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Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op):
I am pleased to contribute to the debate, even if I am the last Back Bencher to speak and many things have already been said. I am even more delighted to follow my hon. Friend
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the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), the penultimate Back Bencher to speak, because there is so much sense in what he says. I have no intention of going over the same ground and I want to discuss just a few issues.
Even at this late stage, my hon. Friends remain somewhat bemused about a point I made in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping)the extent of cross-party arrangements in local government, particularly in the Local Government Association, in the light of the fact that the official Opposition have decided to vote against the Bill on Second Reading. One of the advantages of finishing early is that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) will have every opportunity to urge her arguments. If she had a bag carrier besides the Opposition Whip, we might still be able to get the Opposition in place to persuade them of the merits of voting in favour of the Bill on Second Reading, even if, quite rightly, they call us to account in Committee.
Politicians are to some extent catching up with the general public. For a long time, they have viewed quality of life issues as crucial to how they live their lives, so we need to catch up with them. In my area, an active community campaign was initiated by Liz Hall. I know that my right hon. Friend was able to respond to a debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), in which we examined the relationship between urban centres and surrounding rural or semi-rural areas. It showed how much we were dependent on each other. This lady, Liz Hall, off her own back about nine months ago, called a community meeting in her village of Harescombe, to which people in some of the other villagesHaresfield, Edge, Painswick and so forthwere invited. The aim was to consider why they were having so many problems with fly-tipping in the beautiful woods of Cranham, Edge and Sheepscombe. The meetings continue to this day; in fact, there is one tomorrow. If I can get away from this place, I would like to attend it to advance some ideas on how further to bear down on an unacceptable form of antisocial behaviour.
We needed to persuade the Environment Agency that this was a good area in which to undertake a pilot project, and through the offices of myself and others, that persuasion did take place, which is very pleasing. I hope that the Minister will recognise that the Environment Agency is geared up for the legislative change and wants to make things happen, working in tandem with local communities and, dare I say it, parish and town councils.
I have already declared an interest as a town councillor. If I were not here tonight, I would be sitting in the town council's planning and transportation committee, and one of the matters that we would no doubt be considering would be fly-tipping. It is an ever-present problem in rural areas as it is in urban areas. I hope that we will reach a consensus as we go through the process and not sustain this false divide between rural and urban. It is quite simple: they face the same problems, albeit on a different scale.
I shall provide an example. This Sunday, after going to church rather early, I hope to work with others on clearing an old railway cutting, which unfortunately people have used for some time as a dump for all manner of waste. The problem is complicated by the fact that it
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is inhabited by the great crested newt. Anyone who knows anything about the great crested newt will know that it is a wonderful species that does not like being disturbed. You or I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may not be partial to having the odd tyre, mattress or bedstead thrown over into our habitats, but the great crested newts are even less partial to that, so we will have to be very careful how we do it on Sunday. That is the nature of working together to try to solve these problems. The essence of the Bill is not the consensus that is beginning to evolve between the parties, but the consensus between communities, the Environment Agency, the police and local authorities.
Mention has been made of parish and town councils, but smaller district authorities such as mine in Stroud have taken on board the antisocial behaviour agenda. I pay tribute to its antisocial behaviour co-ordinator, Colin Peake, who has highlighted the need to deal with fly-posting. While I would not say that he has cleared our streets of awful posters advertising nightclubs, he has a way of taking down the details, going to clubs and saying that the posters are their responsibility. On a Sunday, he goes to car boot sales and collects all the placards, puts them in the boot of his car and reminds the people concerned that they might like to collect them. If they do it again the next week, action is taken. He has a clear rule: they can have the placards up for 48 hours, after which those concerned have to go and pick them up. Otherwise, they cannot put them up again. Colin Peake needs support; the Bill is about co-ordination and making sure that someone like him can be supported by the political class and by the community.
Clearly there is a resource issueno one is pretending that these things are cost-freebut it will not be a great one if we can share the costs around. We must make it clear that the police being asked to take on additional responsibilities does not mean that another layer of authority is washing its hands of an issue and giving it to the police, and vice versa if we are talking about the care of stray dogs, for example. There is a need for genuine partnership, and that must be action, not just words.
Like all Bills, the proof will not be in the law or in the amendments that we table, but in how it is seen out there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Iain Wright) said, it will take some considerable time until we begin to see the impact of the Bill.That does not mean that we should not be trying now.
Some of us would argue that we should have had the wherewithal to be doing this some time before, because quality of life issues are gaining salience, not as a result of a selfish motivation but because of people's pride in their community. We are a more materialistic society; therefore, there is more waste that we have to deal with, and we must deal with it at source. In these days of extreme weather changes, one sees, sadly, that some of the waste that is allegedly fly-tipped is down to the wind blowing people's refuse. We have to look at a better way of integrating waste collection and disposal with other services.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at the resource issue and at working with other Departments to ensure that the Bill does not merely have lip service paid to it. We must work with local government and the other levels of authority so that they get the message that the Government are turned on to this issue and want to
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make a change. We can envisage our different communities improving the way they look. Therefore, people will think that, for once, politicians are in touch with them and care about quality of life issues.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): First, I declare my interests in the Register that may be relevant to the debate, and add a further declaration: I chew chewing gum on occasion, but I can assure the House that I dispose of it in a socially responsible way. We have had an excellent debate. I hope that the Minister will have time to respond to all our concerns and those of his hon. Friends.
My party and I welcome the opportunity for full and proper scrutiny of the Bill, and we look forward enthusiastically to the Committee stage. As has been repeated numerous times, we believe that we should legislate less but better. I therefore fully support what my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), the shadow Secretary of State, has stated. While we cautiously welcome certain aspects of the Bill, that is tempered by our regret that it appears to be a hotch-potch of ideas. The phrase "eye-catching initiatives" springs to mind.
There is no evidence in the Bill of a joined-up approach to government. It straddles at least three Departmentsthe Home Office, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, who has obviously been engaged in other matters for the past week, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Secretary of State waxed lyrical about the new powers being granted to local authorities and the Environment Agency. However, she went so far as to say that while she was imposing and creating new offences and responsibilities, they should not be taken as duties. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to set out for the House's information what new resources have been allocated and what financial assessment has been made, particularly in view of the fact that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), sharing the view of the Law Society, pointed out that it will, in many cases, be the poorer and more deprived members of society, who are least able to pay, who will be penalised. The Minister will, I am sure, hope to confirm what the Secretary of State said about there being no additional resources and no pump-priming. Seemingly, therefore, there will be no recognition of the new powers and the increased costs.
The Secretary of State said that in certain instances the Bill relieves the police of powers in relation to nuisance. That raises the question whether it will transfer resources from the police to local authorities to enable them to use those powers. A constant theme has been requests to local authorities to take on more powers, but what recognition have the Government given to the costs of empowering local councils. For example, there is the need for staff training and providing staff with the tools to do the work set out in the Bill.
The regulatory impact assessment was laid before the House in December. It says that receipts given to local authorities for various aspects of the Bill would amount
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to a little over £3 million if there were to be a forecast 50 per cent. payment rate. At a forecast of 75 per cent., the receipts would be £4 million. We shall use the Standing Committee's scrutiny procedures to focus on that. Will the Minister satisfy the House tonight, however, on the question of there being only a 10, 20 or 30 per cent. take-up of fixed penalty notices? If income was not forthcoming, how would the local authorities and the Environment Agency be expected to pay?
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