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Fly-tipping — [Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 17th April 2018.

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Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 9:30 am, 17th April 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the matter of reducing fly-tipping.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I thank everyone who responded to the House of Commons post on fly-tipping and the Commons staff who have offered their time and support for this important debate.

Fly-tipping is bad for the environment and bad for public health. It is not a victimless crime, and it has been on the increase since 2012. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that the clean-up operation alone cost the taxpayer some £58 million last year. Local authorities cleaned up more than 1 million fly-tips last year—a 7% increase on the year before. Private landowners and farmers are seriously affected, too. Nearly two thirds of landowners have been affected by fly-tipping, including farmers and charities such as the National Trust, which experienced 232 fly-tips last year alone.

It is not fair that private landowners are held responsible for somebody else’s crime and have to clean up. Several landowners got in touch with us to emphasise that, and I am sure Members here this morning had lots of people contacting them. Waste is tipped in small quantities or sometimes on an industrial scale, with lorry loads, and it is the responsibility of the farmer and the landowner to clean it up. It then becomes their waste, and that is the problem. The National Trust has found that cleaning up fly-tipping forces it to divert money from projects aimed at protecting and enhancing the environment on its land. On average, it costs landowners more than £800 to clear up an individual fly-tip, and in some cases—if a huge lorry load has been dumped in the countryside—it costs much more.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, which is important to my constituents. He is right to highlight the impact on landowners, but does he also accept that the problem exists in urban areas and local streets? In Old Trafford in my constituency, we have a big problem of fly-tipping in alleyways, which impinges on local householders.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I accept that that is indeed the case. Fly-tipping can involve anything from a mattress or a sofa to large quantities of rubbish. Around our big conurbations, certainly in the midlands and other areas, there seems to be what I would call industrial tipping, involving lorry loads of waste, perhaps from hospitals or wherever. Everybody thinks it is being taken away legitimately, but it is tipped. The closer one is to larger conurbations, the worse the problem, especially for cases involving large quantities.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree with me that there is a correlation between what local authorities charge for disposing of waste and the incidence of fly-tipping? Nottingham City Council cut all charges for small items in 2013 and has seen a drop of two thirds in fly-tipping in its area.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. When it comes to small-scale fly-tipping, if people can go to a tip and not be charged, it encourages them to dispose of waste properly. It seems to have had an effect in Nottingham, and I shall have a series of asks for the Minister at the end of my speech. However, it might not reduce industrial tipping, where people have to pay quite a lot for disposal because of the cost of landfill. That is where there seems to be a major problem.

If we could find who has carried out the fly-tipping, we could impound their lorries and take away their means of operation. That would also send a message to others that it is a dangerous job. We do not need to catch many people operating on an industrial scale if we are prepared to take really tough enforcement action.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

The opportunity for tipping should be reduced. I have been working with my hon. Friend Wendy Morton in Walsall. Our tip is not open all week. Walsall council staff collected 108 fridges in a single day, as reported in our local paper, the Express & Star, so I am working to ensure that our tip is open all the time to make sure the opportunity for fly-tipping is reduced and people can dispose of their waste appropriately.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, because dumping fridges is dangerous and the gas in fridges needs to be recovered. Dumping fridges is not only unsightly, but very bad for the environment. If the waste-disposal site was kept open, there would be more chance for people to get there. We must give people every opportunity to do things the right way. Some people will still choose the wrong way, because it is easier to simply throw something on the ground. Some of my own land is miles from anywhere, and I wonder why people take so much trouble to go so far to tip waste when they could probably go to a waste-disposal site. Some places take it free of charge and yet some people still dump it out on the fields.

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson Conservative, North Swindon

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. On the specific point about how far people go, in some cases they do not go far at all. They simply dump their stuff in their front garden, blighting neighbourhoods for years on end. Does he agree that perhaps more should be done in those cases as well?

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Such cases are probably down to the local authority, which can take action in the case of a local authority property, but if it is not such a property it is much more difficult. It is amazing to see what people dump in their gardens, and then the grass grows up through it and it is really unsightly; it can attract vermin and be hazardous. I will probably put myself into a minefield if I go too far down that route, buy it is essential that society behaves in a reasonable manner, so that our neighbours are able to live without unsightliness. Also, it is essential from an environmental health point of view.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this important debate. Does he recognise that cuts have consequences? In York, since 2015, the fly-tipping service to pick up the rubbish has been cut from monthly to quarterly cycles and the number of complaints has doubled. In 2016, York Civic Trust’s annual report complained that York’s streets face decreasing standards of cleaning and rubbish collections.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

My hon. Friend—I will say hon. Friend—has made an interesting point. I understand that local authorities are strapped for cash and have to try to make every penny count, but sometimes it is a false economy when they cut the frequency of collections, because there is more chance of people fly-tipping. I shall go on to that later, but she raises a really good point. Sometimes it is counterproductive to cut back on the number of collections. When the local authority has to collect it later, there is a clear-up cost. If everything was taken in the round, it might be more cost-effective just to collect it in the first place.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous with his time. I congratulate him on securing this important debate. Fly-tipping is a real problem for my constituents in Barnsley East. It is not just a financial problem, but one that scars the environment. Does he agree that local authorities should be given more resources? Also, to pick up on a point that he made earlier, does he think that we should have a zero-tolerance approach to fly-tipping and be much harder when we catch those responsible?

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

The hon. Lady makes an important point. It is about the resources that local authorities have, but it is also about how local authorities choose to use those resources. Like many people in this House, I came up through district and county councils, so I know that there is a series of choices to be made even when times are hard. As I said in answer to the previous intervention, local authorities should look at whether it might be more cost-effective to do more collecting, even if money is tight, because the cost of clearing up is probably greater. I therefore put some of the onus back on to local authorities, but I will ask at the end for the Government to work much more closely with local government to try to stop fly-tipping.

Current enforcement rules are not working, as the increase in fly-tipping demonstrates. Fines need to be more severe so that they act as a real deterrent. Jane said that littering should be a crime with instant fines and names recorded. Persistent offenders should be made to pick up litter, and more needs to be done to enforce current laws—I think we would all agree with that. We also need more anti-fly-tipping education. We have many campaigns, but we probably need even more. If we can get to our schoolchildren and young people we have a greater chance of ensuring that the situation gets better.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency should be given powers to remove vehicles belonging to fly-tippers. That is a really good point, because if we can capture and fine people who have done it, and we can take away vans, lorries and other vehicles, that would send a real message. At the moment, it is too easy to fly-tip, and people feel that the fines they get if they are stopped are outweighed by the fact that they have been able to dump a lot of material that they may have had to pay to put into a waste disposal site. Local authorities should consider reducing or scrapping charges to take away large or bulky items such as white goods—we have talked about fridges—which are among the most fly-tipped items. That would take away some of the incentive to fly-tip in the first place.

When South Staffordshire Council increased civic amenity site charges, the entire area was blighted by fly-tipping, including dumping of rubbish in woodlands, lanes and ditches. If councils scrapped charges at waste disposal sites for people bringing in trailers, and reduced charges for commercial waste disposal, it would encourage people to do it the right way. Local authorities should also consider making waste and recycling centres more accessible to everybody. The point has been made that such sites are not always open, and not everybody can get there on a Saturday morning, or whenever the waste site might be open; sometimes they are open during the week but not at the weekend. There are all sorts of ways we can make it easier. We have to give people every opportunity to do it the right way, and then come down heavily on those who do not.

There is constant fly-tipping in many areas, undermines the sense of community pride and the community’s efforts to look after their area. Does the Minister agree—I am sure she does—that we need to prevent fly-tipping? Will the Minister increase the fines? I am not sure that it is her direct responsibility, but will she ensure that local government and others in Government take the opportunity to introduce extra fines?

To what extent are Ministers working with other Government Departments on addressing the problem? Naturally, a Minister from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is here this morning, but other Departments involved include the Home Office, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the Ministry of Justice. Will the Minister work with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to create an anti-fly-tipping education campaign? We need to talk to the Department for Education, because this all needs to work across Government.

Will the Minister encourage local authorities to work more closely with private landowners so that we can identify fly-tippers and ensure that they are penalised? We need to be on the side of the innocent. That is a really important point. Very often it is left to landowners and farmers to pay large amounts of money to dispose of rubbish that was not theirs in the first place. Will the Minister encourage local authorities to open up access to waste disposal and recycling sites, so that people are not incentivised to fly-tip in the first place? Will the Minister encourage local authorities to stop charging people to have larger items, such as white goods, taken away?

We must ensure that all parties—local authorities, police, landowners, and the Environment Agency—work together. What can the Minster do on a national level to increase the consistency of the fly-tipping response across the country, so that people who fly-tip know that they have a reasonable chance of being caught? At the moment, people do not feel that they do. What can be done nationally to encourage more local partnerships to clean up fly-tipping? Finally, would the Government support a scheme to allow any landowner affected by fly-tipping to dispose of his or her waste free of charge? Landowners and farmers do not invite fly-tipping, and it is a huge cost to them to clear it up.

Photo of Colleen Fletcher Colleen Fletcher Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:46 am, 17th April 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. Fly-tipping is a problem that affects communities the length and breadth of the country, including in the area I represent. That is why I welcome today’s debate and congratulate Neil Parish on securing it.

Levels of fly-tipping are spiralling across Coventry. The problem is particularly acute in the Foleshill and Stoke areas of my constituency. Those areas are blighted by domestic and commercial fly-tippers targeting streets, shared communal areas and open green spaces, often leaving them strewn with all types of waste. Alleyways are blocked with old mattresses, shopping trollies and even bathtubs. Streets are scattered with litter and bags of rubbish, and our parks are blighted by abandoned sofas and old electrical goods. I have witnessed the impact of fly-tipping on my local communities in Coventry. It is a scar on the local environment, and causes misery to law-abiding residents, affecting how they feel about the place they call home. Moreover, fly-tipping is a financial burden on our local authority that diverts money away from crucial services such as adult social care.

Coventry City Council takes the problem of fly-tipping seriously and is determined to tackle it head-on. It works hard to deter such criminal acts, to investigate and clean up incidents of fly-tipping when they occur, and to penalise those who engage in it. Last year the council prosecuted 35 people for fly-tipping, and it is pursuing 15 cases through the judicial system this year. None the less, the council recognises that more needs to be done to tackle this growing problem, which is why it has earmarked an additional £100,000 this year to create a new mobile team to combat fly-tipping. The additional resource will be used to target areas of the city where there have been high rates of fly-tipping and extra street-cleansing is necessary.

That shows that Coventry City Council is committed to fulfilling its responsibility for tackling fly-tipping at all levels. However, its ability to deal with the growing problem has been severely hampered in recent years by cuts to local government funding. By 2020, the council will have just half the money it had to run services in 2010. Needless to say, that places significant pressure on the provision of frontline services and has forced the council to make tough choices, one of which is to reduce the frequency of household bin collections in order to save more than £1 million a year. The council recognises that more needs to be done to tackle this growing problem, which is why it has earmarked the £100,000 for this year.

Coventry City Council is a very well-run authority and has been for many years. One of the things we used to do many years ago was provide a bulk lift; every single resident would clear out their attics, gardens and sheds and the council provided the money and the transport to take away the goods. We could not possibly think of doing that anymore. More anti-fly-tipping legislation, or campaigns to prevent fly-tipping or to provide free removal of white goods, are all admirable things, but it does not matter what we do; we need the money to do it. All of those things cost money and that has to come out of the rates. I beg the Minister to look once again at funding for local authorities so that they can carry out these important services for their residents.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 9:51 am, 17th April 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Parish on securing this important debate and echo many of the points made by Members across the Chamber. We certainly do need tougher police action and tougher penalties for people who are caught fly-tipping, and we need to support local authorities. I am sure we would all welcome more funding if we can find it.

I want to make a suggestion that I have not yet heard mentioned by any of the organisations campaigning on this issue—I alert the Minister to the fact that I am that dreaded thing: a Back Bencher with a plan and a scheme. I would welcome her comments on this, as I have been giving the matter a great deal of thought, because this is an issue in Monmouthshire. I fully support the measures that have been set out and want to add another thought.

A particular problem, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton mentioned, is that the liability for any fly-tipped waste lies with the landowner. I suggest changing the liability and pushing it back towards the people who produce the waste in the first place. I started thinking about that after reading an article a couple of weeks ago—I think it was in Farmers Weekly, although I could not find it again—about a farmer who had had waste tipped on his land. He went through it and was able to establish where it had come from, then went back to the originators of the waste, who were able to say who had received the waste. As a result, a prosecution was brought against the cowboys who had taken away the waste. That made me think that there is room for some kind of voluntary licensing scheme, a little bit like that in force for anyone who wants to be a door supervisor.

In other words, we would give an organisation like the Security Industry Association the power to accredit anyone who wants to move away waste. Those who want to take away waste can apply for a licence—there would obviously be a charge for it—and would be able to establish themselves as legitimate operators. They would have to undergo training. They would not be able to breach any health and safety rules or tip waste illegally or they would lose their licence.

What about the people who produce the waste? Under a voluntary scheme, they would have the choice of going either to an accredited waste tipper or somebody not accredited, who might be cheaper. To make the scheme effective, anyone who chose to use a non-accredited company to remove waste would then become liable if that waste ever turned up somewhere it was not meant to be. It would clearly also be possible to make this a mandatory scheme, but that would involve a certain amount of extra paperwork and bureaucracy.

That is not a panacea, of course, but it is one of a number of moves that we could think about. It would get people who produce waste, whether small businesses or householders, thinking about whether they use one company that is a bit cheaper or another that is accredited. Using the accredited company might cost a little more, but they would not run the risk of having somebody knocking on the door in the months to come and demanding payment of a bill of thousands of pounds in order to remove waste that has been illegally tipped. It would quickly raise public awareness of the problem, because any company that had paid for a licence to get itself accredited would be making that very clear in its advertising, whether on websites or elsewhere. It would alert the public to the fact that, frankly, there are a lot of cowboys out there going around breaking the law. I offer it as a simple, constructive policy idea and I hope that the Minister might consider it.

Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot 9:55 am, 17th April 2018

This is a very interesting topic, and one that I raised with the Minister in my own debate not so long ago. It will come as no surprise to her that we will be covering many of the same points again.

For me, there is a clear difference between fly-tipping, litter louts and waste disposal sites. At one end of the scale we have the litter louts—those who drop litter out of car doors or who cannot be bothered to dispose of their cans and their plastics. At the other end of the scale we have properly managed and licensed sites for dealing with waste that will ultimately get recycled or sent to landfill. The fly-tipping piece is in the middle, and I believe that it needs to be separately recognised.

The Minister has done an excellent job of looking at how to tackle litter louts. This year she has increased on-the-spot fines and default penalties and has recently introduced a provision whereby those who chuck things out of their car windows can be held to account. I say all credit to her. With regard to waste sites, she has said that there should be provision to lock them and that rogue operators should be not only fined, but forced to clean up their own mess. I commend all of that, but I maintain that we still have a gap in understanding what we mean when considering fly-tipping.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

Quite a lot of the litter that we see on the sides of our roads comes from commercial vehicles that have not necessarily deliberately fly-tipped; they might be items that were not properly secured on the vehicles. That is certainly the case in Dorset, and I daresay elsewhere across the country. Does my hon. Friend agree that is an additional category that should be looked at when we consider fly-tipping?

Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot

That is a very interesting point. That goes into the litter category, which the Minister has already begun to legislate on, and I would expand the category to cover that. In a sense, it is largely about intent. I think that littering is generally about being careless, which such a van owner would be, whereas fly-tipping is driven by economic gain. The formal sites are in a different category all of their own, as licensed operators. I urge the Minister to look at this more sensibly. As my hon. Friend Neil Parish has indicated, an important part of this is making the public aware.

A point about the responsibility and liability for those who create the waste was raised earlier. They are already liable and responsible under section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. They are responsible for using those who dispose of waste in an appropriate and legal way. If they use an unlicensed organisation, they are responsible and can be fined. The problem is not that the legislation is not there; it is that it is incredibly hard to enforce.

With regard to raising awareness, there are some very simple things that could be done. First, every bin could have a label on it that says, “Be warned: unlicensed fly-tipping is illegal”—something catchy that makes people wake up to the fact that they are responsible and can be fined. There should be something making exactly the same point on every council tax bill that goes out. There are ways and means of doing this. If people realise that they can and will be fined, that will make a big difference.

For many of the cases in my constituency, the challenge has been evidence. Unless there is a photograph showing the dumping being done by a particular vehicle, the licence plate and the individual doing the dumping, it is hard to get a conviction. We should look at the evidence test, because perfection can be the enemy of the good. There are clear guidelines for holding people responsible that we cannot move beyond, but we must review the evidence that is required and look at what is reasonable in these circumstances to enable a conviction.

The agencies involved include the DVLA, which has been mentioned. The challenge is that the DVLA uses data protection to withhold information about the vehicle owner, as has happened to a number of my constituents. When I challenged the DVLA, it said, “Oh no, we normally give evidence in those circumstances,” but that is not the case. The Government should look at the stakeholders involved and at what we can do to enable such evidence as is available to be used.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Labour/Co-operative, Leeds North West

The hon. Lady is making some excellent suggestions. A constituent came to see me at my surgery this Saturday to report commercial fly-tipping in Eccup—a small village on the outskirts of my constituency. He said that large commercial vehicles are dumping waste and suggested a national CCTV programme in hot spots to catch the evidence. I think CCTV is part of the solution to fly-tipping.

Photo of Anne Marie Morris Anne Marie Morris Conservative, Newton Abbot

It is a very expensive solution. If we could do what the hon. Gentleman describes at a reasonable cost, that would be wonderful. He makes a good point, but in the countryside the cost of putting CCTV cameras around every single location would be extremely high, and making them impossible to dismantle would be a real challenge. It is a great idea for cities, where they can be put in inaccessible places, but the challenges in rural areas mean that it is not a viable solution.

The Minister should also review the licencing scheme. At the moment there is a grey area: it is unclear who has to be licenced and who does not. The Minister ought to look at increasing the number of bodies that are required to have licences. It should not just be those disposing of a certain quantity or type of waste; we should require any vehicle capable of disposing of waste to have some sort of licence.

There is also an issue relating to tracing the vehicle and the material being dumped. Currently we use tachometers and a number of other things to track commercial vehicles. It seems to me that if we issue a licence to a vehicle, we should include something to record where they have gone in a central system, so that when there is tipping we can check the recording. Nowadays, screwing metal barcodes to white goods is pretty common, so there must be a way of tracing the origin of white goods that are dumped. We should look at that for the future. Perhaps we should do what we do with cans and bottles: people should get their money back if they take their white goods to the tip.

One of the problems for most farmers is that insurance is prohibitively expensive. At the moment, something like 17% of farmers are insured, and the rest are not. The consequence is that the clear-up of fly-tipping is extremely costly. It seems to me that the insurance companies have a part to play in resolving that problem and making insurance much more achievable.

I have given the Minister a couple more ideas since the last time I spoke on this matter, for the residents of Devon and Teignbridge, in particular. I would very much like her to look at creating a new strategy specifically for fly-tipping, rather than for litter louts, which I think she has a done a grand job of dealing with, and formal waste disposal sites.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South 10:04 am, 17th April 2018

I am very pleased to be able to speak in this debate on fly-tipping. I thank my hon. Friend Neil Parish for securing it. Fly-tipping is a blight on many of our communities, both rural and urban. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that it is counterintuitive for local authorities. This is about local priorities, and I am afraid that it was not a priority for the previous Labour administration on my council.

My constituents in Stoke-on-Trent South have seen a number of incidents of this nature in the past, but I am pleased to say that the now ever-diligent city council is taking a stand and has a zero-tolerance approach to environmental crime. Although far too many alleyways and open spaces are blighted by this horrific behaviour, I am delighted to report that the recent results show vast improvements locally. The perpetrators face swift justice and are taken to court.

I do not plan to speak at length, but I want to bring hon. Members’ attention not only to the increasing problem of illegally dumped waste but to the deeply concerning industrial-scale black market industry that has developed as a consequence of it. My hon. Friend Amanda Milling has done a considerable amount of work on this subject with the excellent Staffordshire fire and rescue service. She asked me to mention the Slitting Mill waste fire in her constituency, which took many months to extinguish. This issue affects many constituencies around the country, and I hope we can secure another debate on it soon.

The case of the Slitting Mill fire throws into sharp relief the huge problem that fly-tipping on a commercial scale can cause. There is a huge risk of fire and environmental damage, and it blights the aesthetics of our communities. Those risks are amplified when the dumping takes place close to critical infrastructure, where any fire is likely to compromise vital services—not to mention the devastating economic implications and disruption that can follow.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Gentleman is talking about the aesthetics of areas, and very serious matters including the health and safety implications. Does he agree that it is imperative that local authorities and Departments realise the economic implications? The old adage that we never get a second chance to create a first impression applies when we are talking about visitors, tourists and potential inward investors. We need investment to ensure that local areas benefit.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

I totally agree. This is about inward investment and tourism, too, and fly-tipping detracts from that. It is important that we have a zero-tolerance approach to this unacceptable behaviour.

Stoke-on-Trent has experienced the dire consequences of waste being stored illegally. Hanbury Plastics—a site that never held an environmental permit to store waste—went up in smoke initially in February 2017, with a subsequent fire in November. I should declare a personal interest; the site is only about 600 yards from my home. At its peak, the site contained about 10,000 tonnes of waste. The Environment Agency continually issued legal notices to reduce that to a safe level of about 1,500 tonnes. The situation has been ongoing since 2014, yet the various agencies involved are seemingly powerless to act. Clearly, it is too late to prevent what happened at those sites, but many other waste sites around the country continue to operate above the law.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

My hon. Friend is making a really good point. The term “fly-tipping” seems to cover a huge variety of waste—from black bin bags thrown out of a car on to the street, to the industrial waste that my hon. Friend is talking about. Does he agree that industrial fly-tipping is part of a wider criminality, which needs to be tackled? We need to ensure that local authorities work much closer with our enforcement agencies such as the police.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

I totally agree. A black market is emerging around fly-tipping, with links to numerous other crimes. It is helping to fund other criminal activities.

The former Twyford factory in Stoke-on-Trent is another such site. I have corresponded with the Minister about it previously, so she knows about it. It poses a huge risk, with former industrial buildings now overflowing with flammable waste. This is a site right next to the west coast main line and the A500 trunk road. If it were to set alight, there would be untold consequences right across the region. On further inspection, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has gone to the lengths of saying that, in that scenario, it would probably be far too dangerous to attempt to firefight it. That is not to mention the likely damage that a fire would cause to the railway. Services would be disrupted and the smoke plume could even result in the closure of the M6.

The current legislative framework is far too complex, with responsibilities often split across competing agencies such as the Environment Agency, local authorities and the fire and rescue service. Clearly, there is a vital need for improved legislation to combat the increased number of illegal waste sites and inevitable fires, and for measures to deal with the consequences. As the situation stands, the complexity of the law leaves holes for underhand behaviour. The current scale of the problem was not envisaged by the existing legislation, which is particularly concerning given the organised nature of illegal waste sites, with frequent links to more extensive crime networks.

The Government have already made significant progress to ensure that action is taken, but more is needed to beef up those powers and to ensure that more robust powers are available to those agencies and decisive action can be taken. It is important to consider what more can be done to ensure that the cost burden of the extensive emergency response and the eventual clean-up of those sites does not continue to be felt so significantly by those agencies and by the Government, who can ill afford it. It would be encouraging to hear how the Government can help agencies to recover some of the costs from the rogue businesses that perpetrate those crimes.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Order. Could the two remaining speakers be mindful that I will call the Front-Bench speakers at 10.30? I am sure that there will be ample opportunity for them to make their case. I call Kirstene Hair.

Photo of Kirstene Hair Kirstene Hair Conservative, Angus 10:11 am, 17th April 2018

I thank my hon. Friend Neil Parish for bringing to the floor a problem that is a big issue in my constituency.

In Scotland, more than 26,000 tonnes of litter are illegally fly-tipped every year. There are around 62,000 separate fly-tipping incidents every year, costing Scottish taxpayers more than £11 million. While the maximum penalty for this crime is substantial in both England and Scotland, the use of a scale means that it is rarely meted out. In truth, the minimum fine on both sides of the border is typically less than £500. As such, although there is still a criminal penalty, on the rare occasions that a fly-tipper is caught, they can often escape with a slap on the wrist, even though a much stronger punishment is required.

In Angus in a five-year period, 1,870 incidents were reported, but only two prosecutions were made. Fly-tipping makes our communities less clean, less attractive and less pleasant places to live. It lowers people’s enjoyment of their own communities through no fault of their own, reduces house prices and can even pose a safety hazard.

It should be a basic responsibility of local government to ensure that communities are kept clean and that any fly-tipping is dealt with swiftly. Simply taking note of some fly-tipping and leaving it to be dealt with at a later date is not good enough. Local authorities owe that to the residents they serve. We have heard that different councils face different fly-tipping challenges; for example, Angus is a rural area that has to have a different approach to fly-tipping from that of a more urban area. Larger rural areas such as Angus naturally have more remote spaces where fly-tippers might choose to dump their rubbish. It is easier, therefore, for fly-tipping to go unnoticed for longer periods of time.

The residents of Angus have risen to the challenge of tackling this issue. I have been deeply impressed with the efforts of constituents such as Mrs Jacquie Steel who, along with groups such as the Angus Litter Summit, has selflessly organised community groups to pick up litter along rural roadsides. Additionally, through initiatives such as the adopt-a-street scheme, Angus residents assume responsibility for a specific part of their town and tend to it diligently.

Photo of Laura Smith Laura Smith Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Lady is making a very good point, and I agree with a lot of it. Increasingly, local people take it upon themselves to try to help in their community. Does she agree that enforcement alone will never be the sole answer to change behaviour, and that we need more prosecutions to be seen through?

Photo of Kirstene Hair Kirstene Hair Conservative, Angus

I will come on to that point. Many hon. Members have said that we need visible prosecutions on a regular basis to discourage others from partaking in such activity.

To a significant degree, the fight against fly-tipping is about area, and rural councils simply have larger areas to patrol and to clean. That is why it was absolutely right for Angus Council to keep recycling centres open across the county. Our party took the right approach—Angus Conservative councillors were key in delivering that decision, whereas Scottish National party councillors wanted to close centres and reduce services, which undoubtedly would have increased fly-tipping in my constituency. Rural councils also have to consider larger areas that are relatively secluded and have no CCTV, reducing the possibility that an offender might be caught in the act. Fly-tipping relies in large part on the assumption that there is next to no chance of getting caught. We need to correct that assumption so that, as Laura Smith mentioned, fewer people will take the risk.

Rubbish that has been dumped by fly-tippers often includes evidence that could lead to an offender being caught. Police must seek out that evidence insofar as is practicable. We can and should take a more proactive attitude to fly-tippers. That would lead to more offenders being punished and, given the right amount of publicity, less rubbish being dumped around our communities. A preferable step would be to establish a specific hotline for those in rural settings, to ensure that offenders can be pursued swiftly. Only through rapid prosecution will we deter others from partaking.

I strongly believe that we must start at the beginning, by changing our culture of litter. We must tackle this issue in our schools, making sure that children know from a young age that this type of behaviour is entirely unacceptable, what and how to recycle and how to make more conscious decisions about how we consume and reuse everyday products. Moreover, the less unnecessary packaging we have, the more recyclable packaging and items we have and the more we encourage people to recycle, the less rubbish there will be for people to dump illegally. I am pleased that the proportion of rubbish that is recycled is increasing both in Scotland and in the UK, but there is still more to be done.

I commend this UK Government’s commitment to reducing plastic pollution, which is particularly important for the marine environment in coastal communities such as Angus. The impact of plastics is high on the political agenda, as it should be if we are the generation to tackle the issue. A serious joined-up effort that includes all levels of Government and the police, taking a range of different approaches to the issue, can reduce fly-tipping and make all our communities even better places to live and more appealing for tourists to visit for many generations to come.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Conservative, Hornchurch and Upminster 10:17 am, 17th April 2018

I thank my hon. Friend Neil Parish for providing us with the chance to discuss a hugely frustrating issue.

My constituency marks the point at which London’s metropolis turns to beautiful countryside. As such, it has become the victim of fly-tipping on an industrial scale, as I am sure is the case in many other outer-London constituencies. There is money to be made in the business. Waste management licences are given to what look to innocent customers like legal waste contractors but turn out to be cowboys or organised criminals who dump materials from the city’s building sites into our environment.

Since my election, I have been talking to Conservative council representatives in Havering to discuss what we can do as a team to tackle this problem, which continues to be raised by local residents. In October, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs published figures from 2016-17 that showed that local authorities in England dealt with around 1 million fly-tipping incidents—a 7% increase on the previous year. During this period, my borough dealt with more than 4,000 such incidents. The total cost of fly-tipping to Havering residents and businesses between April 2016 and March 2017, including collection and disposal costs, is estimated to be well over £500,000. We now fear that the overall cost is closer to £1 million, which represents a huge burden on the local ratepayer.

I have been working with Councillor Jason Frost, the deputy cabinet member for the environment, to push for increased local authority fines. I met the Minister at one of her Tea Room surgeries to discuss the problem further, and I was encouraged that she and her Department are taking it seriously. The maximum penalties for fly-tipping on summary conviction are a £50,000 fine and/or 12 months’ imprisonment. However, although sentencing guidelines for environmental offences were reviewed in 2014, the maximum fixed penalty notice that local authorities can issue remains only £400 for small-scale fly-tipping. Councillor Frost believes that the fines need to be much more substantial to act as a proper deterrent.

Havering already uses to the maximum existing anti fly-tipping measures, including joint police operations with covert officers, round-the-clock monitoring of roads, and surveillance cameras. However, as Steve Moore, our director of neighbourhoods, has advised us and a number of Members mentioned, much fly-tipping is now carried out by serious organised criminal gangs, not just casual chancers. Those gangs use false plates and stolen trucks, so traditional means of combating fly-tipping, such as CCTV, are not effective. Therefore, although increased penalties might help, we may well need to go further. If this is an issue of organised crime, it requires an equally organised response by police and other authorities such as the Environment Agency.

New regulations have given the Environment Agency and councils more effective tools to investigate and prosecute waste crimes, including the power to seize vehicles for a wider range of suspected offences. However, I should be grateful if the Minister advised us what further analysis has been undertaken of police operations to ensure that we understand who is behind such crimes, and what work the Environment Agency is doing to make its waste licensing regime much more robust. Will she also say why she thinks there was such a substantial increase in this problem in the latest year for which we have figures? Was that increase driven in any way by changes to environmental regulations or the cost of processing rubbish? Is it possible that well-intended changes have made waste disposal so expensive that people are cutting corners? I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton, and I look forward to learning more about the Minister’s strategy to tackle this scourge.

Photo of John McNally John McNally Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment) 10:21 am, 17th April 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate Neil Parish on securing this topical and important debate, which has been extremely interesting and informative, with many excellent contributions. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that the cost to the National Trust of dealing with fly-tipping diverts funds from more worthy projects. That illustrates the general point about fly-tipping across the country. I strongly agree with him about impounding vehicles, which could be done fairly simply. He made the good point that we need to be seen to be on the side of the innocent, and everyone here should agree with that measure.

Many Members made interesting points while discussing concerns about fly-tipping in their local communities. Rachael Maskell expressed serious concerns about whether cuts to local authority funding are a false economy. I believe that prosecutions in England were at a record low in 2017. Colleen Fletcher illustrated well the problem in her area and reiterated the real cost of austerity to her communities.

David T. C. Davies has obviously given the problem a lot of thought, and the interesting accreditation scheme he mentioned seems worthy. What Anne Marie Morris said about labelling chimes with my thoughts about bins. Alex Sobel made a good point about installing cameras in hotspots. We can count either the cost of doing something or the cost of not doing something, and I agree with him that we need to do the former. Kirstene Hair made a good point about fines not being substantial enough. I totally agree with her that they are too weak.

I will outline the measures that we are taking in Scotland to tackle the problem of fly-tipping and littering, which is without a doubt a national embarrassment and leaves us all with a sense of bewilderment and total frustration. It is a blight on our villages, our parks, our rivers and coastlines, and our towns and cities. Fly-tipping threatens our health and diminishes the beauty of the countryside in all parts of the UK—and it is all avoidable.

We do not always have to see the whole staircase; we just need to take the first step. Combating the underhand and antisocial problem of fly-tipping is a positive move towards protecting the environment. Fly-tipping is illegal for a reason: it is dangerous, ugly and terrible for our communities. There are even links between rubbish building up on our streets and increases in crime. It is mystifying that the wretched habit occurs even in areas of great natural beauty, such as Loch Lomond. Like others, I keep asking why people do it. Are they uneducated? Do they not care? Is it laziness?

As was mentioned, people travel miles to dump waste. Last year, I visited the Selby and Tadcaster area as chair of the all-party flood prevention group. I was shown around by the assistant of Nigel Adams. He pointed out that several heavily liveried lorries seemed to have travelled vast distances to fly-tip—to dump their hazardous waste—in his beautiful countryside. That is unacceptable, and I hope the perpetrators have been caught and severely punished.

It seems to me that fly-tipping is simply the result of costs and the operations of unregistered cowboy businesses and organised criminals, many of whom provide what they call white van pick-up services to people in our communities. For many—from micro businesses to larger organisations—costs are at the heart of the problem. We have all heard horror stories and been approached by local action groups who care about their communities. Lots of us work closely with non-governmental organisations and local authorities to try to address the environmental risks and costs to public health with public money, which would be better spent on other projects to benefit our communities.

My researchers tell me tackling fly-tipping and littering in Scotland is estimated to cost at least £53 million a year. I note from the paper that the Local Government Association produced for the debate that fly-tipping alone costs more than £57 million a year in England. Last year, more than 1 million incidents of fly-tipping occurred in England and Wales, and there were more than 40,000 incidents in Scotland. That represents a 7% rise in England and Wales and a small decrease in Scotland.

The Scottish Government are committed to developing a more circular economy, which will benefit both the economy and the environment. Last October, the Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland published their strategy for improving waste data in Scotland. Tackling fly-tipping is a key priority for Zero Waste Scotland, which is the Scottish Government’s resource efficiency delivery partner. The charity Keep Scotland Beautiful—I know many of its great staff—also works tirelessly in the community to educate and nudge people into good behaviour and awareness. If we feel frustrated, that must seem like a never-ending battle for them. How do we and those organisations get the message across that we all live in a common home and that as individuals we must realise that our actions count and that every right step we take will lead to positive change?

With Zero Waste Scotland, the Scottish Government have developed a communications toolkit for delivery partners, with the aim of improving understanding of how products and materials flow through our economy—waste flows—from the point of production to the final destination. We hope that that will raise awareness among everyone involved in the waste industry. In 2013, the Scottish Government set up a national environmental crime taskforce, which co-ordinates the efforts of local authorities, regulators, police and other stakeholders to tackle environmental crime, including waste crime. The tools and guidance on offer include FlyMapper, an app that Zero Waste Scotland made for local authorities and land managers. Importantly, that lets stakeholders report and map fly-tipping and identify growing problem areas in real time. There is also a behavioural change marketing campaign to discourage fly-tipping and littering, and we have introduced legislation to increase fixed penalties for both littering and fly-tipping.

We could do more, and I would support measures by any Government, Department or public body to issue fixed penalty notices. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has new powers to discourage large-scale fly-tipping, and both SEPA and Revenue Scotland are taking action to recover landfill tax from illegally deposited waste. In addition to the FlyMapper app, the Dumb Dumpers website and helpline allow fly-tipping to be reported 24 hours a day.

Scotland is slightly different from the rest of the UK, in that I believe the figures used to make estimates in England in Wales are more than a decade out of date and do not include waste dumped on private land. Will the Minister confirm whether that is true? The Scottish figures do include such waste, but sadly, since reporting is voluntary, they could still be gross underestimates. This practice must not be allowed to continue. As someone with a deep commitment to environmental issues, I fully support the ambition of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton to rid us of this scourge.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 10:29 am, 17th April 2018

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate Neil Parish, the Chair of the Select Committee, on hitting the jackpot so early on in our recovery from the Easter break. Next to potholes, this is one of the more popular topics on which people engage us, more than anything because of the unfairness of it—if fly-tipping takes place on their land or next to them, it becomes their problem. He is right to highlight it, and I know the Select Committee will continue to look at waste as a major topic of interest.

I will not go over the facts and figures, but we have had good contributions from the hon. Members for Angus (Kirstene Hair), for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), and from my hon. Friend Colleen Fletcher. Others contributed through interventions, which will be on the record.

Fly-tipping is a major problem. We start with people dumping stuff casually, thinking they can get away with it. That is wrong, but at the other end of the scale, this is a major billion-pound criminal business. Next to people trafficking, the drugs trade and, dare I say, a little around the meat trade—we will pass over that quickly—this is the big business of the criminal underworld. People make millions out of it, so we cannot pretend it is something to ignore.

We have heard some of the facts and figures on how local authorities are affected, and there is the implication that, with the cuts and so on, they have found it difficult to up their game, but I will concentrate for the moment on the Environment Agency, which has also faced cuts in this area. I understand that it deals with 1,000 illegal waste sites a year, taking enforcement action, cleaning up and trying to prevent it from happening again, but it has been said to me that it is a bit like whack-a-mole at the fairground—I am a great animal lover—because every time the mole is hit, it comes up somewhere else. That is because of two things: the amount of money to be made out the business, and the way we deal with it in terms of fines and action, which is far too limited nowadays.

My hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell sent me something she would have spoken about if she could have been here—she sends her apologies; she had a prior engagement—about a firm in her constituency that effectively set up a mini-incinerator, burning all the time. It took a lot of action to get it shut down. When the firm came to court, a sentence of a £750 fine was imposed for one offence—the second offence could not be prosecuted—which was reduced to £562, with £374 costs, and the director responsible was fined £199. According to her, the nonsense went on for weeks and weeks, and the penalty bears no resemblance to the inconvenience caused. That shows how limited the fines and ability to do anything are.

First, I will start with a question to the Minister—she has plenty of time to think about it. At a private briefing that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton and I went to, I was surprised when she said there is no evidence of an impact on the level of fly-tipping when local authorities put charges on collections for larger items. It would be good to get some empirical evidence, because that is not the view outside this place—it certainly is not that of constituents who I have talked to. My local authority did not charge for it while next door in Gloucester city they always charged and—dare I say it—Gloucester city’s larger items seemed to find their way into Stroud district; but we now charge, and I do not understand how that has not had an impact. It may not have been that much, but there has been talk of a 7% increase last year and it is coming from somewhere. If she could tell me about that or say there is an investigation to look at the impact, that would be useful, because we must have that empirical evidence.

Secondly—I have already talked about this—the fines regime is totally inadequate for today. It is based not just on the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 but on the Environmental Protection Act, which dates back to 1990. Some of the ways to prosecute and the fines regime are therefore nearly 30 years out of date. I know we update the measures, but as much as I love seeing the Minister at various Delegated Legislation Committees on this topic, it needs to be looked at as a whole. As I have said before—I hope the Government will take this seriously—the Opposition will co-operate in any way possible to update the 2005 Act. One of the problems is that there is a lack of strategy. We need one, because it is a big criminal business at one level, and it is really annoying for a lot of people. We are therefore willing to help in whatever way we can to make that Act fit for purpose, with a new Bill.

That is important, because certainly in England the recycling rate has begun to stall—in fact, in some parts of the country it is beginning to decline. I do not see the rush to incineration as anything other than the wrong solution, but there is a real requirement to recognise the problem of waste. I get countless emails from people saying, “We’ve got to do something about plastics,” and we have got to do something about waste overall. I therefore ask the Minister to take up that offer and, through the DEFRA team, see if something can be done in the next Session.

This issue exercises not just individuals and areas but organisations. We have had excellent contributions from the Country Land and Business Association, the Local Government Association, the Countryside Alliance and the National Farmers Union—and, as always, a good paper from the House of Commons Library—which all indicate how big a problem it is and how much we need to do.

I will conclude to give the Minister an awful lot of time to respond—no doubt, she has an awful lot to say, because this is a big topic. I hope we can see this not just as ad hoc misbehaviour—bad as it is—that needs to be dealt with. We must also look at the other end: the criminal and the organised, where people are making serious money and we are not bringing them to justice. Last week, I made a trip in my area to look at some of the notorious sites. Even if we do bring individuals to justice, the fines regime and penalties are so paltry that people can build up for them as a matter of course, and they get away with it time after time. People may build genuine businesses from that—that may be good or bad—but it is not right to use illegality to get there. I hope the Minister sees this as a good opportunity to be forthright about the ways in which we can move forward. The Opposition will help the Government in any way we can.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:39 am, 17th April 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Parish on securing the debate. We have heard wide-ranging contributions from other hon. Members, recognising some of the work that has been done and some of the challenges still before us. I welcomed the opportunity to discuss fly-tipping with my hon. Friend at a recent event hosted by the CLA, which led me to take action to investigate the issue further. He will be aware that this is a long-term issue that needs to be tackled.

Fly-tipping really affects our country. That is why we have done more, and will continue to do more, to stamp out this anti-social crime that blights not only our countryside but our urban streets, and costs our economy greatly. My Department works closely with organisations across government to tackle fly-tipping, including local authorities, the Local Government Association, the Environment Agency, and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. We also encourage strong collaboration between local councils, the police, the Environment Agency, and local landowners and communities, to tackle this issue.

My officials recently met a number of fly-tipping partnerships to discuss and review their models. We will work with the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group to disseminate the information and increase collaboration and intelligence sharing on a local, regional and national scale. My officials are engaged with the police at a national level through the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and with police and crime commissioners. Indeed, tomorrow my officials will discuss fly-tipping with the police and crime commissioner for Dorset, who is the fly- tipping lead for the National Rural Crime Network. A representative from the National Police Chiefs’ Council rural crime team also sits on the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group, which is chaired by my officials.

I am aware of the difficulties faced by individuals and businesses when fly-tipping occurs on their land. Landowners have a legal responsibility for their land, which is why we encourage them to secure it against fly-tippers, always to report incidents of fly-tipping to their local council and the police, and swiftly to clear fly-tipped waste so that the site does not become a known dumping ground. Through the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group we publish advice for landowners of all types of private land, from farmland to industrial estates. The potential use of cameras was mentioned, and although a national CCTV network is unlikely, I am conscious that many landowners use CCTV to try to tackle and identify individuals who are dumping waste.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Cameras that are easily portable and can be put in trees are not so expensive now. We must catch many more people doing this because there is still too much pressure on the landowner and farmer to clear up the mess. They did not create the mess, but they end up with the cost of maintaining the environmental condition, and that is what infuriates everybody. We should do anything we can to encourage people to have some sort of camera, and to work more with the DVLA and others to catch the people driving the vehicles and bring them to book.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend mentions the DVLA, and often the Data Protection Act 1998 is used as a way not to pass on information. I am happy to take that issue away and discuss it with a Minister from the Department for Transport. He also mentions the challenge of costs. If somebody is convicted of fly-tipping, the landowner or occupier can pursue a court order under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to get the costs of the clearance reimbursed. I encourage councils and other agencies to keep going with attempts to convict, and to try to help private landowners.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does the Minister accept that satellite technology now means that it is difficult to hide the things that people used to be able to hide? That is something the Department could consider more seriously. Such technology is already used in some parts of the United Kingdom, but that would be a good venture for DEFRA to take up.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do not know whether satellite technology would help us in this case, and I am not an expert on how best to present evidence to get a conviction. However, I will certainly ensure that the point is understood by my officials, so that they can raise it with the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group and the police.

Local councils, as the responsible authorities, have a significant role to play in tackling fly-tipping on private land. Fly-tipping gangs dump waste irrespective of whether the land is publicly or privately owned, and all local councils should therefore investigate fly-tipping incidents on private land. If there is evidence, they should prosecute the fly-tippers, and they can then recover clearance costs via the courts, as I have just outlined. However, not all councils are minded to do that, and only about half are actively trying to tackle the issue.

I am very alert to the challenges regarding council resources. Colleen Fletcher praised her council but was concerned about the available resources. I gently point out that although Coventry City Council’s website states that support from central Government has fallen—in 2010-11, £153 million came from the revenue support grant and business rates, and that is now £122.5 million—that is not quite a reduction of the level that I thought I heard the hon. Lady describe, which was considerably higher. I emphasise, however, that councils have many more powers and the opportunity to recoup costs, and it matters that they use those powers if the issue is a local priority. However, the national Government cannot force councils to do so.

I encourage all councils to be alert to fly-tipping and to use their powers. When councils ask us for powers, we will try to ensure that they get those powers in the future. Councils currently have more than 20 powers to choose from to tackle fly-tipping, and we have recently spent time working in Committees to give them more. We have strengthened a council’s ability to search and seize the vehicles of suspected fly-tippers, and we have introduced a fixed penalty notice for small-scale fly-tipping. An additional 20,000 fixed penalty notices were issued in 2016-17, but not all councils have decided to implement those powers. Again, I strongly encourage them to do so.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Will my hon. Friend look at my suggestion to move some of the liability towards people who produce waste? Virtually every Member present agrees that whatever we are doing is not currently enough to deter people from committing this crime.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I heard what my hon. Friend said, and he will appreciate that this matter is devolved to the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government have already carried out a consultation to make it easier for councils to fine householders who do not check how their waste is disposed of, but those powers have not yet come into effect. We require a further consultation, because I am conscious that householders may not realise that websites are available—such as that of the Environment Agency—on which they can look up the names of the firms that come around touting for business. There is an obligation to use the appropriate procedures, because otherwise people can be convicted. Fixed penalty notices were introduced because they tend to be a more straightforward way for councils to deter people. Through this debate and other consultations, I am keen to continue to raise the awareness of householders who must look into who is disposing of their waste, and who it is being passed to. Our current assessment of fly-tipped waste in England is that two thirds of it comes from private households. That is why we are doing what I hope my hon. Friend believes we should be doing. I am happy to hear any more ideas he might have and to share them with the Welsh Government—I am sure he will also do that through his own political links.

Let me single out and praise certain councils across the country that are excelling. In Hertfordshire, for example, funding from the police and crime commissioner has enabled the county council to set up an effective partnership group that is starting to see results. Buckinghamshire County Council is another great example. It decided to make this issue a priority, and its dedicated enforcement strategy has halved fly-tipping incidents over the past 15 years—it is now prosecuting more than one case a week. In Cambridgeshire, a local council is making use of section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which requires landowners to clear waste when the amenity of an area is being significantly affected. That has helped to tackle fly-tipping hotspots, such as the front gardens and alleyways that become dumping grounds, as has been mentioned by many Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton. I appreciate that councils have to decide whether to invest resources in tackling this, but there are powers that they can use to great effect.

It is often asserted—several hon. Members mentioned this, including Dr Drew—that there is a connection between charging at household waste recycling centres and an increase in household waste being fly-tipped. There are anecdotal reports suggesting a connection, but the evidence remains inconclusive. The waste and resources action programme undertook a survey last year, but it did not show a strong link between the two issues. I am happy to write to hon. Members present and share that information with them. I know that there are calls for fly-tipped waste to be disposed of for free at household waste recycling centres. More generally, enabling waste tipped on private land to be disposed of free of charge would not provide the right incentive to deter fly-tipping or to secure land. I stress that it is up to councils to determine whether to charge, in line with legislation.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

The Minister makes an interesting point about landowners acting to stop fly-tipping, but we must be careful. If people have to put huge boulders, or all sorts of things, in gateways just to stop people getting in to fly-tip, that is unsightly. I do not want the onus to be put back on to the landowner and farmer. It is the wrong way to do things. We must concentrate on the people who have illegally tipped in the first place.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend will be aware that much of the approach to tackling crime is to do with prevention. I understand what he said about the unsightly effects if we get landowners to try to reduce the opportunity for fly-tipping, but many people put extra locks and burglar alarms in their homes to deter people from targeting a particular home. That is an example of how people take an active interest in making their home robust against entry and crime. I understand my hon. Friend’s point and do not blame landowners. I am trying to be helpful.

I recognise that more can be done. The Government are hosting a roundtable on fly-tipping on private land next week. We will consider further what we can do. A key point is knowing the scale of the issue. Currently we cannot quantify the extent of fly-tipping on private land, as there is no established easy way for people to report it. However, we are changing that. We are learning from Natural Resources Wales, which has created a mobile app to record incidents. We will shortly be rolling out a similar app for England, with many benefits. The app will link through to the local council so that its enforcement team will instantly know when an incident has been recorded. It will also automatically plot the incidents on a map so that hotspots can be targeted. Such sharing of information will help the police, in particular, to identify issues quickly.

In response to a point raised by my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies, I would point out that we have just concluded a consultation on giving local councils and the Environment Agency the power to issue a fixed penalty notice of up to £400 for householders who do not take reasonable measures to ensure that their waste is provided to an authorised person such as a local authority or registered waste carrier. People can check online. The consultation closed on 26 March and we are considering the responses to determine exactly what proof a householder would need to provide to show that they had complied with the regulations. I want to make it clear that the approach is not about duffing up victims, but there are laws in place and we need to try to ensure that people obey them, rather than taking shortcuts. Subject to the outcome of the consultation, we intend to lay regulations in the autumn.

As to the broader question of tackling more forms of waste crime, we brought in regulations in February to strengthen the Environment Agency’s powers to tackle problem waste. It can lock site gates and require all the waste at a site to be cleared. We have just concluded a consultation on tightening the requirements to hold a waste permit and reviewing the waste exemption regime. As I have pointed out, there will be quite a lot more in our resources and waste strategy later in the year.

We will set out proposals to review the brokers and dealers regime. That is an important step to crack down on organised gangs who collect waste under the veil of legitimacy. As my hon. Friend Julia Lopez highlighted, there are a lot of cowboy operators. We will be working closely with the waste industry to determine how best to ensure that those who are part of the trade fully understand their duties and responsibilities.

Much has been said about sentencing and we are reviewing it so that people who fly-tip will be punished appropriately. In 2014 we worked with the Sentencing Council to strengthen the guideline for environmental offences. The level of fines for organisations found guilty of fly-tipping has since risen, but fines for individuals have not undergone the same increase. My officials are liaising with the Ministry of Justice on that matter.

I am interested in the idea about insurance that was raised during the debate, and will add it to my next roundtable with the Association of British Insurers. As to consistency of response, we can only do our best by trying to share best practice with councils and police, and that is what we shall continue to do; I assure hon. Members that we work with other Departments. John Mc Nally highlighted action being taken by the Scottish Government. My hon. Friend Kirstene Hair was right when she pointed out that there are not many prosecutions and that the fines that are given are quite low, and when she praised Angus Council for its work to ensure that recycling centres are open more widely. As to marine pollution, those things that blight the countryside and urban streets often also end up in the marine environment. My hon. Friend Jack Brereton mentioned illegal waste sites, and I assure him that we are taking action on those more broadly. The issue is less to do with fly-tipping than with the way people exceed their licences. We managed to get an extra £30 million out of the Treasury to support the Environment Agency in tackling that matter more, as we recognise the increasingly prevalent serious and organised crime links.

What I have been describing is a continuing journey, but I am pleased about the parliamentary support for more powers to be given to the Environment Agency and councils to tackle what is a real blight. I welcome the contributions that have been made to the debate today.

Photo of Neil Parish Neil Parish Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 10:57 am, 17th April 2018

I thank the Minister for summing up and for the work she is doing on the matter. It is not easy to control fly-tipping. There were 25 Members in the Chamber at one stage in the debate, and that was after a late sitting last night, straight after a recess, which shows how important the subject is to many people. I thank everyone for their contributions to the debate, which was good-tempered and informative. We talked about making those who dispose of waste in the first place more responsible for their actions, for example through the DVLA, as set out by my hon. Friend David T. C. Davies. There were points about keeping waste sites open for people to dispose of waste rather than fly-tipping it, and about putting the onus back on those who are caught by having heavier fines. We must remember that those who fly-tip need to be prosecuted. Otherwise, landowners and farmers have to clear up, and there are many costs that are often unrecoverable.

The shadow Minister, Dr Drew, made an interesting point about satellites. On the Select Committee I have learned that it is amazing what those satellites can pick up—from an electric fence to goodness knows what. If they can do that, why can they not pick up lorries and vans going into the countryside? That might give us a clue as to who the people are. It is interesting and probably worth pursuing. We need to do all we can and bring everyone together, from local authorities to Government, to crack down so that we can have a countryside that is beautiful. We talk about greater access to the countryside, and we need to sort this issue out, because otherwise farmers and landowners will understandably be concerned. Will greater access mean greater opportunities for people to take rubbish out and tip it into fields in our great countryside?

I welcome the debate and all the Members who took part, including John Mc Nally, who had some good ideas from Scotland. We need to take all the ideas—I do not think that anyone has an instant panacea—and work together to reduce fly-tipping so that we have a greener, pleasant land.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).