Finance Bill

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Kitty Ussher: I find those questions and comments very useful and I shall start as the hon. Member for Putney requested by outlining the purpose behind the Government amendments, which are technical in nature. I will then address her amendment and the broader points she raised. Amendment No. 313 is intended to put beyond doubt the Government’s intention that the schedule should not apply to any place within the curtilage of not only a dwelling house, but also a mobile home or houseboat. That is because the word “it” would be unequivocally inclusive of all those types of dwelling place, whereas there is a risk that the existing drafting of “the dwelling” could be incorrectly taken to mean only a dwelling house. We hope that the hon. Lady will be able to support that.
Amendment No. 314 simply corrects a drafting error—it is regrettable that we have one, but a good idea to correct it. When a vehicle has been incorrectly immobilised where a SORN is in force for it, the vehicle will be released, but there is a discretionary condition under which enforcement personnel can ask an individual to attest that SORN is in effect for the vehicle. If there is a circumstance where this testimony is sought and given, there should not be a need for the individual to produce a testimony that they have already made, so the amendment removes that requirement. I hope that that is uncontroversial.
3.15 pm
Justine Greening: Can the Minister tell the Committee how many vehicles have been incorrectly immobilised in the past 12 months by enforcement officials?
Kitty Ussher: I hope to be able to tell her shortly.
The hon. Lady is right to say that amendment No. 315 is the most substantive of our amendments. If it were not agreed to, the clause would give enforcement personnel disjointed powers. They would have the power to immobilise a vehicle, but they would not have the power to remove the vehicle if immobilisation had failed to induce a response. Without the amendment, the DVLA would be unable to deliver the policy intention as it relies on a well established two-stage process of vehicle immobilisation and, if required, subsequent removal, which is already practised on public roads. It is not a change of policy but it should have been in the original drafting.
On the hon. Lady’s amendment No. 352, the clause offers protection against vehicle excise duty enforcement in places that are intrinsically part of a private dwelling. The amendment does not further define “privately owned” and we feel that there are categories of publicly accessible places that are privately owned. If the amendment were permitted, we would not, for example, be able to enforce on housing association roads or open land, including waste land, parks, greens, retail facility car parks, municipal car parks and so on, which are all privately owned yet publicly accessible. We feel that if a car is left in a municipal car park, for example, it should be enforceable. That is why we do not feel that the hon. Lady’s amendment works. It would not help us to achieve our aim. It would also be extremely burdensome for the authorities and, therefore, ultimately for the taxpayer by requiring the ownership of the land to be checked in every eventuality when a car that does not have a tax disc is found in an odd place.
Mr. Field: This is another example of the notion that it is extremely burdensome for the authorities to make these checks in advance. Surely the Government are looking at this in entirely the wrong way. Citizens of this country have the right not to have a privately owned motor car on private land immobilised, removed or disposed of at the state’s behest without certain safeguards. The state should ensure that such a car should not be immobilised for a range of different reasons or for behaving in a particular way. Individuals should be entitled to the freedom of owning a motor car without a set of arbitrary provisions being applied by the Revenue or other instruments of the state according to a range of vague guidelines and safeguards.
Kitty Ussher: The hon. Gentleman is trying to make a moral point but he is rather missing the point under discussion. We are discussing the Government’s policy—I am sure that it is welcomed by Opposition members—that if a car is not used, no tax disc is needed. The process for declaring whether a car is being used depends on whether it is on or off the road. We are trying to define more precisely how that policy is enforced. The hon. Member for Putney asked some questions about our precise definition of “curtilage” and about privately owned areas on which one can park a car and consider it off-road. I am simply pointing out that there is private land that is probably construed by any sensible person as being on the road. It would not be sensible therefore to have “private land” as our definition. We are using the word “curtilage”, which I will define shortly.
It is perfectly reasonable that we should seek to enforce if a car is left on land that happens to be privately owned by, for example, a company, such as a car park. That is different from a yard outside someone’s house. That was my point.
Justine Greening: This is getting to the heart of the issue. None of us has an issue about dealing with road tax evasion, but the Bill says nothing about the duties on enforcers to request access to a private car park, perhaps from the owner, before going on to that car park.
The Minister may see that as burdensome, but, given that there will be other cars and other people’s property in the car park, it does not seem too much to ask for contact to be made before entry. I am sure that most bona fide car park operators would be happy to co-operate in bearing down on road tax evasion.
Kitty Ussher: I would be interested to know how companies such as NCP would respond to the hon. Lady’s suggestion. Such car parks are publicly accessible. Other examples of privately owned land that is publicly accessible include housing association land, waste land, parks, greens and shopping centre car parks. If the hon. Lady is suggesting that tax disc enforcement personnel should seek agreement from the company before stepping on to such land, she is not displaying her party’s usual desire to reduce regulatory burdens.
Mr. Bone: This is a serious issue. I want to mention a constituency case where someone went on holiday for about three months and parked his car off-road on private land. Unfortunately, the authorities took his car away and mashed into a metal box. He was somewhat upset when he came back. He was more concerned about the tools that were in the vehicle than the vehicle itself, but that is not the point. There must be good safeguards against such things happening.
Kitty Ussher: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising a case on behalf of his constituent. I do not know whether he has raised it with me in writing or with the Exchequer Secretary, but obviously we will be happy to assist if we can. However, it is not quite the point under discussion.
I hope that the hon. Member for Putney will realise that this is something worth considering.
Justine Greening: I understand the Minister’s point about public car parks. Can she clarify what she means by public areas? We all understand the point about going into a shopping centre car park to have a wander round and check car tax discs. That certainly happens in my part of London as part of a public duty to ensure that untaxed vehicles are removed and do not take up parking spaces. Is that what she has in mind? Or does she have in mind that these powers should also extend, for example, to officers going on to private land, perhaps farm land, fields and all sorts of land that does not have public access per se, in order to detect road tax evasion? Is the concept of it being publicly accessible the key part of the schedule that gives protection to those who have private land and might not think that it is acceptable for other people simply to come on to their land without permission?
Kitty Ussher: We have got to the nub of the issue now. The amendment suggests the inclusion of land that is “privately owned”. I am simply pointing out that I do not think that that would be workable because it would include private land that happens to be owned by a private entity or company—car parks are a good example, and there are others. It does not follow from my rejection of the hon. Lady’s amendment that I think that law enforcement officers should be able to trespass on private land. I hope that that offers clarification. We feel that we can deal with evasion on large rural estates, for example, in other ways, and there are also exemptions for agricultural vehicles, which I will address later.
The hon. Lady asked what is meant by curtilage? The definition of curtilage is quite narrow, so I want to make a number of points about large private estates, which I hope will clarify our intention. Some of this might also end up being tested through case law, but our intention is to try to make it as clear as possible. The intention is that curtilage should apply to places that are intrinsically part of a private dwelling, and operational guidance for enforcement personnel will reflect that. The places should be intrinsically part of a private dwelling, which I think answers her point. Obviously, a garage or parking bay might be considered part of a dwelling if it is near it and was bought and sold with the dwelling. That partially answers the point about a garage that is owned and is part of the estate of a property but is not completely next door to it, even if they are separated by land or buildings not owned by the householder. I hope that that will provide some clarity for city and town dwellers. As I said, it would ultimately be for the courts.
Curtilage around flats that lie beyond the public road would be treated as follows: the approach roads will be subject to enforcement as they would if they were part of the public road network, but parking areas and spaces around a block of flats, for example, will be treated as being within curtilage and therefore beyond enforcement reach. I will be happy to consider any other specific examples.
With regard to the effect on the agricultural community and the question of whether it would be possible to wheel clamp a vehicle on farm land without permission, the measure will affect unlicensed vehicles that are parked on agricultural land. The exception to that would be the land lying within the cartilage or vicinity of a private dwelling that is not normally used within that dwelling. Of course, there is already a 1.5 km distance-based nil rate for vehicles used on the land, and that applies to any vehicle used in that way. That can include a Land Rover, a quad bike and a four-wheel drive, light utility truck, such as a Unimog—I am learning all sorts of new things, although I do not have one myself.
Justine Greening: I thought that it perhaps might have been a cat with only one leg, but I am assured otherwise by that clarification.
Kitty Ussher: I think that the hon. Lady’s comment speaks for itself.
Other agricultural and horticultural vehicles that have specific nil-rate eligibility in existing legislation include all tractors and other motorised agricultural implements such as mobile crop sprayers—I am going into detail to show that we are trying to draw this clearly. Of course, vehicle keepers in the agricultural community who use their vehicles on the land and only traverse a public road for a short distance, as is the case when their fields are on both sides of a road, are eligible to license their vehicles at a nil rate. I have probably addressed the main points, so unless the hon. Lady feels that I have missed something, perhaps I have reassured her on the points she raised.
3.30 pm
Justine Greening: The Economic Secretary has provided some reassurance on some of my concerns, and I take her point about the distinction between public and private. I understand her concerns about my amendment. She has gone some way to allaying my fears by clarifying the access issues, particularly with regard to farm and agricultural property. I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment No. 352.
The Chairman: The hon. Lady does not need to, as it has not been moved, although we have discussed it. I accept that she will not be seeking a Division on that amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 314, in schedule 45, page 417, line 12, leave out ‘is so produced’.
No. 315, in schedule 45, page 417, line 41, at end insert—
‘(2A) In sub-paragraph (2), after “direction, may” insert “enter the place and”.’.—[Kitty Ussher.]
Schedule 45, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 140

Rates for new lower-emission vans
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
3.30 pm
Justine Greening: Clause 140 relates to rates for new lower-emission vans. It essentially accommodates the fact that it is now mandatory for lower-emission vans to be in the Euro 4 class and, therefore, will no longer get a lower VED rate. However, my understanding is that if they were registered between 1 March 2003 and 31 December 2006 and are Euro 4-compliant, they will continue to get the reduced rate of vehicle excise duty. Vans purchased after 2009 will not, hence my question. From the start of 2009, Euro 5 and Euro 6-compliant vehicles will get the reduced vehicle excise duty rate until the start of 2010. Then, Euro 5 and Euro 6 standards, like Euro 4, will themselves become mandatory.
My question is about vans that have been bought since 2007 and in 2008. Euro 4 vans bought after 13 December 2006 will not, apparently, get the reduced rate of £120. It is not clear to me why the Government have taken that approach. I understand the policy on vans bought after 2009 and onwards and the policy on low-emission vans bought before 2007, but can the Minister clarify the rate for people who bought Euro 4-compliant vans that were or will be registered between 1 January 2007 and 31 December 2008. Will they be paying the full rate of vehicle excise duty for light goods vehicles or will they be getting the reduced rate?
Kitty Ussher: That might have seemed mysterious to members of the Committee who did not understand the context. For their benefit I will explain briefly, and then come to the hon. Lady’s question.
The clause concerns rates for new low-emission vans. It provides for the introduction of a reduced rate of VED from 1 January 2009 for diesel vans that comply with the Euro 5 emissions standard. Although that standard is in force, it is not yet mandatory. Consumers therefore have a choice when selecting a new van, between models that have been built in conformity with the current mandatory standard Euro 4 and those built to comply with the more stringent Euro 5 emissions standard, which had been established through an EU regulation. That regulation gives member states the scope to use incentives to encourage early take-up, ahead of the standard’s mandatory introduction.
To meet the Euro 5 emissions standard, comparatively larger emission reductions are demanded from diesel vans than from petrol vans. That provides the Government with the grounds for an incentive to help deliver air quality gains—compared with earlier technology diesel vans—from reduced omissions of nitrous oxides and particulate matter. The reduced rate of VED is therefore intended to encourage early take-up of Euro 5 compliant diesel vans, ahead of Euro 5’s mandatory introduction in 2011. The reduced rate will be £120 on introduction, and will remain for the lifetime of the van.
EU law does not allow the Euro 4 incentive after 2007, and DVLA cannot bring in an incentive for Euro 5 before 2011. The standard only came into force in late 2007, so we could not give any incentive for Euro 5 before that. I hope that that answers the hon. Lady’s question.
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