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General Committees

Debated on Monday 13 December 2021

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Wine (Amendment) Regulations 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Caroline Nokes

Abbott, Ms Diane (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)

Betts, Mr Clive (Sheffield South East) (Lab)

† Bottomley, Sir Peter (Worthing West) (Con)

† Bridgen, Andrew (North West Leicestershire) (Con)

Cherry, Joanna (Edinburgh South West) (SNP)

† Glindon, Mary (North Tyneside) (Lab)

† Hoare, Simon (North Dorset) (Con)

† Jones, Ruth (Newport West) (Lab)

† Knight, Sir Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)

† Kruger, Danny (Devizes) (Con)

† Prentis, Victoria (Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food)

† Skidmore, Chris (Kingswood) (Con)

Spellar, John (Warley) (Lab)

Stevenson, Jane (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)

Stringer, Graham (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab)

† Swayne, Sir Desmond (New Forest West) (Con)

† Wheeler, Mrs Heather (South Derbyshire) (Con)

Seb Newman, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 13 December 2021

[Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Draft Wine (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Before we begin, I remind Members that, in line with guidance from the Government and the House of Commons Commission, they are expected to wear face coverings and to maintain distancing, so far as is possible, which I see you are all doing beautifully. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if they are coming on to the estate. That can be done in the testing centre in the House, or at home. Please could Members email their speaking notes to

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Wine (Amendment) Regulations 2021.

The regulations, which were laid before the House on 23 November, remove the requirement for wine imported to Great Britain to be accompanied by a VI-1 certificate. This statutory instrument is very good news; Members who arrived at the Committee early have heard that I am inordinately excited about it. It is part of the bonfire of Brexit red tape. It will help support an industry worth over £1 billion a year, and will help the UK to remain a global hub for the wine trade. If we agree to the SI, it is not only EU wine that will be allowed into the country without a VI-1 certificate; so will wine from the rest of world, including wine from Australia, Chile, New Zealand and the USA. These wines represent about half the wines on our shelves. This is a really positive step forward, and I thank the wine trade and Members of this House for working with us on this.

I was anticipating that question. That is probably something for the wine trade to think about internally. Although the wine trade will find the change beneficial, I suspect that the price of a bottle of wine will not change all that much—but we live in hope.

The SI will make changes to retained EU law to ensure that wines produced in GB are subject to appropriate supervision, inspection and authentication checks. It also introduces provisions to ensure that the lot code arrangements between GB and the EU for wines continue to operate. Lot codes are an important tool for tracing wine products prepared or packaged under the same conditions.

Finally, the regulations will implement article 5 of annex 15 to the trade and co-operation agreement, concerning transitional arrangements. There will be a two-year grace period from 1 May to allow wine stocks to be run down at producer and wholesale level; stores have until stock runs out to comply.

We have a flourishing wine and viticulture sector in this country. Through this instrument, the Government are making regulatory changes that support wine importers, bottling plants, and exporters across the country, from Accolade Wines in Avonmouth and Kingsland Drinks in Manchester to Greencroft Bottling in County Durham. We are removing a burdensome technical barrier to trade. The Department will continue to work with the industry and across Government to make sure that we have the best possible regulatory regime for wine.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I am delighted to speak from the Front Bench as the shadow Minister for Agri-innovation and Climate Adaptation. [Interruption.] Yes. Following the recent reshuffle of Labour’s Front Benchers, I have a slightly different brief, but I remain focused on holding the Government to account for protecting our environment and our planet. I bring the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), the shadow Food, Farming, Fisheries and Rural Affairs Minister, who is in Westminster Hall this evening, and so could not lead for the Opposition on the regulations. I declare an interest: I have been known to have the odd glass of wine after a long day in this House, so I speak with some authority on the subject.

I am grateful to the Minister for taking the time to explain the purpose of the statutory instrument. The regulations will ensure that the United Kingdom meets its legal obligations to implement the provisions in annex 15 to the trade and co-operation agreement, which deals with the trade in wine. The regulations will amend rules concerning lot marking and the import and export certification arrangements for wine products, as well as putting in place transitional marketing arrangements. These changes are very welcome but long overdue. Labour Members will not oppose them, not least because many of us, including my tenacious hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, spent much of the early part of this year arguing that the Government should show some leadership and get rid of that much-hated VI-1 form.

It may be that celebrations are in order, and that we can pop the cork on the bottle of progress and common sense, but before we get carried away, remember that there is so much more to do. I gently remind the House of the factors in and concerns associated with the debate and the issues covered by the SI. The Government initially chose to roll over EU rules and regulations on wine imports. Those rules required detailed import certification—the VI-1 form, which we have heard about—in addition to standard customs paperwork for all wine imports from third countries. The form includes details such as how strong a wine is, what grape it is, and how many containers are being sent. For each type of wine in a consignment, all those details must be listed, and the form requires a stamp from customs officials. That presents a significant logistical challenge and cost burden for wine importers.

I accept that a slightly simpler version of the VI-1 form was negotiated in the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement for wine imports from the EU, but that form still required a customs stamp, and that has delayed transit through ports and placed a significant burden on our importers. The British wine industry was at a loss to understand why Ministers took that path. I acknowledge the work of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, which represents more than 300 companies that produce, import, export, transport and sell wine and spirits in the UK. WSTA members include the major retailers on our high streets, brand owners, wholesalers, fine wine and spirit specialists, and logistics and bottling companies. The association mounted a strong campaign that has drawn attention to the problems faced by so many in the sector, and I thank it for its work.

Leaving the EU made a significant difference, because in reality, the EU’s import document is a technical barrier that protects its wine industry. Whatever our views on our departure from the EU, it made very little sense for the United Kingdom—a net importer of wine—to maintain rules designed to disadvantage our imports. We import over 99% of the wine that we consume, and around half of those imports are from the EU.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the British wine industry and will focus on the Welsh wine sector; as I am the Member for Newport West, I trust that will come as no surprise. I draw colleagues’ attention to an October 2021 article in WalesOnline by Portia Jones, “11 beautiful Welsh vineyards that offer so much more than just fine wine”. The wines mentioned have won plaudits all around the world. I will move on swiftly, because I can see that the Chair is beginning to get a bit anxious.

I would love to name them, but sadly I am not permitted to, after the Chair’s wise words. We know about these destinations in Wales, but of course we all want the wine industry to flourish and grow for the sake of all the great English and Welsh wines. However, we are a significant importer of wines, sparkling and non-sparkling. The Minister will know that we also have a vibrant export industry, which is important, as are the regulations.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association has been clear: as far as it can tell, the additional bureaucracy was entirely unnecessary. There was no customs requirement for it, and there were no safety issues involved. Importing 25,000 litres of South African Chardonnay, Australian Shiraz or Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc in a flexitank with one VI-1 form is much less burdensome and significantly cheaper than importing 20 wines in bottles from the EU, which requires 20 additional pieces of documentation.

We welcome the clarification provided on the position of wine produced before the agreement was put in place. On the legal marketing of these products, we note that wine is an unusual product, in that it has a long shelf life, and its value can increase over time. What happens with the two-year transition period that the Minister mentioned? Will she explain what happens after that? Given the long shelf life of the wine in our cellars, fridges, shops and kitchens, is that period long enough? What are the reasons for not having a longer, more sustainable period?

We also have questions relating to the impact on Northern Ireland, which is referred to in paragraph 7.8 of the explanatory memorandum. All too often, Northern Ireland is an afterthought for the Government, but not for us on the Opposition Benches. Will the Minister confirm that the VI-1 form—and all the problems that it brings, which I outlined—will continue to apply in Northern Ireland? We are not quite sure what is happening in Northern Ireland, so I would be grateful if the Minister could address that in detail. If that is not possible, perhaps she could guarantee to do so in writing.

I would like to acknowledge wine producers from across the United Kingdom; they, like all of us, have had a tough two years. Our economy is fuelled by business women and men who go above and beyond and show the best of British. I ask the Minister to join me in wishing all British wine producers a happy and safe Christmas, and I thank them for all they do. We do not oppose these changes, but Labour Members will continue to be vigilant. We will toast the wine sector, and we will always stand up for wine producers and consumers in all parts of our United Kingdom.

It is a delight to follow the hon. Lady, who I think is the only one here who has been elected twice in the last two years. For those who want to follow the Welsh vineyards trail, the history of at least 10 of the 11 Welsh vineyards goes back 150 years. I pay tribute to Welsh whisky, which I have enjoyed.

I thank the Minister and her colleagues for responding to the point, made by Members from across this House, that the VI-1 form is not necessary. I pay tribute to the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, which briefed a number of us, and had one or two gatherings in the days when a gathering could or could not be a party; to the English wine producers; and to the Welsh and the Scottish—or I would, if any Scottish Members were here—for their contribution to encouraging Government to find a way forward that is sensible, and in which there are no losers and many winners.

Will the Minister say—it would be a kindness if she could write afterwards, if she does not know the answer now—when it will be possible to sell fizzy wine or champagne in a pint bottle, which was illegal during our membership of the EU? Many argue that sharing a pint with a friend or a spouse is better than sharing a half-bottle, which is not enough, or a full bottle, which is often a bit too much.

It is a great pleasure to respond to the hon. Member for Newport West, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West, who is co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on wine and spirits, which has been extremely helpful to us in formulating this policy. I share his liking for Welsh whisky; there is also Isle of Man whisky, which is really delicious. I have heard before the point that he raises about fizzy wine. I am not sure that that is entirely in scope of the regulations, and I will, if I may, write to him about that, because there are other Departments involved in that conversation.

The hon. Member for Newport West raised various issues, including the transitional period, which I dealt with earlier. The transitional period will apply until the bottle is sold or drunk, so there is no end to that period in terms of retail sales. The SI does not apply in Northern Ireland and will not result in any changes to certification of GB-produced wine sent to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland will obviously continue to follow the rules for VI-1 certification set out in the protocol. Most movements of GB wine to NI have fallen within the scheme for temporary agri-food movements to Northern Ireland. Movements of GB wine to NI are very small; they may often fall below the 100 litre de minimis requirements for a VI-1 certificate set out in EU law.

I remind Members of the positive changes in the instrument. The regulatory changes that we are introducing enable us to meet our international obligations and implement annex 15 of the TCA. We have listened to the wine trade and Members of this House and removed the requirement for VI-1s for imports from not only the EU, but other nations from across the world that produce excellent wine.

A number of people may not know what the VI-1 form is. If they put “VI-1 form” into a search engine, fortunately the first result that comes up is the Government site, which is up to date; but the third result, using the search engine that I use, is the Food Standards Agency, which might be encouraged to update its information, because it is a year old and does not take account of these welcome changes.

When we have made these changes—we are possibly jumping the gun a little bit—I am sure that we can pass that on. I ask hon. Members to support the SI, and I hope that the wine trade will continue to flow well this Christmas.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Network and Information Systems (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Peter Bone

† Blunt, Crispin (Reigate) (Con)

Day, Martyn (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)

Ellwood, Mr Tobias (Bournemouth East) (Con)

† Elmore, Chris (Ogmore) (Lab)

† Evennett, Sir David (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con)

† Fabricant, Michael (Lichfield) (Con)

† Fovargue, Yvonne (Makerfield) (Lab)

† Jones, Mr David (Clwyd West) (Con)

Keeley, Barbara (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)

† Lloyd, Tony (Rochdale) (Lab)

† Lopez, Julia (Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure)

† Morden, Jessica (Newport East) (Lab)

† Nici, Lia (Great Grimsby) (Con)

Osamor, Kate (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)

† Tomlinson, Michael (Lord Commissioner of Her Majestys Treasury)

† Wakeford, Christian (Bury South) (Con)

† Watling, Giles (Clacton) (Con)

Huw Yardley, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 13 December 2021

[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Draft Network and Information Systems (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

I can confirm that we are definitely quorate. Before we begin, may I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings and to maintain social distancing as far as possible? This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if they are coming on to the parliamentary estate. This can be done either at the testing centre in the House or at home. Members should send their speaking notes by email to Similarly, officials in the Gallery should communicate—[Interruption.] Yeah, maybe not. I call the Minister.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Network and Information Systems (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2021.

The regulations were laid in draft before the House on 26 October. This short but very important statutory instrument makes technical corrections to the UK’s network and information systems legislation, which arose as a result of the UK leaving the EU. These corrections will allow the Information Commissioner, in her role as the regulator for digital services providers, to be informed of important cyber incidents affecting online marketplaces, online search engines and cloud computing services in our country.

Before moving on to the amendment at hand, it is important that we first consider the context that we find ourselves in. The NIS regulations were introduced in the UK in 2018, implementing the EU’s 2016 directive on security of network and information systems. The regulations provide a legal framework to protect the network and information systems of essential and digital services. They do this by directing operators of essential services and digital service providers to take steps to protect—against cyber-attack and physical fault—the security of those systems that their services rely on.

Beyond ensuring the security of their network and information systems, these organisations have other duties as well. One of the most significant, and the most relevant for this statutory instrument, is the duty to report to their regulator incidents that have a substantial impact on their services. Such reports are critical to the regulator’s ability to react and to implement the NIS legislation. The regulator can then provide advice, report the incident to the national technical authority—in this case the National Cyber Security Centre—or take enforcement action if appropriate.

Does my hon. Friend think that these changes not only fill a gap from our leaving the EU but create an environment whereby we can perform better than if we had remained in the EU?

I would like to provide my hon. Friend with a very positive story about Brexit through these regulations, but this is quite a technical and narrow change. When it comes to his ambitions, we have a much more ambitious agenda in the coming year or so.

Without the information required, the regulator is not aware of the incident, and citizens and businesses relying on that service are affected for longer. The threshold for what qualifies as a reportable incident for the majority of the six sectors is set in statutory guidance by the relevant regulators. Only one sector—digital service providers, which are regulated by the Information Commissioner—has its set in legislation. All other regulators are able to react to the changing circumstances and amend the thresholds as necessary.

The Information Commissioner is limited by that retained EU law. That is due to how the NIS directive was established. In the EU, digital service providers are regulated at Union level, rather than at individual country level. For that reason, the thresholds that establish whether an incident has had a substantial impact on the security of a network and information system were not left to individual member states to establish, as is the case with all other sectors. These were set out in a Commission implementing regulation, which harmonised the rules across the whole EU. Following our withdrawal, it remained embedded in the UK statute book by virtue of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Therefore, the thresholds remain at the level suitable for the EU, which has a population of 500 million, not for the just under 70 million of our own population. That means that they are unable to be changed to reflect our new position as an independent country outside the EU.

Parameters such as the amount of users impacted or user hours lost from an incident are set far too high currently for the UK, and considerations relating to impacts on EU citizens are not appropriate for our own NIS legislation. The Information Commissioner has received only one report since we left the EU. That is not surprising if an incident must have a noticeable impact on an economy the size of the EU in order to be reported in the UK. Without incident reporting, the commissioner will not have an understanding of the threats to and impacts on the sector, and will not be able to identify threats, provide guidance or take enforcement action if appropriate. For the NIS regulations to remain effective in protecting the essential services provided, we have to be able to set the reporting thresholds at a suitable level for our own country. This statutory instrument is designed to resolve that issue by removing those deficient provisions in retained EU law and allowing the Information Commissioner to set the thresholds to a level that effectively reflects our position and size.

The enabling provisions under section 8 of the 2018 Act allow changes to be made to rectify EU exit-related deficiencies only. I am content that the amendments made in this statutory instrument do not introduce new policy, although we have ambitions in that regard; rather, they are meant to ensure that the original policy objective is achieved. The Information Commissioner has already carried out a consultation on the level of thresholds to be set to represent the UK market, and the practice of setting appropriate thresholds for reporting is already in place for every other competent authority. This statutory instrument will bring digital service providers in line with all other operators of essential services in the UK.

Additional amendments in the statutory instrument cover textual changes as a consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This includes a requirement for digital services providers to consider the geographic impact of an incident in relation to the UK rather than across the UK. The NIS regulations form part of the Government’s toolkit to protect digital services, which citizens rely on in their day-to-day lives, and help to support the functioning of the digital and physical economies. That is why it is essential that we maintain the framework for protecting our essential services and deter those who seek to act in a subversive manner towards them. For those who do unfortunately fall victim, it is necessary to provide support in guidance. To do this, competent authorities have to be informed of such incidents.

This statutory instrument incorporates much-needed amendments to the NIS legislative framework, which will lead to increased security of digital service providers and their network and information systems. Although the amendments are minor and technical in nature, they are none the less critical for maintaining the effectiveness of the NIS legislation and for providing the Information Commissioner with the right information to support digital services in the UK. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. May I start by saying that I hope that in the months ahead I can work constructively with the Minister in my new role? I accept that there will be times when we will disagree, but I hope that she will always know that that will be on matters of policy and never, ever personal.

We do not oppose the regulations, which address EU exit-related deficiencies in the retained EU legislation that regulates the security of network and information systems of core UK service providers. There are no specific points that I would like to raise in direct relation to the regulations, which seek to recognise the UK’s position outside the European Union and the necessary legislative changes that need to be addressed. I also note that no concerns were raised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I would, however, like to make some more general observations on the SI itself, and I would be grateful to the Minister if she could answer my questions either now or in writing.

The prevalence of cyber-related attacks has only grown in recent years. In August it was reported that nine cyber-attacks on the UK’s transport infrastructure were missed by mandatory reporting laws due to the reporting thresholds being so high. To add further concern, the Government were alerted to those attacks only because the information was given voluntarily.

It is clear, given the UK’s position outside the European Union, that changes need to made to the setting of parameters for digital service providers, which is currently still retained in EU legislation. However, given that it has been over a year since the end of the transition period, there is concern that we are only now finding time to debate issues relating to our national cyber infrastructure. As noted in the SI, having the EU set the parameters for incident reporting by digital service providers does not work effectively for the UK as a stand-alone nation, as the Minister has touched on. The main issue is that the reporting threshold for EU nations is too high to trigger reporting in the UK. The Opposition recognise and agree that changes need to be made to reflect the UK outside the EU. We cannot have a situation where the Information Commissioner is not alerted to cyber incidents that have caused disruption to the activities of digital service providers, many of which are crucial to the smooth, day-to-day running of society.

The Minister has said that this statutory instrument is not going to be used as part of any future relationship agreement with the European Union. Cyber-attacks and breaches of digital infrastructure are not unique to one nation. Digital is a shared commodity, not bound by physical borders. Could the Minister elaborate on what discussions are being had with European neighbours on joint working reporting of cyber-attacks against digital service providers? Although I recognise the need for the UK to have its own reporting mechanism, close collaboration on shared security issues remains crucial.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is not just about the European Union? The United Kingdom has just entered into an agreement with the state of Israel, which is perhaps, some would argue, the most advanced country in the world on cyber-security. Does he welcome that?

For the avoidance of doubt and for the record, I do welcome the collaborative agreement. Clearly, the issue of cyber-security applies beyond the European Union; in fact, it affects all nations around the world. What we are discussing today, however, as the Minister has said, is the need to improve the current state of play from when we left the European Union—the transition period ended over a year ago. Of course, I agree entirely that the more relationships we have in terms of improving our data and cyber-security, the better.

I am delighted.

Given that the proposed changes will increase the scope and responsibilities of the Information Commissioner’s Office, does the Minister believe that the Information Commissioner has enough staff and wider resource to complete those duties? The explanatory memorandum states that the next post-implementation review of the NIS regulations will take place by May 2022 and that subsequent reviews will take place no later than every five years. Given the rapid pace of change in innovation in digital services, will the Minister seek to ensure that reviews take place no later than every two years, to keep pace with any change in the sector?

Finally, the explanatory memorandum states:

“The legislation does not apply to activities that are undertaken by small businesses.”

I am sure that all Members present recognise that the pandemic has accelerated the growing trend for more and more businesses to move online, especially small business owners. What discussions are taking place to protect small businesses that are classed as digital service providers but are not recognised by the ICO as relevant data service providers, as they continue to grow in number? Beyond that, as I have said, we do not object to the regulations.

I thank members of the Committee for attending and for their patience in debating the regulations. I also welcome the hon. Member for Ogmore to his position. I am very glad that he supports the regulations, and I very much appreciate the warm welcome he gave me. I look forward to working with him collaboratively where we can and to addressing his concerns when he raises them.

I assure the hon. Gentleman on our general approach to cyber-security. We entirely understand how important this area is. To that end, this week we are launching a new national cyber strategy, which is a whole-of-Government approach but also a whole-of-society approach. Huge efforts are going to be required by each of us as citizens; otherwise, any vulnerability in the system will have an impact on all of us. As we have seen during the pandemic, more aspects of our lives have gone online, and with that comes a consequent risk.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman on the importance of joint reporting and collaboration. We held the future tech forum at the Science Museum a couple of weeks ago, and we started some of those discussions with ministerial counterparts in EU countries. There was an EU representative present and I look forward to working collaboratively with them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield was absolutely right to refer to the importance of the relationship with Israel. I met the ambassador when I was at the Cabinet Office and we talked about where we can collaborate more closely when it comes to cyber-technology, because it is such an important area. It is the area of the future, where I fear we will be fighting many of tomorrow’s battles.

We have been assured that the ICO has the resources to deal with the extra reporting. I also say to the hon. Member for Ogmore that we will consult on NIS regulations early in the new year. We will also be looking at expanding the list of people that this applies to. I entirely agree with him about the importance of dealing with small businesses, which are going to be holding increasing amounts of risk. We are doing a huge number of things in that regard, including improving the skills base from which they can recruit cyber expertise and introducing a new royal charter so that people can be assured of the cyber expertise that individuals hold. At the moment, that is a very messy landscape. I hope that that assures the hon. Gentleman on some of the initiatives that we are working on. If he has any further questions, I shall be happy to engage with him. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Draft Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Peter Dowd

Bacon, Mr Richard (South Norfolk) (Con)

† Baillie, Siobhan (Stroud) (Con)

Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)

† Cox, Sir Geoffrey (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)

† Doogan, Dave (Angus) (SNP)

† Duguid, David (Banff and Buchan) (Con)

† Dunne, Philip (Ludlow) (Con)

† Greenwood, Lilian (Nottingham South) (Lab)

† Harrison, Trudy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)

† Holloway, Adam (Gravesham) (Con)

Johnson, Dame Diana (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab)

† Leadbeater, Kim (Batley and Spen) (Lab)

† Poulter, Dr Dan (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con)

† Solloway, Amanda (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Tarry, Sam (Ilford South) (Lab)

† Trott, Laura (Sevenoaks) (Con)

Winter, Beth (Cynon Valley) (Lab)

Ian Bradshaw, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):

Smyth, Karin (Bristol South) (Lab)

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 13 December 2021

[Peter Dowd in the Chair]

Draft Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021

I can confirm that we are quorate. Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings and to maintain distancing as far as possible, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please give one another and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. I also remind Members that they are asked to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if they come on to the estate, either at the testing centre in the House or at home. Members should send their speaking notes by email to Officials in the Gallery should communicate electronically with Ministers.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021.

It is pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. This statutory instrument, 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, are part of several measures through which the Government are seeking to address a heavy goods vehicle driver shortage.

The regulations were originally laid before Parliament on 16 September 2021 as the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021. However, the No. 2 regulations were not approved in both Houses in time to come into force on 15 November 2021 as intended. Since such affirmative statutory instruments cannot be amended once laid before Parliament in draft, we have taken action to lay the regulations afresh, as the draft Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021. The No. 5 regulations are a replication of the No. 2 regulations, save for an updated title and coming-into-force provision.

The haulage sector has for some time been experiencing an acute shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers worldwide. The coronavirus pandemic suspended driver testing for much of last year, which increased the shortage further. The shortage affects the supply chains of not only fresh food but fuel, medicines and medical equipment across Great Britain.

As hon. Members will be aware, we are working at pace to deliver Government interventions, including regulatory changes that could alleviate the HGV driver shortage. I recognise the Committee’s concern that evidence could not be provided; I reassure hon. Members that the Department for Transport takes seriously its responsibility with regard to evidence-based policy-making. I am pleased to report that an impact assessment has now been submitted to the Regulatory Policy Committee for scrutiny. I am grateful that these debates could be held at the earliest opportunity, so that we can address this issue as a matter of priority.

This statutory instrument is part of 32 Government interventions to help alleviate the haulier shortage. The overall aim of the SI is to increase the number of heavy goods vehicle drivers in Great Britain by increasing the number of test slots available to drivers wishing to pass the HGV driver test, while maintaining road safety standards following any changes made to the driving licence testing regime.

The intention of the No. 5 regulations is to remove the need for driving licence categories B and E—that is, car and trailer tests—which are currently required by car drivers who wish to tow a heavy trailer. Driving examiners have limited test availability, and this legislation would free up driver examiner time that could be reallocated to conducting HGV tests. That should provide additional availability of tests for potential HGV and bus drivers, to help lessen the driver shortage. For car drivers, the change in legislation will mean that they will be able to tow a heavier trailer—up to 3.5 tonnes or 3,500 kg— automatically once they hold a category B licence, without needing to take an additional B+E test.

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. The scheme will provide voluntary training opportunities for car drivers wishing to tow a trailer of any size for either recreational or business use. My officials have met with the all-party parliamentary group on trailer and towing safety 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 and breakdown recovery towing.

We are already working with trainers and those in leisure and business to develop the trainer package. Together with these groups and the police, we will identify the additional data needed to monitor towing standards effectively. The scheme is planned to launch early next year and will focus, through the provision of specialised modules, on specific driver needs when towing different types of trailers. We will continue to recommend car drivers to undertake training on safely towing and managing trailers. We will encourage drivers through our existing campaigns, and we will work with leisure and towing groups to reach out with offers of training through their communications.

Road safety is, of course, of the utmost importance. That is why we have committed to reviewing this legislation at regular intervals—initially after three years have passed, and thereafter at five-year intervals. An impact assessment will be published early in the new year. Owing to road safety concerns, we decided to hold an additional review three years after legislative change, rather than after the standard five years. It is worth noting that around 6 million[Official Report, 15 December 2021, Vol. 705, c. 4MC.] drivers who passed their test before 1 January 1997 can already drive a car with a trailer without having to take a separate test. This change affords that same entitlement to drivers who passed the test after 1997.

We should be proud that the UK has some of the safest roads in the world. I reassure the Committee that our support for the “Tow Safe 4 Freddie” campaign will continue.

The Minister is making important points about this proposed legislation. Will she reassure me that the impact assessment that her officials will produce in January, after this instrument has come into effect, will include an assessment of how many training establishments that were established to provide training to drivers on towing vehicles, rather than offering more advanced heavy goods vehicle courses, will have gone out of business? A constituent of mine has set up a business and is of the opinion that none of his trainers will go on to train HGV drivers, because that is not what they want to do. The objective of this provision is right: we should try to increase the capacity for HGV driver training. However, I am concerned that we may inadvertently shut down viable businesses across the country.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I will endeavour to ensure that the impact assessment takes that figure into consideration. We are working with training providers, and we are also looking at potential compensation schemes. My right hon. Friend should, in the first instance, suggest that his constituent accesses the helpline via the Government website.

We should be proud that the UK has some of the safest roads in the world. I referred to the “Tow Safe 4 Freddie” campaign. This will continue. We will draw attention to the importance of motorists doing safety checks whenever they are towing. The removal of the separate test for car drivers wishing to tow a trailer or caravan frees up some 30,000 vocational test slots annually. That equates to up to 550 extra tests a week, or a 37% increase in weekly tests, relative to pre-pandemic levels. This SI supports the streamlining of testing to increase the number of HGV tests taking place. Thanks to the great efforts of Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency staff, the backlog of 55,000 driving licence applications for heavy goods vehicle drivers has been eliminated. These are now being processed within the normal turnaround time of five working days.

Keeping our roads safe is of paramount importance, and we will monitor the situation and act if needed, if our roads become less safe. This SI is just one of 32 Government interventions to tackle this issue, to help reduce the strain on our national supply chains, which is affecting every aspect of our daily lives.

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd, for the first time.

Our views on this legislation are already on record, so I will not reiterate all the points made in previous debates. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South is here, and I am sure she will have a few things to say about the regulations. We on the Opposition Benches understand the Minister’s rationale for this decision, as the regulations make a technical amendment, but it would be remiss of me not to ask a few questions. We all want the HGV shortage to be addressed. Let us be clear: that shortage has been many months, if not years, in the making. Successive Conservative Governments have had the opportunity to address the problem, and have so far failed to get a permanent, workable solution.

As a result of that mismanagement, MPs are today being asked to make a decision that has significant risks. What do we know? Some 30% of drivers fail the B+E test, and since the introduction of the test in 1997, road safety has improved. Ministers simply do not know the risks associated with this decision, and whether a younger cohort more prone to accidents will begin towing as a result of it. These are serious questions that need to be addressed.

It is not acceptable for MPs to be asked to take a decision blindly, when the Department’s impact assessment of the implications for road safety is either not completed or not being shared with Parliament. The ability of this place to scrutinise the Government has been compromised as a result. We did not hear answers when the matter was debated in the Chamber a few weeks ago. Given that implications of the decision are as yet unknown to Parliament, I would like to press the Minister on the review period. A review of the implications of the decision will take place only every three years. That cannot be right. I ask the Minister to consider a shorter period, and to update the House on towing accident figures quarterly; that will give some reassurance that those involved will be in a position to undertake remedial action swiftly if a problem emerges.

In the absence of an impact assessment, can the Minister explain the thinking that underpins the safety assessment? Baroness Vere said in her letter to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee that there is not currently any statistical evidence to suggest that competence and skills will worsen if drivers do not take a statutory test to tow a trailer. What statistical evidence did Ministers assess to come to that conclusion? Are they conducting an assessment of whether there will be a change in the trend in the age distribution of drivers towing trailers if all current and future car licence holders become automatically eligible to tow, and will that be published?

Although we will not oppose the regulations, we would welcome, either here or in writing, answers to the very serious questions that we have for Ministers, and we would like to put on record our serious concern about the way in which the regulations have been managed.

I rise to speak on behalf of my constituents, but also as chair of the all-party towing and trailer safety group. I put on record my strong opposition to the regulations on the Floor of the House on 8 November. Since then, the Government have created such chaos, through the announcement in September of this measure, which has still not been brought into law, that I have frankly become less assured, and more concerned, as the weeks have gone on. We are now unleashing thousands of untrained, unsafe and unqualified drivers of trailers on to our roads. It really does beggar belief that we are still doing this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South mentioned the answers Baroness Vere of Norbiton gave to questions tabled by the noble Baroness Randerson and Lord Bassam. I do not know if you have seen answers like this, Mr Dowd, in your time in the House, but the answers we have had to questions asking the Government

“what data they hold on the safety impact of the B+E car and trailer test; and what criteria they will use to review the impact on safety of the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021 after three years”

beggar belief. The answer states:

“There is not currently any statistical evidence to categorically say that competence and skills will worsen if drivers do not take a statutory test to tow a trailer.”

In that case, frankly, I do not know why we are taking a driving test at all. Baroness Vere goes on to say:

“Road safety has significantly improved over recent decades for several reasons”—

we do not dispute that—

“and it is therefore difficult to identify how much the car trailer test…has made a difference since it was introduced in 1997…The number of trailer accidents is low, with the proportion of accidents of cars/vans towing a trailer compared to all car/van accidents, as roughly 0.45% in 2019.”

Over the past four years, the all-party parliamentary group on trailer and towing safety has worked steadfastly with the Department for Transport to gather data and information. The problem with further improving safety is that there has not been any more data and information.

Baroness Vere goes on to say:

“In respect of the demographics of the drivers towing trailers, our statistics show that individuals generally only start getting their car and trailer licence (Category B+E licences) from their late 30s and 40s onwards”.

If this is such a crisis, what is stopping drivers in their 20s from driving these trailers without a test? I have the support of the Association of British Insurers and of the Road Haulage Association, because they know that it is not safe—with all due respect to 22-year-olds—to put a 22-year-old on the roads, untested and unqualified, driving those trailers. I have spoken to very many people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, including people like me who, as the Minister has said, do not need the test. None of us thinks that we are competent to drive those trailers without training and testing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South said, we already know that 30% of people who have been trained and tested fail.

As I said in November, this move is reckless and dangerous. We know that 50% of trailers on the roads are already not compliant, as shown by the APPG’s work over the past few years, and that 30% of people fail the test. We know that the Government do not know the impact of their decisions, and that the so-called review after three years is a hollow commitment based on no data. I hope that the Minister will respond to my hon. Friend by explaining what on earth the criteria will be that are used to assess these regulations when they are reviewed in three years’ time. I will be here in three years’ time, and will hold the Government to their commitments. I promised my constituents Scott and Donna Hussey that I would do all I can to honour the memory of their son through “Tow Safe 4 Freddie”. I am grateful for the fact that the Government will continue their commitment to that campaign, but I am really quite appalled that we are back here again today, and I sincerely hope that, as a result of these regulations, we do not see the sort of reckless and unsafe driving on the roads that I fear we will.

I will try to give Members some reassurance. As I have said, these regulations will free up 36,000 tests per year—550 extra tests per week—for heavy goods vehicle drivers who are bringing medicines, medical supplies and food to every part of our country. We had 9,541 responses to this consultation, which were mostly positive, and we will publish the full response in the impact assessment early next year. We will continually review this issue and take action when needed.

It is also worth pointing out that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency works throughout the year to ensure as far as possible that trailers, including caravans and trailers up to 3,500 kg—which I can tow, because I am 45 years old and passed my test before 1 January 1997—are roadworthy. To provide some indication of the work the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency is doing, 3,219 tests were carried out on those trailers between September 2019 and September 2021, and only 50% passed. Some 732 tests were carried out on caravans, and only 12% passed, so I am setting out the need for further accreditation. Importantly, that can be accreditation that is suitable for the particular trailer that the motorist will be towing. It will also cover the maintenance of that trailer, which the test did not previously do.

I commend the hon. Member for Bristol South on the work she has done, as well as the work of the APPG and, of course, the “Tow Safe 4 Freddie” campaign. Perhaps early in 2022, particularly at the time of year when people are thinking about taking their caravans out or doing a tip run with their trailer for the first time in months, we will be able to work together to raise awareness of the benefits of training for towing and—just as importantly—maintaining trailers. That is what these regulations will achieve: the kind of accreditation that is suitable for the types of trailers and vehicles that are being used on the UK’s roads.

I have set out the reasons why we are doing this, so I will close by saying that if there are further aspects of the detail of the review that I have not been able to cover during today’s debate, I am very happy to respond in writing to the shadow spokesperson, the hon. Member for Ilford South. I commend the regulations, which were laid before the House on 23 November, to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.