Skip to main content

Chewing Gum

Volume 471: debated on Thursday 31 January 2008

2. If he will seek discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on tax incentives for manufacturers of chewing gum to create a biodegradable product; and if he will make a statement. (178856)

As my hon. Friend knows, there are always discussions between Departments and the Treasury on a range of issues. Any announcement on taxation is in the gift of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Minister will know that disposal of chewing gum disfigures our city centres, gets on wheelchair users’ wheelchairs, in the hair of children and so on. On the basis that the polluter should pay, will my hon. Friend ask the manufacturers to come to the Department to have a serious discussion with him about how we can undo some of that pollution? If they do not come up with some answers—there are biodegradable alternatives—will he consider making representations to the Treasury?

My hon. Friend and I recently had an Adjournment debate about the matter in Westminster Hall. The manufacturers are investing in research and development to provide a biodegradable product that is also non-sticky. Clearly, it is essential for the manufacturers that it tastes good and that it sells. That is obviously a commercial issue for them. The Department, along with a number of partners, meets the industry, and at future meetings I will discuss with manufacturers the point made by my hon. Friend. On taxation, I refer him to my earlier reply.

Will the Minister admit that this farce has been running for at least a quarter century? Is it not time to recognise that the civilised world has lost the battle against chewing gum, and that where people can spit chewing gum out, they will? In addition to the good work of the chewing gum action group, would it not be better to concentrate on encouraging research into technology that can clean up the mess more quickly and more cheaply than is now possible?

There has been a series of schemes throughout the country whereby councils have tried to educate the local community. Oxford council saw the biggest reduction in the amount of litter from chewing gum. It is the case that we need to increase the clean-up capability, and councils are doing their level best, and it costs a fortune. Also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) said, a biodegradable non-sticky gum should be developed. He is right. The problem of chewing gum plagues every shopping precinct up and down the land. Councils are doing their best, but the key thing—if the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) does not mind my saying that—in the message to members of the public is, “Don’t spit it out. Put it in the flipping bin.”

May I encourage my hon. Friend the Minister to take the route suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen)? Chewing gum is a plague on all our communities, whether they be big or small, and a disproportionate cost is paid by society—not only by local authorities using council tax to clean up the mess, but by the people affected when it sticks to their clothing or is walked into their homes. I would not advocate going down the Singapore route by banning chewing gum completely, but every piece of chewing gum sold in this country should be biodegradable and non-sticky.

There are two manufacturers, with whom we are working closely. They are looking to develop a product that will be tasty and will sell. Let us hope that in future the type of chewing gum that now disfigures our pavements becomes a thing of the past. That requires a great deal of work. I know that the manufacturers are undertaking that and I am sure they have heard the voices from colleagues in the House today, which reflect wider public opinion.

Let us not let Wrigley’s wriggle out of this one. [Interruption.] Well, it is as bad as the joke from the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) about light bulbs. The industry probably makes hundreds of millions of pounds from chewing gum and it should be investing much of that in research and development to produce biodegradable chewing gum. While we are waiting for that to happen, will the Minister have a word with the Home Office about enforcement, so that far more of those who spit chewing gum out on to the streets—a disgusting habit—face fines?

On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, it is illegal to drop gum. The Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 gave councils the power to issue fixed penalty notices to people who do so, and councils are increasingly using that power.