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Barbara Follett (Stevenage) (Lab): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), I welcome the Billand I know that the people of Stevenage do, too. I have been incredibly frustrated in the seven years that I have been an MP because I have been unable to do anything about the things that concern my constituents most. Labour Members have talked a great deal about that, but Conservative Members have been mainly absent or have derided the Bill. They must be out of touch with what is happening in the real world.
My constituency is both urban and rural. Some 59,000 of my voters are in the urban area. Another 9,000 are in a very rural area. The problems are the
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same, however. There is not a divide. I live in the rural area and littering is worse there than it is in the urban area.
I want to concentrate on the problems facing a new town and the opportunities that the architecture of the 1950s and 1960s gives the graffiti artist. The concrete walls are the perfect canvass for graffiti. The underpasses are crying out to have things painted over them. The chewing gum that attaches itself to the town centre costs £45,000 a year to remove. If Westminster is spending £90,000 on de-gumming Oxford street, just imagine what we are doing in Stevenage.
I am not a chewer. I do not know how many hon. Members would own up to that vile habit, but I know that some do it. I have even seen some Ministers do it on the Front Bench, and I hope that the gum is disposed of well. Britain has an untidy culture. We only have to cross over to Paris to see the difference in people's attitudes. We should look at how people maintain their homes. I confess to being a tidiness freak. My five children say that I am in politics so that I can tidy up the world. This is my attempt to do so. I am glad that the Government are giving me a chance to pursue that because we need to tidy up.
Stevenage needs gating because the structure of the pedestrianised alleyways built by the planners of the 1950s and 1960s provides the perfect place for youths to race their mopeds. Those mopeds do not have silencersso not only is it dangerous, but it is noisy. Most of that activity takes place after dark. There is gang racing and people are using motor cycles as well. For me, the gating provision is not only necessary but urgent.
Like many other hon. Members, I have fought to deal with abandoned cars, especially during the 2001 general election when I noticed an enormous number of such cars in the rural section of my community. I also initiated an Adjournment debate on that and have worked with the Government on some of their changes to the law. I welcome the further changes. It is incredibly frustrating to see a car sitting in the same place for 15 days and for it to be vandalised or set on fire by youths. It costs this country £230 million to deal with burnt-out vehicles. I can think of many other uses for that money. It costs Stevenage borough council £100,000 to deal with abandoned cars. That relatively small borough council spends more than £2.5 million on clearing up items mentioned in the Bill. Although it can find the money, it will welcome the fixed penalty system because it will get some revenue at last.
I am also glad that the selling and repairing of cars on the roadside is to be halted. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East said, that fouls the pavements. In a new town, which was built when not many people had cars, people tend to pursue that activity on grass verges. It also ties up for long periods the few parking places that we have.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) said how people cease to engage with politics when they find that we are powerless to change anything. That is one of the most important things that the Bill addresses. If we cannot change those daily irritants of the Englishman and Englishwoman in their castlestheir homeswhat are we in this building for? I am amazed that the
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Conservatives are voting against the Bill. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) talked about his constituent who is affected by graffiti. What comfort does he offer that man? Nothing at all other than saying that people should take responsibility for it. Yes they should, but they do not and we probably have to make them do so. I regret the existence of the nanny state, but occasionally we need it.
The only thing I have in common with the hon. Gentleman is that I am the proud owner of a black Labrador. I also own a yellow Labrador. I am a doting dog owner. The hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) talked about the comfort that dogs bring. Mine are commuting dogs. They come in and out of London. I know that the fouling of pavements in Westminster is a problem. I carry those little blue bags and the pooper-scoopers. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there are 6.8 million dogs in Britain, rather more than the hon. Gentleman noted. They foul an amazing amount. The figure is incredible. Some 1,000 tonnes of dog fouling is produced a day, and my two contribute their bit. We have to get people to pick it up, but people do not. They say, "How can I control my dog?" It is not about controlling the dog, but about people controlling their own actions. The polluter must pay.
On graffiti, Stevenage has a good graffiti-busting team, but it costs the town's taxpayers £60,000 a year to clean up. I welcome identity cards simply because I will not get another shopkeeper saying to me, "I didn't know whether he was 16 or not, so I sold him the aerosol." That is one reason why we need ID cards and I cannot wait for them to be introduced.
Fly-posting costs Stevenage £13,000 a year to remove. It is not one of our greatest problems, although the concrete walls of the town centre offer the perfect place to stick posters. I should like my right hon. Friend to think about estate agents' signs as a form of fly-posting. Estate agents just leave those things to rot in alleyways and hedgerows once they have let or soldor not solda property. They should have a duty to remove those signs in a timely fashion. I have just won a battle on that on behalf of a constituent.
It is a big welcome from Stevenage for the Bill, although I am sad that we need to legislate for clean neighbourhoods and environments in this day and age. However, how many of us are guilty of chucking papers on the Floor of the Chamber and of not caring what happens to them? Ministers have been honourable tonight and nothing is on the Floor, but there is often a great deal of waste. We have a master-servant mentality because I know that someone else will pick up after me, as someone said to me in Stevenage. The man who pulled up near me when I was walking my dogs on a country lane and who chucked out an entire McDonald's dinner also thought that someone else would pick up after him. But we should be doing that ourselves. Then, we would not have to spend all this money on enforcing something that, with a little bit of thought and care, would not be necessary.
Claire Ward (Watford) (Lab):
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to support the Second Reading of this Bill. Many of the proposed measures, which have
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been mentioned by my colleagues, will be of great benefit to people in my constituency who continue the suffer the effects of antisocial behaviour and the damage that litter, graffiti, fly-posting, fly-tipping and abandoned cars inflict on our environment, to name just a few of the things that the Bill will tackle.
We all want to live in a pleasant environment. We want clean, safe streets. Yet when an area becomes untidy and unloved, it is easy for those who live there to lose the respect for it that they once had. Once graffiti and litter take control, it often becomes too difficult to take pride in a street. The majority of the population do not litter, abandon cars or scribble graffiti on walls and buildings. They deserve the support and protection of their local authority and the Government in cleaning up the place. The Bill is for the majority of decent, ordinary people who want to live in a clean, safe environment.
There is no doubt in my mind that we face a greater problem than we did many years ago, and there is no doubt about the need for the Bill. I certainly remember that, as a child, I would not have thrown litter on to the street. On the contrary, everything disposablesweet papers, cans, packets of crispswas put into our pockets or bags and placed in a bin at the first opportunity. Now, sadly, it is common to see people come out of a newsagent, rip open their packet of cigarettes and discard the wrapper on the street, without a single thought about the cost of clearing up the mess. Cigarette butts, too, are a filthy but common addition to street litter, and I am pleased to note that they are now being classed as litter. Despite existing laws, there are few cases of fines for littering, so it is clear that local authorities need more powers to tackle the problems that affect our towns and local environments.
That is one reason why I welcome the Bill, and I am both surprised and saddened that the Conservative Opposition have decided not to support it. I listened carefully to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo). Not only did I hear nothing about what the Conservatives might propose, but in many cases I heard the hon. Gentleman agreeing with the need for legislation. I remain baffled, as I think most members of our communities will be, about why the Conservatives have chosen not to support the Bill. Of course, Bills often require amendment, but the time to do that, as someone who has been on the Front Bench for many years should know, is in Committee, rather than opposing the whole Bill on Second Reading.
One reason that the Conservatives gave for opposing the Bill is their strange belief that it affects urban communities and ignores rural ones. I would not claim for a moment that Watford is a rural community; it is an urban environment, but it is surrounded by rural communities. Although I do not have many farmers in my constituency, the one or two who do live there have complained for many years about the problem of fly-tipping on their land, saying that they have to pick up the cost and no one is there to support them. I hope that the Bill will provide some comfort to them.
I also welcome the fact that as Watford is part of Hertfordshire, we have many town and rural parish councils and they will now be given an opportunity to contribute to controlling litter and graffiti through the use of fixed penalty notices. I hope that the parish councils in my constituency, particularly Abbots Langley, will take that opportunity.
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I want to concentrate on a clause that will make a huge difference to many areas in Watford. Antisocial behaviour has been a particular problem for the people living on the Sherwoods estate. The design of the estate is such that it is dissected by an exceptionally high number of pathways. The community has been working closely with the police over the past 18 months to combat antisocial behaviour, and they have welcomed the many powers put into the toolbox for police and local authority use over that time. Dispersal powers under section 30 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, antisocial behaviour orders and acceptable behaviour contracts are among the measures used to try to curb the problems affecting local people.
The difficulty is that the nature and design of the estate means that youths being chased by the police can disperse very quickly through the pathways. In addition, as many of the paths run along the back or side of people's properties, they provide easy access to those who want to try unlawfully to gain entry to people's houses and gardens. That does not help when one is trying to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour. On top of that, Hertfordshire county council's difficulties with lighting contracts means that many of the areas and paths on the estate do not have sufficient lighting. All that means that, sadly, the estate has suffered from antisocial behaviour.
Earlier last year, the residents association, which formed to try to unite in dealing with those problems, asked the county council to make the relevant orders to close some of the pathways. The plan had been agreed by residents and the police, and although some routes would be gated, others would be left for people to use. The community had even been told that money was available to make sure that those gating orders could be made. However, under the current legislation the task is not so easy. The county council told residents that it had to put out a notice to inform various organisations of the plan, including the Ramblers Association, the Open Spaces Society and the British Horse Society.
Anybody who knows Watford, and in particular some of the estates, will know that it is not an area where one frequently sees ramblers. Even smaller is the chance of anybody using the paths in the middle of a housing estate for horse riding. I would not have believed it possible that the community's wishes could be thwarted by those organisations. Sadly, however, it was possible. Despite the attempts by Hertfordshire county council to reach a compromise and my attempts to contact the organisations' head offices, we were unable to reach an agreement on the paths that the residents wanted gated, even though there would have been a sufficient number of paths left for people to use.
The responses that I received from the organisations were varied. The British Horse Society merely acknowledged my letter and told me that it would be writing to me with more detail and in more depth in due course. That was in October, and I am still waiting. The Open Spaces Society sent what was, frankly, a rather arrogant letter that completely missed the point. In displaying such arrogance, the organisations seem to forget the people who have to endure the problems of antisocial behaviour and live, day in and day out, with the difficulties that result from the environment in which
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they live. They should make the decision, but others may decide that there is a greater principle at stake, keeping a pathway open rather than simply closing and gating it.
I hope that the Bill, in which I have great confidence, will provide people on the Sherwoods estate and elsewhere in Watford with an opportunity to have gating in areas where it is needed to tackle antisocial behaviour.
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