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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 575-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
dog control and welfare
Wednesday 5 September 2012
Angela mcglynn and Luciana Berger MP
RICHARD LEAMAN, NICK VON WESTENHOLZ AND DAVID JOYCE
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1-84
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
on Wednesday 5 September 2012
Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)
Ms Margaret Ritchie
Mrs Mary Glindon
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Angela McGlynn, campaigner on dog control issues, and Luciana Berger, Member of Parliament for Liverpool Wavertree, gave evidence.
Chair: Good afternoon and welcome. I give a warm welcome to Angela McGlynn especially, and to Luciana Berger, my colleague, who is with us this afternoon. I thank you most warmly for participating in our inquiry on dog control and welfare. I am going to ask Luciana to introduce herself for the record.
Luciana Berger: I am Luciana Berger, Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Liverpool Wavertree.
Chair: And if you can just introduce yourself for the record, Mrs McGlynn.
Angela McGlynn: Angela McGlynn, the mother of John Paul Massey.
Q1 Chair: Ms McGlynn, for the purposes of our inquiry, we would be most grateful if you told us in your own words exactly what happened to your son.
Angela McGlynn: John Paul was killed by the family dog at his grandmother’s house. He was four years of age and that was two and a half years ago. There was nothing previous to lead us to suspect anything would happen with the dog. It was just a family pet; it had not bitten or anything before. We do not know why it did it, but it did.
Q2 Chair: For our information, had the dog, Uno, shown any signs of dangerous behaviour prior to this incident?
Angela McGlynn: Nothing whatsoever-no, nothing. I have two nephews that were younger than John Paul as well and there was nothing to any of the children.
Q3 Chair: Had any agencies or police given Uno’s owner any advice or taken any action about the dog prior to this incident?
Angela McGlynn: No.
Q4 Chair: I understand from newspaper reports that possibly the housing association had been informed that there was this dog and it might have been an illegal breed, but no action was taken.
Angela McGlynn: Yes. A neighbour apparently called to say there was a pitbull in the house. It went through the police calls and nobody came to the house.
Q5 Chair: How do you think the present law and the present system of dealing with irresponsible dog owners or dangerous dogs let you and your family down at the time?
Angela McGlynn: I believe it did let us down because that was six months previous to what happened to John Paul, and a pitbull, as we know now, is an illegal dog and it was reported. We did not know it was a pitbull, but the phone call did state it was a pitbull and the police did not come to the house to check the dog or anything like that. So if they had done they would have seen it was a pitbull and the dog would not have been there, because it would have been given up.
Q6 Chair: Do you think that anything has changed since that tragic incident that would make police and housing associations, for example, act differently?
Angela McGlynn: The IPCC have said that they have changed the rules within the police force and things like that. I do not know what changes they have made towards reports on that level and phone calls.
Q7 Amber Rudd: Ms McGlynn, could you tell us about what support and help you were given by the police and other agencies after the tragic event? Were you offered some sort of counselling? Did they try and talk to you about the event? Was there help given to you about whether there should be a prosecution? Were you well informed in the process?
Angela McGlynn: One of the family liaison officers was quite good. The detective who led the investigation-he was more in touch with my mum really-was really good and my mum still speaks to him now and again. The bereavement officers who looked after John Paul for two weeks at Alder Hey Hospital were fantastic. They offered counselling support for my eldest son. Once Christian was charged, there was nothing after that.
Q8 Amber Rudd: I know that you are very involved now in campaigning. Looking back on it, do you feel there was more support that could have come your way that a mother in your situation should be offered?
Anand gela McGlynn: Yes, because in my case, once the charges were made, I just felt that that was it, really. It was like, "Get on with it", basically. My whole life had been ripped apart within seconds and then you have court cases and everything, as well.
Q9 Amber Rudd: What could be done better, do you think, to help people in that situation?
Angela McGlynn: I do not know really know, to be honest.
Q10 Amber Rudd: No, it is a tragic situation, so maybe there is not anything. Can I move on to something slightly different? Do you think the punishment for people whose dogs attack children are really sufficient? To be frank, what length of time do you think people should spend in jail if their dogs kill or injure people? Have you given some thought to that since the event?
Angela McGlynn: It is a difficult one, with it being my brother’s dog and my mother was there at that time, and my mother is the only other person really, apart from his parents, that we would leave him with. So we had concerns at the end of the day. I have forgotten the question.
Q11 Amber Rudd: Taking your mother out of the question and looking at it more generally perhaps, because I know that you are a general campaigner on this as well, do you think that there is the right level of justice being meted out where there are injuries or deaths caused by dogs? Do you think that the law should have a different approach?
Angela McGlynn: As I say, it is a difficult one. You have got people with status dogs who have perfectly trained the dogs to be vicious and then you have the likes of what happened to us, with it being what we thought was a daft family pet. It is a difficult one on that side, but we would welcome any changes and anything that can be done really.
Q12 Neil Parish: Thank you very much for coming along this afternoon. In your experience of the tragedy that you had, do you think that the public attitude towards dangerous dogs is changing? What has been your experience?
Angela McGlynn: It is the same. I would say it is more with the status dogs. I do not think that people take any notice of it. I have had people say to me, "Thanks for doing your campaigning because I have got rid of the dog," or "I have kept it away from children," or "I have kept it muzzled," and stuff like that, which I had never thought of before. Then you also have people saying, "My dog would not do that; my dog is not a pitbull." That is because people are not being made aware of the statistics of the other breeds of dogs that are attacking. I think people should be more knowledgeable about stuff like that, so they know it can be a Jack Russell, instead of just pitbulls.
Q13 Neil Parish: Have you had the experience with those who keep the status dogs? Very often-I had better word this carefully-it is the way the owner brings up the dog that creates the danger. Do you think that the public are aware of this really?
Angela McGlynn: That is the most common one that you hear: "It is the way you bring up the dog; it is down to the owner." In some cases it is, but not in every case.
Q14 Neil Parish: Do you think the public would accept more control over dog owners and there being more control over the dogs? What do you think is going through the public mind at the moment?
Angela McGlynn: I do not know. That is a difficult one, really, with dog owners and people with children, because some people treat the dog like a child really. |They need to start realising that it is actually a dog, and that is where I think the knowledge of the attacks and the different breeds and the number of attacks that are happening should be more available.
Q15 Neil Parish: Yes, and I think that what we are trying to differentiate is between those dogs that perhaps suddenly turn and those dogs that are being bred by the owner to be dangerous.
Angela McGlynn: Yes.
Q16 Chair: We are going to come onto muzzling and microchipping, but Luciana, can I ask your view? Obviously you know the local community. Would you say this was an isolated incident?
Luciana Berger: Sadly, it is not an isolated incident. If you have the opportunity, there was a report done for Newsnight in my constituency that covers this; it is 10minutes long and is available on YouTube. We went into a local park and saw firsthand a dog that was not on a lead and was clearly very dangerous and went for the cameraman on television. That was not by design. I have people that come to see me in my constituency surgeries once a month, if not more, with very serious concerns about dogs. One of the reasons I have been so involved supporting Angela and involved in the campaign is that we know from the figures that 6,000 people are hospitalised every year, and those are the official figures. That does not include people that go to their GPs or do not report it. We should be doing everything possible in terms of prevention and that is where I see the biggest gap at the moment. Speaking to the police locally in Merseyside, it is very challenging for them to do anything before an attack takes place and that is why I have been so involved in the campaign.
Q17 Chair: There is some work being done by Defra and some work being done by the Home Office-and it is a lot of the focus of the inquiry-about whether the focus should be on behaviour of individual dogs or should the focus be on breeds, as in a particular dangerous type of breed, from what you have seen?
Luciana Berger: We need to look at both. The challenge with the breeds at the moment is that there is a lot of crossbreeding. Speaking to the police handlers, who have to determine whether a dog is or is not a banned breed, even that presents many challenges in and of itself. Beyond that, we also know that many attacks take place by dogs that are not on the banned breed list. We know that some dogs do have a pre-disposition to be more violent, but equally, if someone does not have the skills and expertise to best look after their dog, then that dog also could attack someone. So it is about looking beyond the breeds to the deed that happens.
Q18 Chair: Are you surprised that, with attention having been brought to Uno, no action was taken either by the housing association or the police when those reports were made?
Luciana Berger: The issue is around what can actually be done within the constraints of the law as it currently stands. It comes back to this question about prevention. So you report it, but actually what can the police do until something happens and what can dog wardens do or the council do? If there was something on the prevention front, for instance, like a dog control notice, if there was any concern that I could report-
Q19 Chair: If it was an illegal breed it would be covered by the present law.
Luciana Berger: You say that; however, many illegal breeds are still returned to their owners. So even within the legislation as it stands, we still have banned breeds going back to their owners, under very strict conditions, but if you speak to the police, as I have spent a lot of time doing, people do not then adhere to the six prescribed things that they have to do.
Q20 Ms Ritchie: I want to move on to the issue of the action to stop future attacks. Angela, you have been active in asking for tougher action to be taken on dogs to stop more attacks on children. What do you think are the key action points or the key things that Government should do?
Angela McGlynn: They need to look at prevention more than acting after the fact. It is great that people will be punished afterwards, but we need to start preventing first. People need to start being educated, as I said, about the statistics and the different breeds of dogs. People need to be made aware of that, because I do feel that what happened to me was partly down to ignorance, because I had only ever heard of one child that was attacked before, which was Ellie Lawrenson; she was killed by two pitbulls two years before John Paul in St Helens. Those dogs were actually bred as fighting dogs and given steroids. That is where we thought, "My dog is not like that"-the typical thing that people say-and "We did not know it was a pitbull". People should be made aware of the actual breeds and the number of attacks that are happening.
Q21 Ms Ritchie: In that respect, do you think it would be practical to require dogs to be muzzled around children and how could that be enforced in people’s homes? Maybe that is a question for Luciana.
Angela McGlynn: We certainly need people to have more rights, because lots of attacks, especially on children, are on private property and are in a relative’s house or their own house. We certainly need that to be looked at. At the minute, the dog seems to have more preference really, if it is on its own property when it attacks a child, than a child has. With the muzzling you can get muzzles where the dog can still eat and drink-it does not actually restrict the dog-but it will prevent it from biting a child.
Q22 Chair: Can I just press you on that? What Margaret was asking was how it could be enforced. If it is on private property in someone’s home, who is actually going to be responsible? If there is any question at all about that dog, should that dog just not be around children? Why could it potentially behave in that way?
Angela McGlynn: When I was saying I would like to see dogs muzzled around children, I was speaking from my own experience from what happened to my son. There was no reason to think any different or that that it was going to even bite him, never mind kill him. There was nothing before that. The dog just turned and it killed him.
Q23 Chair: So there was nothing, even when it was reported to the housing association, about him? There were no behavioural indications at all other than the breed.
Angela McGlynn: No, there was nothing. My mum and dad had complained about it barking when it was a pup, like a dog barking basically. That was it.
Q24 Ms Ritchie: Will the Government’s current proposals to require puppies to be microchipped have much impact on the problem of dangerous dogs? For want of reference, I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland where microchipping came into play in April this year.
Luciana Berger: Angela has asked me or reply on her behalf. In terms of microchipping, you highlight that Northern Ireland has introduced it and I believe that Wales and Scotland have too, and it would be nice to see a uniformed approach across the United Kingdom on this very issue. Microchipping is a massive benefit to owners, if not just to the wider public as people quite often lose their dogs. We have heard many reports of people that have had their pedigrees stolen from their homes and if they had a microchip it would be much easier to identify them. There are benefits on both sides to having a microchip. I understand that over 60% of the British public already do microchip their dogs. I was at an event where the Dogs Trust in my constituency provided it to those people that could not afford it for free. You can do it at a relatively low cost. I would be very keen to see all dogs microchipped as soon as possible.
Q25 Ms Ritchie: As an addendum to that, do you think that it would be sensible for the Government to require all dog owners to register their dogs and prove their suitability to own dogs? Would this have helped prevent the attack on your son?
Angela McGlynn: I believe so, and I agree with that, yes. I think they should be registered. That would also save on the time of the investigation into whose dog it is and things like that because it would all be on a database.
Q26 Chair: On microchipping and dog registration, when we had dog licensing, between 30% and 50% of dog owners did not comply. Of those people who are not behaving well who own dogs, what is to make them microchip, particularly those who are breeding dogs for illicit purposes and whose dog will never cross the threshold of a vet? How would either of you imagine that we could legislate? If they were not prepared to buy a licence, would they be prepared to pay for a microchip?
Angela McGlynn: You could relate that to if the dog was not licensed or microchipped then they could face a fine, in the same way that if people do not buy a TV licence then they get a fine.
Q27 Chair: But you have to find them and the dogs are probably going to come in as strays and we have thousands of strays each year. In fact, Northern Ireland has the highest number of strays, even though they have introduced compulsory dog licensing. It is a bit of a catch-22. I wondered if you had given any thought to how we can get around this problem?
Luciana Berger: I know, for instance, that the number of stray dogs in Britain has escalated massively and we do not have microchipping, so I do not think you can connect it with the microchipping issue. It is obviously a challenge for those people who choose not to.
Q28 Chair: I put it to you that strays have gone up for two reasons: the licensing was stopped in 1987, and then the 2007 Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act passed stray dogs from the police, where they had provision for kennels, to local authorities, where they had no provision for kennels, so they have had to make that in times of budgetary constraint. Was that was a good move? Against that, I do not know whether you have given any thought to how we can reduce the number of strays and entice people to license or microchip?
Luciana Berger: There are a number of issues and I would not want to conflate the two. I think strays are one issue, and I know from talking to the RSPCA, for instance, that they are very concerned. However, you can do microchipping for a very low cost and/or for free, and I saw that firsthand in my constituency only last week. People will jump at the opportunity to do microchipping if they can access it for free because they equally want to be connected with their pet if it goes missing. We have to respect and appreciate the fact that the vast majority of people are responsible dog owners and will access that service. It is about informing and educating the wider public too.
Q29 Richard Drax: Ms McGlynn, can I give you an example from my constituency before I ask you a couple of other questions? I had a constituent whose young daughter, who was about three, went to a neighbour who she knew, and a Scottish terrier attacked her face and nearly destroyed her eye. She has two things she wants to look at: one is this thing that in a private house the law cannot reach the dog owner or the dog; secondly, there should be some severity introduced into whatever law is brought in-i.e. if it is a bite, that is not quite as serious; if it is a terrible tragedy like yours, or an eyeball, clearly it is very different and the dog should be put down. Would you agree, if the law was to go that way, that the degree of severity should be taken into account?
Angela McGlynn: I have not actually thought of that before, but I think that would help, to be honest. I totally agree with that.
Q30 Richard Drax: Going back to education, which is a point you touched on earlier, have you any evidence, with all the campaigning that you have been doing, that dog owners are being taught about the dangers of their animals, in particular to children?
Angela McGlynn: No, I do not have any evidence to say whether they are or they are not. I just think-sorry, can you repeat the question?
Q31 Richard Drax: Of course I can. Is there any evidence that people are trying to educate dog owners, particularly owners of potentially dangerous dogs, about the dangers those animals might cause to children? For example, when I grew up I was always taught never to touch a sleeping dog, for example. There were basic rules. Is there any evidence that dog owners are being reached at all, by the police, the local authorities, or that there is any literature that is going out? Is there anything like that?
Angela McGlynn: I have not seen any.
Q32 Richard Drax: So as far as you know, there is nothing. Now turning it on its face, do you know if children in schools are being educated about the dangers of dogs in the park, for example?
Angela McGlynn: I have heard some cities are doing that. My family liaison officer did contact me, over a year ago, and said that the Merseyside Police were looking at going around schools and asking me to go with them and I said, "Yes." That was over a year ago and no-one has ever mentioned it since.
Q33 Richard Drax: So do you think some sort of education in schools would be a good thing to introduce if it is not already being done?
Angela McGlynn: Yes, definitely.
Q34 Richard Drax: Lastly-this is perhaps a slightly difficult question in a sense-who do you think can best influence these dog owners, whether the dogs are being bred as pets or, on the darker side, for some sort of aggressive use as status dogs? Who is best placed to get to these dog owners, do you think: the police or the local authority or the Government?
Angela McGlynn: I think it is all of them together. Even the dog owners and us as campaigners cannot expect the law to change and that will stop it. Everybody has got to play a part, even the dog owners themselves. They have got to play a part in protecting our children.
Q35 Richard Drax: Lastly, presumably we need clearer law, because clearly there is confusion here. What we need is clarity, would you agree?
Angela McGlynn: Yes. I do agree with that. The other thing is the crossbreeds and stuff like that. People can access these dogs from the local newspaper by ringing a mobile number and they are taking at face value what they are told the breed of the dog is. Steps to look at things like that could be taken to stop the crossbreeding in the first place.
Luciana Berger: I wanted to respond to your point about private property. We both actively welcomed the Government’s announcement when they said, in response to the consultation, that they would be amending the law to cover private property. I hope that will be forthcoming as soon as possible. Now that we have some time in the legislative timetable perhaps it would be a good time to introduce that. We know that around 60% to 70% of attacks do happen on private property in the home. That would be a massive step forward if the police could actually take some action, particularly for people that go into people’s houses. We have met with Royal Mail on a number of occasions: 12 postmen are attacked every day. I spent some time hearing from health workers and social workers that that is a massive issue for them when they are going into people’s homes. We hope that the Government will get a move on in making that change.
You also mentioned resources and whether there are enough resources for education. One of the other things the Government did was to say that there was some funding available to help those agencies involved in education. I hope they will look seriously at what that budget is, because if you think about how far £50,000 goes across the country, it is pretty limited.
Q36 Chair: Can I come back to the private property aspect? As you will expect there are some reservations where perfectly well behaved dogs are used against potential thefts, particularly from farms. Would you accept that there could be some caveats to the extension to private property?
Luciana Berger: I think that the caveat that the Government came out with was very sensible.
Q37 George Eustice: You made a very important point there, which is that you are not going to solve this problem just through law, and I know that you have done a huge amount to raise awareness about the dangers of dogs and to get people to think about these issues. Coming back to what further the Government could do, we have touched on lots of different issues, but what do you think would be the single most important thing? If you had to nominate one thing that the Government could do, what would it be as a change in the law?
Angela McGlynn: I think private property, because I personally do think that the dogs have got more preference, or more rights if you like, than the children. It seems to be all for the dog really and for the children it is like, "Oh there is nothing we can do about it because it is not an illegal breed." The other thing is I do not understand why dogs that are found to be illegal breeds, like pitbull types, are not just taken and destroyed straightaway because they are illegal in the first place.
Q38 George Eustice: Do you think that is not really being enforced enough? In your case it was obviously an illegal breed, wasn’t it, but not enough was done?
Angela McGlynn: Yes. That is why I go back to people being told and being knowledgeable about dogs, because I did not even know what a pitbull was and certainly did not know that the dog was a pitbull. To be honest, if I had known that it was a pitbull I still would not have known that it was on the dangerous dog list; I did not even know that there was a dangerous dog list. Everything that I know now I know because of what happened to my son. People need to start thinking about them as dogs; they are animals. You get this fluffy little pup and it becomes part of the furniture, and that is where we need to start bringing education and letting people realise that they are not human; they are not another child, basically, but that is the way people treat them, as we did.
Q39 Chair: Luciana, you said that dogs are being handed back to their owners. Would you like to elaborate on that?
Luciana Berger: There are some people that go to court. It is a challenge enough to get to court on many occasions and there are many frustrations. A precedent has been set in London recently, which has presented even further complications as the judge was only looking at the danger of the dog, rather than the owner who had a violent background. They go through the court process and they can actually have the dogs given back to them, even when it is determined to be a dangerous dog breed, on condition of six things, which include neutering, microchipping and tattooing. You have to have insurance, and the dog has to be muzzled in public and kept on a lead. However, we know from various police forces that when they do follow up people have not adhered to those six conditions. For instance, they have not renewed their insurance. That is the biggest sticking point in particular.
Q40 Chair: So would you like to put on the record that that should be reviewed as part of this?
Luciana Berger: I think it is a very serious point. We know that last year alone kennel costs were over £6 million to police forces up and down the country. They have gone through the process of having to take something to court and then the dog is handed back and those owners do not adhere to the conditions prescribed by the courts. That is a very serious issue.
Q41 Chair: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Angela McGlynn: No.
Chair: Thank you both very much indeed for being with us and sharing your experience. I wish you continued success with your campaign.
Angela McGlynn: Thank you for inviting me.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Richard Leaman, Chief Executive, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Nick von Westenholz, Head of Government Affairs, National Farmers Union, and David Joyce, National Health and Safety Officer, Communication Workers Union, gave evidence.
Chair: Welcome to all of you and thank you in advance for participating in this inquiry. I wonder if I could ask each of you, perhaps starting with Mr Westenholz, to introduce yourself and give your position for the record if you would.
Nick von Westenholz: Nick von Westenholz, Head of Government Affairs at the National Farmers Union.
Richard Leaman: Richard Leaman, Chief Executive of Guide Dogs for the Blind.
David Joyce: Dave Joyce. I am the National Health and Safety Officer for the Communication Workers Union.
Q42 Chair: You are all very welcome. I should declare that I was bitten in a very sensitive place at the top of my thigh-I still bear the scar-during my first ever election campaign. I did seek hospital treatment, but the dog was owned by a Conservative owner and I was hopeful of their support, so I chose not to press charges.
Can I ask each of you in turn whether, in your view, the increasing number of attacks on people and livestock indicates a failure of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991? It is probably generally agreed that when all parties agree on a piece of legislation that is rushed through, it might not always be the best piece of legislation.
Nick von Westenholz: The National Farmers Union’s key interest here is obviously around dog attacks on livestock, dogs worrying livestock or even injuring and killing livestock. There is a question about whether the Dangerous Dogs Act is the legislation that is most pertinent to that particular problem in any case. Obviously the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 is actually supposed to be the most relevant piece of legislation for livestock worrying and attacks, and we would say that piece of legislation certainly is in need of serious reform. The greater question is whether reforming that law alone would tackle the issue of dogs and livestock or whether reforming the Dangerous Dogs Act could be an alternative and suitable vehicle with which to tackle the issue of dogs and livestock.
Richard Leaman: Guide Dogs believes that the Dangerous Dogs Act is not working effectively at the moment. We do not believe the legislation goes far enough and we certainly do not think the police are enforcing it. We also do not think that the punishment for those who allow their dogs to commit these crimes is sufficiently harsh, despite the recent changes. For us it is a variety of different approaches: the law on dangerous dogs; the regime for dealing with those who have allowed it to happen; and also a series of measures, including education of dog owners, that will help to solve this problem. They must be taken together, not one thing in isolation.
David Joyce: CWU launched its Bite Back campaign in 2007-2008, because that year we reached a situation where 6,500 postal workers were being attacked by dogs. Two of our members have been nearly killed in attacks. That in itself demonstrates the fact that the current legislation goes nowhere near dealing with the problem. The ageold cartoon image of the postman being chased down the garden path, being snapped at by the local dog with the letters going everywhere, is no joke. In reality, it is a very serious and a very dangerous situation. Currently, 12 of our members-12 postal workers-are attacked every single day. Even with all of the internal efforts we have put in over recent years, we have only been able to reduce that number of attacks down to around 4,000 to 5,000 every year. There are also 100 telecommunications engineers from BT attacked.
In answer to your question about whether the Dangerous Dogs Act has been effective, it is probably one of the worst pieces of legislation that has ever found its way onto the statute book. It has been totally ineffective as far as protecting our members is concerned. There is no protection at all. Of those 5,000 attacks that occur on postal workers every year, 70% occur on private property where we have no protection in law at all. Of course the irresponsible owners-that is the problem we are talking about here-are completely immune from any responsibility and consequences in law. The legislation is a total failure and it needs to be addressed, very urgently.
Q43 Chair: Mr von Westenholz, are you saying that the 1953 Act does not cover the situation and you would like to see a specific offence covering dog attacks on other animals, including livestock and horses?
Nick von Westenholz: The 1953 Act attempts to cover it. The shortcomings of the 1953 Act are primarily the enforcement mechanisms. At the moment there is a £10 fine. That is the maximum fine that can be levied for an offence under the 1953 Act, which may have added up to something in 1953 but clearly is not very much now, and up to a maximum of £50 for repeat offenders. There is no provision in there for control orders on the ownership of dogs or even possibly in some cases the destruction of dogs. There is no provision for including more exotic animals such as alpacas or llamas under that, and some of the provisions relate only to sheep, rather than livestock as a whole. It is not that the Act completely fails; it is really whether the enforcement mechanisms under the Act, and some of the specific provisions, are appropriate.
The fact is that there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of instances of dog attacks on livestock every year. It seems to us that that is a number that is rising, and the anecdotal evidence we have from our members is that the police do not always have the time or the resource or the energy to pursue these. The owners are not necessarily owners of status dogs or dogs that are known to be aggressive; they may just not really be aware of the nature of the problem. They are not being pursued and there is no real mechanism to deter that sort of behaviour.
Q44 Chair: Can I just put a question to Mr Leaman and Mr Joyce? Do you find that the higher incidence of strays since 1987 is causing a problem for your organisations, and do you think we need a more fundamental overhaul of the current law than Defra is proposing?
Richard Leaman: We do. We see about eight guide dog owners a month whose dogs are attacked. The impact on the owner emotionally is absolutely devastating-the fact that they then revert back to the isolation they had before their dog was attacked. Quite often both the dogs and their owners are afraid to go out again, and this is happening eight times a month, which is an increase on last year and the year before. This is an inexorable rise in attacks. It is devastating for the owners and for the dogs, many of whom are withdrawn from service. We do not get any government funding. Each dog costs £50,000, so there is also a financial impact on an organisation that is trying to get blind people out and about. The more dogs that are attacked, the less we can help other people. Our view is that the Dangerous Dogs Act is not preventing these attacks, the police are not enforcing the existing law and an overhaul is required.
David Joyce: There are no preventative measures in the current legislation, and that obviously is a very major downfall. One of the things that CWU has been campaigning for, as one of the major planks of our Bite Back campaign, is to introduce preventative and proactive measures within the legislation, which give the enforcing officers, both the police and the dog wardens, the ability to actually take action before attacks take place. At the moment, they have to wait until somebody is attacked, bitten and injured before they can actually consider whether they can take any action at all. We believe that the introduction of dog control notices would be a genuine preventative action, which could allow the authorities to take swift action against irresponsible dog owners at the first sign that there was an aggressive or a menacing dog displaying all the traits of the possibility that an attack would take place.
One of the things we do in Royal Mail is we try to identify every single address where there is a dog, so we can actually try to control the risks of our people being attacked. Of course, we cannot do that on our own. It would be very powerful if there was the introduction of dog control notices, whereby if we identified that there was the potential for an animal to attack one of our members we could actually notify the authorities and the authorities could actually issue a control order or a control notice on the owner to take various actions from a menu of possible remedies to bring that dog under control before it attacks either one of our members or another worker or a child.
Q45 Chair: Mr Joyce, do you think the recently introduced stronger sentencing will help in the situations that you have described?
David Joyce: We do. Of course, it was our organisation that identified to the Ministers that there had never been any guidance given to the courts in relation to sentencing. Because our members work across the UK and cover every single one of the 420 local authority areas, we were getting this huge disparity in sentences handed down to offenders who were found guilty of offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act. They varied quite considerably. For example, for two very similar offences, in one area there was a £225 fine handed down and in another area the individual got an 18month suspended sentence, a £1,000 fine, a tagging order and a life ban on ownership of a dog-that’s some disparity in sentencing. We pointed out that we needed more consistency in sentences and we needed sentences and penalties that fitted the crime. I am glad to say that the Minister responded to that and we got the sentencing guidelines that have come in.
It is early days yet to tell whether that will be effective, but we hope it will be. Certainly we have got that guidance there now: the guidance to the courts is that they should be handing down stiffer penalties and we hope that in time that will be effective. Certainly we will be monitoring it, and if it is not effective, then we will be coming back to say that it has not really worked and that we need to review that particular issue again.
Q46 Chair: Mr von Westenholz, mindful of what you said earlier, do you believe an attack on another animal or livestock by a dog should be an aggravating factor in the sentencing?
Nick von Westenholz: Do you mean an attack on another animal alone or involved in an attack on a human as well?
Chair: I think an attack on a human is covered. What we have established is that a dogondog attack or a dog on another animal or livestock is not covered. Should it be an aggregating factor?
Nick von Westenholz: Yes, it should be.
Q47 Chair: Mr Leaman, do you believe it should be generally an aggravating factor, or especially if it is a guide dog for the blind or the deaf?
Richard Leaman: I think it should be an aggravated offence when any assistance dog is attacked because, in effect, it is an attack on the owner, and in many cases it is an attack on the owner, either emotionally or physically, so yes, absolutely.
Q48 Ms Ritchie: This is a question for each of you. Scotland and Northern Ireland have adopted some different approaches to dog control. Do you consider that there are elements in these approaches that could be effectively applied in England and Wales, for example, dog control orders or licensing?
David Joyce: Absolutely. We worked very closely with the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Government on introducing their legislation. We are obviously very familiar with it. Likewise we have been working very closely with the Welsh Government, who have recently announced that they will be publishing a Bill for consultation before the end of this year and introducing a Bill for Wales early in the new year, which we are obviously delighted about. They have worked very closely with us and we have been given a clear indication that the Bill will contain all of the elements that we would like to see in it.
Both the Scottish and Northern Ireland legislation contain some very fundamental measures, which have not, sadly, been picked up in the Defra-recommended changes that were subject to consultation, the primary one being in the area of preventative measures. There are no preventative measures that have been included in the proposals for England by way of dog control notices. Of course, they do exist in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. Additionally of course, the Northern Ireland legislation has introduced compulsory microchipping for all dogs. Alongside that, they have retained the dog licence and they have introduced a regime whereby the funding that is accrued from the licensing helps to fund the enforcement of the regime. Certainly, I would recommend to the Westminster Government that they look very closely at the legislation that we have currently got in Northern Ireland and Scotland and follow their lead.
Richard Leaman: Yes, I would agree entirely with that. There is a lot that has been done in Northern Ireland and Scotland that can and should be done in England. We would also like to see the proposed legislation from Defra go a little further with regard to microchipping. Currently, the proposal is that it is only for puppies. Our view is that there are several problems with that: the first is that it will take at least 12 to 14 years for that to work through the system. In the meantime, how on earth do you enforce whether or not that dog was old enough to have been microchipped at the time, and so on and so forth? We think the idea of simply constraining microchipping to puppies alone is a serious shortcoming in the Defra proposals. Yes, we do think they could learn a lot from other devolved legislation, absolutely.
Nick von Westenholz: We would simply add that clearly it would be sensible to look at the effectiveness of the measures introduced it the devolved administrations. From our point of view it is simply a point about getting effective legislation in place that actually tackles irresponsible ownership and reduces the number of aggressive dogs. Anything we can learn is clearly a good idea.
Q49 Neil Parish: Mr Joyce, your union has raised concerns about the proposed reforms to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which could exclude postal workers attacked by outofcontrol dogs from receiving compensation. Should the Government make it compulsory for dog owners to be insured against their dog harming people or animals before such changes to the scheme are introduced?
David Joyce: We certainly do support that. I believe that the Government should seriously consider the introduction of compulsory insurance for owners of dogs. There was a lot of furore about this before the general election. The Daily Mail and The Telegraph were saying that it was going to cost every dog owner across the UK £600, when in fact the Dogs Trust actually provide a scheme: if you become a member of the Dogs Trust for £20-£10 if you are unwaged or a pensioner-you get thirdparty liability cover up to £1 million. That is nowhere near beyond the expense of a dog owner who spends more on feeding their dog in a week than it would cost to insure the animal.
Certainly, we would be very much in favour if the Government was to change its position and say that they were going to support the introduction of compulsory insurance. I have heard arguments to say that only responsible owners will insure their dogs and the irresponsible will ignore it. Okay, but if we are going to adopt a situation where we only introduce laws that we believe 100% of the population is going to abide by, then we are moving towards a state of bedlam. There are 30 million cars on the road and we know that 1 million drivers or more do not insure their cars. I have not heard the proposal that because of that we should abandon car insurance. We believe that is a very sensible way forward.
You have identified something that is going to hit our members in a bad way. Presently, running at 5,000 attacks a year, it depends on who the owner is and what their resources are as to whether our members will get any compensation at all. One of our members was nearly killed-Paul Coleman in Sheffield. He was actually attacked by two dogs owned by a criminal who was subsequently sentenced to a long term in prison for drug-related offences. He was a man of straw, in legal terms: he had no resources, no insurance, no bank accounts, no nothing. After we exhausted every other possible angle of trying to secure compensation for Paul Coleman, we had to go to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme-a scheme of last resort, let us not forget that. We secured him £7,000 after a fouryear battle. If he had been attacked by someone who had an insurance policy the compensation would have been in six figures. Let us not forget that the man was nearly killed.
We are in a situation now where we take personal injury compensation claims on behalf of our injured members, obviously. We hope that the owners are insured. If they are not and we end up with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, where about 1,000 of our members each year end up, we will get some level of compensation; it will not be very generous, but it will be something. The Government is proposing basically to end compensation payments under the CICS for dog attack victims. That is devastating for our organisation, because we know a large number of our members very shortly, if the Government does not change its view on that, are going to end up with no compensation. We keep hearing a lot of argument about rebalancing the law in favour of the victim; here is a clear example of rebalancing the law in favour of the criminals, in favour of irresponsible, reckless and negligent owners. I am glad you raised that, Neil, because it is a very important issue for us and we hope that the Government will change its mind.
Q50 Chair: It is now on the record. I am sure a responsible dog owner would not find £20 difficult to pay, but I think you have highlighted the problem, which is that of the irresponsible dog owner. How would you ensure that the irresponsible dog owner paid for insurance?
David Joyce: Depending on who gives you the statistics, we have a dog population of between 8 million and 10 million. My view is that if you can afford to own a dog and feed a dog and do the basics-provide its normal welfare with its inoculations and so on-then you can afford to insure it. That is my view, because it is not that expensive. It is not beyond the reach of somebody who can afford to own a dog. Therefore, we believe that that is something that should be seriously considered. With that growing population of dogs we need to have a remedy in place to look after those people who are injured.
Chair: Thank you, we have got a lot to get through. Can I ask you to be very brief?
Q51 Neil Parish: You raised the case of a criminal whose dog had bitten and had probably been trained to bite in the first place, I suspect. How do we actually get those guys to insure because they are beneath the radar screen?
David Joyce: They are beneath the radar screen, but if we introduce compulsory insurance and they do not abide by that legislation, they have committed an offence and they can be taken to task by the enforcing agencies. Additionally, it is not beyond the realms of imagination to look closely at how we organise motor insurance in this country. Everybody who drives a car and insures their car pays a small amount into a central pot, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau. Thereby, if you are involved in an accident and the other driver is uninsured or untraced then you can get your compensation for the repairs of your car and your injuries through the Motor Insurers’ scheme. Likewise if we insured animals and had a central pot in the same way we could actually cover those people.
Chair: Mr Joyce thank you, we have got that. Mr Leaman would like to make a point.
Richard Leaman: If I could just add to that, the microchipping debate is exactly the same.
Chair: We are coming on to microchipping.
Richard Leaman: Arguably we need to do that so we can actually find out who those people are who do not have their dogs microchipped and punish them for that.
Q52 George Eustice: Coming back to the Dangerous Dogs Act, I wondered if I could ask Mr Leaman: you talked about the increase in attacks on guide dogs. Do you know roughly what proportion of those are from banned breeds?
Richard Leaman: There is no specific evidence to indicate a particular breed is guilty of more attacks than others. Our view, which is based on years of experience, is that it is more about the owner than the dog. There are very, very few fundamentally bad dogs. There are a huge number of very bad owners.
Q53 George Eustice: This is quite an important point. So it is not banned breeds like pitbulls that are causing this?
Richard Leaman: Pitbulls are interestingly responsible for quite a large number of injuries because of the way they attack and the way their jaws are-
Q54 George Eustice: When you say a large number, do you know how many?
Richard Leaman: As I say, we have about eight dog attacks a year. Four pitbull types out of 183 is the exact number, but for eight attacks a year there is no breedspecific issue. There is certainly an ownerspecific issue; it is about the type of dog owner.
Q55 George Eustice: On that, quite a lot of the evidence we have had suggests that actually the 1991 Act is a blunt instrument because these banned breeds are not the modern problem; it is others-mastiffs and Staffordshire terriers and things like that-that are used as status dogs if they are raised in the right way. Is that your view?
Richard Leaman: We agree with that view. There is plenty of evidence to show that if you take a German shepherd, for example, it can be trained to be a very aggressive guard dog, but it can also be trained to be a loving and caring guide dog. It entirely depends how you train the dog.
Q56 George Eustice: In that case, would you support the removal of Section 1 of the 1991 Act, or do you think that would weaken it if you removed the notion of banned dogs? When we visited Battersea Dogs Home, they talked about a pitbull that was not a threat to anyone, but would have to be put down anyway.
Richard Leaman: Our view is that it is more about deed than breed. We would wish to see identification of the dog, a linkage to the owner and then a punishment to the owner for the crime of the dog.
Q57 George Eustice: Mr Joyce, I was interested in what you said about there being a big problem of attacks on postal workers. What sanctions does the Royal Mail have now? Are you able to say, "We are withdrawing postal deliveries for some time unless you put a post box at the end of the garden"? Everything that you have discussed so far about orders sounds very litigious, when it might actually be someone's collie dog running around in the garden. It is quite a difficult problem to solve through existing or new legislation, whereas a simpler approach may be from the Royal Mail saying, "We are not delivering anything further. You can pick it up from the local post office until you put a box at the end of your garden."
David Joyce: If you think that we have not tried anything then please suggest it, but I bet your bottom dollar you will not come up with anything that we have not tried. We work very closely with Royal Mail. We have run a number of campaigns. This summer we ran a major campaign, jointly with Royal Mail, on public awareness. We always get a huge spike in attacks during the summer when the kids are off school; you have got the front, back and side doors and windows open, and the family are in the garden and the dog is running around. We get a huge increase in attacks because the dog obviously has direct access to our members.
We have gone out and asked the public to be more responsible. We have asked them to consider fitting letter cages to backs of their doors because 12 of our members have had their fingers bitten off in the last 12 months; there have been 50 fingers bitten off in the last five years. We have asked them to keep their dogs under control in a safe place if they cannot guarantee that they will not potentially attack one of our members when we come to do deliveries. We have asked them to think about the fact that they will be getting a delivery from Royal Mail or Parcelforce six days a week, 52 weeks of the year, and try to be more responsible and prevent attacks taking place-[Interruption.]
Chair: Order. The Committee stands adjourned.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Q58 Dan Rogerson: Good afternoon, gentlemen. I have listened with interest to what you have had to say so far. We touched briefly on the issue-particularly with Mr Leaman and Mr von Westenholz-about attacks on other animals, as well as humans. What do you think would be the best way to change the law to cover that, particularly around the issue of guide dogs but also, of course, livestock? What changes in the law are you recommending that the Government ought to take on board?
Richard Leaman: We are very clear that the proposals that Defra have made recently are heading in the right direction. We are very keen to see microchipping but, as I said earlier, we would like to see all dogs microchipped within the next couple of years. We would also like to see an attack by a dog on an assistance dog-so, other dogs as well as guide dogs that support people-seen as a criminal offence, and we would like to see the police enforcing the law.
Nick von Westenholz: It is about making sure that enforcements around attacks on livestock are properly pursued. The evidence from our members is that whereas maybe 20 years ago generally the police took quite seriously instances of livestock attacks, that is not so much the case now. These instances are happening and there is nothing really being done about it and so, not surprisingly, there might be some escalation, as I said we think there is. It is about making sure that the enforcement mechanisms are more effective-increasing the amount of fines, for example, and putting in other mechanisms such as control orders or a ban on ownership or the like-but also making sure that those are then pursued, which is as important. It is not just about changing the legislation; it is making sure that the legislation is properly enforced.
Q59 Dan Rogerson: I have a follow-up question-it has been answered, I think, in regard to livestock-about the level of sanction and the sort of sanction you think would be appropriate for attacks on other animals. Is there anything that you are specifically recommending, about what you would like to see as a range of penalties, for example?
Richard Leaman: We would like to see the penalties for those owning dogs that commit these offences to be a lot more severe than they currently are. If you look at the impact it has on both the blind person and the dog, even 18 months in prison is really not, in our view, adequate, so greater than that, I would say.
Q60 Richard Drax: Mr Joyce, this question is aimed at you, really: how far would extending the Dangerous Dogs Act to cover offences committed on private property solve the problem of dog attacks on postal workers, when a third of those attacks are on public land already covered by criminal law?
David Joyce: 70% of attacks on our members are on private property and there are no criminal sanctions, so the simple answer is that the law should be extended to apply everywhere equally, exactly the same, as it currently does in Scotland, as it currently does in Northern Ireland, and as it will in Wales next year. It has to apply everywhere equally. We are the biggest stakeholder here, because we are the only organisation with 70,000 people on the streets six days a week, 52 weeks of the year, delivering 70 million items a day, and 120 million at Christmas. Therefore, if there is going to be a dangerous dog out there with an irresponsible owner, it is going to be our people who come across it first and foremost.
Q61 Richard Drax: I missed the last bit of the question. Forgive me for being slightly late back. Can I just ask you what your opinion would be of this: in America, for example, you see in the movies that they put letters at the end of the drive, don’t they, in these little boxes? I do not know whether you have been asked this but would it be possible that legislation could be passed that, if people commit an offence-or the dog does-they could be made to put, by law, a letterbox at the end of the drive, where you do not have to go to the house? What do you think of that idea?
David Joyce: I got cut short by the division earlier on, because I was not able to finish my answer as to what we do and what we can do by way of simple solutions to possibly addressing the issue. What we do is we run campaigns where we address owners and we suggest to them, "Would you consider, first and foremost, if you have an animal, fitting a dog letter-cage behind the door? Secondly, would you be prepared to accept what we call a gatebox or an outside box?" and some householders accept that and others say, "No, I want you to continue to deliver it through my front door", as we are legally obliged to under the Postal Services Act. We face a paradox in this country. We all have the legal right, under the Postal Services Act, to have the mail delivered to our door, and long may that be the case, but, it would be good we could get the agreement of the owner to accept a gate-box. For example, lots of farms and commercial premises accept it.
Q62 Richard Drax: Sorry to interrupt but my point is: do you think the law could be changed to enforce it?
David Joyce: It could.
Q63 Richard Drax: So, that would be an idea.
David Joyce: Yes, it would be an idea to consider, because, certainly, our campaigns have been quite successful to get a number of residents and commercial premises to accept that arrangement. If there was legislation, obviously that would strengthen that position. Just to finish on the point, the big difference now is that postal workers are under instruction that, if they approach an address and they feel that they are under threat-there is a dog running loose-then they should not attempt a delivery and they should report the situation, whereas, in the past, they were told that they should try to make the delivery. We have done everything we possibly can internally, ourselves, by way of better control measures and voluntary arrangements with the householders, to drive down the number of attacks, but we cannot do it on our own. We do need legislation.
Q64 George Eustice: You do not have the ability at the moment, then, to suspend postal deliveries?
David Joyce: Yes, we do.
Q65 George Eustice: How long are you allowed to do it?
David Joyce: What happens is, after an attack takes place, we will immediately suspend delivery. There were discussions with the regulator to explain and understand the problem that we faced, and we got their support. We got the support of the enforcing authorities as well. The suspension will remain in place until such time as we can be convinced by the owner or occupier, and the enforcement authorities, that it is safe to recommence delivery. We do not like suspending deliveries.
Q66 George Eustice: But that is quite a powerful tool in itself, isn’t it?
David Joyce: It is a powerful tool but it is not a popular tool because, in many situations, you cannot, for example, only suspend delivery to the one address where the dogs are. We get situations where irresponsible owners allow their dogs to run up and down the street, and we have situations where-
Q67 Chair: I think we are getting confused here. The question is very much whether you can suspend the service.
David Joyce: We can suspend the service, and we can suspend the service until such time as we believe that it is safe to resume the service to those addresses but, again, I wish to stress it is something that we do not like doing because we pride ourselves on delivering an excellent service to the public, and other innocent householders suffer-neighbours, for example-if we suspend the deliveries. We do not like doing it, but we can do it and we do do it.
Q68 Chair: Mr von Westenholz, you referred to dogs running loose and attacks on people visiting farms. Is there a case for post boxes being put at the end by the farm gate?
Nick von Westenholz: Yes, I think so, and a lot of farmers do actually do that. I think that is fairly common, in fact.
Q69 Dan Rogerson: On the issue of extending the law to private property, I think it is fairly clear there is support for that, certainly from the previous witnesses as well. There are questions, then, around something which the now former Minister raised about unlawful trespass and people entering property with unlawful intent. It would not cover that, so we have the issue around the use of guard dogs, or whatever, so that people feel secure-sometimes in rural areas, they are quite exposed or away from people. Do you have a view on that part of the thing about what should be covered by trespass and how we can be sure that people who are entering-other than postal workers; it is fairly clear what they are there to do. There are a whole range of other workers who may be delivering or may be servicing a piece of equipment or meter-reading, or all sorts of things, and political deliveries and canvasses, as we heard earlier on from the Chairman, who get affected by this as well. How do we set guidelines?
Nick von Westenholz: I think it is difficult. I am not quite clear on the law in this area but I think postmen are not legally considered trespassers. I am not sure if I am right but I think people doing deliveries are implied to be there with permission, so they would not be trespassing. But there are issues, certainly in rural areas, as you say. We are concerned that people who do rely on their dogs, even just to alert them-to bark when there is an intruder-are often in very remote areas; there are no neighbours and there is nobody else around, so they can be quite reliant on their pets. The other issue, of course, is a lot of farms have rights of way very close or even right through them, so there is every chance that there will be regular visitors who, again, are not trespassing if they are sticking to the right of way but who may come into contact with dogs.
Of course, there may be issues where the dog is not dangerous or even acting dangerously, but maybe people who are do not have pets themselves might perceive a risk and, therefore, make a complaint or call the police. I think it is just very important that, if the provisions around bringing private properties into the current regime-which I think we would accept, because there are very good reasons to do that-are the case, a lot of very hard thought is given to how you do bring in the caveats that we have heard of to prevent them applying to trespassers.
David Joyce: I agree entirely. The legislation should be framed so that it does not protect burglars and trespassers with criminal intent. What we are trying to do here is we want the law changed so that property owners and tenants have a legal duty to ensure that everyone who visits their premises, like postal workers, who come daily, are safe and that they must also, in my view, be prepared for children to be less careful than adults, because children are often unaware of the full extent of any dangers. Responsible owners need to ensure that their animals are secure and we do not see the horrific attacks that take place all too often. What we are aiming at here is to make sure that people who are legitimately there, to provide a service that the occupier or the tenant wants, are safe when they are there, and that the owners accept their responsibility around that.
Richard Leaman: We would just like to see guide dog owners and assistance dog owners, who are legally on private property, protected by the law.
Q70 Dan Rogerson: There are issues around coldcalling, which some people do not like, but people have peddlers’ licences and so on-it does not happen so often now-so there is a legitimate reason for them to be knocking on the door uninvited, so that is the sort of issue we would like to consider. If any of you have any views on those specific points, perhaps you could submit them in writing to the Committee, because I think that is an area that we will have to look at.
Returning to the issue of farm animals, would extending the law in this manner mean that farmers would have to restrict the places they keep dogs and their use of farm guard dogs as well?
Nick von Westenholz: Of course, it depends on how the law is framed, and it goes back to what we said before. The other issue is that, of course, on farms there are often working dogs and there may be, on those private properties, sheepdogs, for example, freely moving around a fairly wide area, and we would not want the law to place restrictions on those animals-having to be on leads or tethered, or whatever it might be. Clearly, there is good reason for working dogs to have some freedom of movement. Again, this goes back to the fact that it is a complex area that needs to be carefully drafted.
Q71 Neil Parish: Mr von Westenholz, can I ask you particularly on the thorny issue of dog owners going through and using rights of way through farms? Should there be additional restrictions on dog owners using rights of way through farms in order to protect livestock from outofcontrol dogs? Sometimes they could be chasing pregnant ewes or whatever.
Nick von Westenholz: I think the current legislation should cover most instances, although I think, as I said at the beginning, there are some areas where it needs tightening up; the definition of livestock, for example, and, in the area of fines, what an appropriate fine might be. I am not sure the legislation, in a way, is hugely short of the mark; it is the fact that it is not in any way being enforced properly. The fact is that these attacks do happen-increasingly so-and many farmers are finding it very difficult to get any compensation and to get the police to follow up on the attack properly. Really, a lot of it is about enforcement.
The other point, of course, is that it is also about information and education, and we do a lot in trying to remind people using rights of way. We have done some work with the Ramblers Association to educate dog-walkers on the risks of having dogs around livestock. That has to go hand-in-hand with an effective enforcement mechanism for when people break the law.
Q72 Neil Parish: In a way, it goes a little bit back to the insurance side. If you insure your own animals for straying and they then cause problems, naturally people can claim against your insurance. Turning that on its head, especially if you have dogs that are owned but are loose, without the owner, causing trouble-because that very often happens-how would you deal with that situation, or how would you like it dealt with?
Nick von Westenholz: I think we would welcome measures that increase the amount of insurance that dog owners have, because, as I said, a major issue is people losing livestock. It is difficult to quantify sometimes-it may be abortions in ewes that are pregnant-and the compensation can be very difficult to come by, so anything that increases the chances of farmers getting compensation would be welcome. Often, however, the farmers themselves will not have insurance, because it is completely non-cost-effective for a farmer with 12,000 sheep to insure every single one of those.
Q73 Mrs Glindon: Each one of you has mentioned microchipping as important, so this question is addressed to all of you. Defra’s consultation does place a great deal of emphasis on microchipping as a tool to help tackle irresponsible dog ownership. Do you all think that the Department’s focus on this is right?
David Joyce: The Communication Workers Union fully supports compulsory microchipping. We want to see that introduced. We want to see it introduced for all dogs within 12 months of the legislation coming on to the statute books. We do not support the proposal that it should be introduced for puppies. We do not think that will be enforceable and secondly, of course, it would take about 12 to 15 years to filter its way through the dog population of the UK. The reason why we are so keen is that we have many situations where attacks take place and the owner simply denies ownership. We all know that, with the current legislation, it is difficult to prove the ownership of a dog if those people wish to make it very difficult, and many prosecutions and many investigations fizzle out, simply because they cannot link the dog to an owner. Therefore, compulsory microchipping would provide us, or the enforcement authorities, with a situation where they could far more easily link the dog to the owner and take the appropriate action against the owner, should an attack take place. Our view is very strongly in favour of compulsory microchipping for all animals, right across the piece, within 12 months of the legislation coming on to the statute books.
Richard Leaman: Guide Dogs agrees entirely with that position. We see the need to establish a link between the irresponsible owner and the dog that conducts the attack as a critical part of the process of enforcing the law. If that dog is not microchipped, then that should also be-and will be, if the Defra law comes into being-an offence in its own right, as would having no tax disc on your car. It is exactly the same issue. Arguably, the people who do not have a tax disc on their car will be the same sort of people who do not have a microchip for their dogs, but that does not mean to say we should not enforce tax discs on cars and that we should not enforce microchipping with dogs. We have enough trouble getting the police to implement the existing law, which is not strong enough without microchipping. We and the police-and I can speak with some confidence, having discussed this with some of ACPO’s dogs team-both feel that microchipping is a critical part of the process of bringing these people to justice.
Nick von Westenholz: We certainly do not reject the idea of compulsory microchipping but I think we would say that the focus on microchipping as a solution might be illjudged. For us, certainly in our opinion-and I think it came up in the previous witnesses-the sort of people who may be at the core of this problem are also the sort of people who are unlikely to get their dogs microchipped, even if it is compulsory. At the moment, of course, it is compulsory to have your dog collared and tagged with the identification of the owner. When we have problems with dogs worrying livestock, and we do have problems with the fact that we do not know who the owners are, that is often because they have not, despite the current law, put correct identification on the dogs. That would likely be the case in the event that microchipping was compulsory. However, as I said, it is not that we are against compulsory microchipping; we are just not convinced that it is the answer to the issue here. I would say that probably most of our members who we have spoken to would microchip their dogs, and I think most responsible members do.
Q74 Mrs Glindon: From your experience, what level of reduction in dog attacks could be expected if owners were required to microchip?
Nick von Westenholz: I do not have an answer to that, I am afraid.
Richard Leaman: It is a very difficult question to answer, but, to be perfectly honest, the current rate of increase of eight guide dog owners a month being attacked is totally unacceptable, and we believe this will help us to at least stabilise the number, if not reduce it. I think to do nothing and, as David said on my right, to wait for 12 years for something to be done about it is completely unacceptable.
David Joyce: If we knew the sum total of reductions that that would produce, then tonight I would be filling in my lottery ticket and I would be winning a lot of money. We do not know but what we do know is that, obviously, microchipping alone will not be the solution to all the problems. It is part of the solution. We see it as part of a package of measures that could be introduced, that would certainly see us experience a sustained reduction in dog attacks-certainly on our members-because, first and foremost, we could aid the enforcing authorities in securing prosecutions against irresponsible owners. It would be a tool that would certainly be very, very useful for dog wardens and police officers, when they are undertaking an investigation, to be able to link the owner to the animal and thereby more effectively secure a prosecution against the irresponsible owner. We see it as an important component in a package of measures that we would like to see introduced. That is our view on that.
Q75 George Eustice: I wanted to move on to the issue of licensing. I I think, Mr Leaman, in the evidence from your association, you said that you thought there was a case for licensing of perhaps owners rather than dogs. Could you explain how you think that might work? Would that be like an oldstyle dog licence or a different type of licence?
Richard Leaman: Guide Dogs would be keen to see some form of licensing, provided it is not overly bureaucratic, and that is a huge proviso. We do see the need to link the dog to the owner, and, in line with many of our colleagues in the charity sector dealing with dogs-the Kennel Club in particular-we also see the need to ensure that that licence comes with the requirement to be able to own that dog responsibly and to be trained in owning that dog responsibly. Yes, we do think licensing is the right thing.
Q76 George Eustice: Just to interrupt, when you say, "If it can be done in an unbureaucratic way", what is an unbureaucratic way?
Richard Leaman: If we look at the way Government has moved across to the internet for a lot of its services, so the gov.net approach to providing people with information, with forms to apply for, and with ways of even changing your tax disc, we believe that there are more modern and effective ways of licensing that are lowcost and can only be introduced and should only be introduced if they can be done in a very lowbureaucracy way.
Q77 George Eustice: I am quite interested in this idea, but it seems to me that the RSPCA, for instance, do not send a rescue dog to any old home; they go and they inspect the home, they see the owner, and they make an assessment about whether that is a suitable place to place a dog. It seems to me, for such a thing to work, you would need to do the same for all people who wanted to own a dog, and that necessarily requires somebody in person, who understands dogs, to go to a home and assess it.
Richard Leaman: Yes, but, in a way, with respect, that is using a hammer to crack a nut, because, as several witnesses have said, I am sure the vast majority of dog owners are responsible. If we look at the approach taken in Scotland, with dog control orders that say that, if you demonstrably show you are an irresponsible dog owner and we have managed to identify that dog is yours, because it is chipped and it is registered to you, then you should go through a series of measures and controls to ensure you are a responsible owner. That approach is certainly one we would prefer, rather than a blanket requirement to convince eight million or so responsible dog owners to be better dog owners.
Q78 George Eustice: Mr von Westenholz, there are a number of bits of legislation in place around the breeding of dogs, which require people have a licence to breed dogs on a commercial scale, although, obviously, there are exemptions, I think, for having less than 12 litters a year. Do you think there might be scope to amend that legislation to remove that exemption in certain circumstances, particularly if it was, say, to breed status dogs? It seems to me that the big problem at the moment is that there is no control over these cowboy breeders who maybe have just one or two dogs and have a handful of litters a year, and raise them all appallingly.
Nick von Westenholz: I would not see any issue with doing that-with moving the threshold on that. I think there is an issue with a more widespread general licensing regime touching on all owners, for the bureaucratic reasons that you have mentioned, but I would not see a particular problem with extending the scope of the breeding exemption.
Q79 George Eustice: Mr Joyce, you might want to come in on this particular one. The Home Office have proposed a kind of one-size-fits-all or catch-all approach to antisocial behaviour generally, and talk of dogs being just one part of that, with there are issues around drugs and all sorts of other things. Do you think taking that kind of holistic approach is a good thing, or is it in danger of leaving the issue of dogs as a sort of poor relation within that suite of measures?
David Joyce: I think it is a very bad thing-a very bad thing indeed. I have examined the proposals, which fall short of what we have in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and fall short of what we are going to get in Wales. Why the Government has chosen to go down this particular line, is beyond me. Certainly, I have discussed this in great detail with the Association of Chief Police Officers, with the Police Federation and with the National Dog Warden Association, and we have looked at what is being proposed here. In fact, it is not that easy to understand but, when we drill down below the surface, the proposals tell us that what the intention is is that, in respect of dangerous dogs, the Community Protection Order (Level 2) will apply and, in a situation where, for example, a menacing dog is identified by a dog warden or a police officer, they will then have to go to make the case to a senior officer. If they get past that first hurdle, then they will have to go to a magistrate and apply to the magistrate to issue an order, which will then be served on the owner.
In this day, when we are hearing a lot about cutting down on red tape and bureaucracy, and, of course, the police service, like many other bodies, is facing difficulties and cuts with tight fiscal constraints etcetera, they are going to have to decide their priorities. I do not believe that, in situations like that, they are going to want to waste a day of police constables’ time sitting down at the magistrates’ court to get one order for one dog, when we have the alternative, which we already have in place in two parts of the UK-and it is going to be in place in a third part-where, simply, the trained police officer or dog legislation officer can make a judgment, can write out an order and can serve it; it is as simple and straightforward as that. That, as I say, is what we are going to have in three parts of the UK. Why we are not talking about introducing that for England is beyond me. I do not believe that that proposal is an effective proposal.
Q80 Chair: Could we ask the other witnesses to reply as well, please?
Richard Leaman: No, we are not that clear whether these will be of any benefit at all. We would like to see more information on it. We would like to know more about the proposals. If, as a whole, they address the underlying cause of dog attacks, which is the antisocial behaviour of the owners, then they could be a good thing.
Nick von Westenholz: I would say the same. I would like to see more evidence, once it has had some time.
Q81 Chair: I did put the same question to the other witnesses; it would be helpful to hear from each of you. Why should people be inclined to microchip, particularly the more criminal, darker, underworld element, when they were not inclined to purchase a licence for their animals prior to 1987?
Nick von Westenholz: That would be the question we would also ask, and that is the reason why we are not convinced that compulsory microchipping necessarily is necessary.
Richard Leaman: Our view is that we need to establish the linkage between dog and owner. If we do nothing, that linkage will never be established and, as I mentioned earlier, just because some people do not buy their road fund licence, it does not mean to say we should not enforce the law with road fund licence. We believe, by targeted, intelligence-led operations, we can enforce a law against those who have dogs that are not microchipped or dogs that are microchipped that behave in a criminal way. We think the law could be enforceable and we think it should be enforced, if only because of the 180odd very vulnerable people a year whose lives are being destroyed by these people.
David Joyce: I do not believe we should legislate. We feel that the irresponsible owners are not going to become responsible overnight, and of course they are not. They are going to be committing offences and, if they commit offences, they should be prosecuted. The problem we have today in the UK is an out-of-control dangerous dog situation-let’s not mince our words there; it is out of control. It has crept up on society and we need to do something about it. We need to make sure that we have in place a registration scheme where we can, first and foremost, repatriate stray dogs with their owners-that is a great benefit-but, secondly, as well, have a better way of linking the owner to the animal in an attack situation.
Q82 Chair: You have been very clear on that. My question is: for those people who are reluctant to microchip and those people who were reluctant to purchase a dog licence, what would you recommend the Government could do to ensure that they do? I think we like the idea of the third-party insurance, but do you have any proposals that you could help the Government with in this regard?
David Joyce: Overall-not only on that particular issue but on the whole package of issues-we need to do more on public awareness, education and training. There have been a lot of good schemes run by local authorities in combination with the animal welfare charities. The Dogs Trust, the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs Home and Blue Cross have done a lot of good work and have got a lot of very good results out of local initiatives around these issues. That, I believe, should be expanded, and we should make that part and parcel of the whole package of changes, not only in legislation, but with that as well, and win the hearts and minds of these responsible owners over to this. Once they realise the problem that we are trying to tackle here, I am sure that the overwhelming majority would support what we are trying to achieve.
Q83 Chair: You have pre-empted my last question. Mr Leaman, do you have any thoughts on whether the Defra package goes far enough as regards educating dog owners and whether schools should do more?
Richard Leaman: We welcome their proposals; we do not think they go far enough. We certainly do not think the amount of money that is being currently allocated to education and to broader awareness is anywhere near enough. Given the number of owners and those who interact with dogs, this would require a substantial amount of money to get right, and it would be part of a number of measures to resolve the dangerous dogs problem.
Q84 Chair: Just before I turn to Mr von Westenholz, can I just ask: how much of this is common sense and why should we be throwing money at it?
Richard Leaman: It is a very good question. We do feel that, in the vast majority of cases, owners are responsible-they do get their dogs chipped and they do get themselves trained to bring up their dogs-so we are particularly focused on dealing with those who are irresponsible, who do not get their dogs chipped and who should be brought to justice. It is a very, very difficult question. Again, for me, it is the same as the licensing issue: I do not think that a blanket approach to the entire dogowning population of the UK is probably worth it, but there is a significant proportion of dog owners who probably do need education, and there are those who allow their dogs to conduct criminal attacks who must be given that education and training.
Nick von Westenholz: As I said earlier, I think the awareness and education element-certainly when we are talking about issues around livestock-is a really crucial, preventive element, and we already do a lot of work. I would not necessarily advocate Government throwing a lot of money at it, but I think anything we can do, specifically on this issue-which, for maybe more people, is not so much commonsense; a lot of people do not understand the ways of farming or the countryside and maybe are not clear that dogs around livestock can present problems-to increase awareness and education around that is as vital a part of the answer as going down the legislative route.
David Joyce: Relying on common sense alone will not work. I think we have perhaps been trying to rely on common sense to date, and that is why we have a situation where 250,000 people are bitten and attacked by dogs every year, 11 people have been killed in dog attacks since 2005 and 5,000 postal workers are attacked every year. Common sense alone will not cure the problem. We need some affirmative, positive action. Driving your car is common sense but we still get 3,000 people killed on the roads every year, so that will not meet the requirements of going anywhere near addressing the problem that we have. We do need an effective, new, comprehensive piece of legislation and appropriate enforcement, supported by a good package of education, training and public awareness, to address the problem.
Chair: Mr Joyce, Mr Leaman and Mr von Westenholz, on behalf of the whole Committee can I thank you very much indeed for being so generous with your time and participating in our inquiry? We are very grateful.