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 Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

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.