§ 14. Gillian Merron (Lincoln)
What steps he is taking to encourage initiatives by local authorities to improve the quality of their environmental services. 
§ The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher)
The Local Government Act 1999 imposes a duty of best value on local authorities. It requires them to secure continuous improvement in the quality and effectiveness of their services and provides them with a major opportunity to drive up standards, including those for environmental services.
§ Gillian Merron
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Lincoln city council on its excellent initiative in establishing a graffiti hotline, which actions the removal of offensive and racist graffiti within 24 hours? What plans has he for ensuring that that best practice and determined action is mirrored across the country?
§ Mr. Meacher
I am aware of the good example that Lincoln has set by establishing a 24-hour telephone anti-graffiti service and a policy of removing offensive graffiti—particularly racist graffiti—within 24 hours, which my hon. Friend described. That is another good example of a Labour-controlled council improving local environment services and driving up standards.
We are keen to disseminate best practice. This is a good example of precisely how it can be done better. The Government regard graffiti vandalism very seriously. There are significant penalties, particularly where the damage is severe, in excess of £2,000, with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years. We want to see that enforced.
§ Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)
If the Minister is serious about giving local authorities a bigger role in 114 improving their local environment, will he make sure that they have more power and more say over the allocation of new housing within their boroughs?
§ Mr. Meacher
We are concerned about ensuring that local authorities have greater control over all their services. That is why this Government have made a major change compared with the previous Government, in releasing local authorities from the excessive and unreasonable bureaucratic controls that they had under that Government. That is why we have made a change, in particular, from compulsory competitive tendering to best value, which enables local people to have much greater control over the quality and cost of services, including housing services.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
Has any environmental services department yet come forward with a solution to the problem of discarded chewing gum that we experience everywhere? It really needs to be solved.
§ Mr. Meacher
I am certainly not stuck up on these kinds of problems.
Depositing chewing gum on pavements, or on any surfaces, is a particularly disgusting habit. We intend in both the urban and rural White Papers to come forward with proposals to deal with litter as well as graffiti. I am in touch with one of the major manufacturers of chewing gum to see whether it can find a way of producing biodegradable chewing gum.