Dangerous Dogs

– in the Scottish Parliament on 17 September 2013.

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Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to prevent attacks by dangerous dogs. (S4T-00452)

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I am aware of weekend reports of a dog attack on an eight-year-old girl in Dundee. The local constituency MSP, Shona Robison, has already raised the matter with me and I appreciate the concerns that have been raised. I am sure that the Parliament’s sympathies go to the girl and her family as she recovers from her ordeal. There is obviously an on-going police investigation.

More generally, we are clear that owning a dog brings certain responsibilities, and irresponsible dog owners who allow their dogs to be out of control should be subject to appropriate controls and sanctions. That is why, in 2010, the Parliament extended the criminal law so that a dog could not be dangerously out of control in either a public or a private place. The extension to include private places means that an owner must be responsible for their dog at all times and in all places. The Parliament also gave local authorities new powers to require the microchipping of out-of-control dogs through the creation of the dog control notice regime for use by officers who are authorised by local authorities.

More recently, I attended the Justice Committee last week to seek its approval for increased penalties to be available to our courts when they deal with cases involving dangerously out-of-control dogs.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

The cabinet secretary talks about appropriate controls and sanctions, but those come after the attack. He talks about dog control notices, but is he aware that Angus Council, in my region, has issued only one such notice since the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 came into force, and Dundee City Council, in whose area the attack took place at the weekend, has issued none? Does the cabinet secretary plan to review the 2010 act to see exactly how effective it is?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

No. What we seek to do is to build on the 2010 act. Indeed, those south of the border are currently seeking to do that. I pay tribute to Christine Grahame, who was instrumental in bringing the act in.

We realise that changes have to be made because of court decisions down south, and that is being addressed. As I said, I appeared at the Justice Committee to support the legislative consent motion so that we can ensure that the actions and character of the owner are taken into account as well as dealing with matters relating to guide dogs and assistance dogs, where additional measures are clearly required. We have a good basis in the 2010 act, and that is recognised by those south of the border who now seek to replicate it, but we have to be ever vigilant.

With regard to the particular matters relating to Dundee and Angus, it is for local authorities to decide to whom to issue a dog control notice. Having been involved in the debate when the bill went through the Parliament, I am conscious that it is a question of deed, not breed and that the overwhelming majority of dog owners are responsible. It is the minority that are irresponsible who have to be targeted and dealt with.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

There are frequent dangerous dog attacks that the 2010 act is not preventing, and most of them are on children. They include the attack in Dundee at the weekend and a vicious attack in Arbroath this summer. Does the cabinet secretary agree that it is now time to consider preventative measures such as muzzling and leads, because the sanctions that his Government has put in force are just not working?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The member was not in the Parliament in 2010, but the whole purpose of the dog control notice is so that a council can decide whether to insist on microchipping, muzzling or a variety of other measures. This is a matter on which we have to encourage local authorities. If Ms Marra is unhappy with the attitudes and actions of the local authorities, she should raise the matter with them. I believe that we have a sound basis in law that we are seeking to build on, and indeed it is an approach that is being followed south of the border.

Photo of Dennis Robertson Dennis Robertson Scottish National Party

I am sure that the cabinet secretary shares my concern about any attack on a child or indeed any person. Does he also share my concern about the increasing attacks on guide dogs and assistance dogs? Will he confirm what the latest position is regarding the LCM on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill and say whether there will be an amendment from the Scottish Government to make such an attack an aggregated offence?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

The purpose of my appearing at the Justice Committee was to move support for the LCM to ensure that, with the changes that are being made south of the border, which replicate our 2010 act, matters that are not currently provided for in Scotland—particularly the point that Dennis Robertson made about assistance dogs—will be covered. It is entirely unacceptable that these dogs should be subject to attacks. We have to ensure that the legislation provides for that, and I assure the member that we have sought to include the matter. The timescale is now, to some extent, subject to matters south of the border, but I will be happy to keep him advised as matters progress.

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative

A number of people who are involved in the dog rescue sector have put it to me that there are many dangerous feral dogs as a result of indiscriminate breeding of animals, particularly in socially rented properties. People have expressed concern that, in time, there will be a very serious or fatal attack. I raised the issue of indiscriminate breeding of dogs in a members’ business debate last week. Will the cabinet secretary liaise with the environment and housing ministers and arrange a cross-party meeting between ministers and interested MSPs to discuss the issue?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

I am always happy to take members’ comments on board. We have been working closely across the Government—my colleague Paul Wheelhouse responded to last week’s debate.

I think that we can say that it is a minority of dog owners who allow their dogs to behave in the manner that has been described. The maxim in the 2010 act was deed, not breed. I am sad to say that sometimes the issue is not the animal but the owner. To some extent, that is a matter not for legislation with regard to animals but for action against individuals. I am more than happy to engage with Ms Milne on the matter.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I thank the cabinet secretary for his references to the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010—the bill proposal was initiated by Alex Neil and continued by me.

As the cabinet secretary knows, there have been more than 1,000 investigations in the period of just more than a year since the 2010 act came into force. However, Jenny Marra has a point. The act is not well enough publicised, to ensure that there is intervention at an early stage, before a dog gets to the point at which it is dangerous. Does the Government have plans to publicise the act? Can it help in any way in that regard?

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

We seek to work with local authority partners, given that they must deal on the front line with many of the matters that we are considering. I meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities regularly, and when I next do so I will be more than happy to take on board the positions of Ms Marra and Ms Grahame and point out to Harry McGuigan and others who deal with community safety that there is some dissatisfaction in the Parliament—although not necessarily among Government ministers. I am also more than happy to take on board the views of Ms Grahame and Ms Milne on how we further publicise the 2010 act.

We are talking about a small minority, but there have been incidents, as Ms Marra said, which are tragic and can have fatal consequences. It is therefore appropriate that everyone, at every level, should do everything that they can do. I think that we have a sufficient legislative base. That base is being built on, and we need to ensure that the theory behind the legislation is implemented in practice.