Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

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Miss McIntosh: I hope that the Minister is not too flattered. It was rather by default that I was not able to use the wording that I wished.

I wish to tease out one more point from the Minister. He may recall the law of unintended consequences in relation to the first Bill I scrutinised as a Back Bencher, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. The provisions that were drafted on common land, about which I have had informal discussions with the Minister, have led to enormous good news for the landowner, but bad news for people who thought that they could legally park their cars on common land. Those people now face a substantial bill from landowners, who had not realised that the provision existed to allow them to charge for access to their land.

Since the last election, the farming community in the Vale of York has been decimated. The Government have presided over its greatest demise, in the sense that foot and mouth disease came late to the Vale of York, after the general election, leading to substantial hardship. A number of farmers are now going out of animal production. The Minister will not get the surprise or the welcome he expects. He thinks he will go to the country in the general election on a platform of championing the countryside. His party has presided over the greatest collapse in farm incomes.

Sue Doughty: On a point of order, Mr. Forth. Are we listening to an election speech? There are a lot of clauses to get through and a considerable amount of time seems to have been wasted. Many of us want to deal with important clauses, yet it would appear that the time of the Committee is being taken up by election speeches.

The Chairman: I appreciate the assistance that the hon. Lady seeks to give. I am keeping a close eye on what is being said on both sides, and I now expect the hon. Member for Vale of York to conclude her remarks.

Miss McIntosh: I was simply responding to the rather fulsome remarks made by the Minister. I draw his attention to the fact that the charge against him in our reasoned amendment on Second Reading was that the Bill and the whole consultation—in so far as there was a full consultation, with which I further take
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issue—focused predominantly on urban issues while neglecting rural areas. That is a theme to which we shall have ample opportunity to return.

I hear what the Minister says about neighbourhoods, and it was not our intention to have a lengthy debate on what constitutes a neighbourhood. I pay tribute to the work of farm watches and of farmers in general in combating antisocial behaviour throughout the country. The amendment was intended as a probing one, and nothing more than that. I heard what was said with great interest, as will many in the farming community and rural areas throughout the country. It is not my intention to press the matter to a vote and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 111 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Illegal deposit or disposal of waste (power of arrest)

    '(1) In subsection 24(2) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c.69), at the end insert—

    ''(w) an offence under subsection 33(4A) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c.3).''

    (2) In section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c.3), after subsection (4) insert—

    ''(4A) A person authorised by the Environmental Protection Agency to exercise the powers specified in section 108(4) of the Environment Act 1995 (c.25) shall have like powers to those of a constable to arrest any person depositing or disposing of waste in contravention of subsection (1).'.'.—[Miss McIntosh]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Miss McIntosh: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause is perhaps one of the clauses to which the hon. Member for Guildford referred in her remarks a moment ago. If the Government are serious about many of the provisions in the Bill, they must include the power of citizen's arrest by officials from local authorities, particularly the Environment Agency. We saw in earlier provisions that there will be a power to seize a vehicle that is used to perpetrate offences under the Bill, such as the dumping of waste or of large deposits. We want to take that one stage further. Although it is deemed appropriate to take the vehicle off the road and seize it so that that vehicle cannot be used to perpetrate such offences in the future, that would be a very hollow means of dealing with this particularly regrettable and growing form of environmental crime. We know that it is growing: we have the end-of-life directive, there is the fact that hazardous and non-hazardous waste cannot now be co-disposed, and we know that, as of today, there are insufficient sites licensed to take hazardous waste. We have seen a growing mountain of fridges and fridge-freezers under the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive—or the WEEE directive, as it is abbreviated,. We have seen other white goods, such as
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microwaves and television sets, increasingly being dumped—again, on privately owned land in country areas.

10.45 pm

We believe that it is simply insufficient to remove or seize the vehicle. We would like to empower environmental health officers from local authorities, or indeed environmental officers, to make a citizen's arrest in that regard. It would thus be an arrestable offence of fly-tipping. Without the provisions in our new clause 1, the Bill will simply not have any teeth. We believe that it is quite appropriate that a person authorised by the Environment Agency can exercise the powers, specified under the Environment Act 1995, that they

    ''shall have like powers to those of a constable to arrest any person depositing or disposing of waste in contravention of subsection (1)''.

I would also hope that that power would be available either if the person were caught in the act or perhaps caught on camera. If it could be shown physically that it was that person, that could be taken as proof. We believe it is the most positive contribution that the Bill could make and would give it real teeth.

I hope that the Minister will look favourably on our new clause. We believe the present arrangements are unsatisfactory: I have had regular meetings with ENCAMS in my own region and with the Environment Agency. We have made representations and had positive and sympathetic replies from ENCAMS and the Environment Agency nationally. Our conclusion is that the provision is completely insufficient, as the Bill stands, to seize only the vehicle. The perpetrator or perpetrators of these environmental offences must be seized.

Alun Michael: Has the hon. Lady not spotted that the offences have already been made arrestable under the Bill?

Miss McIntosh: My understanding, although I hear what the Minister says, is that an officer of the Environment Agency or, indeed, an environmental health officer is not entitled to make the arrest. Therefore, the Minister is missing the point. We believe that it is those people—those who can be described as persons authorised under the Act in our new clause—who are being asked to apply the provisions of the Bill up and down the country. Therefore I ask the Minister to grasp our point: if we are asking environmental health officers—or, more appropriately, officers of the Environment Agency—to police the Bill, we must give them the powers. They must be able not only to seize the vehicle, but to arrest and apprehend the person who is fly-tipping. That is the only way to stop that very crude development in its tracks.

Sue Doughty: On the face of it, one might have quite a bit of sympathy with the new clause. We share concerns about increasing fly-tipping as a result of the end of co-disposal of hazardous waste and the impact of the various Acts. Although we do not disagree with the reasons behind these Acts, we have concerns about
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the availability of places to take such waste. Earlier, we raised concerns that there is already insufficient funding going into the Environment Agency for detection of such crimes or for securing convictions.

We spoke to the Environment Agency to get its views about the clause, because on the face of it we had some sympathy with it. We asked the agency how it would feel about having the powers of arrest in those circumstances and it did not agree with the proposal. The crimes in question are serious, with a lot of money at stake, and not the sort of thing that a non-uniformed Environment Agency officer would want to walk in on. The agency told us that it would be more appropriate for uniformed police to deal with such serious criminals. On that basis, we cannot support the new clause.

Alun Michael: I am grateful for the comments of the hon. Member for Guildford, which acted as a clear rebuttal of the new clause, which has been tabled without sensible thought as to the consequences.

The first part of the new clause seeks to make the offence of illegal waste disposal arrestable. That is unnecessary because it is already achieved elsewhere in the Bill. Clause 41 introduces a new maximum penalty of imprisonment for up to five years for illegal waste disposal, which will therefore become an arrestable offence under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

The second part of the new clause seeks to give an Environment Agency officer the same powers of arrest for illegal waste disposal as those of a constable. I agree with the hon. Member for Guildford that it is neither appropriate nor necessary for the Environment Agency to be given such powers. I can confirm that the Environment Agency does not want its officers to have that power. The agency has natural concerns over the personal safety of its officers, who are not trained or equipped to arrest people, especially those who might resist an arrest, and it does not have any facilities to detain those who are arrested. Those are important practical considerations that militate against the proposal.

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It is also worth pointing out that the Environment Agency is not the only organisation involved in the enforcement of fly-tipping. Local authorities deal with the vast majority of incidents, so it would be inconsistent for the agency to be given powers that were not available to authorities.

Even worse is the opportunism behind the new clause, which totally contradicts the remarks that the hon. Member for Vale of York has made in this Committee. When we discussed crime reduction partnerships, she said that

    ''residual authority should remain with the police. I would prefer them to be uniformed police. The Minister must accept that, although a large number of community support officers have been appointed, they do not have the same qualifications, training and powers of arrest as fully qualified and licensed police officers.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 18 January 2004; c. 11.]

Well, on this occasion I agree with what the hon. Lady said then, although I do not agree that it was appropriate to the clause that she was addressing at the time.

Does the hon. Lady not understand the mass of inconsistencies in what she is saying? Her remarks are certainly true when applied to Environment Agency officers, although not in relation to minor offences, but to serious ones. It is even more important that we ensure that the most appropriate body has powers of arrest for fly-tipping, which in this case is the police, who are fully trained in arrest and dealing with any potential complications. We know the complications that can arise, very often in rural areas—we are talking about an urban and rural issue—when circumstances are identified and there is a need to nip things in the bud.

The Environment Agency and local authorities can request police assistance at any time—in my experience they work well in action—and, in the vast majority of cases, they have no difficulties in receiving police support when it is needed. I hope very much that the hon. Lady will withdraw the new clause.

Debate adjourned.—[Peter Bradley.]

        Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Eleven o'clock till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: David Taylor, †Mr. Eric Forth

†Ainger, Mr. Nick (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

†Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) (Lab)

†Doughty, Sue (Guildford) (LD)

†Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

Evans, Mr. Nigel (Ribble Valley) (Con)

Follett, Barbara (Stevenage) (Lab)

Green, Matthew (Ludlow) (LD)

†Hall, Mr. Patrick (Bedford) (Lab)

†McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)

†McIntosh, Miss Anne (Vale of York) (Con)

†Michael, Alun (Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality)

Morley, Mr. Elliot (Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment)

†Ruffley, Mr. David (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con)

†Simmonds, Mr. Mark (Boston and Skegness) (Con)

†Tipping, Paddy (Sherwood) (Lab)

†Turner, Mr. Neil (Wigan) (Lab)

†Wright, Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)

Nerys Welfoot, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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