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Mr. Forth: I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will deal with this matter later in his speech, but in the context of what he has just said, does he agree that, lest anyone should imagine that the Bill is uncontroversial, clause 9 contains our old friend, the right to enter and inspect premises? I pick that clause at random to emphasise the fact that if the Government are under any illusion that they can introduce the Bill now, declare it uncontroversial
Mr. Bercow: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend's observation. It is no secret that he and I have what in political terms might be described as a symbiotic relationship; periodically, I can anticipate my right hon. Friend, but he is invariably able to anticipate me. Lest he should worry, I assure him that I intend to say something about that provision. What is more, I had fully intended to do so even without his characteristically helpful observation. The Bill will not become law before the election in any case.
The second fact that we know about the Bill is that there will be 3,000 fewer police officers to enforce it. I was as shocked as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary by the Home Secretary's alarming display of complacency. Of course, we do not have to increase the size of the police force every time a new Bill is introduced, but people outside the House will now start to get the clear message that there is a chronic mismatch--a gaping chasm--between Ministers' rhetoric and the reality of the policies that they pursue. Again and again, Ministers promise more, but deliver less. It is not reasonable of them to push through legislation, to make highfalutin promises and to commit themselves to great policy objectives while expecting others who are reduced in number, increased in terms of pressure and diminished in terms of political support from those on the Treasury Bench still to achieve those objectives.
The leaders of our police forces do not lightly speak out in public. I hope that, when they do so, the Home Secretary will listen. I was concerned when, in a response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), the Home Secretary airily dismissed the observations of a senior policeman by saying that he says something every six months or so, that he has been doing so for about 10 years and, therefore, that no special significance should be attached to his remarks. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, just as he is an important, highly influential and greatly respected man with a full diary, the same goes for the chairman of the Police Federation. When the chairman of the Police Federation speaks out, the Home Secretary should listen, especially because the chairman has castigated the right hon. Gentleman for the inadequacy of the support that he has made available to the police while increasing their responsibilities all the while.
Let us consider the detailed proposals for cutting car crime. The Home Secretary rightly referred to the vehicle crime reduction action team. As he well knows, its strategy focuses on several objectives. The first is better vehicle security and several measures offer the prospect of improving the detection of car crime and deterring its incidence. Electronic immobilisers on new cars are compulsory under the European Union law of 1998 and the anti-theft directive of 1995-96.
It is now proposed that it should be compulsory for cars that are seven to 10 years old to have electronic immobilisers. Instead of applying the idea simply to new cars, it is possible that the owners of old cars will be requested--or more likely, obliged--to install immobilisers. I have not yet observed my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) quivering at that suggestion, but it is only a matter of time
The Government have not yet pursued the idea of making the installation of electronic immobilisers compulsory on cars of seven to 10 years old. I do not know whether they intend to do so, but I am sure that the Under-Secretary can enlighten me. I hope that he will. The vehicle crime reduction action team has estimated that such a development could result in the commission of 60,000 fewer offences by 2004.
That raises an interesting question. Do the Government intend to make installation compulsory for seven to 10-year-old cars? The answer is important. If they do not intend to do that, there will be a saving--a burden for consumers forgone--but the prospect of reducing offences by 60,000 by 2004, after which the Under- Secretary no doubt hankers, will be removed. If they intend to go ahead with the compulsory policy for older vehicles, they might have a slightly greater chance of achieving their car crime reduction target, but only at the personal expense of a large number of car buyers of-- I must emphasise--more modest means.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Has it escaped my hon. Friend's notice that drivers of more modest means drive more modest and older vehicles and are much less likely to have their vehicles stolen, precisely as a consequence of the modest and elderly nature of the vehicle?
Mr. Bercow: I am not sure that that is true. Some car criminals are fairly undiscriminating. We know that they steal to feed a habit. It is uncertain that they take a sophisticated view as part of the car cognoscenti. For once, I am sorry to say, I fear that my hon. Friend might be wrong.
Mr. Chidgey: Perhaps I can help. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) might be wrong. Work by Sallybanks and Thomas shows that the highest number of vehicles stolen are owned by people on the lowest incomes, who live in the most disrupted areas and whose cars are of a lower value and older.
Mr. Bercow: That is a helpful observation. It might be churlish to suggest this, but I wonder whether that important information was given to the hon. Member for Eastleigh by my very good friend, the excellent prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Eastleigh, Mr. Conor Burns. I know not--but it is likely.
We have talked about better vehicle security, but we should also mention better enforcement. I must emphasise that enforcement is a great task for the police, but they have suffered a huge cut in numbers, which will not change immediately. It is also a challenge for the crime
The Government have emphasised the importance of a safer environment. They are right to do so, because 22 per cent. of vehicle crime occurs in car parks. Ministers are justified in highlighting the need for CCTV. The secured car parks scheme is also significant, but has not been mentioned. It is supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers and some evidence suggests that it is achieving worthwhile results. Ministers tell us that £153 million is available until March 2002 for CCTV. We anticipate that they will not get around to spending that money because we hope to have crossed to the other side of the House by then, but we are strongly committed to continuing the programme.
There is also a role for the modernisation of information systems. The motor industry anti-fraud and theft computerised database holds information about insured vehicles that are stolen or subject to insurance write-offs. The register will be linked to DVLA from next year, which augurs well for the prospects of a reduction in car crime. The motor insurance database will hold details of all insurance policies on individually insured vehicles and will, I think, be operational in 2001. It will link directly to the police national computer and should enable uninsured drivers to be more easily identified. I think that I am also correct in saying that the MOT record is to be computerised and fully operational from 2002-03. That bodes well, although I am getting no signal from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions on that point.
Advocates of statutory regulation contend that the lack of it provides a green light for the disposal of stolen vehicles. Existing regulation is controlled by the insurance industry and the trade associations. The British Vehicle Salvage Federation represents 75 larger salvage dealers which together represent about 75 per cent. of the insurance industry salvage business. The Motor Vehicle Dismantlers Association of Great Britain represents smaller dealers whose primary function is dismantling; it represents only about 10 per cent. of the 2,000 to 2,500 dismantlers in Great Britain, which is significant in the context of the Bill's regulatory provisions. So that we are aware of the terms and the context in which we are debating the Bill, the sector as a whole consists of about 2,500 to 3,000 companies, which together employ between 20,000 and 30,000 people.
The trade associations operate a code of practice that is based on co-operation with the DVLA and, through it, with the police, but that approach is thought to suffer from several weaknesses. First, the ability of those organisations to police their own members is limited. Secondly, the code of practice has not been adopted by hire companies or by the Crown, which operates large fleets of vehicles that carry their own insurance against total loss. Thirdly, and most significantly, up to 25 per cent. of the salvage business and up to 90 per cent. of the dismantling business are not covered by the code. That is the rationale behind the issuing by the Home Office of its consultation document on the proposed regulation of the motor salvage industry. I feel sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends are aware that that document flagged up several possibilities, of which statutory regulation was one. If memory serves correctly, of the 26 organisations that responded to the exercise, 22 favoured the option of statutory regulation.