Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 11th July 2007.

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[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 9:30 am, 11th July 2007

May I tell hon. Members that if, like me, you have never been involved in the Committee stage of a private Member’s Bill, we will between us have to work our way through the various procedures as safely as we can?

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

I beg to move,

That the Committee do now adjourn.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Wilshire; although we are members of the same Select Committee, I have never before had the pleasure of serving on a Committee chaired by you. I hope that it will be a brief but pleasant experience. I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick); I wish him well in his new job.

I expect the Minister to make a statement that will enable the Committee to adjourn; that will allow me to go to the Table of the House and withdraw the Bill. I shall now listen to what other hon. Members have to say.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this morning, Mr. Wilshire. Thank you for your kind offer to help those of us who have not served on a private Member’s Bill Committee through our proceedings.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley for his kind words. We support his proposition that the Committee should adjourn. The Government entirely support the intention behind the Bill. We recognise that the misuse of off-road vehicles is a great problem in many constituencies. As well as being the source of considerable antisocial behaviour, some are so poorly constructed and maintained that it can endanger their riders. The distress of those who have suffered as a result of the misuse of such vehicles is fully appreciated, and we want to deal with the issue. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the matter to the attention of the House.

On Second Reading, the Government suggested that an interdepartmental taskforce be created to identify solutions and, when necessary, to drive forward any missing powers. I reaffirm that commitment this morning. The taskforce would consist of the Department for Transport, the Home Office and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and it would consider transport, antisocial behaviour and product safety respectively, at national and European Union level. Other Departments, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Communities and Local Government could be involved,  looking at the use of open space. So, too, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport could consider the provision of sporting facilities.

The taskforce would undertake a root and branch review, considering all the issues, including the powers currently available, and identify whether further legislation might be required. Subject to its recommendations, the Government will implement solutions. We anticipate that the taskforce will convene in the autumn, with a view to producing an interim report by Easter 2008.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley has devoted considerable time and effort to the matter. We would therefore welcome his participation in the work of the taskforce, the mechanics of which have yet to be determined. This statement commits the Government to setting up an interdepartmental review, and to recognising its conclusions. I therefore support my hon. Friend’s motion.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

I express some disappointment, Mr. Wilshire, that we will not have the pleasure of serving under your chairmanship during what could have been a long Committee stage. However, I express our thanks to the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley for putting this important issue on the public agenda.

The Minister’s statement shows that the Government are taking the matter seriously. I believe that that it is the correct way forward. As stated on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), the Bill was like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and many law-abiding users of off-road vehicles would have been brought within the net. That is not to say that the nut does not need cracking; the problem of mini-motos and other antisocial uses of such vehicles needs to be addressed.

It is important to note that an interdepartmental approach is being taken. Where police and local authorities around the country have acted decisively, we have seen that the problem can be addressed. In Coventry, the problem seems to have been handled very well. However, I was in conversation last week with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who told me that the police in his constituency will not chase young people on mini-motos if they are not wearing helmets, because they might be injured if they fell off. The interdepartmental taskforce should look at best practice around the country and decide how that can be disseminated to the authorities in those parts of the country where the problem has not been addressed.

I thank the Minister for keeping me in the loop yesterday, which saved me a lot of work last night and this morning in preparing to debate the amendments. In closing, I thank the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley, with whom I served on the Transport Committee for 18 months. You might say that we are both Dunwoody’s children—in fact, Mr. Wilshire, possibly all three of us are.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I couldn’t possibly comment.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for all the work that he has put into getting the problem on the agenda. I know that it is a problem in his part of the world, and I hope that the taskforce will come up with solutions. I also hope that there will be some cross-party input, because I know of right hon. and hon. Members who would very much like to be involved.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Wilshire. Unlike other hon. Members, I have served on a private Member’s Bill Committee before, although I have never known it to follow such a procedure as we are following this morning. You and I, Mr. Wilshire, have served on many Bill Committees, and I am delighted to see you in your elevated position today. An expression about poachers and gamekeepers comes to mind. I would have enjoyed the experience of seeing you in the Chair very much. However, the solution seems to be eminently sensible and workable.

I commend the Minister for the approach that he has taken. I felt that there was perhaps a degree of unnecessary antagonism between his predecessor—the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman)—and his Back Benchers on Second Reading. Today’s solution is not dissimilar to that offered then, but it sounds rather more substantial and sounds as though there is greater intent behind it. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley has done us a service in bringing the Bill to the House. He has taken a sensible route today, as a lot of work would have been needed in Committee had it proceeded. The course that presents itself to the House and the Committee has a great deal to recommend it.

Photo of Jim Dobbin Jim Dobbin Labour, Heywood and Middleton

Briefly, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, who is a neighbour of mine in Greater Manchester, for the result that he has achieved and the outcomes that we hope for. I thank the Government for taking the Bill seriously.

The hon. Gentleman’s constituency and mine are separated by the M60, but are linked by a number of bridges that cross it. It is not the first time that I have been called out because of the nuisance caused by off-road vehicles criss-crossing back and forth over the motorway. It creates havoc in my community, not just through noise—over a whole weekend local people cannot get any peace—but by creating great damage to the environment. Some of that environment is precious to the local community. I thank my hon. Friend for putting the matter on the agenda, and I hope that he achieves the outcomes that he deserves.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC (as Minister for Women)), Leader of the House of Commons

I, too, would like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley, and I welcome the Minister’s statement this morning.

The salience of the issue and the strength of feeling about it was exhibited at the end of last summer when I brought forward a ten-minute Bill on the need for the registration of off-road bikes, as did my hon. Friends the Members for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). Within three or four weeks we had three ten-minute Bills addressing the nuisance of off-road bikes and the need for more control through some registration scheme.

I first became aware of the problem when a young person lost his life in an accident in my constituency, when I had been an MP for only a few weeks. We may find, when we return to our constituencies for the summer, that the injury to riders and others, as well as the severe noise nuisance will continue, despite the substantial efforts of the Greater Manchester police.  That police force is well represented in the constituencies of hon. Members here; it has had crackdowns and it has taken a lot of action.

There was much debate on Second Reading of one of my hon. Friends’ ten-minute Bills about the fact that the police already have the powers that they need to control the problem. I think that hon. Members feel otherwise—they think that the police do not yet have sufficient powers. I am sure that this summer people will work on the matter locally with hon. Members, agencies and the police. We need to do something, and I and other hon. Members who have introduced Bills on the subject will be happy to give any input that we can to the process.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Manchester, Blackley

I thank hon. Members and the Minister for their kind words. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland pointed out that although he has served on Committees for a number of private Members’ Bills, he has not seen a Bill go in the direction or through the procedures that this one has done. It is worth noting that this is only the second Labour Back Bencher’s private Member’s Bill since 1997 thatthe Government have not supported that has had a Second Reading. The other one, the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, had a Second Reading but did not immediately become law. Whatever hon. Members’ views were on foxhunting, that Bill highlighted the importance of the issue, and eventually the law was changed.

I am hopeful, given the Minister’s statement, that the working party will focus on the issue and find a resolution that enables real resources to be directed at dealing with a problem that is not resolvable now. For any particular incident, there is sufficient law, and if a police force puts sufficient resources into it, that one incident can be dealt with. Ministers have said that regularly, and I agree with them. However, what cannot be dealt with at the moment is a large number of offences. No police force or local authority has the resources, within the current framework of the law, to deal with the problem. It causes a nuisance to many people and is a danger to riders and pedestrians all over the country. I hope that the interim report—I think that the Minister mentioned next spring—will bring us close to a conclusion. We need action as quickly as possible.

I want to thank a number of people who have supported the Bill. Many hon. Members have put time into it. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley who, as she said, introduced a ten-minute Bill and has spoken eloquently and passionately on the matter a number of times. I have always accepted that the Bill is imperfectly drafted. Had we had more time in Committee, it would have been capable of improvement to the point of getting Royal Assent, but we have run out of runway—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town is the new Aviation Minister—and there simply has not been time to have that debate.

Nevertheless, for their help with the drafting, I should like to thank the Greater Manchester police authority, particularly its chair, Councillor Paul Murphy, who has given a lot of support to this; officers Marie Richardson and Alison Hannen; and the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, who put a lot of effort into trying to persuade the Association of Chief Police Officers to change its position and to take  a more sensible view. Locally, I have had support from the Manchester Evening News, the North Manchester Guardian which, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton, is called the “Middleton Guardian”, and the North Manchester Advertiser. I thank all of them, as well as the Daily Mirror, which put some column inches at my disposal in support of the Bill.

I am grateful for the Minister’s statement. I accept it and look forward to receiving the papers and helping the working party. I therefore ask the Committee to adjourn on the basis that I will go to the Table of the House and withdraw the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee adjourned at fifteen minutes to Eleven o’clock.