HL Deb 10 June 1996 vol 572 cc1486-9

2.51 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether there has been an increase or decrease in the last three years in the United Kingdom in the crime of stealing motor cars or breaking into cars in order to steal their contents.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, in 1995, 225,700 fewer offences of vehicle crime were recorded by police forces in England and Wales than in 1992. This represents a fall of 15 per cent.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, although her reply appears to apply only to England and Wales and my Question related to the United Kingdom.

While better anti-theft designs and devices no doubt have some effect, does my noble friend agree that they are not proof against car windows being smashed usually in order to steal radios and cassettes? Can more be done to deter young offenders, especially those who regard this kind of stealing as a pastime rather than a crime?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I apologise for not including Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland there has been a fall of 21 per cent. in car thefts and a fall of 26 per cent. in thefts from cars. In Northern Ireland there has been a rise of 6 per cent. in car thefts but theft from cars has fallen by 9 per cent. Overall, in the United Kingdom there has been a reduction.

My noble friend makes an important point. A great deal of car crime is opportunist. There is much we can do for ourselves. For example, not leaving goods in cars and not leaving our cars unlocked would be a start. So far as concerns young people a great deal is being done. A great deal of promotional awareness is taking place. We have to toughen up in dealing with car criminals of whatever age. When they come on probation service programmes a good deal of work is done to rehabilitate them from stealing and messing about with cars.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, is any work going on in the Minister's department to show whether there is any correlation between the fall in crime and the fall in unemployment? One would expect to find some relationship. It would be interesting to know whether or not that work had been undertaken.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I cannot give a scientific answer because I am not aware of the specific research. But I belong to that group of people who do not believe that being unemployed is an excuse for committing any kind of crime, even car crime. We must emphasise to young people in particular that committing crime of any kind is wrong and will not be tolerated.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Baroness has just given a most extraordinary reply. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, did not say that to be unemployed was an excuse for committing crime. She just pointed out the fact that in particular in relation to opportunistic crimes—which it is agreed car thefts and theft from cars frequently are—there is likely to be a larger number of offenders who are available because they are unemployed. Does the Minister agree that that is not a slur on the unemployed but simply a recognition of sociological fact?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the question I was asked was whether or not there was a correlation between the two. I said at the outset that I did not have a scientific answer. I also said—I make no apology for saying it and will go on saying it—I did not believe that to be unemployed should ever be regarded as an excuse for committing crime.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there may be a correlation between the fall in offences and the work of her right honourable friend the Home Secretary in persuading courts to impose tougher penalties on criminals?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend. I do not believe that we should let this moment go without recording our thanks to the police in this respect. They are doing a great deal to increase awareness of the risks of crime and the steps that can be taken by the police themselves, motorists, vehicle manufacturers and the insurance industry.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the way in which the figures are collected does not prove anything? There are more crimes committed that are not recorded.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not know of many people who have their cars stolen and do not report it. All the evidence indicates that there is a very high recording of the crime of car theft. The noble Lord has a point in regard to theft from vehicles. Not everybody reports a theft from a vehicle, and more work can be done in that regard.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her additional information about Scotland and Northern Ireland, to complete the picture. Is the estimate which appeared in a newspaper yesterday that about 10,000 cars are stolen each week in the United Kingdom correct? Would not the purchasers of used cars be less likely to be swindled if their recirculation were reduced because of the improvement reported by my noble friend?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, a very large number of cars are stolen every week. About 60 per cent. of those thefts result from opportunist crime and the remainder, rather depressingly, result from rather more organised and sophisticated crime. One must continue to improve awareness and to make sure that criminals are dealt with more effectively. We have to do what we can to make people more responsible. A great deal is being done in that respect by way of the production of leaflets, the provision of information and the bringing together of some interesting organisations. I refer to motor manufacturers, traders, the vehicle rental and leasing sectors, the consumer and motoring organisations, the insurance industry, the police and vehicle security organisations. All of those organisations come together in a consortium to advise the Home Secretary on ways and means of reducing criminal activity.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that total crime, not violent crime, had begun to drop before the present Home Secretary began the disastrous regime which has recently been denounced by five former Conservative Home Office Ministers?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not believe that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary would claim personal credit for the fall in crime. However, the fall in crime happily coincides with his term of office. I believe that the Home Secretary takes very seriously the prevention of crime and dealing in a more effective way with criminals. He has placed at the front of his policy-making the protection of the community.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that I also agree that unemployment is not an excuse for crime? I was not in the least raising that issue. I was reflecting on the fact that the Home Office had a good research unit and was asking what research was taking place into the relationship between unemployment and crime. It involved no feeling one way or the other. I have not had an answer as to whether or not research is going on.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I appreciate the seriousness of the point that the noble Baroness makes. The personal comments I made were no reflection on the noble Baroness. I am not able to give a sufficient answer because I am not aware of any scientific research that has been done in that respect. However, I believe that the more we go on looking for a correlation between unemployment and crime will we continue to create the perception that somehow or other, because people are unemployed, they have a licence to commit crime or it is easier to commit crime. We do not subscribe to that view.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, what is the clear-up rate in terms of theft of motor cars and property from motor cars? That seems relevant in the light of the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it is not as good as it should be, and more work is being done on that. I believe that it is about 15 per cent. It is different from the theft of cars where the figure is rather lower. The police are targeting more and more on reducing crime and doing more and more with the community to ensure that young people do not get into crime in the first place.