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I am also grateful to the Minister for indicating that he will consider a stronger package of measures for dealing with dogs. I do not envy him the task of coming to the conclusion on what the appropriate package of measures will be. There is no doubt that disturbance to wildlife by dogs is greater than disturbance to wildlife by people. That is borne out by the limited research information that there is.
An amendment that seeks to have no dogs on access land might be the ideal one, but can it be justified? I am not sure that that kind of blanket restriction can be. An alternative would be for dogs to be on leads at all times on access land. That has the virtue of being simple and readily understandable by people. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, made the point that the evidence is that even though people keep their dogs on leads for a short time they eventually let them off. Therefore, I am not sure that even that simple remedy of having dogs on leads at all times will work.
Earl Peel: Does the noble Baroness agree that the very presence of a dog on access areas at certain times of the year can actually cause a disturbance? We want to distinguish between the two, because they are both important.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I am not sure that the research information is sufficiently detailed to allow us to distinguish between whether the presence of a dog with someone or a dog running free is the issue. Whatever conclusions the Minister reaches, the absolute bottom line has to be better than what is currently in the Bill. Certainly, in terms of the breeding season, to have the breeding season end in June is inadequate. A government amendment extends that to July. That would be an absolute minimum. In my view it is not sufficiently extensive to protect wildlife from disturbance by dogs. That is probably the biggest cause of concern for the conservation bodies in relation to the Bill.
I should like the Minister to take account of another point in his package. I refer to dogs on rights of way across access land. There is an inconsistency. It will be confusing if dogs do not need to be on leads on rights
The Earl of Caithness: When the Minister is considering his package, will he look at the possible definitions of "vicinity" and "livestock", which he will find in sub-paragraph (5) of Schedule 2? To follow up what was said by my noble friend the Duke of Montrose--my noble friend Lord Peel will know this well--different types of livestock will react differently to dogs. The Swaledale sheep will react in certain conditions far more rigorously than lowland sheep. The effect on them will be much more noticeable. Thus the question of the vicinity of the dog to livestock is important and also what is meant by "livestock".
Viscount Bledisloe: I have tabled various amendments on this topic. However, in the light of the Minister's observations, there seems to be no point in pursuing them in detail, particularly as we do not know what the noble Lord will come back with.
I wish to make two brief points. First, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Earl, Lord Peel, that the mere presence of dogs undoubtedly disturbs animals, birds and wildlife to a wholly different extent to a walker on his own. One sees the difference when someone on his own walks through a flock of sheep, walks by some young cattle or walks past birds. The disturbance is nothing compared with what happens when a dog is present, however firmly it may be on a lead.
Secondly, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Earl that people do not keep their dogs on the lead the whole time. The reality is that people have a blind spot about their dog and think it is incredibly well behaved. In fact, they are not. I have a woodland garden which I open to the public. There is a concession that people can take their dogs provided they are on the lead. As soon as they are out of sight people tend to slip their dogs off the lead. When one remonstrates with them, they say that Fido or Bonzo is incredibly well behaved and does not need to be on the lead. Three minutes later Fido or Bonzo is deep in the bushes, in hot pursuit of a rabbit or whatever there may be. People have an extraordinary faith that their dog is well behaved, but that faith is wholly unsupported by the reality of the dog's behaviour.
Lord Mancroft: Perhaps I may add my voice to that of other Members of the Committee and thank the Minister for saying that he recognises the problem. Probably the most important issue in the Bill is the issue of dogs. Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, whose speech was immensely helpful, a question. She said that the blanket ban proposed by my noble friend's amendment is not the answer. However, the remainder
Baroness Young of Old Scone: Perhaps I may rise to that challenge. For large tracts of land for considerable periods of the year, there is not a major conservation issue. With blanket exceptions, there is a risk of being unnecessarily restrictive. On the other hand, I think I sat admirably on the fence when I confessed that I thought that the Minister had a difficult task. I am not sure that any of the other remedies works very well. So it may well be that a blanket ban is the only one that can be truly effective. But it seems a little disproportionate when, for many areas of access land for many parts of the year, dogs off leads will not necessarily be a major problem.
Lord Greaves: I shall be brief. The first point I should like to make is this. Over the years, most of the incidents that I have seen in which people have behaved badly while walking on moors and mountains have involved dogs. We need to accept that, quite often, dogs present a serious problem. Having said that, I do not think that an overall and blanket ban would work--however much such a ban would accord with my personal prejudices. I do not believe that it would be generally acceptable to the people of this country. Furthermore, it would run the risk of being ignored far too often and thus would fall into disrepute.
I support the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, in that I agree that in substantial areas, in particular of moorland, a ban on dogs should be imposed, certainly for much of the year and in some cases for the whole time. That is because I do not believe that one can expect people to take their dogs out onto open moorland and then not allow them off the lead. That simply will not happen.
We need to identify areas of moorland and perhaps even take into account certain economic reasons if they are heather moorland areas supporting grouse. Whatever one may think of grouse shooting is irrelevant here; the fact is that grouse shooting sustains a great deal of the heather moorland areas of the north of England. Such moors would not exist in their present form unless they were managed for grouse. Again, those of us whose prejudices might lead in a different direction need to accept and understand that. If it is necessary for the management and control of such moorland that dogs are banned, then that should be done.
We may also find that in certain important areas of conservation interest such as SSSIs and lowland heaths in the south of England, the presence of dogs would be undesirable. In those circumstances, local bans should be enforced.
I should like to make a second point. I do not believe that it would be possible to impose a general ban on dogs in the higher mountain areas and on moorland that is less important as regards conservation. If a move is made to impose a general rule that dogs should
In summary, I believe that we shall identify many areas where dogs should be banned, but I also believe that some areas will be identified where to keep a dog on a lead would not be practicable. Whatever solution is found to meet the problems presented by dogs, it will need to have built into it considerable scope for variation according to local needs and circumstances. Inevitably, therefore, the requirement for detailed and extensive signposting will be essential to inform people of the local regime.
Lord Monson: I wonder whether the Minister could confirm that, when he returns on Report with the Government's own amendments on the stricter control of dogs, he will deal at the same time with maximum lengths of lead? That point is addressed in Amendments Nos. 132 and 134 and so may not be considered tonight, since the amendments are grouped with Amendment No. 109, which may not be moved by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe. If the Minister can give an assurance that that point will be considered between now and the next stage, then the matter need not be dealt with tonight.
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