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Rhuddlan Borough (Debt)

10.33 pm

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): In 1999, as a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I asked the Committee to consider the issue of Rhuddlan borough debt—a financial scandal in my constituency involving millions of pounds of European funding. The petition relates to that inquiry.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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Antisocial Behaviour (Micro Bikes)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Coaker.]

10.35 pm

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise an issue that seriously concerns many of my constituents, the police and other organisations. The debate is particularly relevant as we approach the school summer holidays.

What are micro bikes or mini motos? They are small—the diameter of the tyres is typically between 4 and 6 in. They have two-stroke engines, which means that they are capable of speeds up to 35 mph, although fitting a supercharger allows speeds up to 40 mph. That is much faster than, for example, the speed limit in home zones, which is 20 mph. They can be bought from shops, second hand or on the internet.

Micro bikes can be used on the road if the driver has the proper equipment and if they are taxed, insured and MOT-ed. I sought clarification, because a number of local people were unclear about that point, and the Department for Transport wrote to me on 15 June:

we will return to that point—

That is not happening in Plymouth.

When parents buy those bikes for their children, I am sure that most of them intend the bikes to be used legally, but unfortunately they are not. A number of parents think that the bikes are toys, but they are toys capable of 40 mph. How are the bikes marketed? In Plymouth, people tell me that retailers are responsible and provide appropriate advice when they sell those machines. At last weekend's successful Plymouth motor show, I overheard a vendor tell a potential customer that the bikes should not be used on the roads, but that advice is either not being listened to or simply being ignored.

I saw the danger posed by those bikes when I visited a park in Barne Barton in my constituency with Councillor Williams and Councillor Blackburn. It was a lovely sunny April day and the park was full of toddlers, when two mini bikes suddenly raced down the hill and through the park. They were piloted by a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old, who were completely oblivious to the fact that two-year-olds and three-year-olds have no sense of danger and would not leap out of their paths. Parents frantically pulled away their children as the bikes scooted through the park, out of the park, along a public road and back to the top of the park, where two new riders took over and did exactly the same thing.

The police were called and attended very quickly, but as soon as they arrived, the motor cyclists disappeared. One of the police officers, who was very experienced, said that he is frustrated that he cannot chase those youngsters on to the public road for obvious safety
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reasons—the bikes are very small and can barely be seen above a car bonnet, so the danger is all too apparent. To their credit, the police returned to the park later in the day and apprehended one of the bike users, which was a positive outcome.

The problem is extremely widespread, and I gather from colleagues that they have similar problems. In Ernesettle, I saw a father and son on public land. The son, who was six or seven years old, was admittedly fully kitted out with helmet and leathers and riding on the grass, but the father had none of those things—he had bare legs, nothing on his head, and a bike without a registration plate, and was on the public road riding alongside the child. They left as I approached.

The problem gets worse in woodland areas such as Whitleigh and Ham woods, where it starts to approach serious antisocial behaviour whereby local residents are being harassed and threatened by people using these small bikes. I shall read from a letter that was sent to me by someone who lives in the Whitleigh woods area and wrote anonymously because they were afraid of reprisals. They say:

The writer goes on:

That person says that their life is being made an absolute misery. Sadly, that letter is not unique—I have had letters, phone calls and petitions on the same subject.

What should be done? There are several areas of possible action, and perhaps information that could be beefed up, and I should like the Minister to consider them. I admit that some may require interdepartmental discussions. First, although it is probably too late now, there should be an information campaign in schools, perhaps with posters. In areas where there are particular problems, letters should go home to parents explaining exactly who can use these bikes, how they should be used, and where they can be used legally, as well as the penalties for breaking the law, which can be quite severe.

Secondly, when the law is broken and the culprit is caught and convicted, of course the penalty should be paid. However, the courts need to be clear about the status of these bikes. Anecdotally, there are comments that some magistrates see them as being in a different category from full-size bikes, yet they are just as dangerous and potentially lethal. The police already have powers to confiscate them, and there is a view locally that if they have been used illegally, they should not only be confiscated but crushed and taken out of the market so that the young people who are buying them might begin to focus on just how serious offence they may have committed.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important Adjournment debate. The citizens of Coventry share many of the frustrations and inconveniences of those of Plymouth. Does she agree, and can the Minister confirm, that the police do have powers to impound bikes if fines, which can be £200,
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£120, £80 and £15 per day, are not paid within seven days? The bikes are being responsibly retailed, but police and magistrates are too unsure of their powers to give effect to them.

Alison Seabeck: I thank my hon. Friend for reinforcing the points that I have made. I wholly agree with him.

We have new legislation that relates specifically to antisocial behaviour and gives the police new powers in other areas over and above those specific to these machines, but they seem mainly to deal with larger groups of youths, and the bikes are often used singly or in pairs. Could riders be the subject of on-the-spot fines for using them in an antisocial, if not an illegal way? I welcome the powers that allow the police to establish dispersal zones. It may be possible for the woodlands area to become a dispersal zone but if that happened, could the behaviour within it be proscribed? Could the use of motor bikes in that area be specified or would innocent young people, who might be gathering in the woods for harmless purposes, be caught? That is the last thing I want. I would therefore welcome clarification on that.

Thirdly, I have seen no registration numbers on the bikes. I assume that, if they are to be used on public roads, they should be registered. To be honest, I have doubts about whether they should be allowed on public roads because they are invisible to most car users. I would therefore welcome it if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary discussed with his colleagues in the Department for Transport whether we could realistically consider banning them from public roads.

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