Government plans to protect the public from dog attacks in England are “woefully inadequate”, a group of MPs has said.
The law should be “urgently” amended to boost “action on any dog-related antisocial behaviour”, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said.
In a report, the MPs said they were not convinced the government was giving “sufficient priority” to dog control.
Ministers are bringing in compulsory microchipping for all dogs in England.
They have also said the police will have more powers to investigate attacks.
Officials estimate around 210,000 people are attacked by dogs in England every year.
Five children and one adult have been killed by dogs on private property since 2007 and the NHS spends around £3m a year treating dog attack injuries.
Arguments about how government should deal with dangerous dogs go back well over a hundred years.
Defra still regards the 1871 Dogs Act as possibly the most effective piece of dog control law available.
It lets courts rule that individual animals should be controlled or destroyed.
To its critics the Dangerous Dogs Act introduced 120 years later is the epitome of law made in haste in response to media outrage. It banned four breeds after a spate of highly publicised dog attacks.
The current government plans to make microchipping dogs in England compulsory.
But banning some animals and identifying others is one thing.
Stopping irresponsible owners and breeders rearing and keeping aggressive, dangerous dogs is quite another.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has set out plans to make it compulsory for all dogs in England to be microchipped from 2016 and extend laws governing dog attacks to cover incidents on private property.
The Dangerous Dogs Act, which was introduced in 1991 after a spate of fatal attacks, currently only covers the behaviour of dogs on public land – except in Scotland, where the law has been amended.
The committee said the latest proposals “failed to respond adequately to public concern” and were “too limited”.
It said it had received a large number of responses from the public to its inquiry, adding that there was a “lack of corresponding commitment” from the government.
“The high number of dog attacks demonstrates that the current legislation on dangerous dogs has comprehensively failed to protect the public from attacks by out of control dogs, many of which have had horrific consequences,” the report said.
The committee urged Defra to urgently bring forward a bill to consolidate the “fragmented” legislation relating to dog control and welfare and do more to improve dog welfare linked to dog breeding, instead of relying on voluntary action.
The MPs recommended that attacks on guide dogs to be treated in the same ways as an aggravated attack on a person and urged the police to be more consistent in prosecuting the owners of dogs who attack livestock.
The committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, said: “Incidences of cruelty and neglect are rising and many dogs are out of control due to the irresponsible or deliberate actions of a minority of owners.
We hope that Westminster will act on the excellent recommendations in the report and take action ”
End Quote Billy Hayes Communication Workers Union
“The evidence we received from Defra and the Home Office did little to reassure us that either department is giving sufficient priority to dog control and welfare issues.”
She said the approach of the Home Office to tackling antisocial behaviour was “too simplistic” and failed to reflect the impact poor breeding and training by irresponsible owners can have on a dog’s behaviour.
A Defra spokesman said: “Last week, we announced that all dogs will need to be microchipped by 6 April 2016 to relieve the burden on animals charities and local authorities who deal with over 100,000 stray dogs every year by making it easier to reunite dogs with their owners.
“Giving the police extra powers to investigate dog attacks on private property means we can protect those who have to go into people’s homes to do their job. Irresponsible dog owners can also be held to account for attacks, regardless of where they take place.
“The Animal Welfare Act already regulates against poor breeding practices. Anyone found to have caused unnecessary pain or suffering to a dog faces prosecution.”
The Communication Workers Union, which has campaigned to raise awareness of dog attacks on postal workers and telecom engineers, welcomed the report as a “strong and clear in its assessment of the failure of current laws”.
General secretary Billy Hayes said “This is a far more comprehensive and satisfying response to the problems of dangerous dogs and the limitations of current laws.
“We hope that Westminster will act on the excellent recommendations in the report and take action to introduce preventative measures against dog attacks, such as dog control notices, and to go further in addressing England’s failing dogs laws.”
In the past 12 months, more than 3,000 postal workers were attacked by out-of-control dogs, with 70% of these incidents happening on private property.
In Scotland, the devolved administration has already tightened dog-control legislation, enabling enforcement officers to impose sanctions on the owners of out-of-control dogs and extending the criminal law on dog control to cover attacks taking place on private property.
Owners may be forced to muzzle their dogs, keep them on a lead, or attend training in dog-control techniques.
In Northern Ireland, dog owners are required to have licences for their dogs, and compulsory microchipping was introduced in April 2012.
The Northern Ireland Executive has also made it a criminal offence to own a dog that attacks and injures somebody else’s pet.
The Welsh Assembly Government has consulted on compulsory microchipping of dogs, and although it has yet to announce a formal decision on whether to proceed, it believes there is a “high level of support” for the idea.
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