New law will force firms to remove graffiti

Private companies will be forced to remove graffiti from their property under Government proposals to tackle anti-social behaviour and cut fear of crime.

The Home Office is looking at plans to end a loophole that allows firms to ignore graffiti on their private property - and even to prevent the local council from cleaning it off.

An amendment could be included in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill - part of the Government's key crime and disorder strategy - enabling councils to order firms to remove the graffiti and charge for the work. The rules would extend to phone boxes, electricity sub-stations and generators, Tube trains and stations, bus shelters and post boxes.

The proposal has already won widespread support among MPs. Labour MP Siobhan McDonagh's Commons motion on the subject has been signed by more than 100 colleagues. Whitehall sources confirmed Home Secretary David Blunkett was "seriously considering this".

Ms McDonagh said: "People feel less safe and less positive about their environment and see that these large companies could do something about it and are not doing so.

"The reason why it's had a lot of support is because most MPs know that quality-of-life issues and anti-social behaviour - whatever goes on with the war in Iraq, the euro and the reshuffle - are the things that determine how they feel about themselves and their neighbourhood.

"If an area looks shabby and tatty there are likely to be more crimes - or make you feel as if there could be."

Some local authorities already spend up to £7m a year removing graffiti, but many MPs feel the problem is getting worse.

And though crime has fallen overall since Labour came to power, the Government admits there are "deep-seated public perceptions that crime is increasing". In its recent White Paper, Winning Back Our Communities - the precursor to the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill - it pledged a new commitment to what Tony Blair calls his "liveability agenda" and a raft of controversial policies to tackle "low-level anti-social behaviour".

On graffiti, there are proposals to ban the sale of spray paints and indelible markers to under-18s and to allow police to search people they believe are carrying them. Offenders would be expected, as part of their sentence, to clean up graffiti.

The Government is determined to deal firmly with these issues. Private polling shows that improving public spaces and rooting out graffiti and vandalism are linked in people's perceptions to crime levels. It is also thought to be a factor in determining people's behaviour. And, crucially, it can influence the way they vote.