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Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:09 pm on 10th January 2005.

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Photo of Barbara Follett Barbara Follett Labour, Stevenage 8:09 pm, 10th January 2005

Like my hon. Friend Jane Griffiths, I welcome the Bill—and I know that the people of Stevenage do, too. I have been incredibly frustrated in the seven years that I have been an MP because I have been unable to do anything about the things that concern my constituents most. Labour Members have talked a great deal about that, but Conservative Members have been mainly absent or have derided the Bill. They must be out of touch with what is happening in the real world.

My constituency is both urban and rural. Some 59,000 of my voters are in the urban area. Another 9,000 are in a very rural area. The problems are the same, however. There is not a divide. I live in the rural area and littering is worse there than it is in the urban area.

I want to concentrate on the problems facing a new town and the opportunities that the architecture of the 1950s and 1960s gives the graffiti artist. The concrete walls are the perfect canvass for graffiti. The underpasses are crying out to have things painted over them. The chewing gum that attaches itself to the town centre costs £45,000 a year to remove. If Westminster is spending £90,000 on de-gumming Oxford street, just imagine what we are doing in Stevenage.

I am not a chewer. I do not know how many hon. Members would own up to that vile habit, but I know that some do it. I have even seen some Ministers do it on the Front Bench, and I hope that the gum is disposed of well. Britain has an untidy culture. We only have to cross over to Paris to see the difference in people's attitudes. We should look at how people maintain their homes. I confess to being a tidiness freak. My five children say that I am in politics so that I can tidy up the world. This is my attempt to do so. I am glad that the Government are giving me a chance to pursue that because we need to tidy up.

Stevenage needs gating because the structure of the pedestrianised alleyways built by the planners of the 1950s and 1960s provides the perfect place for youths to race their mopeds. Those mopeds do not have silencers—so not only is it dangerous, but it is noisy. Most of that activity takes place after dark. There is gang racing and people are using motor cycles as well. For me, the gating provision is not only necessary but urgent.

Like many other hon. Members, I have fought to deal with abandoned cars, especially during the 2001 general election when I noticed an enormous number of such cars in the rural section of my community. I also initiated an Adjournment debate on that and have worked with the Government on some of their changes to the law. I welcome the further changes. It is incredibly frustrating to see a car sitting in the same place for 15 days and for it to be vandalised or set on fire by youths. It costs this country £230 million to deal with burnt-out vehicles. I can think of many other uses for that money. It costs Stevenage borough council £100,000 to deal with abandoned cars. That relatively small borough council spends more than £2.5 million on clearing up items mentioned in the Bill. Although it can find the money, it will welcome the fixed penalty system because it will get some revenue at last.

I am also glad that the selling and repairing of cars on the roadside is to be halted. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East said, that fouls the pavements. In a new town, which was built when not many people had cars, people tend to pursue that activity on grass verges. It also ties up for long periods the few parking places that we have.

My hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh said how people cease to engage with politics when they find that we are powerless to change anything. That is one of the most important things that the Bill addresses. If we cannot change those daily irritants of the Englishman and Englishwoman in their castles—their homes—what are we in this building for? I am amazed that the Conservatives are voting against the Bill. Mr. Amess talked about his constituent who is affected by graffiti. What comfort does he offer that man? Nothing at all other than saying that people should take responsibility for it. Yes they should, but they do not and we probably have to make them do so. I regret the existence of the nanny state, but occasionally we need it.

The only thing I have in common with the hon. Gentleman is that I am the proud owner of a black Labrador. I also own a yellow Labrador. I am a doting dog owner. Derek Conway talked about the comfort that dogs bring. Mine are commuting dogs. They come in and out of London. I know that the fouling of pavements in Westminster is a problem. I carry those little blue bags and the pooper-scoopers. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there are 6.8 million dogs in Britain, rather more than the hon. Gentleman noted. They foul an amazing amount. The figure is incredible. Some 1,000 tonnes of dog fouling is produced a day, and my two contribute their bit. We have to get people to pick it up, but people do not. They say, "How can I control my dog?" It is not about controlling the dog, but about people controlling their own actions. The polluter must pay.

On graffiti, Stevenage has a good graffiti-busting team, but it costs the town's taxpayers £60,000 a year to clean up. I welcome identity cards simply because I will not get another shopkeeper saying to me, "I didn't know whether he was 16 or not, so I sold him the aerosol." That is one reason why we need ID cards and I cannot wait for them to be introduced.

Fly-posting costs Stevenage £13,000 a year to remove. It is not one of our greatest problems, although the concrete walls of the town centre offer the perfect place to stick posters. I should like my right hon. Friend to think about estate agents' signs as a form of fly-posting. Estate agents just leave those things to rot in alleyways and hedgerows once they have let or sold—or not sold—a property. They should have a duty to remove those signs in a timely fashion. I have just won a battle on that on behalf of a constituent.

It is a big welcome from Stevenage for the Bill, although I am sad that we need to legislate for clean neighbourhoods and environments in this day and age. However, how many of us are guilty of chucking papers on the Floor of the Chamber and of not caring what happens to them? Ministers have been honourable tonight and nothing is on the Floor, but there is often a great deal of waste. We have a master-servant mentality because I know that someone else will pick up after me, as someone said to me in Stevenage. The man who pulled up near me when I was walking my dogs on a country lane and who chucked out an entire McDonald's dinner also thought that someone else would pick up after him. But we should be doing that ourselves. Then, we would not have to spend all this money on enforcing something that, with a little bit of thought and care, would not be necessary.