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Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend reminds me--although this was not my reason for intervening--that, on Second Reading, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mrs. Gilroy) boasted about such stealth taxes being used to build car parks in her constituency.

Why is my hon. Friend so surprised at the Minister's refusing to guarantee that the European Union flag would not be put on to licence plates? Does he not recall that, although the Labour party in opposition said that it would object to having the European Union flag put on to the credit card-type driving licences, all driving licences now bear the European Union flag?

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the tergiversation of the Government on matters European. They have changed their mind seven times on the issue of whether the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union. It is not, therefore, surprising that the Government are as inconsistent in this important but secondary matter as they have shown themselves to be in the past.

The Government's position on this issue is unsatisfactory. The hon. Gentleman was invited to provide reassurance, and he conspicuously and repeatedly failed to do so. I fear the worst. I do not suspect the hon. Gentleman's integrity, but he is--as he has already suggested--but a puppet on a string. The puppet-master is elsewhere, and we have good reason to fear an obnoxious proposal being introduced in the future which it would not be feasible for us effectively to resist.

One of the most unattractive features of the Bill is that nine of its clauses provide effectively for government by regulation. I am a strong supporter of the affirmative resolution procedure, and highly resistant to the over-zealous use of the negative resolution procedure. To elucidate that point for those who may be listening to our proceedings elsewhere, the issue is whether we debate the regulations or whether they go through on the nod.

The hon. Gentleman sought to justify the fact that the Government did not intend to debate these matters by saying that they were not big enough, and that such debate would not be a proper use of parliamentary time. I responded that the Government have often made a mess of regulations that have not been debated in the House, and, as a consequence, have had to return to the House to improve the regulations and seek the House's approval for that redrafting. The Government could save themselves a

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future headache if they were more tolerant of present debate. It is most unfortunate that they are taking this dismissive, imperious and arrogant attitude towards the House.

My right hon. and hon. Friends may ask, "What's new?" That attitude is not new, but it is unsatisfactory, worrying and indicative of the Government's disdain, indifference and contempt for the legislature's right to act as a check on the Executive. That right and responsibility is of the greatest importance to me and my right hon. Friends, even if it is not important to high-flying, very ambitious and, if I may say so, somewhat indifferent Ministers.

The Bill involves substantial costs and the Government have estimated them, though their estimates usually turn out to be on the low side. I have been very generous--

Mr. Forth: Too generous.

Mr. Bercow: From a sedentary position, my right hon. Friend chunters that I have been too generous. He does not think that I have been robust enough and believes that we should divide the House on Third Reading. I am resisting his exhortation to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and I have made the judgment that we shall look to the other place properly to scrutinise all the provisions with a view to their further and dramatic improvement.

I am happy to await the outcome of the deliberations of the other place. Nevertheless, although the Bill is slightly improved, it has many defects. It is the cause of real concern. It is not satisfactory. [Interruption.] The Minister of State can chunter dismissively from a sedentary position, but he cannot disregard the fact that many things were wrong with the Bill, that it still has defects and that substantial progress still has to be made.

9.41 pm

Mr. Chidgey: I shall draw myself back to the topics that I would hope to discuss on Third Reading, although that is quite an effort following such an interlude.

I must place on record my disappointment with the debate. Considering the number of amendments and new clauses that were tabled, we barely scratched the surface of much of the agenda. The Minister, in his winding-up speech on Report, made an effort to explain the substance of the various amendments that were not covered, but that is no substitute for proper examination and the ability to reassure the House about the meaning of Government amendments.

We have been denied an opportunity properly to scrutinise many amendments tabled not only by the Government but by the two Opposition parties. I am particularly disappointed not to have debated amendments Nos. 27, 28 and 29, which stood in my name. I know that the British Motorcyclists Federation was interested in those proposals because they covered theft, which is a theme throughout. However, although the Bill concentrates on motor vehicle theft, there are few references to the theft and illegal resale of spare parts, which is a matter of great concern in many quarters that would have appreciated a proper discussion of the issues.

I am quick to say that, in the main, the Bill is welcome. It is clearly intended to have an effect on vehicle crime, and I believe that it will do so. I agree with the Minister

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and the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who spoke for the Conservatives, that the Bill is better than it was on Second Reading. However, we should put its effect in context. The Minister mentioned the number of cars that are stolen and rightly said that the measure will stop the ringing of cars. However, one must remember that even though the Bill may reduce vehicle thefts by 36,000, a total of 350,000 vehicles are stolen in this country every year, and such a reduction represents a mere 10 per cent. of that.

Although we should welcome this brief Bill, which will have some effect, we must bear in mind the context. It is not a panacea nor the answer to vehicle theft and vehicle crime. For example, it will make no impact on the 130,000 vehicles that are stolen, recovered and recorded as recovered. Of course, those vehicles are often wrecked beyond repair and of no use. Nor will it make an impact on the 700,000 thefts from vehicles every year, which the hon. Member for Buckingham touched on. Those 700,000 thefts are, of course, only recorded thefts. Other sources claim that the total number, unrecorded and recorded, is about four times that figure--close to 3 million.

The Bill will have no impact on spiralling motor cycle theft: the current rate is 25,000 a year, and increasing rapidly. Nor will it have an impact on the organised criminal trade in car and motor cycle spare parts, which is estimated to cost the economy five times as much as vehicle theft.

Much more needs to be done to prevent the theft of vehicles and parts. As the Minister said in response to an intervention, we need to do far more to make vehicles more secure and more readily traceable, but we also need to do far more to change the culture. As I think was said on Second Reading, we must recognise that there are areas in which communities are disruptive, crime rates are high and, consequently, the rates of vehicle thefts and thefts from vehicles are also high. It is not enough to encourage vehicle manufacturers to make their vehicles more secure; better policing must be provided in the areas that are most prone to theft.

Mr. Fabricant: I have just noted a statistic. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that between 6 million and 7 million plates are issued every year? Can he imagine how a diminishing police force could possibly regulate that area, in practice?

Mr. Chidgey: I generally welcome interventions from the hon. Gentleman. Because we share a profession, I always feel that it would be churlish not to listen to his contributions, whatever their worth may be. Perhaps he should refer to the debate on Second Reading, when I drew attention to the manufacture of between 6 million and 7 million plates every year. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would listen for a minute, he might get the benefit of my explanation. I speak from memory, but I think that some 2 million new plates are manufactured every year, and some 2 million are used for transfers in the trade. On Second Reading, I asked what happened to the other 2 million. I found it incredible that as many plates were damaged as were distributed for new cars and transferred in the trade.

That is, of course, the whole purpose of the new legislation on the regulation of manufacture and distribution of registration plates. It is a welcome feature

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of the Bill, but it can only be aimed at preventing the ringing of cars, which involves a mere 36,000 of the 375,000 vehicles that are stolen each year.

There are still fears in the motor cycle industry that the Bill does not address the vulnerability of motor cycles to theft. The Motorcycle Action Group, the British Motorcyclists Federation and the Motor Cycle Industry Association have all expressed strong, well-thought-out and genuine concerns about the lack of protection for motor cycle owners. They are dismayed that the Bill's aspirations are so limited.

While car theft is falling--although at a far lower rate than the Prime Minister would wish, judging by his projections relating to targeted vehicle crime--the theft of motor cycles, and the trade in stolen parts from them, is rising dramatically. According to the RAC Foundation, it rose by some 25 per cent. in the last 12 months alone. The Association of Chief Police Officers has estimated that the value of stolen spares from motor cycles in circulation is about £400 million. That is a significant measure of the seriousness of motor cycle theft and the theft and circulation of spares.

The Bill is very limited in its aspirations. However, so far as it goes and in what it aims to achieve, it is welcome. As the Minister explained, part I will extend statutory regulation to motor salvage, reduce the opportunities to dispose of stolen motor vehicles and assist police in their investigation of vehicle thefts. Those are necessary and welcome provisions.

Part II has highlighted throughout our debates the shambles of vehicle registration plate manufacture and distribution. There are 27,000 outlets supplying up to 7 million plates annually. Clearly that needs regulation.

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