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Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill [Money]

Volume 462: debated on Tuesday 26 June 2007

Queen’s Recommendation having been signified—

I beg to move,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—

(1) any expenses of the Secretary of State in consequence of the Act, and

(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.

I do so because it was the will of the House, expressed on Second Reading, that the Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill should be discussed in Committee. The Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), will have expenditure implications for the public purse. Therefore, approval for a money resolution is needed before the Committee can engage in those discussions.

In giving the Bill a Second Reading the House chose to ignore my serious reservations and advice. Let me make it clear that the Government opposed the Bill on Second Reading, and we oppose it now. We lag behind no one in our determination to tackle antisocial behaviour and the nuisance caused by some mini-moto riders, but this Bill is not the way to do it. It is potentially expensive, and would impact more on legitimate users of off-road bikes than it would on those who are causing a nuisance.

In one moment.

The Bill is seriously defective in so many ways that the amendments that might deliver a workable set of powers would, in my view, be outside its scope.

I shall try not to trespass on my hon. Friend’s patience and generosity. I thoroughly concur with his analysis of this unnecessary Bill. Does he agree that there are between 13 and 18 existing laws on the statute book which can address the problem perfectly adequately?

My hon. Friend is right. Were the money resolution to be passed and were the Bill to reach the statute book, it would take police resources away from enforcing those laws in order to enforce the law in this Bill.

No, I will not give way further.

Agreeing to the money resolution will mean that the potential consequences of passing the Bill are fully considered in Committee. It is on that basis only that I put the resolution to the House.

The Bill would require the Secretary of State to register all eligible vehicles with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. It would also require suppliers of vehicles to register them on behalf of the keepers. It would make it an offence not to register an eligible vehicle, and it would provide the police with the power to seize any such unregistered vehicles. Clearly all those measures have cost implications, although they will depend on a number of factors relating to the mechanisms that would be put in place to facilitate the registration process. To administer the scheme set out in the Bill as it stands could cost £30 million over three years. The cost to the police of enforcing the scheme is estimated at £50 million over the first two years after they begin enforcement depending on how much effort they put into that enforcement, the volume of vehicles involved and the range of machines deemed to be within the Bill’s scope.

No, I shall not give way again.

We can, however, be certain of two things: first, that the total cost of implementing and enforcing the Bill will be substantial; and, secondly, that the police could achieve similar benefits using the existing law at far lower cost—a fact that several forces around the country have already demonstrated.

The problems associated with mini-motos are often serious, and the Government share the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley to tackle them. We have already done a great deal and I have even promised a further review of existing legislation to see whether we can do more, but I simply do not believe that the Bill is the way forward. However, if discussing it in Committee will help us to establish its failings and identify more practical actions that meet hon. Members’ genuine concerns, then so be it. On that basis and on no other, I commend the resolution to the House.

This is a gloriously perverse debate because the Minister is speaking vehemently and passionately against his own motion, and he is right to do so. On Second Reading, I outlined 12 areas of existing legislation which enterprising police forces in places such as Coventry, Kent and Northumberland are putting to good effect to solve the problem of mini-motos. We acknowledge that there is a problem in certain areas.

The hon. Gentleman did indeed point out all the defects in the Bill, and then he went and voted for it on Second Reading along with the shadow Chancellor. Perhaps he could apologise for that mistake.

We agreed that the Bill was not acceptable in the form that it took and said that we would not support it. However, we also said that it could be dramatically improved in Committee. Little did we think that with a Second Reading on 2 March—

Order. I must remind hon. Members that we are debating not the Bill, but the money resolution. The scope for debate is very limited.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. My next words were to be “the money resolution”. It is amazing how long the Minister has managed to stall this since 2 March and we should congratulate him on that.

Here we are, with the money resolution before us and astonishingly significant levels of public expenditure being implied. The Minister, in a written answer last week, gave his estimate of the cost as £80 million, with 230 additional staff at the Department for Transport, and that is without including advertising or additional equipment. The Bill would bring into the registration scheme 3 million additional vehicles and 500,000 new vehicles per annum. That is hugely disproportionate to the problem that we are addressing, when we already have 12 existing pieces of legislation.

The measures would be a colossal burden on a Government agency that is struggling. Last year, 2,193,000 owners failed to pay vehicle excise duty. That raised the revenue forgone from £129 million the year before to £217 million. We know that 1 million speeding fines were not paid last year, because the owners could not be traced. Pertinent to this Bill is the fact that the number of unlicensed motorcycles leapt 152 per cent., from 275,000 to 694,000. As the money resolution would also authorise the payment of

“any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act”,

there are clear and major implications for expenditure above the £80 million that the Minister has already mentioned.

In a written answer last week, the Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) that 2.5 per cent. of the vehicles on the DVLA database cannot be traced. Out of 33 million vehicles, that is 825,000. We have a major problem with uninsured vehicles—there are 1.1 million on our roads. In another written answer last week, the Minister said that no formal assessment has yet been made of the impact of delayed and postponed programmes in the agencies within his remit, but he did say that the Bill would be likely to have an adverse impact on other DVLA IT programmes and hence on the quality of service to the public. Alarmingly, he said that it is likely that one of the projects that would be rescheduled would be the delivery of continuous insurance enforcement. The cost today of enforcement for uninsured drivers is £30 per legitimate policy, so the Bill would entail a huge new hidden cost under paragraph (2) of the money resolution.

The Minister has received representations from rural interests, farming organisations, motorcycle racing and motorcycle sports organisations, all expressing reservations about the Bill and all concerned about the extra costs implied by the money resolution. He has not had any discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State for Scotland or the First Ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland. One assumes that there are significant cost implications in those areas.

All that cost and huge effort could be for a craze that may be on the way out. The Motor Cycle Industry Association says that in 2005, 144,905 units of motorcycles with engines of less than 50cc were imported from China. In February this year, we imported 672 units. On an annual basis, that is a drop of 94 per cent.

The Bill is going nowhere—

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are not debating the Bill at the moment, only the money resolution.

The money resolution has huge cost implications. There is only one more Friday to debate the Bill and I cannot recommend to my colleagues, who have stayed to listen to this debate, that they should vote for the hugely disproportionate amount of public expenditure on a measure that will not work when we already have 12 effective existing pieces of legislation.

We all know that a money resolution can only be moved by a Minister. I was rather expecting to see this motion moved by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), but he has not yet appeared on the Treasury Bench. No doubt he will do so shortly.

The Minister made a curious speech. He appeared to endorse the sentiment expressed in a similar debate by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) who said that

“if, in its wisdom…the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, the Government would have an obligation to provide the necessary financial memorandum.”—[Official Report, 10 February 1995; Vol. 254, c. 579.]

Why is the Minister doing this? I hope that he will reflect on the procedure, if not for this motion then for the future. My concern is that the current practice, under which the Minister can move the money resolution for a Bill in which he has no confidence, misleads the public into thinking that prospective legislation might get through, even though we all know that the Government intend to scupper it.

The Minister should not assume that he has to move this motion just because that is what has happened in the past, and especially not if the Government are going to kill the Bill. Why should the Government take up more private Members’ time on a measure that they intend to poleaxe at the eleventh hour?

That practice should be abandoned. The Government should not move a money resolution unless a clear case has been made by the sponsoring Member as to why they should. In this case, the Bill is sponsored by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer), and I hope that he will tell us why he feels that his Bill should have a money resolution. Will he say where he thinks that the money will come from to fund what is a very expensive and cumbersome register?

The Minister went through the process of moving the motion, but made it clear that the Government do not want the Bill. What is he advising Labour Members to do this evening? Is he asking them to follow his procedure in moving the motion, or the opposing sentiments in his speech? Are those on the payroll vote whipped to vote this evening? If so, which way will they vote?

This money resolution should not be passed unless the Minister says that the Bill is acceptable to the Government. Even if it is acceptable, Opposition Members have every right to divide the House if we are not satisfied about where the money is to come from.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley has done well to get his Bill this far, but he should not have this money resolution unless he can convince us that it is necessary, and that he has identified where the money would come from. What taxes would he increase to pay for his proposals? We have heard this week that council tax has gone up 100 per cent. under this Government: is he suggesting a further increase in council tax, or that some existing expenditure should be cut? If he were to suggest that spending on flood defences should be cut back, he would be lynched in East Yorkshire.

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of the House, and well aware of the debate’s limitations.

Thank you for reminding me, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Bill’s proposals are unworkable and costly, with horrendous manpower implications. It should not be funded out of public money. I hope that the House will follow the words that the Minister used in his speech, rather than his actions in moving the motion, and that it votes to reject the money resolution.

I was not intending to speak in this debate, but the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) has provoked me. He focused on where the money for the proposals in the Bill would come from, and the simple answer—as I suspect that every hon. Member knows—is probably from the Consolidated Fund. I shall not be as provocative as the right hon. Gentleman, but I am sure that hon. Members could think of many areas where cuts could be made. But that would be assuming that I agreed with the figures that were given by my hon. Friend the Minister.

I will not go through the principled arguments that were won on Second Reading—that is the real reason why the matter should be given the opportunity to be debated in Committee—but we had a full four-and-a-half-hour debate and a huge majority were in favour of the measure. Despite the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister made a lengthy speech opposing it, he was unable to convince the hon. Members present.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although there was a comprehensive debate on Second Reading that covered all aspects of the issue in terms of the nuisance caused to communities, there was very little debate about the financial implications? That is why we should debate them now.

With due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I thought that that was what we were doing. Madam Deputy Speaker has reminded him and others that that is what we are doing. That is precisely the point that I was getting to. I do not have confidence in the figure of £80 million, which was given by my hon. Friend the Minister. The Bill is about extending a current registration scheme to off-road bikes.

I am convinced that my hon. Friend entered the process with the best will in the world. I have no doubt as to his good intentions. He kindly spoke to the all-party motorcycling group, which is so ably led by the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin). After that meeting, is my hon. Friend still convinced in his heart that the best possible value for money would be achieved by the Bill proceeding in this form with this money resolution tonight?

I will come back to my hon. Friend’s point later in this completely unprepared speech.

The Bill is about extending a current registration scheme, on a computer system that already exists. It is unlikely, even given the inflated figures from the Department for Transport and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, that one could get a scheme that cost £80 million. I suspect that if that went before the Public Accounts Committee or the Transport Committee, those costs would be very quickly reduced.

To answer my hon. Friend’s point about whether I ever thought that this was a perfect Bill, there are many ways in which the Bill could be improved. Exemptions could be made—[Interruption.] Exemptions could be made that would reduce the costs, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not like anticipating what you are going to say, but I suspect that you were going to bring me back to costs, which is precisely where I was going to come back to. In Committee, there would be many ways in which the costs of the Bill could be reduced.


Does my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) appreciate that £80 million equates to 20,000 hip replacement operations in a year?

I have to admit that I did not have that precise costing in mind, either on Second Reading or when I started this speech, but it is an interesting point. That is why the opportunity should be given, in Committee, to reduce the costs. Every single right hon. and hon. Member will have received many representations from the motorbike lobby, many of them making wild accusations about the costs of the Bill. Many exemptions would be made. For example, it has been said that every speedway bike would have to be registered and licensed, but it would be possible to exempt such bikes. Following detailed discussion, it would be possible to make many exemptions that would reduce the cost of the Bill.

T.E. Lawrence, who was known as Aircraftman Shaw, died while riding a Brough Superior motorcycle. That very Brough Superior, which is in the London motorcycle museum in Greenford, is threatened by the Bill. Does my hon. Friend consider that threatening that glorious piece of British motorcycling machinery, albeit one with a tragic history, is a good use of public money?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that intervention because it gives me the opportunity to say that the registration of bikes in museums would be precisely one of the areas of expenditure that it would be possible to cut. Again, such a claim is one of the pieces of mischief that is being put about.

My hon. Friend generously admits to the House that £80 million would be too high a price to pay for his Bill. What would be a reasonable price at which the Committee might aim?

I suspect that if my hon. Friend talks to many of the communities that have been affected by antisocial behaviour and the families who have lost young children because of the problem, they will say that no price would be too high to pay. If he, as I have done, talked—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must address the Chair.

I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The House cannot always take the view that no price is too high because it must consider every cost in detail. As I said, through detailed discussion in Committee, it would be possible to make many exemptions and thus reduce the cost of the Bill.

I am extraordinarily impressed by the number of factors that my hon. Friend can cite that equal £80 million. He is an inventive and creative man.

On the basis that the Bill requires further discussion in Committee, I ask the House to agree to the money resolution.

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House expressed its will on Second Reading: it wanted the Bill to be discussed in Committee. I made the Government’s opposition to the Bill very plain then, and I make it very plain now: the Government do not want the Bill to get on to the statute book. We do not even believe that it could be amended in a way that would make it acceptable.

The simple fact is that only a Government Minister can move a money resolution, and a substantive discussion in Committee cannot take place without that resolution being passed. We have reflected the will of the House by moving the money resolution tonight. In my view, Opposition Members—who have had their fun—ought to allow the Bill to go into Committee, where the will of the House can be done and the Bill can be discussed in detail. In Committee, I hope, we will be able to expose it for the failed piece of attempted legislation that it is and ensure that it does not reach the statute book. However, the money resolution should be passed tonight.

Question put:—


That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Off-Road Vehicles (Registration) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—

(1) any expenses of the Secretary of State in consequence of the Act, and

(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),

Terms and Conditions of Employment

That the draft Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2007, which were laid before this House on 13th June, be approved. —[Mr. Watts.]

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 18(1)(Consideration of draft regulatory reform orders),

That the draft Regulatory Reform (Collaboration etc. between Ombudsmen) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 9th May, be approved.—[Mr. Watts.]

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

Water Policy: Environmental Quality Standards

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 11816/06 and Addendum 1, Draft Directive on environmental quality standards in the field of water policy and amending Directive 2000/60/EC, and 11847/06, Commission Communication on integrated prevention and control of chemical pollution of surface waters in the European Union; and supports the Government’s aim of securing a proportionate, cost-effective and environmentally protective measure.—[Mr. Watts.]

Question agreed to.