Section 8 — Request for hearing

Dog Fouling (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:35 pm on 13th March 2003.

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Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Section 8 makes provision for the recipient of a fixed-penalty notice to request a hearing in respect of the offence to which the notice relates. The local authority, on receipt of a timeous request, is required to notify the procurator fiscal and, on receipt of that notice, the procurator fiscal will decide whether to initiate criminal proceedings.

Section 12 makes provision for withdrawal of a fixed-penalty notice. A notice can be withdrawn only when it is determined that an offence was not committed, or that the notice ought not to have been issued to the person named as the person to whom it was issued.

During stage 2, Iain Smith asked that consideration be given to ensuring that local authorities and the police can withdraw a fixed-penalty notice when a request for a hearing is received and the request discloses information that is sufficient to allow the notice to be withdrawn under section 12. Iain Smith was concerned that, as the bill is currently drafted, the only action that a local authority could take on receipt of a notice requesting a hearing would be to notify the procurator fiscal, even in cases where information was included that would allow the notice to be withdrawn. The effect of that would be to create unnecessary work for the procurator fiscal in considering cases in which the penalty notice should not have been issued.

I am grateful to Iain Smith for that observation, because one of the aims of my bill is to reduce the burden on procurators fiscal. I am pleased to move amendment 1, whose effect is to allow a notice to be withdrawn under section 12, as long as it has not been notified to the procurator fiscal, in which latter circumstance it would remain for the procurator fiscal to determine whether proceedings should be initiated.

I move amendment 1.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

Amendment 1 is a wise and welcome amendment. I think it appropriate that the Parliament should commend Keith Harding for his willingness to consider amendments at stages 2 and 3. As he pointed out, amendment 1 was lodged to address some of the concerns that Iain Smith expressed during stage 2.

Keith Harding has co-operated with members of the Local Government Committee and has shown his commitment to ensuring that the concerns that were raised in the committee's stage 1 report have been addressed. The passage of his bill is a model of how legislation should be advanced through the Parliament, and the Executive has a lot to learn from the progress of the bill. Specific concerns were expressed at stage 1 and the promoter of the bill showed great willingness to listen. That is a model of how legislation should be considered by the Parliament. The bill has been considered thoroughly by the Local Government Committee and by Parliament through all its stages. It is not surprising that there is only one amendment today, because so much good work has been done at earlier stages, both by Keith Harding, who had the support of the Executive, and by the non-Executive bills unit.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I am not sure that we actually needed the business motion for today's debate, because I do not think that any of us intends to speak for up to 30 minutes on any of the matters that are before us.

I welcome amendment 1. It is, as Keith Harding said, a response to a point that I raised at stage 2, which came in turn from matters that were highlighted in the stage 1 debate. I was slightly concerned that there did not appear to be a procedure to trigger the withdrawal of a fixed-penalty notice under section 12 where a request for a hearing had been made. It seems to me to be eminently sensible that local government officers will be able examine a request for a hearing and consider the reasons for it. If they accept that a notice has been issued to the wrong person, that the person to whom the notice was issued gave the wrong name, or that the person to whom it was issued has a legitimate claim to be an exempt person under earlier sections, local government officers should be able to withdraw a notice. It is sensible to allow for that, and amendment 1 is much more succinct than was my earlier suggestion. I am grateful to Keith Harding for taking my concerns on board and for lodging the amendment.

I take issue with some of Tricia Marwick's points, which were unnecessary at this stage. Keith Harding has done a great deal of work on the bill, but the Local Government Committee and the Executive have always worked together to improve bills. That is a testament to the Executive and the members of the Local Government Committee throughout the lifetime of the Parliament. I commend Keith Harding's handling of the bill.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I, too, welcome amendment 1. It is important that all legislation that is introduced should be enforceable. Keith Harding's eminently sensible amendment will make the bill work more effectively. I am sure that many members have been approached at public meetings by constituents who have mentioned dog fouling. I was often confronted by the issue when I was a councillor and on many occasions the police mentioned their powerlessness in dealing with it, given that they had so many other issues to deal with. The amendment has been produced with support from the Local Government Committee and has cross-party support. If the amendment is agreed to, it will go a long way towards making the bill more effective, which is what we all want.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I will be brief, because Keith Harding has set out the reasons for amendment 1 and the changes that it will make to the bill. There is little point in procurators fiscal being involved unnecessarily in cases in which the local authority considers that there is no case to answer, which was Iain Smith's point at stage 2. I am pleased that Keith Harding has lodged amendment 1, which the Executive supports.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

Peter Peacock mentioned procurators fiscal, which brings to mind an event in Paisley some years ago. A former retired police inspector from that area told me that, when he was a constable, various pieces of legislation on litter were introduced. One of the first cases to go to the courts in Paisley under that legislation involved a youth who had dropped a fish and chips bag that was saturated with vinegar. The police told him to pick it up, but he refused and was charged. When the youth appeared in court, the magistrate asked for the evidence, but the police said that they could not produce it and had not brought it because it had been saturated with vinegar. The magistrate dismissed the case. I add as a caveat that I hope that no magistrate will ask for the evidence in cases arising from Keith Harding's bill.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I support amendment 1, which is eminently sensible. The Local Government Committee had a large discussion about the possibility of procurator fiscal offices being clogged up. The amendment makes a lot of sense and will bring clarity to the bill. I am pleased that Keith Harding, who said at stage 2 that he would be happy to accept such an amendment, has accepted it with such good grace. I also welcome the minister's accommodating attitude. As Keith Harding said, Peter Peacock was forthcoming and helpful when he was asked to consider various amendments. I also thank the non-Executive bills unit for providing such clear amendments. I am sure that the bill will be good legislation.

I support amendment 1.

Amendment 1 agreed to.