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Mr. Straw: I dare say that bandwagons and flat-backed lorries are also covered.

We are open to arguments on whether the Bill should include other arrangements for abandoned vehicles and on whether the problem with abandoned vehicles is an inadequacy in criminal law or in its enforcement.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Did the right hon. Gentleman plead guilty to contributory negligence for failing to fit a crook lock when he lost his vehicle? Furthermore, does he accept that the Bill does not go far enough on the investigation and seeking out by the police of stolen vehicles? Will he consider contributing proper resources to that investigation, which is more important than the issue of an incident number for insurance purposes?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Lady's first point gives me the opportunity to return to the traumatic moment when I lost my vehicle. I thank her for that opportunity, as it was thanks to the great affection in which Blackburn Rovers is held that I got the vehicle back--a fact that enables me to put on record in Parliament my affection and support for the team and my congratulations to it on its magnificent victory against Burnley yesterday.

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[Interruption.] There is no point in Opposition Front Benchers chuntering. There have been few more important occasions in Blackburn and Burnley than yesterday's victory.

The hon. Lady's second and more serious point related to investigation. The police are doing a great deal of work on investigating the criminal rings that are often responsible for vehicle theft and are trying not to treat each such theft as a single crime committed by an individual crook without any other criminal record. That is why we are investing a lot of resources in intelligence analysis. I accept that a good deal more can be done, but the decrease of recorded and unrecorded vehicle crime, including thefts of and from vehicles, is a testament to the partnership between manufacturers and the community that I mentioned earlier.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) rose--

Mr. Bercow rose--

Mr. Straw: If I may, I shall make progress, but I shall take more interventions later.

We believe that the Bill will make a significant impact in achieving our target. In drawing up the Bill, we were advised by the vehicle crime reduction action team, which included representatives from every sector of the vehicle industry as well as the police, motorists and insurers. I helped to launch its report at about this time last year in Leicester.

A number of problems that are not covered by existing legislation were identified by the action team. There is no control over motor salvage dealers, who may receive stolen vehicles, nor, astonishingly, has there been any control over the supply of number plates to unscrupulous motorists. Indeed, plenty of motorists who get a number plate, as I did not long ago for a trailer, are surprised that they can walk into the premises of any supplier of plates and tell the supplier what numbers they want. A plate can be supplied without any record being held.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh) rose--

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) rose--

Mr. Straw: I shall give way in a moment.

Written off cars may be repaired and returned to the road without any check being made on their identity. As we know, some are stolen vehicles in disguise.

Mr. Chidgey: On registration plates, is the Home Secretary aware that some 7 million plates are produced every year, and that 2 million go on new cars and 2 million on trade-ins? Where do the others go?

Mr. Straw: Well, as I also know, occasionally--[Interruption.] No. A lot of plates will replace those of existing vehicles--for example, when someone has backed into another vehicle or been backed into.

Mr. Fabricant: What estimate has the Home Secretary made of the number of extra police officers who will be required to enforce the new legislation? Has he had a

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chance to read this week's edition of The House Magazine, which carries an article by the chairman of the Police Federation entitled "Policing in Crisis"? He says:

Has the Home Secretary read that article? How can the legislation be enforced with police numbers lower than those recorded in 1997?

Mr. Straw: As it happens, I have not read the Christmas edition of The House Magazine, but look forward to doing so. I am familiar, however, with the article to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I do not accept that the police service is in crisis. I happen to note that the chairman of the Police Federation, for whom I have a lot of regard, tends to make such remarks about every six months and has been doing so for the past 10 years--they are just a hardy annual. On other occasions, he has claimed that the single most damaging policy--pursued not only by this Government, but by the previous one--was the abolition of the housing allowance in 1994 in the wake of the Sheehy report. A direct consequence of that was that it became more difficult to recruit additional police officers, which is why, perhaps, the reduction in the Metropolitan police service under the previous Administration was significantly greater than that recorded since we have been in office. Those numbers are, at last, turning round.

We want costs to be reduced in the police service, as we do in every other public authority, and that is happening. We are now all agreed that the British crime survey is the best measure of crime and I am therefore delighted to note that, not least as a result of the good work of the police service, overall crime has gone down under this Administration by 10 per cent.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No, no. The rates of vehicle crime, domestic burglary and crimes of violence are also down.

Fiona Mactaggart: I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw). There are matters that the Bill does not necessarily cover that my constituents would want it to include, such as the frustrating issue of dumped vehicles. I have the dishonour to represent the car crime capital of Britain--there are more thefts from motor vehicles in Slough than in any other constituency. Obviously, that has nothing to do with how the local force polices, and although vehicle crime in my constituency has increased over the past year, it has reduced by a third in Milton Keynes, which is in the same police force area. Will the Home Secretary consider extending the scope of the Bill to include measures to reduce theft from motor vehicles and to deal with the problem of dumped cars?

Mr. Straw: I hope that I have already given an answer about the problem of dumped cars. It is already a serious criminal offence to abandon a vehicle. However, we have undertaken to re-examine the offence, and we shall do so.

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Manufacturers themselves have undertaken a great deal of work to ensure that thefts from vehicles are less likely. The figures we have published show both an inverse relationship between the value of a vehicle and the likelihood of its being stolen or broken into, and a direct relationship between a vehicle's age and the propensity for crimes against it. Although more modern vehicles are much more valuable, they are also much less likely to be broken into because breaking into them is more difficult.

Mr. Heald: Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: No; I want to say more about this.

Mr. Fabricant: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the frenzy of the debate, the Home Secretary--who is normally assiduous in answering questions--may have forgotten about one of my questions. I asked how many extra police officers would be required to enforce the legislation.

Mr. Speaker: That is not a point of order. The Home Secretary is responsible for replying to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Straw: I was about to reply. The answer is none, because no more officers are needed.

We have got vehicle crime down, and we aim to get it down further. The idea that every change in the law that is designed to drive crime down will lead to an increase in demands on the police is utter nonsense. Indeed, because we have driven crime down, there are fewer demands on the police in respect of crime, not more--although I fully recognise that that has been compensated for by additional calls in respect of disorder and other matters.

There was a long period during which the Conservative Government understood that, intellectually and financially. It is no good Conservative Members going on about police numbers now, insinuating that they would increase those numbers, because the one thing that the shadow Chancellor has absolutely refused to do is even promise to match our spending on the police, still less increase it.

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