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Railways (Safety, Access, Management and Interoperability) (Miscellaneous Amendments and Transitional Provision) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019

Volume 800: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2019

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Railways (Safety, Access, Management and Inter- operability) (Miscellaneous Amendments and Transitional Provision) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I will start by explaining why we are considering this instrument under the urgent “made affirmative” procedure provided for in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

This instrument is important for ensuring clarity and certainty for the rail industry and passengers. It fixes deficiencies in a number of pieces of rail-related legislation, including important changes to the rail safety legislative framework and corrections to minor issues in previous Brexit-related instruments raised by the JCSI.

The Government committed in previous debates on rail Brexit legislation in this House and to the JCSI that the rail safety amendments and the issues identified by the JCSI would be fixed in time for the UK’s exit from the EU. We gave very careful consideration to the appropriate procedure for this instrument. Providing certainty and clarity to industry and passengers is an absolute priority.

We concluded that in order to provide the right level of certainty and fulfil commitments made to this House and to industry, this instrument needed to be in place for exit day. Therefore, this instrument was signed and laid on 7 October using the urgent “made affirmative” procedure. Noble Lords will be aware that the Article 50 extension letter was not sent until 19 October, and the extension was agreed only on 28 October.

Turning to what this instrument does, its most significant provision is to introduce in Great Britain a two-year recognition period for Part A safety certificates issued in the EU before exit day by amending the Rail Safety (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. It will also make corrections to EU implementing legislation that has come into effect since 12 April 2019, as well as some further minor corrections to earlier implementing legislation.

I will now provide some background information on the changes being made by this instrument, including Part A safety certificates. Part A safety certificates are valid for up to five years and are an essential piece of documentation for operators seeking to operate trains in Great Britain. They are issued by the ORR and set out the essential safety arrangements and systems a train operator has in place to run trains competently and safely.

This instrument will introduce a two-year recognition period for existing Part A safety certificates issued in the EU as part of establishing full regulatory control of our rail safety regime. This gives certainty that EU-issued Part A safety certificates will continue to be recognised for the purpose of operating trains on the mainline railway in Great Britain for two years after Brexit or until they expire, whichever is the sooner. A train operator will then need to apply to the ORR for a new Part A safety certificate and accompanying Part B safety certificate. Two years provide an appropriate amount of time in which industry can prepare and align itself with the GB domestic certification regime and are consistent with recognition periods introduced in other rail-related Brexit legislation. This SI also enables GB-appropriate control, which we will use to maintain our excellent safety record. Safety is always the number one priority on the railway.

Only one operator has been identified as providing services in Great Britain using a Part A safety certificate issued in another EU member state. The operator is RTS Rail Transport Service GmbH. Officials from my department and the ORR have actively engaged with the operator concerned to ensure that it is prepared for Brexit, and its application for a new Part A certificate is well advanced.

Turning to the amendments correcting issues in previous Brexit-related instruments, I reassure noble Lords that the instrument we are considering today has been through pre-legislative scrutiny by the JCSI which returned it without comment. It was also considered by the JCSI in its meeting of 16 October and was not identified as an instrument to be brought to the attention of the House. The JCSI identified minor drafting issues in two previous rail Brexit instruments. I am sure noble Lords will remember that I detailed at least two of those drafting issues in a previous debate, but just in case I will do so again briefly.

In specific terms, the JCSI identified three missing words in the Railways (Safety Management) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2019. They were a definition relating to the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure’s monitoring of safety targets, namely the term “risk to whole”. The committee identified that the term,

“risk to society as a whole”,

appears in paragraph 12(3)(f) of Schedule 7, and that this term should have been defined in paragraph 2 in place of “risk to whole”. The committee also considered that the words,

“risk to society as a whole”,

should have been set out in full rather than the label “whole society” in the table at the end of the schedule.

In addition, the JCSI identified minor drafting errors in the Railways (Access, Management and Licensing of Railway Undertakings) (Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. Specifically, they were a duplication of a sub-paragraph and an incorrect cross-reference to other legislation. Those errors are corrected in this instrument, and the Government would like to thank the JCSI for pointing them out.

My department has also identified small analogous errors in two other Brexit instruments, the Rail Safety (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Railways (Interoperability) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. These errors are also corrected in this instrument.

This instrument will also make the usual Brexit-related corrections to EU implementing legislation that has come fully into effect since 12 April 2019. These include corrections such as removing references to “member states” and replacing references to European legislation with references to domestic legislation wherever possible. The instrument also makes some further minor corrections to earlier implementing legislation.

It is important to emphasise that officials have worked closely with the industry throughout the preparation of this instrument and it will welcome the clarity and certainty that it will provide. The provisions contained in this instrument will enable the rail legislative framework to continue to operate effectively after exit day. This instrument provides certainty to the railway industry and passengers and will ensure that the rail legislative framework continues to function effectively after the UK leaves the EU. I commend these regulations to the Committee. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister and her officials for talking us through these regulations at a meeting yesterday. I am very grateful for her time. Despite her enthusiasm, I had to supress a weary sense of déjà vu about this, but then I thought of an upside. When the history of this Parliament is written, this SI will go down as one of the significant pieces of legislation passed during this Session which, after all, has lasted only a couple of weeks, so it will have its place in history and therefore I set my mind to looking at it with rather more attention and diligence. But my whole spirit protests at the amount of time that we, and particularly officials, have spent preparing for a no-deal Brexit—an issue which is so damaging that it should never have been a credible option.

This SI fixes deficiencies in previous drafting, as the Minister has noted. I believe that there are four of them; that is quite a lot for such a short piece of legislation. My concern is that officials have been under such pressure to churn out such no-deal legislation, if I can call it that, that it has been very difficult for them to maintain the usual high standards. I had a quiet laugh at the opening line of paragraph 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which tells us:

“The Government is committed to leaving the European Union on 31 October”.

I will come back to this later on.

The core purpose of this SI is to put in place a system of recognition of Part A safety certificates for rail operators. It introduces a two-year recognition period, which is flexible according to the renewal date. As the Minister has pointed out to us, this affects only one company but it is symptomatic of the ridiculous position that we are in. Part A certificates are currently EU-portable; the company concerned therefore only has to get them once, and they apply in all EU countries where that company operates. It is proposed that, in future, the ORR will issue Part A certificates. As a result, as the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s report observes:

“ORR issued Part A safety certificates will be substantially the same in terms of content compared to EU issued Part A safety certificates, including the requirements necessary to obtain one. However, after the UK leaves the EU ORR issued Part A certificates will not have EU identification numbers, EU symbols or references to the EU. ORR issued Part A safety certificates will not be valid in the EU”.

This is about creating something which is identical in intent but has a different badge. It creates more complexity and bureaucracy; it is very far from the rosy image we were sold in 2016. The effect is of course that the company concerned, and any other company which might come along and need this certificate, will have to get two certificates rather than only one. What is more, since it is a criminal offence to operate a railway without a Part A certificate, the criminal offence has to be adjusted too. What will happen to the mountain of paperwork and complexity that we have created when, or if, we decide not to leave the EU after all? Are we going to have to unwind it painfully, SI by SI, or could we have just one mega-piece of legislation saying: “Forget what we have done for the last year”?

I have another question for the Minister. Paragraph 2.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum says:

“The UK notified the Commission on 29 November 2018 that it intended to transpose the recast Railway Safety Directive by the later permitted transposition deadline of June 2020, though this will depend on the nature of Brexit on 31 October 2019”.

Can the Minister please update us on what the date will be now, since we have not left on 31 October 2019? We are now rolled forward to 31 January 2020. What does this do to those dates? It is important to have that on record because it is, of course, an issue for the railway industry.

Paragraph 2.16 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to the potential for the ORR to charge a fee. I was relieved to see that it is not intending to do so, but it can as a result of this. Can the Minister indicate what sort, or size, of fee is likely?

Finally—the Minister referred to this in her speech—this SI uses the “made affirmative” procedure. The Minister concerned has attested that this procedure is necessary because this is an urgent piece of legislation, but it is no longer urgent. It was urgent when we were leaving on 31 October or possibly leaving without a deal, but it is no longer urgent until we get to the January deadline. Circumstances have changed. I am concerned, and want to put on record, that the Government have not rethought their approach to this SI and have continued to use this procedure even though the circumstances have changed.

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for explaining the content and purpose of this draft statutory instrument, which relates to a no-deal scenario. I also thank the Minister and her officials for the meeting yesterday. I do not think that anything I am going to say will come entirely as a surprise to the Minister and I am afraid that I will repeat some of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.

I have a number of questions about the content of the Explanatory Memorandum, some of which will, no doubt, relate to issues about which I am still not entirely clear. First, how does an EU portable Part A safety certificate currently differ from a Part A safety certificate from the Office of Rail and Road, if at all, and how will they differ in the future? When introducing this SI, the Minister said that the two-year period to which this SI relates,

“provides an appropriate amount of time in which industry can prepare and align themselves with the Great British domestic certification regime”,

before going on to talk about it giving Great Britain “appropriate control”. In the light of that comment about giving time for the industry to prepare and align itself with the British domestic certification regime, what will the industry have to do in the two-year period to achieve that preparation and alignment with the British domestic certification regime? What actions will it have to take, because there has been talk of there being similarity between the two? It would be helpful if that comment could be clarified; it was also made by the Transport Minister in the Commons when the SI was debated there. I am not entirely clear about what the industry will have to do in that two-year period to prepare and to align itself with the domestic certification regime.

Will operators of services travelling from mainland Europe to the UK require both a UK Part A safety certificate and a Part A certificate issued in an EU member state? Clarification on that point would be helpful. Will a mainland Europe operator with a Part A certificate issued in an EU member state have to acquire a UK Part A safety certificate before bidding for a rail franchise, or will it have to acquire such a certificate only if it is successful in its franchise bid?

What is the position for a train operator in Northern Ireland? What Part A certificate will it require? Will it be a UK one or an EU member state one? Paragraph 4.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum, headed “Extent and Territorial Application”, suggests that, in Northern Ireland, an operator will have an EU member state-issued Part A safety certificate because, as I understand it, it is not covered by the part of the SI that relates to the Part A safety certificates. Once again, some clarification of that issue would be extremely helpful.

In addition, if an operator in Northern Ireland has an EU member state-issued Part A safety certificate, who will issue it and who has issued the current Part A safety certificate? Who has issued the current one and who will issue a future one if the train operator in Northern Ireland had an EU member state Part A certificate rather than one issued by the Office of Rail and Road?

I want to make two points on the Explanatory Memorandum, one of which is exactly the one made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about paragraph 2.5. I know that I am repeating what has already been said but, to recap, it states:

“The UK notified the Commission on 29 November 2018 that it intended to transpose the recast Railway Safety Directive by the later permitted transposition deadline of June 2020, though this will depend on the nature of Brexit on 31 October 2019”.

My question is slightly different from that posed by the noble Baroness and is simply to ask what the current position is on transposing the recast directive. Since the memorandum refers to it being dependent on the nature of Brexit, how will the nature of Brexit affect the transposition?

Finally, paragraph 2.11 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that, once the UK has left the EU:

“There will be an opportunity for the UK to shape its own railway to meet the needs of our passengers and freight shippers”.

What will we be able to do in the future to shape our own railway that the Government are in effect saying we cannot do at the moment under the present arrangements? I am not entirely clear on the answer to that question.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for this short debate on the SI before us. A number of issues have been raised and I look forward to trying to answer as many questions as possible. As ever, I will write if I miss out anything.

As I would expect from a leading Liberal Democrat, we heard the usual question: “What happens if we don’t leave the EU?” It is quite right for the noble Baroness to pose that question. That is obviously not government policy, so not a huge amount of work has gone into it—but the noble Baroness will know that, in the event that the UK does not leave the EU, all the work that we in government are doing at the moment on no-deal preparations, including these SIs, could be revoked. The SIs would simply fall away.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the recast of our safety directive. That point is very important and is in flow at the moment; we will certainly need to consider it at some point next year. The recast Directive (EU) 2016/798 on rail safety repeals and replaces the previous rail safety directive, and forms the basis of the regulations that we currently have in place. The key aims of the new directive are: to streamline the application process for rail vehicle authorisations and safety certificates through a single EU one-stop shop; to achieve consistency of regulatory approach between national safety authorities; to achieve much clearer alignment with the European Union Agency for Railways; and to progressively eliminate technical and operational differences between member states’ railways, including through the gradual elimination of national safety rules.

As noble Lords mentioned, the UK has applied for an extension to be in place until 16 June 2020, which has been agreed. Regarding the terms of our departure, if we are in an implementation period at that stage, the recast safety directive will be brought into our legislative framework. I suspect that, if we are still in our positions, we will be back in place to debate it at that time. If there is no deal, the Government of the day can look at the changes that have happened in Europe and decide whether to bring those changes into UK legislation. If the directive is implemented in whole or in part, a consultation with industry will take place, as with any new legislation. Officials have already done much of the work to ensure that the directive could be implemented if it is necessary and desirable.

Moving on to the ORR and its ability to charge a fee, the instrument makes fixes to EU tertiary legislation that allows the ORR to charge a fee. It was clear that the ORR wants to retain that fee-charging ability should it need to in future; essentially, we are retaining the status quo. However, the ORR has advised that it does not currently charge a fee in its role in determining applications for access to the rail network but that it wishes to retain the ability to charge a fee should it need to—which is the status quo. However, if a fee were to be charged in future, it would be subject to consultation with the industry.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, also mentioned the “made affirmative” procedure and asked whether it was still appropriate for this instrument to be brought through your Lordships’ House under that procedure. I suspect that it is. The debate taking place today is happening prior to the date on which a no-deal exit would otherwise have happened. Therefore, the significant difference between the “made affirmative” procedure and the normal affirmative procedure is not substantial in this case. Had we done it the other way, we may well have had the debate on the same day—but it was absolutely clear to us that we needed to make sure, had this debate not been able to be scheduled, for example, that certainty would be available to the industry. That is why we used the “made affirmative” procedure. We could have gone back and withdrawn the SI, then tabled it again under the new procedure—but, in practical terms, I am not sure that it would have made any real difference.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, brought up the subject of safety certificates in future and asked whether there would be divergence. We may want to diverge in future; one of the benefits of Brexit is being able to take control of the sorts of regulatory systems that we might find beneficial. Safety has always been a priority for this Government and for Governments before us, and it may be that, in future, we diverge from the EU in certain areas with regard to the safety framework. We are definitely not going to lower our safety standards, but we might do things differently. But things may change and, in future, EU operators wishing to operate in the UK will have to get a safety certificate from the UK, and that will be under the new regime. Obviously, this would have to go through your Lordships’ House and there are many steps to be taken in that process.

If we look at UK companies which operate in the EU, at the moment Eurostar has services to France and Belgium. It has set up a French subsidiary, so it has both its UK licence and its EU licence from its French subsidiary which enables it to continue to operate services.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked what industry will have to do to align itself. I suspect that the wording in the Explanatory Memorandum is possibly a little overblown in this area. In reality, at the moment very little alignment needs to happen because we are fully aligned. If the industry needs to do anything—and we are talking about one operator—it is to familiarise itself with the process of the new application system with the ORR because companies will have used a different member state authority to get their original Part A safety certificate. They will have to get used to dealing with the ORR as the new regulator for their safety certificate.

Turning to Northern Ireland, noble Lords will know that rail is a transferred matter. In the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive, policy in Northern Ireland cannot be changed. It has been agreed with the Department for Infrastructure that we will take forward legislation on its behalf to preserve the status quo. At present, safety certificates in Northern Ireland are issued by the Department for Infrastructure and it will continue to do so. They will remain valid—there is no two-year cut-off for services within Northern Ireland. Decisions on future legislation will be a matter for a future Northern Ireland Executive. There is some divergence between GB and NI in this instrument, which is why parts of it are applicable to certain areas. The intention is to introduce a two-year time limit on the recognition of Part A safety certificates as a specific policy choice, but it cannot be imposed on Northern Ireland in the absence of an Executive.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned franchise bidders. This is an important issue because there are many overseas companies involved in our railways and we welcome their involvement. They must have a safety certificate in place prior to operating their services. Operating companies have a UK base so they would make the application.

I hope that I have answered all the questions, unless the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is going to challenge me on that one.

Paragraph 2.11 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that,

“once the UK has left the EU we will have the flexibility to diverge from EU rail law where it is in the UK’s interest to do so, whilst maintaining our excellent safety record. There will be an opportunity for the UK to shape its own railway to meet the needs of our passengers and freight shippers”.

The inference is that we do not have that opportunity under the current arrangements. What are these opportunities to shape our own railway to meet the needs of our passengers and freight shippers that we do not have at the moment because of current arrangements?

Also, on the bit about alignment with the British domestic certification regime, I think that was something the noble Baroness the Minister said in her introduction, but it was certainly something the Minister of State said when this matter was being discussed in the House of Commons. Those were the words he used—so it is hardly the Explanatory Memorandum; it was actually what the Minister said when he referred to,

“an appropriate amount of time for the industry to prepare and align itself”,

with what he described as,

“the Great British domestic certification regime”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/10/19; col. 4.]

I get the impression from the Minister’s answer on behalf of the Government that maybe that was some slightly flowery wording and perhaps he got a bit carried away with himself.

I could not possibly comment on the words of my honourable friend in the other place, and I will go no further on that, but if I can shed any light, I will happily write to the noble Lord.

The words missing from the Explanatory Memorandum are “future needs”. Needs that might come to light will be in freight, for example. In my view, rail freight is an area where we should be looking to expand and improve the volume of goods that travel by rail. Improving gauge clearances or making all the other slight changes that one has to make to a railway to improve the ability of rail freight to, for example, get through tunnels, may have a knock-on impact on the safety certification. I do not know for sure, but these are the sorts of things that we will need to look at if we are to get more freight on to our railways. Therefore, we feel that, in future, divergence is a possibility. It is by no means a certainty. It would not happen without full consultation with the industry, and it would happen only if it is in the interests of the industry.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.07 pm.