Clause 53 - Sale of aerosol paint to children

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:10 am ar 22 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 9:10, 22 Mai 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 78, in

clause 53, page 39, line 3, leave out 'eighteen' and insert 'sixteen'.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 79, in

clause 53, page 39, line 3, leave out 'eighteen' and insert 'fourteen'.

Amendment No. 80, in

clause 53, page 39, line 13, leave out 'eighteen' and insert 'sixteen'.

Amendment No. 81, in

clause 53, page 39, line 13, leave out 'eighteen' and insert 'fourteen'.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

First, may I say on the record that we are obliged to the Minister for clarifying the position in relation to clause 48? It is always helpful when Ministers provide such clarification. This Minister always does so, and we are grateful to him.

As the Committee will have realised, amendment No. 79 is an alternative to amendment No. 78, and amendment No. 81 is an alternative to amendment No. 80. We are concerned about the sale of aerosol paint. We entirely understand that graffiti is a huge problem, as we discussed at our previous sitting, and

we do not want to give the impression that we lack understanding of the Government's approach to the matter. We recognise that there is a problem. However, we do not want to cause great difficulties for those who run businesses, especially small do-it-yourself stores, for example. Large DIY multiples may find it easier to deal with new laws and regulations, but Conservative Members, and perhaps Government Members as well, get a lot of letters from many small traders complaining about ever more bureaucratic burdens being imposed on them.

We know that changes were made to the law to combat the problem of glue sniffing: many DIY retailers were told that they were no longer allowed to have glue on open shelves; it had to be behind the sales counter to prevent youngsters from getting hold of glue, which can, of course, cause the most tragic deaths. Most DIY retailers I have talked to say that although it was a burden to change the method of selling glue, they understand that there was a safety reason for doing so, because glue sniffing had become such a terrible problem. However, the problem in relation to aerosol paints is not of the same order. We are not talking about something that is life threatening, although we recognise that graffiti is a serious problem.

The vast majority of young people who buy aerosol paints do not have bad motives for buying them; they are not going to become graffiti artists. They probably buy them because, for example, they want to help work on their father's car or on a moped or motor bike. To say that all DIY retailers and motoring supply stores will not be allowed to sell aerosol paint to customers who are below a certain age is to use too big a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Moreover, it is unreasonable to say that every DIY retailer should check the age of customers, because we know that some 14 to 16-year-old boys appear to be a great deal older. We will put small shopkeepers in the same position as licensees of pubs, although we understand that age checks are necessary in respect of alcohol.

The Committee needs to consider the appropriate age limit. We have suggested two options: 14 or 16. Both are more reasonable than saying that nobody under the age of 18 can buy aerosol paints. I shall not take up more of the Committee's time, because the point is a simple one, but I anticipate that other members of the Committee, perhaps on both sides, will wish to express their views. We think that the Government have gone somewhat over the top. We recognise that there is a problem, but we do not want to create extra bureaucratic burdens. I hope that the Minister will understand that our approach to the matter is serious. We believe that the Government have got the proposal slightly wrong.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

I, too, thank the Minister for the clarification that he gave at the start of the sitting.

The sale of aerosol paints is a tricky subject. I represent a constituency where there is almost no problem of graffiti, so my first thought was that a ban on the sale of aerosol paints to young people in my constituency seemed disproportionate. However, I recognise that many hon. Members represent

constituencies where there is a considerable problem of graffiti. I had various thoughts about how this difficult problem might be dealt with, including the possibility of giving local authorities the power to make byelaws rather than imposing a countrywide ban, although I realise that the amendments do not address that point. However, there would be problems even with that solution, because one authority might introduce such a byelaw and another might not, so a young person could just cross the street.

I understand the problems that the Minister faces, and why he has approached them as he has. However, Liberal Democrat Members have added their names to the two amendments that would set the age limit at 16. The amendment represents an attempt to make the law seem reasonable to the general public. We have joked in the House about the fact that a 17-year-old can own and drive a car but would not be able to buy the paint to repair a scratch on the side of it if the proposed law was passed. I am afraid that the public will see that law as foolish, so I do not think that it is a particularly wise position to adopt.

I am sure that many graffiti artists are aged 17 or 18, but we must ensure that the law on the sale of aerosol paints makes sense to those who are not graffiti artists. That is why, after much consideration, because my natural inclination is not to ban, I concluded that 16 would be a more appropriate age limit than 18. The issue has been discussed widely in my party, where there is a wide range of opinions, as there is in all the parties. The Minister is right to try to act on the matter, but I would prefer some sort of sunset clause to be added, because if the legislation does not have much impact, we may have to consider revoking it in future.

There are obvious concerns about some who is over the age limit buying aerosol paint and handing it to someone younger. That often happens with alcohol. There are several such problems. I realise why the Minister is trying to tackle them, but we must ensure that the law is respected and makes sense to people. Most of the public believe that the age limit of 18 is too high. Sixteen is far more appropriate, and setting that in legislation will make more sense to members of the public and make the law more likely to be obeyed.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

I rise to oppose the amendment. We do not want the law to be laughed at as it is now. If the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) does not have a problem with graffiti in his constituency, I shall be delighted to show him around mine so that he can see the problem that we have. A year ago, I would never have thought that the Government or I would suggest banning the sale of spray paints. It appears to be an extreme thing to do, until one discovers the real problems and the harm that graffiti causes to local neighbourhoods and communities.

I live in the London borough of Merton, and my constituency covers half of it. The local authority recently carried out detailed research into the effectiveness of community wardens. It considered the relationship between graffiti and people's fear of

leaving their home because of the fear of crime, and found a strong correlation between the two. It also considered shops that operated voluntary bans on the sale of spray paints to under-18s. It found that fewer than four weeks later, all 26 of the stores that had agreed to be part of the scheme were selling spray paints to children as young as eight or nine.

I do not believe that people who sell spray paints want young people to produce graffiti, but we must make people understand what a problem it is for their neighbourhood. Cleaning graffiti away is not done for free. Local authorities spend about £14 million a year removing graffiti, with varying degrees of success.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

Is my hon. Friend aware of a recent report that showed that a huge number of older citizens are afraid to leave their home, even though crime has fallen in some areas? Does she agree that part of the problem is the environment outside people's homes? Even if crime has fallen, graffiti, litter and general degradation of the neighbourhood disproportionately affect people's sense of safety and security.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

I agree absolutely. We sometimes miss that point in our debates. As well as elderly people, young people can feel frightened and intimidated by the sight of their local environment. They might not participate in tagging or regard it as a good thing, but they are fearful that if they do not pretend to part of that culture, they will be excluded or intimidated by their friends. I am sorry that we have reached this point, but I cannot see an alternative. I would go so far as to say that we should simply stop selling spray paints and glass cutters to ordinary members of the public like me, because the problem has become so great.

At the moment, we expect the poorest people in our communities to pay to remove graffiti. More people live in lower-band council tax properties than higher-band properties and they bear the brunt of paying council tax to have graffiti removed. Other options have been tried, but none have worked. I am not making a party political point and do not intend to make one. I am making a point on behalf of people who are involved and concerned about civic society and democracy. We must get these small things right, otherwise people will stop voting in droves. If we cannot fix it so that their streets are clean, how can they have faith in our ability to fix the bigger things? The measure may appear to be draconian but, having considered all the options, I do not believe that there is an effective alternative.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Like the hon. Member for Ludlow, I can say that graffiti is not a serious problem in my constituency, although it is found in some parts of it. However, after 16 years as a Member of Parliament and having spent a large part of that time in London, I cannot help but realise that my constituency is not typical in that respect.

Large parts of the country suffer seriously from graffiti. My concern about the Government's proposed method of resolving the problem is that it does two things that reflect completely the wrong approach.

First—I realise that this is a partisan point, but during all my time in the House, the Labour party has argued that we must not be old fogies and that we should understand young people and represent them—the Bill treats everyone under 18 as a potential graffiti artist. The proposal is extremely draconian—the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) used that word—in suggesting that everyone who buys aerosol paint will commit criminal damage. Graffiti is already a crime, and I find the approach of condemning all young people unacceptable.

Whatever our views on individual aspects of the Bill, we know that it is designed to deal with young people who are causing a problem, However, it is not about dealing with the entire age group, as the clause does. The clause affects everyone under the age of 18. It says that they cannot buy aerosol paint because they might go out and damage property with graffiti. That is not only draconian, but it goes in completely the wrong direction and gives entirely the wrong message to young people. We are constantly urged by representatives of young people not to brand them all as hooligans and potential criminals, yet the clause does precisely that.

Secondly, the clause does not deal with the symptom or the cause of the problem; it deals with a side issue. The real issue is not the sale of aerosol paints, but respect for other people's property and public buildings. Schools and parental responsibility are important, but I believe passionately that that respect is not forthcoming because there is no one on the streets. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden, who has spent a lot of time investigating this issue, referred to street wardens. I am not a huge fan of wardens compared with regular police officers, but they are a presence on the street.

The approach that we should take to graffiti is not to ban the instrument of its making, but to have a presence on the street. People will not spray paint on walls if they think that a policeman or even an environmental health officer is about to come around the corner—on Tuesday we agreed to a clause that gives environmental health officers the power to issue fixed penalty notices; the Minister referred to it in his point of order. The real way to deal with graffiti is to ensure that people know that they risk getting caught.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) is not with us this morning, because his theme throughout our proceedings has been that the Committee must ensure that the measures in the Bill are enforced. The Minister is familiar with the Opposition's refrain that many of the measures would not be necessary if existing measures were enforced. The argument comes down to the fact that if the measures are not enforced, they are pointless. The way to deal with the problem is to enforce the existing measures and use the new fixed penalty notices. That would deal with the criminals, potential criminals, troublemakers or whatever one wants to call them, without branding an entire age group as potential criminals.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that under-18s are not allowed to purchase

certain goods under the law governing glue substances. The items that we are discussing are provided in similar stores, but the hon. Gentleman's argument is that many under-18s may, in innocent circumstances, want to buy them. Legislators decided that because of the problems involved with glue substances, the law should apply to under-18s for the common good. Surely the law should be consistent in this area?

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:30, 22 Mai 2003

I am glad that the hon. Lady has raised that point, because it shows an unbelievable jump of logic on the part of the Government and their supporters. Banning the sale of adhesives and glues, like banning the sale of cigarettes and alcohol, is done for the sake of young people's health. That is totally outwith the debate about property damage and graffiti. I would have thought that the hon. Lady would understand that.

All hon. Members understand and support the principle behind banning things to protect young people's health, but this debate is not protecting their health; it is about graffiti. That problem undoubtedly seriously affects society, but is not in the same league as protecting young people from the horrors of substance abuse, which we have all witnessed over the years. That abuse is dreadful and it is right that we have introduced measures to protect young people, but I cannot understand how the hon. Lady can include that and graffiti in the same argument. They are leagues apart in the importance of their effect on young people.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

I totally understand the issues surrounding tobacco, glue sniffing and consumption of alcohol. The age limits that apply to those substances are applied to protect young people's health, but we are talking about the well-being of communities. Part of the reason why we are discussing antisocial behaviour is the disproportionate impact that petty vandalism has on communities. It contributes to the ill health of many people in those communities who live every day with that blight on their homes and local environment.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Lady is right about the impact of the environment on communities. I said that a few minutes ago in reference to the comments made by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden. The record shows that my Front-Bench colleagues and I have constantly talked about the broken windows theory, which is that if environments become run down, everything else will run down with them: criminality will increase and people's fear of going out will worsen. We all know that it is all part of a cycle.

I agree that it is important to clean up the physical environment. I am arguing not that that does not need to be done, but that the way in which the Government propose to do it is wrong. As the hon. Member for Ludlow said, banning the sale of spray paints to under-18s is massively out of proportion. I believe that the hon. Gentleman referred to my speech on Second Reading in which I ridiculed the ban because of all the other things that young people can do, such as marry—

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

In a second. The hon. Gentleman may or may not be about to refer to my speech, but I shall give way in a moment. I ridiculed the ban because there are so many other things that young people can do when they are under 18. The ban is completely out of balance.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Ludlow

I did hear the hon. Gentleman's speech in which he referred to the ban. I, too, referred to those matters in my speech earlier in the debate.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My sincere apologies. It is now clearly on the record that the hon. Gentleman and I think alike, at least on this issue.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, a young person may drive a car at 17 but that—

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Lady's remark should be placed on the record, because if that is the attitude of today's Labour party, we have a serious problem in politics. To be polite to the hon. Lady, she is closer to the age group that we are discussing than some of us, and if that is her attitude, it is horrendous. Young people can buy a car at 17—

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

And drive it, as my hon. Friend says. That causes far more damage to life, let alone anything else, than all the other things that we have been discussing. It therefore seems completely out of balance to ban the purchase of a small item that is used for repairs, even though it has the potential to be used to cause environmental damage.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Llafur, Cleethorpes

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to misrepresent the comment I made. I have long been concerned about the number of young people—17-year-olds—who lose their lives in road traffic accidents. The hon. Gentleman well knows, because he alluded to it, that that is a particularly serious issue. That is what provoked my remark from a sedentary position. There have been very serious accidents in my constituency, and just this week some young people lost their lives. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to misrepresent me.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Ceidwadwyr, Beverley and Holderness

Order. I allowed the hon. Lady to get that justification out. I realise that a general principle is involved and I have listened to discussion of it for some time, but I do not want to hear justifications for every occasion on which this, that or the next age group is allowed to do this, that or the next thing. We must return to the subject of the debate, which is the sale of aerosol paint to children.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) has placed on the record the background to her views, and I accept that. As she rightly says, far too many young people are killed in road traffic accidents.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one difficulty with banning one item is that other items can still be used for the same purposes? I am thinking, for example, of marker pens. I wonder what other products might be developed to get round a ban.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Lady is perfectly correct. A little of the research that I did before the debate indicates that there are many items that are not purposely designed as aerosol paints, but which produce an aerosol coloured spray. According to my reading of the legislation, those items would not be covered and would still be freely available, as the hon. Lady says. Even if people want a ban, the Government have not produced a belt-and-braces provision.

I have one final point in support of the amendment. It will be obvious from what I have said that my overall belief is that ideally the provision should not be in the Bill. However, I have taken a realistic approach throughout our proceedings and I have accepted that the Government are determined to do something along those lines. I therefore support the principle that we should reduce the age limit to the age of adulthood, which is 16—

Shona McIsaac indicated dissent.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Lady shakes her head, but it is generally recognised that 16 is the age at which legal contracts become binding. That is the most critical point. It is also the age at which people can get married, but I will not tempt you, Mr. Cran—not that I am suggesting that you were tempted when you were 16.

I want to touch on the Government's volte-face. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden has been pursuing the issue of graffiti properly and respectably for some time. I know that she will return to the subject when she speaks to her new clauses. In an Adjournment debate that she initiated last year, she quoted a reply from the Minister, which I shall quote now. She advocated a ban on spray paints and marker pens. The Minister said:

''Such a measure, although initially attractive, may penalise those who do have a legitimate reason for purchasing these products. It is also unlikely to deter the determined graffiti artists from obtaining them and continuing their criminal activity and it is hoped that retailers would as a matter of course give consideration to those to whom they sell such products.''—[Official Report, 11 July 2002; Vol. 386, c. 1136.]

I am sure that the Minister will tell us what happened on the Damascene road from where he was 10 months ago to where we have reached today.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

If the hon. Lady wants to defend her hon. Friend the Minister, I am sure that he will welcome all the support he can get.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

My hon. Friend was wrong then and he is right now—[Laughter.] We take great pleasure in someone who repents. I completely understand how people view decisions about problems of antisocial behaviour, but I do not go on about them just because I want something to go on about. I do so because they trouble my constituents, many of whom are voiceless and vulnerable. Graffiti has become one such problem. My hon. Friend the Minister is now aware that we have tried many voluntary codes that simply have not worked.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

In no way am I detracting from the hon. Lady's proper determination to dramatically reduce—

it would be foolish to say eliminate—the problem of graffiti. I respect that determination and support the objective, as I hope I have made clear. However, I remain of the view that the clause is not the way to do it. Far more officers—I do not wish to be controversial about the type of officers—on the streets would have stronger and more beneficial effects.

I return to the Adjournment debate to which I referred and to the Government's stance on the matter. In reply to the hon. Lady, the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), for whom I have great respect, said:

''My hon. Friend made her case rather persuasively. The measures in the London Local Authorities Bill, if enacted, could provide a useful pilot for determining the effectiveness of such an approach and whether we should be seeking to extend it further.''——[Official Report, 11 July 2002; Vol. 1139, c. 5678.]

It appears that the hon. Lady had made progress in her efforts to persuade, which is perfectly respectable. Clause 15 of the London Local Authorities Bill bans the sale of spray paints, but does not refer to the measure as a pilot in London; nevertheless, the Minister clearly said that it could provide a useful pilot. That Bill is still before Parliament—it has not yet passed through all its stages. There has not been a pilot, and dealing with London would deal with a significant part of the UK, but already the Government are ignoring their own statement about pilots and going for broke with what they propose in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill.

I ask the Minister to reflect on whether everybody under 18 should be branded as a potential graffiti artist or some other form of menace—not all graffiti can be classified as art. The Government have changed their stance. I could wax more lyrical and quote many more examples of what they have said on the issue, but suffice it to say that they have now done a complete volte-face and decided to ban throughout the country the sale of aerosol paint to anyone under the age of 18. That is massively excessive. The problem could be dealt with in other ways.

I hope that the Government will at least think about the issue and recognise the disproportionality of banning the sale of the item to anyone under the age of 18. At that age, most young people consider themselves to be adults and are legally participating in a range of activities that everyone else considers to be adult activities. To say that they cannot buy a tin of spray paint gives all the wrong messages.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge

I rise to echo some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice). I sometimes regard myself as a bit of a puritan, more so than some of my hon. Friends. I am often accused of banning things that my more liberal colleagues do not want banned, but even I was out-puritaned by the concept of banning the sale of aerosol paints entirely, particularly to ordinary people. It is a shame that the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden did not table an amendment on that, because we could have spent many happy hours in the Committee debating what constitutes an ordinary person. Happily for the Committee, that is not the position.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden 9:45, 22 Mai 2003

In that instance, I was referring to people who do not mend or fix cars commercially or who have a professional or business need for spray paints.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge

Or, presumably, people who do not mend their own cars without being paid for it. However, we will not go down that road. In that context, however, I thought that it might be a good idea if we banned the sale of DIY and home improvement items to people like me who are averse to them, which would give me an admirable excuse never to undertake any such activities. If we did that, our party might gain a lot of votes from the male population.

I accept that the point about a threatening environment is a serious one. Rather than visit the constituency of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden, members of the Committee could visit my 13-year-old's bedroom, which is certainly a threatening environment. I mention my 13-year-old son in this context because, among his many other delightful hobbies and pursuits, he is quite keen on model soldiers. He uses glue and spray paint to pursue that hobby. I trust him implicitly, of course, but I am happy if my wife or I go with him to purchase those items. He is happy too, because we end up paying for them.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said, one of the aims of the Bill is to achieve a degree of parental responsibility, so if adults have to accompany a young person to purchase aerosol paint—we discussed glue earlier—I do not think that that is a bad thing. I am, however, concerned about the age limit. Without going over the issues again, I think that 18 is a bit steep. An age limit of 16 might be more appropriate. I presume that, because of the increased powers, the Minister would be able to tell after a time whether the limit was effective or not. If for example, the age limit was set at 16 and the number of graffiti offences committed by people aged 16 or less decreased, we would know that that limit was effective. In parallel, if the offences committed in the 16-to-18 age group remained high, there would perhaps be some justification for raising the age limit.

Taking up my hon. Friend's point about treating young people with a certain amount of respect, I believe that there might be a justification for a sunset clause. If we bear in mind that only a small number of people misuse these products, it might be nice to offer them an eventual reward for improved behaviour. I am afraid that I am beginning to act, sound and probably look like the old fogey that I never thought I would become, but I think that it might be effective to offer an incentive to young people by saying that although something has been taken away, it will be restored if they learn to behave responsibly again. That suggestion might fall between the different proposals that are being made. I ask the Minister to re-examine the age limit and to consider the possibility of inserting a sunset clause.

I do not claim to be psychic, Mr. Cran, but I believe that we will not have a stand part debate, given that we have explored all sorts of things that one can do at the age of 16—although I never did them at 16. I would therefore like to ask the Minister a final question, based on my retailing background. The Bill does not mention the people who sell the items in question. Do such people have to be over 18? Many DIY shops and other places selling aerosol paints employ people aged 16 or over, particularly on Saturdays. It would be rather ironic, therefore, if it were perfectly legal for a 16 or even a 15-year-old to sell such products, but not to sell them to someone who is a couple of years older.

I presume that the Government has got everything sorted out. I go to bed every night thinking how wonderful it is that the country is in such safe hands. I wake up in the morning and find that very little has gone wrong—until I switch on the news. None the less, I hope that the Government will consider this issue.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We started by having a reasonable debate, and we ended by having a reasonable debate. The bit in the middle was the contribution of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, which contrasted with the contributions of his hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and the hon. Member for Ludlow. Perhaps he lives in an absolute idyll where there is no graffiti or antisocial behaviour. We are trying to deal with a very big problem. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire suggested that, if we were to ban spray paint, we would be branding everyone under the age of 18 a graffiti artist. We banned glue because of a different problem, but that did not brand everyone under 18 a glue sniffer. The hon. Gentleman's contribution departed from the serious way in which the Committee was discussing a very serious problem.

I do not accept that we are talking about an extreme and draconian proposal. I welcome the tone of what was said by the hon. Members for Surrey Heath and for Ludlow, and others. We must try to get the balance right. No one should underestimate the scale of the problem. One problem that we have in dealing with the point made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) is that we do not know the full scale of the problem. We must look at good quality studies to understand who are the perpetrators of the damage that is being done to our communities.

I should like to say a word on my volte face concerning the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire. Since I left the Whips Office, I have discovered—much to my surprise—that I still have liberal streak. As the hon. Gentleman will have noticed during the Committee's deliberations, many people wish to remove that streak. Perhaps, in part, they are succeeding.

Graffiti is a blight on our communities. It is a burden on businesses and local authorities, which are left to clean up graffiti on property and public spaces. The cost of graffiti clean-up in London alone is £23 million. That is clearly not the cost of cleaning up to the extent of giving us a capital city in pristine condition of which we can all be proud.

The clause seeks to make it more difficult for teenagers to acquire the tools of the trade. The amendments would enable people to buy those items at the age of 14 or 16, rather than 18. However, evidence from a report of the Greater London Assembly's graffiti investigative committee, published in May 2002, shows that—although graffiti is not only caused by those in their teens—much graffiti is caused by under-18s. For example, it noted that so-called ''tagging'' is the most common type of graffiti and that, on housing estates, it is predominantly carried out by those aged between eight and 18. It is also reported that the profile of those carrying out graffiti in the London boroughs of Camden, Barking, Dagenham and Merton included children up to the age of 18.

Bromley police advised us that about 28 offenders were arrested for graffiti offences in the first six months of 2001, and all were males aged between 14 and 17. The British Transport police has advised us that the majority of offenders on the transport system—where this is a serious problem, which causes a disgusting mess that costs a fortune to clean up—are aged between 14 and 17.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

The Minister should not get too hung up on the lower age of 14. If he thinks about it for a moment, he will realise that those younger than 14 would not be subject to the rigours of the law. There might well be several graffiti artists under the age of 14, but they would not have been arrested and brought before the courts because of other provision.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I acknowledge that point. The hon. Gentleman has also given me the opportunity to correct something that I said. I said that the British Transport police told us that the offenders were aged between 14 and 17, but what it actually said was that the majority of offenders were between 14 and 19.

The London borough of Wandsworth has conducted some research. It described the profile of the graffiti offender as a male aged 13 to 17 from any of a variety of social and educational backgrounds. Serious points have been made about the problems that retailers might have in identifying ages, and we are exploring the use of pass cards and other schemes. I accept that if we went with the heart of the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire and forgot about an age limit altogether, we would not have a problem at all. However, lowering the age—as the amendment would do—does not relieve retailers of the difficulty of identifying ages.

Graffiti is a serious problem. We are often told by the Conservative party that we should follow the example of the considerable improvements on crime that have been made in New York. Well, that city has taken precisely this measure, among others, to deal with the massive graffiti problem that has been inflicted on that city for a long time—and with considerable effect. Anyone who visits will see that tremendous progress has been made. Not everything can be achieved by enforcement. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath says that Conservative Members often berate us over the broken window syndrome; they also tell us that we should not have community support

officers, or neighbourhood wardens, but that the police should concentrate on serious crime.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) was widely reported in the newspapers as saying that not so long ago.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath

That is not our contention. The reason why I wanted to intervene was not to correct the Minister's mistake, although it is a misstatement of our position: we recognise the need for more fully qualified police to be on our streets dealing with all types of crime.

After the Committee has finished, will the Minister write to me and other Committee members showing the exact legislative provisions in New York? I should be interested to see whether those provisions specifically go up to the age of 18.

Photo of Bob Ainsworth Bob Ainsworth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I was going to suggest something like that.

Teenagers with reason for legitimate use will still be able to use aerosol paints. They will have to do what the hon. Member for Uxbridge says; they will have to get other people, such as their parents, to purchase them. However, spray paints will still be available. Retailers will have to deal with those situations.

I recognise that there are lots of young people involved in art, model making or car repairs who have legitimate reasons for wanting aerosol paints. Those young people are not stupid; they live in the same world as us, and put up with the same mess as the rest of us. As my hon. Friends have said, those young people sometimes come under peer-group pressure to become involved in things that they would not have done if that pressure were relieved. They are not devoid of the ability to recognise the need to clamp down on such activity.

I will provide the Committee with all the evidence that we have so far that suggests that there may be a justification for using the age of 18 in the clause. We will think about what has been said on whether sunset clauses are appropriate, because some serious points have been made in Committee about whether we are going too far. However, the evidence that I will share with the Committee shows that the problem relates to over-16s, and in considerable numbers. For the moment, unless I can be persuaded otherwise, I think that we should stick with the proposal in the Bill.

I will continue to listen to representations, or any other evidence to show that it is not the age group that the Bill mentions that is presenting the problem. If people think that they have that evidence, they should let us have it, because I do not pretend that we have the whole picture mapped out, or that we know exactly what is going on in our society. We are talking about a real problem that costs us a fortune and blights many people's lives. At the moment I am not prepared to accept the proposal.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Ceidwadwyr, Surrey Heath 10:00, 22 Mai 2003

This has been one of the most useful and interesting debates of the whole Committee; we

have had many useful debates, but this is a particularly good one. It is short but very much to the point.

Although my remarks were relatively brief, I endorse every word that my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire said. We are concerned about the nanny state going too far. I am grateful to the Minister for what he said; as usual, he is reasonable and rational, and has helped the Committee by saying that he will listen to further representations and provide us with the detailed evidence. I should like to look at the New York provisions myself; being a lawyer, I am always interested to see how other jurisdictions approach problems. It will also be interesting because all parties have sought to draw lessons from the dramatic reduction in crime of all kinds that Rudy Giuliani and his colleagues have achieved in New York. We need to learn lessons from that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, and I—and many other colleagues—have said.

We feel strongly about the issue, for all the reasons pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge in his splendid, witty contribution. There are the concerns of retailers, and the fact that there are so many legitimate uses for aerosol paints. We do not want to go too far. We want to place on the record the extent of our concerns, so that those in another place, in particular, will appreciate how strongly we feel about the matter. We therefore want to press amendment No. 78, which we think takes the reasonable middle course. It would not strike out the whole clause; it would merely reduce the age mentioned to 16. I know that the Minister has been reasonable in saying that he will continue to think about the matter, but he has made it quite clear that he is not persuaded. We hope that, by voting on amendment No. 78, we shall cause the Minister to think very seriously about the issue.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Rhif adran 6 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 53 - Sale of aerosol paint to children

Ie: 6 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.