Select Committee on Committee on the London Local Authorities Bill Minutes of Evidence


Evidence before the Committee (Questions 460-479)

WEDNESDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2003

460.  If we turn to the beginning of clause 14, it is quite clear from 14(1) that these provisions are not purely to apply to professional dog-walkers, they are to apply to private dog owners?

(Mr Stratton) Yes.

461.  So this is not a series of provisions designed specifically to address the potential nuisance associated with professional dog-walking?

(Mr Stratton) No, it is large groups of dogs.

462.  Bearing that in mind, are you able to give me any guidance in relation to the photographs that we have been looking at as to the number of those individuals who you think may be private dog owners rather than professional dog-walkers?

(Mr Stratton) The photographs were taken by the dog control unit and I think they know the professional dog-walkers. They know many of the dog owners who use the parks regularly, indeed they know many of the dog owners throughout the borough, that is their function. Their charter was to take pictures of professional dog-walkers and not dog-walkers just walking their own dogs.

463.  If I could just conclude in relation to the photographs. I think they perhaps do not necessarily give evidence of irresponsible dog ownership, irresponsible dog-walkers. It is certainly unclear from those photographs whether we are looking at professional dog-walkers there or individual dog-walkers exercising their rights to walk their animals. Do you think that would be a fair conclusion to draw?

(Mr Stratton) That could be a conclusion. I would just say to you that these are professional dog-walkers and that is it.

464.  Is there any suggestion in any of those photographs that the dogs are out of control, causing a nuisance, threatening people or otherwise representing a nuisance?

(Mr Stratton) No.

465.  Thank you very much. Can I turn to the letters, please, the correspondence which we received yesterday. The letter from Battersea Dogs Home makes mention in the opening line there of a letter of 31 May 2002 written by yourself. Do you have that to hand?

(Mr Stratton) I have not got the letter to hand.

466.  Can your recall what tone it took?

(Mr Stratton) Yes, I think it would have explained the problem that we have in the parks and open spaces and said what our proposals were and asked for his views on our proposal.

467.  Can I take you to the next letter, please, the one from Frances Holland School. You indicated when you were questioned about it in your evidence that you believed that that was an example of multi-dog walking. Could you point out to me in that letter what it is you rely upon to give weight to that assumption?

(Mr Stratton) There appears to have been a serious breach of security when several dogs were allowed into the area where school games are played. I believe it was certainly a professional dog-walker who allowed several dogs to pass through the games area and I am almost certain that that would have been a large number because I cannot imagine that the headmistress would have written if just one or two dogs had padded through.

468.  If you look at the letter carefully, there is no allegation from Mrs Pattenden that that is an example of multi-dog walking. It seems to me more an example of an incident which is presumably relatively common of one or two dogs, sadly, interfering with a sports match. I do not necessarily see that it is particularly relevant to this question of multiple dog-walking.

(Mr Stratton) My interpretation, quite honestly, would be several dogs were allowed into the area, they were not properly supervised by their owner, one dog attacked several girls, the girls were extremely frightened and several complaints were made. It does not appear as though it was one person walking a single or even two dogs quietly through a girls' sports field. It looks like a pack of dogs ran pretty uncontrolled through Frances Holland School's Sports Day.

469.  As far as I am aware there are two dogs, it is not a pack of dogs.

(Mr Stratton) She said several dogs.

470.  Can I take you then, please, to the letters from the Friends of Battersea Park and Battersea Society. Again, they both make mention in their opening line of a letter of 14 August. Do you have a copy of that letter to hand?

(Mr Stratton) Yes.

471.  It seems to me that the effect we have in terms of the correspondence contained in the bundle is there to suggest that there is a degree of a problem with multiple dog-walking and irresponsible dog ownership associated with multiple dog-walking that has prompted this correspondence from various people in your borough. If we turn to the letter of the 14 August 2003, what that letter is in fact doing, it seems to me, is inviting a response which is indeed responded to in two cases, the Battersea Society and the Friends of Battersea Park and in that letter it seems to me that you are taking a particular line, you are in fact seeking a positive response from the people to whom you are writing. For example, you mention in the first paragraph that you had had a meeting with dog owners and that there had been an agreement to enter into a code of practice and then you say, "Despite exhortation, the vast majority continued with their irresponsible behaviour, though there are perhaps one or two who are wholly responsible. In an endeavour to overcome this, we have been trying to push through an amendment to the London Local Authority Act. Our proposal has been approved by the House of Lords Committee and goes before a House of Commons Select Committee in September." A little further down you say, "The licence would be issued subject to their agreeing those terms and conditions they have already agreed to but resolutely break." It seems to me that there have been a couple of responses. In the letter I wrote to the agents last night I asked if we knew exactly how many people were circulated with this round robin letter of 14 August. Are the two responses that you have the only two responses you had?

(Mr Stratton) These are the only two letters that were sent out, one to Hilary Barton, the chair of the Open Spaces Society of the Battersea Society, and one to Mr Philip Wright who is the Chairman of the Friends of Battersea Park.

472.  Generally, in terms of the correspondence that has been raised amongst the members of the public who live within your borough, how much does this bundle represent the sum total of the complaints that have been raised in relation to this particular issue? It seems to me that it is a relatively slim number of letters written from a relatively small number of people that suggest this is a major problem at all.

473.  MR CLARKSON: That is a submission, not a question.

474.  MR MUNDY: I put it to you that you can infer that from the thinness of the bundle.

(Mr Stratton) But I have not produced all the letters that have come in. I have just produced two particular letters because I thought those were interesting and very representative of the people who use particularly Battersea Park, 800 members in one, probably 120 members in the other, a local school that uses Battersea Park very regularly and another person who uses Battersea Park very regularly and they are all making the same complaint. Short of sending a letter to everyone in the borough I do not know what more I can do.

475.  What I am suggesting is that it is indeed rather a thin bundle and I was asking you whether you would agree to that or not. I put it to you that that taken in conjunction with the photographs in the end of that bundle does not really represent evidence of a significant difficulty in this regard.

(Mr Stratton) But if you take into consideration the number of telephone calls, the emails and the feeling that one gets through elected members who have their surgeries and those who also complain not in writing but verbally and who are asking what I am doing about it, it is a very large number of people.

476.  These proposals contained in clause 14 of the Bill would apply right across London, would they not, not just in relation to your borough where it seems to be true to say there is a problem?

(Mr Stratton) That is correct. Our experience was that when a by-law was passed that controlled the number of dogs on the Wimbledon and Putney Commons area the immediate follow up was that then affected us. If we go down the by-law route - and it can take us two years to get a by-law - the immediate effect is that they will go somewhere else and eventually one poor borough will be left with all the professional dog-walkers.

477.  In relation to these provisions in clause 14, there is a provision in the clause which enables the various boroughs to avail themselves of the powers contained in section 14.

(Mr Stratton) Absolutely.

478.  So there is no guarantee that they will take them up?

(Mr Stratton) No, there is not, but they have every opportunity of doing so as and when they want to by advertising and letting the public know that they are going to enforce this Act.

479.  But there is just the same risk in relation to these particular procedures in that some boroughs will not avail themselves of the powers that are there in the same way that some boroughs might not avail themselves of their by-law making powers and therefore you get the problem of migrant dog-walkers. Is that not the case?

(Mr Stratton) It is the case, but they can avail themselves of the Act immediately. They do not have to go down the by-law route, which can take two years. Within that two-year period what could have been a serious problem or a bad problem becomes a very bad problem or a very serious problem.


 
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