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Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill

Overview

This Member’s Bill was introduced by Emma Harper MSP. It amends the existing law on what is called “livestock worrying”, which is where a dog chases, attacks or kills farmed animals.


The Bill:



  • increases the maximum penalty to a fine of £5,000 or imprisonment for six months

  • allows the courts to ban a convicted person from owning a dog or allowing their dog to go on agricultural land

  • gives the police greater powers to investigate and enforce livestock worrying offence. This includes by going onto land to identify a dog, seize it and collect evidence from it

  • allows other organisations to be given similar powers

  • extends the “livestock worrying” offence to cover additional types of farmed animal


 

You can find out more in the document prepared on behalf of Emma Harper, MSP that explains the Bill.

Why the Bill was created

Dog attacks cause suffering to animals, cost farmers money and cause them distress.  Emma Harper MSP believes the current law is out of date and isn’t working effectively.  


She hopes that making these changes to the law will encourage people to keep their dogs under control.  Where attacks do occur, she hopes the Bill will make it easier for them to be investigated and the people responsible to be punished.

You can find out more in the document prepared on behalf of Emma Harper, MSP that explains the Bill.

The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill is currently at Stage 1

Introduced

The Member in charge of the Bill, Emma Harper MSP sends the Bill and related documents to the Parliament.

Bill as introduced Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill

Financial Resolution

The Presiding Officer has decided under Rule 9.12 of Standing Orders that a financial resolution is not required for this Bill.

Scottish Parliament research on the Bill 

Stage 1 - General principles

Committees examine the Bill. Then MSPs vote on whether it should continue to Stage 2.

Stage 1 Timetable

The Parliament agrees that consideration of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1 be completed by 15 January 2021.

Have your say

The deadline for sharing your views on this Bill has passed. Read the views that were given.

Who examined the Bill

Each Bill is examined by a 'lead committee'. This is the committee that has the subject of the Bill in its remit.


It looks at everything to do with the Bill.


Other committees may look at certain parts of the Bill if it covers subjects they deal with.

Who spoke to the lead committee about the Bill

Video Thumbnail Preview PNG

First meeting transcript

The Convener (Edward Mountain)

Good morning and welcome to the 22nd meeting in 2020 of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. The meeting will be conducted in hybrid format, with two committee members—Richard Lyle and John Finnie—and our witnesses participating remotely.

Emma Harper, who is the member in charge of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, cannot participate as a committee member during scrutiny of her bill. However, she is joining us remotely today.

Agenda item 1 is stage 1 of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, on which we will take evidence from two panels of witnesses. We have a lot of questions to get through and a considerable number of witnesses, so I ask everyone to keep their questions and answers as short and focused as possible.

Before we go any further, I invite committee members to declare any relevant interests, because this is the first evidence session on the bill.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I am a member of a farming partnership in Aberdeenshire.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I am part-owner of a registered agricultural holding on which sheep are regularly kept, and therefore have an interest in the matter of the bill.

Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

My interest is completely different, as I am an honorary associate member of the British Veterinary Association.

The Convener

I, too, am an honorary member of the British Veterinary Association, and I have an interest in an agricultural partnership in Speyside. For clarity, I say that we, the partners in the farm, have suffered from sheep worrying in the past.

I welcome the first panel, which consists of individuals from organisations that are involved in investigating and enforcing the offence of livestock worrying. Fiona Lovatt is a director of Flock Health Ltd; Inspector Alan Dron is the chair of the Scottish partnership against rural crime and national rural crime co-ordinator at Police Scotland; and Kirsteen Mackenzie is an animal welfare officer with Perth and Kinross Council.

There was to be a fourth member of the panel. Graham Hatton, who is assistant team leader of operations for mid-Argyll, Kintyre and Islay at Argyll and Bute Council might be having problems with technology. I will let you know if he manages to join us.

Witnesses should keep an eye on me, when I have called you. If I feel that you are going off on a wee tangent, I might waggle my pen at you, which means that I am looking at you to stop on that particular track and allow another witness in. You are in a great position, in joining us remotely, because I cannot actually launch the pen at you, but you will know when I get to that stage.

The first questions are from John Finnie. Good morning, John.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Good morning, convener. Richard Lyle and I are experiencing a slight issue with the sound, in that it is very quiet. I hope that I am coming through okay.

Good morning, panel. Thank you for your written submissions, which always help the committee greatly. I would like to ask each of you what, in your professional experience, your assessment of the scale and nature of the problem is.

The Convener

I invite Alan Dron to kick off on that.

Inspector Alan Dron (Police Scotland)

Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to take part.

Through my current role in the Scottish partnership against rural crime, we in Police Scotland and all our partners see all aspects of livestock as worrying. We have tried to encourage and educate, because that is key. Every year, in all parts of Scotland, including the isles, there are instances of livestock worrying. That ranges from a dog being in a field to the extreme of there being fatalities.

I can provide our figures, which are broken down into yearly figures and campaign figures. From 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019, 321 attacks on livestock were reported to Police Scotland, of which 123 were investigated as crimes. That provides a crime to incident ratio of about 1:3. At that time, no records were kept of the breed type, or of whether the owner was with the dog or the dog was by itself at the time of the incident.

As time has gone on, we have tried to scrutinise such incidents more closely. In the year 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020, 265 attacks on livestock were reported to Police Scotland, of which 118 were investigated as crimes. Therefore, there was a slight improvement; that equates to a crime to incident ratio of about 1:2. Of the attacks, 116 occurred when the owner or person in charge was nearby or present, 115 occurred when there was no person present and 34 were recorded as unknowns—in other words, it was not confirmed whether there was someone in the vicinity. In about 50 per cent of incidents in that year, an owner was present, and in about 50 per cent the dog was loose by itself. The most prevalent breeds involved were huskies and Alsatians—German shepherds.

This year, from 1 April up to 31 August, 99 attacks on livestock have been reported to Police Scotland, 40 of which have been investigated as crimes, so again we are talking about a crime to incident ratio of about 1:2. Of those 99 attacks, 56 occurred when the owner or person in charge was present, 31 occurred when there was no one present and, in 12 cases, we are unsure whether someone was present. SPARC’s “Your dog—your responsibility” campaign, which focuses on dogs that are allowed to roam free without their owners, has resulted in a heartening increase in the proportion of attacks being those when someone is with the dog. In other words, we are lowering the number of attacks that are committed by dogs that are loose by themselves. This year again, huskies and Alsatians again seem to have been the most prevalent breeds involved in attacks.

As for the specific campaigns—

John Finnie

I will stop you there, because we have a wide range of questions to get through. I was just looking for you to provide initial scoping. Following on from that comprehensive answer, there are several questions that I could ask, but I should probably not do so at this stage.

Could we hear from Ms Lovatt or Ms Mackenzie, please?

Fiona Lovatt (Flock Health Ltd)

I am a sheep vet. Last year, I worked as a consultant with Ipsos MORI, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government to undertake a survey, to which 1,900 sheep farmers responded. The survey was done in a proper stratified manner.

Over half the farmers—51 per cent—reported that they had had a dog attack on their livestock at some stage, and 14 per cent reported that they had had a dog attack in the previous 12 months of the survey. Although it was a statistically well-stratified survey, it had large margins of error, so confidence levels were a factor. Multiplying the figures gives a total of 7,000 dog attacks a year in Scotland, with confidence in a figure of between 4,000 and 10,000 attacks. However, we know that, for various reasons, only one third of farmers report dog attacks to the police.

Kirsteen Mackenzie (Perth and Kinross Council)

Our local authority tends not to deal directly with sheep-worrying incidents, as that is done by the police. However, we have assisted the police, on occasion.

I work with farmers in my job as an animal welfare officer, and I agree with Fiona Lovatt that a lot of them do not report incidents of sheep worrying, particularly if there has not been a physical attack. When no one is present or the dog runs off, there is no evidence. I have general conversations with farmers in which I have heard unofficial reports of sheep worrying that happened months earlier but was not reported.

I work with dog owners. We try to educate dog owners, but it is quite alarming how many are under the impression that their dog would not chase sheep in a field.

The Convener

Before I go back to John Finnie for another question, I will bring in Stewart Stevenson.

Stewart Stevenson

I have a short question for Inspector Dron. Do you have information that tells us what proportion of the dog population the husky and Alsatian breeds represent? That question might for the next panel rather than you, but I am slightly surprised to hear about huskies, because that is not a breed that I see often, although my neighbours have one.

Inspector Dron

We do not have numbers for those breeds, but we have found that huskies have become more popular, particularly among certain elements of society, as a status dog. Bizarrely, that has been influenced by “Game of Thrones”.

The Convener

Ah. Okay. We will go back to John Finnie.

John Finnie

I have to offer a spirited defence of the German shepherd dog, often known as the Alsatian, because it is a fine breed.

We have heard a bit about this from the panel. Much of the literature on livestock attacks and many of the responses that we have received state that there is a lack of evidence about the scale of the problem—Ms McKenzie talked about underreporting—and in some instances there is a lack of data collection. Do you believe that you have enough evidence to make an accurate assessment of how the problem should be addressed, including whether there is a need for new legislation? If there are evidence gaps, what would help to fill them? Can Inspector Dron, in particular, comment on how we get a figure for the number of attacks and on what constitutes their being considered a crime? I know that those are wide-ranging questions, but we are trying to understand whether there is an evidence base that would support the bill.

Inspector Dron

Mr Finnie raised several points. We have evidence, but as Fiona Lovatt highlighted and as we know, approximately one third of incidents are reported and the majority two thirds are not. However, we have many contacts throughout Scotland and people are becoming more aware of the situation. The problem will always exist; we need first and foremost to try to prevent incidents, which the figures show occur almost daily across Scotland. Do we have sufficient evidence? Over the past couple of years, there has certainly been increased scrutiny, and it is a priority of the Scottish partnership against rural crime to look at livestock attacks and worrying.

In terms of the bill, we have tried and will continue to try education at all levels, first and foremost. Our primary drive is to prevent incidents.

09:15  



There have been changes in farming in Scotland. Other breeds, such as camelids, are farmed here, and they deserve the same protection as sheep. The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 currently does not afford them that protection, so having that change is certainly positive.

The bill could also have a positive impact on people’s perception. Including the word “attack” as part of the legislation is key, because that drives home the gravity of the situation better than the word “worrying” does.

There is definitely better communication and involvement with our partners now. As I think everyone would agree, the education aspect is tremendous: it is the way forward, and we could never do enough of it. However, for the very small incidence of serious attacks that cause detriment to livestock and landowners, there is no deterrent. We find when we talk to folk whose dogs might have been involved in incidents that a lot of them know that there is no deterrent. It is to be hoped that that significant aspect, and the more serious incidents can be addressed through the legislation. Changing people’s perception might alter many owners’ views on what their dogs might or might not do.

John Finnie

I would like clarification, convener. If I have noted correctly what Inspector Dron said, he quoted the numbers of attacks in successive years, and went on to say that some were crimes. What determines that an attack is not a crime?

Inspector Dron

In contrast to the approach of the police in England and Wales, Police Scotland records every incident of livestock worrying that is reported to it. Once it has been recorded, police officers will attend. As Kirsteen Mackenzie and Fiona Lovatt have indicated, if the police arrive and find that, for example, a dog has been seen in a field, but there is not sufficient evidence to prove that an offence has occurred, that is still recorded as an incident. However, where evidence exists, a crime report will be recorded and the police will take as much evidence as possible, with a view to charging someone. They will consider whether to seek a dog control notice or, ultimately, to send the case to the procurator fiscal.

The Convener

Before we go any further I will bring in Fiona Lovatt.

Fiona Lovatt

The point about asking for evidence is really pertinent. In the responses to the committee’s consultation, I was a bit alarmed to read a number of people quoting the background to the huge study that we undertook last year with the Scottish Government, in which we stated that the existing evidence did not provide an adequate basis for assessing the true scale of the problem. That was the whole reason for undertaking the study.

More than 9,000 sheep farmers were contacted for the study. I can truly say that it was carried out because, previously, we did not have evidence that there had been an increase in the number of attacks; that was simply the perception. It could have been generated by social media, or farmers might have been making the problem sound worse than it was.

The whole study was carried out by an independent body, with the purpose of collating evidence. Statistically, it was extremely robust. To avoid the potential for what is known as recall bias—where people remember the most dramatic incident rather than the most recent—the interviewers were careful to pin people down and ask them only about the most recent incident in detail. We gave respondents the opportunity to give more information, but the statistics that went into the published study covered only the most recent incidents. We can therefore be fairly sure that we have robust evidence that 14 per cent of farmers have experienced such incidents in the past year, and that 50 per cent have experienced them at some time.

The question of what the penalties should be is not within my area of expertise, but I can say that we have evidence that incidents are a problem.

The Convener

Thank you, Fiona. John—I am afraid that we will have to move on to the next question.

I remind witnesses that those were just the first couple of questions for one panel member, and we have 11 panel members to get through. I am sure that we all want to ask lots of questions, but if they all take 20 minutes each we could be here until Christmas.

Our next question will come from Richard Lyle.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Thank you, convener. I will try not to take 20 minutes.

Are the powers under existing dog control legislation sufficient? If not, why not?

Inspector Dron

I will be quick and to the point. The 1953 act is many years old—we are now in 2020—and it is a bit behind the times. Farming has changed, so extending the definition of livestock to include various animals such as camelids and ostriches is welcome, as are the words “attack” and “attacks” in the bill, because that increases the perception of severity, which is what the bill tries to achieve. Currently, deterrents—whether in the form of a fine, seizure of the dog or other measures—are not sufficient and the bill introduces deterrents that are a bit more sufficient to cover the small gap.

Richard Lyle

I put the same question to Kirsteen Mackenzie.

The Convener

I am afraid of us putting the same question to everyone, because of the ability to get through them all.

Richard Lyle

With the greatest respect, I know that you have a timeframe, but I would like to hear Kirsteen Mackenzie’s opinion.

The Convener

Before Kirsteen Mackenzie answers that, Richard, I note that my difficulty is that I cannot see which witnesses want to come in, because this is not like being in a committee meeting in which I can see everyone. However, I am delighted to bring people in when I can.

Kirsteen Mackenzie

I agree with Alan Dron. There is not a severe enough penalty at the moment.

Richard Lyle

I will move on to the next question.

As drafted, will the bill will help to reduce the incidence of livestock worrying? Could the bill be improved to make it more effective?

Fiona Lovatt

As a sheep veterinary surgeon, my expertise is not in penalties, but I can tell you what the farmers thought. The top thing that they wanted was better public awareness and campaigns; the second was greater penalties; and the third was a requirement to have dogs on leads on agricultural land. Those were, by far, the most popular requests of the farmers who were interviewed.

Inspector Dron

I back up what Fiona Lovatt says. The new penalties aspect will hopefully reduce the number of attacks; it will go hand in hand with prevention work, which will always continue. Better education is important, but the introduction of better penalties is a good deterrent in itself.

Richard Lyle

Alan, you said that the previous time that the law was changed was 1953. That was in the 20th century and it is now the 21st century; it is nearly 70 years since the law was changed.

Inspector Dron

Absolutely. There have been additions to the legislation, such as the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, but the 1953 act is the main one for livestock worrying.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I am sure that Richard Lyle well remembers the 1953 legislation.

In the interest of time, I will try to combine my questions, to which there are three parts.

A number of the written submissions that we have received highlight the need for a better use of our existing powers. Do the order-making powers in the bill complement or overlap the ability to use dog control notices? Would the increased use of dog control notices in cases of livestock worrying be beneficial? Are there any non-legislative methods that could be deployed to tackle the problem?

Kirsteen Mackenzie

We can and I have issued a couple of dog control notices to dog owners who have been involved in sheep worrying. The problem with dog control notices, especially in very rural areas, is that it is difficult to monitor compliance with them. We can put on the dog control notice that a dog must be kept on a lead, even in specific areas, but it is difficult to monitor compliance. They can and have been used in sheep-worrying incidents.

The Convener

Alan, do you want to—

Kirsteen Mackenzie

But I think—

The Convener

Sorry, Kirsteen. I cut you off; I thought you had finished.

Kirsteen Mackenzie

That is fine.

Inspector Dron

I support what Kirsteen said. In more instances, particularly those that are reported to the police, there should be more hand-in-hand working with local authority officers in relation to dog control notices. That is yet another stage where things could be joined up. Overall, what is being proposed adds another layer but it would be a benefit rather than making things more bureaucratic or causing any other issues.

Colin Smyth

Are there any other non-legislative methods that we should deploy alongside the legislation to help tackle the problem?

Inspector Dron

We run livestock campaigns every year through the Scottish partnership against rural crime. Last year, we had one large launch, then took it all around Scotland for local launches, trying to make it more personal. It is vital to make it more personal in every part of Scotland so that we can raise awareness, and that is something that should never stop. Prevention and education first and foremost will in time, hopefully, reduce incidents. We should also educate people through vet practices about every stage of owning a dog, from when it is a puppy to the end of its life.

The Convener

Fiona, was there anything that farmers brought up in relation to non-legislative actions that could be taken to prevent this?

Fiona Lovatt

The most popular measure, which 93 per cent of them wanted, was an increase in public awareness, partly because it is often a dog owner who is unaware or it is a one-off incident. For those cases, public awareness is important, because any dog could be an issue—it is education again.

Peter Chapman

I will look into the proposed penalties. The bill proposes that in the most serious cases the courts should be able to impose a custodial sentence. I wonder whether, instead of a custodial sentence, the courts could choose to impose a community payback order, for example ordering the offender to pay compensation, attend a course or carry out unpaid work. Would the use of community payback orders along those lines would be appropriate for this type of crime?

Inspector Dron

Having the option would be an excellent step forward. What has to be borne in mind is that in a couple of the most serious incidents in Scotland, the person who was convicted was unfortunately, due to their circumstances, able neither to pay compensation nor to do community payback. That element of the bill would affect only a small minority of cases, so that is where the deterrent element, apart from anything else, is possibly more significant. Whether that is a community payback order or something else, that has to be another positive step to reduce such incidents.

Peter Chapman

I have a follow up to that. I am sure that many farmers would like to see compensation in severe cases as livestock worrying can cost them many thousands of pounds. The feeling is that the compensation element is lacking in the bill. What are your thoughts on that? You have already said that, in some cases, folk cannot pay, but I am sure that there are many cases in which people could pay.

09:30  



Inspector Dron

Absolutely. In a recent case that went to court, the person was convicted, the sheriff put in a compensation order, and the farmer who was at loss received full compensation, which was excellent. The system does work. Again, the thing to remember is that if the legislation is applied, there is no problem at all. The bill adds weight and strength to the deterrent elements and, hopefully, in the more serious incidents. It will not be carte blanche; the bill will definitely add weight in the more serious incidents, which hopefully will continue to be the least common incidents that we come across.

Fiona Lovatt

The average cost of an incident to a farmer is £700 per dog attack, and only 9 per cent of farmers receive compensation. Most farmers do not insure because they are worried about their premiums going up, so most of them are not currently compensated for the loss.

The Convener

Kirsteen, do you think that people realise the value of some of the sheep that are injured? Tups can be worth tens of thousands of pounds, from £20,000 to £200,000 or more. We have got a bid at the back—I have just sold my tup to Stewart Stevenson for £300,000. [Laughter.] The value of livestock is incredible.

Kirsteen Mackenzie

I do not think that the general public are aware of the financial implications for farmers if there is an attack on a sheep or even a sheep-worrying incident. Education and awareness are very important to help to reduce the number of incidents. As I have highlighted, we need to make people aware that any dog has the ability to cause a problem. The larger breeds are perhaps more likely to cause injury, but any dog can be responsible for causing an incident.

Peter Chapman

I think that there is general agreement among most commentators that the current penalties are too low. Some folk cite higher penalties for other animal welfare offences. The Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 introduced the power to impose an unlimited fine and up to five years in prison. Would something along those lines be suitable in the most severe cases of attack?

Kirsteen Mackenzie

A severe penalty for the worst cases, even going as far as a ban on keeping dogs, would be very welcome.

Inspector Dron

I would echo what Kirsteen said. There are likely to be a small number of such circumstances, and each case would be taken on its merits. It would also depend on proportionality. As you say, tups can go for £250,000, whereas a blackface yow is maybe £70. Ultimately, though, anything that assists and is there as a deterrent cannot be a bad thing.

The Convener

Yows must be cheap where you are.

Peter Chapman

I will move on to my last question. The 2020 act enables the use of fixed-penalty notices for less serious worrying offences. I wonder whether that is also something that we should be thinking about for the bill.

Inspector Dron

It is another option. Police officers already have the option to give out fixed-penalty notices for a variety of offences. Again, it would depend on scale and proportionality.

Kirsteen Mackenzie

I agree with Inspector Dron. We already have fixed-penalty notices and they could be a deterrent for smaller offences.

The Convener

Thank you. Stewart Stevenson, you have the next question.

Stewart Stevenson

I will ask the second of my questions first, if I may. In light of her previous responses, I want to explore first with Kirsteen Mackenzie whether powers to exclude offending owners from walking their dogs on agricultural land would work. I ask that because of the previous comments about difficulties of enforcement in rural areas, which I understand. It might be useful to the committee to talk through the practicalities of such an approach and whether it would add anything to what else is there. Perhaps Kirsteen Mackenzie can start, and then I suspect Inspector Dron will want to come in.

Kirsteen Mackenzie

It is difficult to ban someone from walking in a particular area, especially a remote area, and to police or monitor that ban. Corroborating evidence that that person has been walking in that area can be difficult to find, which makes it difficult to prove that that person was there and doing what they should not have been be doing. The types of area that we are dealing with makes that quite difficult.

Stewart Stevenson

Before I move on, perhaps I could just take it a tiny step forward. Corroboration is of course needed if it is a criminal offence, but the alternative could be to provide a civil prohibition that would not require corroboration. Has that been discussed as an alternative approach?

Kirsteen Mackenzie

I am not sure about that. I just know that for any non-compliance offence, you tend to need corroboration.

Stewart Stevenson

That is fine.

The Convener

Kirsteen, how many animal welfare officers are there in Perth and Kinross Council?

Kirsteen Mackenzie

There are two full-time animal welfare officers and one dog control officer, who deals primarily with the dog-related incidents. I do dog control when the dog control officer is off. They cover the whole of Perth and Kinross Council area.

The Convener

So there are three people spread fairly thinly to make sure that the notices are complied with.

Kirsteen Mackenzie

Yes.

The Convener

Inspector Dron, Stewart Stevenson wanted to hear from you.

Inspector Dron

I totally support what Kirsteen has said. The practicalities of that are very difficult to enforce. If somebody is disqualified from owning or keeping a dog and you go to their home and there is a dog there, it is much easier to prove that they are not complying. However, if they are walking the dog in public, how do you catch them at that point? How do you follow them? The practicalities of that can be very difficult, particularly as Scotland is, as you know, a rural country.

Stewart Stevenson

I will move on to my next question, which is essentially a technical point about legal drafting, and the witnesses might well not want to comment. In the bill as drafted, are the order-making powers appropriate and proportionate? I suspect that no one will wish to comment on that, but this is the opportunity to do so if you wish.

The Convener

If you were all present in the room, you could all look away at the same time and I would know that none of you want to answer. However, Inspector Dron is on the screen. Alan, do you want to answer?

Inspector Dron

I would just say that it is not really for me to comment.

The Convener

I am trying to see whether any of the other witnesses wants to say anything but no one is indicating, so we will move on to the next set of questions from Angus MacDonald.

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

We know that there are issues with enforcement of the current livestock worrying legislation. The bill aims to tackle some of those issues by introducing increased powers for investigation. What would you say are the biggest challenges that you currently face in enforcing the existing legislation on livestock worrying, and do you think that the bill will help to address those challenges?

The Convener

I call Kirsteen, to be followed by Angus, just for a slightly different order. Kirsteen, do you want to head off on that?

Kirsteen Mackenzie

It would probably be better if Alan Dron answered that question, as his is currently the enforcement body.

The Convener

Alan, sorry—I just called you Angus. I am getting myself confused already, and it is only 20 minutes to 10.

Inspector Dron

The bill will certainly help with enforcement. It might instil a bit more of a perception of the seriousness of incidents. We will have the bill to refer to, so we can use the terminology for better, more targeted campaigning. Everything plays its part. We have got to educate from schools upwards—for example, at vets’—and go around Scotland trying to do as much as we can to raise awareness, but we will have the bill at the back of us if all of that has failed. At least there is something that has weight, and people will sit up and take notice of it. They will not think that they will get away with it or get a small fine.

Internally, our police officers are constantly trying to raise awareness and promote better education about the offence, and slowly but surely that is starting to work. That might be why the ratio of incidents being reported to the police investigating and taking a crime report is quite small.

The Convener

I welcome Christine Grahame, who is attending the meeting as Emma Harper’s committee substitute.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

I apologise for being late. I had put the meeting in my diary for 10 o’clock, not 9 o’clock.

The Convener

Apology very much accepted. You have missed some interesting evidence, but I am sure that you will catch up.

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

My three questions are directed to Fiona Lovatt, as they relate to veterinary matters. In the interests of time, I am going to ask all three of them together, if that is okay.

What additional resources would vets require in order to play a statutory role—for example, in relation to training and remuneration—and does any legal or operational clarity need to be provided to support vets in playing such a role? Can Ms Lovatt briefly describe the procedures that would be involved in collecting evidence when a dog is brought to a practice? Can she foresee any circumstances in which those procedures could jeopardise the health or welfare of the dog?

The Convener

There are a lot of questions there, Fiona. Head off, as it were.

Fiona Lovatt

If a dog is presented to a vet, one of the key things is that the vet generally needs to have permission from the owner to treat the dog. For example, we sometimes have cases in which a police officer has called us to a road traffic accident and we need permission from that police officer to put an animal to sleep. We need permission from somebody. I foresee a similar sort of issue if a dog was brought into a practice by anyone other than its owner. That would put the vet in a particularly awkward position, and they would be unable to make a decision for fear of getting in trouble themselves. I think that it would have to be the police who were able to give that permission.

Forensic evidence is not actually my area of expertise; I am a sheep specialist, not a dog specialist. There would be a need for training. However, it would not necessarily be appropriate for every small, rural practitioner who is dealing with a mixed bag of issues to do that training, because it could be quite a rare, sporadic event. Vets in the labs at rural colleges like Scotland's Rural College would be more appropriate. As veterinary surgeons, we often send animals to that lab for a post mortem. There could be a specialist in the regional laboratory who would be able to advise and take responsibility.

09:45  



Oliver Mundell

That is helpful. You said that you feel that the police would have to enforce the offence—I know that other members are going to ask questions in that area—but, as it is currently drafted, the bill gives powers for agents to be appointed to exercise certain provisions. Do you think that it would present a problem for vets if someone other than the police brought in a dog?

Fiona Lovatt

The vet would always get permission. After a road traffic accident, for example, the vet would want a police officer to say that they gave permission and that someone would pay for the service. A vet is a private enterprise; therefore, they are watching their own back and their own pocket. They need somebody both to give permission legally and to stand the cost. A person from the SRUC laboratories would already have some sort of Government permission, I suppose.

The Convener

I will put a question to Alan Dron. If a dog is seized and taken to a vet for examination, to identify whether an offence has happened, and some evidence is collected—such as wool between its teeth—will a police officer be in a position, under the bill, to sign for a vet doing that? Will they take responsibility, or do we need to clarify that in the bill?

Inspector Dron

Again, it might come down to the circumstances, the extent of the injury and the case.

Going back to Fiona Lovatt’s point, in wildlife crime cases, the SRUC currently conducts a lot of inquires at the request of the police and the funding for those inquiries is provided by the Scottish Government. Therefore, a precedent is set for wildlife crime that could be extended to livestock incidents.

Police take dogs to the vet in very few instances. The only time that I am aware of that happening is when the farmer or landowner has shot the dog. The police will take possession of it and take it to a vet to ensure that, if it is still alive, it is not suffering and to have it treated or to ensure that, if it has died, it was shot properly and there was no undue suffering. Those are the only circumstances that I am aware of in which the police would seize the dog and take it to a vet.

The Convener

I suspect that, in most instances of wildlife crime, the police are dealing with evidence, such as in poisoning or shooting incidents in which the animal or bird has died. However, there might be an instance when a dog has been caught, there is no owner present and the police want to take it to the vet to gather evidence of an attack on sheep—which, as has been discussed, involves the collection of forensic evidence. Do you feel comfortable that the police have the ability to take the dog to the vet, sign for that work to be carried out and take responsibility not only for that decision but also for the cost? Wool between a dog’s teeth will disappear fairly quickly, so I would like to know that there is sufficient provision in the bill to cover that.

Inspector Dron

In the few instances in which that happened, the police would contact the relevant fiscal, because the issue would largely come down to cost—the cost of seizure and of homing. We might need to keep the dog for, say, 24 hours so that samples could be taken, and that would involve contacting a vet to come out. In such a case, we would have a duty of care towards the dog—we would have to feed and water it and so on.

We highlighted in our submission that there is a need for clarity, particularly when it comes to any financial implications regarding policing, homing and dealing with the veterinary aspects that Fiona Lovatt highlighted.

The Convener

Oliver, are you happy with that?

Oliver Mundell

I am.

The Convener

The next questions come from Mike Rumbles.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

Good morning. I am concerned about section 4 of the bill, which is headed, “Powers to authorise entry, search, seizure etc.” In my view, it gives authority in law for a police officer—or, indeed, an appointed inspector—to enter premises without a search warrant. Does that not represent a major and rather disproportionate move away from the current position in Scots law, whereby a police officer must show just cause to a sheriff or a justice of the peace in order to get a warrant to search premises?

I am not talking about the power that a police constable has to enter premises if he believes that a crime is under way or about to take place; I am talking about the power in the bill to search for evidence. Is that not a major departure from Scots law?

The Convener

I guess that Alan Dron is in the spotlight again.

Inspector Dron

We would liaise very closely with the fiscal on that. You are right that what is proposed represents an unusual step. We would need to make sure that there were reasonable grounds for suspecting that evidence that was connected to the alleged commission of the offence of livestock worrying was to be found in the specified premises and that there were no other means of obtaining that evidence.

At the moment, we will try to explore every opportunity to gain as much evidence as possible before moving to that stage. If the bill is passed, that provision might end up being used on a case-by-case basis, in conjunction with contacting the local fiscal for the area. I would suggest that that would be done only after as much normal, commonsense policing and investigation as possible had been carried out, which had led us to the point at which, in other circumstances, we would need to apply for a warrant to get the evidence in question.

Mike Rumbles

Yes—under the law as it stands, the police would need to apply for a warrant. I absolutely understand everything that you have said. However, the bill would give the police—and, indeed, inspectors that other organisations had appointed—the legal authority not to apply for a warrant if they did not need to. Section 4 says that. I am very surprised that such a provision has appeared in the bill in relation to livestock crime, awful as that is. It marks a major departure from what everybody accepts is one of the safeguards in Scots law to prevent undue searches. Do you agree that the bill changes that position?

Inspector Dron

I think that it would be an interesting step. I could foresee the police going to a house, having tried to gain as much evidence as possible. If we were refused entry by the householder after explaining why we were there, we would need to give due regard to the right of any potential suspect not to self-incriminate. Any suspect would need to be cautioned prior to any questioning.

I think it would be extremely unusual if we got to that stage. A lot of clarification would need to be provided. I could also see it being contested in court if the police gained access to premises without obtaining a warrant—unless, of course, they were welcomed in by the house owner, who said, for example, “It was my dog. I was actually going to contact you.” I could see the power being exercised on a case-by-case basis.

Mike Rumbles

Yes, I understand that the police would operate the provision sensibly, but such cases will arise if the bill is passed, because it will change the law.

The bill actually says, in proposed new clause 2A(2) of the 1953 act, that, in relation to the need for a warrant,

“This subsection is complied with in relation to premises if ... either ... admission to the premises has been refused, or ... such a refusal may reasonably be expected”.

So, even if you expect a refusal, according to the change in the law outlined here, you could enter any premises to search for evidence. That is what the bill says, is it not?

Inspector Dron

It would appear so but, in practical terms, when we got into the premises, as police officers, we would need to tread carefully because we might be there for one reason but observe something else, at which point we would need to stop and possibly get a warrant.

Mike Rumbles

I understand what you are saying, and it sounds very reasonable, but our job as MSPs is to look at the legislation that is presented to us, and it certainly seems quite clear, as we go further into this, that the bill would change the law to give the police, if they were so inclined, the power to enter premises to search without a warrant. It is interesting that you agree with my interpretation that it would change the law.

The Convener

Stewart Stevenson wants to come in, but I have a quick question to ask first. Do you feel that you need that bit to be included to make the bill worth while, or is there enough in the bill to make it worth while without that bit?

Inspector Dron

Personally, after 28 years of policing, I would suggest, from a policing perspective, that it might not be required, for a variety of reasons. It might overcomplicate things. We might end up having to get a warrant anyway. We would always be on stronger grounds if we had a warrant. I also think that there would be very few cases in which the police would be acting in relation to that situation anyway.

Stewart Stevenson

Is Inspector Dron familiar with the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Protection) (Scotland) Act 1951, which, under section 11(4), granted powers of search to water bailiffs appointed by a salmon fisheries board without the necessity of a warrant? Lest you wonder why I ask that question, I point out that, having been a water bailiff in 1968, I am aware that I had that power, even as a student doing a summer job, when I was fulfilling that role. I wonder whether you are familiar with that power, as it may not be quite as novel as my colleague was suggesting.

The Convener

I am sure that you did not exercise that power in 1951, Stewart.

Stewart Stevenson

Actually, I did.

The Convener

Oh, well, there you go—that ages you. I ask Alan Dron to answer that question.

Inspector Dron

My colleague, who is a wildlife crime co-ordinator, will be familiar with that aspect. As to how often that power would be used and in what circumstances, I would not know and could not comment on that.

Stewart Stevenson

Just to be clear, it was not in 1951 that I exercised that power.

The Convener

Oh—sorry. Also, just for the avoidance of doubt, I should point out that, in the past, I have declared an interest in wild salmon fisheries. As I made a comment, I ought to make that clear—not that it is really that relevant.

Maureen Watt has the next question.

Maureen Watt

This question is probably for Inspector Dron. You will be aware that the bill suggests that additional capacity should be provided by an “inspecting body”, whatever that might be. Would you find that beneficial?

Inspector Dron

Anything that can help policing, police resourcing and education certainly cannot be detrimental. I am trying to think of practical examples. There would need to be clarity about who would have primacy. Under the current law, it is the police who can investigate but, in lots of rural locations, someone else will attend—whether it is someone from the local authority, the dog warden or whoever—to assist a police officer with corroboration.

The circumstances are similar for fly-tipping. Who has primacy? Is it SEPA? Is it local authorities? Is it the police? Sometimes, the lines are blurred and victims or those who phone in do not know who they should contact or expect to do something about the incident or offence.

10:00  



Maureen Watt

The Scottish SPCA said in its written evidence that it would not want to be that body. I am picking up from what we have discussed today that you would rather a statutory body, such as the local authority, be responsible.

Inspector Dron

There needs to be clarity. In practical terms, as Kirsteen Mackenzie has already highlighted, Perth and Kinross Council has only three officers to cover what is a large geographical area.

To ensure a better quality of service—one that is provided as and when required, and policing is 24/7—if there were to be any additional bodies, who they were would need to be clear, as would what they could offer and when they would go out. In addition, the people they were attending would have to know who had primacy—indeed, they would need to know who to contact in the first instance.

Maureen Watt

The police would have to progress any prosecutions, so Police Scotland would have to be involved.

Inspector Dron

Yes. By and large, cases are submitted to the Procurator Fiscal Service through the police. As Kirsteen Mackenzie highlighted, local authority dog wardens can issue dog control notices. There are other responses—other avenues can be taken to try to resolve an incident, such as action to educate people .

Maureen Watt

How often is video footage of livestock worrying or a dog attack on animals used as evidence?

Inspector Dron

Its use is increasing. The police now have individual personal data assistants, which are being rolled out to officers so that they can capture normal, static photographs. There have been occasions when a farmer, a landowner or someone out walking has captured an incident. Anything that can be submitted as best evidence in a case to the Procurator Fiscal Service would obviously be submitted.

The Convener

Does Kirsteen Mackenzie want to come in on that question about additional powers, given that such powers might involve the council?

Kirsteen Mackenzie

Obviously, we already have powers to issue dog control notices, which we use. We would welcome Police Scotland still being the primary agency. We would quite happily work jointly and have protocols with Police Scotland. We are always happy to be an assisting agency and to work with Police Scotland.

The Convener

I know that Fiona Lovatt is still present. She will probably be the one to answer the questions that Christine Grahame is, I think, about to ask.

Christine Grahame

My question is about money, so I do not think so, although I could be wrong.

Financial, human and technical resources will be required as a result of the legislation. Nearly every piece of legislation comes with a cost attached to it. [Interruption.] I am so sorry—the phone is going off. What a morning!

Of course, the cost is to some extent predicated on who or what the inspecting body is. My question is for all the witnesses. What funding would they require to ensure that the legislation works?

The Convener

We will go to Alan Dron first, not Fiona Lovatt. I will give all the witnesses a chance to answer that question.

Inspector Dron

To be honest, I have no idea. Again, a lot of this would be done and therefore subsumed under normal policing, as it is at the moment. Any financial considerations usually come in if a dog is seized, in which case, as was mentioned earlier, it is about deciding whether contacting the Procurator Fiscal Service is proportionate and who is to pay the bill for the keep of the animal—its homing and welfare.

The Convener

Okay. Does Kirsteen Mackenzie want to come in on that?

Kirsteen Mackenzie

The local authority is stretched financially at the moment. Our resources are limited at any time. We deal with lots of other things and, if we were going to be involved in a large education programme, we would need more finances. At the moment, the council does not have the resources to provide that out of current budgets.

Fiona Lovatt

I am not sure about the on-going costs, but the survey that we undertook showed that the current cost of dog attacks to sheep farms in Scotland is £5.5 million a year. Farmers are bearing those costs; only 9 per cent of them receive money for those attacks.

Christine Grahame

It is extremely difficult. You can correct me, but I think that the Scottish SPCA can charge for keeping an animal, pending the owner’s trial for the dog being out of control or savaging sheep or other beasts. Am I correct about that? It used to have huge bills for that. I know that Mike Flynn giving evidence later, but perhaps Inspector Dron could remind me of who pays for that.

Inspector Dron

I think that the Scottish SPCA currently pays. There is also a difficulty if a dog that has been worrying livestock is taken but no owner is found. Who pays for that dog’s keep? That needs to be clarified from the outset. In some circumstances, an owner just signs their dog over. Does that mean that the Scottish SPCA has to rehome it? Someone from the Dogs Trust will be giving evidence later on, and they might be able to take that question further.

Christine Grahame

Thank you—that is fine.

The Convener

Finally, Emma Harper, whose bill we are discussing, would like to ask some questions. Good morning, Emma.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

Good morning. It has been interesting to hear everybody’s contributions. I thank the witnesses for their diligence in answering the questions and members for their questioning.

I have a couple of questions. Are there more incidents in one part of the country versus other areas—for example, the Highlands versus the south of Scotland? Are we able to take apart the data to look at where more incidents occur?

Inspector Dron

Fortunately, one of our colleagues trawls for information by policing division on a daily basis, so we know exactly where in the 13 policing divisions there are instances of livestock attacks and worrying. Unfortunately, incidents happen throughout Scotland. We have recorded incidents in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles; this year, some of the worst were in Oban. One of the worst incidents that we are aware of happened at Inveraray. A lot of the higher numbers are near the central belt, as you can imagine, just because of volume. However, incidents also occur in areas where there are core paths, such as the west Highland way. Conic hill is a particular focus for incidents in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park. Incidents happen in places where you expect people to be out walking dogs, but they are spread throughout the country. There are no specific areas where the incidence is higher than it is in others.

Emma Harper

Has coronavirus affected the ability to monitor, capture or look at the data? Did you see a reduction when people were in lockdown and an increase when folk started escaping from their homes and going out with their dogs for their daily exercise?

Inspector Dron

Because we were very aware of the issue, we were starting to gather stats on it. There was going to be a campaign this year, so we wanted to compare figures from 1 January to 31 May this year and last year. We found a significant decrease in the number of incidents. From 1 January to 31 May this year, 120 incidents of livestock attack were reported, of which 52 were recorded as crimes. Sixty-eight dogs were accompanied; 46 were not. The numbers became significantly lower as the Covid restrictions went on.

From speaking to a lot of landowners, walkers and so on, I think that those figures inform and complement what we had thought: during lockdown, more folks were at home, and went out with their dog to walk. That is why there was a spike that resulted in that figure of 68 cases in which somebody—the owner or a person responsible for the dog—was present, as opposed to only 46, this time round, in which they were not.

As the lockdown restrictions have eased, there has been a slight increase, particularly in the central belt area, as folk try, for good reason, to get back out and about. However, it has not been a dramatic increase, which is encouraging.

Fiona Lovatt

I do not have any data relating to lockdown. You also asked about incidents in the different regions of Scotland. According to the stratified survey that we undertook, there is a higher risk of dog attacks in Lothian and east central Scotland, with a 28 per cent prevalence in each of those areas, and fewer attacks in the north-east of Scotland, for which the prevalence is 8 per cent.

Emma Harper

I have a final question, convener—and thank you for allowing me to ask my questions.

When we explored drafting the provisions on seizing a dog and taking it to a vet, we included the possibility that a vet might already be on site, examining sheep or attending to injuries. However, arranging for a dog to be

“examined by a veterinary surgeon”

does not necessarily mean taking it to a veterinary practice. It might mean that a vet who is already in attendance at the site of an offence could collect evidence. At that time, we were thinking that an emetic could be used to make the dog sick in order to collect wool, or of using swabs for analysis, to compare blood from the dog’s mouth with the sheep’s blood.

Does that language need to be clarified? Taking a dog to a vet, or having a vet assess a dog, does not necessarily mean that it has to be taken to a veterinary practice.

Fiona Lovatt

Vets would need training and clear guidelines on what was expected of them and who was asking them to undertake that work. If a vet is already on site, the farmer has presumably called them there to attend to the sheep, so the cost is to the farmer.

Perhaps a fine is an appropriate detriment for the dog owner.

The Convener

Inspector Dron, do you want to answer?

Inspector Dron

Yes. In many instances, the first port of call—particularly if a farmer or livestock owner sees their animal suffering—is to contact a vet to come out. A lot of evidence gathering can be done at the scene. However, again, that ultimately comes down to finance. Would the vet bill the farmer? The farmer, landowner or livestock owner would have the initial outlay, to cover the vet’s costs, and might be looking to get some sort of compensation further down the line.

The Convener

Emma, does that answer your questions?

Emma Harper

Yes, that is great. Thank you, convener. The session has already given me a lot to think about.

The Convener

Thank you very much. Before we end the session, I have a question for Fiona Lovatt.

I know farmers who avoid using pastures in areas where they know people walk dogs and where there are likely to be dog attacks. I also know farmers who bring sheep in in the evening because they are worried about the sheep being left at night. Do you have any evidence on that issue? It may suggest that farmers are undertaking extra work to try to mitigate the risk of attacks.

Fiona Lovatt

Yes, absolutely. We asked people what measures they employed to cope with dog attacks, and which measures they thought were effective and which they thought were ineffective. Fifty-two per cent said that they talked to the dog owners; 60 per cent thought that that was effective, and 30 per cent thought that it was not effective. They also mentioned putting up signs.

However, people said that moving sheep to a different area was the most effective measure. Having identified a pasture as dangerous because of dog attacks, they used another area. Twenty-two per cent of farmers said that they move sheep to a different area; of those, 72 per cent thought that that was effective and 19 per cent did not. That was the most effective thing that farmers thought they could do.

We asked a lot of questions about the emotional impact. Farmers really dislike the idea of conflict—of speaking to a dog owner and getting an aggressive response. Often, the dog owner is very upset or angry, and the farmer is worried about how they will react, when they themselves, or their family, are emotionally very distressed. It is a fraught time.

The Convener

Thank you very much.

There are no other questions. I thank the witnesses for their evidence and for the time that they have given the committee.

10:16 Meeting suspended.  



10:25 On resuming—  



The Convener

Welcome back. I remind members to ensure that their mobile phones are on silent.

I welcome our second panel of witnesses, who are from organisations that represent dog owners and countryside access interests: Mike Flynn, chief superintendent of the Scottish SPCA; Steve Jenkinson, access and countryside adviser to the Kennel Club; Paula Boyden, director of Dogs Trust; and Bridget Jones, strategic paths and projects manager of NatureScot.

I advise our witnesses that, if they want to come in on a question, they should indicate that in the chat function. I will then ensure that I bring them in, but I will not have the chance to do so for all four of them on every question. As I said to our earlier witnesses, they should also keep an eye on me. If anyone goes off on too much of a tangent, I might wiggle my pen at them to bring them back on track.

Our first question is from John Finnie, who is attending the meeting remotely.

John Finnie

Good morning, panel. Convener, I am conscious that the nature of the questions that I posed to our earlier panel brought lengthy answers so, if I may, for this panel I will combine the two questions that I asked earlier. I am sure that our current witnesses will have been listening in to the earlier panel, so they will know that my questions have a number of parts.

In your professional experience, what is your assessment of the scale and nature of the problem of protecting livestock? Do we have enough evidence to make an accurate assessment of that and of how it should be addressed? Is there a need for new legislation? If there is such evidence, how might we overcome such problems?

Mike Flynn (Scottish SPCA)

Good morning, Mr Finnie. Good morning, convener. I thank the committee for inviting the Scottish SPCA to the meeting.

The survey that Fiona Lovatt mentioned in her earlier evidence was very good. It clearly showed that, as the Scottish SPCA has always known, such incidents are widely underreported. Many farmers just do not see the point in reporting them, because they think that the dog owners will never be traced. A lot of them also will not claim on their insurance, for fear of their premiums going up.

The Convener

Steve Jenkinson wants to come in on that.

Steve Jenkinson (Kennel Club)

Good morning. The Kennel Club does not keep data on such incidents but, as we pointed out in our submission, we are mindful of the huge disparity between elements in the available data. At the end of the day, though, one incident is one too many.

I will make full disclosure by saying that, on my livestock holding here in Orkney, I have been a victim of livestock worrying, and some of my animals have been killed. Whether it happens more or less frequently is not the issue, though; instead, we need to focus on the victims, especially the farmers.

At the time of such an incident, it is easy for the victim to feel vengeful and to want penalties to be imposed. However, when the police came and asked me what I wanted to happen, I just wanted the worrying to stop and not to happen again. In advising the Kennel Club, and in general, my focus has therefore been to say that figures on how often livestock worrying happens might be interesting, but knowing why it happens will provide us with the best interventions that might change things.

We have already heard about two threads of the problem. The first is free-ranging dogs, such as those that escape from home, which account for about half of incidents; and the other is dogs who are out with walkers. The key point is that interventions to deal with those two aspects are very different. There is a lot of talk to the effect that having greater penalties would be a better deterrent and would make it clear to owners that their dogs killing sheep or other livestock is not acceptable. I am not aware of any dog owner who has ever thought that that was acceptable. They might be misguided and not understand that their dog running round in a field of ewes can cause them to abort.

10:30  



Legislation to deal with repeat, reckless, wilful offenders is useful but, for us, the issue is more about asking why sheep worrying is happening and getting the right interventions than it is about arguing over the huge disparity between the figures. We still need to do something, but we need to be sure that we are doing the right thing. We are not sure that lower numbers will help us get the right interventions to help the farmers who suffer.

John Finnie

In the light of what you have said, do you feel that there is a need for new legislation? I would like the other witness to answer that as well.

Steve Jenkinson

It follows on from that. Because of my holding, I am a NFU Scotland member as well. The NFUS reports that, when dog control notices have been used, they have been useful. The great thing about them is that they can deal with why a problem has happened. If it has happened because a dog has escaped, a dog control notice can require someone to keep their boundaries correctly secure. If children were not walking their dog responsibly, it can deal with that. Specific measures can be targeted to deal with the problem.

It is hard to say what effect the legislation will have on the people who wilfully cause sheep worrying, whoever they may be—they are a very small minority. If I am honest, there is no reason to oppose greater penalties per se, but the bill seems to be a missed opportunity to deal with the causes. For example, if a pedestrian was killed by a driver who came off a bend in the road, we would clearly think that that would not have happened if that person had not been driving that car, but we do not just penalise that driver, because the reason for the accident could have been bad road design or a fault in the car, or the person could have been drink driving. There could have been all sorts of reasons, and we deal with the reasons why things happen.

My interest is in seeing the problem not happen so much, if at all, to me and many other farmers. On whether we should focus on penalties and whether they are a big deterrent, what could be a bigger deterrent than your much-loved family animal being shot? If we are going to have legislation, it would be nice if it focused on making a difference. It is great that the member has introduced the bill, but it seems a missed opportunity to make a difference by dealing with the underlying causes. That is the disappointment.

Bridget Jones (NatureScot)

Good morning, everyone. On the first part of the question, on the evidence of the scale of the issue, we do not hold data specifically on these kinds of incidents. However, we get feedback through the local access forum meetings with our national access forum and it would be fair to say that behavioural issues to do with dog ownership and responsible access get raised fairly regularly. Any evidence that is out there is very useful for us, particularly because a large part of our work is to encourage responsible behaviour and encourage compliance with the Scottish outdoor access code. That aspect is important.

As other folk have said, the legislation could do with being updated. It would be useful to update the definitions of terms such as livestock and to bring the legislation into this century. We see the role of enforcement as being one element of how to help manage people’s enjoyment of the outdoors, but management and education are as important, if not more so, in ensuring prevention.

Paula Boyden (Dogs Trust)

We accept that livestock crime is underreported. If we are to be able to move forward, first and foremost, we need good, robust recording and reporting. What I mean by that is standardised recording of incidents. We were very encouraged to hear that the Scottish partnership against rural crime is recording all incidents, and it is great that Scotland has a single police force, which makes life a lot easier. What we are seeing from reports from the National Police Chiefs Council, for example, is that there is a huge variation. We need to make sure that recording is standardised, not only so that we know what we are dealing with but so that, should the bill be passed, we can assess whether it is being beneficial. Reporting at the moment focuses on the numbers, but we might need to look at the impact or the level of suffering that has been encountered by the farm.

Do we need new legislation? I would say that we do. The current legislation is outdated in terms of the penalties and the species covered. Again, I agree with the other witnesses that this is only one part of it. The challenge for this legislation is that its primary impact comes after the event has happened. We need to look at prevention, whether it be education or management, but we need to look a little bit more broadly to see whether we can stop these incidents from happening in the first place.

The Convener

John, I think that Stewart Stevenson wants to come in. I would be very happy to come back to you after that, if you have further questions to ask.

John Finnie

I think that my questions have been covered, convener.

Stewart Stevenson

I suspect that my question is for Paula Boyden. What proportion of the dog population in Scotland or in the UK is represented by huskies and Alsatians—German shepherds?

Paula Boyden

Sadly, we do not have that data. How many dogs are in Scotland is a matter of question. The most current figures that we have are from the Pet Food Manufacturing Association, which does an annual survey. Its estimate is that there are more than 700,000 dogs in Scotland.

I should sound a note of caution. The most prevalent breeds for attacking livestock appear to be huskies and German shepherds, but I would ask whether huskies and German shepherds are more prone to that activity, or whether that is a reflection of the sorts of owners that those dogs have. We have to be cautious about focusing on those particular breeds.

The Convener

Mike Flynn, you wanted to come back in on a point that was raised in that answer.

Mike Flynn

I just wanted to go back to what the gentleman said. We are here to represent not just dogs but all animals in Scotland. Having witnessed some sheep attacks, I know that they can be horrendous. People must remember that we have been doing education on this for at least 30 years, and I know that Alan Dron’s group has been doing it, certainly for the past couple of years, along with the National Sheep Association.

We must remember that practically 90 per cent of all these attacks are preventable. There is a basic premise in law that you are not allowed to let your dog stray and, if you have a dog, it must be kept under control. If everybody had their dog under control, this would not happen.

Sometimes when an attack happens, it is inadvertent, but there are repeat offenders. I am therefore fully supportive of Emma Harper’s bill. We must have some kind of sustainable penalty. The only time I see the number of attacks going down in a region is when a farmer takes the law into his own hands and kills the dog, which he is perfectly entitled to do if it is attacking his livestock. That seems to bring the prevalence in that area down for a while. However, if somebody gets a £50 fine and their dog back, that means nothing to anyone.

The Convener

John Finnie, does that raise further points for you, or are you happy with the issues that you have raised?

John Finnie

This is a bit off script, but I have a question for Mr Flynn. Accepting that legislation is about how we control how humans behave, is there ever a situation in which perhaps an aberration, such as a brain tumour, could mean that a dog’s behaviour is no longer predictable. I appreciate that you would say that the dog should be under control in any case, but I wonder whether you wish to comment on that.

Mike Flynn

Yes, there could be a veterinary reason, and that is one example where a veterinary surgeons examination would be good. However, if the dog is under control, it would not matter if it had a mini stroke—it would not make any difference.

I can think of a couple of occasions in my 34 years with the society when an owner has lost a dog that strayed and has done literally everything to try to get it back—they have informed the police, the society and dog wardens. I can remember a case in West Lothian when it took us three weeks to put out a live trap to catch the dog. It had been worrying sheep, but everybody was trying everything. With other people, if their dog goes out, they just do not care. It is down to responsible ownership.

Richard Lyle

Will the bill as drafted help to reduce the number of incidents of livestock worrying, and can it be improved to make it more effective?

Paula Boyden

I certainly anticipate that the bill will reduce incidents through increased penalties as well as the realisation that it is not a victimless crime and that the impacts on the farming community are huge. One would hope that, with some high-profile cases that show the impact and the losses that are incurred—I do not mean just financial losses—the bill will ultimately send a salutary message to irresponsible dog owners who allow their dogs to stray.

Steve Jenkinson

I will first go back to the question about dog breeds. The Kennel Club’s view is that, as Paula Boyden said, any dog can be a problem, so looking at specific breeds can be a red herring. However, just out of interest, according to the register of pedigree dogs, German shepherds were the eighth most frequently registered dog in the past year. Huskies were not in the top 20, but 397 husky puppies were registered last year.

On the question of how the bill can help, thinking of the two reasons why such incidents can happen, we know from studies that have been done on sites that are heavily used by dog walkers and which have eliminated sheep worrying that good information to help dog owners avoid conflict is key. People who go out walking their dogs want to have a happy, healthy and hassle-free walk. Nobody goes out thinking, “I hate sheep,” or whatever. On sites—particularly local authority sites—where people turn up and see credible signage that says that, if you go one way, there are sheep, and if you go a different way, there are no sheep, people will choose the least-hassle option. The information needs to be credible and timely, but we have seen with sites where graziers were going to take their animals away because of the frequency of livestock worrying that, when people turned up in the car park and good information was provided, that dealt with the problem.

We know that there is sometimes a problem with signage. I am mindful that the insurer NFU Mutual says that only 27 per cent of farmers use signage anyway but, if a sign saying that there are sheep or lambs in a field is left up all year and people have gone past it three or four times and there have been no livestock there, people will ignore it, just as much as people ignore signs if they are going down the M9 and are told that there are roadworks ahead but they do not see any.

For 85 per cent of dog walkers, exercising their dog off the lead is the single most important thing for them. That in no way justifies livestock worrying, but we need to remember that walking your dog is one of the top two lifestyle factors for keeping people active and healthy in Scotland. We therefore need to help people to make good choices. If their dog is happy when they walk, they will walk more. We should not suppress that, but we should help people to make good choices.

One could take a principled approach and say that dogs should always be under control in the countryside because they are a danger to themselves, never mind other people. However, we should consider the approach to other types of rural crime such as theft. I have been to events run by SPARC and by Alan Dron and others that involve telling people about what they can do to prevent rural theft on their land. We feel that, equally, there needs to be a partnership approach on the issue of dogs that involves bodies helping farmers and providing the right information. As I said, no dog walker goes out intending to have such problems.

On the point that 50 per cent of dogs that are involved in incidents are free roaming, there is a need to raise awareness of that. I often speak to dog owners who say that their dog is a country dog, a rural dog or a crofter’s dog or whatever. They say, “He goes away, he comes back and he doesn’t cause any harm,” but, actually, they do not know that. It is good to report free-ranging dogs to the local authority and get a dog control notice.

10:45  



Richard Lyle

Before I ask my next question, I would like to ask Steve Jenkinson about something else. I used to be a dog owner—I had two Yorkshire terriers. The Kennel Club is a respected organisation. Does it have anything on its website about sheep worrying? I cannot find anything. What is the position of the Kennel Club? Does it try to inform people who have dogs about the situation?

Steve Jenkinson

I act on behalf of the Kennel Club, and the Scottish Kennel Club comes on board with that. The key thing for us is that this is an issue for all dogs, not just pedigree dogs. In Scotland, we focus our attention on working with the national access forum. One of the key things that we have done is ensure that the information is clear. When we talk about worrying or whatever, our message has always been that it is not acceptable for dogs to approach livestock or wildlife. The Scottish Parliament information centre briefing highlights the work that NatureScot has done to produce clear, bullet-point messages to help people understand the problem. We feel that there must be a joint approach. To be honest, the issue does not just involve the people who visit our website. We need to take the message to people who are going out for a walk or something, not just those people who have a pedigree dog.

I hope that helps. The SPICe briefing contains the wording that was agreed by us, NFU Scotland and SPARC. There is a recognition that the wording was previously too woolly and unclear, so we need to push out that new wording.

Richard Lyle

Perhaps you can ask the Kennel Club to update its website.

What is the understanding of our witnesses of the most common circumstances around livestock worrying?

Steve Jenkinson

Would you like me to answer that, convener? I am aware that I have been speaking quite a lot.

The Convener

I would like someone else to come in, if possible. Bridget Jones could answer next, followed by Paula Boyden, and then we will come back to you, Steve.

I remind witnesses that they should keep an eye on me, because I tend to waggle my pen when I want to bring somebody else in. I want to give everyone a fair crack of the whip, and the other option is to cut the microphones, which I object to doing.

Bridget Jones

On the information that is provided to the public about responsible behaviour and dog ownership, the Scottish countryside access code website and associated websites have all that information on them. As Stephen Jenkinson alluded, most—if not all—of that advice is produced in collaboration by NFU Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, SPARC, the Kennel Club and so on, which ensures that we get good messages out there that work. The information that is produced to encourage responsible dog ownership and behaviour in the outdoors takes all sorts of forms—signage, posters, training videos and so on. You should look at that resource. We run various campaigns as part of that, some of which have been incorporated in the Covid-19 campaign work that we have been doing to encourage responsible behaviour in people’s daily exercise—dog messages are in there, too.

Over the years, we have run various campaigns, particularly focusing on lambing. That brings me to the question that was asked about the most common issues. Lambing time is probably the biggest situation that we are asked to help to raise awareness about, and it involves the months in the early part of the year—from January through to even as far as June or July—as well as the period prior to lambing taking place, when pregnant ewes are in the fields and on the hillsides.

That is probably enough from me.

Paula Boyden

As we heard from SPARC, one of the key things to bear in mind is that, in 50 per cent of the incidents that are recorded, no owner is present; the dog is on its own. The National Police Chiefs Council’s four-year survey suggests that that figure is as high as two thirds, and it is even higher in some police forces. We need to look at why those dogs are unaccompanied. As one of the previous witnesses said, we can have good signage, but how do we manage the situation if the owner is not there? What is happening to allow the dogs to roam free? Are they escaping from gardens, or are owners letting them out through the front door? That is a huge area in which we can aim to prevent some of the incidents from happening.

The Convener

I am happy to bring in Steve Jenkinson, briefly.

Steve Jenkinson

I think that everyone else has covered what I was going to say. The key thing is being aware of why such incidents happen and then having the right interventions. Issuing fines is a small but significant part of the story. We want to prevent the incidents happening rather than deal with people after the event.

Colin Smyth

Good morning. Some of the evidence that the committee has received has highlighted the need to better enforce existing measures. In relation to livestock worrying, would increased use of dog control notices be beneficial? Allied to that, are there other methods that need to be better employed to ensure that any legislation that is passed by the Parliament will be effective?

Paula Boyden

I absolutely agree with the question. Dog control notices could be used in such instances, but a couple of things need to happen to enable them to be used. We need to ensure that there is good communication between local authorities and the police, but we also need a means of tracing dogs. If a dog control notice is issued in one local authority area, what happens if the owner or the dog strays out of that area? How do we know that a dog control notice has been imposed on that dog? With some administrative support, dog control notices could be used to much better effect.

Bridget Jones

I will pick up on non-legislative approaches. I want to talk about education and awareness raising, but there are also management measures. We should encourage the use of good, current, relevant and attractive signage to ensure that the public are aware of whatever is ahead of them, whether it is lambs or new livestock in a field or whatever.

It has been mentioned already, but I cannot overemphasise the importance of providing good information. Dog walkers tend to be quite habitual; they use regular routes. The dog-walking circuit can be a daily or twice-daily feature of their activity, so they are quite a good audience to pinpoint and target in order to get messages across.

Dog walkers like to stay away from livestock. They are looking for easy and enjoyable walks, so management measures include ensuring that paths are there or, if lambing is happening in the field, that alternative routes are available. Good information should be provided about that. There should also be good fencing and gate arrangements. Work should be done with the access officers of local authorities and national park authorities, and potentially with the local community. There might be a community path group in the area that might be able to help with funding for new path arrangements and so on.

There are other aspects that can help land managers to manage the issue through support and, potentially, even funding.

Mike Flynn

I go back to what Kirsteen Mackenzie from Perth and Kinross Council said in the previous session. Dog control notices can be very effective but, with no disrespect to anybody who is involved in dealing with them, the services are grossly understaffed and underfunded. Certain local authorities do not have an appointed person but will just put somebody who works in a different department onto issuing dog control notices.

In either Aberdeen or Aberdeenshire, if the police charge somebody with a livestock worrying offence, they will issue a control notice, but that is not a joined-up thing. There is not enough co-ordination, and there are so many crossovers in legislation. If a dog is unattended, it is technically a stray dog, and a stray dog is out of the system in seven days. That is legally binding. There is lots of legislation that could be used, but it is not currently adopted.

Steve Jenkinson

I reaffirm the value of dog control notices. They are really good, particularly given the balance between criminal and civil law. It can be sufficient to take preventative action instead of going down the criminal route, particularly when the incident happened unintentionally.

If we are saying that people do not have the resources to issue dog control notices, which can be done much more quickly and easily because of how they are constructed, we have to ask how criminal sanctions are going to be applied, too. Somebody will need to use resources to investigate and take action, and that time will be spent after incidents have happened, rather than preventatively.

Peter Chapman

Good morning, folks. We have strayed a wee bit into this area already, but we all know that, as far as this crime is concerned, prevention is better than cure. Some of the panel have spoken a wee bit about the need for better signage and information, but what about improved training for dogs and dog owners? What do you think that should look like?

How might a higher level of training be ensured, given that we heard—I think that it was from Steve Jenkinson, but it may not have been; it does not matter—that we have been trying to train owners and dogs better for the past 30 years yet the problem still exists. What can we do better, as far as training dogs and their owners is concerned, to ensure that there are fewer such crimes?

Mike Flynn

It is down to education. As I said, we have been trying that for over 30 years. Before Covid came in, our education officers spoke to over 240,000 children throughout Scotland, and in our livestock section we talk about the dangers of dogs not being under control. Education is always the key thing here.

Some people just do not believe that their dog would do it. Paula Boyden and Steve Jenkinson are right; we should not just focus on German shepherd dogs and huskies, because any dog of a decent size is capable of the behaviour. I remember a lady, many years ago, who had walked her dog around the same fields for eight years and one day it just took off. She actually went to the farmer to report it herself—she was very responsible. She was devastated, but she had had no indication that her dog would do it. One day it just decided to take off. As we heard earlier, the reason might have been that there was something physically wrong with the dog.

Education is key, and we would like to think that, if the bill is passed, it will be implemented along with a nationwide campaign to highlight the potential dangers and the fact that the penalties are now severe and people could lose their dogs. As I said, under the right circumstances, a farmer can currently destroy a dog if the owner cannot control it and it is harrying his sheep.

Steve Jenkinson

People have usefully made the point that the crime is invariably unintentional and education is key. One of the cantons in Switzerland requires people to take a dog ownership test, which is like a driving test, before they can get a dog. When I was studying the psychology of people and their pets at the University of Southampton, one of my colleagues looked at that approach but they found that there was no net benefit. Some people were going to be good dog owners anyway and others were not. The fact that someone had passed the test did not necessarily mean that they would be a good dog owner.

Education is certainly key. I do not want to undermine the value of sheep, but education is particularly important because these things are often symptoms of poor dog welfare and poor dog keeping—they are symptomatic of a wider issue. Through our good citizen training scheme, which operates all across the UK and extensively throughout Scotland, we are developing new outdoor modules. Dog training often happens inside, where there are no sheep and deer, and training outside can be really valuable.

The key thing is that, once we see the signs—for instance, a dog having strayed or there having been an incident—we must deal with it straight away. Dog control notices can do that quite swiftly.

11:00  



Peter Chapman

Does Steve Jenkinson feel that the increased penalties that come with the bill are part of the solution as well? He made the point very strongly that nobody wants these incidents to happen. However, will the fact that penalties have increased get back to general dog owners and make them realise that it is a real crime? It is about education, but also about the penalty that goes with allowing attacks to happen. Do you accept that the penalty needs to be increased as well?

Steve Jenkinson

Penalties certainly need to be there, because people who let these attacks happen often do not look after their dogs in a lot of other ways. However, relying on a penalty is a tad naive. It needs to be part of a suite of measures.

Sentencing guidelines for people who let attacks happen wilfully or recklessly will be really important. We do need penalties, and it would be good to extend the bill’s coverage to all the other animals that have been mentioned, because no animal should suffer a dog attack. However, it would be better if the penalties were more integrated with preventative measures and used as a last resort in the case of people who wilfully repeat the offence.

Paula Boyden

Obviously, education is key. We need to encourage folks to recognise that training their dog is the norm. We come across a lot of dog owners who, because they have had a dog before, feel that they do not need to go to any sort of training classes.

I am here on behalf of Dogs Trust, but I am also a veterinary surgeon and I know that, if I could give people a tablet to make their dog behave, they would willingly give it. However, training takes time and effort, and some people do not have the time or inclination to put the effort in as soon as they can when they get a dog. Therefore, we need to focus on that. We have set up a dog training school to encourage folks to recognise that training is not only for puppy owners but for anybody who has recently got a dog.

You will not be surprised to hear that a number of the dogs that come into our care have underlying behavioural issues. That is because it takes time and effort for people to train the dogs, to address and resolve those issues. I cannot overemphasise the importance of training. However, sitting alongside that—and I appreciate that it is left of field for this forum—we need to look at regulation of the whole world of dog training and behaviour management, to ensure that dogs are appropriately treated and that we are not negatively impacting on their welfare with what we are trying to do in the training process.

Bridget Jones

Others have covered the topic quite well but, yes, training is a component part of improving people’s understanding of what they need to do.

Perhaps more integrated content is the trick to ensuring an understanding of what access rights and responsibilities are, as is a better understanding of land use in Scotland. There is possibly an opportunity for the public to learn a bit more about what goes on in the countryside in relation to land management and use. A wider understanding would be to everybody’s benefit, but, in this case, it would particularly benefit people who have dogs.

Oliver Mundell

Penalties have probably been quite comprehensively covered. What are the panel’s views on requiring compensation for livestock owners?

Paula Boyden

I agree that there should be an element of compensation, as a person’s livelihood is affected. The cost is clearly financial, but it also goes much wider because of the emotional impact on the farmer. It is not just about the financial loss of the sheep; a farmer might have spent years building a pedigree, closed flock and they will not be able to resolve damage to that overnight. There are also all the subsequent losses. There is the immediate loss of the animals that have been killed, and animals that have been seriously injured might need either treatment or euthanasia. There are also subsequent losses, such as abortion in ewes and suchlike, which we need to look at.

I agree that there should be compensation, and it would make sense to look at that when the case comes to court. It goes back my previous comment about the need to understand the level of suffering that is incurred by those animals, so that we can have a full view of the impact of an incident. The compensation should be proportionate to the situation.

Steve Jenkinson

At the end of the day, this is a people problem, not a dog problem. It is quite reasonable for farmers to be compensated for the problem. However, along with compensation there should be good action to ensure that the incident does not happen again. That is it.

The Convener

Bridget, do you have any views on that?

Bridget Jones

I agree that compensation seems sensible.

Mike Flynn

Compensation is very important, because of all the financial costs, but you can only get compensation from someone who can afford to pay it. We have personal experience of that issue through the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. I would like to see all reasonable costs of the enforcement agency being recouped from the accused person if they are found guilty.

You have heard from the police and the local authorities that they do not have the financial resource. If a person is wilfully allowing it and the dog is left with them, it is likely to happen again. If you seize the dog, the kennelling costs will be about £15 per dog per day, and it can take up to a year for the case to get to court. Local authorities and the police simply cannot afford that.

The Convener

Should there be limits to compensation? Stewart Stevenson suggested that tups could be—and I can say that they are—worth in excess of £300,000. A breeding ewe could be worth £7,000 or £8,000. It is unlikely that farmers will have them individually insured, because insurance runs probably at 20 per cent of the value of the animal, which makes it prohibitive. Should there be a limit on how much compensation farmers should get, or should it be mandatory for dog owners to have insurance to cover the costs of potential damage by their animals? I am interested in your views on that, Mike.

Mike Flynn

It goes back to my previous answer. You can set any limit you want, but if the person does not have the means to pay it, it is not going to be paid. To be fair, neither the owner nor the dog knows whether it is attacking a £30,000 tup or something that Alan Dron could buy for £70. As far as I am concerned, if a person’s neglect has caused the incident and they can afford to pay the farmer the full value, that should happen.

The Convener

Thank you. I have a further question. If an inspecting body is to be appointed to assist in the investigation of livestock worrying cases, which body would be the most appropriate and what additional training would they need? We will start off with Bridget Jones.

Bridget Jones

I am going to duck that question. I will leave it to others.

The Convener

Okay—that is a shoulder shrug. Mike, I will go back to you first and then widen it out, if necessary.

Mike Flynn

As I hope the panel will know, all our inspectors are authorised to enforce the welfare provisions of the 2006 act. We have the exact same authority as the police, except that we cannot make an arrest or stop a vehicle. We made it plain in our submission that we do not want to be the primary enforcer of the offence, but I can assure the committee that we have never refused a request from the police to assist them. They are the primary reporters of these matters to the Crown Office, and we will continue to assist the police in any way we can, as well as the local authorities, should they become involved.

The Convener

I do not see anyone else wanting to come in. I have got myself confused, for which I apologise to Mr Stevenson. I should have taken him before I asked my question. I come to him now.

Stewart Stevenson

Thank you, convener. Your apology is fully accepted—but not necessary, I hasten to add.

We have been talking about dog control notices, but I now want to talk about human control notices. Steve Jenkinson said that this is a people problem, not a dog problem, and that is easy to agree with. Are the order-making powers to disqualify owners from owning dogs appropriate and proportionate? If not, how could they be improved? That is the first of my questions.

I draw the witnesses’ attention to the observation, made by the previous panel of witnesses, that enforcement in rural areas is extremely difficult. I did not find myself fundamentally disagreeing with that. There are only three local authority officers in the whole of Perthshire, for example. That is an awful lot of ground to cover and not many people.

Paula Boyden

There is scope for banning an owner from keeping a dog, but the action must be proportionate. It would be disproportionate to apply a ban to, for example, a first-time offender whose dog had literally escaped because of an error. However, if there are repeat offenders who clearly do not see the gravity of what has happened, that option should be available.

We face those challenges already. Mike Flynn will know more about this than I do, but members of the public are banned from keeping animals under the 2006 act, which has a similar process. It will always be a challenge to enforce a ban.

I understand from some of my RSPCA colleagues with whom I work that people quite often report individuals. Therefore, to a degree, we have to rely on that good will. I do not underestimate the challenges, but the important aspect is that the action must be proportionate.

I appreciate that this example again refers to south of the border. The National Police Chiefs Council survey, which covers a period of four years, shows that 11 per cent of the dogs involved were repeat offenders. Therefore, we are talking about a minority. However, we should at least have the ability to use that power against someone who is completely indiscriminate in allowing their dog to roam.

Steve Jenkinson

To follow on from Paula Boyden’s comments, we need the measures to be proportionate. However, we also must ensure that we are dealing with the issue. In the earlier session, it was said, “If you go to the house and the dog is in the house, you know who the owner is.” You do not—you do not know who the keeper is.

We see this in other dangerous dogs legislation—the issue of who owns a dog and who you take the action against is quite a difficult one. If you ban one person, the dog could be transferred to someone else in the same household, and the issues that relate to why the dog escaped in the first place would be left unresolved. Alternatively, they may just dispose of the dog to an even less suitable home.

If there is an issue in which sheep worrying is symptomatic of poor welfare of a dog, it is in the dog’s interests for it to be removed. However, if we are talking about a gate being left open, a child having done something, or whatever it may be, and the owner has behaved reasonably in all respects—life catches up with us in some cases—that would be inappropriate.

A key issue is making sure that the sentencing guidelines ensure that the powers are used proportionately. To return to the point that I made at the start of the session, when I was asked by the police what I wanted to happen after the incident, I said that we need to focus on what the best thing is to do to prevent it from happening again. That will not necessarily be dealt with if a dog goes to live somewhere else—that could make it worse.

The Convener

Mike Flynn has spoken strongly on the issue. Do you want to add anything, Mike?

Mike Flynn

Yes. Luckily, under the current system, it does not matter what the legislation says; it is ultimately up to the sheriff who is dealing with the case to decide on its individual merits.

If we are talking about a first-time offender who is totally innocent—if it was a pure accident—that is one thing; but if we are talking about a repeat offender or someone who is reckless and pays no regard to what has happened, a ban should come in. That ban should not just be a ban on ownership; it should also be a ban on keeping or being in control of a dog. If a person says that the dog belongs to their wife but they are caught in control of it in the open air, they are breaking that ban. The ban must encompass everything.

The Convener

Do you want to come back on that, Stewart?

Stewart Stevenson

I want to move on to the next of my questions, but I see that someone else wants to come in.

The Convener

Peter Chapman has a related question, so I will bring him in and come back to you.

11:15  



Peter Chapman

What does the panel think about the question of when—if ever—a dog should be destroyed? We know that a dog that has attacked livestock is likely to do it again, if it gets the opportunity, as it has got the taste for blood.

We have heard that, in the case of repeat offenders, the dog could or should be seized. However, what happens to that dog at that stage? If that dog has been seized because it has repeatedly attacked livestock, what should happen to that dog at that point? Should it be destroyed?

The Convener

Mike, I will ask you to reply first, and then come to the others.

Mike Flynn

Again, it would be decided on an individual basis. We get dogs—dangerous dogs or whatever—in various circumstances. Each dog is assessed by our staff of veterinary surgeons and animal behaviourists. As I said earlier, most of the attacks are entirely preventable, so if it is decided that simply keeping the dog under proper control would prevent the attacks, that could happen. Destroying the dog would not be automatic.

Steve Jenkinson

I totally agree. It comes back to the point that Paula Boyden made about the fact that any dog can be involved in sheep worrying. The fact that a dog has not done it before does not mean that it will not do it. A dog just playing in a field of in-lamb ewes and not causing any damage to them can cause those animals to abort. The owner might say that it was only playing, and that might be true, but the consequences can be severe.

Giving a death sentence to a dog that has attacked livestock once is inappropriate and excessive. As Mike Flynn said, we are talking about a preventable crime and we need to look at the wider issues. Certainly, if the sheep worrying is caused because the dog is in an untreatable home and its welfare is compromised in other ways, I would prefer that dog to be taken away from that home. As was said earlier, this is a people problem, not a dog problem. A dog that has attacked livestock could have a full and happy life in another home, where it could help people to take part in the healthy exercise of dog walking in a different context.

Paula Boyden

I agree with Steve Jenkinson. A dog that has attacked livestock could easily thrive in a different environment. However, if a dog is moved to another home, it should also receive appropriate rehabilitation and training. I am not saying that it should live in a rural environment where it might do it again; I am talking about an element of rehabilitation and training so that the new owner can at least spot the signs of the dog being alerted to other animals.

I think that euthanising a dog on the basis of an incident, without going through a process first, would be incredibly heavy handed.

Stewart Stevenson

I suspect that the answer to my question has been developed in some of the previous answers, but I am specifically interested in the powers to exclude offending owners from walking dogs on agricultural land. What are your thoughts on that? In particular, how do people know what is agricultural land? For example, our three acres of rough hill grazing is occupied by animals for only a third of the year. For two thirds of the year, it just looks like an empty grass field. Indeed, only a few hundred metres away, there is land that is a site of special scientific interest and is not agricultural land, but that difference may not be obvious to the casual observer.

How useful do you think the power is? Are there circumstances in which it could be helpful or where it might be challenging? I accept that I might have attempted to answer that latter question myself.

The Convener

I suspect that you might have done, Stewart, but let us see if Bridget Jones has an answer.

Bridget Jones

I think that you have answered the question—indeed, I think that the previous panel answered it, too.

The issue of enforceability is an important aspect, as is the issue of the public’s understanding of agricultural land. My previous point about land use in Scotland fits with that. It is a tricky issue for the public to understand.

Mike Flynn

As Steve Jenkinson said, a lot of responsible farmers put up signs saying “Livestock”. However, if you have walked past that sign for eight months and never seen any livestock, it kind of loses its impact.

Signage should be targeted at times when there is livestock present. Everyone has to access somewhere at some time, so, if there was a reasonable place to put that sign, you could reasonably expect you know that livestock was present.

Steve Jenkinson

This is a key point. The 1953 act that the bill refers to defines agricultural land as, amongst other things,

“any land used for grazing”.

That makes me think of the Highlands and Islands, where North Ronaldsay sheep graze on the beach. Basically, that definition means that agricultural land could be anywhere because, even in arable areas, crop rotation in fields means that there is some grazing on them. I just do not think that that approach would be helpful. I agree with the view that it would be far better for there to be targeted signs so that we can help people do the right thing. If a dog is not properly exercised, there will be other problems with it. That section of the bill should be scrutinised and, in my view, removed.

The Convener

I think that we have got a flavour of people’s feelings on the issue.

Maureen Watt

I would like to explore the issue of definitions a bit more closely. It is probably important to say that the bill involves consolidation and updating of existing legislation rather than being new legislation. Among respondents, there was near universal support for the expansion of the definition of livestock and types of land. However, there is confusion about some of the definitions. For example, in its submission, the Law Society of Scotland said that there is no definition of field—I am surprised at that. It says:

“Under section 1(2) (c) of the 1953 Act, the offence refers to worrying livestock as meaning: ‘being at large (that is to say not on a lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure in which there are sheep.’ We wonder if it would be better to define what a field is as common grazing may be a significant area which may or may not be enclosed. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code ... Refers to being ‘under close control’. Would this be better than reference to a lead? The Code should be consistent with the legislation for purposes of clarity and transparency.”

I should note, as an aside, that I understand that “common grazing” has another meaning under crofting legislation. What are your views of the extension of the definitions in the 1953 act, and are there areas where you feel that they should be clarified?

The Convener

I guess that, if all the witnesses were in the room, they would all look away so that somebody else would answer first. However, they do not have the ability to do that. As the question concerns outdoor access, Bridget Jones is in the firing line first.

Bridget Jones

That is okay. On the Scottish outdoor access code, I will go back to basics, briefly. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 contains a right of responsible access to most land in Scotland. It explicitly says that anybody with a dog that is not under control falls outwith access rights. If your dog is not under control, access rights do not apply. The Scottish outdoor access code gives further advice and guidance on what responsible control would be. The issue is a little bit complicated but, to try to simplify it, if there is a field with young animals in it—lambs, calves, bulls—you do not take your dog into that field; that is responsible behaviour.

If there is a field with animals in it, but not young, you can take your dog into it, but it must be on a lead or under close control. To clarify, under close control generally means close at heel. That is a little bit easier for the public to understand. The dog should be at your heel. That is why we have the split between when your dog is on a lead and when your dog can be off the lead but under close control. When you get to the wider countryside, your dog needs to be under close control and you need to stay away from animals if you can.

I hope that that clarifies the position in the context of the Scottish outdoor access code.

Steve Jenkinson

As has been said, this is a nightmare. The key issue is the impact on the farmer or the suffering of the animal. It does not matter whether it is an enclosed field or inbye land or common grazings. I encourage the committee to look at deed rather than location, because it is a nightmare.

The bill should say that dogs should not attack animals or livestock anywhere. That gives far greater focus. There are situations such as cattle in Pollok park, and the Kennel Club has its own 7,500 acres of land where we have Galloway cattle and sheep. Are you saying that, in a big area like that, just because there might be sheep miles and miles away, you would not know? The onus should be on the owner to inform themselves with good information and not just allow their dogs to attack or worry livestock. Introducing definitions of location, apart from when livestock have strayed into somebody's garden, which is already dealt with under the legislation, and getting tied up in land is difficult for the reasons that the various bodies have said. It is just not acceptable for dogs to injure or attack livestock anywhere. This is a side issue and we should be careful not to fall into a trap here.

The Convener

Paula Boyden, do you want to come in here?

Paula Boyden

I have no comment to make on that; it is not my area of expertise. I agree with Kirsteen Mackenzie.

The Convener

In fairness, as everyone else has had a chance, Mike Flynn, do you want to say anything on that?

Mike Flynn

My only comment on that is that your idea of “close control” of your dog and my idea would be totally different. If it is on a lead, it is under control.

The Convener

I think that many owners might feel that they have their dog under control without using a lead.

Maureen Watt, is that all right for you?

Maureen Watt

That is fine, although I think that we will have our work cut out on this bit.

Christine Grahame

I was listening carefully to what Bridget Jones said about the access code. If the bill becomes law, will it be sufficient to put information into the access code to the effect that people are still allowed access but it is subject to them making sure that their animal does not worry sheep or other livestock? Is that sufficient, or does the access code need to be changed?

Bridget Jones

That would be sufficient. The code and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 are clear. As somebody said earlier, the important thing is that, if the legislation goes through, we have a public awareness-raising campaign and get the message out nice and clear for the public to understand.

Christine Grahame

That brings me neatly to my supplementary. I am the member who introduced the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 and, at that time, there was no duty on the Scottish Government to publicise members’ bills. That might be changing. Do you take the view that I take, which is that there is no point in the bill proceeding unless the public is aware of it, and unless it is tied up with the access code? A member does not have the money to publicise their bill, but the Government has, and to me, all legislation is equal.

I would like to hear the witnesses’ comments on publicity and the need not for one hit of publicity when the bill becomes law but for continuing public awareness raising.

Bridget Jones

Generally a rolling programme of education and awareness raising goes on, and it fluctuates each year depending on what the priority topics are at the time. There can be seasonal stuff at lambing time, for example.

In short, the answer is yes. We are fully aware that there are various issues that come along with access to the outdoors and dog walking. Recent research shows that not far shy of 50 per cent of people who access the outdoors to enjoy the countryside for health and wellbeing benefits are accompanied by a dog. Dogs are a primary motivator for getting people outdoors. We want to ensure that people are out there and are enjoying themselves responsibly.

11:30  



We work in conjunction with the national access forum, SPARC and land management and recreational non-governmental organisations to ensure that we have a good joined-up campaign so that the public know what they are and are not allowed to do and how to behave responsibly. If the bill goes through, with increases in fines and so on, we can incorporate that message in there, if it is appropriate to the audience we are targeting.

Christine Grahame

I want to give the witnesses the opportunity to put at the door of the Scottish Government a continuing duty to publicise the bill if it is passed. That has not happened with my member’s bill on the control of dogs or with other members’ bills, so I would like a little push for that. If the Government publicised such legislation, as it does its legislation, that would make it worth while for members to introduce bills.

Mike Flynn

I totally agree with Christine Grahame. Millions of people in Scotland, or at least hundreds of thousands, do not even know that her legislation on the control of dogs exists, and local authorities are not enforcing it correctly. People have to be made aware. As we said right at the beginning, such legislation has to be accompanied by a public campaign. That does not mean just having one advert in a newspaper on 1 April; it has to be continual.

Steve Jenkinson

I absolutely agree. There is no point in legislation if people do not know about it. The 2003 act, which underpins the access code, already says that access rights do not apply if a dog is not kept under proper control. That is very context specific and clear, and I do not think that anybody would argue that a dog that was worrying or attacking livestock was under proper control.

It is a key issue for us because, at the end of the day, deficiencies in this regard are often an animal welfare issue for the dog as well as for the livestock. I know that the people at Scottish Natural Heritage, which is now NatureScot, are working hard but, historically, there was a series of events to share good practice, which helped land managers and other access managers. The events were on all sorts of things, but we did a number of events on dogs. We are mindful that it seems that the resources are not there at the moment, yet given that the responsibilities on people taking access, land managers and the statutory agencies are a fundamental part of the access code, it seems unfair on dog owners and land managers if those agencies are not playing their part in educating. As we said at the start, this is an unintentional crime, and you deal with something unintentional by making sure that people are better informed. It is a brilliant question.

Paula Boyden

I agree with the previous comments. If the bill proceeds, there will be significant sanctions and penalties for the owners of dogs. That in itself could start to be the beginnings of a preventive tool. If folks realise that they will not just get away scot free or with a metaphorical slap on the wrist, that could be powerful. We will absolutely need to highlight and promote the fact that the legislation is there and that it can and will be used.

The Convener

I ask Emma Harper, whose bill it is, to ask any questions that she has.

Emma Harper

To pick up on what Paula Boyden just said, the purpose of updating 67-year-old legislation is to convey the importance of the offence. I remind everybody that the bill is not new legislation; it will update old legislation.

Do we need to focus on compensation law that already exists? Rather than create a whole new set of compensation language, should the bill refer to existing compensation law?

I am also interested in whether panel members think that the number of recorded incidents would go up. The bill might bring a bit more gravitas, which might give farmers confidence that, when they reported offences, something would be done about them.

The Convener

I will give every panel member a chance to answer those questions.

Mike Flynn

I agree with Emma Harper. I reckon that, if the legislation were to be passed, more farmers would be encouraged to report incidents, thinking that that would be worth while if it would help to solve the problem.

As for compensation, I can only speak about the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, which contains measures for the Scottish SPCA to be compensated for its costs. However, if those are not paid willingly, we have to take civil action to recover them, which can take months to go through the courts and can be costly. At the end of the process, we often find that the person does not have the money to pay the costs anyway.

Steve Jenkinson

Although compensation provisions exist, they are not working. In my other role as a member of NFU Scotland, I am aware of a report of an incident on a farm in Kirknewton, in which the loss was £20,000. The dogs involved had come not with walkers but from an adjacent holding. Their owners received a £400 fine, but no compensation was awarded to the farmer. NFU Scotland has since asked the procurator fiscal and the Crown Office to increase the penalty.

That example illustrates that, although the power to award compensation is there in theory, it is not being used. We should take the opportunity to deal with that if we can. Although I will always come back to the issue of prevention, it is absolutely right that people should be properly compensated for what happens, but there are concerns about that.

Paula Boyden

As I mentioned earlier, the important point is that we need a good baseline for reporting. We suggest that that aspect is considered immediately, to ensure that there are good, robust reporting and recording mechanisms at the police level, so that we get consistent information. It is also important that we actively encourage farmers to report now rather than wait to see whether the bill is passed. That will give us a baseline so that we will know in future how effective the bill has been.

If there is already legislation on compensation, it would make sense to refer to that. However, it would be sensible to deal with the compensation aspect at the time of the case going to court, so that it is dealt with in one sitting rather than later on. The court would have the benefit of hearing the extent of the loss, including the level of suffering that was experienced by the sheep or other livestock involved. It would then have a full picture of the impact of the incident.

Bridget Jones

I echo Paula Boyden’s point about improving the quality of the information that we get when incidents are reported. That would help to target matters in our awareness-raising campaigns and other activity. Having a better idea of what was happening and where, and in what circumstances, would make that aspect of our job a bit easier.

The Convener

Emma, does that answer your questions?

Emma Harper

Yes. Thanks, convener. I have found the evidence session very helpful. It feels weird to sit on this side of the table, as the proposer of a bill. I thank the committee’s members and the witnesses for their input, which has been most helpful.

The Convener

Just before we close, I would like to ask a question that has sprung to my mind. Some people have mentioned the question of what might be considered appropriate signage. For example, if someone goes into the hills in Scotland, they might see no sheep for miles, but equally they might round a knoll and suddenly come across sheep that they did not know were there. However, it might not be appropriate to have signage in such a place. Do we not think that farmers should not have to rely on signage? They should rely on people knowing what is appropriate to do with their dog.

Mike Flynn

I agree with what you are saying. They should not have to rely on signage, but it is an extra safeguard for farmers. If you have moved livestock in an area and there is a suitable access point where you can warn people, that would be an added benefit. However, you are quite right. As the law stands, dogs should be under control.

Steve Jenkinson

You are absolutely right. There is an issue of context and the difference between, for example, a 3 or 4-acre field on the edge of Livingston and a big open grazing in the Highlands. A good comparison is that, when you are driving a car, you have the responsibility for how you drive—you are responsible for adjusting your speed, for example—but we still put up signs when there is a bend or a ford coming up to give drivers that little bit more information to make an informed decision. That is the point of signage.

If signage is everywhere, it loses value, but if it is put up somewhere where an incident has happened, perhaps unintentionally, that can help to keep it clear. If someone is entering an open grazing, signage can say, at the point of entry, “You may not see a sheep here now, but sheep are grazed here, so keep a lookout.”

Paula Boyden

It is clear that there is no one magic wand that will solve the issue. Signage is just one of the tools in the box that we can utilise. As has been mentioned, using signage at the appropriate time of year—so that people do not become conditioned to it, particularly if they walk the same route—to say that animals are present is just an extra warning. It is not a panacea, but it can be useful in the right context.

Bridget Jones

Signs are one of the tools in the box. If used well, signs can be quite effective, particularly in situations where there has been a change in circumstances. If the lambs are in a field, put a sign up, but do not leave it up all year, as people will just ignore it.

Signs should be viewed as part of a communications plan-type approach. There are all sorts of ways of getting messages across. Obviously, there are digital platforms and social media options available, but we should not forget the traditional method of talking to people face to face. Things such as that little article in the local newsletter or a visit to the community council to spread the word about issues in the area are all good ways of getting messages approach. A combined approach is the trick.

The Convener

Thanks very much. That brings us to the end of our questions this morning. I thank panel members for the evidence that they have given, which has been extremely helpful.

11:43 Meeting continued in private until 11:43.  



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Second meeting transcript

The Convener (Edward Mountain)

Good morning and welcome to the 23rd meeting in 2020 of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

The meeting will be conducted in a hybrid format, with three members—John Finnie, Richard Lyle and Stewart Stevenson—and our witnesses participating remotely.

Emma Harper, who is the member in charge of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, cannot participate as a committee member during our scrutiny of her bill. However, she will be joining us remotely, in her capacity as member in charge. I welcome Christine Grahame as Emma Harper’s substitute.

Agenda item 1 is the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. In taking evidence on the bill, we will hear from two panels. There are a lot of questions to get through, so short questions and short answers will help.

Before we go any further, I invite members to declare any relevant interests. I guess that Peter Chapman will want to do so.

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

Yes. I declare an interest as a partner in a farming business.

The Convener

Thank you. Stewart Stevenson may also want to declare an interest.

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I am the joint owner of a small agricultural holding, which is generally used for sheep grazing and is therefore relevant to the subject before us today.

The Convener

Thank you very much. I also declare an interest, as a member of a farming partnership.

I welcome the first panel of witnesses: Stephen Young, head of policy for Scottish Land & Estates; Charlie Adam, vice-president of NFU Scotland; and Jennifer Craig, chair of the National Sheep Association Scotland.

We will move straight to questions.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

Good morning to the witnesses, and thank you for your written evidence. To kick us off, what is your assessment of the scale and nature of the problem of livestock worrying and what are the most common circumstances in which it occurs?

Charlie Adam (NFU Scotland)

The problem is probably more widespread even than the evidence suggests, because quite a lot of incidents are unreported. It is also increasing. We had a survey done a couple of years ago that showed that 72 per cent of our members had been affected in one way or another. There is an increasing cost to NFU Mutual in payouts. In 2017 it paid out £1.6 million in compensation, which was 67 per cent higher than previously.

The problem is probably fairly widespread. It varies in degree and extent, but it is probably increasing—especially at present, because of increased access to the countryside.

The Convener

I am sorry, Mr Finnie—who do you want to hear from next?

John Finnie

I wish to hear from Ms White.

The Convener

I am not sure that I introduced Yvonne White at the outset of the meeting. I do not think that I did, on the basis that we could not see her, because her camera was malfunctioning or there was a technical issue.

Excuse me for not having introduced you. You are the chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation. The floor is yours, briefly.

Yvonne White (Scottish Crofting Federation)

I echo the view that dog worrying is certainly on the increase. It does not just affect areas near high-population areas; it is also on the increase in rural areas in the Highlands and Islands, particularly as more people are being attracted to and take advantage of the benefits of the countryside. Increasingly, there seems to be a lack of responsibility among dog owners, which is of concern. The amendment to the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 is therefore most welcome.

It is a fact that a lot more cases are happening, and it is not just sheep; I have had reports of calves and heifers being run over ravines by dogs that were off the lead.

Dog worrying is very much on the increase, and it is good that something will—I hope—be done about it.

Jennifer Craig (National Sheep Association Scotland)

I agree with what has been said in both previous answers. The problem is increasing—it is becoming more common. I think that it has been severely underreported in previous years, up until the past 18 months. We have seen an increase in the number of cases that are being reported. They are certainly being covered more widely in the media, so the problem is coming more to the public’s attention.

As Yvonne White pointed out, there are no specific areas in which the incidents occur. We currently have a nationwide issue.

Stephen Young (Scottish Land & Estates)

I completely agree with what has been said so far. There seems to be a growing issue. We have seen shocking images of injured animals, but there also unseen costs sometimes. Abortions are caused, and there is damage to fences from cattle being spooked. There are all sorts of issues, not just the deaths of, and injuries to, animals. There are also mental health and wellbeing issues for farmers.

All those things and all the figures are symptoms; the cause is irresponsible and reckless handling of animals. Getting to the crux of that and getting people to fully understand the severity of their actions in not controlling dogs are the big issues.

I agree with the other panellists that the issue is widespread, that it is not just about sheep and that it is not just in certain areas or near urban areas.

John Finnie

As the convener said, we have a lot of questions, so I will roll some together, if I may.

Do the panellists believe—given what we have heard, I suspect that they do—that we can make an accurate assessment of how the problem should be addressed? Is there specifically a need for new legislation? Where are the gaps in the existing legislation? I think that Mr Adam touched on the issue of underreporting. Are there other measures, including non-legislative measures, that could be used to encourage reporting?

Charlie Adam

There are a number of things in the bill, which we very much welcome as a step in the right direction, that could help with that. Obviously, one of those is simply widening the number of people who have powers to deal with issues when they arise. That will lead people to believe that, if they do not control their dog properly, somebody is likely to do something about it.

On the issue of underreporting, because the introduction of the bill has raised this issue, people will be much more inclined to report. That in itself is a valuable function.

Changing the penalty regime to one that is not just about fines would probably help, because in a situation in which someone cannot pay a fine and the penalty does not extend further than that, they may not have the same incentive to control their dog properly or be concerned about the consequences of not doing so.

The Convener

We will come to that specific issue later.

Jennifer Craig

I echo what Charlie Adam said. There is a lack of repercussions for someone who allows their dog to commit offences; there is no deterrent. In some cases, the penalties are non-existent or extremely lenient. It is not just about the financial cost, but a lot of people who experience more severe impacts from dog worrying lose money, because there is no compensation due to there being no penalty. There is no incentive for people to ensure that their dogs are under control and behaving themselves. There is a general consensus that they will not receive any punishment, and that is where we need the extra reinforcement from bodies that are able to enforce fines or other measures against people who are repeat offenders. In certain cases, we find the same people and dogs offending in the same situation. In general, there is nothing available to a farmer to tackle the people who cause issues in their area.

Yvonne White

John Finnie asked whether there was a need for new legislation and, for various reasons, I think that there is. Any new legislation should not only be about fines and imprisonment, although I agree with such measures being increased and used more widely—I hope that I do not sound like a “hang ‘em and flog ‘em” type—as they should go hand in hand with an increase in education, which should start in schools, although I am not sure how it would be done.

It is not ideal to address an issue after the event. The cruelty to the animals involved, the stress to humans and the economic cost should not be increasing in agricultural areas, so we need preventative measures. For when it happens, we need firm controls to prevent people from doing it again. Jennifer Craig made the point that, a lot of the time, the same owners are repeat offenders. I have personal evidence of that, and that has also been reported to me by members of the Scottish Crofting Federation.

Stephen Young

There is a need for a change in the legislation. The current legislation is relatively old, dating back to 1953, and the world has moved on quite a lot since then. The nature of farming has changed, as have the types of animals—camelids, deer and game birds—that have to be taken into consideration. It is just about updating and modernising what is there already.

On non-legislative things that we can do, education is key, as Yvonne White mentioned. Clear messaging is important, so that people understand the severity of what is happening. We often hear people saying, “My dog wouldn’t do that,” and not understanding the nature of how dogs are around livestock.

We welcome the change in language in the bill, including the change from dog “worrying” to dog “attacks”. “Worrying” can be brushed aside—it does not sound serious—yet we are talking about attacks. It is important to get the message across to people, so that they understand the severity of the issue, and to have that backed up by penalties, if required, for people who do not move on after being educated. We definitely need penalties for repeat offenders. There are also people who do not fully understand what the issue is, so we need a mix of education and penalties.

09:15  



Stewart Stevenson

As the answer to my question is unlikely to influence how we respond to the bill, I will not spend a lot of time on it. In earlier evidence sessions, we heard that the two main dog breeds that attack are German shepherds and huskies. I understand that there are a lot of German shepherds, but not many huskies. In the interest of saving time, I direct my question to Jennifer Craig solely. What is the National Sheep Association Scotland’s experience of the dog breeds that are involved in attacks?

Jennifer Craig

It is unfair to penalise certain breeds of dogs. I do not think that there is any evidence to suggest that certain breeds are more inclined to worry livestock than others. It is not a dog problem; it is a people problem. If you have a dog, you are responsible for it. A dog of any breed has the ability to attack or worry sheep. Some of the problem lies in people tending to think that smaller, fluffier dogs are less of an issue, but they can do just as much damage as bigger dogs, if not more. Penalising certain breeds of dogs is no use.

The Convener

I am glad that we are not victimising any particular dog breed, because it could open us up to criticism from breeders of those dogs.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

I was the member who brought forward the member’s bill that became the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, which brought about a big move towards a “deed not breed” approach, so I very much welcome Jennifer Craig’s response. A Jack Russell can do as much damage as a big dog, if not more. It is good to keep that in mind.

The Convener

I see most panel members nodding in agreement.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

The member who is promoting the bill commented that this is not new legislation but an update of old legislation that is 67 years old. Is this update of the law necessary? If so, why?

Jennifer Craig

Richard Lyle makes the point that the legislation is already there, but it certainly needs to be updated. As we have already mentioned, there has been an increase in the number of attacks and worrying incidents. It can certainly be argued that legislation that has been around for that long is not fit for purpose. It does not cover the issue that we have now and it needs to be updated for everyone’s sake—not just the farmers and the people whose livestock suffers attacks but dog owners, because most dog owners are responsible, yet they end up tarred with the same brush as those who are irresponsible and who need to be targeted by the bill.

Stephen Young

I totally agree with that. One of the main changes since 1953 is the change in the law on access rights. People now walk dogs in areas where they probably would not have walked dogs in 1953, which is a crucial change. This legislation needs to keep up with and match the access legislation.

Charlie Adam

I agree with what has been said. In addition, there has probably been a vast increase in dog ownership since 1953, particularly among the urban population. There has also been quite a large decrease among the general population in understanding what happens in the countryside. For those reasons alone, the 1953 legislation is not appropriate for the current time.

Richard Lyle

Thank you. My next question—

The Convener

Richard, would you mind if I briefly brought in Yvonne White, because everyone else has had a shot at the question?

Richard Lyle

I was going to ask her to answer my next question. Yvonne—

The Convener

Richard, you are in charge. I realise that that is a dangerous comment to make. You ask your next question and Yvonne can go for it.

Richard Lyle

Do you think that the bill will reduce the incidence of livestock worrying and increase prosecutions? Could it be improved to make it more effective in achieving both aims?

Yvonne White

The bill will reduce the number of incidents if it is implemented and resourced correctly. It is very easy to pass bills and for bills not to be implemented. To be implemented correctly, the resource needs to be there. The bill will be able to reduce the number of incidents but not as a stand-alone measure.

The bill will help to prevent an increase in the number of incidents if education is part of its implementation. If there is communication about the serious legal consequences for you if your dog attacks livestock, that will certainly put off some people. However, we really need to increase people’s awareness and their sense of the responsibilities of owning a dog. Jennifer Craig said earlier that it is nothing to do with the dogs; it is the owners who are at fault. Very few dogs are mad mental—they become like that for certain reasons.

Richard Lyle

Charlie Adam, in your experience is it people with dogs who live in the countryside who cause problems, or is it people who do not live in the countryside and who might walk their dog in your area on a sunny day?

Charlie Adam

I would not like to make that distinction. It would probably be both. I suspect that people who live in the countryside and are used to what goes on there might be a bit more aware of the dangers of what their dog could do, but it would be unfair to make too much of a distinction. It is just about the attitude of owners to dogs. Quite a lot of people move from an urban area to a rural area, and some take an interest in and integrate themselves into country life more than others. There is a degree of ignorance across the board.

Richard Lyle

That is me, convener.

The Convener

Thanks, Richard. I will take back control.

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP)

Further to Richard Lyle’s theme, I note that we heard Yvonne White mention education in schools, and she was supported by Stephen Young. What education and public awareness efforts would your organisations like to accompany the bill? Perhaps we can start with Yvonne White, as she has mentioned education a few times.

Yvonne White

There should be advertising and articles in newspapers and dog clubs, and dog trainers should be involved in special sessions in primary and secondary schools. I am not sure whether schools have general awareness classes, but the subject could fit into citizenship classes, environmental classes or something like that.

There is radio, television and social media, and the Scottish Government must have quite a good communication machine. It would be good to have a lot of focus on communicating the message across all media to as many different parts of society as possible in order to see what effect that has in reducing the number of reported incidents. It could even be used as a model for implementing other acts. It needs to be tied up with good, solid communication.

Charlie Adam

I endorse everything that Yvonne White said. In general, education on food, farming and the countryside needs to be part of normal education—that is a hobby horse of mine. Social media also has a great role to play.

Most dog owners are very responsible and proud of the fact that they handle their dogs correctly. There could be efforts among dog organisations to make anyone who does not do that a black sheep. It should be seen among the dog-owning community as a crime that brings everyone down. We could perhaps do it in conjunction with the dog organisations.

Christine Grahame

I agree about the importance of publicity and promoting the bill. However, it is a member’s bill, and I know from my experience that the Scottish Government does not do the publicity—the member would have to pay for all that herself.

The minister will come to the committee later, but my question for the panel is: should the Scottish Government pick up the costs of publicising the amendment to the legislation if it is agreed to? There is no point in us doing it if the public does not know about it.

The Convener

I am sure that Christine Grahame will take that up with the minister, who will be on the next panel. It is an interesting point.

Stephen Young

I agree with everything that has been said. I do not want to go off on too much of a tangent, but there is a disconnect between urban and rural on many matters, and this is just one of them. The Scottish outdoor access code could be strengthened and the messaging could be clearer.

One thing that has been really heartening in the process is the full agreement among the organisations that have given evidence, such as the Scottish SPCA, Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club, the National Sheep Association and NFU Scotland. Everyone agrees that it is an issue and that something needs to be done. The reach of all those organisations is potentially huge and we could get real support from across the sector to publicise the changes. It should not be a huge issue to do that, and it could include people such as vets, too.

Everyone sees it as an important issue and is keen to do something about it. It is quite possible to do a lot of education work in that way.

Jennifer Craig

I agree with Stephen Young. Given the number of stakeholders who are involved in the issue, there is no reason why we cannot work collectively to come up with some sort of education and a publication. The solution to dog worrying is very simple: it is a five-second decision as to whether you put a lead on your dog and keep it under control, or not. It does not need to be more complicated than that.

09:30  



Angus MacDonald

My next question is directed to Yvonne White, with her SCF cap on. I should declare that I own properties in a crofting township in the Outer Hebrides. Are there any particular issues to consider with regard to livestock worrying on crofts and common grazing land? What would the bill achieve from a crofting perspective?

Yvonne White

I think that it would give people increased confidence to report incidents. It was mentioned earlier that many incidents are thought not to be reported at present. I do not have any figures, but I know that most of the cases of dog worrying where I am are not reported. People see it as stressful and they are not sure about the process—is it the police or animal health staff that they should tell?

When the police are involved, they seem to have very little power, and it involves taking statements and so on, because that is what happens when there is a crime. However, it is often to do with someone in the locality, and Angus MacDonald will know that the community has traditionally been a close one. People do not like to be too negative about their neighbours in the Highlands and Islands, and that still carries weight.

The proposed changes would increase people’s confidence in reporting incidents, which are on the increase. However, the reporting process needs to be clear and to be seen to be working. I know of cases in the past year or two in which witness statements were taken and so on, but nothing happened to the dogs. They went on to cause further damage and in the end they bit humans, but they are still wandering around. Years ago, if people came to someone’s door and said that their dog was on the hill worrying, they would just shoot the dog—whether it was theirs or not, sometimes—because of the community aspect.

I think that the bill would help. People in the Highlands and Islands need to be encouraged to come forward more with regard to livestock worrying.

The Convener

That is useful, Yvonne. I will bring in Charlie Adam to say whether he has any relevant experience from any crofting members of NFU Scotland.

Charlie Adam

I do not have any specific experience from crofting members, but I am sure that those problems exist, given the number that there are, the areas that they are in and the tourism in those areas.

It struck me from what Yvonne White said that one of the most important aspects is for local authorities and the police to be made aware of and encouraged to use the powers that are available to them. The NFUS has done a great deal of lobbying for that, but I think that those authorities could do more. Obviously, they will need the resources to do it, especially in remote areas where they may be thin on the ground. That can be a problem, particularly in crofting communities, which will probably be a long way from the enforcement authorities that can receive reports and have something done about them. That is just a thought that came to my mind.

Peter Chapman

I want to investigate dog control notices. In previous evidence sessions, witnesses have noted their support for the use of dog control notices in cases of livestock worrying. The NFUS says that it welcomes the use of DCNs in that situation and that they are “a useful interim step” in the process. However, they can be issued only by an authorised person who is acting for a local authority—they cannot be issued by the police, for instance.

Based on your members’ experiences, do you think that increased use of dog control notices would be a welcome tool to reduce livestock worrying?

Jennifer Craig

Yes. I agree—and I am sure that the rest of our members would—that dog control notices would be a useful tool. They are a way of trying to educate people once incidents have occurred. I agree with what the NFUS says in its written submission: we need the police to be able to hand out DCNs, as well as local authorities. There needs to be joined-up thinking in order for them to be effective and do what they are intended to do. However, as long as it is done properly, we support them being implemented.

Charlie Adam

As Jennifer Craig says, the point is a key part of our submission. Whoever the inspectors are, whether they are dog control wardens or from the SSPCA or the police, the NFUS would say that the issuing of DCNs should be available to a wider ranger of people in order to increase the likelihood that they will be applied.

Stephen Young

The wording that Peter Chapman used is right: dog control notices are a tool in the box. We need a full range of resources with which to manage the problem, and DCNs are certainly one of those.

Similarly to what Charlie Adam said, we need a consistency of approach. We do not want to have different approaches in different areas from different bodies. A big aspect of the bill is about highlighting the severity of the issue, saying that it needs to be taken seriously and saying that everyone needs to take the same approach and use the same penalties for the same offences. We are looking for a consistent approach across the board.

Peter Chapman

My follow-up question is specifically for Stephen Young. SLE has suggested the establishment of a national database of dog control notices. Should the bill require a DCN national database to be put in place?

Stephen Young

That would be useful. It comes back to consistency, understanding and everyone being clear as to where we are, and I think that that would fit within the bill.

Peter Chapman

My second follow-up question is this. Do you feel that the bill should incorporate some of what we have just discussed as regards dog control notices? Should the bill address that as part of the process that it proposes?

The Convener

Who would like to answer that? Charlie Adam has his hand up. I am glad about that. Usually, the last person to look away gets nominated. However, as you have volunteered, you can answer, Charlie.

Charlie Adam

The answer is absolutely yes. Fundamentally, we are looking for things to be beefed up so that measures that have not been effective deterrents in the past become so. I agree with Stephen Young that it must be done consistently, but that should be in the bill, because it will act as a more effective deterrent compared with what we have now.

The Convener

I want to ask whether anyone has any experience of something that came up last week in the evidence from Perth and Kinross Council. It suggested that it has three people to issue notices, which seems very few people to cover such a massive area. Do we need more people to issue notices? Charlie, you are volunteering to provide some clarity.

Charlie Adam

That brings up the question of resources. We cannot get away from the fact that it is no use having legislation if we do not have the people on the ground or the resources to get the job done. This being a member’s bill, there are, as I understand it, limits to what it can do in that respect. That perhaps raises the issue of whether the Government needs to address the matter via a different vehicle to ensure that the necessary resources and capacities are available.

Yvonne White

Last year, we waited six or seven months for a dog warden to come from Inverness to look at a situation. There is a very real need for resources. It would be good if dog control notices could beef up the new legislation, but they should be an integral part of the measures and not used instead of other things. There should also be enough people to issue dog control notices and follow up on them, which is really important.

A lot of it comes back to resources. However, a lot can still be done regardless of whether there is the ideal amount of resource.

Stephen Young

I completely agree that it comes down to resources.

A small note of caution is that, if too many people get involved in management of an issue, it can create confusion. We need clarity for people, including victims, about what they should do. If there is an on-going issue or someone has seen something, who do they phone? How do they deal with it? I fully agree with what Alan Dron said last week about fly-tipping. That is a good example of a situation involving the police, local authorities and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency where people do not know what to do when there is an issue. They end up phoning the wrong person, getting handed round the houses and then just giving up.

We want real clarity, and that is why resources are key. We need to make it really clear how to report things and who does what.

Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire) (Con)

There has already been quite a lot of talk about penalties. Are the penalties in the bill appropriate, or should they be aligned with the penalties in recent legislation?

The Convener

I am looking to see who is volunteering. Stephen Young, you looked away before anyone had a chance to answer, so you can start off.

Stephen Young

I was trying to scribble down the question.

In extreme cases, we could ask for stronger penalties. It is all fairly subjective but, if there are several bills dealing with similar issues, it would make sense to have consistency. However, there is definitely a need to strengthen the penalties in the bill, and it is important to have a suite of penalties available. It makes a big difference when there is intent, or when the situation involves a repeat offender. We need to have really strong penalties to deal with repeat offenders and softer penalties for one-off incidents.

09:45  



Jennifer Craig

To be quite short and to the point, I agree with everything that Stephen Young has said, and I echo him specifically on the variances in fines or penalties. As he rightly points out, repeat offenders should be targeted at a higher rate.

Accidents happen. Dogs get out accidentally. We do not want somebody who has made a genuine mistake to be hammered with a huge penalty. Perspective and clarity are essential when it comes to the penalties.

Charlie Adam

I agree with what has been said and have nothing to add other than a point that I made earlier, that people who do not have the money to pay a fine will not necessarily be deterred by one. A range of other things is needed that will hit home with them.

Oliver Mundell

That last point leads on to my next question. Should compensation be brought in as part of the bill? Last week, we heard that compensation is sometimes an afterthought in the process. Given the value of livestock and the damage that is done, should compensation be dealt with in the bill?

The Convener

Last week, Stewart Stevenson bid me £300,000 for a tup that I did not have. That is the sort of value that could be put on a sheep, so the issue of compensation is important.

I ask Yvonne White to start off on that. Should compensation be part of the bill?

Yvonne White

I think that £300,000 for a tup is obscene.

The Convener

Stewart Stevenson is very rich. [Laughter.]

Yvonne White

For that money, I would want it to do housework and feed cows.

The issue of compensation is difficult. As Charlie Adam mentioned, sometimes people do not have the money. There needs to be something in the bill about compensation, but perhaps it should include community service, because there is no point in putting in levels of compensation that people cannot pay.

There are significant economic effects when livestock are attacked by dogs. There is stress to animals. Even if an animal is not fatally injured, it might abort—that happens a lot of the time—or be no good in future for breeding. There are vets’ bills, and time has to be spent on the issue. Compensation should be in the bill as a deterrent, but alternate means are needed, because not everybody will be able to pay compensation.

I imagine that setting the level of compensation will be difficult, because one tup could be worth £300,000 and another might be worth £300.

The Convener

I think that we would all wish for tups to be worth that sort of money, if we owned them.

Jennifer Craig

I echo what Yvonne White said. Compensation is part of the whole issue. In most circumstances, the upset causes people more distress than the financial situation does. If it is a large-scale incident, as has happened in several places across the country, there is an argument for compensation. However, as Yvonne White said, if that compensation cannot be met by the offender, it is irrelevant, in a sense.

The issue of compensation is difficult. Where do we pitch it? Do we take the farmer’s valuation or do we have to get independent valuations? It could open up a can of worms, but I agree that there should be some form of compensation, specifically for larger incidents, where there is a big financial impact on a flock. Often, the larger impacts are on younger farmers or new entrants, or people who are not making a lot of money at the time and do not have a lot of assets behind them. For people like that, an incident could devastate their business. Therefore, at some stage, we must look at compensation.

Charlie Adam

The NFUS position on that is rather stronger. Some form of compensation package for farmers is a key ask for us. We recognise that it might not be possible to deal with that issue in the scope of a member’s bill, but it needs to be addressed. We do not all have £300,000 tups, but even cast ewes are making £100 at the moment. In the normal level of profitability, even a relatively small amount of loss can be significant to the viability and profitability of some people’s sheep enterprises. Therefore, from a farmer’s point of view, it is important that there should be some form of compensation package. The fact that no compensation is available to people might be a contributory factor to underreporting, which means that people who ought to be brought to book are not being brought to book.

The Convener

Before we come to Stephen Young, I will ask Charlie Adam a question about stock. Do most farmers insure all their stock or do they insure only the very valuable animals? If something like that happens, can they claim on insurance?

Charlie Adam

Most farmers, including me, do not insure their commercial stock, because the premium rates are very high. For example, the premium rate for a bull is something like 18 to 20 per cent of its value, so it is not economic to insure every animal. That is not a viable option for normal commercial animals. Also, if people have a policy and make an insurance claim, that is likely to lead to an increase in their premiums so, because of the size of individual claims, there might be a disincentive to make a claim. However, that does not mean that a loss has not been taken.

Stephen Young

If we flip the scenario round to one in which livestock get out and trample through someone’s garden and destroy their rose bushes, the owner of the garden would expect to receive compensation for that. If we turn the situation back, compensation for damage to livestock—which is costly in some cases—makes sense, although, as was mentioned, there are limitations around the ability to pay.

That brings in the question of insurance for dogs, which is a tricky area. A lot of people pay insurance for the health of their dogs, in order to cover vet bills; would a bolt-on to cover a public liability element be feasible? That would need to be thought through carefully, but it is worth investigating further and it would be interesting to do that.

The Convener

Oliver Mundell has a supplementary question.

Oliver Mundell

To pick up on that last point, does any other panel member have a comment on making that a compulsory element of insurance for dogs who are walked in areas where there is likely to be livestock?

On compensation, I have had pushback from farmers in my area about the figures that have been talked about in the committee. Could a standard compensation package that looked at average values of livestock be put in place? A lot of the people who I have spoken to feel that the principle of compensation is important, and that people should be made to give something back to the farmer, even if it does not reflect the full financial value.

Charlie Adam

If that proved to be workable, it would make sense. A more practical solution would be to insist that people have insurance for their dogs against any damage that they might do, although I do not know whether that is possible. I think that Oliver Mundell’s suggestion would be a viable solution and that some form of compensation package is important from a farmer’s point of view. I do not see why we should be less protected against the actions of others than other sections of society are from other events.

Jennifer Craig

Oliver Mundell is right that it is about the principle of a compensation package as opposed to the exact amount of the damage that has been inflicted.

On the insurance point, it is not a bad idea to have a public liability attached to dog insurance. However, as with all insurance, there are caveats that put premiums up and we would have to be careful about how insurance companies implemented those public liabilities. For instance, would certain breeds be penalised because they are perceived—wrongly, in most cases—as more liable to take actions that could result in a claim on public liability? It could be a very grey area to disappear into, but it is certainly worth looking into for future purposes.

Yvonne White

The principle of compensation is a good idea. There could be a sort of menu setting out the cost of a tup, a hog and so on, but that might need to be updated annually in relation to market values. However, if it is just about the principle of compensation, that might not be needed.

On insurance for dogs, I think that most people in towns certainly have health insurance for their dogs. I know that my friends have it, and they seem to pay a lot of money. About three or four years ago, I asked NFU Mutual about insuring one of our working Collie dogs because he cost a lot of money, and that would have cost £750 annually. We have five working Collies—some people have more and some have fewer—so a blanket law on insurance could end up penalising people who have working dogs.

Like farms, most crofts are insured with NFU Mutual—that is a plug for its croft and farm insurance, which gives public liability cover. I am not sold on blanket legislation for dogs, because a lot of crofters and others who could not afford the insurance could end up in a not very good position. The issue would need further investigation.

The Convener

The deputy convener has reminded me that I should say that there are other insurance companies out there, so that is not an endorsement. I am not entirely sure that that is what she said, but it was along those lines.

Stewart Stevenson

The issue of disqualifying people from owning dogs has come up. Is that proportionate and appropriate in this context and what kind of offence should occur or track record should people have that would lead to that? Conversely, what mitigating circumstances should we properly be looking at?

10:00  



Jennifer Craig

Disqualifying people from owning dogs seems very savage and sounds severe. However, we are discovering from our members that it is the same people whose dogs habitually cause incidents of worrying and attacking sheep. In many cases, there are multiple dogs, and the same dogs might not be involved every time—that is, the same owner is involved, but they might have two or three dogs, none of which is under control. Alternatively, subsequently to an incident, the owner might have obtained other dogs, and the same problem happens again.

Part of being a responsible dog owner is keeping the dog under control and keeping it safe, as well as keeping everybody who is around it safe. If a person repeatedly causes a problem in their local area, or outwith it, if they take the dogs for a drive to walk them, that person is not fulfilling their responsibilities as a dog owner. Owning a dog is a privilege. It should not be a right, and it comes with caveats. An owner owes it to their dog to look after it to the best of their abilities. I would argue that, if a person allows their dog or dogs to continue, on a regular basis, to cause concern, they are not looking after them properly and are clearly not a responsible owner.

I agree that there has to come a point, in the most severe circumstances and when other things are not working, at which we consider that some people should not be in charge of dogs.

The Convener

Stephen Young wants to come in on that question. I cannot hear you yet, Stephen. There we are—you are on now.

Stephen Young

You have just missed the best point that I have made all morning.

When there is intent or when there are repeat offenders, as Jen Craig pointed out is often the case, disqualification is the best way to go. That is not about punishing the person; it is about looking after the dog or dogs. If someone is not looking after dogs properly by putting them in that situation or not treating them well, that is causing danger and distress to the dog. In those cases, disqualification for the owner is only fair on the dog. After all, the ultimate sanction is that the dog would be shot, if it is caught in the act. To be fair to the victim—the animals that are attacked and the dog—and to punish the owner, that measure should be there as a deterrent. However, it should be used only in fairly serious cases such as where there are repeat offences or intent.

The Convener

I will come back to Stewart Stevenson, because he has a subsequent question to that, which we can bring the other panel members in on.

Stewart Stevenson

Earlier, we heard reference to access rights under the land reform legislation. That opens up the question of whether there should be a power to exclude people from walking on agricultural land. Of course, that raises the more general issue of how people with dogs will know that land is agricultural land. Where I live in the country, our field is agricultural land, but you have to go only a couple of hundred metres before the land is not agricultural but a site of special scientific interest. It is not necessarily obvious to a townie, although it might be more obvious to Stephen Young and me and others on the panel.

What are your views on how that would work and what contribution it would make to reducing dog attacks?

The Convener

I will go straight to Yvonne White on that, because the demarcation on croft land might be slightly more blurred than it is on more formal agricultural land.

Yvonne White

It is a difficult one. It is difficult to stop people accessing land when we have very good access rights. However, there is probably a case for it under certain circumstances, such as lambing. I know of cases in which people have been lambing ewes, in very rural areas and before Covid, and other people have walked close by them with a dog off the lead. They have said, “Can you move your dog? They are upsetting the ewes,” and the response is, “We’ve got a right to be here.” However, if you put a padlock on an access gate because ewes were being disturbed at lambing, you would be in the wrong.

The increase in the number of people coming to the countryside is a good thing for health and so on, but a lot of people lack knowledge and experience. It goes back to education. Until everybody is a fully functioning, responsible and mature adult about all of the issues, there is a good case for restricting people from coming into areas during calving and lambing. That would help. Obviously, people would still do it; in fact, you could argue that the ones who would still do it are probably the ones with the dogs that cause the problem. However, that would still be worth exploring.

Stewart Stevenson

Given that access rights may only be exercised responsibly under the legislation—in other words, they do not mean blanket access—would it be automatically irresponsible for a dog to be off the lead near livestock?

Charlie Adam

Most farmers would totally agree that, generally, a dog should not be off the lead near livestock, but the access code maybe does not go that far, so we are stuck with that.

There is obviously a problem about education, clarity, definition and enforcement in the general banning of access to specific pieces of land. When people are ignorant about what is going on, it is difficult to deal with that. In cases involving repeat offenders, particularly where they are neighbours and where the person and specific piece of land can be defined, it should be possible to have a ban on access by a particular person to a particular piece of land. That should be set up and policed, frankly.

Christine Grahame

A panel member last week raised an interesting point about the difficulty of defining things such as “rural land”, “field”, “crofting land”, “agricultural land”, or indeed “a piece of land”, as Charlie Adam just said. We are getting in a tangle about access here. Would it not be better to focus on the deed? The bill is about attacks on livestock, so, rather than try to pin down the place and deal with difficult definitions, why do we not say that, wherever it happens, any attack on livestock is an offence? We are getting in a tangle trying to define “field”, for example.

The Convener

Christine, please be careful when you ask your questions that another member has not already indicated that they want to ask about the same specific subject.

Stephen Young

I agree with Christine Grahame: it is very difficult. I heard the conversation about defining a field or an enclosure. This is a human issue, so it has to be really clear to people what is expected of them. They should not need a degree in geography or agriculture to be able to understand it. Christine Grahame is quite right—the deed is the important part. Language is also really important. The access code is about the right of responsible access, not the right to roam. It does not mean that people can go where they want, when they want. They have certain responsibilities.

I think that the point was made last week that if someone is in a field with livestock, the only way that they really know that their dog is under close control is if it is on a lead. That is a way of really simplifying the issue. It is about clear messaging and making the issue as simple as we can. Yes, there are nuances and complications, which mix messages and create loopholes more than they solve problems. Christine Grahame is right—if there is livestock in a field, you have to be aware of that and be very clear about what your responsibilities are.

The Convener

Before we move on to questions from the deputy convener, I want to ask about the issue of putting dogs on a lead. In May, when young stock go out into a grass field, it can actually create more problems if a person walking across that field has their dog on a lead than if they had their dog off the lead, because the livestock are attracted to the person. Is that an education issue?

Charlie Adam

Absolutely. I have personal experience of someone with a dog on a lead insisting on crossing a field even when they had been warned that there were stock in the field. As you say, and as any farmer will tell you, if somebody keeps a dog on a lead in a field where there are cows and calves, for example, the cattle will probably attack the dog, and because the person is next to the dog, they will probably get hit.

It is not safe to encourage people to make for the nearest boundary, which I believe is the advice in the outdoor access code. People think that that will keep them safe, but the advice is an invitation for people to put themselves and their dogs in danger. I think that there are flaws in the advice in the access code that endanger people’s lives, and in my view it ought to be changed.

Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I want to tease out the question of definitions a bit more. Stephen Young’s submission highlighted inconsistencies between the definitions in the 1953 act and those in the Scottish outdoor access code. What are your views on the best definitions to have in the bill, as opposed to what has gone before?

Stephen Young

Can you give an example? I am missing the point of your question.

Maureen Watt

In your response to the call for views, you said that there were inconsistencies between the definitions in the existing legislation and those in the Scottish outdoor access code. Given those inconsistencies, what, in your view, would be the best definitions to have in bill?

Stephen Young

Sorry—my mind is completely blank.

The Convener

Okay. Instead of putting Stephen under pressure, does somebody else want to talk about definitions of “land” in the bill?

Charlie Adam

I have to admit that I am not clear on the specific definitions that are being referred to, so I do not know that I can comment on that.

The Convener

Maybe I can help. The relevant section in the 1953 act refers to “a field or enclosure”. There is a question about the definition of “field or enclosure”, because a larger area, such as common grazings, is not definable as a field—it could be a huge area of hill, in some cases. Maybe Yvonne White can say a bit about that, and then I will come back to Charlie Adam and Stephen Young.

Yvonne White

I can definitely say that the 1953 definition of “a field or enclosure” needs to be updated to cover the full range of agricultural land. Common grazings, which have just been mentioned, can cover 7,000 acres, and they are unfenced. A field is defined by set boundaries, usually physical, as is an enclosure. Common grazings boundaries tend to be geographic, as opposed to having a human-made boundary such as a fence.

10:15  



Charlie Adam

I am a little out of my depth on the subject, but it seems to me that there comes a point at which it is almost impossible to define a piece of land. One thinks of hill sheep, and of people walking around on mountains where there are blackie ewes. At a certain point, the whole thing has to be addressed through general rules on behaviour, rather than trying to specify pieces of land. Where do we draw the line between what is and is not an enclosure? It is very difficult.

Maureen Watt

Do I get the sense that, as Christine Grahame said, it should be about the deed rather than the place—that it is just too difficult to define places, so we should look at only the deed?

The Convener

I note for the record that I see very clearly four heads nodding. Is that sufficient for you, Maureen?

Maureen Watt

That is fine. Thank you.

The Convener

We will take that as a yes from all the witnesses.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

I will concentrate on section 5, which is about inspecting bodies and the appointment of inspectors. About authorisation, section 5 says:

“The Scottish Ministers may by regulations authorise one or more persons, organisations or bodies to appoint inspectors for the purposes of this Act.”

That is quite a different approach from that taken in the Animal Health and Welfare Act (Scotland) 2006, under which the Scottish ministers appoint inspectors as an addition to the police.

Do you think that the bill takes the best approach, with organisations that are appointed by the Scottish Government then appointing their own people without reference to the Scottish Government?

Stephen Young

We have covered the need for consistency and clarity for everyone as to who should be involved. Things could get muddy and confused very quickly if too many people are involved. I agree that if different bodies appoint different people, inconsistencies can arise in the way in which things are interpreted and enforced. It is important that we have that consistency.

We have also seen that different local authorities put different emphases on things and allocate different amounts of resource. I think that things have to be as consistent as they can be across the country.

It is important that the bill is very clear as to who is ultimately responsible, so I am keen to see it being kept as tight as possible. However, we also need the resource. It is about walking the fine line between having the resource to deal with the issue and making sure that that consistency is there.

Charlie Adam

As Stephen Young said, there is a conflict between achieving consistency and getting enough people on the ground to have effective enforcement.

The only suggestion that comes quickly to mind is that, although individual organisations might find their own people, there would need to be some central training that those people had to go through to ensure that they were all singing from the same hymn book when they went out to do the job on the ground. That might be a compromise. We need people on the ground in sufficient numbers to have some deterrent effect.

Jennifer Craig

The two panellists who answered before me have covered the subject. I do not have anything to add.

Mike Rumbles

The view of the panel is that it would be sufficient for organisations to appoint inspectors, as long as they were trained, and perhaps certificated, so that they met the standard that we expect. At the moment, there is nothing in the bill to say that that should happen. The bill says only that the Scottish Government can appoint an organisation to appoint people.

If the bill is not amended, which organisations should be authorised by the Scottish Government to appoint their own inspectors?

The Convener

We will go round the table and ask each witness to suggest a couple of organisations.

Jennifer Craig

I am not sure that I have an answer. You should pass the question to someone else.

The Convener

I cannot see everyone else; I cannot see who is looking away to avoid the question. Charlie Adam has volunteered to go first before. Off you go, Charlie.

Charlie Adam

The obvious answer would be the Scottish SPCA, but local authorities and some agricultural organisations might be able to do it. It is more important that whoever is picked is trained, knows what they are doing and can be consistent. Perhaps people could be nominated—if they pass muster, it is not that important who nominates them. I am waffling because I am not that clear, although there are obvious organisations.

The Convener

Are there any organisations that Mike Rumbles thinks should be on the list? You could give some examples, Mike, and the panel could say yes or no.

Mike Rumbles

I do not want to lead the witnesses or put my words into their mouths. It is interesting that there is confusion. I would like to hear from the other witnesses.

Stephen Young

We must be careful here. Lots of bodies might be able to do that work. A big part of the bill is about defining and making clear the severity of the issue, and we are in danger of being seen as watering it down again if responsibility is handed down to other people.

The police should ultimately be responsible for enforcement, and they have the resources to do it. I would have to check to see that I am right about this, but I think that the Scottish SPCA said in evidence that, on the basis of resources, it would struggle to do that work.

We must be careful that we do not hand the issue down the line to other people. We must be clear. A big part of this is about underlining how severe the problem is and how important it is that it is dealt with. That is paramount.

Yvonne White

There might be a budget issue. If too many organisations that do not have the budgetary wherewithal are appointed, the whole thing will fall over and we will not be any further forward.

It would be better to have the option at the start but to keep it tight and with the police, particularly because, as has been said, the police would have the budget.

It must be clear to the complainant—to the victim—who is responsible and who they can complain to. Unless there is clarity, people will become confused. Who do they go to? Is it the Scottish SPCA or the local authority? People are not that clear at the moment, and the bill would make it less clear.

The Convener

I am going to come back to Mike Rumbles in a minute, but first Oliver Mundell has a supplementary question.

Oliver Mundell

I want to pick up on the point that Stephen Young made. It might be a reality, but I am concerned that we might be saying that the offence is not serious enough for the police to deal with and investigate it. I wonder whether Charlie and Jennifer share the view that it is important for people in rural communities to know that the police are well resourced to deal with a very serious issue for a lot of farmers.

Jennifer Craig

My answer is short and to the point: I agree with that.

Charlie Adam

There is a feeling that the attitude of the police to sheep worrying offences is not consistent with their attitude to other wildlife offences, and that the police need to be more aware that wildlife crimes and sheep worrying incidents are severe and need to be taken extremely seriously. I am not sure whether that is the approach at the moment. One feels that the police are extremely strong on acting against wildlife crime and enforcing the penalties that go with it. However, that is not reflected in crimes of livestock worrying on farms and crofts, in my view.

Mike Rumbles

Can I ask a question to ensure that I completely understand our four witnesses? I have taken from the responses that there is a feeling that sheep worrying is a serious crime, and that if there is a disparate number of people or organisations involved in tackling it, it might add complications to the whole process.

I am trying to interpret what the evidence is saying, so correct me if I am wrong, but the view seems to be that it might be better to have the police take total control and have the legislation beefed up to ensure that they have adequate resources to deal with the problem. I am thinking about what Charlie Adam said. It seems that it is a question of resources: if the police do not have the resources to do it, it will not be done properly. Some organisations, such as the Scottish SPCA, have said that they do not have the resources to do it. Am I right to say that the issue is about resources and clarity of responsibility?

The Convener

If anyone disagrees with what Mike said, I am happy to bring them in. You all seem to be nodding.

Before I bring in Emma Harper, whose bill this is, I have a question. Last night, I read evidence to the committee that suggested that in the strange situation in which a dog has escaped from a garden and comes back covered in blood, with wool between its teeth, and it has clearly been involved in livestock worrying, the dog’s owner should have the responsibility to report it to the police. That was from the SLE’s evidence. Should it be incumbent on the owner to inform the police when such an incident has happened and that their dog might be responsible?

Yvonne White

It is akin to a road accident when a driver runs over a sheep and it is still alive, because there is an element of animal welfare involved. The dog might not have been involved in livestock worrying—it could have come across a sheep that had been involved in an incident with another dog. People cannot jump to conclusions without evidence. However, those incidents should be reported to the police for animal welfare purposes, because there could be an animal in pain that needs to be treated and probably put down.

10:30  



Stephen Young

I agree. The issue is not just about when a dog comes back into sight. There are cases in which people have seen their dog chasing sheep and maybe not killing or injuring them but causing other issues. That is where reporting becomes important, so that people can inspect the animals and find out what issues have been caused, which might not be immediately apparent. It all comes back to the pattern of responsible ownership and access, which is about the things that people should do and their responsibilities within that. It would be useful to include that element.

The Convener

I will bring in Emma Harper to ask a couple of questions. Good morning, Emma.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

Thank you, convener. Good morning to the witnesses and my colleagues at the other end of the line.

It is important that I thank the witnesses and welcome their input, and that I thank committee members for their scrutiny of my member’s bill. I take on board the points about resourcing compensation, the need for continued education and the idea of deed not place.

I have a quick question. We have heard of one dog having a simple chase and folk thinking that that is a bit of fun; I have also heard of extreme cases, where 15 sheep were killed or mutilated and needed vets’ attention, such as being sutured on site. In one case, a repeat offender could not care less and it was as if he was happy to let his Labrador do it again. Do the witnesses think that the bill is flexible enough to allow the Crown Office to have an approach that would address individual livestock incidents?

Stephen Young

I think that there is flexibility. There is a suite of actions in the bill, so that area is well covered. As Emma Harper said, there are huge differences between scenarios, so that flexibility has to be there.

Jennifer Craig

I agree that there is flexibility in the bill and that that is essential, as we have pointed out.

Charlie Adam

I agree with Jennifer Craig and Stephen Young. The flexibility is there.

The Convener

Yvonne White, in the interests of fairness, you can agree or not.

Yvonne White

I agree.

Emma Harper

I have a final question. Charlie Adam brought up the issue of the police not being consistent in taking seriously the offence of attacking, chasing and worrying livestock. Recently, the Scottish partnership against rural crime has done a lot of awareness raising and there have been campaigns from NatureScot and the Farmers Guardian on taking the lead. Do you think that, because SPARC and others have raised awareness of the issue, we can use the bill, along with education, to make a difference and reduce incidents of livestock worrying?

Charlie Adam

[Inaudible.]—difference. NFUS has lobbied on the issue over years, and it is getting more attention now. As ever, with things that come from the agricultural side, the difficulty is getting that information away from the farming community and press and into the wider media. Reaching the people who need to be reached is always a difficulty. There is an issue with the press, and we need to pay close attention to the choice of medium to reach people. With social media, we now have vehicles that we did not have before, which have helped a great deal.

Jennifer Craig

The campaigns have been working well. There seems to be a good level of awareness and the messages seem to be shared very well, but we definitely have more to do. Other organisations need to look at joining up that thinking.

Yvonne White

All the communication in the area must raise, and has raised, awareness. On the consistency of police, particularly in rural areas, the people who have talked to me about attacks on livestock do not have much faith in the police. When evidence and statements have been taken, even in repeated cases—-by that, I mean the same owner or the same pack of dogs—nothing has happened.

I do not want to be too negative. It is good that there is education for the police. In rural areas, the police understandably do not want to upset people, so they might be more inclined to give people more chances than they would in areas with higher populations, especially given that a lot of the police live in the area and might have gone to school with the people involved—that does not sound very good, does it? The police are more interlinked with the community, so they might not take such an objective view. That is obviously just from my anecdotal experience.

Something could be done in relation to the consistency of the police response to attacks on livestock. As Charlie Adam said, such attacks need to be taken as seriously as other wildlife crime. It is a matter of animal welfare, as well as a cause of stress for owners and victims.

Stephen Young

A lot of good work has been done so far to raise awareness. The fact that we are having this conversation is testament to how the issue has moved up the agenda. Good work has been done by SPARC, and the national access forum and NatureScot discuss the issue fairly regularly. However, there is still a huge amount of work to do, and the bill will give a bit of impetus and strength to that.

I do not have any specific evidence on consistency by the police, but there are one or two anecdotal bits of evidence. Yvonne White is right about education of the police as well as the public, and about the seriousness of the crime. Giving the police stronger powers will enhance that work, so I can see the bill leading only to improvement in all those areas.

The Convener

That brings us to the end of the evidence session. I thank Stephen Young, Charlie Adam, Yvonne White and Jennifer Craig for their evidence. I also thank the person who has now joined me in being one of the only people to have received a call at volume during a committee meeting this parliamentary term. Whoever it was will remain nameless, but I am the other guilty person. Again, I thank the witnesses.

10:39 Meeting suspended.  



10:47 On resuming—  



The Convener

I welcome the second panel: Mairi Gougeon, the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, is accompanied by the Scottish Government officials Phil Burns, policy manager in the animal welfare branch, and Jim Wilson, head of the safer communities and justice directorate Covid hub.

I invite the minister to make a brief opening statement.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment (Mairi Gougeon)

I thank the committee for inviting me to give evidence on Emma Harper’s bill, which I am pleased that she has introduced. We are happy to support the bill’s general principles. That support is given under our commitment to facilitate all methods that provide more effective ways of preventing such attacks on livestock and minimising their impact. The Scottish Government believes that the welfare of all animals is important and that steps should be taken to ensure the highest levels of protection.

The current penalty of £1,000 that is available under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 does not address the serious consequences of attacks on livestock and livestock worrying. The current penalty no longer reflects the value of the livestock that are harmed in such incidents. Almost 70 years on from its introduction, the act does not provide cover for all the species that are now being farmed. The proposed increases take into account the increased mobility and leisure time that we all now enjoy, an unintended consequence of which is that there is a higher risk of interaction between livestock and dogs.

I have been aware of the incidence of worrying and attacks on livestock. Chasing and harassment carry a high welfare risk for livestock, and there are occasional incidents of fatal injuries. We are also aware of the frustration and emotional distress that worrying and livestock attacks have on livestock farmers. Those feelings can have as much impact on the livestock keeper as the financial costs arising from time loss, veterinary costs, the replacement of lost animals and the disruption to breeding programmes.

The livestock industry is vital to our rural and remote rural communities, and we must take steps to ensure that it is appropriately protected. The Scottish Government considers that owning an animal brings responsibilities, not solely for the animal that an individual owns, but also for other animals with which that animal may come into contact. All dog owners should be reminded that their dogs must be kept under effective control in all places to avoid incidents of worrying and attacks. We recognise that the majority of dog owners walk their animals responsibly in all environments and understand that owning a dog brings many responsibilities but, sadly, some do not exercise an appropriate level of control.

The bill proposes additional controls on people who are convicted of livestock offences. We consider that those controls, which are designed to limit reoffending and harm to livestock, will be useful measures in reducing reoffending. However, we expect the detail of the provisions to be considered in greater detail throughout the bill process, and we might lodge amendments to address any issues that are identified in the bill as introduced. At this stage, I highlight that the proposed new powers for inspectors and constables and the new post-conviction powers will require particular consideration to ensure that they strike the right balance in the investigation and prevention of attacks on livestock.

The Convener

Thank you for that detailed introduction, minister. The first question comes from our deputy convener, Maureen Watt.

Maureen Watt

Good morning, minister. You might have covered this in your opening statement, but what are the key reasons for the Government supporting the bill?

Mairi Gougeon

One of our key reasons for supporting Emma Harper’s bill is that the current act is nearly 70 years old and the bill will modernise that legislation. The new penalties that it seeks to introduce better reflect the seriousness of the crime committed. The welfare of all animals is extremely important to us, and the bill fits in well with the other work that we have been doing. As committee members will know, in June we passed the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020. Emma Harper’s bill fits in well with some of the work that we did in that context to strengthen and modernise our animal welfare legislation.

Richard Lyle

Good morning. Where does the bill fit with other legislation on dogs and animal welfare, including the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010?

Mairi Gougeon

As I mentioned in my previous answer, we have been undertaking work on animal welfare, including through the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020, which we passed a few months ago. The key pieces of legislation that interact with Emma Harper’s bill are the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953—as I mentioned in my opening statement, it is nearly 70 years old—which criminalises dog owners when their dog worries livestock, and the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010. The 2010 act is distinct from the 1953 act because it involves a civil enforcement regime rather than a criminal one—it is only if a dog control notice is breached that it becomes a criminal matter. There are two tests that have to be met for a dog control notice to be issued. As the key aim of the 2010 act was to prevent the behaviour of dogs getting to a stage where they might attack an individual, it was seen as being more of a preventative measure, although it can also be applied after an attack has taken place.

Richard Lyle

The 2020-21 programme for government states that the Scottish Government plans to consult further on the law on dangerous dogs. Will that be a comprehensive review of all the legislation on dog control, or will it address specific pieces of legislation? If the bill is passed, will it fall within the scope of such a review?

Mairi Gougeon

I believe that that review is due to take place towards the end of the year. It will focus on the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in particular, which was a key area of concern for the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. That review’s focus on the 1991 act also reflects the fact that both Government departments face resourcing challenges.

There will be a consultation, which will focus on responsible dog ownership and the impacts on people’s safety. It will also look at the seizure powers in the 1991 act and how the law affects dog walking businesses.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Good morning. A number of witnesses have suggested that more effective use could be made of dog control notices in cases of livestock worrying. What are your views on that? One issue that has been raised is a lack of resources for the use of dog control notices. It is local authorities that issue such notices, but they are currently underresourced. I would like to hear your views on the need for more resources. Also, should Police Scotland be able to use dog control notices in cases of livestock worrying?

Mairi Gougeon

I know that the issue of whether the police should be able to issue dog control notices has been raised in previous evidence to the committee. I would be hesitant to confirm that we would want the police to have that power. We would have to discuss with Police Scotland whether it thought that it would be appropriate for the police to have that power.

The Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee looked into the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, and a host of work has been done as a result of that scrutiny. That included a consultation that ran from September last year to January this year, which considered whether there should be a national database of dog control notices. The Government is taking forward various pieces of work as a result of that.

You asked about resources. This is not just a question of resources; it is a case of looking at how well authorities are using the powers that they have already. It is not as easy as saying that there is a problem that could be fixed by better resourcing.

Some of the figures on the issuing of dog control notices showed that there was quite a discrepancy between different local authorities, which did not necessarily correlate with the resources that were in place. That point was borne out by the committee’s scrutiny. Between 2019 and this year, Glasgow City Council, which has two dog wardens, conducted 57 investigations and issued four dog control notices, whereas Angus Council, which has one dog warden, conducted 287 investigations and issued 22 dog control notices. Fife Council is another example of an authority that has used the legislation well and has been able to allocate resources to that area and to the training of dog wardens.

It is not as straightforward as saying that this is a resource issue; it is a case of looking at how the legislation is being used and whether it is being used to best effect.

Other pieces of work are being done to examine the relationships and joint protocols between local authorities and the police and to look at how they work and whether that can be improved. There is a working group on which the Scottish Government, local authorities, Police Scotland and other organisations are represented, which is considering how to bring about better working and other measures that could be taken to improve the effectiveness of the legislation.

I hope that that answers your question. Jim Wilson might want to add to what I have said.

The Convener

There might be a chance for him to come in after Colin Smyth has asked his next question.

Colin Smyth

Does the Government have a view on whether any changes to the legislation are needed. Is the bill an opportunity to change the legislation to improve the use of dog control notices, or is it primarily non-legislative measures that are required?

11:00  



Mairi Gougeon

The bill is probably not the appropriate place to address that, because, as I said, a working group has been set up to tackle and address all those issues. It would be more appropriate to allow the working group to work through those issues and to focus on the issues that were raised in the consultation that was carried out late last year through to the start of this year. A lot of work is on-going. The bill is not the appropriate place to change the legislation on dog control notices. It is a bit too soon to include any such measures in the bill. A wider part of the work will be consideration of whether legislation is needed, or whether there are other ways to address the problems.

The Convener

I cut off Jim Wilson as he was about to launch forth, so I want to give him the chance to make his point.

Jim Wilson (Scottish Government)

I will add to the minister’s comments on local authority spend. It is worth highlighting that the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee sought information on the amount of resources and money that was being spent on dog control by each of Scotland’s local authorities. We have engaged with the Society of Chief Officers of Environmental Health in Scotland to seek information from each local authority, in order to respond to the committee’s request.

More generally, it is worth adding to the minister’s comments about the working group that we are proactively looking to achieve some quick wins. The statutory guidance that accompanied the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 is being reviewed, with a view to publishing updated guidance by the end of this year. The joint protocol document between Police Scotland and local authorities, which was last published in May 2016, is also under review. Again, we are aiming to publish the updated joint protocol document by the end of this year.

On the working group’s membership, it is key to point out that the Scottish Government recognises that issues relating to control of dogs and responsible dog ownership stray into a number of portfolio areas. It is important not to have only the key enforcement agencies such as Police Scotland and local authorities on the working group, which will engage regularly with the Scottish Government. There should also be a close connection with justice and safer communities policy and with animal welfare policy. I can confirm that we have an animal welfare presence on the Scottish Government-led working group.

The Convener

I think that Colin Smyth is happy with those answers.

Stewart Stevenson

I want to explore the use of disqualification orders. In what circumstances might it be appropriate to issue such orders? What mitigations might apply to ensure that they are not used inappropriately? Is it the intention of the Government or the Lord Advocate to provide guidance on how the courts should operate in that regard and on how disqualification might be applied?

Mairi Gougeon

There are a couple of points in those questions. It is up to the Scottish Sentencing Council to provide guidance on sentencing. During the passage of the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill, we contacted the Scottish Sentencing Council to ask it to provide similar guidance. It has quite a full work programme at the moment, but the point could be raised with it to see whether it is willing to consider providing guidance. The Scottish Sentencing Council is an independent body, so it is not for the Government to dictate to it.

On the appropriateness of disqualification orders, we consider that disqualification from ownership of a dog would be appropriate when a court considers that the offending owner is not able to, or has decided that they will not, control their dog around livestock, especially where that can present a danger to other animals and, potentially, to people, too.

Again, the appropriateness of any sentence is ultimately up to the courts to determine, based on the circumstances of individual cases.

Stewart Stevenson

I move on to the issue of how we control where dogs are and how dogs are controlled. I raised with the previous witnesses the issue that access to land under the land reform legislation is given only where it is responsible access. Would a dog that is not on a lead be automatically irresponsible adjacent to livestock?

It is fair to say that the previous witnesses, particularly Charlie Adam, were of the view that it can be irresponsible for a dog, even if it is on a lead, to be adjacent to livestock. Is the issue of the use to which land is being put a part of whether we should seek to penalise people who take or let their dog near to livestock?

Mairi Gougeon

Are you referring to the Scottish outdoor access code?

Stewart Stevenson

I am referring to the access code in relation to whether a person is irresponsible if their dog is off the lead and they are not therefore entitled to access on that basis, but I am also making a broader point about whether people should be banned from taking dogs on to agricultural land. If they were, how would they know that the land is agricultural land? Forgive me if I am conflating two issues that are perhaps slightly different.

Mairi Gougeon

Part of the issue is whether everyone knows their rights and responsibilities—what they are permitted to do and what they are not permitted to do—under the access code, so that is a valid point. I do not think that everyone would necessarily be aware about that. Some of the livestock worrying incidents that we have seen of might have come about because of sheer ignorance, rather than out of malice. However, that does not excuse such behaviour, because people have a responsibility to ensure that they know what their rights are when they are out and about.

I know that NatureScot has done a lot of work on the access code, on promoting awareness of it and on education, particularly given some of the issues that we have seen during the pandemic. There have been an extra 250,000 hits on its website, which is quite something.

The issue is more about how we inform people about what they should be doing and how that is managed. Obviously, it is difficult to police people out in the country, but how do we achieve an effective balance? Educating people and making sure that they are aware of their responsibilities is a key aspect of that.

It is not necessarily the case that all people should be banned from accessing agricultural land full stop. I do not know whether that was the issue that you were highlighting in your question.

Stewart Stevenson

This is my final point, minister. I am simply reflecting some of the evidence that has come to the committee. You used the word “rights” when referring to the person with a dog. Do you agree that it would be appropriate for education to focus on the obligations of people with dogs in the countryside to those who are making use of the countryside, including by having livestock on it? In other words, rights come only if a person respects the obligations that come with exercising the right to access the country. I invite you to agree that that would be the case.

Mairi Gougeon

I absolutely agree with that.

The Convener

Oh, that was a very short answer—it nearly caught me off guard. Peter Chapman will ask the next question.

Peter Chapman

The bill speaks about using vets to gather evidence. Who will be expected to cover the costs when a vet is called to examine a dog in a case of livestock worrying? How will those costs be recovered, if the farmer or the vet pays in the first instance?

Mairi Gougeon

The costs of investigation would probably have to be borne initially by the investigatory body. We will have to give greater consideration to whether those costs could or should be recouped from an offender.

I know that that issue was raised in previous meetings by witnesses, including Inspector Dron, who talked of one incident in which somebody who had been convicted of livestock worrying had been granted a compensation order. However, in the same meeting, the committee heard that only 9 per cent of farmers who had been affected by a livestock attack or worrying incident had received compensation. Clearly, there are a lot of people who, for one reason or another, are unable to recoup their costs. There are means by which people could go about seeking compensation, and the main question that arises from all this for me is, why are only 9 per cent able to get the compensation, and are there issues around that?

Peter Chapman

It is a big issue. It is right to have this procedure, because we want to get convictions, but we must address the issue of cost. We must also address the fact that not all vets would be qualified or have the resources to do the work. Will there be standard operating procedures for vets carrying out forensic examinations, and how will training for examinations and evidence handling be provided to the veterinary community?

Mairi Gougeon

There could well be instances of evidence taking that would not be far removed from what vets currently do in relation to their care for animals at the moment, or would be part of it, so it might be that not much training is required. However, we must have conversations about these issues. I have not discussed them with any of the veterinary associations, and I will have to do so in order to find out whether any extra training would be required. Vets are already capable or carrying out such procedures as the taking of blood samples and so on. Again, that is something that could be considered further.

Peter Chapman

One final point is the question of consent for a vet to examine a dog. Will the police be able to give consent for that examination to take place or does the owner have to be the one who gives consent?

Mairi Gougeon

Under the bill at the moment, the legal authority to have a dog examined would rest with the constable or the inspector who seized the dog, and would involve there being reasonable grounds for believing that the dog had been involved in a livestock attack or worrying incident.

The Convener

I have a quick question on that issue. If there is an incident of livestock worrying and a vet is called out to treat the animals in question, it would presumably be the vet who the farmer usually uses to treat his or her livestock, which means that the vet will know the animals well. However, that vet might also be the vet who is asked to examine the dog, and that might cause all sorts of conflicts of interest when it comes to a prosecution. Are there ways around that, or it that not really an issue?

Mairi Gougeon

Again, that is something that I probably have to give greater consideration to. Under the bill at the moment, the legal authority would rest with the constable or inspector. I imagine that they would have to be present for that to be the case, but my officials might have more information or be able to offer clarification on that.

11:15  



Phil Burns (Scottish Government)

There is the issue of conflict of interest, but there is also the possibility that, in many remote areas, there would be relatively few vets. There would be costs involved in taking a dog to a vet who was further away.

The Convener

That might be something that you could ponder further another time, minister.

Mike Rumbles

First, I will focus on section 5, which concerns inspecting bodies and inspectors. As the minister knows, the bill says:

“The Scottish Ministers may by regulations authorise one or more persons, organisations or bodies to appoint inspectors for the purposes of this Act.”

That is quite different to the position in the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. There seems to be some controversy about that, because the bill seems to give a lot of power to the appointed inspectors. What organisations or persons does the Scottish Government think would be the appropriate ones to appoint the inspectors?

Our previous witnesses said that, if we go down the route of appointing inspectors in addition to the police constables, there should be a training system and perhaps a certification system. At the moment, it seems like the minister would appoint a body that would appoint inspectors, and there would not necessarily be any training or certification.

Mairi Gougeon

Again, we would have to consider further whether we would support the model that is proposed in the bill or adopt the one that we already use to appoint animal welfare inspectors, which is set out in the 2006 act and involves Scottish ministers directly appointing inspectors and other bodies not having an official role in the appointment process. That process is effective, at the moment.

On what the other bodies might be, there are only a limited number of bodies that it could be. Again, we will have to give further consideration to that, and we will also have to have discussions with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. It would be beneficial for anyone who was appointed in those respective areas, or whoever those inspectors might be, to have established protocols with the police. Depending on who they might be, we would need to consider what training might be appropriate for them.

Mike Rumbles

The previous witnesses suggested that, if you appoint inspectors rather than using a properly resourced police service to deal with the issue, the perception of the severity of the crime might be diminished. I think that I am right in saying that the witnesses expressed the view that, instead of involving several organisations—local authorities, private organisations and the police—it might be better to focus on having a properly resourced police effort to tackle the crime. Everyone agreed that it was a serious crime but they all felt that involving too many people might be a problem.

Mairi Gougeon

I understand why that point was raised. We see similar issues when it comes to wildlife crime. Livestock attacks take place in rural areas, as does wildlife crime, and the resource that the police can apply will always be finite.

I understand what the member means about it being confusing about which body to contact. However, a lot of organisations do not work in isolation. When I talked about dog control notices earlier, I talked about the working protocols that we have with local authorities and Police Scotland and trying to see how we can improve them and ensure that there is more joined-up working.

Similar arrangements are in place in the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020. We were looking at better intelligence sharing between the Scottish SPCA and Police Scotland, because they have to work together quite closely. The Scottish SPCA can be called out to wildlife incidents for which it is appropriate for the police to be involved.

Of course, all those bodies have distinct powers and it is important to take all that into consideration when determining the most appropriate authority. Regardless of whether that would be the police or other inspecting bodies, it is important to get right the protocols for how they work together and share information.

Mike Rumbles

As well as section 5 of the bill, section 4 is giving me concern. It is about powers to authorise entry, search and seizure.

As far as I understand it, the bill is a departure from the established legal norms of Scots law. As the minister will be aware, under normal everyday general principles, a police constable cannot enter a premises in the hope of searching for evidence. Any such issue must be taken to a sheriff or a justice of the peace to obtain a search warrant before the premises can be entered. In our liberal democratic society, that is the safeguard.

As it is drafted, section 4 allows that to be circumvented, if I can put it in that way. It would insert a new section 2A(2) into the 1953 act:

“This subsection is complied with in relation to premises if—

(a) either—

(i) admission to the premises has been refused, or

(ii) such a refusal may reasonably be expected”.

Proposed new section 2A(3) says:

“This subsection is complied with if the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is temporarily absent.”

That is a huge difference from our normal, established way of policing, is it not?

Mairi Gougeon

There are similarities with other pieces of legislation. It is currently the case for constables and inspectors, under paragraph 4 of schedule 1 to the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, in connection with the investigation of certain of certain animal welfare offences, so it would not be such a massive departure as has been suggested. Other pieces of legislation contain similar powers, which are primarily in relation to concern about the welfare of an animal.

The proposed provisions in the bill do not extend to the search of domestic premises without a warrant. In addition, the Crown Office establishes whether other approaches have been considered, prior to seeking a warrant.

I understand the member’s concern about it, and the reasons for such concern, and it must be fully considered, but similar powers exist.

Mike Rumbles

The minister misunderstands my point. I am fully aware that, if a police constable feels that a crime is under way—such as animal neglect, which is a criminal offence—he has the power to enter premises under the general principles of Scots law. The provision under discussion is not about that.

If a crime has been committed somewhere else, that person is not actually committing an offence at the time, nor can be said to be likely to commit an offence. There is a major difference between the law under the 2006 act that the minister mentioned, which I fully understand, and what is proposed in the bill. The bill proposals depart from the norm of a constable, or an inspector, not being given the power to search without a warrant.

Mairi Gougeon

As I said towards the end of my statement, we want to further consider the provisions in that part of the bill, as well as the appointment of inspectors via authorising a body to appoint them. Those issues need further consideration and we will have discussions on them with the Crown Office in due course.

Oliver Mundell

The questions that I was going to ask primarily have been covered. That is the second time that I have heard the minister talking about having further discussions with the Crown Office—does that mean that there have already been discussions, and has the Crown Office raised any concerns about how the bill is drafted?

Mairi Gougeon

Those discussions are on-going because—[Inaudible.] It is not a like-for-like example, but the member will probably be aware of discussions that we had in connection with the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill about the potential for increasing the powers that are available to the Scottish SPCA. We are still in the midst of establishing a task force to consider that specific issue. Increasing those powers has often been portrayed as quite simple, but it is not because it could have implications for the Scottish SPCA and for the investigation of crimes and the powers that are held by the Crown Office and the police. The task force is being set up to tease out those issues, and that work is still due to start.

Although this situation is not exactly the same, there are issues within that that we have not been able to fully resolve or investigate, and we are continuing to have discussions with the Crown Office to bottom out where the issues are.

Oliver Mundell

Given that experience, does it not put you off as a Government taking the same approach with this bill? I am concerned that that kind of process would slow down the legislation coming fully into force. The people who have been waiting many years to see the legislation updated would rather see the police given those powers straight away to get on with tackling the issue. We heard suggestions from the previous panel that sometimes the police do not see the issue as being as much of a priority as wildlife crime. I am concerned that that kind of process could delay the legislation or create confusion around it; will you take that into consideration?

Mairi Gougeon

Yes. We certainly do not want to do anything to impede the progress of the bill, because it is vital. We support the bill, because it gives livestock attacks the seriousness with which they should be recognised. That is very positive and we want to make sure that the bill progresses and is implemented. I only raised that example to highlight some of the issues that we face. Again, I am not comparing like with like in discussing that situation and what is proposed in the bill; I refer to it only to highlight how some of these issues can be quite complex, but I hope that, once we have those discussions with the Crown Office, we will be able to progress with that work again to get to the bottom of the issues so that the process is not held up. The two situations are different, and I used that as an example only to highlight how we had dealt with it in other areas.

Oliver Mundell

I will briefly return to vets for my final question. In a previous evidence session, we heard a suggestion that it might be possible to use the SRUC’s vets. They already do some work for the Scottish Government and Police Scotland in other areas; will you explore that option as a way of ironing out some of the resourcing issues for vets?

Mairi Gougeon

I am certainly happy to look into that and get back to the committee with more detail.

11:30  



Maureen Watt

Is it the Scottish Government’s intention that any new legislation will be accompanied by more awareness-raising educational campaigns for dog owners and land managers to prevent livestock worrying?

Mairi Gougeon

The need for education and awareness raising has been raised consistently throughout the committee’s evidence taking. When penalties are introduced through a new piece of legislation, it is important that people are aware of it and of its potential impact. We will have to give further consideration to that as we move forward.

A lot of work is being done by other organisations, and it would be good to have discussions with them about working together on education and awareness raising. For example, we have been working with the Scottish SPCA over the past two years and, this year, we hope to work with it again on raising awareness about how to buy a puppy safely, which is a massive issue. If we already have such campaigns, it would make sense to consider whether there is a way to develop that.

The issue cuts across portfolios, and I am sure that the Minister for Community Safety, who is dealing with dog control notices, would probably not be too happy with me committing her whole budget to a marketing campaign, so we will have to consider that when the bill is passed. However, it is definitely an important point.

I talked about buying a puppy safely, which feeds into the dog control element. There has been an increase in the demand for puppies, especially during the course of the pandemic—I am sure that everybody will have heard about the current cost of puppies. People have been at home more and some have bought puppies in order to have a pet. From discussions that I have had with animal welfare charities in the past few weeks, I know that we are already starting to see problems arise as a result of that, because not everybody realises the extent of the responsibilities that come with owning an animal. When you take a puppy or another animal as a pet, it should not be temporary; you should have that pet for life and you should look after it properly. As I said, we might see more animal behaviour issues arising, given the sheer number of people who are taking on pets, and given that there is now less access to the education and training that animal welfare organisations provided before the pandemic, although some of that is now happening again virtually.

The Convener

Minister, your official, Jim Wilson, wants to come in. If you are happy to let him in, I am happy to hear what he has to add. Woe betide you afterwards if you say no, I suspect.

Jim Wilson

I want to briefly outline some of our recent activity. We engaged with the Scottish Government justice communications team, which allowed us to use social media platforms to raise awareness of dog control. We used Twitter to promote the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 and highlight the importance of keeping dogs under control. Our short video clip was viewed 51,000 times, which is a decent number of views. Our second clip, which encourages citizens to report issues with out-of-control dogs to local authorities, had been viewed 8,230 times when I last checked. We did a little bit on Facebook, too. For a modest cost, we were able to get some key messages out there.

I appreciate that marketing resources are heavily focused on dealing with Covid at the moment, but there might be the chance to consider other awareness-raising opportunities in the future.

The Scottish Government-led working group is considering what other key enforcement agencies can do to promote responsible dog ownership across the country.

Christine Grahame

I want to make a couple of points, and I accept what you said about marketing resources being required for very many Covid-related things at the moment. However, more people are going to be outdoors with their dogs, so perhaps there is a quid pro quo to be had from advertising this legislation, if it passes, and the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010.

I want to ask a question about the issue of a DCN database, which was raised by Peter Chapman. All dogs in Scotland should be microchipped. I raised the issue of creating a database for animals that had been issued a DCN under the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010, which resulted from my member’s bill, at the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee and I seem to remember—it would be unfair to say absolutely that this was the case—that the minister, Ash Denham, said that she would consider a national database. It seems to be to be a good idea that, if this legislation comes in, it will be possible to check whether owners already have a DCN and their dog has been involved in another offence, so that the two can be linked together. Will the minister discuss that with the justice minister?

Mairi Gougeon

I would be happy to further discuss that with the Minister for Community Safety. However, work on a DCN database is being done and that issue is being considered at the moment. I do not know whether Jim Wilson would like to add any further detail to that.

Jim Wilson

I will be very brief. That is being looked at by the working group, and the issue of the database was raised very recently—on 20 August—when the Minister for Community Safety and I appeared before the Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee. Therefore, we have had some exploratory conversations with the Improvement Service, Police Scotland and local authorities about the opportunities to create such a system.

The minister highlighted an earlier consultation, which took place from September last year to January this year, that looked into the operational effect of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010. A specific question was posed on a DCN database, and a high percentage of those who responded thought that it would be a good idea and that it would become a useful enforcement tool for local authorities in situations in which an individual had been served with a DCN and then moved to a different local authority area.

It is also worth highlighting that, under article 36(4) of the general data protection regulation, there is a requirement to engage with the regulator about any statutory work that is undertaken. I know that Christine Grahame will recall that with some fondness from the 2010 act. Ultimately, there is a need to ensure that information sharing between the key enforcement agencies is considered. We want to ensure that the Information Commissioner’s Office is also part of those conversations.

My final point relates to the database. What could be held on it is quite restricted: it would be information on dog control notices. However, we would be open to considering further legislative change in order for more information on dog control to be held on such a system. The key point to make, and I certainly made this point to the Improvement Service, is that if it agrees to take on that project—further conversations on that are planned for the end of this month—we have to ensure that any systems that are developed are future proofed to ensure that the digital tools can support any current plans or policy changes that might be on the horizon, whether through legislative means or otherwise. I stress that the database is limited to holding information on DCNs. There might be opportunities for such a system to do more in future, but we would need to consider legislative change to achieve that.

Christine Grahame

I do not want to focus on my bill, because this is about other legislation, but do you agree that a database would assist in getting prosecutions under this legislation? It might provide corroboration that there was a reckless owner. It will be hard to get corroboration as the offences will take place when there is nobody about. If somebody makes a report and a dog control notice already applies to the animal that is identified, the database will be an additional tool to establish that the owner is not looking after their dog properly, the animal is out of control and the owner may have committed an additional offence under the legislation. I am interested in corroboration.

Jim Wilson

That is a good point. It is useful to highlight the links between the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. The review of the 1991 act will look at the concern that was raised by a number of witnesses who gave evidence to the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee on the issue of reasonable apprehension. An owner might not know that their dog might be likely to attack. Each case depends on the circumstances, but that reasonable apprehension argument could cause difficulties in achieving successful prosecutions. The consultation must look carefully at that.

I agree with Christine Grahame. The database could be accessed by Police Scotland. I can confirm that, in one of our working group conversations, Police Scotland recognised the benefit of receiving that type of information and intelligence from local authorities and saw that it could support other investigations that could fall under the 1991 act.

The Convener

I am going to bring in Emma Harper. Emma, it is your bill and the floor is yours.

Emma Harper

I thank panel members for their evidence so far and I thank the committee for its scrutiny of the bill. I am pleased that the Government supports the overall principle of updating a 67-year-old piece of legislation.

My question is about the police. To my mind, the police should take the lead in any investigation. That is my goal. There might be other investigating bodies, such as local authority agents, to support them.

I lifted some language from the UEFA European Championship (Scotland) Act. Sections 20 and 21 of that act include language about the

“power to enter and search”

and the

“use of reasonable force”.

I used that language because it had already been passed. My intention was that, if a latch-key dog was seized in a field, somebody could take that dog and place it in a holding pen.

The Convener

Emma, I am showing you quite a lot of leniency in allowing you to explain the bill, but I cannot show you any more. Please focus and ask the minister your question. You will have the opportunity to explain your bill when you come in front of the committee. I am sorry to interrupt you.

Emma Harper

That is fine. Does the minister think that that should be in the bill and in primary legislation, or could the idea of assigning powers to other people be placed in further regulations?

Mairi Gougeon

We are considering that point and how that might operate. I understand what the member is trying to do with that provision and with the idea of the police being the primary investigating body, with others to assist them as organisations work together. We have other examples where that happens. We need to have that full discussion with the Crown Office to see whether there are any potential issues and then iron them out. I fully understand what the member was trying to do with the provision: it is trying to ensure that the police and the inspectors have the powers to thoroughly investigate such incidents.

The Convener

Do you have another question, Emma?

Emma Harper

Not really—I will save it for another occasion, as I would need something of a preamble in order to get to the information.

11:45  



The Convener

Minister, during the course of the evidence sessions so far, the issue of the value of livestock has been raised. You will know that livestock value can vary and that sheep and rams in particular can be quite expensive. Is the compensation element given enough consideration in the bill? It was suggested that it might be appropriate for dog owners to have insurance to cover any liability in relation to, say, a ram that is worth £20,000, or even, as Stewart Stevenson suggested, in extreme circumstances, £300,000—oh to be able to sell something of that value! I have not achieved that yet, but then I do not have a sheep. Do you think that we should consider insurance along with compensation?

Mairi Gougeon

Farmers should be insured against such incidents. That goes back to the response that I gave to Colin Smyth’s question earlier. The committee had already heard evidence about the one case in which a compensation order was granted, but the statistics show us that only 9 per cent of farmers actually receive compensation. I would want to give that issue further consideration because all the tools could be already available to us. There is also a civil route for compensation. However, it is worth considering why those routes, given that they are available, are not working, so that we can get to the bottom of the reasons for that. Clearly, it is working for some but not for many other people.

The Convener

No other members appear to want to ask questions at this stage. I thank the minister and her team for giving evidence.

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16 September 2020

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23 September 2020

What is secondary legislation?

Secondary legislation is sometimes called 'subordinate' or 'delegated' legislation. It can be used to:



  • bring a section or sections of a law that’s already been passed, into force

  • give details of how a law will be applied

  • make changes to the law without a new Act having to be passed


An Act is a Bill that’s been approved by Parliament and given Royal Assent (formally approved).

Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee's Stage 1 report

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