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Dog Control and Welfare

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 27 July 2010

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

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991; to require the introduction of compulsory microchipping of dogs; to make provision relating to the welfare of dogs and public safety around dogs; and for connected purposes.

I have chosen to bring this subject before the House for three reasons: first, and perhaps most notably, because I am a passionate animal-lover. I feel very strongly that the animal kingdom, with which we share this planet, deserves the highest level of care and respect that we as human beings can give. Secondly, I believe that those who choose to own a pet have a certain responsibility that comes with that privilege. In the case of dogs, this responsibility is twofold—the welfare of the animal and the duty to ensure the safety of others through proper control. Finally, over the past three years, I was proud to serve on Her Majesty’s Opposition Front Bench, in the Home Affairs team, as shadow Minister with responsibility for animal welfare. In that role, I had the opportunity to work closely with dog welfare organisations and people throughout the country who work, day in, day out, dealing with issues surrounding the control and welfare of dogs, and who have a real and genuine understanding of how we can help to solve some of the issues relating to dogs in society today.

Last year, dogs overtook cats to become the most popular choice of pet in the United Kingdom. Before you call me to order and ask me to declare my interest in the matter, Mr Deputy Speaker, I should say that I am, of course, the owner of dog—a Staffordshire bull terrier called Buster. You will be relieved to know, Sir, that dangerous he is not, but microchipped he certainly is.

In recent years, the issue of dangerous dogs has taken on increasing significance. Inner-city areas in particular are being blighted by the intimidating sight of individuals and gangs brandishing dogs that have been deliberately trained to produce the most aggressive demeanour possible. Having dealt with the matter as the shadow Minister with responsibility for animal welfare, I fully appreciate the prevalence that the issue of dangerous dogs has with a disturbingly wide proportion of the general public. The number of complaints received by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals concerning “status” and dangerous dogs has increased twelvefold. On average, there are now 100 cases every week of people being admitted to hospital as a result of a dog attack. It would be no exaggeration to claim that what we are now seeing is a national calamity, in terms of both public safety and animal welfare. As a result, it is clear that the current legislation has failed on an epic scale. There is now a huge public desire for renewed laws that address the problem, with owners properly held to account.

The Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991—yes, by a Conservative Government—but it has obviously failed adequately to achieve what it set out to do. A key feature of the Act, contained in section 1, is a ban on the breeding, sale and ownership of specific types of dogs. However, it is not good enough to select a handful of breeds, based on their potential demeanour, and assume that simply eradicating them from society will dismantle the culture that they are bred from. That is an approach that takes no account of the behaviour or intentions of the criminals on the other end of the lead. Indeed, the real issue to be tackled is the behaviour of the owners. Any dog can be dangerous and cause harm; it is how the animal is reared and trained that matters most of all. That is why the current, breed-specific Dangerous Dogs Act does not work and should be repealed.

My Bill would shift the legislation towards acknowledging the concept of “deed, not the breed”. By moving the focus to the specific actions of irresponsible owners, we will be able more effectively to identify and tackle the root causes of such criminal activity. In short, we should be scrapping the breed-specific approach and affording police or other authorised persons much greater discretionary powers in deciding whether a dog poses a threat to the public.

The other key failure of the current legislation relates to dogs that are dangerously out of control. As the legislation stands, such attacks are classified as criminal offences only if they occur either in a public place or where the dog is not permitted to be. However, the reality is that many attacks take place on private property. My Bill would extend the law to cover attacks on all property, allowing the police to investigate such offences and for prosecutions to be considered. I should also like to stress the failure of the current legislation in taking a preventive approach. We need to be able to deal with dogs suspected of being dangerous by imposing controls. My Bill would introduce a system of dog control orders where there is reasonable cause to believe that a dog is not under sufficient control and poses a potential threat to the public.

I am a fervent supporter of identification as a means of providing all dog owners with a simple, cheap and effective way of significantly enhancing both the safety and security of their dogs, and the legal accountability that they hold for their behaviour. Methods of permanent identification—most notably microchipping—are already exploited across the country by veterinary centres, charities and shelters, and, of course, individual owners and families. It is estimated that currently around a third of all dogs in the United Kingdom have been microchipped, which has contributed to a tremendous increase in the proportion of stray and stolen dogs being successfully identified and returned to their rightful owners.

My Bill would introduce permanent identification as a compulsory measure for all dogs bred in the United Kingdom. That would be phased in over a period of time and would apply only to new litters. Microchipping is a far cry from the old system of the dog licence, abolished in the 1980s, which required bureaucracy and the administration of excessive paperwork on the part of local authorities. The benefits of introducing compulsory identification—as a means of reducing everyday dog attacks, returning lost, stray or stolen dogs to their owners, and easing the burden on local authorities and dog wardens—are clear. Essentially, we would be dramatically enhancing the ability to make dog owners legally accountable for the actions and the welfare of their dogs. That alone would solve so many of the problems that we face in dealing with the control and welfare of dogs. However, I say this to the Government: please do not allow concerns about databases and anti-ID card thinking to block what is a practical, common-sense solution. Linking a dog to its legal owner by using a microchip is not an infringement of civil liberties; it is simply the same as having a number plate on a car.

I would also like to take this opportunity to recognise the dedicated work undertaken on the issue by those organisations with which I have worked in recent years. Were it not for the invaluable research and campaigning of the Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club, the RSPCA, Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Vets Get Scanning, Speaking Out For Animals, the Retired Greyhound Trust and many others, these matters would not be receiving anything like the level of attention that they are receiving today. I pay tribute to them all.

Promoting and encouraging dog control and welfare is not simply about state intervention; it is about encouraging those who seek or hold ownership of dogs to do so responsibly, in such a way that benefits the welfare of the animal and continues to ensure maximum public safety. However, the law must underpin that, allowing an individual to own a dog while also making them responsible for its control and well-being. Freedom with responsibility is something that I as a Conservative believe in very strongly. The freedom to choose to own a dog must go hand in hand with the responsibility that goes with it. That must surely be the right approach of a Conservative-led Government. I commend my Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Andrew Rosindell, Angie Bray, Mr Andrew Turner, Stephen Metcalfe, Martin Horwood, Glenda Jackson, Mr David Lammy, Angela Smith, Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson, Daniel Kawczynski, Zac Goldsmith and Dr Thérèse Coffey present the Bill.

Andrew Rosindell accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second Time on Friday 17 June 2011, and to be printed (Bill 65).