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Motor Sport (Public Highways)

Volume 526: debated on Wednesday 30 March 2011

I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Mr Bayley. British motor sport is Britain’s great sport success story. We often hear much about football and other sports, but British motor sport undoubtedly leads the world. One need only look at the first round of this year’s Formula 1 championship to see that although a German driver crossed the finish line in the fastest car, the car was managed, designed and built in Britain, and the team was based here. Eight out of 12 Formula 1 teams are British, as are most F1 drivers and designers. Even some of the lead designers for Ferrari, the bastion of Italian motor sport, are more often than not British.

Our great teams—Williams, McLaren and now Red Bull—have proved on the world stage not only to be forerunners of new technologies and innovators in motoring but developers of British talent. Other companies such as M-Sport and Prodrive support not only Formula 1 but rallies and many other types of sporting activity on the road. Britain is and has been a world leader in motor sport, and I hope that it will continue to be one.

Motor sport is often left behind in the great sports debate. The first few sports pages of our newspapers are often taken up by football, even when the teams are full of overseas players, managed by overseas managers, owned by overseas owners and, often, languishing in the bottom of divisions after millions of pounds spent. I hope that the Government will consider my proposal to help motor sport build on its success and go forward.

We should not forget that 95% of most motor sport is amateur and consists of people participating. It is not just about the glamour and glitz of F1 or world rallying; it is about normal rallying, hill climbing, classic cars, trailing and historical cars. Anyone who lives near or visits a motor race circuit will see that sports go on there all year round, from karting to high-performance sports. Hundreds of thousands of people enjoy motor sport in Britain.

The governing body of motor sport is the Motor Sports Association, the successor to RAC MSA. It has 200,000 members and 750 affiliated motor clubs, and every year it hosts 4,500 events. The industry that feeds into that motor sport has an amazing record, with a turnover of £6 billion a year, only £2.6 billion of which is exported. Some 4,500 companies support the sport. The research and development spend—the spend for the future that trains tomorrow’s engineers and scientists—is 30% of turnover. The aerospace industry, from which I come, would be proud of such a figure, and we should do more to encourage that.

The industries on the back of motor sport—public relations, marketing, sports industry, event management—employ 38,000 people, create another £1.7 billion in turnover and involve 25,000 engineers. That is an incredible asset for this country. Some of those engineers come from my constituency, having gone to Myerscough college, which has its own team and trains young men and women to support motor teams. Some of them have gone on to work in the top flight of world motor sport.

What is wrong with motor sport? Nothing, except that we could do more for it. We could do more to allow events to take place. The problem in England and Wales is that if we want more events, and more diverse events, to take place, we cannot use the roads and highways in the same way as the Isle of Man or Northern Ireland. To do so would mean suspending numerous provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988. We have a midway point. Something called a traffic regulation order allows access to a road to be suspended, but the provisions of the Highways Acts still apply. Drivers must still average 30 mph on the area of road closed to the public, and rights of way still exist, meaning that unless a uniformed police officer is there to prevent Mr and Mrs Smith from carrying on their business, no one is empowered to prevent them from using it.

That is why we cannot have a Grand Prix in London or a circuit around Birmingham, although other countries can. We should do something about it. That is also why, when Birmingham did have an event, sponsored by the noble Lord Rooker, it took an Act of Parliament to suspend some of the relevant provisions. Amending the 1998 Act or building on a traffic regulation order would fit with the Government’s agenda of empowering local authorities, encouraging tourism and events and putting people in charge of their communities. Perhaps we should look at something along the lines of a traffic suspension order or something that devolves the powers to a local authority.

I am not here to ask that motor sport be allowed to impose itself on communities that do not want it or that the Government give power to an unelected governing body to decide that it wants motor sport when the local community does not. I am here to ask the Government to devolve power to local authorities, so that they can decide whether they want to host an event. That could be in Brecon, north Lancashire, where I am, or north Yorkshire—anywhere they want a rally. It is about places with rarely used lanes and roads, which desperately need inward investment, tourism or to kick-start the season, perhaps, at unfashionable times of the year. Let us empower our local authorities to do that.

I hope that local authorities will realise that they are not on their own. The governing body, the MSA, issues licences for events. In motor sport, one cannot have a race without a licence from the governing body. Along with that licence comes liability cover and all the protection from being sued or from worry about not being experts in the field that my constituents and the local authority would need. I want the Government to empower local authorities to seek events when they want to and to be able to suspend aspects of the 1988 Act, but to do so in conjunction with the people who know about motor sport. I want them to be guided and provided with liability cover, so that we can, perhaps, reap the benefits.

A change would apply not only to motor sport, but to cycling. It is bizarre that some stages of the Tour de France could not happen here if the bikes averaged more than 30 miles an hour. One might deliberately create a race on a road and that in itself could break the current highways law. Therefore, a change is also about empowering local authorities to give cycling events a proper go and getting Britain to the forefront of that sport. We need only go out on a Sunday to realise how big cycling has become. I took a Boris bike out for the first time yesterday, which is the closest I get to it, but I could not find a rack when I got to the other end, so it was a bit of disaster—I digress.

We should seek a change. It is easy and the benefits are clear. On tourism, as we can see with the Jim Clark rally in Scotland and motor sport all over the country, if we bring thousands of tourists into parts of the country that do not normally get them, it is a great thing. On the spend, Lancashire has a great link to the Isle of Man and the tourist trophy—TT—race. Every summer thousands of people pour over to the Isle of Man to see that great, historic race, and they help that island with its tourism very much. We could really benefit from that.

On promoting motor sport, we have to keep recruiting the engineers and drivers of the future. We have to remind people that motor sport is not only about Formula 1, but about local teams, local rallying and local engineering. It reminds people what can be done with engineering. People do not just have to build bridges, but can invent some of the very best in motor sport, materials and so on. It is also about community involvement, such as marshalling, and people getting involved in their area and taking part in a great event. We should not forget the circus coming to town. It is a great unifier in parts of the country.

I understand that people have sought this power since 1928. If the Government support them, and I hope they will, it will have been a long time coming. The previous Labour Government were supportive and never objected in any of my discussions with Labour Ministers, but we have not finally done the deed. I hope that we will. The First Minister of Scotland has spoken up in support of the change—no doubt eying the potential opportunities for the forests in Aberdeenshire and the Western Isles. We cannot take current venues for granted. Forestry Commission charges have a prohibitive effect on some rallying. The British leg of the world rally series is under threat due to some very prohibitive charges. We need to ensure that we are always able to offer alternatives.

I hope that the Minister gives us some good news and realises that the House has been supportive of a change, so it has cross-party support. It is a simple issue and would require bureaucratic measures. It is not a great ideological argument about policy and it is not about imposing our will on different communities. It is about giving power to local authorities, where it suits them, to engage with a successful British sport, promote it and allow all those followers of motor sport and cycling up and down the country to finally get out and race. If they cannot afford a Formula 1 car, they can still get out and race.

Let us not forget education. We can teach young men and women to drive responsibly and learn to drive high-speed performance cars, while teaching them that there is a time for racing and a time for driving on a normal road. That will have a lot of benefits. Perhaps we can divert some of the boy racers away from racing though my village at 2 am and away from tragic accidents, and encourage them to get involved in a motor sport that perhaps becomes more affordable and accessible to a lot of them. They could all play a part in it.

I look forward to the Minister’s response. I have spoken to him in the past about a change, and the Government have been supportive. It would fit with our localism agenda, the big society and with rewarding one of Britain’s great sports and industries.

I believe that this is the first time I have served under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley, since I became a Minister of the Crown, and it is a pleasure to do so this afternoon. I congratulate my hon. Friend and former colleague from the Household Division, the Member for Wear and Preston. I am disappointed that he is not wearing his regimental tie today. [Interruption.] I am sorry, I am not used to his new constituency name. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) on securing the debate and on the lobbying he has done for several months on behalf of the industry and his constituents. I hope that I have come to the debate with good news on how we can progress an issue from 1928 into legislation as soon as possible. We can tinker around the edges, but this will require primary legislation.

I would like to touch on the background. My hon. Friend is right to say that motor sport in this country has a proud history. At a recent event, which my hon. Friend attended, I had the honour and privilege to sit next to Nigel Mansell. He is a great hero in our country, who people look up to and aspire to be like. We saw what can be done in the grand prix this weekend. I was proud to be listening to the commentary of a constituent of mine, Anthony Davidson, the former driver. He is still racing, but not in Formula 1 now. It was good to hear him on the radio.

As my hon. Friend said, looking at the history, it is not only about winning, but about the teams that put together the technology and about where that technology is often applied after its use in Formula 1 and the other types of racing around the world. We talked about disc brakes and the anti-lock braking system, both of which come from Formula 1, and were not used in modern vehicles before that. The many safety features that have stemmed from Formula 1 have led to this country having the safest roads in the world.

I am very proud to be the Minister responsible for road safety, as well as for motor sport, and to be able to say in 2011 that we have the safest roads in the world. We will not be complacent, but will continue to drive down the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads, because 2,222 deaths, by the last count, are too many. At the same time, I am proud to represent this country at road safety meetings I attend around the world, where often people want to know how they can achieve the same safety record. They look up to our record, some of which is due to the excellent education work we have done over the years on drink-driving and the wearing of seatbelts—we need to work on drug-driving—but a huge amount of it is down to technology. Many of the safety features in the vehicles we drive on the roads today come from racing and the investment made in research and development by the great manufactures of this country. That is particularly true of cars, but also of motor cycles, for which, sadly, the safety trends are going in the wrong direction.

My hon. Friend is right to touch on the fact that this is a deregulation issue. I am also Minister responsible for deregulation for the Department for Transport, as well as being the shipping Minister, the devolution Minister, the roads Minister and the roads safety Minister—I could go on. We are trying to empower local communities, not just councils, so that they can say to their council, “Look, we would like to have some sort of event in our patch next year or next week.” It is not all about having Formula 1. That event took place in Birmingham and it had to go through a complicated process, because every time such an event is proposed, an Act of Parliament has to be passed to allow it to proceed. That may have been right and proper in 1928—although I doubt it—but it certainly is not right in 2011.

Let us consider some of the events that could take place. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North talked about rallying as well as cars and Formula 1. When one of my constituents heard that I was responding to this debate, they reminded me that they want to have kart racing in my constituency on an empty industrial estate that has very little traffic at the weekend. We are world leaders in karting—in fact, this year’s runner-up in the British karting championship lives in my constituency. We can also consider other things, such as rallying.

I will speak to my colleagues in other Departments about why we have so much difficulty with regards state ownership—as is the case with the Forestry Commission, before it moves into whatever its future capacity will be in terms of charitable status. State ownership is impairing investment and competition in the UK. The MSA is not proposing that our streets are closed down every weekend in every town, but we have to make sure that there is confidence out there that that will not happen. We are world leaders in motor sports and in cycling. Indeed, the cycling world championships have just taken place. We might not have done as well at those as we did in the Olympics, but I am sure we will do well in 2012.

We should not create a bureaucratic hold-up for such things; instead, we need to ask how we can empower local communities to go forward. With that in mind, I am today announcing a public consultation on how we will amend the legislation, in which we want as many people as possible to participate, so that we can establish how we can deregulate the matter from central Government bureaucratic control, while ensuring that local communities do not have such things imposed on them. Those involved can perhaps come together in a consortium with the MSA, which will issue the licence for any motor sport activity. We are in a very exciting situation. The consultation, which will last for three months, will proceed from today, and I hope that many different people from across the motor sport and other racing industries come forward with innovative ideas. This country is fantastic at innovation, not just in manufacturing but in terms of ideas about how the exciting events that we see around the world can take place in this country.

I spoke to former Ministers for transport about the matter, who said that they would have liked to have dealt with the issue. I think it was on their agenda towards the end of their Administration. It is not a difficult matter, but I have to be honest and say that it will not get into this year’s legislative programme. By the time I have finished consulting, we will have to ensure that we do not interfere with local election issues or with the associated purdah. I am sure that that will not happen because it is not a party political issue; it is simply a case of how we empower local communities to do something that they want to do.

Although I wish it could be a one-clause Bill, some technical issues surround the legislation. My hon. Friend knows, because he has done his homework, that there is no point deregulating to allow races to be held when a 30 mph speed limit is still in place and so on. The right of way issue has been touched on, but, sadly, there are several other issues to consider. In such a positive debate, I do not want to bring up a load of negatives about why such races cannot take place, and I have asked my officials to consult on how we can do it. That is the reverse of what has happened since 1928.

Such an approach will be popular in some areas, but the road safety community has some proper concerns, and I understand that. All events based around racing will be licensed by the MSA, which has a fantastic track record in making sure that such events take place efficiently and safely. If what we are doing is a success—and I am sure that it will be—the biggest thing I need to convince people about is having a structured programme, so that one community that agrees early on does not have a disproportionate number of events imposed on it. We also need to ensure that the motorist, who predominantly pays for our roads, is not inconvenienced too much. That balance is something the Isle of Man has addressed very well. I have been invited to the Isle of Man TT this year but, sadly, family commitments mean that I cannot be there. I would have liked to take my Triumph across the water and, if not raced on the circuit, perhaps been pro enough to drive it, even if I would have been somewhat slower than the racers.

There are some strange legal anomalies regarding motor sport. Technically, the London to Brighton rally is not a race. If it were, we would have to pass an Act of Parliament every year so that it can take place in November. When we are proud of our heritage, that is a ludicrous situation to be in. I have not discovered why, over the years, subsequent Parliaments of all political persuasions have not dealt with the matter. I use this terminology all too often, but doing so is a no-brainer. As long as we have control and are happy that the community is the driver for this, why should Government hinder such an event? With that in mind, as I say, the consultation will last for three months.

I welcome the consultation and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) on securing the debate. I am very interested in classic cars. From a historical vehicle point of view, will the Minister look at examples overseas? A great historical vehicle event called the grand prix of the ramparts takes place in Angoulême, France. Although our villages might not look exactly the same as those involved with that race, there are areas where similar events could take place. That would be a great bonus to the historical vehicle owners who would enjoy such an event.

My hon. Friend makes a sensible point. This is not about one type of vehicle; it could involve any type of vehicle. It would be up to the MSA and the local community to decide to go ahead. I have already announced that a consultation will take place on whether we can remove classic and vintage vehicles up to a certain age group from the MOT test. The MOT testers do not want to deal with such vehicles because they are trying to test modern vehicles. However, under law, they have to do an MOT test. I was in a 1911 Rolls-Royce the other day that belongs to Lord Montagu. How on earth could an ordinary MOT station dream of doing an MOT on such a vehicle? I have had the honour of being invited to drive the Mille Miglia in Italy this year, which I have to do in a British Jaguar XK150.

Is there any chance that the Minister might need someone to join him and carry his bags because my name is at the top of that list.

I am afraid that my hon. Friend might have to speak to my wife, who has very kindly allowed me to go as long as she is with me.

On a serious note, the debate has been very useful. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North not just for securing the debate, but for being informative before it took place. That meant I had the chance to do my homework and listen to representations from the MSA and many people in my constituency. I represent one of the most socially deprived wards and one of the most affluent villages, so there is a good spectrum in terms of the excitement about such an event taking place.

Does my hon. Friend agree that what is amazing about motor sport is that the supporters are often low profile? It is only when there is an event such as this, that one receives dozens of e-mails from constituents who come out of woodwork and who one never knew were keen supporters of the sport. Such people take part in club events every weekend.

I never cease to be fascinated by how many people get up in the very early hours of the morning on a weekend to watch Formula 1, like we all did last weekend. We were even up for the practice sessions, which I am sure makes us complete anoraks, but we were up and so were millions and millions of other people. This is not a class issue. This is not about the affluent. One of the reasons why the younger chaps in my constituency tell me that they are always out and about in their go-faster cars is that they do not feel that they have an outlet. I am not saying that they are bad guys—they are not. They are just frustrated. They would like to have an outlet to give them an opportunity. This measure, especially if it is done properly—

Order. There is a Division in the House. If the Minister feels that he can finish in two minutes, I think we could run on. If he wants his full four remaining minutes, we should adjourn.

Mr Bayley, I can always take a hint, so in the space of 90 seconds I will sum up.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North yet again on securing the debate and giving me an opportunity, on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, to wipe out, in a short period of time—a bit of patience will be needed to get the legislation right—the anomaly that has existed for so many years, since 1928. I hope that local communities will take the opportunity to work with the MSA as a licensing authority to come forward with plans. If they do not, I think everybody would understand, but I suspect that this will be a very popular measure throughout the country. I hope that we can introduce the legislation that will enable local authorities to exercise those controls.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting adjourned.