Clause 61 - Power to require name and address

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 25th January 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

We have had similar provisions in the past that relate to people not giving their names and addresses. It is relatively easy for an officer to know   when people are not giving their names and addresses, so that will be taken further. If they give a false name and address, that is somewhat more difficult to detect, particularly if the officer has not the faintest idea who that person happens to be. I hope that the Minister can say what will happen when an officer goes up to somebody and says, ''Your dog has flouted the byelaws and you have done nothing to prevent it from doing so. Give me your name and address. If you do not do so, you are liable to a fine on summary conviction not exceeding level 3.'' The officer would have to tell them what the figure is because they would not have the faintest idea what level 3 is—I have not got the faintest idea what it is.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

It is £1,000 is it? That is quite a lot of money. The hon. Gentleman said earlier that one of the reasons why a fine is included is that it acts as a deterrent. That is quite right. If people know that if they do not give their name and address, or give a false name and address and are caught, they are liable to a fine of £1,000, it will act as a deterrent because that is a lot of money for the vast majority of people in this country. I hope that the Minister can give me an assurance that there are guidelines for officers when asking for names and addresses, and that they let the people from whom they are seeking the information know that there is a hefty fine and that they must give the information requested or pay £1,000.

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

Will the Minister reassure me that, if an officer of the council saw the offence being committed, he could take the car's registration number and would have the right to find the person's name and address? The reason I ask is that there is a problem in Ludlow relating to a playing field in Wheeler road. Typically the people whose dogs are let loose on it do not get out of their cars—they pull up in their cars, open the back door and the dog runs out. They then call the dog back 10 minutes later, once it has done its business. There are people driving their dogs to a playing field to allow them to foul. That seems ridiculous.

The issuing of a fixed penalty notice to someone in their car might be difficult, but the officer might see the person leaving. I am trying to understand whether, if the officer took the number of the car, there might be sufficient grounds to make an inquiry to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority to ascertain that person's name and address so that the council could issue a fixed penalty notice.

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

Yes, that would apply. We encourage good relationships and liaison between local authorities and the police and organisations such as the DVLA, which fully appreciates the value of such co-operation. I do not have a great deal of sympathy for people who are so obstructive that they will not give their name and address when they are being told clearly that they have committed an offence.  

Reaching that level of fine requires bringing a prosecution to court, and the level of reasonableness would depend on the exact response that had been given. If it were clear that somebody had not understood the situation, a court would be inclined to give a minimal penalty or a discharge, whereas if an individual had been repeatedly warned and had told the local authority official to ''F off'' in explicit terms, I suspect that the court would take a different view. That would be dealt with by a court, so proportionality is allowed.

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

Will the Minister give me his understanding of the situation in which someone's dog is seen fouling, and the officer goes up to the person and asks for their name and address, but they refuse to give it and leave? Council officers have no powers of arrest, so what means do they have of tracking down the person who refused to give a name and address to bring a prosecution for not giving a name and address?

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

There are a variety of ways of dealing with that situation. A summons is clearly one way. Often we are talking about people committing the same offence on a number of occasions. They are the real nuisance and are well known. The individual may not be recognised, but everybody knows the dog. Taking number plates and photographs are other possibilities. If it is a real nuisance, local authorities have a number of measures by which they can be sure that they call an offender to book. The hon. Member for Ludlow posed the question in general terms. I have replied in general terms. However, I am sure that if he talks to those who have been involved in prosecuting such offences, he will find that there are a range of techniques for dealing with the issue.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

The Minister mentioned photographs. Would officers have the power to take a photograph of the person if they had a small digital camera with them? Would they be within their rights under the Human Rights Act 1998?

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

I shall examine that interesting question and write to the hon. Gentleman. An area may be covered by video recorders or CCTV cameras. There are a number of different possibilities.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:45 pm, 25th January 2005

I shall not detain the Committee too long. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley touched on important issues of privacy and human rights. On the question of surveillance—that is, in effect, what is being suggested—I was advised by a senior police officer from Suffolk constabulary last Friday that he cannot post officers outside addresses where he thinks there is a mischief without a warrant. He cannot send an officer there, on the grounds that that may be a breach of human rights and privacy. That, apparently, is not some strange, arcane legal loophole, and it is a serious issue.  

The Minister referred to human rights; it would be useful to get clarification on that point, because I would have thought that one means of policing the new regime would be to have officers using a cheap and easy-to-use digital camera to apprehend the offenders.

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

One of the problems that I have found since we started on the virtuous journey to incorporate the European convention on human rights into UK law is that there are almost as many crazy interpretations that can be covered by certain newspapers as there are interpretations of what the European Commission has done.

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

Order. The clause is on the power to require name and address. Surveillance and human rights are wide of the clause.

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

I am grateful to you, Mr. Taylor. I would simply say that I would not believe everything that one reads in the newspapers. I do not believe that major obstacles or concerns would arise as a result of people allowing their dog to foul or to contravene the orders that we are discussing. I am sure that the techniques that I referred to earlier would enable proper enforcement of the requirements.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.