HL Deb 12 December 1996 vol 576 cc1234-45

6.26 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I approach the task of introducing the Bill with mixed feelings. Most of your Lordships who take an interest in dogs and associated matters will have heard on many occasions the arguments rehearsed about the amendment of the Dangerous Dogs Act proposed in the Bill. If the late Lord Houghton of Sowerby were here, he would be introducing the Bill. He had a long and remarkable parliamentary life, in which among many other subjects he made a notable contribution to the welfare of dogs. He was deeply opposed to any action or legislation which threatened the lives and well being of dogs.

Lord Houghton had not an untimely death because he lived to what anyone would reasonably say was a ripe old age. Until a short time before his death he was able to stand up in your Lordships' House and debate any subject of which he had knowledge, at, if I may say, inordinate length if required. A year ago, when he was ill and I had the pleasure on his behalf of introducing a similar Bill, I was horrified to see that I, too, spoke at some length. I do not propose to do that today. All I wish to say is that although I intend to be brief I am no less committed to the underlying argument supporting the Bill.

The Bill is simple in its scope. It aims to reintroduce into the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 the discretion of the courts which was taken away from them by Sections 1 and 3 of the Act. The legislation was introduced in the early 1990s in response to a rightful clamour for action to be taken to control the use of certain dogs, particularly the pit bull terrier, in the unattractive activity of dog fighting. In addition to that there was a great deal of publicity about a number of attacks which had been made on persons, including children, which had the unfortunate effect of causing damage and wounding. That gave rise to what I believe was a not surprising demand in the press for some action to be taken by government.

I am a great supporter of the press. I do not intend to speak in the debate which is shortly to take place in your Lordships' House on the media in a democracy. I take perhaps a more lenient view than some noble Lords on the role of the media, particularly the popular press, in drawing attention to areas in our life where certainly great attention is needed from both government—and individual citizens. But I believe that the relationship between the popular press and government—particularly when a government is losing popularity and seeks to court it by taking up matters which have been pushed in the press—has in the past become a little too close to be healthy, although I expect it will happen in the future.

In this instance the action taken to control dangerous dogs, specifically the pit bull terrier, was taken in great haste. It was unfortunate that the problem of fighting dogs had to be dealt with together with the other matter of dogs and their behaviour in public places. There is also the danger to the police, in the pursuance of their duties, of dogs used by the criminal world either to attack the police when raiding their premises or to deter them from entering. I support absolutely, as I am sure would most other noble Lords, government action to prevent that. To be fair, from all the evidence that I have heard—other noble Lords may have other views—the Act has reduced the use of pit bull terriers by criminal gangs. However, the Act has not altogether got rid of the use of other breeds of dogs for similar criminal purposes.

The simple attempt of this Bill is to restore discretion to the courts. At present, both under Section 1 of the Act, which relates to pit bull terriers, and Section 3, which relates to other dogs, the regulations are such that no court, where it is found that a dog has contravened the law, has any discretion other than to bring in a mandatory sentence for destruction. That has resulted in many appeals where dogs have been separated from their owners and confined at great expense for long periods of time. That applies particularly to Section 1 and pit bull terriers. It is a difficult breed to identify even by experienced persons in the dog world, including veterinary officers. Many tens of thousands of pounds have been spent, in some cases, in kennel fees. At the same time there has been great mental hardship where owners have been separated from their pets with the uncertainty of what will happen to them.

It has always been in our tradition of jurisprudence—no doubt the noble Earl will expand on this when he replies—that one is innocent until proven guilty. In this case it is up to the dog owner to prove that his dog is innocent rather than for the dog to be proven guilty by the court. I suggest that every case, whether it involves human beings or human beings and their animals, is different in some degree and requires the court to exercise judgment and discretion which otherwise makes its decision extremely unsettling in many regards.

There is another element which I did not introduce on the last occasion we spoke about these matters. The Dogs Act 1871 is still in existence. On reflection, it seems to me that, as it is now shown, the police can choose—especially under Section 3 of this Act—whether they wish the dog to be prosecuted under the 1871 Act, where there is discretion in the court, or under the 1991 Act, where there is not. Therefore, effectively the police have the power to decide whether or not a dog is to be destroyed. That is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. That onus should not be laid at the door of the police.

I know the principle behind this Bill because the noble Earl who will be answering this evening informed us of that when we debated this matter a year ago. I believe that the view of the Government and that of their advisers is that this legislation has been effective in taking out of circulation to a great degree a breed of dog which was unwelcome; namely, the pit bull terrier, even though no one knows exactly what it is. The Act has created a situation where the Government can claim that they have reacted to popular demand. But, in fact, they have created an enormous amount of expense and hardship. There needs to be a simple adjustment to the Bill recognising to some extent that the Bill deals with a difficult situation.

The difficulty confronting the Government is that the whole subject of dogs in this country is beset with problems. We do not know exactly how many dogs there are in this country: there may be 3 million or 5 million. There is no certainty. We have no means of ascertaining the true figure. Sooner or later we shall have forced on us the need to discover exactly how many dogs we have, whether that is as a result of the prospect of rabies or for other reasons.

For the time being the Government do not want to be faced with the difficulty of creating what can be termed normally as a registration scheme. I can see that from their point of view it is a very difficult matter. It will cost money and it will probably have to be administered by local authorities. As we all know, that would be a situation to fill the Government with understandable concern. Nevertheless, sooner or later, the situation of dogs generally will have to be dealt with. When that happens I suggest that the whole problem of dangerous dogs and how they should be dealt with can be addressed more satisfactorily.

Meanwhile, it is surely time for us to consider the unnecessary suffering of dog owners and their dogs when they are parted as a result of decisions taken in the courts on the basis of this Act rather than on the basis of the facts presented to them. If this system of dealing with offences continues so that all the courts do is refer to a piece of paper which tells them what they must do by way of sentencing, without considering the rights and wrongs of each case, our society will be much the poorer for it.

This Bill seeks to address that situation by restoring discretion to the courts and thereby save not only a lot of unhappiness and suffering by dog owners but also save the state a great deal of unnecessary expense. The Bill will also save a considerable amount of police time taken up in chasing dogs with long poles with wire loops attached, often by officers who are not familiar with dogs let alone the type of dog they are pursuing.

Most noble Lords will be aware that more often than not in cases of this kind the police go out to catch a dog that has been reported to them, perhaps by an anonymous letter or telephone call, for reasons other than the threat posed by that dog. They are forced to go out and take action. That is often the start of a protracted case that results in a great deal of expense and often unnecessary suffering by the owner.

I hope that the noble Earl will have something new to say this evening. Perhaps there will he a change of heart on the part of the Government and their advisers on this subject. Originally, the press clamoured for action. Without exception the press say that this Bill has not worked in the way intended.

Surely it is time for the Government to make a minimal change to this legislation to satisfy the demands of dog owners, dog groups and the public.

Others more experienced than I in dealing with dogs will speak tonight. I am grateful for their participation in the debate. I look forward to this Bill being given a second reading in this House, passing through the other place and becoming law; but I am always an optimist. I beg to move.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, the House should be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for reintroducing this Bill. He has put it well and I will not take many minutes to emphasise a number of areas. The noble Viscount does great service to the memory of the late Lord Houghton of Sowerby who put his heart and soul into amendment of the Dangerous Dogs Act. I recall that he was one of the very few who opposed the original Bill on the basis that it lacked justice in the United Kingdom.

Attempts to modify the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 are well known. Because the noble Viscount has put it very well I will not rehearse them. They are supported by the findings of the Select Committee of this House on the Bill. Since the enactment of the 1991 Act there have been numerous examples of the law being brought into disrepute because of the operations of that Act. I suspect that more examples will be given in this evening's debate. This Bill attempts to give discretion to magistrates as to the fate of a dog that has been "arrested" on a charge of being a dangerous dog.

The Bill does not seek to alter the main thrust of the 1991 Act. I do not want to persuade my noble friend the Minister that the legislation is wrong in principle. It is not. The problems lie in the operation of that Act. I regret to say that the Act has been brought into disrepute as a result.

It may be argued that the number of attacks by dangerous dogs on children and others has been reduced by the Bill. I do not doubt that that is so. But numerous cases reported in the press and on television and radio have resulted in a situation where 85 per cent. of the population now want the legislation either amended or repealed, compared with the 85 per cent. who initially supported the measure in 1991.

I do not agree that the Act should be repealed, but I plead with the Minister and the Government that it should be amended, simply giving to magistrates the discretion that is provided for in the Bill. I hope that the report on the operation of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 by the Home Affairs Committee in another place will be favourably disposed to the arguments to be made in the House tonight. I believe that the speedy dispatch of the Bill through this House should provide the necessary conjunction, leading to a resolution of the acknowledged difficulties of the Bill which will allow it to operate in the manner intended, namely, to control dangerous dogs and to prevent the harm occasioned by them, in particular attacks on children.

6.46 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, from these Benches we welcome the Bill, and thank the noble Viscount for re-introducing it in this House. It has our wholehearted support. It is a little like seeing an old friend again. I hope that on this occasion the Government will see fit to give this Bill a warmer welcome than they did last time when, having been examined and approved by the Select Committee, it was shown the door by the Minister in its final stages in this House.

As has already been said, the original Bill was very much the work of the late Lord Houghton of Sowerby. He was the driving force behind it, and its progress through this House occupied much of his final months. He was determined to right an injustice as he saw it. It was one that he predicted during the passage of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, and it was one about which subsequent events proved him to be right. His concern for injustice both to men and animals was, and continues to be, an inspiration to many of us. I believe that he would have been glad to hear that this cause, about which he cared greatly, will not be laid to rest with him.

I, together with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who speaks immediately after me, had the privilege of serving on the Select Committee of this House on the original amendment Bill under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Templeman. Following extensive evidence and deliberation, that committee considered that the Dangerous Dogs Act should be amended in the way that this new Bill seeks to do. The original Act came into force at great speed on a tide of public outrage following some appalling cases in which children in particular had been killed and seriously injured by dogs. There was also growing and justified public concern about the ownership of dogs of the pit bull terrier type.

Much of the Act—from the evidence which the Select Committee heard—has worked well, but the public perception of that Act is that it is a bad piece of legislation. Some parts of it are undoubtedly bad. Its effects have led to the destruction of dogs belonging to owners who have committed only technical offences, lengthy court hearings while experts on both sides debate whether or not a particular dog is of the pit bull terrier type, and dogs kept for years effectively on death row at great public expense. But it has also had successes. As we understood it, the Act was intended to do two things: first, to eliminate in a relatively short time dogs of the type known as pit bull terriers by imposing stringent conditions on anyone tempted to own such a dog. Those conditions involved registration, neutering, insurance, muzzling and so on.

The second object of the original Bill was to strengthen the powers of the courts to deal with dogs of any type which proved to be dangerous or potentially dangerous. In reaching its recommendations, the committee was anxious not to frustrate the intention of Parliament in either of those respects. After hearing extensive evidence, it was our considered view that the proposed amendment did not and would not do so.

Exempt dogs of the pit bull terrier type—in other words those which are properly registered under the Act—have been drastically reduced in numbers since the Act came into force. It was our understanding that in 10 years not one will remain. I wonder whether, when the noble Earl comes to deal with the matter, he can give us some indication of just how many of the dogs now remain on the register. We were told originally that there were something in excess of 8,000. By January 1995—the latest figures we have—they were down to 3,500 and they are clearly diminishing daily.

As concerns the illegal pit bull terrier types, it is virtually impossible to establish how many there are. Some are being kept illegally by their owners who have either not bothered to register them or have, for some reason, failed to do so. A number of those owners were, it seems, criminals. We were told that the ownership of the dogs by the criminal fraternity had largely ceased because to attract attention through your dog might well lead to detection of your other activities.

We were told that, although there is no clear evidence as to whether it is widespread, there is still some use of the dogs for fighting purposes. But it seems that it is very much an underground activity and appears to be confined to the travelling fraternity. No figures, I stress, are available to us to give any indication of how many dogs are kept for that purpose.

The remaining illegal pit bull terriers would appear to be kept either by owners who have kept them underground and not registered them or people who own dogs which, because of the vagaries of breeding and heredity, have appeared to be pit bull terrier types, often from dogs which are of other breeds.

The third category are those owners who simply do not realise that their dog comes into this category and therefore have not taken any steps to register them. The lack of any discretion on the part of the courts has led to manifest injustice in relation to all brackets of dogs, both exempt and those which are illegal. As regards exempt dogs—that is to say those properly on the register—there have been instances of dogs being destroyed because a muzzle was removed in order for the dog to be sick or when a dog was found unmuzzled but securely locked in its owner's car.

As regards the illegal—if I may call them that—dogs, there are a number of owners who genuinely did not appreciate that they fell foul of the law by failing to register their pets. That has led to expensive and protracted hearings in the course of which arguments have been mounted with experts on both sides.

The Select Committee recommended that the discretion of the court not to destroy should only be exercised if the court was satisfied that both the dog and the owner could be trusted. In those circumstances, permission should be given to put the dog on the register, which would trigger all the other requirements such as neutering, insurance, muzzling and so on.

The lack of a discretion in respect of a destruction order in the Section 3 cases also causes great injustice. No account can be taken by the magistrates, for example, of the severity of injury or of provocation. So when a poisonous little boy with a stick pokes a dog repeatedly in the eye until eventually in exasperation it turns and snaps at him, grazing his hand, if the charge has been brought under Section 3, the court has no discretion. It has to order the dog to be destroyed and cannot take into account the circumstances in which that happened. But the committee was clear that discretion in those circumstances should only be exercised when the court is satisfied that the dog presents no continuing danger to the public.

The essential principle for any legislation dealing with dangerous dogs surely must be: first, that the public should be protected by the law from vicious dogs of any breed; and, secondly, that there should be no change to the existing law which weakens that protection. These modest amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act will not weaken the original Act. What they will do is to correct an injustice. Those noble Lords who have in recent weeks been receiving a huge postbag of letters in connection with the proposed gun legislation—which comes before this House, I believe, next week—will know how often the Dangerous Dogs Act is cited by members of the public as the prime example of bad legislation, conceived in haste and as a response to transient public pressures. The public have now seen that the Act is wrong in some of its respects. Some parts of it clearly are not working well and this short Bill should correct them.

Responsible dog owners are constantly urged to clear up any mess made by their pets. Surely it cannot be too much to ask the Government to clear up the mess made by their pet Bill, by giving encouragement and support to this Bill tonight.

6.56 p.m.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, I promise two things: first, I shall be brief and, secondly, I shall be antagonistic. The Dangerous Dogs Act, like other legislation introduced without understanding the full implications, is flawed. For this reason, this is the fourth attempt to get it amended, as detailed by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland.

As has already been stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, we were both members of the Select Committee which was set up to look into amending the Act. The committee was unanimous in its opinion and recommended that the Act be amended. On 27th March this year, the noble Earl, on behalf of the Government, rejected the committee's recommendation: a committee formed from Members on all sides of the House and a committee which had listened to numerous witnesses. This rejection by the Government seems to me to be arrogant. If the Government had already formed an opinion before convening the Select Committee, why did they set it up? Further, as they did set up the Select Committee, why did they ignore its recommendations?

A lot of parliamentary time was wasted if the Government already knew that the committee's report was going to be ignored. In all honesty, I cannot see the Bill succeeding this time, due to the election being called sometime in the near future. Let us hope that the Act can be amended shortly thereafter. Lord Nelson benefited from using his blind eye. Trying to copy him does not suit the Government in this instance.

6.59 p.m.

Baroness Wharton

My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, for bringing the Bill back before us tonight. I also wish to thank everyone who has paid tribute to the late Lord Houghton, who was such a strong influence on all of us.

I have spoken many times on the Second Reading of the Bill so I do not intend to detain the House for too long. Naturally I, like many others, look forward to reading the report of the home affairs Select Committee which will be out next week.

In November, 1994, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Chieke left his dog outside the newsagent's while he went in to buy a newspaper. The dog was arrested. The police wanted Mr. Chieke to sign a disclaimer authorising them to destroy the dog and then they would not pursue the matter through the courts, as they believed the dog to be of the pit bull terrier type. Needless to say, the owner refused and apparently he did not understand any of it because he said: "The dog has done nothing wrong". On 16th August, 1995—about eight months later—at Wells Street magistrates' court, before a stipendiary magistrate, the prosecution applied for an adjournment as the veterinarian used by the police was unavailable. The magistrate was critical of the Crown Prosecution's inefficiency and refused the adjournment. The prosecution barrister refused to proceed, so the case was dismissed, with the magistrate saying "This is the same as an acquittal". So on 20th September at Parchmore Road police garage the dog was presented to Mr. Chieke. He then identified his dog and was re-charged under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act. By this time the poor man was crying and his dog was howling. More than a year later, on November 25th 1996, the case went to Croydon magistrates' court. On the fourth day Mr. Chieke was found guilty of owning a dog of the pit bull type, fined £100 and given a conditional discharge. The dog was ordered to be destroyed. Mr. Chieke has owned his dog since it was two months old and it is a family pet. Mr. Chieke is 77 years old, has a heart condition and is slightly deaf. It is not surprising that he collapsed in court sobbing uncontrollably, begging to see his dog.

I only mention all of this because there is precious little humanity around when it comes to cases of this kind. If an owner is acquitted at trial on a legal technicality, the police still refuse to return the dog. So you see a person can be freed on acquittal but a family pet cannot, if the police still believe, but cannot prove, that it is of "the pit-bull type". There are dogs in limbo, locked up for years with nobody appearing to make a decision as to their future. I never thought that was right, and I do not think so now. There is a crying need to introduce some common sense into the original Act, and I believe that this amendment Bill does just that.

7 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, first, I wish to associate myself with the comments which have been expressed by many noble Lords about Lord Houghton whose Bill this has been in previous years. The whole House acknowledges the determination and commitment he gave to the cause of animal welfare.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, in introducing the Bill, explained that it would remove the mandatory destruction provisions of the Act and allow the courts discretion in sentencing. It is also about the courts being able to give convicted owners the opportunity for late registration on the index of exempted dogs and review all current cases where a destruction order has been made but not yet carried out.

Before I deal with the provisions in the Bill, let me set out for the record why the Government introduced the Dangerous Dogs Act. The reasons in 1991 remain relevant today. Your Lordships will recall, as the noble Viscount said, the horrific events which led the Government to bring forward the legislation and the wide support which the proposals received. Our belief was, and remains, that there is no place in this country for fighting dogs and that the present generation of such animals should be the last.

The principal provisions of the 1991 Act were all designed to achieve precisely that objective. Under the Act, owners of pit bull terriers and other dogs bred for fighting were allowed to keep their animals on condition that they complied, by 30th November 1991, with the stringent conditions set out in the legislation. The mandatory destruction order applies where the owner of a fighting dog failed to comply with those requirements or fails subsequently to keep the dog muzzled and on a lead in a public place and where a dog of any type or breed causes injury to a person. In these cases, magistrates have no option, as noble Lords have said, but to order the destruction of the dog.

On each occasion when a Bill has been introduced to amend the Dangerous Dogs Act, the Government have given the matter careful consideration in the light of current circumstances. That is the case on this occasion. I have to tell the House, though, that the Government's view is that the provisions in the Bill would have two undesirable effects: first, they would undermine the incentives which the Act provides towards responsible dog ownership, and they would risk the perpetration of fighting dogs in this country; and, secondly, in our view, they would amount to a weakening of the protection which the Act affords.

Mandatory destruction was designed to face owners of fighting dogs with a clear choice: comply with the registration and associated requirements of the Act by the due date or face the certain destruction of the animal concerned. To owners of dogs of any type, there is an equally clear message. An owner whose dog is dangerously out of control and attacks and injures someone will, if convicted under the Act, face the certain destruction of the pet animal. The provisions ensure that dog owners who fail to act responsibly do not have any chance of regaining charge of their animals. That is an important provision. We do not want an owner who ignored the provisions of the legislation to regain custody of the dog concerned.

The Bill also provides for the courts to direct convicted persons to register their pit bull dog. But to allow those owners who originally failed to register to do so now would suggest that Parliament was no longer committed to ensuring the elimination of pit bull terriers since there would be nothing to prevent fresh dogs, imported into this country or bred unlawfully here, from benefiting from the concession.

It would be a dangerous invitation to some people to risk bringing new dogs into this country, knowing that there was a back door route to registration if they were caught, and, perversely, that to legitimise one's position as an owner of an unregistered dog one would first have to be prosecuted and convicted of owning it unlawfully. Clause 4 of the Bill would go further by enabling the court to review all current cases where a destruction order had been made but not yet carried out.

The Government accept that the Dangerous Dogs Act contains tough provisions. But pit bulls, or other dogs which become dangerously out of control and injure a person, are no less of a threat today than they were when the 1991 Act was introduced.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned identification of pit bulls and pit bull type dogs. I am well aware of the argument about having to prove that a dog belongs to a type which is not a recognised breed. At the time of the legislation Parliament recognised that the identification of pit bull terriers would be a problem. The difficulties were not under-estimated but it was felt that the threat of such dogs made it necessary to reverse the burden of proof in the way that the Act does. The noble Viscount also said that there may have been over-use of the 1991 Act. In fact, more prosecutions are brought under the Dogs Act 1871 than under Section 3 of the 1991 Act.

In the past four years there have been 2,460 prosecutions under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 but 2,562 under the 1871 Act. I can also tell the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that we reflected long and hard on the recommendations made by the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, particularly in the light of the committee's assessment that discretion should and would be exercised only where the protection of the public would not be at risk. But we must never lose sight of the reasons why the Act was introduced in the first place: the public concern that existed over dog attacks and the Government's absolute responsibility to take steps to address the problem, and the continuing risk.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, asked me how many pit bulls are still on the register. I understand that there are still 3,500 dogs on the register.

This is the fourth occasion on which a Bill to amend the Dangerous Dogs Act has been presented to the House. As I indicated at the outset, we have considered the proposals carefully. As I have made clear, the Government consider that the Act was a responsible recognition that something had to be done to meet widespread concern and to protect the public. The mandatory destruction order and the one-off nature of the registration scheme are matters which are integral to the provisions of the Act and to the objective which Parliament agreed. The Act remains relevant and necessary. It follows that I have to tell the House that the Government cannot support the Bill, although, as is the convention with a Private Member's Bill, we shall not seek to vote against it.

7.8 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his reply and all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Although it has been a short debate, and although we have expressed the arguments on many occasions, something more has come out tonight. There have been some notable contributions, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who put clearly her reasons for believing—they are the reasons which most who oppose the Act have—that this is bad law; and from the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, who gave us a clear example of an idiotic injustice. She gave a heart- rending story.

As before, the noble Earl's reply—it is not his fault, because I know him to be a kindly and compassionate man—was curiously frustrating, because he did not answer what we were all saying. All we are saying, and all the Bill is about, is giving back discretion to the courts. Giving discretion back to the courts will make it a better Act. We are not attacking the fundamental Act. We agree that fighting dogs should be removed from society; we agree that something had to be done; all we are saying is that the haste with which the Bill was brought in has caused it to be extremely damaging to people and their pets. This has been an extremely bad example of the way in which our great traditions of jurisprudence have been changed by the Government by not allowing the courts, which are full of people who are well educated and able, to bring to bear their judgment in these cases and where necessary to use their discretion.

We agree absolutely that something had to be done. We agree that to some extent, the Bill has been a success. Of course the police are using the 1871 Act because, if they have a choice and they can see that there may be injustice, they will use the Act which gives the courts discretion. They are not using the later Act, which is patently unfair and creates difficulties.

However, there seems to be a slippery relationship between those noble Lords who have spoken in the debate tonight and the noble Earl, because he does not seem to grasp the problem. The noble Earl seemed to imply that there are no longer any dangerous dogs. Everybody, even the newspapers who put the greatest pressure on government to bring in new dangerous dogs legislation, knows that there are still dangerous dogs and there always will be. Even a small terrier in the park which is out of control can inflict an enormous amount of damage.

Therefore, we have no argument with the noble Earl about the question of fighting dogs. We are told by the noble Baroness—and I am glad to hear it because I did not know—that the ownership of fighting dogs now seems to be limited to the travelling community. We all know what that means and I am glad that that is so. I wish that the travelling community did not have fighting dogs and I congratulate the Government if they have reduced the number of fighting dogs and in particular pit bull terriers.

However, the lack of discretion does no credit to our system of jurisprudence, to the Government or our society. It really is time that something was done about that. This Bill seeks to achieve that. The Select Committee of your Lordships' House was ignored by the Government but I hope that it will not be ignored by a Select Committee of another place should it reach the same conclusions. If the Government do ignore that, they will show that they are arrogant. If they did that, it would be downright pig-headed. I know that the Government have other problems but if they are hoping for support at the next election, they should not show themselves to be pig-headed. Therefore, I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.