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Alun Michael: I feel as though I am watching a dog chewing an old bone, because the hon. Lady keeps coming back to issues that have been dealt with time and again. I have made it absolutely clearwe have amended the Billthat there will be no commencement of the requirement that places responsibility solely in the hands of local authorities until there is agreement on resources. That matter has been dealt with. It is not just a question of an assurance from the Dispatch Box, because we have amended the Bill to deal with the matter following an approach from the Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club, and my discussions with them.
I turn to other matters that we were unable to discuss earlier. They include amendments covering graffiti and the huge expense that it causes, as well as the problem not just of fly-posting, but of over-posting. I am delighted that, on this occasion if no other, we have the support of the Liberal Democrats. That is most welcome and we look forward to going into the Division Lobby together.
I said earlier that all fly-tipped waste should be removed and I referred to amendment No. 11, about dogs. An interesting situation occurred on light pollution. The Minister told us categorically that there was no issue concerning light pollution, particularly from sports pitches and playing fields. Subsequently, Sir Trevor Brooking went to see him; perhaps that was another consultation that did not happen with due diligence and in time for the Committee stage. Two or three weeks ago, we tabled a series of amendments that appear on the amendment paper today. We wanted the opportunity of perhaps pressing them to a Division, but we did not reach them because the guillotines fell inappropriately, too frequently and allowed too little scrutiny of the Bill. Those matters were not discussed sufficiently or were not discussed at all.
I dwelt at length on costs. The figures collated by the Government and their advisers, ENCAMS, demonstrate that local authorities will be unable to
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afford to implement the Bill. It is clear that receipts from fixed penalties will contribute only a fraction of the costs involved. Unless the Government are prepared to force local authorities dramatically to increase council tax bills or to offer alternative funding, many of the measures in the Bill will be unenforceable. They are discretionary for the most part, which shows that the Bill has been badly thought out. Its purpose is to grab headlinesit is another of the Government's eye-catching initiatives. Its flaws could not be corrected during the few Committee sittings or the little time available this afternoon and this evening. The Government have failed to listen or to amend the Bill to accommodate any of the concerns and representations raised with Conservative Members. The Bill is in need of further examination. We will not oppose it further in this place, but we hope that the other place will have the scope and time for more in-depth and fuller scrutiny than has been possible today.
The Government have had a good record since 1997 on tackling antisocial behaviour and improving the local environment. Those two themes make a valuable contribution to the quality of people's lives. Labour Members recognise that a good quality environment reduces antisocial behaviour and the fear of crime. A theory developed in New York was the "broken windows" argumentthat the degradation of a place leads to higher levels of crime and disorder. If an area is increasingly neglected, either through lack of individual or community control or neglect by a local authority, people begin to lose confidence about the regulation of their community space and a downward spiral of neglect and disorder is inevitable.
Underpinning the Bill is the attempt to make a cultural shift in our society, whereby values of respect and responsibility for personal and shared property lead to a decrease in antisocial activity. Most MPs realise from our work in our local communities the central importance of those values for our constituents. We are often told that we should talk more about relevant issues. Few issues are more relevant than those we are discussing today, so I welcome the philosophy behind the Bill as well as some of the specific points that it covers. I am conscious of the time and of the fact that other people want to speak so I shall try to be as brief as possible.
Central to the Bill is ensuring that crime and disorder reduction partnerships will take into account low level antisocial behaviour and environmental crimes such as littering and graffiti. That sends the important message to people that disfiguring and degrading our local environment is a crime and will be treated as such. We need to get that message across. I welcome the greater powers that will be given to local councils to deal with alleyways affected by antisocial behaviour. I hope that such powers will be used to restrict public access to alleyways that are used to facilitate crime and vandalism. In an experiment in North Whinmoor, in my constituency, the local community, aided by Councillor Pauleen Grahame, has done a great job constructing an alley gate in the area, which has proved a great success.
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Graffiti and fly-posting are other important issues tackled in the Bill. Both contribute to poor environmental quality and neighbourhood decline. I have to admit that I struggle to appreciate the artistic merit in some of the works of graffiti that I see in our public spacesbe they parks, community buildings or the sides of railway routes. I note that local councils will be able to vary the fixed penalty amounts for graffiti offences, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will exert pressure to ensure that the fines levied are meaningful and not a laughable amount that leads graffiti artists to think that they can carry on their work unhindered.
I warmly welcome the provisions on fly-posting and advertisements. Councils will be able to recover the costs of removing illegally displayed posters or placards. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the Government will do everything possible to ensure that those powers are vigorously enforced? Increasingly, as we drive along motorways and major routes, we see mobile advertisement boards sprouting up on the sides of old lorries and so on. They blight our local environments and communities.
I am also concerned about fly-tipping. As my right hon. Friend has a fantastic grasp of geography he will know of the example that I am about to give: Leeds lane in my constituency, which links Wakefield road with Swillington lane[Interruption.] Yes, that is the one and it is the bane of my life. It is a rural lane overlooking Garforth and I drive along it almost every day that I am in my constituency, and I think that somebody is deliberately trying to psyche me out. Almost every week, household materials are dumped at the side of the footpath. It may be a tribute to the way that Labour is running the economy that baths, fridges, cookers, gas canisters and various bits of furniture are thrown out. Perhaps that just shows how rich our society is. What irritates me is that we never see who is throwing those things away. Should not we invest in a mini CCTV system, which could be hidden in trees or camouflaged in various ways, so that we can track down the people who are responsible? I realise that the police cannot wait at that spot for hours on end, nor can neighbourhood wardens, so let us think creatively and use some money to develop the technology that will catch people who dump rubbish. I offer Leeds lane as a prime site for the Government to make that grand experiment. They will have my full support.
I welcome the new powers in the Bill, especially those that enable councils and the Environment Agency to recover their investigation and clear-up costs when tackling the problem of fly-posting. I note that local councils will be able to issue fixed penalty notices and keep the receipts from such penalties. I am pleased that the Bill introduces a more effective system to stop, search and seize the vehicles used in illegal waste disposal and gives the courts the power to require the confiscation of the vehicles used in that crime. I hope that we can detect them on Leeds lane.
I ask the Minister to urge councils to set up a hotline, staffed by someone who is aware of how big a concern this issue is to people. My constituents have often rung the local supposed hotline, which is actually a lukewarm
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line, to be treated by the person at the other end to a long inquiry, boring questions and so on, when people want action to be taken.
The Bill covers a wide range of issues, including the problem of dog foulingan issue that came to my attention in Great Preston, when I spent some time with a ground worker last Friday. This may sound like the ultimate pub quiz question, but I am indebted to the Library for telling me that UK dogs produce 1,000 tonnes of dog mess every day, which is equivalentthe Minister will not believe thisto the total weight of beef imports into the European Union. I have no idea why the Library draws that parallel.
There are other interesting facts in relation to litter. As I said earlier, I noticed the litter on top of the Opposition Dispatch Box. It is interesting to note that 120 tonnes of cigarette-related litter is discarded on our streets daily and that cigarette litter generates about 40 per cent. of all street litter.
I also note that the Bill will give councils greater flexibility in dealing with noise nuisance from things such as burglar alarms, which have been mentioned, and from licensed premises that ignore warnings to reduce excessive noise levels. Light pollution is also addressed, particularly with respect to badly positioned security lighting and the glare of unshielded bright lights that cover car parks.
In contradiction to what the Conservatives have said, this is a good Bill. It follows, from my reading around it, widespread consultation with people. Legislation is important. The Minister talked about joint working with other Departments, but one of the key Departments that may have lost out is the Department for Education and Skills. I honestly believe that there is a place in schools for teaching about the local environment and that that should be part of the school curriculum. "Think globally, act locally" is the slogan, and I wish that we would take that up; but, obviously, what has the greatest role in education is what our parents tell us. I am one of those who was brought up to believe that if we generate rubbishsweet papers and so onwe should not just drop it on the floor but take it home with us. That may be a homely view of things, but I wish that we could return to that in some respects.
I will not go on too long, but I wish to note that the Bill aims to create cleaner, safer, greener communities. In my view, that means stronger communities, which is what people like me think that politics is all about. This is a good Bill, and I hope that the Minister will explain, if he makes some further comments in closing the debate, how the £500 million cut in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposed by the Conservative party would damage some of the proposals that we have been discussing tonight.
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