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6 Apr 2005 : Column 1538

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

8.45 pm

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Under the Order of the House made earlier today, any message from the Lords in respect of any Bill may be considered forthwith without any Question put. I have received a message from the Lords. The Lords agree to the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, with amendments to which they desire the agreement of the Commons.

Lords amendments considered.

Clause 3

Exposing Vehicles for Sale on a Road

Lords amendment: No. 1.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

I shall be brief, because the amendment refers to issues that were raised by right hon. and hon. Members during the latter stages of our discussion in this House and by peers who raised a number of issues in another place.

The amendment delivers the intention that has always existed in the Bill that no one should sell vehicles on a road, but it clarifies the situation at a junction where there might be four roads, or even more at a complicated junction, and ensures that the fact that a provision refers to "a road" cannot be used to avoid the intention of the Bill.

I am grateful to Members of the other place who raised the matter and enabled my noble Friend Lord Whitty to move an amendment. With those few words, I commend the Lords amendment to the House.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I join the Minister in paying tribute to Members of the other place. The amendment seems to be eminently appropriate and recognises a gap in the Bill that we did not have the opportunity to discuss in Committee. We agree with the amendment, which was discussed and analysed in the other place.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): We are keen to see the Bill on the statute book because it includes some important environmental protection measures. Its passage was a little dubious earlier, but it now seems that it will get there tonight. The Minister said that the Government are happy to accept the amendment, and we too support it. My hon. Friends also pointed out the problem, and I am sure that the residents of Seven Dials, Covent Garden and similar places with complex junctions with many roads will be pleased to know that there will be no loophole. The sort of people who sell vehicles from the road look for a loophole, and it is important that we plug it with the amendment.
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Alun Michael: I celebrate the agreement on the amendment. This is an important Bill which will play an important part in creating clean neighbourhoods. I am delighted that despite the imminence of an election we can agree.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Clause 20

Litter Clearing Notices

Lords amendment: No. 2.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Alun Michael.]

Miss McIntosh: The official Opposition welcome the thrust of the amendment, as we debated the issue under the limited scrutiny provision available to us in Committee. We support the provision of guidance on fly-tipping, one of the key aspects of the Bill, but before we give the amendment our formal agreement I would like the Minister to respond to a few questions.

What instruction has been given to relevant Departments on the issuing of guidance relating to clause 20 and what is the time scale for that? What formal consultations will be held on that guidance? What is the time scale for full implementation of the Bill, especially the fly-tipping provisions? Recently, I was delighted to initiate an Adjournment debate on the subject, to which the Solicitor-General replied, but I was alarmed when she revealed that a new offence was to be created whereby the non-occupying landowner will be charged with the physical removal of waste or rubbish illegally tipped on their land.

The information was revealed only during limited discussion during an Adjournment debate, but if there is to be such a new offence, guidance would be appropriate, so will the Minister consider producing guidance on how non-occupying landowners are to be alerted to that provision, as it is not evident in the Bill? Furthermore, will he ensure that the guidance encourages local authorities, wherever possible, to help landowners—whether occupying or non-occupying—to remove fly-tipped waste? If he can address those points, it would be most helpful.

Alun Michael: I hope that I can satisfy the hon. Lady on all those points. Commencement is intended to be April 2006; it will be by order and will be accompanied by guidance, which will be available in good time.

Clause 50 will not apply to the victims of fly-tipping, only to culpable landowners. I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that that distinction is appropriate. I can confirm that the guidance will alert local authorities to the concerns to which she referred. As in many situations, we need to ensure that the balance is right. Those points were covered by my noble Friend, Lord Whitty, when dealing with the amendment in the other place. He pointed out that section 59 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 enables the enforcement agencies to require an occupier who knowingly allows his land to be used for fly-tipping to remove the fly-tipped waste.

Clause 50 will extend that power to landowners, but only where there is no occupier. In addition, the occupier, and now the landowner, will still have the
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defence that they did not knowingly cause or permit deposit of the waste. That change will help the enforcing authorities to bring irresponsible landowners within the remit of legislation, without penalising the victims of fly-tipping. I agree with the hon. Lady that we do not want to penalise the victims of such offending.

The amendment will help to deal with the problems that have occurred, especially in urban areas where there is no occupier and an absentee landlord allows his land to be used as an illegal waste dump. I am sure that most    Members know of such cases in their constituencies. It has certainly been my experience and that of my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment.

The discussion in the other place and the amendment agreed there have enabled the Government to be slightly more precise about what was always our intention, and to address the issues raised, as the hon. Lady rightly says, during our proceedings and those that took place in the other House. I commend the amendment to the House.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Clause 101

Statutory Nuisance: Insects

Lords amendment: No. 3.

Alun Michael: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 4.

Alun Michael: The Lords amendments will exclude most farmland, woodlands, reedbeds, osier beds, market gardens, nursery grounds, orchards, other land on farms designed in regulations by the Secretary of State or, of course, by the National Assembly in relation to Wales, and any land included in a site of special scientific interest, plus most forms of water—rivers, lakes, ponds and so on—from the application of the statutory nuisance regime to insects that emanate from them, thus meeting the concerns that clause 101 would adversely affect biodiversity by incurring action against concentrations of naturally occurring insects on farmland.

I am sure that it is generally agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the House that we want to encourage biodiversity, and it was never the intention that the Bill should apply in those circumstances. Organisations, such as Buglife, expressed some concern that there could be an unintentional misuse of what is generally agreed to be a positive measure in the Bill. I am happy that the Lords amendments improve the Bill and deal with that concern, and I am therefore happy to commend them to the House.

Miss McIntosh: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on listening to the concerns of what is a very important industry to the UK. As my constituency is probably substantially more rural and agricultural than his, the fact that, without these Lords amendments, set-aside would otherwise have been introduced would not have been very well received, so I congratulate him and
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those in the other place for taking action. The Lords amendments will be most warmly received by the bugs industry, and indeed its beneficiaries—the producers and growers.

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