I am grateful for the opportunity to have a short debate on the implications of clause 99. I understand that, under the present system of charges, the charges are payable only by persons who claim the return of their trolleys, and that if proceedings are brought against a person for the recovery of such a charge, it is a defence for that person to prove that he was not the owner of the trolley at the time that it was removed.
The summary of the responses that were made at the time of the consultation showed that commercial operators had raised concerns that those powers could result in local authorities failing to work with the changes under clause 99, and failing to work in partnership with the commercial operators. Can the Minister share with the Committee the reason why the charge will be payable to the authority on demand under new section 3A in subsection (3) as opposed to on a voluntary basis?
I have seen at first hand the damage that these trolleys can do, in particular to ponds in local areas, and the cost to the Environment Agency and other drainage authorities of removing them. Will the Minister confirm that, under this Bill, the Environment Agency and other drainage authorities such as internal drainage boards, will, for the first time, be able to recover costs where trolleys are blocking waterways? I understand that a request was made that trolleys would be clearly identifiable. Can the Minister say to what extent that is practicable and whether that would be the case for supermarket trolleys alone or also for airport and railway trolleys? Is it perhaps easier for supermarkets to identify them?
I understand that there were calls for the powers to be extended to incorporate bread trays and delivery trolleys for mail and newspapers. That was as a result of the responses to the consultation. Can the Minister say why that was not agreed to?
There is an issue in the clause for retailers, in particular. They are concerned that it may raise a number of practical difficulties. Retailers, both large and small, are likely to be unfairly penalised due to poorly drafted legislation. The clause, as it currently stands, may be extremely difficult to implement.
I gather that local authorities have had the opportunity to consult the Minister further on that. Is he minded to introduce any changes to the clause at a later stage?
I start by underlining the importance of the clause. We have focused particularly on abandoned trolleys—the hon. Lady referred to other items that may cause a nuisance in some circumstances—because they cause a particular nuisance, as has been reflected in the views of a number of my hon. Friends who want this provision pursued with some vigour. Abandoned trolleys reduce the visible quality of our streets and public places; they cause a hazard, often to traffic; when dumped in watercourses, they can cause flooding by obstructing the water flow; and they may also cause harm to wildlife. I have seen the impact of all those difficulties in my constituency, as I know many of my hon. Friends have in theirs.
The change is needed because, although local authorities have powers to deal with abandoned shopping trolleys, they often cannot recover the cost from the trolley owner. The clause will enable them to do so, even if the trolley owner does not reclaim the trolleys. The hon. Lady rightly says that some retailers take a responsible interest in protecting their property and not letting it become abandoned and a nuisance to others, but not all retailers are as good as the best and we want to encourage them to be so.
The change is necessary to encourage local authorities to deal more effectively with the problem of abandoned trolleys. Local authorities may be reluctant to remove them when they are contributing to poor local environmental quality, because they do not know whether they will be able to recover the cost of doing so. The measure will also encourage retail businesses to take greater responsibility for their property. I believe that it will give an additional push towards greater partnership, rather than undermining partnership. I meet the British Retail Consortium regularly, having for many years been a member of the all-party group on the retail trade, so I am well aware of some of these issues and of the BRC's interest in ensuring that it works effectively with local authorities. We want to encourage that, not make it more difficult.
I know that the BRC was worried about the charges that local authorities will fix to be paid under schedule 4. I assure the Committee that we will deal with that issue in guidance, with local authorities providing information about the charges to be made. Therefore, I hope that the clause will have the strong support of the whole Committee.
I understand that there was concern about poor take-up under section 99 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which set out the original powers in relation to abandoned shopping and luggage trolleys. What does the Minister estimate will be the take-up of the clause and what is the cost likely to be, as the money will be recovered as a debt?
We are dealing with large organisations that are not likely to disappear overnight, rather than with individuals, so the collection of debt is unlikely to be an issue. The clause is much more likely to encourage retailers to work with the local authority.
Again, the point of there being an income is that, if the local authority is faced with a company that does not take any notice of the damage that its trolleys are doing to the environment, or perhaps merely with a unit in a chain that is badly managed, it can get a grip on the situation without the costs falling on local council tax payers and the public purse. I think that we can rely on the situation being balanced and proportionate, but, as I said, guidance will be given before commencement.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 99 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 100 ordered to stand part of the Bill.