Dangerous Dogs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:26 pm on 15th June 1989.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 7:26 pm, 15th June 1989

The reasons for the distinction are those that the hon. Gentleman has himself advanced in his many interesting interventions. I think that an American pit bull terrier is essentially a fighting dog, bred for that purpose. No one would say that that was true of a rottweiler: rottweilers are guard dogs.

I had the pleasure of meeting representatives of the Council of Docked Breeds recently, one of whom was the secretary or chairman of the Rottweiler Society. There are 90,000, and although some may be fierce and clearly are, it would be wrong to regard the majority of the breed in that way. That is probably not true of the American pit hull terrier, although it is probably fair to say that the majority of that breed have a propensity to violence, which might well classify them as ferocious animals within the meaning of the 1847 Act. It is at least quite likely that the 1847 Act would prohibit someone from keeping unmuzzled in a public place an American pit hull terrier—or, for that matter, any dog that could be properly regarded as ferocious by reason either of its breed or its past record or present circumstances.

Allowing a ferocious dog off the lead without a muzzle is a serious matter which I do not think that people fully appreciate. They should know that the courts already have powers to deal with them severely. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that, in Scotland, similar powers exist—although expressed in a more modern form—in the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.

Civil liability in respect of injury or damage caused by dogs in Scotland is regulated by the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987. In England and Wales it is regulated by the Animals Act 1971, which provides that the keeper of an animal is liable for any damage that it causes if he knew that the animal was likely to cause such damage or injury if unrestrained. The two Acts allow those who have been attacked and injured to claim damages.

It will, of course, depend on proof of knowledge on the part of the defendant, and that knowledge flows from the defendant's knowledge of a particular dog and of the way that it is likely to respond in specific circumstances. I fully appreciate that no amount of compensation could make good the loss of the daughter of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but those Acts apply in a number of cases of injury.

I wish, however, to focus on a third piece of legislation, which is of critical importance. It is legislation that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is hoping that the House will amend, preferably soon. I refer to the Dogs Act 1871, which applies throughout Great Britain. Under that Act, anyone can complain to a court—