Dog owners could be forced to have a microchip implanted under their pet's skin under government plans to combat dangerous animals.
New-born puppies and dogs sold would have a chip inserted under the skin between their shoulder blades at a cost of about £35. Details would be placed on a national database acces- sible by police and the RSPCA. Microchips are already compulsory for owners who take their dogs abroad.
Some MPs and animal rights groups voiced concern that law-abiding owners of Britain's eight million dogs would be penalised. The RSPCA backed compulsory microchipping but warned that legislation would be worthless unless it could be enforced effectively.
A leaked internal government consultation document said: "The compulsory microchipping of dogs on change of ownership would affect anyone breeding dogs for sale or gifting to another person or persons."
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) asked other Whitehall departments: "How acceptable do you think it would be to require anyone microchipping a dog to request proof of identity/address of the owner of the dog?"
Another question asked: "What would it cost a breeder to microchip each dog? And assuming the cost would be passed on to the purchaser, would this price increase cause any difficulties?"
Government sources said microchipping was only one option under consideration and insisted that no decision had been made. A spokesman for Defra said: "Dangerous dogs and how to tackle the problem of dog attacks are very serious issues, and we're working with the police and welfare groups on the best possible measures for dealing with them. We will be announcing what we will do to tackle them soon."
John Thurso, a Liberal Democrat MP, said: "It's compulsion and I don't like it. People who have dangerous dogs that are against the law will take no notice of this. This will result in a disproportionate burden on the law-abiding who keep dogs, and especially those who need dogs for their work such as farmers who keep kennels. They will be stuck with another expense and piece of legislation to obey."