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“(4) The Secretary of State must prepare a report on the number and period of temporary exemptions made under this section.
(5) The report must be laid before Parliament within the period of one year beginning with the day on which this section comes into force and annually thereafter.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to report on temporary exemptions from a prohibition imposed in regulations.
We have already touched on the issue of temporary exemptions to the permits regime. The Minister has said that he believes that there will be very few exemptions. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North highlighted an example where we could see a number of exemptions given. That is of deep concern to Opposition Members, in that it is trying to circumvent industrial action.
I have also raised the question of whether the exemptions could be abused, and how strict the regime will be. We have already heard about a number of examples where temporary exemptions could be made, but I still question whether permits could be applied for in those circumstances. We would like to have a better understanding of that.
The amendment simply calls on the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on the number of temporary exemptions made under this section. That seems reasonable, given that we are currently dealing with an unknown quantity. It would inform Parliament, but it would also inform the permits regime whether the regulations address the purposes that the Minister intends, or whether further regulations on permit exemptions are required. It is a simple amendment that would inform the Secretary of State and his decision-making powers on how the exemption scheme will operate.
As the hon. Lady said, the clause allows the Secretary of State to make a temporary relaxation of permit requirements, which is limited to dealing with an emergency or some other special need. By “special need”, we mean a situation in which it is essential to move particular kinds of goods—for example, as I have touched on, where there is a shortage of petrol or other fuel because of disruption in supply chains. We could also include moving medical supplies or radioactive materials.
Permit requirements will come from international agreements, so the UK cannot unilaterally decide to make an exemption. The other country will need to accept UK vehicles without a permit. The effect is that the power is as much about UK vehicles being able to take goods to other countries as about bringing goods into the UK. We intend that exemptions will be targeted at those who need to travel without a permit. That could be a particular kind of vehicle—a fuel tanker or a vehicle carrying specific goods, such as vaccines. The exemptions are made by publishing a notice or writing to a specific operator being exempted, similar to exemptions made in other regimes, for example with drivers’ hours. The circumstances in which this power is used are expected to be rare, and therefore we do not expect it to be used with any great frequency. It is important that it is included in the Bill in the event that exception is needed. That is why we have asked the Committee to agree that clause 3 should stand part of the Bill.
The hon. Lady’s amendment raises an interesting point. I think it is appropriate for the officials and me to consider what information about this should be published, but I do not believe that it needs to be a provision in the Bill. The circumstances in which temporary exemptions are to be granted are expected to be sufficiently rare that, although we can consider what information is published on them, I do not think there is great value in laying this issue before Parliament.
It is in the nature of these things that they are unpredictable. It is also the case that, where that information is published, as opposed to simply being notified, it will not be absolutely clear how many will be availing themselves of the exemption. We certainly do not wish to create onerous requirements. I am happy to have a further conversation outside the Committee, if the hon. Lady has ideas or suggestions about how information should be taken into account in any future work that we do.
I listened carefully to the Minister, on how he is willing to engage on the amendment, given the lack of clarity. I am just considering again the regulations that will have to accompany the Bill, should it proceed to enactment. In the light of that, clearly there will be regulations on how the exemption scheme will operate. If he is willing to look at how the number and type of temporary exemptions are provided for through the regulatory process, I am happy to withdraw the amendment. Will he consider that?