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Mini Motos (Regulation)

Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2006

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the regulation of mini motos; and for connected purposes.

I aim to show that legislation on miniature motorbikes, which exist in a legal grey area, is necessary, popular and overdue. A new law is necessary because the situation that exists for my constituents, and for those of many hon. Members, is intolerable. I am introducing this Bill on behalf of the people whom the problem affects and on behalf of the legitimate motorcyclists to whom it is giving a bad name.

Today, people will be tearing around roads and paths in South Swindon on mini motos, terrifying residents. In my first year as an MP, that has been one of the main antisocial behaviour problems that my constituents have come to me with, and they have every reason to expect action.

I can tell those who have never seen a mini moto that they are replica motorbikes, only a quarter of the size of a regular bike but with a two-stroke engine that can take them to over 50 miles per hour. In theory, they are to be used only on private land, but in practice they are driven over public land, paths and, most terrifyingly, on roads. In Swindon in just one small period of this year—between 1 May and 19 June—there were 128 complaints about antisocial behaviour and dangerous driving involving mini motos. That amounts to about five complaints every two days.

I have raised the issue of minibike misuse on the paths between Eldene and Liden with PC Phil Young, and various similar problems in the Parks and Toothill areas with Inspector Steve Bridge. The police in Swindon are doing fantastic work, often involving crushing illegally ridden mini motos, but they are fighting against the tide. According to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, there has been a twentyfold increase in recent years in the number of mini motos imported into the UK from China, and representatives of the motorcycle industry believe that there could be 300,000 machines in circulation.

However, the police in Swindon are not required by the Home Office to collate the number of accidents, serious or otherwise, that mini motos cause. That is a problem that I want rectified. I want the Home Office to supply updated guidance to chief constables to require police to report mini moto accidents separately. We need access to statistics to see if the number of injuries caused by mini motos is exploding at the same rate as that at which the bikes are flooding in.

I can quote much anecdotal evidence on this matter from my constituency and from across the country. For example, one of Swindon’s Labour councillors, Barrie Thompson, recently received a complaint from an elderly disabled woman who said that she was harassed and nearly knocked over on the path that goes up to her house by a person riding a mini moto. In a separate incident in Peterborough, a 71-year-old woman was run into by a gang of young people on minibikes and received a broken foot and fractured knee. In addition, the brain injury association Headway is backing the crackdown on the riding of mini motos, on the ground that it could cause brain injury. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) has his own mini moto story to tell. His leg was gashed as a result of what happened, and I am sure that he will tell the House about it at some point in the future. The Government believe that existing legislation provides adequate powers to combat mini moto misuse. However, that argument offers no consolation for my constituents who are putting up with the nuisance. Clearly, more could be done.

Mini motos have hurt children and can wreck lives, and it is entirely unreasonable that they should be treated by the law as toys. There has been confusion among enforcers—that is, magistrates and the police—about whether they are considered to be motor vehicles. Apparently, magistrates have tended to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt in these cases, and the police have been uncertain about which part of the legislation should be used in prosecutions.

I am glad that the Department for Transport acknowledges this problem and that it has issued guidance making it clear that it regards mini motos as motor vehicles. However, in the absence of legislation the Department has left clarification to be determined by the results of further court cases. The High Court has ruled on motorised scooters but not yet on mini motos. Treating mini motos as motor scooters, which are allowed on the roads, would not be an adequate solution.

Mini motos are not roadworthy. Unless they are modified, they do not come up to European construction requirements. By banning mini motos from the road we would send a clear message to enforcers and consumers, and the vehicles could still be enjoyed on tracks created for the purpose.

This measure would be a popular move with hon. Members, with the motorcycle industry and with my constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) introduced a ten-minute rule Bill two weeks ago to deal with scrambler bikes and my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) is introducing a similar Bill next week. Early-day motion 2040, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) was signed by 79 MPs and calls on the Government to ensure that minibikes are clearly defined as motor vehicles. That shows that the House wants to see action on tightening the regulation of off-road bikes.

The industry does, too. Honda, based in my constituency, is supporting motorcycle industry initiatives to tackle poor-quality, far eastern minibikes, which are flooding the UK market. My constituents also support action—78 per cent. of people in Swindon say that they want a ban, as shown in a poll in my local paper, the Swindon Advertiser, which has been hugely supportive of my campaign.

My constituents, including the police who wish to reach offenders, and youngsters and their parents who are actively involved in the fast-growing sport, have engaged extremely positively with me about the Bill. The commercial manager of Swindon speedway stadium is keen to work constructively with Swindon youth services and the police to tackle the disruptive use of mini motos. I have received a further positive offer of support from a track owner, Andrew Watts, and my constituent, James Carter, a parent involved in the sport. Mr. Carter is actively involved, together with his young sons, and he travels to a safe track to supervise their sport. He is confident that those who are involved with mini motos would welcome the Bill and he is encouraged by the local alternatives suggested as a result of the debate.

Support for my Bill has come from parents, police, youth services and members of the public. They want to see children having fun, but not endangering people’s lives—or their own—and blighting neighbourhoods. Instead of a complete ban, the best approach combines both enforcement and managed provision. The law needs to be changed so that mini motos are seen as vehicles, not toys, and are driven off our streets completely. We should legislate clearly in a way that the police, the courts and my constituents can understand and have trust in. I hope that I have convinced the House that this small Bill is what we need to defeat a massive menace.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Anne Snelgrove, Ms Diana R. Johnson, Dr. Nick Palmer, Helen Jones, Chris Bryant, Barbara Keeley, Charlotte Atkins, Mr. Ken Purchase and Mr. David Drew.

Mini Motos (Regulation)

Anne Snelgrove accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the regulation of mini motos, and for connected purposes; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 November, and to be printed [Bill 233].