Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [HL] - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 17th April 2018.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Chair, EU Internal Market Sub-Committee 4:15 pm, 17th April 2018

My Lords, there are three amendments in this group. Amendment 9 is another of my noble friend Lord Bassam’s amendments. Evidently, either the European open skies aviation system or the Gatwick Express have not yet delivered him to this Chamber.

Amendment 9 deals with much of the territory that was discussed in the previous amendment. Indeed, it was discussed in Committee when the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, had an amendment to delete the whole of this clause. The amendment was intended by my noble friend Lord Bassam to be a compromise and effectively say, “Let’s not charge a separate fee for the new permit system for five years to avoid an unnecessary or unfair additional cost on the hauliers”. Some of this has been dealt with in the previous discussion, and the Minister has indicated that it may not be a large amount of money. Nevertheless, it is an increased cost in a sector that is facing other additional costs, as I explained in relation to earlier amendments—costs at the frontier, the cost of documentation and so on—and one in which margins are already very low and competition is particularly acute. A new permit system really should not require a new payment by the hauliers themselves.

The other complication was also alluded to by the Minister: at present there is no charge for the Community licence. The Government argue on occasion that the charge is covered by the operations licence—the domestic licence, in other words—but if that is the case and we move to a new system, I have not noticed the Treasury arguing on grounds of full cost recovery that the operating licence fee should therefore be reduced. This is an additional and unfair charge on the haulage industry which particularly hits SMEs, and there are quite a lot of single-driver or two or three lorry operations in the sector.

I therefore hope that the Minister will recognise that there is a need to cushion the burden, and the amendment would give her the opportunity at least not to introduce it for several years, during which the totality of the new system could, hopefully, be fully tested, made completely digital and therefore reduce the cost recovery required. We could then perhaps end up with a rational system of what falls on the basic licence and what falls on the European licence. There is therefore still an argument for the amendment. Although I accept much of what the Minister said about the size of the cost, it is nevertheless an additional cost on a precarious industry.

The other two amendments, which are actually mine, relate to a different issue. This in part relates to concerns expressed by Unite the union that aspects of the Bill’s provisions, particularly this clause, suggest that the responsibility falls on the individual driver rather than the operator. The responsibility for meeting the criteria in the regulations to follow and for operating within the new permit system must fall to the operator. The driver, whether contracted or employed by the operator, should not be the person penalised, but the clause explicitly states that, in certain circumstances, it should be the driver who is penalised.

Amendment 10 recognises that the operation of the system will at some point become completely digital. That would make life easier for the driver and, indeed, the operator, in that the driver would not have to find umpteen different documents for a multinational trip and ensure that they were all up-to-date and in order, but could present all that on an iPhone or an iPad. Explicitly recognising that in the Bill would be useful.

My second amendment deals with the issue of the driver’s as against the operator’s responsibility. Clause 8(2) specifically makes the driver responsible for any breach of regulations by failure to show documents, but it is the operator’s responsibility that the driver should have those documents and the operator should ensure that all of his or her lorries are furnished with those documents. The idea that that is primarily the driver’s responsibility is wrong: it must be part of the operator’s responsibility.

I am not saying that it is intended to remove all responsibility from the driver. Clearly, the driver has a responsibility to co-operate with the authorities and if the driver is obstructive or obstreperous to the examiner or whoever is trying to enforce the rules, that driver would be caught by Clause 8(3), which provides that anybody who obstructs the implementation of the regulations commits an offence. That would include the driver in those circumstances, but responsibility for ensuring that both the vehicle and the documentation are in order must lie with the employer or the operator. My amendments give the Minister a possible way out of that. She or her department may find a better way but, at the very least, I would be grateful if she could accept the principle, on the record, and say clearly that the Government’s intention is for it to be the responsibility of the operator, and that the regulations under the Bill will carry that out.

Amendment 9 deals with the costs of the permit. Will the Minister recognise, on the record, that the present system does not require such a payment and that fairness will be maintained in future systems, with the cost falling where it should and not becoming an additional cost for operators in an increasingly difficult and highly competitive industry? I beg to move.