I am pleased to open today’s debate on the general principles of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. The bill will update and strengthen the law around livestock worrying, which is a horrendous event in which sheep and other farm animals are chased, attacked or killed by out-of-control dogs.
In many cases, sheep and other livestock are mauled to death or left with horrendous injuries and in extreme distress, often meaning that they must be euthanised. Being chased can also traumatise animals, leading pregnant ewes to abort. In addition to the emotional impact that the attacks have on the farmers and their families, there are often substantial financial losses. In some cases, pedigree sheep worth many thousands of guineas can be killed.
In evidence to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, the Scottish partnership against rural crime reported that between April 2018 and March 2019,
“321 attacks on livestock were reported to Police Scotland”—[
Official Report, Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee
, 16 September 2020; c 2.]
and we know that attacks on livestock are underreported. The welfare of all animals is important and the evidence suggests that livestock attacks are a growing problem, which warrants legislative change.
The current livestock worrying legislation, which dates back to 1953, is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Witnesses at the REC Committee agreed that current deterrents, as set out in the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, are insufficient and need to be updated. The bill provides additional powers for the investigation and enforcement of the offence of livestock worrying, and will increase the maximum penalties that are available to the courts.
The bill also extends the definition of “livestock” to include additional types of farmed animals, such as alpacas, llamas, deer and buffalo, which are not afforded legal protection under the 1953 act.
It is clear from my consultation, which received more than 600 full responses, that the term “livestock worrying” does not adequately reflect the seriousness of the offence. The bill renames the offence from “worrying” livestock to “attacking or worrying” livestock. The word “worrying” has a different meaning today from its meaning in 1953; the word “attacking” is much more definitive and clearer.
I would like to thank everyone who has helped me get to this stage—the Scottish partnership against rural crime; NFU Scotland; the National Sheep Association; the Scottish SPCA; the British Veterinary Association; the British Horse Society Scotland; NatureScot; Scottish Land & Estates; the Dogs Trust; the farmers I met face to face; my vet, Alan Marshall; and the non-Government bills unit. Huge thanks go to my office manager, Scott McElvanney.
I also thank the REC Committee for its consideration of my bill at stage 1 and for supporting the general principles of the bill. I have written formally to the committee in response to its report and recommendations and, as the committee suggested, last week I met the minister to discuss the bill.
Following the positive meeting with the minister and the publication of the committee’s report, I have committed to propose amendments to the bill at stage 2. The committee suggested that penalties could be increased to match recent changes to animal welfare offences. Having discussed that with the minister, I have agreed to the Government lodging a stage 2 amendment to increase the maximum penalty to 12 months’ imprisonment or a fine of £40,000, or both.
The committee called for the powers in relation to the appointment of inspectors by inspecting bodies to be removed from the bill, due to concerns about the range of powers that would be available to those inspectors. I confirm that I will lodge stage 2 amendments to omit the relevant section from the bill to ensure that only the police can carry out any livestock attack investigations.
Additionally, the committee raised concerns about the power that would allow the police to enter non-domestic premises without a warrant in order to seize a dog. I will lodge an amendment at stage 2 to ensure that a warrant is required in all cases.
Finally, on a technical legislative point, the committee recommended that the procedure in relation to regulations regarding the definition of the term “livestock” should be affirmative and not negative. I will lodge a stage 2 amendment to that effect.
One point that I would like to clarify relates to compensation. The committee’s report suggests that the bill contains compensation measures. That is not the case—there are no compensation orders in the bill. Compensation is already available as an option to the courts and, as the committee heard, compensation has been awarded in some cases.
I am hopeful that, with my commitment to lodge amendments at stage 2, the Parliament will support the general principles of the bill today at stage 1. That is the right thing to do to ensure that Scotland’s hard-working farmers and crofters and those involved in agriculture have greater legal protection from attacks on their livestock by out-of-control dogs, which can be financially and emotionally devastating. I am committed to working with any member who has concerns or suggestions on how to improve the bill as we approach stage 2. I urge members to support the bill at decision time this evening.
That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill.
Before I begin, I would like to make a declaration of interests, in that I am a member of a family farming partnership.
As convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, I am pleased to speak in this stage 1 debate. I thank all those who submitted their views, which informed our stage 1 report. It was those views that led us to support the bill’s key aims. However, it was clear to us that considerably more clarity and amendment would be needed to make the bill effective.
Due to time constraints, I can touch on only a few of the issues. Considerable work has been put into the bill not only by the member in charge but by the committee. I therefore have to say that I find it totally unacceptable that such a short amount of time has been allocated for the debate. If the Parliament and its committees are to provide effective scrutiny of proposed legislation, sufficient time to do so must be found, and it is clear to me that an hour is insufficient.
I thank the member in charge and the Scottish Government for their responses to our report. Certain elements of the response from the member in charge did not appear to fully grasp the reasoning behind some of the committee’s decisions. However, I welcome the clarity that the Scottish Government’s more detailed response brought.
We consider the increased penalties for the offence of livestock worrying to be justified, but we raised a question about whether they should be higher or in line with penalties in other legislation. I am pleased to note that the Scottish Government will resolve that by lodging an amendment to increase the maximum penalty available so that it is consistent with other legislation.
The committee found that certain elements of disqualification orders in the bill were unclear. To give one example, witnesses questioned how an order disqualifying a person from bringing a dog on to agricultural land would be enforced or monitored. The Scottish Government response agrees that the issue presents a challenge and accepts that further discussion is required.
The committee voiced deep concerns about the appropriateness of involving inspecting bodies in cases of livestock worrying. We therefore recommended that the provisions on that be removed. Again, I am pleased that the Scottish Government and the member in charge—today—have confirmed that they will make the required amendment.
Questions were also raised on practicalities to do with the role of vets in examining dogs, including how the integrity and continuity of evidence will be managed and the costs that will be involved. We asked for information and guidance to be provided, and the Scottish Government has indicated that that will be forthcoming, and that the police are expected to bear the costs.
I turn to the power of entry, search and seizure without a warrant, on which the committee had serious concerns, to the extent that we questioned whether the provisions were legally competent. We were not persuaded that the power was required or appropriate. Therefore, I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government agrees that the provisions should be removed from the bill, and I note that the member in charge has undertaken to do that.
Although the committee supported the general principles of the bill in our report, we did so only in very broad terms, and we provided some strongly worded caveats on the detail of its provisions. If the bill is to deliver Emma Harper’s objectives and to be effective legislation, the important issues that the committee highlighted in its stage 1 report must be resolved in later amending stages.
I look forward to hearing other members’ views on the bill and—if the Parliament agrees that it should progress to stage 2—to the issues that have been identified in the committee’s report being the subject of the considerable amendments that have been discussed.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate, and I commend Emma Harper for her commitment and excellent work in bringing the bill to Parliament. I express my thanks, and those of my predecessor, to her for her constructive and collaborative attitude in working to deliver something simple and effective to modernise and improve the legislation on livestock worrying. I also thank the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee for its detailed scrutiny of the bill proposals and its stage 1 report on the bill. As has been mentioned, I have already written to the committee to set out the Scottish Government’s response to that report. I want to highlight key aspects of our position.
As has been said, the bill, as introduced, increases the maximum penalties for, and provides additional powers to investigate and enforce, the offence of attacking and worrying livestock. It proposes a minor but important change to the definition of “worrying livestock” and gives the attack element more prominence, although the scope of the offence remains the same. It also amends the list of animal species to which the offence relates to take account of the species that are commonly farmed in 2021.
I think that those changes are a useful modernisation of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 and, in support of those principles, I agree with the intention to allow for future amendments to the definition of livestock as farming practices evolve.
The main focus of the bill is to increase the maximum penalties that are available for the offence of livestock worrying, which is a worthwhile aim. However, as Emma Harper indicated, to ensure consistency with the new penalties that are now available for many animal welfare and wildlife crime offences, which the convener of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee mentioned, and to allow the courts to impose appropriate penalties, depending on the particular facts and circumstances of the case, it is my intention to lodge an amendment at stage 2 that will increase the maximum available penalties on imprisonment from six months to 12 months and/or a £40,000 fine.
The vast majority of people in Scotland treat livestock with respect and care, but the small minority who do not must be held accountable through consequences that appropriately reflect the severity of their crime. Increasing the maximum penalties that are available will allow the courts to impose appropriate sentences, once they have considered the facts and circumstances of each case.
Furthermore, I agree that there is merit in the bill’s proposal on disqualification orders, which seeks to give the convicting court the power to prevent people who are convicted of the offence to be disqualified from owning or keeping a dog for such a period as the court thinks fit.
Such orders may be an effective way of dealing with certain offenders, particularly in cases where there appears to be a high probability of reoffending. However, it should be acknowledged that the enforcement and monitoring of such orders might be challenging, and we would not expect them to be appropriate in every case.
Overall, the bill is largely sound across its measures. However, there is scope potentially to simplify and improve some key aspects, which have already been mentioned. The Scottish Government would recommend that elements of the bill regarding inspection bodies and powers of entry be removed, as they are not considered to be necessary or appropriate, given that the relevant authorities already have powers in that regard. I have relayed that to Emma Harper, who is the bill’s sponsor, and I understand from our conversations and the remarks that she made earlier that she has consulted and engaged with the authorities and those with practical experience, who share that view.
The bill includes a power to appoint inspecting bodies other than Police Scotland, but the evidence that was presented to the committee raised many questions about the role of the proposed inspectors and their working relationship with the police. The committee had fundamental concerns about the principle of inspection bodies taking the lead in circumstances in which a criminal offence has taken place.
Scottish ministers agree that responsibility for investigating the criminal offence of livestock worrying should remain with the police, with assistance from local authorities or the Scottish SPCA, as appropriate in the circumstances. The committee, Emma Harper and I, on behalf of the Scottish Government, agree that, should the Parliament agree to the general principles of the bill at stage 1, amendments will need to be lodged at stage 2 to remove the sections that relate to inspecting bodies.
Scottish ministers, in consultation with enforcement organisations including Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, have concluded that the proposed power of entry, search and seizure without a warrant relating to non-domestic premises seems unlikely to be required or used in practice if the police remain the investigating authority. Other speakers have mentioned that. I therefore propose that that power, too, be removed by a stage 2 amendment.
Of course, Presiding Officer.
I hope that the Parliament will welcome those changes as I believe that they will strengthen and improve the bill and they have been agreed in principle with Emma Harper.
The Scottish Government supports the general principles of the bill, and I look forward to the remainder of today’s debate.
I remind members about my entry in the register of members’ interests as a partner in a farming business. I am also a member of NFU Scotland.
I congratulate Emma Harper on bringing the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill to the chamber. I share her interest in the subject. We both represent predominantly rural regions and we know all too well that livestock worrying remains a constant problem that is faced by farmers and the wider agriculture sector.
Dogs are mentioned in the title of the bill, but the real problem is inadequate and often reckless supervision by owners who allow such situations to occur. For far too long, there has been a strong belief among the rural sector that little has been done to safeguard its livestock. The member’s bill consultation identified not only the scale of the problem, with dozens of offences being reported each year, but its increasing prevalence. We also know from NFU surveys that a great many offences go unreported.
When attacks occur, the financial costs can be considerable, but it is just as important that we reflect on the serious detrimental impact on the welfare of the animals that are involved. I suspect that many people do not realise just how easy it is for dog worrying incidents to result in harm to sheep and other animals, or how much damage an uncontrolled dog can cause.
The Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s stage 1 report, which was developed before I became a member of the committee, is a detailed piece of work that makes a measured and reasoned case for the bill’s future. I share the concerns that it expresses about some of the proposals in the bill and agree with the questions that it raises about a range of the bill’s provisions. Much of the evidence that the committee took pointed to changes that might be positive. There are a number of those, but I do not believe that that needs to be fatal for the bill.
Perhaps the most pressing issue is the proposed powers of entry, search and seizure. The committee has chosen not to support those, and there appear to be some deep-seated problems with them, which have been highlighted by the COPFS and the police. I am not sure that the proposed powers are really needed by those who enforce the law on the ground.
The report also addresses some thorny issues on which balance is essential and proper interaction with existing law would be beneficial. Making higher penalties available for livestock worrying offences is an overdue step that has broad support, but I hope that Emma Harper will take note of the committee’s recommendations and look to find consensus with the Scottish Government to ensure that the bill is consistent with existing animal welfare legislation.
Compensation is another issue that has come up and was considered by the committee. There are undoubtedly barriers to seeking compensation through the courts, but we should keep in mind that the courts are there to make decisions on what is appropriate and to adapt to individual situations. If alternative compensation approaches are to be proposed, they must deliver real and tangible benefits to the injured party. Clarity is required on disqualification orders, and I hope that that can be provided as the bill progresses.
Of course, there are areas beyond the scope of the legislation that will impact on its effectiveness in achieving the positive aims that Emma Harper sets out. The discussion around inspecting bodies and the police highlights an obvious point: rural crime cannot be combated effectively if the required resources are not there. Public awareness will be key. I commend Police Scotland for its approach and work with the rural community, and its campaigns on livestock worrying that it has run at important points in the farming calendar, most notably lambing season. More will be necessary if the legislation is to be successful.
Members’ bills are useful tools to correct particular wrongs, and this one focuses on what has been a long-standing problem for rural communities across Scotland. It is for the Parliament to take up the challenge and create a bill that will work effectively. I appreciate that time will be limited as we come to the end of this session, but the bill’s progress will be closely watched by many in Scotland’s countryside. As others have highlighted, there are undoubtedly areas on which we should all reflect and offer suggestions and proposals.
The bill will have our support today.
Labour will support the general principles of the bill. I thank Emma Harper for introducing it.
Livestock worrying is a problem that should concern not only farmers and crofters, but anyone who has an interest in animal welfare. When collecting evidence on the bill, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee heard from Fiona Lovatt from Flock Health Ltd, who said that its research has estimated that the number of livestock attacks might be as high as 10,000 per year.
Although the precise costs that are associated with livestock worrying incidents are hard to identify due to a lack of consistent data, the Scottish Government has indicated that incidents cost an average of £700. Livestock worrying is first and foremost a threat to the welfare of farmed animals, but it is also expensive and stressful for our farmers and crofters.
W hat is perhaps most concerning is that many stakeholders expressed to the committee the view that livestock worrying is on the rise. It is clear that the issue needs to be addressed, which includes the need to update legislation—although that is by no means a panacea.
Although Labour will be voting to support the general principles of the bill for those reasons, the bill requires substantial changes to make it fit for purpose. My major concerns with the bill lie, as do those of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and the minister, with the enforcement provisions— specifically, those relating to inspecting bodies and the proposed powers of entry, search and seizure without a warrant.
As it stands, the bill would give ministers the power to appoint inspecting bodies to carry out investigations. I absolutely recognise the need for more specialism when it comes to investigating animal welfare and wildlife crimes; indeed, I raised that point during the passage of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill. However, I am not convinced that the provisions in this bill are the way to achieve that. As many stakeholders pointed out to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, there is a significant lack of clarity about what exactly is being proposed, and about how, or even whether, the powers would be used.
There is widespread agreement that Police Scotland remains the most appropriate body to lead on livestock worrying investigations. Based on that evidence, I am not convinced that the enabling powers in the bill are useful. Similarly, I have serious reservations about the need for the bill’s provisions allowing entry, search and seizure without a warrant under certain circumstances. I welcome Emma Harper’s commitment to amend those provisions.
Evidence that the committee received called into question what purpose the powers would serve in practice. I am uncomfortable about the prospect of introducing the new powers without any justification. Although similar powers exist in relation to other animal welfare offences, they are not in the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, so they have not been used before in relation to the particular crimes at issue, and I have seen no evidence that they are needed.
Finally, I want to highlight the concerns that have been raised regarding the exemption that the 1953 act provides for dogs that are participating in a hunt, which means that they are not required to be kept under control when they are in a field with sheep. I welcome the clarification that the bill proposes in limiting the application of that exemption
“if and to the extent that the dog is performing the role in question”.
However, some stakeholders have called for the bill to go further on that exemption; their points merit further consideration. The Scottish steering committee of the UK Centre for Animal Law raised that issue and pointed out that
“numerous incidents have been observed in Scotland where packs of foxhounds have been hunting in proximity to flocks of sheep”,
which has caused sheep to panic and run. OneKind called for the exemption for hunting to be revoked altogether, and rightly pointed out that
“Packs of hounds in the vicinity of sheep can cause them considerable stress”,
and, unlike the other exemptions, it is not providing an essential service.
In conclusion I say that although the bill is welcome, it requires change. Many issues were highlighted to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee in our evidence sessions. I thank all those who gave evidence, and I thank the clerks for their work on the committee’s stage 1 report, which brings the concerns together.
I look forward to working with the member in charge of the bill over the coming weeks to discuss the issues, and how to ensure that the legislation will work as effectively as possible and ultimately deliver stronger action to help to protect the livestock of Scotland’s farmers and crofters, which is what we all want.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I congratulate Emma Harper on getting the bill to this point. The Scottish Green Party will support the general principles of the bill at decision time, but I have grave reservations about its content, as it stands.
Notwithstanding the widespread support for the bill, if the existing legislation does not, as we have heard, enjoy much respect among crofters and farmers, what in the bill will fundamentally change that mindset? What will change the priority or otherwise that Police Scotland gives to the matter? I certainly would not want legislation that would have Police Scotland not fulfilling its obligation to investigate crime.
On the role of inspecting bodies, Parliament needs to be extremely cautious about providing policing and enforcement powers. The powers of entry and search and seizure without warrant were, and remain, unacceptable. Had the member in charge not moved towards having them removed, I and, I am sure, others would have done so.
In dealing with crime, we must have absolute clarity about roles. On the role of vets and the relationship between the vet, the owner of the injured livestock and the owner of the accused or suspected animal, I take some heart from the Scottish Government’s having encouraged Police Scotland, Scotland’s Rural College’s veterinary services and others to develop guidance and to establish contacts to provide expert advice, as appropriate, in individual cases in order to address that. Good grief! Is that not the case now? If not, why not?
I am glad that the question of costs has been clarified. The police investigate crime and meet costs, and they have a relationship with the Scottish Police Authority on forensic examinations.
I am keen that we are to have regard to evidence from the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the British Veterinary Association. Crimes require to be evidenced, and the integrity and continuity of evidence are very important. The review that the Scottish Government has talked about must address capacity issues.
On the welfare of the animal that is the subject of the accusation, I take the view of the Dogs Trust, which has suggested that, in instances of multiple livestock deaths, post mortems should be considered. That could be mitigating evidence in case of aberration in the behaviour of the dog.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has made its position very clear on the issue of search and entry. We have heard nothing to say that the existing warrant arrangements are inadequate. We must legislate only to the extent that it is needed, especially when important rights are being confronted.
There is still a way to go with the bill, but the Scottish Green Party will support it at decision time.
I am pleased to see that our committee’s report on the bill is a unanimous one that recommends that Parliament agree to its general principles today. I, too, commend Emma Harper for introducing the bill.
The job of the committee was to examine the bill in detail, to ensure that it was fit for purpose and to see whether and how it could be improved. In the short time that is available to me, I will highlight just two of our recommendations, which previous speeches also addressed.
First, committee members feel that the proposed statutory power for the police to enter and search non-domestic property without a warrant is neither appropriate nor practical. As the convener has said, the committee questioned whether that power would even be legally competent. Personally, I feel that the power runs completely contrary to long-held principles of Scots law. For the police to carry out searches without a warrant would be unacceptable. To use a mixed metaphor, I note that the idea of the police going on a fishing expedition is just not on.
In Emma Harper’s written response to the committee’s report, she noted that her view is that the Scottish Government, as opposed to the committee, is “best placed to decide” whether that is a necessary power, and that if it is the Government’s view that it is not necessary, she would “consider removing the provisions”.
I am glad to have heard Emma Harper confirm that she will lodge an amendment to ensure that a warrant will always be necessary. I heartily welcome that. I also thank the minister, Ben Macpherson, for clearly acknowledging the committee’s concerns—I knew that he would. I say gently to Emma Harper that saying that she would take the Scottish Government’s view as opposed to that of the committee was not particularly helpful ahead of stage 2, but there we are.
Secondly, the committee identified many unresolved issues with the proposal to appoint inspectors to aid the police in their duties. It said:
“The Committee has ... fundamental concerns about the principle of inspection bodies taking the lead in any circumstances in which a criminal offence of livestock worrying has taken place”,
“responsibility for dealing with such criminal offences should lie with the police alone.”
I could not have put it better than John Finnie has just put it. The committee therefore recommended
“that the Member in charge should remove the inspecting bodies provisions from the Bill”.
I was, again, glad this afternoon to hear that Emma Harper will lodge the necessary amendments to do that.
I know that time is short, so, with those two caveats, I am very pleased to recommend to colleagues that we vote to approve the general principles of the bill at decision time. That will allow the bill to proceed to stage 2, when it can usefully be amended to everybody’s satisfaction.
We move to the open debate. We are running a little short of time. All members who are speaking in the debate are likely to end up on gallery view shortly—please be aware that you might be getting shown to the world. Speeches should be no more than three minutes, please. I call Maureen Watt, to be followed by Finlay Carson.
I, too, am pleased to be taking part in this stage 1 debate to urge parliamentary colleagues to allow further consideration of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, as the committee recommends. I congratulate Emma Harper on pursuing this member’s bill.
I speak as someone who was raised on a farm. I know the heartbreak of losing sheep and lambs due to dog worrying. That farm was more than 2 miles from the nearest town, but dog worrying affects animal owners anywhere. It is not just sheep that are affected, as Emma Harper has said, but other animals, such as cows, mares, nanny goats and all the new species that are being raised on Scottish farmlands. They can abort due to dog worrying and some animals die or have to be put down. Anything that can be done to improve animal welfare and ensure the highest levels of protection should be done, and Emma Harper’s bill adds significantly to that aim.
I thank the many organisations that have sent us briefings prior to the debate and note NFU Scotland’s support, saying that
“there is a need for more robust legislation, stronger penalties and appropriate compensation to hammer home the responsibility and liability of dog owners who do not exercise their pets responsibly on agricultural land. This Bill would be a big step forward.”
I also note the briefing from Scottish Land & Estates, which also supports the principles of the bill but stresses the need for more awareness raising and education to increase prevention and says that that will need a long-term campaign and commitment from all stakeholders. The bill also has the support of the many animal welfare organisations in Scotland.
The bill was given due scrutiny by the committee at stage 1, undergoing detailed questioning on issues such as penalties, compensation, inspecting bodies, the role of vets, the powers of entry, search and seizure, and where the events occur and what constitutes relevant land. In its response to the bill, I note the Scottish Government’s detailed response to the report and its willingness to engage with Emma Harper on the areas in which amendments are seen to be necessary to make the intentions of the bill more fit for purpose.
I welcome the minister to his post. He has said that the vast majority of dog owners walk their pets responsibly in all environments but, sadly, some do not. As members will be aware from their parliamentary inboxes, the issue affects most members of the Scottish Parliament, so I look forward to further consideration of the bill at stage 2.
I thank Emma Harper for bringing forward the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. Scottish Labour fully supports the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee’s recommendations for the bill at stage 1. I identify myself with the remarks of my colleague and friend Colin Smyth, who is on the committee.
Although I am not on the committee, I am keenly aware of how necessary the legislation is. Much of the South Scotland region that I represent is rural, so dogs worrying livestock is an issue that is regularly raised by many of my constituents, especially those from the farming community. I regularly meet the NFUS and the issue is never far from the agenda.
Jen Craig, chair of the National Sheep Association and NFUS Clydesdale branch chair, farms in my region, quite close to where I am now, and she has expressed real concern about the increase in instances in dog worrying, which have been exacerbated by more people taking to the outdoors during the pandemic, some of whom do not take responsibility for their dogs. She said:
“Dog worrying and attacks on livestock is a problem that is becoming more frequent and in many cases more severe. Not only are the livestock suffering but so are the farmers and stocksmen and women who care for them and have to witness these incidents.
The aftermath of an incident is not only costly in terms of the financial losses but it’s also heartbreaking and leaves a lasting impact on all those involved. Many feel powerless to be able to protect their livestock, prevent it from happening again and feel that justice is rarely achieved.”
The Dogs Trust also highlights that this is an animal welfare issue for the livestock that are attacked and for the dog because of irresponsible dog owners. I am therefore pleased that, through the amendments that will be considered, disqualification orders and dog control notices will be looked at again, and consideration will be given to greater powers to investigate instances and enforce penalties. However, more needs to be done on the bill to ensure that all aspects of the legislation are effective and fit for purpose. How to use existing powers to their full force must also be considered.
Penalties are only part of the solution. It is a notoriously difficult problem for the police, especially in rural and remote areas. If we are really to get underneath the issue, more consistent data gathering on dog worrying instances has to be a priority for the police, along with Scottish Government-backed campaigns to raise awareness of how grave the consequences can be if a dog owner is neglectful or reckless on a simple walk.
I want to stress that the benefits to wellbeing that the outdoors brings should be encouraged for us all. I fully support the work of organisations such as Paths For All and Healthy Valleys, which run very successful dementia walks, for example, in my local area. Those provide wonderful opportunities for people to experience the pleasures that walking can bring.
I am also proud of Scottish Labour’s introduction of the first land reform bill in 2005, which gave the statutory right to roam. However, that comes with a public responsibility. The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill that we are discussing today will be a tangible reminder of that responsibility and Scottish Labour supports the principles of the bill.
I declare that I am the joint owner of a very small registered agricultural holding that our neighbour Gordon, who is a farmer, puts sheep on from time to time during the year.
I start by congratulating Emma Harper on all the work that she has undertaken in preparing the bill and taking it through Parliament. I know how extensive that has been because, although she is a South Scotland MSP, I met her at the Turriff show a few years ago—she had come right to the north of Scotland to proselytise about improved protection for animals on farms.
If, like me, members have seen photographs of sheep that have been attacked by dogs that are not under proper control, which I would not wish to show widely to people, they will know why the principle that is at the heart of our consideration today—that we should better protect sheep and other animals that are being cared for in farming settings—is a good one. What I hear from the debate so far is that we all support it.
Creating a legal framework that improves the environment of protection is a substantial and difficult issue, as is demonstrated by the committee’s investigation of the bill and other speeches. I welcome the fact that there appears to be a clear way forward to bring the bill to the statute book after the subsequent phases of consideration.
In some of the speeches, we were in slight danger of forgetting where evidence—[
.]—because it is not simply a matter for the police. It is the police, broadly, who will communicate with the procurator fiscal to initiate prosecutions, but the evidence that will be relied on in those prosecutions will very largely come from people who happen to be in the vicinity, be they vets, farmers or laypersons like me. It is important to remember that that evidence will be tested in a court setting, as is proper to the person who might be accused of an offence.
It is worth saying that, many years ago, when I was a water bailiff under now-obsolete legislation, I could enter premises with the warrant card that I held, so those provisions on entry, which will not be there at the end, are not unique in the history of Scots law.
I congratulate Emma Harper and encourage Parliament to vote unanimously to approve the principles at decision time. I am happy to be here to support the bill.
As a former farmer, member of the NFUS and dog owner, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this stage 1 debate. I support in principle the aims of the bill, which rightly seeks to strengthen and update the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 with reference to “livestock worrying”. There is still, without question, a need to review how the 1953 act is working—or, indeed, not working.
However, from the outset, my position and that of other stakeholders is that the best approach to addressing livestock worrying and other dog behaviour would have been for the aims of the bill to form part of a wider consolidation of dog control law. That said, I recognise the hard work of Emma Harper and her staff in the consultation work that was carried out in preparing the bill.
It is unfortunate that it was left to a backbencher to introduce the bill as a result of the Scottish Government’s failure to act in a timely matter. As the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee said in its stage 1 report,
“more immediate action to amend legislation on livestock worrying is merited.”
The Scottish Conservatives welcomed the passing of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, which resulted in an increase in the maximum penalties to five-year sentences and unlimited fines. The Law Society of Scotland highlights that tougher sentencing should reduce crime, reform and rehabilitate offenders, protect the public and make the offender give something back. However, we need to ensure that offenders and potential offenders are aware of the nature of the offence and the likely sentences. Prevention is better than cure, but that can come about only following significantly improved efforts to educate the public through a fit-for-purpose publicity campaign.
Christine Grahame’s Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 was brought in to ensure that
“dogs which are out of control are brought and kept under control”.
However, despite being a substantial piece of legislation, it has been generally ineffective because of the lack of awareness of the law among the public, police and local authorities. Indeed, that issue was raised at the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. At that time, the Minister for Community Safety said:
“Responsible dog ownership is at the heart of Scottish Government policy in this area, with effective enforcement of existing legislation critical in improving public safety.?”
That makes it even more disappointing that the Scottish Government has not introduced proposals such as those favoured by the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, which considered that the best approach to addressing the issue of livestock worrying would be for it to form part of a wider consolidation of dog control law. That position was supported by the NFUS and others, including Blue Cross, who submit that the bill will help to tackle the problem in a more cohesive manner but should not be seen as a panacea.
Dog control problems are complex and require imagination and innovation to be tackled fully. Great improvements could have been achieved if the Government had introduced a consolidation bill covering not only livestock worrying but dog control, dog breeding, puppy trafficking and responsible dog ownership.
Time is limited today, but I welcome the bill as a short-term plaster to fix an urgent and growing issue that is of great concern to livestock owners in Scotland. It has a great financial and emotional impact on the owner, brings distress to witnesses and veterinary responders and, of course, great pain, distress and, frequently, death to the attacked animal.
This afternoon’s debate has set out clearly why the bill is needed, and I welcome the consensus that we have heard in support of the principles of the bill. However, the debate has also highlighted the many problems with the bill as it stands and the changes that we will need to make to ensure that it is as robust as possible. I set out my views on that during my opening speech, and many of the concerns were echoed by other members in the debate, so I will not repeat them. Instead, I will make some final observations.
As we heard in the debate, the changes that the bill proposes would ideally have been introduced as part of a more comprehensive review of dog control laws. It is disappointing that delays to the Scottish Government’s work in this area have made it necessary to introduce stand-alone legislation on one aspect of the many changes in law that we need. It is therefore important that we try to ensure that the bill is ultimately consistent with its wider legislative context, in order to avoid unnecessary fragmentation and possible conflicts in related laws.
For example, it has been suggested that the penalties in the bill should be brought into line with those that were introduced in the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 for other animal welfare-related offences. I support that, particularly if it is the Scottish Government’s intention to set fines at that level in the future for other crimes related to dog control. That increase would also allow greater flexibility for the courts to respond to individual cases as they see fit and send a clear message on the seriousness of the crime.
However, it is equally important to emphasise that penalties must be applied appropriately, particularly if the maximum penalty is to be increased so drastically.
Crucially, although the bill will make welcome changes to how such crimes are dealt with once they have occurred, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the first priority must always be prevention. In her response to the committee, Emma Harper rightly noted that
“in most cases incidents of livestock worrying and attack are likely not premeditated and often lack ... intent to cause harm.”
That point was made by a number of stakeholders in their evidence to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. For example, the National Dog Warden Association Scotland said:
“Most dog owners do not believe their dog is likely to attack sheep and are shocked and distraught after the event.”
Likewise, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home highlighted that livestock worrying often occurs when the owner is not even present. It pointed to a report by the United Kingdom Parliament’s all-party parliamentary group on animal welfare that found that two thirds of incidents occurred when the dog had escaped from the house or garden of a neighbouring property. That highlights the need for the bill to be accompanied by an awareness campaign to communicate the risks that exist and the seriousness of the issue, as well as to make people aware of the laws and any new penalties.
The Dogs Trust highlighted the need to gain a better understanding of the issue. It pointed out:
“By working to better understand the problem, we believe it will be possible to undertake targeted proactive measures that aim to result in the prevention of worrying, therefore protecting the welfare of livestock more robustly.”
A number of stakeholders highlighted how underreporting and inconsistent data collection make it difficult to get a clear picture of the scope of the issue. As my colleague Claudia Beamish stressed, that needs to be addressed so that we can monitor the problem and ensure that the changes, if they are enacted, have the desired effect. That is the case for all animal and wildlife crime.
I know that time is tight in this debate, but it is also tight until the end of this parliamentary session. A considerable amount of work will be needed if the bill is to be fit for purpose. Labour will certainly support the principles of the bill, and we will do all that we can to ensure that changes are made to deliver on the intention of protecting the livestock of Scotland’s farmers and crofters.
I welcome the opportunity to close the debate for the Scottish Conservatives. I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am a partner in a farming business.
As my Scottish Conservative colleagues have stated, we are generally supportive of the bill and recognise that livestock worrying by dogs is an increasing issue, to the point that it is becoming almost impossible to keep livestock in some fields near towns and villages. Official statistics show that there were more than 230 cases of dogs worrying livestock in the north-east in the past five years. However, we need to recognise that that is only the tip of the iceberg, because many incidents are not recorded.
It is important to highlight that any attacks on livestock do not just have a financial impact on livestock owners, serious though that can be. The emotional stress of witnessing an attack and the aftermath of the attack place a great mental strain on farmers, too. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the law on livestock worrying to be updated and strengthened. The current £1,000 fine, which is laid out in the 1953 act, is simply too low. The proposed increased fines up to £12,000 and custodial sentences of up to 12 months better reflect the gravity of the offence and the impact that it has on farmers.
The implementation of disqualification orders to restrict the right of a person who is convicted of a livestock worrying offence from owning a dog, and their rights of access to agricultural land when accompanied by a dog, will help to reduce incidences of livestock worrying. However, some elements of disqualification orders are not clear. For example, how is banning a convicted person from bringing a dog on to agricultural land to be enforced? Some witnesses also wondered how we would decide what agricultural land is. Moreover, given the increase in the number of dog walking services, there are questions about where responsibility would lie if another person who was deemed to be fit and proper was in charge of a dog at the time of an attack.
A number of stakeholders have noted the importance of compensation for livestock keepers. I highlight that compensation is already available under the current legislation. The problem is that the existing compensation mechanisms are not widely known among livestock keepers, so an awareness campaign about existing compensation schemes is sorely needed.
Further clarity is also needed on the role of inspecting bodies and who they may be. Both the SSPCA and local authorities have expressed reluctance to take on that role, citing a lack of resources, but they have stated that they would be happy to assist the police. In my view, there is no doubt that the police must retain overall responsibility for pursuing the crime.
There are also questions regarding the role of vets in examining a dog. Will the police be given authority to give consent or will that remain with the owner? Who would be responsible for covering the cost of a vet? The bill also contains proposals to grant the power of entry, search and seizure without a warrant when cases are being investigated. There is a lack of clarity around the practical use of that power, and it raises serious legal questions. I therefore believe, and the committee believes, that the power must be dropped.
In conclusion, the Scottish Conservatives are generally supportive of the bill and see why it is needed. However, some aspects need further clarification. We therefore call on Emma Harper to take note of the concerns that members on all sides of the chamber have raised and to work with the committee and the Government to improve the bill.
I welcome the consensus on the amendments that the bill requires, and in particular on the merit of making the agreed changes to the 1953 act at this time.
I note the points that John Finnie and Claudia Beamish raised about prosecution and resources for investigation. I am happy to liaise with members, including Emma Harper, on those matters ahead of stage 2.
Claudia Beamish, Colin Smyth and Finlay Carson made points around looking again at dog control notices. I simply highlight the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee’s report on the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, and the committee’s on-going work, which will include hearing from the Minister for Community Safety shortly.
There is also a Scottish Government-led working group that covers animal welfare policy. Participation in that forum has involved looking at both legislative and non-legislative opportunities to improve the dog control notice regime, and that work will continue. I am happy to liaise with members on those matters ahead of stage 2, if that would be helpful.
I again thank Emma Harper for seeking to modernise the legislation in a practical way, in order to address the concerns of the farming community. As Stewart Stevenson mentioned, dog attacks can have devastating effects, such as the horrific reported killing of 50 pregnant sheep in Wales just a few days ago. I know that farmers care deeply about the welfare of their livestock, and the bill will help to ensure that all animals in Scotland, whether they are farm-dwelling or companion animals, receive the protection that they deserve.
I maintain that the focused changes that are proposed in the bill will have an immediate impact in raising public awareness of not only what is in the bill, but the associated general issues, as Peter Chapman emphasised. I believe that the passage of the bill will, in due course, help to assure the farming community that this Parliament takes the matter of livestock worrying very seriously.
Given the stage that we are at in the parliamentary cycle, and the undoubted on-going impacts of the pandemic and of European Union exit, I hope that members will work collaboratively to allow the swift passage of this focused bill through stage 1 and on to completion by the end of the parliamentary session. The bill, as amended in the ways that we have debated today, will strengthen the law and help to reduce distressing attacks on livestock and the associated mental and financial hardship that those attacks cause to all concerned. The Scottish Government therefore supports the general principles of the bill and urges the Parliament to pass it at stage 1, at decision time.
I will pick up on a few points in closing, but first I thank all members for their contributions today. I also thank the members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, and the minister for his supportive comments and his contribution in closing. Finally, I thank the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, and the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, Mairi Gougeon, for their encouragement in respect of the bill.
The minister said that the goal is to make the bill simple and effective. That was my intention from the start. A farmer in Ayr told me, “Keep it simple.”
The bill deals with a minority of irresponsible people. We know that most dog owners are responsible outdoors. Claudia Beamish was right to say that accessing the outdoors is a good thing. We want folk to do that and we know that it supports mental health. The issue applies to only a minority of people.
I am happy to engage further with Edward Mountain and all committee members about the disqualification orders.
Jamie Halcro Johnston highlighted financial costs. That is a huge problem caused by out-of-control dogs. We know that NFU Mutual paid out £1.6 million to settle members’ claims in 2017 and has noted a 67 per cent increase in the cost of livestock worrying incidents.
Colin Smyth also presented specific statistics when he said that 72 per cent of NFU members had experienced attacks on their sheep.
I note the idea of exemptions for hunting dogs and I am willing to discuss that.
I welcome the scrutiny and comments from Mike Rumbles and John Finnie. They are fellow committee members and have much experience. I welcome any support that they can give me as we take the bill forward.
We know that there have been many campaigns to educate folk over the years, such as take the lead and take a lead. Those are great: I support any continued education, including any by NatureScot or Police Scotland in the partnership against rural crime. However, Mike Flynn of the SSPCA asked the committee why, if education worked, we are still seeing an increase in attacks on sheep. We need to do more and I hope that the bill will deter irresponsible access to the countryside.
We know that the harm is caused by a minority of people, but farmers are asking for legislation. They asked me for standalone legislation and that is what I am trying to achieve. I will finish by giving the final word to a sheep farmer called Brian Walker, who is one of Mike Rumbles’s constituents. This is what he told me:
“Having been on the sharp end of various livestock attacks in recent years, I am left in no doubt. The law needs to be brought up to date as soon as possible to reflect modern times.”
I encourage members to support the general principles of the bill and I am keen to see any amendments as we move forward.