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


Evidence before the Committee (Questions 400-419)

WEDNESDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2003

400.  Is it possible for that individual to challenge the quality of the judgment made in lifting the car, in other words getting full restitution for the value of the car rather than the money on it less charges by the council?

(Mr Lester) Clearly it might be possible to challenge the council's general decision on determination of abandonment through a judicial review, but it is very unlikely. The formal process is that there is a notice and there is a restitution procedure afterwards. I think it should also be clear that where you have, for example, a residents' parking area and the person with a parking permit has gone away on holiday and during that time the council wants to block part of it off for a removal van to come in or something like this, every council in issuing the residents' parking permit advises the holder that while they are away on holiday they should ask a neighbour or a friend to keep a general eye on the vehicle, and that is something which is regularly discussed and regularly brought up in cases before the adjudicator when vehicles are removed in exactly the circumstances you describe and then the owner comes and reclaims them later on. One issue that is regularly raised is "I was away on holiday" and the adjudicators have considered how that should be dealt with and that comes within the terms of the parking regulations.

401.  If the Committee were minded to strike out "on which no current licence is displayed" from your Bill which is Clause 4 (2)(1)(a)(i) what would be the practical effect on your operations?

(Mr Lester) There would be two major effects. The first is that the vehicles, if they did not meet any of the other three aspects, no registration or an illegible registration mark or no registered keeper, would have to stay in the pound almost indefinitely because there would be no basis on which disposal could take place.

402.  Except you would then go to sub-paragraph (b).

(Mr Lester) Yes, if you could determine who the keeper was.

403.  Is that clause critical when councils are deciding to dispose of a vehicle immediately or do they normally go through at least a process of establishing who might own it?

(Mr Lester) Where there is a reasonable chance that the person might want to come back - and in about ten per cent of cases where vehicles are removed they are reclaimed and that is when there is a clear tax disc normally because that is an indication that people put a value on it - the councils will make the effort to try and establish the owner before they dispose of the vehicle. If you removed (1)(a)(i) it would add considerable time and cost to the operation in an area where costs are already significant.

404.  What would happen? What would be the effect of amending clause 6 which is related to this which is a definition of a current licence and allows a 14-day grace period for the licensee after the licence has expired?

(Mr Lester) That is right.

405.  What would be the effect of extending that to 28 days to take it beyond a reasonable length of time that somebody might be away on business or holiday?

(Mr Lester) Well, I should point out that there is no grace period anywhere else connected with the licence and now the DVLA is enforcing if it is only one day out of date, so we are already being a little bit generous in this area.

406.  It is a slightly different kettle of fish, a fine for not displaying a disc and having your car disposed of.

(Mr Lester) It is, I understand. I do not know how many vehicles would fall within that category where they are removed and it is between 14 and 28 days. I cannot give you that answer, I am afraid. I suspect that the answer is some, but probably that would be an easier issue to live with.

407.  JIM SHERIDAN: The scenario that Mr Blunt paints about the tax disc falling off or somebody failing to renew it because they are on holiday, is there any evidence that that has happened up until now?

(Mr Lester) Not significantly. As I say, we get about 10 per cent of vehicles towed away as abandoned that are reclaimed.

408.  How many come back saying, "I meant to renew it", or "It fell on the floor"?

(Mr Lester) It is not a very significant number. I do not have a precise number, but it is not a significant claim. The main claim is, "My vehicle was not abandoned. It may look like a wreck with wing mirrors broken and things like that, but I use it every day", and it is a reflection of a trend which is worryingly on the increase of people buying £300, £400 or £500 cars, not maintaining them, not taxing them, not insuring them and then running them into the ground until either they fall to pieces or they are towed away for another reason at which point they abandon them and go and get another one, and that is a problem area that I think we face all the way round.

409.  CHAIRMAN: Are you able to go against the 1978 Act, I think it is the 1978 Act, which says in fact, as you have already said, that there is no period of grace, but the London Authority Bills have decided that they will give a period of grace, whereas the law of the land says that there is no period of grace?

(Mr Lester) It is a self-restraining ordinance, I think.

410.  CHAIRMAN: I am just curious as to whether you would start amending within London a series of national laws, that is all. I do not know whether Mr Clarkson could help on that.

411.  MR CLARKSON: I will have to think about that, if I may, but can I help you with one point which is fundamental to the honourable Member Mr Blunt's concern and that is the question of no current licences displayed. That is not new. That has been there since 1978. The 1978 Act applies it in the case of a vehicle to which a notice was affixed in accordance with subsection (5) of that section and on which no current licence was displayed at the time of its removal and at any time after its removal. So what this Bill is doing is elaborating under 1A by adding subsections (2), (3) and (4) which are the extra ingredients. That is the registration mark, et cetera. The current licence has been in play for 25 years. Perhaps I may just take instructions on the other point and come back to you on that.

412.  CHAIRMAN: Certainly. It is a matter of curiosity and importance.

413.  MR CLARKSON: Thank you very much, Mr Lester.

The witness withdrew

414.  MR CLARKSON: Clause 14 is the last proposed revision. Can I just take you briefly through it so that it is understood what it is we are seeking to promote. Clause 14(1):

"Any person who (a) carries out multiple dog-walking on land to which this section applies (i) without the written consent of the borough council; or (ii) in breach of any condition subject to which the council's consent is given; or (b) causes or permits any person so to do, shall be guilty of an offence...level 3."

415.  What we are promoting is a licensing regime. The licence will have conditions and they are set out, the sorts of conditions are set out at subsection (2). Subsection (3) says that a reasonable fee can be charged and that fee will be set taking into consideration the costs of administration and the costs of enforcing. A consent can be revoked under subsection (4). The basis of revocation is set out in subsection (5), being: misconduct, conviction of an offence, sufficiency of persons who have already got consent in a particular area, risk of danger or inconvenience and never uses the consent.

416.  There is an appeal process. There are two extra and important points following from the definition at subsection (8) and also the appointed day provisions. First, this is concerned with multiple dog-walking defined as more than four dogs at the same time. Second, it is up to a borough to pick up the provision, that is to say they can resolve to apply the provisions.

417.  The issue encapsulated is that there is an increasing trend for professional dog-walkers to use the public resources in London to undertake their profession and there is no suggestion but that that is not an excellent idea. It is a service to dog-owners, but because it is on a public resource, there are inevitably other competing interests and the local authorities are careful of those other competing interest and they have to strike a balance.

418.  Multiple dog-walking requires, self-evidently, responsibility and I hope it does not require too much elaboration to say that it is potentially anti-social, disturbing or even dangerous on some occasions. The licence would achieve a permissive regime that makes sure that, subject to conditions, multiple dog-walkers act in a social way.

419.  The designation, if you look at Schedule 2, will be after consultation, that is to say, on page 22, Schedule 2. Before designating any land the borough council shall give notice of their proposal by publicity, take into consideration objections and then they may designate.


 
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