Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

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The Chairman: Order. May I bring the hon. Lady back to the question before the Committee, which is that clause 1 stand part of the Bill?

10 am

Miss McIntosh: I will talk in more general terms and return to specifics later.

One reason why the antisocial behaviour order referred to in clause 1 exists is because the Government have signed up to EU directives willy-nilly and have not implemented them. In its briefing, the Local Government Association is specific that for the clause
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to succeed, there needs to be an awareness campaign and a positive education programme. Does the Minister accept that it has a point? If so, who will be responsible for the awareness campaign? Will the Government take responsibility for that and for a series of educational programmes, or will they rely on local authorities to do so? If that is the case, will those local authorities be funded to run them?

We also heard from the all-party group on children, which has issued a child impact statement. The group recognises that many of the offences that give rise to the provisions will, in all probability, involve youths, and notes that the clause is silent on the role of youth offending teams. That is a problem. It clearly falls within the brief of the Home Office. I understand from the shadow Home Office team how busy things are with the number of Bills that are going through at the moment, but the clause should rightly fall within a Bill sponsored by the Home Office. I pay tribute to the Minister, because his credentials as a Home Office Minister are on the record, or so he told me last week, and who am I to disagree?

However, it is perverse that no clear role is set out for youth offending teams. Was that a deliberate omission? Surely they should have a role to play in the partnership approach, and that that should be included in the Bill. There is also a lack of clarity throughout in relation to the age at which youths will be deemed to be brought within clause 1, and whether it is targeted specifically at under-18s or only at over-18s.

Is the Minister aware that three of the responsible authorities are part of the new local strategic partnerships, and that also relates to local authorities, the chief police officer, the police authorities, the fire and rescue authorities and primary care trusts, which form part of the crime reduction strategies to which the Minister referred? The local strategic partnerships were created by section 10 of the Children Act 2004. The Minister will be aware that they are obliged to plan and commission children's services, to achieve the five outcomes for children that are listed under the crime strategic partnership.

It is unclear from the clause, and from the Minister's introduction and explanation, how the crime and disorder reduction strategies are meant to feed into the new process. In particular, I refer him to the new local authority children and young people's plan set up by section 17 of the 2004 Act. Again, that is symptomatic of the fact that the provisions relate to Home Office activities. I repeat that it is unclear how the youth offending teams will be involved in developing those crime reduction strategies.

The Minister will also be aware that local authorities have a duty under schedule 2(7) of the Children Act 1989

    ''to take reasonable steps designed to reduce the need to bring . . . criminal proceedings against . . . children''

within their area and

    ''to encourage children within their area not to commit criminal offences.''

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It is unclear how the provisions will fit in with that duty. Will the Minister be more specific in that regard? The Bill provides an excellent opportunity to make clear the relationship between those partners and what their duties should be. I hate to invite the Minister to contradict the Secretary of State, but this is a matter on which those partners would not have discretion, but would be under a duty to consult, in particular the youth offending teams.

The clause amends section 6 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Section 6(2) states:

    ''Before formulating a strategy, the responsible authorities shall . . . carry out a review of the levels and patterns of crime and disorder in the area (taking due account of the knowledge and experience of persons in the area)''.

The Minister said that that would form part of the public consultation, but does he have an idea of how long that will take? Will he tell us specifically what type of antisocial or other behaviours affect the local environment? Will such behaviours be added to in other legislation on which consultation is currently being considered? Would it not have been better to wait until that consultation was concluded?

I understand from section 6 of the 1998 Act that:

    ''Before formulating a strategy, the responsible authorities shall . . . carry out a review of levels and patterns of crime and disorder in the area . . . prepare an analysis of the results of that review . . . publish in the area a report of that analysis'',

and finally obtain the views of members of the public and others. The strategy must take account of that analysis and the views obtained. It must also set out the objectives to be pursued by the responsible authorities and other bodies, including the long-term and short-term performance targets. Details of that strategy must be published, and the strategy must be reviewed.

For an individual environmental or antisocial offence covered by clause 1, all the requirements in section 6 add up to a sizeable task that the Minister is inviting local authorities to undertake. Will he respond to our concerns and in particular explain why a reference to young people in the partnership approach has been excluded?

The Minister also failed to mention what reference there will be to other interest groups, including landowners such as members of the National Farmers Union, the Countryside Land and Business Association and the utility companies. Utilities such as water and telecommunications companies have the right to go about their business as normal, and they will hope that the provisions will not give rise to any confrontation.

We can consider in more detail the clauses that add more meat later, but the Minister must accept responsibility for the fact that there are more environmental offences under clause 1 because of the Government's actions and their failure to implement EU directives in full. They have had a substantial amount of time—almost eight years—to resolve the problem. Is this a good use of parliamentary time when most local authorities seem to be pursuing the partnership approach?
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Sue Doughty: We broadly support the clause. Crime and disorder reduction partnerships are important, and the fact that they need to include aspects of antisocial behaviour and environmental crime is a given. In the report of the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am a member, on fly-tipping, fly-posting, litter, graffiti and noise, recommendation 29 states:

    ''As EnCams pointed out with regard to litter, graffiti and general local environmental quality, the resources available to local authorities are by and large sufficient, but those within councils dealing with these issues often lack the necessary diligence, enthusiasm and persistence to make those financial resources work effectively.''

The Government said in their response that they are

    ''committed to supporting local authorities in improving performance in this area.''

One aspect of that, particularly for councils in the more affluent areas whose local government funding has been salami-sliced in real terms year after year—more responsibilities but less wherewithal for local government—is that the cake is being cut extremely thinly. It is not just a case of having the financial resources and ensuring that councils use them appropriately, which is a function of the clause, but of the Government addressing concerns about resources, because they will come up again and again.

The Government also said in their response:

    ''central and local Government has been called upon to look at delivering its work more efficiently following the Gershon Review, and we will be working with local authorities to provide support and guidance on achieving this in the context of local environmental quality service delivery.''

I want to know a little more about the Government's view of their part in the delivery of those improvements.

Councils need stronger support, and they and others must give stronger support to the communities that they serve. It is striking that in a relatively affluent area, such as the one that I have the privilege of representing, in which residents are well-heeled and more articulate, if two carrier bags are blowing around, somebody calls the council out to get them cleaned up. Yet litter piles up in corners in less affluent areas. Nobody rings because nobody expects the council to do anything about it.

We must be more proactive in defending the quality of life, not only of those who speak up on their own behalf, but of those who feel it is a lost cause. They do not pick up the phone because they think that it is all a foregone conclusion. Disillusionment with politicians is identifiable in those areas. People say, ''Nothing will ever be done.'' Councils must respond to the concerns in such areas because they should be seen to be effective there as well.

It is a shame that every party will find a little heap of rubbish whenever we have a local government election or by-election. I would not accuse other parties of having manufactured heaps of rubbish, although we sometimes wonder about that. Posing by the rubbish—

Alun Michael: We are on to ''Focus'' leaflets again.
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Sue Doughty: That was not in the ''Focus'' leaflet about which we had the query. I am not using this to make a point about any political party.

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