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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:21 am on 17th April 2018.

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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.