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Westminster Hall

Thursday 13 June 2013

[Mr Andrew Turner in the Chair]

Dog Control and Welfare

[Relevant documents: Dog Control and Welfare, Seventh Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 575, and the Government response, Session 2012-13, HC 1092.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Nicky Morgan.)

1.30 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): A very warm good afternoon to you, Mr Turner; I welcome you to your place. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Minister from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies). My hon. Friend is not just an hon. Friend but a reasonable man, and I am sure that he will respond warmly and enthusiastically to our debate.

The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is pleased to have this opportunity to debate the issues addressed in our two recent documents: the report “Dog Control and Welfare” and the draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill, which we have tagged on to the report and which encompassed the Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of draft clauses that now form part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

Dog control and welfare issues have been central for the Select Committee over the past 12 months. Out-of-control dogs are an increasing menace: hospital admissions due to dog attacks doubled from 3,000 in 1997 to more than 6,000 in 2010, and a conservative estimate of the cost to the national health service is approximately £3 million a year.

Not all episodes are reported. I was bitten in a rather tender place at the top of my thigh—I still bear the scar—but I chose not to report the attack, as I was out canvassing and the dog was owned by a Conservative supporter. There are many reasons why people might choose not to report attacks. Dog offences might go under-reported.

Sadly, nine people have been killed since 2007 by dog attacks in the home. Five of those victims were under the age of four. Opposition Members here have had constituency experience of such cases, and I commend how they have represented those who have suffered such losses. Offences relating to dangerous dogs increased by 39% in one year alone—from 855 in 2009 to 1,192 in 2010. As we know, some eight guide dogs a month are attacked by other dogs. We also know that there are countless attacks on other dogs and protected animals, such as cats, horses and livestock. That has huge implications for rural constituencies such as mine, particularly for livestock—there are sheep-worrying incidents at this time of year, for example.

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In May 2012, we launched an inquiry on the Government’s policies for tackling irresponsible dog ownership and improving dog welfare, particularly those linked to breeding approaches. I pay tribute to the charities doing work on the issue, including Blue Cross in my constituency and Battersea Dogs Home in London.

We were fortunate to be able to launch our inquiry at Battersea Dogs Home, see at first hand the impact of policies on dog welfare and hear about the impact of poor breeding practices and irresponsible ownership on individuals and communities. A leading charity, Blue Cross, talks at great length about stray dogs and shares the Committee’s concern about the impact of this financial climate, particularly on dog warden services across the UK. A recurring theme throughout our inquiry was resourcing and ensuring that dog wardens have sufficient resources.

I believe that one event leading to the increase in the number of stray dogs on our streets was the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, which transferred the responsibility from the police to local authorities, not all of which see it as ring-fenced and obligatory. That must be tackled.

Sadly, since we launched our inquiry last summer, four more people have lost their lives in dog attacks, including, most recently, the teenager Jade Anderson, who was attacked just before Easter by four dogs in a private home. A pensioner was also attacked in Liverpool last month. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), who represents Jade’s parents, for initiating in May an Adjournment debate on dangerous dogs. I had the opportunity to meet Jade’s parents through her, for which I was grateful. I thank her and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) for all that they have done to raise the issue in the public domain.

During our inquiry, we were moved to hear from a constituent of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree —the mother of John Paul Massey, another child killed by a dog. He was just four years old when a relative’s pit bull attacked him at his grandparents’ home in 2009. His mother, Angela McGlynn, and the many others from whom we received evidence want urgent Government action to tackle out-of-control dogs.

We reported in February this year, with a number of recommendations for Government on what improvements could be made to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and other legislation. The Committee has also had the opportunity to scrutinise draft clauses on dangerous dogs, published as the draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill on 9 April. Subsequently, the Government published the measures with the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill on 9 May, and we published our pre-legislative scrutiny report on 16 May.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I know that all the families affected will welcome this debate. Does the hon. Lady share my concern and regret that the Government, as she outlined, published the Bill before receiving the Select Committee’s response? Does she share my sentiment that that was highly regrettable?

Miss McIntosh: I think that the Committee would like to record our disappointment that it took so long to produce the draft legislation yet the Government were unable to wait. As Members will know, the one time when

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a Select Committee cannot meet is during Prorogation, between the House rising to represent the end of one parliamentary year and it reconvening.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Could the Government make good that slight on the Committee by introducing draft guidance—they have plenty of time—on the provisions introducing not dog control notices but other measures? Then we could see the draft guidance not on Report but in Committee. There is plenty of time and the Committee could give the scrutiny that it has given to the wider range of measures needed.

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that the Minister will have heard his remarks; I hope he will endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said.

We had only eight sitting days to conclude our work. We are grateful to the 40 or so individuals and organisations who sent written evidence on a tight time scale, and to those who gave oral evidence. That demonstrates the importance that many attach to finding better ways to tackle dangerous dogs. In our pre-legislative scrutiny report, we made numerous recommendations for improving the draft Bill, which we now expect the Government to amend. As I said to my hon. Friend the Minister, the Committee stands prepared to table amendments to improve the Bill if we think fit.

We feel that the Bill shows that the Minister has not fully understood the public concern about dangerous dogs, nor have Government policies matched the action required. Our headline findings are that the Government have failed to respond adequately to public concern about dog attacks and poor dog welfare; that legislation must be amended urgently to protect the public from dangerous dogs; that current laws have comprehensively failed to tackle irresponsible dog ownership; and that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposals published belatedly in February are too limited.

The evidence we received from DEFRA and the Home Office did little to reassure us that either Department is giving sufficient priority to dog control and welfare issues. The Home Office approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is too simplistic. Indeed, when we were in opposition, the Conservatives felt that antisocial behaviour was not the right vehicle. The legislation fails to reflect the impact that poor breeding and training by irresponsible owners can have on a dog’s behaviour.

We recommended that DEFRA should introduce comprehensive legislation to consolidate the fragmented rules relating to dog control and welfare. New rules should give enforcement officers more effective powers, and our key recommendation is to include dog control notices, such as those already in use in Scotland, to prevent dog-related antisocial behaviour.

We also found that local authorities need to devote more resources to the effective management of stray dogs or else consideration should be given to returning responsibility to the police. We stand by that recommendation. The Committee agreed that all dogs should be microchipped, as much for animal welfare as for controlling dangerous dogs, and that being able to link an animal to its owner was essential to clamp down on irresponsible dog ownership.

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On a personal note, may I remind the House that when we had dog licensing—I am sure the Minister will confirm this—only 50% of dog owners bought a dog licence in any one year? The House and the public expect us to bear down on the irresponsible dog owners who did not purchase a licence and who may not microchip.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Select Committee for her excellent speech, and I apologise for interrupting it. She mentioned the issue of dog microchipping, which is extremely important to combat many of the problems that she has outlined with dangerous and stray dogs. It is the Government’s current intention to introduce such a measure in 2016. The position in respect of horses is the same, so should it not be possible with modern technology to accelerate the process?

Miss McIntosh: I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. It is important that we get the measure right. The parallel with horse passports is appropriate, but we need to see the guidance and exactly how the programme will be rolled out. Microchipping is an important tool, but it is not the full answer.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for giving way and compliment her on her report. She makes the point that when dogs were supposed to be licensed, only 50% of owners complied with the requirement. The same will be true of microchipping: the responsible owners will carry it out and the irresponsible will not. Does she agree that it should be a serious offence not to have a dog microchipped and that that offence should be subject to punishment?

Miss McIntosh: My hon. Friend reinforces the Select Committee’s point that the microchip is a tool but not the whole answer. We fear that we will find out which are the unmicrochipped dogs when they are left abandoned as strays on the street, when it is impossible to bear down on the irresponsible dog owner. Each and every one of us has a role to play if we see dubious breeding activities or dubious behavioural activities in dogs. I hope that goes some way to answering my hon. Friend’s point.

The Committee agreed with the Government’s proposed amendment of the 1991 Act, which makes attacks on private land the same as attacks on public land, and we welcome the fact that that loophole will be closed. It will go some way to reassuring people, such as the parents of Jade Anderson, that such horrendous attacks will not happen in the future. However, we warned that police and prosecutors must distinguish between intruders and those who are lawfully on a person’s property when enforcing the law. That is reflected in the representations we received for today’s debate from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, Dogs Trust and other such charities.

Having seen the details of how the measure would be enacted, we recommended in our May pre-legislative scrutiny report a number of changes to the proposed clauses. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on the key recommendation that the proposed clauses be amended to enable the exemption from prosecution for someone whose dog attacked an intruder to apply to sheds and other enclosed buildings associated with the

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home and not just to the main home. That relates to the vexatious argument of curtilage and other appendages. Perhaps he can update us today on that matter.

The Government give assurances that mitigating circumstances for dog attacks in gardens and other open spaces around the home will be taken into account by the courts and enforcement agencies. To safeguard legitimate visitors to a property, such as postal and health workers, we thought it reasonable for the householder exemption from prosecution to apply only to buildings, not to open spaces around the home. The briefing we have had from the Communication Workers Union highlights the staggering number of attacks on postal workers in any one month, and in any one year.

Luciana Berger: As the hon. Lady rightly highlights, the CWU makes that point strongly, because of the number of people who have to go to the front door of a property, whether they are a postman or woman, social worker, health visitor or meter reader. In Liverpool just a few weeks ago, Clifford Clarke tragically lost his life when two out-of-control dogs attacked him while he was cooking a barbecue in his garden, so I very much welcome and support the hon. Lady’s comments.

Miss McIntosh: The Committee and I welcome what the hon. Lady says. When I visited the Blue Cross home in my own constituency, which looks after stray cats and dogs, I saw how massive a bullmastiff is. It would easily have pushed me over if it had leapt up. It is a worrying issue, especially for those who cannot enjoy the safety of their own home and garden. We need to distinguish between responsible dog owners, who, for example, secure the gates to their back or front garden, and those who are negligent over whether their dog is allowed to cause injury.

We also recommended that the definition of an assistance dog be amended to prevent the erroneous application of the assistance dog measures to dogs that are not genuine assistance dogs. We are pleased that the Government amended the draft clauses to allow the exemption from prosecution for householders whose dog attacks a trespasser to apply whether or not someone was home at the time of the attack.

The Committee believes that the current legislation before the House has gaps and needs to go further. We concluded that the Government’s proposals were insufficient and that a comprehensive overhaul of the legislation is needed, including the consolidation of the several dozen statutes that impinge on the issues, and that remains our view. I am talking about not just the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 but the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 and a whole host of legislation that pertains to that area.

On Second Reading of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill on Monday, there was unanimous support for our recommendation that targeted dog control notices such as those in place in Scotland be introduced to give police and local authorities effective measures to tackle irresponsible dog owners before their dog inflicts harm. It is that preventive measure that is the key to controlling dangerous dogs and potentially dangerous behaviour.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Once again, I commend the Chair of the Select Committee on her contribution. Does she agree that the Government have listened to

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many of the evolving concerns and have acted to respond to them, but the one remaining thing they need to do is listen to the Committee and not be governed by the directives of the usual channels? Should there be overwhelming consensus on a point such as dog control notices, they should listen and respond accordingly. We are not daft, because we have based our views on what we see in Scotland and elsewhere.

Miss McIntosh: I welcome the intervention by the hon. Gentleman; I am tempted to call him my hon. Friend. On a number of issues, this Government have proved that they listen. As I have mentioned, my hon. Friend the Minister is indeed a deeply reasonable man and I am sure that he will pass the test of reasonableness as the Bill goes through. It is, of course, a Home Office piece of legislation, but the clauses that I have referred to relate to DEFRA.

In our pre-legislative scrutiny report, we made a recommendation that a dog attack that injures any protected animal—such as other dogs, cats, horses or livestock—should be deemed an offence. I pay tribute not only to the dog charities but to Cats Protection, which supports this recommendation. It is very important that attacks on other animals—such as other dogs, cats and horses, whose riders might be seriously injured, and especially livestock—should be addressed.

The Committee was also concerned about the provisions under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 that currently ban certain types of dog, regardless of temperament, while excluding other aggressive breeds. In our pre-legislative scrutiny report, we called for a focus on the owner rather than on dog type, given that any dog can cause harm if it has an irresponsible owner—deed rather than breed.

To tackle stray dogs, we need to have a properly resourced dog warden service in all local authority areas. We also need to be aware of the increasing number of aggressive dogs that are being abandoned and of the additional burden on local authorities and dog charities, which are already overstretched. I have mentioned the provisions of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 that might be leading to more stray dogs coming on to our streets.

On dog breeding, we criticised the Government for doing too little to tackle poor breeding practices. Relying on voluntary action has not delivered sufficient reform, and the Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding should be given a formal regulatory role to enforce standards.

Luciana Berger: The hon. Lady has been generous in allowing me to make many interventions. On the point about breeding, she might be aware that in recent weeks an online petition has gathered almost 20,000 signatures from people who are urging the Government to look seriously at the issue. The petition specifically wants to ensure that when people buy new pets they should, first and foremost, get them from rescue homes wherever possible and, secondly, not buy them from breeders that separate a new pup from its mother. There is a big campaign, “Where’s Mum?”

Miss McIntosh: Indeed. That was one of our conclusions. One hesitates to use the word “bitch”, but in this debate it is appropriate. No puppy should be sold without the

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mother—the bitch—being present. That is so important, and I pay tribute to those who have done so much to highlight it.

Again, things should be done on the basis of deed not breed. However, we need to look at the ban on certain types of dog in the 1991 Act. That Act has not prevented attacks. There have been ways of “breeding round” the ban, which should be addressed.

We were especially concerned about the poor welfare of puppies and dogs, due to common breeding practices among puppy farmers and some pedigree breeders. Our report calls for any breeder producing more than two litters per year to be licensed and subject to welfare checks; I hope that goes some way to addressing the concerns expressed by the hon. Lady. That simple change could help to prevent irresponsible breeders from producing more animals than they are able to manage effectively, which are then sold on to unsuitable owners for profit.

To sum up, we welcome the extension of legislation to attacks on private property and to attacks on assistance dogs. However, we believe that it is something of a wasted opportunity not to have pursued a fuller, wider, more comprehensive consolidation of all the laws in this area. Also, I urge the Minister to introduce dog control notices and to persuade his colleagues in the Home Office that those are a much better tool than some other measures.

On sentencing, it has been put to me by a constituent that a sentence of two years is insufficient for a fatal dog attack. Death by dangerous driving carries a 14-year prison sentence, whereas death by careless driving carries a five-year prison sentence. Where prosecutions under these new laws on dogs are brought, perhaps somewhere between a five-year and a 14-year jail term would be a more fitting tribute to those loved ones who have been lost rather than the two-year term that is being proposed.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): As with driving offences, we must differentiate between those people who are deliberately setting their dogs on other people and deliberately training their dogs to be vicious and to be attack dogs, and those who have not cared for their dog appropriately, with the result that the dog becomes vicious. Two years in jail is inadequate, as the hon. Lady said, particularly for those people who have deliberately set out to use their dog as a weapon.

Miss McIntosh: Indeed. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for those comments. I do not know if that was what the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ogmore, had in mind when he said that the guidance should be published. However, it is obviously for the Sentencing Council to direct what the sentence should be. Nevertheless, I hope that the message will go out from the House today that we are united in our concern in this regard, and that the sentence should be appropriate for what is judged to be effectively a new crime.

To conclude on sentencing, I refer to our concern about resources in relation to local authorities. There should be dog wardens in each area. Also, the police should be properly funded and resourced with a tool more akin to a dog control notice, which we know already works successfully in one part—Scotland—of the United Kingdom.

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I will conclude by saying that action is urgently needed on these key issues. Clearly, there is a balance to be struck between the freedoms of responsible dog owners—I wish to record that the vast majority of dog owners in this country are indeed responsible—to enjoy their pets, and the need to protect the public from those who are not responsible and who do not control their dogs responsibly. The welfare of dogs, other animals and local communities must be protected from the actions of irresponsible dog owners. We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to rehearse these arguments, and I urge the Government to act on the Committee’s recommendations.

1.56 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I start by saying how much I welcome the two reports on this issue from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. I congratulate its Chair, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), and her Committee on all the work that they have done on this issue, their excellent campaigning and the reports that they have produced.

In addition, I echo the Chair’s commendation of the charities that have also been involved in campaigning on this issue. I also commend the Communication Workers Union, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Veterinary Association and all the other organisations that have joined together to urge the Government to take action, and particularly to introduce dog control notices, which I will talk a little bit about in a moment.

I share the Committee’s disappointment that the Government are not introducing holistic legislation to cover the issues of dog control and dog welfare, because the two cannot be separated. This debate is about control, but fundamentally it is about dog welfare, because the fundamental question is, “Why do dogs attack?” They attack because of how they have been trained, or not trained, and how they have been socialised and educated.

As someone who has tried to get the authorities to take action on a number of occasions, I believe that it would be much more straightforward to have one source for action—one consolidated Bill—rather than having to rely on different pieces of legislation, including some that go back 150 years.

The House is, of course, aware of the tragic death of 14-year-old Jade Lomas-Anderson, and I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for meeting Jade’s parents and for her kind words. Jade was attacked by four dogs—we believe that they were two Staffies and two bull mastiffs—in her friend’s house, where she was staying overnight as a special treat because she had done so well at her new school. By all accounts, Jade was a very bubbly girl who was loved by many people. Her parents, Michael and Shirley, are campaigning for a change in the law—as they say, Jade would have wanted them to—so that no other family has to suffer as they are suffering.

I cannot now say, as I could the first couple of times I spoke about her, that Jade was the last person to die because of dangerous dogs. Since Jade’s death on 26 March, 79-year-old Clifford Clarke has been killed by two dogs in Liverpool. There are 210,000 dog attacks each year and more than 6,000 people are hospitalised each year because of them, so there have been many attacks since Jade’s death.

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In Bolton, six-year-old Abigail Boyd was attacked in Farnworth. She was sitting in her garden when a dog that had already been reported to the authorities for being loose came in and bit her. Her eyelid had to be stitched back on and she has deep wounds under her eye. She was lucky not to lose her sight. Two-year-old Ryan Magee was left terrified when he was bitten by a dog tied up outside a community centre, as he and his father were walking past to go in.

Last week, in Atherton, Jade’s home town and mine, there were three attacks by dogs. Even following the attack on Jade, the police’s attitude has not been as one would have wanted, in terms of taking such attacks as seriously as they should be taken. It is fortunate, although I am sure the victim does not feel fortunate, that one person who had to go to hospital after an attack was a young man in his 20s. Had he been a child, it is likely that the dog would have attacked his face.

After every attack, no matter how small or large, there are terrible after-effects and the victim is left traumatised. Earlier this week, I spoke about a farmer who signed my petition. After her cattle were attacked, she was deeply traumatised and unable to sleep for a week. People are left with a lifelong fear of dogs. People suffer life-changing injuries—often children, who have the most terrible facial scarring. I read of somebody recently who lost a foot to a dog attack. In the worst situations, family and friends are left mourning loved ones.

The Government have said that they want to retain remedies under statute and common law, but I encourage them, again, to bring those together under one dog control and welfare Bill, because it is difficult to get action under myriad legislation.

I started doing a little bit of work on this, even before I was elected, when one of my volunteers was attacked by a dog while delivering leaflets for the election. He had gone into the owner’s property to put a leaflet through the door and, as he was bending down, another bull mastiff attacked him, latching on to his arm. Fortunately, it was a man who was attacked, not a child, a woman or somebody of smaller stature. Pat managed to stay on his feet, with the dog still latched on to his arm.

The police could take no action, because it was private property. The owner said, “Of course, we’re going to have our dog put down because of this terrible attack.” The dog is still alive and living in the garden and people are still able to enter it. We asked about the paper boy and the owners said, “Oh, it’s all right. The paper boy knows not to come in.” That is fine, as long as it is that paper boy, but what about a different paper boy, or somebody else—whether a postal worker, the nurse, or some other worker who needs to enter that property?

The ex-mayor of Blackrod lost two cats to attacks. Eventually, we managed to get the police to take action, but initially the response was, “There is nothing that we can do about it,” which illustrates the need to bring legislation together. The ex-mayor of Westhoughton was walking his dog nicely in the park when it was attacked by a loose dog. When he took his dog to the vet, the vet was able to describe the dog likely to have attacked it, because he had seen a stream of people whose dogs had also been attacked. To date, we are not aware of any successful action taken against that owner. Clearly, the authorities have to sharpen up their act.

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I was contacted by a constituent soon after Jade’s death who said that, close to Jade’s house, no more than 400 yards away, there is a dog loose in a shared communal garden. We struggled to get anybody to take action about this, because it is supposedly private property, but—hang on a minute—everybody else walks through this garden as well. The police have now instructed the owner to keep the dog muzzled when it is out of the house, but we have still failed to get the housing authorities to take proper action.

We need all the legislation to come together, so that it is easy for action to be taken, but most importantly we need dog control notices. We need that early intervention mechanism, so that when a concern is expressed about a dangerous dog, action can be taken.

Luciana Berger: Does my hon. Friend share my concern that the Government’s proposals in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which they say will deal with this problem, just introduce a new layer of bureaucracy, adding to a lengthy process involving the courts? Conversely, a dog control notice could be issued on the spot and could adequately and properly deal with prevention.

Julie Hilling: I agree, and because the proposals are subsumed in antisocial behaviour legislation, not enough priority will to be given to dog attacks. I understand that the police are, potentially, dealing with drugs or other issues, so when somebody is just complaining about a dog barking, for example, how much attention will that get?

Huw Irranca-Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point about prioritising the matter among the wide range of measures that police and community safety agencies have to deal with. There is also the technical, but important, issue of how much time during the progress of a large, complex Home Office Bill will be put aside for debating these issues, which have not been debated enough, technically and in detail. Does she agree that we should definitely find time to do that, and that introducing guidance as rapidly as possible would help us?

Julie Hilling: I agree. My hon. Friend raises some important points.

The dog control notice could say, “Keep that dog on a lead”, “Keep it muzzled”, or “Keep it away from children”. I hope that it would state, where necessary, that the dog owner needed to reduce the number of dogs in the household, because the home was not suitable for them. A range of actions could be taken.

We still cannot talk about Jade’s case in detail, but the one complaint we know of was about noise. Had a properly trained person who understood dogs been able to go round at that point, perhaps action could have been taken. I would be the last to say that action could have saved Jade, but the fact that we do not take action at all, apart from saying, “Keep your dogs quiet”, means that we are liable to have more and more of those terrible attacks and tragedies.

Miss McIntosh: I am a little concerned that in the debate about dog control notices, which, for the reasons the hon. Lady has given, are specific to a particular dog

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owner and dog, we will lose the argument because of that business of a dog being muzzled. The dog does not need to be muzzled all the time. It is important to show that we are being reasonable in what we ask.

Julie Hilling: Absolutely. I agree that people may be concerned that it is cruel to keep a dog muzzled. However, that is only in specific situations and with specific instructions about what to do with a specific animal. There is also concern that the proposed legislation will get rid of dog control orders as well. Such an order is a good, simple mechanism whereby local authorities can introduce exclusion orders in parks orders about clearing up after dog fouling, orders about keeping dogs on leads in particular areas and orders about people having to put their dog on a lead, if instructed to do so by a responsible person. I am concerned that, again, we may lose those measures in a much larger piece of legislation that does not allow such detail.

I agree with the hon. Lady that we should extend this welcome legislation to other protected animals, including assistance dogs. I see no reason why it should not be extended to other protected animals. If someone’s dog, or other animal, is attacked while they are behaving responsibly, they have to face all the trauma and expense of an injured animal. One indicator of a dog being dangerously out of control is that it attacks other animals. We should take account of that and extend the legislation.

I agree with what has been said about breeding. A dog is much like a child, in that it needs to be properly educated and know its place in the hierarchy. It needs a proper beginning in life, and should not be taken away from its mother too soon. I appreciate that there is now consensus that people breeding more than two litters a year should be registered, but I was interested to hear the comment from the ex-chief vet of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who believes that anyone who breeds a litter should have their dog registered, even if it is an accidental breeding. That is his personal view, not the RSPCA’s.

Luciana Berger: May I correct the record? I previously said that 20,000 people had signed the petition, but the figure is actually more than 30,000. Does my hon. Friend wish to join me in congratulating Pup Aid, which put together the petition, and Marc Abraham, who is the vet leading the charge? I hope the Government will sincerely respond to the need to consider dog breeding, particularly the need not to separate pups from their mothers too soon.

Julie Hilling: I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the people involved. Dogs are similar to children, and early intervention, early training—I do not know about early training of children—early socialisation, and all those sorts of thing are crucial to ensuring that at the end we have a well behaved dog and owners who understand what to do.

There is lack of education, starting with which dog people should have in their particular domestic circumstances. The trend now for many people to go for bull breeds is worrying. Thinking back 30 years, people on estates such as Hag Fold, where Jade and I lived,

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would have walked around with a Heinz 57, which is a mongrel; now people choose big, powerful dogs that need a lot of exercise, which they will not necessarily get in their environment, and a lot of care, and they are not necessarily safe around children. I am not castigating all the bull breeds—I am not castigating Staffordshire bull terriers or anything else—because we know that some of those dogs are well socialised, well trained, well cared for and well controlled, but I am worried by the proliferation of such big breeds in areas where they are not suitable.

Blue Cross and other animal charities offer good training to school children at both primary and secondary level to teach them how to be around dogs, how to behave around dogs and how to understand the signs that dogs give out so that they know whether it is, “Yes, you can come and stroke me,” or “No, please stay away.” We need children to understand how dogs behave and the signals that they give. The training also teaches children how to care for their pets, particularly dogs, and how to train and look after them. Again, part of the problem with dangerous dogs is the way those dogs are treated, whether accidentally because people just do not know enough or, as I said in my earlier intervention, because people deliberately train dogs to be vicious and aggressive.

We need adequate enforcement, even of the current legislation. Michael Anderson, Jade’s dad, did a bit of research and found that there are just two dog wardens for the whole of Wigan, which is a large borough where more than 300,000 people live. Goodness knows how many dogs live in our community, so having two dog wardens feels inadequate. We somehow need to provide adequate resourcing.

Michael Anderson talks of dog attacks being of epidemic proportions, and I agree. With so many dog attacks each year, we need concerted, dedicated action to address them. We need to promote responsible ownership and early intervention measures. When I was out with my petition, many people said that it was not dangerous dogs but dangerous owners that were the problem. Our focus needs to be very much on ensuring that people treat dogs properly; it is very much about dog welfare.

I hope the Minister will consider not only the Bill that is going through the House, and how it might be amended, but further action on the whole issue of dog control and welfare. Even if we get the amendments to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill that we want, they will still not go far enough in addressing dog control and welfare. I hope he will say something positive about what DEFRA will do to bring all that legislation together.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Andrew Turner (in the Chair): Order. There are about 15 minutes per person remaining.

2.15 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I will try to ensure that my contribution is less than 15 minutes.

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It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). I sympathise with her constituents who have lost their lives, as I think we all do. I also agree with her about the need for education in our schools. It is not only the children who may not have pets in their homes who need education; children in homes where, unfortunately, animals are being treated cruelly also need to be shown the right way to rear and look after animals. There is a lot that can be done in our schools, so I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), the Chair of the Select Committee, for bringing this opportune debate to the Chamber. We on the Select Committee have done a lot of work on the matter, and it is good to have both the Minister and the shadow Minister here this afternoon.

I welcome the microchipping proposal because it means all dogs will be microchipped; it will also help people whose dogs have strayed. Of course, microchipping will only be as good as the database that is put in place. If people go to Blue Cross or Battersea Dogs Home, they will find that of the dogs that come in with microchips, which is probably only 30% or 40% of the total, only 30%—10% or 15% of the total—can be traced back to their owners; the microchips are often not up to date. I am sure the Government will bear that in mind.

We must ensure that the original owner is responsible for the microchip and, if they sell the dog, for ensuring that the microchip is up to date so that the dog can be properly traced. People who sell their car have to ensure that they know exactly where the car is going because otherwise if someone is later done for speeding, the original owner will receive a notice through the post stating that they were driving the car when they were not. I suggest, therefore, that if the previous owner of a dog receives a fine or a summons to court, they are responsible for it. That would concentrate people’s minds. People who sell their dog would then ensure that they knew where the dog was going.

We have talked this afternoon about the need to be careful that, as with dog licences, microchips are not just for the law abiding, which is an issue I have raised before. The last thing someone who is breeding a dog to be dangerous or to be a weapon wants is for that dog to be traced back to them. There are people out there who will wilfully ensure, as far as practicable, that their dog is not microchipped, or if the dog is microchipped, that it is not linked with them. That is fundamental.

When police and council dog wardens come across people who are, say, beating their dogs in the park to train them to be vicious, that is the moment to take in and microchip the dogs, and probably take them away from their owner. At the very least, the dogs should be linked with the owner so that the owner can be held responsible for what the dog does thereafter. Again, I agree with the hon. Member for Bolton West that it is not necessarily the dog that is at fault; it is about the owner who has trained the dog to be vicious. We have to be absolutely clear about that.

That brings me neatly to my next point. It is right that we extend the legislation to deal with people who have in their home dangerous dogs that bite postmen or social workers. In doing so, however, we must be aware that if the dog is protecting the property and someone goes in to trespass or burgle, the dog will take some sort of action against that person. In that case, I do not see

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why any individual should be prosecuted as a result. That will be the difficult balance in the legislation. Often, when postmen or social workers going into people’s houses are bitten, it is not the first time it has happened. The dogs are sometimes well known for being vicious, and we need to take action on those types of dogs and owners. That is absolutely clear.

Furthermore, while breed-specific legislation is okay up to a point, we now have people bringing dogs into the country and breeding them to be dangerous, so we have to be clear that our concern is the action of the dog and not necessarily the breed of the dog. Leaving the breed-specific legislation as it is does not help when dogs from all over the world are being brought in to breed a more vicious breed of dog. People who do that are outside the law and they do not want to be found; we need to make sure of them, so that we can pin their dogs back to the individual.

Julie Hilling: Local authorities spend about £57 million a year on kennelling costs, when dogs are thought to be or might be of a dangerous breed, but with two effects. First, kennelling costs a great deal of money and, secondly, the dog suffers more trauma when kept in kennels while we work out what we should do with the animal. I absolutely agree that it is deed, not breed, that is more important.

Neil Parish: The Blue Cross hospital here in London might have dogs of a breed that is considered vicious, yet an individual dog need not be vicious. Once such a dog is taken into care, there is a death warrant on it, irrespective of whether the dog deserves it. We could go round such conundrums all day, but we should rehouse dogs if possible. Sometimes dogs are taken into care just because people cannot cope with them—they are not training the dogs to be vicious; they simply cannot cope with them any longer. Dogs of a good temperament, but of a breed that might be considered more dangerous, are often the ones that have to be put down, and I do not agree with that.

Moving beyond dangerous dogs as such, an issue at the top end of dog breeding is that many are bred to be too pure. Pugs might be bred so they cannot breathe properly, because that is how masters and breed judges see the case; Alsatians are bred with bad hips, because sometimes that is how the pedigree breeders think that breed should be. Linking with the microchip measures and, clearly, back to the breeding, therefore, the Government need to be absolutely certain that dogs are bred to be not only pure, as in that instance, but healthy. That might be going beyond the subject of today’s debate, but the Kennel Club and others are working hard on the issue, and we need to do more. If some pedigree dogs are being bred from a gene pool that is too small, we need to introduce other breeds to ensure a proper gene pool so that they can breed properly—so that they have good hips, for example.

On puppy farming, it is right that for more than two litters the farms or breeders should be registered. DEFRA is working on that; people need to be clear where dogs come from—through puppy contracts, such as those used by the British Veterinary Association—what the dog’s parentage is and where its mother is. If possible, people should see the puppy with the mother, so that they know exactly what they are buying; they should

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not buy something advertised over the internet or out of the back of a white van, because they have no link to the mother. Such puppies could have been taken from their mother far too young and they could be traumatised and may also be suffering from many diseases. When something happens to a puppy because it has many illnesses, the children of the family it was brought into might be traumatised as well. Again, proper linking to the original breeder through the puppy’s microchip will make all the difference, because people will find it much more difficult to bring puppies in and pass them off as bred somewhere else, which is often the case.

This afternoon, we have a huge wish list, yet as all of us recognise, Ministers and shadow Ministers included, we can make as many laws as we like, but we also have to enforce them. The laws have to be enforceable, and that is what we are keen to see. Resources in councils and the Government are limited at the moment, so we need to concentrate on getting the system—the microchipping —right, with a link to the owner so that the police or dog wardens can take action quickly and effectively. Ensuring that we do not have to kennel dogs for so long will also reduce costs. A lot of good can be done through the Bill.

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton: the vast majority of dog owners in this country are good and responsible. We must ensure that we go after those who are not. We must also act against dogs that attack not only people but a dog guiding a blind person—that has to be just as bad as an attack on a person. It is terrifying enough to have a dog of one’s own attacked by another dog, but imagine people walking down a road unable even to see the other dog approaching before it attacks their guide dog. That must be absolutely terrifying, and all those things should be taken into consideration.

Finally, if horrendous crimes have been committed by dogs, and if the owners have trained the dogs to carry out such acts, we must ensure that the book is thrown at those people, and that they receive sentences commensurate with their crime. Sometimes, of course, a dog that is not normally dangerous goes out of control, and that has to be looked at slightly more leniently. The situation now is that we must take action against those who are out to perpetrate crime. Once again, I thank my hon. Friend for the debate, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

2.28 pm

George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, Mr Turner, and I am sorry that I was a few minutes late.

I was keen for the Select Committee to look at this issue, because there has been a sharp increase in the number of problems associated with so-called status dogs. The number of people hospitalised as a result of dog attacks has doubled—it went from around 3,000 as recently as 1997 to well in excess of 6,000 in 2010. That is a real problem, and I welcome many of the measures that the Government have introduced to date, all of which have been referred to already.

The decision to have compulsory microchipping and the strengthening of that proposal have been important, and I welcome the decision to make an attack on an

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assistance dog an aggravated offence—I agree that that is an important step forward. It is also right to make a dog attack on someone an offence, whether on private or public property.

My only concern is the possible final unintended consequences of such legislation, which we need to think about. I hope that the courts will have wide discretion to take into account individual cases. For example, a couple of border collies could be working dogs on a remote farm, running loose most of the day, but they might nip someone who is not trespassing and who might even be delivering a political leaflet. The implication of that becoming a dreadful offence might be that dogs would have to be locked up all day because someone canvassing for a political party might come round once every couple of years. We must be careful and give some discretion to the courts.

I want to focus most of my comments on dog breeders. My one concern about community protection notices is that there is too much emphasis on irresponsible behaviour by dog owners and the dog is treated as though it were an accessory to antisocial behaviour and crime in the same way as a knife or baseball bat might be.

As the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) said and as I have stressed, the issue is not as simple as that. So much about how a dog behaves and whether it is unpredictable and likely to bite someone depends on whether it was socialised in the first few months when it was a puppy and whether it was cared for properly. If it was brutalised in those first few months, it will never be right, however responsible the current owner might be.

The evidence from dog charities, such as Battersea Dogs Home, was very clear. Many of the dogs they receive were bought as puppies from a disreputable breeder who did not raise them properly. It might be a mastiff, and a year down the line the buyer finds that they have a huge dog that they cannot control. They do not know what to do with it so they abandon it and leave it on the streets.

Many dogs that go to charities have been abandoned by people who bought puppies from disreputable breeders and then did not know what to do with them, so abandoned them. That is a real problem; so many of those dogs end up being destroyed because their experience as puppies means that they are completely unsuitable to be rehomed with families.

As hon. Members have said, we recommended that one way of dealing with the problem was to change legislation so that the maximum number of litters that a hobby breeder could breed before having to be licensed with a local authority was reduced from five a year to two. The Government rejected that, and I want to press the Minister on the current position. Our understanding was that a hobby breeder could breed up to five litters a year. That is a lot of dogs; an irresponsible hobby breeder could send 50 dogs into the outside world and cause problems.

In their response, the Government thanked the Committee

“for the opportunity to clarify the legislation on dog breeding”

and said:

“The Government would like to stress that anyone in the business of selling dogs, which is anyone that a local authority justly believes to be trading must be licensed”

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and that is the case whether it is five litters or even one litter. I am interested in what the phrase

“in the business of selling dogs”

means. Does it mean anyone who sells a dog? Does it mean that if someone breeds one litter of puppies and gives five away to friends but sells three, they would have to register because they had sold a dog? Does it mean someone who earns their full-time income in that way, or a part-time income, and is there an income threshold? Does it mean that someone receiving more than £500 from puppy sales must be licensed, but not if they receive less than that? The figure is vague and I would like to know what the phrase means. If there was clarity and someone breeding fewer than two litters would be a hobby breeder and exempt, but those breeding more than two litters would automatically be caught, that would remove the vagueness. That is important, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments.

After the publication of the report, I met some dog wardens who raised various issues with me. They said that the most important one was that doing what I suggested and reducing the threshold from five to two litters would be for the birds because they did not have the resources or powers to carry out the necessary surveillance to pick up such breeders. When I pressed them on how much such work they do, the answer was, “Not a great deal.” We must not delude ourselves into thinking that this simple tweak in the legislation would solve the problem.

Those wardens said that one obstacle to their looking into such problems is the difficulty, bureaucracy and complexity of obtaining the relevant authorisation from the right authorities to carry out surveillance on people they suspect of running illegal puppy farms. They said that what usually happens is that the police or a local authority decide to conduct surveillance on a household for some other reason—suspected cannabis growing, selling of drugs or dealing illegally in something else—and only incidentally do they find out that dogs are being illegally bred and sold, and that there is a business in dogs that is not properly licensed.

An interesting area that we did not look at in our last inquiry, and which I hope the Government will take on board, is whether more should be done to ensure that local authorities have the necessary powers to hand to obtain such authorisation, so that they can carry out surveillance and catch people engaged in back-street puppy farms, which are causing so many problems, as other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bolton West, made so clear.

2.35 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I am grateful that I have caught your eye, Mr Turner. Dogs’ hackles are up and their hair is on end. I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to the Chamber to respond to the debate, and I hope that he will be able to calm some of the nerves that I will allude to. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) on this timely and important report. Her Committee has done dog welfare a great service.

I have taken a strong interest in the welfare of dogs for a number of years, and have been involved in a campaign with my constituent, Carol Fowler, for the past eight. Highlights of the campaign led to the

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BBC1 documentary, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed”, which I am sure many hon. Members saw. It graphically exposed welfare issues associated with pedigree dogs and genetic health.

There are some horrific examples—particularly Chiari malformation and syringomyelia in Cavalier King Charles spaniels; as you may know, Mr Turner, the brain grows too large for the size of the skull, causing some sufferers to writhe around in agony before they die. There are many other examples, including boxer dogs having heart diseases and German Shepherds having abnormal hip joint development, causing them to die prematurely. The programme led to the BBC suspending its broadcasting of Crufts, which, given its 42-year history with the broadcaster, was highly symbolic.

I want to touch on four of the issues that several hon. Members have raised. First, we must tackle the horrific business of inherited genetic disease through improper breeding, which can seriously compromise dogs’ welfare. Secondly, we need a proper microchipping process for dogs. Thirdly, I want to talk about puppy farms and fourthly about puppy contracts.

Welfare problems caused by those who buy problem dogs are extensive both financially and emotionally. Such puppies often die prematurely and their owners have to face the associated costs, including vets’ fees, and the emotional trauma that goes with that. I will concentrate on dog welfare today. We should remember that dogs are sentient beings who can feel both pain and fear.

The Government must not wash their hands of all aspects of dog breeding, particularly when welfare problems are involved, and they could use a light regulatory touch with a sector of welfare groups operating properly through the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England. There must be responsible dog-breeding regulation so that puppies are sold to suitable owners and socialised properly, which would alleviate many of the dog control problems to which hon. Members have alluded.

I turn first to the lack of funding. The Animal Health and Welfare Board for England is, rightly, weighted towards farm animals and received £200,000 from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Farm Animal Welfare Council received £280,000. In contrast, the Dog Advisory Council, which is so ably chaired by Professor Sheila Crispin, had to make do with a mere shoestring budget of £28,000 last year. It tried to approach the pet food industry for more funding, but that has so far failed. The Dog Advisory Council has been widely acknowledged as providing the most independent, far-reaching welfare advice of any of the dog organisations.

That brings me to the second, perhaps most important part of my speech, and the issue that is causing so much unhappiness; I hope that the Minister pays close attention. It seems that a new canine and feline sector group has been established, with a surprising lack of consultation anywhere. If there is to be a new organisation, it should be fully independent from any sectoral interests. Only with an independent group will the correct provisions be put in place to protect the welfare of dogs in the UK.

I also question the establishment of the group. I do not understand why it was set up, what the process for the recruitment of its members was, or how the group is to be funded, and I would be grateful if the Minister clarified those issues. Was the group and its membership established under the Nolan principles?

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I understand that the new group will be under the chairmanship of Professor Steve Dean. I have met him, and he is extremely knowledgeable about dogs—the problem is that he happens to be chairman of the Kennel Club. It would appear that a cosy relationship has formed between the Kennel Club and DEFRA, which, as I said in a letter to the noble Lord de Mauley, is seriously dividing opinion-formers in the dog world, and compromising, I believe, the welfare of dogs. The creation of the new group and the choice of chairman have created hostility in the dog world. Any chairman of a dog welfare board, I suggest to the Minister, should be able to unite, not divide, that world.

The position of the Kennel Club as a regulatory body seems to have been elevated recently, following a speech from Professor Steve Dean, in which he said that the Kennel Club had the

“primary role as the regulator for the welfare of dogs”,

and had worked with DEFRA to form the canine and feline sector group, under his chairmanship.

There is a fundamental conflict of interest in the Kennel Club’s taking a leading role in the welfare of dogs, as its main source of income comes from the fees that it charges for the registering and transfer of ownership of puppies. Therefore, it is not in the Kennel Club’s interest to restrict the number of organisations by imposing tougher health requirements. Given that conflict of interest, I do not believe that the Kennel Club is the best organisation to be given responsibility for the regulation of dog welfare.

The establishment of any group should at least have had involvement from the Dog Advisory Council, which provides expert independent advice on how best to advance the welfare of dogs. It would have been far more beneficial to build on the Dog Advisory Council’s work, rather than to establish this entirely new group under the Kennel Club’s chairman. The advice given by the Dog Advisory Council is truly independent and widely respected by all dog groups.

If we are to work within the current structures, they must be rigorously independent and have the Dog Advisory Council at their heart. I believe that the Dog Advisory Council should remain in place until such time as a suitable structure is formed that can guarantee the independence and regulation of dog welfare. Following that, a dedicated dog subsection should remain in any canine and feline group, due to the population of dogs and the problems that we have heard about in today’s debate. There are, I believe—nobody quite knows the exact figure—about 11 million dogs and about 11 million cats in this country, but it seems that there are far more problems with dogs than with cats.

Moving on quickly, Mr Turner—I know that you will want me to conclude shortly—I would like to talk about microchipping. I know through a constituent of mine, who is actively involved in the matter, that we are being pressed to do something urgently about microchipping in horses, to deal with horse diseases and the issue of traceability, including dog meat. The technology required for the chipping of dogs and horses is exactly the same. Surely we can accelerate the microchipping process, so that it is dealt with faster than by 2016, as is currently proposed.

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Briefly, the third issue is so-called puppy farms, which others have discussed. I quickly comment that the problem is that the farms often produce puppies in environments with inadequate welfare conditions and inadequate genetic disease control. Puppies are often poorly nourished and not properly socialised, so that is an issue that we need to tackle.

The fourth issue, which my constituent, Carol Fowler, was at the forefront of proposing, is puppy contracts. It is important that members of the general public have access to an effective public education campaign about genetic welfare issues. The poor welfare standards of many commercial breeding establishments and dealers mean that many innocent puppy buyers will still purchase a puppy on emotional grounds rather than as informed consumers. Choice of breed can often be based on appearance or even fashion, with little regard to potentially harmful conformational traits or known breed-related genetic diseases, let alone whether a particular breed of dog is suitable for their lifestyle, or whether they should have a dog at all.

The current, unregulated system is failing to protect dogs from suffering from the effects of inbreeding, genetic diseases, exaggerated conformational traits, poor husbandry and the poor welfare that can be associated with the breeding of dogs. The majority of purebred dogs are owned by the general public, who often pay a very high financial and emotional price in dealing with such problems.

The UK claims to be a nation of animal lovers and, on the whole, I am sure that that is true. However, there will be a falsity behind that claim if we do not ensure the highest welfare standards possible. The UK’s standard of welfare of companion animals often falls below that of Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and possibly other European countries as well.

In summary, I believe that the case for an independent regulator for the welfare of dogs is clear. A clear distinction has to be made between a sectoral council, which represents the interests of the industry concerned, and an independent regulator, which will act on behalf of the welfare interests of animals. With the creation of the new canine and feline body, it very much feels as though the poachers are regulating the gamekeepers.

A truly independent body, with statutory powers, would have the capability to ensure both the protection of dog welfare and that dog breeding was carried out to the highest possible standards. Having those safeguards in place would, in turn, alleviate many of the dog control issues that we have discussed today, including that of dangerous dogs. I hope that the Minister will comment on those important welfare issues.

2.47 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): I am delighted that we are able to debate this important issue in response to the seventh report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, on dog control and welfare. I welcome the report, which was exhaustive in the evidence it took and in its comprehensive insights on dog control and welfare.

The point has been well made that one difficulty we are experiencing, both in this debate and in governmental terms, is about who champions the matter in Government.

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A forthcoming Home Office Bill deals with one aspect, while other aspects, such as sentencing, are dealt with elsewhere. In his response, the Minister—good chap that he is—might want to identify the individual who champions the whole remit. In the absence of a holistic reform of dog welfare and controls, and given that we are dealing with it in a more piecemeal way, who champions the issue right across Whitehall? Who bangs heads together? Who chairs the committees in Government? Who drags the Home Office and others together and says, “This is the way it is all going to hang together.”? I think that role is vital, and it would be good to have information from the Minister.

I welcome the debate and thank the Committee members and its Chair, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), for their truly excellent work on this report and others that relate to such issues. It is right to recognise, as hon. Members have done, the intense suffering of many families who have been traumatised, not only through injuries, but through deaths in their families because of attacks by dogs. That includes most recently Jade Anderson, John Paul Massey four years ago and the 79-year-old pensioner, Clifford Clarke. It is true that they and others personify the tragedy of dog attacks, which has been so ably and eloquently set out here today by my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and by other hon. Members, and in other debates. That gives us the stimulus we need; it is why we need to get this right.

I give immense credit to all the dog and animal welfare charities, the police, the Royal College of Nursing, other health care professionals, veterinarians, postal workers, represented by the Communication Workers Union, and many assorted others who have come together to campaign with immense unanimity and sense of purpose on the issue. I remember at one point a Minister—I am not sure whether it was this Minister, but certainly it was a predecessor—saying to me, “One of the difficulties is that there isn’t a unified voice.”

Well, there has been one for some time, and the people concerned are still pretty unified in demanding what they want; I shall refer to some of the details in a moment. They have played an excellent hand, and for the right reasons. That has to do with the issues that have been mentioned by all hon. Members here today, including the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), who has great experience in this area. Those issues include animal welfare and breeding, as well as dog attacks and responsible ownership and what we can do in that respect.

On a personal level, I thank not only the CWU and Dave Joyce, but Mark, a postal worker from Pencoed, who took me out on his rounds delivering letters in my local patch and talked to me about this and other matters. I also thank Tina, who took me around Euston blindfolded with a guide dog. She took me through Euston and across the front of the station, through busy areas, to show me not only the expertise of guide dogs, the immense amount of training that they receive and how easily it can be lost if they are attacked by other animals or scared in other ways, but the real bond of trust that develops and how that trust can be so easily broken by an inadvertent or a deliberate attack on a precious companion animal or guide dog. Jonathan, a black lab, took me round the course, with Tina

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instructing me as we went. Jonathan was a black lab—not black lab as in Labour, but as in Labrador, although he could have been Labour. I do not know; he did not tell me at the time.

I also thank Blue Cross, the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and others for the time they have spent with me on frequent visits to their institutions to see their work and how a multifaceted approach is needed to dealing with abandonment, stray dogs and breeding; I will come to some of the detail in a moment. On that basis, one message I have for the Minister, or one thing that I would like him to ask today and when his colleagues go into Committee with the Home Office Bill is, why not consolidation? I suspect that his civil servants, good people as they are, will have said, “There is a more pragmatic way to do this. Let’s do a little bit here and a little bit there and so on.” But there are real concerns about that.

It comes down to this point: how do we pull together a very comprehensive range of issues? They are not simply about sanctions, penalties and stepping in after the event. They are about education, early intervention, stepping in at an early stage when we see that there are problems to prevent them from getting worse, and dealing with what is now in some ways the factory turnover of dogs, and other animals, through the internet and elsewhere. How is that to be dealt with if we do not pull things together in a consolidated Bill? We come back to these points. First, who is championing the issue, and secondly, where is the overall strategy? We have little bits here and there. Many of those things I will welcome in my contribution, but other things could easily be lost. We have to do this properly.

One of the biggest lessons for us on the issue comes from what we did with the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. That was a classic case of well intentioned legislation that had perverse consequences, which is why we need to get it right this time. The DDA was poorly targeted, which has led to good dogs being seized from good owners and all the personal trauma and inconvenience that go with that. We see dangerous individual dogs that are not from the four proscribed breeds and thus cannot be seized under the Act.

There is confusion. Veterinarians regularly tell us, “We find it hard enough ourselves to identify whether that dog is from one of the four proscribed breeds, but we know that that one needs to be lifted up, taken away and either retrained or kennelled for some time and re-homed with someone who will look after it.” Alternatively, they say, “We think that dog is dangerous, but we can’t actually get to it to lift it.”

The DDA was a classic piece of well intentioned but not well designed legislation. To get the legislation right this time, I urge the Minister, including in discussion with Home Office colleagues and others, really to think about it, because we may not have another good opportunity for a while to get the detail right and to work on the measure with very experienced organisations outside the House, with the EFRA Committee and its members, who have a great deal of knowledge, and with other hon. Members. Working with those people means occasionally giving way and acknowledging that some points that are well and democratically made from the Floor of the House may trump what the Minister is being told by his very able and expert civil servants.

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[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is precisely the type of issue that needs to be widely consulted on, and that it is much better if there is broad consensus, just as it is much better if there is broad consensus on how the whole dog issue is to be regulated?

Huw Irranca-Davies: Very much so. The hon. Gentleman made that point well in terms of the organisational structure that is now giving input to Government and advising them. He is also right in terms of parliamentary consensus and outside organisations. There has been a fair degree of consensus on the holistic way to take this forward. Blue Cross is not the only organisation that is very strong on education and early intervention; so are many others. There is a degree of consensus on the issue, so the hon. Gentleman is right to urge me, as the Opposition Front Bencher, and the coalition Government to work together and to continue it. That might mean a bit of give and take on some things.

There are many points on which we agree with the Government. I have made it clear to the Minister and his colleagues in the other place that we want to provide support and ensure that the legislation goes through in the right shape. However, on the broad principles, in the long term we have to focus on deed, not breed, and replace crude lists of proscribed breeds with a much more holistic approach.

As to the medium term, we are with the Government, and the police, in their argument that we cannot scrap the DDA, despite my criticisms of it—because it is fundamentally flawed—without looking much more at causes than symptoms, without that holistic approach. For the moment, we have to focus on both deed and breed. We will have to do that until we get the whole package in place. In many ways, I regret saying that. I would like to say that we can turn a switch and do it now, but we are in a process. If we can get it right, we will get to the idea of focusing on individual owners and individual dogs, rather than castigating whole breeds or castigating pet owners or dog owners generally, but we are not quite there yet.

An overhaul of our approach is long overdue. We cannot yet discard one of the few tools that we have in the DDA, crude as it is, but I have to say to the Minister that it is more a blunderbuss than a rifle; it is more a cutlass than a rapier. Innocent owners and innocent dogs get caught up in it as well, which is a matter for regret.

On that basis, great care should be taken in extending the range of the DDA. This is one area where we are concerned about the line that the EFRA Committee has taken, because I understand that it suggested that we might extend it and add to it. I have some concerns about that, because we would be reinforcing the use of the blunderbuss approach. With all the concerns of veterinarians about identifying the right breeds and the development of mongrel mixes—huskies with other dogs and even wolf hybrids and so on—I wonder whether extending the DDA is the right approach. We should be ensuring that we get the mix right: we should be looking at the individual dog, looking at the individual owner and getting the packages in place to intervene very early before the dogs attack and we have to lift them. I am sure we will explore that in the Committee.

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Miss McIntosh: To put the hon. Gentleman’s mind at rest, I can tell him that when we looked at the issue in our second bite of the cherry, we focused much more, as I and hon. Members have said this afternoon, on the deed rather than the breed, for the simple reason that people can breed round a particular breed, so we would only be creating another loophole.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I welcome that intervention, and the fact that the Committee’s thinking has evolved based on more evidence. That is the right approach. We should explore such things to get the right evidence-based policy outcomes.

I want to spend a little time on the detail in dog control notices. The other day, I pointed out on the Floor of the House that we are not convinced by the Government’s explanations why dog control notices are not necessary and will not work. I will go through some of the reasons. Neither the Secretary of State for the Home Department nor her Minister could respond in detail to some of my questions, but my point was that they need a pretty compelling case why the Government’s approach is better than the one everybody else has lined up behind—all the organisations I spoke about. Everybody is arguing against it on the basis of not only what the Scottish Government have done, but the other examples of similar animal welfare measures that are used effectively in England already, and to which I alluded in the debate the other day.

We will have to test the measure to the point of destruction in Committee and test the Government on why they are sticking with it. We will try to persuade the Government of the arguments and persuade them to go further, and I shall explain why. We are far from being convinced that the Government’s proposals based around community protection notices and public space protection orders will deal with the individual circumstances of problem dogs and problem owners, rather than tackling all dogs and all owners in an area, district or region and so on, or that the proposals can be individualised to allow for early intervention.

We need to see that the proposals can be personalised and individualised, including aspects such as an individual dog needing to be muzzled in certain circumstances, a fence around a garden being maintained to an adequate condition, an owner being sent on a training course, a dog being neutered or restrictions placed on off-lead activity. We will be testing all those things.

We also need to see that the response before there is an attack and public safety is compromised is flexible and proportionate, so that the proposal does what all the organisations have been asking for: protects public safety and the dog’s welfare, rather than steps in afterwards. We are trying to get at the owners who are repeatedly termed “irresponsible”, which could be for a number of reasons, such as ignorance, lack of awareness or general malicious intent. We need to go towards them and their dogs, rather than having a blunderbuss approach.

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): indicated assent.

Huw Irranca-Davies: The Minister is nodding, so I know he is going to say a lot of good things in his response.

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Are CPNs and the PSPOs—sorry for the jargon—a version of what has been termed a “DOGBO” for problem dogs and owners? If so—the shadow Home Office team will also ask Ministers about that in Committee—given the scale of the challenge and problem identified by the EFRA Committee and other hon. Members, what assurances do we have that such measures will be prioritised among the plethora of other powers in the Bill? An individual police chief constable, or his officers on the ground, must decide with the local authority and other community safety partners that dogs, among all the other challenges, are the pressing priority on an estate or in an area where there is a problem. Without a focus on dog control notices, the worry is that the issue will not be a priority and will become mixed up in the whole.

Mr Heath indicated dissent.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I see the Minister shaking his head and I know that he will come back on that issue. I am glad to see him suggest that that will not be a problem. He will explain today why that is the case.

Will there be adequate resources? I asked on the Floor of the House whether the problem with the dog control notice is that it instantly sends shockwaves through Whitehall and down to local government that resources must follow. If that is the case, let us be honest about it. If that is the problem, which it is, and if we agree on the scale of the challenge and the need to turn things round, which we do, let us have a frank discussion about how we resource this. We have rising dog attacks, injuries and fatalities; rising kennelling costs for local authorities and the police; and more people washing up in A and E units and costing the NHS money. The proposal has to be resourced; otherwise, we can pass all the legislation and regulation and employ all the nudge factors or whatever in the world, but we will not have an effect on the ground, as the hon. Member for The Cotswolds pointed out.

In the absence of dog control notices, how will the Minister ensure that the measures he proposes, among the plethora of measures in the Home Office Bill, will be adequately understood, not only by the police and community safety agencies, which are expected to enforce them, but by the public, who will come to our constituency offices and say, “We know of a problem,” or by a postal worker who says to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West, “We’ve identified a dog; I don’t know what to do about it.”? Will it be properly explained and understood, so that they can use the mechanisms at hand?

Are the measures too bureaucratic? One great advantage of a flexible early intervention approach is that we can get in early, without having to go back to a magistrates court or get another type of permission that requires 20 forms to be filled out. There can be early, gentle, soft, clever interventions, such as saying to an owner, “He hasn’t done anything yet, but there is a problem. You’ve had a visit from the RSPCA and the local health worker. They have both said that there is a problem. When you have visitors in your property, will you please muzzle that dog. What you do otherwise is up to you.” Will it be that sort of approach, or will a massive bureaucracy have to be gone through to take any action under the proposal?

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Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again, but I believe that we have time to debate these matters, which is a good thing. Does he agree that, if at all possible, such issues should be framed in legislation to keep people out of court but to have the desired result? A system of police warning, followed by a ticket with a substantial fine, if breached, would be one way of doing that.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be on the Committee—I will not be—because I think that is an intelligent observation. If he is not on the Committee, he ought to ensure that that point is raised at that stage. The idea of proportionate intervention may avoid the heavy-handed, further-down-stream measures, if we can get in early with a lighter touch. We also do not want to take unduly disproportionate measures against individuals who might be identified by a neighbour who says, “I’ve had enough of this one. I’ll go in and sort it out.” There must be some evidential test and measure to say whether there is an issue that we need to deal with. I agree entirely with what he said, both in terms of sanctions and the types of measure that could be deployed. We need flexibility, before we lift a dog or take stronger, more punitive action against an owner. In that way, we hope to reduce the number of attacks, rather than wait for them to happen and then take punitive action.

I asked in an intervention when the guidance will be issued. The proposals have been quite a while in fruition in the Home Office, and DEFRA Ministers have been involved as well. I am absolutely convinced that some form of draft guidance is being worked up in DEFRA, the Home Office or both combined, and that that can be presented at the earliest opportunity. For the benefit of taking the measures through and getting them right, the guidance needs to be presented in Committee, not on Report. If the Minister says that he cannot do it, I can tell him that I regularly did it as a Minister. I have been told by a Committee, “We need this next Monday,” and I have had to do it and tell my civil servants, “Do it.” I do not mind how rough and ready it is; we need it to be done.

I hope that the Minister and his expert team of civil servants will be able to provide that guidance so that the Committee can take the provisions apart. If he has difficulty with that, the Committee should, even in the absence of dog control notices, simply lift the current Scottish Executive guidance off the shelf and say, “How do we apply this to the Government’s proposals?” If the DEFRA measures are similar to those in Scotland, and they are going to do the same job, the Scottish Executive guidance should perhaps be the basis for the guidance DEFRA introduces.

I have one final, important point on DCNs. We need to know what protections and appeals mechanisms will be in place for owners. We need to get the balance right to protect good owners and good dogs. What protections will be there for them?

In short, we are not convinced that the Government have got this issue right or that their opposition to dog control notices is well founded. The Committee must urgently be given draft guidance so that we can test not only the Minister’s words and aspirations, but their tangible expression in black and white.

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Let me turn briefly to a couple of other issues. We welcome the proposals to extend to private property the ability to prosecute somebody for an attack by a dog. We also welcome the fact that the Government have listened on the issue of trespass, but we will need to test in Committee what trespass entails, and that will include the issue of a property’s curtilage. Sheep dogs or other dogs belonging to farmers, but not just farmers, will often be free to roam in outbuildings. Such buildings are private property, and the dogs will be there for good reasons—often for animal husbandry reasons, because they are working dogs, not pets. We need to test how that will work, because we need to get it right.

In another expert contribution, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) mentioned attacks on innocent political canvassers, although I am not sure there is such a thing. He made a very good contribution, and I hope he is also on the Committee. I will be down in his patch at the weekend, although not on an official visit; I am taking my son down to visit Exeter university’s Camborne campus, which is a fantastic mining, engineering and geology campus. I hope the weather there is good at the weekend.

Attacks on livestock and protected animals are another issue on which we agree with the EFRA Committee, and we need to look at it. Again, this is partly about taking a holistic approach. How do we pull things together so that not only guide dogs, assistance dogs and companion dogs, but a wide variety of other animals, are protected? Such animals are quite easily defined under the protected animal provisions of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. That may be the approach the Government want to look at, or there may be some other way. We certainly do not want to create a new list of animals—“We’ll have llamas, but not alpacas,” and so on. There is a ready-made opportunity under the Act to deal with the issue.

Several Members have mentioned the breeding and sale of dogs, and they are absolutely correct that we have far too many poor breeders. The EFRA Committee is correct that the threshold for licensing dog breeders needs reviewing, and I hope that will be part of the Government’s overall approach. Good dog breeding is to be welcomed, and good prospective owners welcome the fact that a dog has been reared and looked after well and that it has had all the medical treatment and some of the early elements of training, if appropriate, before they take it. However, through ignorance or sheer greed, far too many individuals out there are breeding to no good standard or to no standard whatever. Unfortunately, much of that spills out on to the internet. It amazes me—perhaps it should not—that there is now a trade in all sorts of animals on the internet. We have to accept that.

That takes me to my next point, on which the EFRA Committee also made some wise recommendations. We need to look at how we promote good, responsible advertising for animals on the internet, and the Government are doing some good work on that. We accept that there will be some advertising on the internet, but how do we stamp out the practices of those who are churning out dogs and other animals that will end up abandoned and wasted? Those dogs will wash up in kennelling, with all the costs that go with that, or in places such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, or they will be euthanased. That is an absolute tragedy.

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I have touched on breed-specific legislation. I want now to touch on education, because we often miss this aspect. Many charitable organisations are doing great work on education, including in areas that commentators will stereotype, saying things such as, “The problem is on that working-class estate down the road.” Such views are not always true; there are plenty of problems with poor ownership and poor welfare conditions across all social groups. Organisations such as Blue Cross and the RSPCA are going into areas where they perceive there is a problem. They use the generous funding people have given them to do educational work. I would like to hear from the Minister how the Government tie that together. How do they assist and encourage that work? What do they add to it? If we are seriously going to tackle this wide-ranging issue, the Bill cannot simply be a Home Office matter—it must cover the other elements I have mentioned.

That comes back to my point about the Minister standing up and saying, “I am the one who is championing this through the whole of Government. I am the one who is banging heads together.” I strongly support the idea that a DEFRA Minister should be doing that, and I hope the Minister can do it. If he does not, I will be more than happy to speak to his colleagues, to bang their heads together and to say, “You should listen to the Minister as he brings forward a more holistic approach.”

There are some great initiatives out there, including Respect-A-Bull, which works with youngsters who go around with what they think are tough-looking dogs. The organisation promotes a responsible approach to dogs welfare and to taking out in public. There is some great work going on there.

I commend the Government on their microchipping proposals, although I repeat my criticism, which the Minister hates, that we have waited some time for them. However, they are there. I also commend the Government on the fact that they have gone further than we anticipated, which is welcome. They are not simply rolling things out stage by stage; they are saying that, on a certain date, we will have only mandatory microchipping.

The Chair of the EFRA Committee wisely said, “Let’s get microchipping right. If that requires until 2016, so be it.” However, I would like the Minister to answer the question posed by other hon. Members: why could this not have happened a little earlier? Are things not in place, and are they preventing us from getting this right by 2015? Is something really holding the process up? There may be good reasons for the delay, but I would like to hear them. I agree with the Committee’s Chair that we need to get this absolutely right. It is a welcome move, but it does raise a number of points, which were mentioned earlier. What do the microchipping proposals mean for the link between the dog and the individual? What do they mean for liability, culpability and people being held to account?

I do not have a dog, although I used to have loads of Jack Russells. I have cats now—I do not know what that says about me as an individual, but there we are. I will have a dog again at some point, when I am back home and retired, and it will be a Jack Russell. They are little dogs; they are lovely, great dogs—I am appealing directly to anybody who is listening who likes Jack Russells. Owners of other kinds of dog are saying, “We hate this guy. Those aren’t proper dogs.” That aside, I like the idea that owners should microchip their dogs and take

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full responsibility for them. If the dog is lost or strays, the owner should pass the information on, whether to a database or whatever. If the dog washes up in Swansea dogs home, Battersea or wherever, the owner should pay for the kennelling and take the dog back. That raises some interesting issues, but I welcome the Government’s moves, and we will test the proposals.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) raised the issue of liability and sanctions not only for owners who do not microchip, which is a very valid point, but for those who microchip, but do not control their dog or lose control of it. The fundamental question is whether microchipping is a stick or a carrot. Is it simply part of a lost and returned service, or is it more than that? The hon. Gentleman also mentioned adequate enforcement, which was discussed by other Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West.

The hon. Member for The Cotswolds raised important issues about the bypassing of the existing Dog Advisory Council, and equitable access to DEFRA and Ministers. I hope that the Minister will respond, because although the process has been long and arduous, lasting decades, for some organisations, the great success that has now been achieved has been predicated on effective collaboration and getting people to agree. Anything that signals that priority is being given to one or other group would pull that apart, and none of us would want that. I commend the hon. Member for The Cotswolds for his long interest in issues such as breeding and hereditary health problems, and for his well known support for the work done by his constituent, Carol Fowler, to raise the profile of those issues.

I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. They have shown great expertise. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West on the passion she showed, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree on her interventions; she has spoken with families affected by this issue, and has provided them with access to decision makers including members of the EFRA Committee, Ministers and the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh). It is important to listen to such families and to try to get things right for them.

Fundamentally the issue is about tackling those owners who for one reason or another do not understand about the control and welfare of their dogs—their pets or companion animals. It is also about recognising that the majority of owners are good. We need to design policy that does not unduly affect the responsible owners while leaving the others aside: that must be its thrust. We look forward to working with the Government, and thank the EFRA Committee for its continuing work, which has flushed out some of the issues. I hope that in a few months we will be able to introduce part of what is required, and that the Minister will deal with all the other aspects of the matter. Then we can genuinely and radically take the action that we should have taken at the time of the Dangerous Dogs Acts. They were flawed: let us get this one right.

3.22 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr David Heath): We have had an excellent debate. I commend the hon. Member for

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Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) on introducing it and on the work of her Committee on a crucial issue. I am also pleased to commend the Liaison Committee on choosing the subject as suitable for debate today.

Perhaps I should start by saying that there is much more that unites us on this subject than divides us. We are working to the same end, and have shared much thinking in policy formation. The hon. Lady was kind enough to point out areas where the Government have not only listened, but acted, to bring in measures that will, I hope, make a difference to the minority—I agree with the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) that it is a minority of dog owners—who, whether through ignorance, neglect, or sometimes, I am afraid, malice, end up with dogs that are a danger to others and a nuisance to the community. Such measures are what we need to achieve.

The hon. Member for Ogmore repeatedly asked me to declare myself “the one”, in a Mourinho sort of way —“the special one”—in relation to dogs. Rather shamefacedly, I must say that I am not actually “the one”: my noble Friend Lord de Mauley is. He has responsibility for those matters in the Department. However, I am happy to be “the one” as far as this House is concerned, and to respond to the debate.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Will the Minister confirm that Lord de Mauley—great chap that he is—chairs some cross-Whitehall group that pulls all the strands together?

Mr Heath: Lord de Mauley has certainly been working closely with others, including the devolved Administrations, but particularly with the Home Office. There is a shared responsibility with the Home Office, and it is important that we speak with one voice, and come to the same conclusions. I assure the hon. Gentleman that such liaison has happened.

A Bill is before the House that will enact parts of our response to the undoubted issue raised by hon. Members, on which some have campaigned for a long time. I welcome the support that the Committee has been able to give to the Government’s position. There are several aspects of the matter on which we have gone further than was perhaps originally intended, in recognition of the strength of the Committee’s arguments. There are some areas on which we still do not have 100% agreement, and I shall deal with those.

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which amends the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, had its Second Reading on Monday, and there was an excellent debate. The House broadly endorsed the Government’s approach. The Bill includes provisions that will extend the 1991 Act to all places, including private property. It provides legislative backing for the police and Crown Prosecution Service to pursue prosecutions for attacks on private property. That will reassure victims and their families that the law is on their side. I hope that once the Bill is passed the circumstances that the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) is all too familiar with, and which she spoke about forcefully in the House, will never again arise.

The Bill for the first time incorporates an aggravated offence, under the 1991 Act, of an attack on an assistance dog, recognising the terrible consequences of such an attack. That is important: an assistance dog is almost

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an extension of the person with whom it works. It is part of that person’s being, and an attack on a guide dog or hearing dog makes a huge difference to their life. It is right to clarify and extend the law in that way.

The Bill will also clarify the fact that courts should consider the character of the owner when taking decisions about dogs of prohibited types, and dangerously out-of-control dogs. That point was raised by several hon. Members: it is not the breed, but what the individual dog is doing, that is important. There is no breed that cannot be dangerous in the hands of an irresponsible owner. Sometimes that fact is taken to considerable lengths, because there are people—a very small number—who deliberately have dogs that they use as weapons, to intimidate and on occasion actually cause hurt to another person.

That leads me to a point raised by the hon. Member for Bolton West: new legislation is not needed to deal effectively with a dog being deliberately set on a person to injure them. It would be covered by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, and the maximum penalty would be life imprisonment. The question of the appropriateness of the maximum fine level does not apply: the law treats such action as a very serious offence, and the prosecuting authorities have the capacity to deal with it.

The Bill would also provide the police with discretion to use the civil route in cases involving prohibited types of dog, with improved welfare, reduced kennel time and police savings in time and money. It would provide comprehensive powers for the authorities to take preventive action to stop dog attacks and nip issues in the bud, through, for example, a community protection notice.

That issue was raised by many hon. Members in the debate, and we need to discuss the fundamental question whether our proposed measures in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill treat the same issue and have the same rigour as the so-called dog control notices that many advocate. My answer is that they do. In fact, they are an even more flexible tool.

I accept, however, that we need to substantiate that position and satisfy people’s concerns. One thing I would say to everyone involved in the debate is, “Please let us not get hung up on the label of dog control notices.” It is profoundly unhelpful to the debate about providing protection if the only thing people are arguing for is something with that name, rather than something that does what they want to see done. That is my first point.

Secondly, many people have pointed with approbation to what is available in Scotland, saying, “That is the answer. Why on earth are the UK Government so stupid or obstinate as not to follow the Scottish route?” Of course I respect what the Scottish Government do and the measures they introduce, but we need carefully and critically to consider whether the dog control notice legislation in Scotland achieves the objectives it was set. There is some evidence from Scottish local authorities that the notices are not working as well as hon. Members would believe—if, indeed, they believed everything that was sent to them.

At the 21 May meeting of the cross-party group on animal welfare in Edinburgh, Scottish local authorities expressed a number of concerns, which highlighted the

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ongoing problems with the dog control notice—or DCN—system. The meeting was also attended by a number of dog welfare organisations from across the UK, and a series of detailed problems were identified.

A dog control notice in Scotland must be served by two officers, and any breach needs corroborated evidence from two officers to pursue a case, which is a limiting factor in bringing successful conclusions. A person who is served a dog control notice must attend the council offices, or two officers must visit their home, so it is hardly the on-the-spot mechanism that some have suggested it is. A dog has to have been out of control on at least one occasion before a DCN can be served, so the measure does not nip the issue in the bud. Since some people have strongly advocated that we need to be able to identify the problem before it happens, I am not sure that the notices satisfy that test.

Another problem is that the police in Scotland have no powers to serve DCNs; only local authorities do. Importantly, there is no requirement for a dog owner to advise their local authority if they re-home a dog with another owner, or to inform it of the new owner’s address. A potentially dangerous dog, therefore, can easily appear in a different local authority area with absolutely no recourse.

We need to make clear what the DCNs in Scotland do that we do not and, likewise, what we can offer that DCNs do not. When we have done that critical comparison, I hope that hon. Members will take a view as to whether we are working on the right lines. I perfectly understand the concerns, but I ask people to treat the arguments with the necessary respect and care, rather than simply adopting the slogan that this is the only possible solution to the problem.

Miss McIntosh: I should declare that I am a Scottish advocate, albeit non-practising. I am aware of the criticism that the dog control notices in Scotland are labour and resource-intensive, but I think that the Minister has just walked into a situation where he has given very good grounds for the dog control notice legislation to be reviewed, to allow the police to administer the notices.

I do not think, however, that the Minister has answered the question about prevention that has been put by a number of hon. Members. Although there has to have been one incident, I think that the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) said correctly that it has to be a proven incident and not just a malicious report. I think that the Minister has just made the case for a review of dog control notices, and I do not see in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill anything that comes close to a preventive measure.

Mr Heath: That is where we need detailed and careful examination of the proposals. I accept the point that the hon. Member for Ogmore made—that part of that process will be to consider the guidelines—but I cannot give him an absolute commitment that the guidelines will be ready for Committee. I wish I could, but there is a very good reason why I cannot: we are working carefully through the issues, with the various dog welfare interests, the police, the local authority associations and everyone with a professional interest in the matter, so that we get the guidance and the compass of the notices right, and the hon. Gentleman’s demands are met.

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I do not want to speak out of turn or put words into the mouths of other organisations—that would be inappropriate—but we have generally found that when we have been able to explain the benefits to interested organisations, and have done a “compare and contrast” between what they hope could be achieved through dog control notices and what we believe we can achieve through the new orders, they acknowledge the facts.

I hope that hon. Members do not see this as patronising, because that is not my intention, but there is sometimes a lag between what hon. Members are aware of as concerns and the solutions to those concerns. I hope that there will be a catching-up regarding the briefings that some people have received—from the Local Government Association, for instance, which now welcomes the antisocial behaviour measures and accepts that they will enable local authorities to do a lot for dogs.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I am tempted to use, or subvert, an old adage, and say that I have been patronised in better places—as indeed I have.

If the Minister cannot introduce the guidance at short notice, I suggest that he introduce in Committee, or even before, the comparisons he has talked about, along with any other detail. The more we have in black and white to work with, the more we might be assured. Alternatively, we might say that we are far from assured; nevertheless, we need in front of us whatever he has.

Mr Heath: I very much understand that, having sat in more Bill Committees over the years than I care to enumerate. I recognise that that is exactly what the Public Bill Committee will wish to do, in examining the notices. What I hope will emerge is that the antisocial behaviour measures provide a flexible package that will deal effectively with irresponsible dog owners, and will do everything available under a DCN, and more.

When the hon. Gentleman was saying, “Will it do this, will it do that?” he saw me nodding. That was because I had a sort of mental checklist, and was thinking, “Yes it will do that, yes it will do that.” It could include, for instance, positive requirements for an individual to attend training classes or to keep their dog on a lead—that sort of specificity.

There is a view that we are talking about a broad-brush area-based measure, but that is not the case. The measures are intended exactly as we are saying—to address the issues of a person with a dog that might get out of control, and to be able to deal with that at an early stage. Crucially, they are personal to the owner and not the dog—a point stressed by everyone—which is an important difference between our measures and the dog control notices. The focus must be on the individual understanding of the person’s responsibility for the animal under their control, and what they need to do to improve their management of that animal.

My expectation is that once people understand both the flexibility and the compass of the proposals, they will accept that such matters are covered. However, it is not for me to pre-empt discussions in Committee. I simply invite Members in each place to approach this with an open mind and to see whether the items on their individual mental checklists are ticked off.

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Incidentally, public space protection orders will directly replace dog control orders, which will enable local authorities to impose the same restrictions, while also consulting on other issues in the vicinity.

I think that all that will do the job, but I completely recognise that Members need to be persuaded, which is why I invite them to consider the evidence carefully.

Julie Hilling: I may be pre-empting the Minister’s comments, but another concern is about prioritising and resourcing. In talking about the gamut of antisocial behaviour, what priority and resources will be given to this area?

Mr Heath: That is difficult for me to answer, because it will be in the hands of local authorities in combination with the police. I can only express the hope that such behaviour will be a key area, but we will not give it a greater priority just by giving it a different name. Either it will be seen as something that local authorities and constabularies need to address, or it will not. I hope and expect that local authorities will address it because of all the cases that hon. Members have recited, which we all recognise as extremely serious. If they do not do so, I hope that they will swiftly be reminded by their constituents that they need to give that matter proper care. It would be meaningless for me to give her a blanket assurance, other than to say that that is certainly my expectation.

Another issue that has repeatedly been raised, with several Members covering common ground, is consolidation of legislation. I perfectly understand the argument that it is nice to have a neat legislative bundle with everything that relates to a particular subject. The fact is that English and Welsh law is not like that, and never has been. Consolidation is quite difficult to achieve, and we have sometimes found that consolidated legislation misses out important elements of former legislation. To be perfectly honest, I am not convinced that the substantial resource required to consolidate legislation is worth it, because practitioners perfectly well understand the legislative tools at their disposal.

We should instead concentrate on consolidating our approach to, and our strategy for dealing with, dog control and welfare issues. That is different from getting the legislation into some sort of legal Napoleonic code. For instance, when we considered consolidation, we found that the provisions are reasonably accessible and that there is no great confusion. It certainly has not been brought to my attention that there are significant confusions in existing legislation.

If we consolidated, would we retain all the civil and criminal options currently available? Some people ask why on earth we rely on legislation from 140 or 150 years ago, but such legislation is sometimes a good basis for dealing with illegal activity. Many practitioners have told us that it would be a great mistake to consolidate the Dogs Act 1871 into current legislation because it is very useful and covers some areas that are not obviously covered by other legislation.

I hear the arguments for consolidation, but, first, we could not have introduced the measures before the House in the time scale available—that is important, because this is urgent—and secondly, it would not necessarily achieve anything. I agree with the hon. Member for Ogmore that we must ensure that we provide perhaps a single set of guidance—I shall talk to

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my noble Friend Lord de Mauley about whether that is appropriate—so that everybody knows what applies, how it applies and how best to use it to achieve Parliament’s objectives.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the Minister for his explanation. To give him some comfort, when I was in his position and I was asked to consolidate legislation, wise civil servants always said, “Keep well away from it. If you do that, we will not be able to do a dozen other important things, because of the timing.” If that is his approach, I urge him to consider how to bring forth a more consolidated strategy across Government, and not just have a piecemeal approach. All the issues that we have talked about show the clear necessity of having a joined-up approach—not just in Whitehall, but in local government and agencies—to deal with a range of measures. If we are not going to have consolidated legislation, we certainly need a joined-up strategy that is down in black and white.

Mr Heath: Having now conceded the fact that when the hon. Gentleman was in my position in government he received exactly the same advice about consolidated legislation, which he has just called for, he has now mirrored my advice to him that there is a case for a consolidated strategy. That is a clever bit of opposition—he first asks for something on which he knows that the answer will be no, and he then, when I give him something on which the answer is yes, asks me to do it.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Will you do it?

Mr Heath: I will certainly discuss with my noble Friend whether the matter commends itself to him, and he will need to work on it with other Departments. I can see the strength of the sentiment behind being very clear about how we bring together holistically the various elements relating to dealing with dogs. I simply reject the view that we should spend a lot of parliamentary time on trying to fit together various bits of legislation that do not fit well together, some of which have criminal standards of proof and some of which have civil.

Huw Irranca-Davies: It would be a great test for the Minister’s civil servants.

Mr Heath: It might be a good examination question—we sometimes refer such matters to the Law Commission for their erudite musings—but I do not particularly want my Department to spend time on that at the moment. I am not being flippant; I am simply saying that that is not the most pressing thing, because it would not improve the effectiveness of what we are doing.

On microchipping, which several Members mentioned, I am grateful for the support expressed for what we are doing. It is absolutely essential to get it right and that implementation is successful. We are working closely with everybody who has a direct interest, such as the Association of Chief Police Officers, local authorities, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, the British Veterinary Association, Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. We will ensure that, as far as possible, we get the message across to the great bulk of the public that

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they now need to do microchipping. We are working with database operators and the microchip manufacturers and implanters to address standards and ensure quality and consistency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) made the point that the onus is on owners to maintain the data on the microchip. It will be an offence not only not to microchip a dog, but, just as for a vehicle registration, to have inaccurate information on the registered database.

We have addressed the issue that some dog owners do not have much financial resource available and may see microchipping as a difficult cost to bear: free microchipping is accessible through Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and Blue Cross centres—35 in total—and some local authorities also offer free or discounted microchipping. I am grateful to everybody working on that, and to the Kennel Club for providing free microchip scanners to all local authorities.

This is a good opportunity to promote national microchipping month. Its launch a week ago was most successful. It was hosted by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, who is not in the Chamber at the moment. We are progressing on the issue in what I hope is an effective way.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury—

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: The Cotswolds.

Mr Heath: I am sorry; I am behind the times. It was Tewkesbury. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) that we would love to move more quickly, but all the advice says that we are moving at the most sensible rate to get to our objective. We will ensure that microchipping starts with puppies and is extended to the whole dog population. In my view, the most important thing is to get it right and have something that is usable in tracing back to their owners not just all the dogs that go missing each year, but those that cause nuisance. Hopefully, we will be able to connect them to an owner rather more easily than at the moment.

Of course, some owners will not microchip, just like the huge number of people mentioned by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton who ignored dog licensing procedures when they were in place. There will be some who will simply not want to do it, but at least now there will be an offence. When a dog is found, if it does not have a microchip and we can trace it to an owner, that owner will have committed an offence. No licensing system is perfect, but this will certainly go a long way.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the Minister for his detailed responses. I do not want to pre-empt subsequent Committee consideration of the Home Office Bill, but if a microchipped dog identified to have been part of an attack on a companion dog or an individual is traced back to an owner, what will the repercussions be?

Mr Heath: That pre-empts not only the legislation, but the secondary legislation that we are introducing, although of course we will answer in due course. It will be an offence, so there will be a penalty. The offence, in the first instance, will be failure to keep the information

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up to date, but if the information is there and we can trace the dog back to the owner, it will depend what the dog has done and the circumstances.

I should mention an important point. Having discussed the circumstances, I should give some reassurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) that the courts will be able to take into account the circumstances of the case. We will have to return to the discussion about what comprises curtilage of a property, what a dwelling is and so on.

There is a difficulty of definition. We certainly want to deal with the issue of the postman or the political canvasser who gets bitten by a dog out in the yard or garden, where they have perfectly legitimate business, but we also do not want to penalise the householder whose dog is doing its job of protecting property against an intruder who has no business there. Getting that balance right is critical. When someone is within a house, it can reasonably be assumed that unless they have been invited in, they must give a strong argument for why they have legitimate business in the house rather than being an intruder.

It is different for a garden, or sometimes even a shed. A child going to pick up a football that has been kicked into a garden should not be set upon by a dangerous dog. They may be an intruder, but they are nevertheless not a burglar or anyone with malicious intent. A public interest test must be satisfied before a prosecution can be brought. I hope that the guidance to the prosecuting authority will make that distinction clear. It might satisfy the difficulty that Members have correctly spotted with the definition of what exactly comprises the area that we are discussing.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend has been speaking for a long time and has given us a huge amount of detailed information. Before he sits down, will he comment on the divisive issue of the feline and canine sector council, which is dividing the dog world and making dogs’ fur fly?

Mr Heath: I most certainly will. I have the unprecedented benefit of having rather longer than usual to reply to the debate. I hoped that I was making use of it to provide the answers that hon. Members wanted, so I apologise to my hon. Friend if I was taking too long to get to the issue he raised. I have one more thing to discuss first, if I may—dog breeding—because it was raised by a number of hon. Members.

It is absolutely right that breeding is a key element of education, apart from anything else, which is exactly the point made by the hon. Member for Ogmore. People must know, first of all, what is and is not appropriate, and the consequences of breeding puppies. Buyers also need to know whether they are buying a breed that needs a 5-mile run every morning, so they do not keep it in a flat on the 17th floor. They need to know—the hon. Gentleman will know—how adorable a Jack Russell might or might not be before they buy one, and what special requirements it might have.

A sort of ignorant cruelty can be involved when people buy the wrong breed of dog in the wrong circumstances and then find that they cannot manage it. That is sad, because they probably bought the dog for unimpeachable reasons—they love the look of the dog and its nature—but they simply cannot look after it. Education is important.

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Another important point was raised by the Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth about the threshold for needing a licence. I would love to be able to give him an absolutely explicit response, so that he could say, “Yes, that’s the answer.” It is not as simple as that, as is so often the case with licensing. Although there is a five-litter cut-off for what is, in any circumstances, considered a business, it is for the local authority to determine who is in the business of breeding and selling dogs when it comes to smaller numbers of litters a year.

There is no definitive term that has the sanction of statutory law behind it; it is for the courts to agree or not agree with the local authority. Actually, there are a variety of circumstances in which that sort of decision comes before the court: there is a degree of flexibility, and trading standards officials must satisfy the court that what they are dealing with is a business in the legislative sense. One litter produced in a 12-month period is unlikely to be considered a business; five litters almost certainly will be, but local authorities have a number of tests that they are asked to apply to determine whether somebody is trading. I will not go into them now, because that is for another Department to determine, but those are the criteria used, and they have the support of case law, if not statute law, in deciding whether somebody falls into that category.

I do not know whether I have satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth; I suspect that I have not, because it is a vague response. If he is not satisfied, I ask him to talk to his local trading standards officials about whether they feel they have the right legal criteria in place to do their job.

George Eustice: The point I was making is that there would be clarity if the number was simply two litters. Local authorities could work to that. The situation that the Minister outlined means that if a local authority has concerns about a breeder producing three litters a year, it must then go through a legal process. The breeder could use as a defence the fact that there were fewer than five litters. Then there is an expensive, difficult legal process, which does not incentivise local authorities to enforce standards in those areas.

Mr Heath: I do not think that it would be a defence to say that there were fewer than five litters. It would be about the circumstances of the breeding programme and the puppies being put on sale. I hear what my hon. Friend says. I will take the matter back to my hon. Friends in Departments with responsibility for that area to see whether clarification is necessary.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds set out clearly why he is concerned about the canine and feline sector council. Let me be absolutely clear that it is not a Government organisation; it is independent of Government. I hope that immediately sets some of his concerns to rest. However, as an independent sectoral body, it could be a useful vehicle that pulls together the views of the sector and feeds them into the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, which again is not a regulatory body. It simply provides advice for Ministers from the perspective of the users of welfare legislation in the widest sense. Therefore, what we are talking about is not a regulatory or a policy formation body, but a conduit for information, hopefully with the benefit of proper discussion within the sector.

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The Kennel Club is one of the bodies represented, and the Dog Advisory Council, which my hon. Friend mentioned, has been invited on to the sector council. I hope that Sheila Crispin will take part, because I would certainly like her views as well. The one thing I stress again is that this is not a regulatory body set up for the purposes of excluding anybody or indeed including one sector to the disbenefit of others. I hope that satisfies my hon. Friend.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I hear what the Minister says, but it seems that the support council was set up with undue haste and very little consultation. Perhaps he will tell us how the chairman was chosen. Was he chosen by open advertisement, for example?

Mr Heath: I cannot answer that because the council is not a body of Government; it is independent of Government. Perhaps my hon. Friend needs to have a discussion on this matter with Michael Seals, the chair of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England. I am happy to try to arrange that for him if it would help. It would be wrong for me as a Minister to assume responsibility for something that is not within my control, but I am, none the less, happy to try to oil the machinery that allows him to get the answers he wants.

I have, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds reminded me, spoken for some time now.

Huw Irranca-Davies rose

Mr Heath: Obviously, the hon. Member for Ogmore feels that I have not spoken for long enough, so I give way.

Huw Irranca-Davies: The Minister is being generous. I do not want to take time away from the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton who will be responding to the debate, but I am not sure whether I missed the Minister addressing the question of cattle, horses, llamas and alpacas. Will he explain the Government’s current thinking on them?

Mr Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I did miss that out. At the moment, there is no evidence to support the necessity of extending the definition of livestock in the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 to include camelids. Obviously, we will keep the matter under review. I do not wish to trivialise the matter, but, in my experience, camelids generally are quite capable of looking after themselves in most circumstances and would not take kindly to a dog yapping round them. If there is evidence that they need adequate protection, I am happy to provide that.

I reassure hon. Members that we do not need specific legislation if there is an emerging problem, because there is recourse to justice through the Dogs Act 1871, which I mentioned earlier, the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Indeed, the new antisocial behaviour measures that we are introducing could be brought to bear as well. We will continue to

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talk to all the organisations that are involved. If there is a strong view that further protection is needed, we will give it consideration. At the moment, though, we do not feel that a case has been made. I absolutely agree that we do not want a new prescribed list; that is not the way to do this sort of legislation. The generic protections that are in place are more useful than anything else.

I hope I have answered exhaustively all the questions that have been raised—looking at the exhausted faces around the room I think I probably have done so. This has been an extremely useful debate. I thank the Committee for its care in introducing the report and the valuable points it raises. I hope that during the proceedings on the legislation before the House we will be able to tease out yet more details of what is proposed, and that at the end of the day we will have in place exactly the sort of holistic legislation that people have been calling for and which is crucial to deal with the small minority of dog owners who simply are not up to the task.

4.5 pm

Miss McIntosh: With the leave of the House, I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Brady. I thank the Liaison Committee for allowing us to debate the two reports, including the Government response, and all who contributed. I give special thanks to the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) who has carefully followed the debate all afternoon and who makes a major contribution to the work of the Committee. I also want to thank all colleagues on the Committee for cramming in the work in such a short time. There will be disappointment, not least among charities and practitioners, that the Minister has repeated that there will not be consolidation of the legislation.

I want to dwell on two or three points in our report. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and especially the Minister gave bravura performances, summing up all the points that have been raised. There is an issue about the definition of curtilage of a dwelling or ancillary buildings, but that is something that we can consider during the passage of the Bill. When a dog is a danger to public safety, we would like to see clear guidance on the test to determine

“whether someone is fit and proper to own or keep a dog, as well as to how the temperament of the dog is to be assessed. Those advising the courts must be required to have appropriate training in dog behaviour.”

I echo the points about resources and proper sentencing.

Dog control notices, or whatever we call them, must reassure the public that some up-front savings will be made by managing out-of-control dogs in a much more appropriate way in England, and that savings will be recouped from the police, local authorities, the health service and individuals in the community if dog attacks are reduced. Finally, let me reiterate that we concluded in our second report that it is not helpful for policy to focus on the breed type, as any dog may become aggressive in the hands of an irresponsible dog owner.

Question put and agreed to.

4.8 pm

Sitting adjourned.