§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ [Relevant document: First Report of the Environment Committee of Session 1988–89 on Registration of Carriers of Controlled Waste (HC 222).]9.37 am
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
First, I would like to thank all of those who have helped me with the Bill, especially the officers of the London Waste Regulation Authority, who have played a major part in turning an idea into a substantial Bill. I would like to thank them and the chair of the authority for their help and support. I have had, too, the co-operation of the Department in this matter and the benefit of a consultation exercise that it carried out prior to the drafting of my Bill.
I thank, too, my sponsors, several of whom are long-standing campaigners against this environmental blight, and especially, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), who chairs the Select Committee on the Environment, which this week published a report commending my Bill. I am pleased that there is such strong agreement in the House on the need to tackle the growing menace of dumping waste, or fly tipping, as it is more commonly called.
I would like to thank, too, the Institution of Environmental Health Officers, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Road Haulage Association Ltd. for their support.
For those hon. Members who may not be familiar with the term fly tipping, I shall provide a brief explanation. Fly tipping is the dumping of waste or rubbish on land without the landowner's consent. It is also usually taken to mean the dumping of waste on ground even where there is consent, but the site is unlicensed.
Different kinds of waste are fly tipped. At the lower end of the spectrum there is the domestic waste fly tipper. That is the person who takes black-bag waste, as it is known in the trade, not to a council site, but to be dumped on the nearest available space on the street corner. That dumping is not the subject of this Bill. It is irregular, the amounts are small and registration procedures would be inappropriate as a means of dealing with it. That does not mean that all hon. Members would not be pleased if we could end that littering of our environment. The Royal Commission on the environment recently reported on the management of waste and recommended that the problems of domestic fly tipping could be dealt with by more effective public information campaigns, by publicising the civic tips and through the provision of more community skips. We would all welcome those provisions.
The problems of fly tipping are far more serious than the occasional dumping of a three-piece suite or fridge. There are two types of fly-tipped waste; commercial or industrial waste which is collected by a waste disposal contractor who has been employed specifically to get rid of it, and demolition spoil, which is collected in tipper trucks. Most of us would know that as building rubble.
A contractor is paid by the producer of the waste, perhaps a building firm, to take waste from a site. Very 1279 often, the prime contractor sub-contracts and there may be a long chain of sub-contractors. It is extremely difficult at the point of production of the waste to know exactly where and how it will be disposed of. The two types of waste that I have described are creating major environmental and health hazards, particularly in our capital city, and on an increasing scale. This problem is costing the local authorities millions of pounds a year to clean up the mess.
In London, the boom in building works, in particular around docklands, has lead to fly tipping on an unprecedented scale. Up to 90 per cent. of the fly-tipped waste in London comes from construction sites. It may be dumped on roads, open spaces, car parks, industrial estates and even into people's back gardens or outside businesses.
Very often it is extremely difficult to discover who has dumped the waste. It is possible for anyone to obtain a vehicle and become a waste disposal contractor. Someone can engage in the business of removing waste from industrial or commercial sites without any insurance that the waste will be disposed of at a properly licensed disposal facility. It is therefore extremely difficult to monitor and control what is happening.
The problem is further exacerbated in the south-east by a shortage of landfill sites. In London in 1985, only 25 per cent. of hazardous waste could be disposed of within London's boundaries and 75 per cent. had to be taken outside. In some cases, that meant a journey as long as 60 miles to a landfill site in Oxford. The situation is worsening. The number of landfill sites is dwindling. The sites are becoming filled and we will need more sites to dispose of waste in that way. For many firms there is a great temptation to save costs and make more money by making more round trips and dumping rubble on street corners instead of taking it to the appropriate place.
The cost of disposing of waste in the proper manner is now about £200 a tonne. It is clear that the financial incentive to break the law is very strong. Hon. Members who represent south London constituencies and those from southern England as a whole will know that loads of docklands rubble is finding its way across the Thames on to our streets and open spaces.
In the preparation of this Bill, I had to ask whether this was simply a London problem. I needed to know just how widespread was the problem. Hon. Members may be surprised to learn of the scale of the problem and the costs involved. The London Waste Regulation Authority estimates that there are more than 1 million tonnes of fly-tipped waste on the streets of London at any one time. It would cost local authorities about £5 million to dispose of that waste. That is clearly an enormous burden on ratepayers.
In Lewisham last year, the council removed 10,230 tonnes of builders' rubble. The cost to the ratepayer was £68,540. For a rate-capped authority in London that is an expense which we can ill afford. some parts of my constituency—namely New Cross and Deptford—have been plagued by illicit dumping for years. That dumping often occurs at night and is often accompanied by threats and personal intimidation of local residents. The council is most concerned about dumping on the roads because it 1280 has a duty to keep the roads clear. In addition, it estimates that a large, but unquantifiable, amount is dumped on areas adjacent to the highway.
Other parts of London are suffering equally. The LWRA now has a hot line which allows people to telephone to inform the authority that an illegal act has been spotted. Fifty-four offences concerning tipper trucks occurred in Brent in the first quarter of last year; there were 17 in Ealing, and 15 in Havering. In all, there were 258 incidents in London involving trucks, and other incidents involving skips and vans.
A small number of hazardous waste deposits were reported in the same period. Generally speaking—I must stress this—I am not concerned with hazardous waste. However, because of the mixture of rubble that is deposited, there is clearly a risk that some of it is hazardous. The LWRA estimates that around 15 per cent. of fly-tipped material could be toxic, containing such things as asbestos. Clearly, the problem is very serious.
The problem is not confined to London. South-east England also suffers. Without this Bill I believe that we would experience a dramatic increase in fly tipping if the construction of the Channel tunnel fixed link goes ahead.
However, I must admit that I was surprised to discover the extent to which fly tipping occurs elsewhere in the country. There are regular reports of dumping in Birmingham. Asbestos, drugs and even a dump of animal spleens have been discovered in Birmingham. An estimated £300,000 per annum is spent in Birmingham clearing up after fly tippers.
Fly tipping is not unknown even in our rural areas. in some of the most scenic parts of mid-Wales, fly tippers have damaged the evironment. In Surrey, rubbish was dumped alongside the green belt to a height of 25 ft until it threatened the very life of a copse of mature elm trees.
Such waste is a hazard and a spoiler for everyone who wants to enjoy the countryside or the local urban environment. To deal with the problem of waste disposal, authorities can and do prosecute fly tippers under current legislation. However, the law is inadequate in several respects. In London, prosecutions are made under the Control of Pollution Act 1974, primarily using sections 3 and 93. Other waste disposal authorities in London boroughs also use the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978. Under section 3 of the Control of Pollution Act it is an offence todeposit controlled waste on any land or cause or knowingly permit controlled waste to be deposited".Section 93 of that Act gives the waste regulation authorities the power to request information relevant to the carrying out of its duty. The London Waste Regulation Authority has made extensive use of section 93 in an attempt to obtain information from owners of vehicles about incidents of fly tipping. However, it is extremely difficult to track down who is responsible.
On numerous occasions, the LWRA has served section 93 notices on so-called owners of vehicles and then has discovered that the vehicles are registered in the name of companies which are not themselves registered. Even when the company is registered, it has proved impossible to trace the directors, so the officers of the authority are severely hampered in their ability to use section 93 to stop fly tipping.
There is no doubt in my mind and in the minds of those who operate the controls that more prosecutions could be brought if evidence were easier to obtain. At present, 1281 unless fly tippers are caught in the act by the police, the authority or a reliable witness, it is impossible to prosecute. If at the time of the offence the vehicle registration number is noted down and traced, the driver may not be caught. If the driver is apprehended but runs away, there is no proof that he is responsible, and the law is being evaded in many ways. Even when the responsible person is caught and prosecuted, those of us trying to deal with the menace of fly tipping are disappointed that the fines are often minimal and do not act as a sufficient deterrent because the money paid to the court is more than recouped in another day's illegal activity.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
I fully support the Bill. Does the hon. Member agree that the responsible waste disposal contractors are among the first to be calling for tougher action through their organisations, because their reputations are on the line?
§ Ms. Ruddock
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I have received a number of letters from major contractors who support the Bill, are delighted that it has been introduced and have already consulted the Government about other proposed measures. They are quite clear that stronger regulation is in the interest of legitimate trade.
The number of prosecutions is disappointing. There were 66 in 1984, 53 in 1985 and 70 in 1986; therefore, there is a great deal of work to be done.
My purpose in promoting the Bill was to provide a more satisfactory framework within which officers attempting to curb the menace of fly tipping could act more effectively. I must stress that the Bill does not replace section 3 of the Control of Pollution Act as a means of prosecuting fly tippers. The Bill does not address the problem of catching fly tippers in action; it acts as a deterrent by enforcing registration procedures. Under the Bill, a fly tipper may be prosecuted for not being registered, although it might still be difficult to catch people in the act of fly tipping. If a person were caught fly tipping and found not to be registered, he would suffer the double penalty of being prosecuted for non-registration and for fly tipping. I hope that the Bill will bring the operators of illicit disposal trucks under much closer scrutiny and therefore reduce fly tipping which, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) said, brings the legitimate waste disposal industry into disrepute.
Part I of the Bill amends the Control of Pollution Act by introducing a system of registration for carriers of controlled waste. Part II authorisies the impounding of vehicles suspected of having committed an offence under section 3 of the Control of Pollution Act when it has proved impossible to trace the owner of the vehicle. The definition of controlled waste in the Bill is the same as in the Control of Pollution Act:household, industrial and commercial waste or any such waste".
I should emphasise that the Bill applies to individuals and companies who run a business or make a profit by the carrying and disposal of waste. Therefore, the Bill raises no issue of civil liberties. There is no question that somebody moving personal domestic waste would be affected by the Bill, which seeks to deal with people who profit from moving waste.
The system of registration set out in the Bill is relatively simple. It is not intended to be a deterrent to legitimate small or one-person businesses. It provides that the carrier 1282 will supply to the waste regulation authority information about the business, the directors, the managers and partners, the address of the principal place of business, details of any waste disposal licence and unspent convictions. The authority would charge a fee for registration—I am sure that it will be a small fee—which would be introduced by regulation, and in return the carrier will receive a certificate.
The registration system will allow any person who is convicted of an offence related to waste disposal to be removed from the register, and it would then be illegal for that person to carry waste. That should reduce the number of illicit operators. The Bill gives a police officer. on the advice of the officer of the regulation authority, the power to stop a vehicle and require the driver to produce his authority for the transportation of waste. The Bill makes it an offence to carry waste without being registered, to supply false information to the authority, or to fail to supply and update information as required. Hon. Members will acknowledge that the registration scheme is relatively straightforward.
Part II of the Bill may be a little more contentious. I must inform hon. Members that, had we more time, we would have wished to consult much more widely. We had some difficulty in drafting part II, and I am conscious that it might not be perfectly drafted, but I hope that hon. Members will accept that any drafting errors can be adjusted in Committee.
The registration scheme will greatly aid the identification of illegal carriers of waste; in time, and given the diligence of the authorities, it should reduce the numbers of illegal operators. As I have said, vast sums of money are involved in those illicit operations, and I believe that the huge profits to be made from fly tipping will still induce some criminals to continue the practice. Those who persist are likely to be the most unscrupulous operators.
The advice I have received from the London Waste Regulation Authority officers and from the police, who are currently attempting enforcement in my own constituency, is that new measures are required to deal with the residue of offenders. Such a provision is made in the second part of the Bill. Impounding a vehicle may sound draconian to some right hon. and hon. Members, but the Bill presents it as a measure of last resort against those who organise their affairs in such a way as to circumvent existing law on pollution control. A vehicle will be impounded only if the waste enforcement officers cannot trace its owners, have applied to the courts and obtained a warrant, and are accompanied by a police officer. Impounding is justified in view of the immense cost that society pays as a consequence of the fly tippers' activities.
There are precedents for taking such action. New York city operates a similar law for offending fly tippers. There, the vehicle is not released until the fine has been paid—which is rather more draconian than my proposal. That action is taken with up to 1,000 vehicles per year.
I introduce this Bill to try to improve the quality of life for the ordinary people of my constituency and for the constituents of all right hon. and hon. Members in areas where fly tipping is a problem. Soon after I came to the House, tenants living on the Silwood estate in my constituency approached me in despair about gross pollution of the environment, both from fly tipping and from constant violation of licence conditions at several local waste transfer stations. Ten thousand tonnes of waste have been illegally dumped in the vicinity of that housing 1283 estate—tonnes and tonnes of rubble, concrete, wood, metal, rubber, glass and other hazardous material. Roads have been blocked, a new industrial estate has been severely blighted, and residents' lives have been made utterly miserable by airborne litter, dust, dirt and mud underfoot.
That is the hazardous environment in which the elderly and disabled walk with trepidation. It is the environment in which children face real danger in everyday play, and in which the law-abiding resident is affronted by gross squalor and decay. It is time that we gave the responsible waste regulation authorities more powers for dealing with that menace to people's lives and to their environment. I believe that my Bill offers them those powers.
§ 10.2 am
§ Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) not only on introducing this important Bill and on seizing her good fortune in the ballot to do so and not wasting it on something else, but on the way in which she presented her Bill to the House, with complete clarity and conviction.
The Select Committee on the Environment recently concluded an inquiry into the problems associated with the disposal and management of toxic waste. The Committee hopes to report to the House on or about 8 March, and it would be improper of me to anticipate the contents of that report, as I would risk placing myself in breach of privilege if I did so. Nevertheless, when the hon. Lady's Bill came to the Committee's attention, its members immediately agreed to anticipate their main report by extracting certain conclusions and presenting them to the House immediately, as a report on the particular problem of fly tipping. It is on that first report of the Environment Select Committee for the current Session, "Registration of carriers of controlled wastes: Recommendation regarding the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Bill", that I address the House.
I begin by reading the Select Committee's recommendation:We welcome the proposals contained in the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Bill, both as the first stage of a more general 'duty of care' in waste management, and as a major contribution to tackling the problems of the illegal dumping of waste. We commend it to the House, and trust that it will have the support of Her Majesty's Government.The Committee reached that conclusion because, when receiving evidence relating to toxic waste, it was told by the London Waste Regulation Authority in particular of the enormous problems faced by waste disposal authorities throughout the land because of illegal fly tipping.
The hon. Lady, in her excellent speech, said that 1 million tonnes of waste are on sites in London at any one time. I can add to that, because the Committee received evidence from the London Waste Regulation Authority that a survey of its north area revealed 1 million tonnes of illegally dumped waste—not waiting to be dumped, but already dumped—in Tower Hamlets alone.
That shows the measure of the task confronting local authorities in having to clear up illegally tipped waste. The cost of doing so is paid not directly by the producer of the 1284 waste or by the cowboy carrier who dumps it, but by the general body of ratepayers who, through their council, must ensure that the nuisance is cleared up.
Illegally dumped waste is not merely a nuisance; as the hon. Lady said, there is also real risk attached to it. The Select Committee found that between 15 and 20 per cent. of illegally dumped waste contains toxic or dangerous matter. The hon. Lady referred to asbestos. I can add to that and suggest that cyanides from gasworks are also being found, together with refrigeration units, which are a source of chlorofluorocarbons. If CFCs are left in refrigeration units that rust and rot away, they will find their way into the atmosphere and add to a problem with which we are all concerned—the depletion of the earth's ozone layer, which is currently the subject of great public debate. Serious connotations are attached to illegal fly tipping.
The hon. Lady mentioned also the inadequacies of the existing law. First, there is the difficulty of mounting a prosecution, establishing who dumped the illegal waste in the first place, and taking that person to court—all at the great expense of collating sufficient evidence to satisfy the magistrates as to the identity of the particular individual who disappeared in the middle of the night after dumping his load, and who was responsible for that illegal act.
Finally, there is the insult to the waste authority of the derisory level of fines imposed by magistrates. The Select Committee found that in dealing with water pollution as well as with illegal waste, magistrates do not understand the environmental consequences of the offences upon which they are asked to adjudicate. They impose derisory fines, which the perpetrators willingly and readily pay as a minor overhead expense in their overall operations.
One piece of evidence that greatly struck us during the inquiry shows that it is not merely a London problem. Mr. Khan, of the South Yorkshire hazardous waste unit, described a case in which a farmer was paid by a waste producer to get rid of a load of rubbish. It would normally have cost about £300 to dispose of that load. The farmer came along with a trailer, picked it up and got rid of it for £150. The waste producer was £150 in pocket. He paid cash, no questions were asked, and away went the load to be dumped.
The Yorkshire waste authority then had the problem of trying to trace the man. A passer-by happened to see what was going on, and tried to take the registration number of the vehicle, but could take only the first three letters. Hon. Members can imagine the time, trouble and expense of tracing all vehicles in that area with those first three registration letters, and eliminating them one by one. Eventually, somebody was traced and there was a prosecution.
What did the magistrates do? They fined him £100. At the end of the day, the cowboy was still £50 in pocket. It was not as big a profit—no doubt, tax-free—as he would have hoped for, but nevertheless a profit. That activity must be brought to an end.
The difficulty is that hon. Members cannot interfere in magistrates' judicial discretion. We cannot tell them what penalty to impose. We can certainly suggest minimum and maximum fines, but, within that band, it is mostly a matter for them, and, in what they consider to be mitigating circumstances, perhaps even the minimum fine is not adhered to.
The word must go out from the House to the Magistrates Association: "Please, please, rethink your 1285 policy on the penalties you impose for perpetrations of this kind, because they are serious—much more serious than you realise. Please read the excellent reports that are produced from time to time by the Environment Select Committee, and you may appreciate the problems with which the community is faced."
We concluded that the phenomenon of fly tipping occurs for four major reasons. First, the high cost of waste disposal means that the rewards for unscrupulous operators are high. Secondly, waste producers have no responsibility for their wastes if they pay a contractor illegally to dispose of them. Thirdly, it is difficult to identify and prosecute illegal disposers of waste. Fourthly, fines for convicted offenders are derisory. My next point relates to a consequence of fly tipping. To prevent fly tipping, because prosecution is so inadequate, waste disposal authorities have been inclined to reduce the costs of disposing of material in their landfill sites.
That leads to another problem. The lower the cost of operating a landfill site, the less technologically advanced is the operation of that site. That affects not only publicly owned sites but privately owned sites, because they must compete with the low price base set by local waste authorities. The result is that, although facilities are cheap, they are not being run as they should be to make them totally safe to the public. That is a disastrous consequence of fly tipping.
For those reasons, the Environment Select Committee willingly and with alacrity produced a special report to support the hon. Lady's timely Bill. The Bill endorses what the Department of the Environment is suggesting it will do about the duty of care. Having heard all the evidence, my Committee decided that some things should be done that have not been done hitherto. One was to impose a duty of care. That duty of care is intended to place upon all people who handle waste, from cradle to grave—the producer, the carrier, the ultimate receiver or disposer—a duty to ensure that that waste is properly handled in the right scientific, chemical, biological and technical way so that it is rendered harmless and presents no hazard to the public.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
My hon. Friend is talking about waste carriers and local authorities. He will know that there is a distinction between the rules of negligence insofar as they apply to local authorities and ordinary commercial people. Has the duty as it is expressed in the Bill taken account of the significant difference that exists in law, which would have quite an impact on the way in which it would work?
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
My hon. Friend is trying to draw me into the major conclusions of the main report, which is to be published on 8 May. I should be at some risk if I were to say what is in my mind. No doubt I would be arraigned and placed before the Bar for being in contempt of the rules of the House. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend to compose himself. All will be revealed about my Committee's views on the duty of care on or about 8 March—whether it should be strict liability or subject to reasonable care, whether it should be a statutory offence or dealt with as a tort in civil law. I hope that my hon. Friend will find our conclusions to be of some use.
§ Ms. Ruddock
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the duty of care is still in the Department's mind? It is not part of the Bill, and it might be worth clarifying that point.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
I entirely accept that. The Bill should be read in the context of the Government's proposals, on which the Environment Select Committee has commented.
The hon. Lady is right. She wishes to impose a duty of registration on carriers, which is important to enforce the duty of care. Unless it is known who is carrying waste, it is not known who is responsible and who should be penalised if the law is broken. Registration is a sine qua non of any duty of care that may be imposed subsequently in law.
The Committee considering the Bill will have to decide whether, as part of a licence the name, address arid telephone number of the carrier should be emblazoned in large characters on the sides of every licenced vehicle so that it is known who is carrying what. If the police saw waste being carried in an unmarked vehicle, that would enable them to stop it and ask questions. If the vehicle were marked, the contractor would know that he was at risk if he was spotted dumping waste by someone who had a bit more than a registration number to jot down. That suggestion should commend itself, without reservation, to all hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Deptford has not gone far enough in part II of the Bill. I should be far moire draconian, but the hon. Lady has the gentleness of an hon. Lady and perhaps does not want to be too hard or harsh. Perhaps it will be possible to make the impounding of vehicles permanent.
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
Confiscation. The Standing Committee will have to decide whether it needs the imprimatur of a magistrates' court to say that the police can seize a vehicle and deprive the contractor of it. It will have to decide whether the police will be able to confiscate or whether there will be recourse to the courts.
It may be a deterrent if magistrates have the ultimate right of confiscation. If an offender appears before them for the first time, a significant fine may be sufficient, but they may say to a repeated offender, "You have been warned and now you will lose your livelihood; we shall keep your vehicle." There will be problems with the method of sale of the vehicle, because I am sure that the authorities will be disinclined to become involved in the storage and sale of vehicles. I hope that that suggestion will help to strengthen the Bill, which needs to receive the full acclaim and approbation of the House.
§ Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)
As the first Labour Member to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), I congratulate her not only on introducing this important measure but on the way in which she did so. It exhibited the combination of style and elegance for which she is justly famous and the content that one has come to expect from her. She should be congratulated by all hon. Members, and I know that we are united in our approval of her and this measure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford was diffident and perhaps over-modest about part II, which deals with impounding vehicles. Many who must live with the consequences of the activities of these cowboys believe that they should lose an arm or a leg or even worse, never mind their lorries. They experience., day in and day out. what 1287 dumpers do to their environment and living conditions. Dumpers are potential horsemen of the Apocalypse because CFCs, cyanide and the like are found in the debris that they dump. They create hazards for children living nearby and health hazards, because all too often rats and vermin are found among the waste materials that they dump with such impunity. They make the lives of people living on estates surrounding dumps a living hell.
Residents of the Brentfield estate in my constituency have experience of illegal fly tipping. They have found—this is characteristic of the way in which these cowboys operate—that a dump need not be a large site. Dumpers comb our cities and major conurbations looking for any site that will enable them to offload their illegal waste. A relatively small site in my constituency became increasingly congested as waste was dumped, initially by commecial interests but later, in the wake of the small-time illegal operators, came the additional problem of domestic waste. Domestic waste is not within the ambit of the Bill, but is drawn like a magnet to other waste that has been deposited.
One of the attractive features of the Bill is that it goes to the heart of the problem by empowering the impounding of vehicles. I concur entirely with the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) in commending the suggestion that the Standing Committee should go further, to make that impounding permanent.
I am not sure that I would leave impounding to the discretion of magistrates. All too often, for some strange reason, magistrates are not prepared to be as robust as they might be in dealing with this sort of activity. It is to be hoped that, with the greening of the Prime Minister, we shall see the greening of the magistracy. We hope that they will become as concerned and engaged in environmental issues as they are in other law and order matters. Dumping is a law and order matter, relating to the safety and security of our community. It is important that that safety and security should encompass the environment as well as other matters that traditionally have fallen within magistrates' ambit.
The Bill is a welcome measure. It will be especially welcome in London, which bears the brunt of this problem. I am sure that it will be welcomed by local authorities. I have the honour of serving on the Environment Select Committee, the distinguished Chairman of which is present this morning—the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green.
When one heard and considered the evidence of the London Waste Regulation Authority, it was clear how great was the scale of the problem in our city. It would be wrong to believe that that problem was somehow limited to the immediate geographical area surrounding the docklands developments. In fact, the cowboys are operating all over London; at present, we have a particular spate of such operations in north-west London and in my constituency.
§ Mr. Cash
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether the Committee considered the question of those places and premises in respect of which planning permission has been given and where buildings have been constructed where waste has been placed? How can one deal with that problem? It seems that many of the difficulties about the 1288 way in which gases, for example, have been escaping have been precisely that toxic waste has been put on sites where it should not have been.
§ Mr. Boateng
The hon. Gentleman has strayed somewhat from the ambit of the Bill. Under the Bill, if an unlicensed and unregistered carrier were to dump waste illegally anywhere, he would be subject to the rigour of the law wherever the rubbish was dumped, whether there was planning permission for building or not. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find amplification of the point he has raised when he reads the report to which the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green referred.
The particular concern of local authorities in London and the reason why they welcome the Bill so much—I know that my own local authority, Brent, welcomes it—is that those authorities are already hard pressed in their capacity to cope with the problem of waste and refuse disposal in any event. When the waste that is the stock in trade of the cowboys, whom the Bill seeks to bring to book, is dumped in the local authorities' area, in addition to their concerns about domestic waste, that imposes an additional burden on the resources of the council and stretches already over-stretched departments throughout London.
They already have to cope with rate support grant which is all too often inadequate to cover the needs of the local authorities. When the cowboys are inhibited in their action, the authorities will be able to concentrate where they ought to be concentrating—on ensuring that domestic waste and waste arising from legitimate commercial activities is properly, efficiently, and regularly collected in a way that it is sometimes not, much to the justifiable consternation of local residents and ratepayers who have to meet the cost of the activities of the cowboys.
The Bill will be broadly and warmly welcomed by all who are concerned about the issue. It will not cause concern to anybody—except, of course, the cowboys and the illegal dumpers, who come from outside the areas in which they dump their loads. They do not have to live with the consequences, as do the residents of Brentfield estate, Alperton, Wembley and Harlesden, with whom I recently looked specifically at local sites that had been the subject of illegal tipping.
Tenants and residents associations throughout my constituency have shared their concern about the issue and they will welcome the Bill. Already, as they hear reports of our proceedings, the cowboys will be wringing their hands in angst and consternation at the likely loss of their vehicles. If that does anything to deter them now, my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford in proposing this Bill will already have done a good service, not only for the people of London, but for people up and down the country who care, as we all do, about their environment.
§ Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich)
I want to add my words of congratulations to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on proposing the Bill, and I want to say a brief word in support. The Bill, is concerned with the environment, with law and order and with the quality of life. We have produced more waste in this country without providing a proper means of managing waste disposal. We have worked on an ad hoc basis and on procedures that may have been appropriate before we became a give-away throw-away society, but which are not 1289 now. The means we have for disposing of household waste, building waste and industrial waste are more adapted to the Victorian era than to the 21st century. In its modest way, the Bill is a first step forward.
All of us have articles at home and items in the garden of which we want to dispose and with which the local waste disposal arrangements of the borough council are inadequate to deal. There has been a development of civic tips, which provide an opportunity for those of us who are mobile and who have our own vehicles in which to carry and deliver the waste, but there is a real problem for those who have to get rid of old mattresses and sofas and who do not know what to do with them. Any of us who have engaged in our own building works and who have hired a skip to take away the rubbish will know that one has to ensure that the skip is delivered in the morning and then one has to mount guard over it. I have had a skip delivered to my home the night before. Darkness fell, and in the morning the skip was full. I was clearly providing a service for the locality, but not a service that I wanted to provide.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
The hon. Gentleman highlights the problem of getting rid of bulky refuse. Many councils have depots where such refuse is accepted, but some people do not have the wherewithal to carry it to the dump. When I was the chair of the public services committee on Lambeth borough council, I had a scheme for siting skips at strategic points around the borough and taking them away regularly. They never went away until they were overflowing and they were filled quickly. Perhaps other councils could continue such schemes.
§ Mr. Bowden
I remember when the hon. Gentleman was the chairman of the Greater London council and if he achieved one thing well on that council, it was the recycling of rubbish. If one issue predominated in the chamber when he was there, it was a preoccupation with rubbish. On the point about civic tips, the hon. Gentleman brings to mind a point that I was going to make as a matter of principle. What is rubbish for one person may be of value to another.
I recall that during one period when there was inadequate removal of garden and domestic rubbish, my neighbour loaded up his car one morning with black bag and garden rubbish and went off to the Southwark civic tip. He went with his car loaded and returned with his car loaded because when he was at the tip, discovered that someone—I know not who—had thrown away a number of collapsible garden chairs of the type found in parks in the past. He came back triumphantly with the chairs, and gave me one of them, saying that there were more there. I immediately went and packed up my car with such rubbish as I could find and returned with a number of chairs, which are now among my garden furniture in London. The other day, I was interested to discover that similar items are available in Heal's and Habitat at a price of £50 or more.
The words "rubbish" and "waste" can be offensive, because what is rubbish to one person is not necessarily valueless to another. Perhaps we should be discussing rubbish or waste recycling, and ensuring, for example, that builders rubble, which it is completely inappropriate to throw on farmers' land or into someone's front garden, is recognised as just the sort of hardcore material required for building work elsewhere. The Bill seeks to address precisely this aspect—waste recycling and management 1290 —and I hope that in Committee a way will be found to ensure that this positive approach is made the starting point for further measures.
I shall say something about part II of the Bill because we are talking not about theoretical wishes but about pragmatic proposals with real strength, and about sanctions to be applied in dealing with this difficult problem. I was interested in the macho alliance between my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) and the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), who sought to incite the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford to give her Bill more teeth. I shall not follow their example in advocating the confiscation forever of the fly tippers' vehicles, but the impounding of vehicles is an important sanction. If our friend, who had made about £50 out of his transaction after paying his £100 court fine, found that his vehicle was not available to him for a week or more, he might think very much more seriously before undertaking another contract.
Those in the waste disposal and building contracting business ought to have a duty to display on the side of their vehicle the name of their operation and the telephone number on which they can be contacted. They ought also to keep their number plates clean of dust and mud, which frequently obscure the identity of a vehicle.
I hope that these points will be considered in Committee and that we shall introduce pragmatic provisions that will do much to alleviate the problem, which, although small in comparison with other national issues, is very real to those who suffer the difficulties created by fly tipping. This Bill is a modest proposal, but it is a modest proposal that deserves the full support of the House and the Government.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I add my name to the list of those who are grateful to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) for introducing the Bill. I will reveal a secret—like other hon. Members, no doubt, I keep a list of Bills that I should like to introduce if I came high enough in the ballot. I share a constituency boundary with the hon. Member for Deptford, we also share the Silwood estate, and for many years we have shared the problems created by fly tipping and the dumping of waste and refuse. For obvious reasons, therefore, I have pursued the matter myself although I have never had the opportunity to pursue it in legislation.
I am happy that the hon. Lady has taken the opportunity to introduce a Bill, for which she has invited and obtained all-party support, which is a directly practical and useful measure. Some hon. Members who introduce private Members' Bills bite off more than they can realistically chew, to put it generously, but in this instance a practical problem needs to be addressed and the hon. Lady has sought a practical answer to it. I hope that we shall be able to proceed in a practical way and get the Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible. It is extraordinary that hon. Members on both sides of the House should be asking for the Bill to be toughened rather than weakened. That is an unusual coalition. We are all calling for greater penalties—from confiscation to impounding and clamping—to deal with the vehicles which are the direct cause of the problem. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to discuss those penalties.
1291 London Members—particularly those who represent south London boroughs—predominate today because the figures show that Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets are the worst affected local authority areas. I have been pursuing the matter with officers of my local authority and with Ministers for the past two years, and I note that councillors in my borough have been pursuing it since May 1966. An article in the South London Press last March, when the matter was again high on the political agenda in south London, stated:In May 1966, then Southwark Council planning committee chairman Charles Halford claimed the council was 'being held to ransom' by the strong-arm methods of fly-tippers. His comments came as he announced a new offensive against illegal dumping which at that time was costing the council 'thousands of pounds a year' … Cllr. Halford instanced cases where tippers had ignored fences and gates and just reversed through obstructions to make their dumpings. And he called for assurances that contractors employed only recognised firms to get rid of rubbish in authorised dumps.By August 1966, all four Southwark Members—there are now three—were calling for legislation to make it compulsory for all vehicles using carriers' licences to display the name and address of the registered owner. Since then, the problem has worsened and further legislation is urgently needed.
Those of us who represent inner-London constituencies can cite many instances in which dumping has resulted in practical day-to-day problems for innumerable people—both residents and other users of the area. Certain sites are of specific concern to me. I know that the Under-Secretary of State has been visiting sites. I should therefore like to place on record the areas in the north part of Southwark and Bermondsey that are still of concern. The Silwood estate is one. We have had a setback as a result of the planning inquiry decision, which prevented us from blocking up a road which has served as a rat run through which offending vehicles have passed. To his credit, the chief executive of Lewisham has publicly expressed his disappointment at the failure of that attempt to deal with the problem.
Around the Bonamy estate, which has been rebuilt—the Verney road, Varcoe road and Bramcote road area—roads have had to be closed by temporary order sought in a magistrates court. It has been impossible to do anything other than close those roads because a mountain of rubbish has completely blocked them. People taking their children to school have either found no access at all or have had to walk well away from the pavement, at great risk to themselves and their children.
In Surrey Docks, where the London Docklands Development Corporation is at its most active south of the river, one of the main thoroughfares—Rotherhithe street—has often been completely impassable. The residents of estates find that they cannot use many of the roads in their areas. In the Redriff estate downtown in Surrey docks—shortly, I hope, to be transferred to housing association ownership—streets have suddenly been completely blocked and residents have found themselves cut off. There is also the question of important tourist sites such as Southwark cathedral, which is very important in heritage terms and for visitors as well as residents. Substantial 1292 construction work is under way in the area and people have had the gall to dump on the doorsteps of the construction sites where the work is being carried out.
I have one complaint to make against the Government and I hope that it will be accepted as being honest and fairly made. It is that new legislation and improvements to the existing legislation have been a long time coming. The consultation document was produced in September 1986 and I pursued the matter with my local authority in 1987. The cause of the problem was clear. The director of engineering and public works in Southwark wrote to me in 1987 stating:Regrettably fly-tipping is on the increase due, I believe, to (a) the increase in site development in and around the City, and (b) the cost of transporting and disposing of unwanted materials to proper landfill sites in the home counties, (c) the mushroom of 'cowboy' haulage contractors … I feel that no significant improvement to the situation will be made until … tighter legislation is introduced which is more readily enforceable and involves punitive fines and/or imprisonment.As the Minister knows, I pursued this matter with her predecessor the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), who is now her fellow Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I asked specifically whether there could be legislation to ensure that one need not have to identify the driver concerned but only the vehicle, for criminal proceedings to be initiated. I pursued that issue throughout last year, as I am sure that other hon. Members also did. I was encouraged by a reply from the hon. Member for Lewisham, East which suggested that the Government were considering that matter.
The Minister's colleague and husband, the Minister for Roads and Traffic also has an interest in this and has said that he would be happy to follow guidance given to the Department of Transport by the Department of the Environment, which is the lead Department to which we look for substantial interest and positive support for the Bill. Our hand should be strengthened, not least because the Minister is now personally convinced of the need for further tough action. The Select Committee on the Environment has done the House a good service by reporting pre-emptively so that it could contribute to the debate. The Minister has made it clear that further legislation on this matter is on her departmental agenda. She was good enough to state in reply to a question that I tabled on Wednesday of this week:Plans to legislate for the registration of waste carriers were announced in June last year. Further proposals for legislation to make the registered keepers of vehicles used in fly-tipping liable to prosecution in certain circumstances are being considered following public consultation."—[Official Report, 23 February 1989; Vol. 147, c. 705.]Now that the hon. Member for Deptford has given us the opportunity to legislate on both those matters, I hope that there will be no equivocation but that, speedily and with all-party agreement, we can further extend the Bill to bring other matters within its scope as soon as possible.
I pay tribute to the good work of the London Waste Regulation Authority and to that of the local authority enforcement officers. They do not have an easy time. It is not just that they do not have an easy time administratively—some of them have not had an easy time personally in carrying out their task. Three London sources have made a helpful contribution to the debate in London and tribute should be paid to them also. First, London Weekend Television's "The London Programme" produced an effective documentary in December 1987. Secondly, Thames Television produced an effective item 1293 on "Reporting London" in January this year. Thirdly, our local paper in south London, the South London Press, has been persistent in its campaigning. Where such credit is due, it is right that we should give it.
Those organisations have produced the evidence for those who did not already know it, that in trying to combat the damage and pollution that the tipping of illegal waste regularly causes, people have had to risk their safety, their security and even their lives. Those who make a phenomenal profit from driving and depositing waste will stop at nothing. I will give an example later of how urgent it is that we give the public servants trying to deal with the problem the necessary protection to ensure that they can do their jobs properly.
The two substantial propositions in the Bill should be supported. Like hon. Members of all parties, I hope that we can strengthen part II. This is a matter of immediate and general environmental concern. At present, there is enormous financial benefit for those who get away with illegal dumping. The hon. Member for Deptford rightly referred to the percentages involved. Few contractors will make the 25 mile trip out of London, which means a round trip of 50 miles because of the financial disincentive of additional cost in fuel and time. I am advised that a legal waste disposer makes about £400 per week profit in normal business, on the basis of four runs per day to an official site, but that an illegal dumper, who can save fuel and time and make more runs, makes about £1,300 per week. It is appalling that some of the people appointed by councils to help to clear the waste have themselves been guilty of acting illegally. I know that that has happened in Southwark. Many firms have absolutely no scruples. When the matter has gone to court, the fines have usually been about £50 or £100. That is absolutely nothing to the culprits. Indeed, it is regarded as a normal risk of the job—almost as a disbursement—and does nothing to deter the practice.
It takes only about a minute to empty a truck. At night or—even in the day—it is possible to arrive at a site, dump the load and be away within the minute, with only a minimal chance of being caught because a witness would have to identify the driver of the vehicle. Illegal tippers squeeze legal tippers out of the market by charging a lower rate for the job. Such people are making a phenomenal profit with extraordinary business practices, and many people who have tried to track down those who run such operations have found great difficulty in doing so.
The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) and others have emphasised the importance of regarding this as an environmental pollution issue. As they have also said, we should think in terms of recycling rubbish and waste. What is known in the trade as "muckaway" is a mixture of concrete, clay, steel rods, brick, and glass of which, on average, 20 per cent. comprises hazardous materials such as broken sheets of corrugated asbestos. Dangerous chemicals have also been found. As the hon. Member for Deptford said, the dirt and dust are a hazard. Clouds of dust are not only scattered on the people standing by but spread into the homes of those living adjacent. Positive correlations have been identified between the level of fly tipping of "muck away" and the incidence of ear, chest, throat and other infections. As the hon. Lady said, rats are encouraged into areas because of the materials left lying around. We must address this issue—
§ Mr. Hughes
I see the Minister nodding positively. We must address this issue not only in the context of imposing regulations to deal with the problem and the menace but in terms of finding a method of recycling, as far as is possible, such building and construction waste. Only one or two firms in London do that, so there seems to be a great opportunity to do much more. It may need financial incentives or a much clearer strategy, but I am sure that, given a lead from the Government, the developers and the construction and demolition industries will be happy to co-operate.
I said earlier that I would end with an example of the urgency of the need for action. In doing so, I shall quote someone who has been willing to be quoted publicly in the past. I refer to the enforcement officer in my own borough of Southwark—a brave man called Danny Mannix. I shall quote from statements that he has made about three incidents which happened to him as he sought to go about his business of dealing with environmental pollution. He has said:About eighteen months, two years ago, I was following a loaded HGV, which was concerned in fly-tipping offences in Southwark, and followed it through the Rotherhithe Tunnell. It went—I turned into a side-street to find that it was reversing at me at speed and it rammed my vehicle and completely wrote it off. You know, I was very lucky to escape with my life…On two occasions when I had followed loaded tipper-lorries onto Docklands Development Corporation sites in Rotherhithe Street, sawn-off shotguns were produced and I was told to make myself scarce or I'd be getting some hospital treatment from the attention that was going to be imminent…I was on leave and two men visited my home address, in my absence spoke to my wife, produced a sawn-off shotgun and an automatic pistol, and made it quite clear that they would return to take care of me, and it was to do with my fly-tipping activities.The number of Southwark officers has fallen to one because the others, for various reasons, felt that it was unsafe to continue doing their job.
This is a grave matter of law and public order in the capital city, as well as a matter of improving our environment. I hope that we can devise the strongest possible measure with the strongest possible Government support. I repeat my gratitude to the hon. Member for Deptford for giving us this opportunity to legislate with urgency.
§ 11 am
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
I am pleased to speak after the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), whose concluding comments remind us that, although hon. Members often refer to cowboy operators, in this case—with the addition of shotguns—we are literally talking about cowboy operators. The need to crack down on them is obvious and immediate.
It is a pleasure to join the litany of praise that has been heaped on the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Miss Ruddock)—not just for the measure but for the way that she introduced it. She explained its provisions so clearly that she has made it easy for subsequent speakers to talk in greater detail about the problem instead of concerning themselves with the wording of individual clauses.
1295 It is appropriate that the Member of Parliament for Hornchurch should say something about rubbish. My constituency includes Rainham in Essex, one of the few parts of Greater London that takes some of London's rubbish. The hon. Member for Deptford referred to the fact that a fair chunk of London's rubbish is exported outside Greater London's boundaries. Rainham accepts domestic rubbish. It is brought down the Thames by one of the best companies in the waste disposal business, Cleanaway, which operates barges that do not run into London's bridges. That cannot be said of all the barges that go up and down the Thames. Cleanaway runs a properly supervised, legitimate operation, and I pay credit to it for doing so. In consequence, quite a large part of my constituency is literally built on rubbish.
The people we wish to control are illegal dumpers. They are the subject of today's debate. Within the last six months, a man has been convicted in Rainham and fined £1,000 for dumping building rubble. I am pleased that he was caught. I am particularly pleased that the fine he had to pay was considerably greater than that quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi). It would be foolish to believe that that was the first time that that man had been involved in illegal dumping activities. For all I know, he—and many others like him—are still involved in illegal dumping. Even a £1,000 fine is an insufficient deterrent, compared with the money that can be made by engaging in that illegal activity.
Thurrock spends many thousands of pounds on clearing up unsightly lay-bys, a problem that is caused by the indiscriminate dumping of rubbish. I have asked council officers in my borough how much it costs to clear up fly tipping in Havering. They have explained that part of the cost can be attributed to the maintenance of vehicles and the employment of staff for that purpose, but they claim that the fly tipping itself costs £30,000.
I accept that the problem is greater in central London than in outer London, but it would be wrong to suggest that outer London does not have problems. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities, of which I am proud to be vice-president, says that it believes that 1 million tonnes of unsightly and dangerous waste is dumped each year in London's streets and that it costs London ratepayers and taxpayers £5 million a year to clean it up.
The problem affects other parts of the country. Recent cases in the midlands suggest that all the farmers in Herefordshire and Worcestershire would be well advised to lock their gates at night, lest they find in the morning that rubble or rubbish from Birmingham has been dumped smack in the middle of their fields. I should have thought that farmers had enough difficulties at the moment without having to deal with that additional hazard.
The Bill has received support from a number of quarters. I have in my hand a letter from the Royal Society of Chemistry. It says:The Society welcomes and strongly supports the principle of the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Bill and considers that the statutory registration of carriers of controlled waste—especially in relation to the movement of hazardous waste chemicals—represents a significant step forward in terms of health and safety in this country.As a sponsor of the Bill, I welcome the society's support.
1296 I have also heard in detail from the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors. Members of the Select Committee on the Environment will be aware that that association has given evidence to the Committee on more than one occasion. I must be careful not to put myself in contempt of the House by referring to matters that are beyond the confines of this Bill—the Committee's wider inquiry. However, all the Committee members were impressed by the depth of the witnesses' knowledge and, above all, by their desire to raise standards in the industry.
The waste disposal industry has a somewhat spotty background, but it has made great efforts in recent years, led by the National Association of Waste Disposal Contractors, to put its house in order. The association strongly supports the Bill but believes that it is a minimum step forward. It wishes the Bill to go even further. It says:it is essential that any registration scheme is introduced on a national basis and differentiates between those companies who are able and those who are not able to carry different categories of waste.The association splits the waste into three categories: first, hazardous waste; secondly, commercial and domestic non-hazardous wastes; and, thirdly, inert harmless wastes such as builders' rubble, household and garden clearances, and so on. It believes—I have some sympathy for its view—thatthe carriage of any waste by an unregistered company, or the carriage of a waste which the carrier is not registered to carry should be an offence. Furthermore, it is vital that a simple cover-note procedure for all waste movements is introduced in conjuction with a register.The association also believes thatthe cover-note system would involve written documentation outlining the nature, quantity, source, carrier and destination of the waste. A copy of the note would be kept by each element in the chain from the producer to the disposal site. A final copy would be returned from the site to the producer thereby closing the loop and ensuring 'cradle to grave' control. A much needed statistical base could also be collected from the cover notes held at the disposal sites being returned the Waste Disposal Authorities.
The association then says:it would be an offence to carry any waste without a cover note and to accept waste at a site without a cover note.I sympathise with that view. It underlines the fact that the major contractors want the cowboys to be outlawed and driven out of business.
Whispers have reached me that there may be some reluctance to proceed with the impounding of vehicles. There are many ways to skin a cat. I am convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that a deterrent needs to be built into the system that is greater than the one which we already have. The impounding of vehicles may not be the answer. I support that principle, but if impounding is impossible, we must find something else that is as much of a deterrent.
As has already been mentioned, we must increase the fines. We must make it so uncomfortable for people going about their nasty, dirty, criminal business late at night that they stop doing so. The Bill is an important first step in introducing better regulation. I warmly commend it. I wish it well in its remaining stages and I hope that we shall see it on the statute book in the near future.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I first took the oath from the Dispatch Box on 15 June 1983. From that moment I looked to a small handful of Members for example as to how to behave and conduct oneself here.
1297 One member of that small handful was, at that time, the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar. He is probably more accurately described as the reliable Left-wing character, Ian Mikardo. He is referred to by us in a friendly way as "Mick". Mick was a Member of the House for more than 30 years and was never fortunate enough to win a place in the ballot.
People outside might be forgiven for thinking that a ballot is some form of election and might not realise that it is a form of raffle or lottery. Mick spent over 30 years trying to win that lottery and never achieved one of the leading places. Therefore, I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on her good luck in achieving one of those places so early in what will clearly be a glittering parliamentary career.
I wish to congratulate her not only on her luck but on her judgment. When she told me what subject she had chosen for her Bill, I was stunned. I said to her, "What on earth have you picked that for?" She then started to tell me about the scale of the problem and I was dumbfounded. I realised that it was a major problem in the metropolis and I thought I should find out more about the scale of things on my own patch. After having made inquiries, I was even more worried.
Thanks to Mr. Ken Lupton of Stockton borough council and Mr. Ray Maughan and Mr. Fred Willingham of Cleveland county, I now have more definitive knowledge about what happens on my patch.
Mr. Lupton told me that in Stockton borough, back street properties are a particular problem. Council employees have found wagon loads of garden waste containing soil and hedge trimmings and so on dumped in back lanes when there are no gardens within two miles of the site. Clearly, it has taken considerable effort to pick up the dross and transport it to the spot where it has been disposed of. Mr Lupton said:Who is doing the dumping? Probably the fly-by-night jobbing gardeners. Perhaps the fear of more severe punishments would prevent such abuse.He goes on to quote the case of the "phantom market trader"who was dumping fruit and vegetable boxes late in the evening in a lay-by along the A66 between Stockton and Darlington. It transpired it was a market trader not prepared to pay the charge for commercial waste disposal.All that is happening in a borough which offers free waste disposal. Skips are provided free of charge.
He asserts thatJobbing builders are the main culprits in this area.He cites instances where they have literally breached perimeter walls of properties in order to gain access to dump their building spoil on someone else's territory.
The overall responsibility in the area for waste dispoal and waste disposal control rests with the county authority. Mr. Willingham has provided us with even more, almost humorous, examples. Apparently 32 fly tipping black spots have been identified across the county and the county has instituted a system of "reward for information" on the basis of successful prosecutions. Informants can receive a bonus of £50 a time. That does not seem to improve matters because the signs are constantly vandalised and removed. Vested interests are suspected of doing that—the commercial traders and fruiterers rather than the casual tipper. Therefore, it is an organised 1298 removal of signs and an organised deterrent of the passing of information. The cost of servicing and replacing the 41 signs last year in the 26 locations was in excess of £6,000.
One prosecution occurred 250 yards from an established fly tipping black spot it was almost a satellite fly tipping while county workers were erecting "No Tipping/Reward" signs within sight of the tippers.
Mr. Willingham said:At one former fly tipping black spot the 'Keep Britain Tidy group" spent £9,000 and some seven months clearing a deep ravine of rubbish. Within weeks of it being cleared a van was reported for tipping household and garden rubbish.The driver worked for the 'community task force' on clear-up jobs. He had a supply of free tipping tickets for county facilities but he chose to tip on an illegal spot because it saved him a journey. He pleaded guilty but the magistrates gave him an absolute discharge, despite his having been abusive to the witness and refusing to take his waste away when invited to do so. The people from whom I have obtained my information have made suggestions about penalties but I shall come to that.
I have given examples of what happens within Cleveland county and Stockton borough. "Example" is probably the operative word because I should like the House to bear in mind that "example" is one of the principle things we should emphasise. If authorities had been more diligent in ensuring that waste-tipping licences had been properly regarded in the past and that people breaching those licences had not been allowed to go scot free, we might have been able to impose the regulations more forcefully on previous occasions.
I should like the House to bear in mind what may, at first glance, be considered an Trishism—a statement of the obvious. The whole concept of waste is wasteful. Waste can be divided into three basic groups—decomposable, combustible and non-destructible. Positive, constructive use can be found for all those types of waste. We must try to emphasise that and make progress on it.
Decomposable waste can be used as a source of clean, alternative energy. There are independent, commercially viable enterprises in Britain which, by using decomposable waste, make a profit by producing energy at a cost lower than the state-owned energy producers .
Many local authorities use compbustible waste. If we were to combine combustible waste disposal with combined heat and power units, we would rid ourselves of the waste and be able to put the heat gained to a positive use.
Non-destructible waste could be used for road construction rather than using some of our mineral sources of limestone and dolomite. All those methods are achievable and would be beneficial if they were encouraged by positive and constructive Government incentives.
Those matters could be discussed in greater detail and one could write a volume on each one. However, they could be discussed in Committee and provision made for them.
I conclude by once again commending my hon. Friend—as have so many other hon. Members—for the clarity with which she has expressed the case that she seized on so clearly when given the opportunity. I should like to commend the supporters of the Bill. For the life of me, I have been unable to find anyone—other than the cowboys referred to—who has been opposed to the proposals. Everyone—the police, local authorities, emergency services, which were concerned about access, and industry—supports the Bill. Doubtless, some attention to the detail of 1299 the Bill will be needed, but given the enthusiasm displayed and the support voiced in the Chamber today, there will be no shortage of that. Finally, I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to be a sponsor of the Bill.
§ Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)
I am delighted to associate myself with all the wonderfully nice things that everybody has said about everyone else in the debate. I, like everyone else, am totally committed to the Bill produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock). It will result in a major improvement in the quality of life of people throughout the country, particularly, I hasten to say, in Brent, East.
A few weeks ago, I was appalled to receive correspondence from the Waterloo road business community group asking me to come to what was, effectively, an industrial site in Brent, East, adjacent to the north circular road. An entire street has been filled, from one end to the other, with vast quantities—about 20 lorry loads—of dumped soil and clay. It makes the road completely impassable so that pedestrians have to walk in the middle of the road. Streakes Field road is treated in this way because nobody lives there and, once the factories shut at night, there is nobody—except perhaps officers in a passing police vehicle—to prevent anyone from fly tipping. The fly tippers have got their activity down to an art. They do not stop, but turn off the north circular road into Streakes Field road, slow down and dump their load without even coming to a halt.
All sections of the business community, which operates almost exclusively in all the newer and more dynamic sections of society, got together and set up a camera so that there would be a record of any fly tipping. They hoped to zero in on the number plates of fly tipping vehicles. However it was obvious that mud had been smeared over the number plates so that they could not be seen. The fly tippers could not get to the camera that had been put on the top of one of the nearby factories but very rapidly the lamp standards in the road were smashed, making the road completely dark and thus even more dangerous.
I was appalled at what happened and was delighted that a meeting of the local business community was held, which the police attended. Like many others at the meeting, I assumed that fly tipping was merely a nuisance. It was only when I listened to the police that I realised the scale of organised crime that is now involved.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) underestimates the money to be made from fly tipping. The police estimate given to me about three weeks ago shows that one individual can make a clear profit of £2,000 per week on illegal fly tipping. In London, organised gangs take part. The lorries used are linked to each other by short-wave radio and there is often a motor cyclist to ensure that an area is clear and ready for tipping so that the convoy can come in and dump load after load. My tale is not as horrifying as that of the hon. Member of Southwark and Bermondsey. However, the police were well aware of the problem and warned members of the local business community not to take action themselves because they would be set about by thugs with iron bars.
This problem does not involve just a few cowboys. We know the engaging concept of the poor old character who 1300 is a bit down on his luck, has just about scraped together enough money to buy a lorry and is just keeping himself from starvation by taking the odd load somewhere. However, we are talking about pernicious organised crime that involves the same sort of people who are associated with some of the worst aspects of the London underworld—it needs to be stamped out ruthlessly.
I want to make my position clear. The only matter of contention—that is perhaps too strong a word—today is the nature and scale of the penalties. I have already told the promoter of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford, that I should be delighted to be appointed to the Committee. I want to do so to ensure that the maximum and most severe penalties are imposed. When dealing with organised crime, a slap on the wrist or a few hundred pounds fine is not worth while.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) said that he hoped to see the greening of magistrates. For the magistrates in my own area, their only greening will be the prelude to their decomposition. They are completely unaware and unalive to the problem. Some of them impose fines of merely a few hundred pounds, which is absolutely no deterrent. They often seem to have sympathy for the fly tipper as though some poor. struggling entrepreneur is simply being harassed by an insensitive police force and irresponsible local government bureaucracy. We need good, strong powers to handle the problem.
I should be happy for the police to be able immediately to seize and impound the vehicle of anyone they suspect of fly tipping and put the onus on the owner to retrieve it. The vehicles should be impounded immediately. Police vehicles should carry a shovel so that if the police catch someone who has dumped a load, they can make him shovel the load back in and take it away. There is no point in leaving the stuff lying around on the streets.
Brent council deploys one vehicle to tackle the problem, but it has mushroomed with such speed that councils, irrespective of their political complexion, will not find it easy to assemble the capital investment to purchase the range of vehicles needed. Indeed, I do not see why they should.
I shall support giving the fullest possible powers to the police so that they can deal with the problem. That is why I particularly want to be involved in the Committee. If we are not prepared to be tough, all the fine sentiments that we have heard today will come to nothing. Organised crime can respond much more quickly to changes than can Parliament. We need to ensure that the powers given to the police are flexible enough to enable them to adapt as the thugs adapt.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and, as I sat here next to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), it almost took me back to the heady days of the Greater London council, when God was in his heaven and all was right with London and the world. How things have changed since 1986.
It is interesting to be here on an occasion of such rare unanimity within the House. Although I might be the last person to speak on this Bill from the Back Benches, I will not be denied my opportunity to congratulate my hon. 1301 Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on introducing this singularly useful piece of legislation. We hope that it completes Committee stage and emerges on the statute book, so that she will have contributed something else to the politics of this country to add to her other achievements within other organisations and the House since she was elected.
I accept that the Bill is not the sexiest piece of legislation that we are likely to consider, but it is clearly required not only by all hon. Members but by all those authorities and responsible people—particularly responsible waste disposal contractors—outside the House.
We have received so many letters suggesting that we should support this legislation that it is very opportune that my hon. Friend should have introduced this Bill, using her opportunity—for which we all wish—of coming high in the ballot.
Fly tipping has obviously always been a problem not only in London, but elsewhere. It is certainly noticeable, however, that in recent years fly tipping has reached epidemic proportions in the capital city. As anyone who travels round London can clearly testify, there is much construction taking place, but most of it appears to be in the east end, especially in the London Docklands Development Corporation area, which involves the boroughs of Newham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets.
It is true that for generations the east end has been used as the engine room for London's wealth. The power-producing areas have been concentrated in the east end, as have the waste and sewage disposal areas. Of course, that has left us a legacy that is only now becoming obvious, as more and more construction takes place. Because of the especially obnoxious processes that have been used in the past, much of the land in the east end is poisoned and blighted. It cannot be left just to the east end boroughs to deal with the problem, but will require considerable Government support if we are to deal with the problems we have inherited.
That is the matter historically. Obviously, the problems we have inherited are being exacerbated by the anti-social behaviour of the cowboy waste tippers.
I must confess that the London borough of Newham is not the most picturesque part of London, which might have something to do with the fact that it has 110 tower blocks and that the A11 and the A13 dissect the borough. However, we have our compensations, too. Anyone who wants a good walk through semi-rural conditions in London could do far worse than spend a Sunday strolling along the Embankment of the northern outfall sewer. That does not sound very attractive, but it is quite an attractive walk on a Sunday.
There is also the opportunity for people to practise skiing down the Beckton alps, which is just off the A13. The Beck ton alps were created by the waste soil which came from the development in the docklands area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said, not all waste generated by construction needs to be dumped unproductively and uselessly; some can be used to provide some valuable facilities. Anyone who knows the Beckton alps will know that they provide a major addition to the leisure facilities of the East end.
Fly tipping is a serious problem in Newham. I would suggest that it is probably as bad there as anywhere else in London. Clearing the rubbish, and indeed repairing the damage caused by the dumping of the rubbish, is costing the London borough of Newham ratepayers about 1302 £150,000 a year. That is money the Newham ratepayers can scarcely afford, as my borough is the second most deprived local authority in the country. We need all the money we can get from central Government and all die money that we can generate to improve our facilities. We do not want to spend so much money on clearing up the rubbish that is being dumped by the anti-social people who infest our borough.
From what I have been told by the local borough council, it is clear that current penalties are entirely inadequate. Indeed, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South and others, the courts do riot appear to treat these matters seriously enough. They do not share the concern of hon. Members on all sides of the House. I hope that this will change when this Bill moves to the statute book.
The borough of Newham and its officers have experienced considerable difficulties in taking out prosecutions, for the various reasons mentioned by hon. Members. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East said, a great deal of organised crime is behind fly tipping. Honest, decent council officers do not like having sawn-off shotguns stuffed up their noses when they are trying to enforce the law. It is not surprising, therefore, that there is less enthusiasm to pursue as rigorously as one would some of those nasty and loutish people who drive the lorries and are involved in this organised crime. It is difficult to take out prosecutions, and the threats to council operatives have made it much more difficult to secure witnesses and to push cases through the courts.
A great majority of the fly tipping in my borough emanates from waste coming from the docklands area. We have recurring problems in Plaistow and in Customs house in the Newham, South constituency. For example, in First avenue in Plaistow and in Marshgate road and Burford road in Stratford, those problems have reached almost farcical levels—except that it is not that funny for people living in the area. Not only have operators come into the area, broken down fences and dumped their waste on council-owned land; they have then set up signs inviting other lorry drivers—for a fee—to dump there as well. I know that Conservative Members believe in the enterprise culture, but surely that goes beyond even their desire to see someone making a few bob. I am delighted to hear that the Government will be giving this Bill a fair wind today.
Fly tipping does not only cause problems to the residents. Close to where I live in the constituency, there is an area called Sprowston mews. "Mews", of course, always conjures up the image of those rather twee little places in Hampstead where arty people live and which a re sold for vast sums of money. I assure the House that Sprowston mews does not fit that description. It is a series of old stables that are now used for small businesses. People have complained to me as the local Member of Parliament, that they have turned up to open their businesses only to find that, because it is an unadopted road, a lorry has gone down there during the night and dumped a huge pile of waste right outside their doors. They cannot even get into their premises to open their businesses.
They contacted the council for it to arrange for the rubbish to be cleared. Of course, the council has so many other things to do in regard to other fly tippers that sometimes people lose days of business because they are 1303 physically unable to enter their premises. Such things are intolerable and must stop. The sooner that the Bill gets on to the statute book and stops such practices the better it will be not only for people in my constituency, but for people throughout London.
Again, I warmly welcome the Bill. I have heard a number of proposals from hon. Members on both sides of the House for ways in which it could be strengthened in Committee. I am especially attracted by the proposal to tighten up the penalties. The idea of confiscation of lorries is certainly a good one. I believe that those who are convicted of fly tipping should not only lose the wherewithal to continue to do so, but should have to pay the full cost of the removal of the rubbish and the restoration of the area and, indeed, pay compensation. On this occasion, I believe that in Committee we will be vying one with another to see who can impose the strongest and most stringent penalties on fly tippers.
I know that the Minister will welcome the Bill, but I ask her to tell the House what will happen to the London Waste Regulation Authority, which is based in county hall, if the hideous, absurd and obscene proposals go ahead for the conversion of county hall into a hotel. That authority does an excellent job, under difficult circumstances, and its future should be clearly spelt out by the Minister.
§ Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
It gives me great pleasure to be the last but one speaker in this debate to offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on bringing forward the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Bill. No one was more pleased than me when I heard that my hon. Friend had drawn No. 7 in the private Member's ballot, lottery or raffle, as it has been called, but—like the hon. Member for Southwark, Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—I had a tiny tinge of regret that I had not had the opportunity to bring forward such a Bill. When I heard that my hon. Friend had chosen this subject, I was delighted, and I was even more delighted to know that I would be at the Dispatch Box to ensure that the Bill gets on to the statute book.
It is quite strange that this Bill has the full support of all hon. Members who have spoken today. Perhaps the only item of contention was the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) about what will happen to the office premises of the London Waste Regulation Authority when other proposals are put forward for county hall. I hope that the Government's new-found commitment to environmental and green issues will ensure that only the best office space is available to the LWRA so that it can carry out its valuable work in the capital city.
The Bill does not simply have the support of all hon. Members who have spoken this morning. It also has the support of waste regulation authorities and the Institution of Environmental Health Officers. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that she has been able to persuade the Secretary of State for the Environment that every clause in the Bill should receive the Government's full support.
1304 I also welcome this debate because it follows the most important debate in the House yesterday. I want to relate my comments to the important issue of waste management and disposal and the much-needed duty of care, for which we have been waiting for some considerable time. It is no coincidence that the first step towards getting that urgent legislation, the need for which has been shown clearly by all hon. Members today, has been taken by the Opposition.
During this debate we have heard many details about the implications in the Bill for local government. I was grateful for the comments from the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) who spoke in his capacity as the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Environment. He referred to new information and told us that in one London borough there is 1 million tonnes of dumped waste. The LWRA and the local authorities must find the resources to clean up that great public health problem. It is not simply a problem for every inner and outer London borough, it affects the whole of the country.
When the Government address the many wider issues which lead on from our narrow discussions this morning, I hope that they will pay proper attention to the way in which we dispose of refrigerants and CFCs. I hope that we shall learn how the Government will deal with the 13 per cent. vacancy rate among funded posts for environmental health officers. Instead of simply rate capping local authorities which are trying desperately to deal with these vital public health issues, the Government should seriously consider how local authorities and environmental health officers can be properly resourced to carry out their vital work.
I remind the House that we are considering controlled waste. Such waste is defined in the Control of Pollution Act 1974 as:Household, industrial and commercial waste.The 1974 Act states that:All such wastes may only be deposited on licensed waste disposal sites.Although the full report from the Select Committee on the Environment will not be published until 8 March, I was grateful for the fact that the Select Committee has made its comments as they affect this Bill available now. However, we do not need those comments for us to understand the real need to take urgent action in the Bill. All conscientious Members, and all hon. Members who have spoken today are conscientious Members, are only too well aware of the real dangers to public health which arise fom waste problems.
We all feel despair when we see large amounts of rubbish and building rubble dumped indiscriminately. Nowhere is safe. Local beauty spots, children's play areas and even main arterial roads have been used and are used as opportunistic dumping grounds by unscrupulous operators who are anxious to make fast money and a fast getaway.
Large contractors evade their duty of care principles by subcontracting responsibility for building rubble removal to smaller firms which, in turn, offer attractive rates to cowboys to get rid of the rubbish without too many questions being asked.
When I was a local councillor I watched a wagon full of rubble being dumped onto a site which had just been acquired by a local authority for new house building. I had called out the police and local environmental health officers in my capacity as a councillor, but I could do 1305 nothing to stop that lorry which in the process of dumping its rubble broke a main gas main which was just below the surface of the water. Everyone must be aware of how serious is the problem and how urgent is the need for action.
Rather than incur costs at waste disposal sites and the costs for fuel to get there, it is far more remunerative for people to dump rubbish. There is a pattern of fly tipping in inner London boroughs which ring large development sites in the City and in Docklands. Even the Secretary of State's backyard may not be immune from the fly tippers and I am sure that he appreciates that.
Once established, a pile of builder's rubble often proves to be an attractive magnet for other unscrupulous tippers of more hazardous wastes. In Lambeth, blood-contaminated hypodermic syringes, drugs and dangerous medical and toxic wastes have been found partially hidden on such sites. Apart from the general eyesore and public health hazard, the sites may become a dangerous play space for children. We must bear the public health implications in mind.
Regrettably, some local householders may add to the rubble by dumping old furniture, bedding and domestic waste. That combination of harbourage and food supply attracts colonies of rats, which are found in increasing numbers all over the country. I urge the Government to be consistent in their policies on waste and the prevention of pollution. It is our experience that the lack of maintenance of the whole infrastructure of public sewers is causing rats to leave the sewers to go to these sites, where there are huge problems with accumulated rubbish caused by fly tipping and cowboy operators.
The unscrupulous practice of fly tipping with its chilling lack of concern for the environment and the health and safety of the community leads to justifiable public outrage. It has been estimated that there are 1 million tonnes of fly-tipped rubbish in one borough alone. The information available before this debate, before we had the advantage of the information from the Select Committee, was that 1 million tonnes were dumped in the whole of inner London. The real figure is 1 million tonnes for one borough. That problem must be addressed.
The cost to London for removing the accumulated dumped rubbish is at least £5 million per annum. Faced with those facts and the way in which they have been highlighted in recent television reports, people are rightly demanding action to deal with the scandal. The Bill will introduce major new powers to provide the strength of purpose to combat what has become a national disgrace.
Every hon. Member, regardless of political party, has a duty to constituents and the country as a whole to combat this anti-social practice of tipping. The problem was outlined so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford and it has been well documented. The Government should have closed the loophole in the Control of Pollution Act 1974 long ago. But at least they have an opportunity to do that now.
The Bill is in two parts. The first part contains new enforcement conditions to register carriers of controlled waste together with the power to stop vehicles to determine whether the registration details are in order. If guilty of an offence, a fine of up to £2,000 may be payable. That new initiative, while useful, is not the sole answer to the problem.
Experience has shown that there may be difficulties in bringing a successful prosecution, and as hon. Members 1306 have pointed out today, magistrates impose inadequate fines. I agree that we should all do what we can to influence magistrates and stop them handing out derisory fines, as they have in so many cases. Stricter supportive measures are required, which are set out in part II of the Bill which authorises the stopping, removal and detention of the vehicle involved in the illegal dumping of controlled waste.
Although he is not in his place at the moment, I was very pleased to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire). I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate, she will tell the House that she is in favour of the impounding of vehicles—which is crucial—and say that in Committee she and the Secretary of State are prepared to go further. The Opposition would have produced stronger proposals had we been sure of the full support of the Government. The Bill is constructive and positive and we wanted to ensure that everyone would support it. I hope that it will reach the statute book.
The justification for the most stringent punitive action is that the crime of illegal dumping, with its heavy emphasis on quick profit risking damage to the environment and to public health, necessitates immediate and positive sanction. Without the horsepower of their wagons the cowboys will be unable to operate.
Last year, New York city council introduced such measures as part of a package to improve the city's image and boost civic pride. As a result, 175 vehicles were impounded. Together with other action such as the removal of graffiti from New York subways, the city is beginning to improve its environment and reverse the downward spiral of inner-city decay. The adoption of a similar positive action here will lead to a cleaner city and a firm commitment to putting environmental issues back on the agenda—an objective which the Government claim to share with the Opposition, although the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I hope that the Minister will agree that if part II of the Bill is not perfect, any adjustment can be made in Committee. It is clear from the speeches we have heard this morning that many competent hon. Members will contribute to dicussion in Committee.
The Bill will receive virtually unanimous support from the public and from all responsible sectors of industry and commerce. It will counteract public concern about the inability of the authority to get to grips with the increasing problem of fly tipping. Good publicity about the Bill's intentions will ensure co-operation throughout the country. I have no doubt that lorry drivers in London and throughout the country who engage in such illegal activities will hear our proposals on their citizens' band radio and will be quaking in their seats, alarmed at what will be in store for them if they continue their anti-social behaviour. However, as has been pointed out, responsible contractors who accept their obligations will benefit if the. Bill eliminates irresponsible cowboy operators. The House will be aware that the chairman of the Road Haulage Association's environmental and waste management committee is greatly in favour of such measures. Last year he called for more punitive measures to deal with the problem and counteract the feeling of inadequacy among enforcement officers in using existing legislation.
I hope that in Committee the Government will take note of the need to impound vehicles and the need for the regulations to be as stringent as possible. I hope that the Government will also take note of the implications for local authority services. Mention has been made of local authorities providing city amenity sites, and we have heard 1307 about the excellent public protection committee services provided by the former Greater London council. However many London boroughs and local authorities provide free collection of household waste and there is no reason why those services should not continue as they will not be affected by the Bill.
I urge support for the Bill. It gives us the opportunity to give public servants, constituents and honest contractors the legislative support that they need to stamp out fly tipping. The Opposition put care for the environment at the heart of all our policies, and it is not a coincidence that we have introduced the Bill. I look forward to hearing an undertaking from the Minister that we can proceed with all provisions in the Bill without further delay.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)
I add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) not only on her good fortune in the private Member's ballot—hon. Members have been truthful in acknowledging that they have been tinged with envy at that—but in her excellent judgment in selecting the problem of fly tipping as the area where she hopes to leave her mark on the statute book.
The Bill has been promoted by a woman and the spokespersons for the Government and the Opposition are women and you, Madam Deputy Speaker are present. Perhaps there is so much enthusiasm for the subject because of our desire to do things in a practical and effective way. However, I shall leave such sexist remarks for the time being.
With an increasingly industrialised economy, with economic growth, inevitably wastes are produced which are costly to deal with. The Government are committed to ensuring that all wastes, whether toxic and difficult, industrial, domestic, or really relatively inoffensive, are properly catered for in our communities. It is the Government's intention to undertake a major reform of our waste disposal law. That Bill will be introduced as early as possible during this Parliament.
The groundwork for reform has been thoroughly prepared by a series of announcements and consultation papers on waste disposal law over the past three years. As a result, we are now bringing together a clear, coherent package of measures. We believe that that package should command the general support of industry, local authorities and, above all, the public. It is essential that the general public should have full confidence that our arrangements for dealing with wastes of all kinds are properly and professionally regulated and enforced.
Clearly such matters take time and consultation is important. Often an initial solution to such offensive and appalling problems is discovered to be wrong when all the various interests have been consulted. It is absolutely clear that many hon. Members who have spoken today, many of them representing London constituencies, have given evidence of the offensive nature of fly tipping, which is an absolute scourge on the environment. It is not an innocent 1308 matter; it is a complex, sophisticated crime in which very large amounts of money change hands. None of us should underestimate the seriousness of the problem.
Many hon. Members involved in the former Greater London council have spoken, clearly resurrecting a long standing concern. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was concerned about the accommodation of the London Waste Regulation Authority—perhaps that was a legacy from his previous responsibility. He will be pleased to know that discussions as to its future accommodation are progressing well and there should be an announcement about its alternative accommodation. I know that the LWRA will appreciate his concern on its behalf.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Will it definitely be booted out of county hall to make room for the people who will stay in the hotel?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
I am sure that the LWRA has no wish to prolong the long, drawn-out battle that the hon. Gentleman has waged for many years. The officers of the LWRA have a responsible, difficult and taxing job and we want to see them settled and established in a place where they can do that job properly and effectively. I pay tribute, with other hon. Members, to the work of the LWRA and to its professional approach and dedicated attitude, particularly to fly tipping. Recently, I spent a day visiting a number of sites with members of the authority and with its distinguished chairman. I was enormously impressed by the efforts made by the LWRA to co-ordinate a plan of action with the police, local authorities and public. The establishment of the hot line is an important ingredient because, when it comes to enforcement, adequate evidence is vitally important.
The illegal dumping of waste is a costly matter. It is estimated that in London, about 1 million tonnes of waste have been illegally dumped, costing the London waste regulation authority and London boroughs up to £35 million a year to remove. The Government strongly share the hon. Lady's wish to tackle that problem.
Before going on to discuss this Bill within the context of the Government's overall strategy of waste management, I shall make clear where the Government stand in relation to those proposals. We are able to give an unequivocal endorsement to the earlier parts of the Bill covering the registration of carriers. It forms part of the package of measures the Government hope to implement. It has been supported by the Select Committee on Environment and many others. I appreciate the remarks made by the Committee's Chairman, and his consideration in making a preliminary report.
As to part II of the Bill, while wishing to see greater, more effective enforcement, the Government have considerable reservations about the suggested means of achieving that desirable end, and feel that they are not the most effective means of dealing with the problem. We believe that the proposed powers in relation to stopping, removing and detaining vehicles require further detailed consideration in Committee. I appreciate the efforts made by the hon. Lady to establish co-operation, and the consideration that she has shown. We are all united in our commitment to getting the legislation right, so that it is effective and fair.
§ Ms. Walley
Will the Minister give an assurance that she will not rule out the impounding of vehicles, and that 1309 that aspect will be further considered in Committee? Judging from the comments of many hon. Members, they feel that the Bill will be unworkable if the most stringent sanctions possible cannot be brought against those responsible for illegal dumping.
§ Mrs. Bottomley
It is our intention to bring forward comprehensive proposals for dealing with waste regulation generally Our intention is that they will meet with support and co-operation from all parties, not only in the House but in the waste disposal industry and local authorities. Any system of regulation requires enforcement, and it is our intention to consider that aspect carefully and in detail. Later, I shall say more about the difficulties that arise. Enforcement raises broad questions of our whole system of criminal justice, police powers, and the procedures available in relation to matters such as road traffic offences. It is a detailed and complex subject requiring proper consideration.
§ Mr. Boateng
I see the dead hand of the Home Office dampening the Minister's environmental zeal. I do not doubt that her heart is in the right place, but I have heard those words before. We know that once the Home Office gets its hand on any issue, things suddenly become very difficult.
§ Mr. Boateng
Will the Minister do everying in her power to ensure that the punishment fits the crime? Does she acknowledge that, until now, the penalties imposed on the cowboys concerned have been derisory by comparison with the gains they make from their illegal activities? Will the Minister give an undertaking that such penalties as ultimately emerge will be of a stringent financial nature?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
If I can get a word in edgeways, I will give the House many assurances. I shall say more about penalties later, but particular aspects of impounding are not the same as penalties. Provided that the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, which I am sure it will, we shall be able to spend longer considering every aspect in Committee.
Within our own proposals, we believe that measures can be taken that will effectively ensure that the increasingly criminal and sophisticated crime of fly tipping is properly dealt with and that some of the worst perpetrators of that deplorable activity are no longer able to escape without redress.
Today's debate gives a useful opportunity to set out the Government's policies on waste disposal, and to discuss fly tipping in that context. I shall explain what the Government will do to improve the law and to reform the authorities that enforce it. Part I of the Bill effectively forms an advance piece of that main legislation. In making proposals, it is essential that environmental controls command public confidence. The existing waste regulation system has too frequently failed that test, and evidence of that has been given by hon. Members today. Sometimes, public impressions are unfair and too readily affected by a few isolated but well-publicised waste disposal incidents. When the waste disposal industry is good, it is often very very good. But when it is bad, it is horrid. The public is right to demand that the worst should be brought up to the standard of the best. Only then will public confidence be fully restored—and that is the Government's objective.
1310 We must carry the industry with us. Enthusiasm for tough environmental laws preoccupied with bashing the industry is no substitute for a system that works. No system of legal controls will work in practice unless it has the consent and co-operation of most of those who have to abide by it. That means that we must take into account the contribution of industry when deciding how to safeguard and improve the environment. Responsible industry—and that is most of industry—welcomes high environmental standards. As has been said today by many hon. Members, responsible contractors have nothing to fear from a proper system of registration and enforcement. It is often the criminal element that undermines the efforts of the responsible element and makes its cost margins almost untenable.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
The Minister countermands her own statement. The responsible sector of the industry does not need the measures in the Bill. It welcomes them, and penalties are unnecessary for it. Responsible operators will gladly conform to whatever requirements are made, and it is in their interest to do so. Penalties are required only in respect of the criminal element.
§ Mrs. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman surely appreciates that the Bill is not only about penalties but registration. We are anxious to ensure that the registration system does not make life so difficult for responsible contractors that they feel alienated by it. It is important to have an effective registration system that is tolerable and manageable. I reiterate that the responsible sector of the industry has everything to gain. Responsible operators, who behave in a law-abiding and effective way, are among those most outraged by abuses of the present arrangement.
When I spent a day with the LWRA, I visited Docklands, which is the biggest building site in Europe. I had the opportunity of talking to an official there responsible for waste removal. On that site, an embryonic system of waste regulation has been introduced, by which chits are issued and must be returned as evidence that waste has been taken to a legitimate and licensed site. That is one example of the way in which responsible contractors are on our side. We are anxious to continue consultations and to behave in a way that meets with general agreement.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The general view of residents in Docklands is that the combination of the local authority and the Docklands corporation is not dealing with the problems caused by the construction industry. Pollution often spills into the roadways and pavements. There are complaints about noise pollution. Enforcement and self-regulation are not working. I hope that the hon. Lady does not hold the view that people are generally happy and that things are satisfactory; they are not. There are great problems associated with construction, particularly in an area such as Docklands.
§ Mrs. Bottomley
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. That is why we support the registration of carriers on a statutory basis. I hope that I can manage to talk about some of the other measures that we are considering to improve and update waste management generally. We believe that there is a firm and proper place for regulation which is enhanced, more comprehensive, and deals with more of the loopholes. I hope that it will meet with the hon. Gentleman's approval.
1311 Many firms are taking a lead on environmental improvements. Industry, local authorities and Government together must work out a legal framework that ensures the highest practicable environmental standards without imposing excessive costs for overly bureaucratic burdens. That objective underlies our package of waste reforms.
The Government's reform of waste disposal law will build on the present system laid down in the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which was a pioneering measure at the time. The principles in that Act have stood the test of time, in particular the idea of disposal site licensing by local authorities. The Government plan legislation on two fronts: first, to tighten and extend the existing controls and, secondly, to reform regulatory authorities.
I hope that the hon. Member for Deptford will agree that fly tipping is a manifestation of a system of waste disposal regulations and supervision that has gone wrong. The act of fly tipping must be seen within the chain of waste production and disposal. That is why I should like to examine some of the proposals in more detail.
Last June, the Government announced the main elements of tightening and extending controls. Controls and legal responsibility over waste should extend throughout the life of the waste. From the original producer to the ultimate disposer, all who handle or treat waste should share a responsibility for its safe and proper disposal.
As the Chairman of the Select Committee said, the key measure will be the duty of care. Anyone who produces or holds waste will be under a statutory duty to take reasonable steps to ensure the safe and proper disposal of waste when consigning it to someone else. No longer will a producer be able to give waste to the first person appearing with a tipper truck at the factory gate. If he does, and that waste turns up illegally dumped, the producer will be liable to prosecution.
In regard to some of the sites that I visited in the east end, the London Waste Regulation Authority knew precisely where the waste came from, but, unless the fly tipper could be seen in the act of fly tipping, it was not possible to take action against the producer. When we introduce a duty of care on the producer of waste, he will be liable when waste can be traced back to him, which is sometimes a much easier job than catching somebody in the act of fly tipping, which may take all of two minutes, with an effective band of supporters with car telephones or radios keeping guard.
Expert waste firms, large waste producers and those producing difficult waste will be expected to check rigorously on what happens to their waste after it leaves their hands. That will mean selecting the best means of disposal, appointing a reputable contractor and ensuring that all the waste reaches its intended destination. They will be burdens on industry, but they amount to no more than many responsible firms already undertake.
The Government do not intend the duty of care to be inflexible or onerous. The steps which it is reasonable to expect will depend on the size and expertise of the firm and the danger posed by its waste. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) referred to the various types of waste and the way in which the duty of care will work. It will be set out in a code of practice to accompany 1312 legislation. Domestic householder's waste will be exempt altogether. For ordinary small-scale producers of waste from commerce or industry, the code of practice will require little more than that the waste should be consigned to a responsible destination. Such a destination might be the local authority or a properly licensed disposal site. It might also be a middle man—someone who will transport and, possibly, sort the waste before consigning it for ultimate disposal or for reclamation.
It is essential that producers have some means of knowing to whom they may give their waste to discharge their duty of care. That is why we welcome the establishment of the register of waste carriers ahead of the rest of the legislation. The hon. Lady is rightly and properly bringing forward the measure as a way of dealing with fly tipping, but it has a broader significance so that the duty of care can be introduced with all possible speed when the legislation reaches the statute book. It will provide a control over all those involved with waste between the producer and the ultimate disposal site. Carriers on the register will be identifiable and traceable by the producer who gives them waste and by the waste regulation authorities trying to stamp out illegal disposal. That is the context of the proposal which forms part I of the Bill.
As well as putting new controls on producers, holders and carriers of waste, the Government's intended legislative package will tighten the existing controls at the disposal end. We believe that the existing system for local authority licensing of waste disposal sites is the right one. Local authorities already have wide powers to set conditions on these licences and to enforce the conditions. The Government have recently issued updated detailed advice on site licensing. I hope that authorities will use their licensing powers in the future more thoroughly and vigorously than some have in the past. The council is the licensing authority, and it is up to it to write comprehensive licences and then to enforce them.
Many of the individual cases that come to my attention about certain incidents are a result of the waste disposal authority not exercising its present powers. We recognise that there are a few gaps and weaknesses in licensing powers. We are acting to fill them.
It will be made more straightforward to prosecute waste disposers who breach the conditions attached to their licences. Authorities will be able to vet applicants for disposal licences. Only those with a clean criminal record in respect of pollution offences, with sufficient funds to operate and complete a site and with the appropriate professional qualifications will qualify for future disposal licences. Hon. Members have referred to some of the more complex materials that may be included in waste. It is essential that people appreciate that dealing with a site is not just a matter of digging a hole in the ground and throwing everything in. We need proper professional qualifications, scientific analysis and study, and a sophisticated approach.
We shall also be giving local authorities more power to enforce the long-term safety of waste disposal sites. There has been justifiable concern about the threat of gas building up or leachate pollution at completed landfill sites. Once again, good practice and modern technology are essential in waste management.
Local authorities and Government are working closely together to tackle these problems and make sure that existing sites are safe. Beyond that, we need to ensure that future sites do not pose a hazard. We shall empower 1313 authorities to impose conditions on waste disposers which require continued monitoring and care of sites for many years after completion until the site is safe. Licence holders will not be permitted to surrender or evade these obligations, and local authorities will be under a clear duty to police them.
We are proposing also to take fresh powers to deal with another matter of public concern, and that is the international trade in waste. It is not particularly material to the hon. Lady's Bill, but it is another—
§ Sir Hugh Rossi
The Minister's remarks are extremely interesting and important, but they have little relationship to the narrow point of the Bill, which is fly tipping. My hon. Friend is anticipating my Select Committee's report, which I am not allowed to discuss, as to do so would be in breach of the privilege of the House. She is able to declare the Government's position on my paper before the House has had an opportunity to read it.
§ Mrs. Bottomley
I am saddened and disappointed to hear my hon. Friend—for whom I have had long-standing and high regard—so cynically interpret my remarks. I have held my present office for about seven months, and have been longing for an opportunity to discuss waste. Unlike some of my hon. Friend's constituents, I do not regard this subject as a load of old rubbish. It is fundamentally important and extremely interesting. It is extremely important to tackle fly tipping and rubbish, which is of much concern to people even in Eastbourne and other parts of the country. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me. I will not say any more about the Government's proposals to ban the imports of waste.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
The Minister referred to Eastbourne and other parts of the country. I note that the Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland. Given that the Government intend to support the Bill, will the Minister say whether the legislation will apply to Scotland? If she is unable to respond, do her hon. Friends at the Scottish Office intend to say something about the Bill?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
I am happy to inform the hon. Gentleman that the Bill will apply in Scotland, where some of the waste disposal issues are different. The hon. Gentleman spoke last night about municipal waste incinerators, and we had an opportunity to discuss the Scottish position from a slightly different angle.
The Government intend to reform the regulatory authorities so that they can properly enforce the steps that need to be taken. Too often, the waste disposal officer has little status and is little known. Most hon. Members are aware of the indentity of the person in charge of their police forces, hospitals, schools and roads, but insufficient hon. Members are aware of the difficult task of the waste disposal authorities.
Local authorities have no excuse for setting a bad example. At present, most waste disposal authorities are poachers and gamekeepers. They regulate and police waste disposal in their areas but also undertake much disposal directly. There should be no suggestion that an authority favours its operations compared with its policing of the private sector. Public and private waste disposal have their good and bad practitioners. Waste disposal must be properly and effectively supervised and enforced.
1314 Part I of the Bill effectively provides an opportunity to put in place, in advance, a piece of the jigsaw that we anticipate. Part I will introduce the registration of waste carriers. If the proposals are implemented at an early stage, the register will be up and running before the Government's main legislation on waste takes effect. It will enable the duty of care to come into effect speedily, which will benefit the new waste regulation authorities, the waste industry and, above all, the environment, about which the hon. Member for Deptford is concerned.
One of the strengths of the proposed registration system is its simplicity of operation. The carrier will present information to the waste disposal authority and, on payment of a fee, will be registered. The only reason he can be refused registration is if he has been convicted of a waste-related offence in the past five years. There is no barrier to someone of good repute starting to make their way in waste collection. We are not creating obstacles to legitimate trade, but if at any time he commits an offence and is convicted he may be removed from the register. If he continues to carry waste when unregistered, he will be guilty of an offence. The authorities will no longer have to catch him red-handed in the act of fly-tipping. This, together with other proposals, will be an important break-through.
When the Government's legislation is tabled, the producers and holders of waste will become liable to prosecution if they use an unregistered carrier for their waste. The intention is quite clear—to starve criminal carriers of business.
The hon. Member for Deptford, explained at length the thinking behind part II of the Bill. Many hon. Members added their concern that steps should be taken to enforce the regulations and prevent the perpetrators of fly tipping being able to continue their foul trade. Part II deals with the stopping and confiscation of vehicles. Although at first sight it seems an attractive proposition, there are some serious difficulties and wider implications that will have to be ironed out fully. There are a number of problems and complex issues, which I have already mentioned. We are not convinced that this is not the most effective way of achieving this goal, but we are most sympathetic to the objectives that the hon. Lady has in mind. It must be considered within the context of the criminal justice system, police powers generally and the treatment of other offences.
The Government have recently consulted on proposals to make the owner of a vehicle directly liable for prosecution unless he can show that he took reasonable steps to ensure that the use of the vehicle was legitimate. This might be a useful step forward, but practical difficulties are arising from those proposals. We hope to explore them further and will have full regard to points made by hon. Members—especially the hon. Member for Deptford—when further considering them.
Fly tipping is an offensive matter. We are all appalled by it and determined to tackle it.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I sense that the Government are not willing, at this stage, to deal with the owner of the vehicle or the vehicle itself. The consensus is that hon. Members want urgent action to deal with the owner of the vehicle and the vehicle. It would be better if the Committee legislated to deal with those problems rather than waiting for another period of consultation and consideration, which one can never guarantee will produce a Bill in the 1315 next Session or the one after that. Will the Minister support hon. Members in making the Bill as strong as possible?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
The Government are committed to introducing measures that will effectively and responsibly deal with the problem.
Hon. Members have spoken of penalties. I share the view that many fines imposed by magistrates are inadquate compared with the great damage caused and the cost of cleaning waste sites. Magistrates have powers to impose much stiffer penalties. The maximum for ordinary fly tipping, if any fly tipping is ordinary, is £2,000. If the waste is poisonous, such as asbestos, there is an unlimited fine. Imprisonment of up to five years is available in the case of poisonous waste.
The real problem is to inform the magistrates of the nature of the offence. Magistrates must deal with the facts of the case as presented to them and it is incumbent on the prosecuting authority to provide magistrates with chapter and verse on the environmental consequences of the offence and, most importantly, the costs of cleaning the rubbish away. Magistrates will then be in a better position to judge the seriousness of the offence and will be able to apply the appropriate penalties. It is important for the prosecuting authority to ensure that that information is before the court.
We have heard today that many hon. Members were not aware of the scale and effects of fly tipping until they made inquiries for the debate today. Perhaps waste disposal authorities should remember that magistrates are often in no better position. Penalties are available to magistrates, but better information will help them to apply those penalties. There are signs that that is beginning to happen and in the last year, the first custodial sentence was given for the illegal deposit of waste.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) raised the question of recycling waste, and that is part and parcel of Government thinking. When proper costs are charged for waste disposal, it makes the economics involved in recycling more probable. We are promoting partnerships between industry, the Government, local authorities and other groups to help promote and enhance recycling.
I look forward to studying the Select Committee's report on toxic waste and I appreciate the contribution of its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green. The Committee, with others, has given a great deal of thought to this vital subject over the years. We are committed to take powers to control and regulate waste and to ensure that that gains the confidence of the public and the co-operation of local authorities and industry. The Government's main waste disposal legislation will be brought forward as early as possible during this Parliament. Meanwhile, we welcome the opportunity the Bill gives not only to discuss these vital questions of great importance, but to put in place the register of carriers. I hope that the House will give this helpful and constructive Bill a Second Reading, so that it can be appraised in further detail and improved in Committee. I hope sincerely that we shall see an Act on the statute book this summer.
§ Ms. Ruddock
I want to take a few minutes of the House's time to respond to the debate. On the question of penalties, I have been extremely encouraged by the way in which hon. Members of all parties have spoken in terms of strengthening the Bill. No one could be more delighted because I have formed a strong view that we need the penalties proposed in the Bill. If they went further, from taking the vehicles to confiscating them permanently, no one would be more pleased.
A message has gone out from the House today about the way in which magistrates already enforce the law. We are asking that, in this most serious offence which causes such distress to ordinary people, magistrates should look to the top of the scale, which allows them to impose a penalty of £2,000, and not at the bottom of the scale, as they do now.
I welcome the Government's plans as the Minister outlined them. I was aware of the consultation exercise and of the Department's interest in trying to bring forward a package of measures to deal with all aspects of waste. However, it is clear that the Government have had the opportunity to hold such consultations, draw up such reports and make such proposals for many years past. The reason I have brought forward my private Member's Bill today is that the Government have not acted. We are impatient and the people who are suffering from this manace are extremely impatient. Although I appreciate the sincerity of what the Minister said, we still do not know when the other measures will be brought to the House for debate.
I make no apology for wanting to push ahead with the serious measures contained within the Bill. I welcome the Minister's willingness to have those matters discussed in detail in Committee, but I am disappointed by the Government's reluctance to give wholehearted support to part II, although I am not surprised. I remind the House of all the comments that hon. Members have made today, which suggest that my thinking and advice that I have been given on the subject are pertinent to the task in hand.
§ Ms. Ruddock
As my hon. Friend says, it is modest. I could have come to the House with far more draconian measures.
Like the Minister, I want to comment on the presence of women as the promoter and sponsors of the Bill and the Front Bench spokespersons. Until a moment ago, we also had Madam Deputy Speaker in the Chair. Many Lady Members of the House believe that the conduct of debates and concern for the environment might be much improved if the number of women in the House were to be increased.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The hon. Lady was about to make an important point—not only are three women in charge of the Bill; there was a woman in the Chair for much of the debate.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, I wish to associate myself with all her comments. This has been a most auspicious debate, which has been made that much more interesting and intriguing by the fact 1317 that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has been acting as PPS to the Minister. One can only assume that it is the long road back to the top again for him.
§ Ms. Ruddock
I conclude my remarks by thanking yet again the sponsors of my Bill, most of whom have been present throughout the debate and many of whom have spoken.
The speeches today have been important. All too often, it is thought that only speeches on contentious issues really mater, but today's speeches have brought to the attention of the House, and of the wider listening public, matters that are of concern to many ordinary people and to many of our constituents.
Green matters are often thought to be the province of those who are already enjoying a good standard of living and who have become bothered by inconvenience or by the deterioration of the environment, but the people affected by the problem that we have discussed today are, in the main, members of poorer communities who live on council estates in our inner cities. They have not had the benefit of the voice of the green pressure groups; they have had to find their own voice. They have had to batle with the authorities in an attempt to get redress for their grievances. We in London are often thought to be green yuppies, and it is a timely development that people who cannot so easily be described in that way should have found a voice for their concerns in the House.
We end this debate on a note of optimism, with the feeling that measures will be brought forward, and in the hope that the Bill will succeed in Committee and that the problems will be solved. Meanwhile, I remind the House of the suffering of people who live in neighbourhoods where tens of thousands of tons of rubble have been dumped. We cannot act quickly enough for them. A great deal of effort will be needed, and in this regard I want to acknowledge the support and efforts of my staff who, like the staff of any hon. Member who introduces a private Member's Bill, have had to work extremely hard. I thank all those who have assisted us and I promise them that if the House should now decide accordingly, much more work will be in hand—in a very good cause and, I hope, to a very positive end.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).