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The Earl of Harrowby: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to explain my point. I was advocating that, like private landlords, the conservators should have the right to opt in, not opt out. I was thinking on the same lines as my noble friend.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I should want to examine that point rather carefully. What is absolutely essential is that there should be a provision, however couched, which at the option of the landowner can allow the Act to be disapplied. That seems to be the point.
There are places where there are already dog controls and it would be perfectly proper to enact the Bill's controls--for example, the village greens at Theydon Bois and Epping Green, where there is already a good system but it would make sense for measures to be enforced by the local authorities.
The conservators now support the Bill in its present form. I hope that Clause 1(4) will form part of it when it reaches the statute book--as I hope it will. My noble friend Lord Harrrowby made a number of criticisms that we shall have to examine in Committee.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I am very pleased to support the Bill. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, for the very clear way in which he took us through its provisions. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Harrowby, has to leave at 9.15 since he is likely to miss half of my speech in so doing! Nevertheless, as he said, he will be able to read it.
One thought comes to mind in relation to this debate. There is one person who is missing and who, I am sure, would have been here given his great interest in these matters. I refer to Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I knew and loved Douglas Houghton during all my political life. I was very sad at his passing. It is poetic that we debate a Bill that would have been so close to his heart on the briefing of the Pet Advisory Committee, of which he was president. The committee states:
That is the crux of the Bill. One of my friends, who is a dog owner, on learning that I intended to speak in this debate, said: "I do hope it's not going to be one of those 'beat up the dog owners' Bills". As the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, presented the Bill, it is quite clearly not that. It is a necessary measure to encourage responsible ownership.
I intervene to state very clearly my experience of the past six years. Six years ago, perhaps rather belatedly in life, I became a parent and became very aware of the conflict between dog ownership and the freedom and health of children. I have lived in two places during that period: Hackney and St. Albans. I shall detain the House briefly with a description of my experience in both places.
Hackney is an Inner London Borough where there is a great deal of social deprivation. In the community there is a great fear of crime. There is no doubt that in recent years that fear has led to an increase in the ownership of dogs--not as pets in the classic sense, but as a form of protection and deterrence. Anybody who has canvassed on an inner-city estate knows the truth of that, and knows the size and ferocity of the dogs kept.
At the end of the road where we lived in Hackney there was a public park which an earlier generation of city fathers had provided for rest and recreation amid the hubbub of city life. Quite frankly, it could no longer be used for that. It was, and probably still is, a dogs' lavatory, where very large animals are taken out from the high-rise flats and houses around to defecate. They make that park unusable by children or residents in the neighbourhood.
More genteel St. Albans, one would imagine, would not have the same problem--well, maybe not with that kind of intensity. But let me take your Lordships on a walk of about a mile and a half from my six year-old's
Irony of ironies, about one-fortieth of the field is fenced off as a play area and dog free. A copse, which in my childhood I would have used for adventure and exploration, equally is unusable by children. A disused railway line which has been turned into a nature walk is littered with dog faeces and mess.
The fact is that for children, their mothers and those concerned with children, the tensions between dog owners and children are very real. It worries me that, at the moment, although undoubtedly there are responsible dog owners, there are many quite respectable people who do not see in any sense irresponsibility or danger from allowing their dogs to defecate at will in public places. I know, because when my wife, who is somewhat tougher than I am in these respects, has challenged dog owners, she has been roundly abused for her trouble.
So there is a need, even beyond the proposals of this Bill, for education on quite a grand scale before we get the change in public attitudes that is wanted. Probably some time in the 21st century the idea of allowing a dog to defecate at will in a public place will seem as strange and alien as the practice of people in the Middle Ages who poured the contents of their chamber pots from their upper windows. The truth is that at the moment there is not that public understanding.
The noble Earl, Lord Harrowby, misses the psychological frame of mind of a dog owner, who does not have to take out a copy of the Bill and look very carefully to see whether the dog is defecating in a designated place. There should be an attitude of mind: if you can clean up the mess, then clean it up, wherever it is, rural or urban. There should be an attitude of mind which recognises the distress that dog fouling causes to a large section of the community. It is in no way being a dog lover to defend or try to justify anti-social behaviour.
I do not consider this Bill to be nannying legislation, in the terms in which the noble Earl put it forward. It is a necessary step in the process of public education to which I referred. The 1994 Advisory Group on Litter made an overwhelming case for action, as did the Tidy Britain Group under the noble Earl, Lord Bradford. But, as well as legislation, we need a clear response from dog owners and those associated with dogs. For example, I welcome the initiative of the Good Dog campaign, which is financed by Pedigree Petfoods. A lot of money is made from the sale of dog food. A lot of money is spent on advertising dog food. I suggest that as well as that welcome initiative, the dog food manufacturers could spend a lot more on educating dog owners in social responsibility.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, as is usual, I speak in a personal capacity to a private measure. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, made a great deal of sense. He echoed my thoughts on a number of aspects of the legislation. The noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Jenkin, like myself, have been Members of Parliament for a constituency. There were many occasions, during the time when I was Member for Edmonton, when I received petitions and deputations to do something about the state of certain streets and little community areas which were generally near a public park.
The council was concerned, as was the community. The intention was always good. By and large, if one has to choose between the welfare of dogs and the welfare of children, then--I do not need to spell it out and there can be no argument--the health of the child is paramount; not the freedom of the dog to defecate wherever it wants.
How do we address the problem? The noble Earl, Lord Harrowby, did the House a service when he told us that the Bill was drafted by the DoE. It seems that the department can see the problem because it has been passed on to someone else to have an airing. I do not object to that. Clearly, this is a matter which has to be tackled seriously and sensibly, whether one talks in terms of large sums of money, enormous expenditure of time or, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, an education programme among the community.
I have had the same experience as the noble Lord. I have been unable to understand how dog owners can believe that a public park is a place to take their dogs to defecate. Such dog owners may very well have children themselves, children who sometimes complain or cry because they have put their foot into something left by their dog or someone else's. The noble Lord is right. They cannot understand what we are trying to do in asking them to recognise the problem.
The noble Earl, Lord Harrowby, should not feel uncomfortable at raising his points. He has served notice on the House that, if the Bill is to make progress, it needs further debate on suitable amendments. We look to those debates. He said that 95 per cent. of the problems were concentrated in urban areas. I do not disagree. We understand the difficulty in trying to get those responsible for that 95 per cent.--dog owners, the councils, councillors and the law--to do something about fouling. By and large, they have failed abysmally. There is a clean-up campaign and an improvement taking place. But there are great problems also with the
One cannot ignore the problem. Tonight sees an attempt to solve it. But, to be honest, I am pessimistic. I am not saying that more money is needed or making a complaint. Not only constituency MPs, but also those, like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, who have served on councils, know the problems of resources, priorities and so forth. There will be a swell of opinion in a council and in a community that something needs to be done. There may even be talk of employing dog wardens and publicity. But, given the money required for education, housing or transport, I cannot argue that those services should be diminished in order to provide more money for this Bill.
Somehow or other the department must examine the seriousness of the issue. As in most things, the intentions are good but enforcement is difficult. It is difficult to deliver that which legislation says is right. It was said, according to my note, that no one gives a God-given right to dogs to foul in public places. I owned a lovely Labrador called Kylie for 15 years. We were extremely conscious of attempting to train her to defecate within the curtilage of our house, in part of the garden which we meticulously and scrupulously cleaned ourselves. Obviously, there were occasions when our dog defecated in places where we would have preferred that it did not. However, we were conscious of trying to avoid that happening.
When one speaks of large groups of dogs, such as hunts, it is difficult to make sure that the dogs run only within designated areas. Dogs are dogs. Not only do they defecate; they are not always easy to control. Members of this House probably know the terminology better than I do. I seem to recognise the term "whipper-in". Some people are responsible. But we are discussing two different species, the human and the canine. We are trying to marry up the interests of a civilised community with those of the canine. I do not relish living in a community which is more regimented than our own whereby dogs are virtually non-existent. We are a dog-loving nation--of hunting dogs, terriers or pets. We want to do nothing that destroys that.
The noble Earl, Lord Harrowby, raised an interesting point about reliance on the term "reasonable excuse". I can understand that many people who take their dog out for a walk may not be conscious of every movement the dog makes. To that extent they may have a case for saying, "We did not realise it was happening."
The Bill is sincere and merits further consideration. We are all conscious of the problem, but in a busy life we are not certain that it takes priority over others. Unless and until the Government, through the department, take the matter more seriously than they are, simply by drafting a Bill and flying a kite here tonight, the solutions are far away.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Northesk for his admirable introduction to the Bill and for setting out so clearly how the Bill differs from the one which we considered last October. I join him in congratulating my honourable friend Andrew Hunter, who introduced this Bill in another place. I am grateful too to other noble Lords who contributed to today's debate.
The subject of dogs undoubtedly generates great passion and a great divergence of views. But there is one issue on which most people would agree; that is, that the fouling of our streets, parks and other public open spaces by dogs is unacceptable. That was echoed by my noble friend Lord Bradford and others in this House this evening.
At present, local authorities have a duty to keep most public areas clear of dog faeces. However, a local authority in England and Wales cannot prosecute anyone for failing to clear up after their dog unless the council adopted an appropriate by-law and that by-law was confirmed by the Secretary of State. The Advisory Group on Litter concluded that by-laws are not the best way of tackling the problem. It suggested that there should be nationally defined offences of failing to clear up after one's dog. The Government accepted that and the Bill seeks to fulfil that aim.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Northesk that the Bill is an improvement on the one which we had before us last year. It addresses in particular concerns expressed in this House about applying this kind of offence in the countryside. By virtue of Clause 1, the offence in this Bill cannot apply on land used for agriculture or for woodland, land which is predominantly marshland, moor or heath, rural common land or carriageways with a speed limit of over 40 miles per hour. Furthermore, it cannot apply on land to which the public are forbidden. As before, a local authority may not impose a "poop scoop" requirement against the wishes of the landowner or occupier. Finally, where land is subject to regulation under a private Act, the local authority cannot impose the new system against the will of the person exercising that power, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin explained.
My noble friend Lord Harrowby expressed surprise at the laughter which accompanied his initial announcement. I can assure my noble friend that it was merely nervous laughter at the prospect of the length of his speech which would be required in order to keep us here until 9.15 p.m. It may have been justified nervous laughter. I am afraid that I cannot give him any considered reaction to the many points he raised. Perhaps I may run through just a few of them. In relation to riding stables, the faeces in that regard are of a different nature and are entirely people-friendly. On the other hand, in relation to hunts the faeces are not people-friendly.
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