[Relevant documents: Sixth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 200304, HC 126, Ninth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 200304, HC 445, and the Government Responses thereto, Sixth Special Report, Session 200304, HC 1232.]
Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): It is an immense pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are a distinguished member of the Environmental Audit Committee, whose reports we have gathered to discuss. However, it is a matter of regret to meand, I am sure, to other Membersthat you will be unable to contribute to the debate.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. John McWilliam): I could not have contributed anyway, as I did not take part in the study. I did not join the Committee until after then; otherwise, I would not be in the Chair.
I thank the Liaison Committee for this opportunity to discuss the Environmental Audit Committee's reports on environmental crime, which, sadly, all Members are only too familiar with from our constituency work. When I applied for this debate, I did not realise that it would take place in the same week that the House debated the Government's Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill on Second Reading. That covers much of the same ground and picks up on a number of the same themes and issues that the EAC reports explore. Several hon. Members present made distinguished contributions on Second Reading, including the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) and for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen). I regret that, for pressing family reasons, I was unable to be present.
As this is the first opportunity for a while to discuss specific EAC matters, I want to say a few words about the Committee's work. It was established in 1997 with the formal remit to consider the extent to which the policies and programmes of Government Departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development, to audit their performance against such targets as may be set for them by Ministers, and to report thereon to the House. Significantly, like the Public Accounts Committee, the EAC is not tied to any Department, and it therefore has the flexibility to work across Government and all areas of policy. That is appropriate, as the environment is not confined to a single policy silo, but forms the context within which all Government activity, and, indeed, all human activity, takes place.
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Since the EAC's inception, its work has ranged widely across Departments and topics. During the past year, we have conducted inquiries into the following subjects: the Treasury's pre-Budget report; the Department for Transport's aviation strategy, on which, perhaps, the least said the better; energy policy; the periodic review of water pricing; genetically modified crops; the Barker review of housing provision; the Government's sustainable communities plan, our report on which will be published shortly; progress towards greening the work of Departments; and the Government's sustainable development strategy. Among other things, we are currently examining the international challenge of climate change, the issue of Government procurement, and the extent to which the concept of sustainable development is taken forward within formal and informal education. We have a wide, challenging and rewarding remit, and I want to place on record the gratitude of the whole Committee for the staff who support our work. We would not be able to function at all without the Clerks, specialist advisers and Committee assistants who work so hard in the background.
Those of us who are concerned with and about the environment are prone to speculating gloomily on why the issue has not been as central to political debate as we feel it should have been. There are many reasons for that, although you will be relieved to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I do not intend to rehearse them all now. However, one reason is that, as the environment is everywhere, because it is the context in which we all live our lives, we are dealing not with a single issue but with many related ones. It is therefore hard to pin down. It is also natural that when people are confronted with such enormous, complex and difficult challenges as climate change, they tend to shy away and concentrate on more immediate and obviously tangible issues. Politicians have tended to follow suit. However, there can be no more obviously immediate or tangible issue than the quality of our local environment. It is that local environment that is affected by environmental crime.
In December 2003, the Environmental Audit Committee announced that we were establishing a Sub-Committee to conduct a series of inquiries into environmental crime. We have now published three reports. Two of them are "Environmental Crime and the Courts" and "Environmental Crime: Fly-tipping, Fly-posting, Litter, Graffiti and Noise"things that the excellent charity ENCAMS refers to generically as "crapness", if that is not an unparliamentary expression. Those are the subject of our debate today. The third report, published last autumn, was on wildlife crime, and the fourth, which is the final one in the present series, is on corporate environmental crime and will be published shortly.
I am particularly grateful to Paul Stookes, chief executive of the Environmental Law Foundation, who has acted as specialist adviser in those inquiries. I take this opportunity to congratulate his chairman, Pamela Castle, on being awarded a well deserved OBE in the new year honours.
Our inquiries coincided with the consultation by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the same general subject. They also coincided with a rising tide of public concern about local environmental crime and antisocial behaviour and about the apparent inadequacy of the measures in place to tackle such
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problems. The truth is that for many years the issue of environmental crime has not been taken seriously enough by the police, local authorities and the courts. To some extent, they cannot be blamed for that; they have taken their cue from Government.
The EAC Sub-Committee received some particularly telling evidence from the head of the sentencing policy and penalties unit at the Home Office. When I asked him whether environmental crime had any meaning for him as a discrete area of the criminal justice system, he replied:
It is interesting to note that the Department that has taken the initiative in bearing down on environmental crime and criminals is DEFRA, not the Home Office. It is at last clear that a new and welcome effort is being made to tackle the issue, but years of neglect have created an ingrained problem. Some people have become habitual offenders, and others have come to accustom themselves to daily, pervasive and seemingly inescapable blight.
We have somehow allowed a culture to develop in which environmental crime is not seen as "real" crime. Of course, it does not have the same immediate impact as a violent robbery or burglary. Also, statistics make it look like a modest problem. It is estimated that there are up to 10,000 environmental prosecutions annually; that compares with a total of around 2 million prosecutions. However, the statistics by no means tell the whole story. The Sub-Committee was told that only about 10 per cent. of all known environmental offences end up in court.
In addition, the bald statistics fail to reflect the unique nature of environmental crime. It is distinct from other aspects of the law because of the impact a single incident may have on a large sector of the community, and on wildlife and habitats. There may be long-lasting adverse effects on the environment and future generationseffects that go way beyond simple visual blight and loss of amenity.
Visual blight is not as simple an issue as it may appear to be. There is clear evidence of a link between local environmental degradation and other more obviously serious crimes. If an area is allowed to become squalid, strewn with litter, scarred by graffiti and smothered with fly-posting, it will tend to attract squalid people and squalid behaviour. It is perhaps that aspect of the issue that causes the most public concern, breeding a deep and worrying sense of insecurity in communities across the country.
The problem also costs a great deal of money. Local authorities and other agenciesin other words, taxpayersspend a staggering £3 billion a year clearing up the mess left by environmental criminals. That is a huge drain on our pockets and another good reason why such crime deserves far greater attention than it has received in the past.
Tandridge district council in my constituency is a small, efficient local authority, which like many others has had to come to terms with ever-tightening
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central Government support. Last year it recorded 940 instances of fly-tippingabout three per day. They ranged from small heaps of domestic rubbish to three-piece suites, which have become a familiar adornment to ponds throughout the land, to 10-tonne loads of builders' rubble. Last year it cost £50,000 to clear up that mess. Tandridge shares a boundary with two London boroughs, although I cast no aspersions on the boroughs in question. It is also much favoured by those who abandon vehicles, and dealing with those vehicles costs some £80,000 a year.
The problem is compounded by the difficulty in obtaining successful prosecutions, which is an issue that arose time and again during the EAC inquiries. I can illustrate the difficulty with another example from my constituency. The local authority felt that it was on strong ground when it brought a case of fly-tipping before the magistrates, because it had photographic evidence of a man and waste, a van and a verge. The accused, however, successfully argued in court that, far from dumping rubbish on the side of the road, he was loading it into his truck. The case was dismissed.
In our sixth report of the previous Session, "Environmental Crime and the Courts", we examined the role of magistrates in dealing with environmental cases and particularly considered the level of sentences being handed out. There was a widespread feeling that the sentences were inadequate. Another local example of that problem was drawn to my attention by Councillor Eric Morgan, the chairman of community services at Tandridge district council. In relation to a fly-tipping case, he wrote:
"We recently had a case that cost over £900 to bring before the magistrates. The defendant was found guilty and fined £150 of which Tandridge received nothing. Furthermore, this derisory level of fine almost encourages them to continue because it would cost them some £50 to dispose of their debris at a disposal site. Four undetected fly tips and they show a profit, while Tandridge cannot afford to bring many offenders to court."
In most cases involving small quantities of household waste, the dumping is done out of idleness and with a casual disregard for the consequences. Increasingly, however, as the waste disposal regime tightens, dumping waste has become a profitable business, which has not gone unnoticed by organised criminal gangs. That is another example of how environmental crime is not just unpleasant and sometimes dangerous in its own right, but insidiously linked with other more serious criminal activity.
I was pleased to note that the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill proposes increasing the maximum fine in a magistrates court for fly-tipping from £20,000 to £50,000, but will that extra power be used? There must be some doubt. There are very few cases, if any, of magistrates using the maximum penaltymostly the fines are significantly lower. One reason for that was offered by the director of legal services at the Environment Agency, who suggested to the Sub-Committee that a magistrate used to sentencing by fines
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of about £5,000 would baulk at going higher, even when permitted, in an area such environmental crime in which he feels he has little experience.
The Committee took evidence from the Magistrates Association, which shared some of the concerns that our report subsequently expressed. There is a problem in dealing with these types of environmental crime; they do not come before magistrates courts very often and there is, therefore, a need to address an information gap. I will put it no stronger than that. It remains to be seen whether increasing the maximum penalty will lead to an increase in the level of fines, which is generally felt to be far too low to act as an effective punishment, let alone a deterrent. We concluded that:
We also recommended that there should be greater judicial training on environmental crime and the principles of sustainable development. In addition, we highlighted the need to improve training for prosecutors, particularly in local authorities, and for resources to be made available for that.
The Committee also drew attention to the lack of consistent reporting and data on environmental crime. Although the development of the Environment Agency's Flycapture database is a welcome move in that direction, it is confined only to collecting data on fly-tipping. There is a dearth of reliable information on most other types of environmental crime. As information is always crucial to the fight against crime, that urgently needs to be addressed.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one problem is that Flycapture is not necessarily compatible with police databases? Constituents of mine have reported matters to the police that have not been taken up because the police could not use the evidence. Will he comment on that?
Mr. Ainsworth : I am aware of that problem. Flycapture is a worthwhile and useful initiative. We need a lot more of that and we need it across the board, so that it can be used by all parties concerned with dealing with environmental crime, not just the Environment Agency, but local authorities, the police, prosecutors, investigators, and people responsible for clear-up. I suggest to the Minister that we need a national database of environmental crime. Until we have it, we will not have the information to go on in order to draw up effective, across-the-board, policies or to prosecute as adequately as we would like. Those ideas remain to be acted on.
I welcome a number of other new measures in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill that are aimed at tackling the illegal dumping of
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waste, particularly the proposed powers enabling the Environment Agency or local authorities to stop, search and seize vehicles. The removal of the waste carrier's defence of acting under orders, the introduction of fixed-penalty notices, the ability to seize vehicles involved in waste offences, and the proposal to allow regulations to be made to require developers to prepare site waste-management plans all coincide with recommendations made in the two EAC reports.
I was interested to note that it is reported in The Guardian today that the Solicitor-General is turning her mind to addressing corporate environmental crime. I hope that she will be interested in our forthcoming report on that issue; she will not have to wait long. A constant theme of our inquiries into environmental crime has been the inadequacy of the criminal justice system in offering an effective deterrent. The likelihood of being caught is slim and when a prosecution does take place the penalties are often derisory. Nowhere is that more the case than in relation to corporate environmental crime. There is a need to ensure that whether a company commits a crime through negligence or does so deliberately as a means of avoiding costs or of promoting its productsas the Ministry of Sound has admitted to doingthe penalties that it faces really bite.
That cannot be allowed to continue. We may need to consider penalties other than company fines and to be more imaginative in devising penalties that bite. In any case, unless the polluter pays substantially more than the sum he profits from, there will continue to be no real deterrent or effective punishment.
One further area that needs to be addressed is the price to individuals of obtaining environmental justice. When public bodies are unable or unwilling to act, people are often left with no option but to go to court to obtain redress for environmental blight. In the vast majority of cases, that is no option at all, because legal action is prohibitively expensive. The Government have stated that they are committed to the principles of the Aarhus convention, which aims to ensure that people can access environmental justice whatever their means. I would be grateful if the Minister said what plans the Government have to deal with that issue.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): Several of my constituents have suffered because of businesses close to where they live operating on the margins of the lawskip firms, car-crushing businesses and so on. My hon. Friend is right: people go to the law to seek redress, but find out that the law is weak. Sometimes, they are even intimidated by the businesses concerned. Does my hon. Friend agreeI hope that Minister does so, toothat we must do more about such matters, otherwise our constituents will be given a miserable time and the law will be mocked?
Mr. Ainsworth : My hon. Friend is exactly right. The sort of businesses to which he referred are I think described in his part of Essex as "well tasty". He
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mentioned intimidation, which is a serious problem in respect of environmental crime. Recently, there was a case in my constituency of somebody reporting fly-tipping who had investigated the pile of fly-tipped rubbish, found an address and notified the authorities. The authorities visited the person, but felt that they were unable to take the case forward because the lady from whom the rubbish had been collected was a single mother who lived by herself, and the people who had illegally dumped the rubbish lived about 150 yd up the road. Intimidation is a serious problem and one, incidentally, that is not addressed under the new Bill. I urge the Government to give it serious consideration.
The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, and much of the existing legislation, is focused on crime and punishment and local environmental issues. No doubt much of today's debate will be focused on that, too. It is important, however, to remember that we need to do a great deal more to encourage a better understanding of the environment and our dependence on it. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North knows that better than anyone, and I am delighted that she is chairing the current EAC Sub-Committee on environmental education. Only by a determined, consistent and imaginative effort to engage the public and policy makers in the importance of respecting the natural limits placed on us by the environment will we achieve a genuinely sustainable way of life. A society that respects its environment is a society that respects itself.
Mrs. Helen Clark (Peterborough) (Lab): I am glad to have this opportunity to debate our Sub-Committee's reports because I was particularly keen that we should hold the inquiry on which the reports are based. In fact, I am sure that my colleagues will allow me to say that I promoted the theme in our discussions and made the suggestion. I have been worried for some time about the state of the local environment in my constituency, which is supposedly the "environment city".
However, I am still concerned about matters in my constituency. We members of the Environmental Audit Committee, its Sub-Committee or other Committees are only too well aware that constituents do not make appointments to see us at our regular surgeries to have ideological debates about local taxation or privatisation. They might write to us about such matters, but they turn up in person when their quality of life is threatened to the extent that day-to-day living is
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unbearable. All the examples that I shall now cite are real-life situations that have been reported to me by my Peterborough constituents and sometimes seen by me.
First, I refer to a street that was held to ransom by neighbours from hell who created 24-hours a day noise nuisance. However, the local authority only suggested so-called mediation, which made the victims feel guilty for complaining in the first place. The second example is of a street that was targeted by graffiti louts, but the culprits were never caught and their handiwork was not removed. Thirdly, an abandoned house became adrug taker's haven with empty syringes, used condoms, broken bottles and beer cans tossed into adjoining gardens. Fourthly, a fast food outlet left dustbinsof food debris on the streets and in the road, resultingin an infestation of rats in neighbouring houses and gardens. Fifthly, elderly people had to forgo a pleasurable evening bingo session at the local community centre because they would have had to cross a school playing field packed with intimidatory youths smoking, drinking and smashing bottles on the ground. Okay, such things do not make front-page national news in our favourite tabloids or broadsheets, but they have front-page importance for many whom we have the honour to represent. Our collective failure to deal with such issues breeds a lack of confidence in politicians and political systems.
Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon) (Lab): My hon. Friend may be interested in what my local councilSwindon borough councilis doing about graffiti. It is experimenting with offering householders the chance to clear up the graffiti on their houses for free, and that is being very well received. Does she agree that it would be good for the Government to examine that pilot scheme and ascertain whether it would be affordable to fund it across the country?
Mrs. Clark : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that and I certainly agree with her. Will she contact me in the next couple of days? I should like to put my chief executive in contact with hers, so that we can work together. That sounds like a wonderful scheme.
I shall quote a comment that I often hear from my constituents, which I am sure hon. Members from all parties have heard: "I didn't bother to report it because nothing is ever done. What's the point?" How many times have we heard that one? The reports that we are considering today make various recommendations, but several issues stand out. First and foremost, we need consistent and firm action everywhere, rather than on a postcode basis.
Of course, during our inquiries we uncovered examples of fine practice. Prior to June 2004, Leeds city council made a most serious commitment to tackling environmental crime, using the full powers of legislation to include proper use of antisocial behaviour orders on environmental matters. The council fostered environmental pride with its strategy of clean streets, street leaders, graffiti busting, tough measures to combat fly-posting and evenI do not mean this lightlya no-tolerance policy on discarded chewing gum and cigarette butts. On one occasion, the respected
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hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) had rather an experience of the effects of chewing gum busting.
Mr. Ainsworth : I am sure that Leeds city council still has a very effective programme dealing with environmental degradation and antisocial behaviour. I can confirm that going on the wrong side of those machines that blast chewing gum off the pavement is a very unpleasant experience.
Step forward also Southwark. We were terrified of the Southwark representatives at our inquiry. They justified their tough line on environmental crime on the grounds that such offenders were very likely to commit other types of crime as well. I am sad to say that we felt that those authorities were the exception rather than the rule.
In our report, we recommend that the Local Government Association should co-ordinate good practice, commending authorities that excel and exposing those reluctant to enforce. The Environment Agency is rightly rigorous in pursuing prosecution, even without a 100 per cent. assurance of success. We need consistency in sentencing. I go back to my point about postcoding: we need to educate magistrates so that everywhere the penalty fits the crime.
The penalty should also fit the perpetrator. For example, to fine a thriving record company with huge profit margins a derisory £500 for blatant fly-posting merely invites contemptthe snigger behind the hand. It is not a deterrent at all. Fines for individuals may not be the best or only way to correct offending behaviour. Some type of community reparation, including making good the damage caused and the use of antisocial behaviour orders for environmental crime, as in Leeds, may be equally effective and more productive. We need to see.
Central Government of whatever political colour must ensure that local authorities and the police have adequate and proper funding for these functions, but these bodies should be held accountable for the money and be able to demonstrate exactly how it has been used. The Government response to our reportsI address these comments to the Ministerwas thoughtful and energetically welcomed our recommendations. I return the compliment, in part. The Government have done a lot across different Departments to deliver cleaner, safer and even greener communities. It is especially encouraging when we see how this work puts into practice the recognition of the links that exist between these different facets of policy and between local environmental quality and the wider quality of life, including crime reduction. It really is, to use a phrase so familiar to our tabloids and broadsheets, "joined-up government".
I am sure I am not the only person in this House who has used the phrase over the years, in various contexts and with, I have to say, various amounts of enthusiasm and conviction. I do not suppose I am the only Member to have made representations to the Government on behalf of a local or national interest group that was trying hard to pursue one aspect of stated Government policy, but finding their hands tied by another. The
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Select Committee has heard a huge amount of evidence over the years, making these sorts of points again and again, across a range of policy areas. That is our remit. I am happy to draw attention to the Government's very positive achievements on beaches, bathing water, litter, abandoned vehicles, recycling and home zonesinitially, I have to say, a ten-minute Bill that I propelledwhich are really beginning to deliver up and down the country the range of social and environmental benefits that we knew they could.
Our reports today explicitly acknowledge further improvements resulting from new legislation. One example is recommendation 9 of the sixth reportGovernment response page 5which welcomed sections of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, which has recently come into force and will assist prosecutors and sentencers in dealing more flexibly, and thus more effectively, with graffiti and fly-posting in particular. Another is in Government response page 6, paragraphs 19 and 20: the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, implemented early last year. It enables disqualification from driving for persons convicted of relevant offences, which can include fly-tipping.
The clean neighbourhoods consultation last year enabled many of the issues we had considered to be taken further. Again, this was especially true of fly-tipping and I am grateful to the Chairman for having mentioned it today. The new national database, Flycapture, will, I understand, make it easier to monitor the scale and type of activities in each area and where prosecutions are taken against offenders. Obviously, as colleagues have mentioned today, fine tuning is essential and we need to progress further on this.
In many places, the Government's response refers to changes that will be introduced at "the first legislative opportunity". I therefore join with colleagues from all sides of the House to welcome the new Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, which received its Second Reading on Monday. I have not yet had the opportunity to go through the Bill line by line, nor have I studied it in any detail. I do know, however, that it will give local authorities new powers to deal with fly-tipping and illegal dumping. It will be much easier for them to recover the cost of dealing with these problems. It will be easier to keep streets clean with an extension of litter controls. The Local Government Association has welcomed the Bill in general and I am happy to endorse its calls for adequate resources to enable authorities to make the best use of their powers. I agree that any changes to the law must be supported by properly resourced education and awareness campaigns to change behaviour.
Although there will always be persistent, determined and even enthusiastic offenders, most people in our constituencies will be happy to co-operate and take advantage of new opportunities when the benefits to the local environment become apparent. That is certainly the case with home zones. I invite any hon. Member present to come and see my home zone, of which local people are inordinately proud, but rightly soit is their achievement.
However, to return to my fundamental concerns, which helped initiate and contributeI hopeto this debate, it is essential that local government takes on board and uses the new powers. Local government can be the weakest link. In 1992, along with Leeds, Leicester
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and Middlesbrough, my constituency of Peterborough was awarded the title of "environment city"one of John Major's projects and actually one that I support. There was a high level of environmental awareness in the city at that time, which was spearheaded by the then Labour council.
Peterborough Environment City Trust, or PECT, partially funded by the local authority, was created to promote good environmental practice in our city. Peterborough is the national headquarters of English Nature and the regional headquarters of the Environment Agency. We have an energy advice centre and a demonstration eco-house, opened by Prince Charles in 1996, which provides practical examples of energy efficiency in the home. UK Seed has established a base in the city with the aim of promoting environmental business, and the excellent wildlife trusts have encouraged the use of green spaces in urban areas. Railworld, which was recently in contact with my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has an ambitious youth project, and the green wheel cycling scheme, promoted by PECT, was successful in garnering a good amount of lottery money.
Recently, the Environment Agency dubbed Peterborough "the greenest city", because more people there than anywhere else filled in questionnaires, showing a high level of interest in topics across the environmental spectrum: CO 2 emissions, GM foods, Kyoto and George Bush, to name but several. On environmental crime and the very matters that concern my constituents daily, under the present council administration, Peterborough talks the talk but it does not walk the walk. Pardon the cliché. There are democratic ways in which local people can express their dissatisfaction about what their local council is or is not doing, and I hope that they will in Peterborough.
Meanwhile, what can be done to ensure that councils fulfil their responsibilities? In Peterborough, local people are forming independent environmental crime squads and action teams, taking photographs, making videos and trying to contact local newspapers and the media in a desperate attempt to provoke a reaction from those on highthe city council and the local police. Every weekend, those local people show me the latest horrors from all parts of the city. That is what I spend my weekend doing. Since last August, I have seen toilet cisterns in front gardens, urine-drenched mattresses at the back, syringes in children's playgrounds, overgrown bushes functioning as wonderful canopies for all kinds of litter, including cans, food and needles, alleyways used as outdoor toilets and places for unlimited sexual congress, windows smeared with broken eggs and graffiti, graffiti, graffiti. That is the story of everyday life in one of the four so-called "environment cities" in the United Kingdom.
What can be done, hon. Members? National Government should not take over what are properly local powers and responsibilities. There are proposals to reward councils that encourage better recycling. I agree with that and I hope that there will be more examples and suggestions, as in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, to encourage that. However I address the Minister herethere should also be
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penalties for those councils and regimes, such as the one in my constituency of Peterborough, where administrations do not use their powers responsibly for the benefit of residents.
I would like the Government to revisit the excellent title of "environment city". Why should the Government ignore that because it was a good idea introduced by a Conservative Prime Minister? It is one of the things that he did well and we could use the idea and progress environmentally. I would like the Government to retest for the award, as we do with Investors in People, on a three-yearly basis to see whether it is still merited. That would banish complacency and keep environmental awareness at the front of the minds of lazy authorities. It would keep their practice on its toes.
Whatever happens, I certainly hope that in a couple of years' time I shall not still be walking the streets in Peterborough being shown rats, litter, graffiti, fly-posting and dumping by rightly enraged residents whose quality of life is being undermined. Their lives are being made a misery by the sort of filth that was seen in the 19th centurywe are talking about Victorian standards and valuesand that has returned to our streets. We should remember that it was a Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, who introduced the concept of public health and action on that front. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Yes, that is important and it should be acknowledged. I am proud to acknowledge it today.
Local government was set up in response to such public need and it has a proud record. The Labour Government are backing it in the campaign to preserve and restore the quality of life in our local communities. I hope that everyone concerned gets on with the job. Time may have been wasted, but fresh starts are never too late. I hope that in the fullness of time the reports that we are debating will be seen to have influenced Government thinking and local authority practice for the better everywhere in the country.
Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Any comments that I may make about magistrates should not be taken as in any way diminishing the great regard that I have for the job that they dolargely unpaid.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), who chairs the Select Committee with great dedication. We know when we walk through the door into the Committee Room that partisan divisions will be left outside and that we will simply focus hard on the environment. That is so important. He has brought that bipartisan spirit here this afternoon with his extensive welcome for the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. I am sure that his previous experience as a Whip will ensure that he is not too heavily punished for that welcome, which was not accorded to the Bill by his party on Monday. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment. When he appears before the Committee, he is usually one of our star witnesses.
I refer the Minister to the evidence on the ease with which fines for fisheries offences can be evaded, which was supplied to the Committee's environmental crime
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and the courts inquiry by the Home Office. That issue may be slightly tangential to the main debate but, knowing of my hon. Friend's extensive knowledge of the subject, I think it worth while to seek his response.
The evidence is astonishing. According to the Home Office, in just one magistrates court areaDyfed-Powysmore than £3 million of fines for fishery offences were issued against Anglo-Spanish trawlers, as they are known, between January 2002 and November 2003, but they have not been collected due to loopholes in the law and the ineffectiveness of European legislation.
I wonder how many fines nationally have been evaded in like manner through the simple scam of companies using accommodation addresses, and whether that approach is replicated in other industrial sectors. It is no wonder that British fishermen feel aggrieved when they see how easy it is for Spanish trawlers to flout the law and to cock a snook at British courts. Will my hon. Friend assure me that that form of environmental crimethat is what it iswill no longer be tolerated and that punishments will be meted out effectively? What is being done to pursue the outstanding fines?
We were notified of the fines because of their exceptional size. The vast majority of fines for environmental crimes are peanuts by comparison, but there is a need to ensure that there is clearer guidance to the courts about the seriousness of environmental crime. I suspect that the fines and penalties imposed rarely meet the costs of cleaning up the damage. The £4 million fine imposed on the Milford Haven port authority after the Sea Empress disaster was subsequently reduced to £750,000 on appeal. There are shades of the Exxon Valdez disaster in that. After well over a decade, ExxonMobil is still appealing against the penalties that were imposed on it.
Environmental crime is not recognised by many offenders as even being a crime, still less an environmental one. How prevalent is the attitude that the environment is simply there to give up its resources and to become a dumping ground afterwards? After all, it is not that long ago that we all accepted, or at least rarely questioned, the presence of slag heaps or the dumping of raw sewage at sea. Today, the Irish still complain of the dangerous impact of radioactive waste from Sellafield in the Irish sea. We are not yet living in the enlightened era that we would like to live in as regards the environment. As the dumping of millions of tonnes of carbon in the atmosphere every year is considered not an offence but, possibly, a tradable commodity, we are still struggling with a sustainable concept of environmental crime.
In that context, the archetypal man in a white van who has a little pile of asbestos to dispose of will not be too concerned with the border lines between environmental crime and what is simply environmental degradation. What is environmentally acceptable? I wonder how many people still consider environmental crime a lesser species of crime, very much the Cinderella of crime, which we should not get too het up about.
I heard in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill Second Reading debate on Monday that it costs £150 million annually to clean chewing gum off our pavements. When the Committee visited Leeds,
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we saw the rather expensive and destructive technology that is required to remove chewing gum from pavements.
Ms Drown : Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there is still a lack of clarity over the definition of litter, and that chewing gum is often not included in it? I understand that there is a consultation on the matter. Does he agree that it should be made absolutely clear that chewing gum is litter?
Mr. Challen : I absolutely agree. That gap should be plugged as soon as possible. As a form of litter, chewing gum is probably worse than a bit of paper or even a fag butt. The Sub-Committee learned on its visit to Leeds that offences for dropping fag butts have been taken to court and fines have been issued, and that Leeds city council gives out little containers in which one can stub out cigarettes. I cannot understand why chewing gum manufacturers do not provide some little plastic container, so that one could dispose of gum safely. I think that a lot of people would take to using such devices if they were offered them every time they bought chewing gum.
Ms Drown : Has my hon. Friend considered on-the-spot fines for dropping chewing gum and litter, as well as fixed penalties? My borough council has raised with me its wish for such fines to be introduced. Also, given the stretch in police resources, it thinks that it would be good if there were pressure on the police to make a priority of such issues sometimes. During a particular event, local borough council officers could be out with the police. That way, someone trying to give a fixed penalty notice would have the police to back them up if a person refused to give their name and address and so on. Does my hon. Friend accept that, although the police cannot be there all the time for such matters, it would be good to have such co-ordination at events sometimes?
Mr. Challen : Absolutely. It would help if there were one or two high-profile cases, such as that of the smoker who dropped a fag butt in the street and got fined. That got quite a large headline in my local newspaper. If the same treatment were meted out to someone dropping chewing gumobviously, we would have to catch them in the actit would have a great impact. It is not so much the size of the fine that has an impact, although in the case of the cigarette smoker it was £75; that seems quite a lot given that no one thought it was an offence in the first place. It is more the headline and the photograph of the person in the newspaperthe name and shame aspectthat has the shock effect.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth : I hesitate to break the consensus that the hon. Gentleman talked about so eloquently at the beginning of his remarks, but, speaking as a victim of the chewing gum blasting machine in Leeds, are there not two problems? One is that people usually dispose of their chewing gum in a pretty surreptitious manner, so it is very hard to notice them doing it. The other, which has been drawn to my attention by Westminster city council, which, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, gave evidence to us, is that if chewing gum were defined as litter, the council would have a duty to remove it.
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Westminster already spends a fortune removing chewing gum from its pavements but, if every council in the land had a duty in law to remove it, that would send costs skyrocketing. In Leeds, we heard about the idea of giving people a little thing to put their cigarette butt in, and that is a better way of approaching the chewing gum issue than legislation.
Mr. Challen : The hon. Gentleman certainly raises a serious objection to placing a duty on people, but perhaps we could do so in certain designated areas, where the issue is a real problem. Some streets seem to attract a lot more chewing gum than others, so in some cases the duty would not entail much work. There is also a producer responsibility on the manufacturers; they should think about the problem and not wriggle out of it. That is one issue on which a difference arose between Front Benchers on Monday. I am not sure that it is a huge difference; it is certainly not a reason to vote against the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, and I cannot really make the link with that legislation.
It is clear that all those relatively small things lead to a great waste of resources. There are many better ways in which taxpayers' money could be spent. I am sure that the many people who toss their chewing gum to the ground complain to their friends and family about the level of council tax, without making the link to the fact that they could save money or have better services in other areas if they amended their behaviour slightly.
The cost of environmental crimes has been estimated by DEFRA at £3.4 billion a year. I was therefore astonished to read the evidence from the UK Environmental Law Association. In response to our question,
"in general the level of fines were much lower than the maximums set down (averaging £2,730 in magistrates' courts in 2002 with the maximum fine generally permitted being around £20,000) . . . This would indicate that insufficient discretion is being used in imposing deterrent fines which could lead to greater environmental protection."
"In 2002, the Environment Agency secured slightly less than four convictions a week (in a context where it has since its establishment spent about £5 billion of public money), with most of those prosecuted by the Agency being acquitted. We understand that of 462 prosecutions in 2002 only 207, or 45 per cent., resulted in a conviction. The total level of fines imposed was less than half of 1 per cent. of the Agency's estimated annual cost of fly-tipping."
The agency reckons that fly-tipping costs us about £100 million a year, but the level of fines amounts to less than £500,000 a year. Given that the ESA thinks that the magistrates already have sufficient powers, it seems that they are not choosing to use them to the full and are too lenient with offenders.
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It must be bad enough for agency staff to wonder whether they will secure a conviction, but it must be galling to know that, even when they do, the guilty will be treated with kid gloves. The impact of those crimes must be studied more carefully by the courts and much stronger guidance must be given.
Mr. Challen : I am afraid that my arithmetic stopped early on in life. I am just trying to calculate how much that would be55 per cent. of £500,000 is about £250,000. If the offence costs the country £100 million, the point about leniency seems extremely well made.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's eloquent flow. He will have seen the regulatory impact assessment on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. It says that a 50 per cent. take-up of fines, which I am sure he would accept is quite low, would yield annually to all the councils in England and Wales a total of only £3 million. The point is well made in the Committee's report that the fines are set too low and frequently are not paid. That really runs a cart and horses through the report because, if the fines are not paid, the Government will not have the budget to implement the powers and duties under the Bill.
Mr. Challen : I shall dwell on resources because some of our evidence related to the matter. Without those, it is difficult to see how we can chase people and ensure that fines are recouped for the community, so that it can have more resources available to it. One of the reasons that I support the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill is that it includes measures to extend the regime of spot penalties to provide an incentive for councils to collect the money in order to generate funds. I see nothing wrong with that, and I shall return to that subject shortly.
I acknowledge that the Government have recognised the problem of leniency. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 allows for the proceeds of criminal activity to be confiscated. I am not suggesting that we are going to start chasing people for packets of chewing gumpotential crimes in the makingbut the Government's response to our recommendation 6 acknowledged that the low level of fines is unsatisfactory.
The Government are aware of the problem, and I welcome their generally positive response to the report's recommendations, but the overarching case-by-case approach of the courts when dealing with such crimes should be addressed. That seems to be a fall-back position: "We cannot interfere with the courts too much. We have a case-by-case approach." We need to consider the implications of that.
Norman Baker : I served in the Committee that considered the Proceeds of Crime Bill. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would agree that where a particularly serious environmental crime is carried out for profitfor instance, big business collecting asbestos and disposing of it regularly on farmlandthe 2002 Act should be used.
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Mr. Challen : I certainly hope so. The Committee has recently inquired into the matter of corporate environmental crime, and the report has not yet been published. We have had the opportunity to ask a number of people from the corporate sector whether they think that lifestyle penalties could be imposed, so that people know that the penalty for bigger crimes will not be some measly fine in a magistrates court, but something that could really impact on their lifestyle.
The courts are statutorily bound to consider the defendant's means to pay any fine, but they should have greater regard to the principle that the polluter pays, and reparations for damagesafter a full costingshould be sourced in every way possible, including community service.
Resources have been mentioned. The discussion about whether tackling environmental crime is sufficiently resourced has occupied the Committee's time. It also featured in the debate on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. In respect of that, I would like there to be an extension of the principle of hypothecation, which is permitted in the Bill, so that money raised from fines or penalties is used to deal with the problem. We need to make more use of expensive mini-CCTV technology to monitor known fly-tipping sites, but where councils get the money for sufficient numbers of mini-cameras is always a problem. There are usually waiting lists for using them. There are a few fly-tipping sites in my constituency, and it is obvious to me that 99 per cent. of fly-tipping will continue unless we can secure more prosecutions by obtaining good evidence on offenders. Currently, fly-tippers know that they are almost immune from prosecution as a result of lack of evidence.
Money raised through the courts should also be used to fund rewards, where information passed on by the public leads to a conviction. That happens now, but so far as I am aware it is not common. The public should be encouraged to become more involved in helping to deal with these sorts of crimes. I would like more of a Crimestoppers-style approach to be applied to environmental crime.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth : The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that Tandridge district council in my constituency already gives a £500 reward to people who provide information that leads to a successful prosecution for fly-tipping. The problem is that there are very few prosecutions for fly-tipping. That is not because people are not keen to get the £500. What that reward reveals is the huge difficulties that are involved in successfully taking prosecutions through the courts.
Mr. Challen : I do not disagree with that at all. A constituent of mine wrote to me last week about a case. Someone was paid a reward for reporting someone else who dropped some litter but, although the offence was proven, the offender was only told offthey were not even fined. We must have a better approach than that.
Mr. Ainsworth : I have some better news from the area covered by Reigate and Banstead borough council. This week, a press release was issued that stated that a crisp packet was dropped from a van on the A217 Tadworth roundabout on Monday 6 December at 4.20 pm, and that Councillor Circus, who happens to be the portfolio
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holder for the environment, was in the car behind. The identity of the owner of the vehicle was establishedhe lived in Basingstoke, which is a considerable distance awayand he was fined £50. Therefore, the system sometimes works.
Mr. Challen : I thought that the hon. Gentleman was about to say that the offender was the chief constable of the county. However, that is cheering news, and it leads me on to the Select Committee's report on fly-tipping. As I participated in the Second Reading debate on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill on Monday, I know how welcome that Bill is in addressing many of the Committee's concernsalthough, oddly, the Conservative party was unable to support it. However, in keeping with the spirit of consensus that rules in the Committee, I will not dwell on that any longer.
The Government have paid attention to the Committee's concerns. That is a testament to the strength of the Select Committee systemoccasionally. The report and the Government's response, including the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, should lead us to one conclusion: fly-tipping, graffiti, abandoned vehicles, littering, noise pollution and so forth should be met with zero tolerance. I know that that phrase sometimes conjures up authoritarian overtones, but why should people have to live with the degradation of their local environment merely because a number of others could not give a damn about it? I welcomed the extension of fixed penalty notices in Monday's debate and I do so again. I hope such notices will encourage local authorities to take more action.
The money raised should be ploughed into the fight against antisocial behaviour and not used as just another revenue stream. I think that all of us would be disappointed if the money were not hypothecated, since it would no doubt mean a rerun of the debate about speed cameras. The effect of that debate is to remove the focus on safer driving and shift it to whether police forces are trying to grab more money. Such a cynical view always helps those who would rather carry on business as usual and persist with their antisocial behaviour.
Mr. Drew : I do not want to use the exact analogy that my hon. Friend used, although it is a possible one. In my area, there is a particular problem. My local authority has one policy with regard to the collection of large household items. The neighbouring authority has a different policy. That results in one authority picking up a large bill that it blames on the other authority. I know that there is an attempt in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill to seek greater co-ordination. Does my hon. Friend agree that that area is one in which local government does not always sing from the same song sheet and that that needs to be changed?
Mr. Challen : My hon. Friend touches on an important point that I hope the Government will address. In my constituency, there is no household disposal site. In the neighbouring authority, Kirklees, which is just a couple of miles down the road, there is. Kirklees council has introduced a policy of preventing anybody who is not a council tax payer in its area from using that site. It was the obvious place to go to for those
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who lived in Morley. We seem to have a sort of passport system. Local authorities are so keen to preserve their resources that they will not allow anyone else to use them. They should be prevented from doing that. We do not prevent hundreds of children from Kirklees from coming across the border to use our schools, which are a bit better than theirs. They cannot see the irony of that situation.
In the debate on the Second Reading of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, I referred to evidence supplied to the Environmental Audit Committee by Leeds city council, which, until June 2004, was under the enlightened management of the Labour party. The submission from Leeds city council makes it clear what extra resources, which could partly come from fixed penalty notices, could pay for. It says that it could work more effectively with organisations such as ENCAMS to raise public awareness.
The issue of environmental decay has been raised this afternoon. To tell people about the cost of littering and other environmental crime, the council could improve the training of its staff, enabling a greater proportion of staff who work on the streets to tackle a wider range of environmental crime. It could enable better use of technology to collect and to share information, both in the council and with its partners. It could employ more staff. At the moment, it has only 13 dedicated environmental enforcement officers. In a city of 750,000, we could do with a few more. It could undertake more surveillance operations to tackle graffiti and so on. Importantly, it could provide small grants to community groups for organised community clean-ups. Those can have a major impact on the local environment, as they help to tackle the causes of the problem as well as the symptoms. Those are positive proposals that could make a considerable impact.
In the Environmental Audit Committee, we heard about how stretched Environment Agency enforcement staff are in tracking fly-tippers. That is labour-intensive and Environment Agency and local authority staff could be greatly assisted by more technology. I referred earlier to mini-CCTV cameras at known or potential fly-tipping sites to gather better evidence.
If fly-tippers were caught on camera, what fly-tipper would come out with the argument that it was wrong and expect the public to support such an argument, as speeding drivers do? At the moment, speeding drivers seem to be supported by the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club. The apologists for cameras get away with too much.
The National Farmers Union, whose members' land is often the target for fly-tipping, told us what the cost to them can be to clean up afterwards. In Hertfordshire, the cost of removing 500 tonnes of waste was £4,600. In Essex, five seven-tonne lorry loads of tyres were dumped, with a removal cost of 75p a tyre.
The NFU is concerned, rightly, that such dumping will increase as the legitimate method of disposal. That will mean that people will have to pay increased landfill tax. As the hon. Member for East Surrey pointed out, that could lead to a growth in illegal dumpingit could almost become a business in itself.
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Our report recalls that, on Environment Agency figures, fly-tipping between 2001 and 2003 rose by an astonishing 43 per cent. One fifth of the waste comes from construction and demolition work. There is a clear need, as we see more demand for housing, to educate not just builders, but the people who employ them about the proper disposal of waste. We saw at first hand, on our visit to Leeds, a fly-tipping site in the heart of the city. What appeared to be the entire contents of a house, which was probably being refurbished, were dumped next door to a residential area. I wonder whether that kind of fly-tipping is a particular problem created in the rented and houses in multiple occupation sectors. If it is, landlords who try to cut corners should be a particular target for local authority attention.
In that overall context, recommendation 16 of the fly-tipping report, as I call it, which calls for greater resources, is important, albeit the recommendation focuses only on the Environment Agency's needs. The Government should be congratulated on increasing the agency's funding by around 37 per cent. since 1999 but, given the extra demands that the agency will have to meet in the near futureI am thinking in particular of flood preventionI wonder whether issues such as fly-tipping are in danger of being squeezed. I feel confident, however, that our report and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill will ensure that that will not happen.
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): It gives me great pleasure to follow the previous speakers, the members of the Sub-Committee of the Environmental Audit Committee who have done all the donkey work on this report, which was approved by the main Committee.
While I have the opportunity, I would like to congratulate the Chairman of the Committee, who plays a very committed part in its work. I single him out from other members of his party, because, like many people here, I sat through the Second Reading of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill on Monday and looked, mostly in vain, for other Conservative Back Benchers. I know that the hon. Gentleman's commitment to the environment is not necessarily shared by everybody in his party.
Let us not forget that not only are you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a member of the Select Committee; our distinguished Minister is a member, too. The way in which the Committee's work pre-empted some, or even much, of the work that subsequently became the Bill presented to Parliament on Monday, shows the relationship that is now developing, in which very detailed work is done in Select Committees. The interplay between their work and that of the other bodies that care informs the drafting of legislation. It is important that our work in this Committee, of which I am vice-chair, has a role that cuts across all Departments.
Our role is to press the Government. I seem to remember that when my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister set up the Committee, he said that its role would be that of a ball chasing the Government. If we are really to influence the Government, we need to make sure that all Departments can work together, as
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team players, to do their bit, knowing what part they have to play and what contribution they have to make, so that they can go away and do it.
Perhaps this debate will give the Minister more ammunition if he goes to the Treasury to say that more funding is needed, or to the Home Office to ask why more local police have not taken advantage of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 and used the new powers to tackle environmental crime as well.
Debates such as this are useful because we are putting pressure on the Minister to ensure that other Departments deliver, too. Environment crime needs to be considered in the round, otherwise we will not be successful in dealing with it, so we want to put that at the top of the agenda. Although I was not a member of the Sub-Committee, as a member of the main Committee I think that this is an important report. The considered contributions that we have heard so far vouch for that.
More than anything else, our Government are about transforming communities, regeneration and solving problems. As a constituency MP, which is the experience that I bring to the House, I think that if we in our constituencies cannot deal with issues that affect people locally, we cannot have any credibility in dealing with national or international issues. I was instrumental in getting a pilot project for a police priority area set up in a part of my constituency where there were huge problems with drugs and other aspects of crime, which were almost impossible to deal with. Once we received the funding from the Home Office and were able to deal with some of the bigger problems, the agenda shifted to what the report calls low-level environmental crime. It quickly became clear that that needed to be seen in the context of the wider Home Office agenda.
Once people started to deal with some of the problems of drug dealing, they soon began to say, "What about the dumped mattresses and television sets? Every time I go outside my front door there is rubbish ankle-deep in the gutters and on the streets." At that point they need a team of neighbourhood wardens, not just the police. It quickly becomes clear that we are talking about ways to engage the whole community and the institutions that serve and represent them in dealing, together, with low-level environmental crime. To people on the ground those issues are not a low priority; they are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Clark) said, the highest possible priority, which is why it is so important that we deal with the problems and why the two reports will help the Government.
The response to the report from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality was a breath of fresh air, particularly on issues such as fly-tipping. It seemed as though we had done the hard work and the Government were ready to legislate, were already consulting and were able to make swift progress.
Ms Drown : The report says that it is vital for local authorities to take the lead in the fight against fly-tipping. Are there recommendations about budgets? If local authorities were to take some work away from the Environment Agency there could be an argument about whether budgets should be moved. Does my hon.
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Friend agree that we need to get more money to local authorities so that they can do more to tackle the problem, albeit that some of the money should come from the imposition of higher fines for fly-tipping? Does she agree that there is a problem of resources for tackling fly-tipping?
Ms Walley : I am grateful for that intervention, because my hon. Friend has identified an ongoing issue that the Minister should address in his reply. We are dealing with the cost of fly-tipping. We can look at it from many perspectives, but we need to consider the financial and environmental costs. We need a framework to enable us to look at how to mix the costs of dealing with the issue.
One point that I want to get across in my brief contribution today is that we cannot separate costs and enforcement from the wider agenda. If DEFRA is to take on board the recommendations of our two reports, it must look at the whole picture. It is best placed to do that.
In reply to my hon. Friend's intervention, if the Government are confident that all European directives and the regulations that come from them are properly enforced, in accordance with a timetable, we must consider the recycling element and avoid the problems that we have hadfor example, the fridge mountainin respect of any future regulations. We must also deal with the end-of-life vehicles directive and the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive. At each stage of implementation we must have in place whatever is needed: licensed sites, the means of disposal and a duty of care. There will be a cost to the Environment Agency for dealing with that.
If, somehow, we enable local authorities, with the Environment Agency and the police, to do that competently and efficiently through the powers that we give them, that will change the balance and we will be looking at a different cost. The cost will be different if, as part of the equation, we ensure that every local authority in the country is enthusiastic about recycling and is meeting its targets. The cost will be different if we can, as my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) said, develop a zero tolerance culture whereby no one tolerates dumping and fly-tipping and everyone has the responsibility to do whatever is necessary to deal with waste. At the moment, a local authority may have to spend a wholly disproportionate amount of money on clearing upthe end-of-pipe-solution to dealing with litter and fly-tipping. Somehow, we must shift the balance through education, best practice and design, so that the money that is already being spent is used to prevent fly-tipping.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth : I am following the hon. Lady's argument with great interest. Clearly, if the measures that the Government are putting in place on top of existing measures work, the cost will fall because there will not be as much of a problem to deal with. It strikes me that if we eventually move closer to a zero waste environment, there will not be anything to dump.
The point that I really want to make is that if we want to change the way in which we deal with waste, and if we want to end the culture in which people think that it is
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all right to drop litter and to fly-tip because they can get away with it as there will be no enforcement, we need some transitional arrangements, and with that comes a need for transitional funding. I become a little uncomfortable when Governments invite bids and some are successful and some are not. It is necessary, perhaps through the work that DEFRA does with the Treasury, to look at public service agreements and to concentrate much more on targets. We could then consider extra transitional funding for local authorities to enable them to change how they operate services, moving away from cleaning up and using the money more constructively for prevention andI shall come to this latereducation. It is important to send that message out clearly.
If we are to deal with some of these issues, we need to look at how the environmental crime agenda links to the Department of Trade and Industry. We all know that there is a problem with asbestos removal, for exampleI cannot remember which Member mentioned asbestos earlierbecause it is a hazardous material and has to be removed safely. If we have licensed processes that can deal with that effectively, then the quicker we can have them in place, the more likely we are to have proper disposal. We are also more likely to find producers fulfilling a duty of care rather than people thinking that they have got to dump material at midnight when no one is looking, so scarring the landscape.
With regulation there will always come huge opportunities for business, which can contribute to the country's improved economic efficiency. For example, as well as new ways of tackling this low-level crime, there could be blue-sky thinking about linking those processes to the way in which new businesses will, hopefully, be set up. I hope that DEFRA could play a leading role in that.
Given that when we talk about the environment it is always about what needs to be done internationally, nationally and locally, I do not think that I can avoid a brief mention of the scale of the problem in my constituency. I had an opportunity to speak briefly in the Second Reading debate on Monday, when I mentioned my hopes that Stoke-on-Trent city council could be the subject of a pilot project with the Environment Agency. It would look how we could involve the magistrates, the police, the local authority, neighbourhood wardens, residents associations and educational establishments in having a really big spring clean-up, getting everybody engaged while making sure that we had proper enforcement by the magistrates. This is not a criticism of magistrates, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but perhaps we could have more environmental awareness among magistrates. Perhaps you might like to initiate that. If the Minister could get back to me in due course, giving some indication whether my suggestion could be a proposal from Stoke-on-Trent city council, I would be grateful.
One of the other issues flagged up in our report is that of abandoned vehicles. I have some figures from Staffordshire which may be of interest in this debate, if only to show the scale of the problem. From April 2003 to March 2004, 2,640 cases of abandoned vehicles in Stoke-on-Trent were reported to the police. The figure for the whole of Staffordshire was 7,845. The number reported to the local authority was 2,000.
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The number removed by police in Stoke-on-Trent was 349. The number removed by the local authority was 500. So we are talking in the region of 800 abandoned vehicles dealt with, as opposed to 2,640 reported. The number set on fire was 295.
If one looks at the cost of all of thatwe were talking about funding just nowone finds that Staffordshire fire service is having to spend £2.6 million a year dealing with abandoned vehicles that have been set alight. I know that because my constituency has a site of special scientific interest. Hardly a weekend goes by when there is not a car abandoned on the SSSI and set alight. Apart from anything else, it is polluting the nature reserve. As an aside, I would like to see far more commitment to ensuring that that we protect and conserve SSSIs.
If one thinks about how the £2.6 million spent by Staffordshire fire service last year could be better spent dealing with life-threatening events and fire safety assessment, it becomes clear that whatever the costs of dealing with environmental crime are, we are already paying them. We must therefore act innovatively, and in a way that cuts across Government. We must also act at local level, as we have to team up nationally and locally to ensure that we do not spend money in that wasteful way. If for no other reason, we must do something about environmental crime.
The Staffordshire fire service told me that it costs £55 to remove each abandoned vehicle. I must commend the Home Office on the abandoned vehicles initiative. I badgered the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which is based in Swansea, to send representatives to my constituency last year. They came, bringing special equipment and machinery, and I set up a road safety initiative, along with the local authority. We got quite a few vehicles and dealt with them. The powers that the Government are now introducing to enable abandoned vehicles to be dealt with in seven days, as opposed to the long-winded procedure that applies at the moment, are most welcome. It would be even better if we could reach a situation where vehicles are not being dumped or abandoned.
That, too, takes us back to the European legislation, to the end-of-life vehicles directive and to the way in which we recycle, or deal with, things when they come to the end of their life. It takes us back to the question of responsibility, which applies as much to chewing gum as to televisions and all the technology that so quickly becomes redundant as new models outdo the others. Producer liability and responsibility is important, and it must be seen as part and parcel of all this.
I am conscious of time so I will just return to the issues that I wanted to flag up. As I said on Monday, people can legislate until the cows come home, introducing new powers for local authorities. However, those authorities need to be retrained, from their chief executive or council manager down to the elected members and residents associations. If we do not all get together and communicate, how will we solve this problem? What can we do about it? Our legislation will not have the impact on local communities that we want it to have.
My message to the Minister, as chair of the Sub-Committee on Education for Sustainable Development, is that we want to see leadership from DEFRA on education and communication. That needs to go right the way across business. We need major
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companieswhether it is Michelin in Stoke-on-Trent or other leading companies throughout England and Scotlandthe Government and industry in general to show us how they will communicate a powerful message.
We need to replace the money that came from ENCAMS for education on sustainable development projects and initiatives. We need the Department for Education and Skills to single out education for sustainable development in the way that it does, for example, for sport. We need to build on the commitment to the environment of our young people in primary schools. If we do not do those things, what we are saying here will fall on deaf ears.
I do not question the Minister's leadership, but my message to him, more than anything else, is that we need more leadership from DEFRA to ensure education at every level, whether it is educating senior Whitehall officials or providing for more thorough education locally using, for example, technical qualifications. We face the major challenge of educating people for sustainable development.
The recommendations from these reports are very good, and the Government are proceeding with them in legislation in an excellent way. We are backing that. We understand our role as global citizens. People need to be aware of all these issues. I hope that our short debate will empower the Minister strongly to communicate that message to other Departments.
Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) is unable to be with us today. We are doing a job swap this week: she covered the Second Reading of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill and I am covering for her in this Chamber this afternoon.
It is good to be reconnected with the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I served for some time. I was delighted to serve under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), the predecessor of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth). It is good to see that the Committee is continuing to undertake important work in a highly competent and relevant manner. It is also good to be reconnected with some of my colleagues from those days, particularly the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley).
The Environmental Audit Committee was set up by this Government during their early days, and it has been a very useful innovation. The idea of treating the environment cross-departmentally is, as other Members have said, absolutely essential, whatever the item of business. Earlier today I was considering the marine environment and I realised that that requires the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department for Transport and others to work together. We need that cross-departmental approach and I congratulate the Government on setting up the Committee, even if in other respects their early radical inclinations have given way to cold feet in recent years.
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Mrs. Clark : As a current member of the Environmental Audit Committee who has served with the hon. Gentleman, I welcome his complimentary comments about the Committee. However, he threw cold water over those comments by saying that we had got cold feet. Will he give examples of our freezing feet, cold feet or need for central heating?
Norman Baker : Either I expressed myself badly or the hon. Lady misunderstood me. I do not believe that the Committee has got cold feet at all; I am happy to endorse its work. I was referring not to the Committee's cold feet, but to the Government'sin the general sense of their approach to their business, and not only environmental business.
I turn to the scale of the problem of environmental crime, which the Committee has been dealing with. Many people have the impression that such crime is not terribly important, does not matter much and is all low levelsomeone chucking away a piece of chewing gum or dropping a piece of litter. Are we serious in saying that that needs to be dealt with? Members who have spoken, including the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Clark), are right to say that one person's litter is someone else's nuisance on the doorstep. The quality of life in a community can suffer greatly if it is badly affected by litter and graffiti. The problem can even become intimidating. It is also trueI do not know whether Home Office statistics show this; I suspect that they dothat an area suffering from environmental crime probably has a high degree of other crime.
It is not simply a matter of one person dropping a piece of litter. Fly-tipping sounds small-scale and innocuous, but it does not simply involve one person who is too lazy to go to the household waste site with grass cuttings from their back garden; it is big business. People set up companies offering a service to customers who want to behave legitimately. They then take a lot of money off those customers and pretend that they will dispose of the waste properly. However, they simply dump it in the first available field, and everything is pure profit. Criminals are involved in fly-tipping and that is a serious matter for all of us.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth : The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. He may be interested to know that in our report on fly-tipping we mention that the Environment Agency stressed its frustration with the use of the term "fly-tipping" by the general public and the Government. It considers that the term disguises the gravity of the offence and prefers the phrase "the illegal dumping of waste".
Fly-tipping is big business and I fear that it is going to increase because the Government have increased landfill tax. The Government are right in discouraging landfill, which is the worst option for waste disposal. However, the consequence is that the gap between the proper figure to be paid and zero, which is what it costs to dump in a field, is becoming ever wider. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North said, we need to ensure that a proper system is in place in order to educate. We also need to get the community to co-operate and report
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such crimes more than at the moment, and ensure that those who perpetrate the crimes are caught, properly prosecuted and fined according to their means. That chain does not exist, and that is why changes must be made.
Hazardous waste is pernicious and if dumped in the countryside it is potentially far more serious than odd bits of organic waste, litter or anything else. Hazardous waste can be dangerous to human and animal health, and it can pollute watercourses and so on. That is why it is important to deal with the problem. The Minister is familiar with the ban on co-disposal. It came in on 16 July, and we have been examining whether it will present a problem. The Government say that co-disposal has not subsequently presented a problem. I hope that they are right, but I fear that they may be somewhat complacent. Some places where hazardous waste has been dumped illegally may not yet have become apparent, but, more than that, what happens if someone decides that they have some hazardous waste to dump? The nearest legal place to take it could be many, many miles awaythat is certainly the case in my constituencyand the temptation to put it in a farmer's field is enormous. When that farmer finds that he suddenly has a load of asbestos in his field, what does he do? If he reports the matter, he is liable for dealing with it. That is grossly unfair, but it is the legal position. The temptation must be either to ignore it or bury it.
I suggest to the Minister that one reason why we may not have seen a high level of reporting of hazardous waste dumping is because of that sort of scenario. We need to find the answer to the conundrum of how we ensure that the person who dropped the waste, and not the person on whose land it is dropped, is prosecuted. The latter already has to suffer a nuisance, a problem and inconvenience, and to end up with the cost of disposal as well is unfair. I do not suggest that solving the problem is easy; a farmer could be in league with a polluter and pretend that he was not aware of the waste. I do not underestimate the problem, but it is a serious issue.
The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley) : I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but the Environment Agency does a very good job monitoring fly-tipping, and he will be aware that the Flycapture database has been upgraded. The agency tells me that although there is evidence of the fly-tipping of hazardous waste, it has not detected any increase since the introduction of co-disposal. I have sympathy with the innocent victims, but it is sometimes difficult with farmland to identify those whovery rarelyare colluding, and those who are not committing an offence. There was a recent case of a farmer who was fined £20,000 for burying fridges on his land. He was in fact also the Conservative leader of the local council.
The Government can do quite a lot. First, they can lead an education campaign and challenge the idea of a throwaway society. It becomes far too easy simply to believe that packaging does not matter very muchjust chuck it away, and no one bothers about it. That is why
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I am particularly heartened by the example provided by the hon. Member for East Surrey of the crisp packet thrown out the window of the car. While supermarkets are producing 17 billion plastic bags every year, which are thenwho knows what happens to them?disposed of in some way because they are not recyclable in any meaningful sense, while fast-food outlets are producing cartons that are just thrown away because they are contaminated by food and also not recyclable in any meaningful sense, and while we have bad practice from industry, which people see every day, it is difficult to get across the message that waste is bad. Waste is implicit in the way in which society and industry in particular operates, and that includes some of our leading retailers. There is an issue about education not only for the public but for business, and the Government have a role in that.
Secondly, we must find a way to reduce waste, not simply allow it to increase every year. It is disappointing that the municipal waste figures show a 19 per cent. increase over the past six years. The Government's hierarchy, which I entirely endorse, has minimisation at the top, but we do not see much about it.
I was astonished that the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill does not explicitly include variable waste charging. The Minister's boss said in a speech in the summer that it would be included, but it suddenly disappeared. Some variable waste charging or financial incentive to reduce waste is key to minimisation, and I very much hope that that will be explicitly included by the time deliberations on the Bill conclude.
Mr. Morley : I just want to deal with that point in case I forget it in my winding up. It is true that DEFRA is keen on the idea of incentivising waste minimisation. However, we have discovered that primary legislation is not necessary to introduce incentive schemes.
Norman Baker : I am interested to hear that. If the Minister could provide a note on that, I would ensure that it is circulated to Lib Dem councils up and down the country. I hope that the other parties will do something similar.
I do not wish to be churlish, but the Government could also be better prepared for European Union directives. I mention the word "fridges". I will not say any more, as everybody knows the story of the fridges. I touched on the subject of hazardous waste. The issue of batteries is the next one down the line. We will shortly be required to recycle 44 per cent. of our batteries, yet we are recycling less than 1 per cent. of them at the moment. I am not talking about car batteriesthe Minister's usual responsebut about household batteries. I understand that the only facility in the country, in Bristol, has been shut down, so we are not at all prepared for that directive either.
Then there are abandoned cars. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North referred to abandoned cars and implied that the problem was nobody's fault. I must tell her that the Government had the option of making the producer responsible with immediate effect, but under DTI pressurethis comes back to the point that she made about how Departments work togetherthey chose to make the last owner responsible until 2007. Of course, the last owner has the car of least value and is the
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person who is most likely to dump it. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that 300,000-plus vehicles have been dumped in the countryside. The Government made a mistake. We could have avoided the abandoned car mountain.
The other thing that the Government can do, of course, is legislate. I pay tribute to them for the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. I endorse the welcome that my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford gave it on Monday. It contains several useful measures that will go a long way to tackling some of the problems.
As I am not a member of the Environmental Audit Committee and do not have to take the completely non-partisan approach that others are taking today, I say in passing that it is astonishing that the Conservatives could not support the Bill. I can find no credible explanation for their position. One reason they gave for not supporting the Bill was that it
Ms Walley : I cannot understand their position either. To those of us who were present throughout the whole of the Second Reading debate, it is clear that waste knows no boundaries, and that the Bill applies just as much to rural areas as to urban ones. I could not understand the response from the official Opposition.
Norman Baker : Frankly, I had hoped that we might have a united approach on the matter. I suspect that if the hon. Member for East Surrey had more influence, we might have one. We must send out a message to the population at large that the issue is serious, and it would be helpful to have cross-party support for some of the measures that the Government are proposing. The Government will certainly have support from my party. To take a partisan approach, the absence of Conservative support for the Bill is a political gift in the run-up to the election. However, perhaps that is beyond the remit of this debate.
I particularly welcome in the Bill the greater use of fixed penalties as an alternative to prosecution. We shall explore in Committee the issues that are rightly raised about how they are administered, but the principle is right. I also welcome the removal of the defence for acting under an employer's instructions and the fact that the Government are seeking to close that loophole. I welcome the increase in penalties, which have been referred to, and the ability of local authorities and the Environment Agency to recover their investigation and clear-up costs, which is another useful addition to the Bill.
I also welcome the proposals on noise. The Minister will know that I am particularly concerned about car alarms, which are intrusive. Often they go on for a long time. They do not appear to protect the car, because everybody assumes that they are false alarms. Even if they are not, by the time somebody gets there, the car may have gone. They are particularly useless. There is much more modern technology in the form of, for example, silent alarms that contact a mobile phone or
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pager, and tracking devices under the car. Car alarms are 1970s technology that we ought to phase out. They are an environmental nuisance and do not perform any sensible crime prevention role. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at our proposals to strengthen the Bill in respect of car alarms and burglar alarms, with which there is a similar problem.
Of course, we must identify the culprit. If we are to be sensible about tackling environmental crime, there must be an expectation that whoever commits the crime is likely to be caught and prosecuted for it. I fear that at the moment we do not have that expectation. People believe that they can get away with it, that they are not going to be caught and that, even if they are, they will be fined next to nothing. A parliamentary answer that I received from the Minister following a question that I asked about the average fine imposed on businesses prosecuted by the Environment Agency in each financial yearbusinesses, not individuals who might be fly-tippingrevealed that the average fine last year was £7,229. That is for all environmental crimes, not simply fly-tipping. That is next to nothing for many crimes. If the business is a big one, and many of them are, £7,000 is nothing.
If the Minister talks regularly to Barbara Young at the Environment Agency, as I am sure he doesshe is very competent at her jobhe will know that she despairs at the level of fines that are given out for environmental crimes compared with, say, financial crimes. What about fines in legislation from the Department of Trade and Industry? I do not know the fines provided for in the Consumer Credit Bill, but I am sure that if somebody got caught in that context the fine would be a lot more than £7,000. There are £1 million fines in Treasury Bills. Financial crimes are taken very seriously, but environmental crimes are treated as afterthoughts. I would argue that £7,000 is nothing.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth : The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely good point. Will he reflect on the fact that, although on this side of the Atlantic we are prone to being highly critical of the Americans for their attitude towards the environment, in fact the United States has a much more onerous system of fines for environmental abuse? We could learn a lesson or two from the Americans on that front.
Norman Baker : I entirely agree. One should not assumeI am sure that the hon. Gentleman does notthat George Bush epitomises the United States. He does not. A lot of good work goes on, both in the respect that the hon. Gentleman referred to and in relation to work on climate change by some of the north-east states. There is good stuff coming out of America. George Bush is not part of it, but never mind.
We have to ensure that the penalties that are given out for environmental crimes are commensurate with the level of the crime, the impact on the environment and the capacity of the person responsible to pay. If the level of fine is such that frankly it is no deterrent, why bother having it in the first place? I fear that that is where we are. We must find a better way of dealing with the situation. As was mentioned earlier, the Government are increasing the penalty for fly-tipping to £50,000. That is welcome, but it is not much good if the fines are
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not imposed. We have heard today about training for magistrates. Judicial training is quite rightly part of what is being considered by the Environmental Audit Committee. I wonder whether there is a case for an environmental court with specially trained magistrates who concentrate on these issues, come across them regularly and have experience of what level of fine is appropriate in particular circumstances. My fear is that environmental crimes come before magistrates relatively infrequently, if not rarely, which means with no disrespect to themthat they do not have the experience to know what is appropriate. An environmental court might be one way of dealing with that. Will the Minister comment on that?
We must first identify the culprit. I am concerned about the resources that are available to the Environment Agency in particular. It is embarking on a so-called light-touch regulation strategy, which might be sensible in some regards, but seems like a way in which to deal with a budget that is not sufficient for its needs. If the Minister reads the parliamentary answers that he has given me, he will find that, given its intended inspection regime, the number of inspections carried out by the Environment Agency has decreased, despite the fact that its target has dropped by a third. It is inspecting far fewer premises than it used to, so the chances of it picking up on something are reduced.
As for cameras to pick up fly-tipping, they are few and far between. Particular sites in my constituency are notorious for fly-tipping. I am still waiting for the Environment Agency to provide cameras for those sites, but it has not got them, so there is clearly a need to examine the funding of the Environment Agency and to ensure that local authorities play their part and receive the commitment and understanding that perhaps sometimes they do not enjoy.
I endorse the Environmental Audit Committee's recommendation on banning vans. It is an interesting and innovative way in which to examine one of the problems. There are other ways, such as compulsory remediation, of which I am in favour. I am in favour of someone who is caught writing graffiti on a wall being made to scrub it off. It is not sufficient to leave that action to someone else. People should be confronted with the consequences of their crimes far more than they are now. That applies to environmental crimes as much as it does to anything else. However, sadly, people are not often caught.
According to figures given to me by the Minister, only 0.6 per cent. of instances of landfill pollution in one yearan environmental crimeresulted in a fine. What incentive is that for people not to commit a crime? Catching people is serious, as is what happens to them once they are caught. Although the Government have made some progress with the Bill that was debated on Monday, under which people will be prosecuted and have to pay higher fines, I am not sure yet whether they have done enough to ensure that people are caught in the first place. I should be grateful if the Minister assured me about that.
I come now to environmental liability insurance. Part of dealing with corporate environmental crimeif I can call it thatis to make sure that companies are properly covered and can pay and take responsibility for
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environmental crimes. On 16 June 2003, I tabled a written question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asking what was its policy
I do not agree. The Minister must reflect on that reply. As he will know, there is a proposal for the environmental liability directive winging its way round Europe. If he can say whether the Government are changing their position on such matters, I should be interested to hear it.
Mr. Ainsworth : Is there not a potential problem with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion? The last thing that we want is an increase in the penalty regime which everyone agrees will happenonly to find that companies are insuring themselves against the consequences of committing environmental offences.
Norman Baker : I understand that point, but I suspect that the insurance industry itself would ensure that there was a cut-off point above which it would not pay out. We are talking about large environmental crimes, such as the pollution of water sources.
Norman Baker : There are offences that are committed intentionally and offences that are committed unintentionally. A distinction can be made between the two. Liability insurance is worth pursuing; it is being considered in Europe. As for personal liability, it is also worth pursuing directors of companies more often. Such measures would bring home to businesses the fact that they should take matters more seriously.
I welcome the Aarhus convention and the extra ability that environmental regulations now provide for securing information about the environment. I hope that local authorities in particular will respond to requests. I will certainly be asking the Minister for information under those regulations. I note with interest that under the Aarhus convention, oral requests are sufficient; they do not need to be put in writing. Can the Minister say whether matters we raise in debateslet alone in parliamentary questionsare now treated on the basis that is required of the Government under the Aarhus convention, or will they be treated on a separate basis?
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I warmly congratulate the Environmental Audit Committee, and especially its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), on the reports. I want to put it on the record that I acknowledge that the Government occasionally do positive things, and I think that setting up that Select Committee was a very positive
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contribution to parliamentary scrutiny. We have had two constructive reports, as well as an excellent debate on them this afternoon.
At the outset, I should declare a relevant interest that is listed in the Register of Members' Interests: I am currently doing a placement with Network Rail under the Industry and Parliament Trust scheme.
I should also say that I am one of the many people in the country who chew gumENCAMS estimates that there are 20 million of usalthough I assure the Committee that I dispose of it in an environmentally and socially responsible way.
I welcome this debate. The Select Committee has built up a high level of expertise through the evidence that it has taken and its study visits. I am disappointed not to have seen the photographs of its eminent Chairman being placed in front of the chewing gum extractor machine, but Committee members can share that moment with me later.
I want to explain my party's position on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill. I relish the possibility of seeing the Minister and other Members present in this Chamber serving on the Standing Committee that scrutinises the Bill. Its first sitting is on Tuesday, and I hope that everyone has bid for a place on it.
We took a principled position on the Bill, and tabled, and voted for, a reasoned amendment. We did not vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. I contrast that with the position of the Liberal Democrats: they spoke at length on Second Reading of their support for the Bill in principle, but they have tabled a large number of wrecking amendments, which I am sure they will try to justify when the time comes. We have adopted a more positive approach, which we look forward to pursuing.
Miss McIntosh : On Monday, the Liberal Democrat spokesman said that his party supported the Bill and would vote for it on Second Reading. However, the party has tabled a historically high number of what I would call wrecking amendments.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. May I assist the hon. Lady? "Wrecking amendment" has a technical meaning in this context. It refers to an amendment designed to destroy the principle of the clause or subsection to which it relates, and it is not selectable by the Chair.
Can we dwell for a moment on the scale of the problem? I want to refer to ENCAMS written evidence, which is annexed to the Select Committee's ninth report, "Fly-tipping, Fly-posting, Litter, Graffiti and Noise". In
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September 2003, the Home Office antisocial behaviour unit stated that the estimated total cost per year of antisocial behaviour was £3.3 billion, with an antisocial act being reported on average every two seconds. It also said that the estimated cost of a one-off town centre clean-up of chewing gum alone was in the region of £25,000. That is staggering.
I referred briefly to Network Rail, which has told me the cost of one aspect of the evidence that the Select Committee considered. I do not know whether the Committee took evidence from Network Rail, but we on the Transport Committee took similar evidence on the clear-up by London Underground tube lines and Metronet. Under the performance regimes in the Network Rail regulated track access agreements, the average cost of delay to a train is £42 per minute. Using that average daily cost of delay, if 10 trains were delayed for one hour while graffiti was cleaned up, the cost would be £25,200. If we add that up over a year, we see that we are faced with substantial costs in one industry alone.
Miss McIntosh : It is not for me to speak for Network Rail, but I would be delighted to put my hon. Friend in contact with it. I am rather surprised that, if he is so concerned about it, the Select Committee did not take evidence from Network Rail.
In an early-day motion in July, we recorded the fact that litter has increased by 12 per cent. in 2003 according to the Department's figures. The disposal of chewing gum on town centre streets increased by 94 per cent. in the same year.
Ms Drown : Would the hon. Lady support the idea of some sort of levy on the chewing gum manufacturers, perhaps in proportion to their profits, to recover the costs of the damage that chewing gum does to our streets?
Miss McIntosh : I should have thought that a levy or a purchase tax would be the least-favoured option among Conservative Members, as we are a low-tax party. I assure the hon. Lady and members of the Environmental Audit Committee that I have been in contact with Wrigley's. Having studied at Aarhus universityI am half-DanishI hope to make similar overtures to Stimorol. I shall return to the subject of chewing gum. We could focus a little more on the means of dealing with the problem, but I should have thought that a levy or purchase tax was the least favoured option.
Turning to the first of the Committee's two reports and its conclusions, I think that fines often focus on those who are easily identified, but they are often the poorest in society and the least able to pay. I believe that fines should reflect the ability to pay. I would not dream
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of encroaching on magistrates courts, perhaps because I am better informed on that subject. As a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates, I know that judges are given training on these matters, and I am sure that magistrates would welcome similar training.
I express my disappointment at the lack of a national database for environmental crime; that would be a positive step. The Committee's recommendation on compulsory remediation work is very welcome; it may be more appropriate than a custodial sentence. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to that because there was no Government response to "Environmental Crime and the Courts". It would be helpful to hear whether the Government support the Committee's recommendation on compulsory remediation work.
The Committee concluded that community sentences are inflexibly tied to custodial sentences, limiting the courts in passing an appropriate sentence for environmental offences. It will be interesting to hear the Minister's response to that. The Chairman expressed eloquently the need to operate the "polluter pays" principle and ensure that the fine is larger than any amount by which a company might have profited by perpetrating an environmental crime. The Committee rightly identified, in its report and in the evidence that it took, the problem of avoidance of fine payments. How the Government will deal with that is of great interest to us, too.
Turning to the ninth report and the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, the Secretary of State said during the Bill's Second Reading on Monday 10 January that fines will be reinvested by councils in cleaning up environmental crimes, but perhaps her most staggering statement was that the powers vested in the Bill are only discretionary and carry no corresponding duties on local authorities. I referred earlier to the regulatory impact assessment annexed to the Bill, in which it is estimated that local authorities' revenue from an estimated 50 per cent. take-up on fixed penalty notices would be £3 million. A 75 per cent. take-up would render more than £4 million.
I should like to reiterate this afternoon a powerful point that I made on Second Reading. If the take-up is lower than 50 per cent.possibly as low as 20 to 30 per cent.there will be a correspondingly low revenue stream to councils. The most pressing and impressive conclusion of the Committee's report was that there is a singular lack of resources, a point that was echoed by the Liberal Democrat spokesman this afternoon. Perhaps the Minister will respond to that. If, as the Committee has said, there is low take-up, how do the Government think the Bill will resolve that when the powers are only discretionary, as the Secretary of State herself said on Monday? The report also said that crime against the environment should be recognised as an aggravating factor before the courts. Does the Minister accept that?
On the problems of implementing fixed penalty notices, particularly in relation to litter, chewing gum and abandoned cars, what is the Minister's response to the Law Society's point that local authority and Environment Agency officers, who are to issue fixed penalty notices, must be sufficiently well trained and
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properly qualified to implement them, because of the consequences that will flow, not just from the fixed penalty, but from its not being paid? The Law Society is deeply concerned about that and I should like to know the Minister's reaction.
Will the Minister also look favourably on the suggestion, made in the debate this afternoon, that police officers maintain co-responsibility with environmental or local authority officers? Or does he think that residual responsibility for implementing the powers in the Bill should remain with the police, following the recommendations of the reports? Has he had the opportunity to give that any thought?
Defining chewing gum deposits as litter, which was touched on this afternoon, carries with it the round-the-clock duty on local authorities to remove it. As Westminster city council has said on the record, that brings a huge increase in costs. I wonder whether, having spent £60,000 commissioning a report on all the various ways of discarding chewing gum, the Government will consider providing resources to anything like that generous level if chewing gum is to be redefined as litter.
On the bigger issue of fly-tipping, recommendation 19 was very positive. In my view, it will have teeth only if the Government agree with the Conservative proposal to make fly-tipping an arrestable offence. At the moment, the Bill does not go that far. Does not the Minister agree that it is no good simply to seize a vehicle accused of dumping waste, abandoned vehicles, fridge-freezers or white goods or being used for any other form of fly-tipping, if the perpetrator of the environmental crime is allowed to walk away and repeat the crime using another vehicle? That would constitute a loophole in the Bill, and we have tabled an amendment to deal with that. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to that this afternoon.
I alluded earlier to the tremendous growth in fly-tipping since 2001: the Environment Agency has reported a 43 per cent. increase. As the Committee pointed out, other environmental crimes, such as fly-posting and creating graffiti or litter, are also on the increase. In 2003, Westminster city council reported that fly-posting had increased by 27 per cent. since 2002. It says that the current approach to fly-posting is not working.
As one hon. Member said this afternoon, the Environment Agency does not have adequate powers to deal with fly-tipping, so we look to the Minister to increase those powers, and not just on seizing vehicles; its powers of arrest must be extended as well. Would the Minister also look favourably on enabling the agency to access the DVLA registration database? At the moment, it is excluded from that.
Similarly, existing punishments are not a sufficient deterrent to fly-tippers, and if the two reports are to mean anything at all, we must extend powers in that regard. The Environment Agency should be given greater funding, stronger powers and more resources to deal with fly-tipping. Specifically, there should be more environment officers, who should be given the power of arrest in serious cases and, as I said, direct computer access to the DVLA database.
Local authorities must take primary responsibility for preventing and clearing up fly-tipping. Although the Environment Agency would become involved in the
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most serious cases, local authorities should take the lead in the majority of incidents because, although many authorities take their responsibilities very seriously, in our view some are happy to leave the burden to the agency, which maintains ultimate responsibility. The agency has neither the manpower nor the resources to deal with incidents of fly-tipping in a specific area, and thus the ultimate responsibility for more minor incidents should be shifted to the local authorities. Does the Minister agree?
Ms Drown : I would be grateful if the hon. Lady clarified her position. She is calling for more resources for the Environment Agency, but she is saying that local authorities should take the lead. Does she also think that local authorities need more resources to deal with fly-tipping? If so, how does that square with her being a member of a low-tax party, which will not even support a surcharge on the profits of the chewing gum companies to deal with the problem of chewing gum? Is not she then saying that income tax should sort out that problem as well?
Miss McIntosh : I think that the hon. Lady has bought herself a place on the Standing Committee that will scrutinise the Bill: she can then see how our amendments would deal with that. One of the principal reasons for opposing the Billas, I think, the Chairman of the Select Committee himself saidis that the resources allocated are inadequate. As I said, the fact that fixed penalty notices will probably not reach the 50 per cent. take-up threshold means that neither the local authorities nor the Environment Agency will have sufficient resources. That is something that we will return to when scrutinising the Bill next week.
Sentences for environmental crime are too low. In our view, the Government must take action to ensure that the law acts as a deterrent to all those involved in such crime, and that includes fly-posting. The Committee describes the current sentences for fly-posting as "derisory". Noise is not considered an environmental crime and data on noise incidence are not collated centrally. Does the Minister agree that such data should be sent to his Department by local authorities annually so that it can take an overview? Does he agree that noise nuisance should be a crime under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003?
Recognising environmental crimes and acknowledging the increased powers for local authority and Environment Agency officers in the Bill, as recommended by both the reports before us, we have to ask where the necessary extra resources will come from. Where powers are, for example, transferred from the police to local authoritiesthat applies, in particular, to removing abandoned vehicles and dealing with stray dogswill there be a corresponding transfer of authority? The Bill sets out the powers but not the corresponding duties of local authoritiesthose are not my words but those of the Secretary of State on Second Reading on Monday.
Will the Minister therefore confirm that the powers set out in the Bill are purely discretionary? If that is the case, the consideration of the reports is timely. As the operation of that excellent machine in Leeds shows, many of the powers to remove litter, chewing gum and abandoned cars already exist. Many Conservative-controlled councils, such as Westminster city council,
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are implementing those powers. Other councils, controlled by the Liberal Democrats and by Labour, are not. Therefore, in responding to the two reports, it is up to the Secretary of State to make the case that the Bill goes as far as the Select Committee wants it to.
The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley) : It is a pleasure to respond to an excellent report. It is also a pleasure to be under your chairmanship, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was pleased with the recommendations of the Committee and I thought that the Chairman, the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), made a very good speech. It is not the first time that I have found myself agreeing with just about everything that he said. I agree with other hon. Members that he is missed from the Opposition Front Bench. I am sure that the Conservatives would not have made the incredible tactical error of opposing the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, which is a popular measure, were he on the Front Bench. As the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) said, the Conservatives oppose it because, they say, the Bill relates to urban and not to rural areas.
One reason that the Bill includes an imbalance is that, whereas waste dumped on urban ground will be removed by the local authority, waste dumped or fly-tipped on private land must be removed by the landowner at his own expense. Does the Minister agree that that is discriminatory against rural dwellers?
Mr. Morley : No, I do not. If the hon. Lady looks at the Bill, she will find that in relation to, for example, households, the person responsible for moving waste is the householder. If it is not the householder, it is the owner of the propertythe landowner. Whether the waste has been dumped on property or land, the responsibility falls on the owner. The local authority can remove waste from backyards or gardens, but they can bill the landowner for it. Therefore, responsibility still goes back to the landowner. Therefore, the measure is not discriminatory. I am sure that we can explore that issue in more detail.
I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for East Surrey about the need for a cross-Government approach. Of course, these issues link in with the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, the Home Office and quality of life issues. I agree that environmental standards, regulation and law must be given a high priority. That is why the Government are bringing forward a Bill now.
The hon. Gentleman gave a number of good examples to show that there is a need for reform. We accept that, and we accept the main thrust of the Committee's reports. He also mentioned the need for a national database. He welcomed the Flycapture database, as do I. The information on the database can, in some circumstances, be used for and related to other activities, although it is true that it is not designed to be
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compatible in all cases. There is an issue to do with defining "environmental crime". There are some complications, but I am not unsympathetic to the points that have been made. We are stepping things up.
I accept that the more information we have, the better. That is why we are improving all our databases and all information that gives us an idea about environmental activities and things such as waste flows. That helps us with regulation management and making decisions.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned intimidation of people who want to report environmental crime. I accept that that happens on occasions, but intimidation is a serious offence and there are already laws on thatand, incidentally, on the obstruction of an environmental officer going about his or her duties. Those laws can be applied if there is a problem. I am sure that that comes up from time to time.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Aarhus convention. We plan to ratify it this spring, so that it comes into effect in time for the UK to participate fully in the first meeting of the parties to the convention. We have every intention of doing that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Clark) rightly emphasised the fact that environmental issues affect quality of life. There is also a social justice aspect, because it is often people who live in the most deprived areas who suffer the worst environmental degradation. We take that seriously as a party and a Government and want to address that.
My hon. Friend mentioned councils not using their powers. Councils are in many cases obliged to report the environmental activities that they undertake under regulations. They are also accountable to the Environmental Audit Committee and, most importantly, to the people who elect them, whom they represent. Frankly, if councils are not taking environmental issues seriously, it will be no surprise to me if they pay for it at the ballot box.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) mentioned a number of issues to do with enforcement, and touched on the evasion of fines for illegal fishing. As a former Fisheries Minister, I know all about that; in fact, I sanctioned some of those prosecutions and fines. In one case, there was a fine of £1 million. People do try to avoid the fines, principally by going bankrupt. On at least one occasion, people have just left their boat tied up in port and walked away from it. Companies go bust and so avoid the fines.
In other cases, we enforced the fines by seizing the fishing vessels and not allowing them to leave the port. That involves the wonderful, arcane legal procedure of nailing a writ to the mast. As masts these days are made of steel, that is a bit tricky. The procedure should be called sellotaping a writ to the mast.We will have no hesitation in using whatever powers are available to us in enforcing such fines.
On occasions, we despaired because very low fines were imposed on people who made very large sums of money. The report picked up on the point that environmental crimes can be very profitable and fines need to reflect those activities. A £1 million fine reflected
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the fact that there was large-scale fraud involving valuable fishing catches and environmental damage to fish stocks.
My hon. Friend mentioned the use in Leeds of pouches for gum and cigarette butts. I am very interested in that, not least because those pouches were drawn to my attention by one of my constituents, who is manufacturing them. I think that it is those that Leeds city council is using. I was intrigued by his product. It is very small and cheap. It can be used to dispose of chewing gum and cigarette butts properly. I have drawn it to the attention of my Department and of the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality because we may want to draw it to people's attention. It is an innovative and effective idea.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell mentioned the issue of hypothecation. I am a supporter of hypothecation. I have always been a fan. There are all sorts of ways in which it can be used. That might explain why I have never been a Treasury Ministermy enthusiasm is not universally shared. I have to be honest about that.However, fines go into the Consolidated Fund. I am sure that it would be possible to use that fund to put money back into enforcement, education programmes and perhaps reward schemesall the various good ideas that members of the Committee have mentioned. I am sure that that is worth exploring. We may want to discuss it during proceedings on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) mentioned that this issue is a priority for people. That was shown by the turnout for the debate on the Bill, certainly on the Government Benches. I am sure that all of us find, when we talk to our constituents, that fly-tipping, rubbish and graffiti are big, quality-of-life issues. That is particularly the case in certain parts of my constituency. People find those things offensive and should not have to live with them. That is why we are determined to take action. The Committee's report on environmental law, fines and procedures is relevant to how we can improve the situation and take it forward.
Ms Drown : The Minister mentioned some of the priorities of our constituents. Does he accept that noise, which the Environmental Audit Committee also looked at, is a priority as well? I am pleased that, in Swindon, we have an out-of-hours service, but some of our neighbouring boroughs and districts do not. Could he think about trying to co-ordinate with DEFRA, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health officers and the Home Office to ensure that there is an out-of-hours service across the country, so that, wherever there are appalling noise problems, an out-of-hours service is available?
Mr. Morley : Noise is certainly an issue. I am going to touch upon that, because it was raised by a number of Committees. Car alarms are a real nuisance in certain parts of the country. I must confess that I once had a surreal moment parking my car at the car park at Heathrow when Concorde took off. That wonderful feat of engineering was achieved before things such as noise were taken into account. The noise was so great that it made the ground vibrate, which set off about 500 car alarms around me. I understand the need to control that.
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Burglar alarms are another issue that is addressed in the Bill. Again, I have to confess that I had to redesign completely the burglar alarm system in our house, because, when we went out and left the cat in, the cat set it off. I never thought that it moved enough to set anything off, but there we are.
Ms Walley : I return to a point to which I referred briefly on Monday. Given the expertise that the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has, of which my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) reminded us, is there scope for the Government to forge an even closer working relationship with that institute on those issues, including noise, so that, when the Government are developing new powers, enforcement measures, staff training and expertise, the Minister receives the best possible advice? I speak as a vice-president of that institute.
Mr. Morley : My hon. Friend is probably aware that we hold that institute in high esteem. It is an important stakeholder in the Department and one of our consultees. We appreciate its input and advice, and I will also look closely at what she has to say.
My hon. Friend mentioned the need to change the culture. That is absolutely right, and we are seeing a welcome culture change in recycling. More and more people are doing it and more and more local authorities are introducing the facilities for it. There is a lot that we can do to build community involvement. Allied with that is environmental education, which is something that my colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills take seriously. We have discussed it in the Green Ministers group. There is more we can do and the Government are considering some interesting ideas, including ensuring that there are appropriate recycling facilities.
My hon. Friend mentioned the potential of pilot schemes and kindly put forward Stoke-on-Trent as a candidate. That touches on what the hon. Member for Lewes said about incentivising schemes. One or two councils have experimented with incentive schemes, and I have been interested in their work. I am interested in considering several approaches. Members of the Committee may be interested to hear that, in our forthcoming five-year plan and budgets, we have put aside £5 million for councils that wish to join pilots to provide incentives for waste collection, and we will make that public in due course.
I assure the hon. Member for Lewes that we are taking forward incentivising. It is part of what my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North said about the need for leadership. I accept that there is a leadership issue when dealing with environmental crime and degradation and when looking for innovation and support. That is a small example of an incentivising scheme to encourage the separation of waste and to help us to meet our targets for minimising as well as recycling and reusing waste. We are trying to give a lead. We accept that the Government are responsible for that and we take it seriously.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned end-of-life vehicles. There are several ways in which one can address producer responsibility for ELVs, and there is a perfectly reasonable debate to be had. I want to
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emphasise that the responsibility proposed by the Department of Trade and Industry is producer responsibility. Although it is the responsibility of the last owner of the vehicle to take it to a recycling centre, which would be the case under any scheme, the cost of dealing with the vehicles will be met by the manufacturer, not the owner.
Norman Baker : As I understand it, and the Minister can correct me, the measure takes effect in 2007. The Government had the option of making the manufacturer responsible now and during the period up to 2007. Instead they chose to make the last owner responsible up to 2007.
Mr. Morley : I am keen to see that scheme introduced as quickly as possible, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it has to be negotiated with the car companies, facilities have to be in place and there has to be agreement. That takes a little time and people have to be given time to adjust. It has been mentioned that it is important that EU directives are introduced properly. That involves a lead-in time and that is what happened in that case.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the issue of changing the way in which the Environment Agency carries out its enforcement. Its priorities are a decision for its board, its chief executive and its chair. I am keen for risk-based enforcement, whereby a body such as the Environment Agency would decide that its priorities are where the biggest risks of offences are. It could move its resources to that area. There may be other areas in which such a body has a regulatory function where the risks are very low. It makes sense to move more resources into areas with a high risk and to reduce resources where there are low risks. That is about good management and I would expect the Environment Agency to do that. I know that it carries out good management.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the use of cameras. I am keen on that. There are one or two sites in my constituency where I would like them to be used. The problem is not so much their cost, but the fact that it is a labour-intensive process. The issue is that quite a lot of staff and staff time needs to be allocated to undertake that work. However, it is effective in fly-tipping hot spots. I have talks with the Environment Agency. I am well aware that fly-tipping is not uniform around the country. Using its data, the agency can identify parts of the country where there are much higher instances of fly-tippingfor all sorts of reasonsthan there are in others. There is also the issue of ensuring that the most effective enforcement takes place.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the environmental liability directive, which is coming in from the EU. We strongly support it and will ensure that it is up and running. He also mentioned insurance. Some of the doubts about that which were expressed by the hon. Member for East Surrey are correct. People cannot get insurance for environmental crimes. It is illegal to do so and it is not available. Insurance can be obtained for an accidental environmental incident. Of course, we want to concentrate on ensuring that we do not get the incidents, rather than on people insuring to pay for the clean-up afterwards.
There are problems about compulsory insurance. It is a difficult area. While insurance is desirable for all sorts of things, in most circumstances, it should be for
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individuals and companies to choose what to do. There are sometimes good reasons for compulsory insurance. For example, car insurance is compulsory. However, the issue has to be thought about carefully.
I will now discuss the points raised by the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). She rightly talked about the costs of environmental clean-up, and we want to give more attention to enforcement, management and regulation. She talked about remediation orders. DEFRA funded an interesting conference this autumn in conjunction with the Environmental Law Foundation and we considered the issue of environmental justice with a broad range of stakeholders. Many of the proposals that were raised in the report, such as a broader range of sentencing tools for the courts, the possible introduction of civil penalties, and ticketing judges and magistrates who hear cases of environmental law, were touched on in that conference.
Ticketing means proper training for dedicated magistrates and judges for dealing with environmental cases. That could be done either with dedicated teams or by having courts at certain times dedicated to hearing environmental cases. Obviously there would be problems with the caseloads of such environmental courts and where they were located. If we wanted them to be spread across the country, the costs could be very high. It might be more cost effective to have properly trained judges who as specialists are brought in to hear such cases. We are interested in that. My right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General is a great enthusiast for that approach. An article written by her has been mentioned today. I have already met her to discuss this matter, and both she and I spoke at the conference, demonstrating the cross-Government commitment that the hon. Member for East Surrey rightly called for.
Miss McIntosh : I think that the hon. Gentleman's Department's response to the EAC's sixth report said that it would be particularly difficult, where magistrates sit in twos or threes only, to make sure that there are sufficient resources to ensure that the training on ticketing was effective.
Mr. Morley : These are some of these practical issues that we have to address. We are giving active thought to this because what the EAC report recommends, including the remediation orders, makes a great deal of sense. I like that idea, there is a lot of merit in it and we should explore itand we intend to do so.
Ms Walley : I should be interested to know what talks are currently taking place on the future shape of the magistrates service. I admit that I do not know what discussions are ongoing. I saw something flagged up in the press about the possibility of magistrates being paid, so presumably there is consultation. I am looking to the Minister for confirmation that environmental crime is part and parcel of that consultation and not an add-on.
Mr. Morley : My hon. Friend's remarks go a little wider than my area of responsibility. She will appreciate that it is for the Home Office to comment on magistrates
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and the paying of them. DEFRA sponsored the conference for a number of reasons, but one was to take forward the ideas from the EAC's reports and to have a broad discussion involving stakeholders and the legal profession. DEFRA is currently considering the conclusions from the conference, and we are talking to my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General about how we can develop them.
In some ways this is a deregulating measure for industry. Large companies are sometimes accidentally responsible for minor environmental crimeswhen a permit is out of date, for example. At the moment, they have to be taken to court; that is an expensive and time-consuming criminal procedure. We accept the thrust of the Committee's arguments that sometimes action needs to be faster, and that can be achieved through civil rather than criminal penalties. In so doing, penalties can be designed differentlyremediation orders, for example.
However, that is not to say that people should not still go to court for major environmental crimes; they should and will. Hon. Members should not think that we are suggesting removing criminal prosecution when appropriate in environmental cases. We want to be more thoughtful and more flexible and, as the Committee argues, there should be a greater range of potential penalties for the courts to apply.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth : I am extremely grateful for the very positive way in which the Minister is responding to our report and the debate. However, I do not think that I have heard him respond to the point raised by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) about the lifestyle provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and their potential use to deal with environmental crime.
Mr. Morley : I planned to touch on such points, but in case I do not, I shall deal with that now. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 can be applied, in appropriate cases, to environmental crime. The hon. Member for Lewes used the example of hazardous waste. It is true that landfill disposal of waste is to become more expensive. That is because we want to move away from landfill towards more sustainable methods of waste treatment as well as towards minimisation. When there might be money to be made, a criminal element will try to exploit a situation. The courts can use the 2002 Act for crimes with potentially high profitability, and we might want to include that fact in training and in the way in which we apply environmental law. We take the point on board.
On duties and discretion, because there are differences in local authorities and in the scale of the problem, it is not unreasonable that local authorities should have such choices. They will get the proceeds from the fines. However, we know that many local authorities want the powers, and we are giving them those too. We are also signed up to the freedom and flexibility agenda that we negotiated with the Local Government Association, and we are trying to give local authorities an element of responsibility, discretion and choice.
There is the question of training staff on issuing notices. That is applied in training now, and the issue of on-the-spot fines or notices will, quite properly, be
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addressed. There are procedures for dealing with the non-payment of court fines. Hon. Members may have noticed a new campaign that involves clamping the cars of people who have not paid their fines, which is a very effective tool that demonstrates the commitment. The local authorities or the Environment Agency can use the courtsor bailiffs, for examplefor collecting fines. Those facilities are there.
The hon. Member for Vale of York also talked about powers of arrest for Environment Agency staff. That is a difficult matter; if such staff had powers of arrest, they would have to comply with all the laws that go with such powers. Such laws represent an enormous issue and such a move would divert huge resources from the Environment Agency. I do not believe that that is necessary. The agency often carries out campaigns in conjunction with the police and/or local authorities. The police make the arrests or can follow up crimes reported by the agency. They will arrest people and use their powers, for which they are properly trained and for which they have the necessary legal cover.
Miss McIntosh : The Minister is generous in giving way. Do Environment Agency staff have powers of citizen's arrest? On an initial reading of the Bill, my understanding is that those powerson abandoned vehicles certainly; it is not clear on fly-tippingare transferring in many cases from the police to environmental officers. That raises the questions of whether there will still be co-responsibility with the police on fly-tipping, whether the police will have residual responsibility, and whether the powers will transfer completely? I pay tribute to the Environment Agency's work nationally and in my local area on this matter; it has pioneered some excellent techniques. However, it has put it to me that without the power of arrest, the commitment in the Bill is very hollow.
Mr. Morley : I wonder whether we are talking about power of arrest in relation to the crime. The hon. Lady seemed a bit confused about fly-tipping. I assure her that the Bill will introduce the power of arrest for all fly-tipping. The fly-tipping of hazardous waste is already arrestable; the Bill would harmonise the regulations for hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Fly-tipping of non-hazardous waste will become arrestable as well. I reassure the hon. Lady that that is in the Bill.
Mr. Morley : By the police. I am not sure that the agency is arguing for powers of arrest for its staff. Those powers are in the various police Acts. Statements must be taken and if the agency staff suspect that a crime has taken place they are usually accompanied by the police. I have talked to the agency about the various effective campaigns. The stop and search power is new, as is the power to confiscate vehicles, although that is for the courts.
Ms Drown : One issue that has arisen during meetings that I have had locally about matters such as fly-tipping is that they are not a top priority for the police. That is also the case with noise and some other issues that are of great concern to our constituents. I understand that such problems cannot be a top priority for the police who must deal with murder and violent crime, but they could have one-off events to highlight the matter and bring in other agencies to add support. Would my hon. Friend's Department liaise with the Home Office to ensure that that co-operation exists, because it could make such a difference to our constituents?
Mr. Morley : I absolutely accept that. As I said, there are very good examples throughout the country of extremely good co-operation. On co-responsibility, the powers of seizure and prosecution are not exclusive to the agency. The police can take action on fly-tipping in terms of seizure. Because of the legal complexity, the power of arrest remains with the police, but the agency can call on the police to assist it with enforcement and, as I said, there are good examples of that. However, I accept my hon. Friend's point that we need to ensure that the police treat the matter seriously.
The link between quality of life and crime is an important issue for the police. Sometimes, the police think that low-level nuisance crime is not a priority and that they should concentrate on more serious crime. They should be doing that, but cracking down on low-level, antisocial, nuisance crime, including environmental crime, will deter more serious crime. Sometimes, some individual forces do not think that through, and we need to have that debate.
I also accept the point about data. We are in the process of improving all our data capture, because that is essential. The hon. Member for Vale of York referred to resources, which will always be an issue. Whatever our programmes and budgets, we would all like a bit more money. The agency's resources have increased considerably year on year. It has increasing demands and I think that it uses its funds very successfully. It has a good record on efficiency.
Some of my hon. Friends made the point that the hon. Lady is calling for more resources but her party has an agenda of cutting public expenditure. If she wants more resources, she will have to explain where she thinks those resources will come from. It will be very difficult to square a tax-cutting, public expenditure-cutting agenda with more money for public services.
As the hon. Member for Lewes said, this should be a cross-party issue and I know that that is accepted by the Environmental Audit Committee. I join those in this Chamber in paying tribute to the work of the Chairman, the hon. Member for East Surrey. The report is very welcome and well thought through. It raises a range of important issues, and I hope that in my response I have demonstrated that the Government treat it seriously and are looking at ways of implementing what the Committee wants.