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Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): My roving advice bureau on the roads around Woolmore road in Erdington on Friday was dominated partly by the complaints of householders about the bikes and partly by the noise of the bikes themselves. I have serious doubts about whether they can be used safely and reasonably anywhere. They are a menace, they make an appalling noise and they must be dangerous. The message has to go to the police, local authorities and parents to use all their powers fully to clamp down on them.

Alison Seabeck: My hon. Friend's description exactly applies to my local area.

My fourth point is about adverts and whether those placed in local papers and on the internet can be controlled. To give only one example, Shop.Com advertises the machines under the heading "Boys Stuff". The opening paragraph states:

That encourages illegal behaviour effortlessly. I do not know how many people have gardens that are large enough for riders to achieve a speed of 35 mph but there are not many in my part of Plymouth. Simply to excite people, the advert continues:

It tells people that they can achieve

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It may well be mind-blowing but the thought of a child going at such a speed is terrifying.

At the very end, the advert states that it is illegal to use the bikes on the public highway but only after it has stimulated people, misled them and encouraged illegal behaviour. I would therefore like measures to ensure that, wherever the bikes are sold—in shops, second hand or on the internet—they are accompanied by a clear health warning about how and where they should be used.

Fifthly, will the Home Office please discuss with other Departments the way in which we can encourage the establishment of areas for safe, off-road use of the bikes? I have evidence from around the country of police forces—to their credit, it is largely police forces—who are trying to find venues for off-roading. The police in Plymouth are trying but the site that they found was opposed by residents on the ground of noise, which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) highlighted earlier. In Torbay, PC Chris Lancaster is fighting for the young people in his area and thinks that he has found a venue. In Portsmouth, PC Andy Burnham, who is no relation to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)—I do not believe that he has a second career—is trying to set up a summer scheme, which provides helmets and a safe venue where young people can enjoy the micro and mini moto bikes. I am sure that, when used properly, they are great fun and we do not want to spoil anybody's fun.

As the summer holidays approach, I want to put on record my genuine anxiety that some extremely serious accidents could happen. The use of the bikes has increased significantly and there is a lack of public and especially parental awareness about how they should be used legally.

As a parent, I have to say that the thought of a 10-year-old going through a public park at 35 mph with no safety equipment is shocking and frightening. I hope that the Home Office will do all that it can through its agencies to distribute information, as well as considering how we can clamp down on the illegal use of these machines without spoiling the fun of the genuine rider.

10.50 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) on securing this debate. This is certainly one of the biggest issues in my constituency, and every other Member I have spoken to has said that it is an issue on their patch as well.

I should like to quote from a response that I received to a complaint that I raised with a local police inspector. He wrote back to say that the problem was

not just in my area. I shall give just one example from my patch. I was visited at my surgery a couple of weeks ago by residents living close to the Dundridge Farm playing fields in St. George in my constituency, where motor cyclists cause a nuisance in the fields, disturbing the peace of children playing there and of people walking
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their dogs. They also exit the field at speeds of up to 35 mph, racing across the pavement into the road, nearly knocking down pedestrians in the process and sometimes going into the path of passing cars. It is only a matter of time before a serious accident occurs. Indeed, in Warmley, not far from my constituency, at the end of June a six-year-old boy was knocked down by a mini-motor bike driven by a 16-year-old who rode off, leaving the little boy covered in blood.

I am pleased that the police in my constituency have assured me that they are taking the issue very seriously, and that they are using their powers under the Police Reform Act 2002 to seize bikes that are being used in an antisocial manner. They also hope to make an early example of a few offenders, so that we can mount a publicity campaign. They have told me that they want to see this issue on the front page of the Bristol Evening Post, so that they can get the message across that the activity is not only illegal in some cases but incredibly dangerous. I want to do all that I can to support them in that.

10.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) concluded her remarks by saying that she wanted to place her concerns clearly and firmly on record. She has done that this evening, and I congratulate her on securing this important debate and on raising these issues.

It is clear that problems associated with mini motos are on the increase, and it was made clear by the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy), for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) that these issues are also a matter of concern for their constituents. There is a range of powers that can be used to deal with the illegal use of these vehicles, especially when they are being used in an antisocial manner. However, it is clear that these powers need to be used with some urgency in some of the areas that have been mentioned.

It might be helpful if I say a little more about the type of vehicle and bike to which we are referring in this debate. The term "mini motos" covers both petrol-driven mini-motor bikes, which are fast vehicles, as well as the slower go-peds, which is the common name for electric and petrol-driven scooters. Quad bikes are sometimes classed as mini motos, but there is a fundamental difference between them, which I will explain in a little more detail later in my speech.

Petrol-driven mini-motor bikes are small bikes that replicate racing bikes and off-road scrambler bikes. They stand only 23 in high, and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport clearly illustrated the problems that that can cause. They have an engine size of about 50 cc, and some can travel at speeds up to 60 mph, which I know will be of concern to my hon. Friend. They can cost up to £500. Go-peds look similar to the old fashioned push-scooters that you and I might remember pushing around in our younger days, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but they have an engine block around the back wheel, and can travel at speeds around 20 mph. They can cost up to £1,000. However, there are
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now lower-cost models on sale for around £100, and there is a growing second-hand market in all types of mini motos.

The term "mini moto" and the problems associated with their irresponsible use are relatively new phenomena. It is probably fair to say that many members of the public, particularly parents, are generally unaware of the health and safety implications of these bikes, or of the legislation governing their use. These vehicles are being sold without any age restrictions and are becoming increasingly popular among young people. Prices continue to fall and the number of retailers selling them has also increased. Currently, the majority of such vehicles are bought over the internet, through mail order and from specialist shops, but some high street stores are beginning to sell lower-priced, lower-speed models.

There is a growing sport around mini motos, but in many instances, as my hon. Friends have described, they are being used illegally. Information on the number of incidents associated with mini motos is not collected centrally by the Government, but the Home Office has received some general information on their misuse, which suggests that the problem is increasingly widespread. Colleagues in the Department for Transport are also concerned about the implications for road safety, because the majority of users are riding illegally on roads and pavements without any safety equipment. Mini motos are sold as toys and are not manufactured, licensed, taxed or insured to be ridden on a road.

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