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Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to a situation that my constituent found himself in? He was returned to prison while on a home curfew tag. He found a job that required him to leave home 15 minutes before his curfew ended in the morning, and as a result he was returned to prison. Surely the administration of the system should be able to cope with a request for an alteration to curfew hours in cases where somebody is
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actually trying to rehabilitate themselves. Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter, and perhaps make the system more flexible to meet people’s needs?

Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend raises an important point. I will certainly look into whether we can ensure flexibility in genuine cases where there are issues to do with employment or other matters. I will certainly reflect on the matter, and I will write to my hon. Friend in due course.

T10. [192752] Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): My constituency’s population is growing rapidly; in fact, in the 2001 election, it was the constituency with the second largest population in Britain after the Isle of Wight. The next parliamentary boundary review will not take effect until after the next election, and will be based on data from 2000 that precede the 2001 census. Will the Secretary of State commit himself to having more frequent parliamentary boundary reviews, using data that are forward-looking, rather than backward-looking?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I broadly agree with him. What we need is more frequent reviews, and reviews that take account of population, rather than being based simply on electoral rolls, because electoral rolls are not necessarily a clear surrogate for population. As he says, the reviews should be forward-looking, rather than very outdated, as they sometimes are. I am happy to meet him to discuss the matter.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), for the courtesy and time that she gave me last week when I met her to discuss my concern about the secrecy surrounding family courts. Would she not agree that natural parents should get more justice, and more rights, in the family courts system?

Bridget Prentice: I was very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss a particular case in his constituency. I would say to him that, first and foremost, the family courts must look after the interests of the child. It is on that basis that they must move forward. Of course, they must also take into account the evidence that is put in front of them, but the most important thing is to ensure the child’s safety and protection.

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Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Amendment)

3.34 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): I beg to move,

The purpose of the Bill is to promote serious discussion about a shortcoming in the 1990 Act on fly-tipping. For that purpose, the sponsors of the Bill include a distinguished array of former Ministers from both sides of the House, including a former Secretary of State for the Environment and three former Environment Ministers, one of whom, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), has joined me today. The Bill also has the support of the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union.

The 1990 Act was a legislative landmark passed under the previous Conservative Government that established the Environment Agency. Among other matters, it sets out the law on the treatment of fly-tipping. The House has long been aware of the problems caused by fly-tipping for both private and public landowners.

The journey of the Bill to the Floor of the House began on a farm belonging to my constituent, Mr. David Gibbon, from whom I declare I have accepted hospitality, though below the threshold for declaration in the register. In August last year, a lorry was caught red-handed dumping bags of asbestos on Mr. Gibbon’s farm at South Fambridge in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who I am pleased to see in his place and who, I am sure, would have sponsored the Bill had he not been on the Opposition Front Bench. The manager at the farm in question, who had been wisely advised not to approach such criminals on his own, took the vehicle registration details and immediately called the police. The Environment Agency was also subsequently informed.

I regret to inform the House that neither Essex police nor the Environment Agency took any substantial interest in the crime. Despite the fact that asbestos was bagged, correctly tagged and therefore lawfully removed from wherever it came from, and an address was found among the rubbish, little investigation was carried out. The vehicle registration, of course, proved to be false, and the only conclusion to be drawn was that it was the act of a rogue trader. At this point, the story ends, and no public authority took any further interest in the matter.

My constituent initially refused to remove the dumped asbestos, on the very reasonable basis that it was not his responsibility. Ironically, if it had been dumped a mere 6 ft in a different direction, it would have been the responsibility of the highways authority and would automatically have been removed by the Environment Agency. As the Minister stated in a letter to me dated 1 November last year:

I see the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for
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Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) is in her place and kindly listening to the debate.

Eventually Mr. Gibbon had to pay almost £3,000 for the waste to be removed by a private contractor. Under the law as it stands, responsible victims of such a crime are forced to pay up, while the perpetrators get off scot-free. Mr. Gibbon did not, under section 33 of the 1990 Act

but according to the Environment Agency, the fact that he had been fly-tipped meant that he was in violation of section 33(1)(b) because he was, as the 1990 Act describes it, keeping controlled waste on his land. He was therefore committing a criminal offence for no other reason than that he himself was a victim of a crime.

The problem that my Bill seeks to address is simple. Rubbish dumped on public land automatically becomes the responsibility of the local authority or the Environment Agency to clear up, but those authorities are not responsible for clearing up rubbish dumped on private land. On the contrary, if a private landowner does not clear it up, the Environment Agency will prosecute them for not doing so. That is grossly unfair on private landowners, who, by being the victims of crime, become criminals in the eyes of the law.

The problem is not uncommon. An Environment Agency survey published in January 2007 shows that 16 per cent. of farms in England and Wales suffered fly-tipping over a 12-month period. As Mr. Gibbon’s case makes clear, the cost of clean-up can be very expensive. Indeed, the Waste Management (England and Wales) Regulations 2006 have only increased the costs for private landowners. Since I began work on the Bill, a number of similar cases have been brought to my attention. For example, Freddie de Lisle in Hungarton in Leicestershire had to pay £435 to have suspected asbestos removed from his land after it was illegally dumped. In Wales, the Powys castle estate had to pay out more than £1,000 over the course of three incidents involving clothing, a burnt-out car and two unmarked 45-gallon oil drums.

The issue does not only affect farmers. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust recently announced that it is considering closing its woodlands because of fly-tipping. The costs of the continual clear-ups are eating into its limited resources, which are, of course, charitable. Removing the waste is not only expensive but time-consuming and potentially dangerous. A farm worker in Nottingham was injured when an aerosol can exploded as he tried to burn the timber element of some waste, and he was off work for three months as a result of his injuries.

At present, landowners feel helpless, so it is not surprising that 50 per cent. of those who are suffering from fly-tipping do not bother to report it. Why should they, if it does not lead to a proper investigation of the incident or any prospect of a prosecution? In a 2006 survey, farmers said that in only 22 per cent. of cases had the police investigated their complaints, even though fly-tipping is a criminal offence.

I am grateful to the Country Land and Business Association for its assistance in drafting the Bill, which aims to protect landowners from an over-zealous interpretation of the present law. I propose two
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changes. The first would place an obligation on the Environment Agency or the relevant local authority to remove waste if the landowner

the waste to be deposited.

In her letter, the Under-Secretary claimed that that would create “a fly-tippers’ charter”, but that is nonsense, because the law as it stands is a fly-tippers’ charter. The Environment Agency already automatically picks up all the rubbish on public land. The Government may fear rogue landowners who would encourage illegal fly-tipping on their land for backhanders, but the Environment Agency would still have the power to serve a clear-up notice on such a landowner, if it suspected their involvement, which might include failure to take reasonable steps to prevent such illegal dumping.

My second proposed change would place a duty on the relevant authority to investigate incidents of fly-tipping. As the Minister said in her correspondence, that would place additional burdens on authorities, which already have to remove waste dumped on public land. However, the present law is clearly absurd. What is the point of having a criminal offence of fly-tipping on the statute book, if nobody is even going to investigate those crimes?

The case for the changes is clear. Far from creating a fly-tippers’ charter, the obligation to investigate and prosecute would help to deter fly-tipping. It is ludicrously unfair that public and private landowners are treated in such grossly different ways. I repeat that had the asbestos in Mr. Gibbon’s case been 6 ft away from where it was, he would not have been responsible for its disposal and that duty would have fallen on a public authority.

I should inform the House that I am disappointed that the Government have indicated that they are not going to support the Bill, because of the additional
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duties that it would place on local authorities and the Environment Agency. Furthermore, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has expressed his concern that it might encourage illegal dumping. I hope that the House will agree, however, that I have addressed both those concerns. In any case, the Government are welcome to amend my Bill as it makes progress through the House.

What is the point of the Environment Agency, if it will not actively investigate and deter illegal dumping? Moreover, active investigation and prosecution of fly-tippers should lead to reduced burdens on the public sector, as well as to a cleaner environment. The agency itself recognises its ineffectiveness, saying that

The Bill offers concrete measures to protect landowners against fly-tipping and to increase investigations by the authorities to deal with that growing problem. I therefore commend it to the House before we find more and more copies of the Lisbon treaty dumped on public and private land throughout this country.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bernard Jenkin, Mr. John Gummer, Mr. Tim Yeo, Mr. Michael Meacher, Mr. Malcolm Moss, Kate Hoey, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. David Crausby, Tony Baldry, Mr. Alan Meale, Lembit Öpik and Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory.

Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Amendment)

Mr. Bernard Jenkin accordingly presented a Bill to amend Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in relation to the duties, powers and functions of waste regulation authorities concerning the unauthorised deposit of controlled waste on land; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 25 April, and to be printed [Bill 86].

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Orders of the Day

Consolidated fund (appropriation) bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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European Union (Amendment) Bill

[12th Allotted Day]

Order for Third Reading read.— [Queen’s Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

3.45 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

On Third Reading, it is traditional to recognise the contribution of all sides to the debate on the Bill, and happily, in this case, I have a lot of material to draw on. Since I introduced the Bill on Second Reading nine weeks ago, six Secretaries of State and shadow Secretaries of State have spoken to the House. The scrutiny process in Committee has totalled some 560,000 words—five and a half times the length of the consolidated treaty itself. I hope that the House will allow me to highlight a small number of outstanding contributors to our—

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Foreign Secretary give way? [ Laughter. ]

David Miliband indicated assent.

Mr. Davidson: Will the Foreign Secretary tell me the difference between the Liberals’ full participation in debate and their policy of constructive abstention, as they seem to amount to pretty much the same thing?

Hon. Members: There’s only one of them!

David Miliband: Talking of outstanding contributors, I see that my hon. Friend could not resist the temptation to intervene, but I am sure that the quality of the remarks of the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) will make up for the lack of quantity—

Mr. Davidson: No.

David Miliband: Maybe my hon. Friend is not convinced.

I want to pay tribute to some of the hon. Members who have genuinely contributed outstandingly to our proceedings. I start by paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). I believe his approach to Europe to be utterly antediluvian, but he has prosecuted his case in an absolutely brilliant fashion and re-established his reputation as one of the outstanding debaters of our times.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has demonstrated again his long-standing commitment to these issues, tabling 154 amendments and making 209 interventions in our proceedings— [ Interruption. ]—so far. That is not an invitation for him to intervene now. He has been indefatigable in asserting, first, that he has been consistent every year since 1992, which is correct, and, secondly, that he has always been right in warning that the European superstate is about to gobble us up, about which I believe he is profoundly wrong. He and I rarely see eye to eye on these matters, but he has been active on every day of our scrutiny of the treaty and the Bill, and I pay tribute to his persistence.

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