21 January 2021

S5M-23916 Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-23916, in the name of Emma Harper, on the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I declare that I am the joint owner of a very small registered agricultural holding that our neighbour Gordon, who is a farmer, puts sheep on from time to time during the year.

I start by congratulating Emma Harper on all the work that she has undertaken in preparing the bill and taking it through Parliament. I know how extensive that has been because, although she is a South Scotland MSP, I met her at the Turriff show a few years ago—she had come right to the north of Scotland to proselytise about improved protection for animals on farms.

If, like me, members have seen photographs of sheep that have been attacked by dogs that are not under proper control, which I would not wish to show widely to people, they will know why the principle that is at the heart of our consideration today—that we should better protect sheep and other animals that are being cared for in farming settings—is a good one. What I hear from the debate so far is that we all support it.

Creating a legal framework that improves the environment of protection is a substantial and difficult issue, as is demonstrated by the committee’s investigation of the bill and other speeches. I welcome the fact that there appears to be a clear way forward to bring the bill to the statute book after the subsequent phases of consideration.

In some of the speeches, we were in slight danger of forgetting where evidence comes from because it is not simply a matter for the police. It is the police, broadly, who will communicate with the procurator fiscal to initiate prosecutions, but the evidence that will be relied on in those prosecutions will very largely come from people who happen to be in the vicinity, be they vets, farmers or laypersons like me. It is important to remember that that evidence will be tested in a court setting, as is proper to the person who might be accused of an offence.

It is worth saying that, many years ago, when I was a water bailiff under now-obsolete legislation, I could enter premises with the warrant card that I held, so those provisions on entry, which will not be there at the end, are not unique in the history of Scots law.

I congratulate Emma Harper and encourage Parliament to vote unanimously to approve the principles at decision time. I am happy to be here to support the bill.


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