Clause 28 - Fixed penalty notices: amount of fixed penalty

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 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) 3:15 pm, 20th January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 27, in page 27, line 13, at beginning insert

'Following consultation with local authorities and other interested parties'.

The purpose of the amendment is to seek confirmation from the Minister as to whether there will be full consultation with the local authorities concerned and with other interested parties.

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

I can confirm that we would have to consult local authorities and other interested parties before, in England, the Secretary of State and, in Wales, the National Assembly for Wales, made any regulations in respect of the local authorities' powers to vary.

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

That is extremely helpful. In the spirit of helpfulness, could the Minister further define who the other interested parties will be? Will they include bodies such as Network Rail, Metronet, Transport for London and Tubelines, which also have to apply the graffiti-removing powers?

Our reason for tabling the amendment parallels our reason for tabling an earlier amendment, which was suggested by, among others, Network Rail. It was generally felt that provision for consultation was written into the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 and that there would be scope to provide sufficient time for the removal of graffiti. As with litter, the sums involved in removing graffiti are very large, and the Minister will be aware of the work that is carried out in that regard.

I simply seek confirmation, therefore, that those additional bodies, and not just local authorities, will be consulted. Many of us lose sight of the fact that it is not only local authorities that are responsible for removing litter and graffiti. Evidence to the Transport Select Committee highlighted the millions of pounds that it costs Transport for London every year to remove graffiti from its trains and stations, and we had similar evidence from Network Rail, Metronet and Tubelines. It is incumbent on the Minister to confirm whether consultation will extend to those bodies, because the policy on graffiti removal affects them equally and has huge cost implications for them. 

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

The other interested parties might well vary from place to place. For instance, the rail organisations to which the hon. Lady referred might not be appropriate interested parties in a town or village that did not have a railway service. I say that not to trivialise the issue, but to explain why we do not want to go into detail. We want common sense to apply in a public consultation. That relates specifically to consultation with local authorities, because they are the key organisations.

The clause is important because local authorities will be given the power to set the level of fixed penalties for graffiti and fly-posting. That will enable them to set the level in response to local circumstances, and that fits in with our agenda of giving local authorities freedoms and flexibilities. The same is true of their power to accept reduced amounts for early payment, which ensures that payments are made promptly, thus reducing the number of cases requiring resolution in court.

I assure the hon. Lady that the amendment is unnecessary because we shall ensure that there is full consultation on all secondary legislation resulting from the Bill. I am tempted to point out that the amendment covers only one regulation-making power in the Bill and that it is not clear why that one has been singled out, but that might provoke the hon. Lady to table another lot of amendments, so I shall take it that this is a representative amendment. With that explanation, I hope that she will withdraw the amendment.

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

It has been an interesting and helpful debate, and in view of the assurances that the Minister has given, 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) 3:30 pm, 20th January 2005

I want to raise the vexatious issue of persistent fly-posting and to tease out from the Minister whether he believes that the clause and the £75 default penalty that it sets will actually deal with that issue. Often, such penalties are set far too low, and the cost to the offender is far too cheap. In some cases, the penalties for those convicted of fly-posting are so low that it is significantly cheaper for companies to fly-post and pay fines than to pay for legitimate advertising space.

It is frustrating for city councils—again, Westminster city council springs to mind—that they have no sooner removed fly-posting, which is often part of the commercial operation of a company trying to set up a business on the cheap rather than the actions of an individual, than it is repeated. From March 2002 to March 2004, Westminster city council brought more than 60 successful prosecutions for fly-posting against companies. The penalties varied between £75 and £5,000, although that was an exceptional one-off case. If we compare that with the cost of advertising space in central London bus   shelters, which ranges from £100 to £500 a week, we can see why once a fly-posting campaign has been removed the company simply goes back and repeats the exercise.

Does the Minister accept that if fines remain below the indictable offence threshold of £8,000, fly-posting will continue to stand outside the range of offences that can lead to a company director being disqualified? Fines well above that level are required if legal process is to provide a disincentive to fly-posting. Fines for fly-posting need to be far higher to avoid that cynical disregard for the law.

There is general concern that the penalty does not fit the crime. It may not give the right message to those who are flouting the law.

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

I think that I can satisfy the hon. Lady on her points. Fines for fly-posting are a different issue. Fixed penalty notices can be used only to deal with the people who put up the posters rather than the principles or companies that benefit from that activity.

The organisers of fly-posting or those benefiting from it must be prosecuted. If they are convicted, they are subject to a level 4 fine of up to £2,500. I am conscious of the fact that a number of cities have developed good practice over recent times. I have spoken to representatives of two or three in the course of the past year. Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff are three that have sought to identify where companies benefit from fly-posting, which looked too trivial at the local level, and have gone to the main companies. A fine of £2,500, if it is added to over a period of time, and the fact that naming and shaming then starts to have its effect seem to have encouraged a constructive dialogue between many of the large companies that are involved and those who are instigating the activity. The case of those who instigate or benefit from the activity and that of those who carry out the fly-posting are quite different. That is where the fixed penalty notice will come in. I hope that that will help to take us some way in gaining agreement.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I cannot for the life of me remember whether a matter that has concerned many people has been included under other legislation—that is the insertion of cards—not posters as such—in telephone boxes, where people advertise all sorts of trades; I will not go into greater detail than that. Has that matter already been covered, or will it be covered under this legislation?

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

I hesitate to put on the record my understanding, but I better had and I will then correct it if I am wrong. I believe that that issue was dealt with under previous antisocial behaviour legislation. I understand precisely the point that the hon. Gentleman is making.

As far as the amount being set is concerned, if one sees it in terms of the perpetrator rather than those who benefit from the activity the level is proportionate. In any event, we are trying to allow a degree of flexibility, which will be based on the experience of   local authorities. Local authorities told us that fly-posting is more of a problem in some places, where people benefit more from it. Urban areas, larger cities and places such as Westminster obviously come to mind. The flexibility allows for a differential depending on local circumstances. With that explanation, I hope that we will gain the support of the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.