Clause 4 - Repairing vehicles on a road

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 18th January 2005.

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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)

The Minister said in response to the debate on clause 3 that the power was discretionary. I assume he will confirm that that applies to the powers in this clause, too, and that consideration relates to why the Bill is necessary. It is taking a substantial amount of parliamentary time, there was a lengthy consultation process, and many councils that follow best practice are already implementing its provisions. Has the Department estimated how many are doing that? If the clause is to mean anything, the enforcement procedures are extremely important. Will the power be discretionary? Many concerns have been raised with us, especially by motoring organisations. How will a person be deemed to be carrying out the restricted works referred to in subsection (1)? What will be the test of evidence? Someone could be repairing a motor vehicle with a view to resale, which is completely different from a breakdown service repairing a vehicle.

My understanding is that the clause will prohibit businesses from repairing and servicing vehicles on the street. While it is possibly a well-intentioned measure, will the Minister confirm that great care will be taken to ensure that the clause targets illegal operations, allowing legitimate mobile mechanics and private individuals to undertake necessary car repairs? The measure proposes exemptions, but how will they be interpreted? Will the enforcement be straightforward and uncomplicated?

Subsection (2) states:

''For the purposes of this section 'restricted works' means—

(a) works for the repair, maintenance, servicing, improvement or dismantling of a motor vehicle''. 

The word ''improvement'' could indicate that a car was being improved not just to make it serviceable and roadworthy after an accident but for an eventual sale, so it could be deemed to fall foul of the clause. In many parts of the country, especially in rural areas, vehicles are stolen to order and in some cases dismantled for spare parts. How will the terms ''improvement'' or ''dismantling'' of a vehicle be applied?

Subsection (3) states:

''A person is not to be convicted of an offence under this section in relation to any works if he proves to the satisfaction of the court that the works were not carried out . . . for gain or reward.''

Would it not be better to try to resolve such cases, and, as far as possible, keep them out of court?

There is an interesting term in subsection (4) that I have seen mentioned in other Government legislation. It is the reference to the

''annoyance to persons in the vicinity.''

Does ''in the vicinity'' mean those passing by? Does it mean those who live in the properties adjacent to the works or in front of which the vehicles might be parked? Could it be landowners? I appreciate that we are talking about nuisance vehicles and not about abandoned vehicles. However, the phrase ''in the vicinity'' is loose and could give rise to a number of problems, both in bringing a prosecution for an offence under clause 4 and in this part of the Bill. The courts could waste much time trying to elucidate the meaning of the phrase ''in the vicinity''.

For the sake of clarification, for our own information and, especially, for the sake of the motoring organisations and breakdown associations, how will subsection (5) be interpreted? Will the Minister publish further explanatory regulations on that subsection?

Under subsection (7),

'''road' has the same meaning as in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984''.

The Library note helpfully tells us that, in section 142 of the Act, a road is defined as

''any length of highway or any other road to which the public has access''.

I understand that the main feature of a road is that the general public has a right to use it as a means of getting from A to B. That definition covers all highways, including unadopted roads, access roads through estates that are owned by organisations such as housing organisations or residents who live there, carriageways and footpaths. A car park would not normally fall in the definition of a road, as its function is to enable people to leave their vehicles.

Obviously the Minister is satisfied with that definition. Has he received representations from outside organisations—third parties—that it is a sufficiently lucid explanation? Although I am non-practising, I started my professional career as a member of the Faculty of Advocates. We were called on to do some distressing road accident cases. It will not be such cases that follow from the provision, but it is extremely important to get the definition right.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:45 pm, 18th January 2005

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to some of those questions. If I were to respond to all of them, we might be here all night, but some of the points can be covered very specifically. For example, the legislation affecting London has had similar requirements in place for a number of years. There has been a considerable amount of experience, both of the legislation being in place and its enforcement and therefore plenty of opportunity for representations from motoring organisations and others. My understanding is that there has been general support for these provisions. Indeed, there has been strong support for them from my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I believe that a similar view is shared by Liberal Democrat Members.

The experience in London having been positive and the consultation having been extremely extensive, I hope that we will have complete support for the provision when we finish this short debate. The hon. Lady says that it would be better not to go to court on the issues in subsection 4(3). I agree. If the individual is able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the local authority that they are not running a business, the local authority will not pursue the case. However, at the end of the day, if there is a dispute in which the local authority believes that it has evidence that someone is running a business and that is denied, it would be for the court to take a decision. The onus will be to demonstrate that a business is not being run.

Cars being repaired on the road can take up valuable car parking spaces. That in itself can be a nuisance for local people. They look unsightly and pollute the local environment. Clause 4 makes it an offence to carry out restricted works to vehicles on a road as part of a business or otherwise for reward or gain or in a way that gives reasonable cause for annoyance to people nearby. It is all about improving the quality of life in the neighbourhood. To some degree, the hon. Lady answered some of her earlier questions in a later contribution. There is clearly an exemption for repairs resulting from a breakdown or accident, provided that they are carried out within 72 hours or such time as the local authority authorises.

The term ''road'' is not restricted to the public highway, but includes all roads to which the public have access. In many cases, it will include private roads running through estates, the very places where there is   often a considerable amount of nuisance. I therefore hope that the clause will stand part of the Bill with the full support of the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.