A member's bill to increase the penalties for dog owners whose pets chase, attack or kill farmed animals will require significant amendment and clear guidance as to how it will work in practice if it is to meet its aim, a Holyrood committee has reported.
In its stage 1 report on the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, the Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee supports the general principles of the bill, but expresses concerns about the effectiveness of the enforcement and prosecution provisions and the lack of clarity around the practical application of the legislation.
Introduced by Emma Harper, SNP member for the South of Scotland, the bill would provide additional powers for the investigation and enforcement of "livestock worrying" offences and increase the maximum penalty to six months’ imprisonment, a fine of £5,000, or both.
The committee reports that while higher penalties may be justified, it is unconvinced that increased sentencing powers alone would act as a deterrent, and questions whether the measures relating to compensation for livestock owners are necessary given existing remedies available to the courts.
It also notes evidence that the proposed disqualification orders on convicted persons from owning or keeping a dog, or taking a dog on to land where livestock may be present, may be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and calls for clarification as to how these orders would be applied, enforced and monitored.
The report further considers that proposals to grant the police the power of entry, search and seizure without a warrant when cases of livestock worrying are being investigated should be removed, due to very real concerns about the necessity and legality of such a power. It also calls for the removal of provisions to allow the creation of new inspection bodies, as it considers that responsibility for dealing with offences should lie only with the police.
Committee convener Edward Mountain MSP commented: "In principle the committee is supportive of new legislation which would introduce tougher enforcement powers and increase penalties for livestock worrying, as dog attacks can cause suffering to farm animals and significant financial cost to farmers. However, the evidence from stakeholders has highlighted a number of areas in the bill on which the committee considers more clarity and/or amendment is needed to assist in achieving its objectives and making it as effective as possible.
"In particular, our report raises concerns about the lack of clarity around the intent, appropriateness and practical application of several of the enforcement and prosecution provisions in the bill. We have also called for the specific proposals to create new inspection bodies and those to grant the police the power of entry, search and seizure without a warrant in cases of livestock worrying to be removed from the bill.
"We have asked the member in charge to work with Scottish Government to address these issues in order to ensure that this legislation can complete its passage before the end of the current parliamentary session."