Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [HL] - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 17th April 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:30 pm, 17th April 2018

My Lords, I shall speak first to the various amendments relating to the negotiation aims, which address the points made by many noble Lords on the continuation of the Community licence regime, before moving on to why we need to make the regulations irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations. I hope I have been clear on the Government’s objective throughout the passage of the Bill: we want to maintain the existing liberalised access for UK hauliers. A mutually beneficial road freight agreement with the EU will support the objective of frictionless trade. We are confident that our future relationship with the EU on road freight, as part of our wider continuing relationship on trade, will be in the mutual interest of both sides.

These amendments would enshrine negotiation objectives in the Bill. On their overall principle, I must be clear that we do not believe that an attempt to mandate a particular stance in negotiations, in the way that these amendments would, is appropriate in the Bill. We will need flexibility to be able to adapt our approach in different areas. I am afraid that I shall not be able to accept these amendments, but I understand that noble Lords need the reassurance that we aim to have in place the arrangements that we need to maintain continued access.

The current arrangements for road freight access between the EU and UK through the Community licence allow drivers to use a single permit for trips between all EU member states. The licence also allows transit traffic through EU member states. Several noble Lords have spoken about the advantages of the Community licence. I am aware of those benefits and that many hauliers would like to see it continue. While continued participation in the Community licence arrangements is one potential outcome of the negotiations—we will certainly discuss it—there are other means to replicate the access that the Community licence provides, which these amendments would rule out.

Our current liberalised non-permit-based agreements with some non-EU countries provide for mutual recognition of operator licences in lieu of the requirement of a permit. The UK-Turkey agreement is one such example. The EU has a similar arrangement in the EU-Swiss land transport agreement, where permits are not needed and mutual recognition is allowed. Our future agreement with the EU could be based on a similar scheme and, if that were the case, permitting would not be relevant. Including the objective to seek continued participation in the Community licence arrangements may make it harder to agree such a beneficial deal for our hauliers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has tabled an amendment to the regulations made under Clause 1 that would see them apply only to an EU member state outside the UK, rather than any other country. This would mean that the focus of this part of the Bill will be only on arrangements with the EU. The Bill creates the legal frameworks to deliver for any administrative system that might be required as part of the final deal, but it also caters for our existing bilateral agreements with countries outside the EU. It is important that the Bill enables the regulations to cover these agreements so that there is compliance and consistency in the administration of a permit scheme, the allocation of permits and enforcement in relation to permits.

Non-EU agreements have previously been dealt with under administrative powers. The Bill will repeal the International Road Haulage Permits Act 1975 and bring in an entirely new framework. It is in UK hauliers’ interests to be able to use one system to apply for permits for non-EU countries as well as any permits that may be required, but we are clear that we hope that there would be no such requirement under any new EU schemes. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that this is a coat-hanger Bill, but I am grateful to her for introducing me to a new term. It is important that we do all we can to provide consistency and certainty for the industry in how they can apply for permits and the methods of allocations for these permits. That is why the Bill should refer to all countries outside the UK and not just EU member states.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is quite right that the World Trade Organization’s most-favoured-nation rules apply to the road haulage sector except when there is an exemption or it is part of a wider free trade agreement, which is of course something we are seeking with the EU. The free trade agreement would cover sectors crucial to our linked economy, such as the haulage industry. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on the Chief Whip’s statement, I believe that the words on today’s list were taken directly from page 130 of the Companion. I will not attempt to justify them further, but I am grateful to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for her intervention on that.

Noble Lords have raised the issue of borders, customs and border delays. I acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that much work needs to be done in this area, but this work is happening in consultation with industry. In the case of this Bill, the provision of a permits scheme—whatever its detail or design—is intended precisely to ensure that there will be no delays for UK hauliers at our borders or any other borders in relation to their permission to travel.

Moving on to the amendments relating to the wider need to make regulations, irrespective of whether we have a future relationship with the EU that relies on permits, I understand that there is concern about the inclusion of enabling powers in the Bill if they will not be used at any point in the future in relation to our arrangements with the EU. However, as I have outlined, the Bill covers existing permit-based arrangements so we would need to continue to use them.

As the Prime Minister outlined in her March speech, our default is that UK law may not necessarily be identical to EU law, but it should achieve the same outcomes. Specifically on transport, she stated that,

“we will want to protect the rights of road hauliers to access the EU market and vice versa”.

In direct response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, we are not seeking to return to the arrangements that we had before becoming an EU member state. The Bill does not suggest an alternative system—that is a matter for negotiations—but simply puts in place a mechanism for delivering the outcome of those negotiations. That is the responsible thing to do.

I have been clear on the Government’s objective for the negotiations in relation to the UK haulage industry. We aim to stay as close to the status quo as is reasonably practical. That objective is shared by the haulage industry and noble Lords across the House. We do not believe that this amendment is necessary; it may have the unintended consequence of making the objective of continued liberalised access harder to achieve. I therefore hope that the noble Lord feels able not to press his amendment.