Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

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Mr. Evans: I wish to speak to clause 43 and amendment No. 115, which I am also minded to support. We said earlier in our discussions that we want the polluter to pay, and I hope that the clause
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deals with exactly that issue. Clearly, the problem is catching people tipping waste. If they can be caught, they can be brought before the courts, where they will face a fine. On top of that, they will have to pick up the costs of disposing of the waste, which could run into many thousands of pounds. We are talking about separating the fine for doing something wrong from the clean-up costs, which the culprit should have paid in the first place. That would ensure that they do not get away with it.

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As I am sure the Minister would concede, if we did not include a provision on clean-up costs, in cases in which magistrates had been a bit lenient the fine would be lower than the costs of disposing of the waste. In such a case, the person would clearly have got away with it. We do not want to make it cheaper for people to tip waste illegally. We do not want them to think that they can go through all the judicial processes and end up with a fine that is lower than the clean-up costs of the waste.

Having spoken in support of clause 43, I move to amendment No. 115, which deals with those who have not been convicted—those who are not responsible for the waste on their land. I hope that the Minister will at least say that the clause deals only with those who have been convicted and not with victims, because that is what they are. Farming is under a lot of pressure these days in any event and, by definition, people in that industry have a lot of land. Let us be realistic about farming in today's world. To make a go of it, farmers need more and more land. Farms have been bought up and merged—

The Chairman: Order. Will the hon. Gentleman return to the amendment and the clause that we are discussing?

Mr. Evans: I am more than happy to do so, Mr. Taylor. Farmers who have had waste tipped on their land are victims. The amendment says that when someone has made reasonable efforts to ensure that no waste is tipped on their land, they should not be liable for any clean-up costs. That is why the amendment is important.

Sue Doughty: The hon. Gentleman is making some very good points. It is not only farmers who are affected by that practice, but other landholders, such as the Woodland Trust and the National Trust. They are equally affected.

Mr. Evans: Absolutely. I agree that farmers are not the only ones affected, but I hope that the hon. Lady will excuse my using farming as a reference point for us. I heard what was said from the other side of the Committee about urban tipping. Clearly, some people who do not live in rural areas but own a bit of waste land and keep it in good order could come back to their works to find that someone has tipped waste on their land and that they could be liable for its removal. That could affect a number of organisations, as the hon. Lady rightly says, which is why her amendment is designed to give them some protection.

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I shall take farming as one example and then talk about urban land where waste might be tipped. A farmhouse may not overlook all the farmland. When the landowners have taken reasonable steps to put up gates and so on, it is unreasonable to expect them to be liable if someone comes along at 3 o'clock in the morning and tips waste on their land. Removing that waste could be quite expensive. That would be yet another burden. We want to ensure that the innocent farmer—the victim—is not penalised yet again. We have seen incidents of Gypsy encampments being set up on a farm. When they are removed, huge amounts of waste are left behind. That is not the farmer's fault. It is unreasonable to say to the farmer, ''Right. We're going to clean up all that waste. It will cost a few thousand pounds and you have to pay'', particularly when the farmer has done all that he can to prevent access to his land.

As I said earlier, the Minister has enough common sense and is realistic enough to know that those things happen. We hope that there will be a deterrent under clause 41, and that clause 43 will let people know that if they are convicted they will not get away with it but will have to pay the disposal costs, too. That is absolutely right.

Furthermore, the mess made by anyone who is convicted should be cleaned up pronto, because as the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality knows, as he took the right-to-roam legislation through the House, more people have more access to more land than ever before. If the waste is allowed to remain, it will become a danger to youngsters and people walking in the countryside, and a magnet for rodents. Fridges, for example, may seem attractive to youngsters to play in, but that can end in tragedy.

Waste should be removed as quickly as possible but if it proves difficult to identify who tipped the waste, the amendment would help to ensure that an innocent party such as a farmer or a landowner does not have to pick up the extra costs when they have taken reasonable steps to ensure that their land has been protected. I hope that local authorities and the Environment Agency will encourage farmers and landowners to report incidents of waste being dumped on their land. As the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality said, we need that data so that we know how big the problem is, but people who report such incidents must know that they will not have to face a huge bill for clearing up the mess.

Mr. Morley: Again, I do not disagree with much of what has been said, but I shall explain why the amendments are unnecessary.

The hon. Member for Guildford mentioned the Environment Agency's budget, but I do not know where her figure of £7 million came from. The Environment Agency spends about £12 million on waste-related activities, and its waste management budget is £82 million, an increase from £73 million in 2000. It is about 10 per cent. of its total budget and is fairly consistent.
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Sue Doughty: The figure of £7 million spent each year on waste-related crime comes from information provided by the Environment Agency ahead of the Bill.

Mr. Morley: My figure of £12 million comes from the Environment Agency, so on that basis we will have to call it a draw. There is a resources issue, but I would not want the hon. Lady to think that the agency does not have considerable resources available; that is not to be complacent about its budget and the demands on it.

The amendments would apply when a person is convicted of illegal waste disposal. The clause will allow the courts to make an order requiring the offender to pay the costs incurred by the Environment Agency or a local authority or the occupier or owner of the land in respect of removing the waste deposited or disposed of, taking other steps to eliminate or reduce the consequences of the deposit or disposal; or both. I understand the reason for amendment No. 94, which would add ''and its legal disposal'' at the end of paragraph (a): the hon. Lady wants to be assured that steps will be taken to remove the waste and deal with it properly, which is perfectly reasonable.

Amendment No. 115 would add a new subsection providing for those cases in which no such order is made. It would require the Secretary of State to make regulations which provide that the landowner shall not be liable for clean-up costs, provided that he had taken reasonable steps to prevent the offence.

The amendments are unnecessary because the costs incurred in removing the illegally dumped waste by implication will include the costs incurred in legally disposing of it elsewhere. That must be a prerequisite in the proposal. Local authorities sometimes fall out with each other, but if one local authority cleaned up the waste and then drove down the lane and chucked it in a hedge in another local authority, it would undermine the principle involved. I do not think such activity would occur.

There is also no need to make regulations absolving a landowner of liability for clear-up costs, as nothing in the current legislation or the Bill would make him liable—there is no such provision now, and that is not changing. The only provision that will apply to landowners as a result of clause 50 is section 59 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which gives the Environment Agency and waste collection authorities powers to serve clear-up notices on an occupier of land, as has been said. However, notices would be served only if the landowner was felt to be liable in some way for the fly-tipping. The occupier would be able to appeal, and the notice would be quashed if the occupier had neither deposited nor knowingly caused or permitted the depositing of the waste. Should clause 50 stand, the same provision will be extended so as to apply, in the absence of an occupier, to landowners.

Mr. Evans: I want to get this absolutely right, because the last thing we want is to say that this will all be tested in court. That, too, would be a huge cost for farmers, and they do not want to go down that route. Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that if
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the farmer is not responsible for the waste that has been dumped on his land, no clean-up costs will be imposed on him under the Bill?

Mr. Morley: Oh no, I cannot do that. I have a lot of sympathy with innocent farmers in this respect, and I have such cases in my constituency. However, there are also cases, as I shall explain in a moment, that show why it is difficult to give all landowners a complete indemnity in relation to cleaning up fly-tipped waste.

If fly-tipping occurs on someone's land—as has been said, it is not only farmers but a range of landowners who suffer this problem—the important thing is, first of all, to try to track down those who did it. If we can do that, they can, under the Bill, be made to meet the costs of cleaning up the waste, as well as facing the relevant penalties for having dumped it. If the landowner is held responsible, orders can be put on them, regardless of whether they are in an urban or rural area. I say that because some people who own property in urban areas allow their back yards to be used as dumping grounds, and that is a bit of a problem in parts of my constituency. Such landowners can be made to clean up the waste, because their property is not secured and it is their responsibility. However, if it is clear that the owner or occupier is not responsible, they will not be forced to meet the clean-up costs.

The position in the Bill is the same as it is now. If waste is dumped on private land, it is the landowner's responsibility to remove it. In some cases, the local authority will take it away, but that is a decision for the authority, not a statutory requirement. Authorities sometimes do that as part of good management, and I very much welcome that, but in the end, responsibility falls to the landowner, and I have a great deal of sympathy with them in that regard.

The problem is how we deal with the issue in legislation. Sadly, some landowners do not take steps to prevent waste from being dumped. I know from my own constituency cases of a landowner who allowed construction waste to be illegally dumped on his land without planning permission, and action was taken against him under the planning laws. He had a bit of land and allowed people to dump waste on it. He took money for that, but he did not secure the land, so people were not only paying him to dump waste, but coming at night and dumping more. It would be quite wrong to pay for us to meet such clean-up costs.

In another case, a farmer had a lot of waste stored illegally on his land. The Environment Agency told him to remove it properly and legally. The next time the agency came to inspect, the waste was indeed gone, but there was a very suspicious mound in the middle of his field. On further investigation, they found that he had just buried the waste in his field, including fridges. He was fined £20,000, which is a much more effective fine.

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That farmer was also the Conservative leader of the local council, as it happens, and is currently serving three months suspension by the Standards Board. It
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shows that all sorts of different circumstances arise. It is very difficult to deal with that, and the Bill is trying to get that balance right.

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