Clause 30 - Fixed penalty notices: authorised officers

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 20th January 2005.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:30 pm, 20th January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 53, in page 27, leave out lines 40 to 42.

The amendment relates to a subject that the Minister referred to earlier: authorised officers being given adequate training. We seek to strike out from clause 30 for probing purposes the lines defining an authorised officer as

''an employee of the authority who is authorised in writing by the authority for the purpose of giving notices under section 43(1)''.

Will the Minister confirm whether, when that authority in writing is given, there will also be provision for at least a minimum amount of training in respect of the power to require a name and address under clause 28 and the power relating to fixed penalty notices? Will there be a specific direction as to how authorised officers are to act in that regard?

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

For authorised officers under any aspect of the clause, whether employees of the authority under proposed new section 47(1)(a) of the 2003 Act, other persons under paragraph (b) or employees of another person under paragraph (c), the training would be exactly the same. They would be people who understood what they were doing and who had the appropriate training. I wonder whether the hon. Lady can help me. I do not understand why she wants to delete the lines referring to employees of the local authority, which would mean that an authority could authorise other people to undertake the work, but not its own employees.

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

I am really trying to establish whether the police and officers of the Environment Agency will also be involved in issuing fixed penalty notices. Can only an employee of the authority do so, or can a police officer, community support officer or an officer acting with the authority of the Environment Agency do so? I understand that those persons, particularly Environment Agency officers, would currently deal with the removal of fly-posters. Will that continue to be the case?

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

What the clause allows is fairly clear. It defines an ''authorised officer''. First, it could be an employee of the authority, but not just any old employee; it must be someone who is authorised in writing for the purpose of giving notices. As we have   said, we will, in regulations or in guidance as appropriate, indicate the training that we expect people to have to be able to undertake that activity.

The second element is on page 28 in proposed new section 47(1)(b). The easiest thing is to read what it says. It refers to

''any person who, in pursuance of arrangements made with the authority, has the function of giving such notices and is authorised in writing by the authority to perform that function''.

That draws pretty widely the category of those who could undertake the work, whether the arrangement happened to be a contract with a company or an arrangement with another public body or even, conceivably, a non-governmental or voluntary organisation.

The third element is

''any employee of such a person who is authorised in writing by the authority for the purpose of giving such notices''.

In other words, if an organisation does work for a council—that would generally involve a contractual relationship—its employees could be authorised to undertake the work. That seems pretty comprehensive. Subsection (2) would give power to the appropriate person—we come back again to the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales, respectively—to

''by regulations prescribe conditions to be satisfied by a person before a parish or community council may authorise him in writing for the purpose of giving notices under section 43(1).''

Those requirements would deal with the issue of whom it is appropriate to allow to issue notices, and what training is required.

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

Does the Minister share my bafflement that the Conservatives appear to want to allow councils to enable virtually anyone but a council employee to issue fixed-penalty notices? Paragraphs (b) and (c) would enable the council to authorise somebody other than its employees to do so, but paragraph (a), which the Conservatives would delete, is about council employees. I am somewhat baffled, and I am sure that the Minister shares my bafflement.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes robustly the point that I made more gently to the hon. Member for Vale of York in an intervention. He is right, and I hope that she will withdraw the amendment.

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

I explained myself at some length. I take it that Environment Agency officers continue to be authorised to remove fly-posting because the Minister did not deny that, although he was not terribly clear. My amendment was, to all intents and purposes, a probing amendment.

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

I presume that the Minister means that the status quo will pertain. With that affirmation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.