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Orders Of The Day

Volume 886: debated on Friday 14 February 1975

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Litigants In Person (Costs) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

11.20 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Today is St. Valentine's Day, and, according to ancient custom, it was on this day that young people drew lots for lovers. A person drawn in such a ballot was called a valentine and was often given an expensive present, more often than not a pair of gloves. I hope that all involved in drawing lots for valentines today will be as successful as I have been in drawing the opportunity to present this Bill.

I hope that the Bill will have a Second Reading and stand a good prospect of changing a small but significant corner of the law. It follows precisely the lines of the Bill introduced just over a year ago by the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce). He did a great deal of preliminary work on the Bill, from which I have benefited, and I should like to thank him. Unfortunately for him, the then leader of his party chose to seek a General Election which took place on the day before the Bill was due for a Second Reading. It was thus lost, but has now been revived.

The Consumers' Association, publishers of Which?, has encouraged me to promote the Bill. I should like to thank David Tench, the association's legal adviser, for all his help. The Bill deals with the problem that confronts a person who seeks justice in a court of law without being represented by a lawyer—a person, that is, who seeks justice in a civil court, who is perhaps trying to obtain payment of money owing to him either by debt or in compensation for some wrong suffered, or perhaps trying to defend himself against a claim brought against him which he disputes. The Bill has no application to criminal cases, where the situation is quite different.

The purpose of the Bill is not to undermine the professional activities of the legal profession, nor to threaten their livelihoods. I am told that many solicitors find that dealing with small claims is wholly uneconomic. The professional fees earned from handling such cases could be disproportionate to the amount of work involved. As a result, small claims in the county court and in corresponding courts in Scotland and Northern Ireland are not a good proposition for the legal profession, and anything that Parliament can do to relieve lawyers of this class of work would probably be welcome to the majority of them.

Furthermore, legal aid is not in practice available in cases in which no more than £100 is claimed, no matter how small the means of the person concerned. For this and no doubt other reasons it has been Government policy since 1973 to promote the idea of small claims being taken by people themselves, without lawyers.

The right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), when he was Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs, was largely responsible for the introduction of the arbitration scheme for small claims in the county court which came into effect on 1st October 1973. One of the main purposes of that initiative was to enable people with genuine claims as consumers who had failed to obtain redress by any other means to bring cases in the county court without legal representation.

Incidentally, a person who brings a case without having a solicitor to act for him is called in England and Wales a litigant in person—hence the title of the Bill. In Scotland he is called a party litigant.

Hon. Members will be interested to know how the scheme is progressing. The Attorney-General, in answer to a question by the originator of the scheme, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East, said that in the first 13 months of its operation 5,123 cases had been referred to arbitration. This is an indication of considerable success. Of that number, over half were not legally represented, so we may deduce that the litigant in person has come to stay and is someone to be reckoned with.

We must bear in mind also that there should be added to the considerable figure of just over 5,000 cases actually referred to arbitration a much higher figure for those people who brought cases in the county court which were settled after legal proceedings had begun but before they had been referred to arbitration.

Then there is the High Court. It is by no means unknown for someone to pursue justice unaided, or, as some would say, unhampered, by retaining solicitors and counsel in the High Court. Many litigants in person in the High Court are sensible, responsible and intelligent people who have decided to conduct their own cases for financial reasons. The limitations of the legal aid scheme are such that they cannot afford the costs involved in paying for their own lawyers, not to mention the risk of paying the costs of the other side, if they were to lose. It can be seen that considerable groups of people for one reason or another find that the only way in which they can seek justice is by a "do-it-yourself" method, or, to put it more formally, to sue as litigants in person.

I now come to the problems of litigants in person. There are several. The first, of course, is that they are unfamiliar with court procedure. The Government have done something to assist them in this regard. The Lord Chancellor's Department has produced an admirable booklet called "Small Claims in the County Court", available free to anyone minded to bring a case in the county court, which can be obtained at any court office and at most citizens' advice bureaux and other advice centres. This is a praiseworthy publication and has helped many a litigant in person to see his way through the legal complexities which constitute court procedure. The Consumers' Association has also produced a publication called "How to Sue in the County Court", which goes into the technicalities in more detail and provides in a vivid and readable way a thorough guide to all the complexities of actual court cases which are contested from start to finish.

Another problem which may confront the litigant in person is the possibility that his opponent may simply not have the means to pay what the court orders. In this regard the litigant in person is in no worse position than his colleague who uses a solicitor, but something could usefully be done to bring it home to potential litigants in person that if the proposed defendant has no means to pay, has gone bankrupt or into liquidation or is missing there is no point whatsoever in taking the matter to court. One cannot, as the saying goes, get blood out of a stone.

But the particular problem of the litigant in person which I wish to highlight, and which it is the purpose of my Bill to remedy, concerns the question of costs. At its simplest, the question of legal costs works like this. If a solicitor represents someone, that person has to pay the solicitor. If, so represented, he wins his case, and is awarded costs against the other side, these costs cover to a large extent the amount he has to pay his solicitor, but they do not as a rule cover the full costs the solicitor charges him. Because of the strict rules governing what may be recovered under an order for costs—these rules are very complex—he would in most cases recover from the other side a substantial contribution, but no more than that, to the amount he would have to pay his solicitor. He would thus be out of pocket to some extent over the matter, even though he had won his case.

But a litigant in person would fare much worse than this. If a litigant in person brought a case and won it, and were awarded costs against the losing party, he could recover only his bare out-of-pocket expenses, and no more. He could recover the court fee for bringing the case, for example, but nothing for the time and effort devoted to preparing the case, taking it through, and eventually winning it. Even if he were compelled to take time off from work to attend to matters concerned with the case, he could not recover anything for it under the award of costs he obtained. That puts the litigant in person at a serious disadvantage compared with the represented litigant.

I will describe to the House a real life example. I have here a letter from Mr. Adams, of Greenford, Middlesex, who bought a colour television set from Trident Discount. The set turned out to be faulty. Despite several attempts to get it put right, the set still did not work properly. The company refused to do anything about it, so Mr. Adams, after advice from his local citizens' advice bureau, himself issued a summons in the county court. That produced immediate results. The company offered him another set, which he accepted, in lieu of his money back. The company also paid the court fee of £6·75 which Mr. Adams had paid to bring the case.

That was a comparatively happy end to an unhappy story, except that Mr. Adams added wistfully at the end of his letter which described his experience
"I lost two days from work doing so."
Why should he lose two days' pay in pursuit of justice and get nothing for it? My Bill rectifies that injustice and allows to be included in an award of costs made in favour of the litigant in person against a person who loses a court case—
"a sum in respect of work done by the litigant in person in relation to the proceedings."
That is the nub of the matter.

The Bill also specifically allows "expenses incurred". That is to make clear that expenses, too, may be recovered as part of an award of costs. As I have already explained, out-of-pocket expenses are to a certain—or, rather, to an uncertain—extent recoverable under the present rules. Court fees and witnesses' expenses on the scale laid down are certainly recoverable. Beyond that, the practice seems to vary from court to court. For instance, some county courts interpret the present vague rules as best they can, and disallow such items as travelling expenses which a litigant in person incurs in going to the court office from his home and back again to issue the summons, to attend the pretrial review or to interview witnesses. Such expenses, if incurred by a solicitor acting for a litigant, are recoverable as part of an award of costs. In all justice they should also be recoverable by a litigant in person in comparable circumstances, and they will be if my Bill goes through.

In essence, the Bill sets out to put the litigant in person who wins his case in a comparable position vis-à-vis costs to his fellow litigant who is represented by a solicitor. Logically and fairly, the same principles should apply to each. They do not at present, and the Bill makes sure that they do. That is true not only of expenses but also of the work done by the litigant.

I have referred to the virtues of the new arbitration scheme in the county court. One aspect of that is that the litigant in person is not as a rule at risk in paying the legal costs of the other side if he loses his case, provided the amount he is claiming is not more than £75.

That brings me to something of a paradox in relation to the reform the Bill will bring about. The "no costs" rule in under-£75 cases is not in question—it has been generally approved—and, indeed, the only matter seriously under consideration at the moment is whether the level should be raised from £75 to, say, £100. But the existence of the "no costs" rule gives rise to a strange result in relation to costs awarded under the principle introduced by this Bill.

We have to accept, I think, that no costs can be awarded under this Bill either where the amount at stake in the case is not more than £75, for if a litigant with a solicitor cannot claim under an award of costs the fees he pays his solicitor for dealing with the small claims case, by the same token neither should the litigant in person be able to claim for such costs where he does the work himself. Otherwise the litigant in person would be in a better position than a litigant who is represented by a solicitor. That is not the intention.

As I have emphasised, the object of the Bill is to put the litigant in person in a comparable position with that of a represented litigant—neither better, nor worse. It is, of course, a significant limitation on the application of the Bill that it should be excluded, in effect, from cases involving less than £75, and that is, in one way, a pity. But the advantage on balance of having a "no costs" rule in under-£75 cases is considerable, and outweighs the principle underlying the Bill.

Indeed, if the costs rule introduced by the Bill were applied to small claims, it might put the litigant in a better position than a represented litigant. It might also act as a disincentive to a person with a genuine claim seeking justice through the county court small claims procedure, out of fear that if he lost he would have to pay costs to a litigant in person on the other side. That could be a very off-putting prospect.

We accept, therefore, the continuation of the "no costs" rule in small claims to cover both solicitors' and litigants in persons' costs. The result is that the main impact of the Bill will be in relation to what I might call the middle range of simple cases—those where over £75 is in issue but the case is still comparatively simple and does not involve sufficient money to warrant instructing a solicitor to handle it. That covers a considerable volume of cases.

It might also be said that the new principle introduced by the Bill could be seen as a consolation to the litigant in person with a claim exceeding £75. Although he will be outside the small claims limit of £75, and so will be at risk as to the other side's costs if he loses his case, at least under the Bill he will be able to recover his own costs if he wins.

The Lord Chancellor and his Department have afforded me every encouragement and assistance in consultations about the drafting of the Bill, and I should like to express my gratitude to them for this.

There is one aspect of the Bill on which there appears to be a measure of disagreement between myself and the Government. It concerns the question whether the principle of the Bill ought to be applied to leisure time devoted to the preparation of his case by a litigant in person. It is agreed that where he is obliged to take time off work, and so loses income, in order to attend the court, say, for the purposes of the hearing of the pre-trial review, the Bill should apply to his loss of earnings. But what if he spends a good deal of his own leisure time in the evenings and at weekends in preparing documents, such as the particulars of claim and in corresponding with the solicitors on the other side, seeing witnesses and matters of that sort? There is no doubt that the fees paid to a solicitor for doing these jobs can be recovered under a costs award. Why, then, should they not be recoverable also when the identical work is done by the litigant in person?

As one of the sponsors of the Bill, I regard that as the nub of the issue on which there might be disagreement. The worry that has to be overcome is the longwinded litigant who spends hours on the case because he becomes absorbed in it. There must be a limit. That surely must be dealt with by rules. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that a litigant should be entitled to recover his costs for all the time he spends in preparation of the case, however long it is?

I am told that the court has discretion how it should proceed. If a solicitor is able to get expenses of that kind, why should not a litigant in person be able to get them? Some lawyers can be long-winded. I am confident that it will not be beyond the wit of the Lord Chancellor and his staff to devise principles for assessing what should be allowed for such matters to compensate a successful litigant in person, and that taxing masters and county court registrars—for it is they who handle such questions—will find it perfectly possible to quantify what should be allowed in individual cases.

I should, therefore, prefer to see the principle of the Bill applied to leisure-time work done by a litigant in person, but I fear that the Government may consider that that goes too far. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who is leading for the Liberals and is supporting the Bill, has given credence to that, so I hope that the Government will be more sympathetic than I am led to believe they are.

I should explain that the exact demarcation line on that and other questions will be precisely determined by the award costs committee and the Lord Chancellor by rules to be made under the County Courts Act.

The Bill speaks in general terms of allowing a sum for work done by the litigant in person. Strictly speaking, therefore, it is not a matter for the House to decide whether what I might call leisure time work is to be in or out. But I am sure that the rules committee and the Lord Chancellor would be mindful of any views on the subject that might be expressed by hon. Members in the debate. I hope that some hon. Members at least will express a contrary view to that of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, so that my noble and learned Friend will see that there is more support for what the Bill proposes in this respect than my one lone voice.

I make it clear that the Bill is justified even if it is to be applied in the more limited way to loss of earnings only. This undoubtedly happens in many cases and gives the litigant in person a sense of injustice which irks him more than not being allowed any compensating sum for his leisure-time efforts.

That is as much as needs to be said by me in moving the Second Reading. I emphasise that it is a measure not to encourage litigation but to give a fair deal to a person who chooses to seek justice but cannot afford, or for some reason decides to do without, the services of a solicitor. He does not ask to be paid what a solicitor would be paid, but he does ask to be put in a comparable position and not actually be worse off. That will be the situation if the Bill is passed.

In conclusion, let me mention one point which may interest the House. A normal litigant in person is currently denied the right to reimbursement for his loss of earnings resulting from having to take time off work to fight his case. But there is one exception to this rule. If the litigant in person happens to be a solicitor, he, even though he handles his own case personally, is allowed to charge against his losing opponent his professional fees for handling his own case. It is a distinction of the most invidious and indefensible kind.

If this Bill does nothing more than to put the ordinary citizen on a par with a solicitor in the matter of costs when acting as a litigant in person, it will have done a useful service. On that basis alone, it deserves support. But, in fact, as I have explained, it has a wider purpose also. I hope, therefore, that both sides of the House will be able to support the Bill and give it a Second Reading today.

11.43 a.m.

St. Valentine's Day is as good a day as any to form a mutual admiration society, as I hope will be the case on this Bill. It is my enjoyable task to congratulate the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) on introducing the Bill. He was, in his characteristically generous way, very kind to me in saying that I did a lot of work on the subject when I introduced the Bill originally—it was lost, sadly, in February 1974. But the right hon. Gentleman has now reintroduced it and I am delighted to be a sponsor on this occasion and to give him my congratulations.

I also thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) for his encouraging support in the days when he was Solicitor-General. I am grateful, too, to the Consumers' Association, and particularly to Mr. Tench, who has done so much work on the subject.

One improvement that I notice is that the Bill applies to Scotland and Northern Ireland as well, whereas the original Bill did not. I strongly welcome that improvement.

As the right hon. Gentleman has said, the purpose of the Bill is to enable a successful litigant in person to recover from the other side appropriate sums by way of costs for the work done—that is to say, the appropriate sums in order to enable him to act as his own advocate. This, of course, is in addition to the existing entitlement that a litigant in person has to recover from the other side certain costs, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, including disbursements of one kind and another, out-of-pocket expenses, and so on.

Why does the injustice, which the Bill seeks to rectify, exist? In its booklet, Justice, writing about litigants in person, says:
"It has always been regarded as the inherent and inalienable right of any citizen to present his own case in court."
If that is so, and there is growing evidence that a larger number of people are becoming litigants in person, surely they must have the right to recover costs, if they succeed, for the work they have put into the case. That is surely an elementary act of justice.

The injustice involved was highlighted by the case of Buckland v. Watts in 1969. Mr. Watts put in a claim for work he had done. It was disallowed and the Taxing Master of the High Court said:
"A litigant in person is entitled only to his actual disbursements directly concerned with the case but not any allowance for loss of time in attending the case."
That seems to be the nub of the problem.

Certain factors are worth consideration in supporting the Bill. The first was made by the right hon. Gentleman—that a litigant in person could save substantial fees to solicitors or lawyers. As he said, however, even if that person, employing a lawyer, succeeds in his own case, he still may be disallowed certain lawyers' costs, because it is at the discretion of the courts to determine whether such costs should be allowed. I stand to be corrected, but I understand that in the majority of cases the successful represented litigant finds that he has to pay extra costs even when he wins the case.

The second factor concerns an injustice which should certainly be highlighted. It is a strange one. A solicitor, when he acts as his own litigant in person, is entitled under the existing law to claim the equivalent of professional fees for the work done. If that is the case for a solicitor working as a litigant in person, why on earth should not the lay litigant in person be allowed costs for the work he has done? There is an injustice there which must be rectified.

The third consideration is that the Bill must be seen against the background of a general climate in which people are being encouraged, in small claims at least, to take their own cases to arbitration. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, we have the new county court rules of 1973, introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), the new arbitration service, and the improved facilities for dealing with small claims, at least up to the level of £75, in county courts. The whole purpose was to encourage both sides to settle claims without legal representation.

I therefore entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that we should not, as a result of the Bill, put a litigant in person at an advantage over other people, and that if the solicitor's costs are not going to be recovered—as I understand to be the rule, except in certain exceptional cases—there should not be special advantage under these county court rules to the litigant in person. That having been said, the Bill follows in a natural way from the general encouragement to people to settle their claims on their own.

The fourth reason for supporting the Bill is the growing improvement in the advisory services available to people if they wish to take up their own cases. The Lord Chancellor's document "How to Sue and Defend Actions without a Solicitor" gives strong guidance to any individual who wishes to pursue such a course. The Consumers' Association's pamphlet "How to Sue in the County Court" and various other documents give legal advice about such matters as buying houses, and problems faced by motorists. They also serve to highlight how complex it can be for an individual to take up his own case in court.

That leads me to my fifth point. As the pursuing of one's own case in court can be so complex, the procedure can be costly for the litigant in person. Why should such a litigant be penalised, as he is under the present law, for all the work and expense that he has to incur?

Perhaps there should be one word of warning in the introduction of the Bill. I believe that this measure should not be too much of a green light for everyone to suddenly rush forward, saying to themselves "This solves all my problems, I can now discard the use of lawyers. I can now go to court quite happily and settle my own problems. I shall not have to pay lawyers' fees." It could be dangerous if too much of a green light is shown to the British public.

We have only to look through the documents to which I have referred to realise how complicated some cases can be. To be a litigant in person requires not only stamina but intelligence and skill. For anyone who does not have those qualities—that might well include myself—it could be a dangerous course to pursue. There should be a word of warning about that.

People should also be reminded that the Bill applies only to successful litigants in person. I hope that lawyers will welcome the Bill. With their increasing work load I would have thought that they would welcome a measure that would enable litigants in person to deal with claims involving comparatively small sums. If they were relieved of that burden they would be able to deal with bigger and more complicated issues.

The Government should give some attention to the position of registrars. I am no great expert on these matters, but I believe that their work load has increased considerably over the years and it is conceivable that it might be increased as a result of the Bill. I hope that the Government will give some thought to the burden that they will have to carry and that they will give consideration to such matters as registrars' conditions.

The right hon. Gentleman raised an important matter when he referred to the rules of court, and particularly the issue of leisure time. There is the problem of the interpretation of costs. It will be for the rules committee to determine the matter. I believe that it would be right and proper for right hon. and hon. Members to express their views. We must assume that the Rules Committee will agree that the costs involved for the ordinary work of preparing a case, including time off work for all the preparation that it is necessary for a litigant in person to undertake—the pre-trial work, the preparing of particulars of claim, the issuing of proceedings, the discovery of documents and the interviewing of witnesses—will be allowable. However, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, we may come up against the difficulty of the leisure time issue. I hope that the Rules Committee will explore the matter carefully.

I would not jump with great enthusiasm into saying that there should be vast payments to litigants in person for the loss of leisure time, as that might make entering into suing in court a profitable business, but at least consideration might be given to some sort of notional payment for work done over the weekend. One knows from all the evidence that has been collected that the amount of work required can be enormous.

Once again, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. If, as I believe it will, the Bill passes through the House, it will help to do two things. First, it will help to rectify an injustice that now exists and, secondly, it will help to make our courts even more accessible than in the past.

11.57 a.m.

The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) is apparently afraid that if the Bill passes through the House there will be a rush of litigants who may attack the preserves of the lawyers. I do not think that he need fear about that.

A Private Member's Bill gives a Member an opportunity to introduce some small but necessary reform. The cost of litigation is often the subject of considerable criticism and there are a number of reforms which could well be made. Laymen have been extremely critical of the costs of litigation. On former occasions I have expressed the view that even in criminal cases costs should follow the event. I believe that costs should be awarded as of right to persons acquitted of crimes unless there is some special reason for their being deprived of such costs. I also hold the view that actions for damages for libel or slander should not be excluded from the granting of legal aid. A poor person may be libelled grievously and because of lack of means he may be unable to bring an action.

Legal aid is granted only after consideration of whether there are grounds upon which an action can be brought. My right hon. Friend has seized the opportunity to introduce a measure which will assist the litigant in person. When a person desires to bring a civil claim and is represented, the danger that he may have to pay a considerable sum by way of costs may well deter him. All lawyers in the House know that a lawyer will often advise a client in a doubtful case—and so many cases are doubtful—that it is better to compromise and settle, and sometimes even not to bring the action, rather than to incur the risk of having to pay heavy legal costs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) has referred to it, but it is worth emphasising what is the position of a successful litigant represented by a lawyer who obtains an order for costs. In the ordinary way he receives what are called "party and party" costs, which can be taxed. However, he will clearly be out of pocket, bearing in mind the costs that have actually been incurred.

In some cases a special order will be made and the litigant will receive what are called "solicitor and client" costs, but even so he may well be out of pocket. I hope that attention will be drawn to possible injustices in that direction and that perhaps some right-minded and thinking Member, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, will bring in a Bill to deal with such matters.

The litigant in person, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, is in a very much worse position because, as a rule, the costs that he receives if he is successful in obtaining an order for costs amount to a witness fee for the costs of the witness attending the court and possibly some expenses and the court fee that he has paid. Even in a proper case nothing is given to him for expenses incurred and for the work he has done in bringing proceedings. This work may be considerable.

In the Bill my right hon. Friend draws attention to what is clearly an unfair procedure and seeks to remedy it. I am not at all disturbed by the interjection of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. The court can well deal in its discretion with any difficulty that may arise. We have the provision that there are to be rules of court which may well deal with this. I do not see why any court, in a proper case, cannot consider all the circumstances and award the correct amount of costs to cover the work that has been done and the expenses incurred.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his effort and have great pleasure in supporting him. I hope that the Bill will receive everyone's support. It is a typical example of what a Private Member's Bill can do in remedying a defect in our legal procedure. I hope that something of a similar kind can be done in future to deal with the other matters to which I referred earlier.

12.3 p.m.

I add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) on introducing this Bill. I congratulate him and the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) on the work that they have carried out in the Bill's preparation. They have set out very well all the arguments in favour of the Bill. As a member of the legal profession, I have an interest to declare.

I welcome the Bill. What is a successful litigant? It is someone who has had a wrong put right, in so far as a court can do that, by going to litigation. To achieve a remedy a person has had to litigate, to take advantage of the court system, and to have the dispute adjudicated upon. It is absolutely right that if a person elects to conduct such litigation himself or herself he or she should in no way be in a worse position than a person who has gone to a member of the legal profession for advice.

It would be foolhardy for members of the public to embark upon all types of litigation in person. Many serious cases have great pitfalls. Nevertheless there is no reason why they should not embark on certain small items of litigation. In that event it would be wrong for the rules of the country to put them in a position worse than that of the person who has sought legal advice.

I entirely welcome the principle of the Bill. The practical problems will arise in dealing with taxation. We have all known the litigant in person with the sun shining out of his eyes, who thought that he would be a latter-day Marshall Hall, and who has brought an action which he wants to keep going for a long time. Anyone who has been at the Bar for any length of time has seen this kind of situation. It would be foolish to pay for all of the many hours that such a person has spent in preparing his litigation. For such a person it has become almost a full-time hobby, if not a full-time occupation. Obviously, this can only be dealt with by rules.

I believe that many solicitors prepare proofs for trial by, in the first instance—having gone over the matter which is to be litigated with the client—sending the client home and telling him to write out in detail everything he remembers about the case. The litigant who does not appear in person is not paid for that. He carries out that task, returns to the solicitor, who asks him further questions and as a result trims the statement and prepares the proof. It would be wrong to let the litigant in person have costs for doing something for which the litigant who goes to a solicitor gets nothing.

I believe, too, that a litigant represented by lawyers does not receive expenses for attending court, for failure to attend work and so on. These are matters which can be explored in the rules. What is absolutely right is that the litigant in person should receive proper compensation, if he is successful and is awarded costs, for the additional work he has done because he has elected to conduct the case in person. The right hon. Gentleman's Bill will right a considerable wrong which affects an important minority.

12.6 p.m.

We have heard speakers from England and Wales. Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to intervene at this point to put a Scottish view. I give a general welcome to the application of this Bill to Scotland. Unlike its predecessor, this measure does apply to Scotland and my Department will give the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) all the necessary assistance to ensure that it conforms with the requirements of Scottish law and is effective in Scotland to convey the same principle which it is designed to establish in England and Wales.

In Scotland, as in England and Wales, it is necessary to establish the principle that the litigant who conducts his case should receive expenses. I use the word "expenses" and I notice the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) raise his eyebrows. To a Scotsman the mere title of this Bill is an eyebrow-raising exercise because of the reference to costs. Costs are a technical and sacred term in the English courts, corresponding to the term "expenses" in the Scottish courts. English lawyers like to use "expenses" as a loose, omnibus phrase and "costs" when talking of technical detail. The situation is reversed in Scotland. I do not know whether anything can be done about the title of the Bill, because as it stands it would be misleading to Scottish lawyers. However, that is a minor detail.

In Scotland the position is at least as confused as it is in England and Wales. It is at least certain that a party litigant—as we call a litigant in person—could not recover any losses of earnings involved in the preparation of his case, for example, in interviewing witnesses. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) waxed eloquent about the long hours spent by a starry-eyed would-be Marshall Hall. I could not help wondering whether such a litigant in person—if his remuneration depended on success—might not after all be entitled to the money at the end of the day.

I accept what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said about the need for this issue to be dealt with comprehensively in the rules. That is the key to the success of the Bill—that there should be rules of court for this operation which are at once humane and effective but which do not permit the abuses which can be anticipated. In Scotland there is a considerable degree of doubt about what a litigant in person can recover. A recent Scottish case—Malloch against Aberdeen Corporation—was decided in the House of Lords in 1973, and took us part of the distance. That established the rule that a litigant who conducts his own case can claim in respect of fees paid to a solicitor for advice on how to conduct his case.

That does not take us very much further, because we are still in the iniquitous situation that, for some reason, a special class of party litigant exists, namely, those who are solicitors. If my memory serves me correctly, the solicitor who got the benefit of the rule in the case I have mentioned is now the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing). It is undesirable that there should be this discrimination. I welcome the Bill and its application in Scotland. I am sure that it will do a great deal of good.

12.10 p.m.

I am unhappy to strike a discordant note in this atmosphere of complete agreement, which is most unusual amongst lawyers. First, I should declare an interest, since I am a practising barrister. I am unhappy about the Bill, but not because I am worried about the threat to the livelihood of the Bar or to the status of the profession.

It is easy for a lawyer to say how marvellous is such a Bill because it is consistent with public opinion. I see that the New Law Journal says:
"We cannot see on what conceivable ground it can fail."
It is now fashionable for lawyers, who belong to a rather conservative profession, not always to support the traditions of their own activity and to say "Let us be free-thinking and liberal and not stop the march towards progress." It is probably easier for all lawyers—I do not impugn the motives of hon. Gentlemen—to agree with the Bill.

My concern is that the Bill will be a trap for people who are fed up with the idea of having lawyers to act for them. It will be a trap into which many people may be unsuspectingly led.

The right hon. Gentleman has said that the object of the Bill is to put the litigant in person in the same position as the lawyer-assisted litigant. I accept that as a basis for my doubts. The question is whether the Bill puts the litigant in person in the same position as the lawyer-assisted litigant. That is highly doubtful.

Procedurally, what is the situation? The lawyer-instructing litigant cannot claim for the time he has taken off work or for the loss of his income while concerned with the litigation. He cannot claim for the time that he takes in travelling, or for the cost of travelling. He cannot claim for the time taken and the work he himself has done in the preparation of the case. Therefore it is proposed to give rights to the unassisted litigant which the assisted litigant does not have. It does not put him on the same basis. It gives the litigant in person an advantage which the assisted litigant does not have.

However, I am not pitching my argument purely on that basis. More important, there should be no trap into which the unsuspecting disliker of the lawyer should fall. Over the years, much thought has been given to that issue. In the past the judiciary and the lawyers have withstood this move, not because it would in some way undermine the profession but because injustice frequently resulted from not being legally represented in court. If temptation is put in the way of persons to go to court without legal representation, and injustice to their cause results, injustice, and not justice, will result from this Bill.

The substantive law is complicated. There is very often the need for a trained mind to go into all of the substantive issues. The procedure of the law is labyrinthine, and only people who are experienced in picking their way through the jungle of procedure are likely to effect a successful end. The litigant may be very nervous and feel inferior when he faces all the paraphernalia of the law. He is then not best equipped to present his case as effectively as he might. Those matters were pointed out by Justice. The subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Civil Justice said that litigants in person
"are frequently unable to do justice to themselves and the cause for which they are fighting, getting lost in the procedural maze or missing the points which would carry weight with the court."
It is the experience of practitioners that some litigants in person become obsessed with the righteousness of their causes, which leads them into making misjudgments in pursuing actions which are hopeless, and in some cases into misery and bankruptcy.

There is also an injustice to the system as it protects other litigants. If litigants in person conducting cases at inordinate length without the benefit of the trained approach cause delay, then expense, considerable waste of time and a shortage of justice to others waiting in the pipeline for their cases to be heard will be the result.

The Justice report also said:
"On the other hand they often unfairly embarrass opponents or waste valuable time of courts and court officials, either because of their incompetence or because of their over-persistence."
Since this matter was first raised there have been improvements. The Conservative administration set up the small claims courts, which have brought tremendous benefits to the small claimant. In response to a request by Justice the Lord Chancellor's Department set up an office in the Royal Courts of Justice with a staff of three persons to assist litigants in person in the preparation of their cases so that they should have proper professional guidance as to the course which they were to follow. Reference has been made to the various advice documents from the Consumers' Association and the Lord Chancellor's Department.

I am unhappy about the Bill, and the more so since mine seems to be the only discordant voice. If the test is "Does this Bill put the unassisted litigant in the same position as the assisted litigant?", as far as I can see the Bill does not achieve that end. If I am right and the Bill encourages people to go to law because the expenses of doing so will be less without the assistance of properly qualified lawyers, a far greater injustice may result.

12.30 p.m.

I add my voice to the earlier chorus in support of the Bill. But that is not to say that there are not many pitfalls attached to it.

I do not know what, if any, research has been done in the last 20 years into the make-up of litigants in person. My experience includes people who have had three or four solicitors and can get on with none of them, people who are not able to obtain legal aid because no legal aid committee will say that they have a case, people who are obsessed, and people who do not have a penny so that the defendant whom they sue is on a hiding to nothing since he will have to pay the damages if the plaintiff succeeds. Under the Bill, he will have to pay his costs as well; but, if he defeats the claim, he has no hope of obtaining his own costs from the penniless litigant.

Those are matters to give one pause. However, what the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has failed to take into account is that future litigants in person may have nothing in common with past litigants in person. With inflation, earnings are increasing rapidly and the legal aid limit is not likely to increase anywhere near as rapidly. Therefore, people on low incomes will obtain legal aid for a reasonable case. People on high incomes will still be able to afford lawyers, whose own remuneration must increase with inflation.

There will, however, be a group of people in the middle—not necessarily the social middle class, but the economic middle class, which will very shortly include miners and many other people who will not have the opportunity to obtain legal aid because their incomes will be above the maximum laid down by the legal aid scheme. Such people will be denied recourse to justice unless they appear in person in the small claims court in the event of a small claim. If the claim is substantial, people will find that if they are outside the legal aid limits there will be a powerful deterrent factor against their bringing a claim. They are likely to be well-balanced people and people of some intelligence who may be able to make a reasonable estimate of the likelihood of success for their claim.

Therefore, in pursuit of what is supposed to be the great principle of English law—that the courts are open to everyone—the Bill is a step in that direction. Already litigants in person appear in the divorce courts. In my view, an increasing number of people will handle their divorces without recourse to lawyers. That is no bad thing in undefended cases in which the litigant is not likely to suffer as a result of his lack of knowledge of the law as well as lack of legal expertise.

One point which worries me about the Bill is that the residue of people who have a bee in their bonnet, will believe, because their judgment is not sound and they are not legally assisted with legal advice, that they can win even when they cannot, and the existence of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, as I hope it will, will be an additional encouragement to them to bring an action in the belief that any money which they manage to borrow to start the action or which they may have to pay the court fees can be recovered. Therefore, almost inevitably as a result of the Bill a small number of additional cases may be brought by vexatious litigants who have a bee in their bonnet and whom no lawyer or legal aid committee would support.

Let us consider the legal aid machinery for litigants in person. If a person with a small income wishes to make a claim for, say, £1,000, he can obtain legal aid if he has a prima facie case except in the case of libel and slander. He can obtain a lawyer. Therefore, we must consider why a person at the lower end of the financial scale wishes to appear in person if a legal aid committee says that he has a prima facie case. Why should he continue on his own? If a person's income is above the legal aid limit, one can well understand why he should continue on his own or not bring the action, thus avoiding the possible risk of bankrupting himself.

But take the case of someone earning, say, £2,000, someone who is unemployed, or someone who has a mental history. Why should such people continue alone? They may be in an income bracket which entitles them to legal aid if they can show a prima facie case. Although no work appears to have been done on this matter in terms of obtaining statistics, we are dealing with people who cannot obtain legal aid because they cannot get a committee to say that they have a prima facie case or who quarrel with every lawyer they deal with because of a quirk in their personality.

If we were dealing only with that class of person, I should be worried that they would have an additional motivation by the Bill to go to court. It is a fair guess that in times of economic stringency the Treasury will be under heavy pressure to reduce the legal aid bill. Therefore, the chances of the legal aid limits being increased appreciably are small. We must therefore consider the many people outside the limits who in future would be deprived of the opportunity of bringing a claim.

I turn to another matter in the Bill. It has been said that a plaintiff using lawyers cannot obtain the costs of his loss of earnings. It is not uncommon that plaintiffs or, indeed, defendants are unwilling to bring or to defend actions because of the loss of time to themselves involved by appearing in court. They are not so worried perhaps about paying the lawyers, but their time is so valuable that they would rather not be bothered to go to court. There is no recompense for them.

We must, therefore, be careful in the Bill to ensure that parity is maintained in cases of that kind. The expenses which I believe successful plaintiffs or defendants in person should be entitled to recover are the court fees and any loss of earnings caused by preparation of the case before it is heard in court. I am in favour of all plaintiffs being reimbursed for loss of earnings on the days that they appear in court. But that cannot simply be done for one class of plaintiff—the plaintiff who is not represented—but not done for another class. We should have standardisation.

I notice that the Bill is not wide enough to encompass an amendment entitling all successful plaintiffs and defendants, whether they be legally advised or not, to recover lost earnings for appearing in court. In order to maintain parity, it would seem fair to enable a litigant in person to recover lost earnings if he can show loss of earnings in the preparation of his case. He should have the money refunded.

The New Law Journal, in an article on 30th January giving very strong approval to the Bill, clearly took a line slightly different from that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley). It said that the basis of my right hon. Friend's short and simple Bill was that.
"costs shall be awarded to successful lay litigants in person to offset losses of earnings arising from 'work done' in the preparation and conduct of their case."
It is the view of the New Law Journal that the Bill relates only to compensation for loss of earnings. We know how slow litigation is on the civil side. If the scheme permitted a man who worked every night of the week for a year or two then to put in a bill for 200 hours of work at home which involved no loss of earnings, that could encourage certain persons to bring actions in the hope of a successful outcome for the purpose of making some money out of the action.

A number of people who bring actions in person and are not able to obtain legal aid have quirks of temperament, to put it as neutrally as I can, and often are not able to obtain work. They may be at home all day, not because of any injury they have suffered in an accident but perhaps because they are psychopaths or have other disabilities which make it difficult for them to retain employment. Such people get obsessed with a case. It need not relate to an industrial or motor accident. These people cannot get a job. They have nothing to do with their time. We would have to think very hard before saying that they should be given the motivation of knowing that they could make a considerable sum on the basis of hours spent on the preparation of a case, because that motivation would perhaps be sufficient in some cases to induce them to bring actions that they would not otherwise bring.

With the qualifications I have expressed and in the hope that the Bill will be carefully scrutinised in Committee, all in all I welcome the Bill. It will mean that people above the legal aid limit who have decent cases will be able to bring their cases to court without being out of pocket any more than any other litigant is out of pocket. This is a very good thing. It is on that basis that I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough for assisting the Bill on its passage towards the statute book.

12.33 p.m.

I join in the congratulations that have been offered to the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley), particularly on winning so high a place in the ballot. I commend his choice of Bill when in that special position.

I should like also to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), who did so much of the preparatory work. The Bill, save for the extension to Northern Ireland and Scotland, is otherwise in almost identical terms to my hon. Friend's Bill. I pay tribute to the present Lord Chancellor and to the previous Lord Chancellor for the contributions they have made.

The discordant note that came from my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) was exaggerated. I think my hon. Friend was too anxious about it. We have all come across litigants in person who are obsessed. There are litigants in person who go scurrying from court to court with ever-increasing bundles of papers. They are seen day after day, sometimes year after year, in their various tours of the courts seeking the ear of a sympathetic judge.

But such people are not the sum of those who are prepared to, or who wish to, conduct their own case in court. Others wish to do so because, perhaps, they have had a row in the past with a solicitor and have lost faith in the legal profession and will not go to another solicitor. I do not see why that latter category should be deprived of the very necessary remedy which the Bill provides.

I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Burton also that this is a conscious decision on principle by the courts. I do not think it is. I think that the courts had no choice in 1969 when the case of Buckland v. Watts was before the Court of Appeal, because it was decided there by a very responsible trio of Court of Appeal judges that ever since the reign of Edward I the question of costs in civil cases could cover only the professional costs which had been incurred by a litigant.

There is a passage from "Coke's Commentary" which is worth examining because, as the learned Lord Justice said, it affords a key to the true view of the law of costs. That passage is:
"Here is express mention made but of the costs of his writ but it extendeth to all the legal costs of the suit but not to the costs and expenses of his travel and loss of time …".
That goes back to the original statute of Edward I. In 1969, although the master, the High Court judge and finally at least one of the Lord Justices in the Court of Appeal all expressed sympathy with the litigant in person who was seeking to recover his costs, they all felt bound by this very long established law. Therefore, I do not think that has been a matter of principle as a result of a conscious choice by the courts.

So yet again the House is coming to the aid of the courts, which have felt bound by past statutes, and giving them the opportunities which I believe they would have liked all along to have provided for the litigant in person.

It is important to emphasise that the costs that may be recovered will not in any way be treated as professional costs. It can only be for time spent. There cannot be any question of basing costs on the same sort of level as one would base a professional lawyer's costs. It will be very interesting in Committee to examine the question of to what extent time away from work should be covered.

I am not anxious about those obsessed litigants in person who may put in a bill for 200 hours of work, because I am sure that any proposed rules made by the rules committee will include the magic phrase "reasonably and properly incurred", which will dispose of the 200-hour claim by the obsessed litigant.

This question has been well dealt with by taxing masters, not only in respect of litigants in person but for some counsel who are exceptionally longwinded and seek to claim that they have spent much longer on a case than an ordinary, reasonable counsel would do. But they have had that extra amount promptly and properly disallowed by the taxing master.

It will be a difficult choice as to whether it can be kept merely to loss of hours at work. I believe that there is much to be said for encouraging the litigant in person not to take time off work. If he has a witness summons or a subpoena to serve, he should be encouraged to do that in the evening or at the weekend. If he has to travel to make a proper plan of the site of an accident, he should be properly compensated in terms of time lost as well as being able to recover his travelling expenses.

I hope with confidence that when the Bill finally becomes law the rules committee will consider what has been said in this debate and what is said in Com- mittee as I hope that it will then broadly reflect the views of the House and be liberal in the way that it draws up the rules properly to cover matters which have been incurred by a litigant in person exercising a fundamental right which exists always in Britain.

Just as I did over a year ago, again today I give the Bill a warm welcome and wish it a speedy passage through the House.

12.40 p.m.

I should like to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley) for introducing this Bill. He has litigated in person on his own behalf today and he certainly did not need any legal representation. I think, however, that this is one court of law where he will have difficulty in getting his costs, whether or not this Bill becomes law.

I should also like to pay tribute to the work done by the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) on this Bill. It has had an interesting parliamentary history—a parliamentary history of which I have personal experience because, as the hon. Member for Shoreham will know, when I introduced a Private Member's Bill a couple of Parliaments ago mine went through all the stages in this House, when the same fate befell it as befell his Bill. An election was called and the Bill was lost. Happily, my Bill was reintroduced by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be as pleased as I was then that his Bill has been reintroduced in its present form.

I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for choosing this Bill because it has given me an added pleasure to support it on behalf of the Government, first because I was a sponsor of the hon. Member's Bill and also because this Bill is very much the brain child of the Consumers' Association and I have the privilege to be on the council of that body. I should like to add to the tributes which have already been paid to David Tench, who has been of such assistance to hon. Members in all quarters of the House whenever consumer legislation has been discussed here.

The Government, I am happy to say—it will come as no surprise to the House —welcome the Bill. Subject to certain small reservations on the wording, which can certainly be put right in Committee, there should be no reason why the Bill should not be given a Second Reading. Any of the points which have been raised—many of them are Committee points—can better be argued in Committee, as the hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) said.

My right hon. Friend has given a very clear statement of the purpose of the Bill, and it would be superfluous for me to add very much to that. It rectifies what has for many years been an indefensible anomaly, in that a solicitor acting on his own behalf and frequently appearing in a court where he might not normally have a right to appear, such as the High Court, could recover his costs, whereas a litigant appearing on his own could not. This Bill clearly rectifies that anomaly.

I am happy to say that the Bill does not just stop there, and quite rightly so. As hon. Members have said, the cost of civil litigation is increasing and, at the same time, the number of people in civil courts who wish, for whatever reason, to bring cases or defend cases themselves also increases. The reasons for this are not entirely financial. Many people, for various personal reasons, prefer to litigate on their own behalf, and certainly where small sums are involved it is right that they should be able to do so and in many cases should be encouraged to do so—and not only for the reasons mentioned by my right hon. Friend.

No one should be forced to seek the help of a lawyer. Equally, nobody should be discouraged from doing so, probably because the help of a lawyer is needed in the overwhelming number of cases. This Bill, therefore, is one step, but an important step, which will help the litigant in person.

My right hon. Friend referred to the introduction into the county court in October 1973 of a scheme to deal simply and inexpensively with small claims. This scheme, which was encouraged by the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe)—and I am happy to say that I was on the Committee considering what is now the Fair Trading Act when this matter was dis- cussed, and I lent my support to it—has been of positive help to a large and growing number of people.

My right hon. Friend mentioned some figures. I can give him some more up-to-date figures. Up to Christmas of last year, after nearly 15 months of the scheme, 6,344 cases were referred to arbitration. This figure represents only a small percentage of those cases which have been begun and in which arbitration was asked for.

I think hon. Members will agree that the great advantage of incorporating this scheme for dealing with small claims into the county court system is that many of the advantages of the county court are preserved. For instance, a summons for a sum certain—a liquidated amount—is known as a default summons. If within 14 days of the service of the summons the defendant does not file an indication of his defence, the complainant may proceed to judgment without any hearing at all. Many other cases are settled by the defendant paying the sum claimed on receipt of a summons or at least admitting that the sum was due and asking for time in which to pay it.

If a defence is filed, the procedure provides for a preliminary hearing to be held in which the registrar of the court can try to settle the dispute between the parties. Many more cases are disposed of at this stage, and the figure of 6,344 refers only to those cases which go on beyond this stage to arbitration at which the arbitrator, usually the registrar of the court, decides the issue between the parties at an informal hearing in private and without any of the normal strict rules of court procedure.

The hon. Member for Shoreham mentioned registrars, and I should like to pay my tribute to the way in which they have adapted to the informal procedure which is really demanded in the new small claims procedure. They largely dispose of wig and gown and many of the outward trappings of the courts, which in the overwhelming number of cases are necessary but which in the case of small claims are more off-putting and sometimes discouraging to people to use legal methods of enforcing what they correctly regard as their right. I therefore add my tribute to the way in which the registrars have adapted themselves. Clearly, if they were to have to assess loss of earnings as well, it would add to their difficulties and to the amount of work involved, but I make no comment about that at this stage.

One of the advantages of the small claims procedure with regard to claims under £75 is that litigants in person or litigants in general may use this procedure without fear of paying the other side's legal costs, other than the small amount allowed on the issue of the summons. This is also a positive incentive to people to enforce their rights. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving the proper weight to this innovation. It is an important part of the help given by the court to the litigant in person.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the booklet that is available. Without going into details, perhaps I may also mention that the courts will provide pro-forma particulars of claim—that is, specimen examples for every type of common case—and a statement of what the case is all about, on which the litigant can answer some simple questions to give the courts and the defendant a basis of what his claim is about. The defendant also gets with the summons a simple form on which he may indicate his intentions, whether he wishes to defend or, if he admits the claim, how much he feels he can afford to pay each week. The court officials are most helpful in explaining in as simple language as possible what is required to bring or defend a claim of this nature.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the problem of taking proceedings against people who have no money. I must tell my right hon. Friend that the arbitration scheme does not guarantee the plaintiff his or her money. No scheme could do that. If the defendant has no money, there is clearly no point in taking proceedings. But I would tell my right hon. Friend, if he does not know it already, and I think he does, that the booklet warns possible litigants of this, and so do court officers.

Obviously, if judgment is given and the defendant does not pay, the court itself will not, and cannot, pay over the money. The plaintiff must enforce the judgment himself, and, clearly he can do that only if the money is there. However, further to assist the litigant in person my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is considering issuing a leaflet explaining the method of enforcing judgments. In the High Court my noble and learned Friend is presently considering a review into the position of the litigants in person attending at the Royal Courts of Justice. I can tell my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) that one of the matters being considered is the type of person who litigates in the High Court.

Changes in divorce procedure made in 1972 now make it very much easier for the litigant in person to conduct his or her own divorce proceedings if he or she wishes. This can be recommended only in very simple cases, and the leaflet available at the courts to help with what has been called "Do-it-yourself" divorce makes the important point that "doing it yourself" should be reserved for the simplest cases.

Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have made it clear that the Bill should not be taken as a carte blanche to discard the services of lawyers. The law can be, and frequently is, very complex, and no litigant should be encouraged to undertake complex and technical legal disputes without advice and, if necessary, representation. These moves to help the litigant in person do not remove the necessity for the assistance of lawyers in the overwhelming number of cases.

There is, however, a growing body of litigants in person who appear before the courts, and it is that development that makes the Bill timely. If a man takes time off work to prepare his case for court and to attend court to present the case, it is right that he should recover something in respect of that loss. At present he does not do so. The present position of the litigant in person is not satisfactory. My right hon. Friend explained why, and it would be wasting the time of the House if I were to explain further.

The litigant in person recovers his out-of-pocket expenses but nothing for the work he does, and that is what the Bill seeks to remedy. The Bill will allow the rules of court to determine exactly the expenses that a litigant may recover and will, it is hoped, remove any areas of doubt and anomalies in this field. Much more important, it will allow the litigant in person to recover, subject to the rules of court, a sum in respect of the work done in connection with the proceedings.

I agree with my right hon. Friend as to the position of the litigant in person in a "small claim" in the county court—that in those cases no legal costs would normally be allowed because the amount being claimed was less than £75 and so it would be wrong if the litigant in person were to receive costs when the person with legal representation does not do so. That would be a positive disincentive for people to be represented when pursuing small claims in the county courts.

It is not possible for me to say that the Bill will allow the litigants in person to recover this, that, or any particular sum. The Bill introduces the principle that litigants in person may recover costs in respect of expenses incurred or work done in relation to proceedings. It is limited to civil proceedings. The detailed working out of what the litigant in person will actually receive and the sums he will receive are left to be decided by rules of court, and I think that the House will agree that that is right.

In England and Wales it will have to be decided by the Supreme Court Rule Committee and the County Court Rule Committee. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the rule-making authorities will also have to consider this question, and I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate for relieving me of possibly having to explain the Scottish position, which I should be totally incapable of doing in any case.

The question of costs is, of course, highly technical. I am sure that hon. Members will realise that in these rule-making authorities one has the necessary expertise and experience to decide these matters. It is not possible, therefore, for me to say anything in respect of my right hon. Friend's comments on the work done in leisure time, other than that if the Bill becomes law this is a matter that the rule-making authorities will no doubt consider and that I am sure we shall debate, probably at length—I have no doubt that if there are lawyers on the Committee, as there will be, it will be at length—in Committee.

There is little more for me to say at this stage. The Bill introduces an important and worthwhile principle. It has been commended by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, although I am sorry that the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) was a little unhappy about it. I therefore have much pleasure in commending it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 ( Committal of Bills.)

Dogs Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.0 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I should like, first, to thank Mr. Ryle of the Public Bill Office for his help in drafting the Bill. I also thank the Alsatian League and Club of Great Britain for its guard dog charter, which is in the schedule to the Bill.

Dogs have frequently been described as man's best friend, and there is no doubt that if they are properly trained and controlled most people would agree with that. We all know the value of guide does for the blind, of shepherds' dogs, of police dogs, and of many others. Very few people would dispute their value.

However, many people regard dogs as dangerous, and there is no doubt that they sometimes attack people, frequently cause road accidents, constantly foul footpaths, roads and parks, and spread disease. A small booklet was recently sent to Members. It is entitled "Fido. Something only you can do", and the author says that
"a further hazard is added when we learn from the researches of Professor Woodruff, at the London School of Hygiene, that about 20 per cent. of the dogs in Britain are infested with Toxocaris, a disease which can cause blindness to anyone and in particular to children to whom the infection is passed."
Thus, it is apparent that many people do not regard the dog as man's best friend.

Many local authorities are having considerable trouble with packs of dogs roaming round housing estates and other parts of cities. One newspaper, referring to the situation in Birmingham, said:
"Packs of dogs have been roaming through Birmingham, frightening people, rampaging through school playgrounds, and even invading classrooms, according to the city council."
Local authorities in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Hamilton, East Kilbride, Birmingham and, I believe Liverpool have complained that they cannot take the action which they would like to take to control dogs because the law does not allow them to do so.

When I first introduced a Ten-Minute Rule Bill in October 1968 on this subject it caused great hilarity, especially to the Prime Minister and the then Leader of the Opposition, and the hilarity spread to other Members. That reaction was bitterly resented not only by myself but by the newspapers and the general public. I think that recent tragedies have ensured that the House will not treat this subject with hilarity today. It is sad that tragedies have to occur before action is taken.

The Bill is a modest attempt to make a start with effective legislation to prevent the most frequent form of trouble arising from dogs. It does not pretend to solve all the problems, nor will it do so. It would not have prevented some of the recent tragedies—I should not for a moment claim that for it—but had it been on the statute book it could have prevented some of the accidents that have occurred.

This measure seeks to put a legal obligation on all people to display a notice on premises where a dog is kept saying "Beware of the Dog". One can argue that not all dogs are dangerous. If the owners of dogs are asked about this, one learns that virtually no dog is dangerous, but if one judges from the fact that a large number of people are bitten by them, there is no doubt that dogs can be dangerous, wherever they are kept, and that applies not only to large dogs but to small ones too.

The law requires the posting of warning notices in other contexts where dangers exist. For example, if there is dangerous machinery in a factory, there is a legal necessity to put up a notice warning of the dangers and what should be done to avoid them. If one goes to the seaside, one sees warning notices about the risk of bathing in certain areas at certain times.

Dogs can present a serious danger. Every year thousands of people are bitten by dogs, many of them seriously, and in one or two instances the result has been fatal. Dog bites have resulted in people having to spend months in hospital, and some have subsequently been disabled for life.

This is a problem which affects people in many walks of life. Those who deliver bread, milk, coal, the paper boy delivering the newspapers and the postman delivering mail all have to call at houses, and they all run the risk of being bitten.

Nearly everyone who does a daily round as part of his work has one part of his round which he does not like to visit because of the danger of a dog in the area. If he is bitten by that dog he becomes even more apprehensive than before, and this applies to all sorts of people.

A few years ago I received a letter from my trade union pointing out that a number of its members had to face this hazard day in and day out. People have to call at houses to empty bins, to make electricity, gas and water repairs, and to carry out various other jobs. Even the city assessor has to call at houses to check on the voters' roll.

One man wrote to me telling me of his experience. He knocked at the door, and a woman opened it and invited him into the house. She said that if he would wait for a minute or two while she went to put on the kettle, she would come back and answer his questions. While she was out of the room, two Alsatians came in and started snarling at him. He jumped on the table and tried to get away from them. Fortunately, the woman returned very shortly and sent the dogs away, commenting to the frightened man—as an owner usually does—"The dogs would not have touched you." She may have believed that, but he certainly did not.

That sort of experience gives rise to fear and apprehension, and it sometimes reaches the point that people give up their jobs. The fear gradually builds up to the point at which someone decides he can no longer face it day after day and he starts to look for another job which does not carry this hazard. This is a serious problem, and it affects many people.

Sometimes, packs of dogs roam round certain areas and present such a danger that people will not leave their homes. This can create great difficulties. The police investigate any complaint, but there is not a great deal that they can do.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about Alsatians coming into a sitting room and the gentleman concerned jumping on the table but I have not come across packs of dogs roaming the streets of cities. Can he say where this happened? Was it in Dundee, or where did it occur?

If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) had been listening to me he would know that I had listed a number of cities where this had happened. One of them is his own city of Glasgow.

I have a newspaper cutting in my possession which bears the headline,

"Dog packs roaming in Birmingham."
Apparently they invaded classrooms—not just playgrounds. There was a recent case in Luton where a pack of dogs invaded a school playground and bit 11 children. There have been many cases of this happening, and many cities have been affected. If the hon. Gentleman cares to refer to Hansard, he will discover that on a previous occasion I listed the cities affected—

"Roam" is a very emotive word. One immediately thinks of wolves roaming and of a great pack of wolves. I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman himself has seen packs of dogs roaming—or is it that he has met someone who has met someone else who has seen them roaming? I should like to hear more about this.

I have seen packs of dogs roaming in my own city. What is more in the Library only a few minutes ago I was reading a report in the Dundee Courier and Advertiser about a housing scheme in Dundee where trouble of this kind occurred only two days ago. It is a common problem. It occurs in places like Glasgow, Aberdeen, and so on. I shall not repeat what I said earlier, which apparently the hon. Gentleman did not hear or was not present to hear. I have listed these places already.

A number of city councils have complained to the Government that they have not sufficient power to take the steps that they want to take to deal with the problem. This is not a matter of one individual's apprehensions. The problem has become so great that the city councils in all these areas have sought powers to deal with it because they have not adequate powers at the moment. It is a serious problem and not any individual's haphazard idea of what it is. It is a serious problem when councils all over the country seek permission for powers to do more about it than they can do under the existing law.

Clause 2 of the Bill provides that any person who owns a guard dog shall register with a police authority and shall be licensed. I shall not go into the details. Hon. Members can read it for themselves.

There is also a schedule which lays down rules for guard dogs. The schedule is largely the one which the Alsatian League and Club of Great Britain suggested in its charter. However, there is one important provision which is contained in paragraph 9 of the schedule, which is not in the charter. The paragraph reads:
"Any guard dog who has bitten a person and in respect of which the owner has been cautioned by a court shall be marked in a prescribed manner to indicate this fact."
This is included in the schedule because it has been pointed out by the police that if a dog bites anyone it is presumed by the court to be the first time. Invariably the court orders the owner to keep the animal under control. If it is found to have bitten a second time, the owner is liable to a penalty which may amount to 20 shillings per day until such time as he keeps the dog under control.

The hon. Gentleman cites the instance where a dog bites a second time. What happens if it is the result of provocation? Presumably it should be taken into account if the dog has been threatened. Dogs are not entirely unreasonable creatures.

This is the difference of opinion which exists between the two different groups to which I referred. I do not know into which of the two groups the hon. Gentleman falls. It may be that he comes somewhere between the two. But there are those who think that dogs are nearly always right. There are others who think that they are nearly always wrong. There are the two groups. But there are people who fall between the two and try to keep a balance.

This part of the Bill is supported by the RSPCA, so there is nothing anti-dog about it. Many of the large security firms which own and employ guard dogs also support it. The organisation known as the Friends of Intelligent Dog Owners supports it. There is a fair amount of support for it, proving conclusively that there is nothing anti-dog or anti-dog owner about the Bill. All it seeks to do is to force bad dog owners to become good dog owners.

I think that I am entitled to expect my Bill to get a Second Reading. If any hon. Member has reservations about it, I shall be glad to recommend that he be appointed to serve on the Standing Committee, where he will have every opportunity to move amendments, assuming, of course, that he can carry the Committee with him. I am open to any suggestions. I do not pretend that the Bill is perfect.

There are people who feel that the Bill does not go far enough. Some people would like it to go much further. I have had a flood of letters from people telling me about other provisions which it should contain because they feel that it should go much further. I have also had representations from certain hon. Members suggesting that it does not go far enough. It is fair to say that I have had some representations suggesting that it goes too far. In any event, it is subject to amendment in Committee.

Recent events have demonstrated the need to have much better control than we have at the moment. The Government propose that there should be guidelines laid down to security firms about guard dogs. But this would be purely voluntary. I believe that something more than a voluntary act is necessary to deal with the problem. For that reason, I shall not object to any alterations which may be suggested in Committee. However, I think that the Bill should be given a Second Reading so that it may be considered in much more detail in Committee.

1.18 p.m.

I have much pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) in his efforts to impose some control on guard dogs and their owners. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his persistence. He has been raising this matter regularly over the past eight years. Initially, he was greeted with some hilarity. It is tragic that my hon. Friend has to be supported by the facts of life as they are today before his Bill receives serious consideration.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I all represent constituencies in the east end of Glasgow, and we are brought close to a tragedy in Glasgow because of the lack of control over guard dogs. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said in answer to a Question last week that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland had issued a code. The Bill follows the code practically word for word but gives it the backing of the law.

There are regulations about dogs at the moment, about fouling of the footpaths and strays and so on, but the law is being ignored. We fear that guard dogs will proliferate, since people without experience are calling untrained dogs "guard dogs" and advertising a security service. The dogs are usually let loose—

The hon. Gentleman says that the law is not being properly carried out. That is a serious general statement. Can he be more precise?

There may have been prosecutions resulting from dogs fouling the footpaths, but none has come before me in the Glasgow courts, nor have I read about any in the newspapers.

The question of dogs fouling the footpath is a different matter. I am not very well up on the law, but presumably there is a common law protection which can be enforced against the owners of dogs which bite people. I thought that the hon. Gentleman meant that that aspect of the law was not being enforced. The fouling of the streets is irritating, but it is of a slightly different dimension from physical injury.

The hon. Member has made several interventions. If he is successful in catching my eye, as I am sure he will be, he will be able to have a bite at the Bill in his own right in a very few minutes.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Certain laws about dogs are not being fully operated. Any code of conduct can be ignored. Although the Bill is primarily concerned with guard dogs, we are not dog haters or unconcerned about the protection of property. We want to ensure that the dogs are properly trained and their handlers properly qualified, and that there is proper supervision and licensing. The training of a dog for guard duties in training schools takes only from six weeks to two months, and training is in the interests of property owners and security firms.

In the tragic case in Glasgow, the dogs were found miles from the scene, with no identification, and the owner had to claim them. Identification is essential so that the owner can be traced. As for the licence, the fee in 1876 was 7s. 6d., as it is today, and there has been some inflation since then. The fee should be considerably increased.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you reprimanded me for asking questions, but if one does not ask questions at the time, one does not get an answer. We have plenty of time and this is an important matter.

I was only trying to regulate the debate, knowing that the hon. Gentleman would probably wish to participate. If the hon. Member who is speaking gives way, the Chair cannot prevent the hon. Gentleman from intervening.

On this interesting point about inflation, why should there be any licence at all? Why should anyone have to buy a licence for a dog'?

I shall come to that point later. Certainly, 7s. 6d. in 1876 is worth much more today.

If we want people to abide by the laws, that will cost a lot of money. Something should be done about the amount of crude sewage and millions of gallons of urine deposited in our streets and parks. I should like the byelaws extended from public footpaths to recreation fields and public parks.

It is essential that dog handlers should be of good character because they are providing a service in which they must be trustworthy. Training, identification, licensing and the character of the handler are all important. The Bill would give the whole force of law to the code of conduct.

The clause which causes some controversy, certainly judging from the letters which I have received, is that relating to notices. I have received 231 letters, only 18 of which were somewhat abusive, calling me a dog hater. In the quest for realism, television or film producers often give blueprints to criminals. For instance, engineers have built a safe that no cracks-man could open. If he tried to blow it up he would blow up the building with it. But a television producer can show how a bank can be robbed without going near the safe, how a warehouse can be robbed and how a criminal can open a window with a piece of celluloid. People are therefore buying dogs increasingly not as pets but as guards. Anyone who keeps an alsatian in a small house is obviously keeping it as guard dog and not as a companion.

Would it not be difficult to ascertain whether an owner regarded his dog as a pet or as a guard dog? Could he not simply say that it was a pet and was entirely harmless?

I agree, but the Bill would provide that every house in which there was a dog should display a notice "Beware of the Dog". That would take care of both pets and guard dogs.

I said that 18 of my letters were abusive. The majority of the rest were about stray dogs. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) were to go round the derelict areas in his own city of Glasgow he would see hordes of dogs roaming the streets.

I have a letter from the secretary of a conservation society in the north-west of Glasgow in which he says that when coming home from work on his bicycle he was attacked five times in five miles. I have a letter from a lady who was pursued by a pack of stray dogs when she was riding her moped. Why are there so many stray dogs in Glasgow? It is because of the city's housing regulations. Many people who live in condemned houses in the twilight areas keep dogs to protect them from vandals. When they are allocated a new house, the corporation housing regulations forbid them to keep a dog in, for example, multi-storey flats, so the dog is usually put out before the removal. Packs of dogs are running around, foraging in dustbins, creating a mess and attacking people going about their duties.

I should like to see the licence fee increased, although that is not mentioned in the Bill. If all dogs had to have an identification, those which could not be identified would be looked upon as strays and taken off the streets.

We are rightly concerned about the number of tragedies which occur. We read in the newspapers about motor cars unaccountably going off the road, and unaccountable head-on collisions. Those of us who drive cars realise that the biggest menace on the road is the stray dog. It is in the interests of everyone, including dog lovers, that stray dogs should be rounded up and put down.

The byelaws which regulate the fouling of footpaths should be extended to playing fields, public parks and recreation grounds. Every morning I come through Holland Park, and I am disgusted at the way in which the paths are fouled by hundreds of dogs which are taken there for that purpose.

I have had my shoes fouled in that way, but what does the hon. Gentleman suggest? What are we to do? The animals have not been trained to do anything else.

There are regulations which impose a penalty on dog owners if their dogs foul the footpath. I see no reason why those regulations should not be extended to dogs which foul the paths, the grass and the flower beds in public parks.

A person is allowed to own a dog for six months before he needs to apply for a licence. I want that procedure to be reversed, so that a person will have to buy the licence before he purchases the dog. Old-age pensioners who have a pet as a companion might be exempted from the increased fee. The fee should be considerably increased so that measures can be taken to keep stray dogs off the street. I should like to increase the licence fee to at least £5.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West has been persistent in his efforts to obtain legislation on stray dogs and guard dogs, and I congratulate him on introducing the Bill. I hope that it will be unopposed and have an easy passage through the House.

1.35 p.m.

The sponsors of the Bill all represent Scottish constituencies, although interest in this subject crosses the Floor of the House. The problems which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) and Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) are not purely Scottish ones. Living in London as I do I am aware that it is a problem in all parts of the country and, no doubt, abroad.

The trouble with this subject is that it introduces a certain amount of levity. Everyone thinks it funny until it happens to him. I am reminded of a cartoon showing a little boy being presented with a Great Dane by his parents on his birthday. He looks at the dog and says to his parents "Is he for me, or am I for him?" That is a funny joke, but there have been many serious attack by dogs—attacks which were painful to the victims—and there is also a danger of infection.

I am doubtful about the efficacy of the notice "Beware of the Dog" specified in Clause 1. I have seen such notices in several places, no doubt affixed voluntarily by the people concerned. The display of notices might not solve the problem which the hon. Member for Dundee, West wishes to overcome. A person may affix such a notice, but it may be left there after the dog dies or is disposed of, with the result that people think that such notices do not necessarily mean that there is a dog in the house. The dog might be a small poodle which people would not regard as dangerous and, whether or not a notice is affixed, postmen and other callers would disregard it. I do not know what the notice will do, apart from giving a warning. Will callers have to take a cudgel with them to defend themselves if the dog becomes offensive?

The Bill states that the notice has to be in a prominent place, so so that it can be seen before the person enters the house or the grounds. The purpose of the notice is to let people know that they are running a risk. If they know that, they can make up their minds whether they want to run that risk.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but it does not overcome the problem that, whether or not they are aware of the risk, the postman and the meter reader will have to go to the house regardless, although they would not go unprepared. In practice I have some doubts about the efficacy of such a notice. However, I do not oppose Clause 1.

I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Springburn said about the licence fee. The fee is ridiculously low, and I see no reason why the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not regard an increase in the fee as desirable, both to increase his revenues and to reduce the hordes of unwanted dogs which roam every town and hamlet.

Dogs kept by farmers or crofters for their stock are exempt from the licence fee. If the fee were increased, anyone thinking of keeping a dog as a pet would have to make a serious decision. We read in the newspapers from time to time that when the holiday season comes round the police and the inspectors of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are burdened with calls to collect and destroy stray dogs. People who can turn a dog out to fend for itself because they are going on holiday are unfit to have a dog. I am not a dog hater. I have had dogs myself, and I have never turned one out like that.

If the licence were fixed at a realistic figure—of course, there should be exemptions for pensioners—people wishing to keep a pet would have to make a serious decision, and the keeping of dogs would be confined to those who have proper regard for them and will look after their welfare. I support the call for local authorities to be given powers to do something about the situation.

There is no doubt that a guard dog charter is essential. We had the serious affair of the guard dog in Glasgow. A charter is essential, because the use of guard dogs is increasing. The crime rate is rising and the police are undermanned almost everywhere. People are tending more and more to use security agencies. It is essential that both guard dogs and their handlers should be licensed, and that the handlers should have full control of the dogs, in the interest of public safety. I should welcome such a charter. Clause 2 is essential in this context.

One omission from the Bill is a requirement which is really essential nowadays—that every dog should have an identification tag. Everyone should be able to find out who a dog's owner is. Only this week we have had a rabies scare. We have, fortunately, been free of rabies in this country, but with the incidence of smuggling pet dogs in so as to avoid quarantine, the risk is bound to result, some day, in rabies being introduced into the country. That would be to the great regret and detriment of dog lovers. It is essential to begin identification of all dogs at some stage.

I welcome the Bill and declare my support for it. It contains elementary safeguards which should have been provided long ago. The hon. Member for Dundee, West has done a useful service in bringing it forward, and I hope that it will quickly pass through the House.

1.43 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) on the Bill, and offer my general support. I have lived in cities all my life and have always felt that dogs in cities were out of their element. They should not be there—and not only for the many reasons that my hon. Friend adduced. It is not only that they foul the pavements. A week or so ago, I saw a man with a dog in the middle of the concourse at Victoria Station allowing it to perform its natural functions. He was a rather large man and I am rather small, so I did not attempt to argue with him. I thought that that offence might be followed by another and more serious offence if I attempted to remonstrate with him in my Liverpool fashion.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one becomes angry at such a thing. But what is the practical solution?

That is going through my mind. One of our aims must be to reduce the population of dogs in cities and make it more difficult for people to keep dogs idly. Many people who have dogs do not understand that they cause offence to many other people as well as being a nuisance, not only in the legal but in the aesthetic, and practical senses.

I am one of those with a physical allergy to dogs. I stayed at a friend's house and noticed that I came out in an unpleasant rash. It took a long time to get rid of it. Only by accident did I discover that it was caused by being in the same house as a dog. The dog was an inoffensive and rather affectionate beagle, and was not unpleasant. But I have no doubt that many other people are affected in the same way. Apart from the actual unpleasantness that the dogs cause, there are the physical effects about which we know very little. My hon. Friend talked about diseases. There is no doubt that diseases are transmitted from dogs to human beings and we do not know as much as we should about them.

My hon. Friend mentioned the physical effects not only in the streets but elsewhere. I used to live in Abbey Wood, and now I live in Battersea. They are both strictly urban communities, and both have a large number of dogs which cause a great deal of disgusting mess. In my constituency, there is a lot of common land—in Bostall Woods, Eltham Park, Shooter's Hill and Castle Woods, for example. That common land is infested with muck from dogs whose proud owners take them out every night.

One of our aims should be to reduce the dog population very considerably and create a situation in which most people would say that an urban area is not a place in which to keep dogs. I do not know what the dog population is.

It seems to me that in certain parts the dogs are even more numerous than that. One is entitled to ask whether the country can sustain such a population of dogs, bearing in mind not only the mess they cause, the nuisance they are, the fear they inspire in children and among infirm people, but the uncontrolled way in which many of their owners allow them to behave, the noise they create at night, and the fact that so many of them are not kept under proper control and are allowed to roam the streets. In the countryside, an uncontrolled dog can cause immense havoc among sheep and other animals. We must consider all these aspects seriously. The dog population is too large. There is a place for dogs in our community, but not the large place that they occupy at the present time.

My hon. Friend talked about licences. One reason for our having so many stray dogs is that when a puppy grows up the owner may find that he cannot afford the licence fee of 7s. 6d. Many people buy a puppy for their child as a toy, and when the puppy grows up it is turned out because it is decided that they do not want to afford the licence fee. That animal then becomes one of the many stray dogs that are such a menace to drivers and many other members of our community. I have no doubt that if we were to increase the licence fee, as my hon. Friend has suggested, there would be an immense increase in the number of stray dogs.

One problem that we must face is policing.

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there would be a policing problem initially and that once it was overcome the problem would settle down to a reasonable level?

I am not sure about that. My hon. Friend has mentioned the regulations that many local authorities impose. The effect is to forbid people keeping dogs in council houses or council flats. My own borough has that sort of regulation. I know that the rule is broken right, left and centre throughout the country. That sort of regulation cannot be policed. I have no doubt that if there were an increase in the licence fee many people would keep their dog without a licence. I have no doubt that many thousands of dog owners keep their pets and do not obtain a licence. Many people who live in council houses or flats are breaking the rules of the local authority by keeping a dog. It is a 10 to 1 chance that they are doing so, and in all probability they do not have a licence for their dogs, either. I do not know how we can set about proving that that is the position.

It seems that one of the major difficulties is the policing of the Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands what I mean by that, namely, that there would be difficulty in ensuring that the regulations are operated. There is no doubt that in council estates and other communities in our constituencies—for example, large blocks of flats—dogs are an intolerable nuisance to people such as milkmen and many other members of the community.

The first clause refers to notices such as "Beware of the Dog". I think of my activities in my constituency. As usual, I was out last Sunday morning knocking on doors in my constituency. That is my usual practice. I go around knocking on doors not only during elections—in fact, I do not canvass so much during election—but between elections. If I were to see a gate with a notice which read "Beware of the Dog" I would be inclined to leave alone the constituent living in that house. If there were a proliferation of such notices it is reasonable to suppose that many of our constituents would not be called upon. Some of us are rather timid.

I have in mind one Sunday morning when I was canvassing with one of my daughters. In the garden of one house there was a dog which snarled viciously. Does anyone suppose that I was going to go up the path of that house with my young daughter? Only an idiot would have done so. That is a matter that we should bear in mind when we start thinking about notices. It is all very well for my hon. Friend to suggest that we should erect such notices, but what happens when people move? What happens when the dog dies, or the owner gets rid of it? That situation is rather like that which obtains when there is a notice which reads "Ring the Bell". In 99 cases out of 100 the bell does not work.

I was brought up in Liverpool, and the houses in my area had no bells. Further, there were no letter boxes, because the people received no letters. We did not need bells, as we knew everyone. The House will know what I mean when I say that we lived in the street. When I was a boy, if we wandered abroad and saw a notice which read "Ring the Bell" we could be depended upon to ring it. It was an open invitation.

The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) knows all about that. I can see the twinkle in his eye. I can see him, some 45 years ago, getting up to all sorts of mischief. In fact, he still gets up to mischief now and again.

I am not sure that having the sort of labels that we have been discussing will do much good. However, that is a point which can be discussed in Committee. Any inhibitions that we may have about particular aspects of the Bill provide no good reason for rejecting it. I believe that my hon. Friend has performed a useful service in introducing his Bill.

I wish him a fair wind.

Next, I turn to the question of guard dogs. Like working dogs in the country, they are in an entirely different category from pets. They are in the same category as a shepherd's dog or a farm dog. A farm dog is a working dog and not a pet and it is kept in the yard, where it belongs. It has its function to perform on the farm. Similarly, a guard dog has a job to do and needs to be trained for it. With the proliferation of various security organisations it seems that there is a great need for the training of guard dogs to be performed along proper lines. A register should be kept of the organisations concerned and of the dogs that they own. Rules and regulations should be laid down for their proper training and handling.

The hon. Gentleman has likened guard dogs to farm dogs. They are both working dogs. He suggests that there should be certain regulations for guard dogs, but what about farm dogs? Should there not be regulations for farm dogs?

Farm dogs are not quite the same as guard dogs. The farm dog represents centuries of tradition. We do not need to police farm dogs or dogs owned by shepherds. I suppose that it could be said that we should first catch the shepherd. The idea is not on of "bobbies" tramping the moors of Scotland or the moors of Yorkshire looking for a shepherd in order to see that his dog is properly trained. We know that that is not necessary.

I accept entirely what the hon. Gentleman says about shepherds looking after their dogs, and his comments about farm dogs. They are working dogs. Surely the same principle applies to individuals who own guard dogs. They are working dogs and their owners have established the tradition of looking after the dog properly and training it in the same way as the farm dog.

Not entirely. The hon. Gentleman will understand that guard dogs in warehouses, for example, in urban areas are in an entirely different physical environment. By the very nature of things they are amongst people. They are in an urban environment guarding a shop, warehouse or building site. There are bound to be many people in the vicinity.

There are different conditions. From my experience problems have arisen because dogs or their handlers have not been properly trained. I have been approached by representatives of some security firms about the lack of training for handlers and dogs. I know that they would welcome some sort of regulation. The urban situation is quite different from that which has grown up over the centuries on the farms. We do not need to police farmers. The hon. Gentleman knows what would happen.

There is good reason for welcoming that part of the Bill which relates to guard dogs. I support any attempt to control the proliferating dog population. I do not want to deprive someone of a companion, or affect the work of guide dogs, for example, but there is undoubtedly a growing nuisance, which ought to be controlled. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his persistence.

2.0 p.m.

I must admit, even though all the speeches that have so far been made have been favourably inclined towards this Bill, I still have something of a split mind on this subject. I do not regard this as a hilarious matter. The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) suggested that dogs were an amusing subject. I do not think so. Even if anyone were inclined to treat this as an hilarious matter they would soon be brought back to earth by the prospect that they might find themselves sitting on the Committee which will examine the Bill. That is a serious matter.

Until recently this debate has been like a meeting of the Scottish Standing Committee. One or two hon. Members from England have now joined us. I am a great admirer of the hon. Member for Dundee, West, yet it is extraordinary how often we have crossed swords and found ourselves on opposite sides in argument. That does not detract from the high feelings and the high regard which I have for the hon. Member and his public-spiritedness in raising this matter. I hope he will not think me ungracious when I say that I felt he skated over one or two points in the Bill on the ground that they could be discussed in Committee.

It is always a good thing to deal with as much as possible on Second Reading, particularly when we have time. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is considering replying to the debate, with the leave of the House. If not, it means that we shall not get a proper reply from the sponsor. It is no good the hon. Member pointing to the Minister. He is a nobody in this debate. He is not replying; he is merely intervening.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in order for me to reply to the debate?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That will help some of us who have doubts on this subject. Several hon. Members have spoken of dogs as being fundamentally dangerous animals. The hon. Member for Dundee, West will probably think that I am one of those doggie people who think that dogs can do no wrong. This is not so. I have rarely found dogs dangerous. I do not think that they are dangerous. I often wonder whether it is a case of real danger or whether it is a case of,

"le chien est mechant; quand on l'attaque, il se defend",
which I can translate as "This dog is naughty. When you attack it it defends itself."

If the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) had plucked up enough courage to go up that path where he saw the dog snarling he would have discovered one of two things. If he had gone up in a sneaky way as if he were a thief, the dog would have been at his heels immediately. If he had gone up in a robust way—which I admit that, with the feeling that he had for the dog, would have been difficult, if not impossible—he would have found that the dog would have responded. A lot depends on how the dog is treated. If it is accepted as being a part of life, it will leave a person alone. It may do a little sniffing.

I hope that the hon. Member will not forget that I had a young child with me. In such circumstances one is fearful for the child and bears in mind its nervousness.

I accept that. I was only using that as an example. Often dogs respond to the treatment they receive. On the other hand, and this may encourage the hon. Member for Dundee, West, I have some sympathy with him in that I am not entirely a doggie man, on the side of the dogs and the angels. I do not know whether any other hon. Members have been bitten by a dog. I have had that experience. At the time I was wearing only a bathing suit. One feels particularly exposed—

—to a dog when one is wearing a bathing suit. This wretched animal came up from behind. Although I did all the things I thought I ought to, the animal nevertheless persisted and took a bit out of my ankle. I would not have minded that very much—it did not really hurt—but I was afraid to run away, because that makes dogs go on. So I walked on in stately fashion while the animal took some flesh out of me. I would not have minded that if it had happened in this country but it happened in Italy. I was far more afraid that the animal might have rabies. It was a fairly remote place and I had a great deal of difficulty in finding a doctor.

I do not suggest that dogs never bite. I wonder what is the best way of dealing with the practical problems which are raised. This Bill deals with two kinds of dog, the private dog and what we might call the public, or the working, dog. Roaming dogs are not included in the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman, who has been fortunate in the Ballot, recognises that there is a problem with regard to dogs. However, I think he has missed an opportunity, since working dogs and dogs in private houses form only a small section of the dog population and are not the most dangerous dogs. The roaming dogs are the most dangerous.

I know the city of Glasgow fairly well, although I know my own constituency best since I was brought up there and have represented it for a number of years. However, I have never seen dogs roaming in packs in my constituency. I have never received a letter from a constituent complaining about dogs roaming in the streets. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to give facts about dogs roaming the streets which are a danger to our citizens. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) quoted the instance of a constituent riding a moped, which can be a frightening machine because of the noise it makes. Dogs may attack such machines and their riders, but that is not the same thing as dogs roaming the streets and putting ordinary citizens in fear of their lives. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider inserting into the Bill a provision to deal with the problem of roaming dogs. The Minister presumably has the relevant facts and figures.

Why do these dogs roam? Perhaps they have been abandoned by their owners. Owners have a duty to prevent their dogs from roaming. This aspect has come out in today's debate, and we could improve the Bill if we inserted an additional clause to deal with the problem.

Under Clause 1(1) a notice with the words "Beware of the Dog" will have to be displayed in a prominent place. I do not understand the reason for that provision, because such a notice will not serve any purpose except to let people know that a dog is on the premises. However, that dog may not necessarily be dangerous. There might be some point in putting up a notice where the owner knows that his dog has a history of nervousness and of running after strangers. However, to force every owner of every dog to display such a notice seems to be going too far.

The hon. Gentleman must know that in Dundee there is not a large number of villas with gardens where "Beware of the Dog" notices would be appropriate. Many people live in flats. Where will such notices be displayed in blocks of flats? Will they be displayed on the tenants' front doors, or in the main entrances?

Is it seriously suggested that every farmer must display a "Beware of the Dog" notice? If so, where will that be displayed? Very often farms are served by small roads which are rarely used since most visitors go round the back. In such cases, where will the notices be displayed? We need guidance on that aspect. The notices will be ugly. In a block of flats a dozen or more notices might be displayed, all of different designs.

To a certain extent the Bill is offensive to owners of animals. We are supposed to be a nation of animal lovers. Although not all animals are loving, particularly if they bite, we do not want to press the animal-loving fraternity too far.

It has been said that this Bill has the support of the RSPCA. Such support is valuable. However, we do not wish, by introducing unnecessary measures, to stimulate an animal-lover backlash, of which there may be a considerable danger.

I do not know how much publicity this Bill has received. The hon. Gentleman said that he had received several hundred letters. However, there may be further letters from opponents of the Bill. They may come from animal lovers who are not kindly disposed to putting up notices saying "Beware of the Dog".

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should insert in the Bill a provision to deal with roaming dogs. Perhaps he might consider deleting Clause 1, or at least modifying it, so that it does not apply to all dogs, and certainly not those in the countryside. The provision should apply only to dogs which are believed to be dangerous.

I agree with what the hon. Members for Springburn and Woolwich, West said on the question of dogs fouling the pavements, but there does not seem to be anything about it in the Bill. There is more feeling on this than there is perhaps on any other aspect. If this is to be a dogs' charter Bill, cannot we also make it a pedestrians' charter Bill? I am a governor of a school, and the way in which people allow their dogs to use the playing fields as public lavatories is abominable. The boys play football on the fields and one can imagine the mess that they get into.

It is no good complaining about the way in which people take their dogs into public parks and even on to stations, because we cannot control nature. But if the Bill is to be made satisfactory an obligation should be placed on local authorities to provide spaces in the parks where this natural function can be performed without any damage resulting. When I was a Minister at the Scottish Office I was worried greatly by the way in which refuse was littered about the country. I thought that local authorities should provide places to which people could take their rubbish and dump it. The local authority will not take it away. The Bill would receive considerable backing from the public if a provision to this effect were included in it.

The schedule provides in paragraph 1:
"Every owner of a guard dog and every handler of a guard dog shall be of good character."
What does that mean? Does it matter whether the person is of good character or not? The important consideration is whether he is good in dog handling. He may be a thoroughly bad character. Yet the hon. Member for Springburn said he thought this provision was important. I do not think it is important, but there may be some reason behind it of which I am unaware.

There is another strange aspect of the Bill. Clause 3(2) provides for the inspection of premises in which guard dogs are kept. That is an excellent idea. But why only guard dogs? The hon. Member for Woolwich, West referred to parents who bought dogs for their children as if they were toys without having regard to where they would be kept or how they would be looked after.

The Bill is muddled. It begins with the question of safety. Then it deals with what I call the health aspect and the character of the handler. Those two matters have nothing to do with the question of safety, and yet I thought that the object of the Bill was to protect the public from being damaged. The provision about the inspection of premises where guard dogs are kept should apply much more widely.

The hon. Gentleman advocates the tattooing of dogs. Is not that cruel? Can it be done without imposing pain on the animal? I realise why the hon. Gentleman advocates it. Far too many dogs are roaming about and nobody knows to whom they belong. Cows have tags in their ears. Perhaps dogs should be treated in a similar fashion.

That leads me to the question of licences. I have a split mind on this matter. It is quite wrong that people should have to pay a fee for a dog but not a cat. I do not know whether one must pay a fee for a horse, but I do not think so. Why should the owners of dogs be penalised in this way? Presumably the practice started in order to raise money. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will tell us how much money the Government receive from dog licences and the cost of administering them. Is the system self-supporting? Does it produce much revenue for the Treasury? It the licence fee were increased—and I should be opposed to that; I would much rather see it abolished—there would have to be reductions or rebates for old-age pensioners.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider the question of penalties. A fine of £400 would be excessive, and imprisonment for three years is completely out of step with what is required.

In some respects I support the hon. Member for Dundee, West. In other respects I am doubtful about the validity of what he is trying to do. It will be achieved only at great administrative cost, and the country is already groaning under the weight of too much administration. When anything goes wrong it is immediately said "Have a licence. Register it. Carry out examinations." So the proposal is that animals shall be examined, that there shall be registration, and that there must be licences from local authorities. It will all involve great extra administrative cost.

I do not believe that this is necessary in the case of guard dogs. As the hon. Member for Woolwich, West said, dog handlers are professional people who have working dogs and it is in their interests to see that their dogs are properly trained and looked after. There is no more need for us to legislate in respect of guard dogs than there is for us to legislate in respect of sheep dogs.

Where I am at one with the hon. Gentleman is on the very point that is not in the Bill. I think the danger arises from roaming dogs, and I should like him to consider whether action can be taken there.

2.30 p.m.

I begin by declaring my credentials. I have had a lot of field experience in the last few weeks. Last Friday week I was dealing with the Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Bill. Last Wednesday I was dealing with mad dogs under the Rabies Order, in Committee. Today we seem to be dealing with bad dogs, or at any rate bad guard dogs.

The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) seems to have caused something of a dispute by his Bill. Several hon. Members on the Government side seem to be rather anti-dog in one way or another. It seemed to be different on this side of the House. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) is a dog lover, but I do not think he is a lover of the Bill.

I hope that the Minister will say something about the working party which is examining not only this question but much wider questions of the control of dogs generally. What effect is any Government action likely to have on the Bill?

As I understand it, apart from the general complaints about dogs, which are entirely irrelevant to the Bill, the Bill arises out of two unpleasant cases—one in Glasgow and another in Islington. Following that, a countrywide police inquiry was launched by the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling).

My right hon. Friend made a statement on 24th June 1971 in which he said that during 1970, which was the year under examination, 200 people were bitten by guard dogs. The statement did not make it clear that 3,314 people were bitten by ordinary dogs. So this is not a problem which affects guard dogs only. Only seven out of the 200 bites by guard dogs were serious. Three-quarters of the number of guard dog bites were made by dogs which did not have handlers. Those figures may put the matter slightly more into perspective, in that the trouble caused by guard dogs seems to be comparatively small.

There has been a lot of criticism of Clause 1 which will provide for the displaying of a notice with the words "Beware of the Dog". This confuses what I believe must be the hon. Gentleman's objective in bringing the Bill forward. The Bill is to do with guard dogs and not with pets. It is to do with commercial premises, not with homes. Bringing in the question of having a notice on private dwellings with the words "Beware of the Dog" simply drags a red herring across the trail.

The hon. Member for Dundee, West, told a story of someone going round canvassing who was forced up on to a table by an alsatian dog.

This person was a corporation official going round to check the voters' roll. He was not canvassing.

When the hon. Member for Dundee, West next goes out canvassing and tries to push his message through a letterbox he should not be too deterred by muffled snarling noises, because it might not be a dog the other side of the door.

One of the difficulties which arise about any requirement to display such notices is that the occupier of premises may not be the owner of the premises. The owner may impose a requirement that no notices shall be displayed outside the premises, so there could be a legal difficulty.

Further, people are unwilling to display such notices outside their houses, because such a notice advertises that there is a dog there, perhaps a valuable dog, and the chances of having it stolen will be that much greater.

If a notice with the words "Beware of the Dog" is displayed, is not that almost an admission that an offence may occur, that there is an animal on the premises, of which one must beware as it is likely to be dangerous? By displaying such a notice is not one putting oneself in the wrong from the word "go"? To use such words would simply devalue the use of the words and devalue the law.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look seriously at Clause 1. It is irrelevant in a Bill which otherwise would do some sensible things. It will put up the backs of many people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead said, it is likely to cause an animal lover backlash. The retribution from such a backlash can be absolutely terrible, as the hon. Gentleman may occasionally have experienced when animal legislation has come before the House.

As for Clause 2 which deals with registration and licensing, I understand that the major security companies would like to see these provisions promulgated and are happy about the clause.

As for Clause 3, which will provide for a guard dogs charter, I think that the hon. Member said that it was something to do with the Alsatians League. I believe that it is also in accordance with something which the Home Office had in mind and which was originally drafted by the Chief Constable of Surrey, who undertook the original inquiry, but if this goes forward it may be necessary to have more details.

Paragraph 2 of the charter says:
"Every guard dog shall have a handler."
The security firms—I know that this applies particularly to Securicor—never let a guard dog loose in an enclosed place or compound without a handler. If such dogs are on their own, completely isolated in compounds, and perhaps visited once a day to be fed, it makes them dangerous and savage, and it is cruel to them. The 20 members of the British Security Industries Association certainly do not allow this practice to take place.

Perhaps the Minister will also look at Section 5(3) of the Animals Act 1971, which covers the position of owners of dogs if a trespasser comes on to premises. This subsection lays down that the owner is not liable for damage caused to the trespasser if he is keeping the dog there
"for the protection of persons or property"
and that
"keeping it there for that purpose"
is "not unreasonable". The phrase not unreasonable" has been widely criticised. If a Bill is coming forward to deal with the question of dogs, perhaps the point can be looked at as well.

In considering the whole problem, one finds that whereas some security firms abide by certain rules and codes of practice, many others do not. This raises the question whether there ought to be more control of these firms. This is a small corner of what is becoming a big problem, and we have heard a lot today about various aspects of the problem. I certainly would not be happy for this Bill to become law in its present form, and the hon. Member for Dundee, West would be well advised to withdraw Clause 1 if he wants the Bill to go forward. Apart from that, we have had a useful opportunity of airing the matter.

2.41 p.m.

The House should congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) on his diligence in pursuing this matter in which there is great public interest. I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest in this subject and I can well understand his enthusiasm for ensuring that something is done about it.

I do not know whether, as a dog owner, I should declare an interest in this subject. It is an interest which I share with the Prime Minister, as I have a golden labrador. In spite of that, I hope that I can consider this matter objectively.

I am well aware of the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) arising from the incident in Glasgow last year. It occurred in an area which used to be in my constituency, although it is now in Springburn.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), who made a very constructive and thoughtful speech, for the fact that a Scottish Minister is replying to the debate. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and I though that, as the Bill was sponsored by a Scottish Member, and in view of the incident last year in Scotland, it would be appropriate that a Scottish Minister should reply to the debate.

I should like to tell my hon. Friend what the Government have been doing and are considering doing in connection with this matter. In reply to Questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn, my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for the Home Department have devised and issued a code of practice governing the use of guard dogs. This was done after consultation with the interested parties. I am not clear what consultations my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West has had, or proposes to have, with the organisations concerned if the Bill should be allowed to proceed.

I had the impression from one or two speakers in the debate that they were not aware that there is now a code of practice relating to the use of guard dogs. This code has emerged after consultation with the police, the British security industry and a number of dog welfare organisations, and, although it is a voluntary code of practice, it nevertheless has the backing of responsible organisations. It covers many of the points which are in the guard dogs charter" in the schedule to the Bill.

The code of practice suggests that any person or organisation providing dogs for security purposes for hire or reward shall keep a register, readily available, of all dogs, and in that register the details of each dog shall be recorded; that a log book shall be kept of all hirings and shall include the names of dogs and their handlers, who should be adequately insured against all claims; that no dog shall be used for security purposes unless it is fully and properly trained to such a standard that it can be kept under adequate control at all times. In addition, reference is made to the health and welfare of the dogs, which should be accompanied by suitable handlers.

This is the kind of positive action that the Government have already taken in bringing out this code of practice which we commend. It is not in conflict with many of the aims and objectives of my hon. Friend's Bill, but I mention it because it is something that the Government have already done.

What the hon. Gentleman has said is very interesting but he said that this code had been issued after consultation with the police and various responsible bodies. I should like to know the extent to which people who have guard dogs feel bound by these voluntary regulations.

One can never have any guarantee about that. All I am saying is that this code of practice has been drawn up and has the support of the main security organisations. In the interests of their own reputation as responsible firms, they will set the standard in complying with a code of practice to which they have been party in drawing up. Of course, the dogs have not been consulted! However, there is a reasonable assumption that this provision is adequate and will receive the backing of the main organisations involved.

There is a working party which covers the wider issue; it has been set up to consider general problems posed by dogs, and many of the points made in the debate come within the scope of the terms of reference of this working party. It is under the chairmanship of a representative of the Department of the Environment. Obviously, the Scottish Office is involved with the working party. It was established for different reasons, to fulfil an undertaking given in the course of the passage of the Control of Pollution Act. In other words, it is not concerned merely with dogs biting people. It covers the whole range of problems involving dogs and associated problems, including pollution.

Since that working party may report this year—that is the kind of time scale that we have in mind—my hon. Friend will appreciate that by that time we shall have had experience of the code of practice relating to guard dogs.

Hon. Members have drawn attention to the wider aspects of the problem of dogs. One must admit that there are too many stray dogs. I shall not define a roaming dog, but I think it is well understood and appreciated that, unfortunately, there are far too many dogs which do not seem to belong to anybody. That is an aspect of the subject that concerns many people in many parts of the country. The comprehensive consideration of the problems associated with dogs, including guard dogs, by the working party will be the best basis for any possible future legislation, and that is part of the purpose of having a working party.

It would be helpful to know whether that means that the Government are considering introducing legislation.

Yes, obviously. That was the intention of setting up the working party, but it would depend on the recommendations. The Government set up a working party not to avoid the problem but to examine it, and it is a fair assumption that some kind of recommendations for legislation will result.

Does that mean that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) will be withdrawing his Bill, or will it be taken over by Government legislation?

That is a matter for my hon. Friend. It will be some time before the working party's report emerges. All I am saying is that my hon. Friend would be well advised to keep in mind the possibility of some kind of recommendations requiring legislation with which his ideas could be associated.

We have shown that it is our view that there are problems associated with guard dogs that deserve to be considered with sympathy. In spite of what I have said about the code of practice, there is a genuine problem, and the Government are aware of that, as of the pubilc concern about the incident of last year.

I have a great regard for the knowledge and experience—I am sorry that this sounds like a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee—of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn. Both have given years of service in local government as city treasurers and as magistrates, and they understand these matters better than most. My hon. Friend the Member for Spring-burn demonstrated his persistence in a Statutory Instruments Standing Committee on Wednesday—this is a reverse of the situation today—when he showed a remarkable capacity to grasp detail. I believe that he is allowing his emotions to run away with him and is not looking with sufficient detail at some of the defects of the Bill.

I say that as a compliment, for it is not like my hon. Friend not to have noticed the defects, and I am not talking about drafting defects. For instance, I find that Clause 1, imposing a fine of £400 or imprisonment for three years for not displaying a notice, is frightening, and I say that not because I am a dog owner. Where would this notice be? Would it be at the close mouth—I hope that I do not have to translate or require the services of an interpreter for the benefit of English and Welsh colleagues who may be present? Would a notice "Beware of the Dog" be at the mouth of the close? In parts of my constituency, the local authority has a big enough job ensuring that the numbers are on the closes, never mind notices saying "Beware of the Dog".

Would it be an offence not to display the notice if, for example, someone came to live temporarily in the house bringing a dog with him? Would it be an offence if a dog owner occupied the house for a holiday period and did not display a notice? I have a great respect for my hon. Friend's grasp of detail and practicality, but this is a woolly clause, and, however commendable the aims of the Bill, the community would be unlikely to accept a clause with such fines.

There are other deficiencies. Clause 2 imposes a duty to be registered and licensed. That seems to be duplication Some of the requirements that flow from Clause 3, whihc contains the dog charter have not been thought out properly. Who would make the inspection? Who would decide the good character of the applicant?

It is not often that I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). When he said that he had no knowledge of dogs roaming about Hillhead, I was tempted to say that some of his constituents would say that he should go there more often and find out. That is a sort of local joke, as I know he appreciates. It is provided that people who apply for the licence of a public house or betting shop have to have a good character. However, as the hon. Member for Hillhead pointed out, one of the best people at handling dogs may be a poacher with a string of convictions.

The hon. Member suggests that I do not know what is going on in my own constituency, but I often roam my constituency. However, if I take off all my clothes, as I did on the occasion I have mentioned when a dog bit me, how will my constituents know that I am there, for I should then look like an ordinary person? I should like the hon. Member to withdraw his insinuation that I do not know what is going on in my own constituency.

I am not suggesting that the hon. Member should streak about his constituency. If he did, I am sure that no dog would suspect him of being a bitch in heat, or anything like that.

Seriously I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about good character. Someone may have a natural gift and talent for training dogs but have been in all sorts of doubtful activities that have nothing to do with that ability. There are other features that make the Bill undesirable in its present form.

My hon. Friend and his supporters have achieved a good deal in drawing the attention of the House to the need for some kind of legislation. I think that I have demonstrated that there is no complacency on the part of the Government. We have shown our concern about the problem and about the need for speed by setting up the working party, and I am sure that we shall be acquitted of any complacency.

It would be extremely helpful if my hon. Friend would consider withdrawing his Bill. He has much support for his basic intentions. I do not suggest that we should vote against the Bill, but I hope that my hon. Friend will regard this debate as having been a valuable exercise in drawing attention to a problem that concerns all of us, the Government included. We await the findings and recommendations of the working party so that together we can make a job of eradicating a development that worries us all.

2.59 p.m.

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate.

I have no intention of withdrawing the Bill. One does not wait for the outside chance of introducing a Private Member's Bill only to withdraw it, without receiving assurances of any kind. I should be very foolish if I were to withdraw the Bill at this stage.

The objections from both Front Benches appear to centre on Clause 1. I said in my opening speech, and I repeat, that if the Committee which considers the Bill feels that Clause 1 should be withdrawn I shall be happy to withdraw it. That is a decision which should be taken by the Committee which considers the Bill in detail. It is not a decision which I should make off the cuff without consulting any of the other sponsors of the Bill.

The Minister queried the provision about the posting of a notice and asked whether, in a tenement, it would be on the door or at the bottom of the building. The Bill makes the position clear. The notice has to be put on the door of the premises concerned. That does not mean at the end of the close, as the Minister put it. It means on the door of the person's house. If there is a dog in one house in a tenement the notice must be on the door of that house. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), let me say that in the country the notice has to be at the entrance to the grounds of the house.

The Minister asked what the position would be about a visitor who had a dog. The same rule would apply. The danger arises from the moment the dog arrives on the premises. It matters not whether the dog is there for a day, a week or a month. People must be warned of the danger. If dangerous machinery is installed in a factory and it requires a notice warning people that it is dangerous, it does not matter whether it is there for a day, a week or a month. The warning has to be given whenever the danger is present, and that is what I am saying should apply to dogs.

The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) said that we seem to be anti-dog. I do not know where he got that idea from, because it is not borne out by the facts. He gave the number of people bitten as 2,000 by guard dogs, and 3,000 by others.

The hon. Gentleman is not correct. The number of people bitten by guard dogs was just over 200. Those bitten by ordinary dogs numbered 3,314.

I do not query the 200 bitten by guard dogs, but I do query the 3,314, because the figures issued by the Post Office of postmen severely bitten by dogs exceeds that number. Clearly, that figure is grossly wrong. Even the figure issued by the Post Office is underplayed. In my city a careful record is kept of people bitten by dogs, and the figure is more than 3,000 a year. I asked the Post Office about its figures, and I was told that only the serious cases are reported. But the figure still exceeds that given by the hon. Gentleman for the whole of Britain, and I think I must ask him to check the source of his information and get more reliable figures.

I think the hon. Gentleman will find that the figures I quoted are issued by the Home Department.

In that case, the Home Department had better check with the Post Office because, according to its figures, only postmen are bitten, which of course is not true, as everybody knows.

The hon. Member for Esher said that the Bill is about guard dogs. That is largely true, but it does cover other dogs. I see no reason why we should lay down stringent rules only for guard dogs, which, to use the hon. Gentleman's phrase, are not the most dangerous. If only 200 people are bitten by guard dogs, as against the much larger number bitten by other dogs, why confine the Bill to a tiny part of the problem? That is what he is asking me to do. He wants me to keep in the Bill only that part which deals with guard dogs, but I repeat that only 200 people are bitten by guard dogs, while 3,314 are bitten by others.

Other hon. Members wish to get on to other subjects, and I do not propose to give way. The hon. Gentleman has intervened in every speech during this debate, and I have answered most of his points.

Order. That is a matter for the Chair and not for the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). I have already had a word with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) about it. I do not think that the hon. Member for Dundee, West should bedevil this debate with it.

I was merely trying to explain why I did not intend to give way again to the hon. Member for Hillhead.

We had a far-fetched theory from the hon. Member for Esher that people might be reluctant to display notices saying "Beware of the Dog" because they could lead to their dogs being stolen.

The hon. Member for Hillhead asked a series of questions. In fairness to other hon. Members hoping to introduce Private Members' Bills, I do not think I should spend time answering them all. However, there are one or two matters which I must put to him.

He argued that anyone appearing to attack a dog should not be surprised if it responded. However, I remind him that the tragic death of a young boy in Glasgow happened to the very boy who was not afraid of dogs. He loved dogs, but he was the one who was killed. All the others got away because they were scared. The hon. Gentleman's theory hardly stands up to examination. What is more, I could tell him about a great many other cases.

The hon. Gentleman said that roaming dogs were more dangerous than privately-owned dogs. Again, that is not true. One has only to look at the figures of the victims of packs of roaming dogs to see that they are fewer in number than the victims who enter houses where dogs are kept and subsequently are bitten.

I am trying to work on the safety angle all the way through the Bill. I am trying to prevent the dangers to people from dogs and to concentrate on what are the greatest dangers as far as I know them. That is why all these other matters are not in the Bill. If hon. Members want them included, there is nothing to stop them tabling new clauses to the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).

Town And County Planning (Amendment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.2 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a modest measure, but it deals with an important subject—the subject of public participation in town and country planning.

The full concept of public involvement in planning extends to public participation in the formulation of development plans, structure plans, local plans and the like. In the Bill we are not concerned with those wider matters. We are concerned here with the narrower but still very important matter of public consultation in regard to specific applications for planning permission for development.

This is a matter which concerns citizens, on the whole, more closely than the wider aspects. Certainly it affects far more citizens in their individual capacities. After all the number of citizens who, except perhaps indirectly as members of amenity societies and the like, would regard themselves as qualified to contribute by way of public participation in the formulation of plans is relatively small. On the other hand, the number of those who consider that they should have, in respect of applications affecting their own property, a right to consultation, including the right of notification and representation, is large, as many hon. Members must know from their constituency correspondence, and as I do myself.

At present the law recognises some right in principle for citizens affected by planning applications and decisions to receive information regarding them. But the scope of that entitlement is unduly restrictive, and the machinery of consultation is inadequate. The purpose of the Bill is to broaden the scope and to improve the machinery.

Local planning authorities are under a duty to keep a register of planning applications which derives from Section 34 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. Article 17 of the Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1973 prescribes the form of that register, with a Part I containing a copy of every application made and a Part II containing further and fuller information, including the decision of the authority when it is reached.

These registers serve a useful purpose, but they are not helpful in the context with which I am here concerned—that is to say, they are not really effective in providing safeguards to existing residents against proposed new development in the immediate vicinity of their homes. Intending developers no doubt make systematic searches of planning registers, and, indeed, prudent intending house purchasers should do the same, but it is obviously not reasonable to expect an ordinary resident who already has his house to keep himself informed on a day-to-day basis of the contents of the planning register. To do so, indeed, has been made more difficult by the operation of the Local Government Act 1972. The larger local authority units, although there is much to be said for them in many contexts, mean in some cases a centralisation of registers, taking these matters that degree further from the ordinary citizen.

There is also, I should in fairness say, under the present law some provision for notification of special categories of development. This is provided by Section 26 of the 1971 Act and by Article 8 of the General Development Order 1973. Nine forms of special development are specified in the order, but, apart from one relating to the construction of buildings exceeding 20 metres in height, they are a rather specialised assortment of cases—zoos, knackers' yards, casinos, cinemas and the like.

Indeed, the first class designated in paragraph (a) is public conveniences and the last and ninth class is cemeteries. The provision of public conveniences can be a hot political issue, at any rate in pre-war France, as readers of "Clochemerle" may perhaps recall. Cemeteries, by contrast, I always regard as ideal neighbours because of their quietness and good behaviour.

The basis of prescription of these special categories of development is narrow. In the words of a former Secretary of State, they cover only very limited types of development which might be considered bad by public opinion in the locality. Even with this limited category, the duty of notification does not go beyond a site notice and advertisement in the local Press. The Bill proposes to improve that situation in three main respects.

First, it will extend the categories of development to which the duty of public consultation applies. Second, it will prescribe a specific duty of neighbour notification by placing an obligation on local authorities to give to adjacent residential and other rateable occupiers and also to agricultural occupiers an individual notification in a form to be prescribed. Of course, that notification need not replace the duty relating to a site notice and advertisement, but can if necessary supplement it.

An alternative method of notification would be to place the duty to do so on the applicant, but the applicant would not be in such a good position as the local authority to discharge the mechanics of that duty. In the interests of good administration, therefore, we have thought it better to place the duty on the local authority.

Third, the Bill confers on the adjacent occupier a right to make representations to the local planning authority in regard to the proposed development and imposes a duty on the authority to take those representations into account as material considerations in coming to its decision on the application. The category of development to which this statutory duty will apply and in respect of which this right will arise is dealt with in the new Section 25A(1) of the 1971 Act as set out in Clause 1.

Taking the ordinary case of a residential neighbourhood, the category will include all sorts of non-conforming development; that is to say, all development other than residential. That will be a useful addition to the relatively narrow range at present covered by Section 26 and Article 8 of the General Development Order.

Legislation for neighbourhood notification as an important additional ingredient in public consultation is not revolutionary. Many local authorities already seek to give effect to that on a voluntary and non-statutory basis. The Department of the Environment's survey of neighbourhood notification, which I think is called the Simms Survey, showed that about 75 per cent. of local authorities already have some such notification procedures. If that be so, it shows both the demand for such notification and the general recognition that it is justified. Where so much is done ad hoc there is clearly a strong case for uniformity and universality of practice, and that my Bill will supply.

Clause 2 puts right an oversight in earlier town planning legislation. Generally speaking, any party to a ministerial decision on town and country planning can apply to the courts by a simple procedure if there has been an error of law or a substantial defect in procedure. Up to now, however—unless the law is changed by the Bill as I propose it should be—this has not applied to decisions relating to details submitted for approval following an outline permission if the Secretary of State calls in the application for his own decision. In those cases the old cumbersome procedure of prerogative orders—certiorari or mandamus procedures well-known to the right hon. Gentleman—is still necessary. Clause 2 makes the modern and simpler procedure applicable to those decisions as to the generality of cases.

I cannot conceive that there could be any rational objection to the clause. Indeed, it is difficult to think that there can be any rational objection to the Bill as a whole. It is true, and we may be told, that we are at present awaiting the report of Mr. George Dobry, Q.C., which is imminent, and I am told that we may have the advantage of it next week. The report will no doubt contain, with other important recommendations, proposals for improving public participation. I should be surprised if such proposals did not include proposals for neighbourhood notification on the lines I am suggesting. I have the advantage of knowing Mr. Dobry personally. I know him to be an enlightened, conscientious and imaginative person, and I should be greatly surprised if there is anything in the Bill which will be found to run counter to the spirit and tenor of his report.

I give this undertaking on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends and hon. Members who are kind enough to sponsor the Bill with me. We should certainly move in Committee any amendment which a study of the Dobry Report—which, fortunately, will be available by the time the Bill is in Committee—would seem to make desirable. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will not seek to pray in aid the imminence of the Dobry Report as a reason for the House not giving a Second Reading to this useful measure.

I believe, indeed, that it is appropriate for the Government to signify their approval to the Bill, modest as it is, as an earnest of their good intentions in regard to the Dobry Report as a whole in order that they may show the sceptics—there are sceptics, and there will be more if the right hon. Gentleman takes a negative attitude—by the positive act of giving a fair wind to the Bill, that they do not intend to let the report as a whole and its proposals for reform and improvement moulder in the dusty archives of Whitehall. This is a Bill which will do good to many and harm to none, and that is more than can be said for most legislation.

3.21 p.m.

I support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who has moved the Bill with his usual forensic skill and debating eloquence. His case is unanswerable. The Minister for Planning and Local Government is a sensitive man, who appreciates how ordinary people feel. He is one of the least doctrinaire Members of the House of Commons. I was delighted to have the opportunity of serving in a modest capacity with him during the proceedings on the Local Government Act and the National Health Service Reorganisation Act when they were going through the House. Once he stated his objections in principle, he concentrated on making sure that those measures would work and could be properly implemented.

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that in Committee on the Local Government Bill amendments along the lines contained in this Bill were moved and incorporated after a fair amount of discussion. By those provisions, parish councils are now notified of applications within their locality. I believe I am light in my recollection that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed them as warmly as I do.

It seems to me that what my right hon. and learned Friend is now suggesting is merely a logical extension of the modest proposals included in the Local Government Act. My right hon. and learned Friend called his Bill "modest" several times, although I think that he was perhaps being too modest in so doing. The Bill could bring considerable relief from potential distress to many thousands of people.

In our constituencies we have all had examples of ordinary householders who, through no fault of anyone in particular, have suddenly found that, adjacent to their property, some development is taking place which materially affects the future or the selling price of their property, or both, or which brings within earshot or eyesight something which is to them objectionable. If the Bill is enacted, that will no longer be the case, because householders will be notified in advance and will have a proper opportunity to state their case and have it impartially considered, so that at the end of the day, if they lose their argument, they cannot feel that they have been wronged by the machinery that the law provides.

That seems to me an essentially civilised thing to try to do. I hope that the Minister will accept the spirit of my right hon. and learned Friend's good intentions and say that the Government will do all they can to assist the Bill in its passage through the House and on to another place. Being a sponsor of the Bill—I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend did me the honour of asking me to be one—I am convinced that those of us lucky enough to serve on the Standing Committee will be prepared to consider sympathetically any amendments which do not wreck the purpose of the Bill.

It could be argued that now is not the time to do anything that could in any way impose extra expenditure upon local authorities. I do not think that anyone in the House would dissent from that proposition. But that is no argument for not accepting the Bill. It is not beyond the wit of the House to delay the enactment of this measure and to say that it will come into force at the end of this year or early next year. I have not discussed this matter with my right hon. and learned Friend but I am sure that he shares my concern about getting this principle enacted, so that at some date in the reasonably near future our citizens can have this potential danger removed. I, for one would be delighted if people did not always have to arrive at my surgery in tears or in worry and distress to ask about something that has already happened, about which I am powerless to help and on which the law offers no redress. I hope that the Bill will be welcomed by the Government and enacted speedily.

3.26 p.m.

I add to the general welcome that we are giving on this side of the House to the Bill that has been introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith). We consider that it is a measure that has been long overdue. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on seizing the opportunity of his success in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills to introduce a measure of this kind in an area in which he has such deep knowledge, as right hon. and hon. Members well know.

As my right hon. and learned Friend has said with typical modesty, this is a modest Bill. It is limited in area but it is by no means limited as to the good effect it will have in this area of planning law. As my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) has just said, constituents continually approach us to express dissatisfaction with developments which may have taken place on neighbouring land in respect of which they have no locus standi in raising objections and which could materially affect the enjoyment of their own homes.

I appreciate the objection that might be raised that this is throwing yet another burden upon local authorities at a time when we are all anxious about the rate burden that is occurring and increasing. The House is. I hope, becoming loth to increase the burden on local authorities and to add yet another duty. My right hon. and learned Friend's Bill has the merit that it is restricted in its operation in the sense that it does not apply to what are the majority of cases where planning applications cause the greatest concern— namely, applications in residential areas for further and new residential development, infilling and matters of that kind.

The Bill is restricted only to cases where there is to be a material change of user. I suggest that the Bill could serve as a useful experiment in ascertaining what experience may be derived in operating a participation of this kind over a limited area of planning applications. In the light of that experience, the Government can introduce major legislation on town planning, as they are bound to do, following the Dobry Report. In the light of experience gained from this measure, the Government could deal with this subject with greater confidence and certainty.

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned the Dobry Report, which we are awaiting with great interest. I am sure that by this time the Minister will have read that report. Will he tell us whether there is anything in the Bill which is in direct conflict with that report? If there is a conflict between the Bill and what Dobry has recommended, the Bill as my right hon. and learned Friend has said, should be withdrawn and the matter reconsidered in that light. However, if there is no conflict and this is merely a small anticipation of what Dobry might be saying, this would, as I said a little earlier, provide an excellent and interesting pilot scheme to enable us to gain experience of the way in which participation of this kind will operate well before the Government begin the journey on the long road that will have to be taken by them in introducing major legislation. I hope that in that spirit the Minister will be able to give a fair wind to the Bill.

3.31 p.m.

May I first thank the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, and the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) who made an interesting, moderate and persuasive speech in support of the principle. I know, from many years of experience, how interested the hon. Member is in the general subjects of the environment and planning. He was kind enough to make some generous remarks about me concerning the long period we worked together, although on opposite sides, in the days of the Local Government Reorganisation Bill. I pay the same tribute to him. Basically we have many ideas in common. I hope that in a recent matter, that of historic churches, he is not wholly disappointed with our reception of some of his ideas.

As to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I suppose that there is no greater expert in this House on planning procedures. Not only did he speak with moderation; but he spoke with his usual clarity, good humour and wit. Even if I had totally disagreed with the spirit of everything he said I would still have been intrigued by his manner of addressing the House. I therefore find myself in the awkward position of asking for the sympathy of the House because I shall call upon it to reject the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Bill. It gives me no great satisfaction to do so.

The House is, therefore, entitled to a fairly full explanation of why I take this position. It was implicit in what the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West said of me that I am, although not doctrinaire, reasonably consistent when I hold to a view. For a long time I have held to the view that in planning there is, or should be, firm, settled amendments of the law and that law should not be amended piecemeal.

It is of some historic but perhaps topical interest to note that during the Second Reading debate in this House in October 1971 of the measure whose amendment we are discussing—the then Town and Country Planning Bill of 1971—I referred to piecemeal legislation. For some curious reason—I cannot remember why it was—the then Solicitor-General, the right hon. Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) was replying. I do not know why that should have been so. I raised critically the possibility of piecemeal legislation following the passage of the 1971 Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman replied:
"The point is that it is almost impossible not only to understand legislation but to undertake amendment of it if it is scattered around in a multiplicity of statutes. The fact that we have this legislation in one tome does not mean that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) said, it becomes enshrined like the Bible. It means that it is much more likely to be read than if it is scattered around the place and that it provides a proper foundation for people to see what the law is …"—[Official Report, 18th October 1971; Vol. 823, c. 508.]
It is important that we should have a main body of planning law which people can see, rather than that the alteration of the law should be made in a scattered form. That is all the more the case while we are in the process of considering the amendments to the law in the light of what Dobry has to say. It is no secret that Dobry will report in the near future. That report will be large and far-reaching.

The 1971 Act was a consolidating Act. It consolidated the law as amended over the 24 years since the principal Act, which was introduced by the father of the present Minister for Planning and Local Government. During the intervening period many amendments were made. I hope that we shall not have to wait another 24 years before the right hon. Gentleman thinks we should improve the law.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman always makes a fair point. The Secretary of State and I will ensure that amending legislation does not wait for 24 years but is introduced after a much shorter period.

I have not come to discuss the details of the Dobry Report. Although hon. Members may be curious to know its contents, I am not sure of the propriety of blurting out the details now rather than of allowing hon. Members to see the whole of the Dobry Report in due course and to make up their own minds.

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) made a fair point when he said: "If the Bill is not in conflict with the spirit of Dobry, why not give the Bill a fair run?" That puts me in a difficult position. If I said that it is not in conflict with the spirit of Dobry but that nevertheless I object to piecemeal legislation, I might indicate what is in the Dobry Report. If I say that it is in conflict with the spirit of Dobry I shall be saying what is not in the Dobry Report.

We must wait for the Dobry Report. Even if everything in the Dobry Report were to be considered by my right hon. Friend and me as right and valid, it is imperative that we should hold consultations with those who will be affected by the report. I do not believe that a Minister for Local Government would be doing his job if he did not consult local authorities. We may have other battles in the near future. There are occasions when I am in close consultation with local authorities; for example, on matters affecting land.

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would find much objection from local authorities to this set of proposals. In my local authority there is a voluntary agreement, as there is in 75 per cent. of authorities. I do not think that this provision need wait upon consultation.

The hon. Gentleman one day may well be sitting on the Government Front Bench. [Interruption.] It may happen. We are all young. Let me give him this advice. Whatever he does, he must not prejudge the views of local authorities. He must give local authorities a fair wind and time to consider their views. There are interests other than local authorities to be considered. In every question of this kind the greater the consultation the better the result. Even if one is 100 per cent. convinced of the validity, reasonableness and necessity of one's case the consultations are absolutely vital. Therefore, I should have thought that in any event the closest consultation over a reasonable period was required. Since we shall then be in the consultation period for Dobry, my answer must be that we should wait for Dobry.

I said that even if I agreed 100 per cent. with what is in the Bill the consultations are vital, but I must admit that I do not. Let me start with the parts of the Bill with which I agree. Perhaps it would be simplest to start with Clause 2. I do not take refuge in the occasional plea of Ministers that there are drafting errors in the Bill. I realise that minor drafting matters can easily be dealt with.

Until 1968 there was no express power for the Secretary of State to call in applications for approval of details reserved under a planning permission. This was rectified by the 1968 Act. Then, under Section 242 of the 1971 Act, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman correctly said was a consolidation Act, a change should have taken place. It is possible to apply in the High Court to challenge the Secretary of State's decision on an application—one can question his right to call it in—but not for the approval of reserved matters. That is what Clause 2 seeks, rightly, to change.

Were the clause, correctly drafted—and only a minor drafting correction is required—to become law, the Secretary of State's decision could be challenged in the courts on the ground that the action was not within the powers of the Act or that the relevant requirements had not been complied with by the Secretary of State. I agree that this would be a valuable addition to the law. I have said that we must consider legislation in the not-too-far-distant future, and I undertake that we shall take this matter into account.

I do not propose to say any more about Clause 2. The purpose behind it and most of the wording are excellent, and we shall ensure that they are embodied in any legislation which may be introduced.

Clause 1 provides that local authorities shall notify occupiers of adjoining land and take into account any relevant representations received within the prescribed period whenever they consider a planning application materially different from the lawful use obtaining in the adjoining land.

Clause 1 deals only with developments involving a material change of use. The interesting thing is that I caught by inference in the three speeches that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his two hon. Friends made a different basis behind it. What they were looking for was the giving of publicity where development in adjoining land concerns new building or extensions to building, because that is where the main difficulty arises.

The trouble is that such new building or such extensions to existing buildings usually occur without a change in the use of either land and they would not, in my view, be covered by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's clause in any event. He would, as it were, with the best will in the world—and I am with him on that—be aiming with his usual magnificent precision at the wrong target.

This has been explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi). Of course there are cases which are not caught by this clause. They might impose a greater administrative burden on the local authorities in notification. I am following the counsels of moderation and taking this smaller step in order to see how it works. It was explained with characteristic lucidity by my hon. Friend and it is not really necessary for me to repeat it.

I was not conflicting; I was agreeing with the hon. Member for Hornsey that in endeavouring to destroy the man-eating shark one was dealing with the Dover sole. We should be dealing with the shark.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made my case for me. It is the red herring that would be caught here and not a shark. I think that possibly one is moving away from the very important question of planning procedure into a piscine field which I would rather not go into because I am no expert on it.

The hon. Members for Hornsey and for Staffordshire, South-West both felt a little uneasy about the possibility that there might be increased expenditure or administrative difficulties for local authorities. If we give the local authorities rather than the applicant the duty to notify, we are creating not only administrative difficulties and additional expenditure, but also very great delays.

The hon. Member for Hornsey knows as well as I do that it has been the concern of successive administrations of whatever political character that planning procedure takes so long. I submit to him that with the best will in the world the moment one puts this duty on the local authority one is increasing the time of that planning procedure and not diminishing it. I though that the hon. Gentleman did his best with this point, because he was trying to say that this would occur in a very few cases and therefore the administrative difficulties, the expense and the delay, would not be so great. There is always difficulty in selection. Selection itself may cause delay and if it did nothing else it would certainly create a splendid excuse for it.

There is another difficulty. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that his clause should apply where on adjoining land the planning application is materially different from the lawful use of that land. I submit to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—he and the more respectable side of the profession; I am the less respectable side—this rather difficult point. What is the lawful use of land? Do we always know it in every case? Is not that precisely where the difficulty arises, for example, in enforcement appeals, as to what is the lawful use of the land? Are we going to burden local authorities not only with the finding out of the properties in question and what use may be made, but also the notification, and then, in addition, perhaps the litigation, in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I in other times would find ourselves happily and professionally engaged possibly for years to come? The lawful use of land is another factor with which I could have no agreement whatsoever. It would create an even greater difficulty than exists at the moment.

There is another point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman understandably wants to point the finger at the occupier of the adjoining land. He says "What is the best way of dealing with this?" and he comes up with the idea of the valuation lists. A valuation list, unfortunately, is not always the best guide to who the occupier of the adjoining land may be—indeed, the occupier of any land. It may have agricultural use, in which case it may be derated and may not appear on the valuation list. The right hon. and learned Gentleman properly seeks to cover that.

But there is another difficulty. Valuation lists, unfortunately, are very often out of date. Years go by and they are not changed. Therefore, the mere fact of identifying people on a valuation list will create a tremendous burden for local authorities. I submit that that, too, makes Clause 1 effectively inoperable—or, rather, not operable in the way that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would like.

It is, as I say, in no cheerful mood that I advise the House to reject the Bill. I believe that the spirit behind it, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman fairly stated at the beginning—that of giving the maximum amount of publicity so that we may have the proper consultation, the optimum amount of consultation—is highly to be commended. But even forgetting the question of piecemeal legislation, and forgetting the question of Dobry, if I were merely to consider the Bill itself I think that the major surgery which would have to be done on it—on Clause 1, at any rate; on Clause 2 there need be only minor drafting points—would be such that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman came to the Third Reading he would not recognise his own child.

For those reasons—regretfully but believing that we shall nevertheless be amending the legislation and doing it, I hope, in the correct way after due consultation with those involved—I ask the House to reject the Bill.

3.55 p.m.

I had no intention of speaking on the Bill, but perhaps I ought to make a modest contribution, having been a member of a local authority planning committee for some 25 years, having been chairman for some seven years and vice-chairman for five years, so that I know a little of the problems of planning.

I am grateful to have the opportunity of supporting my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) on the ground that his Bill would give the humble man in the street an opportunity to be heard. With every respect to the Minister, who complicated the issue more than was necessary, it is a fact of life that the ordinary chap seems to think that he has no voice in planning. Many times I have been in the unhappy position of having to adjudicate knowing that the applicant has a right of appeal if he is refused while the offended has no right of appeal if the application is granted.

The Bill is the essence of bringing some justice to the average man who feels unjustly treated about an application that some of us might consider trivial but is not trivial to someone who lives in a small modern development where someone suddenly decides to put in a large bow window or to put something on top of his garage and obscure the light to other dwelling houses. It may be trivial to those of us who deal in larger planning matters but extremely important to that person. At the moment, such a person feels that there is grave injustice in his not having the opportunity to be heard.

I am happy to say that I am a member of a very enlightened authority. For a considerable number of years, public participation has been our mode of practice. We are among the 75 per cent. of authorities that find no difficulty in effecting this sort of scheme. Alas, at times one is not able to cover all the avenues of participation that one would like to cover. The expense involved in the Bill would be modest compared with the alleviation of what is felt by ordinary humble people in our society to be a grave injustice when they see planning applications granted that affront them and about which they feel themselves to be the injured party and about which they should have the opportunity to be heard at the planning committee or local planning level.

I do not believe, and I have had some experience of it, that putting the duty on the applicant makes sense. It is always difficult to know how far the applicant has circularised the neighbourhood. It is properly the responsibility of the local planning authority. I earnestly hope that we can support the Bill, if nothing else to give the sense of justice that there should have been in the past for everyone, not just the big developers, affected by planning applications.

Before my hon. Friend sits down, I wonder whether he would allow me to inquire of him whether he has not made the most effective and unanswerable contribution to the proceedings on the Bill. Would he not agree that the case having been made—

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that his hon. Friend had sat down.

It is no good the hon. Gentleman rising now and sitting down again. He had completed what he wanted to contribute.

I think it is now 4 o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and if I say anything else it will be out of order.

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

It would be difficult for those of us who serve in any modest capacity in local government seriously to oppose a Bill that has been put forward so ably, so predictably, so customarily ably, by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) and supported equally ably by his hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi)—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.

Divorce Law Reform (Scotland) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a Member resident in England to object to a purely Scottish measure which hopes to extend to Scottish constituents the provisions of a law which he has used by virtue of his English domicile?

We do not as yet have a Scottish Assembly, and therefore, hon. Members have full rights to operate in the United Kingdom Parliament.

Second Reading deferred till Friday next.

Cinematograph And Indecent Displays Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Second Reading [31st January].

Debate further adjourned till Friday 28th February.

Unsolicited Goods And Services (Amendment) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Social Security Act 1973 (Amendment) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday next.


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Michael Cocks.]

Education (Hearing-Impaired Children)

4.1 p.m.

I am glad of the opportunity to raise with the Minister the question of educational facilities for children suffering from hearing impairment of one kind or another. This has been for me something of a field day. I have already had the good fortune to be able to speak on the Second Reading of the Litigants in Person (Costs) Bill and now I have the good fortune to be able to raise this important subject. Judging by the amount of good will that has been shown in the House today, I am sure this will continue during this debate. It may have something to do with the fact that this is St. Valentine's Day.

I thank the Minister for coming here to listen to and answer the debate. I trust that on this important subject he is in close touch with the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who is greatly concerned with the problems of disabled and handicapped people.

My interest in this subject stems from discussions with and representations from parents of deaf children in my constituency. They have formed an active and well-run action committee for The National Deaf Children's Society in the Worthing area which overlaps into my constituency. This has been followed by discussions with the county authority and by visits to the magnificent Mary Hare Grammar School in Berkshire which provides an outstanding service for deaf children. All this has led me to believe that there is a need to probe the Government's attitude and their policies towards children suffering from this handicap.

Dr. Johnson once said of deafness that this is the "most desperate of human calamities". That may have been the case about 200 years ago, but with all the knowledge that we have today and all the experience that we have built up such harshness that is inflicted upon a child can be mitigated to a considerable extent.

I have heard figures bandied about of the large number of people who suffer from some form of hearing impairment. I have heard the figure of 1·5 million quoted. Perhaps the Minister can assist by telling us about any evidence which may be available to him concerning the number of people who suffer from such impairment. It would be of great assistance.

In the case of children, the figures which I have been able to discover are fairly small. One figure which I have seen and which perhaps the Minister may be able to confirm is that there are about 12,000 children who suffer from hearing impairment and consequently have to have education either in special schools or in partially-hearing units in ordinary schools. I understand that about 6,000 are in special schools and that the remainder may be absorbed into special units in ordinary schools. Perhaps the Minister can confirm those figures.

What concerns me, however, is that there may be an enormous number of other children in ordinary schools who suffer from some kind of impairment which has not as yet been detected. This may be a problem which we should look at and probe.

When we consider the figures of deaf children today, we should ask ourselves how we are using our available knowledge and experience to enable us to provide an effective education system for these children. What is more, when we discuss this issue, it is right to make it distinctive from the problems of other children with other special handicaps. The two issues should not be looked at together. Their needs and difficulties are quite distinctive.

I begin by welcoming the fact that there is in existence the Warnock Committee, which is looking into the educational facilities for handicapped children. I am glad to note that serving on that Committee there is a Mrs. Tumim, who is active with The National Deaf Children Society and has two deaf children herself. I am sure that her experience will be invaluable to the Warnock Committee.

Can the Minister say when he thinks that the Committee will report, and the kind of time-scale that he envisages? When the committee reports, will its findings be made public?

There are seven areas which need examination. The first is the problem of detection. A critical factor must be the ability to detect children who suffer from some kind of deafness at the earliest possible moment. The mistake may be made that children in ordinary schools give the impression of being retarded in some form or another when they are not retarded but may be suffering from a hearing impairment which has not been picked up. It may be that the facilities for detection are not adequate. Clearly, in a perfect situation, one needs a proper range of audiological centres and an effective liaison between the county council and the parents of children of pre-school age and at primary and secondary school age, so that the detection service can be improved.

In May 1973, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who was then Secretary of State for Social Services, said in a Written Answer:
"I am not satisfied with the existing arrangements for the early detection and treatment of hearing impairment in childhood, and I am reviewing them as well as other services for the deaf."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd May 1973; Vol. 857, c. 103.]
Perhaps the Minister will find it possible to say what progress has been made.

Secondly, I want to touch upon the type of education available to hearing-impaired children. There are special schools, boarding and day schools, partially-hearing units attached to ordinary schools, peripatetic teachers, and the very special boarding schools such as the Mary Hare Grammar School and the Burwood Park School, which specialises in teaching deaf children on the technical side.

I should like to evoke the anxieties of some parents about boarding. They feel that, by being made to board because the facilities are at boarding school, their children suffer because they are institutionalised and cut off from family and normal life. Will the Minister tell us the Government's views? One understands that the geographical spread of hearing-impaired children makes it not only inevitable but probably to some extent indispensable to have boarding facilities. There are obvious values in the expertise, resources and facilities available, but the system leads to the disadvantages of lack of contact with everyday life and no contact with one's family.

There is one way of overcoming this—some county authorities, including my own in West Sussex, appear to be making a move in this direction—namely, to see whether weekly boarding is possible for such children. This means helping parents with transport costs but also implies a need for smaller catchment areas. I know that there is a shortage of places, but my county authority is finding it necessary to send children to Mary Hare Grammar School in Berkshire, to Redhill, to Margate and even to Exeter, as well as to Caterham, and Boston Spa. We should try to devise a system with smaller catchment areas so as to regionalise the areas in which children can board and make weekly boarding easier.

Will the Minister tell us something about the units for partially-hearing children? Some are closing due to lack of staff. A number of parents are keen to see more units attached to secondary schools, for example, where specialist facilities can be provided but the children can also be integrated to some extent in the ordinary school.

The third area is that of teachers. There is a great shortage of people with qualifications for teaching the deaf. According to the National College of Teachers of the Deaf, teachers are leaving at an alarming rate. That could be due to the fragmentation of this part of the education system which is creating some malaise among the profession of teachers of the deaf. Will the Minister say something about the number of teachers available and what shortage there is? I understand that perhaps one in three of teachers of the deaf in special schools do not possess the extra qualifications required.

There are also inadequate promotional prospects within the service, right across the board, and the salary structure may not be adequate. On that point, I believe that there is a £300-a-year allowance for teaching in special schools, but there does not seem to be an adequate extra allowance for those with special qualifications, gained after extra study, in order to teach the deaf. Perhaps there should be an extra allowance of another £200 a year if they obtain these qualifications.

There is no clear policy on further education. Will the Minister say what opportunities are available to hearing-impaired children for taking Open University courses?

I am concerned about the employment of hearing-impaired children after they leave school. In the old days it was easier for such children to be employed, because they could be absorbed into a family business and do a practical job, such as spinning or weaving. In present-day society it is much more difficult for a hearing-impaired child to find employment. Has the Minister any evidence about the ease with which it is possible to place such a child in employment, and what kind of jobs are taken up? In that context, a good careers advisory service needs to be evolved, perhaps centred on the local authority. I suggest that we look seriously at the possibility of developing a careers advisory service to advise children on suitable employment.

There is need for regional co-ordination in the education of deaf children. There is need for better co-ordination within local authorities between education departments, area health authorities and social service departments, and between all those who are concerned with the education of deaf children, so that their individual interests can best be catered for.

Parents in my constituency have expressed considerable concern about the servicing of hearing aids. National Health Service aids need to be serviced regularly—say, once a term. That would mean that spare aids would have to be available while the servicing was done. There is also a need for the servicing of commercial aids, through the State system. I hope that the Minister will consider this matter with local authorities.

There is much of which we can be proud in the educational facilities that are provided for hearing-impaired children. But there are many further steps that the Government, local authorities and voluntary bodies can and should take to ensure that the hearing-impaired child is adequately educated to enable him to overcome his hearing impairment, so that we evolve a carefully thought out education plan which is geared to individual needs and interests.

4.19 p.m.

I welcome the speech which has been made by the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce). It gives us an opportunity to have another look at the work that is being done for hearing-impaired children. We share his great concern and interest in this subject. When hon. Members raise special problems of this sort we are given the opportunity to consider the whole service and how it is working. The hon. Gentleman may rest assured that any of the points he has made to which I do not reply in detail will be followed up and he will receive a detailed reply.

I am constantly in touch with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, who has special responsibilities for the disabled and whose appointment has given us a new initiative. The provision of hearing aids and servicing are more in the court of my hon. Friend than in mine, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall take up that point with my hon. Friend.

One of the most important matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised is the early identification of anyone who is handicapped in this way. Obviously, the extension of pre-school education will give us a better opportunity of identifying individual children and enable us to begin the kind of treatment and education that they need much earlier in their lives. That must be to their advantage.

I understand the feelings of parents with partially-hearing children of secondary age who would have liked them to attend special schools near their homes. This is a great problem, and I shall give some of the details to the hon. Gentleman. There are 47 maintained and non-maintained special schools for hearing-impaired children in England, of which 28 take boarders. Two further schools are under construction. At the last count of the children who are deaf in all schools there were 1,809 boarders and 1,805 day pupils. There were 997 boarding and 1,754 day partially hearing pupils.

As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, there has been a growing feeling among those who suffer in this way and those who represent them so vigorously to the Department—that it is better that they should be associated with normal children in ordinary schools if they are to take their place in adult life. That presents many difficulties. At the last count there were 2,173 pupils in 200 units throughout the country. I am bound to say that they were mostly in primary schools. In most schools the reaction has been that it is not only beneficial to the children whose hearing is impaired but beneficial to normal children that hearing-impaired children and normal children should live together rather than having children of any kind of handicap boarded and remote from their own homes and the ordinary daily run of life.

Unfortunately, far too many hearing-impaired children are in boarding schools that are remote from the main centres of population. I can understand that parents are becoming increasingly reluctant to send their children a long distance away from their homes. The Department is encouraging authorities to plan their provision on a regional rather than a local basis and to enable children to attend as weekly boarders where it is impossible to attend as day pupils.

We acknowledge that day pupils would be the best arrangement, but, in considering the 1975–76 programme for building, some form of secondary provision in Hampshire which will serve several authorities in the south is being examined and the details are being worked out. We are also watching closely the recent development in Nottingham where a department for deaf secondary children has been set up within a comprehensive school. Birmingham has indicated that it is contemplating a similar provision. The general idea that the hon. Gentleman has put to the House is being developed by the Department and by local authorities.

There is particular pressure on secondary places in special schools for the hearing-impaired child as the peak in numbers reached in primary schools in 1973 passes through the secondary age range, but that is a comparatively short-term problem. While we think that the total number of places in schools for hearing-impaired children is about right, it sometimes happens that vacancies can be found only at considerable distances from a child's home. This is a matter that we deplore.

In considering what additional provisions should be made when capital resources permit, we must bear in mind that children with a hearing impairment need to attend a special school only if their needs cannot be met satisfactorily in a regular class of an ordinary school with special support or in a unit for partially-hearing children. We must all be thankful that hearing impairment does not occur more often. Its low incidence means that in all except areas with the largest populations there will be too few children needing to go to a special school to justify building one for the benefit of a single local authority. Hence the regional approach that we are now making.

I turn now to the very serious matter of teacher supply and the national staffing position. The joint statement issued by the National Deaf Children's Society and the National College of Teachers of the Deaf highlighted the problem, which we acknowledge—although I thought that the language used in the statement was rather exaggerated. I do not complain about that, because those in the service feel the desperate need and put their language rather bluntly. I am not complacent about the situation, but talk about the service being in a state of collapse and teachers leaving at an alarming rate is not justified by the facts, and gives a false impression of where the responsibility lies in overcoming the difficulties which remain.

I turn now specifically to the staffing position and what is being done to overcome the difficulties. As long as a part-time avenue exists for teachers to obtain, within three years of taking up their appointment, the specialist qualification in teaching the hearing-impaired, and as long as teachers engaged solely in teaching craft, trade or domestic subjects do not need it, at any one time a significant proportion of teachers in schools may well not have the qualification. Further, a substantial number of the teachers leaving the schools continue to teach deaf children in units attached to ordinary schools or in peripatetic service.

At the same time, I accept that there is a shortage of specially qualified teachers. This is, however, something that my Department has been taking steps to remedy. Looking at the service as a whole, the number of specially-qualified teachers in post rose from 899 in 1969 to 1,214 in January 1974, an increase of 35 per cent. and the annual number with training qualification rose over the same period from 108 to 143.

Not merely have training facilities increased in recent years, but I hope that the new one-year full-time courses at Redland College in Bristol and at Wall Hall College in Hertfordshire, each offering initially 12 to 15 places, will start this autumn. Other new courses are in prospect, and, with the continuing part-time training provided by the National College of Teachers of the Deaf, the overall situation should continue to improve and wastage from the schools should diminish.

Can the hon. Gentleman say what he feels is the establishment or target figure that he would like to see reached—in other words, the number of teachers of special qualification needed in order to satisfy the pupil-teacher ratio which is so necessary?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that figure because all the time we are reviewing the situation and, we hope, improving our methods of identification. This is a difficult problem. We are hoping that the Warnock Inquiry will give us the kind of information that will enable us to come to precise figures.

I do not want to say much about the question of salaries, since these are a matter for the Burnham Committee and negotiations. I understand that, following the Houghton Report, which went some way to meeting the problem, fresh proposals are being made, and these will be considered in the normal review leading up to the salary award which is expected in April under the Burnham system.

For its part, my Department has taken initiatives which have led to the recent or prospective increases in the places on one-year courses to which I have referred. It has sponsored or supported research into manual methods of communication and language development. Perhaps most important of all, we are promoting this year a fresh series of regional conferences at which local education authorities will be invited to review, in partnership with the voluntary bodies running special schools, the provision for all types of handicapped children within their region. A principal aim in this enterprise is to make it possible to keep handicapped children in closer touch with their homes.

Mrs. Tumim is a member of the Warnock Inquiry. We believe that it will be a thorough-going inquiry. It is getting on with the job. I expect it to take about three years, and its report will be published. It is taking evidence, and all the special interests concerned will be acknowledged and reviewed. In the lengthy process of regional planning now going on and which may be expected to follow the inaugural conferences I have mentioned, no doubt full attention will be given to the needs of children who are deaf or who have partial hearing. The deliberations of Warnock started last year. The headmaster of a special boarding school for the deaf is a member, so the hon. Gentleman can be sure that the needs of children who are deaf or have only partial hearing will be well taken care of.

We are not complacent. I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising this subject. I take my responsibilities for the education of the handicapped very seriously, but he has caused me to have yet another look at the provisions we make. I give him my assurance that we will continue to play our part in ensuring that the educational provision for these children continues to improve. If he wants to take up any individual points with me, I shall be happy to receive him at the Department. I take note of what he has said—

The Question having been proposed after Four o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-nine minutes to Five o'clock.