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.