HL Deb 17 December 1991 vol 533 cc1181-3

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are considering any action to help curb the rising number of thefts of motor vehicles in the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill in another place last month. It completed all its stages on 9th December. The Bill proposes tough measures against those who take cars and drive them dangerously, or who cause injury or damage. My right honourable friend has also engaged in a series of meetings with leading car manufacturers in order to encourage them to make further improvements to car security.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his reply. I am sure that all noble Lords and those outside who are concerned will be thankful that the Government are showing such resolve in this direction. Perhaps I may ask one specific question about car theft. It relates to the documentation of vehicles. Is the noble Earl aware that as a matter of business among certain criminal elements in the car trade, there is the practice of purchasing from insurance companies the wrecks of write-offs which include the documentation of the cars? The log book is now called the vehicle registration document. The documents are even more valuable than the remains of the car. People steal vehicles in order to obtain parts so they can reassemble a written-off car to match the documents. Is there some way in which the Government can encourage insurance companies not to release these documents? Better still, perhaps they can persuade the vehicle licensing authorities to recall the documents and scrap them?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is an interesting point. I shall look into that. I have no information at the moment about what the process is. However, if there is a way of preventing people from buying vehicle registration documents and using them for the wrong purposes, I shall certainly look into it.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, considering the rapid passage of the Bill through another place, why has there been a delay in introducing it to this House?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, those of your Lordships who were here until one o'clock this morning will realise that the Parliamentary programme is fairly congested without making it even more so.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that while the penalties for taking cars may be increased, in practice a great number of cars are taken by juveniles? On the one hand, we put up the penalties; but, on the other hand, the Home Office and others—whoever they may be—make it almost impossible to punish youngsters. They cannot be fined because they have no money, and they cannot be sent to prison. Some youngsters are sent to an institution but when they come out they steal straightaway—and nothing can be done.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I agree that this is a dilemma. We have to keep young offenders out of prison; but also action must be taken against them. Where they are very dangerous, they can be subjected to some form of detention.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the first part of his Answer is exceedingly important? It was a very welcome statement that the British motor manufacturers are interested in trying to find some system where cars can be made much more secure. Is it possible for the Government to keep in touch with the motor manufacturers? Peradventure the Government might be able to help the manufacturers to carry out the research that is required in attempting to make cars more secure.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, found my Answer important and interesting. I like to think that that is a common facet of my answers. My right honourable friend keeps in touch with the car manufacturers. He met them on 11th December, and progress was made over matters with regard to the introduction of deadlocks on new cars and extending the use of visible vehicle identification numbers; and, most importantly, accelerating the development and the introduction of effective immobilising systems. My right honourable friend is due to meet them again at about Easter time.

Lord Richard

My Lords, can the Minister tell us when we can expect results from this series of meetings, which we greatly approve? We are grateful that the Government are conducting them. How long is it likely to be before something surfaces?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, like most of the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that is almost impossible to answer. It is a question of discussing with manufacturers what they can do and then the manufacturers being able to put it into practice. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, shakes his head. If manufacturers are trying to improve the form of locking system on the car, that is very much a mechanical matter and depends on the manufacturing capabilities.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Earl found my question impossible. Let me try and rephrase it. Are the talks going well? Are the motor manufacturers being helpful? If they are, what suggestions which the Government are putting to them are they being helpful about? If they are not being helpful, what are the Government's suggestions which they are being unhelpful about?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is a far clearer question. If only the noble Lord, Lord Richard, would make his original questions as clear as his supplementary ones, that would be a great help. He asked six questions, and I shall answer the first three. Yes, the meetings are being successful. Yes, the motor manufacturers are being constructive, and yes, we continue to expect more meetings.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, with the greatest respect to my noble friend, are not the Government barking up the wrong tree in getting the manufacturers to do this? Does he not agree that as soon as systems are introduced the thieves get to know them? The answer is for every individual to have his own peculiar arrangement on his car. I have one and I challenge anyone to start my car.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if my noble friend will be good enough to tell me the details of what he puts on his car, I shall see that I put it on mine too.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware of the considerable number of schemes based in the community and run in several instances by the police in collaboration with volunteers, the probation service and others, which give young offenders found guilty of motor vehicle offences the opportunity to satisfy their abiding passion on vehicle maintenance and vehicle driving in safe areas? Such schemes are already paying dividends in discouraging young people guilty of car crimes from persisting in that dangerous activity.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that point. Such schemes are an important part of trying to keep young offenders away from offending while at the same time meeting their desire to mess about with cars. The Government encourage local probation services, the police, voluntary groups and others to work effectively to counter motor offending. At the moment expenditure amounts to about £200,000 a year.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that during the war it was standard practice to pull the regulator out of the magneto and put it in one's pocket? Modern cars do not have either a magneto or a distributor. Surely, however, a modern alternative can be devised so that cars are easily immobilised by the owner.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. Distributor caps have gone from modern motor cars. However, the noble Lord can always uncork the battery and put that into his pocket if he so wishes.

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