On 8th March, the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith asked Her Majesty’s Government ‘what further action they are taking to deal with the recent rises in fly-tipping.’ The exchange between the Bishop and the Minister is below, with the follow up questions from other Members.
The Lords Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I express my regret that I could not find a suitable topical for International Women’s Day.
The Earl of Courtown (Con): My Lords, fly-tipping blights communities and poses a risk to human health and the environment. Tackling this issue is a priority for the Government. As set out in our manifesto, we have given councils the power to issue fixed penalty notices for small-scale fly-tipping. This builds on previous action, including giving authorities the power to seize and crush vehicles involved, strengthening sentencing guidelines for environmental offences and publishing a revised Waste Duty of Care Code of Practice.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his reply, but clearly the existing powers are simply not working. Figures issued by Defra just last week show that the incidence of reported fly-tipping increased by 4% last year, while the amount that Her Majesty’s Government spent on both prevention and prosecution fell by 4%. Given that many people consider that high levels of landfill taxation are a contributory factor to the increase in fly-tipping, will Her Majesty’s Government consider the possibility of increasing the level of money for enforcement action against waste crime funded from this tax?
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for that question. I should point out that the statistics of increases of 4% in the incidence of fly-tipping have to be looked at very carefully, because different local authorities gather these statistics in different ways. It would be useful to examine how these figures look this time next year because the power for local authorities to issue fixed penalty notices came in only in May 2016, so we would like to think there will be some effect on this issue next year. The right reverend Prelate also mentioned landfill tax. I will take careful note of what he said, but as he is aware, this goes into central government.
Lord Scriven (LD): My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of Sheffield City Council, where last year there were 12,000 incidences of fly-tipping. That equates to 33 a day, which is replicated in most local authorities across the country. In light of that and of the LGA predicted funding gap of £5.8 billion in three years’ time for local government, will the Government introduce a compulsory bring-back scheme by producers of bulky items, such as mattresses and sofas, to contribute to dealing with the issue of fly-tipping?
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord raises an interesting point on a bring-back scheme. That happens with some white goods, such as fridges or washing machines, when the company agrees to take back the old ones. The House must be aware that there have been 494,000 enforcement actions over the last year against fly-tipping. Also, we must not forget that, with regard to larger-scale fly-tipping, in the 2015 spending review a further £20 million was made available to fight waste crime.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister understand the anger felt by farmers that, because fly-tipping occurs on their private land, they are expected to pay their own clean-up costs, which can often total thousands of pounds? The NFU reports that dumping is happening on an industrial scale, with two-thirds of farmers affected, so can the noble Lord give some comfort to those farmers that meaningful action will be taken to address the problem of dumping on private land?
The Earl of Courtown: The noble Baroness brings our attention to the problem in rural areas, which is a real blight on our landscape. In many cases, it is more obvious in rural areas than in urban areas. The local authorities will provide advice and guidance on how to prevent further fly-tipping, or may investigate if there is sufficient evidence. The noble Baroness will also be aware of the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group, which is chaired by the Government and includes representatives from central and local government, enforcement authorities, the waste industry and private landowners. Under its framework, it is outlining the best practice for prevention, reporting, investigation and clearance of fly-tipping.
The Duke of Somerset (CB): My Lords, as we have just heard, the present law is that the cost and responsibility for removing fly-tipped rubbish occurs to the landowner. Is that fair? I declare an interest, in that this has happened to me on a number of occasions.
The Earl of Courtown: The noble Duke will be aware also that on public land it is the responsibility of local authorities to remove the rubbish. It is unacceptable wherever it happens. He referred to fly-tipping on his own land, and therefore he should be aware that the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group, as part of its representation, has members of the NFU and landowners who are looking at this problem. However, the noble Duke is quite correct that, for dumping on private land, it is the responsibility of the landowner. Of course, when enforcement takes place through the Environment Agency for large-scale dumping, it will make every effort to track down the person who has dumped the rubbish and prosecute them.
Baroness Sharples (Con): Would not more cameras help in these instances?
The Earl of Courtown: My noble friend makes a very good point. Where they are available, particularly in urban areas, cameras will of course be made use of to try to track down offenders.
Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, the Minister has given us a lot of statistics. But if in my local borough it costs more than £50 to the local authority or a rubbish removal company to remove a divan and base, perhaps it is not surprising that many people who are not as observant of the law as myself will dump these. Surely the way of stopping that is to stop these usurious charges by local authorities.
The Earl of Courtown: I will have to write to the noble Lord on those issues relating to local authorities. However, when householders wish to have rubbish removed from their gardens, they must ensure that the person or company they hire carries a waste carrier licence, so that the householder fulfils their duty of care for the rubbish to be removed correctly.