Select Committee on Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 720-739

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Wednesday 19 February 2003

720. MR HOUSE: I am the lead officer on that so it will be April 2004 or I will not be the lead officer any more.

721. LORD ELTON: Thank you very much. I asked the right question of the right chap. The other question I think probably you will tell me you have answered already but I wonder if you could condense it into a couple of sentences. What would be the adverse impact on metropolitan policing of granting the powers requested by the Promoters of this Bill to their parks police?

722. MR HOUSE: In all honesty I do not think there would be a great amount of adverse impact on the Metropolitan Police Service, that is not where I am coming from. I am coming from an overall policing and public perception in London. My view would be the danger would be confusion amongst the public of numerous agencies, communication between numerous agencies, you are growing the number of police agencies instead of shrinking them, which is the way that we believe it should be going.

723. In terms of would it cause us a problem, quite possibly not because we would simply draw an even stronger line around the parks than we already have and you would see police officers not being involved as much in the parks. Personally I believe that is bad for London because the Metropolitan Police Service delivers a service for all Londoners no matter where they are in London, unless they are in the City. It is not an impact on ourselves, in some respects you could say it might make life easier for the Metropolitan Police Service but I do not think that is where we are coming from, we are talking about policing for the public.

724. LORD ELTON: I would like to ask the Promoters a question in this area. You are asking for powers of stop and search and you are doubtless aware that has been a highly controversial and high profile issue on a number of recent occasions and it is the subject of policy direction in London as a whole by the Commissioner. Would you be seeking to keep in step with the Metropolitan Police and, if so, how?

(Mr Ausling) My Lord, yes, we would indeed. Stop and search of course is a very emotive subject and we obviously would want to keep in step with the Metropolitan Police and any other Home Office force with regards to the legislation and rules and guidelines that are set down. I personally would seek the assistance of the Metropolitan Police in a way to enhance the training that is currently given to the parks police service to work together as a partnership, a working together concept, in and around this emotive area.

725. Thank you very much. Have you actually talked to the Metropolitan Police about how this would be done?

(Mr Ausling) As yet I have not spoken to anybody from the Metropolitan Police with regard to this issue, my Lord.

726. LORD ELTON: Thank you.

727. LORD TORDOFF: I have not got any questions but I really would like to thank Mr House for coming today. It is impressive that someone of his standing has come to the Committee this morning and we are most grateful, thank you.

The witness withdrew

728. CHAIRMAN: Thank you all very much indeed for that. We will move on now. As I see it we should now be able to take the one remaining clause before lunch. We will then break for lunch during which time my colleagues and I will come to a conclusion on Clause 32 and we will report after lunch on that. Thank you all very much. Mr Lewis, we now move to multiple dog walking, with no disrespect to anybody.

729. MR LEWIS: From the ridiculous to the sublime. My Lords, Mr Stratton remains seated to my right because, again, this is very much a Wandsworth sponsored clause. This clause provides a consent regime which is intended to deal with the problems and potential problems caused by the increasing number of people who walk groups of dogs in public places. As Mr Stratton can explain, the problem has increased in recent years with the trend towards professional dog walking whereby people pay for others to walk their dogs for them.

730. It is important to note that the clause does not ban multiple dog walking, it merely provides a consent regime. The council is able to place conditions on the granting of a consent and the types of condition which may be placed are set out in subsection (2). These include, in paragraph (e), conditions as to the number of dogs which may be walked at any one time. As you will see from subsection (9), which is now contained in an Addition Apart ----

731. CHAIRMAN: Yes, we have that.

732. MR LEWIS: The consent provisions will only kick in when more than four dogs are being walked at any one time. The consent regime set out in the clause is familiar and well precedented and enables the council to revoke the consent, charge a reasonable fee and withhold the consent. The clause will apply to any area within the council which is designated by the council in accordance with the procedural provisions set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill.

733. It is important to note that the person who applies for a consent and is refused or is not happy with the conditions of the consent, or has his consent revoked, may appeal to a magistrates' court.

734. My Lord, that was all I was going to say by way of introduction. Mr Stratton is able to answer any of your queries. It might perhaps be useful if I just ask him the general question of what is the problem which we are seeking to address.

735. CHAIRMAN: I was wondering quite what the problem was that you need a clause of more than a page in a Bill like this. You say that what one might call commercial dog walking has grown, and I have noticed once or twice myself, but what problem is it actually causing to members of the general public who are in the park at the same time?

(Mr Stratton) My Lord, I think considerable. I would just like to say that our council is wholly supportive of responsible dog owners. We have the largest dog control unit certainly in Greater London with six regular officers and four part-time currently. The statutory requirement is one. One or two authorities have two. I believe one is thinking of a third. We have six. Last year we prosecuted more people for allowing their dog to foul and not clearing up after the dog than the rest of Greater London put together but we still go in for responsible dog ownership, that is our goal. We educate people in the parks and open spaces, we have teams who go out to schools, it is all about responsible dog ownership. About four years ago, it may have been five years ago, there was a lot of professional dog walking that took place in Wimbledon Park and on the Putney open commons. As a result, professional dog walkers were coming in from all over London and there were very, very large numbers of dogs. They effected a bylaw which restricted the number of dogs allowed to be walked to four unless a special licence was given. That was an avenue down which I was very prepared to go because of the increasing problem that we have. However, I realised that as the problem was getting bigger in our area, if we imposed the same bylaw they then would go elsewhere until finally the last borough in London would be inundated with packs of dogs.

736. About three years ago I started noticing the problem really quite seriously in that two professional dog walkers were walking their dogs in a small park that we call Banana Park, Falcon Park. It is a fairly small area but because they got together and there were 20 dogs there, nobody else would use it. So the regular users were driven out of their park, regular residents. These dog walkers were coming in from outside, one was from inside the borough, one was from outside the borough. In Battersea Park there was always, that I know of, one local person who walked local dogs in Battersea Park; there are now probably eight or ten different professional dog walkers in Battersea Park. In our borough we have at least 20 professional dog walkers. These are people who are coming in with ten and in excess of ten dogs.

737. My concern is not only are these dogs taking over the park but the dog walkers, despite my exhortations to the contrary, have ignored the plea to keep separate and keep apart and do not use channels that canalise them in the park, instead they do meet up and you get three, sometimes four, dog walkers together so you can have 30 dogs. It is only a matter of time before the pack instinct will take over and some child or an adult will get mauled or even worse. We regularly have other local residents walking their dogs and reporting to me that their dogs have been mauled by a pack. That is not a daily episode but it is a regular episode.

738. In my view we would be irresponsible as a local authority if we just let it go on as it is. What we were trying to do, if we are not successful today, is have a bylaw that applies to us. As I said, Lambeth would be the next borough that suffers, they have one or two large open spaces and all that will happen that the people will move there. They already have professional dog walkers in Lambeth, to triple it with another 20 professional dog walkers would just be desperate as far as Lambeth are concerned.

739. Just going back to what I said at the beginning, we do accept that people do want to buy dogs. We are a very green borough, 23 per cent is open space, and by and large the majority of people who live in Wandsworth are in the age group of 25 to 40, there are only 10 per cent over 60 and there are a fair number of young people.

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