|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 1233I hope that the House appreciates that while we all know that the Bill is directed at the millions of people who become deaf and that, a small step forward has been made to protect their interests, it is important to acknowledge the smaller number of people who are born profoundly deaf, who have never had the advantage of being able to hear and who should be adequately protected. More could be done by the House, but I very much welcome the Bill.
Mr. Colvin : I wish to associate myself with the generous and well- deserved words of thanks and praise which have been spoken today, particularly to the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and its president the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), and, finally, to Mr. Laurie Pavitt who initiated the matter. As I have said, it is important in today's debate to put down markers for the other place. I say that in hopeful anticipation of the Bill receiving a successful Third Reading today. I wish to make five points in that connection. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) complained that the membership of the council was too loaded in favour of consumers with eight members representing consumers and only four representing the hearing aid industry. I should have preferred the council to be weighted even more heavily with five members from deaf organisations, one from a consumer organisation, four medical experts on deafness and four from the hearing aid industry. That would give a better balance of 10 against four with an independent chairman and ensure that people who use deaf aids were properly represented.
Next, my hon. Friend also made the point about the disciplinary committee, which should also be heavily weighted in favour of those who use hearing aids. I should like the number of industry representatives on the disciplinary committee to be restricted to one, with two representatives from deaf organisations, one from a consumer organisation and an independent chairman. That would ensure that the members of the council who represented hearing aid users had a majority on the disciplinary committee of five members. That is important.
The other place might also consider adding to the Bill a provision to give the council general powers to appoint additional committees. At the moment, the only committee that exists is the disciplinary committee. Under the Opticians Act 1958, opticians have a general power to appoint any committees they wish, and there is already an education committee and a companies committee. Such committees could have autonomy and could be directly responsible, not necessarily to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, but perhaps to the Secretary of State for Health. That could be immensely valuable. Another factor omitted from the Bill, no doubt by an oversight, is that there was no provision in the 1968 Act to require the council to produce an annual report. The other place should consider an amendment to compel the council to show each year how effectively and actively it has protected the interests of hearing aid consumers. The provision should require the council to state the number of occasions on which the disciplinary committee has been convened. On past experience, according to the RNID, it has been convened in 11 of the 20 years since the council was established, which is not very many.
Column 1234Finally there should be an obligation on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report on the overall effectiveness of the council in protecting the interests of hearing aid users, on the availability of hearing aids to the public and on the potential for transferring adult hearing aid services from hospitals to health services or group practices and dispensing hearing aids by a community dispenser, which is what the RNID proposes in its document, "Hearing Aids : The Case For Change."
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n on bringing forward the Bill. I hope that it will have a fair passage in the other place, to the eternal help of the 3.9 million deaf people in this country. 12.27 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : This is an important measure and I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones), both on his luck in the ballot for private Members' Bills and his choice of Bill. Few people win a high enough place in the ballot to legislate so soon after entering the House and the hon. Member has used his good fortune to excellent purpose. I congratulate him also on the content and manner of his presentation of the Bill. Both upstairs in Committee on 5 April and here on the Floor of the House today he has made the case for his Bill with eloquence and obvious sincerity.
At the same time, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), I recall today the pioneering work of our former parliamentary colleague Laurie Pavitt in piloting the parent Act--the Hearing Aid Council Act--to the statute book in 1968. His work for hearing- impaired people will long be remembered, on both sides of both Houses of Parliament, with respect and appreciation. Speaking for the Opposition, I most warmly welcome this strengthening of his legislation and, from this Front Bench, pledge our full support for the early translation of the Bill into law. The Bill's main purpose, by amending and strengthening the Hearing Aid Council Act, is to protect some of the most vulnerable among Britain's 3.9 million adults--including one in every two people over the age of 70--with a hearing loss serious enough to warrant the use of a hearing aid. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys undertook a definitive survey on the prevalence of disability, commissioned by the Government and published last September, showing that hearing impairment is the second most common disability in Britain today. Successful fitting and use of hearing aids reduces and can remove this disability, which is why the provision of the right aid at the right time is so important to so many people.
The National Health Service is, of course, the main provider of hearing aids but, as the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n said, some 20 per cent. of all aids dispensed in this country are bought privately. They are often bought by elderly people who have been subjected to utterly disreputable sales techniques. There are cases of people spending as much as £2,000 on useless aids.
Let me give the House one example of the abuse with which this Bill is intended to deal. I give the example because it illustrates so well the importance of the Bill and has been so fully and clearly documented. It concerns an elderly woman living alone whose hearing deteriorated to the point at which she felt unable to mix with other people.
Column 1235Her doctor arranged an appointment with a specialist at Hull royal infirmary, where she was told that she would have to wait 15 months for an NHS hearing aid. She writes :
"In sheer desperation I decided to go to Amplivox-Ultratone for a hearing test. I was told they had a hearing aid costing £375 to suit my particular kind of deafness and that it would be ready in a week. I had been widowed six months and was going on holiday to try to cheer myself up, so I thought that if it took all my savings I must have one."
She had to take the hearing aid back as it was of no help whatever to her and was then told that she needed two hearing aids. Her letter goes on :
"I said I had no more money and was then told that I could have a second aid, with wires round my neck and into my right ear, at a cost of another £100."
This elderly widow then went back to her GP, who arranged a further NHS appointment with a specialist for her. The specialist made it quite clear that she had been grossly misled and exploited by the private dispenser. She then took her case to the small claims court and eventually had her money returned to her, plus costs. The case was virtually undefended and her letter concludes :
"If I had not had to wait 15 months for an NHS aid, I would have been spared all this worry and distress."
This case sets in bold relief the compelling need for this Bill. As was pointed out at the Committee stage by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, the accounts of hearing aid companies show them to be highly profitable. In the year ending May 1987, for example, Ultratone Limited had an annual turnover of £11.5 million, with net profits after tax of more than £500,000. So as an example of the strong exploiting the weak, the Hull case takes some beating. The case also strongly emphasises the way in which long delays in providing aids under the National Health Service pile handicap on handicap for people whose disability may be unseen but is nevertheless a daunting burden to bear.
Ministers do not, of course, talk freely about contract prices for purchases by the NHS. But as the Minister who announced and carried into effect the replacement of the old body-worn NHS hearing aid by the behind- the-ear model, I must take the opportunity of this debate to say that some of the private sector's prices for hearing aids, which are certainly no better than the NHS aid, are totally outrageous. They are not just an affront to human decency but a serious crime against disabled people who, in some cases among the more elderly, go to the private sector for fear that they may die in the queue for NHS provision.
My decision, as the then Minister for the Disabled, to phase out the body- worn aid formerly issued by the NHS, was taken in the mid-1970s. It was seen by the hearing impaired as a major advance. The new aid was cosmetically very much better than its predecessor and cosmetics can be very important to disabled people : ask those, for example, who use wheelchairs about the importance of having some chrome. But the change that I carried through from the old body-worn hearing aid was a very long time ago. What are the present Government prepared to do, nearly 15 years on, to carry that reform further? Has the Minister any statement to make about this today?
In his handling of this Bill, the Under-Secretary seems to have almost ruined his reputation as a would-be parliamentary tough guy : the Humphrey Bogart, as it
Column 1236were, of the House of Commons. Some of his interventions in Standing Committee read more like Sir Humphrey than "Bogie". He has clearly been helpful in regard to this Bill, as the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n has acknowledged, both on and behind the scenes. He has won praise for being frank and fair in debate on a Bill which is rightly interventionist in its approach to tackling abuse in the private sector, and also more regulatory in its effects.
This House is often at its best when discussing the problems and needs of people with disabilities. Yet all of us must regard it as unfortunate that, once again, it has taken a private Member's Bill to achieve much needed help for disabled people. It is simply not good enough that legislative progress in a field of such importance has to rely, time and time again, on the luck and dedication of Back Benchers in this House. The Government have a responsibility to match their rhetoric about the needs of disabled people with more legislation of their own, especially when effective protection of vulnerable consumers is the issue.
The Government also have a clear duty to improve NHS provision at a time when the Chancellor is awash with public funds. In a recent Adjournment debate initiated by the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), the Minister, in reply, spoke of a review that the Department of Health has been undertaking in this field. He said :
"In the coming months we must work on a sensible set of reforms, which commend themselves to all those who work in the Health Service and, above all, meet patient needs."--[ Official Report, 23 March 1989 ; Vol. 149, c. 1303.]
Is there anything more the Under-Secretary can say about that review today? He must know that there is cause for concern when so many patients feel driven to the private sector and when there is the depth of exploitation which I and other right hon. and hon. Members have exemplified to the House? Has he read Dinah Hall's interview with Lord Snowdon in The Times of 16 February 1989? That interview reflects anger with the treatment of disabled people by unscrupulous high-pressure salesmen. Lord Snowdon, than whom no one has done more to help the victims of their techniques, said in the interview : "I have no objection to companies making profits on something that is not needed--luxuries for able-bodied people. But when it's cashing in on people with disabilities "
Has the Under-Secretary seen the reply I had last Friday from the Minister for Health about the training of hearing therapists and the development of standards-based vocational qualifications? He presumably knows that proposals have been made to the Care Sector Consortium and the Training Agency on which the British Society of Hearing Therapists has been invited to comment? The reply was one of particular interest to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and the British Association of the Hard of Hearing and it will be helpful to the RNID, to BAHOH and to the House if there is anything the Under-Secretary can add to it in this debate. I shall be grateful for any further information we can have--I assume that the Minister has had some consultation with the Department of Health--about the Government's intentions in regard to improvements in provision for the vast majority of hearing-impaired people who have to rely on the NHS for help.
The Hearing Aid Council is poorly equipped to discipline dispensers. Thus its record of disciplinary action is also poor. As the House has heard, the council's
Column 1237disciplinary committee has met just five times since 1976 and, in 12 years, struck off only one dispenser. Again as the House knows, in the 21 years of its existence the committee has met only 12 times and has struck off only seven dispensers. This contrasts with the thousands of complaints sent to right hon. and hon. Members, not least to the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n since he announced his intention of introducing the Bill. They are almost all about gross overcharging of mainly elderly disabled people and the now wholly inadequate means of redress. The Act is not working and is much strengthened by this important Bill which, not before time, will improve the ability of the Hearing Aid Council to discipline the dispensers who are guilty of abuse.
In Committee the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n said that there were some outstanding points of difficulty about the Government's approach to the Bill
" where we remain on opposite banks of the river".--[ Official Report, Standing Committee C, 5 April 1989 ; c.30.]
I hope very much that, when this Bill reaches the statute book, with any improvements that the House of Lords may be able to suggest, we shall all, on both sides of Parliament, Front Bench and Back Bench alike, find ourselves on the same river bank, out of respect for the very wide range of organisations that support the Bill and for that part of the private sector that welcomes the protection the Bill offers to elderly and disabled people. Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n. I thank the Minister, as the hon. Member did, for his helpfulness in Committee and pledge again total support from these Benches for the speedy passage and quick implementation of this Bill.
Mr. Forth : I shall again be brief, not only because today truly belongs to the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones), whose Bill this is, but also because I sense that the House is anxious to get to the next item of business. Quite rightly, everybody has expressed the extent to which hon. Members and people with hearing impediments are indebted to the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n for what he has been able to do. It is not often that a private Member's Bill can achieve what has been achieved. I sincerely hope that the House will shortly agree to give the Bill a Third Reading. The hon. Member for Ynys Mo n can rightly feel pleased about what he has achieved.
I thank the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) for his kind words about me and I link those thanks with thanks to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). I doubt whether my career will survive in view of what has been said about me in the debate, but I shall do my best to make sure that, where appropriate, we continue to use measures such as this to give protection or encouragement to those who need it. That is not inconsistent with adopting a robust attitude to those who are well able to look after
Column 1238themselves. That might go some way towards explaining the paradox that has puzzled many hon. Members during the debate.
The Bill does many important things and we have highlighted two of them. One is the matter of penalties. We think that we have put in place a workable series of penalties that will go a long way towards giving the council effective powers to deal with appropriate matters.
On the question of composition, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) made a helpful and positive contribution. He has knowledge of and interest in this matter, and rightly expressed concern on behalf of the industry and the dispensers about the nature of the new composition that the Bill will bring to the council. May I seek to reassure my hon. Friend by saying that we shall now have to find a way of having a membership of the council that reflects the nature of the industry? We shall do everything that we can to ensure representation from users of private sector products. I accept his comment that it is right that that should be so, and we shall try to do it when requesting nominations for membership of the council and by looking carefully at such nominations. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South also spoke about that matter, and I hope that we shall be able to meet his requirements.
There is concern about funding which I well understand. At no point does the Bill set out to alter the basis of funding ; it does not seek to be the vehicle to do that. I understand the concerns of the industry, but perhaps the House will be reassured to know that the main costs incurred by the council are in disciplinary proceedings. We amended the Bill to provide that the amounts levied by fines should go to the council and therefore in large measure offset any costs that may be incurred. We hope that that will also meet any additional costs that may be incurred through additional proceedings of the kind envisaged by many hon. Members.
We have gone some way towards providing a compensatory factor, if I may put it that way. I remind the House that the Secretary of State has to agree the annual fees levied by the council. Therefore, there is a safety valve, and if things ever threaten to get out of hand or to be dealt with irresponsibly--although I do not envisage that--there is a safety net. I hope that that reassures the industry and the dispensers. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South for his positive attitude and hope that he will pass my comments to the dispensers so that from now on everyone will be able to make the council a more effective and more workable body.
The House can be pleased with the work it has done this morning. The hon. Member for Ynys Mo n must be delighted. I ask the House to give the Bill a resounding Third Reading and send it well on its way to the other place so that it may reach the statute book as soon as possible.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Order for Third Reading read.
The Bill comes to its Third Reading substantially amended in Committee. As I indicated on Second Reading, we had experienced some difficulties in drafting what was then part II of the Bill and what is now clause 6 dealing with powers to seize vehicles used in illegal waste disposal. I hoped that we could positively improve the drafting but my fear, which was rather more acute than my hope, was that we might lose that part of the Bill altogether due to opposition within Government Departments. However, my resolve to introduce these new powers was greatly strengthened by the comments of hon. Members on Second Reading when, as those who were present will recall, hon. Members called for even more severe measures--for example, confiscation of vehicles--than I had proposed.
During the intervening months, we have been able to consult in depth on my proposals, and I am delighted to be able to report the very positive results of those discussions. I am extremely grateful, first, to the London Waste Regulation Authority. Its members have given me unwavering support and its officers have spent an inordinate amount of time advising me and consulting departmental officials. Secondly, I am extremely grateful for the support of the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) who, in the course of our negotiations, was able to set aside the reservations that she expressed on Second Reading, enabling us to spend a most productive time improving the Bill in Committee without diminishing any of its original intentions. I remind the House of the problem that the Bill seeks to address. Waste production from all sources has dramatically increased in Britain in recent decades. As the quantity, complexity and hazardous nature of wastes has grown, so has the disposal problem. In short, disposal of waste has become big business and, in turn, the potential profit has attracted a criminal element seeking to evade the current law on control of pollution and dump loads illegally.
My concern about the activities of fly tippers, as they are popularly known, began with representations from tenants on the Silwood estate in my constituency, through which I discovered not only the extent of the problem in my own constituency but the difficulties for the enforcing authorities in trying to tackle that very problem. I discovered that more than 10,000 tons of waste had been deposited near that housing estate, which led me to have more discussions both with my own local authority--Lewisham borough council--and the London Waste Regulation Authority. I discovered that the problem was widespread. I received reports from hon. Members of fly tipping not just in the conurbation but in rural areas, including some of our most cherished natural beauty spots. Clearly, the dimensions of the problem of illegal waste disposal are such as to require rather more than the Prime Ministerial exhortation to bag it and bin it.
In London--an area of 600 square miles with a population of 7 million people--about 17 million tons of
Column 1240waste is generated each year, 3.25 million tons of which is household waste and civic amenity waste, which is handled primarily by the public sector. A total of 13.75 million tonnes, however, is commercial and industrial waste handled by the private sector. In the greater London area there are approximately 300,000 industrial and commercial waste producers which generate a great variety of waste ranging from small quantities of complex chemicals to thousands of tonnes of material, some of which is extremely hazardous. In London the regulation of waste disposal is the responsibility of the London Waste Regulation Authority and the London boroughs. In recent years,the LWRA has given considerable priority to the fight against illegal disposal of waste. However, as it stated in its annual report for 1987-88, that is a very difficult task. With regard to the need to undertake surveillance of popular fly tipping areas--particularly the more notorious sites, some of which are in the borough of Lewisham--the LWRA stated :
"Such exercises, to be effective, needed a good many officers and placed a strain on the LWRA's limited resources. LWRA officers, in common with most other enforcement agencies, have no special powers of arrest and are instructed to avoid dangerous situations. Some fly tippers can be extremely violent. On one occasion an offender drove his lorry at an officer's car. On another, an officer was assaulted by a site operator and savaged by the man's guard dog. As it stands at present, the law is so convoluted as to make it extremely difficult to mount successful prosecutions against fly tippers. An offender needs to be apprehended while actually committing the offence and it is necessary to prove that the waste that is deposited is controlled waste as defined by the Control of Pollution Act 1974. Witnesses, who are often ordinary members of the public, have not always been willing to appear in court. These are just two of the many problems to be surmounted. Procedural difficulties mean that the task of bringing an offender to book is a time consuming and uphill task."
That is why, as hon. Members will appreciate, it was necessary for me to introduce this private Members' Bill.
The powers that the Bill would grant are twofold. First, it establishes a registration scheme whereby those who undertake the removal of controlled waste for commercial reasons must obtain a registration certificate from the waste disposal authority. Failure to do that before moving controlled waste will be an offence. That measure will undoubtedly reduce the number of cowboy operators and it will be positively welcomed by the many legitimate operators who feel that they have been given a bad name in the business by the criminal elements.
Secondly, the Bill provides for the seizure of vehicles where the authority has reasonable grounds for believing that the vehicle has been used for the illegal disposal of waste and an offence has been committed, but it has been impossible for the authority to trace the responsible person. I hasten to add that it will not be possible for the authority to take such dramatic measures as seizure without having obtained a warrant from the appropriate authority. I wish briefly to clarify several points outstanding from the Standing Committe stage about the operation of the Bill and to put on record the advice that I have received. There was concern about the phrase :
"or otherwise with a view to profit."
It is clear to hon. Members that a firm which is commercially engaged in these matters involves a company which regularly takes money for transporting waste. However, there was concern about what the phrase would cover. The object in this part of the Bill is to catch everyone
Column 1241whom one could reasonably describe as a waste carrier. We are not after the individual householder, as I explained on Second Reading. However, we might wish to encompass carriers who are not seen to be in the business of waste disposal but who may casually accept a cash payment for carrying in a vehicle and disposing of someone else's waste. The vehicle might not even be a lorry. Such informal cash-down arrangements would arguably not constitute a waste disposal business but, if uncontrolled, could give rise to fly tipping. Accordingly, our belt and braces definition is justified. Our definition includes all businesses carrying waste and any person carrying waste with a view to profiting from that activity. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members wish to see that provision in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) was concerned that partnerships might be vulnerable to de-registration every time they lose or acquire new partners. After close examination of that aspect, we believe that that will not be a real problem. There are four possible cases to consider. When a new partner joins an existing partnership which is registered, he must apply for and secure registration before becoming a partner. That is a reasonable requirement, and one that he would have to fulfil if he were setting up as a waste carrier on is own account. When an existing partner leaves a partnership, there is no effect on the partnership's registration, and when an existing partner's registration is revoked a period of grace is allowed before revocation takes effect so that the carrier may appeal. During that period of grace, the partnership may decide either that the partner should appeal or that he should cease to be a partner--either of which will preserve the other partners' registration. When a partner voluntarily surrenders his registration but remains in the partnership--this would be peculiarly perverse--it would still be open to the other partners to remove him from the partnership so as to preserve their registration. I am satisfied, on the basis of that technical advice, that the Bill does not grossly inconvenience partners or partnerships but protects the right of society to ensure that those who engage in business through partnerships cannot use that legal form of business to evade the law.
Concern was expressed by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that the definition of "road" in respect of an amendment to the Bill citing the Road Traffic Act 1988 is too narrow. Again, I believe that such a fear is unjustified. The only parts of the Bill in which the word "road" appears are clauses 5(2) and new clause 3, which provide that no one other than a police constable in uniform may stop a vehicle on any road. However, off the road a disposal authority officer also may stop a vehicle. In effect, the narrower the definition of "road", the wider the power of authority officers. I know that that provision is important to waste regulation authorities, who often have to give chase to cowboy operators and only stop them well away from the public highway. Those new powers will do much to strengthen the hand of the enforcement authorities and to give hope to many constituents of mine and of other right hon. and hon. Members whose environment has for so long been blighted by the menace of fly tipping.
I introduce one note of caution. The Bill as amended is more dependent on regulation to be brought forward by the Minister than was originally the case. When the Minister responds, I ask her to make clear to the House the
Column 1242timescale against which those regulations will be brought forward. We do not want to place positive legislation on the statute book, only to find that it is inoperable or only partially operable due to lack of Government regulation.
Once again, I thank the sponsors, all of whom wished us well even though they had other engagements and could not be with us today. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley). I also express my sincere thanks to those who have given me such helpful legal and technical advice--the London Waste Regulation Authority, the London borough of Lewisham and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran). Again, I must express my satisfaction at the unusual accord that has been reached on both sides of the House in relation to this private Member's Bill. I was gratified to find only yesterday a reference to my Bill in the Government's reply to the second report of the Environment Select Committee on toxic waste. It has been a privilege to bring a new green Bill thus far in the House. I hope that hon. Members will consent to its Third Reading.
Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green) : On Second Reading of the Bill, on which the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) was kind enough to invite me to join her as co-sponsor, I congratulated her on her good fortune in the ballot, which we all envy, and even more on her choice of subject, which concerns a severe aspect of environmental pollution. I express my congratulations on the skill and flexibility with which the hon. Lady has piloted the Bill to this final stage in the House. That is not the easiest thing for a Back Bencher to do.
The hon. Lady was right in congratulating, and drawing attention to the part played by, the London Waste Regulation Authority. Councillor Mrs. Joan Wykes and Mr. Ferguson, the general manager, gave impressive evidence to the Environment Select Committee on the problems covered by the Bill. I think that the hon. Lady will not mind my saying that, in a sense, this is also their Bill. I thank also my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. Because of her good will and that of her officials and the assistance that they have given the hon. Member for Deptford, it is possible for us to give the Bill a Third Reading in the knowledge that the House will not divide on it. The hon. Lady will therefore have the satisfaction of having a Bill in her name.
The Bill started life with the limited but vital objective of eliminating that pernicious phenomenon of our commercial life, fly tipping. It now completes its life in the House as a Bill for the registration of carriers of waste. Perhaps, on reflection, that suggests a more appropriate title for the Bill--Registration of Carriers of Waste Bill--because it more readily identifies than the previous title what the legislation is about.
The Bill is a necessary link in the chain of duty of care which is the strategy that the Department of the Environment is evolving to deal with the problems associated with waste disposal. The fact that controlled waste will be transportable only by registered carriers will make it much easier to trace back to the original producers waste subjected to improper disposal.
Column 1243This goes far wider than fly tipping. In that connection it is important to emphasise that the term used in the Bill, "controlled waste", includes ordinary builders' rubble. When using such technical terms the subject may appear to have greater importance and significance than it has. Builders' rubble is the biggest part of fly tipping. That will carry a penalty of up to £2,000 under the Bill--for the unregistered carrier who carries controlled waste. If the rubble contains asbestos or other dangerous substances, an even higher penalty--a penalty without limit--can apply to the unregistered carrier.
I welcome the fact that in clause 6 we have found a way to provide machinery for the seizure of vehicles used by unregistered carriers of controlled waste. It is very limited--more limited than I should have liked --as a magistrate's warrant will be required before the seizure can take place, and as the vehicle can be stopped only by a constable in uniform. We can understand the reservations that the Home Office may have about a system under which all the current waste disposal authorities--the county authorities and the metropolitan boroughs--had officials who had been given the power to stop and seize vehicles. It is a pity, then, that the regulation authorities as proposed by the Select Committee on the Environment, on the excellent model of the London Waste Regulation Authority, have not been accepted by the Department of the Environment. If we had a limited number of waste authorities organised on a regional basis, it would be far easier to control a system under which non-police officers had the power to stop vehicles and the circumstances in which they could detain them. That weakness in clause 6 may make it difficult to use effectively.
Ms. Ruddock : I sympathise with that argument, as I have shared the hon. Gentleman's concern. I was pleased to learn, however, that the London Waste Regulation Authority, which was closely involved in amending the Bill, felt that it would be able to operate the clause. It often needs the protection of the police, and it felt that the clause would be adequate.
Sir Hugh Rossi : I am certain that it is better to have clause 6 in its present form than to have nothing at all. The fact that vehicles can be seized is an important sanction in itself. Waste regulatory authorities might, in future, find the system more cumbersome than they would like if they have to find a magistrate at home and provide all the evidence to obtain a warrant, particularly in regard to the carrier who may be very difficult to identify.
Another matter that needs to be emphasised is that the use of registered carriers will only in part discharge the duty of care as I understand the Government intend it to apply. Producers will also have to have regard to the competence of carriers in relation to the waste that they are contracting to carry to discharge the duty of care. The question then arises whether in the regulations made under the Bill there should be some reference to competence--whether there should be a prescription for a certificate of competence on the part of the carrier.
It may be argued that the Department of Transport carriage of dangerous goods regulations provide control. Is my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment satisfied that there is provision under those regulations for the training that would be, and should be,
Column 1244required for people who carry waste materials to enable them to understand the nature of the waste that they are carrying, how it should be dealt with and what to do should there be an accident? With this Bill, we are going beyond builders' rubble and contemplating every other kind of waste that falls within the definition of controlled waste.
The final problem is the identification of fly tippers who might be registered or, more likely, unregistered. The offence under the Control of Pollution Act 1974 is to deposit material. To prosecute, one must either catch the fly tipper red-handed or have sufficient means of identifying him by the vehicle that he used. In the present circumstances, that requires eye-witnesses with pretty good eyesight, especially when a lorry's registration number is accidentally covered in mud, dirt or some other material that obscures its easy identification.
For that reason, following the thoughts of the Royal Commission on the environment in its eleventh report, the Select Committee suggested to the Government that there should be clear, positive identification on vehicles for hire or use by carriers of waste. The Government accepted the Royal Commission's recommendation as long ago as 1986, and then embarked on a period of consultation, as a result of which they have withdrawn from the Royal Commission's suggestion that there should be some kind of identification plate on a vehicle registered for the carriage of waste. Again, one can see the difficulty of a plate being easily seen and identified.
For that reason, the Select Committee went further and said that a registered carrier should have his name and address clearly emblazoned on his vehicle so that an eye-witness to fly tipping could readily identify and report without the confusion that frequently arises from half reading a number plate on the front or back of a vehicle. Unhappily, the Government have not agreed to that suggestion. I hope that, in the light of experience, they will have second thoughts. Perhaps they can deal with the matter in the regulations which they will be entitled to make when the Bill becomes an Act.
There are practical problems. A carrier may hire a vehicle to do a job for somebody else. We might need some changes in current practices. After all, if the Government are to introduce a duty of care, that in itself will require considerable changes in the way in which the industry presently gets rid of its unwanted rubbish. Therefore, it is not too far-fetched to provide a regime whereby controlled waste of all kinds should be carried in registered vehicles which are clearly marked as such, and marked in such a way that they can be readily identified by an eye-witness even on a dark winter's night in an obscure lay-by.
I hope that the Government will have further thoughts on that matter. The debate does not end on Third Reading in the House. The Bill must go to another place, and then we shall consider the regulations. It is always easy to find a dozen reasons for saying no. What one is interested in is finding the will to do something that is necessary. I suggest to the Minister, and to those advising her, that the Select Committee has not put forward its recommendations idly. They followed detailed examination of evidence from all sources. We realise that our recommendations are not easy to implement, but the need is such that a way should be found to do that.
Column 1245I leave these thoughts with my hon. Friend the Minister. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford once again and hope that she has the pleasure of seeing on the statute book a Bill in her name.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) on being successful in bringing her Bill to this stage. Tribute has been paid by the Chairman of the Select Committee and others to the hon. Lady's efforts to take advice, to discuss the way forward and to bring to Third Reading a Bill that is appreciated and supported by all who take the question of waste and waste control seriously. Fly tipping is a costly and offensive scourge which blights many parts of our country, especially some inner-city areas. There is no doubt that the Bill will make a useful contribution in refining the weapons to deal with that great problem. I appreciate the time and trouble that the hon. Lady has taken over the details and I am pleased that during Committee stage we were able significantly to alter the Bill in various key areas.
The Bill has, of course, been strengthened in Committee. Two examples are that, first, waste authorities can now use powers to search a vehicle, to make tests and to take samples of the loads, and, secondly, we have added a new offence of obstructing an officer who is stopping and seizing a vehicle. The Bill, in its amended form, will do two important things. It will create an effective register of waste carriers. The register will be of great use to authorities in their enforcement work and also to producers of waste who are seeing a legitimate outlet. All this is designed to be as simple as possible to impose the least burden on local authorities and legitimate industry while protecting those who are clearly deeply concerned about fly tipping.
The Bill will create a new enforcement power for authorities to seize vehicles. On Second Reading, the whole House recognised the strength of feeling that a measure was required which would provide for the seizing of a vehicle where a fly tipping offence had occurred but the owner of the vehicle had not been identified. I am pleased that we have been able to develop that into a form which is acceptable and will, I believe, be effective. The Bill is essentially an aid to detection rather than a new form of punishment. We cannot enact a power to confiscate vehicles as a punishment wherever there exists a suspicion against the driver. Hon. Members must agree that punishment is a matter for the courts and should be imposed only on those who have been properly tried and found guilty. Confiscating a vehicle is a serious matter because the vehicle is a form of livelihood. Those who have seen vehicles fly tipping sometimes forget that wrongfully to seize a vehicle would create severe difficulties for the owner if his purpose had been innocent.
There are a number of areas in which we have decided to bring forward regulations. The advantage of regulations is that further time is given to consult. It is easy to legislate hastily without, perhaps, thinking through the implications of the regulations for the people involved. In recent weeks it has been clear that the London Waste Regulation Authority and others have been able to help to refine the Bill. We hope that the time taken to produce the
Column 1246regulations will be used constructively. In Committee I said that we hoped to bring forward those regulations by the end of the year. There is no doubt that my Department takes this matter extremely seriously. We are also involved in a number of other measures to try to improve our control of waste and a great deal of effort and energy will be invested in that.
Our proposals to introduce a duty of care on the producers of waste, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) referred, will be the key to dealing with waste which is left in the wrong place. We shall have an important weapon with which to tackle that problem through our ability to identify the source of the waste and make the person involved responsible. To introduce those regulations we need a register of carriers of waste so that those who have a legitimate wish to continue their business feel secure that the people to whom they have entrusted their waste will satisfactorily meet the necessary standards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green was also concerned about visible identification on the vehicle to show that it was licensed to carry waste. We discussed this in some detail in Committee. Although we agreed that, superficially, such a visual registration would be a good idea, there would be a number of exceptions where a carrier would not need to be registered--for example, if he was carrying his own waste. We must also consider the effects of such a concept on small businesses which sometimes hire or borrow an additional vehicle while carrying out a respectable trade. We therefore believe that the registration of such carriers and the obligation on them to produce the document to prove their registration is the right way forward. There is no short cut or substitute for stopping a vehicle and checking on the registration. We are not convinced that a visible plaque is the right way forward, but there will be a further opportunity to discuss all these matters because the Government have made it clear that they want to bring forward comprehensive proposals for waste legislation at the earliest opportunity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green also asked about the competence of those carrying particular waste. Although the Government have made it clear that they believe that competence should be a material consideration when issuing a licence for waste disposal sites, there are no proposals for competence to be a particular requirement for registration. Registration will mean that there is a list of those carrying out a legimate trade. We shall, of course, consider those matters carefully when we issue the draft regulations and my hon. Friend may wish to make additional points at that stage.
My hon. Friend also asked about the need for a constable to be present when stopping a vehicle on the highway, and that need is recognised. The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford and the London Waste Regulation Authority have made it clear that many of the characters involved in the illegal business of fly tipping are not those whom many would want to approach on a dark night without the presence of a constable. We believe that that requirement is right and proper. A member of the London Waste Regulation Authority is, of course, entitled to approach a vehicle off the main road and to ask to see that the vehicle is registered. We believe that we have got the balance right and that the requirement will be enforceable and add to the other measures that we have in mind.
Column 1247It is clear that as society progresses we generate ever increasing amounts of waste, whether it be domestic waste, builders' rubble, industrial waste or fairly hazardous waste. The Government are determined to update at the earliest opportunity their proposals for dealing with waste in a comprehensive and thorough fashion. They have brought forward a series of discussion papers and documents in recent years and are anxious to take all views into account when finalising the details for legislation.
There is no doubt that the Bill brought forward by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford will make a significant and important contribution. Not only her constituents, but all those affected by fly tipping and all those involved in the legitimate trade of waste disposal have every reason to be grateful to her. I hope that the House will give the hon. Lady's Bill a robust and resounding Third Reading and that it will successfully continue on its way to another place.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : With regard to this piece of legislation, I say to my hon. Friend the Minister, "Regulations, regulations and more regulations". Our party is supposed to be the party which, recognising that we are over-regulated in our businesses and industries, has made a special point of trying to remove regulations and to limit the number of new regulations put on the statute book.
I have taken a great interest in small businesses all my political life. The Bill will undoubtedly have a major effect on such businesses, which have small lorries to carry waste from one place to another. There are many small businesses in the building industry. My father was a demolition contractor and I have lifelong experience of travelling to and from waste tips to get rid of rubbish, so I know a great deal about the subject. There are many waste tips in my constituency, which is part of the Thames estuary. It houses many old gravel sites and one of the largest waste disposal contractors in the country, Corys, which has one of the most advanced plants for dealing with and disposing of toxic waste.
I do not speak merely to be controversial but because I believe there are a great many errors in the idea behind the Bill. No one wants rubbish to be dumped in a field, in someone's backyard or wherever. Everyone believes that people who do that should be caught and severely punished. However, there is a great difference between that and new regulations requiring special licences for vehicles which merely carry a bit of builders' rubbish from one place to another. People with lorries already have to obtain heavy goods vehicle licences, and one virtually needs a degree in law to understand the relevant regulations. I am not exaggerating when I stress the degree of pressure that this places on lorry owners who do a good job of taking rubbish sites to proper waste tips.
Column 1248We also make it difficult for people to open sites where waste can be disposed. Again, I speak from experience. When one of the obviously suitable gravel pits in my constituency is offered for tipping, enormous numbers of people always protest. Those who live nearby do not want lorries travelling down the lanes and do not like the idea of having rubbish nearby although they all help to generate it. Protests are always made and we end up with fewer and fewer sites on which people can honestly and legitimately dump rubbish. We make it difficult for them to do so. This is the other side of environmentalists' problem. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) shakes her head, but a large part of my constituency business consists of people complaining either about taking waste to sites or about waste disposal.
If those who produce chemical waste were monitored--we know which firms make noxious or toxic industrial chemicals--we could ensure at that point that the waste would be properly disposed of. We could come to grips with the issue. However, making life more difficult for people who have to obtain special licences for their vehicles is unduly interventionist.