I beg to move amendment No. 51, in page 19, line 13, at end insert
', and that person shall be made aware that a failure to pay could result in an increase in the penalty with its conversion into a court fine and liability to prosecution for the offence'.
The amendments follow on closely from what the Minister said in his response to the debate on clause 19. He confirms that there will still be recourse to the courts, so these are probing amendments to elicit what facility there will be—particularly where new litter officers are acting as enforcement officers for the first time—to make an offender aware that a failure to pay a fixed penalty notice could result in an increase in the penalty. That penalty could be converted into a court fine and the offence liable to prosecution. We are extending the range of litter officers—that has just been confirmed—and many will be using these discretionary and permissive powers for the first time.
Is the Minister convinced that there will be a mechanism to ensure that an offender is made aware of the consequences of their actions, either of not paying the fixed penalty notice or of the ultimate threat of prosecution? Presumably the matter will still be subject to the right of appeal to a magistrate. In the spirit of helpfulness and co-operation that the Minister is coming to expect from Conservative members of the Committee, I suggest that we insert that there will still be right of appeal against the issuing of fixed penalty notices. We feel that it is important to state that in the Bill, rather than leaving it to pure chance. I hope that the Minister will feel able to support the amendment.
If people do not comply with the law and do not pay the penalty, it is only right that they be told that failure to pay could result in an increase in that penalty. The clear example, which I think is punitive, is the congestion charge. The charge is £5, but if someone fails to comply, it automatically goes up to £50—10 times the amount originally charged. Ten times the amount is quite punitive, particularly when many people simply forget. I declare an interest; on 23 December I forgot to pay. I am not bitter now; I am almost over it, but not quite. I cannot think of another example where a fine rises to 10 times the amount. [Interruption.] Crushing my car might do us all a favour.
If a person has broken the law and simply fails to pay the penalty, they should know that they are likely to pay an increased fine—whether it is £75 or £100. I hear what the Minister says about wanting to get away from taking everyone to court and that is why we are looking at reasonable fines. I fully understand that. When people have dropped gum or litter but are not prepared to pay the fine because they think that it is unreasonable, they will clearly end up in court unless they have good cause. Court time will be involved. People should rightly face an increased charge when they have been convicted of deliberately dropping litter or gum and have refused to pay the fine.
Again, this matter comes under appropriate training and guidance and ensuring that all the arrangements are in place. The hon. Lady made it clear that she wanted to be reassured on those points. I am happy to give that reassurance. It would be unthinkable that the notice should not include a warning of what might follow were the fixed penalty notice not accepted. Amendment No. 51 seems to be based on a possible misunderstanding. If a fixed penalty notice is issued under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and is not paid, there is no automatic increase and it is not posted as a fine.
A fixed penalty notice offers an alternative to prosecution. If it is not paid, the local authority may prosecute for the original offence. That is not automatic; nor is any increase. If the individual goes to court, they might get a fine that is higher than the fixed penalty notice level. They might end up with a lower fine. It is a matter of chance. It is also a matter of a lot more administration and public money in order to reach the outcome. That is one reason for setting the right level and for ensuring that magistrates have a good understanding of the way that the local authority's policy is being developed.
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer off the top of my head. I am happy to check the situation and to write to him. There is a degree of variation in different parts of the country. That is where we come to the interface between cultures and people's expectations and understandings. People should understand, first, that they should not drop litter, and secondly, that if they do so they will be fined. They should know what the level will be. It has to act as a discouragement. We are starting to move towards that.
Amendment No. 52 is not necessary because no one is forced to accept a fixed penalty notice in the first place. If they accept a notice and then wish that they had not, they can simply choose not to pay it. If they choose not to pay, it is for the local authority to decide whether to prosecute for the events that led to the issuing of the notice. Either of those courses will result in the issuing authority taking a decision on whether to prosecute for the original offence.
It is important to understand that clause 22 introduces fixed penalty notices for failure to comply with litter clearing notices in clause 20 and street litter control notices in clause 21. Local authorities will be given the power to set the level of the fixed penalty in their area. That may be subject to limitations in regulations made by the Secretary of State in England or by the National Assembly for Wales. Where the power is not exercised, the amount of the fixed penalty will be £100.
This is a simple improvement in the way that fixed penalty notices can be used to good effect at local level. I hope that the assurances that I have given will satisfy hon. Members on that point.
I seek a simple clarification and make a request of the Minister. Section 90 of the excellent Environmental Protection Act 1990—the Committee will recall that it was introduced under the previous Conservative Administration—provides for the designation of litter control areas. Subsection (1) states that the Secretary of State may ''prescribe descriptions of land'' that may be designated as litter control areas. Under section 94, the Secretary of State may prescribe by order the kinds of premises to which street control notices can be issued, but they do not include the vicinity of office buildings. Therefore, local authorities such as Westminster city council often cannot apply such measures in cases where they would be most effective, such as when smoking litter proliferates on the forecourt of an office building in which staff are subject to a smoking ban.
Does the Minister accept that one possible solution would be for the vicinity of offices to be added to the list of types of land to which street litter control notices applied? Better still, we could remove the need for the Secretary of State to approve the scheduled types of land to which they applied. I hope that the Minister sees what we are getting at. We have had more of a discussion about chewing gum, but clause 27 and, in particular, clause 22 obviously apply in this case. Metropolitan and urban councils, such as Westminster city council, are concerned that we deal with such areas in the vicinity of office buildings, which the Secretary of State may not currently deem to be premises.
I think that I can satisfy the hon. Lady on that point. Offices are premises, so they are potentially covered. That can be made clear by regulations; there is no need to amend the Bill to do so.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.