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I am pleased that the national campaign that encourages people to take their litter home is supported by the AA, the Royal Automobile Club Foundation and the Institute of Advanced Motorists. Yesterday, the Highways Agency's south-east region began holding local events at motorway service areas as part of its ongoing "Bag it! Bin it!" anti-litter campaign that will run until 1 April. As part of the campaign, agency and service provider staff will engage with their customers to talk about the problems caused by litter on the network and offer bags to motorists. Initiatives with schools are being discussed in some parts of the country, particularly those located near litter hotspots. The agency has worked with some primary schools as part of the "Bag it! Bin it!" campaign.
The Highways Agency is working with local authorities wherever possible to find ways of improving litter collection. On the A30 and A38 in Cornwall, the agency now clears larger items of litter from the verges into holding sacks provided by Cornwall county council. A trial will soon start whereby Cornwall county council will provide recycling bins in lay-bys, which it will empty as and when required.
Mike Penning: I have read the literature and I have seen the "Bag it! Bin it!" campaign. I am pleased to hear that work is being done at service stations. There is no point in giving bags to customers once they have come out of service stations because it would have such a small effect. Surely we could work with service station providers to ensure that their bags are biodegradable because they invariably end up on the side of our motorways. Instead of giving out biodegradable bags when customers already have bags that are not biodegradable, service station providers should work with us to ensure that all of their bags are biodegradable. That would be eminently sensible.
Chris Mole: I was going to refer to work being done by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and it might be able to raise that directly with suppliers and motorway service area providers.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned litter escaping from vehicles. There are issues with vehicles that should have nets across the back to contain material that could be drawn out by the wind and left on the highway. Highways Agency traffic officers keep an eye out for such vehicles and although they do not have direct enforcement powers, they can refer vehicles to the police so that they can investigate whether a prosecution is appropriate.
Mike Penning: It is not the police who have the enforcement powers on that matter, but the licensing authority for the waste vehicle. If the netting is not on the vehicle, it should be reported to the relevant body that licensed the vehicle under the waste legislation.
Chris Mole: The hon. Gentleman might be right about certain types of vehicle for which waste is the primary function. However, other vehicles might not be covered by that framework and could be pursued directly.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about prosecution for people who throw litter out of vehicles, traffic officers do not have those powers. It is not our intention to give them such powers because their primary function is to be the motorist's friend on the highway in helping to resolve accidents and situations. A line is crossed when they are given powers more akin to those of the police.
Mike Penning: I am not sure that is correct. I thank the Minister for giving way. He is being very generous and I promise not to intervene again in the next two minutes. Traffic officers do have powers. If one overtakes a Highways Agency vehicle while it is performing a moving roadblock, it is an offence under the relevant legislation. I understand that traffic officers are the prosecuting authority for such offences.
Chris Mole: The hon. Gentleman is right that it is an offence to pass a traffic officer engaged in a rolling roadblock, but I am not sure whether he is right that they have the power to undertake the prosecution. I think that has to be done by the police.
On its routes, the Highways Agency is continuously looking at ways to prevent the dropping of litter. In parts of the east region, signs requesting that the public take their litter home have been erected on slip roads adjacent to motorway service areas. Litter picking schedules were disrupted earlier in the year because of the severe winter weather, which resulted in a heavier than usual accumulation of litter, but they have now resumed. As the weather improves, and more people travel at weekends for leisure purposes, we are likely to see an increase in the level of litter that is deposited, which will put more pressure on the litter collecting authorities.
On 23 March, a representative from the Highways Agency attended a litter roundtable event hosted by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and attended by senior people from a wide range of organisations, including supermarkets, fast food chains, local authorities and campaign groups. The remit for that meeting was wider than litter on motorways and trunk roads, but I am pleased that they are being included in the wider problem of litter across the country.
The Highways Agency is conducting strategic research into a number of key work aspects designed to develop and inform litter policy. Those include improving partnership working with key external stakeholders such as Keep Britain Tidy, Campaign to Protect Rural England and CleanupUK. In conjunction with local authorities, the agency is seeking to trial a number of initiatives, such as temporary anti-litter road signs, utilising variable message signs and partnership working with local business and industry.
To conclude, I thank the hon. Gentleman once again for securing this debate. This is an important issue and I hope he is encouraged and reassured by the information I have given about the work the Highways Agency is doing to tackle litter on our strategic road network.