Clause 1 - Crime and disorder reduction strategies

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 18th January 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am particularly pleased to commend the clause because it amends section 6 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to make it clear that damage to the local environment is a part of the continuum of low-level offences, running through vandalism and damage to disorder and serious crime. It follows that the crime and disorder reduction partnerships established under the 1998 Act should consider the state of the local environment and the types of offences that are doing damage to neighbourhoods in their area in developing their strategy for reducing crime and disorder.

I have no intention of using the initials CRDP, which somebody seems to have invented to refer to these partnerships. It is for the Home Office and other Departments to decide on their use of initials, but I have said that they are banned in DEFRA. To use any set of initials less easily identified than AA, RAC or RAF excludes those who are not familiar with initials, and it is important that crime and disorder reduction partnerships engage the public rather than exclude them. That certainly applies to increasing the sense in the local community that their neighbourhood is clean, safe and green by reducing the damage done by litter, graffiti, fly-posting, vandalism and other so-called petty offences. They may be petty offences in themselves, but their cumulative effect creates a sense of ''Nobody cares around here'', and therefore the response ''Why should I care?'' The answer is that we should all care. There is an individual and a collective responsibility on the community and an institutional responsibility on the police, the local authority and others involved in the local crime and disorder reduction partnership to ensure that a balanced and proportionate response is made to offences that degrade the local environment.

We want to ensure that local crime and disorder reduction partnerships consider—I emphasise the word ''consider''—the quality of the local environment when conducting their audits and then developing their strategies. Once they have considered the local situation, it is for the partnership to decide whether offences of the sort covered by the Bill are relevant to their concerns. If they are not a problem, they should not receive attention in the strategy. However, I suspect that there will be few areas, whether rural or urban, where some aspects of environmental offending are not relevant. In one area, for instance, there may be a serious problem of fly-tipping or burnt-out vehicles, but little fly-posting or graffiti. The duty on the partnership is to address the problems that exist, not a theoretical construct that is not relevant to local circumstances. What is certain is that the broken window theory applies. If we do not tackle degradation of the local environment quickly and get the message across ''We care around here'', things will deteriorate. There is a link between damage to the local environment and people's sense of well-being and the levels of crime and disorder that can develop.

The first is that we always intended that damage to the local environment and vandalism in the local neighbourhood should be part of the continuum to be examined and addressed by crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Many partnerships addressed this problem from day one, but not all have done so. Some have taken the more old-fashioned view that these are petty offences and not worthy of specific attention. That is why we are taking this opportunity to make it clear that these issues, which are at the forefront of people's minds in most parts of the country, need to be sensibly addressed in the local crime and disorder reduction strategy.

The second reason why it is now timely to make the expectations explicit is that we can now measure the extent of environmental offending in an area and the comparative improvement or deterioration over time. That is important in the context of the old saying, ''What don't get measured don't get done''. These things have been measured, and the Government and local government have a done a great deal of work over recent years to make sure that they could be, but that was not the case in 1998. We inherited a situation in which a good deal of offending went unremarked, which is why changes in the collection of statistics were made shortly afterwards. So-called low-level violence, for instance, was brought into the equation for the reporting and recording of crime.

The issues dealt with in the Bill have taken a little longer to address, and to an extent we are still in the early stages. I shall shortly publish the third local environmental quality audit produced by ENCAMS, the environmental charity that we sponsor. When we published the second report last year, it was possible for the first time to compare the 2003 snapshot with the 2002 snapshot of local environmental quality. It was possible to note that littering had got worse—by about 12 per cent.—a point raised by the Opposition on Second Reading. As I said in my response, what is interesting now is not only the deterioration in some aspects but evidence from work done by ENCAMS and elsewhere that a local partnership can make a massive difference—perhaps an improvement of   20 per cent. in respect of fast-food litter, for instance. By examining progress over time, we can see where things are getting worse, where things are getting better and what we can do to make sure that we move in the right direction rather than the wrong one. The important thing then is to learn the lessons and make sure that they are spread across the country and that improvement becomes universal.

This process is considerably helped by other evidence now available to us. BVPI199—best value performance indicator 199—now gives a measure of each local authority's effectiveness in cleaning up its local environment. The comprehensive performance assessment programme places an emphasis on local environment quality, which is rightly part of determining whether a local authority is a high-performing authority or not. We share the view, with councillors generally and the Local Government Association in particular, that people are concerned about their local environment and that it is therefore crucial for the Government and local government to tackle these problems effectively and create what several Government Departments have identified as ''cleaner, safer, greener'' communities for everybody to live in.

Why is the clause so important? It is important because it sets the strategic framework within which local environmental quality can be improved and makes explicit the nature of the continuum that starts with petty environmental offences such as littering and dog fouling. Let me use the issue of dog fouling to underline a big difference between us and the Conservative party. Typically during the Second Reading debate the Conservative contributions pointed to one negative fact in the ENCAMS report, but the report demonstrated where things are getting better as well as worse. It demonstrated explicitly that dog fouling has reduced over recent years in most areas and in the country generally. Improvement is not the same as perfection, and we should not be complacent, but I can illustrate the point from experience in my constituency. As I discovered on Saturday, it is still possible to get oneself mired in an unpleasant substance left by somebody else's pooch. However, as a regular runner, I examine the pavements of Penarth with great diligence, and the situation has improved massively over the past few years. Dog owners have got the message.

To return to the strategic approach that needs to be taken, let us look at the operation of local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. The authorities that make up the local partnership, together with the wider group of partners that they have to engage, have a responsibility to carry out an audit to establish the nature and extent of crime and disorder, antisocial behaviour, and misuse of drugs in their local area. Collecting the evidence will involve looking at the crime figures, but other hard and soft evidence will also be involved. 

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Like the Minister, I despise dog fouling; it is unnecessary, unhealthy and dangerous. The audit is one way of indicating whether the policy is a success. The other way is the number of prosecutions and the amount of enforcement. Does he believe that the availability of enforcement officials—I assume the police in most cases, but a number of other individuals may be empowered—will be sufficient to ensure that the policies that we are pushing forward will be enforced properly? The number of prosecutions will give us an indication of whether the policy is working.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The number of prosecutions on its own does not indicate success. For instance, we have seen success in the reduction of dog fouling, but I doubt whether there has been a massive increase in the number of prosecutions. There have been some prosecutions, but the message is being put across in a variety of different ways, including through local campaigns. ENCAMS has run a very in-your-face—if no one minds me using that expression in relation to dog fouling—campaign to make it clear to people just how unpleasant the outcome of somebody not controlling their animal, or not clearing up after it, can be for the general public.

I had moved on a little from dog fouling—the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) seems to be stuck in it. In response to his comments, I would point to the large increase in the number of police officers that we have seen since this Government came to power, and to the work of community support officers in particular. That links directly to the point that I was about to make. The responsible authorities that make up the partnership that I have described have the responsibility to carry out an audit and not just to use the crime figures or the prosecution figures but to look at other indicators such as the experience of local accident and emergency departments.

Research that was undertaken in Cardiff, in my own area, by Professor John Shepherd and others, demonstrated that preventive measures could reduce the cost to the NHS of having to put people's faces back together again, as well as reducing the number of violent incidents that the police had to deal with. Targeted activity by the police, where numbers of incidents are happening, combined with preventive activity by landlords, and interviewing victims of offences and giving them support at accident and emergency units, would contribute to improving the situation. An improvement in the situation means that fewer people are victims of crime.

Of course the hon. Member for Ribble Valley is right to say that arrests and prosecutions are an important part of tackling those issues, but they are not the only factor that can bring about the long-term improvement that we want to see in the safety of the public.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

In some instances, I am certain that the Minister is right. However, there are some individuals who simply will not be told. They think that they are   above the law. Their attitude is, ''The law pertains to everybody else's dog, but not to mine.'' There may be problems with those sorts of individuals.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and I agree with him. I have confessed to Labour Members in the past that I resisted the temptation to criticise the leader of the Conservative party when he was Home Secretary and the media tried to attack him for the prosecution of somebody who had dropped a crisp packet. The media said that the response was disproportionate and that the police should be out catching violent offenders. On looking into the matter, it was clear that the offender had done rather more than drop a crisp packet. There was a degree of generalisation in the media—which is most unusual. He had not responded to the summons and had not given an indication of his earnings, so of course the court gave him a pretty hefty fine, which could have been amended once the indication of earnings was received. That case received a lot of attention. The message that should come out of it is that it is important for such petty offences to be tackled.

At the time the media took a different tack, saying, ''Isn't this petty?'' Nowadays many of the media, reflecting public opinion and certainly reflecting our constituents' views, see that it is all part of the continuum to which I referred at the start of my remarks and that, therefore, tackling such offences is important. I look forward optimistically to the hon. Gentleman supporting the Bill and withdrawing—and even apologising for—his party's opposition to it on Second Reading.

These other forms of information, in addition to actual figures of crime and prosecution and so on, are important. The local authority, street wardens, neighbourhood wardens and community support officers can act as the eyes and ears at the sharp end of tackling local environmental crime, and can feed into the processes of the police, the local authority and the other partners. Therefore, in bringing that information together, it is sensible for the partnerships to consult on their facts and findings with their local communities and to develop strategies to tackle the problems identified.

Front-line responsibility lies with the local authority and the police, but others—fire and rescue authorities and primary care trusts in particular—have a major responsibility. These partners in turn work with local agencies and organisations and need to include the public as well as the private and the voluntary and community sector in their work. We have seen examples of where that succeeds. I referred on Second Reading to the extent to which in Manchester, during its 100 days' clean-up, there had been an enormous burgeoning of support from the local community. As a result of seeing the local authority, with the support of the police and other partners, tackling the issues, the community started to put its energy into the clean-up too. The local crime and disorder reduction   partnerships must address the facts and the reality of crime and disorder in their area, and be conscious of the problems and priorities of local people.

Photo of Patrick Hall Patrick Hall Labour, Bedford 9:45 am, 18th January 2005

I can hardly imagine the clause being seen as controversial, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, to give the strategies more strength and meaning, his Department should ensure that local crime and disorder reduction partnerships learn about best practice elsewhere in the country? Is he considering issuing guidance and indicating how that can be carried out?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. We are trying to spread best practice across the country, partly through the work that ENCAMS is undertaking in helping organisations to develop local campaigns and make the connections, and also through the work of the TOGETHER Academy—a Home Office initiative that has consciously engaged us. For instance, I have spoken at more than one event organised by the Home Office to promote best practice across the country, so I am pleased to say that the connection is being made strongly, not just in DEFRA but in the Home Office and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister too. At ministerial level, there is a clear commitment to supporting the best practice approach by looking across the spectrum of issues that are so closely interrelated. As the Bill goes on to the statute book, we will seek to promote best practice even more vigorously in the light of the provisions in the clause.

The impact of the clause is that the partnership must consider local environmental quality when carrying out its audit. It must then include local environmental quality in its public consultation and in developing its crime and disorder reduction strategy. We are not being prescriptive—I underline that—as it is vital that the strategy reflects local circumstances and priorities based on the evidence of the audit and the experience of local people. The basic message is that if there is no problem, it does not need to be tackled, but if the problem is part of the continuum, it does.

It follows that where environmental crime is not a problem and is not contributing to wider crime, disorder and the fear of crime, we would not expect it to feature in a strategy. On the other hand, where the local environment is degraded, or parts of the area are damaged and degraded by some aspects of the issues covered in the Bill, allowing or encouraging antisocial behaviour to take root, we would expect the local partnership to tackle the problem robustly.

Many partnerships take account of local environmental issues when reaching their conclusions and developing their strategies. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) said that the provision might not be controversial, but that does not make it any less important. Often, the important work that this House does is done quietly, because it is the application of basic common sense. I believe that that is the case with this provision. Many partnerships treat litter, graffiti, fly-posting, fly-tipping, abandoned cars and so on as important when seeking to tackle antisocial behaviour. This amendment to current   legislation supports those partnerships that take that broad view of the continuum of crime and disorder, and it is intended to ensure that all local crime and disorder reduction partnerships adopt best practice and therefore reflect the priorities of local people throughout the country. In amending the requirements of and expectations placed on those partnerships, the clause will facilitate consideration of local concerns about environmental crime and ensure that a joined-up approach is taken, so that every community in the country becomes cleaner, safer and greener for the benefit of the entire community. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

In welcoming you as warmly as I did, Mr. Taylor, I also wanted to congratulate everyone on their appointment to the Committee, which I am sure will add to the excellent scrutiny of the Bill. I am delighted to follow the Minister.

To put the Environmental Audit Committee report on environmental crime, fly-tipping, fly-posting, litter, graffiti and noise in context, it took evidence from ENCAMS and recorded on page 9:

''On 30 September 2003 the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit at the Home Office held a one-day count of the cost of anti-social behaviour. They estimated that the total cost per year was £3.375 billion, with an anti-social act being reported on average every two seconds.''

I would like to press the Minister on the question of costs. He has spoken at some length about the partnership approach, and as this is the least contentious of all clauses, we shall not seek to divide the Committee on it. However, we heard from the Secretary of State on Second Reading that the powers vested in the local authorities are to all intents and purposes discretionary. There will be no fine or penalty imposed on local authorities that do not wish to use them. As the Local Government Association has pointed out, most local authorities are already doing precisely what is set out in the clause, so why do we need this Bill? It could be useful for highlighting good practice, but whether parliamentary time should be taken up in that regard is questionable.

The Minister dwelt on the partnership approach, and I refer him to the United States experience, where there is seamless unity between the police and the unitary authorities, in so far as they have tried to highlight and tackle environmental crimes. In this Bill, the Government are seeking perversely to do the opposite. If I have understood clause 1 and part 1, in many instances, and with abandoned vehicles, stray dogs and gating orders later in the Bill, their purpose is to transfer the powers that reside in the police to local authorities. They should be co-responsible, however, and the residual authority should remain with the police. I would prefer them to be uniformed police. The Minister must accept that, although a large number of community support officers have been appointed, they do not have the same qualifications, training and powers of arrest as fully qualified and licensed police officers. So, there will be a great deal of confusion in the public's mind, and local councils will have many difficulties in implementing clause 1.

The Government—albeit through the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister—are saying firmly that in the next financial year, 2005-06, there will be a strict limit or 5 per cent. cap on any potential increases in costs as a result of the Bill. As we go through the Bill, we will seek to expose its various costings, which are set out in the full regulatory impact assessment. Given the rising costs and the national insurance hit that local authorities faced more than a year ago, it is incumbent on the Government to realise that, as they have said that there will be a severe capping of the costs and that they will not transfer resources, no local authority will be in a position to implement the provisions of clause 1, let alone those of other clauses.

The Environmental Audit Committee referred to the growing partnership approach, but I argue that many of the types of antisocial behaviour that clause 1 is intended to address already carry fixed fines and penalties. Westminster city council, which is a flagship council, has issued 21,000 fines for litter offences alone in the past five years. Let us contrast that with a less than flagship council, Bath and North-East Somerset council, which has issued only one such fine.

Rather than taking up parliamentary time with a new Bill, would it not be better for the Minister and the Government to insist on pursuing councils such as Bath and North-East Somerset, which have used the existing powers only once between 1998 and 2003? Having considered other clauses in part 1, it is obvious that the Government have not allowed their existing legislation, such as the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, to have full effect before seeking to add new powers—the Secretary of State was specific that there are no corresponding duties—to local authorities.

I am sure that part of the reason why the Government felt moved to introduce the Bill and, in particular, clause 1, is that they have failed to implement fully successive EU directives to which they have signed up. The end-of-life vehicles directive, which establishes the principle that the last user of an old car is responsible for the vehicle to be scrapped and for the costs thereof—

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Order. May I bring the hon. Lady back to the question before the Committee, which is that clause 1 stand part of the Bill?

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:00 am, 18th January 2005

I will talk in more general terms and return to specifics later.

One reason why the antisocial behaviour order referred to in clause 1 exists is because the Government have signed up to EU directives willy-nilly and have not implemented them. In its briefing, the Local Government Association is specific that for the clause   to succeed, there needs to be an awareness campaign and a positive education programme. Does the Minister accept that it has a point? If so, who will be responsible for the awareness campaign? Will the Government take responsibility for that and for a series of educational programmes, or will they rely on local authorities to do so? If that is the case, will those local authorities be funded to run them?

We also heard from the all-party group on children, which has issued a child impact statement. The group recognises that many of the offences that give rise to the provisions will, in all probability, involve youths, and notes that the clause is silent on the role of youth offending teams. That is a problem. It clearly falls within the brief of the Home Office. I understand from the shadow Home Office team how busy things are with the number of Bills that are going through at the moment, but the clause should rightly fall within a Bill sponsored by the Home Office. I pay tribute to the Minister, because his credentials as a Home Office Minister are on the record, or so he told me last week, and who am I to disagree?

However, it is perverse that no clear role is set out for youth offending teams. Was that a deliberate omission? Surely they should have a role to play in the partnership approach, and that that should be included in the Bill. There is also a lack of clarity throughout in relation to the age at which youths will be deemed to be brought within clause 1, and whether it is targeted specifically at under-18s or only at over-18s.

Is the Minister aware that three of the responsible authorities are part of the new local strategic partnerships, and that also relates to local authorities, the chief police officer, the police authorities, the fire and rescue authorities and primary care trusts, which form part of the crime reduction strategies to which the Minister referred? The local strategic partnerships were created by section 10 of the Children Act 2004. The Minister will be aware that they are obliged to plan and commission children's services, to achieve the five outcomes for children that are listed under the crime strategic partnership.

It is unclear from the clause, and from the Minister's introduction and explanation, how the crime and disorder reduction strategies are meant to feed into the new process. In particular, I refer him to the new local authority children and young people's plan set up by section 17 of the 2004 Act. Again, that is symptomatic of the fact that the provisions relate to Home Office activities. I repeat that it is unclear how the youth offending teams will be involved in developing those crime reduction strategies.

The Minister will also be aware that local authorities have a duty under schedule 2(7) of the Children Act 1989

''to take reasonable steps designed to reduce the need to bring . . . criminal proceedings against . . . children'' within their area and

''to encourage children within their area not to commit criminal offences.'' 

It is unclear how the provisions will fit in with that duty. Will the Minister be more specific in that regard? The Bill provides an excellent opportunity to make clear the relationship between those partners and what their duties should be. I hate to invite the Minister to contradict the Secretary of State, but this is a matter on which those partners would not have discretion, but would be under a duty to consult, in particular the youth offending teams.

The clause amends section 6 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Section 6(2) states:

''Before formulating a strategy, the responsible authorities shall . . . carry out a review of the levels and patterns of crime and disorder in the area (taking due account of the knowledge and experience of persons in the area)''.

The Minister said that that would form part of the public consultation, but does he have an idea of how long that will take? Will he tell us specifically what type of antisocial or other behaviours affect the local environment? Will such behaviours be added to in other legislation on which consultation is currently being considered? Would it not have been better to wait until that consultation was concluded?

I understand from section 6 of the 1998 Act that:

''Before formulating a strategy, the responsible authorities shall . . . carry out a review of levels and patterns of crime and disorder in the area . . . prepare an analysis of the results of that review . . . publish in the area a report of that analysis'', and finally obtain the views of members of the public and others. The strategy must take account of that analysis and the views obtained. It must also set out the objectives to be pursued by the responsible authorities and other bodies, including the long-term and short-term performance targets. Details of that strategy must be published, and the strategy must be reviewed.

For an individual environmental or antisocial offence covered by clause 1, all the requirements in section 6 add up to a sizeable task that the Minister is inviting local authorities to undertake. Will he respond to our concerns and in particular explain why a reference to young people in the partnership approach has been excluded?

The Minister also failed to mention what reference there will be to other interest groups, including landowners such as members of the National Farmers Union, the Countryside Land and Business Association and the utility companies. Utilities such as water and telecommunications companies have the right to go about their business as normal, and they will hope that the provisions will not give rise to any confrontation.

We can consider in more detail the clauses that add more meat later, but the Minister must accept responsibility for the fact that there are more environmental offences under clause 1 because of the Government's actions and their failure to implement EU directives in full. They have had a substantial amount of time—almost eight years—to resolve the problem. Is this a good use of parliamentary time when most local authorities seem to be pursuing the partnership approach? 

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

We broadly support the clause. Crime and disorder reduction partnerships are important, and the fact that they need to include aspects of antisocial behaviour and environmental crime is a given. In the report of the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am a member, on fly-tipping, fly-posting, litter, graffiti and noise, recommendation 29 states:

''As EnCams pointed out with regard to litter, graffiti and general local environmental quality, the resources available to local authorities are by and large sufficient, but those within councils dealing with these issues often lack the necessary diligence, enthusiasm and persistence to make those financial resources work effectively.''

The Government said in their response that they are

''committed to supporting local authorities in improving performance in this area.''

One aspect of that, particularly for councils in the more affluent areas whose local government funding has been salami-sliced in real terms year after year—more responsibilities but less wherewithal for local government—is that the cake is being cut extremely thinly. It is not just a case of having the financial resources and ensuring that councils use them appropriately, which is a function of the clause, but of the Government addressing concerns about resources, because they will come up again and again.

The Government also said in their response:

''central and local Government has been called upon to look at delivering its work more efficiently following the Gershon Review, and we will be working with local authorities to provide support and guidance on achieving this in the context of local environmental quality service delivery.''

I want to know a little more about the Government's view of their part in the delivery of those improvements.

Councils need stronger support, and they and others must give stronger support to the communities that they serve. It is striking that in a relatively affluent area, such as the one that I have the privilege of representing, in which residents are well-heeled and more articulate, if two carrier bags are blowing around, somebody calls the council out to get them cleaned up. Yet litter piles up in corners in less affluent areas. Nobody rings because nobody expects the council to do anything about it.

We must be more proactive in defending the quality of life, not only of those who speak up on their own behalf, but of those who feel it is a lost cause. They do not pick up the phone because they think that it is all a foregone conclusion. Disillusionment with politicians is identifiable in those areas. People say, ''Nothing will ever be done.'' Councils must respond to the concerns in such areas because they should be seen to be effective there as well.

It is a shame that every party will find a little heap of rubbish whenever we have a local government election or by-election. I would not accuse other parties of having manufactured heaps of rubbish, although we sometimes wonder about that. Posing by the rubbish—

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

That was not in the ''Focus'' leaflet about which we had the query. I am not using this to make a point about any political party.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Order. May I bring the hon. Lady back to the subject of the clause stand part debate?

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

We need to establish that the quality of the environment is not an issue only at election times. It matters between elections, at times when people do not necessarily exercise their voice and they rely on their elected representatives and the statutory bodies to deal with such matters on their behalf. Otherwise, there is endless disillusionment, as nobody does anything except when there is an election.

We have concerns about the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. They play a strong part in the provisions not only of clause 1 but of later clauses. However, it is right to refer to them now, and to continue to refer to the bodies that I hope will contribute to making the provisions of the Bill a success.

The Environmental Audit Committee report also recommended that the

''war on local environmental blight has to be mainstreamed within local authorities.''

It is essential that it becomes a mainstream issue. It should not be something that we deal with after we have dealt with everything else. The report states:

''Co-operation within and between councils must improve, and likewise between national government and its agencies and those that act on a more limited geographical basis.''

The Government were enthusiastic about that in their response, but we want to ensure that they and the Local Government Association continue to help to identify best practice, and ensure that it is not just the best councils who do well, but all councils, and that there is clear information in those councils and across the different communities about who is responsible for each aspect of the things dealt with in the clause. Those things are important.

Recently—well, it is not recently; the tragedy is that this has been going on for two and a half years—there has been an initiative at Surrey university called ''Lights, Camera, Action''. It was initiated by the students and intended to deal with the problems of walking home through various badly lit tunnels where the vegetation provided cover for people to jump out. There was flashing and rubbish; the students were quite fearful of coming and going to lectures at the end of the afternoon when it was dark.

The area that the tunnel led on to was possibly not one of our friendliest for students, so when they came out of the tunnel they were getting quite a lot of abuse from the non-student youth. In fairness to the students union, it put forward a lot of proposals and pulled together all the different people: the county council, the police, local government and me—anybody whom it thought could work together in a concerted way. It seems to be doing its part. The university is part of various local partnerships, including the ''Safer Guildford'' partnership.

Many of the organisations have a turnover of people and the initiatives are lost. In relation to the strategies, we want to ensure that we do not just meet every six months and say, ''Well, the camera still does not work.'' We want the camera to work. We want the outcomes to be delivered, rather than just having noise coming out of the committees.

We are looking for Government support in encouraging that cross-area working, in asking what the outcomes are and in encouraging people. Where possible, we are looking for more active support in identifying areas where it is difficult to deliver because of the problems that we have with local government funding in so many of our councils.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I apologise to the city, and the vale. The hon. Member for Vale of York seemed to be making a Second Reading speech. She referred to a number of issues that arise later in the Bill, although it would be more appropriate to consider them when we reach those clauses. However, I will respond to the general points that she made. She has failed to understand the impact of the Bill and how it fits into the context of a lot of other steps to reduce the impact of environmental crime. Legislation is just one thing that makes an impact.

The hon. Lady referred to the transfer of responsibilities. Of course the transfer of responsibilities involves the commensurate transfer of finance, but a lot of the Bill involves giving powers, options and flexibility, and removing obstacles. We worked very hard with local government and consulted widely in drawing up the Bill. It seeks to address many issues that local authorities, the police and others have identified as standing in the way of their being able to deliver in the way that she and the hon. Member for Guildford have referred to.

I cannot avoid pointing out that if local authorities are under some financial pressure, the hon. Member for Vale of York should consider what the pressure would be after the swingeing cuts that are promised should we be unfortunate enough to have a Conservative Government. We certainly encourage local authorities to use the powers available to them. It is in the context of a comprehensive look at the needs   of the local area, and the strategy referred to in the clause, that we want local environmental issues to be dealt with.

The hon. Lady mentioned in passing taking on new powers shortly after the implementation of parts of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. That is intended to address problems on highways and in locations where the 2000 Act provisions do not give local authorities the ability to tackle the situation. Again, it is a matter of dealing with practicalities.

The hon. Lady suggested that in parallel with the wide strategic view that we want the crime and disorder reduction partnerships to take, there should be work on awareness. I agree. I referred earlier to the work that has already been done by the Home Office through the TOGETHER Academy, with best practice led by the Home Office. I referred to the campaigning work of ENCAMS—we are increasing its resources—and there is recognition by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister of the major importance of campaigns, which put in the hands of local authorities that are trying to do their bit to tackle the problem ways to raise consciousness locally. There is also the sustainable communities strategy promoted by the ODPM.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I agree that we have to make as many people as possible aware of those strategies, and many people will want to get involved in them. I have looked at the explanatory notes on clause 1 and they mention some bodies, including local authorities, chief police officers and primary care trusts. Is there a full list of those community bodies that can become part of the strategic group, because they will want an input, including in my area such groups as Neighbourhood Watch and Farmwatch?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not know how that operates in his area. The system is in place, and I suggest that he visit the Home Office website and examine the guidance for local strategic partnerships and how all those groups are engaged. There is a hierarchy of involvement from the ones that have the primary responsibility for drawing up the strategy, which then have the responsibility to engage others. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provides for the identification of all those that have to be involved to the extent that that is appropriate to their work.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that organisations such as Neighbourhood Watch were very much engaged in the design and have been engaged locally as part of best practice throughout the country. I suggest that he has a little discussion with the chief executive of his local authority and the superintendent in his constituency about how the local partnership operates. That will provide a specific answer on the local engagement of all organisations of the sort to which he referred.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

It is pointless being chippy about this. The fact is that the explanatory notes mention some of but not all the bodies. I know that many neighbourhood watch schemes have been under a lot of pressure because they have had their funding cut.   We will want to use some of those bodies and it may have been better had a number of them been listed in the Bill.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman comes rather late to these discussions, important though they are in every constituency throughout the country. The fact is that the requirements for crime and disorder reduction partnerships were set out in the 1998 Act. In the light of experience, amendments were made in the Police Reform Act 2002, and this is a further step forward, having learned from experience and what works best. Therefore, one would not expect to find in the notes for this Bill a comprehensive explanation of how crime and disorder partnerships work.

What we do have is an explanation of why local environmental offending, degradation of the environment and the offences dealt with in the Bill are crucial to dealing with the wider issue of crime and disorder—the continuum I referred to at the beginning of my remarks—and why everyone needs to be involved, not just the lead organisations that take part in drawing up the strategy, but the local community and its response, business and the voluntary community organisations and so on.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is all part of the developing good practice being promoted by the crime reduction directors and their teams in the Government offices for the regions as well as at the crucial local level.

The hon. Member for Vale of York is right to refer to the importance of linking the different requirements that are placed on the bodies involved. She mentioned the link between the crime and disorder reduction partnerships and the local strategic partnerships, and indeed the co-operation required under the Children Act 2004. She will appreciate that the original guidance for local crime and disorder reduction partnerships pre-dates the 2004 Act and the intention is that when the next round of crime and disorder reduction strategies are published in April they will reflect and align themselves with other plans, such as those required under that Act.

It is always right to review such arrangements over a period. The Home Office is leading plans to review the partnership provisions of the 1998 Act with an emphasis on how the partnerships relate to other partnerships, including the youth offending teams. Let us remember that, in recognition of the need for a proper partnership across the silos of central Government and local government, a number of new organisations were created after the 1997 general election. The 1998 Act was a part, but only one part, of that. It is important for all those elements to come together.

It is also important to have across agencies a focus on the needs of children and on the need to reduce crime and improve security in local communities. Government is inevitably complex—unless it is silo-like—as it has been too often in the past. The development of partnership approaches is complex, but that is because they need to make effective the   work of a variety of organisations. Even as things stand, youth offending teams can contribute their experience of situations in the local area to the partnerships' discussions. I know directly that that happens in many of the best partnerships.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am most grateful to the Minister, who is being generous in giving way. He referred to local crime audits in relation to crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Does he accept that part of their strength is being locally driven and that if the Government put these offences on a statutory basis they will lose that locally-driven response through crime and disorder reduction partnerships?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, absolutely not. That is entirely wrong. I have made it clear that the development of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships in relation to environmental offences needs to be proportionate to the nature and experience of offences in the local area. I said explicitly, ''If there is no such problem locally, don't tackle it. Deal with the things that are part of the problem locally.'' I would apply that to all sorts of other offending. The work of the crime and disorder reduction partnerships is evidence based. They consider the evidence of problems and we need to ensure that the evidence is not just the direct hard evidence of offending and prosecutions, but the softer evidence of people's experience.

It has always been important for people's feeling of confidence and safety to have figures for recorded crime, and the British crime survey reflects people's experience of crime. When they reflect the same sets of facts, we know that we are getting close to dealing with problems in the right way. That must be reflected at local level by making use of hard and soft evidence and then consulting the public on whether they recognise the picture that the hard evidence provides. Nowhere is that more important than in the experience of local environmental quality.

As I have said, it is important to take account of the views of the public, using their experience, as well as the facts, as the foundation for a strategy. However, I do not understand the rather complicated suggestion from the hon. Member for Vale of York on how the public should be consulted. The fact of the matter is that a process has been developed and practice has improved—it will, I am sure, continue to improve over the years—in respect of how the facts are assembled. The crime and disorder reduction strategy is then developed, as is how the public are involved.

The best partnerships have always taken local environmental offending into account. They have always felt that burned-out cars, fly-tipping, fly-posting and graffiti are part of the continuum that they need to address. The clause makes it clear that the Government expect such problems be taken into account and that, now we can measure the performance of local authorities and others in tackling them, such measurement is indeed taken into account as well. The assessment and the strategy are then comprehensive and joined up.

The hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) made a number of important points. We need to enable local authorities to use their powers more effectively. There are two ways of doing that. One is to remind them of those powers, and to encourage them to use them, and the other is to remove obstacles to their use. A lot of that has been addressed in that, having asked local authorities why they are not using particular powers and having received their reasoned responses, which identify the obstacles, we have sought to use the legislation to remove the obstacles. We shall come on to the detail.

Ultimately, there have to be local decisions. However, there should be national encouragement, and national measurement—so that we are talking the same language in terms of whether people perform well locally—and we should push up quality. An enormous amount of effective work has gone on in the past few years, enabling us to identify the best way of doing that. Best quality performance indicators are part of the process, as is widely acknowledged.

I chair the rural central local partnership, which involves all four of the political groups on the Local Government Association. It is a productive forum for the discussion of many issues. Let me say as an aside—I know that the hon. Lady will agree—that it was surprising to see the recent amendment on Second Reading. I assure the Committee that representatives of rural communities are very keen for local environmental quality issues to be tackled. One of the things that was agreed in that committee, including by some who had initially had reservations, was that the comprehensive performance assessment approach is driving up quality in local authorities, and having a significant effect on their approach to their work.

That is partly because that approach addresses—on the environment, for example—some of the issues that need to be dealt with, and that are covered in the Bill. It also deals with them in the strategic measurement of the performance of the authority, asking whether it is tackling the issues that concern local people. That certainly includes reducing crime and disorder, as well as taking responsibility for local environmental issues. I believe that—not just in the legislation, but outside it in the other work that we are doing across government and with local government—we are providing a significant basis for improvement. The Bill will assist in that improvement, particularly through this clause, but also through many of its other measures.

I agree with the hon. Lady that there is local disillusionment with environmental quality. People are frustrated. Labour Members certainly are, as was illustrated by many of the contributions on Second Reading. Many councillors are also frustrated. All of us need to act more effectively. We can do that by ensuring that the legislation is right, which is what we in this Room are about, and by joining up efficiency, enforcement and campaigning; engaging the interest of the public; making sure that the right penalties are in place and that they are used effectively; and, finally, by taking a strategic and local approach to improving   the places where people live. That is what the Government have branded the cleaner, safer, greener approach.

Local authorities recognise that that approach is necessary if they are to achieve the improved quality of life to which they aspire. The Bill will help them. This clause, in particular, will drive up quality and cause the improvement in performance at local level that the hon. Lady is calling for—among all partners, and not placing all the onus on the local authority as a specific organisation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire 12:00 pm, 18th January 2005

I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution in connection with the Bill, and copies are available in the Room. I also remind Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, I and my fellow Chairmen do not intend to call starred amendments, including any that may be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee.

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Far more emphasis on timelines should be given to implementation of action at a local level or the process will be seen as pointless,and in particular to GATING ORDERS (once authorised) where the criterion is...

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