Clause 12 - Disposal

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 20th 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)

May I warmly welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Forth, and say what a particular privilege it is to serve under your illustrious chairmanship?

Clause 12 deals with disposal. I was slightly concerned and surprised to hear at the end of Tuesday's sitting that not only has the Minister accepted that there is no definition of ''abandoned cars'', which I had worked out for myself, but that there is no definition of ''fit for disposal''. There is, therefore, potential for confusion in implementing the clause.

Subsection (2) means that the provision applies

''in the case of a vehicle, which in the opinion of the authority is in such a condition that it ought to be destroyed''.

Will the Minister specify how authorities might have a different opinion of what condition that ought to be? Does he not find it regrettable that there may be wide variations across the country in interpreting that phrase? We certainly find that disappointing.

Some concern has been expressed by farmers, particularly through the National Farmers Union, about how disposal will be treated in urban and rural areas. In their view, subsection (2) focuses on vehicles to be destroyed after their removal from roads. Will the Minister address the particular case of disposal of vehicles in the countryside? Is the presumption that the vehicle has been placed on the land wilfully, and is therefore subject to disposal by its owner, who may not own the land? What precautions must the relevant authority take?

I have studied the clause carefully, and I cannot see anything relating to appeals, but it may be that my reading is not sufficiently accurate. Will the Minister guide the Committee as to what possibility there is to appeal? If an appeal is to be made to a magistrates court, how long will it take for it to be dealt with?

Subsection (4) covers the definition of ''licence''. How does the Minister expect that to be interpreted? In relation to clause 11, he said that a vehicle would be taken away. What means of disposal are available under section 4(1) of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978? For the benefit of landowners and farmers, will he confirm that the local authority will be charged the cost of a vehicle's removal, disposal and   destruction, and not those who may be innocent parties? Will he assure us that the Bill will be uniformly applied across the country, that those living in the countryside, in particular in remote areas, will be considered, and that there is a right of appeal?

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

I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Forth. I know that we have to be disciplined with you in the Chair. No doubt we will be called on to be both interesting and proper, so I am sure that it will be an interesting sitting.

The hon. Lady raised a number of interesting points. We could spend a great deal of time on some of them, but in general they are not a problem because they require the application of experience and common sense to a set of circumstances. That is what local authorities and the police do, while keeping at the back of their minds the interpretation that the courts would place on their actions. Similarly, the courts deal with these issues in a common-sense way.

If things are too tightly drawn, there is always a danger of ending up with a definition that cannot be applied sensibly. The phrase that has been used on a number of occasions is ''recognising an elephant on the doorstep.'' One knows that it is not a cow or pig, but defining an elephant in precise terms is a little more difficult, at least in legal language. The application of common sense leads to a practice that is well understood by all.

I am not necessarily looking for everything to be applied uniformly. I want legislation that enables local authorities to tackle real problems sensibly and appropriately. They will do that sensibly by recognising people's expectations and what the law requires them to do, and appropriately because circumstances vary. It is not necessary to provide a definition of ''fit for destruction'' because there is no evidence that that is a major problem. There is already a requirement for actions to be taken when a vehicle is abandoned and no longer fit for use.

Clause 17 gives the Government the power to issue statutory guidance so that if there were any suggestion that local authorities were running into difficulties as a result of changes in the design of vehicles, for instance, they could be dealt with. Clause 12 deals with disposal after the car has been removed under clause 11. We have already discussed the removal from all types of land, so we have covered what happens in relation to the abandonment of a vehicle.

There is no appeals system. There can be compensation for unnecessary destruction. If a car is sold or disposed of and a sum is received for that, it would come into the equation. There are also ways of dealing with a local authority if it exceeded its power. There was no evidence in any of our discussions with local authorities, the police and interested organisations that the problems were anything other than theoretical. In practice, it is clear that people understand the situation.

By checking the vehicle register, the local authority should be able to ascertain whether the vehicle is abandoned. Vehicles with a tax disc and a registered keeper are not normally abandoned, but there are   occasionally circumstances in which that is the case. Under clause 11, if the vehicle is removed, the vehicle keeper will be given sufficient notice to come and collect it. It is then in their hands to take such action as they want to avoid its disposal or destruction. The clause ensures that the local authority can take appropriate action in all circumstances. I hope that that explanation satisfies the hon. Lady.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.