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Mr. Miller: All the data available show that, as well as the pain and suffering for the bereaved families, every death on the roads costs the country more than £1 million, so does my hon. Friend agree that it is nonsense to talk about a stealth tax? The truth is the reverse: such an investment will save both money and lives.

Mr. Hill: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; as a leading member of RoadPeace, he speaks with knowledge and passion, and we are grateful to him for contribution on this subject.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) for her warm support of the Bill. She described Plymouth's impressive record in reducing car crime as a result of an effective partnership between the police, the local authority and other agencies, in the form of a community safety partnership.

My hon. Friend also asked a number of questions that I hope to deal with later. Obviously, in her we have another willing member of the Standing Committee; I admire her commitment.

I now turn to the long speech made by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). I do not talk of pressed men in this context, but until late in the debate, his promised to be the only speech that we would hear from the Conservative Back Benches. In the event, we heard only three speeches from Conservative Members--a telling comment on the low priority that they attach to vehicle crime, for all their bluster on the subject and their ludicrous claims to represent the party of law and order.

Notwithstanding the perhaps excessive length of the contribution of the hon. Member for Lichfield, he made several interesting and thoughtful points. He asked a specific question about rural crime, and I should point out that, according to the British crime survey, for every crime in rural areas, there are two crimes in urban areas and four in the inner cities. Those are the figures for crime in general, although the hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that the pattern for vehicle crime is less clear--the urban-rural distinction is less marked.

If I may say so, the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) piggy backed on the speech of the hon. Member for Lichfield in asking about data sharing and data protection. He asked whether it will be necessary to go to Europe to secure a derogation from the motor insurers database provision.

Mr. Heald: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hill: If the hon. Gentleman will wait just a second and allow me to finish the point.

Mr. Heald: The Home Secretary said that the Minister would answer the question about flags on number plates.

Mr. Hill: I am coming to that. If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall deal with that.

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On whether we will need to go to Europe to get a derogation from the MID provision, the answer is no. The EU directive on data protection and the Data Protection Act 1998 allow exemptions from the data protection principles for disclosures and data sharing where necessary for the prevention and detection of crime--of course, that applies to the Bill.

I now turn to the well adumbrated issue of the Union flag on number plates. It is important that number plates remain uncluttered and easily legible, particularly because they need to be read quickly by safety cameras or people reporting crimes. The Europlate, which incorporates the 12 stars with the national identity of the member state below, will be optional for vehicles registered in the United Kingdom from September 2001. Motorists will not be allowed, however, to place other distinguishing signs on the number plates for the reasons that I have given. I agreed with the hon. Member for Lichfield when he said that we have dealt more than enough with flags of any description, so I propose to draw a line under that issue.

I turn briefly to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), who spoke with authority and from personal experience about car theft. She rightly drew attention to the greater impact of car theft on those on low incomes. She spoke powerfully in condemnation of those who drive without insurance, whom she called a menace on the road. I am most grateful to her for welcoming the Bill.

I turn to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw). Like my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton, he spoke about the benefits of community partnerships in reducing crime locally. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North, he highlighted the severity of vehicle crime for the less well-off in society. I am grateful to him for his support for the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill)--another highly knowledgeable contribution from another solicitor--made a powerful point in saying that, although we need to take a cautious approach, further regulation is clearly justified in this case. I am grateful to him for his support for the Bill.

The hon. Member for Poole made a typically rational and brief speech, for which the House is grateful. He raised several interesting points, which I am sure we shall eagerly pursue in Committee. I turn finally to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). He also made a typical speech, in which he bounced off the contents of the Bill as he perused them in the Chamber. I urge the House to give its whole-hearted support to the measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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Vehicle Crimes Bill (Programme)

9.59 pm

Mr. Hill: I beg to move,

The motion includes the provision that the Bill's Committee stage will finish by 23 January. That has been agreed by both the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats.

Timetabling is eminently sensible and has benefits for those on both sides of the House. Above all, it will ensure that prime slots are given for consideration of the main parts of the Bill, and that will allow adequate opportunity to focus debate on the really important issues.

Mr. Heald: The Minister may have inadvertently made a mistake by suggesting that the official Opposition are happy with the programme motion. We are not.

Mr. Hill: I fear that the hon. Gentleman has inadvertently indicated his ignorance of the arrangements that have been made through the usual channels. My clear information is that there has been agreement on both sides of the House that the Bill's Committee stage will finish by 23 January.

Mr. Heald: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for a Minister to go into the deliberations of the usual channels, particularly when the issues involved are contested?

Mr. Speaker: This is a strict programme motion, and I expect each and every Member to stick to the terms of the debate. I was slightly distracted and did not quite hear what the Minister said, but I am listening now.

Mr. Hill: To be entirely accurate, Mr. Speaker, I did not go into the detailed deliberations of the usual channels. I merely alluded to the conclusions of those deliberations. The confusion between those on the Opposition Front Bench and those in the Opposition Whips Office is typical of the entirely shambolic condition that the Conservative party is in at the moment.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): There is no confusion. The point was made perfectly clear by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). No agreement has been reached on the timetable motion.

Mr. Miller: Another Tory U-turn.

Mr. Hill: As my hon. Friend says, that is another Tory U-turn.

Mr. Bercow rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. We must have good order. If Members think that the Minister is incorrect or

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misinformed--[Interruption.] Perhaps, they do. My suggestion is that we wait until I call the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. He can put the record straight.

Mr. Hill: I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I have no intention of apologising for the statement that I made. The fact of the matter is that my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) agreed in good faith with his opposite number about this matter. It was reported to me in that sense, and, as far as I am aware, that is the position.

Let me explain the reasons for timetabling the Bill. Timetabling is particularly suitable for this Bill. It is a medium-sized Bill of 45 clauses and we shall need to time to debate the clauses of greatest interest to ensure that they receive thorough scrutiny. That includes the clauses on the substantial parts of the Bill: regulating the motor salvage industry, controlling the supply of number plates and the clauses, such as those using the receipts of magistrates courts to fund more safety cameras, that raised questions on Second Reading and in the media.

Some clauses will need less discussion. I am thinking of those at the end of the Bill--clauses 38 to 45--which cover the general and administrative provisions typical of most Bills. By suggesting an end date of 23 January, we will allow sufficient time in Committee and it will be able to start its consideration soon after the new year. It goes without saying that the programming sub-committee will consider the detailed timetable and it may decide that it is necessary to sit more frequently than usual. I commend the motion to the House.

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