Vehicle Tampering Offences

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Monday 25th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Trudy Harrison Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Trudy Harrison)
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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.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker
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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.

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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The Department is looking right now at understanding how we can better monitor the noise and make it easier for the transport police in particular to do so.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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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?

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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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.

James Sunderland Portrait James Sunderland
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As we know, the devil is in the detail. When are we likely to see the Bill and the wording that will come with it?

Trudy Harrison Portrait Trudy Harrison
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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.

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.