Dog control bill

Status of the bill: In Progress

Main purpose of the bill: "To make provision about the control of dogs and for connected purposes".

Main points of the bill:

*Repeals the Dogs Act 1871, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997

*Controversy

In April 2009, Defra published new guidance intended to "help police and local authorities enforce dangerous dogs law more effectively and crack down on irresponsible dog ownership". Environment minister Jane Kennedy said that amending the current law was unnecessary.

"We undertook a significant review of the legislation with the police in 2007 and it was clear that, while the legislation was sound, more needed to be done to raise awareness of the law and improve enforcement," she said. "We believe that better enforcement of the current law, ideally through local partnerships, will be far more effective at tackling the problem of dangerous dogs than amending it."

However, Lord Redesdale said the dangerous dogs act was "often cited as one of the worst pieces of legislation to have been taken through parliament for a very long time" and he rejected Ms Kennedy's claims. "The minister will, I know, say that we should just carry on and that Defra has just given guidance, but I find Defra's guidance almost laughable due to its complexity and the fact that it compounds the problems of the dangerous dogs act," he said.

The RSPCA was "delighted" by the introduction of the bill. Claire Robinson, government relations manager, said: "The cross-party support the reading of the bill received clearly shows there is widespread belief it is time the government took another look at the current dog legislation and we believe the dog control bill is a major step towards this."

But Lord Davies of Oldham told the House of Lords that he did not think the dangerous dogs act should be "condemned as ineffective" and he said the government believed that "the issues lie a great deal more in effective enforcement rather than in the nature of the legislation itself".

*Places responsibility on the owner to control a nuisance dog.

*Controversy

The intention of the bill, according to Lord Redesdale, is to "change the emphasis of the dangerous dogs act" - which he described as "a piece of knee-jerk-reaction legislation to deal with pit bull terriers" - and focus on the actions of the owner, rather than on a particular breed of dog.

The RSPCA welcomed the change of focus on to dog owners, saying: "The Society has long stated that the dangerous dogs act is flawed because it penalises dogs for their breed, rather than the deed of the owner."

And the Mayhew Animal Home saw breed specific legislation as "the essential aspect of the failings within the dangerous dogs act." The charity said the banning of breed types under the DDA had proved to be "an impotent aspect of the legislation", as shown by the fact that pit bull type dogs "are still very much in existence and continue to be bred and sold on at an alarming rate."

However, Lord Davies said the government did not share this view. "The current prohibition seeks to prevent the worst attacks by restricting the ownership of pit bull terriers," he said. "To take this restriction away would be a significant reduction in public protection."

Makes it an offence to:
keep a dog that has attacked a person or another protected animal, without reasonable cause;
encourage a dog to be aggressive or to intimidate people or other animals;
allow a dog to be aggressive or dangerously out of control in either a public or private place.

*Controversy

The Mayhew Animal Home called for greater restrictions on dog sales, breeding and ownership registration to help combat the increasing problem of dog fighting and the "horrendous injuries" suffered by dogs as a result. "What should horrify people the most," the charity said, "is that whoever meted out this terrible cruelty can easily obtain one or more dogs at a moment's notice. These dogs are condemned to a life of suffering and misery from the word go, which is why it is essential more is done to monitor advertising of pet sales, illegal breeding and push for some form of compulsory dog registration."

The RSPCA, concerned about the increasing problem of so-called 'status dogs', appealed again to the government to "look closer at current dog legislation" regarding owner responsibility.
The charity said staff were treating more dogs than ever for fight wounds and injuries "sustained as a result of them being kept as status symbols by young people who think having a dog makes them look tough."

But Lord Davies said the government was "satisfied that the current law on fighting dogs is more than adequate."

Lord Davies also echoed concerns raised by Lord Cathcart and Lord Shrewsbury about the offence of allowing a dog to be out of control in a private place. "To make the obvious point, parliament does not want to create a situation where a house owner could be prosecuted if the household dog bites a burglar." He added that the government was "not convinced that changing the existing law in this area would help those who enforce the law or administer justice, or reduce the number of attacks that take place in domestic premises."

*Enables an authorised officer to serve a dog owner with a control notice where the owner has failed to properly control a dog. This control notice allows an officer to recommend a number of remedial measures including:
keeping the dog muzzled when in public;
keeping the dog on a lead when in public;
arranging for the dog to be neutered;
placing a microchip in the dog; and
arranging for the dog to undergo training.

*Controversy

Lord Davies said the government believed that all the control measures suggested in the bill were "already readily available under the dogs act 1871 or the dangerous dogs act 1991." He was, however, concerned about enforcement and suggested that "every police force should have a specialist on dog law who is able to advise other officers on enforcement and to ensure that the force does its job effectively."

Introduces a number of penalties for failure to control a dog. These include:
control order (see above);
disqualification order - disqualifies a person from keeping dogs for a specified period;
deprivation order - removes custody of the dog from the owner;
destruction order - stipulates that the dog in question must be destroyed;
a fine; or
imprisonment.

*Controversy

The Mayhew Animal Home suggested that "instead of punishing people with a penalty system, more needs to be done to encourage responsible pet ownership and open avenues for owners to receive advice and help." The charity pointed out that in some Canadian cities, dog registration is compulsory and fees reduced if responsible ownership guidelines are complied with, such as neutering and micro-chipping.

Provides for a number of defences to dog control offences including:
the dog was provoked into an attack;
the attack was in self-defence;
the dog was a service dog; or
the attack was on a trespasser.

Places a duty on a local authority to monitor the effectiveness of and to enforce any dog control notice served by an authorised officer appointed by the authority.

Gives power to the police to seize a dog which is causing problems in public.

Allows a justice of the peace to issue a warrant authorising police to enter premises and seize a problem dog.

Allows a court to issue a destruction order for any dog held prior to trial if it is thought necessary to protect the dog's welfare.

Progress of the bill:

The dog control bill, a private member's bill, was introduced to the House of Lords by Lord Redesdale on 12th December 2008.

Session 2008 - 09
Lords:
First Reading: 12.12.08 Second Reading: 24.04.09

Session 2010 - 11
Lords:
First Reading: 26.05.10 Second Reading: 09.07.10 Committee Stage: 04.03.11 Report Stage: 10.06.11 Third Reading: 26.10.11

Commons:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       First Reading: 19.12.11 Second Reading: 30.03.12     N.B.  The Bill was not moved for debate on 30.03.12.  The order to read the Bill a second time lapsed, with no indication when the Bill will progress further.