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Lord Monson: My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Cope, sits down, perhaps I may ask a question. I apologise if it was answered before I entered the Chamber. Does he agree that the reduction in the maximum sentence for taking a car without consent from two years to six months, for which the previous Conservative administration were responsible, must to some extent be to blame for the high level of car theft?

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, during the past five or six years, the figures relating to car theft have fallen dramatically. Whatever the effects of the change to which the noble Lord drew attention, fewer cars have been stolen. That is to the credit of all the agencies involved, including both governments.

4.12 p.m.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for initiating our debate today drawing attention to the problem of vehicle crime.

While much progress has been made in recent years, as has been said by noble Lords, much more needs to be done. The Government agree and are placing a high priority on tackling vehicle crime. An important sign of the Government's determination to reduce vehicle crime was given in the Prime Minister's announcement last year of a target to reduce vehicle crime by 30 per cent. over the next five years. Setting the target is important because it raises the profile of vehicle crime and provides a stimulus for action across the board.

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It is tough and challenging, but we believe that it is achievable with concerted effort by all those who have a part to play.

That is why we have established the vehicle crime reduction action team, referred to by many noble Lords. It is chaired by Mike Wear, the Director of Fleet Operations at the Ford Motor Company, Most importantly, it comprises representatives of the motor manufacturers and retailers, the insurance industry, the Automobile Association, the police and government departments concerned: the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Scottish Office and the Home Office. Its programme of work, which was mentioned today, is known as the "14 point plan", drawn up by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the former Vehicle Crime Prevention Group.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, whether I would identify the key issues the team is examining. One of them is improving car park security, which will help to reduce car crime. Another is improving the levels of security on new and used vehicles. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, say that used vehicles cannot be made secure. However, they can be improved and the team is examining that and trying to ensure that the idea is sold to the public.

It will enhance the contribution made by the police and government departments, including bringing forward proposals for legislation wherever necessary. Of course, it will take time for potential solutions to develop and take effect. That is why we have set a target of five years to bring down the level by 30 per cent.

I turn to some of the points that were made during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned the tracker network. That is the vehicle recovery system, of which the network is an example. It is a very valuable aid in the recovery of stolen vehicles, but we must also concentrate on the important issue of making them more difficult to steal.

As regards salvage, legislation may be necessary in order to protect manufacturers' marking of parts. That is being considered by the action team, which is important. The noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, mentioned that 75 per cent. of the offenders are under the age of 21 and he asked what is being done to bring forward the driving test. I could not agree more that it is an important life skill, but one of the problems is that the national curriculum applies only until the age of 16. Provisional driving licences cannot be issued to younger people and they are not allowed to drive cars. Despite all that, we must consider all these problems together and see what we can do to solve them. Youngsters can consider participating in the motor project schemes, acquiring individual skills. We should do all we can to educate young people about motor vehicles, which may have a beneficial effect. However, recent Home Office research showed disappointing figures in relation to the motor project schemes. Poor results were found to exist on the part of young offenders where there was a racing element. We hoped that it would prove that fewer people were offending but it did not achieve that. Nevertheless, we must consider the development of those schemes and

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we shall work to determine how such initiatives can be made to be more effective in reducing offending. We must bring all that together and do all that we can to make sure that we look at the best projects available. Indeed, Avon and Somerset was referred to in that respect. I am sure that lessons can be learnt from what has been done.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said that England and Wales is the car-crime capital of Europe. We do have a major problem but, in that respect, it is difficult to compare like with like because different definitions are used to produce the recorded crime figures.

It is important also that we improve car park security. We strongly support ACPO in the secure car park schemes because it has been shown that, where car parks are secure, there can be an average reduction in car crime and theft from cars of about 70 per cent. CCTV plays an extremely important part in that. The Government are providing additional funding of more than £150 million for CCTV. We shall bring that to the attention of owners of car parks and, in particular, to the attention of local authorities which own many of the car parks.

There has also been the creation of the new award status for car parks, but that has been very disappointing up to now. There are only 303 car parks involved. That is because local authorities have other priorities. Nevertheless, we intend to try to persuade more local authorities to make their car parks more secure.

I was very interested in the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Hardy when he told us what has been done in South Yorkshire. There is no doubt that the helicopter has played an important part not only in assisting the South Yorkshire Constabulary but in assisting many other police forces as well.

My noble friend asked about various crime statistics and whether a stolen car was classified as the crime of theft or taking without the owner's consent. That depends on the circumstances. However, both sets of figures come together in the overall theft statistics which are recorded.

I bow to the expertise and knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. I agree with him that very often car owners can help themselves. Too often, they leave their vehicles unlocked. I am sure that many noble Lords in this House as well as many others--and I could have a red face in this regard--have, on a very cold winter's morning, left the engine running and have been very fortunate that the car has not disappeared. Another example of that is at the filling station. Unfortunately, many people pay for their petrol and leave the keys in the car. That is extremely foolish but, nevertheless, it happens. It is difficult to know how many stolen vehicles have been left unlocked because owners, due to their insurance, are very reluctant to admit that they have been foolish in that respect.

Mention was made of the courts and penalties. Those must be examined and, if need be, changes must be made because we must do all we possibly can to reduce theft.

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The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, mentioned the Bill which he is to bring before the House to deal with motor cycle theft. I am sure that the noble Lord will be pleased to know that that Bill will receive the support of the DETR which I am sure will be extremely helpful.

The noble Earl, Lord Haddington, mentioned the Crime and Disorder Bill in a rather surprising intervention. He raised an extremely interesting point and I shall make sure that that is passed on. Somerset and Avon has been mentioned as one of the forces which has been extremely successful. I should mention too, for the benefit of my noble friend Lord Parry, that Dyfed and Powys have been successful particularly in relation to licence plate numbers and printing them on agricultural vehicles. That county has certainly been at the forefront of the fight against car crime.

I was extremely interested in what the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said about motor cycles. It is true that there is a very low recovery rate. I believe that it is about 14 per cent. for motor cycles compared with 70 per cent. for cars. So it is particularly important that thieves should be discouraged. We must also look to motor cycle manufacturers themselves. Car manufacturers have improved the security of cars and motor cycle manufacturers must also look to see what can be done in that regard. The noble Viscount made the point that the vehicle crime reduction action team has a task group which is looking at that. So let us hope that together they may be able to reduce the numbers of thefts.

Moreover, there is no doubt that cars have been made more secure by motor manufacturers. The electronic demobilisation of cars has been extremely important. It is possible that more can be done in relation to locks, the glass and so on. Nevertheless, a great deal has been done. But we must not be complacent. I repeat that vehicle crime is a high priority for the Government because it is such a high-volume crime. Despite a reduction under successive governments, in 1998 there were 1.1 million recorded offences of vehicle crime which accounted for 24 per cent. of all recorded crime. I am sure noble Lords will agree that that figure is far too high.

Noble Lords have referred to the valuable market for selling cars. But other serious offences are also commissioned, including drug trafficking, terrorism and other forms of criminality.

Tackling vehicle crime successfully will have substantial knock-on effects and will enable those other offences, which are very serious indeed, to be tackled as well. I am encouraged by the great interest which has been shown and the expertise displayed by your Lordships in putting forward suggestions to tackle vehicle crime. Tackling it successfully is not just the job of the Government or of the police alone. We shall not succeed merely by passing and enforcing new laws, although that does have an important part to play. We shall succeed by working with others who have important contributions to make to ensure that we tackle vehicle crime. Therefore we set up the vehicle crime

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reduction action team, with its wide spread of representation, to implement the work which is necessary to achieve the target.

Finally, I thank all who have participated for drawing attention to the need to wage war on vehicle crime.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I too am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I could only raise a limited number of points on what is an extremely diverse subject and I am glad that other speakers have been able to fill in the gaps.

I particularly valued the support from the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, and his experience from the north of England, and the support from my noble friend Lord Oxfuird, whose emphasis, as at the beginning of my speech, was on young people and how they can be guided in the right directions. I hope, like him, that something can be done to incorporate the motor car into their upbringing and education.

My noble friend Lord Lucas described the disappearance of vehicles in disguise and misdescribed in speedy export abroad. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, both spoke about motorcycles, to which I only had time to make a single reference in my initial speech. My noble friend Lord Cope helped our debate by raising yet other related matters, and I should particularly like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, for having replied to, I think, everything on which we asked him to comment. I am of course particularly interested when he says that the whole subject of salvage and scrap merchants, which is a very important element in this field, is under consideration.

By special request, I shall now slowly repeat the telephone number of Crimestoppers, which should appear twice in Hansard. It is: 0800 555 111. That can be an extremely useful number to have on one's person. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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