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Mr. Fabricant: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Bercow: In a moment, if my hon. Friend will just contain himself. That figure represented a cut in the incidence of car crime of 0.5 per cent., of which more anon.

Mr. Fabricant: My hon. Friend is, as ever, more than generous to me. Does he agree that some of the reduction in car crime is due to the introduction of closed circuit television cameras? In that respect, will he pay tribute to the previous Government who were responsible for the widespread introduction of closed circuit television cameras throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Bercow: I am delighted to pay tribute to the previous Government. I do not always do so on every subject, but in that respect their record was very good. We got the CCTV programme under way and it secured real benefits. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that point.

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): As the hon. Gentleman gives credit to the previous Government for the introduction of CCTV, does he agree that, because many police officers are scrutinising those videotapes, they may not be on the streets--the point he has been going on about over the past few months?

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman makes a slightly ungracious point. I hope that he does not deny the significance of CCTV in combating crime; it has an important role to play. I am well aware that, in general, the hon. Gentleman identifies with what might be described as the new Labour philosophy and programme, so he will want to be fully on-message. He will appreciate that Members on the Treasury Bench are accustomed to drawing attention to the plans for the expansion of CCTV schemes in the following year; I hope that he will not cavil at that.

Obviously, the study of the videotapes takes time and requires the commitment of certain officers. Despite Labour Members' unrealistic expectations of the police, it goes without saying that the police cannot be expected to do two things at once. Manifestly, if an officer is studying the video, he or she cannot also be out detecting crime and apprehending criminals.

Mr. Simon Thomas: I am rather surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman describe CCTV as a libertarian measure. I should have thought that his libertarianism would mean that he thought of CCTV as non-libertarian. However, as he accepts CCTV, does he agree that there is no difference between the use of CCTV and of speed cameras?

Mr. Bercow: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's analogy. While we are engaged in a philosophical discussion about what constitutes libertarianism, I emphasise that nothing incumbent on someone who takes a broadly liberal-minded view of the world obliges him to oppose measures that are likely to be successful in reducing the incidence of crime.

The point that I am making about speed cameras is that there is no justification for a massive, universal roll-out of such cameras across the country. The resource required to facilitate such a roll-out is enormous. One can only

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assume that Ministers are anxious to extract rich pickings from unsuspecting motorists in the form of heavy fines. In so far as that policy is by way of being a stealth tax, it does not commend itself to Her Majesty's Opposition.

Mr. Miller: I hope that the reduction in deaths that would occur as a result of such a policy commends itself to Her Majesty's Opposition.

Mr. Bercow: I am in favour of reducing both car crime and the incidence of death on the roads. The idea that in order to reduce death on the roads a universal system of CCTV or video speed cameras is required across the country is not sound. If the hon. Gentleman wants to persuade the House of the merits of his argument, I hope that he will be successful in catching your eye in due course, Mr. Speaker.

I shall not be distracted by Labour Members from emphasising that there had been a reduction of 0.5 per cent.--[Interruption.] It is no good the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) chuntering at me from a sedentary position. He wants to cover his blushes; he is embarrassed about the record, which shows clearly that in the period to which I referred--

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

Mr. Bercow: I have already given the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to intervene and he made a mess of it-- I do not see why I should cause him to suffer embarrassment a second time.

Between March 1998-99 and March 1999-2000, there was a reduction of 0.5 per cent. in the incidence of vehicle crime. The significance of that reduction should surely not be lost on even the most obsequious and sycophantic Labour Member. As the Home Secretary helpfully explained, the Government have committed themselves over a five-year period to a 30 per cent. reduction in car crime. The point that I am making--a point that is so blindingly obvious that only an extraordinarily clever person could fail to see it--is that, at present, the Government are a long way from meeting their target. If in the first year, they have secured a cut of only 0.5 per cent., that does not augur well for the prospects of achieving by 2004 the 30 per cent. reduction that the Home Secretary himself described as challenging, but to which the Prime Minister has nevertheless committed the Government. There would need to be an improvement of about 900 per cent. in the Government's performance over the next four years if they were to meet the target for the reduction of vehicle crime with which the Prime Minister has lumbered the Home Secretary.

The Home Secretary is, of course, justified in pointing out the progress that has been made. He is normally a generous man, not only in providing people with match tickets but in conferring praise on those who deserve it. I therefore hope that he will join me in congratulating the previous Government on securing a 26.6 per cent. fall in vehicle crime between 1993 and 1997. That was a real and creditable achievement. I wish the Government well in reducing car crime. It was, shall we say, bold to set the target of a 30 per cent. cut over five years, but at present it does not look as if the Government are likely to achieve it.

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It is important to clarify the categories of car crime about which we are speaking. The figure that I mentioned, of slightly fewer than 1.5 million offences between March 1999 and March 2000, included 374,686 offences of the theft of a vehicle, but also 669,232 offences of theft from a vehicle. A clear and large majority of the offences committed are thefts from, rather than of, vehicles.

I was sorry to hear about the Home Secretary's personal misfortune, in respect both of the theft of his car and of the extraction of his stereo. I wanted to intervene to congratulate him on his generosity in offering match tickets, but I could hardly have congratulated him on the measures that he took--or failed to take--to protect his property. He gave the distinct impression that he had failed to secrete his stereo or cassette player in one of the obvious places. He could have put it in the glove compartment or the boot, or he could have wandered off to his next meeting with it on his person.

Mr. Straw indicated dissent.

Mr. Bercow: It is perfectly possible to extract the frontage to prevent a stereo from being stolen.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Is that general advice from those on the Opposition Front Bench--that if someone has a fixed stereo unit they should dismantle it and secrete it in the glove compartment?

Mr. Bercow: I grant that if the unit is fixed that makes it more difficult. I have a different arrangement myself, and I would be happy to communicate the obvious benefits to the Home Secretary. If he wishes to accompany me to the car park I will show him my system, which has a real advantage over his, and I could advise him on what steps to take so as greatly to reduce the chances of his suffering such a crime again.

The significance of car crime is well understood, but so too, should be the significance of Government policy in relation to it. I acknowledge that the Government have taken some steps to counteract the threat of car criminals, but they have also taken other steps that give altogether the opposite impression of their intentions.

I hope that I shall enjoy the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends when I say that it is pitiful that since the inception of the home detention curfew scheme in January 1999--I remind the House that that has resulted in the early release of 27,000 serious offenders--no fewer than 300 car thieves have been let out of jail early. Typically, as the figures demonstrate, they are released before they have served half their sentence.

That sends the wrong signal. The undesirable message is: "Don't worry. You will be caught, sentenced and locked up, but you will only be incarcerated for a short time. Then you will be released and have the opportunity to resume your life of crime." That is an extraordinary state of affairs. It is peculiar that the Government should, on one hand, introduce the Bill--which has at least the appearance of robustness--and, on the other, pursue a policy that genuinely merits my recent description of the Home Secretary as a lily-livered liberal.

Is it any wonder that this country's criminal classes are praying for a Labour election victory? [Interruption.] I am surprised that that causes such surprise among

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Government Members; they must know that if they pursue soft penal policies and release people from jail before they have typically served half their sentence, people will be encouraged in the belief that crime is not taken all that seriously and that they can come out of prison and, either immediately, or after a reasonable, decent interval, embark on a continuing life of crime. I must emphasise the fact that that is so obvious that it is surprising that anyone chooses to dispute it.

I was grateful to the Home Secretary for his confirmation of the position as shown by the British crime survey. I know that he is greatly attached to that survey; he clutches sheaves of statistics to his breast every time he comes to the Chamber, but I was pleased that he confirmed the British crime survey's finding that the level of car crime is roughly twice what is officially recorded. Interestingly, as the Home Secretary will know and as my right hon. and hon. Friends should be aware, 61 per cent. of thefts are from vehicles and only 11 per cent. are thefts of vehicles. That confirms the overall trend, and it is relevant to the Bill, for as I will say later, and I have support from outside organisations in doing so, the Bill overwhelmingly deals with the theft of vehicles rather than with the statistically more significant phenomenon of theft from vehicles--[Interruption]--as the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) concurs from a sedentary position. So we are talking about 28 per cent. of all recorded crime in 1999-2000--crime that costs about £3.5 billion a year.

The Home Secretary was right to emphasise the effect of such crime, but unless I misheard him he did not emphasise its full effects. He rightly said that financial loss, inconvenience and personal distress are involved, but more than that is at stake. Vehicle crime is not only distressing to its victims, but represents a gateway to the commission of other serious offences, such as drug trafficking and terrorism. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that we need to view such crime in that context.

The target for the reduction is good, challenging and bold; it might even be described--this will terrify the Home Secretary--as a brave target. Despite the announcement of the target, we know two facts about the Bill. First, almost certainly, it will not reach the statute book before the Prime Minister names the day for a general election, so it should be considered in context. I do not doubt that on the basis of pager messages and Millbank tower briefings, there will be no shortage of supportive speeches from Labour Members; they will rush to shower confetti on the Home Secretary, tell him what a good chap he is and embolden him to pursue the measures contained in the Bill; but the reality is that the Bill, introduced at the fag end--if that is not a politically incorrect term--of this Parliament will not reach the statute book before a general election takes place.


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