I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of tackling fly-tipping and illegal dumping.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Mark. I am grateful for the time to discuss this important issue.
“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!”
My choir-singing days are long behind me, but that famous hymn and poem appropriately captures the idyllic nature of our beautiful nation. However, I dread to imagine what William Blake would think today if he could see the mattresses strewn along our country lanes, the rubbish along our high streets or the old, broken televisions and fridges dumped at the side of the road, which is what we are here to discuss today. I asked for this debate because I have been shocked by the level of littering and fly-tipping, and I am sure every colleague will agree that it is a blight on our environment and undermines our communities.
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention, and I hope she will be pleasantly surprised as I progress through my speech.
We can all agree that we ought to be able to enjoy wherever it is we call home without the scourge of fly-tipping scarring our landscape. In 2021 alone, there were more than 1.1 million fly-tipping incidents in England, which is more than 129 a minute and a 16% increase on the year before. This is a crime that feeds antisocial behaviour and can lead to serious environmental and public health damage, especially when something such as medical waste is dumped.
I worry that the hon. Member has seen a copy of my speech, but I am sure that she, too, will be pleased to hear what I call for.
Fly-tipping is indiscriminate. In my constituency, for example, the northern, more urbanised parts experience fly-tipping as much as the southern, more rural areas. This crime has serious economic costs, with the total cost of fly-tipping to the taxpayer estimated at £400 million. The number of large fly-tipping incidents, or tipper lorry loads as they are called, is 39,000 in total. The cost of clearance to local authorities last year was £11.6 million—an increase from £10.9 million in 2019-20.
I also asked for this debate because I want to recognise the social damage of fly-tipping. If levelling up is to mean anything, we require investment in our communities, while also instilling pride and empowering local organisations and our parish councils to tackle fly-tipping. Nothing says “We don’t care” more than when we let communities descend into becoming havens for fly-tipping and the related antisocial behaviour. Ultimately, that disenfranchises whole communities. Our communities need to know that we stand for them. That is why I stand here today calling for us to reinvigorate our war on fly-tipping.
I want to take a moment to recognise the fantastic contributions of organisations across my constituency, which continuously remind me of the community spirit that protects our villages, towns and homes. In particular, I thank my parish councils, which have continuously raised this issue with me, including Barston, Hampton-in-Arden, Castle Bromwich, Chadwick End, Tidbury Green, Dickens Heath, Balsall Common, Berkswell, and Bickenhill and Marston Green. I also thank Catherine-de-Barnes Residents’ Association, Clean & Green, the Knowle Society, the Balsall Common Litter Pickers, the Hampton-in-Arden Wombles and Love Solihull, which all supported and took part in my Keep Meriden Tidy initiative last year. In addition, I thank the litter-picking groups in Dorridge, the Marston Green Wombles and the many individuals and organisations up and down the constituency that take time out and volunteer to make their villages and town centres beautiful and safe places to live, work and play. These organisations and people need our support. In fact, when I went around picking litter as part of my Keep Meriden Tidy initiative last year, numerous bags were filled. Shopping trolleys were extracted from streams, and there was a real risk of finding unsavoury items such as knives, syringes or worse.
That brings me to my first ask of the Minister: has she considered the role of community organisations in dealing with fly-tipping? Has she considered working with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to examine whether further powers could be given to parish councils to deal with fly-tipping and litter? I am aware that she takes this issue incredibly seriously, and I know that the Government are also serious about tackling fly-tipping, recognising the social, economic and environmental risk that it poses.
I welcome the establishment of the Joint Unit for Waste Crime, which is designed to disrupt serious and organised crime around fly-tipping. It works jointly with the National Crime Agency, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Environment Agency and the police. Moreover, I recognise the great achievement that is the Environment Act 2021, which introduced new powers to gain evidence and enter sites.
I am also aware of the consultation on fly-tipping, which is ongoing. Can the Minister reassure my constituents and others affected by fly-tipping that the consultation will lead to serious and meaningful change? Of course, I implore everyone to take part in it and to share their ideas, which leads me to ask the Minister and the Department what thought has been given to providing more fly-tipping education for the public? I ask that because that was a specific request from some of my constituents when I visited Balsall Common.
Of course, we have fantastic campaigns, such as Keep Britain Tidy, but the more, the merrier. That is why I will embark on another Keep Meriden Tidy campaign, not least because we have the Commonwealth games in my constituency. With over a billion eyes watching our beautiful region, I intend to play my part in keeping it that way.
One aspect of dealing with fly-tipping I have not yet touched on is enforcement. The greatest source of frustration for many of my constituents is the feeling that they can do everything they can, including reporting the fly-tippers, but the level of enforcement in no way matches their hard work, and prosecutions that would deter fly-tipping are just too rare. In short, Minister, too many fly-tippers are getting away with it.
Recently, I was pleased to see that there was a fly-tipping intervention grant, but I must ask whether there will be more rounds and more money, because I am keen for my constituents to benefit from any future rounds. Can the Minister also confirm that she is talking to local councils, or the relevant Department, to ensure that local councils have the means to tackle fly-tipping? In addition, can she confirm that she is talking to the policing Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), to beef up enforcement by the police? One of my greatest fears is that my law-abiding constituents are put at risk by dangerous fly-tippers, who are sometimes involved with organised crime, and that the police are not able to do enough to tackle the problem. For example, farmers in my constituency are often at particular risk, because the very nature of rural areas means that it takes longer to get police support. They are particularly worried about confronting these criminals and about the personal risk to them and their families if they do intervene.
Of course I understand that the Government have many demands on their resources, so one suggestion I have for the Treasury is that if fines are issued to fly-tippers—frankly, there should be larger fines—the money should be fed back into parish councils so that they can have the resources to deter further dumping of illegal waste.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and I am sure the Minister will have taken note of it. The village of Barston is a particularly beautiful part of my constituency; it was recently voted one of the most desirable villages in the country. The parish council bought its own automatic number plate recognition cameras, and it monitors who enters Barston, with the data being shared with the police when fly-tipping incidents occur. I am also aware of private businesses working with other parish councils to help fund ANPR cameras. Will the Minister consider incentivising private business to work with parish councils to empower them to tackle fly-tipping? When fly-tippers are identified, our hard-working police need to have the resources to go after the criminals so that they can meaningfully deter fly-tipping.
I am pleased that the Government are looking at electronically tracking waste. The majority of fly-tipping is household waste, but we could still go further and make it easier for residents to dispose of rubbish. One idea that intrigues me is the use of mobile recycling vehicles, which play a positive role in other communities in increasing recycling rates and reducing fly-tipping. The Minister’s support to engage in that would be greatly welcome.
The next time we hear about walking upon England’s mountains green and England’s pleasant pastures seen, let us make sure that they are seen and that this country is seen for the beautiful place it is, rather than as one covered by the eyesore of fly-tipping and illegal dumping.