Clause 111 - Short title

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 1st February 2005.

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

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

I beg to move amendment No.1, in clause 111, page 80, line 3, leave out 'Clean Neighbourhoods and' and insert 'Cleaner and Safer'.

Many of us on this side of the Committee, and on other Benches in other quarters, represent areas where one could not point to a specific neighbourhood. That is reflected, in the crime protection field, for example, in the fact that we do not have just neighbourhood watches but farm watches as well. There are many rural areas where it is quite difficult to talk about neighbourhoods as such. In some parts of the Bill, the emphasis is perhaps too much on urban problems and does not sufficiently look at issues such as abandoned vehicles. These vehicles are not just left in residential areas—which can intensely irritating to the residents—but can be dumped in rural areas, quite illegally and without the knowledge or permission of the landowner or farmer.

In this probing amendment, I seek an assurance from the Minister that it is not his intention to have a partial bias, throughout the main thrust of the provisions of this Bill, on urban areas—as the ''clean neighbourhoods'' title could suggest. ''Cleaner and Safer Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill'' is a step in the right direction, but perhaps the neatest of all would be the short, catchy title of the environment Bill. The Minister will be aware, however, through comments we have consistently made both on Second Reading and on closer scrutiny in Committee, that we are aware that there are particular problems with the farming community. We considered, for example, the situation of artificial lighting very briefly, and any malicious charges that could be made against farmers in that regard. We would like there to be a more comprehensive and joined-up approach in the Bill that recognises that the countryside is part of the wider environment and that farmers, landowners and country dwellers are custodians and should not be unnecessarily hounded by the Government.

We want some background on why the term ''clean neighbourhoods'' features so strategically and prominently in the title, as it did throughout the consultation process. I represent a more deeply rural area. One hesitates to mention the hunt, but in case that is an indication of how rural an area is, I point out that the Vale of York enjoys nine separate hunts on its terrain. As I mentioned, we have neighbourhood watches. We also have a network of farm watches with which the police and other antisocial behaviour partners try to tackle antisocial behaviour. Farmers and landowners will, we believe, remain victims of many of the practices that the Bill seeks to address. 

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood 10:30 am, 1st February 2005

Does the hon. Lady share my recollection that both the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association support the Bill?

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

They support parts of the Bill, but they have written extensively to us to express their real concerns about other parts of it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has received a briefing, although perhaps not with quite so much detail as our one, that will guide him on that. Given his background and concern for the countryside, I am sure that he will share my hesitation in condoning something as limited as clean neighbourhoods, in recognition of the fact that, in many parts of my constituency, it is impossible to point to a neighbourhood as such, because there is only one house or hamlet. I welcome his comments.

I hope that the Minister will understand why we would have preferred greater recognition of the particular problems of antisocial behaviour in the countryside. We fear that those problems will be compounded by provisions coming through in other Bills, such as those allowing later licensing for drinks. We are reliably informed that the local police are concerned that antisocial behaviour may move later into the night in market towns and that, therefore, when antisocial behaviour occurs in the middle of the night in deeply rural areas that will not be classified as neighbourhoods, the police will be unable to visit and detain.

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

When I first saw the amendment, I thought with some delight that the Conservative party had finally woken up and was trying to recognise the Government slogan ''cleaner, safer, greener'', with which we want to create a decent environment for everybody in every part of the country. It is a pity that the hon. Lady left greener out, or she would have been trying to write the whole of our excellent, cross-departmental campaigning slogan into the title of the Bill. She might then have had problems with the House authorities, because the short title of a Bill must meet certain requirements. It does not reflect the contents of a Bill as a whole but must give an accurate indication of what the Bill is about. The long title is the description of the contents of a Bill as a whole.

However, the amendment was not about that. It was an attempt by the hon. Member for Vale of York to redeem herself for the crass mistake that was made in the reasoned amendment on Second Reading, when the Conservative party appeared not to understand that the provisions of the Bill apply to rural communities and have been considered by the Government in regard to rural communities as much as to urban communities. She would have been better off simply apologising to those who live in rural areas. Despite the fact that she represents a very rural constituency, she does not seem to know this, so perhaps I ought to break it to her that rural areas do have neighbourhoods. There are many small towns with neighbourhoods in them. There are about 8,700 villages in England. If one takes into account the community council areas in Wales, the number   increases to about 10,000. Some of them cover more than one neighbourhood, so the numbers in rural areas are considerable.

The hon. Member for Vale of York should accept that this Government have recognised the needs of rural people consistently, carefully and in partnership with them in recent years. The rural White Paper in 2000 set out a programme for partnership with rural communities. A tremendous amount of work has also been done since the establishment of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. During the foot and mouth outbreak, for example, we enabled rural communities to recover from the impact of the disease, which affected not only farmers but, in many cases, the whole community. In the light of the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in July, we are transforming the landscape of support: we are devolving responsibility for finance to the regional development agencies, and integrating the way in which we approach the needs of the countryside such as biodiversity, the landscape and access.

In that context, there is every indication of a vibrant rural economy, and of satisfaction with services that is very often greater than satisfaction with services provided in urban communities, which shows the effectiveness of the 180 Labour MPs who represent rural and semi-rural constituencies.

The hon. Lady referred in passing to farm watch, which is an approach that I promoted as a Home Office Minister but is not relevant to the Bill. The neighbourhood watch approach and more specialised approaches such as farm watch are particularly appropriate in rural areas. The Bill sets out a partnership approach between the local authority and the police, which includes within its ambit the way in which we deal with problems in local neighbourhoods, such as graffiti, fly-tipping, fly-posting and litter, and will be an effective measure for ensuring that we make progress on providing cleaner and safer neighbourhoods.

The hon. Lady's preferred title of the environment Bill, if it had passed the requirements of the House, would have been too wide and too general. People might have expected the Bill to deal with issues that fall way outside the ambit of its long title. They might have asked why it did not deal, for example, with global warming. The answer is that we believe that the priority should be to reflect what we hear from our constituents. Indeed, that was what was reflected in the 18 speeches by Labour Back Benchers on Second Reading, but not in the two rather pathetic speeches that were made from the Conservative Back Benches. In fairness, I should say that the Liberal Democrats scored nil in the number of speeches that they made from their Back Benches.

As I said, we reflected the concerns that affect people's everyday lives in their neighbourhoods and communities. That is why the Bill's short title is the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. It does, of course, include other items to which the long title refers. I do not believe that there has ever been a short title that completely reflected all the contents, unless it   was a very short Bill. Certainly most complex Bills have a short title that is not perfect but which gives some indication of what the Bill is about. This Bill is about creating clean neighbourhoods. When I described clause 1, I said that achieving a clean neighbourhood contributes to creating a safer one. I have passionately believed that for many years, and I am delighted that the Government have supported the measures in the Bill to enable that comprehensive approach to the problems of local communities.

I reject the hon. Lady's amendment. I am flattered that she has chosen an approach outlined by the Government so that she could select a couple of words for the amendment, but the title that we have given the Bill is appropriate, and it should stand.

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

I hope that the Minister is not too flattered. It was rather by default that I was not able to use the wording that I wished.

I wish to tease out one more point from the Minister. He may recall the law of unintended consequences in relation to the first Bill I scrutinised as a Back Bencher, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. The provisions that were drafted on common land, about which I have had informal discussions with the Minister, have led to enormous good news for the landowner, but bad news for people who thought that they could legally park their cars on common land. Those people now face a substantial bill from landowners, who had not realised that the provision existed to allow them to charge for access to their land.

Since the last election, the farming community in the Vale of York has been decimated. The Government have presided over its greatest demise, in the sense that foot and mouth disease came late to the Vale of York, after the general election, leading to substantial hardship. A number of farmers are now going out of animal production. The Minister will not get the surprise or the welcome he expects. He thinks he will go to the country in the general election on a platform of championing the countryside. His party has presided over the greatest collapse in farm incomes.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Forth. Are we listening to an election speech? There are a lot of clauses to get through and a considerable amount of time seems to have been wasted. Many of us want to deal with important clauses, yet it would appear that the time of the Committee is being taken up by election speeches.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I appreciate the assistance that the hon. Lady seeks to give. I am keeping a close eye on what is being said on both sides, and I now expect the hon. Member for Vale of York to conclude her remarks.

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

I was simply responding to the rather fulsome remarks made by the Minister. I draw his attention to the fact that the charge against him in our reasoned amendment on Second Reading was that the Bill and the whole consultation—in so far as there was a full consultation, with which I further take   issue—focused predominantly on urban issues while neglecting rural areas. That is a theme to which we shall have ample opportunity to return.

I hear what the Minister says about neighbourhoods, and it was not our intention to have a lengthy debate on what constitutes a neighbourhood. I pay tribute to the work of farm watches and of farmers in general in combating antisocial behaviour throughout the country. The amendment was intended as a probing one, and nothing more than that. I heard what was said with great interest, as will many in the farming community and rural areas throughout the country. It is not my intention to press the matter to a vote and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 111 ordered to stand part of the Bill.