I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The United Kingdom’s road haulage sector plays a major role in keeping our economy on the move. Each year, UK-registered heavy goods vehicles carry around £30 billion in goods between the UK and the EU, and around 300,000 people are directly employed within the industry. I saw a snapshot of the UK logistics sector’s importance this morning when I visited and opened the new United Parcel Service sorting and delivery centre at the DP World London Gateway logistics site. It is a strong and positive new investment in the sector that is helping British businesses to become more efficient and is, crucially, a vote of confidence in our future as a trading nation. The Bill is important because it is about our future as a trading nation.
The Bill provides a framework that should reassure hauliers that the final Brexit deal agreed with the European Union will be able to be implemented smoothly and will support the continued movement of goods by truck between the UK and Europe. We are committed to maintaining the existing liberalised access for commercial haulage. It is in everyone’s interest that there should be a mutually beneficial road freight agreement with the EU that secures our objective of frictionless trade and is in the interest of both parties.
The Government are moving ahead with the negotiations with the EU, and I expect us to move towards a proper agreement later this year—I am very confident about that. However, it would be irresponsible of this Government not to plan for all eventualities. I stress again that it is in everyone’s interest to secure liberalised access, which is by far the most probable result of the negotiations, but this Bill is prudent planning for the future. It forms part of the Government’s broader EU exit legislation programme and, as set out in the other place, the haulage permits aspect of the Bill provides a framework for the UK to manage permits in all eventualities, including if they are needed as part of our agreement with the EU.
The Secretary of State might be putting a gloss on what is potentially a catastrophic situation. I give him the opportunity, from the Dispatch Box, to give a categorical guarantee that, after exit day, the licences of 318,000 HGV drivers will still be valid to deliver goods across the European Union. Is that right?
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman final details of the negotiations at this stage, but let me tell him some straightforward facts: 80% of the trucks that come through the channel ports and the channel tunnel are carrying EU exports to the United Kingdom, so it is pretty evident that it is in everyone’s interest that we reach a sensible agreement for the future. This Bill ensures that we have the legal mechanisms in place to deliver the registration framework that is needed for all eventualities, which is prudent and sensible.
The hon. Gentleman asked me a straightforward question, and I say to him straightforwardly that 80% of those trucks are EU hauliers bringing goods to the UK. I struggle to imagine other EU countries not wanting that to continue.
I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State, but this is quite important. He acknowledges that I asked a straight question about the guarantee. Is it not the case that, even in that worst-case situation, some sort of bilateral agreement with other EU countries would be required and there is no guarantee that such an agreement will come forward? Is that not the truth?
I cannot guarantee that EU countries and their businesses will want to continue selling goods to UK consumers, but my best guess is that French farmers will still want to sell their produce through our supermarkets and that German car makers will still want to sell their cars in our car showrooms. No, I cannot guarantee that it will rain or be sunny tomorrow, nor can I guarantee that EU countries will want to continue selling their products to us, but do you know what, I think they probably will.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing a timely and good Bill to deal with all eventualities, and on so politely answering idiotic interventions that are trying to create fear where there is no need for it because, of course, goods will move smoothly with or without a deal.
My right hon. Friend is right. The fact that this morning, just to the east of London, I visited a £120 million investment in the future of the United Kingdom as a trading nation by a major United States-based company says that I am not alone in believing that trade will continue and flourish in the future, because it will.
There are two parts to the Bill, the first of which is all about the permits. It enables us to introduce a scheme that simply allows trucks to cross borders in a variety of scenarios—this is, basically, like a truck having its own international driving licence. In many circumstances, through a variety of international agreements, that is a necessity in order to carry goods from one nation to another. We are simply making sure that we put in place the legal framework for the Government to establish a system for issuing permits if, after we have concluded the negotiations, it proves necessary to do so. We have designed the legislation to be flexible in response to different circumstances. We do not want to place any undue regulatory or financial requirements on the industry.
Permits are a feature of almost all international road freight agreements outside free-trade areas. The UK already has several permit-based agreements with non-EU countries, including Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia and Ukraine. The UK also has liberal, non-permit agreements with Albania and Turkey. The Bill will also cover non-EU agreements relating to permits, which means that there will be one simple, straightforward administration system that is designed to be as easy as possible for haulage firms to use.
I, too, welcome the Bill. The Government are right to make it clear that in the event of no deal we will still have made preparations. The Bill makes a distinction between international permits with other EU countries, and permits and agreements with the Irish Republic. Why is such a distinction made?
We worked on this carefully. The important thing to say is that this is not in any way related to broader discussions about border matters. We are aware that some hauliers travel from Belfast to Dublin to Holyhead to deliver their goods within the UK—we are talking about a UK business delivering its produce within the UK—so this provision is simply designed to ensure that that will not be impeded in any way by the regulatory system. I will say a bit more about that later in my remarks, but we want to ensure that nothing can undermine the integrity of the UK and people who travel from point A to point B within it. That is very important to me.
The final details of the scheme will, of course, depend on the agreements that we reach, and the Bill allows for that. It creates flexibility and allows us to make regulations on the allocation of permits to best meet the needs of the economy. Guidance on the allocation process will be issued to hauliers.
This aspect of the Bill also allows the Government to charge fees in relation to applications for permits and the grant of permits. I stress that our aim is purely to set those fees on a cost-recovery basis so that we minimise the impact on hauliers; this is not designed to be a revenue-raising mechanism. The system is simply designed to cover its own costs, and the amounts involved will be relatively small for anyone seeking a permit. The fees will recover only the day-to-day cost of administering the scheme. The set-up costs of the scheme are being funded as part of a £75.8 million grant from the Treasury to the Department for Transport as part of our preparations for all the different Brexit scenarios.
The Bill provides for the first set of regulations made under clauses 1 and 2 to be subject to the affirmative procedure, which means that the House will be able to scrutinise the new permitting system fully and properly. The first regulations will set out the overarching framework that will be used for the provision of permits under any future agreements. As I have outlined, we are confident that we can maintain our existing liberalised access with the EU, but the Bill will help to cater for any possible future permit arrangement with the EU.
On timing, we plan to have the system for a permit scheme ready by the end of the year. It is important that we make sure that we are prepared for all eventualities. Any applications for permits after the relevant regulations are in force will be dealt with under this system. The first regulations made under clauses 1 and 2 will cover the permits required under existing international agreements, including provisions relating to Armenia and Ukraine. If we then agree a permit-based arrangement with the EU, we will make further changes to the regulations to cover the agreement reached. In the unlikely scenario that we end up with a restricted number of permits to the EU as part of a future relationship, we have committed to providing a report to Parliament. That report must assess the effects of such restrictions on the UK haulage industry during that year. That assessment is, of course, vital, but I reiterate that this is about a flow that is more inward than outward, both in goods terms and in haulage terms, so I remain confident that we will reach a sensible agreement for the future. The permit scheme is necessary to make sure that trucks have their equivalent of the international driving licence to cross borders. I will not allow us to get into a position in which the industry does not have the administrative basis to take its business forward in all eventualities.
Before I move on to part 2 of the Bill, let me touch briefly on the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic, which the UK signed 50 years ago and which the Government have recently ratified. The convention will come into force here before 29 March 2019. It was introduced by the United Nations to enable international road travel and to increase safety by establishing common rules for roads around the world. It builds on the earlier 1949 Geneva convention on road traffic and, indeed, the 1926 Paris convention, which was the first in this policy area and which the UK has already ratified. Why does it matter? Because we need to make sure not only that trucks can come across borders, but that we are able to line up with the rules in other countries, such as Germany, on trailer registration.
The second part of the Bill gives the Government powers to establish a trailer registration scheme to meet the standards in the 1968 Vienna convention. Many EU countries have similar schemes. It will mean that UK operators will be able to register trailers before entering countries that require trailer registration for travel on their roads. By trailers, I mean not the trailer on the back of a car that carries a tent, but full HGV trailers that cross borders to carry goods from point A to point B. The Bill will allow us to set the scope of such a scheme’s coverage.
The detail will be set out in regulations, but our intention is to require only users travelling abroad to register their trailers. It is not UK-only, but purely about those travelling internationally. Only commercial trailers weighing more than 750 kg and all trailers weighing more than 3.5 tonnes will need to be registered. As was clearly set out in the other House, the duty to register will apply almost exclusively to international hauliers. Virtually all private-use trailers, such as caravans and horse trailers, will not fall within the scope of mandatory registration, because it is rare that trailers of that kind weigh more than 3.5 tonnes.
We will consult on the scope of the trailer registration scheme over the next few months, and we will try to make sure that we are in good shape later this year to put in place the right scheme, depending on the nature of our agreements and what is required to ensure the smooth flow of trade across borders. We plan to recover the costs of running the scheme by charging fees, which we expect to be lower than those currently set out for the registration of motor vehicles. It is of course important that the new arrangements are complied with; if they are not, we will apply existing penalties to those who transgress.
Many hauliers hire trailers for specific uses. If trailers are used predominantly in the UK, they obviously will not be registered. What sort of timescale does the Secretary of State think would be reasonable for registering a trailer before it embarks on an international journey?
In all this, we will want the process to be as rapid as possible. There will inevitably be a surge at the start when hauliers look to register trailers that will be used internationally, but my hope is that once that initial surge is over, it will be possible to carry out the registration very quickly when there is a change of circumstance. We do not expect to have a system that is so expensive that it deters somebody who wants to register a trailer in case it is used internationally. We want to ensure that there is only a small cost to businesses. Many people will want to register their trailers in case what my right hon. Friend highlights happens.
We listened carefully to the debate in the other place and we are working on a report on trailer safety, which is a policy area in which proper analysis will be beneficial and will help safety on our roads. Off the back of the report, we will be able to offer a clear and comprehensive analysis of the complex issue of trailer safety and towing-related accidents. That was a constructive element that came out of the debate in the other place, and we will certainly engage with it.
On the question of the island of Ireland, the Bill covers the whole United Kingdom, other than two provisions that amend legislation in Great Britain and Northern Ireland respectively. Road haulage policy and trailer registration are devolved in Northern Ireland, but not in Scotland and Wales. We have been working with all the devolved Administrations as the Bill has developed. With regard to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the Bill supports the commitments made in the December 2017 joint report to avoid a hard land border. This is an enabling Bill, and the Government will preserve the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.
The Government are committed to ensuring that trade and everyday movements over the land border continue as they do now. The Bill does not create a permit regime in relation to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, nor does it create a hard border between them. It means that trailers travelling only between the UK and Ireland will not need to be registered. It also avoids the situation that I described earlier in which someone who chooses to go via Dublin to come over to the UK finds themselves needing a permit even if they are moving purely within the United Kingdom. I can confirm that the Bill will not impact on border arrangements and that there will not be, as a result, any new transport-related checks at our borders.
Will the Secretary of State clarify whether there will have to be a separate agreement between the UK Government and the Irish Government covering people who are taking lorries across the border, whether through Ireland to the rest of GB, or simply carrying loads from Northern Ireland into the Irish Republic?
The right hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot speak for the Irish Government. We are putting in place a mechanism that ensures that there is no issue on our part. The Irish Government, like any other Government, are of course perfectly able to put barriers in the way of trade, but we will not do that. We will not create a regime that affects those travelling into the Republic of Ireland or those travelling through the Republic of Ireland into the United Kingdom. I cannot give guarantees on behalf of the Republic of Ireland, but I cannot for a moment believe that people there will want to put in place administrative systems that we do not put in place.
I understand that the Secretary of State cannot speak for the Irish Government, but can he tell us what discussions he has had with the Irish Government about this, and therefore give us an indication of what the position might be?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Irish Government are part of the European Union negotiations. We continue to discuss this and other transport issues as part of those negotiations, and I am entirely confident that we will reach a sensible place at their conclusion.
Let me sum up. As I have outlined, we are committed to ensuring that the road haulage industry can continue to prosper as we leave the European Union. As part of our programme of EU exit legislation, this Bill prepares us for a range of scenarios. It will ensure that the UK can fulfil its international obligations and will be ready when we leave the EU.
The Government have been supported by the industry in bringing forward these sensible measures, and we have talked extensively with it over the past few months. I believe that this represents prudent planning for different eventualities. I personally want to lead a Department that is prepared for all those eventualities and that can deal with whatever circumstance lies ahead, notwithstanding my view that we will reach a sensible partnership agreement for the future this autumn that will enable us to remain good friends and neighbours of the European Union, and that will allow the trade between us to carry on flowing as it does today. I commend the Bill to the House.
The Bill presents a long overdue opportunity to consider the importance of the transport and logistics industries to the United Kingdom and the commercial road haulage sector in particular. The industry employs more than 2.5 million people and is the fifth biggest sector of the economy contributing £124 billion.
One of the privileges of my job is to meet people from across the transport, freight and logistics sectors. In the course of those discussions around transitional and post-Brexit arrangements, I hear an increasing frustration and anger at the cavalier “it will be all right on the night” approach from this Government, and rightly so, because there is no evidence that economic self-interest will prevail.
As we debate the prospect of a permit system for the haulage industry in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it should be recalled that the UK has 600,000 goods vehicle driving licence holders. There are nearly half a million commercial vehicles over 3.5 tonnes registered in the UK, which are responsible for moving 98% of goods. This is a serious and vital industry and we meddle with it at our peril.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the haulage industry is important to the United Kingdom, especially to Northern Ireland where almost all of our food and goods travel by road? Does he not accept that the whole purpose of the Bill is to ensure that, if there is a deal, we are prepared for it, and if there is no deal, we are also prepared for it, and that that should reassure the haulage industry?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I just do not share his sense of confidence that the provisions of the Bill are anything like adequate in the event of a no deal. These measures will not respond to the needs of the country should that contingency arise.
The Bill must be regarded as the first piece of legislation that provides for a no-deal Brexit. It sets out new powers for the Government to allocate permits to hauliers if required by future agreement or lack thereof, so that UK lorries can continue to operate to and within the European Union. A newspaper headline this weekend—in The Sunday Times, no less—was correct to say that
“this government is failing business at every turn”.
Today’s debate is a further foretaste of the damage that this Government’s prevaricating is doing to the British economy.
My hon. Friend will have noticed that the Secretary of State—in all his finger-crossing hopes for something to crop up before Brexit day—did not actually update the House on the progress that he might be making towards a comprehensive land transport agreement, which is what the Freight Transport Association is asking for. The Secretary of State did not confirm whether he is personally in discussions with the Irish Government, other Governments or the European Commission. Is it not lamentable that he could not even give this vital industry some level of update on the progress of negotiations towards those agreements?
My hon. Friend has got it absolutely right. It is indeed lamentable that there has been a complete absence of those discussions. It is a question of hit and hope, finger in the air and everything will be alright on the night. This is not the right way to go about it. The Secretary of State has come to the Dispatch Box and said that he does not speak for the other 27 Governments. I sometimes wonder whether he speaks for the one of which he is a member. A damaged and disrupted logistics sector will result in a damaged and disrupted British economy.
Will the hon. Gentleman just tell the House what additional contingencies he would make if he were the Secretary of State?
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, that is exactly what I am going to outline during the course of my speech.
I hope that this Bill represents the dawn of the realisation of the catastrophe that would flow from a chaotic Brexit. A few months ago the “beast from the east” left supermarket shelves across the country empty, while logistics problems forced fast food chain KFC to close hundreds of outlets because of supply shortages. These examples provide the merest glimpse of what shocks to the supply and distribution chain will look like for British consumers and businesses if the free flow of trade is not maintained following our departure from the European Union.
The Bill has serious implications for the UK’s music industry, particularly the concert haulage industry, which supports the music industry in the UK and the EU. Concert haulage operators require a community licence for road transport to the EU, which will be lost after Brexit. The Road Haulage Association says that a permit system will not work for concert hauliers, and estimates that the UK will run out of permits in 2.5 days. I have to ask: when will the Government listen to business and accept that there has to be a continuation of the current trading and transport environment, if a massive disruption of the flow of goods and produce is to be avoided?
As an island nation, ports are and will remain vital to our trading relationship with Europe and the rest of the world, so it is quite extraordinary that no Minister from the Department for Exiting the European Union has visited Britain’s most important gateway to Europe—the port of Dover. Half of the UK’s international road haulage traffic comes through Dover alone. I ask the Minister, is transport really a top priority in the Government’s Brexit negotiations?
Forgive me; I did not mean to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in mid-flow, but I think that I am right in saying that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), visited Dover last week. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a straightforward Member of this House and would not want to mislead the House, so he will probably want to correct what he said. I say this to be helpful.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. I am just delighted that the hon. Lady got there eventually.
Road haulage is essential to the complex and sensitive just-in-time supply chains that underpin the UK and EU economies. Roll-on roll-off ferries face the most serious impact from a no-deal Brexit. A staggering 10,000 trucks pass through Dover each day. Almost none of these currently requires a customs clearance process. The port estimates that a two-minute delay per vehicle will generate a permanent 20-mile-long traffic jam.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Given the current snail’s pace in the negotiations, with the Cabinet split in two to look for solutions rather than no solutions, should there not have been some contingency in this Bill for customs checks, which are looking increasingly likely due to the Government’s handling of Brexit?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. One does wonder why no such contingency has been put in the Bill, and we will have to address that in Committee.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders tells me that, on average, 1,100 trucks from the EU deliver components worth £35 million to UK car and engine plants every single day. The UK automotive industry relies on just six major ports for the export of 95% of completed vehicles. The SMMT says that some manufacturers face costs of up to £1 million an hour if production is stopped due to component supply issues. A 15-minute delay to parts delivered just in time can cost manufacturers £850,000 per year. Is it not blindingly obvious that the current trajectory of this Government, with Brextremists at their core, means that we are heading for economic and trading chaos?
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question? If business shares the pessimism that he is laying before the House, can he explain the string of positive announcements of investment in the United Kingdom that we have seen in the past few months by Vauxhall, Toyota and others? If things are so bleak, why are they choosing to make substantial investments in their future in the United Kingdom?
If the Secretary of State had looked at the papers over the weekend, he would have seen exactly why. A lot of people are making their plans to get out of the UK if necessary. That is exactly what has happened. He is playing with fire on this, and he really should wake up and smell the coffee.
The Government have done little to help the road haulage industry. They have made a complete and utter dog’s breakfast of contingency planning for the M20 motorway. A lorry park off the motorway has been desperately needed to help alleviate problems during Operation Stack, and it is all the more needed ahead of Brexit next March. Yet the Department for Transport failed properly to undertake the critically important environmental risk assessment before the planning process for the £250 million project and had to scrap it last September. This incompetence will have disastrous consequences. If this Government cannot successfully plan how to build a lorry park in Kent, how do they expect anyone to believe that they are capable of introducing an alternative haulage permit scheme?
The hon. Gentleman says, rather surprisingly, that this Government have done nothing for the road haulage industry. Is he not aware that the HGV levy brought in to level the playing field between foreign and UK hauliers brought in £96 million in the first two years after it was introduced in 2014, and that the previous coalition Government increased the speed limit on single-carriageway roads from 40 mph to 50 mph, which made a great contribution to improving logistical efficiency?
If the right hon. Gentleman had had the pleasure of listening to the Road Haulage Association last week, and the FTA as well, he would probably agree with me that they are not exactly overjoyed by the prospect of the uncertainty that is facing them. A lot of these companies are small companies working on very small margins. He raised the issue of costs that are now going to be put on to those companies. He should be worrying about how that is going to impact on them.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. I am not trying to be rude, but I need to make progress. I have taken a lot of interventions.
The ongoing supply of labour is a huge concern for the road haulage industry. The average age of an HGV driver is now 55 and only 2% of the workforce is under 25. The industry is enormously reliant on the 60,000 non-UK EU nationals and any restriction on the supply of skilled workers will undoubtedly have a negative impact.
Ministers urgently need to reassure the road haulage industry that Brexit will not result in more delays at borders as well as that it will not have to bear additional red tape and costs. The Government need urgently to provide clarity about customs, borders and future regulations, about which there are real and deep concerns. Ministers continually argue that economic self-interest will mean that things naturally gravitate towards protecting British business. That is a naive and irresponsible view that is already damaging UK industry.
I pay tribute to the noble Lords, whose work has improved the Bill. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the Lords described the Bill as
“wholly skeletal, more of a mission statement than legislation”,
said that the Committee was
“in the dark because the devil will be in the regulatory detail”,
and urged the Government to provide
“illustrative examples…of at least some of the regulations to be made under the main delegated powers in the Bill”.
As the future relationship is a matter for the Brexit negotiations, this is an enabling Bill that contains little detail and grants the Secretary of State significant powers. The fact that so few details are on the face of the Bill also speaks to the lack of strategy and progress in the Government’s approach to exiting the European Union. The Secretary of State should of course have the powers needed to mitigate the damage to the UK haulage sector caused by a failure to retain current arrangements, but those powers should not be excessive. For example, an argument has been made in favour of a sunset clause so that the powers do not remain on the statute book ad infinitum.
Following pressure in the other place, concessions were made. I am glad that clauses 1, 2, 12 and 17 will be subject to the affirmative procedure, taking account of the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee to the effect that regulations made under certain clauses should be subject to a vote of both Houses. I am pleased that the Government tabled an amendment introducing a new reporting requirement, requiring the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament annually that assesses the effect on the UK haulage industry of any restrictions that apply to a permit scheme agreed with one or more EU member states. The impact of a future permit scheme has the potential to be far reaching with many unintended consequences, so it is right that the Secretary of State should report to Parliament.
In the light of the Government’s abysmal failure on road safety, which has seen the number of specialised road traffic police plummet while the number killed and seriously injured on our roads rises year on year, I urge the Secretary of State not to attempt to remove Labour’s amendment on trailer safety. The amendment is eminently reasonable, and requires the Government to assess evidence on the incidence of trailer-related road accidents and, only if the evidence justifies action, for a new MOT-style mandatory safety standards testing scheme to be created.
I note that when it was introduced in the other place the Bill would have allowed for permits to be allocated on a first come, first served basis or through a lottery, creating a situation where companies would be left queuing overnight or waiting with their fingers crossed that their company’s name would be pulled out of a hat. I am glad that, after criticism from the noble Lord Tunnicliffe, this was changed.
In Committee, Labour will continue to identify any further unintended consequences of the Bill, and will look to strengthen the accountability to Parliament and restrict the powers granted to the Secretary of State where necessary. Labour believes that getting the right deal for transport and its networks must be the highest priority for the Brexit negotiations. Nothing less than the future of the country is at stake. Only Labour’s clear policy of a customs union with the EU can ensure that trade can flow and grow. The Government should put country before party and provide the same.
I am slightly astonished at some of the points that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) made on behalf of the Opposition. I know him well—we often travel down on the train from the north-east together—but he has spent most of the past quarter of an hour attacking the Government for implementing the decision made by 65.5% of the voters in Middlesbrough, and by over 60% of people in Cleveland as a whole, to leave the European Union.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree with me that the voters did not vote to be worse off?
The hon. Gentleman has fallen into the other trap that many Labour colleagues fall into, which is arguing that the people were too stupid to understand what they were voting for. They knew precisely what they were voting for. They knew it would be tough, but they put the interests of the country before short-term economic advantage. I believe that the Government are negotiating to get the best deal for Britain and one that will be to the long-term benefit of our country.
Does my right hon. Friend share my surprise at hearing the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) say that any attempt to restrict the supply of workers coming in from the EU would be resisted? Labour Members’ support for a customs union and their not wanting any restriction on the freedom of movement of workers shows that they are in denial about leaving the European Union.
My hon. Friend has correctly identified that Labour Members are all over the place on this subject. There was no shortage of “Project Fear” in debates during the referendum campaign—people knew they were voting for something that would be very tough for this country—but, by and large, they voted because they understood the facts. I turn again to the point that Labour colleagues often make, which is that people did not know what they were voting for. Yes, they did: they were intelligent enough to understand the arguments, and to say otherwise is to insult the many people in Yorkshire and the north-east who voted to leave the European Union.
Did my right hon. Friend also notice that Labour Members’ case seems to be that the EU is so nasty and unpleasant that it would deliberately wreck its own exports to us to make a point, yet they want to be more closely aligned with people and an organisation that would do that? I just do not understand what they are talking about.
As always, my right hon. Friend makes a valid point. It is not in the interests of the German motor industry, the French agriculture industry or industry right across Europe to cut off its nose to spite its face. If that were the case, I am sure that German motor manufacturers would be beating a track to Chancellor Merkel’s door to make that very point.
I have not seen one recently, but I remember following lorries down the road and reading a sticker saying, “If you’ve got it, it’s been on a truck”. Although progress has been made in switching freight to rail or short sea shipping, the last leg of any journey invariably involves a truck. We heard from the hon. Member for Middlesbrough about Dover. It had 2.6 million truck journeys last year, with 1.6 million trucks going on Le Shuttle, which is 11,500 per day. Dover represents 17% of all UK trade coming in, worth £122 billion last year.
It is not just on this side of the channel that people are making such a case; Calais chiefs have also stressed the necessity of a frictionless border. Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president and general manager of Port Boulogne Calais, has said that the port boarded 2 million lorries last year. Without an agreed system in place, we could face 30-mile queues on both sides of the channel—every day, not just when the French seamen go on strike. During such a strike, some UK motor manufacturers, and indeed BMW in Bavaria, were three days away from stopping production. As we have heard, Honda relies on 350 trucks a day on a one-hour just-in-time delivery schedule. It is in no one’s interest not to get a deal.
The right hon. Gentleman is making his point very sharply and well. Does he accept that even the permanent secretary of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has made it quite clear that the picture painted by the Opposition spokesman is very far from the truth? We can have a frictionless border at Dover, and not need have a lorry park on the M20 or the checks he described.
I will come to that point as I expand my comments.
Turning to trucks and the importance of the road haulage industry, it is currently in vogue to demonise diesels, and Volkswagen must take some of the blame for that. However, if one looks at the trucks operating under the Euro 5 and Euro 6 regulations, one sees that heavy vehicles pretty much perform as expected. The reason for that is quite simple: although the analytical equipment that exposed Volkswagen was not previously small enough to go in a car boot, it has for a long time been small enough to go on the back of a truck, so trucks actually comply very well with the regulations. Indeed, industries have always stepped up to the mark when a higher level of regulation has been proposed, and there is no reason whatever why the regulations will be slackened once the UK leaves the European Union.
As one of the few Members, I suspect, who holds what used to be called a class 1 heavy goods vehicle licence, I spent many hours driving HGVs—transporting potatoes to make oven chips or, as part of the family business, transporting sulphuric acid. I have also driven 44-tonners in France, Belgium, Germany and Holland, so I know a bit about their haulage system—indeed, I wish we had motorway service stations as good as theirs. We rely on our haulage companies, our 320,000 drivers and our logistical organisations to literally keep the wheels of business turning, and they are equally important in cross-border trade.
The Bill could be described in part as a just-in-case Bill—a safety net in case the Brexit negotiations fall off the trapeze—although the permits will also be useful in how they apply to non-EU states. It is unlikely that we will not get a deal, because I think we all understand that it is in everyone’s interest to get a good deal in place for the other side of Brexit.
International trade relies on the capability of vehicles, as well as the goods they carry, to cross international borders. To ensure that vehicles minimise empty running, logistical operations need to be flexible. That is why we have cabotage rules in place, so that non-EU trucks can carry out work here before returning, hopefully loaded with exports, to their home country. When there are short-term capacity problems, the rules can be lifted temporarily, as was the case when a shortage of car transporters coincided with the new registration plate.
The single market for transport services is one baby that we must not throw out with the Brexit bathwater. Yes, we are leaving the single market, but we must keep the flexibilities, liberalisation and competitive elements that benefit trade and jobs. We have always promoted this mechanism, often in the teeth of opposition from member states such as France that see competition from eastern European hauliers as “social dumping” rather than as a competitive element that raises everyone’s game.
In the absence of an agreement, the Bill is our fall-back plan B. In a post-Brexit scenario, one expects the standards that our haulage industry has to comply with not to change radically. Vehicle safety and emissions standards will not be eroded when the UK leaves the EU. Innovations such as autonomous automatic braking, selective catalytic reduction and particulate traps apply to vehicles manufactured and used in Europe. I expect that the Euro 6 standards will be identical to the new UK 1 standards, as I guess they will be called, after Brexit. Similarly, it is in no one’s interest to start a race to the bottom on drivers’ hours.
So much for the vehicles. What about the goods they carry? Whether we have a customs partnership, a so-called max fac or some other custom-built customs solution, the system must operate electronically and without friction, and it must not delay vehicles passing through Dover, Holyhead or Newry, or indeed—this is probably our biggest challenge—goods passing from Spain to our loyal friends in Gibraltar.
I do not share the pessimism of some people who have been known as remoaners—incidentally, I was one of those who voted remain. As Shipping Minister, I visited Southampton and Felixstowe and saw the thousands of containers coming in from all over the world and moving seamlessly through the port. The last thing anyone wants to do is to start opening those containers. The same applies to our biggest port by value—surprisingly, not many people know that that is Heathrow, with the holds of long-haul flights laden with goods inbound and outbound to places all over the globe.
Perhaps the most impressive operation I have seen as part of the Industry and Parliament Trust involved Manchester Airports Group and UPS. The hub at East Midlands airport deals with thousands of parcels every night. Customs duty is collected by the shipper, who navigates a complex administrative system, without the parcel—whether from Beijing, Detroit or Tokyo—stopping for a moment, either on its journey to a UK destination or on its way to trans-shipment on a departing flight. Using the widely recognised “known shipper” arrangement enables truly global trade to function between dozens of jurisdictions and with myriad permutations. For example, some hydraulic components attract a different tariff depending on whether they are destined to be fitted to a tractor or an aircraft. East Midlands is impressive, but nothing compared with the operations in Cologne or Louisville, Kentucky. As I say, this system is already delivering frictionless trade every night. We do not need to reinvent the wheel—or indeed the hub.
I hope such arrangements can be put in place before the end of the transition period. I agree with James Hookham of the Freight Transport Association that the timetable is tight. Until this issue is resolved, however, it will not be possible to initiate free trade, or a freer trade arrangement, with our new global trading partners, so time is of the essence.
Turning to trailers, I note that the UK has now ratified the Vienna convention, which will come into force in March 2019. There have been problems with UK trailers and semi-trailers pulled by non-UK motive units on the continent. The proposals to register trailers will address that. I am pleased that that will not apply to the whole fleet—I must declare an interest in this respect—but only to existing trailers used internationally, and to new trailers as they are registered. I also note the need to facilitate trailer rental, and I am pleased by the reassurance I received from the Secretary of State earlier. We already have a registration system with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, as trailers must pass an annual MOT test, so the Department for Transport will be well aware of the scale of the operation needed.
Belgium—I think uniquely—has a separate registration number for trailers, so the number on the front of a combination will not match the one on the back. Most countries, like us, however, have a plate in the cab that is fixed to whichever trailer is being pulled. The current plating certificate—affixed to the chassis bar of a trailer in most cases—is often hard to find and usually hard to read as well. Has the Minister considered whether the plate fitted to the trailer could have a number or barcode, as is used on shipping containers, that could be read by an automatic number plate recognition-type machine to further facilitate the free flow of vehicles between jurisdictions? I understand that the plate must be fixed to the vehicle, but is there a view on the best position for remote sensing?
In conclusion, I welcome the Bill, but I hope that progress in negotiations will render it superfluous. When we take out insurance, that does not mean that we expect our house to burn down. I think the Government are being prudent. Incidentally, I think the Bill also sends a clear message to EU negotiators that we will not accept a bad deal at all costs and that contingencies are being put in place.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), who must be one of the very few of us in this place to have a class 1 licence.
I think I will continue the theme of Opposition Members expressing their genuine concerns about what is happening and about how we go forward, while Conservative Members just continue to tell us, “Everything will be all right on the night. Why should we worry? Just believe us. It will all be okay.” The Government’s confidence is indicated by the fact that a Parliamentary Private Secretary has been going round the Government Benches giving out a crib sheet and lobbying for support. I think that tells us how confident the Government really feel.
I understand the need for the Bill, which is a back-up in case there is no deal. For that reason, I certainly would not vote against it, but I hope that the UK Government are doing their best to ensure that part 1 is not required and that the existing streamlined operations we enjoy under the Community licence scheme remain in place. However, we have to look at the current reality. We have a Brexit Cabinet that cannot agree a customs arrangement. The Tories are determined to pull out of the customs union and the single market. They are absolutely all over the place, and the clock is ticking away, so the prospect of a seamless transition becomes more and more unlikely.
In many ways, the Bill is symptomatic of the Government and their approach to Brexit. It is mainly superficial. There is a statement of intent, but we do not know the detail behind the Bill. We do not know what the permit system will look like or how it will operate. We do not know what fees will be applied. We do not even know whether limits will be applied to the number of permits. Like the Brexit process in general, the Bill is just the equivalent of talk but no action.
There is a further irony. The Bill is another example of primary legislation formulated in the other place. When it suits the UK Government they tell us that the House of Lords is only a revising chamber and that it should not get in the way of the business of the Government, yet if it is willing to do the Government’s bidding, we are supposed to laud its expertise. However, when it applies its expertise and says there is a need for a customs union, a vote to stay in the single market and a meaningful parliamentary vote in this place, somehow we have to ignore that expertise and wisdom. That shows the hypocrisy of Government Members when it comes to the House of Lords.
Another aspect of the Bill is that it is a part of the no deal preparations. The Brexiteer argument is that preparing for no deal will show the EU we are ready to walk away, thus strengthening our negotiating position. However, I am pretty sure that the Bill is not going to have Michel Barnier quaking in his boots. This is the first Bill going through Parliament in preparation for no deal. I suggest there is a long way to go to strengthen the Government’s hand. We are only a couple of months away from summer recess and a whole load of other legislation will be required for the Government to be in a competent place in terms of no deal arrangements. There is no way that the Government are strengthening their hand. If anybody thinks that we are in a stronger negotiating position, they are kidding themselves.
The Government have not even published their transport priorities in a single policy or place, so we do not really know their overall hoped for direction of travel. We know in theory that they want frictionless trade. They want extensive free trade agreements without any meaningful show of what that means in reality and how it would be implemented—that is a key issue.
On haulage, we know that the supposed preference is for things to remain much as they are under the Community licence arrangements, but where are we on those negotiations? If agreement is reached for arrangements to continue as is, or if a reciprocal licence arrangement is agreed, that means few extra checks will be required. There is still, however, the fundamental issue of the customs and border arrangements, which is far more relevant to hauliers and businesses reliant on the import and export of fresh goods.
What will be the timescale for a new IT system? Has any work actually started on it? How much of the £75.8 million allocation for transport Brexit preparation has been spent so far and what has it been spent on? What is the planned programme of work for the fund for the rest of the financial year? Is the renting of Manston airfield as an emergency lorry park part of the Brexit preparations and expenditure? As the shadow Minister said, they cannot even get their plans for a car park correctly in place. That is £13 million down the drain.
It may be helpful to the House if I say that the preparations for any disruption, not necessarily Brexit-related, of the Channel ports are well under way. Work on the M20 will begin in a matter of weeks, either late this month or early next month, to ensure that we have greater capability than we did in 2015 to store more lorries. We are not relying on Manston airport. It remains available to us in the short term, but it is not included in our long-term plans.
The Transport Secretary says that the work is going to start shortly. Can he give me a timescale for the completion of the lorry park?
I will go into detail another time, but we are putting in place plans that will enable us to store at least as many lorries as we did at the worst of the situation in 2015 without creating a situation where the motorway cannot flow in both directions. Those plans are well advanced and we will have them in place before next March.
I remain to be convinced. That seems to be another example of, “Believe me, it will be okay. We’re dealing with it, just trust me.”
I just wonder if perhaps this is the hidden agenda behind the Foreign Secretary’s proposed bridge, because that would create 20 miles of road between Britain and France. Perhaps the lorries could be stacked along that as well.
It would certainly provide additional space. I wonder how long the bridge would take to complete, right enough. It is something else I would not trust this Government to implement.
On the Government’s overall preparations, the reality is, as James Hookham, the deputy chief executive of the Freight Transport Association stated:
“There is a lack of any progress in agreeing new systems for avoiding customs checks.”
He also explained that there is much detail to be agreed in two and a half years, a tiny period in business terms. His comments assume a transition period up to December 2020. If there is no deal, however, the transition period falls and that takes a year and a half out of that timetable. Time really is ticking on and we do not get a sense of urgency from the Government.
Our reliance on road haulage is confirmed by the fact that in 2016 3.7 million tonnes of goods were exported from the UK and 4 million tonnes were imported. For Brexiteers—we have heard the arguments already in interventions—this apparently shows how much the EU relies on the UK for its exports and so it will do everything it can to make sure its exports get here. What it actually shows, however, is how much UK businesses rely on EU imports to put food on the shelves and for it to be a reasonable price. The UK is far more reliant on EU imports. In terms of export value, it is 27 countries versus only the UK.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very interesting point. I suspect that when we talk about the import of food into this country, the Government will be reliant on the American market. If they do that, they will be held to ransom. That is what I suspect they are up to.
That is a valid point. There have been mixed messages from the UK Government. The Trade Secretary says he will get a free trade deal with the United States. The Environment Secretary says we will get a deal but he assures us that there will be no chlorinated chicken or hormone beef. If we trade under World Trade Organisation rules, we cannot impose those welfare standards.
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s ability to find a negative in every argument. He talks about the importance of food imports for the United Kingdom. Does he accept that those food imports come from farmers in Spain, Ireland, France and Italy? Does he think that they want transport to be disrupted to the point where their goods sit and rot in lorries? Is that not an incentive for their Governments to do the kind of deal that the Secretary of State is talking about?
First, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman for saying I can find a negative in any argument? I can assure him that I have a wife who agrees wholeheartedly with that sentiment. He makes my point for me. There will be a whole raft of countries coming together, so the potential hit on them is much less than the potential hit on the UK. It is easier for them to play hardball. Government Members say that they will not play hardball, but why would they not? The UK is trying to play hardball with the EU, so it is quite clear that the EU is going to have to play hardball back.
My point would be that the hon. Gentleman finds the cloud in every single lining. Perhaps his wife would also agree with that. He talks about food policy and agriculture. When will the Scottish National party release its agricultural policy? The rest of the UK has been waiting for months for the Command Paper. When will the SNP finally come up with policies and make a constructive contribution to the debate, rather than haplessly hitting at the Government?
For a start, the UK Government have delayed the agriculture Bill. The SNP wants control of immigration to support the farming industry. There are big concerns about agriculture, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. There are concerns about the power grab and the attempt to override devolved policy matters. We heard at the weekend about the much promised review into common agricultural policy funding. The UK Government kept money that was due to Scottish farmers. They held on to it and we heard at the weekend that the review has been delayed again. I will not take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman on agricultural policy.
For the benefit of the House, I will try to return to the Bill. Part 1 covers the haulage permit system, as stated earlier. This is just an enabling Bill, so the real proof of the pudding will come from a combination of Government negotiations and the secondary legislation that is required as part of the Bill. At the moment, we really do not know what we are getting from the Bill.
The Government have stated that they intend to consult on fees later this year when the negotiations are much clearer, but that does not give me much confidence either. The reality is that we should be there or thereabouts with the negotiations already if we are going to get systems in place and advise hauliers and the Freight Transport Association what the future looks like for them, and what they need to do to comply. Clause 2 also introduces further uncertainty by referring to possible random selection or selection on a first come, first served basis, if permits are limited. If that is the outcome, it will cause further uncertainty for businesses.
My constituency is home to W.H. Malcolm Ltd, one of Scotland’s largest hauliers. When I met its staff, they said that the industry has gone through a tough time for a variety of reasons over the last few years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State’s gung-ho, “It’ll be all right on the night” approach gives little comfort to hauliers such as W.H. Malcolm and to exporters across the UK?
I completely agree. I am sure that the haulage company that my hon. Friend referred to—it is clearly a massive haulage company—will have concerns about how the licence will come about, how vacancies will be filled in future and, as we heard earlier, the rising age profile of drivers. Something else that the UK Government have refused to do is help to pay for drivers to be trained so that they can get into the industry. Individuals cannot afford the £3,000 that it costs to train for an HGV licence.
Just to surprise the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), on a slightly positive note, I welcome the fact that clause 9 comes from the Government accepting a Lords amendment about future reporting on the impact on the UK haulage industry of the restrictions that apply to a permit scheme. What I find curious about that is that when I try to get amendments through in Committee that require the Government to report on future implementation, they always vote them down, so I hope that this will be a precedent for other future legislation. I welcome these provisions on future reporting.
Clause 12 covers Northern Ireland. Despite assurances from the Minister in the Lords that this legislation will not result in a hard border in Ireland—we have heard that from the Secretary of State—we need to know how the powers will be enforced and how it will not lead to a hardening of the border. I notice that the Secretary of State could not state clearly how the Irish Government see this operating. The Bill also specifically requires the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which, as I am sure he is aware, has not been operating for 16 months, so will the Minister or the Secretary of State explain how consent will be sought in the absence of a devolved Government?
Overall, the Government may continue to assert that there will be no hard border, but they need to answer difficult questions about the broader picture regarding not only the Bill, but the customs arrangements and how they will do checks with this mythical “no infrastructure.” The Secretary of State talks time and again about how there are no checks on the US-Canada border, but I remind him that there are. Lorries have to stop there, so that model cannot be followed or else it will mean a hard border in Northern Ireland.
Part 2 of the Bill covers trailer registration as a consequence of ratifying the 1968 Vienna convention. Again, this is a series of enabling clauses with the detail to follow, so we do not know how this will be implemented or what the costs will be. The UK Government have stated again that private-use trailers such as caravans and horse trailers will not fall within the scope, yet those exclusions have not been put in the Bill, so how can we guarantee that that is the case? The Secretary of State might be aware that the National Caravan Council has raised concerns about the lack of clarity on exemptions for non-commercial trailers. It currently operates its own voluntary registration scheme, which is cost-effective and very successful, so any new scheme should not duplicate what it is doing. If needs be, a new scheme should build on what it is doing. We have also heard that this is only a registration scheme, yet clause 14(4) suggests that the regulations may make
“provision for a periodic mandatory safety standards testing scheme”.
What are the Government’s intentions regarding road safety measures for trailers? Is there a planned timescale for implementing them?
In conclusion—everybody will be pleased to know that I have come to the conclusion—we do not know if part 1 of the Bill is required, and if it is, we do not know what the secondary legislation will look like. We do not know what the fees will be. We do not know what the application process will be. We do not know whether there will be limits on the number of permits available. We do not know what additional checks will be required and how the situation will be managed regarding the Irish border. To borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, it seems to me that there are still a lot of known unknowns as regards the Bill. I also suspect that there are further unknown unknowns to follow. Having said that, the Government must be delighted with the progress they have made on taking back control, so I absolutely welcome the Bill.
The central role of good Government is to anticipate, prepare and act. In practice, of course, Governments spend a good deal of time responding to things to which they are obliged to react. Nevertheless, it is important that, as Ministers anticipate, they prepare legislation accordingly, and that is really what we are talking about today.
As I read the Bill, I could not help thinking that it is yet another piece of legislation that had its genesis during my time at the Department for Transport. We spend a great deal of time debating Bills that I had a hand in. When I was a Minister, I suppose that excessive humility meant that I did not fully accept the plaudits from the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State, but now I realise just how inventive I was in the Department. It was that combination of perspicacity and imagination that led to so much legislation, including this Bill.
As has been said, the essence of the Bill is to create a framework. The first of the Bill’s two parts deals with establishing a permit system that will allow the continued movement of goods across Europe by hauliers, and the second deals with trailer registration. I do not want to go exhaustively into that—it was described very well by the Secretary of State, and others have made reference to it—but some points of amplification are worth making. I emphasise again the significance of haulage and why the measures that we are debating really matter. Both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State drew attention to the scale of the industry. It is worth something like £13.1 billion to the economy and directly employs almost 200,000 people but, of course, there are many more jobs in the logistics industry, as we like to describe it in the modern idiom. Around 2.35 million people have occupations that relate to the transit—the movement —of goods.
Through haulage, for the vast majority of goods are transported by truck, the things that we want and the things that we need—they are not necessarily the same, by the way—are brought to us, and the things that we make and sell are taken from us to other places. It is critical that the process is as seamless as possible. I note that there was mention of fresh produce. When we move things around, it is important that we do so quickly, and no more so than in the case of fresh produce. The just-in-time culture that we have created means that the lead times involved in acquiring, transporting and retailing goods are very short indeed, and were they to suffer as a result of any change, it would mean not only a considerable disruption to what we have come to expect, but significant additional costs to the haulage industry, which works on very narrow margins—typically something like 1% to 3%. I have spoken to the RHA about that, both since and while I was a Minister, and it is conscious of the need to maintain that free flow of goods not only for its own sake, but for the sake of all those it serves through the industry including, ultimately, consumers—those who buy and use the goods, and whose lives are made better by their acquisition.
It is therefore important, as the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State have both emphasised, that we make the process as seamless as possible. The optimum outcome, of course, is that it be as much like it is now as possible. As the Secretary of State said, that is what he anticipates will be the product of the negotiations in which we are engaged, and his argument is compelling, because it is in our mutual interest that that is the case. It is absolutely in the mutual interest of countries across Europe that they are able to sell and buy goods as they need them.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that while a principle of solidarity exists in an EU comprising 28 countries, once we are a third country, that principle of solidarity will obtain across 27 countries and their duty will be to each other, not the UK?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but I suspect that the commercial interests of those countries and the pressure that commercial interests put on them will, in the end, be irresistible. For example, as was argued a few moments ago, farmers, growers and food manufacturers across Europe—whether in northern Europe or, as we heard, in Spain and Italy in the south—will want their goods brought here, much as they are now. I think the pressure to do a deal in our mutual interest will in the end rule the day.
Now, I do not know that, and the Secretary of State asked, very honestly, “How could I predict that?”—he would not want to, and he did not—but I think a deal in our mutual interest is the likely outcome. He called it his best guess; I would go further and call it my considered estimation.
The right hon. Gentleman touches on a fundamental point. Does he not agree that, if we do not get this right, it will affect costs and quality, certainly for transporters and producers?
That is why it is vital that the negotiations go well and why it is important to put in place this framework legislation. It is right that the Government prepare for all eventualities. In opposition, I spent half my time saying the Government were being too precise, too dogmatic, too determined to specify, and the other half saying they were being too open-minded and too flexible. The trouble with all Oppositions is that they meander between those two positions: on the one hand, they want the Government to be specific; on the other hand, they want the Government to be flexible. I slightly sense that that dilemma prevails in respect of the existing Opposition. This is a framework Bill—there is no need to apologise for that. The detail will come forward when we know the shape of the negotiations and how much of the Bill will be necessary. That is a straightforward and honourable position for any Government who want to anticipate, prepare and act.
The shadow Secretary of State made an additional important point about haulage that I also want to amplify. On skills and employment, he is entirely right that, irrespective of our relationship with the EU, there is a pressing need to recruit more people into the industry. As he was speaking, I was looking at notes on this very subject. He will know that the strategic transport apprenticeship taskforce, which has been looking at just these matters, published a report last year, off the back of its earlier consideration, and although there have been improvements across each sector of transport—road, rail, and so on, including haulage—there is still more to do, particularly to recruit people from under-represented groups in the sector.
When I was a Minister, work was being done, which I know is continuing under my successors, to encourage more people into the industry by, if you like, recasting or rebranding it—something I discussed with the RHA many times. That is vital not only on the purely numeric grounds the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but because we want people to have worthwhile careers in logistics. It is an important sector, and there are many good jobs to be had and many important skills to learn and use, so there is an efficacy in this as well as a necessity. To that end, I hope the work will continue through the apprenticeship taskforce. I gather from its report that there are 15,000 apprentices in road freight this year. I hope that that number will continue to grow. I established an education advisory group in the Department to advise on how we could cast out more widely in attracting people into the industry, and it seems to me that that work should also continue—but far be it from me to bind the hands of my successors.
Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree that this is not only about attracting people into the industry but about retaining them? The figures show that many young people coming into the industry do not hang around but go on to pastures new, and that requires urgent and focused attention.
It does require focused attention. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is about retention as well as recruitment. We must recruit from different sources, which might mean people coming back into the industry, and address the rate of attrition. We must draw on people from other sources—a good example is the armed services, where people, having learned to drive, could re-enter the private sector—and we must attract more people from minority communities, which are very sparsely represented in haulage and road freight, and more women drivers. To do that, however, we have to change some of the working conditions. That is critical to both recruitment and retention.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope you did not mind my digressing a little from the specifics of the Bill in order to amplify an important point that I know is keenly felt by shadow Ministers and Ministers.
I just want to raise two points. First, might one way of attracting more young people into the business be for the Government to provide a financial incentive to companies, tied into some contract of employment, to enable us to keep people in the business? Secondly, business is changing and many married people do not want to be away for long periods, so might it be worth trying to engage with single people, and those with more free time and who do not have the same obligations at home? Those are probably two things we need to look at.
As the hon. Gentleman will remember, in an earlier phase of my celebrated ministerial career, when I was apprenticeships Minister—I expected at least a titter when I said that, but clearly people take it very seriously, which I am actually rather relieved about—we looked particularly at smaller businesses and their commitment to training and introduced a grant scheme for small businesses that took on apprentices. I think there is a case for looking at that again, particularly in sectors with the most pressing demand—and haulage might be one of them—but I will say no more than that, because I do not want to commit my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to anything they do not want me to commit them to; I simply endorse his thoughts.
The Bill does two things: it provides powers that will support Britain’s hauliers to continue operating internationally after the UK leaves the EU; and it gives the Government the necessary framework to introduce new administrative systems if needed after exit. It provides the kind of flexibility I have described and, as has been said, under provisions in part 2, puts in place a trailer registration system in line with the Vienna convention, which, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, came to pass in 1968. It is a UN treaty designed to facilitate international road traffic and increase road safety by establishing uniform traffic rules, and has been signed and ratified by 75 countries. The Bill will allow us to apply it more comprehensively.
I do not want to delay the House any further, because I know that others want to speak—
Don’t stop! Do go on!
No. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] I really feel that it is only fair to others to give them the opportunity to emulate my style and content.
Cardinal Newman—who, in my experience, is given insufficient attention during debates on road haulage—[Laughter]—said:
“Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt”.
Of course there will be difficulties in the process during the period following our departure from the European Union. It will be a cathartic process, and all kinds of challenges will have to be met. However, that does not of itself make an argument for not taking the right action now; it does not of itself add up to the profound doubts that some seem to have. I have confidence in the capacity, skills and determination of those in the industry, working with the Government, to continue to deliver what they currently do so well.
Let me end by mentioning an important haulier in my constituency with whom I discussed these matters this morning. That gentleman, Mr Robin Hancox, runs a business called FreshLinc. His fleet of vehicles brings fresh produce—food and flowers—from the continent to this country. He is determined that his business will continue to work post Brexit. He recognises that that will present some new challenges, but he is confident that the Government are doing the right thing in taking the necessary action to make the process as seamless as possible. I am confident too, which is why I can enthusiastically say that I not only endorse the Bill, but am willing, ready and able to support it.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). I will try my best to emulate some of what he tried to say.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the merits of trailer registration and to highlight the rationale and importance of clause 13(3), (4) and (5) and clause 14 (3) and (4), as amended in the House of Lords, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his earlier comments. The subsections require the Secretary of State to collate comprehensive data on the number and nature of trailer-related road accidents in the UK, and to include those findings in a report. I welcome that, because the Department for Transport’s current reporting methods do not give us a true picture of the risks posed by light trailers in this country.
The subsections also give the Secretary of State the power to introduce compulsory trailer registration and mandatory testing of trailers weighing more than 750 kg. I accept that as a long overdue step towards improving trailer safety—although it is a compromise—but my work on the issue over the past three years has drawn me to the overwhelming conclusion there ought to be a compulsory register of all trailers weighing less than 3.5 tonnes, and that they should be subject to regular testing. I shall say more about that later.
My interest in trailer safety began soon after I was elected to this place in 2015, when my constituents Donna and Scott Hussey came to see me about their son, Freddie, who had been tragically killed in January 2014. Three-year-old Freddie and his mum were walking along the pavement when a two-tonne trailer came loose from a Land Rover, sped straight towards Freddie, and killed him. The trailer’s tow hitch had not been secure, as the position of its handbrake had prevented it from being locked down.
If the trailer had been subject to mandatory roadworthiness checks, the problem with the hitch might have been fixed and the tragedy might never have happened. Currently, trailers weighing less than 3.5 tonnes, known as categories 01 and 02 or “light” trailers, are not required to have any such roadworthiness test, although trailers and their vehicles must be roadworthy when used on the road under section 40A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. That is a loophole: without the licensing and hence the testing, there is no enforcement system.
I do not need to tell the House that the family continue to suffer a life sentence because of the horrific events of that day. However, I have been inspired by their courage and resilience, and we have been working together on a campaign to improve trailer safety ever since.
In the last three years, I have initiated a Westminster Hall debate and had meetings with two transport Ministers: the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) and the current Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman). I have held two trailer safety summits, which were attended by representatives of key national organisations and Government agencies; I have spoken at the National Trailer and Towing Association’s annual conference; and I have met various experts with insights into trailer safety, including members of my local police force. The result has been the #towsafe4freddie campaign, launched by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to raise driver awareness, and an awful lot of hard work by the National Towing Working Group, spearheaded by Highways England and others. The National Trailer and Towing Association has set up a free trailer safety-checking initiative, and Avon and Somerset police have begun trailer awareness training for officers to enable them to spot unsafe trailers on the road.
That work commands cross-party interest and support. I am grateful to the Ministers for their attention to the issues, and for meeting the Hussey family: that meant a great deal to them. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire and his team for attending my trailer summit in Bedminster last month, and for his willingness to engage with the experts. Despite that good work, however, we continue to underestimate hugely the safety risk posed by unchecked light trailers on our roads—which brings me to the Bill, and its importance.
Part 2 of the Bill deals with the establishment of a trailer registration scheme that would allow UK trailer users to meet the registration standards outlined in the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic. Registration is critical to trailer safety, because it constitutes an essential requirement for regular safety checks, and prevents unsafe trailers from being sold and resold. However, non-commercial, leisure-use trailers weighing less than 3.5 tonnes do not fall within the scope of the Bill, because they are not included in the convention. I believe that that is a missed opportunity.
In Committee in the House of Lords, Lord Bassam tabled a probing amendment that called for the registration scheme to apply to all trailers weighing less than 3.5 tonnes.
He referred to the Government’s impact assessment, which stated that the Bill represented
“an opportunity to improve safety through better regulation",
and asked why the Government would not take advantage of it to widen the scope of the scheme. That raised an important point. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency’s digital service is now in place to facilitate the registering of trailers. It presents a good opportunity for the registration of all trailers, not only those weighing more than 3.5 tonnes. The Government fear that expanding the scheme would create an unnecessary administrative burden, but that needs to be balanced against the dangers posed by these vehicles. I remind the House that Freddie Hussey—aged just three—was crushed by a two-tonne trailer, heavier than the average car.
The issue of “proportionality” arose several times in the House of Lords, which is why, should the report referred to in the Bill conclude that trailers ought to be registered and subject to mandatory safety checks, the rule would apply only to trailers weighing more than 750 kg. That is a compromise. It is still very much my view—based on evidence that I have seen—that faulty trailers weighing less than 750kg represent a huge safety risk, which is why I believe that all trailers should be registered and checked.
I was delighted that the Lords supported the amendment that compels the Secretary of State to collate comprehensive data on the number and nature of trailer-related road accidents in the UK, and to include those findings in a report, but the key word is “comprehensive”. It would not be good enough for the Government to commit themselves to a report, but to give us what already exists. I would welcome the Minister’s clarification of how the Government will define “comprehensive” and how his Department will go about collecting the data. I am certainly not alone in believing that data on the safety of light trailers is currently lacking. During the Lords debate, Baroness Sugg, speaking for the Government, admitted that, having looked at the Department for Transport’s road accidents report, she agreed that the Government could and should consider the way in which they report trailer safety, and that it could “definitely be improved”. I welcome that assertion.
In the report, the Department highlights the huge gaps in the data that they currently collate for road accidents generally. They include only accidents that are reported to the police, that involve a personal injury, and that occur on public roads. The true number is of course much higher. The report states:
“These figures…do not represent the full range of all accidents or casualties”
in Great Britain, and goes on to describe the large proportion of non-fatal casualties not known to the police.
The hon. Lady is talking eloquently about safety in relation to trailers and vehicles. We must have a high level of safety, so does she agree that those with licences from other countries, such as eastern Europe, should have the same high driving standards as our drivers in this country? Some, although not all, of the events the hon. Lady has been talking about involve drivers from other parts of Europe who do not have the driving skills that they should have.
I agree that we want all drivers to be of the highest standards. I cannot comment on the number of accidents caused by trailers that involve drivers not of that high standard, but in the work I have done over the last three years I have been shocked to discover how many trailers, in agriculture and across the piece, on our roads do not meet the requirements we would ordinarily expect, and I hope this Bill helps to improve that situation.
The current method of reporting a road accident means that there is no real way of knowing whether, and how, a trailer contributed to an accident. The details of incidents involving trailers are largely dependent upon the subjective viewpoint of the police officer on the scene, which the Department’s own report admits poses difficulties. The STATS19 form filled in by the officer is complex and gives 78 contributing factors for them to choose from. We currently have several police forces testing new reporting systems because of the huge inaccuracies and the inadequacy of this method.
In contrast to the statistics on trailer-related incidents presented by the Department for Transport, a growing body of evidence from industry organisations and case studies indicate the true scale of the problem. In July 2017, the National Trailer and Towing Association introduced the free safety checks initiative, the first of its kind in the UK, in which light trailers are offered a free inspection at members’ premises. Since rolling this out it has found an astonishing 93% failure rate. I hope the work being done will help highlight to Members that they can encourage people in their constituencies to take advantage of these free safety checks and promote their use. Avon and Somerset police have also been carrying out checks and they broadly substantiate these findings; the failure rate is very high.
These initiatives further highlight that what is needed are checks on these vehicles in order to prevent accidents, and not purely the collection of data on vehicles once they have been involved in an accident. With an estimated 2 million light trailers on the road, a large proportion of which are many years old, it is not unreasonable to assume that a significant amount would fail a roadworthiness test. All cars, which in many cases are lighter than trailers, are subjected to rigorous MOT testing each year, so by what logic can the Government argue that trailer safety checks are not integral to improving safety standards?
It is my sincere hope that the Government will accept the measures discussed as an opportunity to move this issue on and demonstrate their commitment to preventing further tragedies such as Freddie’s from happening in the future. We can only do that if we have clearer data on light trailer safety so that the Secretary of State can make an informed decision on whether we ought to have mandatory registration and checks.
In summary, I am grateful for the comments and the work of the Secretary of State and the Minister on this issue and for clauses 13(3), (4) and (5) and 14(3) and (4), but how will the Government define what is “comprehensive”? Also, will the Department initiate new ways of collating data on light trailers beyond the STATS19 form? How does it plan to gather such data? Finally, how does the Minister plan for the data to be gathered to meet the timeframe set out in the Bill—one year from the day the relevant section comes into force?
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth).
This is a very welcome Bill and demonstrates that the Government are making prudent preparations for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and many other speakers this afternoon have rightly pointed out the importance of the UK’s road haulage sector and the contribution it makes to the country’s economy. It is, by any standards, an important British industry: it employs about 300,000 people, and in 2015 some 76% of all goods moved in this country were moved by road. It is therefore entirely understandable that the road freight industry is keen to see an agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union on the future of road haulage.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that road haulage is one of his Department’s top two priorities. He also rightly pointed out in response to an intervention from the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) that about 80% of the lorries operating between the UK and the continent are owned by EU-based businesses. It is therefore clear that achieving an agreement is, or at least should be, a matter of similar priority to the European Union as it is to us. Indeed, I am heartened by the fact that the EU’s negotiating guidelines, adopted on 23 March, set out the aim of continued transport connectivity between the UK and the European Union. I am pleased to hear from my right hon. Friend this afternoon that the negotiations are going well, and I have no doubt that it will be to the mutual benefit of the United Kingdom and the European Union, and their respective transport industries, to achieve an agreement that provides for frictionless road transport after Brexit.
However, that being said, the Government are entirely right to prepare contingency measures for the event of there being no deal, and that course of action has attracted the approval of the road haulage industry itself. As part of the process of preparation, Parliament recently ratified the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic. The UK was already a signatory to the 1949 Geneva convention; however, five EU member states, including Germany, are party to the Vienna convention but not to the Geneva convention. Ratifying the 1968 convention, therefore, will, in the Government’s words,
“address the lack of a mutual legal basis for road traffic”
with those countries. In other words, it will provide for some degree of continued traffic with the EU in the event of there being no deal. As the Government have also observed, ratifying the Vienna convention will enable the United Kingdom to help shape the evolution and future direction of the convention, which is particularly important in respect of automated vehicle technology.
The Road Haulage Association has indicated that ideally it would wish the UK and the EU to use the current Community licence system and all EU rules for road haulage once Brexit has taken place. That may be the most desirable outcome, depending of course on whether the issue of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice can be resolved. The Department for Transport is no doubt considering a number of other proposals that would result in a similar degree of flexibility without ECJ jurisdiction.
One of the proposals suggested by the RHA is that the United Kingdom and the European Union should set up a new authorising system for international road haulage. That may also be a desirable outcome, but in addition there is always the possibility of the UK and individual EU member states setting up a new permit-based system for international road haulage—in other words, a system of bilateral permits.
The Bill of necessity employs a broad brush: it has to take into account all possible contingencies from the negotiations, from complete agreement to no deal. It is therefore necessarily widely framed, and is no worse for that. Part 1 enables the Secretary of State to put in place arrangements to enable a road haulage permit scheme, should it be required. Clause 1 provides for regulations to oblige road hauliers to carry a permit where international agreement requires it. The expression “relevant international agreement” is defined in the clause as an agreement
“to which the United Kingdom is a party and…which relates to the transport of goods by road to, in or through the country”.
However, in the case of Ireland, an international agreement is expressed as one to which the UK is a party and
“which relates to the transport of goods by road to, in or through Ireland”
“which the Secretary of State has certified as an agreement to which the Government of Ireland has consented”.
That is for a very good reason. There has been a long history of co-operation between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland with regard to transport on the island of Ireland, and I suggest that continued bilateral arrangements are most desirable. In fact, they are equally important for the Irish Republic. The A55 north Wales expressway passes through my constituency, and hundreds of Irish lorries pass along it every day. It is important that the Republic of Ireland’s free access to the roads of the United Kingdom should be maintained. I would be pleased to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister what discussions have taken place with the Government of the Republic and whether he anticipates agreement on new bilateral arrangements after Brexit.
Clause 2 allows the Secretary of State to issue permits to applicants and provides for regulations that would detail how hauliers should apply for permits and the basis on which the Secretary of State would decide whether to grant a permit. I understand that those regulations will be the subject of a consultation by the Department, which is sensible and welcome. The clause also provides for criteria to be used in allocating permits, should they be required as part of an agreement with the EU. Subsection (l)(c) indicates that regulations may make provision
“as to how the Secretary of State is to decide whether to grant an application for a permit, including provision specifying criteria or other methods of selection (which may include first come, first served or an element of random selection).”
Concern was expressed in the other place as to the somewhat haphazard nature of the selection provided for in the clause, and the reasonable point was made that it would be difficult for any haulier to make serious business plans on such a basis. Will the Minister give a further indication as to how such a method of selection would operate? No doubt it will be set out in the regulations in due course, but it would be good to know the Government’s current thinking.
Part 2 of the Bill provides for a system of trailer registration. That has been included in the Bill to enable the Government to comply with their obligations under the Vienna convention, which has now been ratified. The Minister, Baroness Sugg, indicated in the other place that it was the Government’s intention to require only operators that take trailers abroad to register their trailers. It would be good if the Minister could reiterate that commitment and further confirm that the scheme would apply only to commercial trailers over 750 kg and all trailers over 3.5 tonnes. It would also be good if he could confirm that the scheme will not apply domestically.
There remains a lot to be fleshed out, but it is understandable that the Bill should be couched in broad terms at the moment. The House will look forward to further details in due course, but this is a sensible, prudent Bill aimed at facilitating whatever agreement may be arrived at with the European Union while at the same time safeguarding the British position against there being no deal. I am therefore pleased to support it.
I have really enjoyed this debate, and I hope that the Minister takes seriously all the points that have been raised in good faith. I am also particularly pleased to speak after my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth)—thank you for that, Madam Deputy Speaker—as I wish to support the points she made on towing equipment and trailers. Last week I visited the Rotherham branch of Towing Centres UK, which fits towing equipment to vehicles. As skilled professionals, the centre’s staff were keen to tell me about the serious gaps in the current legislation regarding safe towing—gaps that the Minister has the opportunity to address today.
The Rotherham Towing Centre is the second facility in the UK to be accredited by Horizon Global, one of the world’s largest suppliers of towing equipment. Customers using such an accredited centre can be sure that a tow bar fitted to their vehicle is safe and secure. The consequences of tow bar failure can be catastrophic, and many of us will be aware of horrific incidents of unsafe towing that have resulted in serious injury or death, yet there is no legal requirement for tow bars to be fitted by a professional. There is nothing to prevent an unsafe, badly fitted tow bar from being used. Even at the vehicle’s next MOT test, a newly fitted tow bar will not be tested. Added to that danger, trailers between 750 kg and 3.5 tonnes are subjected to no routine safety checks whatever. Vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are required to have a yearly inspection, so it would seem ridiculous to most people that this does not apply to all trailers. A 3 tonne trailer that becomes detached could easily destroy a building. The dangers to other motorists, and pedestrians, are obvious.
The National Trailer and Towing Association has been so disturbed by those dangers that its members have been offering free visual checks for trailers and then recommending what action needs to be taken to make them safe. Since the scheme began, 91% of the trailers seen have failed the test. The Rotherham Towing Centre gave me an example of a catering trailer that its new owner had brought in last week. It had been bought on eBay and, as it was being towed home on the motorway, a wheel came off. During its subsequent inspection at the centre, staff condemned the brakes, the tyres, the hitch and the lights. The centre owner, Irene, said that the only thing that worked was the deep fat fryer.
The amendments moved in the other place by Lord Bassam would go some way towards addressing the glaring safety omissions, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for acknowledging that in his speech. The amendments do not call for the compulsory registration of trailers or for safety checks, but they would require the Government to collate information on trailer-related accidents and to consider what further regulation is appropriate. As that does not currently happen, we have no idea of the scale of the problem. I am sure we would all agree that evidence-based legislation is always the best approach, and the Bill could ensure that that evidence is robust. Personally, I would push the Minister to go further and to go straight to registration for all trailers.
Finally, I take this opportunity to commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South, who has campaigned extensively on this issue and worked closely with the family of three-year-old Freddie Hussey. I would also like to offer my deep sympathy to Freddie’s family. As my hon. Friend said, Freddie was tragically killed when a trailer became detached from a vehicle. The trailer was later found to be unsafe as the tow hitch was not working correctly. Terrible incidents such as that can be avoided, and I urge the Minister to act to close the loopholes in the existing legislation without delay.
I might not be able to emulate the knowledge and experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), the eloquence, erudition and elegance of delivery of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), or the positivity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), but I will equally seek to avoid the pessimism of the hon. Members for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown). I will seek to address the positives of this important piece of legislation, which is, as Members have said, a sensible preparation for different Brexit eventualities and for the delivery of a smooth Brexit for the people and businesses of this country.
The Secretary of State has been absolutely clear that he expects the UK to secure a good deal, and I share his positivity on that. He is right, however, to bring forward a precautionary contingency Bill. It is the action of a responsible Government to prepare for every eventuality. Indeed, it is also the action of a responsible Secretary of State, and I pay tribute to him for that. Of course, I hope that many of the Bill’s powers prove unnecessary, but it is right that we have them, and the regulation-making powers will allow the Secretary of State to create the regulatory architecture to cater for various scenarios.
My right hon. Friend and others have been clear about the importance of the haulage sector both to our economy and to each of us in our day-to-day lives. Lorries may not always be popular, but they are hugely important in making this country function. For the sake of brevity, I will not recount the statistics referred to by many Members, but they set out just how important the sector is to our economy. Not only is contingency planning important and responsible, but the economic imperative for each of us in our daily lives and for our economy is clear. The UK played a key role, starting in 1988 and continuing through the 1990s, in driving forward the liberalisation of haulage in Europe, and it is right that we are now acting to ensure that that continues. Baroness Sugg set out clearly in the other place our country’s reliance on the industry, particularly for foodstuffs.
At present, hauliers can move freely within the EU with the Community licence, and a standard international operator’s licence is also required for that. Alongside that system runs the European Conference of Ministers of Transport multilateral quota permit scheme. While not without its uses—it is extremely useful—the ECMT quota is small by comparison with the volumes of journeys and hauliers operating within Europe. The Road Haulage Association has expressed reservations about it being too restrictive. While useful, it is unlikely to address the long-term needs of the industry and the country. On our exit from the EU, the Community licence scheme will no longer be available, hence why this Bill is necessary and important. It must not only cover non-EU agreements and any permit-based deal but provide for other eventualities.
The RHA has been quoted at length and repeatedly during this debate, but it has also said that it wholeheartedly supports the Government introducing contingency measures. While it wants seamless transport of the kind that we have all spoken of, the RHA recognises my hon. Friend’s point about the Government’s wisdom in bringing forward these measures.
My right hon. Friend is correct. The RHA has adopted a constructive, engaged and positive approach, as he will know from his dealings with it when he was a successful Transport Minister. The Bill will also provide the Secretary of State with new powers to allocate permits and to charge fees, and with enforcement powers for different offences.
The trailer registration scheme is an obligation that derives from the UK’s ratification—albeit slightly belated—of the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic, which we had signed but never ratified and which built on the 1909, 1926 and 1949 conventions. The ratification of the convention now is part of our responsible preparation for all eventualities. I suspect the main reason why it was so important to do it now is found in paragraph 3 of article 3, which states:
“Subject to the exceptions provided for in Annex 1 to this Convention, Contracting Parties shall be bound to admit to their territories in international traffic motor vehicles and trailers which fulfil the conditions laid down in Chapter III”.
That will help to provide for the continued free flow of cars and commercial vehicles so that traffic can continue as before, allowing the UK to issue international driving permits.
In order that we can comply with the convention and secure the benefits of it, it is important that the registration of trailers is brought forward. The Department has been clear that it proposes mandatory registration for commercial trailers over 750 kg and all trailers over 3.5 tonnes used for international purposes, but not for domestic use. Such a reasonable and measured approach will ensure that caravans, horseboxes and so on are not necessarily caught by the scheme. However, I note that that is not specifically detailed on the face of the Bill, although the Minister in the other place made the point clear. The Bill also enables the Secretary of State to make regulations for such a scheme to be brought in.
On the subject safety, it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), who has done so much in this place with her “Tow Safe for Freddie” campaign, following the tragic death of Freddie Hussey. She has been passionate and determined in her pursuit of that cause, as I know some of their lordships were. I hope that the Minister, in his usual thoughtful and sensitive way, will pay due heed to what their lordships and the hon. Lady have said and will address her comments in measured, sensible tones.
I welcome this sensible piece of contingency planning by the Secretary of State—I pay tribute to him for his foresight—and the enabling framework that it provides. I suspect that there may be little actual change and that the powers may prove largely unnecessary following the negotiation of a successful deal, but it is right that we plan for all eventualities and ensure continued liberalised traffic and haulage for the future. That sensible approach reflects not only pragmatism but the Government’s clear and focused determination to secure a good deal for Britain, which is in sad contrast to the chaos and contradiction that characterise the Opposition’s policy as we deliver our exit from the EU. I again commend the Secretary of State for his foresight and sagacity, and I am pleased to support the Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) on his positive speech. I hope that mine will be equally as positive, because almost every time anything about Brexit or leaving the EU is mentioned in this House the naysayers and those who wish to overturn the referendum result will find any excuse to look for faults in what is being presented.
I welcome the fact that the Government are bringing forward this legislation, because it will provide a contingency if there is no deal. Despite what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) said about this legislation hardly having Mr Barnier quaking in his boots, an important message is sent out every time that the Government—whether in this Bill or in conversations, interviews or statements—indicate to those negotiating our exit from the EU that we have the option of walking away if they are not prepared to play ball. Regardless of how small this particular warning may be, it is nevertheless part of a picture that we need to present.
Having said that, I share Ministers’ optimism and the optimism of many other Members who have already spoken. There is every reason why the current arrangements —the Community licence and the standard international operator’s licence—should be made available as a result of the Brexit negotiations. As we have already seen, road transport is vital not just for this country, but for every country with which we trade in the EU.
The Democratic Unionist party obviously has first-hand experience of how good the UK Government are at negotiating. Given the concessions the right hon. Gentleman’s party extracted from the Government, the whole EU saw how the DUP had the Tories dancing on the head of a pin. Does he really trust that lot to negotiate a good deal from the EU?
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. When the Government stuck their heels in with the EU in December 2017, the agreement was changed and the protocols were not insisted on in March 2018. The Prime Minister stuck her heels in when the Irish Government said June was a deadline. The UK Government made it clear that it might not be done by June, and we have now moved to October 2018. When the Government make it clear that they intend to be in the driving seat on these negotiations, I have every confidence that we can get a good outcome for the United Kingdom.
Of course, there is every reason for us to be confident. Road transport is important to every European nation that trades with us, and it is particularly important to Northern Ireland—over 90% of our trade is via road transport. Road transport is not only important to us. If we look at who actually transports the goods we export to other parts of the EU, we see that 85% of the goods that go from the UK to other EU countries are carried in vehicles owned by EU-based companies. That being the case, there is every incentive for nations with lorries, lorry drivers and transport companies to come to an arrangement with our Government to ensure that free movement can happen. Equally, many of those goods are perishable, and it is therefore important that there is as little disruption to road transport as possible, hence why I believe it will be possible to get the kind of deal the Government seek. Nevertheless, it is important that we have this fall-back position.
The second issue is Northern Ireland. Although I heard the Minister’s explanation, I am still not clear on why we need a separate provision in the Bill for agreements on transporting goods to, and on lorries driving through, the Irish Republic and why the international agreements referred to in clause 1 are not sufficient to cover the Irish Republic. I do not share the optimism of the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) that the Irish Government are willing, because of our long-standing arrangements on transport issues, to ensure that a bilateral arrangement can be put in place.
The Irish Government have almost cut off their nose to spite their face on the issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. They know their own head of Revenue Commissioners has made it clear that there are technological solutions that could ensure there is no hard border so that trade flows easily across the border. The previous Administration in Ireland even started down the route of considering the kind of technology that could be used but, since coming in, the current Irish Government have cut off all the negotiations on those solutions. Only this weekend, they insisted that they will have no cameras, drones or any kind of technology that could make the border a soft border when we leave.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say, from his experience of the island of Ireland, whether the Irish Government fully understand the importance to the Irish economy of maintaining free access to the United Kingdom for trade not only with this country but beyond?
It seems that the current Irish Government do not understand. Six times more of their trade is with Great Britain than with Northern Ireland, and more of their trade is with Great Britain than with the whole of the rest of the EU, yet they seem to be willing to pursue a solution that will mean a border and barriers between the Irish Republic and its main market in order to have an open border with Northern Ireland. When it is suggested to the Irish Government that they can have both an open border with Northern Ireland and access to the GB market, they simply put their hands over their ears and say, “We don’t want to hear. Nah, nah, nah, nah.”
I am not as convinced as the right hon. Member for Clwyd West that it will be easy to get a transport arrangement with the Government of the Irish Republic, and I would appreciate further explanation from the Minister as to why the international arrangements covering other EU countries cannot simply apply to the Irish Republic. If lorries from Northern Ireland go through the Irish Republic, they are going through another country, so why would the international arrangements and agreements not apply? Why do we need a specific bilateral arrangement with the Irish Government who, unfortunately, at present seem to be in a temper tantrum and are not willing to listen to too much logic, even if not doing so damages their own economy?
While the right hon. Gentleman is castigating the Irish Government—he says they have said there will be no cameras and no technology—will he explain what technology he proposes? The UK Government have said that there will be no infrastructure and no cameras, or anything like that, at the border, so what is this magic technology that will rely on no infrastructure whatsoever?
When people talk about infrastructure, they think of red and white posts on the roads across the border. The one thing we know—I do not want to digress too much—is that during the troubles 50,000 troops could not seal the Irish border. If we think we will seal the Irish border to trade with a couple of barber’s poles across a road, we are barking up the wrong tree. That shows a total misunderstanding.
The infrastructure that would be involved is used elsewhere and has been proven, whether it is GPS, telephones, early notification or electronic notification that trade is moving. There are a whole range of things that do not require a physical presence on the border, and that technology could also be used at Dover to avoid the kinds of problems highlighted by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald). It is not just a solution for the island of Ireland but a solution between the United Kingdom and the EU when we leave.
I fail to understand why there is no co-operation, when 5.2 million tonnes of trade is going north-south and 3.4 million tonnes of trade is going south-north—I think that is the right way round. The movement of freight across the island of Ireland is clearly critical to both economies. It might help the right hon. Gentleman if we had the results of the mapping exercise mentioned in paragraph 47 of the joint report on phase 1 of the negotiations. There are 140 areas of agreement across the border, but the Government are refusing to let us see the results of that mapping exercise so that we can really understand the true impact across the whole island.
The hon. Lady also has to understand that, although there may be 5.2 million tonnes of trade across the Northern Ireland-Irish Republic border, there is six times more trade between the Irish Republic and Great Britain. Yet that does not seem to exercise the minds of those in the Government of the Irish Republic even a little bit, and none of us can understand that. The big prize lies in finding a solution that allows that east-west trade, as well as that north-south trade without any impediments. I believe we have the technology and ability to do that, but the political willingness is not there.
I want to welcome a second thing in relation to Northern Ireland. In the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Government have, in clause 12, taken it upon themselves to amend the legislation; many of these issues are devolved to the Assembly, which is not functioning at present. I suspect it will not function for many a long month or perhaps a year, because of the way in which Sinn Féin has now used its veto to prevent the Assembly being reformed. The Minister mentioned that a legislative consent motion would be sought. In the absence of an LCM, I take it that these powers will simply be taken by the Government.
Many Members have made this next point already, but it is worth noting. In the absence of knowing exactly where negotiations are going, and given the nature of some of the information that is required, I would not expect the detail of the scheme to be set out in the Bill. However, it is important that, at the earliest possible stage, people in the haulage industry know how many licences are going to be available, how they can apply for them, how they are going to be allocated and what is going to be paid for them. If some detail can be spelt out, even though it may not be in the Bill, that would give some certainty to the haulage firms that operate in my constituency.
I shall now turn to the part of the Bill that refers to trailers. We have heard some passionate speeches on that subject—from two Members in particular. As a result of personal tragedies in their constituency, they are concerned about the registration of trailers. The Bill is fairly ambiguous on this matter, simply talking about the registration of trailers, full stop, and not dealing with weight restriction, size or anything else. Despite personal tragedies that people may have faced, legislation must always be proportionate. I would like an assurance from the Minister that the ordinary guy who has a trailer that he uses to take stuff to the dump or uses to collect a few bits and pieces will not be required to go through the process of having the trailer registered and inspected on a yearly basis, with all the cost involved, especially as many of these trailers are used on only an occasional basis. Trailers over 3.5 tonnes, which are used commercially, are probably used more regularly and there is a case for having registration there, but I do not believe that there is a proportionate case for registration for ordinary domestic trailers, which would be affected if we extended this across all trailers.
I welcome the Bill. I welcome the fact that the Government are sending out a signal that, if Barnier and co. decide to dig in their heels, we are prepared to go our own way and that we have made preparations for it. At the same time, we believe that there is a strong case for continuing the current system of Community licensing so that firms that operate a vital part of our economy can continue to provide the service that they do now.
It is a delight to follow the optimistic and upbeat speech from the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). I welcome this Bill as a modest, appropriate and measured move by the Government to make provision in case there is not a comprehensive free trade deal with the European Union. I am surprised that the Opposition have not actually stated their case. They sound as though they are just not in favour of the Bill at all but, judging by the absence of Opposition Members, I presume they are not going to vote against it. However, I cannot believe that the Bill is not something we would all welcome. A failure to plan is a plan to fail, so why would we not want this Bill?
The UK is an outward-looking, global trading nation, and I believe this will only be more the case after we leave the EU. As many Members have said, trade with the European Union is important—crucially, it is important to both sides. It goes without saying that it is in the EU’s best interests to maintain the current liberalised trade by road between the UK and the rest of the EU, and it is also in our interests to maintain that situation. We have heard all the statistics about the huge trade deficit with the EU—£72 billion in 2017—and how much that trade means in respect of the movement of goods across the UK. This shows just how crucial smooth access to the UK market for EU countries is. Many businesses across the continent sell their goods into the UK and, more often than not, they transport those goods here by road. We have all rehearsed the statistics as to why we need this modest measure to deliver that access and they are well in our brains now.
As the Prime Minister said,
“No deal is better than a bad deal”.
We cannot allow our UK hauliers to be left high and dry if we are offered a bad deal—if the EU does not come to a common-sense agreement, although we all believe it will do. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he is confident about that, and I share his confidence. The UK must make provision to allow for the outcome and this Bill does just that—it is a sensible piece of legislation.
This issue, like many others the House deals with, has significance in my constituency. Our proximity to London means that several haulage companies are based there, operating across the UK and into EU countries. In essence, the Bill is one that we hope we will never have need to call on. It is our backstop—our insurance position —and it therefore should have a fair wind and sail through its Second Reading tonight. I cannot understand the negativity we have heard from Opposition Members, who somehow interpret the Bill as being a massive piece of legislation that gives huge powers to the Secretary of State. I see it as exactly the opposite: something that is tidied away in case we should ever need it, although I share the Secretary of State’s confidence that we will not need this Bill.
I am sure that the House will be delighted to hear that I do not intend to speak for long on this important Bill. As Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged, this is an essential piece of legislation that allows for a smooth and orderly transition out of the EU and gives the Government a degree of wiggle room to take account of how the negotiations pan out. The Bill will certainly have my support.
I wish to talk, in short order, about the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic—that is a sentence I never thought I would hear myself say. The ratification that has taken place, after a prolonged period of consideration of some 50 years, has implications that I wish to raise, because they affect the car industry in my constituency. As hon. Members will know, the convention required that a driver was always in control of their vehicle. The provision was amended in 2016 to allow the vehicle to have a degree of autonomy, provided that there was a driver in place to take over in the event of emergency conditions.
My constituency is home to Ford’s UK headquarters, where some of the most ingenious and innovative design for the next generation of autonomous vehicles is taking place. The problem with the Vienna convention, even as amended, is that it might prevent the development of level 4 autonomy. Such autonomy would, in effect, allow a whole trip to be automated—indeed, it allows for the removal of the steering wheel. In January, General Motors produced its first such model, the Cruise AV fourth generation, which literally has no steering wheel. That means, of course, that a driver cannot intervene, even if emergency conditions are met.
I am concerned that our ratification of the convention will mean that are we are not able to deliver the next generation of automated vehicles in the UK. I am sure that the Department for Transport and the Minister have at their disposal an excellent legal team who will be able to find a way through the issues, but I seek reassurance that the UK will be in a position to continue the excellent work that we have been doing to make us one of the foremost countries in the world for the development of driverless cars.
As a recently elected member of the Transport Committee, and given the significant number of haulage and distribution companies in my constituency, it is an absolute pleasure to speak in the debate.
The liberalisation of commercial haulage has delivered huge consumer benefits in the choice of goods available at affordable prices throughout the UK. Even the smallest corner shops now commonly stock goods that only a generation ago would have seemed impossibly exotic. Trade is a two-way street, and it is the modern haulage industry that has made possible the geographically deep penetration of overseas markets. I note that, according to the Department for Transport, UK road haulage directly contributes more than £13 billion in gross value added and plays a major role in the transport of some £35 billion of goods that are traded between the UK and the European Union. It is therefore only right that as part of our international road haulage policy, we take the need to support the sector seriously.
There is, of course, still some uncertainty about the final Brexit deal. While the negotiations are under way, we must continue to move things forward. I regret to say this, but that uncertainty is compounded by the unfortunate regression in some quarters to the tried and failed politics of “Project Fear”. I have been extremely optimistic about the opportunities that can come from Brexit, and it is important that the Government come forward with actions to mitigate the lingering uncertainty. I am pleased that they are making positive provisions, where they can, for maximum continuity and the utmost clarity, including through this Bill. I welcome that positive action, because optimism, continuity and clarity are the most powerful antidotes to uncertainty, and they will mitigate any possible doubts in the industry about future investment decisions in the UK.
The Government are absolutely right to bring forward comprehensive measures that will reassure the haulage industry with clarity and continuity, and thereby enable it to plan for the future without knowing the final outcome of our negotiated exit from the EU. Nowhere is a smooth and orderly transition for the haulage and trailer industries more important than in Stoke-on-Trent. As a city, we are at the very heart of England and the natural centre for the logistics industry. Indeed, the city is a long-standing confluence of inland freight routes by water, rail and road.
Most famously, the ceramics industry is centred in the Potteries, and the experienced hauliers of Stoke-on-Trent are very good at ensuring that we avoid breakages. The haulage and logistics industry in the city is expanding, providing employment, including apprenticeships, to my constituents. I am delighted to say that S J Bargh, the haulage firm behind the highest-scoring apprentice ever at the Scania training school, has an expanding presence in my constituency, and I hope to visit the firm in the coming weeks. There are distribution centres for Screwfix, Sainsbury’s, Pets at Home and others in my constituency. Last week, I was pleased to visit the Portmeirion distribution facility, where some of the most advanced technology is used for the distribution of its fragile wares.
On the trailer side, the manufacturer Don-Bur is based in my constituency. I was pleased to visit the company over the Easter recess. It makes every conceivable trailer, from the box van and the curtain-side to the wedge double deck, and even the aerodynamic teardrop shape, for which it is famous. Don-Bur is at the cutting edge of innovation, making trailers more aerodynamic, fuel efficient and environmental. It is fair to say that it makes precisely the types and sizes of commercial trailer that are intended to be covered under the Bill’s registration provisions.
It is important that we ensure that UK operators that use those trailers and other trailer brands can comply with the registration standards outlined in the 1968 Vienna convention when they drive on the continent. How does the Department plan to communicate the effect of the Bill, and those aspects that are yet to be consulted on, to trailer manufacturers and to commercial and non-commercial users? I note that the overview to the Bill issued by the DFT mentions the intention that trailer registration with the DVLA will be done “through a digital service”. Is it the Minister’s intention that communication with those who fall under the scope of the Bill will be achieved through purely digital means, or will there be some activity in the trade press, and the leisure press, too? As I stressed earlier, we need maximum clarity for those affected, so it is extremely important that the rumours and fears promoted by some are put to one side.
The Bill is an important addition to the Government’s measures to ensure that we have a smooth and orderly Brexit. It provides for both continuity and flexibility in the face of temporary uncertainty. We need to communicate that message effectively among those whom the Bill will cover. It is important to my constituents, and to hauliers and consumers everywhere, that we make these provisions and that we get them right.
I shall give a Kent perspective on the Bill. Kent is well known as England’s gateway to Europe. On a busy day, around 10,000 lorries pass through the port at Dover and an extra 6,000 lorries pass through the channel tunnel at Folkestone. That is perhaps 16,000 lorries a day passing to and fro through Kent, so people in Kent feel strongly about making sure that we have the right processes at our borders come Brexit day.
I well remember my first summer as a Member of Parliament, in 2015, because that was the summer of Stack, when for 32 days the M20 was largely closed and 5,000 lorries were parked up on the motorway. While those lorries were parked on the motorway, the roads around the area were also at a standstill because so much traffic was diverted through the neighbouring roads. That caused chaos and misery throughout my constituency and in many other parts of Kent, where journeys that would usually take five or 10 minutes were taking hours. Children struggled to get to school to take exams, hospital operations were delayed and patients missed their appointments, people could not get to work, and businesses struggled to do their business, gain income and pay their staff. I heard of one constituent, a 10-year-old girl, who fell off a climbing frame and had to wait for an ambulance, injured, for an hour and a half.
After that summer, my neighbouring Kent MPs and I did all that we could to make sure that that would never happen to Kent again—that we would never again see such misery and, in fact, such an economic cost, because that enormous hit to business was estimated to have cost the Kent economy £250 million. As we never wanted to see it happen again, we campaigned for a lorry park. We appreciate that money was put aside for one, but the project has got into some trouble, meaning it has been delayed. I have spoken to the Minister about the matter, and we very much appreciate the efforts to make sure that, should there be any trouble at the border, there will be alternatives to the closure of the M20. It is important to Kent that we keep the traffic flowing.
In that spirit, I support the Bill, because although we hope not to have to use it, it is about making sure that there will not be trouble at our borders come Brexit day. It is a precaution to ensure that trade will continue to flow and that lorries will be able to travel back and forth as they need to, not only to avoid disruption for my constituents in Kent, but to supply the goods that people need in the EU and that we need here. As others have said, although lorries might at times be unpopular—they are certainly unpopular in my patch for often parking up in lay-bys and country lanes—we know very well that the vast majority of our goods, be they food, drink, clothes or building materials, are transported by lorries. We need a flow of lorries between us and the European Union. We know perfectly well that getting this to work is in the interests of the EU as well as in our own. While we hope that we will not need the Bill, it is right that we have it as a precaution to make sure that we do not have the problems that we saw back in 2015 with Operation Stack.
I welcome the Bill and I welcome the Government’s efforts to ensure that we do not have to use Operation Stack again. Opposition Members called that matter into question this evening but, in fact, an enormous amount of work is going on in my constituency to resurface the M20. It is causing some upset, because of the diversions during the night. Lorries are driving through villages such as Bearsted, where they should not be going, and keeping people awake, but at least the work is being done. We know that the hard shoulder will shortly be strengthened so that it can be used in the event that lorries need to park up. I sincerely hope that these Operation Stack measures will not be needed, that the permit scheme will not be needed, and that we will have frictionless trade and free flowing traffic across our borders. None the less, I welcome the fact that the Government are rightly taking the precaution of putting in place these measures just in case they are needed.
I will not detain the House for long this evening. I welcome the precautionary measures and the purpose behind this Bill. The logistics, storage and distribution industry is a very important component part of the East Anglian economy, with the container business going through Felixstowe and agricultural foodstuffs going through smaller ports such as Lowestoft in my constituency.
I just wish to home in for a few minutes on a particular business in my constituency. Transam Trucking is very much a specialist in storage and distribution, with an important focus on Europe. It was formed in 1976 and is, in effect, a company of roadies. It provides specialist haulage services to the music industry and it takes bands and acts on tours all around Britain and Europe, particularly during the summer months. It has built up a significant business over its 40 years. Its client list is pretty impressive. It includes: Roger Waters, Bryan Adams, Iron Maiden, Guns N’Roses, Judas Priest, the Rolling Stones, Ozzy Osborne, Ringo Starr, Gary Barlow, Katy Perry, Billy Joel, and, bringing us up to date, Taylor Swift.
The company has built up this particularly strong business. What concerns it is a particular directive that came out from the EU in January from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, setting out the requirements for its business post Brexit. It is particularly concerned about the requirement for road transport operators to hold a certificate of professional competence, which must be issued by an EU state. The current certificate, which may be issued by Britain, will no longer continue. Likewise, driver attestation must be provided by the remaining EU states. Furthermore, after 29 March, a driving licence issued by the UK will no longer be valid. There is also a requirement that it must have an established base on the continent. We have also heard the issues related to Community licences, and the questions over whether they will still be valid.
Clearly, there is uncertainty hanging over the industry. It is important to bear in mind that this company is now beginning to take bookings for next year—post March 2019—and a number of clients are questioning whether it will be able to continue to provide the services that it has provided for the past 40 years. In particular, I am told that the Germans are casting very envious eyes on what is a great British industry. Can the Minister clarify whether the concerns of businesses such as Transam Trucking have been taken into account in this Bill? If not, can he provide other assurances to ensure that those concerns are allayed?
We have had an essential debate this evening on a Bill that we really should not have any necessity to debate. Although the title of the Bill sounds somewhat niche, the Government’s complete failure to secure trading arrangements with the EU means that the haulage industry could come to a complete standstill without this Bill. For that reason, we will not stand in the way of its progress to Committee this evening.
The haulage industry contributes £13.1 billion to gross value added, with 3.7 million tonnes exported and 4 million tonnes imported each year. It employs 319,000 HGV drivers. Although it is 45,000 drivers short, and the settled status is also creating uncertainty for EU nationals, Parliament must, without doubt, understand the importance of this sector to both the economy and jobs, especially with all the other uncertainties in the industry over Brexit, such as driver hours, custom borders and many of the issues that we have heard about this evening.
Negotiations should have established that the UK would be part of the Community licence scheme, along with all other EU countries, European economic area countries and others. This would enable the continuation of the free flow of goods to service our economy, and that is Labour’s position. However, even that most basic provision has caused much division on the Government Benches.
Today, the Government have tried to brush over this Bill as a “just in case” measure. The reality is that a no deal scenario, or even a “frictionless as possible” deal, and all things in between, highlight what a complete and utter nightmare our borders will prove to be without Community licensing or a customs union.
Currently the UK has permit-based agreements with Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, the Russian Federation, Tunisia and Ukraine and liberal agreements with Serbia, Albania and Turkey. They are typically managed through the DVLA, which in itself is already overstretched. Similar reciprocal arrangements exist, but now everything is up in the air. Therefore, for a lorry to drive on the continent to a destination, or to drive through another country to reach its destination, or within cabotage rules, the haulier will need documentation to prove that they have permission to be there.
We are debating this legislation when we still have no clarity over what the European negotiators will determine is required in these matters, so it is only a “virtual” Bill on something that the Government have no clue about what will be required. As the Secretary of State said, the Government are still, at this 11th hour, consulting on the content. We may pass legislation here, but without knowing for certain that the EU will accept the UK regime, this Bill could be redundant anyway. It is as if we are passing legislation to guide a negotiation process, such is the weakness of the Government with their chaotic Brexit.
Those of us on the Labour Benches are clear: be part of the Community licensing regime, and remove these completely unnecessary trade barriers and uncertainties. This legislation will give the Government powers to create a permit scheme for UK hauliers to be recognised across the EU. It will establish a trailer registration scheme in line with the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic, which this Parliament ratified on 28 March 2018, so UK trailers are registered for use on EU roads.
If hauliers are looking for clarity over how these new arrangements will operate and how much it will cost them, I have to tell them that they will have to wait until secondary legislation is laid, except, of course, for the £75.8 million from the Government—or should I say the taxpayer—in set-up costs. That is another Brexit expense. Therefore, this is simply an empty Bill, built on a possible negotiated position, with no clarity over how the scheme will operate, or how much it will cost the operator for needing to go to the EU to save our economy—an emperor’s new clothes Bill.
For those Brexiteers who now feel that they can say, “Well, at least this means that our borders will be secure”, I am afraid to say that this Bill does not automatically stop international road haulage either. But they are right to suspect the worst-case scenario: vehicles stacking up without the right documentation. Research already suggests that two additional minutes spent on checks will result in 10 miles of lorries stacking up. Get this legislation wrong and we will have gridlock at our borders.
I have asked the Minister whether licences could be electronic documents. “No”, was the reply. Can Members believe that we are talking about a new system only issuing paper documents? Even in 2018, drivers will be expected to carry paper documents as they cross borders that could be subject to checks. If a permit is not present, fines could be issued. We therefore need an inspectorate. Where will this be based? How will it operate? I am afraid that that is not clarified in the Bill either. We have to wait for the regulations, but that will be all too late to create any certainty for the industry, as the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) has highlighted with regard to the music industry.
Commercial traders over 750 kg and non-commercial traders over 3.5 tonnes will need to be registered with the DVLA and will be required to carry paper, not electronic documents. We are told that most caravans and horse trailers will be exempt, unless owners opt for the voluntary register, which we have not heard about in today’s debate. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) made a powerful case as to why we also need comprehensive safety measures for light trailers. The tragic loss of little Freddie Hussey showed why this Bill must be amended in Committee to bring about greater public safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) further highlighted the impact that tow bar safety would have, not least as 91% of trailers have failed basic safety tests. We need another inspectorate of certificates and trailers in order to ensure compliance as well as administration in the issuing of registration certificates. This means more unknown costs to the industry. Failure to comply could lead to imprisonment and/or a fine.
The noble Lord Tunnicliffe of Bracknell rightly won a vote in the House of Lords on improving safety standards and recording accidents. In Committee we must look at measures such as improvements to exhaust emissions, trailer safety and tyre safety in order to keep the public and drivers safe. He also sought clarity that there would be no restrictions on the number of permits issued—this is so vital for trade to flow—and said that we should not create even more obstacles.
I must seek clarity over the Irish border question with regards to haulage licensing. We are being led to believe that there will be no new restrictions that would limit cross-border road haulage on the island of Ireland. This means that EU to UK haulage and UK to EU haulage will flow without checks. However, when probed on this the Minister said that there could be differentiation across the Irish sea. This is completely unacceptable to the parties in Northern Ireland, and is the central point of the whole customs union argument.
As we understand it, road haulage—for example, originating from Germany—will travel into the Republic of Ireland as it does now, and will be able to continue its journey into Northern Ireland without checks, without borders and with “no new restrictions”. However, it will need a permit if it crosses to England, Wales or Scotland. In effect, are the Government saying with this Bill that they are going to create borders across the Irish sea and therefore cross other red lines? Clarity is needed and has not been provided by the Secretary of State. These important issues need to be resolved, particularly across the whole island of Ireland. This is too important for the Minister just to skim over in his reply, so I trust that he will spell out in detail exactly how these borders will work. Finally on Northern Ireland, the Bill requires a legislative consent motion from the Northern Ireland Assembly, but we all know that the Assembly is currently not sitting. I would be pleased if the Minister told us how he plans to handle that situation.
The true cost and chaos of Brexit can be judged by this Bill. We will hold the Government to account throughout its passage, while advising that we should remain within current arrangements. There is no reason for the UK to leave the Community licensing scheme, but this is a matter for negotiation—something so simple to establish, but which appears to be too controversial for the Conservative party to unify on.
It is a great pleasure to close the Second Reading debate on this Bill. We have had an extremely engaging and positive debate in many ways. Cardinal Newman has been invoked, very surprisingly, by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes). There has been catharsis. We have had a Scottish National party Member praising the Lords—Allelujah!—and quoting Donald Rumsfeld, which is always an interesting combination.
I have been surprised not to see, during the entire course of the debate, a single Liberal Democrat Member in the Chamber. I was surprised because, as I had understood it, they felt very passionately about the issue of Brexit, and of course this is the first Brexit implementation Bill. At the very least I would have expected speeches and interventions, but in fact not one Liberal Democrat Member has bothered to show their face in the Chamber.
As today’s debate has made clear, the Bill is needed to support the continued movement of goods between the UK and Europe. The Secretary of State outlined well in his opening speech that we are committed to maintaining the existing liberalised access for commercial haulage. A mutually beneficial road freight agreement with the EU that secures our objective of frictionless trade is in the interest of both parties. When 85% of trade is carried across the UK border by EU hauliers, we can be certain that EU countries—Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and the like—have a tremendous interest in the maintenance of frictionless trade. It has also been noted that international conventions support it and the EU’s own negotiating objectives demand it.
Today’s debate has focused on the two parts of the Bill. The first part deals with haulage permits and provides a framework for the UK to manage them, including if they are needed as part of our agreement with the EU. We will also be using the powers in part 1 to bring our existing international agreements into a comprehensive legal framework—a point that the Opposition somehow ignored or missed.
On trailers, the debate focused on the scope of the trailer registration scheme that will be established in regulations under the Bill. The Government need to establish a trailer registration scheme in order to support the UK’s ratification of the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic. It will ensure that trailer users can register trailers to meet the standards in the convention. We intend to require the registration of commercial trailers over 750 kg and non-commercial trailers over 3.5 tonnes that travel to or through countries that have ratified the convention—it is important to say that. I can give the assurances that my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) asked for earlier.
Many other countries have similar schemes, and both of those schemes will utilise the expertise of our agencies—the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency—to deliver the systems needed. We plan to have the systems up and running by the end of the year, and see no reason why that should not be the case. It is true that we will be charging fees, but they will be on a cost-recovery basis to minimise the impact on hauliers. We are well aware of the tight margins in the industry, and we will do all we can to reduce the cost of any scheme. The fees will only recover the day-to-day running costs of administering the systems and will not be intended to generate revenue. The Government will cover the set-up costs of the systems as part of a £75.8 million funding grant from the Treasury to the Department for Transport. I am delighted that the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) recognises the distinction between “Government money”, which does not exist, and taxpayers’ money, which is of course the only money that the Government can draw on.
Will the Minister reassure the Central Registration and Identification Scheme, otherwise known as CRiS—a key local employer in Chippenham—that the Bill will not alter the voluntary registration of UK caravans?
I recognise the quality of that scheme, and I have spoken personally to the National Caravan Council to discuss it. My hon. Friend will be aware that the vast majority of caravans will not be within the scope of the new scheme as we are currently defining it. Indeed, the DVLA scheme will not concern security, which is the principal purpose of the CRiS regime. We have no intention to replace CRiS, so I do not see that it needs to have any concerns or fears on that account.
I can confirm that the Bill will not have an impact on border arrangements and that there will be no new transport-related checks at our borders. That is perfectly plain. Separately, my Department is working closely with the Department for Exiting the European Union and with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs as part of the cross-Government borders working group to manage any impacts there may be on borders after we leave the EU.
Stakeholders have welcomed the Bill and recognised the need for it. As has been noted, the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association have given it their support. The Road Haulage Association has said that it “wholeheartedly supports” it and that it is “the right thing” for the Government to be preparing measures for all scenarios. The Freight Transport Association has welcomed the Government’s objective in ensuring that no limits are set on the number of goods vehicles going between the EU and the UK. The Bill provides a framework that should reassure hauliers that the final Brexit deal agreed with the European Union will be smoothly implemented.
With that in mind, let me move swiftly on to some of the many excellent points raised during the debate. As ever, the informed questions, challenges and arguments that we heard are welcome in helping us to strengthen the Bill, and I greatly appreciate the broad support shown for the ambition and energy behind it.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) asked whether the Bill would deter investment. I simply draw his attention to the fact that, as the Secretary of State said, Vauxhall, Toyota and UPS have recently made investments in the haulage and car industries, while Apple, Facebook and many other international businesses continue to invest in this country. He mentioned concerns, also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), about the impact on the music industry. We will look specifically at that issue in more detail, and I am sure I can provide some reassurance on that front. I have mentioned the support that we have already received from the RHA and FTA.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) for sharing his expertise and for the wisdom he brought to his speech. He made a good point about the importance of the Bill in providing protection against over-zealous enforcement—a point that others did not pick up on—and the extent to which it therefore gives reassurance to people who may already be vulnerable. He asked whether plates could be fitted that could be read by ANPR. That will be part of our wider considerations. We will also consult on the display of plates in order to address the other matter that he raised. That will require tweaking or elaboration within new IT systems, but that is well within the scope and capability of the DVSA and the DVLA.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings made a worryingly restrained speech in which he chastised himself for his excessive humility in recognising his own perspicacity and imagination. I am delighted that he was able to correct that on the record in the House, and I thank him for his unwonted brevity in doing so. He made an important point about the recruitment and retention of new drivers and apprentices within the industry. I am sure that he shares my view that the Road to Logistics initiative offered by the RHA potentially offers an important and interesting route forward for the Government in future.
The most important speech of the evening, if I may say so, was made by the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth). I absolutely salute her work on trailer safety. She has built a reputation across the House for the careful, intelligent and dedicated way in which she has pursued the issue. It was an honour for me to be able to visit her constituency and spend time at the trailer safety summit that she recently organised, and also, of course, to meet Donna and Scott Hussey, the parents of Freddie Hussey, to talk about the experience they have had and measures that we can take to address the issue. We have agreed to report on it within a year of the regulations coming into effect.
As the hon. Lady will know, we have also agreed to consider a recommendation on whether to extend registration. I think it is fair to say that, as she pointed out, the Government currently have quite extensive data through agencies. It is not necessarily, in some cases, the right data to solve the issues that she described, but it is good data. It is also fair to note that, as other colleagues have mentioned, some trailers are used very infrequently, and that extending the scope of the scheme to mandatory registration would potentially include well over 1 million more trailers. We have therefore so far taken the view that given the administrative burdens and other issues that would be involved, a proportionate approach needs to be taken. However, I do not in any sense rule out the proposal that she makes. It is important for us to proceed slowly and carefully and to understand the issues in more detail as we do so.
I thank the Minister for his comments. I know that he knows that I will pursue the trailer safety regime with great vigour. I hope that many hon. Members will support me in that work in the coming months and years.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that reassurance, but I do not think it was required by anyone in the House who has seen her at work.
The right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) made an important speech in support of the Bill. He asked why we think the agreement will be doable. The answer is simple: because the interests of both parties are well aligned. I cannot comment on the views that will be held in the Irish Republic. This Bill addresses UK hauliers. I can say, however, that the Bill will not result in any impediment to trade between the two sides. We see no reason for concern on that front.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) mentioned the 1968 Vienna convention. We are now a signatory to that. However, like many other contracting parties, we do not take the view that the testing and use of autonomous vehicles is in conflict with either the ’68 convention or the ’49 convention. Nevertheless, it is an important question and I thank him for raising it.
We have heard contributions relating to Operation Stack, on which we will be publishing a response shortly.
Going back to the Northern Ireland border issue, surely it is incumbent on the UK Government to seek the views of the Irish Government to see how this is going to work instead of continually saying, “We can’t speak for the Irish Government—we don’t know what they’re thinking.” It is incumbent on them to find that out.
My officials are of course in regular contact with officials in Ireland and discuss these issues at length, so it would be quite wrong to suggest that there is no interaction between the two parties.
Let me conclude by mentioning the comments of the shadow Ministers. I have to say that the Labour position is very strange. Their strategy seems to be to cloud the issue and scare people as much as possible, and then criticise the Government in calling for clarity. They complain that everything is up in the air but then criticise a Bill whose specific purpose is to act as a sensible, belt-and-braces, common-sense backstop.
We do not think that this Bill is anything other than a thoroughly sensible move. It will ensure that the road haulage industry can continue to prosper as we leave the European Union. As part of our EU legislation programme, the Bill prepares us for a range of scenarios. It will ensure that the UK can fulfil its international obligations and be ready for what happens when we leave the EU.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords] (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords]:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Tuesday 5 June.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.
Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords] (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—
(1) any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Secretary of State;
(2) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.