With this is will be convenient to consider amendments 11 to 19.
These amendments relate to part 3 of the Bill, which deals with “Builders’ Skips”. It is important that we have a proper control regime for builders’ skips. It is also important that we are absolutely clear in our own minds about what the impact of the proposed changes to the Bill would be. For example, amendment 10 would add to section 8(1) so that the relevant highway authority could require the relevant person to provide them with the name and address of the owner of the builder’s skip
“where that information is not clearly and indelibly marked under the provisions of section 9”.
Section 9 provides that a skip must be
“clearly and indelibly marked with the owner’s name and with his telephone number or address”.
It seems to me that the best way of resolving this matter is to ensure that the skip must be, as amendment 15 suggests, clearly and indelibly marked with the owner’s name, telephone number and address. If that is done and there is no breach of the provision, it will not be necessary for the highway authority to exercise the power set out in clause 8 because the information that it is seeking to ascertain will already be in its knowledge and the knowledge of anybody else who looks at the skip in question. That would improve the wording of the Bill.
Amendment 11 challenges the current provision, which states:
“A requirement under this section shall specify the period within which it must be complied with, which must be a period no shorter than 3 working days beginning with the date on which the request was made.”
I will take my hon. Friend’s intervention shortly, but I am going to anticipate it in my next comments. Prior to his looking at this because it was drawn to his attention by my amendment, nobody had thought through how reasonable a period of three working days would be in these circumstances. As a result of my tabling amendment 11 to insert 14 working days instead, he and the promoters of the Bill have seen the unreasonableness of the original proposition and the reasonableness of the amendment. He indicated in a letter that I received this morning that he would be willing to accept the amendment.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend.
Amendments 12 and 13 deal with the level of penalty for any person convicted of an offence under clause 8(6), which says that
“in the case of an offence under paragraph (a)” the fine should be “not exceeding level 3”. However, under paragraph (a) the penalty would apply to somebody
“on whom a requirement is imposed…if…without reasonable excuse he fails to comply within the period specified”.
That means that he would not be providing the information within 14 working days. That is, I submit, a relatively minor contravention that should merit, if indeed it is prosecuted at all, only a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale. Obviously, if a person responds to the requirement and, in so doing, gives information that he knows is false in a material particular, that is much more serious. The gravity of that could be reflected in a fine not exceeding level 3 rather than a massive one at level 5. I look forward to my hon. Friend explaining why the fine levels in the Bill were chosen.
I am afraid that that is the exam question I hoped would not be asked, because I do not know the answer off the top of my head. What I do know, however, is that a fine not exceeding level 1 is much lower than a fine not exceeding level 5.
Amendment 14 relates to the burden of proof and to avoiding the creation of offences of strict liability when strict liability is disproportionate and not appropriate. Clause 9 states that a penalty charge is payable if
“a builder’s skip has been deposited on a highway in accordance with a permission granted under…section 139 but the owner of the skip does not secure that…the skip is properly lighted”.
In other words, it is an offence of strict liability. The amendment would insert
“take any reasonable steps to” after “not”, because if the owner has taken reasonable steps to secure that the skip is properly lit during the hours of darkness but something happens that causes it not to be properly lit, I do not think it would be reasonable to impose a penalty charge on the skip owner.
Does my hon. Friend have in mind a scenario in which a skip that has been properly lit is vandalised by people who prevent it from being lit? As it stands the owner would still be liable even if he had done everything he could to ensure that the skip was properly lit. Does my hon. Friend think that “taking any reasonable steps” would protect somebody who was doing their best?
That is exactly the scenario I had in mind. The owner might employ security guards to look at the skip regularly, but if the light was stolen or vandalised at some point would it be reasonable to say that the owner should be liable to a penalty charge?
When I spoke to amendment 10, I referred to amendment 15, which would strengthen the Bill because it would make it incumbent on the owner to take reasonable steps to ensure that the skip is clearly and indelibly marked with his name and telephone number and—rather than or—his address. Having a name and telephone number on a skip is not as good as having a name and address on a skip. I do not understand why the Bill’s promoters and drafters did not require both the telephone number and the address of the skip owner to be displayed. I would have thought that that would be much more preferable. That shows that these amendments are designed not to undermine the Bill, but to try to strengthen it where appropriate.
Amendment 16 relates back to clause 9(6)(d). Subsection (6) sets out, for the purposes of the London Local Authorities Act 2007, a number of provisions relating to
“the grounds on which representations may be made against a penalty charge 40 notice arising”,
one of which is paragraph (d), which notes that
“the contravention of the relevant provision in question was due to the act or default of another person and that he took all precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the contravention by himself or another person under his control.”
That seems brilliant, but subsection (8) states:
“Where the ground mentioned in subsection (6)(d) is relied on in any representations…the relevant highway authority may disregard the representations unless, before the representations are considered, the person making the representations has served on the relevant highway authority a notice in writing giving such information identifying or assisting in the identification of that other person as was then in his possession.”
That seems oppressive in the extreme. It would be fine to leave in subsection (6)(d) without subsection (8), and that is the purpose of amendment 16, which I hope will be acceptable to my hon. Friend Bob Blackman.
Does my hon. Friend accept that if amendment 14 is accepted and requires someone to take “any reasonable steps” with regard to a properly lighted skip, we would not need subsection (8)? Amendment 14 is a much neater way of doing what the promoters of the Bill seem to be trying to do with their other provisions.
Exactly. Sometimes the imagination of those who draft private Bills runs away with them and they think of all possible scenarios. Requiring someone who has taken all reasonable precautions to avoid a contravention to set out in writing their information about other people who might have been up to no good, goes too far.
On Second Reading, Stephen Pound, who I am sorry is not in his place, made a point about the immobilisation of builders’ skips—I think Jim Fitzpatrick also raised that issue. If a builder’s skip is unlit, not properly guarded, causing a nuisance, filled with rotting rubbish or whatever, is it sensible to immobilise it? That is the challenge I put to the promoters of the Bill with amendments 17 to 19, which would leave out clauses 12 to 14.
If the owners of a skip have offended against provisions in part 3 of the Bill, surely penalty notices and so on will be involved. To immobilise the skip in the meantime, thereby preventing its owner from removing it when it is not lit or causing a nuisance, seems to go slightly in the wrong direction. I am sure I am wrong about that, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East responds to the debate he will put me right and explain why London would be a better place if all skips were immobilised. The fact that this was a cross-party issue and taken up on Second Reading was not properly addressed in Committee, so I hope it can be addressed in response to my remarks. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend in the hope that we can proceed with these amendments in a similar way to the previous ones.
I thank my hon. Friend Mr Chope for outlining his various amendments. I will run briefly through the promoters’ view of each. I trust that he will see the logic that they have applied.
The amendments relate to proposals for the decriminalisation of the position on builders’ skips. The power to enforce the rules and if necessary—I emphasise that—immobilise skips when relevant notices are not complied with will instead be put in the hands of the local authority. The authority will have to be convinced that immobilisation is the correct thing to do.
Amendment 10 suggests that information should be provided only if it
“is not clearly and indelibly marked under the provision of section 9”.
I think my hon. Friend has got the wording incorrect, because the requirement set out in the Bill is under section 139 of the Highways Act 1980. The problem, as Members will see if they come to various parts of London and see skips on the roads, is that there may be a name on the side of a skip, but it might not be accurate, because skips are swapped around various companies at various times. The amendment would place a severe burden on skip suppliers to ensure that the details were accurate. On that basis, I do not think it would be sensible to accept it, particularly given the rest of the Bill’s provisions.
The promoters wish to accept amendment 11, and on reflection believe that 14 days should be allowed for compliance. That makes better sense.
Amendment 12 is about the maximum fine for not complying with a request. For clarification, I point out that a level 3 fine is currently £1,000 and a level 1 fine £200. The Government are currently consulting on increasing those levels fourfold, and the Ministry of Justice has raised no objections to the proposal that level 3 be the appropriate fine for the offence set out in clause 8(5)(a). In fact, a level 3 fine is lower than the fine in some equivalent cases. For example, under section 16 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, the maximum fine for the equivalent offence is level 5, which is £5,000. The promoters have sought the right level for an offence of this type. If skips are placed on the road in contravention of highways law, appropriate fines are needed for the local authority to remedy the situation. If the owner did not provide relevant details, the local authority would find it difficult to remove the skip, immobilise it or take appropriate penalty action against the supplier. People need to understand that if they deliberately flout the rules, they will get a severe fine.
Amendment 13 is about the offence of knowingly supplying false information in response to a legitimate request from a local authority for the name of the provider and owner of a skip. The Bill currently provides for a level 5 fine, which is £5,000. The amendment would lower the fine to £1,000. A draconian fine is required to prevent people from knowingly misleading the local authority, so that they cannot leave a dangerous skip on the road without the authority being able to identify who had done so.
Amendment 14 lowers the threshold at which a penalty charge notice could be served when a skip owner does not take reasonable steps to comply with the existing requirements. We need to make clear that the Bill is a decriminalisation measure. At the moment, there are no “reasonable steps” elements in it. The amendment, therefore, would water down the requirements considerably. The general public—motorists, pedestrians and others—have a right to believe that if skips are placed on the public highway they will be properly positioned, properly lit and will not be dangerous to motorists or pedestrians. The amendment would water down the proposals considerably and unfairly.
The point is that these are criminal offences at the moment. The proposals would put the power relating to the public highway in the hands of local authorities, so that they would take action to prevent people from allowing dangerous structures—skips, in this particular case. There was something similar many years ago with parking control, for example. Parking control used to be enforced by the police. It was then decriminalised and put in the hands of local authorities to enforce. A similar position is proposed in the Bill. Instead of the police having to take action, local authority personnel would take action. That does not make it any less of a requirement. It shifts the requirement from the police, who I think we would all say have a big job to do anyway and should not have to do such work; it should be the job of local authorities. That is the purpose of the Bill, and that is why I describe it as a decriminalisation measure. The police enforce the criminal law; local authorities have a duty to enforce the Highways Act 1980 and other appropriate rules.
A penalty charge notice would be issued initially. If that is paid, that is the end of the matter. If it is not paid, it is then presumably for the local authority—I would take advice on this—to take the matter to the county court or the magistrates court to push a position where liability orders would be obtained, and the enforcement action would follow in a similar vein to that of a parking offence on the public highway. Hopefully none of that would ever arise, because people would realise that if they failed to observe the rules they would face high penalties. We all want the streets to be safe. This is a set of proposals for when people deliberately flout the rules. We need draconian measures to ensure that that position is maintained.
My hon. Friend says that it is perfectly reasonable that somebody who owns a skip should be subject to massive penalty charges if in the course of the night the lighting is stolen or vandalised and ceases to operate through no fault of their own. Can that really be fair?
The current position is that were that to happen and lighting was removed, a criminal offence would have been committed. The police would step in and take appropriate action against either the owner of the skip or the owner of the property at which the skip was based. Clearly, we want skips that are placed on the public highway to be lit properly and placed in a sensible and not a dangerous position. I will come on to that point later. We can water down the criminal law and remove the ability of people simply to claim, “It’s nothing to do with me, guv. What can I do if someone removes the lighting?” That does not change the fact, however, that someone has driven their car into a badly lit skip, causing immense damage. At that point, it will be a matter of ensuring that the wrong is put right, and that, if it is not, a fine is issued. It is as simple as that.
Amendment 15 would require names, addresses and telephone numbers to be marked on skips. That would change the law in London, meaning that skip owners would face much more draconian measures in London than outside it. [Laughter.] My hon. Friends smile and laugh, but when someone acquires a skip in London, they do not necessarily acquire it from a site in London; they might acquire it from a skip owner outside London, who would then have to take it to London. If the amendment were passed, the owner would be burdened with having to mark the address and phone number in a way that did not apply in the rest of the country.
I know plenty of skip-owning firms that come from way outside London to provide skips, as well providing skips in their own areas. The amendment would provide for a regulatory burden in London that did not exist elsewhere, resulting in the potential problem of people inadvertently falling foul of the law. I agree that there might be an argument for amending national legislation in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch suggested, but he is a promoter of deregulation, wherever possible, and I do not believe that we want to impose unnecessary regulation on businesses outside London. The amendment is therefore unnecessary and should not be pursued.
Amendment 16 deals with penalty charge notices. If we left out subsection (8), anyone served with a PCN could say, “It’s not me, guv. I’m not responsible.” As far as I am aware, whenever a PCN is issued for an offence on the highways, it is for the person served to substantiate whether someone else was responsible. If we left out the subsection, that person could say, “It’s nothing to do with me”, and then the authorities could not pursue those responsible. For that reason, we would resist the amendment.
Clearly, it would be incumbent on the person served with the PCN to substantiate that the contravention was down to someone else, in the same way as they would make representations against any other PCN. The local authority would then examine those grounds, and if they were relevant and someone else was responsible, the PCN would be withdrawn and issued to the relevant person. That is exactly how local authorities deal with highways offences.
Amendments 17, 18 and 19 deal with potential immobilisation. Clearly, local authorities in London want the power to immobilise a skip if they deem it appropriate, but of course if a skip is in a dangerous position on the highways, the last thing they are going to do is immobilise it; they will want it removed. If, however, it is in a reasonably safe position and a notice to change the lighting has been issued, the local authority could step in, light the skip and immobilise it using the devices on the market that allow that to be done, making it safe for pedestrians and other road users. At the same time, they could pursue the person who has contravened the rules. A local authority would do that only if it was appropriate to do so, which is quite right. Amendments 17, 18 and 19 deal with that issue.
One of the challenges is what is in the skip. Obviously local authorities need the discretion to remove anything that is inappropriate.
If I remember correctly, my hon. Friend Stephen Pound pointed out on Second Reading that many people did not realise that skips could be immobilised, given their size and weight. However, the hon. Gentleman has just explained that such devices are available. When it is safe, their use may be appropriate to prevent people from flouting their responsibilities when they place skips on our roads.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the issue.
In summary, let me say on behalf of the promoters that we accept amendment 11 and oppose the rest of the amendments in this group. Part 3 of the Bill deals with appropriate action to make London streets safer when people put skips on the public highway, by ensuring appropriate fines and enforcement action when people break or flout the rules. We will accept amendment 11, but I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch not to press the other amendments.
I seek to fulfil the same role in this debate as I did in the debate on the previous group of amendments, by speaking briefly and highlighting for my hon. Friend Mr Chope where I think he is on to a winner and also where he has not necessarily persuaded me of the merits of his case.
I am rather puzzled by the whole debate on amendment 10. My hon. Friend made a good case for saying that we should ask people to supply information about the owner of a builder’s skip only
“where that information is not clearly and indelibly marked under the provisions of section 9,” as his amendment sets out. If I understood my hon. Friend Bob Blackman correctly—I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong, which I may well be—he was saying that because skips change ownership quite often, having just a name, telephone number, address or whatever it might be on the skip would not necessarily be a good enough indicator of the actual owner, because the skip might have changed hands a couple of times since those markings were applied. That might well be true, but the problem is that it flies in the face of clause 9, which states that the owner would have to ensure—I might add that anyone who did not do this would have to pay a fine—that
“the skip is clearly and indelibly marked with the owner’s name and with his telephone number or address”.
The promoters of the Bill cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that such information is required for the purposes of clause 9, but that it would be unfair to require it in clause 8. I would advise my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East to have another think, because my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is simply proposing a modest, common-sense amendment that goes with the flow of the Bill, not against it.
I appreciate that point, but amendment 10, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, simply says that if the information was already clearly marked, it would not have to be requested. To me that seems a sensible and modest amendment, and I certainly agree with it.
I am delighted that amendment 11 has been accepted—we do not need to waste any time on that. I do not intend to delay the House for long by discussing amendments 12 and 13. I do not have a strong opinion on the level of the fine, but I want to make a wider point on legislation generally. If we look at different pieces of legislation “in silo”, we might find individual fines appropriate or inappropriate, but we could end up in the ridiculous situation whereby some serious offences attract small penalties and some minor ones attract severe ones. Instead, we ought to look at the criminal justice system as a whole, to determine the appropriate level for different severities of crime. I wonder whether this particular offence could attract a much more severe penalty than other, more serious, crimes.
I want to concentrate on amendment 14, because I think my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is on to a winner there. He proposes that the owner of a skip should pay a penalty charge if they do not
“take any reasonable steps to” secure that various precautions are taken, rather than simply if they do not secure that they are taken, as the Bill currently proposes. That is just common sense. The owner could have done everything possible to ensure that the skip was “properly lighted”, for example, but someone could come along in the middle of the night when they are fast asleep and vandalise the lighting. The local authority could then impose a fine, even though the skip had been perfectly well lit. I do not see how the owner could have been expected to do more. If amendment 14 is not accepted, however, that person could find themselves in the ludicrous situation of having to pay a penalty. That cannot be right. It flies in the face of common sense.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East is a sensible, moderate chap, and he personally would apply all these rules with the proper discretion and common sense, but we cannot pass legislation that is reliant on people doing that. If we do so, we will end up with perversities in the law. We need to avoid that. It seems perfectly sensible to ask people to take “reasonable steps” to do things. That should be sufficient. We cannot ask them to do things that are, in essence, beyond their control. That is the problem with the Bill as it stands at the moment. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will find a way to divide the House on amendment 14 if it is not accepted by the promoters, because it represents a common-sense approach.
I see amendment 16 as a natural consequence of amendment 14. As I understand it, if amendment 14 were accepted, the whole issue of clause 9(8) would become redundant. I therefore hope that, if amendment 14 were accepted, amendment 16 would be accepted as well. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will concentrate his fire on amendment 14, because it is a sensible proposal that would improve the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East suggested that amendment 14 would water down the Bill, but it would not. In clause 9(6), the promoters of the Bill are trying to deal with the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and I have raised. Paragraph (d) states that people may appeal against a penalty charge if, for example, the contravention
“was due to the act or default of another person and…he took all precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the contravention by himself of another person under his control.”
There, the promoters are trying to do exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is seeking to do in amendment 14. Having tried to deal with these anomalies, however, they muddy the waters with clause 9(8), which introduces yet another condition to make it difficult for the owner to achieve what is required. The amendment would not water down the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East suggests; it would make clear the purpose of the legislation. In my opinion, it clarifies the Bill.
I would hope that the scenario I have given—of somebody who properly lights a skip, goes to bed with it properly lit and finds it vandalised in the middle of the night—would persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East that the person should not be prosecuted. I hope he would accept that; I am sure he does, because he is a reasonable man. The legislation as it stands would not necessarily prevent that person from being prosecuted; the only thing that would do so is amendment 14, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. Because my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and I agree that such a person should not be prosecuted, I hope that he will follow through the logic of that position and accept amendment 14, which will deliver what both he and I think should be the case.
“the skip is removed as soon as practicable after it has been filled”?
It does not say that it should be removed as soon as it has been filled, but as soon as is practicable. That has been accepted by the promoters, but not extended to other provisions.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. His amendment goes with the flow of the legislation rather than against it, and I think this is a genuine improvement.
On amendment 15, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East. Making the provisions for London much more onerous than in other parts of the country would be unfair. The only thing I will say—and here I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I tease him somewhat—is that his point about not providing different rules for London than obtain in other parts of the country is the argument that we have been making in respect of virtually every other part of this particular Bill. He has refused to accept that particular logic with all the other provisions, so it seems to me ironic that he was prepared to pull that argument out of the hat when it suited him, when he has denied it in respect of lots of other amendments on this legislation. I hope he will forgive me for teasing him in that way.
On the final three amendments—amendments 17, 18 and 19—I thought my hon. Friend for Christchurch made a very good point in his usual engaging and amusing way in saying that if a skip is causing a particular problem in a local community, it is surely the wrong solution to immobilise it and keep it there unnecessarily for even longer. I am not entirely sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East answered that point to my satisfaction, because there is an unerring logic to what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was saying. It may well be that there are occasions when immobilisation is the best solution, although my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and I cannot think of them. I am prepared on that basis to give my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East a rather dubious benefit of the doubt.
I do not want to extend my remarks any further, but I reiterate my hope that if the opportunity allows it, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will seek to press his amendment 14, which is the strongest of his amendments and the one that would improve this legislation without doubt.
If I may, I will start where my hon. Friend Philip Daviesleft off, and work in reverse order through this set of amendments, presented so ably a short while ago by my hon. Friend Mr Chope. I am grateful, as ever, for the clarification of what might be termed the case for the defence, so ably made by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman.
Starting with amendments 17, 18 and 19, I entirely agree that it is somewhat bizarre that the solution to a problem skip is to immobilise it, but I was persuaded by what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East had to say on the matter. To be perfectly honest, I have never seen one of these devices, and I can only imagine what they must look like. I understand that they both immobilise and light up the skip at the same time, which seems an eminently sensible idea for dealing with a problem skip. I have always thought that even empty skips are particularly difficult to move, so I would not think that they needed much help to be immobilised, although I am prepared to accept that that may well be a solution in some cases.
I turn to the other easy one—amendment 11, which has sensibly been accepted by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and the promoters. That demonstrates the sense and worth of the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch in going through the Bill in some detail and tabling the amendments. The promoters have accepted that the correct period is 14 rather than three working days.
I turn to the slightly more contentious amendments. I looked at amendment 10 and thought it was merely a clarification. There would be no point in criminalising someone or causing them to commit an offence if the information was patently obvious from looking at the side of the skip, in accordance with clause 9. Apparently, the promoters think otherwise. Personally, I would support amendment 10.
We now move neatly into the debate about decriminalisation. We are not really decriminalising these things, just moving the responsibility for taking action from one authority, the police, to another authority, the local authority. The net result is the same. Anyone reading language such as “commits an offence” would think, “Crikey! They mean a criminal offence.” Apparently, however, the measure represents decriminalisation. I humbly suggest that if clause 8 had read, “A person on whom a requirement is imposed under this section shall be liable to a civil penalty,” that would have been more appropriate if the intention was to decriminalise.
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said about amendment 14. It is entirely right that when it comes to the liability of someone who has committed a skip offence, to use some shorthand—[Interruption.] Not a skipping offence, but a builder’s skip offence. When it comes to such a person’s liability, the inclusion of the words
“take any reasonable steps to” is entirely sensible. Although it might look as though one of those specific offences was being committed, there could be a whole host of reasons why a person ought not to be held liable.
The issue of criminalisation is important when considering the question of proof. If the offences are to remain criminal, the burden of proof is “beyond all reasonable doubt”. However, if they are to be dealt with according to a civil burden of proof, “the balance of probabilities” applies—it could be 51:49. There is a whole host of difference between liability in criminal and civil cases. The matter needs to be nailed down. We need to be absolutely clear about whether we are decriminalising this. Is it going to be a criminal offence, or is it going to be a civil offence and is it going to be dealt with under the civil law? That will affect the burden of proof required of those who seek to enforce these requirements.
Let me make it clear that I entirely agree that these are sensible laws to have. I remember a case from some years ago—the 1980s—when I was acting for someone who ran into a skip that was not lit. That does happen, and it is a serious matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said, some of these amendments seek to strengthen the Bill, as, indeed, does amendment 15. I, too, found it somewhat ironic to hear an argument that we have often deployed, which is that the law in London should not be different from the law in the rest of the United Kingdom.
On amendment 15, I think it is sensible to have something other than just a telephone number or the address, because there is a danger that many skip operators will opt to have an address that might be a PO box or the registered office of a limited company which turns out to be a huge office block in London with hundreds of other offices, and which is in fact the office of an accountant or a lawyer, and not a place of work of the skip owner. I therefore think amendment 15 is entirely sensible. Although I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East said, it may well be an idea for a private Member’s Bill to at some point bring in on a national basis the requirement that all skips should bear the name, address and telephone number, so that if there is a problem, the person who is responsible for putting the skip there can easily be found.
On amendment 16 and the question of effectively making the accused, whether of a criminal offence or a civil liability, guilty unless they prove themselves innocent, I again entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley that if amendment 14 were accepted, to give them that “get out of jail free card”—if one can describe it as that—by saying that if they had taken reasonable steps, they would not be liable, would negate this rather draconian step of saying, “Look, once we’ve served you with this notice, it is your responsibility to come up with some other person who is more guilty than you are.” It seems a very strange way of setting up a legal system, and it seems to me to be entirely alien to all the principles of English law. I can well see that at some future point there may be many a legal case fought over clause 9(8), as people say, “How can it be fair that I have been picked on? I have got nothing to do with this, yet I have been victimised and made to pay this penalty.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the big problems is that local authorities have already demonstrated through the use of decriminalised penalty notices that they can be over-zealous and keen to get the maximum amount of revenue irrespective of the justice of a situation, which is why we hear all these stories of traffic wardens hiding and then creeping up on unsuspecting motorists so that they can get extra penalty points imposed and extra fines for themselves and their local authority?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, as that is one reason why one is slightly sceptical about this sort of clause. Just this day I received a letter from a constituent raising exactly that point about the behaviour of traffic enforcement officers in Bury; it detailed how they have been served with a penalty notice in circumstances where it would have been easy to deal with the matter in another way if more common sense had been applied. That would have avoided having to give a local resident a penalty notice. Such examples make me want to agree with my hon. Friend’s proposition that people will be suspicious that this provision is there to make it easy for the local authority officer to find somebody. It does not matter who they find on this basis; they can give the notice to almost anybody and they will be able to say, “We have done what we can. It is now your problem. If you weren’t responsible, it is now your responsibility to find somebody who was.” I humbly submit that that is clearly not the right way for things to be. It should be the responsibility of the responsible officer of the local authority to find out who is responsible, rather than expecting a person on whom a notice has been served to identify that other person for the purposes of determining who has committed the offence.
If I were to enter this little competition of saying which amendment I would press, I would opt for amendment 14, as it is entirely reasonable that where someone has taken reasonable steps to avoid committing an offence, they should not be held liable under this part of the Bill. With that, I will wait to hear what others have to say.
In summing up an excellent debate, may I thank my hon. Friend the Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for their contributions? If the Minister had contributed, the debate would have been even better, as indeed it would have been had Jim Fitzpatrick spoken—they demonstrated unusual self-restraint on these important issues, particularly on the issue of “national versus local”.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, the promoters of the Bill are now saying that it would be unreasonable potentially to impose on operators from outside London a requirement to put their name, telephone number and address on a skip, given that the legislation that applies outside London requires only the telephone number or the address. Clearly, there is an inconsistency between the approach of the promoters to those of us who argue that we should have national legislation on these issues rather than localised legislation.
Exactly the same point applies in relation to gated roads, which is why it is a pity that we have not heard from the two Front-Bench spokespeople on where they think the balance should be between individual local authorities, or groups of local authorities, legislating in this area and a responsibility for the Government to try to introduce a national regime.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has gone through each of the amendments seriatim and tried—
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is joining in with the debate, albeit from a sedentary position, because he has been referred to already in dispatches, as he might know. We had been hoping to hear from him on immobilisation devices, but he has now put on record his enthusiasm for the word “seriatim”.
Let me take the amendments one by one for the benefit of Stephen Pound. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East said that he did not think that amendment 10 would be appropriate because of the conflict between the national and local legislation. This is an opportunity for London to lead the field so that others can follow. It would be sensible, taking amendments 15 and 10 together, to require that in London skips should have the name, address and telephone number of the owner clearly and indelibly marked on them. I am disappointed that the promoters are not interested in accepting those amendments but I am delighted that amendment 11 is to be accepted.
On amendments 12 and 13, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing to our attention that there is a proposal to increase fourfold the maximum fine levels on the standard scales. I think that would have quite a significant impact on the cost of living of the criminal classes. It would also put into a negative position all those provisions where the maximum fine level is 3—£1,000, which is reasonable—
Three hours having elapsed since the start of proceedings, thebusiness was interrupted (Order,
Bill to be further considered on