Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Supplementary written evidence submitted by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Home Office

Questions from 31.10.2012 Lord De Mauley’s Appearance

Q1. What will the penalties be for non-compliance with the proposed requirement to microchip puppies prior to first sale? How will this be enforced?

This has not yet been finally decided. The requirement for microchipping dogs would be in a set of Regulations made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The level would be set taking account of the severity of the offence.

Q2. What is Defra’s view on the suggestion that the threshold for requiring a dog breeder to obtain a breeding licence should be reduced to three (ie not more than two) litters?

There are no proposals to amend the existing law on the regulation of dog breeding. The change to licensing requirements for breeders only changed from two litters to five litters in 1999. Anyone who breeds dogs, whether they are licensed or not, needs to comply with the Animal Welfare Act 2006 by providing for the welfare needs of their animals. Anyone who has concerns about the welfare of animals at a dog breeding establishment can report them to the local authority that have powers under both the dog breeding legislation and the Animal Welfare Act, or to the RSPCA.

Q3. What is Defra’s response to the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding’s proposed Breeding Standard sent to Ministers in August? Does Defra propose to incorporate this into any regulatory framework for dog breeding?

We welcome the work of the Advisory Council and encourage people to follow the best practices that they have advised. My initial reaction is that a lot of the proposals can be achieved by the industry working with veterinary and animal welfare organisations, rather than through legislative changes, but I do wish to hear what Professor Sheila Crispin has to say when I meet with her.

Q4. What is Defra’s view on the suggestion that the Advisory Council should be given a regulatory function over the breeding of dogs? If it does not propose this, how can the Council be given more teeth?

The Dog Advisory Council was set up following recommendations in the Bateson Report for an independent advisory council. We are not minded to change the power of the Council, but we do welcome the work that is being done to raise standards. Where the Council feels it necessary to have greater powers as a regulatory body, we feel this could be met by greater coordination between the Council, animal welfare charities, breed groups, and organisations such as the Kennel Club, with Defra certainly playing a role. Again though, I will be better placed to answer this following my meeting with Professor Crispin.

Q5. What influence can Defra have on the pedigree breeding community, including the Kennel Club and Breed Clubs, to help improve the health and welfare of pedigree dogs?

Along with animal welfare charities and other organisations including the Select Committee, Defra can encourage the industry to create and meet its own standards with regard to pedigree dog breeding, which is then supported by the work of animal welfare charities and breed clubs. Similarly, in educating the general public, as well as those who are active in the dog breeding community, Defra has been able to work in conjunction with key stakeholders on what a healthy puppy should look like, and what features are detrimental to the welfare of certain breeds.

Q6. Under what circumstances would you consider introducing regulation to tackle genetic and conformation problems in pedigree dogs caused by inbreeding and breed standards?

At present we are taking an approach that involves working with industry and charities to improve not only standards, but also general education, about breeding practices that have perverse outcomes. I do not consider regulation is necessary given the co-operative work and efforts of stakeholders.

Q7. Could you explain the reasons why Defra decided not to propose that dog owners should be required to take out third party insurance against their dog causing damage or injury?

This was considered by the previous Government in the first consultation on promoting responsible dog ownership in 2010. The results showed that the insurance industry were not supportive of the proposals. Nor am I convinced that requiring every dog owner to have third-party insurance for their dog is entirely proportionate or appropriate.

In the unfortunate case of a dog not being kept under control, there are other avenues of redress available to victims. For instance, convicted offenders of dangerous dog offences that injure or cause distress to a victim can be required to pay compensation. Courts can impose a compensation order for any dangerous dog offences where the victim is caused personal loss, damage or injury. The power is contained under s.130 of the Power of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000.

Recently published sentencing guidelines on dog offences advises Courts that in all cases where a dog is out of control and causes injury, or where it is simply out of control the Court should consider whether to make a compensation order and/or other ancillary orders. The Court should also consider compensation orders in all cases where personal injury, loss or damage has resulted from the offence. The Court must give reasons if it decides not to award compensation in such cases. In addition to this, the victim can pursue civil damages. It should be pointed out that whilst the purchasing of third-party insurance is not compulsory, we do encourage it, and owners can and some do have cover anyway.

It should be noted that owners with a banned type must have third party insurance as part of the requirements for the dog to be placed on the Index of Exempted Dogs.

Q8. What is Defra’s view of the suggestion by some witnesses that an attack on an assistance dog be considered to be an aggravated attack which should be made prosecutable under the Dangerous Dog Act 1991?

I recognise the very serious concern that is behind this question, and the tragedy of attacks on guide dogs is fully understood. These attacks, though, are already covered by existing legislation:

An offence may be committed under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 if a person’s negligence has caused unnecessary suffering to another animal (if the attack is not provoked by the owner).

If a dog is purposely being used as a weapon to attack a guide dog because of the victim’s sight problems, and this is made clear, this falls into the realm of hate crime.

Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, a dog is regarded as dangerously out of control if a person is in fear of being attacked, whether or not it actually does so. This is demonstrated by the prosecution of offenders in some attacks on guide dogs.

The Animals Act 1971 could also be used in guide dog attacks.

Clearly, it would depend on the individual circumstances of each case as to which legislation could be applied, but this does go some-way to demonstrating that the legislation is already in place.

The Sentencing Guidelines released in August 2012 allow for an attack under the 1991 Act to be punishable by the Magistrates’ Court by a maximum of six months imprisonment. The aggravated version of the offence which is indictable carries a heavier penalty of two years imprisonment and requires that a person be injured or fear injury, which is arguably the case in an attack on a guide dog, which is a form of attack on the owner of the guide dog.

Where prosecution has not occurred, it is attributed to difficulties in enforcement and evidence-gathering, rather than a lack of an offence.

Questions from 24.10.12 Jeremy Browne (MP) Appearance

Q1. What is the assessment of the effectiveness of the use of Dog Control Notices in Scotland?

Defra has not conducted an assessment of Scotland’s Dog Control Notices. We believe that Scotland intends to do this itself, but DCNs have only been in place since 26 February 2011. We do know that between 26 February 2011 and 5 March 2012, there were 1,114 DCN investigations, resulting in 92 DCNs being issued from 165 authorised officers.

Q2. What use is being made by the police of the powers available to them under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953? What assessment has been made as to the impact of the increase in penalty applicable to those convicted under this Act?

Defra has not conducted an assessment of the effect of the increase in penalties. However, the latest figures from the Ministry of Justice show that in 2011, 83% of prosecutions were successful, which is the highest ratio in the last ten years.

Q3. Will authorities be able to require the neutering of a dog being used for criminal or antisocial behaviour as a remedy available under any part of the Putting Victims First framework?

The proposals set out in “Putting Victims First” were focussed on improving the powers available to the police and others to protect victims and communities from anti-social behaviour, as opposed to dealing with crimes committed under the Dangerous Dogs Act or other legislation. The new powers are intended to be sufficiently flexible to allow practitioners to deal with a wide range of issues, and we do not propose to set out in detail when and how particular powers could or should be used.

There are, however, scenarios in which it is conceivable that an unneutered dog could be central to a particular anti-social behaviour problem, and where practitioners could require that the owner neutered the animal to prevent problems occurring in the future. This could be on a voluntary basis, as part of an Acceptable Behaviour Contract. Alternatively, neutering could potentially be part of a Community Protection Notice (where an unneutered dog was at the heart of a persistent problem affecting the wider community), or required by the court as part of a Crime Prevention Injunction or Criminal Behaviour Order (again, where neutering was felt to be essential to preventing future anti-social behaviour).

In each case, there would need to be a clear link between the requirement to neuter, and preventing anti-social behaviour.

Courts can already impose conditions, including neutering, on offenders who are in contravention of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, where an offence is causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, through negligence or otherwise. This covers those involved in poor breeding practices that have a detrimental effect upon the animals. It should also be noted that all banned types with a court approved exemption must also be neutered, or they are liable for destruction.

November 2012

Prepared 14th February 2013