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

Conclusions and recommendations


1.  We were disappointed that the Government published a Bill including dangerous dogs measures without waiting for the Committee to publish this report on the draft Bill only a matter of days later. When asking us to conduct scrutiny of the draft Bill, Defra requested a response within only eight sitting days. We informed the Department that this deadline was an impossible one to meet; it did not provide an adequate opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny, and Defra should not use this Bill as an example of such scrutiny. Subsequently, the House Prorogued earlier than anticipated which meant that the Committee was unable to meet to agree its report until after the House returned on 8 May. We are reporting at the very earliest opportunity but Defra must in future allow sufficient time for proper scrutiny of draft legislation. We expect the Government to put down appropriate amendments during passage of the Bill to reflect the recommendations in this report. (Paragraph 2)

Clause 1: Offences on private property

2.  We welcome the amendment of section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to close a current loophole in the law and enable prosecution of a person whose dog attacks someone in a private place where the dog is permitted to be, such as a family home. (Paragraph 7)

3.  Householders need the assurance that they will not be penalised for a dog's actions if a trespasser chooses to break into their house while no-one is home. The measure in the draft Bill did not adequately meet the Minister's assurances that the new provision would not protect a trespasser on private property. We are therefore pleased that the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill includes an amended measure such that no offence is committed by someone whose dog attacks a trespasser in a dwelling where the dog is permitted to be. (Paragraph 12)

4.   We do not believe that a dog attack that occurs on land around a dwelling, such as a garden, should be covered by the householder case that provides exemption from prosecution for the dog's owner. However, there is a need to distinguish responsible dog owners, who take reasonable precautions to prevent their dog from causing harm, from those who are negligent as to the impact of their dog's behaviour. The Government should provide a clear indication during the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill's passage through the House of the need for the courts to take fully into account mitigating factors, such as provision of warnings not to enter a garden and the behaviour of the trespasser towards the dog. (Paragraph 15)

5.  The definition of dwelling in relation to the proposed changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 should be amended so that the householder case applies to enclosed buildings associated with a dwelling such as garages, sheds and outbuildings. Further, the definition of curtilage of the dwelling or ancillary buildings should be defined in guidance or during passage of the Bill. (Paragraph 16)

6.   It would not be appropriate to exempt from prosecution the owners of dogs kept in non-domestic buildings since the householder exemption is designed to enable someone to defend their family and home, not to protect those who use dogs to guard commercial and other types of premises. (Paragraph 18)

7.  We recommend that the Government clarifies whether it intends to exempt from prosecution in all circumstances the owner of a dog that attacks a trespasser who has entered a dwelling with innocent intentions. (Paragraph 19)

Clause 1: Dog attacks on assistance dogs

8.  We support the extension of offences under section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to attacks on assistance dogs as well as people. However, an assistance dog should, for the purposes of this Bill, be defined as a dog which has been accredited to assist a disabled person by a prescribed charity or organisation. (Paragraph 22)

9.  We recommend that Defra, in commissioning work from the Law Commission on consolidation as recommended in our previous report, request that the Commission examine the potential to extend the law to an attack which causes injury to any protected animal. Defra should also liaise with the Sentencing Council to consider what level of penalty it would be appropriate to impose upon anyone convicted of such an offence. (Paragraph 26)

Clause 2: Whether a dog is a danger to public safety

10.  Contrary to the intention behind clause 2, the Government has failed to clarify how provisions on the destruction of dogs should be interpreted. The clause is unclear in several respects and we recommend that the Government issue 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. (Paragraph 29)

11.  Clause 2 confers a power on the court to consider all relevant circumstances when determining the level of threat a dog presents. It is not necessary to prescribe that courts must do so; rather, such a requirement could make the application of this clause unwieldy and require definition of all relevant circumstances, potentially limiting the court's discretion. (Paragraph 30)

12.  We recommend that the Government clarify whether clause 2 would enable the transfer of a dog of a banned type to be transferred to a new owner or keeper. (Paragraph 31)

Missing measures

13.  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. (Paragraph 35)

14.  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. (Paragraph 37)

15.  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. (Paragraph 38)

16.  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. (Paragraph 42)

17.  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'. (Paragraph 43)

18.  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. (Paragraph 45)

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Prepared 16 May 2013