A lot of people have been in touch to ask about the rules on taking exercise - and specifically whether it's ok to drive a short distance to the open country to walk your dog (or yourself).
I just joined the other Wiltshire MPs on a conference call with Kier Pritchard, Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police, to discuss this and other policing issues.
Mr Pritchard confessed to the difficulty of implementing a national rule that doesn't specify exactly what is and isn't allowed - for the natural reason that it’s complicated. He also said he had got it wrong with his initial step, which was to issue posters telling people not to drive anywhere for exercise under any circumstances. This was heavy-handed and didn’t take enough account of the different circumstances in which people might need to travel. Some new posters are on the way.
The rule is that people should only drive if necessary. This means going to work or to the shops if they are too far to walk, and for exercise if it is simply not possible to exercise satisfactorily by walking to and from your home.
For most people, they can take a stroll round the town or village, or get to open country easily from their front door. A small minority, however, need to drive a short distance to reach the fields, and from what we heard today I’m confident that officers will exercise discretion and judgement in policing this. That doesn’t mean heading to the local beauty spot in Savernake Forest or the Ridgeway, and it doesn't mean the police won’t stop you to ask if you really need to be in your car.
I am also aware that the Ministry of Defence Police have been advising people not to drive to Salisbury Plain. I am personally of the view that this is excessive - people living close to the Plain, who cannot walk there directly, should be allowed to make a short drive for exercise and dog walking. Mr Pritchard will raise this with MoD Police and see if they can align their advice and tactics.
Wiltshire Police’s vision is ‘policing by consent’. The Government’s approach to self-isolation and social distancing is ‘common sense’. Between these two principles it should be possible for people to work out what’s safe, and the police to monitor us without being heavy-handed.
In other news, crime is down! The lockdown is affecting criminals just like the rest of us. That said, we should be very concerned about domestic violence. If you are worried about anyone, please tell the police or social services.