HL Deb 02 November 1998 vol 594 cc8-10

2.58 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to prevent or discourage the nuisance and damage caused by the use off the road of unlicensed and uninsured motorcycles, especially where such use depends upon access from the public highway.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, we, too, deplore activities that create nuisance to others or cause damage to property. Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 contains prohibitions against using motor vehicles on areas other than public highways without the landowner's consent. The maximum penalty is a fine of £1,000. Where the landowner has given consent, the land may be used for purposes such as motorcycle racing for a maximum of 14 days in any year. Where there is a threat to amenities, the local authority has the power to withdraw this general planning permission. If unlicensed and uninsured motorbikes are used on roads, the rider may be prosecuted under current road traffic laws.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that this problem causes nuisance in many areas, and sometimes serious nuisance and a great deal of damage, and that that nuisance is frequently caused by the use of untested, noisy, old and unregistered motorcycles ridden by unhelmeted, sometimes reckless and rarely licensed riders? Those riders frequently gain unapproved access to the sites where they carry out that activity. They gain that access from the public highways, bringing risk to themselves and others, and they appear to enjoy complete immunity, despite wholesale breaches of the regulations.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I recognise the situation that my noble friend describes in terms of off-road activities. If the riders are on the road, not only will their vehicles be subject to the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations, but there are also substantial penalties for driving while uninsured and without the correct licence for that vehicle, such as £5,000 and £1,000 fines plus disqualification. There are also severe penalties for dangerous driving. As regards use on the highway, the powers are substantial. As I indicated in my initial Answer, that situation is a little more complicated when such vehicles are off the road, even where the landowner has not given permission.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, I declare an interest, in that I am a patron of the Trail Riders Fellowship. It has a very strict code of practice. All the bikes that are ridden are street-legal. They are ridden only where it is legal to do so. The fellowship also deplores the fact that there are those who ride illegally. Does the noble Lord agree that it is very difficult indeed to stop such riders? They may not ride on the road and the bikes may be taken on the back of a pick-up truck. They will not have number plates and the bikes may well have been stolen. It is a very great problem. These riders are in a minority. I do appreciate that it is a problem.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am always amazed at the pastimes of Members of this House. I had not previously thought of the noble Lord as a scrambler. However, I accept that there are regulated areas for this activity and that there are very respectable organisations which look after these matters. They ensure that the bikes and the drivers involved are safe as regards wearing helmets and ensuring that they are protected for such events.

As regards using the bikes on the road, there are very substantial powers. If they are carried on trailers, then the issue of whether they are stolen or not may arise. There again, the police have substantial powers. The problem is police resources and priorities as regards this issue.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, can the Minister advise the House whether a motorcycle needs to be insured and licensed if it is ridden off-road but on a public right-of-way which does not count as a road?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I shall probably need to write to the noble Lord. In general terms the position is that public places are covered by part of the Road Traffic Act. Public places include not only public paths but also moorland and common land. I shall write to the noble Lord about the detail.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, bearing in mind that most of the people involved in the problem that my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath has highlighted will be the young people in our society who cannot afford to buy bikes in good condition or tax and insure them, can my noble friend advise the House what encouragement the Government give to local authorities to provide facilities for such young people to learn to ride motorbikes in a safe way?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, both my department and local authorities encourage the safe riding of motorcycles and put substantial resources into the training of potential motorcyclists. As regards riding motorcycles which are in an unsafe condition, the duty is on the organiser of a particular event. We encourage landowners who run these events and organisations such as those which have already been mentioned to ensure that the bikes are not only safe but also comply with all construction and use regulations. That applies only in situations where permission is given. The problem that my noble friend Lord Hardy referred to originally was where permission had not been given and where there is a serious problem in certain parts of the country.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell me how many prosecutions have been undertaken by authorities over the past 12 months, particularly against those driving without third-party insurance?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Earl that information. I shall attempt to do so. I know that it is not possible to obtain statistics relating to off-road offences. But third-party insurance obviously raises a wider issue. There are a number of prosecutions in that regard. I shall let the noble Earl know.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether motorcycles may be ridden on legally-designated public footpaths and whether landowners can give permission to ride motorcycles on public footpaths?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I believe the answer to that is that it cannot be done in normal circumstances. Again, there may be some qualification and in that case I shall let the noble Earl know.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, in view of the damage which motorcycles and other cycles can cause to public footpaths, especially when they run over rather soft moorland, will the noble Lord share his answers to the noble Earl and my noble friend Lord Swinfen by putting a copy of his replies in the Library?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I shall undertake to do so.

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