With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 73, in clause 20, page 17, line 7, after 'served', insert
', or 56 days if the notice is served under the provisions of subsection (9) below.'.
No. 54, in clause 20, page 17, line 31, at end insert
'( ) land to which section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (Powers to remove persons attending or preparing for raves) applies;'.
No. 55, in clause 20, page 17, line 31, at end insert
'( ) land to which section 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (Power of local authority to direct unauthorised campers to leave land) applies;'.
The Minister will be aware that a raft of antisocial behaviour is demonstrated by people who attend raves and other organised events illegally, without the permission of the landowner. Does he intend to amend the Bill in that regard? I shall raise several items in connection with that in the clause stand part debate, so at this point I simply request that he looks favourably on the amendment.
I have described cases of antisocial behaviour. I am sure that the Minister's Department, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister or the Home Office are made aware of antisocial behaviour, damage, litter and so on that follow on from unauthorised and, to all intents and purposes, illegal events. Does he envisage extending clause 20 to cover powers to remove persons attending or preparing for raves at which antisocial behaviour might arise?
May I join others in welcoming you, Mr. Forth, and, in advance, welcome your judgments?
Amendment No. 73 is a probing amendment. We are concerned that the period within which somebody needs to act when they have been served with a notice is less than 56 days. There is a problem with absentee landlords. For example, if the owner of an area where an order has been made is overseas, even if the council knows that the owner is abroad, and even if the owner has an agent who might pass the order on to him, he may not receive it for days. He will then have to implement the actions required.
That is why we suggest a period of 56 days. We are trying to obtain an idea of what is a reasonable turnaround in circumstances in which someone may not have the information as soon as the council would like him to have it. If the problem is extensive and the individual has to get someone in to carry out the contract, or to make arrangements with the council to do the work if the owner agrees to bear the cost, how would that work if the end of the 28-day period is reached? It might be difficult for an owner to implement the order before the period has elapsed.
I am tempted to refer to the hon. Members for Vale of York and for Guildford (Sue Doughty) as Scylla and Charybdis, because they tempt me in opposite directions by the amendments that they have tabled.
Amendment No. 28 would remove the requirement to clear an area within 28 days. It will be impossible for local authorities to secure a clean local environment if no time period is specified for the litter clearance. A minimum period of 28 days from the service of the notice must be allowed for the required clearing of the litter in order to give the occupier or owner sufficient time to carry out the action required. Removing that period would make the provision impossible to enforce. It would also remove local authorities' powers to specify the standard to which land must be cleared of litter or refuse. The power to make it clear to people what they have to do was strongly supported in the consultation exercise. I am not at all tempted to support amendment No. 28.
Amendment No. 73 would increase the period to 56 days. If anyone in the Committee is arithmetically challenged, that is double the period of 28 days. It seems odd to suggest such a long time. That would introduce further delays in cases in which the local environment is already degraded and where clean-up action is required. The 56-day period is a long time for people to have to continue to tolerate a situation when the local authority has concluded that an order is necessary. It is unlikely that an order is made on the first day of the problem, and it is very unlikely that an owner or occupier would come forward during the additional 28 days allowed by the amendment.
A 28-day period is reasonable. We considered much shorter periods than that during the consultation, but local people who adjoin such pieces of land often wanted that done within seven days, six days, or two days—in fact, they preferably want it done now. Of course, that is not practical. We need a time scale and we think that 28 days is reasonable, effective and generous.
I fully support councils having a time scale within which action should be taken. It is right that people should see the problem dealt with and that it does not go on for ever. However, what guidance would the Minister give to someone who belatedly becomes aware of the order and cannot fulfil its requirements because he is away, even though he would intend to take action? The individual could explain to the council that he had been on holiday for three weeks and had just opened his post and seen the order. He might agree that the council is right to serve a notice, but he could argue that he cannot take action in the next week because he has to make arrangements.
I think that one has to be careful. Subsection (6) says:
''A period specified . . . may not be less than 28 days beginning on the day on which the notice is served.''
It allows for a longer period to be given in particular circumstances, such as in summer. Local authorities could make that judgment. We have to specify a minimum period that we consider reasonable.
If someone came forward and said that they are now aware of a situation and will deal with it, most local authorities would respond by saying, ''Let's see if it happens'', and give the person a little leeway. However, local authorities also frequently have the experience of someone coming forward and putting off the evil day by saying that they will deal with the problem, but nothing happens. Such matters are best left to local judgment and the application of common sense, and that is the direction in which we would point local authorities. I repeat that we are not dealing with new issues. Local authorities have much experience of dealing with such circumstances.
I seek some clarification. When I have gone around parts of the country canvassing, I have been amazed to see the huge amount of litter that has been deposited—clearly by other people—in people's gardens. I assume that a notice could be served on someone to require them to clear their garden of the refuse even though they did not deposit the rubbish there. Irrespective of whether the required period is 28 or 56 days, if the occupier of the house is, for example, disabled, I assume that the aim is not to prosecute them, but to ensure that the refuse is cleaned up. I hope that, in such cases, local authorities would be asked to show tolerance and understanding and to help with clearing up the refuse.
The hon. Gentleman makes a sensible point. That is not the sort of standard that most local authorities apply when they are dealing, for example, with tenant obligations. He is right that the provisions can apply to private gardens. Clearly, there will be a need for guidance, but I intend to ensure that it points local authorities in the direction of experience, best practice and the application of common sense, rather than bureaucracy.
Mr. Evans indicated assent.
I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman agrees with that approach.
With reference to amendments Nos. 54 and 55, the land referred to in subsection (11) is all land that other bodies have a statutory duty to keep clear of litter. That is not the case with land to which sections 63 and 77 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 apply. The intention is that all land will be subject either to a statutory duty to keep it clear of litter or to a possible litter clearing order. In other words, we do not want accidentally to leave a gap between the two pieces of legislation. The amendments would create a gap in that coverage.
I understand the argument that a landowner should not be faced with the cost of clearing land when he is not responsible for the litter. Of course, it is always preferable that the person responsible for the littering, the deposition or any other damage that has been done should be the person who deals with it, in accordance with the polluter pays principle. However, the same argument applies in other circumstances that would not be covered by the amendment if there is a problem with which it is the landowner's responsibility to deal.
The best option is to retain the widest possible coverage of litter clearing notices and to ask local authorities to deal sensitively with situations in which the litter is not the fault of the occupier. That would cover the sort of example that the hon. Gentleman gave, in which the individual is not physically capable of dealing with the problem. I am happy that we should include that advice in the guidance. There should be flexibility both in the guidance and by ensuring that we do not leave gaps between different elements of the law in the primary legislation. I hope that, on the basis of my explanations of the damage that the amendments would do, they will not be pursued.
I omitted to say that I used to have an interest in Railtrack, although it is not registered or declarable. I am currently taking part in a placement with Network Rail under an Industry and Parliament Trust scheme.
The purpose of the amendments is to alert the Minister to the fact that, as was made clear to him during consultation, his Bill runs counter to what was achieved under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. It would help if his departmental guidance was to the same effect as the Home Office guidance. After discussions with Network Rail on the 2003 Act, a clause was included in the Home Office guidance stating that if a local authority wished to serve a cleansing notice on Network Rail, they would contact the company to discuss a suitable time frame for removal.
The Minister will be the first to pay tribute to the substantial sums that Network Rail is paying to clean up litter around tracks. However, to put that in context, the delay to trains would be significant, and that greatly concerns Network Rail. Under the performance regimes contained in its regulated track access agreements, the average cost of delay to a train is £42 a minute. That payment applies to every train that Network Rail delays. Using that average delay cost, if 10 trains are delayed for one hour while litter is cleaned up, it would cost £25,200. If a London terminal station was closed for eight hours and 100 trains were delayed, the cost would be just over £2 million. I urge the Minister to consider the problem on Report, and we will maintain our position.
I thank the Minister for his explanation about what we will do about absentees and for the short discussion on how to ensure that the requirements are not excessively onerous on somebody who genuinely cannot act within the time scale.