Clause 33 - Unlawful display of advertisements: defences

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 20th January 2005.

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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 explanatory notes that the purpose of clause 33 is to

''remove the requirement for a local authority to prove that a person consented to the display of an advertisement in contravention of regulations.''

That obviously firms up what the Minister seeks to do with the current provisions. Has the Minister received representations from the National Farmers Union or from other similar organisations? The NFU is concerned about where the presumption will lie in subsection (3). In the subsection, which will be inserted into the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, there is a requirement that any unauthorised advertisement should be removed.

The Minister will understand that in deeply rural areas such as the Vale of York, where we still have large arable farms, the farmers work land that is widely distributed, not always easily accessible, and often divided by a major road artery such as the A1 or the A19. Consequently, they might not visit as frequently   as the Department expects. Those farmers may therefore not be aware of an illegal advert, will certainly not have given their consent to its being there, and probably do not have the time or tools to remove it once it is discovered. The NFU asks whether the Department is aware of the difficulties that might be faced in implementing that subsection, and that it should be applied reasonably to take account of such difficulties.

We see what the Minister is trying to do, and that the current law has presented difficulties for local authorities because they have had to prove that the person concerned knew of, and consented to the display of the advertisement, which has made it hard to secure convictions. Will the Minister assure us that he understands that the subsection could inadvertently pose real problems for farming communities such as those that I represent. There are not too many hills in my constituency—hence the name the Vale of York—but there are outlying farms in the Howardian hills, and they will face difficulties with conforming to the provision, particularly in the winter. I hope that the Minister will have regard to those points.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:45 pm, 20th January 2005

I must insist on one point: there is no requirement in clause 33 to remove illegal advertisements; that duty is in existing law. However, I agree with the hon. Lady that the powers and prosecutions should be proportionate. Subsection (3) sets out the defence, should things ever get to that point, of the person being able to show that

''the advertisement was displayed without his knowledge''.

That would cover one aspect of her concern. The other defence is that

''he took all reasonable steps to prevent the display or, after the advertisement had been displayed, to secure its removal.''

That does not require the taking of unreasonable steps. The issue is one of being reasonable and proportionate, but making it clear that in some circumstances landowners in urban and rural areas pay little attention to the effect of advertisements on their neighbours and other people who come into their vicinity. The clause sets out a reasonable requirement, not an unreasonable requirement.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.