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23 Oct 2002 : Column 274—continued

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you clarify something? When the debate came to a premature end last week, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) was speaking. Do you intend to call him to continue his speech?

Mr. Speaker: The Speaker decides these matters. The Minister will say a few words and then I will decide who will be called next.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had notification of a statement from the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), on the proposals of the advisory committee to the European Commission for a complete closure next year of the White fishery in the North sea and off the west of Scotland? As you will understand, thousands of jobs in catching and processing are at stake, and it will affect the economic infrastructure of entire areas. At this time of crisis, it would be of some use to find out whether the Government have a policy on the matter or whether we

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are merely drifting to disaster. There are plenty of Ministers on the Front Bench—perhaps one of them would at least tell us when we can expect a statement on this vital matter.

Mr. Speaker: So far I have had no approach from a Minister. However, the hon. Gentleman can pursue the matter and I am sure that the Ministers concerned will have heard his remarks or will be able to read them in Hansard.

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Waste Management Licences

3.38 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden): I beg to move,

During the past few weeks I have been carrying out a detailed survey in St. Helier ward in Morden in my constituency. I undertake such surveys as one way, among others, of keeping in touch with my constituents' concerns, and I am pleased to say that I received an excellent response over the telephone, on the doorsteps and from the questionnaires posted back to me. The results show that the two main worries of people in Morden are crime, which was chosen by 31 per cent. of residents, closely followed by environmental and quality-of-life issues, such as graffiti, abandoned cars and fly tipping, which were chosen by 27 per cent. of residents. My constituents' worries are, therefore, crime and environmental crime, and I should be surprised if those worries were not mirrored in the constituency of every hon. Member.

We ignore environmental crime at the peril of our communities. Let us make no mistake: the community that falls into the hands of the graffiti vandal, the car dumper or the fly tipper soon becomes a magnet for antisocial behaviour, including arson and drug and solvent abuse, and the fear of crime is magnified. In short, a good neighbourhood is dragged down and a good community is threatened.

We in the House must take quality-of-life issues much more seriously and must take much more action to fight environmental crime. It is all very well to talk about such issues, but it is time that we actually took some action.

The main aim of my Bill is to secure effective powers for local authorities to do battle with a particular group of environmental criminals—the fly tippers: the cowboy builders who dump rubble in the rear alleys of elderly homeowners; the car wreckers who dump redundant tyres in parks and open spaces; and, worse, the unscrupulous businesses that dump hazardous waste chemicals.

It is bemusing—to say the least—that no council in the country has the power to go to any business or high street shop that is using the public pavement as a dumping ground, to ask to see its waste licence. We should not ignore the fact that those people, who unlawfully deposit waste without a management licence or registered exemption, leach tens of millions of pounds annually from legitimate, regulated businesses, denying people the safe and protected employment conditions offered by legitimate businesses and preventing the controlled and environmentally responsible management of waste. Not only do those cowboys ride roughshod over people such as my constituents in St. Helier, but they leave those people to pick up the massive cost of cleaning up after them—through the council tax.

To give the House some idea of the scale of the problem locally, during the quarter April to June 2001, 4,144 cases of fly tipping were reported in the borough of Merton, some of which took more than four days of council time to clear up, distracting the council's

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environmental services teams from other activities. If we compare that with the same quarter this year, we see a 6 per cent. increase in fly tipping.

Let us consider the national cost. In December 2001, BBC News reported that, according to its calculations, fly tipping was costing local authorities #100 million per annum. I was shocked to discover that the Environment Agency estimates that the figure could be as high as #150 million a year.

Nor is the problem confined to urban areas—far from it. These days, it seems that where there is a field, there is a fly tip. An independent consultancy, Marcus Hodges Environment Ltd., reported that, in 2002, fly tipping on agricultural land was costing farmers approximately #57 million a year and that, in 2001, 10 National Trust properties in Surrey, not far from my constituency, incurred a cumulative cost of #10,000 to clear fly-tipped waste.

My Bill would amend section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which covers duty of care as respects waste, to allow local councils the authority to demand of right the inspection of trade waste agreements, carriers' disposal notices, receipts and related documents. Local authorities, in their guise as waste collection authorities or principal litter authorities need to be given that right, which Environment Agency officers already exercise, so that smaller businesses and waste carriers can be checked locally to see whether there is any evidence or suspicion of illegal practices.

The extension of that power to local authorities would encourage more productive co-operation between those authorities and the Environment Agency than I understand exists at present. That would provide for more efficient gathering of evidence locally, for the exchange of information and the avoidance of duplication of effort. Indeed, given that the Environment Agency is limited in its ability to be on the ground wherever and whenever fly tipping takes place and that local authorities can be much more responsive, the new arrangement would allow for stronger enforcement of the rules and would, I am sure, result in more successful prosecutions of fly tippers.

Another aspect of the Environmental Protection Act that needs clarification is local authorities' ability to make prosecutions under section 33 of the Act, which covers prohibitions on the unauthorised or harmful depositing, treatment or disposal of waste. I understand that many local authorities are not aware that, although they cannot ask to see licences, they have the power to

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prosecute and fine for fly tipping. It would therefore be another aim of my Bill to require clear written guidance from the Government to clear up that anomaly and clarify section 33, and to require a clear education programme to ensure that all local authorities and their legal departments have a full understanding of their powers under the Act.

The Environmental Services Association, the trade body of the UK's waste management industry, has made a proposal which I support and which I put forward in this Bill: that the Govt should establish a central fund to help the victims of fly tipping and to improve the quality of data. Government officials would manage the fund and, to apply, each landowner would be required to complete a standard form describing the extent and type of materials fly-tipped. Officials would record each incident and aggregate the data to identify specific fly-tipping hotspots. Resources would then be made available to help compensate the landowner and to try to catch the perpetrators.

I very much welcome the intention of the Environmental Services Association, which wants to set up a fund of #1 billion per annum to provide new resource management facilities, such as composting and materials reclamation facilities. Those will be badly needed if we are to keep pace with the amount of waste that individuals and businesses are producing, and also if we are serious about stepping up our recycling efforts. Thus to keep that ESA investment flowing, one essential requirement is that waste goes where it should go—into the legitimate, regulated waste management facilities, with zero tolerance of fly tipping. In other words, dump the fly tippers. That is one strong reason for increasing the powers of local authorities to deal more efficiently and effectively with fly tippers.

There are many other strong reasons to support this Bill, and for me, the strongest are the concerns of my constituents in Mitcham and Morden.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Siobhain McDonagh, Mr. Tony Banks, Caroline Flint, Laura Moffatt, Mr. Barry Gardiner, Barbara Follett, Margaret Moran, Ms Oona King, Jeff Ennis, Mr. Graham Allen, Martin Linton and Linda Perham.

Waste Management Licences

Siobhain McDonagh accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision regarding waste management licences: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Thursday 7 November, and to be printed [Bill 196].

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