§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to restrict the keeping of certain breeds of dog; to provide for a licensing scheme in respect of those breeds; to provide for increased penalties for the ill-treatment of dogs and for connected purposes.I freely admit to being a dog lover, although I do not at present own a dog. I have a young family who keep us fully occupied, often behaving as though they were wayward puppies. It is with sadness that I feel it necessary to introduce this Bill, which deals with a serious matter that should be widely discussed.
We are a nation of animal lovers, particulary compared with the way in which the people of many other countries treat their animals. Many people in Britain look after their animals wonderfully well. In certain respects, some of them have a higher regard for animals than they have for human beings. But there is a section of the population who treat animals, and dogs in particular, in an utterly despicable fashion.
Cruelty to animals is intolerable in a civilised society and I hope that the House will view with alarm the RSPCA's recently published statistics, revealing an increase in animal cruelty. Of 2,026 convictions last year, 1,131 involved cruelty to dogs. Owning a dog is a considerable responsibility, and is not to be taken lightly.
My Bill attempts, no doubt in an imperfect fashion, to halt the trend in cruelty. It is in no way directed towards dogs but, rather, towards irresponsible dog owners. I propose that offences involving cruelty to dogs would result in an obligatory disqualification, similar to that imposed in drink-driving offences. Such disqualification could be made automatic in all cases involving cruelty to dogs under section 1 of the Protection of Animals Act 1911.
I propose a minimum disqualification period of three years. There would be an obligatory disqualification for owners of dogs, subject to orders being introduced under the excellent measure introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes), the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989. There would be obligatory life disqualification from keeping any animal on a second conviction within 10 years of the first conviction for cruelty. There would also be power in severe cases to commit defendants convicted of cruelty to dogs for sentence at the Crown court. In such circumstances, maximum sentences would be extended from six months to five years imprisonment.
Over recent months, there has been widespread concern about the number of dog attacks on children and adults. In the past year, there were some fatalities as a result of such attacks. There is a clear lack of confidence in the ability of certain owners properly to control the behaviour of their dogs. Of course, there are differing views of what could be termed dangerous dogs, but there can be little doubt that certain breeds are strong candidates—for example, rottweilers, German shepherds, pit hull terriers, dobermans, Staffordshire bull terriers and bull terriers. I am quite certain that it is not beyond the wit of the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for the Environment, together with the Kennel Club and the RSPCA, to draw up an agreed list of potentially dangerous dogs.
Because certain dog owners have not looked after their dogs properly, some horrific attacks have resulted in 164 terrible injuries being inflicted upon people. Perhaps to balance that statement, I should draw to the attention of the House an attack last month on a six-year-old girl, when her pet Alsation jumped on her and threw her about like a rag, with the result that she needed 120 stitches and considerable plastic surgery.
Sadly, violence in society today is commonplace. The aggressive behaviour of certain individuals is increasing and is being reflected in the behaviour of some irresponsible dog owners. During a 12-month period in which dog attacks caused 20 deaths, researchers in the United States found that most were caused by so-called defence breeds. Further concern has centred on the cross between a pit bull terrier and a Rhodesian ridgeback. All animals in the study were kept by young people between the ages of 18 and 25. Sadly, half of them had served prison sentences. Also, 40 per cent. of the owners had committed violent crimes and half the dogs that carried out the attacks had been cruelly treated and bore the scars of such cruelty. Clearly, violence on the part of dog owners is likely to encourage similar behaviour in their dogs.
The Bill would require the breeders of potentially dangerous dogs to acquire a licence through a register compiled by a local authority. The register would note to whom the dogs were sold, and it would be a condition of the breeding licence that such details were provided annually. Such a list would serve a useful purpose in tracing the owners of potentially dangerous dogs and crossbreeds. The register would be welcomed by responsible breeders and help to improve the esteem of a slightly tarnished activity. The police would also welcome such a measure, as it would help their investigations when attacks are carried out.
The Bill would also require owners to muzzle potentially dangerous breeds when they are not on a lead in public places or not in their habitual quarters—that is, their keepers' private premises. Section 3 of the Pet Animals Act 1951 should be amended so that no animal, in particular a dog, should be sold to a minor.
§ Mr. Amess
I am referring to a minor in the sense of a young person between 12 and 16.
It is utterly indefensible that a 13-year-old child can purchase a rottweiler. That may seem harsh, but before even a hamster is purchased, it is absolutely essential that the parent gives full consent. Children may love animals and may be eager to obtain all sorts of species, but they can soon tire of what is involved in giving the care and attention that is needed when looking after all sorts of pets.
Finally, the Bill would require the owners of potentially dangerous dogs to have some form of third-party insurance as an obvious protection for the general public, who are always in danger of such attacks. I am not suggesting that the measures that I have briefly outlined provide all the answers to the difficult problems that we face in controlling potentially dangerous dogs. However, I believe that they provide a foundation for constructive legislation on what is a growing problem.
A dog may be a man's best friend, but a man is not necessarily a dog's best friend. I hope that the House will redress that by supporting this sensible and constructive Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Amess, Mr. Ken Hargreaves, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. David Alton, Sir Bernard Braine, Mr. Terry Lewis, Dame Janet Fookes, Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. Harry Cohen and Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.