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Scottish Parliament Speech: Control of Dogs (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1 (February 2010)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I congratulate Christine Grahame on her work on the bill. We do not know how many dogs there are in Scotland, but we guesstimate that there are between half a million and a million. I wonder whether there is a connection with the Scots language itself in terms of the ambiguity of its syntax, an absolutely inscrutable example of which the great Conservative politician John Buchan encountered in the Borders: "Whae belangs this wee dug?"

It is a fact that, in 2006-07, 623 offences were recorded under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 - the numbers have been steadily increasing since 1999. The 1991 act banned a number of breeds as particularly dangerous, and the intention was that they would die out altogether. However, there are still perhaps 10,000 pit bull terriers in Britain, though it is reassuring that there are not many Japanese tosas, which I have seen defined as a sort of canine sumo that weighs up to 17 stone - members will know one when they see one.

The Dangerous Dogs (Amendment) Act 1997 amended the 1991 act by allowing owners of four dangerous breeds to reapply for their dogs to be placed on the index of exempted dogs, subject to various conditions. However, that legislation placed great emphasis on the dog and less emphasis, as people have pointed out, on the owner. Christine Grahame's bill nails the owners of out-of-control dogs. Dog notices served on owners of such dogs will ensure that offending dogs are microchipped. As we have heard, authorised officers will be able to impose further conditions.

Vagueness about dog numbers potentially raises a financial issue, as Michael McMahon pointed out. A long-term decrease in dog attacks and incidents involving dogs will mean savings. In that context, the reintroduction of dog licences might be worth considering. The history of dog licences slept and slept: they were 7/6d when they were first imposed in Queen Victoria's day and remained at that price into the decimal age, until Thatcher abolished them in 1987. In Europe, dog licences do not seem to be a problem. Dogs must be registered, with tattooing and micro-chipping often required, in almost all European Union countries. Ireland collects an annual licence fee, and it costs about 150 euros a year in Germany to run an Alsatian. In Switzerland and Austria, mandatory registration and insurance are accompanied by a dog tax that is paid annually to local authorities. Incidentally, one should always remember the great definition of American democracy, which is that everyone is elected - from dog catchers to Presidents. They sometimes seem to make terrible mistakes, though, in electing people to the latter position.

Dog taxes that are dependent on the size and breed of dog have the advantage of making people think twice about dogs that are big or hard to control.

With regard to dog licences, we need funds to install bins for dog dirt, fence off kids' playgrounds and make parks safe for children. Judging by the letters that I get about park conditions, I am sure that angry voters send photographs of canine deposits on the grass to many MSPs, who of course realise the threat that such deposits pose to children running free. A small licence fee would not put great pressure on individual dog owners, but would provide local authorities with the means to fund cleanliness measures and the dog control measures that are specified in the bill.

Christine Grahame's bill parallels European measures. The 1991 act caters for all breeds of dog, including dogs that could benefit from the proposed new measures. Targeting deed, not breed, would be a considerable improvement on the existing legislation.

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