HC Deb 15 February 1966 vol 724 cc1276-80

11.25 p.m.

Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the disposal of abandoned cars, derelict agricultural machinery and equipment, and bulky rubbish; and for connected purposes. It is not my intention to delay the House any longer than is necessary, because my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Brian Harrison) has an important Adjournment debate to follow.

It is my wish to ask leave of the House to bring in a Bill that will deal with a growing problem, largely a new one and deriving partly from affluence, that requires urgent action. With the explosive car population of 8.2 million cars using our roads today, together with another 4 million vehicles, making a total of over 12 million in the restricted area of this country, the problem is understandable.

Every day of every week of every year, literally hundreds of old cars, vans, agricultural implements and other large, worn out consumer durables are abandoned on our streets, in our fields and on our open spaces. In the Greater London area, up to 500 vehicles are abandoned each week, and as more and more cars come on to the roads so the number of old and abandoned vehicles will rise.

This problem is not confined to the cities and the large towns. Many country lanes are lined with old cars lying rotting in the ditches, a hazard to life and limb and often interfering with drainage. Fields and pastures can be partially sterilised by large and unwanted rubbish and apart from reducing the effective acreage it is extremely dangerous to livestock and to riders.

The case history of an abandoned car is simple and repeated all over the country. The car comes to the end of its life. It is probably already in a poor state of body work and mechanical order. If the owner is conscientious, he will approach the local authority or a car dealer to dispose of it. More likely, however, he will one night drive it, tow it or push it to some street, lane, car park or field, remove the battery and any other valuable parts and then leave it slowly to rust away.

Children will find this new plaything or toy. Some will get cuts or grazes from rusting body work or cuts or lacerations from broken glass. A few will die or be badly burnt when, foolishly, they bring a naked flame near the petrol tank or fuel system that may retain petrol vapour and fumes for a considerable period.

Eventually, if the local authority is alert to its responsibilities, the vehicle will be removed, but the delay usually runs into months. Apart from the possible damage to life and limb, apart from the economic considerations of sterilising good land and interfering with drainage in the countryside, there is the appalling ugliness and aesthetic offence caused by this super-litter. Heaven knows, there are enough existing man-made blots on our beautiful country without adding any further to them.

The question is, then, what must be done? Some local authorities are already displaying great initiative and are energeticaly tackling the problem. I understand, for example, that the London Borough of Islington has done some research and found out that under the new Highways Act it can treat abandoned cars as dangerous litter and clear them off the streets much sooner than was possible before.

A warning notice is displayed on an abandoned car for seven days and if it is not removed by the owner or late owner it is cleared away by the council and fed into a giant metal crushing machine.

Westminster Council has started a scheme whereby owners who wish to dispose of their vehicles get in touch with the council which, for a fee of £2, collects the vehicle and disposes of it. The council also takes away the vehicle's log book as a safeguard and has it destroyed by the licensing authority. The initiative of these two authorities—and there may well be others—highlights the fact that in most of the country there is virtually no provision for prompt disposal of such large and cumbersome litter.

The problem seems to fall into two parts: first, vehicles and implements abandoned on public property, such as roads, car parks, commons and waste land, and, secondly, vehicles and implements or litter abandoned on private property and which the owner wished the local authority to remove. The inherent obstacle in charging for the removal of litter is that the dishonest or unscrupulous person will merely dump his vehicle on the street and the local authority is then faced with the full cost of removing it. The time has surely come when we must stop talking about this problem and take some action.

It is unrealistic to expect every local authority in the country to have its own vehicle-crushing plant. The cost would be prohibitive to many councils and the majority of plants would be grossly underutilised. What is required is for authorities at county council and county borough level to operate such crushing equipment, possibly in co-operation one with another, or to enter into a contract with local scrap firms who could provide such a service for the local authority. The smaller local authorities, such as the urban and rural district councils, would have to act as agents for the first tier authorities as in many areas they act as the authority primarily concerned with refuse disposal.

Local councils should be compelled to remove large litter, such as vehicles and implements from public places after a short statutory period of, say, a fortnight, during which time a warning notice would be displayed on the offending object. They would also be compelled to dispose of similar refuse from private property at the owner's request. The local authorities, in co-operation with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, should be required to draw up suitable schemes so that the whole of the country would be effectively covered while the type of plant and equipment could be properly evaluated for the guidance of all concerned.

This will not be an easy matter to get started. It will cost much time and money, but that is no excuse for delaying action, because the price of inaction is already too high in injured children, injured livestock and the growing unsightliness of our towns and countryside.

I do not believe that we should be very optimistic about the value of scrap realised in such an operation. I understand that the top price for clean baled scrap steel is about £12 a ton. This is shared over several operators at different levels in the scrap trade. The cost of reclaiming non-ferrous metals is so high that it is usually not an economic proposition. There may be a market for using baled and compressed vehicles as cones or cores for concrete blocks which could be used in a variety of civil engineering work and I understand that studies regarding the feasibility of this on a large scale are already taking place. A company in my area, Poole, called Enefco Consulting Engineers, has done valuable work in this direction.

One of the promising schemes which might be seriously considered is for old unwanted chassis to be loosely baled and then injected, as it were, or placed in the centre of concrete blocks to reinforce the concrete block and thus in turn killing two birds with one stone—disposing of the old iron wreck, as it were, and reinforcing the concrete block which could be used for coastal protection. This seems to be one of the best schemes available.

We are contemplating shortly a major project of £82 million creating a dam across the Wash. Surely this is just the sort of concrete block which could well be turned into the 12-mile wall. As a Member for a constituency which has a great deal to do with coastal protection, this suggestion seems to commend itself for that purpose.

We must accept, however, that disposal will cost most local authorities money, and some of the authorities with big problems, a considerable amount of money. This is not the time to go into detailed financial calculations but suggestions which have been put forward include a surcharge on the manufacturer or a surcharge on the motor vehicle licence to help with the eventual disposal of the vehicle. I am not convinced of the wisdom of such schemes, but they could be seriously considered. Perhaps a fund could be created, called a retirement fund for a motor vehicle, to which the owner would contribute, say, 10s. a year towards the final disposal of the vehicle. This could be handed to the second-hand, third-hand, and fourth-hand buyer of the vehicle until eventually, when the vehicle was discarded, there would exist the wherewithal to offset all the expense of disposal.

Over a million new vehicles come on to our roads each year. With increased prosperity, more stringent safety tests and the planned obsolescence policy of the manufacturer, the average life of the family car is dropping sharply and may soon be only five or six years. Ignoring the present backlog of all cars, this means that up to a million vehicles a year may have to be disposed of in the 1970's. The problem, therefore, is serious and urgent and will soon grow desperate. The case for action now is overwhelming. I commend the Bill to the House and ask leave to bring it in at the earliest possible moment.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Cordle, Mr. Anthony Kershaw, Sir Eric Bullus, Mr. Harold Gurden, Sir George Sinclair, Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles, Mr. Michael Alison, Mr. Peter Mills, Mr. William Wilson, Mr. Carol Johnson, Mr. Robert Cooke, and Mr. Harry Randall.