The clause provides that a person who owns or is in charge of a dog will be guilty of an offence if the dog attacks or worries livestock on any agricultural land or a road, path or verge thereof. The clause explains under what circumstances a person does not commit an offence even if a dog attacks or worries livestock. An owner will not commit an offence if they can prove that the dog was in the charge of another person without their consent—for example, if the dog had been stolen. The penalty for the offence is a fine up to level 3 on the standard scale.
We have moved beyond primates. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] Exactly. We are into a new part of this curious Bill. I start by welcoming the Government’s decision to update the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, which I had the pleasure of reading over lunch. It is extraordinary how much more succinct the legislation was in those days. It did it all in three pages—and, apparently, for thruppence. The Act has been on the statute book for a long time, and although it has been updated periodically, it clearly needs bringing into the modern period. We are all aware of the horrific impact that livestock worrying can have and the concern it creates for livestock owners across England and Wales.
Equally, we all welcome the increased access to the countryside that there has been in recent years and that many of our citizens have made good use of, particularly in the past couple of years. We also recognise the economic impact that those people bring to the rural economy. That is a positive. However, if more people are coming into such areas and walking in the countryside with their dogs, and if they are not well informed about the need to behave responsibly—and, sadly, some do behave irresponsibly—there is always the risk that the owners will fail to take good care of their dogs when they are close to livestock. This has clearly had an harmful impact on a number of communities. When the all-party parliamentary group for animal welfare looked into livestock worrying, I am told that it estimated that about 15,000 sheep had been killed by dogs in 2016. In 2019, NFU Mutual stated that livestock worrying cost the sector £1.2 million. The National Sheep Association’s annual survey on livestock worrying in 2020 found that 95% of its respondents had experienced livestock worrying on their farm, with the average cost being more than £1,000. As you would expect me to observe, Mr Davies, at a time when farmers are open to being undercut through the trade deals being cut by the Government, every single penny counts.
Livestock worrying also leaves dogs open to harm. SheepWatch UK has told us that in 2016 at least 49 dogs were shot and killed for chasing or killing sheep. These are complicated issues, and we know just how much distress can be caused to a huge range of people—the owners of the livestock, those who witness such events, and the emergency services who have to turn up and deal with the problems. It causes great pain and distress and, sadly, often death to the attacked animals. It also puts the life and health of the dog and the owner in danger, as horses and cattle, for example, are quite capable of causing harm not only to a dog that is attacking them, but to the people with them. I am sure that we will discuss that later.
I welcome the Government’s decision to take action in this area, but we believe that there is scope to improve the measures, and we have a number of amendments, which we will come to this afternoon, that would do that. A final point on this introductory clause to part 2: we are slightly disappointed that there no mechanism for compensating victims of livestock worrying. A later amendment of ours may address that issue. On that basis, I am quite happy with the clause.