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Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): I assume that all Members of Parliament wish to live in a clean environment and a pleasant neighbourhood. If they do not, they are not representing their constituents because that is what each and every one of our constituents wants. The question is, and I have listened to the criticism of the Conservative party opposing the Bill: will this Bill achieve that which our constituents want?
In recent months gangs of youths can be heard shouting/screaming up and down the Leigh Road, often marauding down the quiet residential streets causing minor damage and being a general nuisance. On many occasions youths can be seen walking along swigging from large bottles of cider or cans of beer.
I feel the biggest problem however is the graffiti, they seem to go on the rampage about twice a week scrawling over shop fronts and anything else that takes their fancy, as I said this seems to be getting worse on a weekly basis. The problems this causes can be easily realised, the primary inconvenience must be constant expenditure redecorating the defaced areas.
I am sure that the shop keepers must inform the Police, however I also believe that there is a Public mentality that 'there's no point complaining as nothing gets done anyway' or that 'the Police are powerless against these pests'".
I am delighted that the Government acknowledge that the problems of nuisance parking, abandoned vehicles, littering, graffiti, fly-posting, dogs behaving badly, audible intruder alarms, noise, abandoned shopping trolleys, insect infestation and artificial lighting nuisance have all got worse since the
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Government came to power in 1997. However, this Bill does nothing whatever about the underlying issues that cause all these problems.
Mr. Challen: Given what the hon. Gentleman has just said, why is it that there are so few Conservative Back Benchers here today? Is it conceivable that they have stayed away because they do not want to be associated with the blunder of their Front-Bench team in opposing the Bill?
"Only yesterday, there were two more additions to the depressingly long list of ways in which we must now expect to be policed or regulated. An army of busybodies is to be employed to issue fines to people who drop litter. And, even more ingeniously, people who cause unnecessary 'light pollution' are now also to be fined.
The public reaction to this will be one of deep distaste. Most of us know how we should behave if our lives are to be remotely enjoyable. We also know that government has, or should have, better things to do than pass laws that only aggrieve the respectable majority."
On the specific point of fixed penalty notices, I was attracted by the Law Society brief which express reservations about the further expansion of the use of fixed penalty notices. In Essex, for example, we have a record amount of revenue from fines imposed as a result of speed cameras. The Law Society feels:
The level of a Fixed Penalty Notice does not take into account the means of the recipient and could therefore have a disproportionate effect on someone reliant on benefits. The Government must weigh the risk of further social exclusion with its commitment to tackling the 'causes of crime'."
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway), I think that we are entirely right to take this opportunity to speak on behalf of dogs. I fully support the work of Dogs Trust, undertaken under the leadership of its chief executive, Clarissa Baldwin. I faithfully enter my black Labrador, Michael, every year in the Westminster dog of the year show, and I am not yet embittered by his failure to win on seven occasions. However, I do hope that, in summing up, the Minister will address the points that Dogs Trust has brought to my attention.
Part 6 deals with dogs, chapter 1 deals with dog control orders, and chapter 2 deals with stray dogs. Like Dogs Trust, I have no objection to the principles behind the Bill, but I have considerable misgivings about the
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implementation of chapter 2. As my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup said and as Dogs Trust points out,
"Current legislation lays responsibility for dealing with stray dogs jointly between the police and local authority. The Environmental Protection Act lays a duty on local authorities to appoint a person to deal with stray dogs, hold them for a period of seven days and then to dispose of them, usually to a re-homing organisation such as Dogs Trust. This person is usually called the Dog Warden or Animal Welfare Officer.
In practice in most local authority areas the Dog Warden service is active during normal . . . working hours. Dogs found straying during these hours are collected and dealt with by the Dog Warden and, in general, there is a reasonable level of service.
However at night and at weekends when the Dog Warden service is not available the police have a duty to accept stray dogs. Usually the Dog Warden collects such dogs when they come back on duty and become responsible for their care. Because most dogs stray by accident and most are exercised in the evenings and at weekends it seems likely to Dogs Trust that a significant proportion of stray dogs will stray during the same period. This supposition is borne out by anecdotal evidence."
I am also attracted to what the Kennel Club has to say on this issue and I fully support its endeavours, under the leadership of its chief executive, Mrs. Rosemary Smart. It has drawn my attention to clause 68, which deals with responsibility for receiving stray dogs, the costs in respect of which my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup has already referred to. The Kennel Club
Clauses 55 to 58 deal with streamlining the dog control byelaw system. I hope that DEFRA Ministers will carry out proper consultation before drafting model offences and establishing the process that local authorities should undertake in making dog control orders, and that they will establish that interested parties should be consulted. Clauses 59 to 62 deal with fixed penalty notices, and I hope that the Minister will consider getting DEFRA to set a national figure for fines for breaches of dog control orders.
Since 1997, the House has introduced a huge amount of legislation, much of which is never enforced. This Bill is all about electioneering. More duties are being placed on local authorities, without proper funding. Yet more legislation will be placed on the statute book that will not be enforced, and it will not produce what my constituents want, which is a cleaner neighbourhood and a better environment in which to live.
Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab):
I want to discuss the deeply antisocial act of abandoning vehicles, and initially to draw on the experience of a constituent of mine, Mr. Chris Meadows, who is co-director of a company that manages an apartment building in Bedford. Over the years, the company has paid hundreds of pounds to have abandoned cars removed from its car park. In order to identify the owner, it writes to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency giving a description of the vehicle and its registration number and requesting the name and address of the registered keeper, for which a fee of £2.50 is payable. On receiving
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the information, the company writes to the keeper, who invariably does not reply. It then instructs a private contractor to remove the vehicle, the cost of which is £30.
Bedford borough council will take instructions from private property owners to remove such a vehicle, but the fee is £88.13. The council sends an officer to inspect the site and, depending on the state of the vehicle, a decision is taken whether to remove it within 24 hours or seven days. The appropriate notice is stuck to the vehicle, which in itself can attract acts of vandalism, thereby rendering it a greater hazard than it was originally. If a seven-day notice is attached, removal takes place a little later than that and the vehicle is stored for some 10 days, or possibly for a lot longer if it is still taxed. If no one claims it at the end of the relevant period, the council sells it to a breaker for disposal. The whole process can take a few weeks. The costs are borne by the landowner and, as I have suggested, they are much too high, as my constituent has discovered.
In cases where a vehicle is abandoned on private landperhaps in a prominent locationand is likely to become a hazard, and where the owner is not known or is not prepared to co-operate, councils have to place a 15-day notice on it. In those circumstances, cost recovery can prove very difficult indeed, which explains the reluctance of some councils to act in such cases. But where a council does act, it is the council tax payer who invariably foots the bill.
The Bill, combined with other legislative changes that I shall refer to later, will assist in improving the way in which abandoned cars are dealt with. The key is the speed and scope of action. Instead of waiting seven or 15 days, councils will henceforth be able to remove a vehicle immediately, which in practice will mean within 24 hours. Of course, councils can so act now, but only in respect of vehicles that are found to be in a dangerous or wrecked state.
It was pointed out earlier that because the Bill establishes a discretionary power rather than a duty, it need not be acted on. However, it is pretty certain that it will create a general expectation among the publicand, I hope, among councilsthat the common practice will be the removal of such vehicles within 24 hours: removal not only from the public highway and public land, but from private land, unless, of course, the landowner has given permission for the vehicle to be there.
which means any road to which the public has access. Crucially, that includes roads owned by housing associations and registered social landlords, for example, but what about other land owned by RSLs to which the public has access? If car parks, play areas and greens are not included, in practice the Bill's scope will be severely limited. I am sure that the Government intend that such areas be included, but the wording of clause 11 is far from clear in that regard. I look for reassurance on this pointperhaps right now.
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