Motor Vehicles (Anti-Social Use)
Bob Spink (Castle Point, Conservative)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the anti-social use of motor vehicles;
to make provision for the seizure of motor vehicles used in an anti-social manner;
and for connected purposes.
My purpose today is to promote increased use of seizure, and stronger laws and sentencing measures to help protect people from the dangerous and antisocial use of motor bikes, quad bikes and similar vehicles off highway. I also want to clarify the action that local councils and the police should be taking under existing laws.
Antisocial off-roading is often destructive of biodiverse and sensitive environments and recreational areas, and damages residents' quality of life and is dangerous to the public and to the off-roaders themselves.
My constituent Mr. Roy Hutson said:
"Not only are the daily lives of residents being disrupted by the noise of these off-road motorcycles, but the safety of those persons who use the land legitimately for recreational purposes, dog walking etc. is also at risk because of the selfish and intolerable attitude taken by this illegal, anti-social behaviour."
Another constituent, Ursula Fuller, said:
"The Northwick SSSI site on Canvey Island is a wonderful bio-diverse asset for our community, but it is subject to regular damage from illegal off-road motorcycling and its fragile habitat and protected species are being systematically destroyed. We must give it more protection."
I congratulate Roy and Ursula and others who are fighting to help their communities on such issues. They are true heroes. The public want tougher action to protect people's quality of life. They want to conserve precious environments. They value habitats which, like Canvey's Northwick area, support rare and delicate wildlife, fauna and flora. They want to preserve recreational land for walking, sport, or even just for flying kites with their children. We must not stand by and see land destroyed. It must be safeguarded for future generations and for biodiversity.
Of course, there are many decent off-roaders and I unreservedly commend them. They suffer from the bad name that the activity gets because of a few off-roaders who could not care less. Sadly, those irresponsible people are not just teenagers but adults who should know better—especially as it is the most vulnerable people, the elderly, who suffer most from this nuisance. As the Prime Minister said last week, we cannot tolerate yobs damaging the quality of life of the elderly.
What can be done? Prevention is the obvious first step, but that is often difficult. Earth mounds and fences are expensive and are not respected by some who tear them down and even use them as ramps. Existing laws are difficult to enforce and the police have important and diverting priorities. Off-roaders escape on their vehicles when the police arrive, often using several alternative exits from a site, so we have years of recurring complaints, resulting in costly but often ineffective action.
In such circumstances, I suggest the following approach. First, the pattern of activity should be established. Then a warning leaflet should be given to riders, where possible, and posted at the site entrances, stating that confiscation will follow if offending continues. Then a surprise sting operation should be mounted, with mass police descending quickly around the site and taking positions at the various exits to trap the offenders. There must then be immediate and mandatory confiscation of all vehicles and prosecution for any offences, with appropriate sentences handed down by the courts. Offenders would then know that their illegal behaviour was harmful and would not be tolerated. In the long run, such an approach would save time and costs for everyone, protect the environments, restore quality of life for residents and improve public safety.
One of Castle Point's excellent police officers, Kevin Diable-White, wants
"a longer term, sustainable solution to stop these recurring incidents".
He told me last Friday that he spent more time on this issue than on many other important areas of crime. His experience is not unusual, because it is a national problem.
Andrew Mackinlay is in his place to support the Bill today, because off-roaders in Essex harm communities and terrorise people in public parks in Basildon. In Bristol, antisocial behaviour orders have been taken out to stop juveniles riding motorcycles and abusing and harassing residents. Stroud police have issued confiscation orders to bikers who were wreaking havoc in ancient woodlands. A helicopter was used in Liverpool to crack down on scrambler bikes, quads and gopeds—whatever they are—and the National Trust has raised the issue of children and adults riding motorbikes, quads and gopeds, destroying the environment and rights of way and putting themselves and innocent walkers at real risk. Problems have been reported in areas as far apart as Stafford, the Yorkshire dales, Scotland and Manchester—and I could go on.
We can make good use of existing laws, where there is a will. For instance, in Durham residents were plagued by children, teenagers and adults riding motorbikes and quads off-road, on public footpaths and on private land. In one operation, the police confiscated and destroyed 33 motorbikes. Residents near Warwickshire's Brandon Woods have suffered misery and land destruction similar to that seen on Canvey Island, with dozens of off-road bikers having meets on a Sunday. Those residents were rescued by a police helicopter operation that trapped more than 20 of them on the site. More than 100 off-road motorcycles were impounded by police and the local council in Barnsley.
Under current laws, local authorities and the police have powers to seize any vehicle being driven off-road without the authority of the landowner. If an offender drives his off-roader on the public highway, even for only a few yards, it may constitute an offence under the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 or the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations 1989. Antisocial behaviour orders are also available.
I propose two new measures. First, the Government should ensure that previous warning is deemed to have been given to an individual by virtue of a leaflet having been handed out at the site and posted at the site entrances, with no need to prove that the individual has previously been warned. That would enable local councillors and police to be confident in mounting the sort of stitch-in-time sting operation that I described earlier. Secondly, the courts should impose significant periods of disqualification from driving for such antisocial offences. An elderly Canvey resident chased a youth on a motorbike from a field just behind his home. The resident was nastily abused—I shall not tell you what was shouted at him, Mr. Speaker—and the yob said that he did not care about the law and would be back. The one thing that such people care about is their driving licences. For youngsters, disqualification should be deferred until they reach 17. That would make the sentence fit the crime, and increase its deterrent effect. The provision should also apply to illegal boy-racing on the highways.
Minimotors and gopeds pose a new problem. Gopeds are motorised skateboards, whereas minimotors are tiny motorbikes. They may seem innocuous and fun toys for kids of all ages, and I do not want to be a killjoy, but these are motor vehicles and real issues arise. It is illegal to use them on public roads, and they are subject to the same regulations as all cars and motorbikes. They can cause a nuisance and they pose a serious accident risk, such as when they come into conflict with a full-size motor vehicle. I am afraid that a child will be hurt in an accident, so parents who buy these vehicles need to be properly informed about the law and about the dangers involved. I have no doubt that this House will return in due course to the sale and safety awareness issues associated with these toys.
The Government have repeatedly voiced concern about vehicles that cause nuisance, and one Home Office Minister has said that the antisocial use of vehicles can blight communities and cause misery and distress to people going about their daily lives. My Bill would secure tougher action from local councils and the police, and require the Government to produce new and clearer laws. In that way, people would be protected from the increasing problems posed by the vehicles to which I have referred. We must protect communities from this form of antisocial behaviour and deter people who may not understand the danger, nuisance and destruction caused by the antisocial behaviour that is off-roading.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Bob Spink, Charles Hendry, Andrew Mackinlay, Mr. Kevan Jones, Dr. Julian Lewis, Mr. Henry Bellingham, Mr. David Heath, Mr. David Evenett, Mr. Lee Scott, Mr. Michael Clapham and Mark Francois.