§ Mr. Hoyle
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what assessment he has made of changes in the incidence of graffiti over the past five years; 
(2) if he will make a statement on the Government's initiative to prevent graffiti on public property; and what is his estimate of the annual amount of money spent on cleaning up graffiti on public property; 
(3) what plans his Department has to introduce a national or regional graffiti tackling squad. 
§ Mr. Boateng
Graffiti is a form of criminal damage, which is recorded in the Home Offices Statistical Bulletin "Notifiable Offences". According to the Bulletin covering England and Wales, April 1997 to March 1998, there were 861,800 offences of criminal damage recorded in 1997–98, a fall of 8.2 per cent. on the previous year. The Bulletin does not give a sub-total for graffiti. It is not possible, therefore, to comment on the changes of incidences of graffiti over the past five years. Nor is it possible to estimate with any degree of accuracy the amount of money spent on cleaning up graffiti on public property.
The Government do, however, take this form of offence seriously. Under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, where the value of the damage is more than £2,000, the maximum penalty is ten years' imprisonment for those over 18, and up to two years' detention in a Young Offenders Institution for those aged 15–17.
The Government have no present plans for a national or regional graffiti tackling squad. One of the most effective ways of tackling crimes such as vandalism and graffiti is through co-ordinated preventative action at local level involving all of the relevant agencies such as the police, local authorities, schools and other voluntary bodies leading to a plan of action.
The police and local authorities now have a statutory duty under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to develop crime reduction partnerships. Where graffiti is identified as a major crime and disorder problem, we would expect the strategy to address it. The Act does not, however, specify what categories of crime and disorder must be included in the audit and strategy. This is a decision to be taken locally.