Since the Environmental Protection Act 1990 code of practice came into force, responsibility for clearing litter on all-purpose trunk roads, with the exception of design, build, finance and operate managed roads, has rested with local authorities. Responsibility for clearing litter on motorways lies with the Highways Agency.
Has my hon. Friend noticed the shocking state of the verges along many of our motorways and trunk roads, and that the same plastic bags often appear to be hanging from the same shrubs week in and week out? Is it not obvious that the existing arrangements are not satisfactory? What can he do to help the Highways Agency and those to whom it subcontracts to take the issue more seriously?
I share my hon. Friend's concern about litter on some of our major roads. At best it is unsightly, and at worst it is dangerous to people and to wildlife, and of course it puts off visitors to areas where there might be a considerable number of tourists. The picture across the country is variable: some local authorities take their responsibilities seriously, but others do not. The Highways Agency inspects trunk roads on a basis of between seven and 28 days, and where appropriate will bring things to the attention of the local authority or, in the case of the A19, which leads to my hon. Friend's constituency and is operated by a contractor, to the attention of the contractor who is contractually obliged to keep the road clear. I can assure my hon. Friend that another Department, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is currently reviewing the code of practice and holding consultations to see how it can be tightened.
The Minister will be aware that land adjoining roads and railways can be an important refuge for wildlife. He will also be aware of the slash and burn clearances undertaken by transport authorities in many parts of the country. Does he share my concern about that approach, and what representations will he be making about it, especially to Network Rail?
The Highways Agency and Network Rail have to take appropriate action because, as the hon. Gentleman will know, trees blow on to railway lines or roads. However, I accept his general concern about the state of the verges although, as I said to my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin, it is variable. In extreme cases, if people have a complaint, they can go to the magistrates court and obtain a litter abatement order to oblige the authority to act.