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Westminster Hall speech: Responsible Dog Ownership

26 February 2013

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I think I am the only Member of the House who is a member of the Kennel Club. That came about when one of my pugs won the Westminster dog of the year award. Rather cruelly, The Times carried a photograph of the pug and me, saying that I was the one on the right. Following that, I got an invitation to join the Kennel Club.

Time is short, so let me just tell the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) that the phrase “when parliamentary time is available” does not mean that legislation will not be introduced in this Parliament; it just means that it has not been introduced in this Session. I strongly suspect that the Minister will make it clear, when he responds, that the Government intend to introduce legislation as soon as the Leader of the House and the business managers make parliamentary time available.

The EFRA Committee has just produced an extremely good report, which made 30 recommendations. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate, when he winds up, which of them the Government do not agree with. It might be more helpful for the debate to focus on the issues of contention, rather than the issues on which we all agree. The Committee’s report was really good: it deals with attacks on postpeople and on guide dogs, it talks about the need to reform the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 and, I think we all agree, it rightly raises the need for the compulsory microchipping of all dogs.

I want, however, to focus on irresponsible ownership and dangerous dogs. Some of the genuinely saddest evidence given to the Select Committee was that of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger)—I hope she will catch your eye, Mr Gray, and that my comments move her up the list of speakers—and her constituent Angela McGlynn. A relation of Angela McGlynn’s had been killed by a family pet—a pit bull. She told the Committee that it had not bitten anyone before, adding:

“We do not know why it did it, but it did.”

It is very tragic that this family pet had suddenly turned and killed a baby.

The most disturbing evidence given to the Committee was that of PC Keith Evans, who was representing, and an adviser to, the Association of Chief Police Officers. Talking about the pit bull, he said:

“it is the best breed of dog, pound for pound, for killing what is in front of it. It does this through hundreds of years of selective breeding.”

Effectively, one has years of selective breeding of muscle, weight and jaw strength, which is very frightening.

Everyone in the debate has rightly been disparaging of the Dangerous Dogs Act. I think I am probably the only person here who was a Member of the House in 1991, when hon. Members will recall that a series of really nasty attacks on people by pit bull terriers took place, and both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers carried stories of such attacks nearly every day. Quite rightly, the Government of the day sought to introduce the best legislation possible in the time available, and they were advised to focus on the breeds and types of dog that were causing the attacks. It was clear from the evidence that Mr Evans gave to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that the police and the Association of Chief Police Officers still believe that certain breeds should be on the list of dangerous dogs, but more needs to be done. In its report, the Select Committee recommended the introduction of

“Dog Control Notices, using as a model Dog Control Notices introduced in Scotland. This will provide the police and local authorities with a comprehensive and tailored set of powers for tackling all aspects of dog-related crime and antisocial behaviour”.

PC Evans told the Select Committee that the pit bull is:

“without doubt, the breed of choice for certain elements of the criminal and irresponsible dog owners within our communities. It has become quite a status symbol.”

As the hon. Member for Wansbeck made clear, one can have a vicious poodle, and other breeds of dogs may be quite vicious.

I believe that hon. Members are 99% agreed on the matter, and if this were a Second Reading debate, we would be broadly in agreement. The hon. Gentleman made some good points for interrogation in Committee, such as whether cases of trespassing involve the front door. I suspect that we need to do a lot more on the reform of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to be confident that when legislation is introduced, it will command the greatest possible public support and not simply cause people to say, “The 1991 Act was rubbish and this one is not much better.” I do not think that the matter merits a Green Paper, but especially given that the legislation might not necessarily be introduced in the next Session of Parliament, it would be helpful to have a discussion paper detailing the Government’s thinking on the matter. That would focus all our minds on what we can do collectively to deal with dangerous dogs.

It is not responsible dog ownership that we need to be concerned about. The vast majority of dog owners are responsible and love their dogs. We need to be concerned about irresponsible dog ownership and the serious issue of dangerous dogs, and of dogs increasingly being used in crime, in antisocial behaviour and to intimidate people. As hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will testify, there is nothing more intimidating than seeing dangerous dogs being paraded around the streets as status symbols by those who seek to intimidate others.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister tell us how the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs managed to get the lead on dogs? The Home Office and subsequently of the Department for Communities and Local Government used to be responsible for dogs, and I am not sure how, in the great lottery of life, DEFRA ended up with that responsibility. Although that is a question about the boring machinery of governance, it is quite interesting. Will the Minister also tell us how we might focus not on the issues on which we all agree, but on those that still cause contention, such as how to deal most effectively with dangerous dogs?