Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 26th June 2018.
Amendments made: 1, page 16, line 34, at end insert—
‘4A In section 90A(2) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (offences in relation to which a financial penalty deposit requirement may be imposed), in paragraph (a)(i), after “vehicle” insert “or trailer”.’
This amendment will ensure that financial penalty deposit requirements may be imposed in respect of offences relating to trailers.
Amendment 3, page 17, line 1, at end insert—
‘5A In Article 91B(2) of the Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 (S.I. 1996/1320 (N.I. 10)) (offences in relation to which a financial penalty deposit requirement may be imposed), in sub-paragraph (a), after “vehicle” insert “or trailer”.’—(Jesse Norman.)
The amendment makes provision for Northern Ireland corresponding to Amendment 1.
Consideration is now completed.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During the exchange we just had, I was not asked whether I wanted to press my amendments to a vote or to withdraw them. Is that within order?
Yes. I listened to what the hon. Lady said during her speech, and she did not move her amendments. It would be normal that, if the hon Lady—if I had read the debate in such a way as to think that the hon. Lady wished to call a separate Division on one of her amendments, I would have made sure that that could happen. I took advice on whether the hon. Lady intended to ask for a separate Division on one of her amendments, and the advice was that Opposition Front Benchers did not intend to put any amendments to a vote. It is now too late to change that. The hon. Lady looks askance, but perhaps the message from her Front Bench, through other Front Benchers, to the Chair was not clear.
If the hon. Lady would like to make a further point of order, I will allow her to do so, but we cannot change what has happened.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can see the hesitancy with which you are providing this ruling. I just want to clarify that, at the beginning of my speech in this debate, I did move amendments 4 and 5 formally. I want to put that on the record so there can be no doubt about it.
There is not any doubt about it. The fact that the hon. Lady used the word “move” is not actually sufficient. I ascertained, as the occupant of the Chair always does, whether there was an intention on the part of Opposition Front Benchers to ask for a separate Division on any particular amendment, and the advice—or information; it is not really advice—was very clearly that there was no intention to do so. If the hon. Lady or her colleagues sitting beside her had wished to send a different message, they should have done so through other Front Benchers. There is no misunderstanding. In any case, it is too late to change matters now, because we have come to Third Reading.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I want to say a few words at the concluding stage of the consideration of this Bill. First, I thank all those involved on both sides of the House—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Jesse Norman, the Opposition team who have taken part in the debates, the two Committee Chairs and, indeed, all the hon. Members who served on the Public Bill Committee.
This is an important Bill. As the Brexit negotiations continue, it is critical that we prepare carefully for our future relationship with the European Union, take all the steps we need to take for all eventualities in negotiations that lie ahead, and make sure we have all the tools that are needed for that future relationship, so that haulage, which is a really important part of our economy, has the tools it needs to be able to carry on crossing borders and delivering the trade that is so essential to this country and to the European Union as a whole. After all, this industry directly employs 300,000 people.
The first part of this Bill will allow us to introduce a road haulage permit scheme covering existing agreements outside the European Union, while also making sure that we have the tools available for any permit-based deal with the European Union, if that is required. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Bill puts in place a legal framework for the Government to establish a system for issuing permits, without placing undue regulation or financial requirements on the industry.
The UK already has several of these in place with non-EU countries. It is important that we have all the tools we may need at the conclusion of the negotiating process and I am very grateful to both Houses of Parliament for expediting this measure. I believe that we have made another step forward in our preparedness process by passing this legislation.
The other part of the legislation gives the Government powers to establish a trailer registration scheme to meet the standards in the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic. That ensures that UK operators can register trailers before entering countries that require such registration—I am referring to HGV trailers, which are an important part of the haulage sector, and not to smaller camping trailers that holidaymakers use. Commercial trailers over 750 kg and all trailers over 3.5 tonnes need to be registered. As with the first part of the Bill, we intend only to recover the costs of running the scheme and not to make a profit.
On the trailer safety measures added in the other place, the Lords made its recommendations and the Government acted on them. We will publish a report on trailer safety within one year of the Bill coming into force.
This is a good Bill and a valuable contribution to the preparations for Brexit. It also puts in place sensible safety measures and a sensible framework for the future of our haulage sector when it comes to the permits and registration required for it to continue to operate in the way we want. I again thank all those involved in the Bill on both sides of the House.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for enhancing our parliamentary education by explaining the words, “I move”. We are wiser because of your guidance.
The Opposition recognise the Bill as necessary for Brexit preparations and it is right that the Government prepare for contingencies on leaving the European Union. A failure to retain an essentially unchanged operating environment would damage the UK haulage industry and the wider economy, which is why we believe the Government should continue to use the Community licence post Brexit. We hope the measures in the Bill will never be used, but it is imperative that the Government press ahead with their trailer safety review and report to the House next year.
I thank the Government for co-operating with Labour to improve the legislation. I also place on record my thanks to colleagues, particularly my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell, and staff both in this House and in the other place whose hard work helped to secure improvements relating to trailer safety and to increase Ministers’ accountability to Parliament in relation to the powers given to the Secretary of State in the Bill.
I heard what the Minister said regarding the allocation of permits. I cannot let the moment pass without adding my note of caution on including such careless words in legislation as
“may include first come, first served or an element of random selection”.
Using that sort of language in statute brings us to a poor place.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Karin Smyth for her superb campaign on trailer safety following the tragic death of three-year-old Freddie Hussey from her constituency. She has also summoned a safety summit in her constituency, which has been so effective. She will be warmly congratulated by all hon. Members.
Road haulage is vital for the UK economy. Any post-Brexit arrangement that impedes the ease of transit of goods, or that places additional costs or administrative burdens on hauliers, will damage the sector and the wider economy and must be avoided. The haulage industry has been clear about the threat of additional administrative and financial burdens and the risks presented to UK supply chains.
Throughout the Bill’s previous stages, Labour has done all it can to reduce the disruption that would be caused if the measures become necessary, but the negotiations will determine how much damage and disruption Brexit will cause to such industries in respect of the retention of the Community licensing scheme. Broader issues such as whether we will be part of a customs union and avoid the introduction of customs checks at the border, and the consequential gridlock of our ports and roads, are also a matter for the negotiations. I have visited a number of ports during my time as shadow Secretary of State for Transport and the consequences of failing to retain an unchanged operating environment are stark.
It is concerning that the Government’s calamitous attempts at negotiating Brexit make it increasingly likely that the measures in the Bill will not be a contingency but will be put into effect. Unfortunately, the negotiations are not something we are able to address as a part of the Bill. I do, however, believe we have improved this necessary but hopefully never-to-be-used legislation. Labour will be voting in support.
I will be very brief. This is an important Bill. As the shadow Secretary of State said, it is a contingency measure. It is a belt and braces exercise to ensure we can guarantee the seamless transport of goods across the continent. There are many hauliers in my constituency and they will be looking at this matter with some concern. It is right to say that Brexit represents a significant change. I take the view that it represents a significant opportunity. None the less, seamless transport and travel are vital, particularly in respect of fresh goods. We live in a just-in-time age, where the movement of goods in very quick order is necessary to meet the expectations that have been created as a result of that culture.
The measure, which we do not expect to come into force, is none the less important to achieve those objectives. It is the right thing for the Government to do. Had the Government failed to bring something of this kind forward, Opposition Members and others would have perfectly reasonably said that we were not being sufficiently diligent. The diligence associated with a proper approach to the defence of the interests of hauliers and others obliges the Bill we are considering tonight. It is in that spirit that it has been considered through time.
I want to pay particular attention to the points made earlier by Rachael Maskell, and, if I may do so on her behalf, reiterate them. It seems to me important that the Government recognise that it will be necessary to review the provisions should they come into force and it would be perfectly reasonable for Government Ministers to confirm that that might happen. I do not think it necessarily needs to be on the face of the Bill, but it is perfectly reasonable for Ministers to give her an assurance, as a result of the compelling argument she made earlier, that that kind of process will occur. It is what good Governments do: they consider measures carefully, check how they are working in practice and commit to looking at them again if and when necessary.
Similarly, to re-emphasise a point I made earlier—many of the points I make in this House are worth amplification, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker—it is important that the methodology for the allocation of permits is what it needs to be. It should not be merely what is suggested here, as the shadow Secretary of State and others said, and the hon. Member for York Central emphasised. It may well take a very different shape from that which is identified here. It is therefore very important that the Government are very flexible about what needs to be done to allocate permits in a way that is efficient and effective.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, while it may well be right to retain flexibility on the allocation of permits, to put in the Bill that they could be allocated on a first come, first served basis could mean people in sleeping bags waiting for permits to be handed out or some random selection? This is serious stuff. Should we really be using such vague and indeterminate language in the Bill?
In an ideal world, where I was still sitting on the Government Front Bench—I know that is most people’s ideal—I would have to respond to that point formally on behalf of the Government. As I no longer have those responsibilities, I will leave it to those who are now missioned to deal with these matters formally to respond.
The Secretary of State has done the right thing in bringing the Bill forward. As I said earlier, had he not done so, he would have been criticised. I do not expect it to be used, but it will provide considerable reassurance to hauliers and others. We are constantly told by the critics of Brexit that the biggest problem of all is uncertainty. Well, this Bill is not uncertain, but it is about doing what is necessary to alleviate uncertainty by dealing with the matter with appropriate diligence and salience. To that end, the Bill has my full support.
There is one final thing: I say to Tom Brake that to come to the party late, improperly dressed, and not understand what a trailer registration scheme really means is not clever or wise, and he would be better not to come to the party at all if he is going to make such a mess of it. With that cutting aside, I conclude my remarks.
As we have heard, road haulage is so important for businesses in the UK and for keeping the supply of goods and food to our shores, so, like others, I am happy to support the legislation. It is sensible to have back-up arrangements in place.
However, now that I have heard some of the contributions on Third Reading, suddenly this legislation seems way more important and detailed than I realised. I thought it was quite simple—particularly on haulage permits to allow lorry drivers to register and possibly travel—but now I am hearing that it is giving great certainty about Brexit, and that it is the start of all the Brexit preparations. In terms of haulage and movement of goods, the customs union, the single market and the arrangements around them and borders are far more important. This legislation does not provide the certainty that we are hearing about and the Government are still a long, long way short of any proper preparations for Brexit, especially this fabled “no deal” that they will be able to walk away with in March 2019. I suggest that some Government Members need to stop kidding themselves on. Apart from that, I support the Bill’s Third Reading.
I want to say a few quick words in support of the Bill and the sector. The road haulage industry is hugely important to the United Kingdom. It does the heavy lifting of goods around our country and because it works so well and so smoothly, it is frequently taken for granted.
There are 320,000 HGV drivers employed in the UK, and in terms of the workforce, that goes up to around 2.5 million when we include the broader haulage and logistics industry. Road haulage is the main means of moving goods around the UK and it plays a huge role in our exports. Over 3.5 million road goods vehicles left the UK for Europe last year. We have been talking about the implications for exporting. The goods that we rely on, our food and drink, and the stock for our nation’s high streets—much of what we export—are moved by trucks and the workforce that drives them. Those goods are stored in warehouses and managed by the logistics teams who ensure that they are where we need them when we need them.
The Bill deals with a critical part of the UK economy and is about making sure that whatever happens in our Brexit negotiations, the Government will be able to deliver a smooth Brexit. This Bill is about preparations that may never be needed—indeed, I hope they are not. We do not know what the deal will be, so while the negotiations are progressing, it is right for the Government to plan for different eventualities. It is about creating the capacity to develop background systems, and about doing so in collaboration and consultation with the industry. We saw that with the addition in the House of Lords of a consultation clause, which was very positive. We have liberalised access for haulage and the Government are working to maintain that, but it is right to have the contingency, which is what the Bill is about.
I have experienced the sector both as a Minister and prior to that, in my working career, and I know just how important is to have smooth operation and a successful future for this critical part of the UK economy. The Government are to be commended for planning ahead and taking the necessary precautions for whatever Brexit may bring. That is why I will support the Bill; I urge everyone to do so.
I rise to get more clarity and commitments from the Minister, specifically on road safety and reducing loss of life. It will come as no surprise to the Minister that I will focus on towbar failure and substandard trailers.
On the compulsory registration of trailers, I remain concerned that a non-commercial trailer weighing between 750 kg and 3.5 tonnes can be on the road without being subject to routine safety checks. Given that vehicles over 3.5 tonnes are regularly tested, it seems logical for trailers that are, say, 3.4 tonnes, or even 1 tonne, to be subject to regular checks. Accidents with trailers of such a size could easily cause serious injury or death, as we have heard throughout the Bill’s passage. Provision for regular testing would help to shape the behaviour of road users, giving them greater responsibility for the maintenance of their vehicles.
Some very heavy trailers, perhaps even weighing 3.4 tonnes, sit off-road without maintenance, potentially for months or years, before being taken on a road or motorway without any formal scrutiny. That presents a potentially deadly risk to road users and pedestrians. The Minister has spoken about the opportunity the Bill presents for raising public awareness of safety issues. Can he provide any detail of his thoughts on what an education and public awareness campaign might look like? I welcome the commitment he has given to extend testing for all trailers over 750 kg if recommended by the report provided for under clause 20, but that does not go far enough.
We have an opportunity with the Bill to ensure that all trailers over 750 kg are registered on a compulsory basis. Such an intervention would help to prevent serious accidents and deaths on our roads. Regular checks would increase the likelihood of a culture change, leading to owners of heavy trailers taking more responsibility for the safety and roadworthiness of their vehicles. The Minister has said that the report will make recommendations on whether regulations should be extended for compulsory registration for trailers weighing more than 750 kg. Will he say where he believes the threshold of acceptable risk lies, and at which point he believes all trailers should be registered on a compulsory basis? Will he make a personal commitment to extend regulation, without delay, to all trailers over 750 kg at the point the threshold is crossed?
On towbars, we have during the Bill’s passage heard compelling information about the potential lack of compliance with towbar safety regulations. Specifically, I refer again to the National Trailer and Towing Association’s findings that 91% of inspections carried out as part of its free towbar check failed to meet adequate safety requirements. The Minister knows that the Rotherham Towing Centre in my constituency is the second facility in the UK to be accredited by Horizon Global. Customers using such accredited centres have the assurance that a towbar fitted to their vehicle is safe.
There are, however, currently no legal requirements for towbars to be fitted by qualified professionals. There are not even specific standards with which the tow hitches and their fitting must be aligned. The examination at the MOT stage has a very high threshold for failure. In Committee, the Minister rightly said it was important to differentiate between small numbers of data and evidence. To that end, I am pleased that the Government have agreed to report on the compliance of existing provisions for the installation of towbars. Given the agreed need for good evidence-based policy making, does the Minister agree that the report should include details on the number and causes of road traffic accidents involving towbars, as well as the already agreed trailers, under clause 20? He expressed concern that it might not be realistic to retrospectively assess accidents for which data had not been recorded. Will he commit to reporting on accidents involving towbars going forward?
I note that the Minister has said that the level of recorded towbar defects is very low, but staff at my local garage, RH Motors, which does MOT testing, said that the threshold for giving notification of a problem with a towbar is very high. The Minister has stated that he would consider the guidance for staff at MOT stations on the threshold for reporting faulty towbars. What steps has he taken to review this for future guidance?
Finally, on the inspection protocol, the Minister has said that if an extension of periodic testing is proposed to cover all trailers, it would be appropriate for that to examine the tow connection on the trailer itself. Given the concerning evidence suggesting that many towbars and hitches that are examined are not safe, and given that most are not examined at all, does he agree that it would be more prudent to introduce periodic testing for all towbars without delay?
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.