(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the Government’s plans to address heavy goods vehicle driver shortages.
I welcome this opportunity to update the House on the actions that my Department and others have been taking to address the shortage in HGV drivers. This is, of course, a global issue, with our supply chains adjusting to the impact of the pandemic and working incredibly hard to make sure that consumers get whatever they need. We have been working with the industry for many months, unlocking testing capacity so that UK workers can join the driving sector.
My Department has already increased the number of vocational driving tests from 2,000 a week pre-pandemic to 3,000 a week—that is a 50% increase—and last Friday I announced to Parliament additional measures that will significantly increase the number of HGV driving tests, by up to 50,000 per year. First, we will eliminate the need for some car drivers who want to tow a trailer to take an additional test. Some 16 million drivers who took their test before 1997 already have that right, and we are going to allow everybody to enjoy the same privilege of the licence, allowing around 30,000 more HGV tests every single year.
Secondly, tests will be made more efficient by the removal of the reversing exercise element and, for vehicles with trailers, the uncoupling and recoupling exercise. That test will be carried out separately by a third party, so it will still be done.
Thirdly, we are making it quicker to get a licence to drive an articulated vehicle without first having to get a licence for a smaller vehicle. That will make around 20,000 more HGV tests available every year and mean that drivers can gain their licence and enter the industry more quickly, without the removal of any testing. I have instructed the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to prioritise the processing of licence applications, and we are supporting the industry to get UK workers into training.
This is not the only action that we have taken. Over recent months, we have made apprenticeships in the sector much more generous; offered incentive payments to employers to take on apprenticeships in the sector; worked with Jobcentre Plus with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to direct more people towards this brilliant career; and provided funding of £1 million for the Roads to Logistics scheme, encouraging ex-military leavers, ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed to move into jobs in this sector. This is not just a transport problem or effort, but ultimately many of the solutions will come from standing challenges, which the industry itself will want to take on.
This Government welcome the prospect of better remunerated drivers, with better conditions and a more diverse HGV workforce.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
We have heard the words, but they offer far too little far too late. We have all seen constant examples of businesses impacted by supply change disruption from McDonald’s to Nando’s and Wetherspoons. We have all seen supermarket shelves empty, and now the delivery of vital medical supplies is being affected. We have already seen the number of people wanting to do their HGV driving test literally fall off a cliff, with only 9,000 being completed in 2019. That was before Brexit and it was well before covid. Industry has been warning of this crisis for years, but the Secretary of State has been asleep at the wheel. Just months ago, one of his own Ministers accused the road haulage industry of crying wolf over shortages despite the evidence that the crisis was getting bigger and bigger and that it was grinding our economy to a halt.
Last week, I challenged the Transport Secretary to lay out his plan. Not only did it fall short, but it contained some worrying news. One of the measures would see the reversing element of the assessment removed completely, despite the Health and Safety Executive reporting that 25% of all deaths involving a vehicle are the result of a reversing strike. Was he aware of that? If he was, what assessment has been made of the increased risk made by lowering standards even further?
We urgently need to see Ministers bring forward a road freight recovery plan, bringing together all interested parties, with training providers, examiners, businesses, industry bodies and trade unions all working behind a single plan. Will the Secretary of State do so and finally get a grip before it is too late?
Once again, I must stress to the hon. Gentleman that this is a global problem. The chief executive of eastern Europe’s largest hauliers, Waberer’s, said:
“It is a global driver shortage across Europe, not an isolated problem of one country”.
He points out that the shortages are in Romania, Poland, Germany and many other countries. It is not just a European problem, but a global one. In the words not of a UK haulier, but of the chief executive of US Xpress, telling of the problems in the American trucking market:
“The driver situation is about as bad as I’ve seen in my career.”
This is a global problem that we will try to resolve.
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood one of the three key measures that we introduced on Friday, so I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to set it out. The reversing manoeuvre that he refers to is not being removed from testing; it is the testing that is being handed to the training organisation rather than having the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency carry it out. That was widely supported. In the 9,000 consultation responses, it was one of the most strongly supported moves and measures, and it makes a lot of sense.
I have not heard the hon. Gentleman tell us what he thinks the solution is. All I hear from him is that we need to undercut British workers by expanding visa system and letting more people in. He may be right that we have to look at all different options, but I have to say to him, given that he is chair of the Labour and Co-operative parliamentary party, that it is a shame that his solution seems to be to undercut British workers by keeping their wages low.
I call the Chair of the Transport Committee.
The Secretary of State is right to say that this is a problem across Europe. Germany is estimated to be short of 45,000 to 60,000 HGV drivers and France 45,000. Back in 2016, when I was a member of the Select Committee, our Chairman, Dame Louise Ellman, said:
“This is not a new challenge. The road haulage sector has been short of skilled drivers for the last ten years. The familiar profile of the professional driver – over 45, white and male – will need to adapt.”
She also called for pay to go up. Does the Secretary of State agree that the way for the industry to deal with this is to increase pay, and not to suppress wages and to look for labour from abroad, which, clearly, will not work?
We will carry on looking at all the different measures. I hear what Members across the House have said today and previously about this matter. An increase in salaries, better remuneration and better conditions seem like very sensible ways to deal with the issue. We are in support of people who are working hard being paid a decent day’s salary; I support that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: 99% of HGV drivers are white, middle-aged and male. They are increasingly well paid. Their average age is 55. Mr Speaker, I could almost qualify myself if this job doesn’t work out.
Are you giving up the day job?
God help us all, Mr Speaker, if that comes to pass.
Ministers are said to be worried about Christmas, and they should be, but the crisis is upon us now, not in three months’ time. I wrote to the Secretary of State in spring urging action, but there has been nothing until now. The impact of Brexit on daily life is becoming clear, so does he regret the number of times that Members of his party said that the prospect of bare supermarket shelves post Brexit was some baseless “Project Fear”?
The loosening of regulation must not be allowed to put safety at risk. I have been contacted by training providers in my constituency that are facing overnight financial ruin. They were given no notice, no consultation and no explanation of what the Secretary of State and his Department are proposing on trailers and on B+E tests. My constituent has seen his full list of bookings until the end of the year cancelled. How will training firms going out of business or staff being made redundant due to a lack of work help when the longer-term problems of driver recruitment, retention and drivers’ facilities still have not been addressed?
Finally, the Government must listen to the Road Haulage Association, the Food and Drink Federation and pretty much everyone else outside the Department for Transport, and grant temporary visas for HGV drivers. Is the Secretary of State lobbying the Home Office for that—yes or no?
Let me first stress that we have been working on the issue for a very long time. In fact, I think it was in my first meeting when I became Secretary of State—certainly my first meeting with the Road Haulage Association—when I granted the RHA £1 million for the Road to Logistics fund to bring in ex-forces and those who have been unemployed for a long time. That was the very first thing I did, more than two years ago. It is important to recognise that we had been taking action on this for a long time, and, indeed, before many others started to look at the situation. This is a long-term shortage in the marketplace.
The hon. Gentleman expresses legitimate concerns about the role now for those carrying out driver training. We are working to introduce an industry-led accreditation scheme, which could help the 16 million drivers who do not currently require trailer training to have some form of accreditation—perhaps leading to lower insurance and the rest of it—before trailing trailers. We very much hope to help, including firms in his constituency, by expanding the skills base for people driving in all its forms.
I call Stephen Crabb.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for setting out the range of measures that he is taking to address the problem of HGV driver shortages. He is right to emphasise that this problem predates covid and Brexit, and has been growing for a considerable length of time. He mentioned the role of veterans leaving our armed forces and has talked about the long-term unemployed. Does he recognise that there is potential, through working with the Prison Service, for ex-offenders to be helped and supported into a rewarding career path on leaving prison? Is he having discussions with the Ministry of Justice to see whether a good nationwide scheme can be put in place?
We have indeed had exactly those conversations. The Road to Logistics scheme that I mentioned actually takes into account ex-offenders as well. I am speaking to my colleagues across Whitehall—not just at the Ministry of Justice, but also at the Department for Work and Pensions—all of whom have been keen and proactive in bringing people from other careers and no career into this marketplace.
I call Ruth Cadbury.
Thank you, Mr Deputy—[Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] I mean thank you, Mr Speaker.
As Huw Merriman, the Chair of the Select Committee, so ably said, this problem has long been predicted. However, the current and short-term solutions that the Secretary of State is introducing include extending driver hours, loosening the rules on pulling trailers and having a fast track into HGV driving. Will the Secretary of State release the impact assessments on the safety implications of those and the other changes, which raise extreme concerns for road users?
We are always, front and centre, most concerned about road safety; the hon. Lady is absolutely right to point that out. Fortunately we have a very large cohort of drivers who can already pull longer trailers— 16 million of them, in fact—so we are able to study the safety data, and have done so. On some of the other changes that she, and Jim McMahon, referred to, testing is not being removed, as has been advertised; the test is being moved to a different point with the training organisations, which are very good and responsible organisations. Of course we will monitor this very carefully. Drivers’ hours are more flexible but they are still very restricted under the relaxations that we have provided, and they have to be notified as well. So yes, we keep a very close eye on these things.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for setting out the measures that he is already taking to tackle this really important issue. Will he also consider other issues that are preventing people from going into the industry and deterring people from staying in it? One of those is safe and quality facilities when they need to stop, because these rest stops are really important. To get people to go into the industry, they need to have the security and the safety for themselves and for their load in having the right places to stop.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. I think the whole House will recognise that the quality of stop facilities has not been anywhere near where it needs to be. That is one of the reasons the industry has struggled systemically for so long with the lack of drivers. We have already mentioned the statistics, and it is not a surprise that we do not get more women and more people from different backgrounds into the sector. We must sort that out. Again, I am grateful to colleagues across Government, including in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, in terms of planning, for their help and assistance. We are going to have a better-paid, better-quality job where people come into this with the right skills and for the long term.
On Saturday, I met people from East of Scotland Growers—a farmer-owned co-operative based in North East Fife. Their processing season started three weeks ago and they usually get nine lorries a day; they are currently getting five. Their freezers and cold stores are full of highly perishable items right now. The steps that the Secretary of State has outlined are welcome but are not going to help to salvage a system that finishes in six weeks. What other things should the Government be doing?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s welcome of the measures. She is absolutely right to point out that these problems go well beyond a simple shortage of drivers, which, as I have commented on several times, is pan-European—in fact, global—and stretches to problems of supply through the entire supply chain. For example, this morning I met representatives of the maritime industry at the start of London International Shipping Week. They have had to go through enormous problems with factories closing, the problems at Suez and much else in order to keep shipping going. That is all part of the much wider supply chain. I extended the offer of meeting Ministers to explore the opportunities, and I would be happy to hear about and learn from firms in her constituency.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for a big expansion of testing capacity and the idea that we can train more drivers at home. Given the need for much better facilities, will he work with local government and his own Department to identify public sector land at lorry parks or adjacent to the highway that could be used, along with private sector investment, to provide those better facilities?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress, again, the need to have those facilities improved. The answer to his question is yes, I will certainly do that. In fact, I am already doing it. It is very important that there are decent facilities for people to stop at. We have an opportunity to do that now, and I am looking forward to working with him and Members across the House to identify such sites.
May I beg the Secretary of State to think of the health and welfare of the drivers? Recent Loughborough University research commissioned by the NHS finds that the average life expectancy of drivers is 14 years shorter than the general population. Why is that? It is because these drivers drive on the filthy, polluted roads in our country. Not only that, the research shows that that filthy, polluted air gets into the cabs. This is a major health problem. Even at £50,000 and £60,000 a year, men and women are reluctant to enter the profession. Let us get our priorities right—keep these men and women who drive for us safe, and do something about the filthy pollution on the roads in our country.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we want to drive up the standards, but he somewhat misrepresents the picture of improving quality of not only our roads, thanks to our enormous £27 billion investment in our roads, but of air quality as the standard of trucks gets better and better. He may have missed it, but I recently introduced a consultation on the ending of the sale of diesel trucks in this country. We will be one of the first countries, if not the first country in the world that manufactures to do so. I will welcome his response to that consultation, which will help clean the air up for everybody on our roads.
I am grateful that the Department is getting after these issues so urgently. During the summer, I met A.E. Gough and Sons, which has been trucking from Llandrindod Wells in my constituency since 1926. It is a family-run business. It is very proud of its industry, and sees a bright future for it, but it has concerns about the conditions that its drivers experience, such as poor rest facilities. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss its concerns and ensure that we keep this historic business going?
I thank my hon. Friend for that great question. Similar to the point made earlier, we want to see truck stops improve. We want to see the overnight facilities improved. We want to attract people into this industry. We are starting to see that movement, not only because there has been a welcome increase in salaries and wages, but because of campaigns, including by The Sun newspaper, to “Keep on trucking”, which is encouraging more people into this industry. I or my roads Minister would be happy to meet my hon. Friend.
Food products missing from supermarket shelves are commonplace, but my constituents are worried not only about the food shortages, but the shortages in vital medical equipment. We cannot resolve the supply chain problems if the Government will not face up to the cause. Will the Secretary of State admit that his Government’s trade and co-operation agreement with the EU is at the heart of the chronic shortages?
I cannot stand at this Dispatch Box and admit something that is patently untrue. It is not just me saying that; it is the labour unions and the international haulage associations, all of whom are saying that the pandemic is of course the root cause. I will not stand here and deny that there have been big changes to how our industry is operating, but no one can realistically deny that those problems have been coming along for a very long time. If there is a No. 1 cause, it clearly is the pandemic.
Last time I checked, Germany, which requires 45,000 drivers, and Poland which requires 123,000 drivers, were still within the European Union. Despite the Scottish National party and the Labour party trying to paint this as a Brexit issue, will my right hon. Friend please reconfirm to the House that this is a global issue? While they try to undermine British workers, he is focused on finding a solution for this industry.
I just cannot put it better than my hon. Friend. Those countries are in the EU, as are France, Spain and Italy in addition. All have enormous shortages of drivers. There is, of course, a change in our economy; there is a change to the global economy brought about by coronavirus. Without allowing the terms and conditions to improve in the HGV world, we will never attract the right number of drivers. That is something that, thankfully, is starting to happen.
“The impact on daily life is becoming clear. There are already shortages of some foods—yes, really, food shortages in one of the richest countries of the world.”
Does the Minister regret the number of times representatives of his party, including Ministers, claimed that the prospect of empty shelves as a result of Brexit was some baseless fear project?
If the hon. Gentleman had his way, he would be importing drivers from England to settle the shortage. It just makes no sense. We have gone round in circles on this. The reality is that we are working very hard to fix a global problem through enabling more testing and encouraging more people into the market. I would welcome him encouraging people to join this market, too.
Anyone who has engaged with the haulage industry over many years, as I have, knows that this issue is nothing to do with Brexit and much to do with a long-running image of an industry that has found it difficult to attract people. I welcome the measures announced by my right hon. Friend, which many hauliers in my constituency would say are overdue. Does he recognise that there is still a concern about the short term and that many of the measures will take some time to work through? What does he envisage happening in the short term to allay fears in my constituency and elsewhere about people getting the goods they want for Christmas, for example?
First, it is important to say that many of the solutions rest with the sector. It is not simply the Government who need to resolve the supply shortages; as I said earlier, it goes much wider to the maritime industry and others as well. None the less, we have taken early and consistent action that has already increased the number of tests available by 50%; and, as I described, my first meeting in this job was about enabling more people to come into the sector. The measures that I announced to the House through Friday’s written statement and, in particular, the number of testing slots that will become available straightaway as a result, take that faster and will have an impact this side of Christmas.
We have heard from the Secretary of State that this phenomenon has absolutely nothing to do with him, but the reality is that last year’s immigration Bill was not accompanied by any alternative domestic skills plan whatsoever, and that has quickly caught up with the Government, who rejected all of Labour’s calls for impact assessments that would have identified critical skills gaps. One of my local businesses told me that its sector is at crisis point and that the HGV driver shortage is making supply-chain issues impossible. What can my local business do to recruit and retain HGV drivers to alleviate these crippling problems right now?
I am a little confused by the question because I have never said, “This is nothing to do with me.” In fact, I consider it the Department for Transport’s responsibility to propose measures to alleviate the problem, as I have already explained twice. I did that from my very first meeting in this job and I have continued to do it through measures such as the road to logistics programme and adjusting drivers’ hours as well as those I announced to the House the other day. It is the case, however, that 6 million Europeans—many of whom will be drivers—still have pre-settled status, and many will be attracted back by the price mechanism with it being worthwhile to come and drive in this country. I hope the hon. Member joins me in welcoming what I think will help the businesses in her constituency: better pay and conditions for the people who carry out this hard work.
Opposition Members seem to be trying to paint this as a picture of Brexit and UK immigration policy, but does the Secretary of State agree that that does not explain the shortages seen in Poland, Germany, the United States and France and that if we do not accurately diagnose the problem as one of wages and conditions, we will not be able to solve it? Furthermore, does he agree that it is quite astonishing that the SNP and Labour seem to be against improving workers’ conditions?
My hon. Friend is, of course, spot on. It is extraordinary to hear the Opposition’s absolute obsession with Brexit. Government Members have all moved on, have we not? They want to go on and on about Brexit and, when we are trying to solve the problems, they want to take us backwards again. The reality is that their only solution is to import and undercut British workers. We want to train those workers, pay them more and improve facilities.
I have been contacted by a number of drivers in Ceredigion who believe that a long-term solution to the crisis must include improving delivery times at distribution centres. Many drivers have told me of having to wait for hours while their loads are tipped at the centres and that preventing such long stays would go a long way to enhancing driver welfare and driver retention in the industry. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss that further?
The hon. Gentleman makes the good point that we have a just-in-time delivery system in this country, and we must maintain it. The resilience of many of the supply chains, including on the short straits between Calais and Dover, is critical. We saw the problems created at Christmas when the French closed the border over coronavirus—note that it was not over Brexit—so it is important that we put all the necessary measures in place to ensure that our system runs as smoothly as possible across the distribution network. I would be happy either to meet him or for him to meet the roads Minister on the subject.
The Prime Minister has often declared his love of buses in this place, so does the Secretary of State recognise that there are recruitment issues not just in the HGV sector, but in the bus sector? In rural and isolated constituencies such as mine of North Norfolk, that has real problems. Would the Secretary of State reassure me that he will put as much energy as he can into recruiting people into the HGV sector as into the bus sector?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the need for vocational training and testing in all sectors. One of the good things about these measures is that the expanded number of tests that will be available will be useful for vocational drivers in all sectors, including the coach sector and the much loved Bus Back Better sector as well.
It has been highly amusing seeing the Secretary of State paint himself somehow as Comrade Shapps, a champion of the workers who is enhancing terms and conditions while at the same time increasing workers’ hours. Actually, this measure has a really detrimental effect on health and safety. I have written to the Secretary of State about a number of constituents who could not get their tests to become HGV drivers. Is it not about time that the Secretary of State sat down with the new general secretary of Unite, if he is so interested in terms and conditions and in improving wages? He should sit down, collectively bargain and enhance terms and conditions for British workers.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding here, because what we have done does not increase workers’ hours. It provides flexibility without changing the hours. If the hon. Member is accusing me of being in favour of the worker and on the side of people earning more money for a decent day’s work when they deliver the goods to our shops, guilty as charged. I hope he will join me on the frontline.
The British Army is one of the biggest employers of HGV drivers; it has about 2,000. What discussion has the Secretary of State had with our right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary about the use of some of those drivers to preserve critical supply chains were that to be necessary, and also about the impact of this crisis on retention? At the moment, supermarket chains are paying upwards of £60,000 to drivers, which is a very powerful inducement for people to leave the Army.
It is of course absolutely true that, with salaries increasing, more people are being encouraged to come into the sector. That means that there may be an impact overall where people are paid more in different professions. We have seen an increase in the number of drivers coming in—I know this from the DVSA booking figures—which shows that there is a solution on the horizon. My hon. Friend is also right to question whether the Army could deliver some of the goods and services. At the moment, that is not being considered. Of course, the Government as a whole keep a very close eye on this issue and have contingency plans in place, but it is absolutely not something that at the moment the Government are looking at.
Empty supermarket shelves, increasing prices of building materials and shortages of blood tests and flu jabs are an indication of a very serious set of crises. We are 90,000 short of drivers in this country, which is more than twice the figure in the other countries that the Secretary of State mentioned. According to a constituent of mine, only eight tests were available at the Switch Island testing centre in my constituency last week. Taking short cuts that undermine safety cannot possibly be the answer to this crisis. There is a problem right now. Lorry drivers need it sorting out, consumers need it sorting out and businesses need it sorting out, as does the country. What is the answer—here, now, today—to this shortage?
Again, there seems to be some misunderstanding. First, the tests are still required for HGV drivers. We are not compromising safety; the tests are just taking place in a different place. For example, there is the C+E test, which is for articulated plus rigid. These used to have to be done separately, and we are just combining the tests so that people do not first have to have done the C test before they do the E test. It does not reduce safety at all, and it is widely welcomed by the sector. Similarly, Mike Amesbury, who is leaving the Chamber, said that we are increasing drivers’ hours. We are not increasing drivers’ hours. There is a lot of misunderstanding. The measures we are putting in place now will provide immediate additional capacity. They already have—we already have 50% more tests available—and they will bring up another 50,000 per annum. We are doing this today.
I am pleased that Stroud’s haulage drivers are receiving more recognition for how integral they are to the smooth running of our lives and businesses, and I hope that will help with recruitment. As my right hon. Friend works hard to consider a range of options and solutions to combat the global driver shortage, has he considered making changes—temporary or otherwise—to certificate of professional competence training requirements, so that we can bring back experienced retired drivers more quickly?
My hon. Friend raises an excellent point that has not come up in the debate so far. We considered CPC requirements during the transition period and we made some changes, and we will always keep a close eye on whether such changes are required. We will keep the issue under constant review, and I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s thoughts on the matter.
In a Transport Committee meeting on
My right hon. Friend’s statement shows that the Conservative party is the true workers’ party. A Harlow HGV driver said to me that the big issue is conditions, as has been pointed out. Is not the answer to this issue—indeed, this is the answer for so many problems to do with skills—to rocket-boost HGV apprenticeships? What is my right hon. Friend doing to work with the Department for Education and the Institute for Apprenticeships to rocket-boost those vital apprenticeships for HGV drivers?
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As I mentioned in passing—I will provide a little more detail—we have raised the funding band from £6,000 to £7,000 to allow large goods vehicle apprentices to come into the market, which is helping to attract more people. We have also included an incentive payment to employers of £3,000, made available for every apprentice they hire as a new employee. I hope both those measures are having a real impact.
Although that goes somewhat outside my remit, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Department of Health and Social Care has robust programmes in place, not least through its work prior to Brexit, to ensure a supply of medical provisions. That includes things like already having them in stock, and many other measures that do not require the traditional route. It is worth knowing that despite the crisis—which, as I say, is global—we have not had to use any of the approaches that were talked about prior to Brexit. Those include buying additional Government purchase capacity for freight in order to shift medicines or other supplies around. Indeed, we purchased such capacity as a standby, but we did not have to use much of it at all. As I say, however, the issue is not directly in my remit.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the excellent removal of the need for young people, who have been hit so hard by the pandemic, to spend their money on a trailer test. That is really welcome in rural communities, and with that extra freedom comes extra responsibility. When can those young people expect that policy to be implemented—is it today?
I am pleased to tell the House that the statutory instrument is going down, which means that the change will be made very soon indeed. I will write to Members to provide further detail on that. My hon. Friend is right to point out that extra responsibility comes with some of the freedoms, and the industry-led accreditation scheme, which we have already started to discuss with the industry, insurers and those who hire out trailers, is important. We can also improve the quality of driving among the 16 million people who already have permission to drive those trailers without any tests.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. First, we need to make sure that the job is properly remunerated. Secondly, the terms and conditions—the quality of stops—must be commensurate with the job that people are doing, and I have talked about how I am working with colleagues across Government on that front. Thirdly, I am working with my right hon. Friend the welfare Secretary on how, with a variety of different programmes, we attract people from more diverse backgrounds so that the sector is not 99% white, male and middle-aged. I am working with my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary on how we can expand programmes in that direction too.
The Secretary of State has just acknowledged the need for a broader mix of people in the sector—particularly women, who make up only 1% of workers. He has also spoken about how improved facilities will help ease that. Does he agree that there is a great example at the UK’s newest motorway services, operated by Moto at junction 1 of the M6, which were opened during the summer by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean?
I have worked closely with the Government for four years, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on trailer and towing safety, to secure an amendment to legislation following the tragic death of a toddler in my constituency. The Government’s proposed change 3, which would allow car drivers not to take the additional test, is a bitter blow to the work that we have done over four years, and I have not been told, and do not understand, what the changes mean for trailer safety. I would very much welcome a briefing on these proposals from officials for me and the all-party group—proposals in which my constituents whose son died, who have lent their support to Government campaigns, are very disappointed.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of road safety. In this country, we have ended up with 1,700 deaths per year—the number has come down—making ours some of the safest roads in the world, but the number of remaining deaths and serious injuries has been very stubborn. I am happy to arrange for a meeting with the hon. Lady and the APPG. I have mentioned that there could be a significant upside to these changes. I hired a trailer just before the summer, on a pre-’97 licence, and I was not asked for any form of accreditation at all. In our future system, we hope and expect that the industry-led accreditation scheme will ensure that people are hiring with better skills in place. I think that we can use that to improve the skills of the 16 million drivers who do not require any particular test in order to hire a trailer. I think there is a very happy situation here where we can improve safety overall.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the way he is working with the sector to come forward with practical solutions, but delays at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency are delaying some people in getting their HGV licence and, indeed, other work. What steps is he taking to get the DVLA staff back to work and fully functioning to deal with the backlog and the delays, so that my constituents and people around the country can get their driving licences quickly and take up the jobs that are available?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am asking the DVLA to prioritise the issuing of HGV licences. That is part of the issue, but he is right to highlight that there is an ongoing strike that bears no relation to the current situation. I encourage the Public and Commercial Services Union to bring that to a close as soon as possible. It is harming the most vulnerable people in society, whose licences and documents are not being issued and/or returned, and in this particular case it is also harming the nation’s effort to get HGV drivers on the road.
What I can guarantee is that we will do everything we possibly can to enable more HGV drivers to pass their tests and get on the road, and to have better conditions and the raft of other measures we have discussed, but the whole solution, unfortunately, is not in our hands. This is a global situation that has been described many times during this debate.
I must just correct an hon. Gentleman who claimed that we have the highest shortage. That is the not the case. For example, we have seen the figures from Poland, which has a shortage of 120,000, so it is a global problem. We will work day and night to do everything we can to secure supply, but not all the answers lie in the hands of the Government.
Along with the many hauliers based in my constituency, I also have Don-Bur, which I recently visited. It makes HGV trailers and reported to me a huge increase in demand for its trailers because of the need for larger trailers. I very much welcome the announcement from my right hon. Friend on new larger-body trailers, but what more can be done to support this very important industry and, in particular, to get more people working in it?
I do hope the measures we are introducing will help. I also think the accreditation scheme we talked about, industry-led as it will be, will enable high quality companies, such as the ones in my hon. Friend’s constituency, to take advantage and help to train and secure better training for people who use trailers. I think the future is bright for the trailer firms in his patch.
Businesses in my constituency have been reporting labour shortages for many months now—not only HGV drivers but the meat processing and health and care sectors. However, the Welsh Government currently have no powers over immigration to help to address the situation. Does the Secretary of State not agree that if the Union was working, there would be nothing to stop the Welsh Government—and, indeed, the Scottish Government and the Northern Irish Executive for that matter—adding occupations to the shortage occupation list as an emergency measure to help to protect our economic interests?
It is a long-held reserved power. As the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom Government decide who can come into the country and under what circumstances. There are 6 million EU citizens with pre-settled status. They are not necessarily all here, but many could come and drive here. As I said to the Opposition Front Bencher, rather than trying to undercut people’s salaries, why do we not work on attracting more people into the sector by paying them a little bit more?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think I saw the figure that the US will need another 1.5 million drivers over the next few years. It is experiencing very, very similar problems to those here within its own market, as are—this has been discussed many times now—many countries in the EU and beyond. It is a global supply issue. The British Government are doing everything within their power to ensure that we can help to ameliorate it as much as possible through the measures that I wish the Opposition would support.
The Secretary of State rightly identified the long-term structural issues that have caused the shortage, but then he said it is a global issue and it is the pandemic. That suggests the measures put in place just now, on extra testing being available and longer driver journey times, will not work in the long term or the short term. On longer journey times for drivers, how many operators have notified the Department for Transport of relaxation and what analysis has it undertaken on how many operators are making their drivers drive for longer?
I can write to the hon. Gentleman with the answer to his question so that he has specific numbers. From recollection, it is in the low hundreds. Most of the companies that have notified of that have not, in fact, ended up needing to use it, but have been appreciative of the additional flexibility.
I just want to express to the House again that this is not about what people think of as the EU driving hours. This enables flexibility. It does not enable people to suddenly drive without any caution about the amount of time they are driving. I will certainly write to him with the exact numbers he seeks.
Logistics is massively important to Leicestershire due to our location. I was down in Hinckley at DPD only two weeks ago having this very discussion about the acute, middle and long-term problems, and this plan helps to address that. One of the key issues from all the logistics companies that contact is me how they can feed things in to the Secretary of State. As he rightly points out, the answers will come from within the industry. What is the best way that they can get their message heard?
I welcome any logistics company contacting me directly. I also regularly meet the Road Haulage Association and Logistics UK, which are representative organisations for the haulage sector—I have done several times very recently and, as I said, over many years. As I say, I am very happy to hear directly from haulage companies in my hon. Friend’s constituency and those of other hon. Members about their first-hand experiences.
My grandfather Terry worked as a lorry driver, having left the Marines, for over 20 years for Bowyers in the town of Trowbridge. He was a Marine—a veteran—and we have a fantastic veteran community in Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke. I implore the Minister to share with us what discussions he has had with the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State about how to get our fantastic veterans into these jobs, filling these vacancies and getting the lorries moving on our roads.
I am very keen to do exactly as my hon. Friend suggests. That is why I funded Road to Logistics, which the Road Haulage Association has been leading on. The purpose of that plan is to bring former military personnel into this now excellent career, which is paying increasingly well.
I know that the hon. Lady was slightly late, but I am now happy to take her question.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and no discourtesy was intended—it was because of transport difficulties.
We have been told by Government Members that the HGV driver shortages and the consequential food and supply shortages have nothing to do with Brexit and that these challenges predate Brexit, although nobody can remember empty shelves before Brexit or indeed find them currently in any European country. Will the Secretary of State explain to what extent he thinks ending free movement and his Government’s hostile environment have helped or hindered the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK?
I do not want to repeat the last hour of this debate, but I have pointed out that there are 6 million EU citizens with pre-settled status, many of whom will either have the right to drive, if they already have their HGV licence, or may want to get it. We have operated a very generous, open programme—much more generous oftentimes than it is the other way around. I think we have already amply examined and proved that these problems are of a global nature, but this Government are trying to ensure that the supply chain to the UK continues as best as we can under those circumstances.