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Mr. McCabe: There is a simple answer to that concern. There is an expectation that the police will build up good relationships with registered dealers and will know who is who, so they will be able to work with them in a way that is not intrusive or burdensome. As for unregistered operators, the police, through their intelligence, will now have a clear ready-made target. That is a persuasive argument for the approach being taken, as I hope the hon. Gentleman would agree.
The hon. Member for Buckingham asked whether someone who supplies plates without due diligence will be guilty of supplying counterfeit plates. I should be grateful if the Minister would make that point clear.
The Bill is welcome, so far as it goes. Some things are missing from it and there are areas where we could strengthen it. As at least two or three of my hon. Friends said earlier, it does not cover theft from vehicles, which is a crime of much greater proportions, although the financial sum involved may be less. As we are dealing with vehicle crime, it would be sensible to tackle not only the theft of vehicles, but theft from them. I do not know whether there is scope to study that in Committee, but it would be welcome.
We should wonder why there has not been greater concentration on the industry. We should acknowledge the efforts that it has made in the past few years. The theft of new vehicles has decreased in direct relation to the measures that the industry has taken and such crime would be further reduced if further measures were taken. The introduction of laminated glass for side glazing panels is a simple example. I understand that, at the current rate, it will take 10 years for that to apply to most vehicles. If the industry were required to speed up that introduction, we could make more significant progress and reach the target more quickly.
I am surprised that the Bill does not contain measures on the way in which the insurance industry deals with vehicle theft. There are enormously high pay-outs and no restriction on people continuing to make claims. There was some debate earlier about the measures that people should take to protect their property. If people persistently do not take action to protect their property and continue to receive insurance pay-outs, we encourage the notion that such crime is victimless, but we know that everyone pays for it through increased premiums. The Bill could provide the opportunity to oblige individuals to protect their property. If they do not, insurance companies might take that fact into account in determining pay-outs.
An interesting experiment recently took place in Merseyside, where the police and an insurance company worked jointly to recover stolen vehicles. People may be worried about the Bill's impact on the police, but that experiment had the great advantage that the insurance company made money available to the police, so extra resources were available to target vehicle crime. The consequence was a massive increase in recovery and the insurance company gained because the pay-outs were dramatically reduced. We could learn from that example. Perhaps the Bill should include enabling powers to try to encourage that approach in other parts of the country.
The Bill is primarily about trying to reduce the market for stolen vehicles and, therefore, the opportunities for vehicle crime. In that sense, it is inevitable that it is a regulatory Bill, and we cannot object strongly to that fact despite some of the comments that have been made. However, we could take complementary measures that would immensely strengthen the approach to such crime. For example, the European secure vehicle alliance has campaigned for some time on the issue of education. We must try not only to reduce the market for stolen vehicles, but to change people attitude's to vehicles and to the theft of vehicles. That involves our notions of ownership and behaviour.
To some extent, the Government have acknowledged that point in their advertising campaigns. The campaign to reduce crime focused on individual behaviour, but the Government have been reluctant to consider the issue of younger people. We know that, sadly, younger people are over-represented in some crime statistics and in the accident statistics. At present, there does not appear to be a process by which we attempt to educate younger people about responsible driving, safe behaviour and the ownership and security of vehicles.
One complementary measure that the Government could consider would involve the Home Office, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department for Education and Employment working together. They could consider key stage 4 requirements for those youngsters who do not respond to the conventional or standard national curriculum. Such youngsters already opt out and they are in danger of drifting, but we have an opportunity to develop a community safety education model that is designed to complement the other regulatory
Mr. Heald: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some projects in the voluntary sector, such as the "wheels" project in Hertfordshire and the excellent project in Oxford, concentrate on exactly the point that he is making? They seem to be achieving good results with young people, including those who have had difficulties with the police.
Mr. McCabe: I agree with the hon. Gentleman; he makes my point for me. We already have one or two examples that show how effective such an approach can be. It is complementary to the other measures designed to tackle crime, so it would be helpful if the three Departments could come together to give a further boost to such work and to consider whether something could be done at key stage 4 of the curriculum.
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): I listened to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) with great interest. He made several important points. In particular, he confirmed that hon. Members on both sides of the House share concerns about the amount of vehicle crime in this country. It is one of the most pervasive, far-reaching and invidious crimes from which we suffer. According to the analysis of the European secure vehicle alliance, to which the hon. Gentleman referred several times, one in three car owners in England and Wales fear that their vehicle will be stolen. In fact, one in eight vehicles owners had their vehicle stolen last year.
For most people, a car is probably their most expensive purchase after buying their home. For non-home owners, it is certainly the most expensive purchase. Cars are often bought on credit and the period of repayment often stretches up to five years. To have one's vehicle stolen and to go through the misery of trying to obtain its full worth from an insurance company is quite a traumatic experience that should not be underplayed or ignored.
Every day 1,000 cars are stolen in England and Wales. Thirty per cent. are never recovered, and of the 70 per cent. that are recovered more than half are damaged beyond repair. Vehicle crime is a major feature of the criminal statistics. The Home Secretary gave a figure of less than 20 per cent., but some estimates put the figure at more than 20 per cent. However, it is clear that it is a major area of criminal activity.
Vehicle crime takes up a disproportionate amount of the resources of the criminal justice system, crime detection, prosecution and front-line policing. A reduction in vehicle crime might lead to a reduction in the police resources needed to pursue and prosecute offenders.
So far I have referred to recorded crime, but the British crime survey--everyone seems to recognise it as a valuable source of information--suggests that fewer than half the thefts from vehicles are reported to the police, and that fewer than 60 per cent. of reported thefts are recorded by the police. Therefore, only a quarter of thefts from vehicles
Although the Bill is limited in its aspirations, it proposes useful measures aimed at reducing vehicle crime. As other hon. Members have said, the draft Bill was welcomed by many organisations as disparate as, among others, the European secure vehicle alliance, the Automobile Association, the RAC and the Motorcycle Action Group. The industry and those interested in motor vehicles have broadly accepted the Bill, and we certainly welcome it in principle. However, we have some particular concerns that I shall discuss later. I am sure that they will be examined as the Bill goes through the due process. Improvements can be made by amendment. I listened to the Home Secretary and I hope that his remarks referred not just to the spirit of accepting amendments, but to the practice of accepting them. There are many ways in which the Bill can usefully be improved.
The Home Secretary and other hon. Members have referred to the Prime Minister's commitment to reduce vehicle crime by 30 per cent. in five years. That commitment has been described as "challenging" or "frightening", and there has been much argument about how much progress has been made. However, it is clear that we are still a long way from the target and the clock is ticking. There is not much time left.
The Bill is aimed specifically at reducing crime in the ringing of stolen vehicles and breaking them for spare parts. The Home Office estimates that, along with a reduction in insurance fraud, the Bill could reduce vehicle crime by 36,000 vehicles a year. That is an admirable aim, but we have to compare that figure with the fact that 375,000 vehicles are stolen every year. Whatever the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said about his figures, it is a fact that reducing the number of vehicles stolen by 36,000 represents less than 10 per cent. of the vehicles stolen every year. Those are Home Office figures.
The Bill will make no impact on reducing the 130,000 vehicles that are stolen every year and recovered, but wrecked beyond repair. It will have no impact on the more than 700,000 thefts from vehicles every year. Those are recorded thefts, but they represent probably only a quarter of actual thefts from vehicles. To put the Bill in the context of the research carried out by Sallybanks and Thomas and the statistics of the British crime survey, it aims to reduce vehicle crime by about 1.5 per cent. of the total. It is still a good objective, but let us be realistic and admit that the Prime Minister's target is, indeed, challenging.
England and Wales suffer some of the highest vehicle crime rates in the developed world. Other hon. Members have highlighted the fact that we are far in front of many other western countries in that respect. Hardy's work on European vehicle crime shows that the most reliable comparison of the rate of vehicle crime is the rate of theft deducted from the total number of vehicles in the vehicle "parc" in a particular country. It is worth considering
Vehicle crime rates in England and Wales are not universal. There are significant regional variations, but the most important variations are due to demography. The Conservatives seemed to be unsure about what cars were stolen most frequently. I can advise them that the highest levels of theft occur from low-income, inner-city estates and in areas with the highest incidence of disorder, and that the highest rates of theft are of lower value, older and less-secure vehicles. The issue of vehicle crime is clearly wider than just preventing the ringing of stolen vehicles or the recycling of stolen vehicle parts.
Although the Bill's aims are welcome, there are wider issues to consider in connection with vehicle crime, such as crime prevention, law enforcement and community policing. A major aspect of vehicle crime is the theft of parts, which is estimated to cost our economy five times as much as vehicle theft. Although the Bill attempts to regulate the trade in second-hand parts, much more needs to be done to prevent their theft.
The hon. Member for Hall Green was right to say that the industry has a responsibility to produce better- designed vehicles and to make parts more secure and more easily traceable. It is common sense to produce a car in which the spare wheel is kept within the main body and not in a tray that is accessible outside the car. It is simple for the design shop to incorporate lockable wheel nuts before a car is produced, and they are a vital aid to ensuring that car wheels are not stolen. I feel for the Home Secretary, who commented on the fate of the audio systems in his car, but surely the technology is available to make them more secure. As the hon. Member for Hall Green said, we should accelerate the introduction of laminated side glazing so that it is a standard feature on all cars. We should not wait another eight years, when we shall hit the end of the 10-year programme.
There is great scope for improving vehicle crime prevention measures. Industry must take the lead, with Government prodding, probing, persuasion and, if necessary, regulation to ensure that such issues take a higher priority in the design of cars. However, the Bill does not address that.