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Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:54 pm on 10th January 2005.

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Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 5:54 pm, 10th January 2005

The hon. Gentleman tempts me but I will not go along that route. It is a question that requires a few moments in the early morning while we lie awake worrying about the matter. It is something that can be questioned. I am not sure about the reason.

I am worried that the Tories are not proposing anything to sort out the mess. Rural policy is wider than restoring fox hunting. The problem with environmental crime is poor management. Fly-tipping in the countryside is being left for landowners to sort out. There is a lack of management.

Dogs are out of control and present a nuisance. As Mr. Drew said—he is no longer in his place—it is not a matter of urban versus rural. It is an issue that affects us all. If we are to get tough on crime, we must not walk away from environmental crime that ruins communities.

The Bill deals with what is obvious and visible, but it wills the end without the means. We want to ensure that funding is available to local government. It is clear that it will need pump priming. I accept that there may be savings in the end but there must be a realistic beginning. I was interested when the Secretary of State touched on that topic. I look forward to hearing more about it in Committee.

We are faced with increased mountains of hazardous waste. The door is wide open for cowboys and we need to do more to tackle the problem. There are only minor penalties on conviction for those who spoil our environment. Perhaps we are all in agreement that they are too low. They do not provide an incentive to stop the man in the white van agreeing to remove rubbish and then dumping it as soon as he can. They do not do much to stop fly-posting or anything to deal with the litter associated with street handouts. It is clear that the penalties need to be increased if they are to present real incentives.

As the Environmental Audit Committee said, we also need to ensure that courts are prepared to impose real fines and not opt for the lowest penalty when the issue comes to court.

The Secretary of State suggested that owners should limit access to sites subject to fly-tipping. We need to ensure also that when that is done a periodic review is undertaken. When alleys are gated off in urban areas or lanes in the countryside, there should be full consultation to ensure that access is still available to farmers and that they are not penalised.

The Bill could do much but it has weaknesses. There is the fixed penalty system. Who is handing out the fines? Are there opportunities for appeal? What is the position of persistent offenders? The garage to which I have referred—it was a private house a few years ago—constantly exceeds the number of cars that are permitted to be parked on the road. That situation is factored into its costs. A fine of £100 is probably not sufficient in those circumstances.

Will councils employ private contractors? If so, how will they be managed? In my constituency, and I am sure in many others, car clampers have come to work on behalf of councils. They have been predatory and disgraceful in their way of working. They have extracted penalties equivalent to a week's wages. There seems to be little opportunity of appeal and I want to ensure that people are entitled to justice when issued with fixed penalties.

We have problems with parish councils that become litter authorities. I am not criticising the larger parishes that are successful and hold elections for their members but there are too many parishes where the members are unelected. I would not want an unelected parish council to have the powers that are proposed. If we want quality parish councils, we want elected parish councils.