Tuesday 14 December 2021
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, Members are encouraged to leave some distance between each other, which we have done—fantastic—and to wear face coverings when not speaking. If there is a Division in the Chamber, I shall adjourn the Committee for 10 minutes so that we can vote.
Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this statutory instrument is the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021. Together with the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2021 and the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2021, which follows the negative procedure, these SIs are key parts of 32 measures that the Government are taking to address the current shortage of heavy goods vehicle, or HGV, drivers.
It gives me no pleasure to introduce these regulations to the Committee once again. Noble Lords will recall that they were originally laid under a slightly different name, and I shall call the original regulations the “No. 2 regulations”; they were laid on 16 September 2021. They were debated in some detail on 9 November, but they were not approved in both Houses in time to come into force on 15 November 2021, as set out in the SI. Since affirmative statutory instruments cannot be amended once laid in draft, we decided to re-lay substantially the same regulations afresh, which I shall call the “No. 5 regulations”. The No. 5 regulations replicate the No. 2 regulations already debated in your Lordships’ House, save for an updated title and coming into force provision.
I shall provide a bit of a reminder about the context, which has slightly fallen out of the media in recent weeks. The haulage sector has been experiencing an acute shortage of HGV drivers worldwide for some time. It has affected the industry for many years, but it has been further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which meant that driver testing had to be suspended for much of last year. During this time, the shortage increased further, as new drivers could not join the industry to replace those retiring or leaving. The shortage of HGV drivers affects the supply chains of not only fresh food but fuel, medicines and medical equipment across Great Britain.
I would like to acknowledge the publication of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s 23rd report last Thursday, which drew special attention to these regulations. I thank the committee for its hard work and continued scrutiny of these and other regulations. As the report highlighted, the impact assessments were not available at the time when the instruments were to be scrutinised by your Lordships’ House, and I offer my sincere apologies to noble Lords for this. I hope noble Lords understand that we were, and are, working at pace to deliver government interventions, including regulatory change, which could alleviate the HGV driver shortage problem, but I recognise the committee’s concern that the impact assessment was not able to be provided. I reassure all noble Lords that the Department for Transport takes very seriously its responsibilities with regard to evidence-based policy-making. I am pleased to report that the impact assessment has now been submitted to the Regulatory Policy Committee for its scrutiny.
I turn very briefly to the content of the SI. The overall aim of the No. 5 regulations 2021 is to increase the number of HGV drivers within Great Britain by increasing the number of test slots available to drivers wishing to pass a HGV driver test, while maintaining road safety standards. The regulations will remove the requirement for drivers who hold a category B licence—namely, for driving a car—to take a separate car and trailer—a category B+E—test before they can drive a vehicle combination in that class. Instead, category B+E entitlement will be automatically granted to car drivers and backdated to all valid category B car licences that have been obtained since 1 January 1997. I note that licences obtained before that date already have the entitlement to tow a heavier trailer, and that a licence is needed only for trailers over a specific weight, not for any trailer at all. Removing this test frees up about 2,400 more tests each month that can be allocated to those wishing to take an HGV driving test, which in turn will help ease the driver shortage. We know that these tests are being taken up by would-be HGV drivers.
The public consultation, which ran from 10 August to 7 September, showed support for the change, with 75% of people responding positively to the removal of the trailer test.
Road safety is, of course, of the utmost importance, and I understand why road safety concerns have been raised. Theory and practical training will continue to be recommended to help maintain driver safety on the roads. An accreditation scheme is being developed, with help from the trailer industry and training providers. This accreditation scheme will provide voluntary training opportunities for car drivers wishing to tow a trailer not only of a size that would previously have required a licence but of any size for either recreational or business use. It will also include training on trailer maintenance and other areas not previously specifically covered by the test. Essentially, training will improve.
My officials have met the trailer and towing safety advisory group to develop the outline of the scheme and to consider core modules that would be applicable to all drivers who tow, as well as sector-specific modules. These might cover activities such as safely managing livestock or breakdown recovery towing. We are also already working with trainers and those in the leisure and business sectors to develop the training package and, together with these groups and the police, will identify the additional data needed to monitor towing standards effectively.
The scheme is planned to launch early next year. We will recommend that all drivers wishing to tow a trailer of any size undertake training to safely tow and manage them. We will encourage drivers through our existing campaigns and via our work with a wide range of stakeholders, including leisure and towing groups. We have committed to review the legislation at regular intervals, initially after three years have passed and thereafter at five-year intervals. The impact assessment will be published early in the new year. Our commitment to reviewing the legislation after three years is earlier than the standard five.
As I noted previously, many drivers already have grandfather rights—about 16 million drivers who passed their driving test before 1 January 1997 can already drive a car with a heavier trailer without having to take a separate test. This change affords that same entitlement to drivers who passed their test after 1997. Furthermore, all car licence holders already have the right to tow smaller trailers. We will of course be encouraging all those who are new to towing, of any size of trailer, whether or not they would have previously had to take a test, to take up training.
We should be proud that the UK has some of the safest roads in the world. I reassure noble Lords that our support for the #towsafe4freddie campaign will continue, and we will draw attention to the importance of motorists doing safety checks of their trailer whenever they are towing.
The removal of the separate test for car drivers wishing to tow a trailer or caravan frees up 30,000 vocational test slots annually. This equates to an additional 550 tests per week, or a 37% increase in weekly tests, relative to pre-pandemic levels. This is a significant increase in available capacity. Furthermore, thanks to the great efforts of DVLA staff, the backlog of 55,000 driving licence applications for HGV drivers has been eliminated, and these are now being processed within the normal turnaround times of five working days.
These regulations are just one of the 32 interventions that the Government are putting in place to tackle this issue to help reduce the strain on our national supply chains, which is affecting every aspect of our daily lives. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing yet another set of regulations, which we seem to have debated quite frequently over the last few months, as she said. They give me the opportunity to reflect, now that Covid-19 has been with us for the best part of two years, that the delays in DVSA activity seem to have been going on for that length of time. There are still reports of people being very delayed in getting driving licences back, which I know is not the same thing, but I sometimes question whether the DVSA is fit for purpose and whether it perhaps needs a major upgrade of its IT system or something like that so that it works well. I have never had a problem applying online—other people might do—but when I saw recent press reports about some excessive delays of many weeks I began to wonder.
It is still odd that we think that we can get people to pass a test to drive HGVs or other vehicles without reversing when it is such an inherent part of the HGV operation, in particular with semi-trailers. I tried to do it myself under supervision about 10 years ago—not on a highway, I hasten to add—and it was very difficult, probably because I am thick and stupid. You could argue that it does not really matter because most reversing will take place on private property, so if anybody has an accident then the Department for Transport is not affected in any way, but it is quite important that people should be able to reverse. The Minister said that this change would provide 2,400 more tests a month. I do not know how many that is as a proportion of the total number of tests a year, but how much money and time are saved by not reversing? It would be an interesting statistic, which she might or might not have.
There comes a time when you begin to reflect that tests are getting easier and easier. You could argue that you do not need tests at all. How many more people would get killed on the roads if there were no tests? That is a very stupid question and I do not expect a sensible answer from the Minister, but it is questionable how much drivers need to learn and know before they drive these very large 40-tonne trucks around. I worry that being unable to reverse might just make it difficult.
Driving around Cornwall, as I do occasionally, you meet a lot of people in cars who are obviously strangers, especially in the summer. Obviously, one of you has to reverse when you meet them on a narrow road. An enormous proportion of the people you meet who are not local cannot actually reverse their car. There are no trailers attached to them; it is just their car. On many occasions, friends of mine say to the other driver, “Why don’t you get out and I’ll reverse it for you?” It works, but I am not sure it is a way to go forward.
We will see what happens with this, and I trust that there will be no increase in accidents and no problems with it. It also comes with the safety checks that the Minister mentioned. One of the safety checks that clearly does not happen very often, as we debated last night, relates to the height of lorries when they hit bridges. We had a good debate. Sadly, it took place before the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester and I had a very helpful meeting with Network Rail today. One suggestion came under the category of driving tests, which is why I mention it now. Perhaps the Minister could look into it. When you do a driving test for an HGV there are various modules, some compulsory and some optional. One of the optional modules is on how not to bash your lorry against a bridge. It seems a bit odd that in this country that should be optional. When the next round of regulations comes to us on things like this, I wonder whether the Minister could look at making that bridge-bashing module into an obligation. There are many other solutions, which we can talk about on another occasion, but that one would be quite easy to do.
Again, it should be coupled with a requirement for the driver to know the height of his or her lorry. Network Rail says that 50% of drivers do not know the height of their lorries, which I find extraordinary, but how do you measure it if you cannot climb up with a tape measure? That would contribute to reducing bridge bashing and then, if you bash a bridge, learning how to reverse out of it if you are able to.
I look forward to hearing what other noble Lords have to say about these regulations. Of course, they have my support.
My Lords, things are in a terrible mess on all fronts, are they not? The Department for Transport is an example of where problems seem to have got a bit out of hand. I thank the Minister for her explanation, but I find it no more satisfactory than the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee did. That committee is not known for its extreme language, but its report is excoriating on these regulations. It refers, in a letter to the Leader of the House, to them being a particularly egregious example of departments failing to provide the required explanatory material in the required timescale. The Government’s defence, which the Minister has set out clearly today, is that this is an emergency measure. But, to be honest, that is surely stretching our credulity.
After years of warnings from the logistics industry, the Government have been panicked into taking steps to deal with the driver shortage. The Minister herself made it clear, on a previous occasion, that the shortage of drivers went back 10 years. She has told us on several occasions, and repeated it today, that the Government have taken 32 separate measures to tackle the problem. She also said recently that most of them were small, incremental steps that added up to an effective package. So if this measure were delayed because the required evidence of the road safety impact is not yet available, it would have only a marginal impact on the Government’s overall response. There is, therefore, no reason to cut corners.
This is, after all, a very indirect measure: it reduces standards and requirements for the drivers of non-HGV vehicles in order to free up spaces for the drivers of HGV vehicles. It was unacceptable, when these regulations originally came to the House, that the road safety impact had been ignored. It is doubly so now that they have had to be returned to us, because the Government have now had time to note the concerns expressed and do the necessary analysis. In previous debates on these regulations I have raised my concerns on safety, but what is more important is that I am reflecting the concerns of experts.
The B+E testing requirements were introduced in 1997, as a result of real safety concerns, on the basis of evidence. I am aware that the Minister is far too young to remember it, but there was a debate on the issue of road safety. Since then, our roads have become much busier; hence accidents will be more, not less, likely. The regime for B+E testing and training is being abandoned, with no meaningful replacement. The plan is to review it within three years, but that is far too long for something that is going ahead with no evidence at this stage. I urge the Minister that, at the very minimum, there should be a review after one year.
In the view of those in the haulage industry, it is simply wrong that someone can tow a trailer or caravan weighing up to 3,500 kilograms with no testing or training—and do so the day after they pass their driving test for a small car or van. Like the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I have just come from a meeting with Network Rail about bridge strikes. It is asking for more testing and training, not less; that is what it says its evidence requires.
The Government have abandoned the wealth of evidence, year after year, showing that new and novice drivers are far more likely to have accidents because of their inexperience. The insurance industry knows this, which is why new drivers are charged much higher premiums. The logistics organisations strongly oppose this change and regard it as irresponsible. Unlike the C+E change, it will be virtually impossible to reverse because new licences will be issued with the B+E qualification on them.
As noble Lords can imagine, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trailer and Towing Safety shares those concerns. Specifically, its concerns include, first, the lack of an impact assessment on road safety and, secondly, the statistics that it knows of. In the B+E test for car and trailer driving, pass rates suggest that there is consistently a fail rate of 30%, with 8,575 people failing the test in 2019-20. Under the proposed legislation, these drivers would be deemed qualified and able to tow a trailer immediately because they will not need to have taken a test. To the APPG’s mind, these proposals undermine the Government’s previous commitment to trailer safety and the campaign #towsafe4freddie, which it values. It shares the concern of the towing industry that this measure will have an impact on both safety standards and livelihoods because it will mean that a much broader range of people will be qualified for this sort of commercial work, which will undermine the qualifications and skills of those who have been through the test.
Even at this late stage, I urge the Minister to pause and think again. At the very least, I ask her to defer this until the department has done its own impact assessment and then reconsider in the light of that impact assessment. Better still, I urge her to abandon it because, by all logic, this cannot be good for road safety. It is really not worth the risks it creates. This is not about the usual topics of impact assessments. When we have impact assessments, we have fine calculations about how many pounds something will cost small businesses and so on; this impact assessment will be assessed in terms of lives.
We have a fundamental change creeping in, with inadequate evidence, under the guise of urgency. It is not really an urgent measure, because it will be permanent. We need legislation based on evidence. We have had enough of policy-making on the hoof; we need evidence-based policy-making. I urge the Government to give themselves a chance to get that evidence, to reconsider the matter, and to bring this back only if they genuinely feel that this will be safe.
I feel that our discussion on this order today is largely academic, since the Government have already implemented it in reality. Clearly, the words and good work of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—which I will quote from since I think it deserves to go on the record in Hansard—count for nothing, even though, on behalf of the Government, the Minister thanked the committee for what it had done. The Government have not taken any notice of what the committee said, so that is a funny sort of thanks.
These regulations make amendments to the requirement to undergo a practical car-plus-trailer driving test, which I think is known as category B+E. The amendments will make such a test optional only, and the entitlement to tow a trailer will be given to anybody passing, or who has passed, a car driving test from the coming into force of these regulations. On that score, perhaps the Minister could confirm the figure referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that the nearly one-third of drivers who failed the B+E test will now be able to be on our roads towing a heavy trailer. Could the Minister, on behalf of the Government, just confirm that that is what this means? Of course, the regulations go further than that, because they increase dramatically the number of people who can tow a trailer without a test, since anybody who has passed a car driving test can tow such a trailer. Could the Minister confirm that that is the situation?
Rather surprisingly, the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“There may be a negative impact on road safety of these measures”.
I would be grateful if the Minister, on behalf of the Government, could refer to the evidence on allowing people who have failed the test to tow a trailer to now do so and allowing anyone who has passed the car driving test to tow a trailer. What is the evidence that leads the Government in the Explanatory Memorandum to say that
“There may be a negative impact on road safety”?
If there is no impact, why have we been carrying out this test for a number of years? I would like an answer to that question.
Of course, the Government will have reviewed the necessity for that test, because the Government told us in 2010 that they were going to have a “bonfire of red tape”—that is, they would be going through all regulations to see if they were still necessary. So they must have looked at these regulations that provide for this test and decided that it should not be part of the bonfire—presumably because they thought that it was necessary for safety reasons. Can the Minister confirm that the requirement for this test was looked at as part of this well-trumpeted bonfire of regulations, but that it was decided we could not make a bonfire of this regulation, presumably because the Government thought it was necessary for safety reasons? Yet now they appear to be removing that and there is to be no requirement at all.
The decision is based not on safety considerations but purely on wanting to increase the number of people available to get people through the test to become heavy goods vehicle drivers, in view of the long-standing shortage of such drivers, which has now been exacerbated by Covid and Brexit—though the Explanatory Memorandum does not tell you that. This shortage has been known about for years. Actually, the Explanatory Memorandum admits as much, referring to a “worldwide shortage”—that includes this country—“for some time”. The reality is that, even though this sector is vital to our economy and way of life and even though the Government have known for a decade or more that there has been a shortage of drivers, they have not made sure that we sorted it out so that we did not end up with the kind of situation we have today, where we have to make regulations in a panic that, frankly, compromise safety because we need to release as many people as we can to carry out tests to enable more people to drive a heavy goods vehicle.
I said earlier that I wanted to refer to the words of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the report of which deserves at least some notice. It says:
“While we appreciate the objective is to free up capacity at test centres to enable more HGV drivers to obtain their licences, our 15th Report”—
this is the 23rd—
“raised safety concerns about the possibility of towing accidents increasing and suggested that, if the data is unclear, the position should be reviewed earlier than the three years set out in the Regulations.”
That seems eminently sensible. It continues:
“The House has followed up these issues in debate and in questions, but the re-laid version of the EM is silent about these concerns. We wrote to the Minister about this omission. The Minister’s response neither reduced our concerns about these safety issues nor offered any reassurance that the Department understands the critical importance of evidence-based policy and the respect that should be accorded to Parliament and its scrutiny processes.”
The committee continued:
“These Regulations have been scheduled for debate in Grand Committee next Tuesday, 14 December”,
which is where we are now. It goes on:
“We are publishing this Report in advance so that it is available to those participating in the debate. However, as this Report makes plain, we are deeply dissatisfied with the Department for Transport about its approach to these Regulations and, for this reason we have invited the Minister to give evidence to explain the policy choices she has made.”
I assume that is still to come—it sounds like it will be quite a happy little meeting.
There are also other aspects of the report. The committee makes a very interesting comment in paragraph 9:
“In response to an oral question in the House on 1 December, the Government announced that: ‘All car drivers wishing to tow a trailer for leisure or business will be encouraged to undertake a voluntary accreditation scheme, which is being developed with the help of the trailer industry and training providers.’”
In fairness, that is something the Minister has already said. It goes on:
“‘The scheme is planned to be launched early next year and will focus on a core model for all drivers, with sector-specific modules for different towing activities.’ This suggests that the Department recognises that there are safety issues that need to be taken into account.”
If the Government did not think there were any safety issues to take into account, why would they be encouraging people to undertake a voluntary accreditation scheme in respect of a test they have decided was no longer necessary? It does not add up; it does not seem particularly logical. The committee is quite right to point out that it suggests that the department recognises that there are safety issues to be taken into account.
As the committee says, none of this is addressed in the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying these regulations, which blandly says:
“any increase in … accidents will need to be monitored”.
I know what the word “monitored” means, but does it mean that the department will count them up and then not do anything? Could we have an explanation of whether it literally means that it will monitor any increase in accidents, or does it mean that it is going to do anything about it? Does it mean that it will wait three years before it does anything about it? That is when the next review is apparently going to take place. As I think the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, was more or less suggesting, if we are going to see an increase in accidents, some action needs to be taken pretty fast and not be left for that period of time.
I am sorry to quote so much, but this is a very damning report—the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, was quite right in what she said. On the subject of urgency, which is the whole basis of the Government’s argument for behaving as they are and completely ignoring the views of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—indeed, the regulations have been laid under emergency provisions—it says:
“The Department’s rationale for pressing ahead with these Regulations in the absence of the appropriate information to support and explain the policy, is, it says, on grounds of urgency. We find this unconvincing because the Minister’s correspondence indicates that the policy has already been implemented administratively”.
It goes on to say:
“In a letter dated 18 October, the Minister said: ‘Stopping Category B+E testing as a temporary measure has already increased the number of HGV tests available by around 550 per week.’”
I think that is also referred to—if I have understood the wording correctly—in paragraph 12.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, where it says:
“There is expected to be a significant impact on the public sector”—
and I am not sure why it picks out the public sector, but perhaps the Minister could explain what the significant impact is meant to be that applies only to that sector. It goes on to say that
“DVSA has already taken operational measures to restrict the delivery of the B+E driving test by up to 66% so the marginal improvements in testing capacity will be lower than this.”
In light of the fact that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has been told by the Minister that the department has already implemented the terms of the regulation, it says:
“The House may wish to ask the Minister to explain what further gains will be made if this instrument were to be brought into effect immediately rather than delaying it until the appropriate supporting material is available.”
I ask the Minister to explain, on behalf of the Government, what further gains will be made if the instrument is brought into effect immediately, rather than delaying it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, in the light of the Government’s statement that they have already brought the thing into operation.
I shall read one final paragraph from the report. The committee took the trouble to produce it, so at least this Committee should show that it has some regard for the committee’s work and what it has to say. It says:
“We have drawn attention to a number of concerns about these Regulations, and members of the House have followed up these concerns, along with concerns of their own, in debate and in oral questions. Shockingly, the re-laid version of the EM makes no mention of them but simply repeats the EM laid alongside the No. 2 Regulations. We wrote to the Minister about this matter. The Minister’s response neither reduced our concerns about these safety issues nor offered any reassurance that the Department understands the critical importance of evidence-based policy and the respect that should be accorded to Parliament and its scrutiny processes.”
I rather share the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s view that the House and our committee—it is our committee; it does an invaluable job of work on our behalf in drawing to our attention the contents of secondary legislation—are frankly being snubbed by the Department for Transport. To put it mildly, that is a retrograde step, and I hope this will be the last occasion that the Department for Transport does so.
We will not oppose this measure—although noble Lords might think, after what I said, “Why on earth not?”—because we recognise that there is a need to get more HGV drivers, but this is a long-standing shortage and there was no need to deal with it in this panicked way. The Government have said that they had 32 measures to address the problem of the shortage, so why is it that the other 31 apparently could not prevent the Government ending up in a situation where they have to produce this one regulation in such a hurry that it potentially compromises safety? There is no information from the Government on what the impact of removing the need for this particular test is likely to be, nor of allowing thousands of people who failed the test to put a trailer on the road and anybody who has passed the car driving test to do likewise.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser: I sincerely hope that this is the last occasion that the SLSC has to write such a report and refer to me in that fashion. It does not make me particularly happy and, coming on the heels of another issue that we have had regarding our SI programme, I reassure all noble Lords that I will meet with the appropriate officials very early next year and we will sort it out. It is not acceptable, and I do not wish for my department to be seen in such terms by your Lordships’ House and its committees. It is not what I want to happen, and I will do everything I can to make sure it does not happen in future.
I thank all noble Lords for their further consideration of these draft regulations. I will focus on the areas on which I have additional information that I have not raised previously with noble Lords or with the SLSC, but, again, I will write to give a full account of the Government’s position to make sure we cover all the issues raised.
The first point is the need for speed and the urgency with which these regulations are being put in place, which was noted by noble Lords and the SLSC. Obviously, had the first debate gone as we had planned, they would already be in place. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned that the first consideration is the need to quickly free up test slots to get new HGV drivers qualified and on the road. Noble Lords have debated many times the length of the shortage, that it was a long time coming, and that it has got acute during the pandemic. I knew that there was a shortage prior to the pandemic, as people used to come and tell me, but there was no impact, or it could not be felt, because the industry was able to deal with it and the supply chain could cope. The pandemic has meant that the lack of resilience of the supply chain has been exposed. That is why we need to act urgently now. I could not have brought this to your Lordships two years ago and said that it was urgent because it absolutely would not have been, but it is now.
It is the case that we release a significant number of tests. We know that they are being taken up and that people are applying to be HGV drivers. They are entering the industry, which is exactly what we need to see. We removed the tests back in September. We basically said that they would not go ahead. That has obviously helped. It is worth noting that we will at some stage lose the extra testing capacity provided by the MoD. That obviously cannot go on for ever. Therefore, putting this in place is obviously very helpful.
The title of the SI refers to licensing, not testing, because the testing is just the ticket to get your licence. The second consideration was, “Why do we have to put this in place, given that we have cancelled all these tests? Why not just leave it, throw it away, put it in the bin and never do it?” I have a lot of people out there who want to drive a caravan. At the moment, they cannot take a test to do so, and the number of people wanting to drive a caravan is increasing: the longer these regulations are delayed, the longer the wait. That is why we must continue down this path, although we have already cancelled the tests: because those people now need the legal right to be able to tow a heavier trailer or caravan. It is about licensing, not about testing. Any delay has a real-world impact on people who want to drive that combination of vehicles.
I turn to concerns about road safety. I have been the Road Safety Minister for more than two years now, and I am incredibly proud of the work we do. Most of the data we have available to use is collated by the police. Often, it will be on the basis of an assessment done at a collision site, where contributory factors are set out in incident reports, but that is done without the benefit of hindsight and on the basis of the evidence available to the police officer at the time and what he or she thinks may have happened. It is not perfect, but the STATS19 data is the best we have and we are constantly looking to improve it. However, it can never be perfect, because some of what we collect is subjective—the contributory factor, decided by the police, is subjective. That in and of itself is not a showstopper. If a dataset is sufficiently large, of course you can ascertain trends, and that is what we do. We have all our various interventions for more vulnerable types of users or at particular road locations. Great things can come out of the data. However, when it comes to collisions involving larger trailers—just recall that this is about only larger trailers; it is not about people who tow smaller trailers, as anyone can and has always been able to do, probably for forever—the dataset is very small. It is statistically challenging to reach conclusions based on a very small dataset, particularly over a short period.
Of course, it is a good thing that the dataset is quite small, because the proportion of incidents that involve a car or van towing a trailer was about 0.45% of the total back in 2019. In those incidents, there were reports of eight fatalities, 87 serious injuries and 379 slight injuries. Every death on our roads is a tragedy and every serious injury is deeply unwelcome, but those numbers are small, so they create a challenge for evidence-based policy-making. But that does not mean that we do not do our utmost to continue to have evidence-based policy-making.
Furthermore, there are other challenges in collecting and analysing the data that I have just relayed to noble Lords. Those figures include incidents involving larger trailers and smaller trailers. The police officer did not know when they turned up whether this trailer needed a licence or that one did not, and the person in the car may not have been able to help with that matter. We do not know whether there is a separation between those people who needed a licence, depending on when they acquired their licence—pre-1997 or not. We cannot be certain that the towing of a trailer was a factor in the incident at all or whether it was purely coincidental. Sometimes, it might be recorded as a contributory factor, but those contributory factors may often be about roadworthiness and short-term maintenance issues, which, again, have nothing to do with testing. That is more about understanding how to maintain your trailer.
This is why we can identify trends if we have sufficient data over a longer period. We know that, in general, vehicles towing any types of trailers—again, large or smaller ones—have become safer, as have vehicles more generally. We sometimes struggle, necessarily so, to disaggregate the data as to why that would be the case, as lots of things have changed since 1997. There have been significant changes to the safety of vehicles, to the theory test and to road design—I could go on. There will also continue to be improvements in road safety in the future. It is therefore not possible to pinpoint the impact of a test that was introduced in 1997 down to a tiny degree, because so many other things are included in the data, which, thankfully, is going in the right direction.
This is our challenge, so what data do we have? We have STATS19 data collected by the police, then shared annually with the DfT. What do we need and over what period, and when would any changes, be they positive or negative, become visible and statistically significant? The SLSC and other noble Lords have asked about the three-year review period. The availability and analysis of data is one reason why we feel that three years is appropriate. We get the data from the police once a year and it has to be analysed. Also, on what we have to do now, the role of any Minister is to do evidence-based policy-making. I think all noble Lords who have been Ministers will know that sometimes, unfortunately, the evidence does not give you exactly the right answer. If it did, being a Minister would be easy—and trust me, it really is not.
In this case, it is interesting to hear the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, refers to road safety. Sometimes he states that he believes there may be a potential road safety issue; at other times, he uses the phrase “and, frankly, compromise road safety”. On what evidence and basis? Because we are having this debate on whether there is an impact on road safety, there is uncertainty. So what do you do if there is uncertainty when you are trying to make policy on the basis of evidence? You have first to improve your data.
We are committed to looking at how we can improve the data—not only, funnily enough, to see the impact of the test’s removal on vehicles driving with larger trailers, but to see the intervention of the accreditation scheme on those towing smaller trailers. There could be a significant impact on people who never even thought about having any training. They did not need a test, so why should they bother? We know that there have been some very unfortunate and high-profile cases of trailers that were below the level that this test would have applied to anyway. We have to look at the data; I absolutely commit to establishing what we can do to improve it and providing the right sort of basis to fully understand the impact.
The other thing that one can do in evidence-based policy-making, if there is no certainty—I accept that in this case there is none, and think I see that on both sides of this debate—is to ensure that mitigations are in place. That is why I have already outlined the accreditation scheme, which we will announce more progress on next year. We will also take a number of other measures that will have a positive impact on road safety in relation to all trailers, not just the heavier ones. The current theory test already includes questions on towing skills; we can add more questions to that. We will also work with the driving instructor profession to ensure that learner drivers are prepared for and understand the rationale behind the questions in the theory test, and what considerations need to be had when thinking about driving a car with a trailer.
Another issue that we in the DfT are, dare I say it, quite good at—even if we have had a bit of a bashing today—is communication with drivers. Our THINK! campaign is very well respected. We will therefore be able to reach out not only through our own channels but by using our close relationships with our stakeholders to ensure that people who want to drive a trailer fully understand what they need to do.
There are a couple of other points that I will briefly mention, although I will write. There are 32 measures. Some are short-term interventions. Some are medium and long-term interventions. Some are small. Some are absolutely massive. One thing alone will not solve the problem and removing one thing will reduce it by a certain amount. We have to understand that those interventions cover a large range of different things.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned new and novice drivers. They can already tow a smaller trailer, of course, so we would expect them to do the training. However, we also know that new and novice drivers are less likely to drive a heavier trailer because they probably do not caravan as much as older people.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned that a third of drivers fail the test. However, some people take the test multiple times, so the number of people failing will be significantly less than a third. I accept that those people would then have the right to be on the road, but I also accept that they may not necessarily get into an incident given that the number of incidents is quite small. Hopefully, they will take up the training. Therefore, on balance—everything in road safety is on balance—we believe that it is right to continue with these regulations. I commit to doing all the things I have mentioned today over the next period of time to improve the data and make sure that our mitigations are as strong as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made some excellent points. I would love to spend another 10 minutes going through them but I think that I probably should not. I will therefore write a letter to him about bridge-bashing, the DVLA and all sorts of other things.
I thank the Minister for her detailed response but there are huge inconsistencies in it. I draw to her attention the fact that the Government appear to have a limited approach to relevant data. She talks about the difficulties in obtaining data, but we have firm data on both the number of people who fail this test every year and the number of new drivers who have accidents in the first year or two of their driving careers. There are other approaches that the Government could have taken, such as doing away with the test and saying that you must have two years’ driving experience before you can tow a trailer as large as this. Did the Government consider other approaches? They seem to have gone for the extreme, riskiest option rather than looking at other things, such as increasing the capacity of driving test centres.
This Government are increasing the capacity of driving test centres; it is one of the 32 interventions that we have already outlined. We could have put in a two-year requirement but that would not have achieved what we wanted because there is no reason why you would deny somebody who is a perfectly good driver, even though they have just passed their driving test, the chance to do the training and tow a heavy trailer. I am not sure that there would have been a good rationale for denying somebody that right when, quite frankly, old people like me can already drive a heavy trailer—and I have never been anywhere near any training. There are already inconsistencies in the system, so these regulations create a simple system that everybody can understand, with mitigations in place to ensure that it is as safe as possible.
Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (2005 Hague Convention and 2007 Hague Convention) (Amendment) Regulations 2022
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I begin by saying how much of an honour it is to serve under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. This is my maiden outing in this Room; it is a melancholy reflection, given that I took up office more than a year ago, but here I am in the Moses Room for the first time.
I am obliged. This draft instrument is made under the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Act 2020, which I will refer to as the PIL Act. The Act currently gives force of law to these conventions and ensures that they are read together with any reservations and declarations made at the time of approval. It also sets out, in new schedules to the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, the text of the conventions. To ensure that the information is complete and readily accessible, this instrument will insert the text of the reservations and declarations alongside the convention texts in new schedules to the 1982 Act.
This draft instrument is technical in nature and does not alter the UK’s status as a party to either the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements or the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance. It also brings into domestic legislation the texts of the UK’s reservations and declarations to those conventions. The UK has participated in the 2005 and 2007 Hague conventions since 2015 and 2014 respectively. Previously, we were bound by the conventions by virtue of our membership of the European Union—a status that continued to apply throughout the transition period in accordance with the withdrawal agreement. In September 2020, the United Kingdom took the necessary steps to join the two conventions as an independent party, as part of preparation for leaving the EU. This included depositing the necessary instruments of accession and ratification.
To be able to make this instrument, the PIL Act requires the Secretary of State to consult with such persons as they think necessary. To meet this requirement, the Ministry of Justice, on behalf of the Secretary of State, consulted key stakeholders in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as legal practitioners, academics and judges specialising in private international law, with whom the Ministry of Justice engages regularly. No objections to this instrument were received. In addition, as this instrument will apply to all UK legal jurisdictions, the consent of Scottish Ministers and the department of the Northern Ireland Executive has been obtained.
When rejoining these conventions as an independent party, the declarations and reservations by which the UK had been bound as a member of the European Union were not amended. This instrument will not make any changes to those reservations and declarations. While the existing reservations and declarations have been retained, this will not prevent the United Kingdom from changing them to either or both these conventions in future or withdrawing reservations to the 2007 Hague Convention if at any time it should to Parliament seem appropriate so to do.
Overall, as I have noted, this instrument is technical in its nature and will not alter the application of the conventions, nor their respective declarations and reservations. None the less, it is important to have the text of these declarations and reservations readily available in domestic legislation and alongside the text of the conventions for ease of reference for practitioners. I hope that the Committee will join me in supporting these regulations.
My Lords, in his introduction, the Minister said that that was his maiden speech in the Moses Room. I remember having a discussion upstairs about a year ago on some similar legislation, also to do with reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders—the 2007 Hague Convention, to which I shall refer later in my contribution. As the Minister says, this instrument is technical in nature. We on our side support the Government on it.
The 2005 and 2007 conventions were transferred to domestic law as part of the package of the private international law Act last year; this instrument seems to transfer the definitions within the conventions over to UK law. I open with what may be a simplistic question to the Minister: will the definitions under the 1996 Hague Convention be transferred by secondary legislation in the new year? Is that an additional piece of process that we should expect?
The 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements ensures the effectiveness of exclusive choice of court agreements between parties to international commercial transactions. These clauses are common, particularly in high-value commercial contracts. The UK previously participated in the 2005 convention by virtue of EU membership, as we have heard; the EU ratified the 2005 convention, and it entered into force from 1 October 2015. On 28 September 2020, the UK deposited its instrument of accession to the 2005 convention to ensure that it continues its independent participation in the convention. The Minister set all that out in his introduction to today’s debate.
The 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance provides for rules for the international recovery of child support and spousal maintenance. Both the 2005 and 2007 conventions ensure legal co-operation across jurisdictions to provide certainty and fairness for those involved in cross-border litigation. The Labour Party supported the transfer to domestic law of both conventions during the PIL Act 2020, as referred to by the Minister.
Finally, I return to my personal issue—I remember that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was there last year when I raised it; I see her nodding her head—with my hat on as a family magistrate. One of the most excruciating things that I do in that role is try to enforce the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders. The Minister wrote me a letter, which I have in front of me, in which he fairly set out the legal processes whereby reciprocal enforcement should be done. I accept that my assertion—that there are insufficient powers to enforce maintenance orders reciprocally—was wrong.
The point I wanted to make to the noble and learned Lord is that, whether I was right or wrong, it is still an excruciating process. It is very difficult to do. Very often the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders fails. I accept the point that he makes in his letter that it is not because of a lack of powers; maybe it is a lack of administrative will. It is absolutely an excruciating process for me as a magistrate and with the administration process around it. The parties we see in court are often in despair about trying to resolve these issues.
Nevertheless, I understand that we are talking on a more general basis today. I welcome the instrument that the noble and learned Lord has put forward. I am also in direct contact with the relevant Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, on the family court, so he does not need to introduce me to him. I will fight my own battles on this front.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his contribution. I well remember the opening of my account in the Room upstairs. I also remember the noble Lord’s close questioning, informed, as today, by his valuable experience on the Bench of magistrates in the family area of law, if I might put it like that.
The noble Lord posed a question about the 1996 Hague convention. The United Kingdom joined that instrument in its own right rather than through the European Union, so as I understand it no further action on that convention will be necessary.
I note with concern the noble Lord’s observations concerning the excruciating nature of the treatment of these matters in his capacity as a magistrate. I will do what I can, along with my noble friend Lord Wolfson in the Ministry of Justice, in order to assist.
At this stage, I register my appreciation and that of the Government for the assistance we received from stakeholders who engaged in consultation with us in the preparation of these instruments, and for the co-operation of our colleagues in the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. With that, I commend the instrument to the Committee.
Wine (Amendment) Regulations 2021
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these regulations will ensure that the UK meets its legal obligation to implement the provisions in Annexe 15 to the TCA concerning the trade in wine. The amendments made by this instrument concern lot marking and transitional marketing arrangements. They will remove the requirement for VI-1 certificates to accompany imports of wine into Great Britain and put in place provisions underpinning the simplified certification arrangements for exports of GB wine to the EU.
Turning first to the measures that concern VI-1 certificates, these regulations will make changes to retained EU Regulation 1308/2013 of the European Parliament and the Council and make consequential changes to retained EU Regulation 2018/273. This will remove the requirement for a wine imported into GB to be accompanied by a VI-1 certificate, or a simplified form of that certificate, where that wine has been produced in line with our regulatory framework for wine.
This change will apply to wine imports from the EU. We are exercising a choice not to introduce unnecessary trade barriers in the form of self-certificates of the type mentioned in Article 3 of Annexe 15 to the TCA. This decision will ensure that wine products originating in the EU will continue to have free and unfettered access to the GB market. This will help to support an industry worth more than £1 billion per annum and maintain the UK as a global hub for the wine trade.
In parallel, we will also remove the VI-1 requirement for imports of wine from all other countries, such as Australia, Chile, New Zealand and the USA. This will be done on the basis that they, too, meet our regulatory requirements. These wines represent about 50% of the wines on our shelves and, due to EU rules, have been subject to a VI-1 certificate to be marketed in Great Britain.
The removal of VI-1 certification represents a positive first step in simplifying our wine regulations to remove aspects of the bureaucratic and discriminatory regime that we inherited from the EU. I offer my thanks to the wine trade and noble Lords for continuing to make such a compelling case for removing VI-1 certificates. The Government have listened and acted to remove this unnecessary piece of red tape that we inherited from the EU.
This SI will also make changes to retained EU law to ensure that wines produced in GB are subject to the appropriate supervision, inspection and authentication checks necessary to underpin the use of the new simplified certification arrangements for exports of GB wine to the EU. These proposals will also introduce provisions to ensure that the lot code arrangements for wines will continue to operate between GB and the EU. This will implement Article 4(3) of the TCA and will be done by amending the Food (Lot Marking) Regulations 1996. The changes will ensure that a wine bearing a lot code that complies with EU law in a member state can continue to be marketed in Great Britain. Lot codes are an important tool to help to trace wine products that have been prepared or packaged under the same conditions.
Finally, these regulations will implement Article 5 of Annexe 15 to the TCA concerning transitional arrangements for the marketing of wine products. Amendments will be made to the Wine Regulations 2011 and the Food Information Regulations 2014 that will allow for the marketing of wine products that, at the date of entry into force of the TCA—1 May 2021—had been produced, described and labelled in accordance with the rules existing at that time. The provisions allow two years from 1 May 2021 for wine stocks to be run down at the producer and wholesale levels, while stocks at a retail level can continue to be sold until they are exhausted. Transitional labelling arrangements are an important consideration in the wine sector where products can have an extended shelf life and their quality can appreciate over prolonged periods of time.
Overall, this instrument is primarily concerned with introducing the changes necessary to implement Annexe 15 to the TCA. It is important as this helps to underpin our relationship with the EU, which, collectively, is the most important wine-producing and trading region on the planet. However, this instrument also marks an important first step in freeing up our wine trade from unnecessary inherited red tape.
We have a flourishing wine and viticulture sector. Through this instrument, the Government are delivering on the levelling-up agenda by making regulatory changes that support wine importers, bottling plants and exporters across the country. From Accolade Wines in Avonmouth and Kingsland in Manchester to Greencroft in County Durham, we are removing a burdensome technical barrier to trade. Defra will continue to work with the industry and across government to ensure that we have the best possible regulatory regime for wine. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his time and that of his officials in the briefing, as well as for his introduction to this relatively straightforward instrument.
The Explanatory Memorandum gives clear detail. Paragraph 7.3 refers to wine that has been stored and appreciated in value, and is then marketed later when it may not have the requisite information details that we are introducing in this IS; the Minister referred to this. Ensuring that this does not happen is referred to, in the last sentence of paragraph 7.3,
“by amending the Wine Regulations 2011 (S.I. 2011/2936) and the Food Information Regulations 2014 (S.I. 2014/1855).”
The Minister referred to those statutory instruments. However, there is no indication of when this might happen. Can he say whether a date has been given for that action?
Paragraph 7.8 gives details of the trade in wine with Northern Ireland and the effect of the Northern Ireland protocol on the wine industry. It makes the claim that, although the instrument
“will be looked at again once those negotiations have been concluded”,
there will be no
“significant effect on the trade in wine between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
Is the Minister sure that there will be no significant effect? The wording of the EM implies that there will be an effect but it will not be significant. I know that this is straining at gnats, but it would be helpful to have clarification.
Consultation with the industry, including the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, WineGB, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland, has taken place. Not surprisingly, since the VI-1 wine import certificates are to be abandoned and the process simplified, there was general satisfaction in the process to be instituted and followed. It will reduce costs, which is good for business.
However, I am somewhat concerned that the consequent reduction in the price of wine could lead to harm from increased alcoholism, especially among young people, due to it being cheaper. Although a glass of wine is an enjoyable thing for most adults, the cheaper it is for those on low incomes, the more likely it is to be tempting to consume more than is healthy. Addictions of all type are a strain on the health service, and alcohol addiction can lead to anti-social behaviour and violence. I am not suggesting for one minute that the reduction in the price of wine will lead to wholesale disorder on the streets, but it is a consideration for young people.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has produced information paragraphs on this SI, having consulted Defra. There is a transition period, to which the Minister referred, of two years for producers and wholesalers of wine, and until stocks have been exhausted for retailers. Can the Minister say whether an estimate has been made of how long it might be before stocks of wine imported under the TCA before the lot codes came in might be exhausted? Is it likely to be sooner than two years, or might stocks be left at the end of the two years? If so, what arrangements will be made to ensure that these wines can still be marketed although they will not have the lot codes in place?
Lastly—I am sorry but this is a bee in my bonnet— I note that no impact assessment was produced. It is clear from the EM that there are likely to be impacts; it would have been helpful for these to be gathered together in one place. Apart from these minor comments, I am satisfied with this SI. I can see that it will be very good for business and will improve the movement of wine between GB and the EU, so I support it.
My Lords, I, too, begin by thanking the Minister and his officials for taking the time to meet me and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, to go through these amending regulations in advance. It was very helpful. I also thank him for clearly explaining the purpose of the detailed statutory instrument that we are looking at. As he explained, these regulations will ensure that the United Kingdom meets its legal obligations to implement the provisions in Annexe 15 to the trade and co-operation agreement, which deals with the trade in, and of, wine. Specifically, they will amend rules concerning lot marking and the import and export certification arrangements for wine products, as well as putting in place the transitional marketing arrangements, which are important.
However, I will concentrate on the removal of VI-1 certificates. As we have heard, the instrument proposes changes to ensure that wines from the EU and other third countries imported into GB will not require a certificate and analysis report any more. Defra has said that VI-1 certificates
“serve no purpose to business or the consumer, and simply add unnecessary costs to the trade in wine.”
After considering options for the future of wine certification, the Government announced on 25 July their intention to remove the requirement for VI-1 certificates on all imported wine into Great Britain, as the statutory instrument before us is intended to do. We have heard that this measure is also likely to reduce costs for our wine importers while increasing the global attractiveness and competitiveness of the UK as a hub for the wine trade. We understand that this change has been much welcomed by the wine industry, which estimates that it will save it around £100 million every year, so we also support this statutory instrument and welcome the changes it brings in.
We would also like to acknowledge the work of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, mentioned by the Minister, in pressing the Government to alter their previous position. Noble Lords may remember that that was initially just to roll over the European Union rules and regulations on wine imports. It is very welcome that the Government have listened to the industry and brought in these changes.
Leaving the EU made a significant difference because the EU’s rationale for bringing in an import document—effectively, a technical barrier to trade—was, in reality, to protect its own wine industry. Whatever our views on our departure from the European Union, for us, as a net importer of wine, it made little sense to maintain the rules designed to disadvantage our imports. While I pay tribute to the UK’s many excellent wine producers, we import more than 99% of the wine that we consume in this country, and around half of those imports are from the EU.
Again, it is good that, following industry engagement, the UK Government initially introduced a much-welcomed grace period for VI-1 forms for all wine imported from EU countries, meaning that the forms have never actually been required for EU wine imported into the UK. That is why we now support the Government’s intention to remove this documentation from 1 January next year.
Having said all that, we have a few questions and concerns that I want to draw to the Minister’s attention. First, there is the impact on Northern Ireland, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. As we heard, the SI does not extend to Northern Ireland, given the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol and the ongoing UK-EU negotiations on it. Paragraph 7.8 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which the noble Baroness mentioned, says that relevant provisions will be brought forward
“once those negotiations have been concluded.”
Does this mean that the Government have no intention to trigger Article 16? If that is the case, why have the Government given the impression that they might actually do so?
The Explanatory Memorandum continues:
“In the meantime, we do not anticipate this will have any significant effect”—
as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, stressed—
“on trade in wine between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
To me, this is all a bit unsatisfactory and unlikely. Can the Minister tell us how that conclusion was reached? What discussions took place with the Northern Ireland Executive before that conclusion was reached? What engagement was there with colleagues in the Irish Government in Dublin? As the noble Baroness said when talking about the implications for Northern Ireland, clarification in this area would be extremely helpful.
I am also aware that the Government held a three-week consultation on the proposals before us. In response to this consultation, a particular concern was raised by the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, or AHA, on the likelihood that removal of import certification would reduce the cost of alcohol. It is worried that this could increase alcohol harm, noting that the price of alcohol is closely linked to harm: the more affordable it is, the more alcohol is consumed, and therefore the more harm is caused, as was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell.
The AHA referenced the UK Health Security Agency evidence review that encourages the reduction of alcohol affordability. The AHA has urged the department to commit to producing an impact assessment on how the removal of the VI-1 certificates will affect alcohol harm and its associated costs. Does the Minister acknowledge those concerns, what discussions has his department had with the AHA to address them and are there any plans to produce the requested impact assessment?
Transitions to trading arrangements have not always been easy following Brexit, and Covid-19 has been hard on many businesses, so I end by saying that it is good that the Government have listened to the concerns of the wine industry in bringing forward this SI, which we strongly support. I also hope that the Minister is looking forward, as am I, to safely enjoying a few glasses of wine at Christmas.
I am very grateful to both noble Baronesses for their contributions, questions and broad support for this measure. To take the noble Baroness’s last point first, I wish the same on everyone else over Christmas. I think we all deserve an extra glass of wine—drunk in moderation, no doubt.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked when the provisions will be introduced. It is intended that they will come into force on 1 January 2022, in a few weeks’ time. This will include the provisions to amend the Wine Regulations 2011. Longer term, the Government will consider consolidating and updating the Wine Regulations 2011 as part of our general review of domestic wine policy.
Both noble Baronesses asked about Northern Ireland, and quite rightly so. The statutory instrument does not apply in Northern Ireland, as they correctly pointed out, and will not result in any changes to the certification of GB-produced wine sent to Northern Ireland. Obviously, Northern Ireland will continue to follow the rules for VI-1 certification set out in the protocol. Most movements of GB wine to Northern Ireland have fallen within the scheme for temporary agri-food movements to Northern Ireland, and movements of GB wine to Northern Ireland are very small. They often fall below the 100 litre de minimis requirements for a VI-1 certificate set out in EU law.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked about the Northern Ireland protocol. It is an absolute priority for the Government. She will be aware of the negotiations that my noble friend Lord Frost is leading. We very much hope that they will be successful and that the circumstances of the Northern Ireland protocol, which must change, will be understood and accepted on both sides. I cannot give her an up-to-date assessment of those negotiations but it is very much hoped that we can reach agreement without resort to any attempt to trigger Article 16. That would be a failure of negotiation, and we are working hard with our European partners. That is very relevant to this, because it is a massive industry for France, Spain, Germany and Italy, and we want to continue to have it here.
Both noble Baronesses asked about the impact of the measure. They rightly raised concerns about the cost of wine and asked whether that would have an impact on increased usage. Industry estimates that the cost savings due to the removal of VI-1 certificates would amount to around 10p per bottle of wine for an averagely priced bottle of around £6. That would represent a saving of approximately 1.7% of the retail price or 1% for a bottle of £10 wine.
However, this would most likely not trickle down to consumers. I hope it does, but that is a matter for the trade. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association pointed out in discussions today that the marketplace is limited because of the cost of complying with the VI-1 certificates; it costs about £350 every time you go to a laboratory for analysis for the correct certification. The loss of that cost will mean that a wider choice is available to the public, but I hope everyone will agree that it is not a dramatic reduction that is likely to impact on the wrong kind of alcohol use.
The point on the impact assessment was very well made. The primary objective of this instrument is to bring in measures to enable the UK to implement the TCA, which has already been agreed and ratified. The only aspect that goes beyond options set out in the TCA is removing the requirement for wine imports from the rest of the world to produce a VI-1 certificate. We accumulated significant evidence that this decision would be widely welcomed by the wine trade. The need to conduct an impact assessment was deemed unnecessary, and this view was supported by the Department of Health and Social Care.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made a general point about supporting the wine industry. We are working closely with the industry to promote English and Welsh wine. Defra is working closely with the FCDO to ensure that Great British wines are served at our embassies around the world and doing a lot to promote what was in our lifetimes a nascent and very small industry but is now developing extremely well. We want it to be an option for land managers to look at new vineyards but also a means of helping our exports.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I will look in Hansard to see whether there are some points I have missed. In the meantime, I remind noble Lords of the positive changes contained in this instrument. The regulatory changes we are introducing enable us to meet our international obligations and implement the 15th annexe of the TCA concerning the trade in wine with the EU.
We have listened to the wine trade and your Lordships and have removed the requirement for VI-1s, not only for our imports from the EU but for those from other excellent wine-producing nations across the world. I hope noble Lords will therefore agree that this instrument is worthy of your Lordships’ support. I beg to move.
Consumer Scotland Act 2020 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2022
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this draft order was laid before the House on 8 November 2021. I am grateful to have the opportunity today to open the debate on these consequential amendments that support the decision of the Scottish Government to establish Consumer Scotland as the body responsible for the devolved areas of consumer advocacy and advice. Consumer Scotland has been created by the Scottish Government as a source of expertise focused on advocating for change on issues that affect people in Scotland.
This order assists with the implementation of Consumer Scotland by establishing it as a non-ministerial body of the Scottish Administration. It also ensures that its new functions are reflected in UK legislation. Through this order, Consumer Scotland will be accountable to the Scottish Parliament and will be added to the list of bodies whose members are disqualified from being members of the House of Commons under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. This is necessary as Consumer Scotland must legally be operationally independent of Scottish Ministers. Furthermore, the legislation will also give consumers confidence in the independence of this new body.
Let me provide some background on consumer law in the UK. In 2010, BIS, as the department was then called, consulted on changing the consumer landscape to make it easier for consumers to access advice. Consumer advocacy functions and the responsibility for the delivery of general consumer advice by Consumer Direct were transferred to Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland. This resulted in the abolition of Consumer Focus in 2014.
Under the Scotland Act 2016, functions relating to the delivery of consumer advice and advocacy, but not consumer protection, were devolved to the Scottish Parliament. This meant that it was the Scottish Government’s responsibility to fund and decide on the delivery mechanism for consumer advice and advocacy in Scotland. The power to raise a levy on industry to fund energy and postal advice and advocacy, against an agreed work programme, remains the responsibility of the UK Government. Consumer advocacy is just one of the activities that Citizens Advice Scotland and the bureaux network undertake. The advocacy work, including highlighting issues of consumer detriment and potential remediation, will pass to Consumer Scotland. These outputs will support front-line delivery by individual bureaux and other organisations.
Next, I would like briefly to provide some background on the type of secondary legislation we are discussing today. Scotland Act orders are legislation made under the Scotland Act 1998, which devolved significant powers to Scotland and provided the foundation of the devolution settlement. The order before us is a Section 104 order, which allows for necessary or expedient legislative provision in consequence of any provision made by or under any Act of the Scottish Parliament or Scottish statutory instrument. In this case, provision is required in consequence of the Consumer Scotland Act 2020, which I shall refer to as the 2020 Act.
Turning once again to the purpose of this order, as I mentioned earlier, the 2020 Act allowed for the establishment of Consumer Scotland as the body responsible for the devolved matters of consumer advocacy and advice. The aim of the order is to amend UK legislation, which will provide Consumer Scotland with full authority in its role of dealing with consumer advocacy and advice. Consumer Scotland will take over a range of responsibilities relating to advocacy in the energy, postal services and water sectors, currently undertaken by Citizens Advice Scotland. The advice it provides will be on new and emerging issues or matters of general interest to a range of consumers.
In 2020-21, Citizens Advice Scotland advised over 171,000 clients and dealt with over 647,000 advice issues, helping clients to gain nearly £147 million. Citizens Advice Scotland will remain a vital player in this area, and it will continue to provide advice to individuals, and also on a range of other areas, including social security and tackling poverty.
In closing, this instrument supports the Scottish Government’s decision to establish Consumer Scotland, which will give consumers confidence in the independence of the new body, and ensure that its functions are reflected in UK legislation. This instrument, the policy behind it and its legislative contents have the support of Scotland’s Governments in London and Edinburgh. It represents an excellent example of devolution in action to deliver for the people of Scotland. I commend the order to the Committee, and I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the background to this instrument. Of course, it is set out very clearly in the Explanatory Memorandum, which I have read.
I have just one comment, which is on the change of name. The name Citizens Advice Scotland is very well known to people who live in Scotland, and the crucial word in the name is of course “advice”. As an ordinary consumer in Scotland in need of advice, the body to go to would be Citizens Advice Scotland. The new name going into the legislation is Consumer Scotland, which does not include the word “advice”, which begs the question of whether this new body continues to have the function of providing advice. As I understand what the Minister said, and what is set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, the answer is yes; there is no change in function, but there is a change in name.
I was not quite sure whether I picked up the Minister correctly as to whether Citizens Advice Scotland will exist as a body beneath the umbrella of Consumer Scotland, or whether its name will go altogether. If its name goes altogether, there is a question as to the extent to which Consumer Scotland will advertise and make it known to everybody in Scotland that it has an advisory function as well as an advocacy function. For the ordinary person in the street, that is possibly more important than the advocacy—which is important, of course, but not everybody in the street is thinking of it. People seeking advice want to know where to go.
Can the Minister reassure us that the advice function will not only continue to be performed but the people in Scotland will be aware that Consumer Scotland is the body to which to go?
My Lords, this is a bit of a maiden speech, in that I must have done at least 100 SIs over the past years, especially in that wonderful rush towards leaving the EU, but I have managed to avoid Scottish SIs until today. As a result, I found reading the SI and the Explanatory Memorandum something of a challenge. Everything I now say may be rubbish, because I might have got it wrong, but I do not really think that we are here to discuss the merits of Consumer Scotland.
It seems to me that the Scottish Government created Consumer Scotland, and as far as I can see that is their business, and they have to be accountable to their electorate over whether it is a good or a bad thing. To do its full job, as I understand it, it needs to take over responsibility of Citizens Advice Scotland with respect to energy, postal services and water, because they are not devolved areas, and therefore it is our responsibility to agree that these non-devolved areas shall be given to Consumer Scotland. As I said, to do this, it needs our authority, because those areas are not devolved. This oversight activity seems to have worked in the past with Citizens Advice Scotland, and I have no reason to believe that it will not work as well with Consumer Scotland. Our only interest should be whether those transfers will bring harm to those services in the rest of the UK—and, frankly, I do not see how it can possibly produce any harm.
As far as I can see, the other parts of the SI seem to be technical in nature, and we have no interest in whether Consumer Scotland is a good or a bad thing. That is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. I therefore fully support the draft instrument.
I start by thanking both noble Lords for their general support for this order. Our amendments to the UK legislation made through this Scotland Act order will enable, as I hinted —or said—earlier, effective implementation of the Scottish Government’s decision to establish Consumer Scotland.
The few questions that arose were over the relationship and to do with the changes, and I hope that I can answer them. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, asked whether the advice function would continue to be performed in Consumer Scotland. I shall give the noble and learned Lord a little more detail on this. Consumer Scotland, as it will be called, will have five key functions. The first is a general function to provide consumer advocacy and advice—so the word “advice” is definitely in there. Secondly, it has a representative function to provide advice—again, it says “advice”—information and communication to other public bodies on consumer advocacy. Thirdly, it has a research and investigation function to research consumer matters and conduct investigations into consumer harm. Fourthly, it has an information function to provide public-facing consumer advice and information; and, finally, a recall of goods function, which will allow for the managing of records of recall of goods. As the noble and learned Lord will know, that is something that has been in England for some time.
I just add that Citizens Advice Scotland will still operate in Scotland. It will remain an important partner for Consumer Scotland and the Scottish Government in tackling consumer issues, providing advice to individuals and in a range of other areas, as I mentioned earlier, including social security and tackling poverty.
I shall try to answer a question from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, on how the body might differ, and I shall perhaps add to what I have been saying. The 2020 Act created an independent consumer champion dedicated to representing the interests of consumers, so it will be a source of expertise, focused on advocating for change on issues that particularly affect people in Scotland. It will recognise Scotland’s distinct circumstances, such as its rural population and devolved industries. That would include matters of transportation, which I suspect will be of interest to the noble Lord, and the fact that there are particular specific issues in that respect for Scotland. I hope and believe that Consumer Scotland will create better outcomes for citizens in Scotland.
I hope that that gives a little bit more meat to the bones on the questions raised. To close, our support for the Scottish Government on the establishment of Consumer Scotland demonstrates Scotland’s two Governments working very well together, and the commitment of this Government to strengthen the devolution settlement. I hope that with those remarks, this order will be passed, and I commend the order to this Committee.
Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2020 and Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2022
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this draft order was laid before the House on 16 November 2021. I am pleased to have the opportunity this afternoon to debate these consequential amendments, which support the Scottish Government’s decision to introduce opposite-sex civil partnerships to Scotland.
Civil partnerships were first introduced across the UK through the Civil Partnerships Act 2004, with the first civil partnership taking place in December 2005. Opposite-sex civil partnerships were then introduced in England and Wales in 2019, and in Northern Ireland in 2020, following a ruling by the Supreme Court. The Scottish Government passed the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2020, which enabled opposite-sex civil partnerships to become available in Scotland in 2021. Consequently, 22 opposite-sex civil partnerships were registered in Scotland in June 2021. From July to September 2021, there were a further 216 opposite-sex civil partnerships in Scotland, making a total so far of 238.
The order makes a range of technical changes to reserved legislation that are required in consequence of the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2020, which I will refer to henceforth as the 2020 Act. It is important that we support the Scottish Government to provide equality of opportunity as they introduce these changes in Scotland. Later in my remarks, I will outline the legislative changes that we seek to make in this order but, first, I want to offer a real-world example of what these changes will mean in Scotland. The order is complex, but one example is the change made to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 on assisted conception. The amendments will ensure that, when it comes to establishing the parentage of a child in assisted conception cases, couples in a civil partnership are treated in the same way as married couples.
Before we look at the legislative detail of this order, it is worth spending a moment explaining Scotland Act orders to everyone here today; I hope that the Committee will forgive me because I outlined this in the previous debate, when noble Lords were very patient in listening to me. This type of statutory instrument is a form of secondary legislation made under the Scotland Act 1998, which devolved significant powers to Scotland and formed the basis of the devolution settlement that has been in operation for more than 20 years. The order before us today is a Section 104 order, a type of order that allows for necessary or expedient legislative provision in consequence of any provision made by or under any Act of the Scottish Parliament. It can also be made in consequence of secondary legislation made by Scottish Ministers. In this case, provision is required in consequence of the aforementioned 2020 Act.
Turning to the purpose of this order, I shall highlight some of the key legislative changes made here. The main changes reflect that civil partnership in Scotland no longer includes a same-sex relationship; it now includes an opposite-sex relationship too. Therefore, amendments are made to the Equality Act 2010, for example, further to protect persons such as religious and belief celebrants who do not wish to take part in the registration of mixed sex-civil partnerships. These amendments to the 2010 Act, which is generally a reserved matter for Westminster, reflect that, in Scotland, religious and belief celebrants can register civil partnerships in much the same way as they can solemnise marriage.
A number of amendments are also made to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. The changes made reflect that, now opposite-sex civil partnership is recognised, it is possible for civil partners to apply for gender recognition and stay in the civil partnership. Changes are made to the rules governing applications for a gender recognition certificate by some persons who are party to a civil partnership registered in Scotland but resident elsewhere in the UK. Provision is also made to make it clear that, for the purposes of the law of England and Wales, and Northern Ireland, a civil partnership registered in Scotland continues after either party to it has obtained a full gender recognition certificate.
As I have mentioned already, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 is also amended to ensure that children of marriages and children of civil partnerships are treated the same in cases of assisted reproduction and that the legal parenthood of these children is therefore clear. The order also makes changes to a range of legislation with regards to the registration overseas, through UK consular officials and the Armed Forces, of marriages and civil partnerships.
In summary, this order supports the establishment of opposite-sex civil partnerships in Scotland. The instrument and the policy behind it have the support of Scotland’s two Governments. I commend the order to the Committee.
My Lords, I very much welcome this order for a particular reason, if I can give a little bit of history. As the noble Viscount will be aware, I sat as a Lord of Appeal in the days when the House of Lords was the final Court of Appeal. In one case, which is very firmly in my memory, a couple appeared before us who were unable to marry. As far as one could tell they looked a perfectly normal, very respectable and charming man and woman, but the problem was that the man had been born as a woman. In those days, we did not have all the language to express that, as we have nowadays. It was a sex change problem. The problem was that the Marriage Act made it absolutely clear that whether one was a man or woman for the purposes of marriage was dependent on the sex at birth. We were unable to give them the authority to marry, but we drew the Government’s attention to the fact that there was a human rights element to this—a right to family life and so on—that they were being denied by the wording of the Marriage Act.
I must say that the Government acted commendably well in response to what we said. It led to the Government bringing in the civil partnership legislation, which was to deal with the problem of people of the same sex at birth wanting to marry. Certainly, as Law Lords, at the time we never contemplated that marriage would have to be replaced by a civil partnership between opposite sexes, but the Government have moved on, and there is obviously public demand for this now—people want to use civil partnerships rather than go through a formal marriage. I understand that. It makes obvious sense to do what the measure does to make up the position so that there is an equality of treatment through all the legislation.
There is one common law right that I do not think this measure deals with, but there is a way round it. If one dies intestate there is a legal right that children have, called legitim. At the moment, children of civil partnerships do not have that right because in common law it is available only to children of particular individuals who marry. Civil partnerships are not recognised in the way the legislation is designed for common law, because it is for children of a regular marriage.
There is not a problem, because those who wish to take advantage of legal rights can cure the problem by the adoption process, because adoption has allowed for it, but I wonder whether the noble Viscount and his advisers might take away consideration as to how to deal with legitim. At the moment, as I understand it, you have to go through the adoption process to give the children of a civil partnership the right to legitim. I might be wrong about this. As it happens, I have been looking at a soon to be published textbook on this subject that indicates that children of a civil partnership do not have the right to legitim, which one would want them to have. Because it is common law it is not embraced in the legislation, but it might be helpful if something was done about that to address what is quite a real problem. This is a right that attaches to every estate; it is a legal right given by common law. You cannot disinherit children in Scotland, because they have a right to a part of the estate. We would want to be sure that that survived into a civil partnership.
The only other point I want to ask the Minister about is whether there is any statistical information on how widely this provision is being used for its original purpose, between same-sex couples, and/or now between couples of opposite sexes. I rather think it has overtaken the same-sex situation. Although that solution is available—it is the one solution that same-sex couples have—it has rather overtaken it. But that would be quite interesting, if there are statistics readily to hand; if there are not, do not bother about it—but it would be interesting to know how widely it has been taken up between those two branches of couples.
That all having been said, I very much welcome this legislation. It makes obvious good sense and, as far as I can see, has done all the right things where statutory law is concerned, leaving aside the common-law problem to which I have drawn attention.
My Lords, I am struggling in a sense with this Scottish stuff. I suppose it shows that I do not really understand the devolution settlement. My simple idea is that the settlement says, “Scotland can do what Scotland wants to do, except where powers are reserved to the United Kingdom as a whole”. It seems that what we have in this order means that, to achieve that, reserved law sometimes interferes at the edges. If one is respecting the devolution settlement, one should accede to the requests of the Scottish Government to change this stuff around the edge to meet what Scotland wants to do. Once again, I do not think it is really our business whether what Scotland wants to do is a good or bad idea.
I was not helped on this order because I did not have the training, mind or history of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. I always enjoy him presenting his ideas on these occasions. Unfortunately, I did not really grasp the SI. I read it—no, let us be realistic. I read the Explanatory Memorandum several times, but I just could not keep up with the interrelationships.
Another thing I am sensitive about in the Scotland situation is that to blunder into such sensitive areas and make any comments on the substance of what the instrument is trying to achieve is probably unwise because one could, at the end of the day, create offence. Accordingly, I shall refrain from commenting on the substance. I have only one question: the Explanatory Memorandum says at its beginning that it is created by the Scotland Office, but it reads as if it is a consensus document between the Scotland Office and the Scottish Government. Who fundamentally created this statutory instrument? That is: whose ideas were they, and it is in fact a consensus document between the Scottish and UK Governments? If it is, I can see no way in which the SI adversely affects the UK-wide legislation, which I believe is the limit of our concerns. Accordingly, we support this statutory instrument.
Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for their support for this order. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, as I should have done before, into Scottish matters. I am sure he is being extremely humble and knows a lot more than he is giving out. As I come originally from north of the border and know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, does so too, we are reasonably well versed in this. However, the noble Lord is very welcome indeed.
I also say at the outset that I was very interested to hear the remarks of the noble and learned Lord. I am well aware of his experience, and it was very interesting to hear his real-life example. He spoke movingly about how, in that example, the issue revolved around and focused on how children are treated and cared for. He raised a question about children’s rights in this respect. I shall obviously have to write to him about the specific issue he raised, which is a legal issue, and I will copy in the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, rather than trying to cobble something together this afternoon.
I am not sure that I have all the statistics that the noble and learned Lord asked for. I have the statistics for the number of people in civil partnerships or marriages going through gender recognition, and I think that might have been part of what he was asking for. It is too soon to produce statistics which are available on the number of people in civil partnerships who obtain gender recognition. However, in 2020-21, the gender recognition panel granted 427 gender recognition certificates. Of those, 33 were granted to married people and 394 to single people. The gender recognition panel does not produce separate figures on the number of applications for gender recognition from Scotland. However, we estimate—and it is an estimate —that there are about 25 applications a year from Scotland. As I said earlier, it is too early to give definite figures, but that might give an indication.
I come to some points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, on the interrelationship between the UK Government and the Scottish Government. I mentioned earlier that the Scottish Government and the UK Government came together to produce this. It is a consensus document; I can definitely confirm that. I do not know who wrote it, but I think I am right to say that it was the UK Government. It is our job to take this through, but it is with the consensus of the Scottish Government. On the nuance of that, I will write in the same letter to confirm precisely how it came together. I can say that confirmation that the two Governments are working well together is clearly there.
I think I have answered the questions as far as I am able. In closing, I hope that we can now take this forward, and I therefore beg to move.
Committee adjourned at 5.58 pm.