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Mr. Fabricant: I have been listening with great interest to my hon. Friend's comments on the failure to some extent of self-regulation within the industry. Does that not imply that, for the legislation to be successful, there must be a degree of supervision by the regulatory authorities, in this case the police? Does that not provide prima facie evidence either that there will have to be extra police officers to do the work, or that other aspects of law and order will suffer as a consequence?
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is invariably perceptive, and his observation was no exception to the general rule. He is right. It upsets and perturbs me that the Home Secretary, who much of the time is a sensible fellow, persists in ignoring or denying this obvious point.
Mr. McCabe: I want to clarify a simple point that arises from the intervention of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). Does not clause 13 give the local authority powers to prosecute and supervise in relation to that part of the Bill?
I find it curious--I am sure that this has not escaped the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends--that whereas in respect of many of the great public services, Labour Members rush to the defence of those employed in delivering them and are always anxious to improve their conditions in recognising what a difficult job they do, when it comes to the police they are happy to increase the burdens but not ready to pay tribute to the enormous work against the odds, often under severe physical threat, that the officers undertake. I am not applying that point to the Home Secretary, but many Back-Bench Labour Members are guilty of that approach.
Under part I, motor salvage operators will need to be registered with the local authority in which they are based. The local authority will have powers to refuse renewal of registrations, having originally granted them. Operators will have to keep records of the vehicles entering the industry and of disposals. The Government believe that their policy could avoid about 39,000 vehicle thefts and 6,000 fraudulent insurance claims each year, with an economic benefit of £183 million.
Allan Greenouff on behalf of the British Vehicle Salvage Federation, John Hesketh on behalf of the Motor Vehicle Dismantlers Association, Richard Allen on behalf of the Association of British Insurers, Sandy Dalgano on behalf of the National Salvage Group, the AA, and Ken Williams, the chief constable of Norfolk and the representative of the Association of Chief Police Officers on VCRAT, have all welcomed the Bill. Nevertheless, several issues require the close attention of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst characteristically identified one of them at an early stage in the debate.
I have in mind, of course, clause 9, which will give police constables the power to enter and inspect registered motor salvage premises and their records without warrant. It makes provision for searches with warrants to take place at premises that are unregistered or where a police constable has previously been refused entry.
Mr. Bercow: It is not even clear to me, as indicated by the sedentary intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield, that there will be sufficient police officers effectively to discharge the statutory obligation.
There appears to be a slightly curious differential between the treatment of premises that are registered and that of those that are not. Why are registered operators apparently subject to harsher treatment than that meted out to their unregistered counterparts? I shall be grateful for the comments of the Under-Secretary of State when he replies.
I consider myself no great authority on the matter, but I am told that the arrangement worked well for a while, before someone spotted a loophole in the law. Apparently--I should be grateful for comeback on this point from the Under-Secretary, who is looking earnestly in the direction of those who advise--the DVLA is technically not allowed to refuse a V5 request. All that it can do is to issue the V5 and ask the police to investigate. I feel sure that I am carrying my right hon. and hon. Friends with me on this important theme.
Now the DVLA must issue V5s for cars that it knows no longer exist, and it can only notify the police--the underfunded, overburdened, insufficiently supported police. In practice, of course, the police investigate different proportions of such referrals in different police areas. Some routinely investigate all, but some investigate only a few.
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Does he concede that it is his experience, as it is mine and that of many other people, that the police, rightly but regrettably, give greater priority to crimes involving violence, violence against the person, housebreaking and so on, and that vehicle offences come, rightly, pretty low down on the priority list of most, if not all, police forces? If my hon. Friend agrees with that general contention, what does he think will be the effectiveness of the role of the police in discharging the responsibilities given to them by the Bill?
Mr. Bercow: My right hon. Friend's judgment of the significance of car crime in the overall scale of police priorities is almost certainly right. They are more likely to focus on violent crime and they are especially justified in doing so in light of the figures for increasing violent crime over the past 12 months or so. In other words, the position on violent crime is being made substantially worse. In London, for example, another 36,000, I think, violent offences were committed over the past 12 months. That requires a police resource.
The police will have to focus first and foremost on that, yet they are faced with the introduction of the Bill. I would like to think that Ministers will be modest, but I suspect that they will trumpet the provisions of the Bill, claim to be robust and insist that they are involved in a ferocious crackdown on vehicle crime.
All that the Home Secretary will have done, which is not an insignificant accomplishment, but it is an exiguous one, is to pilot through the Bill. Police officers will have to do the dirty work--police officers of whom there are not enough, who face greater regulatory burdens and who are confronted with a large increase in violent crime, not least as a result of the lily-livered feebleness that the right hon. Gentleman has displayed over the past three and a half years.
Mr. Bercow: I am sorry to be so misinterpreted by the hon. Lady, who usually has a keen ear and attends closely to what is said. I was not in any way criticising or casting aspersions on the police. For the avoidance of doubt, I was criticising and casting aspersions on the Government's record, from which both the innocent public and the police suffer.
I am not cavilling at the achievement of the police, nor am I saying--I emphasise this to the hon. Lady--that they should not give priority to the pursuit of violent criminals. [Interruption.] It is no good the hon. Lady chuntering from a sedentary position in an entirely unintelligible manner, when I am seeking to respond effectively to the half-point that she made.
Of course, the police are right to focus on violent crime. However, they are being charged with additional responsibilities under the Bill, but are not being promised increased resources to discharge those responsibilities. I made that point earlier, but I am repeating it, as it is so obvious that it is extraordinary that even a new Labour apparatchik can choose to ignore or deny it.
Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being generous in giving way for the third, or even fourth, time. Is he surprised to learn that the office of the chief constable of Staffordshire has informed me that the latest Government initiative--the crackdown on yob culture--will be difficult to achieve on a Friday or Saturday night in Lichfield, where there are only three or four police officers, backed up by, perhaps, five or six special constables? How will those police officers meet the provisions of clause 9? The clause states that, in addition to cracking down on yob culture,