Amendment 42

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 16th January 2020.

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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.