New Clause 1 - Illegal deposit or disposal of waste (power of arrest)

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 1st February 2005.

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'(1) In subsection 24(2) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c.69), at the end insert—

''(w) an offence under subsection 33(4A) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c.3).''

(2) In section 33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c.3), after subsection (4) insert—

''(4A) A person authorised by the Environmental Protection Agency to exercise the powers specified in section 108(4) of the Environment Act 1995 (c.25) shall have like powers to those of a constable to arrest any person depositing or disposing of waste in contravention of subsection (1).'.'.—[Miss McIntosh]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause is perhaps one of the clauses to which the hon. Member for Guildford referred in her remarks a moment ago. If the Government are serious about many of the provisions in the Bill, they must include the power of citizen's arrest by officials from local authorities, particularly the Environment Agency. We saw in earlier provisions that there will be a power to seize a vehicle that is used to perpetrate offences under the Bill, such as the dumping of waste or of large deposits. We want to take that one stage further. Although it is deemed appropriate to take the vehicle off the road and seize it so that that vehicle cannot be used to perpetrate such offences in the future, that would be a very hollow means of dealing with this particularly regrettable and growing form of environmental crime. We know that it is growing: we have the end-of-life directive, there is the fact that hazardous and non-hazardous waste cannot now be co-disposed, and we know that, as of today, there are insufficient sites licensed to take hazardous waste. We have seen a growing mountain of fridges and fridge-freezers under the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive—or the WEEE directive, as it is abbreviated,. We have seen other white goods, such as   microwaves and television sets, increasingly being dumped—again, on privately owned land in country areas.

We believe that it is simply insufficient to remove or seize the vehicle. We would like to empower environmental health officers from local authorities, or indeed environmental officers, to make a citizen's arrest in that regard. It would thus be an arrestable offence of fly-tipping. Without the provisions in our new clause 1, the Bill will simply not have any teeth. We believe that it is quite appropriate that a person authorised by the Environment Agency can exercise the powers, specified under the Environment Act 1995, that they

''shall have like powers to those of a constable to arrest any person depositing or disposing of waste in contravention of subsection (1)''.

I would also hope that that power would be available either if the person were caught in the act or perhaps caught on camera. If it could be shown physically that it was that person, that could be taken as proof. We believe it is the most positive contribution that the Bill could make and would give it real teeth.

I hope that the Minister will look favourably on our new clause. We believe the present arrangements are unsatisfactory: I have had regular meetings with ENCAMS in my own region and with the Environment Agency. We have made representations and had positive and sympathetic replies from ENCAMS and the Environment Agency nationally. Our conclusion is that the provision is completely insufficient, as the Bill stands, to seize only the vehicle. The perpetrator or perpetrators of these environmental offences must be seized.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:45 pm, 1st February 2005

Has the hon. Lady not spotted that the offences have already been made arrestable under the Bill?

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

My understanding, although I hear what the Minister says, is that an officer of the Environment Agency or, indeed, an environmental health officer is not entitled to make the arrest. Therefore, the Minister is missing the point. We believe that it is those people—those who can be described as persons authorised under the Act in our new clause—who are being asked to apply the provisions of the Bill up and down the country. Therefore I ask the Minister to grasp our point: if we are asking environmental health officers—or, more appropriately, officers of the Environment Agency—to police the Bill, we must give them the powers. They must be able not only to seize the vehicle, but to arrest and apprehend the person who is fly-tipping. That is the only way to stop that very crude development in its tracks.

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

On the face of it, one might have quite a bit of sympathy with the new clause. We share concerns about increasing fly-tipping as a result of the end of co-disposal of hazardous waste and the impact of the various Acts. Although we do not disagree with the reasons behind these Acts, we have concerns about   the availability of places to take such waste. Earlier, we raised concerns that there is already insufficient funding going into the Environment Agency for detection of such crimes or for securing convictions.

We spoke to the Environment Agency to get its views about the clause, because on the face of it we had some sympathy with it. We asked the agency how it would feel about having the powers of arrest in those circumstances and it did not agree with the proposal. The crimes in question are serious, with a lot of money at stake, and not the sort of thing that a non-uniformed Environment Agency officer would want to walk in on. The agency told us that it would be more appropriate for uniformed police to deal with such serious criminals. On that basis, we cannot support the new clause.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful for the comments of the hon. Member for Guildford, which acted as a clear rebuttal of the new clause, which has been tabled without sensible thought as to the consequences.

The first part of the new clause seeks to make the offence of illegal waste disposal arrestable. That is unnecessary because it is already achieved elsewhere in the Bill. Clause 41 introduces a new maximum penalty of imprisonment for up to five years for illegal waste disposal, which will therefore become an arrestable offence under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

The second part of the new clause seeks to give an Environment Agency officer the same powers of arrest for illegal waste disposal as those of a constable. I agree with the hon. Member for Guildford that it is neither appropriate nor necessary for the Environment Agency to be given such powers. I can confirm that the Environment Agency does not want its officers to have that power. The agency has natural concerns over the personal safety of its officers, who are not trained or equipped to arrest people, especially those who might resist an arrest, and it does not have any facilities to detain those who are arrested. Those are important practical considerations that militate against the proposal.

Even worse is the opportunism behind the new clause, which totally contradicts the remarks that the hon. Member for Vale of York has made in this Committee. When we discussed crime reduction partnerships, she said that

''residual authority should remain with the police. I would prefer them to be uniformed police. The Minister must accept that, although a large number of community support officers have been appointed, they do not have the same qualifications, training and powers of arrest as fully qualified and licensed police officers.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 18 January 2004; c. 11.]

Well, on this occasion I agree with what the hon. Lady said then, although I do not agree that it was appropriate to the clause that she was addressing at the time.

Does the hon. Lady not understand the mass of inconsistencies in what she is saying? Her remarks are certainly true when applied to Environment Agency officers, although not in relation to minor offences, but to serious ones. It is even more important that we ensure that the most appropriate body has powers of arrest for fly-tipping, which in this case is the police, who are fully trained in arrest and dealing with any potential complications. We know the complications that can arise, very often in rural areas—we are talking about an urban and rural issue—when circumstances are identified and there is a need to nip things in the bud.

The Environment Agency and local authorities can request police assistance at any time—in my experience they work well in action—and, in the vast majority of cases, they have no difficulties in receiving police support when it is needed. I hope very much that the hon. Lady will withdraw the new clause.

Debate adjourned.—[Peter Bradley.]

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Eleven o'clock till this day at half-past Two o'clock.