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The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. All others will have five minutes.
Before we begin, I advise Members of the need to take care in their contributions today. I am sure that you are all aware of the ongoing criminal proceedings in relation to an accident involving a scrambler bike during the summer. The subject matter of those proceedings is sub judice. I do not wish to inhibit discussion of the motion, which clearly relates to a matter of public interest, but Members should take particular care not to say anything in their contribution that might in any way prejudice the current criminal proceedings.
I beg to move
That this Assembly calls on the Executive to review the current legislation governing scrambler and quad bikes; and further calls on the PSNI and other responsible agencies to ensure that the current legislation governing these machines is enforced in a robust way.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to propose the motion. I propose it in the hope that all Members will support it and send a clear message that we are committed to highlighting the dangers of scramblers and quads, when driven recklessly or in public places, and are united in doing what we can to ensure that legislation governing those vehicles is enforced in a robust way.
A number of adults and children have lost their life or been seriously injured in recent years by these vehicles. The tragic death of Valerie Armstrong and the devastation caused to her family brought that into the public arena again. I am very mindful of the caution that you gave about speaking on that case, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have no need to explain to Members the way in which scramblers and quads plague communities, as I have no doubt that many of you will have seen it at first hand or heard from your constituents and people coming to your offices.
I want to focus on a number of issues during the debate. First, I will discuss what needs to be done to ensure that the current legislation governing these machines is enforced. Then I will look at some of the gaps in the legislation, including those around registration. It is also important to look at how we can have an effective public awareness campaign, especially at this time of year in the run-up to Christmas Often, this is when the machines are bought for children and young people. All of us need to ensure that parents, in particular, are aware of the law on scramblers and quads and of where they can and cannot be used before buying them for their children.
My first point, put simply, is that the current law is very clear. For a scrambler or quad to be legally used on the road, it has to comply with the following: the driver has to have a driving licence; the vehicle has to be taxed; it has to be registered with the DVA; it has to have insurance; it has to have lights and reflectors; and it has to have a number plate. The fact is — it is important to emphasise this point — that the scramblers and quads that we see being driven about in our communities are intended for off-road use only. It is illegal to drive them on public roads, on public footpaths or in any public places, such as parks. They are only allowed to be driven on private property with the permission of the property owner. The legal status of those vehicles is very clear. They also have to be insured and the proper safety equipment worn by users. If they are driven in a reckless way or cause distress or annoyance in any place, the PSNI has the power to seize them.
As I said, I have no doubt that many Members in the House have either personally witnessed the dangerous manner in which scramblers and quads are driven or have had constituents make complaints about them. Certainly, in my office, I get complaints about them regularly. At best, they can destroy green areas and pitches used by children and young people for sporting activities; at worst, they can destroy lives and have destroyed lives. By using them in public places, people put pedestrians, including young children, and other road users at risk, but they also put themselves in danger.
People need to have the confidence that, when they report the use of the machines in public places to the police, particularly when they are being used in a reckless fashion that puts members of the public in danger, the law will be enforced and the vehicle seized and taken off the streets. Parents, too, need to be aware, when they buy scramblers and quads for their children, that they can only be driven on private land where the landowner has given permission and that the scrambler or quad needs to be transported to and from that designated area and cannot be driven on the road to or from it.
Along with party colleagues and community representatives, I have recently had meetings with the PSNI, the Minister of Justice and the Minister for Infrastructure. I am delighted to see the Minister for Infrastructure here to respond to this important motion, and I look forward to his response. We went to those meetings to see what more could be done to enforce the current legislation or, if there were gaps, what could be done to amend it. I want to say that there was willingness on the part of everybody in those organisations — Ministers and Departments included — to work together. They expressed their willingness to work together to solve the issue. For example, on the issue of registration, it was suggested that we look at a scheme that would make it easy to identify who owns a vehicle and at the possibility of marking the machine, so that, if it were being used in a reckless or nuisance way, it would be easy for the PSNI to identify the owner and deal with it.
I know that other initiatives have been brought forward to raise public awareness about this, such as signage and setting out more information for people in communities and the constituents who come into our offices on how they can report and how the vehicles can and cannot be used. There were also suggestions that Belfast City Council look at possible designated sites and areas for the vehicles where young people particularly and their parents could ensure that they were used in a responsible and safe manner. I know that that has happened in other council areas. There have been partnerships between the police, motor sport and community representatives. They have come together to look at this. I hope that Belfast City Council, in particular, will take this forward because I know that this is a particular issue in certain parts of Belfast.
I look forward to hearing what all Members say during the debate. I particularly look forward to the Minister's response. I have to say that I really want to see Members supporting the motion because the truth is that we really need to do something before another tragedy occurs. We need to remove these vehicles from our streets, roads, parks and other public places. We need people to be safe when they walk on footpaths and in parks. I urge all Members to support the motion. We should all work together with all the agencies, Departments and other organisations.
I rise as Chair of the Committee for Infrastructure, but the Committee has not met to discuss the issue and has not taken a position on it. These views are entirely my own. I should make the House aware of that.
I agree with much of what the Member who moved the motion to the House said. I welcome the opportunity to debate the issue. For me, it is not about preventing people from enjoying scramblers or quads but about using those vehicles in a safe and responsible way and striking that balance.
Like the proposer of the motion, I receive quite a number of phone calls to my office on this issue, in particular from the expanse of Glencairn Park. The issue there is that some people, particularly elderly people, are frightened when they hear scramblers and the noise pollution that comes from them.
There is a clear danger on the road to the person using the scrambler, to the person walking on the footpath and, of course, there is a danger for other people in the traffic. There is considerable damage caused in the churning up of parks and pitches. Belfast City Council has spent a considerable number of millions of pounds over the last number of years under its strategy of putting new pitches in place. Unfortunately, some of those pitches have been damaged by scramblers.
It is vital that we strike a balanced and reasonable approach between protection and responsible usage. The focus of the House has to be on the protection of life and reducing injuries, particularly serious injuries, reducing road traffic accidents, protecting public amenities and preventing the destruction of our parks. It is not about making scramblers illegal but making those who use them more responsible. In most cases, it is for the parents of those who use scramblers to be responsible and adhere to the law because it is about protecting everyone.
There is, absolutely, a need for a joined-up approach on this issue. From my perspective, as the DUP spokesperson on this issue, I welcome the motion, and the Democratic Unionist Party will support a review of the legislation. The Assembly working with councils would be a vital move forward because so much of this illegal activity happens on council facilities, not just in this city but across Northern Ireland.
If I may speak as a Belfast representative, it is important that Belfast City Council looks at the possibility of establishing a facility for scramblers and quads. I remember a number of years ago, when I was a member of Belfast City Council, working with young people who were using skateboards. A skateboard park, built under the flyover at Lagan Bridge, took them away from using other public spaces and stopped them from being a nuisance and allowed them to take part in legitimate activity in a designated area. That is the approach that should be taken. Therefore, there needs to be a joined-up approach.
The other issue, of course, is the police. The police are not allowed to chase someone on a scrambler or quad in a built-up space because of the potential for an accident. Only last year, a similar scenario unfolded across the way from my office, when someone came out of Woodvale Park. I mention Woodvale Park because my office overlooks it, and I worked hard with the local community to secure over £2 million for Woodvale Park. Two new pitches that were put there — that are, thankfully, now being used by local football clubs — have been damaged by the use of scramblers.
There is an absolute need for a joined-up approach and a round-table discussion. I would very much welcome and support such a call. Since being elected as a public representative, I have attended the funerals of two young people, one as young as four years old, who were killed on scramblers. One was in the mid-Shankill, and the other young fellow came from Glenbryn in Ballysillan. He was only 14 years old.
Of course, the incident and the accident — and I am mindful of what you said —
— is Valerie Armstrong. I appeal to the House to support the motion. Let us get a joined-up approach and make sure we get legislation that is practical and will make a difference and protect lives.
I support the motion. In doing so, I stand with our Executive as they attempt to curb this menace, which is neither new nor unique to Northern Ireland. At the same time, I challenge our Executive to produce more than the words of this motion and to look at the problem with a strategic eye.
The issue of quad bikes or scramblers being driven on our streets or on private land, in a dangerous manner without proper personal protective equipment (PPE), has been highlighted for over a decade. Legislation is in place to deal with it; the issue is whether or not that legislation is enough. The Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, which was amended in 2016, and the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 give the PSNI the powers they need to ensure that mechanically powered vehicles are not driven anywhere other than on roads — there is an issue with private land. It gives the police the power to seize vehicles used in a manner that causes alarm, distress or annoyance and the power to enforce the wearing of PPE, in the form of protective headgear. Last month — and this is interesting — the Justice Minister made it clear that the PSNI was content with the present legislation and the powers available to deal with the issue. In my contribution, I want to raise a number of other issues that might fall out of that.
First, the issue of enforcement. If the legislation is in place and the PSNI is content with the powers available to it, then why do we see such terrible incidents as the tragic death of Valerie Armstrong in Colin Glen forest park or, if we go back to 2011, the tragic death of Daniel Mooney, who was only 12 years old when he fell off the back of a scrambler? Many of these incidents could have been prevented if the PSNI had reacted to reports from concerned residents — because residents are ringing in and reporting these incidents — or if the PSNI had more of a footprint in these and other areas in the form of robust neighbourhood policing. Of course, this is not a criticism of the PSNI, because we all know the strain on our police force with budget cuts, indecisive strategic leadership and a series of manpower deficiencies. Again, I call on the Executive to look at the minimum manning level of the PSNI and take action to increase its numbers to 7,500 officers, as envisaged in the Patten report, giving the force the ability to return to fully resourced neighbourhood policing.
With that, I call on the Justice Minister —
I thank the Member for giving way. I have sympathy for the point that the Member makes. However, does the Member agree that, ultimately, the responsibility lies with the parents to ensure that those young people are using scramblers in a responsible way? Obviously, police are in the equation but, as you well know, police are always under huge pressure in terms of their time and resource. As with all crime, they have to respond with the resource that they have available to them.
I thank the Member for his intervention; you are absolutely right. Later in my contribution, I am going to raise that very issue.
I call on the Justice Minister to drive forward, at pace, a review of sentencing to enable our judges and magistrates to deliver punishments that act as a deterrent. It is not enough for people to use scramblers and quads in an illegal manner and then say that they did not mean to harm someone. By using these vehicles in an illegal way, they are going out knowing that they could end up harming or killing somebody.
I move on to parental control. Without a doubt, there is a trend that those riding quads and scramblers illegally are either young adults or children. Therefore, there is a huge onus on parents to show responsibility. Parents should not buy their children quads or scramblers unless they know that they have access and permission to use private land. Even then, I ask that they supervise those individuals and ensure that they know how to operate the vehicle efficiently and wear the correct PPE. I can see how new legislation making all those who operate such vehicles on private land have to obtain some kind of mandatory, formal familiarisation training and a wider understanding of the issue surrounding the use of quads and scramblers is something that could help. It is also a reasonable assumption that those parents living in heavily built-up areas who allow their children or teenagers to go out with such vehicles must know that they are operating them illegally, on the streets or the nearest piece of waste ground. Those parents are complicit if somebody is injured, and they need to be told this.
We need to have proactive measures because, all too often, we debate these issues after the fact. We are debating this today because of a death, so we are debating after the fact.
I do not lay blame purely at the door of the Department of Justice, past or present; I do not blame the Justice Committee; I do not blame law enforcement; I do not blame the Assembly. But we must find a mechanism to keep the citizens of Northern Ireland safe. On this particular issue, there is no easy solution. It is difficult to catch those involved in using scramblers and quads outside the legal guidelines.
I thank Jennifer McCann and others for bringing this motion to the House today, and whilst it is clearly important and welcome, everybody is mindful of the particular circumstances that have brought about this debate at this time: the tragic, sad and painful circumstances of the death of Valerie Armstrong and the impact on her immediate and extended family.
As other Members have indicated, there have been a number of other deaths arising from the use of these sorts of bikes, and many, many serious injuries. If you do any review of source material on these matters, you will find that there are regular incidents leading to serious injury or death on this island, in Britain and further afield. It should be within the grasp of all of us, including government, to scale up multiple interventions to mitigate the risk of death and serious injury from the use of quad and other off-road mechanisms. That means trying to identify solutions to the problem that is clearly before us.
I will refer to some matters, some of which have been touched on already. I acknowledge the work of Belfast City Council and people involved in community safety, over the last number of weeks, in working up some — for want of a better term — management tools to deal with the use of these vehicles. As referred to by Ms McCann, there are proposals forthcoming in respect of signage on council property, on lamp posts and on private land, with the consent of the landowner. Interventions of that sort to issue warnings about what is or is not allowed and about the penalties for misuse will be important.
I agree with some of the comments made by Mr Beattie. Given the very heavy risk that exists and the consequences for too many families in this city and beyond, there should be exhortations to parents for them not to buy these sorts of vehicles for their children, not least over the next two or three months in the run-up to the Christmas season, and if they do buy them, they should put on constraints for responsible use.
If there is a need for a new law on the registration and marking of these sorts of vehicles when sold, the SDLP will endorse it. Our experience of people and vehicles generally suggests that there will be a need for legislative intervention. We have discovered that in respect of all other sorts of vehicles and all other issues to do with road and land safety. It is my view that a new law will be required in order to try to manage the issue and mitigate the risk.
I concur with the views made on enforcement. There is a wide family of legislation already in existence, and — I note the comments made about police resources — there are a number of mechanisms available to the PSNI and other authorities enabling them to deal with the use of these vehicles. There is legislation for use without lawful authority; alarm, distress and nuisance; criminal damage; and supplying petrol to persons under the age of 16. There is also is an obligation on those who sell petrol to behave more responsibly when people come to their premises. There is a wide range of enforcement mechanisms and legislation, and I urge the police to deal with that.
I have one example, after which I will bring my remarks to a close —
I thank Ms McCann and her colleagues for tabling this timely motion. The law on the use of scramblers and quads is, indeed, confused. Questions could be asked about the current legislation, in particular, the extent to which it is being enforced by the PSNI.
There does not appear to be any restriction on the size of a machine or the age of the person operating it if they are off-road. In theory, it would be possible for a 13-year-old to drive around on a 650 cc machine as long as he or she is off-road.
I thank the Member for giving way. He will be well aware, due to the high-profile media attention, of the tragic death of 13-year-old Daniel Sheridan in August at Magilligan in east Derry. The incident really shook the whole community. Does the Member agree that, although motocross tracks may encourage more responsible use of these vehicles — I encourage that — it is of the utmost importance that health and safety be paramount for all riders, especially young people, and any controlled or purpose-built tracks should be included in a review of the use of these vehicles?
I think that I deserve an extra two minutes, Mr Speaker.
I agree with the Member's comments on health and safety. My understanding of the current law is that there is no requirement on the driver of a quad bike to wear a crash helmet, as there is a requirement for motorbikers.
The police have a difficulty because, if the equipment is being used off-road, they have to be certain that the landowner does not want it to be happening and has not given permission. That is not easily obtained. The police have to try to implement the law of trespass. Trespass, according to my basic knowledge, does not mean just a presence on the land; it means that there must be damage. The purpose of the motion is to tidy up this type of thing. Theoretically, a noise nuisance complaint could be made, but that would involve the local council. Try getting a council to enforce a noise abatement order and see how far you get. Quad biking happens in the open air, probably in the countryside, and it is not feasible.
Currently, there is no requirement for liability insurance if a vehicle is being used off-road, but there is for on-road use. The law for on-road use is reasonably clear. These things are regarded as motorised vehicles and have to have type approval, be registered, have an MOT if necessary, display number plates, reflectors, indicators and have third-party motor insurance. This is where I can contribute something. Trying to get third-party motor insurance on these contraptions is very difficult and is a specialised market. Companies that will insure them are not keen to insure a quad that is purely for recreational use.
Farmers do not have any great difficulty in getting cover because they have a clear need because of their occupation: perhaps somebody wants to draw a boat out of the water or something like that. There are situations in which it is possible to prove to an insurance company that there is a need for the cover and the vehicle.
Does the Member agree with me that insurance can be very problematic for anyone to take on because, first, many of those using the bikes do so illegally in public areas, and, secondly, they frequently allow many of their friends, who, of course, are not insured, to use them, which defeats the purpose?
I thank the Member for that. If you are 17 years of age and try to insure a 500 cc motorbike, you will not get cover — it is not available. The same applies to quads. Not only is there a problem because insurance is required but cover is impossible to get. Other Members made the point that, most of the time, we are talking about youngsters. If you see a quad — I am talking really only about quads — being driven on a public road by somebody who is 16, 17 or 18 years of age, it is absolutely certain that it does not have proper third-party motor insurance.
The police seem to be reluctant; they have seizure powers, but they do not seem very keen to use them. It is a mess that needs to be tidied up quickly.
I have seen the police on Twitter proclaiming that they have seized a very expensive motor vehicle because it did not have any insurance. I have yet to see the same situation arise —
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important matter today. I thank those who tabled the motion for bringing it to the House.
Mr Lunn referred to helmet wearing by quad bike users. As far as I am aware, that is covered under the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2016, which we dealt with last term in the old Environment Committee. I am not sure whether that has Royal Assent yet, but, if it has not already come in, it is on its way.
I suspect that the catalyst for bringing this to the House today was, as Members across the Chamber have said, the tragic death in July of mother-of-three Valerie Armstrong, which brought into sharp focus the need to look at the legislation and enforcement currently in place. I would like to take the opportunity to send my condolences to Mrs Armstrong's family. Whilst her death was the most recent and harrowing such event, it was not an isolated incident. Each year, our hospitals deal with dozens of cases of, on the whole, younger people making poor choices, ignoring the law and putting their life, and the lives of others, at risk.
I fully appreciate that the use of scramblers and quad bikes in an appropriate manner, with the correct safety equipment, can be a very enjoyable activity for those involved. I am aware of a number of purpose-built facilities across Northern Ireland where scramblers and quads can be used in a controlled environment. For many, it is an exciting pastime. However, as with any activity involving powerful and fast vehicles, there are inherent risks, which are often heightened, especially when they are used in an inappropriate manner and safety is disregarded. Quads and scramblers are not toys; they are restricted to off-road use and only on private property where permission has been granted. The PSNI has powers to confiscate any vehicles causing a public nuisance that are being driven on the road without insurance or a driving licence. The root of the problems is the lack of enforcement of the current powers.
The unlawful, aggravating and, at times, intimidating use of those vehicles is quite often viewed in the context of antisocial behaviour, and quite rightly so. However, there may be an attitude amongst individuals using quad bikes and scramblers illegally that they can deliberately flout the law as nothing will be done. Robust and swift enforcement is key to getting the message across that that behaviour is simply not acceptable.
There is also room for improvement in awareness of what the law states. While some are mindful that they are acting illegally in the use of these vehicles, I suspect that a greater number are not aware of the consequences. Work in conjunction with local schools may assist the PSNI in getting the message across and educating young people not only about the law surrounding quads and scramblers but about the dangers that they hold and what can happen if they are used irresponsibly.
Finally, we cannot overlook the role of parental responsibility in ensuring that these vehicles are used legally. Again, I feel that there may be a lack of awareness amongst parents of the full intricacies of the law surrounding quads and scramblers, where they can be used and who can use them. I believe that there may be an opportunity, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, to include quad bikes and scramblers in its programme of road safety awareness schemes.
In closing, there is no doubt that this problem needs to be addressed. By vigorously enforcing legislation, we have an opportunity to raise awareness of the law, and I think that we could quickly see a change in the illegal use of these vehicles. I support the motion.
Gabhaim buíochas le Jennifer McCann as an rún a chur os comhair an Tionóil inniu. I thank Jennifer McCann for bringing the motion to the Assembly. Members have referred to the death of Valerie Armstrong, and Jennifer McCann played a significant role in highlighting the issues that flowed from that. I am mindful of your guidance on sub judice, Mr Deputy Speaker. Jennifer McCann has raised it at the Policing Board and has had meetings with senior members of the PSNI about the legislation.
The motion is in two parts, and it sets out very clearly that there should be a review of the current legislation, and then it calls on the PSNI and other agencies to effect the current legislation in a robust way. That is what we have to do.
There is no doubt that that recent death being raised at the Policing Board brought to the fore many issues that, sometimes, even the public do not understand, particularly in relation to quad bikes and scramblers. They have to be taxed, registered and insured. More could be done in those three areas to ensure that young people who have vehicles illegally understand that they have to have the vehicle registered, taxed and insured. We need public awareness on this issue to ensure that that is brought to the fore, even at the point of sale. When you register a motor vehicle, the garage has a responsibility to ensure that it informs the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) that someone has purchased a vehicle. Responsibilities are put on owners of vehicles to ensure that when they sell a vehicle on they have a responsibility to inform the DVA as to who the next owner is. We need to look at those issues, and, when we look at the legislation and seek from the PSNI how it enforces it, the review of the legislation will be better informed. Sometimes, there is enough legislation in place; it is about enforcement, awareness and a relationship between the PSNI and the community.
In recent times, there was a spate of car crime, and a combination of stolen vehicles or runarounds caused great nuisance in some estates in Derry. I was involved in a meeting with the local PSNI and the community safety partnership, and many of these issues came out. The PSNI did a presentation and talked about how it had seized a number of scramblers and quad bikes, and people at the meeting asked on what basis it was able to do that because people were working from the perception that, first, it had to be reported and then the PSNI would have to catch the person on the scrambler for it to be seized. The officers involved in the meeting said that they went to the house and the person could not prove that they owned it, they could not produce insurance or tax, and the vehicle was seized. That is the type of thing that we need to see happening. That is a relationship between the community and the PSNI. It can be seasonal. Sometimes, it can be in the summer when younger people are off school. I do not want to say that it is all younger people because I have seen people in my area and they are certainly not children.
It can be around Christmas time, when parents may think that it is not a bad thing to buy a child a small quad or scrambler, but if it is not taxed and registered and if the child is not given the proper equipment in the proper circumstances, parents are leading them into danger or into a situation in which they could get a criminal conviction or worse.
We have to see the current legislation brought to the fore. We must see an awareness campaign. Belfast City Council and Derry City and Strabane District Council have given great publicity to quads and off-road vehicles. In my opinion, the review will assist the process. Alex Attwood said that, in his opinion, there may be a need for some legislation. He talked about the experience of Kent. Those instances need to be brought to the attention of the Department and the Minister so that, when we act, we do so to assist the process. However, we also have to concede that there is enough legislation in place, so long as there is good cooperation and enforcement of it to protect us.
I also support the motion. I do not think there is anyone in the Chamber who has not been contacted by people with problems associated with scrambling, including the noise and nuisance. It is wrong to say there is no legislation. There is some legislation that covers many areas, and that is something that we have to be aware of. We must ensure that that legislation is properly enforced and knowledge of it imparted.
We live in a society in which, unless you legislate for something, people want to blame somebody. There is personal responsibility and parental responsibility and those two areas have a vital role to play in the problem. We must ensure that parents who decide to purchase a scrambler for their child, without considering where they are going to use it or without instruction about how to use it safely, are held to account. Mention has been made of the personal protection equipment that should be carried or worn. Yet some people believe that, if you have a helmet on, you are invincible and can do whatever you want.
There must also be consideration of the landowner whose land is being used, sometimes without permission. I am thinking primarily of a site in my constituency that is owned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. It is quite a large area and it has been used by scramblers and those involved in scrambling.
As a young boy, I thoroughly enjoyed anything associated with an engine and a bit of fun. I do not want to legislate so that the Health and Safety Executive gets the name, "Department of no Fun". There needs to be a little give and take on the matter. However, the Housing Executive has a responsibility to ensure that its land is not accessible and is not used for this purpose. That can be very difficult to police. Each of us has a responsibility for it. The individuals who live around the site that I am talking about phone the PSNI on many occasions about scrambling, but they hear the usual story: "Unfortunately, we cannot respond to this matter", or "We will be out at some stage, but we will not make it a priority unless they are causing a major problem." As a consequence, the police usually come out at 10.00 pm, when nobody is there, so it is not an issue for them. We must ensure that this does not happen.
There is also an issue about those who fall off scramblers and quads. If they are on private land, and even though the landowner has not necessarily given permission, he could end up becoming liable for a minor who gets injured on his land. That is very worrying from the landowner's perspective, and it is something we should look at. We should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. If someone breaks into your property and cuts himself, he might take a claim against you because your property is insured but he is not. That is where I think the law can sometimes be an ass, because it errs on the side of those perpetrating a crime or creating a problem.
I understand that a number of high-profile cases brought about the debate today. I think of the case mentioned here this afternoon involving the tragic death of Valerie Armstrong. I think that there is another area that people are maybe not aware of. Pedestrians are told to get out and take exercise. Likewise, young people are told that they need to get outside instead of playing on their Xbox and doing all those other things, and I think that that is vital. The problem is that those on mountain bikes are in the same predicament when they interact with pedestrians.
It is about ensuring that we have a separation between those using equipment and pedestrians on public pathways. We should look at that as well. I support the motion, and I think that a review would be very helpful.
I also thank the Member for West Belfast for bringing forward the motion. The issue continues to give rise to concern. I agree with her that this is very timely, because some parents in their, I would say, lack of knowledge may be thinking of making a purchase before Christmas, and it is important that people are fully aware of the law and of the dangers to their child and the public if their child rides such a vehicle. As long as they do so in that knowledge and have somewhere safe for their child to ride it, it will be fine. There are similar concerns in my constituency of East Antrim about the illegal use of motorised vehicles. Indeed, sadly, there has also been a fatality in Carrickfergus. As I say, there is a need for the public to be better informed about the use of quads and scramblers.
I do not think that anybody else has outed himself as a former scrambler — I am. I rode a trail bike from the age of 16 on my father's farm and then had an RM 125. Not everybody fully understands the power that is there. I had a look online and saw that it is listed as being 38 horsepower. The Yahama YZ was only 33 horsepower. Would you dream of putting a child behind a team of 38 horses? That is the amount of power that we are talking about. A scrambler can frequently out-chase or outride a car, such is the acceleration. Parents need to understand the degree of power that they are handing to their child. There needs to be education and training, and until a child has that, it is unwise to hand such a vehicle to them.
I fully understand the thrill, and I am lucky to have survived the spills involved. I think that it is important that people understand the danger to the rider and to those in the vicinity. I noticed that, just this summer, the police in my constituency highlighted concerns raised with them about scramblers in Selby Road, Marshallstown Road and the College Walk area of Carrickfergus. Indeed, I have come across scramblers before at Woodburn reservoir and the council-owned public park at Broadlands. Frequently, they are used illegally either on the road or in public areas. In both cases, parents really should be aware — I suspect that there is a lack of knowledge — that their perhaps £1,000 or £2,000 investment, or perhaps even more for a modern bike, could be seized from them. So, apart from endangering their child and the public, they may lose their precious asset.
There needs to be greater knowledge of that law. The law says that a vehicle with an engine of more than 22·5 cc, and that is very little, will be classed as a motorised vehicle. Therefore, if someone with such a vehicle wants to be on the road, the vehicle should be insured and taxed and should have lights, and a helmet should be worn. Failure in any of those areas means that it could easily be lifted. If it is ridden in a public area without permission, straight away, an illegal act is occurring, and the police, having given a warning, can seize that vehicle. I think that we may need to look at the law in that regard to see whether there are areas that need to be improved.
This is a very difficult area to police. Are the police to give chase to a young person on a scrambler?
Will that involve a high-speed chase and perhaps an accident? That does not work either. We need to see what is practical and what would work.
There was mention of creating a bespoke track somewhere. That is a good idea. I like that idea. In my youth I went to a track in Carntall in Newtownabbey. It was fantastic — you could jump in mid-air, and you thought you were wonderful — but facilitating such a track involves huge risks. Will everyone entering it accept their risk and not turn round and sue either the landowner or the council? That needs to be ironed out. Also, how are such bikes to get to the track? I would not wish parents to think this is coming shortly or without considerable expense. To get to the track, a parent will probably need a trailer costing, I do not know, £300 or £400, and a tow bar for their car costing £200 or £300. So, on top of the bike, if they want to get that bike to the track, they have to be prepared to purchase those things. On top of that, are they going to deliver —
— their child and collect them later? It is not just as easy as building a track. I encourage people to contact local motorcycle clubs, where those who already use motorcycles safely and with some knowledge can give some advice and perhaps some training.
I support the motion and thank the Member for West Belfast for moving it. Like West Belfast, my constituency, North Antrim, has been plagued by this activity, more so in Ballymena in built-up areas of the town. Before I move on to that, let us talk about the actual motor sport. The motor sport is a very good one. It fascinates young and old, and it gives people a buzz and an interest. That should be encouraged, as young people having interests and hobbies is a good thing — anything that gets them out and about and off their Xbox is a good thing and should be encouraged — but with that comes responsibility. It is a motor sport, and motor sports are dangerous. They come with risks. There is high speed involved, and people can get hurt and people can be killed. We had evidence of that only in the last few weeks with young Daniel Sheridan unfortunately losing his life in an accident that was in some way controlled.
It is dangerous. That should be a red light flashing and a siren going off for all parents who purchase scramblers and quad bikes. That is the first thing we have to say. Even in a controlled setting and there are marshals, regulations and laws for a course, a track or a race, there are still dangers and risks involved. How much more so, then, when young people go out and about on bikes that are strung together? They go out on footways and highways where there are people, including young people riding their tricycles on footpaths or elderly folk going to do their shopping in the local shop. That is what happens.
In Ballymena, Harryville and Ballykeel, which are two distinct built-up areas, are divided by Larne Road Link, which is basically a dual carriageway. There are underpasses, and these young people — maybe not even so young, on some occasions — ride from one area to the other. They use the underpass, which is connected with a network of paths. They get so far, and they are all heading to the one place: either to the south of the town or to Education Authority land in Ballykeel. They have to use the network of paths, cross over roads and then drive down built-up areas. They drive recklessly on footpaths and on roads with 90-degree bends to get to their desired environment. They have no permission on either site to ride scramblers, but they do it thinking they are doing no harm. They do tremendous harm to the communities they sail through. Elderly folk are frightened. Young people are frightened to go out on their tricycles and bikes, and parents are scared to allow their children out. These people ride their scramblers, do wheelies down main avenues and bounce on and off footpaths. That is absolutely no way to treat their community.
Some of the bikes are strung together, and some riders do not even wear safety gear. Do they not realise the danger to themselves, let alone to the community in which they live and to pedestrians? They also use a public park at the Ecos centre, where many walkers, runners and other people enjoy the environment. They swing round those paths, which are only a metre wide, with little regard for what is around the corner.
I believe that the issue can be resolved with better enforcement. I believe that there are times when the police look sympathetically on the actions of young people on scramblers — if they are scrambling about on waste ground, they are not out and about doing other things. That is totally and utterly the wrong message to send out. The bikes can be seized, and that would send a warning to others that their behaviour cannot be tolerated. Why do we set laws? We do so to protect people and to change the mindset of society.
On Tuesday 19 July this year, as has been referred to by many Members, Valerie Armstrong, a devoted mother of three described by her parish priest as
"a generous, kind and loving person who was filled with life and the natural expectations of a young mum" lost her life after she was struck by a scrambler. As other Members have pointed out, we have lost people across different constituencies as a result of the dangerous and irresponsible use of these vehicles. It is important to take a moment to extend our sympathies to those who have, sadly, lost a loved one in that way.
In recent years, we have seen a rise in the dangerous and irresponsible use of quads, scramblers, go-peds, buzz boards and mini-motors, not least around Cave Hill Country Park and Marrowbone park in my constituency, North Belfast. Accordingly, there has been an escalation in the number of injuries inflicted by these vehicles.
I thank the Members to my right for bringing the motion before us today. I share Ms McCann's view that it is important that the House sends a strong and united message of responsibility to parents, who often buy the vehicles, and to the vehicle users. It is also important that we send a strong message to the PSNI and other responsible agencies that they need to robustly enforce current legislation. Equally, there is a responsibility on the Executive, working with those agencies, to ensure that the legislation is as effective as it can be. Ms McCann has helpfully taken time to outline the conditions and legal requirements that must be met in respect of the ownership and use of the vehicles. The critical point that we must get across, which nearly every Member has touched on, is that these vehicles are not toys. They are motor vehicles that can travel at up to 60 mph and can kill, and they should be treated as such. That is the unequivocal message that we must get across, particularly as Christmas approaches. Yes, when used in a controlled, safe and responsible environment with the necessary training, they can be fun. In agricultural settings, as Mr Beggs pointed out, the vehicles are, for example, often critical in carrying out farming duties. Outside that structure, however, they can be devastating, and much more work is required to educate parents in particular about the legal requirements and the dangers of the vehicles and to encourage their safe and responsible use.
There is a role to be considered for other more robust measures when parental culpability is evidenced. I say that in no way lightly but to reflect the seriousness of the matter. The seriousness of it comes home when people are injured or, tragically, killed. It also comes home when you speak to the many residents — their numbers are increasing — whose lives are blighted by the noise, the disturbance and the risk of injury and death from vehicles that are being driven on our roads — I have witnessed that with my own eyes in North Belfast — and in our public parks, which are there for us all to enjoy and use safely.
As many Members articulated, the solution to this escalating problem lies not in one source. We certainly need more robust enforcement of current legislation, not least in PSNI seizures. The House needs to be able to satisfy itself that the legislation and other tools at the disposal of the PSNI, councils, courts and others is as effective as it can be.
I am not suggesting that this would be the case, but the review of current legislation must not be a paper exercise and no more than that. If the review finds that more is required in legislative interventions, the Executive should not be found wanting. The game changer, I believe, is in raising awareness of the dangers and in promoting the legislative requirements that parents and others who purchase these vehicles must follow. Addressing the issue of parental responsibility is never an easy thing, but we should certainly not shy away from it, not least on this matter.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate. In my constituency in recent years, there have been incidents of death and noise pollution from scramblers and quad bikes. It is a problem that householders and others find disruptive and intrusive, and I realise that a balance has to be struck between illegal scrambler activity and legitimate users. Incidents have occurred on private land and public roads, so there is a difficulty in tracing offenders. The police play a vital role in combating the problem, so, where the problem exists, the police need to be more proactive, as they were in Limavady recently. It is forbidden by law to ride scrambler or quad bikes in public spaces such as playing fields or public parks, so it is essential that any problem with them is tackled immediately by the police.
In July this year, the danger of the misuse of scramblers or quads was brought into sharp focus by the tragic death of Valerie Armstrong. This family are living with the reality of scrambler and quad bike misuse, and I realise that this is a very sensitive legal issue at present. At this stage of my contribution, I wish to express my sincere condolences to the bereaved families of Valerie Armstrong and, indeed, of Daniel Sheridan, who died recently on a quad bike in the Magilligan area of my constituency. Sadly, these are not the only families in Northern Ireland who have had to deal with accidents on these bikes, and it would be ideal if the number of incidents could be further reduced. For this, there is a need for robust enforcement, as the motion states.
To ensure that the legal framework is fit for purpose, a review into the current legislation would be helpful, possibly to identify areas where the law needs to be changed. I would support such a review because the law needs to be fit for purpose. The law also has to be enforceable. It is worth noting that, if the law is to be enforced, there must be enough police officers or other agency officials to be able to enforce the law equitably.
I support the motion as it could be beneficial in reducing accidents involving these machines.