Clause 39 - Meaning of “worrying livestock”

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 16th November 2021.

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Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:30 pm, 16th November 2021

I beg to move amendment 90, in clause 39, page 23, line 9, leave out

“or a pack of hounds”.

This amendment would remove the exemption for working packs of hounds from provisions covering livestock worrying.

We now move on to some of the definitions. As we have already heard, some of the wording has been lifted from the 1953 Act. There are probably some in the Government who wish we were still living in 1953. Looking at the events of last night, some of them still are living in 1953 in my view, but the world has moved on and our amendment reflects that fact.

I know that hunting with dogs is a controversial issue. It is something that I and colleagues on the Opposition Benches have sought to stop over many years. We are pleased that many on the Government Benches have come to that conclusion too. The Conservative manifesto in 2019 was quite clear:

“We will make no changes to the Hunting Act.”

“Good,” we say, but we would like to see that strengthened and the wordings, which have come from legislation from a different era, should reflect the new realities we now live in. The inclusion of hunting dogs in the list in clause 39 is part of that reference back to a different world.

With trail hunting, which is clearly now the only form of acceptable hunting, there is absolutely no need for the trail to be taken close to livestock. If that is happening, we have to ask ourselves why. It should not be happening, so we do not think this exemption is necessary and we would like the phrase taken out. We will press this amendment to a vote.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is right. We have carried over the existing language from the 1953 Act relating to assistance and working dogs. I listened to what he and colleagues said on Second Reading about the wording of this section generally, and I am certainly prepared to look at it. I think we need to look again at the language. It might, for example, be simpler to make a general exemption for working dogs while they are being worked, which is the situation in the Scottish legislation that was passed relatively recently. I also believe that “assistance dogs” is the modern terminology for guide dogs, although I would need to look at that further. Of course, assistance dogs, when they are being used, are usually—although perhaps not always—on the lead in any event. I feel that further work needs to be done on the wording, and I am happy to consider that before Third Reading. In those circumstances, I ask the hon. Member to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:45 pm, 16th November 2021

I am grateful to the Minister. I think that is a sensible compromise, and I am very tempted by her offer, but on something as totemic as this I am afraid that we still have to press the amendment to a vote. What we have before us is what we have before us, and we do not think it should be in the Bill.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 4 Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill — Clause 39 - Meaning of “worrying livestock”

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move amendment 89, in clause 39, page 23, line 12, at beginning insert

“where keeping a dog on a lead of 1.8 metres or less would pose a risk of harm to the person in charge of the dog,”.

This amendment would broaden the definition of “at large” dogs, by requiring non-exempt dogs in fields with relevant livestock present to be on a lead to be deemed under control unless keeping the dog on a lead poses a risk of harm to the person in charge of the dog.

During the evidence sessions on the Bill, much of the debate on this topic came down to whether a dog should be on a lead or not, and we heard many people give their view on that question. As we understand it, the position in the Bill is that it is acceptable for a dog to be in a field with livestock without a lead as long as the owner is aware of its actions and reasonably confident that the dog will return to the person on command. We heard a number of people discussing that, and I think many of us feel that that is not always likely to be the situation. Certainly, the majority of wildlife organisations feel that it is time to make a change here. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club, Blue Cross, the Canine and Feline Sector Group and many more have come out in support of a provision that would require dogs to be on leads when in a field that contains livestock.

Ultimately, dogs on leads are not in a position to run off from their owners and attack livestock, so, in my view, keeping them on a lead protects farm animals. That seems fairly straightforward to me. I appreciate that there may be more complexity, but that is the basic proposition. Given the serious financial and mental hardship that livestock worrying has been causing farmers, the need for someone to keep their dog on a lead does not seem to me to be a major sacrifice.

This was probably the issue that came up most in the evidence sessions. So far as I recall, most witnesses wanted dogs to be on a lead, and we agree. We recognise that near cattle, there is a risk to human life should the person with the dog not be able to release it swiftly. However, by my reading—I am willing to be corrected—clause 39(4) defines the relevant livestock for those purposes as

“poultry, enclosed gamebirds or sheep.”

The memo to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee is helpful, referring on page 6 to the relevant livestock:

“It covers animals that will respond to being scared by a dog by running and clumping together, which can result in these animals getting trampled and smothered, sometimes leading to fatalities.”

While keeping the dog on a lead may not stop that altogether, I cannot help thinking that it would help.

When preparing for the Bill, Baroness Hayman—who worked on Labour’s 2019 animal welfare manifesto, and who is a guiding light for us—told me that requiring dogs to be kept on leads could, in some instances, result in harm to the dog owner. Most notably, if a dog on a lead attacks a herd of cows, they may decide to protect themselves by attacking the dog. When a dog is off the lead, it can run away fast enough to avoid danger.

I think that the Government have solved the problem. Amendment 89 strikes the right balance between the two issues. It requires dog owners to keep their dogs on a lead in fields where the relevant livestock are present, except in instances where doing so would pose a risk of harm to the person in charge of the dog.

Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media & Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Housing, Communities & Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (The Constitution and Welsh Affairs)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for what I believe is the first time, Mr Davies. I rise to speak briefly in support of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Cambridge.

Last week, we heard quite a bit of convincing evidence on the need to curtail and clarify the definitions in this regard. Mr Rob Taylor from the police force explained that although the Bill, as worded, might not necessarily cause a problem for the prosecution or investigation of such crimes under the Bill, such clarifications might help public understanding—so that people know, when walking in the countryside where there are livestock in the fields, that they need to keep their dog on a lead.

Furthermore, we heard from both the National Farmers Union and Dr Hazel Wright of the Farmers Union of Wales that such clarifications would perhaps embolden farmers to look at their signage and keep it current. Dr Wright mentioned that, as the law stands, farmers do not always feel encouraged or, indeed, incentivised to keep signage up to date, especially when it pertains to whether livestock are present in a particular field. Her argument was very convincing: if we were to clarify and strengthen the law so that it is clear when a dog needs to be kept on a lead, farmers would react positively and make the effort to keep their signage current and up to date. That would benefit those wishing to enjoy the countryside and be in the interests of farmers.

Representing a rural constituency, I have sadly had to see many photographs of the consequences of a dog attack. If we were able to clarify the law in this regard, it would not only greatly benefit farmers, but improve public understanding. Ultimately, that is the only real way to tackle and reduce instances of dog attacks. I again place on record my support for amendment 89.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Diolch yn fawr. The debate has been useful and thoughtful, and I thank the hon. Members for Cambridge and for Ceredigion for their contributions. I am afraid that we will not accept the amendment, but I have no doubt that the debate will continue in order to find the way to get the balance right.

To avoid committing the “at large” offence, a dog walker would need to be aware of their dog’s actions and ensure it stays in sight. The person must be confident that their dog will come back promptly on command. It is not enough for the dog walker to merely think that their dog will come back when called. There are dogs who come back when called—not ones that have ever been members of my family, but I do know of such dogs—but for the rest of us, I would refer us very firmly to the recently refreshed countryside code. That document, which advises dog owners on how to walk their dogs responsibly, is worth a google when Members are out of Committee.

That document is supported by a public awareness campaign, which we tried to ramp up during lockdown because we found that there were many new dog owners who needed to be told very firmly that unless their dog was really under control, it needed to be on a lead. In the majority of cases, of course, if a person’s dog is not under control, they would be caught under the chasing offences in the Bill that we have just discussed, so it is very rare that this particular “at large” offence will be needed. I also remind the Committee once more that two thirds of livestock worrying attacks are by unaccompanied dogs, who are clearly not on leads because they do not have an owner with them. Their owners would be caught by the “at large” offence, but we do not think it is sensible and proportionate to catch responsible dog owners whose dogs are not on a lead and are not at risk of worrying livestock.

We will continue to work to raise public awareness. The countryside code is quite clear that owners should keep their dog under effective control,

“always keep your dog on a lead or in sight”,

“be confident your dog will return on command”,

and, on open access land and at the coast, owners must put their dog on a lead during periods of the year that are effectively lambing season. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Cambridge to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am disappointed by the Minister’s response, because I thought that the evidence we were given was pretty overwhelming. I think the concern that a number of people have expressed to us about the potential danger with cattle has been dealt with by the Government themselves in their definition of relevant livestock. I was grateful for the hon. Member for Ceredigion’s expertise and knowledge, and his point about the signage—which was strongly made in the evidence session—was well made.

I suggest to the Minister that people of my generation, and possibly hers, grew up with many of the promotions about the countryside code and so on. It was drummed into people, but I am not convinced that younger generations have got that message in quite the same way. Sometimes, when I see accounts of some offences by younger people, I am struck by the fact that what would seem obvious to me does not seem obvious to them. One of the most difficult things for a person to do is to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Particularly during lockdown, people went out with dogs for the first time, and we know that on a whole range of issues—not just livestock worrying—people behaved in ways that were challenging to many of the authorities.

Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media & Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Housing, Communities & Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (The Constitution and Welsh Affairs)

In support of the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, one of the most surprising aspects of lockdown was how few people understood that they needed to close gates, which can cause a whole host of issues, both for the farmer and for the local communities that find a herd of cows or a flock of sheep going down the road. Those of us who are well versed in the countryside perhaps have a higher sensitivity to things such as the countryside code, but the younger generation and also, perhaps, those visiting or enjoying the countryside for the first time would respond with a very bemused expression if the countryside code was ever raised with them.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Listening to his comments, I realise that I am in danger of stigmatising younger people. I do not think it is their fault at all. It is partly because we have moved away from some of the public health and public information campaigns that we used to have.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I absolutely understand the tenor of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Precisely for that reason, I refer him to the new and refreshed countryside code that was put out by Natural England during the last pandemic period. It is genuinely done in a way that is accessible and fresh for a new audience, so I politely suggest that members of the Committee have a good look at it and promote it wherever possible.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I gently reflect that, in the modern information age, that is sometimes more challenging for those of us who grew up on a diet of three channels on black and white TV. I am sorry to give away my age. However, you could not get away from a lot of the public information messages. In the modern world, there is far more. It is just my sense that there are a lot of people who have come into the countryside—and that is good; we want people to come and understand—but they do not necessarily understand. The message has to be simple and very clear.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border 3:00 pm, 16th November 2021

We are reaching a degree of consensus about this, in terms of the importance of education. Like the hon. Member for Ceredigion, I represent a rural constituency and we have had a lot of access to the countryside during the pandemic.

I take on board the Minister’s comments about the new countryside code. We have a spirit of agreement across the Committee and we encourage the Government, the Department for Education and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to advocate the countryside code going into schools. That way, it becomes part of the education process for the next generation so that people appreciate the countryside, appreciate how and where food is produced and how to be respectful of that countryside that we all enjoy. We are in agreement and we just need to get the message out there, into schools and into the education system.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Everyone would agree with all that, but that is for the future. We are dealing with a generation now. It is not just a generational issue, but groups of people are going into the countryside who are either not cognisant of those recommendations, or just not behaving very well, frankly. I am afraid there are people who do not. That is why we think a simple measure like this one would help alleviate the problems that people in the countryside face. We think that the amendment is important and quite straightforward, and on that basis, we will put it to a vote.

Photo of James Grundy James Grundy Conservative, Leigh

I declare my interest as I did before: I live on a working family farm. Some people might be surprised to learn that Leigh is a county constituency and it has large rural parts. The Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, in which it sits, is also rural.

I have seen the aftermath of a dog attack on sheep. As the hon. Member for Ceredigion said, it is grim. I have immense sympathy on the issue, but believe the amendment as worded may prove to be a blunt instrument. However, I hope that, by the time we take the Bill to the next stage, the Minister will have some reassurance for those of us who have firm concerns on this issue and believe that dogs should be on a lead around sheep, poultry and other animals that would be at risk if they were let off the leash, given the terrible consequences that can happen when dogs become out of control in those circumstances.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sure the Minister has heard the strong words from her own side.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I speak in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, who set out well why we think the amendment is necessary. I want to pick up on something the Minister said. The confidence people have around being in control of their dogs is interesting and has definitely taken hold of some internet memes. Dare I say the word “Fenton”? I wanted to have more understanding of that element. I take the point that two thirds of dogs are unattended. However, the amendment is important because in that third of cases in which they are with their owner, should we not push for as much control as possible over an animal in the presence of the relevant livestock?

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I remind the hon. Lady that it is not enough for the dog walker merely to think their dog will come back when called. The dog must actually come back when called.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 5 Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill — Clause 39 - Meaning of “worrying livestock”

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The clause defines exactly what constitutes worrying livestock and sets out the exemptions.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Without re-rehearsing the previous discussion, we would have liked the clause to be strengthened, but our amendment has been rejected, so let us go forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 39 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West

Order. I am suspending the Committee for six minutes for a comfort break. We will have a new batch of clauses to go through when we return.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—