Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Before I start talking about the Bill, I would like to say that I was offered a choice by the Whips Office between harbour revision legislation, which would have been worthy and would probably have become law, or something that I believe is in the interests of my constituents and virtually every hon. Member: the registration of off-road vehicles. Although it will be difficult, I hope to persuade the House, and eventually the Government, that the registration scheme is worth supporting.
I have had a terrific amount of help and support from different organisations. I would like to thank Greater Manchester police and the Greater Manchester police authority for helping me to draft the Bill. They have been extraordinarily diligent and helpful in the drafting of the Bill and by giving examples of how and why the current legislative framework does not work. The chief constable has been particularly helpful, as have the chair and deputy of the police authority and many of their officials.
I have had a great deal of support from the press. The Daily Mirror has helped, as have GMTV and the Manchester Evening News in the north-west. My local papers, the Middleton and Blackley Guardian and the north Manchester Advertiser, have put in a great deal of time and support to help the campaign. The Daily Mirror campaign involved a coupon that people could send to No. 10 or hon. Members if they agreed with the Bill. It showed that there was widespread support for the Bill among the public in urban, suburban and rural areas throughout the country, as hon. Members have also made clear to me. Although I know that many hon. Members are present in order to support the next Bill that will be considered—I will thus not speak for too long—they have said that they have a great deal of time for my Bill and that they will also support it. I was shocked when the Prime Minister came up to me in the Lobby on Wednesday evening, because that is not a regular occurrence for me, or for any other hon. Member. He said to me, “Graham, it would be crazy not to support your Bill.” With such support, the Bill should get its Second Reading.
Perhaps my biggest thanks go to Alan Turner, whose son, Jack Turner, was killed in Leigh on one of those wretched mini-bikes. Mr. Turner, who, obviously, was traumatised and deeply upset by that event, has taken the time and effort—and had the considerable courage—to go on television to make the case for supporting the Bill. I thus pay particular thanks to him, and I hope that we can reward him by giving the Bill a Second Reading.
Many hon. Members will be familiar with the problem. Last year, there were 26,000 complaints in Greater Manchester alone about off-road vehicles—mini-bikes, trikes and quads. According to a unit in the Home Office, complaints about these machines account for 40 per cent. of all complaints made nationally about antisocial behaviour.
I suspect that we will have considerable disagreement about the merits of the Bill throughout the day. However, let me set out one point of difference. My hon. Friend said that trikes were one of the reasons for the complaints, but is he aware that the Bill would not even apply to them?
I think that my hon. Friend is wrong on that, but, I am sure that we will come back to that point in Committee.
These bikes are responsible for one death a month. Just over a fortnight ago, a young man in Greater Manchester—in Oldham, I think—was mown down by one of the machines and was dead on arrival at hospital. The problem is not diminishing; if anything, it is intensifying.
When I was a member of the Committee that considered the Bill that became the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, there was barely any mention of the problem. I realise that there are considerations of not just antisocial behaviour, but safety. My hon. Friend says that he thinks that the problem is growing. Given that we did not recognise the problem in 2003, but we do now, does he have any statistics to show what is causing it?
Let me help my hon. Friend in trying to indicate the growing extent of the problem. In the ward in which I live, nine such vehicles have been seized in just the past six months. Councillor Jonathan Knott has organised a major campaign in my ward to get these wretched things off our roads.
I do not think that any hon. Member has any doubt that the problem is serious, acute and chronic.
These machines cannot be taxed or insured because they are not meant to go on the road, but let us not be in any doubt: virtually all these machines end up on the road at some time. It is estimated that there are between 100,000 and 200,000 of them in circulation.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing the Bill, because these bikes create a nuisance in my constituency—I am sure that the same is true in all hon. Members’ constituencies—and are an absolute menace to residents. Although the Bill might not be perfect at this stage, may I, unlike the Government, urge hon. Members to let the Bill go into Committee so that it can be improved, because it could make a considerable difference to tackling this antisocial behaviour in all our constituencies?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. I hope that some of his colleagues will turn up later in the morning and give their support.
Part of the problem lies at the start of the process of buying and selling these machines. Anyone in the country can order a crate load of them from China or elsewhere and make a fast buck. There is no control over the process. If anyone has any doubt about people’s intentions, they can look at several websites, perhaps the most provocative of which is called annoyyourneighbour.com. One could contact that website to buy one of these machines. It is not the case that people are acting in good faith, or that they do not know how to use the machines. Some of the vendors and purchasers have the direct intention of causing a nuisance.
My hon. Friend will be aware that I introduced the Mini Motos (Regulation) Bill in the past Session. There are also problems involving the sale of cheap mini-motos at open markets and car boot sales. Has he also considered the regulation of such activity?
The Bill would mean that a person selling a bike would have to ensure that it passed certain registration standards. It would also require a person purchasing the bike to be registered as its keeper. That could not be done if people were giving them away as prizes, which happens at present. The Bill would stop many of the problems at source.
The case about nuisance and danger to the public has been well made. At a reception in the House last week, Chief Inspector Hayden Roberts made the point that the machines also destroy areas of space that have been given over to the public. He gave an example of a disused area in Salford that had been reclaimed for public use. It had effectively been turned into a recreation area for children and adults, but as soon as it opened, the ground became rutted by these machines and the environment became extremely dangerous because the people riding the machines took over the area.
My hon. Friend has returned to the subject of the police. I understand that the Association of Chief Police Officers is, for some reason, opposed to the Bill. Will he speculate on why that might be the case and tell us his response to its objections?
My hon. Friend referred to the way in which these bikes ruin our natural environment. He will be familiar with the Medlock valley, which is in our city of Manchester, and the complaints that those who ride these bikes recklessly are making that reclaimed natural beauty spot no longer safe for those who want to use it. That is exactly why my constituents, like his, want these bikes to be properly regulated and kept off such areas of natural beauty.
My hon. Friend will be aware that I introduced a similar Bill under the ten-minute rule on 1 November. On that occasion, I talked about a junior football team and its coach, who was effectively prevented from coaching the young players by the different types of bikes that raced up and down the pitch. The bikes not only churned up the pitch but made the situation dangerous for that young football team. There are insurmountable problems preventing us from fencing off land—that was the solution that my constituent, Mr. Higgins, suggested. That takes me back to the point made about the incidence of antisocial behaviour. Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem is not just nuisance and the police time spent dealing with the bikes, but the fact that communities face having to fence off open areas? That is a cost and a nuisance, but they may not even be able to do it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem is not just the churning up of ground, particularly in the winter months when the rainfall makes the ground damp? In summer, people whose homes look out on to green space cannot have their windows open and cannot sit outside because of the noise. That nuisance often emanates from off-road bikes, which are used in an antisocial manner on green spaces that are there for local children to play on.
I agree with my hon. Friend’s point. Such bikes are a danger to the public and a nuisance, but in many ways the people most at risk are the riders. Tameside metropolitan borough council recently launched an attack on the bikes. It took a number in, and when its trading standards section looked at them, it found that none was compliant with the British Standards Institution’s specification, BS 7407, and that the bikes were extremely dangerous. As we are pushed for time, I will not detain Members by reading out the 10 ways in which Tameside found the bikes to be dangerous, but the bikes are extremely dangerous to the rider. The fuel tanks are not safe and the chains on the machines can take people’s legs off. They fall apart, because they are not made properly.
Before I come to the details of the Bill, I ask why our communities should be held to ransom by such bikes. When Ministers, particularly Home Office Ministers, say that crime is falling, the claim is met with scepticism not just by Opposition Members but by the public. That is not because of the statistics that Ministers give, but because people who are surrounded by an environment of noise, threat and antagonism simply do not believe that their lives are getting better, and that the Government, local authorities and police authorities are doing what they should to protect communities. That is the top and bottom of the matter.
I strongly support my hon. Friend’s Bill, and we all want it to make rapid progress. Is not the issue of enforcement—of apprehending, punishing and confiscating the bikes—at the heart of the matter? Will my hon. Friend say exactly how his Bill will strengthen enforcement, which is what we all want to ensure?
Let me make it clear that the Government and I entirely accept that the bikes are a nuisance. I entirely accept my hon. Friend’s arguments about antisocial behaviour and the perception that it creates among members of the public, and the Government and I entirely accept the intention behind his Bill. Where we differ is on whether a registration system can have more than nugatory value, and on whether there are much better and more cost-effective ways of dealing with the issue. In our view, a registration system is not the way forward. Having said that, I entirely accept that we need to crack the problem.
I thank my hon. Friend; he is generous with his time. Does he recognise, as I do, that the registration system for which he is pushing will deal with part of the matter? The fact that the bikes are not insured makes a difference, because it means that the NHS does not benefit when an accident involving such vehicles takes place, whereas if a motorbike or car has an accident, there is a claim against the insurance companies. When it comes to these bikes, the NHS is a loser, too.
Is my hon. Friend aware that when the Minister argues against a registration scheme, he ignores the fact that many of our constituents, whose lives are made a misery by such bikes, find that the police cannot catch the riders, as they cannot chase them due to health and safety problems? If the bikes were registered, police could identify the owner easily and quickly. It is nonsense for someone to argue against registration and still say that they have sympathy with people whose lives are being made difficult.
My hon. Friend makes a point that I was just about to make. The Bill is not a total solution; there is no total solution to antisocial behaviour and nuisance, but we can reduce it. Laws do not prevent people from murdering each other, and they do not prevent theft or burglary, but laws can help to reduce crime, because of the threat of penalties and the likelihood of getting caught.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is kind in giving way again. He has not yet mentioned the issue of educating parents who buy mini-motos for their youngsters. Does he agree that one benefit that may result from his Bill is that it may make parents realise what they are buying? As he has made clear, for a variety of reasons the bikes are often death-traps for the young people who use them. Does he agree that the Bill may lead to better education for parents who buy the machines?
Again, my hon. Friend makes a point that I shall make. Many parents buy the machines believing that they are toys, but they are not; they are dangerous machines that can travel at up to 60 mph. Having to register as keepers and having to register the machine would be part of that education, as it would make it clear that the bikes are not toys.
The Bill is not a complete solution, but it would amend the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 so that the current system of registration for vehicles on the road was extended to off-road vehicles. It is not a licensing scheme; a licensing scheme is, in effect, a road tax, but the machines that we are talking about are not meant to go on the road. The Bill would amend the 1994 Act so that the machine and its keeper were required to be registered at the time of sale. In a sense, the Bill is retrospective, because it would also oblige current users to register at some time, and, as I said, there are between 100,000 and 200,000 such machines in circulation. That time can be defined in regulations. Clearly, there would have to be an amnesty before that obligation were implemented.
Registration would require the manufacturers to put registration marks on the machines. Some of those marks would be recognisable to the public, but others would be secret—similarly, we cannot find all the registration marks on our cars—and the regulations would require both kinds. My hon. Friend the Minister may say that that is not covered by the Bill, but it could be covered by changing the relevant regulations. There are many powers in the 1994 Act that could be used to cover registration. A moot point is whether there should be a registration plate, as there are arguments for and against that. I have not come to a final decision—on balance, I think that it is helpful to have a registration plate—but the matter could be debated in Committee. Clause 2 amends section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002, and effectively gives police officers the right, if they have due cause, to stop a bike without warning and, if it does not comply with registration measures—I know that this will raise a cheer—take it away and squash it. Most hon. Members are in favour of squashing those machines when possible.
It is worth going through the arguments that have been made against the Bill by the Government and the Association of Chief Police Officers, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) referred. The Government’s position, which is made clear in a document circulated to all hon. Members, is that all the necessary powers are provided by the current legislative framework in several different Acts of Parliament. I accept that the Government are acting in good faith, but if police authorities had to use all those powers, that would take up so much time and resources that they probably would not have much time to do anything else. It is true that powers are available to deal with one bike in one situation, as long as the police have a handy helicopter, a police car, and police officers trained on off-road bikes, as well as the necessary information to show that the bike belongs to the person riding it, who cannot argue that it belongs to their mate, so it can be taken away. However, if that law is in place, why were 26,000 complaints made in Greater Manchester last year? Greater Manchester police authority is one of the best equipped authorities to deal with the problem, as it has a dedicated unit. It has dealt with the problem in certain places, but it cannot eradicate it, as the law is not effective.
My hon. Friend the Minister told me in private that ACPO’s position formed the basis of the Government’s position; if ACPO changed its position, the Government would change theirs. However, after all the discussions, I am not sure whether ACPO’s position reflects the Government’s or whether the Government’s position reflects ACPO’s, so it is worth examining ACPO’s comments in detail.
Fortunately, ACPO representatives appeared before the Select Committee on Transport on 7 March, so we had the opportunity to discover what they believed. In written evidence, ACPO said that it was satisfied with the law, and asked what was the point—I urge hon. Members to ponder this—in making something that was unlawful more unlawful. I was not quite sure what that meant and, having examined its representatives, I am not sure that they know what it means. It is a way of saying that ACPO does not want to consider more effective measures to deal with the problem.
In its written evidence, ACPO qualified its opposition by admitting that a registration scheme could have long-term benefits and could save resources. The Select Committee examined the ACPO representative, Mr. Griffin, in detail, and asked him whether it would be beneficial to do what most hon. Members want, and allow police officers to stop and seize a bike without warning. He accepted that that was right. We then asked whether a registration scheme would be helpful in cases in which the police did not know the owner, and the rider said that the bike was not theirs. He accepted that it probably would be helpful, as that was a problem. We then asked him about registration plates. Police forces have tried to tackle the problem, but it has escalated and intensified, as people using such bikes simply drive off. There is a limited number of off-road-trained police, so those people often get away, as trained officers are simply not available. We asked Mr. Griffin whether a registration plate would be helpful in preventing chases, as officers could go to someone’s home and find out whether they were the bike’s registered keeper. If the bike did not have a registration plate, it could be confiscated. He said, “That is true.”
As I suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello), the bikes are not toys. If someone registers their vehicle and pays a sum of money, they have important responsibilities as a keeper, including responsibility for the safety of the machine. We asked whether it would be helpful to make that point when the bike was sold, and we were told in unequivocal terms, “Yes, it would.” Although ACPO’s headline position is against the Bill, when one looks at the evidence in detail one can see that it accepts that the scheme would work rather well.
I have spoken for a long time, and I would prefer not to take up much more time.
As there is still a problem, we asked ACPO what the solution was. It accepted that certain areas could be targeted, but in many cases in which that had been done, there was often a resurgence of the problem after the initial removal of machines. It said that it could provide facilities such as those provided for skateboarders. We asked about the cost of doing so, and whether it would solve the entire problem. Would there be a special area for the mini-bikes in every constituency or part of a constituency? Of course not: there are no resources left to deal with that. Finally, in a rather despairing way, the ACPO representative said that hula hoops and skateboards had disappeared, so perhaps mini-bikes would disappear, too. That was an expression of hope that the problem will go away, rather than an attempt to tackle the problem by making the law more effective so that it can deal with people who refuse to reveal identification of ownership.
I accept that setting up a scheme involves costs, but I urge my hon. Friend the Minister in what, I suspect, will be a lengthy response, to explain why, if registration is a bad idea, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency operates a voluntary scheme? That scheme helps owners and keepers, as it deals with the problem of stolen vehicles—at present, that is the only way of dealing with the problem—and the Bill would assist with that. As the voluntary scheme is already in place, registration would be sensible, even if there is a cost. To be blunt, it could be self-financing—I am sure that my hon. Friend will offer some horrifically high registration fees that will wind up the motorcycling lobby—and I am not convinced that a scheme that is added on to the DVLA scheme would require a large fee. However, I hope that the vast majority of these machines will not get through the registration process—that it will get rid of them. If that happens, any overhead costs of the scheme will obviously have to be met by the Government and the DVLA. I would say that that is a cost well worth paying.
I have spoken for longer than I intended and given way several times. The question that I leave with the House is not why should we have a registration scheme, but why should we not have a scheme of registration for these very dangerous machines?
I shall not detain the House long. I suspect others will seek to do that.
In broad terms, the Liberal Democrats support the Bill. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) does the House and his community a great service by introducing the Bill. Earlier this week, he organised for Members a helpful briefing by the Greater Manchester police authority and officers of that authority that established very effectively the case that he expanded on today.
For the reasons that the hon. Gentleman outlined, we can all agree that the machines are a social menace. Many safety implications have arisen from the explosion in their use. According to a briefing from the Motor Cycle Industry Association, the number of mini-motos alone, quite apart from other off-road motorcycles, has risen from 10,000 in 2002 to 100,000 in 2005. That is the scale and nature of the problem. There is doubtless an element of fashion in that, but the phenomenon seems to be enduring, and even if it is not, that is no reason for failing to act in the way that he suggests.
The hon. Gentleman spoke from his constituency perspective. I have a very different constituency perspective. I am delighted to say that, as yet, there is not a marked problem in my constituency; no doubt it will come to us eventually, like everything else. However, I have some experience to bring to the debate, having worked as a prosecutor and a defence agent in the criminal courts before coming to this place. As a prosecutor in particular, I formed a view over a number of years that the most effective legislation for the prosecution of road traffic offences is section 172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
The purpose and effect of section 172 is to require the registered keeper of a vehicle under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 to give information about who was driving the vehicle at a time when it was seen to be committing an offence under the Road Traffic Act. In terms of the antisocial nuisance, that is the real benefit of a registration scheme. If we bring these off-road vehicles, in particular mini-motos, within the ambit of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act, we allow police officers investigating their use to employ section 172 of the Road Traffic Act.
In practical terms, that means that, if the parent has registered the vehicle, it is the parent to whom the police officers will go in the first instance to say, “This mini-moto was being driven in this place at this time in this way. Who was driving it?” That brings responsibility right back to the door of the parent and means that they are required to co-operate with the police. Failure to do so is a further offence.
It would not cover manslaughter, because that is a common law offence, which is not part of the Road Traffic Act. It would cover causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving, so to all intents and purposes, the hon. Gentleman’s supposition is correct.
Section 172 is one of the most important tools that police officers have for road traffic enforcement. As I know from experience, what constitutes a road can be a lot more than just a stretch of tarmac. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley said that there were problems about police officers not being able to pursue people in the way that they would wish. The provision means that they would have the opportunity of using section 172.
In my part of Scotland, there is a major problem. I stay on the biggest council estate in Midlothian and every day these cycles run up and down the park destroying the life of everybody round about. As a police officer told me, a major benefit of registration would be that people could take a photograph with their mobile phone camera. They would not need to get involved with the individual riding the cycle, which is another problem or need to challenge them. They could simply take a photograph and give it to the police, who could follow it up if there was a registration number.
That is exactly the point. If the police were given a photograph of a bike being used in that way, or perhaps even a short video of it, that would give them grounds to employ section 172, leading to the investigation and apprehension of the person who was responsible.
I am puzzled that the Minister does not support the Bill. I do not understand why. I hope the House gives the Bill a Second Reading. If there is an issue such as the one that he raised in an intervention, about whether tricycles were covered by the Bill, that is exactly the sort of point that could be dealt with in Committee. I do not understand even that point. If hon. Members have regard to the Bill—when all else fails, it is a good idea to read the Bill—it states that the
“section applies to motorcycles and motorquadbikes”.
To be a motorcycle, a vehicle must have a motor and wheels. It makes no difference whether it is a motor bicycle or a motor tricycle. At the risk of getting involved in a lengthy debate on the rules of statutory construction, I do not see the Minister’s problem.
If the Bill defined vehicles in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggested, it would not also be necessary to define motor quad bikes, because they would come under the definition of vehicles that had wheels and a motor. Tricycles have been specifically missed out of the Bill for some reason, although I entirely accept that, if the Bill went into Committee, we could include them, but we would have to put in a vast amount of other things to make the measure even remotely work in the way that is intended.
As I said, I do not intend to get into a lengthy debate on the rules of statutory construction. I have made my point and I stand by it. A quad bike is a different term of art, and I see that it is referred to later in subsection (4) on interpretation.
I have sat on plenty of Bill Committees, including some with the Minister, and I have seen rafts of Government amendments tabled, sometimes after the Bill has been through the entire process in the Lords. It is only when it reaches Report on the Floor of this House that we get a raft of Government amendments. If amendments are needed to the Bill, if the political will existed in the Department, they could be made and the very useful device that is offered to police officers by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley in his Bill might be made available to them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on his success in the ballot and on his choice of Bill. I am very pleased to be one its sponsors. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) sought leave to introduce a similar Bill last November and many right hon. and hon. Members have asked for action to be taken on behalf of their constituents to deal with the nuisance caused by off-road motorcycles and mini-motos.
Last summer, my office was inundated with complaints about the matter and I am concerned that, as we approach the better weather, my constituents will experience the same problems. Off-road motorbikes are too often ridden by youths who show no respect for other people or the environment, and mini-motos are too often bought for children by adults who show no comprehension of safety or sense of community.
I have received many letters and e-mails about the matter. One was sent by a young couple who could not sit in their garden with their baby daughter all last summer because a nearby field that was once filled with children playing and families walking their dogs contained these monstrously noisy machines. The couple first approached me in despair after one Sunday in June, when the bikes made continuous and uninterrupted noise for seven consecutive hours. Another constituent from Davenport said that youths were deliberately driving at people in the fields.
I received a disturbing e-mail from a woman and her friend, who were horse riding on a bridle path in Reddish Vale when they were attacked by three boys on off-road bikes. The youths ignored a polite request from the woman to switch off their bikes until the horses had passed. Instead, they rode their bikes quickly towards the horses three times. On the third occasion, one bike went up the banking while the other two were driven straight at the horses.
Does my hon. Friend agree that good, law-abiding people get frustrated and angry with the constant harassment and unpleasantness, to put it mildly, caused by such behaviour? Sometimes otherwise law-abiding people lose their temper when they experience such behaviour.
I agree with my hon. Friend. By the time a constituent reaches the point of ringing my office, their anger and frustration is often huge.
I shall go into detail about the case of the lady who was riding to demonstrate the difficulty for individuals. The e-mail describes what happened next and says:
“At this point my horses, who are both traffic sound sensible cobs understandably went into panic. My horse reared and bolted and I was thrown at full speed onto the hard gravel and stone path. My friend managed to jump off her horse after trying to gain some control and managed to escape with only minor bruising.”
The women then spent ages trying to find the horses, which were caught by a local rider on the lower fields of Reddish Vale. The woman who sent the e-mail had to go to the accident and emergency department at the local hospital and had to have time off work with a very bad back. It goes without saying that one of the women could have been killed.
It is an irony that, during proceedings on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, we spent some time discussing how to prevent pathways such as the Ridgeway from being churned up by off-road vehicles, yet the Government oppose this Bill, which would help to regulate off-road vehicles on bridlepaths.
I entirely agree. It is important to encourage horse riding in urban areas, such as the area which I represent. If riders feel that they cannot ride safely on open space, it will discourage people from taking up a very good sport. The woman told me that she doubts whether she will ever use that bridlepath again, which illustrates my hon. Friend’s point. It is wrong that people are being frightened away from our public open spaces by selfish youths on noisy machines. We must reclaim those spaces for our communities.
As these incidents show, used irresponsibly, such machines cause not merely nuisance but danger. It is no exaggeration to say that, in the wrong hands, they have the lethal potential of a loaded gun. The sense of menace caused by those frightening machines is being intensified in my constituency, because some of the teenagers involved have started to obscure their faces with scarves or balaclavas, so that they cannot be identified and detected, which makes the job of the police even harder.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the matter involves more than young people? I hope to be able to contribute to the debate, in which case I will provide an example of how the matter involves not only young people, but adults who behave incredibly irresponsibly.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Off-road motorcycles are used by young adults—18-year-olds, 19-year-olds and people in their early 20s are involved. The impression created by the use of masks is that the youths are becoming more confident and reckless, which makes the case for the introduction of new and imaginative countermeasures more compelling.
My hon. Friend is recounting some disturbing cases, and I understand why she and her constituents are angry. However, is she really arguing that somebody who is prepared to do such things while wearing a mask or a balaclava to disguise their identity would put a number plate on their bike?
No; it is clear that they would not do that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley pointed out, however, the police could immediately confiscate the bikes when they catch such youths under the Bill.
Last summer, I was concerned about the level of nuisance in my constituency and wrote to residents urging them to report every incident to the police. I also met the police and urged the local crime partnership to explore the use of antisocial behaviour orders to ban individuals from using such bikes, and I still believe that that is a long-term solution.
Last year, I was pleased when the Home Office initiated a six-week summer campaign against the bikes, which led to tough enforcement action by the local police. In Stockport, 43 people received warnings and 20 cycles were subsequently seized, which is the central point of the Bill. Greater Manchester police have said that they cannot seize a bike causing nuisance without first issuing a warning, and although they are putting up notices at the entrance to public spaces warning that it is illegal to ride cycles there, it is untested in law whether that satisfies the requirement to give a warning. As I understand it, vehicles need to be insured only if they are used on a public highway, so the power of immediate seizure without warning in relation to uninsured vehicles would not apply to off-road motorcycles being used on public open space.
One reason why I support the Bill is because it will strengthen the law to allow the police to seize unregistered bikes or bikes on which the markings have been erased, without having to give a warning, which would deal with the Minister’s point. The people involved go to certain areas and know that they are breaking the law—they mask themselves to disguise who they are. Under the Bill, the fact that they have taken the markings off their bikes would give the police the ability to confiscate them immediately, which would make it easier for the police to get more bikes that are causing a nuisance and breaking the law out of action more quickly. Those who persistently break the law by riding in public places are also likely to be riding unregistered bikes. The Government gave that power to the police in relation to uninsured vehicles to allow those vehicles to be taken off the road more quickly, so why not give the same power in relation to bikes?
A registration scheme would make it easier to arrest dangerous and illegitimate drivers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley said, the DVLA already has a voluntary registration scheme, which is a good thing. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister how many people have registered. If he thinks that the scheme is a good thing, how would he encourage more people to register? The way to get everyone registered is to make it compulsory. The registration scheme offers protection to motorcycle owners against theft. The Bill would establish a registered keeper and provide better protection for legitimate owners.
The Bill would also target suppliers. Customers have no way of knowing whether they are buying stolen property, as there are no requirements to provide documentation. A registration scheme would ensure that keeper records were logged and traceable. At last, it would begin to make those adults who are thoughtless enough to buy potential killing machines in the shape of mini-motos as Christmas presents to be held responsible for how the bikes are used. Registration would send out a message to parents that these machines are not toys and that they require control. At the moment, it is difficult to track these bikes—13,000 new off-road bikes were officially imported and sold in the past 12 months, and 40,000 were illegally imported.
During my research, I was shocked to come across a website selling such pocket bikes that had an unsavoury and aggressive title and logo. If you will excuse the language, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall tell the House its name: “StreetBastard.com”. I found it interesting, because the title itself makes it clear that the company targets its products at a clientele who want to glory in making a nuisance of themselves on the streets. Incidentally, I also discovered from the website that a new so-called dirt bike will be hitting the streets in May 2007.
I was pleased to hear that a Stockport-based firm called Dealer Channel, which brought thousands of dangerous mini-motorbikes to Greater Manchester, has been put out of business. The company boss was hauled before the courts and fined after he admitted supplying unsafe bikes. The business went into liquidation and about 2,000 bikes have been confiscated and crushed.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley said, complaints about mini-motos and off-road bikes account for 40 per cent. of calls to the police about antisocial behaviour. However, the police tell me that off-road bikes and mini-motos are also at the heart of antisocial behaviour in other, more sinister ways. Mini-motorbikes are routinely found at the houses of drug dealers when police conduct raids. Many drugs drop-offs are done using such bikes, which are very manoeuvrable. Furthermore, a scarf wrapped around the rider’s helmet provides anonymity.
The Bill would give the police the power to seize unregistered bikes from the homes of drug dealers immediately; under current legislation, they have that opportunity only if the bikes are being ridden illegally on the road by a drug dealer. They would not be able to confiscate the bikes if they were lying idle.
Currently, there is little chance of establishing the ownership of a particular bike, as most who buy them do not log the frame or engine numbers. If all off-road bikes, including go-peds, mini-motos, petrol scooters and quad bikes, were registered compulsorily with the DVLA and had to carry a visible registration number, it would rob the riders of their anonymity and help prevent them from treating the police and their fellow residents with contempt.
I hope that the Bill will have a Second Reading and that, following further consideration in Committee, the Minister will be convinced of its merits.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) for introducing this Bill. Several hon. Members have introduced ten-minute Bills on the same subject. I am one, and my hon. Friends the Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) have also done so. That shows the weight of concern on the Labour Benches.
I should say to other hon. Members that one way of getting mini-motos off the streets of their constituencies is to introduce a ten-minute Bill on them. I received many complaints from my constituents between shortly after my election in 2005 and 25 October last year, when I introduced my ten-minute Bill. By December, the complaints had dropped remarkably. I commend my local police and the antisocial behaviour teams for their work on the issue. However, we need regulation.
I thought that my hon. Friend might say that, so I was going on to say why I specifically support the Bill. I agree with the Minister that there are powers to seize and ways in which antisocial behaviour teams, the police and local councils can work together. Labour Members encourage that. I work very hard in my constituency to knock heads together, when necessary, to make it happen.
That is possible, although this winter’s weather has not been particularly bad. There have been a lot of incidents involving young people out on the streets of Swindon, so I think that the decline was due to our local crackdown.
I turn to the three reasons why I particularly support the Bill. One important issue is that regulation would mean that there would be information at the point of sale and curbs on irresponsible salesmen and women and on irresponsible parents buying the bikes. That is extremely important. We want to cut the number of such bikes on or off the road and to regulate those that come through rigorously.
Safety is another issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley gave numerous examples of that. At his reception on Monday night, I saw with my own eyes some accidents involving off-road vehicles. I spoke to representatives of his local police, who thought that they had not found one off-road vehicle that was safe. That is shocking. It is important that regulation should ensure that such vehicles are safe on or off the roads. That is what regulation is for.
A third issue has not been mentioned: the legitimate racing of mini-motorbikes and other uses of off-road vehicles. When I first came across mini-motorbikes, I thought them ridiculous things. People, particularly young men in their 20s, looked stupid riding them. They looked absolutely daft, and I did not know why they wanted to ride them, although that was their choice. The bikes were also causing the problem mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey). They were causing trouble in my constituency for those, the elderly in particular, who wanted a quiet lifestyle and to enjoy their gardens. I thought that we should ban the bikes—what was the problem? The council agreed.
Following discussions with organisations such as Honda, which has a successful factory in Swindon that does not make mini-motorbikes, and the British Motorcyclists Federation, I have realised that there is a legitimate industry in racing mini-motorbikes. The vehicles can cost up to £3,000. I accept that that is a legitimate sport and that we need not ban young people from having fun. If we regulate, ensure that the vehicles that they are riding are safe and provide them with off-road areas so that they do not churn up local parks or other green spaces that other people enjoy, there is a way ahead for those young people.
I recently visited the Fun-E-Farm, a quad biking track that also accepts mini-motorbikes, in Blunsdon, just outside my constituency. I met parents of young people who rode mini-motorbikes. They were grateful to the organisers for starting the track so that the vehicles could be used safely and legitimately. That is the way ahead. I hope that hon. Members will accept that there is a legitimate way ahead if the proposals for regulation are accepted by the Minister.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend is using the word “regulation” deliberately, but she has just made the speech that I would like to make. She has identified three areas in which we need to improve the regulation of the vehicles: how they are sold, used and made. However, regulation and registration are different. Changing the regulations would be outside the scope of the Bill. That is why I argue that we need to work to identify what changes to the law are really needed, rather than introduce the changes proposed in the Bill, which are not needed and would have nugatory value.
I thank the Minister for confirming that we are on the same side. Like other hon. Members, I look forward to discussing that on Second Reading.
The Government must consider the issue more deeply, and registration and regulation both need to come into that. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consider the views of everyone who speaks in this debate so that we can have a safe mini-moto and off-road vehicle industry and so that young people can have fun without being a nuisance to those who want to enjoy their leisure time.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on his success on bringing the Bill to this debate, and I fully support his aims. I do not intend to speak for too long, as I am aware of the amount of interest in the Bill and I know that many Members wish to speak on the next Bill, as I do.
As we have heard from hon. Friends throughout the country, mini-motorbikes are causing problems everywhere, and my constituency is no different. Irresponsible use of these bikes is a real menace, and we all have experience of it. It has been a constant problem to me since I was elected in 2005. That is why I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, have supported numerous early-day motions and last week co-sponsored a ten-minute Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley).
The scale of the problem and its effect on local communities was brought home to me last August by local residents at a neighbourhood meeting in an area of my constituency called Norton. Residents of a very long road, The Broadway—60 to 70 separate families—complained to me about how the misuse of mini-motos was making their lives a misery. There was support from the police but it was difficult to identify who the perpetrators were. They were racing up and down the road and preventing people from coming out of their homes. They were often not only unable to enjoy their gardens but physically frightened to go out on to the pavement. As we have heard, these vehicles are not toys—they can reach speeds of up to 60 mph and have, as we all know, loud engines. They cause profound noise pollution to my constituents at all hours of the day and night, in addition to the damage that they cause not only to open spaces but, in my constituency, people’s gardens.
On another occasion, constituents in Wollescote wrote to me because mini-moto users, sometimes as many as 10 at a time, were riding their bikes up and down pathways and across local farmland. You may well have had the same people come to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as that farmland borders both our constituencies. The young people involved damaged the winter crop and were abusive to ramblers and people walking their dogs. It became a no-go area. The farmer estimated that just in the area by the pathway, one incident caused £500-worth of damage. The group appeared to be doing their level best to frighten people.
Perhaps most worrying is not how annoying or destructive mini-motos are, but how dangerous and potentially lethal they are. As has been highlighted, there are many possibilities of injury. I have witnessed an older rider who was well into his 20s riding with a child on the handlebars. It beggars belief.
I thought that my example was bad enough, but it seems that there is even more extreme behaviour in Stoke-on-Trent, South.
Residents inform me that the vast majority of mini-moto users in their area race around on their bikes without wearing any kind of safety gear. Albeit that what they are doing is antisocial, there is the potential for horrendous accidents. There have already been some fatalities—so far not in Stourbridge, but it is only a matter of time.
Bikes can be bought cheaply due to the flood of imports, particularly from the far east. As no registration scheme currently exists, they are not subject to proper safety checks and can be marketed as toys, with the result that they often end up in the hands of children. Norton residents told me that many of the riders being a nuisance on The Broadway were children as young as 10. That can have disastrous consequences, because children are the least well equipped to deal with high-powered engines.
I welcome the Bill because a compulsory registration scheme would be a common-sense approach to tackling this nuisance. It would approach the problem at the first point of contact between new buyer and bike, ensuring that riders are aware of the responsibility they are taking on from the beginning and alerting parents to the fact that these bikes are not toys but potentially dangerous pieces of machinery. It is important that parents are aware of what their children are buying, or what they are buying for them. I have two sons of 16 and 13 who have asked for mini-motos because they see them as exciting. I explained, as a responsible parent, that their use, particularly in the areas where they would want to go with their friends, is illegal. It is difficult to explain to young people where and when they can or cannot use them.
A compulsory registration scheme would mean that bikes would be subject to appropriate safety evaluation. Nobody could sensibly argue that rigorous safety checks can be anything but beneficial given that we are dealing with such powerful machines. Furthermore, I support the argument that such a scheme would significantly increase the efficiency of police action, as a clearer system of ownership would make illegal riders more easily identifiable. The person riding a mini-moto will not always own it, but it would establish a better link whereby the police could take action.
I am aware that powers already exist for police to seize and crush vehicles if they are used in a manner causing alarm, distress or annoyance. I completely agreed with those changes, which were a good step forward. However, a registration scheme would make it much easier to identify the offenders. Although some riders may remove their registration plates, there would still be the link with the original buyer, enabling the police to crack down on illegal use. When one is dealing with potentially dangerous vehicles that can reach high speeds, it makes sense that there should be a form of registration to keep track of their ownership, as for cars or motorbikes.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) that there needs to be an improvement in the facilities available to young people who want to use these machines legally. That is an aspect that we need to explore.
Unfortunately, illegal mini-moto use is an increasingly common and distressing form of antisocial behaviour, and with sales of mini-moto-type vehicles increasing tenfold between 2002 and 2005, it does not look as though the problem will go away without action to encourage responsible use and a crack down on individuals who are making a nuisance of themselves in certain areas of my constituency. A registration system for off-road bikes would make a real difference to people in Stourbridge. I accept that the Bill would not be a magic cure-all for all mini-moto nuisance, and there will always be people who flout the law, but used in conjunction with existing police powers, better education of purchasers, parents and users about the dangers and responsibilities of using such bikes, and an improvement in the facilities available to riders, it would be a sensible step in the right direction.
I, too, commend my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) for promoting the Bill. I am pleased to sponsor it.
I want briefly to take up one or two issues with the Minister. He has said that he believes that powers to deal with the problem already exist and that they work. He cited some examples. However, I contend that they do not work and that people who live near every green space in my constituency, including Eltham park, Middle park, Horn park, Shooters Hill park, Eaglesfield park, Plumstead common, the Course, Altash way and Woodlands farm, face a problem with the bikes week in, week out.
No, I shall not give way to the Minister because he has plenty of time to respond to all the issues that we raise. With all due respect, he can just sit and listen.
The problem has grown out of all proportion since the introduction of new powers, including section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 and a plethora of road traffic measures. According to Revenue and Customs figures on a Government website, there has been a 20-fold increase in the number of Chinese imports of mini-motos. The number has rocketed from 7,000 in 2001 to 144,000 in 2005. Similarly, the Motor Cycle Industry Association estimates that the sale of mini-moto vehicles has increased from 10,000 in 2002 to 100,000 in 2005. We are not, therefore, considering the position that existed when we introduced section 59 of the 2002 Act to tackle antisocial behaviour.
I should like the Minister to take my next point on board, so I would be grateful if his Parliamentary Private Secretary shut up for a minute. It is a day for Back Benchers and Front Benchers should listen.
No, I will not.
Officialdom is out of step with the general public on the issue that we are considering. If the Association of Chief Police Officers had to rely on being re-elected, as we do, perhaps it would take a different attitude to the Bill. The Home Office is targeting £200,000 in 28 areas to try to tackle the problem. If the Minister believes that current legislation is working, let me list those areas: Manchester, Mansfield, Liverpool, Sunderland, Birmingham, Harlow, Southend on Sea, Tendring, Reading, Gloucester, Derby, Coventry, Hodge Hill, Blackburn, Chester, Oldham, Salford, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, South Tyneside, Hull, Wakefield, York, Camden, Kent, Cheshire, West Cumbria and Newport. We are trying to tackle the problem throughout the country, yet the Minister appears to believe confidently that we have the powers to do that. I could give examples of ACPO being out of step with its officers in my community and lagging behind their views.
I work closely with safer neighbourhood teams in my area and they frequently tell me of the difficulties that they experience in using section 59 powers to stop a bike on open space. Indeed, police officers are lucky if they manage to stop one because they often cannot chase them. Health and safety regulations restrict their ability to do that because the bikes might rush out of a park on to a road, and that poses danger to the public or the individual on the bike. When they stop bikes, they can issue the rider with a warning notice under section 59. However, if they stop a bike for the second time, they cannot identify it as the same one. That is a key factor in trying to tackle the problem.
I can give examples of residents who have complained about noise nuisance on open space and the police have dealt with it. Yet residents have told me, “We phoned the police and they did nothing.” I have then contacted the police to tell them that people had complained of noise nuisance but that the police had let it go on all day. The police have replied that they had been there, issued notices and dealt with culprits, but that the problem is so vast that somebody else was there in the afternoon, and the residents get the impression that the nuisance had continued all day unchecked. In addition, there is no way of knowing whether the same bike went back in the afternoon. Registration would deal with that key point.
I understand the Minister’s point when he says that the people who are most likely to use the bikes in an antisocial way are least likely to register them and keep registration plates on them. I accept that. However, if there has to be an engraved registration number or a plate on the bike, and the consequence of its removal is the immediate confiscation and destruction of the bike, that deals with the individual and the problem.
We are asking for a tool to enable the police to tackle the problem. Not only Back Benchers, but the police and the communities that suffer from the plague of mini-motos are calling for it. There is no lack of determination on the part of the police to use the powers about which my hon. Friend the Minister is so confident. However, those powers have loopholes. We have new circumstances and a new machine that is being used antisocially that we did not consider when we drew up previous legislation. A registration scheme that requires those bikes to have a number on them, so that failure to register and number the bike means its immediate removal and destruction, is a tool that will give the police powers to deal with the problem without delay. The public are demanding that it be tackled and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to listen.
Mini-motos do not blight only urban areas and I therefore want to ask where the Tories are. I see no Conservative Back Benchers, I hear no Conservative Back Benchers, yet mini-motos are a big issue in rural areas. We have debated it not only in the context of antisocial behaviour and the various excellent ten-minute Bills that have been mentioned but—at length in the Chamber and in Committee—in the context of off-road bikes and the countryside.
In the 550 square miles that I represent, the subject is a major issue, which affects, for example, horse riders, ramblers, farmers and people in mining communities. That applies throughout the country. There has almost been a consensus about the logic of registration to allow the police to apprehend people properly and the local community to monitor the problem effectively. In my area, the police are demanding precisely those powers. The absence of Tory Back Benchers is therefore extraordinary. Perhaps they are hiding, waiting for other subjects to be discussed. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) prompts me to suggest that they are waiting to rush in to discuss the measure on temporary and agency workers. The Tory Whips should send a clarion call to get them back in here because the subject of this Bill greatly affects rural communities. Shame on them that they are not here to vote for the Bill. Their failure to do not only that but to come and speak about it should be recorded.
Not only rural communities but golfers, cricketers and footballers are affected. Clearly, Labour Members are their friends. In my community, it is precisely those unregistered bikes—quad bikes, off-road bikes and mini-motos—that cut up the golf courses, destroy the cricket pitches and damage the football pitches. Those are major issues for people, because those things form a key part of the new, healthier way of living that the Government are rightly promoting.
I am sure that four Departments—the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office—have great concerns and want to ensure that the Minister is making sure that these issues are fully protected. However, another issue has been referred to briefly, but it needs an additional comment. I have done a lot of research into it, to find out how it works. How do hon. Members think that drugs are transported across communities? Do hon. Members think that drug dealers go in registered cars, so that the police, knowing whom to look for, can watch, monitor and apprehend them? Well, the thick ones do, and they get apprehended, but that is not the way that drugs are moved in and out of communities in this country.
Drugs are moved in and out of communities by depositing them, not usually in people’s houses, but in forested areas, so that if the police find them they cannot directly link them to the dealers. Drugs are moved in vehicles that are not registered. A key way in which that is done is by using this kind of vehicle. Therefore, the problem is not one just of antisocial behaviour, but actual crime and the way in which it is committed. So I strongly recommend this Bill and the following Bill to the House, as they deal with key concerns for the country, and they are clearly concerns that resonate only on the Labour Benches.
I rise to support the Bill because my constituents from Swinton, Irlam and Eccles have made it clear to me that it should be supported. The information that my constituents give to me is that they are not opposed to the legal and safe riding of motorbikes, but that they do not want to be put at risk on pavements or kept up late at night by noisy, high-speed riders.
Last year, Greater Manchester police authority told me that it wanted a registration scheme because there is currently little scope to establish the owner of a bike, there is no way of knowing the size of the illegal market in stolen off-road bikes and consumers have no way of knowing whether they are buying stolen property, as there are no requirements to provide documentation. A registration scheme would do all that and help to tackle those problems.
My local police authority has a website and e-mail address—firstname.lastname@example.org—where my constituents can report incidents, which are logged and then forwarded directly to the local police force for action. The public can also contact Greater Manchester police authority to name and shame any perpetrator of off-road nuisance, and they can do so anonymously.
A good development is the placing of signs by Salford city council and the Greater Manchester police authority throughout the city of Salford—including in my constituency, particularly at hot spots such as Prince’s park in Irlam and in Swinton and Eccles. Whether or not it is legal, the police have made some progress in treating that as a first warning. Consequently, the council and the police have confiscated £500,000 of mini-motos, which were then destroyed in Salford.
Those powers are already used very effectively and to their full extent by Greater Manchester police authority, which is one of the best authorities in the country in dealing with this issue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) said earlier. That is not enough in itself to deal with the problem, for all the reasons stated in every contribution made by hon. Members today.
Greater Manchester police found various safety faults, such as no speed-limiting devices and inadequate means of venting petrol vapours, on the £500,000-worth of confiscated bikes that were crushed. That is another reason to require registration and the display of such registration. I am sure that it would help to ensure that vehicle safety standards are higher, and we would all benefit from that.
Finally, I should like to add my voice to the calls for planning authorities and private organisations to be encouraged to set up safe legal sites for the practitioners of biking. That is fundamental to balance the attack on those who are biking illegally, unsafely and causing nuisance. Today, I believe that, in three minutes, I have given the shortest speech that I have ever given in the House. There is a reason for that: I hope that all hon. Members who follow me will exercise similar discipline, so that we can vote on closure and support the Bill on Second Reading.
It is a great pleasure to follow the splendidly brief contribution from the hon. Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart), and I entirely endorse his idea of having voluntary areas. Unlike his colleague, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who attacked the Conservative party, his other colleague, the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) furiously attacked the Government—clearly not adhering to the respect agenda.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on doing so well in the ballot and on choosing an issue of real concern to so many of our constituents. He is a regular contributor to debates on road transport, and he made another thoughtful contribution this morning.
We in the Conservative party acknowledge that there is a significant problem with mini-motorbikes. Noise nuisance can be substantial and highly aggravating, wrecking the peace of a neighbourhood. Mini-moto use intimidates walkers and riders, as the hon. Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) said, and in some cases causes real danger to members of the public, as well as to those who ride the mini-motos, which can get up to 40 mph. They can be especially dangerous when they are not properly maintained, and we are fully aware of the tragic case of David Spence, aged four, who was killed in February 2006 after a teenager took him for a ride on a 50 cc mini-motorbike.
We accept that Government statistics might not fully reveal the extent of the problem. Northumbria police received 3,000 complaints about off-road issues in 2005. Manchester has identified it as one of its top five priorities in an antisocial behaviour crackdown. In Reading, 44 per cent. of “It’s Your Call” antisocial behaviour reporting line calls related to mini-motos. That clearly reflects the twentyfold increase in the number of mini-motorbikes sold since 2001. If the estimates that about 144,000 of them are now in circulation are accurate, that suggests a sizeable problem. However, the Motor Cycle Industry Association believes that up to 300,000 machines might be in circulation, with many imports retailing at prices as low as £100, which suggests a problem of considerable magnitude.
Funnily enough, perhaps success has caught up with us. Members have cited numbers. The Motor Cycle Industry Association has given me figures on imports from China. In 2000, 2,181 units were imported, rocketing to 45,515 in 2003 and an amazing 144,905 in 2005. But in 2006, there was a 58.67 per cent. fall, down to 59,885 units. I wonder whether some of the programmes that local and central Government have undertaken have begun to have some effect.
Perhaps such vehicles are starting to go out of fashion. Perhaps the illegality surrounding them is getting through to people. Perhaps parents are becoming more aware. Perhaps some of the police crackdowns and the crushing of bikes have had an effect. Perhaps, in fairness, the Home Office’s summer campaign in 2006 had an effect. The motorcycle industry, particularly the Auto-Cycle Union, has done good work in highlighting the problem, as have local authorities, the police and other associations.
Without in any way disparaging the intent of the Bill, or the size of the problem in recent years, we need to examine more closely what the Bill would do. I am concerned that it would catch all off-road motorcycles and quad bikes. It would therefore catch all bike owners, from farmers driving up remote hills in Wales or Yorkshire to feed their sheep, to the racer at Brands Hatch, to me—I must declare an interest—as I own an off-road quad bike that I use at home.
We now know that the Opposition Benches are empty because the hon. Gentleman finds the Labour Government so praiseworthy. Are not farmers, however, the most vociferous group in demanding action against off-road bikes? Would not farmers, including those in my area, be happy to register if it meant that the unregistered did not go on their land?
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman raise that issue: my constituency is one of the most rural in the country, and I have not had a single letter on the issue from farmers. The issue appears to be much more of a problem in urban areas and small towns. I do not see what we would gain from the colossal and expensive task of registering every quad bike that is sensibly used in a rural area and presents no risk to anybody on private land.
Furthermore, there is a huge problem with the registering of on-road vehicles. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency announced that the number of those not paying vehicle excise duty increased in 2004 from 1,240,000 to 2,193,000. Those are vehicles that must be registered to be driven on a road under current law. That means that an incredible one in 15 vehicles on our roads are not taxed, despite a constant campaign by the DVLA to recover the £217 million of lost revenue. It is of particular relevance to today’s debate that evasion rates are highest for motorcycles. The number of unlicensed motorcycles has jumped 152 per cent. from 275,000 to 694,000.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a motorbike user would have still have to fill in a statutory off-road notification, even if they did not use their bike on the road? A paper trail would therefore still exist. It is a bit of a leap to say that someone who has filled in a SORN document is using that vehicle on the road.
That might be the case, but my point is that this country has a real problem in relation to the registration of vehicles for many years. I fear that adding another 400,000 vehicles will swamp an organisation that is already floundering and has failed to get to grips with known problems that are in the public domain.
Cost is also a serious question. Clause 3 states:
“There shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament any sums”.
Given that the majority of such vehicles present no problem, could not the sums involved in such a huge registration exercise be better spent?
Although I am unable to make an estimate, would not the fatalities, dangers, injuries and costs to the NHS far outweigh the costs of registration, which is an administrative task? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the cost to our hospitals is substantial?
Of course it is, but the hon. Lady is confusing the issue of whether the registration will work with the issue of how we address the problem. I do not underestimate the problem at all, and she is right that it is a cost to the public purse. My suggestion, however, is that the funds that would be spent on the registration scheme under the Bill might be better spent in another way.
Those in the industry are also of that opinion. For instance, the Motor Cycle Industry Association says that there has been a major drop
“in the number of imports, plus enforcement and publicity in 2006 and resulting fall in complaints where action has been taken indicates that targeted law enforcement”—
of existing law—
“and publicity has started to have a dramatic effect”.
Yesterday, Craig Carey-Clinch, the spokesman for the Motor Cycle Industry Association, told me that the Bill was a “waste of parliamentary time”. He said that we should focus on hard-core antisocial elements. The worry is that the Bill as drafted will sweep in large numbers of people who are not a problem, but might not catch those who are causing the problem so graphically described by numerous Members.
The hon. Gentleman makes a solid case for vehicles that are currently used responsibly. Does he accept that many of those vehicles initially used by responsible farmers or organised racers end up being used by irresponsible people, as is the case with mini-motos, and that those people are untraceable because the vehicles are not registered?
That is an interesting point, which has not been raised with me previously. The main problem raised by people who have written to me relates to those very small vehicles of less than 50 cc. The average quad bike used on a farm is completely burnt out and a wreck by the time that the farmer has finished with it and it has been handed down the second-hand chain, and does not, I suggest, end up as a problem in urban areas, which is where we need to concentrate our efforts.
In my area, the issue of off-road bikes has been raised by every parish council, by large numbers of farmers and by Mr. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, one of my constituents, in a one-page article in The Daily Telegraph. How can the hon. Gentleman say that the problem affects only urban areas? It affects urban areas, mining communities and rural areas.
My constituency is a mix of urban and rural areas. Most of the complaints that I have received about the issue, and most of the requests for me to support the Bill today, have come from the rural parts of my constituency. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on that and say whether he will vote against the Bill?
I think that I have made my views clear. I represent an extremely rural constituency, where large numbers of the machines are in operation, and I have not received complaints on the issue. The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw have raised the issue, and I shall make further inquiries of other rural interests after the debate. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady is patient, she will hear the Opposition’s views on the Bill in a few minutes. I am fully aware that other Members want to contribute, so I shall press on.
The Opposition’s central line is that a dozen existing laws, when properly enforced, can have a dramatic effect. Yesterday, Craig Carey-Clinch cited to me an operation in Kent last year, where, as the Minister will know, police officers concentrating on nuisance bikes seized 94 vehicles. In that area, calls to police to complain about such bikes then fell from 85 at the end of May to under 20 at the end of August.
Let me give a brief summary—which cannot be exhaustive—of the range of existing legal powers. In relation to off-road driving, section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states that
“if without lawful authority a person drives a motor vehicle (a) on to or upon any common land, moorland or land of any other description, not being land forming part of a road, or (b) on any road being a footpath or bridleway, he is guilty of an offence.”
In relation to causing alarm, distress or annoyance, section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 gives powers to the police to seize motorcycles in certain circumstances where that vehicle is committing an offence, there is careless and inconsiderate riding or driving on the road in contravention of section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, or alarm or distress is being caused to members of the public.
Under the construction and use regulations, mini-motos are not an approved vehicle type and must not therefore be ridden on public roads. Even pushing a bike on the pavement constitutes use on a public road contravening section 42 of the Road Traffic Act. Repeat offenders could be covered with antisocial behaviour orders under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. The local authority has powers under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to take action on noise nuisance. It may be possible under the Noise Act 1996, as amended by section 42 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act, to seize the offender’s motorcycle and to take prosecution proceedings. Where a person has been convicted of a noise offence, the court may make a forfeiture order for any related equipment.
On criminal damage to land, parks and playing fields, section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 says that a person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage any such property, or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged, will be guilty of an offence. One Member cited playing fields. A school would have a claim against someone who had damaged a playing field if the ground were wet.
Petrol must not be supplied to a person under the age of 16 and it must be supplied in a suitable container. To supply it to a person under the age of 16 is an offence under the Petroleum (Consolidation) Act 1928. Since young persons cannot buy petrol, it may be supplied by an adult, who can be prosecuted for so doing, which brings in the question of aiding and abetting. If parents are the owners of a motorcycle, they can be classed as aiding and abetting if they permit the illegal use of the motorcycle or, as I have said, if they supply petrol.
There is a common law remedy for trespass and nuisance. Proceedings can be taken in the High Court by way of an injunction. That includes those aiding and abetting. Many councils have byelaws prohibiting the riding of motorcycles under defined conditions on council land. Some go back to antiquity, but in 2005 a Cumbrian authority used byelaws to ban motorcycles and scrambler bikes.
I think that the hon. Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) mentioned motor racing. For any riders conducting races, sections 12 and 13 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 state that a person who promotes or takes part in a race or trial of speed between motor cycles on a public way is guilty of an offence. Finally—as I have said, this is probably not an exhaustive list—section 143 of the Road Traffic Act says that users of road vehicles need to be insured or secured against third party risk. So our contention is that there is a substantial amount of law that could be used if it were enforced properly.
Yesterday I met Councillor Ken Taylor from Coventry city council, which has set up a community safety partnership, including the local police and fire authorities. The council bought six off-road bikes for the police, who since June 2005 have seized and destroyed more than 200 bikes. At the same time, the fire brigade set up a scheme called “forecourt watch”, warning petrol stations not to sell petrol to under-age drivers. About 20,000 leaflets were distributed and high profile “crushing” sessions were held just before Christmas.
Doncaster metropolitan borough council uses noise powers. After receiving more than 1,500 complaints about noise—
I do not like intervening on a Friday because it talks out other very good Bills, but can the hon. Gentleman explain whether the authorities in Coventry had to catch any of those bikes on more than one occasion? Did the police have any difficulties identifying them for a second time when they were carrying out that operation? That is the problem that many police forces encounter.
That is an interesting point, and it is one that Councillor Taylor did not explain to me, but I know that the collaboration between the council, the police and the fire authority has worked and that buying the half dozen cross-country quad bikes—I think that they were actually single bikes—worked extremely effectively. The point is that authorities got together and used existing law. They used it within existing resources and it worked.
Similarly, campaigns in Havering, Ruislip, Hillingdon, Manchester, Lincoln and Doncaster have seen dramatic results.
I think that I made it clear that I have not. I will say for the third time that I come from an extremely rural area. I read the rural press and this issue has not been brought to me with the strength of feeling that the hon. Gentleman has. It appears to me to be a problem of small vehicles sold as toys mainly in urban areas. That is what we should be addressing. That appears to me to be the main problem.
Parallel to the enforcement of existing law, I would recommend another course and finish on a positive note. I draw attention to the Auto-Cycle Union local authority support unit which argues for turning this social problem into a sporting opportunity. It states that in the 1960s some terrible drownings in gravel pits encouraged swimming pool building. In the 1970s, roller skate parks sprung up to cater for that craze. Then came skateboards and most recently BMX cycle parks. All were first seen as social problems. All were embraced. Provision was delivered and the social problem disappeared. Now we have mini-bikes and off-road cycling. The ACU offers an incredibly cheap solution. The support unit provides advice to local authorities on how to identify the problem, its size and nature. It has a formula for establishing a facility, a network and venues, which can be community owned and run. What is exciting about the idea is that any tarmac area about the size of two tennis courts, which is incredibly cheap to provide, can be temporarily or permanently converted into a legitimate mini-bike venue for very little expense.
The mechanism that the ACU recommends is extremely cost-effective when contrasted with the sums being spent monthly by local authorities on enforcement. I talked to Dave Luscombe yesterday, who told me that Durham police have set up a recreational mini-bike project using the empty police headquarters car park on Saturdays. All that is needed is an area of tarmac the size of a couple of tennis courts, as I said. There are a couple of car parks in virtually every town that are probably unused at certain times. A few old cones mark off the track. In Durham, the children pay £5 for membership and £2.50 per day. Parents must escort the bikes to the venue and stay all day, and they have since become involved as marshals, turning the sessions into social events. The police work with shops that supply the bikes.
As the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley said, these machines are incredibly dangerous when they are badly maintained. The shops are getting involved—some of them are sponsoring equipment such as helmets and gloves. When these machines are used in an extremely dangerous manner around the streets, no one checks the tyre pressures, the brakes and the accelerator cable. Under the conditions in Durham, those who supply the bikes are closely engaged and the machines are safe. The result has been dramatic.
If the hon. Gentleman listens, he will discover that there has been a 97 per cent. reduction in illicit mini-bike activity in areas where those schemes have been set up.
In conclusion, we entirely agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley that in recent years there has been a problem. However, rather than go to the huge expense of his Bill, which would catch the vast majority of bikers who cause no problems, we believe strongly that central and local government should work in partnership to enforce the large number of existing laws. They should also encourage and support legitimate recreational use, using free tarmac areas. Passing yet more new laws does not necessarily solve a problem and enforcing existing ones often does.
I could not support the Bill in its current form but I will recommend to my colleagues on the Conservative Benches that they let the Bill pass to Committee where we will table amendments enabling it better to achieve its very worthy aims.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on introducing an extremely good Bill. He has given the House the opportunity to debate a subject that, as we have heard, is a burning issue in our constituencies. I do not intend to detain the House long with my comments, mainly because I too want to support and to speak in the debate on the second Bill before us, I hope, today—that introduced by my hon. and very good Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly): the Temporary and Agency Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Bill. I hope that we get to that Bill. It is certainly not my intention to delay the House.
I am somewhat disappointed that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is not here. Indeed, there do not appear to be any colleagues of his on the Liberal Democrat Benches. At least the Conservatives have two Members on their Front Bench. It is disappointing that the Liberal Democrats do not seem to have fielded anyone else.
It was interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman speaking in favour of the Bill. It has not come to my attention that the Liberal Democrats have supported previous antisocial behaviour legislation. It is a pity that he is not present to make his point—and to challenge me if what I have said is incorrect.
The subject under discussion is of great importance to my constituents. Parks in my constituency should be wonderful green open spaces where young people can play and parents can take their small children to climb on climbing frames and swing on swings, but are not because of the menace of off-road bikes and mini-bikes, which tear through the parks. Other areas of open green space in my constituency that back on to houses, and which are reached by alleyways that lead from the nearby roads, cannot be used because of bikes tearing through them—and not only mini-bikes and off-road bikes, but quad bikes. They go down some very narrow alleyways, causing tremendous risk to anybody who happens to be coming the other way because there is no passing space at all. The speeds at which such bikes tear up the alleyways mean that nobody—particularly an older member of the community or somebody with mobility difficulties—has any chance of getting out of the way.
It is also worth noting that the bikes cause damage to pavements. I am thinking of one particular walkway where the pavement is cracked and broken, and the paving slabs are upended, because of the weight of the vehicles, which travel over surfaces that are intended to be used by pedestrians; the pavement at the end of that alleyway is cracked and broken, and is itself a danger to passing pedestrians, even when there are not any bikes around.
My constituency is also lucky enough to have a site of special scientific interest, which on a number of occasions has been churned up by off-road bikes or quad bikes tearing through it. I do not know whether they were being used for off-road activity or for other, illegal, activities.
The Motor Cycle Industry Association has provided some interesting information and I want to begin looking at that by noting that it has proposed a definition for motorcycles such as mini-motos; it suggests that an accurate phrase would be
“Motorcycles for Use on Private Property, or MUPP.”
I suggest that anyone who uses MUPPs illegally or antisocially should be termed a “muppet”. It would be a term of gentle abuse or reproach to use in respect of some of the idiots who are tearing through our green spaces—they are “muppets” of the worst possible variety.
As the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) said, the import figures from China make for interesting reading. In respect of mini mopeds of up to 50cc, there has been an interesting trend. Between 2002 and 2003 there has been an incredible increase, from 7,736 to 45,515. There has been another ratcheting up between 2004 and 2005: in 2004, there were 68,295 MUPPs—not all ridden by “muppets”, I am sure—whereas in 2005 there were 144,905. It is interesting that there have been such increases. Will the Minister share with us any thoughts that he might have about the reasons for those increases between 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005? The hon. Member for North Shropshire has addressed some of the reasons why MUPPs have started to go out of fashion, and it might be for that reason that their numbers declined in 2006, the last full year for which we have figures. Certainly, MUPPs can, when ridden by “muppets”, cause nuisances and problems, and they have steadily increased. That is still a cause for concern.
The issue of fixing number plates to such vehicles has not been sufficiently addressed by us. If the intention of registration—or a possible offshoot of having vehicles registered—is that the bikes must have a registration plate, the Motor Cycle Industry Association rightly raises concerns about when MUPPs are used in competitive sport. It makes the point that a plastic plate could shatter. Therefore, there might be a constant need throughout a race day to repair and replace number plates if they are plastic. It also raises the point that if the plates were not plastic but metal, what would happen if one of them came off or broke? What would be the potential dangers of that? Off-road motorbikes are dangerous at the best of times, and if they are not used properly they can cause many difficulties. There are injuries even at the most carefully organised and controlled competitive events. If there were metal plates, which can be sharp-edged and might fly off, that could cause greater injuries—even fatalities—and if there were plastic plates, shards could fly off and cause injuries, not only to those taking part but to the many spectators.
The Motor Cycle Industry Association raises the matter of enforcement as its greatest concern. How do we tackle the hardcore antisocial elements? Such people would view any extra law with cynicism: they might simply dismiss it, and it certainly might not have an impact. I shall return to that issue shortly.
The comments of the Association of Chief Police Officers have been mentioned, and I will not rehearse them other than to say that it clearly feels that parts of road traffic legislation can be used to address this problem. If the powers exist and can be used, why are they not being used to the extent that they should be? Many Members have said that in certain areas of the country they are being used—and that they are used very well—but that is not the case across the country. ACPO therefore must be asked the following question: what pressure is it putting on its membership to make sure that best practice is spread throughout the country and that the powers are used properly?
I found the “Respect” document, “Tackling mini-moto misuse: a guide”, to be interesting and useful reading, and I wish briefly to go through some of its very important points, while also ensuring that we get on to the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. In the first part of the first section of that document the question of where mini-motos can be ridden legally is asked. That is a good point. As I said earlier in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho), I have seen mini-bikes being used in appalling ways. I have already commented on the man in his mid-20s with the baby perched on the handlebars collecting another older child from school. Sadly, on that occasion I was a passenger in a passing vehicle and was therefore unable to take any action myself. The document asks whether they can be ridden on private land, and the answer is that they can, but with exceptions. We have already heard about the requirement for legal sites, and I will address that shortly.
In one part of my constituency there is a park that runs behind a number of houses. Young people—and not so young people—tear through that park, causing a nuisance, and that brings the whole area down, not simply in terms of antisocial behaviour in the park but in terms of the knock-on effects. There is noise, so people cannot sit out in their gardens on a nice summer evening. When the weather turns warmer—because of climate change, we seem over recent years to have been blessed, if I can use that word in this context, with some very good summer weather—parents might wish to keep their children’s bedroom windows open to let in some fresh air. Of course, if a “muppet” is tearing up and down outside on an off-road bike having no regard whatever for the community, the noise will keep the children awake. That will have a knock-on effect on their performance at school next day, and could give rise to other antisocial behaviour issues. As a result of such behaviour, the park becomes a no-go area. Legitimate users of that parkland are deterred from using it, and might take a wide detour to avoid walking through it because idiots are riding their bikes in an antisocial—in many cases, almost criminal—manner. The park therefore becomes a haven for other antisocial—and, indeed, illegal—activity.
That is not to say that we should roundly condemn everybody who sells mini-motos and other such vehicles. A vendor in Fenton, in my constituency, is taking a very responsible attitude to sales by making sure that the people buying such vehicles are responsible and understand the legislation and where mini-motos can and cannot be ridden legally.
Section 2 of the guide deals with education and engagement. We need to educate people not just on the use of MUPPs, but on the general use of pavements, parks and roads. Organisations such as the Blurton Dads group, in my constituency, are doing excellent work teaching young people—and their fathers—about riding safely and responsibly.
Several Members have mentioned the use of legal sites, but sadly, there is an element of nimbyism that we have to be very careful about. A lot of constituents will rightly say, “An excellent site and facilities should be provided for such people. They should be supervised and proper care and control should be provided—but please don’t put the site near my house.” That is understandable in cases where noise has proved a problem, and it is particularly understandable if such people have been plagued for many years by the nuisance caused by the misuse of off-road vehicles. However, we need to locate such sites in accessible areas, while not putting them so close to people’s back yards as to cause a nuisance.
Of course, that creates all sorts of dilemmas. If a site is located too far away, it simply will not be used. The young people—and the slightly older people—who want to use their mini-motos and MUPPs for recreational purposes will be unable to do so because they cannot travel that far. We have already heard how difficult it can be to get a mini-moto to such a site for those who do not have a small van to load it into. They might have to push it there, and as the hon. Member for North Shropshire said, pushing such a vehicle along the road can of itself contravene road traffic legislation. We need to locate such venues sufficiently far away from residents so as not to cause them a problem, but close enough to users to make them accessible. The local authority in my constituency is working hard to find suitable venues. The deputy elected mayor, Councillor Paul Shotton, is doing a lot of valuable work in trying to resolve this problem, as is another constituency colleague, Councillor Terry Doughtey.
Section 3 of the guide refers to taking action against the misuse of mini-motos and the tools and powers that are available. Reference was made earlier to seizing such vehicles and crushing them, and that might well be the answer in cases where that can be done. Section 87(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which makes it an offence for a person to use a motor vehicle of any class on a road unless they hold a driving licence, would allow for vehicles to be crushed if they are used by unlicensed riders. However, a MUPP that has been seized with the intention of destroying it might well not be the legal property of the person riding it. They might have stolen it, and if they are apprehended, it might emerge that it is not their legal property, which gives rise to the question whether it can be destroyed.
Of course, the vehicle might well be that person’s property, but even then, other problems arise. Police officers tell me that in some cases the person in question simply goes out and buys another one. Many such vehicles are available and their cost has dropped dramatically, so if the offender’s vehicle is seized and crushed, they simply buy another one—or, indeed, steal another one. Whether or not they bought the original vehicle legitimately, they might think, “Well, let’s steal one and use that.” Having spoken to the police, I get the impression that some offenders are indeed repeat offenders and will constantly steal vehicles to use in an antisocial and criminal manner. Therefore, seizing and destroying vehicles is not always the answer.
When someone misuses such a vehicle, the police often issue a warning, but many of my constituents are saying, “They have broken the law or antisocial behaviour legislation, so why issue a warning? They have done something that they should not be doing.” As we all know, ignorance of the law is no excuse; the vehicle in question should be seized there and then. Some councils try to get around issuing warnings, because they might have to go to court and pay legal costs if they are challenged. We should not have to find ways around the legislation; the law should be clear. I hope that the Minister takes particular note of that point and responds to it when he winds up the debate.
I will indeed deal with that issue when I wind up. However, the point that I am trying to make to colleagues is that I fully accept that there might be deficiencies in the law and things that we want to fix, but we can fix this one without introducing a registration system. Why have a burdensome registration system that will not be cost-effective and will not get to the root of the problem, when we might be able to do the things that would really make a difference, such as changing that particular rule?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that response. When the Bill is considered in Committee—as I hope it will be—we can discuss that issue further.
That brings me nicely to uninsured drivers. Whether or not there is a requirement to register such a vehicle, perhaps there should be a requirement that anybody who rides one—be it on road or off road—has some form of insurance. That might more easily solve the problem, in that anyone found using a MUPP would immediately have to prove that they are insured. If they are not, they are running a vehicle without insurance, for which there are penalties. If the vehicle is their own, it could perhaps be seized and destroyed. I hope we can discuss in Committee whether a clause could be added to the Bill requiring that anybody who uses a MUPP should have insurance.
I have already dealt with the issue of such offenders being caught twice, but I repeat: why should people have to put up with these problems time and again? As we have heard, the perception among a lot of people—including my own constituents—is that the police are taking no action when in fact they do apprehend offenders. However, as soon as the police leave, other offenders come along and start misusing off-road vehicles. As a result, the perception is that this has been happening all day and the police are doing nothing, when in fact, quite the reverse is true.
I question how much of a deterrent putting endorsement points on future licences would be to a young person using an off-road vehicle in an antisocial or illegal way. They are unlikely to stop and think, “Good grief, what will happen when I apply for my licence? It will be endorsed with points.” Such cries are not ringing on the lips of those who are using these bikes.
I hope that my local council, Stoke-on-Trent city council, will look more closely at the possibility of applying a blanket noise abatement order to areas where off-road bikes are used, so that, if the noise of the bikes is a problem, action can be taken without the rigmarole of warnings and so on.
I am conscious of the time and intend to bring my remarks to a rapid conclusion. There are several examples of good local initiatives that have been taken to address this issue. The Killingbeck divisional off-road motorcycle unit came to my attention a couple of years ago and involves a team of officers with off-road bikes, which are, I hope, properly registered and insured—
My hon. Friend mentioned that he hoped that his local authority would do something connected with noise abatement. I would be grateful if he could explain that a little further, as I am not sure that I grasped the full point that he was making.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The noise made by mini-motos tearing around can be very antisocial, perhaps for parents putting their children to bed and having to leave the windows open because it is hot. The noise can also have an intimidating effect on people who are just sitting in their living room trying to watch an episode of their favourite soap. The volume of those unsilenced motor vehicles can be deafening from some distance away and sound as if it is just outside people’s front doors. A noise abatement notice can be served under section 79(1)(g) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which applies to
“noise emitted from premises”—
and that may apply to a vehicle in the street—
“so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance”.
That constitutes a statutory nuisance, and if local authorities are satisfied that such a nuisance has or may occur—that might be a way around the problem—they can serve a noise abatement notice, or NAN, on the person responsible. Although certainly my Nan, God rest her soul, would object to being associated with anything to do with antisocial behaviour. If the area is public property, the council has to take the sometimes tortuous route of ensuring that it obeys the legislation, gets the wording right and puts the notices up. Those notices may be challenged, and the issue may go to court, thus incurring legal costs. There should be a much simpler solution and I am keen that alternatives are explored in Committee.
I understand that Doncaster metropolitan borough council considered 1,500 complaints about motorcycle nuisance in 2004-05 and served 640 NANs. However, only 45 mini-motos were seized by the environmental health officers, with a further 100 seized by South Yorkshire police. Either the 640 NANs were effective at deterring the problem or they could not be implemented.
I was talking about the Killingbeck divisional off-road motorcycle unit. Many police forces, such as the Staffordshire police in my area, do not use off-road motorbikes to catch perpetrators because of health and safety issues that affect the officers themselves. Other hon. Members have mentioned the health and safety of the perpetrators, but the health and safety of the officers is also an issue. My understanding—although my local chief constable may be sitting, pen poised, to write to me to correct me—is that the Staffordshire police do not use off-road bikes because of health and safety concerns regarding their officers. It is important that we protect our police officers, but we also need a police force able to use all the available powers. Twelve pieces of legislation are available for use on this issue and I hope that the Bill will not be an unlucky 13th.
The hon. Gentleman says that he wants the police to have all the powers that they need. Does he agree that it is important that they should have access to section 172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which they can have only if the vehicles are registered?
I agree that if the police need legislation to address something, the House should weigh up and carefully consider all the issues and, if it decides that it is what the police need, it should deliver it to them—[Interruption.]
I am ever conscious of time, and I can hear the murmurings of colleagues—
My hon. Friend makes the point that time is of the essence and he assured us when he stood up that he would be fairly brief. I understand that he also wishes to speak in the second debate about campaigns run by his two trade unions, the Transport and General Workers Union and Amicus. Is he aware that he is severely denting the time available—
I am indeed conscious of the time. As a trade unionist and a member of the T and G, Amicus and Unity—formerly the Ceramic and Allied Trades Union—I am conscious that my hon. Friend has raised an important issue and I hope that we will get on to it. I am limiting my speech, as I had planned carefully to go through the document published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regulating the use of motor vehicles on public rights of way and off road. It is an important document that should be addressed in the House, but as it is some 35 pages long, I shall not do so. It is important that we move on to the second debate. I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured by my comments.
Another issue, which I hope we will discuss in Committee, is how we will know whether a vehicle is registered. If the Bill requires the vehicles to have a plate and a vehicle does not have one, it is fairly safe for officers to assume that it is being used illegally and therefore to seize it. However, if it does have a plate, how will they know whether the vehicle has passed appropriate MOT tests and has a certificate of road worthiness? There would need to be some way of differentiating the number plate—it could be a different colour or have a different type of registration number—so that somebody could not buy an off-road vehicle that was not certificated for use on the public highway and then, because it was registered and they had a plate on it, decide to use it on the public highway because nobody would be any the wiser. A passing police officer or city council enforcement officer would see the bike, see a plate on the back, and think, “Oh, that’s okay. It’s legal.” Without having some way of differentiating the number plate, there would be no way of knowing whether the vehicle was legal for use off road or on road. It has been said that the registration is an issue. Hopefully, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley will answer that point in his winding-up speech.
I am, as ever, grateful to my hon. Friend for the intervention. If there are not too many more interventions, hopefully I will be able to conclude my comments.
There is an issue about stopping the vehicles. If the vehicles are not stopped, one cannot check whether they are registered. If the vehicles bear a number plate, there is an issue about checking whether the vehicle is licensed for on-road or off-road use. If a vehicle is used on road and it is not licensed for that purpose, there is an issue about how one stops that vehicle. A point has already been made about what happens at the moment when a rider is wearing a helmet or a scarf and is not able to be identified.
I would like the Bill to move forward and go into Committee. However—I hope that the Minister will take this point on board—we need to find ways, either in the Bill or elsewhere, of enabling the police to enforce the legislation. Whether we have 12, 13 or 300 pieces of legislation, unless the police find a way of safely stopping people whom they believe to be using vehicles in an antisocial way, all the legislation in the world will come to nothing.
I remind my colleagues that they have taken up about five minutes of my speech by making interventions to ask me to wind up quickly.
The Minister has already been asked to comment on how many voluntary registrations there have been. I echo that request. Finally—I am waiting for the cheers from my colleagues—I ask him seriously to consider whether there is a way of requiring the riders themselves to be registered or insured and addressing the problem through that route.
I intend to be brief because, like other hon. Members, I support the second Bill that is on the Order Paper for consideration today. However, I need to detain the House a little to raise some of the important issues for my constituency.
Although I do not want to detain the House too long, I cannot begin my main remarks without commenting on the remarks of the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). I suggest that he go to a Hackney estate to tell people that we should make mini-motos a sporting opportunity, and he can see what reaction he gets. I applaud the work of people such as Ian Levy, the father of a young man murdered in Hackney, who is working to create motorbike workshops for young people as a diversionary tactic, but that is a separate issue that must not be confused with the issues in the Bill.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on introducing the Bill, and my hon. Friends the Members for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) and for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) on their work in this area. It is an important issue and an important Bill. If it does nothing else, it will raise the Government’s awareness of this nuisance and the inability of the current laws to tackle it. I hope that it gets a fair wind. We know that private Members’ Bills often make precarious progress through the House, but from the speeches we have heard the Government can be in no doubt of the importance of the matter to our constituents.
It is fair to say that Hackney does not have the reputation it deserves and I feel that it is important to redress that every time I speak. I want to highlight the fact that crime in Hackney has dropped overall by 22 per cent. since the neighbourhood police teams were introduced 18 months ago. It is the first London borough to achieve its three-year crime reduction target, and it has done so within 18 months—a significant improvement. However, antisocial behaviour is still raised many times when I am on doorsteps with local councillors and others in the constituency. Neighbourhood policing has done much to help people to tackle antisocial behaviour. When I knock on doors now, I find that people feel that, when they raise such issues, there is an opportunity to work with the police, the council and other members of the community to tackle them.
That true partnership between the community, the police and the council has made a difference and I was delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his visit to Hackney, South and Shoreditch, when we walked around the Queensbridge ward with its neighbourhood team—Sergeant Nick Smith and his colleagues—and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner last Friday, so that they could see for themselves the important work that has been done. We have seen substantial reductions in crime, but I shall not say any more about that, given the time.
Mini-motos are a widespread problem in Hackney, as in other areas. I am heartened to hear that we in Hackney are not alone in experiencing the problem and that they are an issue throughout the country, in rural areas, cities and elsewhere. The figures back up the interest in mini-motos. I know that the hon. Member for North Shropshire believes that the import figures from China demonstrate that the trend might be disappearing. The fact that 144,000 were imported in 2005 and that that figure has dropped to only 60,000 in 2006 does not mean that interest is dropping but only that we have more second-hand and used vehicles on the road. I would not say that the decrease was that big in Hackney, given the anecdotal evidence I have heard as the local MP.
The Bill raises the important issue of registration. It is interesting that the Government argue against it, because I think that it provides two main benefits. First, it forces owners to stop and think twice before purchasing one of these vehicles. There have been education programmes and so on that have told people that they are dangerous for their children and have pointed out the other 12 pieces of legislation governing their use, but have they had much impact? We have heard that they have where there has been an attempt at a crackdown, but those laws exist everywhere and there has not been a uniform reduction in the use of these dangerous nuisance vehicles. The cost and effort of registration will make people realise that what they are buying is a vehicle, not a toy.
Crucially, a registration plate would allow the public to report such vehicles. One of the benefits of working with neighbourhood police teams in Hackney is that the public feel involved. Hackney councillors have brought in residents as street wardens to report what is going on in their area, which makes it much easier for police to identify theft and misuse. Registration also has the advantage of allowing for instant action. Although seizure is an option in some cases now, registration would mean that penalties could take place immediately, which is a real advantage.
It warrants a moment of my time to mention that the motorcycle industry argues that the 12 existing laws covering the use and abuse of mini-motos send a powerful message to parents. However, the very act of registering will surely make parents think twice, and perhaps the cost will put them off. I would be interested to know whether the Minister has had any discussions about the issue with Treasury Ministers—perhaps he can address that in his remarks. I would have thought that a lot of the discussion about registration concerns its cost. Surely we could make the registration scheme self-financing and I hope that that might be debated if the Bill reaches Committee. Perhaps we could even tax vehicles—this may be controversial for those who use them for sport—to an extent that makes people think about whether it is sensible to buy them in the first place. Perhaps it would be best not to debate that matter now, even though it is important, given the time available. The 12 laws are not doing the job, so we need to consider other approaches, which is why the Bill is important.
I know that there are genuine users of off-road vehicles, such as the people of Hackney who use their vehicles in the Lea valley area, which is just outside my constituency. There is an argument that registration plates on vehicles being used off road could get damaged and cause a danger, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) said. However, that is not an argument against registration itself. We would need to consider exactly how registration would work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) rightly highlighted the impact on our parks. I will not go over the points that he made, with which I totally agree, but a small problem is created by attempts to tackle the nuisance of bikes in parks by introducing narrow gates to stop people going through on their motor bikes. Those gates are a pain in the neck for people with a buggy, wheelchair or bicycle. We are having to tackle the problem by implementing solutions that cause more difficulties for the legitimate users of our parks and other facilities.
The nuisance needs to be tackled in Hackney, South and Shoreditch and, as we have heard today, elsewhere throughout the country. The argument that there are 12 existing laws is not an argument against the Bill, but an argument for it, because that legislation is not working, given that we have a problem while it is in place. The Bill would create disincentives to purchase a vehicle in the first place and give those who suffer from this antisocial behaviour more power to ensure that they did not have to live with such a scourge on our society.
When I introduced a ten-minute Bill on this subject on 1 November, I proposed measures very similar to those in the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer). On that occasion, I talked about the extent of the problem, the damage caused to land and property and the people who were distressed by noise and danger, especially the most vulnerable people. I included in that group children with learning difficulties or those on the autistic spectrum, and people with very limited eyesight, all of whom could be distressed by the danger and thus have their lives limited by it. I also talked about injuries and fatalities. However, given that I do not have time, I will not emphasise any of those points, although I would have liked to have done so.
The police in Greater Manchester are asking for these powers. Despite the fact that our local police are doing an excellent job on crackdowns, which I talked about when I introduced my Bill, despite the effective “stop off-road nuisance” campaign that Greater Manchester police ran throughout last summer and autumn, and despite the excellent publicity given to the campaign by our local paper, the Manchester Evening News, we still need extra powers to establish a clear system of ownership, to ensure that consumers are protected and to increase the efficiency of police action—although we already have plenty of police action, we can improve its efficiency.
Considerable political benefits could arise from supporting the Bill. As we have heard, the constituents of many hon. Members have problems of the scale about which I have talked. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) gave us an impressive list of the parts of the country that are most affected—the problem occurs across the country. There have been petitions and three ten-minute Bills, and two early-day motions on the problem were tabled by Labour Members after the summer recess. If the Bill were passed, it would bring great relief to many thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands. That would help them to feel that the Government were on their side.
It is not enough to say to Greater Manchester Members that the police have existing powers. Our police tell us that they do not have powers and that they want the Bill. If the Government continue not to support the Bill, our constituents will not understand why.
My views and those of the Government have already been pretty well misrepresented today, not least in The Times this morning, in which there was a travesty of a report on comments made in a speech. The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), who raised the matter on a point of order this morning, would do well to get hold of my speech and read it for himself.
I intend to do that very thing, Madam Deputy Speaker, having grasped the opportunity to make that point. Misrepresented is probably too strong a word; colleagues have perhaps not understood my position on the Bill, so let me begin by making it absolutely clear. The Government entirely support the intention behind the Bill. They entirely accept that the use of off-road vehicles in many of our constituencies, including mine, is a great problem: they are a considerable source of antisocial behaviour and we entirely agree that we should crack down on their misuse. We entirely understand the distress of people who have suffered because of the misuse of those vehicles, and we want to deal with the issue.
We will deal with the issue by making sure that there are powers in place that give the police the authority that they need to deal with it effectively. As has been pointed out by many Members, there are already at least 12 laws that the police can use, and in some parts of the country, they use them extremely effectively. As a consequence, those parts of the country are not requesting any further powers; nor is the Association of Chief Police Officers, because it believes that the powers are in place.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), who introduced the Bill, on coming so high up in the ballot, and on his enthusiasm for the issue. Given the number of raffles at Labour party events, one would think that we would be a bit better at them, but on this occasion, the best that we Labour Members could do was take fifth place. None the less, I welcome his enthusiasm for the Bill.
At the outset of his remarks, my hon. Friend talked about the choice that he was given, but I gave him another choice, and I want the House to know about it. My problem with the Bill—I will, no doubt, deal with it in depth in the minutes to come—is that, in my analysis, the solution that it proposes would have very little benefit and would not be cost-effective. I agree that it would have some value, in certain cases, but the value would be nugatory, and nowhere near sufficient to justify the cost involved.
Let me set out the choice that I gave my hon. Friend. If we allowed the Bill to proceed to Committee, it would take considerable resources, effort and time to amend it there, just to ensure an effective registration system that did not cause problems. If we put resources into that, we would come out of Committee with a Bill that still simply provided for a registration system. Do not forget that the primary purpose of the Bill is to create a compulsory registration system, and it is not possible to amend the primary purpose of a Bill in Committee. The Bill would go into Committee providing for a compulsory registration system, and would come out of Committee providing for a compulsory registration system. If a compulsory registration system is not the answer to the problem, then no matter how hard we worked in Committee, we would come out of it with something that would not solve the problem. We would still have to face the fact that we would have to vote against the Bill on Third Reading. The offer that I made to my hon. Friend was—
Let me set out the deal that I offered my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, and then I will certainly give way.
At my request, ACPO is undertaking research on the problem. It is gathering from across the country examples of best practice and details of what powers the police think are missing. My hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety and I further suggested to my hon. Friend that we create an inter-departmental committee, and we even said that he could chair it. It would have ministerial involvement, not just from the Home Office and the Department for Transport, but possibly even from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government, all of which have an interest in the issue. That committee would drive forward the identification of the powers that are genuinely missing, and the Government would come back to the House on the issue and introduce those powers, instead of my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill. I said, too, that if as a result of that research it was clear that a registration system would have more than nugatory value, we would bring back such a system. We could not do that work within the framework of a private Member’s Bill, given the timescale and the nature of such Bills. My hon. Friend turned down that offer. That work will go ahead, but we cannot do it while the Bill is under consideration, which is why I urge my hon. Friends to decline Second Reading and allow the Government to do the work that they rightly identified as necessary.
I am struggling to understand why my hon. Friend does not believe that blanket registration for such vehicles would dent their popularity. One of the biggest issues for my constituents arises from the fact that they do not know how they can achieve an impact on the problem. Blanket registration would provide a clear, effective solution, particularly for unsafe vehicles that are a danger both to the people who drive them and to other people on the street.
If, once we had analysed the problem carefully, it turned out that a registration system would have the effect suggested by my hon. Friend, we would bring it back, as I have said, but we simply cannot do so within the timescale and the framework of a private Member’s Bill.
Let me put another scenario to my hon. Friend. A registration system must be self-financing. That is a principle that we accept throughout the registration system, because we do not want the taxpayer to subsidise people’s behaviour. If we introduced that piece of work and charged a registration fee sufficient in the first year to cover the registration of all off-road vehicles, and their sale collapsed as she suggests, the entire cost of registration and running costs of several million pounds a year would fall on law-abiding users of off-road vehicles, who are not a problem at the moment, but who would find the registration fee going up from between £50 and £100 to much, much more. I urge my hon. Friend not to allow the Bill to go into Committee, where we would have to put all the Government’s resources into trying to amend it, even though we know that at the end of the day we will probably have to vote against it. I urge her, and every one of my hon. Friends who say that the measure is necessary, to allow the Government to do that work. We will take it forward, and if any new powers or a new registration system are needed, we will bring the measure back as Government legislation. It will be properly costed and implemented, and it will be effective, so we will have something of which we can all be proud.
I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Stratford magistrates court was one of the first to take action against traders who sell these motorbikes. It was found that they had sold 21 dangerously unsafe vehicles and they were fined just over £7,000 for the offence. If that is the response, the law is not robust enough and it puts my constituents in danger.
That is exactly why I am asking my hon. Friend not to agree to Second Reading but to allow us to conduct a root-and-branch review of the legislation. The stakeholders group would consist not just of the Department for Transport looking at transport issues and the Home Office looking at antisocial behaviour issues. It would include the Department of Trade and Industry looking at trading standards and safety, the Department for Communities and Local Government looking at the use of open space, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport looking at both the provision and loss of sporting facilities. We would do that root-and-branch work, and we would identify the issues which, as my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, are a problem. However, they are outside the scope of the Bill. Even if I agreed that it should go into Committee and we should have that conversation, an amendment to deal with the problem could not be introduced. The Clerks would immediately tell us that that was out of order. The Speaker would rule it out of order. It would be outside the scope of the Bill.
The one thing that the Bill can do is produce a registration system. That is the one thing that is not necessary or cost-effective.
My hon. Friend fairly represents the offer that was made to me; hon. Members should know that. However, he did not give the reasons why I turned the offer down. First, because of the way that this place and Government work, my hon. Friend cannot guarantee to be in post when there is a change of Prime Minister. That is no slur on him. Secondly, information is required from ACPO, which has not covered itself in glory in the way that it has provided information. I am still not sure that ACPO is not representing my hon. Friend’s views, rather than its members’ views. Thirdly, why should we lose the framework of the Bill if he believes that a registration scheme could work? Fourthly, why should any alternative solutions to the problem be so time limited? Those were the reasons why I turned his offer down.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for acknowledging that my offer was in the terms that I set out. I understand that he may no longer trust ACPO. I can tell him that I discussed the matter with ACPO very early in my ministerial career in the Department for Transport, as a result of concerns expressed to me by my hon. Friends.
Order. I am sure the Minister does not mean any discourtesy, but I remind him that he must address the Chair.
My great apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was getting carried away.
I discussed the problem with ACPO early in my ministerial career to try and identify how it could be resolved. One of the reasons I did so was that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), who was the Parliamentary Private Secretary of the then Secretary of State, brought these very issues to the Secretary of State at that time. As a result of those representations, he was keen that we made sure that we had an effective solution to the problem. I consulted ACPO and asked what was needed. ACPO, without pressure from me, came back and said, “We have some colleagues who think a registration system is the way forward, including colleagues in Manchester, but we don’t believe that to be the case. We believe we have the powers.”
At the same time, the Home Office started to look at the issue in terms of antisocial behaviour. As well as identifying the powers in general that the police could use, which was a piece of work that we did in the Department for Transport, our colleagues in the Home Office put together what became the respect agenda, which was implemented last summer and had considerable impact. Those two pieces of work took us further forward.
It may be that despite those two pieces of work, we still need to do more work and we still need more powers. That is the work that I am prepared to do now. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that I put no pressure on ACPO to follow my views. ACPO told me what it wanted, and we did our best to follow that advice. If it so happens that its advice is wrong, and if it so happens that when we do the stakeholder work we identify further powers that are needed, we will provide them. I have said that if it turns out that ACPO was wrong about a registration system, the Government will introduce one. But we cannot do that within the framework of my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill or the time scale that that would impose on us.
I am sure my hon. Friend can sense the impatience in the House today from us and from our constituents for the issue to be dealt with. Can he give the House an indication of the time scale for the cross-departmental work that he proposes, and the first possible date on which we might see some change in legislation and some action that would rid our constituents of the problem?
The ACPO work is already under way, and it has been going on for some time. I have not received an indication from ACPO when it expects to complete the work, but I do not expect it to be long delayed. A cross-departmental stakeholder group to examine the issues can be implemented relatively quickly. I do not want to be too optimistic, but I would be surprised if we had not identified the significant issues by September. We would then be able to decide which of the measures can be implemented without legislation, which of them need primary legislation and which need secondary legislation. We are talking about that kind of time scale.
I entirely accept that the impatience of my hon. Friend’s constituents is real. However, the existing 12 powers can be used, the Home Office is willing to use the respect agenda to drive the matter forward and the Department for Transport is also willing to act. Best practice is being identified in the various police authorities around the country. Working together, I suspect that we can make significant further inroads into the problem, even before we identify further gaps in the legislation. Throughout this year, I think that my hon. Friend will see significant improvements in the situation.
This is the Government’s position: we are not hostile to the intention behind the Bill, and we are not ruling out a registration system for ever, but we think that there is a better, more thorough and more effective way to deal with the issue which will impact on the lawless rather than law-abiding people.
I will deal with the points made by my hon. Friends and Opposition Members before I turn to the body of my comments. As I have said, paragraph 1 does not include trikes, and I have had an exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on that subject. That provision would be amendable in Committee, but a vast range of other provisions would have to be amended in Committee, too. If the Bill were passed as it stands, all the racing bikes in next year’s British grand prix would have to display number plates. Amendments would be needed to make it clear that superbikes in a formal racing environment or people racing scrambler bikes in properly organised off-road events do not have to display number plates. All such issues would need to be identified, and the necessary amendments would need to be drafted and introduced into the legislation. I suggest that such work should be done within the framework of a Government Bill, where we will have the time and the leisure to do it. I may be wrong about this, but I have been told that because only one private Member’s Bill has been committed upstairs so far, this Bill would be in Committee at a very early date, so we would not have time to do the study, which is another reason why the Government should be given the flexibility and the time to do the work properly.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley introduced his Bill, he pointed out that virtually all these bicycles are illegal on the road, which is correct, and that virtually all of them go on the road, which is also correct. I put it to him that that means that they can all be confiscated at some point, because people have only to break one road traffic law for the police to be able to confiscate bikes with no warnings and none of the other problems. If the police catch someone doing something on-road, the bike can go there and then, which is another reason why I am not convinced that the Bill will take us much further forward.
I thank the Minister for his patience in giving way—I chose not to make a substantive speech, because I wanted to see us progress through the morning. I am concerned about the issue of apprehension. I know that police officers in a ward in the east end of London that has a particular problem with mini-motos are chasing these young men—generally they are young men—on push-bikes. The police officers are becoming very fit in the pursuit of mini-motos, but that approach is not as effective as it might be. The best approach is to get mini-motos off the street to begin with, rather than pursuing young people when they are engaged in illegal activity driving around the streets of Plaistow.
I entirely agree. My hon. Friend’s point relates to one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, who said that he was in favour of the bikes being registered and having to display a number plate. Frankly, whatever benefits the Bill would deliver would come only if the bikes had a number plate. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) agrees. However, are law-abiding people, who register their bikes and are prepared to put a number plate on them, the sort to drive away from a policeman when he asks them to stop?
The fact is that the people who would disobey the proposed law are those whom the police officers in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley are chasing. They would still be chasing them if the Bill was enacted. How we go about safely apprehending miscreants is a key point that we need to investigate. Several hon. Members have said that, and I agree. There is a weakness there; a kid, who may be very young, cannot be chased because they might have an accident and the officer might also have one during the pursuit. However, a registration system is not the answer, because that kid will not be displaying a number plate.
One reason why I want to take this issue offline and let the Government address it properly is that I want to sit down with the police and ask them what techniques, powers and instruments they really need if they are to tackle the problem safely. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham identified a problem, but the Bill is not the way to solve it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the vehicles were issued with number plates, the ordinary man and woman in the street would be able to identify wrongdoers and report them to the police? In Hove and Portslade in my constituency, there are altercations between residents and people riding such off-road vehicles on the roads, often late at night. Those altercations and dangers would be prevented if the residents were able to take down an identifying feature of the bikes and thereby report them to the police.
That would be the case if miscreants and people who disobey the law obeyed the law being proposed and put number plates on their bikes. I am saying that they will not. As we heard, some people riding the bikes wear balaclavas or masks over their faces to hide their identity. Does my hon. Friend seriously think that someone who puts a balaclava over their face to hide their identity so that they could not be caught would put a number plate on their bike?
Yes, but they simply would not—that is the point. They are breaking the law now in 12 different ways. My hon. Friend is asking me to accept that they would not break the law in a 13th way. I just do not accept that; it does not make sense. However, I come back to the offer that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley: if, as a result of doing the work properly, we identify that registration is a solution, we shall bring it back in Government legislation, in a structured way that will work.
The Minister has mentioned that offer several times. He told us he was confident that he would be able to resolve the issues by the end of the year. I suggest that he could allow the Bill a Second Reading. In Committee, he could insert a new clause that required a statutory instrument to bring the Bill into force. If, after the great canvass of opinions that the Minister proposes, it is demonstrated that the scheme is needed, he could bring forward that statutory instrument, saving subsequent Government time. If it was demonstrated that the power was not needed, he would not bring forward the statutory instrument and there would be no argument from any of the other hon. Members here.
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Liberal Democrats would be the first to complain if I took that sort of preparatory power for things that I cannot prove are really needed. In recent days, Liberal Democrats made that very argument about preparatory powers that the Government were taking in other areas. I am, personally, profoundly unconvinced that this system would have anything more than nugatory value, but I am making an honest offer in good faith that if we do this piece of work and it turns out that it would have value, we would bring it back to the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that in good faith.
I want to push my hon. Friend for one last time. Following his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Ms Barlow), does he agree that if a bike was sold with a number plate, like my car, it would be much more likely to be kept in its place, intact, on the back of the bike, to enable the identification of people who are breaking the law? I know that there are difficulties in London and elsewhere with people stealing number plates, replacing the number plates on the cars they are driving, and engaging in all kinds of criminal activity. Nevertheless, we would stand a better chance of identifying people and catching them if number plates were on bikes at the point of sale.
I do not accept that. In reality, the people who would keep them on are law-abiding people who are buying bikes for their children in good faith and supervising them, and would, if they were causing antisocial behaviour, deal with them properly as parents should.
Order. Let me again remind the Minister to address the Chair, not least because I am now advised that the people responsible for sound in the Chamber are having difficulty in ensuring that he is being heard properly.
I certainly would not want people not to hear what I am saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so thank you very much. If you could tell me which point in my speech I need to go back to, I would be happy to start again.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and I will have to agree to differ on this point. I do not share her view that the provision would have real value, but if, when we do this piece of work, it turns out that it would, we will bring it back. I hope that that is the assurance that she is looking for.
While I am on the subject of number plates, other complexities are involved. There is a whole raft of legislation about the size, shape and lettering of number plates. The rear number plate specified in the Bill would be nearly as big as some mini-motos—it would be like having a sail on the back. That might be dangerous in itself, and the owner might be encouraged to take it off because it looks so silly and gets in the way. Would we insist on people having those big number plates, or would we redesign the number plate system and have smaller number plates? Then, who would sell them? Under the Road Safety Act 2006, number plates can be bought only from certain designated stores. Would they have to tool up to make redesigned smaller number plates for mini-motos? Number plates are the size they are because they work with automated number plate recognition cameras. Smaller number plates would not, so we would have to redesign the software for those cameras. If someone wanted to make a note of such a number plate, they would need to be a lot closer in order to be able to see it. We would have to take account of a whole raft of issues to do with the size, design and provision of number plates.
Order. I appreciate that it is Friday, but we must have the correct parliamentary language.
Let me repeat to the Minister that he is still swivelling right round. The microphone is there for a purpose. If he wants to be heard, he will have to direct his remarks a little more towards the Chair.
My hon. Friend the Minister is not only swivelling—he is not being sensible. The cameras he mentions are for on-road vehicles but we are considering the registration of off-road vehicles. People will be able to read a smaller motorbike’s registration plate as it passes them.
I am swivelling because one normally expects to find one’s opponents on the Opposition Benches, but they are sadly empty today.
I understand my hon. Friend’s point. One of our Labour colleagues said that ANPR cameras could be used to record the use of such vehicles off road and that the police could act on that, thus saving police time. However, as my hon. Friend said, those cameras are fixed on-road. We would therefore presumably have to set them up off-road to enforce the Bill.
Do I believe that the police, in areas where they say that resources are stretched and the 12 existing laws cannot be policed, would spread them even more thinly to enforce registration? No, I do not. Do I believe that that would be in our constituents’ interests? No, I do not. If the police were enforcing the registration of vehicles, they would not be stopping the antisocial use of bikes by those who were ignoring the law. If limited resources are the reason we need new powers, we had better ensure that they help the police, not steer them away from where we want to be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley said that existing law is too complex. He appeared to acknowledge that many of the powers that the police need are contained in existing law, but said that its complexity means that too much of their resources are taken up in enforcing it. I therefore ask him why one would want to take away scarce resources from cracking down on antisocial use of bikes and put them into enforcing a registration system. The police, ultimately, would have to enforce the registration system.
My hon. Friend also asked why the DVLA had a voluntary scheme if a registration system was such a bad idea. We have such a scheme for law-abiding citizens who want to protect their bike from theft and ensure that they get it back if it is stolen. The target market is completely different from the one that my hon. Friend envisages.
Why should we not have a registration scheme? My answer to that is, in summary, that its costs are high, its benefits are low—perhaps even nugatory—and it would divert police resources from the genuine problem. I hope that my hon. Friend will come to accept that. If the Bill does not go into Committee, I hope that he will also accept that, even though he is not willing to be involved, I intend in good faith to drive forward the work that I mentioned to ensure a genuine solution to the problem.
I should like to clarify that I did not say that I would not be involved with the work. I accept that my hon. Friend makes his proposal in good faith but, because changes in Government may occur, I said that I would not abandon a registration Bill for something that might not happen. However, I am willing to be involved at any stage.
I am grateful for that offer. Ministerial promises are made not on behalf of the individual who holds the post, but on behalf of the Government. The promise to move the matter forward will survive my ministerial career, if it should come to an end before the promise is fulfilled. I hope that that is not the case, although if my hon. Friend’s comments about the Prime Minister’s view of the Bill are accurate, who knows?
I should tell the House that my understanding of what the Prime Minister meant when he made those comments to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley is that he is entirely behind the intention of the Bill. He wants to see the problem dealt with and he is committing the Government to ensuring that it is dealt with, but he does not necessarily believe that this private Member’s Bill provides the framework to do so.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, was next to make comments. He rightly identified that one of the key benefits of bringing vehicles within the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 is that it is necessary to identify the driver of the vehicle at the time of an offence. He is absolutely right: if everyone registered their vehicles and carried their number plates under the new rule and someone saw one of those number plates on a bike that was involved in an offence, they could go to the registered owner of that vehicle and ask them who was driving.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents would happily hand in to the police their eight-year-old son who had broken the law, and we could deal with the matter. However, the people whom he is defining are the law abiding—the people who would register and display their number plates and deal with the issue properly anyway. The entire burden of the Bill would fall on people who display plates. Those who break the law and have antisocial tendencies would not obey it, and the benefits for which he hopes would not accrue under the Bill.
As I said in an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport has had a very long record of campaigning to improve the situation and for a crackdown. She told us about some very disturbing cases in her constituency. I quite understand why she takes the matter so seriously. I see from my notes that she mentioned that some miscreants are wearing scarves and balaclavas to avoid detection. People who are prepared to behave like that would not display a number plate even if we introduced such legislation.
My hon. Friend questioned whether the powers to confiscate are as strong as they ought to be. If the powers do not exist—I am not completely convinced about that, but I am prepared to promise to consider it in the work that I am promising to do on behalf of the Government—there are much easier ways to fix things than introducing a registration system.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) mentioned three areas of work: the regulation of information at the point of sale, safety regulations and the deliberate racing of such vehicles, by which I assume she means deliberate racing in unsuitable places. However, I suspect—of course, one would need to take the guidance of Mr. Speaker and the Clerks—that regulations in all those areas would be outside the scope of the Bill, which is about the registration of those vehicles.
Yes, but in every case my hon. Friend talked about the need for regulation, not registration. We can regulate without introducing a very expensive registration system. I agree entirely that, with a registration system, activities would need to take place at the point of sale, and they might or might not include providing information. We would still need to include powers to require people to provide information at the point of sale. When I buy a motor car, I am not aware of the garage that sells it giving me safety information about the use of my motor car. I am certainly not aware of people there taking me through road traffic laws and telling me where I can and cannot use it. So we would need to introduce a series of regulations and new powers to ensure that that information was provided, but we have not identified them. Let me do that work, which I cannot do in the framework of this private Member’s Bill, and if those powers are lacking we will return to them another time and deal with them properly.
It is excellent news that the Minister says that he will do that work. However, as he said earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and three other hon. Members, including me, have been going on about the issue for some time now, and registration should be included. It is only because of the Bill that the Minister is saying that he will do that work.
That is simply not the case. The Government have already identified the various powers that the police can use, and has disseminated that information to the police. The Department for Transport has done considerable work on that, as has the Home Office. The respect agenda was published last summer. A concerted effort has been made to co-ordinate the work of the police and to ensure that they know what powers they have. Work has gone on with ACPO to ensure that everybody has the information that they need about the powers available.
In certain parts of the country, that has worked extremely well. The hon. Member for North Shropshire pointed out that the powers have been exceedingly effective in Coventry, I think. If there are still problems in Members’ constituencies, however, and if the police genuinely cannot use the powers that they have to cope with them—we will identify that when we do the research—we will bring back the measure as Government legislation, not as a half-baked piece of legislation, which is the best that we could have in a private Member’s Bill, even with all the resources of Government trying to amend it to make it an appropriate measure in the time frame under discussion.
May I re-emphasise that Greater Manchester police are asking for the measure? Like many other Members representing Greater Manchester, I have developed great respect both for the work that the police authority has done on the registration scheme and the Bill, and the work that the police have done on cracking down on the problem. It is frustrating to hear the Minister say that he must do further work. The Greater Manchester police authority and force are of substantial size, and they say that they need these powers.
Greater Manchester police do say that they need those powers, but ACPO says that they do not, and ACPO represents all the other police authorities in the country. Greater Manchester police are extremely effective, well run and focused on their local community and its needs. I have nothing but praise for them. The fact is, however, that they are not offering to pay for the scheme. They are not offering £4 million out of their police budget to set up the scheme, or the £2 million to £3 million necessary to pay for the running costs. Nor are they telling me that they have the resources to enforce the registration scheme even if we introduce it. They are telling me that they do not have the resources to enforce the 12 powers that they already have. Why would they suddenly have even more resources available to enforce the Bill?
Let us work with ACPO and all police authorities to identify an effective scheme with a cost-benefit ratio that is in favour of the benefits rather than the costs. If a registration scheme turns out to be part of that, and if Greater Manchester police can make their case, sell it to all the other police authorities and convince me that it will have more than nugatory value, we can return to such proposals. But we cannot do that work within the framework of this Bill.
A registration scheme might help with the three areas identified by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon in her speech, but those could be dealt with in much easier regulatory or legislative means that do not require an expensive registration system.
May I return to the analogy that my hon. Friend drew with his experiences of buying a car from a garage? When a garage sells him a car, I presume that it has a responsibility—certainly, if it is a new car—to ensure that it is roadworthy and that it will not cause him distress while driving. Unfortunately, these bikes are being sold new to my constituents and they are neither roadworthy nor safe. Many of the problems that we are experiencing are with tracing unsafe vehicles back to the vendor and prosecuting the vendor. A registration scheme would enable us to trace back such unsafe, illegal vehicles to the point of purchase, and to prosecute.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The garage that sells me my car has a responsibility to ensure that it is roadworthy and safe for use on the road, but the responsibility to make sure that I have a roadworthy vehicle of merchantable quality does not fall to it under the vehicle excise legislation or under registration legislation; it falls to it under trading standards legislation. That is why we need to do a piece of work across Government to look at all those issues and to come forward with a package of changes that can deal with those problems. The registration system alone will not do it. If we introduce that alone, it will make a nugatory contribution to the safety issue that she has rightly identified.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) mentioned damage to land and property. I will return to that issue in a moment. She focused on unsafe use of those vehicles and children riding on handle bars. However, misuse is not in this Bill. Registration does not deal with misuse. Perhaps we have to do another piece of work to deal with the misuse of those vehicles. That can be part of the work that we take forward.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) did not allow me to intervene, but I understand his concern that we make progress. However, I will deal with his points now, as he requested. He quoted import figures between 2000 and 2005. Imports rose from a bit more than 2,000 to 144,000, but, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) pointed out, my hon. Friend singularly failed to quote the figures for 2006, when imports fell to just under 60,000—a dramatic fall in sales.
Sales of the vehicles have collapsed, although we do not know why. Perhaps it is because everyone who wants one now has one. It is more likely to do with the fact that the work that the Department of Trade and Industry and trading standards have already done has got over to parents how little legal use can be made of the vehicles and they have simply stopped buying them. The trend might continue. Without doing any of the things we have discussed today, these machines might disappear in a year or two. I certainly hope so. Despite that, I am not advocating that we do nothing. I am advocating that we continue to do this work and do not rely on a further collapse of sales. However, it is a positive sign that they have collapsed so far.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) mentioned at great length rural communities. He pointed out again that the Tories have decided not to come today to represent the views of rural communities. There is clearly a difference between the views of the hon. Member for North Shropshire and my hon. Friend about whether these machines are a problem in the rural community. I point out to my hon. Friend that we have all had a communication from the National Farmers Union saying that it does not support the Bill because it perceives that the burden of it would fall on legitimate landowners and farmers, rather than on the people we want to deal with.
My hon. Friend mentioned some things that I wanted to comment on and which are important: the damage that is done to golf courses and football pitches as a result of the use of those vehicles. That is another reason why the piece of work that needs to be done should be done across Government. It probably needs to include the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, because issues about leisure and sporting activities will all have to be taken into account when we come up with a package to solve the problem.
My hon. Friend is an expert on the drug trade and the damage that drugs do to people. He pointed out that drug users do not travel in registered cars, and that they move their drugs around in unregistered vehicles, including unregistered off-road motor bikes. Would a drug dealer register their off-road motor bike just because we have brought in this Bill? Is he telling me that someone who is committing crimes that could lead to a prison term of tens of years, huge fines and all their property being confiscated, would say, “My goodness, I have to give up the drug trade because I have to register my off-road motorbike now”? That simply would not happen. I entirely accept that drugs are moved in unregistered vehicles and on bikes, but I do not accept that the Bill would make the slightest difference to that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart) believes that all the powers that currently exist are being used to their fullest extent. That might be so in some parts of the country, but I am unsure whether it is in all parts of the country. However, if I accept as a hypothesis his argument that they are all being used to the fullest extent, that does not mean that the extra step that we have to take is to have a registration system. It does not mean that what we need is a single new power. We might need new powers across the board—trading standards powers, perhaps, or transport powers, or Home Office powers or antisocial behaviour powers. We might need a registration system, but we do not know that yet, and I certainly do not accept that it is a given that a registration system is the answer.
I do not always agree with the hon. Member for North Shropshire, but I agreed with the main thrust of his argument on this occasion—the analysis at least, if not the prognosis. He mentioned all the points that I have made. For instance, he asked why we would want to have a prescriptive system, the burden of which would fall mostly on law-abiding people. It would be a very expensive system with lots of regulations imposed on people, and most of the burdens of it would fall on law-abiding people, rather than on the people whom we want to focus on.
Unfortunately however, the hon. Gentleman moved on from analysis to inaccurate prognosis when he said, “Well, we should let this Bill pass into Committee and try to amend it there.” Frankly, he and I both know that that was a bit of politics, as he wants to sound as though he is on the side of the people who are suffering as a result of these machines. I am on the side of the people who are suffering as a result of these machines, but to suggest to them a solution that will not take us any further forward will not do them any good. The simple fact is that if we go into Committee with a Bill whose primary purpose is a registration scheme, we shall have to come out of Committee with a Bill whose primary purpose is a registration scheme, and all of the steps that the hon. Gentleman has identified as potentially reasonable steps to take will not be in the Bill, while the one measure that he has identified as a burden will be in the Bill. Therefore, he and I will have to team up to defeat it on Third Reading, instead of doing the obvious thing now, which is to say, “Let’s drop it and do the piece of work that really needs to be done.”
The hon. Gentleman detailed the 12 laws that currently exist, and he pointed to certain areas of the country where things are working extremely well—in Coventry, for example, and he also mentioned Havering and Islington. I am aware of the Coventry experience. It is very positive; it appears that the existing powers are entirely adequate for purpose. We would feed that piece of evidence into the system, and if it turned out that Manchester police and others looked at that experience and said, “Yes, we’ve been doing things wrong; we should do things the Coventry way, and then we will have no more problems”, we would have the answer that we want. On the other hand, if they got together and identified that further changes to the law were needed, we could address that and do what is required to solve the problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) made a number of useful points in his thoughtful speech. I am sorry that he was intervened on so much by Members who were getting impatient with him. That was a shame. I remember the late Mr. Forth telling us on many occasions that the primary purpose of this Chamber is to scrutinise legislation and that we must do that carefully. Therefore, my hon. Friend was right to have done that properly. He asked: if the powers exist, why are they not used? I would ask: if the police are resource-constrained, why would they want to spread their resources even more thinly to enforce a register?
My hon. Friend also talked about legal sites. That is an interesting issue, and he is right that nimbyism is a key point. Everybody says, “Yes, let’s have a legal site”, but when it turns out that the legal site is to be near them people complain. That is absolutely right and this is a real problem, which is why local councils would have to be involved in identifying suitable sites. The other problem is that these vehicles have to be able to get to such sites without using a road, because, as we have heard, they cannot go on roads; the vast majority of them are not road-legal or road-safe. They are certainly not licensed or insured for use on a road.
Given that these vehicles cannot be used on a road, how would people get to these sites? It would be down to mum and dad to put the vehicle in the boot of the car and take it to the legal site, where it could be properly used. The likelihood is that people with the sort of mum and dad who take that level of interest and supervise them in that way will be law-abiding bike owners, rather than those who ignore the law.
My hon. Friend also asked why these vehicles should not be insured, and that is a good question that the House should debate. There might be an argument for requiring that they be insured. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) pointed out that, because these bikes are not insured, the health service gets no compensation when people have accidents. That issue has to be addressed, but the fact is that nothing in the Bill requires that these bikes be insured, so even if we went ahead with it, the health service would still get no benefit from it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South also mentioned health and safety, and as I said earlier, that is a key issue. How do we prevent the use of these vehicles if the kid just decides to scarper? I do not believe that the sort of kid who would scarper when a policeman asked them to stop would have a number plate on their bike anyway. The Bill does not provide the police with advice on the best and safest way of apprehending these vehicles, and we do need to deal with that issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) said that her constituents would not see this activity as a sport, and I agree that they probably would not. For many of them, it is just an unregulated nuisance that is not done in a proper place. However, the point is that for some people it is a sport, and I am sure that it is a lot of fun, but it does have to be done in the right place at the right time with the right controls. It is those who want to do it in the right place at the right time with the right controls who would be caught by this legislation; those who do not would ignore this law, just as they have ignored the other 12.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) said—and repeated the point in interventions —that Manchester police have been asking for these powers, have been at the forefront of this campaign and have supported my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley in introducing the Bill. As I said, they are not offering to pay for enforcing such a measure or to police its enforcement, but the offer that I have made to them and to everybody else is: let them make the case that this change would have a positive cost-benefit ratio; then, the Government can do this work. However, I doubt whether that case can be made within the framework of a private Member’s Bill, and in my view they have not made their case so far.
Let me reiterate that the Government welcome this opportunity to debate the misuse of vehicles designed for off-road use, and we do want to work out how best to tackle this problem. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley for at least stimulating the debate and for engaging in the issue. As I said, I fully support the intentions behind the Bill, which are doubtless supported by all Members of the House. The irresponsible use of these vehicles is a real and serious problem. I am only too aware from my own area of the serious distress caused by the noise, environmental damage and safety problems associated with the irresponsible use of these vehicles. They have become popular as gifts for children and sometimes as fun vehicles for adults. We should remember that when used responsibly, these vehicles can give a great deal of harmless pleasure. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in principle with small motorcycles designed for off-road use, especially when used under supervision on private property, with the landowner’s permission and with appropriate safety precautions. Many young people use their vehicles responsibly in that way and few of us, if any, would have a problem with that.
However, widespread concern remains about the irresponsible misuse of such vehicles, which can be dangerous to the rider and others and can cause serious noise problems and other nuisances. There has been in recent years something of a craze for these vehicles, sustained by a flood of imports, often available at remarkably low prices. The majority of the products are produced in China by general manufacturers that are more used to turning out toys and other cheap mechanical goods, not by mainstream motorcycle manufacturers. I have heard of their being offered for sale for as little as £40, and some have even been given away for nothing as bonus items in mobile phone contracts.
Very few mini-motos are sold through established or experienced motorcycle dealer networks. More usually, they are sold by newly established retailers, often with little experience. As I pointed out to the Transport Committee when I appeared before it on this subject, in my constituency they were sold until recently by second-hand washing machine shops as a sideline. I doubt whether such shops would engage positively with a registration process.
Unfortunately, mini-motos have often been marketed by retailers irresponsibly. As one of my hon. Friends mentioned, one retailer sells the products through a slick website, annoyingtheneighbours.co.uk. I am not sure that I should give that company any publicity by mentioning it, but it gives some indication of the attitude to society taken by some people involved in the trade. Many users of mini-motos seem to share that attitude. They often seem to revel in their bad behaviour and the annoyance that they cause. That attitude can appear very intimidating to the wider community, helping to contribute to feelings of social isolation and helplessness. The House has heard examples today of the problems that misuse of the vehicles can cause. I sympathise deeply with everyone whose life is blighted by this menace. It is a major problem of antisocial behaviour.
We also know, as several hon. Members have said today, that there are safety concerns about some of the products, especially those at the cheaper end of the market. Indeed, because the vehicles are so cheap, some users probably take additional risks with them. After all, if they break their mini-moto through irresponsible use, they can easily and painlessly get another one. However, if they break their legs, backs or skulls, it is not so easy or painless. As we have heard, some young lives have tragically been lost. Other safety problems arise from the poor quality construction that accompanies the low prices. The many safety faults reported include sharp edges on fairings and windshields, inadequate guards on chains and sprockets, and poor welding.
This is a large problem. The briefing sheet for the Bill produced by the Motor Cycle Industry Association, the MCI, contains an estimate that no fewer than 145,000 were imported from China in 2005 at the height of the craze. We can assume, therefore, that there are at least 250,000 mini-motos in the country. However, the MCI has also estimated that imports collapsed in 2006 to only 60,000. If that is a lasting and confirmed trend, it may be a sign that the mini-moto craze is passing, as other crazes have passed before. It may also be partly due to tougher action by the Government, local authorities and the police, and I shall talk about some of those efforts later.
The Bill seeks to address this serious and widespread problem—[Interruption.] I can hear that my hon. Friends are shaking with anticipation and enthusiasm for my continued analysis of the problem. I can give them the encouragement that they seek: I have plenty more to say on this important subject. The Bill seeks to address this serious and widespread problem by bringing a range of vehicles designed for use off the public highway within the scope of the existing mandatory vehicle registration system for road-going vehicles. It also seeks to address the problems identified by some police forces in using their existing powers to stop and seize vehicles that are being misused.
As I will explain, although the intentions behind the proposals are good and although the Government share them, we cannot support the core proposal for mandatory registration of off-road vehicles under the existing vehicle registration scheme. During my speech, I will set out why we think that alternative means of tackling the problem are more likely to deliver the results that we all want.
First, I will explain the current legal position and the powers that are available to deal with the misuse of the vehicles. The legislation governing the registration and licensing of motor vehicles in the UK is the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, as amended. The Act was designed to promote an effective and safe road transport system. It was never intended to regulate off-road leisure activities. In the Government’s view, the Act is not well suited to the proposed new task.
I have not explained my arguments yet. I am sure that when my hon. Friend has heard them in great detail, he will certainly want to encourage his colleagues not to oppose the Government. Explaining my arguments in detail will require me to continue for a little longer and him to be a little more patient. If it is any consolation, the House does not sit till 4 o’clock, so he ought to be on his way home well before then.
The Vehicle Excise and Registration Act imposes registration requirements only on keepers of vehicles used on the public roads. For these purposes, a public road means a road maintained at the public expense. The definition of a public road includes footways, grass verges and ground adjoining the public carriageway. Any mechanically propelled vehicle that is kept or used on a public road must comply with the registration requirements. Drivers of those vehicles must also comply with the relevant licensing requirements in order to use those vehicles legally on the public road.
The registration and licensing process plays an important part in identifying vehicles and their keepers for the effective enforcement of the rules of the road and vehicle safety requirements. It also enables the collection of vehicle excise duty. Every vehicle used on a public road in Great Britain must be licensed and registered. If a vehicle is kept or used on a public road, it must display a valid tax disc at all times. The only exception is that a vehicle may be driven, untaxed, to and from a testing station for a pre-arranged test, as long as the vehicle is insured.
On the issuing of a first licence, a vehicle is registered. The process of registration enables the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to provide each vehicle with a unique registration mark and to issue a registration certificate. Those requirements do not apply to vehicles used only off road. Any vehicles used on the public road must have relevant type approval and comply with all road traffic law requirements. These include: approved construction standards, lights, indicators, insurance, MOT testing and so forth, as well as registration and road tax. A few mini-motos achieve those standards, but the vast majority do not and are thus effectively banned from road use.
The law governing the registration and construction of vehicles and the licensing of drivers applies to vehicles used or kept on the public roads, but the requirements do not apply to vehicles used off road. However, other laws apply to vehicles off road. During 2006, the European Commission gave the opinion that such vehicles were within the scope of the machinery directive and that certain provisions of the general product safety directive would also apply. In addition, the Commission noted that such products cannot be considered as toys because the toy directive specifically excludes any items powered by internal combustion. The machinery directive is a technical regulation harmonised across the European Union with the intent to ensure that only safe products can be marketed and used. In the UK the legislation is the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992, which cover the essential health and safety regulations of products within their scope. It is unlawful to supply unsafe products within the EU, and where appropriate, a wide variety of measures can be used against unsafe mini-motos or other products.
Trading standards departments of local government authorities have the responsibility for enforcing consumer safety legislation. They have a wide range of enforcement powers to tackle the problem, which include withdrawal notices, forfeiture orders and criminal prosecution. They also ensure that enforcement activities are targeted only against unsafe products, leaving legitimate traders unaffected. In the second half of 2006, the European Commission attempted to establish the extent of the problem throughout the EU. Each member state was asked to report on market surveillance measures taken on mini-motos. We await the Commission’s assessment and conclusions, but one thing that was apparent in the UK’s response to the Commission’s request was the large amount of work that various trading standards departments throughout the country have been doing to address the problem.
One of the steps the Department of Trade and Industry has taken to address concerns about mini-motos involved writing to all known importers of these vehicles to remind them of the law in place against unsafe products and the consequences—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that the Minister has now been speaking for some considerable time in considerable detail on a private Member’s Bill that can easily be examined in Committee. I wonder whether you would be kind enough to give some guidance to the House. Would you be prepared to consider a motion for closure?
I am more than happy to consider the point that the hon. Lady has made.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).