Previous Section Index Home Page

Bikes can be bought cheaply due to the flood of imports, particularly from the far east. As no registration scheme currently exists, they are not subject to proper safety checks and can be marketed as toys, with the result that they often end up in the hands of children. Norton residents told me that many of the riders being a nuisance on The Broadway were children
2 Mar 2007 : Column 1202
as young as 10. That can have disastrous consequences, because children are the least well equipped to deal with high-powered engines.

I welcome the Bill because a compulsory registration scheme would be a common-sense approach to tackling this nuisance. It would approach the problem at the first point of contact between new buyer and bike, ensuring that riders are aware of the responsibility they are taking on from the beginning and alerting parents to the fact that these bikes are not toys but potentially dangerous pieces of machinery. It is important that parents are aware of what their children are buying, or what they are buying for them. I have two sons of 16 and 13 who have asked for mini-motos because they see them as exciting. I explained, as a responsible parent, that their use, particularly in the areas where they would want to go with their friends, is illegal. It is difficult to explain to young people where and when they can or cannot use them.

A compulsory registration scheme would mean that bikes would be subject to appropriate safety evaluation. Nobody could sensibly argue that rigorous safety checks can be anything but beneficial given that we are dealing with such powerful machines. Furthermore, I support the argument that such a scheme would significantly increase the efficiency of police action, as a clearer system of ownership would make illegal riders more easily identifiable. The person riding a mini-moto will not always own it, but it would establish a better link whereby the police could take action.

I am aware that powers already exist for police to seize and crush vehicles if they are used in a manner causing alarm, distress or annoyance. I completely agreed with those changes, which were a good step forward. However, a registration scheme would make it much easier to identify the offenders. Although some riders may remove their registration plates, there would still be the link with the original buyer, enabling the police to crack down on illegal use. When one is dealing with potentially dangerous vehicles that can reach high speeds, it makes sense that there should be a form of registration to keep track of their ownership, as for cars or motorbikes.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) that there needs to be an improvement in the facilities available to young people who want to use these machines legally. That is an aspect that we need to explore.

Unfortunately, illegal mini-moto use is an increasingly common and distressing form of antisocial behaviour, and with sales of mini-moto-type vehicles increasing tenfold between 2002 and 2005, it does not look as though the problem will go away without action to encourage responsible use and a crack down on individuals who are making a nuisance of themselves in certain areas of my constituency. A registration system for off-road bikes would make a real difference to people in Stourbridge. I accept that the Bill would not be a magic cure-all for all mini-moto nuisance, and there will always be people who flout the law, but used in conjunction with existing police powers, better education of purchasers, parents and users about the dangers and responsibilities of using such bikes, and an improvement in the facilities available to riders, it would be a sensible step in the right direction.

2 Mar 2007 : Column 1203
10.59 am

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I, too, commend my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) for promoting the Bill. I am pleased to sponsor it.

I want briefly to take up one or two issues with the Minister. He has said that he believes that powers to deal with the problem already exist and that they work. He cited some examples. However, I contend that they do not work and that people who live near every green space in my constituency, including Eltham park, Middle park, Horn park, Shooters Hill park, Eaglesfield park, Plumstead common, the Course, Altash way and Woodlands farm, face a problem with the bikes week in, week out.

Dr. Ladyman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Clive Efford: No, I shall not give way to the Minister because he has plenty of time to respond to all the issues that we raise. With all due respect, he can just sit and listen.

The problem has grown out of all proportion since the introduction of new powers, including section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 and a plethora of road traffic measures. According to Revenue and Customs figures on a Government website, there has been a 20-fold increase in the number of Chinese imports of mini-motos. The number has rocketed from 7,000 in 2001 to 144,000 in 2005. Similarly, the Motor Cycle Industry Association estimates that the sale of mini-moto vehicles has increased from 10,000 in 2002 to 100,000 in 2005. We are not, therefore, considering the position that existed when we introduced section 59 of the 2002 Act to tackle antisocial behaviour.

I should like the Minister to take my next point on board, so I would be grateful if his Parliamentary Private Secretary shut up for a minute. It is a day for Back Benchers and Front Benchers should listen.

Dr. Ladyman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Clive Efford: No, I will not.

Officialdom is out of step with the general public on the issue that we are considering. If the Association of Chief Police Officers had to rely on being re-elected, as we do, perhaps it would take a different attitude to the Bill. The Home Office is targeting £200,000 in 28 areas to try to tackle the problem. If the Minister believes that current legislation is working, let me list those areas: Manchester, Mansfield, Liverpool, Sunderland, Birmingham, Harlow, Southend on Sea, Tendring, Reading, Gloucester, Derby, Coventry, Hodge Hill, Blackburn, Chester, Oldham, Salford, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, South Tyneside, Hull, Wakefield, York, Camden, Kent, Cheshire, West Cumbria and Newport. We are trying to tackle the problem throughout the country, yet the Minister appears to believe confidently that we have the powers to do that. I could give examples of ACPO being out of step with its officers in my community and lagging behind their views.

I work closely with safer neighbourhood teams in my area and they frequently tell me of the difficulties that they experience in using section 59 powers to stop a
2 Mar 2007 : Column 1204
bike on open space. Indeed, police officers are lucky if they manage to stop one because they often cannot chase them. Health and safety regulations restrict their ability to do that because the bikes might rush out of a park on to a road, and that poses danger to the public or the individual on the bike. When they stop bikes, they can issue the rider with a warning notice under section 59. However, if they stop a bike for the second time, they cannot identify it as the same one. That is a key factor in trying to tackle the problem.

I can give examples of residents who have complained about noise nuisance on open space and the police have dealt with it. Yet residents have told me, “We phoned the police and they did nothing.” I have then contacted the police to tell them that people had complained of noise nuisance but that the police had let it go on all day. The police have replied that they had been there, issued notices and dealt with culprits, but that the problem is so vast that somebody else was there in the afternoon, and the residents get the impression that the nuisance had continued all day unchecked. In addition, there is no way of knowing whether the same bike went back in the afternoon. Registration would deal with that key point.

I understand the Minister’s point when he says that the people who are most likely to use the bikes in an antisocial way are least likely to register them and keep registration plates on them. I accept that. However, if there has to be an engraved registration number or a plate on the bike, and the consequence of its removal is the immediate confiscation and destruction of the bike, that deals with the individual and the problem.

We are asking for a tool to enable the police to tackle the problem. Not only Back Benchers, but the police and the communities that suffer from the plague of mini-motos are calling for it. There is no lack of determination on the part of the police to use the powers about which my hon. Friend the Minister is so confident. However, those powers have loopholes. We have new circumstances and a new machine that is being used antisocially that we did not consider when we drew up previous legislation. A registration scheme that requires those bikes to have a number on them, so that failure to register and number the bike means its immediate removal and destruction, is a tool that will give the police powers to deal with the problem without delay. The public are demanding that it be tackled and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to listen.

11.6 am

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): Mini-motos do not blight only urban areas and I therefore want to ask where the Tories are. I see no Conservative Back Benchers, I hear no Conservative Back Benchers, yet mini-motos are a big issue in rural areas. We have debated it not only in the context of antisocial behaviour and the various excellent ten-minute Bills that have been mentioned but—at length in the Chamber and in Committee—in the context of off-road bikes and the countryside.

In the 550 square miles that I represent, the subject is a major issue, which affects, for example, horse riders, ramblers, farmers and people in mining communities. That applies throughout the country. There has almost been a consensus about the logic of registration to
2 Mar 2007 : Column 1205
allow the police to apprehend people properly and the local community to monitor the problem effectively. In my area, the police are demanding precisely those powers. The absence of Tory Back Benchers is therefore extraordinary. Perhaps they are hiding, waiting for other subjects to be discussed. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) prompts me to suggest that they are waiting to rush in to discuss the measure on temporary and agency workers. The Tory Whips should send a clarion call to get them back in here because the subject of this Bill greatly affects rural communities. Shame on them that they are not here to vote for the Bill. Their failure to do not only that but to come and speak about it should be recorded.

Not only rural communities but golfers, cricketers and footballers are affected. Clearly, Labour Members are their friends. In my community, it is precisely those unregistered bikes—quad bikes, off-road bikes and mini-motos—that cut up the golf courses, destroy the cricket pitches and damage the football pitches. Those are major issues for people, because those things form a key part of the new, healthier way of living that the Government are rightly promoting.

I am sure that four Departments—the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office—have great concerns and want to ensure that the Minister is making sure that these issues are fully protected. However, another issue has been referred to briefly, but it needs an additional comment. I have done a lot of research into it, to find out how it works. How do hon. Members think that drugs are transported across communities? Do hon. Members think that drug dealers go in registered cars, so that the police, knowing whom to look for, can watch, monitor and apprehend them? Well, the thick ones do, and they get apprehended, but that is not the way that drugs are moved in and out of communities in this country.

Drugs are moved in and out of communities by depositing them, not usually in people’s houses, but in forested areas, so that if the police find them they cannot directly link them to the dealers. Drugs are moved in vehicles that are not registered. A key way in which that is done is by using this kind of vehicle. Therefore, the problem is not one just of antisocial behaviour, but actual crime and the way in which it is committed. So I strongly recommend this Bill and the following Bill to the House, as they deal with key concerns for the country, and they are clearly concerns that resonate only on the Labour Benches.

11.11 am

Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): I rise to support the Bill because my constituents from Swinton, Irlam and Eccles have made it clear to me that it should be supported. The information that my constituents give to me is that they are not opposed to the legal and safe riding of motorbikes, but that they do not want to be put at risk on pavements or kept up late at night by noisy, high-speed riders.

Last year, Greater Manchester police authority told me that it wanted a registration scheme because there is
2 Mar 2007 : Column 1206
currently little scope to establish the owner of a bike, there is no way of knowing the size of the illegal market in stolen off-road bikes and consumers have no way of knowing whether they are buying stolen property, as there are no requirements to provide documentation. A registration scheme would do all that and help to tackle those problems.

My local police authority has a website and e-mail address——where my constituents can report incidents, which are logged and then forwarded directly to the local police force for action. The public can also contact Greater Manchester police authority to name and shame any perpetrator of off-road nuisance, and they can do so anonymously.

A good development is the placing of signs by Salford city council and the Greater Manchester police authority throughout the city of Salford—including in my constituency, particularly at hot spots such as Prince’s park in Irlam and in Swinton and Eccles. Whether or not it is legal, the police have made some progress in treating that as a first warning. Consequently, the council and the police have confiscated £500,000 of mini-motos, which were then destroyed in Salford.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): At a reception earlier this week, Greater Manchester police gave us a file of 13 ways in which they could deal with motorbikes and quad bikes. How would the Bill strengthen those powers?

Ian Stewart: Those powers are already used very effectively and to their full extent by Greater Manchester police authority, which is one of the best authorities in the country in dealing with this issue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) said earlier. That is not enough in itself to deal with the problem, for all the reasons stated in every contribution made by hon. Members today.

Greater Manchester police found various safety faults, such as no speed-limiting devices and inadequate means of venting petrol vapours, on the £500,000-worth of confiscated bikes that were crushed. That is another reason to require registration and the display of such registration. I am sure that it would help to ensure that vehicle safety standards are higher, and we would all benefit from that.

Finally, I should like to add my voice to the calls for planning authorities and private organisations to be encouraged to set up safe legal sites for the practitioners of biking. That is fundamental to balance the attack on those who are biking illegally, unsafely and causing nuisance. Today, I believe that, in three minutes, I have given the shortest speech that I have ever given in the House. There is a reason for that: I hope that all hon. Members who follow me will exercise similar discipline, so that we can vote on closure and support the Bill on Second Reading.

11.16 am

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the splendidly brief contribution from the hon. Member for Eccles (Ian
2 Mar 2007 : Column 1207
Stewart), and I entirely endorse his idea of having voluntary areas. Unlike his colleague, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who attacked the Conservative party, his other colleague, the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) furiously attacked the Government—clearly not adhering to the respect agenda.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on doing so well in the ballot and on choosing an issue of real concern to so many of our constituents. He is a regular contributor to debates on road transport, and he made another thoughtful contribution this morning.

We in the Conservative party acknowledge that there is a significant problem with mini-motorbikes. Noise nuisance can be substantial and highly aggravating, wrecking the peace of a neighbourhood. Mini-moto use intimidates walkers and riders, as the hon. Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) said, and in some cases causes real danger to members of the public, as well as to those who ride the mini-motos, which can get up to 40 mph. They can be especially dangerous when they are not properly maintained, and we are fully aware of the tragic case of David Spence, aged four, who was killed in February 2006 after a teenager took him for a ride on a 50 cc mini-motorbike.

We accept that Government statistics might not fully reveal the extent of the problem. Northumbria police received 3,000 complaints about off-road issues in 2005. Manchester has identified it as one of its top five priorities in an antisocial behaviour crackdown. In Reading, 44 per cent. of “It’s Your Call” antisocial behaviour reporting line calls related to mini-motos. That clearly reflects the twentyfold increase in the number of mini-motorbikes sold since 2001. If the estimates that about 144,000 of them are now in circulation are accurate, that suggests a sizeable problem. However, the Motor Cycle Industry Association believes that up to 300,000 machines might be in circulation, with many imports retailing at prices as low as £100, which suggests a problem of considerable magnitude.

Funnily enough, perhaps success has caught up with us. Members have cited numbers. The Motor Cycle Industry Association has given me figures on imports from China. In 2000, 2,181 units were imported, rocketing to 45,515 in 2003 and an amazing 144,905 in 2005. But in 2006, there was a 58.67 per cent. fall, down to 59,885 units. I wonder whether some of the programmes that local and central Government have undertaken have begun to have some effect.

Perhaps such vehicles are starting to go out of fashion. Perhaps the illegality surrounding them is getting through to people. Perhaps parents are becoming more aware. Perhaps some of the police crackdowns and the crushing of bikes have had an effect. Perhaps, in fairness, the Home Office’s summer campaign in 2006 had an effect. The motorcycle industry, particularly the Auto-Cycle Union, has done good work in highlighting the problem, as have local authorities, the police and other associations.

Next Section Index Home Page