Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords]

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Gregory Barker: Surely we should be most concerned about the laggards—the last quartile of authorities—and those who are having problems, invariably because of the start-up costs involved and the lack of resources that results from the allocation of Government funds. Those authorities will need to be encouraged and coerced into action. For that reason, we need a national framework for kerbside collection.

Mr. Meacher: I am fascinated, and slightly surprised, to see how the hon. Gentleman is getting into coercion. He told me during the lunch break that he was surprised to find me out-lassez-fairing him. He is certainly moving rapidly in the other direction.

I am glad to say that I was right: the figure for partial or whole kerbside collection by local authorities is about 45 per cent. I entirely accept that, as in every process, those who are most resistant will require pressure, but the current pressures in the system will take us a long way in the right direction. As I have already said, we agree that there is a need to secure markets for recyclate. That is why we set up WRAP.

The hon. Member for Lewes spoke about fly tipping, an important and troubling issue. I concur with the figures that he produced, as I think they were drawn from my parliamentary answer. They are worrying: a total of 600,000 tonnes was fly-tipped at various sites throughout the country, which is hideously high. The hon. Gentleman said—his interpretation is not quite correct, although he said it considerately—that the Government were pursuing the right policy by increasing the landfill tax, but that it had made the situation worse.

There is no reason why an increase in the landfill tax should make landfilling worse, because one need not go into the countryside to get rid of waste. One can do it, legally and legitimately, by leaving it at the local authority civic amenity site, which is free for small businesses and households. Even bulky items can be deposited at such sites. An increase the in landfill tax should not, therefore, affect the availability of that form of disposal.

Norman Baker: That is true for individual householders, who often avail themselves of that facility. The problem lies with businesses. I do not know what national practice is but, in my constituency, the county council does not allow businesses to deposit huge amounts at household sites. The problems result from the evasion of landfill tax by businesses seeking not to incur those higher charges. Certainly, abandoned cars are not allowed on council waste sites.

Mr. Meacher: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that local authorities are within their rights to impose some charge on small businesses, because civic amenity sites are primarily for individual

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householders. Authorities should consider whether that it is a wise policy, because it could deflect a certain amount of waste, which would otherwise have been taken by small businesses to civic amenity sites, into the countryside, where it is simply fly-tipped. There is no difference between us with regard to the problem. It is awful, and although I am not sure whether it is getting worse, I am prepared to concede that it may be. Many anecdotal stories suggest that it is, but there is little systematic data. The problem is how to catch the offenders; that is what we want to do.

I also entirely agree that when we do catch people, we should impose deterrent penalties. My wife says that I am becoming increasingly punitive, but I believe that this is a matter of making people aware of the consequences of what they are doing. Why should the rest of us pick up the tab for them? I do not wish to be draconian, but the current penalties are derisory. Many companies and individuals are prepared to take the risk because the chances are that they will not be caught and that, even if they are, any penalty will be a very small fraction of their turnover. That is a ridiculous situation. I do not wish to tell judges what to do—no Minister dare enter into the arena with the Lord Chancellor. However, it is important that magistrates, who receive 96 per cent. of all cases, realise the significance of environmental offences. I have a constant battle to persuade the Magistrates' Association to get its members to take the matter seriously.

Mr. Hayes: I think that we have found common cause on the matter, and I suspect that we also agree that those who are elected and accountable, rather than unelected judges, should take a lead in such matters. However, I shall not go down that philosophical avenue.

It is right that we catch and penalise people who act in a flagrantly irresponsible way and cause enormous nuisance. It is also right that we should change the popular culture: the expectation of what is acceptable in terms of waste. How we do that is a challenge—it could be by information, education or other routes. It includes penalising people when they do wrong, but it also involves trying to encourage them not to do wrong in the first place. I hope that the Minister will address that.

Mr. Meacher: Of course that is right. There is a strong consensus in the Committee that we need such a change of culture. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, our parents and grandparents would not have dreamed of behaving in that way, and if they found their children doing so we would have had quite a hiding. I do not recommend bringing that back, but our local and national leadership, in all its forms, must change its attitude.

In my constituency, come the local elections, a big concern is the British National party. However, that aside, the single issue that people are most concerned about is litter. They do not like living in a neighbourhood that is grotty and degraded and makes them feel bad about themselves. They need some leadership in tidying it up, and then they will begin to behave differently; it will create a virtuous spiral.

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Mr. Hayes: I do not want to take the Minister any further round his virtuous spiral. I can say with some authority, because I am, for the moment, the Conservative spokesman—on loan—on such matters, that the Opposition would be very supportive of the Minister in that respect as, I am sure, would be the Government. It is a cross-party issue because we have the same constituency pressures and the same correspondence. If appropriate measures are proposed, the Minister will have support from all parts of the House. I hope that he will have the courage to proceed. He will certainly have my backing.

Mr. Meacher: The Government do have the courage to introduce legislation. It is called the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, and I shall come to it. However, it is not as though provisions are not already in place. It is often the exercise of provisions that is lacking. We already have legislation to deal with fly tipping. The key provisions are to be found in part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, and in the Refuse Disposal Amenity Act 1978. Other relevant primary legislation includes the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989, the Public Health Act 1961 and the Highways Act 1980.

Some of those provisions may need to be amended, but one has only to read out a list of legislation to discover that the real problem is that it is not being used to anywhere near its full extent. It is not being policed; no one is detecting or apprehending those who are behaving badly; and when they are caught the penalties are not sufficient. The problem is not a lack of law; it is a lack of readiness and determination to do something about it. This is a cross-party issue. I cannot believe that any serious political party is not wholly behind us. The Anti-social Behaviour Bill—

Norman Baker rose—

Hon. Members: Here we go.

Norman Baker: I am not about to say that I am not fully behind the Bill, so the Minister can cross that off his list of ammunition.

It is not only those who drop litter who are responsible. I refer, for example, to fast-food restaurants that hand out meals in plastic trays, which can later be found lying in the roads in a half-mile radius around the restaurant. When travelling around the country, one can see where McDonald's is by marking the location of the boxes; in the middle of the circle, there will be a McDonald's restaurant. It is the same for the kebab shops in Lewes. What will the Government do about that? They should either encourage those companies to take responsibility for their litter—a producer responsibility—or ensure that those companies patrol the streets themselves rather than putting the bill onto the taxpayer.

Mr. Meacher: I called in the leading management from the fast-food manufacturers to discuss that problem. Most of them assured me that they already had a voluntary code of conduct and that the area up to 100 m from their shops was regularly cleaned up by staff. [Interruption.] That is what I was told. It is not for me to say that it is not true, but it certainly does not work as seamlessly as they suggest.

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The answer, however, is exactly what the hon. Gentleman suggested: we need independent people on the ground, not only near fast-food shops, although they are the worst, but near fish and chip shops and others that generate a lot of waste. Those people should be independently monitored, and the responsibility has to be clearly identified and action taken. It is not impossible for local authorities to do that now. They have the power, and we have to activate them to act in that way. However, even local authorities will be deterred if the people whom they take to court are given only derisory fines.

Mr. Hayes: I am reluctant to drag this up, but it is important. My constituents cannot understand why those organisations should pack their products in containers that are not disposable and biodegradable. Why cannot packaging be made of card or paper, which would degrade quickly even when discarded? Particular kinds of card or paper would degrade even more quickly, unlike plastic or polystyrene.

With your indulgence, Mr. Amess, I wish to say that the problem does not occur only within 100 m of shops. Drive-through restaurants are a worse problem. People collect the food in their cars and discard the packaging half a mile away, or even, as I know from my rural constituency, in lanes two or three miles away. We all know where it has come from because it has the company's badge and name printed all over it.

 
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