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Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, has said that this is a modest measure. Indeed it is. It is also a desirable measure. It has been examined by the Deregulation Committee of the House of Commons and by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee of this House. They have seen no objection to it. That being so, it has our blessing.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their welcome to this measure. Modest though it may be, it is also important. Perhaps I may welcome the noble Viscount once again to the Front Bench. I am not sure that we are going to make a habit of meeting across the Table almost on a weekly basis--I suspect that we may be. We perhaps did not agree last week, but I am delighted that we are agreeing this week.
The most important point is one which the noble Viscount made. These measures--or at least some of them--help to ensure that the building societies will not be placed at a disadvantage when competing with the banks. Building societies have undoubtedly performed a major role so far as concerns customers by, for example, being much more competitive in their opening hours and therefore allowing their customers to get at them much better than the banks at least used to do, although I think the banks are changing their policy in response to the competitive pressures from the building societies.
The noble Viscount said that Article 5 in particular deals with the question of a level playing field between the two. Currently banks do not have an obligation to stand behind associated bodies. This article will put building societies in the same position although, as he rightly also pointed out, in practice the good name which the bank or building society may wish to retain will probably mean that they will wish to stand behind subsidiaries, at least in most cases.
There is also tight control about what type of subsidiaries they can have. As the noble Viscount pointed out, although Article 4 extends from 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. the amount of capital that can come from elsewhere, it ensures that at least 50 per cent. of the capital continues to come from the members. That is an important aspect of building societies. I am grateful to both noble Lords for their welcome to the order. I commend the Motion to the House.
A debate in your Lordships' House without the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, necessarily loses some of its colour. It is rather like having a general debate about boxing without Henry Cooper. I use that comparison advisedly because they are both heavyweights in their fields. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has on three separate occasions before today presented to your Lordships' House Bills to amend the Dangerous Dogs Act. The Bill which I introduce today on the noble Lord's behalf is a simple one, although perhaps deceptively so. It attacks what is seen to be the main fault of the dangerous dogs legislation, which was introduced in 1991, and it seeks to restore to the judiciary the discretion which is normal in almost every other form of jurisprudence in our land.
When the original Dangerous Dogs Bill first came before Parliament, it was welcomed in certain ways but viewed with some suspicion. It went through as quickly as the Government hoped at that time. A great deal of public concern had been brought about by attacks on members of the public, particularly children, by certain breeds of dog. The Government chose to target one specific breed. The word "breed" is important because it implies pedigree. The Government sought to target the pit bull terrier, or more correctly the American pit bull terrier, for what appeared to be good reasons--the attacks that I have mentioned but also the fact that the dogs were being used for fighting, a barbarous and archaic sport which is rightly banned within these shores. The American pit bull terrier was specifically bred for fighting. That was one of the main arguments put forward for the emphasis on the pit bull terrier.
Those of us who were familiar with the world of dogs knew that the pit bull terrier, or the pit bull terrier type, as the Government preferred to call it--they used that term in their legislation--was by no means the only or indeed the main offender in attacks on children, members of the public and the police. The legislation was hurried through. There were misgivings; but perhaps those misgivings were not voiced satisfactorily. As the months and years have gone by since the Act came into force, it has been what I would hazard to suggest as one of the most unsatisfactory pieces of legislation on our statute book. I can think of only one other piece of legislation during my time in your Lordships' House which is as unsatisfactory. I refer to the Government's Football Spectators Bill, but fortunately for the country its provisions have never been fully implemented, for reasons which it would be inappropriate to dwell on here.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has taken up this cudgel with such force and--he will not mind me saying so--at such length because he feels not only that the legislation has been unfair and unjust to dogs and dog owners but also that it is constitutionally
The main issue is the mandatory destruction of dogs without the court having a discretion. Because of the haste with which the Bill was brought in, that aspect has probably done just the opposite to what the Government intended at the time. They probably thought that it would reduce court time, simplify court measures and meet the anxieties of the public, the press and the general mood of the time in 1991 when the legislation was introduced. In fact it has done just the opposite. The Government did not seek advice from the right quarters and did not define the kind of dogs which they intended to curb, and indeed to annihilate--it has been said many times by members of the Government and their supporters that they wished to eliminate the pit bull terrier completely as the breed or type was a menace to our society. They brought in statutory measures which had to be met by the owners of these dogs, and your Lordships are familiar with them. It meant registration, muzzling in public, and chipping and castration where appropriate. A reasonable amount of time was given in which the dog owners were expected to comply with those requirements.
The problem has been that when the law came into force, predictably a number of people had not met the requirements. The police went about their normal duties and took into custody a number of dogs, which appeared to be what the Government describe as the pit-bull type. No doubt other noble Lords will be going into that in much more detail than I shall. These dogs were immediately taken before the courts and the only sentence was mandatory destruction. The courts became reluctant to convict; appeals were set in motion and the result was that many dogs were put into kennels for lengthy periods at great cost to the taxpayer. The chaos which ensued and which still exists, brought that law into considerable disrepute.
There are many anecdotes with which I shall not bore your Lordships, about the way in which the law has not worked or that it has worked unfairly and indeed tragically to dogs and their owners. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has related some of them to your Lordships many times. There have been many strange muddles in the courts. Indeed, the Home Office has been encouraging the prosecution services to use the 1871 legislation, amended in 1989, wherever possible, rather than the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. In many cases that has not happened. That may be because the circulars which the Home Office sent out have not been read or fully understood.
We continue apace and the police go around apprehending dogs that they consider should be put into custody. That creates a prolonged and distressing problem. A rather timely article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday. It summarised a recent case in the High Court before Mr. Justice Rougier. He saw fit to order the release of a dog which is well known. It has a name which is almost as well known as that of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. It is called "Dempsey". Mr. Justice Rougier said that the Act bore the hallmarks of a badly thought-out piece of legislation and was no doubt drafted in haste in response to pressure groups. He added to that by saying that observant and zealous policemen were going about their duties sending perfectly inoffensive animals to their deaths and that,
Other issues are perhaps not as well known. Some dogs are kept in custody for months and months. I believe that Dempsey ran up kennel costs of £60,000 before his order for release. That is not unusual, as arguments rage about the identity of a dog. Some dogs even find themselves in a sort of limbo. They are taken into custody by the police and orders are given by the court for their release or there may be technical reasons why the case cannot go ahead. But the police feel that they cannot release the dogs so they stay in custody. It is a most incredible result arising from hastily conceived and drafted legislation being put on the statute book. Yet the Government remain adamant.
The noble Earl is a relative newcomer to this subject and perhaps he has not heard some of the much more eloquent speeches than mine which have been given in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. Perhaps I may return to the boxing analogy. The noble Earl and myself are relative lightweights, although not physically, but certainly as regards the affairs of dogs. The noble Earl will have his brief and I am pretty convinced that I know what he will say. He will say what has been said before and perhaps tell us that the legislation was conceived as necessary to save the lives and physical wellbeing of children, and that something had to be done. He will no doubt say that it was necessary to reduce the number of these dogs in these islands as quickly as possible.
In Saturday's Daily Telegraph there is another interesting article. Although one seldom believes what one reads in the newspapers, on this occasion I believe that one can. The Home Secretary who introduced this legislation, Mr. Kenneth Baker, wrote his autobiography. I must confess I have not yet got round to reading it, but I look forward to it. It is called The Turbulent Years, and was published in 1993. He took a