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Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Some of the hardest problems brought to me by constituents at surgeries concern antisocial behaviour and bad neighbours. These problemsnoise, litter, abandoned vehicles, graffiti and vandalismare associated with urban areas but, as many hon. Friends have pointed out, they are not exclusively urban problems. It is a surprise that so few Opposition Members representing rural communities have attended the debate.
When these problems take hold, they can change the character of a neighbourhood quickly. When there is litter in the gutter, people begin to think that it is acceptable to chuck litter in the gutter. The same goes for dog fouling, or when people park inconsiderately on the pavement or grass verge, chewing up the grass in front of people's houses. If there is not prompt action to
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deal with that, and if the community does not see that the inconsiderate driver pays a penalty for his actions, these problems will mushroom.
Conversely, when prompt action is taken, and when that action is taken together with enforceable and enforced penalties applied to transgressors, it helps to instil a sense of community pride and people become less willing to transgress the rules that are clearly established in their neighbourhood. Prompt action helps.
Fortunately, the Bill has received a good measure of support in local government from all political parties, which makes it all the more surprising that the official Opposition plan to vote against it. I have looked closely at the representations made to the Government by City of York council, my Liberal Democrat-controlled local authority. The council welcomed many of the measuresa welcome that was reiterated by the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats.
The council welcomed the proposal to include environmental crime as a specific issue for local crime reduction partnerships. The council supports the decision to extend the litter offence to all types of land, including aquatic environments; that is, to the River Ouse and the River Foss. In York, the river is an important part of the landscape and townscape, an important recreational amenity and a source of drinking water.
The council welcomed the extension of cleansing notice powers to include graffiti and fly-posting in areas outside London and welcomed the proposal for fixed penalty notices for people who put out their refuse on the wrong day. We all know the problems that that can cause when cats, rodents or other animals get into the plastic bags and scatter the refuse around.I could go on but I would rather make progress. I thank City of York council for its support for this timely Bill.
I particularly welcome the measures that the Government are taking to tackle noise from private parties, licensed premises and malfunctioning burglar alarms, and their decision to take on the problem of light pollution, which has attracted people's attention more recently. That is seen as a particular problem in the countryside but it can be a problem in urban areas in public parks or open spaces or with light from industrial estates.
City of York council said that, because this was a new area, some guidance would be needed from the Department, perhaps in the form of a code of practice suggesting how local authorities should respond and what levels of light pollution would require enforcement action.
The council said that free literature distributed by retailers, pubs and clubs often results in litter and that that is a city-centre problem in York at all times of the day and night. The council welcomes the proposals to require consent to be obtained from a local authority by the people distributing such literature, but it makes the point that that in itself will not solve the problem because it is not the companies who produce the literature who drop it on the pavementit is people. The enforcement powers, including the fixed penalty notices for dropping litter, are important, too.
Last but not least, I should like to say a word or two about chewing gum. I particularly welcome the proposal in clause 27 to amend the Environmental Protection Act
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1990 to define cigarette butts and chewing gum as litter. When I raised the issue at Prime Minister's questions on 8 December, it provoked some chuckles of amusement from the chattering classes, who are no more present than the Opposition this evening. The BBC in particular thought that it was a peculiar issue to raise at Prime Minister's questions.
Some of us see the masses of e-mails that we get as a form of litter in itself, but I have to say that I received very strong support for what I said about chewing gum from many members of the public by letter and e-mail. One e-mail, from Mrs. Inge Knight, said:
"Thank you for raising the question of chewing gum litter . . . If our council tax bill highlighted the cost maybe the amusement would fade somewhat and your excellent suggestion would be taken up. As you so rightly pointed out, the problem is easily solved, and the manufacturers could make themselves popular overnight, if they had the wit to provide easy disposal within the packaging. Maybe you should contact the Patent Office yourself, Mr. Bayley!"
I can assure her and the House that I will not do so because I do not want to stop the sensible suggestion that chewing gum be marketed in packaging that allows people to pop it somewhere in the back of the packet so that it is not dropped on the ground.
After I said what I did at Prime Minister's Questions, the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionary Association, which represents manufacturers, wrote to tell me that it works closely with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Local Government Association, the Institute of Waste Management, the Department for Education and Skills and others to find ways to tackle the problem. In particular, it proposes a campaign later this year, paid for by the manufacturers, to try to persuade people not to drop gum on the ground and I welcome that.
The manufacturers association asserts that gum litter is caused by the irresponsible behaviour of a minority of chewers. I do not know whether that is true, but if it is, that minority does an awful lot of damage. The LGA estimates that local authorities in England spent £150 million last year on removing chewing gum from our streets. The average clean-up cost in a town centre is about £20,000. The hon. Member for Guildford mentioned that Westminster city council spent £90,000 last year cleaning Oxford street. That took seven weeks, but within 10 days the problem had returned. The council estimatesI wonder which council official was sent out to count themthat there are 300,000 pieces of gum on Oxford street.
I support the polluter pays principle and welcome the Government's proposal of fixed penalty notices for people who drop litter, including chewing gum. I am glad that local authorities will retain the fixed penalty revenue, but I do not think that that will raise the £150 million that it costs to remove the gum. The producers must do more. I am not the sort of person who leaps at the suggestion of putting a tax on producersthere is no guarantee that the tax income would get into the hands of the people who do the clearing upbut I do think that the producers need to do something about their packaging, and I ask the Minister to confirm that the joint chewing gum action group involving the Government and the manufacturers will address the issue.
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Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): The fact that so many Labour Members are taking part in the debate shows how much people care right across the country about the need to tackle pollution, fly-tipping and littering in our neighbourhoods. I welcome the debate, but I wish we were having a proper one, not looking across the Chamber at empty Benches. In my constituency, these matters are just about at the top of the list of what people have to deal with and I welcome the fact that Ministers are bringing real proposals before Parliament. I admit that some areas of the Bill perhaps need more attention to detail, and that can be considered in Committee, but I am pleased that the Government are tackling the issues, sending out a clear message that dealing with litter and graffiti and making our neighbourhoods clean really matter.
We have heard a lot of references to the report of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, which will be further debated on Thursday. The way in which the Committee has taken evidence and helped to maintain pressure for doing something about problems in neighbourhoods and communities all over the country shows that the issue is one that we really have to tackle.
When the issues from the debate are looked at in detail, I hope that DEFRA Ministers will be able to use the expertise of the officers of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health to see what needs to be ironed out in Committee. I speak as a vice-president of the institute, which has huge expertise.
I am pleased that so many different organisations and associations that have been consulted have played a part in shaping the Bill. The fact is that many people support it, from the Local Government Association, ENCAMS and other environmental groups and organisations to working parties set up by, for example, the police. The fact that we have legislation that will remove responsibility for stray dogs from the police to local authorities shows that day-to-day, detailed work done by many people has been acknowledged. I am pleased that the chief constable of Staffordshire, John Giffard, took part in that working party and that there has been progress into legislation.
When I speak to my constituents, I learn that whether they feel good about the place where they live, ensure that it is kept clean and have a sense of pride and belonging to a neighbourhood and community is linked to how we deliver on our policies. The public realm should be spick and span and we must have a way of making sure that local authorities implement the new powers the Bill will give them. I hope that the Minister will respond on the points about the money needed for that. I take the point that money will come in from fixed penalty notices to help with the financing of the Bill's implementation, but it will be important to have some pilot projects through the Environment Agency to show how we can make even more progress and to roll out best practice. It will come as no surprise to the Minister to hear that, when he comes to consider possible areas with the Environment Agency, it will be possible that Stoke-on-Trent will be one of the beneficiaries. The Environment Agency has something like £5 million, and we must consider options for achieving a joined-up approach that goes across the areas of responsibility of
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the police and magistrates courts while also engaging local people and getting everyone signed up to implementing the new powers.
The Environmental Audit Committee has set up a sub-committee on education and sustainable development. In all my years in Parliament looking at legislation, I have learned that we can legislate until the cows come home, but if we do not carry people with us and help to educate people in the wider sense, we will fail to have the legislation implemented on the ground. I hope that the Department will come back to us on how we can embed environmental education and achieve some environmental literacy about what changes of attitude will mean if we get citizens signed up to a new agenda. How can that be done in the wider education agenda? I hope that the Government will consider that question in some detail.
Earlier, I flagged up the issue of gating. In many areas, there are problems with alleys and keeping refuse out of them. People put refuse out the day after the bin men have been, for example. I welcome what the Bill does in dealing with such antisocial behaviour. Clause 2 says that highways agencies and local authorities are responsible for those alleyways, but I am concerned that Stoke-on-Trent has something like 21 km of unadopted alleyways, which are back entries to terraced homes. It seems absurd in the 21st century to have alleyways that are effectively gutters for nine months out of 12, with mud and water running down them, no proper drainage and no proper lighting. If someone puts in a new carpet through the back door, it begins instantly to be destroyed because of that. I urge the Government to see whether, in the Bill or in a wider joined-up approach, they could find ways, through neighbourhood renewal or through funding from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, to speed up the way in which we adopt alleyways. Whatever powers are introduced in relation to providing a clean and green environment and neighbourhood, if we cannot deal with unadopted back alleyways, we will not achieve the goal of clean and green neighbourhoods where people feel proud to live. I urge the Government to consider that issue, as well as the cost of drainage and lighting, and the ongoing revenue costs. Certainly, across Stoke-on-Trent, at least 10 km urgently need to be adopted. I hope that the housing renewal programme can also help with that.
At the start of this debate, we heard a lot about whether this is a Bill for urban or rural areas. My view is that waste and antisocial behaviour has no boundariesit stretches across rural and urban areas. From the discussions that I have had with parish councils in Bagnall, Brown Edge, Endon and Stanley, I feel sure that they will welcome the powers that they will have, as a result of this legislation, to deal with such issues.
In an initiative earlier this year, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency came to help us deal with abandoned cars, which was a huge success. Anything that the Government do through this Bill to deal with abandoned vehicles much more quickly, to stop problems such as youths leaving them abandoned on nature reserves and people being injured, is welcome, as they are a blight on our neighbourhoods.
I sincerely hope that the Bill will have a swift passage, with an opportunity to discuss some detail in Committee. I hope that a strong message will go out
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across the country that Labour Members really care about this Bill and envisage it making a real improvement to the lives of people the length and breadth of the country.
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