by David Bean

On Friday 02 December, Greg Smith MP presented his Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill in the House of Commons. He succeeded in shepherding it through Second Reading and winning Government support for its progress on to the Statute Book. Helping make the case, he presented figures from the Countryside Alliance’s 2021 Rural Crime Survey and was later joined by five other MPs who, speaking in favour of the Bill, referred either to the Survey or to our support.

The Bill, which now has a clear path to become law, will require that all sales to end users of new mechanised agricultural equipment must be fitted with an identifiably marked engine immobiliser. Dealers must also keep records of equipment they have sold and of purchasers. As well as making it easier for police to investigate thefts and to restore recovered property to its rightful owners, this should have a deterrent effect by making agricultural equipment harder to steal, decreasing its attractiveness to thieves. The Bill will primarily affect classic agricultural machines such as tractors, 4x4s and combine harvesters, but it also allows the Secretary of State to extend its powers to equipment used commercially in other sectors.

Presenting the Bill, Greg Smith (Buckingham, Con) said:

“The Countryside Alliance, with which I have worked closely on this Bill, revealed through its 2021 rural crime survey that 95% of respondents believe that crime in their local community had become significant over the preceding 12 months. 70% believe that there has been an increase in the local crime rate. It is clear how this worrying trend is manifesting itself, with 43% of respondents reporting having a crime committed against them over that period, and 32% of respondents saying that that took the form of agricultural machinery theft…

“Digging deeper into the feedback from rural communities reveals the urgent need for measures specified in the Bill. Looking back to that same rural crime survey, 53% of respondents said that they had installed crime prevention measures in the past 12 months due to an increased fear of crime and directly being victims of crime. These measures include security lighting, industrial barn doors, securing keys and installing CCTV systems. Each of those comes at great cost to the farmers—to those businesses. The measures that we are seeing in farms in rural communities across our country are more typical of an industrial estate in a built-up urban area.”

Later in the debate, Jane Hunt MP (Loughborough, Con) opened her speech by reiterating:

“The Countryside Alliance has conducted an annual survey of rural communities’ experiences and perceptions over the last calendar year. The 2021 survey revealed that 43% of respondents reported having had a crime committed against them in the last year. Of those, 32% reported having experienced agricultural theft, which was the third most reported crime. In the 2020 survey, agricultural machinery theft was reported as the respondents’ top priority for police to tackle.”

Simon Fell MP (Barrow and Furness, Con), also wanted to supplement the impressions he had gathered from his own constituents of the scale of rural crime with reference to our evidential findings. He said:

“It is worth looking at some of the statistics that sit behind these crimes. The Countryside Alliance runs an excellent annual survey asking its respondents about their impressions of crime. In 2021, 43% of respondents reported that they had had a crime committed against them in the past year, with 32% of respondents having experienced agricultural machinery theft, which was the third most reported crime. In the 2020 rural crime survey, agricultural machinery theft was the top priority for police to tackle. Again, that is what I hear from my constituents and my farmers. It is something that deeply worries them.”

We renew our support for this Bill as it continues its parliamentary journey and look forward to the real difference it stands to make to rural businesses and communities in the fight against crime. We are pleased to have assisted in preparing and promoting it along with sector partners including the Country Land and Business Association and the NFU, and we are grateful to the Members who referred to our Rural Crime Survey to highlight its importance.

To ensure that our Survey can continue to make this kind of impact, we need your help. The 2022 Rural Crime Survey is live now: please fill it in to share your experience and impressions of rural policing and crime.

In addition, to support our continued efforts to stand up for rural communities in Parliament and with the Government, please consider joining the Countryside Alliance today.

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