Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Fabricant: I know that the Minister is sympathetic to the intelligence-led policing of the Kent constabulary, with which he is familiar. Given what applies to the audit trail, why do the Kent police take the view that it is not necessary to record transactions of small items?

Mr. Clarke: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not permitted to express a clear view in a debate on a private Member's Bill. The issues of the secondary market in the legislation to which the hon. Gentleman refers are complex—it is easier to identify parts of a motor bike than it is to identify the kinds of business that the Kent County Council Bill and the Medway Council Bill seek to regulate. That is why I take that view although, again, it is a fair point for the hon. Gentleman to make.

The third subsection of the new clause would exempt motor salvage operators from having to notify the DVLA of the destruction of a motor vehicle more than 10 years old if it was purchased for less than £100. We cannot support that; the DVLA vehicle register must be as accurate as possible because it is the foundation of a great deal of police work to prevent and detect crime.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. His response to my hon. Friend is clear. Does his argument apply only to the precautionary principle—I would not cavil at it if it did—or has the Minister been advised of examples of crime that would be impossible to detect if the new clause were accepted?

Mr. Clarke: We are basically advised by the precautionary principle. We expect that the powers in the Bill will be used only in relation to a small minority of the vehicles destroyed every year because the bulk will be notified to the DVLA by means of the certificate of destruction that will be implemented under the provisions of the EU end-of-life vehicles directive.

We oppose the fourth subsection of the new clause on the grounds set out by the hon. Member for Lichfield. The provisions of the Bill will extend only to domestic premises if they meet the definitions in subsection (2)—in other words, only to registered motor salvage dealers. We see no reason why any premises used for business, domestic or other purposes of registered motor salvage dealers should be exempted from the police powers, for the reasons that have already been argued. To exempt registered domestic premises from the powers to enter and inspect premises would be to blunt the Bill's effectiveness, making its objectives harder for the police to implement. We do not wish to provide any loopholes. We, therefore, disagree with each of the four subsections of the new clause although I am in the contradictory position of disagreeing with them without in any way criticising the motivation of the hon. Gentleman or of the BMF.

I make it absolutely clear that those who are engaged only in buying and selling parts—part of the business that we are talking about—do not come within the activities described in subsection (2). People come within the purview of the Bill only if they dismantle a vehicle for its parts; simply trading in parts does not in itself bring people within the purview of the Bill. In urging the hon. Member for Eastleigh to withdraw the motion, I assure him that, in regard particularly to fee structure and guidance but also to other areas of guidance, we will look more carefully than we would otherwise have done at the specific interests of the vintage trade—the hobbyist—because we do not wish to inhibit that reasonable activity.

Mr. Chidgey: I thank the Minister for his gracious and helpful response. I am glad that the Government understand that hobbyists—motor enthusiasts—are a different category of people. It was helpful of the Minister to say that those who trade solely in parts of motor cycles are outwith the purview of the Bill. That is a helpful clarification.

I understand the Minister's point about registered salvage operators. The most important fact is that they, rather than the premises from which they work, are registered as such. Far be it from me, as the member of the Committee who throughout has argued for a robust audit trail, to introduce an element that would break such a trail. Therefore, for the sake of consistency and out of gratitude to the Minister for his clarification, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

5.15 pm

The Chairman: New clause 4 is not moved.

Mr. Fabricant: On a point of order, Mr. O'Brien. I am disturbed that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green is not here to move new clause 4. The subject would have been interesting. Has the curse of Standing Committee A struck again? Is he unwell?

The Chairman: Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. The hon. Member is being naughty.

New Clause 9


    `After section 2 of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978 there shall be inserted—

    ``2A. The Secretary of State shall make provision for any revenue raised as a result of an offence committed under subsection (2)(1)(a) above to be provided to a local authority as an additional resource for the purposes of complying with the provisions of section 3(1) below''.'.—[Mr. Bercow.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Bercow: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 9 is the last of the new clauses and the last of the issues for the Committee to consider. I move new clause 9—

Mr. Greg Pope (Hyndburn): Formally?

Mr. Bercow: No, not formally, but I will try to be brief. So that our proceedings are meaningful to outside observers and intelligible to those members of the Committee who, unaccountably, do not have in their possession copies of the relevant sections of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978, I should emphasise that subsection (2)(1)(a) and section 3(1) are contained in that Act. Specifically, subsection (2)(1)(a) relates to penalties for unauthorised dumping, where vehicles are abandoned

    on land in the open air, or on any other land forming part of a highway.

Section 3(1) refers to the removal of abandoned vehicles. I hope that that puts the matter in context.

The Bill deals with motor salvage operators, but not with what happens before the vehicles get to the salvage operator. The new clause would add to the Bill, bolster it and give effect to a Conservative party policy. We are concerned that abandoned cars are left to clutter up the countryside because they do not have enough value as scrap. There is widespread concern about that. The evidence suggests a growing problem. A recent RAC survey found that some 150 to 250 cars are abandoned every month in Islington alone. The price of scrap metal is so low that increasingly old cars are being left on the streets, not scrapped.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester) indicated assent—

Mr. Bercow: I appreciate the assent of the hon. Member for Colchester to that proposition. He may have local experience that he will want to share with the Committee.

Cars often fetch as little as £3 as scrap, yet it often costs more than that to take them away. That imbalance is a disincentive to good conduct and an incentive to bad conduct. Scrap metal prices are unlikely to rise, given the effects of the end-of-life vehicles directive on increasing the amount of scrap metal.

Mr. Russell: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that while it is bad enough that people abandon cars, the fact that the cars often still have petrol in the tank is a safety hazard?

Mr. Bercow: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, although I would not want to go into the specifics of the matter.

We have all seen examples that are causes for concern. Fairly recently, not far from my Westminster flat, I saw a vehicle that had been burned out and abandoned, and was emitting an unpleasant odour. I do not know whether there was petrol in it. After a while, a sticker saying ``Police Aware'' was attached to it, and soon after that—although not as soon as I would have liked—it was removed.

Under section 2 of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978 it is an offence—for which a fine of up to £2,500 can be levied—to abandon a vehicle at any place in the open air. Under section 3 of the Act, councils have a duty to remove any abandoned vehicle. However, that is expensive, and local authorities often feel unable properly to fulfil the duty when they have many others to discharge. Whether or not a motor vehicle has been abandoned must be deduced from all the circumstances of the case. Section 2 appears to cover permanent, not temporary, abandonment. Section 2(2) states that

    a person who leaves any thing on any land in such circumstances or for such a period that he may reasonably be assumed to have abandoned it

has contravened that part of the Act.

The offence may be prosecuted by anyone—for example, an aggrieved landowner.

This point, relating as it does to the disposal of vehicles and to offences in relation to vehicles, will be of the closest possible interest, concern and, indeed, potential anxiety, to the Under-Secretary.

I should appreciate it if the Minister would attend for a few moments—

Mr. Charles Clarke: Talk to the point, then.

Mr. Bercow: I am talking closely to the point. This is an important issue relating to a piece of legislation that was passed 22 years ago.

There appears to be no more precise definition of ``abandoned'' than that which I just volunteered—which I am sure that the Under-Secretary could repeat off the top of his head, verbatim and without fault, were I to give him the opportunity to do so.

A House of Commons Library paper dated 26 June 2000 refers to ``Wilkinson's Road Traffic Offences''—a much-thumbed tome—which cites the dictionary definition of ``to give up'' or ``forsake'' and states that a vehicle will normally be considered to be abandoned if it is not properly taxed. Although the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 allows for the removal of untaxed vehicles, section 3 of the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978 still applies.

Abandoned vehicles must be removed from the streets in accordance with the law. The new clause would allow that to happen and should, if it works aright, ensure that it does.

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