|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Byford: I have already spoken to the Minister, who was kind enough to write to me following our debate at Second Reading in a letter dated 4 April. Since this is the only way I can ensure that it is put in the public record, I have had the Minister's approval to read out the section dealing with the issue. It is an important matter and should be recorded. Pieces of paper related to the Bill sadly can get lost. I am grateful to the Minister, who in his letter addresses litter clearing notices and fly-tipped waste:
"There was significant debate during Second Reading about the differences between clause 20, on litter clearing notices, and clause 50, which provides a power to require the landowner to remove fly-tipped waste.
"It may be helpful if I explain the background to litter clearing notices. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, local authorities can designate areas as litter control areas if they consider that they are defaced by litter. Within such areas, occupiers of land that is accessible to the public have a duty to keep their land clear of litter and refuse. If they fail to do so, the local authority can issue a litter abatement notice requiring them to clear the land, and also to prevent it becoming defaced again by litter and refuse. Refusal to comply with a litter abatement order is an offence.
"To remedy these effects, Clause 20 gives local authorities a power to issue litter clearing notices in respect of any land (other than land which another agency already has a statutory duty to keep clear of litter); this will require the occupier (or, if none, the owner) of the land to clear it of litter and, where appropriate, to take steps to prevent it from becoming heavily littered again. Litter clearing notices will be much simpler to use than the existing arrangements, doing away with the two-tier litter control area and litter abatement notice system and enabling local authorities to deal immediately with areas of land that are seriously defaced with litter. They will also be simpler to enforce, with the option of using fixed penalty fines, and will enable local authorities to specify standards of compliance.
"Litter clearing notices are intended to deal with litter that accumulates over time in one place. They thus differ from the provisions of section 59 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which addresses the problem of illegally deposited wastefly-tipping. Among other things, it 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 of the Bill will extend this power to landowners where there is no occupier. This will help to deal with problems that have occurred, particularly in urban areas, where there is no occupier and an absentee landlord is allowing his land to be used as an illegal waste dump. The defence that an occupier (and now landowner) did not knowingly cause or permit the deposit of waste will remain. This change will help the enforcing authorities bring irresponsible landowners within the remit of legislation, without penalising the victims of fly-tipping".
"During the debate a number of speakers asked why the defence in section 59 of the EPA was not being extended to clause 20. This is because, in the situations litter clearing notices are designed to address, there is no suggestion that the occupier has consented to their land becoming covered with litter. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect occupiers to take steps to ensure that their land is kept free of large amounts of litter. Land that is covered in litter can degrade a whole neighbourhood; litter is blown onto other land, more littering and other types of anti-social behaviour is encouraged, and the environmental quality of the area is reduced. The law recognises that nuisances that affect other people need to be controlled, and litter, together with land covered in litter, is such a nuisance. While we encourage tough action against those dropping litter, owners and occupiers also have responsibilities.
"I can confirm what I said in the debate, namely that litter clearing notices are not intended to be used to deal with fly-tipped waste, and it would not be appropriate for local authorities to use them for this purpose. The only exception will be for small-scale fly-tipping where, for example, a bag of rubbish is left on land that is already heavily littered. We would certainly not expect litter clearing notices to be used to deal with large scale instances of fly-tipping. We will be making this clear in the guidance we will issue, and to strengthen this I have tabled an amendment to sub-section 7 of clause 20"
"that will put this guidance on a statutory basis; the amendment requires principal litter authorities to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State (or the National Assembly in Wales) in discharging their functions under clause 20".
I apologise for that rather long submission but it is important that landowners should understand the commitment that the Government have given. I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to read out his letter and for bringing forward the amendment today.
The only point I wish to make is that whichever party forms the government of this country after 5 Mayit may be us; who knows?I hope that it will produce the necessary guidance quickly. The powers in relation to fly-tipping and littered land in urban areas are very important and the sooner local authorities have those powers the sooner they will be able to tackle some of the eyesores that exist at the moment. These are proving intractable for the reasons set out by the Minister.
Lord Cameron of Dillington: I am still not very relaxed about Clause 20. I have a series of questionsmost of which probably reflect my ignorance of the way in which these things workabout which I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me.
First, what is the legal difference between littering and fly-tipping? In other words, what clarity do I have, as a farmer whose land has been despoiled by a visitor to the countryside, that the mess created falls under Clause 50, of which I approve, or under Clause 20, of which, in its current form, I do not?
The Minister has kindly agreed to provide statutory guidance to local authorities but I remain slightly unconvinced by that route. Without the guidance being on the face of the Bill, what is to prevent the "appropriate person", or a future "appropriate person", changing the guidance without Parliament having a say? To what extent will the guidance become an implicit part of the Act? As I said, these questions are based on ignorance of the way in which these things work.
My last question is a probing one. It seems from the answers that we have so far received that Clause 20 is specifically directed at the urban environment and at land which, when littered, creates a nuisancean effect which may devalue people's property or damage the quality of their lives. I get the impression that the Government do not intend it to apply to farmersor to anyone in a rural situation for that matter. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify that.
I apologise for suggesting a verbal amendment but the circumstances are quite strange in this wash-up Session. That, of course, may not be the exact wording, but I remain convinced that the clause needs to be more focused. Implicit in the Minister's letter is an
6 Apr 2005 : Column 793
acknowledgement that the Government have not yet got it right. I would prefer to see the clause amended rather than qualified by "easier-to-adjust" statutory guidance.
Lord Whitty: The problem with the non-amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is that there is no pre-existing definition of "litter" or "fly-tipping". Therefore, any definition would require lengthier amendments than the one that he informally proposed. But the guidance will clearly make the distinction, and that is the way in which we have approached this matter. The guidance, of course, will be augmented by my assurances, both at Second Reading and today, and, indeed, by the parts of my letter read out by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. She clearly regards me, on occasions, as much more convincing in writing than in person in the House.
We are dealing with two different kinds of litter. It is not rural against urban or open land against curtilage land, but there are different kinds of litter. That will be made clear in the guidance, which, in the circumstances of the structure of the Bill and pre-existing legislation, is the best we can do. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, it is of course important that we introduce the guidance as rapidly as possible. We can then begin to ensure that local authorities follow the guidance and use these powers.
As to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in relation to placing a requirement on the local authority or Environment Agency to take responsibility for clearing fly-tipping, that is not in the Bill. No doubt, had we proceeded normally, amendments would have been brought forward in that regard. Of course, that would place a significant burden on local authorities or the Environment Agency and would raise a wide range of other issues, including resourcing. We have not thought it sensible to engage with such issues in the Bill.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|