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Commons Chamber

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 15 December 1987

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 15 December 1987

The House met at half-past Two O'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

British Waterways Bill

Lords Amendments agreed to.

Oral Answers To Questions

Employment

Local Enterprise Agencies

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress of local enterprise agencies.

There are now almost 400 local enterprise agencies in the United Kingdom. My Department, through the local enterprise agency grant scheme, encourages the development of viable agencies in England. One hundred and sixty-eight agencies were supported in 1986–87.

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful reply. Does he agree that local enterprise agencies are necessarily brought about as a result of a partnership between local interests, local authorities and, particularly, chambers of commerce? Does he also agree that bringing together the practical skills and knowledge of those individuals and organisations results in the creation of much new business and many new jobs, as is the case in the Leeds business venture?

Yes, indeed. I agree with my hon. Friend. The agencies are valuable institutions which improve the survival rate of small firms which consult them, as was shown in a recent report. The Leeds business venture is a long-established and well-supported agency, which receives our grant.

Does the Minister recognise that many local enterprise agencies in areas such as mine, which no longer benefit from inner-city policy or other Government policies to push money into areas of high unemployment, are worried about their future and about future money to enable them to create and secure jobs in places such as Derwentside, which, since 1979, has suffered enormous job losses? The agencies have done a good job, but they need Government support to continue it.

I recognise the concern which the hon. Lady expresses and which some of the agencies have expressed to me. The grant scheme to which I referred is intended as a pump-priming scheme to help agencies get going and develop. It is not the only way in which we assist them —there are others—and I am conscious of the case that the hon. Lady has made.

Does my hon. Friend agree that enterprise agencies have been a wonderful catalyst for bringing together management expertise from the larger companies to help the smaller ones? Have they not been one of the major contributions that have enabled the many start-ups that have taken place to continue, flourish and develop into medium-sized companies?

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has said. As I said earlier, the survival rate has improved a great deal. According to the report that I mentioned, only one in six of the companies that have had advice from enterprise agencies fail. The agencies also do a tremendous job in helping small firms to develop, and many job; are coming from that.

Tourism

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what information he has on the amount of United States tourist dollars earned in 1986.

United States visitors to the United Kingdom spent £1,250 million in 1986.

My hon. Friend will be aware that 25 years ago both France and Italy individually earned more tourist dollars than the United Kingdom and that now the United Kingdom earns more than both those countries put together. Can he say what steps he has taken to inform the tourist industry about how to live with an extremely weak dollar this year?

My hon. Friend is right about the trend of increasing United States tourism to the United Kingdom and about the success of the industry. In 1986 we had a US-UK tourism surplus of £717 million. During the first nine months of this year there was an increase of about 25 per cent. in the number of United States tourists visiting Britain. At the present time the number of tourists from the United States is holding up well, but clearly, because of the gyrations of the financial market and the likelihood of an election in America next year, the industry must be fully alive to the challenge of competition.

The Minister will be aware thai a large proportion of American tourists have been coming into the golden triangle of London-Oxford-Stratford-on-Avon. Because they can probably get better value for money by going to other areas, and especially to Wales, can he say whether the British Tourist Association has come to an agreement with the Wales Tourist Board to increase the promotion of Wales in particular and Britain in general to those in the United States with an interest in Wales?

Yes, progress is being made. I fully concur with the hon. Gentleman's sentiments that Wales is an extremely attractive area which has many tourist attractions.

We welcome American tourists, but most of them come to London and we should like them to visit other parts of the country. Will my hon. Friend look carefully at that? What are his Department and the tourist boards doing to encourage visitors to go from London to Scotland and back to the United States via Prestwick?

The British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board are charged with doing everything possible to encourage tourists to move out and visit the regions and not just spend time in the golden triangle and in London. In recent years Scotland has benefited to a considerable extent from tourism.

Yts

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what information he has as to what proportion of those people completing the YTS in the Truro constituency find full-time paid employment within the next six months.

Sixty two per cent. of young people who completed youth training schemes in the district of Carrick between April 1986 and June 1987 were in full-time jobs when surveyed several months later. A further 9 per cent. were in part-time jobs. I regret that separate figures for Truro are not available.

I am sure the Minister agrees that those figures are welcome and that the increasing quality and take-up of YTS courses in my area is a very good thing. However, given the Government's plan to force all young people to go on to YTS or face the withdrawal of benefit, is it not likely that people who are unwilling and unresponsive to the courses will be forced on to them? Not only will that not help people who do not care to make use of the scheme, but it will hurt the many other people who have a constructive attitude and wish to get the most that they can out of the scheme.

That is not necessarily correct. Already, almost everyone in that positon is offered a place on the YTS. Youth unemployment has greatly improved recently. There are now fewer unemployed 16 and 17-yearold school leavers than at any time since 1974. I do not think that our new proposals will have the effects that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Will my hon. Friend compare the YTS to its predecessor, the youth opportunities programme, which was introduced by the Lib-Lab pact Government? Does he not agree that the youth training scheme is far superior and far more successful in giving training to young people?

Yes, it is much more successful in every respect. Well over 400,000 young people are currently being trained under it.

Tourism

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what he is doing to encourage regional tourist boards to focus on shopping as a major element in tourist spending.

The English Tourist Board's development strategy "A Vision for England" identifies leisure and speciality shopping as an important growth opportunity for tourism, particularly in towns and cities. The ETB is actively working with the regional tourist boards and others to encourage such developments.

Does my hon. Friend accept that spending on such items as specialist shopping, food and drink is of crucial importance to employment not only in the United Kingdom as a whole but in cities such as Winchester? Can he please give the House an estimate of the proportion of total tourist spending for which this type of activity accounts and, therefore, give us a target at which we can aim for spending on high-quality goods, food and drinks?

I know that my hon. Friend is keen to encourage tourists to stay overnight in Winchester.

We estimate that about 40 per cent. of the money spent by overseas visitors goes on shopping, food and drink. I certainly support all that my hon. Friend is doing to draw to the attention of visitors the attractions and heritage of Winchester— including King Arthur's round table and Winchester cathedral. Of course, the money spent by tourists will provide every opportunity for entrepreneurial retailers and shopkeepers to develop their businesses.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the wonderful things happening in Birmingham at the moment, with the creation of new jobs and investment; in particular the £100 million convention centre, which will attract tourists from all over the world, and the £250 million, 1 million sq ft redevelopment of the city centre and the old Bull Ring, which will provide hundreds of shops and 6,000 new jobs?

When the tourists come, should they not be able to use those new facilities on a Sunday? Therefore, should we reform our trading laws to enable this to happen?

As the Minister with responsibility for tourism, I support an extension of Sunday trading. That has always been my personal view and it is also my ministerial position. I support what my hon. Friend said. Birmingham offers tremendous opportunities, and huge developments are coming on stream. I was at the NEC Interbuild exhibition recently and heard some tremendous success stories and good reports about what is happening in the region.

Factory Inspectors

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current number of factory inspectors; and what was the number in 1979.

On 1 November 1987 a total of 610 factory inspectors were employed in the Health and Safety Executive. On 1 April 1979 the total was 742.

Is it not true that since 1979 there has been a massive cut in the number of factory inspectors, due to the meanness of the Government, and is that not lamentable, in view of the many lives and the millions of days lost each year through industrial accidents and injuries? Is it not worse still that the Health and Safety Executive has tried to gag people who work for it from pointing out the savage cutbacks by the Government of their services, on the pain of sacking if anybody speaks out? Is it not an attempt by the Government to apply the Peter Wright standard to health and safety at work?

No, that is not the position. The number of inspectors per 1,000 employees has remained roughly constant since 1979. Having said that, an increase in inspectors is appropriate and next year there will be an increase of some 60 on the combined number of specialist and non-specialist inspectors. Resources have been allocated for that.

On the other situation to which the hon. Gentleman referred, obviously guidance is given on the circumstances in which civil servants have an independent approach to their Members of Parliament. We are aware of the situation that occurred, and the director on that occasion gave general guidance.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that provision will be made for the Health and Safety Commission for an increase in the number of inspectors in 1988–89?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The extra £6·7 million allocated next year will make it possible to fund the extra 60 inspectors to whom I have referred. The chairman of the Health and Safety Commission has made it clear that those extra resources will allow those additional inspectors to be appointed.

Why did the Government permit cuts in the inspectorate during the 1980s when there were growing worries and fears about asbestos? Why did the cuts take place when there were growing worries about accidents to youngsters on the YTS scheme? Surely the Government in the 1980s have been very complacent.

No. The hon. Gentleman assumes that one can simply look at the number of inspectors and say that the more inspectors there are, the fewer accidents there will be. That is not true. The number of inspectors per 1,000 employees has remained roughly constant and where there is a necessity for more inspectors, we have made the funding available. As to fatalities, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that in recent years the number of fatalities has declined, and in 1986–87 they were at an all-time record low.

Is it not disturbing that the Health and Safety Executive in its annual report published this month, admitted that 10,000 work places, which, according to its criteria, are a priority for preventive inspections, were not inspected because of a lack of resources?

The hon. Gentleman grossly oversimplifies what was of necessity a very detailed report. Essentially, the report was historical. It was looking to the past. As to the future, extra inspectors are being allocated —some 60 in total. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

Tourism

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how much was spent by tourists in the six counties of the west country last year.

I understand from the English Tourist Board that total estimated spending by tourists in the six counties of the west country in 1986 was £1,650 million.

That information is extremely helpful. It obviously means plenty of job opportunities and investment. Does my hon. Friend agree that it was detrimental to the interests of the west country for Avon county council to withdraw from the West Country tourist board? What benefit does he see in the council's rejoining it?

It is a pity that Avon withdrew from the West Country tourist board and we hope that it will rejoin. I think I am right in saying that it is the only county council in England which is not a member of its regional tourist board. Given that Avon has such considerable attractions for tourists, such as the cities of Bath and Bristol, it is really missing out, and I hope that it will reconsider.

Will the Minister confirm that many of those so-called tourists come from the north of England and from Scotland looking for jobs? They may or may not have bikes, but they are anxious to have the means to exist as human beings. Does the Minister have anything to say to people in other parts of the United Kingdom who are anxious to contribute to the national well-being, whether or not they are tourists? Can he say anything apart from his nonsensical contribution about tourism?

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman will be encouraging all his constituents to go on holiday from Leith to the west country next year.

Will my hon. Friend recognise that, in seeking to meet the demands of the important tourist industry, ancient cathedral cities such as Salisbury have particular problems? Is he aware that following the decision of the dean and chapter to remove coaches from Salisbury close, two years ago, it is beginning to look as if the only solution which will save Salisbury as a tourist centre is to breach the 13th century closed walls yet again, to make room for a coach park inside them?

I cannot give an instant answer to the particular problems of Salisbury, but I am sure that no one would want any city walls to be breached.

The Minister spoke about the attractions of the west country for tourists. Will he tell us about the attractions of tourism for the people of the west country? In the west country, as elsewhere, the tourist industry provides the lowest rates of pay and the longest hours and has the least trade union organisation to protect the workers against excessive exploitation. Apart from uttering platitudes, what will the Minister do about that?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes that view. In terms of job creation, the tourist industry sustains about 1·4 million jobs nationally. No other industry creates jobs at a rate of 1,000 a week, as our tourist and hospitality industries do. Certain conclusions can be drawn from the fact that there is no over-substantial trade union representation in that industry.

Does my hon. Friend accept that many people feel that although the West Country tourist board does good work, it covers far too large an area, stretching from the Isles of Scilly to Swindon? Will he look at the possibility of devolving part of its budget downward so that county promotional organisations such as the Cornwall tourist board can get a share of that budget?

In my discussions with the West. Country tourist board, that point was not raised. It does not consider its area to be too large. However I will consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Job Training Scheme

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make it his policy to arrange for people on the job training scheme to have their fares refunded; and if he will make a statement.

Participants on the new job training scheme may claim reimbursement of all travel expenses associated with their training.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. However, is he aware that although the trainees do not have to pay their fares now—that is an innovation, as they had to pay them under the youth training scheme —many still have considerable expenses as they have to pay for their lunch and other expenses out of the very small amount that they receive? Will the Minister consider some way of reimbursing them so that they get the small amount to which they art entitled in total? Many trainees, particularly in my constituency, have to contribute to the budget at home because their parents are unemployed.

As the hon. Lady probably knows, we are reviewing the job training scheme and developing it along with the community programme. These matters are under consideration by the Manpower Services Commission at the moment.

Will the Minister confirm that the DHSS recognises the cost of going to work as being £7 a week —being the cost of fares, the high cost of food away from home, and the cost of protective clothing, which will apply to the job training scheme? Under the new "Benefit Plus" scheme, if the "plus" were £15 a week, it would be only £8 a week in real terms.

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's point and, as I said, the matter is under consideration.

Does my hon. Friend agree that JTS has played an important part in the Government's adult training programme and that one of its biggest problems has been the way in which some unions and Left-wing Labour councils have undermined and boycotted it?

I agree with both parts of my hon. Friend's remarks. The job training scheme is playing an important role, but it could play a more important role if more people would co-operate in it.

Labour Statistics

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of unemployed; how many are women; and how many men.

On 8 October 1987 the number of unemployed claimants in the United Kingdom was 2,751,000 — a reduction of almost 500,000 on a year ago. Of these, 848,000 were women and 1,904,000 were men.

Is it not a fact that women are heavily discriminated against in employment and that when they come off the unemployment register most get jobs that most other people do not want, which are usually very low paid—for example, in tourism in the west country? Is there not something that we could do to ensure that women have some chance of full-time jobs instead of miserably low-paid, part-time jobs?

I accept almost nothing of what the hon. Gentleman said. In the past 12 months there has been an increase of about 372,000 in the number in work. For women, the increase in those in full-time jobs was more than the increase in those in part-time jobs. However, it is also true that many women prefer to have part-time jobs, and that is shown by many surveys.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the number of unemployed in Lancaster has fallen steadily and that, more important, the number in employment is steadily increasing? Many are employed in adaptable small firms and many in the tourist industry, which is taking advantage of our natural attractions and historic connections.

My hon. Friend is right. There has been a very big increase in employment, and the tourist industry has been one of the major activities involved. It is not right for Opposition Members to criticise that increase and suggest that, somehow, jobs in tourism are not real jobs. Of course they are real jobs, and they are internationally competitive real jobs.

Will the Secretary of State recognise that unemployment is still far too high? Given the present level of unemployment, is it not crazy to have ended the job release scheme? Is it not wrong to say that that scheme has been ended because the number using it has fallen considerably? Should not the Government have been moving in the opposite direction and allowing more people to take early retirement under the job release scheme to make employment available for younger people?

The job release scheme was being applied only to those aged 64 and was having a very marginal impact.

On the unemployment statistics, the fact is that unemployment has come down for 16 months in succession. In the past 12 months the fall in the figures has been the largest on record. It has affected every region of the country and there have been record falls in long-term unemployment and in unemployment among young people. I had very much hoped that the Opposition would welcome that trend.

Is it not a fact that there has been not only an enormous reduction in unemployment this year but a corresponding and greater growth in employment? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in each month of 1987 the Corby jobcentre has had a record number of job vacancies? To encourage people to take the jobs that are now available, would it not be sensible for income tax rates to be reduced to reduce some of the disincentives to work?

The last point is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What my hon. Friend has said about the increase in the number in employment is right. The position in this country compares favourably with the EEC average and with countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Will the Secretary of State accept that it would be helpful if his Department produced figures which showed the number of people in part-time employment and those in full-time employment? While the new jobs that are being created are welcome, there is genuine concern that they are often part-time jobs replacing full-time jobs. Rather than exchanges which do not shed light, would it not be helpful if his Department gave us the facts?

The fact of the matter is that we do produce those figures. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who I think leads for the Liberal party on these matters, is not aware of that. I will repeat the figures again. Over the past 12 months, 372,000 new jobs have been created, of which 206,000—the majority—are full-time.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the level of unemployment in the United Kingdom is at its lowest for five years? Will he comment on how he sees the unemployment trends developing in the coming months?

As I have said, unemployment has come down for 16 months in a row. My hon. Friend is entirely right to state that it is now at its lowest level for five years. The Government want that trend to continue. That is not automatic, but provided that the lessons of the past are learned, I believe that unemployment should continue to come down.

While we certainly welcome any further fall in the unemployment figures, may I ask whether the Secretary of State is aware that, even on the Government's figures after they have fiddled them in 19 different ways, unemployment has still fallen by only one quarter of the amount by which it has increased under the Government since 1979? Is he further aware that under this Government Britain still has the worst combination of high unemployment and high inflation of any major Western country? Is he also aware that the number of people in jobs as a proportion of the total population available for work has not improved one jot, according to the Government's figures, since the end of 1982?

I am not prepared to take lectures from the hon. Gentleman on the inflation rate. The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Labour Government when inflation exceeded 20 per cent. The fact is that unemployment has come down for 16 months in succession. There is no question about the downward trend in unemployment. The hon. Gentleman would do much better to welcome that trend and recognise that in countries such as France, Belgium, Spain and Ireland unemployment is higher, not lower, than in this country.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is significant that during the general election campaign in June the Conservative party was the only party which did not make rash promises about reducing unemployment to 2 million in one year? Does that not prove that actions speak louder than words?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Since the election the unemployment rate has come down by several hundred thousand. We very much hope that the trend will continue.

Fresh Claims Experiment

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the fresh claims experiment.

The experiments, which involve using more senior staff to interview newly unemployed people, have just ended. Their aim was to see whether it is possible to provide a greater range of help and advice on both benefit procedures and employment opportunities at the initial point of contact with an unemployed person. The experiments are now being evaluated.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Is it not obvious to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that the principal reason for the reduction in the number of people registered as unemployed is the increasing abuse of measures such as restart, the fresh claims experiment and the availability-for-work criteria? Indeed, 2·5 million restart interviews have taken place and some cynics would suggest that we should not be suprised about the dramatic fall in the number of unemployed that the Government talk about. Does he also accept that that view is increasingly shared by the British people? When will he elevate the tackling of unemployment above the abuse of the unemployed?

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. Not only have the unemployment figures gone down, but the number of people in employment has risen substantially. He mentioned the availability-for-work test. I must point out to him that those powers come from the Social Security Act 1975, which was passed by the Labour Government. As far as I know, no one seriously wants to pay out benefit when people are not available for work.

Has my right hon. Friend any plans to extend the experiment nationwide?

We shall have to evaluate information that we have only just collected. We shall then consider what the possible extension of the programme may involve.

If the Secretary of State is thinking of extending the new scheme as another turn of the screw against the unemployed, perhaps he or one of his colleagues will examine the fresh claims made in the House of Lords by all those peers who turn up for work, nod to the duty officer and then walk out without even voting, complete with their £100 a day tax-free.

Liquid Petroleum Gas

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he is yet in a position to make a statement on the findings of the Health and Safety Executive investigation of the explosion in Balham on 21 August 1987; and when he expects the advisory committee on dangerous substances to announce the results of its consideration of the standards relating to the keeping and use of liquid petroleum gas.

The Health and Safety Executive investigation into the explosion at Balham on 21 August 1987 concluded that the most likely cause was a leak of butane from a gas bottle and gas ring in the basement of the building.

The advisory committee on dangerous substances has considered proposals for future controls over flammable gases and liquids, including standards relating to the keeping and use of liquefied petroleum gas. Its recommendations have been submitted to the Health and Safety Commission for consideration at a meeting to be held shortly.

In the light of the coroner's statement that the canister was not adequately labelled on the occasion of the explosion, will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to the fact that such labelling is required for industrial use of canisters, but not for domestic or retail use? Will he make recommendations accordingly?

My hon. Friend is entirely right in saying that the coroner made remarks to that effect and pointed out the distinction between domestic use and storage of gas and its use in the workplace. I am sure that Calor Gas has taken careful note of what the coroner said.

Fire Fighting

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he has any plans to seek to amend the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act as it relates to the training of employees in fire fighting procedures at the place of work; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act already confers general duties on employers to provide such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of employees. More specific requirements for general fire precautions, including training in the event of fire, are contained in the Fire Precautions Act 1971.

As there is a duty on employers to make every effort to improve safety and training in safety at the place of work, should not employers regularly communicate at least once a year with all their employees to explain what is being done to update and improve firefighting procedures?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that, under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, employers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their employees. That applies to fire or to any other risk. However, the working of the Fire Precautions Act 1971, which is the primary legislation available for the purpose, is more properly the province of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Is the Miniser aware that many British employers are daily and yearly infringing the requirement of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act for their companies' safety policies to be updated annually? If he is aware of that deliberate flouting of the law, what is he doing about it?

If the hon. Lady has any specific instances of breaches of the law, I hope that she will do what is necessary to draw it to the attention of the authorities responsible.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the balance in the commendable desire to ensure that employees and other people are equipped to fight fires is not sometimes tipped too far and that some of the buildings in which people have to fight fires have become difficult for people to live and work in because of the requirements of some safety precautions?

I take my hon. Friend's point, but at the same time it must be reiterated that there is a responsibility on employers to ensure the safety of their employees, and that must be a primary consideration.

Young Training Schemes

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many 16 and 17-year-olds are currently on youth training schemes.

On 31 October there were 391,719 YTS trainees with a two-year training entitlement and 25,084 with a one-year entitlement. Those with a two-year entitlement usually start training at 16 and those with a one-year entitlement usually start at 17.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Has he seen the October edition of his Department's Employment Gazette, which shows that YTS trainees in the retailing sector produce for their employers an average of £39 per week added value? The average for the eight industries that take 59 per cent. of YTS trainees placed with employers is £32 a week. If that amount is added to the current YTS allowance, £70 a week is coming into employers' hands. Why cannot trainees have a decent training allowance of at least £55 a week?

The training allowance is adequate, and a recent survey which showed that 80 per cent. of trainees thought that their training was worth while proves that fact.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, nationally, more than 70 per cent. of young people on YTS go on to further education training or a job, and that in some areas, including Norwich, the figure may be higher? Is this not a major success, compared with the feeble efforts of the Labour party when it was in government some years ago?

The figures are very encouraging, and they show the success of the scheme.

Will the Minister admit that these figures show a disappointing level of employed youngsters on youth training? The original intention of the scheme was for it to be a good training base for young people in and out of work. Is it not about time that the Government said that no youngster should be going into work without training, and is it not about time also that we caught up with our industrial competitors and trained young people who are in and out of work?

With over 400,000 people being trained on it, YTS is a very successful scheme. The option remains for youngsters to go directly into work, if they so wish, without going on YTS, and that should remain so.

Self-Employment

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current levels of self-employment.

Self-employment has a very important role to play in the regeneration of the economy and the reduction of unemployment. The current level of self-employment is 2·7 million, representing one in nine of the work force, and it is continuing to increase.

I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply. It shows that, if those figures were taken together with the employed population, unemployment would be well below 10 per cent. Has my hon. Friend any plans to ensure that self-employed people are helped by Government to sell their services and products to Government?

We help small firms as much as we can to tender for Government contracts. A booklet, "Tendering for Government Contracts", is available from the Department's small firms service. With our encouragement, a number of Departments are publishing similar guidance for small firms on the opportunities to do business with Government.

Very few young people are self-employed. After April, self-employment for young people may take on a new definition, because they will either have to be on benefit or on YTS. Will the Minister guarantee that he will provide a YTS place for every 16 and 17-yearold, as the Secretary of State for Social Services is unprepared to give that guarantee?

Tourism

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what contribution the tourist industry is making to reducing unemployment in the inner cities.

The tourism industry is making a significant contribution to employment in inner-city areas. More jobs are expected to be created when the tourism potential of inner cities and urban areas is further realised as a result of Government policies, the English Tourist Board's initiatives and investment by the public and private sectors.

Does my hon. Friend agree that not only the English Tourist Board, but local authorities and other agencies have a significant part to play in increasing tourism and encouraging employment? Is he aware of the imaginative initiatives that have been taken by Southwark chamber of commerce to encourage tourism south of the river in the inner London borough of Southwark? Will he confirm that 22 per cent. of the urban development grant is spent on tourist initiatives?

Yes, I can confirm that. In fact, about 23 per cent. of total English urban development grants are used on tourism projects. As my hon. Friend has suggested, tourism is very much a partnership industry between Government and the public and private sectors, with local authorities also having a role to play. As far as Southwark is concerned, I am delighted by the progress that is being

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 December.

:. This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an Audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Will my right hon. Friend reflect today on areas in the north, which suffer from high unemployment and which will give a hearty welcome to the thousands of new jobs that will result from the confidence of Japanese manufacturers in our economy?

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the excellent news that Nissan is expanding its investments in the north-east by about £200 million because it is delighted with the work that is done there. That will create another 1,400 jobs. Another Japanese company is expanding in East Kilbride, which again will provide a considerable number of jobs. That displays excellent confidence in the economy and work force of this country.

In an unprecedented action, the Prime Minister has been petitioned today by over 1,000 doctors and consultants, who are alarmed at what they call

"serious reductions in the Health Service … which are endangering patients' lives".
What is the Prime Minister's response to them" Will she say that they are wrong and that the cuts are not really happening, or will she accept that they are right. but tell them that it is really all their fault?

I shall set out the Government's excellent record in providing more resources— about 30 per cent. more in real terms over the past eight years—and in increasing—[Interruption.] As they asked me to make certain that expenditure kept pace with the increasing GNP, I shall point out that when we came in, expenditure on health was 4·8 per cent. of GNP and that it is now 5·5 per cent. after eight years of Tory Government. So we have done better than they requested. I shall also point out that the allocations of the £1·1 billion for England next year will soon be announced.

With her recitations of figures, the Prime Minister is now making a fool of herself. She is showing a complete determination not to respond to what the highest authorities and most expert opinions have called the "crisis" in the Health Service. Will she not heed the words of Sir George Godber, who said:

"it is useless for Ministers to repeat barely relevant multiples of past expenditure, staff employed, or numbers going in and out of hospital doors … What matters is the volume of services not provided or too long delayed".
Will the Prime Minister now make sure that the resources are made available to bring those beds back into use, to fund the pay awards and restructuring and to ensure that she stops the rot in the National Health Service?

As I said to the right hon. Gentleman, the allocations for increases next year -which to the hospital and community services in England alone amount to some £700 million, paid for by the taxpayer—will shortly be made and the regional health authorities will soon have details of them. In the meantime, because it is the treatment of the patient that counts, let me make it quite clear that for every three hip replacement operations in 1978 there are now four, for every two cataract operations which took place under Labour there are now three, and altogether, for every six operations then, there are now seven. That is an expanding Health Service and it will continue to expand.

The House and the country needs to know that, much though the Prime Minister makes of that £700 million, £500 million is already allocated for pay and prices, a further £100 million is already allocated for emergency initiatives, a further £48 million will be necessary only because the Government are putting up electicity prices, and the area health authorities have to find £170 million out of that sum to pay off the debts that they have had to run up because of underfunding this year. Why does not the Prime Minister, instead of constantly hiding behind those figures, understand that, as Sir George Godber says, the principles of equity and of access to care on the basis of need, not the ability to pay, are now seriously under threat, and make not just commendation of the Health Service, but resources available for the Health Service?

I give the right hon. Gentleman the figures because they show that no Government in history have given the Health Service more resources, more doctors, more nurses, or better pay for the nurses, than this one. That is what the right hon. Gentleman does not like.

As the right hon. Gentleman quotes from a previous chief medical officer to the Health Service, let me quote from the Labour party's document "The Way Forward", with a foreword by the noble Lord Ennals, then Secretary of State for Social Services. He gave a very different tale from the right hon. Gentleman when he said:
"Public expectations of the health and social services will frequently outrun supply and sometimes hard decisions will be needed to hold back some services to allow others to be developed."
That is what the Labour Government said when they were in power because they could not provide a fraction of the services that we have provided.

Order. Very occasionally a dispensation is given to the Opposition Front Bench.

Tory Members are only proving their sensitivity, Mr. Speaker.

Following what the right hon. Lady said, the infinity of demand for health care is understood to be a reality—[Interruption.]

Following what the Prime Minister said, the infinity of demand for health care—[Interruption.]

Order. It is no good hon. Members pointing at each other across the Chamber in such a disgraceful way. Mr. Kinnock.

That reaction really does show that the blood is flowing through the bandages that the Tories are trying to wrap around it. The infinity of demand of which the right hon. Lady speaks is well understood. For most Governments, it is accepted as a challenge. With her Government, it is used as an alibi. Will she heed the words of her erstwhile supporter, Mr. Nigel Harris, who said that her policies are ludicrous, deceitful and lead to the degradation of the patients? How can she take pride in that? Why does she not make the proper resources available to stop the crisis?

The doctors' petition this morning asked for the proportion of GDP to be maintained. I therefore repeat that this Government have done better than that. The last—[Interruption.] This Government—

Order. This kind of noise does the reputation of the House no good at all.

This Government have increased the proportion of GDP to 5·5 per cent. The last Labour Government cut it from 5·1 to 4·8 per cent.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this Christmas in England will be the most prosperous Christmas that the country has ever known? Is she further aware that this happy time could be spoilt by certain yobbos, whether on the cricket field, in the boxing ring or in football crowds, whose behaviour falls short of what we expect? Do we not want, with better, prosperous times, more decent behaviour by the mass of the people?

These are the times of the highest standard of living that this country has ever known. So far as I am concerned, if more of us emulated my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), the House would be very much more orderly than it is.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 December.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave quite some time ago.

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that yesterday in the House I and several colleagues met representatives of the ambulance service in Gwent, who complained bitterly about cuts and reorganisation which have now reached the stage when life is being endangered? Will the Prime Minister tell the House what response I should make to this dedicated group of people who have served the community so well over many years?

Let me make two points. First, expenditure on the National Health Service in Wales has risen in real terms by a third. People may want more, but they should be very grateful that, under this Tory Government, expenditure goes up to levels which it could not possibly have reached under Labour. Secondly, in respect of the increased allocations for next year, paid for by the taxpayer, an average family this year pays £1,500 to the Health Service. Next year, to pay for the increased expenditure on the Health Service, the average expenditure per family will go up to £1,600 a year. The allocations resulting from that expenditure in Wales and elsewhere will shortly be announced.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 December.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the implications for the Government service of the harassment and intimidation currently going on in the CPSA and say whether that union should continue to have time and Government money to carry on its activities?

We condemn harassment and intimidation wherever they arise. Of course, the Employment Bill is concerned with the rights of trade union members, not with harassment and intimidation. The alleged harassment and intimidation is a matter for the police. It is now being investigated, so my hon. Friend will not expect me to say anything further at this moment.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 December.

Since we are now approaching the coldest period of the year, and since many of my hon. Friends and I have been the object of a co-ordinated campaign by the opponents of the expansion of nuclear power, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to study and emphasise the strength of the British electricity generating industry, based on a variety of sources of supply? Will she contrast its happy position with the position in Romania, where the domestic ration is enough only to run one small electric heater for one hour each day?

I agree that the generation of electricity needs to come from a number of different sources, including nuclear. Nuclear supplies are now approaching some 20 per cent. of our generating capacity. As my hon. Friend knows, we need a considerable programme of investment in power stations, transmission and distribution. This Government are about to embark on such a programme.

Points Of Order

3.30 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday afternoon, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) brought to your attention the fact that there is no Scottish Minister serving on the Standing Committee considering the Health and Medicines Bill. That Committee met this morning. Of course, you ruled on the matter, Mr. Speaker, and it is now concluded. I drew the attention of the Chairman of the Committee to the fact that, Standing Order No. 87(1) states:

"Mr. Attorney General, the Lord Advocate, Mr. Solicitor General and Mr. Solicitor General for Scotland, or any of them, being Members of the House, though not members of a standing committee, may take part in the deliberations of the committee, but shall not vote or make any motion or move any amendment or be counted in the quorum."
That matter was raised, and the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond), ruled that it was not a matter for him.

Order. We cannot discuss on the Floor of the House what goes on in a Committee.

The point is that the problem of there not being a Scottish Minister on the Committee could have been overcome if we could have sent for the Solicitor-General for Scotland because the Bill deals with primary legislation covering the Health Service in Scotland. That is not possible because the Solicitor-General for Scotland lost his seat in the general election, but the Government saw fit to reappoint him. So here we have a Standing Order that says that we may send for a Law Officer, but we have lost that right because the Law Officer is not a Member of this House. How can we get around that problem?

I have to confirm to the hon. Gentleman that he is correct in saying that there is no Scottish Law Officer qualified to attend the Standing Committee. Membership of the Committee is a matter for the Committee of Selection. As I explained to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) yesterday, that is the place where he should take his representations. I cannot help the hon. Gentleman.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to press the point any further, but we in Scotland have now reached the point at which we have no Select Committee on Scottish Affairs because the Government cannot provide membership and cannot agree on it. We have failed to have a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee, we do not have a Scottish Minister on the Standing Committee, and we cannot send for the Solicitor-General for Scotland. It must be apparent to hon. Members and to people outside that the Government are incapable of properly administering the affairs of Scotland.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the benefit of the House, will you confirm that this is a unitary Parliament in which every part of the United Kingdom is dealt with properly and that Scottish affairs are regularly dealt with in the Chamber? In fact, within the recent week we have dealt with Scottish business.

That is true, but it does not necessarily follow from the point of order.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am a member of the Standing Committee on the Health and Medicines Bill. This morning, I was silenced. I was unable to debate the very important—

Order. The hon. Member knows that we cannot debate in the House what goes on in Standing Committee. It is not my responsibility. It is a matter for the Standing Committee itself and for its Chairman.

You are absolutely right, Mr. Speaker. This relates to the point raised by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg). The reason I could not speak in Committee this morning was the filibuster organised by the Labour party.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have rightly on a number of occasions pointed out that you see one of your major roles as protecting the rights of Back-Bench Members. At Question Time you mentioned to the Leader of the Opposition that it was an exception for a fourth question to be asked by him. May I ask you to re-emphasise that it is an exception because it is a dangerous precedent? May I also point out that nine of the 15 minutes of Prime Minister's Question Time today were devoted exclusively to questions by the Leader of the Opposition—

Order. I do not need any help on this. I said to the House—and the hon. Member heard me, otherwise he would not have raised the point of order—that very exceptionally I call the Leader of the Opposition for a fourth time. I emphasise to the House that in the course of a Parliament I shall seek to ensure that every Back-Bench Member who wishes to be called is called at Prime Minister's Question Time. To that extent I have to exercise a degree of rationing. I seek to ensure that the calling is as fair and as wide as possible.

On the same point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will also be aware that today we were unable to hear at least two minutes of Prime Minister's Question Time because of the actions of a number of hon. Members. I know it is very difficult for you. It would be easy for us to identify individual hon. Members, but is there any way by which you can name collectively a group of hon. Members who seek to disrupt the House by actions such as we had today?

I welcome the opportunity of saying to the House that our reputation is in the hands of hon. Members. A row such as we had at Question Time, which, sadly, was broadcast, does the House a very grave disservice.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given that, even in the short time that I have been here, the amount of time taken by the Leader of the Opposition increases—

Further to the point of order before last, Mr. Speaker. When the Select Committee on Trade and Industry asked the then Attorney-General, Mr. Sam Silkin, to advise it, he replied in writing that, although Law Officers had a duty to advise the House as a whole, they had no duty to advise Committees of the House. That was the accepted doctrine. It might be well worth reminding the House of it so that there are no further points of order on Law Officers who do not go to Committees.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the hon. Member who was next on the list at Prime Minister's Question Time and who was unable to ask the Prime Minister about the very important statement—

Order. That is just the point. I am sorry for the hon. Gentleman. I carefully keep a list, so I am aware that the hon. Member has not asked a question of the Prime Minister in this Session. I shall seek to make it up to him later.

Child Benefit (Uprating)

3.38 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State for Social Services, in the event of an increase in the Retail Price Index in 1988 or any subsequent calendar year, to lay before Parliament the draft of an uprating order to produce an increase in child benefit with effect from the beginning of the following financial year of not less than a corresponding percentage, and to make future increases in child benefit a charge on the National Insurance Fund.
Once again, I am seeking the leave of the House to introduce a Bill in respect of the uprating of child benefit. May I remind hon. Members of the long title of the Bill that I am proposing, which is as follows:
"to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State for Social Services, in the event of an increase in the Retail Price Index in 1988 or any subsequent calendar year, to lay before Parliament the draft of an uprating order to produce an increase in child benefit with effect from the beginning of the following financial year of not less than a corresponding percentage, and to make future increases in child benefit a charge on the National Insurance Fund."

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given that this is an important ten-minute Bill on child benefit, I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker, would ask those Members leaving the Chamber to do so quietly so that the rest of us can hear the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams).

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) for his help. Will hon. Members please leave quietly?

I believe that it is worth the time of the House to consider for a few moments the origin of child benefit and the reason why it is somewhat controversial at this time. As hon. Members will remember, the system of family allowances was introduced, with all-party support, in 1945 by the caretaker Government. That system continued until the mid-1970s as a universal benefit targeted to families with children according to the number of children in the family. However, child benefit has a much older origin than that, because it originated with the child tax allowances that featured at the very start of the income tax system when it was introduced by William Pitt at the end of the 18th century. It was decided in the mid-1970s that the two kinds of child allowance should be amalgamated. I calculate that, if child tax allowance had continued and had been uprated in the same way as the other tax allowances since that time in accordance with the Lawson-Rooker-Wise formula, it would now be worth to taxpayers in net terms, about £450 for each child.

Child benefit has not been uprated in the same way as other tax allowances and, therefore, this year it is worth only some £370 per child. Bearing in mind that that sum As paid direct to the mother and is not liable to tax, it is an important benefit for the nearly 7 million families who claim it. It is targeted to all families without test of means.

I should like to raise one or two points about the benefit because the majority of the people who claim it are people who are also liable for income tax. For them, the child benefit has the effect of a remission of their tax burden. The amount of tax and the amount of benefit breaks even for couples with one child only at about £100 per week, and even for couples with four children the break-even point is below the national average of male manual earnings. Between 4 million and 5 million families pay more in income tax than they derive in child benefit. Therefore, for that large number of families, child benefit constitutes a welcome remission of their tax burden. In fact, it constitutes a tax cut targeted towards families according to the number of their children.

Many people favour a reduction in the general rate of income tax, and they believe that, in some ways, that is preferable to an uplift in the rate of child benefit. I do not share that view. In fact, single people stand to do best if there is an across-the-board, untargeted reduction in income tax. However, if we were to relieve the tax burden of families specifically by raising the child benefit, the money would go to the people who obviously have the greatest need at each particular level of income.

It is worth going back to the arguments that many of us remember about the amalgamation of child benefit and family allowances in the mid-1970s. I believe that there were three particular reasons why the House decided that child benefit should be introduced to supersede family allowances and child tax allowances: first, for the ease of administration; secondly, on account of the question of incentives, which was extremely important then and, indeed, is certainly extremely important now, given the growing awareness of the importance of the poverty trap for so many people in this country; thirdly, because of the question of take-up. We had virtually 100 per cent. take-up of the family allowances before the amalgamation, and, since the amalgamation, in the form of the child benefit, once again we have virtually 100 per cent. take-up of this popular benefit, which still goes directly to the mothers.

These are particularly important questions today. Every one of us knows the pressure there is on the supplementary benefit offices to deal with their monumental load of case-work. We must remember that the child benefit not only has the highest take-up of all the family benefits; it involves virtually no case-work and is the cheapest of the family benefits to administer.

Then there is the question of incentives. I must bring to the attention of the House the tragic way in which the numbers are growing, inexorably, of people who are obliged to apply for means-tested benefit of one sort or another. I received a parliamentary answer a few days ago which shocked me and would shock anyone who studied it carefully. It appears that there are now between 15 million and 16 million people in this country who are dependent in one way or another on means-tested benefits. Worse than that, it is officially estimated that there may be about 5 million or 6 million further people who do not claim means-tested benefits, but would be eligible for benefit if they chose to do so. That is a large part of our population for whom, when they have calculated the effect of so doing, there is not a great deal of purpose in working or saving. Conservative Members and, I believe, Opposition Members, too, believe in the importance for self-respect of working and saving.

This country cannot continue to have an inexorably rising number of people who are obliged to apply for means-tested benefits. Although it may be administered in a kind manner—I know that the people in the DHSS and in the local authorities and elsewhere who have to deal with case-work do their utmost to be humane and reasonable—that number of millions of people must class themselves, inevitably, as second-rate citizens. The great advantage of the child benefit is that it is a universal benefit, and people who improve their lot do not lose their eligibility for that important benefit.

This year, by not uprating the child benefit, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State unhappily has tipped about another 40,000 people on to the heap of those who are eligible to apply for means-tested benefit. We have before us now the prospect of the community charge. I believe that that may add as many as a further 2 million to the number of people who are eligible to apply for means-tested benefits.

The time has come for the House to make a clear recommendation to the Departments concerned about the future of child benefit. When I introduced a similar Bill about 18 months ago there was a Division, and the number of Members who voted in favour was 152; only three Members voted against. The Department should have noted the expression of opinion in the House at that time; but it did not. I regret that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chose not to increase child benefit this year, but I should like to make it clear to the House that my Bill as drafted is not a confrontation with my right hon. Friend. I understand his reasons; at the very time when the new family credit is being brought in, which everyone must welcome, he did not feel inclined also to uprate child benefit. I understand his reasons, though I regret his decision. My Bill however, is not a confrontation with that decision. The effect of my Bill, if passed by the House, would be only to put child benefit on the Lawson-RookerWise formula with effect from next year. That truly is something on which the House could unite in all parties.

I realise that there are certain people, inside and outside the House, who feel that they do not need child benefit, so why should it be given to them? To them, we should make the point that they are entitled to a reduction in taxation if tax cuts are in the air, and there is no reason why tax cuts should not be targeted specifically to families—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had 10 minutes. Will he now bring his remarks to a close?

I will indeed do so.

There are some 10,000 claimants in each constituency, which is a point that hon. Members may care to bear in mind.

My last point is to explain why the national insurance fund features in my long title. We should revive the concept of national insurance, so that child benefit, just as much as pensions and unemployment relief, may be seen to emanate from the national insurance fund. I trust that the House will support my Bill.

3.50 pm

I seek to oppose this important proposed Bill. It is important because it affects 7 million mothers and 14 million children and it would be wrong for it to be nodded through. The only way in which we have a chance to express our individual preferences is in the Division Lobby, and when the time comes I shall seek to divide the House. Needless to say, I hope that the Bill is given leave to be brought in by a massive majority.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 234, Noes 20.

Division No. 112]

[3.50 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms DianeEastham, Ken
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)Evans, John (St Helens N)
Allen, GrahamEwing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Alton, DavidEwing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Anderson, DonaldFearn, Ronald
Archer, Rt Hon PeterFields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryFisher, Mark
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Flannery, Martin
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Flynn, Paul
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Foster, Derek
Barron, KevinFoulkes, George
Battle, JohnFraser, John
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyFrench, Douglas
Beckett, MargaretFyfe, Mrs Maria
Beggs, RoyGalbraith, Samuel
Benn, Rt Hon TonyGalloway, George
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Benyon, W.Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Boateng, PaulGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bowis, JohnGlyn, Dr Alan
Boyes, RolandGodman, Dr Norman A.
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir RhodesGolding, Mrs Llin
Bradley, KeithGordon, Ms Mildred
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Gould, Bryan
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle B)Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Buchan, NormanGrocott, Bruce
Buckley, GeorgeHardy, Peter
Caborn, RichardHarman, Ms Harriet
Callaghan, JimHaynes, Frank
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Heffer, Eric S.
Carrington, MatthewHenderson, Douglas
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Clay, BobHome Robertson, John
Clelland, DavidHood, James
Clwyd, Mrs AnnHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cohen, HarryHowells, Geraint
Coleman, DonaldHoyle, Doug
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Corbett, RobinHughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Corbyn, JeremyHughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cormack, PatrickHughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Cousins, JimHughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cox, TomHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cran, JamesIngram, Adam
Cryer, BobJack, Michael
Cummings, J.John, Brynmor
Cunliffe, LawrenceJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cunningham, Dr JohnJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dalyell, TarnJones, leuan (Ynys M6n)
Darling, AlastairKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Kilfedder, James
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Day, StephenKnapman, Roger
Dewar, DonaldKnox, David
Dixon, DonLambie, David
Dobson, FrankLamond, James
Doran, FrankLeighton, Ron
Dunnachie, JamesLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Eadie, AlexanderLestor, Miss Joan (Eccles)

Lewis, TerryRedmond, Martin
Litherland, RobertRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Livingstone, KenReid, John
Livsey, RichardRichardson, Ms Jo
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Lofthouse, GeoffreyRogers, Allan
Loyden, EddieRooker, Jeff
McAllion, JohnRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
McAvoy, TomRost, Peter
Macdonald, CalumRowe, Andrew
McFall, JohnRowlands, Ted
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Ruddock, Ms Joan
McKelvey, WilliamSedgemore, Brian
McLeish, HenrySheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McTaggart, BobSkinner, Dennis
Mahon, Mrs AliceSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Martin, Michael (Springburn)Soley, Clive
Maxton, JohnSpearing, Nigel
Meacher, MichaelSquire, Robin
Meale, AlanSteel, Rt Hon David
Meyer, Sir AnthonySteinberg, Gerald
Michael, AlunStott, Roger
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Strang, Gavin
Millan, Rt Hon BruceStraw, Jack
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Moonie, Dr LewisTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Morgan, RhodriThomas, Dafydd Elis
Morley, ElliottThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Morris, Rt Hon A (W'shawe)Townsend, Cyril D. (B heath)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Vaz, Keith
Mowlam, Mrs MarjorieWall, Pat
Mudd, DavidWallace, James
Mullin, ChrisWalley, Ms Joan
Murphy, PaulWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Nellist, DaveWareing, Robert N.
Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
O'Brien, WilliamWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
O'Neill, MartinWigley, Dafydd
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWilliams, Rt Hon A. J.
Parry, RobertWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Patchett, TerryWilson, Brian
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethWinnick, David
Pendry, TomWise, Mrs Audrey
Pike, PeterWorthington, Anthony
Porter, David (Waveney)Wray, James
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)Yeo, Tim
Prescott, JohnYoung, David (Bolton SE)
Price, Sir DavidYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Quin, Ms JoyceTellers for the Ayes:
Randall, StuartSir Brandon Rhys-Williams
Rathbone, Timand Mr. Tony Marlow

NOES

Allason, RupertJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Amos, AlanMans, Keith
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Brazier, JulianRedwood, John
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Stanbrook, Ivor
Dover, DenWells, Bowen
Forth, EricWheeler, John
Gow, Ian
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Tellers for the Noes:
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Mr. Frank Field and
Janman, TimothyMr. Archy Kirkwood.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Brandon Rhys Williams, Mrs. Rosie Barnes, Mrs. Ann Clwyd, M r. Jim Lester, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Mr. Tony Marlow, Mr. Tim Rathbone, Mr. Robin Squire, Mr. Dafydd Wigley and Mr. Tim Yeo.

Child Benefit (Uprating)

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams accordingly presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State for Social Services, in the event of an increase in the Retail Price Index in 1988 or any subsequent calendar year, to lay before Parliament the draft of an uprating order to produce an increase in child benefit with effect from the beginning of the following financial year of not less than a corresponding percentage, and to make future increases in child benefit a charge on the National Insurance Fund: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 12th February and to be printed. [Bill 71].

Orders Of The Day

Local Government Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [14 December], That the clause (Dog Licences), proposed on consideration of the Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), be read a Second time.

"(1) The duty charged under the Dog Licences Act 1959 on Licences for dogs shall from the date set out in subsection (5) and subject to subsection (2), be determined by a London borough, or district council, as appropriate at a level of not less that £10 per annum and not more than £20 per annum in any financial year and shall be allocated by the authority to the funding of a dog warden service in its area.
(2) No duty shall be charged in respect of any dog which is:—
  • (a) a trained guide dog kept for the purpose of assisting a blind or partially-sighted person;
  • (b) a dog kept for the purpose of work in connection with the maintenance of livestock or gamekeeping;
  • (c) a dog whose owner has attained the age of statutory retirement.
  • (3) In Section 1 of the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to dogs) Act 1933 (disqualification for keeping a dog of any person convicted of cruelty to dogs), at the end there shall be inserted the following subsection—
    (5) For the purposes of this section a person shall be presumed, until the contrary is shown, to keep a dog—
  • (a) if it is found or seen in that person's custody, charge or possession, or in his house or premises;
  • (b) in the case of hounds, if he is their owner or master."
  • (4) In section 1 of the Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) (Scotland) Act 1934 (disqualification for keeping a dog of any person convicted of cruelty to dogs), at the end there shall be inserted the following subsection—
    "(5) For the purposes of this section a person shall be presumed, until the contrary is shown, to keep a dog—
  • (a) if it is found or seen in that person's custody, charge or possession, or in his house or premises;
  • (b) in the case of hounds, if he is their owner or master."
  • (5) this section shall come into force at the end of the period of 2 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.".—[Mr. Rooker.]

    Question again proposed.

    4.3 pm

    I support my hon. Friends in seeking to maintain the dog licensing system. I shall not dwell on the matter at length because several important points have been made, but it is worth pointing out that, unless we have some system of registration, we shall not be able to detect animal diseases with the accuracy and precision necessary to take remedial action.

    With the development of the Channel tunnel and the completion of the internal market by 1992, there is a grave danger that rabies will be a greater possibility in Britain. In the Common Market, rabies is spreading at the rate of 25 miles each year, and the barrier against rabies that the Common Market has attempted to set up through an inoculation process has not stemmed the spread of the disease. Therefore, it is reasonable that we should have a licensing system, because, although one hopes that that possibility will never come to fruition, we should be forewarned.

    The National Canine Defence League takes the view that we should retain the dog licensing system. The Joint Advisory Committee on Pets in Society, which is chaired by Lord Houghton of Sowerby and Lord Irving of Dartford and has as its vice-chairman the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), who is taking her usual interest in the subject, points out:
    "However, the decision to abolish rather than to increase the licence to a sensible level of up to £10 goes against the advice of the veterinary bodies, the welfare bodies, the local authorities, the environmental health officers and the farmers. The present income goes to local authorities helping to fund, in a minimal way, present dog warden services."
    If there were an adequate dog licence fee, those dog warden services could be made very much more effective in reducing the nuisance of dogs while helping to maintain standards which the vast majority of dog owners seek to maintain. It would provide for a much more effective service.

    New clause 4 seeks to give powers to local authorities to draw up a register of dangerous dogs. It is a probing clause. If the Minister says that the definition of dangerous dogs should not be left to local authorities—I am happy to leave it to democratically elected local authorities to examine what prevails in their areas— and insists that there should be a central, universal definition, I would be happy for a clause to give the Minister power to define such categories by means of a statutory instrument.

    It is a matter of concern. A newspaper comment on the increase in the category of dangerous dogs states:
    "Strict conditions should be imposed on the sale of giant Rottweiler dogs, says former police dog handler Stephen Allinson.
    Mr. Allinson, who runs a Rottweiler dogs display team —the Black Devils—billed as 'The SAS of the Dog World', spoke out after last week's attack on a Bradford headteacher who as savaged by one of the dogs as he took a pupil home from school.
    'The problem today is that the Rottweiler is a fashionable dog and is getting into the wrong hands' said Mr. Allinson."
    It went on:
    "Mr. Allinson said the dogs are not necessarily dangerous or ferocious, but breeders were selling them to the wrong people.
    'A condition of sale should be that the new owner attends dog training classes until the dog and owner can prove a competent team together.' … Bradford Council's environmental health chiefs have already urged owners of big dogs, especially guard dogs, to make sure that they get their animals properly trained."
    That is the voice of experience. A man who trains that category of dog regularly and who was a former police dog handler says that there are dangers.

    There have been a number of attacks, and I wish to dwell on one which occurred in my constituency and which was mentioned in my previous quotation from the local evening paper. It involved the head teacher of a local school who had a pupil who had suffered an asthma attack, so he kindly and humanely agreed to take the small boy home. When he got the boy home, a Rottweiler dog
    "broke free from its chain when they arrived, hurling itself at … and knocking him to the ground.
    The owner sought to drag the dog off its victim as it sank its teeth into his arm and other parts of his body. Bradford Council's emergency dog warden team was called in to subdue the animal with special restraining equipment. The two wardens then held down the dog with lasso poles while a vet raced to the scene. When vet Neil Adams arrived, he injected the animal with a fatal shot and Mr. Waterhouse was rushed to hospital."
    Mr. Waterhouse has been off work for three months, at considerable cost to the local authority and the education service.

    The new clause would enable the mounting of some sort of scrutiny of dog ownership. It would enable a register of dangerous dogs to be drawn up and conditions of ownership, such as kennel provision, chaining and fencing, to be checked by the local authority, which would help the owner in that respect. Those who argue against it say that the cost would be too high, but the new clause may well save public expenditure if it can prevent accidents such as the dreadful vicious attack that I described.

    We need to consider other consequences, too. There were two Rottweilers at the house where the attack took place. The one that was killed because of the attack was immediately replaced by a bull mastiff, so there are now at least three dangerous dogs at the house. They are not always chained up.

    Another of my constituents has a four-month old baby daughter. Can those who criticise the supervision of dogs through licensing, and the closer supervision of some categories of dog, assure me that that four-month-old baby will be perfectly safe if she is left in the garden next to a house where there are two or three Rottweilers and a bull mastiff? Of course they cannot. The parents cannot leave their four-month-old daughter in their garden and enjoy any peace of mind or security. They have erected a fence at considerable expense, but they cannot be sure that one of the animals will not break away, leap over the fence and savage the baby. Given that an adult who was savagely attacked needed hospital treatment and has been off work for three months, one dreads to think of what the dog could do to a four-month old baby.

    Does my hon. Friend recognise that one merit of the new clause is that it would allow the identification and location of the dangerous American pit bull terriers being imported into this country at great cost to facilitate illegal dog fighting?

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is precisely the sort of dog that would fall into the category required to be registered under my new clause. That would meet the objections to the way in which some dogs are cruelly and viciously set against each other in illegal fights.

    In addition to the four-month-old baby, a number of young children live around the house to which I have referred. When the dogs are loose, the children have to be kept in. They cannot play in the garden as their parents would like them to. This is not an isolated incident. Several of my constituents have written to me saying that they have experienced similar problems.

    The House cannot just shrug off these cases and say, "Well, decent dog owners should and do look after their dogs," and tut-tut a little at those who are not so careful. In the case that I cited, there has been no prosecution. I have raised the matter with the Home Office, which says that the law is adequate and that dog owners vs ho do not control their animals properly can be prosecuted. However, in this case, the police have decided against prosecution, for reasons that are not spelt out in their letter to me.

    The new clause is a very modest measure which seeks to minimise accidents. We all know that they happen from time to time, and when they do hands are raised in horror. We can seek to take remedial action and to provide a legislative framework for local authorities to ensure that the number of accidents and of terrible competitions in which dogs are pitted against each other illegally is reduced.

    The Minister may say that my new clause is too broadly drawn. I should be happy to accept a clause drawn up by his Department if it gave the same degree of security and supervision. Bradford has a very good dog warden service which has improved the process of rounding up stray dogs. However, that dog warden service is not adequate to protect people against some of these ferocious dogs because it does not have the information necessary to pinpoint the dangers. I hope that the House will support my new clause.

    4.15 pm

    I shall keep my remarks brief because I have to chair a Standing Committee at 4.30 pm. I hope that it will be understood that I shall not be in my place for the rest of the debate.

    It will not surprise my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to learn that I deplore the Government's decision to abolish dog licences — a decision that goes against everything that I have worked for for 10 years or more. I want the dog licence fee raised to a realistic sum to support a dog warden scheme and a package of measures for the welfare and control of dogs.

    I shall support the new clause if the Government cannot give me anything better, although it has certain drawbacks. I believe in the general thrust of the argument of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and would not wish to be too critical of his proposal. I query whether it is wise to have variable licence fees as between one local authority and another because difficulties could arise if adjoining local authorities levied different sums. I query, too, whether it is wise to have quite such a blanket exemption for retirement pensioners. However, I fully agree that we should have a dog licence fee to enable us to go ahead with a package of reforms.

    No taxation is popular and new taxes are even less popular, as the Government will shortly discover — if they have not done so already. Therefore, I query their wisdom in doing away with a tax that at least has the benefit of familiarity and which people have accepted because it has been in place far as long as anyone can remember. It is an astonishing act to get rid of a reasonable means of obtaining money to do a specific job, and I query it on that ground alone.

    Furthermore, as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said, the concept of a package of measures to control dogs commands a rare degree of agreement among a whole variety of groups, not least the animal welfare organisations. Those groups also include the National Farmers Union. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Farmers Union do not always see eye to eye, but on this matter they march as one.

    I query the Government's decision to do away with dog licences most of all because of the order that they themselves introduced in Northern Ireland in 1983. I gather that that measure is working well and has done much to reduce the nuisance on which other hon. Members have expatiated. Are the Government so displeased with the scheme that they propose to discontinue it in Northern Ireland? If they do not propose to discontinue it, why is it not good enough for the mainland of Britain? I look forward with interest to the answers to those two questions, even if I am not in my seat to listen to them.

    No one would suggest that it would be possible to achieve 100 per cent. enforcement of the increased dog licence. Frankly, it is worth no one's while to collect the miserable and paltry sum of 37p. I believe that if the dog licence fee was raised to a proper level of £5 or £10 that would be an inducement to enforce collection. I gather that there is a fair degree of enforcement in Northern Ireland and we therefore have a practical precedent to follow.

    Although my next point goes beyond the scope of the new clause—and I will do no more than touch on it briefly — I believe that dog wardens should be given greater powers than they possess under existing legislation. They should be the enforcement agents for the collection of the licence fee and for the laws relating to dog fouling and other matters. That would go far to deal with the problems that many people who do not love dogs as I love them find so objectionable, for example the dog mess which they find in many places and the danger to children to which reference was made earlier.

    The Government have missed a great opportunity. If they do not want to accept the new clause, I hope that they can offer something in its place. A general gesture of good will stating that local authorities will be able to introduce dog warden schemes without giving them the wherewithal to carry those schemes out will not be acceptable. We must remember that the authorities will have less money if the new clause is passed because the money that is collected is used by local authorities.

    Even at this late stage, I hope that the Government will reconsider. If they are not prepared to progress on the present basis, will they consider the ever-present threat of rabies entering this country? I am aware that a set of draconian reserve powers exists, which can be implemented if rabies enters the country. However, I do not believe that the Government will be thanked if those powers have to be invoked when it would have been possible to have a far more humane and attractive approach through a good system of licensing and registration and a dog warden scheme. If rabies should enter the country, I will not hesitate to remind my hon. Friends of what I have just said. We cannot shrug off the threat of rabies as something which is unlikely to happen. It is all too likely to happen. It would be far more prudent to have a proper system of dog control in force than the present system, which will result in utter chaos.

    I am connected with two welfare societies, the RSPCA and the National Canine Defence League. The societies bear the brunt of dog owners' irresponsibility and the very inadequate controls on the breeding of dogs. They bear that brunt day after day, and it gives them no pleasure to have to destroy dogs when it is not possible to keep them for a variety of reasons. Money is being spent which would not have to be spent for that purpose if we had a proper set of controls. Unwanted dogs that are turned out by irresponsible owners lead a miserable existence. My hon. Friends should look at some of the homes — and Battersea dogs' home is close to the House—and they would see what welfare societies have to deal with every day. Once Ministers had witnessed that they might give more thought to the problem before deciding to do away with the dog licence.

    In short, I support the new clause, with reservations, for the reasons that I have given. I am anxious to see that the pass is not sold entirely and that we retain the dog licence as a necessary means of funding a scheme of dog wardens and other control measures. I would like to see a new Act which would bring all the dog laws together. However, I am aware that that goes beyond the scope of the new clause and I will say no more.

    I need not detain the House for long, because I share the concerns expressed by many hon. Members so far and not least those expressed by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes).

    I believe that the Government have acted with gross irresponsibility. Since the debate started, much has been said about the nature of the problems that are presented by irresponsible dog owners. I do not dissent from the need for the maintenance of the licence. However, the Government's record must be exposed. They have known since 1979 when they assumed office of the need for an improved, fair and effective system of control. The evidence has been available since the mid-1970s. I recall advancing an argument that certain reforms were required in 1975, when I suggested that the first priority was to remove the six-month exemption for the purchase of a licence whereby people getting a puppy do not need to buy a licence until the puppy is six months old. That exemption must he the single greatest cause of the difficulties from dogs that confront society.

    While I am delighted that the Opposition have tabled amendment No. 29 which, if it was accepted by the House, would force the Government to reconsider the whole position and perhaps come forward with a sensible arrangement such as that advocated by the hon. Member for Drake I would have been delighted if the Opposition's position rested with that amendment. However, I have reservations about new clause 4. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) will consider my points when he advises Opposition Members in another place.

    To many hon. Members and perhaps to the vast majority of dog owners, £10 may not be a large sum of money. Indeed, £20—the maximum set down in the new clause — may not be a large sum. However, to many people who will not enjoy the "most prosperous Christmas" that this country has ever seen, to quote the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) — that means the 8 million on or below the poverty — £10 or £20 is a great deal of money. They would be bitterly resentful if they had to scrimp and save to find the £10 or £20 when they were responsible dog owners.

    I hope that I can be regarded as a responsible dog owner. A number of hon. Members have mentioned their dogs. At home at the moment we have a large Irish wolfhound and a young deerhound. Our licences have always been paid on the dot, not because of my efficiency but because my wife insists on it. I strongly suspect that in my area and in all other areas, only a minority of dog owners obtain licences for their dogs. I suspect that, even if the new clause were passed, many people would not pay the £10 or £20. The responsible dog owners whose dogs do not do the kind of thing that we have heard about would be even more angry and bitter.

    Perhaps the Government have rather more cunning than some of us would give them credit for. They have failed to act for nearly 10 years despite the weight of evidence and the arguments advanced by Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Drake. The reason why they have not acted is that they did not wish to incur unpopularity. However, it is no part of the Opposition's job to incur unpopularity. Had the Government any serious and intelligent intentions in this matter, they would have accepted one of about five or six private Members' Bills presented to the House over the past six or seven years.

    4.30 pm

    As far as I can recall, in every instance the Government used, or wished to use, those private Members' Bills to get out from under and transfer the responsibility entirely to local authorities. I do not think that that is on from a Government who have inflicted rate capping on local authorities. I take the view that, if there is to be a fee, it should be determined centrally, and not left as a means of ensuring that more odium falls on the shoulders of local government. We wish to avoid the ridiculous state of affairs in which people living on one side of the road pay £10, while those on the other side pay £20.

    Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that is dealt with in new clause 15—tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace)—which provides for a licence fee of £10 per annum? That is the crucial difference between new clause 4 and new clause 15, although the principle is the same in both.

    The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that I have sat through the whole debate. While that may be the intention of new clause 15, it is not the only intention that the Liberal party has demonstrated. The Liberal party's position seems to be very draconian. I believe that it would discourage not only irresponsible but responsible dog owners.

    That, however, is not my only reservation about new clause 4. I note that, under subsection (2)(b),
    "a dog kept for the purpose of work in connection with the maintenance of livestock or gamekeeping"
    would be exempted from the licence charge. I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr has sought legal advice. I am not a lawyer, but it strikes me that some masters of hounds would be given an opportunity to argue that their packs should be exempt. That is surely not a proposal that the Opposition should contemplate.

    Gamekeeping is a reputable activity. But if the gamekeeper is to enjoy such an exemption, what will be the position of the welfare organisations referred to by the hon. Member for Drake? Many breed clubs within the dog fancy also operate their own rescue societies. Will they have to find £10 or £20 for every dog that they Lake into care, which otherwise would probably be roaming the country or causing a general nuisance?

    The same applies to boarding kennels. It is to be hoped that dog owners who go away on holiday ensure that their dogs are properly cared for while they are away; I do not consider it reasonable to require dog licences costing a maximum of £20 from all boarding kennel owners. That would inevitably put up the cost, and discourage people from ensuring that their pets were properly looked after. If the gamekeeper — who is serving an important, or established, leisure interest—is to receive a concession, why should not such a concession also be offered to responsible people who are engaged in breeding and showing dogs? Thousands of people in Britain shoot, but I suspect that far more show dogs.

    That leads me to a further suggestion. People who show dogs usually value them enormously, and the dogs may indeed be very valuable. Such people will not let their dogs wander about school fields — at least, they certainly should not do so. They recognise that the dogs may be a substantial asset. If those dogs are not likely to cause a nuisance to society, I suggest that their owners should pay no more than one licence fee. Those who own several dogs may be more responsible owners than those who own only one, but do not know how to look after it. I certainly do not wish a system to be introduced that would deter people from enjoying a perfectly sensible pastime in which I occasionally indulge — sometimes with substantial success—with my son's wolfhound.

    We should be encouraging people to enjoy life, and to take part in the various activities that owning a dog can provide. We ought not to insist on a penalty that may make it impossible for poorer people to own dogs. I therefore hope that, by the time that the Bill reaches another place, the Opposition's proposal will be slightly more acceptable to responsible dog owners than it now appears to be.

    Many hon. Members — perhaps the majority — consider that the entire cost of a dog warden scheme should fall on the shoulders of those who pay the proposed licence fee. That is entirely unreasonable. Why should responsible dog owners have to bear the whole cost of the irresponsibility of those who refuse to pay? If the Minister, or any of my hon. Friends, maintains that view, we may eventually reach a time when only smokers will be called upon to bear the cost of the fire brigade.

    I agree with the view, expressed by a number of hon. Members, that the Government have acted irresponsibly, and should reconsider. In doing so, they may wish to consider a version of new clause 4 amended in the way that I have suggested.

    I join my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) in urging my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Local Government to consider the new clause sympathetically. Its wording is by no means perfect, but I believe that its principle is right, and that the Government should take it to themselves and bring forward in another place a form of wording that does not suffer from the same defects.

    I urge the Minister to do that, because the new clause has an honourable history. I had the privilege of proposing a similar new clause to the Control of Pollution Bill 1974 from the Opposition Front Bench. The principle was the same—that we should give local authorities the power to introduce a dog warden scheme, which they could fund by charging a licence fee. They could then carry out the important measures necessary to ensure that dogs are well looked after, and that the physical environment is well looked after at the same time, so that dangers from rabies, and to children in parks and playgrounds, can be properly dealt with and the risks diminished.

    Unfortunately, I was not able to test the then Government's view, because the new clause was outside the long title of the Bill. Nevertheless, it enabled me to have discussions and negotiations which ended in the setting up of a working group which reported in 1976, accepting the principles and urging the Government to introduce legislation of the kind that we are now discussing.

    From 1976 until 1979, the Government of the day found excuse after excuse not to legislate. I rather suspect that similar reasons will be given from the Government Front Bench today for not introducing the legislation that the Opposition are now demanding. It is remarkable how being in government and being in opposition tend to change hon. Members' views on certain matters, and this is certainly an example.

    The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Government at that time had such a tiny majority—if, indeed, they had a majority at all — that they would have been unable to do anything but what they did. The Opposition would certainly have used any Bill so presented for political purposes far beyond the interests of dogs. In any case, the hon. Gentleman is talking about a period of little more than two years. The present Government have been in power for eight years.

    The hon. Gentleman's recollection is at fault. It was then Opposition policy to promote such legislation and, from the Front Bench, I was promoting it on behalf of the Opposition. The Government of the day would have had a good answer, because they could have said, "We now call on the Opposition to support what their Front Bench spokesman has been urging on us."

    After 1979 I had the privilege of serving as a Minister in Northern Ireland, and it was no accident that an experiment was tried there with the introduction of an enlarged fee for a warden-controlled system. The problem was that people tended, as they do on this side of the water, to buy puppies for children at Christmas time, but after the Christmas holidays the puppies became a nuisance and were thrown out. They tended to roam in packs and the problem was that those wild packs savaged sheep throughout the countryside. It was necessary to find ways of controlling them.

    It may be said that the experience of Northern Ireland has not been all that great; collection of the new enhanced fee is difficult and—I am unaware of the figures for today—possibly about 50 per cent. of dog owners do not pay the licence fee. If my hon. and learned Friend intends to argue that, I shall tell him that the collection by authorities of fees, taxes, rates and rents is generally difficult in certain parts of Northern Ireland. He should recognise the circumstances that appertain there for the collection of moneys by the authorities.

    The introduction of the enlarged fee was successful because it gave the means to deal with the problem that I outlined. There has been a substantial reduction in wild dog packs, which were causing much danger to animals and, on occasions, to human beings.

    As I understand the new clause, it is proposed to give local authorities the power to set up dog warden schemes. Local authorities already have that power and can do that without the need for further legislation, but they do not have a particular means of raising money for a new service.

    I disagree with the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who said that people who keep dogs should not make a contribution to the creation of a dog warden scheme. Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Drake said, this is not a matter for a national organisation, national apparatus or national levy.

    The problem varies from area to area. Some local authorities will find it necessary to use the power and to raise money for a dog warden service. Others may not have that problem or may not wish to have a dog warden service. Some may need only a slender service and therefore would not need to raise whatever the House determines as the correct maximum, whether it be £10 or £20. It would be within the discretion of the local authority to decide, within the parameters of its needs arid with regard to the number of dog owners that lived in its locality, the amount that it needed to charge to run this service efficiently and effectively. We should enable local authorities to do that.

    I represent an urban constituency, where dogs can be an enormous problem. There are many guard dogs in my constituency because of the levels of crime in certain areas. Dogs must be walked in the parks and streets, which creates an unseemly and dangerous environment, particularly for children.

    There must be the means to encourage the local authority to set up an organisation that will ensure that that nuisance is kept to a minimum. To enable local authorities to employ people to do that, one should not expect them to pay for it out of the community charge —which they will be enabled under other legislation to levy—because £178 per annum per head of population may not be sufficient if we are to add the provision of a dog warden service to the responsibilities of local authorities.

    4.45 pm

    I ask my hon. and learned Friend to treat this matter with some seriousness. It is a matter which the Environment Select Committee has considered since 1983 —since when I have been privileged to be its chairman. We have looked at the Estimates of the Department of the Environment and, year after year, pointed to the absurdity of the cost of £3 million per year for collection of the national dog licence fee. I can well understand that the persistence of the Select Committee in pinpointing and underlining this absurdity each year, has driven the Government into considering the abolition of the dog licence.

    That is one part only of the equation; the other is how one deals with the other problems that must be tackled, and for which local authorities must be given the wherewithal.

    I am a member of the Environment Select Committee. Would it not be true to say that it deliberately tabled a motion, when the report on the Estimates was last considered, with a blatant view to making the Government think about this problem and come forward with a solution not only to the matter of licensing but the wider implications of the control of dogs?

    Given my involvement with the subject since 1974, that thought was not far from my mind when the Committee agreed to table that motion. It is a matter of disappointment that the Government did not have the courage to deal with those matters.

    The response of the Government will be similar to that which I received from the Government during the 1974–79 Parliament. No doubt they have received advice from the same officials, and the same considerations will apply, but if that is the case I must tell my hon. and learned Friend not to expect me in the same Lobby as him tonight.

    I should like to speak specifically to new clause 15—Dog Licences

  • `(1) Subject to subsection (3) below, the duty charged under the Dog Licences Act 1959 on licences for dogs shall be set at £10 per annum and shall be increased on 1 April of each year in line with the percentage increase in the retail prices index.
  • (2) The duty provided for in subsection (1) above shall be collected by a local authority from owners of dogs living in its area and shall be used by the authority for the funding of a dog warden service and for other dog control purposes in its area.
  • (3) No duty shall be charged under subsection (1) above in respect of:-
  • (a) a dog kept and used wholly or mainly for guidance by a blind or partially-sighted person, if the owner of the dog obtains a certificate of exemption in respect of the dog under this section;
  • (b) a dog whose owner has attained the statutory age of retirement;
  • (c) a dog kept and used solely for the purpose of tending sheep or cattle on a farm;
  • (d) a dog under the age of three months where that dog is kept by the person who at the time of its birth was the owner of the bitch which gave it birth;
  • (e) a dog kept by such other person or for such other purposes as may be specified, in England or Wales by the Secretary of State for the Environment, or, in Scotland by the Secretary of State for Scotland, by a statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
  • (4) Where no duty is charged under paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (3) above, the owner of the dog shall obtain from the local authority a certificate of exemption from duty in respect of the dog.
  • (5) In subsection (2) above, "local authority" means a district council, a London borough council, the Council of the Isles of Scilly, or the Common Council of the City of London.
  • (6) This section shall come into force at the end of a period of 2 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.',
  • and in support of the clauses and amendment that are the subject of this debate.

    The debate in Committee confirmed that the Government have but one argument for changing the position that they adopted, on a provisional basis, during the consultations on this matter a couple of years ago. Their Green Paper, which was produced after many years of internal consideration, came to the clear-cut conclusion that the Government would prefer the abolition of the present national licensing arrangements and said that new discretionary powers should be given to districts and London boroughs. Thus, the proposal in new clause 4, proposed by the Opposition Front Bench, is on all fours with the view that the Government took about a year ago.

    The Government have not explained their about-turn in response to the weight of the evidence. They have not said what the weight of the evidence was, but if they were to do so it would confirm that 10 of the reputable organisations that submitted evidence, such as the RSPCA and others, came out clearly in favour of a national dog licence, and only two opposed it.

    A substantial number of individuals have also made views known. They have come to believe that it is necessary to get rid of the dog licence for the twin reasons that the present position is clearly ludicrous—there is no dissent about that—and that it is illogical to make responsible dog owners pay for irresponsible dog owners because there will always be people who do not apply for or pay for licences. Indeed, in Committee one of the Minister's hon. Friends admitted to being an example.

    The fallacy of that argument is that there are many parallels in taxation policy where people are charged for the use or ownership of something, but where not everybody may pay. The example that comes most obviously to mind is that of the motor car. Not everybody who should do so pays the vehicle excise licence, but it is still the rule that the Exchequer benefits by collecting the money that goes into the pool to allow more money to be available for dealing with issues of transport and road policy. There are other examples.

    I put it to the hon. Gentleman that there are even stronger arguments than the one that he is advancing. Most responsible dog owners, indeed all responsible dog owners, are concerned about animal welfare. They love their own dogs deeply and are concerned about those who do not properly cater for or look after their dogs. Most responsible dog owners would be happy to pay a higher licence fee if dogs were generally better catered for and looked after.

    I accept entirely the hon. Gentleman's point. I was here when he spoke yesterday, and I commend him for his speech on the subject and for his views. He has the additional merit of speaking from personal experience, which in this case, as in many others, is persuasive. Responsible dog owners are happy to pay the licence fee. I have not received any letters or representations from dog owners to say that they would not be happy about that, even if the fee were to be higher than the amount suggested —£10 is the most commonly quoted figure.

    Like the Minister's hon. Friends who have spoken against the Government's view, I ask the Government to change their view, because it is illogical to ask responsible dog owners to pay for the irresponsible. The reality is that the community as a whole will have to continue to pay for dog control exercises, the kennelling of stray dogs and animal welfare. That will always be the case because of the minority of people who are not responsible dog owners.

    Therefore, as the Government will argue tomorrow in relation to the poll tax, the fairest way would be a per capita payment. In this case it would be a per dog capita payment for the dogs that are owned, as opposed to a per human capita payment. Each contribution should be spent for the general benefit of the community.

    The difference between new clause 15, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and myself on behalf of the Liberal party, and new clause 4, tabled by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on behalf of the Labour party, is that the latter provides for a national system, but with varying amounts. I agree that there is likely to be some antagonism if, across a border, the amount is different. That will detract from arguments about the principle of the issue. However, new clause 15 argues for a nationally fixed, but locally collected and locally spent, fee. It seems right that local authorities should have the prime responsibility for collecting and spending the money. It is better that they should do so and, indeed, they are willing to do so.

    I believe that the Minister accepts the general presumption that local authorities are in, as it were, the front line of dog control. He suggested in Committee that he supported the view that the responsibility for stray dogs, which is a separate but linked issue, should be taken from the police and handed to local authorities. I hope that he will expand on that and state that that is still the Government's view and that they intend to move in that direction soon.

    The Government's position would be more defensible if they were to say that they would replace the money that would be lost—small though it is, or much larger as it would be if a £10 licence fee were the norm — by additional money for local authorities specifically to enable them to set up dog warden schemes and the like. However, I have never heard that said and, clearly, the Government have not said it. Local authorities have a right to be suspicious that the little that they receive at the moment will be taken away and that their capacity to deal with what is a major problem in rural and urban areas —often a major problem of environmental nuisance—will be severely diminished.

    Ministers may have noticed that even the Kennel Club, an organisation which has, for some time, lobbied for the abolition of the dog licence fee, now says that it favours a tattooing system for the identification of dogs, for which there would need to be a registration system. Once that is in place, an administratively simple and cost-effective way of paying for the registration system would be through a licence fee. The Kennel Club is the only substantial single-interest body that has argued against the view proposed by my hon. Friends, the Opposition and some Conservative Back Benchers. It does not favour a licence, but favours an identification system. Therefore, even that body seems to have a qualified position.

    For reasons that seem illogical, the Government have decided to move away from the proper steps which they implemented, by trial, in Northern Ireland and which have proved adequately successful there, of having a system of collecting revenue that would be spent on dealing with the difficult but important issue of dog control and welfare. The Government are sadly misguided. We hope that an amendment, either in the form of the new clause that has been tabled by my party, or in the form of one of the other Opposition new clauses or amendments, will be accepted before the Bill completes its passage through the House.

    One of the problems with the procedures of this House is that after an arduous period in Committee, when a subject comes back for further debate on Report, some hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) feel that the debate is already over and that there is nothing more to say. It was a good thing that the debate was adjourned, because we have had some good speeches today from Opposition Members, who have promoted the new clause with much greater enthusiasm than did the hon. Member for Perry Barr himself.

    In 1979, when I had the honour to be appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I discovered to my astonishment, and that of my fellow Ministers, that for some reason the fee for the dog licence was fixed by that Department, although the Department of the Environment had the local government responsibilities for dog licences and the Home Office had the overall responsibility for all licensing. Eight years later, I believe that the dilemma of the then Government has been resolved in the wrong way. I am not in any doubt that it is a question of a toss of the coin in such matters because I appreciate that, whichever position the Government adopted, they would have some critics.

    I remained of an open mind until quite recently when I became persuaded by the continual correspondence that I receive on this matter. It was not just one or two letters. Week after week, month after month, and year after year I have received letters from my constituents, especially those in the urban area, protesting about the complete lack of control over dogs in towns, in relation to dog mess, barking, lack of control over fierce dogs and other aspects. There is a substantial feeling that the issue must be resolved in the immediate future. Some of my councillors would agree that no single issue raises greater passion at local government level in Weston-super-Mare than that of dogs. Therefore, for many people, this is a much more serious issue than it may have sounded when we were debating it last night.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) has made most of the important points, so I shall not tire the House by repeating them. The dog licence is an additional form of taxation which, much to our cost, we have failed to increase year by year. The Government took a weak view on this — many years ago, I accept — and it has become increasingly more expensive to collect, and, in parallel, the problem of outof-control dogs has become worse.

    It is rare for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Farmers Union to agree on anything. When, for the first time in my memory, they do agree, backed by the British Veterinary Association and other responsible bodies, it is rather disappointing that the Government should take a contrary view.

    5 pm

    In defence of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Local Government, may I say that the minds of the public have been considerably concentrated by the Government's firm decision. It was the announcement of that decision that led many bodies into an opposition in which they had not engaged before. Having done that, they have gathered a considerable amount of public opinion behind them. I fully accept that a more expensive licence of £5 or £10 would penalise the law-abiding dog owner who pays his licence, but I have not had any letters from dog owners saying that they did not think it desirable.

    I have just returned from Norway, and the Norwegians have a completely different attitude to dogs. They look upon owning a dog as an exceptional privilege. Indeed, as anyone who has bought food in Norway will know, it is also a costly privilege. The Norwegian people require no further incentives for looking after their dogs. If they did, it would become a matter of national behaviour. A case of dog cruelty achieves headline status.

    I shall listen with great interest to the argument about Northern Ireland dogs. My hon. and learned Friend will no doubt adduce some devious argument about why an Ulster dog is different from an English or Welsh dog. I recall clearly that when the decision on that was made there was a sharp intake of breath at such courage from the Government. In fact, the measure went through with no difficulty. Licence fees are paid relatively well and, as has already been said, that is not so usual for Northern Ireland. It has enabled the proper control of dogs and wild packs no longer roam.

    I cannot support the new clause in its entirety for the reasons that I have given, but I shall vote for it because the Government have gone the wrong way. I join my hon. Friends in saying that I hope that in another place they will give further thought to this. I have not yet heard a speech in support of the Government's view.

    I do not want to repeat all the arguments about the desirability of a dog licence because they have been well and truly made. However, I have an interest because Scunthorpe borough council was one of the pioneers of the dog warden service. That service was introduced in response to local demand and the enormous problems caused by dogs.

    All hon. Members who have spoken so far have conceded that dogs can be a considerable nuisance. It is evident from the letters that I receive from my constituents that dog owners favour a licence on the terms set out in the new clause. Just as all smokers are often blamed for the failings of the irresponsible minority of smokers, responsible dog owners are blamed for the failings of an irresponsible minority of dog owners. The dog licence is a measure of control which is much needed, particularly in urban areas. It also gives some protection to the dogs.

    As has been mentioned, Christmas is traditionally the time when people buy puppies on the spur of the moment without taking into account the commitment that any pet requires. Indeed, some people collect dogs like others collect stamps, until they end up with a house full of them and that causes a nuisance through noise, smell and the problems in the streets. A properly funded dog warden service, with money going to local councils to fund it, is one way of tackling that problem.

    All the responsible organisations are in favour of a dog licence. I have before me a letter from the National Farmers Union, which adds its weight to those organisations. The letter was also sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies). The NFU argues strongly for a dog licence and points to the problem of livestock savaged each year by pets that are allowed to roam.

    A dog licence is not the automatic solution to all the problems with stray dogs, but it is a step forward in tackling that problem. It is certainly a better solution than that proposed by the Government, which is no solution at all. The Government are missing an important opportunity to put the matter right and to tackle the problem. If they take that opportunity in the Bill they will have the support of all responsible dog owners and the majority of the British people.

    It is not uncommon for some major issues to pass calmly through the House, if not on the nod, certainly without the heat and light generated by this topic. But mention dogs, and calm goes out of the window and emotions — on both sides of the debate — take over. Last night confirmed that fact, even if the late hour was some excuse.

    One accepts the need to protect livestock in rural areas, but I am not sure whether a licence is the way to achieve that. The problem is largely one for the urban areas. Let us agree on common ground. There is a need for a warden service to deal with strays and the public have a right to clean pavements and parklands free from dog soil. Both those objectives are, rightly, the responsibility of local government which needs the power to enact the necessary byelaws to meet that public demand and to enforce penalties where necessary.

    Why should that general provision, unique among other general needs within local authorities, require a special licence which needs a bureaucracy to police it in order to provide the resources to pay for it? We pay for many general services through our rates which we never use, and, perhaps because of our age, will never use, but we pay none the less. That general rule should apply in this case.

    I am puzzled why the Opposition should have tabled the new clause in this form, for deny it though he may, the heart of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) was not in his speech last night, except for the customary passion for taxing everything that moves. None of the situations that he described would be diminished or solved by the imposition of a dog licence.

    I said that, but the hon. Gentleman was asleep.

    No, that is precisely my point. The hon. Member listed what he objected to and then admitted that the dog licence was no cure. Why on earth, then, put in for a licence?

    The point was that the licence provided the revenue to fund the dog warden scheme which would assist in dealing with those problems.

    I thought that the hon. Gentleman had clearly said that it would not, but perhaps we had better study Hansard again.

    The Opposition have realised that the 7s 6d tax is nonsense and have chosen anything between £10 and £20 to replace it. However, as they are fearful of adverse reaction, they seek to make some exclusions for the elderly, which is fine at first sight, but it means quite a few hon. Members can keep a pet free. Are the disabled, the unemployed, the family on a low income and the single parent any less in need of the comfort and protection that a pet can give? Are they less deserving than those people mentioned in the amendment or than some Members of this House?

    The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) pointed out the inadequacies of the exclusions in the new clause. By the time he had finished speaking, I was convinced that he had convinced himself that the clause would not deliver and that he would probably join the Government in the Lobby tonight. When one goes down the exemption route, there is no end. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) said last night, the cost of policing the system will make the policing of the banded community charge or local income tax a piece of cake.

    The abolition of the existing licence brings savings to the public purse. The immediate abolition means that the public service will benefit by about £3 million. If that is so, may I suggest to my hon. and learned Friend that some of that saving could be paid as block grant to the PDSA, the RSPCA and other bodies which do a wonderful job and would not necessarily be helped by the kind of licence fee mentioned in the clause.

    Many daft things are done by local authorities up and down the land, but the provision of wardens, clean pavements and clean park space would have universal support from ratepayers, whatever the ultimate system of local taxation. However, a separate dog licence would not have such support.

    I wish to declare an interest and say that, although I do not have a dog, I have a parrot and two tortoises. As far as I am aware, no proposal has yet been made to license such pets, but if such a proposal were made, I would pay the licence with great pleasure.

    I have received a number of letters about this subject. All have protested about the abolition of dog licences and that is why I want to intervene briefly. I cannot follow the Government's logic in respect of their proposals and that is why I support the new clause. The licence fee is too small and not worth collecting. In addition, too many dog owners fail to pay the licence, so the proposed solution is to scrap the licence.

    If we apply the logic of failure to pay, we can see the ridiculous situation that would develop. We do not know the precise number of people, although it is quite large, who fail to pay their taxes. They fail to pay their television licences. That includes the Prime Minister who has, as I understand it, 13 television sets in No. 10 Downing street, yet she does not have to pay any licence fee. That is not failure to pay, but she has been given a discretion so that she does not have to pay. Many people do not pay the television licence fee or the road fund tax for their cars. I have yet to hear any Conservative Member say that, because of failure to pay, we should scrap those taxes. The Government are in a difficult position when it comes to logic.

    5.15 pm

    I am raising this somewhat sniffy subject because, in the east end of London, many people keep dogs as pets. It is a tradition and, if anyone looks around the parks in the east end at weekends, he will see how many people keep dogs. They do so for a number of reasons, including companionship and protection of their property. The many burglaries, car thefts and street crimes in the east end encourage people to keep dogs not so much as pets but as protectors. That is why we have so many large and somewhat vicious dogs in the east end, but most of them have responsible owners. They are certainly far more responsible than the Earl of Leven.

    I refer hon. Members to early-day motion 432, tabled by several Labour Members, in respect of the conduct of the Earl of Leven and the sentence imposed by Inverness sheriff court, which states
    "That this House condemns the conduct of the Earl of Leven J.P., Lord Lieutenant of Nairnshire and Chairman of the Governors of Gordonstoun College,"—
    I understand that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales went there, so I hope that he did not learn anything from the Earl of Leven—
    "who fractured the skull of a terrier dog which had wandered onto his grouse moor, attacking the animal with such force that the instrument used, a walking-stick, broke; deplores the leniency of sentence imposed by Inverness Sheriff Court; believes that £75 fines are unlikely to deter thugs and hooligans; and calls for the Earl of Leven to be stripped of all public offices."
    I am sure that dog lovers on both sides of the House will warmly endorse the words of early-day motion 432.

    Fortunately, the dog owners and the people of Newham do not follow such vile practices. The dog owners of the east end are responsible, but, unfortunately, problems arise from keeping dogs as pets. The immediate problem in an urban environment is the dog mess produced in car parks, streets, open spaces, parks and many other areas where children play and people go. That is very distressing.

    I find it distressing when I am walking to my newspaper shop in the morning to get my copy of The Daily Telegraph.[Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but it is a serious point. I like to know what the Government are saying from morning to morning, so I buy a number of other newspapers. When I walk, to the newspaper shop just around the corner from my home in the London borough of Newham, I spend most of my time with my shoulders stooping and my eyes on the pavement. That is not merely because of the problems that I bear on my shoulders as a representative of an inner-city area. It is also to avoid stepping in all the piles of dog mess on the pavement. It is a serious problem which is accepted by Members on both sides of the House. I shall step lightly, as they say, on this matter, but it is a serious problem which brings many complaints to me, as the local Member of Parliament, and to local councillors.

    There are some advantages in having one's eyes transfixed on the pavement in an attempt to avoid the dog mess. The other day I found 1·20 on the short walk to the newspaper shop. When I reached the newspaper shop, I put that money in the box for cancer research because it is the only way that cancer wards and the Cancer Research Campaign will receive adequate funds. The Government will not provide the funds needed for cancer research. In this country, we rely on charity to deal with the serious aspects of society. When it comes to such matters as defence, there is no such thing as charity appeals or flag days —[interruption] I understand what you are indicating to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    There was an occasion when I walked round the corner and was faced with the terrible dilemma of seeing a £1 coin embedded in a dog turd. I was left with a problem. There was a natural, primitive, capitalist, acquisitive instinct and a need for hygiene. As it happened on that occasion, hygiene won. But I managed to find a small boy who, for a crack of 50p, was prepared to retrieve the coin. He washed his hands in my house, and we put the money in the cancer box.

    We know that 4,000 stray dogs are registered every week. That is appalling. We talk about being a nation of dog lovers. We are actually a nation of dog killers. Hon Members on both sides of the House will find that appalling. At any given moment, there are 500,000 stray dogs on British streets. About 200 stray dogs are destroyed every week. We are coming up to the Christmas period. Parents will be buying presents for their children. Unfortunately, regrettably, lamentably, many parents will buy puppies as pets for their children.

    Hon. Members who represent constituencies outside London, particularly constituencies with motorways going through them, know that I speak the truth when I say that dogs are literally thrown out of cars on motorways. They are abandoned at the side of motorways. That is a tragedy, and it should make us all feel ashamed.

    We cannot just walk away from the problem. We cannot just say that, because people fail to pay the licence fee, we should abandon it. We should establish a properly funded dog warden scheme that is paid for by the licence fees that are paid by responsible dog owners. The new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) would bring in only a fraction of the annual costs of keeping a dog. Therefore, no responsible dog owner would refuse to pay the licence fee. It would enable us to fund a proper dog warden scheme. Therefore, I ask all hon. Members to support the new clause.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) demonstrated the paucity of the anti-licence argument when he described stray dogs as an urban problem. If they are an urban problem, why is the NFU so opposed to abolition? I gently suggest to him that any hon. Member who has had the sad opportunity to see a flock of sheep being savaged by a wild dog knows that strays are not simply an urban problem.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) touched on the possible rabies problem. Hon. Members who were present in the Chamber late last night heard my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) give perhaps one of the most moving pieces of personal testimony that the House has heard for a long time. He described how his own child was affected by a parasite that was picked up from dog mess and, as a result, is now blind in one eye.

    It is a problem of control. The Government appear to recognise that fact. In their Green Paper, they said that they had carefully weighed the arguments, that the principal aim of abolition should be to promote responsible dog ownership, and that abolition would not best serve that purpose. In the words of the National Farmers Union, choosing abolition would be to throw away the means of financing proper dog control, the obvious way of tracing the owner of a stray, the potential deterrent to casual purchases, and, indeed, all hope of improvement in dog control in the future.

    The legislation envisaged by the Government would provide for registration schemes to include mandatory fee exemptions for guide dogs for the blind and working sheep dogs and discretionary exemptions and part-exemptions for other categories such as dogs owned by the elderly. Were that legislation being proposed by the Government, I and, I suspect, most of my colleagues and many Opposition Members would support it.

    The new clause porposed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) will have my support. Opposition Members were kind enough in Committee to give me their support when I invited my hon. and learned Friend the Minister to put forward his own proposals. I do not support all aspects of the proposed new clause. The exemptions are too wide and I am not certain that allocating all the revenue solely to a dog warden service is the right priority. I firmly believe that the prerequisite of any dog control system must be an efficient registration scheme. When we raised the matter in Committee, my hon. and learned Friend said:
    "It is already a legal requirement that a dog should wear a collar with a plate or disc showing the owner's name or address while on a highway or in a public place… … There is provision for local authorities to make byelaws relating to the fouling of pavements and grass verges and to ban dogs from certain beaches and parks. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is also prepared to approve byelaws requiring the person in charge of a dog to clear up the mess deposited by the dog in certain places — the so-called poop-scoop byelaw …Roads on which dogs must be kept on leads can be designated. None of those provisions is dependent on licensing.
    Again, there is comprehensive legislation to afford the farmer protection under which he can gain redress from the keeper of the dog and, indeed, if it is the only way to stop an attack, as a defence, he may shoot the dog. Again I stress that that is entirely independent of licensing."
    In Committee, I challenged my hon. and learned Friend. Every one of the regulations that are presently available is dependent upon identification of a dog. Without an efficient registration system, it is not possible to identify an animal, and it is therefore not possible to bring a successful prosecution. I put that point in Committee. My hon. and learned Friend, who has established in this House a reputation for intelligence, courtesy, and, particularly, for precision, said:
    "I do not entirely accept that". [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 8 December 1987; c. 1196.]
    If my hon. and learned Friend does not entirely accept that, being the precise gentleman that he is, I suggest that, by implication, he must accept part of it. The laws and byelaws upon which the abolitionist case has rested are worthless without a proper means of registration. Many reputable organisations have been named. They are wholly opposed to abolition. Apparently, only one organisation is in favour of abolition, and that is PRO Dogs. Speaking on its behalf last night, my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) said that licensing was not necessary and that, to control dogs, we need "identification and fines."

    How does one identify an animal and the owner of an animal without a registration system? The British Veterinary Association, the National Farmers Union, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals favour a licensing scheme. The latter society is particularly relevant. In a letter which I suspect that most hon. Members will have seen, its director stated:
    "so far the new licensing scheme"—
    which this Government introduced in 1983—
    "has been a great success. Not only are dogs being looked after better now, but far fewer are suffering from the actions of irresponsible and uncaring owners. I personally"—
    this is, the director of the Ulster society—
    "feel that the changing attitude towards dogs in this country is very, very encouraging."
    5.30 pm

    In support of that sentiment, the National Farmers' Union says that it would like to see
    "the extension to the rest of the United Kingdom of the véry welcome and successful measures which the Government introduced in 1982–83 to control dogs in Northern Ireland, including a licence fee of £5.… We do earnestly believe that the Government has made the wrong decision on this matter and would urge you to assist in seeking a change of mind."
    That is what the NFU has written to many hon. Members, including members of the Standing Committee.

    It was made plain in Committee that at this stage the Government have no desire to change their mind. There is a growing and very responsible body of opinion that believes that registration is not only necessary but possible. Tattooing has been mentioned. The British Veterinary Association has given a clear undertaking that its members could carry out painlessly the tattoing registration process and supply the necessary documentation to a central register, be it controlled by Government bureacracy or, as I would prefer, by the BVA itself or the Kennel Club.

    The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) thought that the fee proposed in the new clause was too high. In the context of the £200 to £300 that it costs to keep a dog properly fed and in receipt of proper veterinary care an additional £10 licence fee is not a great deal to pay in return for the service that would be provided by registration. Considerable distress is caused to even the most responsible of dog owners whose animals go astray. Dogs go after bitches in heat and the families live in considerable anxiety, often for some time, not knowing where the dog is, although it may be in safe care but unidentified. Registration would be a control factor and would also be of considerable value to dog owners. That is recognised by dog owners, of whom I am one.

    I said in Committee that I would table a new clause. I studied carefully the new clause proposed by the hon. Member for Perry Barr. As I have said, I do not believe that it is perfect, but it is worthy of support from both sides of the House. This is not a party political matter. The new clause has sufficient meat in it to enable my hon. and learned Friend to think again and come back with suitable amendments. I hope that in another place the noble Lords will consider what has been said in this debate and in Committee and will introduce the necessary amendments. I look forward to supporting those Lords amendments when they come to this House.

    This has been an extremely interesting debate. The House has benefited particularly from the historical perspectives that were brought to our consideration of the issues by my hon. Friends the Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) and for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), who gave us the benefit of their experience, drew to the attention of the House the shifting sands of the different policies that Governments and Oppositions of both political parties have adopted on the matter in the past, and spoke of some of the surprises that they encountered when they first took on their responsibilities.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, who has explained why he cannot be with us, was a little unfair when he said that the Government were guilty of the same sin as the Labour Government in their consideration of the matter. He reminded the House that he, from the Opposition Benches, had espoused a policy similar to that espoused by the Opposition during our deliberations yesterday and today, but the Government then had refused to take action. That accusation cannot be levelled against this Government. We have decided to take action. We have decided to do away once and for all with the nonsense of the existing system, which has not found any friend on either side of the House during the debate. It is true, of course, that we have not achieved unanimous support for the action that we propose, but one cannot have everything.

    There is far from being unanimity amongst our critics. In Committee there were at least four different proposals as to what the Government should do. I judge that during the debate almost as many alternatives have been advanced as there have been hon. Members who have spoken. We have heard proposals for a national system, a "Swansea for dogs", as it was aptly described by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden). The Opposition propose a system under which local authorities would be free to determine the licence fee within prescribed limits. We have had the idea of local schemes, with a nationally determined licence fee, index-linked. We have also heard about what was described as a simple system, with licences and tags on sale in corner shops and post offices.

    None of those proposals addresses two fundamental points. The first, which is crucial to consideration of the issue, is that we do not need a licensing system to have an effective body of law covering the control and welfare of dogs. I shall not weary the House by listing again the various elements that exist in the present law. Indeed, a large number of them were put before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), to whose persistence and diligence in the pursuit of his campaign I pay tribute. None of the extensive range of legislation in existence, and none of the need for action to be taken, depends in any way upon licensing.

    Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that if the new clause proposed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) were brought into operation, with the exemptions that it allows, approximately one third of dogs would not need a licence? Therefore, the whole basis of what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve would fail. What we need is an effective identification scheme, not a licensing scheme.

    My hon. Friend's estimate sounds reasonable, but I cannot confirm it precisely. His point is accurate. Of course, there is an identification scheme in the law as it stands. Under the Control of Dogs Order 1930 a dog must wear a collar with a plate or disc attached, bearing the owner's name and address, when it is on a highway or in a public place. The penalty for noncompliance is a fine of up to £2,000. So the law is there. What no one has yet been able to establish during the debate is why a different law, designed to achieve the same objective, will be any more effective.

    I do not understand. The Minister has said that if a dog in a public place does not have the necessary identification, a fine of £2,000 is applicable. If the dog does not have any means of identification, how can the law be enforced?

    The hon. Gentleman, with his customary shrewdness, has identified a difficulty in enforcing the present law. It is not a difficulty that is unique to the present law. That difficulty would be unique to any system of registration and licensing. If a dog that was found did not carry any means of identification, the very same difficulty that the hon. Gentleman has so shrewdly identified would arise, regardless of the system in force.

    Does the Minister accept that if resources are available it is likely that fewer dogs will be left unregistered and that the consequential activities could be carried out more effectively? If no money is derived from a licence, no such resources will be available.

    I believe that that is a highly optimistic assessment. It is unrealistic to suppose that the resources that would become available—especially as a result of the new clause tabled by the Opposition, and subject to the limits that were pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown — would he anything like sufficient to provide an effective system along the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

    Mr. Hughes