Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 19 April 2024.

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Second Reading

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development) 1:46, 19 April 2024

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I have always believed that politicians and political parties should show leadership rather than simply following public opinion, and that that leadership should be based on well-known values, principles and policies that have been communicated at the time of election. However, I also believe that if it becomes clear that something is having a detrimental impact on our constituents, it is our job to listen to them and do whatever we can to alleviate any suffering.

The Bill may stand in my name, but I present it in honour of my constituent who lost his life when he was struck by an off-road vehicle. David Gow—also known as Davie—died on 12 February 2023. I did not get to meet Davie, but I know his brother Allan, and I met his son Craig when he approached me some time after his father’s death. Craig Gow told me that his dad had been crossing the road to reach his home in High Possil when he was struck, on the road, by an off-road vehicle. That fact is not in dispute. An arrest was made but no charges have been brought, so I will say no more about what happened that day—which means that I cannot go into detail about why I think that the Bill would certainly reduce, if not prevent altogether, the incidence of similar tragedies. What I will say is that Davie Gow never got to celebrate his 80th birthday, and his family were left devastated.

I want to take a moment to celebrate Mr Gow’s life by using the words of his son Craig, who said:

“I could be here all day. Firstly he was a devoted family man, a loyal friend and a fiercely independent and extremely intelligent man…full of life and full of carry on.”

“Carry on” is Glaswegian for fun, I suppose. Craig also said his father was

“A real man’s man. He…loved a game of Dominoes” and

“a good crossword or Quiz show…and when younger he was a right good Football player. I miss him every day and I know I always will.”

Mr Gow died where he had lived, in the flats that had previously been High Possil School, where he had been educated, as had his father, also David Gow. His grandchildren, Cameron and Jessica, lived nearby. Three generations of the Gow family either lived in the area or spent years being educated in the spot where Mr Gow died. He took great contentment from the fact that they all lived in the area, and I hope his family can gain some peace from knowing that his death was not in vain and that he has motivated me to introduce the Bill.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

I join my hon. Friend in offering condolences to the Gow family, not least to Councillor Allan Gow, David’s brother and a constituent of mine. Tragic accidents such as these can often be avoided, and if a registration scheme was in place, the police could much more easily track down and identify vehicle owners to ensure justice can be done. While I am sure that many Members will want to speak about their experiences, we should acknowledge the work of our colleague in the Scottish Parliament, Bob Doris, who has taken up these issues on behalf of the Gow family and other constituents in the north of Glasgow.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

I thank my hon. Friend for those words, and I echo what he says about our colleagues Bob Doris and Councillor Allan Gow. Constituents in Glasgow North East have been calling, emailing and messaging me about the antisocial and completely improper use of off-road vehicles, be that off-road motorbikes, quad bikes or high-powered electric motorcycles. They simply cannot get peace from them. Thus, my Bill calls for the compulsory registration of all off-road vehicles.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Conservative, South Ribble

I commend the hon. Lady for bringing this Bill forward, because she has identified an important issue. The use of off-road motorbikes especially, but also of high-powered e-bikes—battery bikes—is a problem in Leyland. I was recently subject to some quite unpleasant antisocial behaviour from what looked like young men on off-road bikes with no registration. I had to follow them into the back of the Leyland estate, and, in being so discourteous to the people of Leyland, they nearly knocked a child down. Does the hon. Lady agree that anybody going out on the road on a vehicle that they should not be on, should think very hard?

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

I agree with the hon. Lady, although electric bikes are not—yet—included in the Bill. According to my mother, who is 84, anybody on a bicycle should have to have a registration plate, so that she can report them to the police when they whizz past, disorientating her, on the pavement. I have said to her, “I’m not including that, Mum”, but I join the hon. Lady in urging users of all powered vehicles, and all pedal bikes, to be courteous and aware of pedestrians.

To be clear, the Bill is not a ban, or a clampdown, on fun. I know—well, I am told—that off-road biking is fun, and I would like there to be somewhere, possibly in my constituency, for people who use them for fun to be able to do so safely without disturbing the peace for residents. I also know that there are people who use them legitimately in their line of work, such as farmers and construction workers. This Bill is not about them; it is about the people who choose to use off-road vehicles antisocially, dangerously and completely improperly. I will explain what I mean by that when I share the experiences of some of my constituents.

A compulsory registration scheme could help to alleviate the widespread theft of off-road vehicles from both rural and urban areas, so my proposals could benefit those who use off-road vehicles correctly. Getting those vehicles registered would hardly be the biggest deal in the world. In fact, that would most likely take place when they are initially purchased from dealers, much like the way our cars are registered. We all have to do paperwork that we do not want to do, but if it is for the benefit of the wider community, surely that is not too much to ask. When we say “off-road vehicles” in the Bill, we are talking about any vehicles specifically designed to be used off-road—I suppose the clue is in the title—such as quad bikes, trail bikes, scramblers, and four-wheeled motorised buggies. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the scope to define that in a non-exhaustive list.

Katherine Fletcher mentioned electric bikes, which have become contentious as the technology moves on; there is a consultation on them at the moment. This Bill will include electric motorcycles, but not electric bicycles, which use electric motors as an aid to pedal power. However, if it was felt at some point in the future that the power in those bikes was sufficient to require registration, the Bill would allow them to be included by a future Secretary of State.

The Bill calls for all off-road vehicles to be registered in much the same way as cars. It calls for an identifying mark to be required on each of these vehicles, similar to a car registration plate but tailored to the size and shape of the vehicle. We need to consult on how they might be fixed to the vehicles and how that might affect their normal operation. The reason I am determined that a registration is displayed is that if we see a car without a registration plate, it will be immediately apparent that something is not right. It grabs our attention and, more importantly, that of the police. It needs to become the norm for off-road vehicles to have a visible mark, so that if it is removed or replaced and does not match an identifying mark from the body of the bike, the police can do something about it.

The Bill has scope for an exemptions list. I have deliberately kept that open, because much as I have consulted, the Secretary of State will be in a far better position to fully consult users; I note that there are some concerns in farming communities. Exemptions could be made for those who use the vehicles in association with professional sporting bodies. Motorsport is expensive, and anything that adds to the cost of enjoying it or deters people from taking part must be taken into consideration.

I have consulted widely with my constituents, who replied to my campaign in their hundreds. They are overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill, for reasons that will chime with many Members here. Children are unable to play outside because these vehicles are mounting the pavements or racing through the play parks at speeds of up to 60 mph. People are unable to sleep because it is happening through the night and the noise becomes unbearable. My constituents are unable to relax in their own home after a long day because they cannot even hear the TV.

Older people are nervous about going out. I have talked about my mum, but I heard from a constituent who likes to assist their 90-year-old, visually-impaired mum on a walk with the aid of her stroller. They cannot do that now because of the number of these bikes in the area.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this very important debate to the House. Time is limited, so I wanted to intervene to welcome the debate. She is raising the issue of significant antisocial behaviour offences committed up and down the country. We are all aware of them. As we discussed earlier, I can guarantee that I will set up a taskforce with the Home Office and key stakeholders to get to the heart of the issue. Some recent ASB work has been done by the Home Office, but I see no reason why we cannot build upon that to address this specific issue and the impact it has on communities across the country.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

I very much appreciated the conversation with the Minister and his remarks. I am not somebody who stands here and says, “I demand that the law be changed immediately.” I welcome any progress that we can make towards this. A taskforce is an excellent idea, because, of course, I do not have all the answers. By bringing together experts and the people we need onside to make this work, progress will be made.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I put on the record my support for what the hon. Lady is seeking to do. Many of us in the House are blighted by this issue, and I welcome her bringing forward this legislation. I appreciate that time is short, but I put on the record my sincere thanks for the engagement with the Minister and the discussion about bringing forward a group to look in serious detail at this scourge on our streets. The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech, and I thank her sincerely for the Bill.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Before the issue came to my attention, he was speaking about and campaigning on it, so I thank him for that on behalf of my constituents.

Littlehill golf course, in my constituency, is a fantastic facility, not least because it is accessible and affordable to low-income families, but it regularly becomes completely unusable when quad bikers get in and wreck the greens. I am bringing forward this Bill because those families deserve to be able to have their leisure time. The greens are kept beautifully and so much effort is put into them, but then someone, who nobody can identify, comes in and wrecks them.

How lucky are my Barmulloch constituents to have families of deer and other wildlife in Robroyston Park, in the heart of their urban community, in the middle of many tenements? They are not so lucky that off-road vehicles, speeding through unfettered at all times of the night and day, have scared away the animals—it would be tragic if they did not come back. My constituents call the police but it is hard to catch the culprits. However, if they can give the police a registration number, the police can catch up with the culprits later, if not at once. If such vehicles do not have a registration number, their drivers are in constant danger of being stopped by the police anyway and having their vehicle possibly confiscated, even if they are not using them improperly. Either way, the legislation would give the police and my constituents a far better chance of identifying the culprits.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

The hon. Lady makes an important point about the ability of these vehicles to be registered and to display a registration plate as a means of identification. A compulsory registration scheme would, however, provide a deterrent to many off-road bikers seeking to abuse their vehicles because they would not be prepared to pay the money to register the vehicle in the first place.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

My intention is not to make registration financially prohibitive, but the hon. Gentleman is right that such a scheme would be a deterrent in other ways. If people know they cannot go around unidentified any longer, then they are far less likely to get on to those vehicles in the first place.

The people of Barmulloch, Balornock, Wallacewell, Milton, Possilpark, Lambhill, Springburn and anywhere else in my constituency, or anybody else’s constituency, deserve to live in peace and to be safe. These are good people because so many of those who replied to me expressed concerns about the people on the vehicles. While they are angry with them, they are also fearful that they too will end up injured or losing their lives, just as Davie Gow did.

I end by thanking the Public Bill Office for its incredible help—I am laughing because I needed a lot of help—and I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to present the Bill in honour of Davie Gow.

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Conservative, Broadland 2:03, 19 April 2024

I extend my sympathy and that of the whole House to the family of David Gow. I have suffered personally as a result of the actions of quad bikes and motorbikes, although my experience pales into insignificance in comparison with the consequences that the Gow family have suffered.

Before I came into the House, I ran an outdoor leisure company that had 36 locations around the United Kingdom. We were building on a new site in an urban park in the north of England, but during the construction phase it was terrorised—that is the best way to describe it—by teenaged boys on quad bikes and motorbikes. They were 100% boys or young men, riding through the public park and, after the site was opened, frightening paying members of the public who were walking around. It led to concern, fear, including fear of injury, and increased cost. Security concerns at the site meant that 24-hour dog patrols had to be recruited to protect this perfectly legitimate leisure activity. In my newly formed constituency of Broadland and Fakenham, I visited quite recently the premises of Matt Pope Motorcycles—I was actually there to help with an issue related to flooding—which sells off-road motorcycles. During our conversation, the owner talked about the risk of break-ins, and of theft of off-road motorcycles. In part that is because they are not registered and do not tend to have VIN numbers as other vehicles do, making them much more susceptible to theft, even from very legitimate sellers, such as Matt Pope Motorcycles. There is a significant problem here. I am very sympathetic to any legislation that we can collectively bring forward, or any progress towards legislation, to make it easier to discourage this deeply antisocial behaviour.

When we consider legislation, as we all do in this House, there is a very obvious two-stage test that we should apply. First we should ask: is the problem that we seek to solve due to a lack of powers for the enforcement authorities, or a lack of enforcement of powers by the enforcing bodies? If it is the former and not the latter, we move on to the next test, which is whether the legislation will solve the problem without doing more harm than good. We should apply that two-stage, common-sense test to every piece of legislation.

Let me turn to the first question: is the problem here the lack of powers for the police, or lack of enforcement of existing powers? I found two relevant sections in the Road Traffic Act 1988. The first is section 3, under which it is an offence for a person’s driving, including on motorcycles and quad bikes, to cause alarm, distress or annoyance to other pedestrians and road users. That is very straightforward. Section 34 deals specifically with off-road driving.

As an aside, Mr Deputy Speaker, one of the great pleasures of these Friday sittings is that the research we have to do in order to make speeches gives us quite a lot of insight into legislation. I now know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you do not commit an offence if you drive off the road, but only if you do so within 15 yards of the carriageway and for the purpose of parking. It is also interesting that in 1988, the unit of measurement used in legislation was yards, not metres, yet we decimalised in 1971. That was a slight tangent, but it was something that just sprung to mind.

Turning back to my argument, we have the offences for the police to enforce. We see in section 59(3) of the Police Reform Act 2002 what the police can do once that offence has been committed. Section 59(3)(a) is the power to stop those miscreants, and section 59(3)(b) is the power to seize the vehicles, so the police already have the powers to stop and to seize. Section 59(3)(d) is the power to use reasonable force to do so. Section 59(3)(c) is the power to enter domestic premises to enforce those powers. If we take those in combination, it is pretty clear that this is a problem not of police powers, but of enforcement. The question is therefore whether the Bill would help to increase enforcement. There is a very substantial argument that it would, for the reason the hon. Lady gave, which is that many of us who are exposed to this antisocial behaviour would be willing witnesses to the offence, and could take down a registration number and supply it to the police. It is then an issue of the police acting effectively at beat manager level.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

Some of what the hon. Gentleman is talking about would apply in England and Wales only; that is one point. My feeling is that there are so many instances of this behaviour that the police would be kept incredibly busy. However, an offence of not displaying a registration, or of not registering one of these vehicle, could be preventive, as he says. The police would have to catch someone not displaying a registration plate only once for the vehicle to be taken off them. That would save the police from having to chase people multiple times for using the vehicles in antisocial ways.

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Conservative, Broadland

I substantially agree with the hon. Lady. It is worth noting in passing that under the Police Reform Act 2002—I cannot bring the section number to mind—the police are required to give a warning for the first offence. It is only when they are satisfied either that a warning has been given in similar circumstances in the past 12 months, or that a warning has been received and ignored, that they move towards using the powers that I have set out. I agree that a requirement to display registration plates may well act as a disincentive to commission that kind of offence.

That brings us all back to the role of the police and what constitutes effective community policing. Just last week, I spent a morning out on the beat with the police, by car, to look at some of the crime hotspots in Broadland, and I am very pleased to say that there aren’t any. Over the last decade, and particularly during the tenure of the excellent police and crime commissioner Giles Orpen-Smellie, crime has fallen significantly in Broadland. I was looking up the data, and in just the past year, crime overall has fallen by 9.6% in Norfolk, and residential burglary is down by 7.1%, robbery by 9.2%, violence against the person by 12.7%, and stalking and harassment by 27.5%. That just goes to show that an effective police and crime commissioner such as Giles Orpen-Smellie, and a police force that focuses on antisocial behaviour being a gateway crime to other, more serious crime, and that gets involved early on, really does make a difference.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

As I should have said in my speech, I understand that a lot of antisocial behaviour comes from having nothing to look forward to and few job prospects. I will not stand here and say, “This is all your fault.” We must get things right for the—primarily—young people who are involved in such antisocial behaviour. There are loads of examples in my constituency of getting it right, such as St Paul’s Youth Forum, which in 10 years has reduced youth offending from 160 cases to zero cases a year. There are many more examples. We have a responsibility to ensure that young people have fulfilment, excitement and satisfaction in life, so that they do not have to use off-road vehicles to get that excitement and satisfaction.

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Conservative, Broadland

I am grateful for that further intervention. Of course, the hon. Lady is right that parenting is a difficult task. I speak as the not-particularly-brilliant parent of three children, although they are getting older now, at 20, 18 and 14—I am very pleased that I got that right at the first time of asking. The challenge for every parent, no matter where they live in the country, is not just to engage their children but to teach them how to make their own entertainment.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

On the points made by my hon. Friend and Anne McLaughlin, the way ahead is surely the example cited in the debate of my hon. Friend Peter Gibson on 24 February by Ian Paisley, who set out in very eloquent terms how in North Antrim there was a pilot project for kids who had the problems identified by the hon. Lady and a passion for off-road vehicles —a passion identified by all of us in various different examples. There were locations where those individuals could do that pastime in a safe way, and there was education on appropriate usage. That is surely the way ahead for tackling antisocial behaviour in tricky circumstances.

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Conservative, Broadland

The Minister is absolutely right, of course. I want to move on, but I will make one other point. Yes, it can be very boring growing up where activities are not laid on, but the vast majority of teenage people do not commit offences. They do not choose to create antisocial behaviour. We can understand why that may happen, but those reasons are not an excuse for that kind of behaviour.

I will draw my remarks to a close. I am very supportive of the Bill. I hear what the Minister says—that perhaps a taskforce is the right way to develop these ideas further, and that the Bill may not be quite in the form that is most appropriate for legislation—but I am very supportive of the views behind it. I will just make a technical point. If the Bill proceeds further, it should be noted that there may be a drafting error in clause 1(3). It refers to section 21A(3)(e) of the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994. I think it may need to refer to section 21A(3)(a), but I could be wrong.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North 2:16, 19 April 2024

I echo the congratulations to my hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin on bringing the Bill forward. I recognise her work on this issue over many years, and the work of our colleague Bob Doris in the Scottish Parliament, who has been mentioned. The reason for that work is the experience of our constituents. I extend my condolences to the family and friends of David Gow, and particularly his brother Allan. Such tragic accidents are the worst manifestation of what can happen, but they are not the only outcome of the improper use of off-road vehicles. There are many near misses or non-fatal but life-changing injuries and accidents. Sometimes those injuries or fatalities involve animals—today’s business began with questions about the treatment and welfare of pets. There is also noise and air pollution. All of us will have heard our constituents’ concerns about those things.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

My hon. Friend reminds me that I have loads of constituents—I do not know how I missed this out—who say they can no longer let their dogs run free off the lead when they are out for a walk because of off-road vehicles. That is outrageous, so I wanted to mention that. People told me that in their dozens.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

I am sure those constituents would only be letting their dogs off the leash in areas where that is permitted; that is regulated by council byelaws. That issue is also sometimes a source of concern.

There are concerns about the exact use or purpose of the vehicles. Sometimes their use is about joyriding—the thrill of the noise and the speed—but sometimes the vehicles are used for quick getaways from the scenes of perhaps even more serious crimes, or for the transport of illicit substances off-road. Of course, police in on-road vehicles are not able to pursue them. We have heard about that, and many of us will have had personal experience of that. Regrettably, we sometimes see off-road vehicles being used along the canal in Glasgow, to the great concern of many pedestrians and cycle users. The new sculpture, Bella the beithir, the mythical animal that has taken up residence at the Stockingfield bridge, does not want to be disturbed by the noise of off-road vehicles when she is trying to sleep.

My hon. Friend proposes some pretty straightforward and useful reforms that would promote much more responsible use of off-road vehicles, and that would provide the police with additional powers to crack down on irresponsible use. The burden should not be high—she says it will not be high—on people who use such vehicles responsibly and for legitimate purposes. Certainly, they should have nothing to fear from the registration system. As she says, there could be legitimate exemptions from the measures in certain circumstances. As I think Peter Gibson said, the Bill would also have a deterrent effect on those, especially younger people, who do not understand the responsibility that comes with owning and operating such a vehicle.

Importantly, the Bill would strengthen the police’s hand considerably. It would make it easier to seize unregistered vehicles on the first offence—a point elaborated on in an exchange of interventions—and easier to track vehicles that were being used improperly. I know from speaking to police in the north of Glasgow that the lack of powers in this area is a source of frustration.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The hon. Member is making an impassioned speech, and I put on record my condolences to the Gow family. There are two points to address some of his issues. First, there are thousands of law-abiding users, represented by groups such as the Auto-Cycle Union and the Green Lane Association, who would be keen to have the differentiation between the criminals clearly committing antisocial behaviour and other things, and the thousands upon thousands who are acting normally. The point that I want to take away with the taskforce is that there are already 38,000 of these vehicles up and down the country on the voluntary register. It is not very well known that we have that voluntary register and, with respect, if we could expand it dramatically through coercion, nudging and other methods, that would make a massive difference straightaway.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Scottish National Party, Glasgow North

I thank the Minister for his constructive engagement in the debate. It is regrettable that time is so against us. I hope that progress can be made, with these external representative bodies having an opportunity to engage with his taskforce, and that he will engage constructively with colleagues in the devolved institutions. We are coming up against some of the clashes between devolved and reserved responsibilities. The police in Glasgow try to use antisocial behaviour powers and others that they have in legislation governed by Holyrood, but we know that they would prefer to see further progress made down here. In the interests of consensus and trying to make that progress, I will leave it there, in the hope that another couple of Members can make their points.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 2:21, 19 April 2024

May I extend my condolences to the family of David Gow? I congratulate Anne McLaughlin on securing the Bill on an issue of deep concern in Darlington. I prepared a fantastic speech that is so long I will not have time to get through it, but I will try to put some points on the record.

I warmly welcome the engagement that I have had with the Minister on this topic in the past few days. It is so refreshing to have had that engagement and to hear of his willingness to bring forward a taskforce, which might have some pilots across the country. May I suggest two locations for his taskforce to look at? One would be in Glasgow and the second would be in Darlington.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

It is wonderful to be able to make policy for a Department for which I am not responsible. I am clearly responding for the Department for Transport —a worthy and honourable Department that I am delighted to represent—but so much of this issue is linked to the Home Office. I hope to sit down with the Policing Minister, who runs the ASB work being done presently.

There have been two laudable recommendations for potential pilot projects in Glasgow—I know Robroyston well, having spent some time there on 7 November 2009 for the by-election in which Ruth Davidson featured so honourably—and Darlington. I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend in Darlington—he is just down the road from me—to see some of the problems at first hand and make those recommendations to the Policing Minister.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I am grateful for that intervention from the Minister, who was the first Minister to come and visit me in Darlington after I was elected. He has made repeated visits in his various roles, and he is always welcome as he treks up past my constituency. I would warmly welcome him meeting Darlington Borough Council’s civic enforcement team as well as the operation endurance team from Darlington, and Durham constabulary. They have been doing amazing work in this area, but it is not enough.

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes

I am conscious of the time and I am not sure whether the Minister will have time to wind up the debate, so I will waive my place in the debate and let my hon. Friend finish his speech. Does he agree that it would be great to get the Minister to commit to ensuring that the taskforce he is setting up, which is incredibly welcome, will, on behalf of rural communities such as mine, look at the blight of off-road vehicles on the green lanes that he mentioned? It is a good thing that many byways and bridlepaths have now been protected from off-road vehicles, but there are 7,000 miles of track in the UK—many of them are in Wiltshire—which are devastated by 4x4s, quad bikes and off-road vehicles, which are causing huge damage. Does he agree that it would be good if the taskforce reviewed the legislation so that we can try to get more of those lanes protected?

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I represent an entirely urban constituency that faces the blight of this problem. I appreciate and understand that there are significant issues in the countryside from the use of these vehicles. There are also significant issues for our farming and rural constituencies with the theft of these vehicles. There was an intervention earlier about engagement, and I have recently met the National Motorcyclists Council and the Trail Riders Fellowship on this issue, but I put on the record and want to be absolutely clear that off-road bikes are meant to be used in a lawful manner for off-road biking, trail riding and competition. I have no desire to stop those legal and lawful activities.

I have no truck with the lawful use of off-road bikes; my concerns come from seeking to address the concerns of thousands of my residents whose lives are blighted by these vehicles. It is as clear as day to me that registering vehicles will help to end the terrorising of our streets and better enable police forces to tackle the problem of these bikes ripping through their communities.

Just to bring the House up to speed following my Westminster Hall debate on this issue, there was a discussion about whether farming communities would be opposed to registration. Following that debate, I wrote to the NFU. I had included parts of the letter back from the NFU in my speech, but there will not be time to cover it. I will happily furnish the Minister with a copy of that letter.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend will be conscious that the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act 2023, which started as a private Member’s Bill from my hon. Friend Greg Smith, addresses a lot of those issues. As someone who represents the second-biggest constituency in England and who has many issues with byways open to all traffic, particularly in Slaley forest, I know that the practical reality is that the rural implications of this Bill are just as significant, albeit different.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention. It demonstrates where town and country can bring their respective voices to this place to tackle an issue that affects all communities.

Off-road bikes and quad bikes are great pieces of equipment. They are great for going scrambling or getting around rural farmland. Essentially, that is their legal and intended purpose. They were not designed to be used on our streets by people intent on causing terror and fear. They were not designed to be used by criminals wearing balaclavas or masks to evade police detection. They were not designed to create a noise nuisance and safety fear in our community, but in Darlington that is precisely what we see happening. I know from speaking to colleagues across the House that they see it too. These reckless bikers have no care for others, and nor do they seem to care about themselves when they opt not to wear a helmet, but instead a balaclava, for no other reason than to protect their identity. They sail through red lights, ride on pavements and display no lights—it is a miracle that we in Darlington have not seen the tragedy that the hon. Member for Glasgow North East has seen.

I have already paid tribute to the work of Durham constabulary and the Darlington civic enforcement team for their work on Operation Endurance using section 59 orders, but on its own that is not enough, and neither is registration nor tracking the vehicles. We need a co-ordinated approach from multiple Departments across Government to tackle this problem.

I will make one small political point. We have seen a tail-off in 101 calls to Durham police because of the call handling times. Durham constabulary is overseen by a Labour police and crime commissioner, and we have seen poor service and performance from her. That is why I am keen for us to see on 2 May the election of Rob Potts, the Conservative candidate to be Durham’s police and crime commissioner. He has committed to endorsing Operation Endurance and reforming those 101 response times.

It is clear to me that when vehicles are registered, the possibility of people misusing them is less, so I support the Bill. This has been mentioned, but I recently learned of the voluntary scheme in—

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 17 May.