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: This is an interesting and important Bill, but in some ways we are disappointed because we could have done more to deal with a lot of the issues. The Bill does not go far enough. Nevertheless, stronger fines and longer sentences for those who pollute and measures to seize vehicles that are used to pollute are all absolutely essential. We need not only to fine fly-tippers at a level that would make a real difference to the viability of their businessthat is what it is all about
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but to make it clear that such actions are environmental crimes and that environmental crimes really matter. They damage our environment; they damage the planet; and they are the sort of thing that should have no place in the modern world. Ours is an overcrowded planet and the harm that we do now not only to the land but to communities in a densely packed island like ours makes a difference, so we need to deal with the people who cause those problems.
We have some reservations about the Bill, but we are being practical by considering what it needs to do. We need to take a serious look at some other issues. One issue on which we did not table amendments is the problem of train horns. A number of Members get constituents constantly coming to them saying that nuisance is created not only by noise from premises but by things such as train horns which have got so much noisier. The Rail Safety and Standards Board has not taken on board the fact that there are alternative ways of raising alarms that are not so disruptive.
We had debates on Second Reading and in Committee about light pollution. I still feel uncomfortable with the fact that large organisations, such as ports, airports and harbours, have failed to recognise that, although some lighting is necessary for their effective and safe operation, they must do much more to deal with excess light. It often creates misery for the people living close by. Although some organisations take a good look at what they can do to minimise light pollution, not enough is happening. We certainly heard on Second Reading about the people who could see the light from a porteven though it was below the horizon, it still caused a glare.
We also have concerns about the provisions for fly-tipping. If it occurs on council land, it will be cleaned up. However, if it takes place on private land that belongs to farmers, the National Trust or other large landowning bodies, the landowners will have to pay for the clean-up even though they have done as much as they can to prevent fly-tipping by having proper gates, fencing and padlocks in place. We have not got very far on that. We also wonder how the Environment Agency will pay for the extra duties involved. Nowhere does it say who will pay for the work that the agency does.
As I said in Committee, I attended a parish council meeting in Worplesden that discussed whether to erect CCTV cameras to identify fly-tippers on the common. Although the council, the police and representatives from the parish were at the meeting, no one from the Environment Agency attended because it was thought that its staff were already overstretched and could do no more to help. In other words, no more work was going to be placed on the agency even though it had responsibility and could play a strong role in this issue. I am on record as saying that I am a strong fan of the agency, but I am not an uncritical fan. It needs resources and good calibre staff if it is going to do its work and if the Bill is to be successful. It lays further responsibilities on the agency.
Another of our big concerns is conviction and detection, and the agency often has to do the detection work that leads to conviction. The Bill contains strong penalties to deal with fly-tippers, but someone has to be convicted before they are imposed. That means that they must be detected first and if we do not do that, we will not be able to deal with the repeat fly-tipper who
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runs a business based on fly-tipping and knows that he will get away with that. We shall not even be able to deal with the curious cases in which someone fly-tips opposite a Travellers' site, because he thinks that the Travellers will be blamed and he will get away with it.
As we know, in 2003, the Environment Agency dealt with 5,399 incidents of fly-tipping, but there were only 254 prosecutions. That is not good enough. We need to get real deterrents in place, but that percentage of prosecutions is totally inadequate in sending the message that the polluter will and must pay. Much more needs to be done.
Although we agree with the Conservatives about some aspects of the Bill, I am worried about their attitude to it. They opposed it in the first place, so it seems that if they cannot have it their way, they are not keen on it at all. Liberal Democrats are not entirely happy with it, but we must support it because there is no way that we can walk away from a Bill that will get hard with polluters. I serve on the Environmental Audit Committee, which has investigated environmental crime and the courts, fly-tipping and graffiti. The Bill addresses many such problems. One of our reports said that more resources were needed, and although that needs to be considered in another place, we must support such a Bill because pollution has an impact on communities.
The Conservatives called for the Environment Agency to have the power of arrest, but the agency does not want that because it thinks that it would be inappropriate. Indeed, there is quite a bit of evidence to back that up. The Environment Agency rightly wants uniformed police to make arrests because the people involved in such activities are often deeply unpleasant and vicious individuals. We are also worried about who will clean up land.
The chairman of the Environment Agency wrote a letter that was published in The Times on 1 February in which he commented on the Conservative party's James report, and I have listened carefully to the Conservatives to find out how they would pay for their proposals. The letter said:
"The James report for the Conservative Party on the savings to be made from bureaucracy proposes cutting government grants to the Environment Agency by £47 million, which it describes as cuts in 'intrusive enforcement by the Environment Agency' . . . As the Environment Agency actually spends £19 million on enforcementacting on breaches of the law by the regulated sector as well as tracking down criminals acting outside the system altogethermy board would dearly like to understand what else is for the chop.
Without further enlightenment, which is not available in the report itself, we are forced to conclude that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition to significantly cut the policing of criminal dumping of waste and to reduce monitoring of the environment to safeguard public health, the maintenance of our natural habitats and upkeep of locks and weirs on rivers."
I am sorry that such letters must be written, because whether we are Government or Opposition Members, we are all are trying to find better ways of running government. We all want to get best value for the taxpayer, but the Conservatives cannot say on the one
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hand that they want more enforcement and powers of arrest, but say on the other that they would take away the money that would allow that to happen. We have heard nothing from the Conservatives about how they intend to pay for their proposals.
I am pleased about aspects of the Bill because they represent progress. I am glad that stronger action will be taken on abandoned vehicles. A lady who lives close to my constituency office, which is in a residential area that is not at the best end of town, takes it upon herself to record the numbers of abandoned vehicles and to feed them through the system, and she lets me know how she is doing. Such people need encouragement and to know that councils will act. Vehicles for sale on the streets cause a nuisance and the situation has been allowed to continue for far too long. That practice has started to be thought of as a fact of life because councils do not do much about it, so anything that makes the law to deal with the problem stronger is desperately important.
Miss McIntosh: I have been listening carefully to the hon. Lady and reading "A Better Environment, A Better Life: Liberal Democrat Policies for the Environment". If she is so committed to the Bill, why does it not feature in the Liberal Democrats' environmental policies?
Sue Doughty: I am interested in the hon. Lady's intervention, especially if she wants to discuss our entire policy manifesto, but we are debating a Government Bill. We have not listed all their Bills in our manifesto because we are the Liberal Democrats. I am sure that the Conservatives have taken it on themselves to support the occasional Bill and that that has not appeared in their manifesto. She will have heard that I support other aspects of waste management that are also becoming Labour party policy, in particular measures to deal with plastic bags.
We need to make progress. More needs to be done. The problem of chewing gum has not been satisfactorily resolved. With a little time, I hope that in the other place the Government will introduce stronger proposals on chewing gum, given the breadth of debate on the issue. We are all concerned about it, and we want some action.
I thank the Minister for his letter on insects. We had an interesting debate about insects, but more needs to be said about the infestation of insects from premises. I am sure that that will be raised in another place, because we need more clarification of what he suggested in his letter.
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