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

Part of Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 pm on 1st February 2005.

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

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.