It was reported in the Telegraph recently that a bill currently before Parliament could have a devastating effect on motorcycling. The Off-Road Vehicles Registration Bill proposed by MP Graham Stringer from Manchester is intended to combat the anti-social use of mini-motos by making it an offence to own any bike without a number plate.
Mr Stringer's basic idea is harmless enough. Annoyed by feckless youths irritating his constituents on mini-moto bikes, he felt that if all these tiny motorcycles had to carry number plates then the police could arrest the miscreants and the nuisance would stop.
This was at best naive. The bikes were already being ridden illegally, and simply adding a rear number plate wasn't going to help. It was a shallow and simplistic proposal, but it was harmless enough, so no one took much notice.
However, the devil was in the detail (or, in this case, the lack of detail). The Bill is drafted in such a way that it covers all motorcycles. In simple terms, it insists that every motorcycle should comply with the Road Traffic Act. There is absolutely no exemption, and the DVLA in Swansea insists that a registration mark can only be issued to an RTA-compliant vehicle.
The Bill will kill British motorcycle racing at a stroke, and will criminalise bike racers and enthusiasts. Think about it …
Racing motorbikes will suddenly have to be road-legal and carry things like number-plates, lights and proper mudguards. They'll need to be properly silenced as well.
Off-road machines used for motocross etc. will similarly have to be road-legal.
So will those little four-wheel bikes used by farmers to herd their cows, even though they never go near a public road.
Transport museums will be forced to register all their motorcycle exhibits, and since this will mean altering them to make them road-legal, it will destroy the value and interest of some historic machines.
If you have an old motorbike gathering dust at the back of your garage because you'll get around to restoring it one day, you'll have to register it.
If you're so enthusiastic that you have a gold-plated classic racer on display in your lounge - you're a criminal (as opposed to just being sad).
The little boy who lives next door to Mr.& Mrs.GOS - a charming, well-behaved and carefully supervised child - will overnight be transformed into a delinquent because he has a miniature motorcycle he rides round his garden.
Mr Stringer's Bill will make it a criminal offence even to possess an unregistered motorcycle, of any type or description, under any circumstances. Any illegal machine can be confiscated and destroyed (the police already have the power to remove illegal machines but don't often use it). What's more, the Bill makes no mention of compensation for confiscation. One can only imagine the reaction of someone who has a £100,000 racing bike in the garage if the authorities try to remove it.
In the House of Commons on March 2nd the Bill was passed by a large majority at second reading and now enters the Committee Stage. So far it looks fairly certain to become law, unless the House of Lords decide to impose a bit of common sense as they did with the recent super-casino vote. That sort of thing, of course, is why NuLabour are so determined to "reform" (for which read "emasculate") the House of Lords, our last bastion of defence against the political lunacy that currently grips our parliament.
Oh, and in case you might be tempted to think that such a ridiculous piece of legislation would never actually be put into practice, just read on. If a rule exists, sooner or later some unpleasant little jobsworth will implement it …
David Dobbin, a 43-year-old Cheshire farmer, derived his entire livelihood from a large dairy herd. His 567 cows, including pedigree Ayrshires and Holsteins, had won prizes, and were worth upwards of £500,0000.
In 2005 Cheshire trading standards officials, acting for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) began a long series of visits to inspect the documentation required for Mr Dobbin's cattle under EC rules. The more they attempted to check the animals' eight-digit ear tags against their EC "cattle passports", the more they claimed to have found "irregularities", but refused to explain how many or what these were.
Last November, on Defra's instructions, the officials seized all Mr Dobbin's passports, making it illegal for him to move animals off his farm and all but wiping out his income. Last month, serving him with a "notice to identify", they removed his herd to another farm, stating that, under EC regulation 494/98, it was their intention to destroy all 567 animals.
Dating back to the BSE panic, this diktat says that "if the keeper of an animal cannot prove its identification in two working days, it shall be destroyed without delay" and "without compensation". Only animals that cannot be identified can be destroyed. Defra never claimed that the paperwork for most of Mr Dobbin's cows was not in order, only that the officials had found "what they believed to be an unacceptable level of non-compliance with the regulations", and that this "could have serious implications for the protection of the human food chain" despite the fact that there'd only been one case of BSE in the entire country that year.
Less than an hour before slaughter was due to begin, Mr Dobbin's lawyer got a High Court injunction giving the cows a stay of execution. He also won leave for a judicial review on the grounds that Defra was acting beyond its powers. But this month the injunction expired and Defra insisted that unless Mr Dobbin could prove the identification of every one of his animals, they must still be destroyed.
Since Defra themselves had confiscated all the passports and refused to hand them back, they knew he would be unable to do so. They said he could instead provide DNA evidence of the cows' identities, but of course they'd already taken the cows away and wouldn't give him access, so he couldn't.
Defra insisted that the need to destroy the animals was urgent, because it had no resources to look after the cattle it had seized, causing "animal welfare" problems. Handing them back to Mr.Dobbin who could look after them was not an option, apparently. The judge felt he had little option but to give the go-ahead, and on March 8th and 9th the cows were destroyed. Mr.Dobbin is financially ruined, and is entitled to no compensation unless the judicial review confirms that Defra acted outside the law.
See what we mean? In this country today once officials decide they've got a piece of paper that gives them the power to ride rough-shod over ordinary people, they'll do it. And nothing - not parliament, not lawyers, not judges and especially not common-sense, can stop them.
Motorcyclists, your days are numbered.
The GOS says: You might be interested to follow this link to a transcript of evidence on motorcycle law given to the House of Commons Transport Committee. A great deal of common-sense from representatives of the police, rather less from representatives of the road safety industry who seem to think that young men ride motorbikes because the buses aren't good enough (what planet do they live on, these people?) and none at all from Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman and his sidekick Andrew Colski. For example …
Chairman: "Is there anything that you should have included" (in the government motorcycle policy document) "that you did not include and that you now wish you had?"
Dr Ladyman: "I cannot think of anything."
Chairman: "Mr Colski, do you want to save your Minister who is looking lost?"
Dr Ladyman: "I think it is perfect so why would I want to add anything to it, but Mr Colski might have some ideas."
Chairman: "Mr Colski, do you have this divine belief that everything the Department does is perfect, which is sustaining the Minister?"
Mr Colski: "Yes, of course."
We're supposed to point out that "any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings." We think that means they didn't say it until they've said they said it. Sounds like b*ll*cks, frankly.
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