Clause 8 - Use of fixed penalty receipts

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 18th January 2005.

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Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 5, in clause 10, page 12, line 1, leave out subsection (3).

No. 6, in clause 38, page 35, line 19, leave out subsection (4).

No. 7, in clause 52, page 48, line 28, leave out subsection (3).

No. 8, in clause 75, page 60, line 28, leave out subsection (4).

No. 9, in clause 96, page 71, line 25, leave out subsection (4). 

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

These are probing amendments and they are not designed to remove the Secretary of State's power to allow councils to spend money on things that they might want to spend money on. I hope that the Minister will put it on the record that he does not envisage fixed penalty notices being used as a means of raising revenue for the council. The intention of such notices is to deal with problems where they exist, not for councils to develop an overzealous approach to areas and go out seeking a means of keeping council tax down by collecting large amounts of fines. I am seeking reassurance that he sees the notices as tackling the problem, not as a ''get rich quick'' approach for councils. If interpreted overzealously, some enforcement could become excessive.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am very pleased to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. I certainly do not see the notices as fundraising measures, but as making a contribution to local authorities' enforcement costs in problem areas. That is the whole point of us allowing the retention of fixed penalty sums. The idea that offenders' payments go into local authorities' coffers and help to offset enforcement costs is in local people's interests. It is very unlikely that costs would be completely covered or that it would end up as fundraising. I am certain that that is neither intended nor likely to occur.

For the record, I want to make it clear that I would resist the amendment, because it is important that local authorities and waste collection authorities can make decisions about the issues that affect them. We are not just discussing clause 4, but other clauses covered by amendments in the group. The Local Government Act 2003 already gives powers to allow local authorities that receive high scores in their comprehensive performance assessment to spend receipts on any functions. There has not been that sort of flexibility before. The clauses therefore build on the approach, which I wholeheartedly support, taken by the Deputy Prime Minister which encourages the development of high performance and high quality in local authorities and rewards high performance with freedom and flexibility. That is a positive agenda, and this fits with it. I hope that, on the basis of those assurances, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment and enthusiastically support the clause.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

I thank the Minister for his remarks. I am pleased with the assurances that he has given. They address some of the concerns that have been expressed to me about councils using those powers in ways over and above those intended or envisaged by the Government. On the basis of those assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I understand from the comments made on Second Reading that the commitment that the Government seek to introduce—the use of fixed   penalty receipts in a form of hypothecation—is relatively novel. Will the Minister share with us what similar instances have arisen in his Department? Moreover, without giving away any trade secrets, how did he manage to get the agreement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that regard?

Clause 8(8) allows for regulations governing the spending of income from fixed penalties by English local authorities. Can the Minister confirm that local authorities will be given a free rein in that spending? Will he seek, through statutory instruments, to set out specific instances in which the receipts cannot be used? Does he envisage that there will be disappointment, for the reasons that I gave earlier, that the receipts will not be as high as they were expected to be?

I understand from page 32 of the regulatory impact assessment that

''deliberate vehicle arson costs the UK £230m per year to clean up, remove and address and it can be assumed that the majority of these fires involve nuisance vehicles.''

If that is the case, can the Minister confirm that subsection (8) or, indeed, the whole of clause 8, will allow arson to such nuisance vehicles to be cleared up at public expense, where they have been left on public property?

I understand that the whole of part 2 will increase the responsibilities of, and the costs for, local councils substantially. Although we can discuss that later when we reach the provisions on abandoned vehicles, will the Minister comment on that matter now?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Clause 8 enables local authorities to use the receipts from fixed penalty notices, issued under clause 6, for the purposes of their function under sections of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978, sections 99 to 102 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and the functions relating to the nuisance parking offences under clauses 3 and 4. However, those are specific, and other functions can be added to the list by way of regulations. We have been in close contact with local authorities on those matters, and they welcome the fact that we are enabling them to use the receipts from fixed penalty notices constructively.

The hon. Lady referred to the cost, in many millions of pounds, of dealing with arson to vehicles. The cost is such that even if I had not given the assurance to the hon. Member for Ludlow immediately prior to the debate that the measure was not intended as a fundraising exercise, it is difficult to see it could be to the level that would exceed the costs that are borne by local authorities.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities 4:45 pm, 18th January 2005

Does the Minister share my concern in relation to the hon. Lady's interpretation of repairing vehicles and selling them and the possibility that arson may occur? I am not sure that many people who are trying to sell or repair their vehicle deliberately set it on fire.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Such a situation sometimes happens unintentionally when repairs to vehicles are being undertaken, especially at a lower level of   professionalism. As he quite rightly says, it is not normally intentional. The hon. Lady seems to want a right of reply on that point.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is extraordinary that the Liberal Democrats are being so silly about this matter. Instances have been reported to me, which are always difficult to prove for the reason that the Minister has just stated—that a repair could be involved—whereby somebody who is obviously not going to get what they regard to be the going price for a particular vehicle sets fire to it. We all know that such things happen.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The problem with things that are difficult to prove is that they are difficult to prove and it is difficult to get a handle on them. That is why it is important that we try—as we are doing with this legislation—to create an environment in which things are not happening on the street that could be a nuisance for the neighbourhood. We must recycle any income that comes from fixed penalties into the activities of the local authority, primarily to improve the local environment. However, as I indicated earlier, given the freedoms and flexibilities philosophy, it must also be recycled into the work of the local authority generally. Therefore, I hope that all hon. Members will support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.