My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I would like to say how grateful I am for the widespread interest, help and support that I have received, especially from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, of which I was once chairman. I should declare an interest as president of the Suffolk Preservation Society, and perhaps also as chairman of Marlesford Parish Council, whose seven members have for many years been picking up litter in our village, especially from the A12, which unfortunately still passes through the centre of our community. However, we hope that Marlesford will be bypassed when the third nuclear power station is constructed at Sizewell.
We English, to our shame, are an appallingly messy nation, which is why this Bill is needed. Let me first outline its purpose. It is to support local authorities in tackling the serious problem of littering from vehicles. The Bill proposes a simple and modest change to the law to achieve this. It would make three substantive changes to the law. In brief, it would introduce a civil penalty for littering from vehicles, make the registered keeper of a vehicle from which the litter has been thrown the automatic recipient of the penalty, and require local authorities to publish details of the contracts they give relating to litter clearance. The Bill is designed to deliver behaviour change. It is primarily a deterrent and we would not expect lots of penalty notices to be issued.
The Minister, my noble friend Lord De Mauley, himself recognised the problem of roadside rubbish, as he put it, at the conference of the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management in June this year. It is estimated that seven out of the 10 pieces of litter blighting the countryside are dropped from cars. In 2011, some 9 million drivers threw litter from their cars. The cost of clearing up roadside litter contributes to a bill for local councils that in 2010-11 reached £863 million, not to mention additional spending to clear up litter along motorways and trunk roads. The Bill has the support of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and since the last election more than 1,000 members have written to their MP to request action in this area. A 2012 poll showed that 75% of the members of the AA believe that roadside litter is a serious problem. The Local Government Association supports the provisions of the Bill that relate to the creation of a new civil penalty for roadside littering.
I shall now explain the Bill. Clause 1 provides that a littering contravention has taken place if a person throws litter from a vehicle, and it allows a civil enforcement officer to impose a civil penalty if this contravention takes place. It also makes the registered keeper of a vehicle the recipient of the penalty, whether or not they gave instructions or allowed the contravention to take place. It provides for passengers in certain types of vehicles to be exempted from the penalty. Finally, it provides for other matters relating to the penalty to be set out in regulations.
Clause 2 defines who the registered keeper of a vehicle is for the purposes of the Bill. Clause 3 sets out who a civil enforcement officer is for the purposes of the Bill. Clause 4 defines a vehicle for the purposes of the Bill. Clause 5 requires responsible authorities to publish yearly the names of any organisations which it has contracted to collect litter on its behalf, the amount paid to the organisation for this service, the geographical areas covered by the contract and performance monitoring data relating to the contract, including the authority’s own assessment. Clause 6 defines a responsible authority for the purpose of Clause 5. Clause 7 sets out the commencement, Short Title and extent of the Bill, which would commence on the day that it is passed and extends to England only.
The existing law, the Environmental Protection Act 1990, contains a criminal offence which allows people who throw litter from cars to be fined for doing so. The problem is that, in practice, councils have found it very difficult to use this power as it is often impossible to prove who within the vehicle was responsible for throwing the litter. In 2011, during the passage of the Localism Act, I proposed an amendment to address this problem by allowing councils to issue fines to the registered owners of the vehicle, who would then be responsible for paying the amount unless another person were nominated by the driver to pay the fine. The amendment was warmly received, including by the opposition Front Bench, the noble Lords, Lord Beecham, Lord Cameron of Dillington and Lord Judd, two former Environment Secretaries—my noble friends Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Deben—and by the late Lord Reay. I pay especial tribute to our late colleague Lord Reay. He was a close friend and a much loved and respected Member of this House. Hugh was a real countryman and a knowledgeable and balanced environmentalist.
In response to my amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, for the Government, said that it,
“raises issues of fairness and proportionality”.
He referred to the London Local Authorities Bill, which is now an Act, which he said would allow local authorities,
“to issue a civil penalty to registered keepers where enforcement officers witness littering from a vehicle. It makes sense to learn the lessons from the application of that approach in London before moving to wider legislation”.— [Official Report, 10/10/11; col. 1370.]
Two years on, that prevarication will no longer wash. The civil penalty has now been in place in London for more than a year, since 18 June 2012.
I have listened to the Government’s concerns. The Littering from Vehicles Bill which I bring forward today takes into account the Government’s comments on my amendment during the passage of the Localism Act. It creates a new civil penalty for littering in England, which has now been in place in London for over a year, and which the Government seem to favour as much more proportionate. Crucially, it makes the registered keeper of the vehicle the automatic recipient of the penalty.
The Environmental Protection Act presents all littering offences, including littering from vehicles, as criminal offences and therefore fixed-penalty notices can be issued. In London, littering from vehicles is now a civil offence, and therefore a penalty charge notice can be issued. For the Government, the issue of proportionality between civil and criminal offence will surely need to be debated. From the analysis that I have seen from London Councils, it seems that some councils have different preferences from others. I myself declare a strong preference for using civil penalties rather than the criminal law whenever possible, especially when trying to moderate behaviour to benefit local communities.
For the recipient of a fine, the distinction is often unclear and/or meaningless; they are simply paying a financial penalty for doing something wrong. It is likely that this effective enforcement of a law, whether civil or criminal, will result in positive behaviour change, both in the recipient of the fine and in their peer group. What I emphasise is the legal change which makes the owner of the vehicle responsible for any litter from it, with reasonable exemptions applying to, for example, littering by passengers in a taxi. Local authorities should be able to issue fines against those who litter. That is the purpose of the law. At the moment, under the EPA, this is not possible as the burden of proof is too great.
More than 100 local councils, supported by organisations such as the CPRE and the Local Government Association, have campaigned for many years for the existing law to be made workable. Successive Governments have prevaricated and resisted this most logical and most necessary change. If local councils can effectively enforce the law, they can change the behaviour of litterers. If people refrain from littering, the significant economic cost of clearing up roadside litter can be reduced. If the public know who is responsible for litter clearing of particular roads, that will put pressure on contractors to do their jobs properly, which they do not always do at the moment. The Highways Agency estimates in its latest annual report that it spends £10 million annually to clear litter from our major roads. The latest annual street cleansing bill for England was £863 per year. Again, having to spend these huge and unsustainable amounts for which there is no real return, because it is unnecessary to litter in the first place, is neither satisfactory nor acceptable, especially as the roads are still not clean. Indeed, 75% of the members of the AA, who are surely most affected by the continuous rise in roadside litter levels, believe that it is a serious problem, and 94% believe that it gives a bad impression of Britain and spoils local communities.
Despite delivering on its commitment to host a roadside litter summit in 2012, Defra’s approach has not dealt with this issue in any meaningful way over the past six years at least. How can a department be content that a law designed to forward its objectives is unworkable? Why has it not responded to the clear call from local councils and their representatives to make this small change? How can a Government hope to be recognised as competent, let alone tinged with green, if they cannot, after three years in power, even tackle something as simple as our shamefully dirty roads?
Defra’s disappointing approach is exemplified by the consultation it carried out with local authorities on the changes proposed by the Bill. I have seen a copy of this consultation, which was sent by a central government official on 4 June asking for a response to questions just two days later on 6 June. I hope that, when the Minister replies, he does not suggest that this was in any way a meaningful consultation. Why was an artificial deadline set for more than a month before this debate was scheduled to take place? Perhaps the Minister can tell us how many authorities responded in the two-day window. It is a perversion of the Government’s much-trumpeted localism.
I have certain questions for the Minister. Has the experience in London thrown up any major problems that suggest that extending the powers to all English authorities would be unworkable? Does the Minister agree that, whether we have a criminal or civil offence, we must ensure that those who drop litter from vehicles can be effectively held to account? Does he share my desire to make the existing laws on littering usable for councils? How long will the Minister wait before making a decision on whether to roll out the London approach across the whole of England?
Many noble Lords on all sides of the House have expressed to me their strong support and their regret at not being able to be here to speak today. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked me to mention in particular the fire danger from cigarettes thrown from vehicles. I hope that the Minister will resist pressure to parrot the prevarications with which his officials will have sought to sustain him. What I believe will be unacceptable to the House and to the public, who really mind about litter on our roads, is any further delay. I hope that the Minister will offer political support for this modest but important measure to be enacted. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very glad that the luck of the draw has enabled me to speak after my noble friend Lord Marlesford. I think I speak for most noble Lords in this House in congratulating him on bringing forward this measure. It is a modest measure, but one that will undoubtedly improve the quality of life in this country. Far from costing any public money, it would save it. Above all, it would improve, quite simply and straightforwardly, the quality of life in this country. I also congratulate him on his persistence. For at least a decade, if not longer, and under Governments of both parties, he has been banging away at this issue. That is the only way in which you can ever get anything done. I think we all congratulate him most warmly on that.
There is no need for me to speak at any great length because the noble Lord has said everything that needs to be said. The resistance that has been put up over the years is quite extraordinary. There has never been any objection in principle or because of the costs—there could not be, as this would save public money—to the measures that my noble friend Lord Marlesford has put forward on a number of occasions and has now brought forward in this excellent Bill. All that happens is procrastination, which is unacceptable and intolerable.
When the Minister responds to this, I am sure that he will have been briefed by officials to resist it; that is what always happens. I know my noble friend to be a man of discernment, judgment, common sense and independence of mind, so I very much hope that he will tear up his brief—although not, of course, to announce that he will accept the Bill. That would be going too far; we know that the officials take great pride in their authorship. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Marlesford will be perfectly content if, as I hope, the Minister will say, “Of course, we cannot accept Lord Marlesford’s Bill, but we will bring forward, without delay, a government Bill to enact precisely what he is proposing”. I hope that he will do that and, incidentally, that he will also speak personally to the Secretary of State for the Environment—I charge him with this, and I shall check up on it—show him the report of this debate in our House this morning and make sure that my right honourable friend is fully aware of the views of all noble Lords in this House who will speak in this debate.
That, therefore, is what my noble friend has to do: tear up his officials’ brief and speak to our right honourable friend Owen Paterson—I am glad that he has got the message. The time of procrastination must stop; the time for action is now.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. He is a very civilised man and he does not come to this subject out of the blue. He comes to it from a background of deep commitment to the countryside and qualitative concerns about our environment; he was a very distinguished president of CPRE.
Before I get to the main part of my speech I have one specific point on which I hope the Minister may be able to help us. I understand that sometimes there are a few issues about new estates and merging them into local authority responsibility. Sometimes practical issues such as who has responsibility for clean streets and litter can fall between two stools. It would be very interesting to know whether the Government have this problem in focus and what their proposals are for making sure that it is right.
This issue is important because it is both a rural and an urban issue. The thoughtlessness, selfishness and inconsiderate behaviour of a very few people in the countryside can have an immense impact. I think of the dedicated work done by the short-staffed and excellent personnel and volunteers from organisations such as the National Trust and other organisations that care for the countryside. Just a few motorists or cyclists who throw away a bit of litter can spoil the effect of a great deal of care and concern. This last spring, when it eventually came, there was a glorious flourishing of wildflowers and the rest, but in the lanes near where I live it was just sad to see the disfiguration caused by just a very few thoughtless people.
In our concern about this we must not overlook the very considerable number of highly responsible people who take this issue seriously. The other night a midnight walk, exclusively for ladies, took place in Whitehaven to raise money for the West Cumbria Hospice at Home. It was quite a long six-mile walk that started at midnight. The walkers were all issued with water bottles and the rest. I was very impressed to see the concern with which those people, who must have been tired on that warm evening, having done that walk, made sure that their bottles were going into litter bins. We must encourage responsible citizenship because there is a great deal in it.
In our urban areas, of course we take tourism extremely seriously for the well-being of our economy. How on earth do we encourage tourism if our streets look a mess? Incidentally, that does not encourage the best behaviour by tourists themselves. Again, it can be caused by the thoughtlessness of a very few people, but it certainly spoils the whole effect. We all know of countries we have visited where one of the striking things—it strikes us because it is so different—is that there is civic pride and an absence of litter. We have to look at that and think, “Surely we can do better”.
This brings me to the issue of what lies behind the problem. A lot lies behind it. First, it can be argued that it is symptomatic of a society that has for too long been led down the road of egocentric materialism—“It’s me that matters”. There is no sense of social belonging or social involvement, and so on. Therefore we have to look at our education system and our value system, and at the examples we set in Parliament and elsewhere, and ask whether we are encouraging a culture of mutual social responsibility, care and concern. That is central, because we will not get this right just by legislating to control it—although I commend the noble Lord on his courage and persistence in insisting that we face up to the issue in legislative terms. It must happen in a context that is different from the prevailing one. We have to take that seriously.
There are other hard-headed arguments that matter. There is a great deal of strong evidence from excellent organisations such as Living Streets, which I have come across only recently. I was struck by the research and other work that it is doing, and by its commitment. Such organisations are producing a great deal of evidence about why the issue matters. First, they emphasise that the transformation of our streets into welcoming spaces helps build communities and improves the happiness and well-being of everyone. They argue that strong communities are built around active and busy streets. Living Streets’ experience has shown that making streets attractive and safe encourages more people to use them actively. Evidence suggests that when our streets are transformed into welcoming public spaces, local communities thrive, neighbourhoods become safer and we all become fitter and healthier.
Public perceptions on this issue are interesting. A YouGov poll in March 2012 asked people what problems they saw in their locality and found that 66% reported litter or dog fouling. The figure was more pronounced in Wales; it was 76%. In Scotland it was 75% and in the north, where I live, it was 69%. In addition, the survey revealed that people would walk more if their streets were in a better state. Some 39% of British adults said that they would walk more in their local area if the streets were kept in better condition. Some 46% of 18 to 24 year-olds and 51% of 25 to 34 year- olds would walk more if the streets were safer and more attractive. Keep Britain Tidy found that 62% of people in England were concerned about the appearance of their area, and 57% considered litter to be a problem.
There are other hard-headed arguments. The absence of attractive streets can have a negative impact on issues such as health and well-being. It is interesting to note that people who walk linger longer and spend more. Making town centres better for walking can boost trading by up to 40%. Good street management and maintenance could also alleviate the significant economic and societal costs related to poor health such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity and mental ill health. The costs of these to the British economy are significant: £29 billion for care costs and lost productivity associated with cardiovascular disease; £5 billion for obesity; and £106 billion in 2009-10 for care costs, lost productivity and reductions in quality of life resulting from mental health problems.
Tackling this issue effectively will have a great number of social benefits and positive knock-on effects. We have to look at the issue in a wider social context. We have to look at why it happens. I come back to my opening point. Like many other issues, this will not be something that we can get right until we have a prevailing culture in this country that is about caring for other people, caring for the community and the environment in which we live, and taking this seriously. That puts a heavy responsibility on education. It is not just about me succeeding at school but about how I can grow as a person to become a fuller citizen: not just a participant in a market economy but a citizen who cares about, participates in and wants to shape a decent society. Education is central to this. So, also, is the value system—and of course, the value system very much starts with the community at Westminster and with our responsibilities.
My Lords, as always I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I do not come armed with a battery of convincing statistics—and convincing they were—but I am sure that we were all grateful to him for them. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for the admirable, moderate and modest way in which he introduced a very important measure. My only criticism of his Bill is that it is perhaps too moderate. However, it can be amended in Committee.
I endorse everything that my noble friend Lord Lawson said to the Minister. I hope that any negative brief has already been destroyed and that his reply will indicate an understanding of the problem and a determination both to get on with it and not to produce meaningless consultation exercises that give two days for people to reply. That sort of thing reinforces the scepticism of those of us who regard the Localism Act as a tokenism Act.
This is a serious problem. My noble friend Lord Marlesford was right to say that it is a question of behavioural attitudes. We need to moderate behaviour. We discussed this in a couple of debates in this House in recent weeks. I had the privilege of introducing one on citizenship three weeks ago. The debate the following week was introduced by my noble friend Lady Shephard. We talked about the need for young people to grow into citizens who have a sense of community and of their responsibilities as well as their rights. I advocated a citizenship scheme and a ceremony, and had great support from all parts of the House. My noble friend Lady Shephard, and those of us who supported her, talked about the need for educating school leavers into feeling that they were going out into a world in which they would be able to play a constructive part. Attitudes and behaviour are crucial.
When I was a young schoolboy at a choir school in Grimsby in 1947, I was summoned to the headmaster’s study. “Cormack, you were looking in the toy shop window in the Bull Ring yesterday”. “Yes, sir”. “While you were there, a funeral passed you. You did not turn round, take off your cap and stand in silent respect”. “No, sir”. “If I ever see you doing that again, you know what will happen”. “Yes, sir”. That is perhaps an extreme example, but we were brought up with an attitude of real respect for those with whom we lived and for the society in which we lived. Not one of us would have thought of dropping anything on the ground without picking it up.
When I was a Member of Parliament for South Staffordshire, which I had the honour to represent for 40 years, litter became a terrible problem, particularly in the latter two decades. I lived in a particularly glorious part of the country. The surrounding lanes were frequently fouled by litter: not just lemonade bottles and cigarette packets but suites of furniture and white goods such as refrigerators dumped in lay-bys. The cost to the local council was enormous, but what was so terrible was that some beautiful and absolutely lovely countryside was despoiled and fouled, sometimes for weeks on end. Any society that can tolerate that does not deserve the epithet civilised.
I have the privilege of living in the Minster Yard, in the Cathedral Close, in the great city of Lincoln. Only last week, coming back from a service with a friend who was staying with us, we found on one of the greens—and Lincoln works very hard to keep itself tidy—that people had been picnicking, and there were bottles and cartons which we picked up and put in my dustbin. Any society that can have that attitude towards its surroundings does not, as I say, deserve to call itself civilised.
This modest measure is about changing attitudes, but it will work only if there is an enforcement of the sort of measures that my noble friend is advocating and a determination in our schools to teach our children that there are certain things that you just do not do—and one of them is spoiling the environment in which we live for your neighbours, your friends and your family and, in a sense, above all, for those visitors, if you live in a part of the world that attracts tourists, who come to enjoy it. So let us hope that, when my noble friend comes to reply from the Front Bench, he will indicate that the Government regard this matter as a high priority. He is nodding furiously, so we are all waiting for his speech.
If he is shaking his head, by Jove we are going to be plunged into gloom at the end of this debate. I hope that he will show that the Government accept that this is a real problem which my noble friend has underlined and, above all, ensure that it is tackled rather more quickly than the appalling problem of Parliament Square. We saw the centre of the greatest city in the world despoiled and defaced by litter, year after year. Now, thank God, it has gone—and let us hope that when Marlesford, or Marlesford in the government version, passes into law, we shall be on the way to seeing lanes, byways and the streets of our country and county towns as clean as Parliament Square is today. I am delighted to support my noble friend’s Bill.
My Lords, extravagant praise has been given to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for introducing this Bill, and I join in that. I put my name down for the debate, knowing full well that the details of his very precisely architected Bill would be dealt with more ably by others. My interest in the subject leads on to wider matters, which I hope the noble Lord will agree are suitable for a Second Reading debate.
Why is it that people nowadays behave in the way they do, having won the freedoms as individuals that they have? Why does the balance between individual freedom and the common good seem to have got out of kilter? Yesterday I drifted into the Chamber, as one sometimes does when there is a debate, thinking that there might be something helpful in the debate on civil society. I had nearly dropped off to sleep when suddenly, to my surprise, I heard the most astonishing speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. I recommend that all those noble Lords in this debate who are interested in why people behave in the way that they do, and something of the culture and history behind that, should read his excellent speech. It is quite short. Surprise, surprise, he mentioned TS Eliot—and I thought, “Things are really improving here in the House. We are moving to different levels of intellectual gravitas”. I did not know that TS Eliot was so concerned with,
“the building blocks of a civil society”.
The right reverend Prelate added:
“The more we are concerned about individual good, the bigger the problem with the common good. The more people have individual freedom, the more chance there is of becoming isolated, lonely and marginalised”.—[Official Report, 18/7/13; col. 931.]
I think that the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. How many of us have walked down the street—those of us of a certain age, and I think that I am roughly of the same generation as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford —and really been astonished, on a fine day in a street with fine buildings, to see young people walking with an electronic apparatus screwed firmly into their ear, with a glazed look in their eye, completely disassociated from what surrounds them? This is something that is quite alien to me, with the way I was brought up, because, of course, we did not have all those electronic gadgets. Nowadays, when one walks along the street and one sees what I have described, one has to avoid people engaged in sending text messages on the pavement, zigzagging in and out without looking where they are going. So there is a problem with our society, because these people are much worse mannered than they were when I was growing up.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has said, we were encouraged to be aware of litter. In fact, there was advertising about litter bugs and people of that kind, and people were aware of it. Local government should be involved in engaging people more with their local society, but how can it, with the constraints placed on it, take up the social responsibilities of getting more engaged in people’s lives so that they are less likely to be ill? Depression nowadays among the young is a very big problem; I have had it in my own family, with one son. With his friends and colleagues at school—I do not know what brought it on—he became enormously lacking in confidence. He is quite a talented boy, actually, but he began to lack confidence and become, frankly, neurotic and depressed. So I have become very interested in this subject.
In yesterday’s debate, another noble Lord introduced the concept of the three legs of the stool, which used to govern our behaviour in our society—the nation, the family, and the church. We may have rebelled against some or all of what was contained in those three legs of the stool, but we knew where we were. There were always rebels and miscreants in society but, generally speaking, people worked according to what was expected of them in that way.
I think that I know what the Minister who is answering the debate will say, despite the encouragement of his neighbour. I realise how difficult it is for government to legislate for individual behaviour. In his usual elegant and polite way, I am sure that he will find a very good way round that with his brief and, perhaps, one or two comments of his own.
We all travel now during the holidays, I think, although I do not travel far; I usually go to France. I confess that I am rather a Francophile. It is quite noticeable in France, and in other European countries, that they are markedly cleaner than we are in terms of what we are discussing today. Normandy, for example, which I particularly like, and where I go to wander round the countryside and go to the seaside and the races in the short time that I spend there, is a very enjoyable experience. Of course, the French know that this is an important issue because France relies on tourism, albeit that is a decreasing contributor to its economy. According to the old American economic mantra, every dollar that is spent by people coming to an area becomes $7 through the economic activity generated in that area. I think there is an element of truth in that. I know that we do not like learning from the French but it is a question of political will and priorities and of trying to make life more agreeable so that people become less depressed and more hopeful.
It is no good the Government coming out with meaningless slogans such as “the big society”. That is wrong in every respect. Things in Britain which are big are usually a problem. Someone should tell the Mayor of London that. People are now calling London Dubai-on-Thames—I did not make that up—because of the plans to build skyscrapers and the like here which will dwarf our wonderful domestic architecture.
The most cheerful thing this week for me was listening to a debate on television on the butchery of the Buckinghamshire countryside to create a fast rail link which will cut 15 minutes off the journey to Birmingham in the hope that that will lead to an increase in economic activity to the north of that fine city. However, it has now been discovered that the estimated cost of that project, which will be completed long after we are all dead, certainly after my death, is complete nonsense. We should get away from big projects and stop talking about the big society. As regards the slogan, “We are all in this together”, we are not all in this together. How can we be when you have the kind of bankers’ bonuses that are being paid, people in the public sector being rewarded for failure and the BBC in the vanguard of people throwing money about hither and thither, and yet, at the other end of the scale, some people hardly have enough money in their pockets to feed themselves and their children? We are not all in this together.
I see a friend of mine in the House who I sensed was becoming rather a Francophobe. I suggested that he might go to Normandy for a holiday. He did so and was so taken with it that he bought a house there. He thinks that it is a beautiful place and has told me, “It is absolutely marvellous. They take the rubbish away six days a week”. There is a different picture in different countries and we do not look good in comparison. We should not dance to the tune of the Government’s advertising slogans but get back to local government and listen to the comments of people such as the right reverend Prelate who spoke yesterday. I thank the noble Lord for introducing the Bill. I hope that it makes progress but I would not like to bet on it becoming law. I thank him for letting me hang my remarks on it.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Marlesford on securing this important debate this morning. Depositing litter is a wanton act of vandalism which ruins our towns and cities and especially our rural areas. Litter is not only unsightly but can be extremely dangerous to wildlife. It is, of course, a very serious form of pollution to water courses and rivers.
To rid ourselves of this plague—and it is a plague of very considerable proportions—we need not only to educate people but to use a pretty heavy-handed approach to control this disgusting practice. I agree entirely with the comments of my noble friend Lord Cormack about teaching discipline. A few years ago, I was walking with my son in the high street in Uttoxeter in the middle of the week. In front of us were some schoolchildren aged about 13 or 14. One of the girls dropped a sweet paper on the floor, so I picked it up and gave it back to her, saying, “I believe this is your property”. Her boyfriend then went for me. He told me that I could do something with my body which I thought was physically impossible. He was 14 years old. I thought that I knew more about these things than he did but that was obviously not correct. In that instance, is it not parents and schools who should instil discipline in these youngsters and teach them that dropping litter is abhorrent, anti-social and very unpleasant for Earls who pick it up?
By way of example, I live in the foothills of the Peak District National Park, a place of breathtaking beauty. The nearest McDonald’s outlet is 12 miles away in Uttoxeter, yet every single day of the year, litter mainly consisting of fast-food packaging is dumped from vehicles in Birdsgrove Lane outside my house. It leads down to Okeover Park, which is a stunningly beautiful place. The litter finds its way down into the River Dove, which is some of the finest dry fly trout water in the country. It is our equivalent of the River Test; it is stunning. We get cans, bottles and a range of other items. If one sees a car from which somebody is dumping litter, it is exceptionally unwise to approach it as the tirade of abuse one is likely to receive is considerable. If there is more than one person in the vehicle—it does not matter what age they are—it is highly probable that one will be subjected to threatening behaviour.
I also live close to Alton Towers. I declare an interest in that my father’s trustees sold it in 1924 and it became the mega-playground of youth that it is today. Of all the thousands of cars using our local lanes to go to and from Alton Towers, 95% of them behave properly as regards disposing of litter. I think that is probably because Alton Towers has lots of facilities for people to get rid of it.
As regards bottles and cans, we should carefully consider the approach used by numerous states in the United States—namely, Oregon and 10 others. The Wikipedia entry on the Oregon legislation currently states:
“The Oregon Bottle Bill is a container-deposit legislation passed in the U.S. state of Oregon in 1971 and amended in 2007. It requires cans, bottles, and other containers of carbonated soft drink, beer, and (since 2009) water sold in Oregon to be returnable with a minimum refund value. It is administered and enforced by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
The law is credited with reducing litter and increasing container recycling. As a result, items which used to make up around 40% of roadside litter now represent about 6%. With return rates averaging 90%, another major benefit is in waste reduction and resource conservation, particularly for aluminum. By comparison, states without similar bills recycle on average 28% of their containers. Beverage distributors retain all deposits not reclaimed by consumers”.
Surely, that makes sense, and perhaps that sort of idea could be translocated to fast-food outlets such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s and all the other disgusting foods that there are in this life.
When it comes to littering from vehicles, I do not think that my noble friend goes far enough with his ideas for a fine. The fine should really hurt, because that is what really gets to people—when it hits their pockets. For instance, as he suggested, one should be able to go for the registered owner of the vehicle, whether they were the culprit or not, and fine them. Should they fail to pay the fine, their vehicle should be impounded until such time as the fine is satisfied—that would stop them. It is time we put an end to this vandalism. I commend my noble friend’s Bill to the House.
My Lords, I support the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, because he has highlighted an important issue that has concerned me for some years. It is my view that a local context often reflects the wider world in which we live: the micro is the way into the macro. Small acts can tell us a great deal about emerging social trends. In my opinion, the UK’s litter problem is just one of many national signs that illustrate the disconnection between political PR-speak and the reality on the ground.
When I first arrived in east London 30 years ago, in the middle of a rundown housing estate, I was greeted by an urban environment full of discarded litter: everywhere you looked there was rubbish. It was the canary in the cage singing its song and warning anyone who had ears of much bigger social issues. A dependency culture was being generated that was destroying any sense of personal responsibility or ownership of the problems that stared us in the face. The state ran 97% of everything but in fact no one was responsible for anything—a social and environmental disaster.
Getting a hold of our patch of east London involved the weekly practical task of picking up the rubbish dumped on the street outside and within the curtilage of our church buildings. I was determined that our bit of turf would look clean and tidy, and send out a clear message that we existed and were intent on taking some personal responsibility for our local environment. Actually, the mornings that I spent clearing up the rubbish turned out to be an important opportunity through which, as a young clergyman, I could engage with members of the local community. This simple interface with residents led to some crucial conversations and the development of important relationships with the neighbours. Litter was a radar; others noticed that one piece of terra firma had improved and started to join in tidying up the area. Today, the Bromley by Bow Centre owns and runs a three-acre site. Visitors often comment how beautiful and inspiring the park and gardens are. Free of litter, they lift the human spirit and breathe life into the local community.
Our rubbish problem is not confined to east London or inner-city areas. Litter is fast becoming the most noticeable feature of the conservation area in the Cotswolds where both the Prime Minister and I have houses. I was asked 12 years ago by the then sub-dean of Westminster Abbey to take responsibility for Stanton Guildhouse in the Cotswolds, a conference facility influenced by the arts and craft movement and situated in one of the most beautiful villages in England. Here, I must declare an interest. I therefore spend a great deal of time travelling between my house in Hackney and our family cottage in the Cotswolds. On a winter’s day, when the grass is short and the leaves are not on the trees, the A40 west of Oxford, near Witney, is framed by rubbish hanging from these trees and large pieces of litter clearly ejected from cars lie every few metres. I recently spent an afternoon walking a few miles down one of the country lanes off the main road near to the Prime Minister’s home. These quiet side roads are nearly as bad as the A40. Every 20 feet, I discovered in the grass verges a piece of litter clearly thrown from passing cars. This road is situated within the constituency of our Prime Minister, who is a self-proclaimed environmentalist; a tree is the emblem of his party.
None of the three main party leaders is getting a grip on litter. Rubbish scars their constituencies. Keep Britain Tidy estimates that around 33 million tonnes of litter are collected from Britain’s roads every year and that local authorities spend £1 billion each year picking it up. The social and environmental costs take that figure even higher, as do the costs to business and tourism. This is a serious problem; socially, culturally and economically. We need an urgent culture change if we are to properly address this matter, as other noble Lords have said. I have submitted two Questions about the A40 litter problem in the House in recent years. The responses I received were not encouraging. The last Minister who spoke on this subject in your Lordships’ House told us that research was being conducted but I have yet to see any action in response to that research.
I decided to take personal action and follow up the matter with the local council responsible for collecting litter along the A40. A senior official there provided me with some real insight as to why litter is increasing and not decreasing. He told me that the EPA—the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended in 2003—gave authorities many additional powers to deal with all elements of littering. A series of performance indicators were set which basically measured councils on how they responded to the problems. In particular, litter, graffiti, fly tipping and detritus were all measured. Councils that achieved high standards of cleanliness were given incentive funding. This performance indicator showed who was doing what on the ground and was, in the official’s opinion, “one of the most important indicators around at the time”. The significance of this indicator was recognised when it became a national indicator and data was collected three times a year through a simple system of measurement. However, the Government have in recent years removed this indicator. The obligation to act no longer exists.
I appreciate the desire of this Government to remove unnecessary red tape. I understand that some indicators are ineffective and resource hungry but we should be careful that in cutting bureaucracy we do not overburden those who we are trying to enable. Individuals such as the official I spoke to, who are trying to take personal responsibility and play an active role in society, are feeling cut loose by government. This official, responsible for litter collection, now has no way of challenging colleagues and other councils on current standards because many councils are managing litter collection information in different ways, so there is no clear way to measure and compare their effectiveness.
The Keep Britain Tidy campaign, whose meetings I attend in your Lordships’ House, likewise tells me that despite promising action on preventing litter in the coalition agreement, the Government have stepped away from this agenda. Whitehall seems to be leaving the problem to cash-strapped local authorities and other land managers to deal with. In a recent survey, nearly nine in every 10 local land managers across England, 87% of them, do not think that the coalition Government have achieved their commitment to reduce litter; 72% of the public agreed that the Government should do more.
Small actions such as those proposed in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, could, importantly, enable communities to take control of their litter problem. This Bill points the finger of responsibility to a named and known person: the registered keeper of the vehicle. People used to laugh at Mrs Thatcher roaming across St James’s Park picking up litter with a specially designed stick, but she knew the importance of personal responsibility. If our political leaders want to be seen as credible, they need the ability to deliver on small practical matters that count for the general public. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is offering them an opportunity today to prove themselves.
Clearly, given that 62% of people in England drop litter, government is not solely to blame. However, political leaders should lead and government should govern. I fear the Minister is going to tell us that the approach that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, proposes does not work and that it has been tried in two London boroughs but there is an insurmountable problem. Litter is an issue that is both divisive and decisive; you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Let us be part of the solution and either back this Bill or hear from the Minister what practical solution will instead be introduced.
The second argument that I fear the Minister will make is that there has always been rubbish on our streets and that we are in a better situation nationally than other parts of Europe. This argument will not do either. We should see this problem in the round. Not only is it costing the public purse dearly to pick up 33 million tonnes of rubbish each year but the consequential effects are enormous; highways have to be closed and numerous health and safety policies complied with as litter pickers are put at risk.
Of far more concern is the social impact of litter. It is one of the first signs of social decay. Keep Britain Tidy’s motto is,
“caring for the environment is the first step to a better society”.
Respect for the planet begins with the respect we hold for our neighbourhoods. It is a sign that you care about the world that our children will inherit. It is my view that human beings are the environments we live, work, and play within. Our environmental credentials will be measured by our actions. The actions we take in the environment around us define who we are and who we will become. Next time we ride out west through the Prime Minister’s constituency, I hope that his environmental credentials will be there for all to see, even to the unassuming walker who is looking at the verges.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for two reasons. First, I support what he is doing, and, secondly, as we are having a general debate about litter, it means that my own Bill, which will be taken as the last business today, will, in the quickest possible time ever, go through its Second Reading.
I shall try to introduce a little bit of internationalism into this debate. I like driving cars. My father spent his life motor-racing, including in a great Talbot, which my noble friend here may well recall, and I have worked internationally. I do not like going by train; I drive probably hundreds of thousands of miles across the continent of Europe. The biggest single change that I have noticed has been the improvement in the quality of the roads, the cleanliness of the roads and the greater facilities for disposing of rubbish. More than that, whereas we would have thought that our French cousins were a little bit lackadaisical in these matters, they have now become some of the toughest people in Europe. The fines imposed on the spot can be very severe as well.
I am assuming that this Bill covers things such as what falls off the back of a lorry. Things dropping off the back are, to some extent, litter and are extremely dangerous, particularly when empty lorries, usually from eastern Europe, are moving at extremely high speeds. That leads to more chipped and broken windscreens, and of course there are companies which believe that, even if you have a microchip in your windscreen, you can claim for a new one on your insurance, and that automatically puts up your insurance premium.
However, it is the general attitude to cleanliness that I find intriguing. Your Lordships will know that much of continental Europe—Germany, France and Italy—has weekly, or often twice-weekly, markets within local communities. At one time, they would remain relatively uncleaned, but now, within a matter of hours of shutting down, they are cleaned completely. People who bring in lorries and other vehicles are punished very severely if they do not stick to the rules. It is quite a simple punishment: everybody sneaks on their neighbours, a little man from the environment department turns up and, before you know it, you are given a little fine, which you have to pay at the post office within a very short period. If you do not, the fine doubles and doubles and doubles and, before long, you find that another person turns up suggesting that they should take your car away.
I happen to be a wine producer in France. We have a major problem there, which I had not realised. When you deliver grapes to be pressed, you may have juice running off the back of the trailer. You are now required to clean that up. Every single bit and piece must be collected, and the rubbish collections are superb. We have to admit that here in the London area in the UK there has been a dramatic improvement in rubbish collecting. However, the problem that we have with cars is: what do you put the rubbish in before you dispose of it? My wife gave me a whole range of nappy bags. I carry three or four of them—I have two in my pocket at the moment; I had not realised—in which to put things that I may have in my car. You drive a long distance eating wine gums and so on, you put the packet in the bag and when you stop for petrol you find that there are bins in which to dispose of it. That is now true of most garages in the United Kingdom. Because they are selling food and other items, they have bins in which to dispose of the rubbish. Therefore, dealing with these issues is purely a matter of organisation.
Looking at the international scene, I also find that now, believe it or not, some of the most badly behaved people are British families in large 4x4s driving to the Alps to ski. I have followed them occasionally and, for a bit of fun, have taken a note of their vehicle registration numbers. Occasionally, because I have friends in the DVLA, I manage to find their telephone number and I give them a ring. I just say, “I happen to be involved in the political world a bit, and it was noticed that at a particular point you did this”. Most of the continental motorways have a sign every kilometre or half-kilometre, or even more frequently, so you know exactly where you are, as do the spies. If the police decide that they may be a little short of income for Christmas, the number of fines seems to go up. There is of course absolutely no connection between the two issues, but this is self-interest.
There is something that I suggest should happen in this country. If you are travelling a long distance, you switch on the radio. Usually, I switch on a programme that broadcasts a mixture of music at my level, which is relatively low, and it then provides me with information. Usually a voice will say, “It’s Gloria here. Watch out. A bit has fallen off the back of a lorry at so-and-so”. You are given a complete report of what is happening. This occurs with smaller roads as well. If you have the new systems that you plug in, you can get everything you want. There is no reason why greater controls cannot be introduced effectively by using those systems. I suggest that one way of doing this is to get the radio stations, which are listened to by people travelling in cars, to point these things out.
I am really grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford, and I am also looking forward to being able to—
The noble Lord has raised an interesting point. One worry is that most of the rich French seem to want to come and live here, but in general they are among the tidiest people of all. I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that point. We are in an international world and one of the difficulties has been in training tourists and others in how to behave when they come here, because there are inadequate bins in which to dispose of rubbish. Noble Lords might like to ask themselves: where in Parliament is there a bin to dispose of something? It is quite difficult to find one.
I am grateful to my noble friend. He has done his usual Marlesford job: he is really nice and gentle but, when it gets down to it, he sticks the knife in.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Marlesford on introducing the Bill, and indeed I fully support his motives. A lot of discussion has taken place as to what the Minister’s reaction to the Bill might be but I think that I can give my noble friend Lord Marlesford a little bit of encouragement. As he said, these measures have already been introduced in London local authorities by means of a private Bill. My experience of private Bills is that often some of the measures in them have come into national law within a year or two. Therefore, there is sometimes hope.
Not very long ago, I saw a child throwing litter out of a car and this was done in full view of its parents, with the connivance of its parents and probably with the encouragement of its parents. That left me profoundly depressed, and it touches on the points that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made at the beginning of his remarks. No responsibility was being taught and it left me thoroughly depressed about what the future might hold.
In my few remarks, I want to stick very closely to the content of the Bill because most of what can be said about rubbish has been said today. Most noble Lords have spoken about local areas, whether urban or rural, but this is also a problem on national roads—motorways and trunk roads—which are the responsibility of the Highways Agency. I therefore hope that when we come, in Clause 3, to the definition of civil enforcement officers and, in Clause 6, to the definition of a responsible authority, the Highways Agency, which patrols these roads—we have all seen it doing so—will be included in that category.
That is really all that I have to say about the Bill. I very much congratulate my noble friend and I hope that the Bill gets a fair wind.
My Lords, I have no wish to disrupt the consensus that congratulates the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on a good Bill and on seeking to address a serious problem which, clearly, your Lordships care greatly about, judging by this debate and the passion with which some addressed it. We are also grateful to the noble Lord for garnering support for his Bill from a number of organisations and for reflecting that support. I am also grateful for the briefings we have had, and have heard in part quoted, from CPRE and Living Streets. He is right about the need for a culture change, which was reflected by my noble friend Lord Judd and others.
There is a danger in over-romanticising the past. We heard a flavour of that in some of the contributions today. It is probably true that we have cleaner air and bathing water. We are even seeing some culture change around people’s attitude to dog fouling, although not among everyone. It is still a problem but less of a problem than it was when I was growing up. However, I find it very odd when I see people hanging from trees bags containing dog mess that they have picked up. I do not understand what that is about. I am happy to say that none of them appears to be nappy bags, so I do not think that they were anything to do with the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and his nappy bags. It is a strange habit that leaves me completely perplexed as I walk around the countryside occasionally walking my dog.
It is true that the problem of littering from vehicles is getting worse. I noted the comments made by the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury. The drive-through restaurant is a problem that has increased littering from vehicles. Perhaps the corporate social responsibility of McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and others that he mentioned can be pricked to help councils deal with that. In some areas, those organisations try to do a little to deal with it. Certainly, where I live in Dorset, we see the same sort of rubbish that the noble Earl sees where he lives and much of it appears to be generated by the drive-through restaurants.
I wholeheartedly support this Bill and want to see it progressed. I have four points to make. The first, to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, is to hear about the effect in London. We will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that. In Committee, we should explore whether this proposal will apply just to the road and verges off the road, as implied in Clause 6. Clause 1 refers to Section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which refers to any place “open to the air” in the area of the authority. We need to clarify the definitions.
I am also interested in how we can enforce this Bill. We can learn from the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and his experience travelling around the continent. Will we end up being able to use technology? I am not one to romanticise the past. Sometimes I romanticise the future and perhaps there are aspects of technology that we can use in terms of our smartphones that know where we are to take pictures of people if we can catch them in the act. But catching people in the act, as we know when trying to discourage dog fouling, is quite tricky. Indeed, the act of dog fouling tends to take a little longer than throwing something from a moving vehicle. I especially am interested in whether local authorities with CCTV would be able to use that technology in enforcing these measures and whether the latest code of practice generated by the Protection of Freedoms Act would allow that to happen, particularly given that this is the enforcement of a civil offence. That is something else we might want to explore in Committee.
Finally, I am interested in what would happen to the proceeds of these fines. According to the Bill, the levels would be set in regulations, which of course is right. Would a council be able to generate a surplus? Should it be effective in enforcement? Would it cover just the cost of the administration of prosecuting people for these civil offences? Could it also cover the cost of litter clearance? Those are interesting issues. There are some people who wanted this Bill to be more aggressive. They may want more aggressive fines and would be very comfortable with councils generating a surplus.
I do not wish to detain the House. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and, certainly, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, were very keen that we should see an end to any procrastination from the Government on this issue. I look forward to hearing from the Minister whether he will accept the invitation made by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, to bring forward a government Bill to bring into effect the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, whom we support wholeheartedly.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Marlesford for introducing his Bill. Like my noble friend Lord Lawson, I congratulate him on his persistence. I know that this is an issue he cares deeply about, as do other noble Lords, and I share that concern. Like him and the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, I regularly collect litter along the road which runs past my house. Let me make clear that it is thoroughly irresponsible to throw litter from vehicles, as it is to litter in any other way. It is important that we find an effective way to bring home to people that throwing litter from car windows is unacceptable behaviour.
I agree with my noble friend that roadside litter is a blight on some areas of England. I travel around the country carrying out my role and clearly notice that while some parts of the country are clean, others are regrettably less so. This reinforces the fact that those responsible for tackling littering all take slightly different approaches to fulfilling their responsibilities and that some are more successful than others.
What has come out of this debate today, among other important things, is that littering from vehicles has always been a difficult problem to solve. The sense of anonymity that the litterer appears to feel while encased in his car only serves to accentuate that problem. Unfortunately, for many people it seems that it is almost second nature. When confronted with an empty drinks can or a chocolate wrapper in their box on wheels, they see throwing it out of the window as an acceptable course of action, rather than, as they should, taking it home with them.
The high-profile case of the broadcaster Alice Arnold who, like my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury, took matters into her own hands and delivered a discarded plastic bottle back to its owner while at a set of traffic lights near Hampton Court, led to her being hailed a national heroine. This highlighted the strength of feeling that many of us have about this matter and the need for action. We also need to ensure that any such action is based on sound evidence in order for it to be effective and to make a difference.
Throwing litter from vehicles is already a criminal offence under Section 87 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. There already are considerable penalties for those who litter, including prosecution in a magistrates’ court where an offender can be fined up to £2,500 and acquire a criminal record. As an alternative to prosecution, a local authority enforcement officer can issue offenders with an on-the-spot fixed penalty of up to £80. The threat of a criminal record for throwing away a piece of litter can act as a strong deterrent, especially as it could have implications for the offender’s career and finances.
However, the seriousness of these consequences also means that it is important that enforcement officers have good evidence which would stand up in court before issuing a fixed penalty notice for littering. When litter is thrown from a vehicle I know that it is not always easy for enforcement officers to know exactly who threw it, especially if the vehicle is moving.
As he explained, through his Bill, my noble friend seeks to enable local authorities to issue civil penalties to the registered keeper of a vehicle if someone inside his vehicle jettisons litter. The key point in his proposal would remove the problem currently faced by enforcement officers of identifying the littering offender with the degree of certainty that would be required for a criminal prosecution. Essentially, this Bill says that we do not quite know who committed this crime but someone should pay, so we will punish the only person we can identify.
The Bill is similar to provisions brought in under the ninth and 10th London Local Authorities Acts, to which several noble Lords have referred, which apply only in London. These powers, which were introduced with the support of London Councils and came fully into force in June 2012, allow London boroughs to issue a civil penalty to the registered keeper of a vehicle where enforcement officers witness littering from it. My department is closely watching this new approach. We have already started the process with London Councils of examining how effective this legislation is and whether it provides a viable way forward in tackling this issue nationally.
However, I have to tell my noble friend that London Councils tells us that there are some emerging questions. Most importantly, as yet none of the London boroughs has issued a single civil penalty notice for littering using the new powers. As a result, as yet we have no data on whether the civil penalty for littering from vehicles in London has been effective in reducing littering behaviour. As the London boroughs have been aware that these powers were coming since the ninth London Local Authorities Act was passed in 2007, this delay in beginning to use the powers in itself seems to suggest that setting up and operating this new approach is not quite as simple as it may seem.
We understand that two boroughs were expected to begin piloting the new approach late last year but they seem to have faced some delays, particularly in setting up the new appeals system. Other boroughs have mentioned difficulties in identifying littering offences using CCTV cameras—the noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked about that—or the need to reorganise their back office functions to handle enforcement of both civil contraventions and criminal littering offences.
Another borough mentioned the anomaly that the new powers create in that littering is a criminal offence if it occurs outside in the open air but it is decriminalised once it occurs from inside a vehicle. We know that some motoring organisations have expressed concern that making the owner of a vehicle responsible for all littering from it regardless of who committed the offence could be seen as an infringement of an owner’s civil liberties, which of course we want to avoid.
I sympathise strongly with my noble friend’s impatience. We all want to see a reduction in this problem. The approach taken in London may ultimately show us the way forward but, until it has had significant practical use, we will not know for sure whether it makes it easier for enforcement officers to take effective action and whether that, in turn, would lead to a reduction in litter on our streets.
However, the issuing of fines is not and cannot be the only answer. With the best will in the world, enforcement officers cannot be everywhere at once and the use of CCTV does not appear to be a magic bullet. Apprehending those who litter at night, at speed, in isolated areas or on quiet rural roads, which many noble Lords were concerned about, will remain difficult.
If we are to tackle the problem effectively, changing people’s behaviour is essential, as my noble friend Lord Cormack said. If people did not feel it to be acceptable to throw their litter out of their car windows, the problem would not exist. As I said in response to the proposals of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones on leafleting a couple of weeks ago, we believe that the most effective way to change people’s behaviour is to change their attitudes to littering. Changing legislation is not the only answer or even the best solution.
The fact that littering is a criminal offence reflects the unacceptable and harmful nature of this behaviour and it has a certain deterrent effect. Treating littering from vehicles as a civil contravention may make it easier for local authorities to tackle the problem but there is also a risk of sending the wrong message about the seriousness of this conduct.
Of course, the balance between taking action against polluters, criminals and those who persistently behave in an anti-social way while protecting the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens is a delicate one, but we must do our best to get it right. Ultimately, we believe in treating people as adults and providing the freedom to do the right thing, rather than simply making it easier for enforcement officers to fine someone—anyone— whether or not they have got the real culprit.
I referred to the need to change people’s attitudes, as did the noble Lord, Lord Judd, very sensitively. We continue to back Keep Britain Tidy’s call to action. The Love Where You Live initiative works with businesses, local authorities and civil society organisations to make an important contribution to behaviour change on littering in all its forms and to enable local authorities, civil society groups and communities to take local action together to improve their neighbourhoods and engender renewed civic pride.
As part of the Love Where You Live initiative, a meeting of representatives from the vehicle sector, trade associations, the Highways Agency, local authorities and civic society groups convened last year to discuss littering from vehicles in general with a view to agreeing a voluntary commitment to raising its profile. Actions arising included commitments by bodies such as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the British Parking Association and the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association to carry anti-littering messaging on their websites and vehicles; to build an anti-littering message into their training programmes; and to provide more facilities for disposing of litter, whether it be in cars or outside the wall of a pub or coffee house. These changes are simple and achievable and I thank all of those who got involved at the time and are continuing to do so now.
We have also raised awareness with other government departments. This collaborative approach, with, for example, the Highways Agency, can be seen in the electronic message signs over a number of motorways or the large banners at motorway slip roads advising drivers to dispose of their litter in a responsible manner. Of course, still more could be achieved by vehicle hirers, motoring associations, manufacturers and service stations.
I should like to comment briefly on Part 2 of the Bill, which would require local authorities to publish, at least once in a financial year, the names of any organisations with which they are contracted to collect litter and the amount paid for this service. I understand that one aim of this proposal is to enable anyone with a complaint about a particular problem to contact the relevant contractors directly. This proposal would constitute a move in the opposite direction from the decision made by the Government in 2010 to relieve local authorities of the burdensome requirement to report information about street cleaning to central government. This requirement had until then been part of a national indicator set for local authorities to report against, which we have now abolished. To reintroduce such a requirement, as the Bill would do, would be an added administrative and financial burden on local authorities and would undermine the principles of localism for very uncertain gains. Much of this information is already published or available through existing access to information legislation, with suitable safeguards to protect commercially sensitive information. Forcing the blanket publication of contracts in this way could also undermine a local authority’s ability to negotiate competitive contracts for street cleansing and waste management, thereby further increasing the cost of these services to the taxpayer. It is surely also reasonable for local authorities to determine for themselves how and to whom people should report concerns. If people are reporting incidents directly to cleaning contractors, it may make it more difficult for the local authority to monitor the performance of its contractor’s obligations.
Turning to noble Lords’ questions, my noble friend Lord Marlesford ragged me and suggested that there had been a too brief consultation on the Bill. These are not government proposals so, of course, we have not conducted a consultation. However, we wanted to know what some local authorities thought about this Bill and views were sought via the Keep Britain Tidy membership network, the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport and London Councils. We were pleased that we received 27 responses within the time available. The views they expressed were mixed. Some local authorities think that it is too costly and complicated to pursue offenders for littering from vehicles. Others were concerned that the potential for different fines for the same offence depending on whether it was criminal or civil, or that the increase in enforcement action, would lead to fewer fines being paid. Some also expressed concern at disclosing details of contracts, citing commercial confidentiality issues.
My noble friend Lord Lawson charged me with speaking to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State about this debate—of course I will. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to difficulties in moving new estates into local authority responsibility. I will talk to the Department for Communities and Local Government about that and write to him, if I may.
My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury suggested deposits on bottles and referred to legislation in place in certain states in America. I seem to remember that in my youth there were deposits on Ribena bottles. We have looked at this idea, which is in use in several US states, as part of our consideration of our packaging recycling targets. Unfortunately, the costs identified by the review appeared to outweigh the benefits, but I am happy to meet my noble friend to discuss this research further if that would be helpful to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Mawson, referred to the removal of national indicators. As I said earlier, a decision was taken in 2010 to relieve councils of the burden of reporting. Of course, a statutory duty on councils to clear litter and refuse remains. The standards to be achieved are set out in the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse. As a matter of interest, Keep Britain Tidy’s annual local environment survey for England, which is based on the same set of indicators, shows that litter levels have remained much the same over the past decade.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked who would enforce the Littering from Vehicles Bill. Of course, it is my noble friend Lord Marlesford’s Bill but my understanding is that the powers will be enforced by a civil enforcement officer, who would be either an employee of the local authority or the employee of a contractor of that authority employed to act as a civil enforcement officer. The noble Lord also asked whether local authorities would be able to keep the income and what would happen to it. My noble friend’s Bill says how penalty charge receipts are to be used. Under Schedule 4 to the London Local Authorities Act 2007, London boroughs are required to,
“keep an account of their income and expenditure in respect of the administration and enforcement of section 61 (penalty charges) of this Act”.
At the end of the financial year, any deficits should be made good out of the council’s general rate fund. If there is a surplus, the borough is required to apply this,
“to purposes connected with the improvement of the amenity of the area of the council or any part of that area”.
I assure my noble friend that we are not closed to the possibility of national legislation to tackle littering from vehicles but, as I hope I have explained, a number of significant issues need to be resolved before we decide to roll out the powers in the London Local Authorities Act to the whole country. So far, London local authorities have had more than five years to prepare for the introduction and implementation of these changes but it has evidently not proven as simple as might have been hoped. As a result, we still do not know whether the new powers actually work effectively to reduce littering. Until we have that evidence—until we are sure that simply issuing more fines for littering from vehicles will change people’s behaviour and lead to a real reduction in littering, and that decriminalisation does not send the wrong message about the seriousness of the offence in question—it would be premature to extend these potentially controversial powers nationwide.
I must express my reservations about my noble friend’s Bill. However, my noble friend has made and continues to make a really important point: litter is a blight and litter from vehicles is an important element of that. My noble friend wants to deal with it. I want to deal with it. I would be more than happy to arrange a meeting in my office for my noble friend to meet the relevant people from the local authorities trying out this method in London so that we can explore it together and see whether this is the best way to tackle it.
My Lords, one of the big privileges afforded to Back-Bench Members of either House is to be able to initiate Private Members’ Bills. One of the great purposes of initiating such Bills is to prod Governments into action when action is needed. There can seldom have been a better illustration of both sides of the coin than in this debate, where we have had virtually 100% support from all speakers from the Back Benches and the opposition Front Bench, and a virtually 100% negative response from the Government’s Front Bench.
I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Lawson, with his experience and the great offices he has held, challenged the Government to act on this and to do something; in particular, his appeal to the Secretary of State over the heads of the officials who have taken the line that my noble friend the Minister has so faithfully read out. I hope that some of us will continue on that track anyway.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He and I came to this House on the same day and we have always been close friends and colleagues. I am very glad he spoke in the way he did, emphasising the extent to which litter represents a cultural deficit and the fact that by tackling it we are improving culture.
My noble friend Lord Cormack pointed out that we do not want the Government to allow their trumpeted localism to be expressed as mere tokenism. I am afraid that we have not got very far with that, going by my noble friend the Minister’s speech.
I was very interested in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, particularly the psychological element. Actually, picking up litter is very therapeutic. If you pick up litter, it is an enjoyable process. You can see the result. You know you are doing something not only for yourself but for other people, and it is very satisfactory. I am not a fisherman but I am always told that fishing is wonderfully therapeutic. To me, picking up litter has that role.
My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury pointed out that it is a lack of discipline which results in litter being dropped and that is something that needs to be tackled. I am very glad that he referred to Oregon and what happens in America. I know Oregon very well. I used to go there every year for many years for work purposes. It is an advanced state, from which we can learn a lot. What actually happens with its rule about litter being returnable for a small fee is that in as far as the more affluent may dispose of it, the less affluent will collect it up, so it generates income and it is a rather neat method. Oregon is an extremely pleasant state as a result. The rule has been in force for a long time.
My noble friend Lord Selsdon told us about Europe. I so agree with him. Europe is in general a great deal cleaner than the United Kingdom. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brabazon for also taking part.
I was very encouraged by the opposition Front Bench and I hope that we shall continue to get its support. My noble friend the Minister’s argument that delay is always a good excuse for further delay is a fascinating one, if not one that I accept. Churchill once said:
“Don’t argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves”.
Of course, we can rely on officials to find the difficulties and argue frantically for them, and to look for the negative rather than the positive. My noble friend said that he backs the call to action, but the last thing he was going to take was any action.
I am most grateful to all who have taken part in this debate and I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.