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Mr. Tony Banks : We should get the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) to do it.
Mr. Greenway : That is another task for my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) makes a
Column 622most telling point when he says that litter in Spain is collected during the hours of darkness. It is collected at 3 am or 4 am and, no doubt, account is taken of that in the wages paid to the refuse collectors. The fact that it is collected by private enterprise organisations must mean that there is great efficiency.
Mr. Tony Banks : There are far more practical reasons why that is done in Spain and in Greece as well. First, it is a damn sight cooler at night. Collecting rubbish is not a nice job anyway, but collecting it in the heat of the day in Mediterranean countries would not be at all pleasant. Secondly, it is necessary, in the heat, to have far more collections because of the obvious effect of heat on food rubbish in particular.
Mr. Greenway : I made my point about Spain because, at present, it is as hot here as it is in Spain and we must take account of that, although I know that such heat is only too rare here. However, the hon. Gentleman makes his own point effectively.
I must speak briefly of the situation in Ealing. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon said that he did not like to bring politics into this matter. I do not either, but I must point out that this year, there have been serious reductions in street cleansing and refuse collection in the London borough of Ealing, although the rates have increased by 32 per cent. and, two years ago, they increased by 65 per cent. People are concerned that they are paying far more in rates, yet the streets are not being cleaned as regularly as before and refuse is not being collected as regularly as before. That is serious. Public cleansing and refuse collection services should not be cut but should be at the top of the list of priorities because of the dangers to health.
Our foolish and politically unwise council made a serious mistake. Over Christmas and the New Year we had no refuse collection for 10 to 14 days. There were bags of litter everywhere : outside people's houses and in the street. That led to a plague of rats, which was extremely serious. Once rodents establish themselves--and nowhere is it easier for them to do so than where litter is lying around as it was on the streets of Ealing at the turn of the year--they are tenacious.
Some people say that in one year two rats can produce 1,200. Once a rat plague is established it is immensely difficult to put a stop to it. That was the problem facing the borough of Ealing as a result of the council's foolish and wicked failure to collect refuse over the Christmas and New Year period.
I am not saying that refuse collectors and street cleaners are not entitled to proper Christmas holidays like everyone else, but we cannot say to them, "Off you go boys, all of you, for a fortnight's holiday and forget about the rubbish" because of the possible results. Proper services must continue to be provided. We cannot expect people to carry them out for peanuts. They will have to be paid more for working at a time of year when they could expect to be on holiday, or they should be allowed extra time off at another time of the year when there is less pressure.
There is no doubt that the events of last Christmas must not happen again. Next Christmas I look forward to proper street cleansing and refuse collection in Ealing without fear or favour. We do not want rats back in Ealing, or people slipping and falling into rubbish bags for
Column 623weeks after the festival. Once a large amount of litter has accumulated it takes ages to clear the backlog. Litter must not be allowed to pile up.
There is a serious problem of litter and smoking in many public places, caused notably by visitors to churches, cathedrals and museums. I saw somebody smoking in Westminster Abbey last week and it took me back 20 years to when I last saw somebody smoking in a cathedral in St John's Cathedral in Warsaw. I have never forgotten the offence I felt at that. If people smoke and throw their cigarettes on the floor of a beautiful cathedral, it is a great offence to other people and affects law and order. When the incident occurred in Warsaw cathedral, an old lady rushed at the individual concerned and had to be restrained because she was so hurt by the action. When I saw the smoker in Westminster Abbey last week I also wanted to rush at him, but I did not. I had a word with one of the bedesmen who received a pack of cheek from the individual for asking him not to smoke.
Does the Minister agree that people smoking and throwing litter about in our beautiful churches, cathedrals and abbeys should be fined £1,000 on the spot or if, quite sensibly, they do not carry such amounts, be asked to pay as soon as possible?
Perhaps even more severe penalties should be imposed. Such offences must not be allowed under any circumstances. They amount to a desecration of God's house, are wholly and grossly offensive to other individuals and produce litter, with all the knock-on effects which I have described. The practice of dropping litter is growing. Officials of the abbey and of other cathedrals have told me that more people are coming into churches and cathedrals on a casual basis. They do not have a religious background of any kind and, with the sad weakening of religious education in schools, they do not even respect God's house and do not realise that what they are doing is offensive.
We may be reaching the point where we must have in Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral and other such great and fine institutions, notices declaring, "No smoking under any circumstances. Offenders will be fined at least £1,000 if they do so." That would be a sad day but we may be approaching it.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I, too, wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), not only on securing the debate, but on the considerable tenacity with which he has pursued the subject. He has placed an excellent Bill before us, and has been extremely tenacious, despite the unexpected cries of objection from Opposition Members every time the matter comes up. I look forward to the Bill having a better fate in the future. I also congratulate him on the wide-ranging and comprehensive nature of his speech and the way in which he looked at almost every aspect of litter.
It ill-behoves this place to lecture the nation on its litter habits. Ever since I came to this place I have been disgusted by the scenes of devastation which can be seen after any Committee meeting or any normal day in the Chamber. Leaving Committee, we crunch across a sea of litter which is much less pleasant and less elevating than crunching across a sea of autumn leaves. I hope that when television finally comes to the Chamber, some panning
Column 624shots will be shown of the scenes in the Chamber when we have finished for the day. Sadly, once the people of this country have seen those shots I do not think they will take our strictures on litter terribly seriously. Some of the powers given to Westminster city council could well be given to the Serjeant at Arms and others in the House to enforce better conduct.
I recently took one of my hon. Friends, certainly not anyone present today, to task for his litterous habits in Committee when my feet had literally sunk into the litter being dropped from the neighbouring seat. I asked him what he expected to happen to the litter, and he replied that there were people to pick it up. His reply was horribly reminiscent of the philosophy of those who say, "Oh, dear, the servants will do it." I also thought that his reply might contain implications that he expected women to clear it up. I have noticed that those who do not throw down litter in Committee or the Chamber are the 41, now 42, female Members.
On the Committee on which I serve, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) and I are the two who regularly take our litter away with us. I do not see why everyone else cannot do the same. When we look at Committee rooms and the Chamber at the end of a lengthy debate we cannot, realistically, turn round and talk about the disgusting habits of litter louts and others.
Mr. Patnick : Does my hon. Friend think that litter bins in the House of Commons would be any less decorous? Could we not have more litter bins to encourage Members to place their waste papers in them?
Miss Widdecombe : I thoroughly support the comments of my hon. Friend. However, we are not all entirely geriatric. It is a short step from the Committee rooms to the Committee room corridor where bins are placed at fairly regular intervals. I cannot believe that it would be a vast strain, even at the somewhat anti-social hours at which we sometimes leave Committee and the Chamber, to walk to one of the receptacles and place our litter in it.
Mr. Harry Greenway : Perhaps my hon. Friend would be interested in my suggestion that each hon. Member should carry a bit bag.
Miss Widdecombe : Yes, indeed I am. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) could be quite enterprising. He could come in with a supply of bit bags and sell them at 5p a time for some worthy cause. Hon. Members could collect them from the Lobby as they came into the Chamber. All that is required is a little self-restraint, which is what we are asking the general public to practice.
On the more serious question of how we enforce tidiness, I entirely agree that we need adequate penalties and, perhaps more important, that those penalties should be backed by an adequate will to solve the problem. I am rather sorry that the 741 people in Westminster were merely asked to pick up their litter. It would have had a more deterrent effect and would have caught the popular imagination far more if those 741 people had been issued with fixed penalty tickets. I do not say that vindictively because I cannot believe that a fixed penalty ticket for litter will create a terrible stigma ; it is not likely to blight a
Column 625person's life, any more than a parking ticket is. It would have made the point more effectively had those people been issued with fixed penalty tickets.
If there are to be penalties for litter dropping, they ought to be enforced vigorously, at least initially, to get the message home that dropping litter is an offence, and involves more than merely being asked to pick the litter up if one is unlucky enough to be caught. We must make it clear to people that they will have to pay the penalty. If that practice were adopted more widely and if there were fines nationwide along the lines of the Westminster scheme, take-away food containers, fish and chip wrappings and other common causes of litter, including cash dispenser receipts, could have warnings stamped on them to the effect that a fine was likely to be imposed if they were dropped. At the moment there is no immediate warning to the person who is thinking carelessly of throwing something away that by doing so he may incur a fine. Dropping litter is rarely a deliberate action ; it is a careless and uneducated action.
Mr. Burns : It has just occurred to me that all slips that come out of cash dispensing machines carry a number identifying the owner. In 99 per cent. of cases the person using the card to obtain money at a cash dispensing unit is the legal owner of this slip. Would there not be a case for the police to collect up the slips of paper left in the street and start to prosecute the guilty parties? That would surely have a deterrent effect?
Miss Widdecombe : The police simply do not have the time, but litter wardens or council officials could perhaps trace a random sample of guilty parties. If that process were accompaniesd by a great deal of publicity, it might be effective. A more effective way of solving the problem would be to educate people from a very young age not to drop litter. It would then be an automatic response. The sponsored picking-up of litter is one good way of making the whole process fun rather than making it seem like punishment. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) had a good point when he said that people should regard picking up litter not as punishment but as natural, worthy and--from the school child's point of view--fun. There are few sadder sights than a playground strewn with litter, which reminds us that we are not teaching our children to respect their environment. Ultimately the success of our attempts will depend on the will with which the arrangements are enforced and on the deterrent effect.
A couple of years ago I returned to Singapore, where I spent many happy years as a child. That country has very strict litter rules, and one does not see litter on the streets of the main city of Singapore. In the surrounding areas, however, the streets are every bit as dirty as London's streets. The reason is obvious. In the city, litter laws are enforced vigorously. The clean streets are something of a showpiece and a matter of national pride. Outside in the residential areas, the laws are not strictly enforced, so there is no deterrent and people continue to drop litter.
It is not just a matter of having strict laws ; they have to be enforced universally. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford was so right to talk about front gardens and back gardens. We have a lovely garden in front of the block of flats in which I live in London but the
Column 626hydrangea bushes fail to be enhanced by the crisp packets, Coke tins and so on carelessly tossed in from the street. We need laws to prevent that from happening. It is a deliberate act ; it is not the same as someone happening to drop his chewing gum packet on the ground. People ask themselves, "Where can I put this?" and then throw the object away in the most convenient place. We must inculcate the right attitudes in people at a very early age. At the same time, we need realistic penalties and the will to impose them. Such penalties could be an attractive source of revenue to councils.
I commend the Westminster example but in particular I commend the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford and wish it a better fate in the few weeks left to us.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) in this excellent and long overdue debate.
We are all becoming increasingly aware of our environment. Over the past year a number of issues have hit the headlines and the amount of media attention that is being given to the environment is increasing day by day. That concern is encouraging, the more so because it comes from the younger generation. But our concern for the environment is still not sufficiently well targeted. Most of us want the environment in which we live to be improved but we do not have a clear idea of what we could do and what ought to be done or of what principles should lie behind our concern. Some people worry about global warming, some about planning applications and the urbanisation of our countryside while others worry about noise. Many of the environmental groups are in conflict with each other, but one thread runs through all their concern--the idea that it is someone else's job to solve the problem, and that the Government, local authorities or local businesses should be responsible for solving environmental problems. The debate is especially relevant because we can all improve our environment by solving the problem of litter. Litter is one aspect of pollution. We need to have a few general principles to apply in dealing with pollution and in ensuring that the world is a cleaner place. The first principle should be the principle of minimising waste. In future the way in which we produce things --from motor cars to hamburgers--should involve keeping by-products to a minimum and, wherever possible, those by-products should be re-used. If that is impossible, we should ensure that what is left over is recycled. That applies particularly to litter. If we are to minimise waste and the amount of wastepaper and other items left around our towns and countryside, we must encourage industry to examine more closely the way in which it operates and, specifically, the way in which it packages its goods. Increasingly over the years we have become a consumer society and in the process we have increased the volume and content of packaging at the expense of the volume and content of the product itself. Packaging, which now accounts for an increased percentage of the whole product, ends up in our litter bins--it is to be hoped--or lying around somewhere for someone else to collect. The other day I read about the extreme example of an American company that produced a potato peeler the
Column 627same colour as potato peelings. The idea behind that rather shrewd marketing tool was that when the housewife peeled the potatoes she would throw away the peeler as well and would have to buy another one. However, the company found that the potato peeler was not selling very well because no one could see it on the shelves. It decided to surround it with a large, brightly coloured and expensive package, and as a result it sold like hot cakes. That is not the direction that we should follow when producing items for sale because it would not encourage waste minimisation. We must ensure that those involved in marketing and retailing present their products for the public to see and to buy without including a huge amount of packaging. After all, packaging does not add value to the product ; indeed, it simply costs the customer more.
Having reduced waste to a minimum, there will still be a great deal left over about which we must do something. With litter, that should mean recycling. Earlier this year I introduced a Bill under the ten-minute Bill procedure to encourage the recycling of wastepaper. I did that partly because of the problem mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), of the number of trees being chopped down each year to meet our demand for paper, but also because of the problems with litter generally.
The amount of raw pulp that we import each year adds £716 million to our import bill. What is even more significant is that we also import £9 million of wastepaper for use in the various production processes in the paper mills. We do that despite the fact that there is a surplus quantity of wastepaper lying around in our towns and in the countryside. There is a strong incentive to ensure that increasing amounts of wastepaper and other products are recycled. In the process used to produce items for sale, any remaining waste should be recycled. It may be bottles, batteries or wastepaper. Litter is a prime candidate for recycling.
Of course, hon. Members are not entirely innocent of leaving litter around the House. The Committee Rooms always contain huge amounts of paper that hon. Members have had to leave on the floor because there are so few litter bins in the rooms.
Miss Widdecombe : Hon. Members do not have to leave litter on the floor. They have a choice between that and picking it up and carrying it to a bin. They are under no compulsion to choose the former. It is a dirty, filthy habit in which, unfortunately, too many hon. Members indulge.
Mr. Mans : I was simply painting the picture as it stands, and not suggesting--
Mr. Tony Banks : I want to make this a pincer movement on the hon. Gentleman. I, too, am absolutely disgusted by the filthy habits of Members of Parliament, both in Committee Rooms and in the Chamber. One of the advantages of there not being very many hon. Members in the Chamber today is that at least it will remain tidy. Hon. Members should not use the excuse that because there is no litter bin they have to put their rubbish on the floor, because members of the public will then use exactly that excuse when they are on trains or in the street. They will say, "I couldn't find a bin, so I threw it on the floor." It is exercising double standards to lecture members of the public while setting such a terrible example in this place.
Mr. Mans : Both my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) jumped in rather too quickly. I was trying to paint a picture of what actually happens now. Of course, it is absolutely right that we should lead rather than follow and that we set the public a good example. I think that more litter bins would help, but of course that is by no means the whole argument. I agree that it is perfectly reasonable to expect hon. Members to take their litter out of Committee rooms and put it in a bin. Nevertheless, it would improve matters if there were more litter bins in the rooms, although that is not a panacea in itself and we need to do more.
Although the Chamber is rather thinly populated today, I am glad that the hon. Members present feel so strongly about the amount of litter that we leave around. One of the points that I made when I introduced my Bill was that we should encourage the Palace of Westminster to recycle the wastepaper collected. I regret to say that I have not had a great deal of success with the authorities in trying to ensure that that happens.
Mr. Patnick : I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell the House that the Department of the Environment uses recycled paper. She said during a recent debate that that was being promoted within her Department. I hope that other Departments follow suit.
Mr. Mans : I, too, wish that that would happen. After introducing my Bill I wrote to every Secretary of State asking what they were doing about using recycled paper. The responses varied tremendously, and many of them lapsed into a form of officialese that said very little, but took an awfully long time to say. Even more depressing was that many of the replies contained photocopies of those replies. I am not sure why they did that, but perhaps they were for me to send to some mythical constituent on whose behalf I was supposedly raising the issue. In fact, my letters made it perfectly clear that I wanted to know exactly how many Departments were using recycled paper. The Palace of Westminster and Government Departments could do a great deal more, by way of example, to encourage the recycling of paper products, which in itself would generate the demand for more recycled paper and would encourage the collection of litter.
The world's natural resources are ever-diminishing. We cannot afford simply to dispose of everything. We must try to recycle it and so minimise the amount of raw materials used to produce products. We face a huge challenge in ensuring that we maintain and increase our standard of living, yet at the same time design products that ensure minimum use of our natural resources. We must ensure that products contain little waste, but, where they do, that waste must be collected and recycled.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford for giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject. As I said earlier, this debate is long overdue. I hope that some concrete proposals come out of it.
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : This debate is crucial, but like so many of our Friday debates it makes me wonder how much coverage it will receive in the media. Reference has already been made to the fact that when the television cameras are introduced we will have to smarten up or our
Column 629electorate will complain. We must question whether this is the sort of debate that television producers will want to show. It is certainly a very important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on moving the motion.
The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) made a valid point about recycling. Sadly, we live in a throwaway society, and big companies encourage it. I am sure that many hon. Members can remember that, when something went wrong with our household appliances, we could get them repaired. Hon. Members should try to get even the smallest component for something. People in big companies or in small family shops say, "Sorry, they do not make them any more. You will have to buy the entire unit."
I am sure that, every week, hon. Members get several letters from their constituents complaining about these very issues. Britain is often called a dirty country. That refers to many aspects of the environment in which we live. There are grounds for saying that, certainly in large cities. Hon. Members have referred to other cities in the world. Those of us who travel find that many large European cities are far more advanced than our own in trying to keep areas clean. When I have attended Council of Europe meetings in Paris, I have seen the Paris municipal authority motorcyclist whose job is to clean up dog mess. That is a superb idea. It is a means of showing people that it is wrong to allow dogs to fould pavements and that the Paris local authority is concerned about it.
We have been talking about crisp-packet litter and so on. I do not dispute that it is a problem, but it is only one aspect of the overall problem. The condition of streets is obviously of great concern, but, one wonders--when one can find them--how often rubbish bins are emptied. We see them overflowing with crisp packets, drink cans and so on. That is no encouragement for people to say. "I should take my litter away." People tend to add their litter to the pile. What about the number of abandoned motor cars that no one seems to do anything about? After a week or so, it is obvious that some cars are abandoned, and we must take up the matter with the police. They say, "It is not really anything to do with us. You had better get in touch with the local council." The matter then drags on for a month or so. I am sure that all hon. Members have seen mattresses and old furniture dumped in the streets for days on end.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) recently introduced a Bill to control fly tipping. Fly tipping is an enormous problem in parts of London and, I am sure, in many large cities. It may even be a problem in some small towns. The Minister is concerned about that problem.
I saw someone in a van dumping rubbish in the London borough of Wandsworth. I took down the registration number and a description of the van and of the person driving it. That was on a Sunday afternoon. On the Monday morning, I referred the matter to the technical services director of the London borough of Wandsworth, who was concerned and said, "Thank you very much for informing us of this. If we catch this person will you be prepared to appear in court?" I said, "Certainly." After a couple of weeks, I rang up and asked, "How are you
Column 630progressing?" He said, "We are terribly sorry to tell you, but we now find that that van, like so many, had false licence plates on it." The Minister is aware that some individuals make enormous sums of money by removing rubbish. Sadly, because they have false number plates on their vehicles, nothing happens to them. We must introduce much stricter laws as soon as possible.
One sees lorries travelling around carrying materials with no cover over them. I have often seen loads being shed as lorries swing around to Vauxhall bridge. The Minister may say that loads should be covered if the material can come off the back of a lorry, but that requirement does not seem to be enforced often.
The motion calls for the introduction of new measures. I do not think that any hon. Member would disagree with that. However, I take some exception to the last two lines of the motion, which state : "and supports the Government's proposal to place a duty on local authorities to keep their areas clean and to publish a code of practice."
I do not disagree with the principle of that, but many hon. Members have served in local government and know that, because of the Government's rate- capping policies, many local authorities whether Labour or Conservative- controlled, face enormous problems in administering their services. I realise that the occupant of the Chair cannot comment on hon. Members' speeches, but, in Adjournment debates, Conservative Members often call for things to be done on the very measures that they have supported in the Lobby. They call for extra funding for certain things to be done.
Mr. Patnick : I am sad that we have got into a party political debate on a subject that I thought would cross party boundaries. It is possible for councils to save large sums of money by competitive tendering for the services that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. If we are to put the matter into the political arena, let us start from point one.
Mr. Cox : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point. I was about to refer to that very issue.
Local authorities were once responsible for cleaning their areas. I served on the metropolitan borough of Fulham. Our road sweepers took great pride in their job. They had their patch. By God, if anyone dropped rubbish on their patch and they saw them doing it, they would chase them and tell them to pick it up. I saw that happen in the Fulham Broadway area. After the road sweeper had cleaned the place, someone walked along and dropped some rubbish. Also, according to poeople who work in hospitals and schools, that pride does not exist because contractors now clean hospitals and schools.
One of the largest hospitals in the country, St. George's hospital, is located in Tooting. Staff there complain bitterly about the conditions after contractors have been in, supposedly to clean. There is no pride in or continuity of work. Contractors work in one area for a few days and they know that they will be somewhere else next week or the following week, so there is not the pride that there was. That is sad.
While acknowledging that the problem is of great importance and that the public generally must be encouraged to keep the environment much cleaner, we should also exhibit far more concern about the pay and conditions of those responsible for providing cleaning services. The comment about competitive tendering made
Column 631by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) sounded wonderful, as do so many of the things that we hear from the Government, until we see them working in practice. If one talks to those responsible for cleaning services in Wandsworth, for example, one learns that overall conditions of employment and pay are much worse under private contractors than they were when the local authority was the employer. Poor pay and conditions will not encourage into those jobs people with the kind of commitment that existed when cleaners were answerable to their local authority and related to their local community.
It is said that local councils should provide more recycling amenities in the form of bottle banks and paper reception centres, for example. Although local authorities are not hostile to such initiatives, they ask where they fit the budgets that they must now observe.
Mr. Mans : The hon. Gentleman appears to believe that everything must fit a budget. However, in the case of recycling there are perfectly good schemes in operation in other parts of the country, particularly in the north-west, whereby companies are happy to site wastepaper igloos and other recycling devices in car parks and elsewhere free of charge. Also, county councils will refund money to local authorities that free them from the dumping of that rubbish on their tips. Local councils who examine such possibilities more closely will see that the implications are positive, not negative.
Mr. Cox : The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting comment. However, investment is still needed. I acknowledge that if such policies are pursued, they can generate a great deal of money for the benefit of ratepayers and the community as a whole, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) can testify from his experience as a member of the Greater London council. I am not arguing that only local authorities should finance the necessary facilities, but they should at least be up front in setting an example. However, many are unable to do so because of the Government's rate-capping policies.
Mr. Cox : With great respect, it is not nonsense. If Conservative Members ask council officers about the problems that confront them, they will be told--as I have been, by a Conservative-controlled borough that I serve as a Member of Parliament--that rate-capping is one of them.
If fines are to be imposed, they must have a truly deterrent effect. In this day and age, it is no use fining people £5 or £10, because they may consider that to be a laughing matter. In other parts of the world, people pay very dearly if they are caught littering the environment. Greater emphasis must also be placed on education. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) mentioned the education of children, but that of adults must not be overlooked. It is not children who empty cigarette ends into the road or who throw rubbish from car windows. Perhaps the Government, together with local authorities, will consider a programme of education and the imposition of more severe penalties.
Some boroughs provide skips in certain areas at weekends, and that service is properly publicised. There will always be people wondering what to do with an old
Column 632mattress or piece of furniture. They should be made aware that it is only necessary to take it to a nearby council skip for it to be disposed of. Very often, refuse collectors will say--and I do not criticise them for this--that it is not their job to take away mattresses or old pieces of furniture. All local authorities should give far greater publicity to skip and other clearance services, so that such items will not be dumped.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford has done a first-class job in introducing his motion, which I hope will have the Government's full support and receive the publicity that it deserves. I was once a Government Whip, and on many occasions I sat on the Government Front Bench listening to debates about measures that I thought were long overdue, yet a month or so later one would ask oneself, "Whatever happened to that idea?" I hope that that does not happen to the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Chelmsford.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I, too, believe that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) is to be congratulated on introducing the motion. It was noted by the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) that, despite the small number of hon. Members present in the Chamber, a great deal of feeling has been generated, and I underline that point. I become positively homicidal when walking around areas of Forest Gate in my constituency that seem to be particularly filthy, observing people drop litter, and seeing the result. The cleaners do a good job in that area, but in a matter of 20 minutes, half an hour or one hour after they have finished, the place is filthy again. We all agree that dropping rubbish in the street is socially offensive. It is also environmentally and economically wasteful. It does not give me any great pride to say that I have not come up with any initiatives such as that of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), who proposes walking around his constituency at midnight. I certainly would not go walking around Newham at midnight--not that I am anything but a much- loved Member of Parliament. Nevertheless, I do not fancy trying to have a rational discussion on Marxist philosophy with the kind of people who hang around street corners in Newham at midnight after they have had a skinful in the local pub.
My borough is one of the filthiest in the whole of London, and London is one of the filthiest cities in Europe, if not the filthiest city. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned how Paris copes. What is that city's secret? It is no secret. The authorities in Paris devote a considerable amount of public money to maintaining services. The secret, such as it is, is a combination of resources, political will and the determination to see a project carried through to its conclusion.
Paris's infrastructure, too, is more favourable to street cleansing, its wider boulevards making for easier access, and there is more space to store rubbish from the streets. Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting will know, street cleansing methods there are very different from those employed in London. The streets are washed down daily, and mechanised cleansing and "poop scoops" are much more widely used. Similarly, the Paris metro is much better than the London Underground system ; again, it is a matter of resources and political will. We can will the
Column 633end, but we must also provide the means. Plenty of people in this country are prepared to say what is desirable, but when they are asked to devote resources to achieving that desirable objective the resources somehow are not there. That is certainly true of the Government's attitude to litter.
I receive many complaints about litter from my constituents, who blame the council for this problem, along with so many others. "What is the council going to do about it?" is the question that they usually ask. While I share people's concern about the level of services provided in any borough, I must point out that it is not councillors or council officers who go around throwing litter on the ground ; it is the dirty people in the area. Rather than fulminating against Newham council or storing up their anger to visit on me when I happen to be walking in the streets, my constituents would do better to direct that anger against some of those who are perpetrating this social nuisance.
We must ask ourselves why we in this country, and in London, are so filthy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting has said, we live in a "chuck- away" society, existing on a diet of fast food. It is considered a mark of progress no longer to sell bottles on which a deposit is charged, providing an incentive to take them back to the shop. When I was much younger, I was quite a budding little capitalist : I used to do quite well from collecting bottles, taking them back to the off-licence and getting the money. Now, however, we have the throwaway bottle, replaced in many instances by the can. There is a lot to be earned from recycling aluminum cans, but schemes are needed to encouage people to take bottles and cans to bottle and can banks.
The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) mentioned packaging. Nowadays everything is contained in increasingly attractive and increasingly useless packaging. Products seem to be sold on the basis of the packaging rather than the contents. That is where so much of the competition comes. Vast quantities of paper litter are generated, and, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, it is also a waste of trees. Hon. Members are among the worst offenders because of the amount of paper that we generate and receive in our post bags, much of which ends up in the rubbish bin. I hasten to add that that does not include letters from constituents--I had to put that in! Most of it is mail shots.
My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr Cook) was on a train one day, having gone through a vast quantity of post. Some of the organisations that had written to him had helpfully put their names on the envelopes, so he was able to throw some of the post away without even opening it ; and a number of unopened letters went straight into the bin. As he was getting off the train my hon. Friend was chased by the guard, who called after him, "Mr. Cook, you seem to have left all these unopened letters." My hon. Friend was faced with the embarrassment of having to accept all the unopened letters--and, no doubt, the unspoken criticisms of many of his fellow travellers, who obviously believed that that was the sort of things that Members of Parliament did.
I tell that story to make the point that Members of Parliament receive huge amounts of unecessary and unwanted mail, as, indeed, do householders generally. The
Column 634increase in the amount of "rubbish mail" that comes through the door every day is generating a litter problem and wasting resources. Another contributory factor is the upsurge in fast food chains. I remember the days when the only fast food shops around were the fish and chip shops : now every shopping street in the country has any number of fast food outlets.
In the inner-city areas in particular, the sense of community has been all but destroyed. I remember that when my mother or my father, of course, had finished cleaning the path--ours was not a sexist household, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you can well imagine--they would put down the bucket of water and sweep the pavement and gutter outside. Some old people in the east end can still be seen doing precisely that, but I do not see many people doing it. Such practices date back to earlier days when there was clearly a much stronger sense of community spirit and community pride. The destruction of that sense of community is, of course, partly the fault of planners, the new brutalism of 1960s architecture the building of those appalling tower blocks.
At the last count, Newham had about 110 tower blocks--I say "at the last count" because the odd tower block is always being blown up when it is found, after only 25 years, that it was rendered unsafe by the method employed in its construction. As well as being an undesirable living unit, a tower block may prove structurally unsound. Although inhabitants of tower blocks, stacked as they are in vertical "streets", live in dense concentrations, they are isolated at the same time because there is access only on each floor. Such tower blocks are nasty, unpleasant, brutalising places in which to live, and it is not surprising that so much filth, graffiti and violence builds up. There is a depressing downward cycle : the more violent and unpleasant the environment in which people live, the more they want to go inside, close the door and allow whatever is happening outside to go on. It is nothing to do with them ; they are glad to get away from it.
The central problem, however, is one of social attitudes. While I join hands with Conservative Members on the foulness of litter on the streets, I part company with them on the causes of the problem. I think that there is a very political element in it. Life in Britain, in my view, is now brutal, greedy, selfish and increasingly violent.
Mr. Patnick : The hon. Gentleman referred to high-rise and high- density flats. Will he cast his mind back to who decided to institute such close living conditions?
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : Macmillan.
Mr. Patnick : The hon. Lady has just arrived in the Chamber. I was speaking to the organ grinder.
Can the hon. Gentleman remember who instigated that, who continued it and what ensuing Governments did to try to stop some of the projects that were under way?
Mr. Banks : As a matter of fact, I am a ventriloquist ; I was speaking without moving my lips. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) is absolutely correct, but I would prefer to put the hon. Gentleman down myself, rather than leaving the privilege to her. In the 1950s and 1960s, Governments, both Conservative and Labour, encouraged that sort of building. Unfortunately, it is today's generation, today's councillors and today's politicians who have to try to clear
Column 635up the mess. I am making no narrow party political point over the building of tower blocks. It is down to the planners and politicians of the day.
When I was a member of Lambeth borough council there was a scheme to build more and more tower blocks. The planners talked in glowing terms about the kind of communities that they would create. When one looks back, one can almost see that those people thought that they were acting in the best interests of the people. They were going to do away with the back-to-backs and insanitary houses that had no proper facilities ; instead they would provide nice, modern flats. They were absolutely wrong.
That is why, among all the occupations that I hate the most, the long-term planners head the list because they always manage to get it wrong. I should like to find the planners and the politicians who decided to put up those tower blocks, put them on the 22nd floor, have the doors nailed up and leave them there for a while. Those who designed tower blocks and pushed for their construction were not the people who ended up having to live in them. I shall always condemn the decisions that were taken in the 1960s. I can also say with a clear conscience that when I was on Lambeth council I was bitterly opposed to the building of tower blocks. In that respect both my conscience and my hands are clean.
I have already said that life today in Britain is brutal, greedy, selfish and increasingly violent. The blame for that combination of nastiness lies squarely with the philoso-phies and policies of the Government, and in particular with the Prime Minister. She is the person behind it. The Prime Minister denies that there is anything called society. She says that there is just a collection of families and individuals. In her daily utterances the emphasis is on the individual, not on the community--it is all right to be selfish and greedy. That is the essence of Thatcherism today.