Vehicles (Crime) Bill

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Mr. Hill: The hon. Gentleman has taken the opportunity to make a good and useful point, as usual, at the appropriate point in our consideration of the provision. It might be useful to have that on the record, from his point of view. I dare say that in due course we shall be considering his proposition, and that the Liberal Democrat spokesman on the Committee will be receiving the Government's considered views on the matter.

In the meantime, on the offence of not passing on the appropriate documentation, we have also said that, with respect to licensing, other documentation, namely bills of sale, could be considered. That might more precisely answer the hon. Gentleman's concerns. In addition, trade sellers might be subject to special arrangements.As for any new requirement for car dealers to keep records, of course most such dealers almost certainly do so already, as the hon. Gentleman said. However, we shall certainly consider his suggestion.

I conclude what I hope has been a helpful mini tour d'horizon by saying that we believe that the measures will help to increase the importance that people attach to having the correct vehicle documentation and, in turn, help us all in the fight against car crime. With those few explanatory remarks, I beg to move that the clause stand part.

Mr. Bercow: We do not dissent.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 32

Issue of new registration documents: vehicle identity checks etc.

2.45 pm

Mr. Chidgey: I beg to move amendment No. 13, in page 16, line 28, after `identity', insert `and safety'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient the following amendments: No. 14, in page 16, line 33, at end insert

    `or that the vehicle is roadworthy'.

No. 15, in page 16, line 40, at end insert

    `and that they are roadworthy'.

No. 16, in page 16, line 45, at end insert

    `and that they are roadworthy'.

I call Mr. Bercow. I am sorry; I mean to call Mr. Chidgey.

Mr. Chidgey: It is not often that I am mistaken for the hon. Member for Buckingham. I shall savour the experience throughout the long hours of the Committee's sittings. If nothing else keeps me awake, that prospect surely will.

Although the amendments are probing ones, they deal with a genuine worry. Several organisations, not least the AA, have expressed concern about the safety and roadworthiness of vehicles that go through the trade after having been badly damaged or written off—vehicles that go in on one side of the railway arch a wreck and come out the other side a shiny motor car. What one sees of the polished exterior tells very little, if anything, about the safety, roadworthiness and mechanical integrity of the vehicle that one is about to purchase.

A good argument can be made for the introduction of a roadworthiness or safety check on vehicles. In the amendments, we suggest that such a check should become part of the vehicle identification check. I appreciate that that would add another perhaps onerous dimension to the work of the vehicle inspectorate, which is one of the reasons why the amendments are merely probing. However, if we are serious about road safety, it would be wrong for the Bill and the subsequent regulations to ignore the problem, which is directly connected with the second-hand car trade and the repair and rebuilding of vehicles that have been written off and then re-registered.

I suggest that the documentation to be provided under the Bill to confirm a vehicle's identity—the vehicle identity check, or VIC—could make clear also that it does not guarantee that the vehicle is roadworthy. When the Minister starts work on the regulations that deal with the issuing of certificates, it should not be difficult to include a statement to that effect. It will remain the purchaser's obligation to be sure that the vehicle is safe and roadworthy.

I have explained the main construct of the amendments. However, I should like to touch upon a further aspect of the clause—which is meant to deal with the many vehicles written off by insurance companies as being uneconomic to repair, despite the fact that, eventually, many of them are repaired and put back on sale.

The clause is about dealing correctly with the issuance of new registration documents and vehicle identity checks. That is straightforward. However, I draw to the Under-Secretary's attention the fact that probably one third of motor cars on the road are insured not comprehensively, but on a third-party basis. The insurance companies are not interested in those cases. As there is no claim against the insurance companies for repair of those vehicles, they never calculate whether it is economical to repair them. Those vehicles can easily slip through the net, as they are insurance write-offs yet also repaired.

Mr. Bercow: On a point of order, Mr. Wells. I apologise profusely for interrupting the hon. Gentleman, to whose flow I was attentively listening. If I am at fault, I shall immediately apologise, but it seems that there is an error in the amendment. Line 28 of page 16 does not contain the word ``identity'', so I am not sure that the proposed insertion of ``and safety'' after it is in an any way meaningful. I am not quibbling; I want to see where the insertion proposed by the hon. Gentleman would be, as it would aid my understanding.

The Chairman: Line 28 contains the title of the proposed new section, which is ``Vehicle identity checks''. Therefore, the hon. Member for Eastleigh is in order.

Mr. Chidgey: Thank you, Mr. Wells. I was about to draw to the attention of the hon. Member for Buckingham the marginal notes of the Bill, to which the amendment referred. I do not want in any way to marginalise his thoughts, but that is where he will find the relevant word.

I shall complete my remarks in the spirit in which we have debated the amendments. Will the Under-Secretary tackle the concerns felt in the industry about vehicles insured on a third-party basis, which therefore do not come into the category of insurance write-offs and so will not be registered, slipping through the net of the requirements that we are trying to establish in the Bill? I would be grateful for the continuance of the debate and for his comments.

Mr. Hill: Let me deal immediately with the last issue raised by the hon. Member for Eastleigh, which was about third-party insurance. One third of all cars are subject to third-party insurance, but comprehensively insured cars are not likely to be subject to ringing crime, a fact that relates to our intentions behind the measure. That is because they are of low value, and so of no interest to thieves for that purpose.

Mr. Chidgey: High-value cars are usually those subject to ringing, but we are also talking about the breaking of cars and selling on of spares from stolen vehicles. Will the Under-Secretary consider that aspect?

Mr. Hill: I will certainly consider that aspect, although I think that my general proposition—that the sorts of vehicles likely to be subject to ringing activity—means that it would be unlikely that parts of an old Ford Escort, for example, would be broken up and used for a ringed, brand-new Porsche. However, I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. As I said, the whole point of Committees such as this one is that we should consider all the points that are made.

I revert now to the main burden of the hon. Gentleman's speech—the amendments. They are intended to extend the scope of vehicle identity checks to include a check on vehicle roadworthiness. I will deal first with the general issues raised, and then respond to some of the hon. Gentleman's specific points. The intention of the amendments is wholly commendable in principle. They are clearly designed to enhance road safety by requiring checks on the condition of the vehicle before it is returned to the road after repair. We understand their perfectly proper purpose, although there is an issue of scope with a Bill that is specifically concerned with vehicle crime.

Mr. Chidgey: I rather expected that that would be part of the Under-Secretary's response. I draw his attention to the fact that the Bill, which is concerned with vehicle crime, also contains a clause providing for funding for increased numbers of speed cameras. That leads me to believe that the scope of the Bill is flexible.

Mr. Hill: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, which is why I said that I did not intend to dwell on the issue of scope. However, extending the scope of the check would be expensive. An appropriate safety examination would cost roughly 10 times as much as the simple identity examination that we propose—roughly £200, as opposed to £25. I was interested in the way in which the hon. Gentleman put his case, because he suggested that his proposal involved no more than a statement that the vehicle was roadworthy. That raises serious issues related to the level of evidence. We could provide for a test that would stand up to serious scrutiny and possible judicial action only by explicitly inscribing the requirement for such a test in the Bill.

Mr. Chidgey: The Under-Secretary may have misheard my opening remarks. Selling a bodged-up, repaired car is not an illegal act, so the concern comes within the Bill. I said that I recognised the difficulties of issuing a roadworthiness certificate with the VIC, and asked if it could not be made clear in the paperwork accompanying that certificate that it was not a certificate of roadworthiness, and that it was up to the purchasers to reassure themselves that the vehicle was roadworthy. That was the essence of my point.

Mr. Hill: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that further explanation. We will make it clear in VIC documentation that VIC does not cover roadworthiness. Applicants will be given an advisory sheet warning of that. In addition, we will be taking steps to encourage the drawing of the purchaser's attention to the issue of proper guarantees of roadworthiness. I hope to carry the hon. Gentleman with me on that.

The hon. Gentleman made a good point about roadworthiness and seat belts. Seat belts relate to speeding, which is a vehicle crime.

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