Dogs that harm or worry livestock could be detained by police under new powers being put forward by the Government amid a surge in farm animals being attacked by dogs.
Under plans to bolster animal welfare laws, owners prosecuted for failing to keep dogs under control could have their pets seized and held until after their case is brought to court.
The reforms are contained in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which cleared its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday.
The legislation, put forward by George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, also seeks to widen the scope of the offence of livestock worrying to include other species kept by farmers, including llamas, alpacas, emus, deer and donkeys.
Rise in livestock worrying
The changes were drawn up in response to a surge in farm animals being attacked by dogs, with the National Farmers Union warning there had been a 10 per cent increase in the number of incidents last year.
Currently, dog owners face criminal prosecution if their pet worries livestock on agricultural land if left off the lead when in an enclosure with sheep, causing them anxiety and stress.
While the Countryside Code states it is "good practice" to keep dogs on a lead around livestock, it is only a legal requirement on open access land or near the coast.
Farmers have long been pushing for tougher laws, arguing that the Protection of Livestock Act 1953 is no longer fit for purpose and is failing to tackle the problem.
They include farmer Cameron Farquharson, who has been campaigning for a change in the law following the death of his four-year-old pregnant Highland cow, Gladis, and its unborn calf.
Gladis was chased by a dog at Eggardon Hill farm in Dorset, falling more than 30 feet to its death from a hill fort rampart.
Greater enforcement powers
In a bid to clamp down on the problem, the Bill will now expand the areas where livestock worrying can be considered a criminal offence, to include incidents which occur when farm animals are being moved along a road.
Police forces will also be given greater enforcement powers to investigate incidents, as well as prevent repeat offending.
In the most serious cases, the reforms would give police officers the power to seize a dog and detain it until the case comes to court.
This would apply in circumstances where the officer has both reasonable cause to believe that the dog has attacked or worried livestock and that the dog poses an ongoing threat to livestock if not detained.
On Monday, Mr Eustice confirmed to MPs that police would be given the power to "utilise DNA testing" when gathering evidence, meaning they will be able to take samples from both livestock and dogs suspected of attacks.
However, ministers are not proposing to increase the fines for those found guilty of livestock worrying. The offence is currently summary-only, which means it can be dealt with in magistrates’ courts. The maximum fine is set at £1,000.
Farming groups had been urging the Government to go further and increase fines for the most serious incidents to £40,000, in line with Scotland.
Meanwhile, the Government has also declined to say whether it will back an amendment to the Bill to limit the number of animals slaughtered without being stunned.
The change is due to be tabled by Tory MP Chris Loder, an animal welfare advocate, who argues that it could be brought in while protecting religious rights to halal and kosher meat, eaten by observant Muslims and Jews.