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Exiting the European Union (Transport)

Volume 663: debated on Tuesday 23 July 2019

I beg to move,

That the draft Cableway Installations (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were laid before this House on 2 July, be approved.

These regulations will be needed in the event that the UK leaves the EU without an agreement. They are being made under powers conferred by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and will give clarity and certainty to industry by fixing deficiencies that will arise in two pieces of legislation when the UK leaves the EU: namely, EU regulation 2016/424, which is a directly applicable EU regulation; and the Cableway Installations Regulations 2018, which implemented the EU regulation.

It may be helpful if I provide some background. Cableways are a mixture of funicular railways and aerial transport systems such as ski lifts for the transport of passengers. They are important for tourism and communities, and we support their continued success. The majority are in snow sports resorts in Scotland, but they also include the Emirates line in London. Those that entered into service before 1 January 1986 are classed as historical, cultural or heritage installations—for example, the Great Orme Tramway and the Babbacombe Cliff Railway—and are excluded from the scope of the 2018 regulations and the EU regulation.

The EU regulation is in part directly applicable in the UK, so it forms part of domestic law. The 2018 regulations supplement the EU regulation where further detail is required—for example, on the authorisation process for the construction or modification of and entry into service of cableway installations, and in providing for the enforcement of the regulatory framework. The EU regulation and the 2018 regulations ensure conformity of standards of cableway components across the EU; require the Secretary of State to notify the EU Commission of the notified body responsible for carrying out conformity assessments to ensure that cableway systems, subsystems and their components meet EU standards; and require the Secretary of State to set rules on the design, construction and entry into service of new cableway installations.

The 2018 regulations and the EU regulation contain a number of elements that will be inappropriate after the UK leaves the European Union. If left unamended, these would render the 2018 regulations and the EU regulation deficient in certain respects post-exit. This instrument will ensure that the legislation on cableway installations will continue to function correctly in the future—as I am sure the House would approve—providing clarity and certainty to providers.

Before I turn to what the instrument does, let me highlight the fact that it has been developed in close co-operation with the industry and the Health and Safety Executive. We have also consulted the Scottish Government; Ski Scotland, which represents the snow sports industry; and Transport for London, given its particular interest in this area. No major concerns were raised by any of those organisations regarding the approach being adopted in this instrument.

The current legislative framework gives cableway operators reassurance that the components used in new cableways, or for maintaining or repairing existing cableways, are safe and that they comply with EU standards. Given the reassurance provided by the current standards, we have no current plans to diverge from them. However, if the UK ever wanted to diverge from EU harmonised standards, the instrument contains a power for the Secretary of State to designate standards in future. The instrument enables the Secretary of State to designate standards by means of a technical specification for cableways installations, their systems or subsystems, and publish that standard in a manner which he considers appropriate.

I am listening intently to the Minister’s remarks about this extremely interesting and important SI that we are about to pass. Has he considered the impact of climate change on the use of cableways in, particularly, Scottish ski resorts, which are probably the biggest users of such technology? These regulations may be completely redundant in a few years’ time if we have no snow and no ski resorts because of climate change.

I am so grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. Of course, everything that I do in the Department for Transport considers these important issues of climate change, and my officials are very alive to this issue.

Very frequently in the measure, the words “notified body” are replaced with “approved body”. Why is that so common a feature?

Elaborating on the point made by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), one can actually have artificial snow ski resorts.

Yes, indeed, but even then, one would still need a cableway in order to reach the required area.

The use of this power would be subject to full consultation with the industry and the appropriate technical and safety bodies, such as the Health and Safety Executive.

As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned, this instrument replaces the definition of “notified body” with “approved body”. This will allow the Secretary of State to approve bodies to carry out cableways conformity assessments. It should be noted that currently there are no such approved bodies in the UK, so until such time as a body is approved, we will continue to recognise EU notified bodies. I hope that is clear.

When my hon. Friend was considering rolling over these standards, did he look at American and other world standards compared with European ones? Were they higher or lower, and might we lose out if we adopt only European standards in terms of imports?

Of course we keep under advisement all the safety standards. The officials in my Department are constantly looking at issues of safety. Historical and heritage cableway apparatus, for example, is subject to different regulations under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. General safety is of paramount importance, and we always look at international comparisons.

All the other changes being made by the instrument are minor and technical in nature—for example, removing references to member states and changing the terminology where applicable.

In summary, cableways are important to communities across the UK and are part of the economy in many areas. These draft regulations will give industry the clarity and certainty it needs that the current standards will continue to apply if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement.

I rise in support of the Cableway Installations (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. These regulations would come into force if the UK were to leave the EU without a deal, which would clearly be catastrophic for the economy and our future.

However, why are we debating these regulations only now, nearly four months after the UK was due to leave the EU? If we had left with no deal at that time, what would have happened to the cableway sector and its regulation? It seems extraordinary that the Government are only now discovering regulations that need to be debated. How many more are at the back of the cupboard in the Minister’s Department and are yet to come to the Floor of the House? That is especially important as safety is paramount in these regulations. So much for no-deal preparations; even legislation protecting vital things like safety has been forgotten.

We have demonstratively seen how poor preparations for no deal are in the Minister’s Department—let us not forget the Operation Stack demonstration, for example. Clearly, his Department is not ready for no deal. Perhaps he can assure the House today, as I have asked his colleagues to do previously, that this is the very last regulation to come on to the Floor of this House to ensure that EU law is enshrined in UK law in the adverse event of the UK leaving the European Union. If it is not, how many more regulations can the House expect?

These regulations deal with the components necessary for the installation of cableways such as ski lifts, the Emirates line and funicular railways, and seek to establish parallel processes to those in the EU, with the Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland taking over the role of the enforcement body. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service will then ensure that an assessment is made by an approved body—not by the Secretary of State—so that the components for installation meet the required standard. The setting of standards will sit with the Secretary of State, as a new extended power, but he will, in reality, work with industry to set the standards, which will sit under the British Standards Institute.

The CE—Conformité Européenne—certification marker will transfer to the UK, to be replaced by a UK marker. This transfer of functions is a practical solution should we end up with no deal. If we do, it is expected that there will be no divergence from EU standards for the industry—well, at least not to start with. However, it is not clear whether parity with EU standards will be maintained if EU standards advance. Can the Minister confirm this, and set out in what instances he believes there could be divergence, and how his Government will respond to that? Will he ensure that in that scenario, UK legislation will keep pace with EU legislation? Clearly, for the industry in this specialist field, and the resultant supply chain, it is in the interests of manufacturing and safety standards that there be no divergence, although we can always have better safety regulations, and that we are not forced into a no-deal scenario under the new Prime Minister.

Concern has been raised about fee setting for this process, not least by the Scottish snow sports sector and Transport for London. I note that the Department highlights that that does not come within the scope of the regulations, but will the Minister tell the House how this will operate in a no-deal Brexit scenario, since a transfer of authoritative bodies, inspection bodies and the enforcement body could impact on fees?

Labour will support these regulations this afternoon, but I hope to have some clarity from the Minister on the issues that I have raised.

Here we go again: the Government have thought it fit to bring this very minor statutory instrument to the main Chamber for debate. Why has a straightforward cut-and-paste job, which simply substitutes references to the EU with references to the UK, merited an allocation of 90 minutes in the main Chamber—or is the Minister trying to big it up? He said that the instrument is about fixing deficiencies and providing clarity and certainty for business, and that the Government developed it in close association with industry and the Health and Safety Executive, but that is not the case; it is a cut-and-paste and substitute job.

There is one slight difference: paragraph 2.8 of the explanatory notes details a “significant change”, in that there is a power for the Secretary of State to designate standards after Brexit day. So there we have it—there is a Brexit dividend: more powers for the Transport Secretary! However, he does not intend to wield these powers, fortunately; there is enough chaos and uncertainty due to Brexit without him intervening and creating further chaos, in line with his legacy.

As the shadow Minister said, we have to ask why, if the Government claimed they were ready for a no-deal Brexit in March, this measure has come forward four months after the original exit day. How on earth can the Government claim that they will pull off a no-deal Brexit deal in October when there is some really heavy legislation that we need to pass through this House in order to achieve that?

Paragraph 2.8 of the explanatory notes also advises that there are no approved bodies in the UK that can carry out conformity assessment, so the EU notified bodies will continue to be recognised. This is actually sensible, but again it shows the absurdity of exiting the EU. Will the Minister advise whether there are any plans to set up a new body?

As has been said, this SI covers 100 cableway installations in operation in the UK, the majority of which are for the ski industry in Scotland. Paragraph 10.3 of the explanatory notes details that, following the consultation, the

“Scottish Snow Sports Sector expressed concern about the fee structure for the inspection of small cableways such as chair lifts.”

Yet a change in fees is not proposed, so can the Minister advise what assessment has been made of the fairness and level of fees, and is there any scope for reductions? Surely if we are to have any Brexit dividend, and the reduction in red tape that we keep hearing about, there must be scope for a reduction in the fees charged to the industry.

It is clear that this SI does absolutely nothing but allow some form of continuity by recognising the EU bodies involved, and changing some references. I will therefore certainly not oppose it, especially as it is particularly relevant to Scotland. I end by repeating my request for the Minister to engage with the ski sector, to see what movement can be made on the inspection fees charged to the industry.

It’s a strange old world, isn’t it? This must be the strangest Parliament in many years. We are debating Bills that are no more than clauses, in effect, and we now have on the Floor of the House a measure that would normally have been taken in a Committee Room upstairs. It is actually a measure that the Government—or certainly today’s Government—hope they will never have to implement, because they are hopeful that some kind of deal will be done, so that we are not in the no-deal scenario in which this would be necessary.

There is a fundamental complexity in what the Government are arguing. In the explanatory notes, the Government say that the SI’s whole aim is to mirror precisely what the EU is doing. One therefore presumes, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said, that if there are amendments to EU regulations in this area in the future, the UK Government will immediately implement them in the UK. That hardly feels like seizing back control; if anything, it feels more like ceding control to a body on which we will no longer be sitting. If there are to be European-wide measures on ski lifts—because, I guess, lots of people from across the European Union who travel from one country to another will want to know, when they get on a ski lift, that it is safe—one would have thought the UK would want to take part in establishing those rules and regulations.

The regulation has been admirably and beautifully expounded on by the Minister, who has had more than a wry smile, I would say, on his puckered lips.

No, the Minister does not always look quite like that. This proves yet again what many of us have felt for a long time: that Brexit is proving far more complicated than anybody ever thought it would be, and is using an awful lot of our time and energy. Whether it will produce anything more than wind is difficult to know.

The hon. Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) said the SI was allegedly unimportant, but that did not stop them talking to the Chamber about it at some length.

May I say to the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) that my Department is actually extremely advanced in the matter of statutory instruments? It has been focusing very strongly on this, and is in a very good place on it. Safety is of paramount importance; these are not minor matters. They are matters of considerable significance, not just for ski lifts but for funicular railways and the other areas we have discussed, including the Emirates line.

We at the Department for Transport have prioritised our SI programme. We have consulted the industry and the devolved Assemblies. We are confident that there will be no impact on safety of not having these regulations in place for exit day, but it is right that we bring them forward now and give the industry clarity, because that is common sense. Standards will not change. Provision will be made for the Secretary of State to set designated standards in future. As ever, that will be subject to full consultation with all the devolved Assemblies.

When it comes to the requirements and duties placed on cableway operators transporting passengers, maintaining the status quo after exit day is perfectly proper and necessary to ensure continuity of operations and safety. The objective of Her Majesty’s Government is to maintain the status quo in order to avoid uncertainty for cableway operators following exit day. I hope Members agree that that is a sensible approach that will benefit communities and the users of these services. I commend this statutory instrument to the House.

Question put and agreed to.