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Column 651the shortcomings of such property were capable of being overcome. In those days it was thought that plumbing was the yardstick by which the fitness of a house should be measured. The criteria were an inside toilet, hot water and a bathroom, as well as a ventilated food cupboard. The layout of rooms was another factor. Many is the time that I have appeared either at a public inquiry in connection with a compulsory purchase or clearance order to decide on the fitness of certain housing. However, there is now a move back to smaller houses and away from flats, and there is increasing recognition among local authorities that there is a need for private housing. Nevertheless, there are certain difficult policy areas where a firm steer by central Government would be useful. They include the importance of maintenance as opposed to new building.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. I realise from listening to the hon. Gentleman that litter covers a multitude of sins, but his present remarks are wide of the motion.
Mr. Patnick : Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Litter is more than just a question of the indiscriminate throwing away of rubbish. It is also about the way in which people live. It has to do, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth with the way that people are brought up. The blind spots often occur at semi-public spaces on housing estates. Litter can be not only pieces of paper but beds and furniture. When I visited Vauxhall for the recent by- election, I saw dumped there beds, settees and bags of rubbish, as did my hon. Friend the
Under-Secretary of State for the Environment who accompanied me. We saw also black plastic sacks that had not been collected by the local authority.
Litter accumulates even in unoccupied buildings ; people seem to break in and put it there. There is also the rubbish that is put through letter boxes. When householders have gone away, free newspapers and so forth are still delivered. In derelict areas that are being redeveloped or rehabilitated, we must ensure that what remains is tidied up. Old retaining walls, for instance, are breeding grounds for litter and graffiti, and old fireplaces and bathroom suites are also thrown on to vacant land.
We must keep the streets clean and tidy. A street should not look its worst immediately after the dustmen have called. More provision must be made for the disposal of household rubbish, and rubble should not be left lying around building sites. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) made the important point that lorries are loaded with rubbish that does not seem to be fastened down or covered with a net. It blows all over the street, with the driver unaware of what is happening.
I welcome the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) to the Opposition Front Bench, where I hope she spends many a happy year.
Maintenance is vital, and we must ensure that the councils catch up with the problem. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) for giving us the opportunity to debate it. We must persevere. We also have a duty to set an example. The Benches today are rather a pleasant sight without the litter that we see at 2 or 3 am.
Litter was one of the subjects that I wanted to raise when I first came to the House, and I hope that my hon.
Column 652Friend the Minister will tell us that a new enforcement officer--a "litter lady" or "litter-pop man"--can be appointed to deal with the first stage in prosecutions and to make people aware of the penalties.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : The speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) was something of an occasion. He spoke for 41 minutes. As he told us at the outset, the hon. Gentleman has second place on the Order Paper with a subject of his own--Sheffield--and I am rather pleased that he has spoken at such length, because I, as a neighbour of Sheffield, cannot now be accused of attempting to stop him speaking. Although he is obviously interested in the subject of litter, I found it interesting that he should make it more difficult for himself to speak in a later debate.
Mr. Patnick : It was pretty obvious to me that, with so few Opposition Members present, the Opposition would not allow an opportunity for the second debate
Mr. Barnes : As the hon. Gentleman said earlier, we have yet to see what happens. I understand his frustration, however. Last week I drew second place for a debate on the poll tax but did not get the opportunity to speak, and last Friday a Scottish Member had the same experience with a debate on the same subject.
Another interesting feature of the hon. Gentleman's speech was the number of references that he made to Sheffield. He mentioned bottle banks, patrols and other services. I had the feeling that he was beginning to miss Sheffield very much. Perhaps he has discovered that the council is not as obnoxious as he sometimes claimed when he was leader of the opposition there, and has decided it is more fruitful to be involved in local politics. I hope that he will have that opportunity again after the next general election.
I understand that advances have already been made by the district council into the Hallam area. Strangely enough, the hon. Member for Hallam is waxing lyrical about Sheffield council, although I, as a member of the same political party that runs Sheffield, object to a number of things that the council is doing, not least its plans to extend its boundaries and take over the northern part of my constituency. If I survive the next general election, that will make me a Member of Parliament for a Sheffield constituency. Therefore, if we had the second debate on the Order Paper, a Member of Parliament would be here to respond to points made by the hon. Member for Hallam.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will correct one statement that he made. In a long speech, it is difficult to be as precise as one would wish, but he referred to graffiti connected with racism and suggested that there was much worse graffiti than that, including obscenities. I believe that racism is the worst possible type of obscenity. I hope that the hon. Member for Hallam agrees with me.
The procedures of the House are very strange. Yesterday, I tried desperately to speak in the debates on Northern Ireland, especially in the debate about direct rule. I sat patiently waiting to speak but was unable even to intervene during the Minister's speech. Today, I came to listen to a debate on litter and found that a big ideological battle was going on, allowing hon. Members to refer to many concerns about the direction of party politics. Many
Column 653of us who object to the characteristics of an increasingly crass, capitalist society believe that litter is the mark of a capitalist society and that if we move in a different political direction we shall solve the litter problem and other problems that are associated with it.
I intend, therefore, to refer to issues that might be considered to be of an ideological nature, just as I had intended to do yesterday in the debates on Northern Ireland. It is time that the ideological case for democracy and Socialism was put forward at all opportunities, just as Conservative Members put forward the ideological case for the enterprise culture at every opportunity. Democracy and Socialism would be able to tackle many of the problems that we face. Associated problems connected with litter are dog mess, noise, lack of care for one's neighbours, queue jumping and other anti-social activities. The throwing around of rubbish adds to the nuisance. Many of the problems were referred to by the hon. Member for Hallam, but he provided no analysis. Therefore, the earlier ideological debate vanished. A much more pragmatic view was put forward by the hon. Gentleman, and he drew considerably on Sheffield council's experience.
A sea change in social attitudes is needed. During the war, and in post-war Britain, there was a much more collectivist response by people to litter, noise and anti-social activities. People believed that it was their public duty to behave in a reasonable and decent manner towards their neighbours. That attitude is breaking down, though it has not broken down entirely. Many people still behave in a perfectly reasonable and decent way. If it were not for that, there would be nothing for Socialists and democrats to build upon and we would be in a desperate situation. The whole basis of an enterprise culture is that people should advance themselves, live their own lives and follow their individual concerns without bothering about anyone else. That means that people's lives are affected by others who are simply acting selfishly. We have to revert to the position that came out of war- time experiences and was built upon in the post-war consensus but is now seriously under attack.
That is not to say that everything is down to the Prime Minister and everything is a consequence of Thatcherism. She did not build a grasping capitalist society or create the get-rich-quick mentality. That already existed. She has simply unleashed the political expression of that which was already there in the economic and social nature of society.
In earlier times, many Conservatives believed in the values of civic duty and responsibility. It appears in some of the older Conservative Members who still reflect the traditional Conservative values, but it is beginning to disappear. Conservatives such as Disraeli felt that there should be training and education which, although it was elitist, meant that the leaders that it produced would have some responsibility towards the rest of society and would try to spread the values of civic duty and responsibility throughout society. The Macmillan set of values has bitten the dust and the crudest form of free-enterprise advocacy imaginable has developed in Britain. It was rife in certain Right-wing circles in Europe and has always existed in America. American society is not particularly adept at handling problems such as litter and noise. It is an aggressive, self-assertive attitude in which people say,
Column 654"Give me my rights and don't give anyone else theirs." It is asserting itself in Britain and has been mentioned by several Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). Obviously, he has a different response to such problems. Personal responsibility is a matter of arguing with people--not just lecturing them and telling them that they should behave and respond in a certain way or they will become totally disgusting. It may be that the law needs to be changed, as has been suggested. We need a sea change in attitudes that currently reflect the commercialised values that have bounded forth from the United States of America to be grabbed by political forces in the Conservative party. There has been a coup, those attitudes have taken over and the old guard has disappeared. All that needs to be changed dramatically as it is based on the silliest notions of human behaviour, assuming that people are out for what they can grasp for themselves and must be considered in terms of their competitiveness and that the best of all worlds would be to have a regulatory system in politics, economics and social affairs, although it would retain the existing low levels of behaviour. It assumes that people are incapable of co-operating and working together and assisting each other, yet those qualities come to the fore in a crisis, difficulty and disaster. We need to nurture those attitudes and responsibilities.
We need to get rid of the Government and advance in an entirely different direction so that Socialist and democratic values can be linked together. Socialism without democracy becomes bureaucratic abuse such as the current nonsense in China and is highly dangerous. Democracy without Socialism is what we have in Britain and although it has advantages over the dictatorial regime, is a low-level, sham philosophy that does not try to raise anyone's horizons or get them to behave responsibly towards the needs of others and seek to assist them, as is illustrated by the mess and corruption that exists in economics and is reflected in problems such as litter which is associated with economic issues.
Everything our society produces has an inbuilt obsolescence. The hon. Member for Hallam talked about shopping for a shirt. As he said, one does not buy only a shirt because it comes with all sorts of status symbols, pins, bags and so on. That unnecessary rubbish has to be dumped. If society is already uncaring and all that unnecessary rubbish is forced on it, the rubbish will not be disposed of correctly.
That occurs throughout our society. For example, I will be catching the train later to travel to Sheffield. Having been busy in the House one may be in need for sustenance during the journey. The only thing one can obtain on trains is plastic cups of coffee. There is now a new procedure whereby one plastic cup is placed inside another. Sugar is provided in a packet, milk comes in a container and one is given a disposable spoon. Therefore, simply having a cup of coffee generates a great deal of rubbish.
I will probably need a rubbishy microwaved cheeseburger, which will be served in a container. If I want sandwiches as well, all sorts of mess will come from the wrappings. Within a short time my table will be covered with rubbish.
Last weekend, following a debate in the House on coal mining subsidence, I travelled back on the train to Sheffield with my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). We had a whole host of material on the table
Column 655before us. We intended to dispose of it correctly because we are responsible, but before we had an opportunity to do so, somebody passed by, looked at us and said, "Thatcherite thugs." That is what we were considered to be in today's society. We are part of society because we have to live within it. That is why, when Socialism is achieved, Socialists will be a lost generation. We will have been built on past generations. Socialism is for the future. We must begin to build on our values and transcend some of the inadequacies of our behaviour.
The hon. Member for Hallam also mentioned newspapers. When one buys a newspaper it is full of material that one does not want. It is all associated with advertising and commercialisation. It is entirely unnecessary. One has to sort out the interesting bits. Therefore, newspapers bought on trains or while travelling generally may finish up on the streets rather than in rubbish bins.
Councils face great problems in collecting rubbish because of the lack of resources. Often, socially responsible people who wish to place their rubbish in bins find that it is impossible to do so because the bins are overflowing. Such people then have to be additionally responsible and buy more rubbish bins, or another plastic bag in which to put their debris and take it home to place in their dustbin. However, that cannot be done if the dustbin is already overflowing from rubbish collected on previous occasions. Litter reveals to me some of the massive and serious problems that exist within our society. We leave local authorities to collect rubbish. Local authorities have been hammered and bashed by the Minister and the Department for the Environment. The Government have passed 50 measures directed against local authorities since 1979 and have hampered their tackling problems such as litter. I could mention other problems that have been created by legislation, but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order.
The poll tax will increase the financial problems of local authorities and will cause more mess and rubbish on our streets. Private interests will be encouraged to tender for cleansing services, but they will be interested not in refuse collection but in increasing profits. The contracts that they will sign will probably be so lengthy and detailed that they will contribute to the litter and rubbish that is thrown around.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) will mention unnecessary packaging materials. Hon. Members receive much correspondence, much of which calls for a reply. The Halifax building society sent hon. Members a big glossy publication. Most hon. Members threw it straight into the wastepaper basket because they did not have time to read all the nonsense contained in it. Probably only hon. Members who have a particular interest in the subject read it.
Some controls must be placed on what is sent to people and we must increasingly use recycled material. The amount of rubbish and waste material that is thrown away in the House is criminal. The House is only one institution in this country and if commerce is taken into account the amount of rubbish that is thrown away could be multiplied. Fax machines and new technology will not contain or control the problem of litter but will lead to more paper and rubbish and many difficulties.
We need a sea change in our attitudes. Such a change is beginning. The Prime Minister is taking action to control litter. In St James's Park she was involved in a
Column 656charade in which some sanitised litter was thrown down for her to pick up. The consequences of the sudden change in her attitude to litter will be the same as the consequences of her change to green politics. Her lack of answers on green policies led to the advance of the Labour party and the Green party. Perhaps someone should set themselves up as a litter control party, or perhaps parties should include a litter policy in their manifestos. They will find a ready response in society to such policies.
An individual cannot control litter, but collectively we can begin to transform and change our society. At the next general election, it must be clearly seen that the Labour party has policies to deal with social problems. I hope that Conservative Members will act to undermine the nonsense that is being put about by their party. 1.28 pm
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : I am proud to represent the constituency of Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. Hackney has much of which to be proud--the energy and
self-organisation of the people and the extent to which many colours and creeds live happily together. Last weekend, the Hackney show, which is the equivalent of a village fair, took place on Hackney downs. It was a happy event, with the young and old, people of all colours and creeds, enjoying themselves in the sunshine. It showed the best of Hackney, but rubbish and litter are serious problems which are a blight on the borough.
I should like to outline what the Government should do. There are many specific rubbish problems in Hackney. Two famous markets, Petticoat lane and Ridley road, draw people from all over London. They are marvellous places to visit, but they generate a lot of rubbish. In common with the rest of London, Hackney has many problems because of commercial rubbish, especially from shops. Not all of the 10,000 shops in Hackney make sufficient arrangements to dispose of their rubbish and not all are willing to pay the council to take it away. Only 3,000 have a contract with the council to take rubbish away, so 7,000 shops are putting out their rubbish and, presumably, waiting for the fairies to take it away. The shops put their rubbish in black bags which are placed on the pavement. They burst or are mauled by dogs and the rubbish is scattered all over the pavement. There is a problem also because of irresponsible parents whose children drop their sweet papers, cigarette packs and crisp packets. We need to encourage a more responsible attitude among the old and the young, especially children, towards dropping litter.
Another problem is the menace of stray dogs and dogs that are not on a leash in public. Like many Opposition Members and some Conservative Members, I would support a dog registration scheme in line with the proposals of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That scheme would lead to a more responsible attitude by dog owners and reduce the number of dogs roaming the streets, thereby decreasing the amount of dog dirt on the pavements, which is a health risk as well as unsightly. It would reduce the number of strays that tear up the black plastic bags of rubbish. The efforts of planners have contributed to Hackney's rubbish problems. Like many other inner-city areas, Hackney has several estates laid out in such a way that they provide communal areas for which no one in
Column 657particular has responsibility. Whether they are patches of grass in the centre of estates, walkways or landings in tower blocks, they tend to collect rubbish. The old terraces may have been slums, but they had a certain spirit and people took responsibility for their front doorstep and bit of pavement. Soulless slab blocks as a result of soulless planning have replaced the slum terraces, and people do not take responsibility for the common areas, where rubbish collects.
The consumer society causes rubbish in Hackney, too. In the past decade we have seen the explosion in the consumption of take-away food--for example, hamburgers and kebabs--in their throw-away containers. They generate an enormous amount of rubbish in Hackney and all over Britain.
Rubbish is a serious problem in Hackney, for the reasons that I have outlined. At this time of the year, when the sun is shining and the blossom is on trees, the rubbish is a particular eyesore. In many ways, Hackney is a gay, vibrant and delightful place to be. Many people have written to me about the rubbish on the streets. Certain roads have terrible problems with rubbish, especially Gunton road, Shakespeare walk, Church walk and Stoke Newington high street. It is a blight and an eyesore which is making people angry.
Hackney council is well aware of people's feelings about rubbish and litter and it is doing all that it can. It is in the process of introducing some changes that it hopes may improve matters. It is trying to introduce night collections of rubbish as well as the ordinary day-time collections. Rubbish collectors will collect rubbish at night so, it is hoped, we shall wake up in the morning to a clean and sparkling borough. The council will be tougher with shopkeepers who do not make proper arrangements for the disposal of their rubbish and who are not prepared to enter into contracts with the council for disposal. The council is trying to raise the morale of its work force generally and to make the public aware of when rubbish is supposed to be collected, so if it is not collected at the correct time, the public have a number they can ring to compalin. The council is doing all that it can to deliver what the people of Hackney want, but the council cannot do everything by itself. It is fighting the trend in society, as I have said.
We face specific problems in the borough. Although all in the borough who are concerned about rubbish--of whom I am one--urge the council to continue with all it is doing and to try even harder in the future, there is no doubt that we must look to the Government eventually. What are they going to do about rubbish, litter and the environment in the inner cities, especially in boroughs such as Hackney? We do not want Britain to become like cities in America, such as New York, where the inner cities are no-go areas, sewers and dumps and the divide between the haves and have-nots becomes impossibly great? I am happy to live in a mixed community such as Hackney, and I want it to remain a mixed community where people are happy to live and to bring up their children side by side. What can the Government do? First and foremost, if the Government are serious about rubbish, litter and, above all, the environment, they must provide local authorities with the resources to deal with the problem. They must give the resources to provide enough street
Column 658sweepers, to employ enough dustmen, to buy the most up-to-date cleaning, sweeping and rubbish collecting equipment and to allow communal skips and special bins for shops to be made easily available. They must provide more resources so that boroughs such as Hackney can do all that they want in clearing up litter.
The Government must change their mind on the dog registration scheme. An effective system of dog registration would encourage dog owners to be more responsible and would do much to cure the problem of dogs roaming the streets. There would be less mess on pavements and fewer dogs tearing open black bags full of rubbish and scattering the contents on the streets. The Government should also consider whether we need harsher penalties for shopkeepers who do not take seriously their responsibility to dispose of rubbish. We need more resources for environmental health so that inspectors can go round to inspect shops.
Above all, we need a change in attitude by the Government. When we have a Government who despise the public sector, who say that anything done by the private sector is better simply by virtue of the fact that it is done by the private sector and who are determined to see the public sector wither away, services that can only be carried out collectively, such as keeping clean the streets of inner cities, are bound to suffer. A Government who despise the public sector will neglect the staff and starve the sector of money. We have seen the results in the environment of London, especially in the rubbish problem. It does no good for the Prime Minister to carry out publicity stunts and to be photographed picking up rubbish in the street. What is needed is a real commitment by the Government, and more resources for local authorities for their cleansing departments and environmental health departments. We also need to consider legislation on dogs, and on shop keepers in connection with what they do with their rubbish. We need to consider the penalties that can be enforced in dealing with people who drop litter. We need legislation, but also money. The Government must put money where their mouth is to tackle the problem of rubbish.
I am grateful to have been able to bring to the attention of the House the important issue of rubbish in Hackney, about which many thousands of my constituents are concerned. Rubbish is an environmental blight on a borough which otherwise has much to be proud of. We know that the council is doing its best, and we support it in that, but urge it to do even more, and we look to the Government to take the matter seriously. Despite what Conservative Members say the rubbish problem can best be solved by local councils and the Government, and cannot be dealt with by private enterprise. We have seen boroughs which have brought in private enterprise to collect bins and deal with rubbish, and the rubbish collection has almost collapsed.
My fellow Labour party Members and I take the matter extremely seriously. Conservative Members could be accused of hypocrisy because they never talk about making the resources and money available to enable councils such as Hackney to do the job. When I talk about the importance of solving the problem of litter, I know that I speak not only for many thousands of people in Hackney, many of whom have written to me, but for many millions of people in the country. If Conservative Members and the Minister do not believe me when I talk about the rubbish menace in
Column 659Hackney, the piles of litter in Stoke Newington high street and on Stamford hill street corners, and the problem facing the cleansing department, I invite the Minister and the Prime Minister to come to Hackney to visit the streets which I mentioned and the cleansing department, and to talk to the dustmen, street cleaners and, above all, local residents. If the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary were to come to Hackney and see the rubbish menace with their own eyes, instead of returning to their palatial houses in the salubrious suburbs, I believe that the money--and we need money--to deal with the rubbish in Hackney would be forthcoming the next day. The Government should put money where their mouth is to tackle the problem of rubbish in the environment.
Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : I too welcome the opportunity this morning to debate this important issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) was right when she said that the public rightly perceive this as a most important issue, not just for those living in Hackney. I listened most carefully and I hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will take up the invitation offered by my hon. Friend. I am sure that people all over the country would also wish to extend that invitation and I fear that the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary will have to make many visits if they are to obtain some grasp of the extent of the litter problem which exists throughout the streets of our towns and countryside.
The fact that for the past 10 years the Government have avoided taking any action to deal with this important issue other than, as we have heard so clearly this morning, cutting back on local authority expenditure, is an indication of the political priority which they give to the issue. I welcome the move made by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) to provide the Chamber with an opportunity to discuss this issue. I only wish that his example had been followed much earlier by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment.
During the debate we have heard much about head teachers, their role and the way in which they have set an example in schools. I pay tribute to my own head teacher whom I have not seen for 22 years, Mr. E. S. Kelly, who instilled in all his pupils the idea that it was wrong to drop litter. He told us that sweets were bad for our teeth, and he was right, but he also told us that we should never drop wrappers or rubbish in the street. He told us to put it in our pockets and take it away or to put it in the bin. He was such a good teacher that his words of wisdom have stayed with me and no doubt they will continue to do so.
I only wish that the Prime Minister had the same commitment to dealing with the problem. The Prime Minister should not lecture members of the public about picking up rubbish when she so contrived it that officials from the Department of the Environment dropped the rubbish that she picked up in the first place. Many people who are concerned about the environment know only too well how hollow the Prime Minister's calls for action are.
We have heard about the so-called shining example set by Westminster council which came to the House for powers to do something about litter. But Westminster had to take the initiative, just as this opportunity to discuss the subject has arisen on the initiative of a private Member.
Column 660We cannot deal with the matter in isolation or look at the example of one local authority, even if that authority is doing well, which I doubt. The Government should introduce well thought-out plans and strategies and provide the necessary resources to do something about the problem. I draw the attention of the House also to the grave problems in the City of Westminster ; so far from being concerned about the problem of rubbish, the council was not even charging traders for the disposal of commercial rubbish. That is an important omission.
For 10 years now, our towns and cities have played host to a consumer society in which it is all too easy to throw things away. I agree with what William Morris said--that one should look carefully at material objects and decide whether they are useful or beautiful. If they are neither, one should not create consumer demand for them. A great deal of work needs to be done and I have no doubt that consumers will start to vote with their feet and will not go out and buy unnecessary goods in unnecessary packaging. Consumers have an important part to play in conveying the message that much of what is produced is not necessary--that it is a waste of resources and a waste of the energy to produce it.
Given that there is a huge problem and that rubbish is strewn across our countrysides and roads, what have the Government done and what do they propose to do in future? I hope that the Minister will tell us what the Department's strategy is. It certainly has not had a strategy for the past 10 years. It is difficult to see what the Secretary of State for the Environment has done since the Prime Minister hauled him in following her visit to Israel back in 1986 to point out that beautiful Britain was beautiful no more because of the large amount of rubbish.
Consumers have responsibilities and, like schools and head teachers, could do much to improve matters, by changing their lifestyle. Unless that is backed by effective legislation, effective deterrents to the dropping of litter, properly resourced local authorities and the sort of initiatives already taken by Sheffield, the contributions of individuals will be lost in the sea of rubbish. I congratulate those hon. Members who have put the issue of litter and rubbish into the wider context, because no discussion can be effective without considering the need for waste minimisation, waste reduction and recycling.
It is important that the Minister tells us what the Government intend to do about recycling. What is the Government's position on the European directives relating to the recycling and re-use of glass containers? What discussions is the Minister having with her colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry? Why is there no concerted Government action? Why are any policies on recycling being lost between the bureaucracies of the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment? Despite the good example set by the Minister's own Department, why does not the Serjeant at Arms have any authority to provide recycled paper in the Palace of Westminster? That is the Government's responsibility. It is a nonsense that hon. Members are still sending out correspondence about recycling on non-recycled paper. If it is all right for the Department of the Environment to decide to use recycled paper, why is it not all right for the Palace of Westminster? Why are hon. Members suffering the long- standing penalty of having to write letters on non-recycled paper when they are trying to get some action on the issue? The Government have the
Column 661responsibility to direct and lead and their failure to do so is indicative of their lack of adequate policies during the past 10 years.
When the much-heralded green Bill finally appears before the House, what commitments will it contain on recycling? I hope that the Minister can tell us that today. The Department of the Environment published a Green Paper on the role of waste disposal authorities, but it contained nothing of significance on the issue of recycling. Following the earlier conclusion caused by the failure to distinguish clearly between waste and reclaimable materials when sections 12 to 14 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 were enacted, the worrying impression has been created that the importance of the role of recycling is not yet fully recognised by the Department of the Environment. We must be told whether, in the reorganisation of the waste disposal functions of local authorities, the importance of recycling will be recognised. Certainly no reference to that appears in the Green Paper. Why not? Will the Minister assure the House that she will include recycling.
Has the Minister any plans to impose a duty on local authorities to set up recycling facilities? Such an important function should not be left to market forces and introduced only if a profit can be made from it. The Opposition are concerned about the environment and we believe that the environmental costs of different policies are equally as important as the economic costs--which are so often the only costs taken into account in the Government's policies. Has the Minister any plans to license and regulate recycling facilities? What plans are there for each local authority to publish annual recycling plans? For the past 10 years, there has been a responsibility on waste disposal authorities to produce a strategic plan for dealing with waste management. Even after 10 years, some authorities have not produced those plans. It is doubly important that the Government should require each authority with responsibility for waste management to publish an annual recycling plan. Will the Minister allow any financial surplus from consumer-aided recycling schemes to be reapplied to the beneft of the local environment? If individuals are to do their bit to conserve resources, they need to know that they can reap the benefits.
The Minister should realise that any recycling policy will cost money. As we have heard many times today, local councils have been badly affected by rate-capping policies and prevented from initiating and even maintaining their varied range of services to deal with all aspects of waste, including litter and rubbish.
Salaries have been cut for people who clean and sweep the streets and empty rubbish bins, and their conditions of employment have worsened. There has also been a reduction in the provision of rubbish bins. We have seen the examples that were referred to by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who talked about getting people to pick up litter as punishment. There has been a growth of community schemes, funded by the Manpower Services Commission, doing work that should rightly have been done by local authorities on a regular daily, weekly and monthly basis. The result is that, even in the voluntary sector, the work of projects such as UK 2000, which have
Column 662important ideas to introduce, has been marginalised. It has been possible to do that work only on the cheap. We want the Government to give a commitment that they will make available to local councils the money that will enable them to take full advantage of important pilot projects such as UK 2000 under its present leadership.
It is important to know whether the Minister has any plans, when dealing with rubbish and litter in a co-ordinated way, to give planning authorities extra powers to require and provide resources for clearing derelict land-- to give derelict land a facelift--so that people can have a sense of pride in the community. Unless that is done, it will be difficult for individuals to recognise what they can achieve through their own actions if all they see around them is decay, neglect and dereliction as a result of cuts in local authority services.
Local councils provide bottle banks and opportunities for recycling and are the only ones who empty rubbish bins. They have many imaginative schemes for bulky household refuse collections, which prevents fly tipping on the streets, and for regular street cleaning. Local authorities also provide money for school education projects, and local councils should be encouraged to take the initiative of employing more officers to promote a dialogue with local industry so that partnership schemes might be introduced. They should also have greater scope to remove the abandoned cars that clutter our streets. All such services cost money, and often they are provided by the same councils that have been worst hit by 50 legislative changes made over the past 10 years, such as rate capping. I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking that money will be available for a wide range of projects.
The Department of the Environment together with other Departments should take the lead. Does the Minister have any plans to discuss with the Home Secretary the whole inadequacy of current legislation relating to litter? Reference has been made to prosecutions and I have a table showing prosecutions ranging from 296 in Cumbria to a mere nine in Cambridgeshire. However, it does not show that in some areas there were no prosecutions whatsover. Comments by Graham Ashworth of the Keep Britain Tidy Group show only too clearly that the Litter Act 1983 is not working. Why has section 4 never been enacted, and what proposals do the Government have to update that legislation so that fines and penalties will serve as an effective deterrent, or be incorporated into the green Bill--not just as an isolated piece of legislation such as the Control of Litter (Fines) Bill of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), but as part of an overall and concerted approach to the problems of litter and rubbish?
Other issues to be addressed include the need for higher standards of transport. The Minister for Roads and Traffic produced £1 million to improve trunk roads, but at the same time reduced cleansing standards. What is the use of coming up with a little money once a year when councils no longer have the resources every day of the year? We heard from the Home Secretary the role that litter played in the tragic Bradford stadium fire. What laws exist to control litter in places such as football stadiums? The answer is that they are not covered by existing legislation.
Mention has been made in the debate of fly tipping, but the Government have made no proposals for introducing a remedy. It was left to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) to introduce
Column 663legislation for dealing with that offence-- but I congratulate the Minister on ensuring that both part I and part II will reach the statute book regardless of the views of her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
For the past 10 years, Government policy on litter has been non-existent. The Prime Minister pays lip service to the need to clean up our dirty streets, towns, parks and countryside. But lip service is all that there has been. There is no place in the debate for lip service and double standards, but there is a place for concerted and co-ordinated action by the Government. The public will not follow the example set out by Ministers who drop litter in this Chamber, or by a Prime Minister who instructs that rubbish should be dropped in St. James's park so that she may make a hollow political point. The Prime Minister's hypocritical action in instructing Department of the Environment officials to drop rubbish so that she could be publicly seen to pick it up was not lost on the environmentally conscious public.
People in towns, in rural areas and in the countryside generally want to be able to take pride in their communities. They want to play their part. They want their councils to take a lead, and they want those councils to have the resources. They want properly funded cleansing services ; they do not want gimmicks. They want more than £3 million to be spent on the initiatives that the voluntary sector has introduced. They want to be involved in all that is going on, and they want a commitment to waste reduction and recycling.
People desperately want the green Bill to take the wider issues on board, and, rightly, they fear that under the present Government it will be based entirely on subservience to market forces. They want the existing legislation to be updated so that it is a real deterrent and dropping litter a real offence. After last week, they know that only a Labour Government can to that. Those of us who are genuinely concerned know that "bagging and binning it" will not change anything. Conservative Members may laugh, but their day of reckoning will come, and on the record of the past 10 years their policies will win nothing.
Local authorities need power and resources. As has been said, litter is a public health problem, and the Institution of Environmental Health Officers is rightly concerned about it. More than anything else, it is an indication of the extent to which we have become a throw-away society. The public pressure to clean up our towns and cities is there. Real action is needed. So far we have had only lip service, and I hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will give us a firmer commitment today.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : I join others in warmly congratulating mhon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on his initiative in raising a subject that is of crucial importance to all hon. Members and, I believe, to all members of the public.
The Government are determined to take decisive action to deal with the problem. We have had a strong lead from the Prime Minister, who, long before other green campaigners jumped on to the bandwagon, made it
Column 664abundantly clear that it was time to wage war on litter and to see action--and that is what the Government intend to do.
The contributions to today's debate have been noticeably constructive, realistic and practical, and have shown considerable knowledge of a complex and detailed subject. Litter relates to waste disposal, refuse collection and street-cleansing systems, and has strong implications for householders, business operators and individual citizens. It is of course important that our proposals take account of the way in which litter abatement can be properly effected in that wider context, and, as is generally known, we shall be introducing an environment protection Bill at the earliest opportunity. The Bill will update waste disposal regulations. We want the waste operation authorities to discharge their responsibilities properly, and we want waste to be dealt with properly from its origin to its disposal. We shall also make provision for longer-term disposal.
Litter is not a trivial subject but one of great importance to us all, and it plays its part in the many other environmental concerns with which the Government have rightly dealt. We have a proud record in giving a lead on a range of subjects. Deservedly, the Government and the Prime Minister have received much credit for the "saving the ozone layer" conference, for the moves towards establishing a framework convention on climate change and for doing so much to tackle the problem of acid rain, to clean up our rivers and to ensure that throughout the spectrum--at global, national, regional and individual levels--we are taking all the proper steps to improve our environment and to ensure that Britain is a beautiful country in which we can justly take pride.
Conservative Members believe that remarkable achievements have taken place in the bid to restore Britain's place in the world. We are committed to ensuring that we can show the same lead on the environmental front, and nothing prompts more concern than the offensive, unsighly and needless phenomenon of litter. We are not prepared to put up with dirty streets and squalid housing estates, or with our beautiful buildings and lovely countryside being despoiled by people's discarded refuse. That is why we so welcome the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford which identifies so many of these important subjects.
The green consumer is on the warpath. He is demanding that businesses put their house in order. Many hon. Members have referred to packaging. Businesses have already begun to respond to consumer demand by reducing the amount of packaging. Similarly, manufactuers responded to the need to remove chlorofluorocarbons from their products as soon as they realised that that was rightly and properly being demanded.
Many years ago the litter lout was seen for what he was and for what he should again be seen to be : an offensive individual who ought to be ashamed of committing such an offence. I shall say more about the powers that we hope will strengthen the litter laws. We are committed to a programme of Government action, but it must go hand in hand with a profound change of attitude.
There have been many examples in recent years of changes in attitude. Smoking is one example ; the wearing of seat belts is another. During the last 10 years people's attitudes towards the wearing of seat belts have changed completely. Moreover, to give credit to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the
Column 665Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), I ought to point out that the enforcement of the law on drinking and driving has led to a profound change in people's behaviour. We are determined that people's attitude towards litter should also change profoundly.
Many hon. Members have given examples of how people have responded to the need to clean up litter. My hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) mentioned Raymond Watkins. There are people like Raymond Watkins throughout the country who are busily and eagerly playing their part in the war against litter. A co-ordinated and comprehensive strategy must be worked out.
Mention has been made of the excellent steps that have been taken by Westminster city council, which has to deal with particular problems. There are only 180,000 residents, but there is a daily commuter population of 750,000 and there are about 23 million tourists a year, about 9 million of whom come from overseas. I spent a day with the Westminster group that deals with street cleaning and refuse collecting. It has a professional and profoundly dedicated approach to ensuring that the job is properly done. There are 8,500 litter bins, with 450 in Oxford street alone. It is no use Opposition Members saying that it is just a question of Government resources being needed. Many of the bins have been provided by sponsors. The group has been working with, not against the grain and has persuaded the fast food operators to come on to its side. The business community now realises that it is in its own best interests to ensure that the consumer can shop in good surroundings and not be surrounded by debris.
Westminster city council has adopted new technology and innovative methods. It has also used appropriate and helpful publicity and implemented the experimental fixed penalty scheme.
My hon. Friend the member for Basildon (Mr. Amess)--the "I love Basildon" supporter--referred again to the work that is being done in his area. Croydon's achievements are also magnificent. The Cleaner Chelmsford committee to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford referred is another example. It works best when there is a partnership between local residents, the business community, the local authority and schools--all those who, rightly and properly, have an interest in the matter.
Only yesterday I was in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and was told about Hendon's scheme. Local residents do not say that they want a nuclear-free zone and all the other cheap Opposition gimmicks. Instead they want a litter-free zone. In Hampstead garden suburb individual residents have taken over responsibility for the stretch of road outside their house. The organiser, Peter Loyd, has taken time and trouble to ensure that the task is done and that people feel involved and committed. There are similar schemes throughout the country, such as Spring Clean Day, organised by the Civic Trust and the Tidy Britain Group.
There have been a multiplicity of projects raising public awareness because so often people litter without being aware of it. Those projects are bringing people together and making sure that local authorities are playing their full
Column 666part. I pay special tribute to the wife of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) who is turning Cookham into a green village, the group at Chalfont St. Peter and many others throughout the country.
Businesses are also facing their responsibilities. There is more to be done. Many hon. Members have referred to the paper from cash dispensers and there are other specific problems. We shall look for ways of tackling them all.
At the root of the solution is a fundamental change in attitudes. Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) and my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and for Chelmsford have referred to the importance of educating youngsters and working in schools. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science has recently raised the subject with local education authorities.
Children are not natural litterers. All too often they learn the habit from their parents. We must mobilise them as our advocates and ambassadors. Many people have told me that they changed to using unleaded petrol because of the persuasive powers of their children. Youngsters can do a great deal about litter and we shall encourage schools to work with us. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford referred to the importance of education and example and that should not be overlooked.
However, we have to look at the carrot and the stick, so we must consider enforcement which has been mentioned by many hon. Members. Littering is a crime. Under the Litter Act 1983 it is an offence which currently attracts a fine of up to £400. Hon. Members have referred to the variability of prosecution. Although the maximum fine is £400, the average is between £32 and £35. We are concerned about that. Some groups have already taken steps to make sure that magistrates realise that littering is often the first step in the general decay of an area--delinquency, vandalism and petty crime--and should be recognised as serious in terms of punishment and in every other way.
Points have been raised about the absolute offence. There are difficulties because it is a general principle that simple actions should not in themselves be an offence unless accompanied by an indication of intent. In the Westminster fixed penalty scheme the litter wardens and others first advised the individual to pick up the piece of litter, before issuing a fixed penalty. It is important that enforcement works with some persuasion. We want to clean up Britain and clean up our streets.
We are looking very carefully at the Westminster scheme. Many other local authorities have asked for similar powers. In many ways it seems to have worked effectively and has been a useful tool for the local authority in enabling it to fulfil its responsibilities. In his private Member's Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford suggested that other local authorities should be able to adopt similar schemes. Unfortunately, his Bill has not made progress, but it may be that before long he will receive some encouragement on that part of it.
We have mentioned many examples of forward-looking and imaginative local authorities. But we have to accept that other local authorities have singularly failed in their responsibilities to clean streets regularly, effectively and efficiently. They are not giving the citizens the service that they want. Too often people see dirty streets when they want cleans ones. People want clean streets and