That a Bill be brought in on the foregoing resolutions: And that the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Des Browne, Dawn Primarolo, Mr. Ivan Lewis and John Healey do prepare and bring it in.
John Healey accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the service of the years ending with 31st March 2006 and 31st March 2007 and to apply certain sums out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of the years ending with 31st March 2006 and 31st March 2007: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 12th December, and to be printed [Bill 101].
That the Travel Concessions (Extension of Entitlement) (England) Order 2005, (S.I., 2005, No. 3224) dated 22nd November 2005 be referred to a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation.[Vernon Coaker.]
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am especially grateful to Mr. Speaker for granting me this Adjournment debate, which deals with serious issues of public safety. I hope that the Minister will realise how serious these matters are, and that in his response he will be as positive as possible about how to deal with them.
The problem of multiple road traffic offences, which involves vehicles registered at false or incorrect addresses, has been brought to my attention by a number of my constituents. Vehicles that they have never owned and about which they know nothing have been registered at their addresses, with the result that the police have been in contact with them on many occasions.
I want to pay tribute to Bedfordshire police for their persistent action to try to deal with this problem, and specifically to PC Sean Quinn and PC Graham Dunn, who have worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Bedfordshire in that regard.
In the case of excessive speed, I have recent documented examples, with photographic evidence, of drivers doing 98 mph in a 50 mph limit, 117 mph in a 50 mph limit at night, 73 mph in a 30 mph at night, and 82 mph in a 30 mph limit in the middle of Dunstable, a major town in my constituency. The highest recorded speed that has come to my attention was of a vehicle doing 119 mph in a 50 mph limit, on 4 September this year on the A505 between Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable and Houghton Regis in my constituency. As I shall explain shortly, such vehicles have been doing those sorts of speeds in those conditions time and again.
There is a problem not just with speed, but with vehicles jumping red lights, in some cases up to six seconds late. We know that one vehicle has done that on nine separate occasions, but the police are powerless to do anything about it. The reason that the police are powerless is, as I said, that vehicles are incorrectly registered to false addresses, or cloned, whereby a vehicle of a similar description to that which the perpetrator wants to register to a false address is registered to a law-abiding person's address. Farmers are often coerced into having their property used as a false postal address. One property in Chelmsford25 Duke streetis notorious among not only Bedfordshire police but Essex police. I understand that it is no more than a drop-off postal address at which many vehicles are registered, apparently legally, but the police have no ability to contact the owners or do anything about the perpetrators of such offences.
As well as excessive speeds and going over red lights, there have been examples of extremely dangerous driving, such as people driving with their hands over their face at 64 mph at night, people taking their hands completely off the wheel even at night in a 30 mph zone,
8 Dec 2005 : Column 1080
a child in the front seat on an adult's lap with no seat belt, and many offensive gestures made by drivers of vehicles at cameras. In the village of Kensworth in my constituency, which has a speed camera, a photograph was taken of a driver with one hand on the wheel while giving a thumbs up gesture out of the window to the camera with the other. All three other adults in the car are grinning at the camera. That shows that people who behave in such a way know that they can break the law, are flaunting their law-breaking and are taunting the police, who, they know, are powerless to act.
The Minister will agree that the danger to the public from the examples that I have given is huge. How would he like people driving in that manner to come close to the vehicle in which he was travelling with his family?
The problem is significant, and the incidents are not isolated. As at 7 April this year, the police have evidence of 1,004 such offences in south Bedfordshire alone. Of those, 466 were current and due to have fines paid of just under £28,000, and 538 offences were lost under the six-month rule, so the police had no ability to recoup more than £32,000 of fines that will not be paid. Therefore, there is also a public expenditure implication, and I am sure that the Minister would want all fines that have been properly levied to be paid and to come in to the police.
The powers that are needed to do something about this problem are as follows. The police need to be given the ability to seize a vehicle that is incorrectly registered and involved in multiple offences. The police should then have the power to retain that vehicle until the owner or offender is correctly identified and, if necessary, to dispose of the vehicle by suitable means, not least to pay off any fines levied on it. The police also need a further power of entry to land and/or garagesnot dwellings, as people obviously do not keep cars in their housesto seize such vehicles.
As I said, these are repeat offences. Moments before the debate, I was told that one van still on the road in South Bedfordshire has just clocked up its 73rd offence and a motorcycle has clocked up 61 offences. When I say "multiple offences", that is the order that I am talking about.
Bedfordshire police have done their homework on this issue and visited the Home Office on 15 April. I understand that it was suggested to the police that section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 should be sufficient for them to be able to address the problem. Bedfordshire police then contacted another five police forces to discover whether they were in the same position of not being able to apply section 59 in practice on the ground. Thames Valley police replied:
"To have power to seize vehicles showing multiple offences, if granted, would indeed be a useful tool in increasing road safety, if the safeguards required did not blunt its effectiveness . . . I can say that we rarely use the Police Reform Act because of the frustrations put upon us by the control room."
"it could also be extended to cover vehicles owned by foreign nationals. We have a serious problem with transient workers in the food processing industry. They use a single base address to register their vehicle and then quickly move on."
"asked our force solicitor re anti-social behaviour and serving a notice on the owner/driver of multiple offenders (concerning seizure). The Solicitor's response has deemed the act inappropriate in this case."
I understand that it has also been suggested that section 43(c) of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, which was put in place by the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, has been suggested as a means of dealing with the problem, but I am again reliably informed by the police that that is not the case because that provision deals purely with driving without a valid driving licence and driving without insurance. Most of these vehicles are driven by people with licences and most are insured, so that legislation would not do the job that is required.
I tabled a parliamentary question on this issue recently to ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on the effect of the registration of false vehicle licence addresses on the ability of the police to combat multiple road traffic offences. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), replied:
"we have strengthened the likelihood of accuracy by the introduction of continuous registration and by creating a new offence of using a vehicle that is incorrectly registered."[Official Report, 5 December 2005; Vol. 440, c. 968W.]
"It is essential therefore that information about vehicle keepers on the register is both accurate and up-to-date but we are very much reliant on the public and the motor trade to provide this information."
I hope that I have outlined the scale of the problem and how serious it is. It is not a party political matter. What can we do about it? The Minister will know that the Road Safety Bill is about to arrive in this House. I have looked carefully at the Bill with Bedfordshire police and I suggest that it should be possible to amend clause 15the clause deals with speeding, but we need to look at red-light issues and at dangerous drivingon the power to seize, retain and dispose of vehicles. Could we insert in clause 36 a requirement to prove one's address when a vehicle is registered? I know that the Government have looked at this and decided not to go down that route, but given the scale of the problem in my area alone, will the Minister agree to take the issue back, perhaps to a joint working party between the Home Office and the Department for Transport, and look at it again to see whether utility and council tax bills, or documents of that nature, should be required?
8 Dec 2005 : Column 1082
Above all, this is a crime prevention measure. I would argue that, if we get these measures on the statute book, we would rarely need to use them because the deterrent would be such that the word would go out that the police had the necessary powers. People would comply and the problem would disappear. I look forward with eager anticipation to the Under-Secretary's reply.