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Without in any way disparaging the intent of the Bill, or the size of the problem in recent years, we need to examine more closely what the Bill would do. I am concerned that it would catch all off-road motorcycles and quad bikes. It would therefore catch all bike owners, from farmers driving up remote hills in Wales
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or Yorkshire to feed their sheep, to the racer at Brands Hatch, to me—I must declare an interest—as I own an off-road quad bike that I use at home.

John Mann: We now know that the Opposition Benches are empty because the hon. Gentleman finds the Labour Government so praiseworthy. Are not farmers, however, the most vociferous group in demanding action against off-road bikes? Would not farmers, including those in my area, be happy to register if it meant that the unregistered did not go on their land?

Mr. Paterson: I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman raise that issue: my constituency is one of the most rural in the country, and I have not had a single letter on the issue from farmers. The issue appears to be much more of a problem in urban areas and small towns. I do not see what we would gain from the colossal and expensive task of registering every quad bike that is sensibly used in a rural area and presents no risk to anybody on private land.

Furthermore, there is a huge problem with the registering of on-road vehicles. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency announced that the number of those not paying vehicle excise duty increased in 2004 from 1,240,000 to 2,193,000. Those are vehicles that must be registered to be driven on a road under current law. That means that an incredible one in 15 vehicles on our roads are not taxed, despite a constant campaign by the DVLA to recover the £217 million of lost revenue. It is of particular relevance to today’s debate that evasion rates are highest for motorcycles. The number of unlicensed motorcycles has jumped 152 per cent. from 275,000 to 694,000.

Mr. Flello: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a motorbike user would have still have to fill in a statutory off-road notification, even if they did not use their bike on the road? A paper trail would therefore still exist. It is a bit of a leap to say that someone who has filled in a SORN document is using that vehicle on the road.

Mr. Paterson: That might be the case, but my point is that this country has a real problem in relation to the registration of vehicles for many years. I fear that adding another 400,000 vehicles will swamp an organisation that is already floundering and has failed to get to grips with known problems that are in the public domain.

Cost is also a serious question. Clause 3 states:

Given that the majority of such vehicles present no problem, could not the sums involved in such a huge registration exercise be better spent?

Barbara Keeley: Although I am unable to make an estimate, would not the fatalities, dangers, injuries and costs to the NHS far outweigh the costs of registration, which is an administrative task? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the cost to our hospitals is substantial?

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Mr. Paterson: Of course it is, but the hon. Lady is confusing the issue of whether the registration will work with the issue of how we address the problem. I do not underestimate the problem at all, and she is right that it is a cost to the public purse. My suggestion, however, is that the funds that would be spent on the registration scheme under the Bill might be better spent in another way.

Those in the industry are also of that opinion. For instance, the Motor Cycle Industry Association says that there has been a major drop

of existing law—

Yesterday, Craig Carey-Clinch, the spokesman for the Motor Cycle Industry Association, told me that the Bill was a “waste of parliamentary time”. He said that we should focus on hard-core antisocial elements. The worry is that the Bill as drafted will sweep in large numbers of people who are not a problem, but might not catch those who are causing the problem so graphically described by numerous Members.

Graham Stringer: The hon. Gentleman makes a solid case for vehicles that are currently used responsibly. Does he accept that many of those vehicles initially used by responsible farmers or organised racers end up being used by irresponsible people, as is the case with mini-motos, and that those people are untraceable because the vehicles are not registered?

Mr. Paterson: That is an interesting point, which has not been raised with me previously. The main problem raised by people who have written to me relates to those very small vehicles of less than 50 cc. The average quad bike used on a farm is completely burnt out and a wreck by the time that the farmer has finished with it and it has been handed down the second-hand chain, and does not, I suggest, end up as a problem in urban areas, which is where we need to concentrate our efforts.

John Mann: In my area, the issue of off-road bikes has been raised by every parish council, by large numbers of farmers and by Mr. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, one of my constituents, in a one-page article in The Daily Telegraph. How can the hon. Gentleman say that the problem affects only urban areas? It affects urban areas, mining communities and rural areas.

Mr. Paterson: The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley raised the issue of whether second-hand bikes from rural areas ended up causing an antisocial problem. I have not had any information to that effect.

Shona McIsaac: My constituency is a mix of urban and rural areas. Most of the complaints that I have received about the issue, and most of the requests for me to support the Bill today, have come from the rural parts of my constituency. Will the hon. Gentleman comment on that and say whether he will vote against the Bill?

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Mr. Paterson: I think that I have made my views clear. I represent an extremely rural constituency, where large numbers of the machines are in operation, and I have not received complaints on the issue. The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw have raised the issue, and I shall make further inquiries of other rural interests after the debate. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady is patient, she will hear the Opposition’s views on the Bill in a few minutes. I am fully aware that other Members want to contribute, so I shall press on.

The Opposition’s central line is that a dozen existing laws, when properly enforced, can have a dramatic effect. Yesterday, Craig Carey-Clinch cited to me an operation in Kent last year, where, as the Minister will know, police officers concentrating on nuisance bikes seized 94 vehicles. In that area, calls to police to complain about such bikes then fell from 85 at the end of May to under 20 at the end of August.

Let me give a brief summary—which cannot be exhaustive—of the range of existing legal powers. In relation to off-road driving, section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states that

In relation to causing alarm, distress or annoyance, section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 gives powers to the police to seize motorcycles in certain circumstances where that vehicle is committing an offence, there is careless and inconsiderate riding or driving on the road in contravention of section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, or alarm or distress is being caused to members of the public.

Under the construction and use regulations, mini-motos are not an approved vehicle type and must not therefore be ridden on public roads. Even pushing a bike on the pavement constitutes use on a public road contravening section 42 of the Road Traffic Act. Repeat offenders could be covered with antisocial behaviour orders under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. The local authority has powers under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to take action on noise nuisance. It may be possible under the Noise Act 1996, as amended by section 42 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act, to seize the offender’s motorcycle and to take prosecution proceedings. Where a person has been convicted of a noise offence, the court may make a forfeiture order for any related equipment.

On criminal damage to land, parks and playing fields, section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 says that a person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage any such property, or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged, will be guilty of an offence. One Member cited playing fields. A school would have a claim against someone who had damaged a playing field if the ground were wet.

Petrol must not be supplied to a person under the age of 16 and it must be supplied in a suitable container. To supply it to a person under the age of 16 is an offence under the Petroleum (Consolidation) Act 1928. Since young persons cannot buy petrol, it may be supplied by an adult, who can be prosecuted for so doing, which brings in the question of aiding and
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abetting. If parents are the owners of a motorcycle, they can be classed as aiding and abetting if they permit the illegal use of the motorcycle or, as I have said, if they supply petrol.

There is a common law remedy for trespass and nuisance. Proceedings can be taken in the High Court by way of an injunction. That includes those aiding and abetting. Many councils have byelaws prohibiting the riding of motorcycles under defined conditions on council land. Some go back to antiquity, but in 2005 a Cumbrian authority used byelaws to ban motorcycles and scrambler bikes.

I think that the hon. Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) mentioned motor racing. For any riders conducting races, sections 12 and 13 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 state that a person who promotes or takes part in a race or trial of speed between motor cycles on a public way is guilty of an offence. Finally—as I have said, this is probably not an exhaustive list—section 143 of the Road Traffic Act says that users of road vehicles need to be insured or secured against third party risk. So our contention is that there is a substantial amount of law that could be used if it were enforced properly.

Yesterday I met Councillor Ken Taylor from Coventry city council, which has set up a community safety partnership, including the local police and fire authorities. The council bought six off-road bikes for the police, who since June 2005 have seized and destroyed more than 200 bikes. At the same time, the fire brigade set up a scheme called “forecourt watch”, warning petrol stations not to sell petrol to under-age drivers. About 20,000 leaflets were distributed and high profile “crushing” sessions were held just before Christmas.

Doncaster metropolitan borough council uses noise powers. After receiving more than 1,500 complaints about noise—

Clive Efford: I do not like intervening on a Friday because it talks out other very good Bills, but can the hon. Gentleman explain whether the authorities in Coventry had to catch any of those bikes on more than one occasion? Did the police have any difficulties identifying them for a second time when they were carrying out that operation? That is the problem that many police forces encounter.

Mr. Paterson: That is an interesting point, and it is one that Councillor Taylor did not explain to me, but I know that the collaboration between the council, the police and the fire authority has worked and that buying the half dozen cross-country quad bikes—I think that they were actually single bikes—worked extremely effectively. The point is that authorities got together and used existing law. They used it within existing resources and it worked.

Similarly, campaigns in Havering, Ruislip, Hillingdon, Manchester, Lincoln and Doncaster have seen dramatic results.

John Mann: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paterson: This really is the last time I will give way, because I am aware that other Members want to speak.

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John Mann: The hon. Gentleman mentioned Lincoln and Doncaster, which border my constituency. Has he read representations on off-road biking and bridleways from the Ramblers Association, the National Farmers Union and the British Horse Society?

Mr. Paterson: I think that I made it clear that I have not. I will say for the third time that I come from an extremely rural area. I read the rural press and this issue has not been brought to me with the strength of feeling that the hon. Gentleman has. It appears to me to be a problem of small vehicles sold as toys mainly in urban areas. That is what we should be addressing. That appears to me to be the main problem.

Parallel to the enforcement of existing law, I would recommend another course and finish on a positive note. I draw attention to the Auto-Cycle Union local authority support unit which argues for turning this social problem into a sporting opportunity. It states that in the 1960s some terrible drownings in gravel pits encouraged swimming pool building. In the 1970s, roller skate parks sprung up to cater for that craze. Then came skateboards and most recently BMX cycle parks. All were first seen as social problems. All were embraced. Provision was delivered and the social problem disappeared. Now we have mini-bikes and off-road cycling. The ACU offers an incredibly cheap solution. The support unit provides advice to local authorities on how to identify the problem, its size and nature. It has a formula for establishing a facility, a network and venues, which can be community owned and run. What is exciting about the idea is that any tarmac area about the size of two tennis courts, which is incredibly cheap to provide, can be temporarily or permanently converted into a legitimate mini-bike venue for very little expense.

The mechanism that the ACU recommends is extremely cost-effective when contrasted with the sums being spent monthly by local authorities on enforcement. I talked to Dave Luscombe yesterday, who told me that Durham police have set up a recreational mini-bike project using the empty police headquarters car park on Saturdays. All that is needed is an area of tarmac the size of a couple of tennis courts, as I said. There are a couple of car parks in virtually every town that are probably unused at certain times. A few old cones mark off the track. In Durham, the children pay £5 for membership and £2.50 per day. Parents must escort the bikes to the venue and stay all day, and they have since become involved as marshals, turning the sessions into social events. The police work with shops that supply the bikes.

As the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley said, these machines are incredibly dangerous when they are badly maintained. The shops are getting involved—some of them are sponsoring equipment such as helmets and gloves. When these machines are used in an extremely dangerous manner around the streets, no one checks the tyre pressures, the brakes and the accelerator cable. Under the conditions in Durham, those who supply the bikes are closely engaged and the machines are safe. The result has been dramatic.

Clive Efford: The hon. Gentleman is not in the real world.

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Mr. Paterson: If the hon. Gentleman listens, he will discover that there has been a 97 per cent. reduction in illicit mini-bike activity in areas where those schemes have been set up.

In conclusion, we entirely agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley that in recent years there has been a problem. However, rather than go to the huge expense of his Bill, which would catch the vast majority of bikers who cause no problems, we believe strongly that central and local government should work in partnership to enforce the large number of existing laws. They should also encourage and support legitimate recreational use, using free tarmac areas. Passing yet more new laws does not necessarily solve a problem and enforcing existing ones often does.

I could not support the Bill in its current form but I will recommend to my colleagues on the Conservative Benches that they let the Bill pass to Committee where we will table amendments enabling it better to achieve its very worthy aims.

11.38 am

Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on introducing an extremely good Bill. He has given the House the opportunity to debate a subject that, as we have heard, is a burning issue in our constituencies. I do not intend to detain the House long with my comments, mainly because I too want to support and to speak in the debate on the second Bill before us, I hope, today—that introduced by my hon. and very good Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly): the Temporary and Agency Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Bill. I hope that we get to that Bill. It is certainly not my intention to delay the House.

I am somewhat disappointed that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) is not here. Indeed, there do not appear to be any colleagues of his on the Liberal Democrat Benches. At least the Conservatives have two Members on their Front Bench. It is disappointing that the Liberal Democrats do not seem to have fielded anyone else.

It was interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman speaking in favour of the Bill. It has not come to my attention that the Liberal Democrats have supported previous antisocial behaviour legislation. It is a pity that he is not present to make his point—and to challenge me if what I have said is incorrect.

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