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Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): I beg to move,

I begin by welcoming the Government's recognition of the growing threats to our environment. Part of the threat exists at the global level in terms of challenges such as climate change—an issue on which, so far, the
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Government's response appears to be all talk. The floods experienced in the north-west over the weekend are an example of the damage that climate change can cause locally, but we are not even hearing any talk from Ministers—not in Parliament, at least—about that.

I also accept that part of the threat to the environment is indeed evident at local level. I agree with the Secretary of State that many of the issues that matter deeply to a great many families and individuals throughout the country relate to what is going on in their immediate environment. The consequences of more litter, fly-tipping, graffiti, fly-posting, abandoned cars and so forth mean that more and more people are suffering from dirty streets, which can turn into run-down neighbourhoods and then to an increase in antisocial behaviour. Those consequences are part of our daily lives.

The threats to both the global and the local environment are important and both need action by the Government. Sadly, although they have begun to admit to the existence of the problem, all the Government have managed to do in this Bill is to cobble together a hotch-potch of measures, some of which are incoherent. Some may be individually useful, but in many cases, local authorities may struggle to enforce them. Many would not be needed at all if existing powers were being properly utilised and if other aspects of Government policy were designed to address the problems that have been identified.

A great many reports have confirmed the often depressing day-to-day experience of most city dwellers and of many who live in the countryside—the ugly intrusion into our lives and the degradation of our environment caused by careless attitudes towards the disposal of unwanted items, whether it be chewing gum, old cars or many other items. Another cause is the lack of respect for both the built and the natural environment and for property that does not belong to any particular individual. Increasingly, too, we suffer from noise and light pollution—forms of environmental damage that can be just as offensive as poor air quality and, in certain circumstances, equally damaging to health.

Damage to the environment derives from a great variety of sources, and Government policy can be one of them. In its 2002 report, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee pointed to the ghastly fiasco of the fridge mountain. Substantial costs were also suffered by taxpayers because the Government accepted new EU regulations without having the faintest idea of their implications. Individual and corporate behaviour is another source of environmental damage and criminal elements are believed to be at work, too.

A variety of organisations have produced evidence recently about the scale of the problems that we face. ENCAMS reported a 12 per cent. increase in litter last year; and the Environmental Audit Committee highlighted a 43 per cent. rise in the amount of fly-tipping dealt with by the Environment Agency since 2001. DEFRA's own municipal waste management survey highlights a 38 per cent. increase in the number of abandoned vehicles on the street. I am not sure whether the people who drafted the end-of-life vehicles directive had that outcome in mind, but that has been the effect of its introduction. There are nearly
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100,000 abandoned vehicles in London alone, three for every 100 households; many are unlicensed and a significant number get vandalised.

According to the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the area of land in England that experiences severe light pollution rose by 17 per cent. between 1993 and 2000.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I found it incredible that the Opposition intended to vote against Second Reading and I have listened with bated breath for six minutes to a litany of wrongs, but not one remedy has been suggested by the hon. Gentleman. The Conservative party owes it to the electorate—this will be an election issue—to suggest alternatives to the measures outlined in the Bill.

Mr. Yeo: The hon. Gentleman will have to be patient for a bit longer. I was emphasising what I had rather assumed might be common ground between the Government and the Opposition: that there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, a problem that, in any number of important respects, is getting worse rather than better.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): Why vote against the Bill, then?

Mr. Yeo: We are voting against the Bill because we do not think that the remedies proposed are likely to be particularly effective and because we are concerned about areas of omission to which I shall refer shortly. We also suspect that the burden that the Bill will place on local authorities will not be matched by any accompanying funding.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): One of the reasons why the Opposition seek to vote against Second Reading is that they have created this false dichotomy between urban and rural areas. I represent a seat that would be described by the National Farmers Union as an urban fringe seat, and the NFU's evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee said that, in 2000, 67 per cent. of farmers complained of fly-tipping on their land. In what way will the Opposition's stance help me and my farmers who suffer from that problem?

Mr. Yeo: The Government have been in power for quite a long time and seem to have woken up to some of the issues. On fly-tipping, I am not opposed to all the measures in the Bill. [Interruption.] There are "Oohs" and "Aahs" of excitement from Government Members, but just because a Bill is so deeply flawed that without substantial amendment it would be better were it not to be passed does not prevent us from supporting some of its measures. Some of those relating to fly-tipping are important and we support them because we regard the problem of fly-tipping at least as seriously as the hon. Gentleman and the NFU members polled in the survey to which he referred. I am as keen as anyone to see more effective measures taken against what seems to be an increasing problem, to which I will refer again later.

Complaints about noise have doubled in the last five years and the number of noise abatement notices has increased proportionately. However, it is not only the environment that suffers; it is also the taxpayer.
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The Local Government Association has estimated that local authorities spend £35 billion a year on moving abandoned vehicles. The Environment Agency has estimated that fly-tipping costs the UK economy £150 million a year. Indeed, ENCAMS has suggested that the number of individual local authorities that have to spend more than £40,000 to deal with fly-tipping has quadrupled. The Greater London Assembly says that London boroughs and transport companies spend £13 million a year on graffiti removal, on top, of course, of what private individuals and businesses spend.

Part of the problem of waste is the result of our failure to achieve better performance in relation to recycling. Britain recycles only a quarter as much household waste as Germany does and within the total recycling rates achieved by Britain, there are huge variations from one local authority to another. Conservative-led Daventry recycles 44 per cent. of waste, closely followed by Conservative-led Lichfield. That puts to shame Labour-controlled Sunderland, Labour-controlled Manchester and Liberal Democrat-controlled Liverpool, each of which musters a paltry 2 per cent. waste recycling rate.

Alun Michael: Very selective.

Mr. Yeo: I will be less selective, then. The 10 worst local authorities, none of which managed to recycle more than 4 per cent. of its waste, consist of nine Labour authorities and one Liberal Democrat authority. None of the worst performers is Conservative. By contrast, of the 10 best-performing local authorities, which all recycle more than 27 per cent. of waste, or seven times as much as the worst ones, five—surprise, surprise—are Conservative authorities, four are in no overall control and one is Liberal Democrat. Not a single one of the best performers is a Labour authority.

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