HL Deb 05 June 2003 vol 648 cc1484-7

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proposals they have for dealing with the increase in fly tipping.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, The Government are committed to dealing with the serious and growing problem of fly tipping. The Anti-Social Behaviour Bill currently before another place, includes measures which will help the Environment Agency and local authorities to trace and prosecute those responsible for fly tipping. The Government are also considering a wide range of other measures, details of which will be published later this year and brought forward at the nearest legislative opportunity.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. All of us are aware of seeing the countryside being despoiled by fly tipping, but is the Minister aware of the very real concerns of the charity shops in towns which are suffering from fly tipping by stealth because they are given up to 15 million sacks of textiles and other materials each year? The shops recycle this material but exclude items of no use. That converts what was domestic waste into commercial waste and the charity shops are charged at the full rate for disposing of such items. Does the Minister believe that, as is the situation with some local authorities, there is a case for making a partial allowance for the very major recycling of wasted goods necessary in a year? Can he encourage his department to ensure that more local authorities look at that possibility?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there are various recycling schemes with which local authorities are being encouraged to deal. In some case that would include some of the waste recycled by charities. It is a more difficult concept to take as a matter of principle that the charities' unwanted goods, however originally deposited, can be regarded other than as waste and therefore charged as waste either at the collection point or at the civic amenity. Some quite difficult issues are involved here.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, will my noble friend express the hope that the House welcomes the Bill to which he referred, but can we be sure that the penalties for this grossly unsocial and often evil behaviour will be sufficiently severe to deter it?

Lord Whitty

My Lord, the current maximum penalty for fly tipping is already pretty severe. For ordinary fly tipping it is up to £ 20,000 or two years' imprisonment. For hazardous waste the penalties are unlimited. The problem is that the actual level of fines is substantially lower than that. I see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not seated on the Woolsack at the moment, but I do not want anything I say to be interpreted as an attack on the courts. The importance of this and other environmental crimes deserves better recognition from the magistrates.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, the Minister has just mentioned hazardous waste. I am sure that he is aware that in July next year the number of landfill sites which will take such waste will be reduced from about 180 to about 14. What guidance will the Minister's department give to industry about what it should do with hazardous waste? Such a drastic reduction is likely to result in a greatly increased level of fly tipping of hazardous waste.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I disagree. I do not recognise the precise figures, but clearly the number of hazardous waste sites under the new regulations will be considerably limited. The problem at the moment is that hazardous waste is deposited with non-hazardous materials in what have hitherto been legal landfills. The whole point of the new regulations is to ensure that hazardous waste is separated and dealt with in a more managed way. I believe that the new regulations will provide for that. Therefore, I am less worried about any regression in dealing with hazardous waste; indeed, I believe that the situation will improve. The volume of non-hazardous waste and where it is tipped is the main cause of greater anxiety about fly tipping.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Environment Agency sometimes takes many months to produce an enforcement order; and that after its issue it still takes a long time to deal with the situation?

Lord Whitty

Yes, my Lords, I am aware that there has been delay in the system. That is partly because the Environment Agency has not hitherto had the powers to trace the vehicles or individuals concerned, either through the business—whereas it now has powers as a result of our changing the regulations earlier this year—or under the new powers in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill if Parliament accepts it.

Lord Brookman

My Lords, most of the fly tipping I notice is building material. It is offensive to all communities. The Minister said the punishment that currently inveighs is quite severe. What are the figures for prosecutions and how many people have been to gaol, for example, for this offensive situation?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, my noble friend is right that a large proportion of the problem in the nonhazardous sector is building materials. The volume makes the problem significantly worse. I do not have figures for the total number of prosecutions by local authorities. The number of prosecutions by the Environment Agency—some of which are for hazardous waste—is about 350 per year. Fines average between £ 2,000 and £ 3,000, while the maximum, as I have said, is £ 20,000 or two years imprisonment. The actual level of sanction is therefore much less than the law allows.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I revert to the question of £ 20,000 or two years. That is all very well, and we hear a great deal about the notorious cases. But in fact the most infuriating fly tipping is usually relatively small-scale and unidentifiable. In the majority of cases, the person who tips has a reasonable certainty that he will not be traced. Local authorities now have targets in this area. Will the Minister assure me that they are adequately resourced both to deal with the problem and, most importantly, to trace the offenders?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, local authorities allocate their own resources. The noble Lord will not be advocating greater direction than already exists in that regard. Additional powers on tracing and the ability to seize vehicles are covered by both the regulatory change we made earlier and in the proposals under the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that fly-tippers are only litter-bugs on a bigger scale— I agree that it is often a much bigger scale? Does he agree that until his department and local authorities give a leading example by keeping the roads for which they are responsible much cleaner, we will not be likely to change the deplorable culture of the British people in the matter?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I agree that it is the same psychology and, in some cases, the same people engaging in substantial fly tipping as in the disposal of smaller amounts of litter. It is probably a greater problem in this country than in many others. Nevertheless, we should register that in recent years there has been significant improvement in the performance of many local authorities on the prevention and clean-up of litter. It is important to register at least some success on that front, while I agree with the noble Lord that more needs to be achieved.