§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I beg to move, That the Bill he now read a Second time.
The city that I have the honour to represent is not only the centre of London but the heart of Britain's capital and the seat of national government. It is, or should be, the nation's showpiece to British citizens and the world. Ninety-nine per cent. of all tourists to Britain visit Westminster. It now sees 10 million foreign tourists yearly, plus a further 13 million from within the United Kingdom. But the city—it is not unique in this respect—has the problem of litter, up to 90 tonnes daily during the tourist season. That is enough to fill the Chamber every month.
Few people could say that they were not at fault at some time in dropping litter. Some people are anti-social and take pleasure in defiling other people's environment. But the central fact facing the city is that occasional human lapses, multiplied by the number of people living in and passing through the city — 180,000 residents, 750,000 commuters, and many visitors — mean that Westminster's fate is to experience a growing volume of litter dropped by the tides of humanity to which the city is witness every day of the week, both in the day and during the night. The volume grows year by year because of the increasing amount of packaging and the expansion of fast food shops.
Westminster city council is not complacent. Indeed, it has been foremost among British councils in endeavouring to tackle the problem. It initiated the cleaner city pilot scheme in 1979. It was specifically adopted throughout the council's 220 miles of roads and 390 miles of footways. The council has installed 6,000 litter bins, together with 500 sponsored litter bins. Educational leaflets are provided for schools. There is close co-operation and frequent liaison between Westminster's cleansing services department and local community groups, residents' associations and businesses. Agreements are being reached with fast food outlets for their staff to conduct litter patrols of nearby areas. Westminster has launched a quality of life campaign to increase public awareness of the value of a cleaner city and to obtain further improvements in conditions on the streets. But the city council faces a high cost in achieving that aim. Despite major improvements in the efficiency of the council's cleansing services department in recent years, major street cleansing in central London costs up to £600,000—the yearly cost for Oxford street alone. The average figure for Westminster streets was £26,700 per mile in 1986–87. The net cost of the street cleansing service in Westminster, excluding refuse collection, will be £6,450,000 in 1987–88. Most of that is the cost of sweeping up litter.
Against that background, the city council has considered it to be quite realistic to budget for major increases in cleansing department manpower. Even then, it would not be possible to guarantee wholly clean streets, for such a policy fails to tackle the causes of litter. They have to do with human forgetfulness, human lapses and, sometimes, a failure to care for others' environment. The council has also given careful consideration to use of the existing litter laws, notably the Litter Act 1983. The chief failing of the Act is its requirement for criminal proceedings to be undertaken, with all that that implies in 914 administrative procedures and the undue involvement of police, Crown prosecution and court time for an offence that is essentially anti-social rather than criminal.
The need for improved legislation pre-dates the Litter Act 1983 that basically consolidated pre-existing Acts of Parliament. For example, the March 1981 official report of Westminster city council's cleaner city pilot scheme stated that current legislation wasparticularly unsatisfactory. In theory, individuals can be prosecuted for dropping litter.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
What the hon. Gentleman said is correct; the legislation is unsatisfactory. But Westminster is a wealthy and powerful local authority. Would it not have been a salutary lesson to all potential litter louts to have seen Westminster pursuing through the courts a number of well-publicised cases? That would undoubtedly have been a major deterrent.
§ Mr. Wheeler
Westminster is indeed the heart of London and gives the appearance of being wealthy, but among its 180,000 residents are many people who draw housing benefit. Business, too, expects to pay a fair rate, not an excessive rate. Wealth is subject to qualification. As to prosecution, I shall refer in a moment or two to the developing role of the city and its plans for its enforcement service. If the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will allow me to proceed, I may reach that interesting point.
The council report went on to state:In practice, prosecutions are very difficult to bring about and the low level of fines often imposed makes it unviable to do so.The city council has proposed the Bill that is intended, as the preamble states,To make further provision for the enforcement of the Litter Act 1983 in the City of Westminster.The core of the Bill is the proposal for a fixed penalty ticket to be issued when an authorised officer of the city council has reason to believe that a person is dropping litter or has just committed that offence. The Bill does not create a new offence of littering; it already exists in the Litter Act 1983. It merely adds to the Act by making it possible for a fixed penalty ticket to be issued for offences within the city of Westminster. Fixed penalty tickets have been established for more than 20 years as a recognised and practical method of improving enforcement of laws relating to a variety of offences, particularly minor motoring transgressions that are regarded by the public as less serious than major criminal acts. Their uses, along with their public acceptability, have grown.
The Bill does not adopt an on-the-spot fine system. That was considered and rejected by the council following early discussions with the Metropolitan police. Instead, any person handed a fixed penalty ticket will have the opportunity to pay a fine within 14 days, in which case no criminal proceedings will be taken against him. If the fine is not paid, the normal provisions of the Litter Act for criminal proceedings will be enforced.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
I am sure that my hon. Friend will come to this point later, but how will one be able to identify the individual to whom a fixed penalty ticket is given, as we do not carry identity cards, which are common in many European states?
§ Mr. Wheeler
My hon. Friend touches on an interesting point. He is quite right to say that, in the United Kingdom, 915 we do not as yet have identity cards; and in the enforcement of minor law, the constable or other enforcement agent has the delicate and somewhat difficult task of identifying the individual. We seem to overcome that difficulty by a mixture of bluff, common sense and good humour.
I said that a fixed penalty ticket could be issued, but the city council does not envisage tickets being issued on every occasion. That might lead to more littering of the streets. The council's policy is that its officers will ask the litterer to retrieve his presumed litter before any thought is given to issuing a fixed penalty ticket. The council sees no reason why responsible people will not do that, provided that they are asked courteously. The council is to give extensive training to its officers. No doubt it will take into account the thoughts of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) on how to go about that.
There will be about 60 officers, comprising some members of the cleansing department staff, plus 41 members of the multi-purpose inspectorate, many of whom are already in post and employed by the city council for the enforcement of various laws, including street trading and planning regulations.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I apologise for intervening again, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that as he is the hon. Member responsible for steering the measure through the House he must be prepared to answer whatever questions we ask him. Does what he has said mean that there has been an increase in the number of staff employed to carry out these duties? Secondly, what consultation has there been with the recognised trade unions? Did they agree to the proposals?
§ Mr. Wheeler
I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's questions precisely because, as he knows, I am not a member of the city council and thus not privy to its every activity. However, I can tell him that the city council prides itself on close discussions with its employees, provides them with news letters, is in constant contact with its staff and will have discussed its objectives with its employees at all levels, as that is its normal practice.
As to the number of staff, I have said that the existing cleansing department staff will be employed, in addition to the 41 members of a new multi-purpose inspectorate. I have no doubt that, with the passage of time, others will be employed as appropriate to enforce the legislation—if the House approves it—and many other matters that concern the city council.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
The hon. Gentleman has referred to 60 staff, who will enforce the provisions. Will he explain how any member of the public will know that he is dealing with a city council official who is trying to enforce the provisions and not someone else? How will they be recognised?
§ Mr. Wheeler
I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's point in a moment.
The council will be guided by experience on the best way in which to deploy its staff. The multi-purpose inspectorate will undertake litter enforcement duties as part of its various roving tasks, and wardens from the cleansing department may be employed in specific locations, such as Oxford street and Trafalgar square. 916 That is the point about which the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) was concerned. All of those employees will have clear means of identification.
§ Mr. Wheeler
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that anyone seeking to enforce the law must be able to show the citizen in the street that he is authorised to do so and that he is a proper and accountable person. As I have already said, the employees of the council will receive appropriate training for their duties. They will also be equipped with a proper means of identification. What will that be? It might, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes suggested, be a form of identity card—it almost certainly will be. The employees might even wear an appropriate form of clothing that identifies them as being from the Westminster city council, bearing in mind that that clothing should not allow them to be mistaken for members of the police force. I am sure that the city council will be pursuing those matters.
The city council has had detailed discussions with the Home Office, the Department of the Environment and the Metropolitan police about the provisions of the Bill, at council officer level and Civil Service level. It has also held discussions at political levels, including some with the Home Secretary, the Metropolitan police Commissioner, the Commissioner-designate and the leader of Westminster city council. With their agreement, the council proposes to make three substantive amendments to the Bill at Committee stage, together with consequential drafting stages.
First, the Metropolitan police and the Home Office's police department have said that they believe that the provisions of the Litter Act are adequate for the few occasions — generally serious events — on which their officers are likely to be involved in enforcement of litter laws, although they fully understand the council's desire for fixed penalty tickets to be available for routine enforcement. So fixed penalty powers will not now be made available to the police. Secondly, the council has agreed to withdraw the provision making it an offence not to give a name and address to the authorised officer issuing the fixed penalty notice. That is to minimise potential calls on police time and criminal justice proceedings. The deletion of that provision brings the Bill into line with most of the enforcement carried out by local councils, in which there is no obligation to give a name and address.
Opposition Members will, I am sure, agree that the proposed offence would have steered too close to the former sus law, which I and other hon. Members had a hand in removing. The Westminster city council is satisfied that careful staff training will help to ensure that most people will comply on a voluntary basis with the request for a name and address. Many members of the council's inspectorate are former police officers who understand how to handle these situations. The experience of other organisations that also require names and addresses—for example, London Underground and bus ticket inspectors — is that the great majority of the public provide their identity and address voluntarily.
The third change is one that the council—I shall he frank—is reluctant to concede. It is proposed in the Bill 917 that the fines levied by way of fixed penalty tickets should he paid ultimately to the city treasurer and directed to a specific fund to offset enforcement costs, and that the surplus should be used to improve further the city's environment. The Home Office has stated that that would be contrary to the national policy on the direction of all fines, which, as the House knows, are due to the Crown. The city council believes that this national policy handicaps many local authorities in effectively implementing enforcement legislation for a range of lesser offences because there is little chance of enforcement being self-financing or of the polluter paying directly for the alleviation of his wrongdoing.
The result of an independent opinion poll conducted for the city council by the Oxford Research Agency was that 77 per cent. of all those interviewed agreed with the council's proposal that the fines be directed to the city treasurer and then to the environmental fund. The council considers that in due course the national policy will have to be changed as part of improvements to local enforcement procedures throughout the country.
In the interim, the council accepts the Home Office request and will propose in Committee that fines enforced by the scheme should be paid into the central funds. A ways and means resolution has been tabled today to enable this action to be taken.
The withdrawal of the three provisions to which I have referred has been the subject of some adverse press comments in recent weeks, with the conjecture that there is profound disagreement among the council, the Home Office and the Metropolitan police. I must inform the House that the media's interpretation is inaccurate. The council is grateful for the personal support of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the broad objectives of the Bill and for the Commissioner-designate's expectation that there will be a close working relationship between the multi-purpose inspectorate and the local Metropolitan police. The scale of fines has been discussed with the Home Office, which is in agreement with the proposal that the fixed penalty be equal to one tenth of level 2 of the standard scale, which is currently equivalent to £10.
Support for the Bill is widespread. Public statements of support have been received from organisations as diverse as Friends of the Earth, UK 2000. the Keep Britain Tidy group and the London Tourist Board. For example, Friends of the Earth has stated that the Billshould benefit all Londoners and visitors by significantly improving our urban environment.Three seminars held for residents and business associations within Westminster demonstrated clear support for the proposal. The public opinion poll showed a sample of 81 per cent. of residents in Westminster, 77 per cent. of commuters, 84 per cent. of British tourists and 80 per cent. of foreign tourists to be in favour of the proposals. Similar percentages stated that they would be "very pleased" or "quite pleased" if the fixed penalty scheme were introduced. The £10 penalty was thought to be about right by 64 per cent. Only 9 per cent. considered the present method of enforcement to be effective.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The hon. Gentleman has statistics that I do not have, and I ask him to tell me whether the 20 per cent. or so who were not in favour of the proposal were unable to support it because they did not like the extension of the law in terms of the Bill's provisions or 918 because they included litter louts. It would be interesting to know whether the city council analysed why 20 per cent. did not approve of the proposed legislation.
§ Mr. Wheeler
That information is not in my possession. I do not know whether the analysis went that far. We might presume that the proverbial litter lout would not be in favour of the proposition. I do not know, but I presume that that would be the position.
All local city, borough and district councils in England and Wales were advised by Westminster city council of its proposed Bill. The council has received 274 replies, all expressing interest, with 112 expressing support in principle, or unqualified support. Support has been offered by officers and councillors representing councils of all political dispositions, including many authorities controlled by the Labour party, such as Bristol, Barnsley and Bolton. There has been support also from authorities controlled by the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party, or a combination of the two.
§ Mr. Dubs
Is there not all the difference in the world between agreeing in principle to support a measure that is against litter and agreeing in detail to the precise proposals that will be before the House when amendments to the Bill are introduced? To ask whether we are against litter is rather like asking whether we are against sin. It is the detail of how to tackle sin that causes disagreement and dissension. I suggest that many of the authorities that agree in principle will not necessarily agree with the detailed approach.
§ Mr. Wheeler
The Bill is a simple measure, and in its discussions with other local authorities the city council has had no difficulty in conveying to them the provisions in the Bill in its current form. The concessions that I have offered to the House on behalf of the city council make the Bill in some respects a softer vehicle. It diminishes to a degree perhaps its intention and presumed effectiveness. There can be no doubt that 112 councils which were approached by the city council expressed support for the Bill as presented to the House. That shows the degree of support that the council has throughout the country for this measure, and to that extent it is something of a legislative acorn. It is to be hoped that its objectives and principles will grow, should the House see fit to pass the Bill.
Many councils have stated that if Westminster city council's Bill is successful they will seek similar powers or press for similar national legislation. I think that that deals with the point that the hon. Member for Battersea put rather well. That is surely the central issue for the House to bear in mind this evening. Westminster has taken the imaginative step of proposing a Bill that offers better scope for the enforcement of the Litter Act 1983. It is a valuable initiative which I hope will be monitored closely by the city council, by other local authorities, the Home Office, the Metropolitan police, the Department of the Environment and by other agencies such as Keep Britain Tidy. It offers a practical addition to legislation in an area where action is sorely needed.
The Bill's proponents do not pretend that it is perfect, and it is rare to hear that said in the Chamber. My remarks about the destination of the fines will have been noted especially, but I believe that the House should consider favourably the principles and proposals that are set out in the Bill, which may prove to be widely adopted by other authorities in due course.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I blocked this Bill when the House was first asked to give it a Second Reading. I do not think that I did Westminster city council any disservice, because it was only on 29 April that the council was able to secure a confirmatory resolution. I believe that the council has played ducks and drakes with the House in the past about this legislation. It has not been sufficiently aware of the needs of its internal practices or of the wishes and requirements of the House in bringing forward this legislation.
In blocking the Bill I was able to secure a debate on Second Reading, because several important principles should be debated. I accept that I am not gazing on packed Benches and therefore most hon. Members are not so concerned about the principles as I and a few of my colleagues are, but we should have an opportunity to discuss the principles before the Bill goes into Committee.
We shall all be saying tonight that the object of the Bill, to reduce the amount of litter deposited on the streets, must be supported by all Members. It is unfortunate that Londoners seem to be among the worst litter louts in the country. That is not easy for a London Member of Parliament to say, but I will go further and say that I am distressed by the amount of litter deposited on the streets in my borough of Newham.
I take issue with the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) and say that the City's centre of gravity is to the east, rather than in the city of Westminster. I know that not many tourists yet come to Newham, despite the attractions we have to offer them, so the litter on our streets is deposited by the residents. I live in my constituency and, when I go around the corner in the morning to get my newspaper from near the Princess Alice, I am often confronted by the ugly eyesore of litter on the streets. Many people stop me and say, "What will the council do about this?" It is a problem for councils. I have as much regard for Westminster's problems as I do for the problems of the London borough of Newham. I point out to those people that it is not the councillors who go around dropping litter on the streets. The habits of the people who live in the area should be looked at, rather than the policies of the local authority.
I have always advocated to my colleagues, while I was both in and out of local government, that if councils can collect the refuse on time, ensure that the streets are clean and the street lights are on, they are most of the way to getting the total support of the population. The population will let councils have as many sub-committees as they want, as long as they provide the basic services, because people form their impressions of local authorities on the basis of the refuse collection service and the state of the streets, even though it is unfair to blame the local authority for the state of the streets.
I accept that Westminster has a problem with the large number of tourists, visitors and people who work within its boundaries, including Members of Parliament. If I saw a Member of Parliament dropping litter on the street, I would be the first to see that he got a fixed penalty, once that measure is introduced.
§ Mr. Wheeler
Before the hon. Gentleman issued the fixed penalty, he would perhaps invite the hon. Member to recover the litter, so that only at the end of a discussion would he feel that he would have to proceed to a fixed penalty.
§ Mr. Banks
That is one of the things which bothers me about this Bill. Some people drop litter in the streets because they are forgetful, but the anti-social nature of people who drop litter extends to other aspects of their personality, including sticking one on somebody who says, "Would you mind picking that up?" I confess that I am a devout coward and when I see someone dropping litter in the street I make a fairly quick mental assessment about whether or not I could ask the person to pick up the litter without fear of danger to myself. I have often decided that discretion is the better part of valour and I have allowed the paper to stay there or I have picked it up as I tut-tutted.
Some people who drop litter can be fairly objectionable when someone points out to them that they have just done something wrong. Many people get stroppy when they know they have done something wrong and someone points it out to them. That is one of the reasons why I asked the hon. Member for Westminster, North whether the relevant trade unions had been consulted and were in agreement with this legislation. I imagine that if I were still a union official I would be asking the employer questions such as "How many times do you have to ask the person?", "What if the person offers violence?" and "Will my members be given additional security support: for example, two-way radios?". The hon. Member did not raise that matter, but it is something on which the Committee can decide. There is a security aspect because there is a potential threat to the safety of the employee who will have to ask litter louts to pick up the litter. That must be taken into consideration by the promoters.
The Government, having recognised that dropping litter is a social problem, should have been prepared to have introduced wider national campaigns to try to get the message through at an earlier stage. For example, it should be a continual feature of education in schools. Littering affects our way of life; it is not just an accident in which one is involved.
People live in a chuck-away society. The hon. Member for Westminster, North mentioned that companies promote their goods with more and more packaging, and are thereby encouraging litter louts. Manufacturers who use packaging should be asked to make some form of reparation to the state for the amount of ammunition they place in the hands of litter louts. The Minister may care to reflect on the need for more national and local campaigns and more education in schools about litter. He may care also to take up the point raised by his hon. Friend as to whether there are any proposals to enforce and change the current litter legislation and the penalties incurred by those who drop litter. I would argue for a coherent national strategy, which I am sure would be welcomed by all hon. Members.
I have a number of objections to the Bill. First, I object to the manner in which this Bill has been promoted—not in the House, because the hon. Member for Westminster, North has done a very good job. He and I have had discussions, since the Bill first appeared on the Order Paper, about the provisions, how the debate would go and what we were trying to achieve.
I object to the way that the Bill has been promoted outside the House. We have had a plethora of litter in the form of press releases from the city of Westminster's press office. The latest one, dated 1 May, entitled "Litter Bill takes another step forward", points out that the special resolution passed by the council on 29 April meant that the council's 921much-publicised Litter Bill took a major step towards becoming law last night…when the Council passed a Motion which will enable the House of Commons to give it a second reading.Whether the House of Commons consents to give it a Second Reading is something for the House of Commons to decide. I ask the Minister whether the press release is an accurate reflection of the Government's policy. It says:The Bill, which is supported by the Government, will get its second reading on May 7.That is fairly optimistic. It goes on:Hitting at reports that Home Office amendments would emasculate the proposed legislation, Lady Porter, Leader of the Council, said: 'The Home Office, which have expressed total support for the Bill, believe that it would not be practical for the Police to give litter offenders a fixed penalty ticket. We are quite happy to accept that advice.'".There is some straining of the truth in that press release. The Government clearly did not support the Bill as it was proposed. The hon. Member for Westminster, North has already told us about the discussions that took place between the leader of the Westminster city council and the Home Secretary, or officials of her council and the Home Office, on the amendments which the promoters are now prepared to accept. I do not know whether the Minister is happy with that description.
As for the Home Office expressing full support for the Bill, again that is rather straining at the truth. As my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said in an intervention, we are all against litter being dropped. Clearly, every Department of State or local authority that might have written to Westminster city council would, on being asked their opinion about the dropping of litter, express their support for measures which seek to eliminate such litter dropping. However, Westminster has gone heavy on the publicity on this without having checked to see that its claims are accurate.
In a way, the Bill is very much a piece of private enterprise by the leader of Westminster city council. Many of us know that she takes a highly individualistic approach to local government. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, (Mr. Atkinson) says, "Very good." Whether one thinks that the estimable Shirley Porter is someone that one can go along with depends on the hue of one's politics. It will not surprise hon. Members or the good lady herself to hear that I find her politics anathema. I have some regard for her, but I cannot say that it stretches to affection.
However, I shall not make a personal issue out of this, despite her highly irresponsible attitude towards strategic local government in London. She was one of those Tory town hall toadies who put party politics before the needs of London in respect of the abolition of the GLC. Nevertheless, I do not want any hon. Member to think that this colours my feelings towards Westminster city council or the Bill.
There has been little if any consultation with the other London local authorities, either Labour or Tory, on the Bill. I understand that the London Boroughs Association, the Tory association in London, has reservations about the Bill. I know the views of the Association of London Authorities, the Labour grouping in the capital. In response to a request from me for the ALA's opinion, the secretary, Derek Prentice, said:What is of more concern however is that the London Coordinating Committee agreed that the promotion of such Bills should be handled by the two London Local Authority Associations in order that a comprehensive approach to such issues could be 922 adopted. Clearly in this case Westminster has decided to go it alone and therefore the contents of the Bill have not benefited from a London-wide discussion and input.That is a serious point because other local authorities, and, indeed, the House, are in danger of being railroaded by the leader of Westminster city council.
As we all know, if such a proposal had surfaced in the past it would probably have been part of a general powers Bill sponsored by the GLC which would have come after a great deal of consultation within London. We have not had such consultation over this Bill.
My second objection is one of principle, not to stopping people dropping litter, but to the Bill's proposals for the power to levy fixed penalties to be extended to council officers. I do not favour a further extension of fixed penalty powers beyond those that already exist within the capital. I certainly do not approve of them being extended to local authority officers.
One of the things that bothers me is that the power might not stop at local authority officers. It could involve another group of people. Westminster city council is, as one would expect under the leadership of Lady Porter, keen on privatising as many of its services as it possibly can. One knows that waste disposal services in Westminster are being examined as a potential candidate for privatisation. Can the hon. Member for Westminster, North tell me what will happen if Westminster privatises the services where council officers are charged with handing out fixed penalty tickets? Will that be part of the privatisation proposal? It is bad enough council officers being given these powers, but the thought that the powers might be handed over to Securicor or to an enforcement branch of a private cleansing company would raise more objections about the principles within the Bill.
§ Mr. Wheeler
The Bill, which the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to study later, says:'authorised officer' means an officer of the council authorised by the council in writing to act in relation to the provisions of this Act".I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that that makes the matter clear. It is to be an authorised officer of the council. Finally, there is nothing novel in a citizen seeking to enforce the law of the United Kingdom. Such rights exist for us all.
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Gentleman does me a disservice by suggesting that I have not read the Bill. I have underlined the part that he has just quoted because I wondered how comprehensive it would be in a new situation.
On Second Reading one is supposed to stick to principles, but I am not likely to find myself on the Opposed Bill Committee, much as I should like that. Therefore, can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether, if Westminster city council privatised the services, art authorised officer could be someone who was part of a service that was carrying out official duties on behalf of the authority but was acting as an agent of the council but employed by another organisation? That is one of the points I am worried about.
Of course, we all have the power to make a citizen's arrest but we do not all have the ability to go round issuing fixed penalty tickets when we see people doing things wrong. If I were allowed to do so, I could think of a range of things for which, in my eccentric way, I would like to 923 give people fixed penalty tickets. However, I doubt whether the House would give me such powers and so I shall quickly move on.
Let me return to waste disposal in Westminster, which is the central part of the Bill. Westminster city council is not above and beyond criticism. It likes to make great play of its efficiency, but I noticed recently that the district auditor ruled that the council had acted improperly in failing to charge for trade refuse collection, something that the council conceded. I should like to know why the district auditor did not recommend that Lady Porter should be surcharged for that. After all, there was clearly a failure to carry out fiduciary duties on behalf of ratepayers. Having been in a number of altercations with the district auditor about surcharge, I must say I think he missed a trick on that occasion.
The hon. Gentleman must know — because he is a Westminster Member, and no doubt he lives in his constituency—that Westminster's cleansing department consistently out-performs those of many other London councils. I doubt whether it out-performs the refuse collection department in the London borough of Newham, but it certainly out-performs many others. Yet, as I understand it—this returns me to my earlier point—Westminster is paying consultants £25,000 in fees to plan the privatisation of refuse collection in the borough. I should like to know—the matter will no doubt need to be pushed in cross-examination in the Opposed Bill Committee — what will happen to that aspect of Westminster's refuse responsibilities in the Bill if the House is minded to grant the powers sought.
I gather that Westminster has earmarked 13 services for competitive tendering. Clearly, the function of issuing fixed penalties for litter dropping is one that the council's Tory leadership will wish to privatise at a later date, unless the House specifically precludes it in the Committee stage. I hope that, when hon. Members get round to reading this debate, they will think carefully about imposing such a condition.
Let me deal now with the objections of the police. We have heard some of them this evening. I feel that it would have been far better if, before the Bill was brought forward, Westminster had consulted in some depth not only the London boroughs but the Home Office and its Ministers. After all, there is considerable political affinity between the Home Office Ministers and the leadership of Westminster city council. Besides, it is not as if the distance between their headquarters was very great.
It seems rather strange that the Home Office has recommended, in such a way as not to be refused or gainsaid, suggestions for amendments at the Committee stage. I asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary a question on Wednesday 6 May, to which he replied making it clear that discussions had taken place between the Home Office and Westminster, and that a series of amendments that would effectively knock a chunk out of the middle of the Bill were being proposed by the Home Office and accepted by the Bill's promoters. It is a pity that Westminster had not done that beforehand; a great deal of time could have been saved.
I also wrote to the police to find out what objections they had to the Bill. Although amendments have now been 924 made, I should like to read into the record the letter that I received from Assistant Commissioner G. D. McLean of New Scotland Yard. It reads:I am replying to your letter of 30 March to the Commissioner about the City of Westminster Bill. Our formal observations on the Bill were conveyed to the Home Office by letters dated 19 January and 20 March.That is very late in the passage of a piece of private legislation for the Home Office to be consulting the police—or, indeed, for the police to be asked by the Home Office. I think that that reinforces the point that I made earlier.
The letter continues:Briefly, we support in principle Westminster City Council's initiatives to deal with the litter problem but we have reservations about the way in which those initiatives are proposed to be implemented by way of this Bill. In particular, we would not wish to see any active police involvement in the issue of 'fixed penalty notices' for litter offences and we would be concerned about the possibility of involvement by police at a secondary level in dealing with disputes between the City Council's authorised officer and the alleged offender to whom a fixed penalty notice was issued.Naturally we do not relish the prospect of this involvement at a time when our initiatives are being directed at more serious matters and the utilisation of resources are under continuing close scrutiny.It is clear that, if the police had been asked earlier, they would have told Westminster council officers what provisions should be put into the Bill to make it acceptable to the Metropolitan police and, in turn, to the Home Office.
The hon. Member for Westminster, North said that amendments proposed by the Home Office were being accepted. I understand that the Minister is prepared to accept that assurance, and that the House will not be asked to issue any directions to the Opposed Bill Committee. I trust that the members of that Committee will pay some heed to what was said on Second Reading, and will ensure that that happens.
To sum up my remarks about my second objection, I believe that the police should have been consulted considerably earlier, and certainly before the Bill was published.
I cannot escape the thought that, although the Bill has a good central intention, it has been used very much as an ego trip by the leader of Westminster city council. As I have said, Westminster is a wealthy borough, but the hon. Member for Westminster, North correctly pointed out that there is a good deal of poverty within it. It is a pity that Westminster city corporation does not direct its attention to doing more to alleviate that poverty.
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Gentleman says that it does. However, I understand that Westminster has spent well over £40,000 on campaigning in relation to the Bill. It had good lobbyists. I know them well, and they have done a good job with fairly poor material. But I remember the time when the leader of the council bitterly attacked the Greater London council for spending ratepayers' money on what she considered to be propaganda.
There is an element of double standards here. I understand that Westminster is now spending over £1 million on public relations: that is a great deal of money to be spent by a borough which, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, has many problems. Many Conservative Members would call the things that Westminster is doing propaganda on the rates if they were being done by a 925 Labour council. However, in a Tory authority they are considered a proper and fitting use of ratepayers' money, although I do not think that that is neessarily true. Westminster is now spending a higher percentage of its budget on public relations than the GLC did on a London-wide basis. It is no wonder that the leader of Westminster city council has been referred to, somewhat unflatteringly, as Ken Livingstone in drag.
While we know that Westminster's litter problem is fairly acute, I feel that the Bill shows that its priorities are wrong. Surely a council that has underspent by some £11 million in the past two years on housing and housing repairs could use its great promotional ability to do something about the level of poverty within its boundaries, and campaign for more resources from central Government so that something could be done about the scandal of bed-and-breakfast accommodation from which Westminster tends to suffer. As well as those within its boundaries, it has to take in a large number of people from other boroughs. My own borough of Newham, for example, has been forced to send people to bed-and-breakfast accommodation in boroughs such as Westminster.
Rather than bringing forward this Bill, we should like Westminster to do something about the 10,000 on its waiting lists and its 6,000 homeless families. We should like it to do rather more than build nine council houses, as it did last year, or proposes to do this year. It is pathetic, and shows that the Tory leadership of Westminster city council has a perverse set of priorities.
How effective will the Bill be? I understand that in some of its propaganda Westminster claims that its ratepayers will save a great deal of money. I should like to know how much Westminster ratepayers will save. If everybody stopped dropping litter, it would save the council a very great deal of money but we should like the savings that Westminster intends to secure by this legislation, if it is passed, to be quantified.
Earlier I asked the hon. Member for Westminster, North why Westminster has only brought one prosecution in the last three years for the dropping of litter in its streets. Westminster already has the power to prosecute. Through its public relations department, which seems to be growing larger and larger under the leadership of Lady Porter, it has made a great deal of fuss about people dropping litter, and it could have prosecuted them in the courts, using the existing legislation. That would have had a great impact on potential litter louts.
I accept that the existing legislation is unsatisfactory, but Westminster could have used its great influence in the Conservative party to persuade Ministers to introduce legislation to cover the whole country, not just Westminster. I hope that the Minister will give us his views about further legislation.
I should also like to know how many additional staff Westminster proposes to employ, if this legislation is passed. I can probably answer that question myself. It is a big zilch. The council will employ no additional staff. And if Westminster is granted these powers, I wonder how effective its policing of the legislation will be. I should also like to know what negotiations there have been with the unions and whether they agree with these proposals.
The Bill is designed to deal with people who make a mess. The Bill is a complete mess, and it has not been assisted by the Government's amendments. It owes much more to Westminster city council's obsessional desire for 926 publicity than it does to a serious attempt to deal with a serious problem in Westminster and throughout this capital city. The Bill is decidedly bedraggled and it will undoubtedly be further amended in the Opposed Bill Committee.
It is not my intention to force a Division, but I suggest that the promoters should quietly drop it, in so far as Westminster city council is capable of doing anything quietly, and wait for a coherent attempt to deal with litter louts who affect not only Westminster but our capital city and many other cities.
§ 8.2 pm
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
I offer a warm welcome to this long overdue Bill and congratulate Westminster city council on its initiative. My colleague, the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), has asked me to associate him with these remarks.
The Bill has the enthusiastic support of my council, the Bournemouth borough council. Like Westminster, Bournemouth is very much in the business of tourism and welcomes many thousands of visitors from home and abroad every year. Our new international conference centre—the Labour party enjoyed it the year before last and my party enjoyed it last year — and the growing number of all-year-round, all-weather leisure facilities will, we hope, attract even more visitors.
As with Westminster, litter is a seemingly uncontrollable problem. It has grown with the number of take-away food shops, although the fault does not lie with them. They are usually very co-operative in providing bins and in appealing to their customers to be tidy. However, we in Bournemouth cannot ignore the fact that the borough receives letters of complaint from visitors, including letters from abroad — I have had them myself — that demonstrate that they find the litter on our streets and beaches and in our parks and gardens wholly incompatible with the clean, attractive and elegant resort which, of course, Bournemouth is. It is putting them off returning to us.
A recent tourism study of Bournemouth and south-east Dorset has shown that, while the town is highly favoured as a holiday resort, a major criticism of it is the amount of litter on its streets. But, like Westminster, until now we have been powerless and frustrated in dealing with this problem. For several years now we have been urging that there should be legislation of this kind to provide local authorities with the power to impose on-the-spot fines on those found dropping litter. That would act as an effective deterrent. Apparently, it works in other European countries.
Representations have been made through the Association of District Councils and, through me, to successive Governments. However, the last Labour Government concluded that such powers would be undesirable—that legislation of that kind would impair relations between the police, who would have the responsibility for implementing the powers, and the public. It was understood that the police were opposed to being placed in this position. In any case, it was felt that they were better occupied in fighting crime. We can all sympathise with that.
There has, the therefore, been a singular lack of prosecutions under the Litter Act 1983, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) has already said. Governments continue to resort to education 927 and persuasion and there is no doubt that the Keep Britain Tidy group is doing an excellent job. But the problem remains, and it is growing. If the Bill is passed, undoubtedly a great many local authorities such as mine will seek similar powers. Indeed, instead of wasting parliamentary time on private Bills of this nature, perhaps there ought to be a Government Bill to deal with the problem. I look forward to hearing the views of my hon. Friend the Minister on that point.
Turning to the Bill itself, at first sight the prospect of authorised municipal officers roaming the streets to nab and fine may be regarded as more characteristic of Eastern Europe, but that is not what the Bill proposes. The precedent for what it proposes has long been set by traffic wardens and fixed penalties. I understand that Westminster city council already has officers who are authorised to control street markets and to deal with other planning considerations. Henceforth, they will have the power to approach those whom they see drop litter— not to impose a fine but to ask that it be picked up. Only a refusal will lead to a fixed penalty which I should have thought was wholly reasonable.
Once the public get to know the form in this way, the problem will be overcome. My only reservation is that I hope that these officers will always try to avoid fining visitors from abroad. I foresee headlines in foreign newspapers that will wholly distort the picture. It will create an unjustified image here that will not be at all helpful to our tourist prospects.
I hope that the whole House will applaud Westminster city council on its initiative and, indeed, on its entire cleaner city experiment. We in Bournemouth will be closely following the passage of the Bill and will seek to introduce our own as soon as possible.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) graphically described the litter problem in the city of Westminster. All hon. Members understand that the problem is at its most severe in the city of Westminster because of the vast body of visitors, commuters and tourists who throng its streets.
The problem is getting worse almost daily. Westminster city council states that the volume of litter taken from its streets has increased by about 20 per cent. in the last three years. The rapid increase in littering means that we cannot hang around waiting for a perfect solution to arrive from central Government. The Westminster initiative may not be perfect and may have to be refined, but at least Westminster is having a go at the problem, and that is welcomed.
Over the years much effort has been directed to solving this problem. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to the Westminster city council's cleaner city campaign, a very interesting initiative that was followed up by a number of other local authorities in sponsoring litter bins and so on. That campaign, despite all the effort that went into it, did not slow down littering in our streets, which in London has been aggravated by the rise in the number of visitors over recent years.
In 1976 there were 7¼ million visitors to London from overseas and about 11 million from other parts of the United Kingdom, a total of a little over 18¼ million. By 1985 that had shot up to more than 9 million overseas 928 visitors and 14 million visitors from other parts of the United Kingdom, a total of over 23 million people visiting London in one year — a 26 per cent. increase over a nine-year period.
I do not suggest that we should blame the litter problem on those who visit our city. There is some evidence to suggest that visitors are more concerned about litter and in general have a better performance in that respect than some of the inhabitants of London. But the sheer number of visitors means that there is more litter even if the percentage of visitors doing the littering is comparatively small.
Other hon. Members referred to the need for an education campaign, which I support, but we have been trying that. I have sponsored many of the Keep Britain Tidy group efforts to undertake sensible initiatives in our schools to try to get this message across to young people before they reach maturity. Perhaps these initiatives did not have sufficient resources behind them, but they really have not been able to struggle against and have been overwhelmed by the sheer momentum of the increase in litter.
In my own borough of Greenwich, which is another very important tourist area of London, virtually all our shopping centres are a sea of litter by the end of a shopping day, with the rubbish blowing everywhere in the wind. The fast food chains have a lot to answer for in generating litter. A number of them—McDonalds are probably the foremost among them—go to great lengths to try to tackle the problem even to the extent of having a litter patrol to collect some of the refuse from their own operations. Away from the shopping centres, residential streets which are probably swept once a week become a sea of accumulated paper and piles of bottles and tins. Many residential streets in areas like the one in which I live are disfigured in this way.
There is the problem of public open spaces. My local authority provides very pleasant small parks and garden areas which ought to be a delight for people to enjoy; but they are not, because flower beds and grassed areas are spoiled by bottles, cans, ice-cream wrappers, cigarette wrappers and the whole plethora of rubbish dumped by insensitive and unfeeling people.
The wooded areas, of which there is a vast expanse in my area, come in for very heavy and systematic dumping of large black sacks of accumulated refuse, furniture and other things. It is not necessary to dump in the woods because my authority, like many others, operates a very effective and efficient recycling depot which can collect and take in that sort of rubbish.
§ Mr. Cartwright
Indeed, it was a recycling depot that we inherited from the Greater London Council—one of the forward looking steps of the GLC, and I am in favour of that recycling approach to litter—but we have not got across to people that they do not need to take rubbish into the woods but can take it to the recycling depot.
One of the most depressing things that I see when driving in and out from my home to this House is the car or lorry driver in front who winds down the window and throws out accumulated litter in the cab—cigarette ends, cigarette packets, apple cores, or whatever. It all goes out of the vehicle and on to the road.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West said that these people are anti-social. I accept that some of them are, 929 but many of them are downright thoughtless. The saddest aspect of the public attitude to litter is that we are beginning to learn to live with it. People have stopped complaining about it, because they say, "What is the good of complaining?" Nobody cares, and the problem continues to grow and get worse; the more we become accustomed to lower standards, the worse our environment comes.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether there is any alliance policy on the problem of litter, particularly in terms of requiring manufacturers to spend a proportion of their profits on finding ways of making their packaging biodegradable.
§ Mr. Cartwright
We follow the same policy in the alliance as in other parties, that the polluter should pay. A great deal more could be done by manufacturers to encourage by a combination of stick and carrot, but at the end of the day even biodegradable refuse is left lying on the streets for a long time before it biodegrades, and in that sense it is degrading our environment while that process continues.
We have heard of the defects of the Litter Act 1983, which has not tackled litter. Nationwide there has been a singular lack of prosecutions. The police feel, with understanding from most members of the public, that they have more important functions than to struggle with littering. In any case, the Act is not cost effective. The likely cost of a prosecution under the Act is about £200 and the average fine would be about £40. Cash spent on pursuing individual prosecutions through the courts would be better utilised in dealing on the ground with a large number of offenders through the fixed penalty approach. That is why I support the general aims and approach of this Bill. Any sensible initiative to support this Bill has to be tried. A fixed penalty system that works is preferable to the cumbersome procedures of the Litter Act.
Having enforcement officers asking people to pick up litter, with the back-up of the fixed penalty system, could have an impact on people's behaviour, and that is what the Bill is trying to achieve. The Bill, to be effective, has to have not just an effective punitive system, but a proper information and advertising campaign. I understand that is part of the Westminster approach.
I am sorry that the Government appear to have decided that all fines should go into the Exchequer rather than back to Westminster city council. If the number of fixed penalty notices is small because offenders pick up the litter when they are asked, there would still be an incentive for Westminster in having less litter. If Westminster does not receive revenue from fines, it has little initiative to issue penalty notices or to increase the number of enforcement officers. I should have thought that, when central Government is telling local authorities to tighten their belts, a little in-built financial incentive from the Government would not have gone amiss.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I am interested in the wider application of these powers. There is a great deal of public interest and support, and certainly much interest and support, too, from local authorities across the political spectrum. We have to ask what form the development of such a power will take. Will other councils be expected to promote their own legislation? Will we have to wait years for central Government legislation or can we not ask for an enabling measure so that the local 930 authorities which want it will have power to do something? That is the way forward rather than requiring every authority to do exactly the same about the problem. I hope the Government will say that such enabling leglislation will be forthcoming.
§ Mr. Cartwright
There will be an Administration in power. Whichever Administration is in power, I hope that such an approach to the problem will be an important priority. All of us agree that litter disfigures our major cities, particularly London. It contributes to the shabby, dingy, down-at-heel appearance which too much of central London now gives.
There is also broad agreement that the quality of the environment must be improved. The tight against litter, however mundane it may appear, is very much part of the fight to improve the quality of life in London. To win the fight we need to change public attitudes. A punitive system on its own cannot do that. But the Bill, backed up by an education and information campaign, can contribute to the changes that we all want to see. For those reasons support the Bill.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
I spent some years as a Westminster city councillor. Although these issues were not before the council at the time, I am fairly familiar with the problems of the city of Westminster. It is perhaps a matter of regret that this is not an occasion for me to say what I think about the council's appalling housing policy, the homelessness, the neglect of social services, the difficulties elderly people face and so on. The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) should be familiar with those problems. One difficulty underlying Westminster's approach is polarisation because the affluent areas of the city are so far away from the poorer areas. All too often city hall is remote from the poor and disadvantaged people in the northern part of the city who desperately need more attention than they are getting.
I agree with the hon. Member for Westminster, North that litter is an enormous problem. We are an extremely wasteful society. I wish local authorities went to more trouble to separate litter that can be recycled from litter that cannot. As a society we are exploiting our planet and we are not seeking to minimise the damage that we are doing to it. Litter is one manifestation of that damage.
London has always struck me as a particularly dirty city —and by London I mean inner London and the city of Westminster. It is always remarkable how much cleaner cities in the north of England are. That may be because of tourism or it may be because many cities in the north have Labour authorities which deal better with such things. At any rate, it is disagreeable to note on arriving back in London how dirty it is. To that extent, I agree that there is a problem.
Of course, litter on the streets encourages more litter. If people see litter lying about, they will not look for rubbish bins but will simply throw the extra bits of paper on the street. If our cities were cleaner, there might be more pressure on individuals to throw their rubbish into rubbish bins and not on the street.
Given the difficulties, the streets of the city of Westminster are not at all bad. I fear that if the street cleaning services are privatised—as the threat appears to 931 be—standards will go down. I need only to invoke the experience of the borough of Wandsworth, in which my constituency is situated, to show what happens when a council hands over responsibility to a private firm. The streets get dirtier and dirtier.
We are all against litter, and it is understandable that other local authorities are interested in any initiative which seeks to reduce litter. The hon. Member for Westminster, North read a list of local authorities that were for the Bill either in principle or in detail; he used words similar to those. There is all the difference in the world between being interested in an idea in principle and supporting it in detail. I suspect that many local authorities that have shown an interest in the scheme would be interested in any new idea that attempted to deal with the problem of litter, but most of them are not necessarily in support of the details because the details represent a sticking point. Therefore, I do not think that the hon. Member for Westminster, North should have said that all these authorities are in support of the Bill. I do not believe that support in principle represents support for the Bill as it stands.
In contrast to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), I am not sure that for all the money that has been spent Westminster city council lobbyists have done all that good a job. It was only yesterday afternoon that I first received background information. Then I got something from them in the post today. Fortunately, I still have friends on Westminster city council who were able to brief me more thoroughly than the city council itself did, although I had a conversation with an official in city hall about some details this morning. That was when I first learnt about the amendments that are to be introduced later.
I have several reservations. My first reservation is that we are told by the sponsor of the Bill that three major amendments are to be introduced. I can understand that, on Second Reading, sometimes criticisms may provoke a Minister or the sponsor of the Bill to say, having heard the arguments, that there may be a case for changes in Committee. But what we were told today by the hon. Member for Westminster, North as soon as he started was that there would be three amendments. What is more, those amendments will not deal with minor points of detail to tidy up small matters, but amendments which will change the Bill fundamentally.
I think that it is virtually without precedent for us to be presented with a Bill and to be told on its Second Reading that it is not right and will be completely different if it is passed. The House should not be treated in that way. The first I knew of these changes was late yesterday afternoon when I got a letter from someone who had been advising the city council. I learnt more about it this morning. It must be unheard of for the House to be presented with a Bill and to be told, "We have got it all wrong; we will make three major changes but you will have to wait and see because we cannot give you the details now."
The Bill will require much amendment to incorporate these three changes. Given the length of time the Bill has been around since Westminster city council embarked upon it, the least that could have been done was to withdraw the Bill and present it later in the form in which 932 the council would like it to be. It is treating the House with less than normal courtesy and respect to deal with it in this way.
My second reservation concerns whether the measure will work. If I thought it would work, I would support it, but I have serious doubts about it. My first doubt concerns the 60 individuals who are called the multi-purpose inspectorate. Apart from the fact that all my instincts tell me that an expression like "the multi-purpose inspectorate" ought to be thrown out of the window and that we should start again with common sense English, I find it hard to see how this system will work.
The hon. Member for Westminster, North, who is sponsoring the Bill, said that there would be a means of identification. I understand that the inspectors will have badges. For some purposes they will not wear badges because when they are inspecting street trading it is better that they come upon the scene unannounced and then identify themselves. I do not know the background; there may or may not be good reasons for that. But if they are going to various parts of Westminster looking for litter louts, they will put on a badge. I question whether this is good enough. I question whether the process of approaching an individual and telling him that he must pay a penalty would work. If the individual does not pay the penalty, he is liable to be charged with a criminal offence, if I understand the system corectly. That is quite serious. I am not sure that a multi-purpose inspectorate, not easily identifiable and getting into a very sensitive area indeed, will be in a position to enforce this in a satisfactory way.
We are told that the inspectorate will consist, at least partly, of former police officers and that they will have had experience of dealing with these matters. But what about the others? It is one thing to visit a street stall and see whether all the traders are licensed by the city council. That is a straightforward process and should be easily understood, and street traders are aware of a local authority's powers in this respect. It is quite another matter to approach an individual in the street and, possibly after attempted conciliation, such as saying, "Why do you not pick that up, otherwise you are for it?", to deal with the matter in what could be a difficult situation. People will not be particularly amenable to being reprimanded. The majority may be, but some will not. I wonder whether the inspectors will be able to do this job properly unless they can be easily identified.
§ Mr. Hanley
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would disqualify those who currently do the valuable job of traffic warden because of the problems that he has just mentioned.
§ Mr. Dubs
Not at all; the position of traffic wardens is entirely different. Traffic wardens are easily identified. They wear a uniform and they have one function only— to be traffic wardens. Secondly, they are concerned with where vehicles are parked. They are not obliged to get a name and address from an individual. Their job is to slap a parking ticket on a vehicle. I appreciate that sometimes they may have a bit of an altercation with a motorist who arrives as the parking ticket is being put on the car. Nevertheless, their job is to identify the motor car, not the driver. That comes later.
§ Mr. Hanley
The hon. Gentleman must admit that traffic wardens take part in traffic management in the 933 metropolis, and their background is not that of the police. They are ordinary citizens who have been trained. Surely the inspectors which my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) mentioned would be similarly trained and would probably have a similar background.
§ Mr. Dubs
I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I believe that he is missing the point. When traffic wardens are carrying out one of the other functions, such as acting on point duty, their job is still to point cars in particular directions and give signals. They are dealing essentially with vehicles. That is rather different from approaching an individual and saying, "You have committed an offence and I am going to give you this ticket; if you do not pay up, you will have committed a criminal offence." It seems to me that the likelihood of altercations, confrontations and arguments is much greater. That is why I issue a warning that it may not work quite so easily. If someone approaches an individual and tells him to pick up litter that he has dropped, he may get a rather unparliamentary reply. Then the individual may say, "Anyway, who are you?" The reply will be, "I am a multi-purpose inspector." I leave hon. Members to judge how that will develop.
The inspectors may be issued with smart uniforms, will look as if they represent officialdom and will be given the status and backing necessary for them to do their job. All I am saying is that I do not see the system working easily on the basis of the information that we have had so far.
There are other difficulties. What happens if people throw litter from motor cars? One often sees a motor car going along and out comes a hit of paper, a cigarette packet, or whatever. It is not clear to me whether the multi-purpose inspectors will have the power to record the registration number of the vehicle and then do something about it or whether they can simply use their powers, and get the name and address of the individual so as to issue the necessary ticket. I suspect from the way in which the Bill has been drafted that motorists will be exempt from this.
My third reservation is this. Surely what we are doing in effect, although in fact we are not creating a new offence — and I understand that — is creating a new offence, because, although the offence of littering is on the statute hook, it is not being enforced at the moment. So that there will be one part of the country, the city of Westminster, in which throwing down a cigarette paper, a packet or a sweet paper will now be an offence and something will be done about it. To that extent, the city of Westminster will be quite different from any other part of the country, or indeed any other part of London. I am reluctant to go along with having an offence which will be treated quite differently in one part of the country as compared with another. It will lead to misunderstanding and uncertainty, quite apart from the obvious problem of what happens on the boundary between Westminster and Kensington or Westminster and Camden and how far along Westbourne Park road an individual was when he threw down the litter. These are obvious problems, and perhaps the inspectors will steer clear of the boundary areas.
Far more likely to cause difficulties is the positon of visitors to London from other parts of the country, for they will suddenly find themselves becoming well nigh criminals for doing something which at home they certainly should not do — and I do not condone their 934 behaviour—but for which there is no penalty. I question whether we should change the law in this respect in one part of the country only. I believe that this is a point of principle to which we should address ourselves. If we had a Government measure which sought to strengthen anti-litter legislation on a national basis, we would have the benefit of everybody in the country knowing what was going on. There would be a uniformity of enforcement procedures throughout the country and people would not be able to say that they thought they were in Kensington rather than Westminster, that the law is unfair and they will not give their names and addresses.
These are real problems because we are dealing with a problem on the street, not with a ticket on a motor car. This is a pretty sensitive matter. In practice, the multipurpose inspectors will obviously steer clear of the difficulties. They would not be human if they did not, knowing that they have no powers to back up what they are doing. There will be no police officers to help them because police officers cannot get involved in this, as we understand from the amendments.
Therefore, I envisage enormous difficulties. My original instinct was to welcome this legislation, but the more I think about it the greater become my misgivings about whether it will be workable. It is a question not of the aim or the motive but of whether it is workable.
I cannot help feeling that the right approach would be a national one in terms of both uniformity of enforcement of the legislation and massive national publicity. I agree that Westminster has gone in for publicity, and I am sure that at a local level that has been beneficial; and it does have more litter bins than other local authorities. But I do not think that this matter should be left to one local authority. We are seeking to influence people's attitudes, to make people more conscious of pollution and of the harm that they are doing by throwing their rubbish down rather than putting it in rubbish bins and receptacles. Therefore, we need a national approach and a national education campaign.
Furthermore, I should like to see most packaging material and most of the plastic bags issued by department stores carrying an exhortation to the individual to put the item in a rubbish bin and not to dispose of it in the street. If we had a national campaign or effort, we might begin to get somewhere and, in that process, we could consider what sorts of sanctions there ought to be against individuals who ignore them and how they should be enforced.
I am sorry that I cannot give the measure my enthusiastic blessing because we are all aware how difficult the problem is. Although we in Britain are worse at littering our streets than people in some other countries, it is clearly not just a British problem. I should like to say that it is a wonderful idea and to give it an enthusiastic welcome, but it is not workable. It has not been thought through properly and, therefore, I felt obliged to express my reservations this evening.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)
Before the debate closes, I should like to say that, while the House recognises the sincerity of the objections raised by the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), they seem to be ones that could be overcome. The city of Westminster is to be congratulated warmly on its initiative. On behalf of residents in the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, 935 I can say with certainty that we would welcome similar legislation, whether by way of a private Bill or by national legislation.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
It may be helpful if I give a brief summary of the Government's attitude to the Bill, the main features of which have been so admirably and lucidly described by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler). Subject to certain proposed amendments, to which I will refer shortly, the Government welcome the Bill and hope that it will receive a Second Reading. As has been said so notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North, litter anywhere, especially in our capital city, is an increasing and unsightly characteristic of our streets. It can also constitute a threat to public health.
For that reason the Government have taken or have sponsored a number of policy inititiatives, of which I mention two. We currently allocate some £500,000 a year through the Keep Britain Tidy group to a number of local initiatives undertaken by local authorities, schools and voluntary organisations. In July last year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment launched the United Kingdom 2000 scheme under the chairmanship of Richard Branson. The objective was to increase the quality and quantity of work being done to improve the environment. I am glad to say that over 200 projects have been started involving some 4,200 volunteers. For the current financial year we have increased our funding for this project to around £1.5 million.
It has been asked whether the Government have some national scheme in mind similar or analogous to the scheme proposed in the Bill. We do not have such a general power, nor do we propose to introduce enabling legislation of the sort advocated by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright). On the other hand, it is quite clear that if the Bill receives the assent of the House and is put into practice, it will provide an interesting experiment on which we can form a judgment as to the viability of future legislation.
The principal Act is the Litter Act 1983. Hon. Members might like to know that each year about 1,600 successful prosecutions are brought under the 1983 Act and that the average fine currently being imposed is around £32. However, as has been stressed by a number of hon. Members, invoking and enforcing the 1983 Act is a complex and, to be fair, expensive procedure. The Bill is designed to achieve a more effective and simpler method of enforcement.
We support the objectives of the Bill and, subject to certain changes being agreed in Committee, we shall support the passage of the Bill. The changes that we seek have been clearly outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North and I am glad to hear that he and the council agree to them. There are two changes. First, we believe that fines levied under the Bill should go into the Consolidated Fund and not into local authority funds. This represents a long-standing principle which was given statutory force in the Justices of the Peace Act 1949. The 936 principle is that where a local authority levies a fine that money goes not into its own resources but into central Government funds.
There is an important principle which underpins that proposition. It is wrong in principle to allow an authority to enforce a law if it has a pecuniary interest in the manner in which it is enforced or the extent to which it is enforced. For that reason the Government wish to see the Bill amended in the way that I have outlined. If the House gives a Second Reading to the Bill, it will then have the opportunity of considering the Ways and Means resolution proposed in the name of my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. If that is approved, the Committee would have the opportunity to make the amendments that I have described.
The second group of amendments relates to the power of police officers. The Government would be reluctant to see the Bill used as a means of imposing an additional burden on police officers. Those hon. Members who represent the capital well know the burdens that police officers of the Metropolitan force already carry. Therefore, the House will understand my reluctance to see the Bill being a vehicle for additional burdens being imposed on the Metropolitan force. Consequently, the Government would wish to see the Bill amended so as to delete from it those parts of it which empower a police constable to issue a notice. That will require an amendment to clause 4. It will remain possible for a police officer to institute proceedings under the 1983 Act if he thinks that that is appropriate.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Will the Minister tell the House when the Metropolitan police were first asked their opinion on the provisions in the Bill, unamended, as it is before us tonight, because they should have been consulted at a much earlier stage? In terms of discussions with the police, who took the initiative?
§ Mr. Hogg
I am sorry that I have to disappoint the hon. Member in that I am not able to give him the answer to the detailed question that he has raised. He should more properly pursue that with the chairman of the Westminster city council.
The second group of amendments I referred to includes clause 9 which, as presently drafted, would impose additional duties on the police service. Clause 9 as drafted makes it an offence for somebody to refuse to give his name and address to an authorised officer of the local authority. We wish to see that provision deleted. If it remains in the Bill, it is bound to result in additional work being imposed upon the police service, which is not something that I wish to see happen.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North has given careful consideration to the changes that the Government wish to see and I know too that he has discussed the Bill with the council. He has indicated that the three changes I have mentioned in the course of my remarks are acceptable both to himself and to the council. I am pleased about that. Subject to that understanding, the Government would wish to see the Bill receive a Second Reading and wish it well in its passage through Parliament.
§ Mr. Wheeler
With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the debate.
937 I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for what he has said and I again confirm that the proposed amendments to be moved in Committee, which I discussed earlier, will be proceeded with. I am glad that he and I are of one mind on that matter.
§ Mr. Dubs
Clause 9(2), which I understand will be deleted, says that it will be an offence to refuse to give a name and address. On the assumption that the amendment is incorporated into the Bill, would it be an offence under any other legislation for anybody to give misleading information to one of the officials? In other words, if they give a false name and address, is that an offence?
§ Mr. Wheeler
I can confirm that Clause 9(2) will be amended in Committee to remove the creation of an offence of failing to give a name and address. I cannot be precise on the other point the hon. Gentleman has raised. It is a matter to be answered in Committee. I hesitate to put myself in the role of the Attorney-General or anyone else, but it has always been my understanding in the enforcement of minor summary offences that it is for the enforcement officer, whoever that may be, to use his or her best endeavours to ascertain a proper name and address for the service of any document or process, be it a fixed ticket or a summons. As I speak I know of no criminal offence that would arise under the criminal law of the realm should a person, whether a citizen of the United Kingdom or of any other country visiting the United Kingdom, give a false name and address. I speak unaided and without the benefit of lawyers.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) quite fairly and properly raised a number of issues about principles. All of us in the House are the guardians of liberty. We are concerned about the interaction between enforcement agencies and citizens using the streets and the public highways wherever that may be, in the city of Westminter or elsewhere. As I said earlier, the city of Westminster proposes to train its staff who will form part of the multi-agency inspectorate. That is a cumbersome title but it is intended to include those officials of the council who are concerned with environmental enforcement, street trading enforcement and other matters for which the council has responsibility in addition to its new role. Those officials will be properly trained in the discharge of that duty. They will, of course, be equipped with proper identification of a sort that will leave the citizen in no doubt as to their status and credibility.
Whether they will wear a uniform is a matter for the council to decide on some future occasion in conjunction with its officials. However, I do not think that that is a matter of great principle.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West referred also to who might be supporting the Bill. I have a copy of a letter from the London Boroughs Association dated 3 February 1987 in which it confirms that it is supporting Westminster city council's endeavours to achieve this legislation. It goes on to say that it has written in appropriate terms to the Home Office and to the LBA's parliamentary panel in the House and in the House of Lords.
I understand that as part of the wide consultative exercise in which Westminster city council engaged it received encouragement, if not support, from the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Southwark, and Camden.
938 I can put at rest the mind of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West about consultation with the police. He is quite right to raise that matter. I can say that the commissioner of police was consulted at the beginning when the Bill was being proposed by the city council. He and his officers were able to spend some time considering the matter. Indeed, I had a discussion with the deputy assistant commissioner of police responsible for the city of Westminster district and I know that he and others had a most fulsome exchange with officials of Westminster city council and its leader. It is true that the police did have reservations about their involvement in this process. That matter, as the House knows, has been properly dealt with.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the unions had been consulted at Westminster city council. I can tell him that the offices which form part of the multi-agency inspectorate are fully aware of the measure and have been consulted. As far as I am aware, they, as a group, raised no objection to their involvement in the enforcement of the legislation. I can give an assurance to the hon. Gentleman and the House that, although Westminster city council is a pioneer in the privatisation of its services because it wishes to obtain value for money for its ratepayers and the most effective services, it is not intending to contract out those employees of the council who are involved in the inspectorial duties to do with environmental health, street trading or enforcement of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) welcomed the Bill and I am grateful for his robust support. He understands the problems that large numbers of visitors can cause to an important town that is popular with tourists from both home and overseas.
The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) was also robust in his support for the Bill. He said that the problem of litter is getting worse and he commended Westminster city council's initiative in bringing this measure before the House. He understood the extent of the difficulty since his own borough is a mecca for visitors and suffers from the problems of litter. I am glad that he was able to give such fulsome support to the measure.
The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) raised a number of points He inquired about the measure of support from councils in the country for Westminster city council's proposals. I can tell him from the information given to me that some 112 local authorities expressed support—I use those words carefully—for the measure we are considering. A further 162 local authorities expressed their interest in the proposal. That is a remarkable record of consultation and betokens the energy displayed by the city council in its efforts to attract the widest possible interest in its endeavours.
The hon. Member for Battersea complained about the three amendments to which I referred earlier and said that the House had not received proper notice. But the purpose of consultation, particularly with a measure of this kind, is to ascertain the degree of support that it has, whether from the police, the Home Office or any other interested party, and to listen to representations that are made and amend the Bill accordingly. The council did just that. I t should be commended not only for consulting but for heeding the advice that it received.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
But surely the hon. Gentleman accepts that amendments such as this reveal that Westminster city council did riot consult properly before drafting the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for 939 Battersea is right. It may not be unprecedented, but it is unusual for a great hole to be kicked in a Bill on Second Reading. This clearly reveals that, for all the hon. Gentleman's loyal protestations, Westminster did not consult as it should have done.
§ Mr. Wheeler
I reject the hon. Gentleman's assertion that the consultation was ineffective. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that amendments to Bills arise with remarkable speed and at extraordinary hours of the night, according to the needs and interests of this House and its Members. I do not think there is a great issue of principle here.
§ Mr. Dubs
I welcome the fact that Westminster council went in for consultation. My complaint is that Westminster council should have given us the Bill when the consultation was complete rather than have presented us with a Bill which, we are told, is defective in a number of respects. That seems to be the wrong way to go about it, and it means that we do not yet have before us a Bill representing Westminster council's intentions.
§ Mr. Wheeler
Surely it is relatively easy to scan such a short Bill and the amendments. There is no great difficulty here. This is not a Bill of several hundred pages with dozens of clauses but a Bill of two or three pages with only a handful of clauses. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that.
The hon. Member for Battersea went on to ask whether the Bill would work. The litter legislation that the House passed in the 1950s has had a very chequered career as a piece of criminal legislation and has resulted in relatively few prosecutions in England and Wales. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) —said, there have been about 1,600 prosecutions a year, which is a very small number. That reflects the difficulty of making the Act work. 940 Westminster city council's proposals offer the reasonable expectation of a more effective form of enforcement. That is welcomed by a number of bodies outside the political machine with an interest in the environment. Therefore —and I believe that many hon. Members agree—it is worth running an experiment in the City of Westminster to see what progress can be made.
The hon. Member for Battersea suggested fairly that the Bill will create different enforcement practices as between one part of London and another as well as between other parts of the United Kingdom, and of course that must be true. However, if Westminster's experiment is found to be successful, no doubt other local authorities —for instance, the borough of Bournemouth—will exert pressure because they will want to try such an experiment in their districts. At that stage, the local authority associations may well persuade the Home Office to introduce enabling legislation to cover the country as a whole.
I am grateful for the encouragement that my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) gave in his short and helpful intervention. I know that his local authority will be among those watching Westminster's experiment with great interest. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for his remarks and for his wholehearted support of the Bill, subject to the amendments to be properly moved in Committee.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.