Clause 15 - Notice of removal

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 20th January 2005.

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Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 9:45 am, 20th January 2005

I hope that a word of explanation about the clause, and about clauses 16 and 17, will help hon. Members, as we have already discussed the issues.

The Bill amends the two Acts that deal with abandoned vehicles—the 1978 Act, which covers the duties and powers of local authorities to deal with abandoned vehicles, and the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which covers the powers to the police and others to deal with abandoned and illegally parked vehicles. Clauses 11, 12 and 13 amend the 1978 Act and clauses 15, 16 and 17 repeat the changes made in those clauses and do the same for the 1984 Act. I hope that that explanation helps hon. Members.

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

Perhaps we could debate clause 15 before we move on to clause 16. It is not accurate for the Minister to say that we have already debated those issues. We debated the issues with regard to nuisance cars and abandoned cars. However, we are now dealing with a separate category of illegally parked vehicles. Having three separate categories—nuisance cars, abandoned vehicles and illegally parked vehicles—will lead to a great deal of confusion. It may be that, having had the benefit of scrutinising the Bill, members of the Committee have no problem with understanding it, but it will be very confusing for members of the public. Can the Minister give us an idea of the philosophy behind creating three separate categories rather than one category?

I understand from the Royal National Institute of the Blind that illegally parked cars make life extremely difficult for those who are blind or partially sighted. Where such vehicles obstruct the pavement, blind and partially sighted people may knock into them; they and other pedestrians may be forced into the road to pass them, which can be frightening and daunting and put them into greater danger. I understand the   reasoning relating to illegally parked cars, but I want to know why the Minister has created three separate categories.

Does the Minister not accept that by creating those three separate categories, his Department and the Government are causing the provisions of part 2 of the Bill to become bureaucratic, burdensome and cumbersome? Moreover, will he confirm that clause 15 does not change the fact that the legislation is discretionary—that it provides only the power to act, but not the duty to do so? What, therefore, is the point of including the clause? If the clause is discretionary, what incentive will there be for local authorities to implement it, particularly if they are already up to the limits of their spending commitments, and subject to a 5 per cent. cap in the financial year 2005-06?

I invite the Minister to confirm that creating three different categories adds to the confusion and bureaucracy surrounding the Bill and that there is no real incentive to any local authority to implement clause 15 or part 2 of the Bill.

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

That was more of a Second Reading speech than one dealing with the provisions of the clause. We have not just picked up previous legislation and looked for where we can insert amendments. We have examined the powers and responsibilities that exist for local authorities under previous legislation, and discussed with them, and with a wide variety of other organisations, the current circumstances and what is necessary to deal with them.

The reason why there are different categories for illegally parked vehicles and abandoned vehicles is answered by the hon. Lady's contribution. It is blindingly obvious that a vehicle that has not been abandoned may be a real pain in the neck for local residents and certainly for blind or disabled people or people pushing a pram on the pavement. It may create all sorts of difficulties.

What legislation has to do—this is already in existing legislation—is to reflect the realities of the situations that we are trying to tackle. In another outburst of excessive centralism that we are finding familiar from the Opposition Members—when they are not asking for centralisation to be removed, usually in the same sentence—the hon. Lady seems to want us to stipulate precisely what local authorities should do in a variety of circumstances. The whole philosophy behind the clause has been one of partnership.

When we launched our initial consultation, we did so by saying to local authorities, local people, local organisations, representatives of national organisations and others that we wanted to reflect reality and simplify and clarify powers, rather than create new burdens for local authorities. Local authorities have made it clear that, although they would always welcome greater contribution from central Government, they really want the powers in the Bill to enable them to do their job more effectively and efficiently with the resources available to them. I am tempted to develop that point. The message that came through from the ENCAMS report was that it was not the level of resources and how they were used that   resulted in variations in performance and effectiveness up and down the country. However, I am sure, Mr. Forth, that I would not get too far down that path before being drawn back to the clause in front of us.

As I said, we have already dealt with a parallel clause, so far as the generalities are concerned. Clause 15 amends the 1984 Act by disapplying the requirement to serve a notice on an occupier where the vehicle is on the road and removing the requirement to serve a 24-hour notice where the vehicle is in such a condition that it is considered fit only for destruction. The word ''road'' is not restricted to the public highway, but includes all those to which the public have access, and will in many cases include private roads running through estates. I hope that we can agree 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 right hon. Gentleman is so charming, but he is not going to get away with it. He has failed to address any of the questions that I asked him about why we need a category of illegally parked cars. He has reminded me of another issue. In clause 15, the Government are transferring responsibility for removing illegally parked cars from the police to the local authorities. Is his Department going to transfer the resources that currently reside with the police?

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

So can the Minister answer one of the initial questions that I asked back on day one of the Committee's proceedings? Can he confirm that the police will maintain a residual responsibility for removing illegally parked cars?

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

This clause does not change the situation in relation to the respective powers of the police and the local authorities.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Order. I began the Committee in a spirit of generosity because I am new here, but that spirit has now expired. I remind the hon. Lady and the Minister that we are debating clause 15, which is entitled ''Notice of Removal''. That is all that the clause refers to. I invite the Committee to concentrate, laser-like, on that clause so that we can move on.

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

I am simply trying to press the Minister to confirm that the local authority will not be uniquely responsible for issuing the notice of removal, but will have a shared responsibility with the police. If he can confirm that, it will be helpful. My understanding is that there is confusion surrounding the matter, not least in the Local Government Association, which has requested clarification on the point. If the burden of issuing the notice is to be placed entirely on the local authorities, that is a new development worthy of note.

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

What I said in introducing this clause was meant to cover all the points that could possibly be raised. I said that existing legislation on abandoned cars was contained in two Acts, so we had to amend both Acts. The police will retain powers under the 1984   Act; we are not creating new duties and powers. The clause does nothing more than change the requirement for issuing notices.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.