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Point of Order

3.31 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your further guidance on the leaking of the contents of White Papers by Government Departments to the press, in advance of statements being made to the House. You will recall that I raised the matter twice on points of order, on 28 November and 7 December. On the latter occasion, you assured me that you

before a statement was made to the House.

I apologise for not raising this point of order last week, as I was abroad with the Select Committee on Defence.

Your assurance to me was given on 7 December. On Sunday 10 December there were detailed reports in both The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph of the contents of the communications White Paper, about which a statement was not made to the House until Tuesday 12 December. I shall be grateful if you and members of your staff could investigate how, so soon after your previous guidance on the matter, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport flouted it.

Mr. Speaker: I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will look into the matter.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 145 (Liaison Committee),

Question agreed to.

18 Dec 2000 : Column 22

Orders of the Day

Vehicles (Crime) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.33 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As the House knows, vehicle crime is a serious problem, and one of the crimes that most concerns the public. Nearly 400,000 cars are stolen each year and 120,000 of those are never recovered. Vehicle crime accounts for nearly a fifth of all recorded crime and costs, at a conservative estimate, about £3 billion a year. It causes great distress and inconvenience to victims, as all of us know who have suffered from vehicle crime--in my case, before 1997, although I accept that it has gone on since 1997--[Laughter.] Thank you. Vehicle crime also ties up the resources of the criminal justice system.

Two years ago my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set a national target of reducing vehicle crime by 30 per cent. by 2004. As the Minister with responsibility for delivering the target, I thought that that was, in the current parlance, challenging, but I accepted it none the less. There is a good possibility that we will reach that target. The Bill forms an integral part of our strategy for reducing vehicle crime.

Although it is some time since I suffered from vehicle crime--there were special reasons for that--it is still a serious problem. None the less, vehicle crime has already fallen by 17 per cent. according to recorded crime figures. In a different context, I must tell my right hon. and hon. Friends that, after about two months of denying its veracity, yesterday the Leader of the Opposition prayed in aid the British crime survey, which is the most thorough and authoritative survey of the total levels of recorded and unrecorded crime. The survey shows a similar trend for vehicle crime, and shows that it fell by 15.1 per cent. in the period--

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: Of course, in one second.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: Just let me finish the sentence. That period covered the calendar year 1997 and the calendar year 1999. The reduction in vehicle crime is the result of effective targeting by the police, working in partnership with manufacturers and the community. However, we have to do more. I shall give way, first to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and then to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow).

Mr. Blunt: The Home Secretary referred to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Will he take the opportunity to make it clear that he does not believe that

18 Dec 2000 : Column 23

my right hon. Friend is a racist or was guilty of racism? If people have taken the Home Secretary's remarks in that way and believe that, will he apologise for their effect?

Mr. Straw: The answer is no. I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman's question is in order, as we are discussing the Vehicles (Crime) Bill. However, if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to say parenthetically in the House, as I have done outside, that I believe that the Leader of the Opposition played the race card in his speech, I am happy to do so. In case the hon. Gentleman has not caught up with the news, I note that the apologies on the record have been forthcoming from the shadow Home Secretary, who said that she was extremely sorry if the Taylor family was distressed about the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition. That is my understanding of what has been said.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Straw: Yes, of course.

Miss Widdecombe: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Is his position that, any time that we decide to raise the issue of stop and search or the aftermath of the Macpherson report, that is playing the race card? Will he note that I did not apologise for comments made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? The only thing for which I expressed any regret at all was any distress that might have been felt. However, I did not believe that that was caused by my right hon. Friend's remarks, but rather by the press coverage and the interpretation of those remarks by the Home Secretary.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Now that the right hon. Lady has finished, we will get on to the Second Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Straw: I shall return to the Bill. The hon. Member for Buckingham wished to ask a question.

Mr. Bercow: Given the Home Secretary's enthusiasm for the British crime survey, will he confirm that he accepts its finding that vehicle crime is approximately twice the level of that which is recorded in the official statistics?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I will. The British crime survey tells us what we already knew--that the number of recorded vehicle thefts is pretty near 100 per cent. of the figure shown by the survey. When people's vehicles are stolen, most of them report that for insurance purposes. However, the recording of thefts from vehicles is much lower than that for vehicle theft, not least because the items stolen are sometimes below the excess on the insurance. Speaking personally, during the ancien regime, my stereo was stolen twice when my vehicle was parked at Preston station. On both occasions, I did not report the theft, because it was not really worth it. The vehicle was then stolen from outside my house in Blackburn.

Miss Widdecombe: Why did the right hon. Gentleman not use a crook lock?

Mr. Straw: I did use a crook lock but, unfortunately, a crook lock has not yet been designed that can anchor

18 Dec 2000 : Column 24

the stereo to a vehicle. That may, however, be dealt with in the next Conservative manifesto, which might tell us that the Conservatives have solved that geometric problem.

I was about to point out--this comment is both in order and timely--that when my vehicle was stolen, I reported its theft not only to the police, but to the world's most important newspaper, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph. I offered as a reward two tickets for the next game to be played at Ewood Park by Blackburn Rovers. I am pleased to say that the temptation of the tickets was such that, within half an hour of the newspaper's appearance on the streets, someone had telephoned the local criminal investigation department to tell it who had stolen the vehicle. Someone else who happened to spot the vehicle also phoned the local CID to tell it where it was. As a result, I got my vehicle back and the offenders were arrested, charged and subsequently convicted.

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): I do not know whether my right hon. Friend can tell the House whether the Bill extends to dodging bandwagons, but will he comment on whether it extends to abandoned vehicles? Such vehicles are currently dealt with by the Refuse Disposal (Amenity) Act 1978. Does the Bill have scope to criminalise the abandonment of vehicles? Kent county council has given me statistics showing that 1,472 vehicles were abandoned between 1997 and 1998. It is estimated that that figure will increase to 11,600, which will cost the council and the council tax payer in Kent some £650,000. The increase is set to continue, as the price of scrap and of cars is falling. Is there scope in the Bill to deal with the problem?

Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend knows, the Bill does not cover abandoned vehicles, although it applies where they are subsequently put into the salvage system.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): What about flat- backed lorries?

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