`(1) A person who urinates or defecates in any public place otherwise than by using a lavatory commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(2) An offence under this section is a penalty offence for the purposes of Chapter I of Part I of this Act.
(3) In this section, ``public place'' means any place in the open to which the public or any section of the public has access as of right or by virtue of express or implied permission.'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
Sadly, we have so little time because of the Government's ridiculous guillotine that we shall be unable to finish the debate. However, I can briefly move what we regard as an important matter. It is not only Opposition Members who regard new clause 16 as important. The original impetus behind the clause came from Westminster city council. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who has played a significant role in the Committee. I pay tribute to him because he has gone well beyond the traditional role of the usual channels and not only supported his constituents on matters such as a field sports, but been involved in talking to councillor Kit Malthouse, who is Westminster city council's lead member.
I have a letter from Mr. Graham Ellis, who is Westminster city council's director of policy and communications. The council, which, along with many other urban, suburban and perhaps even rural local authorities, feels strongly on this issue, states:
``We feel the police should be able to serve fixed penalty notices for urination and defecation in the street. This is not currently an offence unless a byelaw is in place. However enforcing byelaws involves the arrest and the lengthy processing of any offenders.''
The council points out that it has introduced several measures that will come into force this summer to seek to tackle the problem. They include longer opening hours for public conveniences and the use of mobile urinals. However, the problem is now widespread—according to Mr. Ellis and his colleague Mr. Grant—in the city of Westminster, which is the local authority for the centre of this capital city of which we are rightly proud.
The letter states that
``the problem is so widespread that these measures that the council itself is taking alone are unlikely to make significant inroads without the power to back them up with a pro-active enforcement campaign.''
``We have the support from the police for a change in the law. Like us, the police believe that an on-the-spot penalty is the most effective way of dealing with offenders. It seems anomalous that the illegal depositing of litter should be an offence attracting a fixed penalty when the even more antisocial act of human beings fouling the highway is not. Still stranger is the position of the dog owner who is legally responsible for his pet's toilet habits, but not for his own.''
Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend agree that having got through 55 amendments or new clauses today, it is ridiculous that we were scheduled to deal with a further 24 clauses, two schedules, 44 amendments and one new clause in such a short time?
I certainly agree. I opened the debate by saying that it was ludicrous that the Government have curtailed debate in such a way that the knives go in. Along with some Government Members, my hon. Friend and I remember a phrase from student politics in the 1970s, and perhaps more recently, that one could ``get knifed''. This has been a case of a proper debate on serious matters to do with criminal justice being knifed. It is outrageous that the Government have behaved in this way. I said that I would give way to the Minister, but he has so little time to intervene that I doubt that I shall have a chance to reply.
If the Minister had been listening, he would know that the city council said in the letter that it is proposing to introduce measures to come into force this summer. I assume—I did not know about these models, and he has armies of officials to tell him about them—that the measures described in the letter are precisely the ones that his Department recommends.
It being Ten o'clock, The Chairman proceeded to put the Questions necessary to dispose of the business remaining to be concluded at this hour, pursuant to Sessional Order D on programming and the Order of the Committee [1 March].
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.