HL Deb 11 October 2000 vol 617 cc329-30

3 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with the problem of litter.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, current legislation is contained in Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. That legislation requires litter authorities to keep their areas free from litter and provides sufficient flexibility for local authorities to take action against those who drop litter. We therefore have no current plans to review the litter legislation.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the dumping of litter is now the most common offence committed in this country, that the provisions of existing legislation scarcely seem effective and that the number of fines for offences is extraordinarily low? Is it not obvious that the amount of litter deposited in many parts of the country today is so squalid and perhaps harmful as to require a much firmer approach to be adopted?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the existing legislation gives several powers to local authorities to enforce litter-free areas. The fixed penalty is £25. If that penalty is not paid, the fine can be as much as £2,500. For more serious offences such as fly-tipping, there are very substantial penalties indeed. It is true, as my noble friend implied, that performance in different areas is not uniformly good. The newly instituted regime of best value will require local authorities to improve their performance where they are falling down on this issue. However, I should also say that, according to the index of the Tidy Britain Group, there has been some improvement in recent years in many areas of our country.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that education rather than extra legislation is very important in this matter?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. There is certainly a need to ensure that the coming generations understand the importance of not dropping litter and how dropping litter affects the quality of their neighbourhood. Therefore, in broad terms, I agree with the noble Baroness.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, as the present system clearly does not work very well, will the Government consider using the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill to introduce an obligation on parish councils to ensure that the areas within their boundaries are kept clean? Those parish councils would then be able to use their own rates, which are raised from their own people, to fulfil that obligation. Does the noble Lord agree that if that were done the local people, who would otherwise have to pay, would probably be much more effective watchdogs than they are at present?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not think it would be appropriate for the main responsibility for litter management and street cleansing to rest with parish councils, although they may have some role in those areas. The job of cleansing our streets and ensuring that litter regulations are enforced rests primarily with the full local authority. I am not saying that parish councils should have no role, but the prime responsibility in legislation should remain with the local authority.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether fly-tipping has increased since the introduction of the landfill tax? If that is the case, will the Government take further measures against building companies which increase their amount of fly-tipping?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is evidence that in some parts of the country fly-tipping has increased—whether or not as a direct result of the landfill regulations and taxation system. The penalties in relation to fly-tipping are already fairly draconian. The maximum penalty is £20,000 and there can be imprisonment in certain bad contexts. So the penalties are available; the issue is catching fly-tippers and the courts imposing substantial penalties up to the maximum.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, following the introduction of the landfill tax, one problem has been an increase in the number of burnt-out, abandoned cars. What will the noble Lord do to encourage local authorities to catch those responsible for burnt-out, abandoned cars?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am aware that there have been significant recent increases in the number of abandoned cars. Those have arisen because businesses now charge for the removal and scrapping of vehicles and because of the low price of scrap metal. The police and local authorities have powers in that respect and it is important that they use those powers. A number of local authorities have engaged in blitzes on abandoned vehicles within their territory. However, I would accept that it is a growing problem and would hope that the regimes which local authorities are increasingly introducing will help to restrict it.