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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), answered Question 30 by referring me to a previous answer, given some time ago. It may not have been out of order, but do you think it proper that she should do that in answer to an oral question, without at least informing me that she was going to do so, thus preventing me from looking up the answer to which she referred?

Mr. Speaker: As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I have no responsibility for the content of ministerial answers. None the less, it is helpful to the free flow of Question Time if an answer is readily understandable by all Members seeking to take part in the exchanges. I will look into the issue raised and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter that I raised with you on a point of order yesterday--my inability to find out from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the circumstances in which a landfill site in my constituency was to be used to bury carcases. It is now some five days since I wrote to the Minister asking him to tell me what was going on. I have tried writing to him, e-mailing him and sending him post in the normal way. Even though you have never been contaminated by service in government, can you give Back Benchers some guidance on what to do when Ministers simply will not answer letters?

Mr. Speaker: Like the hon. Gentleman, I used to be a Back Bencher, and all I can say is that he must keep pestering the Minister.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is grave anxiety in my constituency about the proposals on whether to vaccinate. Have you had any indication from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--or, indeed, from the Prime Minister--on whether they intend to make a statement, given that we were told before last weekend that the Government would take a decision on that very serious issue in the next few days? We have reached that

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point; my constituents are waiting; and there is deep anxiety about the uncertainty and lack of clarity on this difficult issue.

Mr. Speaker: I can understand the hon. Gentleman's problem, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had any notice of a Minister in the Department of Health coming to the House to give Members information on food safety? You will remember that the previous Government were criticised in the reports on BSE for dealing with food safety in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, so food safety was transferred to the Department of Health, which now deals with it; yet in all this crisis, not a single Health Minister has made a statement on food safety issues--which, of course, affect everyone--if only to reassure hon. Members that there is no such problem with foot and mouth.

Mr. Speaker: I am sure that Health Ministers will take note of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you been asked whether a statement could be made by one of the Ministers in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions about the grant of £1.2 billion to Railtrack? The company has immediately said that it is not enough, but the House of Commons should at least have some idea of what is being proposed.

Mr. Speaker: No application to make a statement has been received.



Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mr. Secretary Reid and Mr. Mike O'Brien, presented a Bill to postpone local elections in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, to require polls for different elections in Northern Ireland to be taken together if they are to be taken on the same day, and to make consequential provision: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 80].

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3 Apr 2001 : Column 185

Graffiti (Control)

3.35 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I beg to move,

This Bill follows a debate that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) a year ago, when he was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). There is tremendous concern about the amount of graffiti in our constituencies; the problem is causing great distress. Graffiti is a form of vandalism to public and private property and it gives the streets an air of desolation and threat, which is frightening, in particular, to the older people who frequently write to us about the problem. The younger people who perpetrate the crime endanger themselves on many occasions by going into railway stations and on to live railway lines in the middle of the night. People have been seriously injured as a result.

Some people argue that graffiti is an art form, and I would accept that some graffiti is. I am well aware that people carry out university dissertations on the subject and, in secret parts of my constituency that only young people can reach, there are some brilliant examples of graffiti art. They are much admired and even photographed.

Most graffiti, however, is just a messy scribble that bears as much relation to art--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. May we have some order in the Chamber? The hon. Lady is entitled to speak to her motion.

Dr. Tonge: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The sort of graffiti that I have described bears as much relation to art as a sheep pickled in formaldehyde. There are scribbles all over our cities--likewise the so-called tags. Tags are the signatures of graffiti artists who go round their neighbourhoods marking out their property rather in the way that dogs pee against lamp-posts. It is a disgusting habit.

In Richmond upon Thames alone, £150,000 was spent in the past year on trying to remove graffiti, but we all know that it is a losing battle. London local authorities combined have spent £10 million in the past year removing graffiti from public places and many private homes--and what a waste of public money that is. How many better classrooms, how many teachers and how much care for the elderly could £10 million provide?

Some 20 per cent. of criminal damage against property each year is graffiti damage, and 900,000 offences in 1999 in the London area were graffiti offences. An officer working in my borough, Inspector Mark Jones, does undercover work to try to catch graffiti artists, and there has been a lot of success recently. Two weeks ago, six graffiti artists were caught red handed--although I do not know what colour the paint was. Inspector Jones has told me that the police would like greater powers to apprehend and search the young people involved. The police know

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perfectly well where they are going and what they are going to do, but young people just walk away laughing because they know that the police have no powers.

Community service orders in Richmond upon Thames require graffiti merchants to clean graffiti off walls and buildings. That is an eminently sensible punishment. The problems of the health and safety regulations which used to stand in the way have been overcome. The Bill requires people who are subject to community service orders for graffiti offences to undertake the removal of graffiti in their area. The punishment must fit the crime. However, the whole process is a waste of money for local authorities that are strapped for cash, and a waste of police time for a police force short on personnel. We are attempting to stop the problem at source and have pressed the Government for some time by calling for a ban on the sale of spray paints to minors.

In response to parliamentary questions, the Government insist:

What legitimate reason might a young person of 15 or 16 have? If he requires spray paint for art at school, surely that can be purchased with a note from the lecturer or teacher, or his parents can get it. Would it limit young people's freedom so much if they were unable to buy it? Supermarkets and do-it-yourself outlets in my area sell spray paint and I have been told that it is sometimes possible to buy five or six cans for a pound. That is ridiculous. In addition, spray paint does not have to be bought: it is easily stolen. It is often on low shelves and can be scooped into a rucksack before the young person goes off on that night's activities.

The Government also refer to the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 which makes it an offence to sell a substance to a minor knowing that it or its fumes are likely to be inhaled for intoxication. There is evidence that the fumes of spray paint are intoxicating and that young people get a high from them. Why are there no prosecutions under the 1985 Act? Why are there no test cases? We never hear of anyone being taken to court for selling those substances to young people. Preventing or trying to prevent the sale of spray paint to minors is a practical step that we can take.

I implore the Government to take our Bill seriously so that we try to stop the vandalism and waste of public funds that are expended on it. I urge them to support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Jenny Tonge, Dr. Vincent Cable, Mr. Edward Davey, Mr. Paul Burstow and Mr. Tom Brake.

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