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'Dog tax' proposal ditched a week after it was mooted

The Government has ditched proposals for a "dog tax" that would force owners to insure against their pets attacking people barely a week after the idea was first floated.

The proposal, part of a consultation to tackle the issue of aggressive dogs in inner cities, was launched last Tuesday, triggering criticism from charities and responsible pet owners. Ministers had argued that forcing 5 million owners to take out third-party insurance would ensure that victims were compensated.

The plans were also greeted with scepticism by the insurance industry, which raised questions over how compensation would work for uninsured dogs. Opposition parties were quick to sense the mood, with the Tories releasing a poster with Gordon Brown's head superimposed on a Churchill Dog with the line: "A dog tax on 5 million owners? Oh yes."

Yesterday Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, confirmed that the proposal would not be turned into policy, arguing that ministers did not "want to penalise" responsible dog owners. Mr Benn said: "We can rule out compulsory insurance for all dogs. The idea was something that was raised with us because of the horrific injuries some very dangerous dogs can cause. It was therefore included in the government consultation document."

He added: "We've got to make sure that the public are protected and we're taking public concern seriously by asking how we can sensibly review the law that we've currently got."

The Tories branded the decision as a "humiliating U-turn" for Labour, while the Association of British Insurers dismissed the plan as "unworkable".

Nick Herbert, the shadow Environment Secretary, said: "Labour have dithered for years on this issue, and then rushed out a policy consultation weeks before an election that was immediately seen as totally flawed."

He added: "We need a comprehensive approach to this problem with a focus on the minority of owners who use dangerous dogs as weapons, not the vast majority of responsible dog lovers."

The insurance proposal was part of a consultation review of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, which includes options to extend the law to cover private property, introduce dog control notices, and remove exemptions that allow some people to keep banned types of dogs. More than 100 people a week are admitted to hospital after dog attacks.