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Mr. Michael Foster: Can the hon. Lady confirm the contents of the James review, which suggests, I think, that DEFRA's budget should be cut by £500 million? Is she aware of the comments of the chief executive of the Environment Agency about what would happen to the local environment if those cuts took place?
To return to our reasoned amendment, which I commend to the House and urge all right hon. and hon. Members to support, a number of Members this evening have raised problems in relation to powers to seize and remove abandoned vehicles. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether vehicles can be removed immediately, without knowledge of who the registered owner is? In relation to clause 41, will he consider extending the power of immediate seizure of such vehicles to all white goods, including fridge-freezers, fridges and microwaves, following on the obligations to which his Government have signed up under EU directives, not least the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive?
One of the unintended consequences of the Bill relates to the implications for breakdown services. The current wording of the Bill leaves the provision of breakdown services exposed to actions that are surely not the primary intention of the Bill, as it implies that there are circumstances in which repair at the roadside following a breakdown or accident is not necessary. That raises the risk that the legislation could be used by authorities to justify the towing away of a vehicle to an off-road location in the interests of congestion management, following the provisions of the Traffic Management Act 2004, which grants such powers to local authorities and Highways Agency traffic officers. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the concerns raised by the Royal Automobile Club and the AA and would wish to respond on that point.
As regards waste, what progress has been made on the sharing of police information relating to organised and illegal fly-tipping, particularly that including a criminal element? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that powers of arrest under clause 41 will extend to all forms of illegal fly-tipping? What consultation with councils will take place on fixed penalty notices? Many councils and local authorities have expressed concerns about how the provisions will apply, and are concerned that there will not be a full and frank consultation. Will he confirm that he has not unintentionally and inadvertently discriminated in relation to the immediate removal of abandoned vehicles from urban areas, which the Bill explicitly empowers local authorities to do, whereas in rural areas, landowners are to remove them at their own cost? Surely the Government would intend powers to be applied uniformly in rural and urban areas.
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In relation to clause 41, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether raising the maximum level of the fine and the maximum level of imprisonment, as I mentioned earlier, will relate to all forms of fly-tipping, not just hazardous or non-hazardous waste? Can he also confirm that offences under clause 41 are arrestable offences, so that perpetrators of the crime, not just vehicles, can be apprehended and seized[Interruption.] His colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment, who is chuntering from a sedentary position, will be only too aware that the Environment Agency has said privately on a number of occasions that it or local authority enforcement officers are powerless if they cannot make a citizen's arrest, as the perpetrators of the offence can therefore escape the scene, and although the vehicle is seized, the perpetrators are free to acquire another vehicle and continue to commit the same offence. That is a glaring omission.
Clause 44 also relates to immediate seizure, and we would hope that an arrestable offence would be extended to those provisions. Clause 46 provides powers to stop and search a vehicle and its contents, but is again silent on whether the equal power of arrest in relation to suspected perpetrators will be granted.
I remind the House that the Government have been in power for almost 18 years[Hon. Members: "Eight years."] Eight years. I am glad that the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment is paying attention. It seems like 18 years. They have been in power for almost eight years, but in 2003, litter increased by 13 per cent., and since 2001, chewing gum disposal has increased by 94 per cent.
Clause 19 empowers local authorities to set the level of fixed penalties. Will the penalties be fixed by statute or will they be subject to a national framework that sets maximum and minimum levels? We strongly urge the Minister to confirm that there will be full consultation before the levels are set and that there will be an opportunity for the House, as well as local authorities and businesses, to be consulted. Local authorities have expressed their concerns to us; some have found that the levels are set far too low to be effective.
I remind the Minister that in his written answer to me on 17 November he admitted that the chewing gum segmentation study, commissioned by the Chewing Gum Action Group, cost £60,170, yet under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, passed by the last Conservative Administration, fixed penalty notices can be issued to those who drop chewing gum and the current level is £50, so why are those penalties not being imposed? I remind the Government that the local authorities, such as Westminster city council, which actually apply the existing rules, tend to be Conservative controlled.
It will bring joy to the heart of my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), that clause 27 specifically defines as litter chewing gum, including bubble gum, and smoking materials, including cigarette and cigar ends. However, redefining gum in that way will place a huge duty on
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local authorities to keep streets clear of gum and other such material at all times. Is the Minister aware that that will impose a massive increase in street-cleaning costs?
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) asked about the discussions we had held with chewing gum manufacturers. We are working extremely closely with the main chewing gum manufacturer, which is, I believe, in her constituency. The company wants to act responsiblythe words about producer responsibility are as much the company's as oursand to reach consensus.
Linda Gilroy: Will the hon. Lady clarify what discussions she has held with the company on its view about fines? It is my understanding that the company would like clarification about that situation. The company is frustrated, because it takes responsibility for raising awareness and for education programmes, but it would like the fines regime to be improved.
Miss McIntosh: As the hon. Lady will be aware, I have already mentioned that the fines exist and I should be interested to hear from herperhaps after the debatewhether her council imposes them where applicable. What is responsible in the case of that chewing gum manufacturer is that it seeks consensus with consumers and that it is trying to educate the primary users of chewing gum. I must confess that chewing gum has a certain dental function, and the company has an education policy and works through schools, scouts and guides. It is undertaking market-based research and is looking into more biodegradable forms of gum. It would be the first to accept the advice to consumers, which was followed religiously under the last Conservative Government but seems to be on the wane under the Labour Government: "Wrap it and bin it".
The least perfect option would be a purchase tax, but I wait with bated breath to hear what the Minister says about that. As I said, there is already a fixed penalty of £50 and it is regrettable that few councils impose it. I urge the Minister to answer this question: would not it be better to apply existing laws more effectively, rather than extending an all-round street cleansing policy? As was said earlier, no sooner has a street been cleared of chewing gum deposits than, a week later, the exercise has to be recommenced.
Hugh Bayley: Is the hon. Lady suggesting that because people start to throw chewing gum on the ground the following week, one should ignore it? Can she clarify for the House whether she is in favour of local authorities cleaning up chewing up from the streets or against that?
Miss McIntosh: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can inform me whether the council shared by our constituencies, and those of several other colleagues, actually levies the fines that it is entitled to impose. Perhaps we should go on a publicity binge with the City of York council to ensure that it is aware of the fines that are available to it to impose.
Moving on to a more general policy for waste, further provision should be made to protect landowners from the unsolicited dumping of waste and litter on their land. Currently, the Bill is simply not clear. Local authorities
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should fine all those who illegally dispose of waste or litter on an equal footing, irrespective of whether it is disposed of on public or private land, or whether in urban or rural areas.
On the disposal of free printed matter, will the Minister explain whether that provision will extend to party political literature? If so, will there be unintended consequences on the freedom of speech? For the sake of repetitionI am unsure whether he heard that pointwill he clarify the position on whether the provision relates to the disposal of free printed matter circulated by local parties?
In many regards, the Bill does not go far enough. Fly-tipping is a tremendous problem in urban and rural areas, and it continues to increase. The Environment Agency's officers should have the power of arrest. They should be permitted to have computer access to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database and to stop vehicles on public highways without the presence of the police. Without those powers, the Bill represents a hollow commitment in many respects.
I pay tribute to the most eloquent words of my hon. Friends the Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) and for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who mentioned dogs. Their one omission was in not asking whether the Minister is aware that many of the dangerous injuries to stray dogs are caused by vehicles. The Bill is silent in that regard, and I wonder whether he has any proposal to firm up his provisions. By encouraging a programme of micro-chipping, the Government could have produced financial savings on the collection, kennelling, re-homing or possible destruction of unwanted animals. Does he have any intention to include a policy of micro-chipping?
On graffiti and general defacement, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk has mentioned, the Law Society and others have expressed concern about the fixed penalty notices. Will the Minister ensure that only fully trained and fully qualified officers will be authorised to issue such notices? Again, local authorities will be given the power to fine those who fly-post. Currently, the fines authorised are up to £75. Why do the Government not choose either to increase that fine or to penalise those councils that do not impose them? We suggest that the definition of what is unlawful under clauses 33 and 34 must be improved and that there should be a right of appeal. I hope that the Minister will make a commitment to holding full and proper consultation with all relevant bodies, including the Outdoor Advertising Association. Perhaps he will take time to explain to the House the Bill's implications in respect of moving advertising boards.
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