Legislation on Dangerous Dogs

Mark Spencer Excerpts
Monday 27th November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Mark Spencer Portrait The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries (Mark Spencer)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I am responding on behalf of Lord Benyon, the Minister responsible, who sits in another place.

We have seen the House at its very best today. We have had an informed debate in which a series of Members have wrestled with the challenge the Government faces of keeping people safe in our communities while at the same time making sure we do not affect people’s much loved pets. The debate was informed and enriched, not least by the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), who added a great deal to the debate with her presence, and by the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill), who has done a lot of work in this area. I knew when I saw my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Anna Firth) that I was about to be challenged on dog-on-dog attacks, as she is a tenacious campaigner. I know her constituent Michael will be very pleased to see her in her place representing poor old Millie, who suffered terribly in a dog-on-dog attack. I pay tribute to her for the work she does. We have had some great contributions.

We should stop and pause, as my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) did at the start of the debate, to recognise that dog attacks can have horrific consequences. The Government take that very seriously indeed. Sadly, we have seen an increase in serious and fatal dog attacks in recent years. The XL bully breed-type appears to have been disproportionately involved in that rise in attacks. That is why we have taken decisive action to ban the XL bully breed-type, to attempt to keep our communities safe. From 1 February 2024, it will be illegal for someone to be in possession of an XL bully breed-type unless they have a certificate of exemption.

We recognise the strength of feeling on breed-specific legislation, and that some people are opposed to the prohibition of specific breed-types. However, the Government must balance those views with our responsibility to protect public safety. We remain concerned that lifting any restrictions may result in more dog attacks. Therefore, there are no plans to repeal the breed-specific provisions in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Police and local authorities already have a range of powers available to them to tackle dangerous dogs and irresponsible dog ownership across all breeds of dog. Those powers range from lower level community protection notices, which require dog owners to take appropriate action to address behaviour, to more serious offences under the 1991 Act, whereby people can be put in prison for up to 14 years or disqualified from ownership, or dangerous dogs can be euthanised. We are working closely with enforcers to make sure that the full force of the law is applied to incidents involving all breeds of dog.

Of course, we know that dog attacks are complex and that there is no single silver bullet. That is why, alongside the ban, we are taking a multi-factoral approach to reducing dog attacks through our responsible dog ownership taskforce. The taskforce is considering the role of education and training for both dogs and their owners, and how we can improve data collection, recording and enforcement practices. We expect the taskforce to make its final recommendations very soon. In the meantime, DEFRA officials have been collaborating with the police and local authorities to deliver sessions to share best practice in preventive dog control enforcement and to encourage multi-agency working. We have been co-ordinating communications—for example, we can co-ordinate communication pushes with key partners, so that families are equipped with practical tips about how to enjoy spending time safely with dogs. This messaging has been widely disseminated to parents, health visitors, school nurses, safeguarding professionals, police forces and local authorities.

More widely, we are actively considering whether action is required to further protect dogs in breeding settings. As part of that work, we are reviewing the regulations for anyone in the business of breeding and selling dogs, and we have commissioned a report from the Animal Welfare Committee on the welfare implications of specialised canine reproductive practices.

I hope that colleagues are reassured that the Government are taking this issue very seriously and that this wide-ranging action is necessary to ensure continued public safety. I look forward to discussing the conclusions of the responsible dog ownership taskforce in due course. I wish to put on the record my thanks to everyone who has contributed to the debate today.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Will my right hon. Friend the Minister facilitate a debate on the statutory instrument, which is obviously of great concern to many Members of Parliament and even more so to our constituents, before it comes into force on 31 December?

--- Later in debate ---
Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Of course he will be fully aware that it is for parliamentary business managers to arrange such debates, but I will certainly have a conversation with those business managers following this debate. However, I think the House is now more informed, thanks to this debate, and I thank Members from all parties for their constructive contributions to it.