Clause 13 - Guidance

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)

This is the opportunity for the Minister to tell the Committee what form the guidance will take. As he said, the points that I raised on clause 12 were pertinent and could be discussed for some time, but the Committee is tightly timetabled. I did not hear what he said about appeals. Will there be scope for them?

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

I am happy to repeat what I said; it was very short. There is not an appeal system.

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

That makes the guidance even more appropriate. I understand that the Environment Act 1995 sets out clearly the appeals procedure against remediation notices, that the right of appeal will exist and that an appeal would be to a magistrates court. Can the Minister confirm whether that legislation still exists, or is he saying that clause 13 will usurp it and there will be no scope for appeals at all?

It has been put to me firmly that landowners and particularly the NFU will want to be consulted before the guidance is drafted and issued. I imagine that a raft of other organisations, such as utility companies—perhaps not the best example—could be affected by the provision on abandoned vehicles. Will the Minister look favourably on the NFU's specific request? Which organisations will be consulted? Presumably, motoring organisations, such as the AA, the RAC and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd., will want to be consulted and that that will happen.

Such organisations would like the guidance to cover a situation in which an abandoned vehicle, as defined by the guidance notes on clause 13, has a current tax disc and a registration plate and is therefore road legal. Will sufficient time be allocated to tracing the vehicle owner? The Minister alluded to the relevant clause and said that the period was seven days, but will the guidance notes allow for discretion? In relation to other provisions in this part, he confirmed that all the powers and duties are discretionary. Will the guidance say that the powers are discretionary? If so, that raises the question of what purpose the Bill serves.

All local authorities are extremely alarmed—this has been expressed through the Local Government Association in particular—that the costs of removal will be extremely high and possibly disproportionate,   and that is on top of the other duties that authorities are being asked to perform. Will the guidance notes make it clear to what extent this provision should be a priority as opposed to other rights and duties and the additional responsibilities that the Government have imposed on authorities over the past seven and a half years?

Much will depend on the guidance and what precautions the Minister imagines it will provide to ensure that there is uniform application throughout the country. If the provisions of part 2 are dealt with in a widely disparate way, that will negate any beneficial aspects. It would therefore help to have the confirmation that I requested. Who will be consulted? Are the Government minded to consult landowners and, in particular, the NFU?

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

Let me spell out where we are. Clause 13 obliges local authorities to have regard to guidance given by the appropriate person when exercising their functions in relation to the removal and disposal of vehicles under the 1978 Act. We are dealing here only with the removal and disposal of vehicles. The ''appropriate person'' in this case is the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales.

The type of the regime that the hon. Lady envisages would be extremely bureaucratic, with a massive, detailed guidance on what local authorities should do, almost down to spelling out how they should breathe in and out as they undertake their duties, which would be wholly inappropriate. I remind her that we are dealing with the destruction and disposal of vehicles, which occurs only if no one claims the vehicle within a specific period. That is where the seven days comes in. Who would appeal, therefore?

It is nonsense to create an unnecessary construct. If there are problems, the clause enables us to issue guidance without having to return to primary legislation. I envisage the guidance being simple and straightforward, addressing only those issues that are known to require it. We discussed the matter with local authorities, motoring organisations and others to ensure that we understood the problems that they face.

I repeat my understanding of how serious the problem is, and people want it to be dealt with. The hon. Lady referred to the NFU. I spoke to its president some time ago about the Bill, which deals with the problem of abandoned vehicles and the dangers they pose, and with fly-tipping and other difficulties experienced by the farming community. The clause is simple and straightforward.

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

I beg to differ. The SMMT stated that if an abandoned vehicle has a current licence and registration plate, there should be a presumption that it is legally on the road, therefore not abandoned. The point of clause 12 is that it removes the need to wait until the expiry of the tax disc. It expedites the disposal process. The local authority may dispose of or destroy a vehicle that has a registered keeper.

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

I told the hon. Lady that in general when a vehicle is licensed it will have a keeper, who can be traced, so the issues that she is worried about will not arise. However, that is not always the case. The   relative cost and value might mean a cultural change over time. There are no new duties in the provisions. They merely simplify existing provisions at the request of the Local Government Association, based on the experience of those who have to deal with the problems.

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

We do not want delay, but due process and fair justice. It is important that in cases for which there is no appeals process, no one is disadvantaged. As far as possible, where the evidence and the presumption is that the car is legally on the road, it should not be disposed of prematurely.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.