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Dogs (Protection of Livestock)

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 20 July 2021

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 amend the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953; and for connected purposes.

Earlier this year, one of the farmers in my constituency suffered a horrific attack on his sheep. Tecwyn Jones found seven pregnant ewes and three rams dead in his field in Bodedern. They had been killed by an unknown dog or dogs in what police described as a “brutal and horrendous attack.”

When I visited Tecwyn’s farm, he told me about the impact the attack had had on his business and his wellbeing. His account of the event was harrowing. Tecwyn shared the awful moment when he found his sheep: coming across one dead sheep, then another dead sheep. They were sheep he had lovingly reared, their faces torn and bodies twisted. His sheep had been brutally killed and had clearly suffered horrendously.

The dogs that carried out the attack have never been identified. Even if a dog were suspected, the law has no teeth to identify and seize it unless it is found unsupervised at the scene of the assault. For Tecwyn, it was not just the financial loss that hit him, although that went into thousands of pounds, but the emotional loss of these prized animals, which he had put his time and devotion into rearing.

Tecwyn is not alone. This is a huge issue for farmers across the UK. Livestock worrying takes place when dogs that are not kept under proper control attack or chase livestock, particularly sheep. Although attacks are not officially recorded, and it is widely accepted that many incidents go unreported, it is estimated that around 15,000 sheep are killed by dogs each year.

With the increase in visitors to the countryside during lockdowns, incidents of livestock worrying have grown over the past 18 months, and the financial impact has increased. Data from the National Farmers Union indicates that the average insurance claim for attacks is over £1,300, and some claims rise to tens of thousands of pounds. In 2020, the cost of livestock worrying to the farming community was estimated to be around £1.3 million.

I first became involved with this matter when local farmers such as Brian Bown and Peter Williams raised it as a significant concern. I met Rob Taylor, Dave Allen and their colleagues from the North Wales police rural crime team, who have been working with farmers, such as the NFU county adviser Iestyn Pritchard, to gather data and work through proposed solutions. It soon became apparent to me that the legislation currently covering livestock worrying, the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. It is hardly surprising given that it has barely been touched in 68 years. It has not kept pace with dog ownership, leisure trends, DNA technology or modern farming practice.

Earlier this year, as part of the Government’s animal welfare action plan and as set out in the Queen’s Speech, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs introduced the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. Part 2 of the Bill addresses dogs attacking or worrying livestock. Although I welcome its content, I share the concerns of farmers across the UK that it still does not go far enough. Yes, it gives the police greater powers to tackle livestock worrying incidents and it expands the scope of species that are afforded protection to include llamas, ostriches and game birds, but it still fails to give farmers the security they so desperately need.

That is why I have pursued this ten-minute rule Bill to make amendments to the 1953 Act. Specifically, my Bill proposes that the police be given the power to seize a dog or other items and to take DNA samples where they have reasonable grounds for suspicion that a dog has worried livestock. It further seeks a clearer and tighter definition of “close control”, which is used in both the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and the 1953 Act. The definition of “close control” in the kept animals Bill requires that a dog

“is within sight of a person and the person remains aware of the dog’s actions, and has reason to be confident that the dog will return to the person reliably and promptly on the person’s command.”

Experience shows us that the natural instincts of even the best-behaved domestic dog can take over when other animals are in close proximity. It has to be a legal requirement that dogs be kept on a lead when they are near livestock of any kind.

Finally, the upper limit of the fine, currently set at a maximum of £1,000, must be removed. Where farmers are facing costs of up to £20,000, irresponsible dog owners must be made to realise the full financial impact of their actions.

I reassure my hon. Friends that these proposals are not intended to persecute dogs or dog owners. I am a dog owner myself, as are most famers, and none of us wants to see dogs destroyed or owners made to suffer. We know that in many cases the dogs that carry out livestock worrying will be otherwise lovable and good natured family pets that abscond from their premises in the absence of their owner or are left off the lead on countryside walks.

By raising the penalties for livestock worrying and making the regulations clearer, we want the Bill to highlight the problem and be used as a way to educate dog owners. A recent survey found that only 40% of dog owners accept that their dog could injure or kill a farm animal, and the same survey found that 64% of dog owners allow their pets to roam free in the countryside, despite half of them admitting that their dog does not always come back when called. By their very nature, pet owners and farmers almost universally care deeply about animals, and much of the solution to this problem is about raising awareness of the countryside code through legislation. It is vital that dog owners who live near or visit land on which livestock is being raised understand that, even without physical contact, sheep can die or miscarry as a result of the distress and exhaustion caused by a dog chase.

This May, 19,000 people supported the NFU’s campaign for changes to legislation to prevent dog attacks on farm animals. In presenting the Bill, I represent them. I represent those such as the North Wales police rural crime team who have worked hard to raise awareness of this important issue. I represent Tecwyn Jones and the hundreds of other farmers who have suffered financial and emotional loss through dog attacks. I represent decent, law-abiding dog owners everywhere. I represent the animals that should not have to bear this unbearable suffering.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That Virginia Crosbie, Sarah Atherton, Craig Williams, Simon Baynes, Alun Cairns, Mr David Jones, Dr James Davies, Andrew Rosindell, Neil Parish, Bill Wiggin,

Damian Hinds and Robin Millar present the Bill.

Virginia Crosbie accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 10 September, and to be printed (Bill 151).