Amendments made: No. 38, in page 76, line 40, after 'cases)', insert '—
No. 39, in page 76, line 41, leave out ', (fb)'.
No. 40, in page 76, line 41, at end insert
(b) after paragraph (a) insert—
"(aza) in the case of a nuisance falling within paragraph (fb) of section 79(1) above except where—
(i) the artificial light is emitted from industrial, trade or business premises, or
(ii) the artificial light (not being light to which sub-paragraph (i) applies) is emitted by lights used for the purpose only of illuminating an outdoor relevant sports facility;".'.
No. 41, in page 76, line 41, at end insert—
'(2A) After section 80(8) insert—
"(8A) For the purposes of subsection (8)(aza) a relevant sports facility is an area, with or without structures, that is used when participating in a relevant sport, but does not include such an area comprised in domestic premises.
(8B) For the purposes of subsection (8A) "relevant sport" means a sport that is designated for those purposes by order made by the Secretary of State, in relation to England, or the National Assembly for Wales, in relation to Wales.
A sport may be so designated by reference to its appearing in a list maintained by a body specified in the order.
(8C) In subsection (8A) "domestic premises" means—
(a) premises used wholly or mainly as a private dwelling, or
(b) land or other premises belonging to, or enjoyed with, premises so used.".'.
No. 42, in page 76, line 43, after 'cases)', insert '—
No. 43, in page 76, line 44, leave out ', (fb)'.
No. 44, in page 76, line 44, at end insert
(b) after paragraph (a) insert—
"(aza) in the case of a nuisance falling within paragraph (fb) of section 79(1) above except where—
(i) the artificial light is emitted from industrial, trade or business premises, or
(ii) the artificial light (not being light to which sub-paragraph (i) applies) is emitted by lights used for the purpose only of illuminating an outdoor relevant sports facility;".'.
No. 45, in page 76, line 44, at end insert—
'(4) After section 82(10) insert—
"(10A) For the purposes of subsection (10)(aza) "relevant sports facility" has the same meaning as it has for the purposes of section 80(8)(aza)." '.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]
Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce the Third Reading of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. The Bill addresses the real concerns of people in urban and in rural areas, and I am delighted to have been associated with it. It has arrived here not only through the drafting at a policy level of the issues that it addresses, but from a great deal of consultation and discussion, particularly with the Local Government Association and with those who have to deal with the practicalities of enforcement.
When people are asked what is most important to them about the environment, most mention the state of their own neighbourhood. People want to live in communities that are not blighted by litter, graffiti, fly-posters and burnt-out cars. Rural and urban communities alike see this as a major issue. It is rather sad that the Conservatives' amendment on Second Reading, which demonstrated that they have a complete lack of understanding of the problems in rural and in urban communities, was negative about what the Bill seeks to do.
The Minister mentioned the consultation that has taken place. I am puzzled by that because he made the same observations in Committee. I wonder whether he would care to comment on an e-mail dated
"The NDWA have not been consulted on this Bill and a number of matters we feel need referring back to the Committee."
Given that the provisions on the control and care of dogs are being changed, perhaps rightly, for the first time in 100 years, will the Minister explain to the House exactly whom he has been consulting if not the body of people who round up the stray dogs of Britain on our behalf?
There has been the widest of consultations, including wide public consultation. We have tried to promote discussion around the country from all sorts of organisations. On the provisions on dogs, as I said in Committee two organisations approached me to express concerns—the Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust. I immediately agreed to meet them to discuss those concerns, which we addressed in Committee. Indeed, amendments to the Bill deal with one specific concern that both organisations expressed—the possibility that there might be the transfer of responsibilities that are currently shared between the police and local authorities without an appropriate transfer of resources. For that reason, I agreed to amend the Bill in order to state that the commencement of that provision would take place only once agreement had been reached on the appropriate transfer of resources. I gather that discussions are proceeding.
Generally, there has been a welcome for the fact that under the Bill one organisation will be responsible for dealing with strays. The organisation that Derek Conway mentioned saw fit to concentrate on briefing Opposition Front Benchers, but there are other organisations concerned with the future of dogs. The issues have been discussed at length with the police and local authorities, which have the greatest experience of dealing directly with the problems of strays. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman, frustrated by being unable to debate specific amendments in relation to dogs, brought us back to the issue that has caused him concern, and did so in an appropriate manner.
The Conservatives made a major mistake in opposing the Bill when we first had our discussions on Second Reading. We believe that the problems that it addresses are of direct concern to urban and rural communities throughout the country. That is why we see it as such a priority and why it is an integral part of the Government's wider strategy on the environment and community safety. We want people to feel safe in their local community, and that can happen only if the environment is treated with respect. Fly-posting, fly-tipping, graffiti and other things that damage the local environment make people not only feel that they are in a place that is not cared for, but that is not a safe place to be.
The purpose of the Bill is to improve the local environment as it directly affects people's quality of life, wherever they live. Neglecting the local environment creates a sense of unease and that "nobody cares around here", which directly leads too many people to say, "I don't need to care." That can lead to escalating problems of antisocial behaviour. There is an important link between the state of the local environment, antisocial behaviour and the fear of crime. That is why the Bill takes a strategic, cross-Government approach to the local environmental issues that affect our quality of life. I am particularly pleased by the joint working at official and ministerial levels between colleagues at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Office, as well as the National Assembly for Wales, which has some responsibilities in relation to Wales.
The Bill forms a key part of wider Government action. It will be the backbone of our cross-cutting "Cleaner, Safer, Greener" agenda, which, again, is dealt with by several Departments. It tackles antisocial behaviour by building on the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. It also links closely with a number of other policies that we are taking forward, such as on abandoned cars. This is not a single stick approach. We are approaching this not only from the point of view of legislation, but of working closely with local authorities on improving performance, working through the best value agenda and the use of comprehensive performance assessment to place an emphasis on local environmental quality. Our work with the Local Government Association, in particular, has been very productive; I am pleased by its cross-party support for the approaches embodied in the Bill.
The Bill provides enhanced powers for local authorities and the Environment Agency to tackle local environmental quality and antisocial behaviour. It is the result of two years of intensive consultation, including our "Clean Neighbourhoods" consultation last summer, a series of road shows around the country with practitioners, and many meetings with community groups, local authorities and other organisations. I am also pleased that it is complementary to other approaches, such as the Home Office's "Together Academy" approach towards promoting local community safety and crime reduction. That placed an emphasis on dealing with local environmental crime and the two approaches are therefore complementary. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's sustainable communities approach again includes consideration of environmental issues. There is a balance to be struck in regeneration between environmental, economic and social issues. All are complementary.
Throughout the process, key gaps were identified in the legislation on which local authorities and the Environment Agency rely to deal with the antisocial behaviour that affects the quality of our neighbourhoods. They often find current legislation difficult to use. It is not wrong, but perhaps there are bureaucratic obstacles to ensuring that requirements are enforced or that available mechanisms are used effectively. The Bill therefore responds directly to calls from those agencies for improved, more practical powers—better ways of doing things.
The Bill creates the environment for better partnership working between local authorities and the police, together with the local communities that they both serve. It will involve parish councils, local businesses and community groups in the fight against antisocial behaviour and help create strong, healthy local communities. Some parish councils are small and some do not want to use the powers for which the measure provides. However, many will want to exercise leadership locally. That is being encouraged through the quality parish council scheme and the work that we are undertaking with the National Association of Local Councils and the Society of Local Council Clerks. I pay tribute to the engagement of both organisations with trying to improve the quality of leadership at that most local level of our democracy.
A year or so ago, the Minister presented a quality award to the Poynton-with-Worth parish council. It was very grateful and so was I. Will he give an assurance that active councils that want to take up the extra powers will have the resources to do so? Sadly, everything for which the Government legislate has a resource implication.
In some cases there is no resource implication, but in others powers need to be given to enable people to do things more simply. The way in which parish councils can undertake their work depends on the atmosphere of co-operation that we and the National Association of Local Councils and the Local Government Association engender through a contractual arrangement between the principal local authorities in an area and the parish and town councils that want to take their responsibilities further.
Local government in this country has come to recognise the value of the contribution that parish and town councils can make to achieving outcomes. Sir Nicholas Winterton may agree that there is sometimes conflict and competition between different levels of government. Counties and districts have not always treated each other with mutual respect, love and affection. Principal local authorities have certainly not always fully appreciated the potential of local councils—the parish, town or community councils—in Wales. Sometimes the very local organisations have tended to be too inward looking, concentrating on the capacity to study the minutes of the previous meeting and say no to whatever is proposed for the area.
I believe that that has changed. Many principal local authorities have changed their attitude towards parish councils. That has been reciprocated. For example, parish councils have been encouraged through the parish plans approach not to wait and react to applications in their area, but to begin to consider the sort of future that they want. Poynton-with-Worth is a good example. That parish council has tried to look forward. Thinking through what is wanted for the parish in the long term helps to inform the principal authorities' decisions. That constitutes the partnership approach that it is in the interests of all parties to encourage.
The Bill shows respect for parish councils' capacity to undertake duties when they want and are able to do that. They are not forced to do so. The measure further encourages partnership by, for example, recognising the principal authorities' greater capacity for enforcement, thus allowing parish or town councils to exercise their powers, if taken up, in partnership rather than as if the different levels of local authorities existed in separate vacuums. They all exist together and, at their best, complement each other effectively. I hope that that deals with the hon. Gentleman's point. He is rightly proud of the performance of the Poynton-with-Worth council, where I enjoyed a productive visit and much discussion.
The Bill takes a strategic approach to engaging everyone in the work of improving the local environment and reducing crime and disorder in the local community. It especially extends the objectives of crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which are led by the police and local authorities, specifically to include local environmental crime.
The Bill also provides better tools for local authorities and the Environment Agency to deal with fly-tipping, litter, fly-posting, abandoned vehicles and other nuisances that blight our communities. Talking to people in my area and places such as Splott, which has experienced antisocial behaviour and environmental degradation, or constituents who complain that new graffiti is not a coincidental to the return of someone who has been in one of Her Majesty's institutions for some time, underlines the importance of making connections and ensuring that we create a better environment. I hear similar comments when I speak to farmers or those in rural communities who say that their areas are often degraded through fly-tipping or abandoned vehicles. Providing better tools for local authorities to tackle those problems is important. Local authorities and the Environment Agency have a will to tackle those issues better.
Throughout the Bill, we make greater use of fixed penalty fines and give local authorities the power to adapt them to fit with their local priorities. That is important. Fixed penalty fines can be imposed without the bureaucracy and obstacles that exist if people have to be taken to court. Of course, the right must exist for them to choose not to pay the fixed penalty, and thus for the option of prosecution to kick in. In some circumstances, it is up to local authorities to determine the level of the fine in accordance with their experience of what works best and the nature of the problems in their area. We are also giving greater powers to parish and town councils so that the most local level of our democratic structures can play a part in making things better. They will have the power to issue fixed penalty notices for litter, graffiti, fly-posting and dog offences.
Doing nothing is not an option. Dealing with local environmental quality and antisocial behaviour costs agencies about £3.4 billion per year. That is a massive amount of money and a burden that is ultimately borne by the taxpayer and the council tax payer. Abandoned vehicles cost local authorities £26 million in 2002–03. That is the cost of removal, clear-up and disposal. Even more significant is the damage to the morale of the local community. The measures in the Bill will help us to tackle these problems and to reduce the costs involved.
I know that the Minister for Housing and Planning, my right hon. Friend Keith Hill, has been a great supporter of the Bill, and I am delighted that he is here in the Chamber with us as we reach the latter stages of its consideration on Third Reading.
The Bill is a major part of the Government's strategy for improving the environment, for developing a more sustainable future and for dealing with antisocial behaviour. It will help to ensure a real improvement to the quality of life of many people in communities throughout the country, and I commend it to the House.
I echo the nuances expressed by my hon. Friend Derek Conway. These proceedings have been marked by a flawed consultation procedure. To take the example of dogs, it is beyond belief that the one organisation that has been responsible for looking after stray dogs—the National Dog Warden Association—was not even consulted or called in to see the Minister until we raised the issue in Committee. Many of the offences in the Bill already exist. I pay tribute to the Conservative councils that are implementing to the letter the powers provided in previous legislation—notably the Environmental Protection Act, which was passed in 1990 under a Conservative Administration—to enable them to fight environmental crime.
The cumbersome legislation before us today has not been given adequate scrutiny. It was deprived of such scrutiny in Committee, and I do not recall such an arbitrary use of knives and guillotines as we have seen today. We have been left with two hours for our Third Reading debate, and I hope that that will give us time to cover some of the remaining points. We were not allowed the time to give the Bill in-depth scrutiny in Committee or on Report, however, and the record will show our disappointment in that regard.
I want to talk briefly about costs. The Minister has referred in Committee and today to the reliance that the Government are putting on fixed penalty notices. I have a table here that has been prepared by the House of Commons Library, which is known for its impartiality and independence of thought and research. First, however, I must point out that as the Minister has failed to answer certain questions, either in Committee or on Report, I have taken the opportunity to ask the Solicitor-General what guidance she has provided to the Crown Prosecution Service on legislative provisions introduced since 1997 that involve a reversal of the burden of proof in environmental crimes—we learned today that that applies primarily to fixed penalty notices—and to ask her to make a statement to help us to understand such provisions. This was obviously a source of embarrassment to the Government. The Minister said that he had been talking to people in the countryside, but I am surprised that anyone there would want to talk to him at all since the Government have imposed the ban on hunting through their very ill-thought-out Bill.
First, the Bill to which the hon. Lady refers is not ill-thought-out. It is very practical and straightforward and, as long as people want to obey the law, they will not have a problem in doing so. Secondly, people in the countryside are far more exercised about fly-tipping and the other issues that are dealt with in the Bill. Those matters are a bigger priority for rural people, as they are for urban people.
I shall return to the serious issue of fly-tipping later.
The Solicitor-General did not wish to make a statement today. In fact, she did not have to answer my question until today, which was probably very convenient. She has refused to give the information that I requested, and has promised to write to me shortly. It is most regrettable that the Government are not going to provide us—and the wider British public—with the information that we need to form a view on the Bill. On the existing offences that are being extended, we believe that the categories involved are very confusing. The Bill creates three separate categories: nuisance parking; abandoned vehicles; and illegally parked vehicles. We learned on Second Reading that the provisions on abandoned vehicles will be purely discretionary. It will be entirely up to a local authority to decide if it wishes to apply them. We are also told that if fixed penalty notices are paid at a rate of 75per cent., that is quite high. However, at the last Home Office questions we learned from Ministers that Home Office fixed penalty notices are paid at a rate of only 70 per cent. So, assuming that that rate reached the giddy heights of 75 per cent. in the first year in respect of the provisions on abandoned vehicles, local authorities in England and Wales would raise only £1.68 million across the board. The Library note tells us that the estimated cost of dealing with abandoned vehicles—this is from the Local Government Association briefing, which was provided to us in December for use in Committee—is £34 million. That would leave a £32 million shortfall on that one provision alone.
In Committee, we were staggered to learn from Westminster city council that including chewing gum and redefining it in the description of litter will increase the cost to that council to more than £9 million, yet we see in this well-crafted table from the Library that it will get no extra receipts under the fixed penalty notices. It will have to pay that additional £9 million bill due to that one redefinition alone.
It really is irresponsible of the hon. Lady to repeat suggestions that have already been rebutted. She knows full well, because I made this absolutely clear in Committee, that all the Bill does in relation to chewing gum is ensure that those who are in any doubt about whether dropped chewing gum is litter have the matter clarified. The suggestion that it involves additional costs or additional requirements is an error on the part of Westminster city council. I have pointed out to her previously that her reliance on Westminster city council as her only source of advice and suggestions is a mistake on her part.
On Second Reading, Sue Doughty quoted a similar figure from Kensington and Chelsea, so we are in no doubt as to what the costs are. The Minister obviously was not listening when I said this very day from this very Dispatch Box that he has singularly failed to clarify that point, which involves the staggering sum of £9 million.
I commend the Library table to the House, because on fixed penalty notices, assuming a 75 per cent. take-up rate on street litter clearing notices, only £75,000 would be earned as revenue across the board, whereas the total cost would be £342 million. That is a new figure.
I was under the impression that the Minister said that the cost of removing chewing gum does not incur an additional cost to local authorities, but I can only say from my experience in the Macclesfield borough, where the shopping precinct is blighted by chewing gum, that adequately and properly removing it from the pedestrian areas involves a huge cost. If I have misheard the Minister I apologise, but I hope he can clarify precisely what he said.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Sir Nicholas Winterton has quite misunderstood what I said. I was referring to the provisions of the Bill, which do not change in any way the onus on local authorities to remove staining—a very expensive and difficult problem for all local authorities. He is absolutely right on that. The claim made by Westminster city council and conveyed by its messenger on the Conservative Front Bench in Committee was that the Bill will place on it a new obligation to remove those stains. That is not the case. We simply discovered that some local authorities were being advised that there was a doubt as to whether chewing gum when dropped was a piece of litter. The answer is that it is already, but the Bill puts that beyond all doubt. That is the only change in relation to the issue, but it was misinterpreted by Westminster city council.
Without going over the ground that we covered in Committee, I think that Westminster city council has a valid point. The point that I made on Report was simply that, due to the size of a blob of chewing gum, it is difficult to catch someone in the act of dropping it. That is the point that Westminster city council raised through us in Committee and on Report today. Unfortunately, when someone steps on chewing gum as soon as it has been dropped but before it has been identified as litter, a stain is left on the floor. The Minister is being disingenuous in raising the issue, which will doubtless be revisited when the Bill reaches the other place for, I hope, more in-depth scrutiny.
The Minister spoke about the serious issue of fly-tipping, which according to Environment Agency estimates, costs local authorities £100 million to £150 million to remove 50,000 fly-tipping incidents a year. The Minister mocked my claim that the Bill pits urban against rural areas and put it on record again today that the Environment Agency is responsible for removing fly-tipping from publicly owned land in a town or urban area. In relation to a piece of land being rural and privately owned—our amendment on the matter was rejected—the Environment Agency, which is responsible for implementing this part, has said:
"There have been a number of cases where the landowner has been a party to the unlawful deposit. However, in most instances the landowner is a victim of this crime and may either choose to pay for the clean-up themselves or else do nothing. The Courts may award costs if these have been presented during the prosecution case, but cannot require the wastes to be removed or the land cleaned up."
I submit that that means that it is all right for the Environment Agency to pay for and use local council tax payer's money to remove waste that has been fly-tipped on to publicly owned land in an urban area, but it is not empowered, under either existing legislation or the Bill, to so relieve a perfectly innocent landowner who has had no knowledge of, and has not given his consent to, having waste fly-tipped on to his land. It is the landowner's choice to remove that from his privately owned land, and he must bear the expense. That is distressing and unacceptable, and has been a source of great concern to both the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association.
The hon. Lady makes a false argument. In urban areas, there is both publicly and privately owned property, as in rural areas. The Bill applies across the board, and it is a false dichotomy to pit urban people against rural people, which shows that she is wrongly and falsely pursuing another interest.
I have had excellent co-operation with ENCAMS and the Environment Agency in my area. They are alert to the fact that the Government have signed up to a number of directives that have led to an increasing incidence of fly-tipping, often with a criminal element involved. That is why we take this issue seriously. The onus should be on the Environment Agency to remove this stuff, and if it can identify the criminals who have placed it on private land in the country, it should prosecute them, which would help to defray the costs. Signing up to the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive and the landfill directive has seen increasing amounts of white goods being fly-tipped in rural areas. As co-disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes is no longer allowed, there are not sufficient sites to take those and landfill is closing down. I believe that we will return to this issue ad nauseum. The Bill provided an opportunity to rectify that balance and ensure that landowners were put in the same situation as others.
It is fair to add that the National Farmers Union welcomes many aspects of the Bill, although it has raised a number of concerns with us. I want to put those on record, because the Government failed to consider them sympathetically and act on the amendments that we tabled on the NFU's behalf. On gating orders, the union said:
"It is unclear on whom the responsibility of the installation, maintenance and operation of the barrier or gate would lie. This issue needs to be clarified."
Clause 2, entitled "Gating orders", did not clarify it.
On clause 11, "Notice of removal", the NFU said:
"Vehicles abandoned on farm land blight the countryside, have the potential to cause pollution and are a hazard, yet do not seem to be addressed."
Part 3, which deals with "Litter and refuse", includes clause 20, "Litter clearing notices". The NFU
"would like to see land where illegal events, such as raves or illegal encampments have occurred included in this list."
So far, they have not been.
Part 4 deals with "Graffiti and other defacement". We were not permitted to reach it today, although there were concerns about it, too. The NFU mentioned
"a requirement that any unauthorised advert should be removed. Farmers working land that"
—by its very nature—
"is widely spread, not easily accessible or infrequently visited may not be aware of an illegal advert."
The NFU believes that farmers could be seen to be being victimised. The union would have welcomed Government guidance enabling authorities to deal with illegal deposits of waste, but I made that point at some length a moment ago.
As for clauses 42 and 43 and fly-tipping,
"The NFU is concerned that the identification of the true culprit can be difficult to establish, and that the landowner or occupier is more easily established . . . The NFU would urge that landowners and occupiers should not have to pay for costs of enforcement, recovery, or clean-up until the final outcome of any appeal is known."
Clause 50 is entitled "Power to require owner of land to remove waste".
"strongly believes that clear guidelines should be put in place" so that landowners and occupiers are not required
"to remove the fly-tipped material simply on the basis that the perpetrator cannot be found. Enforcing agencies"
—in this case the Environment Agency—
"should be required to show that all reasonable measures have been taken to identify and act against the culprits."
My hon. Friend is making an interesting case, but because of my other activities in this place and because I was not on the Standing Committee, much of this is new to me. Does she accept that fly-tipping and dumping—dumping cars in the countryside, for instance—and other antisocial acts are a result of people behaving badly? Does she agree that the way in which to deal with that is to impose firm and severe penalties on those who are identified and taken to court for such offences? I have not heard what we will do about offences that desecrate the countryside.
When I go home on a Thursday night, the first thing I do on Friday morning is clean up the litter outside my house—litter dumped not by the local authority, not by government, but by people who do not appreciate the value of the countryside, or people in urban areas who do not appreciate the environment in which they live.
I think my hon. Friend will find that the Bill is silent on that, particularly cases involving privately owned land. If the perpetrator cannot be found, it is the landowner's responsibility to remove the waste.
Does my hon. Friend share my frustration? When a number of my constituents contacted me about a very nasty serial fly-tipper, I took great pleasure in relaying to local police what that individual was doing. When he eventually came up before the courts, he was fined the measly sum of £500 and asked to do some community service. He has now returned to fly-tipping just as badly as before, and we hope to catch him again. Does my hon. Friend agree that the courts need to take note of the genuine concern felt by all hon. Members in all parts of the House about the gravity of the situation, and that the courts are perhaps not taking this issue seriously enough?
The problem seems to be apprehending the perpetrator, whether that involves seizing the vehicle or finding out who dumped on the land, the issue about which we have expressed greatest concern. That remains a flaw in the Bill's provisions on fly-tipping. The same is true of fly-posting: we tabled a number of amendments on over-posting, which, regrettably, the Government did not see fit to accept. However, all is not lost, and I hope that it will be possible further to scrutinise this issue in the other place.
I turn to the last point that the NFU asked us to take up, which, again, we were unable to discuss because we did not reach the amendment on dogs. I hope that the Minister agrees that when the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 is fully implemented, it may become apparent that there are specific areas of farmland where dog control orders will be required to combat dog-related nuisance. I hope that the Government will seek to fulfil expectations in that regard.
On provisions relating to dogs, I yield to none other than my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, who has done sterling work in this regard. I apologise to him and to the House for the fact that because of the way in which the knives fell—the decision was not ours but the Government's—we were unable to move and debate amendment No. 11. There is a real need for such an amendment because the Bill is silent on how local authorities will implement such provisions. As my hon. Friend is aware, not every local authority will have a dog warden or access to kennels, and most will not provide a 24-hour dog warden service, as is currently provided. The Bill will require the provision of kennels to house stray dogs in each local authority area, and it will require the provision of treatment for injured dogs—and, regrettably, the putting down of dogs that are too badly injured. We did not have a huge amount of time to discuss that in Committee.
I read the deliberations of the Committee on which my hon. Friend did such a sterling job in very limited time; indeed, only about 45 minutes were spent on the subject. Does she share my amazement that no real figures have yet been given, to the House or the Committee, on the additional costs to local authorities? The Dogs Trust has estimated a cost of £13.2 million if just one additional dog warden per local authority were appointed. I hope that the Minister might be able to put a bit of flesh on the bones of those costs. I could not find such figures in the Committee's deliberations, although my hon. Friend was clearly pressing the Minister.
Indeed. The Library has come up with a figure for dog control offences. Receipts from the issuing of fixed penalty notices at a rate of 75 per cent. would yield only £112,500 across all local authorities in England and Wales, whereas the actual cost would be between £1.8 million and £13.2 million. Those figures represent the estimated cost to police, plus the cost of one dog warden at £30,000 per annum, multiplied by 440 local authority areas in England and Wales. That information is taken from the Dogs Trust briefing to Committee members. I hope that it assists my hon. Friend.
I hate to interrupt the conversation between the hon. Lady and Derek Conway, but I do not want the House inadvertently to be misled. Section 149(9) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 requires any stray dogs detained by a local authority
"to be properly fed and maintained."
That clearly includes the treatment of sick and injured dogs. That is why, had we reached the clause that the hon. Lady mentioned, I would have explained why it was unnecessary.
Secondly, the authority's duty to deal with stray dogs is clearly set out in the 1990 Act. When the Bill comes into force, local authorities will be solely responsible—a decision greatly welcomed by the police. As I have already explained, commencement of this part of the Bill will be dependent on agreement over the transfer of resources, which will enable the local authority to undertake those duties. The duty is not restricted to daylight hours, so local authorities will need to have suitable arrangements in place to deal with stray dogs on a 24-hour basis. It does not necessarily involve kennels; arrangements with the local vet could be utilised, as already happens in some rural areas. These are all practical issues and I have to point out that they were debated in Committee.
The Minister confirms the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup and I have consistently made: either there was sufficient consultation and the Bill has been well thought out in a consistent and comprehensive manner, or the Bill has been rushed through—[Interruption.] It goes to the core of the matter. If the Minister wants the Bill to succeed, there must surely be a mechanism for approving the transfer of resources. Very helpfully from the point of view of Conservative Members, the Minister has highlighted the fact that there is no guarantee of the transfer of resources, as it is currently up for discussion. I raised that matter in Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup raised it on Second Reading. It should not have been necessary to delay implementation of this part of the Bill.
The hon. Lady is wrong yet again. It was the Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust that raised the matter directly with me and I undertook to take their concerns seriously, as I made clear in Committee. I then tabled an amendment to ensure that commencement of this part of the Bill can happen only once the transfer of resources has been agreed. It is all very straightforward.
It was so straightforward that the Minister did not consult or seek the views of the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust or the National Dog Wardens Association. What confidence can we and the great British public have in a Bill that has been so shoddily thought through and so poorly consulted on that we are where we are now?
I must tell the House that I do not know how my hon. Friend has managed to stay so calm. The Minister intervened to say that it would all have been covered in earlier consideration had we got to it. We did not get to it and my hon. Friend could not move her amendment because of the guillotine imposed on the House by the Minister. The fact that we have not properly considered the details has nothing to do with my hon. Friend: it has happened because the Minister has managed to whip through a curtailment of our debate. She is absolutely right to put the Minister on the spot, which is supposed to be the point of a Standing Committee and of our remaining stages. I hope that those in the other place will read our deliberations and press the Minister taking the Bill through the upper House. I have read what this Minister said in Committee and it is not the same as what he is saying to the House now.
Indeed, and it is important to place on the record the fact that consultations and meetings were not sought. It is unacceptable to be at the final stages of the Bill's passage through this House without having received a firm and clear commitment from the Minister that a transfer of resources will take place. Is it good enough at this stage to say that the transfers are still being discussed? We have been left with two hours to debate the issues and we were not able to put these matters to a vote earlier.
I feel as though I am watching a dog chewing an old bone, because the hon. Lady keeps coming back to issues that have been dealt with time and again. I have made it absolutely clear—we have amended the Bill—that there will be no commencement of the requirement that places responsibility solely in the hands of local authorities until there is agreement on resources. That matter has been dealt with. It is not just a question of an assurance from the Dispatch Box, because we have amended the Bill to deal with the matter following an approach from the Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club, and my discussions with them.
We can move on, because we agree to disagree.
I turn to other matters that we were unable to discuss earlier. They include amendments covering graffiti and the huge expense that it causes, as well as the problem not just of fly-posting, but of over-posting. I am delighted that, on this occasion if no other, we have the support of the Liberal Democrats. That is most welcome and we look forward to going into the Division Lobby together.
I said earlier that all fly-tipped waste should be removed and I referred to amendment No. 11, about dogs. An interesting situation occurred on light pollution. The Minister told us categorically that there was no issue concerning light pollution, particularly from sports pitches and playing fields. Subsequently, Sir Trevor Brooking went to see him; perhaps that was another consultation that did not happen with due diligence and in time for the Committee stage. Two or three weeks ago, we tabled a series of amendments that appear on the amendment paper today. We wanted the opportunity of perhaps pressing them to a Division, but we did not reach them because the guillotines fell inappropriately, too frequently and allowed too little scrutiny of the Bill. Those matters were not discussed sufficiently or were not discussed at all.
I dwelt at length on costs. The figures collated by the Government and their advisers, ENCAMS, demonstrate that local authorities will be unable to afford to implement the Bill. It is clear that receipts from fixed penalties will contribute only a fraction of the costs involved. Unless the Government are prepared to force local authorities dramatically to increase council tax bills or to offer alternative funding, many of the measures in the Bill will be unenforceable. They are discretionary for the most part, which shows that the Bill has been badly thought out. Its purpose is to grab headlines—it is another of the Government's eye-catching initiatives. Its flaws could not be corrected during the few Committee sittings or the little time available this afternoon and this evening. The Government have failed to listen or to amend the Bill to accommodate any of the concerns and representations raised with Conservative Members. The Bill is in need of further examination. We will not oppose it further in this place, but we hope that the other place will have the scope and time for more in-depth and fuller scrutiny than has been possible today.
The Government have had a good record since 1997 on tackling antisocial behaviour and improving the local environment. Those two themes make a valuable contribution to the quality of people's lives. Labour Members recognise that a good quality environment reduces antisocial behaviour and the fear of crime. A theory developed in New York was the "broken windows" argument—that the degradation of a place leads to higher levels of crime and disorder. If an area is increasingly neglected, either through lack of individual or community control or neglect by a local authority, people begin to lose confidence about the regulation of their community space and a downward spiral of neglect and disorder is inevitable.
Underpinning the Bill is the attempt to make a cultural shift in our society, whereby values of respect and responsibility for personal and shared property lead to a decrease in antisocial activity. Most MPs realise from our work in our local communities the central importance of those values for our constituents. We are often told that we should talk more about relevant issues. Few issues are more relevant than those we are discussing today, so I welcome the philosophy behind the Bill as well as some of the specific points that it covers. I am conscious of the time and of the fact that other people want to speak so I shall try to be as brief as possible.
Central to the Bill is ensuring that crime and disorder reduction partnerships will take into account low level antisocial behaviour and environmental crimes such as littering and graffiti. That sends the important message to people that disfiguring and degrading our local environment is a crime and will be treated as such. We need to get that message across. I welcome the greater powers that will be given to local councils to deal with alleyways affected by antisocial behaviour. I hope that such powers will be used to restrict public access to alleyways that are used to facilitate crime and vandalism. In an experiment in North Whinmoor, in my constituency, the local community, aided by Councillor Pauleen Grahame, has done a great job constructing an alley gate in the area, which has proved a great success.
Graffiti and fly-posting are other important issues tackled in the Bill. Both contribute to poor environmental quality and neighbourhood decline. I have to admit that I struggle to appreciate the artistic merit in some of the works of graffiti that I see in our public spaces—be they parks, community buildings or the sides of railway routes. I note that local councils will be able to vary the fixed penalty amounts for graffiti offences, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will exert pressure to ensure that the fines levied are meaningful and not a laughable amount that leads graffiti artists to think that they can carry on their work unhindered.
I warmly welcome the provisions on fly-posting and advertisements. Councils will be able to recover the costs of removing illegally displayed posters or placards. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the Government will do everything possible to ensure that those powers are vigorously enforced? Increasingly, as we drive along motorways and major routes, we see mobile advertisement boards sprouting up on the sides of old lorries and so on. They blight our local environments and communities.
I am also concerned about fly-tipping. As my right hon. Friend has a fantastic grasp of geography he will know of the example that I am about to give: Leeds lane in my constituency, which links Wakefield road with Swillington lane—[Interruption.] Yes, that is the one and it is the bane of my life. It is a rural lane overlooking Garforth and I drive along it almost every day that I am in my constituency, and I think that somebody is deliberately trying to psyche me out. Almost every week, household materials are dumped at the side of the footpath. It may be a tribute to the way that Labour is running the economy that baths, fridges, cookers, gas canisters and various bits of furniture are thrown out. Perhaps that just shows how rich our society is. What irritates me is that we never see who is throwing those things away. Should not we invest in a mini CCTV system, which could be hidden in trees or camouflaged in various ways, so that we can track down the people who are responsible? I realise that the police cannot wait at that spot for hours on end, nor can neighbourhood wardens, so let us think creatively and use some money to develop the technology that will catch people who dump rubbish. I offer Leeds lane as a prime site for the Government to make that grand experiment. They will have my full support.
I welcome the new powers in the Bill, especially those that enable councils and the Environment Agency to recover their investigation and clear-up costs when tackling the problem of fly-posting. I note that local councils will be able to issue fixed penalty notices and keep the receipts from such penalties. I am pleased that the Bill introduces a more effective system to stop, search and seize the vehicles used in illegal waste disposal and gives the courts the power to require the confiscation of the vehicles used in that crime. I hope that we can detect them on Leeds lane.
I ask the Minister to urge councils to set up a hotline, staffed by someone who is aware of how big a concern this issue is to people. My constituents have often rung the local supposed hotline, which is actually a lukewarm line, to be treated by the person at the other end to a long inquiry, boring questions and so on, when people want action to be taken.
The Bill covers a wide range of issues, including the problem of dog fouling—an issue that came to my attention in Great Preston, when I spent some time with a ground worker last Friday. This may sound like the ultimate pub quiz question, but I am indebted to the Library for telling me that UK dogs produce 1,000 tonnes of dog mess every day, which is equivalent—the Minister will not believe this—to the total weight of beef imports into the European Union. I have no idea why the Library draws that parallel.
There are other interesting facts in relation to litter. As I said earlier, I noticed the litter on top of the Opposition Dispatch Box. It is interesting to note that 120 tonnes of cigarette-related litter is discarded on our streets daily and that cigarette litter generates about 40 per cent. of all street litter.
I also note that the Bill will give councils greater flexibility in dealing with noise nuisance from things such as burglar alarms, which have been mentioned, and from licensed premises that ignore warnings to reduce excessive noise levels. Light pollution is also addressed, particularly with respect to badly positioned security lighting and the glare of unshielded bright lights that cover car parks.
In contradiction to what the Conservatives have said, this is a good Bill. It follows, from my reading around it, widespread consultation with people. Legislation is important. The Minister talked about joint working with other Departments, but one of the key Departments that may have lost out is the Department for Education and Skills. I honestly believe that there is a place in schools for teaching about the local environment and that that should be part of the school curriculum. "Think globally, act locally" is the slogan, and I wish that we would take that up; but, obviously, what has the greatest role in education is what our parents tell us. I am one of those who was brought up to believe that if we generate rubbish—sweet papers and so on—we should not just drop it on the floor but take it home with us. That may be a homely view of things, but I wish that we could return to that in some respects.
I will not go on too long, but I wish to note that the Bill aims to create cleaner, safer, greener communities. In my view, that means stronger communities, which is what people like me think that politics is all about. This is a good Bill, and I hope that the Minister will explain, if he makes some further comments in closing the debate, how the £500 million cut in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs proposed by the Conservative party would damage some of the proposals that we have been discussing tonight.
This is an interesting and important Bill, but in some ways we are disappointed because we could have done more to deal with a lot of the issues. The Bill does not go far enough. Nevertheless, stronger fines and longer sentences for those who pollute and measures to seize vehicles that are used to pollute are all absolutely essential. We need not only to fine fly-tippers at a level that would make a real difference to the viability of their business—that is what it is all about— but to make it clear that such actions are environmental crimes and that environmental crimes really matter. They damage our environment; they damage the planet; and they are the sort of thing that should have no place in the modern world. Ours is an overcrowded planet and the harm that we do now not only to the land but to communities in a densely packed island like ours makes a difference, so we need to deal with the people who cause those problems.
We have some reservations about the Bill, but we are being practical by considering what it needs to do. We need to take a serious look at some other issues. One issue on which we did not table amendments is the problem of train horns. A number of Members get constituents constantly coming to them saying that nuisance is created not only by noise from premises but by things such as train horns which have got so much noisier. The Rail Safety and Standards Board has not taken on board the fact that there are alternative ways of raising alarms that are not so disruptive.
We had debates on Second Reading and in Committee about light pollution. I still feel uncomfortable with the fact that large organisations, such as ports, airports and harbours, have failed to recognise that, although some lighting is necessary for their effective and safe operation, they must do much more to deal with excess light. It often creates misery for the people living close by. Although some organisations take a good look at what they can do to minimise light pollution, not enough is happening. We certainly heard on Second Reading about the people who could see the light from a port—even though it was below the horizon, it still caused a glare.
We also have concerns about the provisions for fly-tipping. If it occurs on council land, it will be cleaned up. However, if it takes place on private land that belongs to farmers, the National Trust or other large landowning bodies, the landowners will have to pay for the clean-up even though they have done as much as they can to prevent fly-tipping by having proper gates, fencing and padlocks in place. We have not got very far on that. We also wonder how the Environment Agency will pay for the extra duties involved. Nowhere does it say who will pay for the work that the agency does.
As I said in Committee, I attended a parish council meeting in Worplesden that discussed whether to erect CCTV cameras to identify fly-tippers on the common. Although the council, the police and representatives from the parish were at the meeting, no one from the Environment Agency attended because it was thought that its staff were already overstretched and could do no more to help. In other words, no more work was going to be placed on the agency even though it had responsibility and could play a strong role in this issue. I am on record as saying that I am a strong fan of the agency, but I am not an uncritical fan. It needs resources and good calibre staff if it is going to do its work and if the Bill is to be successful. It lays further responsibilities on the agency.
Another of our big concerns is conviction and detection, and the agency often has to do the detection work that leads to conviction. The Bill contains strong penalties to deal with fly-tippers, but someone has to be convicted before they are imposed. That means that they must be detected first and if we do not do that, we will not be able to deal with the repeat fly-tipper who runs a business based on fly-tipping and knows that he will get away with that. We shall not even be able to deal with the curious cases in which someone fly-tips opposite a Travellers' site, because he thinks that the Travellers will be blamed and he will get away with it.
As we know, in 2003, the Environment Agency dealt with 5,399 incidents of fly-tipping, but there were only 254 prosecutions. That is not good enough. We need to get real deterrents in place, but that percentage of prosecutions is totally inadequate in sending the message that the polluter will and must pay. Much more needs to be done.
Although we agree with the Conservatives about some aspects of the Bill, I am worried about their attitude to it. They opposed it in the first place, so it seems that if they cannot have it their way, they are not keen on it at all. Liberal Democrats are not entirely happy with it, but we must support it because there is no way that we can walk away from a Bill that will get hard with polluters. I serve on the Environmental Audit Committee, which has investigated environmental crime and the courts, fly-tipping and graffiti. The Bill addresses many such problems. One of our reports said that more resources were needed, and although that needs to be considered in another place, we must support such a Bill because pollution has an impact on communities.
The Conservatives called for the Environment Agency to have the power of arrest, but the agency does not want that because it thinks that it would be inappropriate. Indeed, there is quite a bit of evidence to back that up. The Environment Agency rightly wants uniformed police to make arrests because the people involved in such activities are often deeply unpleasant and vicious individuals. We are also worried about who will clean up land.
The chairman of the Environment Agency wrote a letter that was published in The Times on
"The James report for the Conservative Party on the savings to be made from bureaucracy proposes cutting government grants to the Environment Agency by £47 million, which it describes as cuts in 'intrusive enforcement by the Environment Agency' . . . As the Environment Agency actually spends £19 million on enforcement—acting on breaches of the law by the regulated sector as well as tracking down criminals acting outside the system altogether—my board would dearly like to understand what else is for the chop.
Without further enlightenment, which is not available in the report itself, we are forced to conclude that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition to significantly cut the policing of criminal dumping of waste and to reduce monitoring of the environment to safeguard public health, the maintenance of our natural habitats and upkeep of locks and weirs on rivers."
The letter went on to say:
"In the circumstances we can hardly fail to conclude that Mr James's recommendations have no basis in even the most rudimentary understanding of our business."
I am sorry that such letters must be written, because whether we are Government or Opposition Members, we are all are trying to find better ways of running government. We all want to get best value for the taxpayer, but the Conservatives cannot say on the one hand that they want more enforcement and powers of arrest, but say on the other that they would take away the money that would allow that to happen. We have heard nothing from the Conservatives about how they intend to pay for their proposals.
I am pleased about aspects of the Bill because they represent progress. I am glad that stronger action will be taken on abandoned vehicles. A lady who lives close to my constituency office, which is in a residential area that is not at the best end of town, takes it upon herself to record the numbers of abandoned vehicles and to feed them through the system, and she lets me know how she is doing. Such people need encouragement and to know that councils will act. Vehicles for sale on the streets cause a nuisance and the situation has been allowed to continue for far too long. That practice has started to be thought of as a fact of life because councils do not do much about it, so anything that makes the law to deal with the problem stronger is desperately important.
I have been listening carefully to the hon. Lady and reading "A Better Environment, A Better Life: Liberal Democrat Policies for the Environment". If she is so committed to the Bill, why does it not feature in the Liberal Democrats' environmental policies?
I am interested in the hon. Lady's intervention, especially if she wants to discuss our entire policy manifesto, but we are debating a Government Bill. We have not listed all their Bills in our manifesto because we are the Liberal Democrats. I am sure that the Conservatives have taken it on themselves to support the occasional Bill and that that has not appeared in their manifesto. She will have heard that I support other aspects of waste management that are also becoming Labour party policy, in particular measures to deal with plastic bags.
We need to make progress. More needs to be done. The problem of chewing gum has not been satisfactorily resolved. With a little time, I hope that in the other place the Government will introduce stronger proposals on chewing gum, given the breadth of debate on the issue. We are all concerned about it, and we want some action.
I thank the Minister for his letter on insects. We had an interesting debate about insects, but more needs to be said about the infestation of insects from premises. I am sure that that will be raised in another place, because we need more clarification of what he suggested in his letter.
The Bill has our support. It is desperately important that we get a clear message out about how polluters must pay for what they do. I look forward to it being improved in another place.
I shall be brief, because other hon. Members wish to speak and many points have been made several times over. Not surprisingly, I welcome the Bill. Time and time again, we have heard about the link between antisocial behaviour and poor, neglected and abused environments. It is right that the Bill focuses on breaking that link. Environmental vandalism exists in all our constituencies, in small and large areas.
The consultation was crucial in introducing the measures. As far as I can tell, it was extensive and rigorous. The outcome is that the Bill complements earlier legislation, including the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, with which I was pleased to be involved. One of the Bill's aspects is to strengthen existing partnerships by requiring responsible authorities to ensure that tackling such behaviour is at the heart of their strategies. It also extends powers to partners, including parishes, extends and toughens penalties, and simplifies processes and procedures, which is important because it makes them easier to implement.
I welcome in particular, as I am sure do my constituents, the wider use of fixed penalty notices, improvements to gating, which is especially relevant in Erewash, and tougher measures on fly-tipping, because Erewash has urban fringes that suffer from that crime, from graffiti, from nuisance vehicles and from dumped cars and litter. I recently conducted a large survey on issues that concern my constituents, and litter was at the top of the pile. In fact, it has risen to the top of the pile over the past couple of years.
Among the range of penalties and measures that the Bill provides to tackle litter specifically, one gem is the ability for responsible authorities to impose litter cleaning notices on private households. Interspersed between the well kept houses with beautiful gardens that people have taken an awful lot of time and trouble to nurture—the real homes—it is demoralising to see front gardens that look like the local refuse tip, or worse. For the first time, the Bill gives powers to require those people to clean up their act. I am delighted with that measure.
There is more to do on environmental crime, but for me the centrality of the Bill is whether the measures in it will be implemented by those that have been given the responsibilities. I want to give some examples of episodes in my constituency over the past year or so which have led us to pause with concern.
West Hallam community centre in the village of West Hallam belongs to the Conservative parish council of West Hallam. The playgroup that rents the centre asked me to write to the management committee of the building to ask it to remove graffiti, and this is what I got back:
"We recognise graffiti is a problem and have on several previous occasions had it removed. In our experience, however, unlike the suggestion in your letter, we have found the removal of the graffiti gives the green light for it to appear again."
I am not speechless on many occasions, but that letter took my breath away. We are talking about transferring powers to such groups. I am not for one minute saying that all parish councils in Erewash hold that attitude—I am sure that they do not—but we must accept that there are still pockets of ignorance in our communities and we need to challenge them.
The other episode that I would like to mention concerns one of my leisure centres that has a big recycling park, which was covered in dumped rubbish a year ago at Christmas and new year. One of my constituents flagged up the problem, so I challenged the local Conservative council to do something about it. A year ago, I received a letter saying that the council had put in extra resources and would monitor the situation and make further resources available the following year.
I went to the leisure centre for a swim on
"We deliberately stepped up our efforts to keep our main recycling sites tidy during the Christmas period following the problems experienced in previous years . . . Whilst this extra activity was successful, the real problem is residents using the recycling points to dump residual waste. This is in fact fly-tipping; a criminal offence carrying a maximum fine of £2,500. Whilst the Council plans to provide similar enhanced collection services next Christmas, we will be playing a much stronger enforcement role and persons caught fly-tipping will be prosecuted."
The letter finally told me that both the tip and the recycling processing plant were closed at that time.
Local councils must get their act together. My council knew that there was a problem. It should have supplied more refuse collection facilities. It should also have challenged the behaviour of those fly-tipping, and should have ensured that the local tip was open. This is not just about enforcing the law but about ensuring that there is the capacity for people who want to dump their refuse legitimately.
Two years down the line, the council is putting a much better structure in place. It has made a significant investment in a warden system, which is about to come on stream, and more money is being invested in refuse collection and street cleaning. However, those measures must be implemented thoroughly and speedily, and the council must be transparent about its activities and schedules and make clear what people can expect from its services both on a regular basis and when a problem occurs. As my hon. Friend Colin Burgon has said, a hotline should be introduced so that people can report fly-tipping and littering, and feedback should be obtained on how services are working.
The Bill is good and the measures will work if all responsible bodies, and the public, understand that environmental crime can be tackled, but that we all have a role to play. It provides an excellent opportunity to do more to clean up the environment.
It seems almost an eternity, Mr. Speaker, since I raised with you the question of whether we would get an opportunity to discuss a particular part of the Bill, about which I have driven the Minister to boredom and distraction because of my insistence on trying to flesh out some of the details of the legislation dealing with dogs. I do not apologise for my interest in the matter. I have served on several Standing Committees with the Minister and I know how he likes to operate—if he can cross the street for a punch-up, he always will. I have no doubt that when he replies to my observations, which I hope will be brief, he will give me a kicking.
Conservative Members have made it plain that our opposition to parts of the Bill, which contains many good clauses, is not tooth and nail, and I do not have a great deal of difficulty with the Minister's proposals on the control of dogs and handling stray dogs. However, he should not have taken umbrage at a number of interventions—in particular, my interventions—because it is his job to explain the reasoning behind his proposals and it is our job to press him. I hope that he will not take undue offence at our pressing him, although we agree with much of what he is trying to do, because that is what he is paid for.
Sadly, I missed the seventh sitting of the Standing Committee on
The meeting took place after Second Reading, when those organisations approached me with their concerns. We examined those concerns and amended the Bill, as I said earlier. We originally hoped that the discussions on the transfer of resources would be ready so that the Bill could be implemented as originally drafted three months after Royal Assent, but to put the question beyond all doubt, we amended it to ensure that that part of the Bill will be commenced after the discussion on resources.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, and commend him on listening to those worthy organisations, which are experienced in such matters, and on amending the Bill, which is to his credit—I am sure that those organisations are grateful. However, he must accept that hon. Members are astonished that a Minister could introduce a Bill to change the legislation on handling dogs, which has existed for more than 100 years, without consulting the biggest animal welfare charities that deal with dogs in the UK—the Dogs Trust, which used to be the National Canine Defence League, the Kennel Club and Battersea dogs home—it should properly be called the dogs home, Battersea—which is not a million miles from this place. Battersea dogs home says that more than 51 per cent. of the stray dogs that it is asked to take in arrive on a Monday after the weekend, so there is a problem with what goes on out of hours.
In the light of the Minister's long experience, and my briefer experience, in government, I find it difficult to believe that a Department would have the effrontery to put before the House a Bill that will place a difficult burden on animal welfare charities—including the National Dog Warden Association, whose representatives the Minister did not meet at all—without consulting them beforehand. Those are the people who are doing the job. We can talk about it here, but they are the ones cleaning up the mess that we humans leave when we do not treat our animals properly.
I am not crossing the road to beat up the hon. Gentleman, but I want to correct his assertions. The only outstanding issue is that of the transfer of resources necessary to make one organisation—the local authority—responsible for dealing with strays, which, as far as I can make out, everybody supports. That was the only reasonable point that was made—all the others were misapprehensions about what the Bill would do, and I was able to correct them. Often, the problem is not a lack of consultation but a misunderstanding about what a piece of legislation does, which needs to be corrected by additions long after the consultation has been completed.
The Minister utters honeyed words, and I am tempted to believe them, because I know that he has the best of intentions. However, even when he did eventually deign to meet the biggest animal welfare charities that are doing the work that his Department is dealing with in the Bill, their conclusions—I think that they were circulated to him—were negative. The Dogs Trust, which he met, stated in a briefing:
"Insufficient evidence has been taken as to the problems that will be created."
"Adequate funding must be made available."
We wait to hear, because nobody yet knows, what this will cost or where the money will come from. The Minister is plucking figures out of the air. One would think that the House of Commons had some kind of fiscal responsibility concerning the government of our country, and would be entitled to know whether we are talking about millions, or hundreds of thousands, of pounds. My hon. Friend Miss McIntosh gave some figures earlier, but the Minister is the man who is being paid to do that.
The briefing continues:
"There are no proposals to enlighten the general public about what to do when finding a stray dog."
Whether we like it or not, when the Bill becomes law there will be confusion about who cares for the dog.
I entirely support my hon. Friend. Is he even more shocked and alarmed that the National Dog Warden Association says in its conclusions:
"We have not proposed any amendments as we believe that the legislative proposals are wrong because they have no prospect of being financed properly"?
The hon. Gentleman is making a meal of half a biscuit. I remind him that dog wardens are employed by local authorities, which have been fully consulted and engaged all along with the transfer of responsibilities. At no time—I underline this—has the NDWA sought a meeting, at ministerial or official level, with DEFRA. All the proposals have been in the public domain for a very long time. The hon. Gentleman is making a tremendous effort to find something to criticise, but if this is the worst he can do, we have done pretty well.
The trouble is that when the Minister moves on to greater things, or whatever he does, it will be NDWA members who are rounding up the dogs. They, not he or any of the rest of us who take part in these debates, are the men and women out there in the cold trying to sort out society's problems when abandoned animals run off.
It is all very well for the Minister to be caustic about the NDWA and to write it off in the rather high-handed way that anyone who has had dealings with this Government has come to expect, but it will not wash. The other place will not unreasonably conclude not only that the time that this House has had for scrutiny was wholly inadequate—not because of you, Mr. Speaker, but because of the Government motions that have been forced upon us—but that it is incredible that the very bodies that will be involved in clearing up the mess left behind were not even remotely consulted, until the Minister was pressed on Second Reading to find out what they had to say.
I appreciate that other hon. Members have sat throughout our long debate and now wish to take part, so I shall conclude shortly. Although the Minister has made it clear that the responsibility is moving from the police to the local authorities, the chief executives of which he tells me he has consulted, he said, as is recorded in column 253 of the Official Report of the Committee's proceedings on
None of us claims that what the Minister is trying to do is bad. He is not a bad man and we do not say that the Bill is a bad measure. That is probably why the House will not divide on it. However, although the intentions are good, we are worried, especially from an animal welfare perspective, about whether the practicalities of some of the measure will be effected. I believe that local authorities will be confronted with a much higher bill than they or the Minister anticipate, and that the dog wardens who do the job and the animal welfare charities that try to rehome the dogs or care for those that local authorities do not put to sleep, made a reasonable point. However, they had to make it to the Minister in a grudging form because he and his officials did not see them before the Bill was introduced.
The Minister is trying to do something without thinking about it seriously, and I predict that, sadly, hon. Members will have to revert to the matter—doubtless when he has moved on to greater things.
It is a pleasure to make what I believe will be the last contribution on the Bill in this place. It is an excellent measure and my right hon. Friend the Minister deserves congratulations on piloting it through our proceedings. It shows that the Government are on the side of residents in my constituency—and others like it throughout the country—who play by the rules and want to live in a decent community. It is squarely in touch with their concerns. That contrasts sharply with the 40-minute whinge that we heard from Conservative Front Benchers, from which it was not even clear whether the Conservative party would support the Bill.
The measure will be directly relevant to all my constituents. It will deliver more for them and their lives than another high profile Bill with which the Minister has been involved. It addresses a subject that other hon. Members have mentioned: a growing anxiety about what people perceive as a decline in standards of respect and the culture of consideration for others. We all feel that there has been a trend in the past 15 or 20 years towards greater disrespect for others, antisocial behaviour and standards of behaviour that fall below what would have been acceptable 15, 20, 25 and 30 years ago.
In my constituency, people casually break bus shelters, drop litter and scrawl graffiti. I trace that to parenting and the importance of accepting parental responsibility—I hope that the Government will revert to those issues in their manifesto.
My hon. Friend is right to mention Thatcherism, which meant that communities such as mine were cut adrift. The infrastructure was abandoned and neglected and people were left to fend for themselves. Today, we are picking up the pieces of the mantra of, "There is no such thing as society." It will take a generation to eradicate that culture, which the Conservative party bequeathed to the country.
The roots of the behaviour are complex but, as my hon. Friend Colin Burgon said in his excellent contribution, we must prevent it from becoming self-perpetuating. Communities witness the decline—the broken windows and the litter on the streets—and people decide that there is no point in getting involved and acting because things will not get better.
The Bill tries to tackle that defeatist culture, which can take hold of a community, whereby more and more properties go downhill and, as my hon. Friend Liz Blackman said, the decent residents who look after their front gardens are in the minority and private landlords allow their properties to go to rack and ruin and do not care as long as the cheque comes in at the end of every month.
Only last Friday, I met a group of residents from Glebe street in the heart of my constituency. More than anything else, they want the encouragement to fight back. They want to know that if they are going to make the effort to improve their community, they will have the power to do so and that they will get the encouragement to take positive, practical steps to clean up their community. They do not want to feel that the authorities are not on their side or that they are wasting their time. The Bill gives direct backing to those groups of residents who want to transform their communities, which is one of its key strengths.
I want to talk briefly about the provisions in clause 2 that deal with gating orders. The borough of Wigan has made a great effort to look into alley-gating schemes. It probably has among the highest number of back-to-back terraced properties in the country, both in the main towns of Wigan and Leigh and in the outlying towns of Golborne, Atherton and Hindley. One of the peculiarities of our borough is that, on the Wigan side, the backs—the alleys behind the terraced houses—are unadopted, so the council has been able to proceed with alley-gating schemes without any legal hindrance. The backs can be closed off without recourse to the courts. In my constituency, however, most of the backs are adopted highways, and the council has therefore had great difficulty in introducing orders to enable them to be gated for the benefit of the residents.
I can tell the Minister that those backs are the focal point for crime and antisocial behaviour. Only a few months ago, a young toddler in my constituency stepped on a discarded syringe in the backs behind his house. It is common for syringes to be discarded there, and he had the misfortune to step on one. His mother was beside herself with worry about him, as the Minister can imagine. This flags up the general problem that these places are used by people for drinking and drug taking, and they create an appallingly unsafe environment that causes great concern to the residents.
We have been trying to introduce alley-gating schemes in my constituency, but, as I have said, the alleyways there are adopted. At the moment, the council is bringing a test case under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, citing severe antisocial behaviour and public safety as reasons to have the public highway permanently gated. The case has been pioneered by my constituent, Deborah Murphy, who is the chair of the Wigan road residents association and neighbourhood watch. She has doggedly pursued efforts to gate the backs behind her house. Gates were erected, but they had to be taken down again because of legal difficulties relating to gating an adopted highway.
I hope that the Minister will dwell on this point as the Bill continues its passage through another place. The provisions in clause 2 relating to gating orders state that the Government may require
"a council to hold a public inquiry" in regard to the gating of a particular area or community. My concern is that too much bureaucracy and red tape will be put in the way of residents such as Deborah Murphy, who are trying to do something to improve their community.
It is appropriate that there should be a permissive ability to hold public inquiries, because in some circumstances damage to others could be created as a result of closing off access to an alleyway. We are moving from an automatic requirement for a public inquiry, precisely to address the issue that my hon. Friend raises. In some circumstances, it is manifest to everyone that alley-gating is the best thing that could happen, and that it happen with a minimum of bureaucracy. I can assure him that our aspirations—and the way in which these provisions are set out in the Bill—will address the issues that he is raising.
I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification; it will greatly reassure those of my constituents who are considering these schemes. My point is that if the procedure became excessively bureaucratic, people would lose heart. If they were faced with too much bureaucracy when trying to take positive action to change their community, they would quickly be put off. We must not allow that to happen. People who are trying to get actively engaged in their community should not feel the walls of bureaucracy rising up around them. However, I take the Minister's point.
Wigan council's director of engineering, Peter Taylor, has asked the Minister to consider whether the process should be akin to that for traffic regulation orders, which would make it much easier for the authority to take things forward. We are still bringing the order through under the 2000 Act as an interim measure, but I very much hope that the use of public inquiries will be the exception, not the norm, and that residents will be actively encouraged to take forward initiatives to have their alleyways gated when they believe that that could make a substantial difference.
Following those few remarks, I want to congratulate the Minister on introducing this legislation, which will directly benefit my constituents. I know it will be warmly welcomed and I very much hope that the Bill is not the beginning of the end of rebuilding a culture of respect and higher standards in our communities, but part of a long process in which the Government are engaged.
We must carry on getting tougher on antisocial behaviour until we can genuinely say that the streets of towns such as Leigh, and others represented by hon. Members who are present, are safe and decent places where the law-abiding majority are in the ascendancy, and that the culture is one in which people show respect and consideration for others.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.