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


Evidence before the Committee (Questions 780-799)

WEDNESDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2003

780.  If there is a problem in Wandsworth then it seems to us that that should be properly dealt with by use of the authority's by-laws, which is what they are there for, supplemented by the general legislation that already exists to give particular assistance to the local authorities in some circumstances. We have not touched upon it in detail before but there are statutory provisions that the local authorities can avail themselves of. Mention has been made of the Dangerous Dogs Act and it is possible for a local authority to designate land under provisions of the Dogs Fouling of Land Act, if that is one of the particular concerns that this provision seeks to address.

We also suggest that if these provisions are applied in the way in which they are apparently intended, individually or by separate boroughs across London, they will be impossible to enforce fairly without inconsistency and result in injustice. This is an issue which has been driven, understandably, by one local authority and it seems to us that there is nothing in this Bill which can ensure the consistency across London that these sorts of provisions deserve and require.

781.  We are particularly concerned about the quota system that will necessarily be operated within specific designated areas and we are concerned that that will lead to private owners not being able to obtain a licence. Indeed, if they are not able to obtain a licence they will have an animal welfare impact because those dogs will have to be removed to a different borough or outside the jurisdiction of the Bill altogether.

782.  We are concerned at the lack of clarity that is contained in those conditions that we have been through in relation to subsection (2) of clause 14 and we do not understand how it is proposed that they should be applied properly again across the boroughs by individual officers who, as far as we are aware, have no specific skills or training in those particular areas. Wandsworth is an exception, but Wandsworth should not set the rule for the rest of London.

783.  We are particularly concerned about the cost element, about the costs to walkers and the cost to professional dog-walkers which will eventually fall on the animal owners themselves. We have touched upon the uncertainty as to the licence fee and the degree to which the recoverability of the costs of the councils is directed towards individual owners. That is a matter of grave concern to the Pet Care Trust and to the Kennel Club. Again, that impacts upon animal welfare issues when owners are unable or unwilling to pay the uncertain fees that will be due. Animals will have fewer walks, they will be subjected to further transportation to get them to places where they can be walked properly.

784.  We are concerned about the fact that a private individual dog owner may be subject to criminal liability for failure to obtain a licence or failure to abide by a licensing condition in these circumstances.

785.  Returning to the question of the conditions, we feel that there is again a dangerous latitude within the conditioning process to prejudice individual dog owners. We are concerned that times for walking may be restrictive and dog owners may be forced to walk their dogs after dark, for example. We think it is burdensome that they may have to produce their licence on demand, possibly even more than one licence on demand if they are walking their dogs in two different boroughs. We are concerned about the designation procedure and the fact that although objections will be entertained to proposed designated areas there appears to be no further way in which parties who object can take the matter further. Effectively the local authority will listen to the objections, consider them and then it seems the designated area will be imposed.

786.  As I mentioned before, I think our prime concern is what we regard as the lack of workability of these proposals in practice. We believe that criteria for the issuing of licences and the conditions attached would have to be identical in adjoining boroughs. We do not see how that is going to work administratively. As I have mentioned already, it would cause grave difficulty if walkers are subject to different types of conditions in different boroughs in circumstances where that open space straddles a boundary. As indicated in both the witnesses evidence, the principle of prescribing a specific number of dogs in our view makes no sense. What is important is the understanding of the temperament of the different breeds of animal and the fact that the size of the animals concerned is an important factor. For example, as we have mentioned before, the walker of six Chihuahuas is far more likely to be able to control his dog than the walker of one or two Great Danes. It is ludicrous to put a number on the dividing line.

787.  In conclusion, we believe the provisions of clause 14 have not been properly thought through and will not achieve the desired result. We believe that that stems at least in part from a lack of consultation with professional bodies who would be able to provide advice. We believe that clause 14 should be withdrawn. We believe that the problem should be dealt with by codes of practice developed possibly under secondary legislation. If not that then by the imposition of by-laws that can be applied effectively across London boroughs, which is the proper route to use.

788.  Sir, as you know, it is the duty of the Promoters to prove that a clause is required and that goes over and above the law generally available to individuals. It is up to the Promoters to prove that this provision is required and justified. We would like to submit that in this particular instance the case for clause 14 has not been made and we believe that it should be withdrawn from this Bill. Thank you.

789.  CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr Mundy. Are you going to sum up?

790.  MR CLARKSON: If I may. It is a broader issue than the dog lobby. Mr Stratton, the Battersea Dogs Home and the humanities societies to Battersea Park have given you insight into that. The ultimate beneficiary of the petitioners' interest is the dog as far as it concerns this Bill.

791.  I hope the issue that we laid before the Committee is self-evident and indeed I think I am pushing at an open door to some extent as to our concerns when I hear the Committee's questions. There is the potential for legitimate concern if too many dogs are out of control. You have heard that three or more is a pack and that is not our evidence, that is the Kennel Club's evidence and yet I regret that we hear just now that it is ludicrous to put a number on the dividing line. Common sense says you have got to have some dividing line and you have got to let some people have a free rein and some people to be controlled. Potentially it is dangerous if more than four individually or a pack are out of control. Next, it is anti-social in the terms of fouling, that is self-evident. It is anti-social in the terms of school children. We have an example from a school mistress with just two dogs. Multiply that and contemplate the consequence for the children. It is anti-social in a much more informal way if a parent and a child are involved. Again common knowledge and common sense understands that dogs can cause trouble. More than four doing that would be extremely threatening.

792.  It is a matter of priorities. The London Local Authorities have a finite resource in their open spaces. Professional dog-walkers are using that resource. It is the approach that very few dog owners have more than four dogs that come within the ambit of the issue that we have to look at, but what is clear is that there are much more professional dog walkers who are not burdening the open spaces and they are increasing, that is our submission. They are not put out of business, nor is the ordinary private dog owner who has more than four put out of business. They can come more often to walk four or less. The licensing regime is potentially broad. If it is thought sensible in due course to include in the licence a requirement that dogs are on a lead and a small number allowed off the lead at a particular time, that is within the ambit of the licensing approach so to do. It is not necessary for the Committee to require it at this stage, it is something that is perfectly appropriate in due course. By-laws are not appropriate. They are restrictive. The Petitioners are worse off if there were by-laws, it would not be subject to condition nor would it be subject to appeal. Those are the submissions that we make on behalf of the Promoters on that clause. We have some outstanding matters.

793.  CHAIRMAN: We have some outstanding business, yes.

794.  MR CLARKSON: Could I go to clause 16.

795.  CHAIRMAN: Before you get on to that, you were going to clear up a little bit on clause 4. If we can get that tucked out of the way.

796.  MR CLARKSON: That was the 7-day point.

797.  CHAIRMAN: Fourteen days of grace, was it not?

798.  MR CLARKSON: Yes. The Bill actually says seven days. I am misunderstanding what you are worried about. Can I just make sure that I am dealing with the right point. At 6(2B), page 5, "Any references in this Part of this Act to a current licence on any particular date shall be construed as including a reference to a licence which was current during any part of the period of 14 days ending with the day preceding that date." That is a clear expression of the end of the licence period.

799.  We think there is a lacuna that is not picked up in the way subsection 2(1)(a)(i) is drafted. We should add to the end of 2(1)(a)(i) "... on which no current licence is displayed ..." the words, "... on the date on which it is proposed that the vehicle should be disposed of". That would pick up the 14 days point. Then there is harmony between the expression no current licence and the fourteen days grace under 6(1)(2B). That also requires, if the Committee would allow it, after (1B), page 4, line 8, these words. We would add on page 4, line 8, (2A) and subsection (2) is omitted because then the underlying subsection (2) has become otiose and is not necessary. I hope that picks up the point that the honourable Chairman raised before. Really what it means is that there is a period of 14 days after the current licence has expired.


 
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