Select Committee on Committee on the London Local Authorities Bill Minutes of Evidence


Evidence before the Committee (Questions 380-399)

WEDNESDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2003

380.  MR THOMPSON: Thank you, sir. If I can just summarise very briefly on one point. It is legal to act as a pedlar in the country throughout the UK. I have raised matters within the Petition of unfair competition that will come about if the amendments come into being and legal pedlars will no longer be able to trade in London. Would it not be nice to get rid of all the ills of the world if we all just stopped in bed? Thank you.

381.  CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Mr Clarkson?

382.  MR CLARKSON: Can I do the same as I did on the last clause and give you a very short response to that, please, sir. First, this is not unique as an approach, it has been approved by Parliament in the Westminster Act, it has also been approved in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Act. Both of those as Bills were reported against by the Government; there is no such report against this clause in this Bill at this stage.

383.  Next, can I make it plain to Mr Thompson that as a northern visitor he is more than welcome and, as he well knows, that was the last thing in my mind when I said what I said yesterday. All I was emphasising was that he or I can get a Pedlar's Certificate in Carlisle or Truro or Canterbury and operate as a pedlar in London. If I am a street trader the analysis is done locally looking at much more stringent criteria, for example in the London Borough of Haringey as you saw yesterday. It is a much more difficult hurdle to leap than it is in Carlisle, Truro or Canterbury for a pedlar.

384.  One notes that Mr Thompson is concerned about pedlars but really disarmingly that is much of the theme of his approach. He identifies problems and elaborates upon them, particularly, for example, about non-EU labour that has no difficulty in getting a pedlar's licence. That is nothing to do with our case but it does indicate that there is a pedlar's operation of Mr Thompson expressing his own concerns. He is welcome to trade in London, he can trade as a pedlar door-to-door. If he is going to trade where a street trader's licence is required he will have to get one. The position is he turns over £1 million with ten pedlars. We have a suspicion that his operation at least is more than able to meet the cost concerns relating to a street trader's licence.

385.  The last point I have is there are issues with street trading from pedlars. It may be a cynic would say, not Mr Thompson, that most of the pedlars appearing in London are using this certificate as a pretence to hide behind street trading. That is our fundamental concern. We consider it significant, for example, that the only example Mr Thompson gives of his hands-on analysis was at Wembley when he was told by a police officer that if he did not move on he would be nicked for obstruction. That has a familiar ring to the concerns that we have laid before the Committee. That is all I have to say.

386.  CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr Clarkson. Mr Thompson, you can leave the bench now.

387.  MR CLARKSON: Can I declare a problem? It comes about as a result of the Committee's request yesterday that we deal with Clause 4, which we will deal with. It is just that I would like you to hear from Mr Lester on that. If I can just interpose Clause 4. It is one of the unopposed matters that the Committee wanted elaboration on. If I can take a short moment just to slot that in because Mr Lester has to be elsewhere this afternoon. I did not appreciate that or I would have raised it earlier. Can I slot him in, with the Committee's leave, so you can ask any questions that you have on Clause 4, that was the disposal of abandoned vehicles that you asked me to deal with yesterday morning.

388.  CHAIRMAN: That is right. That is of particular interest to Mr Blunt.

389.  MR CLARKSON: Could I just slip that in?

390.  CHAIRMAN: Yes.

391.  MR CLARKSON: While Mr Lester is coming forward let me just explain very briefly what it is that we lay before you. The 1978 Act provides that the authority to whom the vehicle is delivered, which in London is the Waste Disposal Authority, has to take certain steps before disposing of the vehicle. At present the authority can dispose of a vehicle at any time after its removal if no current licence was displayed on the vehicle at the time of its removal. Where a current licence is displayed on a vehicle the authority cannot dispose of it until the licence is expired or, in any other case, after they have taken the steps prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State on the owner of the vehicle.

392.  Clause 4 alters the provisions by enabling the authority to dispose of the vehicle immediately if no current licence is displayed or if no registration mark is fixed, an illegible registration mark is fixed or there is no registered keeper known at the DVLA. In any other case the authority would simply have to obtain the name of the registered keeper from the DVLA and that is the usual exercise, or if there is no registration mark on the vehicle then they would have to make such enquiries as appear to them to be practical to find out the identity of the owner of the vehicle, then serve a notice on the owner giving seven days for him/her to remove the vehicle. The effect of all these amendments is to curtail the period during which vehicles are stored and simplify the procedure for finding out who is responsible for it.

MR NICHOLAS LESTER, Recalled

Further Examined by MR CLARKSON

393.   MR CLARKSON: Mr Lester is before you. Mr Lester, is there any elaboration that you would like to make briefly before the Committee put their questions to you?

(Mr Lester) I think one comment I would like to emphasise is the scale of the problem. In 2001/02 in London 235,389 vehicles were reported as abandoned of which over 120,000 were actually abandoned. When they were inspected, because each report results in an inspection, over 120,000 were actually abandoned.

394.  What is the reason for that?

(Mr Lester) The main reason why the volume of abandoned vehicles is growing so rapidly is principally that the scrap value has diminished. So where a person would wish to get rid of a vehicle, if they take it to a scrapper they will not get any money at all back from it, in fact they may have to pay to get it disposed of and in that context it is far cheaper and simpler for private individuals wanting to get rid of vehicles to leave it at the side of the road where they become a fire hazard and public eye sore. The fire hazard alone costs the London Fire Brigade £50 million a year to deal with. So there is a very substantial operation here. The forecast is that the actual number of abandoned vehicles in the next two years is likely to double. This is one of the consequences of the End of Life Directive which will be eased in 2007 when the vehicle manufacturers become responsible for dealing with all vehicles, but over the period between now and 2007 it is considered to be a very major problem in London and it will have a very major effect on the quality of life of people in London.

Further Examined by THE COMMITTEE

395.  MR BLUNT: I was trying to follow counsel's introduction to this. The issue of when a vehicle has no current licence displayed is at the centre of my concerns. Does this involve any change in the current position? If a vehicle is lifted and goes into their custody and no current licence is displayed, is it the case at the moment that it can be immediately disposed of?

(Mr Lester) That is the case at the moment. I should emphasise that in earlier sections of the 1978 Act, which are not actually repeated within this Bill, it makes it clear that for a vehicle to be removed by the local authority there has to be a judgment that it is abandoned. It cannot just be untaxed. You could have a pristine car that is untaxed fall within the remit of this particular provision.

396.  Why not?

(Mr Lester) Because the vehicle has to be considered to be abandoned and needing to be destroyed before the authority can use the powers under the Refuge Disposal Amenity Act.

397.  MR CLARKSON: Can I give you chapter and verse? It is section 3 of the Refuge Disposal Amenity Act 1978 and the words are these, "... where it appears to a local authority that a motor vehicle in their area is abandoned without lawful authority" - so the test is where it appears to a local authority that the motor vehicle is abandoned, it is a judgment.

398.  MR BLUNT: Obviously the concern here is to protect citizens who either inadvertently have failed to renew their licence if they have been away for a significant period or their licence has fallen off. If I can give you an example. How is a citizen protected from the fact that they have their car parked in their own street and their licence disc, for whatever reason, is not displayed? Whilst they are away a parking restriction is put into place - let us say someone wants to move house - which then says they are not allowed to park here and unbeknown to them their car is then removed in order to free up the parking space. Presumably their local authority is entitled to dispose of their car regardless of its value.

(Mr Lester) This is not entirely subject to the provisions. There are other provisions for when vehicles are removed for parking restriction reasons. They are very similar in that they would require the removal authority to take steps to ascertain the owner of the vehicle and to contact the owner of the vehicle and give them a chance to remove it before the vehicle is disposed of. In this particular instance we are talking about abandoned vehicles where it is not a vehicle that is in good condition, typically it might have wheels missing or windows broken. The judgment that has to be made, first of all, is that the vehicle is abandoned before it comes within the remit of these particular amendments.

399.  If someone exercises judgment in an over-zealous way in deciding what is an abandoned vehicle and an individual finds his car is disposed of, is there any come back for the individual concerned?

(Mr Lester) Yes, there is. The disposing authority has to keep an account of the disposal and any income it receives from it, if it does get any income from it. If the individual comes back and says, "I'm sorry, my car was perfectly legitimate and you shouldn't have disposed of it" then the authority has to return the value that they have received to the owner and it is subject to any charges that may have been incurred at the time.


 
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