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14 Jan 2003 : Column 551—continued

Mr. Speaker: I noted the comment that the Foreign Secretary made, and I certainly will hold him to that comment.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): Really?

Mr. Speaker: Yes, I will.

I understand the concerns of hon. Members. Tomorrow we have Prime Minister's Question Time, and these are matters that can be put before the Prime Minister, who is accountable. There is also a debate on defence next week, when hon. Members like the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) can apply to speak. These are opportunities that can be taken. There is nothing to stop hon. Members applying for an Adjournment debate, when they can raise their concerns and a Minister has to come before the House and be accountable.

What I am saying to the hon. Lady and other hon. Members is that I understand their concerns and that there are many ways in which Ministers can be brought before the House.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On matters of peace and war, is it really sufficient to say that there can be Adjournment debates, either half an hour at the end of business in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall? Surely the importance of this issue supersedes Adjournment debates. Although there is a debate next week, it would be much more authoritative if the motion were amendable.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me answer.

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The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is inviting me to express an opinion. I am not entitled to express an opinion; the rules of the House are quite clear on this matter. The hon. Gentleman can approach Ministers, put pressure on various Ministers and express the concern that he expresses here in the Chamber.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): On another point of order, which I think is related, Mr. Speaker.

The House understands the restrictions that are put on you. They are traditional and quite clear. However, there is a very important point about what happened yesterday, in that a very serious statement was made, but not to the House of Commons. I think it is a matter not only for you, Mr. Speaker, but for all of us, that perhaps my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other Ministers should be reminded that in matters of very serious content it is preferable that such statements should be made here, where Ministers can be questioned.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady is quite right—anything new should be brought before the House. Did the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) wish to make a point of order?

Mr. Stunell: Yes, Mr. Speaker, thank you. I wanted to reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and ask you, Mr. Speaker, to use your good offices to ensure that the House has an opportunity to vote for or against action before it is taken and not simply for it to be a mater for an Adjournment debate—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is for the Government to decide the shape of motions put before the House, not the Speaker. However, I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he is one of the usual channels, and has perhaps better input than I do in the matter that he has raised.


Railways And Transport Safety

Mr. Secretary Darling, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mr. Secretary Hain, Mr. Secretary Smith, Mrs. Secretary Liddell, Mr. John Spellar and Mr. David Jamieson presented a Bill to make provision about railways, including tramways; to make provision about transport safety; and for connected purposes: 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 40].

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14 Jan 2003 : Column 553

Litter and Fouling of Land by Dogs

12.50 pm

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): I beg to move,

Aficionados of ten-minute Bills may feel a sense of déjà vu today, as they will remember that I introduced the same Bill in Nov 2001 in the previous Session of Parliament. Unfortunately, it met the fate of most such Bills. Those who take a special interest in seriously late Adjournment debates may remember a debate that I initiated at 5 o'clock in the morning in May 1999, when I first put forward the essential idea behind the Bill that I have introduced today—how we can enforce our litter and dog fouling laws, giving councils the means to do so by making the polluter pay.

Although 1999 may seem a long time ago, a good idea is worth pursuing. If at first we do not succeed, it is worth the long march when the prize is a road to march on that is free of litter and where we do not have to watch our step, if I can put it that way. However, it is now clear that we are close to success. I will not repeat all the arguments today, save to emphasise that litter, including dog fouling, is pollution. It is the most common and widespread form of pollution, perhaps so common that people often do not think of it as pollution. The cause is very simple—people drop it or permit their dogs to drop it through laziness, thoughtlessness, carelessness or plain loutishness. Visually, it spoils both the natural and the built environment. Litter is also a health risk; dog faeces even more so.

Litter pollution has a simple solution. It does not take an earth summit, an EU directive, complex technology, a climate change levy or even congestion charging to tackle it—just do not drop it. That is already recognised in law, as it is illegal to drop litter and dog dirt, but the statute book itself is littered with legislation that either is not used or is ineffectual. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 placed statutory duties on councils and introduced fixed penalty fines, which were doubled to #50 last year by the Government. The Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 put dog fouling on the same basis as litter. Yet as we know only too well, our streets and open spaces are nowhere near clean because the law is simply not being enforced. There are only a few hundred prosecutions a year in magistrates courts. Fewer than 3,000 fixed penalty notices for litter and fewer than 2,000 for dog fouling are handed out annually in the whole country. In my county of Suffolk, for instance, there seems to be only five or six convictions a year, and in my own district of Waveney I can find no recent record of prosecution or fixed penalties for litter, with just one recorded fixed penalty for dog fouling since the Act came into force.

Instead, the culture in this country is that people drop litter, we wade around in it, pay enormous amounts of money—#450 million a year—in taxes to clear it up, then moan that councils do not get it all cleared up properly. By any standard, that is a waste of money and human effort. We must make the polluter—the litter lout—pay, but councils must have the means to enforce

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that. About 50 councils out of 450 employ any litter wardens at all, and they only employ two or three people each. Most councils have only one or two dog wardens—it looks like some kind of XDad's Army" is trying to tackle the 1,000 tonnes of dog faeces dropped daily by Britain's 5.4 million dog-owning households.

As the law stands, all revenue from fixed penalty fines has to be returned to central Government. That sum currently amounts to just #70,000 a year, which is a measure of how little enforcement is going on. The essential measure in my Bill requiring councils to keep fines would incentivise them, as it would require them to enforce the law of the land and give them the means to do so. I put that idea to the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's questions last March, and he gave his support to the principle. Since then, the proposal has been piloted in 13 local authorities under public service agreements. My office conducted a survey to find out what has happened. There have been some real successes, particularly in Newcastle, where the number of fixed penalty notices increased from none in 2001 to 309 to the beginning of December 2002. Similarly, in Wigan the number has increased from none to 221.

These are still early days, but it is clear that where the local authority has the will, the system works. Newcastle publishes the names of people issued with fixed penalty notices in the local newspaper, which adds to the effectiveness of the new system. So why not change the law and roll out the new approach to litter across the whole country? I was delighted to see clause 116 tucked in at the end of the Local Government Bill, which was given a Second Reading in the House last Tuesday, as it includes the essence of my Bill. Presumably, we can look forward to the provision becoming law. However, there are two reasons why my Bill should still be reintroduced. Clause 116 of the Local Government Bill leaves the retention of fixed penalty fines to councils' discretion—it does not require them to do so. As the explanatory notes to the Bill make clear, the revenue from fines does not have to be spent exclusively on enforcement of litter and dog-fouling laws. They state that

I want to make two key points. First, I mentioned my survey of pilot authorities, and cited the successes. But there is another side to the story. Some pilot councils had done nothing, and some had made only a feeble attempt, even though they had volunteered for the scheme and had signed up to public service agreements. There is a lesson to be learned—unless councils are required to operate in the new way, we will not make the progress that we should in bearing down on litter louts and dog foulers. We have had enough postcode lotteries with NHS prescriptions and the like—we do not want postcode litter enforcement.

Secondly, the new revenue stream must be spent on enforcement, because it works. The money from the fines should certainly not be spent on services unrelated to litter, but even in the services that deal with it we must focus sharply on enforcement of the laws and not dodge the issue. We have had anti-litter campaigns for years—they do not work. As someone who was a teacher for 25 years, I can say that when it comes to litter, education does not work. Some of the most littered places I have seen are school playgrounds. Sadly,

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although many young people are concerned about holes in the ozone layer and saving whales, they drop litter like confetti.

Then there is the old Xno bin" excuse—XI had to drop it because there was no bin." But there is always one's own pocket or a bag. There are more bins in this country than ever before, but litter is still on the streets. I do not want money from fines to be spent on education campaigns and bins—I want it to be spent on enforcement, otherwise we will not change the culture that I described of dropping litter, then paying to have it cleared up. What will change the culture more than anything else, as with other crime, is people knowing that they are likely to get caught. The more litter wardens we have, the greater that chance.

The public want this measure. We all know from our doorstep work and our surgeries that people are concerned about such issues. When I introduced my previous Bill, Meridian Television carried out a telephone poll and received its biggest response ever, with 97 per cent. in favour of the proposal. It fits in with the Government's agenda, set out in the Queen's Speech, of tackling antisocial behaviour and improving the quality of everyday life in local communities. I hope that my Bill can play its part in that agenda and encourage the Government further to develop in Committee the essential provision in their Local Government Bill. I can tell the House that the Minister for Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael), has already offered me a meeting—outcomes will be important.

The prize is great—cleaner streets, parks and open spaces, and a cleaner countryside—and making the polluter pay costs the Government and the taxpayer nothing.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bob Blizzard, Andy Burnham, Michael Fabricant, Mr. Doug Henderson, Mr. David Lepper, Siobhain McDonagh, Mr. Alan Meale, Lawrie Quinn, Jonathan Shaw and Mr. Neil Turner.

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