HL Deb 17 January 1992 vol 534 cc480-504
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill be read a second time.

The Bill strengthens the law against criminals who take other people's cars illegally and then drive them dangerously or cause injury or damage. This practice has sometimes been called "joy riding" but, of course, there is nothing remotely joyful about these activities. As last year's events in Oxford, Newcastle and elsewhere showed, the illegal taking of cars leads to danger to other road users, the destruction of property, and injury or even death. So much for joy!

The practice is an appalling menace and one which, up to now, the criminal law has had some difficulty in dealing with adequately. The basic mischief of taking a vehicle is, of course, already an offence under Section 12 of the Theft Act 1968. And, at least in theory, there are offences such as manslaughter, criminal damage, reckless driving and causing death by reckless driving which are available to catch other mischiefs which are connected with the original offence. Sometimes these offences can be enforced; but sometimes they cannot.

Let us consider for a moment the problems which there may be in proving the offence of criminal damage. Data from the British Crime Survey shows that at least 40 per cent. of illegally-taken cars are damaged by the time the owners get them back. But Home Office statistics indicate that only 6 per cent. of those charged with illegal taking are also prosecuted for criminal damage. All too often it is just not clear which member of a gang caused the particular damage, or who actually had his hand on the wheel when the car crashed and someone was killed or injured as a result. They might all have had a turn; it might have been dark; the car might have been travelling too fast for clear identification; or perhaps the vehicle was found abandoned and burnt out in a wood and the taker simply denies having had any responsibility for it.

But none of these things would have happened if the vehicle had not been taken in the first place. If the takers are prosecuted only for the basic offence of "taking" their punishment will just not be sufficient to reflect the havoc which they have wrought, the misery which they have caused, or the moral culpability which they bear.

This Bill therefore provides that, when a basic offence of taking a vehicle without consent is accompanied by dangerous driving, by injury, by damage either to the vehicle or to other property, or by any combination of these aggravating circumstances, those who are guilty of the basic offence will be guilty in addition of an aggravated offence and they will be liable to increased penalties.

It is important to stress that the circumstances to which I have just referred are treated in the Bill as aggravating events. The Bill does not seek to convict anyone of the separate offences of criminal damage, reckless driving, dangerous driving or any offence against the person. They will continue to be covered under other legislation. This Bill simply recognises an aggravated form of what is an existing Theft Act offence.

As with the basic offence in the Theft Act 1968, the new aggravated offence will apply not only to whoever takes the car initially, but to anyone who drives it or who is driven in it, provided that they know that the car has been taken illegally. This means that the prosecution will not have to show which of the gang was actually driving at the particular time, or who was responsible for a particular piece of vandalism. The whole episode will be viewed as one offence and all those who are involved will be equally liable to punishment for the aggravated offence. That seems to me to be not only a realistic solution to a problem of enforcement, but it also represents a moral position.

If a gang takes a car and tragedy results, it is invidious to attempt to single out just one member of the gang and to say that he alone is to blame. All members bear moral responsibility and all should be criminally liable both for taking the vehicle and for the consequences of that offence. Of course, if it is clear in a particular case that one gang member was especially culpable, it will still be possible to prosecute him individually for criminal damage or for reckless driving or for other offences as appropriate as well.

Clause 1 provides that the aggravated offence will carry a maximum penalty on indictment of two years' imprisonment, or an unlimited fine or both, or five years' imprisonment in a case where death has been caused.

These penalties are in line with those for the existing offences of reckless driving and causing death by reckless driving, and for the new offences of dangerous driving and causing death by dangerous driving which was created by the Road Traffic Act of the last Session.

The maximum penalty for the basic offence of "taking" is six months' imprisonment or a £2,000 fine or both. That is clearly an inadequate response to the more serious cases which are the concern of this Bill.

Some of your Lordships may recall that the maximum penalty for the basic offence used to be three years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine or both. Your Lordships may wonder why this was reduced in the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and why the Government do not simply reinstate the old penalties. The fact is that when the basic offence was made summary only and when the penalty was reduced to six months, that was simply a recognition of what was in fact already the practice of the courts. We should wish to avoid returning to the situation before 1988 when any vehicle taker, however minor his mischief might have been, could elect for a Crown Court trial.

That is why the Bill creates an aggravated offence with an appropriate penalty, and why it does not simply raise the penalty for the existing general offence of unlawful vehicle-taking. The Bill makes it clear which cases are to be viewed more seriously.

Clause 1 is the most important, and the most substantial, part of this Bill. Clause 2 provides that, if the only aggravating event was damage below the value of £2,000, then the aggravated offence has to be tried summarily, and it provides the formulae by which the court will determine the value of any damage which has been done.

These provisions reflect those which have been made for the substantive offence of criminal damage by the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980. They are designed to prevent the Crown Court from becoming clogged up with less serious cases.

Clause 3 means that the courts must normally disqualify everyone convicted of the new offence from driving for at least 12 months. If, for some exceptional reason, disqualification is not appropriate, the court must endorse his licence and impose penalty points. Clause 3 also provides that the fact that an offender was only a passenger in the car concerned is not to be treated as a special reason for letting him off a ban. Of course, the length of the ban is at the determination of the court.

Clause 4 provides for the Short Title, commencement and scope of the Bill. The law is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so this Bill will not apply there. However, I understand that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will consider whether there is a need for similar legislation in the Province.

This Bill has been generally welcomed and it received a good measure of support from all quarters in another place. I hope that it will receive equal, if not enhanced, support in this House.

There have been suggestions that the Bill may create an undesirable precedent by making an offender liable for the actions of others, or even by reversing the usual burden of proof in criminal cases. Some of the press reports about the Bill concentrated on these two alleged departures from principle, so it may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I were to deal with those misunderstandings now, at the beginning of this debate.

The Bill is, in fact, less novel than has been sometimes suggested. In order to obtain a conviction for aggravated vehicle-taking, the prosecution will have to prove both that the accused committed the basic Theft Act offence, either as a driver or as a passenger, and that an aggravating event occurred during the time when the car was taken.

Both elements of the offence must be proved beyond reasonable doubt in the usual way. There is no question of a defendant being presumed to be guilty unless he can prove his innocence. It is true that the prosecution need not prove that a particular defendant was personally responsible for a particular aggravating event but, if that could readily be proved, there would, of course, be no need for this Bill. A defendant could simply be prosecuted for a free-standing offence of manslaughter, dangerous driving, criminal damage or whatever.

The Government believe that anyone who deliberately involves himself in an episode of illegal car-taking incurs moral responsibility for whatever happens—whether or not he was in the driving seat at the time. If things go wrong, he should take the legal consequences, and he has no one to blame but himself.

Far from being too draconian, the Bill provides defences for defendants who can show that an aggravating event occurred before they committed their basic offence, or at a time when they were not in, on or near the vehicle concerned. As with most other statutory defences, these will be for the defendant to establish on the balance of probabilities. As your Lordships will appreciate, there is a substantial difference between providing a defence of this sort and reversing the usual burden of proof, and that the Bill does not do.

The Government accept that this Bill is not the complete answer to the problem of car crime. It is just another weapon in the armoury of measures against crime. That is why we are encouraging local probation services, the police, voluntary groups and others to work to reduce motor offending, and why the Home Office is providing nearly £200,000 this financial year for motor projects, working with young offenders and others. That is also why my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is engaged in a series of meetings with leading manufactures to try to encourage them to make improvements in car security, and why, on 11th February he will inaugurate Car Crime Prevention Year to increase public awareness of ways in which car crime can be prevented. Nevertheless, some element of cure is needed when prevention fails. This Bill provides it. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Earl Ferrers.)

11.40 a.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, those of your Lordships who benefited from a classical education may well recall the words of the satirist Juvenal when he wrote, "Galeatum sero duelli poenitet", or, "It's too late to shirk the fight when you've got your helmet on". Recent Home Office policy seems to have been to put a helmet on, if I may say so, at the drop of a hat, and only then to consider how to fight the legislative battle on half a dozen different fronts at the same time. Even so, and not otherwise is it with this Bill.

For the past year and more Her Majesty's Government, and particularly the Home Secretary, have identified one painful problem after another and tried to defend themselves against press and public outrage by a bit of speedy footwork in the legislative ring. There were media headlines regarding dangerous dogs, prison mutinies and car crimes and there were panic reactions in the Home Office—"The public must be protected; something must be done". So legislation was dreamt up, brought in, and rushed through to cover up a basic lack of planned policy.

The Bill is a partial answer to part of a problem. It represents short-term thinking and it seems to have been devised far more to impress the newspapers than to depress the potential criminal. It is certainly unlikely to do much to stem the rising tide of car crime. To be fair to him, the Home Secretary recognised its limitations when he said —and the words were echoed by the noble Earl this morning —that the Bill is not the whole answer to car crime, nor does it pretend to be. But it is the only measure currently before us and we must evaluate it as it stands and for what it is worth.

It stands unsteadily. It offers little that is new. In itself it will achieve little because it duplicates powers which already exist to deal with taking and driving away a car and with many aggravating factors. Any driver who recklessly drives and causes damage or injury, or any passenger who encourages him to do so, is liable, upon conviction, to two years' imprisonment under the Road Traffic Act 1991. To cause death by reckless driving carries a maximum sentence of five years; manslaughter carries a maximum of life imprisonment. Even the offence of deliberately damaging a vehicle attracts a possible 10-year sentence.

Powerful penalties already exist and the Bill duplicates many of them while adding only a few new ones, mostly concerned with people other than the driver, who will now be required to establish their innocence if they are to avoid sentence. It hardly gets to the root of the problem. As I said, the Bill is a knee-jerk Home Office reaction to some well publicised, horrific events which took place last summer and autumn. Children and adults were killed or maimed by young villains driving stolen cars, usually high-performance vehicles. What was variously described as "joy-riding", "ram-raiding" or "hotting" was a sudden, short lived, fashionable behaviour cult which only highlighted the vastly greater, longstanding, steadily growing problem of car crime, incorporating everything from the gravest of manslaughters to the more venal escapades of so-called joy-riding.

It is significant that the word "joy-riding", however inaccurate, is no new invention. The Oxford English Dictionary records it as early as 1908 and includes in its definition, a pleasure trip in a motor car, aeroplane etc., often without the permission of the owner of the vehicle". It has been with us for a long time. The point is that in recent years it has grown to horrific proportions. Car crime offences, as it is better to call them, have increased steadily and alarmingly to proportions which are little short of monstrous. That is the real heart of the problem.

In 1990 there were 494,000 recorded offences of theft or unauthorised taking of motor vehicles; that is a 25 per cent. increase on the previous year. That followed a 7 per cent. increase in such offences between 1988 and 1989. We can rely on those figures because one thing is clear—that owners of cars almost invariably report the loss of their vehicles.

The Bill is the Government's response to that situation. In considering the problem of car crime as a whole we must ask three questions. Who commits it? Why do they do it? What will stop them? The answer to the first question is easy. The majority of known car crime offenders are teenage boys. Thirty-four per cent. of offenders are aged 15 and 16, and 39 per cent. are aged 17 to 20. The result of these offences is, at the minimum, distress and inconvenience and at least temporary loss of the use of the vehicle; often damage is caused to the vehicle and in all too many cases injury and even death are caused to innocent parties and, tragically, to the young offenders themselves. Research suggests that the driver of a stolen car is 200 times more likely to be injured in an accident than the authorised driver.

Comparatively few adults steal cars except for other criminal purposes, and hardly any women steal cars at all. It has been reported in many research papers and articles that the young men who form the bulk of offenders usually cease to offend in this way when they marry or settle down in a steady relationship. I admit that I am being imaginative, but not wholly facetious, when I say that we could eliminate much of the car crime in this country by lowering the age at which one can qualify for a driving licence to 14 and making the penalty for subsequent car crime offences immediate compulsory marriage.

The second question regarding why young men commit this crime is no more difficult to answer. They do it for excitement, for thrills, for kicks. They do it to achieve status in the peer group; to relieve boredom in a society where unemployment is high and many people have little to do and where the excitement of the as yet unattainable car of one's own is elevated by so many television police programmes, often American in origin, which culminate in high speed car chases demonstrating impossible driving skills as though they were within the reach of everyone.

There is a secondary reason why young men in this country commit car crimes. They know perfectly well that if they do so they are unlikely to be caught. Of the 400,000 offences that occurred in 1990 only 5,000 offenders went to prison or to a youth offenders' institution. Of those, 4,000 went in for six months or less and only 1,000 out of 400,000 cases were caught and given sentences of six months or more. The bored boy living in an urban high-rise flat, excited by the fast cars he sees belonging to other people and envious of their freedom and lifestyle, knows that the odds are heavily on his side if he simply takes that vehicle and drives it away, regardless of the hideous damage that he may do.

The third question regarding what will stop them from committing this crime is more complex. However, one thing is clear. This Bill is unlikely to do so. I cannot for one moment believe that the new penalties it introduces will act as any sort of deterrent. Deterrents are irrelevant. Deterrents are only effective when people coolly and rationally consider the odds and the penalties. Most car crimes are impulse actions done on the spur of the moment; hardly any of the offenders would be able to give an accurate account of the present penalties. Even if a potential offender of 15, 16 or 17 made a careful study of the new penalties proposed, he would rightly conclude that he had no means of calculating the additionality of the danger in which he stood should things go wrong and his stolen car damaged property or killed or injured someone.

Nor will the threat of obligatory disqualification deter those young men and boys. Thirty-four per cent. of recent offenders were too young to qualify for a licence and there is no terror in the thought that in two or three years' time one may not be able to obtain one. Of the 39 per cent. aged between 17 and 20 a fair proportion had never bothered to obtain a licence in the first place and had absolutely no intention of doing so. Licences mean little to the lawless.

Above all, the possibility of swingeing and unlimited fines will not deter this group of people above all other groups. The majority of the offenders are either too young to have an income or too poor to pay even the modest fines which magistrates deem it sensible to impose. It has been argued elsewhere that since last year's legislation the parents of such young people will now be liable and the sins of the children will be visited upon the fathers. That may be true in some cases. But in many more the parents themselves will be unemployed or living on social security. The courts know full well that heavy fines in such cases are simply unrealistic. They do not get paid.

The one small step forward which the Bill does take and which may influence the actions of potential car crime offenders is that it makes everyone in the car, not merely the driver, liable for the aggravated offence. That is not very likely to reduce the number of offences, but it may deter some young people from simply "going along for the ride". That would be a good thing.

That is the best I can say for this Bill. I must point out the opportunities which have been missed. Car crimes will not decrease until it is made much harder to steal cars. For many years the Government have been discussing car safety with the manufacturers and next to nothing has come of it. Modern technology can produce a means of immobilizing a car, and a Bill to compel the manufacturers to alter their priorities and put safety before in-car entertainment would go a long way towards solving that problem. It has been said that we cannot legislate on this safety matter; progress must be by consultation and by consent. Why so? We legislated over seat belts and great good it did to us.

Similarly, the Government should introduce tax concessions and the insurance companies should reduce premiums for motorists who can show that their cars are as fully protected as possible. It has been suggested in another place that we should buy and use our own wheel clamps and that is not a silly idea. Leicestershire, Warwickshire, South London and other areas have introduced vehicle watch schemes to very good effect. Such schemes should be given Government encouragement and support. But above all research has shown that motor schemes run by local authorities for offenders or for volunteers dramatically reduce the rate of re-offending: 9 per cent. re-offended in the South London area as opposed to 80 per cent. in the surrounding areas. What greater proof do we need! Young people, permitted to explore the forbidden mysteries of powerful engines under supervision, are manifestly less likely to do so unlawfully.

All such opportunities have of course been missed in this very modest and misdirected little Bill before us today. We on these Benches shall not oppose it because there is very little in it which is going to have very much effect. We shall try if we can to improve it, but without very much hope that any real good can result however we amend it. The problem that it attempts feebly to address is large and growing at a frightening rate. It is far more pervasive in our society than the short-lived spectacular events of last autumn in Oxford and the North East of England. Yet it is in a panic reaction to those events that this largely irrelevant little Bill has been conceived.

Faced with the glaring newspaper headlines, all the mighty legislative machinery of Queen Anne's Gate was cranked into action and the result is these four strange little clauses which offend many and which will deter few. One recalls the words of that other Latin poet, Horace, Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus". The mountains will go into labour and will bring forth a ridiculous mouse.

11.53 p.m.

Lord Meston

My Lords, a first reaction to a Bill such as this ought to be to ask how life would be if we had to do without it. The fact is that for all practical purposes the armoury of the criminal law is already quite strong enough to deal with the offences that this Bill tries to tackle by putting yet another criminal statute on the book.

There is nothing new about the nature of the offence itself. It can be met with a whole range of criminal charges starting from the basic offence under Section 12 of the Theft Act and going on to include criminal damage and the more serious dangerous driving offences which have been introduced in their modernised and workable form in the Road Traffic Act 1991. The noble Earl the Minister described those as theoretical possibilities. I suggest to your Lordships that those are practical possibilities to meet the requirements of a particular set of offences. The law has always had this flexibility. As long ago as 1955 the then Lord Chief Justice recommended that theft of petrol could be included as a charge in a taking and driving away offence, as it then was. I recall an ingenious university lecturer suggesting that abstraction of electricity from a car battery could be charged, but perhaps that is a little fanciful. It is noticeable that the proposed new offence in this Bill is apparently not needed to supplement the law of Scotland. I read and re-read the debate in another place and I still do not understand what the law of Scotland has that we apparently lack.

We can all see the impulses which produced this Bill following the events of last summer. Those events simply demonstrated what anyone who has spent a little time in a magistrates' court or a Crown court knew all too well. The offence of taking a vehicle can simply be an offence which is little more than an anti-social nuisance, but at its worst it can be a terrifying crime with dreadful results. Of course the public must be protected from unqualified, uninsured young men driving dangerously in other people's cars. If it is right that the existing law is essentially adequate one has to try to see what this Bill adds. It adds more for the prosecution to have to prove. It gives new maximum penalties. The irony is that, until Section 37 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 was passed, the basic offence of taking a vehicle contrary to Section 12 of the Theft Act carried a maximum penalty of three years' imprisonment. The noble Earl referred to that.

Re-reading those debates of 1988 it appears that what became Section 37 was agreed on all sides. Until the downgrading by the 1988 Act, the offence was triable in the Crown Court as an "either way" offence. Until then the Court of Appeal had upheld quite stiff sentences for repeated and serious offenders. Indeed, in the The Times' law report only yesterday the Court of Appeal approved a custodial sentence on a juvenile passed for a typical combination of charges at the more serious end of the scale. I doubt whether this Bill will do much to prevent such offences. It certainly will not cure the problems of a culture which glamorises fast cars and trivialises most motoring offences. If the Government want to produce a tough deterrent measure they do not require a new criminal offence which will make little or no impression on the youngsters behaving in the way we have heard about. They may achieve a wider range of penalties to enable the public to be safeguarded from the worst offenders, but that is all.

This Bill creates an offence which requires the prosecution to prove something about the conduct of the driver, the standard of the driving and the consequences of the driving. In reality those are all matters which can be, and traditionally have been, raised at the sentencing stage and reflected accordingly. This Bill adds complication as well as duplication. It exposes those who take cars or who are carried in them, to liability for the aggravated offence caused by damage they themselves did not directly cause. It is presumably said that people who take and abandon cars should be responsible for the consequences of that action even if they were not the direct cause of such damage and even if the damage was not foreseen or foreseeable.

The noble Earl referred to moral culpability. The sad truth is that young offenders do not foresee the consequences of those activities and will not be made to do so by this Bill. Reference has been made to penalty points and disqualification. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, said, those matters simply will not deter 15 year-olds in the situations which he described and neither will fines. The reality is that the courts will be unable to impose fines which have any significant effect on such people or probably any significant effect on their parents. The person charged can defend himself by trying to prove a negative under the proposed new Section 12A(3). I look forward to trying to argue what the phrase "in the immediate vicinity" means, but that is something for future litigation.

Noble Lords

Near, my Lords.

Lord Meston

My Lords, near might be good enough I suspect. The nature of the offence is such that the person will probably be tempted to plead guilty and try to establish his subsection (3) defence, whereas without this new provision the consequences of the basic Section 12 offence could be more usefully analysed by the court at the sentencing stage and any gravity appropriately marked. Having expressed the rather negative view that the Bill is likely to have minimal impact on the problems that the Government quite properly want and need to deal with, I welcome the indication from them that the Bill is not seen as the complete answer. We on these Benches would certainly support any initiatives to improve vehicle security—though preferably not car alarms going off louder and longer in the middle of the night—and we would support any initiatives for projects to create a more mature attitude to the use and care of cars; for example, projects which have already been established under the probation service.

I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to confirm our understanding that those projects do have a good record in preventing reoffending, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said. The attitude from these Benches is the same as the attitude expressed by the previous speaker. The Bill will do little harm, but it will probably do little good. It may need some attention at Committee stage.

12.2 p.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I must confess to a somewhat uneasy and nostalgic feeling of playing truant. Fridays, as your Lordships know, is when all good and true Lords of Appeal in Ordinary apply themselves assiduously to drafting their reserve judgments, viewing critically those provided by their "brothers" and preparing for the rigours of the coming week. It is not this Bill, with its somewhat unattractive title, that has provided a spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion which has caused me to be diverted from my usual Friday activities. It is his Honour Alfred Blennerhassett QC—a former circuit judge, chairman of a government committee on drink and driving (an expert on that subject) and an old friend and fellow Bencher of the Middle Temple—who has drawn to my attention a point which I think it is my duty to draw to the attention of the House.

I have taken the great advantage of the courtesy and kindness always shown by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, to discuss the problem with him despite his crushing programme which he has had this week.

The point arises in this way. Section 22 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 requires a court to notify the Secretary of State for Transport whether, in any proceedings committed in respect of a motor vehicle, it appears to the court that the accused may be suffering from any relevant disability or prospective disability within the meaning of Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1983.

In a case where an offender has been disqualified then unless he can satisfy the department's medical advisory branch—that is, after a reference—that he is no longer suffering from the disability, his licence is not returned at the end of the period of disqualification.

The problem arises out of the definition of the word "disability". Section 92 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is headed "Physical Fitness" and has the side note, Requirements as to physical fitness of drivers Subsection (2) states: 'disability' includes disease, 'relevant disability'… means (a) any prescribed disability that is prescribed by regulations made by the Minister, and, (b) any other disability likely to cause the driving of a vehicle by him in pursuance of a licence to be a source of danger to the public". Regulation 24 of the Driving Licence Regulations 1987 has described as disabilities, among other things, epilepsy, severe subnormality, mental deficiency, sudden attacks of disabling giddiness or faintness. I was not in any way surprised to learn in relation to the offences to which this Bill relates that drink and drugs play a major part. I do not suggest that those who suffer from alcoholism—that is, a dependency on alcohol—or those who suffer from a dependency on drugs are not suffering from a disability within the meaning of the section. But according to the medical evidence sent to me by His Honour Alfred Blennerhassett, the majority of offenders are not alcohol or drug dependants but merely resort from time to time to what is called mis-use or abuse of alcohol or drugs. Probation officers' reports frequently refer to the defendant as having a drink problem in the sense that although perfectly capable of withstanding the urge to drink, from time to time he will behave irresponsibly, over-imbibe, and then take someone else's car and drive in a highly dangerous way.

Mr. Blennerhassett has taken up this general problem with the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Transport in the hopes of persuading them, or one of them, to amend Section 92 but has failed in his endeavours. Among the many letters he has sent to me is one from the Minister for Roads and Traffic dated 31st July 1991 which I have drawn to the attention of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. It states inter alia: It remains the Department's view, and one which is supported by the Medical Advisory Panel on Driving Alcohol and Drugs, that alcohol misuse represents a relevant or prospective disability". With the greatest respect, that just cannot be right. Alcohol mis-use is an activity, not a disability. That it can lead to a disability when it results in alcoholism —that is, a dependency on alcohol—is not to be doubted.

Yesterday, when considering how to present my submissions to your Lordships, I happened to come across the case of the Queen and the Chichester Justices, ex parte Crouch, decided in February 1981, but only reported very briefly in the journal Justice of the Peace. I have, however, managed to get faxed to me from the Crown Office a photostat of the decision—the decision of the Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division presided over by Lord Justice Waller and Mr. Justice Kilner Brown—a copy of which I have given to the noble Earl. It concerned an application for judicial review of a decision made by the Chichester magistrates who made a reference to the Secretary of State under Section 92 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 which was in similar terms to Section 22 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to which I have already referred.

Mr. Crouch pleaded guilty to a drink-driving offence and as a result was fined and disqualified for 21 months. His solicitor, in the course of what I imagine he thought was likely to be a successful mitigation, said words to the effect that his client had a drink problem, or something of that sort. At the conclusion of the mitigation the justices' clerk said that the solicitor had impliedly indicated that his client was an alcoholic and that in the circumstances the justices should notify the Secretary of State. In his affidavit provided to the Divisional Court the chairman of the magistrates said: My colleagues and I took the view that because the applicant appeared to have a drink problem in the past and because he admitted driving a vehicle with a high concentration of alcohol in his blood, suggesting a significant 'tolerance' to alcohol, he may be suffering from alcoholism. The Clerk confirmed to us that suspected alcoholism is reportable to the Secretary of State as being a disease or disability under the Act. The Justices directed the Clerk to write to the Secretary of State". Having recited the relevant facts Lord Justice Waller giving the leading judgment with which Mr. Justice Kilner Brown agreed said: Nothing that I say should be taken to suggest that magistrates could not properly take account of something said in mitigation on behalf of the accused person. Clearly there might be an admission of a specific relevant disability but in this case all that was said by the solicitor acting for the applicant was that the applicant had a drink problem and this was a first conviction for an offence of this nature. In my judgment, that does not suggest at that stage either that he was suffering from a relevant disability or prospective disability". The Lord Justice referred to the Secretary of State's letter: It appears that during the course of the proceedings in Chichester Magistrates' Court on 29 September, it was disclosed by or on behalf of the defendant that he is an alcoholic". The judgment continues: It appears from the papers that is not so. A statement that he had a drink problem does not go far enough to suggest that the applicant is in fact an alcoholic, and, in my judgment there was not sufficient material in this case on which the magistrates could properly refer the matter to the Secretary of State". I very much doubt that either the Home Office or the Department of Transport is aware of that decision since in the guidelines issued to magistrates, seeking to encourage them to refer more cases, it is stated: A driver who has an alcohol or drug misuse problem may properly be regarded as suffering from a relevant or prospective disability within the meaning of Section 92. Guidelines cannot of course extend the meaning of words used in an Act of Parliament". The noble Earl most helpfully advised me that it would be going outside the scope of this Bill to make the appropriate amendment to Section 92 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. So be it, but that still leaves it within your Lordships' powers to make provision in the Bill that when a person is convicted of an offence under Section 12A of the Theft Act 1968—the very offence which this Bill is creating—then the relevant or prospective disability referred to in Section 92 shall be deemed to include the misuse of alcohol or drugs.

I thought it right that I should give notice of my intention to submit to your Lordships an appropriate amendment to be considered in Committee. Perhaps before that event occurs the Minister for Roads and Traffic might consider cutting the Gordian knot generally by making appropriate use of his powers to prescribe disabilities under Section 105 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

12.14 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, noble Lords will understand if I do not follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, in dealing with a particularly narrow point of the Bill. It was upsetting to me that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, should be so grudging in his acceptance of the principles of the Bill. His concluding remarks, in which he echoed the view of my noble friend the Minister that the Bill is in effect but a small weapon in the armoury against car crime, did little to undo the damage caused in his opening remarks. I should have thought that the noble Lord, speaking as he did from the Opposition Front Bench, might have given greater support to the forces of law and order in an area of crime which seems to be unique to the United Kingdom, has grown in proportion over recent years and needed immediate action—not headline action —on the part of the Government. At least one can say about the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that though it may have been lukewarm it certainly was not grudging. We should be grateful to him for that.

This is not a new crime. That there have been, sadly, deaths and injuries reported in recent months has merely highlighted the crime of taking away a motor car. It has merely highlighted the crime of reckless and dangerous driving. We have been through all of that with the North Report. It is regrettable that it took some five years for the recommendations of the North Report to be brought to Parliament in the form of law. It came in two parts. Many sections of the the Road Traffic Act 1991, with which we dealt at some length, have still to be brought into force.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, said that he would like to see legislation introduced to force motor manufacturers to make their vehicles more difficult to take away. That may be useful but I do not think that it is of any value in that it begs the main question. One has first to get into a motor car before one can take it away. That is not very difficult. We have all read reports. Some of us know how to get into a motor car fairly easily. If the motor vehicle is immobilised by an electronic or mechanical gadget—that is not difficult to devise—the frustration of the potential taker may cause him to do immense and irreparable damage. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, shakes his head. Although anecdotal evidence to the House is not necessarily good evidence I can tell him that I know what I have said to be true. I have spent enough years in the motor business and in the repair of motor cars which have been taken away or damaged by frustrated thieves —thieving is what it is — to know that what I have said is right.

Why is it that while motor cars built in this country are substantially the same as those built in Western European countries the offence to which this Bill directs itself is not apparent in those countries? It has little to do with motor cars. It is to do with attitudes towards them. The Bill has not attempted to deal with those attitudes; nor should it.

Motor manufacturers have done a great deal, but on reading reports I learn from the police authorities that 20 per cent.—that is one-fifth—of cars that are found in streets, in car parks, whether public or private, are left unlocked, with windows open, and many of them have the keys inside them. It reminds me very much of what my late father said to me about the encouragement of crime; that if you leave £5 on a desk you encourage someone whose level of temptation is low to take that money. In other words, you are a contributor towards the cause of a crime and the making of a criminal. I suggest that much of the problem devolves upon the owner of the property.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that perhaps the insurance companies may take a rather different view of the safety of property when they are considering premiums, as indeed they do in the event of a damage claim where seat belts have not been worn. But, again, I think that that is a different issue. We have before us a very small Bill designed to bolster that which Parliament agreed to do in the 1991 Act as a result of the North Report. I think that we should give it support. When the Bill becomes enacted I believe that the magistrates will have a responsibility to represent in sentencing the feelings not only of the public but also of Parliament. In my view it is fairly useless to impose a fine of £500 where there is no £500 to be found either from the defendant or indeed from his family.

As regards the family, there are cases, which have not been mentioned in your Lordships' House this morning, of men in the age bracket of 27 to 32 of previous good behaviour and good standing who are guilty of taking away motor cars and driving them for the sheer hell of it. Therefore, I do not say that it is entirely young people who are involved.

As I said, I welcome the Bill. However, I should much prefer to see those measures in the Road Traffic Act 1991 which have not been included brought in quickly. I have a case at the back of my mind which took place two years ago which concerns me, upon which I should like to see a successful prosecution. So far as I can see all the evidence in the case—and I am only a layman in such matters—was portrayed in the car, on the pavement and in the shop window into which the thief drove the motor car. However, so far as I can trace, no prosecution has yet taken place.

I should like to encourage my noble friend the Minister to pursue with diligence this little extra piece of legislation to deal with an unhappy and unwarrantable crime.

12.23 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, two weeks ago a young man who was a passenger in a stolen car being chased by police died when that car hit a tree close to my home in rural Buckinghamshire. The problem of young people who take cars and then cause damage, injury and even death with them is not a problem, sadly, confined to estates like Blackbird Leys, the Barton Estate in Oxford or to inner-city areas. Car crime of that sort has now become nationwide and increasingly is a curse in small country villages.

There is obviously mounting public concern and it is entirely appropriate for the Government to react and respond to it. But that reaction ought to be carefully considered first and the response that they make should be an effective one. To react hastily and inappropriately, in the way in which I fear that the Bill does, is to indulge in a mere public relations exercise, to lose an opportunity to tackle the problem in an effective way and, perhaps even more seriously for reasons which I shall outline to your Lordships if I may, to introduce an element of potential injustice into this area of the criminal law.

In 1988 the Government effectively sent out a message to young men tempted to take cars belonging to others that that offence was no longer to be regarded as a serious one. It became a summary offence triable only in the magistrates' court with a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment. The reason that that was done was purely and simply to save money in terms of legal aid and court time. They did not want cases of that nature taking up time in the Crown Courts when the outcome almost inevitably was a sentence which the magistrates could have imposed.

While I do not suggest that those setting out to take cars went off with copies of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 tucked into their back pockets, thereafter it became increasingly obvious to those young men that, on the rare occasions when their friends or acquaintances were caught taking cars, nothing much could happen to them. It is not purely coincidental that there has been an explosion in this type of crime since that date.

As my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris has already said, existing legislation provides more than adequate penalties for each of the aggravating factors which are incorporated in the Bill—not just in theory, but also in practice. Those who cause damage to cars, or are with them, can face heavy penalties under the existing criminal damage legislation, as they do under the existing regulations and legislation in connection with reckless and dangerous driving, causing death by those two actions and also, of course, manslaughter. The law is already in place to deal with those who commit such aggravated acts while taking cars.

I suggest that the appropriate response to what has happened since 1988 and to current public concern in terms of legislation would have been two-fold: first, to increase the maximum penalties for the basic offences of taking a vehicle without the owner's consent and allowing oneself to be carried in such a vehicle; that is, those very sentences which were reduced back in 1988; secondly, to consider carefully, not hastily, and then to produce appropriate legislation along the lines suggested by my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris which would require motor manufacturers to fit as standard effective security devices. It is no good simply talking to and requesting manufacturers to take those steps because, unless they see some economic benefit, they are not about to do so. Noble Lords may remember that the former Prime Minister did just that six years ago, receiving promises and assurances from the motor manufacturers which have, as yet, failed to be translated into proper action.

I should also like to see a government initiative on public car park security involving the police, local authorities, private car park firms and so on, together with the manufacturers and insurers, to ensure that car parks whether at stations, whether they are multi-storey car parks or whether they are park-and-ride areas—and it should be noted that most of those Blackbird Leys cars to which I referred come from the Oxford park-and-ride system—are fitted with adequate surveillance equipment and proper security. The cost involved must be justified when set against the cost to the criminal justice system and the insurance industry, let alone the cost in terms of injury and death.

The Bill before us goes beyond simply raising penalties with which, as I have already indicated, I have no quarrel. First, it extends criminal liability for the aggravating features of dangerous driving, damage or injury to anyone who is involved with the vehicle beforehand, even in the taking and even when that person plays no part in the aggravating features himself. That is a classic illustration of how hasty legislation is ineffective and, ultimately, bad law. The reasoning behind it, which the Minister has outlined, is clear, and the intention is commendable: to make the offender responsible for the consequences of his acts. But the result in practice is that the CPS will have to consider, before it launches any prosecution, whether there is at least a 50 per cent. chance of a successful prosecution. That, as I understand it, is how cases are approached.

If there is not such a chance of success, it is clearly a waste of public money to proceed. The CPS knows well, as do all those who practise in the criminal courts, that juries do not like convicting accused people where, in effect, vicarious liability is alleged. While juries will willingly convict the man who, they are sure, drove dangerously or caused the injury or the death, they will be reluctant in the extreme to convict of those aggravating features the man who originally stole the car but who played no part in the driving, the damage, the injury or the death which occurred subsequently.

In virtually all cases, in reality, no prosecution can be properly advised on that basis, and the provision will become ineffective, because if there is insufficient evidence to prove existing offences, there will not be sufficient to prove the new offence against those who are not directly responsible.

Further, a law which makes a defendant guilty of the aggravated offence, even though he does no more than commit the basic offence, and the event which makes the crime aggravated is outside his control, surely offends against commonsense and justice. It is, in effect, bad law.

If the Bill deceives the public into thinking that it enacts stronger measures when, in reality, they will rarely, if ever, be effective, it also contains a minefield of potential unfairness to those who are accused under its provisions. Those on the receiving end of this legislation are likely, in almost all cases, to be young. These offences are usually committed by two or more people acting together. By reversing the normal burden of proof so that the defendant has to prove that the aggravating features occurred before he was involved with the car or after he had left the scene, instead of requiring the Crown to prove he was present at the time, the Bill opens up an area fraught with potential for the miscarriage of justice.

In the environment in which these offences usually occur, young and easily intimidated witnesses, likely to be motivated by friendship, loyalties and often by fear, who may well be accomplices themselves, are likely to present a defendant, who should rightly be acquitted, with great difficulties in discharging that burden of proof. To reverse that burden runs counter to the traditional principles of English criminal law. Of course it has been done in other legislation, but in cases like these, with offences of this nature, almost exclusively the prerogative of the young—often juvenile offenders—I hope that the Government will feel on reflection that it would be wrong to impose such a provision.

The Bill as presently drafted, will, I am afraid, do little to meet public anxiety, and, sadly, nothing to tackle the deep-seated causes of this type of crime.

12.34 p.m.

Earl Nelson

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on bringing forward the Bill, which I consider to be reasonably powerful and certainly worth while. It will clear up some of the ambiguities of years ago where when offences allied to taking and driving away were charged all sorts of problems arose. While I welcome the increased penalties that the Bill imposes, it appears to me that a considerable emphasis is being placed on longer terms of imprisonment. That idea might be misplaced. Perhaps I may quote some rough figures: during 1990 in the Metropolitan Police district, for example, about three-quarters of the people charged with taking and driving away and with allowing themselves to be carried in stolen motor vehicles were under the age of 21. Such offenders are, for the most part, unlikely to be sentenced to terms of imprisonment, given the ramifications of the Children Act. It follows therefore that the deterrent effect of an increase in the length of sentence is likely to be limited.

There are one or two words in the Bill to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. The first word is "dangerously" in Clause 1(2)(a) on Page 1. As many of your Lordships will be aware, the word "dangerously" was removed from the offence of dangerous driving under the road traffic legislation because of the difficulty experienced in specifying what it meant. I wonder whether we shall fall into the same trap with this Bill. I am aware that "dangerously" is explained in subsection (7)(a) and (b) but I can only refer to the problem encountered under the road traffic legislation. Is the definition of "road" and "public place" in Clause 1(2)(a) the same as that in the Road Traffic Act 1988? I ask that because under that Act the words have a wider definition which may fit well into the Bill. I was delighted that a number of your Lordships mentioned vehicle projects, because I believe that they work. The police support them and I wonder whether we could introduce them on a statutory basis with proper funding, allied to probation or supervision orders. That is a point worth considering, for some offenders at least.

As I have said before, one of the major encouragements to commit this type of crime and some others, especially among the younger elements of our society, is the ease with which offenders obtain bail and then go on to commit more and more offences while on bail. If any of your Lordships like reading horror stories they should read the reports of the Northumbria police and the Avon and Somerset police. They are horror stories in their own right.

I welcome and support the Bill, but unless the scope for refusing bail is widened considerably, legislation, no matter how well conceived, will not, in itself, stem the rising tide of motor vehicle crime or indeed other —I use the word advisedly—"popular" crimes. When my noble friend replies, perhaps he will comment upon the subject of bail as well as the other matters that I have raised.

12.38 p.m.

Lord Cochrane of Cults

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his clear exposition of a Bill which is plainly necessary. I sat practically open-mouthed in front of the television set watching a Range Rover reverse into a shop in Newcastle: this was filmed by the security camera. I wondered whether the people who did that were ever caught. The crime we are discussing is serious. It has shown up weaknesses in public order and in the construction of buildings.

As we have heard from various speakers on both sides of the House, vehicle theft is far too common and is becoming more common. Figures approaching 500,000 offences per year known to the police are a serious matter. Much of that crime is motivated by the prospect of gain from stealing the vehicle, or objects within it, or from the using the vehicle, as in ramraiding, to assist in a major robbery.

Another aspect which worries people is much more difficult to understand: why should so-called joyriding be so much more prevalent in this country than it is reported to be in the rest of Europe and elsewhere? It is easy to see how it happens if there is a group of people with scant regard for the established order. They may have gone to an indifferent or even worse school, and their parents may also have done so. There is clearly a real possibility of gaining status within the peer group by acts of daring and defiance, no matter how reckless or stupid they may appear to others of more mature judgment.

I read in the papers recently that a remand centre had been wrecked by those sent to it because they wanted to get back to the dismal and dreadful Armley Gaol at Leeds. People got brownie points in street cred if they had been there, whereas they were reckoned to have had something of a holiday if they went to a newly established place. That clearly illustrates the dilemma and to some extent the pressure that exists within these groups. I find it hard to imagine that, should any noble Lords find themselves in a relatively commodious gaol, they would wish to exchange it for one of the more dire types merely to establish greater credibility among others. It defies reason, but there it is, it happens.

I agree with noble Lords who have said that—although no doubt eminent sociologists of every degree will dispute the fact—if we reduce the sentence the crime becomes more prevalent. Perhaps attention should be paid to that aspect of the matter. The problem needs to be attacked on a wider front than under this Bill and I am sure that my noble friend will be able to assure us that, apart from the present Bill, the other educational and social problems will be addressed with vigour—if necessary, by the expenditure of money.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, mentioned a point, which particularly interested me, about reducing the age limit for driving. I live in the country and have some mileage of private roads. I was therefore able to teach my two children to drive at what would have been a wholly illegal age had they ventured outside on to the public roads, however defined. I had special insurance. The car cost £20 and the children each contributed a fiver out of their accumulated savings. I believe I am right in saying that it was a useful move. That was about 20 or 25 years ago and they have both driven blamelessly since then. I hope that that will continue because early training in a good family environment contributed to that success. However, were this to be adopted on a wider scale I fear that the old Whitehall excuse that the public would not stand for it would be in the forefront of reasons for inactivity. Perhaps some middle way can be found. I merely mentioned my experience in one case with two sensible boys.

I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill and I wish it well. In conclusion, perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, whether he is satisfied that, as the Minister claims, the provision would not reverse the onus of proof in a damaging way.

12.43 p.m.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, I wish to raise a small point as an addendum to the speech of my noble friend Lord Meston about the Bill not being applicable in Scotland. The Minister told us that it applied to England and Wales and that Northern Ireland was considering it but it did not apply to Scotland. I believe that my noble friend said that he had not been able so far to discover what it was about the law of Scotland that made it unnecessary for the Bill to apply there. It may be that the Scottish people are more successful in controlling their car hooligans, if I may call them that, than we are in England.

What I believe to be true is that within England and Wales the car hooligans in the north of England are just as tiresome and numerous as in the rest of the country. I do not know whether the Minister will be sable to answer the point this afternoon, but it needs to be considered. It occurs to me that the following is what may happen. Car hooligans will steal a car in Newcastle or some other northern town. They will have discovered that in England and Wales the law is more severe on car hooligans than apparently in Scotland. They will have realised that the thing to do is to turn north and drive sensibly until they get to the border and then all hell can be let loose. They can drive the car to destruction, smash it about and do exactly what they like because the penalties in Scotland will not be so severe as those which will apply in England.

I do not know whether the Minister can answer the point now, but the Secretary of State for Scotland had better consider carefully whether to make the Bill applicable in Scotland.

12.46 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for most of what has been said on the Bill this afternoon and particularly to my noble friend Lord Cochrane of Cults for saying that he supported it and that he hoped that the Government would continue to deal with the other aspects of the whole social problem. I can give him the assurance that this is a matter which greatly worries us. The whole problem of vehicle taking and misbehaviour with vehicles as well as theft of and from vehicles is enormous and one to which the Government pay great attention.

I am bound to say that I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, quite astonishing. He said that it was a misdirected little Bill. If he will forgive me saying so, I thought his was a miserable little speech. My noble friend Lord Lucas said—and he was quite right—that he would have expected a speech of rather more substance and responsibility from one who occupies the position of authority which the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, does in his place on the Front Bench opposite. I can only say that if the views he expressed represent the attitude of his party towards law and order, then heaven help the government of the country if that party gets in. If it does not represent his party's view on law and order, then he may regret having made that speech.

The noble Lord said in a somewhat scathing way that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary attacks one problem after another, first dangerous dogs, then prison mutiny, then car crimes, as if there were something wrong about doing that. These are matters of huge public concern and it is the Home Secretary's quite proper right to do something about them. If the Government do nothing then everyone says that the Government are doing nothing, they are paying no attention at all. If they do do something then the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris—I wish he had chosen an easier title to say—claims that the Government should not have done it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, differed from the noble Lord, Lord Morris. She said that the Government were quite right to do something, but then turned round and said that they should have taken longer to think about it. That is an old chestnut: if you do nothing everyone says, "You're not doing anything"; if you do something then everyone says, "You shouldn't have done that, you were in too much of a hurry". I believe that there must be a balance.

When the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, said that the Bill was a knee-jerk Home Office reaction, I found that quite astonishing. He knows perfectly well that this matter has caused enormous concern throughout the country. I suggest to your Lordships that it is quite right that the Government should do something to try to make this offence, which is causing so much disquiet, one for which the offender is not necessarily more capable of being caught but when caught is capable of being dealt with.

The noble Lord minimised the importance of the Bill. He claimed that this aggravated offence of taking a vehicle was merely an inconvenience to the owner and resulted only in the temporary loss of a vehicle. I believe that is a totally unsympathetic view to take. The noble Lord was frankly frivolous in his ensuing remarks. He said that the majority of offences were carried out by children who were younger than the age when one is permitted to drive. He said that many of the offences were committed by children of 14 and 15 years of age. The noble Lord suggested we should lower the age at which one is permitted to hold a driving licence to the age of 14. He said that a licence should be issued only when an undertaking had been given that an immediate marriage was in prospect. Frankly if the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, treats this matter in that frivolous manner, he will not gain the sympathy of the country.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. The suggestion that the age at which one is permitted to hold a driving licence should be lowered came from a chief constable who is reported as having made that suggestion. That suggestion was reported in a debate in another place. It was not a frivolous remark.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord cannot try to pass off his own remarks by claiming that someone else has made them. The noble Lord makes his own speech and he is responsible for his own remarks and for any innuendo his remarks imply. However, the noble Lord made a number of points in his speech. He said that the majority of those who take vehicles without consent are juveniles. Home Office figures show that 95 per cent. of those who are convicted of the basic offence of taking a vehicle without consent are 15 years of age or over, while half of such offenders are 18 years old or over. Therefore they will be liable for the new increased penalties.

The noble Lord also questioned the objective of imposing an endorsement and penalty points on someone who has no licence. I believe he claimed that boys were not interested in licences and there was no point in attempting to remove licences when they did not have them anyway. The noble Lord also questioned the objective of fining such offenders as he said they had no money anyway. The Government have said that parents should be responsible for their children and the noble Lord said that the parents probably would have no money either. According to the noble Lord, one might as well do nothing about this problem.

Endorsements and penalty points will be recorded by the DVLA in Swansea and placed on any licence which an offender may subsequently apply for until four years after the expiry of the endorsement and the penalty points. Driving in defiance of a ban is a further offence. I should remind the noble Lord that the courts are free to impose a period of disqualification of any length. That can extend way beyond the offender's seventeenth birthday, which means he cannot then acquire a licence on that birthday. It is of course for the courts to decide how long such a ban should last.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, said little progress had been made by manufacturers on this matter. I do not agree. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has had meetings with manufacturers which have proved fruitful. I accept that more needs to be done, but nevertheless progress has been made. Central locking is now fitted as standard on 74 per cent. of vehicle models. Alarms are standard or are available at the point of sale for 95 per cent. of new models. Immobilisers are fitted as standard or are available at the point of sale for 60 per cent. of United Kingdom produced models and 42 per cent. of imported models. That progress is encouraging.

The noble Lord said the Government were doing little to combat car crime. However, I suggest that many strands are being pursued. We are encouraging manufacturers in this matter and they are responding in the ways I have described. We are also encouraging the insurance industry for the first time to take security features fitted by manufacturers into account. We are taking the lead to improve the European Community directive on vehicle security. This year has been designated car crime prevention year and the Home Office is spending £5 million on advertising and promotion in a campaign to mobilise the public to take measures against car crime and to emphasise the need for security. Major contributions are expected from manufacturers, insurers, car park operators and retailers. Therefore a great deal is being done in this area.

I now turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Meston. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lucas when he said that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, was a little more encouraging towards the Bill. We must be grateful for small mercies. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, was concerned about motor projects. The Home Office is providing nearly £200,000 for motor projects in the current financial year, including over £150,000 through the young adult offenders grant scheme. That scheme supports voluntary organisations that offer supervision, in partnership with the probation service, to a wide range of offenders. Its funds are set to increase by £1 million during the next financial year. The noble Lord then addressed a tricky problem where he was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. For some reason the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, seems to have disappeared into vapour. He referred to a problem as regards Scotland. The law in Scotland is different and I am no expert on it. I hope the noble Lord will understand that.

Joyriders are normally charged under Section 178 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. My following point would have surprised the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, had he been sitting in his seat in the Chamber. However, as he is not sitting in his seat, he will not be surprised. The offence of joyriding under the terms of that Act carries a maximum penalty of 12 and not six months' imprisonment. That does not apply to England and Wales. In serious cases joyriders can also be charged under Scottish common law with theft and other common law offences such as malicious mischief for which there is no maximum penalty.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, made an important, and as always, penetrating contribution. I am sorry to think that the normal Friday activities of the noble and learned Lord—whatever they may be in his exalted profession—have been disturbed. However, as his attendance today is an inconvenience to him, I hope I may assure him that that inconvenience is shared by others including myself. As the noble and learned Lord has suffered such inconvenience, I hope he will prolong it and join in the discussions on the Sunday trading Bill later this afternoon. He might as well be hung for a sheep as a goat, as it were. However, that is not a good simile as the noble and learned Lord is of course neither. However, he has spent a considerable period in the House today and I hope we shall see him a little later this afternoon and that he will be able to give us the advantage of his knowledge.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I can assure the noble Earl that I have always enjoyed playing truant. When I get the opportunity to do so, I usually take it. This has been such an enjoyable opportunity.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the speech of the noble and learned Lord was also enjoyable. He referred to the problem of His Honour Judge Blennerhassett. The noble and learned Lord was concerned that we should take this opportunity to amend Section 92 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 in order to make it clear that a relevant disability which should be notified to the Secretary of State includes alcohol dependency or alcohol abuse. Whatever the merits of the suggestion —I appreciate that the noble and learned Lord spoke to me about this and has given me time to think about it—I believe this modest Bill which simply inserts a new offence into the Theft Act 1968 and makes a few consequential amendments to other legislation is not the right place to make a change which would affect the whole range of road traffic offences. As I explained to the noble and learned Lord, I shall be glad to consider his remarks and I shall draw them to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport to discover what his views are.

I was also grateful to the noble and learned Lord for drawing my attention to the judgment in the case involving William Charles Crouch. I shall undertake to draw that case to the attention of my right honourable friend. I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, considered that the Government were right to introduce this Bill. She was concerned about mandatory car crime security. Of course we cannot legislate unilaterally to impose stricter requirements than those which are laid down in the existing European Community directive on vehicle security. To do so would create a barrier to trade with other European Community member states. We are therefore pressing to have the voluntary British Standard on vehicle security adopted as a compulsory European directive.

I do not accept that the Bill's aggravated offence is without precedent or is bad law. The noble Baroness was worried that it reversed the burden of proof. I do not think that it does. It says that the offence, when it is created, is a whole offence in which all those who are involved are equally to blame. That is not a reversal of proof. It is up to the defendants to show that they were not involved and it is up to the prosecution to show that is what happened. That is a normal pattern of law, as I need not remind the noble Baroness, who is far more familiar with legal matters than I ever shall be. It is not unprecedented to hold somebody liable for the acts of others when they arise from joint criminal enterprises. For example, if a gang of robbers goes out to rob and someone is killed in the process, all those involved may be guilty of manslaughter, not just the one who pulled the trigger.

A case of vehicle taking which results in death, injury or damage is objectively worse than one which does not and it is right that the law should distinguish between the two cases to make stiffer maximum penalties available for the more serious offence. I do not believe that that would make innocent people liable to punishment for what is not their fault. By committing the basic offence they incur moral responsibility for what happens. If people want to be sure that they will not pay the legal penalty for the aggravated offence they should make sure that they do not commit the basic offence. That is a matter which is entirely within their control. The fact that an offender can be held criminally liable for unintended consequences of his actions is a well-established legal principle, as I am sure the noble Baroness will agree.

I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for his support for the Bill. He asked when the new offences in the Road Traffic Act would be implemented. The Government are gradually implementing the provisions of the 1991 Act and will bring the offence provisions into effect as soon as is practicable. However, as yet the date has not been decided.

My noble friend Lord Nelson suggested that the word "dangerous" was unclear and pointed out that it had been removed from the Road Traffic Act. I believe that my noble friend is incorrect on that point. "Dangerously" is defined in the Bill and is designed to avoid the pitfalls of the term "reckless driving" in the Road Traffic Act 1988. That is why last Session's Road Traffic Act created a new offence of dangerous driving. "Dangerous" is defined objectively and does not depend upon proving a driver's state of mind as recklessness does.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and said that she thought that it was wrong to have reduced the penalties in that Act. We reduced the penalties for taking a vehicle without consent to reflect the practice in the courts. I doubt whether any young criminal was aware of the change. We have not returned to the old penalty simply because it was not effective in practice.

My noble friend Lord Nelson was anxious about what happened to joyriders who are on bail. Government policies are already directed towards reducing the likelihood that people on bail will commit crimes. That is achieved through bail information schemes which allow magistrates better to identify defendants who can be released on bail and by increasing the provision of places in bail hostels where people on bail can be monitored to minimise the risk of further offending without the need to remand to prison. The Home Office has a programme to provide 1,200 additional bail places at approved hostels by 1994; 500 of those have already been delivered and 600 to 700 places are already occupied by defendants who were on bail before the programme began.

I should like to conclude by making a point which was made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place. It is a simple one. The law has to be judged by its results. There is general agreement that the criminal law is not dealing adequately with those who take other people's cars and who thereby cause damage, injury or even death. When I opened the debate I explained what those problems are and how the Bill will remedy them. It is designed to fill an unacceptable gap in the law. There are those, including some in this House, who say that it is inadequate, that it does not do all that it should and it has not been properly thought out. Everyone is entitled to their views, but in my judgment it would be wrong if the Government had seen this kind of malpractice occurring—a malpractice which creates fear, creates damage and sometimes even causes death —and had done nothing about it. I suggest that this is a modest Bill and I commend it to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.