Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Written evidence submitted by the Local Government Association (LGA)

Overview

While the LGA agrees with the Government position that the law on dangerous dogs needs changing to promote more responsible ownership of dogs and to reduce the number of dog attacks, we are concerned that the proposals within this consultation will not achieve this objective.

It is important that Government engage effectively with delivery partners to really tackle the misery the growing tide of dangerous dogs presents for communities across the country. In the time that the Government has remained silent on this issue of dangerous dogs, local delivery partners have worked together to produce a holistic and sustainable proposal that we believe provides the tools to work robustly with irresponsible dog owners. We have listened to the experiences of those working with the communities that are all too frequently suffering because police and councils are left unable to respond to the concerns created by dangerous dogs and their owners. While it is disappointing that Defra have failed to effectively engage with the partners that have developed these proposals as part of this consultation, we would welcome further engagement with the Home Office to ensure that the new anti social behaviour proposals can begin to provide delivery partners with a real solution to the issue of dangerous dogs.

Summary of Key Points

The LGA do not believe that compulsory microchipping will tackle the range of problems caused by dangerous dogs, though we do recognise that it may help reduce timescales for returning stray dogs.

We strongly encourage Defra to accept our previous offer of engaging directly with councils to ensure the cost, practicality and outcomes of compulsory microchipping have been fully considered.

If compulsory microchipping is introduced then councils must have access to robust data in a timely fashion.

The LGA supports the extension of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 powers to private property.

We strongly encourage Defra to produce a holistic approach to dangerous dogs, which also accommodates a form of Dog Control Notices to secure long term improvements to dog ownership and brings the regulation of dog breeding and sale up to date with commercial practices.

Microchipping

1. Compulsory microchipping will not resolve the issue of dangerous dogs and can only provide a small contribution to a far wider package of tools needed to encourage responsible dog ownership. Unfortunately, a microchip will not alter the behaviour of a dog owner and will not alleviate the fear that a dangerous dog can inflict on local communities. It is unlikely that the most irresponsible dog owners will comply with a legal requirement to microchip their dog.

2. The LGA acknowledges that compulsory microchipping of dogs will help some stray dogs to be returned to their owner more rapidly, hence promoting welfare standards and reducing the extensive and increasing kennelling costs incurred by councils. However, the benefits still remain limited as many stray dogs have already been microchipped on a voluntary basis and councils are already working hard to ensure stray dogs are returned to their owners as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, microchipping will not resolve the increasing trend of individuals abandoning dogs because they have been unable to cope with the full responsibility of dog ownership. A trend that is increasing as economic pressures on families continue to grow.

3. The Defra consultation only includes very high level information about the proposed approach to compulsory microchipping. As councils will have responsibility for enforcing any legal obligations relating to microchipping, it is absolutely critical that we are engaged directly if this proposal is developed further. In our response to the March 2010 consultation on dangerous dogs, the LGA offered to provide a number of local Government contacts to liaise on the practical and legal issues associated with microchipping, but unfortunately this offer has not been taken up by Defra.

4. If compulsory microchipping were to be introduced then it is anticipated that councils will be able to make increased use of microchipping to return stray dogs to their owners. However, councils will not have the resource to undertake any proactive enforcement of microchipping requirements without additional funding.

5. It is important that Defra have realistic expectations about the action that is appropriate if a dog is found without a microchip and can be reliably linked to their owner. The LGA recognises the role of improvement notices in addressing non compliance, however, in the vast majority of circumstance it is not in the public interest to take legal action for such a technical offence in isolation. Further enforcement action may be considered in response to a broader range of issues and associated offences.

6. If the Government were to introduce compulsory microchipping then it is important that a fixed point is established by which all dogs need to be microchipped, including a requirement to update details on transfer of ownership. This removes any ambiguity about whether microchipping applies in individual cases that may undermine enforcement action.

Data on Dog Owners

7. We note the consultation refers to specifically to the use of the existing PetLog database. We would have concerns about the legality of creating in effect a monopoly for a private database and would stress the positive impact that market forces can have on driving standards and reducing price.

8. If Defra are suggesting the use of a range of different private databases, it is essential that minimum standards are established to provide councils with 24 hour access to information. Data collection and recording must be conducted in a robust manner that can be used as the basis for formal enforcement action. We strongly recommend that Defra consider issues associated with data collection in relation to both horse passports and greyhounds, where multiple private databases have created problems with easy access to data, accuracy and reliability.

Private Property

9. The LGA supports the extension of criminal law under the Dangerous Dogs Act to all places including private property. We hope this will help the police and councils respond more effectively to dogs that are out of control on private property, particularly the threat that they pose to workers and visitors to family homes.

10. This extension would increase enforcement responsibilities for both police and councils and as such there would therefore be a financial implication.

Responding to the Concerns of Communities and Preventing Dog Biting Incidents

11. The LGA is disappointed that the Defra proposals on dangerous dogs do not include the introduction of “Dog Control Notices”. Defra has failed to consider the united views of the police, councils and charities about how such notices can provide the basis for a preventative and sustainable approach to dangerous dogs that actively encourages responsible dog ownership.

12. Dog Control Notices are not blanket bans on dogs in specific areas, but rather a contract with a dog owner to promote sustained responsible dog ownership. This tool could be used by delivery partners in response to indicative signs of irresponsible dog ownership with the aim of preventing a dog attack from occurring in the first place. Dog Control Notices are a tool that could be used in response to the myriad of issues associated with irresponsible dog ownership that can plague communities.

13. The RSPCA, with support from the LGA, ACPO and a range of charities, has put forward clear proposals on circumstances in which Dog Control Notices could be used and the improvement measures that could be applied. There is unanimous frustration across those working on dangerous dogs issues that Defra have not considered these proposals.

14. Since the publication of this consultation, the Home Office has released Government proposals on tackling anti social behaviour. The LGA would like to work with the Home Office to ensure that the tools to tackle anti social behaviour can be used to effectively target dangerous dogs issues and secure long term improvements in responsible dog ownership. It is important that the anti social behaviour proposals for this purpose can be administered a timely manner and without unnecessary red tape.

Licensing

15. Since the introduction of the Animal Welfare Act in 2006, the LGA has argued that Defra should review the legislation relating to dog breeders and pet vending to ensure that it remains responsive to current practices and risks. We are disappointed to see that Defra has not included proposals to update this legislation, as we believe it could form an important preventative tool in the fight against dangerous dogs.

Working with Partners—Case Studies and Sharing Best Practice

Councils across the country are working hard with the police and charities to respond to community concerns about dangerous dogs. The work of councils is focused on measures that encourage responsible dog ownership, reduce the fear felt by many communities and prevent dog attacks from occurring.

Wandsworth—Social housing
Stockton—Microchipping and neutering
Hampshire—Dog control contracts

June 2012

Prepared 14th February 2013