It shall be an offence for any person
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I thought for a moment that I was about to be airbrushed out of the debate, cut off in my prime—and what a prime to be cut off in!
New clause 2 deals with the problem of identification of motor vehicles. Specifically, it proposes that it should be an offence for any person
to be in possession of a motor vehicle or motorcycle which does not show a valid identifying mark",
to deface, remove or otherwise alter or attempt to alter a valid vehicle identifying mark".
A key issue throughout the Bill's perambulations has been the traceability of stolen vehicles. Concern about that has been shared by members of all parties. In Committee, we had a number of detailed debates about how the Bill would help to strengthen the audit trail of vehicles and their parts, especially in the case of vehicles that were stolen and broken up so that their spare parts could be sold illegally. The new clause is intended to strengthen that audit trail by improving identification of vehicles: the onus would be placed on the purchaser of a vehicle to ensure that it bore an appropriate identification mark.
The new clause is particularly relevant to motor cycles. I am sure that Ministers will be familiar with—indeed, will have read avidly—a 1998 Home Office publication entitled "Nought to Nowhere in five Seconds—a guide to motorcycle security". It is not an election manifesto from any party that I would wish to name. [Interruption.] That publication—with which, as he has acknowledged from a sedentary position, the Minister is intimately familiar—stated that in the past three years, meaning from 1995 to 1998—
I really should not have given the Minister that opportunity, but my generosity clearly knows no bounds. He will know that when I quoted that title, in my own mind I was thinking of the official Opposition. However, unlike the Minister, I thought it better not to make such a low, churlish and cheap political point. Clearly the Minister does not share my good nature, or perhaps my politeness towards other hon. Members.
That now notorious document, which I am sure will be mentioned in other contexts in future, shows that, in the past three years, 54,800 motor cycles—worth £55 million—were stolen and not recovered. However, the Motorcycle Industry Association's statistics tell a different story. They show that 25,000 powered two-wheelers are stolen annually, which is considerably more than is indicated in the statistics that the Home Office seems to think are correct.
Moreover, of those 25,000 vehicles, only 14 per cent. are recovered. It is a very revealing statistic when one compares it with the stolen car recovery rate, which is 60 per cent. Clearly, motor cycle theft is a growing and disproportionately serious problem. Information would therefore seem to be far more important in that context, to identify motor cycles, than it is in identifying stolen cars.
I am pleased to say that, although motor cycle theft is increasing, there is phenomenal growth in motor cycle sales, which demonstrates that powered two-wheelers are considered a very attractive alternative to car. All of us who have an interest in transport policy and in reducing pollution and congestion should welcome that growth. Last year, 175,000 new powered two-wheelers were sold in the United Kingdom, which was the highest motor cycle and powered moped annual sales figures for 18 years. Moreover, since 1999, sales of those vehicles have increased by 10 per cent; and they are more than four times greater than they were only five years ago.
The huge growth in motor cycle ownership demonstrates just how important it is to tackle that sphere of vehicle crime. Unfortunately, however, the issue has so far been neglected in our debates on the Bill. As such vehicles become more popular and more numerous on our roads, and as opportunities to steal them off our roads increase, their theft, illegal possession or illegal disposal must be a growing concern.
As the Home Office recognised in its now infamous document "Nought to Nowhere in Five Seconds", it takes no more than five seconds to steal a motorcycle—to load it into the back of a van or to drive it away. Motor cycles are highly vulnerable to theft. Moreover, because there is no left or right-hand bias on a motor cycle, they are very attractive throughout the world market.
The Minister may like to reflect on the fact that left or right does not encompass the third way, and that the middle of the road is a recipe for a rather serious accident but, perhaps that is a different story.
Organised criminals are responsible for stealing motor cycles to order, removing their registration plates, obliterating identifying marks and rendering them almost untraceable. Although police have the power to seize suspected goods, current legislation—such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—is insufficient if vehicle ownership cannot be proven. If it cannot be proven, the suspect goods have to be returned to the probably illegal owner.
New clause 2 would combat such crime directly by creating a new offence of possessing a vehicle without a valid identifying mark. It would place the onus on the legitimate purchaser of a motor car or a motor cycle to ensure that the vehicle carries the appropriate mark. Additionally, the mark conforms with the detail shown on the V5 form.
The new clause would also put the force of law behind current advice from trading standards officers and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. New clause 2 would underline the need for caution by any person acquiring motor vehicles of any description.
The offence that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) has proposed in his well-intentioned amendment is already catered for in legislation. Section 173(d) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 makes it an offence for any person who—with intent to deceive—forges, alters or uses any plate containing particulars required to be marked on a vehicle that, in this instance, relate to the vehicle identification number, which is already required on motor cycles by statute.
The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is very well taken. However, for the reason that I have given, I very much hope that I can persuade him to withdraw his motion.
I can see that the Minister is in some haste, for purposes not connected with debating my new clause. However, as I do not wish to play unpleasant games with the House, I shall take note of what he said and take a future legislative opportunity to check whether the facts that he elucidated are indeed correct—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) questions my doubting the Minister, but that is life.
I have listened to the Minister's comments, and in the spirit of those comments, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.