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Bill aimed at ridding Britain of pit bulls passes

The House of Commons has approved a bill aimed at ridding Britain of pit bull terriers in an unusually swift parliamentary reaction to public outrage over dog attacks. The approval in principle of the bill Monday night in its most important legislative stage follows a savage pit bull attack last month on a 6-year-old girl who nearly died of her injuries.

After the attack on Rukhsana Khan, who spent 10 days in intensive care, Prime Minister John Major banned the import of pit bulls and other fighting dogs, a move that required no legislation.

Under the government bill, American pit bull terriers must be neutered by Nov. 30 or be destroyed, and must be kept on a leash and muzzled in public. The bill includes the Japanese tosa breed, of which there is one in Britain.

"The aim of the bill is a simple one _ to rid the country of the menace of these fighting dogs," said Home Secretary Kenneth Baker, the Cabinet minister responsible for law and order.

The bill does not include an earlier proposal that most of the estimated 10,000 pit bull terriers already in Britain be destroyed.

Frank Tempest, a 54-year-old bakery worker whose nose and ear were torn off by two pit bull terriers in an attack May 8, held a news conference Tuesday to say he thinks all the pit bull terriers in the country should be destroyed.

"The government should have stuck to their original decision to destroy all pit bull terriers. . . . They should never allow this sort of thing to happen again to anyone," said Tempest, whose terrible injuries obscured his eyes and made speech difficult.

No legislator opposed the bill Monday, and as a result it was approved in principle without a vote.

It next goes to a committee stage, which is likely to pass quickly, then goes to the unelected House of Lords whose only power, if it opposes legislation, is to delay. The aim is to ban the unlicensed dogs by Nov. 30.

Under the proposed legislation, owners will have to choose between having the animals destroyed or licensed. To be licensed, the dog will have to be neutered and insured at a cost of $332 to the owner.

Violators can be fined up to $8,300 and possibly imprisoned.

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