HL Deb 26 June 2000 vol 614 cc624-6

2.50 p.m.

Lord Randall of St Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to reduce graffiti in the United Kingdom significantly.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, the most effective way to tackle graffiti is through co-ordinated preventive action at local level involving police, local authorities, schools and voluntary organisations. Police and local authorities in England and Wales have now established crime reduction partnerships under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Those have carried out crime audits of each area in consultation with all interested parties and have developed strategies for tackling any local crime problems such as graffiti which were identified. The Scottish Executive and the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland are taking similar steps to tackle graffiti in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Lord Randall of St Budeaux

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is my noble friend aware that the damage caused by graffiti is a disgrace to our nation? Does he agree that the time has come for much tougher action to be taken against what is very antisocial behaviour? Further, does he agree that the full costs—and I emphasise the word "full"—of cleaning defaced structures should be paid for by the yobs who create that damage?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the Government take this offence very seriously indeed. For that reason, the Criminal Damage Act 1971 potentially has a very high penalty for acts of criminal damage in the form of graffiti. Where the value of the criminal damage is more than £2,000, the maximum penalty is 10 years' imprisonment for those aged 18 and over and up to two years' detention in young offenders' institutions for those aged 15 to 17.

I repeat the point that I have made on a number of occasions on this subject. We believe that the best action is taken by the police, local authorities and voluntary sector organisations working together to counter graffiti with local graffiti-buster squads and by ensuring that we detect the crime where we can. It is extremely difficult to do that because by its very nature the way in which graffiti manifests itself means that it is difficult to track down the perpetrators.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, can the Minister say, for any convenient period, how many have been caught, convicted and punished for this particularly offensive crime?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, there are no precise statistics on graffiti. It falls into the general crime category of criminal damage. During any one year, there are 229,000 offences of criminal damage to dwellings; 158,000 offences relating to buildings; 363,000 offences relating to vehicles; 47,000 offences of arson; and offences relating to other property number 81,000. But we do not have precise statistics. Instances of graffiti are not recorded. That is part of the problem. The best guess that we could possibly make is that somewhere in the region of 20 per cent of those offences against property involve some form of graffiti. They are often tied in with acts of vandalism and other forms of criminal damage.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, may it not be desirable to make a distinction between graffiti which are destructive, obscene or otherwise highly reprehensible on the one hand and graffiti which are sometimes quite trivial, decorative of otherwise ugly structures and which are sometimes as artistic as some of the exhibits in the Tate Modern?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am sure that there is a lot in that. My attention has been drawn to the website on this. There are two sets of entries under the Excite search results which have been provided to me. One set of entries gives the history of graffiti art in museums, including photographs. The other set of entries gives the antidote to that—graffiti coatings and graffiti-removal products on sale. So clearly, there are two very distinct views on the subject.

Lord Monson

My Lords, is the Minister aware that recently my wife helped to entertain a party of German clergymen, none of whom had ever been in Britain before? One of the first comments they made was how impressed they were by the relative absence of graffiti in London compared with the graffiti which deface most German cities and, indeed, many cities in the Netherlands too. So does he agree that bad though things undoubtedly are here, they are even worse on much of the Continent?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for that powerful insight provided by his good lady wife. I congratulate her on bringing it to our attention. As we are often reminded in these matters, things can only get better here and they are certainly worse elsewhere.

Lord Bowness

My Lords, does the Minister think it helpful or unhelpful for local authorities to provide, in some instances, walls where graffiti art may be indulged in freely?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, there may be some instances where providing walls for graffiti art are of some value but that is a decision, as I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate, which is best made locally.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, the worst graffiti are racist in nature. Since the passing of the Crime and Disorder Act in which there is a provision dealing with criminally aggravated racist damages, have any prosecutions been brought for racist graffiti? Also, does the Home Office give any particular help to local authorities to ensure that such graffiti are removed as soon as possible?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, as a matter of priority, I would always urge local authorities to remove racist and other offensive graffiti. I shall undertake to investigate whether specific prosecutions have been brought in relation to racist graffiti. I find it the most appalling form of graffiti and I am sure that that is a view widely shared in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord asks a very useful question and I shall take steps to follow it through.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister on avoiding his usual habit of offering to write to noble Lords, on a wall or otherwise. Do the Government have any targets which will measure their success or otherwise in reducing graffiti?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is tempting to dream up a target for the removal of graffiti. But it should be tackled locally. The partnerships set up under the Crime and Disorder Act are the way to do that. We should encourage that and suggest that people work together to tackle those problems.

I like some of the local schemes where there is an element of reparation involved and where offenders who have been caught undertaking acts of graffiti are involved in removing it. I believe that we should encourage and try to stimulate such measures.