Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 21st January 2021.

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Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

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.