I beg to move,
That this House has considered Government support for motorcycling.
In the UK, 1.4 million people use motorcycles, scooters and mopeds. Those 1.4 million people travel approximately 4.4 billion miles a year. There has been a 131% increase in the number of motorcyclists registered in the last 20 years, although they still comprise only a small percentage of overall traffic. However, motorcycles clearly play an active part in UK transport and I want to put on record my thanks to Barbara Alam and Craig Carey-Clinch, who support the all-party parliamentary group on motorcycling, and to the National Motorcyclists Council, or NMC, for their support in my initiating the debate. The NMC has representatives drawn from a wide range of stakeholder groups, including the Auto-Cycle Union, the British Motorcyclists Federation, IAM RoadSmart and the Motorcycle Action Group—I am a member of both—the National Motorcycle Dealers Association, and the Trail Riders Fellowship. What an august body it is. I thank all those organisations for their part in helping motorcyclists. They have identified and addressed the many issues and challenges that motorcyclists face in this country, and their work is very much appreciated.
The Department for Transport has estimated that over half of motorcycle use is for commuting, education or other practical purposes. The Government can and should do more to promote this efficient, low-polluting and very practical mode of transport. The DFT’s national travel survey has estimated that from 2002 to 2016 more than half of motorcycle trips were for commuting or business, a significantly higher proportion than the 19% of such trips for other modes combined. Yes, motorcycling is a vulnerable mode of transport, but so is bicycling or using e-scooters, both of which are promoted by the Government as modes of transport. It is vital that safety is improved, but that will not be achieved unless motorcycling is accepted and supported as part of UK transport networks.
Whenever I see motorcycling being debated, I have to be there, because my brother raced motorbikes. Unfortunately, some 19 years ago he had a very severe accident and ended up with brain injuries. The hon. Gentleman has outlined exactly the importance of motorcycling, but does he agree that motorcycle theft is a major issue in the UK? Secure rails to secure motorcycles to are few and far between, but if we can provide them for bicycles we should do so for motorcycles as well, and such locations should be made easier to access. If motorbike thefts are high, the means of securing them must be in place.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. First of all, I am sorry to hear about his brother. Falling off a motorcycle is extremely frightening—I have done that. Unfortunately, I have also had my motorcycle stolen, so I absolutely agree about the need for proper security. Of course, everybody benefits if things are not stolen, because our insurance stays lower. So yes, I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I will discuss the casualty element in just a moment.
The Vision Zero approach to safety, namely that road deaths and injuries are unacceptable and preventable, should be applied proportionately to motorcycling, which would bring it alongside walking and cycle safety in transport safety policy matters. It is my hope that the debate will start a conversation about how we can begin to incorporate motorcycling more widely into the UK’s transportation mainstream and promote its uptake as a safe mode of transport.
Sadly, every 22 minutes, someone is killed or seriously injured on UK roads. The number of road deaths in the UK plateaued from 2012 to 2019 at around 1,850 deaths a year—the equivalent of five a day, on average. According to Brake, the road safety charity, motorcyclists accounted for 20% of road deaths in 2019, while cyclists and pedestrians accounted for 10% and 24% respectively. Cycling, which had similar casualty rates to motorcycling, has experienced active public support through policy in recent years, which has led to a reduction in casualties. If the Government supported motorcycling as a recognised form of alternative transport alongside walking and cycling, those death figures would decrease. In 2017, the Government spent £300 million in dedicated funding for cycling and walking. They have announced £2 billion in additional funding for walking and cycling over the next five years. That is a sixfold increase. If even a fraction of that was spent on motorcycling, the benefits would far outweigh any negatives.
Spending on national and local roads has increased year on year since 2013-14. Locally, that funding is largely spent and implemented by local authorities. One of the biggest issues for both motorcycle riders and bicyclists is poor surface quality, with potholes and low-grip manhole covers being the most threatening. Government strategy must ensure that road environment design never compromises motorcyclists’ safety and entitlement to ride. I have experienced that myself, particularly after there has been flooding. If the pebbles are all washed into the middle of the road, it is virtually impossible to ride safely. If I ride on the bit that has been swept, I am too close to the edge; if I ride too far across, I am too close to the oncoming traffic; if I ride in the middle, over the pebbles, it is very frightening and skiddy. We must therefore do all we can to make sure that the road is safe.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that wire barriers in the middle of roads are extremely dangerous for motorcyclists and that, although there is now a policy that no new wire barriers will be put in place, the existing ones need to be replaced?
They garotte the bicyclists. Motorcycling is not particularly dangerous. When a motorcyclist falls off, they bounce along the road—it is what they hit that kills them. That is why the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is the impact against an oncoming vehicle or anything they meet in the roadway that does the damage. A wire is lethal. The new concrete barriers we are seeing on UK motorways are very welcome, and we need to see that across Government as things progress. It is that lack of thought that is the essence of the debate.
Analysis conducted by the Motorcycle Action Group in 2020 concluded that poor road surface was a contributory factor in four motorcyclist fatalities and 70 serious injuries every year. In 2020-21, the Government spent £5.46 billion on local roads and £6.26 billion on national roads, while the Department for Transport allocated more than £1.5 billion for local highway maintenance. Between 2020 and 2022, Herefordshire Council—my local authority—will receive more than £33 million for road maintenance. That is welcome. However, how is it being spent?
In response to a written question I submitted recently about potholes, the Secretary of State for Transport stated that,
“there is no specific requirement for Councils such as Herefordshire to demonstrate how they spend their share of funding, including the Pothole Action Fund.”
I believe that the Government should begin to require that. It would not only demonstrate to taxpayers that their money is being spent wisely, but give the Government a clear indication of where they should request that local authorities target their investment.
In another written question to the Department for Transport, I asked how the pothole action fund was spent. I was told:
“The Department endorses ‘Well-managed highway infrastructure: A Code of Practice’ by the UK Roads Liaison Group.”
In its 256 pages, how many times was motorcycling mentioned? Once. Therein lies the issue. The Government’s guidebook on how to fund road and infrastructure construction and repair ignores motorcycling. I recognise and appreciate the recent announcement for additional funding to tackle the pothole issue. Herefordshire Council has squandered its road funds and our local road network remains woefully inadequate. The Department for Transport must therefore issue guidance to councils on how they prioritise repairs in locations where motorcyclists’ safety is most likely to be compromised. That can happen only when motorcycling is recognised properly as an alternative transport mode.
Another issue with the current model of alternative transport is how rural settings are largely forgotten. It must be remembered that in isolated and rural areas, bus services are infrequent, to put it mildly. Motorcyclists in the most rural areas travel some 5,200 miles a year, on average, compared with 4,000 in other areas. Walking and cycling are most often not an option for people in very rural areas. They are left with little option but to use private powered transport, such as motorcycles or mopeds. This is the case in my constituency, North Herefordshire, one of the most rural in the country.
The future of transport rural strategy will need fully to encompass this mode of transport as part of the aim to secure improvements in rural transport accessibility and resilience. If the local authority is given express instructions to fund motorcycle-specific repairs to roads, overall accidents and death figures can be significantly reduced. In 2018, there were 39,996 road traffic accidents in rural areas across the UK—109 a day. In my county of Herefordshire, 440 road accidents were reported that year. Of those, only 42 included a pedestrian, 41 a pedal cycle and 40 a motorcycle; 302 of the 440 involved a car. Those figures clearly indicate that motorcycling should be treated in a similar way to walking and cycling and that funding should be made available to promote the uptake and safety of motorcyclists on our infrastructure networks. That will be possible only with a clear Government strategy for motorcycling and I hope that the Department will outline that in its response today. Walking, cycling and public transport have key roles to play in transforming travel and transport. However, they fail to offer the flexibility and practically that a notable proportion of vehicle users need and rightly demand from their transport choices.
Motorcycling offers a desirable, low-congesting and low-polluting alternative that is already well developed and regulated, but has never been properly considered as a transport mode in its own right. Now is the time for motorcycling to experience proper policy support. It is a free, exciting and wonderful mode of transport. It has its drawbacks, many thanks to other road users and the road conditions. I believe that should the Government include and promote motorcycle uptake, roads in the UK would become a safer place. That cannot happen until there is a fundamental change of thinking. Motorcycling is here to stay. Instead of motorcycling being cast aside as a fringe element of road use, the Government should do much more to support and promote its uptake.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Robertson. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on putting this important matter on our agenda. I want to speak on three points about motorcycling: sport, support and safety. I also want to add to the hon. Gentleman’s point on strategy, which is very important.
I declare an interest as an office holder of the all-party parliamentary motorcycling group. It is the most collegiate APPG in the House. We never discuss Brexit or remain, Scottish nationalism or Ulster Unionism; we discuss our favourite subject, motorcycling, and what we can do to promote, enhance and encourage it. I encourage any Member who wants to learn about proper collegiate activity in Parliament to join the motorcycling APPG to get a fresh view of people’s attitude to politics. It is very refreshing. I am also a member of MAG, which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, and I will comment on it in a moment.
Motorcycle sport contributes very significantly to our culture and identity. Too often, it is ignored when we think of the activities of some of our most spectacular sporting heroes, whether that is Carl Fogarty from GB or Jonathan Rea from Northern Ireland, who has dominated world superbikes more than anyone in the history of that sport. That is incredible and we should take a moment to pay tribute to those people.
My constituency is synonymous with road racing, with the Dunlop brothers and their nephews, William and Michael. They made a considerable contribution to people’s understanding of comradeship, sport, prowess and athleticism right at the pinnacle of motorcycle sport. These people have led and controlled it.
Does my hon. Friend accept that while this country, especially Northern Ireland, has produced some world-renowned motorcyclists, the sport attracts hundreds of thousands of adherents and supporters? It is not only good for local economies but for tourism.
My right hon. Friend has obviously been reading my notes, which is very unfair of him––do not read them any more. Sporting tourism is huge in Northern Ireland. He talked about people visiting sporting races. Almost 40,000 people go to an average round of the British superbikes and in some cases more, depending on the size of the track. In the North West 200, just outside my constituency in East Londonderry, over 100,000 spectators will visit in a week in May. It will contribute £12 million to the economy of Northern Ireland. The Ulster grand prix attracts tens of thousands of people and contributes about £7 million to the economy. Those are not insignificant figures for the economy. The hotels and cafes could not do without them. Those events are a significant driver of tourism.
Our sporting heroes need to be properly recognised. It disheartens me year on year when I see the achievements of people like Jonathan Rea not honoured by the BBC in its sporting pinnacle programme about celebrities in sport and its main sporting achievement award. That insults what these gladiators on two wheels achieve, because they put their lives at risk. They do it for our enjoyment because we enjoy the spectacle, but it is an incredibly dangerous sport, though it is obviously very well managed. We must ensure that the sport is supported and that young people are encouraged through motocross into the other, faster rounds of motorcycle sport.
May I turn briefly to support for motorcycling? The hon. Member for North Herefordshire talked of the need for a national strategy. I agree but the state of our roads is key in this. Bikers are voters. Those millions of people who take to motorcycling or ride scooters or whatever else are ultimately voters. We should ensure that the roads that they use are safe and properly tarmacked and that the barriers are not lethal but designed to cope not only with motor cars but with motorcyclists. It is essential that we have proper support in place for those riders.
We must also look at the issue of tech and tech support. British motorcycling and motorcycles have had a number of boom years. Consider the Triumph company over the past 20 years. It was started up again after years in the doldrums and is now one of the most successful brands in motorcycling. I am fortunate to own a Triumph motorcycle, as I have for tens of years. It is a fantastic bike. The brand itself is now incredibly desirable. It says Britishness around the world. It is a marketing tool that can be used around the world for superb engineering. The company is now developing electric scooters and cycles. That may not be something we necessarily look forward to––the smell of petrol is in our blood. However, we could be world leaders in the area of new tech and driving electric bikes if we make sure there is proper investment, encouragement and support from the Government. Of course, there are many other brands of British bike that Members can also use.
The third matter that I want to speak about briefly is safety, which has been touched on brilliantly by the hon. Member for North Herefordshire. Motorcyclists, I believe, are much more alert to this issue than car drivers. A young person on a motorcycle who is taught to drive it safely will be a much more alert car driver when they eventually get behind the wheel of one: they are much more alert to the traffic around them, because they are used to constantly looking around them and being aware. They are also alert to the fact that if they come off a motorcycle and hit concrete or tarmac, it hurts. Therefore, they do not want to be in a situation where they either put people into tarmac or concrete, or crash their car.
While we cannot make motorcycling compulsory, we should look at encouraging young people to get on a motorcycle, to understand how it is used and to be much more aware of the openness of being on the road, which will have an impact on their insurance premium and encourage them to be much wiser and skilful car drivers. Motorcycling is a gateway into safer driving generally, and we should work on that and encourage it in some way; I think that should be in the strategy.
Does my hon. Friend also accept that motorcycling is one of the cheaper ways for young people to gain mobility at an early age? For some, it releases them to be able to gain wider employment opportunities. For others, it means more recreational opportunities as well. It is the first and the cheapest way for a young person to gain mobility, and for that reason it should be encouraged. Does my hon. Friend agree it is significant that the delays in the testing regime put people off?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. It is absolutely true if people decide to get on to a motorcycle, we should make sure they are encouraged to ride it safely, and if they want to get their test and move up the grades of motorcycle, there should be no impediment placed in their way: they should be encouraged to do so.
My happiest moments as a kid were spent on the back of my brother-in-law’s motorcycle, going to places, enjoying the freedom that that offered and the opportunities that were available to us. Those happy moments are shared across this nation by many people who have got on a motorcycle at a young age and never looked back. I hope that this House can do more to encourage motorcycling—to encourage safety on motorcycles, sporting prowess, and support for biking.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, Mr Robertson, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on having secured it. As I listened to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), I was reminded of a magnificent film called “Why We Ride”, which I am sure people will be able to find on the internet. It is about the joy and fulfilment that comes from riding a motorcycle and riding it well—people want to ride their motorcycles well, because it is a question of risk management and responsibility as well as personal freedom. Of course, there are some people who do not ride their motorcycles well, and I lament that, but overall, we motorcyclists know that we have a responsibility and a duty to ride safely and well. It is a real joy to have listened to the hon. Gentleman speak about his passion for motorcycling.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire, I am a member of Motorcycle Action Group. In fact, I have just received their latest excellent edition of The Road magazine, and if it does not contain at least one letter from my father, I will be extremely surprised—it usually does. I am also a member of the British Motorcyclists Federation, but I think I might have let my Trail Riders Fellowship membership lapse since I sold my off-road motorcycle. However, my main bike is downstairs in the car park, and I commute daily, so I am a very keen motorcyclist, as generously highlighted by The Times today. I was shocked to discover that I am now so old that I have been riding for 34 years; it is very hard to credit. I love my bike. Scarcely anything is more important—perhaps family, friends, and so on, although I admit that only reluctantly. Bikes really matter to those of us who ride. I want to frame my remarks around three themes—the three themes of road safety—engineering, enforcement and education.
On engineering, I particularly welcomed the article The Road magazine about saying goodbye to wires, on the beginning of the end for wire rope barriers in Northern Ireland, and the hope that this would be extended to the whole of the UK. I implore the Minister to look at getting rid of wire rope barriers. As a motorcyclist, when I am out there, perhaps on a windy day, riding through the dales, and there is a wire rope barrier to my side, it is not a happy thought. We do have to accept that accidents happen, sometimes as a consequence of other people’s actions, so it is not a happy thing, as a motorcyclist, to see wire rope barriers. I very much hope that they might be removed.
On bus lanes, I really think that they should be open to motorcyclists everywhere. We do not take up much space and, were a motorcycle to need to stop in a bus lane, it could easily be out of the way of any emergency vehicle anywhere. It really is time to open bus lanes anywhere. I also think we should be realistic about filtering. Clearly, motorcyclists have a responsibility to filter safely and considerately, but there is a case for having sufficient lane width to make it possible for motorcyclists to filter at a sensible speed.
On enforcement, I am afraid that I will say something that I do not think motorcyclists will like very much: we really need to ensure that we enforce the law on noisy exhaust pipes, as it stands. I know that many of my fellow motorcyclists like a noisy engine, but it really is not fair on other people, and it does not do any good whatsoever for us motorcyclists when somebody—I will not call them names—goes through with their bike screaming. Barely anything else harms the reputation of motorcycling as much as someone with a noisy exhaust pipe. I would implore motorcyclists to, for goodness’ sake, fit legal pipes.
Of course I will. I will not pretend to the right hon. Member that I have never taken the baffles out of my KTM, with its magnificent V-twin engine, but the point is that I put the baffles back in when I actually went out on the road. I would implore anyone to ensure that they keep the baffles in and keep lawful exhausts on their bikes, however much we might all enjoy that sound.
On that point, I will briefly turn to electric vehicles. On my YouTube channel, there is a test of an Agility Saietta electric motorcycle. It is an amazing bike to ride. In terms of performance and the ability to enjoy motorcycling, we have nothing to fear from electric-powered two wheelers. However, like—I suspect—the right hon. Member for East Antrim, I will really miss, in due course, the sound of petrol being burnt. I must say, that is why I keep an old KTM 950 Supermoto. In the future, when nobody really knows what petrol is, I will certainly seek to ensure that that is the last motorcycle I ever ride, although I do look forward to electric-powered two wheelers.
I also want to pay tribute to the police. Their BikeSafe courses are excellent, and I enjoyed mine enormously. Police officers are extremely pragmatic and sensible in how they train motorcyclists to ride better, and I hope the Minister will feel able to join me in paying tribute to the police, and in encouraging motorcyclists to take part in those courses. It is important, perhaps especially for those riders who do not ride all year round, that they take part in those courses and learn to ride well.
Finally, on education, we need to educate people that motorcycling is a good, responsible, safe, and indeed environmentally friendly way of getting about. Only a small modal shift to motorcycling has been shown to dramatically reduce congestion and therefore air quality, and so on. The more bikes there are on the road, the more that other road users are aware of bikes and adjust their behaviour to ensure that we avoid those SMIDSYs—“Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”.
We can drive up road safety, drive up air quality and drive down congestion through quite small modal shifts to motorcycles. I really implore my hon. Friend the Minister to adopt policies to do just that, because there is joy and fulfilment to be had in motorcycling and, more than that, there is the practice of personal responsibility and risk management—all wonderful, good things that we Conservatives should stand for. Therefore, I commend motorcycling to her.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. Can I start with a declaration of sorts? I am a biker. I am proud to ride with YesBikers for Scottish independence and, like almost every other speaker, I am very happy to support many of the campaigns run by the Motorcycle Action Group, which I particularly thank for its help preparing for today.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on securing this debate, which is important and not just for those who ride bikes. I agree with much that has been said on parking, theft, safety, dedicated spending on motorcycles and the condition of roads. The economic value of racing has also been mentioned—it is important and not spoken about often enough.
I do not want to concentrate too much on safety, but when I bring my motorbike to England and I see the removal of the hard shoulder on motorways in an attempt to create “smart” motorways, I do worry. If a motorcyclist breaks down—these things do happen—they are not given the protection of a car. The removal of the hard shoulder is something that will have to be very carefully monitored over the next few years in relation to injury and death when motorcyclists break down.
We are in the middle of a climate emergency. The stated policy of many Governments to move to net zero and cap the increase in the temperature of the planet is the right, indeed only, thing to do. Part of the solution will be to reduce carbon emissions from transport, which will include motorcycles. The determination to remove the need for new petrol and diesel vehicles from the 2030s onwards is the right course of action. Motorcycles already contribute significantly to reduced carbon emissions and improved air quality. Their contribution to tackling these issues will increase if innovation and engineering are supported to progress. A few electric motorbikes are available right now, but they are limited in number and actual range and are disproportionately expensive, and there is little or no second-hand market that would make them affordable for most people.
Given that motorcycles already contribute significantly to reduced carbon emissions, surely the Government should be supporting a modal shift from cars to motorcycles. The Leuven report alluded to by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) suggested that a 10% modal shift from cars to motorcycles reduces congestion for all road users by 40%, resulting in a 7.5% reduction in CO2, a 5.5% reduction in nitrogen oxide, a reduction in exhaust particulate matter and a 16% reduction in non-exhaust particulate matter—mainly brakes and tires.
The recent Oxford Economics report commissioned by ACEM said that
“the average emission factor for a European motorcycle (up to 250cc) is 64g/km of CO2 emissions”.
That is equivalent to around one third the emissions of a car. Given that smaller motorcycles, including mopeds, account for 62% of the 22 million two-wheel vehicles on the whole of Europe’s roads, one can see the potential of even a modest modal shift from cars to motorcycles. Even larger bikes have a weighted CO2 emission that is markedly lower than both petrol and diesel cars. As part of our carbon reduction strategy, even before the widespread introduction of electric bikes, the UK Government should be encouraging a move from cars to bikes. I ask the Minister, what precisely is being done to support that?
Turning to the support the Government should provide for safety, the Minister will know there is a great deal of commercial research into automated vehicles. It is shocking that it has taken five years to ensure that Euro NCAP testing of those systems will even test the ability to detect and react to motorcycles. More worryingly, one of the problems is that car sensors can fail to detect a motorcycle if it is barely a metre or so off-centre from the sensing vehicle. For the safety of bikers, and for road safety generally, I ask the Government never to introduce autonomous vehicles to roads here until we are certain that motorcycles can and will be detected.
On safety, pedal cyclists are rightly provided with segregated lanes and, as has been said, they are routinely allowed to use bus lanes. Yet there is no routine access for motorbikes to many bus lanes, which has always struck me as illogical. I ask the Government: what possible logic is there in not supporting bikers by allowing them access to bus lanes, particularly when pedal cyclists can routinely use them? If I can go further than what has been said, if we accept, as I believe we and the Government do, that a critical mass of pedal cyclists makes it safer for them because other road users, mainly car drivers, are used to seeing them and adjust their driving accordingly, surely to goodness the same applies for motorcyclists.
I agree that is unfair. If there was a presumption that one could use a bus lane, except on the odd occasion where one could not, that would be a far more logical approach.
Finally, I turn to the Department for Transport consultation on vehicle regulation, which includes anti-tampering laws. It says:
“Specifically, we would look to create”—
among other things—
“a specific offence for removing, reducing the effectiveness of, or rendering inoperative a system, part or component for a vehicle…and advertising such services”.
Many people modify their bike for aesthetic or performance reasons. I can think of at least one common modification that would breach that new offence. Were one to change the petcock and carburettors on an old motorbike to replace a vacuum system with a gravity-feed system, one would be required to cap off the vacuum system—self-evidently. That would, at a stroke,
“bypass, defeat, reduce the effectiveness of or render inoperative a system, part or component”,
which is one of the proposed new offences. I gently ask the Minister what kind of madness is it that would see changing the carburettor on a motorbike become a criminal offence. That needs an awful lot of rethinking. In short, the Government should support the rights of bikers to work on their own machines, and not turn that perfectly normal activity into a crime.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Robertson. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on securing the debate. We have heard a lot of enthusiasm from the bikers in this room; it is clearly something that they feel strongly about. I confess that I have never had the opportunity to ride a motorbike.
I have been invited to Motorcycle Live in December in Birmingham to have the opportunity to ride some of the new electric bikes, so I may decide to do that. Former Member Hazel Blears, who I think is 4 feet 10 inches—I am not tall, but she is considerably shorter than me—was a keen biker, which shows that it can be done. Perhaps I should take up the challenge.
I will flag up a number of issues. The hon. Member for North Herefordshire talked about road repairs and presented a rather rosy picture of the amount of funding. It is important for motorcyclists that we keep roads in a good condition, but the money has been cut. The Government promised £1.5 billion to repair damage on roads across the country in the financial year 2020-21, but that was cut to £1.125 billion in the following financial year. Pothole funding was due to be cut by an average 23%, and overall total spending on roads maintenance would drop by an average 22%.
We can compare that with the massive Government road-building programme. It is important that we should not just be looking at building new roads, but at making sure the roads we have are kept in good condition. The insurance industry has raised that point with me. The vast majority of the claims it pays out are caused not by driver error but by the condition of the roads.
As it stands, it will take 11 years and £11 billion to clear the backlog of potholes. On National Pothole Day in January this year, the Chancellor tweeted,
“enjoy #NationalPotholeDay before they’re all gone...”
He was boasting about how much money is going into addressing the problem, but we could be marking National Pothole Day for quite some time to come at the current rate. Perhaps we will get some good news about road repair funding tomorrow.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Herefordshire that safety is incredibly important. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) spoke about electric motorbikes, which I will come to a bit later. He also spoke about the smell of petrol and his colleague, the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), mentioned the noise. Those things are part of the thrill, as motorcycle organisations have said to me. I totally get that, but when a cyclist is in that little space in front of the cars at the traffic lights, sometimes people on motorbikes do not act as responsibly as they could and are not aware that bike users are more vulnerable than them. For the cyclist, they have a bigger vehicle pushing in front of them, and the smell is not great. The sooner we can move to cleaner vehicles the better.
The hon. Member makes an important point. Once electric bikes become the fastest bikes, whether that is for motocross or as a track bike, that will become the pinnacle of the sport and that is where people will ultimately move. Encouraging tech design will create safety and environmental change.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention.
On the points made by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), there is a really interesting discussion to be had. The modal shift is important. Why have we not moved to moped use in the way that, say, France or Italy has? It is not as commonplace in this country—perhaps it is the weather. There is an interesting debate about road space and how we use it. We are starting to see e-scooters on our roads, there are more people cycling and a lot of town planning wants priority bus lanes. All of that raises questions about who gets to use priority lanes, whether we have segregation, who is entitled to use the segregated lanes and what that means for cars—what road space is left for cars? I think we will be addressing those points more and more in the years to come.
Finally, I want to talk about the need to decarbonise—an issue that the industry has contacted me about. Support for the industry so far, in terms of decarbonisation, has been pretty limited. The plug-in motorcycle grant, which helps support the sale of low-emission bikes, is £1,500 at the moment—less than for cars. The funding is guaranteed only up to March 2023. I was going to ask the Minister whether the Government plan to keep the grant beyond that date or, as is the case with the car plug-in grant, to reduce it year on year, but as we have the Budget tomorrow, I suspect I know what her answer would be. Could she answer this question instead? In the transport decarbonisation plan, the Government promised an action plan for zero-emission light-powered vehicles by the end of the year. We have not seen any sign of that yet. Will it be published before the end of the year?
The 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles was announced back in November 2020. We are still waiting for the publication of the promised consultation on a 2035 ban on petrol motorbikes. There are also currently no Government targets for regulating the CO2 produced by motorbikes, unlike for cars and vans. That raises a few questions. Why are the Government allowing polluting petrol motorbikes to be sold until 2035, when there is a 2030 date for petrol cars? Will the Minister give an update on when those consultations and so on will be published?
It is really important that the transition to zero-emission vehicles is smooth. I welcome the Government’s recent announcement that they will introduce a zero-emissions vehicle mandate, but there was no mention of motorcycle manufacturers in the summary, despite the 2035 commitment to banning new petrol motorbikes and the suggestion that plug-in grant support may end sooner than that, in 2023. Will the Minister explain whether the Government want to offer the same support to motorcycle manufacturers as they are to EV car manufacturers, through the electric car mandate, which will encourage them to make the shift to producing cleaner vehicles sooner? If not, why are motorcycle manufacturers being left out?
I will conclude on that point because I am keen to hear from the Minister. It has been good to hear people’s enthusiasm today. We certainly want motorcycles to continue on our roads, but they do need to move with the times. I hope the Minister will tell us more about how they can do that.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. It is also a real pleasure to speak on this subject.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) on securing the debate. It has taken me back to when I was 16. Dad took me to the garage and unveiled my first motorbike, as I thought, though it was probably a moped—a 50 cc bright blue Honda Camino. I have since had many enjoyable days out riding pillion on bikes from a Honda 900 CBR Fireblade, through to my dad’s last bike, which was a Yamaha FZR1000. There were many conversations around the kitchen table about Royal Enfields, BSAs, Triumphs, Nortons and many great British bikes.
It is wonderful to hear of the enthusiasm for motorbikes. While being proud of the past, we are energised for the future and looking ahead to the decarbonisation of bikes and the continuance of sport, recreation and commuting. I have listened carefully to the valuable and thorough contributions to today’s debate, and it is a pleasure to be closing it.
One of the first things my hon. Friend asked for was confidence that motorbikes are appreciated. They certainly will be by me. We have not had long this afternoon, but I have heard a lot. I agree with Members about the importance of road safety for motorcycle users, and the key role that motorcycling can play in meeting our current mobility needs. There was a request for an acceptance of motorbikes. I assure my hon. Friends and other Members that they have my personal advocacy.
Before I go into detail on plans, I want to acknowledge some important challenges faced by motorcyclists. As has been pointed out, motorcycles make up an important and sizeable vehicle population on UK roads, with 1.4 million licensed in 2020. I am aware of the greater level of risk that motorcyclists face on our roads, compared with other road users. Although they make up just 1% of total road traffic, they account for 19% of all road user deaths. I mentioned the Honda 900 CBR Fireblade. It was owned by a good friend, who was sadly killed on his motorbike.
There were many references to the Motorcycle Action Group, which does a great deal of good both in lobbying for policy change and with its charitable work. I have had the pleasure of seeing that for myself in Copeland. That group’s work, along with that of other charitable organisations, is superb. Another example is the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes, which transports blood, vaccines, plasma, platelets, samples, donor breast milk and other urgently required medical items to hospitals and healthcare sites. That is a life-saving service, which is provided completely free of charge by valiant volunteers, who offer their time for no pay or reward, allowing the NHS to divert funds where they are needed most.
Motorcyclists save our lives every day, and we must ensure the safety of theirs. Reducing the numbers of those needlessly killed and injured on our roads, especially vulnerable road users, is a key priority for the Department. That was evident in our road safety statement published in July 2019, which focused on the Department’s four priority road user groups: young road users, rural road users, motorcyclists and older vulnerable road users.
The statement described many actions that will contribute towards making our roads safer for all. Some of the actions that focused on motorcyclists included the promotion of the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency’s enhanced rider scheme to increase the uptake of post-test motorcycle training. It was interesting to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), who I agree with on the good work that the police do in encouraging that advanced test—I was pleased to learn more about that. Other actions included the development of a training framework to encourage riders who complete compulsory basic training—CBT—to take full test training, and working with the motorcycle industry to encourage the use of protective equipment to reduce post-crash collision severity.
The way we move is changing, as is the way we live. The rise of the gig economy, and new apps that mean we can have anything delivered to our door in minutes, has increased the role of powered light vehicles. It is welcome that powered light vehicles, which are often a more affordable option than cars, can help people fill these jobs and satisfy this demand, but they must be able to do so safely. That is why, through the road safety statement, we commissioned research into the use of powered two-wheelers to better understand how we can reduce the safety risks encountered by these drivers and riders.
The Department remains committed to ensuring that motorcyclists are equipped with the specialist skills needed to stay safe on the road. The Department’s THINK! public awareness campaign has a motorcycle strategy that aims to create greater understanding between car drivers and motorcyclists. It also raises awareness about the steps that both parties can take to avoid collisions.
While I hope all of that reassures Members about how important motorcycle safety is to the Department, the work does not stop there—there is much more to do. We will shortly publish a new road safety strategic framework to improve our understanding of the risks and concerns of those who choose to ride. We have set out an ambitious future of transport programme, which aims to deliver significant advances for society, the environment and the economy. For vehicle standards we are conducting a regulatory review, which will help us enforce appropriate safety, security and environmental requirements. It will protect consumers, road users and the environment. There are three key ambitions for the review: first, we want to enable the introduction of safer, cleaner and more technologically advanced vehicles. Secondly, we want to ensure that swift remedial action can be taken if vehicle parts or safety related equipment placed on the UK market are found to be unsafe or non-compliant. Thirdly, we want to better prevent tampering with critical hardware or software where it negatively impacts on safety or the environment. I welcome the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe on that.
I see many opportunities for the role of motorcycles. Road vehicles are responsible for 91% of the UK’s annual domestic gas emissions from the transport sector. L-category vehicles are responsible for just 0.4% of that total. However, that does not mean that they should not be cleaned up, because decarbonising brings many associated benefits, in particular improving air quality and reducing the noise pollution that blights so many. That is why we have committed to delivering an action plan this year, through the Motorcycle Industry Association and Zemo Partnership, to build new UK opportunities for zero-emission light powered vehicles. We look forward to the launch of the action plan at Motorcycle Live in early December—an event I have heard much about in today’s debate and that I very much hope I can attend.
I am glad the Minister has given some attention to the vehicle regulation review. I listened to what she said: it is to avoid tampering with safety equipment. That is perfectly reasonable at face value. If somebody removes the rear seat from a motorcycle, and with it the grab rails that are a safety feature on the rear fender, will they have committed an offence if the wording of the legislation ends up the same as in the consultation?
I think the point is that many motorcycle parts are safety-critical, but we actually want to get on with routine and ordinary maintenance of our motorcycles. I know that the Minister will not want to answer now, but I will just make that point—we want to fix our own bikes.
I hear what Members are saying about proportionality, and I am sure that will be registered and acknowledged in forthcoming strategies.
The action plan will cover the innovation in urban logistics and personal mobility, while setting out the steps needed to build new opportunities for powered light vehicle industries. One such opportunity is reforming last mile deliveries, which has the potential to create healthier and more liveable places by removing toxic fumes from the most congested areas. We are committed to transforming the last mile into an efficient and sustainable delivery system, and we will work with industry, academia and other stakeholders to understand how innovation in the L-category sector can benefit the UK delivery market. That will include publishing a toolkit later this year to support local authorities in reducing carbon emissions from transport, recognising the important role that local areas will play.
I feel that the greatest impact will be achieved by committing to phase-out dates, just as we have done for polluting cars. That is why we have committed to consult this year on a phase-out date of 2035, or earlier if a faster transition appears feasible for the sale of new non-zero-emission-powered two and three-wheelers and other L-category vehicles. I recognise that the L-category sector encompasses a wide range of vehicle types and uses, so we will aim to find the most appropriate regulatory solution for each one—it will not be one size fits all. Any proposed phase-out dates for the sale of new non-zero-emission L-category vehicles will reflect both on what is needed to hit net zero by 2050, and on the technology currently available in the sector, but we will be ambitious.
It is right that Britain shows global leadership when it comes to L-category decarbonisation. By consulting on and deciding phase-out dates as soon as possible, we are clarifying the direction of travel for the L-category industry in the UK, giving vehicle manufacturers and consumers time to adapt.
I am afraid that I will not, simply because of time.
I am particularly proud of this country’s motorcycling heritage, which has been mentioned, and how we have pioneered the way for great motorcycle manufacturing. Our motorcycling legacy lives on and continues to evolve in the 21st century. One example is Project Triumph TE-1, which is leading the way in creating electric motorcycling capability. The project is supported and co-funded by the UK Government, and I am proud of Triumph and other British businesses for driving innovation and enhancing the credibility and profile of great British industry and design.
In conclusion, I am once again very grateful for the opportunity to speak positively about motorbikes, motorcyclists and the history and heritage of the industry. I look forward to the future, including the decarbonisation of that vital transport sector, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire for the opportunity to speak in this debate.
I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. We have seen enthusiasm from MPs representing wonderful parts of Northern Ireland, including the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) made the most important point of all, which was about safety. Many years ago, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to allow motorcycles into bus lanes. The evidence that followed proved that if we put motorcycles in bus lanes, pedestrians are more careful and the number of people killed and seriously injured drops. It does not seem intuitive, but that is how people behave. It is quite extraordinary, but it really works. If Members take away just one thing from today’s debate, it should be safety, safety, safety. Motorcyclists are environmentally friendly, independent and doing the right things. Their bikes are getting better and they are well behaved, but the one figure that is out of kilter is the number of people killed and seriously injured.
I congratulate the Minister on this outing, which must be one of her earlier ones—there will be many more. Anything that she can do in her new role to keep people safe and alive has to be worth it. To that end, I welcome the intention of the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) to take a leap of faith by riding a motorcycle in the coming months. It is the right thing to do. I thank everybody for their contributions, and I thank you, Mr Robertson.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).