Clause 82 - Noise offences: fixed penalty notices

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm 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)

This part relates to noise from premises. Will the exceptions under the Noise Act 1996 remain in place? I understand that there are some quite sizeable exceptions, whether that is noises from all workplaces and all neighbourhood noises. Most of the offending businesses relate to transport such as airports, harbours and railway stations, particularly those that operate at night and those involving freight. Is there scope to look at reducing the exceptions and extending the provisions of the Bill?

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

May I assist the hon. Lady? She may be reading too much into the clause. It simply writes into section 8 of the Noise Act 1996 the type of ability to vary the fixed penalty that we have dealt with on quite a number of occasions. There are no hidden agendas here. The clause is quite straightforward.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Order. The Minister has redirected us in terms of the specific provisions of this clause, which refers to fixed penalty notices. Therefore, I ask the hon. Lady to move on.

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

That is most helpful clarification. Under subsection (2)(b) of new section 8A, the amount of the fixed penalty is to be fixed and specified at £100. Why is the amount £100 in this case, when under clause 74, the penalty was fixed at £75?

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

May I assist the hon. Lady? We have dealt with this sort of question on numerous occasions. During consultation we sought to identify, from the practical experience of those involved, the level at which people would be likely to pay the fine—not so low that people are likely to disregard it, and not so high that people are more likely to go to court. The penalty is currently £100, so the provision makes no change except inserting the capacity of local authorities to vary the amount up or down, within reason, for purposes that I have set out on a number of occasions in relation to other clauses in which fixed penalty notices are relevant.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Order. I know that the Minister is trying to be helpful, but he should bear it in mind that lengthy interventions may not necessarily be a substitute for his reply to a clause stand part debate.

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

The Minister has made a similar point on other occasions, but we have never addressed the charging of £100 in this case, and it would be helpful to know his thinking behind it. I know from the summary responses to his consultation on the Bill that there was substantial evidence that one reason why   fixed penalty notices issued under the Noise Act 1996 were not working was that people felt that the system was bureaucratic and time-consuming, and that for the amount of money involved, there was little reward for local authorities to pursue the matter. Therefore, why has he come up with the figures of £100 and £75 respectively?

I am familiar with the arguments in favour of variable charging, but I want to know whether the Minister is seeking to go down that path. To remind him, this is the first opportunity we have had to ask such questions because we have not discussed this clause before, and I would like a substantive answer. Given the categorical list of extensive responses that he received to the consultation, it is incumbent on him to address these points.

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

First, £100 is the current figure. Given that some bodies felt that £100 remains an appropriate figure, whereas others, as the hon. Lady said, thought that there should be variation, £100 seemed to be the right starting point. There was no massive amount of evidence that the level should differ from the existing level, but this provision provides flexibility for local authorities that feel that it would make a difference to be able to implement that variation.

It is also worth saying that only comparatively recently have local authorities been allowed to retain the income from fixed penalties. That provision was contained in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, which I think has been in operation for only about a year. That has gone some way towards local authorities benefiting from the income where fixed penalties are applied. This measure gives them greater flexibility on the level and on ways of encouraging people to pay, for the reasons that I have enunciated on previous clauses. I hope that the Committee agrees that this clause should stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 82 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 83 ordered to stand part of the Bill.