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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the regulations are necessary to implement an aspect of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, which
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introduces dog control orders to replace local authority and parish council powers to make dog bylaws. I know that both noble Baronesses will remember this legislation well because they played a major role in its passage through your Lordships' House.
Under the new arrangements, local authorities and parish councils may make dog control orders relating to four matters: the fouling of land by dogs and the removal of dog faeces; keeping dogs on leads; excluding dogs from particular areas; and limiting the number of dogs which one person may take on to specified areas.
The offence provided for in a dog control order, and the maximum penalty, must be prescribed in regulations, and such regulations may also specify the wording to be used in a dog control order and the form of the order. The regulations duly prescribe the offences for which dog control orders may be made, and provide model forms for each type of order. The regulations also provide the maximum penalty for all five offences, which is a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scalecurrently £1,000. The regulations also provide for it to be an offence under a dog control order not to put a dog on a lead when required to do so by an authorised officer of a local authority or parish council.
The provisions of the Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 will be repealed to allow the dog fouling offence to be brought into the dog control order regime. However we know that some local authorities wish to continue with the provisions in the 1996 Act, so we are making legislative savings to allow them to do so. I commend these regulations to the House. I beg to move.
I have just a couple of questions about the regulations. Having read the Act, I think that these regulations are as one might expect. I can see that they will assist in controlling behaviour in large towns and metropolitan districts that has long been unacceptable and which seems to have been on the increase recently. I am pleased to see particularly that it will now be possible for councils to act to reduce "crocodiles" of dogs that are paraded around certain parts of our cities, some under control and others, on occasions, totally out of control.
It may also be possible to use part of the legislation to reduce the problem of people walking in the countryside with what can be described only as packs of dogs. They are often on footpaths or in fields through which a footpath passes. The dogs are
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infrequently on leads and can be both intimidating to humans and destructive to wildlife, as well as to cattle and sheep.
However, I think there may be a catch, and I would be most grateful if the Minister could assist me. In the Act, parish councils are classed as secondary authorities. Few, if any, employ legal experts. Will they have to pay somebody to draw up the orders? I am not quite clear on that. If so, how much would that be expected to cost and would the parish councils normally ask their local primary authority to do it for them? That is one possibility.
The Act seems to be quite clear that fixed penalties accrue to whichever council employs the officer who tackles the culprit. A parish clerk, for example, might earn his council the odd pound or two by keeping an eye on dog control areas in the vicinity of his own parish. Is a parish councillor allowed to become an authorised officer? That is not quite clear.
Should an officer authorised by a parish council come across a defaulter who refuses to pay the fixed penalty, what procedure should that officer follow? How much would it cost the parish council? Is the level of proof required in a court any different from that authorised officer's challenge of, "I saw your dog contravene the notice. This is the fine". If the parish council takes the miscreant to court, does it keep the fine? Can it claim all the costs of going to court? If it does, will they be granted?
My concern is that it may not be worth a parish council setting out its own orders. I appreciate that the noble Baroness explained to us that authorities can use the existing legislation if they so wish. However, if they change over to the new orders, I presume that the relevant primary council would include the parish in its coverage. How much would it be reasonable for a primary authority to charge for that inclusion?
Dog fouling has long been a bane and a pain to all of us, whether we live in the town or the country. It should be a basic requirement of anybody who is walking a dog in town or country to carry suitable equipment to make sure that they leave it in a decent state for other people. We therefore welcome the regulations. Dog fouling is to me what chewing gum is to other people. Both are horrid and both should be eradicated. However, I would be grateful if the Minister responded to the one or two practical questions that I have asked.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I welcome these regulations. I certainly remember the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, not least because of the speed with which it passed through your Lordships' House. It was effectively guillotined by the general election. Nevertheless, we were pleased to see its introduction.
There has probably been nothing more burdensome, especially for parish councils, than the old burden of making bylaws as regards dogs. When councils had to deal with children's playgrounds and so on, the implementation of provisions took up a lot of their meeting time. I presume that if the primary
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authority makes an order which covers its whole district and employs, for example, dog wardens or environmental wardens who deal with dog fouling, it will be able to work within the parishes. In the Liberal Democrat-controlled authorities that is usually how it works.
The "reasonable excuse" clause will have to be tried over time. I hope that it will not prove to be a large loophole for people. We welcome the regulations. One of the differences in London has been that, when autumn comes, one can walk through the piles of leaves mostly without fear. The regulations will improve the situation still further.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank both noble Baronesses for welcoming the order. As a grandmother, I appreciate their points about taking walks. Shoes can be a nightmare at the end of a walk in the country or in a park. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is right about the need to control large crocodiles of dogs and, virtually, packs in rural areas.
The model forms are constructed so that legal assistance is not needed to draw them up. We have issued guidance which enables one to follow a step-by-step process. Parish councillors may be an authorised officer. However, in guidance we have advised against that. The noble Baroness also asked about finance. If the parish council were to prosecute, it could not keep the finethe result of the prosecution.
It is for primary and secondary authorities to decide between themselves what arrangement they want to come to for charging and assistance with prosecutions. Parish and community council fixed-penalty notices are currently issued by a range of officers authorised by the local authority, in addition to police officers such as police community support officers or council workers, such as town patrollers, who are employed specifically to enforce laws on dog fouling and litter.
Similarly, appropriate employees of parish councils will issue the fixed-penalty notices not parish councillors. Many larger parish councils already employ rangers, wardens and general maintenance teams, which will be well placed to take on this responsibility. The new regime will be enforced. The primary and secondary authorities will be responsible for enforcing the orders, including issuing the penalties and taking to court those who opt not to pay. I agree that there is a difficulty if people refuse to give their details. In the smaller parish councils it may be slightly easier because more people know exactly who everyone is in the parish council area.
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