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Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I offer a general welcome to the provision that the Home Secretary of State

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has just outlined, but may I ask him to address himself to a problem that has arisen in Wales--the display of the Welsh flag on number plates? I have received a note from the Library saying that, currently, such display is illegal. I should also tell the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) that some of the number plates in Wales have been created simply to show off the Welsh flag.

Will the Home Secretary clarify whether such display is illegal? Will it remain illegal to display a Welsh flag or an English flag? Will it be necessary to display an EU flag? Does clause 33 give the Home Secretary the power to vary the restriction, to make it legal to display the Welsh flag? Will he consider doing that?

Mr. Straw: It says in my brief--I knew it anyway because I am a swot--that use of the Euro symbol will be permitted as a means of aiding the circulation of vehicles in Europe, and also of increasing the blood pressure of Conservative Members of Parliament. No other emblems will be permitted as they could cause confusion. The Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Executive were consulted on that and--the brief says--raised no objection.

I am happy for the issue to be raised in Committee. There are other places on the back of vehicles where those who are proud of their national heritage can display a sticker identifying their nationality, and long may that continue. In the legislation, we are addressing only the issue of identification on the vehicle plate.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Straw: I thought that that might wind up the right hon. Gentleman. I shall give way.

Mr. Forth: Will the Secretary of State clarify whether it will be permitted, if not mandatory, to show the European Union symbol on British car registration plates, but illegal to show the Union flag on British car registration plates? Is that what he is telling the House?

Mr. Straw: It is permitted to show the European Union symbol, and country identification letters are also shown on the vehicle number plate. I have no briefing on the Union flag, but I would be happy for that question to be dealt with in the winding-up speech. There is nothing to stop motorists from proudly displaying a representation of the Union flag on the rear of their vehicles--many do--but not necessarily on the vehicle plate.

Mr. Bercow: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way? It is a matter of great importance.

Mr. Straw: If it were, I would, but it is not, so I shall not.

Part III of the Bill deals with vehicle licensing and registration, and other measures to combat vehicle crime. The present law allows written-off vehicles to return to the road without being checked. That means that the unscrupulous can get away with illegal tampering. The Bill will change that by insisting on an identity check before a new registration document can be issued.

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Part III also contains our proposals for tackling uninsured driving. That offence too often goes undetected, yet uninsured drivers are often dangerous and, like those who speed, may well have broken other laws. To combat the problem, the motor insurance industry has proposed that the police should have bulk access to its new database, which will be available from 2003. The Bill will enable that to happen.

Clause 36 extends the time limit for prosecuting unauthorised vehicle taking. Those who take vehicles without the consent of their owners, as well those who thieve from them, cause great distress to their victims and are often also involved in accidents. At the moment, such people can escape justice because of the six-month time limit on the prosecution of offences that are summary only. Advances in DNA and fingerprinting mean that evidence may come to light after the six months have expired.

Clause 37 represents a real improvement in joined-up government. It will allow money received by magistrates courts from fixed penalties for speeding or from jumping red lights to be used to fund the roll-out of safety cameras.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I am sure that the whole House welcomes the decision by the Law Lords a fortnight ago to overturn the rather silly decision in Scotland about the use of speed cameras. Does my right hon. Friend accept that the evidence in the pilot areas now clearly shows that increased use of speed cameras saves lives, and that they are a worthwhile investment? Will he join me in encouraging the House to campaign vigorously against the right-wing libertarian view, as expressed in the Daily Mail, that these measures would be controversial and used as an incentive to trap more motorists? They are a means of saving lives, and that is the justification for them.

Mr. Straw: I share my hon. Friend's view about this improvement. What those at the Daily Mail have to say about it is a matter for them. I dare say that that newspaper opposed the introduction of the breathalyser and the use of seat belts on a similar basis, yet those changes have helped to create a much safer environment for road users. When I was a young man, people used to drink and drive, friends of mine lost their lives, and terrible damage and injury were caused to others. The number of road deaths and injuries is still far too high, but we should be proud that this country's record is far better than that of any other European country that I can think of. We must continue to make progress to improve that record still further.

To give a direct answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), since the pilot schemes came into operation in eight police force areas, there has been a 20 per cent. improvement in road safety in those areas.

Mr. Bercow: I am not sure why the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) used the description "right-wing libertarian" as though it were a term of abuse. I am more than happy to have that description conferred on me.

Although we have no objection to the use of speed cameras in principle--or, very often, in practice--will the Home Secretary accept that our concern is with the

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avoidance of regulation for the sake of regulation? We are also concerned to avoid yet another stealth tax from the Government.

Mr. Straw: I note what the hon. Gentleman says. This road safety measure has broad support across the country, and if the Conservatives want to oppose it, that is a matter for them. However, I am in no doubt that speed cameras moderate drivers' behaviour. After I was apprehended because of a speed camera in 1993--after I had paid my fine and got three points on my licence--my driving behaviour improved, and I think that that is true of other people. I say that from personal experience--incidentally, I have not had any points since then.

I have put on record the need for the Bill and hope that it will have the endorsement of the whole House. I do not doubt that it could be improved in Committee--indeed, I have not introduced a single Bill in the House that has not been improved as a result of the parliamentary process.

We want to build on the Government's strong record in fighting vehicle crime. We should be able to unite against the criminal on the issue of vehicle security. There is a comprehensive set of proposals in the Bill which, I hope the House will agree, deserves a Second Reading. It is a measured response to a number of serious problems, and I commend it to the House.

4.11 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I should say at the outset that the official Opposition does not intend to divide the House on Second Reading. The principle of the Bill is unobjectionable and its purpose is valid, although we are at this stage uncertain about its probable effects. The jury is out on that, and we shall have to wait and see.

I greatly enjoyed the Home Secretary's speech--there is nothing unusual in that. I cannot promise that my contribution will be exciting or racy on this important subject, but I will endeavour to address the facts.

I was intrigued by what the right hon. Gentleman said about car crime. He started off by giving the clear impression that he regarded it as a matter of great seriousness, and that although he was pleased that some progress had been made, he was fully conscious of the seriousness of the incidence of offences that still plague the country. However, as he continued, he seemed to display a certain insouciance towards those of us who criticised the Government's record, suggested that an improvement would require an additional resource and were not convinced that the Government's bona fides on the subject were satisfactory.

For the avoidance of doubt, let the facts be placed on the record. I think it very likely that Labour Members will have the precise figures for the number of offences committed over the past couple of years. The hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), for example, is a veritable walking--or, in this case, sedentary--encyclopaedia on the Labour Benches. She always knows the facts. However, there may be some who require clarification.

Between March 1998 and March 1999, 1,482,889 car crimes were committed. The following year, there was, interestingly, a reduction in the incidence of car crimes of exactly 7,000, taking the figure down to 1,475,000.

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