Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, first, I bring to your Lordships’ attention a matter relating to one of the SIs to be debated in Grand Committee today. It relates to the SI that covers the removal of the car and trailer driving test, which was due to come into force on 15 November and was debated in the other place yesterday. For procedural reasons, the SI will now be unable to be approved by the other place by 15 November, so we are exploring all options with the House authorities about bringing in an identical SI with an amended date in the future. I hope that noble Lords agree with me that it remains appropriate to debate the substance of these SIs, as planned, in Grand Committee today.
These two statutory instruments, along with the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2021, which follows the negative procedure, are a package of measures designed to increase driving examiner availability and allocate this time to test heavy goods vehicle drivers, thereby helping to reduce the acute HGV driver shortage in this country. This is a global issue. It has affected the haulage 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 leaving.
The shortage of HGV drivers affects the supply chains not only of fresh food but of fuel, medicines and medical equipment across Great Britain. We therefore need to tackle this matter with urgency, and these SIs are part of the 30 interventions that the Government are putting in place to tackle the shortage of drivers.
I turn to the contents of the SIs. The Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 will remove the requirement for drivers who hold a category B licence, namely for driving a car, to take a separate car and trailer— category B + E—test before they can drive a vehicle combination in that class. Instead, category B + E entitlement will automatically be granted to car drivers and backdated to all valid category B car licences that have been obtained since the 1 January 1997. Of course, licences prior to that date already have that entitlement. Removing the test will free up around 2,400 more tests each month that can then be allocated to those wishing to take an HGV driving test. The public consultation showed support for the change, with 65% 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. That is why we have committed to review this legislation at regular intervals, initially after three years have passed and thereafter at five-year intervals. We recommend that all car licence holders—that is, anyone with a B licence and not only those issued after 1997 and so impacted by these changes—should undertake training to safely tow and manage trailers. We are developing an accreditation scheme, with help from the trailer industry and testing providers, to further incentivise drivers to get training and so maintain our excellent road safety record. This scheme, planned to launch early next year, will focus on specific driver needs when towing different types of trailers through the provision of specialised modules and will provide an opportunity to offer standardised training to any driver who wishes to tow a trailer, thereby enhancing road safety standards and delivering the specific skills that drivers who tow need.
I take road safety very seriously, and we should be proud that the UK has some of the safest roads in the world. I would like to 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 whenever they are towing. We will also encourage drivers through our existing campaigns and will work with leisure and towing groups, as we already do, to reach out through their communications to offer training.
The second instrument, the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2021, will similarly free up driving examiner time, which can be reallocated to more driving tests. This SI will remove the staging element for provisional vocational licence holders wishing to obtain a licence to drive an articulated HGV, which is a category C + E vehicle, or a bus and heavy trailer licence, which is category D + E. Currently, a test for a rigid HGV or bus, a category C and D respectively, must first be passed before a person may then take a test for the articulated or trailer-towing vehicle.
This SI will remove the requirement for the trailer-less stage, although of course that does not mean that people will not still take that test, because many people drive a category C vehicle. However, people will not then have to get that before they get to the articulated licence. Anyone issued with a provisional licence for an HGV or a provisional bus licence will be issued with this + E entitlement from 15 November. Of course, the option remains for a person to stage their training, if they wish, or to take the category C test and stop there, because it is a very popular type of vehicle.
Streamlining in this way has the support of the haulage industry and received significant support in our public consultation, with more than 70% of people either agreeing or strongly agreeing with the proposals. It will free around 900 more tests every month and decrease the amount of time, and probably the cost, relating to becoming qualified. This will be achieved without losing the integrity of the full test or reducing road safety standards.
The final instrument in the package, which is subject to the negative resolution procedure, is the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2021. This allows for the off-road elements of the practical driving test for large vehicles to take place with a third-party examiner, overseen by the DVSA.
As we have seen in recent weeks, the HGV driver shortage has the potential to impact every aspect of our daily lives, so we must deal with it urgently. This is what we are doing today. Together, these measures free an additional 3,300 test appointments every month, which will help to reduce the acute driver shortage. I commend these regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, I very much welcome these proposals. Having said that, I have a number of questions to ask my noble friend. First, why is Northern Ireland not included? I am sure there is an obvious reason, but it is not clear to me. I note that, in paragraph 7.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021, there is a statement, allegedly from the industry,
“reporting shortages of around 76,000 drivers.”
From the inquiries I have made within the industry, it is nearer to 100,000, so I wonder what the evidence really is for 76,000. Was that figure given to the department some months ago, before the build-up we have now? That is a concern.
I also made some inquiries about the EU. Quite frankly, it appears that we are top of the list of shortages. I have not covered the whole of the EU, but it seems that the major countries with which we are competing do not have the extent of shortages that we have now. That is a major worry. I put it to my noble friend that if we did not know about the challenge from Brexit in January 2020, we must have known of the beginnings of these difficulties in the summer of 2020. Here we are, well past the summer of 2021, and, at best, we will see the benefits of this early in 2022. Somehow or other, we have allowed ourselves to drift, which seems particularly damaging to the UK economy at this time.
I come on to timing specifically. Let us assume these go through, as I am sure they will, as they are welcome, how long before we can expect to see some change on the ground with new people driving heavy goods vehicles? Do we anticipate this will be in three, six or nine months? It cannot be a very short time, certainly not before the middle of 2022.
While one should always be cautious about one’s position, I declare an interest in that I applied for my driving licence. I was advised that it was speedier to do it online, so I carefully did it online towards the end of September. I got an acknowledgement online on 1 October, saying that it had been received, so I have the reference and everything. Here we are on 9 November, which is nearly six weeks later. I am no different from others; I have talked to some colleagues in my former constituency and they are all waiting six, eight or 10 weeks. I would like to know from my noble friend whether this is because the processing is being done by staff at home or is because the staff are in the department, but something is holding up the issue of these licences. To the best of my knowledge, my licence is clean, so this should be straightforward. My application was accepted. I am having a problem, as are others in my former constituency. This is a real problem, and I wonder whether my noble friend can address it.
I come back to two other areas that I have raised before. I put it to my noble friend that the loan scheme that was closed in 2019 should be reopened. Is it not to be reopened because Her Majesty’s Government think that the industry should do all that work, or is it that the Co-op, which was mentioned in the briefing I got, was helping to sponsor it? As a member of the Co-op, I am certainly more than happy to go back to it and suggest that it should continue to sponsor the scheme, if it was the sponsor. I say to my noble friend that, at this particular point in time, when there is a huge difficulty that will be there for a long time, it does not make sense that those people who would benefit from the loan scheme, particularly some of the younger people, should have to rely on what is currently available. I know what is currently available, and I do not think that it is sufficient.
Finally, I understand that drivers coming in from the continent on a short-term basis—that is to be welcomed—are doing so on a cabotage basis. I must say that that has gone down like a lead balloon among UK drivers, who are now asking, “Why can’t we have cabotage for a short period in this difficult time?” All is not well in this area. There are huge difficulties. I recognise that the Minister is doing her best but, nevertheless, this is a huge challenge. It seems to me that it will not get any easier for a considerable time, unless I have missed some particular point. I will listen to my noble friend when she replies.
My Lords, my first task is to apologise most profusely to the Committee for not being here at the start of the Minister’s comments. I am sorry about that; business progressed a bit faster than I anticipated.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for her careful explanation of the new regulations. I should declare my interest: I hold a C+E HGV driving licence and am a qualified HGV driving instructor, albeit out of date. In addition, I hold what is called an H licence, which covers a track-laying vehicle that is steered by its tracks. From time to time, I drive vehicles in circumstances that require an H licence on behalf of the REME Museum and others. In the past few months, I have driven a tank transporter with a gross train weight of around 80 tonnes, so I think I know what I am talking about.
The Minister explained the reasons why these changes are desirable. I do not disagree with her thinking. She has also made changes to the drivers’ hours regulations, to which I and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, have tabled fatal amendments. I know that the usual channels are working hard to find us time to debate those regulations, but part of the problem is that the debate would not fit into a 60-minute dinner break business slot. It is unfortunate that, despite the severe problems arising from the shortage of HGV drivers, we still have not debated those regulations.
The regulations before the Committee are fairly technical. The No. 2 regulations dispense with the requirement for a separate test to drive a light vehicle towing a trailer. Since I passed my car test in the 1970s, I have always had a B+E entitlement. The proposed changes are relatively low risk and worth while, although the Minister should monitor the effect carefully. I do not believe that it is worth the effort of an additional test for light trailers. The vast majority of drivers would seek advice from a more experienced person before attempting to tow a trailer, but it is not a hugely complicated issue. The Committee should note that the regulations make a review at the three-year point mandatory. I point out that I see quite a few incidents involving light vehicles and trailers and know not whether inexperience was a factor, although I think that it is unlikely.
A more urgent issue with light trailers is the fact that such trailers are not subject to statutory annual testing. Furthermore, these trailers are often shared between friends and colleagues. In the past, I borrowed one and it collapsed under a modest load—it was quite a surprise. This would be a much more profitable area to regulate, rather than an additional driving test.
Turning now to the HGV testing regime and the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations, I can provide strong support to my noble friend the Minister. I shall explain why. In the past, I have trained both military personnel and civilians within a commercial context to drive all types of heavy goods vehicles. One of my pupils, whom I will call Paul, went on to drive articulated vehicles carrying Formula 1 motor racing teams and their precious cars around Europe.
It is important to understand that passing an HGV driving test does not make someone a professional lorry driver; that takes far longer. I want to make it clear that I have never supported a two-stage process for acquiring a C+E licence. I have always regarded this as a wasteful process with no road safety benefits. The gap between the two tests is often only an opportunity to gain bad habits that need to be eradicated before the pupil is ready for the C+E test with the trailer. Unfortunately, for a long time, it has not been possible to gain a car licence by passing an HGV test. My ideal HGV pupil would be someone who had never driven a car and was aged about 25. I would start them off on a full-size artic, initially off the public road.
The other changes the Minister proposes are merely simple efficiencies. To gain the HGV licence, the candidate has to reach a certain high standard of driving that is objectively measured by the examiner. The HGV test is not a short run out. It is an extended test that will expose any weaknesses in skill and competence. When I was undertaking commercial HGV driver training, I was always confident in the skill and objectivity of the department’s examiners. I have no recollection of any of my pupils failing their test when, in my assessment, they were up to the required standard. I assure the Committee that, in my opinion, these changes to the HGV testing regime are desirable, irrespective of the driver shortage.
There is a further saving on examiner effort that might be available. At one point, I was driving a tank transporter carrying a tank grossing 100 tonnes. However, I could not drive the tank in public because, at the time, I did not have an H licence, which covers track-laying vehicles steered by their tracks. This does not make sense. I will not weary the Committee with further technical details, but will the Minister agree to meet me and officials to discuss this matter? I do not think that the H licence test is required at all.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation. I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, because, as the Minister knows, I waited five months for my licence.
Listening to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, it is important to bear in mind that he has considerable experience. To me, experience is at the centre of all this. I note, and bear in mind in my comments, that one of the things he said was that passing the test does not make someone an HGV driver because this takes a lot longer.
Taken together, these SIs set out to simplify driving tests. They are part of the litany of what I understood to be 25 crisis actions—I gather it is now 30—that the Government are taking to try to tackle the shortage of HGV drivers. The logic is that, if you streamline driving tests, this will free up slots for tests, enabling more people to qualify. They will make the process of training to qualification quicker and easier, so the staged process is being abandoned.
I will make some general comments then ask some specific questions. Here, I bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said. How has this crisis been allowed to get so bad? In a previous debate, the Minister told us that there had been a shortage since 2010, so it has hardly happened suddenly. The Government say that the crisis is of long standing and worldwide, but we are the worst in Europe. In percentage terms, only Poland has a greater percentage shortage of drivers, and that is a totally artificial situation because it services the rest of Europe—a very high percentage of Polish lorry drivers drive almost entirely, if not entirely, abroad—so we have the most acute shortage. The No. 2 order blames Covid, although the No. 4 order has the grace to admit that Brexit might be a factor and quotes shortage figures of between 39,000 and 100,000 drivers. To put that in context, the total requirement is estimated to be around 300,000.
Clearly the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has driven trailers on many occasions, but I ask how many people in this Room—there is no need for noble Lords to put up their hands—have driven trailers? I reckon backing a trailer to be the trickiest driving manoeuvre that I have ever undertaken. It takes experience, judgment and the kind of steady nerve that only comes with practice. I wonder whether anyone has seen a trailer jack-knife? I have, on the M5. It blocked the road in both directions for two hours and led to some serious injuries. The cause, although one can observe only from the outside, was that it was a windy day and the driver was going very fast. That was probably the cause, and it was probably due to a lack of experience. Frankly, I am astonished that, having got themselves into this mess, and despite warnings from the haulage industry, the Government’s reaction is to simplify tests in a way that could have an impact on road safety. The Government admit that themselves. The Explanatory Memorandum to the No. 4 order says:
“Any impact on road safety ... may therefore be marginal”.
That is a hopeful statement, but it implies that there will be an impact.
However, although the consultation was held over the summer period and was relatively short—four weeks—it led to 9,541 responses, some of which, we are told, led to serious concerns about road safety. There has been no response by the Government to the public consultation yet; when can we expect that? The Explanatory Memorandum says that, of those who responded,
“the majority of people supported this proposal”.
I would be interested to know the percentage of people and organisations that supported the proposal because haulage organisations have expressed serious concerns. On 4 November, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, of which I am a deputy chair, took note of the concerns of its road user behaviour group that the changes to the testing system and the relaxation of drivers’ hours, to which the noble Earl has referred, are a threat to safety. So why did the Department for Transport rush to announce these changes to driver training and testing two days before the end of the consultation period?
The Government have said that they will review this, which I am very pleased to hear, but the review period is very long—an awful lot of driving is going on in a period of three years. I believe that we can see a pattern very much sooner than that. Is the Minister in a position to give us a commitment that the Government, informally at the very least, will keep this under continuous review and take swift action if there are problems with safety?
There is a clear interaction between the availability of HGV drivers and that of bus drivers. Bus companies are already complaining about a shortage of drivers, who are being attracted into lorry driving because the pay has gone up recently. I am afraid to say to noble Lords that bus drivers’ wages are one of my hobby horses; I think they are seriously underpaid for the level of responsibility they take on. A shortage of bus drivers is having an impact on bus services, but I am concerned about any impact on the levels of experience and expertise that we can expect in future from newly qualified bus drivers. We are talking here about the safety of passengers as well as that of other road users.
One way in which the Government are trying to simplify the system is by reducing the required levels of expertise and qualification for those who can supervise a learner driver. This is a very risky path. Some years ago, a previous Government recognised the need for a certain level of experience before you could supervise. Decades of evidence indicate that you are much more likely to have an accident in the early years of your driving career. That underlines my point that experience counts.
One of the actions proposed to be taken is that backing the trailer should not be part of the main test but should be assessed by training organisations. Can the Minister explain in detail how this will work? I noted that she said that the Government “recommend” that people undertake this training rather than it being compulsory. I thought that it was going to be compulsory, but that it would happen not as part of the test but as part of training with a training organisation. If my original understanding is correct, can the Minister explain how the organisations will be chosen and accredited and how we can be sure that individual drivers have passed that aspect of the training?
One is endlessly concerned these days about the ability of organisations to fulfil the contracts they are awarded. A major question is whether these new tests and licences will be fully recognised in Northern Ireland and hence in the Republic of Ireland. Paragraph 7.6 of the Explanatory Memorandum for the No. 2 regulations refers to the fact that people may wish to take the B + E test for employment purposes. Is the implication therefore that some companies will still demand full qualification? It also refers to people wanting to take both tests in order to drive outside Great Britain.
Are the Government saying that the provision will not be recognised in the EU? The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, raised that, I believe. That will not just have implications for commercial HGV drivers; it will also have implications for people towing horseboxes, and dozens of other examples. When we left the EU, we were promised that there would be no watering down of standards, but here we are in a situation where that is effectively what is happening. Last night, in the police Bill, we concentrated on road safety, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, know. The message of that was that we should be dedicated to raising standards, yet that is not the message that we are getting with these two SIs.
Some weeks ago, I asked a Written Question about the number of people who had applied under the visa scheme to drive lorries in the UK. The Government have gone beyond the normal period of time for answering; it is on the list as not having been answered. If it is possible to answer it here, it would be good to get that information as well.
My Lords, most of my comments will be directed towards the (Amendment) (No.2) regulations and to the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which homed in particular on that order.
Under these regulations, the obligation is removed for some car drivers towing a trailer to have to take the additional test. As the Minister said, that is to free up capacity and enable more test appointments to be fitted in each month for heavy goods vehicle licences in a bid to address the current shortage of HGV drivers. No doubt the Minister in her response may wish to comment on the extent to which that shortage has been eased or the extent to which it continues.
The regulations also remove the requirement in relation to the staged access route to licence acquisition for heavy goods vehicle and bus licences, which will also free up driving examiner time and shorten the amount of time that it takes for a driver to become qualified to drive the largest heavy goods vehicles.
I understand that the category B towing test will not be abolished, because it is still needed by anyone wishing to drive a trailer in the EU. The regulations simply remove the obligation to take the test before towing in the UK, and will be reviewed after three years and then every five years after that, which frankly suggests that the Department for Transport see these changes to all intents and purposes as being permanent, rather than being a short-term measure to address the current heavy goods vehicle driver shortage—unless, of course, the Department for Transport envisages that shortage going on for years and years.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has drawn the attention of the House to the regulations, not least in respect of the potential safety implications. There are, apparently, about 1,000 collision injury accidents or incidents involving trailers each year. It is not clear whether the Government do or do not expect that figure to be affected by the removal of the towing test. Frankly, at the moment, I do not think the Government even have a view, since the Department for Transport has indicated that a risk assessment on road safety will form part of the impact assessment, which is fine, apart from the fact that the impact assessment will not be cleared for publication until the end of this month at the earliest. I note what the Minister said at the beginning, and that the regulations were intended to come into effect this coming Monday.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said:
“We view this as poor practice.”
It is right. Once again, the Department for Transport has been slow to react, caught out by a driver shortage that it did not address in time, despite it being in large measure of the Government’s own making, thanks to their own particular brand of hard Brexit. The committee commented:
“It is part of the purpose of an IA”—
an impact assessment—
“to provide information on what options, including non-legislative options, were considered and why they were not adopted. Because the IA has not been made available to the House alongside the instrument, we are unclear about why possible alternatives were rejected … From the date this instrument comes into effect, any car driver will be able to tow a trailer but DfT has provided no estimate of the additional numbers that that might attract or the likelihood of incidents that might follow.”
However, the department asserts:
“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 … it is therefore difficult to identify how much the car trailer test … has made a difference since it was introduced in 1997 or that there is a causal link between road safety and the test.”
I do not know for how many years that has been the Department for Transport’s view—perhaps the Minister could respond to that point in the Government’s reply—but if the Government do not know whether there are any safety benefits to the statutory test to tow a trailer, and have not taken any steps over the past 11 years to find out, that does not appear to say much for their much-vaunted campaign to reduce bureaucracy and unnecessary red tape.
Safety was, however, a concern of a significant percentage of those responding to the consultation on the amendment to the regulations: a third of the 8,750-odd respondents expressed safety concerns. As I understand it—I am sure that I will be corrected if I am wrong—the DVSA advises that anyone intending to drive a car with a trailer for the first time should still first take training from a driving instructor. What steps are being taken to publicise this advice?
Moving on, is it not the reality that the Government hope that people affected by these regulations will, either individually or through their firms, still undertake the aspects of the required training that these regulations will remove? This was indicated frankly in the Minister’s response to the chair of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, in which there was a reference to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency
“exploring industry-led accredited training that could offer a standardised non-statutory testing approach. The DVSA has received strong support for an accreditation training scheme which is also generating considerable interest from companies who tow as part of their business and we are progressing discussions urgently.”
That letter also stated:
“We know through DVSA’s stakeholder engagement, that there is a strong indication from professional business users that they will continue to undergo Category B+E training to ensure staff are safe and competent and that their corporate responsibilities are fulfilled.”
This certainly indicates that, as far as professional businesses are concerned, they regard the B+E training as necessary to ensure that staff are safe and competent. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee concluded:
“The Department failed to provide any indication of the instrument’s wider effects when the instrument was laid and, in response to our follow-up questions, DfT was unable to explain what effect the removal of the BE licence will have on road safety.”
I conclude by simply asking whether the Government will in their response comment on the recommendations of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in its report on the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021. The first was,
“We recommend that the DfT should review the current complex arrangements for what car and van drivers are permitted to tow and, if needed, replace them with a simpler licensing system. That decision should be based on evidence rather than the current experimental approach”.
Secondly, it said that the department should
“provide an annual Written Statement setting out towing accident figures as a reassurance that it will be in a position to undertake remedial action swiftly if a problem emerges”
and, thirdly, that the Minister should provide “more specific details about” the “wider safety implications” of the instrument, since the House
“has insufficient information to enable proper assessment of the policy”.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions today and for enabling this debate to go ahead in the circumstances. I am very grateful, and I have appreciated the input of all noble Lords. I have listened to their concerns and suggestions very carefully, and I will write, as there is a bit of extra detail that I will give.
Returning to the overall driver shortage, the Government have been aware of it since 2010, but the issue is that it so is multifaceted that it is very difficult to pin down. We estimate the size of the acute shortage to be around 39,000, but there are numbers out there of 70,000 and 100,000, so what is not being delivered if those drivers are not available? I have asked the sector many times. The reality is that the lack of those drivers is about sector resilience and ensuring that people who are in the sector are not feeling that their shifts are too long, or whatever. We believe that the acute shortage is around 39,000. I am not going play EU bingo with the various shortages in the other countries. Suffice it to say that there are shortages in other countries, and they are something we are all dealing with.
To briefly pick up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about visas, I will check that, because we do not do late parliamentary questions. I think it is because it might have gone to Defra, and that will be the reason—not that it does late parliamentary questions, but there is the transfer, if you know what I mean.
There is an international shortage. We sort of know the size of the shortage, but I would love firmer data on it. It is incredibly difficult to assess a precise number in this fast-moving environment. It has got better. One of the things that I have been following very closely is the number of people asking for application forms from the DVLA to apply for an HGV provisional licence, which has gone up massively, as has the number of licences and provisional licences going out of the other end. Now we have to get those people into the training system and then into the testing system. Having sorted out DVLA and testing, I am now turning my attention to the bit in the middle, which is obviously a private sector affair, but we will be working with it so that it increases its capacity as much as possible.
I am so sorry to hear about my noble friend’s issue with his driving licence. I have some good news: my daughter passed her driving test a couple of days ago, and she received her licence like that. I am happy to take up any concerns noble Lords have about their treatment by the DVLA, but I am pleased to say that on HGV licences it is back to normal processing times. That also applies to buses.
On the road safety aspect of this, it is incredibly complicated and we are working at pace. I appreciate that we do not have an impact assessment that noble Lords can point to, so I will do what I can to assuage noble Lords’ concerns.
Again, there is a significant challenge with data here. People will often come up with anecdotes about how they saw a trailer doing X, Y, Z—I have seen cars and buses doing all sorts of dreadful things—but actual data is one of our big challenges. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, pointed out, in STATS19, 865 incidents involved a car or vehicle with a trailer, which is 0.45% of the total incidents in the entire year. That is a very small amount, but it does not matter; it still has to be considered.
The issue then becomes how you disaggregate the fact that the vehicle was towing a trailer from it being a contributing factor to the incident in the first place. Police officers can put down six contributing factors but, if they put down speeding, that was not the fault of the trailer; it was the fault of the driver. The same incident could have happened to a car. That is the challenge we face: we are looking to disaggregate the data such that we can see the impact on whether the trailer was a factor or it was just that the vehicle happened to be towing a trailer at the time.
It is important for noble Lords to understand that the B+E test is relevant only to a certain type of trailer, not all trailers. It is for the heavier, not the lighter, end. Some of these incidents would be people towing around their garden waste in a 750-kilogram trailer.
My Lords, may I make a suggestion? I believe the noble Baroness has ministerial responsibility for the Highways Agency. Will she ask it to do 100% reporting to the department on incidents involving trailers, because then she would find out whether we are having a sudden influx of accidents caused by novice drivers? I do not think that will happen, but it would give her some data to which we could return later on.
My noble friend makes a good suggestion. I am responsible for National Highways, but it does not collect incident data; it all comes from the police. We will of course look at any data that we can get from various sources. This will be part of the work we do in the coming period because the other issue in all this is that incidents often happen because of poor trailer maintenance. That has nothing to do with the B+E test; it is caused by people driving around trailers that are not roadworthy. DVSA enforcement picks up vehicles that are not roadworthy all the time, and may prohibit them from being on the road, but again, that is not related to the B+E driving test. I am happy to have a meeting with my noble friend about the H licence.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, brought up the response to the consultation. The consultation closed on 7 September and we announced it on 10 September. We were able to do that so quickly because much of it came through electronically, and we were monitoring responses as we went. There is a short summary of our response on the web, but we will issue a fuller response in due course.
I am not entirely sure about the issue with us reducing the standard of bus driver trainers. If the noble Baroness writes to me, I will look into that more, because we have not changed the standards for trainers in the bus sector at all. Again, they have no delay in getting licences or tests; it is the bit in the middle. But many bus companies have good training departments, so I am pleased about that.
A number of noble Lords mentioned the impact assessment. We recognise that we need one and that it cannot be rushed because it requires an awful lot of analysis. We will try to publish it as soon as possible, once it has been through the Regulatory Policy Committee. Once again, I am happy to have a meeting with noble Lords once that is available.
On recognition overseas, my noble friend Lord Naseby asked about Northern Ireland, which is responsible for its own road regulations. It would therefore make its own decision about this. GB licences continue to be recognised in Northern Ireland. Drivers who travel abroad will be covered under international road traffic regulations. We are in discussions with other countries to make them aware of these changes and will report back if there are significant changes to this.
The accreditation scheme is one of the other factors we need to think about when it comes to road safety. When it is set up, it will be targeted at everybody who wants to tow a trailer of any weight when, previously, training was very much for people who needed it to pass the test or tow a heavier trailer. We will be looking at all people towing trailers, particularly the 16 million of us—I sense noble Lords are in the same bucket as me—who have grandfather rights: “I am going to tow a trailer. I have always been able to tow a trailer. I have just chosen not to, as I prefer larger articulated lorries when I am given the opportunity”. This is one of the other factors that we need to consider. It may well be that we will see a significant increase because all sorts of people will take up this accredited scheme because it is available and widely communicated. We will work with the industry and all sorts of people to make sure that people are aware of the scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about employers, who we know are very keen on this—but that is not unusual. Employers often provide a higher level of training for their workforce for all sorts of different reasons. It is not just the case that you pass your driving test and head into a haulage firm, for example, and that is it, your training is done. So, whether it be for a vehicle and a trailer or an articulated lorry, it is always the case that more training goes on, so I am not surprised to hear that that is what the industry will do.
I have rattled through most of what I wanted to say. I will definitely pick up Hansard to make sure that I have gone through all of the points, and I would be very happy to meet noble Lords in due course, perhaps to chat about this again, when the accreditation scheme is developed a bit further and when we have the impact assessment. We can look through all of the information we have at that time.