Neil Parish calls for dog control legislation to be effective and enforceable

Speaking in a debate on dog control and welfare, Neil Parish calls on the Government to ensure that the legislation is effective and enforceable and that microchipping is done well so that tracking owners can be done quickly.| Parliament TV

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I will try to ensure that my contribution is less than 15 minutes.It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). I sympathise with her constituents who have lost their lives, as I think we all do. I also agree with her about the need for education in our schools. It is not only the children who may not have pets in their homes who need education; children in homes where, unfortunately, animals are being treated cruelly also need to be shown the right way to rear and look after animals. There is a lot that can be done in our schools, so I welcome the hon. Lady’s comments.I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), the Chair of the Select Committee, for bringing this opportune debate to the Chamber today. We on the Select Committee have done a lot of work on the matter, and it is good to have both the Minister and the shadow Minister here this afternoon.

I welcome the microchipping proposal because it means all dogs will be microchipped; it will also help people whose dogs have strayed. Of course, microchipping will only be as good as the database that is put in place. If people go to Blue Cross or Battersea Dogs Home, they will find that of the dogs that come in with microchips, which is probably only 30% or 40% of the total, only 30%—10% or 15% of the total—can be traced back to their owners; the microchips are often not up to date. I am sure the Government will bear that in mind.

We must ensure that the original owner is responsible for the microchip and, if they sell the dog, for ensuring that the microchip is up to date so that the dog can be properly traced. People who sell their car have to ensure that they know exactly where the car is going because otherwise if someone is later done for speeding, the original owner would receive a notice through the post stating that they were driving the car when they were not. I suggest, therefore, that if the previous owner of a dog receives a fine or a summons to court, they are responsible for it. That would concentrate people’s minds. People who sell their dog would then ensure that they know where the dog is going.

We have talked this afternoon about the need to be careful that, as with dog licences, microchips are not just for the law abiding, which is an issue I have raised before. The last thing someone who is breeding a dog to be dangerous or to be a weapon wants is for that dog to be traced back to them. There are people out there who will wilfully ensure, as far as practicable, that their dog is not microchipped, or if the dog is microchipped, that it is not linked with them. That is fundamental.

When police and council dog wardens come across people who are, say, beating their dogs in the park to train them to be vicious, that is the moment to take in and microchip the dogs, and probably take them away from their owner. At the very least, the dogs should be linked with the owner so that the owner can be held responsible for what the dog does thereafter. Again, I agree with the hon. Member for Bolton West that it is not necessarily the dog that is at fault; it is about the owner who has trained the dog to be vicious. We have to be absolutely clear about that.

That brings me neatly to my next point. It is right that we extend the legislation to deal with people who have dangerous dogs in their home that bite postmen or social workers. In doing so, however, we must be aware that if the dog is protecting the property and someone goes in to trespass or burgle, the dog will take some sort of action against that person. In that case, I do not see why any individual should be prosecuted as a result. That will be the difficult balance in the legislation. Often, when postmen or social workers going into people’s houses are bitten, it is not the first time it has happened. The dogs are sometimes well known for being vicious, and we need to take action on those types of dogs and owners. That is absolutely clear.

Furthermore, while breed-specific legislation is okay up to a point, we now have people bringing dogs into the country and breeding them to be dangerous, so we have to be clear that our concern is the act of the dog and not necessarily the breed of the dog. Leaving the breed-specific legislation as it is does not help when dogs from all over the world are being brought in to breed a more vicious breed of dog. People who do that are outside the law and they do not want to be found; we need to make sure of them, so that we can pin their dogs back to the individual.

Julie Hilling: Local authorities spend about £57 million a year on kennelling costs, when dogs are thought to be or might be of a dangerous breed, but with two effects. First, kennelling costs a great deal of money; and, secondly, the dog suffers more trauma when kept in kennels while we work out what we should do with the animal. I absolutely agree that it is deed, not breed, that is more important.

Neil Parish: The Blue Cross hospital here in London might have dogs of a breed that is considered vicious, yet an individual dog need not be vicious. Once such a dog is taken into care, there is a death warrant on it, irrespective of whether the dog deserves it. We could go round such conundrums all day, but we should rehouse dogs if possible. Sometimes dogs are taken into care just because people cannot cope with them—they are not training the dogs to be vicious, they simply cannot cope with them any longer. Dogs of a good temperament, but of a breed that might be considered more dangerous, are often the ones that have to be put down, and I do not agree with that.

Moving beyond dangerous dogs as such, an issue at the top end of dog breeding is that many are bred to be too pure. Pugs might be bred so they cannot breathe properly, because that is how masters and breed judges see the case; Alsatians are bred with bad hips, because sometimes that is how the pedigree breeders think that breed should be. Linking with the microchip measures and, clearly, back to the breeding, therefore, the Government need to be absolutely certain that dogs are bred to be not only pure, as in that instance, but healthy. That might be going beyond the subject of today’s debate, but the Kennel Club and others are working hard on the issue, and we need to do more. If some pedigree dogs are being bred from a gene pool that is too small, we need to introduce other breeds to ensure a proper gene pool so that they can breed properly—so that they have good hips, for example.

On puppy farming, it is right that for more than two litters the farms or breeders should be registered. DEFRA is working on that; people need to be clear where dogs come from—through puppy contracts, such as those used by the British Veterinary Association—what the dog’s parentage is and where its mother is. If possible, people should see the puppy with the mother, so that they know exactly what they are buying; they should not buy something advertised over the internet or out of the back of a white van, because they have no link to the mother. Such puppies could have been taken from their mother far too young and they could be traumatised and may also be suffering from many diseases. When something happens to a puppy because it has many illnesses, the children of the family it was brought into might be traumatised as well. Again, proper linking to the original breeder through the puppy’s microchip will make all the difference, because people will find it much more difficult to bring puppies in and pass them off as bred somewhere else, which is often the case.

This afternoon, we have a huge wish list, yet as all of us recognise, Ministers and shadow Ministers included, we can make as many laws as we like, but we also have to enforce them. The laws have to be enforceable, and that is what we are keen to see. Resources in councils and the Government are limited at the moment, so we need to concentrate on getting the system—the microchipping —right, with a link to the owner so that the police or dog wardens can take action quickly and effectively. Making sure that we do not have to kennel dogs for so long will also reduce costs. A lot of good can be done through the Bill.

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton: the vast majority of dog owners in this country are good and responsible. We must ensure that we go after those who are not. We must also act against dogs that attack not only people but a dog guiding a blind person—that has to be just as bad as an attack on a person. It is terrifying enough to have a dog of one’s own attacked by another dog, but imagine people walking down a road unable even to see the other dog approaching before it attacks their guide dog. That must be absolutely terrifying, and all those things should be taken into consideration.

Finally, as has been said, if horrendous crimes have been committed by dogs, and if the owners have trained the dogs to carry out such acts, we must ensure that the book is thrown at those people, and that they receive sentences commensurate with their crime. Sometimes, of course, a dog that is not normally dangerous goes out of control, and that has to be looked at slightly more leniently. The situation now is that we must take action against those who are out to perpetrate crime. Once again, I thank my hon. Friend for the debate, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.| Hansard| Parliament TV