Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Chidgey: As always, I am delighted by the right hon. Gentleman's curiosity, but the issue is the regulation of plates to ensure that they are not manufactured and distributed illegally. The supply chain must be audited, whether there is one supplier or several. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that I was merely quoting the example of Sweden. We want to achieve the end result that Sweden achieves, not necessarily to use the same system.

Clearly, the laxity of this country's vehicle document and registration procedures are a major factor contributing to our high rate of non-recovery of stolen vehicles. New registration plates are essential for a "rung" vehicle, and denying them could reduce the number of unrecovered stolen vehicles by as much as a quarter. The Association of British Insurers estimates that the losses through ringing amount to more than £100 million a year.

The regulation of registration plates is clearly long overdue, and we broadly welcome that part of the Bill, provided that it is aimed at vehicle crime prevention. However, we must ask whether it is also aimed at reducing, or monitoring, motor offences in general. That would raise concerns about civil liberties, and we need to know how those would be addressed and overcome.

18 Dec 2000 : Column 64

Part III deals with vehicle licensing and registration. The vehicle crime reduction action team has reported that the most effective way of combating crime, particularly ringing, is to raise the standards of the vehicle registration document, the V5. I support the requirement of proof of identity at the time of issue of the V5, the compulsory transfer of the appropriate part of the V5 when the vehicle is sold, the production of the V5 when applying for a vehicle excise duty licence and the compulsory collection of mileage data. The latter provides an important opportunity to stop what is commonly called "clocking" cars and selling them to an unsuspecting buyer.

Part III also deals with information requirements, allowing the police access to insurance information. I understand that this important measure is intended to enable the police to have access to the motor insurance database, in conjunction with the automatic number plate recognition system, and to help them to detect people without insurance. The cost to the Motor Insurers Bureau of covering and aiding the victims of accidents in which the perpetrator is uninsured is £215 million a year. In addition, the direct cost to insurance companies is at least as much again. That cost is passed on to bona fide policyholders, and we all end up paying £15 to £20 a year extra. There are benefits to be derived from identifying unlicensed and uninsured drivers, and there is widespread support in the industry for improvements. The Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety supports a proposal to link the DVLA database to the police national computer, and I think that it is worth exploring, along with introducing access to other databases. However, we must ensure that the Bill does not fall foul of data protection and civil liberties provisions.

Clause 37 covers the funding of certain magistrates courts' costs relating to the administration of speed and traffic camera cases. Let me make it clear that I and my colleagues welcome the reduction in the number of injuries and accidents that has resulted from the introduction of speed cameras. The measure is an important one that should help to finance the introduction of speed cameras in areas where great need has been proved. However, I do not want speed cameras to proliferate willy-nilly, perhaps with the aim of exploiting the opportunity to raise revenue, rather than reducing the number of accidents. If speed cameras are installed, it is most important that they work. I shall not detain the House with my explanation of the reverse collapse theory of traffic management, but those who know about it will know that a law works only when it is self-enforcing and it is known to be self-enforcing. It is hopeless to have alongside the road little grey boxes with no cameras inside, because people who use a route regularly get to know quickly which cameras work. Correctly channelled, we would support raising funds to install cameras that work in places where they are needed.

My final comments relate to the financial effects of the Bill. I find rather strange the calculation of costs to the salvage industry, estimated to be £285,000 a year, of checking the identity of vehicles and recording details. That sum assumes a labour rate of £5 an hour, but most people recognise that, today, the cost of labour includes an overhead, which is rarely less than 50 per cent. and is sometimes as much as 100 per cent. Therefore, if a calculation states that £5 an hour is the cost of labour, either it is assumed that salvage operators pay less than the national minimum wage, or a gross error has been

18 Dec 2000 : Column 65

made. The costing exercise at the back of the Bill is riddled with lots of rather broad estimates--for example, the time for vehicle identification inspections is estimated at between 12 and 18 minutes, a 50 per cent. difference. The figures must be examined and made into a more robust analysis of the real costs to the industry and other financial effects.

Despite the issues that I have raised and our concerns about the opportunity to amend the Bill later to address those issues, Liberal Democrats welcome the Bill and we hope to help to speed its passage.

6.23 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): I declare a non-pecuniary interest as one who, with the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley), co-chairs the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety--PACTS. Later in my speech, I shall focus more on those parts of the Bill that have the potential to improve road safety, but I shall comment first on the provisions that have the potential to help to reduce vehicle crime.

My reading of the explanatory notes leads me to understand that scrap merchants have been registered since at least 1964, but that motor salvage dealers and the sellers of registered number plates are not registered. It strikes me as high time that consistency was established through a registration scheme for all. Vehicle crime accounts for almost one fifth of all recorded crime, and the Bill as it stands--several hon. Members have voiced ambitions to extend it--cracks down on three types of vehicle crime: the replacing of written-off cars with stolen ones, or "ringers"; the breaking up of stolen cars and the sale of the parts; and falsely claiming an insurance pay-out for the theft of a car that has, in fact, been disposed of by some other means.

The value of the vehicles involved is high: the Association of British Insurers says that insurance pay-outs for vehicle crime totalled £498 million last year; and the explanatory notes estimate potential savings of as much as £112 million each year. Therefore, in terms of the cost of vehicles and their value to the economy, it is important to crack down on vehicle crime. Other hon. Members have commented on the importance of protecting the public. Vehicles that have been stolen, changed and given a false identity might well be unsafe on the road. Anything we can do to stamp out their use and keep them off the road is a safety gain.

I should give credit to the motor manufacturing industry for its great efforts to make vehicles more secure from theft and removal, and I believe that the Bill will complement their efforts. It will protect all of us from unknowingly buying stolen vehicles and protect legitimate dealers in salvage and number plates from unfair competition that is, quite literally, criminal. In addition, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) said, the costs of our motor insurance should fall.

Information systems have the potential to contribute to the fight against this type of crime. There are five legal requirements to meet before one drives a vehicle on our roads: a driving licence, an insurance policy, an MOT test certificate if applicable, the excise licence and the registration document. A different organisation collects the information relevant to each of those requirements and holds it electronically, but, in most cases, it cannot pool that information with other agencies, nor share it

18 Dec 2000 : Column 66

with them. Another major player in the collection of data about the movement of vehicles and their occupants is the police national computer. The Bill contains a provision to enable the police to have access to the insurance industry's databases, but I would argue that it should be extended to address the broader issue of information exchange between all of the agencies. In any sharing of information that takes place, it is important to protect the individual's reasonable expectations of privacy, but the goal of reducing crime and making our roads safe is worthy.

I should like Ministers to consider the provision of a new time limit for prosecuting offences of taking vehicles. Many offences are dealt with summarily and are subject to a six-month time limit for commencement of prosecution. The justification for extending the time limit in respect of only one offence is that modern investigation techniques and the availability of DNA analysis might result in the police coming upon evidence more than six months after a crime was committed. However, that argument can be used in respect of all other summary offences, and I suspect that the provision is the forerunner to a wider debate on extending time limits generally for summary offences.

Clause 35 is a crime-cutting measure, but I contend that it also relates to road safety. It would allow the police access to motor insurance databases. The Government have been encouraging insurers to form a common database containing details of policyholders--the motor insurers database, or MID. That should help the police to identify those who are driving without insurance. The more police are given responsibility for processing automatic fixed fines, such as those levied when someone is caught speeding on a speed camera, the more helpful it would be to have access to such information during the process of prosecution. In that way, having detected someone committing a speeding offence, for example, the police will have the ability to check whether another offence has been committed, such as driving without insurance. That is important. Over the weekend, a newspaper reported that there are about 80,000 drivers who are not covered by insurance. Some people are doing so because they have not bought insurance for the vehicle that they are using. Others do not have insurance because they cannot obtain it. They may be disqualified by age and should not be driving. Others may be disqualified by a court order. That disqualification may be because their driving record is so bad that they have forfeited the right to drive. Detecting those who have been disqualified is very much an attempt to make our roads safer for those lawfully using them.

Clause 37 is indisputably a road safety measure. It will allow a proportion of speed fines to be recycled for use in increasing the use of speed cameras and traffic light cameras. I drew attention to the contribution that speed cameras make to road safety in an Adjournment debate that I initiated about a year ago. I gave figures for casualty reduction in Staffordshire, and I shall give the latest figures shortly.

The Government responded positively to my Adjournment debate. The Minister announced that they intended to set up a pilot scheme to test giving back to the police and local authorities a proportion of the income collected from fines imposed for speeding. From April, eight authorities have been allowed to use a proportion of speed fines to invest in more cameras. Although it is a

18 Dec 2000 : Column 67

two-year scheme, we have before us suggested primary legislation to enable a national scheme to be established. Is that because the results of the pilot schemes are so obviously successful already?

I understand that over the first six months in Northamptonshire, for example, there has been a 20 per cent. reduction in deaths and injuries, with a fall of 50 per cent. in August alone. I return to the success of Staffordshire, which was an early authority to invest in speed cameras. It started to do so in 1995 and--

Next Section

IndexHome Page