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Clause 48

Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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Penalty Notices In Respect Of Graffiti Or Fly-Posting

I beg to move amendment No. 24, in page 38, line 18, at end insert—

'(2A) In the case of a relevant offence falling within section 49(1)(f), an authorised officer may not give a notice to a person under subsection (1) in relation to the display of an advertisement unless he has reason to believe that that person personally affixed or placed the advertisement to, against or upon the land or object on which the advertisement is or was displayed.'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments Nos. 25 and 26.

Amendment No. 29, in page 42, line 9, clause 54, at end insert—

'In paragraph (b) of Section 88(2) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 after 'penalty' insert 'and repairs any damage caused'.

Amendment No. 80, in page 42, line 9, at end insert—

'() Schedule 4 of the Environment Protection Act 1990 to be amended as follows:

  • (a) at the end of paragraph 3(3) insert "and by way of demand make a charge to cover the local authority's cost of removing, transportation, storage and delivery".
  • (b) after paragraph 3(4) insert—
  • () "when the owner of a shopping or luggage trolley refuses to accept the return of any such trolley the local authority shall by way of demand charge the owner of such a trolley for the cost of removing, transportation, storage and disposal".'.

    Government new clause 14— Graffiti removal notices.

    Government new clause 15— Exemption from liability in relation to graffiti removal notices.

    I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) had to leave the Chamber so cannot move his amendments Nos. 27 and 28. Those amendments were inappropriate. He sought to attach fixed penalty notices to the powers to close noisy premises. Fixed penalty notices are designed to provide an immediate response to low-level antisocial behaviour. If the situation in commercial premises has deteriorated to the extent that closure is contemplated, a fixed penalty notice would not be appropriate.

    The power set out in clause 46 enables senior environmental health officers to close noisy pubs and clubs. Amendment No. 27 would automatically associate the issuing of a fixed penalty notice with the exercise of that power. That is not a suitable response to the problem of noisy premises.

    I am sympathetic to the general principle behind amendments Nos. 28 and 29. They would place an additional punishment on the graffiti, litter or fly-posting offender, requiring him or her to repair any damage caused, in addition to receiving the notice. The Government are keen to enhance the role of reparation and restorative justice in dealing with offenders. That is why reparation is one of the new purposes of sentencing set out in the Criminal Justice Bill. It is important that offenders put right the damage that they have done, wherever that is practical. They should do so for an individual victim, if that is what the victim wants, or for the wider community, as with antisocial behaviour such as graffiti.

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    However, the amendments would oblige a local authority to require an offender to repair damage in every case and could thereby create a number of practical problems relating to supervision and access to premises that may be dangerous. Should a local authority officer feel that it is more appropriate to require that damages be repaired than to issue a fixed penalty notice, there is always an option to take matters to court, where such an order could be made if it was felt to be appropriate.

    Amendment No. 80, which relates to clause 54, increases the powers available to local authorities to deal with fly tipping, including powers to stop, search

    and seize vehicles and to investigate incidents. Those are very welcome powers, as fly tipping is a huge problem for communities. The amendment seeks not to change the purpose of the clause, but to give local authorities greater powers to charge owners for removal, transportation, storage and delivery of abandoned trolleys. The amendment appears to apply to clause 54 because it already amends a provision of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in respect of the way in which fly tipping is investigated and prosecuted.

    The proposal relating to shopping or luggage trolleys seeks to provide that local authorities can charge owners of abandoned trolleys the cost of removal, transportation, storage and delivery when they refuse to accept the return of their property. I am told that supermarket owners often refuse to accept the return of property as the sum that they are charged is almost equivalent to the cost of a new trolley. I sympathise with the amendment, as we need to ensure that trolleys that are collected and delivered to their owners are accepted by them, but I cannot support it at this stage. It would have a financial impact on supermarkets and trolley owners, and could also have an impact on local authorities, which would be required to administer the provision.

    We would like more time to consider the proposal and perhaps to carry out consultations about its impact, but I am certainly attracted to the principle that owners should be responsible for the environmental damage caused by wayward trolleys. The recent practice of imposing a £1 charge has been successful in ensuring that trolleys are returned. I shall ask my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who are responsible for legislation relating to abandoned shopping trolleys, to consider what might be done about the issue.

    Government amendments Nos. 24 to 26 are technical and add a further relevant offence to the list already established in clause 49. Where there has been a contravention of town and country planning advertisement regulations but the offence is fairly minor, the person displaying and affixing the advertisement will be brought within the ambit of the fixed penalty notice regime. I think that such a provision is an appropriate addition to the Bill.

    Government new clauses 14 and 15 owe a great deal to the useful debate that took place in Committee. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) for her tenacity, determination and commitment in trying to ensure that her proposals were accepted. I know how passionately she feels about the issue and how much such action is supported by our constituents throughout the country. We have all seen the way in which cable boxes, bus shelters and railway sidings attract graffiti, and yet local authorities do not have a clear remit to clean it up. Local authorities that act responsibly and clean graffiti from property that does not belong to them are in the ridiculous position of being open to prosecution. In some cases, they are not willing to take such steps, the graffiti is not cleaned up, the public do not understand why their local representatives cannot intervene and there is huge frustration and anger all round.

    The new clauses allow councils to take action on behalf of their communities. They enable local authorities to serve a graffiti removal notice on the

    persons responsible for the property covered in graffiti. If they do not remove it, the local authority can lawfully intervene and clean it up. The authority will be protected from damages claims so long as it exercises due care and attention—a perfectly reasonable provision.

    Chronic graffiti, fly posting, litter and noisy premises lead to an area becoming more run down, with a corresponding increase in crime and fear of crime. They undermine much of our regeneration agenda in local communities. Powers in the Bill to tackle offenders are clear and appropriate to the nature of the offence. The new clauses complement the powers in the rest of the Bill that are aimed at offenders who cause graffiti by freeing up authorities that are currently frustrated by their inability to tackle persistent eyesores that have a detrimental effect on their communities.

    I am genuinely grateful to my hon. Friends for raising this extremely important issue in Committee and pressing the Government to take action on it. I understand that the new clauses might not go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden would have wanted in terms of charging. We have been concerned about the possible costs, but I say to her that, although we are not currently minded to accept the precise proposals that she made, we want to consider the matter further. I want to make it clear that we are not rejecting the proposals out of hand; we simply want to ensure that any costs are proportionate. I can therefore give her some further room for optimism about the clause.

    Concerns have been expressed to me about the noise provisions in clause 47. Several hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), have asked whether the clause will apply to fireworks. I am pleased to tell her that it will apply to them in the context of domestic noise, subject to a fixed penalty notice of £100.

    I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that point, which I had warned her about. I know that many hundreds of hon. Members will be pleased that it has been put on record that the noise provisions in the Bill relate to fireworks. That will give some comfort to the many constituents who are faced with excessive noise caused by the abuse and misuse of fireworks. I thank her for putting that assurance on the record.

    I am well aware that my hon. Friend, together with every other hon. Member in the Chamber, has been campaigning about fireworks. Petitions have been signed by hundreds and thousands of our constituents whose lives have been made a misery by the inappropriate use of fireworks. My hon. Friends will know that a private Member's Bill is under consideration that will introduce considerable controls in respect of firework use. None the less, I am delighted to confirm that the domestic noise provisions in the Bill before us are an additional measure allowing action to be taken.

    I commend the Government amendments and new clauses to the House. They will make a significant contribution to ensuring that our areas are clean and pleasant places for people to live in and that we will begin to tackle once and for all the scourge of graffiti, litter, fly posting and fly tipping, which have caused all our constituents a great deal of concern and undermined much of our regeneration programme. The environment in which we live dictates the behaviour of people in our communities, and I am delighted that we are making significant progress on tackling those issues, which are of prime importance to those communities.

    I want to be extremely brief, as I would like to think that we will have a minute or two to debate the last group of amendments.

    The Government amendments are largely welcome. I am pleased that the Minister spoke about the cost impact of the proposals in Government new clauses 14 and 15. We all want to see the end of graffiti. At least, without being over-optimistic, we want it to be removed as quickly as possible, but we must bear it in mind that the property owner sometimes has no way of preventing graffiti from arising. Yes, we would like it to be removed as quickly as possible, so I accept the powers given to local authorities in new clause 14. None the less, we do not want to add unnecessary and unavoidable costs for property owners, whether they are commercial operations, public institutions or private owners. If they can find ways of preventing graffiti from being applied to their property, that is fine, but we would all accept that they cannot always do so, so I welcome the Minister's reluctance to go quite as far as the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) would have liked in that respect.

    The only other issue that I want to mention is that of shopping trolleys. For the life of me, I have never understood why British supermarkets do not use the practice that French hypermarkets have used for years, with returnable coin deposits.

    Yes, I recognise that it is beginning to happen, but I cannot remember when it did not happen in France. I do not understand why it has not crossed the Channel more frequently, because it seems to be the obvious way of preventing the problem of dumped shopping trolleys, which we all recognise is an eyesore that causes blockages in rivers, streams, drains and so forth. The Minister is right to resist the amendment, but I hope that the supermarkets can deal with the matter directly and that that is perhaps beginning to happen. I certainly would not oppose the Government amendments.

    I thank the Government for introducing new clauses 14 and 15. The issues that we have discussed today mean more to most of our constituents than almost anything else we ever discuss. It is not a party political issue, but a political issue in the widest sense. Unless we can reduce antisocial behaviour, at whatever level—from graffiti and fly tipping to youths gathering on street corners—we will see a decline in participation in our communities and in voting, because it will seem that we can do the big things, but we cannot allow people to feel safe in their own homes and environments. We must not raise people's expectations when we do not expect or intend to meet them.

    What worries me about new clauses 14 and 15 is that they give local authorities another power that they will not and cannot use. That is what happened with the well-intentioned Environmental Protection Act 1990. I appreciate that that was introduced with the best of intentions, but it did not give local authorities the weapons truly to improve the environment. Unless we say that organisations—large privatised utilities and statutory undertakings—can and should pay to have the graffiti removed from their buildings, we will make no progress. Why should the elderly lady who is just managing to pay her council tax have to remove that graffiti? New clauses 14 and 15 say, in effect, that as council tax payers we and our constituents have not only to look after our own homes, but to look after those of everybody else as well. At some point, those in the big companies with multi-million pound budgets that festoon us with brochures and receptions should pay to remove the graffiti on the sub-station in the road where they never live.

    I say thank you to the Government, but we need to be able to use these powers and for people to see a difference. If we do not, people will disengage from all the processes of civic society. It is that important.

    We add our support to the Government amendments and new clauses. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) made a good case for passing the burden of cost on to statutory undertakings. That is a matter that the Government should seriously consider. There is a danger that, with their budgets under pressure, the power may be one that councils want, but cannot afford, to use. We need to ensure, one way or another, that councils are not prevented from using it by the burden of cost.

    The other amendments in the group, which are Labour Back-Bench amendments, are well intentioned, but none of them would work in practice. We all understand the issue of shopping trolleys. The returnable deposit may be the solution in the short and the long term. One of the difficulties with amendment No. 80 is that it refers to recovering the cost of destroying shopping trolleys. From an environmental point of view, we do not want supermarket trolleys to be destroyed, whoever is paying for it: we want them to be continually reused for the purpose for which they are intended. The deposit scheme would achieve that.

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    The Government amendments solve some of the problems that existed in the Bill in relation to graffiti. We particularly welcome amendments Nos. 24, 25 and 26, which clarify exactly who gets the fixed penalty notice when fly posting occurs. As regards people from a commercial organisation fly posting or sticking leaflets on windscreens, in effect littering the place, concern was expressed in Committee that a £40 or £50 fine will not deter such an organisation from doing that. Amendment No. 24 makes it clear that the fine applies to the person who carries it out, which will hopefully deter them. Perhaps there will be other legislation to deter companies in other ways.

    This is a welcome group of Government amendments and new clauses, and they certainly have our support.

    I want briefly to thank the Minister for her positive response to amendment No. 80. Bristol city council and councils around the country will be encouraged that the Government are showing this level of interest. Everyone understands the problem but has no answer to it. I alert the Government to the fact that the deposit scheme for trolleys is not the answer. It is fairly widespread in Bristol, but trolleys are still dumped. For example, 18 were recovered from 20 m of a stream. People simply dump them and take the deposit money out. It is not the answer. I accept the Minister's confirmation that it needs further investigation and again welcome the Government's response.

    I, too, want to speak strongly in support of the amendments and the spirit behind them, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is not here, and to endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). Graffiti is the bane of many of our constituencies. About four years ago, I secured an Adjournment debate on the subject. I was told, and I certainly claimed, that it was the first debate on graffiti that we had ever had in this House, and it proved an extraordinarily popular undertaking.

    Amendment agreed to.

    It being five hours after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [this day.]