Registration of Off-road Bikes

Point of Order – in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 1st November 2006.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley PPS (Mr Jim Murphy, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions 12:33 pm, 1st November 2006

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require off-road bikes to be registered;
and for connected purposes.

This is the third time in the past four weeks that a Member has asked for leave to be given to introduce a Bill related to off-road bikes. My hon. Friend Chris Bryant introduced a Bill to deal with scrambler bikes three weeks ago, and my hon. Friend Anne Snelgrove presented a Bill for the regulation of mini-motos one week ago. Further, my hon. Friend Helen Jones recently tabled early-day motion 2040. It was signed by 79 Members, and it calls on the Government to ensure that mini-bikes are clearly defined as motor vehicles.

I agreed some months ago to support the Greater Manchester police authority's "Stop off-road motorcycle nuisance" campaign, which has been ably supported by a campaign in the Manchester Evening News. Those campaigns were prompted by the 26,000 complaints about off-road bike nuisance that were received by Greater Manchester police in the 12 months to July of this year.

The Motor Cycle Industry Association estimates that as many as 300,000 such bikes have been sold since 2001. Yet the existing statutory vehicle registration scheme applies only to those vehicles required to be licensed, and the requirement for licensing a vehicle is that it is to be used on the public highway. That means that bikes introduced into circulation as off-road bikes are not registered and do not have to undergo any meaningful safety evaluation, and that they can be marketed as toys and sold to children, despite the fact that many now reach speeds of up to 60 mph.

I believe that mandatory registration should be extended to cover motorcycles, motor tricycles and motor quad-bikes that are designed for use off-road. Early-day motion 2852, which I tabled last week, has been signed in its first few days by 52 hon. Members. It notes that off-road bikes are associated with antisocial behaviour, which disrupts communities, and calls for a mandatory and retrospective registration scheme for these bikes.

During the summer and autumn months, my constituents and those of many other hon. Members were affected badly by noise nuisance and damage to land and property, and were put in physical danger by the reckless, dangerous and illegal use of off-road bikes. Those who live near open land, canal banks, football fields or even local parks can be affected by the relentless noise nuisance generated by off-road bikes ridden across these places. This can cause particular aggravation to the most vulnerable in our society. One Worsley constituent who has very limited eyesight told me he feared to go out of his own gate on many days in summer, in case one of the young people constantly riding off-road bikes on the adjacent field rode into him. Evidence has also been given to Greater Manchester police by the brother of a child with learning difficulties on the autistic spectrum. The child found the constant noise from two off-road bikes ridden near his home so distressing that he could not go out to play in his own garden.

I have spoken this week to two Worsley constituents who have seen damage done to land and property by off-road bikes during the summer months. Mr. Les Higgins coaches a junior football team in Little Hulton, in my constituency, and on many occasions the team could not continue with their practice or play on the football pitch due to being ridden at by off-road bikes. The bikes, which were often ridden by two or three young people at a time, were ridden at the young football players, with the riders only swerving at the last minute. Mrs. Renee Cavanaugh, who also lives in Little Hulton, has been plagued by the nuisance from off-road bikes being ridden at the rear of her property, sometimes from as early as 8 am on weekends. Damage was also caused to her car when an off-road bike ran into it. Those riding such bikes illegally in this way are uninsured, so people whose land or vehicles are damaged by these riders have no source of redress.

Sadly, we now have the concept of the "hit-and-run" off-road biker. A police officer in Greater Manchester was injured when he was knocked off his bike and ridden over by an off-road biker riding in a gang of 20 such bikes on a public footpath. Pedestrians aged from 14 to 77 have also been injured in collisions with off-road bikers, and a 16-year-old cyclist from Greater Manchester died after a collision with an-off-road bike.

So off-road bikers can cause death and injury to others, but they are also at risk themselves. I am saddened whenever I drive past a particular lamp post in my constituency, which is strewn with floral tributes to the young man aged 18 who died there last year when the off-road bike that he was riding along the pavement hit the lamp post. In Greater Manchester alone, one teenage rider per month dies as a result of riding off-road bikes illegally or dangerously.

Greater Manchester police believe that preventing the irresponsible use of off-road bikes is difficult because the nature of the bikes enables a speedy getaway, and current legislation is not strong enough to enable police enforcement. There is an inherent problem for the police in trying to catch those misbehaving on these bikes. An untrained teenager is at grave risk of accident or injury if he or she tries to flee at speed from the police on an off-road bike. Chases would also endanger the police and pedestrians.

Although the police do have some powers under section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002, Greater Manchester police believe that these powers are cumbersome and ineffective in dealing with the scale of the problem. The powers are also seen as balanced in favour of those who commit antisocial behaviour. To deal with this, the Greater Manchester police authority has set out plans for a registration scheme for off-road bikes analogous to that for licensed road-going vehicles. That will have the following benefits. First, it will reduce the theft of such bikes, as a clear system of ownership will be established. That will also help to deal with the flourishing criminal market in stolen bikes. Secondly, it will improve consumer protection. Bikes will be subject to safety checks and it will also be impossible to market the bikes as toys. Thirdly, it will increase the efficiency of police action through the ability to identify owners.

Those are the benefits of a mandatory registration scheme, which will help to reduce the danger posed to communities and also help to militate against the antisocial use of off-road bikes.

I accept and welcome the measures already taken to combat the problem of off-road bike nuisance. The Government's respect taskforce recently published a step-by-step guide for practitioners, and additional finance has been made available for communities affected by the problem.

I mentioned earlier that Greater Manchester police authority has been running a campaign called "Stop off-road motorcycle nuisance". As a result of an intensive crackdown in late spring and early summer, the local police were able to seize 78 bikes, make six arrests, issue 94 fixed penalty notices and issue 233 warnings. That was commendable work by the police and it has made some difference. However, as the testimony from my constituents Mr. Higgins and Mrs Cavanaugh shows, such campaigns by the police have only limited scope for success while the registration of off-road bikes is not mandatory or retrospective.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have shown through their tabling of questions, ten-minute rule Bills and early-day motions that the need for such a registration scheme exists. In a month in which we have heard so much about the nuisance of off-road bikes, I hope that I have helped to convince the House that it is time we stopped that nuisance by bringing in a mandatory and retrospective registration scheme.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Barbara Keeley, Anne Snelgrove, Chris Bryant, Natascha Engel, Lynda Waltho, Mr. Ian Austin, Jim Dobbin, Mrs. Sharon Hodgson, Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods, Mr. Andy Reed, Sarah McCarthy-Fry and Mrs. Siân C. James.