Breed-specific Legislation

Lisa Cameron Excerpts
Monday 6th June 2022

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
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As usual, my hon. Friend has covered all the points that I am coming to in my speech. There is no collusion here, but I completely agree with him.

Before the debate, I met representatives of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the dog control coalition. The coalition was formed in 2019 with five members: the RSPCA, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, the British Veterinary Association and the Dogs Trust, whose operations of rehoming and promoting animal welfare had been detrimentally affected by section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. The Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Kennel Club subsequently joined the coalition. After 30 years of breed-specific legislation in the UK, those organisations joined forces to raise awareness of the ineffectiveness of the legislation in protecting public safety, and of its negative impact on dog welfare. They told me that breed-specific provisions in the Dangerous Dogs Act must be repealed because evidence shows that its approach to public safety is fundamentally flawed.

The progressive global trend is to repeal breed-specific legislation. The Netherlands introduced breed-specific legislation in 1992 and abolished it in 2008, after a study found that commonly owned dogs were responsible for more bites than breed-specific dogs. Italy introduced breed-specific legislation, which banned 92 breeds, in 2003 and abolished it in 2009 for similar reasons.

Using breed as a predictor of aggressive behaviour is not reliable. Human behaviour, including poor management and the inability to provide for a dog’s needs, are more likely to cause dog to be dangerously out of control. The method by which banned dogs are identified is inconsistent and can be subjective, because the degree to which a dog needs to match the characteristics of a banned type is not clearly defined. The RSPCA has looked at the science around incidents involving dogs that are dangerously out of control, and found that dogs of a banned type are not more likely than other dog types to be a risk to the public. It wants the UK Government to improve data collection regarding the UK dog population and incidents involving dogs that are dangerously out of control, in order to make evidence-based decisions.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
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The hon. Lady is outlining a fantastic evidence-based approach to this discussion. It is important that we look at the correct risk factors, but the more that the Government focus on breed-specific regulation, which has been shown to be unscientific in outcomes, the less likely we are to look at the real risk factors, such as puppy farming, trauma, abuse and lack of training, which need to be addressed to protect the public. That is the route that we should be taking.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
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The hon. Lady makes a really good point. I know that she is an animal lover and a champion of the cause, and I thank her for her intervention.

A 2021 independent report by Middlesex University, commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, found that dog bite data is lacking and is inconsistent. However, it was used by the UK Government to underpin a breed-specific approach to public safety, which casts doubt on the evidence that certain breeds of dogs are inherently more dangerous. Breed-specific legislation means that dogs identified as a banned breed cannot be rehomed and strays of these breeds must therefore be put down. The RSPCA has put down 310 dogs in the past five years because of breed-specific legislation. Reforms would allow dogs that are not a risk to the public to be rehomed rather than put down.

Breed-neutral legislation that contains measures to effectively protect the public from dangerous dogs is needed. This would consist of a single dog control Act that consolidates the current complex legislative framework in a breed-neutral way. Dog control notices should be used proactively to help prevent incidents involving dangerous dogs, and there should be stronger penalties for irresponsible owners.