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Let me put another scenario to my hon. Friend. A registration system must be self-financing. That is a principle that we accept throughout the registration system, because we do not want the taxpayer to subsidise people’s behaviour. If we introduced that piece of work and charged a registration fee sufficient in the first year to cover the registration of all off-road vehicles, and their sale collapsed as she suggests, the entire cost of registration and running costs of several million pounds a year would fall on law-abiding users of off-road vehicles, who are not a problem at the moment, but who would find the registration fee going up from between £50 and £100 to much, much more. I urge my hon. Friend not to allow the Bill to go into Committee, where we would have to put all the Government’s resources into trying to amend it, even though we know that at the end of the day we will probably have to vote against it. I urge her, and every one of my hon. Friends who say that the measure is necessary, to allow the Government to do that work. We will take it forward, and if any new powers or a new registration system are needed, we will bring the measure back as Government legislation. It will be
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properly costed and implemented, and it will be effective, so we will have something of which we can all be proud.

Lyn Brown: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Stratford magistrates court was one of the first to take action against traders who sell these motorbikes. It was found that they had sold 21 dangerously unsafe vehicles and they were fined just over £7,000 for the offence. If that is the response, the law is not robust enough and it puts my constituents in danger.

Dr. Ladyman: That is exactly why I am asking my hon. Friend not to agree to Second Reading but to allow us to conduct a root-and-branch review of the legislation. The stakeholders group would consist not just of the Department for Transport looking at transport issues and the Home Office looking at antisocial behaviour issues. It would include the Department of Trade and Industry looking at trading standards and safety, the Department for Communities and Local Government looking at the use of open space, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport looking at both the provision and loss of sporting facilities. We would do that root-and-branch work, and we would identify the issues which, as my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, are a problem. However, they are outside the scope of the Bill. Even if I agreed that it should go into Committee and we should have that conversation, an amendment to deal with the problem could not be introduced. The Clerks would immediately tell us that that was out of order. The Speaker would rule it out of order. It would be outside the scope of the Bill.

The one thing that the Bill can do is produce a registration system. That is the one thing that is not necessary or cost-effective.

Graham Stringer: My hon. Friend fairly represents the offer that was made to me; hon. Members should know that. However, he did not give the reasons why I turned the offer down. First, because of the way that this place and Government work, my hon. Friend cannot guarantee to be in post when there is a change of Prime Minister. That is no slur on him. Secondly, information is required from ACPO, which has not covered itself in glory in the way that it has provided information. I am still not sure that ACPO is not representing my hon. Friend’s views, rather than its members’ views. Thirdly, why should we lose the framework of the Bill if he believes that a registration scheme could work? Fourthly, why should any alternative solutions to the problem be so time limited? Those were the reasons why I turned his offer down.

Dr. Ladyman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for acknowledging that my offer was in the terms that I set out. I understand that he may no longer trust ACPO. I can tell him that I discussed the matter with ACPO very early in my ministerial career in the Department for Transport, as a result of concerns expressed to me by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I am sure the Minister does not mean any discourtesy, but I remind him that he must address the Chair.

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Dr. Ladyman: My great apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was getting carried away.

I discussed the problem with ACPO early in my ministerial career to try and identify how it could be resolved. One of the reasons I did so was that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), who was the Parliamentary Private Secretary of the then Secretary of State, brought these very issues to the Secretary of State at that time. As a result of those representations, he was keen that we made sure that we had an effective solution to the problem. I consulted ACPO and asked what was needed. ACPO, without pressure from me, came back and said, “We have some colleagues who think a registration system is the way forward, including colleagues in Manchester, but we don’t believe that to be the case. We believe we have the powers.”

At the same time, the Home Office started to look at the issue in terms of antisocial behaviour. As well as identifying the powers in general that the police could use, which was a piece of work that we did in the Department for Transport, our colleagues in the Home Office put together what became the respect agenda, which was implemented last summer and had considerable impact. Those two pieces of work took us further forward.

It may be that despite those two pieces of work, we still need to do more work and we still need more powers. That is the work that I am prepared to do now. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that I put no pressure on ACPO to follow my views. ACPO told me what it wanted, and we did our best to follow that advice. If it so happens that its advice is wrong, and if it so happens that when we do the stakeholder work we identify further powers that are needed, we will provide them. I have said that if it turns out that ACPO was wrong about a registration system, the Government will introduce one. But we cannot do that within the framework of my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill or the time scale that that would impose on us.

Meg Hillier: I am sure my hon. Friend can sense the impatience in the House today from us and from our constituents for the issue to be dealt with. Can he give the House an indication of the time scale for the cross-departmental work that he proposes, and the first possible date on which we might see some change in legislation and some action that would rid our constituents of the problem?

Dr. Ladyman: The ACPO work is already under way, and it has been going on for some time. I have not received an indication from ACPO when it expects to complete the work, but I do not expect it to be long delayed. A cross-departmental stakeholder group to examine the issues can be implemented relatively quickly. I do not want to be too optimistic, but I would be surprised if we had not identified the significant issues by September. We would then be able to decide which of the measures can be implemented without legislation, which of them need primary legislation and which need secondary legislation. We are talking about that kind of time scale.

I entirely accept that the impatience of my hon. Friend’s constituents is real. However, the existing 12 powers can be used, the Home Office is willing to use
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the respect agenda to drive the matter forward and the Department for Transport is also willing to act. Best practice is being identified in the various police authorities around the country. Working together, I suspect that we can make significant further inroads into the problem, even before we identify further gaps in the legislation. Throughout this year, I think that my hon. Friend will see significant improvements in the situation.

This is the Government’s position: we are not hostile to the intention behind the Bill, and we are not ruling out a registration system for ever, but we think that there is a better, more thorough and more effective way to deal with the issue which will impact on the lawless rather than law-abiding people.

I will deal with the points made by my hon. Friends and Opposition Members before I turn to the body of my comments. As I have said, paragraph 1 does not include trikes, and I have had an exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) on that subject. That provision would be amendable in Committee, but a vast range of other provisions would have to be amended in Committee, too. If the Bill were passed as it stands, all the racing bikes in next year’s British grand prix would have to display number plates. Amendments would be needed to make it clear that superbikes in a formal racing environment or people racing scrambler bikes in properly organised off-road events do not have to display number plates. All such issues would need to be identified, and the necessary amendments would need to be drafted and introduced into the legislation. I suggest that such work should be done within the framework of a Government Bill, where we will have the time and the leisure to do it. I may be wrong about this, but I have been told that because only one private Member’s Bill has been committed upstairs so far, this Bill would be in Committee at a very early date, so we would not have time to do the study, which is another reason why the Government should be given the flexibility and the time to do the work properly.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley introduced his Bill, he pointed out that virtually all these bicycles are illegal on the road, which is correct, and that virtually all of them go on the road, which is also correct. I put it to him that that means that they can all be confiscated at some point, because people have only to break one road traffic law for the police to be able to confiscate bikes with no warnings and none of the other problems. If the police catch someone doing something on-road, the bike can go there and then, which is another reason why I am not convinced that the Bill will take us much further forward.

Lyn Brown: I thank the Minister for his patience in giving way—I chose not to make a substantive speech, because I wanted to see us progress through the morning. I am concerned about the issue of apprehension. I know that police officers in a ward in the east end of London that has a particular problem with mini-motos are chasing these young men—generally they are young men—on push-bikes. The
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police officers are becoming very fit in the pursuit of mini-motos, but that approach is not as effective as it might be. The best approach is to get mini-motos off the street to begin with, rather than pursuing young people when they are engaged in illegal activity driving around the streets of Plaistow.

Dr. Ladyman: I entirely agree. My hon. Friend’s point relates to one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, who said that he was in favour of the bikes being registered and having to display a number plate. Frankly, whatever benefits the Bill would deliver would come only if the bikes had a number plate. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) agrees. However, are law-abiding people, who register their bikes and are prepared to put a number plate on them, the sort to drive away from a policeman when he asks them to stop?

The fact is that the people who would disobey the proposed law are those whom the police officers in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley are chasing. They would still be chasing them if the Bill was enacted. How we go about safely apprehending miscreants is a key point that we need to investigate. Several hon. Members have said that, and I agree. There is a weakness there; a kid, who may be very young, cannot be chased because they might have an accident and the officer might also have one during the pursuit. However, a registration system is not the answer, because that kid will not be displaying a number plate.

One reason why I want to take this issue offline and let the Government address it properly is that I want to sit down with the police and ask them what techniques, powers and instruments they really need if they are to tackle the problem safely. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham identified a problem, but the Bill is not the way to solve it.

Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that if the vehicles were issued with number plates, the ordinary man and woman in the street would be able to identify wrongdoers and report them to the police? In Hove and Portslade in my constituency, there are altercations between residents and people riding such off-road vehicles on the roads, often late at night. Those altercations and dangers would be prevented if the residents were able to take down an identifying feature of the bikes and thereby report them to the police.

Dr. Ladyman: That would be the case if miscreants and people who disobey the law obeyed the law being proposed and put number plates on their bikes. I am saying that they will not. As we heard, some people riding the bikes wear balaclavas or masks over their faces to hide their identity. Does my hon. Friend seriously think that someone who puts a balaclava over their face to hide their identity so that they could not be caught would put a number plate on their bike?

Ms Barlow: Would my hon. Friend not agree that if registration were mandatory, such people would have to identify their bikes? That is the very point of the Bill, which I support.

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Dr. Ladyman: Yes, but they simply would not—that is the point. They are breaking the law now in 12 different ways. My hon. Friend is asking me to accept that they would not break the law in a 13th way. I just do not accept that; it does not make sense. However, I come back to the offer that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley: if, as a result of doing the work properly, we identify that registration is a solution, we shall bring it back in Government legislation, in a structured way that will work.

Mr. Carmichael: The Minister has mentioned that offer several times. He told us he was confident that he would be able to resolve the issues by the end of the year. I suggest that he could allow the Bill a Second Reading. In Committee, he could insert a new clause that required a statutory instrument to bring the Bill into force. If, after the great canvass of opinions that the Minister proposes, it is demonstrated that the scheme is needed, he could bring forward that statutory instrument, saving subsequent Government time. If it was demonstrated that the power was not needed, he would not bring forward the statutory instrument and there would be no argument from any of the other hon. Members here.

Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Liberal Democrats would be the first to complain if I took that sort of preparatory power for things that I cannot prove are really needed. In recent days, Liberal Democrats made that very argument about preparatory powers that the Government were taking in other areas. I am, personally, profoundly unconvinced that this system would have anything more than nugatory value, but I am making an honest offer in good faith that if we do this piece of work and it turns out that it would have value, we would bring it back to the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that in good faith.

Lyn Brown: I want to push my hon. Friend for one last time. Following his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Ms Barlow), does he agree that if a bike was sold with a number plate, like my car, it would be much more likely to be kept in its place, intact, on the back of the bike, to enable the identification of people who are breaking the law? I know that there are difficulties in London and elsewhere with people stealing number plates, replacing the number plates on the cars they are driving, and engaging in all kinds of criminal activity. Nevertheless, we would stand a better chance of identifying people and catching them if number plates were on bikes at the point of sale.

Dr. Ladyman: I do not accept that. In reality, the people who would keep them on are law-abiding people who are buying bikes for their children in good faith and supervising them, and would, if they were causing antisocial behaviour, deal with them properly as parents should.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Let me again remind the Minister to address the Chair, not least because I am now advised that the people responsible for sound in the Chamber are having difficulty in ensuring that he is being heard properly.

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Dr. Ladyman: I certainly would not want people not to hear what I am saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so thank you very much. If you could tell me which point in my speech I need to go back to, I would be happy to start again.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and I will have to agree to differ on this point. I do not share her view that the provision would have real value, but if, when we do this piece of work, it turns out that it would, we will bring it back. I hope that that is the assurance that she is looking for.

While I am on the subject of number plates, other complexities are involved. There is a whole raft of legislation about the size, shape and lettering of number plates. The rear number plate specified in the Bill would be nearly as big as some mini-motos—it would be like having a sail on the back. That might be dangerous in itself, and the owner might be encouraged to take it off because it looks so silly and gets in the way. Would we insist on people having those big number plates, or would we redesign the number plate system and have smaller number plates? Then, who would sell them? Under the Road Safety Act 2006, number plates can be bought only from certain designated stores. Would they have to tool up to make redesigned smaller number plates for mini-motos? Number plates are the size they are because they work with automated number plate recognition cameras. Smaller number plates would not, so we would have to redesign the software for those cameras. If someone wanted to make a note of such a number plate, they would need to be a lot closer in order to be able to see it. We would have to take account of a whole raft of issues to do with the size, design and provision of number plates.

Anne Snelgrove: You are just being daft now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I appreciate that it is Friday, but we must have the correct parliamentary language.

Let me repeat to the Minister that he is still swivelling right round. The microphone is there for a purpose. If he wants to be heard, he will have to direct his remarks a little more towards the Chair.

Anne Snelgrove: My hon. Friend the Minister is not only swivelling—he is not being sensible. The cameras he mentions are for on-road vehicles but we are considering the registration of off-road vehicles. People will be able to read a smaller motorbike’s registration plate as it passes them.

Dr. Ladyman: I am swivelling because one normally expects to find one’s opponents on the Opposition Benches, but they are sadly empty today.

I understand my hon. Friend’s point. One of our Labour colleagues said that ANPR cameras could be used to record the use of such vehicles off road and that the police could act on that, thus saving police time. However, as my hon. Friend said, those cameras are fixed on-road. We would therefore presumably have to set them up off-road to enforce the Bill.

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