New clause 6 - Graffiti removal notices

Anti-social Behaviour Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:00 pm ar 22 Mai 2003.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

'(1) Where there is graffiti to which this section applies in the area of a local authority on a surface to which this Act applies, if that authority considers it to be detrimental to the amenity of the area or offensive, they may—

(a) serve a removal notice on the owner of the structure, apparatus or plant which include the surface; or

(b) if after reasonable inquiry the identity of the owner cannot be ascertained, affix a removal notice to the surface.

(2) A removal notice is a notice requiring the owner to remove or obliterate the graffiti within a period specified in the notice, being not less than 14 days after the service or affixation of the notice.

(3) Subject to the right of appeal mentioned in section 2, if the person required by a removal notice to remove or obliterate graffiti fails to do so within the time limited by the notice, the local authority may themselves remove or obliterate the graffiti and they may recover from the said person the expenses reasonably incurred by them in so doing.

(4) In proceedings by the local authority against the person served with the notice for the recovery of any expenses which the authority are entitled to recover from that person, it shall not be open to that person to raise any question which could have been raised on an appeal under section 2.

(5) Sections 291 and 293 of the Public Health Act 1936 (c.49) shall have effect as if references therein to that Act included references to this Act.

(6) Graffiti to which this section applies includes any writing, letter, picture, device or representation, other than an advertisement within the meaning of the Act of 1990.'.—[Siobhain McDonagh.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 7—Appeals against graffiti removal notices—

'(1) A person on whom a removal notice has been served under section 1(1)(a) above, or the owner of the structure, apparatus or plant which include a surface to which a removal notice has been

affixed under section 1(1)(b) above may appeal to a magistrates' court on any of the following grounds—

(a) that the graffiti is not detrimental to the amenity of the area and is not offensive;

(b) that there has been some informality, defect or error in, or in connection with, the removal notice;

(c) in the case of a removal notice under section 1(1)(a) above, that the notice should have been served on another person.

(2) If and in so far as an appeal under this section is based on the ground of some informality, defect or error in, or in connection with, the notice, the court shall dismiss the appeal, if it is satisfied that the informality, defect or error was not a material one.

(3) Where the grounds upon which an appeal under this Act is brought include a ground specified in subsection (1) (c) above, the appellant shall serve a copy of his notice of appeal on each other person referred to in the notice of appeal.'.

New clause 8—Removal of graffiti at request of owner—

'(1) Where there is graffiti to which this section applies in the area of a local authority on a surface to which this Act applies and the owner of the structure, apparatus or plant which include that surface requests that authority to remove or obliterate that graffiti, the authority may do so and they may recover from the said owner the expenses reasonably incurred by them in so doing.

(2) Graffiti to which this section applies includes any writing, letter, picture, device or representation, and any advertisement within the meaning of the Act of 1990, other than an advertisement for the display of which deemed or express consent has been granted under the Act of 1990 or regulations made thereunder.'.

New clause 9—Interpretation—

'(1) In this section and sections (Graffiti removal notices) (Appeals against graffiti removal notices) (Removal of graffiti at request of owner)—

''the Act of 1990'' means the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (c.8);

''local authority'' means—

(a) in relation to England, a district council, a county council that is the council for a county in which there are no district councils, a London borough council, the Common Council of the City of London or the Council of the Isles of Scilly,

(b) in relation to Wales, a county council or a county borough council;

''road'' has the same meaning as in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (c.27).

(2) A surface to which this section and sections (Graffiti removal notices) (Appeals against graffiti notices) (Removal of graffiti at request of owner) applies is the surface of any structure, apparatus or plant situated in or on any road, where that surface is readily visible from a place to which the public has access.'.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

The new clauses will give local authorities the power to remove graffiti from street furniture owned by statutory undertakers such as the public utility companies, British Telecom, Telewest—the cable providers—and the railways. There is some confusion about their wording, but I want to make it absolutely clear that they relate not to individual shopkeepers or shop owners but to statutory undertakers—large multi-million pound companies whose business involves a large amount of street furniture that is subject to graffiti which is often left for weeks, months or even years without being cleaned.

We all accept that graffiti is a growing problem, whether or not we have it in our constituencies.

Certainly, 61 per cent. of the people who live in my suburban borough regard it as a problem. In one ward in my constituency—a very suburban area that one would never regard as inner city or suffering from inner-city type problems—in a survey of 232 households, 204 regarded graffiti as one of the main issues that affect them and their local area. The Greater London Authority conducted a survey in which it found that three quarters of Londoners believed that graffiti had an impact on their quality of life.

We also know that there is a correlation between graffiti and feeling safe about living in one's home and about walking in the street at any time of day. We are also gathering evidence that suggests that the more regularly graffiti is cleaned away, the less likely it is to return and the less likely people are to tag street furniture or cover it in graffiti.

Sergeant Stanhope, who runs Merton's very successful graffiti and fly tipping scheme, said:

''The main findings of the FLAG project were that when an area is cleaned 93–95% of that area remains clean. The length of time that the area remains clear has varied from a few days to nearly a year. When graffiti is removed rapidly it decreases the chances of it returning.''

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Llafur, Don Valley

I congratulate Merton on the FLAG scheme, which I am pleased to say we have adopted in Doncaster. We know from the results and the reactions that it has been very well received, that it can have an enormous impact on getting jobs done quickly and effectively, and that it can answer the problems that people raise with MPs and councillors.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. I am very glad that her local authority has taken up the FLAG initiative, but who funds it? Who removes graffiti from council-owned property and the property of individual home owners? It is individual councils and individual council tax payers, who are being hit twice because they have to look after their own homes as well as having to contribute to the overall programme of graffiti removal.

In a selection of London boroughs controlled by any one of the three major parties, Wandsworth council spends £625,000 a year removing graffiti, Lambeth spends £600,000, Hammersmith and Fulham spends £250,000 and Camden spends £350,000. However well those local authorities attempt to operate, London is blighted by graffiti.

This morning, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), suggested that London spends £24 million of council tax payers' money on removing graffiti. Who is not contributing to finance the removal of that scourge? We all agree that we would prefer that it did not exist or that we could catch the people responsible for it, but we know from our own experiences that people doing graffiti are not caught. They do it at night, and quickly. Even if we quadrupled our police force, there would still be graffiti.

Therefore I am tackling the issue of the privatised utilities and statutory undertakers. We all receive leaflets from them about their corporate social

responsibility programmes, but that responsibility does not appear to extend to cleaning street furniture in all our neighbourhoods. Let me give two examples. When my local authority, Merton, suggested that it would pay to have graffiti removed from the street furniture of Telewest, the cable television company, the company replied that if the authority dared to do so, it would take the authority to court. All the London boroughs that are part of South West Action Against Graffiti are trying to tackle Telewest and get an answer, but they cannot get an answer.

Similarly, Railtrack, when it was Railtrack, would not work with my local authority. The company had to be named and shamed in the local papers before there was any change of attitude. That is why I suggest in the new clauses that local authorities should have the power to remove graffiti when such companies will not. In the end, they do not have to live with the graffiti and a deterioration in their environment.

The views contained in the new clauses are not out of keeping with the Government's. Last year, DEFRA undertook a consultation on measures that could help to improve the environment. The document was entitled ''Living Places—Powers, Rights and Responsibilities''. Launching it, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life said that

''we want to ensure that those who are responsible for ensuring that our public places are clean and safe have the powers that they need . . . We need everyone from businesses to community groups and individuals to share a common sense of pride and respect for our shared spaces.''

One proposal in the document was to create a new duty on the owners of street furniture to keep their property clear of graffiti, and to extend the powers of local authorities to intervene and deal with graffiti.

Photo of Laura Moffatt Laura Moffatt Llafur, Crawley

Does my hon. Friend agree that the new clauses are directed at exactly the right people? Where there are small businesses in our communities, they have a direct interest in those communities. I have driven through my hon. Friend's constituency where someone may have suffered an attack of graffiti. When those businesses see graffiti, the next day it is often gone, because they understand that they have to deal with the problem quickly and respond to what people regard as a reduction in their quality of life. The new clauses deal with the very people who do not have that stake in our communities.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

That is precisely the point. The person who owns the local shop knows that they must keep it looking good in order to keep people using it. The companies to which I am referring do not see the correlation between keeping their street furniture clean and clear of graffiti, and the environment of local people.

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

I was reassured at the start when the hon. Lady made it clear that the purpose of the new clauses was to deal with the former public utilities, rather than the individual householder who has something sprayed on their wall, but could she point out why such a law could not be used against a householder? Looking at the new clauses, I am a little confused. I know what she is trying to do; I simply seek reassurance on that.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden 3:15, 22 Mai 2003

I had precisely that problem when I looked at the new clauses, but the Association of London Government helped me with them. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to new clause 9(2). I am reliably informed by the ALG's lawyers that that provision could relate only to statutory undertakers—those people who have a right to dig up roads. I am not a lawyer, so I cannot add any more than that. However, I have put on hon. Members' desks a copy of Votes and Proceedings, which includes my ten-minute Bill. It clearly states that it relates to statutory undertakers.

Throughout our proceedings, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling and others have suggested that we must ensure that any legislation we pass is clear, understandable and effective. I believe that the new clauses meet all those requirements. They clearly state that the local authority has the right to issue notices for the removal of graffiti. There is 14 days to comply with the notice, and if the company does not comply, the council can remove the graffiti and charge the company. It is a simple and sharp procedure, which I hope will shock companies into some activity.

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

Provided that new clause 9(2) does what the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) believes it does—I am no lawyer either, so perhaps the Minister can reassure us on that point—this is an excellent set of new clauses which deserves our support. If we get the reassurance we need, we will certainly support the amendments.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden made an excellent contribution, and one point that she made deserves repetition. Why is the removal of graffiti important? All members of the Committee agree that removing graffiti, wherever it occurs, is not a trivial matter. Removal helps to reduce crime and the fear of crime; that is why it is important. For too long we have taken the view that graffiti does not really matter—it is okay because it is individual expression and, in some cases, brilliant art. We have almost turned a blind eye to it and the statutory undertakers almost see it as beneath them to worry about it, but if Parliament and society ignore the small things, we will find it difficult to tackle the antisocial behaviour that blights our communities.

Photo of John Randall John Randall Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge

The hon. Gentleman is right about the removal of graffiti. Does he feel the same about bus shelters that are constantly being vandalised?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Llafur, Gedling

That is a good point. Whether the graffiti is on bus shelters, telephone boxes, bridges or walls, if it is not removed, it undermines society's sense of standards. Whether we call our approach zero tolerance or the broken window theory, people who object to these new clauses will argue that it is too totalitarian and that we are infringing everyone's basic rights. In reality, by turning a blind eye, we create communities where the law-abiding majority find life difficult because we tolerate too much that is done by a minority, be that graffiti or some of the more serious things. We have to deal with the small things, because if we ignore them, we will not get some of the bigger things right.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Llafur, Cleethorpes

I was pleased to support the ten-minute Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden, although I am sure that she was inundated with support for it.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling that we must consider the environment. If people open their front door and see broken bottles and graffiti, that depresses them and they do not feel that it is worth keeping their own front garden tidy, and that can lead to a spiral of decline. However, if graffiti and litter are cleared away quickly, people take more pride in an area and it is less likely to be covered in graffiti again.

Their local environment being in a poor state permeates people's attitudes to public services—they lose faith in the public services and the police. It also breeds fear of crime, so that even though crime is decreasing, people do not believe that it is because of what they see when they open their front door. I hope that the Minister takes note of the strength of feeling on the issue, because the new clauses are simple and would be effective. I am sure that every local authority in the country would welcome such measures.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Last October or November, I had the great pleasure of launching the ''Living Places'' consultation document because I was the lead Minister responsible for it. I therefore agree with much of what underlies my hon. Friend's new clauses. I also fully concur with what my hon. Friends have said about the slow, gentle and initially low-level degradation of our local environment. Whether the problem is litter, broken bottles, general rubbish, syringes or graffiti, that cycle of degradation is important. Although some of my mean colleagues take the rise out of me, I have great pleasure in being the Minister for parks and green spaces and for the public realm and all that goes on in it. I have serious policy concerns about the spaces—green or otherwise—that make up much of our urban townscape. If those spaces are degraded, we are in difficulty.

Some will call me a philistine because although I try to be hip and youthful and to see some artistic merit in some graffiti, I can see none. There is a place for street art. Recently, I was in Sutton high street, which is not a million miles away from my hon. Friend's constituency in Merton—in fact I went to her constituency afterward to help her in the launch of a successful warden scheme. In Sutton high street there is public art that looks like art; it is not scruffy graffiti that despoils the surface of our public realm, whether street furniture or otherwise.

I take account of all those elements, and I shall not bore the Committee with the many other things that we will be doing over the next few weeks, as a consequence of the ''Living Places'' consultation document. I share hon. Members' concern about those important issues. The problem is rather like a little thread hanging off someone's jacket: it is irrelevant and needs nothing much done about it, but if it is left, it grows longer and longer, and suddenly there is no jacket left because it has unravelled completely.

Cable boxes, telephone boxes, street lighting and other items of street furniture are too often magnets for graffiti, as my hon. Friend said. We are considering the matter in the body of the ''Living Places'' consultation. We need to consider how to strike a balance: graffiti is part of the degradation of smaller town centres and high streets, but shops standing empty because people have been priced out of an area or street are an equally powerful element.

I am no lawyer—I say that happily and thankfully—but I am not absolutely convinced that the definition of street furniture given by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden as that which is noticeable and on the pavement will not catch small businesses, or that it will catch the once public, now private utilities that have loads of money. We need to look at the cost elements in more detail to ensure that the proposal does not have a disproportionate impact on some of the things that are captured by the definition in new clause 9. In addition, we must ensure that we do not impose an undue cost burden on local authorities, especially during the start-up period.

I am deeply sympathetic to all that my hon. Friend said. It goes to the core of what is outlined in ''Living Places'' and in the DEFRA addendum on rights and responsibilities.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

As a Minister with some responsibility for local government and as a former councillor, does my hon. Friend not agree that most London boroughs would willingly take on the extra start-up costs of having the powers in the new clauses? They recognise that people who live in their area regard removal of graffiti as an important service that is needed and wanted. My experience of talking to all sorts of local authorities is that they are desperate to have simple and easy powers to tackle these problems.

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I do not doubt what my hon. Friend says. We share the experience of having been councillors in inner London and in suburban areas. However, in the interests of simplicity and clarity, it should go through the due process of the law in terms of what the proposal catches and its impact on costs.

I sympathise with the points made by hon. Friend and I undertake to reconsider the issues, but I ask her, please, to bear with me for now and let us look at the matter in far greater detail to discover whether the proposal in its current or another form can achieve the policy outputs that she wants. I am absolutely with her on the section of the new clause to which she referred, but I ask her to withdraw the motion.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

I, as a constituency MP, remain frustrated that the small things that anger my constituents take so long to resolve, and I am concerned that government often seems to be about stopping good ideas rather than running with them. I ask the Minister what is the time scale for the considerations, what deliberations will take place, and what will come back in the Bill on Report?

Photo of Tony McNulty Tony McNulty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

To take the questions in reverse order, I have no idea what will come back on Report because it depends on the due consideration that is given. The time scale is between now and Report,

when a view will be forthcoming from the Government about what we can and cannot do with the new clauses. Bad law, however well intentioned, does not enhance the reputation of the role of this palace of varieties as a legislative assembly. These matters need to be considered. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend has secured good legal advice about the drafting of the new clauses, but however good that advice was, it was not the advice that the Government received, which is why we need to take them away and think about them. I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 56 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.