I spoke in the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill debate about tractor and equipment theft and how damaging it is to our farmers.
“It is not every day that we get the chance to debate an issue that commands such a high degree of consensus among Members of the House. I am glad to say that the Opposition continue to support the passage of the Bill sponsored by the hon. Member for Buckingham and we of course welcome the Government’s support for it. I congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham on getting the Bill to this stage. A little bird tells me that it is apparently his birthday today, so I add my congratulations on that as well.
I do not pretend to be an expert in this area—there are not many thefts of tractors or combine harvesters in my constituency. None the less, it is absolutely clear that the theft of vehicles and tools blights our rural communities. These are particularly pernicious crimes, because they attack the very basis on which farmers and tradespeople earn a living for themselves and their families. Although these are clearly long-standing problems, the need for action has perhaps become more pressing in these precarious economic times.
The Bill focuses primarily on the theft of vehicles, specifically all-terrain vehicles and quad bikes, which will be subject to new requirements for immobilisers and forensic markings to be fitted before they can be sold. Despite that relatively narrow focus, debates on Second Reading and in Committee reflected a widespread consensus among hon. Members that the scope of the changes should be expanded under the secondary legislation that the Bill enables.
In particular, tradespeople across the UK are facing serious problems as a result of tool theft, especially those who store their equipment in vans. According to data from surveys carried out by the Direct Line Group, more than half of roofers, electricians, plumbers and carpenters have been victims of such crimes. In Committee, the Minister said:
“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?”
That sounds like a sensible position, so can the Minister provide some further detail on the progress of the work to address any technical challenges that such regulations might face? Can he tell the House when he expects the relevant secondary legislation to be introduced?
It would be remiss of me not to raise the issue of enforcement. As my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax said on Second Reading: “The Bill, if introduced, would be a formidable starting point, but there are no two ways about it: the underfunding and under-resourcing of our police forces have undermined their capabilities for more than a decade.”
As is so often the case, the legislation will be only as effective as the level of prioritisation and resourcing for law enforcement and implementation is adequate. On that basis, I look forward to hearing from the Minister in more detail about how the Government will ensure that rates of detection and prosecution of such crimes will be improved”.