Environmental Audit Committee

 Tuesday 8 February 2005 REPORT PUBLICATION

 Tuesday 8 February 2005 REPORT PUBLICATION

Corporate Environmental Crime

The Environmental Audit Committee publishes today its Second Report of Session 2004-05 on Corporate Environmental Crime.  The Report brings to a close a series of inquiries into environmental crime and looks at who is committing corporate environmental crime and why.  

Announcing the Report, the Chairman of the EAC, Peter Ainsworth MP, said

"During the course of this inquiry we have heard examples of just about every possible corporate environmental crime and heard almost every explanations and excuses as to why the crime was committed.  The truth is that crimes against the environment are perceived - wrongly - as victim-less and therefore a low priority.  Environmental compliance barely registers with far too many businesses and why should it when they know their illegal actions are likely to remain undetected and largely unpunished?

Unless and until the Government sends out a clear signal to business that failure to act on statutory environmental obligations will result in detection and punishment, then there is little hope of any progress. Fundamental to this is the commitment of sufficient resources to the Environment Agency, in particular, to enable them adequately to police all businesses with environmental obligations. "

The MPs say that without realistic, long-term funding the Environment Agency has little hope of tackling corporate environmental crime. Whilst the Agency is making headway with those business sectors it regulates, it is clear that the vast majority of those businesses committing environmental crimes fly under the Agency's radar.  Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) are responsible for up to 80% of all pollution incidents and more than 60% of the commercial and industrial waste produced in England and Wales; yet research has shown that between 70%-75% of SMEs are unaware of their environmental obligations. 

The Committee is supportive of further exploration of alternative methods to ensure compliance, whether through the greater use of the lifestyle provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 or the creation of a civil penalty.  The Committee also believes that the survival of a business that repeatedly commits environmental crimes and is unable or unwilling to learn from its mistakes, cannot be more important than protection of the environment it pollutes.

The MPs found that communication of policy, new legislation and regulation was patchy.  Of particular concern was the quality and timeliness of guidance being produced by the Government, most notably with regard to the adoption and implementation of EU Directives.  Despite what many would see as ample time to prepare such guidance, in the case of the implementation of the EU Landfill Directive a staggering five years, businesses were still waiting for guidance a scant three months before the deadline for implementation.  This is wholly unacceptable and the Government needs to act quickly to address this problem if it is to avoid exacerbating the damage caused to the environment by businesses acting in ignorance.

The Committee also looked at companies who commit environmental crimes, not through ignorance but because the nature of their business, they argue, compels them to.  It concluded, however, that the idea that the Ministry of Sound, and companies like it, are somehow compelled to fly-post in order to reach its customer base is nonsense. (Paragraph 28)

The state of the River Thames also concerned the MPs who heard from Thames Water that the system, built in the Victorian era, is not able to cope with the demands made upon it in the 21st Century.  This problem will only be exacerbated by increasingly wet weather and the development of land which has not been properly supported by improvements in infrastructure. The MPs call for urgent action to be taken by Defra to remedy this legitimised pollution and for a speedy decision to be taken on the question of a new sewage tunnel under London.     

Notes for Editors

1. The Environmental Audit Committee established its sub-Committee on environmental crime on 12 November 2003  in order to conduct a number of short inquiries.  It published its first Report in this series, Environmental Crime and the Courts, on 12th May 2004.   Fly-Tipping, Fly-Posting, Litter, Graffiti and Noise, the second in the series, was published on 28 July 2004. The sub-Committee's third report, Wildlife Crime, was published on 7 October 2004.  Details of all the sub-Committee's press releases and inquiries, together with its Reports, oral evidence and other publications, are available on the Committee's Internet home page, which can be found at: www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/environmental_audit_committee.cfm

2. The EAC's sub-committee is known as the Sub-Committee on Environmental Crime. Its membership is as follows:

Chairman:     Mr Peter Ainsworth, MP
Mr Colin Challen, MP
Mr Paul Flynn
Mrs Helen Clark, MP
Mr Simon Thomas
Sue Doughty, MP

The Environmental Audit Committee

3. Under the terms of the Standing Order No. 152A the Environmental Audit Committee is to "consider to what extent the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development: to audit their performance against such targets as may be set for them by her Majesty's Ministers; and to report thereon to the House."  The Committee was set up on 16 July 2001.


Chairman: Mr Peter Ainsworth MP
Mr Gregory Barker MP
Mr Harold Best, MP
Mr Colin Challen, MP
Mr David Chaytor, MP
Mrs Helen Clark, MP
Sue Doughty, MP
Mr Paul Flynn MP
Mr Mark Francois, MP
Mr John Horam, MP
Mr John McWilliam, MP
Elliot Morley, MP*
Mr Malcolm Savidge, MP
Mr Simon Thomas, MP
Joan Walley, MP
Mr David Wright, MP

* The Minister for the Environment has ex-officio membership of the Committee in like manner to the Financial Secretary's membership of the Committee of Public Accounts.