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Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend agree that the whole purpose of that part of the Bill is to make licence plates more distinctive and less easy to forge, to make them easier for police to detect? Does he also agree that the smaller the geographical area depicted on the licence plate, the better? For enforcement, would it not be better to have, for example, the Union flag or the cross of St. George rather than something like the European flag, which covers a large geographical area and 350 million people, soon to become half a billion?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Not only is that matter too detailed for this debate, but it has already been dealt with today. I ask the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) to deal more specifically with the Bill and Second Reading.

Mr. Fabricant: Of course I shall abide by your instruction, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

A licence plate is there to be recognised. That is the important point. Anything that impedes recognition of a licence plate by a police officer--where police officers are available--or by an automatic camera has to be wrong. Those are the types of issue on which we need clarification.

If I may, ever so briefly, I should like to make this one interesting point--at least I think that it is interesting. A survey has shown that the British flag is the most recognised flag in the world. Is not that something to be proud of?

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): Does the hon. Gentleman accept, first, that the free movement of goods,

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services and people is allowed within the European Union? Therefore, as the boundaries in which we can move freely are far greater than those of individual nation states, would it not be more appropriate to have a European Union flag than a Welsh flag, the flag of St. George or the Union flag?


Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The first point will be enough. We have also dealt more than enough with any type of flag.

Mr. Fabricant: I shall not deal even with flags of convenience, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Let us move on to the issue of funding new traffic cameras. I agree with the hon. Member for Stafford that traffic cameras are to be encouraged when they minimise injury and death at accident black spots. However, as we have all read in various newspaper articles, many traffic cameras do not contain film. Nevertheless, that is not a problem as long as we do not know whether the cameras contain film, as they would still act as a deterrent, which is the point of speed cameras. The point of speed cameras is not to catch people, but to deter them from committing the crime initially.

Too many people know, however, that lack of police funding has led not only to fewer police officers, but to a financial inability to put film in cameras. I do not know the specific situation in Staffordshire, because--fingers crossed--so far I have not been caught by a traffic camera there. However, I have to admit that, on one occasion, on Park lane, a flash went off, making me realise that I had been going just a few miles over the limit. For three or four weeks, I waited anxiously to see whether I would receive a speeding ticket. I did not. I can only assume that the Metropolitan police, who are so underfunded, did not have film in their camera.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Several hon. Members have mentioned speeding, but the Bill has nothing at all to do with speeding.

Mr. Fabricant: Mr. Deputy Speaker, the funding of new traffic cameras is the key provision of part III.

I shall, however, deal with the provision in clause 9 of new police powers. To some extent, I have already dealt with that matter, partly because of the helpful interventions of my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms). The clause states:

It is worth rehearsing again the argument about whether a police officer should have access to premises--at a reasonable time or a not reasonable time--without a warrant. If we think that it is good that police have access to registered premises, would it not be even better to provide that police have similar rights to enter unregistered premises where people may be conducting unlawful business? As I said, it seems strange that those who are sufficiently decent, honest and law-abiding to register can be inspected regularly, whereas those who are deliberately conducting unlawful business and choose not to register are protected in law and are not required to submit to an inspection unless the police obtain a warrant.

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I have heard of many occasions when the police have heard about illegal activities at specific premises, but, by the time that they obtained a warrant and gained entry, the illegal act was finished and those who committed the act were long gone and could not be brought to book. As ever more legislation is requiring people to join a register, we have to ask if there is not an imbalance and the police should not have powers to enter the same type of premises regardless of whether they are registered or unregistered.

For all the reasons that I have mentioned, I welcome clause 35, which grants the police access to insurance industry databases. To some extent, I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole that such access could be an invasion of privacy. However, when I consider my car insurance bill of £1,000--which seems excessive; perhaps I should use one of those telephone insurers--I cannot help but think that 25 per cent. of my premium is subsidising those who are not insured. Anything that will help to reduce the cost of insurance is to be welcomed. More importantly, anything that will bring to book those who are committing a crime by not taking out insurance is to be applauded. I am not sure how the proposals would be affected by the Data Protection Act 1988. I invite the Minister to go into considerable detail, in what I suspect will be a rather lengthy summing-up, on that.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend has just focused on clause 35, one of the nine clauses in the Bill introducing regulations. Does he agree that the Minister should tell us whether those regulations will be subject to the negative or the affirmative procedure, because that is not clear from the Bill?

Mr. Fabricant: I have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham make that point before to Ministers and it has floored them. I have no doubt that the Minister could answer now with a lightning riposte. However, he does not have to do so, because he will give us the answer at about 10 o'clock tonight, having had two hours' notice, and after the officials have provided him with the information.

Mr. Hill: I know the answer.

Mr. Fabricant: Clearly, the Minister knew that he would be facing my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, and that he might be asked that question. I challenge the Minister to intervene and to tell us the answer.

Mr. Hill indicated dissent.

Mr. Fabricant: The Minister chooses not to intervene, and I suspect that that could be because of the doleful glare of the Government Whip.

In summary, of course I welcome the Vehicles (Crime) Bill. Anything that can prevent vehicle crime is to be applauded, and anything that can use new technology is to be applauded. However, the legislation--which I fear will not see the light of day before the end of the parliamentary Session--is so much like other Bills being introduced by the Government. They glitter in the short term, rather like a sparkler on new year's eve or on 5 November, but after a few seconds of bright, shining light, they phutter out. They phutter and die, because the

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Government do not give them the resources that they need. Like the Bill on yob culture, and all the other proposed legislation about which we hear so much from the Home Office, this measure will phutter and die because the resources for extra police officers are not being given. The police need extra money, extra resources and extra policemen on the ground, if only to restore them to the levels that they had when Labour came into power in 1997.

7.53 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington, North): I intend to be brief, unlike the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), largely because I am still reeling from the shock of being complimented by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) at the start of the debate. He has managed to put the kibosh on what little hope I had of a political career in one fell swoop.

I want to talk about the principles of the Bill, as you have instructed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There was much discussion in last week's debate on the Loyal Address on the problems of lawlessness and anti-social behaviour, and the climate of fear and insecurity that they create. However, it struck me that there was little reference in that debate to the problems of vehicle crime, which accounts for one fifth of recorded crime, or to the effects of those crimes on the public. That is symptomatic of the way in which we often treat such offences, and indicative of why we have to change and why we need the Bill.

Many people, especially those who live in areas where car theft is prevalent, know that such crime contributes to the climate of insecurity that was being discussed last week, and blights people's everyday lives. They know only too well the awful feeling that one has when one hears a noise outside and has to look to see whether one's car is being damaged or stolen. They also know the relief that one can feel in the morning, in certain areas, when one opens the curtains and finds that the car is still there. That happens to many people. Like many crimes, it affects not only those who are the victims of the crime, but those who fear that they might become the victims of such crimes.

I welcome any measure to ensure that we create a climate in which it will be more difficult for car thieves to operate. The Bill contains several sensible measures of that nature. I was concerned to see it damned with faint praise by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who said that it was

I can only assume that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has never had a car stolen, and never known that sinking feeling when one returns to where one thought one had parked, only to discover an empty space, especially at night.

Like many hon. Members, I have experienced that feeling. I have had two cars stolen--one in Manchester and one in Liverpool, so I am quite even-handed between the two cities. Recently, we had another car damaged on our driveway. At that stage, I was nothing like a woolly liberal. I thought that those events were important, and my constituents find such matters important, as well. However, there has been too great a tendency to treat such

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matters almost as victimless crimes, as though we can simply shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, the insurance will deal with it, and that is that." Nothing could be further from the truth. We all pay, through increased insurance premiums.

This kind of crime hits those on the lowest incomes the hardest. They have to cope with the logistical problems of getting to work and getting the children to school without any reserves of cash. However, they often incur a serious financial penalty; if their car is old, but runs perfectly well, the insurance pay-out that they receive might not be enough to purchase a vehicle in similar condition. Many families on low incomes, who might have no savings on which to fall back, and who find it difficult to borrow money, could then find themselves desperate to meet the shortfall. If we fail to get a grip on crimes such as these, people on low incomes in places such as the centre of my constituency will pay the price. That is why we should welcome the Bill.

It is precisely because it is so difficult to catch car thieves in the act that we ought to make it harder for people to profit from disposing of stolen vehicles. I particularly welcome the proposals in the Bill to regulate the motor salvage industry and scrap metal dealers to reduce the opportunities for ringing or for using stolen vehicles for spare parts. It is not surprising that the replies to the consultation document that went out before the Bill was produced were overwhelmingly in favour of a statutory scheme of regulation. I say to Conservative Members who seemed concerned about this measure that the Bill will deal with precisely those people who would not conform to a voluntary code of practice: the dodgy dealers, the Arthur Daleys of this world.

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