Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 1
EU Community Licence arrangements
‘(1) It is an objective of the Government, in negotiating a withdrawal agreement from the EU, to seek continued UK participation in the EU’s Community Licence arrangements.
(2) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on progress made on any negotiations to secure the objective in subsection (1).
(3) The report must be laid before Parliament before 31 December 2018.’—(Tom Brake.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Report on the impact of leaving the European Union on the international transport of goods—
‘(1) Within six months of Royal Assent of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish and lay before both Houses of Parliament an assessment of—
(a) the impact of leaving the European Union; and
(b) any relevant international agreement with the European Union or European Union member States,
on the international transport of goods by road.
(2) An assessment under subsection (1) must consider in particular—
(a) waiting times at ports for goods vehicles transporting goods internationally;
(b) the likelihood of procedures to park goods vehicles transporting goods internationally on the M20 motorway in Kent (“Operation Stack”) needing to be activated in the future;
(c) the likelihood of requiring additional parking around ports for goods vehicles transporting goods internationally; and
(d) the likelihood of the United Kingdom remaining a party to the 1987 Convention on a Common Transit Procedure, as amended.
(3) The assessment in subsection (1) must so far as practicable analyse the expected difference in outcomes which would result from the policies of Her Majesty’s Government at the time of the assessment and continued participation in the European Union Single Market and Customs Union.’
New clause 3—Report on the effect of ratifying the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must lay before both Houses of Parliament an assessment of the effect of ratifying the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (“the 1968 Convention”) on the international transport of goods by road.
(2) The assessment must consider—
(a) the likelihood of drivers of goods vehicles with United Kingdom driving licenses needing to purchase an International Driving Permit to travel to European Union member States after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union; and
(b) the likelihood of reservations to the 1968 Convention issued by the United Kingdom, insofar as they relate to the international transport of goods, being subject to a legal challenge.
(3) The report must be laid before both Houses of Parliament on or before 28 March 2019.
(4) In this section, “International Driving Permit” has the same meaning as in the 1968 Convention.’
Amendment 4, in clause 2, page 2, line 40, leave out from “or” to the end of line 42.
This amendment would remove reference to first come first serve or an element of random selection as methods for granting an application for a permit.
Amendment 2, in clause 5, page 3, line 39, at end insert—
‘(1A) The regulations must ensure that the cost of applying for a permit under this Act to travel to an European Union member State is not disproportionate to the cost an applicant would have incurred in previously applying for a Community Licence.’
Amendment 5, in clause 9, page 5, line 36, after “Kingdom” insert
“, and setting out the number of permits requested, granted and refused”.
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to report on the number of permits requested, granted and refused.
Government amendments 1 and 3.
It is certainly not my intention to detain the House for long, so if people need to make moves to secure the presence of the person who has secured the Adjournment debate, I give them that warning now. A discipline of the House that is imposed on small Opposition parties is that we have to speak briefly, and I would, in fact, recommend this to all in the House. I am not going to single out anyone in particular, apart from perhaps the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), who I think could benefit from a bit of discipline in his speeches in this place. That would free up time for others to speak in debates such as the Canada debate earlier today, which I was hoping to speak in.
Although I will not detain the House for long, I want to spend a bit of time focusing on my new clauses 1 to 3 and amendment 2. New clause 1 would require the UK to negotiate to remain in the EU’s community licences scheme post Brexit. That would enable UK hauliers who have international operator’s licences to deliver goods to and from the UK to continue to do exactly that, including through cabotage rights that would enable them to carry out journeys within another EU country. This is a very sensible proposal and one that Labour and the Liberal Democrats tabled a joint amendment on in the Lords, with slightly different wording from the one that we have here today. There was cross-party, or at least two-party, agreement that this was a sensible proposal.
I am hoping that when the Minister responds, he will say that the Government will negotiate on that basis, or at least negotiate to achieve exactly the same thing, and will particularly have regard to the financial and administrative impact that an alternative scheme might have on hauliers. Apparently, the purpose of our leaving the EU was to get rid of red tape and make it much easier for hauliers and others to conduct business. There is a risk, however, that replacing EU community licences, which cost nothing and are easy to secure and on which there is no limit on the number that can be issued, with a scheme for which hauliers have to pay and which might require them to renew on a regular basis, far from getting rid of red tape, will actually add to it. However, we know that some of the proposals from different factions within the Cabinet, particularly for things such as maximum facilitation, could impose huge additional costs on business and not get rid of red tape at all.
I hope that the Minister can say precisely what the Government intend to do about replacing community licences if they are not to replace them with an equivalent scheme. The purpose of amendment 2 is to ensure that, if the Government do not secure a successor scheme that is identical or similar to it, the cost that hauliers will have to pay is restricted. While some of the big haulage companies might be able to pay whatever the new permit might cost, the change could place a significant cost burden on smaller hauliers—those operating perhaps one or two vehicles. I hope he can say what plan B or the backstop would be in the event of a failure to deliver a community licence equivalent.
The purpose of new clause 2 is to ensure that the Government publish a report on the impact of Brexit on the transport of goods. When I tabled it last week, I was not aware how timely it would be. In the last 24 hours—I am sure there will be others in the next few days—a series of blue chip companies, including Airbus, BMW, Honda and Siemens, have highlighted the projected or potential cost to their businesses of problems at the border. I am sure that the Government would want to report back on the impact, particularly of having to bring back Operation Stack. Many people will remember what happened a couple of years ago when a huge tailback occurred at Dover. Apparently, it was triggered by two French police officers based in Dover not turning up for their shift, and that led to a 15-mile tailback.
What will the impact be if that happens as a result of the need for additional vehicles to be checked? When I visited the port of Dover, I assumed that Ministers from the Department for Exiting the European Union would already have visited. There has been some interesting coverage on BBC South East recently. It rang round the Opposition spokespeople to ask if they had been to the port of Dover to talk to the authorities about the impact of Brexit. I had been. I had been in the control tower to see the operation. However, when BBC South East asked if a DExEU Minister had been to talk to the port—the largest port, certainly in terms of freight vehicles, with 10,000 passing through it—it was told that apparently not a single one had. I thought that a little remiss. I presume they have been now, given that it got lots of coverage on TV, and so will understand the potential impact on the transport of goods if there are problems on the border.
Needless to say, I have been to the port of Dover, as the maritime Minister, when I served in that capacity, and for other purposes. Just so the right hon. Gentleman does not inadvertently mislead the House, I must point out that in the very week of that coverage, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman), visited the port. It is important to point out that those Ministers have taken interest in the affairs at Dover.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He has confirmed that the harmony and potential marriage that existed between us in the earlier debate have perhaps reached a state of acrimony and we no longer agree on the subject. But his intervention was interesting. I do wonder whether the visit of the DExEU Minister post-dated or pre-dated the BBC South East news item. If it post-dated it, I would be a little suspicious as to why the Minister suddenly chose to reorganise her diary with a view to going to the port of Dover, perhaps rather in the way the Foreign Secretary had to reorganise his diary to be in Afghanistan during the Heathrow vote. I know, however, that I should not dwell for too long on trips to Afghanistan as that is not the subject of our debate.
On the ports issue and on the visits, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is very strange that the Secretary of State for Transport said that, post Brexit, there will be no further checks and it will be just like the US-Canada border? In fact there are checks at that border and also we learned from a written question from me to the Secretary of State that he has not even visited the US-Canada border, so goodness knows how he thought he knew how it operates. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is symbolic of the shambles?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. As it is on the subject of borders, which is what we are debating, it is an entirely appropriate intervention. It gives me the opportunity to point out that the same Secretary of State often refers to the advantages of the border between Norway and Sweden. Again I am not sure whether he has visited that border. Maybe he has. If he has, he will have found on his visit that some of the border points are inconveniently shut at certain times of the day and night. He will also have discovered that one of the factors that Swedish business often cites as being a major constraint on doing trade with Norway is the fact that the border is not in fact frictionless. So there is a bit of a problem in terms of the Secretary of State, but I am sure he has now been on many fact-finding missions and has increased his knowledge of the subject on which he speaks.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the causes of Operation Stack in 2015. There were two causes, neither of which was the one he identified, so I would not want him to be inadvertently misleading the House. The causes were the migrant crisis affecting the operation of Eurotunnel and the French ferries going on strike. It was very clear at the time that those were the causes. Ministers were all over it. It was not as he is suggesting. I am sure it is appropriate, and he will be grateful, that we have been able to put the record straight.
I am very happy to put the record straight as far as I am concerned and the record as far as I am concerned is that, when I visited the port authorities and talked to them about the 15-mile tailback, they were very clear in telling me that that occurred as a result of two French police officers not turning up for their shift.
The hon. Gentleman can shake his head, but he should perhaps talk to the port authorities and find out from them what the cause of that particular delay was. That is the information I have had. They are the ones in charge of the port and, frankly, I would have thought that they knew what they were talking about. I am happy to give way if he disagrees with me.
The causes were very clear. I was the Minister at the time who had responsibility for Operation Stack. I went down and met with people who were operating it and dealing with the problems. What the causes were was extremely clear. The right hon. Gentleman is just plain wrong.
I am afraid that we will have to disagree on this matter. If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise the issue with the port authorities, from whom I got this information, I recommend he does so. That is what they told me. However, we can have an argument about whether that particular incident—there has been more than one Operation Stack—was or was not caused by migrants through the tunnel, which is some distance from the port of Dover, or alternatively by two French police officers not turning up, but what is indisputable is the point that Airbus, BMW, Honda and Siemens have been making in the past few days: the Government are at risk of creating major problems for them in terms of their just-in-time operations because of whatever the Government are planning—if only we knew what they were planning on future customs arrangements. Added to that, the Government are causing those businesses huge uncertainty, which probably explains why investment in the car industry has dropped by half in the last 12 months.
My final point relates to new clause 3. I do not know whether the Minister was a supporter of leave or remain. When I tried to check, I found lots of references to him sitting on the fence. Perhaps he would like to clarify whether he came off the fence or whether he sat uncomfortably on it on referendum day. I see that he is not tempted to respond. One thing that I certainly cannot recall being written on the side of a bus—or indeed a bulldozer—was what we have here in relation to new clause 3, which requires the Government to assess the ratification of the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic. Unless one is a bit of a geek, this is rather a specialist area, and I am going to have to refer to a briefing. It tells us why we now need to ratify that convention. It states:
“Under EU Directive 2006/126/EC, driving licences issued by the UK are recognised by other EU states and vice versa. Once the UK has left the EU, this directive will no longer apply and a separate agreement is negotiated. Without such a deal, the UK’s relationship with most EU member states would be governed by the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic. These countries would recognise each other’s licences although they could require that the driver carries an International Driving Permit. However, five EU member states…are not parties to the 1949 Convention. They are instead party to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic.”
So the Government are now having to ratify the 1968 convention because of an issue to do with driving licences possibly not being recognised once we have left the European Union, and we have to do it now because there is a 12-month waiting period before the provisions come into effect.
Of course, there are other consequences, as Members who follow this issue closely will know. The UK Government’s ratification of this convention will bring in other matters relating to unregistered trailers. So we now have a chain effect, which started with there being nothing on the side of a bus about a requirement to implement the 1968 convention and which has ended up with our having to introduce a law relating to unregistered trailers, because we have to make all this hang together. It is a very messy business.
I am sure the Minister will be aware of the representations that have been made by the people who are responsible for caravans. They are pressing the Government on a particular point, and I am sure that he will be able to respond to it at the end of the debate—that is assuming that he is actually listening to it, which at the moment is not obvious. Presumably someone is taking notes for him in the Box. The question is whether a Government agency will be required to oversee the registration of caravans if they cannot be exempt. An exemption is being sought for caravans, horseboxes and the like, but if that cannot be achieved, will the organisation that has been set up—an outside agency called CRiS, the Caravan Registration & Identification Scheme—be able to operate the registration scheme itself? It believes that it could do so at a greatly reduced cost. I hope, just as an aside, that I will be able to get some clarity on that point.
Our trial separation is rapidly ending in divorce. Can I be absolutely clear about this? Most people have argued that the consideration of trailers, which will be a matter of some debate, is a useful and helpful thing. It is understood that it is actually quite a good thing for us to look at these matters. Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing on behalf of the Liberal Democrats that we should have nothing to do with that —in other words, that we should not look at trailers at all? If he is indeed making that case, he will be at odds with the vast majority of people who are considering this legislation.
Yes, the divorce is proceeding well. Maybe we need to engage Relate to pacify matters. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that I was unaware of any call, prior to 23 June 2016, for a trailer registration scheme. It therefore appears to have been Brexit that has triggered the registration of trailers, as opposed to a desire on the part of the Government to address the issue.
The fact that we were not able to ratify the convention for some 50 years says more about the procedures between this place and the European Union. It would be useful for the right hon. Gentleman to accept that the registration of trailers has been brought up on a number of occasions over the years because of the weight limit of trailers that are not registered. In a case that I have brought before the House, which I will speak to later, that resulted in the death of a young child. This legislation has provided a great opportunity to talk about safety, which I think the right hon. Gentleman would agree is the pre-eminent issue.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I think she is about to put on the record the reasons why, for her, this is an important issue. I do not want to dismiss that and I can confirm that I and, I suspect, other Members have had issues with trailers that have been left by the roadside that it is very difficult to do anything about because they are not registered. I agree, but the trigger in this case was not a desire on the Government’s part to address the issue but the fact that Brexit has required them to do a certain thing, which led to a chain of events that has resulted in the requirement to register trailers.
As Members may know, the convention might—although I accept that it is very unlikely—also lead to appeals to the United Nations if the UK does not criminalise jaywalking, require all cars to park on the left-hand side of the road, require drivers to turn on their lights when driving through certain tunnels—something that, on the whole, is probably a good thing—require motorcyclists to turn on their front and back lights at all times, and require parked cars to have parking lights switched on at night or in other periods of low visibility. There has been an interesting chain of events as a problem triggered by Brexit has produced a domino effect and required the Government to legislate for something that might or might not happen, having other unforeseen consequences that, as I said, were not clearly set out on the side of that famous bus. It would have had to have been a very long bus for all the consequences to have been set out on it.
I like to be true to my word. I said that I would be brief, so I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion. I have made the point about community licences and it seems to me that it would be sensible to try to replicate that scheme, as far as possible, to minimise the burden placed on hauliers, minimise any additional cost on them and reduce the risk of UK hauliers simply being excluded from the EU because of the limited number of licences that might be available. I hope that I will hear some positive and engaging words from the Minister on that subject. If that happens, I would not have to put the House through the pain of a vote this evening, getting in the way of Members who might have other things to do, such as watching Nigeria versus—I am not sure who they are playing, but one of the World Cup matches taking place this evening.
On Second Reading, I raised concerns on behalf of Transam Trucking, a specialist haulage company based in my constituency that is a market leader in the music and entertainment transport business, taking bands and acts on tours all around the UK and Europe. In the busy summer months, the company will have up to 250 lorries on the road or in Europe—150 of its own trucks and a further 100 subcontracted vehicles. Transam had expressed concerns to me that the Bill as originally drafted could cause difficulties in securing contracts for the summer of 2019, for which negotiations are now well under way. I am grateful to the Minister for listening to those concerns and introducing an amendment to the Bill in Committee to address the worries of Transam and other hauliers. I thank him for writing to me in response to the letter in which I set out Transam’s worries in detail.
The amendment that the Government have introduced is clause 2(1)(d). Transam has studied the provision closely and, to a large extent, the Minister has addressed its worries. Prior to the introduction of the current EU road transport regulations, Transam used to work under a non-quota international haulage permit system. Those permits were freely available and the system worked well. There was a worry that that might not be the case in future, and the Government’s amendment implies that the number of permits will be limited, at the discretion of the Secretary of State, and that permits will be made available only in an emergency or for a special need.
There was a concern that Transam’s customers, if they believed it could not obtain permits, might look to place their business elsewhere with its European competitors, which would not have been constrained by the regulations. However, Transam and its advisers have received assurances that permits will be issued on an unlimited basis for industries such as Transam’s, and I welcome the Government’s clarification of that position.
Hopefully it will not be necessary for the measures contained in the Bill to come into effect and the Government will be able to reach an agreement with the EU so that the existing liberalised access for UK commercial haulage can continue and be developed still further.
It is important to monitor the situation as we move forward, and I will pass on any feedback I get from Transam to the Minister for his information and consideration. Transam’s iconic black trucks have been on the road and on tour all around Europe for over 40 years and, in its own words, Transam has been
“ensuring the magic always happens on stage, on time and on budget.”
Transam’s is a very important business, which is largely geared towards the export market. Post Brexit, it is vital that such business not only continues but grows, and I am grateful to the Minister for addressing its concerns and for providing the opportunity for that to happen.
Notwithstanding the comments of the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on the Bill’s origins, I am grateful that the Bill has given me the opportunity to highlight the gaping hole in some of our country’s legislation on the safety of light trailers.
My focus in seeking to amend the Bill, working with noble Lords and the Opposition Front Bench, has always been public safety, following representations made to me by my constituents Donna and Scott Hussey on the tragic loss of Freddie, their then three-year-old son, who was killed by a 2-tonne trailer.
Since the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords in February, peers and Members from all parties have made thoughtful, informed contributions on the complex issues associated with it. We have heard a lot of arguments on proportionality, on bureaucratic burdens, on cost, on scope and on timeframes, but we have also heard about a number of deaths caused by unsafe trailers.
I am particularly grateful to Lord Bassam, who tabled the initial probing amendment on safety in the context of Freddie’s death, and who pressed the Government to do what their impact assessment said they would do and seize the opportunity of this Bill to improve safety through better regulation. I also pay tribute to Lord Tunnicliffe for tabling the amendment on Report requiring the Government to collate comprehensive data on trailer safety and to publish it in a report, for which the noble Lords voted.
There has been significant discussion and consensus on the gaps and problems in existing information on light trailers and on the degree of threat they might pose. I am pleased that the Government agreed in Committee to produce a report that includes a recommendation on whether compulsory registration or periodic testing of trailers weighing more than 750 kg should be introduced—that is now part of clauses 20 and 21. It was also reassuring to hear the Minister confirm that the report will include an assessment of existing provisions relating to the installation of tow bars, following the compelling arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion).
I pressed the Minister on what information the report would contain over and above what we already know, and I was pleased to receive his assurance that, in collating the information, his Department will consider what other types of data, beyond the STATS19 form, it may be able to obtain to inform the recommendations; will pay due attention to the challenge of the under-reporting of accidents, as highlighted in our debates; will use the report as a starting point from which to consider whether significant changes are necessary to how it reports on trailer safety; and will include data on all trailer categories in the report.
I was also pleased to hear the Minister agree that there might be a case for extending the Department’s road safety communications more widely on the issue of driver behaviour and driver education as the Bill comes into effect. As I highlighted a couple of years ago in my Westminster Hall debate to the then Minister, the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones), we should make it as unacceptable to drive with an unsafe trailer as it is to drive while using a mobile phone or while over the drink-drive limit. Such a culture change requires a commitment from the Department. I thank the Minister for these assurances, and have written to him to ask that he keeps me updated on the progress of the report over the coming months—I am sure he will do so.
I am also grateful to the Minister for attending the trailer safety summit that I held in my constituency in April, and to all who have supported the campaign and helped to move us one step forward on improving trailer safety. During recess, I will be joining the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency in Avon and Somerset for an enforcement check to see the work its staff carry out at the roadside, and to learn more about some of the issues on the ground. I want to thank the police and those involved in making that happen.
I remind the House, however, that we must not become complacent over the next 18 months. Although Freddie’s case was tragic, it was not isolated. A couple of months ago, I was contacted by a solicitor representing a family whose child had been the victim of a runaway trailer. Last week, I was contacted by a police officer investigating yet another fatality involving a trailer, and I am sure many Members present will have heard of the tragic death of a cyclist here in London last week. I do not know the specifics of these cases, and no doubt they are complex, but that is precisely why the Bill has represented an important opportunity—an opportunity to ensure that the Government are sufficiently ambitious and rigorous in the execution of the contents of the report on trailer safety and their analysis. We owe it to the victims and their families—we owe it to Donna and Scott Hussey, and we owe it to young Freddie—to ensure that this remains a matter of public safety and, as such, is a priority.
I will be brief. I have supported the Bill’s passage and would give it a cautious welcome in terms of the haulage permits and trailer registration aspects. Being realistic, the UK Government do have to put in place procedures that might have to be enacted in case of a no deal, but as this is the only legislation coming through the House just now that actually can be relevant to a no deal, it shows how unrealistic it is for hardline Brexiteers to think they can get this Government to a place where they can seriously say to the EU, “We’re in a position to have a no deal and walk away in March 2019.” That is absolutely impossible and they are kidding themselves on.
I pay tribute once again to the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) for the work she has done, and for the clauses on trailer safety and on reporting and analysis that she has succeeded in getting inserted into the Bill. I hope they will help us to improve trailer safety on the roads and the general safety of people on and around our road networks. With these remarks, I am happy to see the Bill go forward.
I rise to move amendments 4 and 5, and to speak to the new clauses and amendment 2. Without doubt, much progress has been made during the course of this Bill since its inception in the Lords. We have had robust debate, both in Committee and on Second Reading. I am glad that that debate has been extended today, not least by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), who seems to have had an 11th-hour epiphany in turning up to speak on the Bill today. Had he been either at the Second Reading debate or in Committee, he would have heard the extensive line-by-line debate we had about so many of the clauses. I thank the Minister for the way he listened carefully during that debate, and he has certainly moved the Bill forward.
Through his amendments, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington expressed concern about the disastrous way in which this Government are approaching Brexit and the devastating impact it is having on business. There are many reasons why we are hearing weekly announcements from industry about resettling their business abroad, because delay in their supply chain hits their bottom line. The UK investment loss as the EU is preferred is devastating for jobs and our economy. That would be accelerated by the complex chaos that could ensue at our borders without proper arrangements.
Labour has always stated that we believe the UK should remain within the EU’s community licence arrangements—after all, why leave them? I doubt that a single constituent has raised this issue on the doorstep, yet to leave would not only create a whole new licensing scheme but result in more uncertainty. Not having orderly licensing will result in lorries stacking up at the borders, where, as Imperial College found, a two-minute delay will create a 10-mile hold-up at Dover alone. If further self-harm can be avoided, I urge the Minister to act to ensure that businesses can gain some confidence.
We have learned that the haulage trade will be issued with licences under clause 2(1)(c) in a possibly arbitrary way, although that is subject to the passing of amendment 4, which I tabled, and which would deal with such heightened uncertainty. Confidence is needed at our borders and new clause 1 certainly seeks to build confidence, as did the amendments Labour tabled that were lost in Committee. By not providing confidence, the Government show that they do not have business stability at the heart of their plans and are preparing for such a hard Brexit that businesses will be forced out anyway.
The EU community licence scheme simply works. There is recognition of licences within the EU area and, rather than uncertainty, we should simply adopt this scheme. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington would have been shocked to hear in earlier debates that the licence will be a paper document. It will not even be electronic or a tag that can hold licence data; no, it will be on good old-fashioned paper, and an individual will come up to a cab, knock on the door and ask to see the papers. Instead of today’s secure electronic systems, the Minister prefers higher-risk paper documentation.
I am sure the hon. Lady appreciates the difficulty for a party with 12 Members of ensuring that someone can be present at all debates, but I am indeed surprised to hear that the Government’s approach would be paper-based, because we have of course heard a huge amount from them about how all these things are going to be electronic, seamless, frictionless and based on new technology. Here is an opportunity for the Government to deploy technology, but they are actually deploying a piece of paper.
I am sure that had the right hon. Gentleman been in Committee, he would have had much opportunity to join in the previous debates on this issue—
We do not get appointed to Committees.
All Members are entitled to attend Committees, even if they are not Committee members, but I do not need to tell the right hon. Gentleman about those facts.
It will be catastrophic if we get the licence-distribution process wrong, but the Government have yet even to say that their prime objective will be to remain in the EU community licence arrangements.
New clauses 1 to 3 also call on the Government to report to Parliament on the range of impacts that leaving the EU community licence scheme will create. Again, we have sought to do this previously, but to no avail, as the Government are not interested in the facts. They have their fingers crossed and the belief that all will be well as they drive us over the cliff. The Opposition value evidence-based decision making, and my biggest shock about this place is how low a priority analysis still is. Let me give an example: the Minister could not tell me in Committee how many permits will be needed. The high possibility of the need to evoke Operation Stack were we to end up outside the EU community licence arrangements is evident, yet due to the Government’s lack of care and attention, the proposed lorry park did not go ahead because of an error in the planning process.
I could give a lot more examples about the reality of borders, not least in Northern Ireland, and how the scheme will operate, but the Minister was unable to address such issues in Committee. Clearly, borders will be created between the EU and the UK. The Minister denied that that will be the case between the north and south of Ireland, despite their being different jurisdictions, but even should special arrangements be made to address that issue, there would most certainly be borders between the east and the rest of Great Britain in the west. Both scenarios are completely unacceptable, but the reality of being outside a central customs arrangement will create such a border. Understanding the environment means not only understanding the risks, but having high-quality data to back this up. That is why Labour supports new clauses 1 to 3.
This brings me to my amendments 4 and 5 which, along with amendment 2, relate to permit provision. Clause 2 is very concerning. As with all Bills, it calls for regulations to be made, but is rudderless with regard to why and how. Amendment 4 seeks to amend clause 2(1)(c), which states that the regulations will determine how the Secretary of State will decide who receives a permit, including the criteria for doing so. If there is a method of selection, and it is vague, one could argue that that is all well and good, as that is what regulations are there for. However, we believe that, in paragraph (c), it is more damaging to keep the two examples that are in brackets than to say nothing at all.
I am asking for this Bill to be tidied up this afternoon. It speaks of the utterly chaotic way that the Government are approaching international transactions over trade, and the way that they are handling vital business needs at home. First, paragraph (c) talks about a “first come, first served” basis. That means that a business has to be at the front of the queue each time it needs a permit. There is no identification of strategic industries, no understanding of business need or the need to be able to plan, and no concern over how new entrants further down the line will even get hold of a permit. That is a poor example. Moreover, to include such an example in a Bill as important as this one speaks of serious Government incompetence over logistical planning. May I gently advise the Government once again that it would be in their interests to leave out that example? It does not add any substantial detail, but sets a tone to desensitise business as to how logistics will be approached.
Let me come now to my second suggestion. Paragraph (c) mentions
“an element of random selection.”
I do not think that I need to say much more other than that those words have to go. A “random” approach to economic and logistical planning is the exact reason why businesses are seeking stability elsewhere. We on the Labour Benches get that. I suggest that the section is simply removed to give Government time to consider how they will approach the issuing of permits, before bringing forward secondary legislation. Why make things worse for themselves if they really do not have to? I am sure that the Government will see the common sense in what I suggest, and I trust that they will accept my amendment today.
Amendment 5 seeks to amend clause 9(1). If we are going to introduce a new permit scheme, we must properly review the process. Our amendment seeks to ensure that there is a greater understanding of how the permit system works. In wanting to know the number of permits requested, this simply highlights the scheme demand—something that is important for the Government to understand. Following on from that, the amendment will then require data to be provided on the number of permits granted and refused. In particular, it is important to understand how many were refused and why. For instance, was it owing to an error in the way that the application process was made or was working, or to there not being enough permits available to haulage companies in the first place? If either of those scenarios were the case, the Government would have firm data on which to evidence the change needed in the system. Labour also supports amendment 2, which protects the haulage trade—
The hon. Lady is making a very compelling case for both her amendments. In the case of amendment 5 with the issue about review, I am not sure whether it would be wise to make that part of the legislation. It is perfectly possible for the Government to commit to a review in respect of the legislation. On her first very strong point about the criteria, the Bill as it currently stands uses the words “may include” and then it lists the two things that she describes. It is an inclusive, rather than exclusive, provision. I wonder whether that might be a way through this in a more collaborative vein.
As ever, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his points. Regarding my amendment 4, clearly having the words on random selection in the Bill is really unhelpful to the Government because it sets the tone on trade. At this time, we must all acknowledge that business needs a confidence-building approach. It is unhelpful to know that a chaotic approach to the provision of permits is even being considered as a possibility. I trust that the Minister has heard that call. I am trying to assist in the passage of the Bill and what happens afterwards.
The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) also made a point about my amendment 5. Clause 9(1) actually states that
“the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report”.
It has already been agreed that that is how we should proceed, so I believe that this point has already been covered.
Labour would support amendment 2, which would protect the haulage trade, and ultimately the public, from the potential of additional expenditure because the UK has had to devise its own permit scheme, as opposed to belonging to the EU community licence arrangements. We are also happy to support Government amendments 1 and 3. Therefore, I do not need to raise any further issues today.
I am grateful to all colleagues who have spoken to these amendments and new clauses for the genuinely constructive and warm way in which this debate and the previous stages of the Bill have been conducted, for which I am also very grateful to the Opposition.
Let me start by addressing the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). We have been consistently clear throughout the passage of the Bill that we want to maintain the existing liberalised access for UK hauliers. We absolutely believe that a mutually beneficial road freight agreement with the EU will support the objective of frictionless trade, and that the future relationship that we are forging with the EU on road freight as part of a wider continuing relationship on trade will be in the interests of both sides.
The right hon. Gentleman’s amendment 2 would enshrine on the face of the Bill a negotiation objective of seeking continued participation in the EU’s community licence arrangements. I must be clear that we do not believe that an attempt to mandate a particular stance in negotiations, as this amendment seeks to do, is appropriate in this Bill. What we will need—here, as elsewhere—is flexibility and the capacity to adapt. It is clear, however, that the right hon. Gentleman is pressing for reassurances and I want to give him those reassurances.
I am acutely aware, as are other members of the Government, of the benefits of the community licence arrangements as they presently exist. We are also aware that many hauliers would like those arrangements to continue. Although our continued participation in the community licence arrangements may be one outcome of the negotiations, we cannot predict that at this stage. There are, of course, other means to replicate the access that the community licence provides that the amendment would rule out. Let me explain how.
The Government have set out that we are seeking a very close partnership, based on reciprocal binding commitments. That could be based on a comprehensive system of mutual recognition. Our current liberalised, non-permit-based agreements with some non-EU countries provide for mutual recognition of operator licences in lieu of the requirement to have a permit. The UK-Turkey agreement is one such example. The EU has a similar arrangement in the EU-Swiss land transport agreement. It could be that our future agreement with the EU is based on a similar scheme without the need for community licences or permits. Including in the Bill the objective to seek continued participation in the community licence arrangement would make it harder to agree such a beneficial deal for our hauliers. In fact, it may prove to be an obstacle.
The right hon. Gentleman’s new clause 2 is highly comprehensive and would provide for a report not just on the impacts of the measures contemplated, but on the broad range of impacts on international road haulage of our leaving the European Union, including lorry queuing, parking, the need for Operation Stack, transit procedures and membership of the single market. I am not going to respond in detail to the specific provisions in this new clause because they are not relevant to the Bill’s aims. Overall, the new clause would not provide a useful analysis that might assist our negotiations or the wider business of Government. Therefore, I am afraid that I do not think it appropriate.
Let me turn to the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment on the Vienna convention. As I have said, we are confident that we can secure a mutually beneficial future partnership, but we are putting in place measures that ensure that drivers can continue to travel freely across the EU post exit, whatever the outcome. That is what ratification of the 1968 convention enables us to do. The ’68 convention builds on the ’49 convention. The vast majority of the requirements within the ’68 convention are already covered by The Highway Code and existing legislation. The remaining area of divergence lies in provisions that allow enforcement against unregistered trailer registration, which we addressed through the provisions in part 2.
The right hon. Gentleman is seeking an assessment to be made of the impact of ratification on international transports of goods. Of course, the convention is not focused on trade arrangements but on vehicle standards. We do not believe that ratification will have an impact specifically on rights of access for hauliers after exit. That will be a matter for negotiation. It is also important to say that our intention is to reach a deal that negates the need for additional documents and systematic document checks for all road users. That agreement is in the interests of both sides’ driving licence holders. However, the convention does not prevent individual member states from recognising our UK photo-card licences should they deem that appropriate.
The right hon. Gentleman queried whether there would be legal challenges to reservations that we have issued. We do not believe that there is any great scope for that. The potential exists to enter objections to reservations, but the nature of the reservations is highly consistent with the approach taken by many other countries that have ratified the convention. The likelihood of objections is therefore low, and the likelihood of objections by new contracting parties is even lower. The UK is already well aligned with the overwhelming majority of the provisions of the convention. As such, only limited action has been taken to progress with the process of ratification. Through existing legislation, the UK meets the necessary standards of the convention. There will be further changes to The Highway Code, but these will be only minor policy tweaks. Accordingly, the reservations that the UK has put forward relate primarily to matters of domestic law, and this further lowers the risk associated with any reservations.
On the cost of applying for a permit, the Bill allows us to charge fees for permits, as the right hon. Gentleman recognises, and we propose to do so on the basis of recovering the costs of providing those permits and minimising the cost to hauliers, in accordance with Treasury guidelines on managing public money. We will also set fees such that hauliers should not pay any more than they need to in order to meet the cost of the service. This includes a commitment by Government to cover the scheme set-up costs, which have been funded as part of the £75.8 million funding from the Treasury to the Department of Transport. I hope that he and other hon. Members will be reassured by this.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to CRiS and the National Caravan Council’s reservation scheme. He is absolutely right that that is a fine scheme in many ways, and it does offer features that this registration scheme does not. Of course, this scheme is not intended to replace it. The vast majority of caravans will not be included in our registration scheme. We have spoken at some length to the National Caravan Council on this, and it has advised us that the number of caravans weighing over 3.5 tonnes may be as few as 150 new units per year. Unfortunately, we are unable—under law on which we have taken advice—to use this scheme, even were it appropriate, because as a private entity it cannot meet the registration requirements of the convention.
I turn to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). I am very grateful that he was able to make the point about Transam and that this provision has met its requirements. That is very good, and I am pleased that we have been able to support him on that.
The hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) raised, as she has throughout the Bill’s passage, the status of trailer registration and the tragic case of Donna and Scott Hussey’s son, Freddie. I hope she agrees that we have done everything we can to engage with her on the case of poor Freddie Hussey. She has made a material improvement to the Bill and has been a tireless campaigner. I am pleased to recognise her work, as I have before.
Let me turn to the points raised by the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I am grateful for the constructive way in which she has engaged throughout the Bill’s passage. She raised a concern about methods of selection. It is important to be clear that random selection and first come, first served are included in the Bill not because they are the exclusive methods that will be chosen for selection, but because they are methods that could be seen in law as the Secretary of State not using his or her discretion, which is a general principle of law and would be expected of him or her. We have therefore included those approaches on the face of the Bill to remove any ambiguity as to whether they can be used and to be as transparent as possible. We have been perfectly clear that they will not be used except in the context of a wider application of criteria, as I described in previous stages of the Bill’s passage.
Finally, clause 9 requires the Secretary of State to report on the effect on the UK haulage industry of any EU-related permit scheme, should there be one, throughout a year in which there is a limit on the number of permits available for hauliers travelling to EU member states. Amendment 5, which is identical to one that the hon. Member for York Central tabled in Committee, would make the requirement more precise by requiring any report to include the number of permits requested, granted and refused. I reassured her in Committee that if reports were required, the Government would plan for that to include the number of permits requested, granted or refused. I am happy to confirm that once again. I do not believe that the amendment requires the Secretary of State to do anything that he would not expect to do. I hope that the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington will withdraw his new clause.
First, on new clause 2, I am surprised that the Government do not believe that an understanding of the impact of Brexit on the haulage industry would be helpful to them. I would have thought that it would be.
A number of issues have been raised this evening by the hon. Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and for Bristol South (Karin Smyth), whose campaigning on this issue has come across. I am sure that the Minister can and will want to address that. He does not necessarily have to do that through a Bill, as there are many other ways of doing so.
On new clause 1, I heard some reassurance from the Minister that community licences might be an outcome of one of the options he is looking at. He is also looking at other options that might do away with the need for them in the first place, which clearly would be of assistance to hauliers, particularly if the cost of the permits they will have to pay for is limited. Replacing a paper-based system with something else might assist that process.
I would not want to embarrass the Minister so early on in his ministerial career by pressing my new clause to a vote and causing him to lose, so I do not intend to do so. He has given some reassurances. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments made: 1, page 16, line 34, at end insert—
‘4A In section 90A(2) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (offences in relation to which a financial penalty deposit requirement may be imposed), in paragraph (a)(i), after “vehicle” insert “or trailer”.’
This amendment will ensure that financial penalty deposit requirements may be imposed in respect of offences relating to trailers.
Amendment 3, page 17, line 1, at end insert—
‘5A In Article 91B(2) of the Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 (S.I. 1996/1320 (N.I. 10)) (offences in relation to which a financial penalty deposit requirement may be imposed), in sub-paragraph (a), after “vehicle” insert “or trailer”.’—(Jesse Norman.)
The amendment makes provision for Northern Ireland corresponding to Amendment 1.
Consideration is now completed.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During the exchange we just had, I was not asked whether I wanted to press my amendments to a vote or to withdraw them. Is that within order?
Yes. I listened to what the hon. Lady said during her speech, and she did not move her amendments. It would be normal that, if the hon Lady—if I had read the debate in such a way as to think that the hon. Lady wished to call a separate Division on one of her amendments, I would have made sure that that could happen. I took advice on whether the hon. Lady intended to ask for a separate Division on one of her amendments, and the advice was that Opposition Front Benchers did not intend to put any amendments to a vote. It is now too late to change that. The hon. Lady looks askance, but perhaps the message from her Front Bench, through other Front Benchers, to the Chair was not clear.
If the hon. Lady would like to make a further point of order, I will allow her to do so, but we cannot change what has happened.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can see the hesitancy with which you are providing this ruling. I just want to clarify that, at the beginning of my speech in this debate, I did move amendments 4 and 5 formally. I want to put that on the record so there can be no doubt about it.
There is not any doubt about it. The fact that the hon. Lady used the word “move” is not actually sufficient. I ascertained, as the occupant of the Chair always does, whether there was an intention on the part of Opposition Front Benchers to ask for a separate Division on any particular amendment, and the advice—or information; it is not really advice—was very clearly that there was no intention to do so. If the hon. Lady or her colleagues sitting beside her had wished to send a different message, they should have done so through other Front Benchers. There is no misunderstanding. In any case, it is too late to change matters now, because we have come to Third Reading.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I want to say a few words at the concluding stage of the consideration of this Bill. First, I thank all those involved on both sides of the House—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), the Opposition team who have taken part in the debates, the two Committee Chairs and, indeed, all hon. Members who served on the Public Bill Committee.
This is an important Bill. As the Brexit negotiations continue, it is critical that we prepare carefully for our future relationship with the European Union, take all the steps we need to take for all eventualities in negotiations that lie ahead, and make sure we have all the tools that are needed for that future relationship, so that haulage, which is a really important part of our economy, has the tools it needs to be able to carry on crossing borders and delivering the trade that is so essential to this country and to the European Union as a whole. After all, this industry directly employs 300,000 people.
The first part of this Bill will allow us to introduce a road haulage permit scheme covering existing agreements outside the European Union, while also making sure that we have the tools available for any permit-based deal with the European Union, if that is required. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Bill puts in place a legal framework for the Government to establish a system for issuing permits, without placing undue regulation or financial requirements on the industry.
The UK already has several of these in place with non-EU countries. It is important that we have all the tools we may need at the conclusion of the negotiating process and I am very grateful to both Houses of Parliament for expediting this measure. I believe that we have made another step forward in our preparedness process by passing this legislation.
The other part of the legislation gives the Government powers to establish a trailer registration scheme to meet the standards in the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic. That ensures that UK operators can register trailers before entering countries that require such registration—I am referring to HGV trailers, which are an important part of the haulage sector, and not to smaller camping trailers that holidaymakers use. Commercial trailers over 750 kg and all trailers over 3.5 tonnes need to be registered. As with the first part of the Bill, we intend only to recover the costs of running the scheme and not to make a profit.
On the trailer safety measures added in the other place, the Lords made its recommendations and the Government acted on them. We will publish a report on trailer safety within one year of the Bill coming into force.
This is a good Bill and a valuable contribution to the preparations for Brexit. It also puts in place sensible safety measures and a sensible framework for the future of our haulage sector when it comes to the permits and registration required for it to continue to operate in the way we want. I again thank all those involved in the Bill on both sides of the House.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for enhancing our parliamentary education by explaining the words, “I move”. We are wiser because of your guidance.
The Opposition recognise the Bill as necessary for Brexit preparations and it is right that the Government prepare for contingencies on leaving the European Union. A failure to retain an essentially unchanged operating environment would damage the UK haulage industry and the wider economy, which is why we believe the Government should continue to use the community licence post Brexit. We hope the measures in the Bill will never be used, but it is imperative that the Government press ahead with their trailer safety review and report to the House next year.
I thank the Government for co-operating with Labour to improve the legislation. I also place on record my thanks to colleagues, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), and staff both in this House and in the other place whose hard work helped to secure improvements relating to trailer safety and to increase Ministers’ accountability to Parliament in relation to the powers given to the Secretary of State in the Bill.
I heard what the Minister said regarding the allocation of permits. I cannot let the moment pass without adding my note of caution on including such careless words in legislation as
“may include first come, first served or an element of random selection”.
Using that sort of language in statute brings us to a poor place.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) for her superb campaign on trailer safety following the tragic death of three-year-old Freddie Hussey from her constituency. She has also summoned a safety summit in her constituency, which has been so effective. She will be warmly congratulated by all hon. Members.
Road haulage is vital for the UK economy. Any post-Brexit arrangement that impedes the ease of transit of goods, or that places additional costs or administrative burdens on hauliers, will damage the sector and the wider economy and must be avoided. The haulage industry has been clear about the threat of additional administrative and financial burdens and the risks presented to UK supply chains.
Throughout the Bill’s previous stages, Labour has done all it can to reduce the disruption that would be caused if the measures become necessary, but the negotiations will determine how much damage and disruption Brexit will cause to such industries in respect of the retention of the community licensing scheme. Broader issues such as whether we will be part of a customs union and avoid the introduction of customs checks at the border, and the consequential gridlock of our ports and roads, are also a matter for the negotiations. I have visited a number of ports during my time as shadow Secretary of State for Transport and the consequences of failing to retain an unchanged operating environment are stark.
It is concerning that the Government’s calamitous attempts at negotiating Brexit make it increasingly likely that the measures in the Bill will not be a contingency but will be put into effect. Unfortunately, the negotiations are not something we are able to address as a part of the Bill. I do, however, believe we have improved this necessary but hopefully never-to-be-used legislation. Labour will be voting in support.
I will be very brief. This is an important Bill. As the shadow Secretary of State said, it is a contingency measure. It is a belt and braces exercise to ensure we can guarantee the seamless transport of goods across the continent. There are many hauliers in my constituency and they will be looking at this matter with some concern. It is right to say that Brexit represents a significant change. I take the view that it represents a significant opportunity. None the less, seamless transport and travel are vital, particularly in respect of fresh goods. We live in a just-in-time age, where the movement of goods in very quick order is necessary to meet the expectations that have been created as a result of that culture.
The measure, which we do not expect to come into force, is none the less important to achieve those objectives. It is the right thing for the Government to do. Had the Government failed to bring something of this kind forward, Opposition Members and others would have perfectly reasonably said that we were not being sufficiently diligent. The diligence associated with a proper approach to the defence of the interests of hauliers and others obliges the Bill we are considering tonight. It is in that spirit that it has been considered through time.
I want to pay particular attention to the points made earlier by the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), and, if I may do so on her behalf, reiterate them. It seems to me important that the Government recognise that it will be necessary to review the provisions should they come into force and it would be perfectly reasonable for Government Ministers to confirm that that might happen. I do not think it necessarily needs to be on the face of the Bill, but it is perfectly reasonable for Ministers to give her an assurance, as a result of the compelling argument she made earlier, that that kind of process will occur. It is what good Governments do: they consider measures carefully, check how they are working in practice and commit to looking at them again if and when necessary.
Similarly, to re-emphasise a point I made earlier—many of the points I make in this House are worth amplification, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker—it is important that the methodology for the allocation of permits is what it needs to be. It should not be merely what is suggested here, as the shadow Secretary of State and others said, and the hon. Member for York Central emphasised. It may well take a very different shape from that which is identified here. It is therefore very important that the Government are very flexible about what needs to be done to allocate permits in a way that is efficient and effective.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, while it may well be right to retain flexibility on the allocation of permits, to put in the Bill that they could be allocated on a first come, first served basis could mean people in sleeping bags waiting for permits to be handed out or some random selection? This is serious stuff. Should we really be using such vague and indeterminate language in the Bill?
In an ideal world, where I was still sitting on the Government Front Bench—I know that is most people’s ideal—I would have to respond to that point formally on behalf of the Government. As I no longer have those responsibilities, I will leave it to those who are now missioned to deal with these matters formally to respond.
The Secretary of State has done the right thing in bringing the Bill forward. As I said earlier, had he not done so, he would have been criticised. I do not expect it to be used, but it will provide considerable reassurance to hauliers and others. We are constantly told by the critics of Brexit that the biggest problem of all is uncertainty. Well, this Bill is not uncertain, but it is about doing what is necessary to alleviate uncertainty by dealing with the matter with appropriate diligence and salience. To that end, the Bill has my full support.
There is one final thing: I say to the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) that to come to the party late, improperly dressed, and to not understand what a trailer registration scheme really means is not clever or wise, and he would be better not to come to the party at all if he is going to make such a mess of it. With that cutting aside, I conclude my remarks.
As we have heard, road haulage is important for businesses in the UK and for keeping the supply of goods and food to our shores, so, like others, I am happy to support the legislation. It is sensible to have back-up arrangements in place.
However, now that I have heard some of the contributions on Third Reading, suddenly this legislation seems way more important and detailed than I realised. I thought it was quite simple—particularly on haulage permits to allow lorry drivers to register and possibly travel—but now I am hearing that it is giving great certainty about Brexit, and that it is the start of all the Brexit preparations. In terms of haulage and movement of goods, the customs union, the single market and the arrangements around them and borders are far more important. This legislation does not provide the certainty that we are hearing about and the Government are still a long, long way short of any proper preparations for Brexit, especially this fabled “no deal” that they will be able to walk away with in March 2019. I suggest that some Government Members need to stop kidding themselves on. Apart from that, I support the Bill’s Third Reading.
I want to say a few quick words in support of the Bill and the sector. The road haulage industry is hugely important to the United Kingdom. It does the heavy lifting of goods around our country and because it works so well and so smoothly, it is frequently taken for granted.
There are 320,000 HGV drivers employed in the UK, and in terms of the workforce, that goes up to around 2.5 million when we include the broader haulage and logistics industry. Road haulage is the main means of moving goods around the UK and it plays a huge role in our exports. Over 3.5 million road goods vehicles left the UK for Europe last year. We have been talking about the implications for exporting. The goods that we rely on, our food and drink, and the stock for our nation’s high streets—much of what we export—are moved by trucks and the workforce that drives them. Those goods are stored in warehouses and managed by the logistics teams who ensure that they are where we need them when we need them.
The Bill deals with a critical part of the UK economy and is about making sure that whatever happens in our Brexit negotiations, the Government will be able to deliver a smooth Brexit. This Bill is about preparations that may never be needed—indeed, I hope they are not. We do not know what the deal will be, so while the negotiations are progressing, it is right for the Government to plan for different eventualities. It is about creating the capacity to develop background systems, and about doing so in collaboration and consultation with the industry. We saw that with the addition in the House of Lords of a consultation clause, which was very positive. We have liberalised access for haulage and the Government are working to maintain that, but it is right to have the contingency, which is what the Bill is about.
I have experienced the sector both as a Minister and prior to that, in my working career, and I know just how important is to have smooth operation and a successful future for this critical part of the UK economy. The Government are to be commended for planning ahead and taking the necessary precautions for whatever Brexit may bring. That is why I will support the Bill; I urge everyone to do so.
I rise to get more clarity and commitments from the Minister, specifically on road safety and reducing loss of life. It will come as no surprise to the Minister that I will focus on towbar failure and substandard trailers.
On the compulsory registration of trailers, I remain concerned that a non-commercial trailer weighing between 750 kg and 3.5 tonnes can be on the road without being subject to routine safety checks. Given that vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are regularly tested, it seems logical for trailers that are, say, 3.4 tonnes, or even 1 tonne, to be subject to regular checks. Accidents with trailers of such a size could easily cause serious injury or death, as we have heard throughout the Bill’s passage. Provision for regular testing would help to shape the behaviour of road users, giving them greater responsibility for the maintenance of their vehicles.
Some very heavy trailers, perhaps even weighing 3.4 tonnes, sit off-road without maintenance, potentially for months or years, before being taken on a road or motorway without any formal scrutiny. That presents a potentially deadly risk to road users and pedestrians. The Minister has spoken about the opportunity the Bill presents for raising public awareness of safety issues. Can he provide any detail of his thoughts on what an education and public awareness campaign might look like? I welcome the commitment he has given to extend testing for all trailers over 750 kg if recommended by the report provided for under clause 20, but that does not go far enough.
We have an opportunity with the Bill to ensure that all trailers over 750 kg are registered on a compulsory basis. Such an intervention would help to prevent serious accidents and deaths on our roads. Regular checks would increase the likelihood of a culture change, leading to owners of heavy trailers taking more responsibility for the safety and roadworthiness of their vehicles. The Minister has said that the report will make recommendations on whether regulations should be extended for compulsory registration for trailers weighing more than 750 kg. Will he say where he believes the threshold of acceptable risk lies, and at which point he believes all trailers should be registered on a compulsory basis? Will he make a personal commitment to extend regulation, without delay, to all trailers over 750 kg at the point the threshold is crossed?
On towbars, we have during the Bill’s passage heard compelling information about the potential lack of compliance with towbar safety regulations. Specifically, I refer again to the National Trailer and Towing Association’s findings that 91% of inspections carried out as part of its free towbar check failed to meet adequate safety requirements. The Minister knows that the Rotherham Towing Centre in my constituency is the second facility in the UK to be accredited by Horizon Global. Customers using such accredited centres have the assurance that a towbar fitted to their vehicle is safe.
There are, however, currently no legal requirements for towbars to be fitted by qualified professionals. There are not even specific standards with which the tow hitches and their fitting must be aligned. The examination at the MOT stage has a very high threshold for failure. In Committee, the Minister rightly said it was important to differentiate between small numbers of data and evidence. To that end, I am pleased that the Government have agreed to report on the compliance of existing provisions for the installation of towbars. Given the agreed need for good evidence-based policy making, does the Minister agree that the report should include details on the number and causes of road traffic accidents involving towbars, as well as the already agreed trailers, under clause 20? He expressed concern that it might not be realistic to retrospectively assess accidents for which data had not been recorded. Will he commit to reporting on accidents involving towbars going forward?
I note that the Minister has said that the level of recorded towbar defects is very low, but staff at my local garage, RH Motors, which does MOT testing, said that the threshold for giving notification of a problem with a towbar is very high. The Minister has stated that he would consider the guidance for staff at MOT stations on the threshold for reporting faulty towbars. What steps has he taken to review this for future guidance?
Finally, on the inspection protocol, the Minister has said that if an extension of periodic testing is proposed to cover all trailers, it would be appropriate for that to examine the tow connection on the trailer itself. Given the concerning evidence suggesting that many towbars and hitches that are examined are not safe, and given that most are not examined at all, does he agree that it would be more prudent to introduce periodic testing for all towbars without delay?
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.