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


Evidence before the Committee (Questions 600-619)

WEDNESDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2003

600.  You have mentioned in your introduction the fact that you believe, the Trust believe that the proposed provisions are unnecessary, a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Could you expand on that a little?

(Mr Cavill) Well, our information is that these provisions have been drafted to deal with a few rogue professional dog-walkers and nobody is suggesting that there are not some people who do not behave in the way that they should, but I believe that the situation has been exaggerated beyond what is reasonable for primary legislation. We were presented with no evidence to suggest that the problem is widespread and in fact our chief executive officer has actually been out with dog-walkers in the south London area and has reported back to us that from what he sees there is not a significant problem.

601.  And in terms of what you see today in terms of evidence, would that confirm it?

(Mr Cavill) Well, the photographs we have seen would confirm it. Yes, there are a number of dogs, but if you look at the background to the photographs, there is nobody in them. It is not as if it is a crowded situation. The parks are most crowded of course at weekends, Saturdays and Sundays, but on those days most professional dog-walkers do not exercise the dogs because the owners have got time to do it for themselves. We think it would involve a very wide number of people. It was stated in earlier evidence that it was believed that very few people have more than four dogs. I have to say that to my certain knowledge that is not correct and it is surprising how many people do have more than four dogs both in London and outside. We do not think they have made a reasonable case to justify the photo-pass. Battersea Dogs' Home has a fete in Battersea Park and it has 5,000-7,000 dogs and their owners. I have been involved in the organisation of that event and you will see people turning up with carloads of dogs and they will come out with six or seven dogs, all of which are looked after, all of which are owned, all of which are on leads and, to my knowledge, there has never been any trouble even when people have been brought together in such close proximity as at the Dogs' Home reunion that they hold every year in September, courtesy of Battersea Park incidentally for which they are very grateful.

602.  You also suggested your concern that proposals might be applied inconsistently across boroughs. Could you elucidate on that?

(Mr Cavill) I think in legislative terms this is probably where these proposals fall down. Because it is pan-wide, across London, it is highly likely that each borough will - assuming that they use legislation - apply it in different ways. As an ex-councillor I have a little understanding of the way in which councils work and they are going to apply it to their own circumstances, and up to a point that is fine. But if it is going to affect people who are crossing boundaries there are a number of really very difficult and important issues. For instance, some boroughs may want to license everyone, others may just want to license professionals. It has already been given in evidence that it is very difficult to find out which are professional people. Therefore, I think it would be difficult to apply anyway. The question of fees is an extremely difficult and complex one. We have had some discussion about what is reasonable. I am involved, deeply, in the kennel and cattery industry in the UK and I am happy to confirm to you that licensing fees from different local authorities for a kennel and cattery range from £45 to over £300 - all of which are considered reasonable by their councils. The other thing is that if somebody is working in the south London area they may have contracts with several groups of dogs, and we are now talking about professional dog-walkers (and I think my colleague Caroline Kisko will be talking much more about the impact on pets). If they have contracts in Wandsworth, if they have contracts in Sutton and they have contracts in Lambeth they may wish to walk their dogs in three different parks. Are they going to be subjected to, as it seems, a different regime in each one? A different price in each one? A different fee? Are they going to be trained by different people in each one? I just think that it is a mish-mash. One of the things that I have been involved with in Pet Care Trust and in other organisations is the development of codes of practice. They are extremely difficult to do and where dogs are concerned exceptionally difficult, by and large because you are looking for so many different things, between a Chihuahua that comes in at 8 inches high and a Great Dane that comes in at nearly 40. I have to say, Chairman, I made a note about your weight ratio of dogs to walkers and it has brought a new perspective to the way in which we might start thinking about those things. I say this in total seriousness because we have a tremendous problem with how many dogs can you put in a kennel of a standard size. If we started to look at volumes and weights of dogs, we might actually find a much better way of doing it. So that has been noted. Thank you. I think boroughs will also take a different view as to the number of dogs to be authorised in each borough, which will also be complicated. Wandsworth considers four to be the right number. There is nothing in this legislation that restricts it one way or the other, and to be honest I think the point has already been made that one irresponsible dog owner with a Rottweiler - not a Rottweiler because actually Rottweilers are sweethearts, by and large - one irresponsible dog owner with an irresponsible and uncontrolled dog can do far more damage than a professional dog-walker who understands his charges, is doing it regularly with a group of dogs that know each other and looks after them properly.

603.  Can you comment, also, please, on the provision in Clause 14 about sufficiency of persons and the number of consents that may be available?

(Mr Cavill) Yes, I can. Many councils are very positive towards people keeping animals - Wandsworth is certainly one of them - but there are others where that is not the case. It would be remarkably easy for an environmental services committee to go through this detail and say "Here's an opportunity. We can make sure that X Park is not available. We can make these provisions so restricted that we can a sufficiency of persons in the park is one person a day. So we can only have seven", or "we can only have three". It is so arbitrary it is open to abuse, in my view.

604.  In terms of the current opportunities for councils to control the situation, are you content with the status quo, if you like?

(Mr Cavill) What I found really interesting was the fact that dog control officers within Wandsworth and their parks' police - it is a well-run council - know all these people, they know who they are and they go regularly. There is a raft of legislation from the 1911 Control of Dogs Act to (although we do not like to talk about it) the Dangerous Dogs Act about animal welfare and behaviour and fouling that enables those officers to take all the steps necessary, in my view, to control the situation. I would be, really, very hurt to feel that strict bylaws would be brought in to solve what is, I genuinely believe to be, a relatively minor problem. Remember, in the last ten years the number of dogs in our society has gone down by 15 per cent and it is still dropping. We are legislating for something that might not be a problem in ten years' time and this will remain on the statute book for generations.

605.  MR MUNDY: Thank you very much.

Cross-examined by MR CLARKSON

606.  MR CLARKSON: Mr Cavill, the Pet Care Trust, please. Who is the beneficiary of the Pet Care Trust? Or what is the beneficiary?

(Mr Cavill) The charity was set up to improve the health and welfare of pet animals in our society and to promote the keeping of animals. (Because I know where your question is going) it is primarily a group of people who are involved professionally within animal care and welfare in this country; that is, that they professionally service those people who have got animals.

607.  So is the beneficiary businesses or is it animals?

(Mr Cavill) The beneficiary is animals. It is not a big organisation, it is not a huge charity, but it does represent the sector to government.

608.  It represents businesses, does it not?

(Mr Cavill) It is made up of businesses but it also has people who are charities involved as well, which are animal welfare charities.

609.  Retailers, groomers, boarding kennels, catteries, manufacturers and wholesalers.

(Mr Cavill) And other professional providers, such as agricultural colleges, for instance. And publishers.

610.  How many dog-walkers are constituents of the Trust or represented by the Trust?

(Mr Cavill) I think the current count is one, sir. We would like to have more.

611.  The ultimate beneficiary is an animal, presumably?

(Mr Cavill) The welfare of animals in society is part of the objectives of the Trust, yes.

612.  That can be a dog or a cat or whatever?

(Mr Cavill) Small and furry, yes. A reptile.

613.  So one professional walker. How many private dog owners are there on your books (or is this a matter for the next witness) who own more than four dogs and lives in London?

(Mr Cavill) I can answer the question. Although the members of the Pet Care Trust are either individuals running their own business or representing manufacturers which are larger companies, it is not an organisation for individual dog owners, but there are probably 50 or 60 members within the London area, all of whom will own more than one dog. One of the groups we represent are groomers and, as you will perhaps know, there are a lot of grooming parlours in London and a lot of kennels and catteries within and on the outskirts of London. Most kennel and cattery owners have their own dogs as well.

614.  So you cannot be specific as to how many members own more than four dogs in London?

(Mr Cavill) No, except that there will be a considerable number. It would not be fair of me to put a number on it.

615.  I want to go to the ultimate beneficiary about whom we are concerned, and that is the dog. All right?

(Mr Cavill) Yes.

616.  How does the dog suffer as a result of this proposed legislation?

(Mr Cavill) I believe that in the long term it could easily occur, given the answer that I have already given, that some authorities might make it less easy for dogs to be properly exercised.

617.  Let us think that through and take it in stages? Are you a dog owner?

(Mr Cavill) Oh yes, and a cat owner.

618.  We will come to cats as well. Let us postulate this, please. All of us have had the misfortune as dog owners of seeing a dog fight at one stage or another. Do you agree?

(Mr Cavill) I am trying to remember when I did.

619.  Not your dogs, I am sure, but if my dogs were anywhere near there would have been.

(Mr Cavill) Can I take it you are not a responsible dog owner then? Most dogs ought to be trained so that they do not behave in that way. I cannot remember - and I take my dogs out on Ham Common on a regular basis - a dog fight.


 
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