As part of our Together initiative on antisocial behaviour, which is one of the No. 1 issues for the people of this country, we have tackled abandoned cars by introducing stronger, tougher measures, including the opportunity to remove cars within 24 hours. We are working to improve that by supporting trailblazers to share best practice and show that the police, along with other agencies, have a key role to play.
I thank the Government for ensuring that, at last, we have good legislation that benefits areas such as mine, but there is a problem. Will the Minister consider giving the police extra powers to deal with cases where an unscrupulous driver abandons his vehicle in somebody's private driveway? The local authority ignores such vehicles because they are not on public land and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency will not get involved because they are not on the highway, so the police end up having to do something. The owner of the private driveway, who is innocent in all this, has to pay £30 to have the vehicle removed. The issue seems to be going round in circles. Can we close that loophole and make our good legislation better for everyone?
My hon. Friend makes a good point about some of the problems caused by vehicles being abandoned on private land. The first is establishing whether the vehicle has been abandoned. The local authority can put a notice on the car and if, after 15 days, it has not been claimed it can take action to remove it. Other measures are available if the car is claimed by the owner: it is possible to use powers provided by environmental and waste legislation and, in certain instances, antisocial behaviour legislation. I ask my hon. Friend to get in touch with me about the particular problem that he mentioned, and I will ask the antisocial behaviour unit to look into it. We are cracking down on such behaviour wherever it occurs, and we know that that is important because our people tell us so.
Does it not depend on what one means by "abandoned" and "deal with"? Will the Minister call for a report from chief constables on a practice that is causing distress throughout the country? I refer to cases in which a vehicle is stolen and then abandoned many miles away, the police then telephone a company to remove the vehicle from the highway, and the company then charges the person from whom it was stolen. In normal circumstances, the police would phone up the owner, who would then go and get the vehicle, but in these cases many people are being treated very harshly by the police.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The police should be sensitive to these issues and we should investigate whether insurance would cover the costs. I think that he would acknowledge, however, that in dealing with abandoned or stolen vehicles and those without tax or insurance we are using antisocial behaviour powers from legislation that the Liberal Democrats voted against in its entirety—and we are investing money that the Conservative Opposition plan to take away. By using automatic number plate recognition and other measures we are making sure that the people who drive on our roads are safe and that they are legally entitled to do so.
My hon. Friend will be aware that action taken by a parish council in my constituency to remove abandoned vehicles was thwarted because a member of the local authority said that the land in question was public open space, not highway, so the parish council had to return the abandoned vehicles to the site. What advice is the Home Office giving to councils so that jobsworths cannot prevent the strong action that is required to deal with abandoned vehicles?
We are providing local authorities with a number of powers to deal with that problem. We have extended their access to the DVLA registration database and we have given them powers, including wheel clamping, that were once the preserve of the DVLA. We are saying, "Here are the powers. It's a no-can-do situation. Get on with it."
Will the Minister make it plain to the police and local authorities which of them is responsible for removing abandoned vehicles? I have certainly had cases in my constituency in which the police say that it is the responsibility of the local authority and vice versa. I understand that, two years ago, local authorities removed almost 300,000 abandoned vehicles. Will the Minister give the House the latest figure and confirm that it is likely to rise considerably when the appropriate EU directive comes into force in, I think, 2006?
The responsibility lies with many agencies, which is why we have given powers to take action to local authorities as well. The Removal and Disposal of Vehicles Regulations 1986 give the police the power to remove any vehicle that is in breach of local traffic regulation orders, causes obstruction, is a danger to the public, is broken down or is abandoned. We have brought local authorities into the partnership and they, too, can take action. It is part of the national policing plan to ensure that police understand the issues surrounding antisocial behaviour, including graffiti, abandoned cars and the dispersal of groups of youths who are causing intimidation and harassment. That is all part and parcel of policing today, but we have a wider police family to help us to achieve the end results.