Clause 44 - Forfeiture of vehicles

Part of Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:00 am ar 25 Ionawr 2005.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Ceidwadwyr, Ribble Valley 11:00, 25 Ionawr 2005

As has already been mentioned, there is precedent for the forfeiture of vehicles in certain circumstances, such as those involving drug dealing. Vehicles can be and are seized by Customs and Excise in cases of the smuggling of tobacco products and alcohol, but I am not sure whether there is a duty in those circumstances, as there will be in this clause, to consider the impact of the loss of the vehicle on the person who will lose it. I do not know if the clause is based on that measure, or whether, when a vehicle is seized at Dover and a conviction is subsequently achieved, the courts have to consider the fact that there will be a loss of income if the person loses the vehicle because they cannot go about their lawful business. I would be interested to know if there is a precedent and how it operates in reality. It is always useful to find that out because when Customs and Excise is very zealous, people lose their vehicles, and that may well have an impact on their livelihoods.

I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds had to say about proportionality, but the clause deals with that: it puts an onus on the courts to consider the offence, the circumstances of the person before them and the value of the vehicle and its contents in order to decide whether to seize the vehicle, with or without its contents. Under the clause, the courts have a duty to consider the circumstances of the individual.

Let us look at the example of a builder. We have talked about construction waste—clearly there is a lot of waste involved with construction, which can be quite expensive because of landfill disposal. Suppose that a builder is caught disposing of construction waste illegally in his own vehicle, which will probably contain some of the tools of his trade. Under the clause, the courts will have a duty to consider the circumstances and say, ''Well, if we seize the vehicle and its contents, the builder will not be able to continue doing his construction business. That will have a huge impact on his livelihood: it could put other people out of work and put him out of business. Therefore, we will not do that because we have been asked, under clause 44, to look at the circumstances of that particular business.'' That is one person who might, under previous clauses, receive a fine and be asked to clean up waste—or the waste would be   cleaned up and the cost would fall on him—but who would be allowed to retain his vehicle and its tools to go about his business.

Going back to something that the hon. Member for Guildford said in connection with another clause, if the person is a repeat offender, I assume that the courts will be able to say, ''Hold on, we have had this guy in front of us three or four times. Under the explanatory notes, we should try to dissuade him from continuing to do this, so despite the fact that he could lose his van, vehicle and tools, and therefore his livelihood, he is a serial offender and is using that vehicle to tip waste, and enough is enough.'' Under the duty in the clause, the court could consider the circumstances but still take the vehicle and its contents—or perhaps leave the tools for other people in the firm to use—so that that person would pay a price. That would be right for repeat offenders, because something must be done to dissuade them.

Some people must make a living out of using their own vehicle to tip waste illegally. They go around at 2, 3 or 4 am and have no due regard for people's private property. The hon. Member for Guildford mentioned that waste could be left on the verge of a road, so it is the local authority's duty to clean it up, but that should not enable people to get away with it. If someone's business revolves around tipping waste willy-nilly, they have to know that there is a price to pay and that they may lose their vehicle. If someone does that for a living, I have no qualms about them losing their vehicle to prevent them from tipping waste in future. It is a hefty penalty, but it will stop them.

I assume, having looked at the clause, that it does not deal with people who hire vehicles. The person from whom they hire it will not know that they are using it for tipping waste, so the firm that owns the vehicle should not lose it, and I assume that that is taken into account.

Mr. Morley indicated assent.