Clause 3 - Exposing vehicles for sale on a road

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 18th January 2005.

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Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 30, in clause 4, page 6, line 34, leave out '3' and insert '4'.  

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

The purpose of the amendments is to establish how the Government envisage the penalties working for persistent offenders. Some companies persistently leave cars on the road and look on the £100 fixed penalty fines as the cost of doing business. That could be a problem.

We have approached the matter by considering the maximum penalty that a court could impose, which is a level 3 fine—a maximum of £1,000—and increasing it to £2,500. I am sure that the Committee is aware that courts rarely impose the maximum fine available to them and even for persistent offenders the fine could be much less than £1,000. It would be helpful if the Minister confirmed my understanding, which is that issuing a fixed penalty notice is at the discretion of the local authority. It can choose not to issue a fixed penalty notice and, instead, go for court prosecution.

Alun Michael indicated assent.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

The Minister is nodding and I am glad he has acknowledged that.

We envisage a problem in that the courts may not use the maximum fine, which is only £1,000, and that the £2,500 maximum of level 4 may give them more flexibility.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

May I confirm what the hon. Gentleman said? This is a matter of choice. The fixed penalty notice is intended to expedite the imposition of a punishment with minimum bureaucracy. However, I take his point that there are circumstances when that is not appropriate but it is appropriate for the prosecution approach to be pursued. It may be helpful to tell him that we are looking again at the maximum penalty and whether it is appropriate to have a higher level. I am happy to say that I will consider his point further.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I simply say that I cannot accept the amendment, but the point made by the hon. Gentleman also exercises us. We want commensurate levels for various environmental offences. I assure him that we will continue actively to consider the point.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

With that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

We have now moved on to part 2 and I want to press the Minister for further information. Clause 3 raises an interesting aspect of ownership, which may not necessarily have been the intention: who will be responsible for ensuring that proof of ownership has been certified before other clauses take effect?

''A person is guilty of an offence if . . . he leaves two or more motor vehicles parked on the same road where they are exposed or advertised for sale''.

We accept the principle that we need to address nuisance parking and that vehicles for sale should not be parked on the road to advertise them, but should be more properly accommodated on a garage forecourt rather than outside a private home or on a public highway. However, does the Minister accept that clause 3(1)(a) is ambiguous? Does ''exposed'' refer to the vehicle's position on the road or does it mean exposed for the purpose of sale? Does that include a vehicle parked temporarily, but not dangerously, on a road—for example, following a test drive, with no visible sales material on it?

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

I am intrigued to know which council the hon. Lady is thinking of that has surplus officers to stand outside places where cars are for sale and wait for someone to park on the road after a test drive.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows how this will work; in all probability, someone living in an adjoining residence will phone and make a formal complaint to the local authority. I do not think he has been in politics for such a short time that he is completely green.

It is our understanding that there can be disputed areas of access on a garage forecourt between garage operators and local authorities: the garage owns the land, but the local authority does not wish it to be used as a hard stand. That could be an issue for a city centre garage where space is at a premium. Has the Minister received representations on that and what way does he see around the problem?

I presume that there is no way that the Minister will assure the Committee that the clause cannot be interpreted in such a way as to impact on the work of the motoring service organisations. Such an effect would be regrettable.

Is the Minister saying that the clause is drafted to tackle incidents of nuisance parking—how will he define nuisance parking?—as well as business being conducted from inappropriate premises? What guidance will he give local authorities, presumably through regulations, to prevent malicious complaints that might be made by neighbours who could have fallen out?

In quite a full introduction to clause 1, the Minister said that antisocial behaviour was increasing in general. What is the rate of incidents of antisocial behaviour and the number of abandoned cars? Does he accept that, based on the scenarios that his Government—

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire 3:30 pm, 18th January 2005

Order. The hon. Lady is introducing material that is covered by subsequent clauses.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

Will the Minister justify why he wants to introduce the provision? Has the number of incidents increased substantially? When the clause refers to vehicles for sale, what period would be considered an unreasonable amount of time to leave a car parked on a property?

I was brought to order, but I think that this is the appropriate time to mention that any vehicle parked on the highway must be taxed, insured and possess a current MOT certificate. Not having those things is surely a much more serious offence than simply being parked. What instruction will the Minister give to the local authority to check the documentation of vehicles, identify the registered and authorised owner, and notify the appropriate authority when an offence is believed to have been committed? He did not respond to those points earlier, but they are particularly pertinent in relation to clause 3.

What will be the involvement of the police? Does the Minister accept that they have a residual responsibility under the clause? Will his Department give specific instructions in this regard to the local authorities to respond to the police? Will it be the responsibility of the police to report an offence of not having insurance, tax or MOT to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, or will he instruct the local authority to do so?

Some motor traders try to pass themselves off as private sellers when selling vehicles, which could take place either on a garage forecourt or more probably from their own home, in which case nuisance vehicles will be parked on the street. Does the clause exempt private sellers from that? Will there be a specific reference in the regulations to the removal list?

While we accept that the provisions will remove the blight on street parking caused by garages and small businesses located in residential areas, that will put an onus on the local authority. It could make a positive contribution by picking up on the other offences to which I referred.

It is clear that the clause will place the burden on car owners to prove that any transactions are private sales rather than commercial trade. Does the Minister accept that that is turning English law on its head? It will be for the authority to prove that such a sale is acting for a business's purpose of selling motor vehicles. Is he saying that the new offence set out in clause 3 assumes guilt, rather than the present assumption of innocent until proven guilty?

Widening the definition of a nuisance vehicle may result in a large increase in the number of vehicles that councils need to remove and store. Local authorities will be taking on work that is currently undertaken by the police and the DVLA. They may also be saving emergency services the cost of dealing with arson and injury associated with nuisance vehicles. What resources will be provided to local authorities to take up those new responsibilities? Are the powers discretionary or will a penalty be imposed on the local authority for failing to implement them? I ask that   because the Secretary of State created some confusion when she said on Second Reading that all the powers in the Bill are discretionary.

Will the Minister confirm that great care will be taken to ensure that any legislation targets only commercial operators, while allowing mobile mechanics and private individuals to undertake repairs and the emergency services to do their job?

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Order. The hon. Lady is moving on to issues covered by clause 4.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have one final question. What will be the costs to the local authority of the additional responsibility placed on them by this provision and clause 3 in particular?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The provision is discretionary. It does not place additional burdens on the local authority. Local authorities often have complaints about vehicles parked on the street in the course of running a business, and they are difficult to deal with. Sometimes, the police get complaints as well. The provision will enable the authority to deal sensibly and swiftly with a problem that arises from time to time in several areas. Many constituency MPs will have experienced that problem and the difficulty of making it go away. Far from placing a burden on local authorities, the provision will enable them to get on with their work effectively.

The clause has nothing to do with abandoned vehicles. It is about vehicles on the road for sale. Cars sold on the road by commercial businesses can cause problems and considerable annoyance for ordinary people. They also create a significant blight on an area. The clause makes it an offence to expose or advertise two or more vehicles for sale on the same road. The hon. Lady questioned the use of ''expose''. The wording of the clause means exposed for sale or advertised for sale.

Our target is not the individual private seller, so a person would not be convicted if they could show that they were not running or acting as part of a business. ''Road'' is not restricted to the public highway, but includes all roads to which the public have access, and will include, for example, private roads running through estates—very much the place where problems can arise. For the avoidance of doubt, the definition of motor vehicle includes caravans and trailers.

The clause will prevent the spillover of a business that goes beyond just one car parked on the road when moving things around or one or two vehicles causing a problem, and will allow a problem in the area to be dealt with. It is a matter of local judgment as to how the new power should be used. I offer the advice that, as is often the case, if there is not a problem, do not deal with it, but if there is, here are the means to help deal with it. Issues such as tax and information on vehicles properly on the road are matters that should be dealt with co-operatively between the police and the local authority, as they are in many other instances. That reinforces the work referred to in clause 1.

I should clarify that there are no regulations for nuisance parking. It is up to local authorities to enforce the provision. It is designed to meet the experience of local authorities and others who made their representations to us when we consulted.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.