Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 1st February 2023.
With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 2 to 5 stand part.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. The Bill seeks to prevent the theft of all-terrain vehicles such as quad bikes. ATVs have become all-too desirable to thieves and are largely vulnerable due to a lack of security features. An estimated 900 to 1,200 quad bikes and ATVs are stolen in England and Wales each year. I got live data yesterday from the national police lead on rural crime, Superintendent Andrew Huddleston, and we know that between
The Bill gives my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary the power to make regulations requiring immobilisers and forensic marking to be fitted to all new ATVs. An immobiliser is a device that allows a vehicle to start only if the correct key or fob is inserted. A quad bike, ATV or other vehicle fitted with an immobiliser is therefore protected against many forms of hotwiring or imitation keys from would-be thieves. Critically, forensic marking will enable police officers to identify a vehicle easily using a hand-held scanner or ultraviolet torch and to verify the true owner. Importantly, those measures make a stolen vehicle harder to sell on, which will have a deterrent effect.
Before I get to what each clause in the Bill does, I am aware of calls from colleague on both sides of the House for the measures to be extended to cover many more pieces of equipment, including power tools and other agricultural equipment. I entirely support those calls. Indeed, that is where the Bill started. However, to pre-empt any further debate on that, the Bill provides the power for the Home Secretary to extend its provisions through secondary legislation explicitly to other equipment designed or adapted primarily for use in agricultural or commercial activities.
I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done on the Bill. As I have an urban constituency, I obviously do not see much theft of agricultural equipment, but many of my constituents—small traders in particular—have had machinery stolen from vans, so I agree that we should be using whatever innovations or technology are available in that area to try to protect those tradespeople from future thefts. I therefore add my voice to those encouraging the Minister to look at using the powers under the Bill for thefts from vans, sheds and other places where people try to store their important equipment, which is vital to their future prospects.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for her support for the Bill, and I entirely agree with her. It is important that we prove the concept of just how effective forensic marking in particular can be and, as soon as is practically and humanly possible, get it rolled out to every piece of equipment that we see being stolen far too frequently across our country.
In my own constituency, we had a spate of break-ins to trades vans where thousands on thousands of pounds of power tools were stolen. That knocks people out from being able to work; it can be days, weeks and sometimes months before they can get back to earning their living. These tools are critical, but it is vital that we prove the concept in negotiation with industry, manufacturers, the police and bodies such as the National Farmers Union and NFU Mutual. That company insures a large proportion of the equipment in this country, starting with quads and all-terrain vehicles. I believe the explicit powers in the Bill to roll it out further at a later date through secondary legislation is the right way to go.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing forward such an excellent Bill. Farmers in Loughborough have explained to me the impact that the theft of their vehicles has on the farming community and business sheerly financially, as well as because they do not have those tools to work. In Loughborough, we also have Peter Booth, who set up the #noVANber campaign. As a plumber, he was sick to death of discovering that his friends were losing their tools from their vans. I urge the Minister to include that in future plans for the Bill.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her support. I discussed the Bill with her in some depth during its creation, and I am grateful for her input in getting it this far.
Let me briefly explain what each of the clauses is designed to do. Clause 1 provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations to restrict the sale of equipment where certain requirements have not been met. The requirements are set out in clause 1(3), including that the equipment is fitted with an immobiliser, a unique identifier and
“a visible indication that it is marked with a unique identifier.”
Clause 1(2)(a) defines machinery to allow the provision to cover all-terrain vehicles such as quad bikes. Clause 1(2)(b) allows regulations to specify
“other equipment designed or adapted primarily for use in agricultural or commercial activities”— for example, in the construction sector, or tools and equipment used by tradespeople. Clause 1(4) states that the provisions cannot relate to sales of equipment within the supply chain—for example, from a manufacturer to a trader—as the Bill is very much about the point of sale to the end user. I urge the Committee that the clause should stand part of the Bill.
Clause 2 provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations to specify information to be recorded in connection with the sale—for example, the owner’s contact details and details of the specific forensic marking. At this point, it is important to note that there are many different types of forensic marking in the marketplace. The Bill does not seek to say one is necessarily better than the others—that is for the regulations that will be set out through secondary legislation in conjunction with negotiation with the industry. The regulations may include
“when the information must be recorded”, how long it must be kept and what form it must be kept in. For example, the regulations may specify that the information must be held in an online database. In practice, I expect the information will be registered on the database maintained by the company whose forensic marking product has been used, rather than some form of new, national database. Clause 2(4) excludes second-hand equipment or sales within the supply chain. I commend the clause to the Committee.
Clause 3 covers enforcement of the legislation in the event of non-compliance. Clause 3(1) creates the offence. A person commits an offence if they sell equipment in breach of the requirements imposed by the regulations made under clause 1 or clause 2.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing the Bill forward, and I am pleased to support it. I want to point out, particularly to the Minister, that while the losses that the farming community suffer are terrible, and it is awful when criminals benefit from the subsequent sale of this equipment, another dimension is its use for antisocial purposes, particularly in constituencies such as mine, where quad bikes are being used to terrorise communities. These individuals are using cycleways and cycle paths, and the police find it incredibly difficult to apprehend them, because they are really reckless in their use of these quad bikes. If, through the Bill, we can stop those individuals getting their hands on these all-terrain vehicles, it is to be welcomed, and I am happy to support it.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. We work well together on the Transport Committee, and it is a pleasure to work with him on the Bill. He makes an excellent point. The immobiliser and unique key provisions in the Bill are the most critical to preventing the antisocial use of stolen quad bikes. As I said on Second Reading, at the moment it is far too common for a key for a particular manufacturer’s quad bike to be able to start all of them. If we make it far more difficult for opportunist thieves and those who wish to go joyriding in an antisocial manner to be able to start the things in the first place, it will cut down on that antisocial use.
This is the nub of the issue, and it is why I support the Bill. I had a case in my constituency in a place called Derrykeighan—I will help Hansard with that afterwards—where two quad bikes were stolen. Because immobilisers were on the bikes, the owner and the police were able to trace them to where they were being held and retrieve his stolen property, which had been stolen to order. Other farmers in my constituency have had similar vehicles stolen without these excellent immobilisers on them and have lost their vehicles forever. This is a key aspect of the legislation and why I support it.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful for his support for the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I support his Bill, and I am pleased to be able to attend the Committee. I represent a city constituency, and there was a fatality in my constituency last year involving a quad bike not 50 yards from my home. I will not comment on the details, because not all the forensics have been done, but although only one person died, it could so easily have been much worse in a crowded urban environment, because it is a spot where families and others regularly pass by. Does he agree that it is important to emphasise that as well as helping to prevent theft and make theft less profitable, this legislation will also prevent antisocial behaviour and its very serious consequences?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support of the Bill, and I am very sorry to hear about the fatality in his constituency. He is right that although a significant number of quad bike thefts are for resale and monetisation, some are for antisocial purposes. The thieves do not necessarily know how to ride them correctly, and these are not easy pieces of equipment to drive. It is very easy to have accidents, and therefore the antisocial and inexperienced use of them can lead to serious injury or, as in the tragic case in his constituency, the loss of life. I hope that the Bill will go some way to saving lives and preventing very preventable accidents from occurring.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being generous with his time. I echo the points that were made so eloquently by the hon. Members for Easington, for North Antrim and for Cardiff West. I represent a rural community, and this is a real menace to us. On enforcement, I really welcome the measures in the Bill that will enable trading standards and district councils to issue fines. Will he join me in encouraging trading standards and district councils to make use of those powers once they are granted to them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has read my mind—or maybe my script—because I am coming right now to the very point of clause 3 and how the Bill will be enforced. It will be an offence to fail to install an immobiliser, forensically mark the equipment or register the relevant information on the appropriate database as will be set out. A person who commits that offence will be liable on summary conviction to a fine. The level of the fine will be specified in regulations, but it will be a level 5 fine, which is an unlimited fine.
Breach of the requirements will be enforced, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw alluded to, by a local weights and measures authority or district council under schedule 5 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The Bill amends paragraph 10 of that schedule to include clause 3 of the Bill to provide trading standards officers with the necessary powers. I do not anticipate non-compliance as manufacturers and trade associations have been involved in the Bill’s development from an early stage. We have held many roundtables, including in Parliament.
I turn to clause 4. Subsection (1) provides further detail on what regulations made under the Bill may include. Such regulations may make different provisions for different purposes, which will allow for a requirement for certain equipment to be forensically marked and registered on a database while not requiring immobilisers to be fitted if they are not relevant to the equipment or not desirable. That goes beyond quad bikes and ATVs and into other equipment. Regulations made under the Bill will be subject to the affirmative procedure so will be debated in each House.
Finally, clause 5 covers the Bill’s extent, commencement and short title. Subsection (1) states that the legislation extends to England and Wales. Subsection (2) provides for commencement, with the Bill coming into force six months after receiving Royal Assent and becoming an Act. However, its provisions will not commence until regulations are made through the necessary secondary legislation.
It is great to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I commend the hon. Member for Buckingham for introducing the Bill. These thefts probably affect every part of the UK. I mentioned earlier a theft in my constituency and, unfortunately, that was not a one-off but has been a feature, with crime gangs targeting and deliberately seeking to steal plant machinery and now quads and motorcycles from farmlands and farm owners as well as other private owners. It is very good to have legislation that puts the onus on both the manufacturer and a willing consumer to have his or her vehicle properly secured.
I hope that the Bill will ultimately extend to Northern Ireland and protect our farmlands and rural communities. I recently hosted a meeting with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Ulster Farmers Union and a number of rural dwellers who had suffered the scourge of these crimes, and there was a willingness in Bushmills that evening to ensure that something is done about it. Thankfully, this timely legislation touches on that and identifies the problem and a solution. I therefore commend it and will willingly support it.
I rise to speak in support of this Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham, who represents the constituency directly next door to mine. Our constituencies have much in common, not least beautiful countryside and excellent farmers dedicated to producing superb food and caring for our environment. Sadly, they also have in common the theft of a considerable amount of agricultural machinery, and especially quad vehicles.
I recently visited a farm near Saunderton in my constituency and was told that the theft of such machinery was undoubtedly a problem and had been for many years. In the current economic climate, theft of equipment is the last thing farmers need, not just because of the cost of replacing it but the fact that they are unable to carry out their work while they wait for new equipment, which is not always easy to replace quickly. The help that my hon. Friend’s Bill will bring will be extremely beneficial.
The measures proposed in clause 1 on requirements for the sale of equipment seem simple, straightforward and practical—if only all Bills were the same. Record keeping, as set out in clause 2, is key to the success of the Bill’s aims. I have nothing to add to my hon. Friend’s remarks on the need for the remaining clauses, other than to welcome the potential for fines being set at level 5, which indicates the severity of the consequences.
I understand the reason for the emphasis on all-terrain vehicles at this stage, given the number of them that are stolen annually and the cost, estimated by the NFU at some £2.2 million in 2021. However, like other Members, I am keen to see the scope of the Bill widened in secondary legislation to cover more agricultural equipment, given that the theft of vehicles including tractors, GPS systems and trailers resulted in a further £7 million of claims to NFU Mutual in 2021—and, of course, that is not the only insurance company covering such thefts. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford and my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough highlighted how a broader scope would assist a wide range of tradespeople in not only rural areas but urban areas. I urge the Minister to consider that, and I hope he will indicate a possible timescale for it.
This is not all down to laws, though. It is important that insurance companies work closely with manufacturers and others to make it harder to steal these vehicles. I am glad to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham that there have been roundtables to discuss this, because such machinery is so crucial to the successful running of many modern-day farms. From a criminal justice perspective, in this area, as in so many others, prevention of crime is far better than dealing with the consequences of crime for the victim, wider society and the economy.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the progress of the Bill. Having taken a private Member’s Bill through Parliament, I know that it entails an awful lot of hard work, determination and bringing everybody together, particularly for Committee. The Bill will undoubtedly bring benefits to his constituents, my constituents and constituents across the country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, for the second time in two days. I will keep this brief, but I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Buckingham on securing so much cross-party support for his private Member’s Bill and on getting it to Committee. We very much hope that the Bill will successfully play a part in clamping down on ATV and quad bike theft.
As other Members have outlined, this issue has long been prevalent in rural communities, afflicting those involved in agricultural work in particular, but as we have heard, the impact is felt in all our constituencies across the country in different ways. According to NFU Mutual, around 900 to 1,200 quad bikes are stolen every year. NFU Mutual’s most recent crime report, published in August 2022, found that rural theft had risen by 40% from the previous year, with the overall cost to the UK economy estimated at £40.5 million.
Quad bikes are predominantly manufactured by just two companies, with little technological development to the same basic key system they have had for over 35 years. I am reliably informed that it is possible to start up one of the most common makes and models of quad bike with just a screwdriver, and a quick Google search provides detailed instructions as to how to start these quad bikes without a key.
The theft of ATVs has a significant financial impact on both customers and insurers. As well as the financial impact, quad bike theft perpetuates further and wider criminal activity. On Second Reading, I spoke of a recent spate of quad bike theft-related crimes in my own constituency of Halifax. That includes their use in antisocial behaviour and vandalism. A number of hon. Members from all parties have made the point about vehicles, after their theft, being used in a variety of types of vandalism and antisocial behaviour afflicting communities, whether they are rural or urban.
As outlined, the Bill seeks to mandate the fitting of an immobiliser and forensic markings on all quad bikes and all-terrain vehicles sold in the UK. The Bill is relatively tight in scope, which is often the winning formula for a successful private Member’s Bill. However, it will also allow for the enactment of secondary legislation that could expand the Bill’s remit to cover other agricultural and construction equipment. Again, on Second Reading I spoke of the problem of theft from commercial vans—a point made by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford and others. According to research carried out by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles in 2021, 27% of van drivers had fallen victim to tool theft in the previous 12 months. The total cost of all lost tools and equipment is estimated to be about £15 million a year. Volkswagen estimates that the associated downtime for drivers who must replace those tools costs £550 a day per van.
In conclusion, we very much welcome the opportunity to support the Bill through its passage on to the statute book. We hope that it makes the difference that we would all like to see, and we very much hope that there is a further opportunity to consider and evaluate its impact with regard to what other types of kit it might be appropriate to extend these protections to.
It is a pleasure once again to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. Let me start by expressing my very warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham on the work that he has done in developing and bringing forward this Bill with a great deal of conscientiousness, perseverance and, most important of all, charm. That is a quality not universally present, I have to say—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] But it is certainly well represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham. He has done a very good job of talking the Committee through the operative provisions of the Bill, so I do not propose to repeat what he has already said so eloquently, other than to make it clear that the Government very strongly support these measures, for the reasons that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have eloquently and powerfully set out. Clearly, agricultural communities the length and breadth of the United Kingdom are affected by ATV theft, and the provisions in the Bill will help us to combat that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said, the operative provisions of the Bill will be enacted via secondary legislation, so the principal thing that I would like to say is that work on preparing those regulations is happening at the moment. It is happening in parallel with the preparation of the Bill, so, as quickly as possible after commencement of the Bill, we will be able to bring forward the relevant statutory instruments to enact the provisions that we have been debating. That work is happening.
What I would mostly like to say, however, is that I have certainly heard the powerful opinions expressed on Second Reading, and again this morning in Committee, about a strong desire on both sides of the House to consider expanding the scope of the statutory instruments beyond just all-terrain vehicles to look at other agricultural equipment and also tradespeople’s tools. We have all had reports of often quite valuable tools being stolen from tradespeople’s vans. As hon. Members have said, that is not just a financial loss; it prevents tradespeople from working, sometimes for a number of days, which disrupts building projects and causes loss of earnings at a time when people obviously are struggling to make ends meet, so I am very powerfully seized of the need to look at that. I have asked Home Office officials to work on developing the statutory instruments to address it as well as doing the work on ATVs. That work is ongoing; they are doing the technical work to look at it at the moment, so I cannot make an absolute commitment that it will be done at the same time, but my starting position is that if we are going to bring forward statutory instruments under the Bill to deal with ATVs, why not do the other tools at the same time?
There may be some technical reason that I am not aware of why that is very difficult, but my starting position is that we should do both of them, or all of them, at the same time, later on this calendar year, so I will do whatever I can, as Minister, to try to make sure we do all of that. As I said, I am due to get some further advice on it, so there may be some technical elements that I am not aware of or some other arguments that get brought forward, but that is my intention, and it sounds like it has support on both sides of the House.
It is extremely helpful that the Minister has put that on the record. However, will he confirm that if it proves that there are any technical obstacles to his being able to include that other equipment in the regulations, he will nevertheless stick to the timetable he just set and bring forward regulations on quad bikes and so on before Christmas?
Yes. The intention is to do it as a minimum for ATVs. As I said, given how strong feelings are on both sides of the House, as expressed on Second Reading and in Committee this morning, I would like us to try to find a way to make it work. I know that Home Office officials are working on that at the moment. When my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and I spoke to the police superintendent responsible for fighting crime in this area, he was also supportive of going further.
Tackling the antisocial behaviour of individuals using quad bikes and all-terrain vehicles needs enormous police resource, including specialist equipment and specially trained officers, because those involved ride them in a reckless fashion, endangering themselves and others. If, as was suggested, we can do an early intervention, that would save a great deal of police resource that could be redeployed elsewhere.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The murmurs of assent that rippled around the Committee Room as he spoke indicate that Members on both sides of the Committee agree, and so do I.
I do not want to detain the Committee any further. This is a good Bill. The clauses were eloquently explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and it gives me great pleasure to add my support to that of other hon. Members.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members on the Committee for their support. The last Committee I sat on was for the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which did not enjoy quite so much unanimity of belief and support. I am grateful to all Members and to the two principal parties for the cross-party support that the Bill has enjoyed.
Let me address the remarks made in the debate. I agree with the hon. Member for North Antrim that we need to find a way to ensure that the Bill’s provisions can be applied in Northern Ireland, and indeed Scotland. Hopefully, the Scottish Government as well as the Executive in Northern Ireland—when it is back up and running—will look at the provisions and find a way of ensuring that they apply to the whole of our United Kingdom and not just to England and Wales.
I absolutely agree with my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, as well as the many interventions on how the Bill’s scope must be extended as soon as is humanly possible. I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister not only for his commitment on that but for having actively asked Home Office officials to start looking at exactly how it can be achieved. Just as the Bill will make a huge difference to farmers, landowners and those who rely on quad bikes, particularly for farming and land management, it would make a huge difference if the provisions could be extended to builders, plumbers, carpenters and all the other trades who lose so much money and time as well as often their businesses’ reputations when thieves rob them of the tools of their trade.
It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. Once again, I thank not only all right hon. and hon. Members on the Committee for their support but the various bodies out there in the country including the NFU, NFU Mutual and all the manufacturers as well as the police and, in particular, Superintendent Andrew Huddleston, the Northumbria officer who is the national lead on rural crime, for everything that they have done to get the Bill to where it is. I look forward to taking it to its next stage.