by Nick Mays
COMPULSORY DOG registration by microchip would be enforced by law if the Liberal Democrats ever form a Government. This was one of several animal welfare resolutions passed by delegates at last weeks Lib Dem party conference.
The writers of the policy document appeared to have a rather selective memory of events pertaining to dog registration, as they made an incorrect statement regarding the Governments intention on the subject. They also perpetrated the great lie that registration would solve the problem of stray dogs.
The document reads:
If all dogs were fitted with microchips identifying their owner it would be easier to hold irresponsible owners to account and to deal with stray dogs. Microchips do not harm the animals and are already used by the RSPCA. The government-sponsored Dog Identification Working Group recommended in 2000 that a system of microchipping should be introduced and that 75% of dogs could be registered within 5 years. Liberal Democrats will:
Introduce a system of compulsory registration for the ownership of dogs,
Involving clear identification, ideally through microchips.
The scheme would be self-financing with the registration fee paying for the microchip, the National register and the dog warden network.
OUR DOGS contacted the Liberal Democrats and asked the following questions: 1 Compulsory identification of dogs was NOT recommended by the Government's Working Party in 2000 - this was a VOLUNTARY system and the initiative has not, as yet, been implemented. Will the Lib Dems admit that they were incorrect in publishing this information?
2 Responsible owners will, undoubtedly, register their dogs if compulsory ID became law (albeit grudgingly), Irresponsible owners would NOT register their dogs. As irresponsible owners are the very people targeted, how would compulsory ID solve any problems caused by unregistered dogs? Would unregistered dogs caught by dog wardens be destroyed? How would irresponsible owners be punished?
3 Compulsory Dog registration in Northern Ireland has NOT worked and costs far more to enforce than the revenue it generates. How would the Lib Dems make this work in the UK?
Guy Burton, the partys Advisor on Rural & Cultural Affairs replied:
The identification policy laid out in the paper passed last week is a continuation of our statement in the last paper we had on animal welfare, in 1992.
The purpose of identification is to make it easier to locate dogs' owners and reduce the number of strays and the associated costs that result.
According to the Dog Identification Group report, the cost of permanent identification would be about £138m and reduce the number of strays through publicity and education of owners to register their dogs from 2% to 20% over five years. This compares with a cost of £185-£226m if nothing is done
OUR DOGS referred back to Mr Burton, pointing out that he had not, in fact, answered our specific questions. Mr Burton contacted OUR DOGS and said: The statement from the Dog Identification Working Group concerning compulsory dog identification comes from their own document dated December 2000, in which they say that the Government should accept the recommendation. But you say that this is not the case and I am not in a position to dispute that. However, the identification policy is a continuation of our party policy on compulsory dog identification dating back to 1992.
The Liberal Democrats policy document also refers to the partys plans to amend the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 away from Breed Specific legislation. Horrifyingly, however, it claims that it would use elements of Germanys extremely draconian Kampfehunde laws.
The document states:
In Germany, the police can confiscate dogs suspected of being dangerous. The dogs are then subjected to a series of tests to prove whether they are actually dangerous. If the dog passes the test it is returned to the owners. If the dog fails the test it is given one more chance to e re-trained and re-tested and if it fails again it is destroyed. Liberal Democrats will:
Update the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to move away from breed-specific Legislation and towards a system which is similar to the German system.
This assertion was so far from the actual truth of the German dog laws that OUR DOGS had difficulty framing a measured question. However, we asked: (OUR DOGS) Again, it appears that the policy document writers haven't done their research properly. Whereas it is laudable that the Lib Dems wish to change the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act away from Breed Specific Legislation, to move towards the "German system" would be counterproductive, because not only are the German Dog laws Breed Specific, they are far, far worse than the UK laws. The "temperament test" is not a humane "second chance" system as outlined in your policy paper.
Will the LibDems admit they were at fault in their assertion vis-a-vis the German dog laws and will they consult with experts who really understand how the BSL dog laws work (i.e. the Kennel Club, the canine media, Dog Legislation Advisory Group, Dog Holocaust etc.)? Are your policy document writers aware of these organisations?
Mr Burton replied:
The policy is designed to bring an end to breed-specific legislation and introduce better protection for dogs through tests.
Not only does the temperament test assess the dog's attitude to other dogs, humans and other stimuli, it also ensures owners are subjected to an hour of instruction in responsible ownership. The tests, as we understand them, also ensure the right of appeal for the dogs in question as well.
Coupled with our continuing dog identification policy, the incentive for breed-specific legislation would presumably be reduced as well.
OUR DOGS pointed out that the party was in error and that Mr Burton had avoided answering the question fully. Mr Burton contacted us again and said: Regarding the German temperament test, from my understanding, these tasks are in position already and owners are entitled to appeal. But we would use similar tests to bring into play responsible animal ownership. People must realise they have a duty of care to an animal, to really think about things. Coupled with some form of comp id, there would be no need for breed specific legislation go towards more responsible ownership.
Finally, Mr Burton said that the policy document writers did consult with various groups and organisations, but not, as far as I am aware, the ones you have drawn attention to.