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Trailer Registration

Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 22nd May 2018.

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Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy) 11:00 am, 22nd May 2018

I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 13, page 9, line 1, at end insert—

‘(2A) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report containing proposals for a trailer registration scheme. This report must make provision for whether—

(a) the proposed registration scheme would be compulsory or voluntary;

(b) non-commercial trailers will be included in such a registration scheme; and

(c) it would be appropriate for the operation of such a registration scheme to be run by a third-party authorised by the Secretary of State.

(2B) The report must be laid before Parliament within the period of six months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament outlining their proposals for a trailer registration scheme within six months of the passing of this Act.

In many ways this is similar to amendment 12. This, again, is about trying to get further clarity from the Government about what the permit scheme might look like. The Government previously acknowledged that they did not want to put too many exemptions on the face of the Bill. There has been a whole discussion of whether the Bill might apply to non-commercial trailers, and this is about trying to tease that out. The Government should clarify the issue, because there is still talk of whether it is a compulsory or voluntary registration scheme.

We are just trying to look for clarification that the Government have to do a report that confirms whether the registration scheme will be compulsory or voluntary, whether non-commercial trailers are included, and also whether it would be appropriate for a registration scheme to be operated by a third party. The third-party issue is included because the National Caravan Council already operates its own voluntary registration scheme, and it is suggested that there is merit in duplicating this scheme. All that will depend on what the Government bring forward in terms of whether the scheme will be voluntary or compulsory, and also how matters evolve in other parts of the legislation that consider safety, and whether there should be further measures looking at road safety measures in terms of registration too. There seems a lack of clarity at the moment in what the endgame will look like. The amendment just tries to tease out whether the Government will provide that clarity and a report. I would like to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

Labour supports this amendment. Clarity is needed on the eligibility of the compulsory and voluntary schemes, and the amendment would be helpful in making it clear where obligations sit in this regard. Labour wants to extend the application of the legislation to non-commercial trailers, since incidents occur as a result of poor tow bar instalment and failed safety features on domestic trailers. It is therefore important to incorporate domestic-use trailers into the scheme. The significance of a voluntary registration scheme is unclear if there are no other levers on this issue, such as liability if incidents occur. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the use of the voluntary scheme to the Committee.

However, Labour does not believe that a third-party operator should run the scheme and wants to see this kept in-house, especially as it is a critical road safety issue. We believe that this function should be exercised through an arm’s length body. We support the call not to delay producing the report mentioned in clause 13, thus ensuring that it can be used to influence the drafting of regulations to accompany this Bill.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

We turn now to the second half of the Bill and trailer registration. I will respond to the points made and talk about the wider thrust of the legislation. Hon. Members will be aware that the consultation launched on 16 May covered the extent of the proposals in the Bill across both haulage permits and trailer registration. We are consulting with the industry to help us get the details of any permit scheme and the trailer registration scheme right. The consultation on the proposals, as they currently stand, seeks views on a number of issues relating to trailer registration. Our proposals require the registration purely of those trailers undertaking international travel to a foreign country that has ratified the 1968 Vienna convention. This goes to the point about voluntary registration. That would apply to commercial trailers weighing over 750 kg and non-commercial trailers weighing over 3.5 tonnes. Ministers and officials in the Department have been engaged with industry throughout the development of these proposals. In spring this year, we held workshops to discuss them with hauliers and relevant trade associations, among a range of other stakeholders.

In addition to the public consultation, we have published a number of documents to assist and inform discussion of the Bill. Policy papers have been issued on the Bill and on the 1968 Vienna convention, which the trailer registration scheme is being introduced to support. Policy scoping notes are available to Members in the House of Commons Library.

The Government’s outline policy makes clear which types of trailer will be subject to additional obligations if used abroad, upon the coming into force of the 1968 convention. Trailer registration is commonplace throughout continental Europe. As such, if we did not place any obligations on users taking trailers abroad that would be likely to attract targeted enforcement action from foreign enforcement authorities. That point was well made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby on Second Reading. That enforcement action would cause disruption on a significant scale, even to those trailers that are correctly registered, and would have an adverse effect beyond hauliers, causing disruption to UK businesses and the international supply chains within which they operate.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy)

The Minister talks about disruption that might be caused by enforcement action. Does that not suggest that the registration scheme would need to be compulsory? If it were voluntary, it could still have the same net effect of enforcement action. Compulsion would make that easier to process.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

We are concerned with enforcement action by foreign authorities, against which trailer registration would be a defence. That provides a reason for supporting trailer registration, as we have described it.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy)

If it is only voluntary, perhaps foreign enforcement agencies will not have any confidence in signing up for the scheme. If it were compulsory, one would assume they would be less likely to take enforcement because they would understand that there is already a compulsory scheme in place in the UK.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I think that language is not helping deliberation on this matter. We require registration for the classes of trailer that I have described, which undertake international travel to a foreign country. It is not voluntary for those trailers that fall within those categories. It is mandatory and therefore meets the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I will go on to discuss it in slightly more detail.

The Government’s outline policy makes clear which types of trailer will be subject to additional obligations if used abroad, upon the coming into force of the 1968 convention. As I have said, trailer registration is commonplace. The measure is designed to mitigate the effects of enforcement action undertaken abroad.

On the basis of engagement with industry and previously reported enforcement to UK authorities, we have drawn a distinction between commercial and non-commercial trailers, which is the basis for the higher weight limit of 3.5 tonnes for non-commercial trailers. Engagement with non-commercial stakeholders has indicated a negligible number of such trailers.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

Will the Minister explain to the Committee whether, when an incident occurs, it makes any difference if it is a commercial or non-commercial trailer?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Our experience is that there has been very little enforcement against non-commercial trailers abroad. There has, however, been some enforcement against commercial trailers, for which this would be a defence. That is a reason for recommending the Bill.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

With respect to the Minister, that did not answer the question I asked. I asked why there would be any differentiation in the weight of the trailer, if it was owned commercially or non-commercially, should an incident occur.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 11:15 am, 22nd May 2018

Three and a half tonnes is a standard weight in international haulage. There are virtually no non-commercial trailers above that level. Since there is enforcement against commercial trailers, it makes sense to exempt a smaller number of commercial trailers, and that is what the Bill does.

The risk of enforcement action against non-commercial trailers is minimal. While the convention allows for enforcement action against all trailers that weigh more than 750 kg, all previous reported enforcement action has been directed towards large commercial trailers. We have no evidence of countries taking enforcement action against unregistered foreign caravans and horse trailers. The small risk of enforcement action against common non-commercial trailers does not justify mandatory registration, but the keepers of such trailers may register them voluntarily if they wish.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

I apologise, but I think the lack of clarity is catching. [Interruption.] I know—it is spreading like wildfire. I understand that the Minister is seeking to ensure we have parity with international colleagues to reduce the risk of British trailers that go abroad being in violation and vice versa, but I thought the Bill was also about making our roads safer. He is talking about parity with the EU in trailer registration, with us not running risks overseas, but I do not understand where his consideration is on safety on our roads. Will he speak to that?

I also do not understand why “commercial” relates only to weight. We could define the commercial use of a trailer. For example, I think of someone doing roadworks towing a little trailer with a big, heavy road roller on it, and if that were to come loose we would be in real trouble—it would take out a family, not just a small building. Why is the Minister focusing only on weight in the definition of commercial? Will he confirm that the regulations are also about making our roads safer?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The regulations are focused in particular on the movement of trailers overseas. If there are collateral effects in improving our road safety, that is all to the good. Thanks to interventions and amendments that have already been made, we have strengthened aspects of the measure, but the Bill’s central focus is to address the registration of trailers going overseas.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

I hope to reassure the hon. Member for Rotherham. I am one of those rare people who has a non-commercial trailer over 3.5 tonnes, which is indeed used for transporting a traction engine. Although a private HGV, that trailer already has to pass its annual MOT test. Indeed, such trailers have to pass a test every year—there is no three-year exemption. Those are therefore not unsafe trailers, so I hope that she does not labour under the misapprehension that large numbers of trailers are running around the country on non-commercial heavy goods vehicles that are not tested every year by the Department.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comment. Of course, he is right.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

May I come back on that intervention? I do not know the protocol.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Why not let me speak to the point, then the hon. Lady can come back to me?

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

Order. Members are free to intervene as long as the speaking Member takes the intervention. In this context, if a Member does not have a request to intervene accepted, they are free to rise and speak simply to make their point. People can get up and give speeches—it is almost a free-for-all. If you have a long intervention, it might be worth saving it instead of saying a few words.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am grateful, Mr Davies. The hon. Member for Rotherham may wish to make a forensic dissection of the Government’s position or that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby when she comes to speak. However, let me address the points that she made.

The first question is: what is a commercial trailer? Of course, it is not defined by weight. There are criteria as to what constitutes a commercial trailer, and the legal definition we are using is the idea of a trailer used for transport of goods or passengers’ belongings for commercial purposes, such as transport for hire or reward, or own-account transport, or for other professional purposes. That is closely aligned with the definition of a commercial vehicle in EU law.

The hon. Lady raised earlier the question of why one would have a weight threshold. I repeat that 3.5 tonnes is a common weight threshold for additional scrutiny obligations of the kind that my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby pointed to in UK law, both in EU law and in the Vienna convention. We have no evidence of countries enforcing against unregistered foreign caravans and horse trailers. The smallest enforcement action against common non-commercial trailers, such as the one described by my right hon. Friend, does not justify mandatory registration, but the keepers of such trailers will be able to register them voluntarily if they wish, and of course they are subject to other regulatory constraints.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun raised the matter of whether it would be suitable for an authorised third party to run a registration scheme. He raised the question of the status of the National Caravan Council and its CRiS—central registration and identification—scheme on Second Reading. As I said in that debate, I have previously met the NCC to discuss the proposals before us today in relation to CRiS and the scheme that it operates, for which I have a great deal of regard.

The Department’s legal team have considered that issue and the question of whether the registration standard specified in the 1968 Vienna convention on road traffic allows for a private organisation to operate the service. In order to fulfil the standards of the convention, it is clear that the trailer must be registered by a ratifying country or an administrative division of the nation. In this case, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency will operate the scheme, which will ensure that registration fully meets the standards outlined in the convention.

The NCC offers a valuable service to its members and to the industry more widely. The scheme is not intended to duplicate or replace the NCC’s scheme. The registration standards of the convention simply necessitate that registration is not undertaken by a third party, and we are under an obligation to obey those standards. Guidance will be issued to explain how the registration scheme applies to users. It will clarify which users do and do not need to register under the scheme before using a trailer in a 1968 convention country. The guidance will make it clear that registration is not necessary for leisure-use trailers weighing under 3.5 tonnes. As such, we do not envisage that that will replicate the work of the NCC, but the Department will continue to work with it to avert any such risk.

I appreciate the intent behind the amendment, but I hope that Members will concur that it is not necessary in the light of the significant volume of material that the Department has published regarding our proposals and the ongoing consultation. We have worked extensively to involve stakeholders in the development of the proposals, and the consultation is directly seeking views on a number of issues relating to trailer registration. That will inform the ultimate detail of the first set of regulations to enact the scheme, which Members will note will be made by the affirmative procedure, allowing for their further consideration.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy)

I listened to what the Minister said, and I appreciate the clarification on the third-party issue. I am not particularly precious about that, and his explanation made sense. There is sense in the DVLA overseeing the entire scheme anyway.

The Minister mentioned the unhelpful language of “voluntary or compulsory”. Truth be told, I am still a bit confused about that because clause 13 (1) says:

“Regulations may provide for the compulsory or voluntary registration of trailers kept or used on roads”.

It seems to me that it is still a bit unclear, and it would be good to get further clarity. The amendment is really about getting that clarity for all parties, so they understand what will be compulsory and what might be voluntary. That said, particularly given the discussion on paragraph (c) of proposed new subsection (2A), I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered,

That the programme order (this day) be amended as follows—

In paragraph (1)(a), leave out ‘2.00 pm’ and insert ‘2.30 pm’.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Jo Churchill.)

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o’clock.