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Do I believe that the police, in areas where they say that resources are stretched and the 12 existing laws cannot be policed, would spread them even more thinly
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to enforce registration? No, I do not. Do I believe that that would be in our constituents’ interests? No, I do not. If the police were enforcing the registration of vehicles, they would not be stopping the antisocial use of bikes by those who were ignoring the law. If limited resources are the reason we need new powers, we had better ensure that they help the police, not steer them away from where we want to be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley said that existing law is too complex. He appeared to acknowledge that many of the powers that the police need are contained in existing law, but said that its complexity means that too much of their resources are taken up in enforcing it. I therefore ask him why one would want to take away scarce resources from cracking down on antisocial use of bikes and put them into enforcing a registration system. The police, ultimately, would have to enforce the registration system.

My hon. Friend also asked why the DVLA had a voluntary scheme if a registration system was such a bad idea. We have such a scheme for law-abiding citizens who want to protect their bike from theft and ensure that they get it back if it is stolen. The target market is completely different from the one that my hon. Friend envisages.

Why should we not have a registration scheme? My answer to that is, in summary, that its costs are high, its benefits are low—perhaps even nugatory—and it would divert police resources from the genuine problem. I hope that my hon. Friend will come to accept that. If the Bill does not go into Committee, I hope that he will also accept that, even though he is not willing to be involved, I intend in good faith to drive forward the work that I mentioned to ensure a genuine solution to the problem.

Graham Stringer: I should like to clarify that I did not say that I would not be involved with the work. I accept that my hon. Friend makes his proposal in good faith but, because changes in Government may occur, I said that I would not abandon a registration Bill for something that might not happen. However, I am willing to be involved at any stage.

Dr. Ladyman: I am grateful for that offer. Ministerial promises are made not on behalf of the individual who holds the post, but on behalf of the Government. The promise to move the matter forward will survive my ministerial career, if it should come to an end before the promise is fulfilled. I hope that that is not the case, although if my hon. Friend’s comments about the Prime Minister’s view of the Bill are accurate, who knows?

I should tell the House that my understanding of what the Prime Minister meant when he made those comments to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley is that he is entirely behind the intention of the Bill. He wants to see the problem dealt with and he is committing the Government to ensuring that it is dealt with, but he does not necessarily believe that this private Member’s Bill provides the framework to do so.

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The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, was next to make comments. He rightly identified that one of the key benefits of bringing vehicles within the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 is that it is necessary to identify the driver of the vehicle at the time of an offence. He is absolutely right: if everyone registered their vehicles and carried their number plates under the new rule and someone saw one of those number plates on a bike that was involved in an offence, they could go to the registered owner of that vehicle and ask them who was driving.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents would happily hand in to the police their eight-year-old son who had broken the law, and we could deal with the matter. However, the people whom he is defining are the law abiding—the people who would register and display their number plates and deal with the issue properly anyway. The entire burden of the Bill would fall on people who display plates. Those who break the law and have antisocial tendencies would not obey it, and the benefits for which he hopes would not accrue under the Bill.

As I said in an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport has had a very long record of campaigning to improve the situation and for a crackdown. She told us about some very disturbing cases in her constituency. I quite understand why she takes the matter so seriously. I see from my notes that she mentioned that some miscreants are wearing scarves and balaclavas to avoid detection. People who are prepared to behave like that would not display a number plate even if we introduced such legislation.

My hon. Friend questioned whether the powers to confiscate are as strong as they ought to be. If the powers do not exist—I am not completely convinced about that, but I am prepared to promise to consider it in the work that I am promising to do on behalf of the Government—there are much easier ways to fix things than introducing a registration system.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) mentioned three areas of work: the regulation of information at the point of sale, safety regulations and the deliberate racing of such vehicles, by which I assume she means deliberate racing in unsuitable places. However, I suspect—of course, one would need to take the guidance of Mr. Speaker and the Clerks—that regulations in all those areas would be outside the scope of the Bill, which is about the registration of those vehicles.

Anne Snelgrove: My point is that registration would help in all three of those areas.

Dr. Ladyman: Yes, but in every case my hon. Friend talked about the need for regulation, not registration. We can regulate without introducing a very expensive registration system. I agree entirely that, with a registration system, activities would need to take place at the point of sale, and they might or might not include providing information. We would still need to include powers to require people to provide information at the point of sale. When I buy a motor car, I am not aware of the garage that sells it giving me safety information about the use of my motor car. I am certainly not aware of people there taking me through
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road traffic laws and telling me where I can and cannot use it. So we would need to introduce a series of regulations and new powers to ensure that that information was provided, but we have not identified them. Let me do that work, which I cannot do in the framework of this private Member’s Bill, and if those powers are lacking we will return to them another time and deal with them properly.

Anne Snelgrove: It is excellent news that the Minister says that he will do that work. However, as he said earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and three other hon. Members, including me, have been going on about the issue for some time now, and registration should be included. It is only because of the Bill that the Minister is saying that he will do that work.

Dr. Ladyman: That is simply not the case. The Government have already identified the various powers that the police can use, and has disseminated that information to the police. The Department for Transport has done considerable work on that, as has the Home Office. The respect agenda was published last summer. A concerted effort has been made to co-ordinate the work of the police and to ensure that they know what powers they have. Work has gone on with ACPO to ensure that everybody has the information that they need about the powers available.

In certain parts of the country, that has worked extremely well. The hon. Member for North Shropshire pointed out that the powers have been exceedingly effective in Coventry, I think. If there are still problems in Members’ constituencies, however, and if the police genuinely cannot use the powers that they have to cope with them—we will identify that when we do the research—we will bring back the measure as Government legislation, not as a half-baked piece of legislation, which is the best that we could have in a private Member’s Bill, even with all the resources of Government trying to amend it to make it an appropriate measure in the time frame under discussion.

Barbara Keeley: May I re-emphasise that Greater Manchester police are asking for the measure? Like many other Members representing Greater Manchester, I have developed great respect both for the work that the police authority has done on the registration scheme and the Bill, and the work that the police have done on cracking down on the problem. It is frustrating to hear the Minister say that he must do further work. The Greater Manchester police authority and force are of substantial size, and they say that they need these powers.

Dr. Ladyman: Greater Manchester police do say that they need those powers, but ACPO says that they do not, and ACPO represents all the other police authorities in the country. Greater Manchester police are extremely effective, well run and focused on their local community and its needs. I have nothing but praise for them. The fact is, however, that they are not offering to pay for the scheme. They are not offering £4 million out of their police budget to set up the scheme, or the £2 million to £3 million necessary to pay for the running costs. Nor are they telling me that they have
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the resources to enforce the registration scheme even if we introduce it. They are telling me that they do not have the resources to enforce the 12 powers that they already have. Why would they suddenly have even more resources available to enforce the Bill?

Let us work with ACPO and all police authorities to identify an effective scheme with a cost-benefit ratio that is in favour of the benefits rather than the costs. If a registration scheme turns out to be part of that, and if Greater Manchester police can make their case, sell it to all the other police authorities and convince me that it will have more than nugatory value, we can return to such proposals. But we cannot do that work within the framework of this Bill.

A registration scheme might help with the three areas identified by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon in her speech, but those could be dealt with in much easier regulatory or legislative means that do not require an expensive registration system.

Lyn Brown: May I return to the analogy that my hon. Friend drew with his experiences of buying a car from a garage? When a garage sells him a car, I presume that it has a responsibility—certainly, if it is a new car—to ensure that it is roadworthy and that it will not cause him distress while driving. Unfortunately, these bikes are being sold new to my constituents and they are neither roadworthy nor safe. Many of the problems that we are experiencing are with tracing unsafe vehicles back to the vendor and prosecuting the vendor. A registration scheme would enable us to trace back such unsafe, illegal vehicles to the point of purchase, and to prosecute.

Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The garage that sells me my car has a responsibility to ensure that it is roadworthy and safe for use on the road, but the responsibility to make sure that I have a roadworthy vehicle of merchantable quality does not fall to it under the vehicle excise legislation or under registration legislation; it falls to it under trading standards legislation. That is why we need to do a piece of work across Government to look at all those issues and to come forward with a package of changes that can deal with those problems. The registration system alone will not do it. If we introduce that alone, it will make a nugatory contribution to the safety issue that she has rightly identified.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) mentioned damage to land and property. I will return to that issue in a moment. She focused on unsafe use of those vehicles and children riding on handle bars. However, misuse is not in this Bill. Registration does not deal with misuse. Perhaps we have to do another piece of work to deal with the misuse of those vehicles. That can be part of the work that we take forward.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) did not allow me to intervene, but I understand his concern that we make progress. However, I will deal with his points now, as he requested. He quoted import figures between 2000 and 2005. Imports rose from a bit more than 2,000 to 144,000, but, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) pointed out, my hon. Friend singularly
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failed to quote the figures for 2006, when imports fell to just under 60,000—a dramatic fall in sales.

Sales of the vehicles have collapsed, although we do not know why. Perhaps it is because everyone who wants one now has one. It is more likely to do with the fact that the work that the Department of Trade and Industry and trading standards have already done has got over to parents how little legal use can be made of the vehicles and they have simply stopped buying them. The trend might continue. Without doing any of the things we have discussed today, these machines might disappear in a year or two. I certainly hope so. Despite that, I am not advocating that we do nothing. I am advocating that we continue to do this work and do not rely on a further collapse of sales. However, it is a positive sign that they have collapsed so far.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) mentioned at great length rural communities. He pointed out again that the Tories have decided not to come today to represent the views of rural communities. There is clearly a difference between the views of the hon. Member for North Shropshire and my hon. Friend about whether these machines are a problem in the rural community. I point out to my hon. Friend that we have all had a communication from the National Farmers Union saying that it does not support the Bill because it perceives that the burden of it would fall on legitimate landowners and farmers, rather than on the people we want to deal with.

My hon. Friend mentioned some things that I wanted to comment on and which are important: the damage that is done to golf courses and football pitches as a result of the use of those vehicles. That is another reason why the piece of work that needs to be done should be done across Government. It probably needs to include the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, because issues about leisure and sporting activities will all have to be taken into account when we come up with a package to solve the problem.

My hon. Friend is an expert on the drug trade and the damage that drugs do to people. He pointed out that drug users do not travel in registered cars, and that they move their drugs around in unregistered vehicles, including unregistered off-road motor bikes. Would a drug dealer register their off-road motor bike just because we have brought in this Bill? Is he telling me that someone who is committing crimes that could lead to a prison term of tens of years, huge fines and all their property being confiscated, would say, “My goodness, I have to give up the drug trade because I have to register my off-road motorbike now”? That simply would not happen. I entirely accept that drugs are moved in unregistered vehicles and on bikes, but I do not accept that the Bill would make the slightest difference to that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart) believes that all the powers that currently exist are being used to their fullest extent. That might be so in some parts of the country, but I am unsure whether it is in all parts of the country. However, if I accept as a hypothesis his argument that they are all being used to the fullest extent, that does not mean that the extra step that we have to take is to have a registration system. It does not mean that what we need is a single new power.
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We might need new powers across the board—trading standards powers, perhaps, or transport powers, or Home Office powers or antisocial behaviour powers. We might need a registration system, but we do not know that yet, and I certainly do not accept that it is a given that a registration system is the answer.

I do not always agree with the hon. Member for North Shropshire, but I agreed with the main thrust of his argument on this occasion—the analysis at least, if not the prognosis. He mentioned all the points that I have made. For instance, he asked why we would want to have a prescriptive system, the burden of which would fall mostly on law-abiding people. It would be a very expensive system with lots of regulations imposed on people, and most of the burdens of it would fall on law-abiding people, rather than on the people whom we want to focus on.

Unfortunately however, the hon. Gentleman moved on from analysis to inaccurate prognosis when he said, “Well, we should let this Bill pass into Committee and try to amend it there.” Frankly, he and I both know that that was a bit of politics, as he wants to sound as though he is on the side of the people who are suffering as a result of these machines. I am on the side of the people who are suffering as a result of these machines, but to suggest to them a solution that will not take us any further forward will not do them any good. The simple fact is that if we go into Committee with a Bill whose primary purpose is a registration scheme, we shall have to come out of Committee with a Bill whose primary purpose is a registration scheme, and all of the steps that the hon. Gentleman has identified as potentially reasonable steps to take will not be in the Bill, while the one measure that he has identified as a burden will be in the Bill. Therefore, he and I will have to team up to defeat it on Third Reading, instead of doing the obvious thing now, which is to say, “Let’s drop it and do the piece of work that really needs to be done.”

The hon. Gentleman detailed the 12 laws that currently exist, and he pointed to certain areas of the country where things are working extremely well—in Coventry, for example, and he also mentioned Havering and Islington. I am aware of the Coventry experience. It is very positive; it appears that the existing powers are entirely adequate for purpose. We would feed that piece of evidence into the system, and if it turned out that Manchester police and others looked at that experience and said, “Yes, we’ve been doing things wrong; we should do things the Coventry way, and then we will have no more problems”, we would have the answer that we want. On the other hand, if they got together and identified that further changes to the law were needed, we could address that and do what is required to solve the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) made a number of useful points in his thoughtful speech. I am sorry that he was intervened on so much by Members who were getting impatient with him. That was a shame. I remember the late Mr. Forth telling us on many occasions that the primary purpose of this Chamber is to scrutinise legislation and that we must do that carefully. Therefore, my hon. Friend was right to have done that properly. He asked: if the powers exist, why are they
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not used? I would ask: if the police are resource-constrained, why would they want to spread their resources even more thinly to enforce a register?

My hon. Friend also talked about legal sites. That is an interesting issue, and he is right that nimbyism is a key point. Everybody says, “Yes, let’s have a legal site”, but when it turns out that the legal site is to be near them people complain. That is absolutely right and this is a real problem, which is why local councils would have to be involved in identifying suitable sites. The other problem is that these vehicles have to be able to get to such sites without using a road, because, as we have heard, they cannot go on roads; the vast majority of them are not road-legal or road-safe. They are certainly not licensed or insured for use on a road.

Given that these vehicles cannot be used on a road, how would people get to these sites? It would be down to mum and dad to put the vehicle in the boot of the car and take it to the legal site, where it could be properly used. The likelihood is that people with the sort of mum and dad who take that level of interest and supervise them in that way will be law-abiding bike owners, rather than those who ignore the law.

My hon. Friend also asked why these vehicles should not be insured, and that is a good question that the House should debate. There might be an argument for requiring that they be insured. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) pointed out that, because these bikes are not insured, the health service gets no compensation when people have accidents. That issue has to be addressed, but the fact is that nothing in the Bill requires that these bikes be insured, so even if we went ahead with it, the health service would still get no benefit from it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South also mentioned health and safety, and as I said earlier, that is a key issue. How do we prevent the use of these vehicles if the kid just decides to scarper? I do not believe that the sort of kid who would scarper when a policeman asked them to stop would have a number plate on their bike anyway. The Bill does not provide the police with advice on the best and safest way of apprehending these vehicles, and we do need to deal with that issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) said that her constituents would not see this activity as a sport, and I agree that they probably would not. For many of them, it is just an unregulated nuisance that is not done in a proper place. However, the point is that for some people it is a sport, and I am sure that it is a lot of fun, but it does have to be done in the right place at the right time with the right controls. It is those who want to do it in the right place at the right time with the right controls who would be caught by this legislation; those who do not would ignore this law, just as they have ignored the other 12.

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