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Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 29th October 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour 7:30 pm, 29th October 2013

My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on his excellent speech.

I wish to speak on Part 7 of the Bill about dangerous dogs. In doing so I am aware of the great service that dogs give to our community. We know that dogs are great friends, they can be of great comfort to lonely people and children love them as pets. However, dogs also attack. There were 6,450 hospital admissions in the 12 months up to April 2012 caused by dog injuries and they cost the NHS £3 million.

I should like to tell your Lordships’ House a story of which I am personally aware involving a friend of mine. Dilwar Ali’s six year-old son was attacked in his own garden by a neighbour’s dog. Dilwar told me the story of what happened to his son. He said:

“On 2nd September 2011, my six-year old son was helping my wife bring in the washing from the back garden of our home in Llandaff North, Cardiff. Suddenly the fence came down and the dog from next door bounded into my back garden. The dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, bit my son on both sides of his face, taking a chunk out of his right cheek and hand. I’m told that these dogs were bred to hunt lions. I do know that it took two men to restrain the dog. The dog has since been destroyed. My son was rushed to the University Hospital of Wales, then to Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery at Morriston for emergency surgery. Miraculously he was not killed but he is scarred for life and will have to undergo several operations on his face over the next 10 years. It is over 22 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was passed. Public money and resources have been spent by police forces seizing dogs suspected of being a particular breed regardless of whether they are behaving dangerously or not. Yet dog bite incidents continue to rise proving that the Westminster Government's response in 1991 has not provided a solution. I do not believe that in most cases it is the dog which is at fault. Whilst genetics affect a dog’s temperament, its environment and training are far more important. These issues are down to the owner and the way the dog is, or is not, cared for. It is time for the law to be changed; time for a Dog Control Act encouraging responsible ownership and holding irresponsible owners to account”.

That was Dilwar Ali’s experience and his son will have to live with that for the rest of his life.

The Bill introduces community protection notices for general use in containing anti-social behaviour, including irresponsible behaviour by dog owners. All the experts agree that specific dog control notices are the better tool to give to local authorities to enable them to take steps to prevent dogs going out of control and to bring dogs back under control. There are differences between a community protection notice and a dog control notice. First, a community protection notice can be issued only after multiple incidents have occurred in practice, after a written notice has already been given to the dog owner and after someone has complained about the owner’s failure to prevent persistently aggressive behaviour on the part of the dog. Secondly, the criteria for issuing a CPN are broad. They focus on a threat to the quality of life for whole communities and do not take into account one-off, isolated attacks that threaten the quality of life of an individual.

A dog control notice would in effect be an early warning system allowing dog owners to address their dog’s behaviour before multiple incidents occur and punishments are handed out. Intervening early may also improve dog welfare because DCNs would ensure that dogs are retrained and owners re-educated in conjunction with the advice of local authorities. This makes a DCN more specific to an incident and therefore much more effective. A DCN looks at the warning signs and puts preventive measures in place. It takes action before an out-of-control dog attacks and it promotes responsible ownership. Dog control notices lay greater responsibility on the dog and its owner by providing a fairer and more balanced law that prevents the need for punitive measures, and it can save money. Enforcers do not need to resort to costly court proceedings, notices and prosecutions, thereby making better use of limited resources and time by nipping the problem in the bud. Perhaps the Minister can comment on that in his reply.

Clause 98 amends the Dangerous Dogs Act to include private property as well as public places and is to be welcomed. However, can the Minister say whether this would include the case I spoke of earlier—that of a dog that jumps over the garden fence and attacks a child playing in his own garden? Would this clause deal with such cases—that of a dog entering a private garden and attacking a person? The Minister said in his opening remarks that the clause would cover all places and, I assume, all incidents of that nature.

The Minister will be aware that the Welsh Government have withdrawn their own Bill on dangerous dogs and are working with the UK Government on this Bill. I understand that working together has been beneficial to the United Kingdom Government, given that a lot of work has been done by the Welsh Government. As I understand it, the Welsh Government have retained their right to introduce legislation if the UK Government do not cover all the aspects that the Welsh Bill would have covered. Can the Minister comment on that? I understand that the Welsh Government are working now with his department in order to produce a good Bill that will cover the aspects that we want in Wales.