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Mr. Flello: I am indeed conscious of the time. As a trade unionist and a member of the T and G, Amicus and Unity—formerly the Ceramic and Allied Trades Union—I am conscious that my hon. Friend has raised an important issue and I hope that we will get on to it. I am limiting my speech, as I had planned carefully to
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go through the document published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regulating the use of motor vehicles on public rights of way and off road. It is an important document that should be addressed in the House, but as it is some 35 pages long, I shall not do so. It is important that we move on to the second debate. I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured by my comments.

Another issue, which I hope we will discuss in Committee, is how we will know whether a vehicle is registered. If the Bill requires the vehicles to have a plate and a vehicle does not have one, it is fairly safe for officers to assume that it is being used illegally and therefore to seize it. However, if it does have a plate, how will they know whether the vehicle has passed appropriate MOT tests and has a certificate of road worthiness? There would need to be some way of differentiating the number plate—it could be a different colour or have a different type of registration number—so that somebody could not buy an off-road vehicle that was not certificated for use on the public highway and then, because it was registered and they had a plate on it, decide to use it on the public highway because nobody would be any the wiser. A passing police officer or city council enforcement officer would see the bike, see a plate on the back, and think, “Oh, that’s okay. It’s legal.” Without having some way of differentiating the number plate, there would be no way of knowing whether the vehicle was legal for use off road or on road. It has been said that the registration is an issue. Hopefully, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley will answer that point in his winding-up speech.

Mr. George Howarth: As my hon. Friend moves into his 32nd minute, I wonder whether he could give those of us who are sitting patiently waiting for other things to happen some indication of the likely future proportions of his speech.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Once again, perhaps we can concentrate on the Bill that is before the House at the moment.

Mr. Flello: My colleagues will be reassured to know that I am winding up my comments. [ Interruption. ] I appreciate the desire to move on, but I also appreciate the desire of my constituents to have this Bill properly considered.

Helen Jones: The best way to get the Bill properly considered is to get it into Committee. If my hon. Friend would bear that in mind when making his remarks, we might be able to move on to do that.

Mr. Flello: I am, as ever, grateful to my hon. Friend for the intervention. If there are not too many more interventions, hopefully I will be able to conclude my comments.

There is an issue about stopping the vehicles. If the vehicles are not stopped, one cannot check whether they are registered. If the vehicles bear a number plate, there is an issue about checking whether the vehicle is licensed for on-road or off-road use. If a vehicle is used on road and it is not licensed for that purpose, there is
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an issue about how one stops that vehicle. A point has already been made about what happens at the moment when a rider is wearing a helmet or a scarf and is not able to be identified.

I would like the Bill to move forward and go into Committee. However—I hope that the Minister will take this point on board—we need to find ways, either in the Bill or elsewhere, of enabling the police to enforce the legislation. Whether we have 12, 13 or 300 pieces of legislation, unless the police find a way of safely stopping people whom they believe to be using vehicles in an antisocial way, all the legislation in the world will come to nothing.

Ian Stewart: My hon. Friend has taken 32 minutes to profess his support for the Bill. May I point out to him that there is at least one other Member—my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley)—who wants to make a sincere speech on this issue?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. There is still sufficient time for the Bill to be debated.

Mr. Flello: I remind my colleagues that they have taken up about five minutes of my speech by making interventions to ask me to wind up quickly.

The Minister has already been asked to comment on how many voluntary registrations there have been. I echo that request. Finally—I am waiting for the cheers from my colleagues—I ask him seriously to consider whether there is a way of requiring the riders themselves to be registered or insured and addressing the problem through that route.

12.14 pm

Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I intend to be brief because, like other hon. Members, I support the second Bill that is on the Order Paper for consideration today. However, I need to detain the House a little to raise some of the important issues for my constituency.

Although I do not want to detain the House too long, I cannot begin my main remarks without commenting on the remarks of the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). I suggest that he go to a Hackney estate to tell people that we should make mini-motos a sporting opportunity, and he can see what reaction he gets. I applaud the work of people such as Ian Levy, the father of a young man murdered in Hackney, who is working to create motorbike workshops for young people as a diversionary tactic, but that is a separate issue that must not be confused with the issues in the Bill.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) on introducing the Bill, and my hon. Friends the Members for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) and for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) on their work in this area. It is an important issue and an important Bill. If it does nothing else, it will raise the Government’s awareness of this nuisance and the inability of the current laws to tackle it. I hope that it gets a fair wind. We know that private Members’ Bills often make precarious progress through the House, but from the
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speeches we have heard the Government can be in no doubt of the importance of the matter to our constituents.

It is fair to say that Hackney does not have the reputation it deserves and I feel that it is important to redress that every time I speak. I want to highlight the fact that crime in Hackney has dropped overall by 22 per cent. since the neighbourhood police teams were introduced 18 months ago. It is the first London borough to achieve its three-year crime reduction target, and it has done so within 18 months—a significant improvement. However, antisocial behaviour is still raised many times when I am on doorsteps with local councillors and others in the constituency. Neighbourhood policing has done much to help people to tackle antisocial behaviour. When I knock on doors now, I find that people feel that, when they raise such issues, there is an opportunity to work with the police, the council and other members of the community to tackle them.

That true partnership between the community, the police and the council has made a difference and I was delighted to welcome my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on his visit to Hackney, South and Shoreditch, when we walked around the Queensbridge ward with its neighbourhood team—Sergeant Nick Smith and his colleagues—and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner last Friday, so that they could see for themselves the important work that has been done. We have seen substantial reductions in crime, but I shall not say any more about that, given the time.

Mini-motos are a widespread problem in Hackney, as in other areas. I am heartened to hear that we in Hackney are not alone in experiencing the problem and that they are an issue throughout the country, in rural areas, cities and elsewhere. The figures back up the interest in mini-motos. I know that the hon. Member for North Shropshire believes that the import figures from China demonstrate that the trend might be disappearing. The fact that 144,000 were imported in 2005 and that that figure has dropped to only 60,000 in 2006 does not mean that interest is dropping but only that we have more second-hand and used vehicles on the road. I would not say that the decrease was that big in Hackney, given the anecdotal evidence I have heard as the local MP.

The Bill raises the important issue of registration. It is interesting that the Government argue against it, because I think that it provides two main benefits. First, it forces owners to stop and think twice before purchasing one of these vehicles. There have been education programmes and so on that have told people that they are dangerous for their children and have pointed out the other 12 pieces of legislation governing their use, but have they had much impact? We have heard that they have where there has been an attempt at a crackdown, but those laws exist everywhere and there has not been a uniform reduction in the use of these dangerous nuisance vehicles. The cost and effort of registration will make people realise that what they are buying is a vehicle, not a toy.

Crucially, a registration plate would allow the public to report such vehicles. One of the benefits of working with neighbourhood police teams in Hackney is that the public feel involved. Hackney councillors have brought in residents as street wardens to report what is going on in their area, which makes it much easier for police to identify theft and misuse. Registration also
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has the advantage of allowing for instant action. Although seizure is an option in some cases now, registration would mean that penalties could take place immediately, which is a real advantage.

It warrants a moment of my time to mention that the motorcycle industry argues that the 12 existing laws covering the use and abuse of mini-motos send a powerful message to parents. However, the very act of registering will surely make parents think twice, and perhaps the cost will put them off. I would be interested to know whether the Minister has had any discussions about the issue with Treasury Ministers—perhaps he can address that in his remarks. I would have thought that a lot of the discussion about registration concerns its cost. Surely we could make the registration scheme self-financing and I hope that that might be debated if the Bill reaches Committee. Perhaps we could even tax vehicles—this may be controversial for those who use them for sport—to an extent that makes people think about whether it is sensible to buy them in the first place. Perhaps it would be best not to debate that matter now, even though it is important, given the time available. The 12 laws are not doing the job, so we need to consider other approaches, which is why the Bill is important.

I know that there are genuine users of off-road vehicles, such as the people of Hackney who use their vehicles in the Lea valley area, which is just outside my constituency. There is an argument that registration plates on vehicles being used off road could get damaged and cause a danger, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) said. However, that is not an argument against registration itself. We would need to consider exactly how registration would work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) rightly highlighted the impact on our parks. I will not go over the points that he made, with which I totally agree, but a small problem is created by attempts to tackle the nuisance of bikes in parks by introducing narrow gates to stop people going through on their motor bikes. Those gates are a pain in the neck for people with a buggy, wheelchair or bicycle. We are having to tackle the problem by implementing solutions that cause more difficulties for the legitimate users of our parks and other facilities.

The nuisance needs to be tackled in Hackney, South and Shoreditch and, as we have heard today, elsewhere throughout the country. The argument that there are 12 existing laws is not an argument against the Bill, but an argument for it, because that legislation is not working, given that we have a problem while it is in place. The Bill would create disincentives to purchase a vehicle in the first place and give those who suffer from this antisocial behaviour more power to ensure that they did not have to live with such a scourge on our society.

12.21 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): When I introduced a ten-minute Bill on this subject on 1 November, I proposed measures very similar to those in the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer). On that occasion, I talked about the extent of the problem, the damage caused to land and property and the people
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who were distressed by noise and danger, especially the most vulnerable people. I included in that group children with learning difficulties or those on the autistic spectrum, and people with very limited eyesight, all of whom could be distressed by the danger and thus have their lives limited by it. I also talked about injuries and fatalities. However, given that I do not have time, I will not emphasise any of those points, although I would have liked to have done so.

The police in Greater Manchester are asking for these powers. Despite the fact that our local police are doing an excellent job on crackdowns, which I talked about when I introduced my Bill, despite the effective “stop off-road nuisance” campaign that Greater Manchester police ran throughout last summer and autumn, and despite the excellent publicity given to the campaign by our local paper, the Manchester Evening News, we still need extra powers to establish a clear system of ownership, to ensure that consumers are protected and to increase the efficiency of police action—although we already have plenty of police action, we can improve its efficiency.

Considerable political benefits could arise from supporting the Bill. As we have heard, the constituents of many hon. Members have problems of the scale about which I have talked. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) gave us an impressive list of the parts of the country that are most affected—the problem occurs across the country. There have been petitions and three ten-minute Bills, and two early-day motions on the problem were tabled by Labour Members after the summer recess. If the Bill were passed, it would bring great relief to many thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands. That would help them to feel that the Government were on their side.

It is not enough to say to Greater Manchester Members that the police have existing powers. Our police tell us that they do not have powers and that they want the Bill. If the Government continue not to support the Bill, our constituents will not understand why.

12.24 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): My views and those of the Government have already been pretty well misrepresented today, not least in The Times this morning, in which there was a travesty of a report on comments made in a speech. The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), who raised the matter on a point of order this morning, would do well to get hold of my speech and read it for himself.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that the Minister will respond to today’s debate.

Dr. Ladyman: I intend to do that very thing, Madam Deputy Speaker, having grasped the opportunity to make that point. Misrepresented is probably too strong a word; colleagues have perhaps not understood my position on the Bill, so let me begin by making it absolutely clear. The Government entirely support the intention behind the Bill. They entirely accept that the use of off-road vehicles in many of our constituencies, including mine, is a great problem: they are a
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considerable source of antisocial behaviour and we entirely agree that we should crack down on their misuse. We entirely understand the distress of people who have suffered because of the misuse of those vehicles, and we want to deal with the issue.

We will deal with the issue by making sure that there are powers in place that give the police the authority that they need to deal with it effectively. As has been pointed out by many Members, there are already at least 12 laws that the police can use, and in some parts of the country, they use them extremely effectively. As a consequence, those parts of the country are not requesting any further powers; nor is the Association of Chief Police Officers, because it believes that the powers are in place.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), who introduced the Bill, on coming so high up in the ballot, and on his enthusiasm for the issue. Given the number of raffles at Labour party events, one would think that we would be a bit better at them, but on this occasion, the best that we Labour Members could do was take fifth place. None the less, I welcome his enthusiasm for the Bill.

At the outset of his remarks, my hon. Friend talked about the choice that he was given, but I gave him another choice, and I want the House to know about it. My problem with the Bill—I will, no doubt, deal with it in depth in the minutes to come—is that, in my analysis, the solution that it proposes would have very little benefit and would not be cost-effective. I agree that it would have some value, in certain cases, but the value would be nugatory, and nowhere near sufficient to justify the cost involved.

Let me set out the choice that I gave my hon. Friend. If we allowed the Bill to proceed to Committee, it would take considerable resources, effort and time to amend it there, just to ensure an effective registration system that did not cause problems. If we put resources into that, we would come out of Committee with a Bill that still simply provided for a registration system. Do not forget that the primary purpose of the Bill is to create a compulsory registration system, and it is not possible to amend the primary purpose of a Bill in Committee. The Bill would go into Committee providing for a compulsory registration system, and would come out of Committee providing for a compulsory registration system. If a compulsory registration system is not the answer to the problem, then no matter how hard we worked in Committee, we would come out of it with something that would not solve the problem. We would still have to face the fact that we would have to vote against the Bill on Third Reading. The offer that I made to my hon. Friend was—

Lyn Brown: Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Ladyman: Let me set out the deal that I offered my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, and then I will certainly give way.

At my request, ACPO is undertaking research on the problem. It is gathering from across the country examples of best practice and details of what powers
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the police think are missing. My hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety and I further suggested to my hon. Friend that we create an inter-departmental committee, and we even said that he could chair it. It would have ministerial involvement, not just from the Home Office and the Department for Transport, but possibly even from the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government, all of which have an interest in the issue. That committee would drive forward the identification of the powers that are genuinely missing, and the Government would come back to the House on the issue and introduce those powers, instead of my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill. I said, too, that if as a result of that research it was clear that a registration system would have more than nugatory value, we would bring back such a system. We could not do that work within the framework of a private Member’s Bill, given the timescale and the nature of such Bills. My hon. Friend turned down that offer. That work will go ahead, but we cannot do it while the Bill is under consideration, which is why I urge my hon. Friends to decline Second Reading and allow the Government to do the work that they rightly identified as necessary.

Lyn Brown: I am struggling to understand why my hon. Friend does not believe that blanket registration for such vehicles would dent their popularity. One of the biggest issues for my constituents arises from the fact that they do not know how they can achieve an impact on the problem. Blanket registration would provide a clear, effective solution, particularly for unsafe vehicles that are a danger both to the people who drive them and to other people on the street.

Dr. Ladyman: If, once we had analysed the problem carefully, it turned out that a registration system would have the effect suggested by my hon. Friend, we would bring it back, as I have said, but we simply cannot do so within the timescale and the framework of a private Member’s Bill.

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