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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 575-iv
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
Dog Control and Welfare
Wednesday 24 October 2012
MR Jeremy Browne MP and Mike Warren
Peter Jones and Mark Johnston
Evidence heard in Public Questions 259-350
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
on Wednesday 24 October 2012
Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)
Mrs Mary Glindon
Ms Margaret Ritchie
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr Jeremy Browne MP, Minister for Crime Prevention, Home Office, and Mike Warren, Head of the Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour Reduction Unit, Home Office, gave evidence.
Q259 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome, everybody. Can I welcome you, Minister? Congratulations on your new post. Thank you very much for being here and contributing to our debate and inquiry. Would you like to just introduce yourself and your colleague, for the record?
Mr Browne: Thank you, Chairman. My name is Jeremy Browne and I am the Minister for Crime Prevention in the Home Office. Most of your deliberations concern responsibilities that belong within Defra, but there is some overlap into the Home Office, which is my understanding of why I am here, particularly around antisocial behaviour and the powers of local councils, so I am looking forward to having that opportunity to explain our position. I just asked Mike whether he called himself Mike or Michael; he said only his mother called him Michael. Mike Warren is the relevant official from the Home Office who has expertise in this area.
Q260 Chair: Excellent. You are both very welcome. We are looking into dog control and welfare and, as you have alluded to, Minister, there is a crossover between your Department and Defra. It would be helpful if you could just explain to the Committee at the outset how you divide your responsibilities between the Home Office and Defra in this area.
Mr Browne: My understanding is this: dogs are the responsibility of Defra, but some of the activity that people do with dogs or the threat that is caused by dogs crosses into the responsibility of the Home Office, particularly in the area of the power of police and local authorities to deal with antisocial behaviour or wider borderline criminal activity. Maybe we will have the opportunity to discuss this, but what the Government is seeking to do is take a whole range of different measures, which we inherited, to try to help communities get to grips with antisocial behaviour. I understand there are 19 separate measures that can be deployed by police, councils and others. We are consulting at the moment about trying to boil those down to six measures that we feel would give local authorities the flexibility and the tools they need to deal with these problems. They may be around people drinking in public places; they may be around latenight noise. There is a whole range of issues, but they could also be applied to the area of people being disruptive with their dogs, whether it is dogs barking in the middle of the night, fouling in public paths or being used to threaten other people. That is my understanding of the responsibility of the Home Office with regards to this issue.
Q261 Chair: In the conversations you have had with the police, do you believe that they are asking for further legislation to enable them to tackle effectively dangerous dogs?
Mr Browne: I do not know if it is necessarily further legislation in all cases. It may be more effective powers and legislation. Our starting point, and this is the wider approach of the Government across a number of Departments, is not to have a very centralised prescriptive approach, but to try to give local communities, local councils and local police forces the toolkit-to put it in jargonistic terms-that they need to come up with the solutions they need to the problems they face. There may be different problems in different areas. What we have tried to do with the White Paper on the powers that will be available at local level is not to have a massive range of different powers that people do not fully understand and which overlap with each other, but to try to boil them down into crime behaviour orders, crime prevention injunctions, community protection notices, community protection orders and directions powers. Even that sounds quite complicated, but my understanding is it is a hell of a lot less complicated than the previous arrangement.
Q262 Chair: Would you say briefly that it is implementation and enforcement they are asking for, rather than further legislation?
Mike Warren: I wonder if it might help to give an official’s perspective on how, on a daytoday basis, we carve up the dangerous dogs policy area between the two Departments. I am the Home Office lead for antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour covers an enormous range of issues, as the Minister has said. To the extent that it covers antisocial behaviour by dog owners or by dogs, that is an area where we work very closely with Defra. Defra would lead on the implementation and enforcement of the Dangerous Dogs Act itself and questions around dog attacks on individuals. The Home Office would also say that we lead on gangs and, to the extent that dogs are a part of the way that gangs operate, that is an area where we work very closely, but it is a Home Office lead.
Q263 Chair: That is very helpful. Is the legislation working?
Mike Warren: To answer your question about what the police are looking for, on antisocial behaviour, as the Minister has said, the police have been broadly supportive of our moves to rationalise the current legislation and the numerous powers that exist at the moment to cover all antisocial behaviour, including that related to dogs. On the Defra consultation on changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act, I understand that the relevant leads in the Association of Chief Police Officers are very supportive. That would be an area where primarily Defra would be having the conversation with ACPO.
Q264 Chair: Minister, there has been a great upsurge in the number of stray dogs loose in recent years. I am very mindful of the fact that the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act took the kennels away from the police and gave the responsibilities to the local authorities. Do you believe that the Act has been to blame? Do you think there are other causes to blame? To what do you attribute this upsurge in the number of stray dogs?
Mr Browne: I do not think that is directly within the competence of my Department, so I could speculate.
Q265 Chair: You must have a view. Prior to 2007, before the Act came into implementation, any stray dog would have been taken to police custody and put in police kennels. Now it is the responsibility of local authorities to make arrangements to take stray dogs off the street. Do you believe that that, in part or completely, has contributed to the higher incidence of stray dogs? What do you attribute the increase of stray dogs on the streets to?
Mr Browne: The answer is I have not seen any evidence to suggest that there is a causal link between that change and the numbers of stray dogs. I can see that you may infer that and many others may infer it as well, but I have not seen evidence to suggest that that is the case.
Q266 Chair: I do not know if we have the figures we can share with the Minister, but if the numbers have greatly increased, to what would the Home Office attribute that, or do you not have a view?
Mr Browne: I do not have a view. The area that I have been looking at and concerned with is where people have dogs that are threatening other people, that are causing harm or misery, or literally physical harm to other people, rather than stray dogs, which I would not see really as being directly a matter for the Home Office.
Q267 Chair: The Home Office had the statutory role for police managing stray dogs to assist in putting them away. Would you support a return to that statutory role for the police?
Mr Browne: It is something we could consider. I do not know whether the police would wish to have that authority, or whether the feeling is that the local authority level was where it could best be exercised, but maybe there needs to be an improvement in performance at local authority level. I have not seen a reason why we would wish to commit to that, but in the interests of government as a whole, we are wanting to have effective government.
Q268 Chair: Would there be financial implications?
Mr Browne: I suppose there may be some. I have just been passed a note-I did not know this-saying to me that stray dog numbers have actually gone down in the last year, so I do not know how many different sets of stray dog statistics there are. This is according to the Dogs Trust, so I suppose local authorities may feel that, after initial teething problems, they have got to grips with the problem.
Q269 Chair: In Yorkshire, they seem to have gone up.
Mr Browne: It is quite hard to measure stray dogs. I am sure the Government as a whole wants to have an effective framework for dog ownership and for trying to deal with and reduce the numbers of stray dogs as well. It has not been something that, in my time in the Department, we have concentrated on, as I say, or I have not personally as a Minister. I have been concentrating on people owning dogs and those dogs being a threat or an inconvenience to other people, rather than dogs that are not owned by anybody.
Q270 Richard Drax: The Chief Constable of Dorset Police, in my conversations with him, said that one of the extra costs that have applied to them over the months and years is this issue of stray dogs. They do not want the responsibility. They have got quite enough on their plate, and their job is to deal with crime and disorder, not rounding up dogs. That has moved to the local authorities. If it may be of any help, and I am interested in your comment, that is very much his concern: it is not a police matter and should not be because, quite apart from anything else, they are not being paid to do it anyway.
Mr Browne: He would be pleased that I have not just committed the police to taking on this responsibility.
Richard Drax: He will be very pleased.
Mr Browne: Good. As I say, it seems to me that the core function of the police is to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour. People complain about dogs threatening their neighbours. You have these terrible, harrowing, extreme cases of dogs attacking people and severely harming them, and then of course there is considerable inconvenience caused to people, and upset, if dogs are very disruptive, barking through the night, etc. The focus of our attention and inevitably the focus of the police’s attention would be on that type of impact that dogs can make to the quality of life, antisocial behaviour and criminal issues in individual neighbourhoods.
Chair: If we could turn to the Home Office proposals, Richard Drax.
Q271 Richard Drax: You have proposed a set of measures to tackle a wide range of antisocial and criminal behaviour. Wouldn’t specific tailored dogrelated measures be more effective?
Mr Browne: Our view is this: we have 19 measures that we inherited as a Government on antisocial behaviour, most of which could, to some extent, be used to deal with difficulties with dogs and other forms of antisocial behaviour. We have tried to get that down to a more manageable package of six measures. We are going to have prelegislative scrutiny of these measures, and we will legislate as soon as we can to give them force, but we are confident that that package of six measures will give local authorities, the police and others the powers they need to deal with the problems caused by dogs. As soon as you start getting into specific dog control notices, there is quite a strong case for having an alcohol control notice or a minimotorbike control notice, or any other specified forms of antisocial behaviour. What we are trying to do is have six generic measures, a flexible package of measures, which can be applied to dogs and, in our view, can just as much impact on the problems that dogs may cause as having a designated measure with the word "dog" in its title. We feel that that greater flexibility is more appropriate and just as effective.
Mike Warren: If I could add something, from what we heard during the consultation we ran on the antisocial behaviour proposals from practitioners-albeit practitioners dealing with the full spectrum of antisocial behaviour issues, rather than just dogrelated problems-the approach that has developed over the last 10 or 12 years is one where in response to a new problem you introduce a new legislative solution, to the extent where you have an enormous list of different powers for very specific different problems; that had encouraged practitioners, in using those powers on a day-to-day basis, to think primarily about whether a problem fits into the box that would make it power A or power B that you use, rather than considering the impact that the behaviour is having on the victim. One of the really strong messages we have tried to get across in the White Paper is that, actually, what matters in antisocial behaviour is the effect that it is having on the victim.
If you focus on the behaviour itself, categorising it and then working out which power fits that category, what you might sometimes overlook is that behaviour that can seem quite trivial on the surface can be having a devastating impact on somebody’s quality of life, which can have tragic consequences. When the Minister says we are trying to move to a more flexible approach, where you have a handful of powers that can be used in a range of circumstances, the aim of that is to help practitioners really address the impact that antisocial behaviour has on victims, as opposed to concentrating on categorising what may actually be happening.
Mr Browne: In preparation for this Committee, I looked at the six powers we are proposing and went through a whole set of scenarios where I could imagine dogs were causing distress to people. Each one of the powers seemed to be able to deal with each one of those scenarios. Maybe I was not as imaginative as I could be, but the point I am making is that I do not think you want an approach to government where, every single time a new source of irritation is identified, the Government comes up with a new order with that source of irritation in the title to demonstrate that the Government is dealing with that specific problem; then, two weeks later, there is another order, and then another. If we can get the right handful of orders, whether it is minimotorbikes, alcohol or dogs, we have the package of measures that enable local authorities and the police to deal with the problem.
Q272 Richard Drax: By doing what you have both said you are intending to do with this package of six measures, what are the views of those that have to enforce them, i.e. the police and the local authorities? What do they think about what you are trying to do?
Mr Browne: In my experience, the police want to have the powers that they need to protect the public in their area, but they would rather those powers were not excessively complex and that they had a degree of flexibility. That is what we are trying to do. The whole process of prelegislative scrutiny is going to be undertaken by the Home Affairs Select Committee, and no doubt a range of different opinions will be offered, but what we are trying to do is put in place a package of proposals that is easier for local authorities and the police to use than the existing range.
Q273 Richard Drax: I accept that. I think we have all got that. The point I am trying to make is if the enforcement agencies know what you are trying to do. If they do, what have they said? Do they think it is a good idea or a bad idea? Do they want more laws, fewer laws or do they think your approach is perfect? What is the view of the enforcement agencies, or do they not know yet?
Mike Warren: As I said, we conducted a consultation in 2011. Since the consultation formally closed, we have worked very closely with a wide range of frontline professionals to develop the proposals further. There is very strong support among the police, among local authority antisocial behaviour teams and among social landlords. Those are the three agencies that primarily deal with antisocial behaviour. There is definitely very strong support for a rationalisation of the existing powers and a recognition that the current arrangements are bureaucratic and can have some quite perverse incentives built into them. Certainly at the outset, we had some illuminating discussions about the detail, but we have come a long way in addressing some of the practical issues that professionals have raised over the last year or so. In the White Paper, we said we wanted to continue this process with prelegislative scrutiny, but we are very keen to work with enforcement agencies to make sure that the powers we introduce are workable on a day-to-day basis and have the effect that the Government wants them to have.
Richard Drax: Thank you, Mr Warren. That is a yes.
Mr Browne: I am told there is an ACPO dog lead, which is a rather odd title. Obviously, we are keen to work with police forces and designated police representatives to try to make the measures as successful as possible. My understanding is that the general approach has been welcome, but no doubt we can take on board additional suggestions as we receive them.
Q274 Chair: Can I just ask on the consultation if you had any welfare groups responding about their concerns about some of the powers that the police and Home Office will have, such as dog muzzling? Did they express any concerns in that regard in the consultation responses?
Mike Warren: We certainly did have some responses from organisations like the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs Home. They tended not to offer views on the wider approach to antisocial behaviour, so much as to make the point that, however we were aiming to address dogrelated antisocial behaviour in the future, there should be the scope for a welfare element to whatever enforcement agencies were doing. In most of the new proposals, there is definitely room for and a recognition that, actually, people who commit antisocial behaviour often need support to deal with any underlying problems that may be driving that behaviour. In the case of an irresponsible dog owner, that support may well take the form of advice or training on how to deal with a dog, or advice on welfare issues. That is something we have been working quite closely with Defra on.
Q275 George Eustice: You mentioned ACPO a moment ago. I know they drafted an extract proposal, together with the LGA and the RSPCA, suggesting that we introduce something similar to what they have in Scotland with dog control notices. Is this something that you still have an open mind to, or have you ruled it out?
Mr Browne: Essentially it is the answer that I just gave to Mr Drax, which is that this is a different approach to the same problem, but our feeling is that, rather than trying to prescribe in that type of detail the problem that you are trying to solve, if we have the right measures in place, they can be applied to any given problem, as and when it arises in an area. This is my point essentially about, if you are going to have dog control notices, why not have minimotorbike control notices and any other number of specified forms of potential antisocial behaviour? Our view is that, if you have six measures that are clearly understood and they can be applied to solve the problem, whether it is dogs or minimotorbikes-to take my two examples-that is better than a whole range tightly specified.
Q276 George Eustice: Just picking up on what Mr Warren said just now about some of the welfare charities and the points they made about including animal welfare, there is a very good reason why there is a difference between dogs and, say, someone with a minimotorbike. That is that if you have irresponsible puppy breeding and these dogs are not socialised properly, the damage is quite often done in the first six months. You then quite often have an owner who has a dog that gets too big for it. It cannot cope-for example, a huge mastiff. That is the dog that gets abandoned; that is the dog that causes problems and attacks people. You do have to have an element early on of identifying where things are going wrong, that is perhaps preventative, rather than just treating the causes of antisocial behaviour. You try to deal with the source of it. That is where dogs are decidedly different from other areas of antisocial behaviour. Do you accept that there may be a case for something like those dog control notices?
Mr Browne: I understand the distinction between dogs and minimotorbikes. I can see that there may be consideration around things like breeding, which would be more directly within the responsibility of Defra. In terms of the role of the police and local authorities to protect the public from crime and antisocial behaviour, that is about giving them the powers they need to act when they are confronted by circumstances that are a threat to the public in that regard. That is what we are trying to do, in as efficient a form as possible. As I say, we feel, although there will be a process of prelegislative scrutiny, that the six measures we are proposing get the right balance between having enough tools at the disposal of local authorities and the police to do the job, but not so many that it becomes unwieldy, excessively complicated and counterproductive. The process of scrutiny will no doubt reveal whether we have got that balance right.
Q277 George Eustice: Given that this proposal for dog control notices is something that the police themselves have actually put forward or that ACPO has put forward, have you carried out any assessment of how effective they have been in Scotland, where they have been used for some time already?
Mike Warren: I believe we are still waiting for the figures from Scotland, which would show how effective they have been or not. One point I would make is that, in the White Paper, we were very keen to encourage professionals working at the local level to take a preventative approach to antisocial behaviour. There are lots of informal measures, as well as the more formal powers that the Minister has been describing, that local areas can and do use to deal preventatively with problems before they develop into antisocial behaviour or crime. What I do not think I have seen, in terms of this proposal for dog control notices, is anything to suggest that the dog control notice is the only way that a professional dealing with an emerging dogrelated problem can deal with that, and that there is something that the dog control notice can do that you cannot do within the approach that we have been talking about.
Q278 George Eustice: Just coming back to the example I gave if, for instance, there is a dog attack and it is clear that the reason was that somebody bought a dog from a cowboy backstreet breeder, who had not socialised and raised that puppy properly, do the current proposals give a local authority the power to, for instance, prevent that breeder from continuing to breed puppies? A dog control notice does enable you to neuter a dog, for instance. Would those powers be contained?
Mike Warren: I am not entirely sure that they would, but then I am not sure that the activities of a rogue breeder, as you described, would necessarily fit into antisocial behaviour as the police and councils would see it. We are in a grey area.
Chair: Could we stick to dog notices, because we are coming on to illegal dog breeding in a moment? Just stick with dog notices for the moment.
Mr Browne: I am told that anyone who breeds dogs, whether they are licensed or not, needs to comply with the Animal Welfare Act 2006. I am told there is legislation, not sponsored necessarily by the Home Office, that would deal with those circumstances separately from our more narrow focus on antisocial behaviour and crime.
Q279 George Eustice: We are coming on to that in a minute. There are exemptions for people breeding fewer than five litters a year. More broadly, in terms of the implementation of this new framework and the fact that you are simplifying, how are you publicising that to the agencies? I know you mentioned that you were talking to different enforcement agencies about this. Do they need any training to understand how these measures replacing the old ones are going to work?
Mr Browne: There is the whole process of the type that is typically embarked upon in Parliament and in government, so a White Paper, prelegislative scrutiny, the police representative bodies taking an interest. Obviously legislation will require all of those processes to be gone through again. People will be able to read about them. I hope there will be plenty of opportunities for people to contribute their thoughts.
Q280 Ms Ritchie: Minister, you are very welcome. I want to move on to the area of illegal dog breeding. How can the Home Office proposals be used to tackle the crime of illegal dog breeding, particularly of socalled "status dogs"?
Mr Browne: It is not in these specific measures. It takes me back to previous legislation that has been passed on illegal dog breeding and other related activities. Let me see if I can find it. There is a whole range of different Acts that apply to different types of activity of this sort. The Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999, for example, can ban certain people from breeding dogs, so there is a whole history of legislation that deals with this type of issue.
Q281 Chair: What we are trying to elicit from you, Minister-we have the legislation list in front of us-is how the Home Office proposals will advance matters, and whether we need this new legislation that you are proposing or whether we should rely on the existing legislation.
Mr Browne: If you take, for example, the first of the six powers that we are keen to adopt, the socalled crime behaviour order, I understand that it works like this. If a person is convicted of a criminal offence of the type that Ms Ritchie just described, it would be possible to have an order that extended from that offence. In this case, you could ban them from owning a dog in the future. If they were convicted of alcoholrelated GBH, there could be an order that prevented the person from going to the town centre on Friday and Saturday nights. As well as negative measures, there could also be positive measures. The person could be banned, in that example, from going to the town centre on Friday and Saturday nights, and also be required to go on an alcoholawareness course. In the case of dogs, the person could be banned from owning a dog and could also be required to go on an animal welfare course, as I understand it, as well. It is an order that extends the powers to protect communities beyond punishing the specific offence as is prescribed in previous legislation.
Q282 Chair: Just before we move on to community measures, it strikes me from your answer that, rather than simplifying the legislation, what you are actually proposing is making it more complex, so there are more legal bases that people have to go to, rather than a onestop shop, to control this.
Mr Browne: It is certainly our intention to simplify it, but we are open to suggestions on how it can be further simplified. My understanding of the point is what can be done to provide ongoing protection for a community, over and above the punishment that has been prescribed to meet a crime committed under another area of legislation. My example, of a person who had been convicted of harming somebody after a drunken fight, could, under these orders, be prevented from being in situations where they are likely to recommit that type of offence, for a specified period of time. There could be an order that prevented a person from owning a dog for a certain period of time. If there was concern that a person was frightening children outside a primary school with a particularly aggressive dog, then the powers would exist to prevent the person from going within 100 yards of that school with their dog, between 3.00 and 3.30 in the afternoon, on Monday to Friday, or whatever it is. Those powers are taken into account.
Chair: If I could just bring you back to illegal dog breeding, I think George Eustice referred to this maximum.
Q283 George Eustice: The problem with the Act that you cited, the welfare Act, is that there is an exemption for people breeding fewer than five litters of puppies in any given year, which is quite a high figure. Some of the evidence we have had suggested that should be reduced to maybe two litters, so that you can actually catch some of these backstreet puppy farms, which are a real source of the problem. Would amending the legislation in that way be within the scope of the proposals you are putting forward?
Mr Browne: Again, we are getting into strange areas in which I would not claim huge expertise, but I am told that, where breeders force dogs to have multiple litters in a year, that is already illegal as it causes unnecessary suffering, which contravenes the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If discovered, breeders are liable to prosecution. It is also covered under the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999, section 1.4(h) that bitches should not give birth to more than one litter of puppies in a period of 12 months.
George Eustice: That is true, but if you have five bitches, for instance, you can have five litters in a year and still be outside the scope of the current legislation.
Mr Browne: That may require Defra to consider whether it is appropriate to amend the legislation.
Q284 George Eustice: You consider that outside the scope of what you are proposing, even though the evidence seems to suggest that that is quite a driver of the types of dogs that cause the sorts of problems that people are dealing with?
Mr Browne: My instinct would be to see that as a matter for Defra to decide whether they needed to make an amendment to existing legislation to further regulate dog breeding practices. What we are trying to do, as I say, is where your nextdoor neighbour has a dog that is threatening you every time you walk by. Their fence is broken and the dog can get out on the street. It is a threat to your children. The dog is barking loudly at 3 or 4 in the morning. It is routinely fouling the pavement outside your house. Those are the types of police/local authority antisocial behaviour borderline criminal activities that we in the Home Office are trying to prevent, rather than specifying how many dogs can be born to any other dog in a given year. I appreciate that those dogs then may go on to cause antisocial behaviour, some of them, but I think that is probably more appropriately Defra.
Q285 Ms Ritchie: Minister, we want to move on to the community measures, the community protection order and the directions thereof. Could you talk us through the processes of imposing a community protection order, and in so doing, do you believe this is a flexible enough process to respond to dogrelated issues in a specific location?
Mr Browne: Yes. Again, I come back to the point that we want local councils and communities to feel that they can put in place the measures that suit them. If, for example, you had a green space or a small park in a town centre, and a local authority, maybe working with the police, wanted dogs to be banned from that area, maybe because they were routinely fouling the grass; in the same way as they might not want people to drink alcohol in those areas, and you see that sometimes in town centres as well, that power will exist and that decision would be made at a local level. We are not saying that it is not appropriate for dogs to walk in parks as a general rule. That is for local communities to decide.
Q286 Ms Ritchie: Could you explain to us, Minister, the actual process for imposing a community protection order?
Mike Warren: Perhaps I could. Where a local authority has evidence that a particular problem is detrimental to a community’s quality of life, on consultation with the chief constable, they would then be able to impose a community protection order on a particular public area, which would impose certain restrictions on people’s behaviour within that particular location. What we are trying to do is to bring together what at the moment are quite a number of different powers to deal with problems in public space, so drinking, potentially skateboarding and things like that, as well as dogs-it would replace the dog control order-into a single power that is focused on the effect that behaviour has on the community’s quality of life, rather than categorising specific kinds of behaviour. The local authority would have evidence that there was a problem. The local authority would consult the police, and the local authority would then impose the order and publicise it. I think it can impose it for up to three years.
Q287 Ms Ritchie: Have any local authorities expressed a preference for the retention of current dog control orders?
Mike Warren: I would not say that any have explicitly preferred the current regime to what we are proposing. Certainly, we have had questions about whether it is worth us still going through with the dog control order now, given the time that it might take to implement your reforms. We certainly have a number of questions like that, but no one, as far as I am aware, has strongly argued for keeping the current suite of powers in this area.
Q288 Ms Ritchie: What level of use do you envisage, Minister, the police making of the directions powers in relation to offences involving dogs?
Mr Browne: I do not know if it is really for me to envisage a level of use. That depends on local communities, how valuable they see this power as being and how big they perceive the threat as being as well. To take a similar power, people being prevented from drinking alcohol in town centre parks, I only observe that that has become quite a widespread power, which has been adopted by councils in the last five or 10 years. I do not know if it had been possible to predict it. It has become more fashionable for councils to see that as a way of improving the quality of life of people who are using parks in town centres. Some councils may regard this as a path they want to go down as well. It is quite hard to sit in central Government and try to give a percentage estimate of the number of parks this will apply to in five or 10 years’ time.
Q289 Ms Ritchie: Does confiscation of related items under directions powers refer to dogs and, if so, how will this be managed on a practical basis, perhaps through professional handling and kennelling of potentially dangerous dogs? Has any consideration been given to this particular issue?
Mr Browne: My understanding of the directions power is it is a police power "to direct any individual causing or likely to cause crime or disorder away from a particular place or to confiscate related items". The example I gave earlier that would come under this would be an owner with a dog outside a primary school. The dog was in a public space on the pavement, but was causing distress to the children and the parents. There would be a power, if the police and local authority wished to impose it, to prevent the person from menacing the children with his or her dog, in those circumstances. It may well be less widely used than some of the other powers, but it is designed to try to capture those circumstances where the intimidation is being caused, not in a park, not in a private property, but in a space that would otherwise be freely used.
Mike Warren: The idea of confiscation comes from the powers the police currently have to confiscate alcohol from people who are behaving antisocially because they are drunk, essentially. We have not yet set out the draft legislation or a list of items that may or may not be confiscated as part of this power. I wonder whether this may be a question where, as one of the Committee said earlier, the distinction between inanimate objects and a live animal may well come into play. You could see circumstances in which it would be proportionate to confiscate alcohol or a spray can, for example, if someone was clearly about to graffiti something, but it may be far less easy to argue for proportionate confiscation of a dog.
Q290 Dan Rogerson: Good afternoon, gentlemen. We are looking at measures that can be used, quite often at the time when someone may have been convicted of another offence. At that point, as issues have been raised about this individual’s impact on the wider community, it is felt that an additional prescription could be laid upon them. One of the advantages that has been said is that it will be swift to do; it is something that can be done quite quickly. If we could, explore two things in particular-in the first instance, the crime behaviour order, where the level of proof will be at a criminal level. If the original offence is not related to dog ownership-they may have been convicted of GBH or whatever-but their dog is part of the problem, can you do something about that while you are at it? How likely do you think it is that the police officer will be able to get that level of proof, at that point, to impose that as well? Do you see what I mean? If the aspiration is to do something about the dog at the same time, they still need the proof. How likely will it be that they will be able to get that level of proof-the criminal level?
Mike Warren: Certainly, the way that the current anti-social behaviour order works, or the variation of it that is attached to a criminal conviction, there does not have to be a connection between the criminal offence and the antisocial behaviour that is being controlled by the order. What we have tried to do in these proposals is to build on the elements of the current system that we think work and also to learn the lessons that have been hard won in case law over the years, whilst also rationalising and improving the system. What we have proposed is that the antisocial behaviour being controlled by the crime behaviour order will not necessarily need to be tied to the criminal conviction in any way, as long as the court is satisfied that the evidential threshold has been met.
Q291 Dan Rogerson: It is not so much the tie. In fact, that makes it even harder, because you are going to court asking for something that is not directly related to the offence. You are not having to prove that it is connected but you are, independently of that, having to prove this would also help because we have evidence that they used their dog in a threatening way as well. Do you see what I mean? You are having to prove two things at the same time and sort the original sense out. You cannot just go to the court and say, "And we would like this because it is on our shopping list and it would be easy to do." The police or the local authority will have to make the case.
Mr Browne: The order would not need to be directly linked to the criminal offence, but to impose the order without any demonstration of the order being required would seem quite unreasonable.
Q292 Dan Rogerson: The question is really: if it is aimed at being a speedy measure, what sort of assessment have you done about how much work would be involved and how quick it would be to assemble that evidence? Obviously, cases are different, but it may not be as speedy as is intended, because you still have to get that level of proof. Is that something you have looked at?
Mike Warren: We have. The speediest bit of the proposals is the crime prevention injunction, which is very much based on the current antisocial behaviour injunction that is used by social landlords. As it has a civil rather than a criminal sanction, it has a civil rather than criminal standard of proof, which means that social landlords are currently able to take an injunction out on someone who is behaving antisocially within a matter of days, whereas the ASBO process can take six to nine months.
Q293 Dan Rogerson: It is that sort of level of antisocial behaviour that, say, housing associations and so on in councils would use that for. That is the model that that is based on. The evidence suggests that that would be relatively quick to do.
Mike Warren: Yes. The crime behaviour order is meant to be reserved for the most seriously antisocial individuals. That is learning on what practitioners are currently reserving from the upper end of the toolkit.
Dan Rogerson: That is the sledgehammer.
Mr Browne: It is quite a serious power, banning people from types of activity, particularly if they are not directly related to the offence. It feels reasonable to me that that process should not be too simplistic, but it may not be the one that is used in all circumstances.
Q294 Iain McKenzie: Good afternoon, gentlemen. Continuing on the same line of questioning, who would provide the support and training to change behaviour on dogrelated issues that would be available under the new crime behaviour order, and who do you think will fund this?
Mr Browne: Of police forces or local authorities?
Iain McKenzie: Of both, but local authorities more than the police.
Mr Browne: Obviously, every change that is made by government requires people to adapt to those changes. These changes are designed to make it easier, whereas most changes Governments make, in my observation, make things more complicated. I hope that it will not be unduly onerous on people to try to adapt to the new systems. They are an attempt to respond to the concerns that have been expressed to us by local authorities, police and others about having a process that does recognise that there is that form of antisocial behaviour. This is the origin, the genesis, of this whole area of public policy debate 10 or 15 years ago. It is this area of activity that is not committing crime per se, but is very disruptive to people’s quality of life. The problem is that that area was filled, rightly in my view, by a range of measures, but those measures grew and grew in time to try to take into account lots and lots of different forms of behaviour, and have now become rather overelaborate and cumbersome. What we are trying to do is to address the problem, but in a more manageable and streamlined way. I hope the concerns you raise will not prove to be fully justified.
Q295 Iain McKenzie: On the second part, who would you say would fund this? Would it come from police funds or local authority funding?
Mr Browne: Police officers need to be familiar with the law and the powers that they have. That is part of their ongoing duty. It is their responsibility.
Mike Warren: If I can reflect some of the feedback we got during the consultation process, community safety partnerships-that is the police, local authorities, social landlords and some other statutory agencies-currently spend money on support to help people deal with the problems that are driving their antisocial behaviour, like substance misuse, anger issues or various things like that. They also spend money on these formal interventions to deal with antisocial behaviour. What they cannot do at the moment is bring the two together, so they cannot always target the support they are providing at the people who most need it to change their behaviour.
What the proposals that were set out in the White Paper try to do is to give the court the power to tie those two things together in the one court order, but one of the things that we were very clear about is that it should be for the local agencies that are seeking the order to propose to the court what support they are able to provide for that particular individual, rather than for the court to determine the support required itself. Where a local authority, social landlord or police force thinks that the way to deal with a particular antisocial individual is to provide some support as well as prohibitions on future behaviour, they would suggest that to the court, suggest that they have the funds to pay for it and the court would then incorporate that into the order. We would not envisage the court being able to independently impose a requirement to fund support on a local authority.
Q296 Iain McKenzie: Moving on, gentlemen, to community and education work, what support will the Home Office provide to Defra and others in educating dog owners and the wider community on the antisocial and crime issues related to dangerous dogs?
Mr Browne: What would the Home Office do to help Defra educate the public about the danger of dangerous dogs?
Iain McKenzie: Yes.
Chair: Or change behaviour for dog owners to make their dogs behave better.
Mr Browne: I am not aware of the specific programme we have. I can look and see whether we are earmarking funds to support Defra to educate people to know about dogs.
Q297 Chair: Earlier both you and Mr Warren have said that you want to focus on antisocial behaviour. What we have heard in the evidence to date, which I am sure you will have read in preparing for today, is that there is real concern about dogs increasingly out of control. The thrust of your evidence today has been antisocial behaviour. How can we get dog owners to be more responsible to get their dogs to behave better?
Mike Warren: The White Paper certainly flagged some communitybased education projects to encourage more responsible dog ownership.
Q298 Chair: So you are asking local authorities to pay.
Mike Warren: No, sorry; these are projects that are being sponsored or encouraged by Defra. As I say, we work very closely, to the extent that we certainly welcome that in principle, but it would be a Defra lead, rather than a Home Office lead.
Mr Browne: I was not aware of this, Madam Chair, but I have been told that we have given £50,000 of taxpayers’ money to animal welfare charities to set up community projects. We have also provided £20,000 of taxpayers’ money to ACPO, so it can train a dog legislation officer in every force. I should have known that.
Q299 Iain McKenzie: We were actually going on to discuss whether schools should do more to teach children about responsible dog ownership. Is that the sort of education level that they should be supporting?
Mr Browne: This is a matter for the Department for Education. Whenever I talk to an Education Minister, they are always a bit nervous that, once they have got through teaching children about healthy eating, financial management, appropriate sexual relations and looking after dogs adequately, there will not be any time left to teach them about maths and English at the end of the day. They seem to be resistant to burdening schools with a huge amount of prescriptive regulation. I hope every young person leaves school a more rounded citizen who can contribute to our society in benign ways, including looking after their dogs properly. I do not know if there is a specific idea to make dog rearing part of the national curriculum; there is not one that I am aware of.
Q300 Mrs Glindon: Minister, the police have powers at their disposal under the Dogs Act 1953 to deal with attacks on livestock, but these powers do not seem to be working effectively. Why do you think that is?
Mr Browne: Under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, it is an offence to allow a dog to worry livestock. The maximum penalty is a fine of £1,000. My understanding is it used to be £10, so I am pleased it has been upgraded hundredfold to reflect the modern costs of living. This is reinforced, I am told, by the Animals Act 1971, chapter 22, section 3, "liability for injury done by dogs to livestock", which states that "Where a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock … [the] keeper of the dog is liable for the damage." The legislation certainly exists, and I suppose it is for the police to make sure that, where people break the law, they are prosecuted.
Q301 Mrs Glindon: The NFU and ACPO are organisations that have voiced different concerns on the issue. ACPO actually does not believe that enforcement agencies have adequate legislation to deal swiftly and proportionately with attacks on dogs by other animals, and the NFU in their evidence were critical of the low level of priority given by the police to following up incidents that could be prosecuted under the 1953 Act.
Mr Browne: There does not appear to be a shortage of legislation in this area-the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the Animals Act 1971, the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Q302 Chair: It is not working, we are suggesting. We are saying it is not working effectively.
Mr Browne: That is a very good point to bring to the attention of Defra’s Ministers, if you feel there is not enough legislation to protect livestock.
Q303 Chair: My understanding is that it is a criminal offence. It is not a civil offence that Defra would prosecute. We have heard from ACPO, as Mary Glindon said, that it is leaving the enforcement agency without sanctions. It is dog on livestock; it is dog on dog; it is dog on horses. There has been a whole stream where horses have freaked out and often injured their rider, because a dog has worried them. What we are saying is: what are you doing about it?
Mr Browne: It seems to me that the legislation exists for the police to take action. If the public is not being protected adequately, I will happily write to the Committee, Miss McIntosh, to see what further measures can be taken to improve the protection of the public and livestock. My understanding is that there is not a legislation gap, but there may be an action gap in this area.
Chair: Could we pause, Minister? Could we invite you to come back? It will not take long, if we could ask you to come back. I am just going to adjourn now for the vote. I apologise to yourselves and the next group of witnesses, but we will come back as quickly as we can. We stand adjourned.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Q304 Mrs Glindon: I know, Minister, I said that there were some organisations, such as NFU and ACPO itself, that were concerned about the state of the current legislation. Going on from that, what level of sanctions do you think are appropriate for attacks on animals by dogs?
Mr Browne: Before we broke for the Division, I was saying that there is a fine that can be levied in those circumstances. The point for the Committee is this: there are powers that exist in legislation to punish people who worry or frighten animals and livestock in the way that has been described. The question then is how hard it is to prove that that has happened. In some cases, it is quite difficult. How great a priority do the police give to this issue? That may vary from one police force to another, depending on other considerations that they may have. I am not sure that the solution is either legislative or more punitive levels of punishment. It may be about the priority that is given to this issue by communities and the police that serve them. It may be that, for example, doubling the fine would not necessarily lead to a reduction in undesirable behaviour. I defer to Defra colleagues, because they would take the lead on that, not the Home Office.
Q305 Richard Drax: Does the Home Office consider that amending the Dangerous Dogs Act 1981 to remove references to specific breeds or types banned under section 1 would weaken attempts to prevent dog attacks?
Mr Browne: This again, Miss McIntosh, is, as I understand it, a Defra lead rather than a Home Office lead, but the case has been made to me, as a constituency MP, that all dogs or many, many different types of dog are capable of threatening or antisocial behaviour, and so we should concentrate on the behaviour, rather than on the breed of dog. That is the argument that is made. It is an argument that the Government accepts in part, because there are a small number of dogs that are regarded as highly dangerous, where the breed is identified, but it clearly does not even attempt to be a comprehensive list. There are many types of dogs that, if reared in the right way, behave properly and, if they are encouraged to behave in an improper way, can do so. I do not know whether it is about the deed not the breed, as it has been put to me in some cases. We need to be alert to the potential for many different types of dogs to cause difficulty. There are some I am told, the pit bull terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the dogo Argentino and the fila Brasileiro, which are considered sufficiently dangerous that it is in the interests of the public and the view of the Government to not have those dogs threatening the public.
Richard Drax: I was very impressed with your list of dogs.
Mr Browne: Maybe not my Spanish and Portuguese pronunciation.
Q306 Richard Drax: What discussions had the Home Office had with Defra about what we are discussing now, prior to publication of Defra’s proposals on tackling irresponsible dog ownership?
Mr Browne: Because this area of responsibility is primarily but not exclusively Defra, we do liaise with them and discuss it with them. I have met a Defra Minister to discuss this specific issue. At an official level, there are more frequent exchanges, so we try to make sure that we have a crossGovernment approach.
Q307 Richard Drax: Is there, on this issue? You have had discussions; what was the result of those discussions?
Mr Browne: I hope so. As I say, the police are strongly of the view, as a whole, that there are certain types of dogs that carry such a strong risk or such a potential danger that it is necessary to ban them. There is, if you like, the Home Office side of the equation being brought to bear. Clearly, these antisocial behaviour sanctions that we have been talking about this afternoon are the Home Office’s contribution to a wider debate that is led by Defra, but is not exclusively owned within government by Defra. We are constantly trying to make sure that we have a joinedup approach. I hope that will be increasingly the case as these new proposals are analysed and put forward.
Q308 George Eustice: On that joinedup approach, we know that Defra has put forward proposals that may come within your remit as well to extend the Dangerous Dogs Act to cover attacks made on private property. I know that there was some talk of having an exemption for trespassers who have criminal intent so that, if they were attacked by a dog on a private property and they had criminal intent, they could not prosecute the owner of that dog. If they were not, they could. How practical do you think that is to implement? It is asking quite something of, say, a border collie on a farm to work out whether or not someone has criminal intent or not when they see them come down the lane? Is that a realistic test for the courts to apply?
Mr Browne: It is interesting; I was trying to prepare for this potential line of questioning. Of course, there is an extremely long Q&A about all of the different circumstances in which a person might find themselves in somebody else’s front garden, and how legitimate or illegitimate that may be. I am not wishing to make light of it, but obviously a child retrieving their cricket ball is unlikely to be seen by most people as criminal trespass in the same way as somebody entering somebody’s garden with more malign intentions. Obviously, what we do not want, from my understanding, is that somebody breaks into a person’s house, the dog in the house attacks the burglar and the burglar sues for criminal damage, based on the fact that they were attacked by the dog, unless the attack was so grotesquely disproportionate that people would feel that that was appropriate.
On the other hand, people who are going to a house-a postman is the most obvious cited example, but health employees or a police officer, for that matter-just because they are entering private property, it does not mean that they should have their protection from very aggressive dogs suspended in those circumstances. That is the balance that we are trying to strike, but I suppose one can come up with difficult hypothetical examples where it may be harder to make it clearcut.
Q309 Ms Ritchie: Minister, what level of resources, including police resources, do you envisage being deployed on enforcement on the compulsory puppy microchipping measures proposed by Defra?
Mr Browne: I am not aware that any police resources are being devoted to that task, or at least not any additional resources. I suppose new police and crime commissioners, when they are elected in a few weeks’ time, may decide to reorder the budgets in a way that they feel is most likely to protect the people who live within their areas of responsibility, but I have not seen a budget heading that says that there will be a specified police pot of money made available for this.
Q310 Ms Ritchie: Do you not think there should be if you want this microchipping to work?
Mr Browne: I would need to give that more thought. I do not doubt that there are all kinds of areas of Government policy that I would like to work. Whether they necessarily require direct Home Office financial grant in order to bring that outcome about is another matter. I suppose I would like the primary responsibility of the police to be to cut crime and protect the public. That should be their main focus, but police do not just concern themselves with crime. They concern themselves, for example, with missing persons, being an example of noncriminal activity on which the police spend time. They are working on a whole number of different areas. They are allowed a degree of flexibility on how they spend their budgets. That is the right approach. I do not know if the Committee would envisage a Home Office grant being given to dogchipping. Maybe that is for you to decide.
Chair: You might like to write to us.
Q311 Mrs Glindon: Would a dog licence scheme with conditions to be met by owners, as to their suitability to own a dog, help to reduce dog attacks? How could such a scheme be introduced in a nonbureaucratic and costeffective manner?
Mr Browne: Just on the previous one, I have had a very helpful note saying that dog welfare charities are offering free chipping. That is the understanding of officials, so it may be one of those helpful outcomes where public policy objectives are advanced without the taxpayer having to fund it. In my experience, quite a lot of dog welfare charities have got quite a lot of money and they may regard that as a good use of their money.
In terms of people owning dogs, I suppose the difficulty is that literally millions of people own dogs, and so the question is whether it is possible to run some sort of scheme to judge the suitability of people to be dog owners, without that scheme being so wideranging, onerous and expensive that people regret ever going down that path in the first place. It is the view of the Government that trying to have some preownership scrutiny of all aspirant dog owners is probably not likely to work well in practice.
Q312 Chair: Minister, I am very grateful. Is there anything else you would like to add on that point?
Mr Browne: No.
Chair: Thank you for being so generous with your time, and Mr Warren, too. Mr Warren did say that you were awaiting evidence on how dog control notices are working in Scotland. If you could possibly share that with us in writing, the Committee would be most grateful. Thank you, Minister and Mr Warren, for being with us. We are most grateful indeed, and we will release you to your duties in the Chamber.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Peter Jones, President, British Veterinary Association, and Mark Johnston, President, British Small Animal Veterinary Association, gave evidence.
Q313 Chair: May I welcome you both, Mr Jones and Mr Johnston, and once again may we apologise for the delay last week leading to carrying over your appearance? We are very grateful to you for accommodating us, very grateful indeed. Just for the record, could I invite you each in turn just to give your names and positions?
Mark Johnston: My name is Mark Johnston. I am President of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association.
Peter Jones: I am Peter Jones, and I am President of the British Veterinary Association, Chairman.
Q314 Chair: You are both very welcome. Can I just ask at the beginning whether there a reputational danger for the veterinary profession if it is seen to be failing to tackle the breeding of unhealthy pedigree dogs? How would you respond to such a concern?
Peter Jones: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Clearly, the veterinary profession would be open to criticism if it did no take this matter very seriously. I think that we do take the matter very seriously. We recognise the leading role that we have in persuading and convincing the public about the important aspects about the welfare of dogs. We are very eager to work with our members within the British Veterinary Association and with our colleagues in other divisions to promote the issues surrounding welfare. In our congress-in Liverpool just two or three weeks ago-we often address matters concerning dog welfare. We often have contentious issues and aspects of our programme, where we deal with this matter. We are running continuing professional development courses all the time, where we try repeatedly to remind our members of their obligations and to be aware of what it is that needs to be done. We are doing all we can to keep this matter high on everyone’s agenda. That would be my opening remark.
Mark Johnston: I would agree with Peter Jones. This is did not start with the Bateson report; it has been a problem and a worry within the profession for a number of years. I must say the Bateson report highlighted what the problems were and, again, at the BSAVA, we do a lot of CPD and also our congress highlights the various problems associated with breeding. One of the things that did come out the Bateson report was the lack of data. What has been encouraging in the last couple of years is the introduction of data collecting for within practices. SAVSNET and VetCompass are the most encouraging on that side.
Peter Jones: I might add, just to come back, I think that we have been very involved in the review board that has set up the Advisory Council. We are very pleased with the work that that council has done and we feel that we are trying, at all times, to secure longterm funding for any aspects that publicise this issue. Maybe we will get into that in some of the questions that we come to.
Q315 Chair: Can I just ask, then, what you have done as a profession to raise the profile of health problems linked to breeding practices, both in the public domain and with breeders?
Mark Johnston: We have our congresses. In fact, at the next congress, there is a press conference highlighting this. We have the Kennel Club geneticists and the Chairman of the Kennel Club coming along, alone with a number of other veterinary professionals within the field, trying to highlight that. This will go out to the veterinary press and, as much as possible, to the public. Highlighting it to the public is very difficult. We will discuss and talk to the public when they come to us, but to the ones that do not come to us as veterinary surgeons we find it very difficult to highlight the problems. That is particularly highlighted in the person who comes into my consultation room already having purchased a puppy. It is very disappointing that they may have purchased it from a puppy farm. We would very much like to try to get out there that there are veterinary practices throughout the country. All people need to do is pick up the phone and there is good advice, on the end of the phone, from the veterinary practice on where to obtain their puppies from.
Peter Jones: From the BVA standpoint, we are very pleased with the canine health schemes that we have been working with the Kennel Club on. Before the setting up of the Advisory Council, the hip scheme was in place and the eye scheme was in place. Since then, we have launched the syringomyelia scheme for cavalier King Charles spaniels. Also with the Kennel Club, we have reached agreement that our members would be encouraged to report situations where Kennel Clubregistered dogs have to have more than two caesareans for delivering of puppies, so that this heightens the awareness of issues around conformation problems. Also in terms of reporting surgery to correct conformation, we have been promoting this. We have more work to do. The Kennel Club, if they were here today, would say that that has been slightly disappointing and that we need to do more.
Q316 Chair: Can I run past you what the Kennel Club said last week? You seem to be in disagreement with them. The Kennel Club said, in response to a question about why they did not use their powers to decline registration to unhealthy dogs, that it was not that simple, and that you cannot draw an imaginary disease; the dog would still exist. Do you take a different view to that, if the dog should be registered or not, because obviously the lack of registration would possibly reduce the value of the dog?
Mark Johnston: I was disappointed to hear what they said. As an example, with the last dog I reported with conformation surgery, the Kennel Club stopped that breeder from showing, but made no recommendation as far as breeding. That breeder could have continued breeding that puppy and registering, as far as I understand, even though both she and I knew that that dog had a problem, which was probably genetically passed on. She did not, but another less responsible breeder might. It is disappointing. The only other thing I can say is that, as far as clients coming to my consulting room, for that puppy, that dog or the parents that are registered, the assumption is that it has the approval of the Kennel Club-i.e. that it is fit for purpose and fit to do things-and that registration is not just some sort of list of pedigree dogs that are out there.
Peter Jones: I would absolutely endorse that. I was very disappointed that, when we had the opportunity to be here last week and were listening to the responses of Professor Dean, I think it was disingenuous when he gave the example that if you have a dog with a recessive gene and you cross it with a normal dog, then you might produce a normal puppy, and therefore there is no problem. You perpetuate the problem by doing that. I would say the way to stop this perpetuation of the problem is not to register those dogs if there is a problem.
Q317 Chair: I wanted to get that on the record; thank you. Do you believe that the veterinary profession has put the right mechanisms in place to encourage all its members to identify poor breeding practices and flag up concerns over individual animals and general practices, Mr Johnston?
Mark Johnston: For conformation, we do CPD to make sure that people can identify what is entropy and what are other conformation problems. With breeding practices, we have been involved in the Northern Ireland and the Welsh consultations as far as breeding and licensing of breeding establishments. We would like that to be expanded, so that all breeders should follow that. It is quite difficult for us to go in as someone to tell the breeders they should be doing this and this and this, without the various guidelines or some form of official registration. If we had that official registration, we could then be telling the breeders, "No, you shouldn’t be doing that, because it says here that you shouldn’t, and you should be doing this, because it says here that you should."
Peter Jones: I think that Professor Crispin’s comments last week were also germane. She mentioned that, in a busy practice, the vets are very concerned with the health issues that presented on the day. Sometimes, there is not enough time to focus on the finer nuances. I think that, through continuing education and highlighting these problems in our congresses and our CPD programmes, we are bringing this awareness far more acutely to our members. They are reporting, but not as much as we would like them to. What was very disappointing was the response from the Kennel Club that said they are too busy to distinguish between responsible breeding and irresponsible breeding. That is a rather disappointing remark. The fact that they are more concerned with running their practices and getting the returns due from running an effective practice, and not taking account of breeding practices, is not appropriate and not true of the profession that I belong to.
Q318 Chair: Could we just ask as well how much of this murky criminal underworld is there, where dogs simply would not cross your threshold? Should we be concerned about that?
Mark Johnston: You are asking about what I do not know, because I do not know.
Chair: It is a stab in the dark.
Mark Johnston: Again, it is different for me. I am in East Sussex, but from talking to people who are in a practice in the middle of Manchester, middle of Birmingham or east London, there are serious welfare issues and breeding going on with unscrupulous people, mainly for money and partly to breed aggressive dogs, so that they can use them in their various activities they should not be used for. Those are anecdotal, because getting any official figures on that is-
Peter Jones: The problem is that, all too often, for the animals we actually see in our practices, it is too late if they are coming from that source. Sadly, we hear all too often that that is a continuing trade. We have moved on from the little dogs that were sold down Petticoat Lane on a Sunday morning, but they are still being sold from the back of a van, as was headlined in the press recently about dogs being found due for export to Britain from Dublin-vans full of young puppies. It is very depressing and there is still much more that can be done.
Q319 Chair: Do each of your organisations support the breeding standard that the Dog Advisory Council published last month?
Peter Jones: Absolutely, without question.
Mark Johnston: Yes.
Q320 Ms Ritchie: If we could move on to the actions of the Government and the need for legislation and regulation, this is a question to both of you. Do you believe that Defra should take a more proactive role in driving a programme of change, including setting a timetable for results, rather than relying on voluntary bodies to effect change?
Peter Jones: If I can start with that, what the Advisory Council has achieved since the Bateson report is very impressive, but it is an advisory body. BVA definitely feels that it would have far more teeth if it was made into a regulatory body. It could issue then welfare codes, which would be embraced under the Animal Welfare Act of 2006, which would enable us to be far more rigorous in trying to control this whole practice. There is not enough being done. We need to make the Advisory Council into a regulatory body, give it teeth and allow it to produce welfare codes for the breeding of dogs.
Mark Johnston: I would agree with that. We now have a council that is just advisory, but the advice is a collection of people who have the scientific knowledge. We are getting proper advice that we can then distribute as necessary. Defra does need to do more and I would like to see it become regulatory, rather than just advisory. Basically yes, I would like to see Defra do more. Yes, I would like to see the Advisory Council having more teeth. As I say, this is not new; this has been going on for a number of years. As veterinary surgeons, it has been very difficult to know where to go to for advice or have one voice saying, "This is what we should be doing."
Q321 Ms Ritchie: I think you have possibly answered the next part of my question. It was: do you believe we have reached the last resort point, where we now need enforcement welfare standards, through regulation or even legislation? I think you are both agreeing with that point.
Peter Jones: Absolutely. I think that Northern Ireland and Wales have set an example here, and I would dearly like to see England taking the initiative. We heard an impassioned plea from Professor Crispin last week, which we thoroughly endorse and support. The registration of all breeders is absolutely essential. There have to be minimum requirements for the premises. These people are making an awful lot of money. It is an income stream for them, but the conditions under which these dogs are being bred are appalling. There is no socialisation; there is no proper diet; there is no feeding; there are no proper aspects of disease control; often they are released without vaccination. It is an appalling situation. We have to legislate against that.
Q322 Ms Ritchie: Then to both of you again, Professor Bateson recommended that new regulations and codes of practice be produced under the Animal Welfare Act of 2006, including a duty on dog breeders to have regard to the health and welfare of "both the parents and the offspring". Do you believe that breeders have affordable access to the right information to enable them to be able to fulfil any such requirement?
Peter Jones: They need to be, and maybe there is more that can be done. We at BVA have been working very hard to change the situation from where it is today, where people are buying dogs without even seeing the mother, for example, where they are not aware of the source of these dogs. I think we need to be looking at how, by making the Advisory Council a regulatory body and introducing welfare codes, we are laying down rigorous conditions for how these people operate. There has to be an educational means of teaching them what their obligations are. That is going to have budgetary implications. I am not an expert in such fiscal issues, but there has to be an investment to go along with that to make it work, and I am not sure Defra has shown commitment to that yet.
Mark Johnston: Some of the work that has been done in the puppy contract is one area that will help advise the breeders in what they should be doing or at least advise owners of newly acquired puppies what they should be asking and what they should be looking for. There is a good list of requirements, so that is education on both sides.
Q323 Ms Ritchie: If I could move on roles and responsibilities for tackling dog breeding issues, you have already referred yourself to the need for regulation of the Advisory Council in order to give it more teeth. This question is to both of you again. Do you believe making the Advisory Council an independent Governmentfunded regulatory body would enable it to gain real traction on improving dog breeding practices?
Peter Jones: Yes.
Mark Johnston: Yes, if it has enough resources and financial backing.
Ms Ritchie: I think that is quite clear, Chair.
Q324 Neil Parish: What impact has the Kennel Club’s Code of Ethics and Assured Breeder Scheme had in reducing the breeding of dogs with heritable diseases or to prevent breeding from too narrow a gene pool?
Peter Jones: The Assured Breeder Scheme is a good scheme, but I have a sense that it is something that is used within the sphere of the Kennel Club. Everybody who is within that sphere is apprised and aware of the Assured Breeder Scheme, and everything that the Assured Breeder Scheme stands for is laudable and supportable. My concern is that it is there for those who are in the Kennel Club, those who are breeding pedigree dogs, but there are an awful lot of pedigree dogs that are bred outside of the sphere of the Kennel Club. There are also people breeding dogs that are not pedigree dogs, not purebreds, some crossbreds. What we need in the context of all the comments we have made is to bring the attention of all these issues to the puppybuying public and to those that are selling the dogs.
We have launched, as I think you know, Mr Parish, the puppy contract and the Puppy Information Pack, and I believe my colleagues have distributed copies of that. That is an instrument that has been endorsed by the Advisory Council, us, the Dogs Trust, the RSPCA and the Animal Welfare Council. To me, it is a pity that we could not bring the Kennel Club on board because, with all the other parties in this, we could be reaching out to so many more people involved in the breeding of dogs, pedigree and otherwise, to instil upon them the essentials of what it is to prepare for owning a dog, to know what it is you want to ask and to making sure there is a binding agreement by the person who is going to breed and supply that puppy, so that they are not allowed to get away with any practices that colleagues around this table would see as most unfortunate.
Q325 Neil Parish: On the gene pool in particular, where there is a very narrow gene pool, where you have a very specific pedigree dog that, shall we say, is being sold to a very closed community of breeders, should the Kennel Club actually say that these dogs are now too pure and you should bring in another breed in order to stop this inbreeding basically?
Mark Johnston: The coefficient of inbreeding is a useful measure in that respect. Again going back, the frequency with which breeders would tell me they are line breeding and consider that as a good thing was very worrying. I was trying to convince them that that was not a good thing. The changes that have been made have been useful, and they are now advising that it is not a good thing and that outbreeding and increasing the gene pool is a good idea. That has succeeded when it comes through to the consulting room, when I am getting in animals, with owners and breeders who fully understand the implications. These are very early days at the moment. There was also a question about duty of care. Is that correct?
Q326 Neil Parish: I have a supplementary, if you like. The supplementary is: could the Kennel Club do more to influence breeders, for example, by only registering those dogs under the Assured Breeder Scheme with proofofhealth checks that have been passed? The point I want to make is that I think the general public believes that, once they have bought a puppy that is Kennel Club registered, they expect all those things almost automatically to have been done, because they almost consider it an assurance scheme in itself.
Mark Johnston: Again, my experience is that I say there is a problem with the dog, but "It’s registered," or "The parents are registered." I ask questions like, "Were the hips done? Where the elbows done? Were the eyes done?" "Nobody mentioned that to us at the particular time." There is a lack of knowledge within pet owners of the right questions to ask, but they are working on the assumption that, if the Kennel Club has registered them, it must have passed the test. The Kennel Club may disagree with that, but that is what owners think.
Peter Jones: If I might add, I think the Kennel Club underestimates how much influence it has. There are an awful lot of people breeding pedigree dogs out there who are not necessarily registered with the Kennel Club, but the standards that apply are the Kennel Club standards. We can talk about standards and what we think about the standards, and we certainly have rather strong opinions on that, but whilst the breeding community out there that is not necessarily part of the Kennel Club is still applying these standards-and we heard Mr Seath, I think, last week saying that there are still some breeders out there who have to be taught that it is not just okay to continue with the sort of conformation that existed for years. If that conformation pattern, in whatever breed, still remains, because you have people who still need educating, then that is going to influence people outside that sphere of the Kennel Club who are breeding those breeds. The situation perpetuates itself.
Mark Johnston: One analogy that bears some comparison is Milan and Paris in fashion. What occurs on the catwalks of Milan and Paris ends up in the high streets six months later. The Kennel Club has to understand that they have that sort of influence, not just on their own registered breeders, but beyond that as well.
Q327 Chair: Do we know why the Kennel Club would not sign up to the scheme? You just expressed disappointment that they did not agree with the scheme.
Peter Jones: Yes, the puppy contract. They felt that their Assured Breeder Scheme was the one to go with. In fact, most of the stakeholders and parties that we have worked with feel that the puppy contract is actually more rigorous than the Assured Breeder Scheme, but they just felt that they had their own scheme and they did not feel it necessary to support this.
Q328 Chair: You did earlier say you signed up yourselves to the Assured Breeder Scheme.
Mark Johnston: We are supportive of it, because it is there and we would not want it not to be there.
Q329 Chair: They are not mutually exclusive.
Peter Jones: No.
Mark Johnston: No.
Q330 Chair: Could I just ask what influence you can bring to bear on breeders, as a veterinary profession, to encourage appropriate outcrossing programmes?
Mark Johnston: Education is the key here. Breeders want to do the best they can. I would agree with Professor Steve Dean that they do not deliberately go out to breed unhealthy animals, but they end up doing so in some circumstances, because they are misguided or do not understand the science behind what they are doing. Education would be the most useful. Those who are deliberately breeding purely for the financial gain, whether they are in or outside the Kennel Club, are difficult to influence. As I say, most breeders want to do the best thing; it is just convincing them what the best thing is.
Peter Jones: I suppose that relates to this expression "fit for function". There is some debate over what function might actually be. Sometimes it is not clear, when you are a Kennel Club breeder and you are complying with Breed Standards, if you want it to be compliant with the standards that would be consistent with the function originally of that breed or what it is there for today. It is health and welfare that have to prevail over all this.
Q331 Chair: Would you say there is sufficient data available now so that the illadvised selection of breeding pairs should no longer be acceptable to the dog breeding community? If you believe that there is not sufficient data, what more can we do to bring more data to the public domain?
Mark Johnston: As a generality, the amount of money that is there to do veterinary research of whatever is very low. We are trying to collect data. There are ways of collecting data, which are now being introduced into practice management systems, to try to identify particular diseases, not just genetic but any form of disease. How that influences specific pairs I am not certain.
Peter Jones: I would add that I think what the Kennel Club in terms of supporting the research of the Animal Health Trust on DNA-and I am not sure it is specifically answering your question, Madam Chairman-is to be applauded. We need more data; that is for sure. The initiative that has been taken under VetCompass is excellent. I understand now they have data on over 480,000 dogs and about 180 practices. They are looking at different problems in conformation and they have a cohort of PhD students at the RVC, analysing this data. There is quite a lot going on, but there is always room for more, of course.
Q332 Chair: Is it a lack of funding for the research or a lack of will?
Mark Johnston: Funding, yes. We have just invested £600,000 in a SAVSNET project for the next three years. That will do data collection on acrosstheboard illnesses, breeds and so on and so forth, from practice management systems. At the end of three years, that may well fold; its continued funding from that point onwards would be in doubt, any sort of funding. Yes, funding for all sorts of research within veterinary, but particularly in this area, is important.
Q333 Dan Rogerson: Given the high incidences of health problems linked to certain breed morphology, have revisions to Kennel Club Breed Standards gone far enough in all cases to encourage breeders away from breeding dogs with unhealthy characteristics? It is some of the ground you have been covering there, but also the same issues we put to the previous panel that you heard the other day. What are your responses to whether they have gone far enough?
Peter Jones: There was a pivotal moment, of course, in this whole subject with Pedigree Dogs Exposed. We know that the Kennel Club addressed the issue of Breed Standards in 2009, and that was very welcome. From everything my colleagues in our membership are saying, it is not really good enough to rest on one’s laurels. We have said that there needs to be a regular review of those Breed Standards by an independent panel. I do not think it should be something that should be done within the Kennel Club, for reasons that might be obvious. We are calling for a regular update and review of those Breed Standards by an independent panel. That would certainly focus attention on moving it away from the problems that still persist, as we are aware from the highprofile breeds and the vet checks that took place at Crufts. What the Kennel Club did at Crufts last year was excellent. The introduction of those vet checks should be applauded. We were able to be part of that and support it, but it is disappointing that so many champions of highprofile breeds were excluded. The problem is still there, so we need to keep on reviewing those Breed Standards.
Mark Johnston: All I can do is agree with that. Again, it is the assumption within breeders that the gold standard is the Breed Standard. It needs to be looked at and evaluated correctly and scientifically. There has to be proper scientific input to look at what they are describing. It is worrying that some of the wording is vague enough to allow breeding unhealthy animals. There are certain words that are difficult to interpret. If judges take them in a certain way, you will end up with a significant change in the morphology of those different breeds.
Q334 Dan Rogerson: This concept of an independent body interests me. Given the controversial nature of the issue at times and a tendency for debate to be a little polarised between different groups, I am not asking you how many for each group, but what do you think is representative? Who should be on that panel, effectively?
Mark Johnston: Vets.
Q335 Dan Rogerson: Just vets?
Mark Johnston: I am somewhat biased, maybe.
Peter Jones: We heard Professor Bateson last week saying that a lot of these standards are very vague and ill defined. I think Mr Seath said that, for many years, we-and I say "we" in the broadest sense-have grown up with these standards and we have come to accept them as being normal. My concern is that, if we have an internal review by the Kennel Club, that will continue. We need an independent panel, but clearly it should be led by vets. There will be other people on there. It would be arrogant of me to suggest that we have all the answers; we do not.
Q336 Dan Rogerson: I am just trying to think of some sort of parallel in the human medical world of-I do not know-ballet dancers or something. If you had a panel about techniques and what they put their bodies through, should there be someone who is involved in that sector as well as speaking for the medical profession? Do you think it should be entirely vets on that panel and that there should not be other representatives?
Peter Jones: No, I would not suggest it is entirely vets. We need animal welfare experts on there. We need nutritionists. We need behavioural experts. It needs to be a broad base of expertise. I would say that, from the BVA standpoint, we feel that it should be led by vets, but it should be independent of the BVA, the Kennel Club and other interested parties.
Mark Johnston: One of the comments before was that judges were good at judging conformation, vets were good at judging disease, but the vets’ view should take priority because that is what animal health is. If the conformation that you want is to have a rolling eye, because you feel that looks good and that is what you want, that should be overridden by the animal welfare aspect. Ultimately, it has to be scientists. The conformation of a certain breed description may well have other people on there, but it has to be scienceled.
Q337 Dan Rogerson: It would be around the constitution of it and its terms of reference, I suppose-what the key priority would be; you would argue that it would be animal welfare. To come back to that, there was this question also of an acceptance of genetic problems, because that is what that breed has and we just live with it. We just deal with it. People have become desensitised to these problems and accept them as being normal for that sort of dog, in that sense. What do you think we could do to deal with that, and are there issues in the veterinary community about that as well, where they could be more challenging of that acceptance?
Mark Johnston: I saw the comment that vets become desensitised to it and come to accept it. I do not really believe that. We become, to some degree, disillusioned, because I get disillusioned by the number of times I have said, "This has got a malocclusion in its mouth; this has got an eye soandso," but what do I do about it? What can I do if the owner already has it there? What is my feedback mechanism to try to stop this happening again? You just keep repeating it time and time again but, over a number of years, you cease to feel that your voice is being heard. It is a problem, but we just need to highlight it. This debate, report and everything that has happened in the last two years have reinvigorated me, as far as my disillusion is concerned, because I was getting to the point, after 20odd years in practice, of seeing the same problems time and time again, and not seeming to make any sort of advancement, as far as that was concerned.
Peter Jones: I would absolutely agree with that. As a profession, to some extent we have become desensitised. I am not in practice; Mark certainly is, and I have heard similar comments from other colleagues. People are tiring of seeing these conditions presenting themselves repeatedly. As a profession, we are far more attuned to the problem, but we have more work to do.
Q338 Dan Rogerson: We also heard in the previous evidence session about the lack of data. In other jurisdictions, they have been able, whether through insurance or whatever, to increase that flow of data, so that we can look at particular species, practices or whatever might be an issue. Should the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct require mandatory reporting of any surgical intervention that has to go on as a result of this?
Peter Jones: I do not think that that is something we could recommend today. I cannot speak for the college obviously. I think that is a matter that would have to be discussed with the college, and it is certainly something we can take back and discuss. I do not think I would give a definitive yes or no answer to that one today.
Dan Rogerson: It would be interesting to hear their perspective on that.
Q339 Richard Drax: Can we move on to vet checks at dog shows? Some dogs awarded best in breed in the 2012 championship shows, such as Crufts, have failed to pass their vet tests. Does this indicate that the approach is working or that the entrance of unfit dogs indicates there is much more to be done?
Mark Johnston: It was brave of the Kennel Club to do it. It has highlighted the disconnect between what vets considered was good conformation and what the judges considered was good conformation. I think that is a good thing. It is way too early to decide how much of an effect it is going to have in the medium to long term. It is only just the 15 highprofile breeds.
Q340 Richard Drax: Did you say the vets and judges disagreed or agreed?
Mark Johnston: They disagreed.
Q341 Richard Drax: That is good, you say.
Mark Johnston: In the fact that we have, for a long period of time, been saying that we feel that these dogs were not really as good as they should be, particularly the optical problems that were occurring. The assumption is that the judges considered them okay, because otherwise they would not be voting them through as champions. The fact that there were a number of failures indicated there was not a general agreement between the veterinary profession or the vets who were doing it and the judges who were voting these through.
Q342 Richard Drax: Should there be better communication between the judges and the vets?
Mark Johnston: There should be better communication and better education.
Q343 Richard Drax: Of the judges probably, because the vets are medically trained.
Mark Johnston: Of the judges, yes. The disconnect is the fact that the judges were looking at the breed standards and were judging on the breed standards. The vets were looking at what may be correct for the breed standard, but is not correct as far as health and welfare are concerned.
Richard Drax: That is interesting.
Peter Jones: Without a doubt, what happened at Crufts was a significant sea change in dealing with this problem. Crufts and the Kennel Club should be absolutely applauded for what they did. We helped them in identifying the vets who carried out the checks, and there was a lot of nervousness on both parts as to where this was heading. The Kennel Club have grown in their reputation. They were brave and they took this on. It was a good outcome. We heard at this session last week from Mr Seath, I think it was, who said there are an awful lot of judges out there and there is a lot of educating of the judges to be done. I suspect that those folks who have been judging for a long time may not like change. They may question whether it is right that somebody from the outside, who has not been involved, carrying out vet checks, should be saying to them, "Actually, what you are doing is wrong."
I completely agree with Mark; I think there is a lot of work to be done in educating judges, and I think the Kennel Club is taking that on. They are introducing not just for highprofile breeds but for all best of breeds. That is very, very good. They are doing it amongst all championship shows, which is even better. There has been a question about whether we should be recommending that every dog, before it goes into every show, should be vetchecked. The logistics of doing that today, whilst it would be an ideal situation, are probably difficult, but maybe that is a longterm aim.
Q344 Richard Drax: That was my next question. Perhaps you could add the judges. Obviously, the judges would not be able to comment, saying, "This dog is not going to win," but clearly the judges are there with the vets to hear the vets’ view of the state of the dog. I do not know. You said this is administratively a bit of a nightmare to achieve.
Peter Jones: For doing every dog in every show, it probably would be today.
Q345 Richard Drax: What about the very big shows?
Peter Jones: That is certainly something that we should aim for. I do not know where the Kennel Club is, because we have not had that discussion with them. It is very good that they have agreed now to do all the best of breeds, not just the highprofile breeds. They are minded to move with this and to continue doing it better.
Mark Johnston: The further trickled down it goes, the better it will be, but with the number of shows that are out there, to try to get every dog checked-
Q346 Chair: What about random vet checks?
Mark Johnston: I had not thought of that.
Peter Jones: A good suggestion.
Chair: You could take that forward. We really need to move on, so very briefly.
Q347 Neil Parish: What about the judge who likes a flat nose on a pug, but the pug then cannot breathe? What are we going to do about that?
Mark Johnston: If that is so, then the animal’s health and welfare should override that, and that judge should be informed that their view is incorrect.
Peter Jones: I wonder whether that judge should really continue being a judge.
Q348 Mrs Glindon: Do you consider that local government have been able to effectively enforce licensing requirements on breeders?
Peter Jones: No, I do not, but I think it is a matter of resources. It is a huge responsibility. In the times that we live in, with all the demands that are being made on local authorities, I just do not think they have the resources to do it. It would be great if they could, but a simple answer to your question is no, I do not think so today.
Mark Johnston: I would agree. They struggle enough as it is. Through local authorities is the way to go, but with all things, you have to provide the resources and the finances to do it, and they are really struggling.
Peter Jones: If they were to carry it effectively, they would need training, offices and staff. In the situation they are in today, I just do not think they cannot even start to think about doing that.
Q349 Mrs Glindon: Do you think that changes are needed to the licensing regime itself-for example, reducing the threshold for licensing to those producing three rather than five litters per year?
Mark Johnston: We would agree with the reduction. Five litters is an awful lot. You could produce 40 puppies from that in a year, so a reduction down to the three, or more than two, we would agree with, yes. There is going to be that lowlevel breeding going on, and they are the ones who we really need to try to educate, license or regulate. Some people need educating; some people will be breeding but not understand the consequences, and they need education. There are some people who are breeding who fully understand, but just want to do it for profit. They are the ones who need regulating.
Peter Jones: The Advisory Council has adjudicated on this and they would call for two litters as a maximum. One of the devolved administrations is looking at three. Two litters a year can be 20 puppies, so we would say we are spot on with the Advisory Council and we would support that.
Q350 George Eustice: Linked to this, all the evidence we have had has raised concerns about websites like Gumtree, and the online sale of pets. Is it realistic to do anything about this? Would it be possible to introduce a law that says people must buy puppies from registered breeders, for instance, or is that just not enforceable?
Mark Johnston: My heart sinks when someone buys their puppy off the internet. Some sort of regulation we do need. PAAG is voluntary. There are some breeders who will advertise on the internet as a legitimate way of advertising; but as a generality, the code of conduct that comes with PAAG we would support. That is the first step. Regulating anything on the internet at the present time, we understand, is very difficult. You cannot regulate prescription medicines on the internet, but we should try to regulate. That is a big worry to me from clients who have bought on the internet, driven on the M4, picked the puppy up from the service station and come back again. That is the sole introduction in purchasing. They are coming from all sorts of areas. We would support regulation, at least as a way of stopping that happening.
Peter Jones: I had a discussion on this with one of my colleagues, who is a fellow officer of BVA, before coming into this meeting and without knowing that you were going to ask the question. If I may very briefly, he was starting to quote an example and I said, "Well, just send me an e-mail quickly." "In a recent discussion with researchers for a possible TV programme, we looked at internet selling." This is a practitioner. "In half an hour, the researchers were able to identify seven or eight different breed types, from westies to dogues de Bordeaux, at unusually low prices and all with the same e-mail addresses. There were two groups quickly identified. They each had a common e-mail address and the two addresses were very similar. This is either a front for farming, import or a plan scam. Either way, it is transparently very dodgy. I think a serious exposé is overdue, but it is very difficult to know how you control it."
Chair: Can I thank you very much indeed for being with us this afternoon, and apologies again for carrying over? We are very grateful to you for being so generous with your time and for sharing your expertise with us. Thank you very much.