Dog Control Bill moves a step closer
The publicly supported Dog Control Bill moved a step closer towards changing dangerous dog legislation for good, as it reached the Report Stage in the House of Lords on Monday this week.
Over 10,000 people in the UK have already signed up to support the Bill and animal welfare organisations and charities throughout the UK are backing it; Lord Redesdale's Dog Control Bill would replace the widely criticised Dangerous Dogs Act (1991), by targeting the inappropriate behaviour of any dog, and more importantly the owners of such dogs, to reduce the occurrence of serious dog incidents, rather than continuing to demonise specific breeds or types.
The Bill has now successfully passed the report stage, and will now wait for its third reading in the House of Lords, planned for the summer. Lord Redesdale conceded that Private Members’ Bills rarely become law, but that they ‘are a fabulous test bed to make sure that the wording and the sentiment are correct’, and that hopefully the Government would bring forward a Bill reflecting almost every aspect of this Bill at a later stage.
Lord Redesdale stressed that the intention of the bill was not to see responsible owners penalised, but to deal with those owners who ‘give dog owners a bad name’, at the same time protecting the public, mainly by dealing with potentially dangerous dogs at the first signs of behaviour problems. The Bill includes specific circumstances when a dog can be excused for being aggressive. As an example, a dog that bites a burglar or mugger does not commit an offence if the burglar is in the wrong.
The government needs to now decide whether to pick up this issue and deal with it. Lord Henley, speaking on behalf of the government in Monday’s debate said that it was well aware of the problems highlighted by Lord Redesdale’s Bill and was prepared to consider ‘moving forwards in due course’, suggesting that action could be taken at the time of the third reading of the Bill.
In speaking to Amendment 1, Lord Redesdale asked to raise a couple of issues about how to deal with some of the questions raised at earlier stages of this Private Member's Bill. He told the House of Lords, ‘I would like to address some of the concerns highlighted at Committee stage in March surrounding the issues of how and by whom it is decided what "dangerously out of control" constitutes within the Bill, as raised by the noble Lords, Lord Skelmersdale and Lord Pearson of Rannoch. One of the reasons for doing this is that I have had a large number of letters on this matter, so I thought it as well to deal with the issue by way of formulating the amendments that have been put forward.’
‘The Bill's intention is not to see responsible dog handlers and owners penalised but to deal with those owners who give others a bad name so that we can better protect the public by dealing with potentially dangerous dogs at the first signs of a behaviour problem. It is important to note that dogs are protected from the overzealous officer by writing into the Bill specific circumstances when a dog can be excused for being aggressive.
‘A dog that bites a burglar or a mugger does not commit an offence, as the burglar or mugger is in the wrong. Equally, police and service dogs are protected. If the dog is attacked by a person and bites, no offence is committed. I believe that these rules achieve a sensible balance between protecting the public from unwarranted dog attacks and allowing dogs to behave normally.
The Bill expects that the enforcers of this legislation will have adequate competency in dealing with dog-related issues to distinguish between a true act of aggression and normal acceptable canine behaviour.’
The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, which has been in force since February, does not appear to have led to an influx of barking dogs being brought before court or issued with dog control notices.