Motorcycle hustings

On Saturday night, I participated in a lively and informative hustings — with candidates from five different parties — organised by the Motorcycle Action Group’s Yorkshire region. Labour’s Members of the European Parliament have always had good links with MAG and, we like to think, an understanding of their concerns, ever since one of our MEPs, Roger Barton, an enthusiastic biker, developed a close relationship already a decade ago. The tradition has lived on, even after Roger’s departure from the European Parliament.

MAG have some concerns about European and national regulations affecting them, but equally about the still too-high levels of fatalities and injuries among bikers. Worryingly, casualty rates have not declined in the way that they have for other transport modes.

Regulation is, of course, not the only answer — and bad regulations can be the wrong answer. Other things are equally or more important: better training and testing (not least of car and lorry drivers, instilling better awareness and respect of bikers); better road design (avoiding “killer kerbs”) and surfacing; tougher penalties for those who drive without a licence or uninsured; and much else besides.

But regulations can sometimes help. Take the new rules on the design of lorries, agreed by the European Parliament just last month, which will oblige manufacturers across Europe to improve the sight-lines of lorry drivers and change the shape of their cabins. This could be of significant benefit to bikers.

The other question is at what level to regulate, if regulations are indeed needed. For some things, it makes sense — and cuts costs — to have common rules for the common market. This means manufacturers don’t have to work to meet multiple different standards for each country. In other areas, there is absolutely no need for international rules. In still other cases, Europe-wide rules could usefully set a minimum standard, while allowing individual countries to set higher standards if they so wish.

Who decides this? For European legislation, it is a myth that “Brussels bureaucrats” decide. The European Commission only puts forward ideas and proposals; for them to be adopted, elected politicians must debate, amend and approve them. In fact, a double-check is needed, in that rules must be approved both by national ministers from elected governments in the EU Council, and also by directly-elected MEPs in the European Parliament. If you hear a politician blaming something on bureaucrats, that is a politician not doing his job!

And that’s why it’s right of MAG to engage so closely with politicians and candidates in this European election. MAG will always get a sympathetic hearing from Labour!

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