Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

All dogs could be insured under dangerous breeds plans

Alan Johnson: "No one can have failed to notice the growing presence of so-called status dogs"

All dog owners in England and Wales would have to insure against their pet attacking someone under Labour proposals to tackle dangerous breeds.

Police and local authorities could also be given powers to force owners of dangerous dogs to muzzle them or even get them neutered.

Ministers say the consultation responds to concerns about the use of animals to intimidate or threaten people.

But insurers said Labour's plan could prove "more difficult than it looks".

More than 100 people a week are admitted to hospital after dog attacks.

There has also been a reported rise in levels of dog fighting and illegal ownership, particularly by gangs who are using dangerous dogs as status symbols.

Complicated

Coming a few weeks before a general election is expected, the government has launched a consultation on amending the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.

This legislation banned ownership of four types: the pit bull terrier, the Japanese tosa, the dogo Argentino and the fila Brasileiro.

It also gave police powers to deal with any dogs, of whatever breed, that became out of control in a public place - with destruction of the animal the ultimate sanction.

Thousands of our members are attacked at work every year. This reform cannot come soon enough
Billy Hayes
General secretary, CWU

But if a dog not on the banned list of types causes an injury on private property - such as someone's home - it is not covered by the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Instead, owners have to be pursued under the Dogs Act of 1871, which is seen as more time-consuming and complicated.

The government's consultation suggests extending the 1991 legislation to private property.

Ministers argue this will also protect postal workers, telecoms engineers and other people whose work takes them on to private land.

Another proposal is to introduce compulsory third-party insurance for dog owners to ensure attack victims are compensated.

'Public safety'

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he was concerned that some owners were keeping dogs with the sole purpose of intimidating other people.

He told BBC News: "What most dog owners recognise is that what's going on is cruelty to animals.

"Other dogs are being treated abysmally because of this fashion for 'status dogs', which has been the main issue over the last five or six years."

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But Nick Starling, of the Association of British Insurers, said: "While we understand the desire to reduce the number of attacks by dogs, making insurance compulsory for all dog owners is much more difficult than it looks.

"There is currently no stand-alone third-party insurance cover for the owners of dangerous dogs, and no desire by insurers to provide cover against this very high risk.

"Making it compulsory for pet owners would still not make it compulsory for insurers to offer the cover.

"While pet insurance policies will usually include third-party liability cover for dog owners, this would not cover dangerous dogs as defined under The Dangerous Dogs Act, and other specified breeds."

He added: "Even if third-party insurance was available, how would such a system be enforced, especially as many of the owners of dangerous dogs would be unlikely to take out insurance, even if it was compulsory.

"And would someone who was attacked by an uninsured dog be entitled to compensation, and if so from whom?"

Postman Paul Coleman describes how two dogs attacked him on his delivery round

The Conservatives said the government had allowed the problem to get worse, with the number of people convicted for allowing their dogs to cause injury more than doubling in the past decade.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said penalties for dangerous dog offences had to be "sensible" and that any changes to the law had to be "simple and strong".

The proposed insurance plan would not apply in Scotland. However, a backbench bill proposed by the SNP's Christine Grahame is currently being examined by the Scottish Parliament.

The Control of Dogs Bill would allow councils to impose restrictions on owners who failed to control their pets.



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