PLC Paper No. CB(1) 127
(These minutes have been seen by the
Administration and cleared with the Chairman)
Bills Committee on Dogs and Cats (Amendment) Bill 1996
Minutes of the Meeting
held on Tuesday, 3 June 1997,
at 8:30 am in Conference Room B
of the Legislative Council Building
Members Present :
Hon Michael HO Mun-ka (Chairman)
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon TSANG Kin-shing
Public officers attending :
I. Confirmation of minutes
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1122/96-97)
The minutes of the meeting on 19 March 1997 were confirmed.
II. Meeting with deputations
Mr H W LAM
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1695/96-97(03))
2. Mr LAM objected to the muzzling of dogs because muzzling would agitate and provoke dogs, making them more aggressive. Prolonged muzzling of dogs would also adversely affect their health. All dogs, irrespective of breed and size, could bite and were therefore potentially dangerous. It was misleading to specify in the Regulation that certain breeds were "potentially dangerous dogs" and would have to be put on a leash and muzzled in public places. To ensure public safety, it would be more effective to provide appropriate training to dogs as trained dogs would be easier to control. He suggested that dogs which had undergone training by professional dog trainers should be exempted from being muzzled in public places. He also remarked that the Bill was not necessary as the number of dogs in private and public housing estates was dwindling due to the trend of disallowance of dogs in these buildings.
3. The Chairman enquired about the availability of dog trainers in Hong Kong with internationally accepted qualifications and whether dog training courses were offered. Mr LAM advised that the Hong Kong Kennel Club and other kennel associations in Hong Kong offered dog training courses conducted by qualified dog trainers. Professional dog trainers from other countries including Australia, China and Canada had been invited to conduct training courses in Hong Kong. These training courses were recognized internationally as they followed internationally accepted training rules. He suggested that the Agriculture and Fisheries Department (AFD), the Police and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) should hold regular training seminars for dog owners; and dogs which had attended a specified number of training courses should be exempted from being muzzled in public places. The microchip implantation in dogs could be used to record and differentiate dogs which had undergone training.
4. Members enquired whether trained dogs would definitely not bite people. Mr LAM said that there could not be any gurantee but the chance of biting would be very much reduced. He remarked that Hong Kong could be seen as an uncivilized society if dogs in public places had to be muzzled.
Hong Kong and Kowloon Kennel Association Ltd
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1695/96-97(01))
5. Mr WAI kee-shun said that the Hong Kong and Kowloon Kennel Association considered the Bill unnecessary as existing legislation already required a dog be on a leash or under control in public places. The proposed control measures based on classification of dogs was dangerous because the criteria for classification were unclear and breeds of dogs included in the Schedules of the Regulation were incomplete. For example, Sha-pei, the Chinese fighting dog which had a history of being bred for fighting was not included in the list of potentially dangerous dogs. Moreover, it would be difficult to have any consensus on classification of cross-breeds. He pointed out that it would be ridiculous if dogs had to be muzzled in dog shows held in public places. The Dog World magazine in the United Kingdom (UK) had concluded that the implementation of similar legislation as the Dangerous Dogs Regulation in UK had achieved nothing except bringing inconvenience to the public. Hong Kong should learn from UKs experience.
6. Mr WAI opined that the ultimate control of dogs lay with dog owners. Responsible dog owners would provide training to dogs thereby reducing the risk of dog bites. Classification of dogs based on records of dog bite cases of the breed concerned could be misleading. He considered the banning of persons under 16 years old from taking a "potentially dangerous dog" out to public places a case of age discrimination.
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1695/96-97(02))
7. Mrs Doreen Davies said that SPCA supported the spirit of the Bill in principle. SPCA had observed that most existing problems were caused by inexperienced and irresponsible dog owners. SPCA supported the proposed control on "fighting dogs" but was concerned that the high amount of compensation for fighting dogs surrendered might lead to abuse. As regards the control on "known dangerous dogs", SPCA urged that dogs which had biting records before enactment of the Bill should also be considered as known dangerous dogs.
8. Mrs Davies advised that SPCA was opposed to the control on "potentially dangerous dogs" because there was no fair and clear criteria for this classification, particularly for cross-breeds. Many overseas countries had experienced difficulties in exercising control on dogs by their breeds and Hong Kong should learn from their experience. It did not seem logical to specify some breeds as "potentially dangerous dogs" in part II of the Schedule to the Regulation. For example, English Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Terrier were recommended as excellent family pets in other countries but were listed as potentially dangerous dogs in the Schedule. SPCA considered it more appropriate to classify dangerous dogs by behaviour than by breed. The part of the Bill on control of potentially dangerous dogs was unnecessary as the management regulation in private and public buildings already provided requirements for control of dogs in public areas of the buildings. Furthermore, the Bill would not be able to prevent dog bites in homes and villages.
9. Dr Cynthia Smillie supplemented that based on UKs experience it would be difficult to classify cross-breeds which often led to legal battles causing high costs to government and dog owners. She queried the inclusion of Staffordshire Terriers and English Bull Terriers, which were different from Pit Bull Terriers in terms of temperament and size, in the list of potentially dangerous dogs. On the other hand, Great Danes which had recently been associated with death cases were not included in the list.
10. Ms Lisa WU commented that muzzling of dogs could give a wrong message to some persons, in particular children, that dogs were dangerous animals. Furthermore, some irresponsible persons might trick and provoke dogs which were muzzled.
III. Discussion with the Administration
(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1695/96-97(10) and (11))
11. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Economic Services (PAS/ES) briefed members on the background and arguments of the Bill as set out in the Legislative Council Brief.
12. Members enquired about the adequacy of existing legislation on control of dogs. The Assistant Director of Agriculture and Fisheries (AD/AF) advised that current legislation on control of dogs applied to dogs in general without reference to specific breeds. Provisions in the Rabies Ordinance (Cap. 421) aimed at control of rabies rather than dogs. Moreover, the provision that dogs had to be on a leash or be otherwise under control in a public place was difficult to enforce as there was no clear definition of the conditions under which a dog was considered "under control". The Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap. 228) provided that any person who kept a dog which persistently annoyed or menaced neighbours or passers-by committed an offence. However, there was no provision to phase out the keeping of "fighting dogs" and "known dangerous dogs". The Bill aimed to address the weaknesses in the existing legislation on control of dogs.
Procedure for approval of the Dangerous Dogs Regulation (the Regulation)
13. Consultant (Legal Service) (CONS/LS) advised that the Bill was enabling legislation and detailed control requirements on dogs were specified in the Regulation. If the Bill was passed, regulation would be made by the Governor in Council and approved by Legislative Council (LegCo) through the "negative vetting procedure". In response to members enquiry, he explained that under the negative vetting procedure, LegCo Members who wished to amend the subsidiary legislation had to move a motion for amendment not later than 28 days after the sitting at which the subsidiary legislation was tabled and the scrutiny period could only be extended by one sitting at the most. On the other hand, the Bill could be amended to specify that regulation to be made under the Bill should be subject to approval of LegCo under the "positive vetting procedure", to avoid the 28-day scrutiny period restriction.
14. Members noted that the Regulation provided for matters relevant to control of dogs including classification, confinement, inspection, destruction or forfeiture of dogs. In view of the wide public implications of these matters, members considered it necessary to have adequate time to deliberate the issues in detail and consult affected parties when the subsidiary legislation was submitted for approval. They requested the Administration to review the matter in this respect. PAS/ES responded that the Administration would examine the need for the Regulation to be subject to "positive vetting procedure" and provide a reply the following day.
Classification of dogs
15. AD/AF advised that certain breeds of dogs would be classified as fighting dogs if there were historical records showing that the dogs were bred for fighting and had inflicted serious injuries on people. The experience of other countries in similar classification of dogs would also be considered. A Dogs and Cats Classification Board would be set up after enactment of the Bill to decide on classification of dogs. The Agriculture and Fisheries Department (AFD) would keep complete records, including slide photographs of dogs, to ensure that the classifications were consistent.
16. The Chairman enquired about the reason for not including English Bull Terrier and Chinese Fighting Dog (Sha-pei) in the list of fighting dogs. AD/AF advised that although these two breeds had records of being bred for fighting purposes in the past, they had not been bred for fighting for a long period of time. Moreover, there had not been records of these breeds inflicting serious injuries on people in recent years. English Bull Terriers were very different from Pit Bull Terriers in terms of behaviour. Pit Bull Terriers would continue attacking even when the enemy surrendered and this was very dangerous behaviour. Furthermore, Pit Bull Terriers had been involved in death cases in Hong Kong. The Senior Veterinary Officer/AFD (SVO/AFD) supplemented that Pit Bull Terriers were internationally recognized as a fighting breed and their behaviour was unpredictable. The other three breeds listed as fighting dogs were very similar to Pit Bull Terrier in terms of behaviour and ferocity.
17. The Chairman enquired about the availability of internationally recognized reference materials which AFD would refer to in deciding the classification of fighting dogs. AD/AF said that relevant articles written by internationally acclaimed experts on dogs would be extracted for reference from professional journals, such as the American Medical Journal and publications of the American Disease Control Centre.
Known dangerous dogs
18. Members noted and had no particular comment on this category which would consist of individual dogs classified as such by a magistrate on application to him showing that the dog had killed or inflicted serious injury on a person.
Potentially dangerous dogs
19. The Chairman enquired about differences in the criteria for classifying dogs as "potentially dangerous dogs" and "fighting dogs". AD/AF advised that dogs classified as potentially dangerous had no history of being bred for fighting but due to their size and strength such dogs were capable of inflicting serious injuries on people when they attacked. The number of cases involving serious injuries inflicted by dogs of a certain breed was a classification criterion. If more than two percent of the injury cases involving a certain breed of dogs was serious, the breed would be considered for inclusion in the list of potentially dangerous dogs.
20. Members pointed out that the total number of individual breeds of dogs existing in Hong Kong should be taken into account in determining the percentage of serious injury cases. Moreover, the list would have to be amended regularly in the light of changes in dog bite statistics. AD/AF referred to a set of statistics tabled at the meeting and confirmed that the total number of dogs of individual breeds existing in Hong Kong had been taken into account. (Post-meeting note: The relevant statistics has been issued to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1785/96-97(03) dated 4 June 1997.) The Secretary for Economic Services would take into consideration updated dog bite statistics when making changes to the breeds listed in the Schedules to the Regulation. Any change to the Schedules would be publicised. As to the reason for not classifying Great Danes as potentially dangerous, AD/AF explained that despite its size, Great Danes were not ferocious and were therefore not included in the list of potentially dangerous dogs. He also advised that in response to comments that the term "potentially dangerous dogs" seemed derogatory, the Administration was considering changing the term to "listed dogs", but the proposed control measures on the dogs would remain the same.
21. Having noted Singapores Animals and Birds (Dog Licensing and Control) Rules, members enquired about the reasons for the lack of similar legislation in many overseas countries. AD/AF replied that as Singapore and Hong Kong were both densely populated, the need for such legislation was apparent in order to ensure public safety. In less densely populated countries, the threat of dangerous dogs was not so serious.
(Post meeting note : A copy of Singapores legislation on control of dogs has been circulated to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)1785/96-97(01) dated 4 June 1997.)
Not allowing a person under 16 years old to control "potentially dangerous dogs" in public places
22. The Chairman queried the reason for using age as a criterion in deciding whether a person was capable of keeping control of a dog in public places. AD/AF advised that age was used as the criterion because a person over 16 years old would have legal responsibility under the Laws of Hong Kong. CONS/LS further advised that preventing young persons from certain actions could mean protection rather than discrimination. If a dog was potentially dangerous, the society could decide to protect young persons by not allowing them to take the dog out in public places. Whilst a person under 16 could own a dog, the ultimate responsibility went to the parents or the guardian if the dog inflicted injury on a person.
Physical constraint measures on potentially dangerous dogs in public places
23. Members expressed concern that requiring all "potentially dangerous dogs" to be on a leash and muzzled in public places could bring inconvenience to dog owners. Moreover, as there might be controversy on the classification of "potentially dangerous dogs", it might increase the conflicts between dog owners and non-dog owners. Furthermore, poorly fitted muzzles might cause cruelty to dogs.
24. AD/AF responded that the Administration had to balance public safety and inconvenience to dog owners on the issue. Muzzling of potentially dangerous dogs in public places was an appropriate measure to ensure public safety in view of the population density in Hong Kong. A correct choice of muzzles would reduce the discomfort to dogs. A well-fitted muzzle should allow a muzzled dog to pant.
25. Members doubted whether the Police would be able to identify the classification of a dog on the spot in enforcing the Regulation. AD/AF advised that the Polices duty would be limited to referring the case to AFD. Determination of the classification or subsequent prosecution action would be AFDs duties. Under normal situation, a dogs classification would be determined when a dog licence was issued. With the microchip licensing system for dogs, the classification data would be included in the microchip database. The Senior Assistant Law Draftsman (SALD) supplemented that police officers were authorized under clause 8 of the Bill (section 6(1) of the amended Ordinance) to take enforcement actions in relation to confinement, destruction, etc of dangerous dogs. The authorization was necessary as police officers might have to take action on the spot. However, AFD would have the ultimate responsibility for classification and other technical matters relating to implementation of the Ordinance.
26. Mr CHAN Kam-lam enquired about measures taken to address the problem of identifying the owner of a dog involved in a dog bite case. AD/AF advised that the microchip licensing system of dogs being implemented would address the issue. A microchip implanted in a dog contained information about a dogs classification and the dog owners identity.
27. Members asked whether the owner of a dog would have any criminal liability if the dog, while muzzled, knocked down a person causing bodily injury to the person. CONS/LS advised that the owner would at least have civil liability under the circumstances. SALD supplemented that if the muzzle put on a dog was not effective in preventing it from biting people, the dog owner would have criminal liability under the proposed Regulation.
28. Members opined that AFD should conduct more publicity and educational programmes to enhance dog owners knowledge in training and control of dogs. Moreover, heavier penalties to owners of dogs involved in fatal cases were warranted. AD/AF responded that AFD would prepare educational pamphlets to dog owners with a view to enhancing their knowledge on being a responsible dog owner. As regards penalty, the Bill provided for imprisonment terms in certain cases and the deterrent effect was considered sufficient. For a dog involved in a dog bite case, AFD would apply to a magistrate to classify the dog concerned as a "known dangerous dog" and the dog would be subject to the relevant controls.
29. Members suggested that since the mere size of a dog would seem threatening to the public, it might be more appropriate to subject any dog exceeding a certain height and weight to physical control in public places. Moreover, the height and weight criteria seemed to be more objective and more easily understood by the public. As regards physical constraint measures, members suggested that dogs over a certain body size be muzzled and put on a leash in indoor public places; and be put on a leash or muzzled in outdoor public places.
30. AD/AF responded that there would be difficulties in measuring the height of a dog and AFD would need to review the height and weight of dogs of different breeds before proposing the reference criteria. PAS/ES said that the Administration would examine members suggestion and provide a response the following day.
31. Members confirmed that they had no comments on the proposed control measures on "fighting dogs" and "known dangerous dogs".
32. Members enquired about the requirement for owners of "fighting dogs" and "known dangerous dogs" to take out insurance to indemnify damage caused by the dogs. AD/AF responded that the original draft Regulation had included an insurance requirement for owners of "fighting dogs" and "known dangerous dogs". However, the insurance industry had advised that insurance coverage could not be provided in view of the small number of cases involved. The relevant requirement would have to be deleted. Nonetheless, dog owners concerned could be sued for compensation in civil litigation.
33. Members enquired whether AFD would consider providing insurance coverage by way of an insurance levy on dog owners. AD/AF responded that since fees for dog licensing had just been introduced recently, it would not be appropriate to charge an additional insurance levy at that stage. The AFD would keep the matter in view.
34. Referring to SPCAs comments, members enquired about measures to prevent the possible abuse of the provision concerning surrender of fighting dogs to AFD in return for $3,000 per dog. AD/AF shared members concern and advised that there would be a cut-off date after which no ex-gratia compensation would be provided. The Bill and Regulation should be enacted as soon as possible to minimize any possible abuses.
IV. Any other business
35. Members agreed to hold the next meeting on Wednesday, 4 June 1997 at 8:30 am.
36. The meeting ended at 12:30 pm.
Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
11 August 1997
Last Updated on 11 December 1998