HL Deb 22 July 1993 vol 548 cc791-4

3.17 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will encourage the development and use of new technology enabling stolen cars to be traced quickly.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we welcome new technology which enables the rapid detection of stolen cars, and we will encourage its development and use in the fight against vehicle crime. A system for the rapid detection of stolen cars has recently been introduced, with the involvement of all mainland United Kingdom police forces.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his encouraging reply. If recent press reports are correct, an effective deterrent against car thieves is in sight.

Will all necessary help be given to the police and the public—such as the allocation of radio frequencies—in order to reduce car crime which, unfortunately, is regarded in some quarters merely as a deviant adolescent pastime?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the Government will welcome any reduction in car crime, in particular arising out of that system. The rapid location of a stolen car equipped with such a device would make the apprehension of the culprit more likely arid would reduce the likelihood of the car being sold on. About one-quarter of all stolen cars are never recovered.

The Earl of Kimberley

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a friend of mine had his Range Rover stolen the other day between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock in the morning? He then went to the Chelsea police station where the police said: "Yours is the fourth we have had stolen this week". lie said, "What are you going to do about it?" and they replied: "It will not be in the country for long; it will now be halfway to Dover and will then be put on a ship. There's nothing we can do about it". Is it not a strange state of affairs that someone can just load a car onto a ship without having a ticket?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the Government have a strategy for preventing car crime. The main elements. of that strategy are: to reduce the opportunity by encouraging motor manufacturers to improve the security of their products; to increase public awareness of the costs of car crime and how to reduce the risk; to press the insurance industry to encourage manufacturers and the public to adopt appropriate security measures; and to provide the police with the resources that they need to tackle this and other areas of crime. The Government are also giving the courts the powers they need, such as the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act which your Lordships passed in 1992, and are encouraging local probation services, voluntary groups and others to work effectively to counter motor offending.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, what progress has been made in encouraging manufacturers to fit visible tamper-proof pin vehicle identification numbers, which has been highly successful in the United States and which the police desperately want?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble kinsman makes an important point. It is up to manufacturers to decide what they want to fit. The insurance industry has now established its own criteria on car security for identifying equipment and systems which might meet acceptable standards. We hope that that will give the insurance companies confidence to consider how to offer discounts on premiums on a much wider basis than is offered at the moment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it may be the case that in the longer term there will be savings to police operations from the introduction of new technology. However, are there not resource implications in the short term? Can the Minister tell the House what extra help is being given to police forces and police authorities to cover the capital costs and the immediate revenue costs of introducing new technology on 16th August?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, there is no cost to the police. The receiving equipment which is being installed in police cars is installed free of charge by the company. I understand that the cost is about £160 to the motorist, with an annual subscription of about £60. I think that it is too early to judge how effective that may be. We hope that it will be effective and anything that helps to cut down the amount of car crime would be helpful.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, without in any way trying to diminish the importance or the seriousness of car crime, does the Minister agree that a great deal of it is attributable to young people? Whatever the motivation, the action is not entirely criminal. A great deal of excellent work is being done by local voluntary efforts, particularly involving the police. Courses are run instructing and helping young people to have a responsible understanding of cars, with which some have an absolute obsession. They are taught to drive and mend them, and that is having a noticeable effect on reducing car crime among youngsters.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. The work that is being done is valuable in many circumstances. The Government have already taken swift action against the so-called joy rider through the Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act which takes a deservedly tough approach to the serious menace of car-taking. We have also announced our intention to increase the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving to 10 years. We have tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill currently being examined by Parliament to give effect to that.

Lord Monteagle of Brandon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is a simple and inexpensive gadget that can be fitted to a car in a place known only to the owner which makes it impossible for the car to start? Does he agree that if car manufacturers could he encouraged to fit such gadgets to all cars, it would make it much more difficult for the cars to be stolen in the first place?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble friend makes a useful suggestion which car manufacturers will, of course, consider. I imagine that it will work, provided that the owner of the car remembers where the gadget is.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, has my noble friend taken into account the experience in the United States where, in the city of Boston in particular, there has been a great reduction because of a concealed radio device? The police have been able to trace the car within a matter of minutes. If an advance could be made in that direction, it would greatly help everyone's insurance premiums.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we welcome any technical developments in the field that will help to trace stolen cars. I understand that the AA claim that in the United States the system to which the noble Lord refers has a successful record. It remains to be seen whether it can have a successful record in this country.

Lord Montague of Beaulieu

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be a good idea to have consultations with the motor industry and manufacturers as soon as possible to set a date by which all cars will have an effective tracing device?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I think that it is up to car manufacturers themselves to discuss with the insurance industry what they believe would be an appropriate system to fit in cars.