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.