New Clause 3 - Fixed penalty notices: guidelines for local authorities and the police

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:40 pm on 1st February 2005.

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'The appropriate person shall consult local authorities and the police before providing guidelines on the precise duties of police officers and local authorities, where there are shared responsibilities, in connection with the powers conferred to local authorities under this Act.'.—[Miss McIntosh]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause follows on from our previous discussions. It is a probing mechanism to elicit from the Minister the precise duties of police officers when carrying out their functions. When we discussed new clause 1, he referred to our debate about whether the officers should be uniformed. He rejected our proposal because he considered that only a police officer should have powers of arrest. New clause 3 explores, in the issuing of fixed penalty notices and guidelines to local authorities and the police, how far that relationship will be set out in the guidelines. To what extent does the Minister imagine that the police will maintain residual responsibility for the issuing of fixed penalty notices?

Obviously, the penalties in some cases in connection with fixed penalty notices are serious and carry significant fines if they are not met. We are mindful of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has said several times in Committee that discussions about the transfer of resources are ongoing. When there are shared responsibilities in connection with the powers conferred on local authorities under the Bill, will he specify to what extent the guidelines will be completely comprehensive when setting out the delineation of those shared responsibilities? It is extremely important that such matters are referred to in the Bill. I await his clarification.

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

I can be brief and give the assurance that the hon. Lady wants. We intend to consult all interested parties on the guidance that will be produced under the Bill. It is not necessary to legislate for such matters because that is the position. Indeed, I have already given that assurance in respect of specific clauses. It is worth pointing out that the Bill contains only limited new duties for local authorities and none for the police. In general, the type of work that will be undertaken is well understood and the guidance will reflect existing patterns.

The hon. Lady returned to shared responsibilities for dogs, which will change to responsibilities being put on the shoulders of the local authority. With the transfer of resources that will follow, that shift of responsibilities is currently under discussion. Otherwise, when there are powers for the police or local authorities to act, there will clearly be relevant   circumstances. I am sure that members of the Committee will recall that parking fines, for example, have moved over time from being something that was only done by the police to being undertaken by other employees of police authorities and local authority employees. Over time that has become understood as the official way of dealing with that. However, often in such circumstances, if the legislation allows, a police officer can act. In other words, it generally does not take the time of a trained police officer to undertake such activity, but he or she can act if the circumstances warrant it, as they do from time to time.

As I have indicated, such matters will be dealt with. I invite the hon. Lady to withdraw the motion.

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

Clearly, the purpose of tabling and debating new clause 3 was to say that we would prefer it, in all such instances, if the specific circumstances that would warrant a police officer acting were set out in the Bill.

The Government have had considerable time and have already consulted widely on this matter through the clean neighbourhoods and environment consultation. It is hugely disappointing and complacent that the Minister has seen fit to continue as he has done. We may wish to return to this matter later but, for the moment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.