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Standing Committee Debates
Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Standing Committee G

Tuesday 25 January 2005


[David Taylor in the Chair]

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Clause 45

Failure to furnish documentation: fixed penalty notices

Amendment proposed, [this day]: No. 64, in clause 45, page 40, line 31, leave out '£300' and insert '£750'.—[Mr. Ruffley]

2.30 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): I believe that I had finished what I was saying.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): We had an interesting debate, which I am sure we can all recall clearly—it is etched indelibly on the minds of Opposition Members. It is also, in absentia, etched on the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who made a powerful point in favour of the amendment, which states that the level of penalty should be higher than that in the Bill.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): It may benefit the Committee to hear that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley has just finished making powerful points in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Ruffley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for sharing that information with the rest of the Committee, although, as a Tory Whip, I was aware of it. My hon. Friend will be returning shortly to delight and thrill us with his contributions on the later parts of the Bill which relate to waste. If we are lucky he may share his views on the control of dogs; we all await that part of the proceedings with scarcely concealed excitement.

I conclude by saying that the amendment should be pressed to a vote. We agree, in principle, with the thrust of the clause. The amendment seeks to tighten it up, to increase the deterrent effect, and it is in that spirit that I seek to press the amendment to a vote.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman might find that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley wanted to make a couple more points, but I am not sure that he wanted to vote on the amendment, although the matter is of course entirely in the hands of the Opposition spokesman.
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Mr. Ruffley: The amendment stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), but not that of my excellent but sadly absent hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley.

Mr. Morley: The issue is the level of the fine, and it arises from a narrow aspect of the Bill dealing with documentation. A balance needs to be struck, and £300 is a considerable fine for failing to produce documents. If the fine were higher, then it is likely that people would opt to go to court, and the advantages of the fixed penalty notice—the speed and the lower administration cost—would be lost. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the amount would be reviewed. It will, like all these measures, be reviewed in due course to ensure that it is fixed at the appropriate level.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 9.

Division No. 4]

Doughty, Sue
Green, Matthew
Ruffley, Mr. David

Ainger, Mr. Nick
Bradley, Peter
Drew, Mr. David
Follett, Barbara
Hall, Patrick
Alun, Michael
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Tipping, Paddy
Wright, Iain

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 46

Power to search and seize vehicles

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Ruffley: We come to another new power in the Bill which has some merit. The Local Government Association has come out in favour of the immediate seizure of vehicles in which people have been caught fly-tipping. It seems that the current system allows perpetrators to escape with the tools of their trade, thus allowing them to commit further offences. I hope that the new powers will support the sharing of information and intelligence made possible by the new flycatcher database, and will help local authorities, the police and the Environment Agency to apprehend commercial fly-tippers. As has been said, the agency estimates that there may be about 50,000 fly-tipping incidents a year, which cost authorities £100 million or more to clean up. We must do all that we can to tackle this significant problem.

Although the Conservatives are generally happy with the thrust of the clause, I have some points to raise with the Minister about the powers to search and seize vehicles. As section 34B of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 makes clear, an authorised officer
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of an enforcement authority, or a constable, may seize a vehicle and its contents but, notably, only a uniformed officer may stop a vehicle on the road. I wonder in how many incidents the perpetrator is apprehended while making a getaway after the illegal fly-tipping has already taken place. In such circumstances, according to the clause, only a uniformed officer would have the power to stop the vehicle.

At one level, I understand why the power to stop a vehicle when it is being driven along the road is restricted to uniformed officers, but it would be useful if the Committee had a better understanding of what consultation went on with which bodies. Obviously, the police were involved, but were there any discussions about having a wider power to stop vehicles, not one restricted to uniformed officers?

Following on from that, my second question is whether there is scope for provision to be made for the Environment Agency and other authorised officers to have wider powers. People will normally try to get away after fly-tipping: they may see an official-looking person striding along with a clipboard about to apprehend them, at which point they will decide to leg it, even if they are halfway through committing the offence, and will get into their car and be in the process of getting away. According to the clause, in those circumstances it would be impossible for a non-uniformed officer to intervene, other than taking down the registration number. I should like some further explanation from the Minister on that point.

What consultation did the Department conduct to arrive at what is quite a narrow power for a uniformed officer, albeit one that is not extended to other authorised officers? As I said, in most cases the people committing the offence will be in the process of getting away and driving down the road, rather than sitting quietly in the passenger seat with the ignition turned off, waiting to be apprehended by an agency officer. The position would be clear if they were; it is not when someone is trying to make an exit.

Mr. Morley: I can certainly explain the Bill's drafting. There has been full consultation, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, with the LGA, the Home Office and those with an interest in the Bill, such as the police. Generally speaking, it is well established that the police often work with the Environment Agency and local authorities when they suspect that a crime may have been committed or as part of normal enforcement.

The agency has, for example, been carrying out a number of high-profile spot checks, whereby the police set up a roadblock, because as uniformed officers they have the power to stop vehicles. The police then inspect the vehicles and the waste licences, to ensure that they are in order, and then, because they are police, check for road traffic offences to do with tax, insurance, condition of tyres and so on. Such enforcement exercises have been very successful and I am keen to encourage the agency, the police and local councils to continue with them.
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Another example, which the hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned, is where an agency or local authority officer sees a van or other vehicle leaving a scene and has reason to suspect that a crime has been committed. In those circumstances, the officer would phone the police in the normal way and they would send a mobile response unit to stop the vehicle. It would be difficult to give powers to stop moving vehicles to the agency or to local authorities, because of all the problems that go with them. Such powers are more appropriately left to the police. That shows that enforcement is a partnership issue, with the police working alongside other agencies. Such practices are quite well established and have been successful. The measures in the Bill will reinforce the effectiveness of that partnership approach.

Mr. Ruffley: Have there been any discussions about, for example, giving powers to community support officers to stop vehicles on the highway? The important point behind my question is that although I absolutely take on board what the Minister said—that in practice the agency will mount operations in close collaboration with the local police force, where it has the requisite intelligence—equally, we all know that the police are stretched. That is true not only in my constituency but in those across the party divide, in other counties and in other constabularies. None of us can ever say that we have enough police. It will probably never be true, under any Government of whatever political persuasion, that everyone thinks that their area is adequately policed and has enough policemen and women.

It is in light of that that I ask whether the important work of preventing, deterring and apprehending those engaging in illegal fly-tipping might be done not only by uniformed police officers stopping vehicles on the highway, as the clause states, but by community support officers. I want to tease out from the Minister whether that has been considered. It is not always possible to ask police forces to make uniformed officers available every time a vehicle is trying to get away. Were community support officers at any stage considered as adequate replacements or substitutes for uniformed officers in those cases?

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Prepared 25 January 2005