|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 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.
Column 1291London 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
Column 1292construction 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
Column 1293on "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
Column 1294The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) indicated assent.
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.
Column 1295It 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.
Column 1296I 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--that
"the 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 that
"the 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.
Column 1297One 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 that
"Jobbing 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
Column 1298removal 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 Irishism--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
Column 1299the 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
Column 1300is 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.
Column 1301Friend 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 Beckton 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
Column 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 the 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 not 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 are 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