Rachel Maclean – 2022 Speech on Illegal Off-Road Biking in Islwyn

The speech made by Rachel Maclean, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, in the House of Commons on 20 June 2022.

I start by expressing my thanks to the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) for securing this important debate. He has raised specific concerns about illegal off-road biking and the harm it causes communities. Any form of antisocial, dangerous or inconsiderate behaviour involving vehicles, including misused off-road bikes, is a serious issue.

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman and his constituents that the misuse of off-road bikes and the resulting dangerous and antisocial behaviour causes a huge amount of concern and distress. In fact, I also answered for the Government during a Westminster Hall debate on this topic just a few weeks ago. I said then, and I repeat it now, that the Government are not prepared to accept a situation in which law-abiding citizens are adversely affected by the behaviour of others, whether it is taking place in the beautiful Gwent countryside, as he sets out, or even in Worcestershire or anywhere else. We are all aware from talking to our constituents just how harmful and damaging any form of antisocial behaviour can be. At its worst, it can have a detrimental effect on the natural environment and it can ruin people’s enjoyment of public spaces and their communities. I pay tribute to Gwent police for all the work that it has done very effectively. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has played his part in that, and I thank him for that.

The Government are focusing on this issue through our beating crime plan and also through our police recruitment programme, and we are using those levers to drive action to make our cities, towns and villages safer and more peaceful places to live, work and socialise. The police, local authorities and other local agencies have a range of flexible tools and powers under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. The hon. Gentleman has highlighted some of the issues he sees in his constituency, and he is right to say that this is an acutely local issue. That is why we believe local areas are best placed to decide how best to deploy those powers, depending on the specific circumstances. They are best placed to understand what is driving the behaviour in question and the impact it is having, and then to determine the most appropriate response.

Importantly, the 2014 Act contains specific measures designed to give victims and communities a say in how complaints of antisocial behaviour are dealt with. I am referring to the community trigger, which gives victims of persistent antisocial behaviour the ability to demand a formal case review. In addition to antisocial behaviour powers, the police have the power under section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002 to seize vehicles, including misused off-road bikes being used in an antisocial manner. This can be as a result of someone using a vehicle in a careless and inconsiderate manner or in a manner causing alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public. I must remind the hon. Gentleman and anyone listening that enforcement of road traffic law and the deployment of resources is the responsibility of individual chief officers and chief constables, taking into account the specific local problems and demands.

The hon. Gentleman has called for the introduction of a mandatory registration scheme. We have reviewed that, but we do not believe at the present time that the introduction of such a scheme for off-road bikes would be the most effective way to tackle dangerous and antisocial use. It would place a burden and cost on law-abiding citizens who would be most impacted by the requirements. We believe that the police have adequate enforcement powers to deal with the vehicles being used. In response to his comments and his ask of me, I would be happy to meet him and any other members of this House or any other local parties who would be interested. He highlighted a number of areas of policy and law that sit within other ministerial portfolios, most notably those of the Department for Transport, and possibly even the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if a farm vehicle is being referred to.

The hon. Gentleman referred to funding. He will know that we have devoted considerable resources and funding, during the course of our time in government, to ensure that all local areas have additional funding for their police forces. In Gwent, I am sure he will welcome the 143 officers who have been recruited as part of the police uplift programme, with a further 82 to be recruited next year.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate and for his contribution. It is clear that this subject is generating considerable interest in some areas, not least his own. He is doing exactly the right thing by raising this issue with his local police and crime commissioner and chief constable.

The Government fully recognise the damage and distress caused by this type of antisocial behaviour, including the wilful and illegal misuse of off-road bikes. We should never accept a situation in which law-abiding people suffer as a result of others’ reckless and selfish actions. The Government certainly will not. That is why we will continue to support the police to enforce road traffic legislation. We will use every available measure to confront the scourge of antisocial behaviour.