I appreciate the depth of concerns raised about this issue. Under the Dangerous Dogs Act, it is a criminal offence to allow any dog of any breed or type to be dangerously out of control. It also prohibits certain types of dogs that are considered a serious risk to public safety. These specific types of dogs are: Pit bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. It is for a court to decide if a prohibited dog can be kept by someone once it has considered the dog’s temperament, among other issues. Conviction under this Act can lead to a prison sentence or a disqualification order which prevents the owner from keeping dogs for a certain period of time.
Recently, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) commissioned research from Middlesex University into dog attacks. This research aimed to assess the effectiveness of current dog control measures, identify and examine the factors and situations that may cause dog attacks, and consider how to promote responsible dog ownership.
I understand that this research did not specifically extend to considering the merits of breed specific legislation. However, it makes reference to the fact that some literature suggests breed specific legislation is not effective and highlights that some academic studies suggest dog breed is not a major risk factor. The report’s conclusion is that while there is no single risk factor when it comes to dog attacks, there are improvements that can be made to prevent attacks, particularly around early intervention and enforcement.
I am aware that the recommendations in the report included the statutory recording of dog attack incidents, improving the quality and availability of dog training, addressing inconsistent approaches to dog enforcement, and a register for dog owners. This could ensure that people with offences could be struck off the register and not allowed to keep dogs in the future.
I welcome that the report’s recommendations will provide the basis for consideration of further reform in the area. I understand that officials will set up a steering group with the police and stakeholders to consider these recommendations further and I will consider carefully any developments stemming from this.
I also know that historically, pit bulls are powerful dogs which have been bred in the UK for dog fighting. I am aware that data gathered from 2005 onwards on fatal dog attacks show that pit bulls were involved in around one in six tragic incidents, despite the prohibitions in place.
I know that my ministerial colleagues consider that lifting the restrictions on these types of dogs would more likely result in an increase in dog attacks, rather than contributing to any reduction in such incidents.