New Clause 8 - Review of compensation for livestock owners in cases of livestock worrying

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 18th November 2021.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must carry out a review of the appropriate measures to compensate livestock owners for cases of livestock worrying.

(2) In conducting the review the Secretary of State must—

(a) consider the appropriate measures for compensating livestock owners who have been the victims of livestock worrying;

(b) consult the public and such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate on livestock worrying;

(c) bring forward legislation based on the findings of the review within 12 months of the date of Royal Assent to this Act.”—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to carry out a review of appropriate measures to compensate livestock owners who have been victims of livestock worrying.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:30 pm, 18th November 2021

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause returns us to part 2 of the Bill, on dogs attacking and worrying livestock. As I said on Tuesday, we want to address the issue of compensation for farmers who are victims of livestock worrying. As we noted then, livestock worrying has a significant financial impact: in 2020, the total costs were around £1.3 million, while data from NFU Mutual indicates that in the first quarter of this year, the cost of dog attacks on livestock rose by more than 50%. That insurer said that its total claims for January to March of this year were estimated at £686,000—up from £453,000 for the same period last year.

As we discussed on Tuesday, contributing factors may well be increased dog ownership and, since the first coronavirus lockdown, more people accessing the countryside with a lack of understanding of how to behave there. That is why organisations including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the National Farmers Union and the Countryside Alliance supported the requirement for dogs to be on leads when around livestock. We have had that debate, and the Committee chose not to go down that route, but that does not mean that we cannot use our deliberations as an opportunity to look at whether there are ways to offer support to livestock owners. I listened closely to the moving words from the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border.

The new clause would require the Secretary of State to carry out a review of the appropriate measures to compensate livestock owners for cases of livestock worrying. It would also require the Secretary of State to bring forward legislation based on the findings of the review within 12 months of the date of the Bill receiving Royal Assent.

This is not a simple issue, but given that there are rights of way, and that we all want more people to enjoy access to the countryside, it is reasonable, when those various rights collide, to at least consider the consequences for those who live in the countryside and whose living is made by raising livestock. Is there a public responsibility to help in those situations? The need to find the right balance calls for a proper review.

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

We absolutely understand how distressing and financially damaging livestock worrying can be for farmers. The legislation makes reforms to provide police with more powers to tackle dog attacks on livestock, so that we can identify and, we hope, prevent repeat offences. That should, in turn, lead to fewer instances of livestock worrying, but we will monitor that closely.

However, we appreciate the importance of not leaving farmers out of pocket when they fall victim to livestock worrying attacks. We agree that suitable and effective compensation mechanisms are key. There are various ways that farmers can recoup their losses, including through out-of-court settlements, civil compensation claims and insurance claims. Insurance is often claimed via the NFU, which is, as we know, the UK’s leading rural insurer. The NFU estimates that the cost of dog attacks on farm animals was around £1.3 million in 2020, and the average value of an NFU claim in this area was £1,329. Most livestock worrying incidents are resolved in out-of-court settlements through the community resolution process. That is the police’s preferred route; it allows the victim to be compensated swiftly without escalation, and relies on an agreement between the victim and the suspect.

We are happy to consider how well existing mechanisms—other than insurance via the NFU and other providers—work. We will work closely with the industry and the police to ensure that that happens. By modernising the legislation and improving the enforcement mechanisms, we aim to reduce livestock attacks in the future. We hope that, through improved awareness, with dogs being kept away from livestock and on leads where appropriate, there will be less need for compensation. I therefore ask that the new clause be withdrawn.

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

In the light of the Minister’s response, for which I am grateful, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.