HL Deb 20 October 1998 vol 593 cc1310-2

2.57 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take steps to start a national dog register when they alter the regulations for quarantine for pets entering the United Kingdom.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the Kennedy Advisory Group on Quarantine did not consider a national dog register to be a necessary requirement for the proposed changes. The Government are sympathetic to the advisory group's proposals for the ending of quarantine in certain circumstances. After the public consultation, which runs until 31st December, the Government will decide what action to take.

The Government received a number of representations on the question of dog registration and have yet to take a decision on the way forward. Speaking personally, as Chief Whip I am all in favour of systems of licensing and even more in favour in some cases of the withdrawal of licences.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. But is he aware that he gave the impression that the Government are backing away from a dog registration scheme? If I misunderstood him, will the Government speed up the process by supporting a Private Member's Bill in the next Session of Parliament? I am sure the noble Lord realises that such a scheme would be of enormous benefit in regard to the marking and chipping of cattle and sheep. At the same time, could not the dog wardens which would be needed also be litter wardens?

Lord Carter

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, electronic identification of farm animals can be carried out now on a voluntary basis. Cattle, sheep, pigs and goats can be tagged by electronic means. At present, boluses and electronic tags are the favoured approach. With regard to the possibility of government support for a Private Member's Bill, I cannot at this stage forecast what will happen in the next Session, but it is an idea that we could look at. A number of representations have been made regarding a dog registration scheme. The Government are considering those representations, but a widespread consultation period would be necessary before any action was taken.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a national dog register may help to deal with the malpractices and horrible stories that emerge from so-called puppy farms? If dogs were registered there would at least be a responsibility to try to get rid of the evil side of puppy farms.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I believe that powers already exist to deal with that matter. One does not need a system of dog registration to deal with it. There are statutory powers to set standards, and a consultation exercise is about to start on the implementation of those standards through parliamentary order. We hope that that will take place some time next year.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that this House expressed a firm view a few years ago that there should be a dog registration scheme and the idea was overturned by another place for reasons of which I am unaware? I am quite sure that had one been introduced implementation of new quarantine regulations would have been a little easier. Is he aware that the cost of dealing with stray dogs alone is some £38 million? That represents the cost of livestock damage, traffic accidents, dog wardens and the cost to the police. Is it not time that the Government took these factors on board? In particular, now that the technology is so advanced it would be a good deal easier to do.

Lord Carter

My Lords, it is important to understand that dog registration is not relevant to the question of quarantine. It is estimated that out of a total dog population of 6.9 million there will be a maximum of a quarter of a million cats and dogs exported and imported back to the UK which will subject to quarantine. One does not have to register 6.9 million dogs in order to catch the maximum 250,000 dogs that will be caught under the proposals referred to in the Kennedy Report. As to dog wardens, under Section 149 of the Environment Protection Act 1990 each local authority is required to appoint an officer for the purposes of dealing with stray dogs in its area.

Baroness Fookes

My Lords, as I had the support of the then Labour Opposition when I sought in vain to introduce a dog registration scheme on two occasions in the other place, I am disappointed by the apparent dragging of feet by this Government in the matter. Why have they changed their mind now that they are in government?

Lord Carter

My Lords, this happens sometimes. It is correct that the Labour Party was in favour of a national dog registration scheme when in opposition but there was no commitment in that respect in the manifesto. All of us in this House know how important manifesto commitments are. Any scheme is likely to require changes to primary legislation and Ministers will need to consider a number of wide-ranging issues, including cost and enforcement. No decision has been taken on the need for a registration scheme, but we are prepared to consult and consider the merits of the issue.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many noble Lords in this House have pressed for some time for a dog registration scheme and that one of the points made persistently by the previous government was that such a scheme was unnecessary because people who handled dogs irresponsibly would be unlikely to register? Can the noble Lord say what the Government would do to police a registration scheme if they decided to introduce one? Incidentally, how many dogs does the Minister believe there are in this country; and how can they be counted without a registration scheme?

Lord Carter

My Lords, I have already answered that question. It is estimated that there 6.9 million dogs in 5.4 million households. I have now forgotten the noble Viscount's first question.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, has my noble friend considered the possible cost of the introduction of what he considers to be a feasible scheme? Will he bear in mind that should he introduce one there is every likelihood that the European Commission will claim competence in this field, which I believe will be a considerable embarrassment to some dog owners in various parts of the country, not least in this House?

Lord Carter

My Lords, there is no European Union legislation on the import of pets. The Commission regards this matter as a single market issue. But there is as yet no sign of any attempt to introduce legislation or a directive. If there were such a directive it would be subject to qualified majority voting.