HC Deb 13 June 1995 vol 261 cc699-706

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Conway.]

10.16 pm
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from our discussions from time to time, perhaps on one occasion in an Indian restaurant in Lichfield, that before I became a Member of Parliament I used to spend time motor cycling around Europe braving the uncertain roads of Greece and Turkey. Sadly, my colleagues in the Whips Office take the view that another by-election in Mid-Staffordshire would probably not be a good idea so my Yamaha FJ1200 no longer throbs between my legs in foreign climes.

Nevertheless, I maintain a keen interest in motor cycling, so when the European Commission produced the Directive on Certain Characteristics of Two and Three Wheeled Vehicles shivers went down my spine.

Since we last discussed the matter in the House, motor cyclists in Britain and in Europe, under the banner of the Federation of European Motorcyclists, have persuaded the European Parliament to disagree with most of the Commission's proposals—a rare achievement indeed.

The European Parliament took a contrasting view from the Commission because it was persuaded by good solid evidence and well-presented argument that many of the proposals were ill-judged.

Tonight I shall outline three areas where the motor cyclists' case has been most persuasive. First, motor cycle sound levels have been debated a number of times. We must always bear it in mind that public perception of excessive noise is invariably due to machines that are already illegal. Had I been allowed to do so, I would have ridden my Yamaha into the Chamber and demonstrated that its gentle purr is far quieter than any ill-maintained high-revving 120 cc bike with only one tenth of my bike's cubic capacity. I took advice to find out whether I would be allowed into the Chamber in my leathers and crash helmet, but I was told that it would not be de rigueur.

The occasional lack of enforcement in this country and virtual non-enforcement in other European Union member states is no justification for bringing levels down even further.

I recognise that enforcement of existing sound level legislation is extremely difficult technically. It simply is not possible to measure the sound of a motor cycle at the side of the road when the background noise is even louder. However, new laws coming into force in Britain next year will simplify that task by controlling the marking of silencers. That will make it a simple matter for a police officer to check whether the silencer is appropriate for the machine or the circumstances.

The push, therefore, to lower the maximum sound level from 82 to 80 dB when 82 is perfectly acceptable to the public, if only it were enforced, is simply not justifiable.

If the Minister and hon. Members are still not convinced of that, I would urge them to accept an invitation from the Motorcycle Action Group to attend one of its motor cycle noise demonstrations. For that is precisely the way in which the European Parliament was convinced: the Federation of European Motorcyclists badgered it into listening. The motor cyclists' most vigorous opponents had their opinions reversed, to the extent that 95 per cent. of Members of the European Parliament voted against the lower levels.

It is not known whether the Commission was aware of that before drafting its directive. However, it is interesting that the motor cyclists nearly met defeat when representatives of the European motor cycle industry, ACEM, stated that the 80 dB limit would be acceptable at a pinch, on the grounds that the noise reduction was technically achievable, albeit at greater cost.

The greatest critics of the EU will be grateful for the ammunition provided by the apparent philosophy that, if something is achievable, it should be compulsory, regardless of whether it is necessary, desirable or detrimental.

ACEM's acceptance of the European Commission's decision was not a unanimous decision of its members. Triumph Motorcycles certainly opposes implementation of the lower sound level, as it will reduce its range considerably or increase its prices even more considerably—hardly the helping hand for industry that I know my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade would want, let alone what my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads always wants, to provide.

Secondly, I wish to discuss the control of emissions of new motor cycles. Although it would be ideal to reduce emissions as much as possible, a motor cycle has much better green credentials than a car. Even if the exhaust may not be as clean as some cars, it produces a great deal less of it. A bike consumes considerably less petrol and is therefore less of a pollutant. In addition, a motor cycle does not contribute to traffic congestion in the ways that cars do, as anyone who has been in a traffic jam and seen a motor bike roaring past can attest. Having regard to that, the European Parliament proposed a compromise on emissions to minimise price increases to more economical bikes; what good sense that was.

If we divert motor cyclists into cars because of increasing costs in meeting emission levels, the environmental effect will be far worse. If people in poorer parts of the European Union can no longer afford to go to work as their transport becomes illegal—a real prospect for the cheap two-stroke of eastern Europe—we shall have done a great disservice to them and to the British taxpayer, who will have to pick up the tab, as usual, in the shape of still larger contributions to the European cohesion funds.

Finally, I wish to mention the complicated and contentious issue of anti-tampering. However, it is useful to consider the history behind that proposal to appreciate its absurdity fully. Type approval is a well-meaning idea to facilitate standard requirements for vehicles in all member states so that a motor cycle manufacturer can produce for one European market. There are, for example, 15 different types of moped in the Community with different specifications.

Unfortunately, that legislation appears to have been a means to include unregulated, bolt-on regulations, which grow out of all proportion once they fall under the avaricious gaze of the Commission.

In some countries, notably France, 14-year-olds are permitted to ride mopeds without a licence or insurance. Once the joy of riding on two wheels has been experienced, there is a wait of up to four years before motor cyclists can progress to what they would call a real motor cycle. Faced with that frustration, many young Europeans modify their machines to obtain greater performance. It should be fairly obvious that extracting more power by essentially amateur means from a frame that is designed for a restricted life is not a safe thing to do; nor is it in the spirit of the restriction.

With that in mind, the principle of anti-tampering was born. The idea was to oblige manufacturers to produce their machines in such a way as to make it impossible for owners to attempt to increase power. That is achieved in two ways. First, anti-tampering provides that no parts should be interchangeable between models that might produce an increase in power; and, secondly, an engine must be designed to cease functioning—to auto-destruct—should anyone other than an authorised dealer attempt to tamper with it.

At the same time there is a proposed licence directive which establishes three different categories of motor cycle licence in addition to mopeds, which are called category A. It now gets a little more complicated. Learners must ride bikes of category B, which will be restricted to 125 cc or 11 kW; while those who have passed their tests will be forced to wait two years, during which time they will be subject to a restriction of 25 kW or a power to weight ratio of 160 kW per tonne. That is known as category C. Only after that long wait will riders be permitted to move up to category D, which is the unlimited category, but which some hon. Members may remember started life as the wholly discredited 100 horsepower limit that would have severely damaged Triumph's marketing.

Although the Motor Vehicles Working Group decided in 1992 that anti-tampering restrictions should apply only to mopeds, the Commission has now taken it upon itself to extend those restrictions to all categories, without taking the expert advice that it sought at the beginning. That makes no sense at all. As a result, those who have passed their tests and are experienced riders would not be allowed to service or maintain their own machines. The majority would be constrained because of the irresponsibility of a small minority. That is simply not equitable.

Triumph Motorcycles—one of our booming exporters—has achieved success by using a commonality of parts in manufacturing its machines. Such production methods would simply not be possible under anti-tampering legislation. Applying anti-tampering measures to Triumph could mean the end of a successful company and the end of many jobs.

It is not only manufacturers of motor cycles who will be damaged by the legislation; the thousands of people in this country who make pattern parts—spare parts—will be affected by the measure, too, as there will be no such thing as a part which fits several motor cycle models or even models from different years. Not only will the economy of scale be defeated, but it will become necessary to gain manufacturers' co-operation in order to produce parts in competition with them. Clearly, the end result will be that parts will be made only by the original manufacturers and servicing will be carried out by registered dealers only.

Such monopolies are not conducive to the free market and they go against the original intent of type approval: to provide a single market giving greater choice, not less, at a lower cost to the consumer. The FEM has reached a compromise with the European Parliament to allow category A and B motor cycles to be subject to anti-tampering controls, with the declared intention of protecting home maintenance in later changes to the European directive.

For the economic prosperity and environmental protection of all member states, it makes no sense to attack the motor cycle in that way. It also does not make sense for us to forfeit jobs in the parts industry in this country or at Triumph, which would be devastated by either anti-tampering legislation or the 80 decibel sound limit. The motor cyclists of Europe have fought long and hard to bring about changes in the European Parliament's thinking about the directive. The Motor Cycle Action Group, which is based in Birmingham, has played a key role in that process. In that context, I should like to express my appreciation to Steve Parlour, its parliamentary liaison officer, for his help in preparing me for this debate.

I sincerely hope that the Government will support the sensible changes rather than bow to the pressure of the Commission which, as the unelected gauleiter of Europe, has neither the interests of motor cyclists nor those of the British motor cycle industry at heart.

10.29 pm
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) on securing this timely and important debate and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute briefly to it.

This morning, I was delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London, who was supporting national bicycle week, through the gates into New Palace Yard. It is significant that we are finishing the day on two wheels, as it were. It is significant because, although they are perhaps not quite as environmentally friendly as bicycles, motor cycles are relatively environmentally friendly. A motor cycle does very little damage to the environment, takes up little room and contributes only a tiny proportion of the noxious emissions in the atmosphere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire referred to noise. The key issue is that, while many countries are not enforcing the existing laws, it would be nonsensical to introduce pointless tough new regulations which would make little difference and would be ignored. We have to enforce existing regulations and not seek to achieve the unobtainable.

There is no evidence that the proposed power limits would lead to an improvement in road safety. I am delighted that the Government's stance seems to be winning the day, and I hope that we shall win the argument.

The British motor cycle industry contributes a great deal to employment in this country. The motor cycle provides young people with the mobility of labour which they would not otherwise have. We owe it not only to the industry but to the many people who benefit from the use of a motor cycle to support the industry tonight.

10.31 pm
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)

Diffident as I am to respond to the debate in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and his distinguished amanuensis, my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Mr. Trend), I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) on securing this important debate and thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) and the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) who, with me, braved London's traffic in support of national cycle week. I fear that the world is not yet ready for me in lycra, but, that apart, it was an extraordinarily enjoyable occasion which I commend to the House.

It may be useful if I place the directives that we are discussing in their proper context. They are there, or will be in due course, to provide for European whole vehicle type-approval for motor cycles, a procedure that is aimed at achieving a single Community-wide market for motor cycle and component manufacturers. Quite a few non-controversial directives have already been adopted. All were the subject of explanatory memorandums by Ministers to the Select Committee on European Legislation and all cleared scrutiny without debate.

The United Kingdom is committed to a policy of harmonising standards for the construction of new vehicles in the Community and, consequently, has not disagreed with the aims of the directives. Type-approval for motor cycles will do no more than bring them into line with long-standing type-approval for other classes of vehicle and the increased cost in obtaining type-approval will be able to be offset by access to a Community-wide market, which is significantly fragmented at present. All in all, type-approval has everything to do with free trade in Europe. We must recognise that, if there is to be a level playing field and unfettered access to EC markets, there will inevitably be some degree of harmonisation. That is what the directives aim to achieve.

Of the directives so far adopted, only one has been controversial. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire implied, it involved placing a limit of 74 kW on maximum net engine power. The United Kingdom understood and shared the concern of other member states about irresponsible behaviour and excessive speed by some motor cyclists, but did not believe that the 74 kW power limit was the right answer as the contention that it was high-powered motor cycles that were necessarily the cause of the problem was not substantiated by the evidence.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) for introducing the debate. Will the Minister concentrate on the role of the European Parliament in looking at these proposals? As the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire fairly said, this may be a story of failure on the part of the Commission, but it would only be fair—the Minister is a very fair man—to congratulate Members of all parties in the Parliament for doing what our Parliament is good at and what, on the whole, the European Parliament has not been so good at, in respect of this directive.

Mr. Norris

Yes, I am happy to acknowledge the contribution of the European Parliament. As I was saying, the UK attempted to delete the power limit from the proposal, and the European Parliament supported us during that debate. When the measure was finally adopted in directive 95/1, all references to the power limit had been deleted. There will, however, be a study, to be undertaken by the Commission in collaboration with member states, into the possibility of a link between power and accidents. We have taken the view that no such link has been substantiated.

After our determined and successful opposition to the power limit, the Government are now content with the measure as adopted.

On the draft multi-purpose type-approval directive, which has not yet completed its legislative passage, there is broad agreement on the need for the directive, in view of the benefits that it can bring to the industry and to users. The proposal contains 12 chapters in all, and covers the remaining items necessary to complete type approval for motor cycles. Nine of these are uncontroversial, but of the three remaining ones, there are chapters on noise, emissions and anti-tampering. Rather than treating them separately, as we expected at the time of the scrutiny debate last November, when I spoke on this matter in the House, it is now proposed to retain them as part of the directive.

I listened to what my hon. Friends said, and I understand and sympathise with their fears about the potential effects of the legislation on the motor cycle industry. Discussions are continuing under the current presidency, and it is hoped that a Council common position will be reached soon, so that we may reach a satisfactory compromise between all sides on these issues, including the European Parliament.

As I explained in the House on 24 November, in our previous debate, the policy of the UK and its partners is to limit noise and emissions from all vehicles as far as practicable in line with technological developments. Many motor cyclists might not agree with that view, but the fact is that motor cycles are not being singled out. Almost all vehicles have been subject to stricter noise and emission limits in recent years, and rightly so.

There has been a progressive tightening of noise limits which has resulted in halving perceived noise from heavy goods vehicles. That means that 10 of today's trucks make the same noise as a single 1978 truck. The noise from an average family saloon has been reduced by between 5 and 6 dB(A), which means that three modern saloons make less noise than one similar 1978 model. Consequently, in supporting the Commission's proposals, we and other member states are not targeting motor cyclists; we are applying an evenhanded policy that reflects the increasing concern on the part of the public about improvements in the environment.

The noise limit proposals contained in the multi-purpose directive originally emerged in a draft directive as far back as 1984, and the Select Committee on the European Communities in another place noted in its report in May 1985 that the main industry association supported the draft directive as a balanced and technically satisfactory means of controlling and reducing the general noise levels produced by motor cycles into the 1990s".

With the exception of lowering the limit by one decibel for medium category machines, the limits remained as originally proposed when they were in incorporated in the 87/56 directive. Even then, the Department of Transport was advised by the industry that although it acknowledged that the targets were difficult, it would be possible to meet the proposed limits, given the necessary time to adapt existing machines or to develop new models.

Triumph and Harley Davidson have lately expressed concern about the 80 dB(A) limit for motor cycles over 175 cc, with the current introduction date set for 1 January 1997. But, by then, the industry will have had at least 10 years' notice of the standards. Indeed, larger motor cycles type-approved to the 80 dB(A) limit are already in production in the Community and on sale in the UK. In the Government's view, to remain competitive, the UK industry must keep up with its European and Japanese counterparts, none of which has expressed similar concerns.

With regard to the particular position of Triumph, my European colleagues, rightly or wrongly, would almost inevitably hold to the view that any manufacturer entering the market in 1990 for the first time should comply with the standards already provided for in the legislation and which were adopted in 1987, particularly when a lead time of that magnitude has already been allowed.

As to the proposition that a reduction of 2dB(A), as proposed for larger machines, is not worth while, as we all appreciate, with the introduction of that measure, the total reduction in mandatory limits since 1983 for the largest machines will have been 6dB(A) overall. That is certainly worth while.

We support the Commission's proposals. We think that they are the best compromise between pressing for even tighter limits and the added burdens on industry. The proposals are achievable in the time scale and at economic cost. We also welcome the Commission's decision to undertake a prior review of the technical feasibility of any further noise reduction before making any specific proposals. We do not accept that the case has been made for further reductions beyond those now proposed, and we are pressing the Commission to ensure that its review takes full account of all the relevant technological and environmental factors.

On enforcement, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) indicated, measures are in the pipeline to control the acknowledged problems caused by illegal after-market exhausts. Those measures will control the supply of exhausts at point of sale. The regulations were, in fact, put out to consultation earlier this year and have been generally welcomed. I am grateful to all who responded in such a constructive way to our consultation on those regulations.

On emissions, the proposals, if adopted, will be the first mandatory limits on motor cycles and mopeds to be introduced in the United Kingdom. Again, we should be clear about the relative importance of motor cycles in terms of emissions. Hydrocarbon emissions from individual machines can be quite substantial, and the overall level of local pollution from that sector of the vehicle fleet is a growing concern. I shall give just two examples. Cars now leaving the showroom emit less carbon monoxide than any motor cycle over 50 cc, while hydrocarbon emissions from new two-stroke motor cycles over 50 cc are some 17 times greater than those from a new car. Even a new motor cycle of less than 50 cc emits seven times as much hydrocarbons as a new car. Emissions from cars are, of course, estimated to go down by up to 90 per cent. by 1997, and very significant reductions from lorries and buses will also have taken place. So it simply is not right to exclude one category of vehicle from what is, generally, an accepted policy and one which other sectors of industry have had to take on board.

Although the new proposed limits are by no means as stringent as those that have been applied to other vehicles, they are, in the Government's view, fully justified on environmental grounds. We think that they are achievable within the time scale at an economic cost and without detriment to motor cycle performance. The industry has said that it can, either through existing technology or by engine modifications, and, if necessary, simple catalyst technology, meet the targets. It does not envisage the use of far more expensive three-way catalyst technology of the sort that we now see on passenger cars.

As to proposals for future years, we are not entirely convinced that even more stringent exhaust measures can be justified in view of the low number of motor cycles in the UK in relation to other vehicles, so we are opposed to any proposals to tighten the limits in a further stage. None the less, we have had to recognise the concerns of other member states, but have called on the Commission to undertake a full technical feasibility and cost benefit study on the wider European issues before coming forward with yet further proposals that will be mandatory in all member states.

On anti-tampering, our position is quite clear. We entirely accept the proposition that, as far as machines of up to 125 cc are concerned, including mopeds, the provisions on anti-tampering make sense. When the limit is imposed, to ensure that inexperienced drivers are not driving more powerful machines, it is clearly sensible that those machines should not be capable of being uprated to a point where the power is inappropriate to the experience of the rider. However, using entirely those grounds, there is not the same justification for applying anti-tampering limits to larger machines. Indeed, the whole principle does, of course, work against any manufacturer, which, having come into the market, as Triumph did, rather later in the day than some others, has built its machines on a modular basis, where anti-tampering provisions, as currently envisaged, would be counter-productive. We appreciate that point—I am delighted to note that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire is reassured—and we are keen to ensure that the distinction is retained.

As for the impact on users, the measure will apply solely to machines put into service on or after 1 January 1997. It will not affect machines first used before that date; nor—I stress this, in view of some of the correspondence that I have received—do we anticipate that routine servicing and repairs will be affected. As for in-service checks, as the measure is a construction requirement compliance will be ensured by the type approval authorities before issue of the necessary documentation under the whole vehicle type approval system.

We continue to favour European whole vehicle type approval and a single motor cycle market. We have been successful so far in introducing measures that, by and large, are uncontroversial and acceptable. When, in the case of power, a controversial proposal emerged, we were successful in achieving its deletion from the measure.

I have laid out the arguments that, in our view, support our position on each of the three chapters of the multi-purpose directive that are potentially contentious, and I believe that all of them indicate our support not only for our own motor cycle industry but for the essential regard to be had for environmental and other considerations in this important arena.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.