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The subject under discussion is of great importance to my constituents. Parks in my constituency should be wonderful green open spaces where young people can play and parents can take their small children to climb on climbing frames and swing on swings, but are not because of the menace of off-road bikes and mini-bikes, which tear through the parks. Other areas of open green space in my constituency that back on to houses, and which are reached by alleyways that lead from the nearby roads, cannot be used because of bikes tearing through themand not only mini-bikes and off-road bikes, but quad bikes. They go down some very narrow alleyways, causing tremendous risk to anybody who happens to be coming the other way because there is no passing space at all. The speeds at which such bikes tear up the alleyways mean that
nobodyparticularly an older member of the community or somebody with mobility difficultieshas any chance of getting out of the way.
It is also worth noting that the bikes cause damage to pavements. I am thinking of one particular walkway where the pavement is cracked and broken, and the paving slabs are upended, because of the weight of the vehicles, which travel over surfaces that are intended to be used by pedestrians; the pavement at the end of that alleyway is cracked and broken, and is itself a danger to passing pedestrians, even when there are not any bikes around.
My constituency is also lucky enough to have a site of special scientific interest, which on a number of occasions has been churned up by off-road bikes or quad bikes tearing through it. I do not know whether they were being used for off-road activity or for other, illegal, activities.
The Motor Cycle Industry Association has provided some interesting information and I want to begin looking at that by noting that it has proposed a definition for motorcycles such as mini-motos; it suggests that an accurate phrase would be
Motorcycles for Use on Private Property, or MUPP.
I suggest that anyone who uses MUPPs illegally or antisocially should be termed a muppet. It would be a term of gentle abuse or reproach to use in respect of some of the idiots who are tearing through our green spacesthey are muppets of the worst possible variety.
As the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) said, the import figures from China make for interesting reading. In respect of mini mopeds of up to 50cc, there has been an interesting trend. Between 2002 and 2003 there has been an incredible increase, from 7,736 to 45,515. There has been another ratcheting up between 2004 and 2005: in 2004, there were 68,295 MUPPsnot all ridden by muppets, I am surewhereas in 2005 there were 144,905. It is interesting that there have been such increases. Will the Minister share with us any thoughts that he might have about the reasons for those increases between 2002 and 2003 and 2004 and 2005? The hon. Member for North Shropshire has addressed some of the reasons why MUPPs have started to go out of fashion, and it might be for that reason that their numbers declined in 2006, the last full year for which we have figures. Certainly, MUPPs can, when ridden by muppets, cause nuisances and problems, and they have steadily increased. That is still a cause for concern.
The issue of fixing number plates to such vehicles has not been sufficiently addressed by us. If the intention of registrationor a possible offshoot of having vehicles registeredis that the bikes must have a registration plate, the Motor Cycle Industry Association rightly raises concerns about when MUPPs are used in competitive sport. It makes the point that a plastic plate could shatter. Therefore, there might be a constant need throughout a race day to repair and replace number plates if they are plastic. It also raises the point that if the plates were not plastic but metal, what would happen if one of them came off or broke? What would be the potential dangers of that? Off-road motorbikes are dangerous at the best of times, and if they are not used properly they can cause many
difficulties. There are injuries even at the most carefully organised and controlled competitive events. If there were metal plates, which can be sharp-edged and might fly off, that could cause greater injurieseven fatalitiesand if there were plastic plates, shards could fly off and cause injuries, not only to those taking part but to the many spectators.
The Motor Cycle Industry Association raises the matter of enforcement as its greatest concern. How do we tackle the hardcore antisocial elements? Such people would view any extra law with cynicism: they might simply dismiss it, and it certainly might not have an impact. I shall return to that issue shortly.
The comments of the Association of Chief Police Officers have been mentioned, and I will not rehearse them other than to say that it clearly feels that parts of road traffic legislation can be used to address this problem. If the powers exist and can be used, why are they not being used to the extent that they should be? Many Members have said that in certain areas of the country they are being usedand that they are used very wellbut that is not the case across the country. ACPO therefore must be asked the following question: what pressure is it putting on its membership to make sure that best practice is spread throughout the country and that the powers are used properly?
I found the Respect document, Tackling mini-moto misuse: a guide, to be interesting and useful reading, and I wish briefly to go through some of its very important points, while also ensuring that we get on to the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. In the first part of the first section of that document the question of where mini-motos can be ridden legally is asked. That is a good point. As I said earlier in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho), I have seen mini-bikes being used in appalling ways. I have already commented on the man in his mid-20s with the baby perched on the handlebars collecting another older child from school. Sadly, on that occasion I was a passenger in a passing vehicle and was therefore unable to take any action myself. The document asks whether they can be ridden on private land, and the answer is that they can, but with exceptions. We have already heard about the requirement for legal sites, and I will address that shortly.
In one part of my constituency there is a park that runs behind a number of houses. Young peopleand not so young peopletear through that park, causing a nuisance, and that brings the whole area down, not simply in terms of antisocial behaviour in the park but in terms of the knock-on effects. There is noise, so people cannot sit out in their gardens on a nice summer evening. When the weather turns warmerbecause of climate change, we seem over recent years to have been blessed, if I can use that word in this context, with some very good summer weatherparents might wish to keep their childrens bedroom windows open to let in some fresh air. Of course, if a muppet is tearing up and down outside on an off-road bike having no regard whatever for the community, the noise will keep the children awake. That will have a knock-on effect on their performance at school next day, and could give rise to other antisocial behaviour issues. As a result of such behaviour, the park becomes a no-go area.
Legitimate users of that parkland are deterred from using it, and might take a wide detour to avoid walking through it because idiots are riding their bikes in an antisocialin many cases, almost criminalmanner. The park therefore becomes a haven for other antisocialand, indeed, illegalactivity.
That is not to say that we should roundly condemn everybody who sells mini-motos and other such vehicles. A vendor in Fenton, in my constituency, is taking a very responsible attitude to sales by making sure that the people buying such vehicles are responsible and understand the legislation and where mini-motos can and cannot be ridden legally.
Section 2 of the guide deals with education and engagement. We need to educate people not just on the use of MUPPs, but on the general use of pavements, parks and roads. Organisations such as the Blurton Dads group, in my constituency, are doing excellent work teaching young peopleand their fathersabout riding safely and responsibly.
Several Members have mentioned the use of legal sites, but sadly, there is an element of nimbyism that we have to be very careful about. A lot of constituents will rightly say, An excellent site and facilities should be provided for such people. They should be supervised and proper care and control should be providedbut please dont put the site near my house. That is understandable in cases where noise has proved a problem, and it is particularly understandable if such people have been plagued for many years by the nuisance caused by the misuse of off-road vehicles. However, we need to locate such sites in accessible areas, while not putting them so close to peoples back yards as to cause a nuisance.
Of course, that creates all sorts of dilemmas. If a site is located too far away, it simply will not be used. The young peopleand the slightly older peoplewho want to use their mini-motos and MUPPs for recreational purposes will be unable to do so because they cannot travel that far. We have already heard how difficult it can be to get a mini-moto to such a site for those who do not have a small van to load it into. They might have to push it there, and as the hon. Member for North Shropshire said, pushing such a vehicle along the road can of itself contravene road traffic legislation. We need to locate such venues sufficiently far away from residents so as not to cause them a problem, but close enough to users to make them accessible. The local authority in my constituency is working hard to find suitable venues. The deputy elected mayor, Councillor Paul Shotton, is doing a lot of valuable work in trying to resolve this problem, as is another constituency colleague, Councillor Terry Doughtey.
Section 3 of the guide refers to taking action against the misuse of mini-motos and the tools and powers that are available. Reference was made earlier to seizing such vehicles and crushing them, and that might well be the answer in cases where that can be done. Section 87(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which makes it an offence for a person to use a motor vehicle of any class on a road unless they hold a driving licence, would allow for vehicles to be crushed if they are used by unlicensed riders. However, a MUPP that has been seized with the intention of destroying it might well not be the legal property of the person riding it. They
might have stolen it, and if they are apprehended, it might emerge that it is not their legal property, which gives rise to the question whether it can be destroyed.
Of course, the vehicle might well be that persons property, but even then, other problems arise. Police officers tell me that in some cases the person in question simply goes out and buys another one. Many such vehicles are available and their cost has dropped dramatically, so if the offenders vehicle is seized and crushed, they simply buy another oneor, indeed, steal another one. Whether or not they bought the original vehicle legitimately, they might think, Well, lets steal one and use that. Having spoken to the police, I get the impression that some offenders are indeed repeat offenders and will constantly steal vehicles to use in an antisocial and criminal manner. Therefore, seizing and destroying vehicles is not always the answer.
When someone misuses such a vehicle, the police often issue a warning, but many of my constituents are saying, They have broken the law or antisocial behaviour legislation, so why issue a warning? They have done something that they should not be doing. As we all know, ignorance of the law is no excuse; the vehicle in question should be seized there and then. Some councils try to get around issuing warnings, because they might have to go to court and pay legal costs if they are challenged. We should not have to find ways around the legislation; the law should be clear. I hope that the Minister takes particular note of that point and responds to it when he winds up the debate.
Dr. Ladyman: I will indeed deal with that issue when I wind up. However, the point that I am trying to make to colleagues is that I fully accept that there might be deficiencies in the law and things that we want to fix, but we can fix this one without introducing a registration system. Why have a burdensome registration system that will not be cost-effective and will not get to the root of the problem, when we might be able to do the things that would really make a difference, such as changing that particular rule?
That brings me nicely to uninsured drivers. Whether or not there is a requirement to register such a vehicle, perhaps there should be a requirement that anybody who rides onebe it on road or off roadhas some form of insurance. That might more easily solve the problem, in that anyone found using a MUPP would immediately have to prove that they are insured. If they are not, they are running a vehicle without insurance, for which there are penalties. If the vehicle is their own, it could perhaps be seized and destroyed. I hope we can discuss in Committee whether a clause could be added to the Bill requiring that anybody who uses a MUPP should have insurance.
I have already dealt with the issue of such offenders being caught twice, but I repeat: why should people have to put up with these problems time and again? As we have heard, the perception among a lot of
peopleincluding my own constituentsis that the police are taking no action when in fact they do apprehend offenders. However, as soon as the police leave, other offenders come along and start misusing off-road vehicles. As a result, the perception is that this has been happening all day and the police are doing nothing, when in fact, quite the reverse is true.
I question how much of a deterrent putting endorsement points on future licences would be to a young person using an off-road vehicle in an antisocial or illegal way. They are unlikely to stop and think, Good grief, what will happen when I apply for my licence? It will be endorsed with points. Such cries are not ringing on the lips of those who are using these bikes.
I hope that my local council, Stoke-on-Trent city council, will look more closely at the possibility of applying a blanket noise abatement order to areas where off-road bikes are used, so that, if the noise of the bikes is a problem, action can be taken without the rigmarole of warnings and so on.
I am conscious of the time and intend to bring my remarks to a rapid conclusion. There are several examples of good local initiatives that have been taken to address this issue. The Killingbeck divisional off-road motorcycle unit came to my attention a couple of years ago and involves a team of officers with off-road bikes, which are, I hope, properly registered and insured
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): My hon. Friend mentioned that he hoped that his local authority would do something connected with noise abatement. I would be grateful if he could explain that a little further, as I am not sure that I grasped the full point that he was making.
Mr. Flello: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The noise made by mini-motos tearing around can be very antisocial, perhaps for parents putting their children to bed and having to leave the windows open because it is hot. The noise can also have an intimidating effect on people who are just sitting in their living room trying to watch an episode of their favourite soap. The volume of those unsilenced motor vehicles can be deafening from some distance away and sound as if it is just outside peoples front doors. A noise abatement notice can be served under section 79(1)(g) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which applies to
noise emitted from premises
so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance.
That constitutes a statutory nuisance, and if local authorities are satisfied that such a nuisance has or may occurthat might be a way around the problemthey can serve a noise abatement notice, or NAN, on the person responsible. Although certainly my Nan, God rest her soul, would object to being associated with anything to do with antisocial behaviour. If the area is public property, the council has to take the sometimes tortuous route of ensuring that it obeys the legislation, gets the wording right and puts the notices up. Those notices may be challenged, and the issue may go to
court, thus incurring legal costs. There should be a much simpler solution and I am keen that alternatives are explored in Committee.
I understand that Doncaster metropolitan borough council considered 1,500 complaints about motorcycle nuisance in 2004-05 and served 640 NANs. However, only 45 mini-motos were seized by the environmental health officers, with a further 100 seized by South Yorkshire police. Either the 640 NANs were effective at deterring the problem or they could not be implemented.
I was talking about the Killingbeck divisional off-road motorcycle unit. Many police forces, such as the Staffordshire police in my area, do not use off-road motorbikes to catch perpetrators because of health and safety issues that affect the officers themselves. Other hon. Members have mentioned the health and safety of the perpetrators, but the health and safety of the officers is also an issue. My understandingalthough my local chief constable may be sitting, pen poised, to write to me to correct meis that the Staffordshire police do not use off-road bikes because of health and safety concerns regarding their officers. It is important that we protect our police officers, but we also need a police force able to use all the available powers. Twelve pieces of legislation are available for use on this issue and I hope that the Bill will not be an unlucky 13th.
Mr. Carmichael: The hon. Gentleman says that he wants the police to have all the powers that they need. Does he agree that it is important that they should have access to section 172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, which they can have only if the vehicles are registered?
Mr. Flello: I agree that if the police need legislation to address something, the House should weigh up and carefully consider all the issues and, if it decides that it is what the police need, it should deliver it to them [ Interruption. ]
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes the point that time is of the essence and he assured us when he stood up that he would be fairly brief. I understand that he also wishes to speak in the second debate about campaigns run by his two trade unions, the Transport and General Workers Union and Amicus. Is he aware that he is severely denting the time available
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