The government is backing new proposals to deter and punish rural crimes.
The Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill is a private members bill which has government support. It was introduced to Parliament by Greg Smith MP on 16 June 2022 and is sponsored by Lord Blencathra in the House of Lords, where it was introduced on 6 March 2023.
The purpose of the bill is to prevent the theft of machinery and equipment used by the agricultural sector, in particular quad bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
It provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring immobilisers and forensic marking to be fitted as standard to all new quad bikes and ATVs.
The regulations will define the minimum standard that will apply to immobilisers and forensic marking. The bill requires immobilisers and forensic marking to be fitted or applied before equipment is sold to the customer.
In practice this is likely to take place at the dealership or store, but it could be done during the manufacturing process. In addition, there will be a requirement for the seller to maintain a record of the buyer from the date of sale for a specified period of time, likely to be ten years. This record will assist police to identify and prove ownership of stolen ATVs and other equipment once recovered.
The bill also provides a power for the Home Secretary to extend the provisions to other equipment designed or adapted primarily for use in agricultural or commercial activities.
Are such thefts a major concern?
The theft of agricultural machinery, and in particular all-terrain vehicles, is of great concern. The theft of agricultural machinery has a significant impact on businesses and those who rely on this equipment for their livelihood. Thefts of vehicles from farmers can cause severe disruption to essential cultivation work and risk to animal welfare and have a significant impact on livelihoods.
ATVs in particular are desirable to thieves and are vulnerable largely due to a lack of security features. An estimated 900-1200 quad bikes and ATVs are stolen in England and Wales each year. The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Rural Crime Survey 2022 highlighted that after a fall during the pandemic, ATV thefts are now on the increase and this trend is anticipated to continue. Latest data published by NFU Mutual in the Rural Crime Report 2022 shows thefts of quad bikes and ATVs cost their customers £2.2 million in 2021.
In addition to ATVs, there have been calls from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), NFU and trade associations for the legislation to be extended to larger agricultural equipment; and from groups representing tradespeople such as builders, plumbers, and electricians, to place a requirement for forensic marking on power tools used by tradespeople, to prevent theft and re-sale. These concerns were echoed by Members of Parliament when the bill was debated in the Commons.
The government is aware of the significant impact theft of tools can have on victims, particularly those who rely on their tools to earn a living. A common area of vulnerability is tradespeople’s vans, whereby thieves will target the van and remove the tools to sell on. The loss per theft can be significant when a number of tools are stolen. The Tradespeople Against Tool Theft White Paper ‘On the Tools’, published in 2022, states that the average UK tradesperson is likely to have between £1,000 and £5,000 worth of tools stolen from them in just one tool theft incident.
The government is to examine the feasibility of covering tools and larger agricultural equipment in secondary legislation. Regulations will define minimum standards for the immobilisers, forensic marking and the type of database which may be used and the details to be recorded, as well as defining the equipment and tools to which the legislation will apply.
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