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Standing Committee Debates
Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Standing Committee G

Thursday 20 January 2005


[Mr. Eric Forth in the Chair]

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Clause 27


Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

2.30 pm

Question again proposed.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking new clause 2—Producer responsibility for litter caused by discarded chewing gum etc.—

    '(1) The Secretary of State must consult on producer responsibility measures to—

    (a) discourage litter caused by discarded chewing gum and the discarded remains of other products designed for chewing; and

    (b) provide financial redress to litter authorities for the costs incurred by removal of discarded chewing gum and the discarded remains of other products designed for chewing.

    (2) The consultation must—

    (a) include such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of litter authorities as he considers appropriate;

    (b) include such bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of the interests of producers and distributors of chewing gum and other products designed for chewing as he considers appropriate; and

    (c) publish recommendations before 2007.

    (3) The consultation must consider both voluntary and statutory schemes.'.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I am pleased to be approaching the conclusion of our substantial discussion on clause 27. I have taken the opportunity to ask further advice. Westminster city council is delighted that the debate has gotten the £9 million cost into the public domain. Without detaining the Committee for too long or getting stuck on the provision, I just want to say that the Government are being accused of not listening. The council tried to make those points in consultation and it is delighted to have the opportunity to do so again through our debate on the clause. I urge the Minister to use his good offices to take a closer look at the streets, because, in my humble submission, his understanding of the situation is entirely wrong. The unsightly spots on the street are predominantly—forgive the graphic description, Mr. Forth—solid, flattened lumps of chewing gum. When they are left for a considerable time, they may be slowly worn down by passing feet, but the residue of gum lasts a very long time.

Westminster city council has measured many things, but it has not yet measured the time taken for a single piece of gum to wear away. What it cleans off is gum, so we are discussing the cleaning-off of gum, not just
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staining. If the council is asked to do spot clearance of gum, rather than whole paving-slab clean-up, spots usually remain. Those are clean spots, rather than stains, because the gum adhesive takes with it any general dirt left beneath on the pavement. That is why the council's preferred clean-up method is whole paving-slab clean up, which not only removes the gum but cleans the whole surface, so that it is not left spotted.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): I assure the hon. Lady that I am well aware of the options—as I said earlier, I have stood in the street with operatives discussing the best way of clearing gum from our streets. But that has nothing whatever to do with the clause before us.

Miss McIntosh rose—

The Chairman: Order. I was reaching that conclusion myself. I am being super-indulgent, as we have all just had our lunch break, but I ask the hon. Lady to wind up her remarks on clause 27.

Miss McIntosh: I conclude that the Minister and I agree to disagree. We are not responsible for the costly clean-up. I think that the clause should be struck from the Bill.

Alun Michael: I cannot allow that to pass—we do not agree to disagree. The hon. Lady is wrong. She has brought us some interesting information from Westminster city council; it sounds realistic, judging by my discussions with people at a policy and a practical level in local authorities, but it has nothing whatever to do with the Bill, and how much it costs to clear up the aftermath of litter is nothing to do with the clause. The hon. Lady should clean those issues from her mind as far as clause 27 is concerned.

It would be outrageous if the hon. Lady were to succeed in deleting the clause. Instead of clarifying that cigarette ends and chewing gum are litter, as everyone pretty well accepts now, deleting the clause would, in effect, say that they are not. What impact would that have? That is nearly as silly a political approach as the not-very-wisely drafted reasoned—or unreasoned, depending on which title we use—amendment brought forward on Second Reading. I vigorously resist any attempt to take the clause from the Bill.

The Chairman: The Minister just spent a little time being deputy Chairman of the Committee. Let us move on.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 2.

Division No. 2]

Ainger, Mr. Nick
Bradley, Peter
Doughty, Sue
Drew, Mr. David
Green, Matthew
McDonagh, Siobhain
Michael, Alun
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Tipping, Paddy
Wright, Iain
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McIntosh, Miss Anne
Ruffley, Mr. David

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19

Litter offence: fixed penalty notices

Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 68, in clause 19, page 15, line 36, at end insert—

    '(7A) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, allow a litter authority to which a fixed penalty is payable under this section to treat it as having been paid if a period of community service related to environmental protection is completed.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 63, in clause 28, page 27, line 21, at end add—

    '(7) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, allow a local authority to which a fixed penalty is payable under this section to treat it as having been paid if a period of community service related to environmental protection is completed.'.

Sue Doughty: In principle, the giving out of fixed penalty notices is welcome; it has been recommended, as it immediately links the crime to the response that it is wrong. As we discussed earlier with regard to chewing gum, when we see a perpetrator committing a crime, someone should make that clear to them, there and then. Fixed penalty notices therefore have a use.

The purpose of the amendments is to identify when a financial penalty may not be the right penalty for a person on a particular income. Local authorities and others incur costs attempting to recover a penalty from someone who might not have been able to pay within the normal period. We propose that there should be other ways in which such people can meet their responsibilities—perhaps they can be given community service instead of a fixed penalty notice. The Law Society has already expressed concern about the use of fixed penalty notices. Were I, in a moment of aberration, to drop chewing gum—although I deny that I would ever do so—I could afford to pay a fixed penalty notice, although it might grieve me that I had to pay it. It would not greatly affect my ability to buy the basics for day-to-day living, although it might affect what I spent on other things. However, the financial situation of more deprived members of society might be made worse by the penalty. A fine of that the proposed level for someone on benefits is a huge proportion of their income, which should be spent on food, shelter, heating and the like. Although we, society—whose views were expressed in the consultation—and the Environment Audit Committee all agree that fines and the fact that dropping litter is a crime need to be made clear, some people would be disproportionately affected by the proposed penalty.

We want to give the Secretary of State the opportunity to allow councils to impose community service orders instead. We want those orders to be related to environmental problems and antisocial behaviour, and to link them to the opportunity to clear
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litter and graffiti. Councils often have rubbish-clearing events to give a much higher profile not only to the problems of rubbish, but to the fact that someone has to clear it up. There is nothing like being one of a rubbish-clearing team to bring home the impact of one's own and everyone else's litter-dropping. Time spent clearing up rubbish rather than doing something that they would prefer to do might bring home to people the fact that throwing away rubbish in the street is a bad thing.

We therefore propose community service orders, which would have to be proportionate to the fine in a fixed penalty notice to which they would be an alternative. There needs to be consultation with local authorities and the probation services on the best way of doing that, so that people are made to pay for their crime but in the best way possible. We do not prescribe how that would be done, but we want the Government to consider the social impact of such penalties.

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