Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from Countryside Alliance (ASB 15)

Introduction

1. The Countryside Alliance welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Public Bill Committee considering the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. The Countryside Alliance works for everyone who loves the countryside and the rural way of life. Our aim is to protect and promote rural life and to help it thrive. With over 100,000 members we are the only rural organisation working across such a broad range of issues. Thousands of our members are dog owners and many of those will use their dogs in a working capacity in connection with land management activities, farming, shooting and pest control.

Summary

2. We are supportive of the Bill and its provisions in those areas which are of principal interest to our members, specifically Part 7 on Dogs and Part 8 on firearms. We would, however, like to draw the Committee’s attention to our concerns over calls to extend further the provisions on dogs and the possible unforeseen impact on working dogs of the current drafting of Part 4, Chapter 2, on Public Spaces Protection Orders.

Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPO) (Part 4, Chapter 2)

3. It is possible that PSPOs as drafted in the Bill could cause problems for those using workings dogs in rural areas such as sheep dogs, gun dogs etc. These Orders would replace the current provisions for local authority Dog Control Orders under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. Under the 2005 Act restrictions, such as requiring all dogs to be on leads or a total exclusion of dogs, can be applied to "any land which is open to the air and to which the public are entitled or permitted to have access (with or without payment)".

4. However, Regulations under the 2005 Act provide two defences on which those using working dogs can rely. These are "having a reasonable excuse for failing to comply" and "acting with the consent of the owner or occupier of the land, or any other person or authority which has control of the land". The Explanatory Notes to the 2005 provisions st ate with regard the latter defence: "There is no specific exemption in the Regulations for working dogs, but this provision will cover any dog that is working on land with the consent of the person in control of the land."

5. The new regime proposed for PSPOs would allow local authorities to apply restrictions on dogs to any public place defined as: "any place to which the public or any section of the public has access, on payment or otherwise, as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission."  
6. Failure to comply with a PSPO is an offence under clause 63 which states: "It is an offence for a person without reasonable excuse to do anything that the person is prohibited from doing by a public spaces protection order, or to fail to comply with a requirement to which the person is subject under a public spaces protection order. A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale. A person does not commit an offence under this section by failing to comply with a prohibition or requirement that the local authority did not have power to include in the public spaces protection order."
7. Thus an Order could be made which covers substantial areas of land requiring dogs to be on leads, restricting the number of dogs etc. even on land which is privately owned but to which the public or any section of the public  has access as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission. The only defence is one of "reasonable excuse" or where the local authority has exceeded its powers. The current defence of acting with the consent of the owner or occupier or any person or authority having control of the land is not found the current Bill. In order to protect those using working dogs in the countryside this needs to be clarified.
8. It is hard to see why the additional defence of owner/occupier consent could not be replicated from the provisions under the existing 2005 Act and placed alongside that of reasonable excuse in clause 63. This could be achieved with a simple amendment  to clause 63 inserting a new subclause after 63(3)  using similar wording to that found in the Dog Control Orders (Prescribed Offences and Penalties, etc.) Regulations 2006.

Dogs (Part 7)

"Householder Exemption"

9. We welcome the extension of the offence of a dog being dangerously out of control to all areas. We would, however, argue that the scope of the "householder exemption" in Part 7 of the Bill needs to be amended. As originally proposed in the draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill this defence would only have applied where the owner was in, or partly in, the dwelling at the time. We welcome the fact that the Government has amended the clause such that in the current Bill no offence will be committed by someone whose dog attacks a trespasser in a dwelling, whether or not there is anyone in the dwelling at the time. However, the Bill currently limits the householder defence to dwelling houses and forces accommodation.

10. We note that the Efra Committee recommends extension to enclosed buildings associated with a dwelling such as sheds, garages and outbuildings and that the definition of curtilage of the dwelling or ancillary building should be defined in guidance or during the passage of the Bill. They do not support an extension to non-domestic buildings such as commercial and other types of premises. What is not entirely clear is whether outbuildings would cover buildings around a farm yard where a dog is kennelled. This needs to be clarified. We would strongly suggest that this exemption is extended to include outbuildings and possibly the curtilage of such buildings. This would take account of a situation where a dog is kept outside the dwelling house, such as in a barn or separate kennels, and someone enters as a trespasser. Otherwise a person climbing into a farmhouse at night would not be able to argue a dog was dangerously out of control while someone breaking into a barn to steal machinery could do so. 

Dog Control Notices (DCNs)

11. The Bill as drafted contains anti-social behaviour powers which are sufficiently broad and flexible to address any issues arising with regard to dogs. The concern over DCNs, indeed any notice issued with respect to dogs, is the question of who will be responsible for issuing them. If they are to be applied properly then there must be proper training for persons having those powers. Judgements as to when a dog is, or is not, "dangerously out of control" must be based on an objective assessment of a situation and not just subjective opinion. The fact that someone is frightened by a dog does not mean that dog was "dangerously out of control" or objectively speaking frightening or dangerous. We would be opposed to the amendment of the Bill to include a specific provision for DCNs.
Protected Animals
12. We welcome the extension of the aggravated offence of a dog being dangerously out of control to cover assistance dogs. However, there have been suggestions that the definition of "dangerously out of control" should be extended to all "protected animals", within the meaning of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Extending the offence to other "protected animals" would create huge problems for dog owners, especially when coupled with the extension of the offence to private places such as gardens or homes. A dog chasing a neighbour’s cat, a family dog killing a pet hamster, a sheep dog nipping a sheep, could all fall foul of the law were it to be extended in this way. Indeed were an animal to be actually harmed it could lead to the destruction of dogs that are not dangerous and are simply behaving like dogs.

June 2013

Prepared 28th June 2013