Graffiti (Control)

Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 3 April 2001.

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Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park 3:35, 3 April 2001

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the sale of spray paint to minors; to authorise local authorities to require people subject to community service orders to undertake the removal of graffiti; and for connected purposes. This Bill follows a debate that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) a year ago, when he was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). There is tremendous concern about the amount of graffiti in our constituencies; the problem is causing great distress. Graffiti is a form of vandalism to public and private property and it gives the streets an air of desolation and threat, which is frightening, in particular, to the older people who frequently write to us about the problem. The younger people who perpetrate the crime endanger themselves on many occasions by going into railway stations and on to live railway lines in the middle of the night. People have been seriously injured as a result.

Some people argue that graffiti is an art form, and I would accept that some graffiti is. I am well aware that people carry out university dissertations on the subject and, in secret parts of my constituency that only young people can reach, there are some brilliant examples of graffiti art. They are much admired and even photographed.

Most graffiti, however, is just a messy scribble that bears as much relation to art—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. May we have some order in the Chamber? The hon. Lady is entitled to speak to her motion.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The sort of graffiti that I have described bears as much relation to art as a sheep pickled in formaldehyde. There are scribbles all over our cities—likewise the so-called tags. Tags are the signatures of graffiti artists who go round their neighbourhoods marking out their property rather in the way that dogs pee against lamp-posts. It is a disgusting habit.

In Richmond upon Thames alone, £150,000 was spent in the past year on trying to remove graffiti, but we all know that it is a losing battle. London local authorities combined have spent £10 million in the past year removing graffiti from public places and many private homes—and what a waste of public money that is. How many better classrooms, how many teachers and how much care for the elderly could £10 million provide?

Some 20 per cent. of criminal damage against property each year is graffiti damage, and 900,000 offences in 1999 in the London area were graffiti offences. An officer working in my borough, Inspector Mark Jones, does undercover work to try to catch graffiti artists, and there has been a lot of success recently. Two weeks ago, six graffiti artists were caught red handed—although I do not know what colour the paint was. Inspector Jones has told me that the police would like greater powers to apprehend and search the young people involved. The police know perfectly well where they are going and what they are going to do, but young people just walk away laughing because they know that the police have no powers.

Community service orders in Richmond upon Thames require graffiti merchants to clean graffiti off walls and buildings. That is an eminently sensible punishment. The problems of the health and safety regulations which used to stand in the way have been overcome. The Bill requires people who are subject to community service orders for graffiti offences to undertake the removal of graffiti in their area. The punishment must fit the crime. However, the whole process is a waste of money for local authorities that are strapped for cash, and a waste of police time for a police force short on personnel. We are attempting to stop the problem at source and have pressed the Government for some time by calling for a ban on the sale of spray paints to minors.

In response to parliamentary questions, the Government insist: There are no plans at present to restrict the sale of spray paints to juveniles; this would penalise young people who have a legitimate reason for their purchase."—[Official Report, 16 January 2001; Vol. 361, c. 206W.] What legitimate reason might a young person of 15 or 16 have? If he requires spray paint for art at school, surely that can be purchased with a note from the lecturer or teacher, or his parents can get it. Would it limit young people's freedom so much if they were unable to buy it? Supermarkets and do-it-yourself outlets in my area sell spray paint and I have been told that it is sometimes possible to buy five or six cans for a pound. That is ridiculous. In addition, spray paint does not have to be bought: it is easily stolen. It is often on low shelves and can be scooped into a rucksack before the young person goes off on that night's activities.

The Government also refer to the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985 which makes it an offence to sell a substance to a minor knowing that it or its fumes are likely to be inhaled for intoxication. There is evidence that the fumes of spray paint are intoxicating and that young people get a high from them. Why are there no prosecutions under the 1985 Act? Why are there no test cases? We never hear of anyone being taken to court for selling those substances to young people. Preventing or trying to prevent the sale of spray paint to minors is a practical step that we can take.

I implore the Government to take our Bill seriously so that we try to stop the vandalism and waste of public funds that are expended on it. I urge them to support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Jenny Tonge, Dr. Vincent Cable, Mr. Edward Davey, Mr. Paul Burstow and Mr. Tom Brake.

GRAFFITI (CONTROL)

Dr. Jenny Tonge accordingly presented a Bill to prohibit the sale of spray paint to minors; to authorise local authorities to require people subject to community service orders to undertake the removal of graffiti; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 July, and to be printed [Bill 81].