Friday, 19 July 2013

Tough new action on dangerous dogs required

The Government to accept Labour plans to take tough new action on dangerous dogs by voting to give tough new powers to local authorities.

After the Government voted against similar measures during the Commons committee stage of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, I am backing a new proposal to help keep the public safe and stop dangerous dog attacks.

Labour's proposals which are backed by the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs Home, The British Veterinary Association, the pet Charity Blue Cross, the Communication Workers Union and the Association of Police Chief Constables come in the wake of the deaths of eight adults and nine children since 2005 due to out of control dogs.

The new law would introduce Dog Control Notices in England and Wales and would give local authorities the ability to take action against people in charge of out of control dogs and to take early action to stop problems before they happen.

12 people have been killed in dog attacks since 2005, but despite this the government have so far rejected calls from Labour and others and have voted against introducing Dog Control Notices and giving kids and communities the protection they need from dangerous dogs.

Dog Control Notices have been used in Scotland since 2010 and were backed by the House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report "Dog Control and Welfare'' which called the Government's current proposals "simplistic" and "woefully inadequate" and recommended Dog Control Notices.

I'm deeply disappointed that the government have so far ignored the advice of the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs Home, the Communication Workers Union, the Guide Dogs organisation and others and have refused to take necessary action to keep people safe from dangerous dog attacks so I am now calling for real action in September.

Dangerous dogs are a serious threat to people across the country, with increasing attacks.. Labour agrees with the charities who are experts in this area, and we have been calling for some time for people in England and Wales to have the same protections from dangerous dogs as people in Scotland get.

The changes we want to introduce would mean that the tough laws that have been so successful in Scotland in helping stop these terrible attacks would be extended across the UK. This important power would mean the police and local authorities could take action at the first sign of problems rather than having to wait until a tragedy has already occurred.

Members of the public will rightly wonder why the government won't give local authorities the powers they need to stop dangerous dog attacks, and why they won't get a grip on this issue and keep people safe.

Notes

* There are approximately 8-10 million dogs in UK (source: Communication Workers Union).

* The number of hospital admissions (in England) as a result of dog bites has been on the increase since 2008, with the latest figures available being:

2008-09 5,221
2009-10 5,837
2010-11 6,005
2011-12 6,450

* There are an estimated 6,000 dog attacks on postmen/women each year with 23,000 postmen and women attacked by dogs in the last five years, with as many as 70% of these attacks taking place on private property (source Communication Workers Union).

* More than 200,000 people a year are estimated to be bitten by dogs in England, based on research for the British Medical Journal.

* The legislation being introduced by Labour mirrors that already in effect in Scotland. On 22 April 2010, the Scottish Parliament passed the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Bill. Royal Assent was received on 26 May 2010. The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 came into force on 26 February 2011. The focus of the Act concentrates on the "deed not the breed" approach in tackling irresponsible dog ownership. The 2010 Act is designed to highlight the responsibilities of dog owners by identifying out of control dogs at an early juncture and provide measures to change the behaviour of these dogs and their owners before the dogs become dangerous.

* The provisions in the 2010 Act widen the scope for local authorities and the courts to take action against persons in charge of a dog where the dog's behaviour is deemed to be "out of control". This is achieved through the creation of a Dog Control Notice (DCN) regime that permits (local authority appointed) authorised officers to issue DCNs to irresponsible owners of any dog that have been found to be out of control. The DCN can impose a number of conditions on the dog owner including:

Muzzling the dog whenever it is in a place to which the public have access;
- Keeping the dog on a lead whenever it is in a place to which the public have access;
- If the dog is male, neutering it; and
- The owner and their dog attending and completing a training course in the control of dogs.

* The 2010 Act also amends the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 so that a dog owner can be held criminally responsible where a dog is found to be dangerously out of control in any place rather than only a public place or private place where a dog is not permitted to be. The 2010 Act contains measures which will address the problems of irresponsible dog ownership and this is fundamental in helping to reduce the number of attacks by dogs of all breeds. The provisions contained in the 2010 Act will give additional powers to local authorities for action to be taken against out of control of dogs so as to improve dog behaviour and owner behaviour. Breaching one is an offence carrying a fine or jail term.

* Costs to the health service of dog attacks on people are valued at £3.3 million in England in 2009 (Source: RSPCA).