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.