My oral question on the Dangerous Dogs Act was the second question in Lords Question Time today. Despite pressure from a number of colleagues, the Minister, Lord Henley, gave little away about what changes (if any) the Coalition Government might make to the arrangements for dangerous dogs or even what the timetable was likely to be.
The full exchange was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to amend or to improve the operation of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, on 1 June a wide-ranging public consultation on dangerous dogs laws closed. This consultation received 4,250 responses, which will need to be analysed before any action relating to dangerous dogs legislation is considered.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, given the explosion in the number of attack dogs in London, with the number seized by the Metropolitan Police—I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority—rising 22-fold in five years and with the Met having to budget £10.5 million for kennelling costs alone, when can we expect the Government to complete this review of the legislation? What, in the shorter term, is going to be done to expedite the processes that can often mean that dogs have to be held for many months before a final decision can be taken by the courts on their disposal?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the growth in such attacks and in the number of people who have to seek hospital treatment as a result of attacks by dogs. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is not the only piece of legislation available to local authorities and others dealing with those matters. There is the Dogs Act 1871, the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006. We will certainly consider carefully the consultation started by the previous Administration and make appropriate decisions afterwards.
Earl Cathcart: Is not one of the problems of the Dangerous Dogs Act the unintended consequences of listing four types of dangerous dogs? Thousands of responsible owners have had their pets destroyed not because of how they behave but because of how they look. Surely new legislation should concentrate on irresponsible dog owners rather than on only the breed.
Lord Henley: My Lords, we will certainly look at the problems of irresponsible owners, but there are certain advantages in breed-specific legislation. The police are of the view that without the restriction that that legislation gives, particularly on pit bulls, there would be many more serious dog attacks.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: Does the Minister agree that many of the dangerous dogs are imported from overseas, especially from Europe? They are imported into Ireland initially, and from there go to Northern Ireland and then to the mainland. If the dogs were microchipped, as they are under the Pet Travel Scheme on the importation of dogs, it would be known to whom they belonged and whether people were training them to be attack dogs. The ownership and movement of those dogs could be followed by a simple procedure of microchipping. It would also help to identify, as has been mentioned, whether the dogs are dangerous.
Lord Henley: My Lords, compulsory microchipping was considered in the consultation. I do not think that it would necessarily solve all the problems because those who possess such dogs might not bother to get them microchipped and they would still be in breach of the law. The evidence from abroad is that where there is compulsory microchipping only 50 per cent of the dogs are microchipped.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that one of the problems facing the police in dealing with dogs which they suspect to be pit bulls is the pit-bull-type dog? It can take many months for the police to establish exactly the breed or the type of dog and at enormous cost to public funds. Some of the dogs’ homes are considering refusing to take these dogs because of the time taken and the cost to the charities. Is that part of the consultation?
Lord Henley: My Lords, there have been problems with dogs being kept in kennels for rather a long time as a result of the legal processes. We will certainly want to talk to colleagues in the Ministry of Justice about whether the legal processes can be speeded up so that the dogs need not be kept in kennels for so long. We have heard from the Metropolitan Police in particular that the costs are very high and rising.
Lord Elton: My Lords, what action is available to the courts for disposal of dangerous dogs and prohibited breeds? While the owners await decisions of the court, is it the case that a number of the dogs disappear?
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am not aware that any have disappeared from kennels while waiting for the court’s decision. If my noble friend has any evidence of that, we would be grateful if he would pass it on to us. The Dangerous Dogs Act deals not only with specific breeds but, under Section 3, allows action against a dog of any type or breed if it is deemed to be behaving dangerously.
Lord Henley: My Lords, as regards timing, I do not think that I can help the noble Baroness much more than by saying that we will do that as soon as is possible—we have all said that before—but we will certainly publish the results of our consultation when we make the appropriate decisions about how we should respond to it.
Lord Addington: My Lords, has the noble Lord considered that resources and the number of people trained to deal with the Act might be one of the most important factors in whether this or any other piece of legislation works?
Lord Henley: My Lords, Defra offers guidance to police forces, and all police forces have to have a designated dog legislation officer who knows what the law is and how it can be used to best effect. We certainly assist in providing training for those dog legislation officers, so that local authorities can enforce the law in the most appropriate manner.”