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Vehicle crime is a serious problem and one which people are concerned about. Nearly 400,000 cars are stolen each year and over 120,000 of these are never recovered. Vehicle crime accounts for nearly a fifth of all recorded crime and costs over £3 billion a year. It causes distress and inconvenience to victims and ties up the resources of the criminal justice system.
We are publicly committed to reduce vehicle crime by 30 per cent in the five years from April 1999 and we have made progress. Effective targeting by the police working in partnership with manufacturers and the
This Bill has the potential to make a significant impact. It will make vehicle crime less attractive by reducing opportunities for professional car thieves to profit and could prevent up to 39,000 car thefts and 6,000 fraudulent insurance "theft claims" per year, and it has been thought through. The original proposals come from the Vehicle Crime Reduction Team whose members comprised a cross-section of people from motor manufacturers and dealers, insurers, Home Office, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the police and, importantly, motorists. And, of course, it has been thoroughly test driven, as it were, and scrutinised by the other place.
Part I of the Bill introduces regulation of motor salvage operators. Most salvage businesses operate to high standards and fully within the law. But we have received strong representations from the police to suggest significant criminality within the industry. Over a third of stolen cars are never recovered. The motor salvage industry offers opportunities for stolen cars to have their identities disguised or for them to be broken up and resold as parts. There is also a link with insurance fraud. Some cars which are reported stolen are sold to motor salvage dealers and broken up for their parts. We need to flush out the criminal element from this industry and support honest dealers.
So Clauses 1 to 6 require motor salvage operators to register with their local authority and to renew their registration at three-yearly intervals. The local authority would not register an applicant unless it was satisfied that the person was fit and proper to run a motor salvage business. An applicant refused registration or a person whose registration was cancelled by the local authority would have the right to make representations and appeal against that decision.
Clauses 7 to 12 will allow us to make sure that registered operators keep appropriate records, including a note of the destruction of vehicles, and notify the registration authority of any changes to their details, and they empower the police to enter and inspect registered premises. The effect would be to make it difficult to dispose of stolen vehicles, and people contemplating insurance fraud would be deterred by having to give their details to a motor salvage operator on selling their vehicle and by the prospect of committing a further offence under Clause 12 if they give false details.
The second part of the Bill focuses on number plate suppliers. Noble Lords will perhaps be as surprised as I was to learn that there is currently no control over the issue of number plates. So criminals can easily buy new plates to disguise a car they have stolen. We are not just talking about vehicle crime. Burglars may use false number plates to cover their traces when making a getaway. Terrorists may use false number plates and others may use them to deceive speed cameras. We believe that we need to block that loophole.
Clauses 17 to 23 require number plate suppliers to register with the Secretary of State; in practice the DVLA. Number plate suppliers will have to allow the police to enter and inspect their records without a warrant. It will be an offence to supply an unregistered supplier and to sell false plates.
The prospect that details of the transaction will be recorded should deter prospective purchasers of number plates who require them for criminal purposes. Record keeping will provide the police with the means to trace the source of plates used in criminal activities.
There would be a power under Clause 34 to make regulations prescribing additional information to be held on number plates and the way in which it should be contained or displayed. The information on the number plate will be linked to the vehicle for which it is intended. This will make it difficult to swap vehicle identities. The clause has been drafted to allow us to make full use of new technology--for example, putting bar codes with relevant details on number plates--as it develops.
Part 3 of the Bill deals with a range of additional measures to combat vehicle crime. The present law allows written-off vehicles to return to the road without being checked. This allows people who have tampered with a vehicle illegally to get away with it. The Bill will allow an identity check to be carried out on a vehicle before a new registration document can be issued and the vehicle legitimately returned to the road.
Clause 36 contains our proposal for tackling uninsured driving--an offence that frequently goes undetected. The motor insurance industry has offered the police bulk access to their new database. We want the police to take advantage of this offer which will mean that they can search out and take appropriate action against those who drive uninsured. This will make people think again before taking to the roads without insurance and will save money for the insurance industry, and ultimately all policyholders, who have to cover the costs of accidents caused by uninsured drivers.
Clause 37 extends the time limit for prosecuting unauthorised vehicle taking. So-called "joyriders" can be involved in accidents and cause deep distress to their victims; and often their offences are the gateway to more serious crime.
Some escape justice because they cannot be charged within the six-month time limit the law allows. Recent advances in DNA and fingerprinting mean that evidence often comes to light after the time limit has expired. This clause will extend the time limit to three years and enable proceedings for taking a vehicle without authority to be brought at any time within six months from the date when sufficient knowledge came to the attention of the prosecuting authorities. We want to signal that this is not an offence to be treated lightly. Joyriding often goes hand in hand with speeding. Rolling out safety cameras nationally is a vital part of our road safety strategy.
Clause 38 enables the Secretary of State to fund public bodies such as the police, highway authorities and courts in connection with their work in enforcing speed limits and red traffic signals. This will enable some of the revenue from fixed penalties to be recycled to fund and maintain more safety cameras. That will help the prevention and detection of speeding and red light running offences and, more importantly, it has a direct road safety benefit. More than 3,000 people die on our roads each year. Excessive speed is a major factor contributing to those tragedies. While there are other methods available for addressing inappropriate speed, we know that camera enforcement is very effective in dealing with it.
We want to build on this Government's excellent record of fighting car crime by tackling the root causes. Essentially, this means reducing the market for stolen cars. We will do this by regulating the motor salvage trade and the supply of number plates. Vehicle identity checks and new requirements for documentation by the DVLA will reinforce this system of regulation.
The Bill has three ancillary purposes. The first is to extend the time limit for prosecuting joyriders. The second is to make it easier for the police to detect uninsured driving. The third is to provide funding for safety cameras. This is a comprehensive set of proposals designed to tackle vehicle crime. For all those reasons, I commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, this is another regulatory Bill introducing a series of new regulatory regimes. I confess that I approach the Bill with a long-standing prejudice against extending new regulations too much. We should recognise that it is another set of new burdens on businesses, including some businesses which will not realise initially that they are likely to be covered by the regulations. Another set of duties is being imposed on local authorities, trading standards officers and so on. They have much to do already and have difficulty in paying for enough staff. It involves also a new set of duties on the police.
Having said that, I think that the case for the Bill has been made out. It has been discussed for some time; and I accept the Bill. We shall not oppose it but we want to go through the Bill in some detail in Committee and later stages. The Minister made it clear that the Bill focuses on the theft of vehicles. Most of what is described as "vehicle crime" relates to theft of goods from within the vehicle--the radio and so on--as opposed to the theft of the vehicle. However, I do not complain that the Bill does not cover that aspect. It is difficult to cover every aspect of a subject in a Bill.
It is important to remember that the Bill relates not only to the theft of cars but also to the theft of motor cycles and commercial vehicles. As the Minister explained, Part 1 deals with the regulation of salvage dealers. We understand that there are about 3,000 companies which will need to register under the
Enforcement will be left to a considerable degree with the police force. In the Explanatory Notes, the cost to the police is given as £110,000 a year. I found that figure a little difficult. If it involves full-time policemen, that figure would cover enforcement by four policemen in the whole of England and Wales. That does not imply that it will be given a high priority. I realise that such enforcement will involve a policeman undertaking the work as part of his duty. At the same time, it is not a large sum.
I like the provision which provides for an appeal against decisions to the magistrates' court. When discussing recently the Private Security Industry Bill we pressed the Government for such a provision without success, although we may return to the issue on that Bill.
There will be a cost in taking a car to a salvage dealer, particularly when he now has to carry out extra procedures. There are extra complications. He has to be registered and so on. Will it lead to more cars being dumped in lay-bys and elsewhere? That is a problem already. For some days, it is difficult to know whether a car has been dumped. Then things start to disappear from it and after a while it becomes obvious that it has been dumped. However, by that time it is difficult to move it because it has no wheels left. Not long after that, somebody sets fire to it. That is potentially exceptionally dangerous, because there may well be some fuel left in the vehicle. I do not intend my point to be destructive of the Bill. Even if the Bill leads to more cars being dumped, that does not necessarily destroy its point, but it is worth drawing attention to that issue.
In Committee we shall also want to consider the powers of entry. There appear to be stronger powers to enter registered premises than to enter unregistered premises, yet inspectors are more likely to want to look at the unregistered ones to see whether they should be registered. At least a warrant will be required from a Justice of the Peace, which is more than can be said for the provisions of the Private Security Industry Bill, under which official inspectors will be able to enter any premises at any time without a warrant. The powers in Clause 9 are restricted to business premises, not domestic ones. That appears to be another contrast with the other Bill. Clause 26 provides similar powers of entry that apply to the police and to "an authorised person", which presumably means the local authority staff responsible for that part of the Bill.
I had some difficulty deciding what Clause 26(1) meant. No doubt we can pursue that later. The second half of that subsection appears to restrict the right of entry to business premises. I hope that that is what is intended. The clause relates to selling registration plates. A lot of garages sell number plates in addition to their other activities, but they are not necessarily
This may be a misunderstanding, but there also seems to be a problem with the registration of destroyed vehicles. The DVLA must send out a form even for a vehicle that it believes to have been destroyed. In future, it will be supposed to know if the vehicle has been broken up. Instead of reporting to the police when they suspect that, as they currently do, I hope that DVLA officers will be able to refuse to send out a relicensing form to prevent the relicensing of a destroyed vehicle, except for those that have been totally rebuilt, which can be dealt with.
Part 2 deals with number plates and regulates their suppliers. Even after the Minister's comments, I am not sure about the intended effect on the appearance of number plates. What will be on the number plate? Clearly there will be numbers. I am not sure whether the plates with fancy writing and italics that have started to appear will remain legal, even if they are legal now. I suspect that they are not, but they seem to be growing in number.
There is also a proliferation of number plates with "GB" built into them instead of the old-fashioned "GB" plate, which I prefer. I am not sure what the Government's intention is. Are we all going to have number plates with a "GB" symbol at the end?
I am alarmed by some people's comments about the possibility of compulsory flags on plates. I take that view not only about Euro flags, but also about Union Jacks or even the flag of St George. I declare an interest of a sort as a vice-president of the Royal Society of St George, which encourages the use of the flag of St George on appropriate occasions, but number plates are not an appropriate place for a flag, whether it is the Euro flag or the flag of St George.
In addition, there is talk about being able to identify the car from the plate. The Minister mentioned that just now, but we shall need to be told more about the idea, because it is not clear from the Bill what is intended.
I also hope that there will be no restriction on the number of number plates allowed. Many people with trailers, caravans or horse boxes require another number plate or two. Those number plates tend to fall off sometimes and need replacing. In addition, the trailers of articulated lorries have temporary number plates that can be changed daily, or even more than once a day, as different tractors are used to haul the trailer. Some lorries change the tractor half-way through a journey, in a suitable car park or motorway service station. They need to be able to move their number plates. Those number plates will be attached to the trailer or caravan rather than to the vehicle, so it is difficult to know how an identification plate will work in those circumstances.
Part 2 applies only to England and Wales. My comments about flags and other issues relate to Clause 33, which also applies to Scotland and Northern Ireland. The provisions for regulations will not apply in Scotland. I do not know what the Scottish Parliament will make of all that. Presumably it is responsible. I suppose that those who live near the Border will have a choice of getting their number plates in England or across the Border. I see no provision that requires someone who lives south of the border to buy their number plate from a registered supplier in England rather from than an unregistered one in Scotland.
Part 3 deals with a variety of matters, including the total loss of a vehicle. I realise that insurance applies to most vehicles but not necessarily to all. If a person disposes of a vehicle which is not insured, will he be covered by the system? I know that in many respects--although I am not sure about vehicles--the Government do not believe in insurance. They are self-insured. They do not bother to insure their buildings on the grounds that they have so many that, if one burns down, that will be all right. The fact that the Government have so many buildings acts as a form of insurance, and they do not believe in giving the profit to an insurance company. That is not a party-political point; governments of all parties have taken that view for a long time. However, I am not sure how matters stand in relation to vehicles and the final disposal of vehicles.
I believe that the Minister said that Clause 37 allows money raised, for example, from safety cameras to go to other organisations, such as police forces, local authorities and others. However, Clause 37 seems to me to allow only the funding of magistrates' court costs. Therefore, I must have misunderstood the Minister. However, presumably another provision exists which provides for money to fund the use of further safety cameras.
Although in some respects the Bill will bring about a considerable increase in the burdens on business and others, I believe that overall it will have a beneficial effect in tackling the theft of vehicles. The previous Conservative government managed to achieve a massive fall--27 per cent, I believe--in the level of vehicle crime in their last few years in office. I believe that it is important to continue that work.
In a sense, it is difficult for the Government to carry on that work because police numbers have dropped and car thieves are being let out under the early release scheme. No doubt that is partly why the reduction in vehicle crime which occurred at the time of the previous government has slowed down a great deal. However, at least the Government will be able to say, "Well, we legislated and we introduced regulations", even if fewer people are available to enforce them. But the Government's objective of reducing the theft of vehicles is obviously desirable and that is why we shall not oppose the Bill. We shall, however, discuss it in some detail when we reach its later stages.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am pleased to offer support from these Benches for the principles of the Bill. As individuals, we are probably more likely to be the victims of vehicle crime than of any other crime. According to the European Secure Vehicle Alliance, one in eight of us can expect to be the victim of a vehicle crime in any one year. Given that a car is usually one of the most expensive purchases that we make, it is a high-value crime. Even if the vehicle is relatively inexpensive, the inconvenience and the sense of vulnerability engendered can be significant.
My own rather ancient and venerable vehicle was stolen from a residential part of Norwich some years ago--in fact, from the constituency of the Minister who is taking the Bill through the other place. I do not hold Mr Clarke personally responsible for the theft of my car, although I was fairly annoyed at the time, particularly when the vehicle turned up a few days later. I found it rather repugnant to be back inside the vehicle, and had the inconvenience of dealing with the insurance company, the DVLA, and so on.
The thieves had ransacked the car and I lost my mobile phone, all the documents and a collection of music cassettes. But the thieves clearly drew the line at a cassette by Barry Manilow, which they left ostentatiously on the seat. I believe that that shows that their taste in music is better than mine.
There is a rather sordid and sinister side to vehicle crime. Vehicles are often stolen as part of a wider net of criminality and subsequently used in other criminal acts. In some cases, personal safety can be compromised by vehicles which have been patched together or repaired with spare parts of dubious provenance. A member of my family once bought a car and was horrified to be approached by the police some months later when they found that the vehicle had been stolen and its identity changed.
The fact that in this country the level of vehicle crime is so much worse than in other comparative countries is due at least in part to our extraordinarily slack system of registration and documentation. Although we on these Benches are generally concerned about over-zealous regulation, in this case we believe that the risks to the health and safety of individuals, and the extent to which vehicle crime acts as a gateway to other crime, justify the introduction of a new regulatory regime.
There is always a balance to be struck between protection and regulation. However, with an estimated £1 billion worth of organised vehicle crime every year, in this case we believe that the balance falls on the side of regulation. In any event, at present many vehicle dismantlers must be registered under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act; they must keep records in order to comply with environmental protection legislation; and, shortly, they will have to comply with the European Union End of Life Vehicle Directive, when it comes into force.
That type of problem--the opportunistic theft from vehicles and joyriding--is part of a wider problem of criminality and does not respond readily to legislative solutions. There is a limit to the extent to which legislation, and even zealous deterrence, can tackle the deeper societal problems.
However, we are not bereft of solutions, and we can learn much from a bottom-up approach in which an emphasis is placed on local solutions developed by local people. Area community safety strategies can make a huge difference when the effort is focused on particular areas of crime which matter to the communities. Perhaps I may give one example. Over a six-month period last year, vehicle crime in Milton Keynes fell by 34 per cent; during the same period, it increased in Slough--in the same police authority area--by 16 per cent.
That type of community approach can be helpful in tackling another hardy annual in the garden of vehicle problems--the abandoned car. Some local authorities now undertake to remove abandoned cars within 24 hours of their being reported. But that is contrary to legislation, which states that vehicles must be left in situ for seven days after a notice is posted. I wonder whether the Minister will consider changing the law, given the high level of complaints in relation to this issue. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that an unwelcome side-effect of the regulatory regime may well be an increase in the number of abandoned cars.
Car parks present a particular problem. It always strikes me as odd that the owners of car parks are quite prepared to accept payment from motorists but offer little protection in return and do not accept liability. Multi-storey car parks are threatening places for individuals and their vehicles. My local authority in Suffolk has been awarded "secure car park" status for the two park and ride sites outside Ipswich. That means that they must provide good lighting; security officers patrol the site; and great care is taken in the design and maintenance of the sites to ensure that they are safe for vehicles and people.
I believe that we can do much more to encourage the people who look after one our most valuable assets to offer that type of quality assurance. In 1998 the Association of Chief Police Officers asked the Government to set a target of 2,000 secure car parks by the year 2000. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether that target was met. Imaginative campaigns, such as "We don't buy crime", seek to reduce the market for property stolen from vehicles, and they have also been successful. However, like the rest of us, criminals are highly mobile, and there is a need for a national dimension to those local campaigns.
That demonstrates that the education of vehicle owners still has a role to play. I wonder whether a useful addition to the Highway Code and the written part of the driving test would be a section on protecting oneself against vehicle crime. Young people are frequently the victims as well as the perpetrators, especially because they often have cheaper and less well protected cars.
On behalf of my noble friend Lord Falkland, who cannot be with us, I also want to mention briefly the omission from the Bill of any mention of two-wheeled vehicles. The British Motorcyclists Federation tells me that only 15 per cent of stolen motor cycles are ever recovered, compared with 60 per cent of cars.
I also want to mention briefly the question of police resources, which I believe is something of a red herring in this context. I have spoken to the police about it. The police believe that a modest length of time will be required to introduce the Bill, and that that time will be worth while in terms of the time that will be saved through the benefits that the legislation will bring. In terms of wider community safety, which I mentioned earlier, police numbers are at the heart of any strategy. We on these Benches also deplore the fall in police numbers over the past four years. However, we also remember rather further back when, during the last Major administration, police numbers fell by 469 officers.
We should also look ahead. The police are developing a system called "Airwaves", in which every officer will have portable IT equipment that can link up with various data bases. We need to examine ways in which driving licences, vehicle registration documents, MOT certificates and the new registers that will be required by the Bill will link together to provide the police with the most comprehensive information as quickly as possible. The police will be able to access that information while they are out and about. That will enable them to do what the public want; namely, to be on the streets, where their presence provides a deterrent to criminals and a sense of security to the law abiding.
In view of the fact that vehicle crime, like everything else, is becoming globalised, I wonder whether the Minister can give me any assurances about measures to deal with the increasing problem of illicit vehicle imports and exports? I hope that I will not raise the blood pressure of too many noble Lords by venturing to suggest that we need to work closely with our European partners in that regard.
Finally, I turn to those parts of the Bill that relate to the use of cameras to enforce speed limits. As a county councillor in Suffolk, I was heavily involved in an extensive rural road safety campaign, which resulted in
Cameras have a useful role to play in enforcing speed limits. The results of pilot schemes have been very encouraging and graphically demonstrate how effective such schemes can be in reducing speed and the number of accidents. There is overwhelming evidence of a link between inappropriate speed and the rate and severity of accidents. The hypothecation of speeding fines back to the authorities for re-use will stop the farce of having cameras without film and police who are unable to find the time to process fixed penalties. However, we need to emphasise that the main effort involves casualty reduction, not revenue raising. I am not sure whether such recycling of money--Liberal Democrats are generally in favour of recycling--is sustainable in the long run. I hope that money will also be available for casualty reduction schemes, such as junction realignment, safe crossings, traffic calming and educative campaigns. I should be grateful if the noble Lord the Minister would clarify whether Clause 38(1)(a), which refers to the "prevention" of such offences, includes highway authority expenditure on such schemes. In any event, we should consider a three-year review to assess the impact of the scheme and the future use of the funds.
In conclusion, we are broadly in favour of the Bill, in terms of its intent and actuality, but there are areas in which clarification is needed, assurances are sought and improvements need to be made. In that regard, we have an advantage over our friends in another place, across the iron carpet, in that our debate cannot be guillotined.
Viscount Tenby: My Lords, I rise to welcome the Bill in general. Some of its early provisions, which are aimed at countering the practice of "ringing" and at related matters, tempt me to ask, not the present Government or the previous government but society in general, "What kept us so long?".
The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, identified one or two wrinkles and tempered a little the sense of euphoria that has greeted the Bill. Like other noble Lords, however, my main concerns lie with Clause 38 in Part III of the Bill. As one who in recent years has championed the cause of hypothecation in this area, I say, like the ranks of Tuscany, "I can scarce forbear to cheer". The Government deserve to be congratulated on an epoch-making breakthrough by getting the Treasury to re1ease its tentacles from some of the revenue that is collected from speeding fines and related traffic signal offences.
As a result, we may expect more cameras and cameras that actually contain film. We also welcome the rapid introduction of the new state-of-the-art digital cameras. We must now have a concerted offensive in particular against those who drive excessively fast in sensitive and potentially dangerous areas. The immediate task is not the persecution and alienation of the vast majority of motorists, who, on the whole, drive responsibility, but to control the few who speed past schools, use rat runs as if they were race tracks and terrorise the inhabitants of sleepy villages, whose streets are more suitable for horse-drawn traffic than cars that are driven as if the drivers were on the Brands Hatch circuit.
The problem of speeding is enormous. The plain truth is that most drivers, if they think about it at all--at times, I rather doubt whether they do--regard speed limits as something to be ignored if they can get away with doing so. I hasten to disclaim any holier than thou attitude in this regard. To paraphrase St Augustine, "Keep me from speeding, but not just yet". I am afraid that that probably goes for a good many noble Lords who are here tonight.
Even the most senior and law-abiding citizens are guilty. As a former magistrate, I take more of an interest in this matter than the average person. Many a time I have driven behind a sweet old lady who is gaily bowling along in a built-up area at 43 miles an hour. On leaving the speed-limit zone, her speed remains the same. In other words, there has been no discernible reaction whatever to the presence and requirements of the limit.
There is of course another side to the picture. Some limits are absurdly low in view of the areas in which they operate. Some police, alas, do not always use common sense and seek to prosecute some who exceed the speed limit on a deserted motorway at 4 a.m. I should also mention the recent, and in my view ill-advised, hectoring of chief constables by interest groups that are intent on enforcing zero tolerance with regard to speeding. All of those factors are counter-productive in terms of the task that lies ahead.
What is needed in a responsible and caring society, such as we hope ours is, is a cultural change in our perception of the offence. Thirty years ago no one thought twice about driving after a party. Today, to drink excessively and to drive is socially unacceptable. A similar sea change is necessary so far as speeding is concerned. That will not be easy to realise and it will not happen overnight. There are only a limited number of ways to tackle the problem. Education through advertising and in schools would be helpful but is unlikely to catch the key target group of persistently fast and reckless drivers. They exist just as much as does the hard core of persistent drink-drivers. Humps and pinch points have their uses but are expensive and often provoke anger among motorists. The two sure ways of gaining the objective are through fear of detection and through the pockets of persistent offenders. The increase in the use of penalty points will also have a salutary effect.
Perhaps I may be permitted to add an important footnote at this point, which is not emphasised sufficiently when such matters are discussed; namely, the less-than-responsible attitude of the motor manufacturing industry which contributes to the problem. Two factors basically sell cars: not safety, reliability, longevity--heaven knows, not longevity--or environmental friendliness but simply sex and speed. Of course, manufacturers would not put it quite like that. Sex, they tell us, is about looks and styling. And speed? Well, manufacturers tell us that it is not speed but acceleration that people need to get out of trouble. There seems to be an awful lot of trouble in our road system. As something of a footnote in an advertisement, one may find it stated that the top speed for the advertised model is twice the permitted maximum on motorways in this country. Indeed, that speed can be legally attained in only one place in the world; namely, on a German autobahn.
There is no doubt that the presence of speed cameras, rather like patrol cars, makes drivers acutely conscious of their speed and aware of their responsibilities. Home Office research that was undertaken some years ago showed that there was a reduction of 28 per cent in injury crashes at speed camera sites. As we shall hear in the coming months, the results in the pilot areas have been encouraging.
The Bill stipulates that the Secretary of State may determine the whole or part of the sums so raised. Accordingly, I should like to ask the Minister the following questions. First, what proportion of funds collected will go to the appropriate authority? I realise that he may not be in a position to give precise figures tonight, but it would at least be helpful to have an indication, such as two-thirds or one-half. It seems terrible that having gained this important victory it is frittered away.
Secondly, can it be established beyond doubt that such sums will be ring-fenced and that chief constables and police authorities are obliged to spend it specifically and only on purchasing more cameras, film and anything else to do with speed limit enforcement rather than, say, creating more police jobs or bobbies on the beat through creative accounting.
Finally, bearing in mind the importance of this initiative, can the Minister confirm that the Government will undertake rigorous monitoring of the new arrangements? Does he agree that there should be clearly designated and regular evaluations and progress reports, and that those should be presented to Parliament?
In 1999, 3,243 of our citizens were killed as a result of road accidents and some 39,000 seriously injured. It would undoubtedly be erring on the side of caution and fairness to say that at least a third of those involved speeding as a major factor. It is not enough to claim, as some do, that we have one of the best safety records in Europe. Given the standard of driving in most parts of Europe, that is a pretty hollow claim.
We owe it to those who have suffered and to the generations to come to begin to change this antisocial attitude now. The Bill will at least give us the critical tool to enable us to start on what is a mammoth task.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, before addressing the problems of inappropriate speeds on our roads, which will be my main contribution to this Second Reading today, I should like to mention a couple of other concerns in the Bill as it currently stands.
Your Lordships may not realise that there is a very profitable trade in trailers and that the component parts of some trailers are lucrative and expensive. Consequently, although a part of the Bill deals with the illegal acquisition and disposal of motor vehicles, perhaps trailers should also be included.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I should also like to draw attention to the fact that the Bill fails to deal with premises which, for whatever reason, are outside the regulatory system but are in the business of motor salvage. All premises that are suspected--I repeat the word "suspected"--of being used for motor salvage should be subject to scrutiny, and the right of entry should be conferred upon a police officer to visit such a site.
Most of us have been driving along a road only to be overtaken by somebody who is exceeding the posted speed limit and suddenly brakes because the driver has seen a Gatso speed camera. Maurice Gatsonides cannot have appreciated the benefits his invention was to confer on road users. He was, indeed, caught speeding by his own device some years ago.
Many people regard speed cameras as a hindrance to their progress. Their impatience seems to confer on them the right to overtake on the left or right and, if it was possible, over the top of a vehicle. But it is fair to say that since the inception of traffic cameras, the prime objective has been to reduce collisions, particularly those in which people are either killed or seriously injured. Across London, the current level of accident reduction in the vicinity of camera sites--both speed cameras and red lights--is approximately 11 per cent, but that figure can be improved upon. The aim is for a 15 per cent reduction over a two-year period; 25 per cent over five years and a target of 40 per cent by 2010. That will require a concerted effort by all agencies involved, including the police, courts and local authorities.
The Bill has many facets and seeks to address problems which have existed for some years. I am delighted that it is before us today. The Bill will allow police services, together with their working partners, to put forward business cases to "net off" fines attracted by camera enforcement and to put the money into clearly defined casualty reduction policing projects. All publicity is geared to changing driver behaviour by making it clear that the most successful safety cameras will be the ones that detect no driver because everyone is driving at or below the speed limit.
Some noble Lords will be familiar with the Victoria initiative whereby that Australian state followed the principles of education, engineering, enforcement and evaluation and focused on driving behaviour and attitudes in areas known to account for high numbers of casualties. My wife spent a few weeks in Australia last year visiting friends and relations and, on her return, remarked that in Victoria and New South Wales, where she visited, drivers rarely exceeded the speed limit even when miles away from habitation. The effect of that initiative has been to reduce deaths and serious injuries by a huge amount. The cost to the police, hospitals and society has also been reduced by a considerable amount. I am afraid that I disagree, to a certain extent, with the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, regarding zero tolerance.
There are eight pilot schemes in this country, of which Essex is one, in which additional cameras have been used since April last year. Because Essex was, at that date, operating all of its cameras at full capacity, there has been only a modest reduction in fatal crashes and ones in which serious injuries are received. In other areas the reduction has been as high as 22 per cent in personal injury accidents and 42 per cent in accidents in which people were killed or seriously injured. So, the projects are working. It is relevant to report that in a public opinion survey in all of the pilot areas, 82 per cent of people questioned felt that cameras are there to encourage drivers to keep to the speed limits and not to punish them. It is interesting to note that in Victoria all motorists accept zero tolerance as a fact of life and admit that the benefits far outweigh previously held prejudices against speed cameras and that they therefore approve of their intention.
Lancashire Constabulary has, for some time, been seeking Treasury funding to mirror the Victoria initiative as a road safety project. I feel confident that when it is adequately funded, the savings, both financial and personal, will be considerable. At the same time, when the press see the savings to the health service and the lives saved as a result of the initiative, even they will agree that what is, in effect, zero tolerance works and should spread throughout the country. A form of hypothecation as outlined in the Bill is a start to that end. There are some who might say that that is a means of raising money for the Exchequer. But the additional finances will be ploughed back into accident reduction measures. In Essex, for example, prior to the pilot scheme, 17,500 offenders were able to be dealt with per year. But the funding available from fine revenue has seen that figure increase dramatically to 70,000 in the first nine months of the pilot, and overall speeds have dropped by up to eight miles per hour in some locations which, in the 30 to 40 mph restricted areas where most injury accidents occur, is encouraging. Few people exceed speed limits in Essex and are now quite familiar with the mobile units, which can detect errant motorists where they least expect it.
Most people admit that it will be impossible to stop collisions but, if those collisions occur at a lower speed than before, the severity of injuries will reduce. In addition, if speeds are reduced, the rural roads will
The RAC and some other motoring organisations believe that more effort should be put into advanced driver training. That is all well and good, but the wider use of speed cameras will reduce the opportunity for those drivers who wish to exceed the speed limits because they will be held up by more and more drivers obeying them. We should not forget, however, that speed limits are imposed for safety reasons and, while some may be due for investigation and alteration, with better enforcement the choice of the irresponsible motorist to drive dangerously will be removed.
Because of the perceived importance of catching muggers and burglars, chief police officers have decided, in their wisdom, that traffic officers are unimportant and are not front-line police. But it is the traffic officers who have to deal with the consequences of crashes; who have to investigate those which cause deaths; and who, through their enforcement of the legislation can save lives. I have been on traffic patrol when a driver was stopped at 3.30 a.m. on a motorway. She was driving perfectly in lane one but was stopped because of the improper use of high intensity rear lights. The driver turned out to be almost two times over the drink-drive limit. Could she have caused a crash a mile or so further on? Could she have fallen asleep and killed herself? We will never know because she was stopped.
Speed enforcement cameras are here to stay and, with well chosen siting and the additional funding proposed, they will be a means of saving people from death and injury and will save the NHS the financial burden currently imposed by victims of road crashes.
Finally, I should like to recall the experience of a friend who lives on a bend in a small village embracing a 30 mph limit. She saw someone driving well in excess of that limit, and so extended three fingers to indicate
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, the Ministers who are opening and closing the debate and other noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that I support the main proposals in the Bill. In recent years, I have spoken in several debates on car crime and it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that the Government are doing what I have been advocating.
I introduced a debate when I was successful in a ballot on 31st March 1999. In order to crystallise my views, which I expressed then and which continue now, I can do no better than quote from what I said.
I referred to safety because I regard it, besides the reduction of fraud, as an important factor. That the Government are now legislating on the motor salvage and scrap metal industries, and legislating to tighten up procedures on registration plates is good news, especially for me, as that quotation from 1999 makes extremely clear.
There might be criticism that the Bill will lead to more regulation and paperwork. When as regards other issues complaints are made that there is too much regulation, I usually agree. But the salvage trades have for too long been tempting targets to crooks and unscrupulous dealers and it is high time that regulation made it much more difficult for them to operate.
The Bill also recognises the need for keeping records, in particular on the destruction of vehicles. I am confining my remarks to that part of the Bill which is concerned with trafficking in motor vehicles and I am doing so in the interests of brevity. In my debate in March 1999, besides theft of vehicles I drew attention to theft from vehicles, including breaking in and causing damage. I made the same remarks in my previous debate on 9th February 1998.
There is nothing in the Bill about theft from vehicles. It is confined to theft connected with the trafficking in vehicles or vehicle parts. I am sorry that theft from vehicles is not covered because the United Kingdom has one of the worst, if not the worst, record in Europe for theft from cars. Do the Government consider that the present situation and law are adequate? Unfortunately, as the police have pointed out from time to time, young offenders go through the courts because they are too young to be punished. In fact, the police have described some courtroom doors as "the rotating doors" used by young offenders who cannot resist stealing from cars. The thefts are usually of personal possessions and normally involve breaking
The provisions relating to registration plates will need careful examination, no doubt in Committee. They may need strengthening in order to reduce the possibilities of fraud. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux is speaking in the debate because he is still chairman of an organisation called European Secure Vehicle Alliance. Its membership included British police and in recent years it has put forward good suggestions in line with those on motor salvage, which appear in the Bill.
An important factor is the safety of the public. Crooked operators can, for example, invisibly join the undamaged halves of two cars and so create an apparently "fresh" vehicle without blemish. When sold on the second-hand market, such a car could become a death trap. For example, it is unlikely to be capable of withstanding minor accidents or even normal use on bumpy roads. We must hope that the Bill will reduce fraud and at the same time improve safety on the roads.
Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, first, I declare an interest in the Bill. As my noble friend said, I have served as chairman of European Secure Vehicle Alliance, which is an associate parliamentary group and a non-profit-making company limited by guarantee since its formation in 1992. There is no one single "magic bullet" which will bring about a sustained reduction in vehicle crime. There is a requirement for both "top down" contributions from government as well as "bottom up" approaches from local community safety partnerships, while also recognising the contributions made by vehicle manufacturers, insurers and the security industry.
The Bill is widely welcomed by all those who share an interest in vehicle crime reduction and reflects a great deal of effort by government, police and their partners over much of the past decade to highlight several of the most obvious shortcomings in our legislation. However, it will be valuable to explore whether the Bill can be further strengthened as a result of our examination. I should like to highlight a few issues for further consideration. The terms of reference and monitoring of vehicle salvage focus primarily on written-off vehicles that have been comprehensively insured. Self-insured vehicles--for example, often those owned by major fleets and vehicle rental companies--and also third-party only insured vehicles will not automatically fall within the proposed management and control procedures. What progress can we make in addressing that matter?
As we begin to target more effectively the illegal motor salvage dealers and repairers, what steps can we take to reduce the likelihood that they simply transfer their operations offshore, for example to Ireland, and take advantage of our relatively lax import and export regulatory systems?
As to the proposals to deal with vehicle registration plate manufacture and distribution in Part 2 of the Bill, we shall need to consider amendments which recognise offences associated with deception by the purchaser and possible collusion by the vendor as regards an unlawful transaction over a set of number plates. The purchaser of plates will be expected to produce documents such as the vehicle's registration details and a driving licence, which of course should be genuine.
The Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill refer to a potential 10 per cent reduction in the number of motor vehicle thefts, which, if achieved, will still be equivalent to less than a 2 per cent decrease in overall vehicle crime. While that is undoubtedly most welcome, I should like to focus the remainder of my remarks on approaches that could deliver even more significant results. Vehicle crime is very much a "young person's crime". Two-thirds of offenders are under 21 years of age. ESVA is determined to find ways positively to channel young people's interest in and enthusiasm for becoming road users on both two and four wheels.
I am delighted to report that tomorrow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and I will accompany my noble friend Lord Howe who, in his capacity as patron, has invited us to visit the SKIDZ motor project in High Wycombe. That serves as a fine example of a community-based project that aims to reduce vehicle crime, road accidents and social exclusion. The project also aims, during school hours, to serve as a bridging point between schools, FE colleges and employment in the vehicle trade for key stage 4 pupils aged 15 and 16 years who seek a more vocationally-based curriculum. In the evenings, weekends and during school holidays the project also runs programmes which are open to all community members who are interested in learning more about vehicles both in practical and safe riding contexts.
Clearly, this type of project is capable of tackling the roots of educational disaffection and failure which can lead to crime and other antisocial behaviour. I understand that we shall also receive a copy of some independent research carried out by the local Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, generously funded by Thames Valley Police Community Safety Trust, which offers a positive endorsement of this work.
ESVA has now developed a strong network of motor projects. It has applied for National Lottery Charities Board funding to establish a national network of starter motor projects. The aim is to help establish such projects in all 370 community safety partnerships in England and Wales. I also recommend that we support a more strategic approach to vehicle crime at both national and community level which examines the broad context within which vehicle crime and burglary--often referred to together as volume crime--are tackled.
Secondly, the nature of volume crime is unsurprisingly typical in that it follows the 80:20 rule, by which I mean that prolific offenders account for a disproportionately high level of offences. Often such offenders are also addicted to drugs. We shall have a greater impact on all-volume crime if we can both identify the prolific offenders and find effective ways to reduce their offending behaviour.
While there are some technical, almost esoteric, measures that can play a part in reducing vehicle crime, as detailed in this Bill, we must also continue to recognise and tackle some of the more pervasive problems within our society which manifest themselves in vehicle crime as well as many other categories of crime. I wish the Bill all success.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I very much welcome the Bill and congratulate the Government on bringing it forward. I particularly welcome Clause 38 which is concerned with speed cameras. My noble friend Lord Simon quoted some statistics from one trial in Essex. I should like to quote a similar trial in Northamptonshire. I understand that the number of people killed in road accidents reduced from 76 in 1999 to 55 in the following year, and the average speed of motorists fell by 13 per cent. Overall, there was a 40 per cent fall in deaths and serious injuries. I appreciate that that was a trial conducted in only eight different locations. However, that must be a major step towards achieving the Government's road casualty targets by 2010: a 40 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injury; a 50 per cent reduction in the number of children killed and seriously injured; and a 10 per cent reduction in the number of people slightly injured. I am pleased that this legislation is likely to mean that that can be mirrored all over the country.
The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, referred to the need to ensure that speed limits are observed. I welcome the review of penalties that is currently taking place. However, I do not regard those penalties as being any different from those imposed on people who cause pollution, shoplift and commit fraud. One must balance the views of the victims and society.
About a century ago W S Gilbert said that one should let the punishment fit the crime. I believe that zero tolerance comes into it. Although they are strong words, I believe they mean that the equipment used to measure speed, or the amount of alcohol in an individual's breath, has become steadily more accurate over the years. Many motoring organisations and some parts of the press appear to believe that because
In welcoming the Bill I have a few questions for the Minister, on which I am sure he will have some interesting comments. First, as the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, said, how much of the fines from the speed cameras will be payable to public authorities? It is terribly important that the authorities, be they local authorities or police, get the money necessary to do the work, rather than being told by the Treasury, "Well, yes, we will give you some of it, but you have got to pay the other half yourself". That will not spread the system over the country in the way that it should be. The provision should cover the protection and detection, as the Bill states, as well as the enforcement. The authorities need to welcome this legislation with open arms and get on and do it. The Treasury has been generous in this matter--I cannot say for a change because it is the first time--and that is very welcome.
Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked whether some of the payments made in relation to driver crime and speeding could be used for educational purposes? It would be very good if some of it could be allocated to that.
My second group of questions relate to the list of offences in Clause 38(2). They join the general family of speeding and going through red lights. This is an excellent list but I wonder whether it would be possible to add one or two more items--for example, an (f), (g), (h), and (i)--which would cover yellow box offences. As noble Lords have heard, and spoken about many times in your Lordships' House especially in the previous Transport Act, yellow box offences cause serious irritation to drivers who comply with them, and, it could be argued, there is the consequent risk of bad driving. But they also delay buses in bus lanes. So my second category of additions to the Bill would be what one might call "bus lane offences", including parking in them and driving in them if one is not driving a bus.
The Government's 10-year transport plan encourages the use of buses. As the Government admit, if buses do not provide a superior service to sitting in one's air-conditioned car, not many people will use them. Therefore, it is very important that, if possible, the list of offences which can be caught by these speed cameras should include both yellow boxes and bus lane offences.
Finally, in that subsection there are five offences listed. I have probably suggested more than two, but whatever it is, I hope that, as experience in the implementation of the clause is gained, the Government will find and feel that other offences can be added to the list of offences which justify some
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for introducing the Bill and explaining its purpose. I support the Government's efforts to deal with the problem of vehicle crime. I intend to make some general observations and then articulate particular concerns with regard to the effectiveness of Part 2.
On the general points, there are various ways to reduce vehicle crime. Immobilising a vehicle is an obvious one. Modern security systems for vehicles work on the engine's electronic brain. That is very effective and I believe it will become mandatory in due course. But I am cautious about a compulsory retrofit because a retrofit is far more easily overcome, can be unreliable and is expensive. I believe we should move rapidly to compulsory original fit of immobilisers for all new vehicles.
I turn to the problem of stolen vehicles being exported. I understand we already have the capability to X-ray commercial vehicle containers and trailers. We have managed to discover smuggled cigarettes. So I can see no reason why we cannot detect vehicles being illegally exported. Perhaps we need an amendment to make it compulsory to note the details on the manifest of vehicles being exported.
The changes in the Bill will impact upon the work of the DVLA and, in particular, its employment levels. The registration of number plate suppliers will undoubtedly provide a welcome increase in work for the DVLA.
The DVLA has a major part to play. Information is obviously the key to enforcement. In due course I expect to see the granting of MoT certificates and insurance certificates notified to the DVLA electronically. The Bill goes some way towards doing that. But, if we gave the DVLA our bank details together with suitable instructions, we could get our tax discs sent to us in the post automatically without the problem of us accidentally forgetting to tax our vehicles.
I also believe that the MoT station should notify the DVLA electronically the moment it grants a certificate to a vehicle. The customer's bill should show that the vehicle has been granted a certificate; but the actual certificate should be issued by the DVLA to the registered keeper. That could have some benefit.
During the passage of the Transport Act, I moved an amendment for MoT discs to be on the windscreen next to the tax disc to make it easier to see whether a vehicle was properly tested. I shall be pursuing that issue again.
Noble Lords will be aware of the ability to have automatic number plate reading--ANPR. It is a little "big brother", but it has yielded spectacular security results in the City. Noble Lords have already spoken about the problem of illegal fonts and misleading spacing. That will obviously create difficulties for ANPR.
Part 2 of the Bill, on the regulation of registration plate suppliers, will not help much. I shall explain why in greater detail later. However, I believe that inspection of the number plate should be included in the MoT test. The Minister could easily alter the MoT regulations to make that part of the test.
In his opening comments the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, mentioned commercial vehicle trailers. I was worried that the noble Viscount would make my speech for me. There is a problem with commercial vehicle trailers. Currently, they are not registered on the computer at the DVLA. They are extremely expensive pieces of equipment, some of which can cost more than £50,000. They are registered on the operator's licence and on the Vehicle Inspectorate database.
My noble friend Lord Cope referred to the problem of number plates on the back of a caravan. I am not suggesting that the trailer display a separate number plate on the rear. I suggest that we have a vehicle registration number plate mounted next to the plate on the goods vehicle that indicates the capacity. It should be possible to have the same prefix for a fleet of vehicles. That would have some attractions for the operator.
I welcome Part 1 of the Bill. It is necessary to destroy redundant or unusable vehicle identities as soon as possible. The Statutory Off Road Notification system--SORN--has been in operation for some time. I assume that it has been successful. What consideration is the Minister giving to closing down the registration numbers that are no longer in current use, for which he has no SORN and no recorded vehicle activity? Apart from the fact that it removes some possibility of fraud, is there a possibility that the more attractive number plates could be sold?
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, talked about the distress of finding that one's car has been stolen. In these cases often the car has to be returned to its original owner. I do not believe that Part 2 will have the desired effect. I think that its effect will be purely cosmetic because the controls can be easily circumvented. I understand the problem: at a high level, it is terrorism, armed robberies and selling stolen vehicles either by means of cloning or ringing. At a low level, it is temporarily fitting a false number plate in order to steal petrol from a garage, or some other relatively minor criminal activity. At a high level, there is much financial gain for the criminals. At a low level, it is largely a commercial problem: one cannot stop the kids from making a false plate that does not have to stand detailed police scrutiny. Can the Minister say whether a private person will still be allowed to manufacture his own number plates or will it be necessary to buy them from a registered dealer?
I have concern regarding the vehicle identity number on the number plates. The difficulty at the moment for an unsophisticated cloner is that he does not know the vehicle identity number of the vehicle to be cloned. When his vehicle is investigated by the police, it is easy to see that the VIN and registration number do not match. It is possible to find the VIN from hire purchase investigations. Perhaps we should consider whether HPI would tell you only if you had the correct VIN but not what the VIN should be for that particular registration number.
I turn to practical difficulties. Presumably, when a customer wants a number plate manufactured, he will need the logbook to prove his entitlement to it. The logbook ideally should be kept at home; it should not be kept in the car. If the car is stolen complete with the logbook, it is very easy to sell.,
How will the registration of suppliers of number plates stop plates going astray? What will happen if the young shop assistant takes a few plates and the necessary numbers home? Perhaps the Minister will go for serial numbers for each plate. That will not be a problem because all one need do to account for that serial number is to fill in the register with details of a customer who came in six months previously. The materials used for making number plates are not unusual--a sheet of perspex and a little piece of plastic. The really bad guys will simply steal a number plate from another vehicle, perhaps from an airport, and replace the stolen plate with another one. I pity the motorist who will report his number plate stolen--as he should as an honest citizen--because he will be regularly stopped by the police.
It is not clear how keeping records at thousands of outlets will help. The criminal could buy the number plate a long distance from where he intends to use it. Will the DVLA be notified of every number plate manufactured? My estimation is that about 15,000 number plates are made every day. I cannot see how these proposals will be effective. There are some other
We could become very hi-tech and have "smart" plates that interface with the vehicle's immobiliser system. The snag is that that would be extremely expensive and that serious criminals could overcome it. There is also the problem of accidental damage.
I have a serious concern about the 28-day limit for lack of trading by the number plate supplier. It would not be a problem if one was a number plate manufacturer in Barnet, but what about the motor spares shop in the Western Isles where it may be two months before a number plate is sold, and in the mean time that shop loses its registration?
Would noble Lords care to wager as to whether I could obtain a number plate for one of their vehicles once the Bill has come into operation? To stay within the law, I would make sure it was a number plate that was defaced in some way. Currently, crooks in the motor trade--and there are a few--are no doubt stocking up with all the materials to make false number plates to last them for the next 10 or 15 years.
I apologise to the Minister and to the House for being so sceptical about the proposal for registering suppliers of number plates. I believe that it is a nice idea, but I do not think that it will work. Other provisions in the Bill are very welcome and will attract some helpful amendments.
Lord McNally: My Lords, this has been an extremely well-informed debate. Ministers who put forward a Bill with such a general Title as "Vehicles (Crime) Bill" can expect Members, particularly those in this House, to see it as an opportunity to be constructive and imaginative in their amendments. We have had fair warning today that when we come to the Committee stage noble Lords will seek to broaden the terms of the Bill and will put forward some positive ideas of their own about vehicle crime.
In the main, the Bill has been welcomed. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said that his approach was not to be churlish about the fact that some of the ideas in the Bill had been raised by him a year or two ago.
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