HC Deb 08 November 1989 vol 159 cc987-8
11. Mr. Bill Walker

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment by how much he intends to increase the fines for dropping litter.

Mr. Trippier

We propose to increase the maximum fine for littering under the Litter Act 1983 from £400 to £1,000. We propose also to allow district and borough councils to operate fixed penalty schemes for littering, similar to that currently operating exclusively in Westminster.

Mr. Walker

I thank my hon. Friend for the information that he has given the House. I and others, I am sure, will welcome the increase in fines. Does he agree with me that there is no question but that Britain has become a filthy, mucky place where public places are like rubbish tips? The increase in fines is a long overdue measure and we welcome it. Will he consider extending the Westminster scheme in a way that would enable traffic wardens and others to exercise the powers that it provides? In that way we would restrict more thoroughly the activities of litter louts.

Mr. Trippier

Until litter louts can be persuaded to give up their dirty, inconsiderate and unsocial behaviour, the problem will remain. That is precisely why we are introducing legislation that will include very tough proposals to deal with the problem. We are also hoping to replicate the example set by the City of Westminster so that local authorities can appoint litter wardens, who will be responsible for fixed penalty fines.

Ms. Armstrong

Are not local authorities concerned about the way in which the Government are tackling the problem? Would it not be much better to enable local authorities to employ people in villages for example who could work with the local people to prevent the dropping of litter and to ensure that the whole area is cleaned? Have not the Government caused part of the problem because they have cut the resources of local authorities so that they have had to sack those who could have done the job?

Mr. Trippier

I wholly reject the hon. Lady's suggestion. I could take her to two local authorities in the north that are both controlled by the Labour party, but where the difference in their efficiency and their attitude towards litter collection is absolutely stark. Unless many local authorities take a different attitude, the position will not improve.

I could make some suggestions about areas in which local authorities could save resources. Many of them would do well to abandon their wasteful expenditure on campaigns and nuclear-free zone signs and instead concentrate more on litter-free zones.

Mr. Tracey

Has my hon. Friend considered the low fines imposed for dropping litter? Is he aware that the heaviest possible measures that the Government might take would be welcomed by the public and would encourage magistrates to impose heavy fines?

Mr. Trippier

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments. I hope that magistrates will take note of the growing public anger about litter when they are considering imposing fines. Paltry fines will send out the wrong message.

Mr. Gould

Are not the filthy streets and the litter-strewn public places, which are now the daily depressing experience of millions of people, in many ways the most visible evidence of what has gone wrong in Thatcherite Britain? Does the Minister understand that that malaise will not be cured by silly slogans or fiddling with fines? Unless the Government provide real resources so that local authorities can tackle the job, the Minister might as well take his green Bill and bag it and bin it.

Mr. Trippier

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I am sure that I speak for all my colleagues in saying that I hope that he remains an Opposition spokesman for a very long time.

It is interesting that there have been two questions about resources for local authorities. Is it not amazing that Westminster, Canterbury and the London boroughs of Sutton and Wandsworth are showing that determination coupled with efficiency can produce excellent results within existing budgets? I give notice to the hon. Gentleman that during the passage of the so-called green Bill, I shall be looking to him for 100 per cent. support. He will ignore that caution at his peril.

Mr. Hill

As my hon. Friend has explained that some local authorities are not dealing with the litter problem, should there not be a reverse system of fines? Not only the public but local authorities do not fulfil their duties. It is often the case, especially in the south coast resorts, that local authorities do not empty the litter bins. Should there not be a system of fines for local authorities and, perhaps, even a list of the worst offenders?

Mr. Trippier

I am glad to say that I can give my hon. Friend the comfort that he seeks. We shall introduce powers in the forthcoming legislation which will allow any individual citizen or collection of individuals to take the local authority to court if they are not satisfied with the standard of cleanliness in its area and that is precisely what my hon. Friend is asking for.

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