New clause 30 - Zero waste strategy

Part of Waste and Emissions Trading Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 10th April 2003.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Minister (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Environment) 3:30 pm, 10th April 2003

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that local authorities are within their rights to impose some charge on small businesses, because civic amenity sites are primarily for individual

householders. Authorities should consider whether that it is a wise policy, because it could deflect a certain amount of waste, which would otherwise have been taken by small businesses to civic amenity sites, into the countryside, where it is simply fly-tipped. There is no difference between us with regard to the problem. It is awful, and although I am not sure whether it is getting worse, I am prepared to concede that it may be. Many anecdotal stories suggest that it is, but there is little systematic data. The problem is how to catch the offenders; that is what we want to do.

I also entirely agree that when we do catch people, we should impose deterrent penalties. My wife says that I am becoming increasingly punitive, but I believe that this is a matter of making people aware of the consequences of what they are doing. Why should the rest of us pick up the tab for them? I do not wish to be draconian, but the current penalties are derisory. Many companies and individuals are prepared to take the risk because the chances are that they will not be caught and that, even if they are, any penalty will be a very small fraction of their turnover. That is a ridiculous situation. I do not wish to tell judges what to do—no Minister dare enter into the arena with the Lord Chancellor. However, it is important that magistrates, who receive 96 per cent. of all cases, realise the significance of environmental offences. I have a constant battle to persuade the Magistrates' Association to get its members to take the matter seriously.