On behalf of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the committee’s scrutiny of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 with colleagues from across the chamber, and across parties, this afternoon.
In May 2018, members debated a motion by Alex Neil, who is a member of the committee, calling for post-legislative scrutiny of the 2010 act. After hearing stories from other members of the committee of out-of-control and dangerous dogs throughout Scotland, the committee unanimously agreed that it was important that the effectiveness of the 2010 act be scrutinised.
The committee issued its call for evidence on 3 July 2019 and received 49 responses from local authorities, animal welfare organisations, medical practitioners, representative bodies and members of the public. From the submissions that we received, it quickly became clear that wider dog control issues, primarily those falling under the scope of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, were also of great concern to members of the public.
The committee began its scrutiny by holding three public engagement events, in Airdrie, Dalkeith and Dundee, where members heard shocking stories of people and pets being attacked by out-of-control dogs. Members of the public attending those sessions also shared their frustrations around the subsequent actions of the enforcement bodies, primarily police and local councils.
The committee began its formal oral evidence taking by hearing from parents whose young children had been attacked and seriously injured by dogs. I think that we all felt that it was one of the most powerful committee meetings that we had ever attended. We listened in horror as Claire Booth and Lisa Grady spoke of the dog attacks on their children and the life-changing injuries that they received as a result. We were humbled as Veronica and John Lynch bravely shared with us the events around the tragic incident in which their daughter Kellie, at only 11 years of age, sustained fatal injuries when she was attacked by two Rottweilers. The summer that that happened, Kellie had been due to start at St John’s high school with me. Our year group was much the poorer for her absence.
The committee and I thank those parents for their bravery, and we thank each person who shared their experiences with us. That reinforced to the committee how important it is to have effective dog control legislation in place and the consequences if it is not in place.
We also heard from medical professionals who treat patients who have been injured in dog attacks. Dr Alasdair Corfield, from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, considers that every dog bite injury is a significant event. Dr Judy Evans, from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, told us that in every case of a child coming in to see the plastic surgeons with a dog bite injury, there is not just one patient; there will be at least five. There will be parents and, perhaps, grandparents; that all adds to the burden for our national health service.
The Communication Workers Union told us that, since the 2010 act, 2,500 postal workers have been attacked. Local authorities and dog wardens told us of the challenges that they face when they attempt to enforce dog control legislation.
Some of the members of the Communication Workers Union have joined us in the public gallery today. They are posties, some of whom have been savagely attacked by dogs. Since April this year, there have been 129 attacks on Royal Mail employees in Scotland. If there had been 129 assaults on postal workers by people, that would be taken a lot more seriously.
John is in the gallery. He is a postie and he works in Dumfries. A year ago, he was savagely attacked by a dog. His arm was horrifically injured and he has a permanent disfigurement and disability. He is 60. He told me that he had three firsts that day: he had never been in an ambulance, he had never had an operation—that tells us about the burden on the NHS—and, surprisingly enough, he had never been in Glasgow. John is bravely but necessarily back at his work.
That is the scale of the threat that our workers face every day. They have more and more contact with householders, and, as a consequence, dogs, because they deliver an increasing number of parcels, which forces them to go to the door and be welcomed into the house or have a transaction on the doorstep.
The stories and safety of other delivery people, such as Amazon drivers, and of care workers, who spend a lot of time in people’s homes, are untold, because those industries are not as well organised or represented. Make no mistake, however—the threat to them is just as grave.
I turn to the committee’s conclusions. We heard the evidence and we concluded that current dog control law in Scotland is not fit for purpose. We thought that that was a national crisis of safety for our children and citizens in general. We recommended that, without delay, the Scottish Government undertake a comprehensive review of all dog control legislation. In its report, the committee also set out recommendations to improve the implementation of the 2010 act in the interim.
I thank the Minister for Community Safety for her response to the committee’s report. I welcome her commitment to undertake a review to look at improving the operational effectiveness of the 2010 act, followed by a wider review of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
However, today, I seek assurances that the minister fully understands the gravity and public safety aspects of the situation. When she appeared before the committee, I was not convinced that she demonstrated full understanding of the issues.
In its report, the committee set out a range of issues that should be addressed as part of that wider review. It stated that action needs to be taken now to tackle dog attacks and it identified actions that would allow us to do so.
The committee welcomes the minister’s commitment to undertake those two reviews and asks that she provide the Parliament with detailed timescales for those reviews and, crucially, what issues she anticipates that they will include.
The committee asked that a public awareness campaign around the 2010 act be undertaken as a matter of urgency and said that it must include material that is directed at children and parents.
The committee notes the Scottish Government’s intention to develop a social media campaign in the next few months. Today, we would like a clearer indication of the timescale for that and how the Government plans to direct the campaign at children.
The committee also seeks a timescale for the Scottish Government to engage with local authorities on more tailored approaches to raising awareness of the 2010 act.
As part of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, Parliament voted to establish a dog control notice database. That is important because, as the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee has identified across a range of Government policy, there is a grave absence of data and evidence for the Government to base its policy on. Way back in 2010, when Christine Grahame’s bill was passed, Parliament agreed that a database was a sensible way forward. It would allow the Government to keep track of where dogs are, where attacks have happened and whether dogs that have attacked move around the country with families to other local authority areas.
However, to date—nine years later—the Government has failed to enact that provision. The National Dog Warden Association Scotland told the committee that the Scottish Government’s failure to set up a database was a big miss. I ask the minister today why she feels the need to consult again on the database, when Parliament already consulted on and debated its merits nine years ago. Why put us through more expense and delay on this? If she could commit today to enact the powers that Parliament has already passed and establish that database, it would give committee members some comfort.
Although I agree entirely with the member’s point, does she recall that, in the stage 3 debate on the bill, in April 2010, it was reported that the committee did not support the establishment of a database, although it accepted, in section 8 of the bill, that it was proper to put in a provision, should such a database be required at a later date?
Stewart Stevenson raises a valid point, although it still does not answer my question about why, despite Parliament passing that power, nine years later absolutely nothing has been done about it. If the minister could address that when she speaks, I would be very grateful.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the evidence that the committee took on the “one free bite” rule. This will surprise you, Presiding Officer, but our courts have a rule that if a dog’s bite permanently injures and disfigures a person, if there was no reasonable apprehension or even a thought that that dog might bite, the dog and the owner effectively get off scot free. The committee considered that to be a real problem and an anomaly in the law. During the committee’s consideration of the evidence, I spoke to one person who was absolutely appalled that she had been disfigured and that the owner of the dog had been let off scot free by our courts because of the “one free bite” rule. We took evidence from the Faculty of Advocates and the Crown Office, but if, as part of the wider review of legislation, the minister could review that law, which I think is unreasonable now, that would be very welcome.
The committee is pleased to note that several local authorities are now proactively meeting local police to help to form better working relationships. This may sound like a technical point, but it is crucial. When we took evidence, we found that, because dog control law is the responsibility of local councils and police, there was a real misunderstanding—especially among the police, I should add—about who was responsible for enacting those powers and taking control of an incident involving a dog. East Dunbartonshire Council in particular has undertaken to discuss all cases with local police officers and agree a suitable course of enforcement action in each instance. We welcome that, but we would encourage it to happen throughout the country.
.] I know—that is a promotion. Minister, the committee would also like to see data collection in hospitals soon. A doctor told us that they reckoned that there were 5,000 incidents across Scotland of people going to accident and emergency departments with dog bites, but no hard data on that has been collected by the Government. If we were able to collect that information, using simple recording mechanisms in hospitals and A and E departments, it could show the full extent of the problem.
For workers, for families and especially for children, this is a grave public safety concern. The posties who I met at lunchtime fear a fatality among their colleagues or other home workers. Thirty years on from the death of Dundee schoolgirl Kellie Lynch, we think that there are more dogs—we do not know, because of the lack of data—and that the threat is greater, yet there are not better laws to protect our citizens. We have a unique opportunity now, with the minister’s commitment to review these two pieces of legislation and to consult. I hope that Parliament can come to a consensus and seize this opportunity to make our communities safer, especially for our children.
That the Parliament notes the conclusions and recommendations contained in the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee’s 4th Report 2019 (Session 5)
Post-legislative Scrutiny: Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010
(SP Paper 572).
I welcome today’s Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee debate on the important issue of the control of dogs, and I am grateful to the committee a nd the clerking team for preparing a comprehensive report. I also thank those who provided evidence to the committee, in particular the members of families who have been affected by the traumatic and tragic experiences of serious dog attacks.
The Scottish Government responded last month to the recommendations that were directed to us, and I will explain the actions that we are taking to strengthen the operational effectiveness of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010.
At the outset, I confirm that the Scottish Government is committed to helping to keep communities safe from irresponsible dog owners and their out-of-control dogs. That is why the Scottish Government is progressing two reviews exploring steps to improve the dog control legislative regime. The first review, published last week, looks at practical measures that can be taken to improve the operational effectiveness of the 2010 act. The second review, which will be published next year, will consider the wider dog control legislative area, including whether the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 should be reformed. I will discuss those reviews in more detail shortly.
It is important to reflect the fact that the vast majority of Scotland’s estimated 600,000 dog owners are responsible people who take good care of their animals and enjoy the widespread benefits of dog ownership. Owning and caring for a dog brings many benefits. However, owning a dog brings with it certain important responsibilities, including keeping that dog under effective control within our communities. It is unfortunate that a small minority of owners do not control their dogs, as that can put public safety at risk.
In 2013 and 2014, the Scottish Government consulted on measures to better promote responsible dog ownership in Scotland. In 2015, we announced our intention to make microchipping of all dogs compulsory, allowing authorities to identify a dog’s owner. That came into force from April 2016. In May 2016, the Scottish Government issued a protocol detailing the responsibilities of various bodies in dealing with irresponsible dog ownership. As the committee found in its evidence, that protocol has been welcomed as clarifying the responsibilities of various enforcement agencies.
Evidence is crucial in understanding the extent of issues relating to out-of-control dogs. As the report found, there is a lack of comprehensive data on the full extent of the problem of out-of-control dogs. There is also a lack of such data showing how the problems that are associated with out-of-control dogs have changed over time. The data that is held relates to dog owners who have had formal action taken against them through the justice system or by local authorities. It is noteworthy that the number of prosecutions under the 1991 act of dog owners who allowed their dogs to be dangerously out of control dropped by one third between 2012-13 and 2017-18.
I believe that what the member is referring to involves the term “reasonable apprehension”, which Jenny Marra described.
I have seen the letter from the Communications Workers Union on behalf of postal workers, and I would be happy to meet representatives to discuss their concerns face to face. I am sure that they would be willing to take up that offer.
In 2017-18, the number of cases of out-of-control dogs—that is, cases in which a dog control notice was issued under the 2010 act—was at its highest level since the DCN regime was introduced in 2011.
However, as the committee acknowledged in its report, there is a lack of regular data that shows the effect of out-of-control dogs—that is, the number of injuries associated with dog bites and dog attacks. Such information is important if we are to understand the extent of problems associated with irresponsible dog ownership and how such problems have changed over time.
We have some information from individual NHS boards, in response to freedom of information requests on injuries caused by dogs, but that is far from the full picture. I absolutely acknowledge that, within the very real constraints in relation to placing new recording burdens on the NHS, we need to consider whether more regular data in the area can be routinely collected.
I completely appreciate what the minister said about placing new recording burdens on doctors. However, if we introduce a simple tick-box for a dog attack, we will gain a much better understanding of the issue. We might then be able to prevent future attacks, so that people do not end up in A and E in the first place.
Yes, and that is absolutely why I will see whether it is possible to record such information.
Without that information, it will be difficult to build up a set of data that enables us to understand the full extent of the problems that are associated with out-of-control dogs. That understanding is essential if we are to develop evidence-based policy and an operational enforcement response to irresponsible dog owners and the problems that their dogs create.
The committee received evidence on the role and practice of independent enforcement agencies. Members should be aware that a key consideration is whether it is the legal framework or the way in which the framework is used by agencies that requires improvement. Although the report rightly raised a number of issues to do with the legal framework, a critical issue is how independent enforcement agencies such as Police Scotland and local authorities use their powers.
I am afraid that the committee found that there is wide variation in local authorities’ approaches to using the powers in the 2010 act. Some local authorities have issued barely any DCNs since the 2010 act came into force. Changes to legislation will make little difference if local authorities do not seek to use their powers.
The committee took evidence from Police Scotland, which acknowledged that, as far as police officers’ understanding of their dog control enforcement powers is concerned, there is
“inconsistent knowledge across the country”.—[
Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee
, 7 March 2019; c 39.]
Effective and consistent enforcement throughout Scotland is fundamental to addressing issues to do with out-of-control dogs.
The 2010 act brought in a preventative regime. As the committee made clear, changes to the 2010 act in light of the experience of its use could aid local authorities in their enforcement efforts. That is the subject of the first review that I mentioned: the Scottish Government consultation document, “Improving the Operational Effectiveness of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010”, which was published last week, focuses on practical improvements that can assist local authorities as they discharge their functions under the 2010 act.
The consultation seeks views on, for example: the need for more powers to be available to local authority authorised officers when dealing with dog owners; the establishment of a national dog control notice database; the seizing of potentially dangerous out-of-control dogs; the sharing of information with people who report out-of-control dogs; new fixed-penalty-notice powers for breaches of dog control notices; the need to raise awareness of local authority dog control powers; and the need to update statutory guidance and the non-statutory protocol that enforcement agencies use. The views that are offered on those practical measures to assist the use of the 2010 act powers will inform the Scottish Government’s next steps.
The committee suggested more fundamental changes to the law relating to control of dogs. The Scottish Government will publish a wider review document next year that will look at wider reform to dog control legislation, including the committee’s suggestion that we lower the threshold for dog owners’ criminal liability for their dogs’ behaviour.
The effect of dog attacks can be tragic and I want to explore in next year’s review whether, as the committee has recommended, a dog owner should be fully responsible for the actions of their dog if an attack takes place. The way in which the law works is that, when a dog attack occurs, there requires to be what is called “reasonable apprehension” on the part of the owner that the dog may injure a person. A change so that, for example, reasonable apprehension was no longer part of the way in which the criminal offence worked would be a significant shift in the law. Members will understand that it would need to be carefully assessed to ensure fairness for all, without any unintended consequences.
I will listen carefully to the views that are offered in the debate—I again thank the committee for looking at the issue and the way in which it has done so. However, it is also clear that independent enforcement agencies, such as local authorities and Police Scotland, should respond to the issues that have been raised in the report: awareness among relevant staff of the powers that exist needs to be improved; application of those powers needs to be more consistent; and information sharing between enforcement agencies needs to build on existing best practice.
All those things, coupled with changes to improve the operational effectiveness of the 2010 act, can lead to the preventative regime of dog control helping to reduce the number of dog attacks that take place.
I am pleased to open the debate on behalf of the Conservatives, who will be supporting the motion. As a member of the committee, I thank the clerking team, the Scottish Parliament information centre and, especially, the witnesses who contributed to this very valuable inquiry—I agree and support the convener’s remarks about that.
Today’s debate on the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 takes into account the impact of the law and the personal experiences of people who have dealt with the law in its current form. With the convener, I attended the evidence session in Dundee, and I can attest to how harrowing it was to hear people recount their experiences, not only for those who were recounting but for those who were listening. I will not repeat the details, but that reinforced my determination that the post-legislative scrutiny process should be relevant and lead to positive action.
Today’s debate addresses issues of responsible dog ownership and the committee’s recommendations regarding its findings. I agree with the committee’s conclusions, which are outlined in the report’s executive summary and which merit repeating. Specifically, three points about the committee’s beliefs strike me as being particularly significant: the act has had limited effect; the law is not fit for purpose; and the committee’s interim recommendations should be acted upon immediately.
Those points hold significance for a number of reasons. First, the committee considered that, if the 2010 act had been effective in achieving its objective of ensuring that dogs that are out of control are brought and kept under control, there should have been consequential reductions in prosecutions under the United Kingdom Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and in the number of individuals requiring hospital treatment following a dog attack. The minister has mentioned figures, and those that we had from 2017 showed that those reductions had not happened.
Secondly, the belief that the law is not fit for purpose was widely expressed in the committee’s evidence sessions. During those sessions, it became clear that concerns about out-of-control and dangerous dogs arose due to not only the ineffectiveness of the 2010 act but weaknesses in all dog control law. The committee has recommended that, when implementing legislation, the Scottish Government should make no distinction between Scottish Government-initiated legislation and members’ bills. It found that insufficient resources, such as limited numbers of dog wardens, had negatively impacted on local authorities’ ability to implement the 2010 act. It also found that victims of dog attacks should be entitled to know the outcome of the action that has been taken against the owner of the dog by the local authority.
Thirdly, the committee recognised that the purpose of the 2010 act was to provide an important tool to prevent dog attacks from occurring. However, its success was dependent on members of the public being aware of the act and how it could be used. A programme to raise awareness of and address issues to do with data collection, the joint protocol that co-ordinates the efforts of local authorities and emergency services, and resource allocation is long overdue and should be undertaken as a matter of urgency.
The committee also recommended that assessments be made of
“the scale of the public health impact of dog bites, and the associated cost implications, to determine if a multi-agency public health approach to tackling dog control issues is required.”
Proposals for improved data collection in the form of a national database have already been raised and are strongly supported by the committee. The lack of such a database was identified as one of the key weaknesses in the effectiveness of the 2010 act. The committee recommended that a Scottish dog control notice database, which Scottish ministers have had the power to establish since the act came into force in 2011, be established immediately. Based on the evidence that was received by the committee, it is clear that such a database, which would contain information on dog control activity, would be a valuable tool in improving the effectiveness of the act. Furthermore, the committee considered that the failure of the Scottish ministers to use the powers that were given to them under the 2010 act to establish that database is unacceptable and must be urgently rectified.
The point about inadequate resource was continually raised, and the committee identified that:
“an insufficient number of dog wardens has negatively impacted on local authorities’ ability to implement the 2010 Act and the effectiveness of the Act in reducing the number of out of control dogs.”
Subsequently, the committee found that the Scottish Government should obtain the following data from each local authority without delay: the number of authorised officers who have been appointed under section 1(6) of the 2010 act; whether the role is stand alone or has just been added to other roles, which—clearly—would reduce its impact; and the training that has been given to authorised officers.
Issues relating to both a lack of centralised data collection and resource become evident when we assess the role of the joint protocol—which I have mentioned—and the allocation of responsibility between the emergency services and local authorities. It seems to me that, logically, general practitioners, hospitals, local authorities and Police Scotland should be required to regularly record and collect consistent data on reported incidents of out-of-control dogs and related attacks. That would ensure that records of attacks can be collected and checked against any dog control notices and related fixed-penalty notices that have been issued, and that the resources that are available to each local authority can be assessed.
The implementation of that recommendation, without delay, would mean that local authorities would be less
“reliant on victims of attacks and members of the public reporting breaches of DCNs.”
It would mean a more streamlined approach to the interpretation of general data protection regulation rules across all local authorities. We heard of that being used as an excuse—that is the polite way of saying it—for not giving out information. It would also mean more consideration of the victim when the
“outcome of the action that has been taken against the owner of the dog by the local authority” is followed up.
Statements from Glasgow City Council, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association and the Communication Workers Union support that position. They said in evidence that the implementation of the act is
“very varied across local authority areas with no real consistency in how the function is carried out”,
that the act is
“at present unable to achieve its intended impact on dog control and irresponsible ownership” and that
“the Legislation needs urgent consolidation, simplification and amendment.”
The evidence clearly demonstrates the need for immediate action regarding legislation on the control of dangerous dogs. Although the Government seems to broadly support the committee’s recommendations, it appears to lack the determination that would lead to urgent and joined-up action to properly reflect the seriousness of the act’s real-life consequences. As the convener mentioned, we can no longer afford to be complacent.
There is widespread enthusiasm among stakeholders for initiatives such as a centralised data collection system, which would decrease confusion over responsibility in the joint protocol that has been established under the act, and the bringing together of all dog control law to provide clarity to the public, local authorities and the police on the handling of out-of-control and dangerous dogs. I urge the Government to directly consider the committee’s recommendations and to move to enact them with all due haste.
I thank the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee for the work that it has undertaken on the issue, which highlights the important role of post-legislative scrutiny. We pass a lot of legislation in the Parliament, and we have a responsibility to ensure that that legislation achieves its purpose. The work that the committee has done with regard to the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 and other issues is very important.
2010 act was passed with the best of intentions. The issue is not new; sadly, there have been severe attacks over the years. Jenny Marra spoke about incidents, including, in particular, one in which someone lost their life. The act was introduced to protect the public and bring dangerous dogs under control. From that point of view, in reviewing the legislation and establishing whether it has achieved its purpose, the committee has done important work for the Parliament.
The statistics that underpin the story and the committee’s work clearly show that the problem is much greater now than it was more than 20 years ago, although I absolutely accept that more data is probably collected now than was collected then. In 2005-06, the NHS recorded 363 dog attacks, compared with 2,000 in 2018-19. In Argyll and Clyde alone, there were 1,417 attacks 2018-19, 255 of which involved children, and there were 912 in Lanarkshire and 439 in Ayrshire. It is therefore clear that the problem has grown over that period. The committee came to the conclusion that dog control legislation is not fit for purpose, given the levels of attacks, including some high-profile cases.
Part of the reason why the committee reached that conclusion is that dog owners and the agencies involved—Police Scotland, councils and the NHS—lack awareness of the legislation. The minister touched on that. It is clear that the dog control legislation places quite an onus on councils and, as I said, they lack awareness of what they are supposed to do. I will not go into a big debate on the funding of councils, but it is a fact that councils are facing great funding pressures. Finding resources to adequately manage the legislation has clearly been a challenge for some of them.
The committee found that the law needs to be reformed. I welcome some of the minister’s announcements in relation to a review.
We should listen to the hard evidence from the people and organisations that the committee spoke to. I know that in the gallery are representatives of the Communication Workers Union, which held an event in the Parliament before the debate. The CWU has told us that 250 posties are attacked by dogs every year. That shows that there is a real problem. The CWU has also highlighted a lack of prosecutions of those incidents, with the result that it has had to take its own private prosecutions. It has emphasised its frustration in dealing with local authorities that are not properly managing the issue.
That has been reiterated by the National Dog Warden Association. There is supposed to be one person in each local authority who is responsible for administering issues relating to dog attacks. The association has found that that is not the case in a lot of local authorities and that the approach has been inconsistent and patchy.
The committee has made serious recommendations. A dog control database would help to identify attacks and instances of dogs being out of control. Data and statistics are important in two regards. The first relates to the supply of evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of the legislation and of any changes that are made, and the second relates to how data can demonstrate the extent of the issue. As Bill Bowman said, it is important that the NHS, local authorities and Police Scotland work better together not just in administering the legislation but in collecting the data.
Lack of awareness is clearly a problem across the board. Although a number of members who have spoken in the debate have highlighted that the vast majority of dog owners are responsible dog owners, unfortunately there are instances of people’s dogs getting out of control, and the owners might not be aware that that is happening—they might not even be aware of the legislation. I see that happening in my local area. I do quite a lot of running around local parks, and I find that the vast majority of dog owners have their dog on a lead or know that their dog will not be disrupted by a speedy jogger such as me. However, over the summer, dogs have charged up and attacked me because the owner has not been able to keep their dog under control. A lot of work needs to be done to raise awareness.
As parliamentarians, we must remember that we pass legislation in order to help people in our local communities. The 2010 act was passed in order to protect people from being subjected to dog attacks and to ensure that we have proper prevention in place. The committee’s inquiry has shown that the legislation is not fit for purpose, so it is important that the review that the minister has instigated and the committee’s recommendations are taken forward. We should have proper legislation so that we protect people in the communities that we represent.
I welcome the cross-party consensus in the chamber, which there was in 2010, as well.
I congratulate the Radio Clyde network on the tremendous campaigning work that it and its listeners have done to bring the subject to the fore of political attention in Scotland.
There are two things, in particular, that we are all absolutely signed up to. First, there is still a huge problem with dogs that are out of control, that are not well bred or well trained, and that attack people regularly. The problem is too big to ignore. Although there is not adequate quantification of the problem—the committee has made recommendations about how we could sort that out—we all know enough to know that the problem is real, that it affects real people and that, as the convener said, it can lead to fatalities. We have an unacceptable situation, which the Scottish Parliament must deal with effectively.
We must be very clear about what we are talking about. When we began post-legislative scrutiny of the legislation, our main aim was to review the working of the 2010 act, which is based on civil, rather than criminal, law. However, as the convener outlined, we were given a wider remit and moved on to look at all dog legislation, including the 1991 act, which is based on criminal law.
There are other laws that, so far, have not been mentioned in the debate; some of the relevant legislation goes way back to the 19th century. Clearly, we need a comprehensive and all-embracing review. I would like the outcome of that review to be one codified act that deals with all aspects of dog control, including provisions on prevention and what happens after the fact, and which covers civil and criminal law offences.
If the law is to work, it needs to be simple, well understood and easily referenced by the practitioners of law enforcement. It must also be easy for the public to know and be well informed of their rights. That would be a lot easier if there were one act instead of a multitude.
Actually, Stewart will gently suggest that the problem is not dogs. We keep on talking about dogs, but this a human problem. Perhaps the new bill should be called the “Control of Humans Who Own Dogs Bill”.
That would be a very popular measure.
I think that the problem is about dogs and humans. Many of the problems to do with dogs relate to their being ill bred and not trained properly. If we had data, it would probably show that those are the biggest problems.
As with humans, for whatever reason—there is something in the blood, for example–there are sometimes rogue dogs. No matter how well trained or brought up they are, they can still be offensive and cause harm to individuals and, indeed, to other animals. As Emma Harper points out in her proposed member’s bill—the proposed protection of livestock (Scotland) bill—the harm that some dogs do to other species is also important and should not be totally ignored.
I noticed that a debate took place this morning on Kaye Adams’s BBC Radio Scotland show. Many people made the point that Stewart Stevenson has made, which was that the problem is not necessarily bad dogs, but people who cannot look after them. There seemed to be consensus coming across from the callers that people should need a licence to have a dog. What are Alex Neil’s thoughts on that?
I was going to come on to that matter, but because I have been asked the question, I will comment on it now.
The committee has not been able to study licensing in detail, but we know that there are modern licensing systems. I am not talking about the old United Kingdom licence—which cost 37.5p and was ignored by most people before it was formally abolished—but about a modern licensing system. Two examples of such systems have been cited to the committee. I think that one is in Northern Ireland and the other is in Sweden. Whatever we call it, something along the lines of a licensing system is absolutely required.
There is an important principle that is, I believe, applied in Sweden. There are two key points about a licensing system—which is perhaps not the best description, but I will call it that for the purposes of the debate. By having a licensing system, we would avoid the problem that we have had with the legislation that we have passed, which is the abject lack of enforceability, particularly at local level. We need to avoid that. There is no point in passing legislation if it cannot be properly implemented. Whatever we do, we need to make sure that the legislation that we pass is probably implemented.
In order for that to happen, and to avoid a situation that has already been mentioned in the debate—that is, that when cuts are made it is easy to get rid of dog wardens and so on—the key points for a modern licensing system are that the cost should be sufficiently high and the revenue that is raised from it should be ring fenced to fund a proper dog control and dog warden system, so that we can enforce the legislation.
I have many other ideas—
I greatly welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate, and I concur with many of the things that have been said. I concur, especially, with the comments of Bill Bowman, who opened for the Conservative Party. The party whole-heartedly supports the report’s findings and commends the committee for its work on the matter.
I also pay tribute to Alex Neil for raising the issue last year. I think that I am right in saying that his action in doing so was instrumental in bringing the matter back to the fore in our domestic politics—he called for the post-legislative review that has now come to fruition. I do not want to patronise one of Scotland’s most experienced parliamentarians, but I say that his action highlights the value and importance of back-bench members asking searching questions and, where appropriate, raising the profile of an issue so that, collectively, we can take action.
I must confess that I am not yet a dog owner, although I am considering becoming one soon. My practical knowledge is somewhat limited, but I have young children, and I always get a bit nervous when a strange dog walks into the house, for no reason other than the fact that there is vulnerability.
Given that around 470,000—almost half a million—home owners in Scotland, or a fifth of the population, own a dog, it is clear that dogs are highly valued as pets. Although many people care for their dogs as pets, it is important to recognise that there are dogs that are not appropriate as pets, and that there are dogs that are not properly controlled. Like many members, I have been horrified by stories about uncontrolled dogs and the untold damage that they can do to individuals. Many people will have seen the story from a week or so ago of Elayne Stanley from Widnes in Cheshire, who was mauled to death in her own home by two out-of-control dogs. That is a timely and horrific reminder that while dogs might be considered to be man’s, or woman’s, best friend, they are also animals that we will never fully understand.
The committee’s report lays bare the stark reality of the impact that a dog attack can have on the individuals who are affected, and their family and friends, and on other animals that are attacked. One submission that stands out in the report is that of Victim Support Scotland, which notes the case of a young child who survived an attack and required surgery. Perhaps understandably, that person now has a fear of public spaces and a distrust of animals. In the Highlands and Islands, there was an incident in Inverness at the beginning of August in which a six-year-old was left with serious facial injuries after an uncontrolled dog attack inside a house.
Those are stark reminders of why dog ownership carries a degree of personal responsibility on the part of the adults who own dogs, and why particular breeds of dog might not be right for a family environment. Of course, no legislation can completely prevent freak and, often, tragic incidents from occurring, but it is clear that there is something deeply wrong when, according to Dr Alasdair Corfield, in Scotland an estimated 5,000 individuals each year are affected by dog attacks. In its submission to the committee, the charity Battersea Dogs and Cats Home said:
“There are ... media reports that indicate that dog bites have gone up in some cases by 80% since the Act came into force.”
Those of us who regularly leaflet in our constituencies and regions will be all too familiar with the moment when we put a leaflet through the letterbox and suddenly feel the force of a large dog on the other side of the door. That experience is a common occurrence for postal workers; I note the Communication Workers Union’s evidence that, since 2010, 2,500 postal workers have been attacked by dogs. I know that some of those workers are present in the gallery, and I fully endorse the comments of Jenny Marra in that regard.
I was struck by the point that lack of data hindered the committee in its work, and that that was exacerbated by the failure to establish a database. I hope that the Government will look at that issue. We have some data, which shows that, despite the significant number of attacks, the number of charges under the 1991 act has fallen each year since 2016-17: the number of prosecutions for the most recent year sits at just 82. Therefore, it is clear that there are wide-ranging issues with the 1991 act and the 2010 act.
That is confirmed in the report, which states that
“current dog control law is not fit for ... purpose” and that, if it were fit for purpose,
“there should be a consequential reduction in prosecutions ... and in the numbers of individuals requiring hospital treatment”.
It is clear that there has not been such a reduction.
I was struck by the phrase “a national crisis”, which appears in the report. I know many of the committee members and none of them is prone to hyperbole, so I was incredibly struck by their sense that there is a national crisis. We must take that at face value.
A number of recommendations have been made. I urge the Government to look at them and to take action. The report is wide ranging and is a clear example of why even legislation that has the best intentions still requires on-going scrutiny to measure its efficacy and impact.
The evidence in the report suggests that, with adjustments, the 2010 act can begin to reduce instances of dog attacks and hospital admissions and, as a consequence, reduce prosecutions. It should be “properly implemented”, to use Alex Neil’s phrase. I was struck by his view that we need a comprehensive piece of legislation that covers the criminal and the civil spheres. There is a lot to be said for that.
I thank the convener of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee for giving me the opportunity to ask questions of the minister when she came before the committee.
Before I comment on the inquiry, which I welcomed as the member who inherited the bill from Alex Neil when he was elevated to better things, I say that although I have huge sympathy for all victims of dog attacks, let us put the blame where the blame lies—with the owners of the dogs.
Press reports, even today, have commented that we are discussing dangerous dogs. Of course, that was not the original focus of the inquiry, because the whole point of the 2010 act is to prevent a dog from becoming dangerous. James Kelly referred to bringing dangerous dogs under control. That is not the point of the 2010 act. Once a dog is dangerous, the 2010 act does not apply. The thrust of the 2010 act is rightly to blame the deed, as I have said—it is the owner, not the breed. Perhaps it is time to ditch the soubriquet “dangerous dogs” and substitute “reckless and feckless owners”.
As the member who navigated the bill through its various stages, I confess—as members can hear—that I am protective of my legislative child. However, I would happily concede its flaws had it been given the chance to prove its worth as Government legislation. That was not the case.
I add, by way of an aside, that the 2010 act applies to private places, so it is relevant to the postman and the care worker—to anybody coming up the garden path, whether they are welcome or uninvited. That is not covered by legislation in England, yet most attacks take place on private land.
The point about publicity was addressed by the committee but not by the Government. How can the public, let alone the professionals, know the law if they do not know about it? The problem with members’ bills to date has been that once the member has steered it through the committee stage and it has been passed into law, that is the end. The legislation does not get any publicity from the Government, yet the Government has the power to give it that. The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee said to me that
“Once a Bill is passed, it becomes the responsibility of the Scottish Government to implement its provisions, including publicity, where appropriate.”
However, I do not know of any member’s bill that has been given publicity post enactment .
In a sense, the 2010 act was not given a fair wind. The funding for dog wardens was not there, the training was not there, and the publicity was not there. If we asked members of the public, “Have you heard of the control of dogs act?”, I bet that we would get the answer, “What?” They might just have heard of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991; if they have, they probably think that the two acts are one and the same thing.
The 2010 act also applies to a dog attacking other animals, which can create fear and anxiety. That is already covered. The 2010 act has flaws, but I think that it if had been given a fairer chance, those flaws might not have been so great.
We do not have a national database. That is another aspect to consider, because if somebody moves with their dog to another area, their data will be lost. The nature of that data is also important, because sometimes dog wardens do not issue a dog control notice but have a wee word in the owner’s ear—a shot across their bows—to say, “Your dog’s been reported. We’ll watch out now. You have to do these things; if you don’t, I’ll issue a dog control notice on you, the owner.”
The 2010 act means that a person who hands over their dog to somebody else to take care of or to take it out for a walk is still responsible. Just because a person has given that duty to someone else, that does not mean that they no longer have responsibility.
From the start, the issues that I mentioned prevented the success of what I think was reasonably decent legislation. However, we are now moving towards a national database. Like the convener of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, I do not know why we are consulting and not just getting on with the technicalities, because we know that all dogs are microchipped.
The 2010 act places a statutory duty on the Government to consult, so we cannot just move ahead and bring in the database. That is why we are doing the consultation.
Well, I ask the Government to consult just on the technicalities and not on whether there should be a database.
I am moving on with another bill, which is on responsible dog ownership, because the problems start from the moment somebody acquires a puppy. People might acquire a dog spontaneously and on impulse—they might see it on the internet and buy it on Gumtree—and might not think about all the duties that are involved. In that regard, I want to tackle Alex Rowley’s idea of a licence. The trouble with that idea is that, with the licence system in Northern Ireland, there is only 40 per cent uptake. My bill would place duties on somebody who acquires a puppy or dog and will imply that the person then has a licence. Therefore, if the person breaches their duties in relation to the welfare or behaviour of the dog, they will no longer be entitled to have a dog or will be put on notice about it.
In that way, after a certain date, 100 per cent of people who acquire a puppy or dog—the term used is “acquire” rather than “purchase” in case people try to get round the law by saying that they did not buy the dog—will be deemed to be licensed to have the dog because they have gone through the tests. I know that that is a strange thing to do, and maybe it will not work, but it is worth the effort.
I wish my old bill well, and I hope that the legislation is amended to make it fit for purpose, although it pretty well is already. I hope that, if my new bill is successful, the Government will promote it and it will get the publicity that all members’ bills deserve.
I came to the debate at the committee as someone who was not a member of the Parliament when the legislation was passed in 2010, and I was not on the committee when it started to consider the issue, so I genuinely had a neutral perspective. My only experience or opinion was framed by the experience that most political activists have had in walking up driveways and putting their hands through letterboxes to deliver leaflets, knowing the risks that lie behind certain doors. For example, a councillor in my area has had a finger bitten off, and I know of several elected members from across the political parties who have had negative interactions with dogs.
I recall, in one of my campaigning experiences, chapping on a door, getting no answer and hearing a dog coming from behind that then bit me square on the leg. The owner came out, picked up the dog and apologised profusely, and then asked me which political party I was from. When I said it was the Labour Party, she put the dog back down and it bit me again. That is probably the sum of my experience with dogs.
The serious point is about the tragic stories that the committee heard from individuals whose children lost their lives or were left with permanent disfigurement, perhaps in the face, due to dog attacks. As a parent, that made me reflect on the risks to my children. In my local park, there is a gated area that is clearly supposed to be only for children and parents and that no dogs should be anywhere near. On one occasion, a stray dog came into the area when the gate was opened by a child and it then jumped on each of the rides and was right in the children’s faces. Luckily, there was no actual attack or bite. However, I could see the impact that the incident had on the children and their parents. Even though there may be no bite or resulting disfiguration, such incidents can cause psychological trauma for a child, perhaps for the rest of their life. The owner of that dog was not in control of it in any way. Most days, right across our country, hundreds of individuals probably have a similar experience. That is my perspective as both a parent and someone who is often out, going round people’s doors.
I share the concerns of the CWU’s postal workers, who are at the coalface in relation to such challenges. The CWU has reported that, each year, 250 postal workers in Scotland are attacked by dogs. As the committee’s convener, Jenny Marra, suggested, if that statistic were 250 attacks on postal workers by human beings, we would surely see much more direct action and intervention on the part of the Parliament and our police authorities.
I think about the impact that such attacks have on our national health service. The statistics show that, in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s area, in the single year between 2018 and 2019, there were 1,417 presentations at A and E with dog-related injuries. Of those, 255 were attacks on children, which is simply unacceptable. There were 912 such presentations in NHS Lanarkshire and 439 in NHS Ayrshire and Arran. At the same time, our local authorities are supposed to be enforcing the relevant legislation. An FOI request made of Glasgow City Council found that it had just one part-time dog warden, who had not issued a single dog control notice in the three years between 2015 and 2018. Clearly, although there is a high risk of attack, enforcement action is not taking place in local communities and local authority areas across the country.
I want to emphasise a point that Christine Grahame made in her speech. There needs to be serious discussion in the Parliament about the difference in treatment between legislation that is introduced by members and legislation that originates from the Government—they are not treated as one and the same. Scotland’s Parliament is still, I hope, one of equals. Regardless of the political party of the member who introduces it, if legislation is passed here, it is incumbent on the Government—whatever its political colour—to support it financially, implement it across the country and, crucially, put the public relations message out there. Members of the public need to know that legislation that is designed to protect them exists. The Government of the day cannot just pick and choose what suits it.
Given the lack of local authority funding, the challenge is that the area is seen as one in which it is easy either to make cuts or to withhold investment. I have been struck by the inconsistency in the numbers of wardens in different parts of the country. Further, there is no sharing of data, so when someone who is unable to control a dog moves from one local authority area, the new authority is not told of the risk that that might pose to individuals or families.
I realise that I am running short of time, so I will close my remarks by saying that I agree that the legislation is well meaning. I also feel that there is consensus in Parliament that action needs to be taken and that we need to strengthen and enact legislation properly. It is incumbent on us all—not just the Government, but all members on Opposition benches—to ensure that we have legislation that is fit for purpose and serves the communities that we represent, so that no child or individual is put at risk.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee’s report on the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010.
Dogs are reputed to be man’s best friend and, for most of us, that is the case. They can be companions and friends, and they provide children with a beneficial experience that undoubtedly improves their social responses. Most owners take regular exercise as required by their four-legged friends, so we can claim that they are promoters of good health and wellbeing. To someone who lives alone, a dog is truly a best friend and a life enhancer. The vast majority of dog owners provide a loving and comfortable home for their best friends.
However, those are not the owners or the dogs on which the committee has focused. As is the case all too often, the activity of the few impacts on the many. Of necessity, it is on those cases that the committee has concentrated. There is no doubt in my mind that a dog that is brought into an environment that is stressed and chaotic will itself reflect such an environment and will respond in an unpredictable manner. Dogs are clearly happiest in homes with stable routines and predictable behaviour that is understood.
Another clear factor is that certain types of dog are sometimes kept in inappropriate environments. For example, I am aware of two huskies being homed in a two-bedroom flat. Is that really the best home for those large, active dogs? Surely they will require considerable activity and space that is disproportionate to that which is available in their home. There are times when prospective owners need to take advice on the best types of dog for the space in which they will be kept.
The committee focused on instances involving dogs that have been identified as a problem. In my constituency of Midlothian North and Musselburgh, there are too many dog attacks. I have constituents who have been maimed and seriously traumatised by dog attacks, and others who have watched their small dogs being ripped apart by aggressive larger dogs. Only recently, four police officers were attacked by dogs and hospitalised.
When we explore the details, we find that there are all too many incidents and, as the committee found, many attacks are not reported. When a family pet acts in a way that is out of character and inflicts injury on a family member, there is a tendency for people not to report the attack. According to a nurse at my local health centre, approximately three serious injuries inflicted by dogs are treated there every week.
One of the biggest obstacles to getting to grips with the problem is that the data is poor, first because of underreporting and secondly because A and E departments do not specifically report such injuries. As far as can be ascertained from the information that we have, there are about 5,000 serious dog attacks on people each year. However, my belief is that that figure is far lower than the reality. Many of the injuries are sustained by children, and for many of them the injuries are life changing, leaving permanent scars that are both physical and mental. The cost to the NHS of treating such injuries, including through on-going plastic surgery, is not quantified, but it must be considerable.
In taking evidence, the committee heard heart-rending stories of the results of such incidents, including from the Communication Workers Union, whose pictures of injured postal workers were both graphic and telling. At that level of injury, the committee report describes the situation as “a national crisis”, and I can only agree with that assessment. We cannot endorse a situation where thousands of our citizens are attacked and maimed every year without urgent action being taken to reduce and eliminate the problem.
To be frank, tackling the problem is not easy. Draconian measures would impact on the vast majority of dog owners who are sensible and responsible. However, the scale of the problem is industrial. Some simple and effective measures that could be taken are suggested in the committee’s report, and I am grateful that the Scottish Government is giving them serious attention.
An obvious concern is that the use of dog control notices has reduced as council resources have diminished. I believe that the DCN process is flawed. When a DCN is issued, neighbours and complainants might be aware of its issuance, but they are deliberately not made aware of its content. Dog wardens are few and far between, and the chance of a dog warden becoming aware of a breach of the terms of a DCN are slim. Reliance must be placed on those who are most affected. Neighbours should police that and report such breaches, but that will not happen if they do not know the content of the DCN. The committee has great concerns about that, and I believe that action needs to be taken to change the process. After all, when an antisocial behaviour order is issued, neighbours are made aware of the terms. Why does that not happen where a DCN is issued? Self-policing makes sense.
Locally, I have found that the police and the council have a poor understanding of who should deal with which types of dog attack and how they should be reported. Members of the public have been reporting everything to the council, but it has been taking note only of those attacks that fall under its remit. That situation was confirmed by Police Scotland, which accepted that the system is sometimes not joined up. I welcome its undertaking to the committee that it will take action on that shortcoming, and I look forward to a better process in future.
Currently, if an owner has a problem dog for whatever reason, the only ultimate recourse for the council to deal with it is an expensive court case. That severely reduces the number of dogs in the category that are dealt with properly.
It has been suggested that it would be beneficial to reintroduce dog licences. That would mean that councils did not need to have recourse to the courts but could suspend or withdraw an owner’s right to keep a dog. That has many attractions, as the test would be that of a fit-and-proper person, and complaints from neighbours and those who had been attacked would undoubtedly influence the council committee that considered the case, as would input from the police and dog wardens. The approach has the appearance of simplicity and the advantage that decent dog owners would be left in peace and not subjected to more restrictive or onerous regulations. The downside would be the cost of setting up the national database, but I hope that the fee for dog licences would cover that and the administrative costs.
It is clear that a great deal of work needs to be done to ensure the safety of the public and of our family pets. The report by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, which highlights a problem that needs to be addressed urgently, is a step in the right direction. I commend the report to the Parliament and thank the committee, its clerks and others for their tenacity in producing it.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the control of dogs in this important debate. Although I am not a member of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, I am really interested in the committee’s review of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 and I agree with many of the asks in the report.
I feel that there are several issues that are worth highlighting. I am also seeking to address the issue of the control of dogs with my current proposed protection of livestock (Scotland) bill, for which the public consultation has concluded, and the bill is currently being drafted. I thank Alex Neil for bringing the matter up.
I will focus my remarks on attacks on livestock by out-of-control dogs and the impact that they have on farmers and their families, which is an issue that the committee’s report touches on but not in a lot of detail. Almost 3 million acres of our land in Scotland is used for common grazing by livestock and folk have a right to roam. We have 1.8 million cattle and 6.83 million sheep, and we have evidence that shows that sheep are most at risk from attacks by out-of-control dogs. We have 333,000 pigs, 14.11 million poultry, 1,350 horses for agricultural use, about 1,200 alpacas and llamas, and 7,000 farmed deer. That is a lot of beasts to have on our grazing land.
Although the sector is working hard to rear, look after and protect its livestock, the truth is that the current law does not adequately protect the people or the livestock from attacks by out-of-control dogs in the countryside. Indeed, my research shows that, year on year for the past 10 years, the number of livestock attacks has steadily increased. For example, in 2014-15, the number of offences that were recorded in Scotland under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 was 109, whereas in 2017, the number reported had risen to 170. That figure does not include the estimated 50 per cent of incidents that are not even reported or recorded.
In coming up with a solution to address the issue, we must first understand why dog attack numbers are increasing. The reason might be the vast growth over the past five years in the number of dogs being kept as pets across the UK. In 2013, it was estimated that across the UK there were 8 million dogs kept as pets. By 2018, the number had increased by about 500,000, which is the current estimated number of dogs in Scotland. I have two collies myself.
With increasing numbers of people in society owning dogs, there will be households that acquire dogs—whether through purchase or adoption—without having the ability to train and responsibly look after them. That is where we see problems beginning to arise. It has been put to me by many farmers, agricultural organisations and others that the only way to bring about a reduction in livestock attack numbers is to have a fit-for-purpose bill that consolidates current livestock legislation—the 2010 act and the 66-year-old 1953 act—to show the severity of the consequences of dog attacks on livestock, which is not something that anybody can accept in 2019.
Some people, including members in the chamber, have suggested that livestock worrying be part of the Government’s consolidated legislation. However, it is my view, and the view of Scotland’s agricultural sector, that the issue is so critical that it deserves its own bill—a bill that farmers can get behind, that clearly shows the severity of the consequences that will apply if dogs are allowed to worry livestock, and that can be delivered in a timely manner in this parliamentary session.
The view from Scotland’s agricultural community in relation to out-of-control dogs in the countryside is clear: it is expressed in paragraph 88 of the committee’s report, as well as in a vast number of the responses to my consultation. The report and those responses note the concerns of various agricultural organisations, including NFU Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates and the National Sheep Association. NFUS said that:
“the number of livestock worrying instances remain far too high”.
The organisation does not believe
“that the Act has been effective in reducing the number of out-of-control dogs” in the countryside. For example, the 2010 act states that dogs must not cause apprehension to other animals. However, recent views and evidence show that that is inadequate and the severity of the offence is diminished, as most incidents have involved physical attack on livestock, as well as psychological trauma, abortion of lambs and damaging distress.
An attack from an out-of-control dog is traumatic for any person, child or parent. As an operating room nurse, I assisted surgeons in repairing damage to tissue. However, it is important to acknowledge that attacks on livestock are also traumatic for farmers. I point to one experience of a farmer in Argyll and Bute. In response to my consultation, he reported that he went to his field and found 14 sheep that had been mauled and mutilated by multiple dogs. That had profound implications for his mental health and that of his family. It is traumatic for everyone.
I could say more, but I do not have enough time. I welcome the committee’s report. I thank all who contributed to it. It is good to have an opportunity to discuss it today. I acknowledge and thank the Scottish partnership against rural crime for its work in raising awareness of the issue of livestock worrying, which included attending all Scotland’s agricultural shows this year to deliver outreach education.
Finally, I thank the clerks to the committee and everyone who contributed to the report. I look forward to the Government’s response.
I join my colleagues in welcoming the insightful work of the committee on the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010. In an effort to present the most necessary and compelling improvements that should be made, the committee’s recommendations incorporated expert opinion and personal experience.
I recognise Anas Sarwar’s experience on the election trail. Once, I was campaigning in the street with my wife, and I turned to find her holding a Jack Russell that had its teeth through her finger. I am glad to say that I got its owner’s vote.
The 2010 act aimed to modernise how legislation works in relation to the control of dogs in Scotland. It aimed to redefine when a dog is “out of control” and to offer a more effective model that is aimed at reducing the risk of dog attacks through more responsible dog ownership. This afternoon, many wise words have been spoken on that subject. We need to remember that the act was intended to supplement provisions in existing legislation, including the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, and not to stand alone.
However, despite the best intentions behind the 2010 act, we heard that injuries related to dog attacks are on the rise. According to the committee’s report, that increase can be linked to confusion around enforcement responsibilities and to the lack of centralised data collection and prevention measures.
We cannot ignore the impact that a dog attack has on a person’s life. The report lays bare the seriousness of many dog attack cases. Life-changing injuries, with permanent scarring, can limit a person’s physical ability and hamper their employment opportunities and mental capacity.
In particular, we have to recognise the special risk to children. Because they are lighter in weight and shorter, children who endure dog attacks are more likely to suffer facial injuries, often with longer-lasting physical and mental scarring. To read of children who have suffered worsening anxiety and distrust in animals as a result of their experience should be enough to move us to enact the recommendations.
The sobering research has opened wide the gaps in the legislation and shown where needs to offer greater clarity. It is, for example, essential that a database be put in place. We cannot understand the true scale of dog attacks without collecting clear and consistent statistics. As the committee suggested, local authorities, the police and hospitals need to collate data on attacks on humans and animals—in particular, as Emma Harper highlighted, farm animals—and on how the figures relate to the number of dog control notices that are issued. If that recommendation were to be adopted, it would rightly remove the burden that is placed on victims and the public to report breaches of notices. It is troubling that, if a Scottish dog control database had been implemented in 2011, that information could already have been available. Without a functioning database, we cannot see accurately the extent of the problem or where resources need to be directed.
A key objective of the act centred around prevention of dog attacks: it aimed to tackle out-of-control dogs before they reach the stage of dangerous and threatening behaviour. However, with figures from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service showing that there is at least one dog attack every day in Scotland, it is abundantly clear that measures that favour early intervention have not been put in place.
There is also the question of responsibility. Lack of clarity surrounding which roles cover which responsibilities in implementation of the act has limited the act’s potential. The Scottish Government has created a joint protocol document in an attempt to address the roles and responsibilities of police and local authorities, but even with that document, there is confusion and inconsistency about when a case should be referred, and to whom.
At the core of the issue, as other members have mentioned, is confusion over which act—the 2010 act or the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991—is to be followed. The Scottish Government needs to ensure that police officers and local authorities are equipped with the right information to deal with dog attacks. That is critical to ensuring that the 2010 act reaches its full potential. For the legislation to be most effective, as was intended, the Scottish Government must push for further awareness on how it is to be enforced. If police officers and local authorities, as enforcers, were to have more training in order that they better understand their responsibilities, they would be able to promote responsible dog ownership and effective dog control more effectively.
The public, too, would benefit from an awareness campaign that centres on dog control legislation, as has been recommended by the committee. It would be beneficial to have detail on how soon such a campaign could start. It would be especially important in our schools, for the benefit of children. Maybe the minister will tell us about that later. No legislation can be truly successful without public awareness of what it involves.
The seriousness of dog attacks must inform our dog control legislation. Instead of complacency, our communities would benefit from updated, effective and modernised dog control legislation that favours awareness and prevention. For that to be realised, and to keep our communities safe, the committee’s recommendations need to be implemented without delay.
This is a really important debate. We can tell by the strength of feeling that is being shown by members how much they care about the issue.
I, too, thank the committee clerking team for putting together the substantial report, which has allowed such an informed debate to take place. I acknowledge how difficult that must have been, given the harrowing evidence that was heard along the way. I also thank the minister for her comprehensive reply. She clearly demonstrated her commitment to considering and acting on the committee’s concerns.
I joined the committee not long after the inquiry began, and heard some of the evidence from people who had been attacked and people whose family members had been attacked and killed by dogs. The accounts were harrowing. The impact that dog attacks have on victims, particularly children, can be life changing. We understand the pain that affected families have been through.
The evidence that the committee heard suggests that there is still an unacceptably high number of dog attacks in Scotland. Since the 2010 act came into force, there has not been a reduction in the number of attacks.
We heard harrowing evidence from Veronica Lynch, whose daughter was killed by a Rottweiler in 1989. Veronica reminded us that legislation alone will not stop dog attacks, and that we need a more holistic approach to the issue, involving better education of owners and better training of dogs. Interventions at the earliest stage possible might help to prevent at least some attacks.
As the convener and one or two other members mentioned, the committee also heard from Dave Joyce, the national health and safety officer for the Communications Workers Union. In his evidence, Mr Joyce described how our postal workers are on the front line when it comes to irresponsible owners of out-of-control dogs. Every year, 250 postmen and women in Scotland are attacked by dogs. Some of those attacks are so serious, physically and mentally, that the victim cannot continue in their job.
Mr Joyce also told us that eight out of every 10 attacks on postal workers take place between the garden gate or entrance and the front door of the house. I had the privilege of being a postman during my student days, and I went back out again not long ago to work on a local run in Kilmarnock. Amazingly, some dog owners do not think to keep their dogs away from the garden when a postman or postwoman, or anybody else, is likely to be calling round. Surely we could help to reduce attacks by communicating with and seeking the help of the public, and letting them know when the post will be delivered. It seems to be such a simple idea to ask owners to take steps to secure their dogs not just for postal workers, of course, but for any visitors coming to their house. People should just think about safety and make sure that their visitors are safe. That seems to be such a simple idea, so I hope that we can take it up and do something.
The issue of “reasonable apprehension”, which was mentioned by the minister and others, took the members of the committee by surprise. It was explained to us that, in order for a case to be successfully prosecuted under the 1991 act, it is necessary to prove reasonable apprehension that the dog would bite someone. That is what has led to the perception that a “one free bite” rule exists.
It is fair to say that the committee feels that that test must go—or, at least, that it should not be the first test that is applied. The severity of the attack should be the determinant of what action should follow with regard to the dog and the owner. From memory, I am fairly sure that the minister acknowledged that concern at the committee. From her remarks today, I believe that she has taken that on board.
The evidence that the committee took was not all bad news. We had some helpful evidence from Mr Billy Gilchrist from my local council in East Ayrshire. He described examples of good practice, with the council working closely with Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service on evidence gathering, serving of notices and reporting of breaches of notice. That relationship seems to be working well and provides an excellent level of information sharing, which is resulting in effective use of dog control notices.
As the evidence developed, the discussion in the committee started focusing on what measures we could and should be considering to enable better and stronger implementation of the existing provisions—that is, to prevent attacks and bites rather than dealing with their aftermath. How can we better influence behaviour before attacks happen?
Awareness raising is important: various members have made suggestions of how that could be improved. There is also the issue of resources and further training for dog wardens, to ensure not only that they are aware of the legislation, but that they are able to deal with dangerous dog behaviour. Licensing schemes have been mentioned by a few members. Such a scheme could enable us to capture much of the data that we need to inform the debate and the Government’s review, and could help us to deal with people who might wish to obstruct the dog control process.
Hospitals and general practitioners, too, could help us by recording attacks by dogs when injured people present at A and E departments or general practice surgeries. We think that they do not do that at the moment, but they should. The police and local councils could also help us by gathering any information that could help us to tackle the problem.
I am pleased that the committee’s conclusion that the current dog control law is not fit for purpose will be taken forward by the Scottish Government, and that a full review of the legislation will be carried out. Prevention is probably where most of the gains will be. However, we need to strengthen the legislation to make it clear to the minority of dog owners who cannot or will not control their dogs that we are willing to act to get the situation under control.
As we have heard from many speakers, the debate on the committee’s report on the post-legislative scrutiny of the 2010 act is vital. The
Parliament has a duty to ensure that legislation works in regard to its intended purpose and, where it does not, it is appropriate that we attempt to fix it. That is especially important given that the overarching aim of the act that we are discussing was to reduce the number of dog attacks in Scotland.
The intention behind the 2010 act—to attempt to modernise the law on the control of dogs—was well meaning. However, as with many things, it is the implementation that has raised concerns. The enforcement and the understanding of the law as it stands are far too limited. Without change, the law will not be best used as a mechanism to help prevent attacks.
It is clear that the situation needs to change. The committee report states:
“there is still an unacceptably high prevalence of dog attacks in Scotland and ... numbers have not reduced since the provisions of the 2010 Act came into force. Certain evidence points to an increase in dog attacks. Given the volume of such attacks and that the impact on victims, particularly on children, can be life changing, the Committee considers it to be nothing less than a national crisis.”
That is why we need action to be taken sooner rather than later. The lead the way campaign, which Clyde News is running, has also highlighted figures that show that, every year, thousands of kids in Scotland are attacked and left with life-changing injuries.
In the past eight years, and despite the passing of the 2010 act, there have been only 42 convictions under the current laws. That is why the committee’s post-legislative scrutiny of the 2010 act and the recommendations in its report are welcome and necessary.
The 2010 act created an administrative regime that was intended to influence the behaviour of dog owners and people in charge of dogs. Local authorities were given powers to issue dog control notices to the owner or person in charge of a dog that they had failed to keep under control. However, the law led to an increased financial burden on local authorities and their staff, over a period in which council budgets were being slashed. Authorities had no resources available with which to respond to the new legislation. It is clear that the insufficient number of dog wardens has negatively impacted on local authorities’ abilities to implement the 2010 act and on the act’s effectiveness in reducing the number of out-of-control dogs.
That is not the fault of local authorities; it is the result of the failure to fund local government adequately. What is needed is resources, as is the case in relation to many well-intentioned Scottish Government policies. It is all well and good to have good intentions, but if policies cannot be implemented they are not fit for purpose. If the aim is to deliver legislation that will reduce dog attacks, the Government should reform the law and properly resource enforcement, so that out-of-control and dangerous dogs can be properly dealt with. In its report, the committee said that it
“believes that current dog control law is not fit for its purpose and calls on the Scottish Government to undertake a comprehensive review of all dog control legislation as a matter of urgency.”
Proper resourcing and reviews aside, there are actions that can be taken now. The committee indicated that a key factor that hampers the effectiveness of the 2010 act is the absence of a Scottish dog control notice database. The Scottish ministers have had the power to establish such a database since the act came into force in 2011, but they have not yet done so.
Why has the database not been set up? The move is supported by the Kennel Club. My esteemed colleague Alex Neil, who secured a members’ business debate on dog attacks last year, has said that a national database should have been created a long time ago, to enable us to track dangerous dogs when they move from one area to another.
I hope that, by listening to all the evidence that was provided to the committee during its scrutiny of the 2010 act, we can begin to take the necessary steps to better implement policy on the control of dogs.
We will know whether the steps that we take have been effective only when we see a reduction in the number of attacks. That cannot come soon enough, because, as I am sure all members agree, even one attack is one too many. We need the Government to act.
I congratulate the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee on its substantial work in producing its report.
Our having a committee with “Post-legislative Scrutiny” in its title is a welcome move forward. Historically, members on the back benches, the front benches and quite generally have mumped and moaned about a lack of scrutiny of legislation. The report that we debate today sets a pretty high benchmark for what we might see in the future.
I am reminded by this process of how things change, and of how they do not. The post-legislative scrutiny report stands in a very important place. All but one of the members who spoke on the bill at stage 3 have departed this Parliament. Only the member who was in charge of the bill is left: well done to Christine Grahame, who is truly the last person standing. I congratulate her.
When the bill was introduced, it was well intentioned and widely supported, albeit that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, when referring to the power of the database in section 8, showed a marked lack of enthusiasm in his contribution on 22 April 2010.
However, the report has put things in a different place. The intention that there was in 2010 is clearly as important today as it was then; its implementation has been hobbled by our not seeing bits of it picked up. The report shows—in painful detail—that that lacuna exists. It proffers no real insight into why so little action flowed from three years’ hard work by Ms Grahame and others to get the bill over the finishing line and on to the statute book. In the debate at the time, the cabinet secretary said
“We ... have an enabling power”— he was talking about section 8—but
“we are not persuaded that a database is either needed or wanted—nor is the committee.”—[
, 22 April 2010; c 25672.]
However, things move on and, despite that being the view in 2010, we must now regard that as unfinished business with regard to what we are talking about today. The eight years since the bill came into force in 2011 have been perhaps too long.
My experience of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee—otherwise known as the DPLR Committee, on which I served for 1,283 days until March 2016—may illustrate some of the ways by which we might better implement the Parliament’s acts. A regular feature of the DPLR Committee was to say to the Government that there were errors in secondary legislation—they might be small errors or rather bigger ones—and, frequently, the Government would say that they would remedy those defects at the earliest opportunity. However, in the real world, the earliest opportunity often proved to be elusively distant or even non-existent, so the committee agreed with my suggestion that we should record those commitments and publish a list of them on a regular basis—it was quarterly, if I recall correctly.
That list shone a light into a dusty corner of our legislative process. Suddenly, the amendments that had been promised started to happen. The committee was publishing the list of those that were outstanding, and it was in the Government’s interest to see the list shrink rather than continue to grow. Perhaps in relation to legislation, it might be useful if we had a list of all the bits of legislation that have not yet been commenced—on this bill, it has all been commenced, but in the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, which I was responsible for, there is a section that has not yet been commenced. There is a good and proper reason why that is so, but nonetheless, that was not in the public domain until I discovered it this morning. If we were to take that approach, it might be less likely that those important bits of legislation that we make would simply disappear.
The bill that we are discussing has not been forgotten. It has been amended in three places, twice by the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 and by the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. It has not been forgotten, but it has not been fully implemented.
As have others, I have been engaged by dogs when I would rather that they had not done so. Indeed, throughout the debate, I have been sitting on four fang marks from a leafleting escapade—I cannot exhibit them to members for a rather obvious reason. In the Falkirk West by-election in 2000, I shoved a leaflet through a door in Falkirk, and a dog collected it and my hand as part of the process. I have a scar, here, from six stitches. The householders, Mr and Mrs Reid, kindly let me wash the wound. It turned out that the dog was called Oliver, so I am the only politician to have a scar from being bitten by Oliver Reid.
Finally, there is a question whether the dogs or the humans are out of control. Dog fighting is a big issue in the United States and, once, they routinely destroyed hundreds of dogs that were involved in it. Now, people take those dog-fighting dogs, rehabilitate them—in most cases, successfully—and put them into homes where they have happy lives. If that does not prove that the problem is the owners and not the dogs, I do not know what does.
It has been an interesting debate. As I said in my initial contribution, the committee, under Jenny Marra’s stewardship, has done an excellent job in setting the scene for post-legislative reform around the control of dogs. As Alex Neil pointed out, the inquiry branched out into a much wider review. The various contributions to the debate from around the chamber have showed that there is a lot of interest in the area. The debate has been constructive, with members offering practical solutions in relation not just to legislation but to making the whole system work better to protect people from out-of-control dogs.
As Alex Neil said, there is clearly a real problem not just in terms of the growth in the number of attacks that the statistics show, but in the number of incidents that we see in our local areas and constituencies. As Emma Harper pointed out, part of the reason is perhaps the growth in the number of people who own dogs as pets. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that there is a real issue, and that we have to do our work as parliamentarians properly to address it.
Not only are there issues around young children being severely injured or, sadly, in some instances, losing their lives, as the committee heard about. As Anas Sarwar pointed out, there is also the psychological impact. He gave the example of how a dog can be rolling about a park, and how young children can not just be terrified in that minute but end up suffering psychological trauma as an effect.
Christine Grahame, the member who introduced the 2010 legislation, gave a very interesting overview. The key point that she made is that when a member’s bill is passed by the Parliament, it does not have the profile that a Government bill has, and it does not receive the same backing. That has been one of the shortcomings regarding raising awareness of the 2010 act. We would do well to bear that in mind in relation to not just Christine Grahame’s legislation, but members’ bills in general.
A number of points were made in relation to reviews that could be undertaken. Jenny Marra made the point about one free bite being allowed because of the legal principle relating to reasonable apprehension. That seems unreasonable, and it should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The other thing that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency is the implementation of the dog control database. I listened to the minister’s response to Christine Grahame on that and the point that the legislation requires a consultation. The consultation has to be expedited, because if we do not have in place a proper dog control database to collect data and manage potentially out-of-control dogs, we will not even start to get to the heart of the problem.
A number of people touched on local authority funding, including Alex Rowley, who made the reasonable point that, if we are to have proper legislation, local authorities do not just need to administer it—they need the funding to carry it through. Colin Beattie highlighted one of the consequences of their not being able to do that when he said that there had been only 42 prosecutions. Part of the reason for that might be that local authorities have been reluctant to take prosecutions forward because of the cost and other funding pressures.
That led a number of members on to a discussion about licensing. Alex Neil made a strong case for licensing. I do not have a declared position on that, but I was quite open to his point that if there was a licensing scheme that raised revenue, which could fund the proper administration of the control of dogs, that might overcome some of the other issues relating to council cuts and pressures.
I want to make a point about councils’ consistency in implementation. We heard an example from Maurice Corry that showed that the implementation is patchy, inconsistent and not effective in his area. However, we heard a good example from East Ayrshire from Willie Coffey. That all needs to be tightened up.
A lot of really good points have been made in the debate. Alex Rowley summed up well the overall point that if we are going to pass legislation, we need to ensure that it is fit for purpose. The committee has made a number of important recommendations in relation to the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 and practice in the control of dogs in areas that have been brought to members’ attention. The minister needs to outline a more speedy plan to take them forward.
As a substitute member of the committee, I took part in the evidence sessions on the legislation and, given the plethora of possible new legislation relating to dog control and welfare, I have followed the debate closely.
The committee’s report should herald an urgent change in order to protect people from horrific attacks and dog-related antisocial behaviour. There is nothing funny about dog attacks. The shocking examples that Jenny Marra mentioned are evidence that our communities have all too often been blighted by them. That highlights the failure of current laws to be effective in tackling out-of-control dogs that attack people or other animals.
As Christine Grahame mentioned, the committee discussed how it appeared, worryingly, that because the 2010 act came about from a member’s bill, the Government completely took its eye off the ball and made little effort to ensure that the legislation was understood or was working in practice. Alex Neil was right to highlight the Government’s complacency surrounding the bill in committee.
I am astonished by the lack of data that has been collected over the eight years since the 2010 act came into force. Without data, it is difficult to assess how effective or otherwise the act has been in reducing the number of out-of-control dogs. Indeed, many out-of-control dogs will never come to the notice of enforcement agencies because of a lack of understanding of the legislation coupled with poor implementation.
However, there is external data that suggests that the act and/or its enforcement are not working as intended. Reports indicate that in some cases, dog bites have gone up by 80 per cent since the 2010 act came into force. Data that the NHS released showed a similar trend, albeit at a less alarming rate. Its figures showed that in 2006, the number of admissions to hospital as a result of dog bites was 115, and that in 2015, that number had risen to 155, which is an increase of 35 per cent.
As a result of the 2010 act, a potentially effective framework has been put in place, for which many animal welfare charities have publicly commended the Government, and dog control notices, if used correctly, can be proportionate and timely. There is a strong argument that they should be retained, as they are potentially a valuable tool for tackling dog-related antisocial behaviour. However, things need to change. The 2010 act allows for local authority officers to serve DCNs, but it does not allow the police to issue them. In 2011-12 and 2012-13, the police in Scotland dealt with 1,177 and 1,012 incidents relating to dogs respectively. However, only 239 dog control notices were issued by local authorities in period 2011-12 to 2012-13.
Absolutely—I could not agree more. It was not only farmers who were unaware of the 2010 act—the same was true across all sectors. There was a distinct lack of publicity.
Although the number of dog control notices issued increased to 290 in 2015-16, it is clear that more can and must to be done to support local authorities, particularly in enforcement.
A root-and-branch review of all dog control legislation in order to address the problem would be widely welcomed. As I highlighted when I attended the committee, there is a danger in too much legislation relating to dog welfare and control being lined up to go through Parliament simultaneously. We have heard about Christine Grahame’s proposed bill, which is designed to tackle irresponsible dog breeding; Emma Harper’s proposed bill, which would tackle livestock worrying; and my colleague Jeremy Balfour’s proposed bill, which would give better protection to animals that are sold in pet shops. Those proposed bills are alongside measures to increase sentences for animal cruelty and perhaps future legislation on puppy farming and trafficking and on dog walking.
I stress that in no way do I aim to undermine my fellow members’ efforts to bring forward such issues, because I understand the amount of work that goes into a member’s bill. However, the current law on dangerous and out-of-control dogs is fragmented between various acts and statutory instruments at devolved and UK levels. Along with other animal welfare organisations, I believe that this is a timely opportunity to consolidate the provisions in the 2010 act with other dog control laws in order to ensure that enforcers and the public are aware of their respective roles and responsibilities. I urge the minister to seriously consider an approach that looks at the consolidation of dog control laws in order to not only address the fact that the legislation is not fit for purpose, but promote and ensure responsible dog breeding, sales and ownership. As we have heard from Stewart Stevenson and Alex Neil, out-of-control dogs are often a result of out-of-control owners. That is the heart of the problem.
On a positive note, the minister said to me at committee that she thought that the Government should look at taking a one-size-fits-all approach. I hope that that remains her position six months on, so that we get the legislation right for our communities and for people such as Jon Diggle. Local authorities must be supported in increasing the number of wardens and officers, because there simply are not enough of those people on the ground in our rural communities to enforce the 2010 act.
I applaud my fellow members of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee for their recommendations, which show the power of Parliament’s committees in pushing for a review of legislation when current laws are not working. I thank Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and others for their briefings. I hope that today’s debate is the first step in ensuring that we get dog control laws that will be properly interpreted and enforced and which help to reduce the number of appalling attacks.
T his has been a constructive debate on the comprehensive report that the committee prepared. Once again, I thank the committee members and the clerking team for their excellent work in preparing the report. I also thank those who took the time to offer their views, which helped to inform the report.
It is right that Parliament takes the time to look back at previous legislation and to assess how it is operating. It is only by doing so that we can learn lessons for the future and help to improve the practical impact that legislation can make. The report that was published and today’s debate are testimony to the value of the work that was done by the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, and I thank it for that work.
We have heard about the tragic impact that dog attacks can have, which a number of members across the chamber mentioned. Dog owners must be responsible and keep their dogs under effective control—that much is clear. The way in which our laws work and the way in which laws are enforced are critical.
Last week, I published a review, which seeks views on improving the operational effectiveness of the 2010 act. Local authorities have a key role to play in keeping communities safe through the use of their powers under the 2010 act, but the laws must be appropriate to help them to do that. The review seeks views on better enforcement measures.
I am very conscious of the timescale of the reviews. The Government will be carrying out two reviews, or consultations—one will take place immediately; the other will take place throughout 2020. However, by the end of 2020, we will have only about three or four months left of this parliamentary session. In what timescale does the minister foresee new legislation being introduced? Is it possible that that will happen in this session of Parliament? Will she commit to that timescale today?
The review that is under way is looking at what we can do in the short term in order to address the enforcement of the 2010 act. The review that we will carry out next year will have a much wider look at the issues, and I cannot commit to what the timescales might be for any changes that might be undertaken following that wider review.
As part of our consultation, we are looking at a new offence of obstructing a local authority officer and new fixed penalty notice powers for breaches of dog control notices. The review also explores how a national dog control notice database could be established to aid enforcement of dog control notices across Scotland. That point was picked up by members across the chamber, including Jenny Marra, and it was suggested that the Government should establish a database and not carry out the consultation. I clarify that the consultation is a statutory requirement—the 2010 act requires the Government to consult before the database can be established.
I will pick up a number of contributions that were made. Alex Neil made a number of points about consolidation of the law, the carrying out of the wider review and licensing. I assure him that I will consider his points very carefully.
Donald Cameron, Liam Kerr and Willie Coffey mentioned the number and severity of attacks on postal workers carrying out their duties. Christine Grahame, the member who introduced the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Bill, reiterated that the intention behind that legislation is for there to be a preventative regime—that is, to stop out-of-control dogs going on to become dangerous dogs. She also made an important point about awareness raising. I had taken note of that point from the committee’s report, and I intend to run an awareness-raising campaign starting this year. I will also take on board and give some thought to Jenny Marra’s point about making that campaign accessible or directed to children.
Colin Beattie made a compelling point to do with data sharing and said that the contents of dog control notices should be shared with those who had reported a dog’s behaviour. I think that he will be pleased to know that that issue features in the review, because we had taken that important point on board.
The minister referred to proposed changes that are the responsibility of another department. Will she ensure that the Government takes a joined-up approach and that everybody sings from the same hymn sheet? That will be extremely important for achieving the objectives.
The member is quite right to make that point, and I will undertake to ensure that we are working in a joined-up fashion across Government to address the issues.
The Government is committed to keeping communities safe from out-of-control dogs. Understanding the extent of the problems associated with irresponsible dog ownership is critical, and all changes to the law must be evidence based, so we are seeking to put in place better recording of data relating to injuries caused by dogs. That information is so important.
Changes would need independent enforcement agencies to use their powers in relation to dog control more consistently and effectively, as a number of members said.
A wider review of dog control law in 2020 through a consultation looking at the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and other associated legislation will help to assess how the overall legislative regime can be improved and whether it should be modernised.
Although legislation certainly has a role to play, how independent enforcement agencies use their powers is fundamental to an effective dog control regime. I am sad to say that the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee’s report found a wide variation in how local authorities use their powers under the 2010 act, as a number of speakers said.
New data that the Government has received from local authorities merely highlights that variation in approach. The data, which was provided to the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee last week, shows that some local authorities do not even have one dog warden.
Although it is obviously for local authorities to determine their local priorities, changes to legislation will have little impact if local authorities do not prioritise activity in this area.
One dog attack is one attack too many. I am committed to looking at the legislative framework right across this area to identify what more can be done to keep our communities safe.
I am pleased to be closing the debate on behalf of the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee in my capacity as deputy convener, but it is a debate that I wish was not necessary. As the convener did, I put on record my thanks to everyone who provided the committee with evidence as part of its post-legislative scrutiny of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010—and to the clerks, of course. In particular, I thank the people who shared their experiences of dog attacks, especially the parents who bravely recounted the attacks on their children.
Over the past three and a half years, I have listened to some pretty challenging and difficult things in this place, but I can honestly say that the session that the committee had in February 2019, in which various families shared their experiences, was among the most powerful and harrowing testimony that I have ever heard. I reread the
Official Report of that session before today’s debate. It contains a piece of testimony by Veronica Lynch that I could never forget; like Bill Bowman, I am unable to bring myself to repeat it today.
That reminded me that, as Alex Rowley flagged up to us, we are talking about “a national crisis”. Donald Cameron brought up the Communication Workers Union’s evidence that there were 250 dog attacks on postal workers in Scotland last year, and that 2,500 postal workers have been attacked in Scotland since the 2010 act came into force. As the convener said, there have been 129 such attacks since April, in a period of only six months.
Last year, I joined an Aberdeen postie on his round. He told me that, in one stair that he delivered to, there was a known aggressive and violent dog that charged at the door and tried to attack him each time he delivered. Eventually, the door happened to be ajar and this man, who was doing his job, was brutally attacked, which led to extensive time off work, post-traumatic issues and surgery. The convener was right to flag up the position of care workers and delivery drivers, who, we must remember, are not included in the shocking statistic—129 attacks since April—that I mentioned.
The reality is that people are not aware of the situation—that point was made succinctly and saliently by Christine Grahame. In Alex Neil’s members’ business debate in May 2018, she made the important point that
“for the 2010 act to be effective, the public have to know that that is the law” but, as she said,
“The public at large have no idea of the legislation.”—[
, 8 May 2018; c 83.]
Christine Grahame was right to say that the Scottish Government should initiate a public awareness campaign to educate the public about the provisions of the 2010 act. I was pleased to hear about the social media and local authority campaigns, but we must have a clearer timescale, and I hope that the committee receives that by return.
I turn to the issue of what we should inform the public about. During the committee’s oral evidence sessions, we head that there was a lack of availability of consistent data, as Colin Beattie mentioned. Dr Alasdair Corfield of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine told the committee that his figure of around 5,000 dog bites in Scotland a year was probably an underestimate, on the basis that some victims would not attend accident and emergency, particularly if the bite was not severe. I heard the minister acknowledge that there is a lack of data, but I did not hear her say whether the recording and collection of data would be dealt with urgently, and I hope to hear from her on that in committee very soon.
Public knowledge is one thing, but it is even worse if our local authorities do not have the required knowledge. As Bill Bowman and many others pointed out, the Scottish Government has failed to introduce the Scottish dog control database that was mandated by the 2010 act. Detailed analysis of the statistics that are gathered could increase the effectiveness of future evidence-based policies in this area, and if we had a database of verbal and written warnings that had been issued in respect of out-of-control dogs, that could be used when considering “reasonable apprehension”. Police Scotland told the committee
“It could be a great form of evidence. If we are building a case under the 1991 act, we could use that register to demonstrate proof that a dog has been the subject of a dog control notice or that warning letters have been issued.”—[
Official Report, Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee,
7 March 2019; c 40.]
Sticking with the issue of enforcement, during evidence taking, the committee heard—James Kelly mentioned this—that an insufficient number of local authority officers had been appointed to enforce the 2010 act, and Willie Coffey brought up the fact that the lack of sufficient training could be a barrier to the effectiveness of the act.
The committee noted the evidence from the National Dog Warden Association Scotland that many of the existing dog wardens were struggling with their workload.
As Blue Cross put it in its briefing, it is futile to pass legislation if the requisite resources are not made available to those who are statutorily charged with implementing its provisions. Lack of enforcement also equates to a lack of deterrence.
The committee recognised the importance of having sufficient numbers of suitably trained local authority officers and asked the Scottish Government to collect information on that area to help inform the Government’s review.
Finlay Carson and many others pointed out that the complicated network of legislation means that it is confusing and unclear for enforcers to know which piece of legislation to use, who is responsible for enforcing it and when to apply it. Alex Rowley picked up the committee’s words that the landscape is “not fit for purpose”. I heard the minister say that the police had inconsistent knowledge of the powers and that there is wide variation in local authority use of the powers.
However, I respectfully suggest that that is not really the issue here.
If Alex Neil is right that the powers are contained in legislation that dates back to the 19th century, it is no wonder that there is an issue, and it is for Government to address that. The solution proposed by the committee is that
“consolidation of dog control law could improve clarity for the public, local authorities and the police on the handling of out of control and dangerous dogs ... a modern consolidated Act of the Scottish Parliament on dog control law is required.”
I hope that the Government will look very carefully at that proposed solution and ensure that it does not get lost in the “too difficult” pile.
The 2010 act focuses on control of dogs and out-of-control dogs. Most of the report focuses on dog bites and the impact on postal workers and so on. However, the act has only one line about dogs attacking other animals. Does Liam Kerr agree that we need separate legislation in relation to livestock worrying?
I am speaking on behalf of the committee, which certainly found that there is a need to consolidate the legislation. I accept the member’s point—it is important to remember that there are attacks that go far wider than those on people—but the committee’s recommendation is for a consolidated piece of legislation.
O n behalf of the committee, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. Many solutions have been proposed. The debate has been powerful, moving and timely. However, the process must not end today. I am concerned by the minister’s inability to commit to timescales following the convener’s intervention.
Alex Neil held his members’ business debate in May 2018. It was harrowing and the members who were in the chamber then all agreed that something needed to be done. Yet, in March this year, he was moved to say:
“there seems to be complacency about the problem and a total lack of leadership on the part of the justice department” in relation to the problem. He added that the problem of dog attacks is very serious and that the
“Government needs to get a grip of that as a priority”.—[
Official Report, Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee
, 21 March 2019; c 28-30.]
In February, the committee heard chilling, disturbing testimony. I say to those who are watching the debate: please be aware that what follows is highly distressing; vulnerable viewers may wish to mute this bit.
The committee heard that
Claire Booth’s son Ryan was six when
“a white English bull terrier came running out of the trees and knocked Ryan to the ground. The dog covered his whole body, and it was followed very quickly by another English bull terrier, which ran right into him, too ... The scene was carnage ... we noticed right away that Ryan’s ear was off the side of his head ... the owner was in the background ... shouting out, ‘Don’t worry—the dogs won’t touch you.’”
Claire told us:
“Ryan ... will have to undergo another three operations to remove cartilage from his sternum, attach it to his ear and rebuild his ear with a skin graft.”
“There has been a traumatic effect on his entire childhood: he does not want to go to places where he should be striving to go as a little boy ... our younger children ... now have a huge fear of dogs ... I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and had to go through cognitive behavioural therapy.”—[
Official Report, Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee
, 21 February 2019; c 4-6.]
Today’s debate must trigger action. We must not ignore Ryan Booth, Kellie Lynch, Rhianna Grady, Jon Diggle and all the postal workers we have heard about, and so many others who have been attacked. The time for talking is long past; the time for action is now.