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Andrew Selous: The Minister is being generous in giving way and I appreciate his doing so.
8 Dec 2005 : Column 1085

If the Minister's case in the remainder of the debate is that the current powers are adequate, can he give me a simple, clear explanation why Bedfordshire police have been unable to do anything about that one vehicle that has 73 serious offences recorded against it? That is the fundamental question. If the law is adequate, why have the police been unable to anything about that?

Andy Burnham: I cannot discuss that case as I do not have the details, but if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to explain the law as it stands perhaps we can agree or disagree about whether the current position is adequate. New legislation is not always necessarily the answer; indeed, the hon. Gentleman himself says that we need to enforce our existing powers.

Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 gives the police the power to seize any motor vehicles being used antisocially and to release them only on payment of prescribed fees. The power exists where a vehicle is being driven both inconsiderately or carelessly on-road, or off-road without authority, contrary to sections 3 or 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, and in such a manner as to cause or to be likely to cause alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public.

We believe that is a powerful tool. It enables the police to put an immediate stop to the antisocial driving, inconveniences the vehicle users, requires them to meet costs to get the vehicles back and provides a deterrent to further misbehaviour. It does not preclude a prosecution, but nor does it depend on one. Nor should the fact that the driver may be committing some other motoring offence for which he could be prosecuted rule out seizure. The requirement is only that there should be reasonable grounds for believing that he is driving the vehicle contrary to section 34 and causing alarm; for example, he could be committing some other offence, such as speeding, at the same time, and could be charged with that in preference to a charge under section 34.

There is a requirement to warn, to give someone a chance to stop misbehaving, which is after all the main purpose of the police intervention. That may be where there is a problem of interpretation in relation to some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised. However, that requirement does not apply if it would be impractical to give a warning, and nor does it apply if an earlier warning had been issued on the same occasion to the same or a different person in respect of the same or a different vehicle. It does not apply if at any time during the preceding 12 months the person has already been given a warning.

Andrew Selous rose—

Andy Burnham: There is not a great deal of time left. If I can, I want to touch on several other issues that the hon. Gentleman raised.
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To ensure that all forces realised the full potential of the powers available, we issued further guidance a few weeks ago together with examples of best practice—I told the hon. Gentleman that we were doing work in this area. We also made several amendments to the regulations that the police had identified as beneficial by setting out detailed arrangements for seizure, storage and disposal. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the powers exist. The important thing is to ensure that all forces realise the full power of the measures at their disposal and to encourage them to use the powers fully.

The power of seizure under the Police Reform Act 2002 is not the only power that is available. Many of the bad drivers who cause such concern are likely to be uninsured, as the hon. Gentleman said, or without a valid licence. Uninsured drivers are more likely than others to be involved in road traffic accidents, to be non-compliant with other road traffic requirements and obligations, and, perhaps, to be involved in other criminal activity. This year, we have taken action through the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 to deal with these problems. The offences are being more readily detected due to the increased use of police ANPR cameras. Until now, however, the only action that the police could take was to issue a fixed penalty notice or a summons. The police now have the power to stop such driving immediately. With effect from July, the police can seize a vehicle if a driver does not produce on demand a valid licence or proof of insurance and they have reasonable grounds for believing that the vehicle is being driven without either.

We are taking further action to address the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has rightly raised. He will know that we propose to create an offence of causing death by careless driving in a Bill that is soon to come before the House. I believe that the measure will be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have a good range of powerful and proportionate measures to ensure that the sort of behaviour that we all deplore and that causes so much distress can be effectively addressed. At present, we do not believe that we need to add to those measures, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to work hard to ensure that the powers that we have are fully used.

The motion having been made after Six o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

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