New Clause 16

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 1:15 pm ar 20 Ebrill 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Seizure of motor vehicles

‘(1) Where a constable in uniform has reasonable grounds for believing that a motor vehicle has been used on three or more occasions in a manner which contravenes section 89 of the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984 he shall have the powers set out in subsection (2).

(2) These powers are—

(a) power to seize and remove the motor vehicle;

(b) power, for the purposes of exercising a power falling within paragraph (a) to enter any premises on which he has reasonable grounds for believing the motor vehicle to be.

(3) Subsection 2(b) does not authorise entry into any private dwelling.

(4) A constable in uniform shall only have powers where—

(a) the driver cannot be identified

(b) the owner cannot be identified and

(c) a court summons cannot be issued to the relevant owner or driver.'. —[Mr. Paterson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am as keen to push on as anybody. The new clause is inspired by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), who spoke with elegance and passion on Second Reading, citing some amazing cases in his constituency in which people have offended again and again, but because their addresses are false they have not been brought to justice. He has given me a quotation from Dunstable on Sunday, citing the cases of a car that was captured 81 times on the A505. He has also informed me of a motor cycle that has been used to commit 60 offences of excess speed, 61 of disqualified driving and 61 of driving without insurance.

My hon. Friend says that there is a very real problem, and he has cited the fact that there have been 1,585 dangerous driving offences on south Bedfordshire’s roads. A van has been clocked for 73 offences and a motor bike for more than 61. Cars have been caught doing 98 mph in a 50 mph limit. The police were apparently powerless to do anything because they could not track down the owners of the vehicles to a given address.

Although I have a number of quotations from a range of police forces, given the shortage of time I shall read only the most authoritative. It is from Mrs. Gillian Parker, the chief constable of Bedfordshire police, who said:

“The key areas within the Police Reform Act in relation to power of seizure are:

A vehicle is being used in contravention of section 3 of the Road Traffic Act (careless and inconsiderate driving), and its use is causing, or is likely to cause alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public.

Advice has been sought from the CPS and our local judiciary, there is agreement that to apply the Section 3 test to speeding offences, that is to suggest that speeding per se also represents careless and inconsiderate driving, would be inappropriate and unlikely to succeed in court. As a result we are powerless to seize these vehicles under this legislation.”

That is what is being proposed to Bedfordshire police.

There is support for the measure from Nottinghamshire police, Humberside police, Thames Valley police, Derbyshire police and Wiltshire police. Our simple proposal is that if a vehicle is used in contravention of the Road Traffic Regulations (Special Events) Act 1994 on three or more occasions—I have taken that number out of the air, as this is a probing new clause—it can be subject to the powers set out in proposed subsection (2). My hon. Friend had a constructive meeting with the Minister, and we are happy to withdraw the motion if the Minister has some concrete proposals that would serve the purpose intended by the new clause.

There is a real problem of a small number of people—we return to the hard core, whom we have mentioned before—who are breaking the law in a grotesque manner, with extraordinary frequency, and who cannot be brought to book because they cannot be tracked down. The proposed power would be welcomed by many in the police, because it would give them the power to seize and remove the vehicles involved in such offences.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

I am not without sympathy for what the hon.  Gentleman is saying, but what would he propose doing once the vehicle had been seized? Would it not have made sense to have included provisions for the return, confiscation and forfeiture of the vehicle?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

This is a probing amendment. I am making the case that there is a hole in the law. I am quite happy to withdraw the motion, but on the condition that the Minister is prepared to bring forward workable legislation. I am not pretending that the new clause is perfect, but a real problem has been brought to our attention by several police forces and, in particular, by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire. I commend the new clause as it stands, but I look forward to hearing how the Minister proposes to sort the problem, as I think he said he would when he met my hon. Friend privately.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

I hope that I have taken the issue very seriously. I met the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire, who was kind enough to bring with him his constituent, the police constable who had identified the problem. They provided me with the evidence as they saw it. I took the matter up subsequently with chief constable Med Hughes, who is chairman of the traffic team of the Association of Chief Police Officers. The problem in Bedfordshire had been raised with the Home Office, which took the position that the law was quite clear and that there were powers to deal with such a problem. There was a dispute about that matter.

Med Hughes and officials from the Home Office were absolutely clear when speaking to me that the law provides them with all the powers that they need, and ACPO made it clear to me that it is not asking for more powers. ACPO believes that the powers to deal with the problem are sufficient and comprehensive. If future experience suggests otherwise, it is happy to come back to us to request further powers, but at the moment its view is that it would be a mistake for Parliament to grant further powers to the police when they have perfectly adequate powers that have not been utilised properly.

ACPO believes that the problem arose from a misunderstanding in Bedfordshire about how the powers can be used. To try to deal with that, I facilitated a meeting between Med Hughes and the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire at which those issues were to be explained. In addition, Med Hughes has spoken to the chief constable in Bedfordshire and explained the position to her. My understanding is that she is now satisfied that the police do have the powers to deal with the problem and that it is just a matter of police enforcement—using the powers appropriately.

I suspect that in forthcoming days there will be more discussions, and if the chief constable of Bedfordshire remains uncertain that she has the powers that she needs to deal with the problem, no doubt that will be relayed to us before the remaining stages of the Bill. However, at the moment, ACPO is quite clear that the police have all the powers that they need. There are police strategies that can be used to deal with the problem and they need to be employed in Bedfordshire and other places to crack down on it.

With those assurances and the assurance that I still have an open mind on the subject, should the advice I  am receiving from the chief constables turn out to be inaccurate, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for updating us. I think that the best way of proceeding is for me to consult further my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire on whether the discussions that the Minister described have borne fruit. With the caveat that we may return to the matter on Report, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.