Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 20-39

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Tuesday 18 February 2003

20. The Government Departmental reports have been submitted by the first Secretary of State and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister against Clause 33, enforcement of control as to advertisements. The Deputy Prime Minister, again, against Clause 27, fixed penalty notices and other associated clauses relating to fixed penalty notices, together with a supplementary report. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs again against Clause 27 and associated clauses and again backed up with a supplementary report. Also, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs reported against Clause 12 which is one of the clauses which we intend to ask leave to have deleted from the Bill.

21. I have mentioned the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, there was also a report from the Secretary of State for the Department of Health, again it is Clause 14 and again that is another clause which we intend to drop.

22. Penultimately a report from the Home Department against a number of clauses. Clause 16, again, intending to drop that one; Clause 19 which remains in the Bill; Clause 23, although the paragraph relating to that clause in the report seems to support rather than object to the Clause; Clause 24 registration of door supervisors, again another clause which is to be dropped and Clause 32 powers of parks constables which we will be dealing with tomorrow.

23. Finally there was a report from the Department of Trade and Industry in respect of the clause relating to the sale of spray paints to minors and I can confirm that the concerns raised by the DTI will be met and they will not be appearing before you on that particular issue.

24. My Lord, without further ado, I shall move on to the clauses.

25. Clause 1 deals with citation and commencement and needs no further explanation.

26. Clause 2 deals with interpretation. I would draw your attention to the definition of borough council and you will note in particular the deletion of the reference to the London Borough of Hillingdon, which I have explained already. There is a new definition of operational land which is a term used in more than one place in the Bill.

27. Clause 3 makes the provision for the appointed day. Two clauses, namely Clauses 17, multiple dog walking, and 18, sale of spray paints, are subject to the appointed day provision. This enables councils to choose when those particular provisions come into force in their area rather rely upon the automatic commencement which is provided in Clause 1. All the other clauses in the Bill will come into effect two months after Royal Assent. Clause 3 sets out the procedure which has to be followed by the council in appointing the day on which either Clause 17 or 18 will come into effect. An amendment is proposed which will require the council to give notice of the appointed day in the London Gazette and is one of many amendments very helpfully suggested by your Counsel. I would like to place on record my thanks generally for all the help which he has provided for the promotion of this Bill.

28. Part 2 deals with abandoned vehicles. There are no petitions lodged against any of the clauses in this part nor has there been any departmental report and any drafting points or points of principle which have been raised by Mr Saunders have been ironed out with the amendments which are now proposed. I hope that the mischief which these clauses attempt to address is one with which your Lordships are familiar. The number of cars which are abandoned on the highway and in other places which are accessible to the public has increased dramatically over recent years and this is for a number of reasons. They include the seemingly ever increasing turnover in car ownership and perhaps more importantly the rapid decline in the value of scrap metal, in many cases due to the fact that the car has no value at all. The owner simply decides to leave the car by the roadside and forget about it rather than drive it to a scrap dealer who may be asked to be paid to take it off the owner's hands. There is also, of course, the ever increasing problem of car theft and joy riding where quite often the ultimate result is that the car is abandoned and burnt out.

29. Powers for local councils to deal with abandoned vehicles are mainly to be found in the Refusal Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978. That Act enables local authorities to remove vehicles from the highway and other open spaces and ultimately destroy them if after certain steps have been taken they are unable to trace the owner or the owner does not claim the vehicle and pay the council's costs of removal and storage.

30. One of the main difficulties in the 1978 Act was the fact that before removing a vehicle from the highway the local authority had to place a notice on the vehicle at least seven days in advance of the removal. Clause 4 of the Bill is intended to alter that period to 24 hours. The Government has now made this alteration themselves and said the clause is therefore no longer required.

31. Dealing next with Clause 5. At present the 1978 Act together with regulations provide that the Authority to whom the vehicle is delivered, which in the case of the London Boroughs is the Waste Disposal Authority, has to take certain steps before disposing of the vehicle. At present the Authority can dispose of the 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 has expired or in any other case after they have taken the steps prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State in trying to determining the owner of the vehicle.

32. Clause 5 alters the provisions by enabling the Authority to dispose of the vehicle immediately if no current licence is displayed, no registration mark is fixed, an illegible registration mark is fixed or if there is no registered keeper known at DVLA. In any other case the Authority would simply have to attempt to obtain the name of the registered keeper from DVLA or if there is no registration mark on the vehicle make such inquiries as appear to them to be practical to ascertain the identity of the owner of the vehicle and then serve a notice on the owner giving seven days for him to remove the vehicle. The effect of all these amendments will curtail the period during which vehicles are stored and simplify the procedure for ascertaining who is responsible for it.

33. Clause 6 makes the provision about the level of fees which the Council may charge for the removal, storage and disposal of vehicles. The effect of the clause is to ensure that the charges are set at the same level as the charges which are made for the removal, storage and disposal of vehicles which have been illegally parked and towed away.

34. Clause 7: the London Borough Councils have now become very familiar with the definition of "owner" in respect of vehicles under the parking regime and, indeed, decriminalised bus lanes regime. The effect of Clause 7 is to alter the 1978 Act to provide the same definition. The owner of a vehicle is presumed to be the registered keeper whose name is kept at DVLA. That presumption is, of course, rebuttable by the registered keeper. There is an addition apart to this clause which tidies up the amendments which are required to be made to the 1978 Act.

35. Clause 8, Powers of Entry. This clause enables the local authorities to enter abandoned vehicles and remove any objects from them, and is particularly useful where the vehicle is to be disposed of. The clause is precedented in a previous London Local Authorities Act where the councils are given powers to enter vehicles for the purpose of removing objects from them when they have been towed away after they have been found to be illegally parked. It is particularly useful where perishable goods are involved. The additions apart in the clause, again, makes particular provision for the disposal of perishable items.

36. Clause 9, Disclosure of Information. This clause enables the councils to disclose to other London borough councils and, also, to Transport for London details of the ownership of a vehicle which has been obtained from DVLA. Your Lordships will remember this clause is mirrored in the TfL Bill. The details can only be disclosed if it is necessary for the purposes of the enforcement of any of the provisions set out in subsection 2, namely the enforcement of law relating to abandoned vehicles, parking bus lane contraventions and other decriminalised road traffic offences which are being dealt with separately in the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill currently before this House.

37. Clause 9A is a new clause and appears in the additions apart on page 4 at the front of the Bill. This new clause makes provision for cases where, on the day the Bill comes into force, a vehicle has already been removed by the council under the 1978 Act. It provides that the 1978 Act shall continue to apply as respects the way in which the vehicle should be dealt with.

38. CHAIRMAN: Is that the end of Part II?

39. MR LEWIS: My Lords, that is the end of Part II.

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