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Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I was going to ask a question on subsection (5) of the clause when we came to discuss clause stand part, but I think that it arises squarely on the amendment moved so ably by the noble Viscount. As I read the Bill, it creates an offence of strict liability. As your Lordships know, most criminal offences require some mental element. But, occasionally, there are offences of strict liability where someone is held to be liable notwithstanding the fact that he knows nothing about the offence and can do nothing presently to prevent it. A typical example is selling alcoholic drinks to someone who is under age. The owner of the public house is responsible for his servants observing that rule, notwithstanding that he knows nothing of the offence and cannot really, except by general ukase, prevent it.

However, that is something very different from the Bill. Are we really justified? Is the offence such an enormity that one has to create another offence of absolute or strict liability? That is the question that I had intended to ask the noble Earl, but I suspect that he might prefer it to be answered by the Minister.

Lord Lucas: As the noble Viscount indicated, we are concerned that, if the amendment were accepted, all a dog owner would have to do is ensure that he was not around when his dog defecated. We believe that that would probably defeat the purposes of the Bill.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: Can the Minister say whether or not the Bill covers the following situation? Let us suppose that a dog owner allows his wife son or daughter to walk the dog and defecation takes place on land—albeit, we now know, in a gutter or a ditch—is he to be liable? Would he be liable to a level 3 fine of £1,000? Even though the owner knows nothing about it and merely allows a member of his family to walk the dog, is he to be held liable?

Lord Lucas: My understanding of the Bill—and I am open to correction by my noble friend—is that the person who is liable for the fine is the person in charge of the dog at the time. If a defecation happened in a situation where the person in charge of the dog could

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not possibly have been aware of it, that person would have access to the defence of reasonable excuse, though I cannot prejudge how that would go in the courts.

Lord Earl of Northesk: Perhaps I may deal first with the query from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. In the scenario that he painted, the actual owner of the dog—that is, the man who is permitting a member of his family to walk the dog—would not actually be liable. The situation is covered under Clause 1(6)(a) which states:


    "For the purposes of this section—


(a) a person who habitually has a dog in his possession shall be taken to be in charge of the dog at any time unless at that time some other person is in charge of the dog".

I hope that that satisfactorily answers the question posed by the noble and learned Lord.

Notwithstanding the lucid comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby of Megiddo, when moving the amendment, I am unconvinced that this underlying principle of dog ownership should be in any way compromised or subordinated by the amendment. Viewed pragmatically, Clause 1(1)(a) provides the very wide defence of "reasonable excuse for failing" to clear up after one's dog on designated land. The purpose of Clause 1(6)(c) is simply to clarify that the person in charge of the dog in question at the time could not plead ignorance as to its whereabouts, whether or not as part of a reasonable excuse defence. That strikes me as being eminently sensible and appropriate as a mechanism for promoting responsible dog ownership.

If accepted, the amendment would undermine another of the Bill's primary purposes—that of making the rather untidy and cumbersome corpus of dog fouling by-laws very much easier to operate. An owner could simply turn his back and say that he did not know about the defecation, thereby diminishing the enforceability and effectiveness of the legislation.

I am conscious, too, that a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Soulsby and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and others, referred to strays on Second Reading. While the issue of dog registration is of course beyond the remit of the Bill, as drafted it provides local authorities with the ability to take action against owners of so-called "latch-key dogs"—that is, those who let their dogs roam the streets and foul at will. Acceptance of the amendment would render local authorities powerless against such irresponsible strands of dog ownership.

I am also conscious that part of the problem here concerns the distinction regarding the urban environment, the built environment and the countryside. That is a particularly difficult question to answer in this context. I hope that the noble Viscount will actively seek to bear with me on the matter and perhaps we may return to it on Report. I understand the noble Viscount's concerns, but I believe that it would be quite an easy span for us to bridge if we could sit down and have a chat about it.

Responsible dog owners do know what their dogs are doing, certainly in urban situations. Therefore, that aspect of the Bill will not affect them. It is aimed at irresponsible dog owners who do not care that their dogs

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foul public places which then have to be cleaned at public expense. Why should not such irresponsible owners be called to account for the fouling by their dogs and the offence it causes?

In conclusion, to press the amendment would be akin to suggesting that motorists who have committed the offence of speeding should have the defence of pleading that they did not see or were ignorant of the signs indicating the speed limit. Clearly such a state of affairs would be undesirable, as indeed would be the case with the Bill before us today. Therefore, I hope that the noble Viscount will be prepared to withdraw the amendment, especially in the light of my stated intention to discuss the matter further with him prior to the Report stage.

The Earl of Harrowby: Before my noble friend sits down, would he kindly explain to me what would happen if, under Clause 1 (6)(a), the person in charge of the dog were below the age of criminal responsibility?

The Earl of Northesk: My noble friend has rather caught me on the hop. Perhaps I may consult on the issue and get back to him.

Viscount Allenby of Mediggo: I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, especially the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who, if I may put it in a slightly succinct way, has opened a can of worms. Basically we have two situations before us: the first is the urban environment where I quite understand the concern about people who allow their dogs to drop faeces all over the place thus rendering it very unhygienic.

My mind then turns to a farm which is owned by a local council, which could be a designated area, where there are chickens, cows and rabbits running around yet the poor old dog has to be locked up because it is not allowed to perform its natural function. But having said that, the promoter of the Bill has made a sound defence of it, and with his offer of discussing it further—we should do that—I reserve the right to return to this matter on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?

5 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I indicated that I had one question to ask on subsection (6). I raised this matter when we were discussing the amendment moved by the noble Viscount. If some of us were less than enthusiastic about the reply that we received from the Minister and from the noble Earl who is the promoter of this Bill, that is neither here nor there: we were answered. However, I wanted to raise another question as regards subsection (5) and that is the dispensing power given to the Minister. Presumably the department which is so enthusiastic about this Bill has some idea of what exceptions the Minister will make by ministerial order. I believe that on Second Reading the question of sheepdogs was raised. Presumably they would constitute

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an exception. One would hope that was the case at any rate. Will the noble Earl—even if he passes this matter to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—indicate what other exceptions the department has in mind? Your Lordships are entitled to know that when the Minister is asking for a wide dispensing power from an Act of Parliament which itself goes very far and very wide.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: I realise that the previous amendment was not moved but I wish to refer to a couple of points. I repeat that there are 7.5 million dogs in the country and there are 5 million dog owners. I understand that education in primary schools is leading young people to want to have even more dogs and that will promote a greater demand for puppy farms. Puppy farms have an appalling reputation, certainly as regards what happens over the Christmas and Easter periods. When stock has not been sold it is put on a slag heap. Will the Minister confirm whether or not it is intended to promote such education in primary schools?

I was positively shocked at the Minister's earlier response as regards picking up faeces in a plastic bag. I wish to know whether the Minister will also carry gloves in his pocket so that he can put his gloves on before he puts the faeces in a plastic bag. We need to understand that the faeces constitute only one part of the chain of disease. I believe another noble Lord referred to this matter. Faeces carry worms and eggs, and the eggs last a long time and are sticky. I referred to my next point on Second Reading. The eggs I am discussing stick to children's hands. We know that children touch their bicycles which may have come into contact with dog faeces. Children also touch their shoes which may have been in contact with dog faeces. In that way children may contract the disease ocular larva which causes impaired vision. I of all people know about impaired vision because I suffer from severe visual impairment. I beg all Members of the Committee to consider this matter of dog faeces with greater care. The Canine Crisis Council has proved that dog faeces affect young children to a far greater extent than adults because young children cuddle dogs far more than do adults. I referred to this matter earlier. The cuddling of dogs is being promoted in primary schools. However, we need to be more aware of the problems this may cause.

I have already spoken about the materialistic approach of puppy breeding. We need to consider the materialistic aspect as regards sponsoring bins in which dog faeces can be put. The Government cannot shake their heads and say they do not want to force councils to adopt that measure. The Committee will be aware that not only dog owners but also cat owners and goldfish owners pay council tax. However, it is the dog owners who are being addressed by this Bill. There are 5 million dog owners in this country. To deal fairly with this matter we must consider it as part of a much larger Bill. As I have said before, this matter needs to be covered in a dog registration Bill. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, has said, we need to cut down on the amount of legislation we produce.

Certain European countries have regulations on the use of "poop scoops". We rely on encouraging inadequately funded local councils to clean up dog

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faeces. We never stop hearing about the inadequate finances of the National Health Service but why increase the burden on that service through dog transmitted diseases? Human toxocariasis may result in blindness. However, dog faeces may also transmit a disease which affects the liver. It is not just sheep whose livers are affected by certain eggs; human beings may also suffer this fate.

Tomorrow this Chamber will consider the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill. Surely we cannot believe that disease carried by domestic dogs will not be transmitted to wild mammals and vice versa. The Government have studied the live transportation of calves and sheep—let us not forget horses, donkeys and various other animals—but surely we as a nation should clean up our own mess at home before bragging about our environmental commitment and our concern for the fair treatment of animals. Dog registration has been pooh-poohed—if I may coin a pun—by those in another place as well as in this place. However, that would have been a vital plank of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act if it had been implemented at that time. With such registration being urged by the RSPCA, the Canine Crisis Council and the Pet Advisory Committee, and with the Government boasting of their willingness to listen and to act on advice, let us see dog registration in the Queen's Speech.


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