Leaders: Use of current law one way to start on dogs

FEW have not been appalled by the growing incidence of attacks by dangerous dogs, particularly incidents involving young children.

Labour MSP Paul Martin has called for dog control laws to be toughened. Picture: Getty

These attacks have raised searching questions, ranging from the lack of effective controls on particularly aggressive dogs to the responsibility of owners to keep such dogs under strict control.

Now Labour MSP Paul Martin has called for dog control laws to be toughened. He would like to see the introduction of a restricted breeds list of dogs, similar to that operating in Ireland. This would see Rhodesian Ridgebacks, German Shepherds and Rottweilers muzzled in public places and walked on short leads. He also seeks to make it illegal for a restricted breed to be walked by someone under 16, for potential dog owners to be assessed and for the microchipping of dogs to be made compulsory.

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Many will strongly agree with the need for action. And it is right that the Scottish Parliament should give serious attention to an issue of increasing public concern. But as with much well-intentioned legislation, the issue is not its high purpose per se but whether such legislation would be as efficacious as its supporters believe. It is tempting to believe that rushing to legislation will automatically solve the problem. But will it really?

A major consideration is whether such regulation would be enforceable. Would dog owners comply and surrender their dog ownership without challenge? Or might such legislation simply be ignored?

What system of sanctions and penalties would need to be in place to achieve enforcement? If owners fail to comply, would dogs be taken into care? Or might they be destroyed? And what of other breeds? Where should the line be drawn?

There seems little doubt that many dogs would simply be abandoned. There would be a massive extra burden imposed on cash-strapped local authorities. Such legislation would require staff to monitor and assess, a bureaucracy of its own to record incidents and investigate and to back up the activities of dog wardens with effective enforcement. Given the further constraints on council budgets over the next two years it is hard to see how local authorities would have the wherewithal to give such legislation the full commitment its proponents assume would be in place.

But it is one thing to be hesitant over new legislation because of the difficulties in defining its scope and reach and enforcement. Public concern cannot be brushed aside as beyond solution. The task is to build on the existing constraints that are in place, to ensure that these are fully enforced, and where necessary to devise and agree amendments to the existing Dangerous Dogs Act. The public requires and deserves effective protection from aggressive dogs and irresponsible owners. More robust enforcement of existing law would be a useful start.

Tax move offers a little relief

ALL tax imposts can be attacked as opportunist. Some can be justified on the basis that they address an evident abuse. But the Scottish Government’s Large Retailer Levy, or supermarket tax, was opportunism without reasonable cause. It slapped on a £95 million levy on the basis that giant supermarkets were popular and that tax could be raised with the minimum of voter consequence.

There was never a credible rationale other than the easy application of the tax and its electorally costless appeal. But the tax was blind, both to the intense pressure on household budgets that has squeezed discount retailers’ profit margins – as this week’s trading statements have demonstrated – and impervious to the huge surge in online retailing which will significantly change the physical face of retail as we know it. We are in the throes of a shopping revolution which has put a brake on out-of-town sheds and made high street convenience shopping more attractive.

Arguably the levy’s most troubling feature is that for the 240 retailers affected, it imposed a business rates bill 28 per cent higher than the equivalent store south of the Border. By doing so it directly contradicted the Scottish Government’s claims to have the most competitive business rates regime in the UK. Having been so cavalier with big retailers, on what other sectors might the administration jump?

The announcement by John Swinney that he would not be extending or replacing the levy is thus to be welcomed. It is perhaps too much to hope that the administration might also ease up on business rates more generally, having consistently driven up this impost during its period in office.