Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Steven Mark and Georgina Holmes-Skelton, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The Chair: Before we start, hon. Members will note that there are several starred amendments, which cannot be considered because they were tabled too late. I dare say that hon. Members’ ingenuity will allow them to discuss the subject matter, even though they cannot move the amendments.
(ii) for “injures any person” there is substituted “injures or kills any person or assistance dog”.’.
(iii) for “two years” there is substituted “life imprisonment”.’.
Richard Fuller: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I hope that you have had a very good lunch, along with other members of the Committee. We turn our attention to part 7, which relates to dangerous dogs. If I may use a witticism, it will be a dog day afternoon; they will get better after that one.
To be serious, amendments 37 and 38 stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford and for North East Cambridgeshire and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. The amendments would increase the maximum penalty for the ownership of an out of control dog from two years to life imprisonment. I have been told informally by
Deputy Chief Constable Pritchard from North Wales police, who is the lead on dangerous dogs for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said in his evidence on the investigation of cases where people were killed by a dangerous out of control dog:
“They sometimes use manslaughter provisions to deal with those cases. However, proving manslaughter is extremely difficult in certain dog attacks, so we therefore rely on the provisions covering an out of control dog. Proving that a dog is out of control is easier, but the sanction for that is a maximum of two years’ imprisonment. When an attack by a dog on a person has led to a fatality, I would suggest that two years is a very small penalty.”––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 61, Q117.]
We have trouble with the current legislation. The police find it difficult to use the provisions to gain a conviction when they wish the sentence to be equivalent to a sentence for manslaughter, but when they move to the other part of the legislation that they can use, the penalty is insufficient. The amendments would redress that inadequacy.
It is said that in Liverpool, a child is attacked each day by a dog. That does not mean that every attack leads to a fatality, but one has to believe that, if attacks are happening on such a regular basis in one of our fine cities, at some point the law of averages means that a child will die. We cannot ignore that situation and it is important that we address it.
I would like to take the Committee through three examples of people killed by an out of control dog. In 2009, John Paul Massey, aged four, was mauled to death by his uncle’s pit bull. His uncle was jailed for four months. John Paul’s parents wrote to the Prime Minister in 2012, urging
Earlier, in 2007, Ellie Lawrenson, aged 5, died after being savaged by dogs under the supposed control of her grandmother and uncle. That case in particular throws light on the difficulties our law officers have in achieving a successful prosecution, inasmuch as her grandmother, who was present at the time, was charged with manslaughter by gross neglect but that was unable to be prosecuted successfully and she was cleared, while her uncle, Kiel Simpson, was jailed for merely eight weeks for possession of a dog banned at the time.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): My hon. Friend gives those specific examples, but does he know whether the families involved in those cases subscribe to his amendment and believe that members of their family—the grandmother, the uncle—should be locked up in prison for life?
Richard Fuller: No, I am not trying to say that; I would not want to put words in the mouths of people who have been through such tragedies about the relationships that they have with their family members.
The Bill intends to provide a maximum sentence, and amendment 38 would raise the ceiling on the sentence that may be imposed. There are circumstances in which that would be absolutely relevant and if I give another example, that may become more evident.
Jade Anderson was 14 when, visiting a friend’s house near Wigan earlier this year, she was attached by a pack of out of control dogs. To answer my hon. Friend’s question, her family have petitioned for the law to change to make dog owners accountable. The reason for that is because, as stated in the BBC news report:
That again points to the great difficulty under current legislation for there to be any prosecution of somebody who is responsible for a dog that is out of control. In those three cases, with three savage deaths of children, there was total sentencing of 24 weeks. Is the Committee satisfied, and is the Minister satisfied, that the average achieved sentence for the death of a child by an out of control dog is eight weeks? I am not satisfied with that. It is important that the law is changed and that a maximum sentence aligned to manslaughter is put in place.
Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): I am definitely not happy that those three cases resulted in the sentences my hon. Friend described. However, the judges did not give the maximum sentences available at the moment; they instead gave sentences of such short periods of time. Do we not need judges to enforce the maximum sentences that we already have before we start to extend those further?
Richard Fuller: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I therefore hope that he would robustly support, as I do, the argument that the maximum sentence should be set at the level that the people want to see, which is life imprisonment. If we go with something shorter or less “draconian”, as the RSPCA would have us do, we will find that judges cut the tariff by a third or by 60%; we will then be back in the same situation, with mothers and fathers of children who have been brutally savaged to death seeing someone walk away scot-free because they cannot be prosecuted, or seeing a judge decide that two years is too much and passing a sentence of four months. We need to send a signal to the judiciary. Part of our role as legislators is to do just that when we believe that there is a shortcoming in sentencing. That is the purpose of the amendment.
I have one final point. I may be straying a little too far from the Bill, Sir Roger, but one of my concerns is that, in all the cases we are considering, the dog died. The people walked free, but the dog was put down or shot. That seems a misapplication of responsibility in circumstances that have led to the death of another person. There is a responsibility on the part of the owners. In more than one of the examples that I cited, it was not the first time that trouble had been reported with regard to the owners of the dogs. Neighbours, friends or hospitals had already reported previous attacks by a particular dog in the control of a particular owner.
Given that, I ask the Minister to consider the amendments. With your permission, Sir Roger, I will not state for now whether I wish to press them to a Division. I am interested in hearing what the Minister and other hon. Members have to say.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I look forward to listening to the contributions of the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford and for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, who are seeking to catch your eye, Sir Roger.
This is a real, live issue, which we need to consider, either now or during further proceedings on the Bill, both here and in another place. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bedford for quoting DCC Pritchard’s evidence to the Committee. He will know that the answers he quoted were given in response to Question 117, which I asked. As is my wont, I did not ask the question without knowing the answer, which was confirmed by DCC Pritchard, namely that it is very difficult to secure a conviction on a charge of manslaughter in these circumstances. The police therefore seek redress for the injured party or the family of the deceased by looking to the provisions on out of control dogs as a potential basis for a conviction. As the hon. Gentleman eloquently said, a charge under those provisions currently carries a maximum tariff of two years in prison. In answer to a question from the hon. Gentleman during our oral evidence sessions, DCC Pritchard said that
I very much welcome the provisions in the clause—and indeed those in clause 99, which we shall come on to shortly. However, we need to look at whether that range of measures is sufficient to help prevent, to deter and ultimately, in the event of individuals causing grievous harm or death to members of their community, to punish. I have tabled new clauses to that end, which we will discuss in due course, but there is merit in looking at the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.
I did not table an amendment on this matter for a simple reason: I intended to test the Minister on the issues in this debate because I am genuinely of an open mind. My gut instinct suggests that a life sentence is a very severe penalty for judges to administer for these offences; however, I think that a sentence of two years is extremely short. I ask the Minister to consider that as a
Four weeks ago, I met the family of Jade Anderson. I met her parents Michael and Shirley. It was a harrowing occasion. They have lost their daughter in circumstances that I cannot begin to imagine. Although I do not want to comment on that case, it brought home to me the pain and suffering that could be prevented by either the deterrent measures in the clause or stronger penalties. I do not want those penalties to be administered; I want them to be a deterrent, so that people know that if a dog is out of control there are severe penalties that involve the loss of liberty and raise the game on those issues quite significantly.
If I can just stray briefly, the new clauses would help do the very thing that the hon. Member for Bedford said at the end of his speech: they would prevent such things from happening in the first place. I do not want to see someone going to jail because a dog that is out of control kills or seriously injures a child. I want the dog not to be out of control in the first place. That would be done through the new clauses, but also in the deterrent effect that would be noticeable if the Government responded to the legitimate concerns the hon. Gentleman raised today, with the support of the Opposition, by sending a strong signal during the next 12 months that the House does not consider a two-year sentence as appropriate for having a dog that is out of control. Judges need another option. There are still a range of issues around whether it is life that could cause difficulties, but there is the potential for a stronger sentence.
I respectfully suggest to the Minister that there is scope for movement. He does not have to move today. He does not have to climb down. He does not have to force himself to do anything embarrassing. He can make a positive statement at some point during the consideration of the Bill, listen to what the hon. Gentleman said, accept the Opposition’s support to deliver it and make a difference by deterring people and by punishing those who have a dog that is out of control and causes death or grievous harm.
When the Minister gave evidence, he said that his personal view was that the sentence of a maximum of two years was simply inadequate for the offence contained in the Act. I believe that it is right for the Government to take soundings, across the Government and from outside, on what the appropriate sentence is. Everybody has been shocked by the fact that two years is the maximum sentence that a court can impose in the appalling cases outlined by my hon. Friend and in those that Opposition Members, in particular, mentioned on Second Reading.
The closest analogy may be with the offence of causing death by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years. I would be grateful to the Minister for his view, but I believe that there is very little difference between causing the death of a person by driving dangerously in a car and causing the death of a person by failing adequately to control a dog with aggressive tendencies that may, if they manifest themselves, result in severe injury or death to another human being.
Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): The precedent on which my hon. and learned Friend draws in mentioning death by dangerous driving is prescient, because Parliament increased the sentence for that offence from 10 to 14 years in 2008. There is a direct parallel between that case and this one, because Parliament saw that the sentence was insufficient and increased it. I would like to raise my concern about the fact that, as a result of the sentencing guidelines, no one has ever been sentenced to 14 years for dangerous driving and only three people have been sentenced to more than 10 years since the change was made. The sentence that is imposed depends not only on the tariff, but on the sentencing guidelines.
Stephen Phillips: My hon. Friend is right. The tariff is simply the tariff. It is a maximum sentence in the case of any offence. Frequently, judges’ hands are tied by guidance from the Sentencing Council. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester referred to judges doling out inappropriate sentences—I suppose that I should refer the Committee to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—but judges’ hands are far too often tied. The one thing that we can say with certainty is that if the maximum tariff were increased, as the amendment suggests—whether to life imprisonment or to a period such as 14 years—Parliament would be sending a clear signal to the judiciary and, much more importantly, to the Sentencing Council that it considers that the criminal law ought to punish those who cause the death of another individual as a result of aggressive behaviour by an out-of-control dog.
The right hon. Member for Delyn spoke of the deterrent effect, and we must concentrate on the deterrent effect as well as the punitive effect. As we all know from
The Chair: May I make it plain, because I think there may have been some misunderstanding, that when we move a lead amendment that is grouped, it is perfectly permissible—indeed, it is desirable—that Members take the opportunity to speak to all the other amendments in the group, even though they are not moved?
Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): It is a pleasure, Sir Roger, to serve under your chairmanship today. I rise to speak in support of not only amendments 37 and 38, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford, but my amendments 39, 40, 41 and 42, which seek to extend the legislation to cover attacks on protected animals. Before I do, although I am not duty bound to remind the Committee of the declaration of interest that I have already made, I want to remind the Committee that I am chairman of the Pet Advisory Committee, which is a group of animal welfare organisations that occasionally lobby the Government on relevant issues, including those before the Committee this afternoon.
I shall not press my amendments because they are not quite worded as they should be, but this is an important opportunity to discuss the increasing number of attacks on protected animals. We have received submissions referencing such attacks from animal welfare charities, such as Blue Cross, the Cats Protection and the RSPCA, and recommendations from the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The intent behind my amendments is to respond to the concerns of the charities, enforcement agencies and general public about the increase in attacks. We are seeing an increasing number of attacks on cats and livestock and on horses—even when people are riding them—which is of real concern to the British Horse Society. The police who gave evidence to the Committee specifically mentioned such attacks, and we need to be genuinely concerned about them.
Part of the reason for the increase is that the current law has been ineffective at prosecuting those who attack protected animals, perhaps due to evidential difficulties. It is true that all current animal welfare legislation, particularly dangerous dogs legislation, is incredibly complex, which I will demonstrate by quoting from a letter sent to a colleague by the Environment Minister, Lord de Mauley, regarding the legislation on attacks on cats:
In addition, under the Dogs Act 1871 any person can make a complaint…to a magistrates’ court that a dog is dangerous. A magistrates’ court can make an order under the Dogs Act 1871 directing a dog to be destroyed and/or disqualifying the owner for having custody of a dog for a period.”
The problem with that official letter is that, contrary to some of our preliminary discussions with officials about the amendments, where reference was made to previous dangerous dogs legislation being applicable to protected animals, there is no reference to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
Furthermore, there are actually problems with some of the legislation—in particular, the Dogs Act 1871. I refer the Committee to evidence given to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee by PC Keith Evans of ACPO, who said that one of the problems with the 1871 Act is that
“it does have restrictions. There is no penalty for the owner; the conditions are on the dog. There is no power of seizure or retention, so we cannot reduce the danger to public safety or the danger to other dogs or cats or livestock that are in the vicinity. So although it is a tool that we use, it is very weak due to this transition into what is a very different climate from that it was drafted to deal with.”
We know that these issues can be legally and practically complex, particularly where there is intent liability and various defences apply. It is our duty as parliamentarians to strike a delicate balance, and we are trying to do that through this debate on whether we should extend the legislation to protected animals. I am pleased that the legislation extends to assistance dogs—there is a necessity to do that—but it is clear that officials believe that the current legislation on dangerous dogs can be applied to protected animals, as it stands. If assistance dogs are to be included, and we are acknowledging that there is a problem with the increasing numbers of protected animals, we should extend the provision to include those protected animals, although I recognise that my amendments are not appropriate for that. We can work together with the animal charities and enforcement agencies to provide the suitable wording, which will give that specific instruction to protect protected animals from dog attack.
We should think for a moment about the horror of an attack by a dog on a protected animal. We have quite rightly spoken about the horror of attacks on humans, and we understand the true horror of an attack on an assistance dog, but let us take the example of someone riding their horse. That person may be able bodied or not, yet a dangerously out of control dog can attack that horse out in the countryside and cause real fright to the animal, as well as injury and harm to the human. If the intent of extending the legislation to an assistance
We are seeing an increasing number of attacks on livestock, and farmers are rightly expressing concerns on the loss of livestock and the impact that can have on them. As a mother of two cats, if I were to see my cat attacked by a dog and fatally harmed, I would be devastated. I would be particularly devastated if it was an aggravated attack and the owner was doing little to prevent that dangerously out of control dog from attacking my boys. We need to seriously consider extending the legislation to protected animals.
“We feel very strongly that actions that are deliberate and malicious against our fellow creatures are wholly inadequately sanctioned as the law stands currently.”––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 110-111, Q231.]
“We need to give greater enhancement to the protection of other protected animals, and there is an opportunity through amendment of the Bill…to do precisely that. As it stands at the moment, I do not believe it does.”––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 113, Q236.]
Tracey Crouch: I completely agree and I think that my boys, Mungo and Basil, would agree entirely as well. We need to make sure that we strike the right balance and that protected animals are somehow included.
The legislation that rightly extends protection to assistance dogs should be considered further for protected animals. That should be done with the help and consideration of the animal welfare charities, the enforcement agencies and others heavily involved in this matter to provide the suitable wording. That would be of great benefit to those who own dogs but may also be victims of dog attacks.
Stephen Mosley: I declare an interest: I am a dog owner myself. I want to put the perspective of a dog owner. We have heard some harrowing cases and it is obvious that the law needs to change. While we are here, we are focusing on the amendments and criticising the Bill. We might disagree with the details, but the Government are doing the right thing by putting these two clauses forward.
Having said that, I want some reassurance from the Minister. I accept that we are extending the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to cover private property. That is right, as we have heard harrowing tales of children attacked by dogs on private property with the police able to little about that. However, I am concerned about people who might be going on to that private property without permission.
I have two cocker spaniels—they are called Franklin and Winston and our previous dog was a Cavalier King Charles spaniel called Cromwell—but we are responsible owners. When we take the dogs out for a walk, we sometimes take them off the lead, but they are always under control. If they run off, or if there are children or other dogs present, we call them back and they come back. If necessary, we put the lead back on them.
The dogs are only unsupervised when in the garden. We have a garden with six-foot fences and a locked gate, so there is no way that anybody can get into there without our permission. We have two young children—they are 10 and eight now—and when their friends come round, if they are not happy with dogs, we bring the dogs inside. Cocker spaniels are really friendly dogs and they are well behaved. They are not the type of dogs to go for children but we want to be safe and responsible dog owners so we keep them in the house.
Stephen Mosley: It may well do, but I seek assurance from the Minister about people who deliberately go into an area. There might be a “beware of the dog” sign and the dog might be secure, but that might be not in a residential property but in a garden, an industrial property or a compound.
There will be cases in which people enter a compound or garden where dogs are running, without the landowner’s permission. That might be an industrial unit with a guard dog, so are we seriously saying that if someone goes into a private, enclosed area with a dog in it and gets bitten by that dog, the owner of that dog is totally responsible? I seek reassurance that these measures will be proportionate and, if someone goes into a property without permission, the dog owner has some protection.
I fully sympathise with the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford. If I am walking through a field and my dog attacks some sheep, horses or other livestock I should be responsible and I should be liable. But what happens if a cat climbs a neighbouring tree and jumps into my garden? My dogs are dogs. If they see a cat, they will chase it. Normally, if we are out in a public place I call them and they come back. But when they are in my garden I might be elsewhere. I might be watching television. The dogs are in the garden on their own. I am not keeping a constant look-out for a cat.
Protected animals should be included in a public place. If my dog attacks a cat on the street while I am there, I am responsible. But I am worried that if it happens in my garden I would be liable under the Bill through the combination of the private property and the protected animal. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford is quite right. The two-year sentence is too short. I do not know whether life imprisonment would be too long. Would I face life imprisonment if a cat climbs up the tree next door, jumps into my garden, is chased by my dogs, who were running around perfectly contentedly, and is injured?
Tracey Crouch: As the amendment is drafted, that might be a fear. But if the Government consider some of the suggestions that have been made, that risk will be mitigated. It will be restricted to whether the owner is in
Stephen Mosley: I am delighted to hear that. The message I would like to give the Minister is that there are some areas of these two clauses that could be improved. There are amendments from sensible people on the Government Benches and hopefully sensible people on the Opposition Benches. They reflect areas where we have concerns. I hope that the Minister is listening and can reassure me on the issues I have raised and my colleagues on those that they raised.
Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this group of amendments. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has become a byword for legislative incompetence on the part of us Members of Parliament. It is important that we, as scrutineers of the Bill, do our democratic duty and ensure that it is laser like, focused and does what it is supposed to do. In that spirit, I wish to raise two concerns.
The first is what seems to be a new vogue and the phrase “assistance dogs”. If we went back 20 years and spoke about assistance dogs, we might think of guide dogs for the blind. But the charity world moves on rapidly. We now have hearing dogs for people with a hearing impediment. We have dogs for those with a physical disability. The boundaries blur. There are now charities that seek to provide dogs for the elderly for companionship. The provision of companionship could be seen as a form of assistance which would fall under the scope of the Bill as currently drafted.
I always want to ensure that the scope of legislation is narrow and that it is well drafted; we should not constantly seek to broaden it to ever new areas that come up. While I listened with intense interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, I have concerns. She is entirely right to point to the problems associated with attacks on horses. I could introduce the concept of an assistance horse. As a child, I attended Riding for the Disabled Association events. Those horses and ponies that we used as part of our therapy were clearly providing an added-value service over and above their horse-like nature. Does that make them assistance horses? Does that mean they need to be brought into the Bill to fully encompass all the damage that may be done to individual animals?
Tracey Crouch: I agree with my hon. Friend about the need for concise legislation. Does he agree that if the Minister explains in his response that the current legislation deals with attacks on protected animals, as it does with assistance dogs, we could well do without the entire clause?
My concern is the legal standing of the term “assistance dogs”. Guide Dogs made an interesting suggestion, which is to look at DEFRA’s advice around airport security. It suggests that only those assistance dogs trained by bodies accredited to Assistance Dogs International should be regarded as “assistance dogs”. Will the Minister confirm that some form of guidance will be issued to ensure that we know precisely what is and what is not an assistance dog? I can easily see a situation in the courts in which the definition becomes highly controversial and no one is quite sure whether a pooch owned for companionship is legally the same as a guide dog for the blind.
Stephen Phillips: My hon. Friend may not have spotted it or it may be that I am wrong, but I think the meaning is the same as in the Equality Act 2010, which is what the Bill tells us. He may want to say whether he is happy with that definition.
Paul Maynard: I have seen the definition in the Equality Act 2010, but it does not quite compare with DEFRA’s advice on airport security. I would rather that we went down the path of that guidance than what is in the 2010 Act, if only because the charity landscape changes continually and future generations may have a different definition of “assistance dog”.
Mr Hanson: I refer the hon. Gentleman to my amendment 121, which was drafted following discussions with Guide Dogs to try to meet concerns such as the hon. Gentleman’s. Sadly, the Committee has been working so quickly that it was not called today, but it is still worth noting.
Paul Maynard: Indeed, I noted it. Perhaps the solution is what the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment suggests, which is to give discretion to the Secretary of State so that he can take into account the work that DEFRA has done to narrow the scope of the definition.
While walking the streets of Blackpool with my local Royal Mail and Communication Workers Union posties, I discovered some safety issues for postmen delivering mail. Our postmen and women are among the most vulnerable in the community because they have to put their fingers through people’s doors. While I recognise that the Bill makes a great deal of progress in giving them greater protection, one or two loopholes have been discovered on which I would welcome the Minister’s comments.
Many of our constituencies have blocks of flats with communally owned areas that are not necessarily any one person’s particular property. Postmen have to enter such areas in order to deliver mail as part of the universal service obligation. As I have been informed, there is no clear guarantee that the Bill will apply if a postman is attacked in one such communal area. Will the Minister comment on that?
There is also no explicit provision in the Bill regarding service providers, who may include postmen but could also be utility workers. I was almost tempted to expand the scope of what I wanted to say to include political activists delivering leaflets. My predecessor Joan Humble lost a large chunk of her finger in the run-up to a local government by-election in Blackpool roughly a year
The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr Jeremy Browne): I am glad to have the opportunity to reply to what has been a most comprehensive and varied debate. I am grateful to have heard about Basil and Mungo, and also Franklin and Winston, although Joseph, presumably the other attendee at the Yalta summit, was not mentioned.
The subject is serious, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford for giving the Committee the opportunity to discuss the matters addressed by his amendments 37 and 38. Those matters are of wide public interest; their importance is understood by millions of people across the country and they would arouse strong feelings were any of us to engage the public in a wider conversation on them. We have also considered the issues raised by the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford; I will come to those separately, as they are of a different nature and deal with a different range of issues.
Before I address the substance of amendments 37 and 38, I should say that I am grateful for the broad support in the Committee for the two core measures in this part of the Bill. One extends the provisions of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 from the public realm to the public and private realms. Of course, until the Bill is approved, there is no protection, maximum sentence or sanction for the sort of harrowing attacks we have heard about if they take place in a private area. My understanding is that every member of the Committee feels that it is appropriate to make that change, irrespective of the issue of what sentence a breach of the Act should attract. The other core measure extends the provisions of the 1991 Act to cover injury to assistance dogs; I will come later to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys on definitions of what constitutes an assistance dog.
I turn to the nub of the first part of our debate—amendments 37 and 38. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford spoke to his amendments very powerfully. The issue has had a life-changing and deeply profound effect on a number of families across the country, and some of those cases were described to the Committee this afternoon. Since 2005, 16 people have died as a result of dog attacks in this country, including nine children. Although deaths from dog attacks are in one sense mercifully rare, they are not quite as rare as I suspect some people might imagine; and as others have said, attacks that do not result in death are much more common. This is therefore a serious matter and is worthy of sustained attention.
As we heard, the current penalties for an aggravated offence under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act are a maximum of two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 covers a range of measures and it is important to understand what it does and does not do. It creates an offence for owners or anyone else in charge of a dog to allow it to be dangerously out of control in a public place; with the provisions in the Bill, that offence will extend to all places. However, it is not intended to cover the offence of dogs being used as a weapon or the offence of dogs being deliberately set upon a person. Those are covered by separate legislation, the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, with correspondingly tough penalties up to life imprisonment if someone is killed as a result of such an incident. In certain circumstances, life imprisonment would result from a situation in which a dog killed a person, but only if the dog was used deliberately to try to kill or gravely harm that person.
Mr Browne: I cannot do so offhand, but if I am able to by the time I finish speaking, I certainly will. The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. Comparison has sometimes between made, as it was by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, of the sanctions that exist in this instance and those for careless or dangerous driving. Careless driving carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, and death by dangerous driving 14 years. Those penalties may provide a useful starting point for reviewing the penalties under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, and I accept that one can draw a broad comparison between them and the penalties for dangerous dogs. In making that comparison, however, we must recognise that there are important differences between driving offences and those in the 1991 Act, notably the fact that a dog is a sentient being capable of acting without direction. That is obviously not the case when one is driving, when one is wholly responsible for one’s own actions.
Moreover, we must have regard to the impact on the great majority of responsible dog owners who may be caught by the amendments despite having always acted correctly and with no prior indication that their dog poses any risk. Dogs can act out of character, and it can result in death, particularly in the case of children and babies. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester touched on the fact that we must be mindful of how dogs may act even when their owners are wholly responsible. The Government do not think that it is appropriate to threaten the millions of dog owners in this country with life imprisonment should their dog attack a person or an assistance dog.
I listened carefully to the concerns that have been expressed about the current maximum penalty of two years, and I undertake to consider the question further, because I think the points that have been made are extremely valid. I would like to consider in conjunction with ministerial colleagues in DEFRA and the Ministry of Justice whether there is a case for making a distinction, as in road traffic legislation, between an offence that causes injury and one that causes the death of a person. We will also want to look at the difference between an attack on and the death of a person, and an attack on and the death of an assistance dog. Both, clearly, are terrible cases, but nearly everybody would recognise that there may be a strong case for a judge to have access to a higher sentence in the former case than in the latter.
Mr Browne: I am grateful for those kind words. We intend to look at the matter before Report. Should we conclude that an increase in the maximum penalty for the section 3 offence is appropriate, we will also need to consider carefully what the new upper limit should be. The Government’s current instinct is to say that life imprisonment is a severe sanction, and some members of the Committee have expressed that view. Clearly, there is a lot of scope between two years—which most, if not all, members of the Committee regard as lenient—and life imprisonment. We can look along that range and try to reach a conclusion that broadly satisfies the Committee.
Mr Browne: It would be a good idea to consult widely, although I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will understand if I do not try to list every organisation that we might seek to consult. The danger with a broad public consultation is that it would be difficult to conduct it in a meaningful way within the reasonably tight time scale that the Committee rightly expects. When we change the maximum sentence for any offence, it is appropriate to consult the Ministry of Justice, for obvious reasons, including the fact that they have responsibility for prisons. DEFRA is the lead Department, so at the bare minimum we would consult both Departments, but I hope that we will consult more widely on the appropriate sanction in such circumstances.
Richard Fuller: The right hon. Member for Delyn mentioned the Sentencing Council, which brings to mind the earlier comments about the role of sentencing guidelines in setting new expectations. Does the Minister anticipate that being part of his recommendations?
Mr Browne: We should look at the matter in the round. I thought that the exchange between my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester was interesting, because it highlighted the fact
It would be appropriate to see how sentences might be applied, as well as considering the maximum available option. In a spirit of genuine openness to the points my hon. Friend has made, I hope I have satisfied him to a reasonable degree that we share a lot of his instincts and we would like to study the matter further in the time that we have. It goes without saying that if he wants to make further contributions to that process, he is welcome to do so.
Before I turn to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, I will deal with a couple of points that arose during our deliberations. The hon. Member for Rochdale asked whether I could cite an example of dog being used deliberately to attack or even kill a person, and whether that attracted a sentence greater than two years.
Mr Browne: Perhaps I hesitated at an inopportune moment, but I was going to say that I have been told that reasonably recently—I do not know in what year—there was a murder case in south London where a dog was used to chase down and attack a 16-year-old victim. A successful conviction resulted, partly because the defendant was identified using the dog’s microchip. The dog had been used as an aggressive weapon in those circumstances and, as I told the Committee, where a dog has been used as an aggressive weapon, a sentence of more than two years can apply. In all the harrowing cases that we have heard about, however, the dog had not been used as such. I wanted to bring that difference to the Committee’s attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys talked about the definition of an assistance dog. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham mentioned the Equality Act 2010. It is true that we have been careful to refer in the Bill to the 2010 Act’s definition of an assistance dog. That definition includes dogs trained to guide blind or deaf people, dogs trained by prescribed charities to assist people with other disabilities, such as epilepsy, and dogs of a prescribed category trained to assist a disabled person.
Some organisations have raised concerns that the definition could leave the provision in the Bill open to abuse, with someone claiming as a defence when their dog acts in an out of control way, or when they have been attacked themselves, that their dog is an assistance dog when it is not. Any alternative definition, however, would create a definition inconsistent with the 2010 Act.
Furthermore, we do not consider it necessary for the Secretary of State to designate dog training organisations to establish whether a dog that has been attacked by another dog is an assistance dog under the Bill. While the definition in the 2010 Act is broad, we will provide
Stephen Phillips: I know it was inadvertent, but the Minister referred to the case of Chrisdian Johnson, which concerned a dog attack in south London. In that case, Mr Johnson was convicted of murder; his dog was used to bring down the victim, who was then stabbed, so it is not quite correct to say that it was purely a dog attack. In answer to the hon. Member for Rochdale, it may be sensible for the Minister to write to the Committee with that information, which is highly material to our consideration of whether the tariff for the offence should be increased.
Mr Browne: My hon. and learned Friend is more familiar with the case than I am, if that was the case to which I was referring. I take his point that that case is slightly different. If I was being in any way misleading to the hon. Member for Rochdale, I did not intend to be, and I am more than happy to write to him or to all members of the Committee with examples of sentences when dogs were used as weapons. I undertake to do that. My point, nevertheless, remains valid: it is possible for a person to receive a sentence of more than two years’ imprisonment when their dog has killed another person, but not under these provisions.
Before I move to the next set of amendments, I will deal with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester about not wanting to be penalised unfairly for the behaviour of dogs in his garden. As he knows, because that is why made his contribution, the householder exemption does not extend to gardens, but any prosecution will be pursued only if it is in the public interest. All common law defences, such as defence of the person, defence of property and prevention of crime, will be available. Should a prosecution be successful, any reasonable steps taken by the householder can be taken into account as mitigating factors in sentencing. The reason why the Bill does not treat gardens in the same way as houses is largely for the reasons touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys: large numbers of people—most obviously postal workers, but possibly aspirant politicians and others—can have a good reason to go through someone’s garden to their front door. Those people have made the point, to which the Government are sympathetic, that the protection should extend to them in those circumstances, with the caveats that I just gave my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester.
Amendments 39 to 42, which are in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, relate to protected animals. The Bill makes it an offence for a dog to attack an assistance dog. The amendments would extend that provision to all protected animals, which for the avoidance of confusion, broadly means domesticated animals. I understand and share my hon. Friend’s view that an attack on a family pet can be a distressing and traumatic event for family members, particularly children who have a strong affiliation for the pet. However it is not in the same category as an attack on a human being or even on an assistance dog, which is effectively an attack on the person it assists.
The Dangerous Dogs Act was intended to protect humans. It has been extended to include assistance dogs but that is precisely because of the role of the assistance dog as an extension of the capabilities of the human they assist. A number of existing laws cover attacks on protected animals. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 contains an offence of causing unnecessary suffering, which can be used in this context. The Criminal Damage Act 1971 can be used, for example, for attacks on cats that amount to the destruction of property. Civil remedies are also available under the Animals Act 1971 and the Dogs Act 1871. I am told by DEFRA officials that the Dogs Act 1871 provides a civil remedy, with the lower civil burden of proof, and that local authorities find the Act to be of continued use and value, although it was passed 142 years ago. They would not wish to see it repealed.
Livestock are protected by the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. In addition, the new measures to help tackle irresponsible dog ownership will also apply. My hon. Friend cites the valid case of when a dog threatens or attacks a horse. That is indeed a serious situation and has the potential to be calamitous for both horse and rider. However, the Dangerous Dogs Act would already apply in such a situation. Were a dog to threaten a horse in that way, the rider is likely to have
In that situation an offence is committed. The dog does not have to injure the horse or the rider for that to be the case. If the dog menaces the horse, and the rider fears being thrown from the horse, the Act could apply. As a result we do not see the need for an extension of the Act to all protected animals to ensure that horses and their riders can be protected.
Tracey Crouch: Bearing in mind what the Minister has just said about the existing legislation applying to humans who are in control of another animal such as a horse, it surely follows that it already applies to people with assistance dogs.
Mr Browne: My understanding of the legislation is that where the dog menaces or attacks a horse that has a rider on it, the law applies because the rider may reasonably fear being thrown from the horse and injured. The matter at hand in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is how human beings can be protected from attacks by dangerous dogs. That has been extended because, until the Bill was introduced it applied only to human beings. Now it applies to an animal, but that animal is quite tightly specified as an assistance dog as defined in the Equalities Act 2010. The contention of the Government, and specifically DEFRA as the lead Department on this issue, is that other legislation and the large number of Acts of Parliament that I have mentioned already are both satisfactory and more appropriate for the purposes of protecting one type of animal from attack by a dog or by another type of animal than an extension to the Dangerous Dogs Act.
The undoubted strength of that approach is that it allows the most appropriate piece of legislation to apply to the deed that has been committed. I do not consider, therefore, that the amendments are the means by which we should address the issue. The Dangerous Dogs Act,
The amendments not only significantly widen the Act’s scope but run the very real risk of criminalising vast numbers of dog owners—that point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester, when he gave the hypothetical example of a neighbour’s cat straying into his garden while his dogs were in the garden unsupervised, as he was watching television. The amendments run that risk, as they create an offence where a dog has merely caused fear of an injury to a protected animal. As I was saying, in the case of the rider fearing that he or she may be thrown from the horse as a dog is menacing it, under the provision in the Dangerous Dogs Act, that does not need to result in injury; it only needs to result in the fear, or reasonable fear, of an injury.
As we are talking about the non-aggravated form of the offence, owners could face up to six months imprisonment or a £5,000 fine, or both. That could apply where a dog has caused fear of an injury to, for example, a cat, and in such circumstances, the Government do not think that a potential prison sentence of six months would be appropriate. With an aggravated offence, where injury is caused, the penalties rise to an unlimited fine or up to two year’s imprisonment, or both. Were we to accept the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, it would be possible, if a dog injured a cat, that the dog’s owners could go to prison for two years. If we were to accept all the amendments in this group, it would be possible, in the case of a dog injuring a cat, that the dog’s owner would go to prison for the rest of his or her life. I accept that that is a pretty hypothetical set of circumstances, but I hope Committee members will be sympathetic about the need for the Government to get the legislation right, so that what most people would regard as disproportionate and unintended consequences do not apply.
I would argue that a better way of dealing with the issue would be to pay careful attention to existing provisions in legislation, and to what would prevent such incidents occurring in future. In this instance, rather than more legislation, we need better education for owners, training for dogs and increased awareness among the public and among the authorities, who can use the new antisocial behaviour measure to address these incidents. That will allow them to nip issues in the bud and to draw on, as local authorities currently do, a range of existing legislation, right back to the Dogs Act 1871.
In summary, although we are sympathetic to my hon. Friend’s objectives, we do not feel that it is appropriate to accommodate her amendments and the intention behind them in this legislation. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford that we will certainly undertake to look at what an appropriate sentence is, and at whether the specific maximum sentence of two years is unduly lenient. He is more than welcome to make further contributions, as are all Committee members, to that process. We will do that before the legislation is complete. It may well be that, as a result of that consultation, we look, after proper consideration of all the matters that need to be mulled over, at a greater sentence than the existing two years.
Tracey Crouch: I admit that my amendment has not been worded appropriately on this occasion. However, given that we have received submissions from various animal welfare charities, that there are recommendations from the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and that we heard in oral evidence from the police about a real problem with the increasing trend of attacks on protected animals, will he at least consider having further discussions, during the passage of the Bill, with those organisations about how we can perhaps, either through guidance or in the Bill, address the problem that we face?
Mr Browne: May I make a commitment that the Government will do that? I may wish to be involved in that process but, although in this part of the Bill we are legislating on behalf of DEFRA, I appreciate that this is a Home Office lead Bill and I am a Home Office Minister. The remit of the Home Office is clearly of more obvious relevance when we are dealing with an attack by a dog on a human than when we are dealing with an attack by a dog on another animal; that seems to be very clearly within the remit of DEFRA. I undertake to draw my hon. Friend’s point to the attention of Lord De Mauley or another relevant Minister, who I imagine would want to address that point and how DEFRA wishes to respond to it, either in writing or in a meeting.
There will be other matters about dogs to discuss, but I hope that, with regard to this group of amendments, Members will be satisfied by the comprehensiveness of my response in dealing with these important matters, even if the response is not to everyone’s satisfaction. As a result, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford will seek the Committee’s leave to withdraw his amendment, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford will not press hers.
Richard Fuller: I hope and believe that the Minister has listened to the range of speeches we have heard on the clause and this group of amendments. I pay particular tribute to the right hon. Member for Delyn for his considered and compassionate understanding of these issues. The Minister is aware that there appears to be cross-party support for the intent behind the amendments standing in my name and those of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham and my hon. Friends the Members for North East Cambridgeshire and for Chatham and Aylesford, and that those amendments are ready to be tabled again on Report if necessary. I wish the Minister luck in his endeavours with his colleagues in government, and, in the spirit of seeking to make progress, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
‘(1C) For the purposes of section 3, a Court must consider all the circumstances, and in particular if the owner, and if different, the person for the time being in charge of the
‘(1) Where an authorised officer has reasonable cause to believe that a dog is not under sufficient control and requires greater control in any place, as a preventative measure to protect the public, the dog itself, or another protected animal, he or she may serve on the owner, and if different, person for the time being in charge of the dog a written control notice which—
(a) states that he or she is of that belief;
(b) specifies the respects in which he or she believes the owner, and if different, the person for the time being in charge of the dog is failing to keep the dog under sufficient control;
(c) specifies the steps he or she requires the owner, and if different, the person for the time being in charge of the dog to take in order to comply with the notice;
(d) specifies the date by which the terms of the notice must be complied with; and
(e) specifies the date that the notice expires which will not be for a period which exceeds six months.
(2) In a control notice pursuant to subsection (1)(c) an authorised officer must require a dog to be microchipped (if not already done so) and the owner, and if different, the person for the time being in charge of the dog, register the dog with a microchip database, and may require the following steps, where appropriate, but is not limited to—
(a) keeping the dog muzzled as directed;
(b) keeping the dog on a lead when in public or under control as directed;
(c) requiring the owner, and if different, the person for the time being in charge of the dog, to seek and implement expert advice about training and behaviour for the dog;
(d) having the dog neutered where appropriate; and
(e) keeping the dog away from particular places or persons.
(3) Failure to comply with the steps required in a control notice within the time period specified, to the satisfaction of the authorised officer may lead to a complaint to a Magistrates Court under section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871.
(4) The provisions of section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 shall have effect if the owner, and if different, the person for the time being in charge of a dog fails to comply with the steps required in a control notice within the time period specified in accordance with subsection (3) above as they would apply if a dog was dangerous and not kept under proper control.
(5) An “authorised officer” is a person that has been appointed by the local authority or police for the purposes of this Act.
(6) A “protected animal” is one that is commonly domesticated in the British Islands, is under the control of man whether on a permanent or temporary basis, or is not living in a wild state.’.
‘(1) This section applies where more than one dog is being kept in a domestic property in England or Wales.
(2) Where an authorised officer has reasonable cause to believe that the number of dogs being kept in a domestic property gives rise to a risk that any one or more of the dogs may become
(a) states that the authorised officer is of that belief;
(b) specifies the maximum number of dogs which, in the opinion of the authorised officer, are capable of being kept in the domestic property such as to sufficiently reduce the risk;
(c) requires the person in charge to reduce the number of dogs kept in the domestic property to no more than the number specified under paragraph (b); and
(d) specifies the date by which the terms of the control notice must be complied with.
(3) A control notice may be served on more than one person in respect of one domestic property.
(4) It is an offence for a person without reasonable excuse to fail to comply with a requirement under subsection (2).
(5) 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.
(6) An authorised officer may make a complaint to a Magistrates’ Court if a person in charge fails, to the satisfaction of the authorised officer, to comply with the steps required in a control notice within the time period specified.
(7) A Magistrates’ Court receiving a complaint under subsection (6) shall, if it finds that the person in charge has failed to comply with the steps required in a control notice, make an order in a summary way directing any of the dogs kept in the domestic property to be destroyed.
(8) In this section—
“authorised officer” means a person appointed by a local authority within whose area the domestic property is situated for the purposes of this section;
“domestic property” means a building, or part of a building, that is a dwelling or is forces accommodation (or both);
“person in charge” means the owner or owners, and if different, person or persons for the time being in charge of the dogs.’.
Mr Hanson: As I said at the outset, I welcome clauses 98 and 99; they are positive additions to the armoury of the Government and the police. However, there are still gaps in the potential legislative capacity for dealing with dangerous dogs, which is why I have tabled new clause 4. Although amendment 43 is the lead amendment in this group, I wish to begin by dealing with the issues that new clause 4 raises, as I believe them to be the nub of the matter.
Members will note that new clause 4 has been tabled by myself and my hon. Friends the Members for Ashfield and for Sedgefield, but also, notably, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), who is the Member of Parliament who represents the family of Jade Anderson, who has already been mentioned in our debate today. Jade was, sadly, killed in March this year, and I have met with her parents Michael and Shirley. The new clause is also in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who is the Opposition lead on DEFRA issues—that is why he put his name to the new clause—and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger); she is the Member of Parliament representing the family of John Paul Massey, who the hon. Member for Bedford mentioned earlier; John Paul was, sadly, killed in November 2009.
As has already been mentioned, since 2005 nine children and seven adults have been killed in dog attacks. That shows how important our debates and our decisions are, both those about the clause before us, which is about prosecution after the event, and those about the amendments and new clauses I am speaking to, which are about preventing such terrible incidents from happening in the first place.
Death is the terrible end of the cases that have been mentioned today. In a parliamentary question to a DEFRA Minister only last week, I received the answer that in the 11 months to February 2013, there were 5,793 hospital admissions due to dog attacks in England and Wales. In the previous 12 months, there had been 6,053, and 6,580 before that. In that period, some 18,000 people were hospitalised due to dog attacks, at a cost to them and their families, and to the state for their health care, and potentially for police and other action. The issue is serious, and we must address it.
I will focus my remarks on new clause 4, if I may. Committee members can read it, so I will not go through it line by line. Essentially, it has not only Opposition Members’ support but cross-party support in the House and strong support from interested parties outside. It would allow an authorised officer, almost certainly a police officer, if they believe that a dog requires greater control in order to protect the public, the dog itself or another protected animal, to take action to serve a dog notice on the dog owner or person in charge of the dog at that time.
The notices would include a range of measures that are sensible, proportionate and preventive, and which could reduce the deaths and injuries that I referred to. Those measures include the power to have dogs microchipped—at the moment, the Government are considering microchipping—muzzled, kept on a lead, given appropriate behaviour training, neutered or kept away from particular places. Those measures would prevent some of the horrific incidents that we heard about in the debate on the previous set amendments and at other times today.
Stephen Phillips: The right hon. Gentleman has just listed things for which the notices could be used. Does he agree that all those things could be achieved by issuing a community protection notice under clause 40 of the Bill?
Mr Hanson: That is part of the nub of the debate. Agencies outside the House, including some to which I will refer in a moment, believe that those things could not be achieved by community protection notices. We can have a debate about that, and I would certainly welcome the hon. and learned Gentleman’s contribution to it; the Minister could also satisfy Committee members. So far, however, the discussions that we have had in the Committee and outside lead me to believe that they could not be achieved. For clarity, a dog notice on a specific dog at a specific time, authorised by a specific officer and lasting for a maximum of six months, could add value to the potential that we have.
I will give some measure of support. I am not standing here on my own behalf; I am trying to reflect the views of many organisations and individuals who have spoken on the matter. I refer to our evidence sessions, which I
“We do, and have for a long time, favoured the introduction of dog control notices as a way of dealing with low-level issues. That preventative strategy would allow things to be resolved quickly and effectively, as happens under animal welfare legislation when a dog control notice is in place…We are keen on dog control notices for some specific issues. They would allow specific measures to be taken quickly and effectively to resolve issues.”––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 60, Q114.]
Earlier, the Minister quoted ACPO in support of a contention of his. He either supports ACPO’s professional judgment, or he does not. In this case, ACPO’s professional judgment is that dog control notices would be of assistance in reducing the type of incidents to which I referred today.
“However we remain unconvinced that CPNs will fulfil the same purpose as bespoke Dog Control Notices…For this reason, the RSPCA remains concerned that without a bespoke DCN to cover this large, likely most common area of complaint, enforcers may have to resort to more disproportionate and draconian measures set out elsewhere in the Bill.”
The hon. Members for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), for South Dorset (Richard Drax), for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) all have something in common, as well as being Conservative Members of Parliament: they are all Members of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. With the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), from the Minister’s party, and my
“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.”
That is the Select Committee, the members of which I contend are fine and true people all. They have a range of political views on a range of political issues—some may want less state intervention, some more—but they have coalesced on this issue, presenting a report that says that the Committee supports the outside organisations.
“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.”
Not only do the hon. Members on the Select Committee support the contention of new clause 4 and that of the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust, the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and others, but they were asked by the Government to comment on the draft Bill. The Government, however, published the Bill before the Committee’s comments on the draft Bill were published.
I hope to hear from the Minister that now, however, the Government have had the opportunity to take the Select Committee’s comments into account in a more detailed way. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton was not best pleased, and she indicated that she was not. Again, the Minister might expect me not to be pleased with things that he does, but I do not think that he expects Members on his own side to be unclear about what he does, and I do not think that it is a courtesy to the House for the Government to ask for comments and then publish the Bill before the EFRA Committee has had an opportunity to consider it.
“a new ‘proactive’ dimension to the dog control system, for the introduction of Dog Control Notices as an effective preventative measure for tackling dogs which are not being properly controlled by their Owners and Keepers, highlighting the potential for a dog to indulge in behaviour that may later prove to be a danger.”
The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys cited the post workers in his constituency. The representatives of post workers have collectively, along with the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and all the others, said that they think that that should be included.
The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford helpfully said that she was the chair of the Pet Advisory Committee. I believe, Sir Roger, that you may have some involvement
I looked at all those comments and I thought, “Well, there is such a collective weight of evidence, surely the Government will listen,” so I did, just this once—as a test—google, if I can use that word, the Liberal Democrat website. I googled it for the period before May 2010. I have to say that when I put the word “dogs” into the Liberal Democrat website, it came up with some interesting conclusions. It said that they would not be the lapdogs of any party. We understand that; we can accept that. It said that they would take a dogged approach to matters of government. It said that they would be a watchdog for public spending.
However, hidden in all those dog references was the following dog reference, which I found great delight in looking at. It is from a press release of Friday 24 April 2009 titled “New rules needed to cut down on dangerous dog attacks”. It said: “The Liberal Democrats”—of which I believe the Minister is a member—
“are today launching plans to better protect people from dangerous dogs by ensuring tougher action is taken against irresponsible dog owners. The proposals are part of the Dog Control Bill…Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Redesdale, who tabled the Bill, said:
‘The Dangerous Dogs Act is one of most ineffective pieces of legislation passed by Parliament in last few decades…This Bill puts responsibility on dog owners and will combat those who want to use their dogs to intimidate others.’”
“The notice orders can start with very basic measures—ensuring that the owner keeps the dog on a lead or muzzled—but the Bill also covers prevention.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 July 2010; Vol. 720, c. 485.]
If I may say so, I did look up, just by chance—it floated up at the same time—this article about the hon. Member for Norwich South. It is titled “Norwich MP”—I will not give his name, because it would not be parliamentary to do so—“calls for law change over dangerous dogs following rise in attacks”. He says:
I say to the hon. Gentleman: that is what a dog notice does. How else would the police intervene earlier if there was no dog notice in place? Could the hon. Member for Norwich South tell me now how, according to his own press release of not one and a half years ago to the public at large, he expects the police to intervene? How are they supposed to intervene without a dog control notice, which is his party’s policy and which his
The Chair: Order. I understand the desire to have some sport at the expense of others, but the right hon. Member for Delyn is well aware of the parliamentary conventions in relation to Parliamentary Private Secretaries, so it would be unkind of him to press the matter too much further.
Mr Hanson: I am grateful for that, Sir Roger, but I am simply making a point. I think the Minister is able to answer the question. I am genuinely not seeking to divide the Committee on this matter. I want to see an effective dog notice introduced. I am simply pointing out to the Minister that that was what his party supported. So far, despite my great attempts, I have not found a single organisation that is involved in dog welfare—not the police, the Local Government Association or the Welsh Assembly—or any hon. Member who spoke on Second Reading who disagree with the premise of a dog notice.
Tracey Crouch: I am sure that this will not go down as a helpful comment in the Whip’s note later today, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it was also Conservative party policy in the run-up to the election to introduce dog control notices? I therefore am not at all worried about potentially supporting the introduction of dog control notices because we did indeed state that we supported giving
Mr Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing that to the fore. It saves me about two minutes of my speech and means that I do not have to offend anyone on the Conservative Benches, so it was a really helpful intervention. Just for the record, it was a Labour Government who introduced the consultation in early 2010 to which the current Government are responding. [Interruption.] Did the Minister say we did nothing in 13 years?
Mr Browne: The Government are rightly extending the 1991 Act to protect people in the private realm as well as the public realm from attacks by dangerous dogs, and those changes were not made in the 13 years that Labour were in government. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is not quicker to congratulate my party on acting so much more speedily than his managed to.
Mr Hanson: That is a very tiresome argument. If that were the case, no Government would ever make any change, because everything would be static the moment they came to power. It was because of the deaths of people such as John Paul Massey and several others
Let me say though—I am trying to make common ground if I can—I welcome the measures in clauses 98 and 99. I am not even arguing, although we had some debate, about the notices under the antisocial behaviour part of this Bill. I am simply saying that, rather like the points the hon. Member for Bedford made and that every organisation including the EFRA Committee has made, the Government should look at other measures to help prevent the type of incidents we have talked about.
I want to mention briefly amendment 43, which would add a small potential defence in relation to clauses 98 and 99. We return to the word “reasonable”, which we have debated a bit in Committee so far, with
which refers to the issues the hon. Member for City of Chester raised in his earlier contribution. Someone could be keeping a dog under control, but something could happen. Organisations that are concerned with animal welfare want to ensure that we target legislation effectively and, without watering down the provisions in any great sense, at least give an opportunity to argue a reasonable defence. We have debated what reasonable means in reality and in practice.
My bottom line is that every body that I mentioned today—all the animal welfare organisations, the Welsh Assembly Government, the police and the EFRA Committee—believes that a new clause 4 provision should be added to the Bill to ensure that we have dog control notices. I think that deep down the Minister knows that at some point in the next 11 months or so, when the Bill goes through the Commons and another place, he will have to move his position. He would save himself an awful lot of time if he committed to move now, accepted either the new clause or its principle and revised the Bill on Report. He will otherwise face the same situation on Report and in another place, probably leading to the Bill being kicked forward and back in ping pong, and, at the end of the day, 11 months on, he will be dragged back to agree a new clause with his hon. Friends in DEFRA. He may as well agree that it is a good idea, take the advice of those who know about the matter and accept the change now.
Tracey Crouch: Given my previous intervention on the right hon. Member for Delyn during his excellent speech on dog control notices, it will be unsurprising that I am inclined to support new clause 4, on the basis
I welcome the Government tackling the issue; my problem is that I do not think that they are necessarily doing it in the right way, which is why I favour dog control notices. Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman stole most of the quotes that I was going to use in my speech, but I shall add a quote from the oral evidence from the police and crime commissioners, who agreed:
“The dog control notice is a logical part of an armoury that allows the police and other agencies to protect the public.”––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 62, Q119.]
“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.”
The right hon. Gentleman also referenced the RSPCA, which is an organisation that I know incredibly well, and Gavin Grant, its chief executive, recently wrote to the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and made it clear that the RSPCA remains
“far from convinced that this is an appropriate way forward or by the arguments put forward by the Government for how Community Protection Notices (CPNs) can deliver what Dog Control Notices (DCNs) should.”
A DCN is the step before a CPN and requires a dog owner to bring their dog under greater control and sets out the necessary steps and a deadline. A CPN, however, can be issued only after a written warning has been given, which makes it rather formal way to address such problems. Furthermore, a DCN has the mandatory requirement that the dog is to be microchipped and registered on a database if it is not already, which is incredibly useful from an enforcement perspective.
Although a CPN can require someone to stop or start doing something, it does not necessarily address all the issues that a DCN does. DCNs do not have an appeal system, as they are designed to fall outside the judicial system, but a CPN can be appealed through a
We should look to Scotland and the experience there. I appreciate that it is early days and that there are concerns about the bureaucracy of DCNs, but that does not mean that we should not introduce them at all. We could be looking at a streamlined system of DCNs that actually enhances what is currently proposed with CPNs.
I remain unconvinced by the Government’s proposals. I need to be convinced not to support new clause 4, because it does not feel contrary to what I stood for as a Conservative when I was elected in 2010 or what I believe in as a Conservative who cares passionately about animal welfare issues. As an animal owner, I believe that the proposal provides the right protections on many levels. I therefore urge the Minister to consider new clause 4 and to do so during the Bill’s passage, because I fear, as suggested by the right hon. Member for Delyn, that the matter will not disappear easily and that many Members of the other place will have similar concerns. We should at least make it clear that we are doing all that we can to look into the issue.
Sarah Champion: I rise to speak to new clause 11, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West. I congratulate her on the hard campaigning that she has been doing on behalf of Jade Anderson, whom several colleagues have already mentioned in this debate.
New clause 11 is about controlling the number of dogs in a household. It is not about prescribing the number of dogs in any dwelling, penalising responsible owners or telling people how many dogs they should have. If a concern is raised with the responsible officer about a dog or dogs becoming dangerously out of control, taking due regard of the housing conditions, that officer may instruct the owner to reduce the number of dogs in the household. The responsible officer—whether police officer, dog warden or local authority officer—would be able to look at the individual circumstances.
The prerequisites are that concern has been raised about the dogs’ safety: are they displaying aggressive behaviour; have they been involved in an attack on humans or other animals; are they are barking excessively; or are they are deemed not to be under the owner’s control? If the responsible officer considered that those criteria had been met, they would consider the following points. How big is the dwelling? How many people live in it? How many dogs does it contain? What size are the dogs? Obviously, there would be less concern about five Chihuahuas than about five German shepherds. What area is there for the dogs to be exercised, and are they being exercised? How much are they being exercised outside the dwelling? Are they well socialised and well mannered? Are the owners caring for them responsibly? Where is the dwelling located? The situation would be different depending on whether the dogs were on a highly populated estate, a small terrace house or a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Finally, are the dogs being properly fed and looked after?
New clause 11 also deals with dog welfare. Dogs in cramped conditions often show signs of stress, which may lead to aggressive tendencies. The other thing to consider is that dogs are pack animals, and that instinct can override any discipline that they would normally demonstrate. Two dogs are significantly more dangerous than one, and as soon as a third dog enters the equation, the aggression can escalate. Are the dogs safe?
I would like to speak briefly about Jade’s circumstances. The case is going through the courts at the moment, so I will not go into detail. Jade, who was 14, was visiting the house of her friend, who was 16, where she had stayed overnight. Jade and her friend had popped out, and Jade was the first to return. There was no adult in the house at the time. It is thought that she may have been eating a meat pie. She was attacked by four of the five dogs that lived in the house. The four dogs were shot dead by the police. It was a small modern terraced house, with a small back yard.
The commonly held view is that no one in the area understood how anyone could cope with five dogs in a very small house. The only complaint that had been registered was about noise, although people have now stated that they were frightened to walk past the house because of the dogs. Had the noise been investigated by someone who looked holistically at the situation, concerns might have been raised about the fact that there were so many dogs in such a small space. Going back to our previous debate, the landlord in this case was a social landlord who would have been able to take action. That would not have been the case if the dog owners had lived in private rented or private property.
The design of the house would have made it difficult for the owners to have a room in which they could keep the dogs separate from humans, which is another issue that we would expect enforcing officers to take into account. Basically, we are looking at a situation where too many dogs are not being properly handled, which creates a danger for the surrounding community. I would like the Minister to consider that and respond to it.
Stephen Phillips: I do not want to detain the Committee long, given the hour. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford said that the right hon. Member for Delyn had stolen all her best quotes, and I have to say that she stole all my best points. I would, however, like the Minister to grapple with one specific point when he responds to the debate. I find the question whether we need a specific provision to deal with dog control notices difficult. In the immortal words of Toby Wright, I suppose that it is “Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.”
I am sure that the Front-Bench team will say, as they did on Second Reading, that community protection notices are sufficient and that they will embrace everything that could be done within a dog control notice. The difficulty is that the House faces a specific problem that all Members know about, and political parties, including my own, have stated in their manifestos that it will be dealt with. If that is to be addressed effectively, it would seem to call for a specific provision, rather than a generic provision that might be capable of being used, to address the mischief that has been identified. The law plainly needs to be amended.
The Minister will undoubtedly say, as he said on Second Reading, that community protection notices are sufficient. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford has identified a number of respects in which that might not be the case, as indeed does the briefing kindly circulated to all members of the Committee yesterday by the RSPCA. There is one specific point that is not addressed in that briefing and that has not been raised in Committee, which I would like the Minister to address.
As clause 40 makes clear, a community protection notice can be issued only to an individual aged 16 or over, but—I will not detain the Committee any longer—a dog control notice may be issued to anyone in control of a dog, even those under the age of 16. If we do not put dog control notices into the Bill, how will a community protection notice assist with cases in which an individual aged under 16 is in control, or not in control, of a dangerous dog? In such circumstances, no community protection notice seems capable of being issued, particularly on the spot. If such notices are the answer, it is no answer that there are other statutes through which those who are responsible for a person under the age of 16 are also responsible for the dog, because unless the Minister can assure me otherwise, all such provisions relate to the particular statutes within which they are contained. The Minister must grapple with that issue.
I understand the Government’s position, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford, I still require considerable persuasion that the Government are not going down the wrong route and should not be accepting the new clause. In common with the right hon. Member for Delyn, I rather suspect that, whatever comes of the debate today, the Government will in due course be forced to accept the new clause on the Floor of the House.
Simon Danczuk: I also rise to speak in favour of new clause 11, which is a particularly helpful proposal in that it is about prevention. It is about being able to reduce the number of dogs in a home or property so that something more serious does not happen. The new clause is a positive step in that respect.
The new clause is helpful because it should reduce the number of attacks by dogs, but it will also help reduce the mistreatment of dogs. There is an opportunity to reduce the number of dogs in a property, which will reduce the amount of mistreatment. That is helpful.
There is no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West has formulated the proposal in light of the terrible attack on Jade Anderson in March last year, which has already been mentioned. We can only guess at the horror that Jade went through when those four dogs viciously attacked her. The pain and fear that Jade must have endured must have been absolutely awful, and we should keep that in mind when we discuss this part of the Bill.
Besides that particular case and other attacks that have been highlighted, it is worth pointing out that most hon. Members here will, when going around their constituencies to canvass and knock on doors, often see instances in which they think there is an unhealthy number of dogs in a property. The new clause helps address that. Whether the dogs are out of control or are
My other point is slightly broader. I have looked at some statistics on the number of in-patient hospital episodes following dog attacks—people who have had to go into hospital and stay in hospital—in 2009-10, and the figure was 5,914. By 2011-12, the figure had risen to 6,640. So the number of in-patient episodes for people attacked by dogs is a serious issue. One hopes that the new clause would help reduce that number. Perhaps the Minister, when he responds, can tell us whether he believes that the Bill will help reduce the number of instances of people having to be hospitalised.
Mr Browne: I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to another wide-ranging and important debate, and it is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Rochdale. He is on very good form today; not only does he have an excellent article in The Times today, with which I agree entirely, but he made many good points in his speech.
I intend to go through in sequential order the amendments and new clauses on the amendment paper. However, I had better turn first to the speech, which I could charitably describe as a dog’s dinner, by the right hon. Member for Delyn. He sought to do two things: one was to make several observations about the Liberal Democrat manifesto from three years ago, and the other was to extol the virtues of dog control notices.
First, it is worth pointing out that the Liberal Democrats did not win the last general election—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Of course, nobody won the last general election, which is why we have the excellent arrangement in Government that we have today. My party got 8% of the MPs, so I am not sure whether we quite won the mandate that the right hon. Gentleman implied that we have to implement our manifesto in full. However, we are implementing more of it than we have at any other point in my lifetime.
The other point, of course, is that it will not have escaped the right hon. Gentleman’s attention that the general election was more than three years ago. As he said, time has moved on and dog control notices have been introduced since that manifesto, for which he searched on the internet, was written. Dog control notices have been in place in Scotland—this is the model to which those who extol the virtues of such notices seem to be keen to draw our attention—for two years, so they were introduced during the lifetime of this Westminster Parliament.
Given that the right hon. Gentleman seems very enthusiastic about dog control notices, I am surprised that he has not looked carefully at the comments made by the cross-party group on animal welfare in Edinburgh at a meeting held only about six weeks ago, on 21 May, about how the notices have worked in Scotland—because it has now been roughly two years since they were introduced there—and whether they are as powerful a tool as some people seem to believe they might be. The cross-party group made a number of observations, which I think are worth sharing with the Committee; there is a list of things that it said.
Secondly, a person who is served with a dog control notice has to attend the council offices, or two council officers have to visit the person’s home. As a result of those procedures, it can be cumbersome to introduce a dog control notice.
Fourthly, there is no requirement for a dog owner to advise their local authority if they have rehomed the dog to another owner or to advise their local authority of the address of that new owner. Therefore, a potentially dangerous dog can easily appear in a different local authority area without anybody knowing that that is the case.
Most problems arise from irresponsible owners, and any dog has the potential to be a problem. However, it is reported in Scotland that the relevant Act—the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010—fails to tackle repeat problem owners. So, one person’s solution to the problem of being served with a dog control notice is just to get rid of the dog, before getting another dog that may be just as dangerous or even more so. Also, where the owner has caused the problem in the first place through lack of training or poor care for the dog, the problems can be repeated with the new dog, and the problems with the old dog have still not been solved. That situation is not addressed by the dog control notice.
As I have already said, monitoring dog control notices requires two officers, as the breach of a notice is a criminal offence, but provision of two witnesses is problematic in councils where there is only one authorised officer.
Finally, the cross-party group looked at Glasgow city council. As a very big authority, it has 40 authorised officers able to issue dog control notices, but in the first two years of operation, they served just two such notices for the whole of Glasgow, which I think is the second biggest city in the United Kingdom after London. It is possible that, unlike everywhere else in the United Kingdom, there is no problem with dangerous dogs in Glasgow—or only an annual problem, with one dangerous dog appearing per year, but I suggest that dog control notices as applied in Scotland are not the solution to every single problem we might have with dogs, which is the impression perhaps given by the right hon. Member for Delyn and occasionally by others who have spoken. I maintain that the provisions in the Bill will work just as well or even better than having a rate of one annual dog control notice being applied in a city as large as Glasgow, which is the experience in Scotland.
Mr Hanson: Why, therefore, do ACPO and every animal welfare organisation that deals with dogs recommend that the system is implemented in England and Wales? From the points that the Minister made about dog control and passing on a dog, I presume that he has not read new clause 4, which states that
Mr Browne: I will come to new clause 4, but I shall speak about the amendments and new clauses in their order on the amendment paper. The Government listen to recommendations and ideas from a wide range of quarters, but we are not obliged to put into law every recommendation that we receive. Recommendations sometimes conflict with one another, or we may judge that some are not the best way to proceed. The Government are entirely entitled to act in that way.
Amendment 43 proposes to incorporate into section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act the defence for dog owners whose pet is dangerously out of control that they had taken reasonable action to prevent their dog from becoming aggressive. I understand the concerns that have prompted the amendment, which are shared by some organisations and individual dog owners, a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester a couple of hours ago, but I do not consider that responsible dog owners have anything to fear from the Bill, because safeguards are in place.
First, there is an explicit exemption for cases of a dog attacking a trespasser in the home. Secondly, before any case reaches court, prosecutors must, as normal, consider whether a prosecution meets the public interest test. Thirdly, if a prosecution is pursued, common law offences may be applicable—for example, if the owner was seeking to prevent a crime or acting in defence of a person or property. Finally, should an offence be established, the defence will have the opportunity to put forward mitigating circumstances, including the reasonableness of the defendant’s actions in respect of any sentence.
Protections for responsible owners are necessary, but they must be weighed against the need to strengthen the law so that irresponsible owners whose dogs cause injuries, and tragically sometimes kill—we have heard harrowing examples of that during the debate—can be subject to prosecution. Amendment 43 would weaken clause 98. For example, if an owner posts a “Beware of the dog” sign on the outside of their property, but their dog attacks a postal worker on his or her way to the house, that might result at least in drawn-out arguments in court, and at worst in an irresponsible owner not facing any penalties. Postal workers and other professionals who have to make home visits would not support such a clouding of the issue and such a weakening of the clause. It is right to have reasonable safeguards in place, but our view is that those safeguards are provided by the unamended clause.
Sarah Champion: The Minister spoke about trespassers in the house. Gareth Pritchard, who gave evidence, expressed concerns that if police were entering for a raid, they could be classified as trespassers under proposed new section 3(1B)(b)(ii), and he was looking for clarity on that point.
Mr Browne: My understanding is that that will not be the case, but if I have inadvertently misled the Committee, I will write to hon. Members. I will not automatically write to them, because I am fairly confident that that will not apply.
Amendments 76 and 77 relate to clause 99. The clause will make a number of procedural changes to the way in which dangerous dogs are assessed by the courts.
There are two issues that all courts must consider in such cases: the temperament of the dog and its past behaviour, and—if clause 99 is enacted—whether the dog’s owner is a fit and proper person to be in charge of the dog. They will have to consider the temperament of both the dog and the owner. The subsections will also provide that the courts may consider any other relevant circumstances beyond the two core considerations that they are obliged to take into account.
Amendments 76 and 77 propose to make the consideration of any other relevant circumstances mandatory. I understand that there is concern that a court may not consider all the pertinent information about a dog in reaching a final decision. However, I consider that the courts are best placed to decide when additional information is necessary to come to the right decision.
It is right that a court must consider the two principal factors—the temperament of the dog and whether the owner is a fit and proper person. They are essential in all cases, but the Government’s view is that other relevant factors are of a different nature. It is difficult to know now what those might be in any given case, and it would therefore be wrong to require a court to consider them. The courts must decide themselves. In that respect, we agree with the EFRA Committee. I note that the intention behind the amendments is to ensure that courts pay due attention to all relevant factors in a case, but we should allow them discretion on the other relevant circumstances.
Let me consider dog control notices and dog number control notices, the subject matter of new clauses 4 and 11. New clause 4 would give local authority staff or police officers the power to serve dog control notices on owners, or people temporarily in charge of a dog, where a dog is out of control. New clause 11 would cover similar territory by introducing a bespoke dog number control notice.
As I said earlier, the Government agree that early intervention is a valuable tool in preventing dogs from becoming dangerous, so a power to tackle problems before people are injured or harmed is essential. However, such powers already exist in the Bill. The new measures to deal with antisocial behaviour will enable local authorities and the police to issue notices to tackle all sorts of behaviour that is detrimental to the community, including that that involves a dog.
Every restriction that could be imposed under new clause 4(2) will already be available under the new community protection notice, namely: muzzling; keeping the dog on a lead; mandatory training; neutering, and keeping the dog away from certain places. A community protection notice can also be used to limit the number of dogs that may be kept in any property.
What can be included under a community protection notice or in a part 1 injunction to prevent nuisance and annoyance is not circumscribed. It may include anything reasonable to address the behaviour of the person and/or the dog. A community protection notice can require everything that might be included in a proposed dog control notice, and it can go further and include more than what is envisaged in the dog control notice as outlined in new clause 4.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham raised a specific point—I am grateful to him for giving me advance notice of it—about how the law will apply to a person aged under 16. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is the leading statute on animal welfare. It states clearly that for animal welfare, where a minor under the age of 16 keeps an animal, the person responsible for that minor shall also be responsible for that animal. That means that any person under 16 walking a dog must have an adult who has designated responsibility for that minor’s actions with that dog, be they related to the welfare of the dog or to antisocial behaviour.
My hon. and learned Friend will further be aware that there can be a direct read- across from relevant legislation. That is a point that has been of concern to him. In the absence of an alternative definition, it is reasonable, in our judgment, to infer that a community protection notice could be issued to the parent or carer of a person under the age of 16, requiring measures to be taken in respect of responsible dog ownership. Moreover, part of the test for the issue of a community protection notice is that the conduct in question is unreasonable. We would regard it as unreasonable for a parent not to take action where a dog for which their son or daughter was responsible was behaving in a matter such that it had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality.
I hope that that satisfies my hon. and learned Friend. If not, I am not sure whether I can provide him with a fuller explanation now, so, if necessary, perhaps we could seek greater clarity in written correspondence.
Given what I have said more generally about new clause 4, it is not clear what the people who are supporting dog control notices consider that those would cover that could not be covered by a community protection notice or a part 1 injunction. I would ask the right hon. Member for Delyn, when he may be minded to press new clause 4, what additional powers he thinks will be exercised that could not be without that new clause. We do not believe that the new clause would result in additional powers and therefore we do not regard it as necessary.
One of our main objectives in introducing the Bill is precisely to streamline the powers available for practitioners, making it easier for them to take action. To introduce a separate measure purely for incidences of antisocial behaviour involving dogs would, in our view, be counter-productive to that overall objective and unnecessary. It is precisely because legislation in this area grew up incrementally as public concerns were raised about different forms of antisocial behaviour that we now have a large number of measures. The Government are conscious of that, and one of the Bill’s key purposes is to try to rationalise the powers available, rather than come up with narrowly prescribed powers for every situation or plausible eventuality.
I recognise that many animal welfare organisations support the introduction of dog control notices, but that view is not universal. A number of bodies support the Government’s approach; among those is the Local Government Association, which commended the proposals. It recognises that they can do much for tackling irresponsible
As for new clause 11, which the hon. Member for Rotherham spoke to a few moments ago, much the same arguments apply. I would also add that there are other remedies already available for the problems that she outlined. Those include taking action under the statutory nuisance regime in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, where its thresholds are met. There are obligations on local authorities to investigate and, if appropriate, issue an abatement notice for instances where animals are being kept in such a manner or place as to be prejudicial to their health or a nuisance, as well as procedures for nuisances such as noise and odour.
I suggest that keeping an inappropriate number of dogs in one house would result in such a threshold being met. I take the point made by the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Rochdale. As diligent Members of Parliament, we see distressing circumstances when we go around neighbourhoods; when looking in a cursory way through a window, it certainly seems that an excessive number of dogs being kept in a confined space makes those dogs behave in a disconcerting way. However, we believe that legislation is in place for those circumstances if brought to the attention of the relevant authorities.
Should those thresholds not be met, the antisocial behaviour measures provide a fall-back in addition to the powers in the 1990 Act. As I have already said, the community protection notice could quite conceivably be issued as a result of the negative effects on the community of holding too many dogs in a confined space. Alternatively, it may be that prosecution is appropriate for the offence under the Animal Welfare Act of causing unnecessary suffering to any animal, whether intentionally or through negligence, which arguably would be the case in situations where there are just too many dogs in an unsuitable environment. However, all of these measures, even the proposed dog number control notice, rely on community reporting, which will allow effective enforcement by local authorities and early intervention by the police. If the incident is not reported, then it is not possible to take action.
In short, while I sympathise and support the case for conferring new powers on the police and local authorities to take necessary pre-emptive action to prevent dog attacks, I put it to the right hon. Member for Delyn and the hon. Member for Rotherham, and other members of the Committee who may have doubts, that the Bill already provides for this. To introduce bespoke dog control notices and dog number control notices simply goes over the ground that we are seeking to get away from in the Bill. Legislating with a new tool to tackle each and every manifestation of antisocial behaviour is not what practitioners need and does not provide greater protection for the public. It simply creates greater complication and inflexibility for practitioners, to use the jargon, the police, local authorities and others seeking to protect the public from antisocial behaviour.
Stephen Phillips: I remain concerned about whether a control order, if that is the right way of proceeding, could be issued to the responsible person over the age of 16, where an under 16-year-old is in charge of a dog. I will not ask my hon. Friend to deal with it as I know it is a difficult point, but the problem with the argument
If it did not have those words, then I could understand that there might be a read-across. Could I ask him to give an undertaking that, if this matter has not already been the subject of legal advice within DEFRA, it will now be? We should be making good legislation and if a change needs to be made here and the legal advice reveals that there is not a read-across from the 2006 Act, then plainly the Government will want to move their own amendment. Could he give an undertaking that if that advice has not been taken it now will be?
Mr Browne: I am happy to give that undertaking. The Government share my hon. and learned Friend’s objective. Everyone recognises that there needs to be accountability where a 15-year-old is walking a dog that behaves violently. As I say, my understanding is that it would apply in the way I have described. I am more than happy to look at this in greater detail, or ask lawyers to do so, to see what more we can do to satisfy my hon. and learned Friend, and others members of the Committee who may share his concerns, that the Government are on the right track and, indeed, if we are not on the right track that we will take necessary measures to ensure that we are.
In conclusion, this is an area where there is a wide consensus and a belief on both sides of the Committee that we are discussing an issue of significance this afternoon. I am pleased that the debate has been conducted in that spirit. Although Members may have differences of emphasis on how they wish to protect the public in this area, I hope I have done a reasonable job in trying to satisfy them that the Government share their intention of providing the right protection for the public while also understanding the safeguards that are necessary for responsible owners. I hope I have also managed to convince the Committee that the Bill, unamended, but with the undertakings I have given, including to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford, is the best way to achieve all of our shared objectives. I hope that hon. Members will not press their amendments, and that that will also apply when the new clauses are considered.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham for speaking on new clause 11 on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West, who feels strongly about the issue because of her constituency experience. The Minister has responded, and my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham and for Rochdale, as well as the other signatories to the new clause, will want to examine what he said. They will reflect on his answers and, in due course, decide how to progress. That progress may be further consideration on Report, rather than a test of the Committee’s will on new clause 11 at an appropriate time.
I would be failing in my duty if I did not say that there is still, I think, a consensus in the Committee on new clause 4, but that does not include the Minister, as far as I can see. There is a consensus outside the Committee, but it does not include his noble Friend Lord de Mauley, who is a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister in the other place.
I give notice that the Minister has some time, possibly until Thursday, possibly until a week Tuesday, to reflect on the new clauses. I hope he will reflect on them with his colleagues in government and on this Committee and with ourselves and outside organisations, because if there is no movement, I will test the Committee’s will.
Whatever the Committee does, this issue will return, at some time and in some place. The Minister would be advised to reflect on it now, because he could save an awful lot of trouble and achieve a great objective by listening to what is being said as a whole. I give notice that I will return to new clause 4 at the appropriate time. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.