Antisocial Behaviour and Off-road Bikes

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 11 July 2023.

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Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South 4:30, 11 July 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered antisocial behaviour and off-road bikes.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I bring forward this debate out of frustration for residents across my constituency whose lives are being made a misery by antisocial behaviour and off-road bikes. The issue has been raised time and again; I make no apology for dragging people to the Chamber to debate the issue once more in the hope that we can find a way forward. I have raised the issue numerous times with my local police force, my local police and crime commissioner, the local council and Government Ministers. From the looks of the turn out in the Chamber—despite the challenges with today’s schedule—the issue appears to affect people right across the country.

In my constituency of Stockton South, antisocial behaviour with off-road bikes manifests itself in areas across the patch. There is, however, a constant flow of problems in some of our most beautiful and scenic spaces, including green spaces in Ingleby Barwick and Thornaby, the Six Fields in Hartburn, Preston park and a beautiful and previously peaceful walkway that connects Bishop Garth and Elm Tree and Fairfield, which has recently come to resemble a racetrack—and there is little care for anyone who gets in the way. The issue also plagues our urban areas, housing estates and main roads across Thornaby, Ingleby Barwick and others.

The nature of incidents, nuisances and crime involving the misuse of dirt bikes, quads, electric bikes and scooters varies, but in all instances has huge consequences. Let me share a couple of examples of the impact that those bikes and the youths that misuse them have on my residents. I have heard from a pensioner who lives with her husband in a beautiful bungalow backing on to a field, previously filled with birdsong and nature. She and her disabled husband now spend most evenings listening to the roar of the bikes flying around that field, and the cuts and walkways surrounding it, at all hours. They have had vehicles come through their fence as well as mud and grit churned up on their property and they fear leaving their home at night for risk of being hit. They dare not confront the nasty and unruly youngsters who ride the bikes.

I have heard stories of young families looking to enjoy some of Stockton’s beautiful green spaces, only to be intimidated by youngsters on bikes, in broad daylight, driving at speed and ridiculously close in an effort to intentionally scare, harass and intimidate them. We have now got to a point where some of those youngsters feel that they are above the law, and to be honest, it appears that they are. Each weekend, balaclava-clad feral teenagers drive down normal residential streets creating fear and havoc, with no regard for the lives of people around them. It is simply unacceptable and it cannot go on.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate on off-road bikes. Such antisocial behaviour not only disrupts the lives of my constituents but damages livelihoods and farmland, creating absolute misery for people who live in areas where the off-road bikers go. Does he agree with me that the police need to take those people for what they are, which is proper criminals, rather than mere nuisances, and use every power available to stop the menaces that terrorise residents in Rother Valley and across the country?

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

My hon. Friend is entirely right. We need to look at what the law is and how we can empower our police to tackle something that makes so many people’s lives a misery. Just yesterday in Stockton, three people were hurt in incidents involving off-road and electric bikes, including a three-year-old on his way home from school who was hospitalised after being hit by an electric bike.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

Throughout the UK there is pressure on police to come up with innovative ways to stamp out the antisocial use of off-road bikes. Those methods include seizing vehicles, tenancy enforcement action and SmartTag spray. Does the hon. Member believe that other enforcement measures should also be pursued so as to not add more pressure on overstretched forces?

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

I agree entirely with the hon. Member. Sometimes it is about the best use of the resources available to us. Actually, across the country it is clear that we need to learn lessons and put best practice to use to tackle the horrendous situation. I cannot comment on the details of the youngster who was hurt yesterday, but it illustrates the horrendous consequences those bikes can have when allowed to ride roughshod across our communities.

I ask the Government to get a grip on this growing issue. We cannot wait for someone else to lose their life; too many people in my community are already losing their quality of life. In the past year, the number of reports to my local police has gone up by about 40%. Local police, led by our police and crime commissioner, Steve Turner, have been making innovative efforts to identify the whereabouts of these bikes and seize them. The force has developed an online reporting tool and has made use of drones. In April and May this year, Cleveland police seized 180 bikes as part of Operation Endurance—yes, 180 bikes were taken off our streets—but we still saw last night’s incident, and I am sure we will see many more.

In advance of the debate, I have had conversations with police officers and officers from my local council about what more the Government can do to support them in getting a grip on the issue. We need to find a balance with those who use these bikes legitimately, but the pendulum has swung too far. We need a real change to bring this misery to an end.

Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley

I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. We are all sick to the back teeth of people causing havoc. In the Worth valley in my constituency and across Ilkley moor, I see people going off road on bikes and being a real menace. It is good that the Government are taking action by putting out a section 59 notice in certain pilot areas such as Darlington, but does my hon. Friend agree that we need to go further? When the bikes are seized, they should be taken away and crushed so that those individuals cannot buy them back at a later date. That will be a proper deterrent and will ensure that off-road biking does not cause havoc for our constituents.

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

My hon. Friend is entirely correct: we need to go further and faster, because this is an absolute plague on communities across the country. I ask the Government to look again at regulating and licensing the sale of these bikes—off-road bikes, quads, electronic bikes and scooters—and the petrol used in them. I ask them to look at what we can do to make it easier for the police to seize the bikes by looking at any threshold for evidence of misuse. The Government need to deliver tougher sanctions and consequences for those found to misuse bikes, and perhaps in some cases for their parents too. As I said, 180 bikes have been seized, but there is little to prevent the owners from buying back their bike or another one, which can cost just a couple of hundred pounds.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

What consideration has my hon. Friend given to further measures that the industry, the Department for Transport and the Home Office can introduce? Compelling the installation of immobilisers in these vehicles, compulsory registration and compulsory insurance would go a long way to tackle the problem.

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

My hon. Friend is entirely right. My ask is for the Government to find a national strategy to look at good practice and end this horrible situation. They should look at what we can do on licensing and in public spaces. We need more guidance for local authorities that are putting in place measures to impede motorbikes in public spaces. In my constituency, a barrier was removed in Bishopsgarth to allow disabled access to a walkway, and the result has been hordes of youngsters on off-road bikes tearing up and down. Bikes have even been used to deal drugs in that space. The local authority is looking at alternative measures, but the lessons should be learned once and shared across public bodies.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

Reports in the media highlight that food delivery drivers on e-bikes are causing a nuisance in city centres. They sometimes drive on pavements, and that puts locals off journeying into town. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that related issue also requires urgent intervention?

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

The hon. Lady is entirely right. For all the reasons that hon. Members have raised and that I have outlined, we need a national strategy for dealing with these vehicles so that we can share learning and best practice, and empower our local authorities and the police to get a grip on this issue.

People across Stockton are sick of the misery, harm and distress caused by a small few mindless youths misusing vehicles. All too often, my constituents are unable to see the work authorities are doing to tackle the issue.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech, and I agree with pretty much every word of it. It certainly applies to my constituents in Batley and Spen. Does he agree that there is a correlation between antisocial behaviour with off-road bikes and the cuts to our police forces over the past decade?

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

Resource is part of it, and part of it is about learning the lessons and making the best use of the resource. In my part of the world, there are 267 more police officers on our streets, and we are feeling the impact of that, but I fear that, due to the frustrations of the public, someone will try to take the law into their own hands, stand up to these yobs and find themselves on the wrong side of the law. I urge the Minister to ensure that the law is on the side of the many law-abiding citizens in my constituency, who want to be free to go about their lives without the fear of feral yobs on bikes.

Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:40, 11 July 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate Matt Vickers on securing the debate. People who are less familiar with Stockport often confuse it with Stockton, so it is interesting to be in this debate and to thank the hon. Member for securing it.

Moving on to more serious matters, I think the hon. Gentleman mentioned he has 264 more police officers on the street recently. Is the Minister aware of how many we have lost since 2010, when the austerity agenda came in? The Government have cut the grant to my local force, Greater Manchester police, by £215 million since 2010. As a direct result, we have 2,000 fewer police officers on our streets, and 1,000 fewer support officers. I am grateful to everyone at Greater Manchester police for the difficult job they do in challenging circumstances. I also want to highlight the important job done by police support officers.

My office receives a large amount of correspondence about antisocial behaviour and illegal off-road bikes. The issue seems more pronounced in the summer months. I have often seen and reported illegal off-road bikes in my constituency to the police. They cause a lot of problems for residents. People who live on their own, are elderly or have health or mobility issues feel quite threatened in their own homes, due to antisocial behaviour and illegal off-road bikes. It is sad to say that my office receives a lot of letters, emails and phone calls—the figure for the last few weeks is around 250 pieces of correspondence about antisocial behaviour, and around 40 about illegal off-road bikes. I meet the police regularly to get updates, and I hold regular resident meetings to talk about these matters and learn the fundamental issues from residents.

It is all well and good for the Government to talk about what they are going to do, but they have significantly cut police funding in the last 13 years—although the solution cannot just be more police on the street; there has to be a well-rounded solution.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I am interested in the point the hon. Gentleman is making, but does he acknowledge that we now have more officers in our police forces nationwide than ever before?

Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. He is making an important point, but I wonder whether he has compared the rise in police officers with the rise in population, and the complexity of crime. It is not just about more men and women in police uniforms on the street; it is also about the type of work they do.

I have been in the constituency with officers who tell me that they have to do more and more in less and less time. The types of crime being committed can be extremely complex and time-consuming. A few months ago, an officer told me about the impact of the workload on her mental health. We have to be realistic about the nature of crime, the amount and complexity of crime, and the understaffing. All those issues have to be addressed. It might be fair to say that there are more police officers now than ever, but the population has also gone up, and the nature and complexity of crime have also changed.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

We are talking about the complexity of crime. Off-road bikes, antisocial behaviour and auto-crime are complex crimes. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need bespoke solutions to deal with that? In South Yorkshire, we have an off-road bike team that does an amazing job, but there is only a handful of them doing that. Does he agree that some of those extra officers need to go into more off-road bike teams, with their own quad bikes, to tackle the people who are riding their own bikes? We need to have the right officers doing the right jobs to deal with this particular type of crime.

Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Opposition Whip (Commons)

Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. We have a dedicated team in Greater Manchester police that deals with illegal off-road bike crime. I wish there were more officers on that team, of course. We have had several issues with Greater Manchester police over the last few years. I cannot comment on South Yorkshire police; I am not an expert on South Yorkshire.

The force, under new leadership in the last couple of years, has done a lot of good work. As I said earlier, I want to thank officers in Greater Manchester police, but the reality is that they are still underfunded and could do a lot more. It seems to me that the Government do not have that on their list of priorities. Living in one’s own home and being threatened by antisocial behaviour and illegal off-road bikes, with people wearing full face coverings, might be low intensity, but it can be serious for people.

I will make a couple of concluding points. There are high levels of antisocial behaviour in Stockport and across Britain. My local council has seen a 30% cut to its settlement funding. I do not think we would have seen such high levels of crime if the local council funding had not been cut and if Greater Manchester police’s funding—police funding in general—had not been cut. The solution cannot just be talking about putting more and more police officers on the street. We have to talk about youth clubs and what we offer these young people. We have to talk about support services and all those issues.

Finally, more generally in the north-west, between 2015 and 2022 there was a 41% fall in the number of neighbourhood police. The figures are staggering. I hope the Minister will address these important issues, particularly the complexity of the problem and the workload for police officers. We have seen crime go up, but prosecutions, cautions and community penalties have all gone down. That is a fact. Too often, when people report crimes or antisocial behaviour, they feel that absolutely nothing is done. That seems to be what many people feel, not just in Stockport but across Greater Manchester and England. It has to be addressed.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 4:46, 11 July 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I want to begin my congratulating my neighbour, my hon. Friend Matt Vickers, on securing this important debate. He knows, as do I, that antisocial behaviour and the fear of it is of great concern to our constituents. It is a blight on our society, imprisoning people in their homes, making them fearful of venturing out, and turning parts of our community into perceived no-go areas. That cannot be right in a civilised society.

Off-road bikes have long been a cause for concern in Darlington. Having raised this matter a number of times in the House before, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the issue again today. Off-road bikes and quad bikes are the vehicle of choice for those in my community who want to tear-arse around our estates and parks, creating noise pollution, posing an intimidating danger to pedestrians and making life grim for those who live nearby. Parents are fearful of the danger to their children. Pedestrians are fearful of being knocked over. The all-pervading drone of the engines can make parts of our community feel inhospitable. We must do more to rid our communities of this problem.

I praise Durham constabulary’s Operation Endurance, which is focused on tackling this scourge and has had an appreciable impact on tackling this form of antisocial behaviour. Since February last year, section 59 warning signs have been erected to notify offenders of the new powers. Anyone now seen riding an off-road bike, quad or 4x4 in Darlington will have their vehicle seized straightaway by the police, if they can catch them. Durham constabulary has issued a number of fixed penalty notices, speeding tickets and barring notices. We have seen a significant number of illegal quads and off-road bikes seized. These actions are working. They are removing the ability of offenders to offend and acting as a deterrent by demonstrating real consequences to those involved, but we need even more action.

Durham constabulary and Darlington Borough Council have worked closely to tackle this problem over the past year, and I hope that the new Labour and Lib Dem coalition administration will continue to work with me and the police so that we can continue to make progress in this area. I will soon be meeting with Robert Potts, our police and crime commissioner candidate, to ensure that he is fully up to speed on this issue. He is laser-focused on the steps needed to go further in our community.

It is vital that local communities play their part in tackling the scourge if enforcement is to be successful. I repeat my message that every sight and every sound of off-road bikes should be reported, so that our police force can gather the intelligence it needs to eliminate the problem.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

Many of those who are irresponsibly using off-road bikes do so on uninsured and unregistered vehicles. Does the hon. Member agree that the current legislation is not a sufficient deterrent to those perpetuating antisocial behaviour on road bikes and must be reviewed swiftly?

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

It is a pleasure to see the hon. Lady in the Chamber, and I wholeheartedly agree with her point. Insurance and registration are important matters, which I raised in my earlier intervention and will address further in my speech.

For my part, as the MP for Darlington, I have continued to share Durham Constabulary’s messaging of reporting the problem to 999 if people feel they are in danger, or to the 101 service if the incident has passed. I could say much more about our Labour police and crime commissioner’s ability to improve the response times for the 101 service, or the closure of our custody suite in Darlington, or the threat of the closure of Cockerton police station, but I will remain focused on the topic at hand.

In tackling this problem further, which I know is not limited to Darlington, I would ask the Minister to respond to the simple, practical and sensible suggestions that I outlined earlier. Compulsory insurance for off-road and quad bikes would dissuade the casual user from illegal use of bikes on the road. Compulsory registration of off-road bikes would make the identification of these vehicles much easier for law enforcement. Mandating manufacturers to install immobilisers on these vehicles would also help to reduce theft and the misuse of them by unauthorised riders. These points have been raised in discussion with Ministers in the past. I encourage Home Office, Transport and indeed Justice Ministers to work more closely on a package of measures to tackle the antisocial behaviour associated with off-road bikes.

A further point about off-road bikes is what happens after the vehicle is seized. Currently, the police recoup their recovery and storage costs for seized vehicles by auctioning them off in order to recover costs. That leads to a merry-go-round of offenders buying back vehicles. Our forces need a ringfenced pot of money to enable them to crush these vehicles and meet the costs of recovery.

But off-road bikes are not the only issue; we face many other types of antisocial behaviour in Darlington. The illegal and unacceptable fly-tipping in our alley ways by fly-by-night operators who will rock up in a transit van or flatbed truck is a real issue. They will offer to take a household’s rubbish away for a tenner, avoiding the inconvenience of contacting the council or taking a trip to the tip. Having done shifts with Street Scene, Darlington Borough Council’s environmental services department, I have seen first hand the impact of this issue on local residents and the town as a whole. Street Scene is continuing to work hard to tackle this scourge, with increased prosecution of those found to be fly-tipping, and with Street Scene responding speedily to incidents and taking a proactive approach to rooting out those responsible.

Finally, while our Government and constabularies are tackling antisocial behaviour, more can be done with cross-Government working to tackle issues and ringfence pots of money to support the steps we need to take to reduce these problems. I know the Minister will have listened closely to this debate, and I take this opportunity —as I did in the last debate on antisocial behaviour I attended—to invite him and others in his Department to Darlington to see first hand the problems we are experiencing and the actions and the further solutions we need to tackle antisocial behaviour in Darlington.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen 4:53, 11 July 2023

I thank Matt Vickers for securing this important debate. In the two years that I have been a Member of this House, antisocial behaviour and dangerous and inconsiderate driving have been perhaps the two biggest issues raised with me by constituents. Hardly a week goes by without people getting in touch about the risk to pedestrians and other road users, and the intimidating behaviour by what are, for the most part, teenagers and young men showing a total disregard for the safety of others.

I have held numerous meetings with the police, the council, the deputy mayor for policing and others to look for solutions to these problems—solutions that require a multi-agency approach. [Interruption.]

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen 8:31, 11 July 2023

I will return in a moment to why trying to make progress towards those solutions is so frustrating for me and, more importantly, the residents affected. Just last week I held a roundtable on antisocial behaviour at my office in Heckmondwike, and later this week I will be holding another on road safety. I find such opportunities to get everyone together to address problems very powerful. Although we have made some progress locally, I will not pretend that there is not a much bigger piece of work to be done to get enforcement, and the political and cultural changes we need, to change behaviours and bear down on offenders.

The contributions of the various agencies involved are valuable in setting out what is being done and what more could be done if the resources were available. For me, the most important voices are those of the victims of this hugely disruptive and damaging antisocial behaviour, on whose lives it has a significant impact.

One man from the Fieldhead estate in Birstall told me how seriously his whole family has been impacted. He said:

“The estate is currently plagued with nuisance motorcycles and quad bikes. I have sent many photos and videos to the police and have called them numerous times. Three this week alone. It’s not just the noise, that scares my children to tears, it’s the fact that they ride them around at speeds in excess of 60-70 mph, wear no helmets, ride on the pavement and between the houses and have absolutely no consideration for other residents around, including children that are playing in the streets.

The bikers nearly hit my daughter as she was walking home. On another occasion one guy on a moped almost hit my step mother as she got out of her car. He was speeding and pulling a wheelie as he flew passed.

I am at the end of my tether with it. The police have little to no power and when they do remove the bikes from the riders, they have a different bike in a matter of days.”

A constituent from Gomersal described

“young lads on trial bikes who are riding round our area wearing balaclavas and no helmets. They have no regard for anybody on the road, footpaths or anybody crossing the roads.”

He added:

“I really do believe it is only a matter of time before these people kill somebody.”

I am pleased to say that, in response to the issues raised with me, the police have stepped up patrols, and a number of bikes have been seized. They really want to do more, but it will come as no surprise to hear that they simply do not have the resources or the manpower. John Robins, chief constable of West Yorkshire police, said just last week that the cuts mean that he simply cannot deliver what he wants to deliver as a professional police officer. Since 2010, West Yorkshire has seen cuts to its budget of £165 million and the loss of 2,000 officers. At the same time that police numbers have fallen, there have been cuts to child, youth and community services. Too often, the voluntary and private sectors have to step in to try and fill the void. I want to pay tribute to local charities and organisations that do a fantastic job providing activities for young people to give them a focus and help to keep out them of trouble. Jack Sunderland and his team at the Training Cave in Birstall encourage young people to put their time and energy into boxing, while BUMPY, also in Birstall, offers on and off-road motorbiking sessions and qualifications to young people and adults, including some of the most vulnerable, in a safe environment.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

The hon. Lady said a moment ago that police numbers in—was it South Yorkshire?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

The hon. Lady said that police numbers in West Yorkshire had fallen. I gently say this: in March 2010, West Yorkshire had 5,856 police officers; in March this year, there were 6,160. Far from being cut, there are now 300 more officers than there were in 2010. I am sure that was inadvertent.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

I am happy to be corrected if that is the case, but the deputy mayor for policing in West Yorkshire gave me those figures.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

I am happy to check and apologise if that is the case.

Going back to organisations in my constituency and across the country, Sustrans does a fantastic job of looking after the wonderful Spen Valley Greenway. However, like many charities, it is struggling for funding, and next year it will no longer be able to fund Rob Winslade, our dedicated warden. I am seriously worried about the impact that that will have on the greenway’s safety.

There are many other groups in Batley and Spen, as in all our constituencies, which do similar excellent work. They are keen to be part of the solution to tackling the problems of antisocial behaviour and specifically off-road bikes. However, the truth is that without a systematic, Government-led strategy to properly resource and fund our police force and to provide a proper range of community services, including sport and physical activity provision for young people, we will continue to have the kind of problems we have discussed today. Leadership at a political level is required, with the aim of helping as many people as possible to feel fit, healthy and fulfilled, and of building communities that everybody can feel proud of and want to protect.

We need a shift in culture, but that will not happen by itself. I recently proposed a health and wellbeing strategy that would bring together all Departments of Government alongside local authorities, charities and voluntary organisations, as well as the private sector, to help produce a happier, healthier and safer nation. It will not happen overnight, but the current Government are not doing anywhere near enough to make that happen. I finish by thanking everyone in my constituency and across the country for their fantastic work on this important agenda.

Photo of Ashley Dalton Ashley Dalton Labour, West Lancashire 8:37, 11 July 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I congratulate Matt Vickers on securing the debate and I thank him for it.

I have always been of the opinion that politics is local. The issues that we discuss here are of so much significance to our constituents because they affect them. Like others who have spoken, I have an inbox full of messages from constituents who are concerned about our focus today, which is an extremely damaging issue for our communities. In Skelmersdale, in my West Lancashire constituency, residents are contacting me to report bikes tearing up and down estates at all hours of the day and night, terrorising local people at speeds of up to 50 mph. Local residents report that they hear the bikes coming before they can see them, with the noise carrying on for hours at a time, three to four times a week.

Much more troubling is residents’ concern about their safety as a result of that behaviour. My constituents are telling their children not to play out in the street—the place where they live—for fear of the bikes, and residents have described the activity in the local press as

“an accident waiting to happen”,

yet they dare not report the issue to the police for fear of retaliatory crime.

A simple online search will bring up reports of residents who complain about being targeted with attacks on their properties and, in the worst instances, arson. Good, honest and hard-working people are having their lives blighted by the reckless and selfish actions of those on bikes. Also, as perpetrators come and go at all hours of the day, it is hard for the police to react when offences occur. Even if the police are quick enough to react, a potential chase through residential streets poses further danger to local residents. It has reached the point where Lancashire police are now working with the Labour West Lancashire Borough Council to impose public spaces protection orders to try to get to grips with the ongoing nuisance, yet more concerning is the link between off-road bikes and organised crime, such as the distribution of drugs, which bring with them a whole raft of other antisocial behaviours and yet more illegal activities.

Reports of such vehicles being used to ferry illegal substances around communities and distribute drugs are widespread. Evidence of the link between bikes and drugs has been found right across the country, from Stockton, which the hon. Member who led the debate represents, to Glasgow, Manchester, Preston and Leicester. In fact, the issue has become so problematic in Leicester that the east midlands special operations unit has been established and tasked to address the problem.

I am not suggesting that all off-road bike-users are dealing drugs, and nor am I saying that to eliminate the issue of antisocial behaviour and bike use would be a silver bullet in eradicating drug crime, but it would certainly help to address the issue and provide some respite for my constituents, who are suffering due to noise, fear and the risk to their safety. The impact of antisocial behaviour is so far reaching, and I hear about it so much from my constituents, that I felt compelled to raise it with the Lancashire police and crime commissioner, Andrew Snowden, when I met him yesterday.

New technologies offer alternative ways to begin to address the problem. West Midlands police and Hampshire police, for instance, have both used drones to identify offenders and get more accurate descriptions than local residents can offer. While the success of such an approach, like others, needs to be assessed before it is more widely considered, it might well take a fresh approach really to deal with the issue.

What concerns me most is the lack of accessible support to the victims of antisocial behaviour. Tackling the problem and dealing with the perpetrators are, understandably, often the focus of attention, but to be a victim of antisocial behaviour can be incredibly isolating and distressing. That is why I support calls from Opposition Front Benchers to focus more on neighbourhood policing, with an additional 3,000 officers and police community support officers who are rooted in communities.

At a time when confidence in the police is waning, having a regular, familiar police presence in our communities would go some distance to restore and rebuild trust, as well as acting as a deterrent against antisocial behaviours. For my constituents in West Lancashire, antisocial behaviour and the menace of off-road bikes is a daily torment. I am committed to working with the police and crime commissioner, local police, local councillors, colleagues in this House and, most importantly, the communities of West Lancashire to ensure that the issue is taken seriously, and that people can once again feel safe in their neighbourhoods.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

The debate will need to end at eight minutes past 9. If the Minister is so minded, he might allow the mover of the motion a couple of minutes to wind up. I call the shadow Minister.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office) 8:42, 11 July 2023

Thank you, Mr Pritchard; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I will probably not take all the time that we have—you might be pleased by that.

I congratulate Matt Vickers on securing this important debate. I thought that he spoke a lot of sense. We have been here before, talking about this issue. He asked the Government to get a grip of the problem in his speech, which the Minister who is now present, Chris Philp, missed. I am sure that the Minister will respond to all the points that hon. Members made.

My hon. Friend Navendu Mishra is worried about the antisocial behaviour that will arise in the summer months, and Peter Gibson raised similar issues. My hon. Friend Kim Leadbeater is so active in her community that she had an event last week on this issue and is having one next week, which shows her commitment to her constituents. My hon. Friend Ashley Dalton gave a harrowing story of how people feel when antisocial behaviour is rife, and how they think that they cannot report it because there will be reprisals. Such things are often completely hidden because those crimes never get to the point of the police being involved and are therefore not covered by the statistics.

In both this Chamber and the main Chamber, Ministers have described antisocial behaviour as low level, and the Government have not taken the issue seriously to any degree for a long time. It was only after Labour Front Benchers put forward tough antisocial behaviour plans earlier this year that the Government published their underwhelming and unambitious strategy, with lead responsibility transferred from the Home Office to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

We know there is huge underreporting of antisocial behaviour, but the latest stats are awful. There were 1 million incidents of antisocial behaviour last year—more than 2,700 every single day—but that is just the tip of the iceberg. We know that criminal damage to a building other than a dwelling has risen by 20%, and “arson not endangering life” is up by 21%. Over a third of people say they have personally experienced or witnessed antisocial behaviour in their local area, and 72%—nearly three quarters of the population—think that crime has gone up in the past few years.

There is a big problem with antisocial behaviour statistics, because the Government do not do proper data collection. The freedom of information requests that I have submitted show huge variety across the country in how antisocial behaviour is reported and dealt with, and data on the use of new powers is not centrally collected. The Government could choose to address that if they wanted to, but they do not, so will the Minister look again at how antisocial behaviour is recorded? Will he recognise the impact of antisocial behaviour?

Our colleagues have been debating the Victims and Prisoners Bill in Committee over the last couple of weeks, and one of the amendments put forward by Labour Front Benchers was designed to treat victims of antisocial behaviour as victims in law. The Government voted against that proposal, which is a real shame, because until we recognise the impact of antisocial behaviour and that it involves victims too, we will not start to get serious about dealing with the problem.

People across the country raise the issue of off-road bikes, which has a pernicious impact on communities. The vehicles are loud and driven at great speed, causing great danger to other people and to those riding them. They spray mud and dirt, upset communities and ruin green spaces. It is a problem in the north-east, which I visited with Joy Allen and Kim McGuinness, Labour’s excellent police and crime commissioners there. There are also real problems with stolen bikes, and the police are concerned that not enough is being done to help them attack that crime. It appears that off-road bikes are easy to steal, and police tell me their frustrations about the fact that claims on off-road bikes are paid out even if the key is in the ignition. It is quite a niche, technical issue, but if people can leave the key in the ignition and get paid the insurance, it is quite easy for people to steal the bikes, which seems to happen in a lot of areas.

We have seen examples of good work. Simon Foster, the West Midlands police and crime commissioner, has funded three additional off-road bikes for the police—they now have six—and he is increasing the number of trained off-road officers in Northumbria. Kim McGuinness has had great success in clamping down on stolen motorbikes, including by using overhead drones.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

In Batley and Spen, police officers have received the off-road bike training that they need to chase perpetrators, but I was informed recently that officers are now being told that if we want to get more of them trained, they will have to pay for their own licences, which seems wrong. I wonder whether the Minister could look into that and get back to us.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I thank my hon. Friend for her helpful intervention. I am sure the Minister will address that in his speech.

If the people are good enough to put their trust in us, the next Labour Government will put 13,000 extra neighbourhood police and PCSOs on our streets as part of our neighbourhood policing guarantee.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I hear this 13,000 number a lot. Will the hon. Lady clarify whether that is a redesignation of 13,000 existing police officers, or new police officers in addition to those currently employed?

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am sure that the Minister could read our press releases, which explain where the funding will come from, but there will be 3,000 new police officers, 3,000 from the uplift, and the rest will be PCSOs and specials. But the point of our policy—it will not just be about neighbourhood policing—is that we need to have police on our streets, where people can see them. Given that half of all our PCSOs across the country and large numbers of police staff have been cut, officers who should be in our neighbourhoods are now answering phones, dealing with back-office functions and not doing the things that we need them to do.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I am all in favour of extra police on the streets, and I welcome the 168 extra officers we have in County Durham, but our Labour police and crime commissioner has closed the custody suite in Darlington, thereby stockpiling millions of pounds and starving the force of officers we could have had in previous years, and in effect turning our officers into taxi drivers to take people to a brand new £20 million custody suite in the centre of a gigantic county. That is a Labour decision in my county.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. No one wants anything to close. Indeed, it is a great shame that nearly 700 police stations have been closed under this Government. What does that do to a community? Sixty were closed by the previous Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London. Extraordinary figures.

Labour will crack down on repeat offenders with our new respect orders. We will introduce new town centre patrols and a mandatory antisocial lead for every neighbourhood. We will bring in fixed-penalty cleaning notices and tough penalties for fly-tippers. We will establish clean-up squads in which offenders will clear up the litter, fly-tipping and vandalism that they have caused.

I do not want to go on too long. I ask the Minister to go back to his colleagues about not including antisocial victims in the Bill. Will he look again at recording the data on antisocial behaviour, because the picture is hard to see? What are his views on off-road bikes and does he think we should be going further in helping the police to tackle that problem? Does he support Labour’s new respect orders? And does he support our policy to put more police in our neighbourhoods and on our streets.

Antisocial behaviour is a difficult thing to measure. Our job as politicians is not to find a stat that can prove our point, but to try to make people’s lives better. It is undoubtedly the case that many people’s lives are blighted by antisocial behaviour, and it is undoubtedly the case that we can do more. I hope that the Minister responds in that frame.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department 8:52, 11 July 2023

It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I find myself in the Chamber slightly unexpectedly—you will have noticed that a younger and better-looking Minister has appeared than the one who was here at the beginning—[Interruption.] I hear some sceptical gasps rippling around the room. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Security is making a speech somewhere far less august than this. I have therefore come to conclude the debate. The matter is part of my portfolio, so it is probably appropriate that I am here in any event.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Matt Vickers on securing the debate on this extremely important topic, which is a Government priority and always has been. We have heard some commentary about resourcing, and it is important that the police have the resources that they need to keep the public safe from antisocial behaviour and crime more widely. To put the record straight on police funding, therefore, the police settlement for the current financial year is £17.2 billion. That is higher than it has ever been at any time in history. Police and crime commissioners specifically, who fund frontline policing in our constituencies, have £550 million—more than half a billion pounds—more this year, compared with last year.

Let me take a moment to comment on police numbers. I am sure that what Kim Leadbeater said about the police in her county was inaccurate only inadvertently, because her county has record numbers. In fact, England and Wales as a whole have record numbers. To be precise, as of 31 March, we now have 149,472 police officers in England and Wales. That is more than we have ever had at any time in this country’s history, and it is about 3,500 more than in March 2010, when there were 146,030 police officers. These are record police numbers.

We also heard a little about crime recording, data, peak crime and whether crime is going up or down. Perceptions of crime are sometimes different from the actual figures, however. There are two sets of crime figures, which apply to any criminal activity, including ASB. There is the crime survey for England and Wales, which is a large-scale survey recognised by the Office for National Statistics as being the only accurate measure of crime over the long term, and there is police recorded crime, which is when people report things to the police. That is a function of people’s propensity to report to the police and how good a job the police do in recording the crime. Until about five years ago, the police did not always do a particularly good job. The inspectorate has clamped down in the last few years, and the police are now much better at recording everything that is reported to them. It is for that reason that the ONS says that the crime survey is considered the most accurate measure of long-term crime trends.

In that context, I have some figures on changes in crime since 2010—I pick that date arbitrarily, of course. Criminal damage is down by 65%, and vehicle theft is down by 42%. On antisocial behaviour, the shadow Minister, Sarah Jones, mentioned that according to the crime survey, which she has obviously seen, 35% of people had experienced antisocial behaviour in the year ending September 2022. What she neglected to mention is that that was a substantial decrease of 12% when compared with the last year before covid.

On police recorded crime, which has its limitations, the hon. Member for Croydon Central said that 1.1 million ASB offences were recorded by the police. Again, she forgot to mention—no doubt for reasons of time and space—that that this is a 21% reduction since before the pandemic.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen

I know the Minister likes his statistics, and I have always admired his ability to get those statistics out there, but will he not take on board the point made by my hon. Friend Sarah Jones about the reluctance of people to report antisocial behaviour? Sadly, I know from my own experience in Batley and Spen that there is a feeling that nothing will be done so there is not any point in reporting it. That creates more statistics, but they are not visible to us.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

What the hon. Lady is saying is that there is limitation in the police recorded crime figures. That is why the crime survey is considered the authoritative source of data. It does not rely on the public reporting a particular offence; it is essentially a public opinion poll on an enormous scale. The methodology has been the same over many years, which is why the crime survey figures are considered the most reliable.

I was going on to say that even though those ASB figures are going down, whether measured by the crime survey or by police recorded crime, this is a serious issue, as the hon. Lady and Government Members have said. People feel that more needs to be done and that there is too much ASB, and the Government agree with that assessment. That is why, just a few weeks ago, the Government launched their antisocial behaviour action plan, which included £160 million of new additional funding.

Among other things, that extra funding pays for antisocial behaviour hotspot patrols, which will target areas of particular antisocial behaviour. Those hotspots could be in town centres, but they could also be in areas where there is quad biking or trail biking going on. That is being piloted in 10 force areas. I think Lancashire is one of those. I was in Chorley, in Mr Speaker’s constituency, last week, out and about with the very first ASB hotspot patrol in Lancashire. There are going to be 14 other hotspot patrols in Lancashire as it rolls out, as well as in 10 other force areas. In April of next year, every single police force in the country—all 43 of them—will have ASB hotpot patrols funded with over £1 million per force.

We are also funding immediate justice, where those people caught perpetrating antisocial behaviour, including on quad bikes and trail bikes, will within 48 hours be made to do some kind of restorative activity—it could be cleaning graffiti or cleaning up the streets—in branded, high-vis jackets, to make clear to the public and the perpetrators that there are consequences when people commit ASB. Again, there are 10 pilot forces, and by April next year every single police force in the country will have about £1 million each to deliver immediate justice.

The plan has a lot of other elements. It strengthens the provisions in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. There will also be a statutory instrument shortly to ban nitrous oxide, which is a driver of ASB and a serious matter.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Out of interest, where has the consultation on nitrous oxide got to? The Minister said that the Government are banning it, but have they gone through the process of consultation?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

There are a couple of stages. The first was to consult the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. We commissioned it back in the autumn and it reported in March. It actually advised us not to ban nitrous oxide, but, unusually, we decided to ban it anyway. It is about the fourth time a Government have disregarded its advice. The last Labour Government disregarded it a couple of times, and this Government have disregarded it a couple of times because we thought it was that serious. In a Westminster Hall debate a few months ago, both Conservative and Labour Members raised concerns about nitrous oxide being a driver of antisocial behaviour. It is genuinely the case that that Westminster Hall debate prompted us to get this done. I know that sometimes these debates are not hugely well attended, but they do lead to change, and that is an example of a Westminster Hall debate actually leading to a substantive change.

Having decided to ban nitrous oxide, we consulted on how to go about doing that with the ACMD and others, and we spoke to various stakeholders. We will create some exemptions for legitimate commercial use, because it is genuinely used for catering purposes and semiconductor manufacture. Clearly, if it is being used for a legitimate commercial, technical or scientific purpose, possession is lawful, but personal consumption and supply for the purpose of commercial consumption will be banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. There is a lot in that antisocial behaviour action plan. The Government are taking this seriously. There is money behind it, and we are determined to clamp down on it.

Off-road bikes, trail bikes and so on are obviously a scourge. We heard hon. Members earlier and more recently talk about that. The police already have powers to deal with this, particularly under section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002, which confers a power to seize off-road bikes and vehicles if they are used in an antisocial manner. The definition of an antisocial manner is quite broad, but it could include, for example, using the vehicle in a careless and inconsiderate manner contrary to the Road Traffic Act 1988 or in a manner that causes alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I warmly welcome section 59 notices, which my constituency has benefited from. I am sorry that the Minister was not here at the start of the debate, and I understand the reasons for that. However, I raised a number of issues in my speech in respect of the things that the Department for Transport and the Home Office could do, working in conjunction with industry to ensure that vehicles are registered, insured, capable of being tracked and traced, and fitted with immobilisers. Much more can be done by Departments working together to tackle this problem. I do not disagree with the support for section 59 notices—they are tremendously useful—but we have to catch offenders first.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

I agree with that sentiment. With these record police numbers, the resources are available to do more on enforcement. On my hon. Friend’s point about registration, insurance and tracking, I will ensure that we take a careful look at that with the DFT.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I have raised this multiple times in multiple meetings with both the Home Office and the Department for Transport. It just feels as though we need to get some real will behind solving the problem.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

As I have just said, I will take a careful look at it. We obviously need to make sure that any regulation is proportionate. This is the first time that my hon. Friend has raised this with me, as far as I am aware, but now that he has done so, I am happy to take it away.

In relation to immobilisers, we have a private Member’s Bill going through Parliament that, certainly for quad bikes, requires immobilisers to be fitted. That was done with the purpose in mind of deterring and preventing theft from agricultural premises in particular. It may also mean that there are fewer stolen quad bikes in circulation that might then be used in a way that is antisocial, so that could be an unexpected or unintended side benefit.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

The fitting of immobilisers is incredibly beneficial to the agricultural industry, which experiences the thefts. Those bikes then appear on the streets of my town, causing terror, so fitting immobilisers kills two birds with one stone.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Minister of State, Home Department

Exactly. That legislation is going through Parliament now with full Government and Opposition support.

Wider antisocial behaviour legislation, much of which derives from the 2014 Act, can also be used in this context. An Opposition Member mentioned the use of public space protection orders as a tool. Community protection notices would be another option. I think Ashley Dalton mentioned that West Lancashire Borough Council is working with Lancashire police on this. I strongly encourage joint working between local authorities and the police on public space protection orders, community protection notices and other similar devices to eradicate this scourge. Again, through the ASB action plan we are intending to make it easier to use those various mechanisms.

I am grateful again to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South for securing this debate. It is a very important topic. The Government are committed to working to fix this problem, and I look forward to co-operating and collaborating with Members on both sides to ensure that our constituents’ communities are kept safe and free of antisocial behaviour.

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South 9:05, 11 July 2023

I thank the Minister for his comments. We obviously welcome the 267 extra police, the hotspot policing and all the other measures that are coming through. However, if the Minister had been here earlier—it has been a record long Westminster Hall debate this evening—he would have noticed that there were Members present from across the House, despite what we knew would happen with the timetable, and that there are very strong opinions on the issue from all corners of the country. Members felt very strongly about the increasing misery caused by off-road bikes.

This is not something that the police are dealing with as they always have. In my part of the world the problem has hugely increased, with 40% more reports in the last year and 180 bikes seized in May and April. Still these youngsters are going to be riding around on bikes causing absolute misery. I have put the case to the Minister again, and I hope he will engage with and continue the dialogue about what we can do specifically to tackle those quad bikes, off-road bikes, electronic bikes and scooters.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered antisocial behaviour and off-road bikes.

Sitting adjourned.