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Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. However, does she agree that, if someone does not register voluntarily, and if there is no methodology by which the police can detect those people who ought to have registered but have not done so, there will be a problem as to how the measure can be enforced? The Bill sets up a register only for those who voluntarily allow themselves to be registered.
Helen Jones: Yes, of course, but the hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that the Bill creates an offence. People will have to register, and local authorities will maintain the register. That is the compulsion in the Bill, and a very necessary compulsion it is. Those who want to register or participate in a voluntary code of practice are precisely those who are likely to be running a genuine business. We need to deal with the others.
Helen Jones: In a moment. If, as is estimated, 78,000 vehicles a year are used for ringing or broken up for spare parts, the more we can do to reduce that number, the greater will be our contribution to reducing vehicle crime. In the spirit of Christmas, I will now give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Bercow: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. The majority of respondents to the consultation who supported statutory regulation might well be justified in doing so. However, will the hon. Lady concede that one of the organisations that expressed
Helen Jones: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and we can debate the precise figures in Committee. However, I cannot see the logic of arguing that we should try to prevent these crimes from taking place in large businesses but not in small ones. There is no sense in that argument.
The Bill provides for regulating the supply of number plates and registering those who supply them. We should see that not only as a method of tackling car crime but as an important contribution to making it difficult to commit other crimes as well. Fake number plates are often used in robberies, burglaries and--God forbid--in terrorist activities. We have to make it as difficult as possible for criminals to behave in that manner. We should certainly not be making it easy for them to dodge recognition when they commit crimes.
I also want to comment on the measures to give the police access to the insurance industry database to help detect people who are driving without insurance. Before I came to the House I was a solicitor, specialising in personal injury. I have seen too often the results of accidents caused by uninsured drivers. In my view, they are a menace on the road, and this proposal will make an important contribution to road safety as well as crime reduction. Uninsured drivers are much more likely to be in vehicles that are not well maintained and are thus much more likely to be involved in accidents. If they cause personal injury, their victims have one more hurdle to cross before they can claim compensation for their injuries.
There are, of course, many other important provisions. Right hon. and hon. Members who have said that we should judge the regulations by their outcome are quite right. The Bill imposes more regulation in certain areas, but it is regulation for a good purpose. It is intended to stop a major cause of crime and a major problem for many of my constituents.
There are other issues on which I could comment, but I know that some of my colleagues wish to speak. So I hope that I have said enough to convince the House that the measure is far from unimportant. It sets out to tackle a real problem for many of the people whom we represent. It is an important part of the Government's overall strategy of tackling anti-social behaviour and the yob culture and the resulting fear and insecurity. Accepting such crimes as a part of life is likely to lead to their increase. It is time that we took them seriously and introduced proper measures to protect our constituents. The Bill will go a long way towards doing that, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): I too welcome the Bill. It will give the police and local authorities another club in the fight against vehicle crime. It is not a panacea; instead, it should be seen as part of a package of measures with which to tackle the problem.
This is a very important issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) said, it affects people's lives. When people have their cars stolen, it affects their livelihood, causing misery and hassle. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) mention agricultural vehicles. Farmers in my constituency report a growing concern that plant taken from farms is difficult to trace.
Closer co-operation between the agencies will lead to better intelligence with which to deal with this menace. We have seen that happen in Kent and Medway. Kent is a model of excellence in terms of using the intelligence-led model of policing. Car crime in Kent and Medway has fallen. It is a tribute to the Medway towns that they have beacon status for their community partnerships and for tackling crime.
I am concerned about people living on limited means who require a car and cannot always afford to buy a new one if theirs is stolen. I have not had my car stolen--although there has been an attempt to break into it--but I have sat on the jury at the trial of a car ringing gang. It was clear that the people before the court were not making vast sums out of car ringing. They were very much at the bottom of the food chain; they operated a small garage in a deprived area of Chatham. They bought the cars, so they were up for handling. It was quite a serious crime, and they were found guilty and sentenced.
During the deliberations, the judge said to one of the defendants, "What do you actually do to these cars when they are brought to you?" The defendant replied, "We T-cut the cars and we did the tappits." The judge looked at him rather curiously and said, "T-cut? What is this T-cut? And, pray tell me, who are the tappits?" So he was clearly in touch with car crime. I told a colleague who is a lawyer, and he said that that was just lawyers' humour. From the perplexed reaction on the judge's face, I was not convinced.
I welcome the measures to allow the police to have access to insurance companies' records. People who drive without insurance are, more often than not, dangerous drivers. Co-operation between insurance companies and the police will be very welcome.
I welcome the idea of hypothecating the fines resulting from speed cameras to fund other ones. That is absolutely right. Communities which have to suffer the menace of people driving through their area at dangerous speeds should get something back. If that means that they get speed cameras, and it drives down the number of accidents in the area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) suggested, that is welcome.
The registration of scrap dealers is also welcome. In my former career as a social worker, one of the foster carers whom I supervised for a period was very keen to get her hands on a people carrier when they first came out. She eventually found one that she could afford. She drove it around for a couple of months, but discovered when it had its MOT that it was actually two vehicles. She had been driving around children for whom she was responsible, and one can imagine her concern and anguish as to what could have happened. So the registration measure is very welcome.
In an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I referred to abandoned cars. He suggested that he would be willing to consider further provisions in Committee. I am grateful to Mr. David Alexander of Kent
The increase shown by the statistics is alarming. Between 1997 and 1998, 1,472 vehicles were abandoned throughout the county of Kent and it is estimated that in 2000-01 that the number will be 11,600. The cost for that is £650,000--for removal as well as storage costs. In 1999-2000, the cost to Medway council will be about £57,000--an increase of about 132 per cent. since last year.
Mr. Syms: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There will be widespread support throughout the House for dealing with abandoned cars. It is most frustrating for residents to find such cars outside their homes, with the wheels taken, the vehicle burnt and a complete wreck--the whole area goes down.
Mr. Shaw: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I agree with him. He is absolutely right; not only are such vehicles an eyesore, they are extremely dangerous. More often than not, the largest concentration of abandoned vehicles is found in less well-off and more deprived areas. In my constituency, there are Victorian terraces that were designed for horses and carts--not cars--and such vehicles occupy much-needed parking space.
I hope that Ministers will look closely at those matters. I shall do all that I can--as will Kent county council, which has prepared an excellent document--to assist in drafting the necessary provisions. Current legislation is outmoded. We need to review it and the Bill provides us with an excellent opportunity to do so.
The measure will assist the police and agencies to co-operate in tackling a menace--an unacceptable scourge. We should not say that such crimes just happen in our society; that is not good enough. We must provide the law enforcement agencies with the means to tackle them. I hope that the Bill will successfully provide that and that Ministers will carefully consider drafting amendments to deal with abandoned vehicles. I am only too willing to be a member of the Standing Committee and to table such amendments.