Last week Robert Atkins, Minister of the Environment, gave notice of the publication of a long-awaited report from his department's advisory group on litter.
He promised last March to look at the Tidy Britain Group's request for a replacement of the poop-scoop by-laws with national legislation. Last Wednesday, with just a day to go before Parliament's summer recess, he finally announced the recommendations in the report.
His speech gave strong indications that the Government was now ready to act on the calls for a change in the dog-fouling laws.
The Dirty Dogs Campaign was pleased to learn that of the six recommendations highlighted by Mr Atkins as deserving special attention, two referred specifically to dog fouling.
The first echoes widespread calls from our readers for an end to the complicated and inefficient system of by- laws. It suggests 'a replacement of the existing patchwork of dog-fouling by-laws with a national offence of failure to clean up after one's dog in most public areas'.
The second also mirrors one of the Dirty Dogs Campaign's key areas of concern, calling for an 'extension of the fixed-penalty system (which currently applies to litter only) to dog-fouling offences'.
Another recommendation addresses the virtual impossibility of enforcing fines without sufficient authorities available to issue them.
It includes a request for 'improvements to the litter fixed-penalty system so local authority contractors can issue penalty notices'.
This suggestion will be especially welcome for dog wardens, who have long complained of overstretched resources, as will the third recommendation: that fixed penalties be increased from pounds 10 to pounds 25.
Anti-dog-fouling campaigners felt the news was optimistic - the report clears the way for further successful lobbying.
David Porter, Conservative MP for Waveney, whose question to the Secretary of State for the Environment prompted the last-minute response from Mr Atkins, called the report 'a victory for campaigners'.
He went on: 'It is a significant development because it goes further than just re- classifying dog's mess as litter. The suggestion of a new offence of failure to clear up after one's dog is quite an advance.'
However, Chris Smith, shadow Environment spokesman, warned against campaigners resting on their laurels.
'It's high time the Government took some real action rather than publishing reports,' he said. 'We will be pushing very hard for the Government to introduce legislation and I encourage campaigners to do the same.'
The next three months will be critical. The report is now at the consultation stage, and the Department of the Environment is canvassing public opinion. This is a stage where public pressure can greatly influence the report's chances of success. If all supporters of the Dirty Dogs Campaign were to add their voices to those in favour, we could make a significant contribution to its becoming law.
As Mr Porter says: 'We must not let the momentum slow down. This report means that we can build up the pressure in the autumn and push at the open door towards creating new legislation.'
Both MPs alerted campaigners to the significance of the Environmental Protection Agency Bill which looks likely to be announced in the Queen's Speech, since it would serve as a perfect vehicle for the introduction of national legislation.
Professor Graham Ashworth, director general of the Tidy Britain Group, one of the key bodies involved in setting up the Advisory Group, was pleased by the report, but warned that government commitment would be vital. 'Enough money must be put aside to provide the resources to tell the public what to do,' he insisted, 'and we will continue to advise the Government to implement this.'
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Add your voice to those supporting the DoE report. Write to: The Department of the Environment, LEQ Division, Room A216, Romney House, 43 Marsham Street, London SW1P 3EB.
Your letter should state that:
Dog fouling is an issue on which you feel strongly
Dog fouling should be made an offence nationwide
Dog fouling should be punished with a fixed penalty
The power to administer such penalties should be extended.
All letters must be received by 14 October.Reuse content