to landowners and to regulating authorities where there are genuine problems concerning safety and environmental hazard. But we have to find a basis for alerting those concerned to the need for further assessment so that the dangers are properly understood and remedied or fears about contamination are refuted on valid grounds.
§ As a result of our own pilot studies and several pilot registers by local authorities we have concluded that suitable registers can be compiled from desk studies of historic land-uses from which the potential for contamination might be inferred and further investigated where necessary, but without placing onerous responsibilities of judgment on those compiling the registers.
§ Consequently we have decided to introduce a statutory responsibility upon local authorities to compile and maintain registers of potentially contaminating land uses. We consider that the most appropriate level of local government for doing this is the district council in England and Wales; that is the level at which local environmental monitoring is undertaken and at which local planning decisions are taken. In doing so we are acting in accord with a recently published report by the Association of District Councils which recommended that district councils should have powers to survey and register contaminated land. As regards Scotland, we see planning authorities as the equivalent level.
§ The particular land uses to be plotted and the form of the register will be specified in subsequent regulations on which there will be the fullest possible consultation. We shall be publishing the report of the Cheshire study later this month to show the kind of methods that are likely to be needed. Some further research and studies might be required to verify the full range of land-uses involved and to produce profiles of suspected contaminants. But we intend to work closely with the local authority associations in deciding on the form and content of the proposed registers.
§ An important feature of the proposed system will be public accessibility of the registers. We shall also need to consider how far, and in what way, owners of sites on the registers should be specifically informed. The proposed new clause makes provision for free access by members of the public and also provides for regulations to set out measures for informing those whose land is directly affected.
§ This may sound an extremely onerous set of tasks for local authorities. In fact, it has been our experience from the various studies and pilot local authority exercises that such registers can be set up and maintained with minimal demands on resources, using those staff already engaged in such activities for planning or environmental purposes. So I commend the clause to the House. I beg to move2270
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
As a result of the publicity it is no surprise that the Government have recognised the fact that there is a major problem as regards contaminated land in this country. It is sad that the recognition of that contamination has not been matched by an adequate response. The Minister in charge of the Bill on Third Reading in another place gave a commitment that the Government would table the amendments now before us. However, he gave a commitment to stronger amendments. The present amendments are unsatisfactory in a number of ways.
The Minister in another place said that the registers would provide a way of alerting interested parties to the potential for contamination so that where necessary site surveys could be undertaken. In introducing the amendment today the noble Lord did not deal with the problem of alerting interested parties. In response to the problem of blight he merely said that it deserves careful consideration. That is no answer to the problem.
The Minister in another place referred to the need for site surveys. However, the amendment contains no such provision; there is no funding for site surveys. I do not dispute that the correct level of responsibility for registers of contaminated land is the district council. However, if the district councils are to be responsible for registers of contaminated land there must be some consistency of definition but not a single definition, as the noble Lord said. There must be a consistent definition across the country, otherwise those responsible for dealing with contaminated land will not know what to do.
There is no provision for site surveys; there is no provision for adequate verification; and, above all, there is no funding for the clean-up cost. It is not the cost of maintaining the registers that is the problem, as the Minister suggested, but it is the clean-up cost. That provision is missing from the amendment. We have not been able to deal with the matter in a future amendment and shall return to it at a later stage.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 376C and 376D not moved.]
§ Clause 133 [Deposits of substances and articles in the sea, etc.]:
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 376E:
Page 133, line 20, at end insert:
("(1A) Before section 5, the following section shall be inserted—
Restriction on issue of licences for depositing or incineration at sea.
4.—(1) This Part shall have effect subject to the requirements of this section.
§ The noble Lord said: It is for the convenience of the Committee that I speak also to Amendment No. 377 standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Again, the Government have woken up to the issue of the disposal of waste at sea. At the North Sea Conference in March 1990 the Government made welcome statements about their long-term intentions in dealing with the major problem. I remind Members of the Committee that the Government stated that we would cease to dump sewage sludge at sea by 1998; we would end the dumping at sea of liquid industrial waste by 1992; and that we would phase out marine incineration of UK waste by the end of 1990.
§ It is one thing to recognise the problem and I congratulate the Government for doing so. However, what is not clear is the action that they propose to take in the interval between now and the deadlines that they have set, in particular the deadline for the dumping of sewage sludge at sea. If we are to meet the deadline of 1998 there must be a progressive decline in the incidence of dumping at sea. If we are serious about the deadline we must prepare now for the substantial investment which will be involved in developing other means for disposing of sewage sludge. At present we dispose of 10 million tonnes of sewage sludge per year. The equivalent dealt with by land disposal would require 10 incinerators costing possibly £200 million capital with continuing running costs of £50 million per year. Where will those incinerators be sited? How will they receive planning permission? Will it be the responsibility of individual water and sewage authorities to find locations or will the Government help?
§ What sort of programme do the Government have to ensure that there is progressive movement towards eliminating sewage sludge dumping at sea by 1998? We suggest to the Committee through this amendment that there should be a predisposition in favour of land-based disposal at sea from today's date rather than from 1998. We suggest that unless there is that predisposition in favour of land-based disposal, the Government will not achieve their deadlines.
§ We do not propose to divide the Committee on this amendment. However, as a result of tabling it we wish to hear the Government's detailed and urgent proposals to achieve the deadlines which they set themselves at the North Sea Conference in March of this year. I beg to move.
§ Lord Addington
I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and speak also to my Amendment No. 377. This amendment would effectively require the pre-treatment of substances before they are dumped at sea, which would thus minimise their damaging effect upon the environment. I suggest that the Government should give very serious consideration to all the issues raised here as there is little point in trying to clean the beaches if various obnoxious substances are being washed on to them.
Lord Campbell of Croy
The Committee will recall that I have tabled Questions and taken part in 2272 debates over the past two years on the subject of dumping at sea. I was glad to congratulate the Government when they were able to announce at the time of the conference that they were making a great step forward. Whether they can go as far as this amendment and whether it is practical to do so I shall be interested to hear.
I should like to point out that there seems to be a misprint in subsection (3). Surely the word "it" should appear before the word "appears", or else "appears" should not have a "s" on the end.
I should like to mention incineration at sea. I am glad to see that the word "at" is in the amendment because incineration at sea does not necessarily mean that anything goes into the sea. In most good incinerations the residue, which is quite small, can be brought back to land and disposed of entirely safely.
Expert environmentalists have stated that incineration at sea is very often the best and most effective way of dealing with some wastes because if there is incineration on land, the people living in the area may not be subject to any danger but they may be subject to some very bad smells. Provided that what is going into the atmosphere is not polluting it, carrying out that process 100 miles away from land may be the better course.
I have only one question for my noble friend. Today we have started to deal with Part VIII of the Bill and I note that the words "member state" appear. That is in Clause 132. I have looked at the definition. There are many definitions for each clause but I cannot see to what "member state" refers; whether it is automatically a member state of the EC or some other organisation. That does not seem to be mentioned. I do not expect an answer straight away but at some time during the debate on Part VIII today it would be helpful to be told why "member state" appears on its own without any indication of the organisation to which it refers.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)
The points raised by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, are already covered appropriately by the FEPA licensing system, which requires the licensing authority to have regard to the need to protect the marine environment and to the practical availability of alternative ways of dealing with the substances to be disposed of.
Those provisions fulfil our obligations under the relevant international treaties—the London Dumping Convention and the Oslo Convention —and have been proved to be effective in practice. The number of licences issued for dumping at sea has been drastically reduced over the years because suitable land-based alternative means of disposal have been developed.
Furthermore the Government have been able earlier this year to set termination dates for the sea dumping of liquid industrial waste, flyash, sewage sludge and marine incineration because of the considerable efforts which have been put into the development of safe alternative disposal methods.
2273 In answer to the query of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, about the deadline of 1998, water companies are drawing up programmes to be ready by the end of 1990. Planning requirements will take time; for example, as regards the location of incinerators. Amounts of sludge dumped will be reduced before 1998 as and when environmentally sound land-based alternatives can be put in place. Our achievements in respect of finding safe alternative disposal methods were endorsed by the North Sea Conference in March of this year and at last month's meeting of the Oslo Commission. Other countries made a point of congratulating the UK on those achievements.
As regards the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, the Government see two problems with it. First, by referring to the reduction of polluting effects it implies that a licence might be given where harm might be caused to the marine environment. I should like to make it quite clear that we will not permit the dumping of waste at sea if there is a risk of this causing pollution. We would not wish to water down chat position by agreeing to issue a licence if best available technology not entailing excessive cost (BATNEEC) had been used because pollution might still be caused.
Secondly, the amendment implies that BATNEEC can be generally used on the types of waste licensed. The Government are terminating licences for industrial wastes, sewage sludge and incineration at sea. The main category of dumping which we expect to continue to licence will be spoil dredged from harbours and navigation channels. There is no treatment which could practically be applied to the huge quantities of spoil which must be removed to keep open our ports.
The Government consider BATNEEC to be a powerful tool in the control of waste disposal. However in the particular context of dumping at sea it is not practicable to require it and it would weaken rather than strengthen our control system. I would therefore hope that both noble Lords will withdraw their amendments.
Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy that my noble friend Lord Hesketh is in charge of this Bill and I should hate to interfere with him.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I know that the noble Baroness achieved a friendly response with that last remark, However, government is a seamless robe. Whoever is the spokesman on the Front Bench is responsible for answering for the Government and the noble Lord raised an important constitutional point which should not be ignored. If an answer is required, as I believe it is, it should come from whichever Minister is standing at the Dispatch Box.
Lord Campbell of Croy
I said that I expected an answer at some time during today's Committee stage because it was rather a fast ball. However, it is a rather important point.
§ Baroness Trumpington
Perhaps I may reply not only to my noble friend but also to the rather terse remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. The phrase "member state" is not defined 2274 in Clause 132 as it is defined elsewhere. I believe that it is defined in the European Communities Act 1972. Clause 132 has already been discussed since Clauses 130 and 132 were tacked on to the debate on Part II.
Lord Campbell of Croy
I thank my noble friend for producing that answer so quickly, particularly as she is dealing only with a specific section of the Bill. It makes clear what I guessed might be the case, "member state" refers to EC membership, and other member states of the EC. However, that is not stated in the Bill.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am grateful that my terse intervention, in the sense that I prefer to use the word, gave the Minister the chance to reply to the question immediately.
The reply given to the substantive amendment before us was interesting. The Minister congratulates the Government on having received the congratulations of other members of the North Sea Conference. I suspect that those congratulations come from other members not because of anything outstanding that we were doing, but because we were so terrible before that any improvement we make is a matter for congratulation. After all, we are the only country to be dumping waste into the North Sea on a significant scale, and it is only the pressure which led to our commitments at the North Sea Conference which led to these improvements. It does not mean that we are doing well; it means that we are not doing as badly as we were before.
Some of the answers given by the Minister deserve careful consideration. I shall certainly not pursue the amendment; but I do not think the Minister paid any attention to the issue of the cost of the incinerators that will be required. There will have to be substantial investment in addition to the planning preparation to which she referred. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 377 to 377CA not moved.] Clause 133 agreed to.
§ 4 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington) moved Amendment No. 377D:
After Clause 133, insert the following new clause:
("Public registers relating to deposits in the sea and incineration at sea
In Part II of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, for section 14 (registers of licences) there shall be substituted the following section —
"Duty of licensing authority to keep public registers of information
14. —(1) It shall be the duty of each licensing authority, as respects licences for which it is the licensing authority, to maintain, in accordance with regulations, a register containing prescribed particulars of or relating to —
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 377D, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 383BA, 398A and 402ZA. Amendment No. 377D is a technical amendment. Its purpose is to keep the provisions for public registers of information on the dumping of waste at sea, already in existence under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, in line with similar provisions for registers contained in Part I of the Bill. I apologise to your Lordships for its late arrival.
§ Amendments Nos. 383BA, 398A and 402ZA are consequential amendments following the introduction of the new clause. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 378 not moved.]
§ Clause 134 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 379 not moved.]
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 379A:
§ After Clause 134, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Dog Registration
. —(1) For the purpose of protecting the environment, the Secretary of State shall by order, in accordance with subsections (5) and (6) below, make provision for a scheme for the registration, identification and control of dogs.
(2) In making an order the Secretary of State shall provide, inter alia, for the scheme to be administered by local authorities, and for the fixing of registration fees, including such variations as may be prescribed, to be paid by the owners, or keepers of dogs to the relevant authorities.
An owner or keeper of a dog who fails to register it or to ensure that it can be identified in accordance with regulations made under a scheme in accordance with this section shall be
guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.
(4) In performing their duties under this section, local authorities may enter such agreements with any person as may in their opinion facilitate the registration and identification of dogs.
(5) The Secretary of State shall not later than 12 months from the passing of this Act lay an order under this section before Parliament for approval in accordance with subsection (6) below.
(6) Any order made under this section shall be exercisable by statutory instrument and no order shall be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.
(7) In this section "local authority", means in England and Wales a District Council, a London Borough Council or the Common Council, and in Scotland means a District or Island Council.").
§ The noble Lord said: I should like to thank all noble Lords and the usual channels for ensuring that the debate on this amendment takes place at a reasonable hour of the day instead of the usual time of one o'clock in the morning.
§ I am sure that no Member of the Committee will be misled by the media which suggest that this amendment is a great constitutional or party matter. It is not. It deals with the method of controlling our dogs. As for being a party matter, a similar amendment was defeated in another place by only 12 votes. Moreover, the Government are very anxious about the problem. Accordingly, last week they issued a consultative paper describing their preferred method. I say "preferred" because my honourable friend Mr. Heathcote-Amory indicated on Sunday that if the Committee decides that this amendment is a better way forward, then the Government will accept the Committee's decision.
§ Once again it is open to your Lordships to decide, without any political pressure, which way to vote. Should the Committee approve the amendment, it would be up to the Commons to give it its blessing. If it did so, there would be a period of one year before the Secretary of State would have to lay before Parliament an affirmative order giving precise details of the dog scheme. I purposely say "dog scheme" because although registration is an essential part of it, it is only a means to an end. That end is sound dog management.
§ During the year the Secretary of State will have to discuss the details of the scheme with all interested parties. However, I would be more than usually naive if I thought that the Chamber would let me get away without saying how some of the detailed problems concerning dogs could be tackled if the amendment were accepted.
§ The scheme could, and almost certainly would, provide compulsory third party insurance. The Government scheme does not do so. There would be opportunities for the private sector to operate the scheme by agreement with the local authority. It could provide for reduced fees for deserving cases; for instance, a reduction could be given for neutered or spayed dogs, guide dogs for the blind and indeed block registration for groups of dogs. Perhaps I may refer to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Mancroft on this matter. I hope I can put his mind at rest on this point by saying that I shall certainly 2277 not oppose his amendment to my amendment if he chooses to move it.
§ The Government scheme does not tackle those problems, particularly neutering. The proposed scheme would remind the purchaser of the puppy that dogs cost money; that they take time, effort and care to keep. The Government scheme does not do that. The scheme will only create one new offence —that of failing to register. The Government scheme suggests creating many new offences, including having a dog out of control or persistently at large. I wonder how many of your Lordships' dogs —I think particularly of my terrier or somebody else's hound —might fall foul of that offence. As a field sportsman I am anxious about that Government proposal.
§ Because all dogs would have to be registered it would be possible to identify the dog with the owner. It is not the dog that is at fault; it is always the owner. If a dog, particularly a dangerous one, was not registered, that fact would be easily obtained from the central registration computer. The owner then has two or three courses open to him. If he takes the risk of going out in the street with the dog, there is a good chance that he will be apprehended by a dog warden for having an unregistered dog. He would then be guilty of the offence of not registering. I shall be more than happy to explain in more detail later if I am cross-examined.
§ The Government believe that our registration scheme could not be enforced. I totally disagree. Other countries have very successful schemes. Are the Government suggesting that we in this country are more undisciplined, unruly and fail to obey the law than, say, Australia, America or Sweden? If that is what the Government say, it is a bad admission. In any case, I do not believe that that is the case.
§ The Association of District Councils is happy to work this scheme, but not the Government's scheme. The association is happy to do so because neither the association, local councils, your Lordships nor the poll tax payer will have to finance it. The scheme will be adequately self-financing through the registration fee. Therefore, there will be enough money to police the scheme. The Government scheme, —they want dog wardens and dogs wearing collars—will rely on local authority funding. With all the burdens that local authorities have to shoulder today —care in the community, new litter regulations in Part IV of the Bill, and so on —what chance will they have to fund the Government scheme, particularly if they are poll tax capped? If the Committee accept this amendment there will be no need for the Government scheme. I suggest that we might find a suitable place in Part IV of the Bill for the pamphlet.
§ There is one other important point. Noble Lords are often accused of tabling amendments that cost money. The scheme in my amendment does not cost money. It actually saves the Government money. Therefore, for once we cannot be accused of introducing an amendment that costs money.2278
§ The Daily Telegraph—a paper that cannot in any way be described as Left-wing—last week published a survey in which 91 per cent. of the people interviewed (one-third were dog owners) supported my amendment and, in particular, dog registration. I repeat, 91 per cent. We put down 350,000 unwanted stray dogs each year. We allow unwanted and uncontrolled dogs to bite our children and our policemen, to abort and kill my sheep, and to foul the pavements. As a dog owner, and indeed a dog lover as my ancestors have always been before me, as a farmer and shepherd involved with animals all my life, and as a member of this Chamber, I hope that the Committee will support the amendment. I beg to move.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Mancroft moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 379A, Amendment No. 379AA:
§ After Clause 134, line 8, after ("variations") insert ("or exemptions").
§ The noble Lord said: It has been mooted that my amendment to my noble friend's amendment may be in some way a wrecking amendment. I suggest that it is no such thing. I support, as I believe many noble Lords do, the principles behind my noble friend's amendment and, indeed, the Government's proposals in their pamphlet The Control of Dogs The principle on which I believe we now all agree is that in this country there is a problem in two specific areas of dog ownership. First, the enormous numbers of strays, as my noble friend pointed out and, secondly, large and rather unpleasant dogs biting small and almost as unpleasant children.
§ Everyone in this country agrees that those are not the good aspects of dogs. Therefore, much as we dislike the idea of more controls, rules and regulations we must face the fact that they must apply eventually to dog ownership. I do not want to debate the merits of my noble friend's amendment or the proposals put forward by the Government. However, I do want to show to the Committee that if it decides that my noble friend's amendment is the right route there is one problem; that is, there are no exemptions from payment. One of the principles we have established during the course of this Bill is that those who pollute pay to repair the pollution, so to speak. Taking that concept a little further, it seems to me unfair that those owners who have responsibly looked after and controlled their dogs for many years should have to pay for policing dogs whose owners have not done so.
§ Obviously the millions of dog owners in this country would all stand up and say that they are good owners and should not pay. Therefore, in my amendment I suggest not that certain groups should not register—I believe that all should register—but that certain selected groups should not have to pay. The most obvious of those come under the loose heading of working dogs. By that I mean police drug and bomb sniffer dogs, sheepdogs and, obviously, guide dogs for the blind. There is also the important area, often forgotten, of those places where large groups of dogs are kept together. The most obvious are training establishments where guide dogs for the blind are trained and 50 or 100 dogs are kept in one 2279 place. Such places spend much time raising money to buy the dogs and it is extremely expensive to train them. It would be unfair to put a further toll on those establishments when the dogs are being kept for the purpose of training them; which is why we are introducing a registration scheme in the first place.
§ My amendment establishes only the principle of exemption from paying. That is all. The detail would be decided in the affirmative order which the Secretary of State brings forward during the course of the next year. That is when a decision would be made about these groups and individual dog owners. The joy of my noble friend's amendment is its simplicity and we can perhaps assume that simple things work the best, but it is very much blanket coverage over an enormous area. My amendment would give us the ability to raise a corner of the blanket and provide an escape route whereby those who we feel should be excepted can be, but without in any way destroying the principle of registration. I beg to move.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
I want to speak against both of the amendments. I should like to say a word in favour of dogs and dog owners and against both the amendments, of which that spoken to by my noble friend Lord Mancroft is marginally less offensive.
Dogs are the friends of man. No one doubts the necessity for legislation on dogs. They must be prevented from straying; they must be protected from abandonment or cruelty; they must be discouraged from defecating in inappropriate places; and they must also be kept under proper control. However, I speak partly from my own experience. Dogs are companions to the lonely, the old, the frail and, I am sorry to say, also those who could not pay my noble friend's proposed registration fee which I understand could be as high as £25. It is all very well to say that the amendment costs no money but a more preposterously untrue statement has rarely been made in this Chamber.
The scheme will not cost the Government a penny. It will not cost the local authority much, but it will cost the individual dog owner a high amount. I do not know how much, nor did my noble friend or my other noble friends who proposed the amendment to the amendment tell us what scale of costs it would involve. My guess is that £25 per year would not be a large mis-statement of fact. I should like to hear what the Government Front Bench think about it.
To stop the old, the lonely and poor from owning dogs is preposterously cruel to human beings. Would it be kind to dogs? We hear that 350,000 dogs are put down every year. I believe that if the amendment were passed, 700,000 dogs might well be put down 2280 every year. More dogs would be abandoned, or left to stray because it would be precisely those who either could not or did not wish to pay the registration fee who would abandon dogs and leave them to stray. There would be no means in the hands of the Government of enforcing the legislation because, by definition, the dogs would never have been registered at all. This is a preposterous piece of proposed legislation.
I speak a word from personal experience. When my wife died, I was left with her little dog. I cannot tell noble Lords what that little dog meant to me. Of course I was able to pay the then dog licence fee without the smallest difficulty. I have no doubt that I could scrape together £25 a year to keep my present dog who has taken her place. But there are plenty of people who could not. This proposal is ill thought out, and I hope that the Committee will not pass it.
§ Baroness Nicol
I support Amendment No. 379A, together with the amendment to it proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, has told us of the Government's latest consultation paper. I welcome much of what has been proposed in that paper, particularly with regard to the tightening of legislation already on the statute books. However, there is still no satisfactory way of enforcing measures to deal with the serious problems associated with dogs. The amendment proposes a scheme that will help to solve the problem. It will not solve it completely, but it will help.
Only a comprehensive national dog registration scheme can form the soundest way of ensuring the proper control and welfare of dogs in our society. When we consider the issue before us, several factors must be taken into account. First, there is the need to identify a dog with its owner. We heard the horrific figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and I understand from the Battersea Dogs Home that, of the large number of dogs put down by them every year, many are not strays, they are simply dogs who have become separated from their owners. There is no way of identifying them because dogs will stray a long way from home. Only by this registration—
§ Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone
I do not wish to interrupt the noble Baroness's excellent speech, but surely dogs ought to wear collars with the name and address of their owners stamped upon them. There is a method of tattooing dogs with an identification mark. These actions are desirable, and it does not necessarily support the amendment to ignore them.
§ Baroness Nicol
I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord will feel differently when we have reached the end of the debate because there are many more points to make. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, told us that registration would be a self-financing scheme. That is a great attraction. It would not call on government funds, the local authorities would administer the scheme, and they believe that it is practicable. Many have written to us to say so.
The Government have indicated that they wish to transfer responsibility for strays from the police 2281 and the county councils to the district councils. I welcome that measure. A registration scheme would provide funds for up to 1,000 dog wardens. The noble and learned Lord is anxious about the level of the possible registration fee, and I shall come to that in a moment. These wardens would not only be responsible for the enforcement of by-laws, the scheme's policemen, if you like, but they would also be the scheme's teachers. The development of a comprehensive network of dog wardens would do more than anything else to promote responsible dog ownership. That in turn will do more to prevent the neglect and cruelty that leads to straying or dangerous dogs. It will lead to a reduction in the incidence of dog fouling.
The Government have said on other occasions that the dog licensing system in Northern Ireland —part of the Dogs Order 1983 —does little to contribute to dog control. They say that it appears to have had no significant impact on the number of strays. However, the director of the environmental health service of Belfast City Council, Mr. Brian Hanna, has said on many occasions that there has been a real reduction in the number of strays and a consequent reduction in the number of dogs destroyed. That view is shared by the Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary also supports the licensing system, saying that there have been fewer accidents in the Province since the measure was introduced. There are other reasons why a registration scheme is necessary. Introducing the need to register would reduce the impulse purchasing of puppies, especially at Christmas. Registration would provide a national database on dogs which could be used to encourage spaying, worming and vaccination. In the event of an outbreak of rabies —more likely with the advent of the Channel Tunnel and the increasing incidence of rabies in Europe —registration would be vital. The Minister —having been a Member of the Kennel Club ℄will be interested to know that the scheme would help to ensure the reliable registration of pedigree dogs.
The Joint Advisory Committee On Pets In Society, known as JACOPIS, which represents a wide range of organisations involved with dogs —dog wardens, local authorities, vets, environmental health officers, welfare groups and pet food manufacturers —all support dog registration and have jointly produced a scheme which meets all the Government's worries on the grounds of costs, practicality and purchase. It must be stressed that it is not a panacea, but it would assist greatly in the problems relating to dogs. The Minister's officials have been supplied with details of the scheme, and we look forward to hearing his comments in due course.
The self-financing scheme requires dogs to be registered at a cost of £15 initially and £10 annually thereafter. This would generate about £50 million in the first year of operation, assuming that half Britain's dog population were registered. That in turn would provide the capital injection needed to ensure the success of the scheme in future years, relying, as it would, on reduced income as more 2282 owners renewed their registration at the lower fee rate. Once capital expenditure had taken place in the first year of the scheme's operation —on, for example, computer terminals, equipment for kennel wardens, and training staff—the recurrent proportion of the registration fee spent on administration would be about 20 per cent. of the total income raised.
The noble and learned Lord was concerned about people who could not afford to pay for dogs. The amendment which we have put forward already allows the Secretary of State to make variations in the scheme. That aspect has been strengthened by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. There is no reason at all why the Secretary of State should not include relief for those who are unable to pay the fee or, for example, in the case of guide dogs for the blind or other such cases.
Questions have been raised in the past about the technology used to record information about a dog and its owner. Wood Green Animal Shelters—a member of JACOPIS —is an organisation which currently operates the voluntary National Pet Register that is held on a computer system designed and programmed for 80 million entries. We estimate that there are about 7 million dogs in the country at present. Even if all of them were to be registered, that computer system could easily take the extra work. The system provides for 1,000 remote terminals and 100 telephone lines. It is a system which is accessible 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. The scheme proposed by JACOPIS would fund between 600 and 1,000 wardens which would be sufficient to make a substantial impact on the enforcement problem.
The Government cannot wash their hands of the problems associated with dogs. They cannot expect local authorities to foot the bill from their already over-stretched resources, as the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said so eloquently. Hundreds of thousands of dogs are destroyed annually. The majority of owners love and value the ownership and good service of dogs. Every year these potential friends and allies of man are rejected, starved, maltreated or literally thrown into the ditch by those who have too thoughtlessly acquired them. Some owners acquire their dogs without the means or the intention of developing the mutual care and trust that dogs can and do give, if properly treated and trained. If people want them and value them, they will willingly pay a modest registration fee.
I urge noble Lords to support the amendment. It is eminently sensible, cost-effective and practicable. The Government must be persuaded that registration is needed, for it underpins the measures, many of which are welcome and necessary, which were outlined last week. Ultimately, it is registration which will make those measures work for the good of dog owners and non-owners alike.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
I strongly support the amendment. Initially I was very open-minded on the matter. However, I have been approached by both sides and I now come down very firmly on the side of those who wish to have a dog registration scheme.
2283 I should like to point out first that the dogs we normally think of are pets. Of course, we all know the arguments about people wanting dogs: that they can be man's best friend, and so on. It is only natural that people should want dogs. Nevertheless, it costs a person between £150 and £200 a year to keep a dog. Therefore, if they cannot supply the sum of £15, or whatever it may be, for the registration fee, then they probably should not have a dog. I believe, as does the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, that older people should probably be among those who would be exempt from paying this fee.
One only has to read the reports from the RSPCA to realise how many pets are totally neglected. Many of them end up as skin and bone and have to be rescued. In fact, only last week in Wimbledon, one saw officers of the RSPCA inspecting the parked cars and breaking the windows of some of them because dogs had been left inside. There was even a baby left in a car last year. I understand that it only takes half an hour in the heat of an enclosed car to cause the death of a dog. That is all I have to say about pets, but I must take the matter a little further. We must also consider the position of the guide dog and other such dogs which should be exempt from the fee.
However, there is now a much more sinister angle on dogs. Criminals are now training Rottweilers to counter the police dogs. They are trained to help the criminal carry out his crime. There are also many long dogs all over the country which are used on a large scale for deer hunting. These gangs roam throughout the countryside running down deer at all hours of the day and night. The owners of these dogs are virtually free from prosecution because no one can catch them. Even if they are caught, there is an extensive exchange system in operation. If someone is caught with a greyhound, the dog changes hands the next day so that there is no way of ascertaining to whom it belongs. The only way to deal with the situation is by introducing some form of registration.
I was very interested —and I do not think I have heard this mentioned —in the small capsule which can be inserted underneath the scruff of the neck of a dog which becomes a permanent means of identification. It does away with the need for the collar which, in any event, is never used. Indeed, how many dogs have collars? In my view, very few of them. However, once the little chip is put into the neck of the dog that is the end of the matter.
I live very close to the Cleveland dog pound where many dogs are put down every day. I have heard that as many as 1,000 dogs are destroyed every day. It is true that if the registration scheme came into being that number would increase to perhaps 5,000 per day. However, once the situation had settled down one would hope that the number of destructions would drop dramatically. Indeed, this has actually happened in other countries where the scheme has been introduced.
I asked my young son who is a computer expert about the number of computers needed to run such a scheme to cover —and I think I am right in this 2284 figure—about 15 million dogs. He said that any ordinary medium-sized computer could run it with the greatest of ease; it was no great problem and no enormous computer would be required.
The Government's scheme mentions the dangerous breeds of dogs. However, it is very difficult to ascertain which breeds are dangerous. Are we to muzzle all dangerous dogs? In my view, that in itself would be cruelty. Moreover, what is a dangerous breed? Is it a dog which is part Rottweiler and Alsatian, one which is two parts Rottweiler and one part Alsatian or one which is one part terrier and two parts Rottweiler? Where does one draw the line as regards a dangerous breed? I know that we may not have any postmen in the Chamber, but those who have spoken to them will be aware that very often the terrier is probably the worst offender in this respect. Therefore, presumably, they would also be muzzled under the Government's scheme.
I believe that the system of registration is working well in Ireland. It is very much supported by the NFU, the RSPCA and various other groups. I very much hope that either the amendment will be carried in its present form or that another of similar effect will be accepted.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I deeply regret that this matter has been brought before the Committee in these circumstances. It does not really belong to this monumental Environmental Protection Bill on which we are now on the seventh day of the Committee stage. If this was the Second Reading of a Bill for the care and control of dogs, I think that we could all feel relaxed and go into considerable detail on the complexities of the proposal for a registration scheme, the need for it, its cost and other matters which are relevant to any support or objection to such a scheme.
However, the constraints of time on the Committee stage of a Bill of this kind at this late date, and after the late hour we reached last night. is not fair either to those who are interested in the matter or to those who are waiting to deal with other matters which are more relevant to the content of the Bill before us. I regret the pretentious form of words of introduction to this proposed new clause. They have been contrived to make it relevant to the Bill rather than to express the main purpose of the amendment: the protection of the environment. That is the purpose behind the new clause.
We all know —do we not? —that there are environmental problems related to dogs in society. However, to propose the establishment of a registration scheme of such dimensions, together with the instructions to the Secretary of State about them, seems to me to be out of proportion to the relationship between the dog problem and our environmental problems generally.
Nevertheless, I am bound to say that this occasion arises, like others similar to it, from the failure of the Government to give a reasonably favourable response to proposals which have come from many quarters, and especially from the animal protection societies, about the future administration of the control and care of the dog population. That results 2285 in deadlock. I hope that the Minister will say something this afternoon to resolve that deadlock. The registration scheme is put at the forefront of the proposals for change in the minds of many of the reformers in respect of the dog control laws and the powers of local authorities, the police and so forth. It was said in another place that registration is a prerequisite for all other dog reforms. It is not. It will, or may, accompany other dog reforms, but it is not a prerequisite and so it does not justify being put at the forefront of the debate on dog problems.
I regret also the way in which the campaign for the dog registration scheme in the media and by certain of the animal societies has created an atmosphere of hostility towards dogs. I underline the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, who spoke about the importance of dogs in human affairs. Perhaps I may modestly say that I produced the first comprehensive report on dogs in society. I was then chairman of the Joint Advisory Committee for Pets in Society. I took a great deal of evidence and had a great deal fo help in producing that report from everyone concerned, including the local authorities and the police.
The debate is about the most popular animal companion in Britain. It is about the consolation and comfort of 3 million pensioners. Out of our 7.25 million dogs there is no doubt that well over a third are in the homes of lonely people. We must take that fact into account. It is deplorable that to achieve reforms for the better care and control of dogs we have had to generate a feeling of hostility, when every bite of a child's arm, every attack and everything else connected with dangerous dogs appear on the front pages of newspapers, which creates the ethos that dogs are a menace to society.
I blame all governments since I produced my report in 1974. All have been indifferent to the importance of the matter, or, what is more likely perhaps, they believe that it is so politically sensitive that to touch it is to ask for trouble. We all know that over the years successive governments have regarded some questions as being outwith the scope of government legislation and they have been left to the Private Member's Bill procedure. This is one of them. Abortion was another. We have had plenty of examples of all those moral issues —marriage, divorce and so on. But it is that divide between issues that deserve government attention and those which are to be left to the hazards and frustrations of the Private Member's Bill procedure which leads to the problem that now exists with this matter.
The Government have not introduced a dog Bill. They have produced new proposals. They hurried them along in order to get them out. The proposals have an important bearing on this afternoon's discussion. That is something to which I shall come to in a moment. I shall not deal in detail with the proposed registration scheme. In my report I recommended the continuation of the licensing arrangements and an increase in the licence fee. That was followed by an interdepartmental committee of the various departments connected with the issue which made recommendations similar to mine; but nothing was done. We tried to get something done, 2286 but nothing was done. The Government said that the dog licence fee was dynamite. That was the clue as to why they did not wish to touch the matter.
We are discussing a registration scheme which, so it is said, is to be self-supporting. It will cost dog owners much more than was ever contemplated in my scheme, even allowing for inflation. We apparently feel that we can send such a proposal on its way.
There has been a scheme along the lines of mine operating in Northern Ireland for some time. Again, we asked the Government to let us have the Northern Ireland scheme in Britain. They said that circumstances in Northern Ireland were exceptional. All the dogs wander about in packs because bombs go off and houses are blown up. Some are Protestants and some are Catholics. They say that the situation is very different there. However, they have a registration scheme there, they have a licence and they have dog wardens. We have many local authority dog wardens in England. Many schemes have been improvised in the absence of any change in the law.
I want to devote myself for a few minutes to the likely consequences of what we may do this afternoon for the progress of future discussions and reforms of the dog problem. That is important. Whether the amendment is passed or defeated today, it will begin to close doors on future progress on animal care and control. Is that what we want? I shall explain why. The Government are backing this horse both ways. They appear to resist but are willing to lie down and let it go over them if this place so desires. That is not the spirit in which a government should come here to deal with such a proposition. Yet the Minister in a television interview on Sunday gave the impression that, if Parliament wants the scheme and if this place passes the new clause, it will not be resisted when it goes back to the other place. He implied, "We shall take it, and we shall try to do something with it". That is not the spirit. If there were a little more spirit behind the proposal, business could have been done, but it was not so.
If the Committee passes this new clause this afternoon it will give the Government one year's respite from further agitation and campaigning on the subject. They will like that because the new clause provides that the Secretary of State will have 12 months in which to produce a scheme and lay it before both Houses of Parliament. The Committee should then notice that what the Secretary of State produces and lays before Parliament at the end of his 12 months in purdah is the requirement that it be implemented by statutory instrument. Have you ever heard anything so preposterous in your life? A set of proposals of this kind, involves money, obligatory registration, enforced payment of a licence, levy, tax or fee, whatever one likes to call it and further proceedings and heavy fines if one fails to register or refuses to pay. Such people will join the poll tax defaulters' queue and flood the courts. The idea is preposterous.
I leave that point aside now because we have not yet reached that stage. But if we pass the amendment this afternoon we shall have transferred the debate to Whitehall. It has a job to do under the new clause.
2287 It will get on with it, and in the meantime the campaign for registration will cease. The press will lose interest in dogs—except the bad ones —because the reform will be under the consideration of the Secretary of State for the Environment. If there is to be silence on the registration scheme for up to a year, the Government will presumably have a smoother run for a Bill based on the proposals in the pamphlet. If we are to have a Bill in the next Session to implement those proposals the clause will to some extent undoubtedly forestall ideas that would otherwise be left over to be considered in connection with a registration scheme. Indeed, it would give the Government an opportunity of getting these reforms in place while the registration scheme is being cooked up by the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Passing this amendment today will postpone further progress on this matter as part of the dog problem for up to 12 months. But it may do more damage than that if it is rejected. This is the dilemma. If it is rejected this afternoon, there is a shut-down. It is a setback. It is a dismissal of the registration scheme as a prerequisite, or perhaps any part whatever, of dog control. Therefore, either way there is likely to be impeded progress with the work now going on and under discussion between the animal societies and Ministers to get something going more rapidly and more comprehensively than we have so far.
Let us take the timetable just a little further. Twelve months from the passing of this Bill will take us to October 1991. October 1991 will see the beginning of the last and shortened Session of this Parliament, because the general election must be held by June 1992. Therefore, this report and laying before Parliament and the grandiose scheme for registration, etc., may come at a time when Parliament has already gone into a state of election jitters and when there will be no time to pursue the matter this side of the general election. Therefore, if you pass this new clause this afternoon you defer further progress on registration until after the general election.
Suppose a Labour Government come in. I said "suppose". They are committed to sweeping away the poll tax and reinstating the rating system, or something of that kind. They are going to be up to their necks in the problems of the poll tax when they come in, and I think they will have little time to devote to a dog registration scheme with all its little troubles and fees.
This led me to make overtures to the supporters of this clause to withdraw it after a reasonable time for discussion. Why withdraw it? The reason —this is where the timetable comes in again —is that allowing for the time between now and the Report stage means that we have between now and October, because the Report stage and the Third Reading will now come in the overspill. It seems to me that we have these weeks in between to establish relations with Ministers to see whether the expressed wishes of so many Members of both Houses, and the desires of many people outside, can come a little closer to their own thinking. Can something be done to bring 2288 in a little more comprehension and a little more purpose, and a less piecemeal approach to dog reform?
I advise that this new clause should be withdrawn to allow those discussions to take place. But the sponsors of the new clause say that they are under such pressure that they cannot withdraw it and that it must go on. I cannot help that. I am sorry if that is the position. I inquired this morning of the Clerk of the House whether it was possible for me to move this afternoon that the debate on this amendment be postponed. He said that he had never heard of that. Well, fancy —all these years in your Lordships' House and nobody has thought of a useful little device like that. He could not recall such a case. He said that they would probably say, "Postpone to when?" I said, "Well, that is easy. It shall be postponed until the Report stage of this Bill. We then come back to see whether we have any suitable product of the discussions that have taken place in the meantime".
But are we then going to be restrained from exercising a commonsense approach to this situation by imaginary difficulties in postponing the debate, or adjourning the debate, or the possible intransigence of my noble friends and noble Lords opposite, for whom I have the greatest respect but who I do not believe have understood fully and measured fully the political and procedural consequences of what we are asked to do this afternoon? If we pass this amendment it will be at least three years before we see any comprehensive scheme of reform for the care and control of animals. I think that that would be a great shame.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
The real trouble with dogs in this country is that we are an urban population. We are about 85 per cent. urban, and of course the problem is that so many dog owners, especially in our big cities, do not understand dogs. The noble Lord who has just sat down said that this amendment should not come up in a Bill about the environment. I do not agree with him at all. After all, the fouling in our big cities touches on the environment. That is not the dogs' fault; it is the human beings' fault.
I have trained dogs. I have had dogs all my life, and so have my family. My ancestors had dogs. One ancester of mine had a favourite dog and he arranged a wonderful funeral for it. He had 60 dogs —or it may have been 50 —come to the funeral dressed appropriately. That is quite true. That was the sixth Viscount and second Earl.
I support this amendment. As has been mentioned, we have had it tried out in Northern Ireland. I agree that it has not paid the expenses. I understand that it has paid for about half the expenses of the wardens and organisers. However, I understand that the Government do not really want this amendment because they think that it will lose money, and of course it may lose money. You would have to have a large organisation running it and then you would have to have the wardens. It would probably lose money, but personally I think that if the charge was £10 a dog it would certainly pay for half of the scheme. 2289 Of course, old-age pensioners are another matter. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, mentioned that. Dogs give 3 million old people tremendous pleasure. That is a great point in favour of the clause —that the pensioners should not be charged. They should have the scheme free for their dogs. I think that the dogs ought to have discs rather than be tattooed.
The other question that the press is now rather playing up is the matter of dangerous dogs. Human beings are dangerous, and much more dangerous than dogs. We have heard about alsatians, Staffordshire and pit bull terriers and all these other dogs, but they are not dangerous if they have the right owner. To a great extent dogs take after their owners in their behaviour. I do not mean that they get drunk or anything of that kind! I have trained many dogs for all kinds of purposes, especially sheepdogs and shooting dogs (of which some people may not approve) and dogs like alsatians and bull terriers. My daughter's two babies were always guarded by alsatians; yet those dogs come under the class of dangerous dogs. It is the person who makes them dangerous.
I know of many bad-tempered men. However one tries to persuade them not to be bad tempered, they cannot help it because it is in their nature. One can take bad temper out of the nature of a dog but not the nature of a man. I do not want to hold up the Committee. I support the clause, which would have a tremendous advantage. Dog wardens would be able to prevent fouling in our cities, which in our big cities is not at all desirable.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Murray of Epping Forest
My noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby questioned the relevance of the Bill to the environment. There is one aspect of the environment to which the amendments are highly relevant, and that is the working environment of many thousands of people, who, because of their occupations, have to approach houses which are strange to them and where very often there are dogs that find them even stranger. I am talking about postmen, meter readers, policemen and milkmen. Last year 8,000 cases of savaging of postmen by dogs were reported.
In so far as the amendments are directed at increasing the sense of responsibility of dog owners, surely one can expect that, as a consequence, there will be more care in training and controlling dogs and a greater possibility of identifying miscreant dogs. Very often it is not possible to identify the owner and bring home the consequences of the action of his or her dog. I hope that noble Lords will bear that aspect in mind in reaching a conclusion.
I am most sympathetic to the view expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. There is no monopoly of affection for dogs in any part of the House. There is no monopoly of concern that people who need dogs to comfort them should have that opportunity. If I were not satisfied that the amendment and the amendments to the amendment could not produce the possibility of old people
2290 keeping their pets, I would vote against it. I believe that the amendments will make that situation possible.
The Earl of Balfour
I declare an interest, being the proud owner of a large black standard poodle. As the proposed new clause is worded, anybody who arranges for another person to look after his dog while he is away from home is liable to pay a double registration fee because the clause speaks of the, "owner or keeper of a dog". Accordingly, the first of my amendments proposes to leave out the words "or keeper".
The clause commences with the words,For the purpose of protecting the environment".Thereafter it has nothing to do with the environment. As the clause is worded, the owner of a registered dog could take —perhaps on a lead —the mangiest, flea-ridden creature, rotten with worms, for walks around a fishing harbour and over the rocks where children love to play. It is only by the insertion of the words "his dog" at the end of subsection (4), as proposed in Amendment No. 379AD, that there can be any co-operation between the local authority and responsible dog owners. Otherwise, I wonder what kinds of persons the local authorities will dream up in order to facilitate the registration and identification of dogs.
In regard to identification, are dogs to be branded or to have metal tags put in their ears, as is the case with horses and cattle in some countries? Dogs scratch themselves and I do not want to see my animal with a bloody ear. My dog was tattooed when he was a puppy, but due to his thick black coat I now cannot read a single letter.
From a general point of view the proposed clause is far more draconian than the old licensing laws because there is no distinction between the different classes of dog. I wholeheartedly support the amendment that was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. The old dog licence was not required until the dog was six months old. It excluded certain working dogs —for example, sheepdogs. The clause appears to be a catch-all and makes no distinction between a chihuahua and a great dane, a dog for the blind and a sheepdog, a highly skilled hound or gundog and the mongrel that is pushed out of the house when the family go off to work, or the pet belonging to an old age pensioner and a police dog. If the police dog belongs to a particular force, his keeper will also require a registration certificate.
The new clause falls down in that it makes no distinction between the responsible and irresponsible owner.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I should like to say that we have no Whip on the Labour Benches. I am not giving a lead. We are not even on a leash. Members on this side of the Committee are free to listen to the arguments and come to their own conclusion as to whether the main new clause or the amendments are to their satisfaction.
§ Lord Tordoff
I think that the noble Lord may have misunderstood the situation when he stated that 2291 there is no Whip, because I understand the Labour Party has a new Chief Whip in this House, and I should like to congratulate him.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
We will take that as read. The debate has demonstrated that there are arguments and views that are passionately held on all sides of the Committee. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, rose to his feet, his first words were:I want to speak in favour of dogs and dog owners".I too should like to speak in favour of dogs and dog owners. There is nothing in the registration scheme which is anti-dogs or dog owners. "You pays your money and you takes your choice".
If people want to pick holes in the registration scheme, they are entitled to do so and they are probably right. There is no way out of this national problem which cannot be negatived by looking at it in detail. I have listened to the various arguments. The Bill presents us with an opportunity which some people see fit to use. We can either use and support that opportunity or we can reject it. If you reject it, what do you do then? You wait until the next opportunity when someone else comes along and you say that this is not the right time. There is a mood in the country. Something positive and big must be done. That may be right or wrong. I do not envy the Government, who must be seen to take the mood of the country, whether it is right or wrong, and to legislate or assist in the legislation.
The new clause is in order and it is perfectly proper for it to be debated. I hope that the Committee will support the principles and the details as far as they are able to be included in the scheme. It is not perfect. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, introduces a whole raft of possibilities affecting the ultimate shape of the legislation, but the Committee must decide on the principle; namely, whether we want a dog registration scheme.
Some of the statistics are horrendous. I shall not go over them. The Committee has been well served by those who are passionate advocates or passionate opponents of a scheme. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and to my noble friend Lady Nicol, for their speeches. My noble friend said that the registration scheme was sensible, cost-effective and practical. There may be reasons why people reject it. I live in Enfield where there are rottweilers and children have been savaged by dogs. We all have our own ideas and experience of how dogs should be controlled. None of us can be positive and dogmatic about what is right or wrong. We must have a feel about the matter.
Some emotive language has been used. It has been said that the registration scheme might be detrimental to the lonely, the old, the frail and the poor. Those words ring hollow. That is not the intended effect. However, if those people are disadvantaged by the scheme, it is capable of looking after them, thanks to the exemptions clause.
The lobby encompasses the RSPCA, the ADC, the NFU, the AMA and many others. All have experience and expertise in these matters and allow 2292 owe responsibility to their members. When a range of bodies across such a spectrum says that a registration scheme is the answer, the Committee would do well to take note.
The Earl of Selkirk
The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has put the case extremely well. The purpose of the measure is to treat a dog not as a toy but as a privilege. In other words, the status of the dog in this country should be raised.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, finds the Bill so undesirable. There is a simple course open to him: he can table an amendment at the next stage of the Bill. He criticised the structure of the Bill and said that the proposal was in the wrong place. I have recently been involved in the Scottish legal services Bill which is about as mixed a measure as you could possibly find. We got through that somehow, for good or bad. I have often said in this place that I wished Bills were better drafted. The noble Lord always agrees with me on that point.
The question of price was raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham. People have to pay for many things in this world. For example, our great toy today is television. I am told that 97 per cent. of people have a television in their home. The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, will correct me if I am wrong, but the number is very high. The RAC says that about 80 per cent. of people have the use of a car. I do not know how they do it, but they do. Perhaps some of them steal cars; I do not know. Many people in this place own guns and they must pay a gun tax.
That argument is not in itself an objection to the course that my noble friend Lord Stanley has in mind. Everything costs a price. We should force the Government to take action. As my noble friend said, it is urgently desired in this country. I believe that the RSPCA desires such action. We should accept the amendment to show that we want something to be done.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
I wish to intervene briefly to follow my noble friend Lord Murray and to reply in some measure to my noble friend Lord Houghton. I do not understand how he can say that the measure does not fit into an environmental Bill. Last week we spent some time on an amendment dealing with the state of the streets. The state of the streets was attributed to dogs. As I recall, we could not do anything about the dogs which perpetrated the mess; it had to be the person involved who was charged.
If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, lived in the borough where I live, he would be delighted because, when Cruft's comes and all the owners bring out their dogs, it is practically impossible to walk round the streets. There are thousands of dogs. This is definitely an environmental matter in every sense of the word and it fits well into the Bill.
I should like to support the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. We have heard a great deal about the poor and old-age pensioners. Quite a number of people in this place are old-age pensioners. Perhaps the 2293 noble Earl cannot afford the £20. I shall be happy to help him with it so that he can keep his dog. I did not notice so much talk about old-age pensioners, the poor, the lonely and the frail when we debated the community charge. If the Government are willing to let these people off paying the community charge, I am sure that they will not object to paying a simple sum to keep a dog. That is not an argument for the registration scheme. As we have heard, people pay their television licence fees and other such fees. Anyone who cares for his dog will be only too delighted to have it registered. We are after those dogs.
I am a little shocked that my noble friend Lord Houghton did not think that the media should report the horrific attacks on children by those dogs. What a strange atmosphere we sometimes find in this place! Some people compare animals with human beings. There is no animal living that can be put on the same scale as a human being. The noble Lord said that human beings are unpleasant. What does he suggest? Perhaps we should round up some of those human beings, register them and make sure that they are held under control.
We in this country are schizophrenic about dogs. We are supposed to be great dog lovers, yet we have all those unfortunate dogs. If you talk to any vet —I have one in the family —they do not like having to destroy those dogs which are bought on a whim and turned out. A registration scheme will stop that kind of thing In reply to my noble friend Lord Houghton, I should say that we all know that it is the oldest device in the world: if you want to get something done, you fit it into a Bill that is about to come before this place. For heaven's sake, let us get something on the statute book. That is all we want. I plead with the Committee to support the amendment.
§ Lord Gibson-Watt
We all have a different view on this subject. I should like to say briefly why I have some doubts about the necessity of bringing in legislation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said, there is no doubt that this matter at present engages much national interest and national anxiety. It is doing so for three reasons; first, because of dangerous dogs; secondly, because of fouling; and thirdly because of strays. I doubt whether registration in itself, even if it is a prerequisite as some have said, will solve the problem. A registration scheme as large as this would be extremely difficult to administer. People often move house with their dogs and therefore the computer record would become out of date very quickly.
Such a scheme would also increase bureaucracy. This new body of people would cost a considerable amount of money. The London School of Economics carried out a survey for the RSPCA. It found that the scheme itself might cost £20 million and that a proper warden scheme might cost another £25 million. Those are considerable amounts of money. Who will pay? Whatever we may say, the baddies will get away with it. The people who will pay are those who keep decent homes and decent training kennels. I fail to see why they should sustain all the 2294 costs of the scheme. The Minister has already said that the Government are not prepared to find the money for it.
Reference has been made to the success of licensing in Northern Ireland, but one-third of dog owners there have not taken out dog licences. Vehicle excise evasion here amounts to £113 million. Television licence evasion amounts to more than £1.5 million. Evasion is easy and a scheme of this kind would be difficult to carry through and to administer.
Reference has also been made to exemptions. We are told that guide dogs would be exempt. Sheep dogs —I wonder. My noble friend Lord Stanley told us that he was once a shepherd. I too was a shepherd once. Why should they receive special treatment? What about packs of hounds? What about the man who lives only a mile away from me who keeps 25 dogs in clean kennels and sells them as sporting dogs —spaniels and retrievers? What about him? Is he to pay £25 multiplied by 25? That would not be very fair. What about old age pensioners? After all, the lady of the house, at 60 rather than 65, will register the dog. I urge my noble friends to think carefully about what is not an easy matter. To do something for the sake of doing something is not necessarily right.
The Government have produced what I consider to be a good consultative paper. I urge them to do just one thing. They should give local authorities right of entry to unlicensed dog breeding centres—what we call puppy farms. Those are a disgrace. Local authorities cannot easily get into them at the present time. That loophole should be closed. I ask the Committee to hesitate before supporting the amendment.
§ Lord Molloy
What is remarkable about the debate so far is that some Members of the Committee who love dogs are completely opposed to any form of registration and others who also love dogs fervently believe in registration. Arguments have been exchanged with good humour.
The problem has been brought upon us because the Government have quite blatantly done away with the dog licence. They have done so despite the fact that 8,000 people are bitten every year, 10,000 head of livestock are killed or maimed and thousands of strays cause hundreds of thousands of accidents. Something must be put in place of the dog licence. This proposal has been supported not only by Members on both sides of the Committee but also by many national organisations. They have done so for a variety of reasons. The National Farmers Union supports the principle of registration. Many dog owners support registration, as do postmen and many other groups who suffer because dogs are not properly controlled.
In another place the Minister agreed that more had to be done to resolve dog problems. He was quite correct. However, the general public wants action on dogs creating health hazards, on stray dogs, on dangerous dogs and on bad owners. The Minister cannot say on one occasion that something must be 2295 done and then, when something is proposed to do what he wants done, say that he opposes it. That is absurd.
I listened carefully to the moving speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. It did not completely destroy the argument for registration but it put on the agenda a point that must be seriously considered. The noble and learned Lord referred to old people living alone —but one can be rich and lonely or poor and lonely. If the amendment is accepted I hope that the noble and learned Lord's point will be taken fully into consideration.
I shall vote for the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and so ably supported by my noble friend, Lady Nicol. I shall do so not because I agree with everything that they said and not because I agree with everything that has been said during the debate. I shall do so because now is the time to deal with the problems relating to dogs. We are genuinely a dog and horse loving nation. It is because of our great love for animals that we have these important debates. However, the time has come for us to create an official link between the dog and his owner. Registration will do that. I am firmly of the opinion that that is precisely what the public requires.
§ Lord Boardman
I have a special and perhaps unique interest to declare, in that I was once bound over, and remain bound over, for keeping a dog in unsafe custody. I had a most lovable terrier, one of which my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham would approve, which happened to bite the relief postman. Having said that, I entirely support the intention of the amendment —it is right —but I cannot support the amendment in its present form. I share the reservations expressed by my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt. I shall not weary the Committee by repeating them. The amendment is not perfect in achieving the objectives which are set for it. The questions proposed in the Green Paper are valid. I hope that the Government will press ahead, gather responses to those questions and in the light of those responses bring in such further measures as should be appropriate.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
I wish to praise the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, for bringing this point before the Committee. He put everything across superbly well, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. I do not wish to speak for any length of time at all, but I should point out that I have had the good fortune to speak to Dame Janet Fookes from another place, as well as to other people who are professionally involved with dogs and to representatives of societies concerned with the care of dogs.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, like many of the good Members of this Chamber, is old. I know a lot of good old people who keep goldfish and cats as pets rather than dogs. We hope that registration will be introduced. Old people who keep dogs will also have to pay a fee. However, that should be a much reduced sum. Those are all details which will have to be worked out later, after registration is introduced.
2296 One thing that should be mentioned is the fact that in 1992 we shall enter the Common Market proper. All of the countries in the EC have a dog tax or a registration scheme of sorts. Owners of dogs within those countries pay a sum of between £5 and £15. Some EC countries have legislation which requires dogs to wear tags.
We should reflect on the idea of a microchip or a tattoo in the dog's ear as opposed to a tag. I talked to a vet the other day who was a little worried that such a measure may become law. On the question of tattooing dogs, he said he would need a microscope if he were to tattoo a chihuahua's ear and a Churchillian nerve to tattoo a Rottweiler's ear.
Farmers are going through a rough period and have been for some years. That position is likely to continue for some years to come. Farmers across the water are sometimes not very helpful to us in this regard. Let us not try to undercut farmers any further. Last year 400 hippies invaded the area where I live in Devonshire. Some of my neighbouring farmers had their sheep attacked by the dogs of the hippies. Those dogs were unregistered and completely uncared for. They killed 56 sheep in two months. That is, after all, a dog's instinct. They killed a £300 ram which had been bought two weeks previously. The farmer who owned the ram had not had a chance to insure it. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, made a brilliant point as regards insurance. Insurance is an absolute must.
Further, our materialistic society now indulges in puppy breeding. I could show the Committee a photograph of little puppies in a dumping pit which were bred for sale. The Kennel Club says that such pedigree dogs are already registered. However, these dogs are bred specifically for shows. We should consider registration as a means of avoiding this disgusting practice of breeding dogs for money rather than through a sense of love for the animal concerned.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and other Members of the Committee have said that we in this country love our dogs. If that is the case, we shall not mind paying to register them. Children who are bitten by dogs are often bitten because they have teased the dog. Some children think it is fun to tease dogs. When they tease dogs some of them get bitten. Some children have been badly injured and others have died. We obviously feel terribly sorry for the families of those children. We must consider this Bill carefully and accept this amendment.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
I should like to say a few words in favour of this amendment, and particularly of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Mancroft. I speak in favour of those amendments on behalf of the dogs themselves. Everyone who has spoken has done so from a human point of view. Dogs cannot speak for themselves. It is not fair that we are all registered at birth, while dogs are not. Dogs are important and we all love them. Therefore it is only fair that dogs should be registered. However, we should make exceptions so that the old, the lonely and those who cannot afford to register their dogs should not have to pay a registration fee. A fee 2297 should also not have to be paid for working dogs, as in the case of my friend Shogun, the police dog, who was in the Chamber earlier this afternoon before the Committee sat. I support the amendment.
§ Earl Attlee
I apologise for not having been present at the beginning of the discussion on the amendment. Unfortunately my wife is in the Cambridge military hospital in Aldershot. I had to visit her and then drive to the Chamber from there. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, to inform him that I would support his amendment. However, as I was nor present at the beginning of the discussion on the amendment, I may inadvertently repeat some of the arguments which have already been made.
Speaking personally, I cannot see any reason why Rottweilers and pit bull terriers are allowed into this country. They are vicious animals and they serve no useful purpose. A terrible case was reported in the newspapers the other day of a police constable who was attacked by a Rottweiler. He had not done anything to the dog but he had to strangle it to get free. Even when the dog was dead, its jaws remained clamped tight on the policeman's hand.
The noble Lord, Lord Molloy, mentioned the former dog licence. He said that we should have something in its place. I should have thought the obvious thing for the Government to have done rather than having abolished the licence —I believe that it cost seven shillings and six pence —was to have increased it to a reasonable sum of money at current prices.
I am in favour of a microchip implanted in the ear. That seems to be logical and an easy thing to undertake.
I read some statistics somewhere —I suppose statistics are always suspect —which asserted that more people were attacked by Alsatians than by Rottweilers and pit bull terriers. That is not surprisiig when one considers how many thousands of Alsatians there are in this country compared with the comparatively small number of Rottweilers and pit bull terriers. I support this amendment.
The Earl of Buchan
I wish to address the Committee on behalf of a group of friends who cannot address your Lordships themselves in any circumstances. However, if the Committee listens carefully from a westerly direction, their voices can be heard. They should be listened to carefully because they are calling for help. I refer to the inhabitants of the dogs' home at Battersea.
There are at present 500 dogs in the cages at the Battersea Dogs Home. Anything that can be done to reduce that appalling total must be done. Dog registration is a blindingly obvious solution to the problem. Therefore I was very much taken aback by the intemperate remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. He may rest assured that should his dog by any mischance stray and end up in Battersea Dogs Home, it will be at least as well treated as any other common dog.
The preferred solution of the people who run Battersea Dogs Home is the implant that has been referred to by a number of speakers. This simple, 2298 glass-encased, minute device is placed in a dog's ear. The process is painless. The number is registered on a central computer and the microchip can be read by a hand-held scanner. The scanner can remain in the possession of a vet or be held in a police station or on any other convenient premises.
Battersea Dogs Home has just completed one year's successful trial of this device. Some 4,000 of the devices have been implanted. The dogs' home is entirely happy with the device and recommends it to other charities that are concerned with the care of dogs. The technology involved is well tried and comes from America, where over 1 million animals have received this implant. I should add that a carp can also receive such an implant. The device is capable of being placed in fishes. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
§ The Earl of Radnor
I hope that I may be able to make my point within one minute. It has been suggested by the Government and by noble Lords today that the June 1990 consultative document offers an alternative to registration. I cannot see that. There are already plenty of laws in place to deal with dogs and dog handling. Perhaps they are not as comprehensive as they should be, but we are dealing not with the laws to control dogs but with the enforcement of those laws. Before there can be enforcement I believe that there must be registration. Otherwise one can make more and more laws about Rottweilers or any other breed which Members of the Committee might care to mention, but, without registration and the ability to enforce those laws, the whole thing becomes a waste of time. Therefore I am in complete agreement with my noble friend and shall vote for the amendment.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hesketh
I make no apology for the fact that I shall take some time to set out the Government's response to the amendment and what they propose to do of their own accord. The Government have a responsibility to explain this so that no one can say that we did not make it absolutely clear why we believe that the amendment will not achieve what it sets out to do.
I have been closely connected with the subject of dogs ever since I first came to the Front Bench in your Lordships' House. The first amendment that I lost was in the 1988 Bill on this very subject. I was somewhat surprised last autumn when the Bill was about to begin its passage through Parliament and I asked whether there was any possibility that dogs could in some way become attached to it to be confidently assured that that was in no way possible. I had a feeling that I should be in this position on this very day.
The basis of the Government's objection to the idea of a national registration scheme is a simple one—we do not believe that it would work. Not only would it not work, but in failing to do so it would cost a considerable amount of money that would better be spent in dealing directly with the problems of fouling, straying and dog attacks, which have so eloquently been described by Members of the Committee this afternoon. It is direct measures that 2299 are the answer and it is direct measures that the Government propose.
Some noble Lords have already referred to the consultation paper The Control of Dogs which was issued jointly by the Home Office, the Scottish and Welsh Offices and my own department last week. It sets out for discussion a number of proposals both on the control of dangerous dogs and, more importantly, on dog control generally.
Extensive coverage by the media has given particular prominence recently to the increase in reported attacks by dangerous dogs. Those attacks have involved dogs from a wide variety of breeds, although it is attacks by a small number of breeds that have attracted attention, notably the Rottweiler, the Pit Bull Terrier and others that I shall not name. The Government have already supported measures to strengthen and update existing legislation on dangerous dogs. They gave support to the measures contained in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989, introduced in another place, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is now seeking views on further powers for the police, local authorities and the courts.
First, last week's consultation paper suggests that we should create a new offence of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control. This would be easier to enforce than the existing offence set out in the 1847 Act which is unclear. Secondly, the paper suggests that the powers that a court already has to order a dog to be kept under proper control should be made more flexible. That might include a power for the court to require a dog to be kept on a lead or muzzled in advance of a court hearing.
Secondly, the paper seeks views on the very difficult issue of whether particular controls should be extended to specific breeds of dog. There have been calls to ban the ownership of specific breeds which are widely seen as dangerous or to impose particular controls, such as a muzzling requirement, on such breeds. Although we await with interest the response from consultees on this issue, the paper points out that there would be serious problems in deciding upon the list of breeds that should be included. There would also be technical difficulties in identifying the breed of any individual dog, and particularly cross-breeds, in order to make any such controls effective.
Although media attention has focused on the problem of attacks by dangerous dogs, most people's everyday experience is that the greater damage to the quality of the local environment is caused by those owners who allow their dogs to stray and to foul public areas indiscriminately. Those problems were addressed in the Action on Dogs consultation papers which my department and the Scottish Office issued last summer.
The Action on Dogs papers proposed to transfer from the police to local authorities the duty to deal with strays and to clarify the power of local authorities to enforce the existing requirement for dogs to wear a collar and identification tag when in public. The papers also suggested that there should be a specific power for local authorities to charge 2300 owners seeking to collect their dogs from detention a sum, probably of about £20, over and above the costs of kennelling the dog.
On the problem of dog fouling, the two consultation papers drew attention to the proposal, now incorporated in Part IV of the Bill, that the Secretary of State should have powers to include dog faeces within the duty on local authorities to keep their land clear of litter and refuse. In order to ensure that local authorities have the right tools to back up that new duty, the papers also sought comments on the operation of the present dog control by-laws in England and Wales and invited comments on the scope for by-laws in dealing with dog control problems in Scotland. The responses received are being carefully considered by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who plans to make an announcement of his conclusions shortly.
The proposals in the Action on Dogs papers were generally welcomed, but we were interested in a number of suggestions on how the proposals, on straying and identification in particular, might be strengthened. We have been discussing those ideas with the Joint Advisory Committee on Pets in Society, which includes among others representatives from the RSPCA, the NFU, the Association of District Councils and the British Veterinary Association.
The Control of Dogs consultation paper which was issued last week discusses two ideas in particular: first, that there should be a specific offence of allowing a dog persistently to stray, and, secondly, that there should be a fixed penalty scheme for the enforcement of the collar and tag provisions. Both of those ideas form part of the package of dog control measures in force in Northern Ireland for the past six years. Members of the Committee have argued that the Northern Irish example, including compulsory dog licensing, is one that we should follow in the rest of the United Kingdom. Officials from my department have visited the Province to discuss with all the interested parties the strengths and weaknesses of the scheme.
It is abundantly clear that its strengths cannot derive from the system of licensing itself since it is estimated that little more than one-third of the dogs in the Province are licensed, despite the low level of the £5 licence fee and considerable enforcement efforts. The scheme also gives the lie to the argument that registration would reduce the number of stray dogs which have to be destroyed. The number of strays being put down in the Province has increased, not decreased, since the introduction of licensing six years ago.
However, the scheme illustrates that direct measures —for example, enforcement of identification requirements —can be effective. This is particularly true in the case of the reduction in the number of livestock worrying incidents in the Province. The reduction results from the fact that the 1984 order brought Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom in giving farmers the right to shoot dogs that were worrying livestock or looked likely to do so.
It is the best elements of the Northern Irish scheme that we wish to look at more closely. It is not 2301 currently, in the rest of the United Kingdom, an offence to allow one's dog to stray. It is possible for owners, to allow their dogs persistently to stray, with no penalty other than the effort of collecting it from the police or local authority and paying reasonable kennelling costs. Owners do of course risk the threat that the dog may be destroyed if it is not collected within seven days.
The Action on Dogs paper suggested that in addition there should be a specific power for local authorities to charge owners an additional sum. Respondents to the paper suggested that, as an additional incentive to owners to exert proper control over their animals, it should be made an offence to allow a dog to stray, as it is in Northern Ireland. We have to be careful, of course, not to increase the disincentives to collect a dog from detention, which would be counterproductive. But the idea seems worth exploring further, and we shall be interested to see the response.
On the question of identification of dogs, we remain convinced that the most effective way of identifying a dog with its owner is effective enforcement of the existing requirement for dogs to wear a collar and identification tag. An identification tag is easy for any passer-by to read —the quickest way to ensure that a stray is reunited with its owner. Unlike a microchip implant or tattoo, it does not require any elaborate scanning equipment or reference to a central register. Any dog not wearing its tag can be rounded up as a stray. The idea that a fixed penalty scheme might operate in enforcing the requirement (as is also currently the case in Northern Ireland) is one that we think worthy of further exploration.
Those are the measures that the Government have in mind. What part would a national registration scheme have to play? Support for a national registration scheme is cross-party —as the list of movers of this amendment illustrate. Noble Lords have reminded us of how many bodies and individuals in the animal welfare field are in favour of dog registration. But with all due respect to the wide range of support expressed, in the Government's view the arguments in favour of registration do not stand up to closer examination.
One of the key arguments put forward has been that only with a national registration scheme can a link be made between dog and owner for the purposes of enforcing existing or proposed dog control provisions. In an ideal world, filled with ideal dog owners, that might be true. But in an ideal world, there would be no problems caused by dogs in the first place. Our problem is with the far from ideal owner: the irresponsible owner who allows his dog to foul public places, stray and even attack passers.by.
In our view it is wholly unrealistic to argue that that group of owners will comply with a registration requirement. It will be yet another of the many dog control provisions that such owners evade or ignore. The example of the Northern Ireland licensing scheme is not encouraging, with little more than a third of dogs licensed. If a registration scheme does not get at the irresponsible owners who cause all 2302 the problems, then the argument that registration provides the link between dog and owner is a weak one.
Registration for that scheme costs £5 less than that proposed in the new scheme. "Ah," say the supporters of registration, "but all that is needed to ensure a high level of compliance is to put a high level of effort into enforcement". But surely we have to consider whether the effort would justify the end.
Enforcement of a registration requirement, by its very nature, would be expensive and labour intensive and would detract from the effort that could be put into what should be the key tasks of the dog warden. Which is better: for the dog warden to concentrate his or her efforts on dealing with strays and dog fouling or to pursue non-payment of the registration fee?
Noble Lords have argued that enforcement of dog control measures is only possible in the first place if the legal ownership of the dog can be established by registration. In the first place, it is far from clear that the identification of the owner is the solution to the problem. The key problem is that owners do not exert proper control over their dogs. Whether or not the dog had been registered would, we believe, be immaterial.
It is also notable that identification of the owners of the dogs concerned has not been in practice a problem in any of the recently reported cases of attacks. Yet registration is the only solution to the problem of dangerous dogs which has so far been put forward by the RSPCA. The absence of any more constructive proposals from them on this key issue seems to us a glaring omission.
Nonetheless, the supporters of registration cite cases where someone out with a dog has been approached about an offence and has responded by saying that the dog is not his but belongs to his mother-in-law, next door neighbour, teenage son or whoever, and that he cannot therefore be prosecuted for the offence. The fact is, however, that the legal ownership of the animal is increasingly irrelevant so far as enforcement is concerned. Recent legislation on attacks by dangerous dogs is framed in terms of the person having custody of the dog at the time of the incident. The same would be true of the proposals on which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is currently consulting.
The various by-laws for the control of dog fouling, requiring dogs to be kept on leads or banned from certain areas also relate not to the legal owner of the dog, but to the person in charge of the dog at the time. So the argument that the dog is not yours is no way of evading responsibility.
A second line of argument which has been put forward is that registration would deal with the problem of the resources needed by local authorities to provide dog control services. It has also been argued that that would meet the principle that the polluter should pay. On the latter point, as I hope I have illustrated, however, it is not the polluter who would pay, but the responsible owner who would pay for the problems caused by the irresponsible owner.
If a registration scheme is seen as a means of raising revenue for dog control services, I have to 2303 say that it must be one of the most inefficient means of doing so that one could devise. Research carried out for the RSPCA by the London School of Economics suggests that at least half the registration fee would be spent on the bureaucracy needed to deal with registrations, renewals, changes of address and deletions—at an annual cost of just over £20 million. Only when that had been paid for would there be funds available to finance the work of dog wardens on the streets.
The finances of the scheme would be even more uneconomic if, as we believe would be the case, there was a high level of evasion. It seems from the same research carried out for the RSPCA that the annual registration fee of £7, which has been cited, assumes a high level of compliance, not to mention a higher first year fee of around £23. To expect 100 per cent. compliance would be wholly unrealistic in the light of the Northern Irish experience and of the old dog licence. At a 40 per cent. level of compliance, which is much closer to the Northern Irish experience, we should be talking about a first year fee of £37 followed by an annual fee of £13 if costs were to be covered. It would seem inevitable that some burden would fall, despite the intention of the scheme, on the local authority. The exemptions for which there will no doubt be pressure—for example, for guide dogs, dogs owned by pensioners and others on a low income—would reduce the tax base still further.
It is these inefficiences that lead to the obvious conclusion that the most simple and efficient way to finance a dog control service locally is through the community charge. More than 200 authorities already have dog warden schemes financed in this way. The proposal that they should be able to make a supplementary charge for the collection of strays might provide some additional income. We are not talking about a service which costs an immense sum. The LSE report concludes that it costs about £30,000 a year to employ a dog warden (together with associated kennelling costs). It also concludes that one dog warden is needed per 100,000 population. That means that even in the major cities, the cost of the service is no more than £150,000 a year, which is a very small figure by comparison with other local environmental services.
Finally, I must turn to Amendments Nos. 379AA and 379AD proposed by my noble friends Lord Mancroft and Lord Balfour. As I said, by their association with the central amendment, the Government could not support them. However I have considerable sympathy with the intention behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. Any registration scheme would need to provide for certain generally agreed exemptions —guide dogs for the blind, dogs for the deaf and dogs owned by pensioners and others on low incomes. These exemptions would add to the complexity of the scheme and reduce the tax base.
There would also be strong arguments for exempting some categories of working dogs—for example, police and service dogs, foxhounds, gundogs and greyhounds—from the registration requirement; but there would be no practical argument for excluding working or sporting dogs in 2304 general from a registration requirement —sheepdogs, gundogs, packs of hounds and so on —even though those dogs for obvious safety reasons are kept exempt from the collar and tag requirement when they are at work. Any such exemption would present considerable enforcement difficulties. When is a border collie a working dog and when is it a pet? The fact of the matter is that the Government's objections to the scheme are based not on hostility but on an understanding that it will not remove the problems.
I do not want to delay the Committee in what has already been an extremely lengthy debate and I finish with three conclusions. We do not believe that registration will address the irresponsible dog owner who is the problem. Always in this debate I have used the RSPCA figures. I shall use one given by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol: if one assumes a 50 per cent. take up it means that of every 1 million dogs 500,000 would still be unregistered.
Secondly, the Government are doing something about this problem. Three departments of state have produced a consultation document dedicated to finding a solution. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, does not consider that the right solution has been presented before the Committee today, but it is a problem that needs a more complex answer than I suspect these amendments provide.
Finally, it is important that the Committee should fully understand when deciding on the amendment that the costs will be very high. One must consider the level of evasion. On housing estates all over Britain where I have canvassed, there is the ability to say, "It's not my dog. It's my Mum's dog and she is exempt." We believe that the £25 licence fee quoted by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, is at the low end of what will become a heavy tax on those who are responsible dog owners and have done no wrong.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I must congratulate the Minister on his splendid speech. To conclude by saying that three great departments of state have produced a consultation document sums the matter up.
We have an immense problem. The solution will cost money. However, the concern shown from all sides of the Chamber indicates the size of the problem. I shall not repeat the arguments that have been put. Perhaps I may say this to the two senior noble Lords have spoken —the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. In this country we have a puppy trade. Puppies are sold at Christmas; they are treated with great kindness and over-indulged for a week and are then turned loose on the streets. That is the core of the matter that leads to 1,000 dogs a day having to be destroyed. It is an enormous problem. Of course the solution will cost money. But if we care about the dogs in this country, then we have to be prepared to spend some money.
The noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, will understand this point. The great problem at the moment is that the Government will not pay for the measures needed to control dogs. Many measures 2305 are available. Some of them have worked well in other countries. However, what we have said in moving the amendment is that the core of the matter is registration. If one does not have registration, none of the other measures can work. I do not believe that Northern Ireland is necessarily a good example of everything. But its scheme has been a good example. It has improved the conditions there.
The Minister used the argument that the registration fee is only £5 in Northern Ireland. I believe that that is the wrong argument. If the registration fee were higher, it would deter many more people from keeping dogs for trivial reasons. If one has a dog, one should keep it because it is useful, because one loves dogs, or because a dog gives some return for affection and care. It should not be a trivial matter lasting for a day or two.
The Government abolished dog licences some years ago, and put nothing in their place. At the moment the Government argue that they are consulting; and that other measures will work. The Minister put forward some good arguments. It is up to the Committee to decide whether the core of his argument —that registration is not necessary —is right. If noble Lords believe what he says, of course they will vote against the amendment.
However the weight of evidence is quite clear. Without registration, one does not start with a chance. Many noble Lords have spoken of the various schemes for identifying dogs. There is no doubt that with the advance of science dogs could be identified, and their owners with them. The argument that, "It belongs to my Mum," would not work because the possibility for identification would be available.
On the argument of an increase in the slaughtering of dogs, that is true because more dogs would be found. We hope that eventually a far greater sense of responsibility will descend on those people in this country who own dogs or who wish to own dogs. That is the purpose of the amendment. It is backed by bodies which are professionally interested because of their trade, and by bodies such as the RSPCA which are interested in the welfare of dogs.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that, in the light of experience, the argument that this is not the right time to put the proposal forward is weak. We have a chance to give a clear lead to the Government which have no policy, despite issuing consultation documents. The core of this policy on which they can build is registration. I urge noble Lords to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
If I interpret the feelings of the Committee correctly, members would like to conclude the matter. If my procedure is right, I am more than happy to accept the amendment to my amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Mancroft. I understand that my noble friend Lord Balfour is happy not to move his amendments, and, should noble Lords approve this amendment, he will move his amendments at Report stage.
2306 I shall say only two things. First, I believe that if the Committee is in doubt, it should send the issue back to the Commons. They voted very narrowly on it. It will be their decision in the end.
Despite the point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, the amendment tackles the problem of our cruelty to our dogs. That is why I support it. It also deals with the other problems of dogs' cruelty to us. It will not cost the taxpayer or poll tax payer any money. It is a comprehensive scheme for which the Secretary of State can work out all the minor details that Members of the Committee have raised. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
§ On Question, Amendment No. 379AA, as an amendment to Amendment No. 379A, agreed to.
§ [Amendments Nos. 379AB to 379AD not moved.]
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 379A) as amended by Amendment No. 379AA, shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 155; Not-Contents, 83.
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Addington, L.||Gisborough, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Gladwyn, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Glasgow, E.|
|Alport, L.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Graham of Edmonton. L.|
|Attlee, E.||Grey, E.|
|Aylestone, L.||Halsbury, E.|
|Barnett, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Blackstone, B.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Hayter, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Henderson of Brompton, L.|
|Bridges, L.||Holme of Cheltenham, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Hooson, L.|
|Buchan, E.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Burton, L.||Hughes, L.|
|Byron, L.||Iddesleigh, E.|
|Caccia, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove,||Jacques, L.|
|Carter, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Kings Norton, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Leatherland, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Lewis of Newnham, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Listowel, E.|
|Craigavon, V.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe,|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||B.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Lockwood, B.|
|David, B.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Diamond, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Donegall, M.||Mclntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||MacLehose of Beoch, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Falkland, V.||McNair, L.|
|Foot, L.||Mais, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Gallacher, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Mersey, V.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
|Meston, L.||Seear, B.|
|Molloy, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||Serota, B.|
|Monkswell, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Shannon, E.|
|Morris of Castle Morris, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Moyne, L.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Mulley, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Murray of Epping Forest, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Nelson, E.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Newall, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Nicol, B. [Teller.]||Strange, B.|
|Norrie, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Ogmore, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Oram, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Peston, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Peyton of Yeovil, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Phillips, B.||Thurlow, L.|
|Prys-Davies, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Quinton, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Radnor, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Raglan, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Rankeillour, L.||Walpole, L.|
|Rea, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Richard, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Ritchie of Dundee, L.||White, B.|
|Rochester, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Ross of Newport, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Rugby, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham,|
|Russell of Liverpool, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|St. Davids, V.||Wynford, L.|
|St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Hives, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Holderness, L.|
|Arran, E.||Home of the Hirsel, L.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Auckland, L.||Howe, E.|
|Balfour, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Joseph, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Bessborough, E.||Layton, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Long, V.|
|Blyth, L.||Luke, L.|
|Boardman, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Nathan, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Carnarvon, E.||Pender, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Pym, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Reay, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Renton, L.|
|Crook, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Romney, E.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Downshire, M.||Sherfield, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior,|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Strathmore and Kinghorne,|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||E.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Goold, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Grantchester, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint||Trumpington, B.|
|Marylebone, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Hanson, L.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Henley, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Hesketh, L.||Wise, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.2308
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Lord Hesketh moved Amendment No. 379B:
§ Before Schedule 12, insert the following new schedule:
§ ("Amendments of Hazardous Substances Legislation