LONDON LOCAL AUTHORITIES
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.
1. This bill, which is promoted by Westminster
City Council on behalf of all 32 London borough councils,
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Five of them were withdrawn following discussions between the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 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
(iv) drafting amendments, and clarifying amendments
resulting from discussions between the promoters and the Chairman's
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
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 , 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.
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
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
Please note that the title of the White Paper was misquoted in the Report. It is "Strong Local LeadershipQuality Public Services".Back