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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Commons dog ban breaches my human rights, says MP... and no, he's not the member for Barking

By Brendan Carlin and Martin Delgado

Tails of the unexpected: Tory MP Matthew Offord with his dog, Max, who is taking human rights action against Commons officials over a ban on dogs

A Tory MP is invoking human rights laws to overturn a ban on taking his dog to work at Westminster.

Matthew Offord is taking the extraordinary action after officials told him he cannot bring his pet Max into his Commons office.

Mr Offord, who has been given a one-week ultimatum to leave the six-month-old Jack Russell at home, said: 'This is a ridiculous rule. Max doesn't do anyone any harm.

He doesn't bark, my staff have no complaints and he's great for taking the stress out of the day.

'If they try to push this, I will invoke the Human Rights Act because they're breaching my right to a private, family life.'

Max, a lively white-and-tan pedigree pup, has been accompanying Mr Offord, 41, to Westminster for weeks without any protests from staff or fellow MPs.

The MP for Hendon, North-West London, says he consulted officials before bringing Max in and was privately told it was fine.

'I've being bringing him in for months. I don't hide him. It's no secret that I bring my dog to work,' he said.

But a row erupted after an official spotted Max's basket in Mr Offord's office.

The incident led to Mr Offord being challenged by James Robertson, the senior Commons official who oversees MPs' offices.

Mr Robertson told him of a Commons rule, dating from 1991, which states 'no dogs are allowed in the Palace of Westminster'.

The only exception is for police sniffer dogs, guide dogs and pets of staff who live on the parliamentary estate.

When Mr Offord, 41, made clear he would not back down, he was confronted by Tory Whip Mark Francois, who said the dog had to go.

'He gave me a week to comply but I told him I'm not going to. My wife Claire can't look after Max during the day.

'I told the Whip I would invoke the Human Rights Act – not for Max but for me.

'Whatever people might think of the human rights rules, and I have my doubts about them, they are part of British law.'

The provision Mr Offord plans to invoke – Article 8, which governs 'the right to a private or family life' – was successfully used by a Bolivian immigrant in 2009 to escape deportation on the grounds that he had to stay to look after his cat.

The MP, who has asked Speaker John Bercow to overturn the ban, said the arrangements for Max complied with RSPCA guidelines on dogs at work.

'He doesn't cause any disruption, he's house-trained and I take him for regular walks,' he said.

Tory MP John Stevenson, who shares Mr Offord's Westminster office, gave him his full backing over bringing in Max.

Since the row emerged, The Mail on Sunday has learnt of two other MPs who take their dogs to work – one even smuggles his pet through in a hold-all.

A Commons spokesman said Mr Robertson had simply reminded Mr Offord of the rules of the House. Mr Francois declined to comment.



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