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

This is a slightly different point. If one is to have a prohibition order, one has in statutory terms to define the dog to which that order applies. For the purpose of an importation prohibition order, or for that matter a possession prohibition order, one cannot define the dog other than by reference to breed. One cannot simply say that everybody is prohibited from possessing a ferocious dog. One can say that, when a ferocious dog is kept in particular circumstances, an offence is committed. One cannot say that no ferocious dog shall be imported into the United Kingdom, because that is an unenforceable piece of legislation. One can say that Latin American pit bull terriers cannot be imported into the United Kingdom.

I do not want to go back to what I was doing previously with regard to the hon. Gentleman, but what is an American pit bull terrier? That is a serious question. Obviously, a pure-bred American pit bull terrier is an American pit bull terrier, but what about a half-breed or a cross-breed? How does one recognise a dog which has in it a sufficient quantity of Amerian pit bull terrier genes to give it the characteristics of an American pit bull terrier but also has different parentage? It loses the definitional character, and therefore the prohibition cannot operate because it is nonsense if one focuses on breeds.

It is the point about the 1847 Act that is troubling the hon. Gentleman. That Act provides in effect that where one has a ferocious animal one has to do certain things: for example, keep it on a leash and keep a muzzle on it. The question is: what is a ferocious animal? That is not a definitional question; that is a question of fact.

I think it is possible, although I do not express a definite view on this, that the courts would be prepared to say that an American pit bull terrier, having regard to its pedigree and essential characteristics, was per se a ferocious animal. I do not think that such a finding would be applied to many dogs, but it might be applied to an American pit bull terrier.

With that exception, one has to apply the test in the context of any dog that is capable of falling within it. Any dog is capable of being ferocious. Therefore, under the 1847 Act, I think it is true that a very small number of a breed may per se be ferocious, otherwise one is looking at the characteristics of the particular dog in respect of which the summons is issued.

If the hon. Gentleman will reflect on it he will see why, on the one hand, it is impossible to prohibit possession and importation by way of breed, while on the other it is possible to express the view that perhaps American pit bull terriers would per se fall within the 1847 legislation.

The point that I am making, therefore, is that it is essential that any legislative changes we make should be measured, sensible and well aimed. They must also, incidentally, command the support of the public and not act against the large numbers of dog owners whose animals present no nuisance and therefore no threat. We think that the kind of changes—not going into detail, Madam Deputy Speaker