Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

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The Chairman: Order. May I bring the hon. Lady back to the subject of the clause stand part debate?

Sue Doughty: We need to establish that the quality of the environment is not an issue only at election times. It matters between elections, at times when people do not necessarily exercise their voice and they rely on their elected representatives and the statutory bodies to deal with such matters on their behalf. Otherwise, there is endless disillusionment, as nobody does anything except when there is an election.

We have concerns about the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. They play a strong part in the provisions not only of clause 1 but of later clauses. However, it is right to refer to them now, and to continue to refer to the bodies that I hope will contribute to making the provisions of the Bill a success.

The Environmental Audit Committee report also recommended that the

    ''war on local environmental blight has to be mainstreamed within local authorities.''

It is essential that it becomes a mainstream issue. It should not be something that we deal with after we have dealt with everything else. The report states:

    ''Co-operation within and between councils must improve, and likewise between national government and its agencies and those that act on a more limited geographical basis.''

The Government were enthusiastic about that in their response, but we want to ensure that they and the Local Government Association continue to help to identify best practice, and ensure that it is not just the best councils who do well, but all councils, and that there is clear information in those councils and across the different communities about who is responsible for each aspect of the things dealt with in the clause. Those things are important.

10.15 am

Recently—well, it is not recently; the tragedy is that this has been going on for two and a half years—there has been an initiative at Surrey university called ''Lights, Camera, Action''. It was initiated by the students and intended to deal with the problems of walking home through various badly lit tunnels where the vegetation provided cover for people to jump out. There was flashing and rubbish; the students were quite fearful of coming and going to lectures at the end of the afternoon when it was dark.

The area that the tunnel led on to was possibly not one of our friendliest for students, so when they came out of the tunnel they were getting quite a lot of abuse from the non-student youth. In fairness to the students union, it put forward a lot of proposals and pulled together all the different people: the county council, the police, local government and me—anybody whom it thought could work together in a concerted way. It seems to be doing its part. The university is part of various local partnerships, including the ''Safer Guildford'' partnership.

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Curiously, the low-cost initiatives, such as cutting back the vegetation, which a lot of the students did themselves, took place. However, although we have an agreement as part of that partnership for cameras to be there to record crime, the cameras have still not been installed. I am concerned that when we have strategies where groups of people are doing their bit—the students are trying to get closer to the people with whom there appears to be disagreement so that they get to know one another better and calm down some flashpoints—there does not seem to be the follow-through. There seem to be endless committee meetings, however.

Many of the organisations have a turnover of people and the initiatives are lost. In relation to the strategies, we want to ensure that we do not just meet every six months and say, ''Well, the camera still does not work.'' We want the camera to work. We want the outcomes to be delivered, rather than just having noise coming out of the committees.

We are looking for Government support in encouraging that cross-area working, in asking what the outcomes are and in encouraging people. Where possible, we are looking for more active support in identifying areas where it is difficult to deliver because of the problems that we have with local government funding in so many of our councils.

Alun Michael: The hon. Member for York seemed to be making—

Miss McIntosh: Vale of York.

Alun Michael: I apologise to the city, and the vale. The hon. Member for Vale of York seemed to be making a Second Reading speech. She referred to a number of issues that arise later in the Bill, although it would be more appropriate to consider them when we reach those clauses. However, I will respond to the general points that she made. She has failed to understand the impact of the Bill and how it fits into the context of a lot of other steps to reduce the impact of environmental crime. Legislation is just one thing that makes an impact.

The hon. Lady referred to the transfer of responsibilities. Of course the transfer of responsibilities involves the commensurate transfer of finance, but a lot of the Bill involves giving powers, options and flexibility, and removing obstacles. We worked very hard with local government and consulted widely in drawing up the Bill. It seeks to address many issues that local authorities, the police and others have identified as standing in the way of their being able to deliver in the way that she and the hon. Member for Guildford have referred to.

I cannot avoid pointing out that if local authorities are under some financial pressure, the hon. Member for Vale of York should consider what the pressure would be after the swingeing cuts that are promised should we be unfortunate enough to have a Conservative Government. We certainly encourage local authorities to use the powers available to them. It is in the context of a comprehensive look at the needs
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of the local area, and the strategy referred to in the clause, that we want local environmental issues to be dealt with.

The hon. Lady mentioned in passing taking on new powers shortly after the implementation of parts of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. That is intended to address problems on highways and in locations where the 2000 Act provisions do not give local authorities the ability to tackle the situation. Again, it is a matter of dealing with practicalities.

The hon. Lady suggested that in parallel with the wide strategic view that we want the crime and disorder reduction partnerships to take, there should be work on awareness. I agree. I referred earlier to the work that has already been done by the Home Office through the TOGETHER Academy, with best practice led by the Home Office. I referred to the campaigning work of ENCAMS—we are increasing its resources—and there is recognition by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister of the major importance of campaigns, which put in the hands of local authorities that are trying to do their bit to tackle the problem ways to raise consciousness locally. There is also the sustainable communities strategy promoted by the ODPM.

Mr. Evans: I agree that we have to make as many people as possible aware of those strategies, and many people will want to get involved in them. I have looked at the explanatory notes on clause 1 and they mention some bodies, including local authorities, chief police officers and primary care trusts. Is there a full list of those community bodies that can become part of the strategic group, because they will want an input, including in my area such groups as Neighbourhood Watch and Farmwatch?

Alun Michael: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not know how that operates in his area. The system is in place, and I suggest that he visit the Home Office website and examine the guidance for local strategic partnerships and how all those groups are engaged. There is a hierarchy of involvement from the ones that have the primary responsibility for drawing up the strategy, which then have the responsibility to engage others. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provides for the identification of all those that have to be involved to the extent that that is appropriate to their work.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that organisations such as Neighbourhood Watch were very much engaged in the design and have been engaged locally as part of best practice throughout the country. I suggest that he has a little discussion with the chief executive of his local authority and the superintendent in his constituency about how the local partnership operates. That will provide a specific answer on the local engagement of all organisations of the sort to which he referred.

Mr. Evans: It is pointless being chippy about this. The fact is that the explanatory notes mention some of but not all the bodies. I know that many neighbourhood watch schemes have been under a lot of pressure because they have had their funding cut.
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We will want to use some of those bodies and it may have been better had a number of them been listed in the Bill.

Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman comes rather late to these discussions, important though they are in every constituency throughout the country. The fact is that the requirements for crime and disorder reduction partnerships were set out in the 1998 Act. In the light of experience, amendments were made in the Police Reform Act 2002, and this is a further step forward, having learned from experience and what works best. Therefore, one would not expect to find in the notes for this Bill a comprehensive explanation of how crime and disorder partnerships work.

What we do have is an explanation of why local environmental offending, degradation of the environment and the offences dealt with in the Bill are crucial to dealing with the wider issue of crime and disorder—the continuum I referred to at the beginning of my remarks—and why everyone needs to be involved, not just the lead organisations that take part in drawing up the strategy, but the local community and its response, business and the voluntary community organisations and so on.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is all part of the developing good practice being promoted by the crime reduction directors and their teams in the Government offices for the regions as well as at the crucial local level.

The hon. Member for Vale of York is right to refer to the importance of linking the different requirements that are placed on the bodies involved. She mentioned the link between the crime and disorder reduction partnerships and the local strategic partnerships, and indeed the co-operation required under the Children Act 2004. She will appreciate that the original guidance for local crime and disorder reduction partnerships pre-dates the 2004 Act and the intention is that when the next round of crime and disorder reduction strategies are published in April they will reflect and align themselves with other plans, such as those required under that Act.

It is always right to review such arrangements over a period. The Home Office is leading plans to review the partnership provisions of the 1998 Act with an emphasis on how the partnerships relate to other partnerships, including the youth offending teams. Let us remember that, in recognition of the need for a proper partnership across the silos of central Government and local government, a number of new organisations were created after the 1997 general election. The 1998 Act was a part, but only one part, of that. It is important for all those elements to come together.

It is also important to have across agencies a focus on the needs of children and on the need to reduce crime and improve security in local communities. Government is inevitably complex—unless it is silo-like—as it has been too often in the past. The development of partnership approaches is complex, but that is because they need to make effective the
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work of a variety of organisations. Even as things stand, youth offending teams can contribute their experience of situations in the local area to the partnerships' discussions. I know directly that that happens in many of the best partnerships.

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