Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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The Chairman: Order. Let me advise hon. Members that I am allowing the interventions because I hope that they will shorten the winding-up by providing the answers.

Mr. Chidgey: I am very grateful, Mr. O'Brien. I feel that I have presented the new clause in sufficient detail to give the Minister an understanding of my views, and I hope that I shall not need to detain the Committee longer with a winding-up speech. Does the hon. Member for Lichfield think it reasonable that the payment of a fee should cover the costs of administering the scheme as we have discussed it in other parts of the Bill? Now I have forgotten the other point that I wished to make in response to the hon. Gentleman, who will no doubt guide me.

Mr. Fabricant: I had almost forgotten myself. The other point was why the hon. Gentleman was not minded to writer the AA scheme into subsection (5).

Mr. Chidgey: Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that the most important aspect of developing the new clause was that it should meet the Chairman's requirements as a bona fide amendment to the Bill? If it had been developed further into that level of detail, it might not have been selected.

Mr. Fabricant: I am not sure whether that is a correct answer, but it is understandable. The hon. Gentleman has not given an estimate of how much the registration fee might be. He will know that any such fee is bound to be passed on to the clients of the car park, and that car parking charges are already high, especially in London. Although I welcome the principle behind the new clause, I am concerned that the consequential cost of registration and the provision of closed circuit television would raise those charges considerably higher.

While I was saying that, it occurred to me that if car parking were safer and less payouts had to be made, there might be a slight reduction in car insurance premiums. However, that might be wishful thinking, and I suspect that it would be optimistic to expect a reduction there.

Mr. Chidgey: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the level of administrative charges on car park registration should be no different from those for registration of salvage operators? The cost of that registration would be more than repaid to car park operators by the fact that their car parks would become the most sought-after and patronised in the area.

Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. All car parks would have to be registered, which would be a good thing in itself.

Mr. Bercow: Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Gentleman should accept the logic of his own powerful point? The hon. Gentleman asserted that the registration costs should be no greater in this case than they would be for motor salvage operators, which implies that he has some idea of what he thinks those costs should be. That would somewhat obviate the need for subsection (5), which permits the very flexibility that could result in widespread differences in fees. If he knows what the costs should be, why can he not guarantee that they would be uniform across the country?

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I think that the hon. Member for Eastleigh wants to make a helpful intervention.

Mr. Chidgey: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the costs of administration would, quite simply, be the costs of administration, so they would naturally vary between car parks? The principle is that one should be able to predict what the charges would be from the detail of the Bill and the regulations that follow from it. The hon. Gentleman questions the concept of choice, saying that all car parks must be registered, but there would be a choice between parking one's car in a secure car park or in the street.

Mr. Fabricant: I agree with the latter point, but on the former point, the cost of the administrative charges would differ from authority to authority. One would naturally expect that Liberal Democrat-controlled authorities would have higher charges. However, I do not want to make a party political point, so I move on rapidly.

The Minister will no doubt say that he does not want the new clause to be incorporated in the Bill. I understand why he might say that. However, would he like the first paragraph of the Labour manifesto—which we all know will refer to the success of the dome, as that was a pledge made by the Prime Minister—to be replaced by a commitment to introduce legislation such as that mooted by the hon. Member for Eastleigh? It is typical of the hon. Gentleman to suggest such sensible legislation, as he is one of only seven Members who are chartered engineers.

Mr. Bob Russell: Will the Minister explain why one in four vehicle crimes is not dealt with in the Vehicles (Crime) Bill? My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh said that 25 per cent. of all vehicle crimes occurred in car parks; that includes local authority, commercial, supermarket and hospital car parks. Given the importance of the Bill, why has such a significant aspect been left out?

I do not want to be parochial, but I draw the Minister's attention to the underground car park in the centre of Derby; he should go there if he wants to see a good covered car park. I recently had cause to use it, and I have never seen such an excellent car park. It is well lit, clean, attractive, and the security is perfect. That car park is not the responsibility of a Liberal Democrat authority. That is my point. I would like to think that councils of all complexions take car crime seriously.

If the Minister cannot take on board the excellent new clause, and the excellent case made for it this morning, will he at least consider those arguments outside the Committee? Many motorists would welcome legislation that made car parking safer. In response to the hon. Member for Lichfield, I must say that I believe that car owners would be a lot happier to pay to park their car where it was secure than pay slightly less and run the risk—a one-in-four risk—that someone will nick something or even take the vehicle.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I thank the hon. Member for Eastleigh for tabling the new clause, because it is an important debate, and I want to set out the Government's position clearly.

The Bill flows from the recommendations of the vehicle crime reduction action team, which includes representatives of insurers, car drivers and manufacturers, the police and so on. The team made a 13-point set of proposals, which make up the legislation that we are debating. It also made a series of proposals about secure car parks, for exactly the reasons advanced by the hon. Member for Eastleigh. I want to set out why we give priority to that, before addressing the particular proposals.

Good standards of design and management make a major difference to crime in car parks. Incidentally, the proportion of car crime that takes place in car parks is 22 per cent., not the quarter referred to by the hon. Member for Eastleigh. The Association of Chief Police Officers secured car park scheme, administered by the AA, is the vehicle by which that difference will be achieved. There are 825 secured car parks, but it is a major aim of the Government to increase that number substantially.

Mr. Fabricant: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke: No, I will say what I have to say and give way to those who want to ask questions at the end.

The secured car park scheme dictates that car parks should meet prescribed standards set down by ACPO, the AA and others. Those standards include a good level of surveillance, which can be achieved by CCTV; secure and clearly defined boundaries, and good lighting—which the hon. Member for Colchester mentioned in his praise of the car park in Derby. There should also be good vehicle access for entry and exit, and good pedestrian access. Both types of access should be kept to a minimum, so that there are relatively few points of access. In addition, an effective level of security patrol staff is important, and there should be a customer charter and help point, so that drivers can raise matters directly. Records should be kept of crimes and customer complaints. That is a substantial range of requirements and, clearly, such a level of security will entail costs for a car park. However, a sample of the secured car parks shows that a secured car park scheme reduces crime in car parks by an average of 70 per cent., which is a very high percentage indeed. The famous example is the Wood Green car park in north London. When it was made secure, car crime in a vulnerable area was reduced by 86 per cent. In my own constituency, where secure car parks have been introduced we have found zero levels of theft from and of cars. It is an important element in the development.

12.15 pm

I was glad that the hon. Member for Colchester made his point about Derby. Certainly, Liberal Democrat councils have been positive about that, and I pay tribute to Eastleigh borough council. However, so have Labour councils, and so even have some Conservative councils, been committed to making this happen. It is not a party political issue but a question of the competence and effectiveness of the local authority.

The Government have so far allocated £42 million to meet the costs of installing CCTV in 775 car parks, of which 457 aim to achieve secure status with the reductions in crime that are implied.

The cost point is a serious one. It is a question not simply of CCTV, with which Government can help under our current programmes, but of the other measures that I have set out which require a contribution from the operators. Here it is not so much a question of large and small, although there is an issue about large and small; it is also an issue of municipal or non-municipal . In many local authorities that run car parks there is a real issue as to how they can raise extra costs for securing car parks when they are financially under pressure. We believe that there are various devices to address that, including outsourcing the management of their car parks to professional car park administration companies. That is the major blockage that we have in increasing the take-up of secured car parks. There are issues with some of the national operators, but there are also issues with the large number of municipal car parks in this country for which the costs involved seem substantial.

To that end, we held during September-October a series of regional seminars, chaired normally by a chief constable for the region and funded by the Home Office. We invited local authorities and police from throughout the region, together with major car park operators, to try to get a broader take-up of such investment for the reasons mentioned. The Government are extremely active in carrying out that programme, for the reasons that I have mentioned.

The issue of insurance was raised. One of the reasons why we have adopted the scheme is that the Association of British Insurers is a member of the VCRAT scheme and sees all the advantages that have been set out.

There are also advantages in terms of inter-modal travellers—

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