Amendment 42

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Lord Whitty:

Moved by Lord Whitty

42: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—“Transport between the United Kingdom and the EU(1) During the implementation period a Minister of the Crown must as necessary make regulations and seek agreements with the EU or with an individual member State of the EU to ensure that transport of freight and of passengers by road, rail, air and sea continues to operate smoothly between the United Kingdom and member States of the EU during the implementation period.(2) No later than 31 July 2020 a Minister of the Crown must set out in a report to both Houses of Parliament the basis for movement of freight and of passengers by road, rail, air and sea between the United Kingdom and member States of the EU after the implementation period.(3) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of 14 sitting days beginning with the day on which the report is published, make arrangements for an amendable motion on the report to be debated and voted on in each House of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment is to alleviate concerns that permits will become less available and more complicated for lorries and drivers on cross-Channel journeys by ensuring that contingency arrangements can be made during the implementation period.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

My Lords, I said earlier this afternoon that my amendments were somewhat technocratic today, but this one actually, in a sense, deals with the most fundamental issue of all. As we split from the European Union, what actually happens when we move from one economic and political entity to another and how does it differ from the free movement we have had over the past few years? In other words, what will be different for the citizen or the trader once Brexit is “done”? Of course, as we said earlier, it is being done in stages: some things will happen from 1 February, some presumably from 1 January, and there might well be further stages in any ultimate agreement.

What matters to citizens and business is: if you drive your lorry off the ferry at Ostend, what has changed? If you land at Schiphol Airport, now in a different economic area, as a British citizen what has changed? Despite the fact that we have had major debates on Northern Ireland, it is not at all clear what will happen in relation to Northern Ireland, even internally within the United Kingdom. What actually happens if you are a trader moving produce from Stranraer to Larne or vice versa? I am not clear and nor are many businesses in Northern Ireland. Indeed, what changes if you just drive produce down the road from Strabane to Letterkenny? We need to know that; businesses, citizens and communities need to make arrangements that anticipate the new relationship with our European colleagues.

In May last year, the sub-committee of the EU Select Committee that I then chaired produced a major report on transport. That report is yet to be debated in the House. I was told that we would be debating it next week, in which case I probably would not have moved this amendment, but that seems to have disappeared, in which case we are not likely to debate transport in any other context before Brexit on 31 January.

We are told that things will not change during the implementation period, but some things will change. We will no longer be party to any decisions on transport or any other area during that period. I have therefore tabled an amendment that tries to deal with these stage changes to enable Ministers to make regulations to deal with those changes even during the implementation/transition period, because some will be needed. More importantly, after the end of that period, we will have a whole new relationship for every mode of transport—air, sea, road and rail. The implications will be different for passengers and for freight.

Take the road haulage industry: we have already had two different attempts to get it to prepare by developing its certificates and its ability to trade post Brexit, originally in preparation for 29 March. Those arrangements have, of course, now fallen. Even now, the road haulage industry is not yet clear whether we will be dealing with ECMT permits, which are limited in number, whether the whole range of road haulage will be required to have a new certification process, or whether drivers’ qualifications will remain recognised by the European Union, and therefore whether we can continue to trade in anything like the way we currently do without going through a whole new process.

When 29 March was in prospect, the European Union unilaterally, but subject obviously to reciprocal action, proposed that there would be a period of between nine and 12 months when the current arrangements for aviation and road transport would remain, so there was to be a buffer contingency provision. Those have sort of been rolled forward, but it is still not yet clear how long they will last and whether they will actually maintain continuity, or whether they will require new bureaucratic limitations on the ability to maintain the current level of aviation service, the current number of slots available to British-based companies, or, in the road haulage industry, the current level of permits.

The EU Select Committee has reviewed the withdrawal treaty and the political declaration. There are, of course, very high-level commitments in the political declaration to try to maintain some degree of movement. The committee concludes—as, more or less, does my committee—that it is not yet clear, and is unlikely to be clear until we get a free trade agreement of some sort, what the arrangements will be post-December this year. The committee concludes that we need much firmer commitments from the Government on their objectives in these areas, and much clearer commitment from the EU during the coming months.

The second part of my amendment therefore requires that, halfway through the year—by the end of July; let us give them a few months to get it sorted—the Government offer some clarity to industry and citizens. This involves us even as individual motorists. Will we need an international driving certificate by the end of this year to get off the ferry at Calais or Boulogne? It matters that we know the Government’s intention in these areas. As yet, we do not know the intention or—if it is to maintain free movement of goods and passengers on the present basis as far as possible—the credibility of that intention.

Of course, we then run up against a basic objection: free movement is dependent on alignment and common regulations, or what one of Mrs May’s propositions referred to as a common rule book. Without that, even if we have no tariffs, there are administrative problems, including costs and potential delays. That could snarl up Dover and make traffic at Holyhead almost impossible to check. It could mean snarling up trade with Ireland, as well as our relationship with the Irish Republic, which uses the UK as a transit area to get into the rest of the EU.

If the Government genuinely want what the Prime Minister on occasion says they want—the maximum freedom to diverge from European Union regulations—and they apply this to transport, the system will snarl up. There will not be frictionless trade, which has been said by successive Prime Ministers to be the objective. Frictionless trade does not exist without pretty close alignment of regulations, which the European Union has. As my noble friend Lord Lea said earlier, even between the EU and EEA/EFTA countries, there are some administrative problems at the borders, despite the agreement between the EU and those countries.

In every transport sector, whether you are a big road haulage company, a major world airline, a small trader with a van or an individual motorist, you do not yet know how the world is going to change and we have had no real indication from the Government of how they will deal with this. Can they give us some indication? As I have said, I would have preferred a report on transport in a different context—and I hope we will still have that even if it has to be after Brexit day—but this is a major subject which affects almost every sector of our country. I will come on to another amendment that deals with the agencies. The European agencies are very important to effective transport safety, be it road haulage, the railways or, more importantly, aviation and maritime activities.

I hope that we can get a coherent response—a report—from the Government on this issue. I have given them time before we exit. Between now and July, they should tell us where they are going and how we are to travel and trade beyond next year. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 3:45 pm, 16th January 2020

My Lords, I was a member of the committee to which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred when he mentioned the evidence on this issue. Week after week we heard witnesses from the transport industries giving evidence, and they presented a pretty united picture. Not one of them bounced in and said, “No, it’s all right, we’ll cope; we aren’t worried.” They were all worried and they were all frustrated. Of course, they will do their best to cope, but many of them genuinely fear that their businesses will go to the wall in the process.

Transport of one sort or another has been the subject of a lot of discussion and controversy throughout the Brexit debate. This is a comprehensive amendment which includes references to passengers, freight, roads, rail, air and sea. All of these are currently governed by a mass of different rules and agreements. Some of the agreements are with the EU and some are international treaties, but we are a member of those treaties solely as a member of the EU. Therefore, our position has to be renegotiated as we leave. All of this has to be unravelled and reconstructed if our transport system is to flow smoothly. It will never flow as easily after we leave the EU, because the Government have set their face against the close trading relationship needed for it to do so. However, they can still do things to paper over the cracks.

It is important to recognise the size of the problem. The prosperity of our economy rests on the shoulders of our transport system. Much of that involves foreign trade and the movement of people between countries, but even parts of the economy that are purely internal are to a varying extent affected by problems in the international movement of goods and people. To give one example, any delay to the ports in Kent has a huge knock-on effect not just on the motorways but on the towns and villages of Kent as a whole, and has an impact directly on its internal economy.

Now we have the added factor of the border down the Irish Sea. I have spoken repeatedly in this Chamber about the impact that this would have on Wales—for example on the port of Holyhead, which is badly unprepared to deal with long queues of traffic simply because of where it is situated—and on the farming industry in Wales as a whole. Transport-related problems are not confined to the impact of increased bureaucracy, to which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred, nor to more complex border arrangements and the delays they might produce. They are also caused by the steady departure of EU nationals. This industry has a very high percentage of such employees, and their departure will also cause recruitment issues.

I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that many of the early arrangements we made as a country with the EU in preparation for this are now badly out of date. Indeed, I remember sitting opposite the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, when she was the Minister, discussing whether the dates matched for the interim arrangements that had been reached. So all these now need to be updated. They took us a long time in the first place—many hours of work went into them—but they must be looked at again, and it would be very useful for this House to know how well the Government are getting on with that.

The Government have been relatively keen to maintain our membership of aviation-related treaties but have been much more limited in how they have approached, for instance, links with our current EU partners on the railways. They have wanted agreement only with our immediate neighbours. Is that still their position?

The Government have gradually woken up to the general issues and concerns, especially in relation to freight and ports. A great deal of money has been spent on an emergency infrastructure in Kent. Of course, a lot of that money was wasted because it led to previous dates for departure from the EU that did not come to anything. Then there is of course the famous ferry company with no ferries.

I see that the Government are now trying to reclaim some of the £10 million that they gave to this industry and others to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. That displays the Government’s confusion on all this, because the Prime Minister continues to threaten that if there is no trade deal this year there will still be a no-deal Brexit. Everyone I talk to or listen to who has any knowledge of the complexity of a trade deal says of course that it is a highly likely event, because it is virtually impossible to get an agreement by the end of the year.

The transport industry remains seriously concerned. It grapples with uncertainty and complexity. I argue that this issue is so fundamental that it deserves the spotlight and the report that the amendment suggests. It is about a great deal more than whether we will all need two different sorts of international driving permit. It is that kind of thing that will have a huge impact on the general public, but it is the complexity of all the other issues that will have a major impact on how our goods are carried to and fro, and with what efficiency.

The amendment is designed to impose on the Government an obligation to work for the smoothest possible trade arrangements going forward. I hope that the Government have no problem in accepting that principle; but I also hope that they accept that Parliament should have the opportunity to assess progress. I believe, and I have always believed, that it is not until we get the impact on our transport arrangements across the board that people in Britain will realise the size of the change coming to us.

I hope that the Government can accept the amendment. If they cannot, I hope that they will work toward agreeing something along similar lines that will impose similar obligations on them to give updates on progress as they move forward with agreements on transport.

Photo of Baroness Noakes Baroness Noakes Conservative

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I served on the EU sub-committee, led very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and took part in the preparation of the report to which the noble Lord referred.

It was very clear from the evidence we received in that committee that some serious issues remain to be resolved. In particular, I single out road haulage, with the issue of permitting. Not all the other sectors present the same degree of difficulty. However, in that committee we took evidence from the Minister in the Department for Transport. While there were no definitive answers, because at that time last year there was a range of possible Brexit outcomes, it is fair to say that the Minister demonstrated a full grasp of the issues involved. I have confidence that the Government are aware of the issues and know what needs to be addressed in order for there to be a successful outcome for all aspects of transport post Brexit: that is, post the implementation period, in effect, so this is not a burning-platform issue.

I cannot support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, because I do not think that reports to Parliament are a particularly useful mechanism, especially in the context of what I believe was relatively clear evidence at the time that the Government were aware of the issues and determined to address them. I look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s response and hope that she will be able to demonstrate to the House that the Government are indeed aware of the issues and committed to finding practical solutions to them.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I do not normally have sympathy for the Government Front Bench, but I, like the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, took part in many hours of, broadly speaking, good-natured debates preparing for a no-deal exit. That very action revealed to us the sheer complexity required to make international transport systems work effectively. We were dependent on what we could do for ourselves, because we were in no way able to demand reciprocal action from the EU. Indeed, the EU saw the sheer risks of a no-deal exit and in fact came some way towards providing interim arrangements. Those interim arrangements do not now exist. It is possible that they will emerge between now and the end of December, but given the sheer effort required to do these complex deals, where somehow it is subtly acceptable with our European friends but is not actually like Europe—roughly speaking, that is what the Government are saying—I fear it is impossible.

I do not want to leave the European Union. Most of the House before the election did not want to leave the European Union and probably does not now, but with the odd exception there is virtually acceptance in this House that we have to get Brexit done. We may not like it, but we accept it. However, the sheer practical difficulties the Government face are terrifying.

It also happens that they have picked the worst date of the year. I had a crisis when a permit to operate ran out on 31 December; the alternative was to stop London on 1 January. It was pretty terrifying, because Christmas happens all over the place. Frankly, the end of December is the 22nd if you are lucky. The problem is that everybody else thinks the end of December is the 31st. It turns out that it is not. People are not there—senior people to make decisions and last-minute scrambles, which are what deadlines produce. It becomes utterly chaotic. Anyway, we survived and London did not stop, but it got incredibly close.

During consideration of the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act, we debated the concerns of the freight industry at length. That industry is key to our trading with the EU 27, with millions of road goods vehicles travelling from Britain to the European mainland each year.

Since the passage of the Act, as part of its preparations for a no-deal exit, the Department for Transport began allocating permits via a lottery system, a system that was to be a fallback. Inevitably, because it is so overwhelmed, that became the main allocator. Figures show that less than 1,000 of more than 11,000 HGV operators' applications for annual permits were successful. With a deal now in place and a time-limited transition period running to the end of December, hauliers, drivers and users of other transport modes will be able to continue largely as normal.

However, as with other topics debated in recent days, there is no certainty about the post-December 2020 picture. Indeed, with the Government imposing hard deadlines for a new trade deal, transport operators face a renewed threat of suboptimal contingency measures. I lived in the transport industry. The lead time simply to have the right people in the right places to load the trains, drive the trains, fly the aeroplanes takes weeks and months. If you do not know what you are going to do in an industry that is so integrated, chaos reigns.

I welcome my noble friend Lord Whitty’s amendment and look forward to the Minister providing more up-to-date information. We have had precious little detail from the Government on their plans for future UK-EU transport arrangements, and while we accept that this will be subject to negotiation, I hope the Minister can indicate the type of arrangements that we will be seeking, and that the Government are successful.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:00 pm, 16th January 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and members of his committee, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Noakes, for their very thorough report in May 2019, Brexit: Road, Rail and Maritime Transport. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for his contribution today. While I appreciate the intended effect of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, it is at best unnecessary and at worst unwise, as I hope to explain.

The first part of the noble Lord’s amendment relates to transport during the implementation period. It is worth reiterating that, once the withdrawal agreement is ratified by the EU and the United Kingdom, EU law will continue to apply in the UK during the implementation period, and the Government will make regulations as appropriate. This will guarantee that the transport of freight and passengers will continue to operate smoothly, just as it does now. So in the implantation period, nothing changes. I hope this reassures the noble Lord that this part of the amendment is therefore unnecessary.

Regarding arrangements for the moving of freight and passengers by road, rail, air and sea between the UK and the EU after 2020, these considerations will form a very important part of the negotiations with the EU and should be allowed to proceed without undue impediment. While it is beyond the scope of today’s debate to go into great detail, I will take this opportunity to reassure noble Lords that the Government are fully prepared across all four modes: roads, aviation, rail and maritime. The landscape is complex, but the challenges are not insurmountable, and the work done in your Lordships’ House and beyond has been critical in crystallising our understanding.

On roads and road haulage, while international haulage accounts for only a small proportion of haulage activity in the UK, it is essential for our imports and exports. The political declaration therefore identifies road transport as an area for negotiation. We hope to agree arrangements that will allow the haulage industry to continue to act as the vital enabler of wider economic activity, while respecting our right to decide for ourselves how we regulate this sector in the future. We are developing a programme of discussions with the haulage sector on the future relationship, and this will include regular industry round-table meetings.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, mentioned permits and the time taken already by your Lordships’ House on a permitting system. This has helped our understanding of the challenges that the haulage industry will face. The Government are aware that the ECMT permitting system can be limited, and therefore if we do not have an agreement, we will look at bilateral arrangements with individual countries. Many of those historic bilateral road agreements can be restarted, and we have them with all EU member states, excluding Malta for reasons of geography. These would be the foundation for maintaining connectivity. However, our immediate focus is on getting an arrangement, particularly for road haulage. There is huge interest on both sides to make sure the arrangements work and that we are able to serve the supply chains across all nations.

Private motorists are also mentioned in the political declaration. Noble Lords will recall that by ratifying the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic we have already ensured that UK driving licences should be recognised in EU member states which also ratified the convention. Ireland, Spain, Cyprus and Malta have not ratified this convention, but we have ensured that UK driving licences should be recognised in those countries through their ratification of the 1949 convention. We are prepared to consider complementary arrangements where those would make sense.

Another example is on type approval for vehicles. The Government are working on implementing a UK type approval system to regulate which vehicles may be sold on the UK market, so that we remain confident that vehicles registered in the UK are safe, secure and clean. The UK is a respected member of the UNECE World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations. We expect to maintain our high level of influence over the development of international vehicle technical standards.

On aviation, the political declaration foresees a comprehensive air transport agreement that will provide market access for UK and EU airlines, and provisions to facilitate co-operation on aviation safety and security, and air traffic management. The UK has long-standing expertise in negotiating aviation agreements and is fully prepared to reach a beneficial deal.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the safety agencies. Within the field of aviation that is the EASA, a significant player with whom the UK works closely. It is paramount that the safety and security of all passengers travelling in the UK and EU is not compromised under any circumstances. We want our consumers and EU consumers to continue to experience the best safety practices, when flying both to and from the UK. The Government understand the industry position on the UK’s continued participation in EASA and we will continue to work closely with industry throughout the negotiations.

On rail, arrangements are already in place for services through the Channel Tunnel and on the island of Ireland to ensure that these cross-border services continue in all circumstances. These arrangements will be supplemented by bilateral arrangements with France to support the continuation of these mutually beneficial services over the longer term, and we will continue to support the Northern Ireland Civil Service in future discussions with Ireland. The Government want to secure a close relationship with the EU transport safety agencies, including those for rail, as part of our future relationship.

Finally, maritime is a global sector and largely liberalised in practice. The UK’s departure from the EU will not create obstacles for UK ships in accessing EU ports. However, free trade arrangements can provide the legal certainty to underpin the market access that exists in practice.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, also proposes a reporting requirement, a debate in both Houses and a vote thereon. On reporting, there is no need to set out—indeed, there may be a significant detriment in setting out—bespoke statutory reporting requirements on a specified date. I hope noble Lords agree that imposing a statutory duty on a Minister to provide public commentary at a fixed point in time on the likely outcome of confidential negotiations risks seriously disadvantaging negotiators acting for the UK. However, I highlight the comments on scrutiny made by my noble friend Lord Callanan in your Lordships’ House yesterday. It will remain the case that both Houses will have all the usual and long-standing arrangements for scrutinising the actions of the Government.

Let me summarise the Government’s response to the two key elements of this amendment. First, the smooth running of transport during the implementation period is already guaranteed. Secondly, the proposed report being published during the course of the negotiations is unlikely to be helpful and may significantly undermine the UK’s negotiating position. Given these considerations, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

I thank the Minister for that very full reply, and I thank colleagues, particularly committee members, who contributed to this debate. I accept some of what the Minister said, in the sense that, theoretically, during the implementation period nothing is supposed to change—but some of the mechanisms for ensuring that things do not change have disappeared. That is probably an issue for my next amendment because, if we are not involved in discussions in the various agencies and issues arise, there will be a problem in the implementation period.

I agree that the real problem is from the new date of 31 December—or, in deference to my noble friend on the Front Bench, 22 December or thereabouts. The whole point of me asking for a report in July is to ensure that, in good time for the December date, all the various sectors, plus individual motorists, brokers and insurance companies and so forth, understand the position. It may be over-glossing it to require a vote of both Houses, but I think the industry and the nation require a comprehensive report, in some form, to the House and the country, to explain what will happen in all these modes of transport beyond December.

I will not press this amendment or the July date. This was always a probing amendment, and I have got a number of commitments from the Government, for which I am grateful. I am sure the Government are well aware of all these issues. I am not sure I entirely agree with my former colleague on the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, about the degree of preparedness of Ministers before us; that was probably true of the last Minister we saw, but it may not have been true of earlier Ministers. I shall draw a curtain over that.

I accept the Government’s good intention in this respect, but, in the coming months, they will be under pressure from these various sectors to have greater clarification. It would be quite a good idea if we debated that again in the House, in whatever form the Government think is appropriate. Otherwise, we could still be in a situation where there is chaos in at least one of these sectors on 1 January next year. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 42 withdrawn.