HL Deb 20 February 1989 vol 504 cc393-5

2.55 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they intend to take to curb the dumping of rubbish, in particular, bottles and tin cans, in the countryside.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, the Government share the concern indicated by my noble friend and deplore illegal dumping and litter wherever they occur. They have again doubled the grant to the Tidy Britain Group to £3 million in the coming year to test methods of dealing with the problem.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. Will the Government make it an enforceable requirement that all bottles and cans that contain drink carry a returnable charge? As far as the cans are concerned, will he also make it illegal for the little bit that opens the can to fall apart when one pulls it out and insist that it should be retained on the can as is common practice in other countries? That would stop children and animals being harmed by the sharp edges.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, in reply to the last part of my noble friend's question, I do not think I am in a position to make any "little bits" illegal, but I am afraid that I have some rather disappointing news in relation to returnable charges. I believe that in South Australia they have proved to be very effective. But when the same experiment was conducted in Oregon in the United States the reverse experience occurred and the depositing of litter increased.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this country now has the reputation of being the dirtiest, most untidy and most litter strewn of all of Western Europe, according to foreign visitors? We see it not only in the rural areas but in urban areas too. Do we not need something more than an extra £1 million for the Keep Britain Tidy group? Do not the Government think that our national reputation now deserves a good deal more energy being put in to clean up Britain?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, we have doubled the grant, and the purpose of doubling the grant is to try to find initiatives for a cure. I am sure that all noble Lords in this House are well aware that there is litter everywhere. It is very difficult to try just to enforce the laws. There are already many laws. The programme for the TBG involves 27 projects grouped in order to try to find answers and initiatives to teach people, particularly the young, not to acquire the habit of throwing down litter.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, has recycling a part to play in this, with metal, glass and paper?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for his intervention. It is true that recycling is a growing industry and is showing results. There is the Save-A-Can scheme run by the Can Makers Association to enable the recycling of cans as well as bottles so that they do not litter the countryside or the streets of our country.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, as someone who for many years has been associated with the Tidy Britain Group, I am delighted that the Government have recently given us additional support. However, in connection with the noble Lord's original Question, could a greater effort be made in the countryside which, after all, is one of the jewels in the crown of this country?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I fully appreciate the noble Lord's point. We are doing our best to educate the public. The difficulty is that litter is proliferating over a vast area, particularly in the countryside, and it is difficult to enforce the law. The long-term answer is to teach people that it is environmentally unacceptable to drop litter.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the survey carried out last year for industry into packaging and the environment? Half the 16 to 24 year-olds interviewed were not aware that it was a criminal offence to drop litter. Does he agree that we should pursue the education of children in schools about care for the environment generally and about litter in particular?

Does the Minister consider that a much higher profile should be given to recycling waste? Figures for this country are poor compared with those for the rest of Europe, and a government initiative is necessary to encourage people to recycle more waste.

Lords Hesketh

My Lords, in answer to the last point, the figures for the amount of waste being recycled are rising.

I fully endorse the noble Baroness's first point; the long-term answer is for youngsters to be taught that dropping litter is environmentally unacceptable.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we are now in an age where plastic bottles and not glass are creating difficulties in the countryside and they cannot be recycled? Can he assure the House that in future the Government will try to dissuade drinks manufacturers from using plastic bottles?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I understand my noble friend's point and I shall draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many wastepaper bins were placed around the countryside but that they have disappeared? Is the reason for their disappearance, particularly from lay-bys, the fact that no one will empty them?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am not aware of the disappearance of such litter bins, but I shall endeavour to discover more about them.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that where litter bins are generously placed people will use them? Is he aware that in Italy, a country that I know well, recently the rubbish in the streets has been disappearing as a result of placing litter bins everywhere? It is the responsibility of local authorities to put them in place and to clear them. Will my noble friend try to obtain greater impetus for such a campaign?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I believe that Westminster City Council has a programme of sponsored litter bins in line with the scheme pointed out by my noble friend.

Lord Carter

My Lords, supplementary questions have concentrated on small litter. In asking my question I declare an interest because I farm to the edge of a town in the Midlands. Is the Minister aware that large items of litter such as bedsteads, old armchairs and bicycles cause a great deal of trouble to farmers? Does he have any idea of the damage which can be caused to the inside of a combine harvester by an old bedstead?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I hope that the driver of a combine harvester will spot an old bedstead before trying to plough it up.