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Miss McIntosh: New clause 2 elaborates a duty in section 89 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to keep land and highways clear of litter. It would make specific provision for the Secretary of State to issue regulations to establish standards in respect of discarded chewing gum different from those that apply to other litter. It would allow for the subsequent consultation of local authorities and others about the proposed regulations. Those regulations and the consultation on them would provide an opportunity for consideration and discussion of the costs of gum clear-up, and of the standards that realistically could be achieved.

5.15 pm

We discussed clause 27 at some length in Committee. For the first time, the definition of "litter" covers discarded chewing-gum, the discarded remains of other products designed for chewing—I presume that means bubble gum—and the discarded ends of cigarettes, cigars and like products. One of the clause's perceived benefits is that it would strengthen the ability of local authorities to enforce the provision making the discarding of gum a fixed penalty litter offence. We have had numerous discussions with Westminster city council, whose record on the clearing of litter is second to none. In its view, the discarding of chewing gum is rarely seen, and the scope for applying fixed penalties for litter offences to this problem is slim. One of the problems is being able to identify the point at which chewing gum is discarded.

New clause 10 would insert a new section 93A in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. That would be a positive step in bringing all parties together to look at more imaginative, socially responsible and environmentally friendly ways of disposing of gum. With a general election not too far away, we hope, as an aspiring Government, to work with producers and consumers to consider ways of introducing biodegradable gum and wrapping paper. The thrust of the new clause is very much in that spirit. We would work with relevant parties, including the litter authorities and such other persons and bodies as the Secretary of State thought fit, to consider

The House will recall that the Government spent £60,000 to study the ways in which people dispose of chewing gum, but they were unable to come up with a best means of removing it. We believe that all parties could work on this together, and we would like to see how producers and consumers could be made jointly responsible for the disposal of discarded chewing gum and its remains. The results of the consultation would be published.
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The Secretary of State would also implement policies to increase public awareness of the penalties for the illegal disposal of chewing gum. It is all very well having fixed penalty notices, but this is very much a matter of educating and informing people, in particular schoolchildren. That is the right way forward. We await the Minister's response with interest, but it is my intention to press new clause 2 to a vote.

Amendment 3 is to clause 18, and would mean that

The public pass close to such land and they throw litter on to it. The amount of litter thrown, and the costs to the railway undertakings, are substantial. We hope that the Minister is inclined to look sympathetically on the amendment.

Clause 18 provides for the extension of litter-dropping offences to land to which there is public access. It appears to be a weaker proposal than that set out in the "Clean Neighbourhoods" consultation that took place in July 2004, which seemed to envisage that such offences would be extended to all land without caveat. We were thus surprised that the Bill excluded land to which the public do not have access, including boarded-off or fenced-off land adjacent to railways that is maintained by such bodies as Tube Lines and Network Rail. It would clearly be beneficial to them if amendment No. 3 were adopted and the caveat removed.

Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. Friend help me by explaining why she thinks that the Government have specifically excluded such undertakings? It is difficult to expect private people to carry through such obligations when they see that they do not apply to other areas. Some of the filthiest places that impinge on the eye of the beholder are those along railway lines and close to railway stations.

Miss McIntosh: I would like to help my right hon. Friend, but I have great difficulty in doing so. The consultation process that took place in July 2004—prior to the Bill's publication—led private undertakings, including Tube Lines and Network Rail, to understand that land on which the public do not walk, but on which they tend to throw litter, would be covered.

The problem is extremely costly. Trains must often be stopped so that tracks on which litter has been thrown may be accessed. The cost of a train being delayed by an hour while litter is picked up is £25,200. However, there would be a multiplying effect if trains had to be stopped during peak time. If a London terminal station had to be closed for eight hours for such a purpose, it could lead to a cost of more than £2 million. There is great concern about the problem. Network Rail recommended during consultation on the Bill that local authorities should only as a last resort serve notice to enable such private undertakings to access tracks, and even then, only at the safest and most cost-efficient times.

These are not just probing amendments. We hope to elicit from the Government an assurance that such private undertakings will be put in a much stronger position, especially as envisaged under amendment No. 3. The private companies understood that they had been
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given certain assurances at the time of the consultation process, so we hope that the Bill will reflect that. Clearing such litter is extremely expensive, and the safety aspect of the procedure must be considered given the proximity of litter to tracks and trains. Transport operators think that they are the victims of antisocial behaviour, because it is the travelling public who tend to throw rubbish on the railway. Not only private companies such as Tube Lines and Network Rail, but bodies such as the London Transport Users Committee, are appealing to the House to support the amendment.

We could have gone further and asked for vehicles to be included under the scope of the provision, and perhaps the Minister will comment on Government amendments that relate to the exclusion of buses. We especially wish to press new clause 2 to a Division.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I declare an interest as someone who chews gum, as someone who has a large number of constituents who work for Wrigley's, the main manufacturer of gum, and as someone who shares the exasperation caused by litter, including the inappropriate disposal of gum. I want to see an end to that as much as anyone does.

Understandably, people get hot under the collar about the impact of carelessly thrown gum. If we are serious about finding a solution, we need to ask why other European countries do not have the same problem, although their people chew as much gum as ours do. The simple answer is that other countries' citizens do not chuck their gum away in the way that some of our citizens do.

The chewing gum action group, convened by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has been meeting for just over 12 months. Wrigley's plays an active part in that. Through something that the group calls segmentation research, which the Standing Committee considered, it has discovered that people who cause that nuisance do so for a variety of reasons. Gum disposal psychology could form the basis of an interesting debate, but as I only want to make a short contribution, I shall resist that temptation.

We are beginning to understand a lot about responsible gum disposal. As with most things, a blend of carrot and stick has an impact on that, which is why clarification of gum as litter and stronger enforcement of fines have an important, but perhaps modest, part to play in dealing with the difficulty.

The chewing gum action group is preparing to launch a campaign based on what has been learned about gum disposal behaviour and the messages that are likely to encourage people to behave well, rather than badly. That has to be pitched carefully, because the wrong advertising campaign or programme to tackle the problem could make things worse rather than better. The industry will back that up with point-of-sale material, with the support of retailers, and will do more work on good gum disposal messages in schools—something that it has been doing for a long time. The action group will also consider developing an innovation fund to help councils develop new solutions. That will be an effective blend of carrot and stick.

The Conservatives always rail against too much regulation on business, so I am a little surprised that the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh)
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proposes just that when so much work is being done. As the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) said in Committee, if that work does not reduce gum littering, we may need to return to the matter and consider legislation. In the meantime, I hope that the hon. Member for Vale of York will consider her position and withdraw the new clause, because the next time she or any of her hon. Friends want to deregulate, she may blush a bit when she recollects that rather than resisting the urge to regulate, she jumped on a popular bandwagon when it came along, before giving partnership and voluntary co-operation a chance to work and to produce a genuinely sustainable solution. I urge hon. Members to oppose the new clauses.

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