Draft Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Bill - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

5  Missing measures

32.   Our previous report concluded that current dangerous dogs laws had comprehensively failed to tackle irresponsible dog ownership and that Defra's belated proposals for improvement were inadequate. We made recommendations on a number of issues which we considered require urgent legislation, but the Government's response to our report made it clear that there were no plans to proceed with these. Key missing elements include targeted Dog Control Notices to help prevent dog attacks, and consolidation of legislation into a single, comprehensive set of measures.

Consolidation of legislation

33.  Dog control legislation is currently contained in around two dozen key Acts and a large number of ancillary statutory measures. Our earlier report noted that Defra's 2010 consultation included the option of consolidating dog control legislation but that this did not appear as an option in the 2012 consultation. A number of witnesses suggested that consolidation should be the Government's top priority action on dog control.[45] The advantages of bringing together all the legislation relating to a subject into a single unified Act of Parliament would include reducing the number of overlapping provisions and providing enforcement agencies with clearer powers. We recommended that Defra undertake urgently a comprehensive consolidation of the legislation relating to dangerous dogs, first consulting the Law Commission.[46]

34.  The Government's response was that consolidation would diminish the range of remedies available, possibly by removing civil remedies, and represent a "mechanical exercise" which would "take up precious Parliamentary time" but not change the law. Ministers consider that "enforcers of dangerous dogs legislation are fully aware of all relevant legislation" which is "easily accessible to all who wish to consult it".[47]

35.  We noted in our previous report that consolidating legislation need not take a great deal of Parliamentary time, but we accept that major amendment of the law would not be possible under the accelerated process. We are disappointed that the Government has not recognised the benefits to the public and law enforcers of consolidation of the myriad legislative measures on dog control and breeding. While we recognise Defra's concerns about the need to retain remedies under both statute and at common law, the Department has not convinced us that consolidation must necessarily diminish the range of legal options available. A single unified Act would provide a clear and holistic set of measures for those tasked with enforcing dog legislation.

Dog Breeding

36.  A key point made in our report was that poor breeding and rearing practices and loose regulation of the sale of puppies and dogs were contributing to the number of aggressive and out-of-control dogs, and that there was a need to bring these issues together in law.[48] Further evidence was submitted to this inquiry about problems caused by those who breed dogs irresponsibly, often for profit, with low welfare standards and little regard to the impact of poor socialisation on the adult dog's propensity to become aggressive. We recommended that the threshold for licensing a breeder be reduced from five to two litters per year, per breeder. Although, as the Government's response notes, there are provisions to tackle poor animal welfare, for example through the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is more cumbersome to acquire sufficient evidence to secure convictions under such measures than simply determining that a breeder has breached a threshold. Setting a lower threshold sets an appropriate trigger point where the authorities may intervene to prevent irresponsible breeding.

37.  Breeding regulations should be brought together with dog control measures in recognition that irresponsible breeding and poor early rearing can cause some dogs to become aggressive or out-of-control. We repeat the recommendation in our previous report that anyone breeding more than two litters of puppies per year should be licensed by their local authority.

38.  Internet advertising of dogs has also been raised by witnesses as an issue requiring further Government attention.[49] The ease with which puppies may be traded has led to increasing numbers of poorly bred and reared dogs entering the community, with negative outcomes for the welfare of the animals, for their purchasers and those living around them. We recommended in our previous report that advertisers should abide by a Code of Practice embedding responsible methods for the sale of puppies and dogs, and that puppy contracts advising that purchasers should always see a puppy with its mother be promulgated.[50] We endorse the Government's work with the Pet Advertising Advisory Group on the development of a Code of Practice to support good welfare for animals sold online.

Dog Control Notices

39.  Some witnesses criticised the Home Office's draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill,[51] for proposing a 'one size fits all' type of regime to deal with everything from crack houses to dangerous dogs.[52] However, others considered that it would help to streamline processes and enable authorities to take more preventative action.[53]

40.  Our previous report was critical of the Government's planned reliance on general measures to tackle dog-related problems. Currently local authorities have powers to impose Dog Control Orders which prohibit, for example, dogs from entering certain areas, but these powers would be removed under the new approach. Witnesses such as the Dogs Trust were concerned that this would reduce the ability of local agencies to tackle dog-related problems before injury or harm was caused.[54]

41.  We previously recommended that Defra and the Home Office should legislate to introduce Dog Control Notices, using as a model the Notices introduced in Scotland. This would give police and local authorities comprehensive and tailored powers to tackle all aspects of dog-related crime and anti-social behaviour ranging from the illegal breeding of dogs, including so-called 'status dogs', to the training of aggressive dogs.[55] The Government did not accept this recommendation as it considered that "new, flexible powers to tackle anti-social behavior will give professionals the ability to protect victims from a wide range of problems, including those involving dogs". However, many witnesses highlighted the absence of preventative measures in the Government's proposals and called for tailored provisions to be introduced, in particular Dog Control Notices.[56]

42.  We have considered the Government's response. We consider there to be strong evidence that targeted measures would be more effective in tackling dog-related problems than the general powers proposed under the Government's anti-social behaviour and crime legislation. We recognise that enforcing such measures will require resources to be found at a time when local authorities are under financial pressure. However, the costs of prevention are likely to be lower than the costs of treating those injured in dog attacks and the wider costs to society of crime and anti-social behaviour associated with irresponsible dog ownership. We recommend that the Government reconsider its rejection of our recommendation and legislate to introduce Dog Control Notices to provide law enforcers with tailored powers to tackle aggressive dogs before they injure people and other animals. Further, Defra must assess the current costs of managing out-of-control dogs so as to compare these with the benefits of introducing measures such as Dog Control Notices. The public needs to be reassured that such up-front investment will in the long-run be recouped by savings to the police, local authorities, health service, individuals and the community from reduced numbers of dog attacks.

Stray dogs

43.  One specific issue which witnesses have flagged up as impacting on the management of dog-related crime and anti-social behaviour, is the need for properly resourced dog warden services.[57] The increasing number of aggressive dogs being abandoned are adding to the burdens on already overstretched local authorities and dog charities.[58] Although the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 places a duty on local authorities to receive stray dogs, current Defra guidance requires the provision of out-of-hours dog warden services only "where practicable." This has enabled some local authorities to view such services as optional and to allocate insufficient resources for their effective provision.[59] It is vital that dog warden and enforcement services are properly resourced by local authorities. We recommend that Defra remove from its guidance the qualification that local authorities must provide an out-of-hours dog warden service only 'where practicable'.

Banned breeds

44.  During our previous inquiry we received evidence from those who consider that banning specific types of dog helped to tackle out-of-control dogs, but received equally strong views from witnesses opposed to such breed-specific legislation. Witnesses to this inquiry again offered opposing views, with ACPO telling us that the banning of Pit Bull types was necessary due to the threat they posed to society,[60] whilst dog welfare charities remained implacably opposed.[61]

45.  We accept that the current ban on certain dog types in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has not prevented attacks by dogs either of a banned type or those of types not banned. It is not helpful for policy to focus on the breed type since any dog may become aggressive in the hands of an irresponsible owner. Rather, the policy focus should be on preventing attacks through improving the behaviour of breeders and owners.

45   EFRA Committee, Dog Control and Welfare, para 14  Back

46   As above, paras 17 and 18 Back

47   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Special Report of Session 2012-13, Dog Control and Welfare: Government Response to the Committee's Seventh Report of Session 2012-13, HC 1092, para 2 Back

48   EFRA Committee, Dog Control and Welfare, see for example para 77 Back

49   Q 88, Steve Goody Back

50   EFRA Committee, Dog Control and Welfare, paras 97, 101 Back

51   Home Office, Draft Anti-social Behaviour Bill, December 2012 Back

52   EFRA Committee, Dog Control and Welfare, para 69 Back

53   EFRA Committee, Dog Control and Welfare, para 73  Back

54   EFRA Committee, Dog Control and Welfare, Ev 82 Back

55   EFRA Committee, Dog Control and Welfare, para 73 Back

56   For example, RSPCA, Ev 19 Back

57   Ev w24  Back

58   A Dogs Trust press release in September 2012 noted that numbers of stray 'status dogs' had increased by 148% in Greater London in the previous year Back

59   Defra, Stray Dogs Guidance, October 2007, p2, states that from April 2008 local authorities will be "solely responsible for discharging stray dog functions, with the minimum that where practicable local authorities provide a place to which dogs can be taken outside normal office hours [...] Local authorities are not expected to provide a round-the-clock call out service" Back

60   Q 51 Back

61   Q 81 Back

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Prepared 16 May 2013