Motion to Consider
To move that the Virtual Proceedings do consider the Motor Vehicles (Tests) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020.
Relevant document: 11th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
The Motion was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.
My Lords, this is a take note Motion. I am not opposed to the principle of the regulations, which introduce a one-off, six-month exclusion from the requirement for light vehicles to hold a valid MoT test certificate, but I have a number of points and questions to raise with the Government.
To start, what were the key factors behind these regulations? The Explanatory Memorandum states that
“given the widespread impact of COVID-19 there are likely to be local difficulties in obtaining testing imminently, with more widespread difficulties as the pandemic develops.”
That suggests that the basis of the regulations is an assumption, rather than hard evidence, about local and more widespread difficulties.
The Explanatory Memorandum goes on to state that without the regulations
“many people may have to unlawfully use their vehicle without an MOT, to reach work or do essential shopping, which is a particular concern for vulnerable people”
“The lack of a valid MOT may also mean that vehicles cannot be taxed and using a vehicle unlawfully may also invalidate insurance cover.”
These last two points depend on the accuracy of the assumption that Covid-19 has led to difficulties in obtaining testing. However, I hope the Government can confirm that they have ensured that the DVLA has updated its records and systems so that people in the six-month exemption period will not have problems renewing their car tax or over insurance cover.
Returning to the point about difficulties of obtaining testing, which would presumably be caused by garages being closed or short-staffed due to the incidence of Covid-19, my local garage was shut for three weeks in April, but it then reopened, since after another month there might not have been a business left at all. The Government did not say that garages had to close. Indeed, they encouraged them to remain open, and I assume they have issued appropriate advice on maintaining social distancing at work for garage mechanics.
There are 23,500 test stations, and in normal times there is a surplus of capacity, according to the Explanatory Memorandum. Can the Government say what that level of spare capacity in normal times actually is? What is the maximum number of MoT tests on vehicles covered by these regulations that can be carried out per six months in a normal year compared with the number actually carried out per six months in a normal year? How many MoT tests on light vehicles covered by these regulations were carried out in the four weeks prior to the announcement of the lockdown, and what was the maximum number of MoT tests that could have been carried out in the four weeks prior to the announcement of the lockdown? By how much has the maximum capacity for testing been reduced so far during this pandemic, and what do the Government estimate that maximum capacity to be at present?
Presumably the Government wish to see the terms of these regulations, with their one-off, six-month exemption from an MoT test, brought to an end as soon as possible. If the principal reason for these regulations is concern about present testing capacity, the Government must surely have their finger on the pulse of changes in the maximum available testing capacity.
The continuation of these regulations ought surely to be reconsidered as soon as the required level of testing capacity is available. Unless the Government are going to argue that the MoT test is actually somewhat unnecessary—in which case, why do we have it in the first place?—there must be potential safety issues in allowing light vehicles that would not pass their next scheduled MoT test to remain on the road for a further six months. It is not good enough for the Government simply to say, as they do in the Explanatory Memorandum, that
“vehicle users are still required by the Road Traffic Act 1988 … to ensure vehicles are in good working order.”
There will apparently be millions of light vehicles on the road that would have failed their scheduled MoT test had it taken place. The Explanatory Memorandum says that around 16.6 million relevant MoTs are due to expire over the first six months of these regulations. It also says that 29% of those tested, around 4.9 million vehicles, would have received a dangerous or major MoT failure over the same six-month period. That is then shrugged off in the Explanatory Memorandum with the statement that
“however the maintenance requirements and low risk of incidents occurring from vehicle defects mitigates this risk”,
“but, the risk remains low during the ‘stay at home’ rules as trips are made for essential purposes only.”
Three days ago, that position changed. Rather than stay at home, we are now told by the Government to “stay alert”, which I suppose is pretty good advice for all road users and pedestrians with 4.9 million vehicles that would have failed their MoT with a dangerous or major failure allowed on the roads under the six-month exemption.
I recognise that a decisive majority of road accidents or incidents are the result of human error rather than vehicle defects, though it would be surprising if a vehicle defect did not increase the likelihood of human error, but nevertheless the six-month exemption increases the likelihood of accidents or incidents due to vehicle defects. An impact assessment would have addressed that point, but there is no impact assessment due to lack of time. What, then, is the Government’s estimate of the increase in the number of incidents due to, in whole or in part, vehicle defects that would have been picked up in an MoT test, but were not, as a result of the six-month MoT test exemption?
I also understand that vehicles are being sold on the basis of up to six months still left on the MoT when that period is the six-month exemption, and does not mean—as implied—that the vehicle passed an MoT test between six months and up to a maximum of a year ago.
The DVSA has separately issued certificates of temporary exemption from the requirement to hold a test certificate for goods vehicles and public service vehicles. What is the MoT failure rate for these vehicles, and how many such vehicles were due an MoT test in the six months to the end of this September? Returning to the non-existent impact assessment, will the Government now produce one, since impact assessments often provide helpful and illuminating information not otherwise readily available?
The importance of MoT tests in the present situation has also been further emphasised by the Government’s announcement on Sunday that they are actively encouraging people to return to work if they cannot work at home, and that they should avoid travelling by public transport if they can travel by other means, including by car. In other words, the Government are now encouraging people to use their cars rather than public transport—perhaps the first Government ever to do that. People are also now being told they can use their cars to drive as far as they like to an outdoor space.
In other words, one of the key risks to which I referred a few moments ago—of 4.9 million vehicles that would have received a dangerous or major MoT failure over the six months to the end of this September being on the road—is no longer being mitigated to the same extent by the “stay at home” rules, under which trips are made for essential purposes only.
The Government say:
“This instrument is being introduced to address the ongoing pandemic and will be revoked if it no longer serves a useful purpose.”
Do they envisage revoking the regulations early, taking into account that there would be a backlog of MoT tests to be carried out for a few months as well as the normal number of such tests? I have heard it suggested that 20% of garages may not survive the pandemic as viable businesses. Do the Government have any estimates of how many of the 23,500 testing centres may not survive the present situation, and the impact this could have on testing capacity?
Do the Government have any figures for the percentage of eligible people who already could have availed themselves of the six-month test extension facility for light vehicles and who have done so by not having their MoT test done by their scheduled date, as opposed to the percentage who could already have availed themselves of the facility but have chosen not to do so, perhaps preferring to have the assurance that their vehicle is not one of the 29% that would have received a “dangerous” or “major” MoT failure? The answer to that question must also be a factor in determining when the testing capacity exists to enable the order to be revoked, and a return to a situation where MoT tests are undertaken at the time laid down.
Six-month MoT test extensions will start to terminate at the end of September. Are there any circumstances under which the Government would continue that extension period beyond the six months, or will vehicles that have had that six-month exemption definitely be required to pass an MoT test after then in order to be driven lawfully on our roads?
I hope the Government will be able to provide the answers, today or subsequently, to all the questions I have raised. We must by now have a clearer picture of the situation in respect of testing capacity. If the Government can provide the evidence that it is insufficient, the order should continue, but when the evidence indicates the testing capacity is available, then the Government should seriously consider revoking this order, since deferring the need for an annual MoT test by six months or 50% must represent a potentially significant road safety issue. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for raising this issue, but I think that the order is a sensible precaution. I believe that the Minister and her department are operating magnificently. For instance, last week she and her officials sorted out a problem I had raised about abnormal load movements within 24 hours from start to finish.
It is important to recognise that having an MoT testing regime is not just about the direct safety benefit of detecting vehicle faults but much more about keeping our vehicle fleet operating at a very high standard, without a race to the bottom under economic pressures. Also more important nowadays is minimising environmental harm by means of emission testing. The good news is that the standard of our private car and commercial vehicle fleet is far higher than it was a few decades ago. I have a somewhat technical interest to declare, in that I currently operate a heavy goods vehicle exclusively under an order made under Section 44 of RTA 1988, but might want to operate it under C&U rules. Lack of goods vehicle testing capacity may cause me some inconvenience at some point in the future.
In effect, the order extends an existing MoT certificate but does not allow a vehicle to be operated without a recent certificate at all. That is fine for cars, but not necessarily for goods vehicles. There may be sound reasons why it is necessary to bring a goods vehicle back into operation; for instance, after a significant overhaul or refurbishment. I understand that the Minister has the power to relax testing requirements for an individual vehicle, but officials are using it only sparingly, for vehicles involved in combating the coronavirus, but not generally, even for reliable operators. Before noble Lords get too excited about my suggestion, I point out that goods vehicle operators are already obliged to inspect their vehicles for safety about every six weeks, so my proposal would have a limited adverse effect on road safety.
My Lords, it is unfortunate that after many years of encouraging the use of public transport and attempts to reduce traffic congestion and use of fuel, and to improve air quality, the Government are now having to encourage limited use of cars again. The legal requirement for cars to be given MoT tests is not without reason, so there must be safety implications arising from their suspension. A number of cars that will be driven during the exemption period would have failed their test.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked many important questions. In particular, can the Minister confirm how many cars would normally have failed an MoT in a six-month period, allowing an estimate to be made of how many cars being driven over the spring and summer might have failed this test? What steps are the Government taking to encourage motorists to follow advice from sources such as the AA and the RAC about keeping their cars safe and roadworthy? What efforts are they making to advise motorists to check the condition and pressure of their car tyres, their vehicle’s oil levels and coolants and the functioning of their windscreen wipers and lights before they resume driving?
The role of the rescue services is important at this time, especially in supporting key workers travelling to their essential jobs. Perhaps it is time to thank organisations such as the AA and the RAC which are offering to rescue any NHS worker who needs their help without charge.
How are the Government liaising with the insurance companies over the consequences of suspending the operation of MoT testing? Some insurance companies may be in a healthy financial position, as they claim full premiums from motorists even when people are driving a lot less and presumably making fewer claims. Are the Government advising these companies that they should not cancel someone’s insurance cover simply because their car has not had an MoT during this period, as lawyers advise they may be able to do? Are they advising motorists that they should notify their insurance companies if they do not obtain an MoT when it would normally be due? Finally, are they talking to car manufacturers and dealers about whether a lack of an MoT, if due in this period, may invalidate warranties?
Much is being decided in haste during this crisis and I ask therefore that issues such as those in this order be kept under careful review and that the suspension of testing will be ended as soon as is practicable.
My Lords, I agree that this is a very practical and sensible relaxation of the rules, which will help keep people able to work as the lockdown is eased. Without it, there would have been more hardship than we would have wished, probably among the less well off, who are less able to afford newer vehicles.
However, as others have said, safety is extremely important and it may be worth the Government putting out messages on public television or whatever about what defects would certainly be prosecuted by the police if you get stopped. Exemption from an MoT does not mean that you are allowed to drive a dangerous car. For instance, damaged tyres are critical. I have noticed very occasionally that the inside wall of the tyre may be damaged, and that gets picked up only at the MoT because not many of us like crawling under our car regularly just to check. If it has not been serviced for a while, it can go unnoticed.
Brake pads are important; yes, lights can come up on the dashboard, but I am not sure that everyone understands them. However, if the noise should alert people, maybe these messages should be put out publicly. Wiper blades, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, are very important in bad weather —or even in good weather when your windscreen gets clogged up with flies and you have to use the windscreen washers. Some basic messages on things such as that should be promulgated, because we do not want unsafe cars on the road.
I am not sure what exactly qualifies as essential services, but garages and small car servicing shops should be treated as essential. The people who sell the parts and things that we need should also be treated as essential; I think that they already are.
If one wants an MoT before the new deadline—this may be a very good way of getting a car checked anyway—presumably that journey would be regarded as important enough to qualify under the rules for essential journeys or for getting to work. It would be useful to have that clarification.
I also hope that it will be possible for the DVLA to send out reminders to vehicle owners when the new deadline for their car is due because a lot of people will have the wrong date in their reminders and diaries.
My Lords, it is fair to say that these regulations represented a practical, proportionate intervention at that stage of the crisis, not least for our front-line workers to whom we owe an enduring debt of gratitude.
However, since the guidance has changed materially, I have some questions for my noble friend the Minister. What impact has this had on small businesses, not least those garages that employ five people or fewer? In the light of these changes, does it not make sense for the regulations to be reviewed on a weekly, perhaps even fortnightly, basis? What data are the Government collecting on vehicles on the road? For example, how many are being stopped, how many are being taken off the road and how many fines are being issued? How has the risk addressed in the regulations been balanced against the other risks that it inevitably brings to bear? I am particularly concerned about the situation for taxis and private hire cars. Are the Government looking at this issue?
The guidance has changed materially as of Sunday evening, as we saw this morning. As JM Keynes put it, “When the facts change, I change”. Should the regulations be under review in that context? This morning, we saw that the traffic on the roads has increased materially, as guided by government. Does my noble friend agree that we need to ensure not only that passengers in those cars are safe, in terms of reducing their Covid risk, but that the vehicles in which they travel are safe for them, for other road users, for pedestrians and for us all?
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register.
We understand perfectly the reasons for these regulations. At this time, it is important that we remove as many burdens from people as possible and ensure that no one is forced into contact with others if it can be avoided. However, I wish to point out a couple of problems. I support the regulations but we will need to get MoT stations back to normal operation as soon as possible.
My first point concerns safety. It goes without saying that maintaining mechanical and emissions standards for motor vehicles is safety-critical for all road users and for reducing air pollution, which has been one of the few benefits of the present crisis. MoT testing stations play a vital part in this. They are not there to catch the crook or wide boy who wants to drive unsafe vehicles on the road, although they have a part to play here. The overwhelming majority of vehicles that fail their MoT do so because they have faults that their owners were unaware of. For instance, a six-month delay in getting an MoT test means that some faults, for example in brakes that were fine 18 months before at the last test, are now dangerous. The MoT test is set up to ensure that the brake pads are thick enough to last for 12 months of normal usage of that vehicle— 18 months may remove that safety margin.
The second issue concerns the nature of MoT stations themselves. Outside Northern Ireland, they are overwhelmingly small businesses set up as small independent garages specialising in MoTs. They are sometimes part of repair garages, because the repair garage is fed from the work generated by the MoT testing. If you find that your car has failed the MoT on something minor such as a faulty brake light, it is often convenient for the vehicle owner to get a quote from the garage doing the MoT and get the MoT done quickly on the spot if the price is right.
By delaying MoTs for six months, we take out six months cash flow from these small businesses; many will not survive, regardless of government loans and furlough schemes. This could lead to a shortage of MoT stations in future, which are not easily replaced because of the technical skills required to carry out MoTs and the licensing to ensure that they are carried out correctly. While this regulation solves our pressing problems at this time, the shorter the time that MoTs are delayed the better, for the sake of us all and of the small businesses involved.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rosser for the opportunity to debate these regulations. The MoT is an essential safety requirement for those who use the road. You can just as easily kill somebody by having a defective car that has failed an MoT as you can with the coronavirus, so the whole regulation needs to be put into perspective. Like my noble friend Lord Rosser, I ask the Minister to explain what exactly is the reason for this. Is it because the testers have too much work doing something else or because the DVLA is not ready to process the information?
As other noble Lords have said, there are something like 23,000 testing centres in this country. I decided to see how easy it would be to get an MoT test this morning. I googled “MoT test” and managed to book a service with a mythical car—I do not drive or own a car—an XJ12, petrol, 2010 model, for two weeks’ time on 22 May. There are probably many other testing centres that would have taken my booking so I cannot quite see the problem of lack of testing facilities—if, indeed, that is the problem.
A period of several weeks or months of not driving one’s car can create an equally serious problem, as other noble Lords have said. One can now drive from London to Cornwall and back in a day; you cannot spend the night anywhere, but you can drive. That is the kind of situation where latent defects in vehicles could pop up.
The other issue I would like to raise with the Minister is that of attributable accidents. In other words, if you have not bothered, frankly, to have an MoT test, you are exempt because of these regulations, and you have an accident where somebody is badly hurt or killed, who is to blame? I would blame the Government for bringing in unsafe regulations when they were not necessary. The Minister will probably have a much better answer to absolve the Government but, after all, somebody will have to pay compensation and that seems very unfair.
Finally, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and others have mentioned the problem of PSVs and HGVs, which are not covered by these regulations. As the noble Earl said, they are mostly run by professionals, but there are bad apples in every industry, including PSVs, HGVs and all types of cars and vans. The problem with the bigger vehicles is that they can cause much more damage when they have an accident. Can the Minister explain whether similar regulations have been brought in to absolve PSVs and HGVs from such tests for six months, and with what justification?
My Lords, I will concentrate on two specific issues: revocation of the SI and the connected effect on the business of MoT test centres.
As it stands, the SI has an effect until 30 September 2021. There is no sunset clause, as explained in paragraph 14.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum. The explanation provided is that
“it is not appropriate to provide for a review of this instrument as it will cease to have effect after a short and fixed period of time.”
Paragraph 7.6 of the EM tells us that this instrument
“will be revoked if it no longer serves a useful purpose.”
I want to press the Minister to consider whether 18 months is a short period. Given all the shifts in the Government’s approach to the pandemic, as restrictions are lifted or amended, surely it would have been sensible to build in a different approach in Regulation 2(3). If, as we all hope, we can take steps to return to a sense of normal road activity by the end of the year, surely a review clause would be more appropriate. The alternative, as laid out in paragraph 14.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum, is a new instrument to be laid before Parliament. That process would itself extend the intention of revocation by a month or two.
The case for this review clause is strengthened by paragraph 7.4 of the EM, which informs us that the purpose of the instrument is to
“enable drivers to continue to travel for a purpose permitted by law, such as purchasing essential food and medicine”.
We are discussing an SI when the regulations on lawful driving have already been changed. In England people can now drive to places where they wish to exercise, such as beaches or the countryside, but I suggest that they do not come over the border into Wales because they could be fined under laws the Welsh Government have put in place.
The effect of these regulations in England is that people are now free to travel on the roads in their cars; it is just the purpose of their end destination that is defined. If changes proceed at this frequency, the case for a more flexible approach to revocation is strengthened.
Public safety needs to be maintained above all. In 2018-19, 10 million vehicles—nearly a third—failed the MoT test. Nearly one in 10 failed with a dangerous fault, the most serious grade in the three-tier MoT system. Of the 30.5 million MoT tests taken, 10 million cars failed, 2.8 million of those for dangerous faults.
The Explanatory Memorandum tells us that there is spare capacity in local MoT testing stations. Many are one-person operations, making social distancing possible. I urge the Minister to reflect on improving the revocation mechanism to ensure that we do not endanger the public with dangerous cars on our roads.
My Lords, I welcome the debate on the regulations. There is no doubt that motor vehicle regulations that enabled the three or four-year testing of vehicles’ roadworthiness have been an important step in improving the standard of vehicles over the last 40 years. They have been an important boost to our economy—to garages, mechanics and the new, evolving car industry—but there is no doubt that coronavirus has changed our landscape in every possible sector.
As the noble Lord, Lord German, said, these motor vehicle regulations have also contributed to safety on our roads. The test certificates are required for taxation and car insurance purposes. In Northern Ireland—where other issues existed because of faulty lifting gear, in whose replacement the Minister invested a considerable amount of money—they have been extended for one year. In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham, said, those motor vehicle testing centres are now coronavirus testing centres; this is a different situation from that in GB.
I would like the Minister to provide answers to several questions that are common to these regulations. Is she confident that the backlog in vehicle testing will be addressed whenever the regulations are revoked? Is she confident that the problems with the roadworthiness of cars will not accumulate and therefore cause road safety issues? Is she satisfied, given the possible files on such cars due for MoTs, that they will remain roadworthy for the next six months?
There is another issue, which I have raised with the Minister. Small garages depend for their throughput of work on people bringing cars up to standard. They have lost that work at this time, as severe restrictions are in place because of Covid. Can the Minister give some thought to how such businesses could be assisted in the short term? They will be impacted by the economic downturn which will ensue. There is also a case for vehicle owners to have personal responsibility for looking after the standard and roadworthiness of their cars; it is a dual responsibility. Finally, is it time to review the actual system—the duration or eligibility criteria—for motor vehicle testing regulations and go for three, four or maybe five years?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister and the Department for Transport on bringing forward these regulations. It is a very sensible thing to do. I should declare a personal interest in that my MoT is due to run out at the end of May; or rather, my car’s MoT is due to run out then. According to the NHS, my personal MoT ran out years ago.
I am one of those who would not be able to go out to get an MoT without these regulations, so the six-month extension is sensible and it should give enough time to get an MoT. Let us face it, if we are still in lockdown in six months’ time then God help us; we will not need MoTs since we will be back to the era of the horse and cart. However, will my noble friend keep this under review and, if necessary, speak to the Communities and Local Government department with a view to extending garage opening hours, possibly with Sunday working? I suspect that, as most noble Lords have said, most garages and MoT centres will go flat out to clear any backlog but if a bottleneck occurs, extending garage opening hours might be a solution.
The other point I wish to raise is more concerning. We all know that insurance companies will use any excuse not to pay up. I worry that if a vehicle is involved in an accident, the insurance company will refuse to pay because the car did not have an MoT even though there is the six-month extension. I can imagine a scenario where a vehicle is involved in a collision—from a minor one to one involving loss of life—and the reason for that accident is traced to something such as a faulty or worn steering wheel rod. The insurance company could argue that if the car had had an MoT after 12 months, this fault would have been found and that the accident occurred only because the 12-month period had been exceeded. That is a hypothetical example; no doubt motoring experts could find better ones. Will my noble friend assure me, and all other motorists, that insurance will cover completely all possible accidents occurring after the 12-month period and be valid over the 18-month period?
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Rosser for tabling this debate, which has allowed some interesting points to be made and questions raised. I can understand the decision to extend MoTs during the lockdown. However, we are now encouraging people who can work safely to go back to work. Do the Government therefore have any plans to change these MoT exemptions?
As we begin to transition out of the lockdown, a cause of concern for us all is a second wave of the pandemic. If we find ourselves in another lockdown in the autumn, will the Government look at extending MoT expiry dates again? If so, when will that decision need to be made? I know that some trade bodies for garages were disappointed and wanted a much shorter MoT extension. Do the Government plan to conduct an assessment of the impact of that decision on garages, MoT centres and motorists before making any further recommendations?
Like many noble Lords, I want to raise the issue of insurance. With more than 1 million cars failing their MoTs each year, there are undoubtedly cars on the road during the extension period that would have failed their MoT. I know that the Government have said that car owners must ensure that their cars are safe and roadworthy, and although they have a responsibility to do that, they are not mechanics. Given that, can the noble Baroness say what conversations the Government have had with the Association of British Insurers about the issue of roadworthiness for vehicles with extended MoTs being a factor in insurance claims? What plans do the Government have to provide guidance for motorists on making their cars roadworthy during this time?
Finally, vehicles that are parked on a public highway without an MoT can be reported, and therefore car owners can be fined. If a car’s MoT was due just before the end of March 2020 but the owner is self-isolating, staying at home or at home because they are clinically vulnerable, they are at risk of getting a fine. Filling in a Statutory Off Road Notification would be the last thing on their mind—even if they realised that they had to do it. What conversations have the Government had with the police to ensure that those who are self-isolating are not penalised for not having an MoT if it was due just before 30 March 2020? I look forward to the noble Baroness’s reply.
I note that the government website states:
“Vehicles whose MOT certificate had expired by more than 12 months at the time of application for a new test are not eligible for a TEC … These vehicles should not be driven on public roads.”
As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, has just said, that means that if the MoT ran out just before the lockdown, the car cannot be used on a public road. Do the Government have any idea of how many cars are being driven around on public roads with no TEC or MoT certificates? Are the owners going to be reported or prosecuted? I also note that heavy duty vehicles are being given only a three-month exemption, not six months. Do the Government have any plans to revise the guidelines to bring all transport vehicle testing in line?
In a previous life, I owned and drove a black cab as well as my own car, a private hire vehicle, a minibus and, as a PSV driver, even coaches. The testing of every one of those vehicles was rigorous and regular to ensure the safety of all passengers, which is as it should be. But from my memory, almost 40% of those vehicles failed on their first visit to the test centre. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, was quite right to say that tracking and tyres are major defects that are picked up only on MoT certificate testing. People do not get under their cars with mirrors to look at the sides of their tyres. Also, vehicles which have been left standing for months on end will have flat spots. If someone gets in their car and drives at speed, the tyres will be more at risk.
One of my other concerns is the present licensing laws for private hire vehicles. For instance, operators can get a licence in one part of the country and operate in another. In Stockport, we have private hire operators working from as far away as Wolverhampton and Rossendale. These vehicles are not the responsibility of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council because the original licensing authorities are responsible for finding out whether such vehicles have been tested. Many older people are still using taxis and private hire cars to get to hospital and to go shopping. These vehicles need to be serviced and maintained safely. Can the Minister assure me that mechanisms are in place to ensure public safety, as we come out of lockdown more and more, and that all forms of transport testing, from car to coach hire, are in place to protect the public?
As MoT stations come online more, why can they not test earlier and the six-month limit be brought forward to provide testing earlier for key workers? It could be argued that taxi and private hire drivers are key workers, so they should be able to get early testing.
My Lords, I recognise and support the Government’s rationale in bringing forward this change. The last thing that we want is to unnecessarily criminalise any driver or inadvertently leave people doubly locked in at home because they cannot use their vehicle, for example, to get to a doctor’s surgery or to pick up a prescription. I echo the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that, without this change, some people would be discriminated against.
Therefore, I support the change, but I think that the Government should be looking at things beyond it. They have, rightly, encouraged and allowed bicycle repair shops to open. Although I am fully in favour of the maximum number of people shifting to using bicycles, in some parts of the country that would be rather a full-time occupation for people as they tried to get to work and to get around for their business. I would like the Government to give out a stronger message that garages can be open for business and that, where possible, they should be.
For some of us, this is the perfect time to arrange for an MoT to be done. I would be quite happy for the six-month period to be brought forward and to allow MoTs to be carried out earlier, because garages can employ caution and use safety measures. Using myself as an example, I could drive my car to a garage for an MoT and would be happy to leave it there for a week. I could walk home, then walk back to pick it up. Not only would that allow social distancing and no human contact, but it would allow the car to remain in isolation for, say, three or four days before it was touched by the garage.
The nation’s productivity could be damaged if we built up a bottleneck in the future, meaning that people had to disrupt their working lives to get an MoT carried out. Therefore, in addition to this measure, I urge the Government to provide encouragement to bicycle repair businesses, as they have done, to encourage garages to open and, where possible, to encourage people to use them and get their MoTs done.
My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend Lord Rosser for tabling this take-note Motion. It has enabled us to look at an important issue and to hear responses to questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Vere.
I support the extension but, as with much that the Government have done to address the Covid-19 pandemic, the communication has let them down. Therefore, my first question to the noble Baroness is: what can she say about the communication side and what lessons has she learned?
The purpose of the MoT is that, three years after buying a new car and then every year after that, you will get a professional to look at the car and certify that it is roadworthy. A car’s roadworthiness is a prime consideration for insurance companies. Can the noble Baroness tell the House what discussions she or her officials have had on this matter with the Association of British Insurers? Maybe the change brought in by this measure will not mean that your insurance is automatically invalidated, but it must raise questions if you are involved in an accident. Can she confirm what data is held on the DVLA’s motor insurance database, and has this data been updated to take account of the decision to grant this extension? Has she or her officials ensured that no driver will have a problem in getting their car insurance renewed as a result of the extension?
My noble friend Lord Rosser raised a number of serious points regarding the risk of an increase in the number of accidents due to a number of vehicles with serious or major defects that would have failed an MoT being on the road in an unroadworthy condition. I look forward to the noble Baroness responding carefully to the points raised by my noble friend. If a response cannot be given today, perhaps a detailed letter can be circulated to all speakers in this debate. What is the noble Baroness’s estimate of the time it will take to get the backlog of tests completed when this extension is ended?
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham, about the risks to small businesses in Great Britain which do the testing and, often, the repairs to the vehicle that has just failed. I have done that myself when I have owned a car that has failed the MoT test: I have asked the garage that the car was at to do the repairs to bring the vehicle up to standard. It is convenient for the car owner; it is part of the business model of the garage; and it has qualified staff doing the tests and the work on the vehicle to bring it up to standard. What assessment have the Government made of the risks to businesses in those cases?
I thank all those who have taken part in this debate and look forward to the response of the Minister.
I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for seeking this opportunity to debate this SI. Along with many noble Lords who have spoken today, I acknowledge the emergency situation in which the Government introduced this legislation, when the House was not sitting and with no opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny. However, we are now a couple of months on and have experienced, we hope, the peak of the virus. Indeed, the Government are urging England to go back to work. Therefore, we are looking at this SI with a degree of hindsight. I hope that the Minister will agree that the timescale envisaged by it goes beyond what was needed to solve a short-term problem.
In my experience, MoT garages are not the most crowded of workplaces; indeed, some are effectively one-man businesses. Appointments are made by customers, so social distancing is not a great problem. Therefore, garage staff are presumably now back at work. The need for this SI stems from the instruction to the public—that is, vehicle owners—to stay at home. However, on Sunday night, the Prime Minister changed that instruction for England, as several noble Lords have noted. So is this SI still needed at all?
I want to ask the Minister about the dates to which this SI applies. The Explanatory Memorandum makes it clear that the scheme for exemptions applies only to vehicles for which an MoT test was due on or after 30 March. If your MoT was due on 29 March, for instance, and you did not get it, then you are not entitled to the waiver. Yet the lockdown was announced on 23 March. Why this hiatus of a week? I know of a driver whose MoT was due on 26 March, but her garage shut immediately on 23 March when the lockdown was announced. She was unable to get her MoT. When she needs to drive again, this gap will cause her problems. What should she do? Can the Minister explain why the SI does not date from the start of the lockdown?
I hope that the Government will move to revoke this SI as soon as possible, as paragraph 7.6 of the Explanatory Memorandum sets out, because the sudden withdrawal of MoT business has had a big financial impact, particularly on small garages which rely on MoTs and subsequent repairs. It has had a knock-on effect on welding businesses, for instance. Many noble Lords have raised this point.
Almost one in three vehicles taken for testing fails to such an extent that it is classed as dangerous or as having major faults. I accept that there has been a low risk of breakdowns et cetera during the lockdown, but we are already past that period in England. The statistics I cited indicate that the MoT exists for good safety reasons. As the Explanatory Memorandum points out, some 16.5 million MoTs will expire in the next six months.
I want to ask about the exemption granted to goods vehicles and public service vehicles under the Secretary of State’s powers. What are the terms of this and how long will it last? Buses often carry children, for instance, and we owe a special responsibility to them, and to their parents, that they travel in safety. The commercial reality is that both bus companies and haulage companies have suffered badly in the last eight weeks. It is an obvious financial saving for them if they do not have to pay for an MoT, but it is important that that financial saving does not stretch to failing to keep vehicles up to high safety standards.
The Explanatory Memorandum says that there will still be a legal obligation on motorists, hauliers and bus operators to ensure that their vehicle is safe, but there is no mechanism for enforcement built into this SI. I fear that the only enforcement will come after the accident, when the police inspect the wreckage and charge the driver with having an unsafe vehicle.
Throughout my comments, I have referred to England specifically, but the territorial extent of this SI includes Scotland and Wales, as the noble Lord, Lord German, has already pointed out. It has been well rehearsed over the last few days that the three Governments have now diverged in their advice on working and travelling. How will this divergence be reflected in the Government’s approach to this issue? Above all, I seek an assurance that the devolved Governments will be fully consulted as and when changes are made.
This has been a remarkably unanimous debate, in that most noble Lords have made it absolutely clear that they support the purpose of the SI but believe that its extent, in terms of time, is probably now too lengthy and too specific.
The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, made very important points about insurance and warranties. I ask the Minister to respond specifically to those legal questions and to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about blame after an accident.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I accept, as do other noble Lords, that the SI was a sensible solution to a short-term problem for worried motorists, but I believe the Government should ensure that it remains short term.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for providing the opportunity to consider these regulations and to probe the Government’s intentions around vehicle testing for light vehicles, known as the MoT. The testing of HGVs and public service vehicles, such as buses, is covered in other regulations, but I will try to touch on these if I have time, and if not I will write.
The MoT market consists of a network of around 23,500 privately owned and operated test stations. Many of these garages combine both MoT testing and maintenance and repair work, as was noted by my noble friend Lord Carrington.
As the outbreak of Covid took hold, it became clear that temporary changes would need to be made to the MoT testing regime. The reasons were threefold. Prior to 23 March, the date on which the Government announced the lockdown, there was a noticeable drop of about 10% in the number of cars brought in for testing. This suggested that drivers did not want to risk infection. By then, elderly people certainly could have been choosing not to use their cars. Furthermore, the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency, the DVSA, which oversees MoT testing, started receiving reports of vehicle dealerships, MoT testing stations and repair garages closing or reducing staff numbers. Drivers also noted that they were unable to get tests. Finally, on 23 March, the Government issued “Stay at home” guidance, which specified essential travel. Getting an MoT was not regarded as essential travel.
We recognised that, although car use would fall dramatically, most people would still need their car for short essential journeys, and key workers, particularly in the NHS and the care sector, would still need to get to work. We also recognised the ongoing need for roadworthy light vehicles, so that home deliveries of food could continue, for example.
There is also the issue of those not using their car at all. They of course have the option to make a statutory declaration when it is not in use on the road, but that is feasible only for those who will not use their car at all and have an off-road place to store it. For those who must use their car very infrequently or have to park their car on the road, the vehicle must have an MoT, so this action helps them too.
With around 8.3 million vehicles due for a test over a three-month period—about 92,000 a day—the department took the decision to reduce the risk of people being exposed to Covid-19 and enable them to comply with the stay-at-home guidance by introducing the changes under these regulations. Our actions, including discussions with insurers, also avoided difficulties with insurance policies, some of which required MoT tests to remain valid. The effect of the changes is that all light vehicles due to be examined between 30 March 2020 and 29 March 2021—a one-year period—are or will be excluded from the requirement to hold a test certificate for six months. The duration, namely to the end of September 2021, was set to cover the potential extent of the outbreak, as we saw it then—it is great to have hindsight—plus a grace period, which would allow the testing industry to recover and ensure that it is not immediately overwhelmed by a bow wave of cars coming to be tested.
Our decision to extend the MoT validity of affected vehicles by six months was taken after very careful consideration. We balanced the need to provide a sufficiently long extension to deal with the immediate impact of the epidemic with the need to avoid an unnecessary impact on road safety. We felt that the six-month period was appropriate; it is unlikely to change in the current circumstances. The duration of the changes remains under review and, if no longer required, this instrument will be amended to bring forward the last day on which a six-month exclusion can begin. A six-month exclusion that has already begun will not be curtailed. I repeat: we are looking at bringing forward the date for the period under which one gets this extension, but that decision has not been taken for the moment.
On tax and insurance, vehicle excise duty remains due on those vehicles eligible for this extension. The DVSA is updating its records as these extensions are added to people’s vehicle records and is then feeding this information through to the DVLA, which collects excise duty. Once that has been updated on the DVLA system, anyone can tax their vehicle as normal. We consulted the insurance industry when we were drafting this legislation. It should be noted that the Association of British Insurers said:
“In this unprecedented situation, insurers will not penalise you if you can’t get an MOT. Safety is paramount so check your brakes, tyres and lights before driving.”
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, mentioned fines. The department has been in touch with the police and the DVLA and they have reassured us that they will take a pragmatic approach to enforcement during this time. No one wants to see fines levied on vulnerable people who are simply unable to drive their car at this time.
In the event that a vehicle is involved in an accident—an important point raised by my noble friend Lord Blencathra—the attribution would be to a vehicle being unroadworthy rather than not having an MoT. This is very important: the vehicle would be unroadworthy; it is not simply the fact that it did not have an MoT. A vehicle may become unroadworthy at any time, even if you have an MoT, so it is vital that drivers fulfil their legal responsibility that their vehicle is safe to drive, whether or not it has been tested.
As I have noted, even though many vehicles will be excluded from the requirement to hold a test certificate during this period, users are required under the Road Traffic Act to ensure that vehicles are in good working order. An MoT covers only certain things and is not the same as taking your car for a full service down at the garage. Drivers can be prosecuted if their vehicles are found to be in an unsafe condition when driving on the road.
The department has estimated that over the six-month period covered by the exclusion, approximately 29% of vehicles would have received a “dangerous” or “major” MoT failure. However, this increased risk is significantly mitigated by the reduction in trips; the current data shows a 58% drop in the amount of traffic on the roads. Although traffic is increasing at this time, particularly given the changes to government guidance, we expect a continued depression versus pre-Covid levels. I reassure noble Lords that, in the current environment, if one chose to get an MoT to get a car roadworthy for essential journeys, that in itself would be an essential journey.
Road safety is incredibly important to all of us. That is why the roadworthiness caveat exists in the regulations and why the Government have urged garages to remain open where possible. We are actively encouraging garages to remain open because we want to make sure that there are places for people to go to get their essential maintenance and repairs carried out.
Furthermore, the DVSA has issued guidance to drivers on what to do to keep a car safe and roadworthy. We are of course in regular contact with the AA and the RAC. Those organisations are repeating and reiterating these messages about getting cars on the road and getting your car back on the road when it has not been driven for a period.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked why 30 March. We were working at pace, as I am sure noble Lords will understand. Given that regulations could not be made retrospectively and we had to have a certain date from which they would be valid, that date necessarily had to be the short period after the imposition of the lockdown because the regulations had to be drafted and laid in Parliament. There had to be due process. There are vehicles whose MoT fell due before 30 March. These vehicles cannot have their MoT extended because it is not available to us using existing legislative routes. This is a second reason why the Government have urged garages to remain open where possible and we are very pleased that around 60% have done so, although some have a significant reduction in capacity.
MoT testing is still taking place and it is possible to find somewhere to get your car tested if it needs to be. The DVSA has published guidance on how to conduct tests while adhering to social distancing measures. As some noble Lords pointed out, some centres have just one person working there and certainly often fewer than five. It is possible to continue to carry out tests. Other measures recommended by the DVSA include enhanced cleaning, using contactless payment where possible and not issuing a paper copy of the MoT certificate, which can be printed or downloaded at a separate time. Our records indicate that the overall testing levels for vehicles with tests due before 30 March were normal, so we believe that there is no significant change in the levels of compliance.
Many noble Lords noted that these changes are quite significant. We recognise that. They were made following extensive consideration and consultation, required by the Road Traffic Act 1988. We consulted a wide range of different organisations, including the AA and the RAC, the Association of British Insurers, the Independent Garage Association and the SMMT, which represents new car manufacturers, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. We consulted all these organisations and 15 responses were received, which expressed broad support for the proposals. As raised by noble Lords today, concerns included the financial impact of the proposals on the testing industry, as well as difficulties relating to the reintroduction of testing. We recognise that there will be challenges and we will have to overcome them.
The Government have consulted and continue to engage with the devolved Administrations, as requested by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, primarily on a day-to-day basis at official level on these matters, but Ministers in my department have ministerial-level discussions with them. Vehicle testing in Northern Ireland is devolved and Northern Ireland has taken its own approach, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, by exempting both light and heavy vehicles for 12 months outright.
Given the urgency of the situation, we were not able to undertake a formal impact assessment. However, we did a proportionate analysis, looking at the impacts on things such as the ability of key workers to be able to get to work if they do not have an MOT, the road safety implications, effects on congestion, and financial losses to both the DVSA and garages. The financial impact on businesses has been estimated to be significant, possibly around £650 million, and a loss to DVSA will need to be considered.
Tests are going on at the moment. We are looking at 20% to 25% of normal test levels—the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, shared his success in booking one, so I am pleased that that there is availability out there. Some 60% of garages are open, and we believe that that number will continue to rise. It looks like between 75% and 80% of people are taking advantage of the extension.
We recognise the financial impact on garages, and the Government have done an enormous amount to support businesses during these difficult times. There is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which garages can use, and the coronavirus bounce- back loan will be particularly suitable for some of these smaller businesses. Given that financial support, we anticipate that there will be no issue with a significant reduction in capacity in MoT testing stations as we pull out of the current crisis.
As regards pulling out of this crisis, the situation is being kept under review. The regulations may be revoked or altered, and we will bring back further proposals to the House. However, we will absolutely make sure that we do not reintroduce the MoT test unless it can be conducted safely, with the least possible risk to people’s health, both MoT staff and those going in for the tests. We will also make sure that there is capacity within the sector. At the moment, on average, an MoT tester does only nine tests a week, so we believe that there is significant capacity within the system.
I am aware that I have now run out of time, and I have not covered HGV and PSV testing, which is separate to the regulations under consideration today. With the forbearance of noble Lords, I would therefore like to write in more detail and will also cover matters that I have not been able to consider—for example, the details around taxis and PHVs and how that interacts with local authorities and taxi licensing, and so on.
At times like these it is important that legislation is enacted quickly, in this case to protect the health of drivers and those working in garages. I am extremely grateful for the input of all noble Lords today, and these deliberations will be taken into account as we consider future changes.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It has been useful, and I thank the Minister for her response, which certainly provided answers to a number of the issues that have been raised. Obviously, I do not intend to proceed any further on this Motion.
Virtual Proceeding suspended.