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Lord Whitty: The issue to which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred is recognised by the Government and is one on which the telecommunications companies have made representations. The general point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is interesting, but I suspect that most owners of property of the kind referred to here would prefer to have the option of removing the graffiti themselves prior to a local authority, through whatever means, taking it upon itself to do so. That will not apply in all cases, but it would probably apply to the cases that are the particular concern of the main amendments in this grouping.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is right to point out that we need to find a way of dealing with the problem, but the development of guidance rather than providing exemptions is the better way forward. The noble Lord may know that we shall pilot this whole provision in 12 local authority areas. It is important that we secure full co-operation and engagement with industry, and I believe that we will do so.

Turning to the points made about street furniture provided by the telecommunications companies—of which there are many; not all are quite as responsible as some, so that certain companies may not be signed up to genuine local initiatives—it is important that we use the pilot studies to determine the final form of the guidance. The noble Lord referred to a code of practice, but we seek to produce guidance to cover all the issues, such as dealing with delicate property, damage to property in general, health, safety and so forth. I think that that is the way to proceed rather than seeking to provide exemptions, which would allow less scrupulous companies to escape their obligations by signing up to a single local graffiti initiative.

If those initiatives work well and the industry is engaged with them, then given the 28-day notice period, one would expect the graffiti to be removed in any case. So the problem should not arise. Further, those responsible companies which play a genuine part in the initiatives should not encounter any problems. However, procedures must be worked out and concerns about particularly delicate equipment in street furniture must be resolved. Nevertheless, we all recognise that one of the most offensive forms of graffiti is quite often seen on such street furniture and therefore it must be included.

I turn to the other amendments in the grouping, Amendments Nos. 193B, 193D, 193F, 193R and 194A. Their purpose is to provide safeguards for the operation of the graffiti removal clauses, prevent

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damage to property and to address issues of safety. The Government accept the need for such safeguards. It is for that reason that we have written the requirement for guidance on to the face of the Bill. Again, we shall consult with industry representatives on how it should be developed.

However, the effect of the amendments would be to tie local authorities into any number of codes of practice. We feel that it is less confusing to develop a single, comprehensive and coherent guide to good practice in this area, which is the intention behind providing statutory guidance.

The counter notice mechanism outlined in Amendment No. 193D would introduce an overly bureaucratic response to problems which are best addressed in the context of the guidance and good practice, which we shall develop and foster through the pilots. The amendment would introduce delay to the operation of that process. We all agree that swift action is needed here.

The noble Lord has generously recognised that the next grouping of amendments tabled by the Government deal with the issue of the appeals mechanism. I shall deal with the concerns that have been expressed when we reach the grouping. However, while I recognise the concerns, I would not be able to accept the noble Lord's amendments as they stand.

Baroness Hamwee: Is the Minister able to give an indication of the likely time-scale of the pilot studies to be undertaken and thus when one might reach "non-pilot territory"? Further, although I may have misunderstood the position, it seems that these provisions will come into effect for the pilots, but looking hastily at the commencement clause, it does not appear possible to bring the clauses into effect individually for local authority areas. Either the clauses will come into effect or they will not. Have I misunderstood that?

9.30 p.m.

Lord Whitty: The clauses will come into effect on the due commencement date—which we will debate later—but the statutory guidance will not be finalised until the pilots have been completed. We intend to start the pilots in April 2004 and to select the areas between now and then. The pilots will run for a number of months before we can finalise the statutory guidance. I hope that clarifies the issue.

As regards an earlier point made by the noble Baroness, the pilots will also include the basis of a proper regulatory assessment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Can the Minister be slightly more specific, particularly on the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in relation to the commencement clause? If this is to work effectively and well when the pilots have finished, the problems have been established and solutions found to them, it would suggest that the commencement date for the Bill as a whole would need to be delayed. I believe that there is a general wish in the House to get other parts

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of the Bill implemented fairly quickly. We can perhaps deal with that matter later, but it does need to be dealt with; otherwise we shall have to deal with the Bill as it is now—which is without the guidance and therefore without the practice and not in a satisfactory state. I would welcome the Minister's views on this specific issue.

Lord Whitty: I do not believe that the statutory guidance provided under these clauses alters the argument about the commencement date. The powers will be there. We will run pilots and finalise the statutory guidance in the light of those pilots. The commencement date of the powers is not relevant to the time it takes to draft the statutory guidance. After all, there are many Bills in which there is a commencement date but where guidance, codes of practice and, in some cases, regulations are not there on the commencement date.

We will come to a more general argument about the parts of the Bill which do not apply to my department, but the question of when we will get the final version of the statutory guidance does not affect the commencement date. We will of course have draft statutory guidance for use and testing out during the 12 pilot studies, but we will not have the final version until somewhat later.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My concern is not so much about the procedure for the guidance but about the fact that an assiduous local authority, with the Bill on the statute book, could act on the words of the Bill without the guidance and thereby cause some difficulty.

Lord Whitty: The noble Lord would not be correct to say that before the full completion of the powers, which include the statutory guidance, one could act outwith those terms. It would be better if I were to write to the noble Lord on that basis. Basically, we will have draft guidance; we will have the 12 pilot schemes testing out that draft guidance; and the powers will commence in those areas only for that period. Once we have completed the pilots and developed the final guidance, the powers will roll-out more generally.

The noble Lord will probably require that from me in slightly more legalistic language, so I shall offer to write to him.

Lord Dixon: I am grateful to the Minister. He has done his best to clear up the dilemma, but it is still there. Whether the guidance is there or no, the statute will be there and will have commenced. Therefore it seems to me that, technically, the powers that exist in the Bill will be available to local authorities to use. If we recognise that that is a difficulty, that is sufficient.

As I have said, our amendments were in this instance a sprat to catch a mackerel. We have gone some way towards achieving this with the Government's amendments which will follow. We have gone some way towards achieving it in this debate and the assurance that we have received from the Minister that the Government are aware of the problem and are

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looking at it, that there will be pilot schemes to see how to make this work, and work satisfactorily, and so on. So this has, in fact, been a useful debate. None the less, we shall need to look at the Minister's words with care to see whether there are points we will wish to raise later. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 193B not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 193C:

    Page 43, line 29, at end insert—

"(5A) A graffiti removal notice must explain the effect of subsections (4) and (5) and sections (Recovery of expenditure) and (Appeals)."

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 193C, I should like to speak to the amendments related to it. This deals with the batch of amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, has already spoken of with approval. I therefore feel that I probably do not need to say very much to the Committee tonight. Most of these amendments relate to the guidance, on which we have had some discussion. The amendments also ensure that local authorities remain generally liable for damages not directly connected with the lawful exercise of the new power. That should be some reassurance to the companies involved.

Graffiti on the types of properties these clauses cover is a real blight, and people expect local authorities to be able to ensure that it is removed. That is why the powers are there, and it is important that they are.

The amendments also provide for a suitable appeals system and for safeguards to protect the interests of the owners of private property who might otherwise be detrimentally affected by the preceding clauses.

Again, the effect of these clauses will be piloted in the 12 areas and the results will be taken into account in the final form of the statutory guidance. I beg to move.

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