House of Commons
|Session 2004 - 05|
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Standing Committee Debates
Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill
Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill
Standing Committee G
Tuesday 1 February 2005
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Column Number: 349
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
[Mr. Eric Forth in the Chair]
New Clause 1
Illegal deposit or disposal of waste(power of arrest)
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.
Question again proposed.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): May I welcome you, Mr. Forth, and the rest of the Committee back to our proceedings?
I listened carefully to what the Minister was saying, and I must say that he lost me at one point. He said that he was agreeing with me, but on a different point to the one on which I wished him to agree, and he disagreed with me when I wished him to agree.
I hope that the Committee has followed the arguments that we crafted on the new clause. I do not accept that the Minister's argument on clause 33 that making the offence subject to a maximum penalty of imprisonment for up to five years is sufficient to deal with our arguments. The whole point is that a police officer would have to effect the arrest.
We listened carefully to submissions from local authorities and the Environment Agency, and I believe that they would be empowered and that the provisions of the Bill would be strengthened if their officers were authorised to make even a citizen's arrest when appropriate. However, I am mindful of the fact that we have discussed that, and that the Minister has, at least in some regard, recognised our concerns.
The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): I do not quite understand the hon. Lady's point about the citizen's arrest, because that does not require special legislation to authorise arrest by specific officers of an organisation. As I said earlier, the Environment Agency has advised against giving those powers.
Miss McIntosh: I hear what the Minister says. We understood the reverse from the Environment Agency; we understood that it argued for the powers and that it thought that it was not sufficient to make the illegal deposit or disposal of waste an arrestable offence.
The Minister did not respond on whether evidence taken by camera would be sufficient on some of the sites where we know for a fact that fly-tipping takes place. Will he be good enough to respond on that point? If no police officer was present at the time, would it be sufficient under clause 33, to which he referred, if there was clear evidence on camera associating that person with the offence?
Alun Michael: First, may I respond on the dissonance between the hon. Lady's remarks here and elsewhere on the Bill? It seems rather odd to suggest, as she did earlier, that it is not appropriate for a trained officer of a local authority to undertake the giving of fixed penalty notices for very minor offences, but then to say that the power of arrest should be given to officers of the Environment Agency for what the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) pointed out can be very serious and difficult circumstances. I do not think that that is appropriate.
On the point of evidence by camera, that would be dealt with by the normal rules on what evidence is admissible. I do not think that the issue is relevant to the new clause on the grounds that a camera cannot arrest anybody.
Miss McIntosh: I was not suggesting for a moment that the camera would arrest anybody. My question is about what would happen if a police officer was not there to make the arrest, and the environment officer, under clause 33, is not deemed to be the appropriate person to make an arrest. If the person was arrested at a later stage, could camera evidence be used to convict the person of the offence?
Alun Michael: Yes, I see the point that the hon. Lady is making, but it is a different point to that covered by the new clause. Clearly, if there was camera evidence in addition to the evidence of an official of the Environment Agency or any other witnesses, that would be relevant to how an offence might be prosecuted and to the need for police officers to arrest an individual. The evidence from a camera would be relevant, but I am struggling to understand how it relates to the new clause. However, such evidence could, of course, reinforce the ability of a professional witness, such as an employee of the Environment Agency, to provide evidence to the police for them to undertake an arrest or to the appropriate authorities for them to undertake a prosecution.
Miss McIntosh: The Minister has been extremely helpful. He will recall, and the record will prove it, that I queried specifically what training would be given. He said that a trained officer would be authorised to give fixed penalty notices. I referred to the concerns that were expressed by, among others, the Law Society of England, which said that the Bill did not show that
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 3
Fixed penalty notices: guidelines for local authorities and the police
Brought up, and read the First time.
Miss McIntosh: 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.
Alun Michael: 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
As I have indicated, such matters will be dealt with. I invite the hon. Lady to withdraw the motion.
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