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HGV Driver Regulation

Volume 629: debated on Wednesday 11 October 2017

I beg to move,

That this House has considered regulation of HGV drivers sleeping in their vehicles.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue, which is of great concern to hauliers and residents in my constituency. I will touch on three important and closely related aspects of this growing problem: first, how the regulations are enforced; secondly, the effect on my constituents of parking by heavy goods vehicles; and, thirdly, the lack of suitable off-street parking for HGVs in Kent.

One of the problems that British hauliers face is the lack of parity between the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe in the way in which the existing regulations are enforced. That disparity results in an indirect and unfair cost on British haulage companies operating in Europe, while providing an advantage to European companies operating in the United Kingdom.

It is illegal for drivers to spend their weekly rest period, otherwise known as their 45-hour rest period, in the cabin of their truck. Those who do not sleep in suitable accommodation are deemed not to have taken their rest, and fines can be levied against both the driver and the transport operator. That, however, is not being properly enforced here in the United Kingdom and, where enforcement action is taken, fines of only £300 are being issued.

Compare that with the much larger fines available to the authorities in other countries. In France, for example, lorry drivers can be fined as much as £26,000 if they are found sleeping in their cab by the side of the road. In May this year I understand that the Germans introduced a policy of fining drivers who are found taking their regular rest in the cabin of their lorry: £54 for every hour that they fall short of the necessary rest and £160 for the haulage operator.

Hauliers in my constituency are upset that EU-based operators use our lax enforcement of the 45-hour rest period to gain a commercial advantage. They do so by getting their drivers to park their HGVs in the United Kingdom over the weekend, ready to start the new working week here without having incurred overnight accommodation costs.

UK hauliers, however, if they try to gain a similar advantage by strategically parking their vehicles on European Union soil over the weekend, have to pay the additional accommodation costs required by the legislation or risk being hit with the punitive fines I referred to earlier. The effect of that discrepancy between enforcement and penalty in the United Kingdom and the arrangement in many other countries is to increase the cost to UK hauliers of doing business in Europe, while allowing foreign hauliers to operate more cheaply here.

My second point relates to the effect that that uncontrolled and illegal lorry parking has on my constituents. Stricter enforcement in other European countries ensures that roads in much of the continent are free from the great ribbons of trucks parked by the roadside that we see regularly in my constituency and in other areas close to the channel ports.

Too often, foreign HGVs park up at the weekends on residential roads, in business parks and lay-bys, and on the slip roads of trunk roads and motorways. Such parking is not only inappropriate but dangerous to other road users. Kent police officers regularly tweet pictures of those vehicles, and I am grateful for the support of Kent’s police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott, who shares my concerns. In addition to the danger to other road users, there is a health risk to the wider public, because the areas in which the HGV drivers often park lack the most basic toilet or washing facilities.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. This issue does not only affect Kent. Travelling up to Staffordshire, HGVs can be found littering the roads, business parks and backstreets of towns, as he described. Does he agree that we need to look at the facilities provided for HGV drivers throughout the country? I appreciate the particular concerns in Kent, but they exist in other parts of the country too.

I am more than happy to agree with my hon. Friend. It is a national issue, but she is right that we have a particular problem down in Kent, because we are the gateway to the country, so suffer far worse than anyone else. With regard to the facilities, I will come on to that, so I hope she will bear with me.

As I was saying, there are no washing facilities for drivers to use, and sites are often left littered, creating an expensive clean-up operation for the local authority. Even where parking restrictions apply, taking action is not always simple. When fines are imposed, they are often ignored by foreign drivers who simply do not pay them. In addition, where suitable parking facilities do exist—they are few and far between—the police simply do not have the resources to escort the lorries to those designated areas.

That brings me on nicely to my third concern, which is the lack of suitable off-street lorry parking and of the suitable facilities for drivers that my hon. Friend mentioned.

(Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Many issues are of concern, and he has outlined them well. Others include not only the noise, the smell of exhaust fumes and how those fumes affect local housing, but the lorry drivers being on their own. I have a very good friend with a haulage business. He told me about a person who jumped out of his lorry, where he had been sleeping, but had forgotten to put the handbrake on, and he was crushed. There was no one else about. The safety of the lorry drivers has to be an issue, so any regulation in the system would be for the benefit of the drivers as well.

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman. Part of what I am saying is for the benefit not only of hauliers but of drivers, who deserve and should be given decent working conditions, including decent accommodation when they have their 45-hour rest.

On off-street parking, in November 2015, the then Chancellor announced a £250 million fund to provide a large lorry park alongside the M20 in Kent. Two years on, we have yet to see a single piece of tarmac laid. I would be grateful if the Minister told me what discussions he has had with Kent County Council and what progress is being made to deliver that project.

One lorry park, however, no matter how large, is not the answer. That is why I very much hope that consideration is given to providing more localised solutions, such as the proposed lorry park near the Sheppey crossing in my constituency—a scheme I fully support. Such a lorry park, just off the A249—which, incidentally, is one of the busiest trunk roads in the south-east of England—would provide proper parking for the increasing number of HGVs that service the businesses in the area, which include two major regional retail distribution centres, a number of recycling plants, the largest paper mill in the UK, the thriving deep-water port at Sheerness and Eurolink, which is one of the largest industrial sites in southern England.

In summary, we should take a lead from our European neighbours and clamp down on the inappropriate parking of HGVs by properly enforcing the law on sleeping in cabs.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour on securing this debate and on making the case so strongly that the problem of lorry parking needs urgently to be addressed, across the country but especially in our area of Kent, for the sake of residents and lorry drivers. We must ensure that the parking of lorries in the right place is effectively enforced, and that has to go hand in hand with ensuring that there are places for lorries to park, such as the Operation Stack lorry park and further lorry parks on the route, which he mentioned.

I fully agree. My hon. Friend mentioned enforcement; there should be an increase in fines for those who break the law and the police should be given more resources to assist the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency in issuing those fines. We should move quickly to provide the lorry parks needed in Kent and look seriously at local solutions, similar to the one on the A249 to which I referred. One way of achieving that would be to encourage local authorities to work with the private sector, which might feel more inclined to invest in a better lorry park network following a change in the enforcement regime.

I am from Aberdeenshire, where we have a £750 million bypass that goes round Aberdeen. I will ask Transport Scotland what they are doing about lorry parks, but does my hon. Friend think it would be better if lorry parks were charged for and had decent facilities?

Existing lorry parks are chargeable, and I think that any future lorry parks will be chargeable. However, there is no point having a charge for a lorry park if there is no lorry park in the first instance. We are saying in Kent that we need more lorry parks, and I am sure that it is the same in Aberdeenshire.

The measures that I have outlined would have a number of long-term benefits, including eradicating the financial disadvantage for UK-based hauliers; removing parked HGVs from our residential streets and commercial areas; improving safety on our roads, particularly motorways and trunk roads; reducing the health hazard caused by HGV drivers dumping human waste and unsightly litter; and, last but not least, bringing long overdue relief to my constituents and those of other right hon. and hon. Members.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) on securing this debate on the important topic of the regulation of HGV drivers who sleep in their vehicles.

I am well aware of the scale of the challenges posed by the volume of lorry traffic in certain parts of the country, particularly Kent. We all know that road freight is a critical factor in the success of our economy, accounting for more than three quarters of all goods moved around the country. It is not just a direct enabler of economic activity but an important employer. Drivers alone—this does not speak to the rest of the haulage industry or the supply chain behind it—number something like 300,000 in this country. It is an important part of the UK economy. Alongside the industry, we as a Government must acknowledge the effects and the importance of that economic activity, and the way in which the industry interacts with other road users, communities and the general public, who have a stake in policy outcomes.

I shall address this topic in two ways. My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey highlighted both the specific issue of drivers taking rests in their vehicles, particularly in inappropriate locations such as lay-bys, and the wider but closely related question of the inappropriate parking of HGVs. I acknowledge the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), who secured a previous debate about fly-parking, the negative effects of which are inevitably worsened by drivers sleeping in their cabs, because of the length of time involved.

We recognise that, in many cases, it is a perfectly acceptable option for a driver to spend a night in his or her vehicle. It is understandable that many drivers would prefer to spend a night in a sleeper cab—I discovered when I visited Keltruck in my constituency the other day that that can be a familiar and even comfortable place—rather than a cheap motel, a house in multiple occupation or other interim accommodation. However, although an overnight rest in the cab is a legitimate and established industry practice, we must draw the line somewhere. We are clear that it is not acceptable for a driver to take his or her full weekly rest—at least 45 hours—in the vehicle. Drivers should not spend an indefinite period driving and resting at their place of work—their lorry.

Hon. Members will be aware of the difficulty that the haulage industry is having recruiting new and, especially, young drivers. The Department is actively supporting it with that issue. Such practices do not support the industry’s efforts to convince young people that commercial driving is a good-quality job, a well-paid occupation worthy of their commitment and a good career choice.

Although HGVs parking in inappropriate locations, such as lay-bys, is always likely to be problematic in some respects—I will come to that question shortly—it is particularly troubling when they do so for 45 hours or more. That amounts to a driver effectively living by the roadside, for the most part without even basic toilet facilities, for several days. That practice has obvious environmental impacts on local residents and other road users, and it places financial burdens on local authorities, which literally have to clean up the mess. I know that there have been such problems in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey and in lay-bys on the A249, not just because he said so, but because the Department has tracked those issues for some time.

The prohibition of that form of cab sleeping is also an important road safety measure. Mandatory weekly rest periods of 45 hours are a fundamental provision of the drivers’ hours rules, which guard against driver fatigue and seek to protect road safety. I am pleased to say that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency already has well-advanced plans to step up its enforcement activities to address that issue. From the first of next month, drivers caught taking their full weekly rest in their vehicles may be issued with a financial penalty of £300. Where appropriate, they may also be required to restart their weekly rest period, which we believe should be a significant deterrent to operators that are involved in such behaviour, since it will put contract delivery at risk, with potentially significant financial implications.

Enforcement officers will act proportionately. This is not about waking up drivers in the middle of the night where they are parked in proper facilities in a law-abiding way; it is about deterring problematic behaviour, particularly in certain areas. We will require the DVSA to join up with local police forces, including in Kent, as illegal cab sleeping often goes hand in hand with illegal parking. We recognise that employers, many of which are based overseas, as my hon. Friend highlighted, often encourage or condone their drivers sleeping by the roadside, so it is important that the DVSA also links up with its counterparts abroad to hold culpable operators to account. The DVSA’s current risk-based system for assessing operators needs to be extended.

I accept everything that the Minister has said, but does he recognise that a £300 penalty is not as much of a deterrent as the £26,000 penalty in France? That leaves British hauliers who have to operate overseas at a disadvantage.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The genius of the debate is not merely that he has anticipated work already under way but that he has anticipated the next phase of work. I am aware, and the Department is aware, that commercial vehicle offences incur higher financial penalties in some neighbouring countries, as he said. We are looking hard at increasing those penalties, potentially up to £3,000 for the most serious offences from a road safety perspective such as the manipulation of tachographs. I hope he will agree that that goes some considerable distance towards meeting some of the issues he has raised, particularly in cases where there are multiple offences across a fleet, and in conjunction with the delay I have already mentioned to a potential contract through restarting the rest period.

I come to the broader question of inappropriate parking, which is inextricably linked to this debate. We recognise that even when spending the odd night parked is fine from the driver’s perspective, if it is done in the wrong location it can still be problematic for the local area. A number of colleagues will have heard my predecessor in this portfolio, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), debate and discuss the issue of fly-parking by HGVs in Kent. I take this opportunity to reassure hon. Members that that issue, which has been highlighted today, remains firmly in our sights.

Since my right hon. Friend spoke on the matter, a number of measures have been taken forward. I am pleased to note that at the end of this month, Kent Council, with the Department’s support, will launch an innovative new enforcement approach on a trial basis by implementing an overnight parking ban on a stretch of the A20. As part of the trial, it will pilot a policy of clamping first time—immobilising vehicles immediately, instead of waiting until multiple offences are committed. I will watch the outcomes of these measures in Kent carefully—it is an important trial—with a view to sharing and promoting successes that may come out of that.

While I welcome the trial, the Minister will recognise that clamping down on lorries on the A20 will just move them to the A2 and A249, which will probably exacerbate the problem in our area.

I recognise the point. The question really is not just whether the trial has that effect—that would be an important outcome—but whether, even adjusting for that, it has deterrent effects. Obviously, as successful as such measures may appear in a trial, they will work only if they can be rolled out across a locality. It will be a wider general enforcement power that will create the genuine incentive to change. Of course, there must be alternatives available in a way that assists the process, and I will come on to that shortly.

So far, I have mainly talked about enforcement-based responses to the problem. Much of this antisocial behaviour is in fact illegal and enforcement is therefore an appropriate and logical response. It is often the case that less responsible hauliers—many of them are based overseas, as my hon. Friend mentioned—encourage their drivers to park up by the side of the road instead of paying for them to use proper facilities. However, we must also recognise that such matters cannot be separated from the wider issue of the shortage of lorry facilities more generally. That point was rightly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling).

My predecessor directed a new survey to be undertaken to understand the scale of the issue. My Department will publish the results shortly, but I inform hon. Members that the situation appears to have become—as many knew or suspected—more acute since the last such survey was undertaken in 2011. It will come as no surprise to hon. Members who represent Kent that that county has again been identified as a hotspot for inappropriate parking, and that proper lorry parking facilities in that county are already largely at capacity. That is also the case in several other parts of the country. It is therefore clear that, in certain areas, enhanced enforcement must go hand in hand with more, and better quality, formal parking sites.

The information collected by the new survey will help local authorities to understand better the parking needs in their areas and, we hope, to make planning decisions accordingly. I know that Kent County Council is already investigating where additional provision is most needed in the county, and Highways England is working closely with it. I am also examining how the Government can best assist local authorities in encouraging additional provision of lorry parking more generally. I will inform the House of my intentions in that area in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey rightly raised Operation Stack, which is an important part of the Government’s planning. As he will be aware, the matter is currently the subject of a judicial review, which has slowed down the process and forced us to consider the interaction between the Stack elements and the wider issue of fly-parking more generally. We wish to resolve the whole thing on both sides in a satisfactory way, and we will make—and in due course announce to the House—plans for contingency arrangements to accommodate that. It is important that he realise that we also understand, as a separate matter, the importance of providing separate facilities irrespective of what transpires with Stack; I want to give him comfort in that regard.

We are undertaking essential contingency planning to cope with all eventualities, but we also need to recognise the issue more widely, in Kent and nationally. I thank my hon. Friend for this highly constructive debate, and I thank hon. Friends and colleagues across the House for their valuable contributions.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.