It’s the Kenny Dalglish answer. Maybes aye, maybes naw. And its use yet again this week in a parliamentary debate on the proposal to ban American XL Bully Dogs exposes the fact that the Scottish Government is too often too slow to act on matters of public concern.
Just as they have done with the scandal of crumbling concrete in our schools, hospitals and other public buildings.
The consensus on the street appears to be that they should get on with banning these animals which have recently been bringing terror – and even death – mainly to areas of deprivation blighted by drugs and ant-social behaviour, where their owners buy or breed them as trophies which mark them out as hard men.
They are also often turned on police officers making raids on the homes of illegal drug dealers.
Conservative Jamie Greene raised the matter in the Holyrood parliament where he asked the SNP government what consideration it has given to introducing a ban on American XL bully dogs, in light of a series of reported attacks involving such dogs.
The Minister for Victims and Community Safety, Siobhian Brown, told MSPs: “We all share the horror at recent reported attacks and deaths due to XL bully dogs, and my thoughts are with all of those impacted.”
Following the announcement by PM Rishi Sunak that the UK government was taking steps to introduce a ban on American XL bully dogs, Scottish Government officials met with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials and officials from Wales and Northern Ireland to discuss and hear more about the UK Government’s proposed approach.
She added: “The UK Government plans to convene an expert group to specify a legal definition of the American XL bully. The group will consist of a body of people concerned with animal welfare, veterinary science and practice and breeds of dogs, and it will include representatives from the police and the four nations. That work, when carried out, will inform our consideration of any ban moving forward.”
But that will take time and concern amongst the people who have to live with these dogs is increasing rapidly in the wake of more attacks and even deaths of their victims.
Jamie Greene said:”Naturally, all our thoughts are with the families of those affected by the recent fatalities and attacks. In the light of the spate of attacks, urgent action must be taken, and I welcome the UK Government’s swift response to that end.
“However, there are many schools of thought out there about how we should deal with so-called dangerous dogs, ranging from an outright ban, as is the case in this scenario, to better enforcement of existing breeding and ownership laws.
“In addition to the consultation and liaison with the UK Government stakeholders, what expert stakeholder advice will the Scottish Government take and what public consultation will it undertake before reaching its conclusions? Given the urgency and the public safety issues, when might we expect a firm decision on the matter?”
Siobhian Brown told parliament: “I agree with the member that what matters is making a careful, evidence-based decision that is focused on protecting public safety in Scotland. We are committed to giving full consideration to the issue, to ensure that we arrive at the correct decision. It is clear from the UK Government’s announcement that there are a wide range of views in the area, from experts and members of the public, and it is imperative that the Scottish Government, in moving forward, considers all voices. I do not currently have a timescale for the consultation, but I will keep the member updated.”
Jamie Greene replied: “There are many responsible dog owners out there who may also have reservations about forthcoming legislation and what that means for their pet ownership.”
He said that in January this year he had raised with the former First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, the serious issue of serious organised criminal gangs that use extreme breeding techniques to create fashionable hybrid breeds such as the American XL bully.
He added: “Often, the dogs are maltreated and poorly bred and have severe health problems. They are treated as valuable commodities and are often sold to irresponsible owners. I know that it is a very difficult debate about whether there are bad dogs out there or simply bad owners and bad breeders.
“What progress has the Scottish Government made since then on the potential toughening of, or even simple enforcement of, the many existing laws that govern extreme breeding, illegal breeding and irresponsible dog ownership in Scotland?”
Siobhian Brown told him: “We have established an operational working group involving local authorities, Police Scotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and other key stakeholders to progress that important work, and we publish updated statutory guidance to help local authorities to carry out their functions under the control of dogs legislation.
“I know that there is a lot of concern out there in the general public and among people who may have certain breeds of dogs, so it is important to get the message across and emphasise that, if a dog is a banned breed, that does not automatically mean that it will be put down. There are conditions that can be met, such as having the dog neutered or spayed or keeping the dog muzzled in public, and the dog can be placed on the index of exempted dogs by the court. That index is operated by DEFRA on a UK-wide basis.”
Stephen Kerr, the Tory MSP for Central Scotland, asked: “What are the minister’s conclusions on the argument about whether the issue is to do with bad dogs or bad owners whose mistreatment of dogs leads them to behave in a certain way? Where will the emphasis be?”
Siobhian Brown replied: “The vast majority of dog owners are responsible people who take good care of their animals, but a small minority of owners fail to keep their dogs under proper control and do not have the same responsible attitude as the general public does.”