HC Deb 11 May 1959 vol 605 cc945-58

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I do not know who arranges the order of the Clauses of the Finance Bill. Three Clauses ago we were discussing the relief of certain vehicles from oil duty. We jumped to sugar and then to herring and now we are back to vehicles. I should think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee as a whole, let alone for the Ministers who specialise in attending to certain of the Clauses, if Clauses dealing with the same subject matter could be close together.

I am sure that this Clause, as far as it goes, will have the support of both sides of the Committee. As hon. Members no doubt know, it provides that vehicles which are left unlicensed on the highway shall now be subject to licence duty; in other words, vehicles shall no longer be left on the streets unless fully licensed. It is desirable that this abuse should be brought to an end.

During his Budget statement the Chancellor said: I do not know whether hon. Members frequently leave their vehicles unlicensed on the highway. It never occurred to me, but it appears that some people have developed the bad habit of doing so, and we think it ought to be stopped."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th April, 1959; Vol. 603, c. 51.) I can inform the right hon. Gentleman that very many people have developed this bad habit, and it certainly ought to be stopped.

How is it proposed to administer the Clause, and how is it to be enforced? There are today many derelict vehicles on the streets, vehicles which quite clearly have been abandoned. Presumably, in those cases, it is not easy to trace the owners, if it is possible at all. Is it proposed that, once the Clause is enacted, the vehicles will be removed by the police or by some other authority and that steps will be taken to trace the owners? Is it proposed that, whether the owners are traceable or not, the vehicles will be removed? In certain circumstances now vehicles can be removed, but only, I believe, if they are causing obstruction and are obviously abandoned.

To what extent in future are owners who indulge in this practice to be punished? Is it intended that they will become subject to duty and the licence duty will be recoverable from them for the period during which they have left their cars on the streets? Secondly, if the licence duty has not been paid and the owner is finally traced after a vehicle has been removed, will he be charged with the cost of removing his vehicle from the street? It would be desirable for him to be subject to some penalty. If vehicles are just abandoned because they are of no value to the owners and it would perhaps cost them something to dispose of the vehicles or remove them themselves, and then if the vehicles are removed at the public expense, the owners surely should be charged with something on top of the licence duty to cover the cost.

May I take it from the Third Schedule, which makes certain amendments to existing legislation, that an end will be put to another very undesirable practice, namely, the practice of some second-hand dealers in leaving cars on the roadway for sale? Second-hand vehicles are sometimes displayed outside a showroom, which is often no more than a vacant lot; the vehicles stand on the roads creating an obstruction in themselves by impeding traffic and also causing obstruction because people come to inspect them. I see that, according to the Third Schedule, even if a vehicle has a trade licence, it shall not be left on the highway, so I assume that it will no longer be possible to continue that practice. It is very desirable that it should come to an end, and it would be helpful if the Parliamentary Secretary made clear that it will so that those concerned will understand that, if second-hand dealers keep vehicles on the 'highways in future, they will be committing an offence.

The Clause will have the general support of the Committee provided that it is enforced. The trouble with so many of our motor regulations today is that they are not fully enforced. I hope that, once this Clause is on the Statute Book, it will be possible for the police to take action speedily where vehicles are abandoned and where vehicles are left intentionally on the highways, as is often the case now, covered with tarpaulins during the three months or six months when they are unlicensed. As is well known, such vehicles are uncovered and put into operation when the licence duty for a particular period is paid. This is undesirable, and I assume that it, too, will come to an end. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give an assurance that it is the full intention of the police and other authorities concerned to enforce this Clause once it is on the Statute Book.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I agree with almost everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) said, but I do not agree entirely. I concede that one sees on the roads vehicles sometimes of remarkable age, often in a very derelict condition and almost always unsightly. Some of them are so old that one wonders whether, if they were presented to the Science Museum at South Kensington, the reply might come that the Museum is interested in the historic but not in the pre-historic. Sometimes they are a cause of danger because children have a habit of running out from behind stationary cars.

8.0 p.m.

I think that we should consider the effect on people who live in built-up areas where no garages are provided, in highly congested areas where there is no spare ground away from the roads and where the people who do not wish to license their cars in the winter months are put at a serious disadvantage compared with people who either have or can afford to rent garages or who have or can find spare ground on which to place their vehicles in the winter months. It is still a fact that very few local authorities provide garages with their houses. It is a fact that an overwhelmingly high percentage of ordinary rented houses have no garages. Not only as a result of the stoppage of building during the war but as a result of a greatly increased number of registered vehicles, a severe shortage of garages has developed in London and in the provinces.

I, therefore, suggest that we should not be in too much of a hurry to pass this Clause, because there is a hardship on people who do not wish to license their vehicles in the winter, who cannot afford a garage and who cannot find an alternative way of dealing with the problem of leaving their vehicles during the period in question.

Mr. Chapman

The reservation mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) had occurred to me, and I should like to put a suggestion to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I note that subsection (4) says that the Bill will not come into operation until October. That gives several months' notice to people who frequently leave their cars on the highway to get them out of the way. If the Parliamentary Secretary considers constituencies like mine composed almost entirely of large council house estates which were planned before the age of mass ownership of cars, he will realise that it is a very formidable problem for people to find somewhere to put their cars.

We find in Birmingham—and I think this applies to other cities as well—that the local authority is not always as helpful as it should be in allowing the construction of garages on council house sites.

Mr. Ellis Smith

That is because they might be unsightly.

Mr. Chapman

I agree with my hon. Friend that one of the biggest problems is to prevent a council house estate looking unsightly. I know that many people put up shacks here and there and that this makes an area a disgrace. I do not want that to happen, and I sympathise with my hon. Friend in what he says.

Local authorities adopt the negative policy of preventing people putting up garages instead of the more positive policy of showing people how to lay out and construct small garages, or, more appropriately in my view, car ports which do not need all the ramshackle material which usually goes into the construction of a cheap garage. It would be helpful if the Ministry could encourage local authorities to guide tenants in how they can tackle this problem on local authority housing estates without offending the local planning restrictions and byelaws. This would be a great deal of help in the majority of council house estates. If only local authorities would say, "This is a modern construction which we will allow on our council estates. This is how you can site in it your front garden," That would be of enormous help.

We have about six months in which to do this. My reservation is that we should not be simply penal in the way that this Clause suggests. We should try to help people to find a way out of their dilemma. People do not like leaving their cars on the street. I am not talking about those who abandon their cars, but about the conscientious owner, one of whom wrote to me last week telling me of the amount of damage done to his car by children. People usually leave their cars on the street because they cannot find anywhere else to put them.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Would my hon. Friend go a step further and ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give consideration to the advisability of circularising local authorities asking them to do it themselves on a planned scale? Some of us are associated with local authorities that have done this already. One knows that if a number of garages are built the overheads and total costs are almost cheaper than building one on one's own. It would be possible to let them at a reasonable rent.

Mr. Chapman

If circulars on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend could go out, it would be very helpful.

My local authority is reasonably good in this matter, but I heard of a typical case last week. Two people in one road said to me, "We are bound to leave our cars on the road, particularly in the winter, when we cannot afford to run them. At the back of our gardens we have some allotments with a service road leading to them. Can you persuade the local authority to allow us to use that road and to enter our gardens from the rear along the service road?" As happens in so many cases, the allotment committee said, "No, we do not want this sort of thing happening", and the needs of the community are lost in the more parochial concerns of the allotment committee.

The problem of finding parking space for cars, even when they are not abandoned and are licensed, is becoming vast. If the Ministry can encourage local authorities to approach this problem positively instead of being negative in continually turning down plans, that would be a much more helpful way of carrying out the intention of the Clause.

Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

I think I am right in saying that my division was the first division in which the Metropolitian Police decided to take positive action in this problem about twelve to eighteen months ago. It was found that in a town of about 180,000 people several thousand cars were parked on the streets at night because there was no alternative accommodation for them. We had a town meeting on this problem and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and myself made proposals to the local police and to the local authority and stated our position to the people who were affected. After a most prolonged inquiry, we found that the problem was divided into three categories.

First, there is the genuine all-night parker who has no alternative accommodation. This is a very serious problem in the Becontree Housing Estate, which is part of the great Dagenham Housing Estate. This estate, which was built many years ago, has no garages of any sort. The level of prosperity in Dagenham and Becontree today is such that not to have a car is the exception. From one end of the estate to the other at night the roads are a menace, particularly in the winter when it is foggy and when a great number of accidents are caused.

The second parker is what I would call the lazy lorry driver who takes his lorry away from his place of business at night in order to get an early start next morning and leaves it parked all night, often in very narrow roads. We in Ilford suffer very severely from this.

The third parker is the one who literally abandons his car. There are many abandoned cars all over the country with neither air in the tyres nor hope in the engines. Nor is there any possibility of their ever moving again. We told the owners of such cars that, whatever action the police decided to take against them, we could not support the owners as it was quite wrong that this sort of thing should go on.

I think that a fair analogy to this practice would be that of a person buying a bedroom suite and leaving it dumped outside his house in the road. People have no more right to dump bedroom suites in the road than they have to dump motor cars. A lot of people saw the force of that argument and, very slowly, the streets of Ilford are beginning to improve, though a serious problem still remains.

There must be many hon. Members with towns in their constituencies which were built from fifty to seventy-five years ago when terrace houses were the order of the day. Garage accommodation just is not there. Whatever may be the feelings of the owners of cars—and a car is a modern "must "—garage accommodation is not there, nor in many of the very heavily congested areas is there room for garages to be built.

Then we have the other side of the picture, where public car parks are provided but the inhabitants have become so accustomed to leaving their cars outside their front doors that even though the accommodation is available a quarter of a mile from their homes they will not use it. In Ilford we have one or two public car parks that are completely empty at night while many cars are parked in the surrounding roads.

The local authority point of view is: "It is not our responsibility to provide garage facilities for householders. Our function is to provide car-parking facilities for the shopper, or for the person coming into the town to do business and to get away again. It is not part of our function to provide garage accommodation for our residents."

There is great force in that argument. There are no powers vested in local authorities to enable them to do that. All that they can do is to provide garage ac- commodation, at public expense, on council estates—

Mr. Ellis Smith

To let them for a rent.

Mr. Cooper

Exactly —to let them for a rent. But I am advised that on privately-owned property they cannot spend public money to provide garage accommodation for people living in such areas. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation that we are now living in a time when more and more people will own cars. This problem will become accentuated with every year that passes. I feel that the situation has now arisen in which the Ministry of Transport must liaise with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in order to attempt to work out a co-ordinated policy to ease the position—

Mr. Snow

The hon. Member has enumerated those vehicles licensed but not used overnight for which garage space is required. He has not mentioned those vehicles that are deliberately not licensed in the winter months. What is to be the position of the owners of those vehicles?

Mr. Cooper

In Ilford, as I have said, there are a number of car parks that are empty at this very moment. I could take the hon. Gentleman to two, at least, where I am quite sure he would not find a single car parked, yet within 100 yards of them he would find a number of the type of cars he has mentioned just standing in the streets. I think this is one case in which the local authorities might give some preferential rental terms to the car owners. Nobody would lose by such a proposal.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Redhead

I fear that we have allowed the debate on this Clause to range rather more widely than the Chancellor, perhaps, contemplated. While the discussion may well have highlighted the more general and undoubted problem, the Committee should remind itself that the Chancellor does not attempt in this Clause to deal with more than one aspect, though that aspect—the unlicensed motor vehicle—rather accentuates the general problem. When there is an absence of garage provision the unlicensed motor vehicle that is left on the highway represents a problem to its owner. However, it may be that a whole series of approaches has to be made to what is undoubtedly a growing nuisance on our highways.

I do not quarrel in the least with the object of the Clause. Indeed, it is a fair and reasonable one, for this growing practice of laying up these vehicles for protracted periods is unquestionably causing tremendous difficulty to the police in the matter of obstruction—though they have certain powers in that connection. On the other hand, there are public complaints that some of these virtually derelict vehicles cannot be removed by the police because there is not a provable degree of obstruction. They also present a very real problem to the departments responsible for keeping clean highways that are cluttered up in this way. There is also the destruction of public amenities.

I am told that there are about 18,000 unlicensed vehicles at the present moment laid up and parked in the Metropolitan Police area. There were 14,000 a few years ago, but the latest information I have from friendly police officers is that it is now about 18,000, so clearly the problem is growing. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) I have some doubts about the enforcement of the Clause. There should be clarity, and such a provision as this should not be enforced harshly. We must equally guard against seeking to enforce something that is, perhaps, not enforceable and so bringing the law into disrepute.

In the main, I believe that the administration of this Clause will rest with the county authorities. No great difficulty presumably will he occasioned when the owner of the vehicle is easily traceable-, but I am told that the police are having increasing difficulty in tracing owners. What will be the approach? Will the police be empowered to take these vehicles into custody; to remove them to some other place? If so, the problem will arise immediately in that place.

What will be the position about garaging by the police? I know of one police station where they have already had to issue a warning to the officers, "Go easy on the existing provisions—we have no more room in our own garage space to take charge of vehicles towed in even in cases of proved obstruction." Can the Chancellor tell us more about that? Have the county authorities, which are the administrative bodies, been consulted? To what extent will the police be involved; and will they be empowered to take such vehicles away and house them in custody?

I should like to stress the seriousness of this growing practice of dealers displaying cars of this character for sale on the public highway. In recent months I have had extreme difficulty in my own constituency in trying to persuade the police to do something effective about just such a case that has occasioned great perturbation to a number of residents who find their amenities seriously disturbed. The police say that they have no effective powers to deal with it.

If it is intended to put an end to this practice, I hope that the Chancellor can explain his intentions to us. In any event, it is important to know whether this Clause is enforceable, and by whom enforcement will be undertaken; and, on the other hand, what measures of easement will be allowed, or are contemplated, so that we do not make worse the present confusion.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

I am glad that the Committee has welcomed this Clause and supports the principle behind it. All of us are aware of the nuisance which these vehicles cause. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) referred to three categories of offenders, but in fact only one of them, the last which he mentioned, is dealt with by this Clause, and that is the car owner who has laid up his car for a period and not licensed it.

The Clause requires that the owner of a car shall take out a licence for it whether it is used on the road or merely kept on the road, which it is when it just stands there. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) asked what happens to the owner of a vehicle if he wishes to lay it up for the winter and has only limited means and feels that he cannot afford to license it All I can say is that he has the responsibility of a car owner and that if he wishes to put his car on the road he must license it.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) asked if it would be possible to get local authorities with housing estates to make some sort of provision by providing parks or garages where these vehicles could stand. I will certainly consult my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government on that point.

Mr. Chapman

I did not say that the local authorities should provide garages but that they should give people standard plans, lay-outs and site positions which would be acceptable so that the tenants could put up their own garages.

Mr. Nugent

We would very gladly give any advice that we can in that respect, but I rather apprehend that as a result of this Clause coming into operation next October there will be difficulties in many neighbourhoods, and it may be possible that the Minister can help the housing authorities in suggesting how they might meet that difficulty.

Mr. Snow

I do not think we should allow the hon. Gentleman to get away with what he said, that if an owner cannot afford to buy a licence he should sell his car rather than leave it on the road. If that is what he meant, it would seem to be contrary to the original intention of permitting licences to be taken out for varying periods in a year. Surely that was so that he could take his car off the road, in a figurative sense, and not license it, thereby saving the money for the period when it would not be used.

Mr. Nugent

The hon. Gentleman has a wrong impression. Someone said sotto voce,"Let him sell his car.", but that remark did not come from this side of the Committee.

Mr. Snow

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary implied it.

Mr. Nugent

I said nothing of the kind. I said that the owner must take it off the road and put it in a park or garage. The implication of putting a car on the road is that the licence must be paid. I am afraid that people who have left their cars on the road for nothing in the past will in future have to make some private arrangement to stand their cars off the road. I believe that in some areas that will not be easy. That is why I said that I would consult the Minister of Housing and Local Government to see whether we could ease the position, because I realise that there will be difficulties in some areas.

On the other hand, the road is not the right place to leave these vehicles. We must stop that and at the same time do what we can to see that provision is made elsewhere. I would rather suspect that as the demand rises and becomes stronger parking spaces and garages will appear for those who wish to garage or park their cars through the winter months.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South said, it is true that in many areas there are garage spaces empty at the present time at night because people do not use them and prefer to leave their cars standing out for nothing. I hope that a fair price will be charged for such accommodation. I think that the general sense of the Committee is that this is a matter that should be dealt with and that cars should not be allowed to stand on the road for many months on end. It is very offensive to a private resident to have a car, which is perhaps sheeted up, standing outside his front window for six months.

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)

Would this regulation apply where a car was left on the verge, not on the carriage way? I have a particular case in mind in which a car has been, left on a verge for about eighteen months. Is it proposed to do anything about a case like that?

Mr. Nugent

I would have to look into the details to discover whether the verge is private property or part of the highway. In some cases a verge is part of the highway and in others it is not. If the hon. Member will give me the details I will look into it. [Interruption.] Perhaps it would be better to let sleeping cars lie.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

Might I suggest that it might be dealt with under the Litter Act of last year?

Mr. Nugent

With regard to what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South said about local authorities not being responsible for providing garage space, I would point out that local authorities have permissive powers to use public money for that purpose and that it is a responsibility on them to do so where there is local need. I hope that they will be much more active about it.

On the important points put to me by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) and the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead) about enforcement, the position is that, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West has said, county councils normally act as our agents but, as regards bringing a charge, the actual enforcement will be carried out by the police. The police will apprehend the owner by reference to the number-plate, which will enable them to refer to the register from which they can get the name and address of the owner and then contact the owner, and unless the owner is prepared to licence the vehicles forthwith or remove it forthwith he will, of course, be prosecuted for not having a licence. The police are quite confident that they can do so. This does not interfere with the powers of the police to remove a vehicle that is causing an obstruction. That power remains exactly as it is. If there is no number plate and no way of identifying the owner, the police then do in fact remove the vehicle, and I understand that they have been doing so.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West was more up to date than I am when he gave the number of 18,000 for the Metropolitan area. The number I have is 14,000. It is a very high number indeed, and it is certainly increasing. The hon. Member for Enfield, East asked me from what date the licence would be charged. It will be charged from the date when the police apprehend the vehicle. There will be no question of trying to discover how long it has been standing, and dating back. As the police will have some six months in which to prepare for this, there should be no difficulty in their acting promptly when they come to deal with the situation in the autumn.

I warmly welcome what has been said about second hand dealers. It is an offence where people are virtually using the highway as their own trading premises, and the Clause will effectively deal with that. The hon. Member for Enfield, East was right when he said that the dealer would not be able to overcome the position by the use of a trade plate. The Clause closes that gap as well. The police do not make a charge for the cost of removal in the event of obstruction, just as there is no charge made when they remove a car in Central London. They may make a prosecution, but not a charge. It is all part of the service, so to speak.

I think that covers the various points which were put on this important Clause. I would again thank the Committee for giving it a welcome and I hope that it will now be prepared to agree to it.

Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I think it has been said that when recommendations are made to local authorities they should be recommended, perhaps, to provide garage accommodation. I do hope that it will be borne in mind that most of these cars are old cars and that the people who bought them paid a small price for them and that they could not afford heavy garage fees. It is far more a problem of having parking accommodation at pretty nominal weekly rents than it is a problem of providing newly built garage accommodation.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

I think my hon. Friend misunderstood me. I made it quite plain that I had in mind the limited means of such people. The very fact that they do not licence their cars in the winter months is evidence of that. Parking space may be all that is required. I will bring the point to my right hon. Friend.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Amory

I beg to move. That 'consideration of postponed Clauses 10 to 28 and of new Clauses he further postponed till after consideration of Schedule 3. In furtherance of the Motion I proposed a little while ago relating to the procedure of the Committee, I think it would be appropriate for me now to move this Motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Third Schedule agreed to.