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


Evidence before the Committee (Questions 820-839)

WEDNESDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2003

820.  Are those sites that are accessible from the highway and it is not operational land?

(Mr Miles) It would be unsafe to go on to RailTrack land. These are just sites that are visible and prominent in the borough.

821.  MR BLUNT: I accept and understand that. I just want also to be able understand this. I am a resident in Hammersmith and Fulham and I know that there are areas which have been significantly improved by London Underground and, for example, I do not know if you are familiar with the site at Parsons Green tube station. However, just along from there are a series of small businesses who have their place of work under the arches who I would suggest are, and I do not know what the financial situations of those businesses are, but they are largely people who are self-employed and if their businesses are on the verge of profitability or not, the income being derived from the people working there are probably the very same people you are seeking to protect by not being prepared to raise a charge against their property, yet you are prepared to raise a charge against their business even though their garage or whatever might be defaced through no fault of their own. It is simply the question of that judgment being made in those circumstances. Is there any flexibility available to you? What sort of discussion did you have about the merits of doing that?

(Mr Miles) Charging someone to remove their graffiti is a last option. We would encourage people to remove it themselves and we would give them advice on how best to remove it and how they may possibly be able to protect their property in the future. Basically we would encourage people to remove it themselves because it is definitely a cheaper way of doing it. We would only charge as and when we have given them every opportunity to try and remove it themselves.

822.  I appreciate that, but I am just questioning the fairness of someone who has their property defaced then being presented with a bill by the local authority for cleaning it up, and I take it you see the relative injustice of doing that with someone's home. Just because their premises they own is not their home, is it appropriate to divide between the two?

(Mr Miles) I personally think it is. It is a business. It is criminal damage. The Council has limited resources to deal with graffiti in the borough. Whilst some monies can be allocated to removing it from private residents' homes, we have not got the budget or the resources to be able to do it for businesses free of charge.

823.  MR BLUNT: Thank you for the background to the discussions.

The witness withdrew

824.  MR CLARKSON: There is a substantial point which I must bring before the Committee's attention and that is the potential for general legislation on this. The Government has introduced their Anti-Social Behaviour Bill and more latterly amendments have been made to the Bill which include a nationwide regime, enabling councils to serve these graffiti removal notices. As Promoters of this Bill, we recognise that the provisions of the Government Bill replicate the 1995 Act and in some respects go wider, but there is no charging provision, I make that plain, there is no charging provision. The Bill is in committee in the other place, I think, next week following our committee hearing this week. That Anti-social Behaviour Bill does not include any provisions repealing the underlying 1995 London Act provisions, so they will remain. For that reason we do seek leave to continue the promotion of these amendments in the form that we prefer. Ultimately we recognise that the Government could easily resolve the conflict between the two Bills, but until then we do ask leave to continue with this clause before the Committee. I think that is all I can say on that point. We are in a tricky position on that at this stage and I have to leave it with the Committee.

825.  CHAIRMAN: I do not think the Committee would be doing a service if they did not allow you to continue.

826.  MR CLARKSON: Thank you very much. That is all I have to deal with on that. I think those are all the loose ends I have. I am sorry, just to finish on one point, back to abandoned vehicles. I hope I have made it clear. I am not sure whether I understood the Committee to go this far in the suggestion that under Clause 4(2)(a)(i), under which no current licence is displayed, I have given you the amendment on that. What is more important that I am most concerned about is the question of whether that should be taken out altogether. In that case we will be worse off than we are now because under the underlying amended Act "no current licence is displayed" is one test (?).

827.  There is another loose end which Mr Mundy will be grateful for, but I shall tell him outside that we have done it. He raised, or the Committee raised, under Clause 14(1)(b) "causes or permits any person so to do". On reflection over the break, we think whoever raised it is probably right, it is probably redundant and could raise issues of concern for owners where we do not intend it to. Could I formally ask that that element, "causes or permits any person so to do" is truck out?

828.  CHAIRMAN: It was Mr Mundy that raised it with Mr Stratton, I think. We will consider that.

829.  MR CLARKSON: Thank you very much indeed.

830.  MR BLUNT: I am sorry, Mr Clarkson, I have one question for clarification. "On which no current licence is displayed", which you would like to read "on the date on which it was proposed that the vehicle should be disposed of", that is still qualified, I take it, by Clause 6 - that is within 14 days. Is that right?

831.  MR CLARKSON: Yes. That is because the definition is to a current licence. A current licence is referred to there.

832.  MR BLUNT: The question I put to Mr Lester was that the Committee could change that to a slightly longer period without it destroying the effect of the Bill, but removing the clause on the current licence would leave you significantly worse off than you are now.

833.  MR CLARKSON: Much. Thank you very much.

834.  CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr Clarkson. If you have concluded I would be very grateful if everyone would withdraw.

Counsel and Parties were ordered to withdraw

and after a short time were again called in

835.  MR CLARKSON: May I just tidy up one point before the Committee says anything. If I can ask you to turn to page 25, line 25, at the end the following is inserted. Could we substitute for "Railtrack plc" the words "Network Rail Infrastructure Limited", which is what they are called now? I am grateful.

836.  CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I must bring conclusions to the end by saying that the Committee has decided that the case for the pre-amble has been proved and has accepted the amendments by the Promoter including the one that has just scraped in under the wire. At this stage I would like to express my appreciation to all the Petitioners and to all the witnesses for the time and effort that they have taken in coming here and expressing their position so clearly and making our task in understanding the Petitions and the questions and enabling us to reach a conclusion.

837.  I must apologise that we are running over time but Divisions in the House do cause immense problems when we have matters like this. We are not masters of our own destiny in that particular respect. The Committee would wish to amend some of the clauses. I would like to start by saying that we would like to amend Clause 6(1)(2)(b) with a change from 14 days to 28 days. We feel that that would be a satisfactory period of time if somebody had gone away on holiday and had omitted to take the necessary action to license their vehicle before they departed.

838.  We find that the Petition against Clause 10 is not accepted but with one amendment to subsection 9. That one amendment is that the uniform must be of a prescribed pattern that would be common throughout the whole of London. The Committee felt that it would be completely and utterly wrong and confusing to find 30-plus London boroughs each with their own uniform, each with their own design and logo leaping out and trying to stop the motorist. We felt that that would be confusing and, indeed, dangerous.

839.  We found that Clause 14 was proven but we would like to see subsection 8 redrafted, particularly with the definition of a "multiple dog-walker", with particular relationship to the number of leads. In asking the Promoters to redraft that clause, could we advise that you do consult with the Petitioners on a way forward. The Committee felt that even three large dogs at loose without any requirement of a licence could be a danger and could be a risk. That was the reason why we would like to see the definition of a multiple dog-walker revisited.


 
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