Power of Police Authority to Retain Unclaimed Property

Part of Orders of the Day — Police (Property) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 7 February 1997.

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Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Minister of State (Home Office) 12:33, 7 February 1997

I cannot give my hon. Friend an exact inventory of the amount of property that the police have around the country, but it can be considerable. Tracing owners of lost property and getting better property marking systems on to computer are priorities for police forces around the country. I consider it a tragedy—as do the police—that after excellent raids such as Bumblebee, the police can fill warehouses with stolen silver and property which is almost impossible to return because it is not properly marked with a post code. There are warehouses full of JCBs, crawlers and other plant which are impossible to return because plant has no unique vehicle identification numbering system. A Home Office Committee, which I started a year ago, has met plant operators and others to try to draw up security schemes for plant similar to those used by the motor industry Vauxhall led the way in this area, with better and safer locks. If we are not to have more warehouses full of unreturned property, it is absolutely vital that all those in the plant and machinery industries take their responsibilities seriously, as car manufacturers have done.

The short answer to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) is that, if police must retain current amounts of property for 18 instead of 12 months, there will, of course, be a 50 per cent. increase on space requirements. I have better uses for police stations than to fill them with property—which I should like to be returned to owners or disposed of as soon as possible.

Amendment No. 6 proposes an 18-month period, which is inconsistent with the 12-month period specified in section 2(3) of the 1897 Act. I have explained to my hon. Friends why I think that the period should be 12 months and why the Bill is correct. Therefore, I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford, the Bill's promoter, not to accept the amendment, and I urge the Committee to reject it.