A PARLIAMENTARY Bill which would make annual registration of dogs compulsory in the UK had a Second Reading in the House of Commons on January 9, 2015.
MP Julie Hilling’s Private Member’s Ten Minute Rule Bill would effectively reintroduce a licensing system – abolished here in 1987. She wants income from such a system to fund ‘enforcement of conditions and penalties imposed on those owning and controlling dogs and other connected purposes’.
Ms Hillingis Labour MP for Bolton West, the constituency in which in 2013 14-year-old Jade Lomas Anderson was killed by dogs living in a friend’s house in Atherton, Manchester. The four animals were shot dead by police.
Their owner, Beverley Concannon, received a four-month suspended jail term after she admitted causing suffering to the dogs; the charges concerned how they had been kept and Ms Concannon’s failure to provide exercise, care and supervision.
At the Bill’s First Reading, Ms Hilling said Jade’s parents, Michael and Shirley, had campaigned tirelessly since their daughter’s death, since then nine other people had been killed by dogs. Dog attacks were ‘at epidemic proportions’, she claimed.
Laws had changed in recent years, she went on, and the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) had been amended to allow people to be prosecuted if dog attacks take place on private property, but she was not convinced that enough had been done.
Acknowledging that micro-chipping would be made compulsory in England and Wales in April 2016, Ms Hilling suggested that a fee to register a dog on a national chipping database and an annual re-registration fee, with the money ring-fenced for dog welfare and control, would ‘not only produce money but promote responsible ownership and ensure that owners are held responsible for their dogs’.
Annual registration and compulsory could run in tandem, she suggests.
One of the first things Mr Anderson called for following the death of Jade was dog licences, she said, and the RSPCA was in favour.
"A licence suggests not simply registration but possibly vetting for suitability and other conditions,” she said.
The Bill is presented jointly with MPs Robert Flello, Jim Fitzpatrick, Mike Kane, Emma Lewell-Buck, John Pugh, Rosie Cooper, Oliver Colville, Anne McIntosh, chairman of the former Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee, Liz McInnes, Andrew Rosindell and Mary Glindon.
But while the RSPCA is in favour, the Kennel Club and Dogs Trust are opposed to the move. The KC called it a ‘knee-jerk legislative reaction to Jade’s death’.
"While we support the principle of a funding stream for enforcement we do not support annual registration as a means of achieving this,” said secretary Caroline Kisko. "The KC does not believe that a significant funding stream would be created this way, taking into account the low compliance of dog licensing elsewhere in the UK, such as in Northern Ireland, and the huge costs associated with administering such a scheme.”
Dog licensing is in force in Northern Ireland where between 30 and 50 per cent of owners comply.
Instead the KC would like an overhaul of current dog control legislation to update and consolidate existing laws to bring in more preventive measures to protect public and dog welfare.
"Sadly, this Bill appears to be a reaction to a fatal dog attack in Julie Hilling’s constituency,” Mrs Kisko said. "While dog attacks that cause fatalities are a tragedy they are also very rare, and we don’t believe that knee-jerk legislation should be the response – it was this approach that led to the highly flawed and much-criticised DDA in the first place.
"In the vast majority of fatal dog attacks, which in themselves are extremely rare, the dog’s owner is known to the victim, meaning that registration details would not be required to identify the owner anyway, so we do not believe that incidents of this type would be prevented in future this way.
"One of the other reasons cited for introducing this Bill is that dog registration is used in other European countries to reduce the number of stray dogs, which is why the KC has fully supported the introduction of compulsory microchipping which, if enforced properly, will mean that all dogs will be able to be traced back to their current owner.
"A far more effective method of dealing with dog control issues would be to focus on preventive measures which would tackle the situations that create dangerous dogs in the first place. This would rightly place focus on the owner, and on the need to properly train and socialise dogs from the very start of their lives, no matter what the breed or ‘type’ of dog, to ensure that they become functioning members of society.”
A spokesman for Dogs Trust said the charity agreed there was a need fokr a new funding system ring-fenced for dog control and welfare it was ‘strongly’ against it.
"We fail to see how it would help to encourage responsible ownership, effectively raise revenue for local authority dog services, or help to prevent dog attacks,” a spokesman said. In 1987 the licence fee cost 37p and fewer than 50 per cent of owners had one, she said.
"The licensing regime was essentially a tax on responsible dog owners, who paid the fee every year while others ignored it. It did not encourage a more responsible attitude towards dog ownership in the long term, nor did it protect in any way the welfare of dogs in the short term.
"The revenue raised from the dog licence was not ring-fenced for improving dog welfare or responsible dog ownership. We do not believe that the Treasury would ring-fence this money in the current economic climate and therefore there are no grounds to reintroduce a failed system of the past.”
And in the current economic climate it would be unlikely that local authorities could afford to enforce the law, the spokesman said, adding that in 1998 the cost of such a scheme was estimated to be in the region of £22m a year.
Blue Cross’ deputy chief executive Steve Goody said ‘the jury was still out’ on whether such a scheme would work.
"However, this Bill does highlight the fact that to ensure better dog control and welfare across the UK, funding needs to come from somewhere,” he said. "We need to scrutinise all alternatives for funding in order to identify the best option for dogs and dog owners.”
Claire Robinson, the RSPCA's government relations manager, said the charity supported the Bill ‘as a means to encourage more responsible dog ownership’.
"We very much understand the rationale behind this Bill following the tragic death of Jade Lomas Anderson,” she said. "With resources for local authority dog wardens and police dog legislation officers being reduced significantly there is an urgent need to identify a sustainable and effective mechanism for funding these important local resources.
"Having researched this issue in 2010 we believe an effective annual registration scheme for dog owners could be the right tool to achieve this. Such a scheme could be means-tested for those on low incomes or those who are more responsible owners, for example those whose dogs are neutered.
"Indeed, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare report on an England-wide dog strategy notes the urgent need to identify a funding stream and suggests that consideration of a dog licence or other form of funding stream should be considered and analysed to identify the best way forward.
"We welcome the development of mandatory microchipping of all dogs from 2016 and believe that it would not be a significant step to make this an annual registration scheme."