Clause 75 - Use of fixed penalty receipts

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)

If I understood the Minister and the Government are still consulting about the range of fees, obviously what follows on in clause 75 is the fact that the income and the revenue derived from those fixed penalty receipts will vary between councils. That seems a little discriminatory. With reference to existing fixed penalty notices in existing legislation, Westminster city council has a very good record of implementing them and chasing offenders. We have noted that other councils, such as Bath, do not.

I remind the Minister and the Committee that there is an excellent table on page 86 of the Department's full regulatory impact assessment for the Bill. Will the Minister explain the basis on which it is estimated that 500 fixed penalty notices will be issued in respect of the nomination of a key holder? Let us say that the amount on a notice will be £75. Apparently, prosecutions are expected to flow from only 20 per cent. of the 500 notices issued, so 100 prosecutions is the conservative estimate. The yield on a 25 per cent. basis is, I believe, £125 million up and down the country. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that figure.

The suggestion is that for all that we have seen in this part of the Bill and for all the administration that local authorities are being asked to undertake, the income that will derive from fixed penalty receipts could vary and may not reflect the cost of issuing fixed penalty notices and pursuing receipts. I repeat that where there is a discrepancy and discrimination between local authorities, receipts will obviously be used for variable purposes. The situation is unfair for local authorities where notices do not yield so much income.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I again seek clarification because it is difficult at the moment to know what will be the burden on a local authority under clause 75 in relation to the receipts coming in and the cost of administering the scheme. As we said earlier, some areas may not designate any of their patches, because there is simply no problem, but in other areas there will be a problem. Let us say that there is a problem with one building and one firm whose alarm is going off all the time. Given   that we are considering the receipts that may be raised, can the Minister confirm whether a local authority has the power under clause 69 to designate just one building in an area?

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

Order. Clause 75 relates to the use of fixed penalty receipts.

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 showing that he has got the general message that if there is no problem, the council should not solve it. If there was no problem and the council did solve it, there would be no income, because there would be no one to prosecute. It would follow that the burden was self-inflicted, rather than imposed by the Bill.

The hon. Member for Vale of York clearly has a problem with devolution, delegation and, indeed, local government generally. She wants it all to be the same size, to have the same problems and to deal with those problems in the same way. She used the term ''discrimination'' in relation to the application of income from fixed penalties, but there are clearly differences between local authorities. A local authority that has a problem may have a certain amount of income from fixed penalties; an authority that does not have a problem will not have that income. That is not discrimination; it is simply that a local authority has to deal with whatever problems it has locally.

I am delighted that the hon. Lady's bedtime reading includes so many of the Department's excellent publications, although I must say that I would not search for massive illumination in regulatory impact assessments. It is right that we have to assess the regulatory impact of any legislation, but of course, in advance of legislation, we cannot be certain of the outcome. We have to give the best possible estimate, based on what information is available, rather than on experience after the event. Clearly, costs, as well as the nature of a problem, may vary between local authorities. It is for a local authority to decide whether and when to prosecute in default of payment. Ultimately, we favour freedoms and flexibilities for funds to be used initially in the direct area of activity, but as local authorities meet the tests and become excellent councils, they will apply the funds as they think appropriate.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.