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Mr. Gummer: I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy). I do not think that she would accuse me of being an over-regulator, but I am surprised that she defends the industry, which has come into the debate only because of the considerable pressure placed on it. We must ask whether we should have done that a long time ago, given that most of us support the "polluter pays" concept. In this case, the industry puts on to the public market a product that is not biodegradable, that causes considerable unpleasantness, litters our streets and causes a great deal of damage to clothing and the like because of the way in which it is disposed of.

The hon. Lady is right to say that it is pretty disgusting that Britain is less clean than our continental neighbours. Perhaps that is another example of something that we can learn from our neighbours, instead of always believing that we can teach them everything.

5.30 pm

I wonder whether the hon. Lady was entirely fair about the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). My hon. Friend is seeking to put a much greater responsibility on those who create the problem in the first place. If the industry is making money out of gum and people are causing trouble not just in small numbers but all over the country, which is resulting in what most would consider unpleasant, that industry should be producing some hard evidence of research and answers so that people can eat gum that is biodegradable, or at least easily cleaned up. I see no such evidence at this stage, yet that is what we would expect in almost every other circumstance.

I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Lady's points—that was a perfectly proper case for her to put, especially on behalf of her constituents—but we need to go a good step further, simply because, on the evidence, nothing will be done until there is so much pressure that the industry feels that it must do something. Corporate social responsibility might well have led the industry to do more in the past.

My hon. Friend also commented on the areas covered—if that is the right phrase—by the Bill. One must recognise that the environment in general, and the built environment in particular, have a huge effect on people's behaviour and their quality of life. I am therefore particularly concerned if we do not point to some of the most obvious examples of litter causing offence. Any of us who are part of the travelling public understand that well.
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I find it difficult to defend the argument that we know that litter is filthy and disgraceful but that it is too expensive to collect it. There are two halves to that argument. One is that we need to do a great deal more to encourage people not to drop litter. Litter is one of the dirtiest aspects of our society, and I am afraid that we are worse than most of our neighbours in that respect. A visit to any other capital city in Europe will reveal that we have degenerated from the point at which once upon a time we were rather proud. We thought that we were rather good, but we are now at the other end of the scale.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): If my right hon. Friend wants to talk about litter, may I suggest that he take a drive down the A1, as I did yesterday? He will see the filthy state of that road. The amount of litter in   some sections is way beyond the Government's recommendation to local authorities. That road has not been cleaned for months, and it is a disgrace that a main artery of this country is in such a state.

Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend points to my concern about what people who visit this country must think about us when they see us behaving in such a way. Some of the worst roads are those leading from the airports into London. One cannot make a party political point about who does the cleaning up; it seems that in general we are dirty in the first place, and that we do not clean up satisfactorily.

I agree with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton that there are two sides to the issue, and that one is to try to encourage people not to drop litter in the first place. Part of that is to ensure that we reduce the amount of packaging. I declare an interest as chairman of Valpak Ltd., which is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to deal with our packaging obligations. Therefore, I have a little knowledge about the matter. We have not yet done enough to reduce packaging. If we had less packaging, and more biodegradable packaging, we would be protecting our streets and the sides of our railways.

The culprits are the people who drop litter, and we should improve how we teach people about litter. Perhaps more of us should follow the example of those redoubtable ladies who, when they see somebody drop litter, tend to pick it up and say, "You seem to have dropped this." One must be quite brave to do that, and "redoubtable" is perhaps an understatement of such people's nature. We must introduce much tougher penalties—a matter on which the Government have done a good deal. We must also ensure that people take responsibility for clearing up afterwards, which is the only way to drive them to try to improve the position.

The new clauses tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) and for Vale of York are worthy of consideration by the Government. Although the Bill is small it is valuable, but it could be improved, and those are two areas in which it could properly be improved. I shall be particularly concerned if the Government are not prepared to lay greater responsibilities on the creators of the products that specifically and particularly cause offence, even if that is done by saying that unless a significant improvement is made over a period of time, certain things will happen.
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We have not gone far enough—on chewing gum, in particular. I hope that in another place the Government will go further, and come closer to meeting a reasonable objection from many people in our society.

Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD): This is a tough problem. I am sure that all hon. Members are aware that stains left by chewing gum are present wherever we go. In some buildings, beautifully designed paveways have been ruined by chewing gum stains, which are a menace.

Conservative new clause 10 is similar to some of the amendments that we discussed in Committee, so we know that more must be done and that more consultation is required. The consultation must be tough because the problem is no longer acceptable. Some would like us to go for the industry now, while others say that we should engage in consultation and implement regulations if we really want to solve the problem.

As I said in Committee, although we have dealt with people who allow their dogs to make a mess, that does not mean that we can deal with people who drop chewing gum—a dog is an obvious culprit, but people who quietly drop chewing gum are not easily identified. The problem caused by chewing gum is far greater than that caused by dogs, and we must deal with the many people who think it reasonable to drop chewing gum.

Liberal Democrats in the London assembly have surveyed 33 local authorities, every one of which thinks chewing gum a nuisance. Some 81 per cent. of London local authorities believe that gum companies should concentrate on developing biodegradable gum, which is essential; 53 per cent. of them do not think that imposing fines will stop people from discarding chewing gum, which is an area that we must explore; and 41 per cent. of them say that they have established dedicated teams to remove chewing gum from the streets. Tube companies spend £2 million a year and councils spend £2.3 million a year on cleaning up gum.

Linda Gilroy : Does the hon. Lady agree that it is essential to tackle behaviour rather than putting money into perpetually cleaning up gum? Westminster council has said that the gum returns within 10 days of a clean-up.

Sue Doughty: It is a complex issue. We need carrots and sticks to ensure that people do not constantly have to pay this money. London Liberal Democrats have suggested the introduction of a penny-a-pack levy on manufacturers, and I understand that Westminster council—we heard in Committee how much money it has spent—agrees with that.

Mr. Gummer: Does the hon. Lady agree that a company that started entirely afresh in marketing a new product that was known to have such an impact would, as a matter of corporate social responsibility, be expected to change its formulation or to arrange for some kind of compensation for those who had to clean it up?

Sue Doughty: On the whole, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. However, life is full of unintended consequences, and only after products are marketed do we find that people have developed a particular
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behaviour in respect of them. In fairness, I do not believe that chewing gum manufacturers ever imagined that their product would be sold to people who throw it down in the street and walk away from it, which is a pretty disgusting thing to do. We do not have the prescience to say, "Here is a new product—its consumers will immediately misbehave in this particular way." We could introduce biodegradable gum and withdraw the nasty stuff from the market, but even biodegradable products do not simply vanish—if we cleaned up Oxford street it would be just as bad 10 days later.

London Liberal Democrats recommended that chewing gum manufacturers should have to print large messages about correct disposal. That is a good idea and I hope that they will take it up. We need publicity campaigns to tell every person who buys this stuff not to throw it away, and we need more chewing gum bins outside major transport hubs. We worry about smoking waste, which is getting worse as people are driven outside to smoke and litter is created by doorways, but at least there are little receptacles on the walls indicating that people can put their rubbish there. That is not the case with chewing gum. We do not tell people, "This is where you stick the stuff", so they will stick it wherever they like.

If we do not quickly come up with some good ideas, local government will continue to face disproportionate bills to pay for the clean-up costs. That is unfair.

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