§ Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford)
I beg to call attention to the growing and unacceptable problem of litter; and to move,That this House welcomes the Government's commitment to taking decisive measures to tackle the problem of litter; urges all those responsible for land in cities, towns and countryside to take account of widespread public concern at littering and discharge effectively their responsibility to keep that land free of litter; calls for urgent new measures to discourage littering, to assist those who are already taking seriously their responsibilities and to ensure that those w ho do not are obliged to do so; and supports the Government's proposal to place a duty on local authorities to keep their areas clean and to publish a code of practice.I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) for the opportunity to raise an important issue this morning. I regard the litter problem in this country as being a non-party policitical issue that cuts across the political divide. However, I was bitterly disappointed that on two occasions my non-contentious, non-political Control of Litter (Fines) Bill was objected to by two Labour Members. When in future I hear Labour supporters claiming that they care about the environment and about litter-related problems, not only will I take their remarks with a pinch of salt but half the salt in Siberia.
I shall not dwell on the past but will look to the future and try to analyse what constructive measures can be taken to eliminate the litter problem, which is becoming such a blot on our landscape. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has rightly expressed her disgust at the state of our towns and countryside, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has won widespread praise for the vigour with which she tackles the problem and seeks to find relevant solutions that will meet the problem. Their concern is reflected by worries expressed throughout the country about declining standards of cleanliness in public places.
A recent Department of the Environment poll showed that almost 75 per cent. of people surveyed are worried about litter. Similarly, a poll by FDS Market Research revealed that 76 per cent. of British people think that there is more litter about now than there was 10 years ago. Sadly, Britain is in danger of becoming the dustbin of Europe.
Our inner cities and towns are riddled with litter abandoned by thoughtless, selfish litter louts. Our countryside also suffers from the dumping of litter, and the sides of motorways and major roads are a national disgrace. No longer is our nation a green and pleasant land. Fast food packaging, crisp bags, disposable drinks cans and cigarette stubs mar our environment: we are a nation that wallows in filth.
Why are we such a dirty nation when so many people express genuine concern and disgust at the sad state to which we have reduced ourselves? I believe that there are three answers. First, it is a question of attitude. Recently I visited Japan to study its litter laws, and was amazed to be told that the main thrust of that country's actions to deal with the problem was related to attitudes, rather than taking the form of a battery of laws and regulations. I was astonished by this revelation. Not only are Japan's streets infinitely cleaner than ours, but we could not possible rely on the attitudes of individuals. The attitude of the average 609 person in this country is clearly entirely wrong and negative. Stand in any high street or drive behind any car and it is the same dismal story—people thoughtlessly abandoning their litter on the pavement or spilling it out of car windows.
It is just as amazing that few people who witness such spectacles have the courage to speak to the culprits, not only to tell them what they think of such actions but to try to chivvy them into picking up their litter. There seems to be complete apathy and lack of interest.
We need a complete change in attitude, and I believe that most of that change can be brought about by parents. Just as children are told from an early age that it is wrong to steal or lie, so they should be instructed not to drop litter. As a second step, parents should educate their children and lead by example. Sadly, however, the current initiatives in schools will probably mean that the children will start educating their parents rather than the other way about.
Another way of quickening the pace of changing attitudes is to alter the general perception of the problem, just as smoking has changed in the public's perception from a harmless, glamorous habit to an anti-social and disgusting one. People should not turn a blind eye, but should go up to those who drop litter and tell them exactly how selfishly and anti-socially they are behaving. It will be a long process, but that is no excuse for doing nothing.
Secondly, legislation has a key role to play. Laws encourage cleanliness and establish a deterrent against the more slovenly and selfish members of society. In his "Notes on Paris", Baudelaire wrote:Everyone's washing pavements. Even when it is pouring with rain. It's a national obsession.Paris and other major European cities require people by law to keep the pavements in front of shops and houses clean. Every morning, and again in the afternoon, elderly ladies can be seen along with staff of retail outlets, scrubbing down the pavements in front of their homes and shops and making their contribution to keeping the law.
In West Germany people can be prosecuted if the streets in front of their houses are grubby, or even if their house fronts are not up to standard. In Australia litter droppers can be fined up to £240 on the spot. Something must do done in this country to strengthen existing legislation and to give local authorities real powers—powers that they are crying out for—to enforce anti-litter legislation.
The major anti-litter legislation—the Litter Act 1983 —is a national joke. It is ineffective because it is rarely used, and it is rarely used because the police are far busier carrying out more important tasks in combating crime: not unnaturally, the enforcement of litter laws is fairly low on their list of priorities. Even when litter louts are charged, the law is so complex that it is difficult to secure a successful prosecution. To prosecute successfully involves first seeing the offence being committed and secondly proving that the offender intended to drop litter. It is difficult to obtain evidence, and the derisory fines imposed by magistrates do not help.
The difficulty of enforcing the legislation is highlighted by the number of prosecutions between 1983 and 1988. They amounted to a mere 5,901, in a country with a population of over 50 million. Taken on a county or police-authority basis the figures are even more depressing. 610 In 1987 the county with the best record was Cumbria, with 296 prosecutions; the next highest figure, however, was 88, showing a drop of more than 200 in a single year. Greater London, with a population of between 7 and 8 million, boasted a figure of 18 prosecutions in that year, and in my county of Essex only 39 people were prosecuted. Of the 42 shire counties, 27, or about 65 per cent., prosecuted fewer than 40 people. Seven areas, including London and Merseyside—two places where it might be argued that the problem is at its greatest—prosecuted fewer than 20 people, and Cambridgeshire prosecuted only nine.
The punishments meted out by magistrates were equally depressing, thus establishing a general feeling that people can commit offences almost with impunity. Even if they are caught and successfully prosecuted—which, as those figures show, is fairly unlikely—the punishment will be very minor. The maximum fine under the 1983 Act is £400; the average fine actually imposed is £32.
The 1987 figures highlight the problem. In that year 1,628 people were fined a total of £57,407, an average of £35 per person. The majority of those—962—were given an average fine of only £19, while 475 were fined an average of £41, 154 were fined an average of £86 and only 37 were fined over £100, with an average fine of £183.
Those figures show that no deterrent is being built up. I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister should have a quiet word with the Lord Chancellor and encourage him to make known to magistrates the maximum fines under the 1983 Act, and to point out tactfully that the present level of fines is unacceptably low and is not helping to solve the problem. People are treating the fines as a joke, and will continue to offend with impunity.
The 1983 Act should be amended so that merely dropping litter becomes an absolute offence without the requirement to prove intent. However, but more must also be done on the legislative front to reinforce existing laws. I certainly do not advocate the repeal of the 1983 Act. We should keep it on the statute book, but should bring in further legislation to give local authorities the powers that they need and want to enforce the law effectively. Another way in which the Act should be strengthened is the removal from the police of the powers and requirements to enforce the Act. The police do not have the time to enforce it. They are overburdened. It is more important that they should reduce the level of serious crime rather than have to enforce the Litter Act. That power should be given by law to local authorities. They want it, and because they want it they will ensure that it is used to maximum effect.
Local authorities should also be allowed to give designated officers the power to impose on-the-spot litter fines. The example of Westminster city council shines like a beacon. It has shown the Government how to tackle the problem. Last year, by private legislation Westminster city council secured the right to allow designated council officials to impose on-the-spot fines, or issue fixed penalty tickets. Dozens of local authorities are carefully watching the Westminster experiment. They desperately want the powers that Westminster has taken for itself by means of private legislation, but the only way in which to obtain them is to introduce a private Bill, which is time consuming. Each local authority would have to use the private Bill procedure, which would cost a not inconsiderable sum of money. The Government could get round the problem by introducing legislation that would automatically give to all local authorities the power to use the legislation, if they so wish.
611 I am confident that the legislation would work and would help to solve the problem. Westminster city council has been given the power to designate local authority workers and officials as people who have the power to issue fixed penalty tickets to litter louts. Between 50 and 60 people have been designated as able to use that power. That is in addition to their existing work. Many of them also check building regulations and scaffolding. No additional employees would be needed, thus leading to a greater burden on ratepayers. The litter work would dovetail with their existing functions. I suspect that in the case of certain smaller local authorities—including, possibly, Chelmsford borough council—there may be a problem. They do not employ as many staff as Westminster city council, so they might have to take on additional staff. However, I do not believe that community charge payers in the smaller local authorities would be averse to paying for additional staff, provided that their streets and town centres were cleaned up.
If Westminster officials see that people are dropping litter, they have the power to go up to them and ask them to pick it up and either deposit it in a rubbish bin or take it away with them. If they meet with a refusal, they have the power to issue a fixed penalty ticket, in just the same way as traffic wardens issue parking tickets. A person who is given a fixed penalty ticket has two weeks in which to go to a magistrates court if he disagrees and thinks that he should not have been issued with a ticket. Either he can contest it in court, or he can pay the fine. Such a power is badly needed by all local authorities.
Early results in Westminster show that it is an effective power in the war against litter. Between April 1988 and April 1989, 727 people were approached in Westminster, and 723 of them either picked up their rubbish and deposited it in a rubbish bin or took it away with them. Four of them were issued with a ticket. The first successful prosecution took place two weeks ago. Somebody was taken to court under the Litter Act, having been issued with a fixed penalty ticket, was fined £40, and £35 costs were awarded against him.
Some may argue that the fact that only four people were issued with fixed penalty tickets is minimal, but that is to miss the point, because the other 723 people who dropped litter in Westminster picked it up. When they are next in Westminster I am quite sure that they will think twice about dropping litter again. If local authorities used the power properly, they would build up a reputation for being hot on litter, in just the same way as London has a reputation for being hot on people who park their cars illegally and then find that their cars have been wheel-clamped. People do not like having to spend relatively large sums of money on getting their cars back. Similarly, they would not like to suffer a penalty for dropping litter. If local authorities were known to be hot on little louts, people would think twice before discarding their empty fag packets, sweet papers or fish and chip packaging. That is the crux of the matter.
Cash dispenser wall units in banks, which are such a boon to people on Sundays when they have no money, are also a nuisance. Time after time the little slips of paper that come shooting out are abandoned. At the end of the day the pavement around any bank is awash with them. Banks realise that this is a problem and they are taking steps to counteract it by installing litter bins near dispensers. Sadly, 612 however, for far too many lazy people it is just too easy to drop the slip rather than to walk a few feet and deposit it in a bin.
Food outlets, banks and retail shops should be made responsible for keeping the pavement outside their premises litter free, just as businesses in European cities have to take on that responsibility. Yesterday I received a letter from the Retail Consortium. It said that it believes that this is a valid point and that it is trying to encourage its members to get their staff to keep the pavements in front of their premises clean. Sadly, however, legislation is needed so that businesses are required to do that. Public-spirited companies and businesses are prepared to do it, but far too many of them either do not think about it, or they cannot be bothered, or they think up every excuse under the sun for not doing it because, they say, it will increase costs and therefore prices to the customer, or they will have taken on additional staff. That is nonsence but they will not see it like that until it is staring them in the face and they have to do something about it.
A good case can also be made for extending the legislation to the owners of private dwellings. They, too, should be made responsible for keeping their front gardens and the pavements outside their front gates clean. It is not just the Government or local authorities who should be made responsible for keeping our streets, towns and countryside litter free. The Government and legislation provide important leads, encouragement and deterrence, but all of us, as responsible citizens, must play our part. There would be moaning and complaining and barrack room lawyers and wide boys would try to think up every excuse under the sun as to why the legislation would not work. They would say that it is an infringement of civil liberties and they would trot out all kinds of other rubbish. But that is not necessarily true. Such initiatives should he given a chance to work, because after a number of years, when the problems have been dramatically reduced, people will welcome the fact that their pavements are much cleaner and they will wonder why on earth they had not taken the initiative years before. The moaning and groaning will be long forgotten because there will have been an improvement to the environment in which we live and that will be welcomed.
I welcome the possibility that the Government will place a duty on local authorities to keep their areas clean. The publication of a strict code of practice would ensure that positive action results in cleaner streets, roads and countryside. Obviously I cannot anticipate any announcement that my hon. Friend's Department may make and the battery of initiatives and powers that it may suggest to clear up the problem, but I hope that it will announce that provision. Local authorities should have a greater duty to keep their streets clean. I know that some excellent local authorities spend a great deal of time and money on rubbish collection and road sweepers, but other local authorities fail in that respect. I believe that all local authorities should look again at the practices and procedures that they employ to keep their areas clean. Some of them are failing in that duty and they need prodding by central Government to ensure that they raise their standards. I suspect that a code of practice is the only way to achieve that as individual ratepayers and community charge payers will have the right to appeal to a court to make sure that their local authority fulfils its duties.
613 Local authorities could and should do more to review the frequency of street cleaning and rubbish collection, espcially in shopping areas. They should also ensure that there are sufficient litter bins in public places and that they are emptied frequently. All too often litter bins are cascading with litter that has not been collected. Sometimes black dustbin liners remain on the streets for too long before being collected. They get damaged and litter spews out all over the highway and the pavements. If local authorities are worried about the provision of litter bins in towns, villages and cities they should do more to involve local business men. Local business men should be encouraged to sponsor the placing of more litter bins in the high street. Retailers will welcome the opportunity to spend money on more litter bins, and, as a quid pro quo, no one would object if they put their names on the sides of the bins as a form of advertising so that people know that the entire community, including the business community is involved in solving the problem.
It is important to harness public good will towards combating litter. I do not think that any hon. Member from any political party, can underestimate the depth of feeling and the magnificent work that many people do throughout the country to try to address the litter problem and persuade people to behave in a cleaner, more social way. Sadly, until relatively recently, they were like an echo in the dark. They were considered by some to be a minority special interest group—the litter nuts who banged on about a single issue. They had no success and it was a waste of time. I pay tribute to their perseverance and their dedication. They were not litter nuts, they had identified a problem that many politicians have recognised far too late. At least politicians now recognise the problem, but only due to the dedication and work of those people.
Far too many people are litter louts. It seems to be ingrained in the British subconscious. But there is another brighter side to the coin. Up and down the country many public-spirited people are prepared to help by going out on litter picks and by going to schools, talking to children, highlighting the problem and trying to make them appreciate what will happen to our environment if it is allowed to continue. They try to enthuse youngsters so that they can play their part and educate their parents out of their anti-social behaviour. Those people have spent many long, thankless hours seeking solutions to the problem.
In Chelmsford, we are fortunate to have an ad hoc "Cleaner Chelmsford Committee" led by the former mayor of Chelmsford, Councillor Phillip Firth and comprising councillors, business men and concerned individuals who have done much sterling and recognised work over many years to try to address the problems in that town. Their efforts are reinforced throughout the country where, in other local authority areas, town and villages, concerned individuals have grouped together to do something rather than simply to moan about the problem. National organisations such as Keep Britain Tidy are doing tremendous work by highlighting problems, publicising the need for action and trying to co-ordinate individuals and the private sector. All that is going on at a subconscious level, below Government through individual initiatives which are appealing to 614 people's sense of civic pride, almost shaming them into changing their habits and doing something positive to clean up.
That approach can be extended from private groups into the education system. I welcome the anti-litter campaigns in our schools that have been initiated by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher). It is important to get youngsters actively involved and interested in the subject and so that, one hopes, that will lead to a change in attitude and as they grow up they will instil in their children that one does not drop litter.
More should be done to encourage the recycling of rubbish. Sheffield, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) knows a great deal more, is engaged in an exciting project involving central Government, the local authority, industry and volunteers, with the aim, over the next three years of showing that there are better ways of using rubbish than merely throwing it away. I believe that that project plans to cash in on up to 50 per cent. of the city's 250,000 tonnes of annual domestic waste output. It is an ambitious project and I wish it success because it will encourage other local authorities to expand their modest plans for recycling, through bottle banks and waste recycling programmes. If there is a success story in one part of the country and it is shown that local authorities can make money out of rubbish it will be a great incentive for other areas to follow that example or to expand their own projects to maximise the benefits which, we hope, will come to Sheffield.
Similarly, manufacturers have a role to play. I welcome that fact that one of the major soft drinks manufacturers in Britain is looking into ways of redesigning cans of soft drinks because those irritating ring pulls are always thrown away and create litter everywhere. It is looking at ways of redesigning those cans so that the spikes, for want of a better word, remain stuck to the can. Perhaps manufacturers could reconsider, on a purely voluntary basis—the Government cannot direct through legislation —reintroducing the old refundable deposit system for bottles and cans. I remember when I was a child that it was a source of extra pocket money to collect the bottles, take them back to the retail outlet and receive perhaps an old tuppence or threepence. If that was reintroduced, it would encourage people to save their bottles rather than just abandon them. The individual would get money back and the material from which the bottles or cans are made could be re-used. Manufacturers should give that serious consideration.
Manufacturers should also ensure that more take-away food is packaged in bio-degradable material. Most hon. Members will accept that one of the most depressing sights in our towns is the litter outside the fast food outlets at about 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock at night. Fish and chip papers are strewn all over the street together with hamburgers, fried chicken and so on. Rubbish is just abandoned everywhere. Manufacturers could and should do more to look into the use of bio-degradable packaging for fast food. It is excellent that Kentucky Fried Chicken is in the process of changing its methods so that shortly 80 per cent. of its packaging will be bio-degradable. Also, Wimpy is to be praised because it too has moved away from plastic packaging to bio-degradable packaging. That is a step in the right direction but far more manufacturers and fast food producers could move in that way.
§ Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)
Does my hon. Friend agree that a condition of planning permission should he that people who are given fast food agencies—I accept that they are a good way of obtaining staple food—have to agree to a litter-cleaning clause so that they have to employ people to clean around their area? Will he also consider flyposting and graffiti, which I also think of as a form of litter?
§ Mr. Burns
My hon. Friend's first point is extremely valid. If the Government were prepared to introduce rules and regulations to make retail outlets, fast food outlets and banks responsible for the pavement outside their premises, I hope that we would not have to go so far with the planning legislation. However, if it is felt that making retail outlets responsible for the pavement would not be enforceable, it would be worth looking into the planning aspect to see whether the problem can be tackled in that way.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend's point about graffiti, which I also see as a form of litter. I should like to see greater parental control. I suspect that much of the graffiti is done by young children in their early or mid-teens who, at 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock at night should not be allowed to wander our streets bored out of their brains and taking aerosol cans to walls because they have nothing better to do. They should be under their parents' control at home. Greater parental control would see a reduction in the problem. Also, if people are caught flyposting or spraying graffiti on walls, they should be made to clean it up. They would find that a particularly unpleasant job and would not want to repeat it in a hurry.
The current litter problems are totally unacceptable. Once the situation has deteriorated to a certain level lethargy and apathy take a grip and it is much more difficult to improve matters. If people are used to living in filth and litter, instead of trying to do something about it they will accept it, become immune to it and contribute to it. If they are walking down a street which is covered in litter, they will not bother to make the effort to throw their rubbish away in a bin or take it home with them. Therefore, it is difficult to pull people out of their lethargy. We have to ensure that action is proposed to improve the problem and give further enthusiasm to those who are concerned and want to find a solution. Also, people who complain about the problem at present would see that improvements can he made and they will become enthusiastic and everyone will make a conscious effort.
I welcome the Government's commitment to tackling the problem and I look forward to the announcement in the Queen's Speech and the publication of the green Bill. The Bill is widely and eagerly awaited. I am confident that the work being carried out by the Department of the Environment will result in concrete proposals which will meet the expectations that have been raised. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, if we bag it and bin it, we really will win it.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on bringing the subject of litter to the attention of the House. There is no doubt that he has been tireless in his efforts to try to persuade the House to take the matter seriously. The 616 hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), who unfortunately could not be here today, has also made many speeches on the subject of litter.
There is some irony in the fact that the hon. Member for Basildon should follow the hon. Member for Chelmsford. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford will be aware of some modest rivalry over the county town of Essex. Of course, Chelmsford is the county town but, over the past few years, since the Liberal party has taken control of the district authority, there has been a deterioration in the general well-being of the environment in Chelmsford. It was that which prompted me to say that perhaps we should break away from the tradition of Chelmsford as the county town and move it to Basildon, which has undergone many improvements in the past few years. However, I believe that the political balance in Chelmsford has been somewhat redressed and on recent visits to Chelmsford I have noticed some improvements.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extraordinary that there is not one member of the Democrats or SDP present? At local level we have to put up with bits of paper being pushed through our doors saying that they are against litter. They are in favour of sunshine and people behaving themselves, but, above all, they are against litter. Surely the representatives of those parties could have organised themselves so that at least one hon. Member would be present today.
§ Mr. Amess
My hon. Friend's remarks are most apt. Liberals keep putting bits of paper through letter boxes saying that they are opposed to litter. Today is a golden opportunity to debate the subject in the House, but not one Social and Liberal Democrat Member is present.
A few weeks ago, I was privileged to participate in a debate with a cross-section of young people. It clearly emerged that they were concerned about environmental issues. They raised with me issues such as lead-free petrol, the Amazon rain forests, the ozone layer and all sorts of other environmental problems. My raising the subject of litter was a hoot. They said, "Who's bothered about litter? Cans and bits of paper do not matter." Following last week's substantial vote in favour of a party that has expressed concern about our environment, the problem of litter should be No. 1 on the list of priorities. It is within everyone's power to do something about it, but it is symptomatic of the problem that insufficient young people take it seriously enough at present.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford said, litter is a nationwide problem, although I am sure that some Opposition Members would say that the north and midlands are tidier that the south. However, that probably has something to do with the general split of the population.
I do not wish my remarks to be construed as an attack on the people who try to keep our streets, highways and byways clean. I applaud the work of dustmen—as, no doubt, SLD members would were they present—and those who sweep our streets. They have a rotten and difficult job.
617 They cannot keep up with the amount of refuse that is chucked on the ground by people who take it for granted that someone else will pick it up.
The problem of litter should be at the top of the agenda and the political debate that we are enjoying. I shall briefly tell hon. Members how we are tackling the problem in Basildon.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment responded to an Adjournment debate at the end of January and is therefore only too well aware of what we are trying to do in Basildon, but other hon. Members may be interested to learn about our general approach. Last year, we launched the "I love Basildon" campaign, which was a public declaration stating that we are building and creating a fine town and that we wish to keep it that way. We are tackling the problems of litter, graffiti—which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick)—and vandalism. On a cross-party basis, the community is working together to ensure that our town is the cleanest in the country. None of our ideas is original; they have all been tried before. Local businesses and fast food chains are sponsoring litter bins, and we are installing anti-litter bins.
We are trying something in Basildon that has not been tried before. Tonight, unannounced—although I suppose that I am announcing it now—I am going on a midnight patrol through the town to see at first hand what is going on. I shall ask young people of 13, 14 and 15 why they are standing on street corners, perhaps creating some sort of disturbance. I am sick to death of people saying that they are bored. It is different if someone is not well or is having a breakdown, but how people in 1989, with all the problems that we face, can say that they are bored is beyond me. There are many activities to occupy all minds, regardless of age. I shall be going on my midnight patrol tonight to find out about vandalism and to tackle the problems of graffiti and litter.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I applaud the hon. Gentleman's initiative. I hope that nothing ill befalls him when he is patrolling around at midnight. Is it not a rather odd time to be patrolling, or was the hon. Gentleman just using a catchphrase? If people are hanging around on street corners in Basildon at midnight, I suspect that it will not be because they are bored but because they are up to no good. It might rebound on the hon. Gentleman when they find out who is asking them questions.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
My hon. Friend's announcement of his unannounced visit will interest everyone. A man in my constituency is a great contributor to various causes. He is a very nice man and I am not trying to belittle him, but if a list of donations to a cause is shown he always takes me to it and says, "Do you see where it says 'anonymous'? That is me."
§ Mr. Amess
I do not have an appropriate answer to my hon. Friend's intervention, but I thank him for making it.
Basildon is holding a front and back garden competition to decide who has the nicest garden. The general purpose is to highlight our aim of making Basildon as attactive as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford said that there is money to be made out of rubbish. How right he is, and we shall certainly make money out of rubbish in Basildon. We have an excellent company called the Basildon Waste Paper Company and local businesses have invited Scouts, Guides and others to do what was always done in the past—to collect newspapers, cans, can rings and other refuse, with all the proceeds going to local charities.
Basildon has the largest covered shopping centre in Europe. I am trying to encourage the people who run it to play a looped tape that will welcome people, thank them for shopping in Basildon and entreat them not to drop their litter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford said that litter should not be a party political subject. Unfortunately, politics is slightly involved in Basildon because there is a never-ending argument about who is responsible for cleaning up a green. Basildon has a new town commission, a district council and falls under the control of Essex county council. I am not bothered who clears litter; I just want Basildon kept clean and tidy. We should not fight over who will earn brownie points for cleaning up the place, which is why I am calling on the Guardian Angels. I know that there is some controversy about the Guardian Angels, whose logo quotes the words of Edmund Burke. It says:All that is required for the triumph of evil is that good men remain silent and do nothing.I am not prepared to become involved in the argument about the merits of what the Guardian Angels have tried to do, but the House may be interested to know that the Guardian Angels have a branch that is prepared, free of charge, to try to clean up areas. I am inviting them to come to Basildon to clean up some areas about which constituents have written to me. We contacted the appropriate authorities, but nothing happened. In one part of London, the Guardian Angels have issued on excellent traders' charter, and local businesses have rallied round. I applaud the efforts of the Guardian Angels, and if they can clean up Basildon, I would welcome it.
Those who know Basildon well will have noticed the signs saying that Basildon is a nuclear-free zone. I do not want to become involved in the U-turn on nuclear energy in which the Labour party has engaged, but I believe that there should be big signs at the entrances to our town saying, "Welcome to Beautiful Basildon." I want everyone in Basildon to be proud of the area in which they live.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford that we need a national solution to the litter problem. I praise the Government's efforts to clean up our highways and byways. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wants the problem to be taken seriously. I applaud the efforts of the Keep Britain Tidy campaign and Project 2000 and last week's announcement on what we will do to educate people to read signs so that their dogs no longer foul footpaths. We must be positive about the issue and get people to take it much more seriously.
There are two sides to tackling the problem—education and penalties. Through the national curriculum we must 619 ensure that little children are educated on the subject. That is why I was pleased to receive this morning a handwritten letter from schoolchildren in Basildon, saying:My friends and I at Lee Chapel Primary school have collected these milk bottle tops in response to the appeal to keep Basildon tidy. We do hope that this effort will go some way to make this possible.Yours SincerelyMary, Karen, Jo-Anne and Emily.The letter was accompanied by a beautiful drawing of one animal saying to another,I wish they would keep Basildon tidy".That is a profound message.
We must ensure that young people are educated so that they can embarrass their parents and stop them dropping litter. Yesterday, I was driving behind someone in a brand new BMW who must have had pots of money. He pressed a button so that the electric window came down and then calmly chucked out cigarette ends and packets and crisp bags—that from a supposedly well-educated member of the public. Who does he think will pick up the rubbish?
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford said about the project in Westminster. I am delighted that one of my constituents is working on it. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford is aware of the zip patrols which highlight particular areas in Westminster and have been very effective. It is sad that we must resort to the tactics of imposing on-the-spot litter fines. Those efforts are necessary until the effects of radical changes in education are felt.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford on giving the House the opportunity to air our litter problems. I hope that the House and the nation will take this matter seriously so that, in years to come, we will be proud of the Government's achievements and will have ensured that Britain is the cleanest country in the world.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I, too, warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on initiating this imporant debate. Nothing does more to damage a community's morale than litter scattered about and the dirt that it causes. I remember when, as a young national service man doing basic training, a sergeant-major picked up a colleague's spoon from a pile of litter. He said, "Do you see this, soldier? What is that?" The soldier said, "It looks like grease." The sergeant-major replied, "Yes, it is grease. Grease draws dirt. Dirt kills soldiers!" That was one of the most dramatic pieces of discipline that I have ever seen. I have always remembered that sequence of thought—grease draws dirt, dirt draws germs and germs kill people. That is why litter is such a serious matter. That is why my hon. Friend has done the House such a service in introducing this important debate.
The thoughts of the House will be with my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) tonight following his announcement of his unannounced visit to the street corners of Basildon. We wish him well in his noble endeavours. I hope that the friend who always tells me about his anonymous donations will not be hurt if I say that he sometimes asks, "Do you think that you could announce at the next meeting that I made another anonymous donation?" Anonymous kindnesses should be flushed out and announced. Likewise, my hon. Friend's unannounced visit should be known. It will be awaited with great interest.
620 Nothing does more to damage the environment than litter. We are becoming increasingly conscious of the environment. I wonder whether the House is aware that, by recycling a skipful of newspapers and other paper, 50 trees would be saved. Half the world's trees are used for pulp to make paper and other material. It is tragic if that paper is wasted. In addition, trees take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. We should remind ourselves every day of their positive contribution to the environment. The beauty of growing trees, even strugglers, shows the hand of God upon our environment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon implied in the middle of his speech that litter starts to become a problem in schools. It is my experience, as one who served in schools for 23 years and finally ran a school of 2,200 for seven years, that the school leadership needs to keep firm control over litter. There is nothing more demoralising than children walking about scuffing paper in the corridors, yard, playgrounds or sports fields. That happens in some schools. It happens largely because ice cream vans, crisp-selling vans and the like are sometimes allowed to park inside the school grounds without the vendors accepting any responsibility for collecting the litter that is created by the products they sell. I know from my own experience that children very much want tuck such as crisps, but I also know that the difficulties I have described often result. The vendors of crisps and ice creams often make handsome contributions to school funds. That is valuable and positive, but would be lost by my proposal, which I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider in her reply.
Would it not be possible for all ice cream vans, crisp-selling vans and other vehicles which sell such items to school children to be kept at least 100 yards away from the school gates? That is necessary for reasons both of litter and of discipline. If a school is attempting to control children during the lunch hour, as is its responsibility, there is often indiscipline with children breaking school bounds and rushing out to the ice cream or crisp-selling vans to make purchases. Either the vans must be brought into school, so that there is no question of school discipline being broken, or they must be taken right away. I would prefer them to be taken right away unless, by coming inside the school premises to sell their wares—and people make considerable sums from such sales—the sellers accept the responsibility of assisting the staff to persuade children to put litter into bins, which they should provide, and they should also clear up the area where children have been eating food.
Heaven knows that teachers have enough to do, but it would help greatly if they got into the practice of tapping the shoulders of children who drop a piece of paper and asking them to pick it up and put it in a bin. That should always be done. Schools should also have litter squads. Sometimes children drop litter and are not apprehended and told to put it in the bin. Schools should set up squads of children, perhaps defaulters, for we no longer have the cane and some sort of sanction must be found for children who misbehave. Collecting litter is not a bad sanction and I used it from time to time when I was a teacher. Children who have misbehaved could be formed into litter squads and at the end of the morning, the beginning of the afternoon or the end of the day, they could pick up any litter around the school so that it is always spotless. If schools are spotless, they are attractive. If they are derelict and strewn with litter, morale goes quickly.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Is the hon. Gentleman not wrong? Is he not encouraging the wrong philosophy by saying, as I think I heard him say, that children who misbehave should be formed into litter squads? In his initiative as a teacher, he linked punishment with collecting litter. That does not encourage and foster the attitude that the collection of litter is a matter of pride in a school. Making litter collection a sanction associates it with being punished by one of the teachers.
§ Mr. Greenway
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I said that I thought the first way to induce a good anti-litter attitude in children was by teachers asking them to pick up litter. I said then that it could be a useful disciplinary procedure to form litter squads, and there have to be disciplinary procedures. It is no good saying otherwise.
§ Mr. Greenway
I myself also organised squads positively by inviting children to join squads and saying, "Come on, let's clean up the school. Look at the mess." I used to collect the litter with them. If head teachers and deputy head teachers are helping as well, although heaven knows, they have enough to do running institutions of 2,200 children, the job will be done as it should be.
It is imperative that children leave school at 16 or later dedicated to the idea that they should not throw litter in schools, on pavements, or anywhere else and that they should always find a receptacle for litter. My old grandmother, who lived to be 95 years of age, always carried a bit bag in her handbag when she became an old lady. If any mess was incurred, such as when she read a letter and wanted to get rid of it while sitting on the bus, she would tear it up and put it in the bit bag. Perhaps the hon. Member for Newham, North-West should carry a bit bag round with him.
§ Mr. Greenway
I am not suggesting that the bit bag would be for his speeches—or for mine. There is nothing wrong with the idea of a bit bag and it is a fair tip, especially for people who are immobile and who cannot get to a rubbish bin. If they are carrying something like a big bag, they can put the bits into it.
One must applaud the efforts of the Westminster city council in its anti-litter drive, but nationally, we must try to reach the standards of other countries, even Spain, where there is a daily litter collection. That happens in some parts of this country as well. In very hot parts of Spain, if there were not a daily collection of litter, diseases would quickly spread. We have to extend that principle to this country, even though it will cost more.
§ Mr. Patnick
One of the odd things about litter and waste disposal in Spain is that waste disposal is carried out by private contractors. Also, litter is collected during the hours of darkness. Would my hon. Friend care to consider those points?
§ Mr. Greenway
That is another task for my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) makes a 622 most telling point when he says that litter in Spain is collected during the hours of darkness. It is collected at 3 am or 4 am and, no doubt, account is taken of that in the wages paid to the refuse collectors. The fact that it is collected by private enterprise organisations must mean that there is great efficiency.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
There are far more practical reasons why that is done in Spain and in Greece as well. First, it is a damn sight cooler at night. Collecting rubbish is not a nice job anyway, but collecting it in the heat of the day in Mediterranean countries would not be at all pleasant. Secondly, it is necessary, in the heat, to have far more collections because of the obvious effect of heat on food rubbish in particular.
§ Mr. Greenway
I made my point about Spain because, at present, it is as hot here as it is in Spain and we must take account of that, although I know that such heat is only too rare here. However, the hon. Gentleman makes his own point effectively.
I must speak briefly of the situation in Ealing. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon said that he did not like to bring politics into this matter. I do not either, but I must point out that this year, there have been serious reductions in street cleansing and refuse collection in the London borough of Ealing, although the rates have increased by 32 per cent. and, two years ago, they increased by 65 per cent. People are concerned that they are paying far more in rates, yet the streets are not being cleaned as regularly as before and refuse is not being collected as regularly as before. That is serious. Public cleansing and refuse collection services should not be cut but should be at the top of the list of priorities because of the dangers to health.
Our foolish and politically unwise council made a serious mistake. Over Christmas and the New Year we had no refuse collection for 10 to 14 days. There were bags of litter everywhere: outside people's houses and in the street. That led to a plague of rats, which was extremely serious. Once rodents establish themselves—and nowhere is it easier for them to do so than where litter is lying around as it was on the streets of Ealing at the turn of the year —they are tenacious.
Some people say that in one year two rats can produce 1,200. Once a rat plague is established it is immensely difficult to put a stop to it. That was the problem facing the borough of Ealing as a result of the council's foolish and wicked failure to collect refuse over the Christmas and New Year period.
I am not saying that refuse collectors and street cleaners are not entitled to proper Christmas holidays like everyone else, but we cannot say to them, "Off you go boys, all of you, for a fortnight's holiday and forget about the rubbish" because of the possible results. Proper services must continue to be provided. We cannot expect people to carry them out for peanuts. They will have to be paid more for working at a time of year when they could expect to be on holiday, or they should be allowed extra time off at another time of the year when there is less pressure.
There is no doubt that the events of last Christmas must not happen again. Next Christmas I look forward to proper street cleansing and refuse collection in Ealing without fear or favour. We do not want rats back in Ealing, or people slipping and falling into rubbish bags for 623 weeks after the festival. Once a large amount of litter has accumulated it takes ages to clear the backlog. Litter must not be allowed to pile up.
There is a serious problem of litter and smoking in many public places, caused notably by visitors to churches, cathedrals and museums. I saw somebody smoking in Westminster Abbey last week and it took me back 20 years to when I last saw somebody smoking in a cathedral in St John's Cathedral in Warsaw. I have never forgotten the offence I felt at that. If people smoke and throw their cigarettes on the floor of a beautiful cathedral, it is a great offence to other people and affects law and order. When the incident occurred in Warsaw cathedral, an old lady rushed at the individual concerned and had to be restrained because she was so hurt by the action. When I saw the smoker in Westminster Abbey last week I also wanted to rush at him, but I did not. I had a word with one of the bedesmen who received a pack of cheek from the individual for asking him not to smoke.
Does the Minister agree that people smoking and throwing litter about in our beautiful churches, cathedrals and abbeys should be fined £1,000 on the spot or if, quite sensibly, they do not carry such amounts, be asked to pay as soon as possible?
Perhaps even more severe penalties should be imposed. Such offences must not be allowed under any circumstances. They amount to a desecration of God's house, are wholly and grossly offensive to other individuals and produce litter, with all the knock-on effects which I have described. The practice of dropping litter is growing. Officials of the abbey and of other cathedrals have told me that more people are coming into churches and cathedrals on a casual basis. They do not have a religious background of any kind and, with the sad weakening of religious education in schools, they do not even respect God's house and do not realise that what they are doing is offensive.
We may be reaching the point where we must have in Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral and other such great and fine institutions, notices declaring, "No smoking under any circumstances. Offenders will be fined at least £1,000 if they do so." That would be a sad day but we may be approaching it.
§ Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I, too, wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), not only on securing the debate, but on the considerable tenacity with which he has pursued the subject. He has placed an excellent Bill before us, and has been extremely tenacious, despite the unexpected cries of objection from Opposition Members every time the matter comes up. I look forward to the Bill having a better fate in the future. I also congratulate him on the wide-ranging and comprehensive nature of his speech and the way in which he looked at almost every aspect of litter.
It ill-behoves this place to lecture the nation on its litter habits. Ever since I came to this place I have been disgusted by the scenes of devastation which can be seen after any Committee meeting or any normal day in the Chamber. Leaving Committee, we crunch across a sea of litter which is much less pleasant and less elevating than crunching across a sea of autumn leaves. I hope that when television finally comes to the Chamber, some panning 624 shots will be shown of the scenes in the Chamber when we have finished for the day. Sadly, once the people of this country have seen those shots I do not think they will take our strictures on litter terribly seriously. Some of the powers given to Westminster city council could well be given to the Serjeant at Arms and others in the House to enforce better conduct.
I recently took one of my hon. Friends, certainly not anyone present today, to task for his litterous habits in Committee when my feet had literally sunk into the litter being dropped from the neighbouring seat. I asked him what he expected to happen to the litter, and he replied that there were people to pick it up. His reply was horribly reminiscent of the philosophy of those who say, "Oh, dear, the servants will do it." I also thought that his reply might contain implications that he expected women to clear it up. I have noticed that those who do not throw down litter in Committee or the Chamber are the 41, now 42. female Members.
On the Committee on which I serve, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) and I are the two who regularly take our litter away with us. I do not see why everyone else cannot do the same. When we look at Committee rooms and the Chamber at the end of a lengthy debate we cannot, realistically, turn round and talk about the disgusting habits of litter louts and others.
§ Mr. Patnick
Does my hon. Friend think that litter bins in the House of Commons would be any less decorous? Could we not have more litter bins to encourage Members to place their waste papers in them?
§ Miss Widdecombe
I thoroughly support the comments of my hon. Friend. However, we are not all entirely geriatric. It is a short step from the Committee rooms to the Committee room corridor where bins are placed at fairly regular intervals. I cannot believe that it would be a vast strain, even at the somewhat anti-social hours at which we sometimes leave Committee and the Chamber, to walk to one of the receptacles and place our litter in it.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
Perhaps my hon. Friend would be interested in my suggestion that each hon. Member should carry a bit bag.
§ Miss Widdecombe
Yes, indeed I am. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) could be quite enterprising. He could come in with a supply of bit bags and sell them at 5p a time for some worthy cause. Hon. Members could collect them from the Lobby as they came into the Chamber. All that is required is a little self-restraint, which is what we are asking the general public to practice.
On the more serious question of how we enforce tidiness, I entirely agree that we need adequate penalties and, perhaps more important, that those penalties should be backed by an adequate will to solve the problem. I am rather sorry that the 741 people in Westminster were merely asked to pick up their litter. It would have had a more deterrent effect and would have caught the popular imagination far more if those 741 people had been issued with fixed penalty tickets. I do not say that vindictively because I cannot believe that a fixed penalty ticket for litter will create a terrible stigma; it is not likely to blight a 625 person's life, any more than a parking ticket is. It would have made the point more effectively had those people been issued with fixed penalty tickets.
If there are to be penalties for litter dropping, they ought to be enforced vigorously, at least initially, to get the message home that dropping litter is an offence, and involves more than merely being asked to pick the litter up if one is unlucky enough to be caught. We must make it clear to people that they will have to pay the penalty.
If that practice were adopted more widely and if there were fines nationwide along the lines of the Westminster scheme, take-away food containers, fish and chip wrappings and other common causes of litter, including cash dispenser receipts, could have warnings stamped on them to the effect that a fine was likely to be imposed if they were dropped. At the moment there is no immediate warning to the person who is thinking carelessly of throwing something away that by doing so he may incur a fine. Dropping litter is rarely a deliberate action; it is a careless and uneducated action.
§ Mr. Burns
It has just occurred to me that all slips that come out of cash dispensing machines carry a number identifying the owner. In 99 per cent. of cases the person using the card to obtain money at a cash dispensing unit is the legal owner of this slip. Would there not be a case for the police to collect up the slips of paper left in the street and start to prosecute the guilty parties? That would surely have a deterrent effect?
§ Miss Widdecombe
The police simply do not have the time, but litter wardens or council officials could perhaps trace a random sample of guilty parties. If that process were accompaniesd by a great deal of publicity, it might be effective. A more effective way of solving the problem would be to educate people from a very young age not to drop litter. It would then be an automatic response.
The sponsored picking-up of litter is one good way of making the whole process fun rather than making it seem like punishment. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) had a good point when he said that people should regard picking up litter not as punishment but as natural, worthy and—from the school child's point of view—fun. There are few sadder sights than a playground strewn with litter, which reminds us that we are not teaching our children to respect their environment. Ultimately the success of our attempts will depend on the will with which the arrangements are enforced and on the deterrent effect.
A couple of years ago I returned to Singapore, where I spent many happy years as a child. That country has very strict litter rules, and one does not see litter on the streets of the main city of Singapore. In the surrounding areas, however, the streets are every bit as dirty as London's streets. The reason is obvious. In the city, litter laws are enforced vigorously. The clean streets are something of a showpiece and a matter of national pride. Outside in the residential areas, the laws are not strictly enforced, so there is no deterrent and people continue to drop litter.
It is not just a matter of having strict laws; they have to be enforced universally. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford was so right to talk about front gardens and back gardens. We have a lovely garden in front of the block of flats in which I live in London but the 626 hydrangea bushes fail to be enhanced by the crisp packets, Coke tins and so on carelessly tossed in from the street. We need laws to prevent that from happening. It is a deliberate act; it is not the same as someone happening to drop his chewing gum packet on the ground. People ask themselves, "Where can I put this?" and then throw the object away in the most convenient place. We must inculcate the right attitudes in people at a very early age. At the same time, we need realistic penalties and the will to impose them. Such penalties could be an attractive source of revenue to councils.
I commend the Westminster example but in particular I commend the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford and wish it a better fate in the few weeks left to us.
§ 11.7 am
§ Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)
I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) in this excellent and long overdue debate.
We are all becoming increasingly aware of our environment. Over the past year a number of issues have hit the headlines and the amount of media attention that is being given to the environment is increasing day by day. That concern is encouraging, the more so because it comes from the younger generation. But our concern for the environment is still not sufficiently well targeted. Most of us want the environment in which we live to be improved but we do not have a clear idea of what we could do and what ought to be done or of what principles should lie behind our concern. Some people worry about global warming, some about planning applications and the urbanisation of our countryside while others worry about noise. Many of the environmental groups are in conflict with each other, but one thread runs through all their concern—the idea that it is someone else's job to solve the problem, and that the Government, local authorities or local businesses should be responsible for solving environmental problems.
The debate is especially relevant because we can all improve our environment by solving the problem of litter. Litter is one aspect of pollution. We need to have a few general principles to apply in dealing with pollution and in ensuring that the world is a cleaner place. The first principle should be the principle of minimising waste. In future the way in which we produce things—from motor cars to hamburgers—should involve keeping by-products to a minimum and, wherever possible, those by-products should be re-used. If that is impossible, we should ensure that what is left over is recycled. That applies particularly to litter. If we are to minimise waste and the amount of wastepaper and other items left around our towns and countryside, we must encourage industry to examine more closely the way in which it operates and, specifically, the way in which it packages its goods. Increasingly over the years we have become a consumer society and in the process we have increased the volume and content of packaging at the expense of the volume and content of the product itself. Packaging, which now accounts for an increased percentage of the whole product, ends up in our litter bins—it is to be hoped—or lying around somewhere for someone else to collect.
The other day I read about the extreme example of an American company that produced a potato peeler the 627 same colour as potato peelings. The idea behind that rather shrewd marketing tool was that when the housewife peeled the potatoes she would throw away the peeler as well and would have to buy another one. However, the company found that the potato peeler was not selling very well because no one could see it on the shelves. It decided to surround it with a large, brightly coloured and expensive package, and as a result it sold like hot cakes. That is not the direction that we should follow when producing items for sale because it would not encourage waste minimisation. We must ensure that those involved in marketing and retailing present their products for the public to see and to buy without including a huge amount of packaging. After all, packaging does not add value to the product; indeed, it simply costs the customer more.
Having reduced waste to a minimum, there will still be a great deal left over about which we must do something. With litter, that should mean recycling. Earlier this year I introduced a Bill under the ten-minute Bill procedure to encourage the recycling of wastepaper. I did that partly because of the problem mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), of the number of trees being chopped down each year to meet our demand for paper, but also because of the problems with litter generally.
The amount of raw pulp that we import each year adds £716 million to our import bill. What is even more significant is that we also import £9 million of wastepaper for use in the various production processes in the paper mills. We do that despite the fact that there is a surplus quantity of wastepaper lying around in our towns and in the countryside. There is a strong incentive to ensure that increasing amounts of wastepaper and other products are recycled. In the process used to produce items for sale, any remaining waste should be recycled. It may be bottles, batteries or wastepaper. Litter is a prime candidate for recycling.
Of course, hon. Members are not entirely innocent of leaving litter around the House. The Committee Rooms always contain huge amounts of paper that hon. Members have had to leave on the floor because there are so few litter bins in the rooms.
§ Miss Widdecombe
Hon. Members do not have to leave litter on the floor. They have a choice between that and picking it up and carrying it to a bin. They are under no compulsion to choose the former. It is a dirty, filthy habit in which, unfortunately, too many hon. Members indulge.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I want to make this a pincer movement on the hon. Gentleman. I, too, am absolutely disgusted by the filthy habits of Members of Parliament, both in Committee Rooms and in the Chamber. One of the advantages of there not being very many hon. Members in the Chamber today is that at least it will remain tidy. Hon. Members should not use the excuse that because there is no litter bin they have to put their rubbish on the floor, because members of the public will then use exactly that excuse when they are on trains or in the street. They will say, "I couldn't find a bin, so I threw it on the floor." It is exercising double standards to lecture members of the public while setting such a terrible example in this place.
§ Mr. Mans
Both my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) jumped in rather too quickly. I was trying to paint a picture of what actually happens now. Of course, it is absolutely right that we should lead rather than follow and that we set the public a good example. I think that more litter bins would help, but of course that is by no means the whole argument. I agree that it is perfectly reasonable to expect hon. Members to take their litter out of Committee rooms and put it in a bin. Nevertheless, it would improve matters if there were more litter bins in the rooms, although that is not a panacea in itself and we need to do more.
Although the Chamber is rather thinly populated today, I am glad that the hon. Members present feel so strongly about the amount of litter that we leave around. One of the points that I made when I introduced my Bill was that we should encourage the Palace of Westminster to recycle the wastepaper collected. I regret to say that I have not had a great deal of success with the authorities in trying to ensure that that happens.
§ Mr. Patnick
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell the House that the Department of the Environment uses recycled paper. She said during a recent debate that that was being promoted within her Department. I hope that other Departments follow suit.
§ Mr. Mans
I, too, wish that that would happen. After introducing my Bill I wrote to every Secretary of State asking what they were doing about using recycled paper. The responses varied tremendously, and many of them lapsed into a form of officialese that said very little, but took an awfully long time to say. Even more depressing was that many of the replies contained photocopies of those replies. I am not sure why they did that, but perhaps they were for me to send to some mythical constituent on whose behalf I was supposedly raising the issue. In fact. my letters made it perfectly clear that I wanted to know exactly how many Departments were using recycled paper. The Palace of Westminster and Government Departments could do a great deal more, by way of example to encourage the recycling of paper products, which in itself would generate the demand for more recycled paper and would encourage the collection of litter.
The world's natural resources are ever-diminishing. We cannot afford simply to dispose of everything. We must try to recycle it and so minimise the amount of raw materials used to produce products. We face a huge challenge in ensuring that we maintain and increase our standard of living, yet at the same time design products that ensure minimum use of our natural resources. We must ensure that products contain little waste, but, where they do, that waste must be collected and recycled.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford for giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject. As I said earlier, this debate is long overdue. I hope that some concrete proposals come out of it.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
This debate is crucial, but like so many of our Friday debates it makes me wonder how much coverage it will receive in the media. Reference has already been made to the fact that when the television cameras are introduced we will have to smarten up or our 629 electorate will complain. We must question whether this is the sort of debate that television producers will want to show. It is certainly a very important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on moving the motion.
The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) made a valid point about recycling. Sadly, we live in a throwaway society, and big companies encourage it. I am sure that many hon. Members can remember that, when something went wrong with our household appliances, we could get them repaired. Hon. Members should try to get even the smallest component for something. People in big companies or in small family shops say, "Sorry, they do not make them any more. You will have to buy the entire unit."
I am sure that, every week, hon. Members get several letters from their constituents complaining about these very issues. Britain is often called a dirty country. That refers to many aspects of the environment in which we live. There are grounds for saying that, certainly in large cities. Hon. Members have referred to other cities in the world. Those of us who travel find that many large European cities are far more advanced than our own in trying to keep areas clean. When I have attended Council of Europe meetings in Paris, I have seen the Paris municipal authority motorcyclist whose job is to clean up dog mess. That is a superb idea. It is a means of showing people that it is wrong to allow dogs to fould pavements and that the Paris local authority is concerned about it.
We have been talking about crisp-packet litter and so on. I do not dispute that it is a problem, but it is only one aspect of the overall problem. The condition of streets is obviously of great concern, but, one wonders—when one can find them—how often rubbish bins are emptied. We see them overflowing with crisp packets, drink cans and so on. That is no encouragement for people to say. "I should take my litter away." People tend to add their litter to the pile.
What about the number of abandoned motor cars that no one seems to do anything about? After a week or so, it is obvious that some cars are abandoned, and we must take up the matter with the police. They say, "It is not really anything to do with us. You had better get in touch with the local council." The matter then drags on for a month or so. I am sure that all hon. Members have seen mattresses and old furniture dumped in the streets for days on end.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) recently introduced a Bill to control fly tipping. Fly tipping is an enormous problem in parts of London and, I am sure, in many large cities. It may even be a problem in some small towns. The Minister is concerned about that problem.
I saw someone in a van dumping rubbish in the London borough of Wandsworth. I took down the registration number and a description of the van and of the person driving it. That was on a Sunday afternoon. On the Monday morning, I referred the matter to the technical services director of the London borough of Wandsworth, who was concerned and said, "Thank you very much for informing us of this. If we catch this person will you be prepared to appear in court?" I said, "Certainly." After a couple of weeks, I rang up and asked, "How are you 630 progressing?" He said, "We are terribly sorry to tell you, but we now find that that van, like so many, had false licence plates on it." The Minister is aware that some individuals make enormous sums of money by removing rubbish. Sadly, because they have false number plates on their vehicles, nothing happens to them. We must introduce much stricter laws as soon as possible.
One sees lorries travelling around carrying materials with no cover over them. I have often seen loads being shed as lorries swing around to Vauxhall bridge. The Minister may say that loads should be covered if the material can come off the back of a lorry, but that requirement does not seem to be enforced often.
The motion calls for the introduction of new measures. I do not think that any hon. Member would disagree with that. However, I take some exception to the last two lines of the motion, which state:and supports the Government's proposal to place a duty on local authorities to keep their areas clean and to publish a code of practice.I do not disagree with the principle of that, but many hon. Members have served in local government and know that, because of the Government's rate-capping policies, many local authorities whether Labour or Conservative-controlled, face enormous problems in administering their services. I realise that the occupant of the Chair cannot comment on hon. Members' speeches, but, in Adjournment debates, Conservative Members often call for things to be done on the very measures that they have supported in the Lobby. They call for extra funding for certain things to be done.
§ Mr. Patnick
I am sad that we have got into a party political debate on a subject that I thought would cross party boundaries. It is possible for councils to save large sums of money by competitive tendering for the services that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. If we are to put the matter into the political arena, let us start from point one.
§ Mr. Cox
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point. I was about to refer to that very issue.
Local authorities were once responsible for cleaning their areas. I served on the metropolitan borough of Fulham. Our road sweepers took great pride in their job. They had their patch. By God, if anyone dropped rubbish on their patch and they saw them doing it, they would chase them and tell them to pick it up. I saw that happen in the Fulham Broadway area. After the road sweeper had cleaned the place, someone walked along and dropped some rubbish. Also, according to poeople who work in hospitals and schools, that pride does not exist because contractors now clean hospitals and schools.
One of the largest hospitals in the country, St. George's hospital, is located in Tooting. Staff there complain bitterly about the conditions after contractors have been in, supposedly to clean. There is no pride in or continuity of work. Contractors work in one area for a few days and they know that they will be somewhere else next week or the following week, so there is not the pride that there was. That is sad.
While acknowledging that the problem is of great importance and that the public generally must be encouraged to keep the environment much cleaner, we should also exhibit far more concern about the pay and conditions of those responsible for providing cleaning services. The comment about competitive tendering madev 631 by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) sounded wonderful, as do so many of the things that we hear from the Government, until we see them working in practice. If one talks to those responsible for cleaning services in Wandsworth, for example, one learns that overall conditions of employment and pay are much worse under private contractors than they were when the local authority was the employer. Poor pay and conditions will not encourage into those jobs people with the kind of commitment that existed when cleaners were answerable to their local authority and related to their local community.
It is said that local councils should provide more recycling amenities in the form of bottle banks and paper reception centres, for example. Although local authorities are not hostile to such initiatives, they ask where they fit the budgets that they must now observe.
§ Mr. Mans
The hon. Gentleman appears to believe that everything must fit a budget. However, in the case of recycling there are perfectly good schemes in operation in other parts of the country, particularly in the north-west, whereby companies are happy to site wastepaper igloos and other recycling devices in car parks and elsewhere free of charge. Also, county councils will refund money to local authorities that free them from the dumping of that rubbish on their tips. Local councils who examine such possibilities more closely will see that the implications are positive, not negative.
§ Mr. Cox
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting comment. However, investment is still needed. I acknowledge that if such policies are pursued, they can generate a great deal of money for the benefit of ratepayers and the community as a whole, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) can testify from his experience as a member of the Greater London council. I am not arguing that only local authorities should finance the necessary facilities, but they should at least be up front in setting an example. However, many are unable to do so because of the Government's rate-capping policies.
§ Mr. Cox
With great respect, it is not nonsense. If Conservative Members ask council officers about the problems that confront them, they will be told—as I have been, by a Conservative-controlled borough that I serve as a Member of Parliament—that rate-capping is one of them.
If fines are to be imposed, they must have a truly deterrent effect. In this day and age, it is no use fining people £5 or £10, because they may consider that to be a laughing matter. In other parts of the world, people pay very dearly if they are caught littering the environment. Greater emphasis must also be placed on education. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) mentioned the education of children, but that of adults must not be overlooked. It is not children who empty cigarette ends into the road or who throw rubbish from car windows. Perhaps the Government, together with local authorities, will consider a programme of education and the imposition of more severe penalties.
Some boroughs provide skips in certain areas at weekends, and that service is properly publicised. There will always be people wondering what to do with an old 632 mattress or piece of furniture. They should be made aware that it is only necessary to take it to a nearby council skip for it to be disposed of. Very often, refuse collectors will say—and I do not criticise them for this—that it is not their job to take away mattresses or old pieces of furniture. All local authorities should give far greater publicity to skip and other clearance services, so that such items will not be dumped.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford has done a first-class job in introducing his motion, which I hope will have the Government's full support and receive the publicity that it deserves. I was once a Government Whip, and on many occasions I sat on the Government Front Bench listening to debates about measures that I thought were long overdue, yet a month or so later one would ask oneself, "Whatever happened to that idea?" I hope that that does not happen to the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Chelmsford.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I, too, believe that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) is 10 be congratulated on introducing the motion. It was noted by the hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) that, despite the small number of hon. Members present in the Chamber, a great deal of feeling has been generated, and I underline that point. I become positively homicidal when walking around areas of Forest Gate in my constituency that seem to be particularly filthy, observing people drop litter, and seeing the result. The cleaners do a good job in that area, but in a matter of 20 minutes, half an hour or one hour after they have finished, the place is filthy again.
We all agree that dropping rubbish in the street is socially offensive. It is also environmentally and economically wasteful. It does not give me any great pride to say that I have not come up with any initiatives such as that of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), who proposes walking around his constituency at midnight. I certainly would not go walking around Newham at midnight—not that I am anything but a much-loved Member of Parliament. Nevertheless, I do not fancy trying to have a rational discussion on Marxist philosophy with the kind of people who hang around street corners in Newham at midnight after they have had a skinful in the local pub.
My borough is one of the filthiest in the whole of London, and London is one of the filthiest cities in Europe, if not the filthiest city. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned how Paris copes. What is that city's secret? It is no secret. The authorities in Paris devote a considerable amount of public money to maintaining services. The secret, such as it is, is a combination of resources, political will and the determination to see a project carried through to its conclusion.
Paris's infrastructure, too, is more favourable to street cleansing, its wider boulevards making for easier access, and there is more space to store rubbish from the streets. Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting will know, street cleansing methods there are very different from those employed in London. The streets are washed down daily, and mechanised cleansing and "poop scoops" are much more widely used. Similarly, the Paris metro is much better than the London Underground system; again, it is a matter of resources and political will. We can will the 633 end, but we must also provide the means. Plenty of people in this country are prepared to say what is desirable, but when they are asked to devote resources to achieving that desirable objective the resources somehow are not there. That is certainly true of the Government's attitude to litter.
I receive many complaints about litter from my constituents, who blame the council for this problem, along with so many others. "What is the council going to do about it?" is the question that they usually ask. While I share people's concern about the level of services provided in any borough, I must point out that it is not councillors or council officers who go around throwing litter on the ground; it is the dirty people in the area. Rather than fulminating against Newham council or storing up their anger to visit on me when I happen to be walking in the streets, my constituents would do better to direct that anger against some of those who are perpetrating this social nuisance.
We must ask ourselves why we in this country, and in London, are so filthy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting has said, we live in a "chuck-away" society, existing on a diet of fast food. It is considered a mark of progress no longer to sell bottles on which a deposit is charged, providing an incentive to take them back to the shop. When I was much younger, I was quite a budding little capitalist: I used to do quite well from collecting bottles, taking them back to the off-licence and getting the money. Now, however, we have the throwaway bottle, replaced in many instances by the can. There is a lot to be earned from recycling aluminum cans, but schemes are needed to encouage people to take bottles and cans to bottle and can banks.
The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) mentioned packaging. Nowadays everything is contained in increasingly attractive and increasingly useless packaging. Products seem to be sold on the basis of the packaging rather than the contents. That is where so much of the competition comes. Vast quantities of paper litter are generated, and, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, it is also a waste of trees. Hon. Members are among the worst offenders because of the amount of paper that we generate and receive in our post bags, much of which ends up in the rubbish bin. I hasten to add that that does not include letters from constituents—I had to put that in! Most of it is mail shots.
My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr Cook) was on a train one day, having gone through a vast quantity of post. Some of the organisations that had written to him had helpfully put their names on the envelopes, so he was able to throw some of the post away without even opening it; and a number of unopened letters went straight into the bin. As he was getting off the train my hon. Friend was chased by the guard, who called after him, "Mr. Cook, you seem to have left all these unopened letters." My hon. Friend was faced with the embarrassment of having to accept all the unopened letters—and, no doubt, the unspoken criticisms of many of his fellow travellers, who obviously believed that that was the sort of things that Members of Parliament did.
I tell that story to make the point that Members of Parliament receive huge amounts of unecessary and unwanted mail, as, indeed, do householders generally. The 634 increase in the amount of "rubbish mail" that comes through the door every day is generating a litter problem and wasting resources. Another contributory factor is the upsurge in fast food chains. I remember the days when the only fast food shops around were the fish and chip shops: now every shopping street in the country has any number of fast food outlets.
In the inner-city areas in particular, the sense of community has been all but destroyed. I remember that when my mother or my father, of course, had finished cleaning the path—ours was not a sexist household, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you can well imagine—they would put down the bucket of water and sweep the pavement and gutter outside. Some old people in the east end can still be seen doing precisely that, but I do not see many people doing it. Such practices date back to earlier days when there was clearly a much stronger sense of community spirit and community pride. The destruction of that sense of community is, of course, partly the fault of planners, the new brutalism of 1960s architecture the building of those appalling tower blocks.
At the last count, Newham had about 110 tower blocks —I say "at the last count" because the odd tower block is always being blown up when it is found, after only 25 years, that it was rendered unsafe by the method employed in its construction. As well as being an undesirable living unit, a tower block may prove structurally unsound. Although inhabitants of tower blocks, stacked as they are in vertical "streets", live in dense concentrations, they are isolated at the same time because there is access only on each floor. Such tower blocks are nasty, unpleasant, brutalising places in which to live, and it is not surprising that so much filth, graffiti and violence builds up. There is a depressing downward cycle: the more violent and unpleasant the environment in which people live, the more they want to go inside, close the door and allow whatever is happening outside to go on. It is nothing to do with them; they are glad to get away from it.
The central problem, however, is one of social attitudes. While I join hands with Conservative Members on the foulness of litter on the streets, I part company with them on the causes of the problem. I think that there is a very political element in it. Life in Britain, in my view, is now brutal, greedy, selfish and increasingly violent.
§ Mr. Patnick
The hon. Gentleman referred to high-rise and high-density flats. Will he cast his mind back to who decided to institute such close living conditions?
§ Mr. Patnick
The hon. Lady has just arrived in the Chamber. I was speaking to the organ grinder.
Can the hon. Gentleman remember who instigated that, who continued it and what ensuing Governments did to try to stop some of the projects that were under way?
§ Mr. Banks
As a matter of fact, I am a ventriloquist; I was speaking without moving my lips. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) is absolutely correct, but I would prefer to put the hon. Gentleman down myself, rather than leaving the privilege to her. In the 1950s and 1960s, Governments, both Conservative and Labour, encouraged that sort of building. Unfortunately, it is today's generation, today's councillors and today's politicians who have to try to clear 635 up the mess. I am making no narrow party political point over the building of tower blocks. It is down to the planners and politicians of the day.
When I was a member of Lambeth borough council there was a scheme to build more and more tower blocks. The planners talked in glowing terms about the kind of communities that they would create. When one looks back, one can almost see that those people thought that they were acting in the best interests of the people. They were going to do away with the back-to-backs and insanitary houses that had no proper facilities; instead they would provide nice, modern flats. They were absolutely wrong.
That is why, among all the occupations that I hate the most, the long-term planners head the list because they always manage to get it wrong. I should like to find the planners and the politicians who decided to put up those tower blocks, put them on the 22nd floor, have the doors nailed up and leave them there for a while. Those who designed tower blocks and pushed for their construction were not the people who ended up having to live in them. I shall always condemn the decisions that were taken in the 1960s. I can also say with a clear conscience that when I was on Lambeth council I was bitterly opposed to the building of tower blocks. In that respect both my conscience and my hands are clean.
I have already said that life today in Britain is brutal, greedy, selfish and increasingly violent. The blame for that combination of nastiness lies squarely with the philosophies and policies of the Government, and in particular with the Prime Minister. She is the person behind it. The Prime Minister denies that there is anything called society. She says that there is just a collection of families and individuals. In her daily utterances the emphasis is on the individual, not on the community—it is all right to be selfish and greedy. That is the essence of Thatcherism today.
§ Miss Widdecombe
The hon. Gentleman is quite right; he is not my hon. Friend. Is it not the case that society's habits as a whole are dictated by those of the individual and that the Prime Minister's message is about the responsibility of the individual to contribute to society? The kind of matters that we have been discussing this morning are the responsibility of individuals. If individuals picked up their litter, did their social duty and played their part as active citizens, that would make for a decent society. So it is down to the individual.
§ Mr. Banks
But society is more than just the aggregate of the individuals who live within it. Society collectively sets the norms and the values that are then translated into the action—social or anti-social—of individuals within society. That is the way it works; it cannot work the other way round. We cannot say that society is merely a collection of unrelated individuals. That is where the Conservative party gets it completely wrong. It says that society is no more than the market and that, if we allow individuals to act on their own, there is, somehow, a secret means by which they will all end up acting responsibly.
§ Mr. Greenway
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans). As he is sitting behind me, I did not realise that he had risen to his feet.
There is a fundamental division between us. I believe, and so do my colleagues, that we achieve progress only if individuals work together. The collectivist, Marxist approach—which believes in progress on the back of an amorphous thing called society—is inadmissible because it does not work. That is not to say that I do not believe strongly in a sense of community. But a community is a collection of individuals, not a mass.
§ Mr. Banks
The mere fact that a Labour Government were in power does not alter the fact that it was also a capitalist society. One of the problems with the Labour party is that it still thinks that it can administer capitalism better than the capitalists. I do not believe that to be so. Socialism, for me, is not a fringe benefit of an efficient, capitalist system. Socialism for me is completely and utterly opposed to capitalism. That is where I part company with some of my colleagues. I believe in Socialism and collectivism. That is the big difference between me and Conservative Members, and, indeed, between me and some of my hon. Friends.
§ Ms. Abbott
Conservative Members deny the efficacy of collectivist solutions to problems, but they would be the first to argue for collectivist solutions in some areas. They do not argue that people should have their own private armies. They believe that there should be a collectivist solution to the defence of the realm. If collectivism works in defence, it ought to work in relation to litter. If Conservative Members reject collectivist solutions to the litter problem but accept them for defence, may it not be that they take the defence of the realm much more seriously than the environment and litter? Collectivism does work. There are certain areas in which collectivism is the only successful way in which to organise affairs. To look at the increasing litter menace in London, particularly in Hackney, and then to say that there is not a role for the state by means of a collectivist solution is absurd.
§ Mr. Banks
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.
To return to social attitudes towards litter, it does not necessarily follow that the only socially responsible societies are to be found in Socialist countries. It is far 637 more likely that they will be found in Socialist countries, but Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland are capitalist countries, where there is a much more socially responsible attitude towards street cleanliness and litter because society in those countries is much more socially and economically cohesive. There is less disparity of wealth and opportunity in Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark than one finds in this country. One does not necessarily have to live in a Socialist society, but one has to be living in a society that is a damned sight more fair and just than this society is under this Government.
Public property in this country is treated as second rate and with contempt by the Prime Minister. She dislikes anything that is public. For all I know, she might even hate public lavatories. Anything that is public is second rate and must be sold off, given away or, even worse than that, allowed to become run down. That is what has happened to far too many public services. It has to be set against her attitude, and that of the Government, towards private property. That is sacred and sacrosanct. This attitude goes right the way through our society because that is the example which has been set at the top.
Tenants on council estates are made to feel second-class citizens by a Government who put all the emphasis on the economic benefits of owner-occupation. I travel around London a great deal on public transport. People in London seem to regard buses and the train carriages as mobile litter bins. They do not consider that the trains or the streets belong to them. That is because of the philosophy promoted by the Government—from the very top—that public property is second rate. People would not drop rubbish in their own living rooms, they would not stick chewing gum on their own sofas and chairs, but they certainly do that on the Underground in London. They would not scrawl artless graffiti on the outside walls of their homes as they do in streets and on trains. They would not let their dogs crap on the carpet as they do outside the home. They do not recognise streets and public places as belonging to them and I blame the Government for that attitude.
§ Mr. Burns
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a great reputation as a wit, but surely he is stretching the bounds of belief by trying to claim that the unfortunate habit of sticking chewing gum under the seats on public transport, dogs fouling public places and graffiti started on 3 May 1979. Regrettably, society has had to suffer those problems under Conservative and Labour Governments. I suspect that some of those problems in a more prehistoric form were suffered under Liberal Governments many decades ago.
§ Mr. Banks
I am not trying to suggest that in this highly sophisticated forum. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) has managed to totter into the Chamber. His presence always adds something extra. A frisson goes through us all as we see him lower his bulky frame into the seat. I hope that he will make a speech, if he can prop himself up. I notice that he carries a stick and I wish him well, but I notice that it has not stopped him leaping up with an alacrity that is certainly denied slimmer and less agile Conservative Members. I welcome him to our proceedings, late though his presence is.
638 In reply to the hon. Member for Chelmsford, I am not blaming the Government entirely. However, those trends have been increasing as it is all part of capitalism; but I have done that one already. All those tendencies have become worse since 1979. That is because of the philosophy of the Government and the attitude struck at No. 10 Downing street and throughout the Cabinet.
§ Miss Widdecombe
The hon. Gentleman gave very loud support to my deploring the habits of Members of Parliament. Does he attribute the disgusting habit of Labour Members to the philosophy of the Conservative Government? If that is so, how can we influence them in other matters?
§ Mr. Banks
I blame the Prime Minister for what happens on Labour Benches. Members of Parliament are no different from other members of society. They may be slightly madder than most, or even slightly more anti-social than many ordinary members of the public, but they are still subject to the same attitudes and influences because they are members of society. In a sense, the Prime Minister's attitude must permeate through the Labour party as well as through the Conservative party.
§ Mr. Greenway
The hon. Gentleman is making a serious point when he says that his colleagues in the Labour party do not have the character to maintain their Socialist way of life without being knocked off it by anyone else. As the hon. Gentleman is making so many political points, which he is quite entitled to do, I point out that the borough that he represents has had a Labour council for 60 or 70 years, yet has more litter and graffiti than almost anywhere else, except perhaps Tower Hamlets which also had a Labour council for the past 60 or 70 years, except for the past two or three years when it has had an equally bad Liberal council. The Labour council in Ealing has cut street cleansing and litter collection, but has put up the rates by 32 per cent. and has increased staff substantially in the gay and lesbian unit for homosexuals.
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) is well known for his antipathy towards his local council. The hon. Gentleman, who represents one of the constituencies under that council, could be of more assistance by arguing in favour of more resources for his borough to deal with many of the pressing problems that exist there rather than producing his usual anecdotes about gay and lesbian groups. When I check up on what the hon. Member says about his borough, and I always do that, I often find that his "facts" and reality do not always coincide. I suspect that was another example.
It is not down simply to the boroughs. I am talking about attitudes that affect everyone, even Labour Members. People do not consider dropping litter as a particularly heinous crime. It is part of the attitude on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) rightly attacked all hon. Members. We are not isolated from the attitudes of people outside the House of Commons. When I asked other hon. Members why they drop rubbish, one hon. Friend replied, "If I collected it up, they would probably sack the cleaner." He considered that 639 he was part of a job creation scheme trying to foster employment among cleaners. Perhaps under latter-day Tories, that is precisely the case and perhaps my hon. Friend had a far more sophisticated political attitude than I do. Perhaps he knows that, under the Government, if everyone stops dropping litter they will not encourage services and re-employ the people who were picking up the litter: they will sack them. Perhaps my hon. Friend had a point, but because of my background I could not go around dropping litter even if it were part of an extended job creation programme.
Let me say something nice about the Government—I can probably do that for the next 30 seconds or so. 1990 is to be Tidy Britain Year. I welcome that initiative. I must say to the Minister that every year should be Tidy Britain Year. However, I trust that it will not be a year of silly gimmicks such as those from the Prime Minister in the past. For example, the Prime Minister's interest in litter and the state of London streets seem to date precisely from June 1986 when she was coming back from Heathrow airport to No. 10 Downing street in her bullet-proof Daimler—she does not travel on the train—having visited Israel where she was particularly impressed by the cleanliness of the streets. It was a shame about the dead bodies on the West Bank, but the streets were nice and clean. That obviously impressed her so she decided to call in another of her initiatives.
We had that ludicrous photo-opportunity in St. James's park when specially placed, no doubt sanitised, litter was put down for the Prime Minister to spike and put into a black plastic bag which was being held by a very sullen and embarrassed-looking Secretary of State. However, he always looks sullen. If someone told him that he had won £1 million on the pools he would manage to look miserable about it. However, he looked particularly miserable and sullen and embarrassed on that ludicrous occasion. If the Prime Minister had been collecting a few choice dog turds, I might have applauded her and thought that at least she had the courage of her convictions, but very nice clean litter was put down for her to stick in a bag. It made her look extraordinarily silly, almost as silly as the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth, who is rising to his feet.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
I have sat here for quite some time listening to the hon. Gentleman. Although I am hobbling, at least I am not at home watching the Test match and have come here to do my duty in Parliament. I have listened for quite some time to the hon. Gentleman's insults to our Prime Minister. He has forgotten that when the Prime Minister came to office she wanted to change people's attitudes. She felt that if they owned the properties in which they lived they would start to take pride in them. They would not send a card to the council if they had a draught under a door or if a cupboard would not fit; they would start to mend it themselves. They would not throw litter into their own front gardens and then phone the council to come and clear it up because, in trying to enable everyone to become a home owner, the Prime Minister was trying to build character. I like to think that it is the same character that has brought me here today.
§ Mr. Banks
As I have said, I welcome the hon. Gentleman. He is wise to be here rather than watching 640 England being slaughtered in the Test match. I am sure that he is here because of his civic duty rather than wanting to close his eyes to yet another English massacre.
I do not think that the Prime Minister has brought about the pride or spirit about which the hon. Gentleman spoke. As I have said, she has encouraged selfishness and greed and stress on the individual. As long as the individual is doing fine, devil take the hindmost. That is the Government's philosophy. It does not build community spirit. It makes those who are doing OK feel good, but it makes a large number of people who are casualties of the system feel that they are pariahs or that there is something wrong with them. Litter is symptomatic of the attitude that the Prime Minister has spent so much time encouraging.
The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth is a valiant defender of the Prime Minister. I hope that sooner or later he will be suitably rewarded either with political office or some honour. He is a champion in his ability to defend the indefensible.
I was talking about 1990 and Tidy Britain Year. I trust that it will not consist of yet more ineffective initiatives and photo-opportunities for the Prime Minister and Ministers. For example, UK 2000 was an initiative launched in 1986 under the chairmanship of Richard Branson—Mr. Rubbish as he became known. That has not worked. It was launched with an enormous amount of shouting by the Prime Minister and Conservative politicians, but its litter programme has disappeared.
At the invitation of the Department of the Environment the Tidy Britain Group, formerly the Keep Britain Tidy Group, reviewed its strategy and approach in 1987. The result was a clean-90s programme launched by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State in March 1988. As I have said, that was when we had the ludicrous photo-opportunity with the Prime Minister picking up litter.
The Tidy Britain Group became the sole Government agent in litter matters from April 1988. It took on a more active campaigning role. Government funding for the group increased in 1988–89 from £560,000 to £1.2 million to finance the clean-90s campaign. The funding was further increased by an announcement on 15 December last year saying that the grant would be pushed tip to £3 million for 1989–90. That is pathetic. That is a Britainwide initiative yet the Government are providing only £3 million at a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is bragging about the kitty being awash with money. Of course, he cannot spend any of it because of the problem that would cause for inflation and, although the figures are appalling now, they could get worse. The Chancellor could spend more of that money on providing additional resources for the Tidy Britain Group and for the initiatives that the Government keep saying they want to deal with litter.
It is noticeable that the Tidy Britain Group has been looking at the litter problems around motorway service stations and beside major trunk roads. One of the service stations it has opted to study is near Grantham. I wondered why it chose a service station near Grantham when it could have picked any service station on any motorway. Of course, even Conservative Members can grasp the reason for that. It is a gimmick with no resources behind it. It is a chance for a good photo-opportunity for the Prime Minister or Ministers and will provide a few more television slots. Ultimately, it does not amount to 641 anything. If the Government cannot be judged by actions rather than words and gimmicks, the Minister—I have a high regard for her as a person—and her colleagues cannot be serious about the problems of litter in this country.
We need a series of proposals and we need to change the law in respect of litter dropping. Police enforcement of the Litter Act 1983 has been described by the Tidy Britain Group as pathetic. In 1987 the Metropolitan police made 18 prosecutions—one for every 1,500 officers. The average fine in 1987 was £35, which is less than the cost of bringing the prosecution. The possible maximum fine available is £400. Fines as low as £5 do not encourage police officers to recognise that enforcement of the litter law is important or act as a deterrent against dropping litter. The police say that the requirement to prove intent causes difficulties.
There needs to be a strengthening of the law, and dropping litter should be an absolute offence without having to prove intent to leave it behind. It is ludicrous. Someone can drop a cigarette packet and when challenged by a police officer say that they intended to go back for it later. In that way, they have not committed a crime. That reduces the law to an absurdity and that is why niether enforcement officers nor members of the public take it seriously.
The police force's current commitment to policing by objectives and priorities may have inhibited police officers in their enforcement of the litter laws, considering that they have little priority and it is not a cost-effective task. When we complain to the police, when the London group of Labour Members of Parliament meets the Metropolitan police Commissioner, he says that he does not have the bodies to be able to do anything about it. He says, "Would you rather I reduced the number of crimes of violence, car thefts and burglaries or chased litter louts?" Of course, there is only one answer. If it means that we have to provide more resources for the police, so be it. That is what the Government should do. That would be willing the means to fulfil the ends.
It is a question of enforcement and the resources to carry it out. If the police had to pay the bill for clearing up the massive amounts of litter dropped on our streets, they might change their views on whether it is cost-effective to stop the rubbish being deposited in the first place. The best approach is to devolve the responsibility to local authorities together with responsibilities for traffic wardens, on which negotiations are currently taking place.
There has been mention of the Westminster initiative and the City of Westminster Act 1988. That gave the local authority employees power to issue fixed penalty tickets for litter offenders. In practice, some 70 to 80 employees, while engaged on their normal duties, are given that power. They have approached about 700 people in the past year. They always give the offender an opportunity to pick up the litter before issuing the ticket. Only four people have refused to pick up the litter and were issued with a ticket. One refused to pay the £10 fixed penalty and was subsequently fined £40 with £35 costs.
The scheme has not had a major impact but it may have started a change of attitude in the areas in which it operates. That is why the local authorities, the Association of London Authorities and the London Boroughs 642 Association have asked for the powers to be given to all local authorities. I hope that the Minister will say something about that.
On the matter of enforcement, the Government must strengthen and simplify the litter laws and specify a higher minimum penalty with an absolute offence for dropping litter. They must ensure that the police are aware that enforcement of the litter laws is a priority. They must also ensure that the magistrates impose realistic fines on those convicted of littering. Also, they must give all local authorities power to enforce the litter laws.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) talked about privatisation. The Government find it easy to lay the duty of care for a clean environment on the local authorities. That is what the Secretary of State has said. At the same time, they tie hands of local authorities with legislation on competitive tendering.
I do not believe that competition will improve cleansing services. Accepting the lowest quote will not ensure clean streets, but will involve local authorities in a constant round of performance monitoring and of imposing penalties, as they have had to do in Wandsworth and Merton. When those penalties mount up to such an extent that the private company must default, the local authority will still be responsible for clearing up the streets. However, it will no longer have the resources or the work force to do the job. Placing responsibility entirely on a local authority and allowing ratepayers to take it to court is wholly misdirected. I have tried to make the case for increased resources for local authorities.
The London borough of Newham is divided by the A11 and the A13. We must tolerate the environmental pollution of hundreds of thousands of vehicles screaming through the borough. In fact, vehicles do not scream through the borough, because if hon. Members know what the A11 and A13 are like they will be aware that it is quicker to walk over the roofs of the cars rather than drive. Further problems are caused by people throwing their litter out of car windows, and their cars' exhaust fumes pollute our environment.
Commuter parking in the borough makes street cleansing more difficult. Cleaners cannot get into gulleys, which leads to the need for night and weekend cleansing. However, that involves more resources for the local authority because it demands higher wage rates and better conditions for the people who do that filthy but vital work.
I should like to make a firm proposal. All hon. Members have their own proposals, and earlier the hon. Member for Basildon suggested a good proposal. I wish him well tonight on his midnight patrol. After close examination, we now understand that his patrol will begin at 9 pm. I hope that he manages to survive. If he does not, as Basildon is a marginal seat another Labour Member of Parliament will be elected. I shall not tell any of my friends in the east end to hang around in Basildon from 9 pm onwards, but at least the hon. Member for Basildon has some pride in his local community. I recommend the hon. Member for Basildon's attitude to his local authority to the hon. Member for Ealing, North, because if he was as supportive of his local authority as the hon. Member for Basildon is of his council, Ealing would be a much nicer place to live.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
If I supported my local authority I should be supporting cuts in refuse collection and street 643 cleansing. My duty is to oppose such cuts and achieve proper cleaning of our streets to get rid of the epidemic of rats and litter.
§ Mr. Banks
Since 1983, I have never heard the hon. Gentleman say a nice word about his borough, and he should examine his conscience carefully in that regard. He should argue for more resources for the London borough of Ealing, instead of continually asking for it to be rate capped. He should take a leaf out of the book of the hon. Member for Basildon.
I should like the London borough of Newham and other areas to have street wardens, who could deal with the range of street problems such as illegal parking, litter, unlicensed vehicles, and owners who allow their dogs to foul streets and paths. They should have the power to enforce socially responsible attitudes on our streets. However, that would deal only with the symptoms of the problem; its core goes deep into the philosophy of this Government and the social attitudes that they encourage. Those attitudes will not change until the Government change.
All shops should be required by law to provide bins outside their premises. The hon. Member for Chelmsford mentioned cash dispensers. The Midland bank has installed a cash dispenser at Forest Gate that provides receipts. People who use it leave their receipts all over the ground. The Midland bank should be required to put a litter bin immediately under its cash dispenser. It certainly makes enough money from the overdraft that I have with it to provide bins below cash dispensers throughout the country. Indeed, it could probably finance the cost of every bin from my overdraft.
Fast food chains should be required to collect litter within a quarter mile radius of their shops. Most people who use such shops dump their litter within 400 yd of the shop. McDonalds, Wimpy, Kentucky Fried Chicken and other such shops that purvey fairly disgusting food should collect litter within a quarter mile radius of their shops.
We cannot deal with the problems of litter by gimmick or exhortation, even if the gimmick and exhortation emanate from 10 Downing street. We need legal remedies such as those that I have specified and investment in infrastructure and cleansing services. Above all, if we are to achieve a long-term solution to litter and mess in our streets, we need a change in social attitudes. We need to restore pride in public ownership and the community, which we will never get from the Prime Minister or the Government. However, we certainly shall get it from a Socialist Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock).
§ Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). What he lacks in content he makes up for in noise.
I did not expect my motion to be called today as originally it was number three in the ballot. Although, fortunately, my motion now appears second on the Order Paper, I am aware, from my 20 years of opposition in Sheffield and on South Yorkshire county council, that people such as myself are unable to control time. I note that Opposition Members keep entering the Chamber and preparing to make speeches.
644 I am sad to see that no other hon. Members representing Sheffield constituencies are present to discuss regeneration of Sheffield.
§ Mr. Patnick
We know not yet; miracles have happened before.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West, in his own inimitable manner, attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens), who is a thin, shy, unassuming and quiet person. He was upset by the attacks made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, and on his behalf I spring to his defence. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West is a man of few words, which are often spoken at great length. His attacks on my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment were not only in bad taste but were unwarranted, and I do not understand why he had to make them. There is plenty of scope for debate on litter without a need to make personal attacks.
On 1 November 1988, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister congratulated the Keep Britain Tidy efforts and said that she was ready to use the law. She said that if necessary, individuals would be forced to take responsibility for the areas immediately in front of their premises. My right hon. Friend called for a new clean-up campaign which should be supported actively by every individual. She said:There could be a major improvement in the appearance of our towns and cities if people did not throw down litter".—[Official Report, 1 November 1988; Vol. 139, c. 820.]She said that if litter were thrown down, people should pick it up.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West nearly fooled me. I thought that he had become the invisible man, but he had merely moved around the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman said that we should use the arm of the law and referred to the police. I envisage a new arm of law enforcement, similar to the lollipop ladies and gentlemen, which would have a specific responsibility to deal with litter and graffiti. Although those who throw litter and spray graffitti on the walls are breaking the law, we should not use the police to deal with them. It is wrong, too, that traffic wardens are responsible to the police, although they deal with road traffic offences. I believe that an establishment within the bodies involved in law enforcement could be created to ensure that those who drop litter, spray paint on walls and put up posters illegally feel the force of the law.
The Tube, railway and bus stations, the airports and railway carriages are natural and national litter magnets. It is odd that the cleanest spots in London are the platforms at Westminster Tube station. Spain, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) referred, is litter-strewn. Footpaths are paved for only part of their length. The most litter-strewn country that I have ever seen is Gibraltar.
Litter is a phenomenon that I have come to know. When I was a member of Sheffield city council, it was normal for members to throw all the papers that they did not need on the floor. When I asked why, I was told that if the papers were left on the desks, the cleaners would put them into the members' lockers, so the next time the members opened them, they would see all the papers that 645 they wanted disposed of. The Sheffield city council chamber is a quaint place in which to work. It now has an ample number of litter baskets.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) and the hon. Member for Newham, Noth-West pointed out, there is nowhere in the Chamber to put papers, save for the slots in front of the Benches. It is normal for Members to throw their papers on the Floor. Those who look into the Chamber when television is with us will be able to see the way in which we generate paper and what we do with it. We must set an example. Something needs to be done about the paper bombardment. Recently, I was a member of the Committee on the local Government and Housing Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) had a good idea. He placed a large paper sack at the back of the Committee room, into which we were able to throw all our waste paper.
The battle against litter is never-ending. Litter reflects a lack of civic pride and says more about a place than any publicity machine. Residents require clean streets and pavements, grass verges to be cut and cars not to be parked on grass verges or pavements. The first step in dereliction is the growth of litter, which is followed by the growth of graffiti, followed by fly-posting.
Sheffield, where I have lived all my life and which I represent, built an incinerator to burn rubbish at Bernard road in Sheffield. The idea was that the heat produced would be used to give some local council dwellings hot water and central heating. In the mess that resulted from the Local Government Act 1972—which I accept was introduced by my Government—when better was thought to be greater, the monster of the South Yorkshire county council was set up. One stupidity was that Sheffield city council collected the waste and South Yorkshire county council disposed of it. The incinerator at Bernard road no longer belonged to Sheffield city council but belonged to South Yorkshire county council. The waste was collected by the city council, taken to the county council for disposal, the county council burnt it and produced heat. It was not Sheffield city council's heat; it had to be sold to it. It was nonsense. We were generating rubbish, having the rubbish collected and taking the rubbish to the incinerator, but it was burnt there and we had to buy the heat from the power station. If ever Topsy ruled and if ever bureaucracy went mad, that was an example, and if there was ever a reason for getting rid of the metropolitan county councils, that was a good reason, if not the only one.
In South Yorkshire, we had a catchment area of 1.million people, as opposed to the 600,000-odd in Sheffield. We did not manufacture enough waste. There was not sufficient rubbish for the power station to burn. Sadly, an alteration had to be made at times to the incinerator to allow it to generate heat and give hot water in periods when rubbish was not available throughout the county. Imagine the hoo-ha when the huge district heating system broke down. I subscribe to the theory that the larger and more complicated something is, the greater the likelihood of it going wrong. Sure enough, the system used to go wrong and the problems had to be seen to be believed. There was a shortage of rubbish despite the increase in packaging.
646 When one buys a shirt from one of the major stores, one has to remove the pins, the collar stiffeners, the lovely little piece of plastic in the front, the pieces of cardboard and, depending on how up-market or down-market the shirt is, a lovely piece of tissue paper. There is always a plastic bag surrounding all the other packaging. If the shirt is really up-market, it will be inside a box that has to be thrown away. I have no shares in Marks and Spencer, but I have seen sweaters hanging up there with only a little label with the size printed on it. That is a good step forward. However, despite the increase in packaging, we were short of rubbish to burn in South Yorkshire.
Sheffield also uses a combined heat and power and recycling process. It was pioneered in Sheffield and my hon. Friend the Minister was there recently to open the project. We build housing away from the incinerators and disposal areas because nobody wants to be near an industrial area, and I agree with that. None the less, industry is a source of power. We can all remember the cooling towers that seemed to give off sufficient heat. Surely there must be some way to use that heat. Sheffield has pioneered that project, among others.
As I said in an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), litter, fly-posting and graffiti are one and the same problem and when combined with vandalism, the decline of our area begins.
I listened to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West when he was talking about the piece of paper that comes out when one goes to a cash dispenser. Some banks give a choice about whether one wants a printed receipt. Banks could—and I am not referring to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West—take action to eliminate that piece of paper. I am sure that few people know where to put the piece of paper when they take it out of the machine. I have heard that only multi-millionaires do not have to worry about money. Most of us when we take money out of a cash dispenser are pleased when something comes out and most cross when there is nothing there. We are shocked when the machine shows our balance. I have said, "Oh God", a number of times when I have read the balance figure. We could be positive and ask banks to get rid of those slips of paper.
Posters are stuck on anything which does not move: shop windows, walls, telephone kiosks and any bit of street furniture. Fly-posting brings down the tone of an area. It is highly likely that the perpetrators of these blemishes on the landscape are totally unaware of their contravention of the law and the risk of prosecution. Like general litterers, fly-posters leave their trademark. They probably would not do so if they had even a basic knowledge of the law, they may have a good reason for believing that nothing drastic will happen to them if they flout the law.
Many authorities take great pride in the smart appearance of their area. However, it must be admitted that vast areas have some increasingly tatty and uncared for parts, and fly-posting contributes a great deal to that. Usually, the advertisements give sufficient detail to track down those who have stuck them up.
My understanding of the law is that the person putting up the poster is the one who is prosecuted. That is wrong; I believe that the advertisers should be stopped from fly-posting. We have all seen the posters advertising anything from pop concerts and records to political fringe party meetings. Those posters are stuck on telephone kiosks and any piece of street furniture which does not 647 move. I have even seen them on traffic lights, nailed to telegraph poles and put around lamp stands. Something should be done about that.
I do not wish to advocate legal action on a large scale, but warnings by letter of the consequences of further breaches of the law to the more obvious and persistent offenders, together with the help of local newspapers, might do the trick. There is an increasing number of environmental interest groups. The deterioration of the urban and, to a lesser degree, the rural scene, by litter of all types, including fly-posting, is the subject of much complaint. Extensive powers have already been given to public bodies to tackle fly-posting. There is sufficient legislation to do so, but there must be a willingness to take action.
An article in The Times in 1987 said that a bus company was considering suing vandals who had caused £2 million worth of damage to its vehicles with spray cans. Such actions of vandalism are the worst type. Stiffer sentences were urged in an article on graffiti vandals which appeared in a publication in Sheffield more than a year ago, on 10 June 1988. It said that the battle against graffiti was costing the council £250,000 per year.
Something must be done about the subways, which are a part of town and city life. They should be for traffic, not people. Pedestrian subways are a breeding ground for litter, graffiti, fly-posting and vandalism. They should be closed, and alternative ways found to enable people to go about their daily business. The underpass between King's Cross and St. Pancras, an area I know well, is not a nice place, late at night, but it is the only way to cross that area. There are subways in Sheffield permeated by a similar atmosphere.
One feature I have noticed since becoming a Member of Parliament and travelling to London is the fly-tipping and tipping of waste that takes place in London on roadsides, near roundabouts and underneath motorways. All sorts of places seem to be a magnet for people who want to get rid of a load of rubbish. If they do so, they are not only committing a prosecutable offence but damaging the environment.
I live next to countryside in Sheffield and I see many respectable people wheeling barrows full of clippings and rubbish to tip in the beautiful bluebell woods, which are one of Sheffield's features. They would not leave a pile of rubbish on their own carpet, yet they are prepared to leave it on the carpet which belongs to everyone, of grass and the natural environment.
As I explained, I was a leading member of the opposition in Sheffield council. Sheffield has some quite innovative schemes in place. For example, we have a collection scheme for garden refuse and large, strong plastic sacks are provided. We also have an abandoned car collection scheme, which I greatly admire. One of the greatest things that Sheffield has done in the fight against litter and pollution was to be among the first cities to enforce the clean air legislation. That cost a lot of money. Everyone used to think of Sheffield as a blackened city but now it is clean and attractive. One of our great problems is created by starlings, pigeons and now, seagulls, which seem suddenly to have found that the city is better than their normal habitat.
Sheffield also has a furniture collection scheme. One can ring up and a van or lorry will arrive on which one can load one's rubbish. Like other cities, we have bottle banks. I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West 648 and my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford that we should reimpose a deposit system for bottles. At the moment, we put bottles in bins or bags and they add to the volume of waste. It is a waste of our natural resources to have a firm churning out bottles only for them to be thrown away. That does not seem sensible. Bottle banks should be placed outside large stores. They should be obliged to provide such a facility. Many stores are into the environment. As part of that environmental kick they could provide bottle banks. Some stores put waste paper bins outside. There is a branch of McDonald's in Victoria, not far from where I live. McDonald's is one of the firms that employs people to pick up the litter round their premises and sweep the pavements. The larger stores have an obligation to do something to help people dispose of bottles. It would be progress indeed if companies were prepared to do that.
I thoroughly enjoy reading newspapers but they are the bane of my life. My late father used to keep newspapers around so that eventually one could not get near him without pulling a newspaper away. I inherited that tendency. It was in my genes. I discovered that I was doing it at home. My wife used to throw the papers in the bin and I could be seen at midnight with a torch searching for a newspaper that I considered vital. It was a beautiful sight. I always found the wrong newspaper and, in any case, it was never as important as it seemed. I now realise that following in my father's footsteps and hoarding newspapers in not a way forward. In Sheffield I take about four newspapers a day. We have to do something with them. We can burn them, or throw them in the bin, which means that they will be tipped but there seems to be no collection service. We have bottle banks so why do we not have newspaper banks in which to throw newspaper for recycling?
As I said earlier, we do not use our resources very well. We should give people an incentive to take their litter to a given point in the fear that they will pay a penalty if they do not. The police have far too much to do in maintaining law and order on the large scale, but although litter offences may be minor offences they can cause great upset. We should find a way of imposing a penalty on those who leave litter. I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that we do not want a £10 or a £5 fine, but we could have an on-the-spot fine.
§ Mr. Dickens
My hon. Friend has been telling us some of Sheffield's success stories. He may be pleased to hear that in one of the villages in my constituency we have a road cleaner called Raymond Watkins. He is such a good road cleaner that he will do anything at any hour of the day to keep the village clean. Such is his reputation that people no longer throw rubbish away because they know that poor old Raymond will have to deal with it. The local authority has suggested that Raymond Watkins should move to another place, and 300 people have signed a petition pleading with it not to move him.
We should not forget that much can be achieved by example. It is a question of attitude, although we tend to forget that. It is terribly important that we should set a good example at home and at school.
§ Mr. Patnick
I accept what my hon. Friend says about street cleaners taking pride in their work. I usually meet one in the mornings because his beat is close to where I collect some of my four daily newspapers. He is always 649 smiling and happy. There is a very good fish and chip shop near where I live, but unfortunately the birds take the fish and chip wrappings out of the bins and strew them over the pavements. That street cleaner's first job is to clear up the mess left by those birds.
I recently wrote to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office asking whether anything could be done about fly-posting. It appears that, as ever, there is a strong law on that, but no one wants to enforce it. Under section 6 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1984 any advertisement must receive either the deemed or the express consent of the local planning authority or the Secretary of State. A condition of that consent is that before any advertisement is displayed, the permission of the owner of the site must be obtained. We all know that those who put up fly posters do not bother to do that. If they see a nice stretch of wall, a shop window boarded-up or a "To Let" sign, they stick their posters all over it. It is cumulative, because someone else then puts his poster over that poster and then another person puts another one over that. It looks so tatty. Sheffield city council actually employs men with steam guns—they are masked and look as though they come from Mars—to remove fly posters.
Believe it or not, Sheffield city council leases premises to the very people who put up fly posters. If there is to be a concert in council-owned premises and fly posters advertising that concert are put up, the council should take action against those who perpetrate that crime on the environment. Unfortunately, that just does not happen. It is surely not difficult to discover who is running the concert, who is appearing, where one can buy tickets and so on.
There are statutory fines for offenders who paint graffiti on walls. One of the problems with graffiti, especially that done with spray paint cans, is that there does not appear to be any way of obliterating the paint once it has been sprayed on. Some of that graffiti is not only racist, it is obscene. Some of it is just childish in the extreme. It makes me wonder what sort of intelligent person uses a spray can. Some of the graffiti appears to be quite professional.
Many hon. Members have said that the people who use spray cans to write graffiti are artists. As one comes by train to London one sees graffiti on the walls of various buildings, but graffiti is another sin or crime against the environment. We need graffiti-proof paint. One thing that I have noticed since I have been a Member of the House is that Tube trains have had to have graffiti removed from them. I do not know which is worse, graffiti or the marks that remain when it is removed. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to come up with a spray-paint-proof treatment for railway train carriages. Somebody could say, "The next thing that they will do is spray-paint the walls." That is not where it is done. It is obviously done in sidings where trains are parked.
The Criminal Damage Act 1971 provides thatA person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage"—It is always hard when one reads legal expressions; they never make sense except to lawyers—any such property or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged shall be guilty of an offence.650 In my language, it is an offence to damage somebody else's property. When an hon. Member puts down a resolution in the House, it needs either a semicolon or a colon to make it read.
The maximum sentence, covering a wide range of activities, is 10 years' imprisonment, if the offender is convicted on indictment—that is, after a trial by judge and jury in a Crown court rather than before a magistrate. Graffiti writing will invariably be regarded as one of the less serious forms of criminal damage, and offenders are likely to be dealt with by a magistrate.
The Public Order Act 1986 also covers several relevant offences. Graffiti that is likely or intended to stir up racial hatred may render the writer liable to prosecution under section 18 of the Act. The Attorney-General's consent is required before proceedings for an offence under that section can be brought. The maximum penalty for a person convicted on indictment is two years' imprisonment, a fine, or both. If the person is convicted summarily by a magistrate, the maximum penalty is six months, a fine or both. There is little case law on either of those provisions, but it seems likely that, in certain circumstances, they extend to graffiti writers.
Obviously, the police will take the first steps in the process leading to trial. The new enforcement arm that I continue to advocate should be responsible for that. Whether an offender is reported, arrested or merely cautioned is a discretionary matter for the police officers concerned. When the process is started, it is for the Crown prosecution service to decide to bring charges. If it decides to charge someone, it will also choose the offence with which that person is to be charged. The Crown prosecution service examines two sets of criteria—evidential sufficiency and public interest—as the Crown prosecutors' code explains.
If a person is tried and convicted of criminal damage or of an offence under the Public Order Act 1986, a variety of penalties will be available within the statutory maximum. The Home Office has provided a guide book summarising the penalties for offenders in different age groups.
The Criminal Justice Act 1988 replaces youth custody and detention centre orders with unified custodial sentences. Parents can be ordered to pay any fines, costs or compensatory orders imposed on their children, and the Act extends that provision to fines imposed when juveniles breach supervision or community service orders.
Vandalism is a key factor in parliamentary debates on the subject of litter. There are discussions with people working in Government Departments, local authorities, the police and the academic world, but there has been little if any systematic research into vandalism nationally, so my remarks illustrate only one small part of the subject. It is important not to get vandalism out of proportion. Although a great deal of damage is done to property such as buses, trains and telephone kiosks, it is not really vandalism—in the sense that public telephones, for example are not wrenched from their mountings and thrown away.
I shall bear in mind the remarks of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West about the right housing policies being axiomatic in solving many problems. The current trend of devising more humane designs and layouts will help, particularly if special attention is paid to eliminating features known to encourage vandalism.
The move away from smaller housing units was started in the 1960s by a Conservative Government, even though 651 the shortcomings of such property were capable of being overcome. In those days it was thought that plumbing was the yardstick by which the fitness of a house should be measured. The criteria were an inside toilet, hot water and a bathroom, as well as a ventilated food cupboard. The layout of rooms was another factor. Many is the time that I have appeared either at a public inquiry in connection with a compulsory purchase or clearance order to decide on the fitness of certain housing. However, there is now a move back to smaller houses and away from flats, and there is increasing recognition among local authorities that there is a need for private housing. Nevertheless, there are certain difficult policy areas where a firm steer by central Government would be useful. They include the importance of maintenance as opposed to new building.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I realise from listening to the hon. Gentleman that litter covers a multitude of sins, but his present remarks are wide of the motion.
§ Mr. Patnick
Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Litter is more than just a question of the indiscriminate throwing away of rubbish. It is also about the way in which people live. It has to do, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth with the way that people are brought up. The blind spots often occur at semi-public spaces on housing estates. Litter can be not only pieces of paper but beds and furniture. When I visited Vauxhall for the recent by-election, I saw dumped there beds, settees and bags of rubbish, as did my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment who accompanied me. We saw also black plastic sacks that had not been collected by the local authority.
Litter accumulates even in unoccupied buildings; people seem to break in and put it there. There is also the rubbish that is put through letter boxes. When householders have gone away, free newspapers and so forth are still delivered. In derelict areas that are being redeveloped or rehabilitated, we must ensure that what remains is tidied up. Old retaining walls, for instance, are breeding grounds for litter and graffiti, and old fireplaces and bathroom suites are also thrown on to vacant land.
We must keep the streets clean and tidy. A street should not look its worst immediately after the dustmen have called. More provision must be made for the disposal of household rubbish, and rubble should not be left lying around building sites. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) made the important point that lorries are loaded with rubbish that does not seem to be fastened down or covered with a net. It blows all over the street, with the driver unaware of what is happening.
I welcome the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) to the Opposition Front Bench, where I hope she spends many a happy year.
Maintenance is vital, and we must ensure that the councils catch up with the problem. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) for giving us the opportunity to debate it. We must persevere. We also have a duty to set an example. The Benches today are rather a pleasant sight without the litter that we see at 2 or 3 am.
Litter was one of the subjects that I wanted to raise when I first came to the House, and I hope that my hon. 652 Friend the Minister will tell us that a new enforcement officer—a "litter lady" or "litter-pop man"—can be appointed to deal with the first stage in prosecutions and to make people aware of the penalties.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
The speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) was something of an occasion. He spoke for 41 minutes. As he told us at the outset, the hon. Gentleman has second place on the Order Paper with a subject of his own—Sheffield—and I am rather pleased that he has spoken at such length, because I, as a neighbour of Sheffield, cannot now be accused of attempting to stop him speaking. Although he is obviously interested in the subject of litter, I found it interesting that he should make it more difficult for himself to speak in a later debate.
§ Mr. Patnick
It was pretty obvious to me that, with so few Opposition Members present, the Opposition would not allow an opportunity for the second debate
§ Mr. Barnes
As the hon. Gentleman said earlier, we have yet to see what happens. I understand his frustration, however. Last week I drew second place for a debate on the poll tax but did not get the opportunity to speak, and last Friday a Scottish Member had the same experience with a debate on the same subject.
Another interesting feature of the hon. Gentleman's speech was the number of references that he made to Sheffield. He mentioned bottle banks, patrols and other services. I had the feeling that he was beginning to miss Sheffield very much. Perhaps he has discovered that the council is not as obnoxious as he sometimes claimed when he was leader of the opposition there, and has decided it is more fruitful to be involved in local politics. I hope that he will have that opportunity again after the next general election.
I understand that advances have already been made by the district council into the Hallam area. Strangely enough, the hon. Member for Hallam is waxing lyrical about Sheffield council, although I, as a member of the same political party that runs Sheffield, object to a number of things that the council is doing, not least its plans to extend its boundaries and take over the northern part of my constituency. If I survive the next general election, that will make me a Member of Parliament for a Sheffield constituency. Therefore, if we had the second debate on the Order Paper, a Member of Parliament would be here to respond to points made by the hon. Member for Hallam.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will correct one statement that he made. In a long speech, it is difficult to be as precise as one would wish, but he referred to graffiti connected with racism and suggested that there was much worse graffiti than that, including obscenities. I believe that racism is the worst possible type of obscenity. I hope that the hon. Member for Hallam agrees with me.
The procedures of the House are very strange. Yesterday, I tried desperately to speak in the debates on Northern Ireland, especially in the debate about direct rule. I sat patiently waiting to speak but was unable even to intervene during the Minister's speech. Today, I came to listen to a debate on litter and found that a big ideological battle was going on, allowing hon. Members to refer to many concerns about the direction of party politics. Many 653 of us who object to the characteristics of an increasingly crass, capitalist society believe that litter is the mark of a capitalist society and that if we move in a different political direction we shall solve the litter problem and other problems that are associated with it.
I intend, therefore, to refer to issues that might be considered to be of an ideological nature, just as I had intended to do yesterday in the debates on Northern Ireland. It is time that the ideological case for democracy and Socialism was put forward at all opportunities, just as Conservative Members put forward the ideological case for the enterprise culture at every opportunity. Democracy and Socialism would be able to tackle many of the problems that we face.
Associated problems connected with litter are dog mess, noise, lack of care for one's neighbours, queue jumping and other anti-social activities. The throwing around of rubbish adds to the nuisance. Many of the problems were referred to by the hon. Member for Hallam, but he provided no analysis. Therefore, the earlier ideological debate vanished. A much more pragmatic view was put forward by the hon. Gentleman, and he drew considerably on Sheffield council's experience.
A sea change in social attitudes is needed. During the war, and in post-war Britain, there was a much more collectivist response by people to litter, noise and anti-social activities. People believed that it was their public duty to behave in a reasonable and decent manner towards their neighbours. That attitude is breaking down, though it has not broken down entirely. Many people still behave in a perfectly reasonable and decent way. If it were not for that, there would be nothing for Socialists and democrats to build upon and we would be in a desperate situation. The whole basis of an enterprise culture is that people should advance themselves, live their own lives and follow their individual concerns without bothering about anyone else. That means that people's lives are affected by others who are simply acting selfishly. We have to revert to the position that came out of war-time experiences and was built upon in the post-war consensus but is now seriously under attack.
That is not to say that everything is down to the Prime Minister and everything is a consequence of Thatcherism. She did not build a grasping capitalist society or create the get-rich-quick mentality. That already existed. She has simply unleashed the political expression of that which was already there in the economic and social nature of society.
In earlier times, many Conservatives believed in the values of civic duty and responsibility. It appears in some of the older Conservative Members who still reflect the traditional Conservative values, but it is beginning to disappear. Conservatives such as Disraeli felt that there should be training and education which, although it was elitist, meant that the leaders that it produced would have some responsibility towards the rest of society and would try to spread the values of civic duty and responsibility throughout society. The Macmillan set of values has bitten the dust and the crudest form of free-enterprise advocacy imaginable has developed in Britain. It was rife in certain Right-wing circles in Europe and has always existed in America. American society is not particularly adept at handling problems such as litter and noise. It is an aggressive, self-assertive attitude in which people say, 654 "Give me my rights and don't give anyone else theirs." It is asserting itself in Britain and has been mentioned by several Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). Obviously, he has a different response to such problems.
Personal responsibility is a matter of arguing with people—not just lecturing them and telling them that they should behave and respond in a certain way or they will become totally disgusting. It may be that the law needs to be changed, as has been suggested. We need a sea change in attitudes that currently reflect the commercialised values that have bounded forth from the United States of America to be grabbed by political forces in the Conservative party. There has been a coup, those attitudes have taken over and the old guard has disappeared. All that needs to be changed dramatically as it is based on the silliest notions of human behaviour, assuming that people are out for what they can grasp for themselves and must be considered in terms of their competitiveness and that the best of all worlds would be to have a regulatory system in politics, economics and social affairs, although it would retain the existing low levels of behaviour. It assumes that people are incapable of co-operating and working together and assisting each other, yet those qualities come to the fore in a crisis, difficulty and disaster. We need to nurture those attitudes and responsibilities.
We need to get rid of the Government and advance in an entirely different direction so that Socialist and democratic values can be linked together. Socialism without democracy becomes bureaucratic abuse such as the current nonsense in China and is highly dangerous. Democracy without Socialism is what we have in Britain and although it has advantages over the dictatorial regime, is a low-level, sham philosophy that does not try to raise anyone's horizons or get them to behave responsibly towards the needs of others and seek to assist them, as is illustrated by the mess and corruption that exists in economics and is reflected in problems such as litter which is associated with economic issues.
Everything our society produces has an inbuilt obsolescence. The hon. Member for Hallam talked about shopping for a shirt. As he said, one does not buy only a shirt because it comes with all sorts of status symbols, pins, bags and so on. That unnecessary rubbish has to be dumped. If society is already uncaring and all that unnecessary rubbish is forced on it, the rubbish will not be disposed of correctly.
That occurs throughout our society. For example, I will be catching the train later to travel to Sheffield. Having been busy in the House one may be in need for sustenance during the journey. The only thing one can obtain on trains is plastic cups of coffee. There is now a new procedure whereby one plastic cup is placed inside another. Sugar is provided in a packet, milk comes in a container and one is given a disposable spoon. Therefore, simply having a cusp of coffee generates a great deal of rubbish.
I will probably need a rubbishy microwaved cheeseburger, which will be served in a container. If I want sandwiches as well, all sorts of mess will come from the wrappings. Within a short time my table will be covered with rubbish.
Last weekend, following a debate in the House on coal mining subsidence, I travelled back on the train to Sheffield with my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). We had a whole host of material on the table 655 before us. We intended to dispose of it correctly because we are responsible, but before we had an opportunity to do so, somebody passed by, looked at us and said, "Thatcherite thugs." That is what we were considered to be in today's society. We are part of society because we have to live within it. That is why, when Socialism is achieved, Socialists will be a lost generation. We will have been built on past generations. Socialism is for the future. We must begin to build on our values and transcend some of the inadequacies of our behaviour.
The hon. Member for Hallam also mentioned newspapers. When one buys a newspaper it is full of material that one does not want. It is all associated with advertising and commercialisation. It is entirely unnecessary. One has to sort out the interesting bits. Therefore, newspapers bought on trains or while travelling generally may finish up on the streets rather than in rubbish bins.
Councils face great problems in collecting rubbish because of the lack of resources. Often, socially responsible people who wish to place their rubbish in bins find that it is impossible to do so because the bins are overflowing. Such people then have to be additionally responsible and buy more rubbish bins, or another plastic bag in which to put their debris and take it home to place in their dustbin. However, that cannot be done if the dustbin is already overflowing from rubbish collected on previous occasions.
Litter reveals to me some of the massive and serious problems that exist within our society. We leave local authorities to collect rubbish. Local authorities have been hammered and bashed by the Minister and the Department for the Environment. The Government have passed 50 measures directed against local authorities since 1979 and have hampered their tackling problems such as litter. I could mention other problems that have been created by legislation, but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order.
The poll tax will increase the financial problems of local authorities and will cause more mess and rubbish on our streets. Private interests will be encouraged to tender for cleansing services, but they will be interested not in refuse collection but in increasing profits. The contracts that they will sign will probably be so lengthy and detailed that they will contribute to the litter and rubbish that is thrown around.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) will mention unnecessary packaging materials. Hon. Members receive much correspondence, much of which calls for a reply. The Halifax building society sent hon. Members a big glossy publication. Most hon. Members threw it straight into the wastepaper basket because they did not have time to read all the nonsense contained in it. Probably only hon. Members who have a particular interest in the subject read it.
Some controls must be placed on what is sent to people and we must increasingly use recycled material. The amount of rubbish and waste material that is thrown away in the House is criminal. The House is only one institution in this country and if commerce is taken into account the amount of rubbish that is thrown away could be multiplied. Fax machines and new technology will not contain or control the problem of litter but will lead to more paper and rubbish and many difficulties.
We need a sea change in our attitudes. Such a change is beginning. The Prime Minister is taking action to control litter. In St James's Park she was involved in a 656 charade in which some sanitised litter was thrown down for her to pick up. The consequences of the sudden change in her attitude to litter will be the same as the consequences of her change to green politics. Her lack of answers on green policies led to the advance of the Labour party and the Green party. Perhaps someone should set themselves up as a litter control party, or perhaps parties should include a litter policy in their manifestos. They will find a ready response in society to such policies.
An individual cannot control litter, but collectively we can begin to transform and change our society. At the next general election, it must be clearly seen that the Labour party has policies to deal with social problems. I hope that Conservative Members will act to undermine the nonsense that is being put about by their party.
§ Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
I am proud to represent the constituency of Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. Hackney has much of which to be proud—the energy and self-organisation of the people and the extent to which many colours and creeds live happily together. Last weekend, the Hackney show, which is the equivalent of a village fair, took place on Hackney downs. It was a happy event, with the young and old, people of all colours and creeds, enjoying themselves in the sunshine. It showed the best of Hackney, but rubbish and litter are serious problems which are a blight on the borough.
I should like to outline what the Government should do. There are many specific rubbish problems in Hackney. Two famous markets, Petticoat lane and Ridley road, draw people from all over London. They are marvellous places to visit, but they generate a lot of rubbish. In common with the rest of London, Hackney has many problems because of commercial rubbish, especially from shops. Not all of the 10,000 shops in Hackney make sufficient arrangements to dispose of their rubbish and not all are willing to pay the council to take it away. Only 3,000 have a contract with the council to take rubbish away, so 7,000 shops are putting out their rubbish and, presumably, waiting for the fairies to take it away. The shops put their rubbish in black bags which are placed on the pavement. They burst or are mauled by dogs and the rubbish is scattered all over the pavement. There is a problem also because of irresponsible parents whose children drop their sweet papers, cigarette packs and crisp packets. We need to encourage a more responsible attitude among the old and the young, especially children, towards dropping litter.
Another problem is the menace of stray dogs and dogs that are not on a leash in public. Like many Opposition Members and some Conservative Members, I would support a dog registration scheme in line with the proposals of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That scheme would lead to a more responsible attitude by dog owners and reduce the number of dogs roaming the streets, thereby decreasing the amount of dog dirt on the pavements, which is a health risk as well as unsightly. It would reduce the number of strays that tear up the black plastic bags of rubbish.
The efforts of planners have contributed to Hackney's rubbish problems. Like many other inner-city areas, Hackney has several estates laid out in such a way that they provide communal areas for which no one in 657 particular has responsibility. Whether they are patches of grass in the centre of estates, walkways or landings in tower blocks, they tend to collect rubbish. The old terraces may have been slums, but they had a certain spirit and people took responsibility for their front doorstep and bit of pavement. Soulless slab blocks as a result of soulless planning have replaced the slum terraces, and people do not take responsibility for the common areas, where rubbish collects.
The consumer society causes rubbish in Hackney, too. In the past decade we have seen the explosion in the consumption of take-away food—for example, hamburgers and kebabs—in their throw-away containers. They generate an enormous amount of rubbish in Hackney and all over Britain.
Rubbish is a serious problem in Hackney, for the reasons that I have outlined. At this time of the year, when the sun is shining and the blossom is on trees, the rubbish is a particular eyesore. In many ways, Hackney is a gay, vibrant and delightful place to be. Many people have written to me about the rubbish on the streets. Certain roads have terrible problems with rubbish, especially Gunton road, Shakespeare walk, Church walk and Stoke Newington high street. It is a blight and an eyesore which is making people angry.
Hackney council is well aware of people's feelings about rubbish and litter and it is doing all that it can. It is in the process of introducing some changes that it hopes may improve matters. It is trying to introduce night collections of rubbish as well as the ordinary day-time collections. Rubbish collectors will collect rubbish at night so, it is hoped, we shall wake up in the morning to a clean and sparkling borough. The council will be tougher with shopkeepers who do not make proper arrangements for the disposal of their rubbish and who are not prepared to enter into contracts with the council for disposal. The council is trying to raise the morale of its work force generally and to make the public aware of when rubbish is supposed to be collected, so if it is not collected at the correct time, the public have a number they can ring to compalin. The council is doing all that it can to deliver what the people of Hackney want, but the council cannot do everything by itself. It is fighting the trend in society, as I have said.
We face specific problems in the borough. Although all in the borough who are concerned about rubbish—of whom I am one—urge the council to continue with all it is doing and to try even harder in the future, there is no doubt that we must look to the Government eventually. What are they going to do about rubbish, litter and the environment in the inner cities, especially in boroughs such as Hackney? We do not want Britain to become like cities in America, such as New York, where the inner cities are no-go areas, sewers and dumps and the divide between the haves and have-nots becomes impossibly great? I am happy to live in a mixed community such as Hackney, and I want it to remain a mixed community where people are happy to live and to bring up their children side by side.
What can the Government do? First and foremost, if the Government are serious about rubbish, litter and, above all, the environment, they must provide local authorities with the resources to deal with the problem. They must give the resources to provide enough street 658 sweepers, to employ enough dustmen, to buy the most up-to-date cleaning, sweeping and rubbish collecting equipment and to allow communal skips and special bins for shops to be made easily available. They must provide more resources so that boroughs such as Hackney can do all that they want in clearing up litter.
The Government must change their mind on the dog registration scheme. An effective system of dog registration would encourage dog owners to be more responsible and would do much to cure the problem of dogs roaming the streets. There would be less mess on pavements and fewer dogs tearing open black bags full of rubbish and scattering the contents on the streets. The Government should also consider whether we need harsher penalties for shopkeepers who do not take seriously their responsibility to dispose of rubbish. We need more resources for environmental health so that inspectors can go round to inspect shops.
Above all, we need a change in attitude by the Government. When we have a Government who despise the public sector, who say that anything done by the private sector is better simply by virtue of the fact that it is done by the private sector and who are determined to see the public sector wither away, services that can only be carried out collectively, such as keeping clean the streets of inner cities, are bound to suffer. A Government who despise the public sector will neglect the staff and starve the sector of money. We have seen the results in the environment of London, especially in the rubbish problem. It does no good for the Prime Minister to carry out publicity stunts and to be photographed picking up rubbish in the street. What is needed is a real commitment by the Government, and more resources for local authorities for their cleansing departments and environmental health departments. We also need to consider legislation on dogs, and on shop keepers in connection with what they do with their rubbish. We need to consider the penalties that can be enforced in dealing with people who drop litter. We need legislation, but also money. The Government must put money where their mouth is to tackle the problem of rubbish.
I am grateful to have been able to bring to the attention of the House the important issue of rubbish in Hackney, about which many thousands of my constituents are concerned. Rubbish is an environmental blight on a borough which otherwise has much to be proud of. We know that the council is doing its best, and we support it in that, but urge it to do even more, and we look to the Government to take the matter seriously. Despite what Conservative Members say the rubbish problem can best be solved by local councils and the Government, and cannot be dealt with by private enterprise. We have seen boroughs which have brought in private enterprise to collect bins and deal with rubbish, and the rubbish collection has almost collapsed.
My fellow Labour party Members and I take the matter extremely seriously. Conservative Members could be accused of hypocrisy because they never talk about making the resources and money available to enable councils such as Hackney to do the job. When I talk about the importance of solving the problem of litter, I know that I speak not only for many thousands of people in Hackney, many of whom have written to me, but for many millions of people in the country.
If Conservative Members and the Minister do not believe me when I talk about the rubbish menace in 659 Hackney, the piles of litter in Stoke Newington high street and on Stamford hill street corners, and the problem facing the cleansing department, I invite the Minister and the Prime Minister to come to Hackney to visit the streets which I mentioned and the cleansing department, and to talk to the dustmen, street cleaners and, above all, local residents. If the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary were to come to Hackney and see the rubbish menace with their own eyes, instead of returning to their palatial houses in the salubrious suburbs, I believe that the money—and we need money—to deal with the rubbish in Hackney would be forthcoming the next day. The Government should put money where their mouth is to tackle the problem of rubbish in the environment.
§ Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
I too welcome the opportunity this morning to debate this important issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) was right when she said that the public rightly perceive this as a most important issue, not just for those living in Hackney. I listened most carefully and I hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will take up the invitation offered by my hon. Friend. I am sure that people all over the country would also wish to extend that invitation and I fear that the Prime Minister and the Under-Secretary will have to make many visits if they are to obtain some grasp of the extent of the litter problem which exists throughout the streets of our towns and countryside.
The fact that for the past 10 years the Government have avoided taking any action to deal with this important issue other than, as we have heard so clearly this morning, cutting back on local authority expenditure, is an indication of the political priority which they give to the issue. I welcome the move made by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) to provide the Chamber with an opportunity to discuss this issue. I only wish that his example had been followed much earlier by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment.
During the debate we have heard much about head teachers, their role and the way in which they have set an example in schools. I pay tribute to my own head teacher whom I have not seen for 22 years, Mr. E. S. Kelly, who instilled in all his pupils the idea that it was wrong to drop litter. He told us that sweets were bad for our teeth, and he was right, but he also told us that we should never drop wrappers or rubbish in the street. He told us to put it in our pockets and take it away or to put it in the bin. He was such a good teacher that his words of wisdom have stayed with me and no doubt they will continue to do so.
I only wish that the Prime Minister had the same commitment to dealing with the problem. The Prime Minister should not lecture members of the public about picking up rubbish when she so contrived it that officials from the Department of the Environment dropped the rubbish that she picked up in the first place. Many people who are concerned about the environment know only too well how hollow the Prime Minister's calls for action are.
We have heard about the so-called shining example set by Westminster council which came to the House for powers to do something about litter. But Westminster had to take the initiative, just as this opportunity to discuss the subject has arisen on the initiative of a private Member. 660 We cannot deal with the matter in isolation or look at the example of one local authority, even if that authority is doing well, which I doubt. The Government should introduce well thought-out plans and strategies and provide the necessary resources to do something about the problem. I draw the attention of the House also to the grave problems in the City of Westminster; so far from being concerned about the problem of rubbish, the council was not even charging traders for the disposal of commercial rubbish. That is an important omission.
For 10 years now, our towns and cities have played host to a consumer society in which it is all too easy to throw things away. I agree with what William Morris said—that one should look carefully at material objects and decide whether they are useful or beautiful. If they are neither, one should not create consumer demand for them. A great deal of work needs to be done and I have no doubt that consumers will start to vote with their feet and will not go out and buy unnecessary goods in unnecessary packaging. Consumers have an important part to play in conveying the message that much of what is produced is not necessary—that it is a waste of resources and a waste of the energy to produce it.
Given that there is a huge problem and that rubbish is strewn across our countrysides and roads, what have the Government done and what do they propose to do in future? I hope that the Minister will tell us what the Department's strategy is. It certainly has not had a strategy for the past 10 years. It is difficult to see what the Secretary of State for the Environment has done since the Prime Minister hauled him in following her visit to Israel back in 1986 to point out that beautiful Britain was beautiful no more because of the large amount of rubbish.
Consumers have responsibilities and, like schools and head teachers, could do much to improve matters, by changing their lifestyle. Unless that is backed by effective legislation, effective deterrents to the dropping of litter, properly resourced local authorities and the sort of initiatives already taken by Sheffield, the contributions of individuals will be lost in the sea of rubbish. I congratulate those hon. Members who have put the issue of litter and rubbish into the wider context, because no discussion can be effective without considering the need for waste minimisation, waste reduction and recycling.
It is important that the Minister tells us what the Government intend to do about recycling. What is the Government's position on the European directives relating to the recycling and re-use of glass containers? What discussions is the Minister having with her colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry? Why is there no concerted Government action? Why are any policies on recycling being lost between the bureaucracies of the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment? Despite the good example set by the Minister's own Department, why does not the Serjeant at Arms have any authority to provide recycled paper in the Palace of Westminster? That is the Government's responsibility. It is a nonsense that hon. Members are still sending out correspondence about recycling on non-recycled paper. If it is all right for the Department of the Environment to decide to use recycled paper, why is it not all right for the Palace of Westminster? Why are hon. Members suffering the long-standing penalty of having to write letters on non-recycled paper when they are trying to get some action on the issue? The Government have the 661 responsibility to direct and lead and their failure to do so is indicative of their lack of adequate policies during the past 10 years.
When the much-heralded green Bill finally appears before the House, what commitments will it contain on recycling? I hope that the Minister can tell us that today. The Department of the Environment published a Green Paper on the role of waste disposal authorities, but it contained nothing of significance on the issue of recycling.
Following the earlier conclusion caused by the failure to distinguish clearly between waste and reclaimable materials when sections 12 to 14 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 were enacted, the worrying impression has been created that the importance of the role of recycling is not yet fully recognised by the Department of the Environment. We must be told whether, in the reorganisation of the waste disposal functions of local authorities, the importance of recycling will be recognised. Certainly no reference to that appears in the Green Paper. Why not? Will the Minister assure the House that she will include recycling.
Has the Minister any plans to impose a duty on local authorities to set up recycling facilities? Such an important function should not be left to market forces and introduced only if a profit can be made from it. The Opposition are concerned about the environment and we believe that the environmental costs of different policies are equally as important as the economic costs—which are so often the only costs taken into account in the Government's policies.
Has the Minister any plans to license and regulate recycling facilities? What plans are there for each local authority to publish annual recycling plans? For the past 10 years, there has been a responsibility on waste disposal authorities to produce a strategic plan for dealing with waste management. Even after 10 years, some authorities have not produced those plans. It is doubly important that the Government should require each authority with responsibility for waste management to publish an annual recycling plan.
Will the Minister allow any financial surplus from consumer-aided recycling schemes to be reapplied to the beneft of the local environment? If individuals are to do their bit to conserve resources, they need to know that they can reap the benefits.
The Minister should realise that any recycling policy will cost money. As we have heard many times today, local councils have been badly affected by rate-capping policies and prevented from initiating and even maintaining their varied range of services to deal with all aspects of waste, including litter and rubbish.
Salaries have been cut for people who clean and sweep the streets and empty rubbish bins, and their conditions of employment have worsened. There has also been a reduction in the provision of rubbish bins. We have seen the examples that were referred to by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who talked about getting people to pick up litter as punishment. There has been a growth of community schemes, funded by the Manpower Services Commission, doing work that should rightly have been done by local authorities on a regular daily, weekly and monthly basis. The result is that, even in the voluntary sector, the work of projects such as UK 2000, which have 662 important ideas to introduce, has been marginalised. It has been possible to do that work only on the cheap. We want the Government to give a commitment that they will make available to local councils the money that will enable them to take full advantage of important pilot projects such as UK 2000 under its present leadership.
It is important to know whether the Minister has any plans, when dealing with rubbish and litter in a co-ordinated way, to give planning authorities extra powers to require and provide resources for clearing derelict land—to give derelict land a facelift—so that people can have a sense of pride in the community. Unless that is done, it will be difficult for individuals to recognise what they can achieve through their own actions if all they see around them is decay, neglect and dereliction as a result of cuts in local authority services.
Local councils provide bottle banks and opportunities for recycling and are the only ones who empty rubbish bins. They have many imaginative schemes for bulky household refuse collections, which prevents fly tipping on the streets, and for regular street cleaning. Local authorities also provide money for school education projects, and local councils should be encouraged to take the initiative of employing more officers to promote a dialogue with local industry so that partnership schemes might be introduced. They should also have greater scope to remove the abandoned cars that clutter our streets.
All such services cost money, and often they are provided by the same councils that have been worst hit by 50 legislative changes made over the past 10 years, such as rate capping. I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking that money will be available for a wide range of projects.
The Department of the Environment together with other Departments should take the lead. Does the Minister have any plans to discuss with the Home Secretary the whole inadequacy of current legislation relating to litter? Reference has been made to prosecutions and I have a table showing prosecutions ranging from 296 in Cumbria to a mere nine in Cambridgeshire. However, it does not show that in some areas there were no prosecutions whatsover. Comments by Graham Ashworth of the Keep Britain Tidy Group show only too clearly that the Litter Act 1983 is not working. Why has section 4 never been enacted, and what proposals do the Government have to update that legislation so that fines and penalties will serve as an effective deterrent, or be incorporated into the green Bill—not just as an isolated piece of legislation such as the Control of Litter (Fines) Bill of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), but as part of an overall and concerted approach to the problems of litter and rubbish?
Other issues to be addressed include the need for higher standards of transport. The Minister for Roads and Traffic produced £1 million to improve trunk roads, but at the same time reduced cleansing standards. What is the use of coming up with a little money once a year when councils no longer have the resources every day of the year? We heard from the Home Secretary the role that litter played in the tragic Bradford stadium fire. What laws exist to control litter in places such as football stadiums? The answer is that they are not covered by existing legislation.
Mention has been made in the debate of fly tipping, but the Government have made no proposals for introducing a remedy. It was left to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) to introduce 663 legislation for dealing with that offence—but I congratulate the Minister on ensuring that both part I and part II will reach the statute book regardless of the views of her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
For the past 10 years, Government policy on litter has been non-existent. The Prime Minister pays lip service to the need to clean up our dirty streets, towns, parks and countryside. But lip service is all that there has been. There is no place in the debate for lip service and double standards, but there is a place for concerted and co-ordinated action by the Government. The public will not follow the example set out by Ministers who drop litter in this Chamber, or by a Prime Minister who instructs that rubbish should be dropped in St. James's park so that she may make a hollow political point. The Prime Minister's hypocritical action in instructing Department of the Environment officials to drop rubbish so that she could be publicly seen to pick it up was not lost on the environmentally conscious public.
People in towns, in rural areas and in the countryside generally want to be able to take pride in their communities. They want to play their part. They want their councils to take a lead, and they want those councils to have the resources. They want properly funded cleansing services; they do not want gimmicks. They want more than £3 million to be spent on the initiatives that the voluntary sector has introduced. They want to be involved in all that is going on, and they want a commitment to waste reduction and recycling.
People desperately want the green Bill to take the wider issues on board, and, rightly, they fear that under the present Government it will be based entirely on subservience to market forces. They want the existing legislation to be updated so that it is a real deterrent and dropping litter a real offence. After last week, they know that only a Labour Government can to that. Those of us who are genuinely concerned know that "bagging and binning it" will not change anything. Conservative Members may laugh, but their day of reckoning will come, and on the record of the past 10 years their policies will win nothing.
Local authorities need power and resources. As has been said, litter is a public health problem, and the Institution of Environmental Health Officers is rightly concerned about it. More than anything else, it is an indication of the extent to which we have become a throw-away society. The public pressure to clean up our towns and cities is there. Real action is needed. So far we have had only lip service, and I hope that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will give us a firmer commitment today.
§ 2.6 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)
I join others in warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on his initiative in raising a subject that is of crucial importance to all hon. Members and, I believe, to all members of the public.
The Government are determined to take decisive action to deal with the problem. We have had a strong lead from the Prime Minister, who, long before other green campaigners jumped on to the bandwagon, made it 664 abundantly clear that it was time to wage war on litter and to see action—and that is what the Government intend to do.
The contributions to today's debate have been noticeably constructive, realistic and practical, and have shown considerable knowledge of a complex and detailed subject. Litter relates to waste disposal, refuse collection and street-cleansing systems, and has strong implications for householders, business operators and individual citizens. It is of course important that our proposals take account of the way in which litter abatement can be properly effected in that wider context, and, as is generally known, we shall be introducing an environment protection Bill at the earliest opportunity. The Bill will update waste disposal regulations. We want the waste operation authorities to discharge their responsibilities properly, and we want waste to be dealt with properly from its origin to its disposal. We shall also make provision for longer-term disposal.
Litter is not a trivial subject but one of great importance to us all, and it plays its part in the many other environmental concerns with which the Government have rightly dealt. We have a proud record in giving a lead on a range of subjects. Deservedly, the Government and the Prime Minister have received much credit for the "saving the ozone layer" conference, for the moves towards establishing a framework convention on climate change and for doing so much to tackle the problem of acid rain, to clean up our rivers and to ensure that throughout the spectrum—at global, national, regional and individual levels—we are taking all the proper steps to improve our environment and to ensure that Britain is a beautiful country in which we can justly take pride.
Conservative Members believe that remarkable achievements have taken place in the bid to restore Britain's place in the world. We are committed to ensuring that we can show the same lead on the environmental front, and nothing prompts more concern than the offensive, unsighly and needless phenomenon of litter. We are not prepared to put up with dirty streets and squalid housing estates, or with our beautiful buildings and lovely countryside being despoiled by people's discarded refuse. That is why we so welcome the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford which identifies so many of these important subjects.
The green consumer is on the warpath. He is demanding that businesses put their house in order. Many hon. Members have referred to packaging. Businesses have already begun to respond to consumer demand by reducing the amount of packaging. Similarly, manufactuers responded to the need to remove chlorofluorocarbons from their products as soon as they realised that that was rightly and properly being demanded.
Many years ago the litter lout was seen for what he was and for what he should again be seen to be: an offensive individual who ought to be ashamed of committing such an offence. I shall say more about the powers that we hope will strengthen the litter laws. We are committed to a programme of Government action, but it must go hand in hand with a profound change of attitude.
There have been many examples in recent years of changes in attitude. Smoking is one example; the wearing of seat belts is another. During the last 10 years people's attitudes towards the wearing of seat belts have changed completely. Moreover, to give credit to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for 665 Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), I ought to point out that the enforcement of the law on drinking and driving has led to a profound change in people's behaviour. We are determined that people's attitude towards litter should also change profoundly.
Many hon. Members have given examples of how people have responded to the need to clean up litter. My hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) mentioned Raymond Watkins. There are people like Raymond Watkins throughout the country who are busily and eagerly playing their part in the war against litter. A co-ordinated and comprehensive strategy must be worked out.
Mention has been made of the excellent steps that have been taken by Westminster city council, which has to deal with particular problems. There are only 180,000 residents, but there is a daily commuter population of 750,000 and there are about 23 million tourists a year, about 9 million of whom come from overseas.
I spent a day with the Westminster group that deals with street cleaning and refuse collecting. It has a professional and profoundly dedicated approach to ensuring that the job is properly done. There are 8,500 litter bins, with 450 in Oxford street alone. It is no use Opposition Members saying that it is just a question of Government resources being needed. Many of the bins have been provided by sponsors. The group has been working with, not against the grain and has persuaded the fast food operators to come on to its side. The business community now realises that it is in its own best interests to ensure that the consumer can shop in good surroundings and not be surrounded by debris.
Westminster city council has adopted new technology and innovative methods. It has also used appropriate and helpful publicity and implemented the experimental fixed penalty scheme.
My hon. Friend the member for Basildon (Mr. Amess)—the "I love Basildon" supporter—referred again to the work that is being done in his area. Croydon's achievements are also magnificent. The Cleaner Chelmsford committee to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford referred is another example. It works best when there is a partnership between local residents, the business community, the local authority and schools—all those who, rightly and properly, have an interest in the matter.
Only yesterday I was in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and was told about Hendon's scheme. Local residents do not say that they want a nuclear-free zone and all the other cheap Opposition gimmicks. Instead they want a litter-free zone. In Hampstead garden suburb individual residents have taken over responsibility for the stretch of road outside their house. The organiser, Peter Loyd, has taken time and trouble to ensure that the task is done and that people feel involved and committed. There are similar schemes throughout the country, such as Spring Clean Day, organised by the Civic Trust and the Tidy Britain Group.
There have been a multiplicity of projects raising public awareness because so often people litter without being aware of it. Those projects are bringing people together and making sure that local authorities are playing their full 666 part. I pay special tribute to the wife of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) who is turning Cookham into a green village, the group at Chalfont St. Peter and many others throughout the country.
Businesses are also facing their responsibilities. There is more to be done. Many hon. Members have referred to the paper from cash dispensers and there are other specific problems. We shall look for ways of tackling them all.
At the root of the solution is a fundamental change in attitudes. Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) and my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and for Chelmsford have referred to the importance of educating youngsters and working in schools. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science has recently raised the subject with local education authorities.
Children are not natural litterers. All too often they learn the habit from their parents. We must mobilise them as our advocates and ambassadors. Many people have told me that they changed to using unleaded petrol because of the persuasive powers of their children. Youngsters can do a great deal about litter and we shall encourage schools to work with us. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford referred to the importance of education and example and that should not be overlooked.
However, we have to look at the carrot and the stick, so we must consider enforcement which has been mentioned by many hon. Members. Littering is a crime. Under the Litter Act 1983 it is an offence which currently attracts a fine of up to £400. Hon. Members have referred to the variability of prosecution. Although the maximum fine is £400, the average is between £32 and £35. We are concerned about that. Some groups have already taken steps to make sure that magistrates realise that littering is often the first step in the general decay of an area—delinquency, vandalism and petty crime—and should be recognised as serious in terms of punishment and in every other way.
Points have been raised about the absolute offence. There are difficulties because it is a general principle that simple actions should not in themselves be an offence unless accompanied by an indication of intent. In the Westminster fixed penalty scheme the litter wardens and others first advised the individual to pick up the piece of litter, before issuing a fixed penalty. It is important that enforcement works with some persuasion. We want to clean up Britain and clean up our streets.
We are looking very carefully at the Westminster scheme. Many other local authorities have asked for similar powers. In many ways it seems to have worked effectively and has been a useful tool for the local authority in enabling it to fulfil its responsibilities.
In his private Member's Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford suggested that other local authorities should be able to adopt similar schemes. Unfortunately, his Bill has not made progress, but it may be that before long he will receive some encouragement on that part of it.
We have mentioned many examples of forward-looking and imaginative local authorities. But we have to accept that other local authorities have singularly failed in their responsibilities to clean streets regularly, effectively and efficiently. They are not giving the citizens the service that they want. Too often people see dirty streets when they want cleans ones. People want clean streets and 667 pavements, parks, playing fields, car parks, shopping centres, roadside verges and roundabouts. They are entitled to them. The Government will take action to ensure that in future, all local authorities deliver what the best already do, permanently. As the House is aware, we have proposed a new duty on local authorities to keep their land clean. This will clarify and codify their present range of duties and responsibilities.
We are also proposing a code of practice to which local authorities must have regard in carrying out their duty. For the first time, this will set clear objective standards. Local authorities will be required to meet these standards and will be certain of what they must aim for, and local residents will be able to see when an authority is not reaching the standard, and call it to account.
I must emphasise that the code is to be a reasonable document. It will be a tool for local authorities to use, taking account of practicalities in the task of cleaning up as well as the high standards that local residents are entitled to expect. It will spell out specific requirements on particular problems and will give clear advice. It will be a vehicle for recommending the best means of achieving those standards.
In drawing up the code, on which we shall be consulting local authorities, businesses and all interested parties, we have taken care to learn from the lessons of the Tidy Britain Group. The House is aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched the group's forward-looking, anti-litter initiative—the 27 pilot projects examining major problem areas such as high streets, tourist areas, transport and special events. In each case, it is not simply a global wish that the place should be cleaned up but a scientific, analytical study of the methods that work and not of the best way of hoping that something will happen.
Before and after studies have been incorporated to assess the effectiveness. The intention is to establish the best ways of cleaning particular areas and getting all sectors involved in keeping them clean. We want to spread the lessons learnt to other areas so that all can benefit. The group will be drawing up practical guidelines on how to tackle particular problem areas.
There has been excellent co-operation between local authorities, chambers of commerce, voluntary groups and others. I have been lucky enough to launch a number of projects. The Government are providing a grant of £3 million for the Tidy Britain Group. It will be used to pioneer the group's schemes. Often the delivery and organisation is a matter for local authorities, businesses and all others who are partners in the campaign against litter.
The local authorities have already embarked, rightly, on contracting out and competitive tendering for a number of services under the Local Government Act 1988. Some Opposition Members have bleated about resources in the context of local authorities being required more effectively to fulfil the responsibility they already have. The Government have provided more resources for local authorities in terms of grant this year and we all know that there is great scope for savings in competitive tendering and in using the private sector. The Audit Commission report entitled "Preparing for Compulsory Competition" makes it clear that savings of 20 per cent. or more can be achieved in contract prices. That is an undeniable opportunity for local authorities.
668 Local authorities will also have an opportunity to specify the service they want and the quality they want and to ensure that there are penalty points in the contract so that local residents obtain good value for money and high-quality services, and the best have done that very well. All must be joined in the campaign against litter.
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) talked about dogs. Local authorities already have powers to make byelaws on fouling. We have made it clear that the new duty to keep land clean will extend to dog mess. That will complement our further proposals announced last week, including a duty on local authorities to deal with strays and the power to charge for kennelling in the meantime. The Home Secretary has announced his plan to introduce powers to control dangerous dogs. The proposals are the right way of tackling dog fouling, straying and attacks by dangerous dogs. They will make an important impact.
No one can tackle the problem of litter alone, and no one will achieve a litter-free Britain overnight. However, the job must be done, and the Government are firmly committed to ensuring that it is. As Minister with special responsibility for litter, I want to make it clear how urgent the task is. It is clear that people have the energy and the will to take it on, but we must mobilise every section of society into playing its part.
Next year is Tidy Britain Year. It marks the beginning of a long-term campaign—the clean-90s campaign—to change fundamentally and permanently our attitude to litter and the way in which we cope with it. The Government give the campaign full backing. We shall provide the tools and ensure that those responsible are properly equipped and motivated to do the job.
Litter is not only a matter of legislation. It is a task for everyone working together, above all, in the local community. We need energy, co-operation and enthusiasm from politicians, officials, business and commerce, schools and voluntary groups and, above all, from individuals. We need people who are prepared to show an example—to bend down and pick up litter. Local authorities must fulfil their responsibilities and give individuals the power to take action when they are dissatisfied with what local authorities are achieving.
We need energy, enthusiasm, education, enforcement and example. We shall not hesitate to set an example. We shall shortly be bringing forward our clear proposals for our campaign against litter. We shall not hesitate to take the decisive action that is necessary to tackle this unacceptable and offensive scourge once and for all.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on raising this issue. He did so, as he always does on behalf of his constituents, with great dedication. He puts many hon. Members to shame by the amount of work that he does in this place.
It is peculiar speaking after my hon. Friend the Minister. It is a long time since I heard a junior Minister make such a wonderful speech, making the Government's case clear to the country. All who listen to broadcasts of her speech or read reports of it tomorrow will be encouraged by the efforts that she and her officials are making to ensure that once again Britain can take pride in 669 being clean and sparkling for visitors and people who live here. One often returns from foreign countries and enviously says, "I wish that our towns were as clean as some of those that I visited." As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the difference between us and other countries is our attitude. Parents, teachers and headmasters should teach children not to drop litter. If street cleaners do their work well, they set an example, and people will not add to their task by throwing litter and rubbish everywhere.
Westminster city council was mentioned earlier. Westminster must almost be the dustbin of the world. It is one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world. It is faced with a huge task, because overseas visitors are not always as careful in our city as they are in their own.
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) mentioned Hackney. The rubbish in Hackney does not result from visitors dropping it there. The rubbish in Hackney is probably the people of Hackney. The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, like me, must set an example. I must conclude and allow my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford to sum up the debate.
§ Mr. Burns
I am pleased that we have had the opportunity to debate this important matter and I thank hon. Members for their valid contributions. I am reassured by the Minister's statement that the Government are determined to beat the litter louts and to get Britain clean again in the next few years.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the Government's commitment to taking decisive measures to tackle the problem of litter; urges all those responsible for land in cities, towns and countryside to take account of widespread public concern at littering and discharge effectively their responsibility to keep that land free of litter; calls for urgent new measures to discourage littering, to assist those who are already taking seriously their responsibilities and to ensure that those who do not are obliged to do so; and supports the Government's proposal to place a duty on local authorities to keep their areas clean and to publish a code of practice.