Motion to Approve
My Lords, I beg to move that these draft regulations be approved. The regulations will be made under the powers conferred by the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. They will make necessary amendments to domestic train driver licensing legislation to enable the implementation of a bilateral agreement, which has now been signed by both the UK and France, on the mutual recognition of British and European train driving licences in the Channel Tunnel zone.
This will continue to support the smooth operation of Channel Tunnel traffic when the current temporary arrangements expire on 31 January 2022. It will also provide long-term certainty, clarity and confidence to cross-border operators, current and prospective, with regard to the future train driver licensing framework for the Channel Tunnel. Although the regulations will apply to England, Scotland and Wales, the main operative provisions will in practice apply only to the Channel Tunnel zone. The regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure as set out in the Channel Tunnel Act and Schedule 8 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
I will now provide some brief background information about this legislation. The regulations will amend the Train Driving Licences and Certificates Regulations 2010, which set out the rules on the licensing and certifying of train drivers operating on the mainline rail system in Great Britain. The 2010 regulations transposed into domestic law an EU directive on the certification of train drivers operating locomotives and trains on the railway system in member states of the European Union. As part of the preparations for the UK leaving the EU, the 2010 regulations were amended by statutory instruments in 2019 and 2020. The 2019 regulations corrected inoperabilities arising from the UK’s departure from the EU, and established a transitional period enabling the continued recognition of European train driving licences in Great Britain for a period of two years from exit day—-two years from 31 January 2020. The 2020 regulations made further amendments to the 2010 regulations by extending the recognition of the provisions so that European train driving licences issued between exit day and 31 January 2022 would also be valid in Great Britain until that date.
Following the end of this transitional period— 31 January 2022—the recognition of European train driving licences in Great Britain as a whole will end. The regulations under consideration today will provide for the continued recognition of European train driving licences in the UK half of the Channel Tunnel and cross-border area when this transitional period expires. This will support the recognition of European and British train driving licences in the Channel Tunnel zone on a fully reciprocal basis under the related UK-France bilateral agreement. These regulations will therefore have a positive impact on cross-border operators and drivers, by providing long-term certainty on the train driver licensing requirements for the Channel Tunnel zone, which on the UK side is up to Ashford International station for passenger services and Dollands Moor station for freight services. On the French side, the regulations apply to Calais-Fréthun for passenger trains and Fréthun freight yard for freight services. These arrangements will reduce the administrative burdens on operators and the drivers whom they employ, by enabling French and British drivers to operate within the Channel Tunnel zone without the need to hold two separate licences.
The territorial scope of these regulations and the agreement that they implement have been chosen in the interests of reciprocity and equivalence in the extent of recognition in the UK and French territories. Train driver licensing policy is a matter of exclusive EU competence, and the European Commission’s view is that, under EU law, France can enter into a bilateral agreement with the UK on train driving licences in relation only to the tunnel itself and the immediate cross-border area beyond it, which means as far as the first station in each territory. These regulations, therefore, provide for the recognition of European train driving licences only up to Dollands Moor and Ashford International. These are the equivalent cross-border stations in the UK to Calais-Fréthun and Fréthun freight yard in France.
The regulations, and by extension the agreement that they will implement, are fully compatible with the Government’s fundamental red lines in the Channel Tunnel negotiations with France, which are to support the continuation of cross-border services while conferring no role for the EU courts or the European rail agency in UK territory, and avoiding dynamic alignment with EU law. Furthermore, information-sharing provisions are also included in the regulations, to give effect to requirements in the bilateral agreement. Under these requirements the Office of Rail and Road, the ORR, will be able to share information with the equivalent French authorities—for example, in relation to any doubts about the validity of a licence or compliance with licensing requirements on the part of either the holder of a European train driving licence operating in the Channel Tunnel zone in Great Britain, or the holder of a British train driving licence operating in the Channel Tunnel zone in France.
The bilateral agreement will impose equivalent obligations on the French licensing authority—the EPSF—enabling information to be shared on a reciprocal basis. These regulations will also maintain the requirement for train drivers to hold a complementary certificate alongside their licence. These certificates are issued by operators and confirm a train driver’s competence and knowledge of the route, rolling stock and the infrastructure on which they are operating. Again, the agreement will mean that British and French train drivers will be able to use one complementary certificate to drive throughout the entire Channel Tunnel zone, as opposed to needing complementary certificates issued in both France and Britain. To that end, the regulations amend the scope of recognition of complementary certificates issued under the 2010 regulations to include the area up to Calais-Fréthun in France.
These regulations will reduce administrative burdens on cross-border operators and enable them to plan their businesses into the future with confidence. I commend the regulations to the House.
Amendment to the Motion
At the end insert “but that this House regrets that the regulations, while providing interoperability for train drivers between Ashford and Calais, do not extend to full European Union and United Kingdom interoperability in a similar manner to drivers of Heavy Good Vehicles.”
My Lords, I suppose that I could have added airline pilots to the wording of my amendment, but I did not. First, I want to make it quite clear that I welcome these regulations 100%. I know that Ministers and officials have worked incredibly hard to get them ready and agreed by the deadline, which, I think, is in about a week’s time. If these regulations do not get through by the end of this month, trains will stop—they will not run. It is therefore very important that the regulations go ahead; that is what I have been told. The noble Baroness gave us a pretty good introduction to the purpose and scope of the regulations but I think that she will agree that it is a pretty complex matter, and it is clear that they are all necessary because of our leaving the European Union.
The noble Baroness referred to the Train Driving Licences and Certificates Regulations 2010. Even the Explanatory Memorandum to that legislation was, I think, 22 pages long. What is interesting about it is that more than 10 years ago the UK, and the rest of Europe, signed up to a common driver’s licence for the whole of the European Union. It had a purpose: to
“create a more flexible labour market for train drivers (i.e. make it easier for train drivers to move from one Member State to another … introduce common standards of driver and train crew competence … make it easier for cross-border rail services to operate; and increase public confidence in the rail system”.
I find it extraordinary that the Government have decided that these objectives are not a good idea. Presumably they do not want to encourage public confidence or more cross-border rail services. I do not know. Perhaps the noble Baroness can answer those questions, but it is a bit odd. It certainly does not apply, as I mentioned, to trucks and air services.
But what happens beyond Ashford and Calais is not clear from the draft regulations and the noble Baroness’s explanation. In other words, will we now see that all the Eurostar trains stop at Ashford and Calais? That will not do the economic timetable much good. Will all freight trains have to stop at Dollands Moor and Calais? Many of them do anyway, but this is to change drivers. In other words, if you have one driver, as many services did—certainly before Covid—driving a train from St Pancras International to Brussels, for example, how many drivers and stops does it need? How many licences do those drivers need? Do you need one licence just to get from London to Dollands Moor, another to get through the tunnel, and the European licence to get beyond it? The same goes for freight. The noble Baroness will not be able to provide this now, but it would be interesting to get a bit more evidence of what the French legislation is on a reciprocal basis.
This is a necessary piece of legislation to get over the problem that has been with us for two years, as the noble Baroness said, but I am worried about whether, now that this will be done, the Government will pursue a wider EU-UK driver licencing arrangement that will enable one licence to provide a more flexible labour market, common standards of competences, easier cross-border services and increased public confidence. There are plans—although they all depend on Covid—for more international services, day services, sleepers, low-cost competition for Eurostar, more freight and different operators. They would all benefit from a much easier driver licence regime—as well as, obviously, encouraging net-zero carbon for rail, which I know Ministers are very keen on.
I know that this next stage that I have just proposed will take a year or two to do, but it would be good to hear that the Government think it worth while. If only we had stuck with the European train drivers’ licence, we would not need to do all this—but the problem, as I understood it from the then Secretary of State, was that we could not do that because the licence still had the word “Europe” in it, and that was anathema. I hope that is not true. There is now an opportunity to go forward in a positive and, I hope, cost-effective way. I beg to move.
I thank the Minister for her clear explanation and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for giving us this opportunity to discuss an important issue. I also place on record the excellence of the Library briefing that we received on this, which is very helpful.
This SI is an example of the complex contortions that we are forced into to recreate—or recreate in part—the system that existed before we left the EU. It is a pale imitation. So much ministerial and Civil Service time is spent on the minutiae of this and dozens of similar SIs, when it would be so much better if Ministers could concentrate on the big infrastructure and climate change challenges that we face—or even just on catching up with the backlog of maritime legislation.
The Minister has answered my first question, of whether the agreement has now been signed. I am very pleased to hear that is the case. Can she confirm that, now that both countries have signed, there is no chance of a legislative hiatus, a problem that was facing us? It is regrettable, to say the least, that Parliament having passed the required amendments in 2019 and 2020, as so often, the further steps required are being dealt with at the last moment. I gather that the operators concerned had already obtained European TDLs for their drivers so that they could continue to drive trains through the Channel Tunnel if the signatures were not forthcoming. Once again, a business community is at the sharp end and incurring extra costs.
As the regret amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spells out, this is a very limited solution, far from the smooth international trade and travel that we used to enjoy. It is ironic that it was in the heyday of Thatcherism that we celebrated the Channel Tunnel joining Britain and mainland Europe to make international trade and travel so much easier.
As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has asked about the relevance of Ashford and Calais and whether you have one driver or two, I will not repeat the detail of those questions, but they are at the top of my mind. Can the Minister explain what the operational answer will be to this in future? Will trains have two drivers so that they can swap over once they have gone through the tunnel in whichever direction they are going, or will they now all stop at Calais and Ashford, which would involve a significant adjustment to the timetables? During Covid, trains have not stopped there on a regular basis.
The Library briefing also raises some important questions in relation to the rights of HGV drivers. The phrasing of the regret amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, gives me the opportunity to ask a useful question on the issue for UK-based HGV drivers working for EU companies. Their CPC cards may not be recognised in EU countries. Is this an issue? Can the Minister explain the situation? Also, UK operators wanting to work within the EU must now separately license their business, register their vehicles and trailers, and comply with new and additional customs procedures.
The Minister knows that, in the past, I have asked about the changes to UK rules on testing for drivers of a range of commercial and goods vehicles. There are now fewer steps towards gaining a UK licence, so I take this opportunity to ask the Minister: where do the changes in licences place an HGV driver qualified according to the Government’s new, simpler rules if they have an accident or are picked up by the police for a traffic violation within the EU, for instance? Will they still be deemed fully qualified and insured?
May I slip in a final question about the recent queues at Dover? Drivers are now reporting that it takes between 10 and 20 minutes for a lorry to get through and have the paperwork checked. The CEO of the Port of Dover has expressed additional concern about the new checks that will come in in about six months’ time. Can the Minister assure us that the procedures and systems are entirely ready for that? Have the Government had discussions with opposite numbers in France and the EU about ensuring that this process is as smooth as possible?
My Lords, I rise very briefly to say how much I support what my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said. They have raised lots of detailed issues, which I hope we will get a clear answer to at the end of the debate. I just want to add one thing. What is the Government’s vision for international rail travel of which Britain is a part? Is that the way that they are thinking about it, or are they thinking, “Oh well, we can’t do anything because it involves ECJ jurisdiction”, or something like that? Where is the vision? There is a real opportunity here: if we are serious about reducing air travel and all the damage it does to the climate, we have to be in favour of more people going on holiday or on business on the continent by rail. The opportunity is growing. I was lucky enough to be brought up as a railway clerk’s son and, every year, we would use our free passes to go from Carlisle to the continent.
Yes, first class, too. It gave me a great taste for it, when we arrived at Basel and saw the great age of international rail transport, which was then gradually coming to an end as flying was growing. But it is coming back. Last year—or two years ago, before all the wretched Covid—we went on the wonderful Austrian sleepers to bring us back to Britain, except they could not bring us back to Britain, of course; they could bring us only to Cologne and then we had to get a train from there. But why should that not be part of the vision? Do the Government have this European vision? That is what we need and it is where the future lies if we are serious about a modal switch in medium-distance travel.
My Lords, I associate myself with the comments made by my noble friend Lord Liddle, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Berkeley for having moved his regret amendment.
When I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, it brought to my mind that vision of the former Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher meeting President Mitterrand when they had the two Eurostars coming nose to nose. I believe that they had to alter the software of the trains to enable that to happen. It was an era of great promise for future travel in Europe and, although I fully understand that the regulations that the Minister has ably moved tonight are necessary and welcome, it is rather depressing to think that we are being restricted.
I would like to put very simply the point already made by others: can the Minister tell us on what basis trains that exist already and go from London to Paris are taking place? There were other trains that have now been stopped because of Covid that used to go direct from London to Marseilles without any difficulty—a remarkable journey. There are those who would like to have trains that go from stations in Britain direct to Frankfurt and so on, and there is already one from London to Amsterdam. On what basis do these trains now operate if the regulations that we are discussing deal only with this Channel Tunnel envelope from Ashford to Calais? I am not quite sure on what basis the existing trains run, never mind future ones, and would be very grateful if she could address that in her reply.
My Lords, I will try to be brief otherwise the Minister will not have a chance to respond. I thank her for her introductory comments and my noble friend Lord Berkeley for his amendment. In line with what the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, I too appreciated the Library briefing. Before I go any further, can I express the sincere hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, will not be following the latest ministerial fashion and departing the Chamber earlier than anticipated.
The EU stopped recognising British-issued train driving licences on 1 January 2021, and European-issued train driving licences will no longer be valid in Great Britain after the end of this month apart from within the Channel Tunnel zone once the regulations are in force. The Government have stated in the Explanatory Memorandum that operators have already obtained European train driving licences
“for their drivers to ensure they are able to continue driving their trains”
through the Channel Tunnel because of how late these regulations have been brought before us. What has been the cost to train operators of having to obtain those European train driving licences for their drivers? Do their European train driving licences enable British drivers to drive throughout the EU, and for how long are these licences now valid?
The Government have confirmed that a cross-border driver holding a European train driving licence would also need to hold a British train driving licence to drive beyond the Channel Tunnel zone—for example, up to St Pancras International station. Drivers who are driving trains in Great Britain using an EU-issued train driving licence will need to apply for a British train driving licence from the ORR before the end of this month, and current holders will be considered as new applicants. Why will current holders be considered as new applicants?
I come back finally to the questions that virtually everybody else has asked. I think I noticed the Minister say that under EU provisions it would not have been possible for us to agree with France to be able to drive a train to Paris. I think she was saying that it had to be confined to the Channel Tunnel zone area. If I have misunderstood that, I am sure I will be corrected. Can the Government confirm that under the common European regime we had for certifying and licensing train drivers, British drivers could drive a Eurostar passenger train to Paris or Brussels, and indeed into Germany, and a French or Belgian driver drive a Eurostar train to St Pancras? The bilateral agreement with France would appear to apply only to the Channel Tunnel zone. Does that mean that British train drivers will not be able to drive a Eurostar passenger train or a freight train from Calais to Paris or Brussels or beyond and a French or Belgian driver drive a train to St Pancras? The answer may be, as others have suggested, that another licence is needed to do that. No doubt that is what the Minister will say in reply if that is the case. I can say only that, if that is correct, this would hardly appear to represent progress, bearing in mind what we previously had.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for enabling us to discuss it in slightly more detail than perhaps we might have done otherwise. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was sincere in not wishing me to depart. If he was not, it is not going to be his lucky day.
I turn first to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I can see where he is coming from. Noble Lords will recall from when we discussed operator licensing that there is this Channel Tunnel zone, the bit that France was allowed to reach an agreement with the UK over. It is the same for train driving licences as it was for other elements that we have discussed in the past.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked why we cannot go further. We have been very clear on this. The European Commission knows exactly what its rights are, and they are quite extensive. It has said that France cannot negotiate with the UK to go further. Indeed, the European Commission did not convey any interest in including train driving licences in the trade and co-operation agreement. In any event, if mutual agreement had been sought at this level, it would likely have been conditional on dynamic alignment of train driving licensing regulations and possibly a continuing role for the Court of Justice of the European Union. That would have broken the UK’s red lines during negotiation.
All is not lost, however, and it is potentially a little more positive than some noble Lords fear. There will not be one train and two drivers; it is more the case that there will be one driver and two licences. Drivers for many of the operators already have both the European and GB licences. For the Channel Tunnel zone, they can also have the certificate of competence, or whatever the certification is called. They just need a single one of those, but if you are driving beyond that you need the relevant certificate covering the rolling stock and the infrastructure of whichever routes you are driving on; that is normal.
This does not seem to have held back the people who run the trains. I have some stats that I will not read out, but it strikes me that drivers for all the major operators have stepped up and got an additional licence where needed. Train driving licences issued by the ORR are free; there is no cost to the applicant, so it does not really matter if they are new applicants. It should also be noted that the existing training has not changed since we left the EU, so somebody trained in the EU has received the right training to get a GB licence.
We expect there to be a system in which people will simply have two licences. We do not see a future in which there would be a single licence. Do I think it will be a massive hurdle to the future of a fantastic vision for international rail travel? No, I do not. I am just pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, no longer has his companion pass, sucking up taxpayers’ funds in first class going to Europe—but I am sure he enjoyed it. I think all noble Lords will agree that travelling by train in Europe is a pleasurable experience, but one often has to change trains because the trains do not automatically go to where you are going—so you need another driver to get another train to go to a different place. Of course, we want the trains to be as good as possible. That is why Eurostar goes to Amsterdam, and obviously we continue to have Eurostar services into London and through to Paris.
I do not know that there is really much more I can say. The system, operators and drivers have managed to cope, the trains are still running and we expect them to run in future. There will be no legislative hiatus, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, feared. On the timeline of the regulations, the Government have been negotiating a number of elements with the French Government—the train driving licence element, the operator licensing element and the safety issues—and we did not get the train driver licensing element signed until 22 December because it had to be cleared by the European Commission. Together with the technical and complicated nature of these negotiations, this meant that January was the earliest these regulations could be debated. As I said, the agreement has been signed and therefore there should be no hiatus at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked me a couple of curveballs about how long a licence is valid for, and I do not know that answer, but I shall of course write, as I shall on other issues that I have not been able to cover.
I come briefly to the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised about HGV drivers working in the EU. She is right to pay tribute to the House of Lords Library. I read that in the Library briefing and thought, “Oh, I didn’t realise that.” It is true. The current requirements for obtaining drivers’ certificates of professional competence in the EU and the UK are the same. However, the EU has decided not to recognise the UK qualifications post Brexit for use by drivers based in the EU working for companies established in the EU. Of course, it will recognise a UK driver working in Europe, from a cabotage perspective—all those things remain the same—but the EU has taken a slightly different tack. Clearly, we think that we have taken the better tack, but who are we to argue?
As noble Lords will know, we are looking at the driver certificate of professional competence to see how well it works for the UK. I am not convinced that stating that you must have 35 hours’ training is useful: training in what? Beekeeping? We need to make sure that HGV drivers are studying what is useful from a continuing professional development perspective. So that is the situation for a DCPC in the EU.
Operators can register in the EU and get an EU operator licence; otherwise, if they have a UK operator licence, they are restricted by the cabotage arrangements that we have in place. That has not changed. I am not aware of any change to UK HGV testing that has had an impact on C+E drivers in France—that would be for HGV lorries. They are still able to drive in France.
The noble Baroness then went slightly off-piste by mentioning the queues at Dover. I appreciate that she knows she went off-piste, and I know that she was very keen to ask me a Private Notice Question today on it. I will write with more information on that. For the time being, I commend the regulations.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I am also grateful to the Minister for her answers, which have cleared up a lot of our questions, and for the regularity with which she writes letters to speakers after these debates. They are incredibly helpful—I may not agree with them, but they are really helpful. I thank her for that, and I am sure we will get a good one today—or it may now be tomorrow.
It was really good to hear comments from several noble Lords about the need for a vision. That is really important at the moment for the railways, particularly cross-channel. We had a debate about a year ago about whether Eurostar would survive during Covid and what the Government were going to do about that. It is important that the Government facilitate, encourage and do whatever they can to get as many new services through the tunnel as possible to whatever destinations make commercial sense.
I am sure we will return to this, but it was interesting to hear the Minister’s comments at the end in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about HGVs. Everyone thought that, two years after Brexit, it would all be sorted out. It may be that the railway has got there before the roads, for once. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.