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Registration And Licensing Of Owners Of Guard Dogs

Volume 892: debated on Friday 16 May 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

1.15 p.m.

With this we may discuss the following amendments:

No. 3, in page 1, line 19, leave out 'a police' and insert 'the local'.

No. 4, in page 1, line 21, leave out 'circumstances under' and insert grounds on'.

No. 5, in page 1, line 22, at end insert:
'and for appeals against such removals'.
No. 6, in page 2, line 7, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

No. 7, in page 2, line 9, leave out from 'who' to 'who' in line 10 and insert:
'offers for hire a guard dog for security purposes and'.

Amendment No. 2 proposes that we delete Clause 2 from the Bill. The other amendments that we are discussing all relate to changes in Clause 2. The purpose of proposing that Clause 2 be left out is that it is replaced by the two new clauses which we have passed, which provide for a licensing system without a registration system. That was foreshadowed in Committee when I accepted that it was unnecessary duplication in the original Bill for a person to be required to register with the police and to obtain a licence from the local authority as well. I accepted that the requirement of registration should be removed from the Bill.

I also agreed that the Government should carry out urgent consultations with the local authority associations and other interests which should be given the opportunity to express their views before Parliament decided on the final form of the licensing system. There was not time to complete the consultations when we were in Committee and it has not been possible to move these amendments before today. As later amendments on the Notice Paper providing for a scheme for licensing people who keep guard dogs are complete in themselves, it is unnecessary to retain Clause 2.

I have already dealt at length with the objections that I make to the removal of Clause 2. I know that the new clauses have been passed and that presumably Clause 2 will have to go, but I want to reiterate my objections. I think that it is wrong to put the burden on the local authorities. They have quite enough to do without being burdened with legislation for dogs. This is a matter which should have been dealt with simply and clearly by police authorities. I oppose the removal of Clause 2.

In Committee there were a number of aspects of Clause 2 about which I was not happy. A number of the amendments relating to Clause 2 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) reflect some of the feelings that I and a number of other hon. Members had in Committee on the vexed question of the relationship between the police authority and the local authority, whose responsibility it should be, as well as to the circumstances of appeal as regards registration. That relates to the important issue of specifying precisely the circumstances in which someone can have his licence removed.

I accept that the new clauses, as my hon. Friend has said, deal with many of the objections that have been made. My hon. Friend is accepting a number of the objections that have been made. I am pleased to see the end of Clause 2. I found that the job of making it acceptable proved almost impossible. I shall not mourn its death.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) says that he wants to keep Clause 2 in the Bill because the position that is proposed will impose a burden on local authorities. Several local authorities have written to me and also to the Government complaining that they have insufficient powers to deal with dog problems. I have had representations to this effect from many cities, including Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Birmingham and Luton. Therefore, the local authorities cannot be overworked. It appears that the objection on the ground that local authorities already have too much to do cannot be sustained in view of the attitude of local authorities that has been expressed to me.

Will my hon. Friend deal with the relationship between the rules which the local authority may make and the rules which the Secretary of State may make? Although local authorities may be anxious to have more powers, the danger of some local authorities operating under entirely different regulations from those operated by other local authorities is a serious one.

Local authorities have no power other than power that is given to them by Parliament. Regulations laid down by Parliament are binding on the local authority unless the regulations specify that the local authority has power to make further regulations. There is no point in giving a local authority that power unless it has the right to use it. That is a matter for the local authority.

The amendment will put a burden on someone. Originally there was a burden on the police, and now that burden will be on the local authority. Before we determine the rights or wrongs of the change, perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will give us the benefit of her advice. Has she had consultations with the police and local authorities and ascertained their views?

I think that we should all be loth to lay an extra financial burden on local authorities. The Bill may be desirable in general terms, but it comes at a moment of intense financial crisis and I am sure that ratepayers would support us in not wanting to add further financial burdens, however small they may be.

Has the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) ascertained the cost of administering the scheme? Can he tell us what will be the financial burden?

In reply to the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), we have had consultations with the police and with local authority associations. As he says, the burden will fall on one or the other. It is a question of which one. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) that many local authorities are asking for more powers to control dogs and various aspects of dog behaviour and that the public are pressing local authorities for action. The Government's view is that the Bill should remain as it is.

I have not had a reply to my question about the cost of administering the scheme.

I said in an earlier debate that it is intended that the scheme shall be self-supporting and that the licence fees shall cover the cost of administering the scheme. That is why there is no Money Resolution attached to the Bill. The intention is that the money received for the licences should cover the administrative costs.

Amendment agreed to.