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Baroness Hamwee: I am grateful to the Minister. On his last point, I recognise that the possibility exists of allowing different authorities to have different amounts for penalties, but I struggle to see that it exists under the Bill, because Clause 49(11) allows for an order to substitute "a different amount", not different amounts. Can the Minister help me further on that? I am interested to hear that consultation is currently taking place on that. It would be a great pity if, even if the difference between local authorities were not applied at the start, the possibility was not included in the Bill.

Lord Whitty: If I gave the impression that there is a specific power to grant that flexibility, that may be a

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slight exaggeration. The Government are in the process of consulting on whether that would be desirable for local authorities. It would still be for the Secretary of State to confirm any differentiation under existing powers. If there were a more general system, that would require a change to the Bill.

Baroness Hamwee: I realise that; that is why I am trying to pre-empt a bit more legislation by suggesting the possibility now. I hear what the Minister says; I am grateful for his answers on all the amendments and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 193ZE and 193ZF not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 49 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Hylton: The Minister mentioned earlier that fixed penalties were not the only way to proceed against people who have written up graffiti or indulged in fly-posting. Could he go a little further and say that, where there is desecration of cemeteries, painting of swastikas on the walls of synagogues or painting of other offensive slogans on churches or mosques, the normal way of proceeding will be by prosecution, not by fixed penalties?

Lord Whitty: Yes, the intention is to use fixed penalties for minor instances of offences that would not otherwise have been worth the expense of prosecution, although prosecution will still remain an option. We do not think that fixed penalty notices are at all appropriate for offences that are racially or religiously targeted or motivated. The clause therefore specifically excludes those and they would therefore be subject to prosecution.

Clause 49 agreed to.

9 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 193ZFA:

    After Clause 49, insert the following new clause—

(1) The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c. 8) shall be amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (3) of section 224 (enforcement of control as to advertisements) for "level 3" substitute "level 4".
(3) In subsection (1) of section 225 (power to remove or obliterate placards and posters) leave out "or obliterate".
(4) In subsection (2) of section 225 (power to remove or obliterate placards and posters) leave out "or obliteration".
(5) In subsection (3)(b) of section 225 (power to remove or obliterate placards and posters) leave out "or obliterate".
(6) In subsection (5) of section 225 (power to remove or obliterate placards and posters) for "two days" substitute "six hours"."

The noble Baroness said: The amendment was suggested by the London Borough of Camden. I know that several Members of the Committee visited the borough recently to see its work. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is nodding; I know that my noble friend Lord Avebury and, I think, the noble Lord,

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Lord Hylton, were among the group that went. As one who was unable to go, I seem to be moving the amendment.

Camden has done a great deal of work to tackle fly-posting through designing hoardings in a way that makes it difficult to attach posters to them and by painting street furniture in a way that cuts down the amount of fly-posting. Of course, it is struggling with the present legislation. It welcomes the measures in the Bill, but recognises the limitations. Illegal fly-posting tends to happen at night and is done very quickly. The chances are that not many successful fixed-penalty notices will be issued. The amendments would approach the issue from another direction by amending the current legislation.

Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, local authorities can give notice in writing to a person who displays, or causes to be displayed, a poster or placard on an illegal site. Very often, as we have all seen, those involved are the promoters of nightclubs or record companies—they say that it is done by the DJs or artists themselves. I declare an interest as a partner in a firm that acts for many recording artists and record companies. I am sure that our clients would never do any such thing. They are so successful that they do not need to.

The notice served states that the offender has 48 hours to remove or "obliterate" the poster. If they do not do so, local authorities can recover reasonable expenses. I understand that the standard recharge fee per poster is around #100. If the same promoter puts up a poster in the same locality within 28 days, the local authority can take action resulting in prosecution. The average fine is around #500.

That figure does not reflect the amount of work that goes into tackling the problem. Local authorities must identify the marketing company. The people who undertake fly-posting, being fairly fly themselves, tend to use unmarked vehicles so that they are difficult to identify. The costs of identifying those behind what is being advertised is also a difficulty.

From the other perspective, the current legislation requiring removal within 48 hours means that the offender has had two days' free advertising. Often that is all that is needed if, for instance, a Friday club night is being advertised. The offenders can deface or obliterate a poster simply by putting up another one on top of it.

The amendment proposes alterations to the Town and Country Planning Act. It would be good to reduce the removal time to no time at all. I have proposed six hours because I did not want to give the Minister the easy response that nobody can do something in no time. The removal of the poster should be required as opposed to allowing the "deface" or "obliterate" option. Another possible amendment could be to increase fine levels.

I accept that those measures cannot fully address the problem. The London Borough of Camden, which has raised the issue with me, also recognises that the Government are attempting to address the problem in

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a more modern fashion through the provisions in the Bill. But all measures to deal with this very offensive habit should be put in place and made as effective as possible. I beg to move.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I support the amendments. I do not think that they will quite do the job, but it is important that we start to make the effort. The Government probably have a lot of sympathy with the amendment, as it is completely in line with the idea that, where there is grime, there is crime. Without a clean environment, it is even more difficult to deal with anti-social behaviour and the problems that arise from it. I declare an interest because I live in Camden, but my borough is not alone in feeling the need to deal with these problems. I know that it is important for us to look at the problem from all different angles.

Lord Whitty: I recognise some of the concerns behind the noble Baroness's tabling of this additional clause. It raises a number of ticklish problems in taking a view on the matter, but I understand the issues with which it is intended to deal. The question of raising the level of penalty would apply in cases in which the fixed penalty did not apply and prosecution was either the preferred option of the authorities or the recipient of a fixed notice refused to pay. However, as your Lordships will be aware, the raising of one level to another requires the Home Office to make some assessment about all the other offences that would move. I regret that we have not been able to do that in the time available. A fairly formidable case must be made in order for change to occur. We could certainly look at the matter.

On the question of "or obliterate", it is clear that, in most cases, the preferred option for the authorities is to remove the fly poster. However, there will be circumstances in which damage could be caused to the building and it would be better to obliterate it. The noble Baroness's amendment would not leave open such an "exceptional circumstances" option. At present, the amendment reads as though they are equivalent options, but we need "or obliterate" as an option of some sort. I could not, therefore, accept that amendment as it stands.

There is some merit in reducing the time from two days to six hours, especially because one way of removing fly posters is to stick another on top and pretend the first was never there, which can easily be done in two days. I am not sure whether a more limited period would reduce that abuse. We are not clear that that would work in practice.

Although I sympathise with the amendments, it is unlikely that they are acceptable to the Government in their present form. We will consider them further between now and Report. I would not, however, like to raise expectations that we would be able to come forward with amendments in this legislation, given the time constraints upon us all in this Bill. The Government, however, will take on board the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness.

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