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Mr. Hanson: I shall certainly look into that. I hope that all hon. Members will accept that the Government are taking strong initiatives that are occasionally difficult, and that our purpose is to ensure that we control the spread of foot and mouth disease and give financial support to those who are most affected.

The Government have taken a number of farming initiatives, such as the rural development plan, in conjunction with the National Assembly, the "Farming for the Future" consultation document that the National Assembly has produced, and--to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion--the agrifood partnership that the Assembly has undertaken that will look at action plans for the lamb, beef, dairy and organic sectors. In addition, there is the hill livestock compensatory allowance reform consultation exercise. The Government are, therefore, providing a tremendous amount of support.

We have been at great pains to point out on a number of occasions that the provisions that the Government have introduced, such as the working families tax credit, the minimum wage, child benefit and the children's tax credit are all available to support people in rural areas. That includes rural areas such as Montgomeryshire, where Paul Davies will fight the forthcoming election as the Labour candidate, and my own area, in which we have a proud record on which to work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North mentioned the success of this Government. By the time we hold the next Welsh day debate, whether that is before or after the election, Wales will have faced a choice. That choice is between a Government committed to further investment in people and services and a Conservative party led by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks that is committed to £16 billion worth of cuts. That is £24 million worth of cuts in each constituency, from Vale of Clwyd to Vale of Glamorgan: cuts in public services, policing, education and the health service.

Wales will also have faced a choice between a positive role in Europe and five years of isolation, and a choice between hon. Members who have a full role to play in this House and part-time Members who would not be full Members of the House under a Conservative Government.

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The choice is between extending the new deal in a caring society with social justice, or scrapping it. Those are choices for Wales. There is also a choice between the Government's policies and the isolationism and lack of British Government investment that a nationalist party would bring to Wales. I say to this country and to Wales that the Government have a proud record, and my right hon. and hon. Friends have a strong record to defend. They will defend it, and when they do, last Thursday's opinion polls will be proved correct.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [28 February],

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 31, at end add--
'( ) The committee shall have power to appoint a sub-committee, which shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to report to the committee from time to time.
( ) The committee shall have power to report from time to time the minutes of evidence taken before the sub-committee.
( ) The quorum of the sub-committee shall be three.'.-- [Mr. Touhig.]

Hon. Members: Object.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [31 January],

Hon. Members: Object.

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Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [23 January],

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 50, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 52, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'--[Mr. Touhig.]

Hon. Members: Object.



(1) this House approves the First Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 2000-01 (HC 47); and
(2) the Resolution of 5th June 1996 on the Language of Parliamentary Proceedings be amended accordingly by inserting, after the word 'Wales,', the words 'and at Westminster in respect of Select Committees'.--[Mr. Touhig.]




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5 Mar 2001 : Column 123

Abandoned Vehicles

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Touhig.]

10 pm

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): I am grateful for the opportunity to draw attention to the problems caused by abandoned vehicles, which are becoming particularly acute in Reading and in many other places. I have initiated the debate because those problems and the number of abandoned vehicles are on the increase in Reading and Woodley. More than 2,000 suspected abandoned cars have been reported to the council in the past nine months alone--up 60 per cent. on the previous year.

A sign of the magnitude of the problem is this week's launch of the "Enough is enough" campaign by my local weekly newspaper, the Reading Chronicle. In an excellent article on the problem, which I commend to my hon. Friend the Minister, it said:

There is also a serious problem with untaxed cars. Between 1 October and 31 December last year, Reading magistrates, who cover a different area from the borough council, heard 245 cases of using a vehicle without an excise licence. The problems of abandoned and untaxed cars should be treated no differently from any other waste problems: if vehicles are not where they should be, they are rubbish and should be removed.

We know the cause of the epidemic. The decline in the scrap value of cars means that it costs people to have a vehicle taken away. That has resulted in cars being left on the street or being taken somewhere quiet to be dumped. Some abandoned cars are the consequence of joyriding and are torched to remove the evidence of who was involved in the theft.

I have personal experience of the problem of abandoned vehicles, as there has been a van outside my constituency office for more than six weeks. It has had a "police aware" sticker on it for most of that time and pieces of it are being removed every day. It has also become a magnet for children who attack it, smash its windows and cover it in graffiti. The bulk of the damage was done in school half-term week and the dangers to children presented by such activity should be obvious to all.

There is evidence that an unscrupulous garage owner is dumping vehicles on the streets of the constituency of my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter). I believe that there is a public meeting in the area tonight, which was called by a constituent of mine who is a councillor there. Councillor Askar Sheibani has done sterling work against the scourge of abandoned vehicles in Southcote. However, it is an uphill struggle.

A case in Whitley, which is in my constituency of Reading, East, concerns Mr. Clifford of 113, Blagdon road. This man, who is believed to be secretary of the local Hell's Angels chapter, has made his neighbours' lives a misery for almost 20 years. He has kept tens of cars on the street as part of a vehicle breaking business that he runs. In 1998, a neighbour of his complained to me of the 30 or more vehicles that had been outside Mr. Clifford's house and on the highway for eight years.

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Contractors in the Reading area have all been threatened by Mr. Clifford and refuse to take the abandoned vehicles away. No one would call that a lawless area.

The late Councillor Maureen Lockey worked hard to get something done about the problem, but to no avail. I know that Councillors Wilf Wild and Chris Goodall have worked hard, and still are doing so, to get action taken to end this nuisance for local, law-abiding residents.

I had further discussions with residents about the problem in Blagdon road on the day of last year's by-election, which saw the election of Councillor Christine Grieve. Since her election, she has also been working hard to try to tackle the problem, but has come up against the same brick wall. This morning, I received a copy of a letter to a resident in Blagdon road from Councillor Grieve, and was delighted to read:

from the chief executive of Reading borough council--

I am pleased that Mr. Clifford has been successfully prosecuted by the council's planning enforcement officers for running a business from a residential property. Like local residents, I look forward to the day when negotiations between the different agencies are complete and action is taken to remove the rubbish from his garden and the untaxed vehicles in various states of destruction from the public highway in Blagdon road.

Those are extreme examples of the problems caused by abandoned and untaxed vehicles, but such problems are everywhere. Putting those extreme examples aside, what is the nature of the problem, what remedies are there and what can be done to improve the process of removal of abandoned vehicles? Reading borough council expects to have received 2,800 reports of abandoned vehicles in the year to 31 March 2001, which is a 60 per cent. increase on the previous year. This year, £9,309 has been spent removing abandoned vehicles against a budget of £3,000. It is expected that the full-year cost will have doubled since last year. Those figures take no account of the cost of the housing officers and environmental maintenance inspectors who spot, report and attach notices to the vehicles. Two full-time posts are devoted to abandoned vehicles, and the administrative overheads amount to £36,000.

The problem is also increasing in the Woodley and Earley parts of the Wokingham district that I represent, although the scale of the problem in Wokingham district is not as large as it is in Reading. From 1 April, Reading borough council will introduce a carrot and stick approach. For the cost of its removal, a vehicle will be taken away and disposed of. On council-owned land, the council will use its power as a landowner to remove abandoned vehicles, with a seven-day wreckers' notice speeding up the removal of the vehicles. The council will also charge the last registered owner for the removal, and it now has a link to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency computer to speed up the identification of the last registered owner.

One problem experienced when trying to deal with abandoned cars is that people do not pass on registration documents at the point of sale. The details of up to 80 per cent. of abandoned vehicles have not been passed on to the DVLA. I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member

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for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) for that information. I welcome the measures in the Vehicles (Crime) Bill that will make it an offence, punishable by fine, not to pass on a registration document, so it will be easier to track the registered owner of a vehicle.

The problem with untaxed vehicles remains. The manager of the Reading office of the DVLA has no field staff, and has the smallest enforcement team in the whole southern region. The enforcement team is entirely office based. Thames Valley police, together with the DVLA, have begun a clampdown on untaxed vehicles in Reading. They had an advertising blitz telling people to license their vehicles, and aim to step up enforcement shortly.

This morning, I was holding my regular surgery at the Whitley advice shop near to Blagdon road. I was pleased to receive a copy of the Surveyor of 22 February from Celia, who works in the advice shop and had read about this debate in the local papers. The article in Surveyor outlines a scheme in Lewisham whereby the council has the powers of the DVLA to remove untaxed vehicles as if they were abandoned. People must then pay to get their vehicles back.

The magazine goes on to say:

I entirely agree with those sentiments.

Reading borough council has now taken on parking enforcement. It is starting to make a real difference, with people being caught and fined for parking illegally. It is the first time in a long while that that has happened. I am pleased that the introduction of decriminalised parking enforcement in Reading is proving to be such a success, but it would be even better if Reading could also be allowed to pilot the Lewisham scheme, freeing more space for people to park legitimately and allowing the rubbish of abandoned vehicles to be removed from our streets even more quickly.

There is also the problem of removing abandoned and untaxed cars from private land. Reading borough council is working towards a concordat with private landowners in the area, allowing the removal of such abandoned and untaxed vehicles.

What can be done for the future? As I said earlier, I do not see why cars should be any different from anything else: if they are not where they should be, they are rubbish and should be removed. In the short term, the agencies involved could work together even more closely. I have already asked for a scheme like the one in Lewisham to be introduced in Reading; there is another pilot scheme in Kent, where untaxed vehicles are clamped and, if not taxed within a day, are removed and disposed of.

The figures in the Disposal of Vehicles Regulations 1986 are weighted in favour of vehicle owners. The penalties that a local authority can impose on the owner of an abandoned vehicle should be increased to cover at least the cost of removal and destruction. After all, why should the community pay through its taxes for the anti-social behaviour of a few? I favour an increase providing for penalisation of people who dump vehicles.

In the longer term, dealing with abandoned or untaxed vehicles should become the province of one authority, with power to remove abandoned vehicles swiftly,

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to charge for removal and to impose a penalty. An opportunity to introduce such a proposal is provided by the European Union end-of-life vehicle directive, which states that manufacturers of vehicles must meet all or a significant part of the costs involved in establishing and operating a vehicle disposal system under which last owners may dispose of their vehicles free of charge. I hope that the introduction of such a scheme will lead to a reduction in the number of abandoned vehicles; however, I believe that any scheme introduced under the EU directive must still allow for people abandoning vehicles, and for people not taxing their vehicles.

As the DVLA in Reading has not the enforcement capability on the streets to deal with the problem in Reading, I would like the councils that cover Reading and Woodley to be given powers to remove untaxed and abandoned vehicles. I also believe that the last owner of a vehicle should be made to pay the cost of such a service: I do not see why council tax payers should deal with other people's anti-social behaviour.

I end by returning to where I began. Enough is enough. The anti-social minority abandoning vehicles, or not taxing vehicles, is on the rise in Reading and Woodley; Reading borough council and Wokingham district council are starting to do something about the problem, but there are things that could be done to speed up and clarify the process for removing this rubbish from our streets. I hope the Minister will give serious thought to the ideas that I have suggested in relation to the disposal of vehicles regulations, allowing Reading borough council to trial a pilot similar to those in Kent and Lewisham, and the implementation of regulations implementing the EU end-of-life directive.

I am grateful for the chance to raise an issue that is so important to my constituents. I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend's reply.

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