Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence


Sections 320-339

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Tuesday 18 February 2003

320. MR KERRIGAN: I am Andrew Kerrigan from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

321. MRS McGREGOR: I am Wendy McGregor from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

322. CHAIRMAN: I do not know how long these clauses might take with Government opposition.

323. MR LEWIS: I suspect more than 20 minutes.

324. CHAIRMAN: I think it might be wise if we break for lunch now in that case because we have a little bit of deliberation to do ourselves. We will be back at two o'clock sharp. I am sorry to break you off at that point but when I see something coming along which looks as if it might take more than a little while it is probably better to break now.

After a short adjournment

325. CHAIRMAN: Before we recommence with the business can I just say that the Committee has considered Clause 19 and we have concluded that it should remain in the Bill with the amendments as proposed in the Filled Bill. We will give our reasons in a special report which will be published after the proceedings of the Committee have finished.

326. Now, I think we have been introduced to the representatives from the two Government Departments so we can get cracking on Clauses 26 onwards.

327. MR LEWIS: Clauses 26 to 29, my Lord.

328. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.

MR NICK LESTER, Sworn

Examined by THE COMMITTEE

329. MR LEWIS: I have now sitting to my immediate right Nick Lester, who is the Director of Environment at the Association of London Government and he is here to answer any questions which might arise on the provisions, although I suspect that most of our presentation will consist of my submissions.

330. My Lord, these provisions alter the way in which a number of offences which the Councils are already able to prosecute can be dealt with. The intention is to make enforcement easier for the council, and also to save court time. What these clauses do, in summary, is to enable an authorised officer of the council to serve a fixed penalty notice on a person who they have reason to believe has committed the offence. The service of the fixed penalty notice enables the recipient to elect to pay the fixed penalty or have his case tried in the Magistrates Court in the usual way. He has a 14 day period in which to consider his position. After the end of that period, the council can issue a summons in the Magistrates Court.

331. This procedure is certainly precedented and, in fact, was pioneered by Westminster City Council for litter offences under the City of Westminster Act 1989. It now operates on a national scale in respect of dog fouling and litter offences and also other offences, for example those related to vehicle exhaust emissions.

332. I will deal with dog fouling and litter shortly because it is in respect of those offences that the Government Departments have reported. The other offences to which these provisions will apply are all listed in Schedule 3 to the Bill on page 30. You will see they are restricted to contraventions of abatement notices under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which deals with matters such as noise nuisance and pollution, displaying advertisements in contravention of the advertisement regulations, which includes flyposting, which we will be dealing with later in a different clause, and also offences under the street trading legislation, which we have already examined.

333. I could also mention the fixed penalty provisions also apply to bylaws. I will just remind myself of which provision that is. 26(1)(b) I am reminded. Yes, thank you very much. Clause 26(1)(b) on page 16 also provides that the fixed penalty offences provision should attach to bylaws made by the councils.

334. There are two significant differences in these clauses from existing legislation related to fixed penalties adopted on a national scale. The first difference is in relation to where fixed penalty revenue goes. Under these clauses the councils will be able to retain the income from fixed penalties by virtue of Clause 27(6). Subsection (7) brings in Schedule 4. That is subsection (7) of Clause 26. Schedule 4 sets out how the income from fixed penalties should be dealt with by the council.

335. In effect, as it is amended, that schedule will enable Councils to use the surplus from the fixed penalty notice regimes for purposes connected with the improvement of the amenity of their area or any part of that area. Under the existing litter and dog fouling regimes, the council have to pay the revenue to the Secretary of State.

336. The other major difference, which is also linked to finances, is that under Clauses 28 and 29 the councils are able to fix the levels of fixed penalties themselves. They would do that through an already existing joint committee, and, importantly, there would be a safeguard against the councils fixing the levels too high, because the Secretary of State would have a power to reduce the levels of fixed penalties under Clause 29. It would be illogical for the councils to set levels of fixed penalties at a high level anyway, because in order to make payment of a fixed payment an attractive option to the recipient, the penalty would logically have to be set at a level which was lower than the combined fine ad costs which the recipient would expect to have to pay if tried by the magistrates.

337. My Lord, as you know, there are four Government reports against these clauses - two each from DEFRA and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The reports relate only to the dog fouling and littering offences. When these reports were submitted last year, the Government had already published a White Paper called Strong Local Leadership - Quality Public Services which dealt with a number of issues which have now been brought together in the current Local Government Bill which is before the other place. It is noteworthy that the White Paper was published just after the Bill which your Lordships are considering today was deposited in Parliament. As the initial two reports say, the White Paper said that the Government would allow local authorities to use the proceeds from fines on littering and dog fouling for additional spending to enhance the local environment.

338. My Lords, if you look behind Tab 2 and document number 2B, paragraph 4.18, this is the White Paper, it says in that paragraph "We have already announced that we will allow local authorities to use the money from fines for dog fouling and litter to provide additional spending to enhance the local environment." It then goes on to say, further on: "We will give high-performing authorities complete freedom to decide how to spend the income from dog fouling, littering and parking fines." (Obviously we are not concerned about parking fines today.)

339. The reports quite rightly point out that Schedule 4 to the Bill (Schedule 5 when it was deposited) provided that surpluses in the accounts of the councils could be applied for such purposes as the council thought fit. The amendment on page 31 of the Bill, on line 12, restricts the purposes for which the councils could use fixed penalties to purposes connected with the improvement of the amenity of the area of the council or any part of that area. This represents, of course, a considerable restriction on the council's powers compared to what was originally in the Bill. The Departments still do not like this wording, and believe that the relevant provision of the Local Government Bill, Clause 116, which is contained in the bundle before you, should take precedence.


 
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