Previous SectionIndexHome Page

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Andy Burnham): I congratulate the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) on securing the debate. He began by saying that it raised serious issues of public safety and I agree. Only last week at my advice surgery, I was dealing with a case of death by dangerous driving of a teenage boy in my constituency. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is not a great party political issue. Members on both sides want the police to have adequate powers to tackle irresponsible driving, which poses a danger to all of our constituents. There is a common purpose in wanting that to happen.

I welcome the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman introduced today's debate. Our responsibility is to ensure that the legislation on the statute book deals adequately with the problem, but is also proportionate. We believe that that is the case. He said at one point that the police were powerless to act. I hope that I can convince him that that is not the case and that the police do have powers to act. We keep those powers under review, but they are proportionate and balanced.

Andrew Selous: I have just told the Under-Secretary that six different police forces in different parts of the country have said that, for all sorts of practical reasons that affect police forces on the ground, the powers currently on the statute book are not adequate. He will no doubt tell me what legislation there is on the statute book, but will he address those specific concerns raised by six police forces?

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman will know that we have changed the law in a number of ways in recent years in respect of irresponsible and dangerous driving, vehicle keeping and the powers that the police have to seize vehicles. The Home Office has received advice from the Association of Chief Police Officers that many forces are using the section 59 powers extensively and effectively. I heard the comments from the forces that the hon. Gentleman read out, but some 43 police forces have told us that those powers are being used and that they are very welcome in tackling antisocial driving.

Andrew Selous: I have given the Under-Secretary an illustration from my constituency, where there have been 1,004 offences. I can assure him that I have extremely good officers in Bedfordshire who are desperately keen to enforce the law. They are not stupid people; they are very bright and follow the law very carefully. Why are they unable to use the current law to deal with a situation where one vehicle has 73 offences charged to it and where there are 1,004 in total?

Andy Burnham: Of course I was listening carefully to the comments that the hon. Gentleman read out. We would want to work through those issues with the forces
8 Dec 2005 : Column 1083
concerned, and I will refer to some of the detailed advice on the issue that we have recently given to forces. I do not doubt for a second the committed efforts of the officers whom he named during his speech and the general efforts of Bedfordshire police. He also mentioned my police force—Greater Manchester police—and I face issues in my constituency similar to those that he described, and I would want to pursue them with the force from my own perspective. I assure him that the advice that we have received via ACPO is that the powers are welcomed and that they are being used. If there are problems in certain areas, it is important that we work them out. We have a common interest in ensuring that the powers that the police have at their disposal are used.

I want to read out a comment from the hon. Gentleman's website with which I wholeheartedly agree. He gave notice on his website that he would seek a change to the Road Safety Bill that will soon come before us, but he also said:

That is absolutely the right position with regard to this issue, and the important thing is to focus on fully implementing the laws that we already have.

Let me set out some of the background. The hon. Gentleman will know that the roads policing strategy statement was issued jointly by the Home Office, the Department for Transport and ACPO in January and that reducing the antisocial use of the roads is one of the five specific actions on which the statement envisages that roads policing should focus.

Before I deal with some of the specific issues that the hon. Gentleman raised about seizure and the use of false addresses, I want to stress that the key to enforcing the law is ensuring that we have an accurate vehicle register. He is right to focus on that. Vehicles that are registered with incorrect details or not registered at all are regularly used in criminal and antisocial activities. They are often subsequently abandoned or burnt out—I am sure that he has experience of those problems, too—with further costs to local authorities. For the police to track and take effective action against the perpetrators, there must be an accurate register for identification purposes. It is an offence not to supply the relevant details for correct registration, but, of course, we cannot rely just on the willingness of the people who behave in that way to comply with the law. That is why we steadily strengthened the accuracy of the register.

A major step forward was the introduction of continuous registration, to which the hon. Gentleman referred and under which the registered keeper of a vehicle has statutory responsibility for licensing it and retains that responsibility until the DVLA is informed that the vehicle has been sold, exported, stolen or scrapped, or that a valid statutory off-road notification has been made. The registered keeper is therefore responsible for requirements in respect of the vehicle, such as the payment of vehicle excise duty, and cannot now evade them by claiming no longer to be the keeper. The DVLA also takes steps to ensure that false addresses are not accepted. I was listening carefully to
8 Dec 2005 : Column 1084
the hon. Gentleman when he mentioned an address in his constituency that was regularly used to register vehicles falsely.

Andrew Selous: The address that I mentioned was 25 Duke street, Chelmsford, which is some way from my constituency, but it is well-known to the Essex police. It is curious that a number of vehicles in Bedfordshire are registered at that address. Will the Minister tell the House whether he thinks that the current laws on vehicle registration are adequate, given the problems that I have outlined? I am aware that the Government have gone further recently in that respect—of course that is welcome—but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Is the law working and helping the police to do their job?

Andy Burnham: That is an important point. I hope that the DVLA will read in Hansard the hon. Gentleman's comments about that address and be able to take some action.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that a procedure introduced in October 2004 means that known temporary addresses, addresses of convenience or post office box numbers are not acceptable for vehicle keepership details. When he introduced his remarks, he referred to strengthening the identity checking procedure when a vehicle is registered and he asked whether a utility bill or council tax bill could be used for that purpose. A utility bill does not prove much, however, and as the Minister responsible for identity cards and the national identity register, I urge the hon. Gentleman to think again if he, like his party, still opposes those measures. Linkage with the national identity register could bring real benefits in maintaining an accurate vehicle record. The register is a much higher proof of identity than a utility or council tax bill.

Under a procedure introduced in January 2004, the DVLA undertakes identity checks for high risk vehicles, such as those that are being imported. The checks cover both the vehicle and the prospective keeper. A database of all vehicles with no confirmed keeper is available to the police and can be checked by their automatic number-plate recognition—ANPR—cameras. Once a suspect vehicle has been stopped, the police have access via the police national computer to the full drivers' database to help establish the identity of the driver. The system is being improved—I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we constantly look to improve it—so that the police will have direct access to drivers' details through a handheld device. Trials are scheduled for spring next year, and from 2007 we expect the photographic image to be available through those devices in respect of drivers holding a photocard driving licence.

We think that will be a significant step forward. It will support the already increased roadside enforcement through greater use of police ANPR cameras and through the DVLA's powers, working with local authorities, to wheel-clamp and crush unlicensed vehicles.

In the remaining time for the debate, I want to discuss police powers on seizure, which is an important point and one that the hon. Gentleman wanted to cover.

Next Section IndexHome Page