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Mrs. Gilroy: I thank the kind hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is he aware that the police training schools are full to overflowing, to the extent that it has been necessary to open a new facility? When did such circumstances exist under the previous Conservative Government?
Mrs. Gilroy: I welcome the opportunity of pursuing a point that I cut short in my speech. I did so because I was afraid that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might stop me continuing. In Plymouth, there will be 41 extra police officers, of whom I have seen some of the early recruits. I imagine that the shadow Home Secretary was told when she visited the St. Peter ward on Monday that five of the officers would be located there.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have allowed the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) to pursue that point, but we have now had enough background remarks on the number of policemen. I ask the hon. Gentleman to return to the contents of the Bill.
Mr. Fabricant: I shall not speak further about police officer numbers. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady laughs from a sedentary position, but I make that comment only because I am obeying your correct instruction, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
It is, however, worth setting out a little background. Interestingly, 12.6 per cent. of vehicle-owning households have been victims of car crime at least once. Of those households, 8.1 per cent. suffered thefts from their vehicles and 3.7 per cent. suffered attempted thefts. For those who belittle attempted thefts, I point out that such thefts often involve damage to the car, whether it is
I have never been a victim--I touch the wood of the Bench in front of me when making this comment--of vehicle crime in this country. In the past three years, however, I have suffered it twice in France. That will be almost my only Euro-sceptic remark this evening. I may be tempted to say a bit more when we discuss provisions on the production of licence plates.
People who have suffered crime feel not only that they have lost something tangible, but that they have been emotionally affected. That is understandable, but revealingly, the British crime survey states that 89 per cent. of victims reported anger. Again, that is understandable; indeed, I am surprised that only 89 per cent of people felt anger. However, only 22 per cent. of people whose cars were broken into or stolen reported shock. We should consider that figure for a moment, as it demonstrates what this country has come to. The statement that only 22 per cent. of victims were shocked implies that 78 per cent. of them expected the crimes to occur.
Mr. McCabe: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that might be the case because people were conditioned during 18 years under the previous Administration to expect soaring vehicle crime, cuts in police numbers and other law and order failures?
Mr. Fabricant: Police officer numbers increased under the previous Government and vehicle crime fell by 27 per cent. In the past three years, however, such crime has fallen only by 2 per cent. That is why I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman, whose remarks are not logical. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said, the Government build up an exciting picture of what will happen, only to disappoint people later. That happens because adequate resources are not being made available.
Mr. Forth: Before my hon. Friend leaves the matter of expectation, disappointment and rage, does he have any figures on the regional and rural/urban breakdown of the incidence of such events? Those blanket figures are informative, and I am grateful to him for bringing them to the attention of the House, but must not we be much more aware of the enormous variations--between one area or region and another and among different parts of our communities--that underlie those figures and the bearing that they must have on policy making and direction of resources?
Mr. Fabricant: Sadly, I do not have the figures, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to ask that question. I hope that the Minister, who is listening to the debate keenly, will be able to report some of those variations in his winding-up speech.
We may find that there is a variation between urban and rural areas. For too long, the Government have underestimated the amount of rural crime throughout the United Kingdom. I believe that the constituency of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) has more vehicle crime than other parts of the west midlands, though I would be the last person to blame the sitting Member for that.
Mrs. Gilroy: On that point, I have a specific example. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be extremely pleased to hear that there were a mere 15 thefts of motor vehicles in a ward in the constituency of his colleague, the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), in the seven months from April to October 2000. However, there were 73 such thefts in the inner-city ward of St. Peter, to which I have referred. That shows the stark contrast between rich and poor areas and between the leafy suburb and the inner city. No doubt the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) represents an area akin to the leafy suburb.
Mr. Fabricant: I thank the hon. Lady for her helpful intervention, which shows that there are huge differences not only in regions or between urban and rural areas, but in small regions. However, I do not represent only the leafy lanes of Lichfield--far, far from it. My constituency lost Stone because of a boundary change, but has gained the small ex-mining town of Burntwood, which is slightly larger than Lichfield and was Labour controlled. All I can say is that that shows that I am a Member of the House because of the loyalty of the people of Lichfield.
I am interested not only in the number of cars that have been stolen or broken into, but in the rather startling difference in the recovery rate for stolen vehicles, which I find disturbing. Again, I have to ask whether the figures arise directly from the lack of police officers in Staffordshire, the west midlands and elsewhere. In particular, two figures stand in stark contrast: 63 per cent. of all stolen vehicles were recovered in 1997, but after just three years of Labour government, that has fallen to 58 per cent. The sad fact that we face is that that directly mirrors the fall in the number of police officers. Vehicle crime fell by 27 per cent. under the previous Government, but over the past few years there has been a decrease of only 2 or 3 per cent., which is appallingly low.
Although we welcome the Bill, the key fact is that we need extra police officers to ensure that its provisions are observed. Police constables--not local council employees, as the Home Secretary suggested--will have the right to enter certain premises, but to facilitate that, constables on the ground must be available. That means either providing extra constables or constables entering such premises instead of doing other jobs. It is facile of the Home Secretary and others to say that constables could perform such functions in the normal course of their duties.
Mr. Fabricant: My right hon. Friend raises a fascinating point, although I have not read the Bill closely enough to deal with it. Perhaps the Minister will address it in his winding-up speech. Are police officers expressly forbidden--explicitly or by implication--to enter non-registered premises? By definition, registered premises will be those of law-abiding people who have registered, whereas those who break the law will not register.
Mr. McCabe: There is a slight danger that Conservative Members have been so programmed on their script about police numbers that they have missed the point of the Bill. That is a serious omission. I put a simple question to the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree with Chief Superintendent Mike McAndrew, the Metropolitan police operational command unit commander and a member of the national executive of the Police Superintendents Association, who said:
The proposed measures illustrate our view that this is not a job for police alone. The involvement of local authorities in the regulation of the motor salvage industry and improvements in vehicle licensing and registration will provide much needed backing for prevention and detection activity by the police service . . . ?