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I have mentioned the fact that it is a blight on the countryside, but 88 per cent of fly-tipping incidents occur in urban areasit is just more obvious if one is in otherwise pristine countryside. According to figures issued by local authorities, there has been a 4.5 per cent increase in incidents in the past year.
I would have thought that reporting fly-tipping would be quite a straightforward matter, but as usual it is not. Having looked into the matter a little more, I have discovered that there are local authorities that will count someone who puts out their bin bag a day early as a fly-tipper. That makes it difficult to work out the exact figures. I am assured that such local authorities have been removed from the figures that I have just given. Clearly, there is a serious problem.
The costs are very high. Local authorities estimate that they spend £74 million clearing up fly-tipping and another £25 million on enforcement and the Environment Agency has costs on top of that. It is so depressing as this problem need not exist. It is not due to some enormous social or economic ill; it is a combination of certain circumstances, to which I shall turn later, and predominantly downright anti-social behaviour.
I am not excusing fly-tipping in the least, but we need to make it simpler for people to dispose of waste easily. I shall take a moment to tell the Committee what happened to me three years ago. I was clearing some ground at my new cottage and I was filling up a skip. A piece of asbestosabout the size of an A4 piece of paperwas in the rubbish. The skip lorry driver would not take it, which was fine, so I drove to the civic amenity site, where I was told that they could not take it and that I would have to go to the main tip. That was a 12-mile drive. There I was made to fill in a form, drive over the weighbridge, drive for 10 minutes through the site, come back, be weighed again and pay £70. That was for a piece of asbestos of that size. I suggest that very few people would have gone to that trouble. We have to make it easier for people who are genuinely trying to help.
To an extent, that exemplifies a problem that we see all through modern life: everyone is so keen to manage their own costs and keep within their own framework that they tend to shunt costs on to someone else or on to the public and do not think about the impact that such a policy might have on the behaviour of the public. Certainly, the Environment Agency has argued that the costs and complexity of managing waste lawfully encourages some people to dump their waste and to fly-tip. We should certainly not ignore the Environment Agency, which after all is the expert in this area. The law of unintended consequences is familiar to all of us.
Operators of civic amenity sites often install height barriers; they create bureaucratic systems. They do so for good reasonsfor example, to sort out commercial from domestic wastebut there are many examples of people who get caught out by them. They are simply householders who are trying to behave in an orderly way and find themselves unable to do so. It is increasingly the case that small contractors who come to change the kitchen or perhaps the bathroom will not take the old goods away because they do not want to pay for them to be tipped, which leaves the householder with them. Some householders, who are unable or unwilling to deal with them in any other way, will simply dump them. I am not sure that the name civic amenity site is terribly useful. A lot of people do not know what it does. I am not sure why we call it that.
Local authorities probably do not pursue fly-tippers as vigorously as they might because there is a high cost involved. The debate is similar to that which we used to have about speeding fines, where the police would not stop people for speeding because it cost more to prosecute them than to let them speed. Is there not a solution in that? Should we not consider hypothecating fine income? What happens to fines for
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The Governments waste strategy is very helpfulI know that they take it very seriously. Their proposals with regard to recycling, reducing packaging and a more draconian enforcement regime are welcome. There is a maximum penalty in the magistrates court of £50,000, but, according the Environment Agency, the average fine per prosecution is £3,298. Is that because there were no cases serious enough to warrant the maximum fine, or is it because magistrates are reluctant to impose high fines?
The waste strategy also proposes an increase in the landfill tax escalator of £8 per year. Having served on the board of the regulator, Entrust, for eight years, I am familiar with the landfill tax. The landfill tax credit scheme has certainly provided funding for many useful projects. However, I am worried that the increase in the level of landfill tax will encourage people to fly-tip. The bulk of landfill tax money simply goes straight to the Treasury. Have the Government considered giving some of the income from the escalator to local authorities and the Environment Agency to clean up if more fly-tipping results from the increase?
Last years local elections were rather odd in that they did not seem to be won or lost on political lines. They were bin elections, where councils across the country won or lost according to whether they were moving to fortnightly waste collections. A lot of high-flown rubbish was written about what was going to happen, some of it apocalyptic. Where are the Government on that subject? How much do they know about what is likely to happen if we move to fortnightly waste collection? Is there any evidence that it encourages fly-tipping? That question is even more relevant to chip and bin schemes. Will the Minister update the Committee on the Governments thinking, especially on how it is possible to create incentives which should in theory create less waste but may also provide an incentive to fly-tip?
Viscount Goschen: I welcome the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and agree with everything that she said about this problem. It is an area where the balance between penalties and incentives is wrong. The problem is getting away from us. Incidences of fly-tipping are increasing dramatically, but we are not managing to defeat the problem by bringing prosecutions with the current level of fines. I believe that we have the balance wrong between the factors that affect law-abiding people who try to do the right thing by disposing of their waste correctly, the level of penalties that can be applied and the vigour used to pursue illegal fly-tippers.
Much of the problem is caused by jobbing builders of one sort or anothersmall-scale firms for which the hassle and cost of disposing of their waste is just too much for them. It is all very well to sayand I shall be absolutely staggered if the Minister does not
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Therefore, first, I think that we should at least seriously consider whether it would be more economically and environmentally effective to allow trade waste up to perhaps a weight of one tonne or a volume of two cubic metresapproximately what can be carried in a pick-up truck or light vanto be disposed of for free, as for a householder. If we did that, we would remove at a stroke a significant degree of fly-tipping in this country. I should like to know whether the Government have done a cost-benefit analysis of making such a changewhat it would cost and what the benefits might be in terms of a reduction in fly-tipping. Perhaps this could be trialled as a local issue and we could see the results. Such a suggestion would also be helpful to householders who turn up in anything that looks like a commercial vehicle. These days, plenty of people own pick-up trucks, SUVs or a trailerperhaps a horse box or something of that natureand want to dispose of rubbish, but they are faced with bureaucracy at waste disposal centres. The other day at Question Time I heard the Minister rebutting that but I have had experience of it. One is made to feel not quite a criminal but when trying to do the right thing one is put through the wringer before being allowed to dispose of waste.
Secondly, I think that we should forget all thoughts of bin taxes and recycling penalties for householders. That will lead only to more plastic bags being slung out of carsand all to avoid a tiny penalty for something which then costs a fortune to clear up. If we apply financial incentives for misbehaving, we should not be surprised when that happens. The noble Baroness referred to the law of unintended consequences. They may be unintended but they are fully foreseen, and many people, including Members of your Lordships House, have warned about them. We see the landfill tax increasing, and if people have incentives for disposing of their rubbish illegally, I am sure that they will continue to do so. Therefore, let us make it easier for people to obey the law.
Thirdly, we have to get on top of the enforcement fees. Can the Minister tell us the ratio between instances of fly-tipping and successful prosecutions? According to the figures given by the noble Baroness, the figure for the latter is minuscule. I have some personal experience of this. Near to where a relative of mine lives, repeated fly-tipping takes place in the lane that is used to access the house. One day, this got too much for me. I sorted through the rubbish and found an envelope with a name and address on it. I then got out my map and went round to the householder whose address was on the envelope. I asked what had happened and was told that a firm of jobbing builders had come to pitch for some work replacing gutteringthe rubbish that had been disposed of was guttering. Feeling like Hercule
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My third suggestion is that we should consider whether private contractors should be allowed to pursue fly-tippers on a bounty basis to bring forward successful actions. We know the vigour, for example, in London with which one is pursued for being more than one second over the time allowed on a parking meter. One is suddenly presented with a fine of £100 for that terrible offence. Compare that with the illegal dumping of rubbish. These are two totally different things, but, if one has a firm with people highly incentivised to pursue misdemeanours, why can they not use the investigative qualities demonstrated in that instance? It would be welcome if the Minister could address that.
Finally, I would like to ask the Minister about rats. We are told that instances of rodent infestation were up 32 per cent in the last period. Is there any thought that this is connected with the improper disposal of rubbish?
Lord Dear: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for introducing this short debate. Fly-tipping is a serious problem whether you live in urban or country areas. I understand that 93 per cent of rubbish is fly-tipped in urban areas, and that leaves 7 per cent in rural areas. It seems in the rural areas to be bigger; it is certainly more unsightly and more obvious. It is that small area that I want to focus on this afternoon.
I declare an interest as a member of Countryside Alliance, which has produced this very good and timely leaflet that has already been mentionedTime for Action. It contains a lot of information and a lot of useful and worthwhile suggestions. The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, has already talked about landowners. I want to amplify some of his points. Fly-tipping is a big problem for landowners. The acreage involved for the landowner is immaterial. All you need to have is a driveway, a gateway or a lay-by alongside your land and you will be a target for the fly-tipper. We understand that it is a major problem for three-quarters of all landowners. Put another way, it affects 67 per cent of all farmers. I live in a rural area, and all the farmers I have spoken to have, without exception, said, We have a big problem.
The cost of getting rid of the problem, so far as Defra is concerned, is the £47 million visited on the farmer or the landowner, but I would think that that is a highly conservative estimate; one could easily speculate that it could be half as much again, or even more.
What do you see? We have all seen everything from cars and used nappies to fridges, furniture, and mattresses. Fifty per cent of rubbish tipped is in black bags, which you can conclude comes from domestic sources and not just from the jobbing builder; and 53 per centagain roughly halfof what is dumped is estimated by volume to have come from a small van or a car. There is an indication of the sort of people who are fly-tipping in the countryside.
We have speculated on the reasons for fly-tipping. They are fairly obvious. It could be because of increased charges for disposal of rubbish from your home; laziness plays a big part; perhaps increased regimentation in how councils are beginning to put out a whole range of different coloured bins for us to sort our rubbish, and some people just do not want to do that; and of course the hike in the landfill tax, which has already been mentioned.
What is the landowner to do? I focus on the landowner, as I said at the beginning of this short address. He will find that local authorities will vary between those who are sympathetic to his plight to those who are at the other end of the scalealmost bone-headed.
The landowner has the problem. The rubbish is dumped, by definition, on private land; if he moves it to the verge, which is an obvious answer for him, he immediately runs the risk of committing an offence of depositing litter in a public place from a private place. He is open to prosecution. He is all right if he has already entered into some sort of verbal contract with the local authority, because some local authorities will pick the rubbish up from the verge and take it away for him. It is lucky for the landowner if that is what happens, but many local authorities will not do that. He is then faced with either leaving the litter on his land and ignoring it, certain in the knowledge that one lot of litter will attract more to it like a magnet, or he can pick it up in his own trailer, pick-up truck or lorry and move it to a civic amenity site. There, as we have already heard, he can be met with a variety of responses. He may get a helpful response, which allows him to dump it on the civic amenity site, but more often than not at the sitewhich may be managed directly by the local authority or by an agent on its behalfhe will be met with an interrogation which frequently finishes either with him paying a fee to dump it as a commercial user or with him being turned away. What does he do with the rubbish then? One option is to dump it in some other neighbours yard or fieldbut I leave that question open because the point that I make is fairly self-evident.
The problem is similarly met by do-it-yourself handymen, who have a sink, a bath and a couple of bits and pieces of rubble. They are met with the same problem at civic amenity sites. That leads me to say the obviousthat there is a need for a sympathetic standardisation of approach at civic amenity sites for
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We should not ask the Government to legislate on this, as we have too much legislation in the public domain already, but the Government are well placed to use their best offices to influence local authoritiesprobably through the LGAto sort out a code of best practice for themselves to make life easier for those trying to use those civic amenity sites. As has been said, we should try to encourage magistrates to take the subject seriously, not through Defra but through government ministries. Then we could see just what a problem it is, where according to statistics half the litter in the country is fly-tipped. I hesitate to say whether those figures are true or not, but that is what we are led to believe. There is a problem, however, and magistrates need to be aware of the size of it.
Putting a cart before a horse, I think that we should press for more and better enforcement from local authorities. The noble Viscount has already spoken about thatalthough there has been a 46 per cent increase in enforcement from 2005-06 to 2006-07. We need to look at local authorities providing more adequate civic amenity sites. I live in a rural area in north Gloucestershire, where we have just gone through the exercise of having new bins and a new regime to collect rubbish, for which we are paying. In the literature that came to me through my door last week, I was told with a note of pride that there are two civic amenity sites that I can use; the nearest are in Cirencester and Wotton-under-Edge. That is fine, except that one is 30 miles away and the other is 48 miles away, for me or anyone else who wants to use them. The distance to be travelled really defies anyone wanting to use that sort of service.
I conclude by echoing the words that have been said and precursing some of the words that will be said in this short debate. It is not really for government to do anything other than influence others, but the real problem lies with the local authorities and can be remedied by them. I ask the Government to use their best offices in that direction to encourage them in a more standardised and sympathetic approach.
She mentioned the fly-tipping of domestic waste. This practice has an educational element because an unfortunate by-product of the increasingly rigorous categorisation of waste, and the EU directives on which much of it is founded, is that fly-tipping becomes a way of getting around it.
I declare an interest as a farmer whose business has benefited from the recovery of old railway sleepers, telegraph poles and a great deal of second-hand equipment. I hope that the Environment Agency does not try to gold-plate some of the regulations, one of which is that anything that has not been used for 12 months should be classified as waste. On a farm, as long as items are kept tidy, a use can be found for them long after 12 months of not being used.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, mentioned that 67 per cent of farmers suffer from fly-tipping, some of which can be costly to remove. There is a question of how to distinguish between fly-tipping, which is the main subject today, and litter. A great deal of the disfigurement of the countryside is caused by litter, which people throw from their car or from their backpacks and leave lying around. The most extreme example in our areathis raises embarrassment with the policeis that people go to a shop such as Millets, buy a tent, camp out in a remote area and then walk away and leave the tent when they have had their nights camping. Someone will see that the tent has been sitting there for a day or two and inform the police that there might be a dead body inside it. Several policemen then have to investigate the situation, only to find that the tent has been abandoned. These are the kind of strange developments that our throwaway society can produce.
One of the current problems for the ordinary public is to know what rules and regulations the local authority has at its disposal sites. Do the Government publish any guidance on best practiceI am treading on the same area as the noble Lord, Lord Dearwhich would enable greater publicity and transparency for the public? Obviously each local authority will invent its own rules but it would help if there was a general guidance which set out what materials a local authority tip will accept. Again, the question of quantity and whether a tip will accept only a certain amount may arise. It is obviously terribly frustrating to turn up with rubbish and for someone to say, I am afraid your car is too big. We cannot let you in here. It is a question for the commercial dump. We should somehow urge local authorities to show more flexibility and gear the hours when the sites are open to more useful times of the day so that people can carry out their own domestic disposal.
Has any correlation been made between fly-tipping and the scarcity of local authority disposal points? This is as much an urban question as a rural one, although in rural areas people are geared up to drive a little further than people in urban areas.
We have touched on the introduction of bin taxes. The Minister will be familiar with our dealings on the Climate Change Bill and the introduction of his five pilot schemes. It is important that the Government should monitor whether there is some correlation between fly-tipping and the areas where the pilot schemes are running to see whether they are having any effect.
On the question of the increased categorisation of what constitutes waste, the Minister will know that his colleague in another place announced that the statistics for Flycapture, the Governments scheme, showed a massive increase in the incidence of fly-tipping between
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Another point was referred to by my noble friend Lord Goschen: if someone is found fly-tipping, what powers does a farmer or an occupant have? He referred to the fact that if you have not actually seen someone fly-tipping, there is nothing you can do. Even if you see it happening, the problem is that a guy with the back of a lorry open just has to put his foot on the accelerator and you will have a hard job catching up with him.
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