[Relevant document: Summary of public engagement by the Petitions Committee on vehicle tampering offences, reported to the House on 14 April 2022, HC 243.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 600954, relating to vehicle tampering offences.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. This petition was created by Gareth James, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last week. It is a response to proposed new offences that would cover any individual who tampers with a vehicle that is to be used on the road where the principal effect is
“to bypass, defeat, reduce the effectiveness of or render inoperative a system, part or component”.
I am grateful to be on the Petitions Committee; not always, but very often, it allows me to be made aware of aspects of our society that I might not always see. It allows me to meet the great British public, and to seek the right thing from the Government. This is one of those times. Doing the right thing for the right reasons is a principle I seek to live by, as an individual and as a Member of Parliament. This petition has force behind it, and it needs to be listened to.
I have spoken with many stakeholders during my time on the Petitions Committee, and one concern is that these new offences may affect cars that are used solely on the racetrack. That is a legitimate concern, as that would adversely affect motorsports throughout the country. I believe that is not the case, but I ask the Minister to clarify and confirm that point in her response.
That leads me to the issue of vehicles that will be affected—road-going vehicles that are altered just to be more individual, as well as those that are driven to a track in order to race and/or be shown. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of going to Santa Pod Raceway and meeting stakeholders in the industry, including Dan Melrose, who spent his time showing me around the event, and Santa Pod’s chief executive officer, Keith Bartlett, plus members of the national street rod and street eliminator associations, to name just a few. They told me about not just the economic value of this industry to the country, but the education and joy that it brings to so many people, including many young people—I do remember being young.
The day I attended Santa Pod was apparently a quiet day, as the industry, like many, is still recovering from the covid pandemic—or so I was told. It did not seem very quiet to me. Thousands upon thousands of people were enjoying their day off, getting together and having fun at nobody else’s expense. Many were there closely examining the vehicles on show and comparing myriad improvements to their own vehicles. Every car was unique in its own way, the result of many pounds and many hours spent perfecting it and making it exactly how its owner wanted it to be. It was literally a labour of love.
Like most things in life, we only ever see the end product; we do not see the hours spent in the freezing cold garage in a dimly lit area, taking a car to pieces and successfully putting it back together again. The engineers in this industry probably all started their journey in their garage at home, keeping busy and out of trouble, gaining skills for the future, not hurting anybody and doing what they love. More than anything else, that is what I want to protect; indeed, all of us in this House must protect the freedom to do what we enjoy that hurts nobody. The freedom to do something that causes no harm to others should never be proscribed. I agree that the Government have a duty to keep us safe, but they should do so only in a way that is carefully thought through. If the Government are not careful in this instance, they may just fail to do that.
Gareth, who started this petition, started working on cars in his late teens; a friend’s dad worked for Vauxhall, and they worked on cars together. Many of our engineers started with similar hobbies, which are of paramount importance if the UK is to continue to be the innovative country that it is. This is not a hobby like football or Formula 1 that appears to be pumped full of money at every opportunity; in fact, it is usually the lack of money that gets people started in the first place, fixing cars for themselves rather than taking them to a garage. We must be able to let this industry continue, as to let it fail would be a crying shame and cost us dearly over the coming years. It can never have been the Government’s intention, when drafting these proposals, to cause the demise of the motorsport and classic car industries.
I spoke recently to Motorsport UK, which informed me that the industry is worth £9 billion, with 4,500 companies actively involved and 87% exporting their products and services. It also informed me that the classic car industry supports 113,000 jobs. Those are huge numbers, but the industry understands that we cannot have cars on the road that have been altered to a poor standard and are not fit for purpose. However, it points out that many of the alterations improve the car’s safety, especially in the classic car market. It has asked the Government to look at excluding vehicles involved in motorsport and all classic vehicles. It would like a passport system, under which modifications could be done only by members of accredited organisations, and which would allow vehicles to drive to and from events on a limited number of days each year. That seems fairly sensible to me. Transporting a vehicle on the back of a heavy goods vehicle is expensive and hardly good for the environment.
There are still many people who enjoy improving their vehicles but do not want to race or show them, so joining an association would be a further cost, with what they might think has no benefit at all. I spoke to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which generally agrees with what the Government are trying to do, but it also understands the aftermarket industry’s value, so it believes that a blanket ban might not be the best way forward. We have to ask ourselves what can be done.
We need clarification of what is classed as tampering. Good tampering should not be made an offence. I am a believer in climate change and that we must act to mitigate its worst effects. I therefore start from the premise that tampering with any part of the system that can increase the original vehicle’s emissions is wrong and should be discouraged. That may include the mapping of cars, which can dump fuel to create popping from the exhaust. If a system creates just a little more noise than first intended but does not break current noise regulations, that is fine, but we must have regard to climate change and look after our planet.
Then there are areas that are mainly cosmetic: wheels, spoilers, decals and so on. I see no harm in those, so I hope that that form of tampering continues to be allowed. It hurts nobody and there seems to be no reason why it should be proscribed. Then there are modifications that make the car safer for the track but do not affect any of the main mechanicals that keep the car on the road—items such as roll cages, seating, electrical cut-outs and fire extinguishers. Again, those should be allowed. They hurt nobody and there is no reason why they should be proscribed.
I understand that works on suspension, brakes and the main engine and gearbox ought to be carried out by a trained professional using good aftermarket parts. I know many will disagree with me, but the Government have a duty to keep all road users safe, and a braking system that is not installed correctly, for example, could cause serious harm. A way forward is to make sure that all vehicle manufacturers support the aftermarket industry with specifications for all parts that could be replaced or uprated at a later date so that there are no monopolies on servicing. If the Government insist on stopping tampering, perhaps a compromise could be that any altered vehicle is tested again after each major improvement. The SMMT thought that an extension of the individual vehicle approval scheme might also be a way forward, so I ask the Minister whether that could be explored further.
One final point is the fact that the concerns of the 30,000-plus independent workshops that support UK consumers’ competitive choice and affordable mobility are not explicitly included in the proposals. The UK Alliance for the Freedom of Car Repair stated:
“Great care is needed to avoid discriminating against the aftermarket.”
This is an extremely complex subject. I reiterate that I understand what the Government are trying to achieve, but I also understand the industry’s concerns. A consultation has taken place, and I hope that the Government can now offer the clarification that the industry needs as the legislation moves forward.
I hope that the Government, the industry and the petitioners can see that I have tried to take a pragmatic approach to the subject, and I hope that I have understood the issues in the time I have had to learn what this industry means to so many. It has been wonderful to meet so many enthusiastic people and learn so much, and I thank them all for three things that they have allowed me to see—their obvious joy in what they do, their professionalism, and their understanding when speaking to a layman like me.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for bringing the petition to the House. This is a really important debate, and it is important that I get my views on the record.
In 2021, the Department for Transport started a consultation on modernising vehicle standards and sought views
“on areas of vehicle standards regulation that are outdated, a barrier to innovation or not designed with new technologies and business models in mind.”
Understandably, many people, including classic car enthusiasts who restore old vehicles, have raised concerns about that, hence the petition we are discussing today. There is also great concern that the Government’s proposals could impact cars that have been adapted for racing in motorsport events. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for motorsport, that is of great concern to me and those I represent here in Westminster.
There are some facts worth raising. In 2020—noting the pandemic—approximately 56,000 people participated in motorsport events across the UK. Today, there are 720 registered motorsport clubs in the UK and approximately 5,000 motorsport events are held across the UK annually. There are millions of car owners in the UK and millions of motorsport fans, aside from those who directly compete in and support these events.
What is the Government’s position right now? The consultation proposes the creation of a number of new offences for
“tampering with a system, part or component of a vehicle intended or adapted to be used on a road.”
The Government say that such measures would enable them
“to address existing gaps in legislation, ensuring cleaner and safer vehicles.”
Of course, that is fine in principle. Reassuringly, the Minister assured the House last year that
“Department for Transport officials have been instructed to ensure that proposals do not prevent activities such as restoration, repairs or legitimate improvements to classic cars, or do any damage to the motor sports businesses involved in these activities.”—[Official Report, 4 November 2021; Vol. 702, c. 1047.]
We heard earlier just how much money is involved and how many jobs and livelihoods are at stake; the sector is really important to the UK and to our economy.
We know that modified vehicles used on the roads are currently subject to the same MOT testing as any other road vehicles, and therefore adequate safeguards are in place to ensure that these vehicles are roadworthy. That includes emissions testing, which importantly ensures that modified cars do not breach emissions standards. However, my view is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I appreciate the points that the hon. Member is making, but part of the problem in my constituency of Pontypridd and Taff Ely is illegal modifications to cars done by boy racers, who are not motorsport professionals but drag race up and down our dual carriageways, with exhausts going off, sounding like shotguns, causing real antisocial behaviour and nuisance. Those exhausts are removed before the MOT and then put back on, so, sadly, they are missed. Does the hon. Member agree that more needs to be done to try to tackle that problem?
It is really important that we do this in the right way. In my constituency of Bracknell, we have a problem with boy racers, noisy exhausts and antisocial driving; that is a real issue in my part of the world as well. The devil is in the detail, and I will come on to what I think needs to be done to reconcile the two apparently opposing poles.
My point is that we need clarification from the Government of how these new rules would be implemented. What modifications are classed as legitimate? We should also be acutely aware that these rules must not impact in any way the legitimate classic car and motorsport sectors, which we have spoken about.
The Historic and Classic Vehicles Alliance recently found that the classic vehicles sector alone is worth £18.3 billion to the UK economy. The HCVA contends that cars belong to their owners and the owners have a right to repair them. We know that; it goes for all vehicles of all ages, classic and modern. The proposals may limit access to hardware and software required to maintain and repair these vehicles. Of course, the cars of today cannot become classics in the future if they are forced to rely on services from individual manufacturers that may be withdrawn.
The industry for maintaining historic vehicles and motorsport vehicles is large and globally renowned, employing highly skilled professionals—over 100,000 people, as we have heard. Much of that work, such as engine maintenance, alterations to exhaust systems and changes to engine control units, would cross over into the current definition of tampering. The proposed definition of tampering is far too broad and needs to be nailed down. It could include changing wheels and tyres, altering the body of a car, limiting access to period panels or enhancing safety. It might include lightening a car for period-correct performance or racing improvements. It might involve newer classic cars requiring changes to ECUs as fuel standards change. The definition is really broad. Ultimately, we need to ensure that new cars today that become classics in the future are still maintainable and serviceable.
So what? Having admired the problem for the last few minutes, what do we need to do, and what do I advise the Government? If the Department is determined to go ahead with this kind of anti-tamper legislation, we request, as a minimum, specific exemptions for historic and classic vehicles, as described. The legislation needs to include legal protections for owners of classic vehicles who make modifications to their cars, and for garages, engineers and those involved in the historic and classic industry who do likewise. We need to ensure that owners, engineers and the historic and classic industry have access to the tools they require in perpetuity to maintain roadworthy historic and classic vehicles. The legislation needs to include protections for classic vehicles that have been modified, so that they can still be sold, with protections for dealers, auctioneers, agents and all those involved in the sale of the cars. It must also include protections for individuals and firms who transport and deliver vehicles that have been modified.
To refer to an earlier question, how do we draw the distinction between legitimate activities and those activities that result in antisocial driving? I do not have the answer. I suspect that this may be a wicked problem where lines are difficult to define. Where is the boundary between the two poles that we have discussed? I do not know. It may be that the Department decides to drop these plans altogether. These are really difficult proposals, and they will upset many people—legitimate owners of cars who are proud of what they have in their garage. Alternatively, it may be that the Department works with Motorsport UK, the Historic and Classic Vehicles Alliance, motor manufacturers, those with specialist expertise across the UK, and the all-party parliamentary group for motorsport, to ensure that we do not self-harm. I urge the Minister to make sure that we do not do ourselves real damage.
I want to begin with a confession that, these days, is increasingly socially unacceptable: I enjoy driving. I enjoy riding a motorcycle. I love petrol engine vehicles. I have three reasons for being interested in this debate: a Yamaha MT-10, a KTM 950 Supermoto and a ratty old runabout Vauxhall Corsa that I would get rid of if I had the opportunity to drive properly. I would buy a decent car, but there is no point while I am an MP. A long time ago, before I became an MP, I put some effort into becoming a decent driver, although I would not like to make any particular claims about the quality of my driving, but I did put the effort in. I enjoy my driving and I love vehicles. I like to get in a car, such as a classic 911 Club Sport that I once drove, where I could actually feel what the tyres were doing on the road, because it had mechanical steering.
As we go forward in this life, there seems to be a systematic effort to ruin motoring—to make motorcycles and cars more boring and more of a black box. We now have endless cars with electric steering, and it is impossible to feel a thing that is going on on the road. Somehow, we are losing something about what it is to be a human being who takes responsibility and cares about their relationship with a vehicle. It is an old-fashioned and increasingly unpopular point of view, but I think there is joy to be found in driving a vehicle that does not have an anti-lock braking system or traction control and has carburettors not fuel injection, but has, as is the case with the KTM, very sharp brakes. It is a great joy and pleasure to be united with a vehicle and care about how it is working on the road.
That is why I object to the idea of anti-tampering legislation. It is not because I have a problem with safety. I used to be a professional air-worthiness engineer, so I like safety; I do not like hospital food. I want to be safe and for everybody to be safe. There is no going back if someone injures another person with a vehicle. That is why I want responsible motorists and motorcyclists—people who care about how they operate their vehicle and care about what kind of vehicle they are in. The problem with this so-called anti-tampering legislation is that it will increasingly turn vehicles into black boxes, where we do not have to care. Indeed, it will be so anodyne and boring to drive the thing, and the driver will be so disconnected from the mechanics and the experience, that they will be positively discouraged from caring about the vehicle because there is no point.
In contrast to my amazing KTM 950, with its absence of electronic devices, I recently hired a car in Norway—a Volkswagen ID4. It was a lovely car in many ways. It was all electric and had cruise control and a stupid speed limiter that knows where the car is and so starts to reduce the cruise control as it gets into town. The car steers itself. When I was positioning the car on the road, it decided that it did not want to be there and suddenly jerked the steering wheel in my hand. It cannot be switched off permanently; every time I switched it off it was switched back on when I next got in the car. I would like to switch that nonsense off because I want to drive the car. I do not want the car deciding I should be two feet to the left on the road. I was once in a Tesla—with somebody else driving—that nearly put us in a hedge because it decided it wanted to be two feet to the left. The Volkswagen ID4 was not quite self-driving, but it is clear where we are going here—cars that decide how fast they go and where they are going to be on the road. I do not mind people having self-driving cars. I would not mind having a car that drove itself if it meant that I did not have to drive when it was boring—for example, when commuting to this place—but when I want to drive the car, I want to drive the car.
I am extremely concerned that this future involves a wide range of practical and philosophical problems. I do not want to trust a car to decide where it is. I remember doing 70 mph down the motorway in a Golf that had its lane assistance turned on. I went through a shadow of a tree and the car swerved because it decided it wanted to be in a different place. I was until recently a chartered aerospace engineer—I have just declined to renew my subscription—so I am not a technophobe; aeroplanes often fly themselves. However, I would like not to have to put up with the nonsense of the car deciding it wants to go at a different speed or be in a different place.
I have possibly laboured my point, but I want the Minister, who is listening carefully, to at least see one keen and passionate driver—sorry, guys—who wants to have personal responsibility as a free man. I will say it: I want to be a free man, personally in charge of what the vehicle does. I am offended by the name anti-tampering. I do not doubt that there are some irresponsible people who want to tamper with safety systems, but the point I am trying to put on the record is that even some safety systems can be dangerous—for example, when that Volkswagen Golf swerved across the road because it did not like the shadow on the dual carriageway.
We have talked about racing and custom vehicles. When it comes to minor modifications, I like to think that I do not modify my vehicles, but my MT10 has a different screen, hand guards, and luggage as well as a charging lead that I put on myself to ensure that it is trickle charged. It is modified; it has got a Scottoiler on it, so I can commute without having to constantly lubricate the chain. Many of those accessories were fitted by the dealer because he would do it at no cost, but what if I had decided to fit them? Is that tampering? Surely not—all I have done is convert one kind of Yamaha MT10 into another. People like me are afraid that we are moving into this anodyne world where we cannot even change the screen on our BMW R1200GS—as I did. We do not want to have to check the rules to see whether we can. With great respect, I am not interested in the Minister’s view about what size screen I should have on my motorcycle. I do not want to have to go and check the rules to see whether I can change it—I am now labouring the point.
As Conservatives, we should be wanting to live in a society of free and responsible individuals. We will not create or perpetuate a society of free and responsible individuals if we keep taking away from them, at every chance, the opportunity to exercise freedom responsibly and to enjoy themselves while doing that, because we make life miserable if we say to people, “Before you can fit heated grips on your motorbike, you have to go and check whether you’re allowed to.” It is too boring—it is too boring. We sit in here all the time, doing this technocratic nonsense and going up to the Committee Rooms to pass statutory instruments that most of us in this House do not even read. That is another bugbear of mine on which I have laboured another point. We are taking away people’s freedoms by using statutory instruments that we do not even read and almost never speak to. This is not where we should be going as Conservatives; we should be letting people be free. If they want to have stupid self-driving cars that steer themselves when they should not, let them, but I want to switch that off, and if the manufacturer provided it to me and I was unable to switch it off, I would like to be able to change the software so that I could switch it off and drive the car myself. I rest my case.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. I congratulate Gareth James on securing 112,000—is that right?—signatures on the petition in order to get this debate. That is no mean feat in itself, so my congratulations go to him, and to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), who I think looks very young indeed; he should not disparage himself. In fact, I might check out after the debate what moisturiser he uses. I congratulate him on bringing the petition to us in Parliament today. My congratulations go also to the hon. Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) on a very elegant speech. I thank him for all he does for the APPG for motorsport.
We then heard a passionate speech from the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). I am a big fan of the hon. Member, as he knows. We are both big Cobden fans, for different reasons possibly, but I would never describe the hon. Member as being 2 feet to the left in any situation at all, and perhaps particularly in a car. He made a great defence. As somebody who cycled here today on a Brompton—Brompton is a proud British manufacturer—I may have some different views about how sometimes I am close passed and the possibility that my life may be prolonged by speed limiters. As I canvassed yesterday in a tight marginal seat between Labour and the Conservatives in Brooklands, Trafford, I was sickened by seeing exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) pointed out—adjusted cars doing 60 to 80 mph down a road with a 30-mph limit and with modified exhausts banging out. The antisocial behaviour that that brings to our estates is appalling. I remember the Secretary of State going on the record about how he does not like that type of thing, either.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his compliments. I was once very nearly run down in High Wycombe by somebody doing just what he has suggested: they were in a modified car and going far too fast in town. Such people need prosecuting. In the case raised by the hon. Gentleman, if they are doing 80 mph where there is a 30 mph limit, they should be going to prison. I am very clear about that. I just wanted to ensure that we all understood one another.
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I love motorsport as well, and I love classic cars. There is nothing better than jumping up on my NorthRoad cycle—those bikes are produced in my constituency—cycling the 10 miles to Tatton Park, the Cheshire County Council and National Trust park, watching a traditional car show there and seeing the pride that people have in those cars. We do not want to see anything that would stop that.
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his very eloquent and pragmatic speech; it is resonating with me. Does he agree that when it comes to the cars themselves, the issue is not necessarily the cars; it is the way in which they are driven? Therefore, what we need to do is to go after those who are driving irresponsibly, making noise, breaking the law and breaking the rules, rather than going after legitimate vehicle owners, who just want to look after their vehicles.
We should not be going after legitimate car owners, who take great pride in their cars, but with 40 million vehicle licences on UK roads, this plague of antisocial behaviour with these modified cars is absolutely sickening. With tens of thousands of police cut in this country, and a decimation of community policing, we now cannot police these hooligans driving their cars in the way they do. There is a philosophical debate to be had, but something needs to be done. We need to be tough on these people who are plaguing our communities.
Last year, the Government consulted on modernising vehicle standards, specifically looking at new measures to tackle tampering with vehicles. This petition came about almost immediately, with 112,000 signatures, and it managed to unite motorcyclists, classic car owners and motor racing aficionados with one voice. Despite the DFT stating that it did not intend the proposals to prevent motorsport or people repairing classic cars or motorbikes, it is keen to ensure that no businesses engaged in those pursuits are negatively affected.
The proposals seem to be a broadly positive move from Government to tackle tampering, which we know has impacts on safety and the environment. Of course, we support ensuring that emission standards are met and cannot be worked around. However, we also know that some modifications can negatively affect the safety and health of the vehicle owner, its occupants, other road users and the wider population, and that some tampering activities that prevent a vehicle’s emission system from operating correctly, such as the removal of the diesel particulate filter from a vehicle’s exhaust, can significantly increase harmful pollutant emissions, and sometimes be used as a weapon as these hooligans pass cyclists and let out a load of smoke—gassing, I think it is known as.
However, we know that the motorsport community have concerns about restoration, repairs and legitimate improvements, and their voices must be heard. The Government have said that it is not their intention to target these legitimate improvements, yet there has been no detail about how they would ensure that that will not happen. We know the consultation ended in November 2021—over six months ago—and we have not heard since that time what the Government intend to do.
I have a few questions for the Minister. When will the consultation response be published? When will the Government think about bringing legislation forward? Collectors and businesses in the aftermarket industry are being left in the dark, and we need to shed some light for them. Will changes apply retrospectively? What sort of alterations will be considered tampering? Will it just be ones that impact emissions and noise, or are wider proposals on the cards? How will they work with the motorsport and restoration industry? What steps are the Government taking to engage with stakeholders who have legitimate concerns over the changes? I would welcome answers from the Minister on this important debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George, in a debate on a subject for which I have a great deal of personal adoration. This is certainly not the first time I have debated it with my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland), who is co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for motorsport. I pay particular thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), who started the whole thing off but was unable to speak in today’s debate and, most importantly, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher). I hope I can reassure hon. Members following what we have heard. I have been pleased to listen to the incredibly valuable and thorough contributions that have been made. It is a privilege to be closing the debate.
Of course, the UK has a very long and proud history of companies and individuals dedicated to the modification and improvement of vehicles, whether in motorsports, professional customisation or enthusiastic owners enjoying their hobby and improving their pride and joy. That was me when I was 18 and purchased my second car, moving up from a Ford Escort 1.3L to a Peugeot 309 GTI, complete with skirts and low-profile tyres. I was partial to a whale tail, but I did not go that far.
I was able to do that because my dad helped me. He was a great engineer and I am quite sure that he learned his craft by starting out with a push-bike, moving up to a BSA Bantam and transitioning through various vehicles to a 1972 Porsche 911T, moving, I believe, from left-hand to right-hand drive. I most definitely grew up with this and I understand that many engineers hone their craft in their garage or, when it comes to motorcycles, their living room.
I agree with a lot of what I have heard today, including on the importance of ensuring that we allow for that continued healthy aftermarket for vehicle modification, and that our plans do not negatively impact on our thriving motorsports. I pay tribute to the Wigton Motor Club in my own area—I was delighted to open its new facility at Moota—and to the Rotating Wheels car show in West Lakeland. I will be adjudicating at that vintage and classic car show again this summer.
The intention behind our proposals is to prevent tampering that can have serious consequences for health and the environment. We have, however, issued a clarification that we do not intend our proposals to prevent legitimate motorsport activities, restoration, repairs or legitimate improvements to vehicles such as classic cars and motorbikes. We also do not intend our proposals to impact negatively on businesses involved in such activities.
The consultation received 7,891 responses—a large number. Their particular focus was on concerns that the proposals, as set out in the regulatory review, are too broad and would restrict any modification of vehicles, which would negatively impact on the motorsports industry, the restoration and customisation industry, classic car enthusiasts and motorcycles. We have yet to publish our response to the consultation—I will speak about that in a moment—but Members can absolutely be reassured that the proposals will not prevent all forms of vehicle modification. That is not the intention—it is certainly not my intention. We are carefully considering the scope of the policy, to ensure that it does not prevent legitimate alterations or modification, including repair work.
As the Minister with responsibility for the future of transport, my role is to ensure that we have a regulatory regime that is fit for the future and that will achieve our vision of a better, greener UK. To achieve that, we are conducting a series of regulatory reviews to consider how transport regulations need to change, to make journeys faster, safer, easier and more secure. However, I absolutely take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). I love driving. I have been driving for 28 years, and I hope to drive for the rest of my safe and capable life. I absolutely understand the desire to be in control of a motor vehicle.
Certain modifications, however, can negatively affect the safety and health of drivers or riders, passengers, other road users and the wider population. One such example is the modification or removal of part of the emissions system. As my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley said, that can have significant consequences. If it is done because the vehicle’s performance has failed—the system can fail to boost the vehicle’s performance—it can be really serious. Removing a diesel particulate filter from a vehicle’s exhaust can increase harmful pollutant emissions by up to 1,000 times.
The risks associated with air and noise pollution, including from modified exhausts, cannot be understated. In England alone, the annual social cost of urban road noise was estimated to be between £7 billion and £10 billion in 2010.
I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning road noise. I have annoyed fellow motorcyclists by telling them that they must have lawful end-cans and exhaust systems, because nothing prejudices people against motorcycling more than noisy motorcycles with illegal cans. The problem with noisy motorcycles today is not that the lawful equipment is too noisy, but that people break the law and the law is not enforced. I hope that my hon. Friend will not mind me saying that we have to enforce the law on some of these things, instead of constantly tightening up regulations and hoping that compliance will follow, because it does not. We must have reasonable regulations that people want to comply with. That is a very old principle.
That is an important point. As I have previously mentioned, my constituency has been blighted by vehicles with illegally modified exhausts speeding through our communities. Last summer, after discussions with South Wales police, it launched Operation Buena, and in just one night in Llantrisant, it issued 12 motorists with speeding fines and 10 with prohibition notices. That is completely unsustainable, and the police clearly need more resources to get on top of the matter. What conversations has the Minister had with her Home Office colleagues on giving them further resources to deal with the issue?
I refer to my earlier comment on detection and how we use and improve sound-monitoring devices—noise cameras, as they are being called—to monitor those motorists who are, without a doubt, breaking the law. We recognise the health and environmental impacts of noise. They include the risk of heart attacks, strokes and dementia, and while air quality has improved since 2010, air pollution remains the top environmental risk to human health in the UK.
As vehicles increasingly become automated, new safety and security risks will be associated with making alterations to a vehicle’s integral software and sensing technologies. Already, many new vehicles offer advanced driver-assistance systems—I recognise, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe will choose not to use those—which partially automate some of the driving tasks.
With the advent of self-driving vehicles, which will allow the driver to hand over the driving task to the system, if desired, the problem becomes even more acute. These highly sophisticated systems will have taken years to develop. Even a minor modification could significantly affect an automated vehicle’s operation and, if done badly, would have the potential to kill its occupants and other road users.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell referred to the MOT test. The challenge is that we cannot rely on that alone. The MOT test is an important part of ensuring that vehicles on our roads are safe and roadworthy, but there are inevitably limitations to what can be assessed through a relatively simple static inspection of a vehicle. When it comes to automation and self-driving technologies, it becomes even more challenging for sufficient checks to be carried out to guard against dangerous or illegal modifications. I trust that Members can see that it is essential that we have the powers to respond to advances in vehicle construction and operation, to target and prevent dangerous and inappropriate tampering, which could put people’s lives at risk.
I will write to my hon. Friend with more specific details of the timeframe. I can certainly say that we will publish our response to the consultation this summer—it will be a matter of a few months, rather than having to wait any longer. In answer to another of his questions, the changes will not be retrospectively applied.[Official Report, 10 May 2022, Vol. 714, c. 2MC.]
We have listened carefully to the concerns raised by the e-petition through our consultation on the subject. We recognise the importance of striking an appropriate balance between allowing for legitimate modifications and ensuring that we have the powers to tackle those that are dangerous and inappropriate. We are absolutely not proposing that all modifications be prevented. We recognise that vehicle owners and businesses may have many legitimate reasons to modify a vehicle, and our intention is to ensure that we maintain a thriving aftermarket including motorsports, restoration, repairs and other legitimate improvements and alterations to vehicles.
We are considering all the responses received during the consultation. As I say, we will publish a consultation response, in which we will summarise those responses and set out our next steps, in the summer.
Over the past 60 years, cleaner, safer and more accessible transport has transformed people’s lives for the better. The Government are committed to maximising the benefits and minimising the risks of new technological advances. The broad programme of work we have launched will help us to ensure that our regulatory framework is flexible and forward-looking so that we can foster innovation, safeguard the public and bring the most benefit to transport users and society, while recognising our rich cultural and industrial heritage in motor vehicles, which dates back to the late 1800s. It has been a pleasure to speak in this debate.
Thank you for chairing this debate, Sir George. I thank the Minister for her response, as well as everybody who has actively contributed today. It has been an extremely good debate. I thank the petitioner, Gareth, for starting the petition, as well as the 112,000 people who signed it and the 7,891 people who responded to the consultation.
From the Minister’s response, it seems that the Government have actually listened to the petitioners. It is a win for the Petitions Committee and the petitioner, but also for the entire industry and all the people at home who love tampering with cars, as we have called it. It has been a great debate and I thank everyone who has been involved.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 600954, relating to vehicle tampering offences.