Malcolm Mitchell-Thomson: Cleanliness is no longer a rubbish matter

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I LIKE driving cars. My father spent his life motor-racing, including in a great Talbot. I have worked internationally. I do not like going by train; I drive probably hundreds of thousands of miles across Europe.

The biggest single change that I have noticed has been the improvement in the quality of the roads, the cleanliness of the roads and the greater facilities for disposing of rubbish.

More than that, whereas we would have thought that our French cousins were a little bit lackadaisical in these matters, they have now become some of the toughest people in Europe. The fines imposed on the spot can be very severe as well.

Much of continental Europe – Germany, France and Italy – has weekly, or often twice-weekly, markets within local communities. At one time, they would remain relatively uncleaned, but now, within a matter of hours of shutting down, they are cleaned completely.

People who bring in lorries and other vehicles are punished very severely if they do not stick to the rules. It is quite a simple punishment: everybody sneaks on their neighbours, a little man from the environment department turns up and, before you know it, you are given a little fine, which you have to pay at the post office within a very short period. If you do not, the fine doubles and doubles and doubles and, before long, you find that another person turns up suggesting that they should take your car away.

I happen to be a wine producer in France. We have a major problem there, which I had not realised. When you deliver grapes to be pressed, you may have juice running off the back of the trailer. You are now required to clean that up. Every single bit and piece must be collected, and the rubbish collections are superb.

We have to admit that there has been a dramatic improvement in rubbish collecting in London. However, the problem that we have with cars is: what do you put the rubbish in before you dispose of it?

My wife gave me a whole range of nappy bags. I carry three or four of them in which to put things that I may have in my car. You drive a long distance eating wine gums and so on, you put the packet in the bag and when you stop for petrol you find that there are bins in which to dispose of it. That is now true of most garages in the United Kingdom. Because they are selling food and other items, they have bins in which to dispose of the rubbish. Therefore, dealing with these issues is purely a matter of organisation.

Looking at the international scene, I also find that now, believe it or not, some of the most badly behaved people are British families in large 4x4s driving to the Alps to ski.

I have followed them occasionally and, for a bit of fun, have taken a note of their vehicle registration numbers. Occasionally, because I have friends in the DVLA, I manage to find their telephone number and I give them a ring. I just say “I happen to be involved in the political world a bit, and it was noticed that at a particular point you did this”.

Most of the continental motorways have a sign every kilometre or half-kilometre, or even more frequently, so you know exactly where you are, as do the spies. If the police decide that they may be a little short of income for Christmas, the number of fines seems to go up. There is of course absolutely no connection between the two issues, but this is self-interest.

There is something that I suggest should happen in this country. If you are travelling a long distance, you switch on the radio. Usually, I switch on a programme that broadcasts a mixture of music at my level, which is relatively low, and it then provides me with information. Usually a voice will say, “It’s Gloria here. Watch out. A bit has fallen off the back of a lorry at so-and-so”. You are given a complete report of what is happening. This occurs with smaller roads as well.

If you have the new systems that you plug in, you can get everything you want. There is no reason why greater controls cannot be introduced effectively by using those systems.

• Lord Selsdon is a Conservative hereditary peer.