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Lord Mayhew: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the prospects for the treaty are rather more encouraging now? Does she share my view that credit is due to the chairman of the talks, Ambassador Ramaker of the Netherlands? As the treaty would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for non-nuclear signatories to acquire a nuclear capability, do the Government take the view that it is reasonable to expect that a reciprocal obligation to lessen their nuclear capability should also be imposed on the nuclear powers?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, first, I very much agree with the noble Lord about the efforts being made by Ambassador Ramaker to steer the negotiations towards consensus. That is, indeed, what he is doing. In particular, we welcome his recent initiative to table a clean draft treaty text which should concentrate minds in the closing stages of the negotiations. I agree with the noble Lord that there is

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now a very good chance of getting agreement by the end of June. But that still requires an active and positive approach by all countries concerned. As we well know, all negotiations require give and take. We shall continue to negotiate actively and responsibly.

As for what the noble Lord said about turning the comprehensive test ban treaty towards a disarmament treaty, I do not think that that would get us to the very necessary goal that we have set ourselves for this year. We want an indefinite end to all testing. That is what the CTBT does: it bans all nuclear weapons test explosions, however small, and all other nuclear explosions. However, I do not think that we can extend that into an exemption for other things. I believe that we should keep our goal and achieve it this autumn.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, will the Minister comment on the procedures for ratification of the treaty? Does she agree that it would be wrong to allow any one country effectively to veto its entry into force because of a failure to ratify it?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, obviously we want to have the treaty negotiated and ratified by all. I do not believe there is any danger that any one of the five nuclear powers or indeed the threshold states will seek to veto the treaty or not ratify it in that sense. Therefore, I believe that the noble Baroness is unduly anxious about the matter. I shall study what she said but it is not my understanding that ratification will be stopped once we have gained agreement.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the Government intend to protest to China about its nuclear test last week and its threat to hold another one later this year?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, as we well know, on this issue we can protest a good deal. One notes that China has announced a moratorium which is to take effect after its final test in September. I hope this means that the Chinese will keep to that commitment. The Chinese have to demonstrate the commitment by being prepared to conclude negotiations by the end of this month and sign up with all other countries in the autumn. That is what we have been negotiating and aiming for. China has said that it is committed to the negotiations. We may protest, but I very much doubt whether it has any useful effect on the Chinese Government.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that any representations we may make to China are less effective because of our failure to condemn nuclear weapons tests by the French?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, it is clear that the Chinese work on exactly the same basis as the French. The Chinese will do so much testing and then stop. It is clear that neither the French nor the Chinese intend to go on testing at the end of this programme.

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Vehicle Crime Statistics

2.51 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there has been an increase or decrease in the last three years in the United Kingdom in the crime of stealing motor cars or breaking into cars in order to steal their contents.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, in 1995, 225,700 fewer offences of vehicle crime were recorded by police forces in England and Wales than in 1992. This represents a fall of 15 per cent.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, although her reply appears to apply only to England and Wales and my Question related to the United Kingdom.

While better anti-theft designs and devices no doubt have some effect, does my noble friend agree that they are not proof against car windows being smashed usually in order to steal radios and cassettes? Can more be done to deter young offenders, especially those who regard this kind of stealing as a pastime rather than a crime?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I apologise for not including Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland there has been a fall of 21 per cent. in car thefts and a fall of 26 per cent. in thefts from cars. In Northern Ireland there has been a rise of 6 per cent. in car thefts but theft from cars has fallen by 9 per cent. Overall, in the United Kingdom there has been a reduction.

My noble friend makes an important point. A great deal of car crime is opportunist. There is much we can do for ourselves. For example, not leaving goods in cars and not leaving our cars unlocked would be a start. So far as concerns young people a great deal is being done. A great deal of promotional awareness is taking place. We have to toughen up in dealing with car criminals of whatever age. When they come on probation service programmes a good deal of work is done to rehabilitate them from stealing and messing about with cars.

Baroness Seear: My Lords, is any work going on in the Minister's department to show whether there is any correlation between the fall in crime and the fall in unemployment? One would expect to find some relationship. It would be interesting to know whether or not that work had been undertaken.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I cannot give a scientific answer because I am not aware of the specific research. But I belong to that group of people who do not believe that being unemployed is an excuse for committing any kind of crime, even car crime. We must emphasise to young people in particular that committing crime of any kind is wrong and will not be tolerated.

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness has just given a most extraordinary reply. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, did not say that to be unemployed was an excuse for committing crime. She just pointed out the fact that in particular in relation to opportunistic crimes--which it is agreed car thefts and theft from cars frequently are--there is likely to be a larger number of offenders who are available because they are unemployed. Does the Minister agree that that is not a slur on the unemployed but simply a recognition of sociological fact?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the question I was asked was whether or not there was a correlation between the two. I said at the outset that I did not have a scientific answer. I also said--I make no apology for saying it and will go on saying it--I did not believe that to be unemployed should ever be regarded as an excuse for committing crime.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there may be a correlation between the fall in offences and the work of her right honourable friend the Home Secretary in persuading courts to impose tougher penalties on criminals?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend. I do not believe that we should let this moment go without recording our thanks to the police in this respect. They are doing a great deal to increase awareness of the risks of crime and the steps that can be taken by the police themselves, motorists, vehicle manufacturers and the insurance industry.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the way in which the figures are collected does not prove anything? There are more crimes committed that are not recorded.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I do not know of many people who have their cars stolen and do not report it. All the evidence indicates that there is a very high recording of the crime of car theft. The noble Lord has a point in regard to theft from vehicles. Not everybody reports a theft from a vehicle, and more work can be done in that regard.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her additional information about Scotland and Northern Ireland, to complete the picture. Is the estimate which appeared in a newspaper yesterday that about 10,000 cars are stolen each week in the United Kingdom correct? Would not the purchasers of used cars be less likely to be swindled if their recirculation were reduced because of the improvement reported by my noble friend?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, a very large number of cars are stolen every week. About 60 per cent. of those thefts result from opportunist crime and the remainder, rather depressingly, result from rather more organised and sophisticated crime. One must continue to improve awareness and to make sure that criminals are dealt with more effectively. We have to do what we can to make people more responsible. A great deal

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is being done in that respect by way of the production of leaflets, the provision of information and the bringing together of some interesting organisations. I refer to motor manufacturers, traders, the vehicle rental and leasing sectors, the consumer and motoring organisations, the insurance industry, the police and vehicle security organisations. All of those organisations come together in a consortium to advise the Home Secretary on ways and means of reducing criminal activity.

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