Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill


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Clause 99

Abandoned shopping and luggage trolleys

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

Miss McIntosh: I am grateful for the opportunity to have a short debate on the implications of clause 99. I understand that, under the present system of charges, the charges are payable only by persons who claim the return of their trolleys, and that if proceedings are brought against a person for the recovery of such a charge, it is a defence for that person to prove that he was not the owner of the trolley at the time that it was removed.

The summary of the responses that were made at the time of the consultation showed that commercial operators had raised concerns that those powers could result in local authorities failing to work with the changes under clause 99, and failing to work in partnership with the commercial operators. Can the Minister share with the Committee the reason why the charge will be payable to the authority on demand under new section 3A in subsection (3) as opposed to on a voluntary basis?

I have seen at first hand the damage that these trolleys can do, in particular to ponds in local areas, and the cost to the Environment Agency and other drainage authorities of removing them. Will the
 
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Minister confirm that, under this Bill, the Environment Agency and other drainage authorities such as internal drainage boards, will, for the first time, be able to recover costs where trolleys are blocking waterways? I understand that a request was made that trolleys would be clearly identifiable. Can the Minister say to what extent that is practicable and whether that would be the case for supermarket trolleys alone or also for airport and railway trolleys? Is it perhaps easier for supermarkets to identify them?

I understand that there were calls for the powers to be extended to incorporate bread trays and delivery trolleys for mail and newspapers. That was as a result of the responses to the consultation. Can the Minister say why that was not agreed to?

There is an issue in the clause for retailers, in particular. They are concerned that it may raise a number of practical difficulties. Retailers, both large and small, are likely to be unfairly penalised due to poorly drafted legislation. The clause, as it currently stands, may be extremely difficult to implement.

I gather that local authorities have had the opportunity to consult the Minister further on that. Is he minded to introduce any changes to the clause at a later stage?

Alun Michael: I start by underlining the importance of the clause. We have focused particularly on abandoned trolleys—the hon. Lady referred to other items that may cause a nuisance in some circumstances—because they cause a particular nuisance, as has been reflected in the views of a number of my hon. Friends who want this provision pursued with some vigour. Abandoned trolleys reduce the visible quality of our streets and public places; they cause a hazard, often to traffic; when dumped in watercourses, they can cause flooding by obstructing the water flow; and they may also cause harm to wildlife. I have seen the impact of all those difficulties in my constituency, as I know many of my hon. Friends have in theirs.

The change is needed because, although local authorities have powers to deal with abandoned shopping trolleys, they often cannot recover the cost from the trolley owner. The clause will enable them to do so, even if the trolley owner does not reclaim the trolleys. The hon. Lady rightly says that some retailers take a responsible interest in protecting their property and not letting it become abandoned and a nuisance to others, but not all retailers are as good as the best and we want to encourage them to be so.

The change is necessary to encourage local authorities to deal more effectively with the problem of abandoned trolleys. Local authorities may be reluctant to remove them when they are contributing to poor local environmental quality, because they do not know whether they will be able to recover the cost
 
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of doing so. The measure will also encourage retail businesses to take greater responsibility for their property. I believe that it will give an additional push towards greater partnership, rather than undermining partnership. I meet the British Retail Consortium regularly, having for many years been a member of the all-party group on the retail trade, so I am well aware of some of these issues and of the BRC's interest in ensuring that it works effectively with local authorities. We want to encourage that, not make it more difficult.

I know that the BRC was worried about the charges that local authorities will fix to be paid under schedule 4. I assure the Committee that we will deal with that issue in guidance, with local authorities providing information about the charges to be made. Therefore, I hope that the clause will have the strong support of the whole Committee.

Miss McIntosh: I understand that there was concern about poor take-up under section 99 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which set out the original powers in relation to abandoned shopping and luggage trolleys. What does the Minister estimate will be the take-up of the clause and what is the cost likely to be, as the money will be recovered as a debt?

Alun Michael: We are dealing with large organisations that are not likely to disappear overnight, rather than with individuals, so the collection of debt is unlikely to be an issue. The clause is much more likely to encourage retailers to work with the local authority.

Again, the point of there being an income is that, if the local authority is faced with a company that does not take any notice of the damage that its trolleys are doing to the environment, or perhaps merely with a unit in a chain that is badly managed, it can get a grip on the situation without the costs falling on local council tax payers and the public purse. I think that we can rely on the situation being balanced and proportionate, but, as I said, guidance will be given before commencement.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 99 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 100 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 101

Statutory nuisance: insects

Sue Doughty: I beg to move amendment No. 116, in clause 101, page 74, line 32, leave out ', trade or business' and insert 'or trade'.

At first glance I broadly support the clause. We have all experienced the problems that occur when somebody is composting on a commercial basis and the flies cause a real nuisance to the people who live close by. It is quite hard to get people to deal with that.

I have a particular aversion to mosquitoes, almost to the point of declaring an interest. My house is in a river valley, which has areas of water on which mosquitoes breed. From time to time, that makes sitting in the garden a misery. It is tempting to say, ''Death to all
 
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mosquitoes'' willy-nilly. Mosquitoes particularly take to me, but I do not particularly take to them. However, Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, has expressed considerable concerns. We want to get rid of nuisance insects, not insects per se. That is where we seek guidance.

It is a matter of what we define as a trade or business. Does a business include farmland and fields? Does it include areas where there would be a normal diversity of wildlife, including insect life? The last thing that I would want is for us, in dealing with nuisance insects, to have to deal lock, stock and barrel with all insects in a particular area. That would be completely counter-productive and would go against what we have all been working for in establishing our wildlife biodiversity.

It is also a matter of how ''nuisance'' is defined. What constitutes a nuisance from insects, as opposed to the normal situation with insects, particularly at certain times of the year? I will give an example. St. Mark's flies are harmless. For about two weeks in the spring they swarm. Normally, they live in hedgerows. They eat roots and pollinate hawthorn bushes; they are generally benign, but they are bit annoying when they are swarming. They do not hurt people, but they look unsightly. People complain about them and ask for them to be controlled. There are only two ways in which to deal with St. Mark's flies. Either the land can be ploughed up, which does not seem a good idea, or the area can be sprayed with a pesticide. In either case, everything else in the vicinity will be knocked out. If a complaint was made and the local authority enforced it with an abatement notice, the farmer could be compelled to destroy or poison habitats of local wildlife.

There is also the problem of mosquitoes breeding in standing water. As I said, I would quite happily ring up the council every other evening of the summer and complain about mosquitoes. However, we must think what will happen. Reinstated flood plains—there are more of those as we are learning about water management and how to deal with floods—are there to protect downstream properties from flood damage. Mosquitoes are a by-product of that sort of water management. Will a farmer spray pesticide on the flood plain? If so, it may go into a watercourse. Given all the work that we have been doing to remove and reduce the amount of pesticides in drinking water, we are concerned that there may be a counter-productive situation in which somebody complains about mosquitoes, the water is sprayed and the level of pesticides in water gets worse instead of better.

Mr. Drew: The hon. Lady will no doubt be interested to know that that is exactly what the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is considering. I am intrigued about the wording of the amendment. It effectively takes out the term ''business'' and leaves ''trade''. Can she explain what that means in the context of the Bill?

4.45 pm

Sue Doughty: We want to probe whether a farm is a business or a trade. The owner of the land may be the National Trust, for example, which owns a lot of
 
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riverside land. Is that a business or a trade? Who owns the land, and what impact will there be on biodiversity? How do we do the right thing? I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman a little clarification.

Landowners will be under pressure if a neighbour comes along and says, ''You have got mosquitoes. What are you going to do about it? They are giving me hell.'' Most landowners like to get on with their neighbours. Dealing with insects is specialist job, and people might be worried that there will be a knee-jerk reaction in which a landowner just sprays everything that moves. There are many more examples I could give, but I know that we are trying to move along, having lost a lot of time earlier. The Minister has got the gist of the importance of the question, and I look forward to his response.

 
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Prepared 27 January 2005