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Mr. Yeo: Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he regards the concerns and objections of the many thousands of people whose neighbourhoods are increasingly blighted by light pollution from ports as accurately described by the Government as pathetic?
Alun Michael: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that ports should work only in daylight hours? Is he saying that he would sweep away the exemptions that exist for safety reasons? He needs to do a little more homework.
The hon. Gentleman needs to do a little more homework on chewing gum, too, because he talks about producer responsibility. What is he going to do? Fine the producers? He was challenged on that, and his answer was, "I haven't a clue." He is afraid of fixed penalties because they might lead to fund raising. I make the point to him that, with fixed penalties, people contribute only if they have offended. If people do not offend, they do not have to pay. Secondly, I make the point that partnership works. Partnership has been demonstrated to reduce many of these problems.
The hon. Member for Vale of York raises detailed issues in a rather confused way, and she, too, has clearly not understood the wide-ranging nature of our consultation and the support for the Bill from local government. We will deal with many of the issues that she raised in Committee.
I have met Wrigley's on several occasions, and we included it in the working group, along with local government and others. The company is a good deal more positive now than it was earlier. I say that frankly; initially, it was reluctant to recognise just how important the issue is to many people in their local environment. We have sought a partnership approach with Wrigley's and others. We brought the company and ENCAMS, which proposes campaigns on these issues, together in what we hope will be a partnership approach towards an issue that is important to the industry and to local communities and needs to be tackled positively.
In a slip of the tongue, the hon. Lady referred to 18 years. She is, I am sure, aware that that is the period for which the Conservatives were in power, and at the end of it they were still blaming Jim Callaghan and Harold Wilson for everything that the Conservatives failed to do throughout those 18 years. We have a while to go before we stop reminding everybody of the failures of a Conservative Administration who cared little for the environment and abandoned it locally, nationally and internationally.
In the spirit of co-operation that, I am sure, will pertain during the hours that we look forward to spending in Committee, may I bring the right hon. Gentleman back to my question? If funding for the
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measures is not raised through fines, how are local authorities to implement them? Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the Secretary of State's assertion that these are powers, not duties? Are they entirely discretionary? Will the Government seek to enforce them?
Alun Michael: The hon. Lady has missed the point. I accept the courteous way in which she asked her question and I look forward to our debates in Committee. The point is that, at the moment, where there are no fixed penalties, local authorities have to go through the procedure of taking people to court, and where there are fixed penalties they come back to central Government. So, an area may have a problem that is leading to lots of fines being levied, but none of the money comes back to the local authority. If local authorities have a problem, they will now have the money in their coffers to continue to enforce penalties. It is a simple concept, and one that works.
Andrew Mackinlay: I do not know whether my right hon. Friend was, like me, bewildered when listening to the Conservative spokespersons saying that there are existing powers that should be enforced. They have not volunteered how, when and by whom those powers would be enforced even if they did provide a remedy, which they do not.
Alun Michael: I look forward to amendments and new clauses being tabled in Committee that will demonstrate more creativity on the part of Conservative Front Benchers than we have seen today. However, I should not be too hard on the Front Benchers as their efforts to find speakers could only force two fairly innocuous contributionsand by 7 o'clock, there was nobody on the Conservative Back Benches. In fact, to be completely accurate, there were no Back Benchers in the Opposition half of the Chamber by 7 o'clock.
It is a simple fact that the Conservatives do not understand the local environment. They are not interested in it, which makes it all the more absurd that they will vote against the Bill. The reasoned amendment is itself absurd: either its so-called reasons would negate the Bill, or they are reasons to support it. The arguments advanced by hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess)one of those who was dragooned in by the Whipsseemed to have been culled from lobbying organisations. He painted himself into the libertarian end of the Conservative spectrum: he does not want to punish those who wreck the environment and ruin the lives of others in the community. The rhetoric he deployed made it clear that he had not read the Bill.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman can do better in Committee, because he has not done well today. I was surprised by his support for the Law Society's opposition to fixed penalties. I hope that the Law Society will reconsider and agree that fixed penalties offer an efficient means of tackling problems without wasting the time of the courts, local authorities
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and the police. I have just finished a period as the first Minister to serve on a jury, so I bring added experience to bear on the subject.
In contrast to Conservative Members, my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett) reminded us of local people's passion and appetite for the measures and the vigour with which Labour MPs have explored the issues. The Bill is based on the experience of Labour Back Benchers, local councillors, the police, voluntary organisations and local people. My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Iain Wright) correctly linked cleaning up the environment to economic and social regeneration. Social and economic regeneration go hand in hand with an improved environmentit is called sustainable development.
The hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) made a positive contribution in which she stressed the shared responsibility that we all have for our environment. She made clear the Liberal Democrats' general support for the Bill, although she said that she would challenge and probe some issues in Committee, as she is right to do. However, she was not right to say that the Bill "jumps around". It is comprehensive, then specific: the unifying theme and central principle is that of joined-up action at local level and specific proposals are made on the various aspects. The Bill provides a real opportunity for local authorities, the police and the communities that are served by both to work together, and I hope that Liberal Democrats in local government will seize that opportunity.
The hon. Lady acknowledged the cumulative effect of individual decisions on littering and such things as gum stains. She also acknowledged the difference between responsible farmers and landowners and those who are part of the problem. I share her surprise at the Conservatives' opposition to the Billalthough I am also delighted by it, because it makes it clear that they do not understand what they are doing. She made an important specific comment about car alarms. In fact, car alarms can be silenced under the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993, which amends the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to include
The provision allows local authorities to enter or open a vehicle, if necessary by force, to silence a car alarm and to remove the vehicle from the street to a secure place. I hope that greater use of that provision will be encouraged by the Bill's comprehensive approach to alarms on premises.
The hon. Lady rightly referred to Travellers and their impact on some communitiessomething that I have experienced in my constituency. She also made the case for greater flexibility in deciding whether to contract out waste functions. Greater clarity in waste disposal targets and improvements brought about by the Government, particularly the comprehensive performance assessment, which has been mentioned several times, make the narrow requirement that the Bill will remove unnecessary. I look forward to discussing in Committee some of the other concerns that she highlighted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) called on local authorities to use the powers that are given in the Bill. I assure him that I
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believe that there is a strong will among local authorities to do just that. I sit on the Central Local Partnership, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. With my ODPM colleague, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, we have co-chaired a working group with a variety of interests, including local government, on sustainable communities. The Local Government Association has been deeply involved with this work. I believe that it will strongly support not only the passage of the Bill, but its implementation to good effect throughout the country.
I believe that there is a will to use the powers that are set out in the Bill. Issues such as the comprehensive performance assessment will encourage that, as will the fact that a short while ago we published the third ENCAMS report. We never previously had a proper comparison year on year to tell us whether things were changing for the better or the worse. We now have that information. We also have best value performance indicator 199, which measures performance by local authorities. Finally, we have the annual survey of the use of fixed penalty notices. At present, there is a 70 per cent. response, but one that we want, with local government, to be improved.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) suggested in an intervention that the Government had not responded to the recommendation for access to Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency data. He is incorrect, as the Committee was in the first instance. The DVLA makes available to local authorities a website for such inquiries. It started rolling out free online access to its vehicle records for inquiries about abandoned vehicles in September 2002. About 220 local authorities are now connected to the service. I would encourage local authorities that are not already making use of this facility to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) said that she was delighted that the Government had been brave enough to take on these issues. I was impressed by the findings of her constituency surveys that showed that two thirds of responses identified problems with litter, graffiti, gum and abandoned cars as priorities. Her constituents want the new laws that we are now providing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) rightly referred to the determination of Labour councillors in Leeds to tackle local environmental issues. I have spoken to several of them about these matters. The powers do not require extra resources in general. We have made it simpler for local authorities effectively to undertake their work without placing greater weight on their responsibilities.
My hon. Friend referred to the accountability of parish councils, as did the hon. Member for Guildford. My confidence that we are adopting the right approach reflects the experience of the past three years. The National Association of Local Councils and the Society of Local Council Clerks, nationally and at regional level, have shown great leadership. That is reflected at local level by many parish councils.
I know that Conservative Members are not interested in parish councils, but we on the Government Benches are, and we are seeing their reflected performance as a result of local community leadership. There are about 7,000 parishes, and 10,000 if we take into account
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community councils in Wales. There are plenty of poor examples, but elected accountability is a requirement for a quality parish council. Peer support is helping to create a cadre of hugely effective parish and town councils.
My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Claire Ward) said that antisocial behaviour in a community that wants to help itself requires the use of exclusion orders and antisocial behaviour orders. She is right. Having created antisocial behaviour orders at the Home Office, I am always happy to hear of their success. I have seen the orders make a real difference in local communities. My hon. Friend is right to say that no one measure will change everything and that proportionality and logic have to be brought to bear. I am saddened to hear of an obstruction put in the way of a local solution in closing off an access that is a problem in my hon. Friend's area.
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