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My Lords, fly-tipping is unacceptable and the Government are committed to tackling this crime. We have given local authorities powers to issue fixed-penalty notices, seize vehicles and investigate and prosecute fly-tippers. Fly-tipping has reportedly increased in some areas and decreased in others during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have worked with local authorities and published guidance to support the reopening of household waste and recycling centres, with more than 90% of local authorities now providing some level of service.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Is it not the case that, as he said in the Answer, a number of local authority waste disposal facilities have been closed in recent weeks, which has made matters worse? Can he use his influence with local authorities to reopen all the facilities that have been shut?
Based on the limited data we have—there is a not a huge amount—there appears to have been an overall increase in reports of fly-tipping, although, as I said, in some areas it has decreased. It does not necessarily mean that fly-tipping has increased across the country. The good news is that, as a consequence of recent changes, more than 90% of local authorities are now providing some level of HWRC services.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is grossly unjust that landowners should be fined and are also expected to bear the cost of disposal of materials illegally fly-tipped on their property? Illegal fly-tippers must be made to pay for this, not the landowner. It should include the seizure and disposal of their vehicles to help with remuneration.
We expect local authorities to investigate fly-tipping incidents on private land, prosecute the fly-tippers wherever they can and recover clearance costs wherever possible. On conviction, a costs order can be made by the court so that a landowner’s costs can be recovered from the perpetrator. Making landowners responsible for clearing fly-tipped waste ensures that there is no perverse incentive to dump waste and encourages them to take measures to prevent dumping on their land.
My Lords, are the penalties balanced correctly? On average, somebody is fined £450 for transgressing, but on average it costs the landowner some £800 to get rid of rubbish. Should we not have more council dumps? Would this not alleviate the problem in the first place?
The noble Lord makes a good point. However, the Government are very much taking action and, I believe, are on the front foot. The resource and waste strategy commitments include a whole raft of measures to make it easier for waste to be used as a resource and harder for it to drop out of the system illegally. The Environment Bill has several measures to help tackle waste crime generally and to ensure that waste criminals are held to account. We will deliver on our manifesto commitment to continue working with magistrates, the Sentencing Council and the Judicial Office to deliver tougher punishments for people who engage in fly-tipping. In addition, local authorities have enhanced powers to tackle fly-tipping, including powers to search and seize the vehicles of suspected fly-tippers, and fixed-penalty notices—as the noble Lord said—of up to £400.
My Lords, following on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, does the Minister not agree that the number of recycling centres needs to be increased and that they need to be local and within easy reach of the public to encourage their use? What, then, is the Government’s response to the recent warning from Conservative council leaders that, without financial support, such services will have to be reduced on a grand scale?
We recognise that, as a consequence of a lot of the initiatives that are coming in on the back of the Environment Bill and the waste strategy, there will be greater pressure on local authorities to recycle. We will therefore require them to have a more consistent approach—for example, with a guaranteed collection of a wide range of recyclable products. Although we recognise that local authorities will need to scale up, we are also committed to ensuring that they will not face an extra cost as a consequence of that legislation. Therefore, whatever the additional cost to them, it will be recouped either from the producers of waste or from central government.
My Lords, since the advent of lockdown, there has been, as others have said, an increase in fly-tipping. Although local authorities are now able to open HWRCs, some have chosen not to, and those that are open will not take garden waste. Will the Minister now put pressure on local authorities to ensure that garden waste is accepted at HWRCs so that it is not dumped in our countryside?
As I said earlier, there has been progress in reopening facilities and the vast majority have now reopened. But we recognise that, for a whole host of reasons, local authorities are heavily stretched as a consequence of the impact of Covid-19. That is why the Government have announced £3.2 billion of additional funding to support them in responding to the pandemic, including in the core services that they provide in relation to the collection, processing and removal of waste. In addition, Defra has published guidance for local authorities on the prioritisation of waste collection services and managing household waste recycling centres.
My Lords, has there been a quantification of fly-tipping in rural areas since the onset of the pandemic and is there a comparative figure with this time last year?
We have limited data on the increase, but it seems to us that in a large number of areas across the country, both urban and rural, fly-tipping has increased. The Government’s approach is not to take over the control or management of waste in each local area but to set a clear legal framework, to write the rules and to ensure that, where people transgress, the enforcement powers are there for local authorities.
My Lords, will my noble friend encourage local authorities to use the covert surveillance powers that they have, and will he make an assessment of whether the current level of fines is sufficient to enable local authorities to afford to do that?
My noble friend makes a very important point. Of course, it is up to local authorities, often working with the local police, to determine whether and where CCTV cameras, for example, should be placed. Defra is of the view that CCTV has an important role to play. We are also encouraging private landowners to consider installing appropriate deterrent signage, as well as CCTV cameras.
Does not the high cost of the landfill tax and the complexity of waste regulations make fly-tipping the easy, and therefore the chosen, option? Some desirable activities such as building cannot avoid producing waste. Can we reduce the costs for small businesses and individuals by simplifying the regulations? Do people not respond better to incentives than to penalties?
I do not think that it is possible to avoid the perverse incentive for some to engage in fly-tipping while, at the same time, ramping up our ambitions in relation to the elimination of unnecessary waste across the system. The Environment Bill takes us much further in that direction, putting a huge onus on producers to take responsibility for the waste that they generate, abandoning all kinds of unnecessary single-use plastic items, introducing deposit return schemes and managing the export of plastic waste to countries that simply cannot cope with it. Alongside that, there will of course be some incentive for criminal activity, and that is why we are providing local authorities with the powers and tools that they need to eliminate, or at least minimise, that risk.
In addition to providing more powers for local authorities to tackle fly-tipping, including, as I said earlier, the power to search and seize the vehicles of suspected fly-tippers, and fixed penalties and so on, we have launched the Joint Unit for Waste Crime. Its purpose is not to deal with mundane or small levels of fly-tipping but to take on serious and organised criminality in the waste sector. That means bringing all the relevant agencies together and effectively stamping out the organised component of waste crime.
In my experience, local authorities feel that an exceptionally high burden of proof is required to gain a prosecution. Since 2014, only two cases in the magistrates’ court have attracted the maximum fine of £50,000. Therefore, does the Minister agree that it is perhaps time to review the sentencing guidelines?
There has been an increase in the number of people who have been brought to justice on the back of fly-tipping, and that increase has happened year on year, so I think that we are heading in the right direction. In 2018-19, local authorities in England dealt with over 1 million fly-tipping incidents—an increase of 8% from the year before. Nearly two-thirds of that involved household waste but a very small component, around 3%, involved industrial-scale disposal of waste—of tipper lorry-load size or larger. Therefore, I think that the legal framework has been strengthened and it seems to be taking us in the right direction.
My Lords, I am afraid that the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. We come to the second Oral Question, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury.