Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): As the Bill tightens responsibilities, and as it is supposed to be helpful, does my hon. Friend find clause 47 curious? It removes the requirement to contract out waste disposal functions. I can understand from a dogma point of view why the Government might take that on, but it is a very specialist area that involves huge capital costs generally. The contracts are long. The regulations and complications are intense and encyclopaedic. I am slightly worried that some mind-bogglingly dull local authority, of the wrong political complexion, will grab the provision with both hands and blunder in, with no competition, at great cost and great danger to its local people.
My hon. Friend speaks on the issue with great authority, not only as one of the most successful local authority leaders of the last generation but also as a Minister who dealt directly with many such matters in the last Conservative Government. I entirely share his concern. I had intended to mention clause 47 later in my speech, but I shall do so now. The Secretary of State did not, I think, allude to it in her speech. It is difficult to understand what benefit the Government expect to achieve by its introduction, and we shall certainly try
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to remove it from the Bill if the opportunity arises in Committee. I wholly share my hon. Friend's concerns about the clause; only harm can come from the proposal.
The need for action is clear from the statistics that I quoted and the background that I have outlined, where I think there is common ground between the Secretary of State and me. What is less obvious is how the Bill actually helps. As I said earlier, I welcome a number of its provisions. Preventing people from running a used car business that involves parking their stock in front of other people's houses will be welcomed in many neighbourhoods, including some in my area. Even though I represent a largely rural constituency, there are some London overspill areas and estates that were formerly entirely council housing, and that problem has arisen in some neighbourhoods. In that respect, as in many others, however, I wonder whether existing powers, if properly utilised, would not be sufficient to tackle the problem.
Action to curb litter will also command support, as will powers for local authorities to seize fly-tipped vehicles and attempts to curb fly-posting. Those are all important steps in the right direction. However, I have concerns about the Bill that relate first, to how effective it will be; secondlya point that we have touched on alreadyto the costs of enforcement; thirdly, to its somewhat intrusive nature in certain respects; and fourthly, to those things that are omitted altogether.
Taking the enforcement issues first, the Bill will give local authorities extra power to deal with the growing problem of abandoned vehicles. I am not absolutely clear how the role that local authorities will be asked to play fits with the role of the police, but, no doubt, that can be explored in more detail in Committee. I am not clear why the Government believe that the new arrangements will be so much more effective than the present ones.
A central difficulty will surely remain in tracing the owners of those vehicles. That will not get any easier as a result of the Bill, although the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas)I am not sure whether I pronounced his constituency correctly, but I know where it ismade a constructive point about that. In the circumstances, it seems unlikely that more than a handful of successful prosecutions will be brought. Even if local authorities can keep the proceeds of the fixed penalties levied on those who abandon vehicles, there is still a risk that the cost of pursuing offenders will exceed the income that they may generate. Local authorities must either burden council tax payers further or simply ignore the problem, despite the changes introduced in the Bill.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab):
I am listening carefully to the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. It is some 25 minutes since he rose to speak. It is some 18 minutes since he gave a commitment to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) that he would get around to the alternatives that the Conservatives would propose. We have just passed Christmas and next Christmas is coming fast.
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When will he get around to those alternatives, rather than saying what is wrong with the Bill and that he will vote against it?
Effective action is certainly desirable against the growing menace of litter, but we have concerns about the unrestricted or widespread use of fixed penalties, not least because of the risk that they may quickly become a revenue source of their own for local authorities, rather than a deterrent to prevent litter from being dropped in the first place. The example of speed camera partnerships is a warning of what may happen when bureaucratic or unaccountable bodies see an income stream that they can tap into.
The Bill contains stronger measures to control outdoor advertising. I accept that uncontrolled fly-posting and illegal advertisements disfigure some neighbourhoods, but I share the concerns of the Campaign to Protect Rural England about the growth in moveable hoardings on trailers, and it is not clear whether the Bill will help in that respect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) will deal in more detail with the waste provisions in the Bill when she speaks later. I want to move now to the crucial issue of noise and light pollution. The provisions in the Bill on noise may be valuable in tackling specific problems such as intruder alarms, although their effectiveness will depend heavily on whether local authorities decide to spend money on using them. The bigger noise problems, such as the noise from increased traffic and aircraft, are regrettably not addressed by the Bill, despite the fact that they affect a growing number of homes.
The consultation procedures, for example, for air traffic decisions, such as those that have led to an increased volume of air traffic over my constituencySouth Suffolkare seriously deficient. Similarly, the Government's present programme for introducing quieter road surfaces is very leisurely to say the least. The result is that villages such as Sproughton in my constituency must wait for years for relief from the noise from the nearby A14. Vehicle and aircraft noise is a bigger and more urgent problem for many residents than anything covered by the Bill, and I regret the fact that the Government are making no attempt to tackle it. Furthermore, the Government's introduction of 24-hour drinking is also likely to lead to more disturbance at normally quiet times of the night.
The Bill acknowledges growing public concern about light pollution, but I am afraid that the effectiveness of its provisions will be considerably reduced by the lengthy list of exemptions. I fully recognise the concerns of people who fear the consequences of yet more statutory regulation intruding into aspects of daily life, which common sense suggests could be safely left to self-regulation and voluntary initiatives. The Secretary of State herself said that she hoped that in many cases
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disputes about light pollution could be resolved by negotiation. We will want to explore those provisions in more detail in Committee.
Mr. Yeo: That is exactly the sort of issue that we want to explore in Committee. There are situations[Interruption.] Let me give an example of one that affects my constituency. Felixstowe port is one of the most successful in the country and has expanded to the point that its lights are visible for many miles around. That has become an issue of great concern and it will be of concern if there is further expansion on the Essex side of the estuary. There are categories such as that
We should take the opportunity now that the issue of light pollution has been recognised in the Bill at least to explore whether other categories can be brought under some measure of control, because the effect of such lights is reaching a larger group of people. Let me emphasise that in principle it is highly desirable that there should be large parts of Britain where it remains possible to enjoy silence during the day and darkness during the night.
I question what benefit there is from giving a statutory basis to the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environmenta body that has certainly not been without controversy during its short life so far. I note that, despite what the Secretary of State said about accountability, the Bill does not require the body to publish an annual report. As I have said, she has been coy on the subject of costs. That is no surprise at a time when public borrowing is spiralling out of control. The Government may not wish to face up to the fact that their policies are placing extra burdens on local authorities, but coping with those burdens may mean even bigger increases in council tax. After all, the Environmental Audit Committee pointed out that the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 would be more effective at curbing fly-tipping if the Environment Agency and local authorities had more resources to use the powers that the Act gives them.
Let me draw attention to some things that are omitted from the Bill but are directly relevant to clean neighbourhoods. DEFRA has admitted that in 2003 air pollution in urban areas was recorded as moderate or higher on 50 days on average per site measured, and in rural areas on 61 days on average per site measured. In both cases, those figures were more than double the comparable figures for 2002. The Bill is conspicuously silent on the subject of air quality, despite its obvious environmental and health importance.
I mentioned at the start of my speech that global issues such as climate change can have devastating local consequences. Nothing in the Bill addresses those challenges or even acknowledges the link between them. One week after Britain failed, along with Greece, the Czech Republic and Poland, to participate in the launch
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of the European Union emissions trading scheme, I can understand Ministers not wanting to talk about these issues, but the fact that despite having had years to prepare, Britain is not participating in one of the most important initiatives designed to tackle climate change should be a matter of shame for Ministers. It exposes the Prime Minister's claim to be putting climate change at the centre of his chairmanship of the G8 and presidency of the EU as nothing more than a hollow fraud. It is just talk, and very unconvincing talk at that.