Clause 23 - Controls on free distribution of printed matter
Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill
Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)
I see that I have agreement in some parts of the Room at least.
The problems that we are concerned about can build up in a fairly short period. To extend the period from 28 days to 42 days as a minimum time between giving notice and the coming into force of the designation order seems entirely out of proportion. It should be borne in mind that the local authority has the capacity to revoke such an order at any time. Indeed, it quite often happens that an order is put in place but people then have second thoughts. However, the proposals would prevent a local authority from acting reasonably swiftly on the powers in the Bill. I will resist the amendment, because the proposed increases in the notification objection time would hamper the ability of local authorities to control free literature distribution in an area that was already suffering from serious blight.
Amendment No. 83 is unnecessary because, taking all the relevant provisions into account, it is clear that the notification must be in writing. I also have problems with the term ''authorised officer'', because I think that it assumes that amendments Nos. 88 and 89 have been accepted.
Amendment No. 84 would allow consent to be accompanied by a requirement to clear any litter resulting from the material distributed. That amendment is not necessary either, because paragraph 3(5) of proposed schedule 3A to the 1990 Act would give the local authority the power to impose such conditions as it considers ''necessary or desirable'' to protect the designated land from defacement. That could include a requirement to clear litter produced as a result of distribution. There is no disagreement with what the hon. Member for Guildford is trying to achieve, but it is already covered in the Bill.
Amendment No. 85 would remove the ability of a local authority to refuse consent if a person had been convicted of an offence or had been issued with a fixed penalty notice for distributing free literature. If that amendment were accepted, it would remove from the Bill the ability of local authorities to refuse consent to those with a history of abusing those provisions. I cannot agree to that. Local authorities are not required to refuse consent, but they should have the right not to give it to individuals who have distributed free literature illegally in the past, thereby completely disregarding the requirements on them in law.
Amendment No. 86 would make changes to the procedure for returning printed matter that has been seized from a person who has committed a free literature offence. When the name and address of a person is not known, proposed schedule 3A allows the printed matter to be disposed of or destroyed by the authority, but amendment No. 86 prevents it from doing so until 28 days have passed, which means additional storage if there is a problem. The amendment is unnecessary because the requirement to return the printed material under section 6(4) and the ability to dispose of, or destroy it, under section 6(5) take effect only at the conclusion of proceedings for the offence or at the end of the period in which proceedings for the offence may be instituted. That acts as a safeguard against the material being disposed of or destroyed before the person from whom it was seized has had the chance to apply for its return.
Amendment No. 87 would change the description of a person on whom a fixed penalty notice can be served for a free literature offence so as to preclude the employer of the person from distributing the material. The hon. Member for Guildford is right about the need to be proportionate; we are resisting the amendment because the purpose of fixed penalty notices is to allow immediate enforcement action against a person who distributes free literature. Anyone who causes another person to distribute free literature, such as an employer, also commits an offence under proposed new paragraph 1(2). However, someone undertaking such activity should not be offered the alternative of paying a fixed penalty; they should be prosecuted. The proportionate response is to prosecute under that provision.