Clause 37 - Enforcement powers

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:00 pm on 20th January 2005.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:00 pm, 20th January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 65, in clause 37, page 31, leave out lines 44 and 45 and insert—

'( ) by producing it at a place specified by the authorised officer or constable within ten days; or'. 

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 66, in clause 37, page 31, leave out line 46 and insert—

'( ) by nominating a person to produce it forthwith to the authorised officer or constable.'.

No. 91, in clause 37, page 32, line 28, leave out 'or was being' and insert

', was being, or would have been'.

No. 92, in clause 37, page 33, line 9, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

No. 93, in clause 37, page 33, line 19, at end insert

(f) the return of personal possessions contained within the vehicle that do not relate to the suspected transportation of controlled waste in contravention of section 1(1) above'.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I, too, welcome the Minister for the Environment and Agri-environment to the Committee. We seek confirmation and assurances from the Minister that the involvement of police officers in the seizure, stopping and searching of vehicles will continue and that either residual responsibility will lie with the police, or they will be co-responsible with other enforcement officers. There is a commercial and cowboy element to some practices, particularly illegal waste disposal and fly-tipping, which we will discuss later, and a uniformed police officer can be a reassuring presence when the going gets tough.

Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

I will comment first on amendments Nos. 65 and 66, because we, too, have concerns. The 10 days suggested in amendment No. 65 is longer than the seven days within which the police can require drivers to bring their licence to a police station, but I do not understand why somebody should have to take authorisation to a police station; if they want to send it to a police station, they carry the risk. The requirement is to produce authorisation at a police station, but they should not have to turn up and put it in a constable's hand. We are not altogether sure why a person must, as stated in new section 5(4)(b), produce authorisation

''at a place and within a period specified''.

The most important thing is to prove that authorisation exists. We need clarity on what we are trying to achieve.

Amendment No. 91 picks up on a minor discrepancy between new section 5(2)(b) and (8)(b) of the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989. New subsection (2)(b) states that a vehicle can be stopped by an officer if it

''appears to him to be a vehicle that has been, is being or is about to used for transporting . . . waste''.

In the latter case, there may be reasonable cause to stop a vehicle that does not have waste on it. However, new subsection (8)(b), which relates to the offence of failing to co-operate with an officer, refers only to waste that

''was or was being transported''.

Therefore, new section 5 is a tad inconsistent. In the first case, the vehicle might not have the waste on it, but an officer may suspect that it is going to be used illegally. In the second case, the implication is that the   waste is on the vehicle. If the Minister looks closely at that wording, I think he will agree that it is inconsistent.

Amendments Nos. 92 and 93 take us way back to a time when the Inland Revenue impounded vehicles at Dover or Calais when people were suspected or accused of tobacco smuggling. Representations were made to several Members of Parliament by people who complained that their car had been impounded, and we disputed the matter with the Inland Revenue at great length. One point of dispute was the fact that people's personal possessions were on the vehicle, and if they had a jacket in there or a suitcase because of a long journey, they were not allowed to collect them.

The amendments in no way seek to get in the way of the intention in the clause to impound, but they protect the individual's right to get back belongings that are in no way related to the waste or to the vehicle being used to transport the waste and that are completely extraneous to the offence that it is thought is being committed.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:15 pm, 20th January 2005

I shall deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Vale of York about the role of the police in stopping and impounding vehicles. I am very pleased that she seems to have calmed down in her ambition to turn the Environment Agency into some sort of paramilitary force, although there are those who claim that it is already such a force.

The agency often works with the police, as I have said in previous debates, particularly in large-scale stop-and-search exercises. Under existing legislation, only a police officer has the power to stop a vehicle on the highway. The Bill empowers the agency and local authorities to seize vehicles, even if a police officer is not with them. In reality, it is more than likely that they will have a police officer with them, because they tend to work in partnership with the police, particularly when they are carrying out major exercises. The agency or local authority could be called to an incident at which someone with a vehicle may run away. In such a circumstance, the Bill would empower them to impound the vehicle.

Clause 37 already allows a period to be specified in regulations, so there is no need for amendment No. 65. It is more appropriate for regulations to deal with detailed provisions that relate to the production of the documents. The intention behind amendment No. 66 is not altogether clear, as the clause already requires the person transporting the waste to produce the documents forthwith or within a period specified in the regulations, which tends to be seven days.

Waste carriers are currently required to produce evidence of registration at a specified place within seven days, as there is no requirement for them to carry their waste-carrier registration documents at all times. It is understandable that people may not carry all the documentation, but seven days is a reasonable period in which to produce them.

The offence to which amendment No. 91 relates is the failure of a person to produce a valid authority when they are reasonably believed to be, or to have   been engaged in, transporting controlled waste without being registered as a waste carrier. An offence is committed only if controlled waste is or has been transported, which is the reason for the language in the Bill.

Amendment No. 92 is not needed. The regulations permitted by the clause will be developed in consultation with all those who may be affected, and will be put to the House for consideration in due course. My officials will ensure that regulations will include all the necessary provisions.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

My local authority, Stroud district council, thinks that this is the single most important clause of the Bill. It has always found that the biggest problem is that there is no real sanction against people who transport waste illegally, even though we may get them to move it, or tell them not to do it again. However, the threat of taking their vehicle will really get their attention. I hope that the Minister will take note of that.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I agree with my hon. Friend. In the response from the consultation, it was clear that many local authorities' representations were along the same lines as that made by my hon. Friend and his authority. Fly-tipping is a serious offence, and we need to take every power that we can to deal with it. Confiscating the vehicle responsible for it is very effective. Its sends a clear message to those involved in fly-tipping that there is no intention of tolerating it.

Amendment No. 93 is the last in the group, and I think that I can give the hon. Lady some assurance about it. It relates to clause 37, which refers to seized property and includes a provision about

''the circumstances in which the authority must return any such property to a person claiming entitlement to it''.

That property will include the vehicle itself and its contents, including any waste and personal possessions, so they, and anything that is in the vehicle at the time, are covered. That relates to the fact that in some cases people may have the right to the return of everything.

I understand the point that the hon. Lady was making about anything personal that might be left in the vehicle, and in certain circumstances—in the case of papers, for example—the local authorities might want to look at them. But I should have thought that the Bill would let people take the things that the hon. Lady mentioned, such as jackets and personal possessions of that kind.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. We have not reached the relevant clause yet, but I hope that not just vehicles but perpetrators of the offence will be apprehended; anything else would make nonsense of the Bill.

Mr. Morley indicated assent.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I listened carefully to what the Minister said, and we shall reserve our opinion until later. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.