Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

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Matthew Green: Will the Minister give me his understanding of the situation in which someone's dog is seen fouling, and the officer goes up to the person and asks for their name and address, but they refuse to give it and leave? Council officers have no powers of arrest, so what means do they have of tracking down the person who refused to give a name and address to bring a prosecution for not giving a name and address?

Alun Michael: There are a variety of ways of dealing with that situation. A summons is clearly one way. Often we are talking about people committing the same offence on a number of occasions. They are the real nuisance and are well known. The individual may not be recognised, but everybody knows the dog. Taking number plates and photographs are other possibilities. If it is a real nuisance, local authorities have a number of measures by which they can be sure that they call an offender to book. The hon. Member for Ludlow posed the question in general terms. I have replied in general terms. However, I am sure that if he talks to those who have been involved in prosecuting such offences, he will find that there are a range of techniques for dealing with the issue.

Mr. Evans: The Minister mentioned photographs. Would officers have the power to take a photograph of the person if they had a small digital camera with them? Would they be within their rights under the Human Rights Act 1998?

Alun Michael: I shall examine that interesting question and write to the hon. Gentleman. An area may be covered by video recorders or CCTV cameras. There are a number of different possibilities.

4.45 pm

Mr. Ruffley: I shall not detain the Committee too long. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley touched on important issues of privacy and human rights. On the question of surveillance—that is, in effect, what is being suggested—I was advised by a senior police officer from Suffolk constabulary last Friday that he cannot post officers outside addresses where he thinks there is a mischief without a warrant. He cannot send an officer there, on the grounds that that may be a breach of human rights and privacy. That, apparently, is not some strange, arcane legal loophole, and it is a serious issue.
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The Minister referred to human rights; it would be useful to get clarification on that point, because I would have thought that one means of policing the new regime would be to have officers using a cheap and easy-to-use digital camera to apprehend the offenders.

Alun Michael: One of the problems that I have found since we started on the virtuous journey to incorporate the European convention on human rights into UK law is that there are almost as many crazy interpretations that can be covered by certain newspapers as there are interpretations of what the European Commission has done.

The Chairman: Order. The clause is on the power to require name and address. Surveillance and human rights are wide of the clause.

Alun Michael: I am grateful to you, Mr. Taylor. I would simply say that I would not believe everything that one reads in the newspapers. I do not believe that major obstacles or concerns would arise as a result of people allowing their dog to foul or to contravene the orders that we are discussing. I am sure that the techniques that I referred to earlier would enable proper enforcement of the requirements.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 62

Community support officers etc

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

Mr. Ruffley: The Government are giving community support officers powers to issue notices. Those officers will receive special training or advice on the kind of offence that needs to be committed before a notice can be issued. I say that for one simple reason: I have been impressed by the briefings that all Committee members have received, from the Kennel Club and elsewhere, on the skill and care with which the dog warden community carries out its duties under the existing regime. It might be at the back of their mind that community support officers will be brought in to police a new regime, assuming that the Bill is passed in the form that the Ministers wish. Those CSOs may or may not be skilled in ways of interpreting dog behaviour, and in interpreting whether a dog is offending or not.

Working out whether an offence is being committed may seem to be common sense, but it is important to have the Minister's assurance that community support officers will receive the requisite degree of training and advice before they take on the new role of issuing notices.

Mr. Morley: I think that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that community support officers and other
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accredited persons would, in issuing fixed-penalty dog control orders, have guidance from the Department on the procedures involved. I know that police forces welcome the role of community support officers. It is a good example of community support officers fulfilling an important role that releases police officers for other crime duties, and shows how those measures can be applied and how they can fit in with the organisation of law and order in individual areas.

Mr. Evans: I seek some assurances, because reading the explanatory notes, I understand that the chief police officer can authorise community support officers and accredit other persons. I agree with community support officers having that power, and clearly everybody knows how they dress, so there is no problem about their authority. However, we have heard that traffic wardens' powers will be widened, so the chief police officer may decide to confer authority on other people who do not quite have the same authority as community support officers or other police officers. Environmental health officers and other people out of uniform, just wearing normal lounge suits, could be authorised.

In areas where there is a neighbourhood watch the chief police officer may decide to get more people involved. As I understand it, if I see something going wrong, I have the power to make a citizen's arrest—I have never done so, although I tried to apprehend a shoplifter and got a black eye, which I nursed over Christmas three years ago. Something I saw was wrong, and I felt that I had the power to detain that person until the police arrived.

The chief police officer will authorise neighbourhood watch personnel, and they will have the authority. That is what it all comes down to: the police are officially conferring authority on people to enforce byelaws. It could mean issuing fixed penalty tickets, if that is what the chief police officer wants.

Matthew Green: Does the hon. Gentleman harbour a secret desire to issue fixed penalty notices? It is beginning to sound like it.

Mr. Evans: I am normally on the receiving end of those, but we are not dealing with motor cars in this Bill.

I am not saying that people other than community support officers will be authorised, but there is a line between the public and the person who has the authority to act. I assume that that person will have some identification that they can show to the person transgressing the byelaws to prove that the chief police officer has given them the powers to demand the name and address, so that a fixed penalty notice can be issued or the matter taken further. I seek assurance from the Minister that people authorised by the chief police officer will carry identification.
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Mr. Morley: I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that no one would be allowed to issue fixed penalty notices unless they had proper authorisation, including identification and preferably a uniform. The hon. Gentleman must take a common sense approach, because such people will have to be made aware of the law, how it is applied and how people are dealt with. An element of training will have to be taken into account.

We were talking about community support officers. They are trained in how to deal with people, and they are given advice and support. If the power is extended, it is important that it is extended to the appropriate people. If it were extended to someone such as a dog warden, I do not know whether they would want the power or whether the extension would be appropriate. It would have to be authorised by the local authority. I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think that the provision would authorise anyone from down the road who would like some powers to issue on-the-spot fines because someone's dog has been annoying him. That is certainly not going to happen; they will need to have the proper authority and identification.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 62 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 63 to 65 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 66

''Appropriate person''

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

Mr. Evans: Once again, I want to deal with the matter of cross-border areas between England and Wales, and where the delineation lies. Will the Minister clarify how the measure would pertain where there is land between England and Wales? Is it accepted that there would be sufficient negotiation between the two relevant people, and that were the authorities to bring in any byelaws they would do so together so that there would be no dysfunctional operation of the law as it stands?

Mr. Morley: I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised this point under various legislation, such as the Water Act 2003, so he will be aware that the problem of overlap of responsibility on border areas can be resolved through concordats and direct negotiation with the Welsh Assembly. Over the years, we have established a good, effective working relationship with the Welsh Assembly; we are always careful to involve them and to ensure that they are heard in the development of policy strategies and legislation. Together, we have been successful in clarifying the
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most appropriate way of dealing with those occasional areas about which there has been an element of doubt.

Mr. Evans: I am extremely grateful to the Minister, and fully appreciate what he has just said. That is the only sensible way of dealing with such matters. Since devolution, there has been a problem in that people do not know where the authority lies. For example, the authority to lift the ban on beef on the bone was held by the Welsh Assembly in Wales and by Ministers here: it was done at virtually the same time, which was a common-sense approach to the problem.
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Mr. Morley: I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

        Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]

        Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Five o'clock till Thursday 27 January at twenty-five minutes past Nine o'clock.

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: †David Taylor, Mr. Eric Forth

†Ainger, Mr. Nick (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

†Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) (Lab)

†Doughty, Sue (Guildford) (LD)

†Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

†Evans, Mr. Nigel (Ribble Valley) (Con)

†Follett, Barbara (Stevenage) (Lab)

†Green, Matthew (Ludlow) (LD)

†Hall, Mr. Patrick (Bedford) (Lab)

McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)

McIntosh, Miss Anne (Vale of York) (Con)

†Michael, Alun (Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality)

†Morley, Mr. Elliot (Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment)

†Ruffley, Mr. David (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con)

†Simmonds, Mr. Mark (Boston and Skegness) (Con)

†Tipping, Paddy (Sherwood) (Lab)

†Turner, Mr. Neil (Wigan) (Lab)

†Wright, Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)

Nerys Welfoot, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Prepared 25 January 2005