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House of Lords

Tuesday, 21st March 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Lord Dowding— Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

Car Crime

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there has been a reduction in the United Kingdom or in particular regions in the number of crimes involving theft of cars, or breaking into them.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, yes. In the 12 months to June 1994, the number of notifiable offences of vehicle crime recorded by the police in England and Wales fell by 9 per cent.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that encouraging reply, which confirms press reports. In areas where car crimes have been decreasing, can my noble friend attribute that to better security fittings incorporated in manufacture, to car owners taking more precautions or to the increased likelihood of the thieves being caught through detecting and tracking devices?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I can say "yes" on all three counts.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the technology is now in place which could make all vehicle theft—at any rate, of new vehicles—a thing of the past through vehicle control systems? I hope that the noble Baroness will agree that what is really required, as an extension of that, is close co-operation between the countries involved, particularly the countries of Europe, to achieve the complete elimination of the theft of new vehicles.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Viscount is absolutely right. We have to continue to be vigilant because, although I have announced good figures today, we must not be apathetic. Co-operation will play one part and another element will be the development of technology, but we cannot ignore the sophistication of car thieves. They are not simply people who take cars for joy rides. Car thieves now steal cars to order. There is now a great deal of work in terms of intelligence gathering, and co-operation will be very important on that front.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, how do the United Kingdom's percentages for stolen vehicles and their recovery compare with those for the rest of Europe?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend a precise answer to his question, but I shall write

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to him about it. The recovery of vehicles that are stolen for their parts and are therefore dismantled or worse, with their physical appearance being changed completely before they disappear into another country, is particularly difficult, which is why the question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, is important.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, I notice that the Question refers to the United Kingdom, but the Minister's Answer referred only to statistics for England and Wales. Am I to assume that the crime has been eliminated from Scotland?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the good news is that there has been a fall in such crimes in both Wales and Scotland. The bad news is that the crime has not been eliminated.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, can my noble friend advise me as to what would be the position of a bona fide purchaser of a car when it was discovered that the car that he had purchased in all good faith turned out to be stolen?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that if someone has bought stolen goods, ignorance is no defence. The matter would therefore have to be dealt with by the law.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Minister gave a generally encouraging answer to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, but can she be a bit more precise about the regional differences and about whether the regional decline in such offences coincides in any way with the extent to which police forces have been experimenting with new technology in terms of tracing stolen cars? Furthermore, although this is rather a different question, is not one of the keys to reducing professional car crime the need to control our frontiers and to ensure that stolen cars are not exported to other parts of the world?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, on the noble Lord's final question, we feel strongly about the control of frontiers and shall continue to fight for the right to control them. The noble Lord makes a further important point. It is now incumbent upon us all to consider such regional differences. The National Board for Crime Prevention is looking closely at such differences. It includes representatives from the police, motor manufacturers, traders, the rental and leasing sector, consumer and motoring organisations and the insurance industry. All are looking at what can be done. The Home Office will certainly be taking a view on the effectiveness of our police forces. The noble Lord may remember a Question that I answered recently about signs in the rear windows of police vehicles. We are looking again at the effectiveness of such technology.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, what percentage of stolen cars are used for what is peculiarly called "joy riding"?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, contrary to the view that is at large, it is very few, but it has a disproportionate effect on communities. The police are extremely vigilant

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in doing something about it, and the law in this area has been toughened to deal with people—often very young people—who steal cars for joyriding. But it is a very small proportion of the whole.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest as the owner of a car that has twice been broken into by the insertion of a screwdriver above the lock. Will the Government consult European motor manufacturers to see whether there are ways in which cars can less easily be broken into?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, there is a great deal going on in looking at ways and means of making it more difficult for cars to be broken into. The manufacturers are leaving no stones unturned. The Government are encouraging them in that work. Not just that, insurance companies are encouraging manufacturers to do more to prevent people getting unlawful access to cars and to persuade all of us to take more of an interest in car security.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, in her reply to my noble friend Lord McIntosh, the Minister said that the Government would fight to retain control of our borders; but a few days ago, in reply to me, she said that the Prime Minister had given the assurance that he would do everything necessary to retain control of our borders. There is a qualitative difference between those two statements. Will she say which is correct?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am entirely happy to confirm what I said the other day. First, I have to say that I am answering a Question about car crime. In relation to this Question that was how I answered. As for protecting our frontiers, I shall repeat that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that he would do whatever was necessary to protect our frontiers.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does my noble friend believe that attitudes can be changed so that stealing a car is not regarded in some quarters as a pastime rather than a crime, since for young people it is a short step from car thefts to serious crimes?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am entirely happy to give that assurance. Your Lordships have taken part in the toughening up of sentencing for those who steal cars, and we must continue to be vigilant in that respect.

Broadcasting Standards Council

2.46 p.m.

Lord Palmer asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the role of the Broadcasting Standards Council.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Viscount Astor): Yes, my Lords. The Broadcasting Standards Council carries out excellent work in helping maintain and improve standards of what is broadcast on television and radio.

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Lord Palmer: My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for that reply. Would he not agree though that, the BSC having consumed some £6.5 million over the past five years, the money could have been rather better spent?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, no. I do not agree with the noble Lord. The council has been particularly active in highlighting and articulating public concern about the portrayal of violence, sexual conduct, and matters of taste and decency on television. We support its work fully in that regard.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the BSC has power to require that independent television companies shall mend their ways when they have been reported upon adversely, but that it has no power even to ask the BBC to do so? That puts the BBC above the law. Would not therefore the work of the BSC be much more valuable if it had the same power over the BBC?

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