2 Mar 2007 : Column 1183

2 Mar 2007 : Column 1183

House of Commons

Friday 2 March 2007

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

9.33 am

Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): I beg to move, That the House do sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motions to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 92.
Division No. 63]
[9.33 am


Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Robert Flello and
Shona McIsaac

Anderson, Mr. David
Atkins, Charlotte
Barrett, John
Benton, Mr. Joe
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Brown, Lyn
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burt, Alistair
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Caton, Mr. Martin
Clark, Ms Katy
Coffey, Ann
Cruddas, Jon
Davies, Philip
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Efford, Clive
Engel, Natascha
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Field, Mr. Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Griffith, Nia
Grogan, Mr. John
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Havard, Mr. Dai
Heath, Mr. David
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Heppell, Mr. John
Hillier, Meg
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Howarth, David
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Iddon, Dr. Brian

Jones, Helen
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Mann, John
McCabe, Steve
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McKechin, Ann
Miller, Andrew
Moffat, Anne
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pearson, Ian
Purnell, James
Randall, Mr. John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruddock, Joan
Salter, Martin
Sheridan, Jim
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Thornberry, Emily
Todd, Mr. Mark
Trickett, Jon
Ussher, Kitty
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Graham Stringer and
Anne Snelgrove
Question accordingly negatived.
2 Mar 2007 : Column 1184
9.46 am

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): On a point or order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you have seen today’s edition of The Times. A week after 1.79 million people voted against road pricing, and during the same week that the Prime Minister said that pursuing it would be “kamikaze politics”, there is a major statement in The Times by the Minister of State, Department for Transport. Have you heard anything from the Government about whether they plan to come to the House to make their future plans clear?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): That is not a point of order for the Chair. I have not been made aware of a statement, but the Minister is on the Front Bench and will have heard what has been said.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. It was not a point of order for the Chair.

2 Mar 2007 : Column 1185

Orders of the Day

Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.47 am

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): 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
2 Mar 2007 : Column 1186
Home Office, complaints about these machines account for 40 per cent. of all complaints made nationally about antisocial behaviour.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): 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?

Graham Stringer: 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.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): 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?

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Increased sales.

Graham Stringer: My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) says that the answer is sales, and my next point was to have been that the sales of these machines have increased by 225 per cent. That is one indication that the problem is getting worse.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): 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.

Graham Stringer: 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.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): 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?

2 Mar 2007 : Column 1187

Graham Stringer: 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.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): 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?

Graham Stringer: 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.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): 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?

Graham Stringer: I intend to cover ACPO’s response to the Bill in some detail later in my speech.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): 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.

2 Mar 2007 : Column 1188

Graham Stringer: My hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid point. I know the Medlock valley well, and he is right. I suspect that every hon. Member could give similar examples from their constituency, whether it is rural, urban or suburban.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): 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.

Graham Stringer: I agree completely with my hon. Friend. The problem is not dealt with by the current legislative framework.

Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): 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.

Graham Stringer: 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.

2 Mar 2007 : Column 1189

Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): 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?

Graham Stringer: I will indeed, when I come to describe the two major parts of the Bill. It will certainly help with enforcement, as well as deal with the problem.

Dr. Ladyman: 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.

Graham Stringer: Given that there are always time constraints on Fridays, my hon. Friend would have done better to keep his arguments against the Bill—I do not agree with him on those—until it is time for him to put his case.

Several hon. Members rose—

Graham Stringer: I will give way twice more; I know that other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate on this Bill and the next.

Mr. Hoyle: 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.

Graham Stringer: As the debate goes on, we hear more arguments and evidence to suggest that this a good Bill, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): 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.

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