Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
TUESDAY 25 MARCH 2003
AINSWORTH MP AND
60. If I can move on to graffiti and litter.
I am going to ask a question which sounds almost too simplistic
but it is really to explore the feasibility. Why not ban the sale
of spray-paints outright except to individuals who need them for
specific and proven purposes?
(Mr Ainsworth) There are many uses for spray-paints
and I do not think we would feel that a total ban on spray-paints
to include adults as well was proportionate to the problem that
we had. Although it is a very significant problem, spray-paints
are one of the most commonly-used tools in the kind of graffiti
that we are all trying to clamp down on. It is just the proportionality
of it, I think.
61. I thought you would say that. Did you look
at doing it that way?
(Mr Ainsworth) Having taken responsibility for the
Bill last week, I could not really say. Did we look at it?
(Ms Casey) The Government published their Living
Places, Powers, Rights and Responsibilities in October. They
looked at all these things. I think the main thrust for us in
anti-social behaviour is that it is our job to tackle the abuses,
not necessarily the uses of lots of things. So, for us, it is,
who is abusing the use of spray-paint and who is abusing, something
you were talking about earlier, fireworks, guns and firearms?
It is for us to tackle the abuse and not necessarily to wade in
and say that we are stopping this. That is why we are interested
in this particular aspect because we know the people who abuse
it, we know what we therefore want to do about it and we are therefore
putting a measure in place to try and sort it out.
62. Can we move from spray-paint to litter.
What about sanctions against local authorities who fail in their
duty to tackle litter, specifically inner cities and, for that
matter, along the verges? What about other countries, many of
which do not seem to have this problem? How do they tackle it?
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not know what we looked at in
terms of other jurisdictions.
63. Did you take a look at Singapore?
(Ms Casey) I too have come relatively early to this.
DEFRA have looked very thoroughly and they have produced a very
comprehensive document and they are consulting and the consultation
finished relatively recently. Our view is that, on the whole,
local authorities around the country are fairly inspected, fairly
audited and there are lots of mechanisms in place to see whether
they are doing a good job or not and actually, at the end of the
day, people vote for their local councillors as to whether they
think they are doing a good or bad job. They look at what is happening
on their streets in terms of litter and they make up their minds
whether the local authorities are doing a good or a bad job. At
the moment, local authorities are actually clamouring to have
more powers and to be able to issue more FPNs to tackle not only
littering and dog-fouling but other issues such as vandalism,
fly-posting and graffiti. They want these powers and they want
to be able to do more in respect of these things. So, it is not
as if they are sitting there saying, "We must leave it all
because we cannot do anything about it", they actually want
to do more.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think that we have to give them an
effective suite of powers before we can start criticising them
for not using them.
64. Nevertheless, where a local authority fails
in its duty, what about sanctions? That is the question. You can
tell me that they have all the goodwill in the world and that
everybody has a remedy and a valid one, but that does not quite
answer the question.
(Mr Ainsworth) Having listened to local authorities
about what the barriers are to taking effective measures in this
area and having tried to provide them with the tools to take those
effective measures, that is something that maybe we would want
to look at some time in the future if we saw a situation where
there was no interest in dealing with the problem, but that is
not our analysis of it at the moment. Our analysis of it at the
moment is that we are not giving local authorities the effective
tools to deal with litter and that is what we are trying to do.
65. Do you know why the British are so dirty
when it comes to litter?
(Mr Ainsworth) I think it is an attitude that builds
up accumulatively over a period of time. If a neighbourhood is
clean, if its graffiti-free and if it is litter-free, then people
tend to have respect for it and we do not see people doing the
kind of things we are talking about. If you are the only one who
is paying any respect for the local area or if it is completely
strewn with rubbish and no one else appears to be the slightest
bit bothered and if there is graffiti everywhere, then that undermines
the values that we need in order for other people to comply with
good behaviour. So, we have to get from where we are to where
we want to be and where some people would say that we were some
66. Can we now come to fly-tipping. You want
to transfer the authority for dealing with it from the Environment
Agency to local authorities. Why will they be more effective?
Is the level of fines sufficient? Is not the very nature of fly-tipping
the fact that people do not actually do it either in the view
of the local authority or the Environment Agency? Typically, a
farmer will come down in the morning and find that somebody has
tipped a whole lot of stuff by one of his gates overnight. That
is how it is done. What is going to be the virtueand I
am not opposed to it, I just want to explore your thinkingof
moving responsibility to local authorities and are they not also
sometimes themselves responsible for fly-tipping because of the
huge restrictions they put on for the use of municipal rubbish
dumps such as height entry, for example?
(Mr Ainsworth) My understanding is that we are not
seeking to transfer it; we are seeking to give them the same powers,
and we are seeking to involve local authorities to give them the
same ability to investigate fly-tipping and take action against
it. It is a real nuisance. Local authorities do want to be involved
in dealing with this problem. I see no reason in trying to engage
and involve them. I think that will only strengthen our ability
to deal with the problem. In terms of height restrictions and
the rest, I am not at all sure. The problem I have come across
is the attempt to distinguish between the commercial tipping and
the private. They are looking to do that where they believe people
ought to be paying for what is a business activity. There are
businesses that then behave badly and abuse the environment by
dumping their rubbish, but the local authorities are seeking to
provide free facilities for members of the community and not necessarily
free facilities in support of businesses.
67. Until Kent changed their rules it was the
same with us. People are seeking to dump huge amounts of refuge
either in Land Rovers or people carriers, or some vehicle of that
sort, and find that height restrictions which are supposed to
discourage small vans actually hit ordinary domestic users. So
what do they do? The very responsible will pay to have it taken
away and the others will find somewhere to tip it.
(Mr Ainsworth) Absolutely.
68. Fixed Penalty Noticeswill they be
applied to fly-tipping?
(Mr Ainsworth) Why not? Why only the power to go to
court with all of the rigmarole? Where it is appropriate, let
us give people a good instant remedy.
(Ms Casey) On fly-tipping we are considering whether
local authorities want or will get the fly-tipping Fixed Penalty
Notice. The Local Government Association in particular have pushed
very, very hard to have the same power as the Environment Agency
in order to go for low level small scale fly-tipping. The LGA
lobbied us quite hard to include that in here, rather than wait
for the outcome of all the other livability stuff.
69. Alongside the penalties for fly-tipping,
will there be any endeavour to improve the clearing up, particularly
where there is dumping on private land? There is sometimes quite
a tussle between, typically, a farmer, although it can be some
other owner, and the local council as to who is responsible for
a completely illegal dump that can sometimes take place on an
(Mr Ainsworth) We are giving local authorities the
power, where it is necessary, to clean up private land and to
charge the landowner.
70. The landowner?
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes.
71. Bad luck on him!
(Mr Ainsworth) There are circumstances where there
are pieces of private land which are a total and absolute tip
over a long, long period of time and there is no commitment from
the landowner to clear it.
(Ms Casey) I should not have moved so fast over the
Living Places consultation document that came out in October.
It is huge and massive, and obviously we had to pull out of that
some particular issues that are related to anti-social behaviourhence
they are in the White Paper, and some of those measures will be
in the Bill. There is much broader consideration given to all
those sorts of issues, including the very nutty one of fly-tipping,
about which there is quite a large consultation going on; and
I do not think we should preempt the outcome of some of that.
I wanted to get certain things in this Bill and in this White
Paper which are actually tackling the abuses; but Living Places
is where a lot of that debate is happening at the moment.
72. Firstly, Minister, could I say that if you
did want to apply a Singapore-style solution to litter and chewing
gum in Sandwell you would have the full support of the citizens
of West Bromwichwell, 99.9%! Could I take you on to begging.
You will not be surprised to know we have had quite a few submissions
from homeless charities on this. They have said to us that, given
the strong correlation between homelessness and drug and alcohol
addiction in particular, there seems little point in further criminalising
homeless people. What would you have to say about that?
(Mr Ainsworth) It is precisely because of that that
we are taking the measures we are seeking to take in the Bill.
What do we do at the moment? We have had all this press speculation
about the fact that we are criminalising begging. Begging is already
a criminal offence. What sanctions are there for people? We fine
them. That sounds particularly unproductive to me. We can have
a clampdown in a particular area and what do we do? We move those
people to another area; and the only sanction there is to take
them to the court and seek to fine them for money they have not
got; or if they have got it they get rid of it in the overwhelming
majority of cases. What we are proposing to do is to make begging
a recordable offence so that we can keep track of the system of
begging; and, where persistent begging is taking place, we can
have effective interventions to actually help people. There are
some incredible figures in this areaand I am not talking
about alcohol86% of begging is drug-related according to
the information I have got. That is an astonishing figure. Unless
we have got it as a recordable offence how can we track those
people who have that problem; how can we put into place an effective
sentencing regime that gets them the treatment and the help they
need? We certainly do not do it under the current regime to anything
like the extent that we ought to. We are at one with the people
who are saying, "Yes, this needs to be dealt with and the
underlying causes need to be dealt with", but the legal framework
needs to be there and needs to be made available in order to allow
us to get at those underlying causes.
73. The Chief Executive of Crisis was extremely
concerned about the number of available places for people to take
drug treatment. To what extent are you convinced that those places
will be available immediately the courts have intervened?
(Mr Ainsworth) I cannot tell you that they are there
now; but what I can tell you is what I have told lots and lots
of people over a period of time, that we are growing the treatment
capacity in this country as fast as we possibly can. It is not
just a case of throwing money at it. There is a lot of money in
the updated drugs strategy, and there is a lot of money in the
treatment segment of the updated drugs strategy. We need today
the quality and quantity of people; we need manpower. We are growing
the treatment sector. We are seeking substantial decreases in
waiting times for access to treatment. Yes, sadly, there is still
the odd horror story knocking around where people are waiting
for treatment for appallingly long periods of time, and that is
always going to be so. There is always going to be the odd instance
where people slip through where the provision simply is not there.
There is a very substantial growth in treatment going onabout
8% a year. We are driving down those waiting times but we need
the criminal justice interventions in order to encourage people
to engage with that treatment as well. That is not only beggars,
that is other people too; where we are seeking to use the criminal
justice system to get people into treatment, yes, to coerce people
into treatment; and this is just another aspect of it.
74. You would not foresee a situation where
those chaotic drug userswho are homeless and then end up
having been recorded for their offences of homelessness or aggressive
begginggo through all that system and are then left without
a treatment place available. Will they be fast-tracked in some
(Mr Ainsworth) The treatment has got to be there.
What we do not want to do is to totally distort the treatment
so that the only way you get treatment is by committing a offence.
We need access through the criminal justice system into effective
treatment, where we have got DTTOs (at the top level) as an alternative
to prison. If people are prepared to engage with drug-testing
and treatment orders then magistrates are able to put them into
such a regime, monitor them, check on any breaches that they have,
and go back to the original custodial sentence if they think it
is appropriate if there is a breach. We are looking to bring in
a lower level of DTTO, a community sentence that gives sentencers
the ability to give people access to treatment as their punishment
effectively, and monitor their engagement with treatment as part
of that. Yes, it is absolutely essential that be provided.
75. At the end of the meeting I hope somebody
tells me what does happen in Singapore. Minister, I understand
that if a family is evicted because of anti-social behaviour it
can be regarded as intentionally homeless, and the local authority
does not then have a duty to rehouse them. Given that most of
these families will be highly dysfunctional and vulnerable, what
happens to them? Is there any agency which takes responsibility
for housing them?
(Mr Ainsworth) We do not get to that point at day
one. We only get to that point having tried consistently to help,
to input and, yes, to take sanctions against people. At the end
of the day, while that is a very difficult situation, just leaving
those circumstances to continue and sending a message to them
that they can behave as they wish and nothing can be done in those
extreme circumstances is not the message we are prepared to send.
At the end of the day, where people have flatly refused to engage,
yes, we have got to be prepared to take very tough action against
76. I understand that. I understand the motive
behind that. What happens to them? Where do they end up?
(Ms Casey) Housing is my background so I can cover
this. Essentially there is a process. First up, the family you
are referring to is not new to a lot of the services that are
involved. You are probably looking at a situation where the housing
officers have already done something like taking out an injunction
against them. This is not new. Anti-social behaviour contracts
are in place trying to get people alongside to modify the behaviour
that is not improving, and so on and so forth. You are actually
talking about quite a limited number of families. The reason we
decided in the Homelessness Act 2002 to tighten up on this was
because a lot of people were tired of those same families just
disregarding basically to the authorities and then getting rehoused,
knowing full well that they did not have to face any consequences
for their behaviour at all. On the back of that change (and in
the Anti-Social Behaviour White Paper it is flagged very hard
) what we want to do throughout all those processes is make it
absolutely clear to peoplefrom warnings, to injunctions,
to acceptable behaviour contracts, to support (and that is one
of the things we will have to put in place in the Anti-Social
Behaviour Unit and we have mentioned it in this report and people
talk about it all the time)that here is a place called
the Dundee Family Project, and there are a number of these projects
around the country which basically say, "This is your point
of no return. You are about to get evicted. You can get help now.
We will help you. We will help you as much as we possibly can,
but you have to modify your behaviour. You have to change the
way you are behaving". If that does not workif they
apply as homeless and are found intentionally homelessthe
local authority then has quite a lot of discretion. Advice and
assistance is the minimum duty that any local authority has to
a family in this situation. They can house them temporarily in
a hostel, or they can discharge their duty and say, "That's
it". Hence we want to look at what happens when people move
into the private rented sector. What concerns us is making sure
the children are okay in that process. It is making sure that
the children are not facing difficulties. Everything that can
be done will be done. You are talking about a very small number
of families. If we left here now and went into any local authority
housing department within striking distance of this building,
they could probably name the families you are talking about. You
are not talking about hundreds and thousands of families, you
are talking about a few people where we need to get right in there
with support and right in there with enforcement. We know that
the consequences might be, as a worst case scenario, that some
of those kids get taken into care. Again, at the moment we know
if we get the enforcement right, and we get the support right,
most of the time those sorts of things do not happen. It is amazing
to me that the clearer people are about what happens in this scenario,
the fact is when you turn up to the family with a police officer,
housing officer and their social worker and say, "If this
doesn't stop this is what's going to happen to you", that
works most of the time. If one of those people go alone then they
are played off against each other. The police officer is told,
"It's a hardship case. I'm really all over the place and
Social Services don't help me". Social Services turn up and
they say, "The police officers are just going for my Johnny
all the time. They're a complete nightmare. They're harassing
us". The housing officer turns up, often the butt of no return
because they are the person who has to manage the estate, and
they get told everything about everything. What we have found
is that the good practice authorities come together and those
visits, injunctions and warnings are phenomenally powerful in
reducing the number of people you actually have to take enforcement
action against. We are clear in the White Paper and we are clear
across government that there are consequences, and eviction is
one of them.
77. There is a new part to demote tenants from
secure tenancies to probationary tenancies. A) why do we need
that measure, what is the thinking behind it? B) who decides on
their demotion? C) will tenants have a right to appeal against
(Ms Casey) Yes, tenants have the right to appeal.
My ex-colleagues in ODPM have worked very hard on this package
of measures and I am enormously grateful to them for allowing
us to put them in here and crack on with them, because I think
they are really good. Local authorities will have to pull evidence
together; to be honest, it is not that difficult to do. As with
everything in local government, they can be judicially reviewed
at any stage. All the homelessness decisions I referred to earlier
can be judicially reviewed, and these sorts of decisions can.
The reason I think it is a really effective tool is because effectively
you are saying, "Look, we're now saying to you if you don't
modify your behaviour you're going to go on the probationary tenancy.
Going on a probationary tenancy actually means if we move towards
eviction we can do it more speedily". Yes, they can be appealed
at this stage, but it still speeds things up. There are too many
places around the country where the public and communities have
to wait for eviction proceedings to go over years. This nightmare
is happening day in and day out. We are not prepared to let that
go on and on unaccounted for. Again, it is a supportive measure,
because it is not saying, "We're going to evict you";
it is saying, "This is the consequence of your behaviour.
You're not going to lose your home if you change your behaviour.
You will lose things like right to buy. It normally takes months
to get you out, but you'll be on an assured short tenancy. We're
not going to make you homeless, but we're putting another step
in the way". We are putting another step in the way which
is between, "You're in complete mess-up mode and you're going
to be evicted. We're going to demote your tenancy and see how
that runs. If you sort yourself out you're back on a secure tenancy
again. We'll help you sort yourselves out. If you don't sort yourselves
out we'll move to the next stage".
(Mr Ainsworth) In this area, and in others, warnings
are often ignored. We wind up with people who have come to the
end of the process. When we start dealing with them they have
had heaven knows how many warnings they have not paid any attention
to, and this is a warning with teeth that could maybe prevent
78. Is it a final warning?
(Mr Ainsworth) Not necessarily, but it clears the
way for eviction, for possession, far easier if further action
is necessary. It is a warning with teeth, if you like, because
people can see the consequences of having crossed this line.
79. The writing is on the wall?
(Mr Ainsworth) The writing is on the wall.
(Ms Casey) In neon lightsit is on the wall.
(Mr Ainsworth) But not in spray paint!