Schedule 4 - Minor and consequential amendments

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 1st February 2005.

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Question proposed, That this schedule be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.

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

I seek guidance from the Minister about how the provisions relating to the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, specifically those on graffiti and fly-posting, will be interpreted.

It might be opportune to inform the Committee that it would appear that the Liberal Democrats are in favour of fly-posting and do not wish such posters to be removed. According to a ''Focus'' leaflet that was recently circulated in Romsey, they think it is terrible that fly-posters that are illegally advertising charitable events should be torn down. It said:

''All of these would be torn down''.

It invites support and seems to be a classic case of the Liberal Democrats saying one thing in one part of the country and something different in another.

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

I find it slightly rich that those on the Conservative Benches, where there is opposition to the whole Bill, feel able to make any comment about those who support it.

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

It gets better, because I can quote from the ''Focus'' leaflet. It said:

''We know that strictly speaking it is illegal, but we believe that most signs are temporary and do not obstruct the pavement or highway and provide a valuable community service. Tell us what you think, send back the slip.''

That brought a rare smile to the Minister's face. We will pursue the matter.

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

The hon. Lady has dealt with the issue by saying that the leaflet was inviting opinion. It said:

''Tell us what you think''. 

It did not say, ''Do it right or wrong''. It invited opinion and, coming from a party that likes to consult people, I think that that is a reasonable question.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Order. I am now going to tell the Committee what I think, and that is that we should move on briskly to consider schedule 4.

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

A rare moment of agreement between the Government and the official Opposition has occurred.

Might I draw the Minister's attention to concerns that were raised, particularly by Network Rail, about the Government's guidance on the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 with regard to fly posting and graffiti? It was clear and was welcomed by both parties. Network Rail is particularly concerned that that guidance, with the amendments that the Minister is seeking to introduce in paragraphs 12 to 19 of schedule 4 and the regulations that were referred to in other parts of the Bill, might detract from the very clear guidance that has been given in other regards. It affects not only Network Rail; we have had representations from London Underground, Metronet and other transport operators.

Paragraph 14 states that a fixed penalty will apply. As was mentioned earlier, graffiti is often no sooner removed than it is replaced. It is an ongoing activity that all transport operators take extremely seriously. I am sure that it does not apply to trains alone; buses in London and other urban centres can have great difficulties as well. Will the Minister take the opportunity to explain how the guidance issued under the 2003 Act sits, and will he confirm that this schedule will not contradict it?

Can the Minister clarify how he expects new subsection (4A) inserted by paragraph 3, which concerns the imposition on waste disposal authorities of a duty to make payments, to operate? What burdens will it place on the waste disposal authorities and what representation and expressions of concern has he received from those authorities in that regard?

Paragraph 4 refers to a waste disposal contractor. The Minister will be aware that there have been successful moves, particularly by unitary authorities such as City of York, but also jointly, for example with Yorkshire county council, to contract out to a waste disposal company. Those arrangements are not uniform across the country. There are provisions in the Bill that would make it impossible to contract out to tender—I think that the Government wish to keep that within local authority control. I hope that, where there have been positive developments, the Government will not seek to eradicate them. They have been to the benefit of taxpayers as well as of local authorities. With these short remarks, I invite the Minister to clarify the issue.

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

May I make something clear? The hon. Lady seemed take comfort in my quiet smile of appreciation as I listened to the exchanges between her and the hon. Member for Guildford as though my smile somehow indicated agreement between   Government and Opposition. It was more a result of my observation of the private grief between the Opposition parties. It was also a result of my amusement, because it is clear that both hon. Ladies and, indeed, their parties should be paid-up members of opportunists anonymous.

The hon. Lady made a series of detailed points, which relate back to the clauses and to the principles that we have sought to apply. For instance, on the removal of the obligation to contract out local authority services, we are seeking to remove a specific requirement so that authorities can achieve best value. We are seeking a more flexible arrangement that allows them to target their activities and ensure that they get the best value from their council tax payers' money. The consequentials do not take us back to that principle, which is very clear and which I outlined when we dealt with the earlier clauses.

Essentially, as the heading suggests, these are minor and consequential amendments; they do not raise points of principle. Their purpose is to ensure that legislation is consistent and that any changes that the Bill introduces are consistent with the generality of the law. I do not believe that there is a problem with the guidance under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, but I shall certainly look at the issue in the light of the hon. Lady's comments—especially if she wants to raise specific points, rather than make a general plea that we achieve consistency, which we would, of course, seek to do.

On the hon. Lady's point about graffiti, there is always a problem where there is an inclination for the activity to be repeated as soon as cleaning has taken place. Again, however, the broken windows theory applies: quick action to deal with the nuisance and protect the environment helps to eradicate the activity and reduce the likelihood of it being repeated. However, it is also important to have proper penalties in place. In that way, there will be both a carrot and a stick—environmental improvement and, where appropriate, prosecution and punishment.

These are minor and consequential amendments, which play their role in implementing the principles that we debated at length in relation to what I might call the parent clauses.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:00 am, 1st February 2005

It may help if I write to the Minister on the issue, because it is quite substantial. I have pages and pages from, among others, Network Rail, which believes that the costs and the time involved in implementing the schedule and the earlier provisions will be substantial.

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

I would be happy to have some bedtime reading of the sort that the hon. Lady describes and to respond to her after the Committee if that would help.

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

It would be very beneficial if I could take up the Minister's kind offer, although I do not want to come between him and his sleep. That shows that he has been listening and is aware of these concerns. If I write to him in detail and he feels that   something merits consideration on Report, perhaps the Government, rather than the Opposition, could introduce a proposal.

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

Obviously, I could not commit myself without having seen the points that the hon. Lady wants to raise, but I shall certainly take seriously anything that she sends to me.

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

I hear what the Minister says, and I shall take up his kind offer.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 107 ordered to stand part of the Bill.