UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 575-ii

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Dog Control and Welfare

Wednesday 12 September 2012

COUNCILLOR Nilgun Canver, PC Keith Evans and Assistant Chief Constable Gareth Pritchard

Claire Horton, Steve Goody, Clarissa Baldwin and Gavin Grant

Evidence heard in Public Questions 85 - 172

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

on Wednesday 12 September 2012

Members present:

Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)

George Eustice

Barry Gardiner

Mrs Mary Glindon

Neil Parish

Ms Margaret Ritchie

Dan Rogerson

Amber Rudd

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Councillor Nilgun Canver, Local Government Association Licensing Champion/Member of Safer and Stronger Communities Board, PC Keith Evans, Association of Chief Police Officers, and Assistant Chief Constable Gareth Pritchard, Association of Chief Police Officers, gave evidence.

Q85 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome to you. Thank you very much indeed for agreeing to participate in our inquiry into dangerous dogs’ welfare and control. Could you each introduce yourselves, simply for the record? Just give your name and your positions, if you would. Could we start with you, Councillor Canver?

Nilgun Canver: I am Councillor Nilgun Canver. I am here on behalf of the LGA.

Gareth Pritchard: I am Gareth Pritchard. I am the Assistant Chief Constable for North Wales Police, but I am the ACPO lead for dangerous dogs.

Keith Evans: I am Keith Evans. I am Dog Legislation Officer for the West Midlands Police and an adviser to the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Q86 Chair: Thank you. In terms of housekeeping, there may well be a pause for a vote, for which we will adjourn for 15 minutes and come back as quickly as we can. We thank you for your patience and forbearance in that regard. What we are hoping to do is to look at all the existing legislation that applies and the work of the two Departments concerned, Defra and the Home Office. Only one witness needs to speak for each organisation. One thing that changed was the requirement for English dogs to be licensed, which ended in 1987. We understand that the takeup was only 50% anyway. What were the implications of that ceasing? Also, the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 ended the requirement for the police to kennel and safeguard stray dogs. That passed to local authorities. Do you believe that those two changes accounted for the particular upsurge that we have seen in the problem of stray dogs and dangerous dogs as well?

Nilgun Canver: In principle, we agree with the Government about applying some changes to the law with regards to tackling dangerous dogs. We have not heard from the Government for a while. We were very concerned, with the police and the charities, that we were left on our own without any support. I am glad that now we are moving towards changing all of this.

In terms of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act and responsibility moving to the local councils and police relinquishing their responsibility, it has had an enormous impact on local authorities. Just to give you some indication, between 2003 and 2008, in my borough of Haringey, we had 10 to 12 dogs and incidents registered as serious and dangerous through the antisocial behaviour team; but between 2008 and 2012 and up to now, the number has increased to 42. That can give you an indication of how that increase happened. At the same time, we had very few stray dogs coming to our attention before 2008. For a couple of years, we were flooded with the number of stray dogs. This put an enormous burden on councils as we did not have the kennelling capacity; we did not have dedicated people working on these things. It took a while to deal with these stray dogs.

In terms of licensing-if I remember your first question correctly-there is already provision in the legislation for breeders to license those dogs that litter. There is provision in the legislation, but I am not sure if further legislation would be helpful, because we need to deal with the behaviour of the dogs. We need to give more responsibility to the owners.

Q87 Chair: Who would like to reply from the police? Thank you, Mr Evans.

Keith Evans: On the point of the oldfashioned licence, the licence in those days was pretty much to license an individual to have dogs. Everyone is in agreement now that the emphasis must be placed on registering a dog and accountability between an individual and an individual dog. Much as some parties would advocate the return to a licence, its form must take far more of a registration aspect, as opposed to just licensing a piece of paper that entitles you to own a dog.

Q88 Chair: If I could move that argument on, if there was only 50% uptake in those who owned dogs registering those dogs, before 1987, what can the Government do, whether it is voluntary microchipping or even compulsory microchipping, to ensure a higher compliance with any change in the law?

Keith Evans: This comes through education again. Also, the charitable sector is assisting greatly in this area of encouraging people to microchip their dogs. The general awareness of the benefits of microchips is far greater now. The licence was not seen to serve a purpose, but the general population now sees the purpose of microchipping, registering and the accountability of the owners, because their dog is now linked to them through the microchip. People can see the genuine benefits of that.

Q89 Chair: We will be coming on to that in more detail. Can I just ask about the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, and to what extent you believe it should be completely overhauled? In particular, I am looking at the sentences under that Act. Are they stringent enough to act as a deterrent? Where a dog is being used as a weapon, do the sentences reflect, for example, someone using a knife as opposed to a dangerous dog?

Keith Evans: The sentencing aspect, with regards to a dog dangerously out of control, should not be confused with where a dog is used as a weapon. If an individual uses a dog as a weapon that case should be dealt with, from the time of the incident through to the prosecution, as an assault: the dog in itself is a weapon. Therefore, the sentencing for an assault will always be far greater than the sentencing under the Dangerous Dogs Act for an aggravated Section 3, for example, where the act that involves the dog injuring somebody was not a deliberate act. It was not a malicious act; it was through the irresponsible behaviour of the owner.

Q90 Chair: Whether it is on private or public property?

Keith Evans: Currently both, under our proposals.

Q91 Chair: Do you believe that there should be a change in the law?

Keith Evans: Yes, very much so. ACPO supports the moving of powers that are currently under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act to cover private places, yes.

Nilgun Canver: The LGA is of a similar view, as we welcome this aspect. It will be very helpful to councils and the police in taking action as a result.

Q92 Barry Gardiner: Do you think the Defra consultation goes far enough? If you do not, in what areas does it not go far enough?

Gareth Pritchard: In terms of dog control generally, we would like to see a more comprehensive Bill. There are many aspects that we are concerned about around seeking to protect the public: we are very well aware of the serious injuries, especially to children, that we deal with; powers in private places; an effective preventative strategy; a proportionate response to the dangers that we see; powers to protect workers in people’s homes. I have obviously had a number of meetings with Defra and, having spoken with the Minister and met animal charities and a number of the people who are here today, there is quite a consensus in the responses that you have had as a Committee, and in the discussions that we have had, that there is a need for a comprehensive set of proposals in the form of a dog control Bill. We are still using the 1871 legislation, but we are concerned about the gaps. Powers in private places is a major concern, as is our ability to protect people effectively. We are spending huge amounts of money on kennelling, which does affect animal welfare, and we are clearly experiencing financial cuts, like many other public services. That is a concern. We would like to see a more comprehensive set of dog control measures.

Nilgun Canver: We welcome the approach in terms of improving the legislation, and we are pleased that, at the moment, dog behaviour contracts are now accepted as an important tool. The Home Office is proposing some amendments to antisocial behaviour legislation, which is also very much welcomed, in the sense that we have argued in the past, especially with the charities, that dog behaviour contracts would be a useful tool to prevent the escalation of bad behaviour and to tackle irresponsible dog ownership. Now, I understand, it is part of the proposals, which is quite welcome. Nevertheless, we have got concerns about compulsory microchipping, because we really want the legislation to encourage people to become responsible dog owners and tackle the issues.

Chair: We are coming on to that in a moment.

Q93 Barry Gardiner: Could I just press you there, Councillor Canver? The LGA is a signatory to the Draft Bill. What you have outlined, up to this point, has fallen short, in some way, I would have said, of the control notices that you have proposed and signed up to in that Bill. Do you think it essential that those control notices be contained in an Act?

Nilgun Canver: Yes, of course, because there are good examples of that. Eastleigh Council has got very good voluntary informal arrangements along those lines. It is proven that it can work and it is quite positive.

Gareth Pritchard: We would favour dog control notices to have an effective preventative strategy. At the moment, we are reactive when the incident occurs, so we would favour the control notices, yes.

Q94 Barry Gardiner: Can I just say to both of you from ACPO that I was very impressed that two of you came today to address the Committee? It does strike me, though, that, as a Member of Parliament who repeatedly finds himself in a position where we are working with local residents’ associations on this issue, one of the commonest complaints is the lack of seriousness with which local police officers take lowlevel complaints about dogs being out of control. It is only when something actually escalates into an attack that the police seem to take any notice. I am delighted that both of you are here today, but I would be far more delighted if you could give us some assurance that police forces up and down the country are going to start taking those warnings from local residents much more seriously.

Gareth Pritchard: I understand the concern. Clearly we are seeking to react to those issues. What we are seeking is a more flexible structure and for neighbourhood policing teams to be able to deal with community concerns far quicker. We do have dog legislation officers, such as Keith here, but there are around 100 across England and Wales. What we would like is a clear legislative structure, which involves dog control notices, so that we are not taking people to court but dealing with problems, concerns and apprehensions in the community quickly.

Q95 Barry Gardiner: Mr Pritchard, don’t you feel that having a dog officer in a sense says to other officers on the force, "Dogs ain’t my problem," whereas you would not have that for knives or other issues of concern?

Gareth Pritchard: I agree completely. We have dog legislation officers because of the complexity of the legislative structure. I would like many of these issues to become neighbourhood policing issues, with a preventative strategy so that, if you have a police community support officer who has concern about a dog outside a school, there is a tool available for that officer to deal with that effectively. I would like to see it more routinely and effectively utilised, but I accept your concerns.

Q96 Barry Gardiner: Many of us would like to see some neighbourhood community police officers left, but that is another matter. At the moment, I think I am right in saying that you have powers-and I am shifting to dogonlivestock attacks-at your disposal under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 to deal with attacks on livestock, but you are not using them to any extent, are you? Is that not one of the problems? There are powers there in that area, but the police are not actually using them. Is it not part of the issue that these things are simply not a priority for you?

Keith Evans: The Protection of Livestock Act is extremely oldfashioned. It does not have the power of seizure of the dog, as soon as we know who the owner of the dog is. It does not have the power of arrest. The fines are minimal, and it is one of the few pieces of legislation where we have to get the permission of a chief constable to commence an investigation. I advise, and have passed on information recently via the police knowledge website, that officers should start to look at alternatives to the Livestock Act to investigate criminally attacks on livestock, for example the Animal Welfare Act. Where just control measures are sought, they are, a lot of the time, better off using section 2 of the 1871 Act. The Protection of Livestock Act is not an effective Act in today’s rural communities. It does not even incorporate things like llamas and alpacas, which are regularly farmed. Within the draft of the proposed Bill, that is one of the Acts that would be repealed.

Q97 Barry Gardiner: What level of sanctions do you believe is appropriate for attacks by dogs on other animals?

Keith Evans: It varies in the severity. A dog chasing a cat up a tree is obviously not a matter for police involvement. A dog seriously attacking another dog, attacking a guide dog for example, is something that needs dealing with robustly.

Q98 Barry Gardiner: What if the dog catches the cat?

Keith Evans: Again, if it is a protected animal, then that would be covered under the legislation.

Q99 Barry Gardiner: That was not quite my question. You have deflected that slightly, haven’t you? What if the dog catches the cat and destroys it?

Keith Evans: If a dog catches a cat and kills it, under the Draft Bill that would be an offence, as it was a dog attacking a protected animal.

Q100 Amber Rudd: Good afternoon. Could I ask you about the issue around different breeds of dogs? Why has the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 not really worked in relation to banning certain types of dogs? Could you tell me how you believe amending the Act to remove references to specific breeds or types currently banned under the section would weaken attempts to prevent dog attacks?

Keith Evans: Let’s be honest-it is the pitbulltype dog that we have all got in our minds. The reason it has not worked and we have seen an explosion is that it is a very difficult dog to control and eradicate, because it can be created over a relatively short time, over a number of generations. It is, without doubt, the breed of choice for certain elements of the criminal and irresponsible dog owners within our communities. It has become quite a status symbol. The Act has been hampered by the fact that it is so easy to reproduce. Sorry; what was the second part of your question?

Q101 Amber Rudd: How would you respond to the view held by some people that we should not name certain breeds in new legislation but focus on the deed-i.e. not the breed?

Keith Evans: ACPO would not want to see the repealing of breedspecific legislation at this time. Without doubt, the pitbull terrier, the pitbulltype dog, is the most betrayed and abused breed the world has ever seen. It is the breed of choice amongst certain members of the criminal and irresponsible dog-owning community. It is the breed of choice especially with regards to organised dog fighters. It is a breed of choice for them for one reason and one reason only: it is the best breed of dog, pound for pound, for killing what is in front of it. It does this through hundreds of years of selective breeding.

Q102 Amber Rudd: Even though it has not worked as it is, for the reasons you have given, you would not want to see those breeds removed from any new legislation.

Keith Evans: What we would wish to see is, through education, robust, workable legislation and working within communities, a change in society’s approach to responsible dog ownership. When that has changed to a position where we feel that the repealing of breedspecific legislation would not be an immediate and direct endangerment to public safety, ACPO would welcome the repealing of breedspecific legislation.

Q103 Amber Rudd: What about the new breeds that we might get from criminal types trying to breed them-the larger mastiffs and crossbreeds?

Keith Evans: As we move away from breeds and more to the deeds of the dog, this is something that we must be mindful of and, through robust education and enforcement, make sure that certain breeds are not allowed to take over from where the pit bull left off, as it were.

Q104 Amber Rudd: You want to continue naming certain breeds and be alert to naming additional ones, if that is required.

Keith Evans: If need be, but we certainly would not advocate it at this time.

Q105 Chair: Could I just return to what Barry Gardiner said about cats? What we heard last week from the NFU was about attacks of dogs on livestock. There has been a lot in the press about attacks by dogs on horses. Do you believe that the present provisions of the legislation cover cats, livestock and horses sufficiently, or do you believe that it should be amended?

Keith Evans: We believe it should be amended. There is some confusion. We have had some successes at court on attacks on horses while they are being ridden. The British Horse Society has seen an increase in the number of people being injured and incidents involving dog attacks on horses. We would want to see the law changed, so that any attack by a dog on an animal, such as a horse or any protected animal, is a criminal offence.

Chair: That is very helpful, thank you very much.

Q106 Neil Parish: This question really is directed to our police officers. How can the Defra proposal on extending the Dangerous Dogs Act to private property be implemented so as to give sufficient safeguard to those whose dogs attack people not authorised to be on the property? Basically, how do we balance it? We do not want the postman bitten, because he or she should be there, but also dogs are there sometimes to guard property.

Gareth Pritchard: That is a piece of work that we have done and we have looked at various scenarios. Clearly we would want to protect people who are on property with implied or express permission. We have looked at scenarios where a child may go into a garden to retrieve a ball. It is possible to give safeguards so that people who are unlawfully on property are not protected, but it is clear that, where the postal worker, the midwife, the nurse, the social services or the home help attend, we believe they deserve protection. It is a protection to allow the police to investigate and gather evidence. That is what we are seeking. We want to gather the evidence at the scene. We want to investigate and then hand over to the Crown Prosecution Service, as we do with other offences, which will look at the situation and see if it passes the evidential test and the public interest test. Our interest is to carry out a thorough investigation.

We are getting to scenes now where there has been an incident on private property; the ambulance will call us; officers will attend; a child will be seriously injured. It is a significant incident, but then we become aware, the response officer, that we have not got the powers. So it is a power to investigate. There are safeguards here. I think I want to reassure you that we are looking to put those safeguards in. We have a working group that sits to look at dangerous dog issues, which includes a force solicitor, and we have looked at that in some considerable detail to ensure the proper safeguards. Clearly we are looking from a public safety point of view. You heard last week, and have seen the evidence in the papers quite often, especially of children getting seriously injured and the deaths that have occurred. There is a balance there, and we have done the piece of work to give that balance-to give that reassurance to people that people unlawfully on their property will not be protected, but the people who are lawfully and legitimately there can have the safeguards of the law.

Q107 Neil Parish: What you are doing sounds good, but how does a dog differentiate between somebody who is coming into the house perhaps to burgle or a kiddie going over to collect their ball? What you are saying sounds very good, but how does that work in practice?

Gareth Pritchard: When we look at the volume of situations that we experience now, a lot are within the dwelling. They are people, children especially, who are seriously injured. When we look at the volume of circumstances, mostly it is quite clear how we would want to protect the post office worker or the child. There would be, I think, appropriate wording to ensure that there would be those safeguards. We have crafted some wording around that and we have shared that with Defra, so we have looked at that issue to try to ensure there is a balance there. Clearly there would have to be education and clarity in the legislation to ensure that everybody is aware of the circumstances and the boundaries where there would be concern. We would be happy to work on that in some considerable detail to give that reassurance.

Q108 Chair: It would be helpful to have that with the Committee, if we could.

Gareth Pritchard: Yes, certainly.

Q109 Neil Parish: Just a final question: where farmers have dogs as guard dogs, if you change the legislation, they will probably have to change the habits of how those dogs on farms protect against, perhaps, Travellers or anybody entering the property. How are you going to deal with that situation?

Keith Evans: We must differentiate between a farm dog and a guard dog. Once it is a guard dog, it is subject to the Guard Dogs Act, and the signage and containment that accompany that. With regards to a farm dog that may be of an unsociable nature, we would expect, if a farm was open and there was implied access-say there was no gate from the road to the farm-that the farmer would have a duty of care to ensure that legitimate visitors to the premises were protected from attacks from his sheep dog, for example. If he had a dog that was known to be quite unsociable, then really he has a duty of care to the people visiting the property in terms of maybe some sort of a gate-you would discuss post boxes at garden gates, etc. Maybe these are something he would have to consider.

Q110 Neil Parish: Finally on that one, sheep dogs are notorious for rounding people up and nipping them in the back of the leg. I am not saying it is very pleasant, but it is not a vicious attack. I do not think people enjoy it when it happens. How are you going to differentiate between what is a potentially vicious dog and one that is really rounding up people rather than sheep? That is what they do; I am afraid I have to plead guilty to having dogs that do it. They are not vicious, but they do it. This is what the worry is.

Keith Evans: As was touched on moments ago, there is always the test of the public interest. Once you have the offence, it is not cast in stone that a prosecution will take place. Whether it is in the public interest for a prosecution to take place on this individual is a second line of defence, for example.

Q111 Neil Parish: Can I move then to microchipping, please? What level of reduction in dog attacks could be expected from requiring owners to microchip their dogs?

Gareth Pritchard: Microchipping would be a step forward. We have to be clear that it would be an assistance, but there is a level of detail about what we are seeking to achieve with microchipping, in terms of the percentage of people who would microchip their dogs. We see the frequent transfer of dogs around the criminal community, and therefore it is a step forward. As for how that would assist in reducing dangerous attacks, we need some more work. Clearly it would assist with stray dogs, but there is more detail to be worked through to get to the actual success, how it is enforced and managed, and the accessibility of it on a 24/7 basis. There is clearly more to be done to clarify what can be achieved and how that would be managed in the long term.

Q112 Chair: Councillor Canver, can I bring you in? I think you are against compulsory microchipping.

Nilgun Canver: On behalf of LGA, I would like to say that we have concerns around compulsory microchipping, because we do not see how it will make someone a more responsible owner. At the moment, some responsible owners are voluntarily microchipping their pets. When we reunite the owner with a stray dog, we realise that it is helpful but, sometimes, when we get a stray dog that is microchipped, you check the data and the data is outdated; people do not upgrade the information, so it is no use whatsoever.

I presume the aim of the legislation is to ensure that we can also reach those youngsters who own status dogs, so that they become responsible owners as well, or the criminal community that is causing problems. However, we have doubts that these people will be part of the microchipping process at all, so we will not be reaching the very people that we want to reach in the first place.

As a result, we are in favour of having wider legislation and tools that lead people to become more responsible. There are always issues around crossbreeds, where people go around any legislation and identification of certain breeds that are banned in the legislation.

Q113 Neil Parish: Quickly on the microchipping, Defra’s proposals are just to microchip puppies. If I can ask the police as well, how are you going to ensure that puppies that are bred in backyards are microchipped and those dangerous dogs you are trying to link to owners?

Keith Evans: It is very difficult to try to establish whether a dog is outside the law or within the law. You get a dog of a certain age, two or three years old, and we are a couple of years down the line. Should that dog fall under the umbrella of having been microchipped as a puppy or not? We are in favour of a threeyear gradual approach to compulsory microchipping. Three years from now, every dog in the country would be microchipped, black and white.

Q114 Neil Parish: You are not saying just puppies; you are saying all dogs within three years.

Keith Evans: Compulsory microchipping over a gradual threeyear period, yes.

Nilgun Canver: Again, we have doubts it will serve the purpose. As you know with horses and greyhounds, having several different databases has caused problems as well. There needs to be a central database for these things upgraded regularly, if it ever happens. We would like to see more emphasis on responsible dog ownership.

Chair: Thank you. We stand adjourned for 15 minutes. I ask members to come back as quickly as possible, and for your forbearance.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming-

Chair: As I explained, we may be interrupted by a further vote, so thank you very much for your patience. I am going to ask Margaret Ritchie to carry on.

Q115 Ms Ritchie: Thank you, Chair. Going back to the issue of dog licensing, do you think a dog licensing scheme, with conditions to be met by the owners as to their suitability to own a dog, would help to reduce dog attacks? Following on from that, how could such a scheme be introduced in a nonbureaucratic and costeffective manner?

Keith Evans: As we touched on earlier, the licensing aspect, as we would see it and as proposed in the Bill, would move away from the word "licensing" and more towards registration; towards accountability for the individual who registered that dog. "Licence" is probably the wrong word because, from ACPO’s perspective, we would not be looking at conducting tests on the ability of somebody to act as a responsible dog owner. The registration, the database, would be in place to link the dog to the person, rather than the suitability of the person to be a dog owner.

Q116 Ms Ritchie: I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland where dog licensing still exists. Have you talked to your colleagues, through your Association, from the PSNI regarding this issue and its effectiveness there?

Keith Evans: I believe it has seen a slight drop in the number of strays in the last couple of years. I believe that Northern Ireland was one of the hotspots for strays nationally at the time, so we will be looking at it. The suitability of dog owners would not be the sort of direction we would be looking at; we would be looking at accountability.

Nilgun Canver: We have recommended that licensing legislation needs to be reviewed. It might improve the standards and it might well be helpful, but the end result will not be to reduce dog attacks, unless we encourage people to be more responsible owners. Even the crossbreeds, or any breed of dangerous dog, if they are trained and looked after by a responsible owner, can be a quite good pet.

Q117 Ms Ritchie: The Home Office proposes a "one size fits all" set of measures to tackle antisocial and criminal behaviour. Does this risk authorities prioritising other issues, such as dog crime, over dogrelated issues? Does the Scottish model of dog control notices offer a better approach?

Gareth Pritchard: We are looking closely at the Scottish model as it is being implemented now. It is of concern that we are looking to the Home Office and Defra, as they are the two Departments looking at this, as well as the Ministry of Justice, because there are issues with delay in the criminal justice system. It causes us concern that there is a split of ownership in the issue. We would prefer to see dog control notices, because I think they are a preventative strategy; it is a proportionate approach that can be used to show flexibility to the circumstances and the risk of threat and harm. We would prefer to see a dog control notice. We are looking very closely and have contacts in Scotland to see how that would work, especially as the Welsh Government has also said that they are looking at the Scottish model, will examine that closely, see how it works and how it will be used. We would favour that.

Nilgun Canver: We have a similar view that dog control notices will be helpful as a preventative measure. They will allow authorities to intervene at the early stages, before it escalates and turns into a vicious attack. With help and support, people can be trained to become responsible owners, as long as we can lay down what is expected of them and lay down some standards. Dog control notices will enable authorities to get into that arrangement with the owners. At Eastleigh Council, as I said before, there are examples of that; they have already been doing that informally and it has been working very well. We are happy to provide some information about that to you.

Chair: I wonder if I could just turn to dog welfare and breeding.

Q118 George Eustice: It is linked to the licensing. I was very interested to hear what you said about you not necessarily wanting to license people; it would be too bureaucratic and you thought owners should take responsibility for their dogs. One of the big problems with this is that, once a dog is past the age of one, if it has been bred by somebody who is frankly not good enough to breed dogs, the owners of the dog quite often end up with a huge mastiff that they cannot control anymore. That is when they abandon it. I just wondered if you felt that there was any scope to toughen the regulations around the breeding of dogs. At the moment, hobby breeders, if they are breeding fewer than five litters a year, do not need a licence. Do you think there may be a case for lowering that threshold to, say, two litters a year? You could even say that, if you are breeding a particular type of dog, such as a guard dog or particular breeds that are aggressive, you need a licence, come what may.

Nilgun Canver: It might help to have guidance and improve the legislation like that but, at the end of the day, our concern is that, even with the previous legislation, where there were specific breeds identified as dangerous dogs, people have gone around the legislation by crossbreeding and creating equally powerful dogs, and used them irresponsibly. In that sense, some improvements might help, but it should not be overbureaucratic, consuming an enormous level of resources. Any legislative improvement needs to be easily accessible, the tools provided need to be accessible, and it needs to be easy to implement and workable. We need workable legislation.

Keith Evans: I think we are all in agreement that the irresponsible breeding of dogs and the subsequent lack of socialisation during the sensitive period of the development of a puppy are one of the cornerstones of society’s problems with dogs, at this moment in time. We would welcome any improvements in the legislation to try to suppress that, but we are also aware that enforcement of that sits with the local authorities.

Q119 George Eustice: Are the right tools in the box? I know there are exemptions for anyone breeding fewer than five litters a year.

Keith Evans: Maybe we could bring that down to two or three litters. For people who are engaged in the backstreet breeding of dogs, is there anything governing their knowledge? The sensitive periods of socialisation for these puppies are such an important part of the puppy’s development. By the time they are passed over to the owner, quite a lot of that has gone.

Q120 George Eustice: That is my point. Really targeting it on the breeding I thought might actually help. I think Birmingham is the area you said you cover. Do you have any sense of how many backstreet breeders there are in a city like Birmingham?

Keith Evans: I would not know; too many.

Q121 George Eustice: Are we talking hundreds?

Keith Evans: I really would not know, sir. If there is one, there are too many.

Q122 George Eustice: Finally, what about approaching it the other way? Already, under the 1871 Act, the courts can issue an order to say somebody cannot own a dog. Would there be scope for saying that somebody could not breed a dog? You would not try to have a licensing scheme, but would actually prevent them from breeding dogs, but with a lower threshold so that, for anyone associated with criminality or antisocial behaviour more broadly, you could issue an order that would not stop them owning dogs but would stop them breeding them. Do you think that might be something that would work?

Keith Evans: It would work. It is finding the right piece of legislation to slide that into. In Section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871, the sanctions that they can impose in sentencing for that are extremely broad. I would have to take advice but, off the top of my head, I cannot see why that sanction could not be put in place anyway.

Nilgun Canver: Could you clarify again? You were going to elaborate on that, in terms of your question.

Chair: Very briefly.

Q123 George Eustice: No, I will not elaborate. What I am effectively saying is, at the moment, you can issue an order to stop someone owning a dog. What if the courts could also issue an order to stop them breeding dogs, but where the threshold would be different? You would not say that this is somebody who has really abused a dog or been terrible, but the courts take the view that they are not fit to raise them.

Nilgun Canver: If I can respond with a specific case from my borough, where the dog was behaving dangerously and it was a banned crossbreed, what happened was the magistrates could not order for the dog to be put down. Rather than doing that, they put it on an exemption register. They have given some orders for the dog to be muzzled all the time and neutered, but it did not stop the fear of the neighbours and the whole area. In a sense, I am not sure whether it will have any positive impact.

Q124 Barry Gardiner: I wanted to focus on education and Defra’s proposals on education, but I want to make a distinction in your minds, and I would like you to address both aspects of this. Councillor Canver, when you were talking about microchipping, you said microchipping is not going to make owners more responsible, and of course it is not, but part of making owners microchip their dogs is not just to make those owners more responsible; it is actually to get them to do the responsible thing. There are two focuses here, aren’t there? One is on the action and the other is on how you transform and educate the owners to improve their own practices. Do you think that the Defra proposals, as they stand, are adequate to achieve either or both of those objectives?

Gareth Pritchard: It is a longterm proposal in terms of addressing peoples’ attitudes towards dogs. There is much that can be done in different stages. We clearly have a safeguarding issue, with a number of cases where family members have dogs that cause injury to children within their premises. There are issues of certain parks and areas where there is a proliferation of dangerous dogs, where the Community Safety Partnerships can get involved.

There are other things in terms of restorative justice; many forces are using restorative justice on a whole range of issues. When there is a concern, like the case that Mr Parish mentioned earlier-which is a minor issue, a minor injury-education and training can be part of that restorative solution in that case. There are many levels to tackle that action on the street, but also the attitude, with more means of disposal and more means of educating people to the particular circumstances. There are a variety of options to get to the same end goal.

Nilgun Canver: Taking the responsible act and getting the pet or dog microchipped is one thing, but encouraging that person to become a responsible owner is another. In that sense, getting the owner to get their dog microchipped does not necessarily lead to becoming a responsible owner. We have doubts that compulsory microchipping will make them a responsible owner and bring the desired results.

Q125 Barry Gardiner: Let us leave microchipping out of this, because it is not about microchipping; it is about education. The point about microchipping is simply, if it is the right thing to do, it is the right thing to do whether or not it makes the owner more responsible. Sometimes it is right to get irresponsible people to do the responsible thing.

Chair: Could we just ask about schools?

Barry Gardiner: It is the education point.

Nilgun Canver: Yes, the education point is important. We need to be able to educate especially our youngsters and young people who own status dogs in how they can become a responsible owner themselves. We need to think about this very carefully and find ways of encouraging them to become responsible owners.

Q126 Barry Gardiner: My question was: do you think that the proposals that Defra introduced go far enough in that direction?

Nilgun Canver: No, they do not.

Q127 Chair: Can I just ask on resources, Councillor Canver, one question in two parts? You seem to indicate, and I just want you to confirm, that you do not believe the local authorities have the capacity, in terms of staff and resources, to deal with the rising number of stray dogs. Would you propose a return to the statutory role for police in managing stray dogs and assisting tackling dangerous dogs?

Nilgun Canver: My personal view on this is that, in some ways, yes; maybe it needs to be a shared responsibility. In our experience at the moment, the difficulty is that we give more responsibility to accredited people to take some action but, at the end of the day, they do not have the power of arrest or the power to investigate the situation. We need to be empowered differently, and if giving them statutory responsibility and having shared responsibility in this will lead to that, then it should happen.

Q128 Chair: Would the police welcome that?

Gareth Pritchard: No. Clearly we want to focus on public protection and public safety. That is where we feel the concern is. We would not wish to take back responsibility for stray dogs. We are really concerned about the level of serious injury and the level of fear in communities from dangerous dogs. We have a reduced number of dog legislation officers. Hopefully, with a comprehensive Dog Control Bill, we can get through a neighbourhood policing solution to many of those lowlevel issues. We have restorative justice and other training opportunities, but we would not wish to see our resources focussed on strays.

Q129 Chair: They can lead to dangerous dogs. I think we have established that the resources, particularly in times of economic constraint, are putting a burden on local government.

Gareth Pritchard: If the stray leads to significant danger, clearly we would be involved, hopefully with an effective preventative strategy, in taking action and minimising that danger.

Chair: Can I thank all three of you for participating, for being so generous with your time and for understanding our need to go and vote? Thank you very much indeed.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Claire Horton, Chief Executive, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Steve Goody, Director of External Affairs, Blue Cross, Clarissa Baldwin, Chief Executive, Dogs Trust, and Gavin Grant, Chief Executive, RSPCA, gave evidence.

Q130 Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. May I thank you very much indeed for agreeing to participate? Could we invite each of you in turn to introduce yourselves and say which organisation you are from?

Gavin Grant: Thank you, Chairman. I am Gavin Grant, the Chief Executive of the RSPCA, and I suspect possibly the only person in the room who was with the Home Secretary a day or two before the drafting of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Chair: So it is all your fault.

Gavin Grant: In essence.

Clarissa Baldwin: Clarissa Baldwin, Chief Executive, Dogs Trust, and I sat on the committee when we gave evidence on the 1991 Act.

Steve Goody: Steve Goody; I am Director of External Affairs for Blue Cross, and was involved also in the development of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Claire Horton: Claire Horton, Chief Executive, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. I was not involved in anything to do with it; it was nothing to do with me.

Q131 Chair: Thank you all very much indeed. As we have four organisations, could I just say that, where you agree, can we just have one nominated person? Again, there may well be a vote; we hope not but, if there is, could you just bear with us? Can I begin by saying a warm thank you for all you do, for the dogs and indeed the public as well? A particular thank you to Blue Cross, because you are represented at Catton, in the constituency of Thirsk, Malton and Filey. Could I put a question to the Dogs Trust, first of all? You did a recent study and, rather alarmingly, it has shown the number of stray dogs has gone up quite considerably, and, I have to say, particularly in Yorkshire, between 2008 and 2012. Do you think this can be attributed, in some way, to the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, which came into effect in 2008?

Clarissa Baldwin: We run a stray dog survey every year, and it is now in its 16th year. It is done through local authorities, which, as we now know, have responsibility for stray dogs. There was a story in it that the numbers had gone up since 2008, but, frankly, over the last two years, the numbers really have stayed quite stable. That is both in terms of the numbers of instances of straying on the streets of the UK and also the numbers of dogs being destroyed. In a way, it is a positive story, but it is still 118,000 instances of straying in the UK.

Q132 Chair: The Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, on the record, I think probably takes the largest number. Is this putting a strain on your resources?

Claire Horton: We are the largest single facility in the country, and last year we took in 3,000 stray dogs. That has actually gone up by about 40% since 2008 but, again, for the last two years our numbers have been fairly stable.

Q133 Chair: Just to ask, in terms of stray dogs, has this in your view led to a higher incidence of dangerous dogs and irresponsible dog owners? Do you believe that a comprehensive overhaul of all the legislation is required?

Steve Goody: From Blue Cross’s perspective, there is a degree of correlation between the number of stray dogs and the increase in dog attacks. It is not directly proportionate and attributable, however. We would also like to make the distinction between dangerous dogs and status dogs. Both are usually talked to in the same breath, but they are, I think, quite distinct in terms of category. Dangerous dogs, by their very nature, are dogs that are dangerous and pose a threat to individuals and other animals, as has already been discussed. Status dogs, generally speaking, are dogs in the ownership of individuals who have them for a variety of purposes, which might be as a fashion accessory, trend, etc. Not all status dogs are dangerous dogs, just as not all status dog owners are dangerous dog owners.

Gavin Grant: Indeed. Our advice on 1991, Madam Chairman, was that we needed a comprehensive approach, with the registration of all dogs and, indeed, a wider public educational programme to curb irresponsible ownership. Sadly, the Government of the day did not follow that advice. 21 years later, we are where we are. Therefore, the level of abandonment and abuse of dogs, and the ease of ownership of dogs, as part of a throwaway society, has had a very detrimental effect on the dogs themselves and on the wider social context, which is why we are before you today.

Clarissa Baldwin: From that survey, the numbers of status dogs, as determined by local authorities, which were huskies, akitas, rottweilers and the pitbulltype dogs, had gone up about 140%. However, that is mostly in urban areas. Where we have opened centres in urban areas, we have found a large increase.

Gavin Grant: That is the same experience for us, too.

Claire Horton: We have always seen the trends first at Battersea, just because of the sheer volume of numbers coming through and, equally, the conurbations that we serve. We have seen trends change; we have seen breeds change; and we have seen dogs go in and out of fashion, and we are still seeing that now. By far the most prevalent increase, of course, in recent years, has been the Staffordshire bullterrier crosses, which are being used primarily as status dogs and bred in significant numbers because there is a perceived demand. As the demand is perceived to be higher, there is a lot of breeding. When those animals cannot be rehomed, they are then dumped and they do generally end up in our kennels.

Q134 Barry Gardiner: Briefly, has the Dangerous Dogs Act failed, in your view?

Gavin Grant: Yes, it has failed. The Government of the day and subsequent Governments set out to curb the importation and ownership of those animals. As we have seen, there have been a number of attacks on people and other animals, which, Mr Gardiner, you raised earlier in your questioning. That has been increasing. Therefore, in essence, the Act has failed, and it has failed to recognise that it needs to be within a comprehensive overhaul of the legislation as it relates to dogs and the holding of owners to account for their actions with their dogs and, indeed, to their dogs, and all of that within a wider public educational programme.

Q135 Barry Gardiner: I thought you said, Chair, where they are in agreement they should remain silent but, if anybody is in disagreement, please speak now.

Clarissa Baldwin: It has just glorified some dogs. I absolutely agree with Gavin.

Q136 Barry Gardiner: The Home Office proposals on antisocial behaviour are to try to stop people allowing their dogs to get out of control. Do you think they go far enough? If they are going to introduce them, would they be adequate in any way for the problem that you are seeing?

Steve Goody: The introduction of the new regulations by the Home Office supports the concept around which the Dangerous Dogs legislation was established in 1991, which was fundamentally about protecting the public, which is fundamentally why it has not succeeded; we are still seeing an increasing number of dog attacks. However, they are not going to work effectively in splendid isolation. From our perspective, we would like to see a lot more crossover and interaction between Defra and the Home Office in developing regulation in support of fundamentally protecting the public, of which dangerous dogs are a part.

Q137 Barry Gardiner: On this issue of protection, I heard reports from my constituents that people are purchasing these dogs-whether you call them "status" or "dangerous dogs", I am not quite sure-but purchasing them because they feel under threat when they are walking out at night. Rather like kids say they carry knives to protect themselves, they end up having aggressive or potentially aggressive dogs to protect themselves. How do you think we can overcome that?

Clarissa Baldwin: It is a difficult one. We have done a lot of research with urban children on this, and actually they love their dogs. It is the protection that they need when they go out on the streets. It is also a little bit of status; it is that macho image. We need to change their perceptions of why they have these dogs and why they need to have these dogs. Again-we have talked about it a lot-it is education. They are absolutely horrified when they hear that the dog that they had, which they threw out, has been destroyed. They had no idea that this was going to happen; somebody was going to rehome it.

Q138 Chair: Do we have figures for how many Battersea Dogs Home destroy?

Claire Horton: Yes. We destroyed last year about 1,500 dogs, and about 1,100 of those were destroyed on the basis of temperament. That means that those dogs would have been simply too dangerous to rehome and put back out into the community. Many of the animals that we see have been bred and sold for fighting, for breeding again, for status purposes or to be sold into communities where people will take them either for using, as you have said, for antisocial and criminal activity, or for protection. Actually, some people will buy the dogs because they want a dog. All of those dogs enjoy different sorts of lifestyles, but the ones that make it through our doors will be there because they are not quite tough enough for some people. They will not have won the fights that they have been put forward for or be able to protect their owners, but nonetheless will have been trained to a point of aggression where we simply cannot rehome them. Many of them will be vicious towards other animals, not just people, and that of course is a consideration for us.

Barry Gardiner: Chair, sorry; I must declare an interest. I have only just realised. I have bred dogs, and I am, I think, still registered as a breeder of dogs, even though I do not. Sorry; I just needed to do that for the record.

Chair: Not for fighting.

Q139 Neil Parish: Again, thank you all for coming and the work that you do. My question really follows on from what you have been saying there. What are the breeds or types of dogs that you would consider to be most dangerous to your staff and others?

Clarissa Baldwin: The owners, not the dogs.

Neil Parish: That goes without saying.

Claire Horton: This is where the law really shows itself to be a real problem because, under the Dangerous Dogs Act, we have Section 1, which outlaws four particular breeds. The most prevalent of those that we see is the pitbullterrier type, and the variations of crosses. They are and can be, if trained and brought up in that way, very aggressive animals. As for many of the bull breeds, when they do bite, the size and scale of those bites are very significant. They can be enough to kill.

We see probably some of the most dangerous animals in the country coming in; we also see some of the loveliest. We see some wonderful pitbull terriers, banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act, which the law does not allow us to rehome and, therefore, we have to destroy those animals. Actually, because they are nice dogs and have been socialised well, we see the best and the worst of those dogs, too. There are many breeds with which we would always work with caution. We would always work with caution, as most of the dogs coming into our home have no history and many of them are strays, so we have to work carefully with everything, including the smallest and the largest, the prettiest and the oldest. We see good and bad in all breeds.

Gavin Grant: All of us will operate a colour code system to protect our staff and volunteers. Those dogs that have poor behavioural problems or look aggressive are the most difficult to rehome. Even where we are able to rehome them, sadly sometimes they will come back again.

Steve Goody: It does raise the fundamental point, Chairman, that a dog is not inherently dangerous purely and simply because of the way it looks. Any dog has the potential to be dangerous if it has not been bred, trained, reared and, importantly, kept in the right way.

Q140 Neil Parish: Adding to that, what factors are the most important in determining whether or not a dog will act aggressively when you have it, and whether you can rehouse that dog?

Steve Goody: Fundamentally, there is not one single element that defines whether a dog is likely to be dangerous in a home environment or not. "Environment", from our perspective, is the key word. It is the environment that has to be considered by the individual in determining what dog he or she chooses, as to whether or not there is the potential for that dog to become a dangerous dog, regardless of its breed, type or description. That is going to be one of the significant focuses for the welfare organisations going forward, in determining programmes of education and support for individuals and communities-to actually begin to educate and work with these individuals to determine what is responsible in terms of the choosing, the rearing and the keeping of any type of dog, regardless of its size, type or description.

Q141 Neil Parish: Am I right in saying the trouble is that for some of these dogs that are bred to be vicious, the pit bulls, their owners have signed their death warrant, for the simple reason that, very often, you cannot retrain those dogs? They are too vicious to be let out again.

Gavin Grant: Absolutely that is the case, and clearly there is a bit of an industry here. Often these people are not licensed or registered as breeders. They are making a lot of money out of this activity, cash in hand. I would not think the Revenue or the Exchequer sees much of that in turn, and they end up terrorising neighbourhoods. There is a vast area of crackingdown on that area of activity. To underline Mr Goody’s point, as the owner of a former crossStaffordshire bull terrier, which was named after a predecessor of Mr Rogerson, Pardoe, basically because he bounced around a lot and did not achieve very much, none of these dogs are necessarily inherently dangerous, but they are bred to that purpose. To your point, Mr Parish, they are trained to that purpose and their owners continue to treat them in that way to make them vicious.

Clarissa Baldwin: I think it is quite a small element of criminality. It is not generally the way people breed them. There is an overproduction of this type of dog.

Q142 Dan Rogerson: We are delighted with that reference to John Pardoe, who came in for lunch a few months ago. It was good to see him. We have heard a lot about increases in the number of attacks on other animals. We have heard from the Guide Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, and it is raised a lot with other MPs. Do you think that amending the 1991 Act to include attacks on animals would be the best approach to dealing with those sorts of things?

Steve Goody: At the moment, I believe I am right in saying that there is nothing enshrined in any piece of legislation that would support prosecution where one dog attacks a protected species, other than perhaps the Animal Welfare Act, where the onus of responsibility is very much on the owner, as opposed to the focus being on the dog. From Blue Cross’s perspective, the short answer is yes. Obviously we have an equine division, as well as our small animals and veterinary division, and we work quite closely with ACPO and the British Horse Society in developing some educational materials to promote responsible care and keeping around horses in particular. It is becoming an increasing problem and, therefore, the introduction of a regulation that supports a responsible approach to ensuring dogs behave responsibly around livestock, including horses, would be a good thing.

Q143 Dan Rogerson: We have a lot to get through and there are a couple of supplementary points on this issue. I can see nodding, so I think there is general agreement.

Clarissa Baldwin: It is just that there is the 1871 Act as well, but it is a civil act, and therefore there is no compensation.

Q144 Dan Rogerson: It is generally the principle. What level of sanctions do people feel would be appropriate? Does anybody have any thoughts on that?

Steve Goody: Probably as stiff as possible.

Clarissa Baldwin: Incarceration.

Claire Horton: Also, it is important to be making sure that sentences are given out, in fact prosecutions are made, on the basis of severity of attack, avoidability of attack, responsible owner and intervention attempts, and all of the things that you would expect to be considered when an animal attacks another animal. We are starting to see tales coming into us from the police that we work with of dogs being trained and let loose in parks to attack other dogs. We have heard stories of this. Now, I have not had people coming into Battersea with injured animals saying they have been attacked by another dog as a joke, but actually this is anecdotal evidence from the police that we work with now. They are starting to be quite concerned about this becoming almost something of a growing pastime.

Steve Goody: Can I just say on that, Chairman, there is a real opportunity here? It comes back to the point that Mr Parish made earlier on about his border collie nipping the heels of someone, which perhaps is not quite as serious as somebody being substantially injured or worse. We have had discussion today about the importance of the introduction of dog control notices or dog behaviour contracts. There is a real opportunity here for the legislation to enshrine either notices or contracts to support a scaled approach to determining how our offenders are dealt with.

Chair: We all agree. Excellent.

Q145 Mrs Glindon: My question is to the whole panel. What level of reduction in dog attacks could be expected from requiring owners to microchip dogs?

Clarissa Baldwin: It would be a very difficult one to quantify. There has been a lot of talk about microchipping today. The message has to be got through that dogs must be microchipped at first change of hands, and it is a criminal offence not to do that. That is an important thing that has been missed in the conversation that has happened earlier. In doing so, if you go out and buy a dog, you know it is going to be microchipped. You have an inherent responsibility for that dog from the start. That is an important thing, but to quantify how much reduction there would be would be quite difficult.

Gavin Grant: The critical factor is that this process holds owners to account for their actions with their dogs and to their dogs. Therefore, by not having their animals microchipped, they are committing an offence. In exactly the same way as one fails to register a car on transfer of ownership, or takes a television set into a location where you have no licence, an offence is being committed. If I may, to Mr Rogerson, absolutely: to those people who are organising dog fighting and any fighting offences relating to animals, we would very much like to see the tariff increased to trial and a twoyear sentence.

Q146 Mrs Glindon: Defra’s preferred option is to microchip only puppies. What problems do you think this presents for enforcement?

Clarissa Baldwin: It makes it almost impossible for them to enforce. They are not enforcers, but those who we have spoken to would find it extremely difficult.

Gavin Grant: We are at one with our colleagues who gave evidence earlier on that matter.

Claire Horton: It is also worth pointing out, if I may, that microchipping just puppies would hit puppies for probably 12 years before all dogs were microchipped, but that still does not account for the people who currently do not follow the requirements of law at all anyway. All of those backstreet breeders, who are our biggest problem, would still not be microchipping their puppies. There is no way of tracing those people. At any one time, there can be around 13,000 dogs for sale on the internet. The chances are they will not be microchipped either. There has to be an education programme around all of those things, so that owners know what to look for and expect when they take a dog.

Steve Goody: It is also worth noting that, of the 8.5 millionodd dogs in private ownership, it is reckoned that about 60% of those dogs are permanently identified via a microchip. There is a groundswell of support out there from dog owners more generally. It would be a real missed opportunity for Government going forward not to make most of the opportunity that presents itself and introduce compulsory microchipping.

Q147 Mrs Glindon: Finally, do you consider that local authorities and police agencies have sufficient resources to enforce the microchip proposals effectively?

Steve Goody: No, fundamentally. The discussions that we have had with local authorities in particular, which have been echoed elsewhere, are that they are increasingly underresourced. However, Blue Cross recognises the value that local authorities play and bring to the party, in terms of potential enforcement. Perhaps the local authorities could be supported through the ringfencing of funds to any registration scheme, which might generate support enforcement further down the line.

Clarissa Baldwin: Perhaps I could just add that some research that we have done suggests that there could be a saving to local authorities of £22 million a year. That money could be spent back in enforcement.

Q148 Chair: If we are looking at the suitability of owners to own a dog and that improving dog control and welfare, would you see any benefit in having a dog licensing scheme? Should such a scheme be introduced or could it be introduced in a nonbureaucratic and costeffective manner?

Gavin Grant: Yes, it can be introduced in such a manner. Indeed, I fear that we came within four votes in this very place in having dog registration introduced, back at the time of the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act. The RSPCA’s estimate of the cost of running such a scheme is around £107 million a year. The administration of the scheme is £30 million; the rest is a recognition of the additional resources. I have every sympathy with the arguments made by the representative of local government in the first part of the evidence session about the additional capabilities that they would need for the educative programme of responsible ownership, in which everybody at this table believes.

Of course, there would need to be appropriate provisions made for those who would struggle to find such payments, and there are working dogs involved and so on, but it is perfectly practical and probable that such a scheme can be created without it imposing undue administrative cost. I would say some of the inability of the statutory authorities to undertake their work is throwing a lot of burden back upon the charities at this table, and certainly on the RSPCA inspectorate-400 offices covering England and Wales.

Clarissa Baldwin: Could I just say that there is one thing we disagree on fundamentally? We are totally opposed to dog licensing. Registration in terms of microchipping is absolutely fine, and making the person responsible for that dog, but we cannot understand any reason to have dog licensing. It is just a bureaucratic tax on dog owners. There are a huge numbers of very vulnerable people out there who own a dog and own them responsibly, who would suffer enormously if this were introduced.

Steve Goody: Perhaps, Chairman, I can play devil’s advocate somewhere in the middle. Where there are differences of opinion, they are perhaps around issues of terminology, whether it is licensing or whether it is microchipping and permanent identification. A common view is that we would support the introduction of a system of registration that quite clearly and unequivocally links a dog to an owner. Fundamentally, on that we can all agree.

Q149 Chair: Can I just ask, Claire Horton, do you believe there are issues of updating such data?

Claire Horton: Yes; there are real issues with owners keeping microchip details updated. That would be a problem that we would need to resolve. We find that about 28% of the dogs that come into Battersea are microchipped. In a third of those, the details are wrong. Often people will deny all knowledge of the dog, even though their name is attached to it. We would always have to overcome that. I would also support my colleagues here in that a registration system is essential. From Battersea’s perspective, we would be very supportive of microchipping, simply because the chip always travels with the animal, whereas a piece of paper as a licence would not.

Chair: Thank you. We move on to the role of police authorities and turn to Neil Parish.

Q150 Neil Parish: I expect I know the answer to this one but, first of all, do you as dog welfare charities and local authorities have the capacity, staff and resources to deal with the rising number of stray dogs?

Steve Goody: It is becoming increasingly difficult. Blue Cross does not take in significant numbers of stray dogs, per se. Where we see a particular problem is through our veterinary hospitals, for example, where a significant proportion of our client base is what you might call "status dog owners", who nonetheless care very much about their dogs and are good responsible owners. That is why they bring their dogs to us to be treated. The difficulty that we have is how we then deal with some of those dogs that might possibly be classified as dangerous dogs under the Act, and what we can then do with those dogs once they have been treated. We had an example of this last week, when a dog was involved in an RTA. It was very badly injured and came to us as the first point of veterinary contact. We treated it. We will keep it for seven days. We will then call in the status dog unit. They will probably pronounce that the dog is of a type and, therefore, we will have to euthanise it. We cannot do anything with those dogs as a result of the current legislation. That is how it impacts on us and that is why we would like to see a significant change to the Dangerous Dogs Act, section 1 in particular.

Q151 Neil Parish: Would you be able to microchip that dog at that stage or not?

Steve Goody: Would we be able to? No, we would not, because ownership would not legally be allowed to transfer to Blue Cross. Were the legislation to change to reflect that, then yes, we would, and then we would be able to consider rehoming it, based on temperament and suitability.

Gavin Grant: All of us face a rising tide of abandoned and abused dogs-just under 20,000 in the care of the RSPCA in 2011. We successfully rehomed just short of 13,000 of those animals, but the numbers are rising all of the time.

Claire Horton: Just in response to the question, since the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act came in, we saw almost 99 police stations close down overnight and stop taking in stray dogs, with the local authority taking on that responsibility. Obviously we work with local authorities across London, and in that first year we saw an increase of over 1,100 additional dogs coming into our home. We are still seeing now, due to the limited resources of many local authorities, Battersea being used as that receptacle that local authorities are there to supposedly provide. Actually, we are very often expected to do that for free. We do have stray contracts with some local authorities, but not all. It is an issue of testing resources. We all have to extend our resources to accommodate it, because that is why we are there, but it is not a problem that is going to go away any time soon.

Q152 Dan Rogerson: We have talked a little bit about education, with Mr Gardiner and the previous panel. Do you think that Defra’s proposals on educating dog owners go far enough towards tackling the problem? Should schools in particular do more to educate children on responsible ownership or treatment of animals?

Gavin Grant: No is the answer to your first question; Defra’s proposals do not go far enough. Yes, of course we need provision in the national curriculum and in teaching in schools. Again, all of the charities here have put a lot of time and charitable money into educational activity at schools and into community activities. We all work together in communities that are under particular pressure, where there is particular stress and where there are real problems of irresponsible ownership and often of the ownership of dangerous dogs. It is charitable money that goes into that role.

Q153 Dan Rogerson: Increasingly, there are academies that do not have to follow the national curriculum, and there is a discussion about whether there should be a secondary curriculum at all. Even if you got it into some form of curriculum, there would be many schools that would not necessarily have to follow it. Could more be done to develop relationships with local organisations to offer some of that specialist advice?

Clarissa Baldwin: At the Dogs Trust, we have 16 education officers constantly in schools. We have done 11,000 schools in the last three years, with the youngsters. There is no doubt that they are receptive to the messages of safety around dogs, where to buy dogs, what to look for and that sort of thing. The more that can be done, absolutely the better.

Steve Goody: Can I just agree with that? We have programmes running in Manchester, Birmingham and the major conurbations. We are placing more of a focus now on developing programmes to support communities, and that is key, as opposed to perhaps standing up and educating in a preachy kind of way, which does not necessarily work.

What is fundamentally lacking, in Blue Cross’s view, is central co-ordination of education activity or communityled and developed activity throughout England and Wales. That is what we think is substantially missing from Defra’s proposals. It is Defra and Government taking a lead in coordinating the many and developing activities that exist currently and will exist in future.

Q154 Dan Rogerson: Just to finish off on that, the supplementary that I was leading up to was on the work you do generally as charities. We have touched on that. Would the charities that you represent-there are others as well, I am sure, which are not here today-be prepared to work with Government in providing that?

Gavin Grant: Yes, we do.

Q155 Dan Rogerson: Yes, but on a voluntary basis rather than necessarily being Government-

Claire Horton: Can I perhaps roll two answers into one there? Yes, certainly in terms of the educational and community engagement programmes, Battersea runs a fairly extensive programme working across communities, not just in schools and colleges but directly with many of the young people who do not get to stay in school-often excluded individuals who do not therefore see those messages. We are working in exoffenders’ units; we are working in prisons; we are working in community groups; we are working directly in local parks. We were the recipient of a £20,000 grant from Defra this year. Sadly, we have been told it is a oneoff, which is a real shame, because we have been able to reach over 1,000 young people-microchipping dogs, tagging dogs, talking about responsible ownership, talking about safety, training and socialisation. We have had a big impact with that.

Q156 Neil Parish: With the police sitting behind you, would a return to a statutory role for the police in managing stray dogs assist in tackling the problems of dangerous dogs?

Steve Goody: From our perspective, the key issue is not so much who as whether or not the authority that is responsible is properly resourced and supported to do the job that it is there to do. We have already heard that one of the substantial issues that local authorities face is an increasing pressure on scant resources, which means they can do less and less. Hence the voluntary sector organisations are asked to do more and more. Would there be any benefit in statutory responsibility returning to the police? Not necessarily; we would prefer to see more resources being devoted to supporting the current legislation and the local authorities to enable them to do the job effectively.

Gavin Grant: We work very closely with the police in enforcement. We value that relationship and, realistically, with the pressures that the police forces are under, it is unlikely that, if that duty was passed to them, they would be able to handle it.

Chair: Could I turn to George Eustice on the breeding and sale of dogs?

Q157 George Eustice: I am sorry I had to miss the early part of this session; I had two Committees that clashed. You might have heard what I asked earlier, but it is whether specifically we could toughen up the legislation around licensing for people who breed dogs. At the moment, hobby breeders of under five litters are exempt. I just wondered whether you thought there was scope to require licensing, however many litters they produce, for particular breeds of dogs or dogs that are bred, for instance, to be guard dogs or to be aggressive dogs.

Gavin Grant: The internet is a source of enormous problems for irresponsible ownership. I listened carefully to your question; I think you cited the number of two litters. We would very much welcome that as the point where licensing would be required for breeders. I know the Welsh Government are looking extensively at this area. There is a whole element of criminality here, which I think is little understood, of animals being imported from Eastern Europe into this country. The RSPCA inspectorate is heavily involved in investigating those areas of activity and, again, these people are not casual individuals; they are often involved in quite serious criminal activities elsewhere. I think this is an area where tightening up the law could be highly effective.

Clarissa Baldwin: Could I just add to that? There is the problem of the sale of these dogs on the internet, where there are no rules. We see a number of illegal advertisements coming up on some of these websites, people openly selling pitbull terriers. Most of us sit on a committee called the Pet Advertising Advisory Group, and we are working with Defra on this-on some way that breeders could be licensed so that, when they put an advertisement in a local paper or on a website, the number of their licence could be quoted. That would be brilliant.

Q158 George Eustice: I asked earlier about the numbers that you might get in a typical city like Birmingham. Number one, have you got any sense of how many people there are? Also, do you have a view on whether you might want to approach it from the other end of the spectrum, which is to give the courts the powers to issue an order that bans certain people from breeding dogs-not just banning them from owning them, but banning them from breeding them?

Steve Goody: As to your last question, again, potentially it could take us down the route of dog control notices, a condition of which would be you can keep your dog, but you cannot breed from it. If you breach that dog control notice, the consequence would be you would be prosecuted and/or your dog would be taken away from you.

Q159 George Eustice: Can that be done under the existing legislation?

Steve Goody: No; fundamentally not. In answer to the first part of your question-and I think this was something that ACPO picked up earlier-nobody knows the extent of the problem out there. Because the legislation, as it is currently written, says if you breed five litters or fewer in any year you are exempt and fall beneath the radar, that potentially is a huge pool of individuals breeding an awful lot of dogs. My colleagues here have talked about a review of the legislation, which talks to two litters. It could actually be, perhaps more radically, considered that legislation could be bent towards the number of unneutered dogs that are kept, and that those dogs are perhaps registered with the local authority, as opposed to being licensed, on a riskbased approach, which has been considered previously. Those dogs and those owners would at least then be on the local authority’s radar, and something perhaps could be done about a particular problem when it then arises. It does not have to be litterbased.

Chair: Does anybody disagree? No, okay.

Q160 George Eustice: Can I just add one very final point on that? Do you think it is possible to distinguish between breeds of dogs? Obviously somebody who was doing five litters of Springer spaniels a year is going to be less of a problem than somebody doing mastiffs?

Steve Goody: That is an interesting point because, from our perspective, any legislation on the breeding and sale of dogs ought to cover all dogs. It does not matter whether they are a breed or a crossbreed. The legislation should cover the breeding of all dogs, regardless.

Gavin Grant: In abandonment and profitability terms, that endless list of Springer spaniels is often a very lucrative form of cashinhand income to individuals. You also have the very real challenge, if I may, under European law, which allows an individual to bring six dogs into the United Kingdom. We recently had a case where a chap fell foul of that, from Poland; he had 18 in his Transit. If he had had two colleagues with him, there would have been no difficulty whatsoever. He was heading to Wales, for a puppy farm.

Q161 Neil Parish: Should the sale of dogs, puppies, be restricted to direct sales from registered breeders only? We are talking now about how we sell dogs; is that possible to do?

Steve Goody: In a free market situation, it is going to be very difficult to control that effectively. From Blue Cross’s perspective, what is more important is ensuring that the increasing number of different mechanisms out there, in terms of how dogs are advertised for sale and sold, are controlled and managed more effectively. If one looks at the internet and the proliferation of internet sites, we know that, from the work we do as part of the Pet Advertising Advisory Group-which is also represented by a number of colleagues here at this table-there are an increasing number of those sites. It is not uncommon on one site to see 50,000plus animals-dogs, cats, rabbits, others-for sale, or not just for sale, but to be exchanged for goods-iPhones, washing machines-or perhaps given away for free. Now, we recognise that it would be very difficult for Government to legislate in this particular area but, at the very least, we would like to see the development of a code of practice that is supported by Government and enforced and adopted by those internet sites that sell those pets.

Clarissa Baldwin: We have that list now, and we would love to see that as a regulation under the Animal Welfare Act.

Claire Horton: There is a way of turning that the other way round and looking at how we talk to the consumers, and how we start educating the public in how to purchase or acquire an animal and where to go. We all do that as part of our roles, but we need to be working much more closely, and I think Government also needs to be supporting that, as part of that process.

Q162 Neil Parish: For dogs that are bred outside the UK-you talked about dogs coming from Poland and the numbers-is there any way of stopping as many dogs coming in?

Gavin Grant: As we know, the European Commission is in fact looking at this area of work and intending to conduct some research into common registration standards across the European Union, which may be welcome or unwelcome, depending on your view of the European Union around this table. Consistency in that matter would be helpful. There are some very real dangers, with these animals coming into the United Kingdom, of disease, not only simply amongst animals, such as rabies, but zoonotic diseases with certain other animals, particularly exotics, reptiles, which are coming into the United Kingdom. The relaxation of some of those controls is not to be welcomed.

Q163 Ms Ritchie: A significant proportion of dogs are traded via internet advertisements. Should measures be adopted to regulate or ban the trade of live animals via the internet? If so, how could such measures be enforced?

Clarissa Baldwin: We have covered that a little bit. We would very much like to see regulations put in place against people being able to sell them on the internet and, if they are breeders, that they have a licence number and that licence number has to appear on the advertisement. There are a lot of illegal dogs being advertised on sites. The other opportunity might be to stop the sale of dogs in pet shops as well.

Gavin Grant: Helpfully, Defra has their codes around animals. They are very well drafted, for the most part. There could do with being a few more of them. There could be a requirement for those codes to be posted on such sites, so at least individuals are clear about their responsibilities towards these animals if they are acquiring them. We have found infringements of such codes helpful, in terms of the last resort in prosecuting those who egregiously abuse animals.

Q164 Dan Rogerson: Moving on from breeding to areas around the breed standards and those health issues that have had some attention recently, has the action of Defra and the dogbreeding sector been enough to deal with the poor health outcomes in certain breeds?

Clarissa Baldwin: I would suggest that the Kennel Club has done quite a lot on breed standards. We would like to see a standard that is across the board and everyone agrees to, rather than two or there different ones. I think, unfortunately, not enough is known yet about the genetic problems of each breed that we have. That is the really fundamental thing: we need to get a prevalence of these different genetic problems, before we can actually start to look at how to solve them.

Claire Horton: One of the things that I am very aware that the Kennel Club has worked very hard on is creating their Assured Breeder Scheme, and trying to look at reducing exaggerations bred into animals and close breeding. In fact, this year at Crufts they were very clear with their judges that they were not going to be rewarding exaggerated traits in a breed. In fact, a number of dogs that went through were pulled out and failed by the vets at Crufts, which caused a bit of a stir, but sent quite a ripple around the professional breeding circuit. I do believe the Kennel Club is really pushing quite hard on that.

Steve Goody: We would agree with colleagues. The only point additionally that we would make is to recognise that there is no shortterm fix to this particular problem and that significant strides have been made by the Kennel Club and others. Professor Sheila Crispin’s group, for example, is working very hard in supporting the development of appropriate breed standards. There is a lot more to be done, but there is forward progress.

Gavin Grant: I am afraid I am going to break that consensus; forgive me for so doing. We made 22 recommendations to the Kennel Club on their breed standards. So far, eight of those have been implemented. The Dog Advisory Council says that, by year end, they will draw up their topeight priority pedigree problems to be tackled. I understand that, to date, they have published one of those eight. Forgive me for being a little more critical in breaking that. We do work together; all of us sit together as chief executives of the companion animal charities, and the Kennel Club is very much part of that group.

Q165 Dan Rogerson: Professor Bateson’s report made a number of recommendations. This is a debate we have in all sorts of things here in Parliament: should Defra be ready to regulate or should it set out a timetable for the adoption of all those proposals? If that is not reached, should it regulate or should we rely on the voluntary approach? What you have said there, Mr Grant, seems to imply that perhaps regulation might be something that ought to be threatened even if it is not imposed immediately.

Gavin Grant: Yes, because in certain of these areas there is very genuine welfare suffering. If one looks at presentations as to how recognised breeds physically looked some 30 or 40 years ago, they are almost unrecognisable from today, as a result of literally inbreeding. Real welfare concerns for those animals are there, and there is little or nothing in many cases that can be done about it. Pressing for more urgent implementation here, with the recognition that perhaps, should that not come about-and I earnestly hope that it will-there may be something a little more serious in terms of regulation in the wind would be helpful.

Steve Goody: Can I just add to Mr Rogerson’s question and Gavin’s response? I think that, although legislation would support and assist the development of best practice, it is certainly not the entire answer. It will depend very much on a change of attitude and behaviours from the dogowning public, in terms of what it is that they are looking to purchase. Therefore, again, education and the promotion of a responsible attitude towards care, keeping and purchase are essential parts of developing an appropriate practice for the breeding of dogs, going forward.

Q166 Dan Rogerson: It is the issue of the standard in terms of welfare, but also care then. There is a lot more care required for some of these breeds.

Steve Goody: Yes.

Q167 Chair: On genetic diversity in some breeds, does more action need to be taken? How can we get the data on the genetic status of pedigree dogs? Do we require Government action or legislation in this regard?

Clarissa Baldwin: It might be a more appropriate question to the veterinary profession. I think there are now some software pieces that vets use with animals, SAVSNET and VeNom or something, but it would be marvellous if vets could be required to feed into that software, so that we could get the data.

Gavin Grant: I completely agree with Clarissa in that regard.

Q168 Chair: I think, Clarissa Baldwin, you mentioned the introduction by the Kennel Club of new breed standards, and vet checks for pedigree dogs being shown, for example, at Crufts. Do you believe they have helped to improve the health and welfare of pedigree dogs, if I could ask the Dogs Trust and the RSPCA?

Clarissa Baldwin: It has certainly taken some steps forward. What I am not quite clear about is just how far the Kennel Club can go with their breeders, because there are some breeders for whom the Kennel Club cannot insist that they change their standards. It would be quite dangerous if there was a splinter group where people could go and register their dogs instead of the Kennel Club, because then we would have even worse problems. There are strides forward and they have done quite a bit, but there is still a lot more to be done.

Gavin Grant: I absolutely echo that. I do not wish, in my previous answer, to be seen as in some way suggesting the Kennel Club is not acting here. Our concern is that they need to go further and faster. To your point about genetics, this is at the heart of the problem. There is the breeding of grandfathers to granddaughters in certain species, and when you then look at the gene line of those species, it is incredibly narrow. The genetic problems that exist as a result of that are no different from those that there would be in humanity.

Q169 Chair: Does the failure of some dogs awarded "best in breed" at the 2012 dog shows to pass vet checks indicate that the approach is working, or do you think that unfit dogs still being entered for shows indicates there is much more work to be done? Could I ask the RSPCA?

Gavin Grant: Yes and yes.

Q170 Chair: Do you agree?

Clarissa Baldwin: Yes.

Q171 Chair: I have one final question, if I may. If each of you had the opportunity to call for one action to make a difference in amending the legislation, what do you believe that action would be?

Gavin Grant: A comprehensive registration scheme that also recognises that early intervention is the key. We are the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It gives me no pleasure that animals and people are attacked by dogs, and that dogs suffer, in everincreasing numbers, as a result of irresponsible ownership. It is accountability and early intervention, in terms of behaviour, which is at the heart of our problem.

Clarissa Baldwin: I would absolutely agree. A comprehensive review of the legislation would be great but, from our point of view, microchipping at the first change of hands would make a huge difference.

Steve Goody: From our perspective, the important thing would be not to consider in splendid isolation dangerous dogs, breeding or sale, but to consider the fundamental root and branch of a consolidated piece of dog legislation, an approach demonstrated to work in some of the devolved Administrations-Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Claire Horton: I would say exactly the same. It has to be about consolidated legislation. There are currently 18 pieces of dog legislation; that needs to come together as one formal piece that we can work with a lot better, which does include a very serious registration element for owners.

Gavin Grant: Also, not reshuffling Ministers just as they start to get to grips with the problem.

Chair: That is beyond our pay grade.

Steve Goody: Can I just say one more thing in support of the work that your Committee is doing? There was some discussion earlier about microchipping. Fundamentally, it does not necessarily work in supporting the adoption of best practice. If this Committee were to consider a microchipping scheme that has worked quite successfully, look at the greyhound regulations introduced under the Animal Welfare Act, where the greyhound industry was required to have all 20,000 of its registered greyhounds microchipped, against a significant view of opposition from its membership. They have done that with significant success and minimal resistance.

Q172 Chair: Unfortunately, it has not reduced the number of greyhounds that are retiring every year.

Steve Goody: We believe it has, and we also think that what it has done is provide a mechanism for ensuring compliance, again linking the ownership of particular dogs to particular owners. When there are problems, there is a mechanism to deal with them.

Chair: Can I thank each of you, and indeed the Committee as well? We have got through an enormous amount of evidence this afternoon. We are extremely grateful to you for being with us. Once again, the Committee thanks you for the work that you as charities do in this very sensitive, but much loved, area. Thank you very much indeed.

Prepared 19th September 2012