HL Deb 18 February 2003 vol 644 cc1012-5

2.41 p.m.

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to take any action to improve the cleanliness of Britain's roads.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we have already introduced a local environmental quality survey to measure litter, a new code of practice for the routine maintenance of local roads, and environmental performance indicators for routine maintenance contracts on trunk roads and motorways. Later this year, we shall introduce a "Car Litter Campaign" to discourage drivers from throwing litter from vehicles.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, that sounds like an awful lot of action, but does the Minister agree that England's roads in general are filthy, particularly in comparison with places such as France, Italy and Germany, to name just a few of the places to which one travels frequently? Does he agree that the only test of whether the job has been properly done is whether the roads are clean? Will he therefore at least try to find a test, and report back on what the test should be and whether it has been met? The only proper way would probably be to take photographs of a location and then see how long the litter remains there. Will he consider as a method of reducing the prison population using people convicted of offences to clean up litter rather than sending them to prison, which is very expensive?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, Whips in this House are confined to barracks most of the time and do not have much opportunity to confirm from personal experience the cleanliness of roads in this country. As I said, we have already introduced a local environmental quality survey, which I believe is what the noble Lord is talking about, in terms of measuring the amount of litter in order to find out how to deal with it more appropriately. As regards those undergoing community service orders carrying out roadside works, I do not suppose that is ruled out. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is not suggesting chain gangs though.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, do abandoned cars come under the heading of litter? That subject has come up before but I still see the very unpleasant sight of abandoned cars on the side of roads far too often.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I agree with that. Strictly speaking, the term "litter" refers to actions which are dealt with by sweeping and cleansing. I do not think that one can get rid of abandoned cars in that way. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, is entirely right that there are still far too many abandoned cars. I understand that part of the reason for that is that cars have no scrap value and that charges are levied if one scraps a car at the end of its useful life. The Brussels end-of-life vehicle directives are desirable from an environmental point of view but may cause some people to break the law.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that residents of villages such as the one in which I live in Oxfordshire have been told that they can no longer have skips in which to place large items of litter as that is against government recycling policy, which is being forced upon local authorities? Does he not think that that will result in much more rubbish which is at present put into skips, such as old pieces of furniture, being left on the side of roads?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I should like to be given more details of that matter and then write to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. That situation sounds most implausible to me. There is a skip permanently situated on the other side of the road in which I live to take exactly the kind of rubbish to which the noble Baroness referred. That is certainly not a matter of government policy. I suspect that it is a case of local authorities passing the blame to someone else, but I may be wrong.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

My Lords, does the noble Lord share my concern about very low fines being levied by magistrates where successful prosecutions for fly tipping are brought? In a recent case of fly tipping on the highway in Oxfordshire a fine of £100 was levied despite the fact that the maximum penalty was £20,000.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not know the details of the case to which the noble Baroness referred. A fine of £100 sounds minimal to me when one bears in mind that litter wardens can levy a £50 penalty fine and that there is a £2,500 maximum fine on conviction for dropping litter. Fly tipping is clearly a much more serious offence and should be treated accordingly.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, my local roads, of which I can give the noble Lord details, are absolutely foul and have been for some months. I am informed that it is necessary to close the road to clean it and that there is no agreement between the local district council and the county council as to how and when that can be done. Will the Government find some method of ensuring that there is one specific authority which is responsible for that work?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, again, I do not know the details of that case. Certainly, the guidance states that advantage should be taken of road closures to undertake a particular clean-up, but it does not state that one has to wait until the road is closed in order to clean it. There is a problem. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 distinguishes between highway authorities which are the responsibility of counties and litter authorities which are the responsibility of districts. Different councils therefore have different responsibilities. Clearly, that situation can deliver unsatisfactory results. The Government's responsibility is confined to motorways and a few special roads. All-purpose trunk roads are the responsibility of local authorities.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, are the Government giving sufficient support to the Tidy Britain Group, an organisation with which I was actively involved for many years, and which was then doing a very valuable job in dealing with the litter problem?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the 'Tidy Britain Group is now part of an umbrella organisation with the acronym, ENCAMS. Do not ask me what that stands for, but it includes the Tidy Britain Group and Going for Green. In 1999 it published a valuable code of practice on litter and refuse which the Government take very seriously and support.

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