Gone to the dogs


“All dog owners in England and Wales would have to insure against their pet attacking someone, under Labour proposals to tackle dangerous breeds,” reports BBC Online, referring to what must be the silliest piece of pre-election policy-making since the Cones Hotline.

Apparently, Each week, more than 100 people are admitted to hospital as a result of attacks by dogs, and there has been a rise in levels of dog fighting and illegal ownership, particularly by gangs who are using dangerous dogs as status symbols.

As usual, Labour’s response is to penalise everybody. The responsible drinker is taxed, or forced to pay over the market rate for alcohol as a result of minimum pricing, because some drink too heavily; the responsible investor is obliged to guarantee the losses of those who are more careless; and now the responsible dog owner, who has chosen a mild-mannered and playful breed, is to be forced to insure their dog simply because another owner has chosen a more violent breed and then trained it to fight, or mistreated it so that it is ill-tempered and stressed.

It is a sign of extremely bad law-making that, rather than target criminal activity, the legislator seeks to make the wider community compensate for the bad behaviour of a few. It smacks of collective punishment: somebody from your village breaks the law, so your whole village is burnt to the ground. In this case, other people are dog-fighting, therefore you must pay.

In fact, it is even worse than that, because one may rest assured that the people most likely to own a dangerous dog are those least likely to insure it. Hundreds of thousands of people do not insure their cars, after all. Does the government really think that somebody who is prepared to break the law with respect to dealing Crack Cocaine is going to care whether he is legally obliged to insure his dog?

In fact, it is questionable whether people should be forced to insure themselves at all. Enforced insurance makes no difference to most people – not even victims. If a person is legally culpable for the harm inflicted to another (as a driver or as a dog owner), then the courts will require them to pay compensation whether they have insurance or not. Indeed, if less responsible people don’t have insurance they are more likely to be wary of incurring the costs. The only people who really benefit from enforced insurance are the insurance industry, which will get 7.3 million new customers as a result of this legislation.

But maybe I am downplaying a genuine danger. Maybe all dogs are potentially vicious, and even now I may be harbouring a potential killer in my house. I’d better run home and make sure she isn’t dangerous!