I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 73, line 23, at end insert—
'(6) In proceedings against a person under sub-paragraph (4) for enforcement of a charge, it is a defence for the person to prove that he took all reasonable steps to prevent abandonment of his trolleys.'.
Local authorities are involved in a revenue-raising exercise in respect of abandoned trolleys. I am reliably informed that shopping trolleys are more of a problem than airport or railway trolleys, and we want to address supermarket trolleys in particular.
Local authorities currently send invoices to retailers for amounts between £50 and £2,000 per retail unit for the cost of trolley recovery, storage and disposal. One can imagine why retailers are already taking steps to prevent the abandonment of trolleys, as even £50 per trolley represents a significant loss. Retailers and DEFRA have identified a lack of communication between local authorities and retailers who are not alerted to the problem despite taking reasonable steps to manage their shopping trolleys. The amendment would encourage partnerships between retailers and local authorities to identify the problem and find a common solution, instead of a local authority sending an invoice to retailers without first making them aware of the problem.
The issue has been identified as a problem by at least one major supermarket company, which has worked with the British Retail Consortium in undertaking an effective exercise alerting us to the dangers of the omission from the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be minded to accept the amendment, and I commend it to the House.
It is interesting that on the issue of chewing gum the hon. Lady wanted to add to the burdens on business, but she takes a different view on this clause. She was quite wrong, and under a misapprehension, when she suggested that our approach was inflexible. I must resist the amendment because the intention of the clause is to place responsibility on trolley owners. The regulatory impact assessment accompanying the Bill estimates that the overall cost to local authorities of dealing with abandoned trolleys is of the order of £2 million. That is currently paid for by the taxpayer, but I consider that it is reasonable for businesses to pay a higher proportion of that cost. That does not mean that the approach is inflexible or that this is merely a matter of sending letters or a demand for money with menaces, as the hon. Lady implied.
We have made it absolutely clear that through guidance we will encourage local authorities and retailers to work together to reduce trolley losses, such as through the installation of wheel-locking devices. The Government have encouraged that approach in many circumstances, and it is in the interests of the retail trade as well as of local authorities. The schedule already allows local authorities to approve trolley collection schemes and to agree not to impose charges. The whole point is that that is a matter for the local authority to decide in relation to local circumstances. The hon. Lady seems not to understand that the Bill allows and encourages a partnership approach involving businesses and local authorities. The guidance will encourage that approach. I say to her strongly that accepting her amendment would be a retreat from the encouragement of the partnership approach.
The Minister may be aware that in connection with the "Living Rivers" project in the Bristol area recently, 135 trolleys were rescued. The cost of storing and disposing of them was considerable. However, that did not happen without contact being made with supermarkets and their being aware of technical devices that lock wheels when trolleys go beyond the perimeters of premises. Is that not to be applauded, and could not other supermarkets do the same?
My hon. Friend makes the point precisely: a partnership approach at local level can make an enormous difference and there are mechanisms that can be used. This is not just a question of fines or of putting burdens on business, but of asking business to work with local authorities. I recently experienced something similar when I took part in a study of the way in which voluntary action is cleaning up the River Thames. Trolleys were in evidence, along with all sorts of things that would be a great shock to anybody—spoiling the main river running through our capital city. I have seen the same in my city of Cardiff. It is sad when major cities and environments that should be enjoyable for everybody are spoiled by trolleys.
I do not seek to place the blame on the supermarkets alone, because the real problem is clearly individuals taking trolleys and leaving them in inappropriate places. A partnership between the local authority and business can achieve the implementation of mechanisms of the sort that my hon. Friend described, to discourage bad behaviour and to try to avoid the defacing of the local environment by trolleys—trying to achieve what we all want: better behaviour and less degradation of the local environment. That is what most of the measures in the Bill are aimed at, and it is why they have received such support from people such as my hon. Friend, and the many hon. Members who spoke on Second Reading.
I understand the wish of the hon. Member for Vale of York not to put inappropriate burdens on business. I share that desire. That is why the schedule creates conditions for partnership and encourages local authorities and business to get together to create the right environment locally, for the benefit of business and of everyone in the locality.
I listened very carefully to the Minister, but I regret to say that he is plain wrong. If he really is saying that Members on both sides of the House want to promote better behaviour, we should be seeking to reward those who are taking measures to retain trolleys on their premises. Let us take the classic case of Morrisons, which is a very good local supermarket where I live in North Yorkshire, although now that it has taken over Safeway, its methods will benefit many more parts of the country. I do not have shares in Morrisons, so I can say that. It has established a practice of inserting £1 to take a trolley, which can be reclaimed when the trolley is redeposited. We want such good practice to be rewarded.
The hon. Lady was engaged in deep discussion when I made the point earlier. I do not think that she appreciates the fact that the schedule allows local authorities to enter into partnership approaches and therefore to lighten the burdens on business while tackling the issue. Does she believe that the burden should continue to fall on the council tax payer rather than following the principle that she mentioned earlier—that the polluter pays? Partnership between the local authority and business should be the method used to eradicate the problem, as the schedule allows.
I again cite the experience of Morrisons, although I believe that other companies, too, pursue that responsible policy.
The Minister may say that, but if he reads between the lines of the regulatory impact assessment, he will conclude that the Government are imposing a burden too far, and too extensive, on business. Businesses have quantified that in answer to me: up to £2,000 per retail unit. Therefore, I commend the amendment to the House.