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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:15 am, 25th January 2005

I have some sympathy with the hon. Lady's amendment and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley shares my warm feelings towards it. A number of concerns about clean-up costs have been made widely known by the National Farmers Union. For a while, it has been concerned to see provisions aimed at addressing cost recovery, but it also has concerns about the operation of the new regime. That is why the amendment may be needed.

In particular, the NFU has been concerned to point out that the identification of the true culprit behind any illegal tipping offence can be difficult. The landowner or occupier is not always the offender, but can be the easiest person for the agency or relevant officer to approach. That is in the nature of things; the landowner or occupier is a fixed person who is easy to identify, whereas more transient beings are less easy to identify.

The experience of the NFU is that many of its members have been penalised as the guilty party under section 33 of the 1990 Act. Although landowners and occupiers can appeal against notices served by authorities for the removal of fly-tipped waste, the NFU believes that they should not have to pay for the costs of enforcement, recovery and clean-up until the final outcome of any appeal is known. Could the Minister clarify the matter of the incurring of costs while an appeal is still pending in the case of a landowner or occupier who has been found guilty of fly-tipping and is subject to a costs order for enforcement and clean-up, but who wishes to appeal because they say that they are not the culprit? It would be useful to understand that matter a bit better, because it is one of the NFU's concerns.

Although we welcome attempts to recover costs from those convicted of a fly-tipping offence, it would be useful to hear the Minister's views on how many farmers and landowners are still likely to have notices served on them in cases in which they plead their innocence. Has the Minister any figures on the number of cases of farmers who are charged with illegal fly-tipping, is that number increasing or decreasing, and what is the quantum? Are there a few dozen, a few hundred or thousands of cases a year?

I close my remarks by saying that that fine organisation, the Country Land and Business Association, which is particularly effective in Suffolk, echoes the concerns of the NFU. It questions the wisdom of any extension of liability to owners who may have no control over the land in question. It feels that, at the very least, there should be a requirement for prescribed steps to have been taken by the authorities to identify a fly-tipper before the owner or occupier of the land is served with a notice. Has the Minister received representations from the CLBA to that effect?

With those points, I shall resume my seat. I give qualified support to the amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats.