I am weel chuffed to open the stage 3 debate on my Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. I am pleased that the bill, which I have worked on for more than four years, has had unanimous cross-party support and is the final bill that will be passed during this parliamentary session.
The bill came about because, in my work as a member, I heard about many horrific incidents of dogs attacking sheep and kye. In pursuing those, I discovered that the current legislation, which is now 68 years old, was seriously outdated and needed to be modernised. I also discovered that incidents of livestock attack are underreported by farmers and crofters. Police Scotland said in its evidence to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that the auld law
“has not kept pace with evolving practices within the farming industry, some terminology is outdated plus it does not provide sufficient deterrent that could influence an owner or person in charge of a dog to act with greater responsibility”.
It is now lambing season. Fields are full of pregnant ewes and new lambs and it is distressing to see photographs of carnage of sheep and lambs killed in attacks by out-of-control dogs. Those tragic incidents dramatically highlight why the bill is needed.
The bill extends the definition of “livestock” to include llamas, alpacas and buffaloes, which were not covered by the 1953 act. It also expands and modernises the definition of “worrying” to include to “chase, attack, and kill.” It also gives additional powers to the police to allow them to seize and detain a dog suspected of livestock attack on agricultural land for the purposes of identifying and securing evidence of the offence. The bill will increase the maximum penalties for that crime, bringing them in line with the animal welfare legislation introduced by the Government last year.
During the progress of the bill, we heard and saw evidence of the devastating financial and emotional impact that incidents of livestock worrying and attack can have on both animals and farmers. Those attacks continue to increase in number, as recent media reports show.
During the Covid lockdown, we have seen how important it is for our physical and mental health to be able to access our wonderful countryside, which more people are doing. I encourage everyone to spend time in nature, enjoying the benefits it gives, and to do so responsibly. I am a dog owner and I get great pleasure from accessing the countryside with my twa dugs.
The bill will make a real difference to farmers and will, I hope, help to educate everyone about the importance of keeping our dogs under control around livestock. I hope to see a year-on-year reduction in incidents of worrying and attack and a rise in responsible access to our stunning countryside.
I thank a number of people and organisations, without whom we would not be here today. I thank the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee for their scrutiny, MSP colleagues for their support, and the Scottish Government ministers Mairi Gougeon and Ben Macpherson and their officials. A huge thank you goes to Mary Dinsdale, Nick Hawthorne and Kenny Htet-Khin from the non-Government bills unit, to Charles Livingstone, the bill drafter, and to my office manager, Scott McElvanney, who has supported me from the beginning and who has helped us get to stage 3 today. More thanks will be given in my closing speech because the bill has been a real collaborative effort.
I welcome the cross-party way in which the bill has been taken forward and the suggested changes and amendments from committee members and from the Government. We have a piece of legislation that will really make a difference to farmers across Scotland and will promote responsible access to our braw and bonnie countryside, some of the best of which can be experienced in Galloway.
That the Parliament agrees that the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill be passed.
I am pleased to speak for the Scottish Government in support of this important legislation, which will do much to protect livestock all across Scotland.
I thank Emma Harper, once again, for her constructive and collaborative approach in bringing this bill to Parliament. A member’s bill does not reach this stage without significant commitment and a great deal of effort, and I know how much work Emma has put into the bill, particularly during the consultation stage, to hear from and listen to a wide spectrum of views. Scott in her parliamentary office has been essential to all that work, as have Parliament officials, particularly the Parliament’s non-Government bills unit, and Scottish Government officials, and I pay tribute to my officials for the work that they have done on the bill and more widely.
I also thank the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee for the role it has played in hearing evidence and producing helpful recommendations at stage 1. We considered the recommendations carefully, and they led to the changes that were brought in at stage 2 and a bill that now undoubtedly provides a modernised statutory framework on livestock worrying.
Scottish ministers are keen to emphasise that responsibility for investigating the criminal offence of livestock worrying shall remain solely with the police, with assistance from local authorities or the Scottish SPCA as appropriate in the circumstances.
Throughout the bill process, we have worked with key partners and stakeholders to clarify roles and responsibilities and to increase understanding about what private vets may be asked to do in relation to investigating livestock worrying incidents. As a result, I can advise Parliament that a simple protocol for vets in private practice will be drawn up, and it will be endorsed and publicised by all relevant parties, and made available to police officers.
That protocol will be available before the new powers to have dogs examined are expected to come into force later this year, and will give suitable prominence to the point that Police Scotland, as the investigating authority, will pay for any investigative work that it requests. That should reassure Peter Chapman and others who were interested in that point at stage 2.
There is no doubt that farmers and crofters care deeply about the welfare of their livestock, and the bill will help to ensure that all animals that are commonly farmed in Scotland receive the protection from attack that they deserve.
Some members might have noticed that the Scottish Government and the Scottish SPCA have been running a responsible dog ownership campaign. Although it has not been solely focused on livestock worrying, it emphasises the importance of training pet dogs correctly and reminds dog owners that they have a legal responsibility to ensure that their dog is kept under proper control in order to prevent incidents and reduce the risk of them occurring. The campaign offers dog owners practical tips and advice to ensure that they know the steps to take to prevent their dog from getting out of control and causing harm to others, including livestock.
It will be necessary to halt that campaign as we move into the pre-election period, but I hope that a future Government will consider running it again. Education is key to ending livestock worrying incidents and the associated unnecessary suffering for all concerned.
It is not often that the Government comes to a stage 3 debate with very little to say in amendments, but we had none on the bill. That is a clear signal of the bill’s success. Through members working collaboratively throughout the legislative process, we have a bill before us that is worthy of Emma Harper’s hard work and I hope that members will pass it unanimously.
Indeed, in the circumstances that we are in, I reflect on my first speech in Parliament five years ago, when I stated that we share a
“unifying hope of a better Scotland”—[
, 26 May 2016; c 81.]
across all parties, perspectives and constituencies. I think we would do well to keep that in mind. This bill is a good example of how, when we work together, we can produce effective legislation and make positive change for the common good of all Scotland. I ask members to pass the bill.
I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests as a partner in a farming business and a member of NFU Scotland.
I am pleased, once again, to have the opportunity to speak on the bill at its final stage, and on one of the final items of business of this parliamentary session. It will, I hope, be the seventh member’s bill to pass at stage 3 in this session, and I again commend Emma Harper for guiding it through the Parliament.
This is one of the bills on which I have had the pleasure to speak at all stages, given that it came before the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee at stage 2. I was even able to add a few words to clarify the bill’s coverage of woodland grazing. The minister graciously remarked that that was both “helpful” and “probably unnecessary”, but I am pleased that that clarity is included—Scotland’s woodland grazers will rest that little bit easier in their forests, orchards and thickets once the bill is passed, as will the many other livestock farmers across our country, who the bill defends.
More seriously, in the two decades of this Parliament, members’ bills have served to get a number of important issues on to the floor of the chamber for debate and, on many occasions, effected significant change.
It is a positive feature of this Parliament that members’ bills arise. As Emma Harper set out, her bill will update legislation on livestock protection drafted in the mid-1950s. It recognises that time and context have moved on.
Although the broad principles were agreed to, this has not been an easy bill. There has been significant amendment, reflecting the findings of the stage 1 report. However, Emma Harper’s positive and consensual approach aided the process considerably.
There are two worthwhile objectives behind the bill. The first is animal welfare. At stage 1, we heard many examples of the injuries and distress that livestock can face from attacks and worrying incidents. Many of us will have direct experience of that, given that a number of farmers are represented in the chamber.
The second objective is to address the economic harm that occurs from damage to livestock. The incidents that the bill sets out to guard against can have considerable costs. We know all too well that farming today often runs on tight margins and that livestock are a valuable asset; and dog attacks can often be very distressing to livestock owners in their own right.
As I mentioned at stage 1, the bill is far from anti-dog. As a big supporter of Holyrood dog of the year, my pro-dog credentials are well known. However, too often, owners are not providing the proper control of dogs in rural areas. In some cases, that is bred by indifference; on other occasions, it is ignorance.
The Dogs Trust, in supporting the bill, has highlighted the many occasions when worrying incidents can take place without the owner present. A dog may have escaped from a garden, or been left out unaccompanied. That is why it is important that information campaigns are run, that school pupils—even in our urban communities—learn the countryside code and that everyone in our rural communities recognises the dangers that can occur. Prevention is key.
Our countryside is the heritage of everyone, and visitors are valued, but it is important that we are all sensitive to the fact that Scotland’s rural areas are not just beauty spots but the workplace for many thousands of people and bring their own risks and dangers. Understanding them, and the people who populate those parts of our country, is vital.
I will not dwell long on today’s amendments. They are largely technical changes that improve the bill and tie up loose ends from the volume of work that was undertaken in committee. However, the bill is much changed as a result of stage 2. The direction that it has taken has narrowed its scope a little but also provided considerable improvement.
The minister’s work to ensure that penalties fitted well into recent reforms to animal legislation was a welcome step. My colleague Peter Chapman, with his considerable experience, lodged important amendments around specialist veterinary care and the allocation of costs, recognising the practicalities around examinations in practice and on the ground. John Finnie made an important point in committee that much of the work will hinge on the protocols and working relationships between farmers, vets, the police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in relation to evidence recovery. Significantly, Emma Harper’s changes reflected the considered view of the committee and the evidence that it heard.
The bill tackles a perennial issue of complaint in Scotland’s countryside, which can cause considerable harm to livestock and the people who work our land.
I, too, add my thanks to all those who have contributed to improving the bill and supporting its progress, from the people in the sector who provided evidence to our always exceptional committee and legislation teams for their work on pulling together the stage 1 report and stage 2 amendments.
The bill has reached stage 3 thanks to the positive efforts of members from all parties, in the best traditions of this Parliament. I offer again my congratulations to Emma Harper. I am pleased to say that it will have the support of the Conservatives at decision time.
Although I have now passed the baton of being Scottish Labour’s rural economy spokesperson to my colleague Rhoda Grant, during my time in that position over the past three and half years, and also as a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and a member who represents a large rural region, I have heard all too often about how common livestock worrying is and the devastating welfare, financial and emotional impact that it can have.
NFU Scotland has highlighted a recent survey, which found that 72 per cent of its members had been affected by livestock worrying, and the Scottish Government’s estimates suggest that each incident costs an average of almost £700. Particularly alarming are the concerns, which a number of stakeholders raised, that rates of livestock worrying are on the rise.
It is therefore clear from the evidence that more needs to be done to tackle the scourge of livestock worrying, which will involve making legislative changes. The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 is almost 50 years old and, sadly, like far too much of our animal welfare legislation, is badly in need of updating. The bill will help to deliver that improvement.
However, it is important that we get the legislation right, so I am pleased that, as the bill passed through Parliament, the member in charge, Emma Harper, took on board many of the concerns about the bill that I and other members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee raised in our stage 1 report. The bill was much improved during stage 2 and, as a result, I am pleased that we have been able to get to a position where it seems that all parties can not only vote for it but do so with confidence that it will help to deliver the robust legal context that is needed.
I hope that the bill will be a first step towards making meaningful progress in reducing the rates of livestock worrying. However, of course, prevention is always better than punishment, and the passing of the bill must be a starting point for consideration of what more needs to be done to tackle the issue more widely. A key aspect of that must be a strong awareness campaign that will communicate not only the specific effects of the new laws but the seriousness of livestock worrying in general, and the practical steps that can be taken to avoid it.
Indeed, in her response to the committee’s stage 1 report, Emma Harper noted:
“in most cases incidents of livestock worrying and attack are likely not premeditated and often lack ... intent to cause harm.”
A number of stakeholders also made that point as the bill made its way through Parliament. The National Dog Warden Association (Scotland) said:
“Most dog owners do not believe their dog is likely to attack sheep and are shocked and distraught after the event.”
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home pointed out that livestock worrying often occurs when the owner is not even present. Changing the law will not tackle that, but raising awareness of livestock worrying and how to prevent it might help.
The laws introduced in the bill and in the 1953 act are undoubtedly needed, but our aim needs to be that they are used as seldom as possible. That will mean having a strong awareness-raising campaign to accompany the bill, and longer-term measures such as consistent education and improved infrastructure and signage. In order to understand the issue and monitor our progress in tackling it, we will also need more information on the scale of the problem.
Dogs Trust has highlighted that issue, pointing out:
“By working to better understand the problem, we believe it will be possible to undertake targeted proactive measures that aim to result in the prevention of worrying, therefore protecting the welfare of livestock more robustly.”
Stakeholders from a range of backgrounds also highlighted how underreporting and inconsistent data collection make it difficult to get a clear idea of just how common the problem is. That will need to be addressed if we are to ensure that the new laws and any related measures are working as intended.
Finally, although I am pleased that this particular issue is now being addressed, I am disappointed that it is not happening as part of a wider review of dog control laws. A comprehensive review of such laws is badly needed and I hope will be progressed in the next parliamentary session.
I am pleased to be voting in favour of the bill. I congratulate Emma Harper on her work in getting it to this point and also everyone who has been involved in developing and improving it throughout the process. That is a welcome change, which has seen cross-party support that will provide farmers and crofters with reassurance that the issue of livestock worrying is being taken seriously by all parties. It is also another small step in progress to improve Scotland’s animal welfare regime. However, there is still an awful lot more to do.
I, too, congratulate Emma Harper on introducing the bill. It will be good to get it passed before the session ends. It will be at the last minute, but that will still be good.
My one major concern about the bill has been addressed. It centred on the initial intention to give the police the power to search non-domestic premises without a warrant. That was the second time in this parliamentary session that that idea had appeared in legislation; the first time was in the Government’s UEFA European Championship (Scotland) Bill. I thank in particular the minister, Ben Macpherson, for looking at that in this second bill. Thankfully, on both occasions it was recognised that the provision would have overridden historical safeguards in our common law that were designed to protect people by not allowing authorities to search people’s property without first obtaining evidence of a crime. Thank goodness that common sense prevailed, but it shows that vigilance is always required from MSPs when they examine legislation from the Government, from committees or from individual MSPs.
Presiding Officer, if you will indulge me for a moment, considering that this is my last speech in Parliament, I will make a general comment on the work of MSPs. Since I was first elected some 22 years ago, I have seen a marked change in, if I may say so, the independence of mind of my MSP colleagues—across the board; I am not leaving anybody out—when it comes to voting in the Scottish Parliament. We have collectively become far more tribal and more “My party, right or wrong”. I would urge those colleagues who are returned at the election to consider this. It is fine when the following three elements are aligned—your own values and beliefs, the interests of your constituents, and your party’s leadership decisions. Unfortunately, in politics, those do not always neatly align.
For me, the most important of those three elements is remaining true to the values and beliefs that brought you to Parliament in the first place, especially when considering which way to vote at decision time and it is everybody’s decision. The one example that I will give of what I mean is when we had the vote on closing our churches during the pandemic. Today’s judgment from Lord Braid ruled that the move was unconstitutional, disproportionate, and consequently unlawful, yet how many colleagues voted against their better judgment? Only five of us voted against our own parties’ position on it, and every party’s decision was to support the Government’s position on closing down the churches. Therefore, my message to returning MSPs is simply this: value your own judgment, and always do what you believe is the right thing.
Presiding Officer, you can see why my party leaders over the years—Jim Wallace, Nicol Stephen, Tavish Scott and now Willie Rennie—have not had an easy time from me. I thank them for their forbearance. On that point, I end my 17 years of contributions to parliamentary debate.
Like others before me, I would like to thank everyone who has brought us to this point in the bill, and to congratulate Emma Harper, who has worked extremely hard over four years, as we have heard. Success will arrive in a very short time—the bill will achieve the success that it deserves.
Within the past fortnight, in Sutherland, just north of me here, there was a serious incident in which five sheep were killed and other beasts traumatised, as would be the owners, the neighbours and the police who are investigating the incident. As a young police officer in the 1980s, I was called to a scene of carnage, in which many sheep were killed and numerous others were injured and required to be humanely destroyed. At the request of the dogs’ owners—good folk, whom I knew—I assisted the good vet, whom I knew, to put down dogs that I knew, so I am acutely aware of the wider implications of an incident like that in a rural community.
As has been said, legislation on its own will not stop livestock worrying, but this enhanced legislation, which includes new protection for my dear friends the camelids—I am a big alpaca fan—is needed and will help. Education is the key, so I welcome the recent Scottish Government social media campaign that the minister alluded to. This is entirely about responsible ownership. Scottish Greens will support the bill at decision time tonight.
I hope that the Presiding Officer will indulge me, as she did Mr Rumbles before me. Tha mi às na Cluainean, baile beag snog air taobh Loch Lòchaidh faisg air a’ Ghearsdan. For that reason, it has been a real honour to represent the Highlands and Islands in the Parliament. I thank the constituents for the privilege to do so.
The day after I was elected in 2011, I arrived at the Parliament building for the very first time with my former colleague Dave Thompson MSP. We were greeted with a smile by the security officer and we immediately met Paul Grice, the chief executive, and had a blether. From that day to this, that is the way that engagement has been with the parliamentary staff. I take this opportunity to thank the present chief executive, David McGill, and each and every one of the parliamentary staff for their courtesy and assistance, and likewise the Scottish Government officials.
I have enjoyed my parliamentary work and particularly helping constituents. To that end, I could not have been better served than by Linda Wilson in my constituency office throughout both sessions. Linda’s courteous and engaging manner has been invaluable in our helping countless constituents, and she can be very proud of the support that she has given the communities of the Highlands and Islands. Thanks, too, to past employees Richard, Pauline and Gary, and to Kevin and more recently Liam, both real wordsmiths, who have been of great help to me.
My long-suffering office manager, Steven Dehn, has been with me since the start in 2011 and has tirelessly kept me on course with all things parliamentary. Steven was pivotal in the progression of the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill into law and we are both very proud of being part of the big team behind the bill. I value my staff and will be for ever in their debt.
I value our Parliament, too. In the relatively short time for which it has been in place, it has brought great progress to our country. I always want to be forward looking and positive. However, I must say that I have been dismayed and indeed angered by those, particularly of late, who have sought to undermine our Parliament and our institutions for their own shabby ends.
Fortunately, session 5 of the Parliament will be remembered not for their wrecking crew’s activities but for progressive legislation such as the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill, the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act 2021 and many other pieces of legislation including—dare I say it?—my bill that became the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019, without which the historic United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill would not have been possible.
Soon, I hope, our Parliament will have to raise its horizons even further, our magnificent chamber resonating to new voices and wider issues, with debates about Scotland’s foreign policy, Scotland’s defence policy and all the powers that are in the meantime held elsewhere. I believe that it is a matter of when, rather than if, Scotland takes its place at the United Nations as an independent nation and rejoins our European friends.
Like many, I have spent the past year working entirely from home. I thank my wife of 45 years, Bernadette, for her endless support and forbearance. Perhaps there will be one final debrief for her after today’s events, following which I promise that there will be no more running commentaries on the political business of the day.
In a year like no other, I thank all those who have helped our communities in whatever capacity, and I pay tribute to the Presiding Officer, Ken Macintosh; the Deputy Presiding Officers; the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Jeane Freeman; and our First Minister for their leadership.
I thank my dear Green colleagues and our super Green staff. Indeed, I thank colleagues across the chamber, past and present, for their camaraderie. I wish those who are standing down healthy and less-demanding days ahead. New members are coming, and I am delighted that our Parliament will welcome more women. I hope that my successor as lead candidate, the talented Ariane Burgess, my dear friend Gillian Mackay, and indeed my daughter Ruth Maguire, of whom I am very proud, will be among that growing number.
However, no matter how the next Parliament is configured, I wish everyone well in discharging their sworn duty of public service. Presiding Officer, one last time, mòran taing a-h-uile duine agus tioraidh.
I can see people around the chamber timing me before I even start. [
.] I wish John Finnie and Mike Rumbles well, and I particularly thank the cabinet secretary, Roseanna Cunningham. I believe that this will be her final speech. A few of the ’99ers are left. I am struggling on and I hope to be returned. They will need to shoot me like an old horse. [
Anyway, I am pleased to speak in this debate on Emma Harper’s bill, not only as convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare but as someone whose constituency straddles farms in Midlothian and the Borders, and as a colleague who substituted for Emma Harper on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee during the evidence sessions. I commend Edward Mountain for trying to chair me. It is a difficult job.
I also speak as someone who has introduced members’ bills in previous sessions, sometimes with success, such as with the bill that became the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010. Therefore, I know how tough it is for a member to get this far and how long it takes, even with the excellent expertise of the non-Government bills unit. The fact that Emma Harper has, I think, been progressing her bill since 2017 shows that it is a very long gestation.
The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill addresses the horrendous issue of the worrying and savaging of farmed livestock by unattended or out-of-control dogs. Worrying carries a high welfare risk for livestock, and there are fatalities. The impact on farmers is not only financial, in the form of veterinary costs and the cost of replacing lost animals; perhaps the most significant effect is the emotional impact of having to deal with half-dead and mutilated dying animals.
The dog is not to blame, and the majority of dog owners walk their animals responsibly in all environments. A farm is a working environment. As usual, it is the minority—either through ignorance or wilfully—who let their dogs run wild. The proposed increase in the penalty available to a maximum fine of £40,000 and/or up to 12 months’ imprisonment is long overdue. Indeed, with the upsurge in dog ownership during Covid, the bill could not be timelier. Its penalties are important, and I hope that, as well as reflecting the culpability of the dog owner, they will act as a deterrent. The bill should be a vehicle to educate dog owners on their responsibilities in the working countryside.
I have two asks of the Scottish Government in the event that the bill is passed, as I hope it will be, at decision time: first, that the bill receives from the Government the publicity that it gives to its own bills—I have been banging on about that for years; secondly, that we at last have a national database that is linked to the existing microchip data on Scotland’s dog population, which brings together dog control notices and offences under the bill. In that way, serial offending owners will not be able to dodge being identified.
Finally, I offer many congratulations to my colleague Emma Harper on what I hope will be a well-earned success at decision time.
I have five seconds left, Presiding Officer.
I have been frantically trying to cut my speech from four to three minutes, Presiding Officer; I will do my best.
I thank Emma Harper for introducing the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. What a lot of work for all involved! I am keenly aware of how necessary the bill is. Much of the South Scotland area that I and Emma Harper represent is rural, so the worrying of livestock by dogs is an issue that is regularly raised by many constituents, especially those who are members of the farming community.
I regularly meet the NFUS, and the issue is never far from the agenda. Jen Craig, who is the chair of the National Sheep Association Scotland and the NFUS Clydesdale branch, farms in my region and has expressed real concern about the situation. 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.”
She added that it is not the dog’s fault—I completely agree with that—and went on to say:
“It’s the 5 second decision that the owner makes to not put their dog on a lead that can lead to these horrific incidents.”
“very often the distress caused to the animals themselves, as they are chased can be overlooked, and not appreciated or even recognised by those whom the dogs are supposed to be under the control of.”
He has also heard of people who think that their dog is just “having fun” as an attack is under way. He added that such behaviour is irresponsible and is one of the reasons that some farmers are understandably cautious and worried about the anticipated increase in the number of members of the public who will take access in the future.
However, the benefits to wellbeing that the outdoors brings should be encouraged, and I fully support the work of organisations such as Paths for All and Healthy Valleys in Clydesdale, which runs successful dementia walks in my area. Those organisations provide wonderful opportunities for people to experience the pleasures that walks can bring, and the people who go on those walks often take their well-behaved pets with them—they are very welcome.
I am proud of Scottish Labour’s introduction of the bill that became the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which gave people the statutory right to roam, but that right comes with public responsibility. If Emma Harper’s bill is passed, as I am sure it will be, it will serve as a tangible reminder of that responsibility to all concerned.
On their final day, I offer congratulations to all members who are leaving and to Mike Rumbles and John Finnie in particular for their contributions. I offer a special thanks to the Lanarkshire lassies. In 2011, I joined a very elite group that included Linda Fabiani, Christina McKelvie, Aileen McLeod and Aileen Campbell—formidable women, one and all. They have been my mentors, friends and support, and I wish Ms Campbell and Ms Fabiani the very best for the future.
I move from the Lanarkshire lassies to our Galloway lass, Emma Harper. I congratulate her on the bill’s progress, which demonstrates the commitment to animal welfare that she has shown throughout her time in the Parliament. There was a timely reminder today of the important work that she has done in conjunction with the SSPCA after another family was left devastated by a pup dying within six days of being purchased from a puppy farm. I note that the SSPCA has been involved with work on the bill from the start. That has been a great partnership, which Ms Harper established. I thank the SSPCA for its contribution to the bill.
I thank Mr Macpherson for his comments about dog ownership. Owning a dog is a wonderful experience—it is one of the most wonderful things that a family can do—but it comes with the huge responsibility of ensuring that our dogs are under control at all times. I have been struck many times by the number of people I know who are surprised by their dog’s behaviour. We have to educate people about that. Dogs are animals and they have an instinct when they engage with wildlife, whether that is in our countryside or gardens or even on our shorelines—I note the recent attack on a seal, which the dog owner did not expect to happen. That is why education is key, and I thank charities such as the SSPCA, the Dogs Trust and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home for the support that they give dog owners.
I thank Mr Halcro Johnston for noting that we live in a shared environment: what is, for some, a walkway for an afternoon stroll may be owned by a commercial organisation, and those spaces have to be respected.
It is important to note that the bill covers all our livestock, including llamas, sheep and alpacas, which Ms Harper mentioned earlier. I will finish by saying that if my good friend and colleague Rob Gibson was still an MSP, I am sure that he would say that it even extends to the buffalo on the farm in Achiltibuie.
Thank you for your indulgence, Presiding Officer. I have very little to say except to welcome the passage of the bill and declare an interest—[
I declare an interest as a sheep farmer and I give a heartfelt welcome to Emma Harper’s bill, having twice had my in-lamb ewes worried by dogs. There is no worse sight than ewes with their throats ripped open and stomachs burst and dead lambs lying around. Owners of dogs do not appear to care or understand the damage that they have done, not just to the dead and dying animals but to the whole of the surviving flock, leading to subsequent abortions and hypoglycaemic ewes.
I am delighted that the bill has been introduced by Emma Harper and I wish it every success.
Like others, I congratulate Emma Harper on introducing the bill. I pay tribute to Mike Rumbles and John Finnie on their final speeches, and to you, Presiding Officer, as this is also your last meeting in the Parliament.
I am really pleased that Emma Harper introduced the bill. Even this short debate has shown the devastation that can be caused by dogs chasing animals such as sheep. Pregnant ewes can abort their lambs, as Emma Harper said.
Livestock worrying is absolutely distressing to animals. Claudia Beamish talked about owners thinking that their dogs are just having fun—that it is just what dogs do. However, the livestock are being absolutely terrorised. If the owner saw another animal terrorising their dog, they would see the distress that can be caused. There is no hierarchy of animals.
Dogs can kill sheep, as John Scott said. He painted a very vivid picture of what a farmer or crofter sees during sheep worrying incidents. It is devastating and absolutely heart-breaking, because such incidents involve somebody’s animals—animals that they have cared for. It can also be costly, with people losing a huge amount of money.
Colin Smyth told us that most dog owners do not know that their dogs are likely to attack sheep. They are quite often shocked and disturbed by that, and they cannot understand how their dogs will react in such situations. As Clare Adamson said, some dogs have a built-in instinct to immediately start chasing sheep when they see them, which can lead to animals being bitten and killed.
Claudia Beamish highlighted that a lot more people are going out into the country, which means that sheep worrying is becoming a lot more common. As Colin Smyth mentioned, the NFUS said that 72 per cent of their members—a huge number of farmers—are affected by sheep worrying. The NFUS also said that the average cost is £700. If we add up each incident, we can see that it comes to a huge sum of money—money that is lost not just to individuals, but to the rural economy.
I support what Colin Smyth said about data. We will not be able to see how the bill is working unless we gather the data about the incidents that occur and how they are dealt with.
Many members spoke about the important issue of awareness raising. The Government has said that it is taking that on and is making good investment in it, and that needs to continue. We need to make sure that people understand how their dogs will react in such situations. There needs to be education for those using the countryside, to make sure that they keep their dogs on a lead while out in the fields. Those fields might seem just to be wide open spaces in which their dogs can run, but people need to be very careful about what is being farmed in them. Fields can also be dangerous for dogs: cattle can turn on dogs and their owners, which can be absolutely terrifying not only for the dog but for the owner. People could be putting their own lives in danger.
I welcome Police Scotland having the role of policing livestock worrying. It should not be down to individual farmers.
I very much welcome the bill. I pay tribute to Emma Harper. I know that it is not easy to introduce a member’s bill—it takes a lot of hard work, so I say well done. The bill will make a difference.
Let me remind the chamber for the last time that my entry in the register of interests states that I am a member of a farming partnership. As you say, Presiding Officer, it is the last time that I need to say that because, as most folks know, I am standing down from Parliament. As such, I beg some latitude from you, Presiding Officer, for my closing remarks, and maybe a wee bit more time.
I must address Emma Harper’s Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. Of course, I welcome the bill and the extra protection that it gives our farmers from attacks on their livestock by out-of-control dogs. Emma deserves a great deal of credit for successfully driving the bill to completion before recess, and I have no doubt that it will become law at decision time. Normally I would say much more, but as the bill has cross-party support and this is my final speech, I would like to cover some other issues that are important to me.
It is important that I say thank you to the many folk who have supported me in the past five years. My loyal staff here and in my Aberdeen office have been tremendous, and so have all the people who are sometimes forgotten but make such a difference to our lives and our ability to do our jobs. I am talking about the folks in the Scottish Parliament information centre, our committee clerks and their teams, the information technology support staff, the security staff, the canteen workers, and the people in human resources and allowances. The list goes on. They all, without fail, do their jobs professionally, politely and with a smile. They are a great bunch of people, and they should be proud of their dedication to doing their best.
I wish that I could be equally complimentary about other people and other things that go on in the Parliament. Of course I cannot, because there is something sinister and worrying going on that is undermining the very credibility of the Parliament. It is, unfortunately, being perpetrated by the Scottish National Party—the very party that likes to tell us that we should respect Parliament.
We have a First Minister who is determined to hang on to power and whom we know has misled Parliament. If she had a shred of self-awareness or honour, she would already have resigned, but she will not. [
I hear what you say, Presiding Officer, but—as I said—some of these issues are, to my mind, very important, so I wish to make the points, as I have stated I would.
Donald Dewar must be turning in his grave seeing the damage that the Administration has done to the integrity and standing of our Parliament. The Parliament was launched with such high expectations that we would do politics better. The Sturgeon-Salmond scandal has discredited our Parliament and highlighted a fatal weakness in our ability to hold the party in power to account. We have seen the SNP Administration wilfully ignore a series of votes that it has lost and wilfully ignore requests for information that was promised by our First Minister to the investigating committee at the outset.
Democracy is a fragile flower. Without proper scrutiny and the ability to hold a Government to account, our democracy is at risk.
The Administration is mired in scandal and failure on many fronts. No issue is more serious than the decline in our education system. Our education system was once the envy of the world. After 14 years of SNP rule, it is but a shadow of its former self. Nicola Sturgeon has said on many occasions that we should judge her on education. We have, and she has failed miserably.
On a lighter note, one of the maist memorable speeches I hiv delivered in the last five years was the ane I did in my ain north-east tongue—the Doric. Fin I pit it on the Facebook, it wint viral, an I’ve hid aboot twa hunner an sivinty thoosan hits fae a ower the world. At jist gings tae show hoo important the Scots language is tae sae mony folk an foo important it is tae wir heritage an wir culture.
I wid love tae see wir Scots language pit on an equal fittin wi Gaelic an get the same level o support an fundin as Gaelic gets. In my mind, it’s jist as important. It wid be great if the mony fantastic poems written in the Doric, for instance, cwid be taught in schools, bit thankfully wir Doric winna be forgotten fin I leave becis Mark Findlater is fechtin the Banff an Buchan seat instead o me, an he’s a native spicker an jist as passionate aboot it as I am.
In conclusion, I have had only five years in my role as an MSP. It has been a great experience, and I have made many new friends but, frankly, I leave disillusioned with what the Parliament has become, and concerned about the future of my country.
Another five years of an SNP Administration with an overall majority, and without the ability to hold it to account, fills me with dread. Another divisive independence referendum is the last thing that this country needs just now, and I passionately hope that we can prevent that from happening. I promise that I will be doing my bit up to election day to return as many Conservative MSPs as possible, because a balanced Parliament will be a better Parliament.
On the last day of the current parliamentary session, it seems fitting that we are considering a member’s bill that has strong cross-party support and addresses a matter that is of serious concern to everyone who has an interest in animal welfare. I warmly congratulate my colleague Emma Harper on her successful initiative.
Improving the lives of Scotland’s animals is something to which I am strongly committed. Despite having to deal with the extreme pressures of European Union exit and the Covid pandemic, this Government has still been able to deliver many groundbreaking and innovative improvements in that area. Therefore, I am happy to commend the bill to members.
This will be my last speech in the chamber—well, my last in my elected capacity. This time comes to us all, sometimes without warning, so I count myself lucky to have been able to make the decision to retire at a time of my choosing.
I confess to the occasional bewildering thought about how it all came to this. In 1967, as a 15-year-old living in Australia, I wrote to the SNP after the Hamilton by-election, and the party wrote back. I still have the package of booklets and leaflets, although they are a little out of date now. Approximately five minutes later—or so it seems—I am standing here making a valedictory speech in a Scottish Parliament. It has been the most extraordinary experience, a great privilege and, of course, a matter of some pride. Only the achievement of independence itself will top that for me.
I say this in the spirit in which I hoped all valedictory speeches would have been made. Not everyone knows about it, but in the early years of the Parliament, there was an informal cross-party back-bench dining group. In those years, some enduring friendships emerged, including my friendship with John Scott. John was an active diner and will remember the great fun we had. The ease with which he and I have been able to negotiate our way through some tricky policy issues in the intervening years is, I suspect, a consequence of that early period.
Tavish Scott, who left us during the session, was also an enthusiastic diner. When Liam McArthur was elected, Tavish pulled him into the same relationship—usually assisted by prosecco, it has to be said—although Liam’s cross-chamber texts are not quite as wicked as Tavish’s were.
I have to apologise to Anas Sarwar. Pre-lockdown, I said that I would make him a rhubarb and ginger cake, which I have singularly failed to deliver, thereby allowing him to say with authority that nationalists do not keep their promises.
There are many others whom I could have named—members who were here in the early years and who have left before now. However, I hope that the point that I am making is clear: the capacity to forge relationships in this place should not be confined to party groups.
I give huge thanks to all the people who have worked for me over the years, up to and including my current constituency staff—Emma, Carroll, Sheena and, of course, Calum, who has been with me from the very start. I also thank all the officials and staff, both parliamentary and Government, who have supported me, including innumerable members of my various private offices over the past 12 years.
I give a special shout out to all the wonderful Government car drivers, who provide ministers with mobile offices and/or decompression chambers on a regular basis.
Most of all, I give my thanks and abiding love to all my amazing SNP colleagues throughout those years—everyone from the best First Minister that Scotland has ever had, whom I first met when she was 17 years old, to all the newer members who came in after 2016.
However, I have special words for my very good and long-time pal John Swinney, who cannot be in the chamber today. He was 19 when I first met him. We have been the Perthshire double act for so long that it seems strange to bring it to a close. I make the point that Perthshire is the most beautiful part of Scotland. I sneaked into the House of Commons a few years before John, and I am sneaking out of the Scottish Parliament some years before him, too. He has been a friend and, often, a confidant for decades, throughout which we have fought for, and continue to fight for, independence for Scotland. That is what motivated the 15-year-old me, and it motivates me still.
I believe that I am right in saying that I am currently the longest-serving parliamentary representative in Scotland. As I leave, I pass the baton to John, and I wish him so well in the next years of his career.
With that, Presiding Officer, I bid the chamber farewell. [
In closing, I have additional people to thank. More than 600 people responded to my consultation in full, and I appreciate the time and input from members of the public. Many organisations have been involved, as well, including the National Sheep Association in Scotland. Claudia Beamish mentioned Jen Craig, who has been helpful in giving evidence to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, as well as away from the committee—as has the previous chair of the association, John Fyall. Those organisations also include NFU Scotland, the Scottish SPCA,
The Scottish Farmer
, Scottish Land & Estates, NatureScot, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the Dogs Trust, OneKind, the Scottish Outdoor Access Network, the Kennel Club, Blue Cross and many others.
I give special thanks to Inspector Alan Dron, who is the national rural crime co-ordinator, and his team, which includes Willie Johnstone, Allan McKean fae Dumfries, and Constable John Cowan from Police Scotland in Dumfries and Galloway. The support from the Scottish partnership against rural crime has been phenomenal, and its knowledge and input have been gratefully received.
I welcome what the minister, Ben Macpherson, said during the debate as he announced a modernised statutory framework for livestock worrying and a simple protocol that will support veterinarians in their work.
I agree with Colin Smyth that prevention and education are key—as with the Government’s responsible owner advice that I have been seeing on the internet in the past few days. We know that increasing awareness is needed to accompany the bill. However, Police Scotland has said that the current law does not provide sufficient deterrent that could influence an owner to act with greater responsibility. Christine Grahame said that nobody takes their dog out with an intent to attack sheep, alpacas, llamas, buffalo or whatever livestock is in our Scottish fields these days. I thank everyone who spoke in the debate.
Work will continue. We know that the Scottish partnership against rural crime is continuing to engage and that Scotland’s Rural College has sheep fitbit technology that can alert farmers when livestock are disturbed. It disnae just stop here.
I welcome the fact that Roseanna Cunningham has closed the debate on behalf of the Government with her valedictory speech. Again, I am chuffed that that was about my bill.
It would be remiss of me not to personally thank Emma Harper for all the hard work that she has put into the bill. It is a fitting end to our parliamentary session, and I have been privileged to work with her on it. I thank her on behalf of people such as Joyce Campbell, Sally Crowe and all my constituents in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross.
I thank Gail Ross for that. It is very fitting that she mentions Sally Crowe and Joyce Campbell. I know that they will be keen to hear that we are—as I hope—passing this bill tonight.
Again, I thank everyone who has contributed to this updated legislation to support oor farmers—including Joyce, Sally and other farmers in Dumfries and Galloway—and crofters
, to protect livestock and to support responsible access to oor bonnie countryside when folk are oot wi their dogs.
We will move to the vote on the bill. Before that, however, I suspend the meeting for a technical break to allow members to access the voting app.
17:31 Meeting suspended.
17:35 On resuming—
The Presiding Officer:
The result of the vote is: For 120, Against 0, Abstentions 0.
Motion agreed to,
That the Parliament agrees that the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill be passed.
As the motion has been agreed to, the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill is passed. [
I hand the chair to my Deputy Presiding Officer, Linda Fabiani, for the next item.