Gerry Steinberg MPIn the House...

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Home Office: Reducing Vehicle Crime (HC 332-i)

Public Accounts Committee 9 Feb 2005

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Evidence given by Mr Leigh Lewis CB, Permanent Secretary for Crime Policing, Counter Terrorism and Delivery, Home Office, and Mr Clive Bennett, Chief Executive, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

Q51 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): How important is it to ensure that motor car manufacturers are committed to ensuring that cars are very difficult to steal? Reading the report, it seems that they did not regard this as a very important issue. They did not seem to be interested in improving security on cars as far as they have gone at the present time.

Mr Lewis: We have seen a sea change in the industry. I was pleased to read in the report that the Home Office has played a very instrumental role in encouraging manufacturers to take the issue of vehicle security more seriously. I think, to parody it slightly, manufacturers believed that what sold cars was their looks, performance and so on. It has become clearer and clearer that people are much more concerned now about security and manufacturers have moved to respond to that in quite significant ways.

Q52 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): With great respect, I think that is irrelevant. It may be that people buy cars because they are flashy or have a good record for not rusting or whatever, but the taxpayer has to pay a considerable amount of money and we all pay high insurance simply because cars get stolen. Should not the manufacturers, whether it is a good selling point or not, be forced to ensure that cars are secure? They say that they cannot go any further with the technology but that seems to be a load of rubbish.

Mr Lewis: The fitting of electronic immobilisers is required by EU law. That has been there since 1998. Secondly, the statistics here are very interesting because significantly older cars are stolen much more frequently than newer cars. That is not particularly because newer cars have better security. Older cars tend to be parked on the road often in areas which have experience of high crime levels but nevertheless it is undoubtedly the case that newer cars have much better security built into them than older cars.

Q53 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): What the manufacturers seem to be saying is that they do not particularly want to go any further. They have reached the point where they believe they have done enough. I do not think they have done enough. The technology has moved on. We can put a man on the moon but we cannot secure a car. That seems crazy to me.

Mr Lewis: The Home Office does not share the view that we have reached some kind of limit in the ability of manufacturers to make their cars more secure. I do not think we will ever reach that limit because technology will go on improving. I see our responsibility as working with the industry to encourage and promote them to do more in this respect.

Q54 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): There is one behind me, there is one in my pocket and I suspect there is one in virtually everybody's pocket in the room: mobile phones. Nowadays they take perfect photographs. They are presumably very cheap to produce in terms of the photographs they take and how they take them. Why do manufacturers, for example, not put a camera in every car that would take photographs? I suspect it would cost no more than 100 quid or something in the case of a £15,000 or £20,000 car. Why are these sorts of things not encouraged by the Home Office, or are they?

Mr Lewis: They certainly are. To give you one example of an area where we are encouraging strongly the industry to go further, without going into all the technicalities, something called Thatcham Category 5 is a technology which does now exist, in a situation where a car has been stolen and is reported stolen, allowing the engine to be automatically immobilised once it has stopped. Therefore, if after a period you try and restart it it will not start. We are working with the manufacturers and the insurance industry to encourage the use of that technology.

Q55 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): When I bought my last car, they were trying to persuade me to buy a navigation unit or something. I know the way to the office from my house. It is about three miles and I did not really need one because that is as far as I travel. Presumably you could have some sort of device in the car that would project up to the thing that is going round?

Mr Lewis: I do not believe we can possibly have reached some kind of limit to what is possible to build into a car.

Q56 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Can you force them to do this?

Mr Lewis: No. Government and Parliament can always decide to take powers but at this moment we operate on a voluntary basis with the industry. Our relationships with the industry, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the insurers, are very good. You will have seen reference in the report to the vehicle crime reduction action team on which they sit and which the report commends for the way we have approached this in a joined up way.

Q57 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): If it had not been for the EU, immobilisers would not have been brought in. By legislation, manufacturers were forced to put immobilisers in the cars and that has decreased the number of cars being stolen. Legislation has worked.

Mr Lewis: I agree. There is always a place for considering whether you have reached a point where legislation ----

Q58 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): There is nothing worse than coming out of your house or going to a car park and you look for your car and it is not there. It is the worst feeling in the world. It is worse than losing the wife. I would much rather know that my car was there when I get up in the morning than my wife.

Mr Lewis: I am certainly not going down that route. My son had his car stolen recently and he was devastated, so I absolutely understand.

Q59 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): The motor manufacturers will not do it voluntarily, will they? They have to be forced.

Mr Lewis: Although I agree with a great deal of what you have said, I think that is unfair. Manufacturers have come a very long way in regarding car security as an important feature. You can tell that by the fact that it appears now in many manufacturers' advertisements. You cannot pick up a new car brochure without it talking about the security and safety features built into that car. Where I agree with you is I do not believe we have reached a limit where we can suddenly say that that bit is done.

Q60 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): The police have a very difficult job but they do not seem to take car crime all that seriously. I have had my car broken into twice in a month. Never park your car in Sunderland. When you see it broken into, you wish the death penalty had been re-introduced. The police never came back to me. I never knew what had happened. If you look at the figures for detection rates, only 6% of thefts from cars are ever found out and only 13% of stolen cars are ever found. It does not seem to me as though the police are all that interested.

Mr Lewis: I do not think that is entirely fair, although I absolutely agree that those detection rates are too low. Our energy and efforts over recent years very successfully have gone to reduce the overall number of vehicle crimes. In that, we have been very successful. It does not mean we cannot go a lot further and the police have been very much involved in that. I do not think we have applied the same determination throughout that period to increasing the detection rate where car crimes nevertheless still take place and we have to do better.

Q61 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Mr Trickett touched on figure 15, page 27, and he was getting rather cross about the fact that where he comes from they have a very poor record. That was about the crimes that are solved but he also went on about figure 15 and the number of police hours it takes. What struck me about this graph was that they have automatic number plate recognition and they are all using the same equipment. Why is there such a huge variation in the pilot schemes? Why, for example, is Nottinghamshire way up in the nine plus area and the City of London is down to under one? You would have thought with that sort of system there would be even results.

Mr Lewis: I do not think honestly I can do better here than repeat the answers I gave to Mr Trickett and other colleagues. These disparities are not justifiable. They are too large. What I do want to stress again is that this is very, very new technology. Lest you think we are just sitting here, looking at these figures and saying, "That is jolly interesting", our police standards unit which is the chosen instrument within the Home Office of arriving at best practice is very much focused on this issue and has a dedicated team of people doing it.

Chairman: I can assure Gerry Steinberg that nothing has changed. I remember sitting in the Home Office when I was PPSF 15 years ago seeing the then Home Secretary tearing his hair out because the motor manufacturers were not doing anything to improve vehicle security. I bet the same briefing notes are going to the Home Secretary now: "Yes, Minister, it is all terribly difficult" as we had 15 years ago.


Chairman: Thank you Mr Jenkins. Alan Williams?

Mr Williams: First of all, can I say as everyone else has that it is a very good report and I am sure you are very pleased with it. If there are any questions that need to be asked they will be asked of Mr Steinberg when he goes home at the weekend.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): She dare not because she bumped the car on Sunday night!


Q101 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): As far as Mr Williams' questions is concerned about vandalism I think these ASBOs do not go far enough. We should bring back cutting hands off if people are caught vandalising cars. That would stop it. I was really dismayed when I read part of the report on page 30 regarding car park operators, seriously, particularly if you read paragraph 5.6 in the second column, this was very disappointing. It seems to me that the car park operators are very keen to take your money off you in a sort of contract where you can park your car and they charge you so much and it is quite expensive to park, but take no responsibility at all for anything that goes wrong in the car park. I think that is totally wrong. I can accept that in a car park that is on an open piece of land it would be very difficult but not in a car park which is purpose-built and you feel should be secure. Incidentally, I just find that paragraph ridiculous where they say that the car park operators were reluctant to participate in the scheme because operators did not think customers would regard security as very important. I think that is crackers. That is the most important as far as I am concerned. When are we going to get to a situation where these operators who take a lot of money and who must make a fortune out of car parking are held responsible for anything that goes wrong in their car park? They should be forced, as in any other contract, and if they cannot guarantee the security of your car when you are paying good money for parking in there, then they should be held responsible? Why do we not make them responsible?

Mr Lewis: I do not think I can do better on this occasion than quote what my Minister Hazel Blears said in April 2004 when she launched the new car park scheme. She said this: "I hope industry will respond positively to the new scheme and make real progress in making car parks safer. The Government has a strong preference for partnership working to make this happen, but our prime responsibility must be to the public and to make towns and cities safer for them, so if we do not see real progress within a year we will have to look at all options which encourage the industry to deliver the improvements in safety that we all want. This includes the possibility of legislation if we were satisfied that the crime reduction benefits outweighed the costs of the legal route."

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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