New measures against dog owners whose pets attack farmers' livestock are put forward in a proposed member's bill in the Scottish Parliament, newly put out to consultation.

Emma Harper, SNP member for the South of Scotland, points to the sharp rise in the number of instances of livestock worrying in recent years, together with the low rate of prosecution, as showing that the law is currently failing to deal effectively with the problem.

In 2007-08 there were 81 recorded instances of offences, but by 2016-17 this had risen to 175. However only nine convictions were obtained in the earlier year, and 19 in the later. In addition, a survey carried out by the National Farmers Union of Scotland found that, of those farmers who said they had been affected by livestock worrying or attack, around half had not reported it to the police, whether from scepticism about the likelihood of the perpetrator being apprehended or because many instances are thought to involve dogs belonging to neighbours who let their dogs out without supervision, and farmers may fear repercussions or the loss of good relations with their neighbours if they make a report.

At present the maximum penalty, under an Act of 1953, is a £1,000 fine, and police can seize a dog only in order to find out who the owner is. Ms Harper's proposals would:

  • increase the penalties for the offence of livestock worrying or attack, so that the owner of the dog, and/or the person in charge of it at the time, would be liable to a fine up to level 5 on the standard scale (currently £5,000) or imprisonment for up to six months, and/or a ban on owning dogs, including for life, subject to periodic review;
  • provide police officers with powers, in suspected cases, to require the owner or person in charge of a dog suspected of livestock worrying/attack, accompanied by a police officer, to take the dog, within a 24-hour period, for examination to a vet for the purpose of evidence gathering; or for a police officer to have the power to seize the dog and take it to a vet themselves;
  • enable Scottish ministers to delegate powers, in order to aid in the investigation and enforcement of the offence to an appropriate body (such as the SSPCA). 

Click here to view the consultation. The deadline for views is 15 May 2019.