Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [HL] - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 17th April 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:30 pm, 17th April 2018

My Lords, I will first address enforcement and Amendments 10 and 11. The sections on enforcement use the model of enforcement powers that are already in place in the context of operator licensing, Community licences and permits. Under current arrangements, the Community licence is the paper document that hauliers are required to carry in the vehicle and show to inspectors on request, so a switch to paper copy permits, should they be needed, will not fundamentally change this process.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is right to highlight the benefits of digital documents. We want to see the haulage sector moving in this direction and are working towards that, but unfortunately we are not there yet. The Bill already provides the flexibility to move to that digital system in the future. Clause 1 provides that the permit,

“may be in any form the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.

That would enable the Secretary of State to specify the form of permits as digital once we have all the processes in place for that and once the industry is ready for it. Some of our existing permit agreements with other countries require a paper permit to be carried, and indeed all our existing permit schemes are currently paper-based, so it would be slightly counterproductive to insist on a digital permit at this stage. However, I can reassure the noble Lord that we are working towards that and that the current drafting allows us to move to that as and when we are ready to do so.

On the noble Lord’s amendment to Clause 8, the offence in Clause 8(2) relates to the conduct of a driver when a requirement is made of him or her by an examiner. Clause 6(2)(a) requires a driver to produce any permit carried on the vehicle to an examiner, and failing to do so without reasonable excuse would be an offence under Clause 8(2). That offence is relevant where a driver is frustrating enforcement activity, and mirrors similar offences for failing to produce documents carried on the vehicle, such as drivers’ hours records under Section 99 of the Transport Act 1968.

I absolutely understand the noble Lord’s point that if a driver has been sent on a journey by an operator without the necessary permit, the driver should not be punished for that. I agree, and to avoid this we included the wording,

“that is carried on the vehicle”,

in Clause 6(2)(a). Therefore, the driver will be prosecuted for failing to show a permit only if there is one on the vehicle which has been provided by the operator. If that is the case, that would be an offence under Clause 8(1), and that offence applies to the operator, so the driver would not be prosecuted for failing to produce a permit if they had never had such a permit in the first place. I hope this clarifies the scope of these offences to the extent that the noble Lord feels able not to press those amendments.

On the cost element of this group, the amendment proposes that fees should not be charged for five years. I have already outlined, and am happy to do so again, that our aim is to set fees, should they be needed, on a cost recovery basis and to minimise those costs to hauliers using any permit scheme. If we were to exempt hauliers from any permit fees for five years, these costs would have to be borne by another party. That would either be the taxpayer or it would need to be done via the cost of the operator licence, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, pointed out, which would mean that all freight operators would pay for it. The latter would be more in accord with the principles in Managing Public Money which we are trying to stick to.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is right to predict that I will use the argument that the costs of issuing Community licences are covered by operator licensing fees, which also operate on cost recovery. The issuing of Community licences is a small part of the costs of the operator licensing regime, and these fees are kept under review. If we no longer have to issue the Community licences and this reduces the cost to be covered by the fees, of course we will consider that when the fees are reviewed.

However, overall we think it is fairer that those who benefit from a service cover its running costs, rather than have all hauliers or all taxpayers paying for a benefit that only a small number get. Earlier, I confirmed that the fees will cover only the day-to-day running costs, with the Government covering the set-up costs of the scheme, which is being funded as part of our grant from the Treasury. Again, I am happy to confirm that we will do all we can to keep those fees low.

I hope that this discussion and the fact that the fees, should they be needed, will cover only the running costs will reassure the noble Lord that the fees charged to hauliers will be proportionate and stop an additional burden being imposed on the taxpayer. I can also reassure noble Lords that, should the government amendments be accepted, these fees, should they ever be needed, will be subject to three further measures: a statutory consultation with the industry; an affirmative procedure to allow proper parliamentary scrutiny of the regulations; and a report following their introduction to examine the impact on the haulage industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has again suggested that we might benefit from further discussion on this. However, as with Amendment 1, I feel that I have been clear about the Government’s position on the Bill and the Government have nowhere further to go. Therefore, if the noble Lord wants to push the matter further, he will have to test the opinion of the House today. However, I hope that with these reassurances and the government amendments that we will come to later, he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.