Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

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Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful to the Minister, who is being generous in giving way. He referred to local crime audits in relation to crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Does he accept that part of their strength is being locally driven and that if the Government put these offences on a statutory basis they will lose that locally-driven response through crime and disorder reduction partnerships?

Alun Michael: No, absolutely not. That is entirely wrong. I have made it clear that the development of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships in relation to environmental offences needs to be proportionate to the nature and experience of offences in the local area. I said explicitly, ''If there is no such problem locally, don't tackle it. Deal with the things that are part of the problem locally.'' I would apply that to all sorts of other offending. The work of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships is evidence based. They consider the evidence of problems and we need to ensure that the evidence is not just the direct hard evidence of offending and prosecutions, but the softer evidence of people's experience.

It has always been important for people's feeling of confidence and safety to have figures for recorded crime, and the British crime survey reflects people's experience of crime. When they reflect the same sets of facts, we know that we are getting close to dealing with problems in the right way. That must be reflected at local level by making use of hard and soft evidence and then consulting the public on whether they recognise the picture that the hard evidence provides. Nowhere is that more important than in the experience of local environmental quality.

As I have said, it is important to take account of the views of the public, using their experience, as well as the facts, as the foundation for a strategy. However, I do not understand the rather complicated suggestion from the hon. Member for Vale of York on how the public should be consulted. The fact of the matter is that a process has been developed and practice has improved—it will, I am sure, continue to improve over the years—in respect of how the facts are assembled. The crime and disorder reduction strategy is then developed, as is how the public are involved.

The best partnerships have always taken local environmental offending into account. They have always felt that burned-out cars, fly-tipping, fly-posting and graffiti are part of the continuum that they need to address. The clause makes it clear that the Government expect such problems be taken into account and that, now we can measure the performance of local authorities and others in tackling them, such measurement is indeed taken into account as well. The assessment and the strategy are then comprehensive and joined up.

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10.30 am

The hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) made a number of important points. We need to enable local authorities to use their powers more effectively. There are two ways of doing that. One is to remind them of those powers, and to encourage them to use them, and the other is to remove obstacles to their use. A lot of that has been addressed in that, having asked local authorities why they are not using particular powers and having received their reasoned responses, which identify the obstacles, we have sought to use the legislation to remove the obstacles. We shall come on to the detail.

Ultimately, there have to be local decisions. However, there should be national encouragement, and national measurement—so that we are talking the same language in terms of whether people perform well locally—and we should push up quality. An enormous amount of effective work has gone on in the past few years, enabling us to identify the best way of doing that. Best quality performance indicators are part of the process, as is widely acknowledged.

I chair the rural central local partnership, which involves all four of the political groups on the Local Government Association. It is a productive forum for the discussion of many issues. Let me say as an aside—I know that the hon. Lady will agree—that it was surprising to see the recent amendment on Second Reading. I assure the Committee that representatives of rural communities are very keen for local environmental quality issues to be tackled. One of the things that was agreed in that committee, including by some who had initially had reservations, was that the comprehensive performance assessment approach is driving up quality in local authorities, and having a significant effect on their approach to their work.

That is partly because that approach addresses—on the environment, for example—some of the issues that need to be dealt with, and that are covered in the Bill. It also deals with them in the strategic measurement of the performance of the authority, asking whether it is tackling the issues that concern local people. That certainly includes reducing crime and disorder, as well as taking responsibility for local environmental issues. I believe that—not just in the legislation, but outside it in the other work that we are doing across government and with local government—we are providing a significant basis for improvement. The Bill will assist in that improvement, particularly through this clause, but also through many of its other measures.

I agree with the hon. Lady that there is local disillusionment with environmental quality. People are frustrated. Labour Members certainly are, as was illustrated by many of the contributions on Second Reading. Many councillors are also frustrated. All of us need to act more effectively. We can do that by ensuring that the legislation is right, which is what we in this Room are about, and by joining up efficiency, enforcement and campaigning; engaging the interest of the public; making sure that the right penalties are in place and that they are used effectively; and, finally, by taking a strategic and local approach to improving
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the places where people live. That is what the Government have branded the cleaner, safer, greener approach.

Local authorities recognise that that approach is necessary if they are to achieve the improved quality of life to which they aspire. The Bill will help them. This clause, in particular, will drive up quality and cause the improvement in performance at local level that the hon. Lady is calling for—among all partners, and not placing all the onus on the local authority as a specific organisation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill, and copies are available in the Room. I also remind Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, I and my fellow Chairmen do not intend to call starred amendments, including any that may be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee.

Clause 2

Gating orders

Miss McIntosh: I beg to move amendment No. 2, in clause 2, page 2, leave out lines 10 to 15 and insert

    '(3) A council may make such an order to restrict the public right of way where specific evidence exists that—

    (a) illegal business activities have been conducted; or

    (b) incidents of recorded crime have taken place; and'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 31, in clause 2, page 2, leave out lines 12 and 13.

No. 32, in clause 2, page 2, line 22, after 'locality', insert

    ', with particular regard to persons with a disability that limits their mobility.'.

No. 33, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, leave out

    'a reasonably convenient alternative route'

and insert

    'a route which provides a reasonably convenient alternative route to the public at the times when the gating order will be in force.'.

No. 46, in clause 2, page 2, line 24, at end insert

    '(d) the likely effect of making the order on statutory undertakers whose apparatus is located in on over or adjacent to the highway.'.

No. 34, in clause 2, page 2, line 30, at end insert

    '( ) any highway, any part of which crosses or abuts agricultural land;'.

No. 35, in clause 2, page 2, line 43, at end insert

    '; or where the highway is the only or principal means of access to any premises or land used for business.'.

No. 47, in clause 2, page 2, line 43, at end insert

    'or the exercise of any right by a statutory undertaker'.

No. 36, in clause 2, page 3, line 11, at end insert

    ', provided that any such order shall require that the barrier be maintained in an open position during any such times as the restriction is not in force.'.

No. 37, in clause 2, page 3, line 13, at end insert
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    ', provided that the installation of such a barrier does not restrict access to the highway during such times as the restriction is not in force to the extent that any previous legitimate use of the highway is prevented.'.

No. 48, in clause 2, page 3, line 13, at end insert

    '(7A) A council installing, operating or maintaining any barrier authorised under subsection 6 shall ensure at all times access through the barrier for statutory undertakers.'.

No. 49, in clause 2, page 3, line 22, at end insert

    'and statutory undertakers whose apparatus is located in on over or adjacent to the highway.'.

No. 38, in clause 2, page 3, line 37, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

No. 39, in clause 2, page 4, line 6, at end insert

    '; or no longer complies in relation to it'.

No. 40, in clause 2, page 4, leave out lines 7 and 8.

No. 41, in clause 2, page 4, line 26, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

No. 42, in clause 2, page 4, line 30, at end insert

    '(d) the posting and maintenance at entry points to any highway subject to a gating order of a notice stating the nature of the restriction of the right of way and the times when the restriction is in force.'.

No. 43, in clause 2, page 4, line 33, at end insert

    '; excepting those persons who would be identified for the purposes of sections 129F(4) and 129F(6)(b) below.'.

No. 10, in clause 2, page 4, line 39, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

No. 11, in clause 2, page 4, line 44, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

No. 12, in clause 2, page 5, line 2, at end insert

    '; and they are satisfied that no variation under subsection (2) above would be expedient in all the circumstances for the purpose of reducing crime or anti-social behaviour.'.

No. 50, in clause 2, page 5, line 32, at end insert,

    '''statutory undertaker'' means—

    (1) the person by whom a relevant statutory right is exercisable (in the capacity in which it is exercisable by him); or

    (b) a person having permission under section 109 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 (c. 22) to execute road works, as the case may be references to an undertaker having apparatus in on over or adjacent to the highway, or to the undertaker to whom apparatus belongs, shall be construed accordingly.''.'.

No. 13, in clause 2, page 5, line 19, at end insert

    '(d) the periodic reviewing of gating orders with respect to their continuing expediency in all the circumstances for the purpose of reducing crime or anti-social behaviour; and with respect to the requirements of subsections (2) and (3) above.'.

No. 44, in clause 2, page 5, line 19, at end add

    '(d) the reviewing of gating orders following requests from a person who would be identified for the purposes of subsections (4) and (6)(b) above.'.

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