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HGV Drivers

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 10 December 2015

We have taken measures to reduce waiting periods for large goods vehicle driving tests. So far this financial year, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has recruited 78 new driving examiners, a further 65 are undertaking training, and another 41 have been offered posts. That will allow experienced examiners to move over to LGV testing. More than 55,000 tests were conducted in 2014-15, which is the highest total for six years.

With 45,000 qualified professional drivers needed to fill the skills gap in the HGV industry, will the Minister confirm whether the HGV driver standard has been approved as part of the Trailblazer apprenticeship programme? Will companies be able to use that funding to pay for licence acquisition?

I confirm that the Trailblazer apprenticeship was approved in the last day or so, but that is a question for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I have not yet been fully informed about all the details of that, but it is important to encourage people to take that test. We know there is a shortage of HGV drivers, and we recognise the vital role that the road haulage sector plays in driving growth and keeping our economy moving. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that there has been a 36% increase in drivers taking that test in the past year.

While recognising that there is always a need for safety, will the Minister and his Department consider whether HGV licences are needed for certain types of vehicle? Given that there is now so much automation on some of the larger vehicles, does someone really need an HGV licence to drive them?

That is a very interesting question. I have driven one of the new high-tech HGVs; obviously, without a licence, so it was on a testing track, not the highway network. I was struck by how helpful the vehicle is—it includes large numbers of automated systems —but also by the amount of information that comes at the driver. I do not think we should compromise on safety, and I suspect that the current regime is just right.

What is the Minister doing to encourage negotiations between the DVSA and staff in relation to their dispute? There was a high turnout in the vote for industrial action. Will the Minister either refer the matter to ACAS or push the powers that be into negotiations?

I am acutely aware of the limits of my talents, Mr Speaker.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman, the Government are keen to see a settlement to that dispute, and I know that my colleague in the other House, Lord Ahmad, is currently working on that.

Across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, there are 60,000 vacancies for HGV and LGV drivers, but many people are unable to take up those opportunities because of the price of training. I know that the Minister has considered that issue, but will he consider the possibility of a loan or grant for the £4,500 that it takes to train an HGV driver?

I know that the industry is keen to focus on that, and I am keen for more people to take that test. The average pass rate is only 52%, so considering what can be done to increase that will be my top priority. I will consider these matters, but I do not think it will be possible to start subsidising individual licence applications; otherwise, we would have to extend that measure across the piece.