Thank you Presiding Officer, let me begin by explaining the reason for the Scottish Government’s policy decision to introduce new safeguards in reaction to XL Bully dogs.
These new safeguards, which will include a requirement for XL Bully dogs to be muzzled and kept on a lead in public places, will help ensure public safety.
This was not a decision that has been taken lightly. It follows as a direct result of the UK Government’s decision to introduce new controls on the XL Bully dog for owners living in England and Wales.
Such a decision was for the UK Government to make for owners in England and Wales.
But the UK Government failed, however, to fully consider the knock-on impacts of that decision.
As the First Minister set out last week, the UK Government failed to act to stop dog owners in England and Wales evade the new controls by bringing their dogs to Scotland.
That changed the balance of whether we needed to act here in Scotland.
Presiding Officer, these are exceptional circumstances in which we find ourselves.
It means that it is now right and proper that we replicate the controls being implemented south of the border.
This does not mean that the Scottish Government is moving away from the ‘deed not breed’ approach recognised by dog control experts as being the most effective way of keeping communities safe.
The Scottish Parliament should be proud of the legislation that has created a system of ‘dog control’ notices that can be served on an owner of any dog that is ‘out of control’ as a proportionate step to reduce the risk of the dog becoming ‘dangerously out of control’.
Scotland is unique in this position in comparison to the rest of the UK. The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 enables local authorities to serve Dog Control Notices to deal with ‘out of control’ dogs at an early stage.
And I can confirm that the Scottish Government will be looking in the medium term to work with key stakeholders and interested parties to look at potential improvements to the 2010 Act that could enhance and strengthen the general preventative dog control notice regime in Scotland.
Presiding Officer, we recognise the vast majority of dog owners are responsible animal lovers and will want to keep their XL Bully dogs and comply with these safeguards when they are introduced.
The importance of responsible dog ownership is hugely important, but sadly there are some cases of irresponsible dog ownership that can understandably lead to operational challenges for the Police as well as local authority dog wardens.
Issues could also arise with dogs being neglected, not exercised, and generally just not compatible with the owner’s lifestyle - leading to behavioural issues.
Presiding Officer, while the focus today is on XL Bully dogs, any dog has the propensity to become ‘out of control’ or even dangerous if it’s not trained properly, socialised properly, and not kept under proper control at all times in all places.
I was struck by the courage of someone who had lived experience of having been attacked by a dog when I met with them last month.
The individual spoke bravely when telling their story of how they had suffered a dog bite attack resulting with physical, emotional, and financial consequences which were caused by the incident.
And I am aware there will be a range of views on the decision made, but I want to place on record my thanks to all those that I have met in recent weeks for their helpful engagement input, expertise and time.
Presiding Officer, just as is the case in England and Wales, I must stress these are new safeguards rather than a ban.
And it is important people understand the effect of the new safeguards.
There are thousands of applications from XL Bully owners in England and Wales from owners who have sought exemption certificates to enable them to keep their XL Bully dogs.
It would therefore be wrong to categorise the safeguards, whether in Scotland, England or Wales as a ban.
Presiding Officer, I have heard from many concerned voices in recent weeks around the impact of this policy.
We will, of course, continue to engage with stakeholders to hear about the practical issues arising and we will carefully consider these for Scotland.
From my discussions to date I am aware of concerns relating to veterinary capacity given the uncertainty around the number of XL Bully dog owners who will require vet assistance.
I am also conscious of the possible impact on animal welfare organisations and wider issues connected to the designation of dogs under the Dangerous Dogs legislation, both in terms of the impact of some of the safeguards and the wider implications.
These issues will continue to require serious consideration and I am happy to discuss those as we implement the safeguards in Scotland.
Presiding Officer, it is important that members, XL Bully dog owners and the general public understand what the new safeguards will mean.
Subject to approval by Parliament, the effect of the new Scottish controls will be to mean owners will need to make a decision about whether to keep their dogs.
There will be two stages to this new safeguards regime.
From a date that we will announce, the first stage will mean it will be an offence in Scotland to:
o sell an XL Bully dog
o to abandon an XL Bully dog or let it stray
o to give away an XL Bully dog
o to breed from an XL Bully dog
o to have an XL Bully dog in public without a lead and muzzle
The second stage will be the deadline to apply for your dog to be added to be exemption index.
After this date – which again will be announced in the coming period – it will be an offence to own an XL Bully dog unless you either have an exemption certificate or have applied for a certificate.
This two-stage approach will give a limited amount of time for XL Bully owners to make an informed decision about what they want to do with their dogs.
It is appropriate to give this opportunity; however, once the new regime is in place the owner will need to decide:
- to keep their dog, and if so, adhere to the new safeguards, or to
- no longer keep their dog.
For those who wish to keep their dog and comply with the new safeguards, a fee will be payable to apply to register a dog on the exemption index.
And compensation will be payable for those owners who no longer wish to keep their dogs.
The amount of the fee, and the compensation payable will be set out in regulations and confirmed in the coming period.
But just for reference. the equivalent amounts in England and Wales are £92.40 for the register for the dog to be on the exemption index, and either £100 or £200 for the loss of a dog subject to euthanisation and payment for the process of euthanising your dog, depending on whether this service was paid for.
In addition to the need for a muzzle and keeping your dog on a lead, the new safeguards operating as part of the exemption include having your dog microchipped and neutered.
The specific dates for these stages will be set out in the legislation to be laid and agreed by Parliament, but we are working at pace to urgently develop necessary regulations.
Dog owners in Scotland should therefore start to consider what they may wish to do with their XL Bully dogs.
And given what the Scottish Government has announced, I would suggest it would be sensible for any prospective owners of XL Bully dogs to seriously bear in mind the need to adhere to the new safeguards, if they are minded to acquire an XL Bully dog where they currently do not own one.
We will develop guidance and practical support to allow owners to understand the legislation, of what is required, and this will include details of how to identify an XL Bully dog using the standard developed by the UK Government.
Presiding Officer, for Scotland we must recognise the consequences of the UK Government’s policy on XL Bully dogs.
Effectively it would see owners in England and Wales able to rid of their XL Bully dogs here in Scotland.
We therefore have to act and enhance safeguards that will help to keep the public safe.
It is therefore right to replicate the regime in England and Wales so that we remove the ability of English and Welsh dog owners to use Scotland to get rid of their dogs.
Moving forward, we will be considering issues that has arisen as a consequence of the UK Government’s policy.
We will also continue to work closely with stakeholders to look at ways of mitigating, where appropriate, the impact of any unintended consequences of these controls.
Finally, despite the need to introduce these new safeguards, we remain committed to the fundamental principles of the Scottish approach.
The situation with XL Bully dogs is unique but we remain unequivocally committed to “deed and not breed”.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
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