Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) Bill

– in the House of Commons am 12:58 pm ar 2 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Second Reading

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Ceidwadwyr, Suffolk Coastal 1:00, 2 Chwefror 2024

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I apologise to the House, but my vocal cords will support only a short speech and I will need to decline interventions. Livestock worrying is an issue of significant concern for farmers and rural communities. It causes much distress and cost to animals and farmers. It is already an offence through the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, but the police have sought greater powers to more effectively detect and enable the prosecution of such offences.

The Bill provides for the inclusion of attacks as well as worrying as offences. It extends the area covered beyond the land to a road or path, in order to address attacks where livestock are moved to different parts of the farm. It provides the powers of entry and search through warrant and allows dogs to be detained to avoid further attacks while an owner is awaiting trial for such an offence. It allows for more modern ways to gather evidence from a dog, including taking dental impressions and other relevant samples, and updates the fines that can be imposed. The Bill will include camelids—alpacas and llamas—in the definition of livestock for the purposes of the 1953 Act.

In keeping this speech short, I am conscious that I have not been able to answer several of the questions that people inside and outside the House may have on why this or that specific issue is not covered in the Bill—or at least not yet. I know that the Minister has a good briefing pack and may cover some of those points. However, I want to thank various groups, including the National Farmers Union, for their support of the Bill.

When the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was set aside and the Government explained at the time why that was, I pledged to the House that the Government would support our manifesto commitments in that Bill to be enacted through single-issue Bills. That is now happening, including through this Bill. We want to see an effective deterrent to this kind of harm to livestock, and I believe the Bill will achieve that. I certainly hope to speak to it more in Committee. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 1:02, 2 Chwefror 2024

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey on her perseverance in not only presenting this Bill, which I know she was interested in when she was Secretary of State, but managing to get here and deliver her speech today despite her affliction. I will speak very briefly. I should declare my entry in the register as a farmer, including of livestock, and my interest as a dog owner. One of my dogs has had occasion to chase deer—they are not categorised as livestock, I do not think, in the Bill—in woods, which can be a cause of considerable distress when she does not return despite our entreaties.

I rise on behalf of farmers across the country, but in particular in my constituency in Shropshire, where a quarter of all sheep across the UK are produced from within an hour of Craven Arms, in the centre of my constituency. There are a great many livestock farmers, and sheep producers in particular, along the Welsh borders, as the House will appreciate. This measure is in considerable part directed at helping those farmers with these unfortunate incidents. A survey of NFU Mutual members—that is the insurance arm of the National Farmers Union, of which I am a member; it is my insurer—estimates that the cost of dog attacks on farm animals was £1.8 million in 2022.

This is a real and present issue for livestock farmers, in particular in spring—the time of year we are about to enter—when sheep are lambing or on the point of lambing. If pregnant ewes are chased, it can lead to the abortion and loss of the lamb they have carried for months. It can impact not only on farm incomes, but on the health and wellbeing of the livestock managers themselves if they have to deal with dangerous dogs causing trouble to their livestock.

If the Bill proceeds to Committee, I hope that some consideration will be given to the requirement to keep dogs on a lead not just in open fields but on open common land. There are many commons along the Welsh borders in my constituency, most of which are grazed by sheep. It is important that, if sheep are present, people keep their dogs on a lead on a common, which is not the normal practice in many of the commons that I visit locally. That might need to be looked at in Committee. I am conscious that this will be a short debate, so I will conclude by assuring the Minister that the Bill has my support.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire 1:05, 2 Chwefror 2024

It is a great pleasure to speak to the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey, which I fully support. As you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, she is well known in this House as being the main organiser of karaoke sessions. If her voice were in full throttle, I am sure she would have made her case with all the gusto with which she belts out songs at those karaoke evenings. Alas, we will have to wait for another day for that.

This is an important Bill. In my time in Parliament, I have been involved in amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and, more recently, in my private Member’s Bill on hare coursing. This Bill gets the fact that it is not about the dogs but about owners. It is about the possession of the dogs. It is about trying to improve the behaviour of dog owners.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will allow me a point of levity—it is kind of serious. My hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie is about to speak. I fear that her contribution will include a story about her dog Violet, a lovely cocker spaniel. I therefore feel that I need to own up to something. It was one of those days when Back Benchers were asked to go canvassing in a by-election. Obviously, the Conservatives were looking forward to a resounding victory in that by-election. I was joined in a small group of Conservative Back-Benchers by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn and some others. We were knocking door to door, and someone had to hold the cards and mark down people’s voting intentions. My hon. Friend decided that she would do that, and she entrusted to me the safe custody of her lovely dog Violet.

My hon. Friend asked me to go to house No. 1 and meet the family. I went to that door in that particular street, and immediately heard barking from inside. I took Violet and moved her behind me. The lady answered the door and said, “Don’t worry, he’s on a lead.” A few seconds later, her husband left with a dog—it was the dog that was on the lead. He left to one side, and my eyes carefully followed the dog, with Violet protected behind me. It was only when the gentleman got into his car that another dog came out and attacked poor Violet. One can imagine my hon. Friend’s feelings, barely three minutes after she had entrusted me with the dog, when I ran down the street with Violet in my hands, blood rushing from her neck.

My point is not only to put on record my apologies to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn. I am sure my hon. Friend Mark Garnier will be laughing, because he was there, too. My point is that control of animals is a risky business, whatever the circumstances. Control of dogs with the best of behaviour is a risky business. The Bill seeks to ensure that that behaviour is kept to the highest standard and, importantly, to bring up to standard some of the powers that the police need to enforce the law.

One of the issues related to the Hare Coursing Bill was that the police did not feel that they had the appropriate measures, in particular the ability to seize and detain dogs. In those instances, the dogs doing hare coursing were being gambled upon, and therefore were valuable to the owner. But in all cases the ability of the police to take away the dog and to charge the kennel has a deterrent effect. I am pleased to see those provisions in this Bill.

I am also pleased, perhaps unusually, to see clause 4, which gives a justice of the peace the power to authorise the police to enter and search a premises. A survey by the National Sheep Association asked how many times animals have been worried or attacked, and I think 70% of respondents reported such an experience, but in only 14% of cases—barely one in 10—did the owner of the dog alert the owner of the livestock to the crime. Either people do not feel that a crime has occurred or they do not think it is important enough, so a lot of the evidence and information will be taken away. Therefore, in these circumstances, it is crucial that the provisions in clause 4 are put into law.

I welcome this Bill, and I again congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal on moving it forward. This is a live issue, and I heard a case at a constituency surgery just last Friday. It did not involve livestock, but it certainly did involve out-of-control dogs worrying local people. My constituents are worried about attacks. In fact, one constituent’s dog had just been ripped to pieces by dogs that were loose. For the sake of my constituents in Moggerhanger, for those who have pressed the issue of dangerous dogs in towns and villages, for those who have suffered from hare coursing on their properties, and now for farmers who want to look after their livestock, I fully commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Ceidwadwyr, Ynys Môn 1:11, 2 Chwefror 2024

I start by congratulating—llongyfarchiadau—my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey on bringing forward this important Bill.

One of the first things I did as a new MP in 2020 was meet with local farmers Brian Bown, Celfyn Furlong and Peter Williams in the Tafarn Y Rhos in Rhostrehwfa, and they were concerned about livestock worrying. To ensure that my farmers’ voices were heard in Westminster, I undertook a journey to act on their behalf. I visited farmers like Tecwyn Jones at his farm in Bodedern and Gareth Hughes at Cleifiog farm in Valley. Tecwyn lost seven pregnant ewes and three rams in an attack by an unknown dog or dogs, described by police as “brutal” and “horrendous”.

I held meetings with Rob Taylor and Dave Allen from the North Wales Rural Crime Team, NFU County Adviser Iestyn Pritchard, the National Trust and DEFRA officers, whom I thank, to understand how the existing legislation is failing and what would be required to protect farmers and promote responsible dog ownership in future. For my Ynys Môn farmers, I am delighted that my name is on this important Bill as a sponsor, but credit should go to them for raising this important issue. My farmers made it clear to me that the legislation currently covering livestock worrying, the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. This is hardly surprising given that it has barely been touched in over 70 years and has not kept pace with dog ownership, leisure trends, DNA technology or modern farming practice.

Working together, we developed a ten-minute rule Bill to amend the 1953 Act, which I laid before Parliament in July 2021. That Bill would have given the police powers to seize a dog or other items and to take DNA samples where they have reasonable grounds for suspicion that the dog has worried livestock; provided a clearer and tighter definition of the phrase “close control”, making it a legal requirement that dogs must be on a lead when near livestock of any kind; and removed the maximum £1,000 fine so that irresponsible dog owners realise the full financial impact of their actions.

The proposals in my Bill were subsequently put forward for incorporation into the proposed Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. However, in May 2023 the UK Government announced that, in order to get important legislation through Parliament, the kept animals Bill would instead be taken forward as a series of single-issue Bills. Like many, I was disappointed that the passage of the kept animals Bill was stopped. However, I am reassured that the Government have been true to their word and are putting the proposals through as individual pieces of legislation, as we can see in this important debate. I am delighted that DEFRA is now prioritising livestock worrying and has asked my right hon. Friend, the former Secretary of State, to take the changes forward in her private Member’s Bill.

Agriculture has been the backbone of Ynys Môn for centuries. At the beginning of the 13th century, the island was known as “Môn Mam Cymru” and “the granary of Wales”. In the 17th century, livestock rearing and dairy farming began to replace arable land. The systems of hedgerow enclosures still form our landscape today. Many of our farms are still small—most are between five and 100 acres—compared with those in other parts of Britain. Consequently, herds are relatively small, and livestock can feel like members of the family. That is why brutal dog attacks hit Ynys Môn farmers particularly hard.

Let me tell the House a little more about farmer Tecwyn Jones from Bodedern. Tecwyn went out one day to tend his sheep and found seven pregnant ewes and three rams dead in his fields. They had been killed by an unknown dog or dogs in what police described as a “brutal” and “horrendous” attack. When I visited Tecwyn’s farm, he told me about the impact that the attack had had on his business and his wellbeing. His account of the event was harrowing. He shared the awful moment when he found his sheep brutally killed: he came across one dead carcase after another in the pouring rain. Those sheep, which he had lovingly reared and cared for, had clearly suffered horrendously. Tecwyn was visibly upset and shaken when he related the story to me. The dogs that carried out the attack have never been identified. Even if a dog were suspected, the law has no teeth to identify and seize it unless it is found unsupervised at the scene of the assault. For Tecwyn, it was not just the financial loss that hit him—although that went into the thousands of pounds—but the emotional loss of those prized animals, which he had put time and devotion into rearing.

Tecwyn is not alone. This is a huge issue for farmers across the UK. Livestock worrying takes place when dogs that are not kept under proper control attack or chase livestock, particularly sheep. Although attacks are not officially recorded, and it is widely accepted that many incidents go unreported, it is estimated that around 15,000 sheep are killed by dogs each year. Over the pandemic, many of us were encouraged to get out into nature, and there was also an increase in dog ownership. That led to an increase in livestock worrying, which continues to be a problem today. National Farmers Union data indicates that the average insurance claim for attacks is over £1,300, and some claims reach the tens of thousands of pounds. In 2020, the cost of livestock worrying to the farming community was estimated to be £1.3 million.

The Government’s animal welfare action plan refers to the need to keep dangerous dogs legislation effective. I am very pleased that the Bill picks up many of the changes that I proposed three years ago, which included giving the police powers to seize a dog or other items and to take samples such as dental impressions where they have reasonable grounds for suspicion that the dog has worried livestock; and putting the financial responsibility on the dog owner rather than on the farmer. Dog attacks can cost farmers tens of thousands of pounds, so it is only right that the dog owner is made to pay for the damage caused.

Surveys show that only 40% of dog owners accept that their dog could injure or kill a farm animal, and that 64% of dog owners allow their pets to roam free in the countryside, despite half of them admitting that their dog does not always come back when called. Experience shows us that the natural instincts of even the most well-behaved domestic dog can take over when other animals are in close proximity. Even without physical contact, sheep can die or miscarry as a result of the distress and exhaustion caused by a dog chase. By their very nature, pet owners and farmers almost universally care deeply about animals, and much of solution to this problem is about raising awareness of the countryside code through legislation. It is vital that dog owners who live near or visit land on which livestock is being raised understand that.

As a dog owner myself—my cocker spaniel, Violet, sends her regards to my hon. Friend Richard Fuller—I hope that this legislation, alongside an effective communication plan, will serve to educate dog owners. On behalf of Tecwyn and all farmers who have suffered financial and emotional loss through dog attacks, I support this excellent and important Bill. Once again, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal on introducing it. Diolch yn fawr.

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:19, 2 Chwefror 2024

I congratulate Dr Coffey on introducing the Bill. I am sorry about her throat, and I hope her voice recovers quickly. Livestock worrying causes havoc for farmers up and down the country. The vast majority of dogs are much-loved and good-natured family pets, but a small minority are not keep under control, allowing them to aggressively chase down, attack and, in some cases, kill livestock. Farmers are left to cope with the stress of injury to and death of their livestock.

There is rising concern in the farming community about dog attacks. This week, I visited the Oulton family farm in Audley, near Newcastle-under-Lyme. They told me how frequently they experience dogs chasing and attacking their livestock, only to be told by the owner that the dog does not normally behave like that. Another farmer I spoke to told me that, quite horrifically, someone had deliberately brought and set aggressive XL bully dogs on her sheep, but the police had not considered it serious enough to even turn up at the scene of such an appalling crime. That is quite clearly unacceptable. The NFU’s own data has found that attacks on farm animals have cost £1.8 million in the past year alone, as Philip Dunne pointed out. That is a staggering cost to farmers at a time when they face the perfect storm of excessively high energy bills and record-high levels of personal taxation.

The Bill makes important progress on improving police powers to crack down on livestock attacks. It is right to raise the penalties for livestock worrying and make the regulations clearer, but we also must use this opportunity to ensure that we educate responsible owners about better controlling their dogs when they are near livestock. As Virginia Crosbie said, pet owners and farmers care deeply about the welfare of their animals, and a big part of the solution to the problem must lie in raising awareness of the countryside code. It is vital that dog owners who live near or visit land on which livestock are being raised understand that, even without physical contact, sheep can die or miscarry as a result of the distress and exhaustion caused by a dog chase.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals concludes that most livestock worrying incidents are caused by unaccompanied dogs and, to a lesser degree, dogs being walked by their owners. Responsible dog owners can play a major part in solving the problem by ensuring that their dogs are kept on a lead and are adequately socialised and trained, so that their pet does not pose a risk to livestock. Owners must also ensure their property is secure to prevent dogs escaping from their homes and gardens. Farmers and livestock owners can take measures to ensure that there is visible signage in fields where livestock are present and to swiftly report any incidents to the local police. The police, of course, should be expected to respond promptly.

The Bill is a first step in preventing the harms that dogs can cause to livestock. Labour fully supports the Bill and will look to strengthen it, should it reach Committee and Report stages, to ensure that livestock are properly protected.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:22, 2 Chwefror 2024

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Dr Coffey on bringing forward this incredibly important debate. I thank my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie for her tireless commitment in terms of meeting her constituents and the work she did through her 10-minute rule Bill. The Bill builds on the work done by my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne in meeting his constituents and raising their concerns, as well as that done by my hon. Friend Richard Fuller. It has been good to hear the many contributions throughout the debate.

When the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill was withdrawn in May last year, Ministers committed to delivering the measures in the Bill individually, and this Bill takes forward key measures on livestock worrying from that Bill. It will amend the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 to strengthen police powers and extend the location and species in scope of that Act. The UK has the highest animal welfare score in the G7, according to the World Animal Protection index, and some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. I am well aware of the support that animal welfare has in this country through the volume of correspondence that I receive not only through the Department and my officials but as a constituency MP representing Keighley and Ilkley. That strength of feeling is apparent again in this debate, and the Government will fully support this important livestock-worrying Bill through Parliament.

Animal welfare continues to be a priority for this Government, and we have already delivered against a number of commitments to date. We have increased the penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty. We have announced an extension of the Ivory Act 2018 to cover five more endangered species. We have passed the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 and launched a dedicated committee. We have made microchipping compulsory for cats and, having visited Yorkshire Cat Rescue in Keighley, I know how important that issue is. We have successfully banned glue traps. We have introduced new powers for tackling hare coursing, which my hon. Friend Richard Fuller made such committed efforts to achieve. We have supported private Members’ Bills to ban both the trade of shark fins and the domestic advertising of low- animal-welfare-experiences abroad. We have protected the welfare of service animals through Finn’s law and banned commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens, which, again, is something that all of us in this House have been contacted about via our constituents. We have also modernised our licensing system for activities such as dog breeding and pet sales. I hope that that reassures the House that the Government are working hard to take steps to further improve our already high standards on animal welfare.

The Bill builds on the Government’s ambitious programme of animal welfare reforms, and we are pleased to support it. The Government take livestock worrying incredibly seriously, recognising the distress that it can cause both animals and farmers. Livestock worrying can have awful impacts. The behaviour of dogs that chase, attack or cause distress to livestock can result in injury and even death. There are also wider psychological impacts on livestock as a result of worrying, such as that caused by abortion, which was picked up by my right hon. Friend Philip Dunne. These impacts go beyond the animals and their welfare. We must also be conscious of the negative implications on the health and wellbeing of our farmers who are devastatingly impacted, as well as experiencing financial loss.

The Bill amends the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, which underpins livestock worrying offences and enforcement. Since its introduction over 70 years ago, the number of livestock in England and Wales has doubled. Dog ownership has increased by more than 20% between 2011 and 2020. In 2021, a report by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association estimated that 33% of households in the UK now own a dog, which is another reason it is so important that we introduce this Bill now.

The all-party parliamentary group on animal welfare estimated in its 2017 report entitled “Tackling Livestock Worrying and Encouraging Responsible Ownership” that there are 34,000 incidents of livestock worrying per year in England and Wales alone. There is also the additional financial cost, with the National Farmers’ Union estimating that, in 2020 alone, the cost of livestock worrying across the UK rose by more than £100,000 to £1.3 million.

Existing legislation provides a specific offence of allowing a dog to worry livestock, with a maximum fine of £1,000. All reported crimes should be taken seriously, investigated and, where appropriate, taken through the courts and met with tough sentences. The Bill seeks to reduce instances of livestock worrying and attacking by focusing on two key areas: expanding the locations and species in scope of the offence; and strengthening police enforcement powers.

The Bill extends the scope of the 1953 Act by broadening the locations where an offence may take place to include roads and paths. This will help protect livestock when they are being moved, for example, from one enclosed field to another, such as cows going across the public highway to the milking parlour, or sheep being moved from one field to another across the public highway.

The Bill will also extend the species protected by the 1953 Act to include camelids, such as llamas and alpacas. The Alpaca Society estimates that there could be as many as 45,000 alpacas owned by its members in England, with a further 20,000 owned by non-members. The Bill will also improve the ability of the police to enforce by making provision in relation to the powers of entry, seizure and detention of dogs, and the collection of vital evidence, such as DNA from blood on a dog’s collar.

We have engaged extensively on all these measures with key stakeholders, including the livestock and farming sector, animal welfare, police and veterinary sectors. These measures are vital in tackling the issue of livestock worrying and will greatly strengthen the existing legislation to decrease instances of livestock worrying and attacking. The importance of this Bill is evident from the discussion we have had today, and I look forward to its proceeding through all stages in the House. I conclude by once again thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal for bringing forward this crucial piece of legislation.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey Ceidwadwyr, Suffolk Coastal 1:30, 2 Chwefror 2024

With the leave of the House, I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who have spoken today. We have seen from their constituency examples why this update to the legislation is needed. I thank the Government for their support. I thank the shadow Secretary of State for the support of His Majesty’s Opposition, and I thank the officials and my parliamentary team, who have taken the Bill this far. I hope we can get it swiftly through the House to ensure that for farmers, rural communities and the animals themselves, that deterrent effect will be in place. It is much needed.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).