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House of Commons

Thursday 27 June 2002

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Milford Haven Port Authority Bill [Lords]

Read a Second time, and committed.

London Development Agency Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 4 July.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Abandoned Vehicles

1. Bob Russell (Colchester): What additional measures she plans to take to prevent vehicles being abandoned. [63000]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): We are determined that keepers of vehicles should take full responsibility for them. An accurate and complete vehicle register is crucial. We are legislating through the Finance Bill to improve the register's accuracy, and we are talking to the motoring organisations and the motor trade about implementing reform of the vehicle licensing system.

Joint action by all enforcement agencies in Operation Cubit has led to nearly 7,500 more vehicles being on the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency register. Finally, we are extending DVLA's powers to wheel clamp and remove unlicensed vehicles after 24 hours.

Bob Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for the measures that are being taken and the new measures that have been proposed to tackle an antisocial menace. I invite the Minister and his Department to examine the best practice being carried out by Colchester borough council. The number of abandoned vehicles is increasing, but because of the expertise of Geoff Kirby, the street care officer, and work in the DVLA and other agencies, the number of vehicles destroyed has been almost halved. Coupled with the Evening Gazette's "clear the wrecks"

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campaign, the battle is being won. May I suggest that other local authorities around the country look at that best practice?

Mr. Meacher: I am happy to do that. Operation Cubit operated in Kent, but there has also been a successful pilot in Newham, and I understand that three other local authorities—Wandsworth, Croydon and Southend—are following. We want to learn from good practice. If the hon. Gentleman will send me a statement or get the police and fire authorities and the local authority in his area to provide a statement, I will ensure that it is fully taken into account.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Does my right hon. Friend understand the tremendous frustration in the London borough of Lewisham, my local authority, where, despite a pilot project in co-operation with DVLA, there is an enormous problem of abandoned vehicles, and particularly of fictitious drivers and no records at the DVLA? Will he and his colleagues look at the very best practice, which I understand is in Holland, where the owner of the vehicle and the new buyer together have to sign the registration document?

Mr. Meacher: I am happy also to agree to that. We have been considering a system of dual registration, both by the last owner and by the buyer. There is a great deal to be said for such a system. I am conscious of the number of unlicensed vehicles that are often abandoned. As I said, we have reduced the period that unlicensed vehicles removed by local authorities must be stored before they are destroyed. The proposals that my hon. Friend makes with reference to the licensing system are good ones, and the Government will make a further statement on the subject soon.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Does the Minister accept that his proposals announced today are long overdue, and that the situation is getting worse in most of our constituencies? It is essential that the owners of cars are traced and prosecuted, and that cars are removed quickly. Is it possible to ensure that more facilities are available for people who have a car that has reached the end of its life to have it decommissioned and destroyed effectively and cheaply? If that were the case, there would be less dumping.

Mr. Meacher: I agree with both points. The problem has arisen as a result of a collapse in the value of scrap metal, in conjunction with the deficiencies of the vehicle register. We are not responsible for the first; we are trying to deal with the second. I indicated that in the relatively small area where Operation Cubit was put in place and in the relatively short time scale in which it operated, 7,450 motorists were induced to relicense their vehicles, producing £1.3 million of additional revenue. In order to get the licence, motorists had to produce MOT and insurance certificates. It is a major effort to ensure that all motorists meet their responsibilities. I had a long and useful meeting with the authorities responsible for Operation Cubit, and commissioned a report from them as to the basis on which the success of that experiment could be extended across the country. I expect to receive that any day.

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On the question of motorists having opportunities to send or take their cars to an appropriate place, under the end of life vehicles directive, which becomes fully operational for manufacturers and importers in 2007, appropriate facilities are already being put in place. We announced on 21 April that the last owner will be responsible up to 2007 for ensuring that the vehicle is taken to a proper place for disposal.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Regrettably, many vehicles that are deemed abandoned were originally stolen. I urge the Minister to take up with his Home Office colleagues the need to ensure that the police communicate expeditiously with owners, as cars that languish stolen and abandoned are often vandalised, which is the real problem in a very large number of local authority areas. The police must also be sympathetic to people; when they say that they want the vehicle for forensic information, they should not present the poor owner—the victim of the crime—with a bill for its recovery, as they currently do.

Mr. Meacher: My hon. Friend is right. Many unlicensed, uninsured vehicles without MOTs are owned by the local criminal fraternity. I understand that cars change hands in the local pub for £40 or less. We are making changes to the vehicle registration system to ensure that the last owner will be responsible, but if he wishes to avoid responsibility, the new owner is required to notify as well. That dual registration system is a way of protecting the last owner. The police whom I met as part of the meeting on Operation Cubit were extremely enthusiastic about that arrangement and were keen for it to be extended. I take his point about undue liabilities being placed unfairly on the last owner; we are alert to that issue.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): We support the principle of the end of life vehicles directive, which comes into force in some four days' time, but we have to question the way in which it is being implemented. Why will the Government not say how much it will cost owners to dispose of their redundant vehicles? Will the Government compensate local authorities for the inevitable increase in dumped cars and tyres? Will they give extra support to the fire and police authorities for the £5,000 to £10,000 cost of dealing with a burnt-out vehicle? Does the Minister understand that if he fails to learn the lessons of recent history, he will be doomed to repeat the environmental mistakes of not ensuring that we have the ability to deal with problems before they occur—and the car calamity will follow the fridge fiasco?

Mr. Meacher: I am aware that the hon. Gentleman likes to make the comparison with fridges at every single opportunity, but he is way off the mark. As he well knows, the point about fridges is that, because we were informed extremely late, after two and a quarter years' waiting and nine separate approaches to the Commission, we had only seven months in which to implement the regulation and did not have the proper technology.

On cars, many dismantling and scrap yard facilities already meet the increased treatment standards required by article 6 and annexe 1 of the directive. We do not anticipate any problem. We have the technology, the numbers and the standards—it should not be a problem. With regard to help

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for local authorities, all I can say to him is that we are aware of the situation and are considering it in the context of the current spending round.


2. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): If she will make a statement on the impact of EU directive 94/62 on the packaging and packaging waste industries. [63002]

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Michael Meacher): A number of industries have obligations to recover and recycle certain tonnages of packaging waste under the producer responsibility obligations. Obligated businesses have together increased the UK's recovery performance from some 30 per cent. in 1997 to 48 per cent. in 2001.

Mr. O'Brien: I thank my right hon. Friend for his response, but the industry and local government are concerned about the impact of the directive on business through the increase in targets and the way in which the targets are operated. Those in local government are particularly worried about the impact on their collection and recycling systems and reclaiming of landfill. Under a recent declaration, we could be flooded with waste tyres from Europe. Will my right hon. Friend meet representatives of the industry and take note of the anxieties that are being expressed by those in local government? Will he also ensure that we do not allow waste tyres from Europe to be dumped in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Meacher: My officials and I have had repeated meetings with industry representatives about targets. I have to say that the recovering and recycling performance of UK industry is low compared with the rest of the EU. We inherited one of the lowest recycling and recovery rates in the EU. Recovery has substantially increased from 30 per cent. in 1997 to 48 per cent. in 2001, and recycling has increased from 27 per cent. in 1997 to 42 per cent. in 2001. The European requirement is that there should be a steady increase in the level of recovery and recycling, and other states manage to do that. We must ensure that we have sufficient time to put in place the necessary infrastructure to enable our industry to achieve what are intended to be stretching targets.

On tyres, there are two target dates of 2003 and 2006. I have discussed the targets with industry representatives, and we believe that we can meet them perfectly well. I am happy to receive further representations from the industry. I take note of my hon. Friend's point about not receiving waste tyres from Europe, and I am happy to talk further about how we can prevent that.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): As the Minister considers the complications of the issue, will he point out to those in the industry that they could achieve a great deal by reducing the amount of packaging that they put on their goods—they seem to have made no movement whatsoever towards doing so? Do companies have any incentive to do that, or does it mean that they have to meet higher targets on recycling?

Mr. Meacher: No, there are strong incentives for companies to reduce packaging. The regulations provide

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an incentive to reduce the amount of packaging by placing a tonnage recovery and recycling obligation on business, so the less packaging a company handles, the lower are its costs. Where a business is re-using a certain tonnage of packaging, that tonnage is excluded from the obligation. That is a powerful internal incentive to reduce packaging.

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