Committee (5th Day) (Continued)
56LF: Before Clause 98, insert the following new Clause—
“Risk assessment of seized dogs
(1) The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 5 (seizure, entry of premises and evidence) after subsection (3) there is inserted—
“(3A) Following seizure of a dog for an offence under section 1, 2 or 3 of this Act, within 48 hours of seizure the animal must be assessed to determine whether—
(a) it is a prohibited type of dog, and/or(b) behaviourally risk assessed by a suitably qualified behaviourist to determine whether it can be released with or without conditions placed on its management by its owner or keeper, such conditions can include but are not limited to—(i) keeping the dog on a lead when in public;(ii) keeping the dog muzzled when in public.(3B) Reasons must be given for a decision not to release the dog.””
My Lords, we have grouped these amendments together for ease of debate. I thought that it would be helpful to have one debate rather than several on a similar issue. So I am speaking to the amendments in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lady Gale. My noble friend’s amendment on dog control notices also has our full support. In moving my amendment, I will speak also to Amendments 56MA to 56MC.
The first step is to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem. Since 2009, nine children and seven adults have died as a result of attacks by dogs. In the three years to February 2013, 18,000 people were admitted to hospitals in England and Wales after dog attacks, and 23,000 postal workers have been attacked by dogs in the past six years. As Christmas approaches and we post our letters, we ought to think of the poor postal deliverers. Since April 2011, there have been 6,000 dog attacks on those who deliver our post. So it is a serious problem and horrendous for those who have been involved, have been attacked or have witnessed attacks.
I appreciate that the Government are bringing legislation forward but I really think that there is a missed opportunity here. I referred to this last week when we discussed community protection orders. I am worried about the Government’s one-size-fits-all approach. Dog control notices were introduced to deal with a specific problem. I am not saying they are perfect. They needed updating and amending, but to replace gating orders, dog control orders and other forms of order with one community protection order does not give us confidence that the issue of dangerous dogs will be properly and effectively tackled.
Community protection notices are a reactive measure to deal with dog attacks. They can be slow to serve and they can be challenged in the courts, causing further delay. I support and welcome the Government’s proposals for increasing penalties, but prevention is better than penalty, and that is why our proposals include the dog control notice.
I read carefully what Ministers said in the other place. They seem wedded to their measures and confident that they will deal with the problem. I do not share that confidence. That brings me to Amendment 56MB, which requires the Secretary of State to review the,
“use of community protection notices in addressing dangerous dogs”.
The amendment specifies a review of the effectiveness of Government’s measures three years after they come into force and every three years after that. If the Government are confident that they will be successful—and I am sorry that I do not share the noble Lord’s confidence, although I wish I did—that review will be a way to assess their effectiveness or otherwise, whether action taken is adequate and whether further measures are needed.
This is a missed opportunity. As a first option, we support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Gale introducing dog control notices. A dog control notice is specific to the problem. It is proportionate and targeted. It seeks to prevent attacks by dogs. “Prevent” is the key word. The dog control notice is a preventive measure to stop tragedies occurring, while the community protection notice reacts to a situation that has already occurred.
The measure enjoys widespread support. My noble friend Lady Gale will say more about this. In the Commons it received support from a number of government Back-Benchers, as well as a range of individuals and organisations, including those that deal with the welfare of dogs and those whose members are at risk from attack, as well as those that deal with the aftermath of attacks or try to prevent attacks. They include: the RSPCA; the Association of Chief Police Officers; the British Veterinary Association; Battersea Dogs & Cats Home; CWU, the postal workers’ union; Unison; the Kennel Club; the Police Federation; the National Dog Warden Association; and even the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place. They all state that legislation should cover dog control notices, which would give power to the police and local councils to ensure that owners are responsible and do what can be done to stop dogs attacking people and other animals.
It seems to me—perhaps the Minister will enlighten me—that the only people who do not support dog control measures are the Government. The amendment has widespread support from all those who are most affected by, and concerned about, this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, would have made my next point if he were able to be present. The dog control notice amendment that we have tabled refers specifically to attacks on other dogs and animals. I am sure the Minister recognises that that is also an important issue which is not specifically addressed by the Government’s proposals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, made a very powerful speech at Second Reading. No one could fail to be moved by the plight of those who have been subjected to dog attacks and have been badly injured, maimed, suffered life-changing injuries or even died. I strongly believe that the Government should heed the wisdom of the many people who are in favour of this amendment and not stick to the somewhat tired, hackneyed argument that fewer orders mean less bureaucracy. There is real fear that, in setting their face against the overwhelming support for dog control notices, getting rid of dog control orders and moving towards what I think was described earlier as a holy grail of deregulation, they are weakening public protection, which is the key point here.
I turn to our other amendments in this group. One concerns a risk assessment of seized dogs. Obviously, we appreciate and understand that some dogs have to be seized for public safety, and sometimes for the dog’s own protection if there is immediate concern about its potential to attack a member of the public or another dog. In those cases, clearly the dog has to be seized, and local authorities and the police can seize dogs that they deem to be dangerous. However, concerns have been raised with us by organisations, including the RSPCA, that on occasion dogs are returned to their owners, or released from kennels, in not exactly tip-top condition; indeed, they are in a poorer condition than when they went in. Not only is that bad for the dog; it is extremely bad for the public purse if dogs are kept in kennels for longer than is necessary. Therefore, we suggest that within 48 hours of a dog being seized its behaviour should be properly assessed by suitably qualified people to determine whether it needs to remain in kennels and whether it is a prohibited breed of dog. This simple amendment seeks to improve the case management of seized dogs, thereby improving their condition and easing the burden on the public purse.
Our amendment 56MC proposes that joint guidance should be issued by Defra and the Home Office as this issue concerns both departments. That guidance would advise local authorities on how to use existing legislation to deal with dangerous dogs. I do not know whether the Minister has had the opportunity to review the guidance but it is pretty weighty. Not only is there the guidance itself, but annexes as well. Animal welfare organisations have repeatedly asked the Government to reduce the length of the guidance. They have advised me that they do not consider it fit for purpose given that those involved in dog welfare cannot cope with it. We need to have concise, accurate guidance that organisations which need to access it can follow and implement easily.
In conclusion, the increase in dog-related deaths in recent years is extremely sad and worrying. These amendments seek to include effective, clear measures in legislation to deal specifically with the problems caused by dangerous dogs, as opposed to hoping that they can be mopped up in an order, the terms of which could be rather vague in their application to dangerous dogs. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on these amendments and consider, first, the issue of dog control notices. However, if there is no possibility of movement on that, the issue of review is extremely important. I beg to move.
My Lords, the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, were music to my ears because I have introduced two Private Members’ Bills about dog control notices—one under the Government of the party opposite and one under the coalition. Funnily enough, I got a completely different response from the party opposite on both occasions.
Of course. It is interesting how things develop. That is probably the purpose of this House. Private Member’s Bills do get the ball rolling. When I started on my first Bill, it was written with all the dog organisations and the RSPCA. It had a great deal of support, but not from the Government. The second time I raised it, after all the publicity, a great deal more work had been undertaken by Defra, and I think that has led to the present situation.
I would have liked a separate piece of legislation which would have been clear and concise. I understand the Minister’s position—that this has gone through the Home Office. The problem is that most Governments would have taken the route that has been followed, because we are dealing with 11 pieces of legislation that would have to be amended. For ease of access, it would have been extremely useful if there had been one dog control notice, but those of us who have been fighting this fight for some years now realised that that probably was not going to be the case.
I support the background to these amendments. However, there are a couple of issues that I wish to raise. I do not believe that these amendments are going to be carried but they show some of the fundamental problems that we are facing. One of the major problems is the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. That was a knee-jerk reaction which led to types of dogs being named. Amendment 56LF talks about trying to work out what prohibited dogs are; for instance, a pit bull is actually a mongrel, so is very difficult to define as a particular type of dog. Breeders of pit bulls call them long-legged Staffies; they attempt to get round it that way. An expert trying to look at this has had difficulty, and it has cost the Metropolitan Police and the police in Liverpool and in other places millions of pounds kennelling those animals. I know that this is a specific point but there are cost implications of trying to work out within 48 hours whether the dog is a prohibited animal. Behavioural assessment will also cause difficulties because a lot of this work will fall to the dog charities. At the moment they are facing a massive problem with bull breeds being abandoned.
The issue of protected animals is raised in these amendments and we might well come back to it in further pieces of legislation. It is a particularly difficult issue to deal with. I have a rather useless and cowardly dog, but next door’s cat is particularly on his wish list. I do everything I can to try to stop him chasing this cat, but if a cat were seen as a protected animal—which it is not at the moment, though I know some people are calling for it—that would be a problem we would have to look at.
I understand the tenor of these amendments, and that this is an issue that we may return to further down the line if the Bill does not achieve its objectives. The Government deserve commendation for the attitude taken by the Minister and by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who met and worked closely with us. That the guidance runs to more than 100 pages is a problem, because who is going to read it? If people do not read and understand the guidance and realise where it fits with other pieces of legislation, there is going to be a problem of enforcement. I have to admit that I found it difficult just reading the Bill and cross-referencing it. I hope that the Minister will consider attaching a very short précis to the start of the guidance to make the issue simpler.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 56MA, which has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lady Smith and I hope to elaborate on what she had to say.
The Minister will be aware that many organisations and individuals have campaigned for dog control notices, including the RSPCA, the Communication Workers Union, and individuals such as Dilwar Ali, whose six year-old son was badly injured when a dog attacked him in his garden, and the parents of Jade Lomas-Anderson, who was killed in an attack by dogs earlier this year. I had the privilege of meeting them recently when they gave Peers a briefing on why they feel so strongly about the necessity for dog control notices. I am sure that the Peers who were present will agree that the meeting with Jade’s parents was an emotional one. They are determined campaigners and they certainly convinced me that dog control notices should be implemented rather than community protection notices, which I know are the Government’s preference. Dilwar Ali is an equally passionate campaigner for dog control notices following the horrific attack on his six year-old son. The Minister will be aware that the Communication Workers Union has campaigned for dog control notices in order to have some level of protection for postmen and postwomen, thousands of whom are attacked by dogs as they deliver the mail.
The Government believe that community protection notices will be a sufficient measure when it comes to addressing a range of anti-social behaviour problems, including attacks by dangerous dogs, and promoting responsible dog ownership. The use of a CPN in conjunction with an acceptable behaviour contract is meant to have a similar impact to issuing a dog control notice. However, it is clear that community protection notices are inadequate. Their shortcoming lies in their broad application. The Commons EFRA Select Committee concluded in February 2013 that many charities and organisations, including the RSPCA, the Kennel Club, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the Dogs Trust and the Communication Workers Union, have consistently argued that CPNs are too little too late and that they are not specific enough.
The Bill states that CPNs will address issues of a “persistent or continuing nature”. In practice, they will be issued only after an attack has taken place. Therefore, for a CPN to be issued, an existing complaint needs to have been made about a detrimental impact on the quality of life of the community, and it may mean a costly, painful and bureaucratic investigation and prosecution process for victims as much as for local councils.
A dog control notice would target irresponsible ownership directly and would be pre-emptive. That is vital when it comes to tackling dog-related incidents. Preventive measures address much earlier both repeat offenders and one-off attacks affecting individuals. We believe that the measures set out in our amendment are far superior to CPNs, as they are specifically aimed at dogs. The RSPCA’s statistics fully support this conclusion. In England and Wales in 2012 it issued 12,658 informal advice notices, which, in practice, are similar to DCNs. The compliance rate was 93%. That is a very high percentage and shows that these notices can work.
The Minister and noble Lords will be aware that in Northern Ireland the use of dog control orders in conjunction with dog licensing has been very successful. The presence of dog wardens employed full time by local authorities has also been very effective. Therefore, Northern Ireland has dog control orders, and Scotland has implemented them. The Welsh Government would have implemented them. However, the Minister will be aware that the Welsh Government withdrew their Bill in favour of the Wales and England legislation that we have before us today, although they do not believe that the Bill covers everything that their Bill would have done. I believe that they will have the right to come back to the Minister and that they are probably in discussion with him. Cardiff county councillors recently briefed me on the consultation which, because they are concerned about it, they have carried out regarding dangerous dogs in Cardiff.
Since 2005, 13 children and seven adults have been killed by dogs, the latest only last month, when four year-old Lexi Hudson was killed by a dog. Although the introduction of longer maximum sentences and the extension of existing laws to private property are welcome, this amendment will go a step further. Dog control cannot be dealt with under this catch-all, umbrella—or, as some people have called it, the Christmas tree—policy. We believe that our amendment, which calls for dog control notices, is a much better way to deal with dangerous dogs. What the Government are proposing does not go far enough.
I ask the Minister to listen carefully to the argument put forward by the campaigning organisations, those who have suffered the loss of a loved one and those who have seen at first hand the effects of dogs attacking family members, causing very serious injuries. All of them want dog control notices. The British Veterinary Association wants them and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who has great experience in this field, spoke in favour of them at Second Reading. Northern Ireland and Scotland have them and Wales wants them. There is so much evidence and support for dog control notices that the Minister must be aware of it.
I know that the Minister is a listening Minister; and the coalition Government have been known to change their minds, as recent events have shown. We would certainly welcome a change of mind on this matter, as we believe that it is the right thing to do.
My Lords, I see my noble friend Lady Hamwee is rising; she probably has much more expertise than I do. I would not want to spend more than about 22 seconds on this particular subject this evening.
I declare an interest straight off, in that under my roof there are not one, not two, but three rottweilers that live quite well. I have taken lessons from that immortal movie, “Crocodile Dundee”, in which he calmed the rottweilers. I am used to having dogs. Living in the wilds of Angus in Scotland, one goes out sporting with dogs; one has labradors and spaniels. I have also become acquainted with dogs in the course of my political duties. During 1974, I went off into Forfar. In the spare spaces there on the council estates were packs of large dogs. I was told, “For goodness’ sake, take care: you may get bitten”. I armed myself; in one pocket of my coat I had Smarties and small beans. In the other pocket I had Rolos and a large Mars bar. It may be incorrect—I will wait to hear from my noble friend and the experts—but I found that those forbidden, or not, substances were a particular help. On the second or third night that I was carrying out what I call political duties, I found that there were old friends who recognised that this was the man with the Rolos or the large Mars bar. As far as I was concerned, that kept dogs under control.
I do not know whether rottweilers are a particular prohibited type of dog; I do not think they are. I have read about the specialist activities carried out by my noble friend Lord Redesdale, and perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, on particular types of dogs. I am sorry; I have gone over my permitted time. I am very curious; perhaps the Minister, or somebody else, can advise me about,
“behaviourally risk assessed by a suitably qualified behaviourist”.
I am delighted that the noble Baroness has found, at least, a point of interest in somebody suitably qualified in canine behaviour, and perhaps even human behaviour. Could my noble friend write to me about that? As I say, I am grateful to your Lordships, because I declare an interest. I have all my fingers and toes after four years of three rottweilers.
My Lords, I knowledge the progress made in extending the law regarding private property and dangerous dogs. In supporting the amendments, I do not wish to undermine the Government's proposed action but rather to strengthen it. I recognise that the noble Lords, Lord Henley, Lord De Mauley and now Lord Taylor of Holbeach, are fully in sympathy with the plight of the 23,000 postal workers who have been attacked and injured both physically and mentally by dogs in the past five years. They have been on the rounds, as it were, and witnessed what the CWU members are up against. Again, I fully acknowledge the involvement of Ministers.
I also appreciate that the Government wish to simplify and rationalise the law around anti-social behaviour. But in attempting this, I do not believe that they recognise the specialist requirements for dealing with dangerous dogs and their owners. There is insufficient focus on this in the proposed legislation. I will come on to the impact assessments in due course.
As my noble friend Lady Gale said, having met some of the parents of children killed and maimed by dogs, it is clear that the human cost is devastating. However, the economic cost is also worrying, with the loss of approximately 4,500 working days due to injuries sustained by postal workers. Campaigners feel strongly that the introduction of dog control notices would provide an effective preventive measure for alerting the authorities to the potential for dogs that could act dangerously in the future. In nearly every case, attacks have been the culmination of incidents that, if put together and acted upon, could have prevented that accident. The Government have argued that the new “flexible tools package” of orders will be as effective as the dog control notices introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland, if not more so. However, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, as my noble friend Lady Smith has already pointed out, does not agree with that argument.
Specific dog control notices would be a message for the dog owner to take action before an attack and would raise the profile and awareness among dog owners. Many of them exercise their dogs in public parks. They get to know each other and also know the good dog owners and the not so good ones. It would encourage a communal network. Issuing dog control notices should be a simple procedure. They could be issued by those trained to recognise examples of poor control. Action should be taken on the first occasion that a dog attacks anyone. It is the first time in studying for this debate that I have heard of this “one bite” rule or “one free bite” rule, which is appalling and trivialises the seriousness of the issue.
The PDSA has estimated that more than 1 million dogs display aggressive behaviour towards people and pets on a weekly basis. Its research shows that an overwhelming 87% of people believe that pet owners should face tough penalties if their dog attacks another person or animal. For the Government to introduce penalties for attacks on private property is commendable, but they are after the event, after the injury and after the death. Specific dog control notices would establish a framework to encourage better behaviour, preventing serious incidents and would establish a record of behaviour patterns.
The overall impact assessment concentrates entirely on the issue of making it a criminal offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control on private property belonging to the owner of the dog. That is hardly surprising, but it is concentrating on legal sanctions after an attack. As I have already said, many attacks are the culmination of behaviour that is well known in the community. The overall impact assessment then refers us to the specific impact assessment on these measures published at the same time as the Bill. That took a bit of finding. It dates back to 9 May 2013. I assume that it has not been updated. Looking at the specific impact assessment, the concentration is on replacing dog control orders with public spaces protection orders, with community protection notices replacing litter clearing notices and defacement removal notices. There is no mention of dangerous dogs, although I understand that it is supposed to be an overall umbrella notice which covers everything.
I realise that the subject of dog control notices has been debated in the other House, and despite all the major stakeholders supporting this and the proposals for compulsory microchipping, the Government have set their face against it. Obviously, local government is in a difficult position, as it is strapped for cash and cutting back on areas such as dog wardens. Therefore it is not surprising that it has shown no enthusiasm for dog control notices. However, the concern is that community protection notices would be a blunt and unwieldy measure. The danger is that they would be slow to serve and open to challenge in the courts.
The Minister of State, Norman Baker, indicated that,
“muzzling, neutering, microchipping, keeping a dog on a lead … can be required under a community protection notice”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/10/13; col. 682.]
If that is the case, why are the two impact assessments completely silent on this? Looking through the draft guidance for front-line professionals on the reform of anti-social behaviour powers, the section on community protection notices makes no reference to dogs. It does say that before anyone is issued with a community protection notice, the accused should be given a written warning—presumably posted through the letterbox by a postal worker. We have to get to page 48 of the 64-page draft guidance before the actual word “dog” is used, and that is only in relation to public spaces protection orders—the old dog control orders—so we are back to square one.
Thousands of postal workers have been injured, children have been killed and maimed, just over eight guide dogs are attacked and killed per month on average, yet the draft guidance to professionals waits for 48 pages to mention the word “dog”. There is a danger that what the Government regard as streamlining by introducing community protection notices is actually a lack of focus on this important issue. If there is no focus now, what hope will there be when its implementation depends entirely on local discretion and funding?
What further guidance will the Minister give on issues such as the definition of “out of control” and “dangerously out of control”? What guidance will there be when aggressive dogs are allowed to roam freely on the landings of communal flats, terrifying the neighbours? What steps will be taken if an owner in receipt of one of these new community protection notices simply swaps the dog for another? Will compulsory microchipping accompany a community protection notice? Nothing in the draft professional guidance gives us a clue. This is an area crying out for more effective steps to identify and deal with bad owners and poor dog control before someone is maimed and injured. I fully support the amendment.
My Lords, I shall make one point in the context of this Bill, which follows a comment by the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy. Much of this Bill is about anti-social behaviour where someone is “likely to” do something, “threatens to” do something, or something is “capable of” causing harm and various sorts of problems. This is all about people. The dog provisions which we are being asked to consider in these amendments are preventive, not reactive. I would like to see much more of a similar attitude to “likely” behaviour or “possible” behaviour of dogs in the preventive way that we are applying to people in a large part of this Bill.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, particularly for me. When I became a Minister in Defra, a little over two years ago, one of my first priorities was to consider the whole business of dogs. I was motivated by exactly the same sentiments as most noble Lords have been: that attacks on communications workers, children and adults by dogs are unacceptable. They are a cause of great distress, and I wanted to do something about it.
Roughly two years ago—in December, at any rate—we had the first round table of all the dog charities and various interested parties, including Mr Joyce of the Communication Workers Union. We found that we had an awful lot of common ground. I think that underlying this debate is an awful lot of common ground. I am pleased that noble Lords have welcomed the fact that the Government are dealing with this issue. My noble friend Lord De Mauley, now in Defra, is seeing through a number of things, including the issue of microchipping of dogs. Defra has produced its own manual on dogs. The anti-social behaviour guidance for professionals is one document, but another slightly more substantial document is available to deal with dogs. I took note of the reference of the noble Baroness—or was it my noble friend Lord Redesdale?—to its size and the fact that some simplification of it might be due.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken: the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, who originally laid amendments on this issue at the beginning of the Bill’s proceedings; the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, to whom I will refer when I come to one or two issues; and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I also thank my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Redesdale—he has long campaigned on this issue—and my noble friend Lord Lyell, who survived living with three rottweilers, something which I would not personally want to try to achieve.
I shall deal with the specific items to which noble Lords have spoken. First, because it is the most significant and I think everyone has mentioned it, Amendment 56MA provides for dog control notices. I put it on record that I fully understand the intention behind the amendment. The Government agree that there is a genuine need for an additional tool to address poor dog ownership and enable early action to prevent dog bites and attacks. We should not have the one-bite law; we should be able to anticipate the bite before it happens. I accept that.
However, I hope that I can go some way to showing that the provision is not necessary and that everything the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, wants from such a notice is already available to enforcement authorities in the provisions in Parts 1 to 4, as noble Lords have said. The very same new clause was debated and rejected on Report in the Commons. The measures in Parts 1 to 4 can address all types of irresponsible behaviour with a dog, regardless of its specific manifestation. For example, a community protection notice can be served in cases where there are too many dogs in one home, where an owner does not have proper control of his dog, where a dog strays and in many other scenarios too.
I reassure the Committee that all the requirements suggested under the new clause such as muzzling, neutering, microchipping, keeping a dog on a lead, attending training classes can all be required under a community protection notice. The new clause is simply unnecessary. The powers are already there in the Bill. I take some comfort from the fact that Amendments 56MB and 56MC go some way towards acknowledging that.
Moreover, the measures in this Bill go further and are far more flexible. They allow officers to make any reasonable requirements based on the specifics of the case with which they are dealing. For example, the CPN might require signage to be put up to warn visitors to a property of the presence of a dog, to fix a post-box guard or to mend fencing to prevent a dog escaping.
It is important to understand the grounds under which the proposed dog control notices can be issued. In the new clause, the authorised officer has to have,
“cause to believe that a dog is not under sufficient control and requires greater control in any place”.
That suggests the dog is “out of control” already and the notice does not appear therefore to be preventive. The test for the CPN is much more useful and applicable. The behaviour of the dog owner or the person in charge of the dog simply needs to have a detrimental effect of a persistent or continuing nature on the quality of life of those in the locality. It can address issues concerning the owner as well as the dog and sometimes the two things go hand-in-hand. This could involve all manner of possibilities including allowing a dog to be out of control. It could include scenarios where the dog or dogs are not out of control but, for example, where there are too many dogs on a property, an owner persistently allows their dog to foul in a public space, or even where a dog is threatening a legitimate visitor to a property, such as a postal worker.
For example, let us say that a dog is running out of control in a park and perhaps is frightening children. The officer sees this happening and requests the owner to bring their dog under control and put it on a lead. The owner fails to do this so the officer issues a written warning that they will issue a CPN unless the person complies. In many cases that will be sufficient for the person to take the necessary action but, should they refuse for whatever reason, the officer could wait for a short time—perhaps five minutes—before issuing the CPN. There has not been an unacceptable delay and the CPN should secure the necessary behaviour change. In many cases, a CPN will not be needed because the written or even verbal warning will have done the trick.
I hope the Committee will agree that it is better for a dog owner to address the problem themselves rather than to be compelled to do so under the terms of a notice. In our earlier debates many noble Lords pointed to the virtues of early, non-statutory interventions before the powers in the Bill are exercised. I note too that the noble Baroness had a concern that dog issues may be lost in the breadth of ASB measures and be downgraded by local authorities. I do not accept that concern. Local authority dog wardens have dogs as their priority. They, other local authority officers and the police will be able to use these powers in relation to dogs. I believe they will greatly enhance what they can do for dogs. We have been careful to explain in the draft practitioners’ manual how they can be applied to dogs, which I will cover later on. I will just say at this stage that the manual includes some excellent examples of how local authorities have been able to co-ordinate initiatives to tackle problems with dogs. These new powers will go a long way to helping those initiatives.
I recognise that some animal welfare organisations continue to support and argue for the introduction of specific dog control notices. However, the practitioners—the people who will be actually using these measures—are supportive of the measures in the Bill. The Bill will simplify the number of powers and make them more flexible. There will be simplification, but also flexibility. Crucially, it will allow them to do more with less. The Local Government Association is on record as supporting the new ASB measures for what they can do in relation to dogs. In its written evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the Commons, it said:
“We are aware that there is continued pressure for specific dog control notices to be included in the Bill. The LGA remains to be convinced that separate tools are necessary as no details have been provided of the specific gaps in the provisions for the injunctions, community protection notices or public space protection orders that a dog control notice is needed to fill”.
The noble Baroness has stated that ACPO supports DCNs. The national policing lead for dangerous dogs has supported the development of these flexible ASB powers and has acknowledged that the manual which has been produced explains clearly and helpfully how to deal with them.
Amendment 56MB would require the Secretary of State to review the operation of the notices and ASB measures in relation to dogs every three years. I understand the sentiments behind the amendment and can see that people will want to be certain, as the Government will want to be certain, that the measures that we are implementing are working. As I have already said, I welcome the implicit recognition that CPNs are the way forward but I do not believe that a statutory duty to undertake a review is necessary as this Government continue to apply the practice, introduced by the previous Administration, of conducting post-legislative reviews three to five years after Royal Assent. We will undertake a review of this Bill, as with others. I agree that the effectiveness of the powers in the Bill to deal with dog-related issues should be one focus of the review. We will ensure that this is the case.
The issue of guidance is the subject of Amendment 56MC. We published in October the draft practitioners’ manual on tackling irresponsible dog ownership. As a reflection of the importance we attach to dog control and welfare, it is the only piece of issue-specific guidance in relation to the anti-social behaviour provisions in the Bill. All others are covered by the general practitioners’ guidance, to which the noble Baroness referred, but this specific Defra-produced guide is a manual for dealing with dogs. I note that a number of noble Lords said that it is fairly bulky. Well, it is. It has two basic elements: the legal guidance and a specific guide to particular issues. However, I am told by dog charities that they are considering producing a handy guide for those of their staff who deal with these dogs as an everyday matter. I am interested in that and we are very interested in hearing what people have to say. This debate is helpful on that.
Noble Lords will see that the manual demonstrates how the new power, in combination with informal mechanisms such as acceptable behaviour contracts and warning letters, can provide the means for improving and increasing responsible dog ownership. The manual signposts when officers should seek advice and who can provide that advice. It has been drafted in co-operation with local authorities, the police and the Welsh Government and I thank them for their support. We are looking for comments so that we may ensure that we are equipping officers with what they need. The existence of the draft manual shows that we aim to produce such guidance as envisaged by Amendment 56MC. That said, as I indicated in response to similar amendments, we are ready to consider whether provisions for statutory guidance in relation to the powers in Parts 1 to 4 should appear in the Bill. That relates to earlier discussions we have had on the Bill.
Perhaps I may turn to the last of these amendments. Amendment 56LF seeks to provide for the regulated and early release of seized dogs under Sections 1, 2 and 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act. We can all agree on the importance of animal welfare, but in cases where there has been a suspected offence, we must balance the need to provide for the welfare of the animal with the need to protect the public. By imposing a time limit on assessments of such dogs, not only do we increase resource pressures on respective police forces—many of which have only one or two trained dog legislation officers—but we compromise public safety if officers are under pressure to carry out rapid assessments. I am confident that all assessments are completed as soon as is practically possible, with enough time provided for the required thoroughness.
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced in February 2013 that his department intended to bring forward secondary legislation that would permit the release of seized suspected Section 1 dogs where they have been assessed not to pose a risk to public safety. The releasing police force would be able to impose conditions on the owner, including muzzling and keeping it on a lead in public, as suggested by the amendment. The amendment would then be an unnecessary duplication. It would not be right to include such a change in primary legislation where the Government have the vires to make changes through secondary legislation.
In conclusion, I hope I have been able to persuade the Committee that specific dog control notices are already effectively provided for in the Bill. In fact, I would suggest that we have gone further and are providing a more flexible range of powers. I hope, too, that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, is satisfied that the point she has raised in relation to Amendment 56LF can be dealt with through secondary legislation.
I have a note here that I will read for the sake of clarity on the “one free bite rule”. I would like to reassure the Committee that there is no such rule. Where a dog is dangerously out of control—where someone is injured or there is a reasonable apprehension of injury—there may be an offence under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. The police and the local authority may investigate and, along with the Crown Prosecution Service, will decide whether to take forward the prosecution. That is under existing powers. It is entirely possible, and, indeed, not uncommon, that a destruction order would be made after an incident. I mention that because I may have misled the noble Baroness. I know of an incident where a dog was allowed one bite—it did not bite again—but it was greatly to the relief of the owner that that particular situation occurred.
I hope I have persuaded the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment. It has been an interesting debate, for which I am grateful to noble Lords.
My Lords, the Minister is absolutely right: it has been an interesting debate. I have learnt things I could never have imagined, such as where the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, keeps his Rolos. On a serious note, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken for their contributions and their support for dog control notices. I think the Minister understands why this has been brought forward. I wish I could share his confidence. I will read his comments again and look at some of the points he made in more detail. He has not addressed the point of dog attacks on dogs or other pets. I am disappointed not to have his support for the 48 hours review. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that the assessment could be started within 48 hours. The reason to do that was to reduce costs and bureaucracy and for the welfare of the dogs. I am most surprised not to have the Minister’s support for a review. Given that he is so wedded to the provisions in this Bill and not notices, I thought he would have welcomed a review. I think that we are headed in the same direction and I wish that I had his confidence about the measures in the Bill. I will look carefully at what he had to say and look at the issues again. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 56LF withdrawn.
Clause 98: Keeping dogs under proper control
56LG: Clause 98, page 70, line 46, at end insert—
“( ) after subsection (2) there is inserted—“(2A) The owner of a dog commits an offence if they, or the person for the time being in charge of the dog, are not able to control the dog in a public place whether or not it is muzzled or kept on a lead.””
My Lords, I listened with great interest to the previous debates and would once again like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for everything that he has done in this matter. I only wish his measure was on the statute book. We would, perhaps, not be having these debates.
I was also interested in Amendment 56MA, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, which has already been debated, because what I am attempting to do in my amendment is very simple. Perhaps at Third Reading, it could be tabled with part of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. I have already spoken to the Public Bill Office, and that would be a possibility because my amendment does not deal with penalties.
I want to define very simply what a responsible person is. The owner of the dog, which will be in a public place, should know the degree to which somebody they are asking to be in charge of the dog or dogs meets the requirements in my amendment. They should be capable of being responsible and in charge of the dog, whether it is on a lead or not. Many people can very satisfactorily control dogs that are not on leads. Likewise, with regard to muzzling, I want defined once and for all whose liability it is, what the requirements are and, above all, who an appropriate person might be. This is only a first step in a still-unfolding problem. I wish it was not. People have seen dogs—their own or other people’s—practically shredded in public places and parks. Very often, those in charge of them are attacked at the same time. It happens too often, but perhaps not sufficiently often for it to be an even bigger public issue than it is now. The potential is always great.
At the time it happens you need the reinforcements immediately. I live in a very well known park in London where there are big notices saying “no cyclists” and, in that particular area, “no dogs”, because children play on the grass in the summer. I have yet to see a single cyclist or dog owner being stopped. That is one small area, and I have not seen any very bad incidents. I have certainly encountered them with my own dogs and with other members of my family. In each case, the outcome has been ghastly and has lived with us and the remaining dogs for the rest of our lives.
I had the interesting experience of my daughter’s dog being seriously attacked in America. The other dog’s owner had no control of it and did not even attempt to control it. They rescued their dog and went straight to the police. The police came immediately and made an order on the spot for that owner never to have that dog not on a lead or not under complete control. I was very impressed with the speed with which that action was taken. My daughter never wanted to walk anywhere near that house again. I hope my noble friend Lord Lyell will forgive me for being jolly pleased that I am not his neighbour.
My noble friend knows how highly I regard him, but I really do not think I shall accept his invitation, which was made so gallantly.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will have realised that this problem has continued to grow and grow since the 1991 Act, the passage of which I vaguely remember taking part in. The great problem with that Act was the naming of certain types of dog. It was also mentioned, at Second Reading, that there are now dog psychiatrists and that naughty dogs can sometimes have their whole behaviour changed. I have known only one of those and I will, wisely, not give the Committee his name. He was brought in because my two were little puppies and we had to find out who the strong one was. The strong one took one look at him, did not fancy him very much and turned away, taking no notice. The little flibbertigibbet did all these little clever things in front of him and he said, “Ooh, that is the main dog. That dog is certainly going to be the leader of the pack”. He subsequently wrote a chapter in his book in which he named my two “the terrible twins”. He based this on an incident when I was walking around with them on the lead at the local dog show. They had seen a Weimaraner that had attacked them in the past and they must have been very nervous. Everybody was laughing and when I looked around it was because one was on top of the other. That is why he called them the “terrible Oppenheim twins”. If you ever pick that book up, please put it down again and do not buy it.
This is a serious debate, on a serious matter, on which there is enormously strong feeling about things that can never be put right afterwards. I implore my noble friend to take note of what has been said and to try to meet, before Third Reading, the more modest proposals debated this evening.
My Lords, I support and thank my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, who has been a stalwart in the campaign on this over many years. There are problems with the amendment but it raises an important issue that we will come back to. After many years of discussion, the issue remains that some people use dogs as a way of intimidating others. This can take place even if the dog is on the lead and in a muzzle, because the person is using the dog for effect, so the muzzle is not a barrier to intimidation. I understand that this is a very difficult area to legislate in, but I hope the Minister will take into account that intimidation can be caused even if the dog is on a lead and muzzled.
My Lords, I agree that the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, is making a serious point about how the victim, or potential victim, feels when an owner is not in control of a dog. I am grateful for her comments and although she said something about the wording here, I was grateful for her support for dog control notices. None of us guarantees that we have absolutely the right wording. We may be able to have discussions, outside the Chamber, on wording that is accurate and would suit the Government well. The noble Lord does not want to see dog control notices but we may be able to make some improvements by discussing the matter further. I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s comments and support.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes for moving this amendment and other noble Lords for their contributions.
The purpose of the amendment is to extend the definition of “dangerously out of control”, found in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and used to determine whether an offence has been committed under Section 3 of that Act. It would read so that the owner or person in charge of the dog would be liable for prosecution where the dog was not under their control.
Let me be explicit. Where a dog has been dangerously out of control, regardless of whether injury has been inflicted, the owner or person in charge may be liable under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. “Dangerously out of control” is defined in Section 10 of that Act and is taken to mean,
“any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person, whether or not it actually does so”.
That would cover some of the incidents to which this amendment would apply.
Furthermore, the Government agree that there should be proactive intervention before a dog becomes dangerously out of control. Where an individual does not have the dog sufficiently under their control, action should be taken to avoid escalation to those more serious incidents. The new anti-social behaviour measures will allow for such action by using the community protection notice and, in some cases, the injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance. Those early intervention measures can make requirements of the owner to ensure that the dog is brought under control, its welfare improved and public safety protected; we have discussed the impact of such measures on conventional anti-social behaviour, and just now in the case of dogs. Requirements might include attending training or behaviour classes, for example.
Should the out-of-control behaviour be of sufficient concern, it will also be possible to make a complaint to the magistrate’s court under Section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871. Based on the evidence before it and using the civil burden of the balance of probabilities, the court can impose an order that requires the dog to be muzzled, on a lead or, in the most serious cases, destroyed.
Authorities may use the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 where a dog is dangerously out of control, and it is right that we maintain that threshold for this criminal offence. In other cases, where a dog is more generally out of control, authorities may require the owner to be subject to the new measures, such as the CPN introduced in the Bill, or may use the Dogs Act 1871. Given that there are a number of ways to address an incident such as the one described by my noble friend, and in the spirit of the Bill of reducing duplicate legislation, I ask my noble friend to withdraw her amendment. I agree that it may well be useful if I talk to my noble friend Lord De Mauley, who is not able to be here this evening, about the possibility of meeting to discuss these dog measures some time before the next stage. However, I hope that my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 56LG withdrawn.
56M: Clause 98, page 71, line 5, at end insert—
“(iii) in paragraph (b), for “two years” there is substituted “the relevant maximum specified in subsection (4A)”;(e) after subsection (4) there is inserted—“(4A) For the purposes of subsection (4)(b), the relevant maximum is—
(a) 14 years if a person dies as a result of being injured;(b) 5 years in any other case where a person is injured;(c) 3 years in any case where an assistance dog is injured (whether or not it dies).””
My Lords, government Amendment 56M relates to the maximum penalty for dog attacks. Following an amendment tabled in Committee in the House of Commons by Richard Fuller, Defra consulted over the summer on possible increases to the maximum sentences for offences under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 of allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control—the very measure that we have been discussing in the previous amendment. Specifically, that is the aggravated offence where an out-of-control dog kills or injures a person or an assistance dog.
Some 3,180 people and organisations completed the online survey and a number of organisations sent written representations. In summary, some 91% of respondents considered that the maximum penalty should be increased. We have taken into account the results from the survey, the written representations and the need for the maximum penalty to be proportionate to the offence.
The amendment provides for an increase in the maximum penalty for an aggravated offence under Section 3 of the 1991 Act, to apply in England and Wales, as follows: 14 years’ imprisonment if a person dies as a result of a dog attack, five years’ imprisonment if a person is injured by a dog attack, and three years’ imprisonment for an attack on an assistance dog that results in injury or death of the dog.
These changes reflect the high public concern that two years is an insufficient penalty for these offences, and the fact that seven adults and 10 children have died in dog attacks since 2005, and some 10 assistance dogs are attacked by other dogs every month. As now, each of these offences could also be punishable by an unlimited fine instead of, or in addition to, imprisonment; and, of course, the courts have the option of passing a community sentence.
I should make it clear that these revised sentences will apply only to the aggravated form of the offence in Section 3 of the 1991 Act; that is, the offence where a person or an assistance dog is actually killed or injured in a dog attack. Where someone actually sets their dog on to a person, the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is likely to come into play. As noble Lords will be aware, the Act comes with its own sentencing regime. Were someone to be killed by a dog set upon them, if this is found to be an act of murder or manslaughter, the maximum sentence that would apply is life imprisonment. As now, it will be for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether there is both sufficient evidence to charge a person with the Section 3 offence and whether it is in the public interest to mount a prosecution. Once a case comes to court and a person is found guilty, it will be for the judge to take into account any mitigating or aggravating factors when passing sentence. We can, and should, leave it to prosecutors and the courts to make decisions in light of the facts of each individual case.
Of course, increasing the maximum penalty for dog attacks is only one aspect of trying to target irresponsible dog ownership and to encourage more responsible approaches. The Government consulted on a range of measures to encourage responsible dog ownership in 2012, and published a summary of results and the way forward in February this year, including bringing forward the other measures in the Bill relating to dogs and the compulsory microchipping of dogs by 2016. However, I hope noble Lords will agree that increasing the maximum penalty in the way that I have described is an important additional step. I commend the amendment to the Committee.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing this forward and for his explanation. I know he said at Second Reading that he would bring forward the amendment and he has been kind enough to write to noble Lords about it. I think this came from amendments proposed in the other place, where Richard Fuller raised the point and the Government agreed to do a consultation on it over the summer. Therefore, we are supportive and want to see better sentencing guidelines around dangerous dogs. The culpability of those responsible and the actions taken against them are central to the measures the Government have taken. It also comes back to the point I made to the noble Lord earlier. I do not want to hark on about dog control offences too much but it is about prevention. Tougher sentences help with preventing such attacks taking place, and encourage more responsible dog ownership. That certainly is a positive.
I would like to ask the noble Lord a few questions about this. I am slightly puzzled about the reasons—if he could help me on this—that the amendment says:
“14 years if a person dies as a result of being injured”.
That will be the maximum penalty and we all recognise that in most cases the maximum penalty would not be the penalty given. Is 14 years comparable with other legislation? Are there other kinds? Where has this come from? I am sure it is not something the Minister has just dreamt up. I assume that there is other legislation that is seen as similar or relevant, which the period of 14 years would have been taken from.
I think there was some discussion in the Commons. This measure is for when a person dies as a result of being injured, but what if a dog is used as a weapon? We know that there are cases when somebody is injured because a dog is deliberately set on a person. What if they die? Is that the same penalty? What if somebody deliberately sets a dog on another animal, or a pet? With the penalty for when somebody dies as a result of being injured—in the case of an assistance dog, whether or not it dies, the penalty is three years—is there any distinction between an attack occurring when the owner has tried not to have their dog attack an individual and an attack occurring when the owner sets the dog on an individual? I do not think that it would be covered by dog fighting laws if a human were attacked. If the Minister has any information on that, it would be helpful.
Furthermore, is the five years’ imprisonment for a person being injured something that is found in other legislation? I am speaking slowly, because I think that inspiration is about to arrive for the Minister on this issue. Where do the 14 years, five years and three years come from? Is there comparable legislation? The crucial point is whether the attack is deliberate, and whether a dog is forced to attack another dog or person. Many years ago, I helped to home a dog that had been the victim of quite serious attacks by other dogs. This poor dog was quite an aggressive creature with other dogs, but it had had half of its jaw bitten off and was in a terrible state. So I have seen at first hand and cared for dogs that have been very seriously attacked by other dogs. I am trying to get to the base of whether this is about something that happened, which should have been prevented, or something that is deliberate. It would be very helpful if the noble Lord could answer these questions.
The most important thing is to recognise that the prosecution of these cases is in the hands of the prosecuting authorities and adjudication of sentences is in the hands of the court. But there are particular aspects to the legislation. The noble Baroness asked me whether there was something comparable: 14 years’ imprisonment is the same penalty as for causing death by dangerous driving, so there is a parallel with that.
The noble Baroness made a further point. I thought that I referred to it—and, certainly, I half thought that I mentioned it in my previous contribution. It is getting late and my memory may not be right, but I certainly have it here in my notes and may have said it in my speech. When a person deliberately sets a dog to injure someone, using a dog as a weapon, other offences would apply, such as murder or manslaughter, which as the noble Baroness knows carry a maximum of a life sentence, if that is shown to be the case. I am sure that I alluded to that in my previous remarks.
Why did we decide to increase the maximum penalty for injury to a person to five years? The majority of people wanted to see 10 years, but we wanted to be proportionate and felt that this was about the right tariff for injury to a person. But I think that the noble Baroness welcomes the amendments, and I am grateful for her support.
The noble Lord is right: I am welcoming the amendments and am grateful to him for his explanation, which is extremely helpful. I had not realised that a dog could be used as a tool currently in a murder or manslaughter charge; that information is news to me. So I am grateful to him for explaining that more fully. He is right—we do support these amendments.
What has been helpful about these debates on the dog legislation is that they have reinforced the fact that this is an area in which the legislative framework has been imperfect. I hope that I have convinced noble Lords on the flexibility of the anti-social behaviour measures when applied to dog ownership. There is specific draft guidance being given to professionals. I shall make sure that all noble Lords who have spoken in this part of our discussions this evening, including those who might have done, such as the noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord Greaves, get a copy of that guidance, because it will help future discussions. I hope it will persuade noble Lords that, given the acknowledged difficulty of legislating in this area, what the Government are seeking to do is sympathetic to the sentiments of the Committee.
Amendment 56M agreed.
Clause 98, as amended, agreed.
Clause 99 agreed.
Amendments 56MA to 56MC not moved.
House adjourned at 10 pm.