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Standing Committee Debates
Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Standing Committee G

Tuesday 18 January 2005


[David Taylor in the Chair]

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Motion made, and Question proposed,


    (1) during proceedings on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill the Standing Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting on Tuesday 18th January at 9.25 a.m.) meet on—

    (a) Tuesday 18th January at 2.30 p.m.

    (b) Thursday 20th January at 9.25 a.m. and 2.30 p.m.

    (c) Tuesday 25th January at 9.25 a.m. and 2.30 p.m.

    (d) Thursday 27th January at 9.25 a.m. and 2.30 p.m.

    (e) Tuesday 1st February at 9.25a.m. and 2.30 p.m.

    (2) The proceedings shall be taken in the following order—

    Clauses 1 to 18, Clauses 20 and 21, Clauses 25 to 27, Clause 19, Clause 22, Clause 24, Clauses 28 to 30, Clause 23, Clauses 31 to 84, Schedule 1, Clauses 85 to 87, Schedule 2, Clauses 88 to 92, Schedule 3, Clauses 93 to 106, Schedule 4, Clause 107, Schedule 5, Clauses 108 to 111, New Clauses, New Schedules, Remaining proceedings on the Bill.

    (3) The proceedings on the Bill shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.30 p.m. on Tuesday 1st February.—[Alun Michael.]

9.25 am

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I most warmly welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Taylor. It will be a privilege and a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, albeit for the brief time that has been made available. I am grateful to the Minister for the informal and formal discussions that we had yesterday and for the flexibility that the Government have shown at the outset.

This is an important Bill. It is clear that we will be hard pressed to get through every aspect of it, as it has more than 100 clauses and a significant number of schedules, and several new clauses have been tabled. I hope that the Minister will agree to allow a little spillover if that is clearly necessary, either through the debate or the number of amendments tabled, in order to maintain flexibility and a spirit of co-operation during the proceedings.

For the record, it is interesting to note that the Railways Bill, which has only 40 clauses and is probably less contentious and less controversial—it merely puts shape to a series of announcements that the Government have made on transport policy—was allocated 12 sittings. It is a little disappointing that we have been allocated only 10 sittings for a controversial Bill that extends the powers of local councils and others. I simply note that for the record. The Minister may wish to comment on it for our guidance and better understanding of the way in which the Government operate.

Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD): I look forward to working with you, Mr. Taylor. This is the first opportunity that I have had to do so, and, as you are
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such an active Member of Parliament, I am sure that the Committee will function successfully. I, too, would like to thank the Minister for the formal and informal discussions that we have had on programming. We all agreed in those discussions that knives would not be necessary, given a certain amount of give and take. We believe that discussion of the amendments that we want to table can be fitted into the time allowed, but we are grateful that the Government have chosen not to put in knives and to allow some flexibility as we go along.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): I join the general chorus of approbation of your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor. This is the first time that I have had the pleasure of serving under your chairmanship, and I look forward to it.

At the start, we thought that eight sittings would be reasonably generous for dealing with a Bill which I am rather surprised to hear described as controversial or contentious. I assure the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) that the issues are not contentious or controversial on housing estates in inner cities or rural areas up and down the country, where the Bill will be appreciated. There has been a little misjudgment on the part of the Conservative party about the importance, popularity and effectiveness of the measures that we shall be considering.

Nevertheless, we have extended the number of sittings to a generous 10. We have made it clear that the purpose of the Committee is to consider the details of the Bill and consider alternatives. I am grateful to the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) for confirming that, with a bit of good will on all sides, we can ensure that all Members are able to probe the issues that they believe to be important in order for the Bill to come through its Committee stage as an effective piece of legislation. There will be a certain amount of banter over points on which we disagree, but it seems that the Committee stage will be constructive and that we shall co-operate, at least to the extent of looking for flexibility, if it is needed, to ensure that everybody can get in their two penn'orth.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 2.

Division No. 1]

Ainger, Mr. Nick
Bradley, Peter
Doughty, Sue
Follett, Barbara
Hall, Patrick
McDonagh, Siobhain
Michael, Alun
Wright, Iain

Evans, Mr. Nigel
McIntosh, Miss Anne

Question accordingly agreed to.

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Clause 1

Crime and disorder reduction strategies

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Alun Michael: I am particularly pleased to commend the clause because it amends section 6 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to make it clear that damage to the local environment is a part of the continuum of low-level offences, running through vandalism and damage to disorder and serious crime. It follows that the crime and disorder reduction partnerships established under the 1998 Act should consider the state of the local environment and the types of offences that are doing damage to neighbourhoods in their area in developing their strategy for reducing crime and disorder.

I have no intention of using the initials CRDP, which somebody seems to have invented to refer to these partnerships. It is for the Home Office and other Departments to decide on their use of initials, but I have said that they are banned in DEFRA. To use any set of initials less easily identified than AA, RAC or RAF excludes those who are not familiar with initials, and it is important that crime and disorder reduction partnerships engage the public rather than exclude them. That certainly applies to increasing the sense in the local community that their neighbourhood is clean, safe and green by reducing the damage done by litter, graffiti, fly-posting, vandalism and other so-called petty offences. They may be petty offences in themselves, but their cumulative effect creates a sense of ''Nobody cares around here'', and therefore the response ''Why should I care?'' The answer is that we should all care. There is an individual and a collective responsibility on the community and an institutional responsibility on the police, the local authority and others involved in the local crime and disorder reduction partnership to ensure that a balanced and proportionate response is made to offences that degrade the local environment.

We want to ensure that local crime and disorder reduction partnerships consider—I emphasise the word ''consider''—the quality of the local environment when conducting their audits and then developing their strategies. Once they have considered the local situation, it is for the partnership to decide whether offences of the sort covered by the Bill are relevant to their concerns. If they are not a problem, they should not receive attention in the strategy. However, I suspect that there will be few areas, whether rural or urban, where some aspects of environmental offending are not relevant. In one area, for instance, there may be a serious problem of fly-tipping or burnt-out vehicles, but little fly-posting or graffiti. The duty on the partnership is to address the problems that exist, not a theoretical construct that is not relevant to local circumstances. What is certain is that the broken window theory applies. If we do not tackle degradation of the local environment quickly and get the message across ''We care around here'', things will deteriorate. There is a link between damage to the local environment and people's sense of well-being and the levels of crime and disorder that can develop.

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I am particularly pleased that we are amending the 1998 Act in this way because it was very much my baby when we came into Government in 1997, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) said on Second Reading. Putting in place structures that would bring about a significant reduction in crime and disorder was a top priority when I joined the present Foreign Secretary at the Home Office as his deputy in 1997. Work on that approach, which went back a number of years before that, was rooted in the Morgan report and in the document ''Partners against Crime'', which I published in Opposition in 1994. I am pleased to say that, six years on, the Foreign Secretary and I still come across chief police officers who comment that the 1998 Act in general and the creation of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships in particular were the biggest step towards dealing with local crime and disorder that they had seen in their career. So why are making the change now? There are two reasons.

The first is that we always intended that damage to the local environment and vandalism in the local neighbourhood should be part of the continuum to be examined and addressed by crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Many partnerships addressed this problem from day one, but not all have done so. Some have taken the more old-fashioned view that these are petty offences and not worthy of specific attention. That is why we are taking this opportunity to make it clear that these issues, which are at the forefront of people's minds in most parts of the country, need to be sensibly addressed in the local crime and disorder reduction strategy.

The second reason why it is now timely to make the expectations explicit is that we can now measure the extent of environmental offending in an area and the comparative improvement or deterioration over time. That is important in the context of the old saying, ''What don't get measured don't get done''. These things have been measured, and the Government and local government have a done a great deal of work over recent years to make sure that they could be, but that was not the case in 1998. We inherited a situation in which a good deal of offending went unremarked, which is why changes in the collection of statistics were made shortly afterwards. So-called low-level violence, for instance, was brought into the equation for the reporting and recording of crime.

The issues dealt with in the Bill have taken a little longer to address, and to an extent we are still in the early stages. I shall shortly publish the third local environmental quality audit produced by ENCAMS, the environmental charity that we sponsor. When we published the second report last year, it was possible for the first time to compare the 2003 snapshot with the 2002 snapshot of local environmental quality. It was possible to note that littering had got worse—by about 12 per cent.—a point raised by the Opposition on Second Reading. As I said in my response, what is interesting now is not only the deterioration in some aspects but evidence from work done by ENCAMS and elsewhere that a local partnership can make a massive difference—perhaps an improvement of
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20 per cent. in respect of fast-food litter, for instance. By examining progress over time, we can see where things are getting worse, where things are getting better and what we can do to make sure that we move in the right direction rather than the wrong one. The important thing then is to learn the lessons and make sure that they are spread across the country and that improvement becomes universal.

This process is considerably helped by other evidence now available to us. BVPI199—best value performance indicator 199—now gives a measure of each local authority's effectiveness in cleaning up its local environment. The comprehensive performance assessment programme places an emphasis on local environment quality, which is rightly part of determining whether a local authority is a high-performing authority or not. We share the view, with councillors generally and the Local Government Association in particular, that people are concerned about their local environment and that it is therefore crucial for the Government and local government to tackle these problems effectively and create what several Government Departments have identified as ''cleaner, safer, greener'' communities for everybody to live in.

Why is the clause so important? It is important because it sets the strategic framework within which local environmental quality can be improved and makes explicit the nature of the continuum that starts with petty environmental offences such as littering and dog fouling. Let me use the issue of dog fouling to underline a big difference between us and the Conservative party. Typically during the Second Reading debate the Conservative contributions pointed to one negative fact in the ENCAMS report, but the report demonstrated where things are getting better as well as worse. It demonstrated explicitly that dog fouling has reduced over recent years in most areas and in the country generally. Improvement is not the same as perfection, and we should not be complacent, but I can illustrate the point from experience in my constituency. As I discovered on Saturday, it is still possible to get oneself mired in an unpleasant substance left by somebody else's pooch. However, as a regular runner, I examine the pavements of Penarth with great diligence, and the situation has improved massively over the past few years. Dog owners have got the message.

To return to the strategic approach that needs to be taken, let us look at the operation of local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. The authorities that make up the local partnership, together with the wider group of partners that they have to engage, have a responsibility to carry out an audit to establish the nature and extent of crime and disorder, antisocial behaviour, and misuse of drugs in their local area. Collecting the evidence will involve looking at the crime figures, but other hard and soft evidence will also be involved.
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