§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)
I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 6, at end insert'any dog of the type known as a rottweiler;'.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)
With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 30, in page 1, line 9, leave out from 'State' to end of line 11.
No. 3, in page 1, line 10, after 'fighting', insert 'or aggressiveness'.
No. 4, in page 1, line 11, leave out 'that purpose' and insert 'those purposes'.
§ Mr. Corbett
1 should explain to the Minister immediately that this is very much a probing amendment. 747 Like other hon. Members, we have received representations from the Rottweiler Society, and we have listened carefully to what has been said. None the less, some of our constituents do not immediately understand how the Government can single out pit bull terriers for treatment as a special category when there are—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Corbett
Thank you, Mr. Walker. I know that the House will be grateful to you.
As I was saying, some of our constituents do not understand why the Government propose to take action, on grounds of dangerousness, against 10,000 pit bull terriers while treating the 100,000 rottweilers in this country differently and, to that extent, at least seemingly judging them less dangerous. As I said earlier, we also have in Britain about 100,000 doberman pinschers and 100,000 Staffordshire terriers—also known as "Staffies", as you, Mr. Walker, will be aware.
On amendment No. 3, I want to ask the Minister on what basis the Government were able to decide that there was a real distinction between dogs that they describe as having been bred for fighting, and dogs such as the rottweiler which arguably—I do not think that anybody can controvert this—were originally bred for their aggressiveness. Fortunately, most of us have only seen on film the part that rottweilers played as guard dogs in Nazi concentration camps, but we are none the less alive to the views of those of our constituents who have raised this matter, especially in relation to rottweilers.
I am not trying to score points off the Minister, but I must add that matters are not helped by the fact that the rottweiler is a registered breed and, to that extent, a very pure breed, and large numbers of the dogs are registered by the Kennel Club. The pit bull terrier cannot be registered in that way because it started life as a cross-breed. Heaven alone knows what 57 varieties of genes are in the species or type known as a pit bull.
Having said that, as I think the Minister of State knows, a number of hon. Members have had some difficulty in going along with the Government in making that distinction in the first place. In all honesty, we are glad that the Government have not followed up what would seem to be the logic of that in the Bill by naming other breeds or species of dogs. It has to be said, and it is certainly being said by large numbers of animal welfare and veterinary organisations, that to proceed on a breed by breed or species by species basis does not fit the bill.
The House was told earlier that about three quarters of all serious attacks on people recorded in the Metropolitan police area last year were not by pit bull terriers—about 90 breeds or species of dogs were responsible for three quarters of recorded serious attacks. I do not know whether the Minister of State can comment on the fact that I am also led to believe that it has not been standard practice for police forces to record the breed or species of dog concerned in a serious attack.
A reminder of the problems associated with this part of the Bill is a letter in The Veterinary Record of 1 June 1991 by Mr. J. G. Matthews of New London road, Chelmsford, Essex, whom I take to be a vet, although I must make it immediately clear that I am not advertising on his behalf. His signature appears under the letter, which the House may find instructive: 748Twelve years ago the country was warned that the introduction of the breed would lead to problems in the future but the advice went unheeded and subsequently the breed has become well established in the southern half of the United Kingdom, although it has failed to establish itself in the north and has been on the decline in Scotland.A series of behavioural studies has shown that although generally docile (they are often seen with young children and babies), they will react irrationally and violently when stressed or backed into corners. It must be remembered that they are essentially a pack animal, responding to strong leadership, but generally acting in the interests of self-preservation.
§ Mr. Corbett
The hon. Gentleman should wait.
The letter continues:The public were particularly shocked by a series of televised fights between members of the breed in November last year which left them licking their wounds in public.The past 12 years have seen a huge increase in the number of attacks by the breed. These include the savaging of manufacturing industry, vicious assaults on the National Health Service and indeed a tax on every adult member of the community.Surely, now is the time to respond to the overwhelming demands for action. Experience in other countries has shown that attempts to gag and muzzle members in public will not be effective so the only alternative would appear to be the humane destruction of Conservative members of Parliament.Perhaps that answers the point made by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim).
That is a facetious point, but I know that the Minister of State understands it. However, it would be to the benefit of the House and to large numbers of people outside it if she could let us in on the process by which the Home Office formed the opinion that at first—1 gather from what was said in the earlier part of the debate that there would be some reluctance all round to add any further breeds or types of this special category—it was sensible and safe simply to put pit bull terriers into this special category and no other types.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I am grateful for the chance to add to the brief speech that I made in the previous debate. I shall try not to stray too far out of order.
Amendment No. 5 is a probing amendment on whether rottweilers should be added to the most dangerous category. I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Minister will say that clause 1 will work, even though it does not look too good. The problem with going too far and including almost every animal that may have been included in the list of 90 that were recorded as being involved in serious attacks is that it may look good but it will not work. Once one tries to go too far, the system breaks down. It is essential, as in other areas of casualty reduction, to focus on the major problem and, if necessary, to be willing to extend it to other areas.
I know well from my constituency, where the postal delivery service was suspended following many attacks, that the range of dogs involved in attacks can be broad. Our approach must include the protection of people involved in postal deliveries, meter readers, refuse collectors, children and other visitors.
Rottweilers were fashionable in the media two years ago. Even if rottweilers are not included as a clause 1 breed, their owners must pick up the common thread of the previous debate. What matters is not that we have disposed of a dog registration scheme or whether we add rottweilers to clause 1, but whether we can achieve an 749 approach that is not focused on legislative rows and arguments but is a common thread among all hon. Members and animal welfare organisations.
We must recognise that, as well as fighting dogs, there are biting dogs, many of which are kept at home. Although muzzling would not stop a child being bitten in someone's home, it would deal with what one calls the bit-and-run dog.
The major issue is whether we can stop the inexorable rise in the number of dogs and in people's desire for more and more aggressive-looking or aggressive dogs. Ordinary families should not feel that they must have an aggressive dog to deter burglars, would-be burglars or people who may assault them on the streets. We must deal with that problem, and if we do so those who want an animal for a companion may instead have a cat, a newt or a stick insect. That is not a serious suggestion, but there are up to 7 million or 8 million dogs now, whereas 10 or 15 years ago there were 3 million or 4 million. That shows that people have used some of their prosperity or fears to add to the number of dogs in urban areas.
Anyone who proposes to own a dog in an urban area must look at themselves in the mirror and ask how they will deal with the mess. I have watched wheelchair travellers, children and blind and partially sighted people trying to negotiate the mess on our pavements. Dog owners, whether they are lighthouse keepers—people who have a dog on a lead but look out to sea while the dog does its business behind them—or those who push the dog out, should tell wheelchair travellers, partially sighted people or children where their dog's mess will be laid and where their dogs will be left. If we can deal with the issues of aggression, the mess and the number of dogs, I suspect that these debates will have been worth while.
I believe that the Home Office Ministers have done well in introducing the Bill, which is a response to welfare organisations and dog owners. I hope that we shall see speedy progress and I suspect that the rottweiler will not be added to the clause 1 list.
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin
I support the probing amendment. I have spoken to senior dog handlers with Strathclyde police. They have handled dogs all their working lives and, generally, show no fear of large dogs. The information that I have been given is that rottweilers can weigh more than 10 stone. The cause of worry is not only their weight but the bone structure around the jaw and their muscle tissue.
I understand that a professor at Aberdeen university is studying rottweilers. He has come up with some evidence that there is a serious problem in the character of the dogs as they are being bred. I use those words because I came across rottweilers eight or nine years ago before the breed was famous. Most of those dogs were gentle because the owners, realising that they should get a large dog for the security of their homes, wanted a dog that was placid, but which would look the part even if it did no more than bark. Nowadays, the alsatian breeders have got their act together and they are ensuring that the highly nervous strains are not continued in the breed. However, the reverse is the case with the rottweiler. Many breeders seek to get aggressive bitches and aggressive dogs, and breed from them.
750 1.30 am
Normally when a dog becomes aggressive, or is about to become aggressive, some warning is given, and a growl or some other sign gives a human being a chance to get out of the situation. However, police officers say that rottweilers can go from being docile to being very aggressive within seconds. That is a frightening feature of those dogs.
An alsatian attacking a human being is bad enough, but if a dog that weighs in excess of 10 stone with a lot of power in its jaws gets hold of someone, there are serious problems.
§ Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)
I want to reinforce my hon. Friend's point about the rapid transformation of the behaviour of the dogs. In my own constituency a few weeks ago, a rottweiler attacked a three-year-old boy, Graham Pilkington, and as a result, the boy needed eight stitches in his neck. The circumstances seem to have been as my hon. Friend described. The dog suddenly turned nasty, with almost no warning.
§ Mr. Martin
We hear such stories all the time. The child was lucky to get away with eight stitches. It could have been worse: the injury to the neck could easily have killed the child.
Dogs, as part of the animal kingdom, can behave aggressively in many ways. A child could get between the dog and its food or between the dog and its litter. Such actions can make a dog become aggressive. However, it does not help if the dog is highly nervous and easily provoked in the first place.
I hope that the Minister will take on board the fact that police officers are becoming concerned that, if rottweilers get out of hand and become aggressive, they are not equipped to handle them. A dog handler in Strathclyde, or anywhere else, would think nothing of trying to control a labrador or any other dog—even an alsatian or a doberman—that gets out of hand. However, they see that the only way in which they could bring a rottweiler under control would be for one officer, dressed in so much padding that he would look ridiculous and like a Michelin man, to allow himself to be attacked in the hope that a veterinarian would be on hand with a tranquiliser.
I do not know whether the Minister of State can confirm this, but I understand that vets carry an antidote to the tranquilisers because they have only five minutes in which to administer an antidote if they scratch themselves with the drug. What a society we live in when we must go to those ridiculous lengths to control a certain breed. If what I have described is true, should not the Minister consider categorising rottweilers in the same way as pit bull terriers?
§ Mr. Cryer
As the Government have, with smirks on their faces, defeated dog registration, we must use the provisions in the Bill. Certain dogs will be banned and amendment No. 5 seeks to include rottweilers in that list. The Secretary of State can make exemptions and impose those conditions that he considers prudent. Dogs may be kept, but there would have to be a form of registration and the imposition of standards. In general, a dog registration scheme would have achieved that.
What are the Government going to do about the dogs which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) described as very powerful? On 7 May, five-year-old Michael Parkinson was savaged by 751 two rottweilers near his Bradford home. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) said that, in a similar accident, a young child required eight stitches in its neck. Five-year-old Michael Parkinson required 80 stitches. On 15 May, Pat Lord, who is 39, underwent microsurgery after her right arm was chewed to the bone and broken by her rottweiler. That adult and child suffered serious injuries which only by a fluke did not result in death. However, deaths will occur sooner or later, because the dogs that we are considering are bought for their power and potential viciousness.
People buy those dogs because of the rise in crime. They are bought from unscrupulous dealers who raise them in appalling confined conditions. The dogs are not trained and they are bought by people who want them as symbols of protection. They also do not train them and occasionally those dogs turn either on their owners or on casual visitors or people who call for specific purposes, such as milkmen, postmen, social workers or nurses.
I remind the Minister of State that I had an Adjournment debate shortly before the Whitsun recess in which I described how a headmaster at a school in my constituency took a small 10-year-old boy home from school. He did that as an act of kindness because the boy was not feeling well. When they arrived at the house, a rottweiler broke loose, knocked the headmaster to the ground, broke his arm and savaged him so badly that he was off work for three months. That is what happened to a mature adult who was helping a small child.
The family concerned were extremely irresponsible. As the dog was put down, no prosecution was brought. The following day the family bought a doberman as a replacement for the rottweiler, to accompany their other two rottweilers. Fortunately, the family have now disappeared from the area. The woman ran two massage parlours and the husband had no apparent source of income. Clearly, they were not the most responsible family one could bring to mind, but the Bill does not touch them. I am concerned that such people create difficulties.
Terry Singh, the head dog warden in Bradford, does a good job. There are only half a dozen dog wardens in Bradford—with a population of 500,000 people and an area between 20 and 40 miles across—and they are greatly concerned about dogs such as rottweilers. Presumably the Minister of State will say that, under clause 3(4), an order can be made under section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 to keep dogs under control. Unfortunately, such action is always retrospective—after an accident has occurred. I understand that the Bradford dog warden scheme is among the best in the country. Indeed, some local authorities do not operate dog warden schemes at all. Dog wardens do not want to react to dog attacks or stray dogs that threaten adults or children—they want to be able to educate and encourage owners in the proper conduct of the ownership of their dogs.
I hope that the amendment is at least accepted in the spirit that, even if it has one or two flaws, the Government will consider something similar for inclusion in the other place and include potentially dangerous dogs such as doberman pinchers and alsations. As the Minister of State knows, I have read a list of accidents that have occurred over the past few months. The only one in which a death occurred involved an alsation. The male owner was savaged to death while his wife tried vainly to rescue him from the savage onslaught of their previously pet dog.
752 Dangerous dogs are of concern, particularly in urban areas. We appreciate that the Government have taken some action, but the problem still remains because the Bill does not address the wider problem. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) pointed out, 25 per cent. of major accidents in the past 12 months in London necessitating hospitalisation of the victims were committed by American pit bull terriers. That means that 75 per cent. were not, and the bill does not touch that 75 per cent. The amendment is probing the Minister of State to find out what the Government intend to do. I certainly look forward to hearing her comments.
§ Mr. McAllion
I shall also do a spot of probing in respect of the Government's attitude to rottweilers. The Bill singles out and bans only fighting breeds. The Home Secretary justified that course of action because the threat of fighting dogs presented a different degree of seriousness from other breeds of dog. The Minister of State knows that rottweilers are capable of attacks of unparalleled ferocity. She knows also that rottweilers are very unpredictable. The two dogs that killed my constituent were the same dogs as she had taken out on every day of her holiday and had previously posed no threat to her. In those circumstances, no one would have had any reason to assume that the dogs posed any threat to the girl. No one knows why the dogs suddenly turned and killed.
Although I accept that rottweilers are not bred like fighting dogs to kill and that that is not part of their nature, they still present an awesome threat. Is it the home Secretary's intention to include rottweilers in the measures concerning other especially dangerous dogs? If that is his intention, is he fully satisfied that the only restriction that should be placed upon them is that they should be kept on a leash and muzzled in public? In an article in Dog World, the rottweiler breeder Mary MacPhail stressed the need to socialise and train rottweilers, to enable them to fit into society:Breeders must realise that they have a special responsibility to screen rigorously in order to ensure the proper placement of puppies in homes with owners who are able to understand their character and who have the time and inclination to train and exercise them.
The Bill contains no provision that would enable rottweiler owners to be properly screened. The Rottweiler Society will, I am sure, do all that is within its power to ensure that that happens, but there are back-street breeders who will sell those dogs to almost anyone. I want to know what the Government intend to do about that problem.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said that these were probing amendments. His first point related to the definition of fighting dogs in clause 1. He well knows that the purpose of clause 1 is to prohibit dogs that are bred specifically for fighting. Both he and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said that they were not pressing for rottweilers and other dogs to be included at this stage in the definition of dogs bred for fighting. Indeed, they could not be, because they are not bred for that purpose. The Government do not consider that prohibiting the ownership of rottweilers can be justified, because they are not fighting dogs. Therefore, such a prohibition should not apply to them.
753 I take note of what both the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) have said. Provision is made, in exceptional circumstances, for the Secretary of State to use his reserve powers in clause 2 to impose both muzzling and leashing conditions on all dogs of any type, if he considers that that type of dog could be a serious danger to the public. It is important to note that the provisions of clause 2 apply to a whole breed.
Moreover, clause 3(4) enables the courts to declare that an order under section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 could be made where a dog is shown to have caused injury to a person and to specify the measures to be taken for keeping the dog under proper control, whether by muzzling, or by keeping it on a lead, or by excluding it from specified places, or otherwise. May I point out to the hon. Member for Bradford, South that it is possible for people to make such an application before there is an attack? If people are concerned about a neighbour's dog—believing that it might be dangerous—they can apply, under subsection (4), for assistance.
The hon. Member for Erdington also asked me about dogs that are bred not specifically for fighting but because they have aggressive tendencies. A few interesting contributions have been made, including that of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) who is particularly concerned about the way in which some dogs are bred. If that becomes a problem in the case of dogs other than American pit bull terriers, whose immense shoulder and jaw strength can cause immense harm to human beings and other dogs, the Home Secretary will be able to implement the provisions of clause 2 and order that such a breed should be muzzled and kept on a leash in public at all times.
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin
Is the right hon. Lady saying that hon. Members and members of the general public will have to quote cases showing a pattern of these dogs attacking people? It appears from the evidence of muscle structure and capability that there are more placid and less dangerous creatures locked up in zoos, yet the Home Secretary will allow these dogs to walk the face of the earth until the public can prove they are becoming a danger.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
It is important to deal with aggressive dogs case by case, or we would automatically have to look at rottweilers as a complete breed. Rather than having a draconian provision applying to a substantial number of dogs, there should be a provision that affects only a small number of dogs specifically kept at a particular place, not rottweilers across the country. If the hon. Gentleman would like to pursue this matter and to send us further evidence, we would certainly consider it.
§ Mr. McAllion
I should like to be clear about the Government's intention. The Minister says that they will use the clause 2 powers to categorise the entire rottweiler breed as a specially dangerous breed. Is that correct?
§ Mrs. Rumbold
There would have to be specific reasons that would cause the Home Secretary to use his reserve powers under clause 2 and impose muzzling and leashing conditions on all dogs of any type if he considered that they presented a danger to the public. I am not saying exactly what the hon. Gentleman says; I am saying that 754 that would come about, with care, only in exceptional circumstances, after evidence, consultation and the approval of both Houses of Parliament. There would have to be further debate on the matter, but the provision exists. If everyone considers that there is sufficient cause for alarm, the Home Secretary can use that power. It will enable him to impose a specified restriction on dogs deemed to present a serious danger to the public. It is an important measure.
§ Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)
We are talking about breeds other than the pit bull terrier—dobermans, rottweilers and perhaps alsatians. It has been pointed out several times that all those breeds have track records of being dangerous dogs and doing a great deal of damage. Although it would perhaps be draconian to undertake the suggested measures, they would involve only leashes, which the owners already possess, and muzzles, which are not expensive. That would be a small price to pay for the safety of all those people who are in danger.
Mauling is not the only issue. I believe that many people are afraid of using public places, such as beaches, because they see a rottweiler or alsatian being exercised there. It may be draconian to suggest that all these breeds should be included in the legislation. Leashes and muzzles are not expensive for owners, although they might slightly dent the macho image.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
Indeed. I do not disagree with my hon. Friend's comments. A few days ago, a lady came to see me to discuss controlling alsatians. She had an alsatian which had not one but two muzzles on it. She proceeded to take them off as soon as she got into my office, but that is another matter. The dog was extremely well behaved and, I am happy to say, caused no concern either to me or to its owner.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) said, society has an unfortunate image, in that the dogs that we are concerned about have been purchased by a small minority of people for the purpose of giving them the image of people who require extra protection or who are aggressive. Any society that contains people who feel that they need to own dogs that are aggressive in both looks and nature is itself slightly questionable.
From April 1992, the Environmental Protection Act 1990, about which my hon. Friend spoke during the registration of dogs debate, will provide an adequate solution to some of these problems. It will be administered by local councils and the London boroughs and their dog wardens, and will ensure that the environment generally is much cleaner and that stray dogs are no longer allowed to roam. Some of the problems to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham referred will therefore be taken care of. However, the answer to the problem of controlling aggressive dogs is contained in other provisions in the Bill, such as the stiff penalties that will be introduced for owners who do not properly control their dogs.
We do not believe that there is a case at present for imposing blanket controls on any breed or for the drastic step of banning breeds in the way in which we shall prohibit the ownership of pit bull terriers. Such a ban would involve the destruction of a tremendous number of large dogs, many of which have not caused any harm. Clause 1 will protect the public against fighting dogs, while 755 the other clauses will protect dogs that might be considered aggressive, but only a few of which are likely to cause harm.
§ Mr. Corbett
Although I shall not flog the point, this is one of the areas on which we could have had a good deal more discussion if we had had a proper Committee stage. We are in our present dilemma because the Government have chosen to make a distinction between dogs t. are bred for fighting and other dogs tnat can, on occasions, be dangerous although they are not bred specifically for fighting.
Even at this late stage, and before the Bill goes to another place, perhaps the Minister will consider that there is a second category, including rottweilers, alsatians and dobermans, for which we could consider establishing some test of competence for owners. I know that there will be objections to the idea, but we lay down similar tests before we allow people to drive cars and we make an assessment of competence before people can get anywhere near having a shotgun licence or a firearms certificate.
I understand that it sounds awfully bureaucratic, but if, as I am sure we all accept, our real business is to encourage more responsible dog ownership, there should be the expectation that, irrespective of the breed of dog, the owner is competent to make the trained dog obey a few simple commands such as "sit", "heel" and "go". There could, for example, be a competence certificate, which could be part of third-party insurance cover. I understand that some breed societies run such schemes and that they can attest to the competence of registered owners. In such circumstances insurance companies might care to offer a discount.
Some of us have received representations from those who are responsible for the training and provision of guide dogs for the blind, and we are reminded of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). Many alsatians or German shepherds, as well as labradors, are used to assist those who are blind the better to get around. If alsatians or German shepherds were added to the specially dangerous list, it would make it virtually impossible for such dogs to be used to assist the blind. If the attachment were to be made, the entire breed would be stigmatised.
I am sure that the Minister of State will understand that because of the hour at which the debate is taking place what the Home Secretary said about the coming into effect of some important sections of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 next year may not have sunk home as well as it might have done had our exchanges been taking place at 3 pm, for example, rather than 2 am.
It is no part of my brief to try to persuade my right hon. and hon. Friends of the importance of what the Minister of State was saying, but I think that she was right to draw attention to clause 3(4), which allows orders to be made against dogs before they have caused injury. Many of us have received representations, especially over the weekend, from those who feel that they are in danger, irrespective of the breed of dog that is involved. The individual thinks, "There's that great dog down there and one of these days he will attack my kids."
There are dogs that are not under proper control, which have had inadequate training and are not regularly and properly exercised. Such dogs can be in the vicinity of 756 primary schools, old people's day centres and centres for the disabled, and their presence can terrify. In addition, there is the daily terror of many thousands of those who are responsible for delivering our mail. They know damn well that the moment that they put their hand on the gate of No. 53, as I think the Home Secretary said, the dog will go bananas. It may have been doing it for years, and perhaps to that extent the postman has become used to the experience. At the back of his mind, however, is the feeling that, as sure as God made little chickens, one of these days someone will have forgotten to put the bolt on the side gate and the brute will get out.
I say especially to my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) that the provision in clause 3 that is designed to enable people to go to the courts before a dog has had what used to be referred to as his one bite, to seek to get the animal under proper control, is an important one. I hope that the Minister of State will think about these matters before the Bill arrives in another place. In the expectation that she will do that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)
1 beg to move amendment No. 6, in clause 1, page I. line 20, after 'lead', insert—`( ) allow such a dog of which he is the owner to be kept in insecure conditions in and around the place where the owner is residing;'.
§ The Chairman
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 9, in clause 3, page 3, line 16, after 'place', insert'or in any other place where it has, or is likely to become, a danger to a member of the public'.No. 14, in clause 8, page 6, line 30, after 'enclosed', insertand including the common parts of any building in multiple occupation'.No. 26, in clause 8, page 6, line 31, at end insert`and any land adjoining such a place which is not securely fenced off from that place'.
§ Mr. Randall
The amendment is designed to ensure that we protect the public in the best possible way. Clause 1(2) provides:No person … allow such a dog of which he is the owner in a public place without being muzzled and kept on a lead".We support the use of muzzles and leads, but amendment No. 6 goes further than that by taking into account the place where the animal is kept. The amendment would add to clause 1(2) and forbid a person toallow such a dog of which he is the owner to be kept in insecure conditions in and around the place where the owner is residing".
The Bill proposes the use of muzzles and leads as an attempt to ensure that the public is protected when a dog is in a public place accompanied by its owner, but what happens when that dog is allowed out of the home unintentionally and is therefore unmuzzled and not on a lead? The consequences are serious if a dog bred for fighting is wandering the streets on its own. We should ensure that the home in which the dog is kept is secure. I believe that amendment No.6 is reasonable and sensible and I hope that it has the support of the Minister and the Committee.
757 What happens if a dog escapes from its home? Does the Minister agree that "insecure conditions" could threaten the safety of the public?
Amendment No.9 refers to clause 3, which relates to keeping dogs under control. Clause 3(1) states:If a dog is dangerously out of control in a public place … the owner"—or the person responsible for it—is guilty of an offence".Questions have already been asked on Second Reading about the definition of a public place. Amendment No.9 refers to "any other place" where the dog is a danger to any member of the public.
My constituency has many blocks of flats with security systems and a limited number of entrances. The aim of such security is to make such blocks private places so as to protect the residents. Some of the larger blocks have security guards and use special locking devices. My hon. Friends and I are concerned about the definition of "public place" in clause 3. What does the Minister mean by that?
In Hull, a person got into the ground floor of one of the blocks. Someone on one of the upper floors threatened that person by saying, "Unless you get out of here I'll set my dog on you." In those circumstances, there is a threat to a person's safety and security, yet the clause is restrictive as it uses the term "public place". Will the Minister define exactly "public place" and tell us whether the clause will apply to blocks of flats with such non-public places or whether there will be a loophole that could cause problems for those living in or visiting those areas?
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I wish briefly to refer to amendment No. 26. I tabled the amendment to probe what is meant by the term "public place". I read the notes on clauses after I had tabled the amendment, and my understanding is that "public place" is defined in law rather wider than it would appear to be in common-sense English.
I am sure that the Minister is aware that I am a keen walker and that I often speak on behalf of ramblers. I do not do so on this occasion, but I am conscious that many people enjoy walking. In recent years, some of them have experienced considerable problems on public footpaths. Such problems do not generally occur when people walk past traditional farms, because although farm dogs make a great deal of noise, if they are difficult they are usually chained. If they are running free, they usually behave themselves.
On the urban fringes, people are increasingly buying properties in the countryside. Footpaths run past those dwellings, and their owners often keep quite substantial dogs that, on many occasions, are not chained. I want to know whether "public place" will cover a right of way, and if so, how much of it will be covered. Will it be just the 2 ft or 3 ft of the path, or will it be any area close to the right of way that may have a dog on it, which would discourage people from using the footpath? I hope that the Minister can clarify that point.
What will be the responsibilities of people who take dogs with them when they walk on a public right of way? As I understand the existing legislation, if someone is on a public footpath he has a responsibility to have the dog under close control. That is difficult to define. My experience is that a large number of people who use 758 footpaths take dogs with them, but in no way could they be said to be under close control. The dogs are often allowed to bound ahead.
Twice recently, while walking on a footpath, I have been confronted by substantial dogs. They have run up to me and jumped up. In fact, once they had jumped up they turned out to be very friendly dogs. I do not like having a dog jump up at me, whether or not it is friendly. It was a great relief to discover that they were friendly. I do not think that my walk should be spoilt by someone's dog jumping up at me, whether or not it is friendly. The owners are often a long way behind, and in no position to stop their dogs behaving in that way.
I hope that the Minister will confirm that if someone is on a public footpath he has a duty to keep the dog at heel, and not allow it to bound ahead and upset other people who are walking on the footpath or to disturb livestock. Sheep and cattle are constantly being stopped from grazing because of the number of people on footpaths with dogs.
I do not want to stop people walking dogs on public footpaths in the countryside; I hope, however, that the Minister will make it clear that such people are responsible for keeping their dogs under close control—which means that they have control of the dogs and the dogs are close to them. Public places must include public footpaths and rights of way; people should have reasonable space, and should not be expected to walk past a large dog that may look as though it may be dangerous.
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin
I have been trying to count the number of multi-storey dwellings that my constituency contains. Because of the lateness of the hour it has become more and more difficult, but I hope that hon. Members will take my word for it when I tell them that there are more than 28. The Red Roads flats, for instance, are 32 storeys high. Some of those buildings are very pleasant to live in; some people prefer to live in them, because of the security and the ease with which they can be heated and decorated. One block—the Carron scheme block—is in particularly high demand.
I tabled amendment No. 14 because it would worry me if some barrack-room lawyer came along and said, "I know that the pavement is a public place, but it is a different matter once I have gained access to the secured entrance"—or hallway—"of my multi-storey flat, which is a communal part of the property. I pay a rent; I am a tenant. My dog can be free to roam there, if I wish it to." That would put other tenants in danger—along with tradesmen, milkmen, postmen and, indeed, Members of Parliament, who are surely entitled to visit buildings that are, say, 22 storeys high, with four families on each landing, and to regard the common entrances, stairways and lifts as places to which access should be free.
It has been suggested that tenants of some multi-storey flats are so lazy that, when their dogs need to relieve themselves, they show the dogs to the lift and press the gound-floor button, whereupon the dogs take care of everything else. That suggests that the dogs are more intelligent than the tenants. I think that some people who own "dangerous breeds" are not quite the full shilling: they are not right in the head. After all, no intelligence test is involved in dog ownership. Yet we allow those people to own some of the most dangerous creatures known to man.
759 I know that the Bill cannot cover everything, but I hope that the Minister can reassure us that stupid tenants who happen to be irresponsible dog owners will not be a liability to others, or to members of the public. I include deck-access blocks here. Some people used to say—I hope that I shall not offend the women's section of the Labour party—
§ Mr. Martin
There is only one member of that section present anyway.
Some people say that, if only women designed buildings, we would have better designs. One of the worst-designed buildings in my constituency, the Balgrayhill deck access block, was designed by a woman architect. Needless to say, she does not live in the building. My concern is that two storeys up there is a deck access. The architect's idea was that it would serve as the pavement, where neighbours could chat to one another, in the style of the other tenement communities that existed before Glasgow's slums were pulled down. It was a great idea, but the alsatians, rottweilers and pit bull terriers are allowed to roam at their leisure. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the provision to control dogs in public places will cover stairways, lifts, and the decks of deck access buildings.
Glasgow and Edinburgh must have more tenemental property than anywhere in Britain. Some of them are modelled on the kind of tenements that are seen in Paris. They are lovely places in which to live, but if I encountered an aggressive dog, I would rather do so in the street than in the confined entrance to a multi-storey block of flats or tenement. In that situation, I could only turn my back on the dog and run—and if one is three stone overweight, one might not be able to outrun the dog.
Mention was made of guide dogs for the blind, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) was present in the Chamber with his beautiful dog only an hour or two ago. I learned of a case in which a blind tenant in one 32-storey block took his guide dog into the lift, not realising that a pit bull terrier was already in it. Most dogs are territorial, and even those that do not have aggression bred into them will, in certain circumstances, protect what they regard as their territory. In that case, the pit bull terrier had a go at the guide dog.
Imagine what a terrifying experience it would be to find oneself in a lift that broke down, if one was sharing it with a dog—even one under the control of its owner. One might be trapped in that lift, in pitch black, for two hours or more—and in those circumstances, the dog could grow frightened, and that fear might make it become aggressive. I have described the sort of situations that tenants throughout the country confront every day, so including stairways, lifts and decks in the definition of a public place would help.
§ Mr. Douglas French (Gloucester)
I seek clarification as to the difference between a public place and a private place, in the context of a constituency example. I refer to a case in which access to two houses is via a private path that runs alongside another property's back garden, in which is kept a particularly ferocious alsatian. That animal puts everyone who uses that access in fear of their lives, to the extent that the postman, milkman, and others who would otherwise deliver services to the two properties in question refuse to use the path.
760 The owners have sought every remedy available to them, but have drawn a blank under all the legislation that they have examined. However, clause 3(4) of the Bill clarifies the meaning of section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871. I understand that that clause would have the same effect as the amendments before us in that it would provide a remedy in the case that I have cited. Clause 3(4) clarifies the scope of section 2 of the 1871 Act, and the application of that Act is not confined to a public place. I shall be grateful if the Minister can confirm that my understanding is correct.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
The first point raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) concerned clause I (2)(d) and the question whether a clog should be secure and what would happen if it got out and became a stray. I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that, under clause 1(2)(e) a person may notabandon such a dog of which he is the owner or, being the owner or for the time being in charge of such dog, allow it to stray".That provision will bite, because it requires that no person shall allow his prohibited dog to stray.
Any owner who kept his dog in insecure conditions would certainly fall foul of the provision, and we believe that it would act as a powerful incentive to those who wanted to hold on to their dogs to ensure that they were, indeed, securely kept. Someone who keeps a dog designated a dangerous dog under the Bill—for example, a pit bull terrier—will already have accepted that a number of constraints will apply in respect of that dog, one of which is specified in clause 1(2)(e).
Moreover, we believe that, if a dog were kept in what appeared to be insecure conditions, clause 3(4) would bite. That provision would ensure that a neighbour or anyone else who knew that someone was the owner of a pit bull terrier which, in his view, was not securely contained, could request a court order specifying that the dog should be brought under control. It will be within the court's power to order that the dog should be kept in secure conditions. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West that the problem is already dealt with under clause 1(2)(e).
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) voiced their concern about public ways and walkways. I have sympathy with the intention behind the amendments, which I understand to be to ensure the protection of members of the public entering private property on lawful business—for example, postmen, of whom we have talked before.
The proposals are also aimed to ensure that the provisions of clause 3, dealing with dogs that are dangerously out of control, apply to walkways and other public places in blocks of flats such as those to which the hon. Member for Springburn has referred. I understand that point, because I, too, have blocks of flats in my constituency where such difficulties could arise. That is why we took the matter into account when drafting the Bill, and we believe that we have covered it fully in the provisions.
The Dogs Act 1871, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester referred, is strengthened and clarified by clause 3(4), which gives any person the right to make a complaint about any dog in any place, and for the court, on upholding the complaint, to specify measures to keep the dog under proper control, including the areas 761 where it is not allowed to go. In other words, the court can say, "That dog must not be allowed on that particular walkway." That gives the postmen and the worried neighbour the possibility of ensuring that a dog is no longer allowed to be in an area where it has previously caused alarm or even injury.
Our definition of a public place in clause 8(2) is broader than that in previous related legislation; it also includes areas to which the public have access. That extends the definition to many areas sometimes thought of as private property, such as shopping precincts and common areas in blocks of flats. I think that the extended pathway that the hon. Member for Springburn was talking about when he mentioned the unfortunate lady architect who designed the block in question, is covered in that clause. Therefore, it would be unnecessary to agree to his amendment, because it is already taken care of.
May I say a final word about amendment No. 9 and the extension of dangerous dog provisions to all places. I have said previously that we do not need this additional provision because of the action that members of the public will be able to take under the Dogs Act 1871. Furthermore, section 16 of the Public Order Act 1986 gives extra protection because it gives members of the public an implied right to enter private property on lawful business without let or hindrance.
The lawful business aspect raises the query whether, under this amendment, it would be possible for a burglar to bring an action against an owner whose dog had been dangerously out of control when the burglar broke in. I am sure that the hon. Member would agree that that would be neither sensible nor fair. However, it serves to illustrate just how difficult it is to draft reasonable provisions regarding private property. I hope that hon. Members will agree that we have given considerable thought to how best to define public places and that we have tried to come up with a working definition.
As regards the issue mentioned by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), the definition of a public place in the Bill is much wider than that contained in the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847, which is confined to streets and lands controlled by a local authority. The definition was deliberately extended to include some privately owned land and the Bill specifically states that places to which the public have access are covered by the phrase. Therefore, I think that I can assure him that public footpaths will certainly be included.
In his amendment the hon. Gentleman adds to public place land which adjoins it but is "not securely fenced off" from it. The word "securely" seems to open the definition very wide. If a dog can get into a garden or a field it could be argued that that alone would show that the fence was not secure. I do not think that that was quite what the hon. Member meant. He was perhaps talking about catching a dog which strays on to a privately owned field or open field and may cause some damage to farm animals. He may have been worried about dogs worrying sheep.
Public footpaths are public places within this Bill. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish wanted to know what would happen about close control of dogs. The 762 intention is that dogs should be on a lead, so I trust that in future when he walks across the country on public footpaths and he meets dogs they will be on a lead.
With those comments I hope that I have answered the questions put by Opposition Members and that they will not feel the need to press their amendments.
§ Mr. Randall
The Minister's comments about clause 1(2)(e) worry me a little. She said quite clearly that the courts might have to interpret the end of that clause, which talks about the owner allowing the dog to stray, because if a dog got out of the house in which it was kept against the will of the owner or the person responsible for it, one could argue that that person was not intentionally allowing the dog to stray.
The way in which clause 1(2)(e) is phrased leaves matters a little open and suggests that the person passively let the dog out to have a run on its own. That is how it could be interpreted, but perhaps the matter will be reconsidered in another place. We shall not divide the Committee. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. McAllion
I beg to move amendment No. 18, in page 1, line 22, at end insert—'(f) be in charge of such a dog who is under 18 years of age.'.
§ The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means
With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 19, in page 1, line 23, at end insert—'(g) be allowed to own a dog to which this section applies who has been convicted of offences involving violence or of drug-related offences.'.No. 21, in clause 2, page 2, line 44, leave out 'and (e)' and insert `(e) and (f)'.
No. 22, in clause 2, page 2, line 44, after '(e)', insert 'and (g)'.
§ Mr. McAllion
These are, in effect, probing amendments that seek to establish the Government's position.
On Second Reading, a number of hon. Members referred to the problem of minors being in charge of fighting dogs or dangerous breeds of dogs. Amendment No. 18 would make it illegal for anyone under 18 to be in charge of such a dog.
We believe that there is an overwhelming case to pass an amendment that would protect minors in terms of their being allowed to be in charge of such dogs in public. The Minister will remember that when my constituent was killed, she and her friend were in charge of two rottweilers. Both were only 11 years old and simply could not cope with the violence of the attack. Yet the owner had done nothing illegal in allowing those youngsters to be in charge of the dogs in public. Sadly, if the Bill is enacted, the owner would still be doing nothing illegal in allowing two 11-year-olds to be in charge of them.
I recently received a bulletin from a group in the United States called Citizens United to Revitalise Education, which made out the case for banning pit bull terriers. It listed a series of attacks by those dogs between 1979 and 1990. It did not claim to be a comprehensive list because it contained only attacks of which the organisation was aware. The attacks resulted in 58 people being killed, 41 of whom were children or minors. Of the 45 other serious attacks, 21 were on children or minors. That shows that 763 children or minors are particularly vulnerable to attacks by such dogs and are far less likely to survive than an adult or someone over 18.
We believe that there is a clear responsibility on the Government to introduce measures to prevent minors from being placed in positions where they are vulnerable to such attacks.
Amendment No. 18 proposes that no one under 18 should be allowed to be in charge of such dogs. It is a probing amendment and 18 may not be the appropriate age below which to define a minor, but we say that there must be an appropriate age.
The Bill creates the offence of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place and defines such an offence as leaving the dog in charge of a person who could not reasonably be believed to be a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog. It is obvious that any owner who allowed a five, six or seven-year-old to be in charge of a dangerous dog in public would be guilty of such an offence, but it is not so obvious that he would be guilty of the offence if the person in charge of the dog were aged between 11 and 14. The Government must define the age at which it would be an offence for any owner to allow a minor to be in charge of powerful dogs in public. I hope that the Minister will tell us the Government's thinking on the problem.
The second amendment would make it illegal for anyone who has been convicted of violent or drug-related offences to own dogs covered by the Bill. My concern does not date only from the present. In May 1989, I asked the then Home Secretary whether he had haddiscussions with chief officers of police concerning the increasing use of dogs to protect premises subject to police raids; and if he has any plans to introduce measures to assist police in overcoming this problem.He told me that he had had no discussions with chief officers and that he hadno plans to introduce further measures to control guard dogs."—[Officiul Report, 26 May 1989; Vol. 153, c. 757–58.]I understand that the present Home Secretary has had discussions with the Police Federation and with other representatives of police officers. However, there is no evidence in the Bill that he is doing anything to try to deal with the problem.
On Second Reading, we heard from the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), the spokesman for the Police Federation, who warned of increasing attacks on the police. He spoke of the support from the police for tougher measures against dangerous dogs. He referred to a study that had been carried out in the Metropolitan police area over six months and which had listed 237 attacks by ferocious dogs. He especially mentioned two attacks. In one, a large group of youths who had 10 pit bull terriers with them threatened the police in Kennington park. In another, there was growing evidence that drug dealers were using fighting dogs and dangerous breeds of clog as an offensive weapon to prevent police raids against their premises. He also referred to the position in America. American police are being forced to use sledgehammers to break down doors and to shoot on sight any dogs that may be behind the doors because of that problem. The bulletin to which I referred earlier lists a number of cases in which youngsters were killed by dogs that were being kept for the purpose of protecting drug dealers and which had got out of control.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) and I suggest that there are two 764 serious problems—the question of minors being allowed to be in charge of dangerous dogs in public and the criminal use to which such dogs are being put. Neither the Minister nor the Bill does anything about those problems. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the Government's intentions on the matter.
§ Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)
I will speak briefly in support of what my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) has said. The document that has been dispatched from America, to which my hon. Friend referred, makes harrowing reading. I suggest that anyone who has not read it does so to see recorded some of the incidents regarding pit bull terriers in particular. There is no doubt that pit bull terriers have been used for some time—certainly since 1987—to safeguard the activities of those involved with narcotics.
I will briefly explain to the House what happened so that it can understand, if it does not already, the savagery of those dogs and the difficulties that law enforcement officers have in America. They are the same difficulties that law enforcement officers could have here in going about their lawful duty, such as attempting to break into a house in which, it has been suggested, quantities of drugs are being used for illegal purposes.
John Ford, the mayor of Tuskegee, was jogging up a wooded hill when he was attacked in October 1988 by two pit bull terriers. He managed ultimately to climb up a tree and he tried to keep the dogs off by clubbing them with a piece of the tree. His cries for help were eventually heard by someone who shot one of the animals dead with a 357 Magnum and wounded the other, which was then finished off by Ford himself when he got down from the tree. He had to go to hospital for severe leg injuries which included 23 puncture wounds. The animals had lived in the wild for two months after escaping from a drug dealer who had used them as guard dogs. That was a growing problem in the state.
A police officer called Bert Ricassa was attacked by a pit bull terrier as he tried to arrest a narcotics suspect in 1987. He drew his service revolver and shot the animal four times at point blank range as it bit his thigh. However, another officer had to club the dying animal on the head and then had to use his night-stick to pry its jaws open. Ricassa was bitten four times and required 400 stitches. That happened in Baltimore.
I have a catalogue of more than 100 cases of attacks by pit bull terriers. When we consider that it was almost impossible to free the victims from the dogs and how on one occasion a service revolver pumped four shots into a dog at point-blank range, but the dog would not release its grip on the officer, it is clear why there had to be legislation against pit bull terriers.
Hon. Members are concerned that pit bull terriers will be with us for some time to come. The Bill will allow those owners who have responsibly registered their dogs and have certificates proving that their dogs have been neutered to keep their dogs. In fact, they may keep them for another 12 or 15 years.
Criminals who have been convicted of crimes of violence or drugs-related offences should not have the right to keep such dogs as guard dogs. It is not a matter of keeping irresponsible animals; it is more a matter of irresponsible owners keeping those vicious animals as 765 protection from police raids on their premises. We should legislate to ensure that no one can keep a dog of the kind about which we are concerned for that purpose—what I would describe as an unlawful purpose.
I hope that the Secretary of State has considered with the police authorities what kind of protection he can offer to our police officers. I do not think that they should be armed with .375 Magnums so that they can shoot their way into the homes of people they suspect of drugs-related offences. However, we cannot have a situation where, even after the police have broken down a door and gained access, they are confronted if not by several pit bull terriers, at least by dogs that have been trained specifically to attack anyone entering the premises. We must consider those issues seriously and I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply.
With regard to minors looking after what could be claimed to be dangerous dogs, the amendment is a probing one. A 16-year-old may be perfectly capable of looking after a dog, whether or not it is a dangerous breed. However, we must consider children who take those dogs out, particularly if those dogs are pit bull terriers.
The difficulty with the pit bull terrier is that it can and does attack without warning. There are hundreds of recorded cases of such attacks in the United States. It has been reported that the animal usually does not bark, growl, bare its teeth or make a threatening display. Its neck hairs do not stand on end as is the case with other breeds. It does not crouch for a spring. It simply runs silently at its victim. Unlike any other breed, a pit bull has been bred for that purpose. It knows submission signals that show that its opponent has had enough and it will continue the fight to the death. We cannot allow a minor to be in charge of such a dog because the consequences if it should escape may be horrendous. Before we record the kind of cases that occur in America—something that none of us would want to see here—legislation must be in force to ensure that such things do not happen.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I support the amendment. My information is that, in the Greater Manchester area, some people who are involved in drugs are now keeping such dogs partly to deter police raids, partly to deter rival drug dealers and, in some cases, to keep control over people who are pushing drugs for them. That is a worrying development and it makes life much more difficult for police officers.
It is not sufficient to insist that anyone who has a conviction for violence or for drug dealing should not keep one of those dogs. I would make it a condition of the regulations that no one should keep such a dog on premises in which someone who has had a conviction is living. It would be very easy for someone to put the ownership of the dog into the name of another person on the premises and still keep the dog to make detection more difficult and to carry on the illegal activities for which the dog is kept. We should say, "We dearly want to see that breed of dogs phased out, but, in the circumstances you can keep one, but you must not keep it in premises in which someone is living who has been convicted of a crime of violence or a drug-related offence."
§ Mrs. Rumbold
I understand why the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) moved the amendment. He told the Committee that he has in mind the tragic incident last year in which two dogs killed the daughter of one of 766 his constituents and were under the control of a young woman of 11. It is just possible that his amendment is aimed at the wrong target. It would make the person in charge of the dog liable to the criminal offence, rather than the owner of the dog who had allowed the person concerned to be in charge of it. It is true that the greater culpability must be with the owner rather than with the person in charge.
The Bill recognises the responsibility of all dog owners in that respect. The criminal offence in clause 3, which applies to all dogs, makes it clear that the owner and the person in charge of the dog who is not the owner can be guilty of the offence of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place.
Clause 3(2) creates a defence if the accused person can prove that the dog was in the charge of a person whom he reasonably believed to be a fit and proper person to be in charge of it. Clearly, it will be difficult for the owner of a prohibited or dangerous dog who was irresponsible enough to allow a young child to be in charge to convince the courts that that child was a fit and proper person. If convicted, the owner would face up to six months' imprisonment and, possibly, a stiff fine as well. If it was an aggravated offence where injury was caused, the owner would face up to two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
In addition, the hon. Gentleman will find that in clause 8(3) there is some help in interpreting references to dogs kept on a lead. That clause makes it clear that references to a dog being kept on a lead are to its being securely held in that manner by the person for the time being in charge of it. Again, it would be difficult for anyone to claim, particularly an owner, that a young child—for example, a girl of 11—without the physical strength of an adult, could reasonably be expected to ensure that the types of dog covered by clauses 1 and 2 are securely held.
§ Mr. McAllion
It is a matter of how we interpret the words "young child". Perhaps people can accept that it relates to a child of I I or 12. Is there an age limit at which the Government would issue guidance that no one should allow a person below that age to be in charge of a dog?
§ Mrs. Rumbold
As the hon. Gentleman said, it is quite difficult to do that, because a 16-year-old boy who is fully grown as a young man would be competent and capable of containing a dog. There is a difficulty in trying to define the specific age of any young person, given the many differences in growth among people. The hon. Gentleman could accept that those clauses would be a powerful incentive to any dog owner to make absolutely certain that, whatever type of dog is involved—the matter has less to do with age than with physique and ability to control a dog—the person would be a fit and proper person to look after that dog.
§ Mr. Corbett
I go a long way with the Minister—age is not the main determinant. However, an owner could say, in his defence, "This person, aged I has regularly taken the dog out twice a week without any bother for the last two years. The attack that led to the court appearance was so unusual that I had no reason to believe that that person would be unable to exercise proper control." Will the Minister at least consider introducing a minimum age so that the risk can be reduced?
§ Mrs. Rumbold
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am not sure that it follows that if one identifies the minimum age one necessarily can convince the courts, due to the individual circumstances that surround each case. A child of five in charge of, say, an alsatian would clearly be unable to exercise proper control. Any court would say that that was neither safe nor sensible. If, however, a girl of I4 was in charge of such a dog, it would be for the court to reach a decision. Case law would, I believe, cover such an incident.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun also referred to criminals owning pit bull terriers. It is certainly true that criminals own large dogs. It is also true that people with no criminal convictions own them. Most men like to have large and aggressive dogs as a macho, fashion accessory. Some of them are pit bull terriers. We want to ensure that those dogs are not used by criminals to intimidate, attack or help them in their criminal activities. The Bill achieves that purpose without the hon. Gentleman's amendment. It would be highly unusual to single out, as an additional punishment for people convicted of violent and drug-related offences, the loss of the right to own a dog.
No one would argue that people convicted of those offences should not forfeit other rights, such as the right to own a car. It is more likely that criminals would use a car in connection with their activities rather than a dog. A convincing case can be made for that, notwithstanding the American experience of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun.
§ Mr. McKelvey
If a common poacher were caught poaching, the courts would take off him the means by which he poached. That sometimes includes the car in which the poacher carries off his loot. If we cannot legislate to stop felons using dogs for that purpose, but if they are convicted for using dogs for that purpose, presumably the dogs can be taken away from them. That would prevent them from using dogs for that purpose in the future. If a person can be prevented from keeping a dog because he or she ill-treats it, I do not understand why we cannot legislate to prevent people from keeping dogs and using them for that illicit purpose.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
If a person were caught using a dog for the criminal purposes of bringing in drugs or using drugs, that person would be imprisoned. The dog would not then have an owner and would have to be put down. The hon. Gentleman has this very unpleasant picture of criminals and others going around with their pit bull terriers by their side. Let us consider, however, what will happen after the Bill becomes law. Those people will be required to have their dogs on leads and muzzled. That will reduce their capacity to intimidate the public and will provide the general public with protection against injury.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
Police officers often have to go into a house where there is one of these dogs. These circumstances will be particularly worrying for a police officer who knows that he is involved in a drugs raid and that such a dog is inside the house.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
There is nothing to prevent a police officer, if he wishes, from taking with him experienced people such as veterinary surgeons who would be happy to assist. I do not believe that that will present a great difficulty. Those who did not muzzle and keep their dogs on a lead in public, whether they were criminals or not. would be criminals afterwards, and face the possibility of a gaol sentence and a heavy fine. The dogs would be neutered. I am not sure that many of the people whom the hon. Gentleman has in mind would regard having a castrated dog on a lead and a muzzle as good for their image—
§ It being Three o'clock, THE SECOND DEPUTY CHAIRMAN, pursuant to the Order this day, put the Question already proposed from the Chair.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The SECOND DEPUTY CHAIRMAN then put forthwith the remaining Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
§ Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 2 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, without amendment; read the Third time, and passed.