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Volume 838: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce fly-tipping and its impacts on natural environments.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Fly-tipping and illegal dumping of waste blight our local communities and damage the environment. The Government have given the Environment Agency an extra £10 million a year to tackle waste crime, including illegal waste sites and large-scale illegal dumping, which is often perpetrated by organised crime syndicates. We are also helping councils to take tougher action on local fly-tipping by more than doubling the maximum on-the-spot fine and providing £1.2 million in grants, with a further £1 million to follow later this summer.

My Lords, large-scale criminal enterprise fly-tipping is out of control and increased by 13% between 2021 and 2022. In areas such as Hoads Wood it was reported that up to 30 trucks of illegal waste were dumped every day between July last year and January this year, with no effective action taken. Campaign groups estimate that it will now cost £10 million to clear up the waste. Will the Government commit to meeting the full costs of this clean-up and undertake a review into this specific case, to assess the resources and effectiveness of enforcement action against large-scale fly-tipping?

I completely agree with the noble Earl that the illegal dumping of waste at Hoads Wood is appalling, and a full criminal investigation is under way. I am unable to comment further on the details of that live investigation as I do not wish to prejudice potential enforcement action. However, I assure the House that the Government are determined to bring those responsible to account. Specifically on Hoads Wood, the Secretary of State has written to the chief executive of the Environment Agency, asking him to draw up delivery plans to ensure that appropriate action is taken to resolve this wholly unacceptable situation. As part of that, we will consider how best to support the clearance of waste from the site. The Environment Agency has powers to recover the cost of action to clear the waste from those responsible. The Secretary of State has also asked the chief executive of the Environment Agency to review the agency’s actions in relation to the site, including what lessons it and other agencies involved in the local partnership tackling this can learn.

My Lords, will my noble friend commit to ensuring that prosecutions are indeed brought? Does he accept that, if matters are taken into the landowner’s own hands, this could be a very retrograde step? What conversations has he had with the Home Office and his department in this regard to ensure that prosecutions are brought and perpetrators brought to book?

The Government have put in a series of plans recently to assist councils with preparing the evidence to assist with prosecutions. Fly-tipping and illegal dumping is a serious crime and offenders can face a significant fine or a prison sentence. While sentencing is a matter for the independent courts, we have worked with the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group to produce a guide on how councils and others can build a robust case for prosecutions.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that one of the important factors that influences the degree of fly-tipping is the availability of regular, transparent and dependable systems for the collection of waste? Will he have a look at the high figures in Wales for recycling and see whether some lessons can be learnt for elsewhere?

My Lords, I declare my interest in a family farm business that bears an ever-increasing burden of having to clear up fly-tipped waste, particularly building waste—which recently included a most attractive bathroom suite left in an open meadow. Can the Minister say whether any consideration has been given to requiring waste carrier licensees to display some form of licence on their vehicles? Does the Minister agree that fly-tippers might be deterred from carrying and dumping waste if they and their illegal purpose were more easily identifiable because of the absence of a visible licence on their vehicle?

My noble friend makes an extremely good point and, under the new regulations that we are just about to bring out, we are looking at exactly how those permitted to use these regulations have to display the relevant permit, where they display it and how they advertise it, to make it much more clear to those using these facilities whether they are acting legally.

My Lords, fly-tipping has increased because many councils do not have weekly refuse collection and charge people for taking items to the local refuse collection centres. A major reason behind this is that council spending power as funded by the Government fell in real terms by more than 50% between 2010-11 and 2020-21, and this has not been restored. What responsibility does the Minister accept for creating an environment for fly-tipping?

No, I do not recognise that at all. Defra grants have helped over 30 councils across the country to tackle fly-tipping at hotspots, such as by installing CCTV and putting up fencing. Further grants to support even more councils are due this summer. Furthermore, councils retain all income from fixed-penalty notices, the upper limit for which has recently been increased to £1,000, and this is ring- fenced for local enforcement and clean-up.

My Lords, will the Government encourage those who have building waste to tip to put it into filling the potholes in the road? That would kill two birds with one stone.

My Lords, the Minister told us earlier that the Government were going to tackle waste sites. I would love to know what that actually means. If it means clearing them up, it simply creates the space for more waste to be tipped. He also talked about on-the-spot fines. The essence of fly-tipping is that there is no one on the spot when you tip it.

That is not personal experience. I came across one fly-tipping incident where the offender had actually thrown down the parking ticket that was previously attached to their vehicle and had their number on it. When the police found this, they told me they were not going to take any action because the person whose vehicle it was would simply deny they were driving it.

The noble Lord raises a series of extremely good points. By the very nature of fly-tipping, as he rightly points out, it is extremely difficult to be in the right place at the right time when someone is doing it. I completely accept that there are limitations around this. However, the Government have introduced a number of new initiatives, such as the use of cameras, to help councils on this issue. It is very difficult to deal with it. To be honest, my personal view is that it is an education issue rather than an enforcement issue, but we are probably getting a little off topic.

My Lords, the Minister has outlined some of the initiatives that the Government are bringing in to help combat this, which is clearly welcome, but recent figures show the number of fixed-penalty notices issued decreased by 19% and the number of court fines decreased by 17%. There is no point in bringing in new initiatives and increasing penalties if they are not used. Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient resources are supplied to local authorities and the police to ensure that fly-tippers are caught and properly punished?

The noble Baroness raises the issue that the previous noble Lord also raised. It is extremely difficult, by the very nature of the activity, to police it 100%. In his Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, the Prime Minister made it clear that councils should take a tougher approach to enforcement and make greater use of the fixed penalties available to them. We have also taken steps to encourage councils to issue more of these penalties by increasing transparency on their use, through the publication of annual enforcement league tables. Councils must also now invest the income from this in enforcement activity and clean-up.

My Lords, there has been discussion around the introduction of digital waste tracking by April 2025. This would make a huge difference to the amount of waste produced and dumped, and help to keep the countryside clear of waste pollutants. When is the SI covering digital waste tracking likely to be brought forward?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right about digital waste tracking, because it will reduce the ability of waste criminals to hide evidence of the mishandling of waste and will make it easier for authorities to identify waste dropping out of the system, which might indicate illegal activity, such as fly-tipping. Digital waste tracking records will be required when private waste management companies collect household waste. This should enable householders to check whether their waste has been disposed of properly. We are working towards the digital waste tracking service becoming mandatory from April 2025. Prior to the service being mandatory, there will be a period of public use when the service will be available for all to use on a voluntary basis.