Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, on 9 March 2022, your Lordships’ House debated the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) (Amendment) Regulations 2022, which govern the goods vehicle operator licensing regimes in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The regulations came into effect on 17 March. During the debate on 9 March, I explained that an error in transcribing our policy intent into legislation would mean that a second debate might be necessary on an instrument to make the necessary correction. This is that debate.
First, I would of course like to apologise to noble Lords for taking up valuable parliamentary time with this correction to a previously laid and debated instrument. The reason for the correcting instrument is that the original instrument went beyond the policy intentions. The intent was that the regulations should apply only to the operation of goods vehicles. However, one provision unintentionally also applied to the operation of passenger vehicles; in doing so, it disrupted the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, which has made the regulation of passenger vehicles slightly more complicated. While the traffic commissioners have been able to continue their important work, this added complication is not tenable in the long term. The Committee will know how disappointed I am that an error has occurred, and I assure all noble Lords that the causes are being addressed within the department, as a wider review into SI processes is now under way.
To touch in a bit more detail on the real-world consequences of what has happened, the error in question was in Regulation 7 of the original instrument. In being drafted as it was, Regulation 7 incorrectly applied certain provisions to road passenger transport operations. The effect of the error, applying these provisions to all transport managers of certain road goods vehicle operations and road passenger transport operations, was not the original policy intention.
Essentially, the effect of the gap was that the regulators, which in Great Britain are the traffic commissioners, have used other options. They are using case law rather than legislation to minimise the gap, but of course we think that legislation should be put in place. We had originally hoped to lay this as a negative instrument. Indeed, we did so, but it was upgraded by the sifting committee, which is why noble Lords are having the debate today.
I turn to the practical effect of whom this impacts. It relates to those transport managers within the public service vehicles jurisdiction, either those already on licences who are subject to regulatory intervention—because they have not done something correctly—or those who seek to be nominated as transport managers. Looking back at the numbers in previous years, for example, in 2019-20, around 19 transport managers would have been affected by such actions, so it is not a great number. The traffic commissioners have been able to cope and have taken particular care in communicating their decisions during this quite short gap period of just over three months. Their hard work is very much appreciated, so I commend these regulations to the Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister. I had a sense of déjà vu when I saw this instrument on the list for today. To be honest, it is tedious enough that we have to go through the vast list of SIs as part of the replication of EU regulatory structure without having to deal with errors, although it is not surprising that there are errors. One can hardly process the amount of legislation that we have been dealing with for the last couple of years without the occasional error creeping in. I was horrified today to read that Jacob Rees-Mogg has a plan for us to go through all 2,000-plus pieces of EU legislation within the next two years to re-examine them.
May I cut to the core of the issue? The Minister has explained that road transport operators were mistakenly included in the original SI alongside goods operators. One of my questions was going to be about the impact on the traffic commissioners’ powers, but the Minister has explained that. She has also explained clearly the number of cases involved.
My other question is, to go back to the original SI, why are passenger vehicle operators excluded? Why do they not need transport managers in the way that goods vehicles and their fleets need them? Is there separate legislation that covers passenger transport operators or is it that, for some reason, they are not regarded as in need of managers in the same way? Other than that, I am delighted to see that this error has now been corrected and it should, I hope, be fully operational and effective.
My Lords, I welcome the introduction of this SI to amend the errors in the previous regulations approved by this House in March. As the logistics sector experiences an unnecessarily difficult time, it is disappointing that even the initial piece of secondary legislation has problems. There is an important point here in that the Government previously claimed errors in the initial drafting would be rectified through the negative procedure, which clearly has not been the case.
Three months later, the House is finally to approve a technical instrument to right the wrongs of the previous legislation. I hope this will bring this specific matter to a close, though unfortunately it will not solve the chaos that is still plaguing British business. Weeks away from the summer holidays, the Government must bring forward a plan to fix the crisis and bring much-needed certainty.
I am grateful to both noble Lords who took part in this short debate and will answer the issues they raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about passenger vehicle operatives needing transport managers. They do need transport managers and always have done. If the noble Baroness recalls, the issue we were discussing here was the extension of the requirement to have transport managers to much smaller vehicles. It was basically down to vans between 2.5 tonnes and 3.5 tonnes, I think. It was only because it was a requirement of the TCA that we matched what the EU was doing in that area, but the passenger service vehicles require transport managers now and always have done, so there is no change for them.
On the point about procedure raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, I sincerely wish this had been done by the negative procedure; I feel that we could have got away with it but the sifting committee did not agree, which is why we are before the Committee today. As he knows—we had a debate around it the other day—the Government are very focused on what might happen in the summer in terms of challenges to road traffic in Kent. We are working closely with the Kent Resilience Forum and will continue to do so.