HL Deb 17 March 1988 vol 494 cc1253-6

3.9 p.m.

Lord Hayter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the effectiveness of the work of the "Keep Britain Tidy" organisation.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, the Government are satisfied with the effectiveness of the Tidy Britain Group, as it is now called, although the group itself would accept that there is always room for improvement.

Lord Hayter

My Lords, as the Government have had this problem in mind for several years, will the noble Earl hazard a guess as to how long it will take before Oxford Street or the King's Road are as clean as all the streets in Singapore, Copenhagen or Moscow?

The Earl of Caithness

No, my Lords, I should not like to hazard a guess. But we have asked the director general of the group to review the group's strategy. We are considering with him the best way forward for the future.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if one drives down any street in Britain the amount of "gunge" on the side of it is quite disgusting? Is my noble friend also aware—I am mindful of the two supplementary questions I am allowed to ask—that if the Oregon bottle law (which means that a deposit is paid on any container) had been introduced into this country, then the urge to throw things on the side of the road would be curtailed and the urge to pick them up and claim the money back would be enhanced, thus making the countryside and the roads much tidier? I have confined myself, I think, to two supplementary questions and one sentence.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sure that none of us can be unaware of the litter problem. Had it not been for the community environment programme on which the Tidy Britain Group is working, the problem could be worse because some of the local authorities which have benefited have shown a reduction in litter of up to 30 per cent.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, on a previous occasion the Minister was kind enough to invite me to visit the flow country of Caithness and Sutherland. I should now like to invite him to visit Oxford Circus, which is where I work and where we are frequently ankle deep in litter. Will the Minister consider the degree of support which the Government could give to Westminister City Council in its proposals for a fixed-penalty ticket for dropping litter?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord has accepted my offer to visit the flow country but I have already been to Oxford Circus and seen the situation for myself.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Lord said. Is it not right that the best and most immediate solution to the litter problem would be on-the-spot fines for anyone dropping litter in the street?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I know that that view is strongly held by many people including my noble friend. However, there are problems and practical difficulties such as the accounting procedure for fines collected; the risk involved in the police or anyone else carrying substantial cash receipts; and how to deal with offenders who do not have funds available for on-the-spot fines.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, as someone who for many years has been connected with the Tidy Britain Group, I should like to express my appreciation for the kind remarks made by the noble Earl about the activities of the group. Does he not agree that of the many initiatives that it has launched, its community environment initiative and the schools initiative are two especially deserving of support to ensure that local authorities have a clear and defined objective to remove litter and that school children are aware of the problem?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks. I agree that the community environment programme and the education programme, through which 31,000 primary training kits and science kits have been provided for schools and education authorities, are a good sign of the work of the Tidy Britian Group.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, the Minister said that he was satisfied with some of the results. Can he pinpoint an area where one could see the results, because I have not seen any?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I said that I was satisfied with some of the results because of the reduction in litter experienced by local authorities. Had it not been for the action taken we should now be facing an increased litter problem.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, will my noble friend remind British Railways that the tracks running through railway stations are part of Britain and they could be kept tidier and cleaner than they are at present?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I hear what my noble friend has said and I shall pass on his comments to British Rail. However, I am sure that it will read with interest what has been said by noble Lords in respect of this matter.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the Minister agree that extremely high penalties, whether imposed on the spot or otherwise, are an admirable example set by Singapore, and that because it is easy to avoid dropping litter such high penalties rarely need to be imposed in practice?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the maximum fine under the Litter Act 1983 is £400 and there were 1,500 prosecutions in 1985. It is the duty of us all not to drop litter and there should be no necessity for a fine although it exists.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that a personal appeal in the form of a public appeal in all appropriate quarters from Mr. Richard Branson, who was appointed by the Prime Minister to head a tidy-up Britain campaign, might have a powerful effect on millions of people who admire his adventurous exploits, some of whom are not among the most tidy in Britain?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there is still a misunderstanding about the role of Richard Branson and the UK 2000 Group, which was established to carry out a wide range of environmental improvement projects. Litter abatement is often an element of the project and, where it is, the Tidy Britain Group, as a participant in UK 2000, has taken the lead on the litter element.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, in view of the number of people putting forward suggestions to the Department of Education and Science as regards which subjects should be included in the core curriculum, does the Minister agree that this subject should be added to the list?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will look forward to receiving the noble Lord's letter.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, is it worth while the Government considering what is done in Germany, where the owner of a property is responsible for the cleanliness of the pavement outside that property?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that suggestion has been made, but difficulties arise in our law and primary legislation would be required.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, will my noble friend answer my question about deposit moneys on bottles and so forth?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I did not answer but I shall take the question away and look at it.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that after Derby Day Epsom Downs looks as though it has been hit by a snowstorm whereas no comparable litter problem arises in the park at Longchamp after the Prix de 1'Arc de Triomphe? Is that not another example of how far we must go in order to catch up with other civilised countries?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, yes, but that only serves to prove that there is so much more that we as individuals can do about the problem.

Forward to