Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the order seeks to add the following offences listed in the Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces Regulations 1997 to the penalty notice for disorder—PND—scheme. Regulation 3(3) covers the dropping or leaving of litter or refuse; regulation 3(4) covers illegal cycling; and regulation 3(6) covers dog fouling. If Parliament agrees the order, the penalty levels for the new offences will be made by a separate statutory instrument.
Currently the three offences in question may be dealt with only by a magistrates’ court, so much offending in Royal Parks goes unenforced as prosecution is costly and disproportionate for what are relatively trivial offences. Offenders therefore tend to be formally reported or verbally warned. The police advised us that each report takes approximately two hours to complete. Therefore, in most cases there is no effective deterrent for those dropping litter, for irresponsible dog owners and for illegal cyclists, and there is increasing concern from many Royal Parks users about the lack of enforcement action. For a number of years, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Friends of the Royal Parks and a number of MPs have expressed support for these Royal Parks offences to be added to the PND scheme.
It is right that the Royal Parks should no longer be outside the ambit of the law. Adding the offences to the PND scheme is the most efficient way to address the lack of enforcement. It will enable the police to deal with offending in an effective and proportionate way, in order to maintain the safety and enjoyment of the Royal Parks. This will be valuable all year round, and particularly ahead of and during the Olympic and Paralympic Games when the parks expect many more visitors.
The purpose of the PND scheme is to provide the police with a swift financial punishment to deal with low-level misbehaviour on the spot. The PND is a type of fixed penalty notice established by the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, and may currently be issued for a specified range of 26 minor offences, such as being drunk and disorderly in a public place.
By adding the offences to the PND scheme, offenders against whom little or no action is taken will be sent a clear message that offending will not be tolerated and they will receive a financial punishment for their behaviour. The offenders who are currently prosecuted for these offences will no longer be clogging up the magistrates’ courts and will instead be dealt with in a proportionate way out of court. It will also significantly free up police time for additional patrols and provide a more effective deterrent to persistent offenders. Issuing a PND takes an officer approximately 30 minutes, whereas a formal report takes approximately two hours to complete. The police have advised that following the investment of two hours in completing the report, the majority do not result in a summons.
In addition, adding the offences to the PND scheme will correct the current anomaly whereby the police have the option to issue an environmental or road traffic fixed penalty notice for similar offending outside the Royal Parks but not within them. It was not practical to amend the legislation governing those other fixed penalty notice schemes in the near future, so adding the offences to the PND scheme was considered the best option for correcting the anomaly.
We have consulted on this proposal with interested parties, including DCMS, the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police, MPs, councillors and cycling groups. The majority of respondents were in favour of adding the offences to the scheme. Some concerns were raised regarding the offence of illegal cycling. Let me be clear: we are not targeting cyclists; we are tackling illegal cycling, which can be dangerous and intimidating. Illegal cycling outside the Royal Parks can already be dealt with by a road traffic FPN and we think it is right that a similar disposal is available inside the Royal Parks.
With regard to music events held in the parks, where people may be more likely to drop litter, whether to issue a PND will remain an operational decision for the police. They will use their professional judgment and discretion to determine what is the most appropriate and proportionate response to offending based on the circumstances of the case. Ample bins and recycling facilities are provided at events.
It may be helpful for me briefly to set out how PNDs will be issued for the new offences. A fixed penalty of £50 will be issued where a police officer has reason to believe that a person has committed any of the three new penalty offences while inside the Royal Parks. Once issued with a PND, the recipient has 21 days to either pay the penalty or request a court hearing. If the recipient fails to take any action, a fine of one and half times the penalty amount—that is, £75—is automatically registered against them by the magistrates’ court.
Visitors to the Royal Parks will be made aware of the new penalty offences through effective signage and markings. We will be working with the Royal Parks Agency and Metropolitan Police to ensure that these are clear and unambiguous. The Government are supportive of adding these offences and see the benefits to the public as well as to the Royal Parks Agency and Metropolitan Police of having an effective means of tackling this kind of offending in the Royal Parks.
I hope that noble Lords will support the order.
My Lords, I support this order and I am very pleased that cycling is included. On more than one occasion, I have seen people cycling in the park in a very irresponsible manner, which can have devastating effects. However, I should like to mention parks and dogs. I love both and am in the wonderful position of living in an area where I can use Bushy Park and Richmond Park.
It never ceases to amaze me how people who are completely and utterly responsible about their dogs and would not dream of not cleaning up after them in the street will take a very different view in a park. They also take different views between different parks. Bushy Park is a wild park which does not have manicured lawns in most places. It always surprises me that totally responsible people will say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter here because the deer are all over the park and what is the difference?”. But children play in parks and I am particularly concerned about the spreading of the parasitic disease toxocariasis. I know someone who suffered as a result of this disease, but its effects are not widely known.
I believe that everyone should be able to use our parks. We are very lucky to have such wonderful Royal Parks and open spaces. But enjoyment for children, animals and adults should not be ruined by the very small minority of people who just cannot be bothered to clean up after their animals. It is not the fault of the animals. It is the fault of the owners. Therefore, these orders are particularly welcome and I am very pleased that this behaviour will be subject to PNDs in the future.
My Lords, it is a privilege to be involved in such a momentous change to the country’s criminal law. I support entirely the Government’s objectives, particularly the observations made by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey. She has referred to a matter which is of considerable risk to health and clearly cannot be tolerated. The Explanatory Notes refer to the fact that the impact of the order will be reviewed in 12 months. I assure the Minister that the Opposition will not press for such a review, unless Cabinet Ministers are seen to be depositing papers otherwise than in the litter bins in the Royal Parks, which would make a welcome change. It is hardly necessary to go to those bureaucratic lengths for such modest matters as these.
However, I wonder whether at some point the Government propose to review the general issue of fixed penalty notices outside the Royal Parks. There may well be other matters concerning the Royal Parks that might be raised. But there might be other issues that would be worth discussing with, for example, the Local Government Association, the national parks authorities and organisations of that kind to see whether there needs to be general updating of the system. As the Minister has made clear, this is a cost-effective way in which to deal with relatively low-level matters that nevertheless cause offence and inconvenience, and occasionally create risks to public health and safety. Having said that, we certainly support the order.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Doocey and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for their support. I agree absolutely with what my noble friend said about dogs fouling parks. From many years’ experience of small boys in particular playing in the parks where I lived, not just the foulness but also the important health risks involved in dogs fouling was of great concern. I welcome this support and note what the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked about whether this might be reviewed and applied to other areas. I will take that back, given that I have no pointer at the moment on what we might be thinking of doing.
Now, fortunately, I have some inspiration. We are currently developing a new framework for the use of out-of-court disposals, including PNDs, and revising the guidance for officers. That deals with reviewing the PND scheme more generally. The noble Lord pointed to other areas where it might be applied that were analogous to the situation of the Royal Parks. I will take back that question and let him know what we conclude. I hope that I have addressed the concerns of noble Lords, and that they will support the order.