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Volume 773: debated on Wednesday 6 July 2016


Asked by

My Lords, Defra and the Department for Communities and Local Government have been working intensively with councils, Highways England, business and campaign groups on a comprehensive litter strategy to improve the way in which we all tackle the scourge of litter. We have an ambitious goal to reduce litter and littering in England, ensuring that our communities, natural landscape, waterways, roads and highways are clean and pleasant. I really want to make progress on this.

What progress is being made in schools to encourage young people to behave responsibly with regard to litter and to take pride in the appearance of their towns and villages? What more can be done by fast food and takeaway food companies to make sure that the areas around their premises are not covered in litter and discarded food?

My Lords, education and awareness will be a key part of our forthcoming strategy. Interestingly, there is an Eco-Schools programme working with schools to improve sustainability and reduce waste, which includes educating young people about litter. Some 70% of schools in England are participating in this project. I took part in Clean for the Queen with a school and the scheme was accepted with enthusiasm by both teachers and pupils, so it is very important.

On the question of companies, we have set up an advisory group to help us deliver the litter strategy. It includes companies such as Wrigley and McDonald’s. I thank the many companies which have contributed to the Government’s plans to develop a litter strategy.

My Lords, there is increasing evidence of the adverse impact of millions of discarded plastic bottles in litter, including the terrible damage that they can do to wildlife—in both marine and rural areas. Does the Minister agree with organisations such as the Marine Conservation Society and the Campaign to Protect Rural England that the time has come to consider introducing a plastic bottle deposit scheme to ensure that plastic bottles are returned and recycled effectively?

My Lords, as we have said a number of times, marine litter, much of which comes from the land, is a key point that we need to address. There has been consideration of a deposit return scheme. The analysis shows that it would be an expensive exercise, but we will look at new evidence because we want to make progress on dealing with litter.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that litter seems to have a magnetic attraction for more litter and that the condition of the verges on our motorways and major trunk routes in this country is absolutely disgusting? What can be done to make sure that they are cleaned up and perhaps do not attract so much more litter?

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Countess: where there are accumulations of litter, it gets worse and worse. Highways England collects more than 150,000 sacks of litter every year, on average, and it is one of the key partners in our litter strategy work. I say to it and to local authorities that we need to work together so that we see an improvement. I am very conscious that many people from abroad see how filthy our motorways are and wonder about us.

My Lords, the Minister has said that education is a top priority and of course he is right. But given the success of the charge on single-use carrier bags in reducing litter and changing behaviour, is it not time for the Government to ensure that they look at further economic incentives as part of their strategy, such as charges on the single use of coffee cups?

My Lords, what the noble Baroness says is again clearly important. We are looking at all options and she is absolutely right to highlight this. In fact one supermarket announced, for instance, that it had had a nearly 80% reduction in the distribution of single-use carrier bags. We need to think innovatively about all this.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the only effective way to deter the vandals who dump litter and fly-tip in our countryside is to hit them very hard indeed with draconian fines? Will his department review the current levels of these penalties?

My Lords, I entirely agree that, in urban and rural areas, fly-tipping is an enormous disgrace. The Government wish to crack down on offenders by working with the Sentencing Council to ensure that sentences act as a real deterrent to offending. We will soon consult on fines for littering, which was a part of the Government’s election manifesto.

My Lords, it has involved a very significant reduction in the use of those bags, which are one of the biggest scourges of litter in our country.

My Lords, this issue relates not just to the education of children but to the conduct of adults in this country. Is it not an issue of values? One can go to other continental countries and see no rubbish whatever, yet in the UK one can find it strewn all over the place. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday, is it not high time that we started a major debate about fundamental values and the need to accept personal responsibility in all areas?

My Lords, what the noble Lord says is absolutely right. In the end, we all have a responsibility to care about our local communities. That is why we want a comprehensive strategy that will engage so many more people, so that we can have a behavioural change. We want to greatly reduce littering, from vehicles and more generally, so that our country can look clean and pleasant.

My Lords, I think there is an anomaly in the law regarding fly-tipping. If a fly-tipper were, for example, to tip on the Minister’s land—let us hope that this does not happen—then the Minister would be responsible in law rather than the tipper. Is this not an anomaly?

My Lords, I have direct and personal sympathy with that. We are introducing stronger powers for local authorities and the Environment Agency to seize the vehicles of those suspected of waste crime. We need to bear down on this, which is why it is really important that the National Fly-Tipping Prevention Group is working to prevent and tackle illegal dumping.