Amendment 42

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:45 pm, 16th January 2020

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.