Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck) on securing this debate, on a subject that is a huge problem in Wellingborough. I will be brief. As such vehicles should not be used on the roads, is such use to be made clearly illegal? There seem to be some doubts within the police on this issue.
Paul Goggins: I was about to clarify that point. The advice given to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport by the Department for Transport is accurate. It is possible for a mini moto to be ridden legally on a road, but for that to happen it would have to meet certain construction standards, such as the requirements demanded by European directive 2002/24/EC. It would be prohibitively expensive to convert such a vehicle to that standard. Quad bikes, however, are built to that standard, so it is possible for them to be properly licensed and used on the road. By and large, however, mini motos are bought, sold and used as toys, and are not built to the standard that would allow them to be taxed, licensed and used on the roads.
As far as the Department for Transport is concerned, there are no age restrictions on the purchase of any motor vehicle. The restrictions are placed instead on how and where vehicles can be used. Let me make it absolutely clear, bearing in mind that mini motos are unlikely to be used legally on the roads due to the excessive cost of conversion and raising the standards as I have described, that the only place where they could be
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used legally is on private land and with the owner's consent, which in many instances, particularly in constituencies such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport, would be land owned by the local authority. Steps could be taken by retailers, for example, who could make information much more readily available when the bikes are purchased about the legal position on the use and requirements of mini motos. While many such vehicles are purchased by adults who then give them to their children as gifts, the relevant Departments will examine the possibility of encouraging retailers to do more about this issue.
The most commonly used legal power for dealing with mini motos is under the Police Reform Act 2002. It allows a constable in uniform, after giving a warning to the rider, to stop and seize a motor vehicle if he or she has grounds for believing that it is being used in a careless and inconsiderate manner, that it is being used illegally off-road, or that it is being used, or is likely to be used, in an antisocial manner, causing harassment, alarm or distress. If the police confiscate vehicles using that power before the owner can take back the vehicle, a release fee of around £120 must be paid. Information coming back to the Home Office suggests that that is proving to be a successful tool for dealing with misuse, notwithstanding the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson: Precisely on that point, will the Minister confirm that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agencywhich I know is not his immediate department responsibility, but there must be liaison between the two Departmentshas taken legal advice, and that because such vehicles have no tax, they categorically cannot be driven on roads, and the police therefore have absolute authority to impound them and apply the fines? Whatever we do to encourage more responsible marketing and retailing, we cannot inhibit the internet trade. The only effective measure is therefore to make defying the law prohibitively expensive. Will he clarify that?
Paul Goggins: I can certainly confirm that to be used legally on the road, such a vehicle would have to meet a high standard. It would be prohibitively expensive to convert one for the purpose. It is clear that people do not buy these vehicles intending to use them legally on the road.
Paul Goggins: The question generally does not arise, for the reasons that I have given. It is clear, however, that when the vehicles are used illegally they can be impounded. The release fee has to be paid, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport suggested earlier, if it is not paid, the vehicle can be crushed.
When one of these vehicles is ridden on the pavement, the police can treat that as an offence under the Highways Act 1835. The maximum penalty is £500. When the rider is a child, the police may choose instead to warn him and advise his parents as necessary. The police also have powers of arrest when there are
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reasonable grounds for believing that such action is necessary to prevent the rider of the mini moto, or motor cyclist, from causing physical injury to himself or to any other person.
When someone commits a driving offence but does not hold a current driving licence, for example by virtue of his or her age, a court can still order the endorsement of the offender's licence. The offender may not have a licence, but when he or she applies for one, the endorsement will automatically feature on it.
Local authorities also have powers to manage such problems. They can make byelaws under section 235 of the Local Government Act 1972, prohibiting the use of mini motos, or any other vehicle for that matter, in particular areas. While byelaws cannot duplicate general legislation, they can be used to prohibit the use of mini motos in shopping-centre car parks, pedestrianised areas and the like. Furthermore, local authorities are required under section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to take reasonable steps to check their areas periodically for existing and potential statutory nuisances. My hon. Friend mentioned the noise made by some vehicles. If they are causing excessive noise, a local authority can serve a noise abatement notice and can seize the vehicle that is causing the nuisance. If a person uses mini motos repeatedly and causes excessive nuisance in the community, the local authority can apply for an antisocial behaviour order to prohibit him or her from using them.
I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that last week, in response to the increase in problems associated with mini moto misuse, officials from the antisocial behaviour unit at the Home Office held an action day on the issue. It was attended by more than 100 staff from all over the country, bringing together local authorities, police and others to share ideas and good practice. The purpose was to encourage staff to take action against the misuse of mini motos, and attention was drawn to a number of specific interventions.
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It is important for us to do all that we can to raise awareness of the issues, as my hon. Friend has been able to do this evening. She made some very sensible suggestions about the use of leaflets, campaigning materials and information that can heighten awareness among members of the public who may not appreciate the dangers and the legal position. I want to encourage local authorities to work with trading standards authorities, and to ensure that local retailers are acting responsibly. That may involve the production of appropriate leaflets that retailers can distribute when vehicles are sold.
It is worth engaging the support of local petrol stations, especially in areas where misuse is recognised as a problem, to ensure that petrol is not sold to anyone under 16. If under-age sales are suspected, trading standards authorities can carry out test purchasing, which may result in the removal of a licence to sell petrol. Local authorities and police can also use their reporting systems to gather intelligence if they have antisocial behaviour hotlines, or information provided through neighbourhood and community wardens. That information can be used to target problem areas with high-visibility patrols or leaflet drops.
Local authorities can also help to discourage misuse by making physical improvements to public areas. My hon. Friend suggested designating certain areas safe for the use of mini motos, and I think that that would be a good idea.
There is a great deal of work going on. If more action days are required, the Home Office will be happy to sponsor them, but I think my hon. Friend has done a service to the House and her constituents tonight. I assure her that we will keep a close eye on what happens. I hope that in the coming months we shall see a far more responsible approach