I thank the hon. Member for his support. Although the Act does not apply to Northern Ireland, there are arrangements in place. It is a serious issue in Northern Ireland, as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom. I will certainly liaise with him when I pursue the matter further.
Only four specific breeds of dogs are banned in the Act: the pit bull terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro. Incredible though it may seem to many, the dog that attacked Jack Lis, an American XL Bully, is not listed as a dangerous dog—but I am not calling for that particular breed simply to be added to the list. There are many types of dogs, including cross breeds, that people could argue ought to be on the list, but there are two fundamental problems with that approach. First, because there is more and more cross-breeding, it is virtually impossible to maintain any kind of legislation that contains an up-to-date list. Secondly, proscribing certain breeds of dogs gives the erroneous impression that only listed dogs are dangerous, and it does not take into account how a dog is kept and trained. It has been said that most dogs have the potential to be dangerous if they are not trained properly.
We need to fundamentally change our whole approach to so-called dangerous dogs. Rather than relying on breed-specific legislation, which is clearly inappropriate, the Government ought to bring forward legislation based on a totally different approach to the issue. I know that the Government have done a lot of work on it, and I contributed to a Westminster Hall debate on it only a few weeks ago. The response of the former Minister, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), to that debate was encouraging, and I hope that the Minister will take us a bit further forward today.
The Government’s starting point has to be an acceptance that there is a lack of any real evidence to support a breed-specific approach to protecting the public. I believe that there is a large amount of independent research, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which lays the basis for a quite different approach. It shows that simply looking at a dog’s breed is not an appropriate criterion for assessing that dog’s risk to people. I know that the Government are fully aware of the conclusions of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee inquiry, which states that the current dangerous dogs legislation fails to protect public safety and also harms animal welfare. This is also the view of a whole range of organisations that have come together under the dog control coalition. These organisations include the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club.
It is now over 30 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed, and going beyond this Act, it has to be said that the legal framework for dealing with dog bite incidents is very complex, with a number of different laws applicable depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident. However, the breed-specific legislation has another fundamental weakness, which is the fact that it is to a large extent reactive in character. I believe that it is better to approach this issue of public safety before harm is caused, rather than responding to the consequences. Prevention has to be the watchword. That is why I want a comprehensive and fundamentally different approach to the issue.
A number of years ago, there were dog licences. The Government really ought to examine the possibility of reintroducing dog licences, but this time we should not simply see them as an easy way for Government to have an additional source of revenue. The money received should be used for a whole range of initiatives, including tackling the behavioural problems of certain kinds of dogs that lead to dog bite incidents. Resources could also be provided for dealing with stray dogs and for helping to fund dog training. Let us not forget that, at the moment, dogs have to have microchips by the time they are eight weeks old. Licensing could be an extension of this and a significant elaboration of it.
I am pleased that the RSPCA Cymru agrees with the approach I have outlined. As animal welfare in Wales is devolved to the Welsh Senedd, I look forward to having a constructive dialogue on this issue with Hefin David, the Member of the Senedd for Caerphilly, and the Welsh Government. Crucially, however, I also believe that an effective assessment needs to be made of potential and actual owners of dogs. At the moment, anyone in any circumstances can purchase virtually any kind of dog. I believe that local authorities should have a key role to play here. Local authorities also ought to have the statutory responsibility for ensuring that dogs are kept and housed properly, and that their owners are ensuring that their dogs are correctly and appropriately trained.
In addition, there needs to be firm control on the buying and selling of dogs. To return to the tragic case of Jack Lis, the dog that killed him was purchased on Facebook not long before the attack. Such purchases cannot be allowed to continue. That is why I would urge the Government to prevent the sale and purchase of dogs in this way.
Today, many of my remarks have focused on the tragedy of Jack Lis, and I want to pay tribute to his family, especially his mother, Emma. She has been enormously brave during this whole difficult time. Nothing can bring Jack back, but all of us need to do our utmost to prevent similar tragedies in the future. I look forward to the Minister’s reply and I encourage her to be as positive as possible.