§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Unlike the Bill which the House has just been discussing, which is a complicated Measure, this is quite a simple one. Although its Title is the Litter Bill. I hasten to emphasise that it is an anti-litter Bill. Recently Parliament passed into law an Act providing for measures to be taken to penalise those responsible for air pollution. I feel that Parliament has put the cart before the horse, because it will be necessary to spend thousands, if not millions, of pounds on special equipment to take measures to prevent air pollution, whereas this little Measure to prevent pollution of the ground could be put into effect with scarcely any expenditure.
The sole object of the Bill is, as its opening sentence says, to:Make provision for the abatement of litter. …It is sought to do that by Clause 1, which would embody in the general legislation what is now a model byelaw provided for local authorities by the Home Office. Clause 5 seeks to render a person who commits an offence under Clause 1 liable to a fine of up to £10.
I should like to say at once that it is my hope that if the Bill becomes law the authorities will exercise discretion in operating it. I hope that it will be invoked only in flagrant and clear-cut cases. I understand that it is the practice in the Royal Parks, in respect of which there is a byelaw forbidding the deposit of litter, not to institute a prosecution unless the offender has been warned and had an opportunity to pick up the litter. That is a sensible practice, and I hope that if the Bill becomes an Act we shall not see a whole mass of petty prosecutions.
Of course, the Measure in itself contains no magic. It cannot possibly of itself solve the problem, but I think that Parliament can help in tackling the problem by dealing with it on a national basis and making the scattering of litter a universal offence throughout the land. I believe 1445 that it is only by making that part of the recognised law of the land that we can hope to make the public really litter-conscious and get a new approach to the problem.
One slogan in support of the Bill which I have heard suggested is, "Prosecution to stop the spitter; cannot we do the same for litter?" We ought to make the public as allergic to litter as they are now to the spitter. We ought to create an atmosphere in which people feel that the scattering of litter is something which just is not done.
The support which this proposal has evoked outside the House has been quite remarkable, as also has been the lack, so far as I know, of any opposition to its general principle, though I expect that there might be some criticism of certain of its provisions. The general proposition has had tremendous support. In principle it is supported by all the local authority associations—the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Urban District Councils Association, the Rural District Councils Association, the National Association of Parish Councils, the District Councils' Association for Scotland. I could give a long list of bodies which support the principle behind the Bill. It is supported, too, by the National Trust, the Federation of Women's Institutes, the Youth Hostels Association, and many other local and voluntary bodies.
The attitude of all these organisations can be summed up by saying that in this carton age and in this age of the motor car we ought to have a new approach to the problem, for there is far more travel to the remote places. A new policy and a new outlook is required if we are to take charge of events and prevent events from taking charge of us. In the old days the litter lout did not have anything like so much ammunition provided for him as he has today. Today, in this wrapping age, in this packaging age, not to mention this bottle and can age, he has any amount of ammunition ready to hand. The time has come to outlaw the litter lout.
If we are to succeed in our endeavours, I am convinced that not only will it require, certainly in its early stages, an unrelenting publicity campaign, but also it will need an alteration in the law and 1446 the stepping up of fines. No one could deny that the problem in Britain is getting worse and that the situation in many places is becoming quite intolerable and unbearable.
We have now reached the stage where litter is destroying the pleasure and the amenities of many people who, wherever they go in the countryside in particular but also in the urban areas, find filth, mess, and refuse, deposited by selfish, unthinking people. The authorities in our more famous beauty areas, such as the Lake District and Dartmoor and the National Parks are crying out for action. They are saying that it is time that Parliament acted.
Obviously the trend in this motor age is for more and more people to visit our beauty spots which are natural magnets for millions of holiday makers. Those areas suffer terribly from the litter lout. The Dartmoor National Park Committee, in a recent memorandum, has said that it now regards the problem of litter in the Dartmoor National Park as one of major importance. According to its report, the amount of litter last summer, which was not a good summer from a weather point of view, broke all records.
We have had the efforts of many voluntary bodies. We have had the "Keep Britain Tidy Group" in which the Federation of Women's Institutes has been the moving spirit, combining together all the voluntary organisations which have been trying to tackle the problem. We have had an imaginative campaign run by the Central Office of Information on behalf of the Government. We have had a mass of exhortation in recent years, but in spite of that it seems to me that we are still losing the battle against litter.
It is the more tragic that we should be losing the battle at present and that we should be seeing our fair land disfigured in this way when it is, and should and could be, a very beautiful country It was never more beautiful than at the present time.
One of the joys of going abroad is the joy of coming home. Recently I had the good fortune to go for a short trip to France and Germany. Two things impressed me when I came back the other day to London Airport. My first good impression was when driving from the airport to London. I noticed hew 1447 much more polite and considerate London drivers are than Continental drivers. They are far better-mannered for the most part and more courteous. The other thing that hit me in the eye was the disfigurement brought about in this country by litter, compared with the situation on the Continent.
Not only does litter disfigure our land, but in this tin-and-bottle age it can be a source of danger, particularly on our seashores and beaches. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has handed me figures which are quite surprising. During a Bank Holiday weekend in the summer of 1955, more than 1,000 people were treated in the Crosby area for cuts on their feet caused by broken glass, broken bottles and tins. Litter is, therefore, becoming a very serious matter at our seaside holiday resorts.
If the Bill becomes law, I hope it will be regarded as just one weapon in the furtherance of a "Beautiful Britain" campaign; not the only weapon. Hand in hand with the Bill I should like to see an attempt by all the authorities concerned to provide more shrubs and trees particularly in drab and dreary housing estates, and more gardens and open spaces in towns and villages. That is now being done to a considerable extent on the Continent, and we should follow suit.
As well as launching a campaign to make Britain a clean and tidy place, we should attempt to make it prettier and gayer by the greater use of brighter colours and more variety of paint. That is also being done successfully in Continental countries. We ought to get away from drab and dreary housing schemes and make them bright, gay and clean. What is required is an inspired campaign, which need cost very little public money, to make Britain a still more beautiful country. The Bill could play a prominent part in such a campaign.
I appreciate one criticism against the Bill, which is that it is not necessary because local authorities already have power under their byelaws. It is true that out of 61 county councils 58 have valid byelaws and that of 83 county boroughs 58 are covered by byelaws. That means that a large part of Britain is already covered. I grant that point, but quite a considerable part is still not covered. If the scattering of litter is to 1448 be made an offence the offence should be universal. If it is wrong in one part of the country it should be wrong in every part of the country. That is the way to make people litter-conscious.
That byelaws are inadequate and have proved ineffective is the view expressed by many people in authority who ought to know. The secretary of the National Association of Parish Councils writes:I am instructed to say that this Association supports the Litter Bill because it believes that byelaws, though in most cases technically adequate, produce an insufficient psychological effect and so are apt to be forgotten by the public who are supposed to obey them and by the police who are supposed to enforce them.That view has been expressed by many other authorities.
The Association of Municipal Corporations writes:There is, however, a widespread feeling that if we are to have any provisions on this subject at all, they will be more effective if they are national than if they are local. It is difficult to persuade anyone (including for that matter the magistrate dealing with the case or the policeman asked to enforce the byelaw) that it is wrong to throw down litter in a borough which happens to have a byelaw whereas there is nothing against it if the litter is thrown down over the borough boundary.The Institute of Public Cleansing writes:Where an offence has existed for many years without local byelaws to provide an effective form of sanction, it seems to me that the law is brought into disrepute unless either the offence ceases to be an offence at all or is brought onto a statutory level, and its enforcement thereby strengthened.The Corporation of the City of London and the Corporation of the City of Glasgow also support the Bill. It would be a real step forward in the anti-litter campaign if a mass of differing byelaws forming an unknown code were replaced by a simple and easily understood law, by the Bill becoming the law of the land.
It will be seen that under Clause 4 proceedings can be taken by various public bodies such as local authorities and the National Trust, as well as by occupiers of private land. The Clause also authorises such persons to demand the name and address of any person who is believed to be guilty of an offence under the law. The House may feel that the enforcement provisions of the Bill are wider than is desirable.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Scotland for being present. I know 1449 that other considerations apply to Scotland and that the Bill as drafted might not be acceptable under Scottish law. The private landowner should have protection. It might well be that he could arrange with the police to keep an eye open, and it might be desirable to arrange for prosecutions to be instituted only by the police in regard to private land.
I emphasise that the Bill has no magic about it whatsoever, and will not of itself cure the litter problem. It would be a useful weapon to have in our armoury. I hope that the House will think that it is a fair and reasonable Bill, worth supporting. Other democracies have tackled this problem successfully because they have been helped by legislation. It is high time that we did the same in Britain. We are attempting to tiling about a change in the social outlook and I believe we shall not get that change without a change in the law.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
I beg to second the Motion.
I am sure we are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) for the interest he has shown in this problem. I can never think of litter without being reminded of a cartoon I saw some time ago. It depicted a disgruntled foreign emissary landing, as he thought, from the first space ship to arrive on the moon, only to find that the British had beaten him to it. What he saw was not the Union Jack flying there but a series of old tin cans, banana peel, torn newspapers and the remains of various preserved foods.
The object of this Bill is to assist in the eradication of a national bad habit. We last discussed the subject on 2nd August, 1956, on a Motion for the Adjournment for the Summer Recess. The then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), in concluding a discussion on the way in which the bad habit of spitting in public disappeared, finished with these words:I do not believe that it was entirely, or perhaps mainly, fear of disease which contributed to the disappearance of that unpleasant habit; it was the growth of a public opinion against it, of a public conscience 1450 against it, and we shall only really successfully get the better of the litter menace as public opinion and public conscience against litter grow.All the Measures … to which I have referred are contributions, but only contributions, to this sole and simple solution. I think that we might take comfort from the thought that the growth of public interest in the litter menace is real evidence of a growth in public opinion against litter and in the public conscience which will eventually end this social menace."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1956; Vol. 557, c. 1760.]The object of this Bill is to carry on from there and to reinforce the strength of public opinion and the processes of education and exhortation, which are the main factors which will change the situation.
When this Bill was drafted, originally a year ago, I had something to do with the drafting. There was at that time no Government Department primarily responsible for litter. One was working in rather unexplored territory. One thing I expected to find was a great deal of criticism, but in fact, as my hon. Friend has mentioned, nothing but general approval came, plus positive support from many organisations whose main concern was that they and their interests should be adequately covered by any proposed Bill. I think, therefore, that the broad case for the Bill has been made.
I should like to devote my remarks to considering some of the possible objections. The objection in principle, as I conceive it, is the difficulty of enforcement as a whole and, in particular, the difficulty of trying to cure a general bad habit by legislation. As my hon. Friend mentioned, if the byelaws fail to be effective, why should a statute succeed? There is the further and very important point that it is undesirable to have a law, especially a new law passed with the authority of Parliament, which might be more honoured in the breach than in the observance. I think that really is an argument of despair, because fundamentally the question of whether we get rid of litter or not is a matter of national desire, intention and, of course, willpower. There is some similarity between the enforcement on a national basis of a 30 m.p.h. speed limit in built-up areas. At the beginning that seemed to be rather a difficult change in habit to bring about. Quite often it has been breached, but none the less, after an initial effort, 1451 through the years it has produced a marked change in the driving habits of people on British roads.
Below the general objection there are several technical difficulties relating to enforcement, some of which my hon. Friend has already mentioned. There is, first, the question of coverage. If the law is to be put on a statutory basis and the whole of the United Kingdom is brought into its ambit, offences might be committed over a widespread area. At the moment byelaws cover public places only, and then not completely. Private land is completely unprotected. I think that is extremely important, because the litter problem on private land is increasingly serious since more and more people travel and have access to the countryside. Visitors to beauty spots, users of public footpaths and so on, are all possible bringers of litter, and the damage and trouble which result can be very extensive.
One felt originally that a very heavy burden might be put on the police in trying to discharge any possible statutory duties over the whole area, hearing in mind that the village policeman now often has more than one parish to look after. On the other hand, quite obviously there is the equal danger that if we had statutory provisions for enforcement by persons other than the police, they might become harassing in operation. It was decided to retain the byelaw procedure and to make the Bill a statutory alternative with a higher penalty, but to preclude having two penalties for the same offence.
Then there was the difficulty of considering who should have the right to institute proceedings. The basis of the Bill at the moment is that, apart from the police, broadly speaking that right is limited to those authorities and private persons who suffer damage from litter in the sense that it is they who have to go to the trouble and expense of clearing it up.
In respect of private land, that means the occupier. In dealing with private land, we must reflect that as pressure towards any improvement in the litter habit becomes stronger in public places, the likelihood of litter being dumped on private land perhaps becomes rather greater. It is not infrequent in the 1452 countryside to find a heap of rather ugly empty tins dumped in the side of a wood, or something like that. If one's land suffers that disfigurement it means going to the trouble of sending someone to clear up that litter or doing it oneself.
The other difficulty with regard to enforcement is the matter of detection and evidence. The objection can be put forward that all litter as it lies is evidence of undetected offences, and it is open to people always to say "That is not my litter". It gives rise to the question of how one would prove a case, especially as the definition in the model byelaw which has been adopted is:… throws down, places, deposits and leaves …I stress the word "and", One needs to establish the intention to abandon it.
Those are questions which the courts are perfectly capable of deciding. It would be, as my hon. Friend said, a matter of proceeding in flagrant cases and taking care that there is corroboration and a clear-cut case, such as refusal to pick up the litter when asked. That seems to me to be evidence of a wilful intention. Likewise the fact that litter has been thrown from a passing car obviously establishes the intention.
The next technical difficulty was as to who would collect the evidence. There we had very much in mind that it might be a considerable burden upon the police. Therefore, the Clauses in the Bill which authorise the local authorities or persons who are entitled to take proceedings also empower them to appoint servants or agents as litter wardens. It was thought that that might get over the difficulty of a shortage of police personnel, bearing in mind that the occasions when most vigilance and action would probably be required would be times such as bank holidays when the police would normally be very busy on other duties. The analogy for such agents was based on people like park keepers and game keepers, and also water bailiffs who are employed part-time by river boards to check fishing licences and byelaws.
Inevitably, there was the difficulty of identifying the person believed to have committed an offence. As the Bill stands, power is given for such duly authorised agents to ask for the name 1453 and address, and if that information is withheld, then a lesser offence is committed. As my hon. Friend has said, it may well be that the police could take over this duty of initiating prosecutions and that the duties of the private people and local authorities concerned could be confined to providing, as it were, a witness in conjunction with the police.
On the whole, I think that the difficulties of enforcement have been somewhat exaggerated, because one would hope that black spots and flagrant cases would be first selected. If necessary, I suggest, the police would lie up to catch offenders at the places where there was consistent trouble.
The final technical difficulty was that there might be a great burden upon the courts in that there would be brought before them numerous summonses which would waste the time of magistrates, police, witnesses and so on. That was a factor which partly determined the decision to include in the Bill the alternative methods of getting evidence and instituting proceedings. Now, however, I think the future prospect is that that burden might be considerably lessened. There is before the House the Magistrates' Courts Bill which provides a procedure whereby the police and the prosecution witnesses are relieved of the necessity to attend court proceedings if a written plea of guilty is submitted by the offender. That could make a very great difference. I suggest that it is a typically British compromise of getting the advantages without the disadvantage of the custom of having "on the spot" fining which obtains in America and other countries. Consideration was given to that method, but I think it would be rejected by the British public.
I believe it is unlikely on the whole that the litter lout, knowingly having made a mess and having been caught in the act and summoned, will travel to court and attempt to defend a flagrant case and thus incur publicity and, possibly, ridicule as well as a fine. I think that, broadly speaking, he will find it much easier to admit his guilt by letter, send a postal order and learn his lesson.
To sum up, I believe that the burden of putting this law on a statutory basis is not as great as one might think. At the beginning, certainly it would mean an effort. We should have to administer 1454 a sharp shock to restrain public bad conduct. In the first few weeks, there might be a good many summonses. I believe that in the 1900s Paris was faced with a similar problem. The chief of police gave notice that he would put all his policemen in plain clothes and prosecute people for litter offences. After about seven days of very sharp police action, Paris was cleaned up.
It might be that if such a Bill as this became law an appointed day would be a useful provision. August bank holiday might be chosen. We should then be able to make arrangements in advance and definitely brace ourselves as a nation to take this problem rather more seriously than we have so far done. It is a matter of bringing about a change in the climate of public opinion. I believe that litter is perhaps 80 per cent. the result of thoughtlessness and only 20 per cent. the result of sheer wilfulness. The mere existence of a statute against it will have a powerful psychological effect. After that, I think the public will tend to police themselves and the litter habit will be recognised as offensive and disgusting just as were some of the other habits which were frequently seen in public but have now passed away.
A clear expression by Parliament that litter is to be checked would stimulate the educational activities and the response to them. It would also stimulate the provision of means of disposing of litter. We must not overlook that. I have in mind not merely litter baskets. Perhaps motor manufacturers will think in terms of including a litter receptacle in the design of their cars. I hope, too, that, even if tailors do not produce a special pocket like the old ticket pocket for the empty cigarette carton, it may at any rate become socially correct for one to put one's empty cigarette packet in one's pocket. All these things might flow from an expression of Parliamentary disapproval of the litter habit.
However, as other countries less crowded, industrialised and wealthy than Britain have found, it is virtually impossible to control the litter menace unless the people as a whole and the Government are determined to do something about it. Uniform and certain laws on the subject, with significant penalties, are necessary to give final expression to that determination. I am sure that in 1455 Britain that decision should be taken by Parliament. Therefore, I hope the House will today decide that now is the right time for further action and that it will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 12.31 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I should like very briefly to support the Bill. I entirely agree with both the the hon. Members for Hexham (Mr. Speir) and Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) that we as a nation should be ashamed of the way in which we treat our beauty spots and other public places. Those of us who have had the good fortune to go to the Continent in recent years—I am thinking not only of particularly clean and tidy countries like Switzerland but of Italy, France and Germany—have found that at the seaside places one is not disgusted and nauseated and, still less, endangered by litter being left all over the place as it is in so many of our holiday and seaside resorts.
I think that much of the litter problem in this country is due to thoughtlessness and selfishness. Time and again, one sees someone in a bus queue or elsewhere in the street taking the last cigarette out of a packet and just dropping the packet, never thinking that someone else has to pick that carton up. I am afraid that people who in their own homes would never dream of dropping things on the floor and leaving them there have no such concern when they are outside their homes and in the streets.
I am afraid also that there are some mothers of children who at home would insist on tidy and clean habits and who would be very much annoyed if their children left on the floor all the rubbish with which they sometimes play, and who themselves would never dream of leaving in the middle of the kitchen floor an empty tin or bottle. But when they are out of doors they seem to have a completely different set of standards and think nothing at all of leaving about their empty paper bags, tins and bottles and all the other appurtenances of their picnics. I know that certain youth organisations do a good deal to try to inculcate tidy habits in their young members, and I am certain that many teachers in schools also do the best they can in that respect.
I think that the public has gone on now for so long regarding this matter as 1456 something which is just too difficult to deal with that nothing short of a fairly sharp shock is likely to make very much difference. One sees exhortations on posters and so forth in different places. I do not know how successful the different methods employed may be. In some London parks, one is reminded that the parks are in themselves beautiful and one is urged to keep them so. In other places, one is asked to "Keep Britain Tidy." I think that, useful as these methods may be, a short and sharp public campaign on this matter would be likely to be very much more effective.
Although I fully appreciate that to carry out such a campaign might for a limited period be a burden on the police and public authorities, I think it would be worth it. If one could make the thoughtless people who are in the great majority in this matter think, one would have won much more than half the battle. It seems to me that to pass a Measure of this kind and possibly to have an appointed day, which is not provided for in the Bill, and then to see that the maximum publicity is given to it, with effective action planned in advance, might make people really think, "Is it worth being so careless and selfish?"
I hope that in spite of possible technical difficulties in the Bill, which I am sure can be cleared up in Committee, the House will declare itself today in favour of the principle. We can then use all our ingenuity and what influence we have in thinking of the best possible methods of bringing to public notice the very strong feeling, which I am sure many people in the country as well as in the House have, that we in Britain ought to pull together to face this very long-standing problem so that we may become a much cleaner, tidier and self-respecting nation.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
I should like to begin by apologising to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) for not being in the Chamber to hear his speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. I am afraid that consideration of the Bill began rather sooner than I had expected.
I welcome this Measure, which I look upon as very long overdue. I remember that not many years ago I and my family were on holiday in north Cornwall and 1457 we were within comfortable motoring distance of Land's End. I happened to mention to my wife in the hearing of our children that I had been to Land's End many years before when I was a child and that I should like to go there again. My sons seized upon this—I suppose that the idea of Land's End was a romantic one to them—and they persuaded me a few days later to take them there.
I must confess that I was horrified when I saw what greeted us. The countryside there is open, without many trees, and it has a fairly flat cliff plateau. As soon as we rounded the last bend and came within half a mile of Land's End point itself, the whole of this beautyspot—it was a bright sunlit day—looked as though it had been covered with snow. It was white and glistening—white with filthy paper, glistening with bottles and tins. We were so shocked that we turned round and went straight back. Land's End on that occasion was a particular example of the sort of thing which we are now considering.
I had no doubt that there were many other places around our coast that midsummer which were similarly disgusting. In spite of what the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said, I do not think that this is a peculiarly British habit. On the whole, I would say that the Continent is cleaner than these islands, but last summer I was in a part of France where, I must confess, the conditions at the seaside places seemed to be almost as had as those in this country.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
There is one weakness in the Bill in that the penalty is only doubled from a maximum of £5, as it is under the local byelaws at present, to a maximum of £10. I do not think that that is enough. I should like to see a maximum penalty of £20 imposed for this offence if the Bill reaches the Statute Book.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
We could take that as an example worth following. The Americans' general monetary values 1458 are higher than ours in most things, but I do not think we should be amiss in following that example, going rather more than halfway and making the maximum penalty £20.
I should also like the Parliamentary Secretary to consult the Minister of Education in this matter in order to make a greater impact on the problem through education in our schools. The best way of doing that is pictorially. In cur schools in these modern days many subjects are taught pictorially. It is very much more appropriate and has more impact on the child's mind than the old methods by which we were taught as children.
Before the war a certain oil company used to advertise, usually in magazines but I believe also in other media, aid the form of advertisement was a photograph of some beautiful place in the English, Scottish or Welsh countryside. In very small print beneath the photograph were the words, "The—Oil Company do not desecrate scenes like this by unseemly advertising."
I think that the Ministry of Education could follow that example and obtain a photograph of one of our London parks as it should be and a photograph taken from precisely the same angle of that same London park a day after a Bank holiday, in order to show children the contrast between how places should appear and how they in fact appear when the litter louts have made free with them. If those photographs could be enlarged to a considerable size and could include not only London parks but also other areas of the countryside which are subjected to these indecencies, and if the photographs could be placed side by side in the schools and the teachers could occasionally draw attention to them as an illustration, I think it would make a far greater impact on the minds of the children than do the present methods.
I am afraid that the trouble starts with the children. I have had this experience with my own children, who, like most children, buy toffees wrapped in paper. A toffee paper screwed into a ball seems a very small piece of paper which can do no damage, but it leads to the formation of a bad habit. If the habit starts with a tiny screwed up piece of toffee paper, the next thing that follows is an 1459 ice cream carton, and by the time the children have reached the age of smoking it has become a matter of discarding cigarette cartons. The habit gets worse and worse as they grow up.
One aspect of this problem which certainly cannot be solved by legislation but which is noticeable concerns the collection of refuse by local authorities. Quite a number of people have mentioned this problem to me in the West Country, but I do not know how it can be solved. There is evidence that on occasions some of these refuse collectors do not take all the care they should. As we travel along a country road where there are a few houses and notice the dustbins being emptied, we notice that not all the contents of those dustbins go into the vehicle which is provided to take away the refuse. There is spillage. The men on the job are probably working to a tight schedule and have not time to clear up the odd pieces which blow out or fall by the wayside. I feel that it should be impressed on local authorities that much greater care should be taken while refuse is being collected.
I welcome the Bill, and I sincerely hope that it will have a speedy passage through Parliament and will reach the Statute Book at an early date.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)
I am glad to add a few additional words in support of this very reasonable Bill which was introduced so ably by one of the most reasonable Members of the House—the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir). It is natural that so reasonable a Member should produce so reasonable a Bill.
I am glad that, having been fortunate in the Ballot, he selected this subject, because it has been in my mind for many years. I hoped that one day I should be successful in the Ballot, and I should then have introduced a Bill very similar to this, although perhaps rather on the lines which were patently envisaged by the hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon), with a few more teeth in it. When I read the Bill my first thought was that it was perhaps a little too reasonable. On later consideration and more mature thought, however, I came to the conclusion that it was a very difficult subject on which to produce a 1460 Bill which does not run the risk of unenforcibility and yet achieves the general purpose for which it is intended.
On the border of the constituency of the hon. Member for Hexham and literally on the Border, at Carter Bar, there is one of this country's beauty spots. I think it is one of the most dramatic frontiers in Europe. It is a scene of incomparable beauty, whether one approaches it from the north or from the south. The roads come up to the Border stone and the scene is so beautiful that, apart from people travelling on their ordinary daily business every car driver who drives up there stops to look at the scene. They all get out, look around and see one of the most beautiful sights to be seen in this country. Within the range of eyesight on a clear day are the Lammermuir, the Moorfoot Hills, the Pennines and the Cheviots, and the heather which is all around adds colour and beauty to the scene.
Immediately in front, however, on the little space which is the car park near the Border sign, there is almost invariably a mass of litter and paper which detracts from the beauty of the scene. It may be that the hon. Member for Hexham, who must occasionally in his constituency duties past that spot, has been induced by this social crime to think about this Bill.
I was one of those who accompanied him on a recent visit abroad, when we went to Western Germany. On more than one occasion we commented on the fact that in most of the towns, nice new clean towns in the industrial part of Northern Federal Germany, there are practically no litter bins to be seen. But there is no litter either. The streets are spotlessly clean. This may be the result of the psychological effect on the citizens at having brand new towns and having had to pay very dearly for them. The cost of these new towns has been high indeed, to the Germans and to other nations as well. The fact that they are new and that everything is bright clean and glistening may have made it very much easier for the authorities to get the citizens to refrain from cluttering up the new streets with filthy paper and so on.
That seems to me to prove that the supply of litter bins is not by any means the only way of keeping our streets tidy and clean. But they would help. I hope 1461 this Bill becomes law, and in any event, the fact that it has been before Parliament should bring this problem to the minds of a large number of people and should give the authorities reason to consider means of dealing with the problem.
Most of our litter bins are stupid, silly little tin arrangements. Some of them, indeed, are defaced by advertisements. We see them in many parts of London. They are emptied by opening the bottom part of the receptacle. In due course, the fastener or lock becomes rusted and we then have the ridiculous spectacle—I have seen it on many occasions—of a litter bin without a bottom so that any littler which is put in drops out at the bottom.
There is need for good design in street furniture. It should be possible for those who design our lamp-posts, bus stop signs and other pieces of street furniture to design an incorporated litter bin, even in concrete. This has been done in the City of Edinburgh, my own native city. It is a very clean city. I should say that it is almost the cleanest city in Great Britain, particularly in its main street. There we have a long-established practice of pleasant litter bins of imaginative design with attractive slogans on them; for instance, a pair of hands is depicted on one, with the words, "In your hands Lies the cleanliness of this city." These are attractive bins which are easy enough to open, but they are of unusual design so that children are attracted to them and want to find litter in order to have the fun of putting it into these bins.
There is also the contemporary design such as we see in St. James's Park and in Princes Street, Edinburgh, and there are other attractive designs in my native city. The authorities might experiment along those lines. Buses have too small a box for the reception of used tickets, and there is only one on each bus. If the bus authorities would place a box on each side of the platform, it would enable litter-conscious passengers who wish to alight when there is a rush and who cannot reach the one box, to have a chance of disposing of their tickets in the other box.
There are so many ways in which litter could be cleared up without legislation at all, and at very little expense. It is unfortunate, but I am afraid true, that legislation of this kind is necessary. One 1462 hon. Member has mentioned that the Secretary of State for Scotland had some misgivings about this Bill because it may not fit into the existing law of Scotland. I see the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland sitting with a very forbidding look, which is most unusual for him. I cannot understand why there should be any objections to the application of this Bill to Scotland. I shall listen with very great care to what the Joint Under-Secretary of State says in explanation of those possible objections. I think it would be not at all appropriate for a Member for a Glasgow constituency to make objections to an anti-litter Bill, and I hope, therefore, that he will temper his criticisms with a great deal of thought and with one or two mind-pictures of the state of the Gallowgate and the Cowcaddens on a Saturday night.
I am delighted to support this Bill. I am sure it is not an exaggeration to say that Britain at this time is the most scruffy and untidiest country in Western Europe. The acceptance of this Bill will do something to tidy it up and to introduce a state of neatness, tidiness and cleanliness which we ought to have in this country. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will receive unanimous support and a speedy passage through all its stages.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Græme Finlay (Epping)
I am sure that the force and punch which the the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) put into his remarks will not have been lost upon my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. So far as England is concerned, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) and his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) on the Bill they have produced.
It is quite easy in a matter of this kind for some ground to be lost by a fussy approach to this subject, and therefore I greatly admire the moderation and tone with whcih my hon. Friends approached the whole topic. Sometimes cranks get hold of this matter and spoil what is undoubtedly an extremely strong case. On just how strong it is I can speak with some feeling, as the representative of the largest part of what is called "London's own forest"—Epping Forest. The problem has been summed up sharply and succinctly by the Chief Superintendent 1463 in these words, "It is a terrible problem", when he was giving evidence before the Royal Commission on Common Land.
It was at one time written that Britain was a "green and pleasant land", but owing to the growth of this menace that statement is becoming less and less true each day—so much so that our national heritage is, to a great extent, in danger of being destroyed. It is a question not only of beauty being in danger but of waste—waste of money and of manpower. Each week 25 tons of litter are picked up in London parks; 20,000 man hours per year are spent collecting it from the Central London parks. If some of the people who spend their time picking up this litter were instead to look at some of the people putting it down, I wonder whether the enforcement provisions would not be very much more effective. Whether the House approves of the machinery which lies behind the Bill in its enforcement purpose or not, the manifestation of opinion shown so far has been so unanimous that Her Majesty's Government cannot fail to take notice.
The spreading of litter not only spoils beauty spots and wastes money and manpower, but it causes great inconvenience as well. It passes credulity that a Test Match played in Yorkshire has been stopped owing to the great crescendo of litter sweeping across the pitch. That has happened. There is also, of course, the element of danger. We must not imagine that the problem is confined only to seaside resorts. It is a very severe problem in Epping Forest. One can call to mind an extreme case, when a bottle was thrown out of a motor car and seriously injured an innocent passerby.
I gather that objection may be taken to the Bill on two main grounds, first, that the provisions for enforcement upon private land are ineffectual, and, secondly, that the constitution of an offence for individuals who withhold their names and addresses would not be to the public taste. It is often difficult to establish proof under the present law. It is true also that if one allows a private individual, for example, to obtain names and addresses from people, there may be trouble. But, at any rate, here is an attempt to strengthen the law. If Her Majesty's Government think that it is a 1464 wrong way of doing it, or the general tenor of opinion is that it is a wrong way of doing it, the burden of improving the situation still remains.
The law in its present state is quite ineffective. Most rural areas have made byelaws, but these are not enforced. A rather smaller number of municipal areas have made byelaws, but these are often not enforced. There is, in fact, an antique Section, which requires to be brought out of the dustbin, contained in the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847, which provides for the offence of dropping litter to be dealt with. It provides also for a myriad of other offences to be dealt with. One of the things which the Bill does is to abolish the definition of "litter" in that antique Section. But how often is it enforced today? Into what state are the Government of the land allowing the law to fall, if they do not like my hon. Friend's Bill? That is the question which they must face and answer, if they do not like the machinery which his Bill provides, for the situation is becoming worse every day.
Although education is, no doubt, the most admirable way of tackling the problem, on current form it is not enough. There must be more educational measures. I understand that the Government say that a campaign is to be instituted and that little leaflets containing pictures of squirrels and so on are to be circulated. I am very fond of the squirrel as an animal; it is a most attractive little thing. None the less, there is such a thing as being too whimsical in one's progaganda, and I am not at all sure that such a method is tackling the problem in the right way. A picture of little Mary's hand or leg torn by the broken bottles would be a much more effective way of bringing home to the public just what happens as a result of this particular bad habit than the attractive whimsicality of approach suggested by squirrel pictures.
The attitude of some magistrates' courts on the subject shows that they do not fully understand the problem. They often treat the offence as too trivial and impose derisory sentences or fines. Some take the view that it is rather bad luck on a culprit to be caught and seem to think that he should be allowed to get away with it. The individual thinks to himself, 1465 "Why pick on me? It is unfair that I, out of the thousands of litter droppers, should be the person caught". I suppose it is, in a sense, bad luck to be caught; but many forms of British penal legislation are operated on that basis. How many citizens could not complain on the same footing that they had been unfairly caught for speeding or for obstructing in the street? Yet severe penalties are from time to time imposed. If I were asked why certain magistrates had imposed a severe penalty, I should say, remembering the case of Admiral Byng, that it was done "Pour encourager lesautres", because I regard it as necessary.
The attitude of magistrates up and down the country varies. I have taken some pains to ascertain what was done by benches of magistrates sitting in my constituency, where we have the difficult task of trying to protect Epping Forest. The Conservators are fighting a losing battle. In the last three years there have been thirty-one prosecutions. Of those something like seventeen have been for placing litter or rubbish. Four offenders have been fined the maximum penalty of £5; one has been fined £4; two have been fined £3; five have been fined £2. and two have been fined £1. The remaining three have been fined 10s. or less. Plainly, the bench of magistrates sitting in my constituency does not take this particular offence lightly, perhaps because it is a bench which knows rather more about the matter than some others.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for West Lothian mention some of the practical aspects of the matter, particularly bigger and more conspicuous litter bins. If a more "contemporary" design is wanted, I am sure that people can be found to produce it. If a litter bin á la Professor Richardson is wanted, I am sure that he would be only too glad to improve the design of street furniture. It is not, however, only a matter of getting bigger and more artistic or imaginative receptacles; their tactical placing is important also. Not only should the receptacles in buses be larger, but there should be a bin provided at bus stops also. Lay-bys where lorries stop provide a capital site for suitable litter receptacles, as also do scenic spots adjoining highways. I am sure that we can do a good deal better in trains, where the facilities for putting 1466 litter away are practically non-existent. Those are a few practical suggestions.
I hope that, at the end of this day, an unmistakable expression of opinion on this subject will go out from this House to the nation, an opinion expressing strong disapproval of things as they are. I know that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary may be thinking of a case which happened in the Kensington Royal Park, when a lady was falsely imprisoned and quite wrongfully treated for combing the hair of her dog there. That was a case where the park keeper behaved with complete lack of commonsense. He was an Irish park keeper; I make no aspersions at all against those of the Irish temperament—I just leave the matter there—but he did take the lady and incarcerate her for what he thought was an offence. I suppose that that is an extreme illustration of what might happen if the law is strengthened. Of course, there are always extremes in every application or enforcement of the law. It sometimes happens, though fortunately very rarely here, that the police extort a confession from a criminal. That is very rare, but the fact that it does happen does not mean that the police have to cease their duties, any more than it means that one can just leave the law in its pristine state.
I think that this is an admirable Measure. It can, no doubt, be approved in Committee, but I hope that it will go forward as evidence of the nation's resolution to put a stop to a situation that is deteriorating every day.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
I, too, should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir), who has used his good fortune in the Ballot to deal with a subject that should be ventilated in this House, and more widely considered. I congratulate also those hon. Members on both sides who have added their names to the Bill. I am sure that the desire effectively to tackle this bad habit is general throughout the country. There is a general desire to try to put an end to this practice of throwing down waste material in public places.
The practice is not, of course, confined to our beauty spots. It is quite a problem in the Metropolitan area. Despite all the 1467 efforts of the Metropolitan authorities, the provision of beautifully-designed litter bins and the like, it seems that although most people condemn the habit, most people still persist in it. I hope that this discussion today will result in more people realising that this habit should be discouraged.
The argument that the byelaw powers of local authorities are ineffective is sound. Until something is enacted by Parliament, people will not sufficiently widely realise that it is an offence. It is, after all, an offence against the community to throw waste on to public places, but I am not sure that we have not two separate problems to tackle. I should be sloath to treat the child who throws down his toffee papers in the same way as I would treat the man who leaves a broken bottle where someone may cut his foot. The general habit of children—and of men with their cigarette cartons—littering the place with paper is not in the same plane of offence as the act of throwing away a broken bottle—or of boys breaking bottles just for the fun of it. Those are two different types of misbehaviour; so I turn to my main point, that of penalties.
If this Bill goes through, I hope that the penalty Clause will be amended. An hon. Gentleman opposite, and one of my hon. Friends, seemed to suggest that the penalties should be far heavier than those provided for in the Bill. It would be a mistake to impose savage sentences, particularly on the ordinary litterer who throws away his paper, and perhaps the promoter of the Bill might consider some system of first warning the person whom I call the ordinary litterer. We do not wish the police to begin to prosecute people for dropping a newspaper in the street, but that could happen under the Bill as it is now drawn. The offender could be required to give his name and address to the police and could be prosecuted.
§ Mr. Speir
I am not sure whether the hon. Member was here when I was speaking. but I said that I hoped that if the Bill was enacted it would be exercised with the utmost discretion and operated only in really flagrant cases. I pointed out that in the Royal Parks it is the custom, I believe, not to prosecute unless and until the offender has been reminded of 1468 the byelaw, asked to pick up his litter, and has refused.
§ Mr. Evans
I quite agree that that is how it would be generally handled by the police and by custodians of parks and open spaces, but the Bill does permit a conatable—or even a private person in certain circumstances—to take the name and address of a person who throws down a carton. After all, that is a petty offence and should not be treated too severely, and the police should act as they do under some of the traffic regulations when, in most cases, they send out a written warning. Indeed, I think that some of the written warnings are totally ineffective. The police seem to have a habit of issuing a warning even when vehicles are allowed to emit unnecessary smoke from their diesel engines. I think that people should first be warned, particularly those who offend merely by throwing down paper and the like.
Whether the Bill can be altered in such a way as to deal more lightly with the lesser offences and quite severely with the more serious offence of throwing away cans and broken bottles, I do not know, but I should be happier if that could be done. Although I make these criticisms of Clause 5, I am fully behind those hon. Members who have put their names to the Bill. If they achieve no other object, they have at least furthered that education of the public which is the basic solution of this problem.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. John Howard (Southampton, Test)
I am sure that this Bill will give local authorities the power they need to keep their streets and open spaces tidy. Although I do not want to see penal enactments put on the Statute Book without good cause. I believe that there is every reason to think that a Bill like this would, if enacted, prove of advantage to every town in the country, from the point of view both of tidiness and of saving the present enormous cost of street cleaning.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay) on his graphic description of the amount of litter which is collected from open spaces, and upon his review of the fines which have been imposed on those who have been found guilty of adding to the litter in Epping Forest.
In my own constituency, which is an urban constituency, we are extremely 1469 fortunate in that we have a very generous area of open space. Southampton County Borough Council is most anxious that this Bill should be given a Second Reading. It has good reason for supporting the Bill because it is proud of the commons and parks in the county borough. Anyone visiting Southampton for the first time is impressed by the number and variety of its open spaces. Entering the county borough from the direction of London, and shortly after crossing the county boundary, one is impressed by Southampton Common, which stretches on both sides of the main road for a considerable distance, and it is succeeded by other open spaces, green parks which stretch almost down to the water's edge.
The generality of the residents of Southampton respect the commons and open spaces, and indeed there is a local society whose principal function is to guard against any encroachment upon the amenities enjoyed by the town folk. Even so, the provisions of this Bill will help to deter those who habitually scatter litter around with complete disregard for the comfort of others. It will at least bring to their notice their liability to penalty. If it does no more than to cause an offender to glance over his shoulder before throwing his cigarette packet or bottle away it will demonstrate that it is effective in that it helps to induce people to begin to realise that to throw away an empty packet or other rubbish ought not to be an automatic action, and that at least caution is required before flagrantly breaking the law.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping referred to some of the difficulties about the Bill. I trust that the Bill—I believe it does—protects vacant sites from misuse; sites, for instance, from which war-time bomb damage has been cleared and which are awaiting redevelopment. Those lots, particularly in urban districts, are frequently used as depositories for all manner of litter. I am told that unless the litter is of a nature which causes it to decompose or otherwise to be likely to give off noxious fumes injurious to health in some way or another, there is nothing that a local authority can do to remedy the casting of litter upon those sites.
1470 The residents near such a site have to put up with this confusion of litter deposited there and the consequent loss of amenity in their vicinity. That loss is due not only to the unsightliness of the litter on the site itself. There is also the possibility of the litter being blown down the road, or of tin cans rolling into the roadway.
I am particularly conscious of that because a constituent of mine came to see me only a few weeks ago to complain about this very matter of the misuse of a vacant site. She and other residents in the road where she lives are concerned not only about the eyesore of the litter dumped upon the vacant site but also about the odd collection of material which seems to fall from lorries and other heavy vehicles which are parked overnight upon the vacant site, the drivers using it as an unauthorised parking lot. The residents there complain about the spoiling of the amenities of their neighbourhood. Litter on the site is blown from it, or carried from it on the wheels of the lorries which are parked amongst the litter. Those residents also corn plain about the noise made by the lorries, which are driven off the site in the small hours.
I hope that Clause 4 (1, d) can be amended, because it seems to me that in instances of the sort that I have just mentioned the landlord or occupier is the only person who will be able to take action to remedy the depositing of litter which causes these complaints. It frequently happens that the owner is an absentee owner and is unable to collect the evidence on which to proceed; and, indeed, he may be unwilling to prosecute. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) will consider the possibility of allowing the local authority to take action, if authorised by the owner of the property so to do, because the property owner may find it too much of a burden himself to maintain a watch by which to obtain the necessary evidence, or, indeed, to institute the necessary proceedings.
I notice that the Bill defines "lands" as "land covered with water". It seems to me a useful definition. Most of us have seen paddling pools or ponds in which litter has collected, in local parks or on the commons, and when such a pond or pool is drained the litter is very 1471 much in evidence. I am sure that this definition will be most useful in discouraging people from casting all manner of litter into ponds—possibly in the first instance to see whether it floats—particularly paddling ponds. That may endanger the children, for when they paddle they may step on the sharp edge of a tin can. Anyway, the avoidance of the throwing of litter into the ponds will minimise the expense of the local authorities when draining the ponds and pools to cleanse them.
I hope the Bill will be given a Second Reading, but I have a few doubts about the imposition of the penalty, doubts which the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) expressed. I think that possibly they have been stilled by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham. I do not think any of us want to see savage penalties imposed. Nor do we wish to conjure up a vision of an irate park keeper hounding the general public. I am sure that that will not occur in fact, but I think that an imposition of a penalty on the relatively few inconsiderate people is a small price to pay for the preservation of our beauty spots and the cleanliness of our streets.
§ 1.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I should like to say a few words in support of the Bill, and I hope the Government will welcome it and do what they can to facilitate its passage into law. The nuisance at which the Bill is aimed is one which is universally condemned. There is no one who defends the practice of throwing litter. Indeed, if one discusses it with the general public one finds so many people condemning the practice tht one is left wondering who exactly it is who does throw all the litter about.
The trouble is partly, I think, that a great many people who condemn the practice wholeheartedly often find it more convenient to throw a little bit of litter on the ground than to go to that little extra trouble to avoid doing so. Surely that situation, in which the public as a whole reprobate the practice, but in which we have not quite screwed ourselves up to the point of forbidding this form of anti-social self-indulgence, is one in which legislation is required. Here what society really wants expresses itself in a firm, clearly defined and enforceable 1472 manner. We are not faced with the difficulties which Parliament sometimes encounters in trying to pass legislation. We are not dealing with an offence which it is particularly difficult to define. We are not faced with the problem of drafting a Measure which the courts will find it difficult to interpret.
During this debate a number of doubts have been expressed and points of detail raised, but the interesting thing is that all of them are clearly points which could be settled after reasonable argument during the Committee stage. We have this offence, which certainly is reprobated by the public, which can be dealt with by law, and a problem of drafting which presents no serious difficulties. I know that in some quarters there is a doubt about whether it is desirable to pass any laws containing penalties. But let us look at what we are proposing to do. It cannot be said that we are in danger of passing unenforcible legislation. If that is true, it is a criticism that applies with even greater force to the present state of the law.
At the moment we have a collection of byelaws which, for the very reason that they are byelaws, tend not to be enforced, and to bring the whole principle of legislation against litter into contempt. The proposition that it is reasonable that it should be illegal to drop litter in the area of one rural district and quite all right to do it in another rural district area is not one which any reasonable man will accept. If the public are even vaguely aware that that is so, their reaction is likely to be that on the whole their legislators do not particularly care whether or not they drop litter.
There are two examples which I wish to give to illustrate that locally legislated law is not adequate. At a recent annual meeting of the Ramblers' Association attention was drawn to the fact that in the Lake District the area of more than one local authority is affected, and owing to the fact that different authorities there have different attitudes towards this matter the difficulty of preserving the Lake District from litter is made greater. The difficulty of the task facing those public-spirited people who wish to keep it clear from litter is greatly increased by the fact that this is still a matter of local and not national legislation.
1473 The other example I wish to give is taken from a very different area, from my own constituency, which, although it has a charm of its own, does not attract visitors on the same scale as does the Lake District. But it does attract a particular kind of visitor on particular occasions, for it lies between the Chelsea and Fulham football grounds. When I first began to pursue my political life in that area I was, on one occasion, travelling by underground to address an open-air meeting and I was interested to notice the vast concourse of people travelling towards the meeting place—travelling towards, but, as I soon found, not to it.
Those people came from far and near to the football matches, and whatever they talked about on the way they did not discuss the question of what were the local byelaws with regard to the dropping of litter. It would not be reasonable to expect that they would do so. The result is that the local authority in that area, the borough council, is put to an expense amounting to £400 a year on account of that cause of litter. The expense is not really the largest part of the matter, the fact that people have to be paid to clear it up; there is also the nastiness, the lack of hygiene and the lack of general respect for civilised life which is involved in having litter laying about.
I am sure that we all believe that the matter cannot be dealt with by the passing of laws alone. As I have said, and I believe that it is also the opinion of all hon. Members, I consider it is important to pass a law to make quite clear that this matter is to be taken seriously. But the passing of that law must be supplemented by constructive educational measures to deal with the problem. That was said of the matter dealt with by a Departmental Committee, on which I had the honour to serve, which dealt with the problem of litter in the Royal Parks. Hon. Members who have referred to the desirability of having model bins may be interested in the report of that Committee which describes and contains a picture, of what we considered to be a very good model bin which, without being garish, none the less attracted sufficient attention. There are also a number of other matters concerning the problem of educating the public to a proper 1474 frame of mind which the Government might study with advantage and consider how far the recommendations relating to the special problem of the Royal Parks could be made applicable to the problem of litter.
I believe that by a combination of an adequate and workable piece of legislation and proper propagandist and educational methods, we can rid our country of something which is a disgrace to it, which everybody reprobates and for which none of us so far has found a proper remedy.
§ 1.37 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)
My intervention in the debate now is not in any way intended to discourage my hon. Friends or hon. Members opposite from expressing their views on this matter. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland proposes to intervene shortly to discuss one or two points which particularly affect Scotland. If, as I hope they will, the speeches which we have heard this afternoon stimulate public interest in the avoidance of litter, both in the countryside and in our towns and cities, this debate will have served to help all of us who are anxious to solve this problem.
As a measure of the increasing public interest in this matter, we might consider the space devoted to it by the Press. During an Adjournment debate on this topic last year, it was stated that in 1952 the Press gave 11,000 column inches to the question of litter. In 1953 there were as many as 14,000 column inches, and last year the figure went up to 30,000. It is true, as has been said, that there are many agencies which in various ways have tried to cure people of the litter habit. They include the Ministry of my right hon. Friend, the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Education, local authorities and voluntary organisations. Many local authorities are active regarding publicity and in the provision of litter bins.
The Ministry of Works has campaigned to improve the position in the Royal Parks. I have taken note of the suggestions made today for various improvements which might be effected in the matter of propaganda. It is also true that 1475 some very valuable educational work has been done in the schools throughout the country, especially with younger children. As for sound radio and television, my right hon. Friend has in preparation a propaganda film on this subject which we hope to show on television about the time of the Whitsuntide holidays.
The anti-litter campaign has also been running since the time of the Festival of Britain, and it has been intensified this year. We are now issuing from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government the Red Squirrel poster. I took note of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay), who was not particularly enamoured with the effectiveness of this poster and would have preferred something more gory or more graphic depicting a little girl who had been injured as a result of the littering of broken bottles.
There is also the "Keep Britain Tidy" group, which was set up under the direction of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, and I should like to acknowledge the very useful work which has been done by that group. The National Parks Commission, too, has been very active. Only yesterday I looked at some of its publicity material, which is admirable and most suited to the surrounds in which it is displayed. I assure the House that my right hon. Friend intends to do all he can to stimulate public interest in this matter. In spite of some doubts which have been expressed in the House this afternoon, I think that education and propaganda are already having a good effect, at least on the younger generation. I am myself occasionally reproved by my own children, and I do not complain in the least.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
One of the points which we discovered in the Departmental Committee is that, by and large, children are all right in this matter. Unfortunately when they get a little older they seem to relapse.
§ Mr. Bevins
I should say that that is perfectly true. The younger generation has a far more finely developed social sense in this matter than the adult population.
We have had some very interesting speeches on the Bill and I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) on his excellent speech by way of introduction. My right 1476 hon. Friend will give the most earnest consideration to all the suggestions which have been made in the debate.
Perhaps I may say a few words about the Bill, which is, after all, the subject of the discussion. The Bill would make it an offence to create litter in any place without lawful authority, and it applies to the scattering of litter both in public places and on private land. As the House knows, the Local Government Act, 1933, contains a power to make byelawsfor the good rule and government … and for the … suppression of nuisances",and this is the power which is most widely used to control litter in public places, including, of course, open spaces to which the public have access for the time being. In addition, there are special provisions for byelaws in relation to National Trust land and the nature reserves. The national park authorities and local authorities may make byelaws under the National Parks Act, too, while the parks regulations provide for the litter nuisances in the Royal Parks themselves.
The first question to which we must address ourselves is this: how far does byelaw control extend in public places? The fact is that out of 61 county councils in the country no fewer than 60 are on record as having made byelaws against litter; out of 83 county boroughs, 59 have made byelaws; out of 318 boroughs, 235 have made byelaws; and out of the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs, 25 have been responsible for anti-litter byelaws. I think the House is bound to agree, therefore, that byelaw control, although, as the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said, not complete, is at least very widespread throughout the country.
It may be said that these byelaws are not entirely effective, because, of course, we still have litter, but I am not clear what reason there is to suppose that a new Statute will be substantially more effective than the existing byelaws. I have heard the observations made by hon. Members in the debate but I do not think I have heard any argument addressed to that point.
The principal change proposed by the Bill in respect of public places is that whereas under the Local Government Act, 1933, the maximum penalty is £5, the Bill would increase the maximum penalty to £10. As it is, the fines imposed by magistrates throughout the 1477 country usually vary from about 10s. to 40s., according to the nature of the offence; and, of course, magistrates take widely divergent views about the various offences which come before them in court. There was a recent case in Dewsbury in which a man was fined 10s. for depositing litter in a public place and in which his defence was that he did not see the litter basket because he was leaning on it.
In London, magistrates have tried cases in respect of the Royal Parks and the fines imposed have usually been very modest, ranging from about 1s. to 10s. The difficulties of enforcing the law in the Royal Parks, as my hon. Friend the Member for Epping said, constitute a headache for those concerned. I am told that the maximum penalty imposed for this offence in the Royal Parks in recent years has been about 40s.
It has been argued that if the maximum fine were to be increased from £5 to £10, magistrates generally would be encouraged to impose more severe fines. I do not want to be dogmatic about this, but it seems to me that even if the Bill were to become law in its present form, magistrates would still ask themselves what punishment fitted the offence. With all respect to opinions to the contrary which have been expressed this afternoon, it seems to me that the fact that Parliament had increased the maximum permissible fine to £10 would not necessarily lead magistrates throughout the country to impose more severe fines than they impose at present.
I know that all right hon. and hon. Members are incensed at the sight of a national park or a park or a beauty spot or even a road which has been fouled by little pieces of paper, cigarette packets and broken bottles, but how many of us would feel like prosecuting a person who had thrown away an empty cigarette packet and proceeding to impose a stiff fine?
§ Dame Irene Ward
I am. How does my hon. Friend know how magistrates' minds work? I can assure him that he is on the wrong track.
§ Mr. Bevins
I think I understand the way my hon. Friend's mind works, although perhaps not all the time. It is a matter of elementary psychology, on which I think we all agree, that we are all far more repelled by the sight of extensive litter than by the individual who is responsible for it by his individual acts.
During the debate there have been references to experience in continental countries. Various hon. Members have said that the litter problem is nothing like so great in France, Germany and Switzerland as it is here. In many parts of Switzerland the police have powers, by police regulations, to impose fines on the spot for these offences. I am informed that in Germany also there are police regulations and summary fines, but I am sure that the British public would never tolerate a system of fines on the spot for offences of this sort. If this House were to make any move in that direction there would be violent expressions of public opinion against it.
The general problem of enforcement is the real difficulty in the Bill. We all know that many thoughtless people throw away bits of paper as a matter of long-standing habit. Even the most civilised among us now and again throws something away, sometimes quite thoughtlessly and unwittingly. I go so far as to say that the hon. Member of this House who never, throws away a bit of paper or a cigarette packet, or something like that, is a very rare bird indeed.
Who is to be detected and fined for this sort of offence? We all know that it is purely a matter of chance who is detected and subsequently fined. It is a matter of bad luck and the odd man out of the million whom some vigilant person happens to catch in the act of depositing litter. I find it difficult to believe that a Statute enacted by Parliament which, in the very nature of the case, must penalise in a hit-and-miss fashion, in a fortuitous way, is likely to be acceptable to public opinion. I am prepared to admit that there is the same difficulty under the byelaws; but the Bill would not make that any better, 1479 and that is why the Government believe that education rather than enforcement will produce the best results.
The difficulties in connection with private land are very much greater. The occupier of private land or his authorised agent presumably has to catch the offender in the act of leaving litter. Obviously, the odds against this happening are quite astronomical; but suppose somebody is caught in the act, then under the terms of the Bill the occupier has to demand the name and address of the offender. Suppose that the offender refuses to give his name and address—it would not surprise me if quite a number did refuse—what can the occupier do?
He has no power of arrest, and heaven forbid that he should have. Theoretically, he could go to the police and ask them to make further inquiries; but I want to tell the House that, in the considered view of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, that is a duty which ought not in any circumstances to be imposed upon the police force. Therefore, the Government's view is that the provisions relating to private land are very largely unenforceable, while those that relate to public land will not appreciably alter the present position.
I recognise, having said that, that many hon. and right hon. Friends on both sides of the House zealously and sincerely support the Bill, but it is the firm and considered view of the Government that the problem cannot be dealt with adequately by creating a new class of offences, only a very small fraction of which would ever come before the courts, and that it is undesirable to add provisions to the criminal law which cannot be effectively enforced and which would, therefore, tend to bring the law into disrepute.
It is common ground between both sides of the House—and I am sure that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will be with me here—that those of our laws which are the most respected are those which are manifestly right—
§ Mr. Bevins
—which are manifestly right and which deal with substantial and recognised offences and which, more- 1480 over, are well enforced. I do not believe that British public opinion will tolerate Statute laws which are vexatious or trivial or which can be enforced only once every Preston Guild.
Whether or not the Bill will secure a Second Reading this afternoon, I do not know. I am conscious that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and myself seem to be somewhat in a minority. I am sure, however, that minorities are very often right, as the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) knows. I am sure that if the Bill—a Bill which makes it a criminal offence to leave a piece of paper in somebody's back garden or somebody's field and which gives numerous persons the right to demand names and addresses under penalty—had been a Government Bill, many of my hon. Friends would have expressed their astonishment and incredulity that a Conservative Government could be so insensitive to the claims of individual liberty—
§ Mr. Finlay
Surely my hon. Friend is aware that the Local Government Act, 1933, under which byelaws are made, was a Conservative or National Government enactment and that the state of the law as it is at present under the Town Police Clauses Act, 1847, provides that if someone puts a bit of paper on the ground that is an offence for which he may be fined £2; and that, alternatively, under the Local Government Act, 1933, the byelaws prohibit the deposit of litter? Surely my hon. Friend knows that some of this was brought in by a Conservative, or largely Conservative, Government?
§ Mr. Bevins
That is an entirely different proposition from the Bill now before the House which extends the principle to private land and which, moreover, gives large numbers of ordinary civilians the right to demand names and addresses and which imposes fines upon people who are not prepared to comply with the demands of private individuals. That is a principle which is totally inacceptable to the Government.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill
Has my hon. Friend considered the analogy of the gamekeeper and the water bailiff with river boards, who are specifically appointed for limited duties and who have responsibilities which are recognised by law and by the public?
§ Mr. Bevins
Their duties are in a very narrow scope indeed. That is an entirely different proposition from the Bill under which all occupiers of private land or their authorised agents are entitled to demand this information from private citizens and, in default of getting that information, to take proceedings against those individuals.
I recognise that it is only natural that some hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House should want the Bill even if only for the reason that it achieves a certain propaganda by legislation. I put it to them that before they go into the Lobbies they should consider whether they are more likely to achieve their aim through the medium of a Bill of this description or through the processes of education and propaganda. I do not believe that the Bill, if it were to become law, would make any appreciable difference to the present position. I certainly believe, and this is the view of the Government, that if we vigorously pursue education and propaganda efforts in this field, we, shall succeed as time goes by in reducing substantially the dimensions of this nuisance.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
We have just heard a speech from the representative of Her Majesty's Government which would justify, over the range to which it could be applied, the repeal of all laws which impose a penalty. They are all uncertain. All sorts of uncertainties arise, even in the law of murder. It may depend upon the prosecuting counsel whether an accused person is convicted or acquitted. I never heard such nonsense as this from the Government Front Bench.
§ Mr. Ede
The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of education. We have had a law since 1847 which the Minister admitted today to have been largely ineffective. He says, "Carry on with education". That is not the real problem. The people who are educated are all right until they escape from education.
Take what happened during the Coronation. It was admitted on all hands that the only place where no litter was left was that from which the organised school children had been viewing the procession. Take what happened in the 1482 places reserved for Members of Parliament and compare the litter position with what happened with the children. The difference was commented upon at the time. We cannot leave this matter in that way.
I am very happy that I have received a request from the South Shields Town Council to support the Bill. By the next post I received a request from the County Councils Association to do the same thing. So rarely do those two separate bodies send me a communication to the same effect that I am happy today to have no searchings of conscience when I give my hearty support to the Bill.
I recall a cartoon I saw in Punchbefore the Second World War, in which a lady, who obviously belonged to what we then used to call the "nouveau riche", was sitting near a very expensive motor car and surveying the relics of a sumptuous repast which she had had at some countryside place like Newland's Corner. Looking at the champagne bottles she was saying, "At any rate, they will know we were not common trippers". It will be recalled that during a tour by an English cricket team in the West Indies a complaint was made that at one stop spectators threw bottles on to the pitch. I asked Mr. Peter May what he thought of the proceedings. He replied, "The pity was that the bottles were empty".
Do not let us think that this matter is confined to a small section of the population. I would like to be able to photograph Epsom Downs this afternoon and again on Friday of next week after the Spring Meeting. It will not be school children who will be responsible for he difference, which will not be confined to the open Downs. Tattersall's, the Paddock even, will show indications that, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) said, "the British have been here." I was very glad to note for once that he used a word which included Scotsmen in what was supposed to be condemnation.
The Minister says, "Byelaws have been passed by nearly all the county councils and county borough councils and approximately five-sixths of the municipal boroughs, and yet this evil has only diminished very little, if at all". It is clear that if we are to deal with the matter it will have to be enforced by some authority capable of enforcing it.
1483 What possibility has a rural county council of enforcing the law? I recollect what happened on the Dorking by-pass in Surrey. One afternoon the county engineer was travelling along the road and he saw a lady digging up one of the small trees. He went up to her and said, "Madam, do you know that that is public property?" She replied, "What's your grouse? There's another one over there for you". Fortunately he was empowered to take the name and address. She declined to give it and so he took the number of the car. By that devious route the lady was discovered, was brought before the Dorking bench—I say this in the presence of the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Touche) that he may know he has a zealous bench—and she was fined the maximum.
I do not think the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay), who spoke of the fine that had been imposed by a bench, indicated there was any slackness on the part of the magistrate. I cannot imagine that even he, in his desire for heavy penalties, could do other than admit that these offences differ in gravity and that while it might be right to impose the maximum penalty in one case, a penalty of 10s. might be right in another, having regard to the means of the defendant. It might even be heavier in its effect than the maximum penalty in the first case.
The trouble for the local authorities is that the police will not regard themselves as responsible for the enforcement of the byelaws. When byelaws of this description are suggested, it is general for the Home Office to inquire what arrangements the local authority will make for their enforcement. In public parks there are keepers who are generally in uniform. The parks are mainly frequented by local people and the park keepers are known to them as persons with authority there. I imagine there is little difficulty about getting names and addresses of offenders in public parks and not much sympathy for people who have landed themselves into trouble when they decline to give their names and addresses to the uniformed servants of the local authority in such cases.
As the Parliamentary Secretary rightly said, in other places it is understandable that people might decline to give their names and addresses to an ordinary 1484 civilian not in uniform who demands it. There was the case of a Duke of Norfolk who some 70 years ago was trimming the hedge of Arundel Park and a by-passer asked him the way to Arundel. When the Duke told him the way the questioner handed him 2d. as an emolument for having supplied such useful information. There is nothing to distinguish the owner of land.
I was surprised to find that in Clause 4 (1, d) prosecution with regard to private lands is restricted to the occupier. I do not want to get involved in small Committee points, but I should have thought that the owner as well as the occupier ought certainly to have the right to deal with litter deposited on private land. I am not quite sure how far after putting in subsection (1, d):as respects any place being private lands, the occupier of such lands;paragraph (f) would bring in the police force. The paragraph says:as respects any other place, the local authority or (if the place consists of lands to which the public have rights of access) any member of a police force.I should have thought that all the objections raised by the Parliamentary Secretary were Committee points.
This morning there has been a general expression of approval for the transfer of this class of offence from byelaws to statute law. That, as I understood it, was the principle involved. I think that was conceded by the hon. Gentleman when he gave the list of county councils, county borough councils and municipal boroughs which have adopted byelaws. The public having found the inefficiency of that method of dealing with the problem, we have to consider whether it should not be transferred from byelaws to statute laws, with the police having of necessity in certain circumstances the duty of enforcing the law. I do not believe that in the counties, or even in some county boroughs, outside public parks this matter can ever be dealt with unless that is made one of the duties of the police force.
When I was in my constituency on Saturday evening the market place had just closed down. There was a strong wind blowing, which was taking the litter left after the market had closed right across a churchyard, in which are the tombs of some very famous men, 1485 including the inventor of the lifeboat. That was making the place look miserable, unkempt and a disgrace to the community. Although the authorities responsible for the maintenance of the churchyard devote a great deal of care to seeing, apart from those times when it really cannot be protected from the effects of the winds of heaven, that it shall be a place of beauty in which people can, with advantage, walk and see some of the memorials that are there.
I know the difficulties which confront the Government in this matter. Once he had the communication from his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary saying that the police could not be expected to shoulder this burden, of course, the Parliamentary Secretary was bound to tender to the House the advice he gave. I hope the House will realise that this is a Private Member's Bill and that the Government will not suffer any serious disadvantage from being reminded that on occasion the House likes to be slightly in advance of the Government. I shall not say how far in present circumstances that gets us in any sphere, but I cannot think that hon. Members who have spoken in this debate so far today can reasonably accept the advice the hon. Gentleman has tendered to them. I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) said that the subject of litter reminded him of a certain cartoon. It always reminds me of a story of an incident which, as related to me, apparently occurred in Cheltenham, but which might have occurred anywhere in the country.
It was of a motorist taking his wife shopping. After she had got out of the car, he parked it and sat in the driving seat, where he took the last cigarette out of a packet and tossed the empty packet out of the window. A moment later the empty packet appeared at the window again at the end of an umbrella. At the other end of the umbrella was a very fierce-looking lady who said, "You dropped this". The man said, "Thanks very much. I do not want it". "Nor does Cheltenham", she replied in stentorian tones. If all citizens were like that lady there would be no need for 1486 the Bill, but unfortunately there is a need for such a Bill.
There is also a need for education and for a very great deal of persuasion, particularly of the kind suggested by the excellent Report of the Committee which considered litter in the Royal Parks of which the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) was a member and my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) was Chairman. I am very glad to support this Bill, particularly as I represent part of a borough which suffers from this litter problem, especially at this time of the year. It did so last Saturday, will do so again tomorrow and even to a greater extent on 4th May, when the Cup Final takes place, and 11th May, when the Rugby League Final takes place.
I shall take the advice of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). The right hon. Gentleman said that he could not take photographs of Epsom Downs today and in a few weeks' time. I think I shall take photographs round Wembley Stadium tomorrow to show how formidable is the problem there. I believe there is a local byelaw, but it needs the force of a statute such as this and the opinion of this House in no uncertain terms to make an improvement in that problem.
A short time ago one of the escalators at Charing Cross Station was out of action, as probably a number of hon. Members discovered. Walking up the stairs, I found they were absolutely covered with small pieces of cellophane litter. I suppose it was no one's job to sweep the escalator because, when it was working, it automatically swept itself as it worked round and the pieces of litter would fall from it. It seems extraordinary that people walking up an escalator should be so untidy as to drop bits of paper, cellophane from cigarette packets or sweets, and so on. A real campaign is needed, and this Bill should be a great help and inspiration if we are to solve this problem.
I was sorry that my hon. Friend lie Parliamentary Secretary adopted a rather defeatist attitude, although I appreciate his difficulties. A warmer welcome of the Bill from the Government would have done a tremendous amount of good. I remember that when the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) was 1487 Minister of Works in the Labour Government I asked some Questions about litter in the Royal Parks. The right hon. Member took the view that prosecutions are unpopular. Of course they are, any prosecution would be, but we have to make the dropping of litter unpopular if we are to cure this nuisance. I do not think we need be mealy-mouthed about prosecutions. I fully appreciate the point which has been made that a small child who drops the wrapping from a sweet is committing only a very minor offence, but someone who drops a tin which has been opened by a tin opener and has a jagged edge is committing a very serious offence. So, also, is a person who drops a bottle.
Apparently in New York a very serious view is taken of the matter. I have here a letter which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South received a year or so ago from the Commissioner of the Department of Sanitation, New York, which says:Depending upon the offence and on which section of the sanitary code it comes under, fines range from one dollar to perhaps 500 dollars in extreme cases. Gaol sentences are also possible.I am not suggesting that we should ever go to anything like that length, and, indeed, the Bill is a protection against savage sentences of that kind, but it shows how far another great democracy is prepared to go to stamp out this very difficult problem.
The Report dealing with litter in the Royal Parks mentions the results of an experiment which were carried out at the Hyde Park Lido at Whitsun a year or so ago when not only were litter bins provided in considerable numbers but loud speakers were used to draw the attention of the public to the untidy habit of throwing litter about. Use was made of Mr. Gilbert Harding, on a gramophone record, to persuade people not to drop litter. This is what was said:This is Gilbert Harding, not talking rubbish this time but talking about rubbish—about litter. Are you enjoying yourselves? Well, I certainly hope so. But what about the newspapers, the sandwich wrappings the cigarette packets, the lemonade and ice-cream cartons? For heaven's sake don't leave them about. Use the litter basket, won't you'? There are plenty of them. Do please use them.Such action as that on such occasions or on any ceremonial occasion when large crowds gather would help greatly.
1488 Apparently, of the 132 lb. of litter left in the Lido that Whitsun, only 6 lb. were collected from the ground, the remainder coming from the bins. That shows that persuasive action of that type helps to an enormous extent. I do not believe we can succeed with legislation alone. We must have persuasion and education, but we must also have legislation. I hope the Bill will be given a good majority this afternoon and that it will reach the Statute Book.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)
It might be for the convenience of the House if I speak for a moment or two about the position in Scotland. First, I should like to join in the congratulations extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I would also thank the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) for the valuable suggestions that he made and for a constructive speech of the type that we expect from him when he speaks about Scottish affairs.
We in Scotland fully share the anxiety expressed in the House today about the extent of the litter nuisance. We have many attractive towns, large and small, and great areas of beautiful countryside which attract a very large tourist trade, most highly valued in Scotland. It is a disgrace that these attractions should be spoilt by the inconsiderate vandalism of those who thoughtlessly throw away their waste paper and other kinds of rubbish. One has only to visit during the weekend any of the popular resorts near the big towns—the beaches, loch-sides and picnicking spots in the country—to realise just how unpleasant are the effects of this anti-social conduct. As has been said, the amount of rubbish lying about some of our towns must horrify visitors from abroad, especially those who come from countries where there is no such great untidiness to offend the eye.
We must be grateful to the many voluntary organisations of all kinds which are campaigning against the litter menace. I agree with my hon. Friend that in the long run this menace will be overcome only by public education, in which the voluntary bodies are so actively engaged. Many of our Scottish local authorities 1489 are conscious of their responsibilities, and by exhortation and advice, by the provision of receptacles for litter, and by their efforts to remove quickly such litter as has been dropped, they are doing much to improve the situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) said that if the Bill were enacted it would have the same effect as the 30 m.p.h. speed limit. I could not follow him as far as that. I cannot visualise there being signs or policemen in every possible spot where litter might be dropped.
We have today heard many speeches pointing out how badly people behave by dropping litter. I thought I might have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South, whose constituency, I think, covers the Norfolk Broads, or part of them—
§ Mr. Browne
I thought that I might have heard from my hon. Friend a word of praise for the thousands of families who go on the Broads every year and stop at the side of the river overnight. Anyone who knows the Norfolk Broads as I do, going there year after year, will know that one can draw up in the evening at a mooring left by someone that morning and find either no litter at all or, where that is not possible, that the litter has been put away neatly in the reeds, the result being that one reaches a mooring which is in such a state that one might be the first explorer to find it. If the public would get the habit of looking around before they leave to see whether they have left anything behind, much of the litter nuisance would be avoided.
The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said that people do not drop litter in their homes and she wondered why they should do so in public places. She reminded me of an experience which I had many years ago when I was employed in a place of public entertainment. We built seats at the back on which the older folk could sit, but we found that the young people stood on those seats to see the entertainment, with the result that the seats were useless because they were dirty. We could not 1490 stop that action by employing policemen or attendants. Finally I had the bright idea of putting up a big notice which said "You may stand on these seats if you stand on the chairs at home". After that the seats were kept perfectly clean and clear. The conclusion is that the solution is not in the use of policemen or attendants, but in presenting to the public the facts of the case in a way that they can understand, and I believe that we can do much more by education than we can by enacting statutes.
I am bound to add that we doubt whether the Bill could be expected to make any marked contribution to the solution of the Scottish litter problem. So far as it deals with public places, it largely duplicates our existing law. Under the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, in burghs outside our cities, and under local Acts in the cities, it is already an offence to drop litter in any public place.
Looking at Clause 3 of the Bill it might be thought that this statutory prohibition relates only to streets, but in fact "street" is defined in the Burgh Police Act to includeAny harbour, railway station, canal, depot, wharf, towing path, public park, links, common or open area or space, the strand and sea beach down to low water mark and all public places within the burgh.So the prohibition is already comprehensive, at least as regards public ground.
Outside burghs, county councils may prohibit the deposit of litter in public places by byelaws made under Section 300 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947. I am glad to say that our Scottish county councils have recently been invoking this power more freely. In the past year, seven have made anti-litter byelaws, and such byelaws are now in force in 13 Scottish counties.
These byelaws also usually apply to all public places in the county. In addition, byelaws prohibiting litter are in force for many particular areas in our towns and counties. That is recognised to some extent in Clause 3 (2) of the Bill, but the list of byelaw-making powers given in that subsection is by no means complete. It does not include, for example, certain Sections of the Public Parks (Scotland) Act, 1878, or of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Acts, 1892 and 1903, 1491 or anti-litter byelaws made under the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) (Scotland) Act, 1951.
§ Mr. J. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman said that seven county councils are now invoking these byelaws. Can he tell me if Dunbartonshire is one of them because, as regards Loch Lomond side, if it is, they do not seem to be very effective? I mentioned Carter Bar in my speech, and on consideration I think that the place where the litter is, is just on the Scottish side of the border plate and therefore in Roxburghshire. Has Roxburghshire any such byelaws? They seem to be ineffective, whether it has or not.
§ Mr. Browne
Dunbartonshire has the byelaws.
Carter Bar is the highest point of the Newcastle-Jedburgh road where it crosses the Cheviots from Northumberland into Roxburghshire. Roxburghshire, I regret to tell the hon. Gentleman, is one the counties without anti-litter byelaws under Section 300 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947. But I do not think we ought to imply that the cleaning up of the Scottish side of Carter Bar is a simple matter of just making byelaws, although I agree with the hon. Member that there ought to be byelaws. He will realise that there is the problem, especially on a lonely summit such as this, which is remote from the nearest village, of detecting the offender and securing his conviction.
As I was saying, the main effect of the Bill in public places would apparently be to make it for the first time an offence to drop litter in the landward areas of the 20 counties, one of which I have mentioned, which have not so far made anti-litter byelaws. It seems very doubtful whether the Bill would make any significant advance in this matter. These 20 county councils may at any time make anti-litter byelaws, and more county councils in Scotland have recently been tackling this problem. We may hope that it will not be long before public places in all counties are covered by byelaws.
Arising out of the question asked by the hon. Member for West Lothian, I hope that Scottish counties will note that they are very much behind the English counties, all but one of which, as my hon. Friend has told the House, already have byelaws.
1492 I should like to pay tribute to the 13 counties which have made byelaws, and to name them. They are Berwick, Clackmannan, Dumfries, Dunbarton, East Lothian, Fife, Kinross, Midlothian, Moray, Perth, Renfrew, Stirling and West Lothian. I trust that when this matter is next debated, if a question is asked of the Minister, he will be able to read out a longer list.
The second effect of the Bill, so far as it applies to public places in Scotland. is to increase the maximum penalty from a fine of £2 in the burghs under the Burgh Police Act, or £5 in counties under byelaws, to £10 everywhere. I am advised that that would necessitate the rather odd procedure of duplicating existing penal provisions. In principle it would appear to be wrong to provide by Statute that certain types of conduct should constitute an offence, when they have already been declared by or under another Statute to be an offence.
If the Bill is given a Second Reading that aspect of it will certainly require close scrutiny. Also, as the hon. Member for Hexham recognised, the enforcement provisions of Clause 4 would have to he most carefully examined, and I am quite sure would have to be overhauled in respect of Scotland. We do not have the English system of private and police prosecution. Criminal proceedings are instituted in Scotland almost invariably, whether at common law or under Statute, by public prosecutors. Thus Clause 4 (1) would certainly need reconsideration.
The enforcement difficulty is also relevant to our consideration of the Bill as it would affect private grounds. I thought that it might be argued that the Bill would still be helpful in relation to private ground even if the House took the view that to apply the provisions to public places was unnecessary because the dropping of litter in public places was already sufficiently covered by existing legislation. But as I have said, we in Scotland could not contemplate giving power to the occupier of private land to take proceedings against somebody who is alleged to have dropped litter on his land.
There are also serious objections to empowering private persons to take names and addresses. That being so, all that the proprietor could do would be 1493 to report an alleged offence to the police, and if it appeared to the public prosecutor that there was sufficient evidence, proceedings could he taken. The police would have no right of entry to private property unless they happened to see an offence being committed. It seems, to say the least of it, doubtful whether provisions of this kind could lead to many prosecutions. Only in the relatively rare case where the offender was seen to drop litter and could be identified, for example through the number of his car, could proceedings be taken; and in Scotland, the evidence of two witnesses would be required to secure a conviction.
I realise the feeling of the House in this matter and I think that I have said enough to indicate that if this Bill is given a Second Reading its application to Scotland will require the most careful consideration in Committee. Much of it is, I am afraid, ill-adapted to fit into our Scottish legislation and legal procedure.
Having said all that I should like the House to feel that if it decides to enact this Bill we in the Scottish Office will go on as we do now, giving every support to the effort to get the Scottish countryside cleaned up and our visitors given a more pleasant time. I myself have had experience of broken bottles on Loch Lomond side—I have had my own foot cut—and I know exactly how difficult it is to prevent this litter habit.
I must, I think, tell the House of one experience I had that made me litter-conscious. It occurred when I had a boat on Loch Lomond. The House will remember that before the war one could buy cardboard plates which, theoretically, saved washing up. One had one's meal and then threw the plates away. I used to go into a quiet little bay on Loch Lomond—nobody had discovered it but ourselves. I had a meal from these cardboard plates and then threw them over the side into the bay. For the whole of the rest of the season, whenever I looked over the side into the limpid waters of Loch Lomond there were those cardboard plates glaring up at me as if to say, "Why did you throw us here?" There they were and I could not get them away.
I am sure that all in the House will have had the experience of bringing to the notice of the people the importance 1494 of this subject; and I think that I should finish on a note of thanks to our Press, which so very wholeheartedly supports our efforts to keep Britain tidy.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)
I had not intended to intervene in this debate when I entered the Chamber. I am certainly no expert on Scotland and Scottish law. but I have felt moved to say that I am glad that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland gave the Bill a somewhat warmer welcome than did the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The Joint Under-Secretary led me to hope that today the Government representatives will not vote against the Bill but will allow it to have a Second Reading, and that the necessary examination in Committee, which I am sure the promoters of the Measure fully envisage, will proceed, and that detailed discussion may improve this Bill, as Bills often are so improved. I do plead with the hon. Gentlemen representing the Government, if they need further persuasion, to let the Bill have a Second Reading.
Their argument has been based mainly on the ground that there are already byelaws which are pretty good, and that, in the long run, as the Joint Under-Secretary has just said, one can effect improvements here only by education. Evidently the number of byelaws is growing. Let us hope that after this discussion in the House other local authorities will be moved to enact the byelaws, as they are empowered. Having listened to most of the debate, however, I still feel that that is an insufficient safeguard on which to rely. We have had these byelaws now for a very long time. We have had an active process of education for as long as I can remember, but it seems to me that the littering and desecration of our countryside, and even of our towns, is growing, not less but greater as time goes on.
Gone altogether are the hedgerows of England that I used to know as a boy when one travelled about in horse-brakes and that kind of thing. The honeysuckle and the meadowsweet have gone. They have been destroyed by the onset of the motor car; and the increasing reliance on the motor car for pleasure and enjoyment is spreading over the countryside larger numbers than ever of people leaving 1495 litter. They, very often, are the chief villains of the piece, because the pedestrian and the cyclist do not go so far afield. But into the countryside and on to the seashore are going these motor cars, taking with them, apparently, an occupying population—if I can use those words—which is impervious to the continued education done, above all, by the B.B.C.
The B.B.C. has done a splendid job in that respect. But the litter is there to prove that there is little or no improvement. It should be remembered, also, that the population is increasing—the numbers of malefactors are growing. As has been said already, the children are all right—they are under continuous process of education and reminder in school—but the adults do not seem to show improvement.
If the Government had said today that they were going in for a huge new campaign of education, I might have felt more reassured, but they did not. They said that they were to have a film. That is well and good, but something very much more than a film is needed. What is needed is a tremendous drive by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, by the Home Secretary, by the Minister of Works—by every Minister conceivably connected with the solution of this problem.
In spite of all that, however good the campaign of education, I still feel that a more effective and rigorous enforcement of a tighter system of law, possibly for a short period of years, would be more valuable. It seems to be the only thing to do. We are in a desperate situation. It might well be that if the Bill became law and its provisions were properly enforced for a time, with reminders to the public of their duties and obligations—that they are, in fact, destroying their own heritage—it might be effective, and we might then be able to slacken the pressure. At any rate, I hope that the Bill will get its Second Reading.
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I want to add my support to this Bill. While I have been listening to the speeches that have been made, and particularly to those made by the Parliamentary Secretary and the Joint Under-Secretary of State, I have been turning 1496 my mind to psychology. The two representatives of the Government spent practically all their time congratulating the local authorities on the possibility of their extending the system of byelaws and trying to make them more effective, and saying how wonderful the local authorities were because of the methods they have used to deal with litter.
The fact remains that, in the main, it is the local authorities that have come to the conclusion that the byelaw system is ineffective, and that they would like this Bill. It is very bad psychology on the part of Ministers not to recognise this great change in the attitude of the local authorities. I am empowered to speak for my County Borough of Tynemouth, which does want this Measure.
The general procedure on the part of Ministers of the Crown is to say, "You must not interfere with local Government." They say that if local government has decided that something is right, no Minister of the Crown—and certainly no back-bencher—can have his or her way, because the local authorities know what is going on in their locality, and they are the people who have to judge. It is not Ministers of the Crown that deal with litter, it is not the Home Secretary, or Government Departments, or civil servants advising Ministers; it is the local authorities on the spot, and the local authorities are satisfied that the byelaw system is outdated and out-moded and really not effective.
§ Mr. Nixon Browne
I cannot speak for the English local authorities, but I can tell the hon. Lady that the Association of County Councils in Scotland has specifically said that it does not want this Bill.
§ Dame Irene Ward
But I notice that my hon. Friend included Berwick in the list of local authorities that he read out. Berwick is not in Scotland. I am not prepared to say that it is in England, but it is certainly not in Scotland. I think it would be extremely difficult to have one law dealing with Carter Bar on the Northumberland side and another law dealing with Scotland on the other side. Therefore, I prefer to support England, and of course, thank goodness. I am not responsible for Scotland.
My local authority wants this Bill. The County Councils Association in England 1497 wants this Bill, and for once it would be a very good thing to allow England to triumph over Scotland.
§ Dame Irene Ward
That goes to prove that the Ministers have been trying to put across a "phoney" opposition.
My next point also concerns the matter of psychology. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government comes here and starts to interpret the minds of magistrates. Let me give him one piece of information. As he has said, quite rightly, there is always the matter of luck, and some people would be prosecuted for dropping litter and others would not be prosecuted. But some people are prosecuted for leaving their cars about the street and other people are not, and that does not seem to deter the Minister of Transport from trying to deal with the matter sensibly. We cannot eliminate luck in life. That is one of the principles that I always argue when supporting the Conservative Party philosophy.
I wish to make an observation about the minds of magistrates. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is not a magistrate, perhaps he does not know how magistrates' minds work when they are on the bench adjudicating. I would just give this piece of information. It matters tremendously what is the total maximum fine which can be inflicted. Taking it by and large, magistrates are very reluctant ever to impose a maximum fine because they always fear that a worse case may arise, and if they have already imposed the maximum fine they have "had it" in the worse case.
Therefore, if the maximum fine is £5, a lower range of fines is imposed in case somebody tips all the waste paper baskets of the House of Commons on to the top of Carter Bar, and if the maximum fine has already been imposed there will not he a suitable fine to impose in that case. Therefore, when my hon. Friend moves to have larger maximum fines, it is in order to give magistrates more room for manœuvre.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill
May I say that one purpose of extending the fine is to cover the case, which I do not think has been mentioned, of, say, a firm of contractors which has a lot of waste it cannot get rid of, which for a consideration gets a driver of a tip lorry to take away by night and drop on—
§ Dame Irene Ward
I am making this intervention on behalf of my local authority, but as I happen to be a magistrate I thought it would be a good opportunity, since I do not often have a chance to lecture Ministers, to say that it is rather unwise to try to interpret the psychology of magistrates without knowing how their minds really work. I can only say, from the point of view of being a magistrate, that it is a very good thing to be able to impose large fines, while giving plenty of time to pay, so that one rubs in the fact that people have committed an offence.
In my constituency, I have two local authorities. We have the most magnificent stretch of sand and wonderful beaches in Tynemouth and Whitley Bay, and I have always longed to put on record in this House how furious I get with people who put broken bottles on the sand for other people's children to cut their feet. For that, if for no other reason, I shall be grateful if the Bill gets a Second Reading. If the Parliamentary Secretary and the Joint Under-Secretary would like to come to my part of the world, I am sure the local authorities will give them a luncheon and will explain why the Bill should get on to the Statute Book.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) will forgive me if I do not follow her in her border skirmishes between Scotland and England. I have to spend my holidays in Scotland sometimes, and I should not like a less warm welcome than I usually get. I am also obliged to my hon. Friend for explaining the psychology and mentality of magistrates. I shall remember it the next time I have appeals from them.
1499 This Bill deals with one of the nuisances of this country. Of course, there are other nuisances as well. For instance, when people put up advertisements with pictures of beautiful film actresses or young men to advertise a certain product, other people think that the pictures would look better if beards and moustaches were added, and they proceed to do so. That is a nuisance, of course.
People who leave litter around the place are much worse offenders. If one approaches this country from abroad, whether by air or by train, one realises two things. One is that, generally speaking, it is a very beautiful country, and the other is that there are a large number of people in it. Therefore, there is a tendency for people to visit the countryside, and unless we are very careful, a lot of refuse and rubbish will be left lying about, and the natural beauty of the countryside will be spoilt. We all want to avoid this.
We do not want to throw people into prison to ponder over their terrible crime of having thrown down empty cigarette packets. It is not only the beauty of the countryside which is spoiled. I can remember the time when an hon. Member of this House threw an egg into the middle of the Chamber. He was not fined. We only have to look on the opposite benches below the Gangway, where we can see a certain amount of litter which has been abandoned by hon. Members who last sat there.
Many of us could do with a good deal more education in these important matters. That applies not only in Scotland but in England, at the seaside, in the beauty spots, and indeed in the towns and villages, be they ancient towns and villages or modern manufacturing towns.
What is the remedy for this old trouble, which is now getting worse? It is getting worse because we have a larger population who travel more. We are very glad that the population should do so, but they should remember their duties when travelling. The remedy lies, first, in education. But education by itself is never sufficient, whatever its object. One always has to add the words "… and if you do not do what you 1500 are told, you will be duly punished". One or two such punishments and suitable advertisement of the punishments would have a deterrent effect upon those who may be thinking of sinning.
Why do the London Passenger Transport Board and British Railways post announcements to the effect that a certain passenger, whose name they are kind enough not to mention, was fined a certain sum and ordered to pay the costs for attempting to travel on the railway with the intention of avoiding paying his fare? It is done to discourage others; and I have no doubt that it has the desired effect. If one were to put up, in various places where litter was likely to be left about, notices saying "Remember your education; and, incidentally, two people were fined so many pounds, and ordered to pay costs, for leaving litter here—Don't you do it", one would reinforce the strength of the education previously imparted to people at some stage or other in their lives.
Modern packaging is responsible for much of the increase. Some forty or fifty years ago, cigarettes were rarely smoked in this country, and, if they were, they were certainly not supplied in the modern type of package which, when finished with, is nonchalantly thrown down and left for somebody else to pick up. The practice of picnicking, with paper-wrapped sandwiches, etc., had not taken such a hold on the population as it has today. All these things tend to disfigure the countryside.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred to the condition of the Epsom Downs after the spring race meeting. My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) referred to the state of Wembley after the Cup Final. One need not go very far for other examples. The smaller race meetings, the lesser known beauty spots, the ponds, lakes and sea shores of this country, all provide evidence of the disfigurement and danger which faces us when we follow after those who have left litter.
What is the remedy? For over a hundred years, a remedy has been sought by passing public health Acts and giving powers to the local authorities. I am not criticising the local authorities in any way, except perhaps those which have not taken advantage of the powers; but 1501 where general prohibition is enforced by local byelaws, there always are different byelaws with different wording, providing for different penalties, yet all intended to achieve the same object. As we have heard today, if one drops litter on one side of the Carter Bar one commits an offence, and if one goes farther on and crosses the border into Scotland one does not. Is that sensible? Surely, it is not.
We must try to ensure that everybody knows what the law is or, at any rate, is in a position to be able easily to ascertain it. If different wordings are to be found in byelaws as one goes from one district council area to another, then the law must come to be regarded, as Mr. Bumble one said, as "a ass". The law should be codified in a Bill. I do not say it should be codified as in this Bill, but it should be codified in a Bill, and then made known throughout the country.
I do not want to deal with the provisions of the Bill as though we were in Committee, but there are one or two comments I should make. Clause 1, which uses general words, is well drafted. To sayso as to create litter or tend to create litter on or in any placeis quite sufficient for the purposes of the Bill. But when one comes to the interpretation Clause, there is a great deal to criticise. I have never heard it said that "land" could include land covered with water. If I were to tell my friends that I was going for a day's fishing on land, they would probably think that I should not catch very much.
§ Mr. Doughty
But apparently I could hope to catch something if I were fishing upon land, according to the definition in the Bill.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill
If a bottle is thrown into a pond, it has reached the land by the time a child steps upon it and cuts its foot. That is the point.
§ Mr. Doughty
I see what my hon. Friend is driving at, of course; he is referring to litter deposited into ponds, lakes and rivers, and when one thinks of the bottom of such places one ignores 1502 the water on top. But the provision might, in my view, have been better drafted. That is all I am saying. To say that'lands' includes land covered with waterat any rate raises a smile, and I merely mention it as one of the respects in which the Bill requires amendment.
I do not agree that private land owners or occupiers should not be given the duty to take names and addresses of those who commit offences. If a person is unfortunate enough today to have a collision in his car, serious or slight, with somebody else, there is a statutory obligation upon both parties to exchange names and addresses. If one or other fails to do so, he can be fined. I have never heard that the Section of the appropriate Road Traffic Act providing for that procedure has led to any difficulty in enforcement or has created hardship for the population of the country. This Bill tries merely to provide for a similar procedure. We heard from the right hon. Member for South Shields the story of the lady and the borough engineer of Dorking, I think it was. These matters sort themselves out in the end. If there is an odd, difficult person, he is generally found and caught.
I would go further and say that the power to prosecute in this instance should not be left entirely to the occupier but that those who have the duty of enforcing public order, namely, the police, should have the power to prosecute even where an offence takes place on private land. They already have that power in other circumstances. If I commit a serious crime on private land, for instance if I cut somebody's throat on private land, I cannot say, "This is a private matter and the police must not take action". They would naturally take action, and I think they should do so in this case, too.
We do not want to be continually compelling people to attend the magistrates' courts merely because they have left an empty cigarette carton where they should not have left it, although we want them to be punished for the offence. In the last few days we have given a Second Reading to the Magistrates' Courts Bill, which I hope will reach the Statute Book, which will exactly fit this type of case. Under it, those who do not wish 1503 to dispute the facts can avoid attending the court by writing to admit them, although subsequently they will have to pay any fine which may be imposed upon them.
I agree with the principle of the Bill and I hope the House will give it a Second Reading. Nevertheless, I hope that those who are members of the Standing Committee will give the matter careful consideration, because there are many Clauses and subsections which require careful amendment and in some cases deletion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).