Page last updated at 18:26 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Government rules out all-dog insurance plan

Ministers had said all breeds of dog should be covered by the provision

The government has ruled out forcing all dog owners to insure against their pets attacking people - a week after suggesting the idea.

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the proposal would not be turned into policy, as ministers did not "want to penalise" responsible owners.

The insurance suggestion for England and Wales was part of a consultation on dangerous dogs launched last Tuesday.

The Tories said the change represented a "humiliating U-turn" for Labour.

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

Ministers had argued that forcing five million owners to take out third-party insurance would ensure victims were compensated.

'Horrific injuries'

But critics said this would not cover the dangerous breeds - such as pit bull terriers - already banned under law, while responsible pet owners would be unfairly penalised.

The insurance industry claimed the owners of aggressive animals would not pay up and raised questions over who would compensate the victims of uninsured dogs.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Benn said: "We can rule out compulsory insurance for all dogs. The idea of compulsory insurance was something that was raised with us because of the horrific injuries some very dangerous dogs can cause.


"It was therefore included in the government consultation document. But we would still be interested in views on whether third-party insurance could be a requirement of a dog control notice (ie if a dog is causing a problem)."

He also said: "We don't want to penalise the vast majority of responsible dog owners because they're just as concerned as everybody else about that small minority who mistreat dogs, get them involved in dog fighting or use dogs as weapons.

"We've got to make sure that the public are protected and we're taking public concern seriously by asking how can we sensibly review the law that we've currently got."

The Conservatives accused ministers of turning their announcement into a "political dog's dinner".

Banned types

Shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert said: "Labour have dithered for years on this issue and then rushed out a policy consultation weeks before an election that was immediately seen as totally flawed.

"A dog tax on more than five million owners was proposed last week, and is now ruled out by Hilary Benn in a humiliating U-turn that just proves how tired and incompetent this government has become.

"We need a comprehensive approach to this problem with a focus on the minority of owners who use dangerous dogs as weapons, not the vast majority of responsible dog lovers."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "Another headline-grabbing Labour announcement has gone to the dogs.

"The law on dangerous dogs does need to be tightened up but not by a canine tax on millions of law-abiding British dog lovers."

The 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act 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.

The insurance proposal was part of a consultation on updating the act.

'Difficult to enforce'

Nick Starling, of the Association of British Insurers, said: "We are pleased that the government has dropped the unworkable proposal to make it compulsory for all dog owners to have third-party insurance.

"However, any proposal to require aggressive dogs who are not on the dangerous dogs register to be covered by stand-alone third-party insurance would still be difficult to implement as there is currently no such cover available.

"Compulsory insurance is always difficult to enforce; the very people that the government is targeting - those who mistreat their dogs or use them as weapons - are the same people who will not buy cover."

The insurance plan would not have applied 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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