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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.
Anne Snelgrove: 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.
Ann Coffey: 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. Friends 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.
Mr. Flello: 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.
Ann Coffey: I agree with my hon. Friend. Off-road motorcycles are used by young adults18-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.
Dr. Ladyman: 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 Ministers point. The people involved go to certain areas and know that they are breaking the lawthey 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 bikes13,000 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 riders 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.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab):
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.
Anne Snelgrove: 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.
Mr. Flello: Might not one reason for the decline in the number of incidents reported in December be the fact that, as the summer months pass and winter comes, the misuse of off-road bikes decreases as it gets colder?
Anne Snelgrove: That is possible, although this winters 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 bikeswhat 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.
Dr. Ladyman: 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.
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.
Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): 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 Broadway60 to 70 separate familiescomplained 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 toysthey 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, peoples 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.
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 fatalitiesso far not in Stourbridge, but it is only a matter of time.
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