XL Bully-type Dogs (Definition)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 28 March 2024.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

4. I declare an interest as convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare.

To ask the First Minister, further to the regulations relating to XL bully-type dogs coming into force, to whom a dog owner can apply for advice on whether their dog fits the conformation of the XL bully-type, in light of reports that a substantial number of dog owners in England are now applying to deregister their dogs having established retrospectively that their pet does not conform to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs definition of an XL bully-type dog. (S6F-02987)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government’s website provides the definition used for an XL bully dog. It also provides a guide for owners to check whether their dog falls within the definition of an XL bully, if they are not sure, and whether they need to apply for an exemption certificate by the end of July. The Minister for Victims and Community Safety has written to all MSPs to provide further information about the exemption scheme, which opens on Monday 1 April and goes all the way to 31 July.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

In England and Wales, 55,000 applications for registration have been made and 300 healthy and well-behaved dogs have been put down as a result of knee-jerk UK legislation, following horrendous, but very few, fatal dog attacks that were not even wholly attributable to an XL bully-type dog.

There is, as yet, no UK guidance on how to deregister. The pet owner decides whether their pet conforms to the DEFRA definition—20 inches in height for a dog, and 19 inches for a bitch—to be registered. If the animal does not conform to that, the owner need not check the other confirmation characteristics.

I respectfully suggest that the Scottish Government provide clear guidance to the public at large, in a publicity scheme, on the definition, and on deregistration, given that we are stuck—to be frank—with this wholly unnecessary and unjust legislation.

The First Minister:

I note Christine Grahame’s criticisms of the way in which the UK Government introduced the legislation. I know that she also has concerns about the Scottish Government action in this regard, but she has nonetheless been constructive in her challenge, and I welcome her approach.

On her ask for the Scottish Government to be crystal clear about the guidance and to look at some kind of publicity campaign, I will absolutely take that away and give it weighty consideration. I know that the member is passionate about the issue. As she recognises, we are seeking to close a loophole that has been created by the UK Government legislation; it is, therefore, important that the definition of an XL bully dog is consistent across the UK.

On the deregistering and exemption process, we are, again, looking to have a consistent approach across the UK, and we are in discussions with the UK Government on that. Nonetheless, I will take away what Christine Grahame has said, and her suggestion for crystal-clear guidance and any potential publicity campaign that we can undertake around that.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

Much of the current confusion could have been avoided if Scotland had kept pace with other parts of the UK on regulations of this nature. Yesterday, the Minister for Victims and Community Safety reiterated the Scottish Government’s position that it’s concern is about deed, not breed.

However, the legislation is, by its very nature, breed specific. Over a number of weeks, we have seen attacks on people; dogs have been killed; armed police have had to restrain this type of dog; and there have been a series of very serious incidents, some of which have been fatal to humans and to other pets. The problem is clear.

How can the Government maintain its current position that it is about deed, not breed? More importantly, what will the Government do to enforce the new regulations and to ensure that there is clarity for the public?

The First Minister:

Jamie Greene makes the point that we did not keep pace with the United Kingdom legislation—well, we were not informed about the UK legislation. The first that we were ever told about it was via the BBC News website, on 15 September, as it was being reported. It was two weeks later, on 29 September, that the Scottish Government received a letter from the UK Government on the actual issue, but that gave no detail at all of the specific approach and, crucially, no detail of the potential impact on Scotland.

On 14 November, the Minister for Victims and Community Safety wrote to the UK Government to seek clarity on controls on English and Welsh XL bully dogs in terms of selling or gifting dogs in Scotland. On 14 December, a month later, the relevant UK Government minister replied, giving no clarity whatsoever on the issue.

As the member knows, Scotland has a dog control notice regime, which does not exist in England and Wales. I have great confidence in that system. There are currently more than 1,200 active dog control notices, and XL bully dogs represent 2 per cent of the DCNs that are in force.

I stand by the position of deed, not breed. The decision to depart from that approach is not one that we have taken lightly at all; we have had to respond to circumstances in other parts of the UK. What would make our lives materially much easier, and enable us to be more consistent in our approach, would be if the UK Government were not to simply announce, without telling us, legislation that could have an impact in Scotland, but actually engaged with us beforehand.