Justice department 'totally complacent' on dog attacks

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image captionSNP MSP Alex Neil accused the justice department of "total complacency" over dog attacks

The Scottish government has been accused of being "complacent" and "lacking leadership" over dog attacks.

Holyrood's public audit committee is considering recommending an update to the law in light of an "increasing problem" with the control of dogs.

MSPs were critical of the government's approach, saying the justice department had shown "total complacency".

Community safety minister Ash Denham insisted that the Scottish government "absolutely is not complacent".

But she said she understood that families of victims of dog attacks might be disappointed with the government's approach.

The committee is looking back on the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act - backbench legislation brought forward by SNP member Christine Grahame in 2010 - and considering how the law could be updated.

Another SNP MSP, Alex Neil, contended that "nothing has been done" by the government in the nine years since Ms Grahame's bill was passed.

He said: "It does seem that there's a total lack of leadership and indeed complacency on the part of the justice department over this problem.

"We have clear evidence of 5,000 people presenting to A&E every year, a very high proportion of whom according to doctors are children.

"We heard evidence from a couple from Dundee where their child was killed, mauled to death. Surely this is something that should be getting a higher priority in the justice department than has clearly been the case in the last nine years?"

image captionCommunity safety minister Ash Denham told the committee that her own sister had been bitten by a dog as a child

Ms Denham - who told members that her own sister was bitten on the face by a dog at the age of six - said "we don't want that to be occurring".

She said: "Children being attacked by dogs is obviously very distressing. I wouldn't want to see anyone being attacked like that."

She said the government was set to launch a consultation on setting up a national database of dog control notices - something called for in the 2010 legislation - but confirmed that no changes to the law were currently being looked at.

And she said there "isn't really a clear picture" about the scale of the issue due to a lack of data, saying that "one dog bite is one too many".

'Get a grip'

Mr Neil stressed that he was not blaming Ms Denham personally, as she only recently became a minister, but said the approach of the justice department "reeks of a lack of leadership and total complacency".

He added: "This problem of dog attacks is a very serious issue, particularly for children, and it's something the government needs to get a grip of as a priority."

The minister replied: "The government is absolutely not complacent about this issue. This is a very serious issue, and we are not complacent about this."

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image captionThe committee also heard from attack victims and their families who want to see dogs kept on leads in public places

Ms Grahame said she worried that bills brought forward by backbench members were "not given the same authority or treatment as government legislation".

She said: "My concern is that it's just, 'well it's a members bill, pat on the head, you've had your moment, off you go'."

The committee previously took evidence from the families of dog attack victims, and under questioning from Labour's Anas Sarwar, Ms Denham accepted that they might be disappointed by her responses.

Mr Sarwar said: "Do you recognise that for the families who shared their experiences with this committee, if the were sitting in the gallery today, how frustrated, and frankly angry and disappointed they would be at what sounds like a very complacent, hands off, somebody else's problem response from the minister for community safety?"

When Ms Denham replied saying that "I do understand what you're saying on that point", Mr Sarwar replied: "That worries me even more."

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