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For the benefit of the House, may I take this opportunity to mention my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests in regard to the Royal Automobile Club? I should also like to mention that I own a modest amount of shares, which are not registrable, in BT and a number of individual company personal equity plans and individual savings accounts in utility companies. In my spare time, I am also undertaking a placement with Network Rail, which has been of great interest.
Speaking to amendment No. 28 gives me the opportunity to mention a loophole in the Bill that came to our attention after the Committee stage. We hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that the Government will look favourably on inserting into clause 2 the provision that
should be taken into account in regard to certain gating orders. This relates to issues raised by farm owners and landowners and, in particular, to concerns raised by the Country Land and Business Associationthe CLA.
Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): Given that the hon. Lady has been complaining of insufficient time to scrutinise the Bill, will she tell us why there are no Conservative Back Benchers present to scrutinise it?
Miss McIntosh: The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, but I am afraid that she is treading on thin ice. Bearing in mind the hugeand short-livedmajority of Labour Members, I must point out that only one or two of her colleagues are on the Labour Benches at the moment, so she might regret making that remark. Also, Conservative reinforcements are arriving as we speak.
The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael):
The hon. Lady seems unaware of what has just happened behind her. The empty Conservative Back Benches were occupied briefly by a Conservative Member, who entered stage left and walked all the way to stage right before going straight out of the Chamber, so captivated was he by her words. I remind her that 18 Labour MPs spoke vigorously in support of the Bill on Second Reading. They felt that it was the right Bill because of all the
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discussions that we have had with everybody about how effective it will be. But I must allow the hon. Lady to get on with her scrutiny.
The Bill as drafted does not allow gating orders, and the associated barriers, to be put in place on a route that forms the principal means of access to a dwelling. In our view, and that of the CLA, that is simply too restrictive. In many cases, the persons most in need of a barrier are those who live in a dwelling and suffer from persistent crime and antisocial behaviour because of the access available on that right of way. Once made, the gating orders will be flexible and need not prohibit access completely. The amendment would add flexibility in this regard, and would allow for a gating order to be made when the owner of the dwelling agreed to it. I submit that this would be a minor but beneficial improvement, and that it addresses some of the points put to us that we did not have the opportunity to raise in Committee.
Alun Michael: On the face of it, I suppose it might seem not unreasonable for residents to agree to curtail their own access, but they would also be curtailing access for a wide range of others who may have a legitimate purpose for having access. For instance, this proposal could hamper the delivery of mail and of other services for which providing access keys might not be practical.
The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) says that she was briefed on this concern by the CLA, but I have to say that the CLA has not raised it with me, although I speak to it regularly. The legislation is intended to provide for gating back and side alleys to deal with problems that have been experienced in inner urban areas. It is not intended to provide for gating the principal means of access.
I see the purpose of proposed new section 129B(4) as ensuring that the legislation is not used for purposes for which it is not intended. For that reason, I suggest that the hon. Lady withdraw her amendment.
Miss McIntosh: With some disappointment, we learn that the Minister does not seem to have grasped the reasonable points that we made and is unable to offer the assurance we seek. However, I am sure that there will be opportunitieswhen the Secretary of State introduces regulations, for examplefor the CLA to be consulted further. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
In a moment, I shall say how amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 14 are linked. First, however, I urge the Minister to look sympathetically on new clause 6. We believe it is important to have a definition of an abandoned vehicle, butstrangely, in the circumstances relating to this part of the Billthere is no such definition. Indeed, there is no such definition anywhere in the legislation, nor is there a definition of a vehicle fit for destruction.
In 200203, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions consulted on proposals to speed up abandoned car removal. That mainly involved shortening the statutory notice periods15 days on private land and seven on a highway. The consultation resulted in no action, and it was generally understood that that was because of the concern expressed about historic and restorable vehicles, particularly in relation to when people were away on business or on holiday.
There were also understood to be Human Rights Act 1998 concerns about the right to property and whether the rules were widely enough understood. Concern was also expressed that many local authorities had difficulties in assessing vehicles and judging them to be abandoned. There were calls, albeit by the DTLR in its consultation, for a statutory definition and guidance.
Many local authorities were concerned about having to pay compensation, although it was suggested that motor trade assessors could be used to estimate value. Other concerns involved value, what is personal value, what is market value and how those should be defined.
Since that consultation, many local authorities have established links to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency database. Indeed, some are using the DVLA's untaxed removal powers, which is probably the best way forward. A definition of abandoned vehicles has been difficult to get to grips with, but it was felt that this was
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the right time to have a go. On the criteria in relation to what should establish a definition, a vehicle shall be deemed to be abandoned if a number of factors are in place: recent observations; evidence relating to its inactivity; no activity regarding it on the DVLA's database for five years, such as road tax or statutory keeper listings; all identifying features, number plates and vehicle identification number removed.
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