Criminal JusticeSpeeches

James Wild – 2023 Speech on the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill

The speech made by James Wild, the Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, in the House of Commons on 3 March 2023.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) on reaching this stage, and I look forward to his Bill hopefully passing later today. I also wish him a happy birthday. The Bill makes important changes to prevent the theft and resale of equipment and tools that are essential to agricultural businesses in North West Norfolk and across the country. The Bill has a relatively limited initial scope aimed at preventing the theft of quad bikes and ATVs, but I was pleased, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) just referred to, that the Minister confirmed during Committee that the Government intend to extend the provisions beyond agricultural equipment to commercial tools as well.

There is currently no legal requirement to fit immobilisers or forensic marking to machinery and equipment, although some manufacturers choose to do so on a voluntary basis. By addressing that gap, the Bill will help to reduce this type of theft. In addition, the Bill allows the Secretary of State to require records to be kept relating to equipment that has been sold and its buyers.

Rural crime, in particular agricultural machinery theft, has a significant impact on my constituents. The proportion of suspects being charged for offences in towns and cities is 24% higher than in the countryside, and that imbalance must be addressed. Data published by NFU Mutual in its rural crime report of 2022 estimated the cost of rural theft to be £40 million, of which £5 million was in the east of England. Some £10 million was agricultural vehicle theft, but it is broader than that. Anyone who has watched the latest series of “Clarkson’s Farm” will have seen that it raised the issue of GPS devices being stolen regularly, and I hope the Bill will be extended to deal with that issue.

The Countryside Alliance’s rural crime survey presented stark statistics, with 32% of respondents reporting having experienced agricultural machinery theft, making it the second most reported crime, just 3% behind fly-tipping. Unsurprisingly, the rural crime survey found that agricultural machinery theft was respondents’ top priority for the police to tackle.

As we have heard, an estimated 900 to 1,200 quad bikes and ATVs are stolen each year, and this theft is damaging the livelihoods of farmers in my constituency and across the country. The cost of that theft is around £2.2 million. After a fall in the number of these thefts during the pandemic, for understandable reasons, they are now on the increase. Quad bikes and ATVs are essential to farming and land management, and have become a crucial piece of equipment to get around on a farm instead of using a tractor, whether that is to check livestock, move animals, move feedstock or set up fences, as well as many other uses.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has consulted widely; he gave a long list of the organisations he has worked with to get the Bill to this position. I am confident from the evidence I have seen that regulations requiring immobilisers and forensic marking will lead to a substantial reduction in this type of theft. I noted with interest in the explanatory notes that the proportion of road vehicles with immobilisers fitted increased to 98% between 1993 and 2013, which led to a decline of up to 45% in such thefts.

There is also a wider problem of tool theft. A report found that nearly four in five tradespeople had experienced tool theft, which is a striking statistic. While the financial cost of this theft is more easily quantifiable, it also has a damaging impact on people’s health and wellbeing.

I represent a rural constituency, and I believe it is important to introduce the regulations on ATVs as soon as possible. The Minister has indicated that he wants to do so by Christmas. While I support the extension of the Bill’s provisions to cover more agricultural and other equipment, any extra time required to develop that extension should not affect the plan to have the regulations in place by Christmas. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham for his important work on getting the Bill to this stage, and I look forward to supporting it this afternoon.