Countryside call for legislation on dog attacks issue

With a steep rise in the number of dog attacks reported in recent years, farming and rural bodies have called on MSPs to support targeted legislation to clamp down on the issue which will be debated later today (Thursday) in the Scottish Parliament.

The proposed Protection of Livestock (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, introduced by South of Scotland MSP, Emma Harper, received over 800 responses during the consultation period from farmers, dog owners and those involved with the agricultural community – with strong agreement being voiced that existing legislation was outdated and needed updating.

Recent figures from Police Scotland showed that from April 2019 to March 2020, 265 incidents of livestock attacks were reported, while there was also considerable evidence to suggest that a significant number of attacks also went un-reported to the police.

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But following extensive awareness and education campaigns by police, government and rural organisations, those at the sharp end said the “time had come” for new legislation to assist in the prevention of dog attacks - backed up with tough penalties for irresponsible owners who put livestock at risk.

“Following the report by the Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and after meeting with the Minister, I have agreed to a number of amendments to the Bill which will be taken forward at Stage 2 in February,” said Harper, speaking ahead of today’s debate.

“These include a technical amendment to include an affirmative procedure for regulations regarding the definition of livestock, increasing the maximum available penalty to 12 months imprisonment or a fine of £40,000, or both, which will be taken forward by the Scottish Government, removing provisions authorising inspecting bodies other than the police to carry out investigation, and finally, removing the power for entry to non-domestic premises without a warrant.”

Emma Steel, a policy adviser with the rural business organisation, Scottish Land and Estates, said that current legislation did not adequately balance the rights of dog owners with rights of farmers to protect their livestock:

“We are supportive of tougher efforts to tackle livestock attacks and even within this draft legislation, there are elements we would like to see strengthened, such as increasing the penalties for those found guilty of an offence,” said Steel.

In response to the Bill, the Scottish Government had also indicated that it had commissioned a scoping study for the creation of a National Dog Control Database – a device which Steel said SLE had been asking for.

“Rural organisations – alongside government and police – will continue to raise awareness to ensure dogs are kept on a short leash when around livestock but given the number of incidents still occurring, legislation can help too.”

She said that dog attacks had considerable impacts – not only on animal health and welfare and farmers’ mental wellbeing but also on business finances.

And while financial constraints on a private member’s bill meant that compensation for the significant impact on farm businesses could not be included, NFU Scotland viewed the move as a “significant step forward” on the issue.