Clause 97 - Use of fixed penalty receipts:lower tier authorities

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 27th January 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

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

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

I have a couple of brief questions for the Minister. Clause 97(2)(b), says that regulations may include provision

''to pay sums in respect of those amounts to another person (including the appropriate person)'', and the appropriate person would obviously be the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly. However, what is the real intention of the paragraph? Is it that the Minister will ensure that a percentage of receipts by lower-tier authorities is carved off and taken back to central Government? That would be my immediate reading of it. The provision is general and talks of paying

''those amounts to another person (including the appropriate person)'', so I wonder who those other persons, aside from the Secretary of State or the Welsh Assembly, are.

The second question relates to subsection (2) (d), which is

''to adopt such accounting arrangements in respect of those amounts as may be specified in the regulations.''

My concern there is that, since we would like parish and town councils to be as proactive as possible, high accounting costs—as the Minister will be aware—can disproportionately affect lower-tier authorities, whose budgets are relatively small. It is something they have complained about in the past.

The Minister, in a previous debate, used an example of a group of quite small parishes clubbing together to run something similar. Clearly, if the accounting procedures are over-onerous and over-expensive it would put them off doing that. I seek assurance that those procedures will be as light touch as possible.

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 raising those points in a clear manner that addresses the practical issues. When he asks who might be referred to in this clause other than the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales, the most obvious alternative would be the district authority. The circumstances that I envisage could be those in which a parish or town council might have the capacity to issue fixed penalty notices, yet not have the capacity to take matters to prosecution. They would not have   the legal expertise, and so on. In those circumstances, it would perhaps be sensible for an agreement to be reached—if there were a real issue—between one or perhaps several parishes and the district authority. They might agree that the district authority should undertake some of the work and receive the money from fixed penalties as a result of doing that—in other words, a payment for the enforcement from the income received by the parish.

I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman said about accounting arrangements. I underline the fact that the clause does not refer to audit or to specific types of professional fees being required. However, I am sure that he would agree that it is appropriate for there to be arrangements whereby proper accounts—simple but proper accounts—are kept to show how the money is received and how the expenditure is dealt with. We intend that the provisions should be implemented with a light touch—the minimum necessary to provide proper accountability. We do not want to take a heavy-handed approach to the work of parish and town councils.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 97 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 98 ordered to stand part of the Bill.