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Dogs (Control)

Volume 976: debated on Wednesday 16 January 1980

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4.30 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the further control of dogs; and for connected purposes.
Britain is supposed to be a nation of animal lovers—particularly, a nation of dog lovers. The facts do not really bear that out. The facts suggest that we have allowed sentiment for dogs to cover up for the lack of a sensible policy towards them.

Each year between 180,000 and 200,000 stray dogs are rounded up, mostly by the police. Over 60,000 dogs have to be destroyed every year—a task that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals finds particularly distasteful. In fact, about 150 dogs per day are being destroyed in this country. If Saatchi & Saatchi had lined them up and put them into one of the advertisements that we saw of queues earlier in the year, I am sure that most people would be demanding that something be done about it. It seems to me to be a scandal that that number of dogs have to be destroyed every day.

It is not only a problem of the dogs which are straying and which are rounded up; there are many more dogs which stray but which no one actually manages to catch, and they cause a great deal of nuisance.

Each six months, more than 2,000 dog owners are prosecuted because their dogs have bitten people. We all know of many more instances of stray dogs biting people and no prosecution following.

Many hundreds of dogs each year are shot as a result of farmers trying to stop them worrying their sheep. Nearly 6,000 farm animals are killed every year by stray dogs worrying them. Anyone who has witnessed sheep-worrying or animal-worrying knows the great anguish that the animals suffer and the great heart-break to farmers who have worked hard to build up flocks over the years and who then find half of their animals being chased round and round the fields by a pack of stray dogs. This causes great distress.

Each year, more than 2,000 road accidents result from dogs being on the high- ways. Let us consider the misery for the dog that is caught in traffic on a busy motorway. One hon. Member pointed out to me this morning that when he was coming to the House four dogs were running round in the middle of Parliament Square. How on earth could they have got there without passing through traffic? One has only to imagine the problems that face drivers when dogs run across the road in front of them. Their instant reaction is to try to miss the dog, not taking into account other road users.

I could go on to list many other problems, particularly the problem of stray dogs searching their way through dustbins and turning them upside down in order to get sufficient food. There is the problem that one finds on pavements as a result of dog dirt, and the difficulties on playing fields.

There is also the question of the farce of the present licensing system. [Interruption] If my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) is not happy about dealing with dogs on the grounds that I have set forth so far, I am sure that he will take up the question of licensing. At present, the licence fee brings in about £1 million, yet it costs £1·6 million to collect. That is farcical. Also, about 50 per cent. of dog owners who should have licences do not bother to get them.

There is also the whole question of health problems associated with dogs which carry worms and transmit them, and often cause human illnesses.

The case for introducing sensible laws to control dogs is overwhelming. It is notable that since I have had notice on the Order Paper of my proposed Bill, I have had a lot of correspondence from groups such as the RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations pressing the case for something to be done about this matter.

In 1974 the then Government set up a working party. It spent two years looking at the problem and then produced a very modest set of proposals. Unfortunately, so far no Government have got around to implementing the working party's recommendations.

I was very pleased to see that a Minister at the Northern Ireland Office had announced last week that legislation on this matter would be introduced for Northern Ireland. I accept that there is a slight security problem in Northern Ireland, in that one cannot encourage farmers to go around with guns to stop sheep-worrying. Apart from that, I cannot see any reason why what is suitable for Northern Ireland concerning the control of dogs ought not to be suitable for the rest of the United Kingdom. If the Government are to introduce legislation in respect of Northern Ireland, they ought to be doing so here, too.

I understand that the Government's excuse is that this matter can be dealt with by regulation in Northern Ireland but that it needs parliamentary time for a Bill here. If they were to support the Bill that I hope to introduce, they could deal with the matter very simply for the whole of the United Kingdom at one time.

Such a Bill ought to provide for the implementation of the recommendations of the joint working party, which was particularly concerned to establish a dog warden service—not merely to round up stray dogs but to give guidance to those who look after dogs and to try to prevent some of the nuisances that occur, and particularly to reduce the number of dogs that suffer as a result of neglect and lack of concern on the part of their owners.

This service ought to be paid for out of a much more realistic licence fee. It also ought to be a requirement that dogs ought to be licensed as soon as they change home and ownership, and not after a period of six months, and that a dog ought to carry an indication that it is licensed. It has been shown to be very simple to clip a coloured tag under the collar, the colour changing from year to year as the licence is renewed.

It should also be a requirement—it is included in many byelaws in various parts of the country—that any dog going on a highway ought to be on a lead. I notice that in the proposals in respect of Northern Ireland any dog that is going on to fields in which there are livestock ought to be on a lead.

There are also a few other minor recommendations of the working party which I hope will be implemented.

It is high time that we forgot about our sentiments and made sure that we had a concerned and sensible policy before the risk of rabies crossing the Channel, which might well panic us into taking measures that would be very harmful to dogs.

4.37 pm

I had not intended to oppose this application until I heard the presentation. Every word spoken by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) may well be true, but, like every other do-gooder, he should remember that there is another side of the picture.

First, already the law says that dogs should be licensed. However, as my hon. Friend says, there are thousands of owners who refuse to pay the licence fee. What, therefore, does my hon. Friend suggest? Does he suggest that we introduce another licence fee, which they would refuse to pay?

My hon. Friend then suggests that we should control dogs and see that they do not go on the streets. How should we do that? Should we tell the owners who do not pay their licence fee? We could probably send letters to the dogs, asking each dog to read, please, "You must not go out on to the street without your licence".

My hon. Friend went on to say that we should appoint wardens. I wonder whether he has read the newspapers recently. People cannot be obtained to act as traffic wardens on the roads because there is not enough money to pay them. My hon. Friend says "Put a licence fee on the dog, and that will pay for the wardens'. Would it? There is a £50 duty on motor vehicles, but we cannot get enough money out of that to persuade people to act as traffic wardens.

Then my hon. Friend suggests putting different coloured tags on the dogs. These are the dogs that are running around spare, which the owners do not want. We are supposed to put coloured tags on them.

We do the same with cars. Of course, many drivers do not display the coloured road tax discs, and we cannot get enough traffic wardens to police the system. It is quite farcical.

My hon. Friend suggests that we should now do the same for dogs. I suggest that we should endeavour to make the present system work. The suggestion is that because it does not work we should introduce even more silly laws.

What about cats? Almost every problem mentioned by my hon. Friend regarding dogs applies also to cats—except that they do not bite so much. But cats run across roads, cats go out all night, cats turn up dustbins, and so on. This is a ludicrous proposal. The whole system would break down. It cannot and would not work.

I ask my hon. Friend to think what would happen if this proposal were to be enacted. Old-age pensioners who own and really care for their little dogs and

Division No. 137]

AYES

[4.41 pm

Alexander, RichardFry, PeterNewens, Stanley
Alton, DavidGarel-Jones, TristanOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Ashton, JoeGarrett, John (Norwich S)O'Neill, Martin
Aspinwall, JackGlyn, Dr AlanOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Gower, Sir RaymondPark, George
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Graham, TedPavitt, Laurie
Beith, A. J.Grant, George (Morpeth)Penhaligon, David
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodGrimond, Rt Hon J.Pollock, Alexander
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Hardy, PeterPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Braine, Sir BernardHarrison, Rt Hon WalterPrice, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Bright, GrahamHattersley, Rt Hon RoyPrice, David (Eastleigh)
Brinton, TimHaynes, FrankRace, Reg
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Richardson, Jo
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Budgen, NickHome Robertson, JohnRoberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Burden, F. A.Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cadbury, JocelynHughes, Roy (Newport)Robertson, George
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Janner, Hon GrevilleRooker, J.W.
Campbell-Savours, DaleJohnson, James (Hull West)Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Canavan, DennisKaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Carmichael, NeilKerr, RussellRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)
Cohen, StanleyKinnock, NeilSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Cook, Robin F.Knight, Mrs JillScott, Nicholas
Costain, A. P.Lambie, DavidSever, John
Cowans, HarryLamborn, HarrySheerman, Barry
Crowther, J. S.Lamond, JamesSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Cryer, BobLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Spearing, Nigel
Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven)Litherland, RobertSpeller, Tony
Dalyell, TamLofthouse, GeoffreySpriggs, Leslie
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)Lyell, NicholasStallard, A. W.
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)McCusker, H.Stanbrook, Ivor
Dickens, GeoffreyMcDonald, Dr OonaghSteel, Rt Hon David
Dixon, DonaldMcElhone, FrankStewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Dobson, FrankMcKay, Allen (Penistone)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Dormand, JackMacKay, John (Argyll)Thompson, Donald
Dover, DenshoreMcKelvey, WilliamThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Dubs, AlfredMcNally, ThomasThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethMcQuarrie, AlbertVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Eadie, AlexMarks, KennethWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Eastham, KenMarlow, TonyWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Waller, Gary
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)Ward, John
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Maxton, JohnWheeler, John
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Maynard, Miss JoanWhitehead, Phillip
Evans, John (Newton)Mikardo, IanWickenden, Keith
Flannery, MartinMolyneaux, JamesWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Forrester, JohnMorton, George
Foster, DerekMoyle, Rt Hon Roland

TELLERS FOR THE AYES:

Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Mulley, Rt Hon FrederickMr. Andrew F. Bennett and
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Myles, DavidMr. Clive Soley
Freud, ClementNeedham, Richard

NOES

Bevan, David Gilroy Clocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Farr, john
Brotherton, MichaelElllott, Sir William Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)English Michael Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)

who pay the licence fee would have to pay more. Those who do not pay the fee and allow their dogs to stray would still get away with it. Those who are abiding by the law and paying the licence fee will be caught and those who are getting away with not paying the licence fee will do so again if this measure is brought in. I strongly oppose it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 ( Motion for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 154, Noes, 20.

Jones, Barry (East Flint)Rhodes James, RobertYoung, David (Bolton East)
Le Marchant, SpencerSandelson, Neville
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)

TELLERS FOR THE NOES:

Montgomery, FergusWaddington, DavidMr. Arthur Lewis and
Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Wigley, DafyddMr. W. R. Rees-Davies.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. John Sever, Mr. Tony Marlow, Mr. Clive Soley, Mr. Bob Cryer and Mr. Tom McNally.