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Dangerous Dogs (Amendment)

Volume 495: debated on Wednesday 1 July 2009

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997; and for connected purposes.

It is a pleasure to present this Bill to the House today. Before laying out what it is designed to achieve, I would like to pay tribute to the immense commitment shown by Claire Robinson of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and by Dave Joyce of the Communication Workers Union in putting together the campaign to change the law relating to the responsibilities of dog owners.

Why does the law need changing? At the moment, if a dog attacks in a public place, the owner can be prosecuted. However, this is not the case if the attack takes place on private property, yet there is clearly a problem as far as such attacks are concerned. Let us look at the statistics. Around 6,000 postal workers are attacked by dogs every year, with 70 per cent. of those attacks taking place on private property. In one instance, at Christmas 2007, Paul Coleman, a postal worker in Sheffield, was attacked so badly that he needed skin grafts and plastic surgery. At Christmas 2008, Keith Davies nearly lost a leg in a horrific attack in Cambridge. Of course, we all hear about the horrific attacks on children, who sometimes suffer from awful lifelong disfigurements as a consequence, and sometimes we hear about the terrible deaths that occur when children are attacked in the home by dogs.

Clause 1 would therefore aim to extend the offence of having a dog dangerously out of control, so that it applied not only to attacks in public places, but to those in private places, such as homes and gardens. For instance, where postmen and women or other workers have to visit properties and are attacked in the gardens or within the dwelling, section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 would apply. It would also cover instances where children are injured and/or killed in the home.

Such a measure is commanding support from diverse quarters. The Dogs Trust says:

“This Bill… places additional emphasis on dog owners to take responsibility for their dog’s behaviour at all times”.

That is an important point. At the moment, if there is an attack on a child or adult by a dog, more often than not, that dog is destroyed, but it is the owner who needs to be the focus of attention and who needs to face the consequences. That point is also supported by the Kennel Club, which says that this part of the Bill is warmly welcomed because greater responsibility is being placed on the owners to ensure that their dogs are not out of control.

Thanks to a campaign by the RSPCA, nearly 4,000 members of the public contacted their MPs to support the Bill. One comment is particularly worthy of mention. It comes from a mother whose own child was attacked by her own dogs some years ago and who has been campaigning for a change in the law since then. She said to me:

“I wholeheartedly support any moves for safety and find the current situation regarding postal workers and dog aggression wholly unacceptable. The consequences are devastating and life-changing.”

I have met this mother and I can assure the House that, every week, she has to live with what happened—week-in, week-out; year-in, year-out. Her view is that education is the key to changing attitudes towards dog ownership. Dogs need to be properly trained and owners need to understand that sensible precautions should be followed to protect visitors and children in the home.

It is common sense that a child should never be left unsupervised in the company of a dog and it is surely not too difficult for dog owners to protect health visitors, meter readers, social workers or even the people who deliver parcels to the door by putting the dog in another room for the duration of a visit or while the door is being opened to a visitor. Surely such simple measures as a post box on the gate or a cage around the letter box in the door would do a great deal to protect postal workers. In that context, the ability to prosecute would be a useful tool for the police to employ in the most extreme cases and it could act as an important deterrent, helping to reinforce the message that education programmes are designed to convey.

Many other organisations support the measure. The Royal Mail, crucially, is giving it full support, as are the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management, Prospect and the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians. Unison also supports the measure because of concerns for its members who regularly visit patients and clients at home; while the group safety, health and environment manager of Scottish and Southern Energy has also pledged support. The legal department of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has received 30 claims for dog bites from members over the past two years, the bulk of which were from home delivery workers. In one case, a worker was so severely traumatised by a dog’s attack on her as she delivered goods to a private address that she gave up her job.

The case for change is clear and the range of public bodies and members of the public supporting the Bill is growing by the day. The Bill proposes to take the emphasis away from the breed and focus on the deed. Currently, all dogs classified under section 1 of the 1991 Act as belonging to a breed dedicated to fighting are subject to seizure by the police, but on many occasions they are seized only to be registered and handed back to the owners on the grounds that those dogs are responsibly owned and managed. This practice ties up valuable police resources and time, which could be put to better use in tackling the growing problem of so-called status dogs.

The current law is not working. RSPCA inspectors, many police officers and local authority wardens are seeing many more different types of large powerful dogs on the streets, and section 1 of the 1991 Act has not had the desired result of preventing the four named types of dogs from becoming established in the UK. It has just not worked. It is the view of the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club that it really is time to change the Act in order to allow section 1 dogs to be exempted and added to the register without necessarily being seized—if it is the police’s judgment that that is appropriate.

As I mentioned earlier, the Bill will focus attention on the deed rather than the breed. It is the action of owners—what they encourage or allow their dogs to do—that is important, rather than the breed or type of dog involved. This measure in my Bill is designed to give the police discretion to act accordingly.

It is time to take action. Support for these measures is widespread. Furthermore, the Scottish Parliament is legislating on the issue in the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced on Monday 22 June. It proposes that warning notices be issued to owners of dogs whose behaviour is deemed to be unacceptable. We should consider doing the same in England as part of a process beginning with education and ending, in the worst cases, with prosecution backed by the appropriate penalties.

I understand that Northern Ireland is considering legislative change, as is the Welsh Assembly. England cannot afford to be left out. Its residents deserve the extra protection offered to their Welsh, Scottish and Irish neighbours, and the Bill provides the means to deliver it.

Question put and agreed to.


That Ms Angela C. Smith, Michael Connarty, Norman Baker, Mr. Bob Laxton, Geraldine Smith, Mr. Ian Cawsey, Natascha Engel, Joan Ryan, Mr. Mike Hancock, Mr. Michael Clapham, Kelvin Hopkins and Miss Anne Begg present the Bill.

Ms Angela C. Smith accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October and to be printed (Bill 128).