Clause 74 - Amount of fixed penalty

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 27th 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)

Is the figure of £75 in subsection (2)(b) a minimum, a maximum or a guideline? There is concern that different levels of fine will apply in different local authority areas, which would probably not be a good idea. Can the Minister give us some guidance about that? People are worried that, as the fixed penalty will be payable to the local authority, it could be perceived as a stealth tax and a means of raising money. Can he put their minds at rest on that point?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I also seek clarification on the clause. I know that the Minister will say that the fine must be set at a level that people, if they have offended, are likely to pay rather than risk going to court. If the amount is disproportionate, such as £500 or £1,000, that is clearly a huge sum of money. The fine must be reasonable, and £75 has been deemed fairly reasonable.

Is the provision flexible for a local authority where somebody's alarm has gone off a few times because of a fault, particularly if, for instance, the alarm is reset but goes off again in two weeks because of another fault? We must incentivise the person to maintain or replace the alarm, particularly if it is old. If somebody's alarm went off and the local authority said, ''In these circumstances, we would normally fine you £100, but we will reduce that amount if you replace it or obtain a certificate to show that it has been properly maintained,'' would the arrangement be flexible, or does the local authority have to fine them? We do not want to penalise people willy-nilly; we want the problem to go away. That is what the Bill is all about, and we want the fault on the alarm fixed.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

In which case, I will sit down.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for resuming his seat with such grace.

I do not want to indulge in tedious repetition about an issue that has already been dealt with exhaustively elsewhere in the Bill. To some extent, the hon. Gentleman answered the debate with his point that penalties must be set at a level that will make people more likely to pay them. They should not be set at a level that people would not pay and that would lead to the costs of prosecution for the local authority or at a level that is so low that it has no impact on people's behaviour. That is the simple answer to the whole issue.

The powers enable local authorities to set their own level of fixed penalty in their areas, and to treat a penalty as paid if a lesser amount is paid within a shorter specified period. That gives local authorities the flexibility to act sensibly. Those powers may be subject to limitations contained in regulations made by the appropriate person or body, which is the Secretary of State in England or the National Assembly for Wales. The power is there to ensure that limitations are made if necessary. I do not think that they will be, as it is a straightforward matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 74 ordered to stand part of the Bill.