Motor Car Thefts (Hansard, 3 December 1990)
HL Deb 03 December 1990 vol 524 cc3-5

2.42 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proposals they have to counter the number of attacks on motor cars by thieves.

Lord Reay

My Lords, a number of measures are being taken to encourage manufacturers, buyers and owners of cars to give a higher priority to car security. Those include encouraging the public through crime prevention publicity campaigns to take sensible steps to protect their cars and to take security into account when buying a new car, the production of a Home Office car theft index to show which makes and models of cars are most likely to be stolen and action by the Department of Transport to seek agreement in Europe to improve standards on car door locks.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Does he agree that such special measures and guidance are now needed in order to thwart the thugs to whom it is becoming a way of life not only to force car locks at night but also to smash side windows, grab and run? That happened recently not far from this House to a car belonging to me in full view of pedestrians and traffic.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we should like to see something done. That is why we have taken the initiatives that I outlined. I am sorry to hear of his experience. The best advice that I can give generally is to confirm that the greatest discouragement that one can give to thieves is not to leave visible in a car anything which they might wish to steal.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that 25 per cent. of all offences committed in this country are of or from cars? What steps do the relevant departments propose to take to try to ensure that manufacturers make cars which are not so easy to break into and drive away? Many people recognise that such action may have to be taken on the basis of our membership of the European Community. Nevertheless, is he aware that we hope that we shall have some urgent action on this matter and not allow the current unsatisfactory situation to continue?

Lord Reay

My Lords, we believe that motor manufacturers should take steps to improve the quality of certain security devices such as car door locks. They should introduce central locking, deadlocking or double locking on high volume cars and fit security coded radio cassette players and car alarms as standard features. We believe also that manufacturers can help to promote security features by means of car advertisements.

Lord Richard

My Lords, is the Minister aware that so far his answers just will not do in view of the scope and size of the problem? Is he further aware that last year thefts of motor cars went up by 16 per cent? In the past year recorded thefts from motor vehicles reached the astronomical figure of 613,200. Does he agree that many members of the general public now feel that there are not enough police on the beat and that they are not visible enough at the right times? It is not enough for the Government to adopt an almost hands-off policy in this respect. What plans do the Government have to increase the numbers of police officers patrolling the streets in order to prevent increases of such magnitude?

Lord Reay

My Lords, there has been a very substantial increase in the number of police officers since this Government came to power. Since 1979 there has been an increase of 15,000. It is not at all correct to say that we do not believe in doing anything. My original reply made quite plain that the Government are taking a number of initiatives in this area.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, the noble Lord talks about initiatives. Does he agree that we have heard many statements from Ministers in the past few years on this precise matter, all indicating that the Government are involved in initiatives? When is it likely that there will be some clear progress made on these issues, which take up a massive amount of police time and cause great disquiet among many members of the public?

Lord Reay

My Lords, the car theft index is to be published to coincide with Crime Prevention Week next April. So far as concerns what manufacturers might do, the Home Office is currently considering a report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders on the progress that has been made.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is not solely the responsibility of the police to protect the property of citizens of this country? Is he further aware that when a burglar alarm is fitted a noise is made when the car is tampered with? Does he agree that it is not impossible for the public to telephone the police when such things happen? I have set off my own burglar alarm by mistake and absolutely nothing further happened.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we cannot expect the police to do everything. Car owners themselves can take a number of measures. They can park their cars safely and lock the car doors and windows. A very high number of cars —I believe something like one in five—are parked unlocked. As I said at the beginning, owners can take care to remove valuables from their cars or place them in the car boot.

Lord Richard

My Lords, does the Minister consider that the index of which he spoke will reassure the general public, 613,200 of whom had their motor vehicles thieved from them in the course of last year? Will he undertake to look hard at the lack of visible police on the beat? That will reassure the public, and I wish that the Government would accept that.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I suggest that the noble Lord waits for the publication of the car theft index, when we can judge the value that it may have. We understand that it will show the makes and models of cars which are most likely to be the subject of crime. It will demonstrate those cars which are attractive to thieves and will be a help to manufacturers as well as to people when they decide to buy a car.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is estimated that insurance claims arising from this kind of crime have now reached a figure of £400 million a year and that premiums are bound to rise?

Lord Reay

My Lords, yes, I am sure that there will be a tendency for premiums to rise as a result of any increase in crime.

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