My Lords, unlike my noble friend Lord Paddick, who made such an excellent maiden speech, I am a serial offender on the issues that are being raised today. I shall speak on dogs, as I have often before. In fact, I have raised two Private Member’s Bills on dangerous dogs.
I welcome the initiative brought forward by the Government. Like many of the organisations that deal with dogs, I would have liked a Bill specifically focused on dogs and the issues around them. However, I can understand why the Government have taken the course that they have. We are looking at the amendment of 12 different pieces of legislation, which causes problems for those people who try to administer issues around dangerous dogs. It is complicated and involves a number of different issues: the breed of the dog, the type of the dog, the behaviour of the dog, the behaviour of the owner and the circumstances of the incident.
Nevertheless, I welcome this Bill because dogs, like archaeology—another issue that I have raised over many years—always seem to be tagged on to the end of other pieces of legislation. It is good to see that many of the issues are being brought forward. I would very much like the opportunity to discuss the guidance document on dogs with the Minister; the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, has been most helpful. I understand why it is a complicated document, but it now runs to around 100 pages. That gives the impression that we will have difficulty in understanding what that guidance actually contains, and that is, perhaps, a recipe for slight issues. I hope that a one-page précis can be given out to those who try to enforce it, because a number of agencies will have to administrate it—not just the police but dog wardens and other appointed parties.
I want to raise a number of other issues in the very brief time allotted for these speeches. Considering how many hours I have spent talking about dogs, I think that six minutes is very parsimonious. I know that the Dogs Trust is hoping for dog control notices, and that issue will be discussed. There are also provisions on dogs attacking trespassers on their own property. While I very much welcome and have pushed for provisions on dog attacks on private property to solve some of the problems that we have seen, we need to discuss the defence of owners, which is an important aspect. We forget that there are 8.2 million dogs in this country; most owners are extremely responsible and would be horrified by the idea that they might be labelled as owners of dangerous dogs.
The whole point of any legislation around dogs is that it is the owner who is responsible. The important point is which end of the lead is actually responsible for the behaviour of the dog. A key aspect of the legislation that the Government are bringing forward is to make sure that owners understand their responsibilities. On that basis, I welcome the severe tariffs that are associated with owners who have used dogs as a weapon. There have been several cases, and at least one conviction, where a dog has been used as a murder weapon. That is totally unacceptable. I believe, therefore, that the tariff should reflect the seriousness and the heinous nature of such a crime. Many people who own dogs for intimidation do so because it does not have the same tariff as carrying a knife. We have to take that issue into account.
The other issue is that of protected animals. Under the 2006 Act, protected animals are specified. I am glad to see that frogs are not included because I have a cockapoo who lost a fight recently with a frog—it is a long and complicated story, so I will leave it, given the time of night. However, there is an issue with dogs attacking other dogs. We know from the figures that dogs that have been used to attack other dogs often attack people. The Blue Cross is particularly concerned about making owners aware that it is unacceptable to use their dogs to attack other animals, such as cats. I think that that will cause some controversy.
I give the Minister prior notice that “protected animals” includes farm livestock. This just shows the difficulty of introducing legislation in this area. As a farmer, the Minister knows that there is a severe financial penalty for sheep worrying. Indeed, the NFU gave the figure of £1,500 in some recorded cases. Unfortunately, the offence is handled under the 1956 Act, where the maximum penalty is £10. I very much hope that we can revisit this to make sure that owners are aware of the great burden that can fall on sheep farmers, especially when the income of hill farmers is not at its highest. I declare an interest as the owner of two hill farms, so I know that the income from them is not high.