I begin by apologising on his behalf for the absence of my hon. Friend Mr Chope, in whose name the amendments stand. He asked me specifically to apologise to my hon. Friend Mike Freer, the Bill’s sponsor. I assure him that our hon. Friend has not lost interest in the Bill, but decided—questionably, I think—that it was more important for him to listen to the Prime Minister’s speech on reforming the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg than to be here for this debate. I am not sure that that was the correct decision, but I am sure that he will be able to justify it to the Bill’s sponsor at a later date.
As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch had begun to move the amendment when he was cut short the last time the Bill was debated in the House. I will not repeat the remarks he made then, but it might help the House if I recap his main points. The amendment would remove clause 5, which states:
“Section 94(1)(a) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (street litter: supplementary provisions) shall apply in Greater London as though for ‘commercial or retail premises’ there were substituted ‘premises other than dwellings’”.
Thus, only in London, that provision would apply not just to premises such as retailers and takeaways, but to all premises that are not dwellings. The main thrust of my hon. Friend’s argument was that that related to people smoking outside buildings because of the smoking ban, and the resulting litter.
That is correct. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch touched on that in his speech—he omitted to mention other things that I shall discuss today—and expressed the view that the clause was a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but my hon. Friend Mrs Main is right: there are plenty of other regulations that could apply.
To help my hon. Friend Mrs Main, the current regulations do not apply to public buildings. Retail and commercial buildings are covered, but public buildings are not, and the purpose of the provision is to extend coverage to them.
I am sure we are all grateful for that clarification. The point I think my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans was making and I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch would have made were he here is that people who smoke outside a building and deposit their litter on the street are guilty of an offence under existing provisions, without the Bill coming into play, and can be prosecuted. He made the point that many places provide containers for smokers’ litter and that the problem, if it did exist, applied equally across the country and there was no justification for a London-only provision.
The authorities in St Albans have always had the problem of not knowing exactly where the people who have dropped litter came from, but that is why they have always believed that, if they so chose, they could enforce litter regulations outside any premises. It is not necessary to see a person coming out of a premises. The local authority targeted the culprit—the person who dropped the litter—rather than the premises.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am sure she agrees that existing legislation is sufficient to tackle the problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green to justify the wide-ranging powers that clause 5 would give. He said that he saw a difference between takeaways, which sell products in packaging designed to be taken out of the shop and disposed of, and offices or buildings where smokers happen to congregate outside the front door to have a discussion over a cigarette. I am not entirely sure I agree. Just because a takeaway sells a burger and puts it in a wrapper for people to eat at their convenience does not mean that it should be held responsible if a customer drops the litter somewhere where they should not. I believe in individual responsibility, and the responsibility should lie with the individual who is doing the littering. That should apply equally to what happens outside a takeaway and to smoking outside an office, but my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made that distinction.
Those are the points that my hon. Friend made about amendment 15. I apologise for rushing through them, but I thought it appropriate to recap so that we can move on to new material. I agree with the thrust of the amendment. We have more legislation to deal with this even than my hon. Friend acknowledged in his brief contribution before he was cut off. Anti-littering legislation has been updated since the introduction of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, to which he referred, and which is cited in the Bill.
The Bill seems to be reluctant to mention that the legislation has been updated. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 extends the offence of littering to all open spaces, which calls into question why any further legislation, including the Bill, is necessary. Section 18 of that Act states:
“In section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990…(offence of leaving litter), for subsections (1) to (4) substitute—
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he throws down, drops or otherwise deposits any litter in any place to which this section applies and leaves it.
(2) This section applies to any place in the area of a principal litter authority which is open to the air, subject to subsection (3) below.”
Presumably, that applies to all London local authorities, just as it applies anywhere else. Section 18 continues:
“This section does not apply to a place which is ‘open to the air’ for the purposes of this Part by virtue of section 86(13) above if the public does not have access to it, with or without payment.”
Effectively, if it is private land, that provision does not apply. Section 18 continues:
“It is immaterial for the purposes of this section whether the litter is deposited on land or in water.”
It is therefore even more comprehensive than my hon. Friends may think. It continues:
“No offence is committed under subsection (1) above where the depositing of the litter is…authorised by law; or…done by or with the consent of the owner, occupier or other person having control of the place where it is deposited.”
Given that the local authority does not authorise people to drop litter—they do so without its consent—that measure can be invoked by London local authorities if they see fit. Section 18 continues:
“A person may only give consent under subsection (4A)(b) above in relation to the depositing of litter in a lake or pond or watercourse if he is the owner, occupier or other person having control of…all the land adjoining that lake or pond or watercourse; and…all the land through or into which water in that lake or pond or watercourse directly or indirectly discharges, otherwise than by means of a public sewer.”
That provision makes it clear that the owner of the premises outside which the litter is dropped is not authorised to give consent to anyone to drop litter; they are not giving permission for them to do so. The owner of the takeaway or other shop is not saying to their customers, “Oh, by the way, when you want to get rid of your burger wrapper or your chip paper, just drop it outside—it’s not a problem.” The law makes it clear that they cannot do that, so why on earth my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green wishes to make those people responsible for what others are doing outside on the public highway, when they already have the powers to enforce a ban if they so wish is beyond me.
The hon. Gentleman is extremely unfair to local authorities in suggesting that the clause exists for the convenience of officials. In fact, it is designed to ensure the best use of public money. He will be aware that local authorities have experienced substantial reductions in their budgets, so is he happy that they would have to expend even more resources to enforce the legislation when the clause offers a perfectly appropriate alternative way of ensuring that there is not an accumulation of litter outside public buildings, and would benefit the local community? It seems to be a good use of public money, and—
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said. He may think that all of this is for the benefit of council tax payers and local residents, but I do not agree. Businesses pay lots of money through rates and so on, and they expect a service in return. The Bill wants businesses to cough up for the council to provide services. At the end of the day, the council can say, “By the way, even though you have coughed up for services, we don’t want to provide you with any services. We’ll get you to pay extra on top for anything that you might ever want to use.” That is an unfair system. If the hon. Gentleman is advocating that we scrap the rates that businesses pay and hold them responsible for anything that goes on, I might have a bit of sympathy, but he is trying to have the best of both worlds.
It seems as if we are doing this for the benefit of council officials who do not want to spend time trying to identify the individual responsible because they file that under “Too difficult”. They want to make businesses generally be responsible for anything that goes on anywhere near their premises—in that way, they can crack the problem and do not have to do anything.
I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend. This is the first occasion on which I have debated the Bill, and I am puzzled on two counts. First, if Chris Williamson is right that there is a means of reducing the burden on local authorities, presumably, at the expense of businesses, why should that be the case? Secondly—and forgive me for mentioning this, Madam Deputy Speaker—why should such a measure apply in London when there is no such provision in the rest of the UK? The legislation cited by my hon. Friend Philip Davies covers every other metropolis in England, so why should London receive special treatment?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and gets neatly to the nub of the issue in the clause and the Bill. If this is such a big issue—Chris Williamson may even think that it is a big issue in his part of the world—the problem exists to the same extent across the country. If we are going to introduce measures to tackle it, regardless of whether it is a problem or not, the solution in the House is to introduce legislation that applies to every single local authority. If the problem is as the hon. Gentleman describes it—and perhaps he will try to square the circle—why should the measure apply only in London, but not in any other part of the country, including his own?
The hon. Gentleman is allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good. If local authorities in other parts of the country wish to have that power, I have no objection to that. The Bill is a good step in the right direction, and goes some way towards ameliorating the impact of the huge reductions in Government funding for local authorities.
That is very interesting. The thrust of the Bill and of the clause is to address problems unique to London. Apparently, that is why we need the Bill:
because of the huge volume of tourists and visitors, local authorities need all those extra powers. The hon. Gentleman slightly let the cat out of the bag when he said that this is nothing to do with London, but the thin end of the wedge. This is a test case so that we can roll this out throughout the country. If that is the point, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman, and perhaps even the Bill’s sponsor, that he goes back to square one, starts from scratch, and if it is such a big issue, introduces a Bill, perhaps with Government support. We have yet to hear from the Minister whether he supports these matters applying only in London, or whether he thinks they should apply elsewhere. If the Minister thinks that they should apply in the rest of the country, I suggest that he scraps this legislation, votes it down and brings in legislation that applies everywhere.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful argument. I am listening with increasing concern because this appears to be nothing about solving a particular problem to do with offences; it is about cutting costs for local authorities, in which case, as my hon. Friend argues, it would apply nationwide. It appears that the rationale behind the clause is nothing to do with offences at all, but to do with cost-cutting.
My hon. Friend might want to advance that argument, but I am not entirely clear whether the Bill is simply about cost-cutting. I know that that is what the hon. Member for Derby North would have us believe, but I think that it is slightly more sinister and that it is about the amount of powers to be given to local authorities and their officers.
Might the provision be not only cost-cutting, but cost-increasing? Some of the buildings that will be included are public buildings, so the charge will simply be taken from a local council to another public authority, but the local authority already has the means of street cleaning, whereas the public authority in a building may not.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Given that local authorities are playing not with their own money but with other people’s, they may not be so bothered if they were caught up in the regulations. It may be businesses that were more concerned and therefore dealing with the problem better themselves. My hon. Friend touches on a good point because no business will attract customers if the area around its shop is in a terrible state, full of litter. I suspect that this is a solution looking for a problem, because most businesses will want to ensure that the streets close by are free of litter. They are probably doing that already, so my hon. Friend may well be right. The measure may well end up applying only to other public buildings, and the local authority may find itself in some accounting exercise where it is passing invoices from one department to another, which makes everyone unhappy apart from the person who is supplying invoices for the local authority, and it will not benefit the council tax payer, but give them an extra cost. My hon. Friend may well be on to something there.
I was slightly sidetracked, particularly by the hon. Member for Derby North. I made the point that the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 already took the law beyond the Environmental Protection Act, and I gave an example of that. But it does not stop there, because section 21 of the 2005 Act extended street litter notices to any vehicles that act as commercial or retail premises, which was another giant step of mission creep down this particular route. On street litter control notices, which is precisely what this clause deals with, the 2005 Act says:
“In section 93 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990…(street litter control notices), after subsection (3) insert—
‘(3A) A vehicle or stall or other moveable structure which is used for one or more commercial or retail activities while parked or set at a particular place on or verging a street is to be treated for the purpose of this section and section 94 below as if it were premises situated at that place having a frontage on that street in the place where it is parked or set.”
So we have already had an extension of the provisions that the hon. Gentleman seeks to extend further. The Act continues:
“(3B) In subsection (3A) above, ‘vehicle’ means any vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads.”
That may well be burger vans or ice cream vans. That has already been covered in that legislation. The Act continues:
“(3) in that section, for subsections (8) and (9) substitute—
‘(8) A person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, he fails to comply with a requirement imposed on him by a notice.
(9) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (8) above is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.’”
Those are already the laws of the land. This is the law that applies throughout the country. Why on earth it should be extended just for London is beyond me.
One of the petitions put forward against the Bill noted the objections of the Society of London Theatre. It could see that it was effectively another stealth tax on its activities. People leaving the theatre might drop their tickets or cigarette butts, but clearly that is not the fault of the theatre. If those people drop their litter, surely it should be the responsibility of the local authority to collect it as part of their normal street-sweeping exercise.
Of course, the Bill would extend that to theatres. I should have thought that it was in London’s best interests to try to encourage the cultural attractions that we see in this city. Certainly, people who come to London from Shipley very much welcome going to the theatre. It is one of the great attractions of London. Many theatres are struggling. Not all are hugely vibrant commercial enterprises. Some of them keep going through good luck, graft and the generosity of many benefactors. Why on earth anyone would want to see some of these places closed down by putting extra requirements on them is beyond me.
My hon. Friend was advancing a persuasive argument until his last point. That this duplicates existing legislation is a perfectly sound argument for not allowing it to be done. I am a strong supporter of the “polluter pays” principle, and surely there is some argument for saying that if the theatre or the burger bar is responsible, they should pay for clearing up the mess.
I will agree with my hon. Friend on the first half of his point, but disagree with him on the second. If he follows the first half through to its logical conclusion he will disagree with himself on the second half. He said that he believes in the “polluter pays” principle, and that is a perfectly sound basis upon which to start. There may well be some exceptions, and I am sure that my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg will think of some. But in this case, the polluter is not the theatre. Just because the theatre issues a ticket to a customer does not mean that, when that ticket finds itself on a London street, it is the theatre that is the polluter. Surely my hon. Friend would accept that the polluter is the individual who dropped the litter, not the theatre. My hon. Friend is a very sound man, and I am sure that he believes as much as I do in individual responsibility. If so, he must accept that this is the responsibility of the individual, not the theatre.
On reflection, I will disagree with myself and redisagree with the disagreement that I made against myself a moment ago, if my hon. Friend will forgive me for doing so. He is of course quite right. If the person who drops the litter is the person who pays the fine, as happens under the existing legislation without this clause, the polluter indeed pays. However, if the institution from which the polluter emerges pays, that is an entirely different principle under environmental law.
I accept that. The point is that surely the problem would be worse. If individuals felt that they would not be held responsible for their actions but would get off scot-free, and the theatre would take responsibility, we might end up with more litter, because individuals will feel free to throw it willy-nilly, knowing that they will not be pursued.
My colleagues seem to be rather obsessed with the views of the Society of London Theatre and the Theatrical Management Association, but they have withdrawn their objections and petition. They did not object on this particular issue but on a different issue—and, as I say, their petition has been withdrawn.
I am grateful for that update. They are obviously more easily impressed than I am with what my hon. Friend tells them. I am sure that his powers of persuasion worked wonders on them. I look forward to him speaking at length in this debate so that his powers of persuasion may work on me, and I may be able to withdraw my amendment.
Is not the problem the fact that this would effectively carve up the streets in front of public buildings and ultimately make them responsible for the streets? Who can say whether a Mars bar wrapper—sorry, Mars!—lying on the street outside a theatre was dropped by someone going into the theatre having ejected it from their pocket, or someone coming out of the theatre having eaten it on the premises? The point is that the person who dropped the sweet wrapper is responsible for the litter, not the theatre, even though it is in front of the premises.
My hon. Friend is right. She introduces a new aspect, because if we follow this through to the logical conclusion, it may not be the individual but the retailer who is responsible. And then perhaps we should go the whole hog and say that it is not the retailer who is responsible but Mars, because it put the product in a wrapper that could be dropped. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green may well be thinking about amending the Bill further so that retailers are not held responsible, but instead Mars would be held responsible for any Mars bar wrapper found anywhere on the streets of London, because it should not have produced a chocolate bar in a wrapper.
I have to “fess up” and declare an interest: my husband worked for Mars for a long time, which is probably why the example sprang into my head. I in no way wish to imply that Mars bar wrappers—Snickers is also a Mars product—are more likely than other wrappers to end up on the floor.
It was important for my hon. Friend to make that point, because otherwise she might have been in trouble tonight, and her endless supply of free Mars bars could have been at risk.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech about who is responsible for litter and its collection. Taking the principle that the polluter should pay, I trust that he will support the principle that the measures taken must punish those who drop litter in the first place.
I do not want to get sidetracked—as I am sure you do not, Madam Deputy Speaker—but the whole thrust of my argument is that the legislation already in place is perfectly sufficient to allow that to happen. My hon. Friend says that the polluter should pay. That is all very well, but local authorities come to the Government, and to council tax payers, saying that they need all this money to do this and that, and to ensure that the streets are kept clean, and all that kind of business, but on the other hand they are surreptitiously trying to say that they will take all the money from the Government and from the council tax payer for fulfilling this obligation, but then, quietly on the side, they will then try to pass the responsibility on to someone else. If those local authorities want the funding for keeping the streets clean, they also have to take on the obligation to keep them clean. They cannot have one without the other.
I am listening to the debate with great interest. The Liverpool BID—the city centre business improvement district—includes around 650 businesses that have come together because they want to make the environment cleaner, above and beyond what is happening on the streets. They have taken it upon themselves to cover even bigger areas and are funding it. However, there have been possible links between increases in the amount of work they want to do and a potential reduction in business rates, because they think that that is work the council is not doing. They would also like to do competitive tendering with the council, thereby also reducing their business rates. If my hon. Friend is concerned about loss of money, this could be a sure way to lose money through the business sector.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That sounds like a good initiative. In fact, I think that there are business improvement districts in London. I am not entirely sure if it works in exactly the same way as it does on Merseyside, but they are certainly there. It seems to me that my hon. Friend proposes a far better solution, if there is a problem, which could not only get the support of the local authority, because it would then not have to deal with the problem that it does not think is its responsibility, but local businesses, which I might add probably do a far better job clearing it up than the local authority, would feel that they are improving their local area and making a contribution, but are not, in effect, paying twice. My concern is that the Bill is trying to get them to pay twice, once for their rates and once for sorting the problem out.
I wonder whether that establishes a general principle that it is much better to get a free market solution whereby companies come together to make things better, rather than draconian sanctions being imposed from on high.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that my hon. Friend Esther McVey will welcome his support for her argument, because he is absolutely right.
We know what needs to be done, because we have plenty of recommendations and evidence that would eliminate the need for clause 5. In June 2006 Environmental Campaigns—ENCAMS—produced the report “What is the Situation with Cigarette-Related Litter in England?”, which set out some recommendations. We know from the sponsor of the Bill and the explanatory notes that clause 5 is intended to tackle above all else, but not exclusively, the new phenomenon of smoking outside, because of the ban on smoking in public places. On research and monitoring, ECAMS recommended:
“An accessible, repeatable monitoring methodology could be developed to measure the quantity of cigarette butts in the environment, and therefore better understand the impact of interventions.”
One of the problems is that we appear to be going down the route of putting forward legislation without fully appreciating the nature and scale of the problem. On education and communication, it recommends:
“The successful ENCAMS cigarette-related litter campaign could be repeated in the future, to build on the momentum it has generated. The learnings from the 2006 campaign should be built into the 2007 campaign” and campaigns in future years, and:
“Additional communications campaigns could be developed to target specific stakeholder groups in areas where cigarette litter tends to accumulate.”
This is a far better solution that would target where there is a problem and cigarette litter tends to accumulate, rather than having a blanket policy that applies everywhere, whether or not there is problem.
On ashtrays and infrastructure, it recommends
“ENCAMS existing list of ashtray suppliers could be further expanded and developed to include a description of the characteristics and price of ashtrays. This could be complemented by a set of best practice guidelines to provide advice on the type of ashtrays that are suitable in different contexts.”
On enforcement, it recommends
“Ways to increase enforcement levels could be investigated, such as further training programmes for enforcement officers and street wardens.”
It seems to me that the report was not blaming the non-dwellings. ENCAMS seems to be saying that it is the councils that need to raise their game.
I wonder whether it is not rather an unsatisfactory principle that something that was perfectly legal should be made illegal and then increasingly unpleasant, and draconian penalties are introduced for people who are doing something that used to be legal, having been forced to do it less comfortably. I simply do not think that is the right way to legislate.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a tyranny over people who were once able to enjoy a particular way of life indoors who have been forced outside, through no fault of their own and no fault of the premises from which they have been kicked out. Most premises used to offer some kind of smoking room or a place where smokers could go. The legislation has forced them to put those people out on to the streets. It would be a rather perverse kick in the teeth for them, having been once inconvenienced, now to have to pick up the tab—excuse the pun—for a piece of Government legislation. My hon. Friend is right that it would be perverse to go down that, route based on the history of how this situation has come about.
There is clearly a problem in how that relates to public houses, but as I remember from my time as chairman of the Licensing Authority, it is possible to deal with some of the current problems through the licensing system, through conditions on licences. For example, councils could look at their licensing policy. If this is such a great problem, and clearly people feel that it is, is my hon. Friend aware of any local authorities that have tried to address it through their licensing regime?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and he knows far more about those matters than I do, so I certainly bow to his superior knowledge. Other local authorities will have to deal with these issues through licensing and other imaginative schemes that he will know from his time as a councillor in Hull, because the Bill applies only to London. So even if we pass this legislation, his local authority will still have to go down such routes, because the benefits, if they are benefits, of the legislation will not apply to it anyway.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and many local authorities, my own included, are working on the issue positively in order to encourage people to stop smoking, given that it has now become more inconvenient to do so, and in order to consider what provision, such as bins, they can make so that people dispose of litter sensibly. Local authorities are already helping with the strategy; they do not need new legislation on the littering aspect.
I absolutely agree.
The ENCAMS report went on to discuss cleaning and stated:
“Efficient, cost effective cleaning equipment that targets cigarette butts would complement preventative measures, especially at the start of an education campaign. Furthermore, the fundamentals of streetscape design could be considered to discourage and prevent the impacts of littering, especially in those areas where cigarette litter accumulates.”
Most importantly, it concluded:
“Ultimately, the reduction in cigarette litter is likely to be more significant in England if the identified solutions are implemented in a targeted, coordinated fashion, with strong partnerships between stakeholders.”
ENCAMS’ conclusion seems to be compatible with the approach that my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral West and for North East Somerset advocate, and surely that is a far better route to go down than clause 5, which is officious and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset said, might not even help with the problem but make it worse.
We have also had a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report, after the ENCAMS report, on how local authorities can prevent cigarette litter, and DEFRA proposed seven similar guidelines, with
“advice about how to prevent and reduce cigarette litter based on international and local experience. They are:
“1) Ashtrays—choose the right ashtray to suit your context and needs; 2) Signage—provide clear, consistent anti-littering signage; 3) Cleansing—clean up littered cigarette ends; 4) Partnerships—work with local organisations; 5) Leadership—walk the talk and be a leader in your community; 6) Educate—change the cigarette littering behaviour of smokers; and 7) Enforcement—use the legislation and powers available where appropriate.”
Those points are similar to the ones that ENCAMS made, and, given that outside this place there seems to be a consensus developing on what should happen, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not go against that report by another Department, which proposed a solution very different from the line taken in clause 5.
Interestingly, in the DEFRA report, “Enforcement” was listed as the last thing to do. It was the last resort: once everything else has failed, enforcement should be the final path; it should not be leapt to as the first solution. Furthermore, the report says:
“Enforcement—use the legislation and powers available where appropriate.”
It suggested not that new powers of enforcement were needed, but that what should be used were the powers already available to local authorities, so I see little evidence from anywhere to suggest that clause 5 is required. That is why it should be deleted.
We do not need to look too far to find out how we can solve, without clause 5, the problems that the Bill’s promoters have—perhaps rightly—identified, because Braintree district council reduced cigarette litter by encouraging smokers to use portable ashtrays. A campaign was launched to raise awareness, and the council purchased 1,000 portable ashtrays. Media coverage was so successful that it had to order a further 400 ashtrays, and in addition the company supplying them found five local newsagents that agreed to sell the product. One shop in Braintree sold more than 200, and follow-up interviews with ashtray users showed that smokers continued to use them and welcomed a means of disposing of their cigarette butts responsibly. More importantly, cleansing staff noticed a general reduction in the number of cigarette butts on the streets.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset advocates a free market solution to the problem, so I hope he agrees that what happened in Braintree was a far better, and truly free market, solution to the problem that the Bill’s promoters have identified.
It is not just Braintree that has found ways of dealing with the problem, however. An interesting idea worked successfully in Australia, so my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green might wish to run it past all his local London authorities. In 2004 Toowoomba city council wanted to reduce smoking-related litter throughout the city, so it ran a small-scale campaign within the council to change the cigarette-littering behaviour of staff before trying to change the behaviour of the public, which in itself makes the interesting point that perhaps London councils should start closer to home with their solutions to the problem, rather than by interfering with everybody else.
A clean-up was carried out around Toowoomba council buildings, and official and unofficial smoking areas were identified. The number of stubs was counted during the clean-up so that any reduction could be monitored as each measure was introduced. First, all employees were exposed to educational material—a process that continued throughout the campaign—and just that one measure alone reduced the number of littered stubs from 1,849 to 1,164. After one month, all employees who smoked were offered pocket ashtrays—similar to what happened in Braintree—and 150 were given out, producing a further reduction to 966 littered stubs. The following month wall-mounted ashtrays were installed in the smoking areas, and that saw the amount of littered stubs fall to 753—a 41% reduction in cigarette litter in total.
Following the success of the campaign, and with the knowledge that the council was leading the way, a city-wide public campaign to reduce cigarette litter in Toowoomba was carried out.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend would describe that initiative as “nudge” theory. That means getting people to do things by gently pushing them in the right direction, rather than through what we have been discussing—the heavy hand of the state crashing down.
Absolutely. That is very much the case.
The point of these examples, and the lesson that we should learn from them, is that people can be helped to produce a solution themselves. It would be far better if the Bill were proposing measures that helped people to sort out the problem themselves, rather than introducing a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
I am extremely interested to hear the Toowoomba and Braintree examples. Does my hon. Friend know whether the authorities in London have explored the idea of copying any of those examples before resorting to legislation? Is he aware of any pilot studies that have been carried out and evaluated which led them to the conclusion that the only way to solve this potential problem, which they perceive as a problem, is to encourage more regulation and legislation?
I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a good suggestion, and I am not aware of any local authorities in London having learned from those ideas or tried to apply them first. Perhaps the Bill’s sponsor can shed more light on that, but I certainly encourage them to use legislation as a last resort, because at the moment we are using it as a first resort, and there are plenty of examples of other measures working just as effectively, if not more so.
In addition, over the past couple of years Keep Britain Tidy has campaigned to change the public’s attitude and behaviour towards dropping cigarette litter. Last year, campaigns in June and September helped reduce cigarette litter by 33% and 23% respectively, so again, we have other measures. The reduction occurred without any new legislation and without the clause before us being inserted into legislation. All this proves beyond doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is absolutely right to suggest that there is no need to extend street litter notices. That is why I very much support his amendment 15.
Amendment 16, which is where my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was cut off in his prime, would delete clause 6, which is on the use of turnstiles at public toilets. This is the exciting provision—the one that we were all waiting for. Clause 6 states:
“Section 1 of the Public Lavatories (Turnstiles) Act 1963 (abolition of turnstiles) shall not apply in respect of a public lavatory or public sanitary convenience controlled or managed by a borough council.”
The effect of clause 6 is summarised in the explanatory notes:
“Clause 6 amends the application of the Public Lavatories (Turnstiles) Act 1963 in Greater London. Section 1(1) of that Act provides that every turnstile in any part of a public lavatory or public sanitary convenience controlled or managed by a local authority or in any entrance or exit of such lavatory or convenience had to be removed six months after the 1963 Act obtained Royal Assent. It also provided that no turnstile should be provided in the future. Clause 6 disapplies those provisions in Greater London.”
It is timely that we have just got on to this matter because my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall, who has just arrived, has a particular interest in public lavatories. I do not want anyone to get the wrong idea. I hope that he will forgive me for couching it in those terms. What I am trying to say, in a rather ham-fisted way, is that he knows more about this subject than I do, not that he shows a particular interest in it. Anyway, I will leave it there.
Flushed with success, one might say. I sat on the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government when it produced a report on the provision of public lavatories. One of the recommendations, as I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, was that the 1963 Act should not only be upheld, but that, according to all the information the Committee received, it should be extended wherever possible. We recommended that all private premises, such as train stations, be encouraged to remove their turnstiles at the earliest opportunity. Anything that goes contrary to the recommendations of the 2008 Select Committee report would be retrograde.
I am more than happy to enlighten my hon. Friend. We received numerous submissions of evidence from people with disabilities and from organisations such as Help the Aged. People felt that the lack of access to good, well-functioning toilets often curtailed people’s right to fully access all aspects of life. Many groups said that it was vital to improve accessibility to toilets because, even under the current regulations, they did not feel that it was good enough.
That is very helpful. I do not know whether the local authorities concerned or the sponsor of the Bill have read the evidence sessions or conclusions of that inquiry. I do not know whether they have spoken about this Bill with the groups that felt so strongly in that inquiry. I suggest that they should have done so before they even thought about bringing forward clause 6.
The Public Lavatories (Turnstiles) Act 1963 prohibits the use of turnstiles
“in any part of a public lavatory…controlled or managed by a local authority”.
According to the Government’s strategic guide, that requirement was in response to public concern about the safety and access problems of turnstiles for the general public, specifically for people with disabilities, people with buggies and pushchairs, and pregnant women. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified whether the Government still believe in that Act or whether they feel that it should be repealed. If they believe that it should be in force, surely they believe that it should be in force in London just as in any other part of the country. I look forward to his clarification of the Government’s position.
As my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans said, the Communities and Local Government Committee took evidence on this matter in preparing its twelfth report of 2007-08. I feel slightly ashamed to talk about it in her presence, because she might put me right on a few things. As she said, the report was critical of the use of turnstiles by private providers of toilet facilities. Richard Chisnell said in evidence to the Committee:
“To see people queuing up with luggage, and families trying to get through a turnstile and put money in a coin-operated slot before catching a train is pitiful in Britain in the 21st century.”
The Committee’s conclusion stated:
“We recommend that all providers of public toilets consider modern access-control methods as an alternative to traditional turnstiles.”
The Bill therefore runs in direct—
The Bill is not in direct contravention of that recommendation. “Turnstile” is a legalistic term. It does not specify the sort of turnstile that would have been used in 1963. If Members visit any tube station in London, they will see the automatic barriers to which my hon. Friend is referring. That is what is meant by a turnstile under the modern definition.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification. What he says is all well and good, but how does he know exactly what kind of turnstile will be put in place by these local authorities? He may well envisage a modern system of access to a toilet, but some local authorities may use the repeal of these provisions to install something that neither he nor I think is appropriate.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. The point is that since 1963, we have had the Disability Discrimination Acts and the Equality Acts, which prevent the use of the kind of turnstiles that he is worried about. Because of those Acts, the kind of automatic barriers that we see in tube stations will be what are used under the Bill.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification, but he is not taking into account the evidence that was given to the Communities and Local Government Committee. It is not only people with disabilities who are a major worry in relation to clause 6, but people with buggies or pushchairs and people with a lot of luggage. There may well be other people who will be affected.
Another important point, besides whether there are turnstiles, is that far too often toilets are closed or left in a bad state by the local authority.
That may well be true. Perhaps local authorities ought to sharpen up their act before they try to pass such legislation. The point is that these toilets will be closed to even more people if we have clause 6. If people have a lot of luggage or a big pushchair and cannot get through the turnstile, they will not be able to get in whether the toilet is open or closed. For some people, these toilets will be closed permanently.
Having served on the Communities and Local Government Committee, I know that the report presents only a snapshot of what was said to us. In evidence, organisations such as the Changing Places consortium argued that nothing should be put in place to stop people having free, easy access to toilets. Some people have urge incontinence. The issue is not whether there is a bar in place, which can be sorted out fairly quickly. For some people, any obstacle will make it almost impossible to use public toilets. Whatever is envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green, it cannot possibly open access to toilets, but must surely close it down in some way, shape or form.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Again, I bow to her superior knowledge from her time on the Select Committee. She has heard more evidence about this matter than I have. I am merely reading the report and giving a flavour of the recommendations.
When I worked for Asda, for a number of years I had the privilege and pleasure of being responsible for the facilities and services that we provided to our customers with disabilities. After car parking and the abuse of disabled car parking bays, the biggest issue that was raised by our customers with disabilities was the accessibility of the toilets. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for
Finchley and Golders Green that we ignore at our peril the difficulties that people with different disabilities experience in accessing toilets. There is no one category of disability whereby we can have one kind of turnstile and people think, “Well, that’s fine, everybody can get through that.” We should appreciate that lots of people have different types of disability that make different types of equipment difficult for them. Instead of having turnstiles that will no doubt catch out people with one or another type of disability, we should be making toilets as accessible as possible for everybody so that their disability is not affected.
Because the disability discrimination laws would apply, the problems of access that the hon. Gentleman is highlighting should not apply to turnstiles. Furthermore, the fact that these turnstiles allow for the mechanical collection of charges should mean that there will be more, not fewer, public toilets.
The question of how much people are prepared to pay to use a public toilet facility was also covered in the report. In fact, the charge could never reflect the true cost of using public toilets. Any such surplus funding will not be available to fund new public toilets—that came out loud and clear. There will always be a cost to a local authority, and unless the charges were totally prohibitive they would never generate enough funding to generate new toilet facilities. That argument cannot be considered as part of the justification for this measure.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who displays her expertise once again. As regards not knowing how much people are prepared to spend to go to the toilet, I always thought we knew they were prepared to spend a penny, but perhaps that is somewhat out of date.
Tom Brake mentions the Disability Discrimination Act, which has been used as cover by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green. Under that Act, the service provider is obliged to make reasonable adjustments, not to make everything wholly accessible to everybody. A local authority that is denying access to a person with a disability because their disability does not fit in with the equipment that is on display may well argue that it would be unreasonable for it to change its entry system because it would be disproportionately expensive in relation to the one person it helped—in other words, that it would be an unreasonable adjustment. My hon. Friend would be misguided if he put all his faith in the Disability Discrimination Act, because it does not do what he seems to think it does.
If the Act allowed for turnstiles that everybody could get through, why should that not apply to the whole country? Why are we using a private Bill to repeal a public Act? Surely this is a rather dubious constitutional procedure.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the problems that the Bill seeks to address exist, they cannot possibly be unique to London—they must apply equally around the country. I would go so far as to say that it is an abuse of private legislation for someone to try to tackle something that applies equally across the country by passing a piece of legislation that will apply to only their part of the world. The whole point of private business is to deal with problems that are unique to the place to which it applies.
Does not that fly in the face of my hon. Friend’s argument given that we, as a Government, are pursuing the agenda of localism? Localism is all about local choices and local decisions, and the people of London—London councils across the board—have taken the view that this is a power that they want. In addition, does he believe that it is right for local authorities to collect money through charges for the use of public toilets?
I do not want to get sidetracked by charges in toilets, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I am sure that if I went down that route you would soon pick me up and tell me to keep on the straight and narrow. I am tempted by my hon. Friend’s deliberate attempt to get me into trouble by leading me out of order, but I will resist.
My hon. Friend appears to have given up on his former valiant defence of the reason for this measure and has now played what he believes to be the trump card of localism. Perhaps he thinks, “If all else fails, bring out the localism card.” I have two points to make about that. First, the purpose of Parliament is that we are here to defend the freedoms of people right across the country, and wherever we see those freedoms being infringed, it is our duty to try to do something about it.
Secondly, one could just about use the localism principle to sustain an argument that in Shipley, to pick a place at random, the local authority should be able to do what it wants with its public toilets because even though we have on our doorstep Saltaire, which is a world heritage site and a fine place that I advise all hon. Members to visit, the centre of Shipley does not have a great number of tourists. That is regrettable. If people wandered down from Saltaire, which is only a mile or two away, they could soon be a tourist in Shipley, but it does not tend to happen. In London, however, the exact reverse is the case. These regulations will not only apply to Londoners because London has the distinction of having a large number of visitors from every part of the country. When my constituents, who know that local authorities cannot put turnstiles in toilets in their local area, come and visit London for a weekend break or a week’s holiday, they should be able to expect that the law of the land that applies in their part of the world applies in London too. It would be completely bizarre if all those people travelling down to London for a weekend were caught unawares by such draconian legislation. How on earth could they be expected to know that London has a completely different regime on all these matters of basic freedoms from that which applies in other parts of the country?
This power is not about localism unless it is provided to all local authorities in England. If we do not do that, we end up doing what a lot of my constituents think happens down here because they feel that this place is all about London—or all about Scotland, because we are hearing a lot about independence—but not about the regions. I bet my bottom dollar that we would not have much chance of getting a north Lincolnshire or an east Yorkshire local authorities Bill through this place.
If my hon. Friend did try to introduce such a Bill, I would probably be standing here speaking against it in the same way. I put that warning shot across his bows. However, he makes a good point. If we believe in localism, then we should at least give every local authority a fair crack of the whip by allowing it to have the same privileges that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green is seeking for London. Whichever way one looks at it, there seems to be no justification at all for saying that London can do something that nowhere else can. That appears to be grossly unfair.
My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way.
One of the important points that came out of the Communities and Local Government Committee report was that tourism, and therefore access to toilets, was vastly important in London, but that signage towards toilets and toilet cleanliness were often poor, that that needed addressing, and that many tourists did not have the right change to access turnstiles. People have trouble finding toilets because of poor signage, and then potentially have trouble getting into them if a fee has to be paid.
My hon. Friend is right, and it has been a delight to have her in the debate this afternoon. She has been able to shine a light on the Committee’s report, which I must confess had escaped my attention until I started examining the Bill. I am ashamed to admit that I missed it, but because of her we have been able to enjoy the benefits of it.
It is not just the Communities and Local Government Committee that has looked into the matter. The Department for Communities and Local Government, the Minister’s own Department, produced a strategic guide called “Improving Public Access to Better Quality Toilets” in 2008. I know that it was produced under the previous regime, but I would be interested to know whether the Department still subscribes to its strategy on better-quality toilets.
“A lack of accessible and good public toilets affects not only the quality of our town centres, parks or bus stations, it also reduces the dignity and quality of people’s lives. After all, they are one of the basic facilities that residents and visitors alike depend on. Good quality provision instils confidence in public facilities as a whole, helps to inspire positive impressions, and contributes to many other important aspects of life. Whether it is families with small children or older people, it is important that people have the confidence that the facilities they need are available when they are out and about. People rightly expect accessible, clean, safe and well maintained toilets.”
I agree wholeheartedly. The emphasis of that foreword appears to be on accessibility, yet the Bill would undo all the great work that has been achieved.
In passing, I say that my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans mentioned the Changing Places initiative on getting better toilet access for disabled people, which I very much support because I know the problems they face. As Changing Places knows, I have campaigned for a wider roll-out of accessible toilets. It would be bizarre if on the one hand we had charities such as that campaigning for better access and, on the other hand, passed a Bill meaning that there was worse access to public toilets.
The then Minister with responsibility for disabled people, Mrs McGuire, stated in the DCLG guide:
“Access to high-quality public toilet facilities plays an important part in all our lives, but as Minister for Disabled People, I frequently learn about the particular impact that a lack of such facilities can have on many disabled people: preventing or restricting their opportunities to take part in everyday activities like shopping and leisure pursuits. That is why I welcome this Guide, which I hope will act as a stimulus to the provision of improved public toilets and, consequently, overcome a further barrier to disabled people’s active participation in our society.”
I would be grateful if the Minister made it clear whether his Department still supports that view. Interestingly, the Camden quality of life panel concluded in April 2007:
“Customer expectations of council services continue to rise and the increasing population of older citizens will mean that even more people will require toilet facilities that are accessible, clean and safe. This issue will not go quietly away.”
That supports the general thrust of the Communities and Local Government Committee report mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans.
Public access to toilets is important for local shops and businesses, too. Businesses operate to turn a profit, and customer footfall is the lifeblood of the retail and leisure sectors and of town centres. Yet however alluring the window display might be and however good the sales pitch, people need first to be drawn to the area and kept there. People respond to and recognise areas that show a strong, grand image and a sense of civic pride, and in which it is obvious from the street furniture, the local environment and signage that people are welcome and their needs are understood and catered for. Businesses operate as part of communities and hold as much of a stake in supporting local community amenities and promoting civic pride as local authorities themselves.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case, and I am sorry that I missed the opening part of it due to my commitments on the Committee corridor. Has he seen annex D to the DCLG report? It is about the community toilet scheme promoted by the London borough of Richmond upon Thames, which encourages businesses to allow members of the public to use their toilets while they are out and about.
My hon. Friend is right. Clearly, he has been diligent, as always, in reading that report. He may well be sorry that he missed the opening part of the debate; we missed him, too. We are pleased that he has made it.
My hon. Friend alluded to tourism. I do not know whether he is aware of the comments of Peter Hampson, who, at the time of the report that my hon.
Friend mentioned was director of the British Resorts and Destinations Association—BRADA. He opined that
“provision of toilets becomes absolutely fundamental…most journeys start and finish with people going to the loo.”
He observed that toilet provision was fundamental to any major tourist destination, and that it was crucial to get it right. The proposal is, as Thomas Crapper might have said, a bad way forward for our toilets. Facilities cannot be good if people have to pay every time. Some elderly people and people with young children need to use the toilet very frequently. The proposal must be a no-no for most cities.
My hon. Friend is right. We all know how important toilet facilities are. When we go to a restaurant, we probably judge it as much on the provision, cleanliness and accessibility of the toilets as on the service or the quality of the food. I am as sure as my hon. Friend that Thomas Crapper would turn in his grave if he thought that we were even contemplating the clause.
I suspect that my hon. Friend visits far better quality restaurants than me. If I had his means, I am sure that I would, too. However, I have to go to establishments where sometimes you take a bit of a risk when going to the toilet.
Not only restaurants pride themselves on their toilets. I was privileged to visit the Isle of Mull a few years ago. There is a little toilet block in the middle of nowhere, which two ladies tend beautifully. It has daffodils, other flowers and pictures, and they take pride in it. Many communities and restaurants take pride in their toilets, and I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a mark of a premises and a community.
Despite the fact that my hon. Friend also probably goes to far better quality restaurants than I do, I am pleased that she agrees with me. However, I do not want to get sidetracked. I was in danger of that—my hon. Friends were leading me astray—but I must return to the matter in hand.
Swindon borough council conducted a report on environment and leisure in 2007. A councillor stated:
“We have been surprised by the strength of feeling in relation to this issue”— that is, toilets. He went on:
“Our toilets are a matter of significant inconvenience in terms of location, accessibility and condition, which impacts upon public health, the image of the town and limits the quality of life for many people.”
It is important that we focus on the importance of such matters to local residents and to visitors. Given that London is such a centre for tourism, we ignore that at our peril.
The Department for Communities and Local Government report reiterated the need for easy access to toilet facilities for older members of the public.
A 2005 survey by Changing Lives, nVision and Future Foundation showed that
“people aged over 55 and families with children are most inclined to take holidays and short breaks in this country. At the same time, these groups are more likely to place a higher value on being able to access a toilet.”
Given that most of those people who take a short break in this country are more than likely at some point to go to London, it would be perverse to allow the clause to apply to London alone.
The Department for Communities and Local Government report concluded:
“Being able to access a toilet is a fundamental need for any visitor. Tourists need more local information, more signposts. They cannot simply go home, into work, or their local pub to use the toilet. Tourists choose their destinations carefully, drawing on their previous impressions, talking to friends and family, looking up feedback on the internet. Sense of destination—the extent to which it has met a visitor’s needs and made a strong and positive impression—is therefore vital to secure repeat trade and sustainable economic development.”
Would it not be a shame if people’s experience of visiting London, which should be fantastic, was ruined by the simple problem of being unable to get into a toilet when they needed one because turnstiles had been erected?
We should also bear in mind that we have the Olympics this year in London, which has led to other sporting events, such as the world athletics championships. We are told that they are the great opportunity to showcase London and to boost the tourism industry in this country. We are told how important public toilets and their accessibility are to tourism, tourists and visitors. Would it not be bizarre, when we are spending all that money to attract more tourism to London, to do something that would adversely affect it?
Order. The hon. Gentleman is obviously well briefed—he has certainly flushed out a lot of the subject that he wanted to flush out—but I am worried that he is beginning to pad out the debate on this measure. He may wish to speak to other measures, and it might help his good self to move on a little. I am sure that we have heard about turnstiles and the toilet break quite thoroughly, and a lot of hon. Members have managed to intervene.
If you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall conclude on the issue of toilets by saying simply that the Guild of Registered Tourist Guides formed an inconvenience committee, which produced a report—[ Interruption. ] This is the final thing I want to say on toilets. The committee described what it considered to be the perfect public toilet. It said that the perfect public toilet should be “free”—that is perhaps not much to ask in a world-class city—
“with sufficient cubicles for men and women so that large groups can use them without lengthy queues…clean and well maintained…safe and well lit…appropriate access aids such as hand rails on stairs, plus separate facility Cot wheel chair users…hot and cold water and soap for hand washing…Hand drying with paper towels as well as the hot air machines…Attendant on duty…Litter bins for disposal of hand towels…Nappy changing room…Feminine hygiene provision…Information and health education…Early morning and evening opening hours…sitting area for people to wait…and…Machines offering various necessities”.
That is it. You will have heard, Mr Deputy Speaker, no mention of turnstiles in that description of the perfect British toilet. I therefore do not know why on earth we would want to introduce them.
I am almost tempted to say that people would choose to live in such a wonderful place as opposed to just using it for the purpose for which it is intended. Will my hon. Friend say who will pay for that wonderful service if it is free of charge for the general public?
I do not want to go on further about public toilets, suffice it to say that I hope my comments have shown that such things should be the responsibility of local authorities.
To go back to an amendment to which my hon. Friend spoke earlier, that could be a matter of free enterprise. Groups of concerned citizens could come together to improve the trade in their area and ensure that there are convenient public conveniences.
That is right. My hon. Friend proposes a good solution, but however they are paid for, local businesses pay rates and expect services in return. Such facilities are important in attracting people to a location. The local authority will benefit from those just as much as local businesses.
It is not just businesses that pay rates and expect services; people pay their council tax to their local council for such provision. They see their council spending millions of pounds over a budget period on communications and other stuff, but they expect basic stuff such as public facilities to be provided for them to use for free. That is what most council tax payers whom my hon. Friend and I represent want.
I suspect my hon. Friend is right. It is no good local authorities going to the Government or the council tax payer and saying, “We need ever increasing amounts of money to pay for this, that and the other, and one of those things should be toilets,” and then saying, “By the way, we’ve got all the money in from the Government and the council tax payer to provide toilets, but we do not want to provide them free of charge.”
I really ought to press on and get to the other amendments. I do apologise to my hon. Friend.
I will deal with amendments 17 to 20, as they go together. Amendment 17 would delete subsection (1)(a) of clause 7, which deals with charges for permitting the use of objects, and so on, on the highway. Subsection (1)(a) refers to
“the cleansing of streets in which permitted activities take place so far as that cleansing is attributable to permitted activities”.
Basically, amendment 17 would prevent local authorities from being able to charge restaurants, theatres and so on for having to clean the streets outside such venues. Amendment 18 is a technical amendment, consequent on amendment 17, and would delete “and” in clause 7(1)(a).
Amendment 19 would leave out clause 7(1)(b), which refers to
“any reasonable administrative or other costs incurred in connection with the administration of Part VIIA of the 1980 Act (provision of amenities on certain highways) in relation to relevant permissions”.
That would prevent councils from charging shops and restaurants extra for administering the cleaning of the streets outside their venues. Amendment 20 would leave out clause 7(1)(c), which refers to
“the cost of enforcing…the provisions of Part VIIA of the 1980 Act so far as it relates to permitted activities…section 130 of the 1980 Act (protection of public rights) in relation to activities which are capable of being authorised by a relevant permission but are not…the law in relation to obstruction of the highway in relation to activities which are capable of being authorised by a relevant permission but are not.”
The explanatory notes state that clause 7
“would allow London borough councils to take into account additional considerations when setting the level of charges in relation to cases where they have given their permission under section 115E(1)(b)(i), namely where they have given permission for the placing of objects on the highway where doing so will result in the production of income. A typical example of when this might happen is where the Council has given permission for a restaurant to place tables and chairs on the highway. Clause 7 would enable the council, when setting the charges, to include in their calculations reasonable costs in the aggregate incurred in relation to the reasonable administrative or other costs incurred in granting permissions, additional street cleansing costs arising from activities for which permission is granted, and additional enforcement costs.”
My amendments would remove the provisions in clause 7 that would allow councils to charge extra for the cost of enforcing the cleaning. Presumablylocal authorities agree to let businesses have street furniture on the highway because they think that doing so is a good thing for their local residents. If so, why do local authorities not let those businesses just get on with it?
In a previous incarnation, I was a licensing chairman. We were keen as a local authority to encourage businesses to use street furniture because we thought that it took away many of the problems that we were dealing with. It improved antisocial behaviour and saved us money on some of the problems we faced on the streets at the time. Street furniture was therefore something to be encouraged. Rather than charging businesses for it, we were keen for them to have it.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I am sure that there are lots of benefits for local authorities from businesses doing that. The point is that if having street furniture is so good for the local authority and the local residents, surely the council should be encouraging businesses to do so. However, clause 7 would only discourage businesses from putting their street furniture out on the high street, because the local authority will clobber them if they do so.
In another incarnation, I was on the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government when it published a report on markets. The sense of place that my hon. Friend has described was actively encouraged in that report, because of that sense of the community meeting and coming together. Indeed, Leicester has overhauled its market, giving the community a greater sense of space and place by creating the sort of piazza feel that he has described. I cannot but think that it would be helpful to incur additional charges for encouraging something that is for the benefit of the local community.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right; indeed, I recall attempts, whether successful or not, to try and develop a café culture in this country. It appears to me that clause 7 is designed to try and thwart such a café-style culture, and I do not really understand why we would want to do that.
I think that it is much worse than that; this is a fundamental attack on the rights of property. The explanatory notes state:
“Subsection (2) of section 115F provides that except where the council are the owners of the sub-soil beneath the part of the highway in relation to which the permission is granted, the charges may not exceed the standard amount”.
That is, the council may charge only reasonable costs. That means that a council would be able to charge someone for doing something on that person’s own land, which must be wrong.
I commend my hon. Friend for being so eagle-eyed; I agree with him wholeheartedly on that point.
One of my problems with the Bill, and with this clause, is that they appear to intend to damage small businesses. We are in a terrible economic situation at the moment, and we know that small businesses are the engine of economic growth, so why on earth would the House want to pass measures that appear to have been designed to clobber small businesses? That is completely beyond me. These kinds of extra costs and bureaucracy are meat and drink to big businesses. I used to work for a large multinational company, and although these extra requirements were sometimes an irritation, we could afford to employ legions of people to deal with them. Many small businesses are struggling in the current climate, however, and they do not have the financial capability to deal with all the extra regulation and costs that the Bill seeks to impose on them. There seems to be a mindset that owning a small business is a licence to print money, that everyone who owns one has millions of pounds in the bank doing absolutely nothing, and that it is the job of a local authority to extract as much of that money as possible from them.
My hon. Friend is speaking with great passion from his own libertarian standpoint, but I have to admit that, unless I have got this wrong, I shall have to divert from his stance. Is he seriously suggesting, for example, that cafés and pubs should be able to place their furniture on our high streets and throw litter on the ground in the sure and certain knowledge that the local authority would clear it up at its own cost? Surely the “polluter pays” principle should pertain in such circumstances. If a café has chairs and tables on the street, is it not reasonable to expect the proprietor, who is making a profit out of the enterprise, to take responsibility for clearing up the mess?
I think that my hon. Friend Andrew Percy addressed that point. His local authority actively encouraged this kind of activity because it helped to keep the streets clean and tidy. The best thing that I can say about the clause, which I am seeking to delete, is that it is a solution looking for a problem. My hon. Friend made it clear that there is not a problem, and that more businesses should be encouraged to make use of street furniture.
Powers already exist to deal with any problems with street furniture. This can be done through the planning system or the licensing system. It can also be done using environmental legislation or antisocial behaviour legislation. The tools already exist to deal with people who are creating a problem but, generally, businesses are just trying to make a living and to do the best for their customers and their communities. If local authorities need to tackle any problems, they can do so using existing legislation.
I absolutely agree. Plenty of legislation is available to local authorities if they feel so strongly about these matters. Surely it should be our principle that we use existing legislation first, before introducing any more.
Absolutely; I totally agree with my hon. Friend.
The proposals would also affect certain hard-pressed theatres, and the petitions from the Society of London Theatres and the Theatrical Management Association made it clear that their members were already making their own arrangements for the cleaning of pavements in their local areas, and that the basis for an additional charge had not been made clear. We seem to have the ridiculous situation in which businesses could potentially be charged three times for this work: once through the payment of their rates, for which they expect a service in return that they are not being given; a second time through paying to do it themselves, as the local authority is not doing it; and, now, for a third time, they could be faced with the proposed extra charge to deal with any ensuing problem. Businesses are in danger of being charged three times for the same service, which cannot be fair in any shape or form.
We must introduce some common sense into these rules. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green will make it clear which, if any, of the amendments he will accept.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful point. There is also the possibility, as my hon. Friend Andrew Percy said, that areas of London will positively and actively encourage people to use the street space to ensure that the public realm is more attractive for tourism and so on, which will mean that the charges are waived, but, in theory, in other parts of that authority other people could be charged for exactly the same activity. Surely that is inequitable?
My hon. Friend is right.
I want to bring my remarks to a close, because I am sure that other people have points that they want to raise. I said earlier that my hon. Friends the Members for Bury North and for St Albans knew far more about public toilets than I do, but let me end with the final two amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, amendments 3 and 4. We can cover them very quickly.
Amendment 3 leaves out lines 10 and 11 of the preamble on page one. It would delete:
“It is expedient that the range of premises in London in respect of which street litter control notices can be served should be extended”.
That is consequential to my amendment 15, which would delete clause 5. If the amendment were accepted, we would need to leave out those lines from the preamble. Amendment 4 also amends page 1 and the preamble and it leaves out lines 12 and 13, thereby deleting:
“It is expedient that London borough councils should be able to install turnstiles in public conveniences”.
As those who have been following the debate closely will know, amendment 16 seeks to strike out clause 6, which relates to imposing turnstiles in public toilets. The amendments are merely consequential so, on that note, I will allow others to let me know their thoughts on the amendments.
I hope that I have been able to make the case that the provisions as they stand are very un-British. It is our responsibility in this House to protect people’s freedoms and to improve the Bill by accepting the amendments.
I can give an assurance that I will not be speaking for nearly two hours on this subject; I am sure the House will be relieved to know that. However, I urge hon. Members to oppose the amendments proposed by Philip Davies. Let us recap: every single London borough is in favour of the Bill—
I shall come on to that point, but let us be clear that every London borough, of every political persuasion, favours the Bill. Surely it is not the role of this House to frustrate the will of the locally elected people who have come together and proposed what I consider to be a perfectly reasonable Bill, which I would have hoped could pass through the House without the objections and the—I believe—spurious arguments that have been put forward to suggest that it is somehow a diminution of British freedoms. It is complete nonsense to suggest such a thing.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks these provisions are so great, why does he not come to the House and propose a similar Bill to apply to Derby? Does he think they should apply to Derby, and if they should apply to Derby as well as to London, why is there not a Bill for the whole country?
Here we go again with another red herring from a Member who does not represent a London constituency. Let me address his question about where the London MPs are, because it is pretty significant that not one of the Members opposing the Bill is from London. We see the hon. Members for Shipley, for Christchurch (Mr Chope), for St Albans (Mrs Main) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg)—
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, who poses an interesting constitutional conundrum: that because a group of local authorities is in favour of something—at least he believes that to be the case; I have not seen any evidence of it—this House should not have the right to consider that matter. Surely it is only reasonable that we, as the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom, should have the right to say whether we believe something to be correct and a good thing, even if every local authority is unanimously in favour it.
The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly valid constitutional point, but I thought that his party was in favour of localism and wanted greater local determination on the ground. Indeed, Bob Blackman made that point earlier.
The hon. Gentleman will have to excuse me, but I find it vaguely insulting to hear that my constituents in St Albans, 50% of whom travel into London, will have no concerns about things that may be imposed in London. He might be aware that under the previous Government, much to my chagrin, St Albans was designated as part of the north London arc for planning purposes. To say that I am not concerned about what happens in London is quite specious. We are concerned because many of our constituents will visit London and use the facilities.
I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me, but I did not say she was not concerned about London. I merely pointed out that it was rather significant that every MP who has stood up today to oppose this Bill represents a seat that is not in London. I find that an extraordinary thing for Members from outside London to do, given that every London borough favours the Bill, and it has already undergone considerable scrutiny in this House and the other place. It was scrutinised by a Select Committee, to which the hon. Member for St Albans has referred, and there was a three-hour debate on Second Reading. For goodness’ sake, how much more scrutiny does it require?
That is what we are doing at the moment: scrutinising the legislation. The hon. Gentleman seems to be implying that the Bill relates only to London citizens and residents, but it does not; it applies to anyone who comes to visit London. I do not know what people in Derby do, but people in Shipley certainly come to visit London; many of them do, and I suspect that people from Derby do as well. The Bill will apply as much to his constituents as to anyone who lives in London.
That is a fair comment, but in our system of local government, people in London elect the councils to represent them and to take care of boroughs’ interests. I repeat that every one of those boroughs has come together in support of the Bill, which has already received considerable scrutiny. Also, many of the provisions in the original Bill have been amended or removed. Indeed, the Bill has been weakened by the removal of some measures—for example, on houses in multiple occupation and on food safety—again on the specious ground that they somehow diminished British freedoms. That argument is complete nonsense; nevertheless, the House has had its say, Members’ views have been considered and various amendments have been agreed to. Therefore, in view of the scrutiny to which the Bill has already been subjected and the fact that it has already been considerably modified, I hoped that we could proceed with greater speed today and agree the remaining provisions of the Bill, which is still worth supporting.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves away from the fact that not a single London MP has spoken against the Bill, I note the absolute paucity of Members on the Opposition Benches, and the fact that not one London Member from the Labour party is standing up to defend the Bill.
If the hon. Lady studies the record, she will see that Members from London on both sides of the Chamber have stood up in previous debates—when, as I have said, the Bill received considerable scrutiny—and made their views well known. So I think that is a fairly unreasonable point to raise.
Thank you for that guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was aiming to get to the substance of the Bill, but have been deflected somewhat by interventions from Conservative Members. However, I did not say that Members from outside London should not be allowed to vote on the Bill at all; nothing could be further from my mind.
I shall move on to the specifics of the amendments on street litter notices. A perfectly reasonable proposition is being advanced. I think the hon. Member for Shipley was labouring under a misapprehension, because powers already exist for orders to apply to commercial and retail premises, with the agreement of the Secretary of State. The Bill simply seeks to extend those designations, with the permission of the Secretary of State, to public buildings such as educational establishments and hospitals.
The hon. Gentleman spent a long time talking about smoking litter. As a result of the smoking ban there are now undoubtedly considerable quantities of smoking debris, and it is right and proper that local authorities should have another tool in the locker, as it were, with which to address that very real problem. It does impact on the street scene and the visual amenity of an area. I have pointed out that local authorities are already under considerable strain, given the cuts that have been made to their funding, and if they are to fulfil their obligations to their constituents—and to people from Shipley and Christchurch and every other corner of the United Kingdom who visit London—it is incumbent on those local authorities to find ways of ensuring that the street scene is not despoiled by every sort of litter—particularly smoking litter, which creates a real problem. It would be a significant step in the right direction in improving the street scene and helping local authorities to find other ways of ensuring that they can provide the adequate services that local people in their respective boroughs elect them to provide.
I thank Chris Williamson, who is being very generous and is advancing a cogent and interesting argument, but I have two problems. First, he used the expression “another tool in the locker” with regard to these provisions. That is precisely one of the arguments that we are advancing against them: there is already a tool in the locker—the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Why should we require another tool in the locker to achieve something that can be achieved by existing legislation?
Secondly, while I am on my feet, can the hon. Gentleman clarify for us the degree to which the provisions would apply to the Parliamentary estate, and the Government estate down Whitehall?
I accept that other provisions are available, but they do not necessarily go far enough, and they leave local authorities in a difficult position because of the inadequate resources at their disposal. I repeat that hon. Members should support alternative ways in which authorities can deal with such problems.
The hon. Gentleman sums up my worries about the measure. Legislation already exists under which a person who drops litter—even a cigarette butt—can be prosecuted or held to account. I am worried that the Bill might introduce a lazy way forward under which a charge regarding cigarette litter would relate to the building that it is in front of, instead of there being a system of wardens or enforcement officers targeting the people who drop the litter. I worry that the Bill shifts responsibility from the individual culprit to a building, and that is a cost-cutting measure if ever I heard one, in so far as only one person is employed to prosecute the owner of a building or a business, and we will not be chasing the people who drop litter.
With the greatest respect, the hon. Lady is not living in the real world. If only the avenues that she advocates were available for local authorities, it would be incredibly costly for them to deliver the improvements that the additional measure in the Bill could achieve. She talks about cost-cutting measures, but local authorities are being forced to make significant reductions to their budgets, so it is unreasonable to say that they should not be given this additional tool to help them to fulfil their obligations. We should bear in mind the fact that such a provision already exists for commercial and retail premises. The measure in the Bill would help to ensure that streets were kept clean and tidy, and then the resources that are used to deal with that problem at present could be deployed elsewhere to ensure that the whole street scene was clean and tidy for everyone’s enjoyment—local residents and visitors from St Albans and elsewhere.
The hon. Gentleman has said three times that some local authorities are short of resources, so he is touching on Conservative Members’ concern. Does he share my worry that authorities that are short of resources might use the enhanced penalty charge regime under the Bill to raise the money that they are short of?
Her Majesty’s Opposition are genuine localists. We trust local government and those who are elected to serve their communities to do the right thing and not to abuse powers. Hon. Members should remember that the Secretary of State’s approval will be needed if the powers are to be exercised, so there are sufficient checks and balances in place.
It is incumbent on hon. Members to trust the elected councillors in the London boroughs to use the powers at their disposal responsibly. There is no evidence to suggest that London boroughs behave irresponsibly, and it is unreasonable of those Conservative Members who oppose the Bill to suggest otherwise.
Let me move on to turnstiles—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing that clarification in response to his hon. Friend’s question.
When discussing the provisions for turnstiles in public toilets, the hon. Member for Shipley was—how can I put this kindly?—not correct in suggesting that they would discriminate against disabled people. Perhaps he was thinking of the old-fashioned turnstiles installed before the Public Lavatories (Turnstiles) Act 1963 was passed, which were removed as a result of that legislation. As the promoter has made clear, however, what is proposed in the Bill would enable local authorities to obtain fees for the use of public conveniences. We cannot duck the problem—which did not exist when the Bill was being formulated, before the economic downturn—of the huge reduction in the funds available to local authorities. Many public toilets around the country have been closed.
Public toilets are an essential facility. Our population is ageing, and the availability of public toilets is essential to many people who would otherwise be denied access to facilities in city centres, but many public toilets are being closed because of lack of resources. That was happening before the circumstances in which local authorities now find themselves arose. The Bill would in no way discriminate against disabled people and it would allow the London boroughs to levy a charge by installing modern turnstiles, which could help to retain public toilets. That would not only help elderly people but would be beneficial to disabled people and to families with young children, who would find life very difficult without such public facilities.
I fear that if the clause is not agreed, many more public toilets will be closed. That would be highly regrettable, and it would be discriminatory against the very disabled people the hon. Member for Shipley mentioned, as well as elderly people and families with young children.
The hon. Gentleman is disparaging my comments, but has he read the Select Committee report to which I referred? I remind him that the inquiry was conducted at a time when the Committee’s Chairman was a Labour Member, as were the majority of its members. Is he disparaging not only what I said, but what that Labour-dominated Committee put in its report?
To be fair, the hon. Gentleman himself said that he had not read the report. Indeed, he said that until Mrs Main pointed it out today, he had not been aware of its existence. It is a little rich of him to say that he is relying on the report’s recommendations today, when he was not previously aware of its existence.
We cannot allow that to stand. The hon. Gentleman clearly was not listening. I said that I was not aware of the report at the time, but had become aware of it only when I started to look at the Bill. I made it clear that I had read the report; in fact, I quoted extensively from it in my speech. How on earth he can conclude that I had not heard of it until today is beyond me.
I have given way quite a lot already, so if the hon. Lady will bear with me, I will try to make a little progress.
To sum up, for the reasons I have outlined, there is a strong case in favour of the provisions on turnstiles in public toilets. I therefore hope that hon. Members will give the provisions their support.
The hon. Gentleman is making a thoughtful speech. On the question of public lavatories—I find it difficult to use the word “toilet” myself; I prefer “lavatory”; interestingly, the heading of the clause refers to “toilets”, but the body of the clause uses “lavatory”—does he not agree that the provision will lead to regressive taxation? There is no question but that we all want public lavatories to be readily available; the question is how we pay for that. Does the local authority pay for it as a responsibility under council tax or should it be the users who pay? If the cost were £1, £2 or £5, that would be a regressive tax. I do not mind paying that for a lovely, splendid, gleaming public lavatory, but what about the poor young family on benefits with five children? What will they do?
I can give the hon. Gentleman the benefit of anecdotal evidence that I have gleaned in speaking to young families, elderly people and disabled people about the retention of public toilets. Of course we would all love to have access to free facilities, but if there is a choice between losing the facility altogether and introducing a modest charge, 100% of the people I spoke to were prepared to pay the charge. As for the charge being prohibitive, we have to trust locally elected representatives to do the right thing. If local people think that their local councils have done the wrong thing, they have the perfect remedy at the ballot box, and can vote them out accordingly.
There are adequate safeguards and there is support for the measure. Yes, in an ideal world, if we could provide facilities across the piece free of charge I would certainly sign up to that, but in the real world local authorities are under increasing pressure, even before elections, so it is not unreasonable to give them the opportunity to raise finance to maintain those facilities in good order and stop them closing down. All too many public conveniences across the country have closed because of the lack of resources available to the local authority.
Finally, clause 7 refers to “the use of objects” on the public highway. Again, the Bill makes a perfectly reasonable proposal to give local authorities the ability to levy a charge. At the end of the day, businesses using the public highway should not be able to use it to gain an income as a matter of course or right—it should be seen as a privilege. If street furniture is put out in that way, it often adds to the costs that fall on the local authority. Bearing in mind the fact that those businesses gain an additional profit as a result of being given the privilege of putting street furniture on the public highway, it is not unreasonable that local authorities should be empowered to levy a small charge to help pay for the additional costs incurred by the local authority as a direct consequence of that street furniture being put on the public highway. The alternative is to say that the council tax payer should pick up the tab, which would be completely unreasonable.
I am surprised that some Government Members—I am pleased that this does not apply to all of them—have suggested that the taxpayer should subsidise businesses in that way. That is the wrong thing to do, and a bad principle. On that basis, I support clause 7 and oppose the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Shipley.
I now have to announce the result of the deferred Division on the motion relating to the mayoral referendum for Birmingham. The Ayes were 303 and the Noes were 203, so the Question was agreed to.
I also have to announce the result of the deferred Division on the motion relating to the mayoral referendum for Bradford. The Ayes were 304 and the Noes were 202, so the Question was agreed to.
[The Division lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]
May I briefly pull together the chains of this debate and address the topics that have been raised? I should say, as a matter of principle, that this is a private Bill. Any local authority, like many other institutions, private and public, are entitled to bring private legislation before the House. It is equally the entitlement of all Members in this House to scrutinise such legislation.
The Government, historically, have taken a neutral stance towards private legislation, and we do so again, as I said when the Bill was debated previously. I simply observe that all the matters that are the subject of this debate are legitimate areas of concern to local authorities. The appropriate stance is not one upon which the Government would seek to impose a blanket or one-size-fits-all view of policy. It is right generally to favour local discretion, but none of that impinges on the right of the House to scrutinise particular pieces of private legislation brought before it.
I merely observe that in relation to smoking-related litter it is, as a matter of policy, the Government’s view that the “polluter pays” principle should generally be advanced. In relation to turnstiles in public toilets, it is of course to be noted, as has been observed, that all public conveniences are now subject to the equalities legislation, which requires accessibility of services to disabled people, and I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend Mike Freer, who speaks on behalf of the promoters of the Bill, will be able to reassure hon. Members who have raised points that anything done, were the House to pass the Bill, would not impinge on that. Clearly, it is important that any kind of turnstile, however described or constructed, is consistent with such legislation.
I accept that my hon. Friend wants to remain neutral on this because it is private business, but surely he cannot remain neutral on something such as toilets, and whether there should be turnstiles, given that it was his Department in 2008 that produced a strategic guide, “Improving Public Access to Better Quality Toilets”. Do the Government still stand by the strategic guide that they issued in 2008? If so, they cannot support clause 6.
The guidance was produced by the previous Government. It is not the policy of this Government to seek to impose minute controls over the manner in which public lavatories are provided in this country. Nor is there a particularly left or right, in political terms, means of providing public lavatories. I restate what I said: there is a duty upon all local authorities to make provision of such facilities. It is desirable that they do so, and the guidance sets out useful means of achieving that. Equally, the technology in question is not a matter for the Government. We seek to ensure that the technology achieves the broad policy objectives of making proportionate and appropriate facilities available, and that any technology employed is consistent with legislation governing issues such as equalities. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green will be able to address that.
In relation to clause 7 and the placing of objects on the highway, the Department for Transport has already said that it does not object to the clause, provided that there are checks in place to ensure that any costs recovered are reasonable. I hope that my hon. Friend will address that. I simply observe that many hon. Members have spoken and I join them in saying that many people find the development of a café culture in this country to be desirable and enjoyable. One would not wish to see that prejudiced, but that is not say that the area is not a matter of legitimate concern for local authorities. The whole purpose is to achieve a proper balance and equilibrium in this matter, and to ensure, particularly in the current climate, that any charging regime is used with care and discretion so that—this is the Government’s general view—any charging is not disproportionate or excessive, and does not place undue burdens on business so as to get in the way of the desire that I am sure all would share to encourage growth and enterprise, particularly in the leisure and small business sector. Having stated the Government’s position, without further ado, I am content to leave the House to weigh up those matters.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Philip Davies on his forensic evaluation of the measure and rise to support his amendments. I have listened with growing concern about the lack of justification for the use of a sledgehammer to crack this particular nut. I am amazed that Chris Williamson, who tried to defend the proposal, could not answer some of the significant questions he was asked. I have heard of no pilot study showing an attempt to deter bad behaviour, such as the dropping of cigarette butts, and facilitate good behaviour, such as the provision of ashtrays and similar street furniture. Let us be realistic. It is only a relatively short time since the previous Government put in place new regulations that led to more smoking outside, but local authorities have not had time to catch up with the fact that people are dropping cigarette butts because there is a lack of places to put them. Many local authorities have recognised that.
I do not think that we need new legislation to burden businesses with additional costs. We should be encouraging local authorities to work with local people to ensure sensible, reasonable and proportionate behaviour, but this is not a sensible, reasonable or proportionate proposal. Businesses might suddenly have an additional charge placed upon them so that they have to clean up a stray cigarette butt that someone has casually thrown out of a car window. It should be the polluter who pays. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister said that the Government’s position is that the polluter should pay. This proposal is not that the polluter should pay, but that the poor sap who ends up with litter in front of his door should pay, which I think is outrageous.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, big businesses can often swallow such charges. They shrug and say, “Yet another piece of legislation placed on our shoulders, but we’ll cope.” That is not the case for small businesses. Smaller businesses often have smaller premises and are shut at night, and in the morning they might find a whole raft of cigarette butts to clean up because they are down an alleyway or in a smaller part of town. Many of the smaller businesses in St Albans are down small, historic streets and suffer from antisocial behaviour, such as people urinating at night or dropping cigarette butts. I do not believe that those businesses, many of which take pride in their premises and already clean up in the morning, should have to pay a financial penalty for something that is in no way their fault.
I know that other hon. Members want to speak on the matter, but I do not think that any justification has been given today for creating more legislation. I am a natural conservative and believe that we should be chopping regulations. I thought that we had a pledge that for every bit of new legislation that came in we would throw out another, but this is another regulation on businesses, particularly small businesses, that we are supposed to be supporting. There is no getting away from it: this has to be a money-generating scheme for local authorities.
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend, as I did to my hon. Friend Philip Davies. With regard to the “polluter pays” principle, she is right to say when a cigarette is casually dropped by a passerby, it is clearly impossible for that polluter to be charged. None the less, is there not some merit in the principle that the vicarious polluter should pay? In other words, there could be a café on the pavement or a cheap McDonald’s food takeaway outlet, and even though it may not be McDonald’s itself that has dropped a piece of litter on the pavement, it would be reasonable to presume that it had made a profit from providing the hamburger to the person who dropped the litter. It is therefore not unreasonable that it should be asked to pay for clearing it up.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, and I never thought that I would be speaking up to defend McDonald’s, but that is exactly what happens in St Albans already. McDonald’s, Sainsbury’s with its carrier bags, and other big companies recognise the issue, work with the local council and help towards paying up. Sainsbury’s recognises that, if one of its carrier bags has drifted up against a fence 100 yards away from its supermarket, it will still help the local authority to clear it up—and is willing to do so. It is the poor small businesses that cannot carry the can. With huge businesses such as McDonald’s, people say, “That’s their packet, thrown away 100 yards or so from the restaurant,” but that is recognised, so often it will help local authorities to clear up and to contribute towards schemes that do so.
The clause will, however, penalise small businesses. What about them? If we were to have, as one of my hon. Friends proposed, separate legislation for branded litter, we might find it easier to enforce, but that is not what the clause is about—unless we are going to chase Marlboro and ask it to pay. The person who drops the litter should ultimately be responsible, and if that means better council surveillance and the recognition that it has to clean those areas more, so be it. Small businesses should not have to pick up the tab.
I used a slightly bad example in my previous intervention by citing a big business and talking about McDonald’s; my point was the vicarious polluter pays. Let us imagine that a small business, such as a café, is set up on the streets of St Albans, and around its tables there is an increase in litter. Surely the reasonable presumption is that its customers have produced it and, therefore, that the café will have written into the cost of creating the cup of tea and sticky bun a cost to cover clearing up the litter.
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, but I—and others in the debate have made this point—am not aware of any business that would want to serve its customers in a pigsty. Most cafés and small businesses take great pride in what happens outside their premises, but the Bill deals with litter that has been dropped and, in particular, with cigarette butts, not with the tomato on the floor which has come out of someone’s BLT from their local shop.
Do we not return to the point that, if this is an issue, it is an issue throughout the country? On that basis, therefore, the House should propose legislation that applies everywhere in the country. The issue does not apply only to London, so it is completely unnecessary and undesirable to introduce such legislation for London only.
My hon. Friend makes the point that this is private business and it nominates only London, but the point I am trying to make, which he made eloquently earlier, is that the clause is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It is not necessary, and there is plenty of regulation.
The hon. Lady contradicts her own argument, because she says that businesses would not want to serve food and drink in a pigsty, implying that they already keep such areas clean and tidy. So I do not understand her objection to the clause.
My objection to the clause relates, in particular, to smaller premises. We have talked a great deal about cigarette butts, but the clause deals with litter that has been deposited on those premises not necessarily by the businesses themselves—and they will be charged. This point has been made umpteen times: most responsible businesses keep their premises clean anyway; we have enforcement officers from the council who go around and can speak to businesses that are not operating in such a fashion; and current legislation and levers can be employed to tackle the issue.
On my hon. Friend’s exchange with our hon. Friend Mr Gray, will she bear in mind that such provisions already apply to commercial and retail premises? The Bill, however, seeks to extend them to any premise other than a dwelling. McDonald’s and others are already covered by the law. This Bill will extend that provision to other organisations totally unrelated to selling the things that my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire talked about.
I thank my hon. Friend, because this debate has been going for some time, and he did make that point quite cogently at the beginning.
Principally, when we have argued about the amendment, we have addressed cigarette butts and the fact that outside such premises as an estate agent or an office, which does not serve food and drink or use wrappers, those butts will be considered litter and, therefore, be directly attributed to those premises.
I shall not give way; I wish to expand my point.
My point is that small businesses that see a pile of littered cigarette butts outside but do not have smokers on their premises will be held directly responsible for clearing up those butts because they have been dropped outside their front door. That, to me, is as unfair as when poor St Albans residents find that things have been thrown into their gardens by loutish people walking home at night. It is not reasonable that a business will have to pay for this in addition to what it already pays the local council to keep its streets and premises clean.
The truth is that local authorities can already apply this provision to retail and commercial properties, as Philip Davies said. The proposal will extend it to public buildings. If the hon. Lady objects to the powers that are currently available to local authorities to insist on commercial and retail premises tidying litter away, she should put forward an alternative piece of legislation to repeal those powers.
The hon. Gentleman is trying to lead me down corridors. He has not come forward with a single type of premises that would not be covered reasonably under the legislation that we already have. That is the nub of the matter. We are introducing something that is totally superfluous and unnecessary. There is plenty of legislation for local authorities to use. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley on the amendment because it is sensible, reasonable and proportionate.
I am sorry to say that I want to return to the issue of toilets. It was abundantly clear from the hon. Gentleman’s weak argument that he had not read the Communities and Local Government Committee report. He certainly had not read all the supporting information that was brought to the Committee.
I am. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was obviously well versed in the report.
If the hon. Member for Derby North had read the report and the supporting evidence that was given to the Committee, he would have seen that charging was dealt with in the report. It was deemed to be a matter for the local authority. If he had read the evidence, he would know that one can never charge enough to make toilets pay. What people are prepared to pay—whether it is 10p, 20p or 50p—does not cover the cost of running any public toilet. The report left charging to the discretion of the local authority, but it expressly said that we should do away with all turnstiles, even turnstiles in stations. The report dealt with that dilemma.
Although the Committee received representations from many groups representing people with disabilities, those with urge incontinence, the aged and people on low incomes saying that charging for toilets was unreasonable when people already pay car parking charges when they go into city and town centres, the report accepted that to impose a regulation that said that toilets must be free would be unreasonable for many local authorities. It did not accept that there was a need for turnstiles.
Fundamentally, we have to believe the 2008 report because it is the biggest listening exercise that we have on people visiting public conveniences and it specifically looks at London. This proposal is contrary to all the evidence that was received at that time. It was accepted that charging was acceptable, but it was not accepted that turnstiles were acceptable. This proposal brings the two together. If people wish to charge for the use of London toilets, so be it. I might not think that it is a good idea and other people might not think that it is a good idea, but I am realistic enough to accept that the taxpayer might have to claw back some of the cost of the provision for tourists and all the people who come into towns and cities. However, some turnstiles were abandoned under the 1963 Act and the 2008 report stated that all turnstiles should be abandoned. That is the most recent thing that we have and it was produced by a Committee that had a Labour Chair, Phyllis Starkey, and was dominated by Labour Members.
To introduce turnstiles in whatever shape or form—not necessarily the little winding things that we walk through—would be a retrograde step. The Committee did not specify a type of turnstile; we said no to all turnstiles. I therefore suggest that the hon. Member for Derby North has not read the evidence of the people who came to the Committee and said that they found the toilets in London appalling.
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. In fact, one might ask why we did a report on public toilets. [Interruption.] Yes, we were desperate. I seem to remember that it was because it had been highlighted to us that the state of the toilets in London was a problem. We heard every joke under the sun: “flushed with success”, “a penny for our thoughts”, and so on. However, it was amazing—
I think I can be tempted to put the Question because we have been debating this group of amendments for more than two hours. In fact, it has probably been more than three hours, if I remember rightly, given the debate that was started by Mr Chope last time. I therefore think that we should test the will of the House.
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.
The House proceeded to a Division.
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the No Lobby because there seems to be a blockage.
With this it will be convenient to take amendments 23, 24, 41, 25 to 28, 42, P1, 29, 30, 43 to 45, 31, 46, 47, 32, 48, 49, P2, 33, 60, 51 to 55, 34, 56 to 58 and P40.
As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have tabled a number of amendments and have also put my name to a number of others. I would like, if I may, to start by outlining why they have been proposed. The simple reason is that the Bill as drafted is extraordinarily illiberal and seeks to extend the powers of the state into the nooks and crannies of people’s lives as they carry out otherwise lawful activities that would be banned by the Bill, unless the amendments are passed.
I remind hon. Members of what was said in the Conservative party manifesto about protecting civil liberties. We said:
“Labour have subjected Britain’s historic freedoms to unprecedented attack. They have trampled on liberties…giving public bodies extraordinary powers to intervene in the way we live our lives.
The impact of this has been profound and far-reaching. Trust has been replaced by suspicion.”
The amendments I have tabled with many of my hon. Friends aim to restore that trust and to ensure that what is done is proportionate and that civil liberties are maintained. You will not be surprised to know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that some of those civil liberties go as far back as the Magna Carta and they are being undermined by the clauses that we are discussing.
Under the clauses, unidentified officers of councils who might or might not show identification may confiscate things from people, directly contrary to the Magna Carta, which states:
“No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed or exiled, or in any way destroyed…except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land.”
This is not the law of the land, it is the law of some minor council official—some minor bod—going around and confiscating people’s goods without having the proper authority to do so, a proper process by which to do it or a legitimacy that would give people confidence in the laws we are passing in this Parliament.
I agree with my hon. Friend wholeheartedly. During a previous discussion on this Bill, my hon. Friend proposed that those council officials should wear bowler hats. If they identified themselves with a bowler hat, would he be happy for them to take on these powers?
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point, because I specify in amendment 60, which has been selected, that these officers of the council should be in uniform when they carry out their duties. I have left it to the discretion of the council to determine what those uniforms should be.
Does my hon. Friend have any suggestions as to how this would be promoted, because my constituents, should they come down to London, might not be aware of the purpose of these people in bowler hats or other uniforms and might not be aware of their powers in the regulations.
Has the hon. Gentleman or any of his colleagues who oppose this legislation had discussions with the Mayor of London about whether he thinks the Bill should be supported or blocked?
I am very grateful for that intervention. The Mayor of London is a man whom I admire enormously and whose writ I should think runs across the whole of London and probably should run across the world. However, he stood down from this Parliament and it therefore is not fitting that his views should be authoritative. In this instance, I do not happen to know what they are.
I certainly do not know what they are, but perhaps my hon. Friend ought to listen to Mike Gapes because no doubt he has just come from a meeting with the Mayor of London. He certainly was not here when we debated the first group of amendments, but he seems to think that this is very important.
I was watching the proceedings from my office, and I could not believe that any Members of Parliament who had the best interests of London at heart could possibly oppose the proposals, which are supported by Labour members, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in local government all over London, as well as by the Greater London Authority. It is only neanderthals and people who have no idea of what is in the interests of our capital city who oppose the Bill.
Now we see the true face of socialist authoritarianism coming into the House. Those people do not bother with debating in this Chamber. No, they sit watching television in their eyries above and then they condescend to come down and they deign in all their fine glory to say to us that we from Somerset, from Hertfordshire and from other great counties across the country should not have a say in the legislation that affects the law of the land. This is the type of authoritarianism and nanny-stateism that we have come to expect from the socialist.
Let me refer to clause 20(2), which we propose to pull out of the Bill because it is a singularly nasty measure. What it says, Mr Speaker, although I am sure I do not need to remind you, is that if somebody wishes to sell their car throughout all the boroughs of Greater London, advertises it on the internet and then puts it outside their house, they will be committing an offence.
I hate to correct my hon. Friend because I so enjoy his perorations in the Chamber but he is incorrect. It is not intended that a householder selling their own vehicle outside their own house should be captured by the measure. It is only vehicle traders who in the course of a business sell vehicles on a residential street, using the internet, who will be caught—not residential households.
That may not be what is intended, but it is, unfortunately, what is said and it is what is described in the notes written by the promoters of this Bill in relation to part 4 on licensing.
Three hours having elapsed since the start of proceedings, the business was interrupted (Order,
Bill to be further considered on
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. Is it appropriate parliamentary language for a Member of Parliament to call other hon. Members neanderthals, particularly when they have not even been anywhere near the debate or participated or engaged in it? Do you think that that is a somewhat judgmental statement?
Well, I think if we are going to have a prohibition on judgmentalism, we are setting ourselves rather than exacting test. What I would say to the hon. Lady is twofold. First, I am not aware, though it is not relevant to the appropriateness of her point of order, who the target of this intended abuse was—although I could try to speculate about it—but secondly, if the target of the intended abuse is at least one Member that I can think of, I rather imagine that far from complaining about it, he will take it as the greatest possible compliment that has ever been paid to him.
I note the hon. Gentleman’s value judgment, and indeed his sense of humour. If there are no further points of order, we come now to the petition.