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My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Barbara Keeley) saidand repeated the point in interventions that Manchester police have been asking for these powers, have been at the forefront of this campaign and have supported my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley in introducing the Bill. As I said, they are not offering to pay for enforcing such a measure or to police its enforcement, but the offer that
I have made to them and to everybody else is: let them make the case that this change would have a positive cost-benefit ratio; then, the Government can do this work. However, I doubt whether that case can be made within the framework of a private Members Bill, and in my view they have not made their case so far.
Let me reiterate that the Government welcome this opportunity to debate the misuse of vehicles designed for off-road use, and we do want to work out how best to tackle this problem. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley for at least stimulating the debate and for engaging in the issue. As I said, I fully support the intentions behind the Bill, which are doubtless supported by all Members of the House. The irresponsible use of these vehicles is a real and serious problem. I am only too aware from my own area of the serious distress caused by the noise, environmental damage and safety problems associated with the irresponsible use of these vehicles. They have become popular as gifts for children and sometimes as fun vehicles for adults. We should remember that when used responsibly, these vehicles can give a great deal of harmless pleasure. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in principle with small motorcycles designed for off-road use, especially when used under supervision on private property, with the landowners permission and with appropriate safety precautions. Many young people use their vehicles responsibly in that way and few of us, if any, would have a problem with that.
However, widespread concern remains about the irresponsible misuse of such vehicles, which can be dangerous to the rider and others and can cause serious noise problems and other nuisances. There has been in recent years something of a craze for these vehicles, sustained by a flood of imports, often available at remarkably low prices. The majority of the products are produced in China by general manufacturers that are more used to turning out toys and other cheap mechanical goods, not by mainstream motorcycle manufacturers. I have heard of their being offered for sale for as little as £40, and some have even been given away for nothing as bonus items in mobile phone contracts.
Very few mini-motos are sold through established or experienced motorcycle dealer networks. More usually, they are sold by newly established retailers, often with little experience. As I pointed out to the Transport Committee when I appeared before it on this subject, in my constituency they were sold until recently by second-hand washing machine shops as a sideline. I doubt whether such shops would engage positively with a registration process.
Unfortunately, mini-motos have often been marketed by retailers irresponsibly. As one of my hon. Friends mentioned, one retailer sells the products through a slick website, annoyingtheneighbours.co.uk. I am not sure that I should give that company any publicity by mentioning it, but it gives some indication of the attitude to society taken by some people involved in the trade. Many users of mini-motos seem to share that attitude. They often seem to revel in their bad behaviour and the annoyance that they cause. That attitude can appear very intimidating to the wider community, helping to contribute to feelings of social
isolation and helplessness. The House has heard examples today of the problems that misuse of the vehicles can cause. I sympathise deeply with everyone whose life is blighted by this menace. It is a major problem of antisocial behaviour.
We also know, as several hon. Members have said today, that there are safety concerns about some of the products, especially those at the cheaper end of the market. Indeed, because the vehicles are so cheap, some users probably take additional risks with them. After all, if they break their mini-moto through irresponsible use, they can easily and painlessly get another one. However, if they break their legs, backs or skulls, it is not so easy or painless. As we have heard, some young lives have tragically been lost. Other safety problems arise from the poor quality construction that accompanies the low prices. The many safety faults reported include sharp edges on fairings and windshields, inadequate guards on chains and sprockets, and poor welding.
This is a large problem. The briefing sheet for the Bill produced by the Motor Cycle Industry Association, the MCI, contains an estimate that no fewer than 145,000 were imported from China in 2005 at the height of the craze. We can assume, therefore, that there are at least 250,000 mini-motos in the country. However, the MCI has also estimated that imports collapsed in 2006 to only 60,000. If that is a lasting and confirmed trend, it may be a sign that the mini-moto craze is passing, as other crazes have passed before. It may also be partly due to tougher action by the Government, local authorities and the police, and I shall talk about some of those efforts later.
The Bill seeks to address this serious and widespread problem [ Interruption. ] I can hear that my hon. Friends are shaking with anticipation and enthusiasm for my continued analysis of the problem. I can give them the encouragement that they seek: I have plenty more to say on this important subject. The Bill seeks to address this serious and widespread problem by bringing a range of vehicles designed for use off the public highway within the scope of the existing mandatory vehicle registration system for road-going vehicles. It also seeks to address the problems identified by some police forces in using their existing powers to stop and seize vehicles that are being misused.
As I will explain, although the intentions behind the proposals are good and although the Government share them, we cannot support the core proposal for mandatory registration of off-road vehicles under the existing vehicle registration scheme. During my speech, I will set out why we think that alternative means of tackling the problem are more likely to deliver the results that we all want.
First, I will explain the current legal position and the powers that are available to deal with the misuse of the vehicles. The legislation governing the registration and licensing of motor vehicles in the UK is the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994, as amended. The Act was designed to promote an effective and safe road transport system. It was never intended to regulate off-road leisure activities. In the Governments view, the Act is not well suited to the proposed new task.
Dr. Ladyman: I have not explained my arguments yet. I am sure that when my hon. Friend has heard them in great detail, he will certainly want to encourage his colleagues not to oppose the Government. Explaining my arguments in detail will require me to continue for a little longer and him to be a little more patient. If it is any consolation, the House does not sit till 4 oclock, so he ought to be on his way home well before then.
The Vehicle Excise and Registration Act imposes registration requirements only on keepers of vehicles used on the public roads. For these purposes, a public road means a road maintained at the public expense. The definition of a public road includes footways, grass verges and ground adjoining the public carriageway. Any mechanically propelled vehicle that is kept or used on a public road must comply with the registration requirements. Drivers of those vehicles must also comply with the relevant licensing requirements in order to use those vehicles legally on the public road.
The registration and licensing process plays an important part in identifying vehicles and their keepers for the effective enforcement of the rules of the road and vehicle safety requirements. It also enables the collection of vehicle excise duty. Every vehicle used on a public road in Great Britain must be licensed and registered. If a vehicle is kept or used on a public road, it must display a valid tax disc at all times. The only exception is that a vehicle may be driven, untaxed, to and from a testing station for a pre-arranged test, as long as the vehicle is insured.
On the issuing of a first licence, a vehicle is registered. The process of registration enables the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to provide each vehicle with a unique registration mark and to issue a registration certificate. Those requirements do not apply to vehicles used only off road. Any vehicles used on the public road must have relevant type approval and comply with all road traffic law requirements. These include: approved construction standards, lights, indicators, insurance, MOT testing and so forth, as well as registration and road tax. A few mini-motos achieve those standards, but the vast majority do not and are thus effectively banned from road use.
The law governing the registration and construction of vehicles and the licensing of drivers applies to vehicles used or kept on the public roads, but the requirements do not apply to vehicles used off road. However, other laws apply to vehicles off road. During 2006, the European Commission gave the opinion that such vehicles were within the scope of the machinery directive and that certain provisions of the general product safety directive would also apply. In addition, the Commission noted that such products cannot be considered as toys because the toy directive specifically excludes any items powered by internal combustion. The machinery directive is a technical regulation harmonised across the European Union with the intent
to ensure that only safe products can be marketed and used. In the UK the legislation is the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992, which cover the essential health and safety regulations of products within their scope. It is unlawful to supply unsafe products within the EU, and where appropriate, a wide variety of measures can be used against unsafe mini-motos or other products.
Trading standards departments of local government authorities have the responsibility for enforcing consumer safety legislation. They have a wide range of enforcement powers to tackle the problem, which include withdrawal notices, forfeiture orders and criminal prosecution. They also ensure that enforcement activities are targeted only against unsafe products, leaving legitimate traders unaffected. In the second half of 2006, the European Commission attempted to establish the extent of the problem throughout the EU. Each member state was asked to report on market surveillance measures taken on mini-motos. We await the Commissions assessment and conclusions, but one thing that was apparent in the UKs response to the Commissions request was the large amount of work that various trading standards departments throughout the country have been doing to address the problem.
One of the steps the Department of Trade and Industry has taken to address concerns about mini-motos involved writing to all known importers of these vehicles to remind them of the law in place against unsafe products and the consequences
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that the Minister has now been speaking for some considerable time in considerable detail on a private Members Bill that can easily be examined in Committee. I wonder whether you would be kind enough to give some guidance to the House. Would you be prepared to consider a motion for closure?
On my 45th birthday, I am privileged to introduce the Bill and I thank my 11 Labour sponsors, who represent our nations and regions, as well as many trade unions that have long campaigned on behalf of thousands of vulnerable agency and temporary workers. I thank in particular all the unions that support the campaign, including the Transport and General Workers Union, Amicus, the Communication Workers Union, the GMB, Unison, the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians and other unions such as Unity, which is my local community union for north Staffordshire, as well as the TUC and TULO, the trade union and Labour party liaison organisation that does a great deal of valuable work for the Labour party.
I thank, too, all my colleagues and other hon. Members who have given up not just a valuable Friday but a one-line Whip Thursday and important constituency engagements to vote for the closure motion on the Off-road Vehicles (Registration) Bill, thus allowing this important issue to be aired. If they had not done so, it would not have received a billing in the House today. Most of all, however, I thank the 50 or so agency workers who came to Parliament this week to lobby their MPs and put their heads bravely above the parapet to tell their stories and speak about the discrimination that they and their families have suffered.
For example, Jane was employed by an agency to drive a street sweeper for Salford council. For three years, she worked for £5.75 an hour, which is 30 per cent. less than the rate for a permanent employee doing the same job, but she was recently sacked by telephone, without any warning or recourse. Steve has worked for nine years at a call centre run by Manpower for British Telecom in Scotland on half the pay, with less holiday and no prospects of promotion or job security, so he finds it difficult to secure a mortgage for his family. Bartek from Poland was recruited by an agency to work for a Woolworths distribution centre near Manchester and Wigan. He was promised decent pay, accommodation and working conditions but, like many other migrants, he found himself badly paid, discriminated against, sharing a small room with others and subject to unreasonable charges that the agency deducted from his pay. Those workers are subject to tensions, because fellow UK workers fear, understandably, that they and their families will be undercut by such employment practices.
One of the themes of the contributions from Manpower agency workers working
for BT was the shadowy employment structure implemented by that blue chip company that allows it to absolve itself of responsibility for many employees. After a long campaign on behalf of those workers, this speech will be mercifully short. I hope that colleagues will be disciplined as well, because we want to hear the Ministers response.
First, to dispel some myths, I want to say what the Bill is not about. It is not about regulating flexibility out of our economy. It is not anti-business. It is not about reducing job opportunities. Many of the same arguments were made against the minimum wage, and we have seen over the years that they were plainly wrong. The Bill aims to achieve a better balance for some of our most vulnerable people and their hard-working families between so-called flexibility and pay, treatment, job security and basic human worth.
The Bill creates no great regulatory or licensing superstructure. Like the minimum wage, it creates a more level playing field. It protects responsible employers from being undercut and adds an extension to the floor that we have already provided with the minimum wage to stop the state picking up the tab in the form of benefits that subsidise poor employers. In short, it is not just a trade union Bill. It is a Bill for vulnerable working people and it is entirely in tune with the Labour Governments agenda to help hard-working families.
There are more than 1.4 million agency and temporary workers in all industries in the UK, many in areas such as mine, north Staffordshire, which need regeneration, a better mix of skills and, most of all, greater aspiration, especially for our children. Many people work for agencies or temporarily by choice. Many are well treated and rewarded. Many, however, suffer from lower wages, poorer working conditions, lack of sick pay, fewer holidays and workplace bullying because of their temporary and insecure status.
Recently in the UK, it has become clear that the issue is not just a domestic one, as the example of Bartek showed. Many agencies recruit proactively overseas to fill low-paid jobs, creating tensions and undercutting wages and conditions. This tension is exploited by the likes of the British National party. Action to help vulnerable agency workers is not only right and fair, but was specifically promised as a key part of the Warwick agreement between Labour and the trade unions before the 2005 general election.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): As vice-chair of the national policy forum at the time, I can vouch for the fact that that was part of the Warwick agreement and that the Government promised in our manifesto to deliver the Warwick agreement in full, so I hope they will revisit the directive. I welcome, as I hope my hon. Friend does, the Ministers commitment earlier this week to do that.
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