Clause 43 - Clean-up costs

Part of Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 25th January 2005.

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Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 10:15 am, 25th January 2005

I am all heart. Amendment No. 94 is intended to ensure that we drive home the point that clean-up includes legal disposal of waste. It may be a pedantic point, but the Bill is partly about refocusing on waste and the need to do the right thing.

The problems relating to clean-up costs come back to the lack of convictions for fly-tipping, and we are worried about who is paying for the cost of clean-up. On Thursday, we started to talk about the lack of funding for the Environment Agency, which is an important point. In some of the information provided by the agency in preparation for this Committee, it highlighted some of the issues. Tackling waste crime in England and Wales costs landowners, local authorities   and the Environment Agency £100 million to £150 million each year. The Environment Agency spends about £7 million on waste-related crime. Then we get to the interesting statistic showing that it dealt with about 5,400 waste-crime incidents in 2003, which resulted in more than 50 prosecutions. It is almost trying to say that 51 is better than none. Quite frankly more than 50 prosecutions out of 5,400 waste-crime incidents does not identify a lot of polluters who should pay for the cost of clean-up. The whole principle is that one finds the person who did it so that he cleans it up.

Instead, we have the problem that I outlined on Second Reading. Farmers and others who have waste dumped on their land will be left without a remedy. That is assuming that they report it. As I mentioned earlier, they do not always report it because they get stuck with the cost of clean-up. The Environmental Audit Committee's report found that —it has also been pointed out to me locally—some of the people at the Environment Agency who are responsible for detection, conviction and prevention are not necessarily of the highest calibre. Sadly, we are even less likely to get a conviction.

The clause says that the cost of removing the waste and cleaning up the land is recovered from the offender. If the Environment Agency is not getting convictions, how will we get the clean-up costs? The Government need to explain where the money will come from for clean-up costs. Why will nothing be done for farmers who may have been innocent and who may have done all that they can to prevent someone from backing into their fields and tipping two lorry loads of asbestos or 20 lorry loads of building waste? Farmers can shore up their defences, but if someone comes at night with a dirty great lorry or a dumper and decides to reverse in, knock the gate down and go to the other side of the field, there is a major problem. What will the Government do to ensure that the innocent are not saddled with the costs? Although the clause looks good on paper, in principle it means virtually nothing if we are not going to get the worst people convicted.

Under section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, landowners and occupiers who neither caused nor knowingly permitted the incident to take place can appeal against notices served by the authorities for removal of fly-tipped waste or cost recovery. That means that the farmer has to appeal against what he should have done earlier, which was to clean up the site. He will not sit there with all that stuff when the Environment Agency is on his back to do a clean-up. In practice, as I mentioned on Second Reading and as was mentioned in the debate on the Environmental Audit Committee's report, farmers do not report incidents of fly-tipping. I see nothing in the clause that suggests that they would do so, even given the much higher fines. The clause gives them no justice. They will be landed with the problem and nothing in the clause will get a conviction and make the polluter pay.