Select Committee on Unopposed Bill Committee Special Report


LONDON LOCAL AUTHORITIES BILL [HL]


SPECIAL REPORT FROM THE UNOPPOSED BILL COMMITTEE

24 FEBRUARY 2003

The Chairman of Committees pursuant to Private Bill Standing Order 121 selected the Lord Elton and the Lord Tordoff to sit with him on the Committee.

ORDERED TO REPORT

1.  This bill, which is promoted by Westminster City Council on behalf of all 32 London borough councils,[1] received a first reading on 10 January 2002 and a second reading on 26 February 2002.

2.  There were seven petitions against the bill. Five of them were withdrawn following discussions between the promoters and the petitioners. The other two petitions, which objected to Clauses 10 and 31, were considered by the Opposed Bill Select Committee on 21 and 22 October 2002. The Select Committee made a Special Report (HL Paper 174, Session 2001-02).

3.  The Unopposed Bill Committee did not, accordingly, have to consider Clauses 10 and 31. We met on 18 and 19 February 2003[2] to consider the remaining, unopposed, clauses of the bill, and also considered a large number of amendments suggested by the promoters, including:

(i)  amendments consequential on Hillingdon London Borough Council's late inclusion in the bill

(ii)  amendments resulting from compromises between the promoters and the petitioners

(iii)  amendments prompted by the reports from Government departments

(iv)  drafting amendments, and clarifying amendments resulting from discussions between the promoters and the Chairman's Counsel.

4.  Some additional amendments were made during the proceedings, to improve the drafting of the bill in the light of discussions in this Committee.

5.  In accordance with Private Bill Standing Order 127, we were required to consider reports on the Bill made by Ministers of the Crown, and to give our reasons for dissenting from any such reports. Seven reports were made on unopposed clauses, and we disagreed with the Government on two issues:

  • Clause 19 (defacement of buildings)
  • Clauses 26-29 and Schedules 4-5 (provisions relating to fixed penalty offences).

These issues are accordingly dealt with in greater detail in the following paragraphs.

Clause 19: defacement of buildings

6.  This clause was proposed to enable councils to tackle more effectively the problem of graffiti on buildings. Under section 12 of the London Local Authorities Act 1995, local authorities may enter land and remove graffiti from buildings (whether residential or commercial) in response to a request from the owner or occupier, and may make a charge for the removal of the graffiti. If there is no request for removal of the graffiti from the owner or occupier of the property, the Council may serve a notice on the owner/occupier, and may take remedial action. But in these circumstances they are not allowed to charge for any costs which they might incur.

7.  The bill, if enacted, would give London local authorities power to charge owners or occupiers of commercial premises for removal of graffiti, following the issue of a notice. Residential property was originally included in these provisions but, following negotiations with petitioners, these parts of the provisions have been withdrawn. The position of residential owners/occupiers will therefore not be affected by the bill.

8.  Following negotiations with the railway and water undertakers and Royal Mail, the proposals have been further amended, to provide for longer notice periods in respect of graffiti on post-boxes, and to limit the councils' rights to take remedial action on railway operators' land. In accordance with the proposed new Clause 19B, the councils will be able to remove graffiti from railway operators' land, but only in cases where the public can gain access to such land. A wall alongside a railway track which faces outwards toward the road, for example, would be subject to these provisions.

9.  The Clause was opposed by the Home Office on the grounds that it would impose a charge on the victims of crime, and that it would militate against a "common, responsible approach" to the problem of graffiti. Mr Sanderson, for the Home Office, argued that the exemptions to which the promoters had already agreed in respect of railway undertakings and the Post Office further undermined a common approach. He considered that there was an element of unfairness in making exemptions for large businesses, and believed that smaller businesses could feel aggrieved by this discrimination.

10.  When asked if the Government intended to bring forward legislation on this issue, Mr Sanderson informed us that the Government planned to bring forward, later in the year, a bill on anti-social behaviour, which would cover the carrying out of graffiti, but would not cover remedial action against the effects of graffiti.

11.  Graffiti is a significant problem in London, and we concluded that the powers proposed to be taken by the London councils were justified. We rejected the objection put forward by the Home Office, that large businesses (Royal Mail and the railway undertakers) were being treated favourably by the proposed amendments. Royal Mail is not exempted from the provisions of the Bill. It is merely being given longer to deal with graffiti on its post-boxes. The amendments relating to the railway undertakers are justified on safety grounds. It is clearly undesirable for workers who may not have specific training in railway safety to be asked to deal with graffiti in an area where railway operations would be taking place. An exemption on the ground of safety at work does not, in our view, render the bill unfair to small businesses. We therefore consider that these provisions, as amended, should remain in the bill.

12.  In reaching this conclusion, we noted that there was a potential problem for small businesses which were the subject of repeated "attacks" of graffiti. In such circumstances, the provisions of the bill might have significant cost implications. Although no firm commitment was given, the Agent for the promoters suggested that this matter might be dealt with in a Code of Practice. We would urge the promoters to consider this further.

Clauses 26-29 and Schedules 4-5: Provisions relating to fixed penalties

13.  The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Deputy Prime Minister each submitted two reports on fixed penalties. The first report of each Minister referred to Schedule 5 (as it then was), and the provision which introduced it, clause 27(8). The objection was that paragraph 2 of Schedule 5 enabled a council to use the surplus it obtained from fixed penalty notices including those in respect of littering and dog fouling "for such purposes as it thinks fit". This phrase was stated to be in conflict with the Government's policy as set out in the White Paper, Strong Social Leadership - Quality Public Services[3] , where it was said "we shall allow local authorities to use the proceeds from fines on littering and dog fouling for additional spending to enhance the local environment". In response the promoters proposed to amend paragraph 2 so to substitute "to purposes connected with the improvement of the amenity of the area of the council or any part of that area" for "for such purposes as it thinks fit". They also proposed removing references to fixed penalties for littering and dog fouling from clause 27 and, by separate clause (clause 29A), applying clauses 27(6) to (9), 28 and 29 to such penalties.

14.  Each Minister then submitted a further supplementary report pointing out that the issues addressed by the fixed penalty clauses and Schedule 5 were also being considered under clause 116 of the Local Government Bill currently before Parliament. The Secretary of State took the view that, even as proposed to be amended, paragraph 2 of the Schedule went wider than the White Paper. In addition the options for discussion in the Living Places consultation allowed more flexibility than those contained in clause 28. The Deputy Prime Minister on the other hand was of the view that there would be a conflict in law if the provisions in the Local Government Bill and the provisions of the London Local Authorities Bill were both to be enacted. With that we would respectfully agree. Our conclusion is therefore that that clause 29A should not proceed. As a result the provisions will no longer apply to fixed penalties for littering and dog fouling but will continue to apply to fixed penalties under clause 26 in respect of the offences specified in Schedule 4.

15.  The supplementary report of the Secretary of State also suggested that the reserve powers contained in clause 29 were inadequate and gave insufficient time for the Secretary of State to oppose the level of penalty and set a new level. In fact the Secretary of State has one month in which to make an objection. After that the new levels cannot come into force unless the objection is withdrawn. It follows that the drafting of the regulations will not "inevitably be very rushed". The Secretary of State can take as long as necessary to get the regulations right. Our conclusion is therefore that there is no need for any changes to be made to clause 29. For the record, it exactly reproduces section 74A of the Road Traffic Act 1991, which was inserted into the 1991 Act by section 284 of the Greater London Council Act 1999.

Conclusion

16.  We direct that the Bill shall be reported to the House with amendments.


1   As originally introduced, the bill was promoted on behalf of 31 boroughs only. Hillingdon London Borough Council did not pass the necessary resolution before the bill began its progress through parliament. Additional provision was subsequently authorised enabling Hillingdon to be included. Back

2   A transcript of the proceedings of the Committee is available on the Internet at (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldllauno.htm) or from the Private Bill Office, House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW. Back

3   Please note that the title of the White Paper was misquoted in the Report. It is "Strong Local Leadership—Quality Public Services".Back


 
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