HL Deb 13 May 1987 vol 487 cc702-6

7.31 p.m.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I must congratulate the honourable gentleman the Member for Christchurch on presenting the Motor Cycle Noise Bill and piloting it successfully through the other place. He asked for my asssistance, which was readily given, in seeking support for the Bill in your Lordships' House. The Minister of Transport, Mr. Peter Bottomley, supported the Bill on behalf of the Government. He made some amusing comments about our sharing the same surname. It is my privilege to count as friends his mother and father. I worked with Sir James Bottomley, who was an outstanding and distinguished diplomat in the old Dominions Office and in the Commonwealth Relations Office. I am glad to be associated with his son in asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is to control the quality of replacement exhaust systems and silencers in motor cycles when they are offered for sale. The House will be aware that legislation already exists to control motor cycle noise but that it is difficult to catch the users of noisy machines. There is now a British standard for motor cycle exhausts and the Bill will enable the Secretary of State to require replacements to be marked with a standard number or with the words "Not for road use". All silencers offered for sale will have to bear some marking. The Bill is not dealing with the initial equipment that is supplied on new motor cycles but with replacement exhausts that are deliberately designed to create as much noise as possible.

The motor cycle fraternity as a whole is composed of very responsible members of our society. Motor cycling gives them a sense of adventure and mobility which is to be encouraged. This Bill is aimed at the minority who cause social nuisance and annoyance to others. Deliberately exacerbated noise from motor cycles causes much disturbance to those who go out for a gentle stroll during the summer and it annoys those who are resting in their homes. The Bill attempts to deal with noise that is deliberately made. It is aimed at those motor cyclists who set out to make as much noise as possible. Its provisions will in no way interfere with the normal everyday activities of motor cyclists.

The Motor Cycle Association is in favour of the Bill and the British Motorcyclists' Federation also supports it. It will benefit not only those who are fit and have good hearing but also those who are less fit, hard of hearing or blind. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association also hopes that the law will be strengthened as a result of the passage of this Motor Cycle Noise Bill. There has also been support from local authorities.

The enforcement of the provisions of the Bill will be by trading standard officers employed by local authorities. At present enforcement of the law dealing with noisy exhaust systems is the responsibility of the police, who have the almost impossible task of chasing offenders round the towns and countryside. Relieved of those duties, the police will have greater opportunities to concentrate on other forms of crime. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Bottomley.)

7.37 p.m.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, I rise to support this Bill wholeheartedly. I have been riding motor cycles for 47 years and I normally come to your Lordships' House on two wheels. Motor cycling is the last freedom of the road; traffic and parking problems disappear like magic, journeys take a fraction of the time that they do by any other form of transport; and I believe that motor cyclists should be appreciated by other road users for taking up so little space on our crowded roads.

However, I am afraid that the motor cyclist is unpopular. In part, this is due to the irresponsible antics of some dispatch riders in London who weave in and out of traffic with their radios blaring, frightening everybody—possibly including themselves. I should like to mention that the number of motor cycle accidents has decreased steadily over the past 10 years. In the past year alone motor cyclists are the one category of road user in which the number of accidents have actually gone down.

Noise is the main complaint about motor cycles. The exhaust systems that are fitted by the manufacturers are commendably quiet. Strangely enough, the larger the motor cycle normally the quieter it is. My own four-cylinder BMW is as quiet-running as any car. Motor cycles are nowadays very expensive machines. Prices range from about £300 for a modest moped up to £5,000 or more for larger motor bikes.

Unfortunately, spare parts are also expensive, particularly exhaust systems. A young rider will often use all his available money to buy a machine, often without regard to any additional expense for accident repairs or spare parts. Therefore when the exhaust needs replacing he is hard pressed to find the money to buy the manufacturer's system, so he buys what appears to be a similar one from a motor cycle shop at a very much lower price. Only when it is fitted does the rider discover that it makes more noise. He may not have intended it to make more noise, and he certainly could not afford to change it afterwards. I must admit that there are riders who tamper with the exhaust of their motor cycles in order to make more noise, in the usually mistaken belief that the performance will be better. Unfortunately, these machines are often low-powered and of small capacity so it takes a long time for the noise to pass one by.

Some of your Lordships may have attended the demonstration put on by the Institute of Motorcycling in 1985, at which the difference between the exhausts supplied by the manufacturers and the unofficial ones was all too plain. It is often suggested that the police should stop motor cyclists and measure the degree of noise, but to do this requires very expensive equipment in large quantities, which would be totally impracticable. It is far better to prohibit the sale of exhaust systems which do not meet the required standards. For this reason, I support the Bill.

7.41 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, I cannot claim the motor cycling experience that he has. In fact, in the long distant days when I was young and active my preference was to belong to a pedal cycling club. The noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, has put forward sound reasons for supporting my noble friend in bringing this Bill forward. I congratulate and thank my noble friend and also Mr. Robert Adley in the other place who sponsored the Bill originally. My noble friend Lady Nicol reminded me that there is one aspect of pollution which was not mentioned in the last two-and-a-half hour debate and that was noise pollution, which is what this Bill seeks to eradicate in one respect.

Many of the motorcyclists coming down my road have tampered with their exhaust systems and, although we can control the exhaust noise of new machines, there is a gap as regards replacement exhausts. But this Bill will get to grips with that replacement problem.

I am glad that both my noble friend Lord Bottomley and the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, emphasised that this is not a Bill hitting at motor cyclists. I have never been a motor cyclist and, as I said, was a pedal cyclist, but I recognise that a vast number of people enjoy their motor cycling. We see them in the Highlands and elsewhere thoroughly enjoying their pursuits.

I wonder whether I may mention two points. Noble Lords receive, as I do, a copy of the journal Motor Cycling. There is an article in the current issue stating that unless motorcyclists wish to have more harsh laws, they should put their own house in order by refusing to buy illegal systems, by not tampering with exhausts to make them noisier and by replacing them promptly when they cease to function properly. That is the attitude of responsible motorcyclists.

I should like to give an example of why, although some of them weave in and out and have a high accident rate, we should not regard all motorcyclists as if they are in the same category. My daughter is chairman of the Social Services Committee of Nottinghamshire County Council. At Christmas a local motor cycling club arranged a special event and no less than 200 motor cyclists decorated their machines and rode through Nottingham City carrying a toy to be presented to children in the care of the Social Services Committee. The same thing happened at Easter, when there was a vast number of motor cyclists carrying Easter eggs to homes where children were in care. I mention that because we must not classify all motor cyclists together. There is a vast number of good motor cyclists who will welcome this measure against pollution, which will assist decent motor cyclists who wish to ride properly.

7.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, I should very warmly like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, for having brought this Bill before your Lordships this evening. I should also like to pay tribute to my honourable friend the Member for Christchurch for having introduced the Bill in another place. After what we have heard this evening, there is very little left for me to say about this Bill, because it has been so well described by the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, and so warmly supported by my noble friend Lord Strathcarron and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill.

We all know that noisy motor cycles are a cause of distress to a great many people. Many of these machines are equipped with inadequate exhausts, and this Bill aims to ensure that replacement silencers for motorcycles meet the required standards. Mention has been made of deliberately tampering with motorcycle exhausts to make them noisier. I can only say that that is an offence under existing legislation. The police do their best to prosecute where possible; but, as has been mentioned this evening, it is not easy. I can only endorse what has been said by other noble Lords, that responsible motorcycling organisations condemn this practice. We as a government equally condemn it, as it is indeed an offence.

The Government most warmly support this Bill and hope that it will become law very shortly. We shall not have to go through the normal procedures. I do not think that would have been necessary anyway, because I do not think there is any conceivable amendment that could have been necessary. Once again, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, for having brought this Bill forward.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind reference to myself and I am grateful to the two noble Lords who have given their support. I think that the conclusion is unanimous.

On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of 12th May), Bill read a third time, and passed.