David RutleyMain Page: David Rutley (Conservative) - Macclesfield)
Department Debates - View all David Rutley's debates with the HM Treasury
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In an area such as Cumbria, where I live, many visitors are perhaps not used to being with their dogs in the countryside and around sheep. The education aspect of the issue is absolutely critical, because I do not think that those people appreciate the damage that can be done simply by allowing a dog to run amok among a flock of sheep. We really need to raise awareness of the issue and look at how we can tackle it. I know that the all-party parliamentary group on animal welfare produced an excellent report last year on livestock worrying, and I ask the Minister to look at it and consider its recommendations on how to tackle the problem.
The Select Committee’s report is very clear in its recommendation that changing the law is widely desirable but also achievable, and that it will protect the public much better than the status quo. Let us get the legislation right in order to protect both the public and dogs. We need the right education in place, and we need to focus on how we can tackle irresponsible dog owners, not just the dogs. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I hope that he has paid close attention the recommendations of this excellent report. It would be good if we could finally start to move the issue forward.
The Minister is addressing the crux of the matter. When courts deal with dangerous dogs that have owners, they look at the temperament of the dog and say, “That dog can be kept by the owner as long as it is properly muzzled, leashed and handled.” The problem occurs when the same type of dog, with the same temperament, turns up in a rehoming centre that can no longer look after it. It has to be checked, but nobody will actually take the case to court, meaning that the dog will potentially be destroyed. That is exactly the type of dog that could be saved if it still had an owner. Instead, it is put down because it has gone into a rehoming centre. That is the real problem.
That is what the Department says, but is it not ludicrous that it does not openly address the issue—it is an issue, and one that was put forcefully to the Committee—that it is very difficult for police on the ground to determine genetically what is a pit bull and what is not? The Minister spoke about Staffordshire bull terriers. What is the logic for having an investigation into attacks by pit bulls, which are covered by the Act—albeit many of us dispute that—and not into attacks by Staffordshire bull terriers?
Break in Debate
If the Minister looks only at the issue of the breeds in the 1991 Act, he will of course come to the same conclusion, because he is not examining the broader evidence.
I thank all Members who have spoken. I thank the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) for his thoughtful contribution and support for the report, as well as the hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Workington (Sue Hayman). From the tone of the speeches, it is apparent that there is cross-party support for some change to the Dangerous Dogs Act. I thank the Minister for his very humane response, because this is a humane issue.
In the Select Committee we have tried not to be too demanding. We perhaps started out wanting to repeal the Act entirely, but did not end up with that conclusion. I restate that similar dogs to those that go to rehoming centres and are put down because they cannot be rehomed are allowed to be kept, under licence, but the original owners. Blue Cross, Dogs Trust, Battersea dogs home and the RSPCA need to be confident that there is a system that allows them legally to rehome that dog. That is why I look forward to meeting the Minister and officials to try to get a legal basis for that.
I do not think the Government are necessarily hiding behind breed-specific legislation, but those four particular breeds, mainly pit bulls, account for 20% of attacks. The other 80% are by other dogs. Therefore it is about education, management of dogs, responsible dog ownership and getting to those sectors of society that create dangerous dogs. They may not be pit bull types, because it is the way they are treated that makes them dangerous.
There is a lot of work to be done, because we do not want more postal workers to be attacked or for the number of dog bites to keep going up as they have. Again, I thank the Minister for his engagement. The Select Committee, the Opposition and the Government can make the law work much better, and I hope that fewer dogs of good temperament will be put down in future.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Ninth Report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Controlling dangerous dogs, HC 1040, and the Government response, HC 1892.