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 require the annual registration of dogs; to require that income from registration be used to fund the enforcement of conditions and penalties imposed on those owning and controlling dogs; and for connected purposes.
On 9 March 2013, my Atherton constituent Jade Lomas Anderson was 14 years old. On 26 March, she was savaged to death by four dogs. Jade was a very popular girl. She was full of life and loved to dance. Her friends said that she was beautiful, kind and a very good friend. Her 13-year-old boyfriend Josh said that she was beautiful and would not hurt a fly. Because she had got a glowing end-of-term report from her new school and as a special treat, Jade’s parents gave her permission to stay overnight at her friend’s house. Her mum and stepdad did not know that there were five dogs in that house, or that one of those dogs was so out of control he was kept in a small cage in the kitchen. They did not know that Jade would be left in the house alone when her friend went next door, or that the dog would burst out of his insecure cage and start the attack that ended her life.
Her parents, Michael and Shirley, have been amazingly brave and determined that no other family should suffer in the way that they have done. They have campaigned tirelessly since Jade’s death, but sadly nine other people have been killed by dogs since then, making it 25 people who have been killed by dogs since 2005. As Michael says, dog attacks are at epidemic proportions. There are some 210,000 dog attacks each year and more than 6,000 people are admitted to hospital, often with life-changing injuries. On average, 12 postal workers are attacked each day and the NHS spends more than £3 million on treating the victims of dog attacks.
Progress has been made since Jade’s death. The law has been changed: owners can now be prosecuted for attacks that happen on private property and the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduced a range of measures to deal with dangerous dogs. I personally am not convinced that the Act does enough to tackle the prevention of dog attacks, but as the RSPCA said,
“it’s too early to tell the effectiveness of the new rules so we are sitting back and waiting to see how things develop”.
However, there are still many more things we need to do to tackle the problems associated with dog welfare and dog control.
The all-party group on animal welfare’s sub-group on dogs will launch a report shortly, supported by all the major dog charities, on developing an effective England-wide strategy for dealing with dogs. It points the way forward, including updating and consolidating all relevant dog control legislation. Among other things, it makes recommendations on dog breeding, dealing and trading, and educating people on looking after dogs and staying safe around them. I really hope the report will be adopted and implemented in 2015.
Clearly, if we are to prevent dog attacks we need to tackle the situations that create dangerous dogs. Taking a puppy away from its mother at too young an age, before it is properly socialised, is a major problem, and I know that hon. Friends have previously attempted to introduce legislation to deal with the irresponsible breeding, importing and selling of dogs. Owners need to choose the right dog for their living environment and not have too many dogs in a household. They need to ensure that their pets are properly fed and exercised. The owner of the dogs that killed Jade could not remember when she had last exercised the dogs. The dog that killed Clifford Clark in Liverpool had not been fed for nearly two days and had resorted to eating cigarette butts and plastic bowls. Of course, owners should never leave their dogs unattended with children, no matter how docile they believe the dog to be.
All measures to protect dogs from cruelty and protect the public from dangerous dogs, and preventative measures to stop dog attacks, need to be properly resourced. In 2010, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimated that there were 10 million dogs in the UK and that the cost of irresponsible ownership to the taxpayer was more than £80 million. The all-party group report states that there is an urgent need to identify a means for ensuring adequate resources to tackle dog-related issues, but there is not a consensus on how that should be achieved. The RSPCA is in favour of dog licences or an annual registration fee, but the Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club are vehemently opposed, preferring some sort of levy on items that dog owners purchase. My Bill is a solution to funding measures for dog welfare and dog control.
All dogs in Wales will have to be microchipped after March next year, and in England from April 2016. A fee for registering a dog on a national microchipping database and a small annual re-registration fee, with the money ring-fenced for dog welfare and control, would not only produce money but promote responsible ownership and ensure that owners are held responsible for their dogs.
Currently, the police often return a chipped dog to the registered address only to be told it was given away months or even years previously. If we sell or pass on our car, we tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency that we are no longer the owner. Why on earth would we not expect a dog owner to behave responsibly and do the same thing, when they are dealing with a living, breathing animal totally dependent on human beings for its welfare?
One of the first things Michael Anderson called for was dog licences; the coroner at Jade’s inquest called for the introduction of a licensing scheme for all dogs to ensure the traceability of dogs to owners and to address issues of breeding and trafficking; and the Wigan Evening Post has also launched a campaign for dog licences, and it is not alone. Many of the people who signed my petition for stronger legislation called for the reintroduction of licences, and many older people cannot understand why they were abandoned. In 2010, the RSPCA reported that two out of every three dog owners supported a licensing scheme and that 70% of those who supported licensing said they would be prepared to pay £30 or more.
A licence suggests not simply registration, but possibly vetting for suitability and other conditions. I would not be against that, but my Bill simply calls for registration and the ring-fencing of moneys raised. The dog licence in England, Wales and Scotland was abolished in 1988. At that time, the fee cost £3.5 million a year to collect, but the licence only generated £1 million, and only about half of owners had a licence. The fee was 37p and had not increased since its introduction in the 19th century. In fact, it had been reduced from 37.5p when the ha’penny was withdrawn in 1984. Had it kept pace with inflation, it would have been £10 in 1986.
Of course, the licence was not scrapped without a fight. In this place, Lord Rooker, then MP for Birmingham, Perry Barr, argued for the Opposition that the licences should be retained and raised to between £10 and £20, with the money raised helping to fund a network of dog wardens. The late Bob Cryer, then MP for Bradford South, supported this proposal and called for controls giving local authorities the power to draw up a register of dangerous dogs. Baroness Fookes, former Conservative MP for Plymouth Drake and a former president of the RSPCA, said that the money raised from the licence fee could be put towards a package of dog welfare measures, including an efficient warden service. Unfortunately, the vote was lost by 57 votes, meaning that I am here, 28 years later, arguing for much the same thing, but now linked to the compulsory microchipping of dogs.
Those who argue that licensing and registration do not work need to look at other countries. Some 23 European countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand, have systems of dog licensing or registration. In Italy, registration not only has reduced the number of strays, but is reported to be effective in reducing uncontrolled reproduction and dog overpopulation, as well as reducing the human health risk from dog-borne diseases and environmental contamination. It has also improved the control of activities such as dog fighting. Australia reports similar results, with the additional bonus that the number of complaints about dogs has reduced by half.
Doubters argue that it is a tax on good owners and that irresponsible owners will not pay, but we do not accept that argument for good drivers and irresponsible drivers, or responsible workers and irresponsible workers; we ensure that everyone pays, and if they do not, we take enforcement action.
I am sure, in the future, I will argue in this Chamber for further measures to protect dogs and prevent dog attacks, but today I am merely asking for their annual registration. It would be a fitting tribute to Jade Lomas Anderson and her wonderful parents.
Question put and agreed to.
That Julie Hilling, Robert Flello, Jim Fitzpatrick, Mike Kane, Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck, John Pugh, Rosie Cooper, Oliver Colville, Miss Anne McIntosh, Liz McInnes, Andrew Rosindell and Mrs Mary Glindon present the Bill.
Julie Hilling accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 9 January 2015, and to be printed (Bill 126).