Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 40-59

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Tuesday 18 February 2003

40. CHAIRMAN: I think what would be best is if we could make comments or ask questions now, at the end of which particular part of the Bill. I myself very warmly welcome this bit about abandoned vehicles because it is a problem all over London, and in fact all over the whole country now. There have been cases near where I live. What interests me is that you referred earlier to the time of 24 hours having been altered by the Government now. I am not as fully familiar with this as, perhaps, I should be, but the Government made a whole series of announcements recently about changes to the law in this respect; I wondered how the Government's proposed changes - or whether they are changes - relate to what you are doing here.

41. MR LEWIS: I think what happened was that just around the time - from recollection - when the Bill was deposited in November 2000 there was an announcement by the Government saying that they would consult on various alterations to the existing law on abandoned vehicles. One of those announcements was that they would speed through rapidly the one alteration which has resulted in the need not to promote Clause 4. I cannot remember exactly what all the other matters were which they consulted on, but I suspect they were pretty similar to what is proposed in the Bill.

42. What you are really saying is that they have not implemented ----

43. MR LEWIS: They have not implemented them.

44. CHAIRMAN: Apart from the 24-hour provision. In other words, from now onwards, if a vehicle is by the roadside and, apparently, abandoned with its tax disc out of date and so on, you will be able to take it away 24 hours later.

45. MR LEWIS: Yes. In fact, any council across the country can do that because of the changes by the Government. That is correct.

46. LORD ELTON: I have a very small drafting point. In the Clause 9A apart, I wonder what is the purpose of inserting the word "immediately" in the text. It would seem to me to have the same effect without it. I wondered if I was missing something.

47. MR LEWIS: I think you are probably right, my Lord. I think we can probably do without the word "immediately".

48. CHAIRMAN: Mr Saunders, do feel free to come in at any stage.

49. MR SAUNDERS: I am with Lord Elton; I think we can do without the word.

50. CHAIRMAN: Can we make an amendment?

51. MR LEWIS: I think, perhaps, we will keep a note of any similar suggested amendments and we will put a paper together which we can present tomorrow for your approval.

52. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Does anybody else have any questions on abandoned vehicles? Moving on to Part III.

53. MR LEWIS: Part III is Public Health and the Environment. I should just mention, on a general point, the heading in this part has been altered in accordance with a suggestion made by Mr Saunders and, also again on Mr Saunders' helpful suggestion, a number of clauses have been moved in and out of this part. However, as I said at the outset, I will deal with the clauses in the order in which they appear in the Bill.

54. Clause 11, Nuisance from Birds. My Lords, this is not the first time that the London boroughs have attempted to promote this clause. A similar clause was also contained in the Bill which became the London Local Authorities Act 2000. When the Promoters came before the Unopposed Bill Committee in this House on that occasion the Committee decided to allow the clause but with amendments, which I shall come on to later.

55. This clause enables councils to deal with the problem which is caused by roosting birds messing on the pavement. The problem is particularly acute with bridges, as you can imagine. I have got David Johnson from the London Borough of Wandsworth here to answer questions about the technical aspects of how the problem can be addressed and, also, about the extent of the problem as well, but I was not intending to call him to give evidence because we do not have a Government report against this clause. I have some photographs which I can hand in and which you are welcome to look at. I will only do so if you really want me to.

56. CHAIRMAN: I think we can probably recognise it.

57. MR LEWIS: You are probably familiar with the problem. The clause provides for a regime which will enable the councils to serve a notice on the owner of the property requiring them to take remedial measures to prevent the continuing nuisance. Crucially, the clause incorporates certain provisions to the Public Health Act 1936 including a provision enabling the council to carry out works in default and charge for the carrying out of those works. It was this charging provision which the Unopposed Committee, the last time round, decided should not be included. The councils decided, after that decision had been made, to drop the whole clause because it was felt to be worthless without the charging provision.

58. My Lords, obviously the Promoter of a Private Bill would not return to Parliament so soon seeking the same powers where they had previously been refused unless there is very good reason for so doing. The Promoters would submit that there has, since the promotion of the last Bill, been an event which does justify their return. The intervening event was a Court of Appeal case involving Wandsworth London Borough Council and Railtrack. That case involved Railtrack's railway bridge at Balham, under which a significant amount of pigeon mess had accumulated and kept accumulating due to the fact that the pigeons roosted underneath the bridge. The council was spending a significant amount of money clearing up the mess and took Railtrack to court using the Highways Act.

59. When the case eventually reached the Court of Appeal the Court decided that Railtrack was responsible for the nuisance and that it should pay for remedial measures to the bridge. The effect of Clause 11 is to reinforce that judgment with a statutory method of ensuring that the work is carried out promptly and properly. It should be noted that the council would only be able to serve notice under this Clause if they have grounds to suspect that a nuisance was being caused in the first place. They cannot just tell Railtrack to improve all the bridges, it is only where there is an existing problem.

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