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House of Commons Hansard
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22 March 2010
Volume 508
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4. What recent estimate he has made of the incidence of the use of dogs in crime. [322941]

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The data are not collected centrally but we are aware of the growing concerns about the use of dangerous dogs to harass and intimidate people. This has prompted the Government to introduce the new gang injunction power under the Policing and Crime Act 2009 and to launch a public consultation on managing and controlling dangerous dogs.

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Let me get this right: the Home Secretary announces, for a headline in the pre-election period, that he will force all dog owners to take out insurance on their chihuahuas, or whatever their dog might be, but then the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says that is absolutely ludicrous because it will penalise all responsible dog owners and it will have no effect on those who already have dogs that are used as weapons. Does the Minister agree with her colleague, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that this was a lunatic idea and take some responsibility on behalf of the Home Office for this ridiculous electioneering?

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Let me make it clear that the proposal and consultation are a joint effort between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office. It is right that we consider extending dangerous dog laws to cover places such as private property and give more powers to police and councils, including for dog control orders where necessary. The issue of insurance was raised with the Government because of the horrific injuries caused and so it was included in the consultation, although it has now been ruled out. I have not spoken to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs personally about this but we are still interested, certainly from a Home Office perspective, in views on third-party insurance, particularly if a dog control order is in force.

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My hon. Friend will realise that dog owners such as myself get very upset when we hear the term “dangerous dogs”. It is not the dog that is the problem but the ownership and control of the dog. When are we going to start tackling this in the correct manner in this country by considering it a privilege to own a dog rather than thinking that there is an automatic right for irresponsible people to own or train a dog?

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I look forward to responses from my hon. Friend and his constituents to the consultation. Responsible ownership is at the heart of what we need to consider. It is the deed not the breed that we are primarily considering but some breeds are bred to be violent. Unfortunately, that is one reason why we have to reconsider this issue. We must consider the full range of options.

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In my constituency of Hammersmith and Fulham, this has been an ongoing problem in many of our local parks, including the local park at the end of my road, Normand park. Just today, I have had an e-mail from a constituent of mine, Robert Hardman, who talks about an appalling incident in Normand park next to the playground where his children were playing last Thursday. There was a savage attack on a puppy by a free-range pit bull—we appreciate that it might not actually have been a pit bull—and the owner of the said pit bull hurled abuse and threats at witnesses, the children were distraught and the victim’s owner is now faced with a £3,000 vet’s bill. Is not one of the solutions to all this for the police to be able to deal with the dogs in situ rather than necessarily having to take them off to kennels?

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There are a number of issues exactly like that that the consultation seeks to iron out. I can echo the hon. Gentleman’s words from Hammersmith to Hackney: much the same problems are raised with me by my constituents on estates, by gangs and in parks. It is clearly an issue that we need to tackle. There are real problems and that is why I hope the House will back the consultation. I look forward to hearing and seeing the responses.

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Some time ago, one of my constituents was savagely attacked by what was clearly a weapon dog. Finally, on appeal, she was granted criminal injuries compensation of £5,000. Only then did she learn that the dog had made two previous attacks, and we still do not know whether it has been destroyed. Whatever my hon. Friend does, will she make absolutely sure that such dogs are taken out of circulation permanently?

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Obviously I do not know about that individual case, but I agree that when horrific incidents happen, proper action needs to be taken. If necessary, that sometimes includes destroying the animal.

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It has taken the Government a very long time to address this extremely serious issue, only for them to get it badly wrong. Will the Home Secretary or the Minister tell us why a flagship policy of introducing compulsory dog insurance was announced two weeks ago, but then overruled and killed off by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? Surely the Home Secretary should admit that he has been muzzled on this issue.

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Clearly the hon. Gentleman does not know the Home Secretary as well as I do, because he is a very difficult man to overrule. Indeed, he is not someone who is overruled. We need to be clear that we all want a solution to this problem, which was looked at in a consultation—let me correct any misapprehension that it was a Government policy. It is important that we should still consider insurance, particularly when dog control orders are in force, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). We need to consider that, and I hope we can all agree that this vital issue needs to be tackled. It is interesting that the Opposition choose to concentrate more on the process than on the outcome, in which we all have a shared interest.