Trailer registration

Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 22nd May 2018.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 2:30 pm, 22nd May 2018

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 13, page 9, line 2, leave out subsections (3) to (5).

This amendment removes provision which is replaced by NC1 and NC2.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 1—Trailer safety: report—

“(1) The Secretary of State must prepare a report on the number and causes of road traffic accidents occurring in England, Wales or Scotland during the reporting period which—

(a) involved trailers, and

(b) caused injury or death to any person.

(2) The report must contain an assessment of whether—

(a) regulations under section 13 should provide for the compulsory registration of relevant trailers;

(b) regulations under section (Trailer safety: testing regulations) should be made.

(3) The report must be laid before Parliament within the period of one year beginning with the day on which this section comes into force.

(4) In this section—

“relevant trailers” means trailers which are kept or used on roads and—

(a) if constructed or adapted to carry a load, weigh more than 750 kilograms when laden with the heaviest such load;

(b) otherwise, weigh more than 750 kilograms;

“reporting period” means a period determined by the Secretary of State, which must be a continuous period of at least 12 months ending no earlier than 18 months before the day on which this section comes into force.”

This new clause requires a report on road traffic accidents involving trailers to be laid before Parliament, including a recommendation as to whether compulsory registration or periodic testing of trailers weighing more than 750 kilograms should be introduced. This amendment would amend NC1(a) to ensure that the report contains an assessment of compliance of existing provisions relating to the installation of tow bars.

Amendment (b), to Government new clause 1, in subsection (1)(a), after “involved” insert “commercial or non-commercial”.

This amendment would ensure that the reporting requirements apply to both commercial and non-commercial trailers.

Amendment (a) to Government new clause 1, after subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) The report must contain an assessment of levels of compliance with existing provisions relating to the construction, condition or safety of all trailers.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to assess and report on the construction, condition and safety of all trailers.

Amendment (aa) to amendment (a) to Government new clause 1, at end insert

“and the installation of tow bars”.

This amendment would amend NC1(a) to ensure that the report contains an assessment of compliance of existing provisions relating to the installation of tow bars.

Amendment (c) to Government new clause 1, after subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) Where reporting on a road traffic accident under subsection (1) which involves a tow bar attachment, the Secretary of State must include an assessment of whether the tow bar attachment contributed to the accident.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to include information on tow bar attachments when reporting on road traffic accidents involving trailers.

Amendment (d) to Government new clause 1, in subsection (3), at end insert “, and each year thereafter”.

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay a report on trailer-related accidents before Parliament annually.

Amendment (e) to Government new clause 1, in subsection (4), at end insert—

““tow bar attachment” means any device used to connect a motor vehicle and trailer for the purpose of towing the trailer.”

This amendment is consequential on Amendment (c).

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

It is a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr Robertson. As colleagues across the Committee will be aware, trailer safety has rightly been discussed in some depth, both throughout debate in the other place and on Second Reading in this place. It is an issue with which I have personally been engaged throughout my time as a Minister. It has been a great pleasure to work with the hon. Member for Bristol South, and I am delighted to see her here today. Many members of the Committee will be familiar with her work on trailer safety.

Before we consider the amendments, it is worth outlining the facts that brought the hon. Lady to the subject. In January 2014, young Freddie Hussey was killed by a runaway trailer as he and his mother, Donna Hussey, walked to their home in the hon. Lady’s constituency, and since her election to Parliament she has worked indefatigably with the family in their campaign to improve trailer safety. In April, I attended the latest in a series of trailer safety summits arranged by the hon. Lady. The event brought together a range of stakeholders in the trailer and towing sector to discuss how safety can be improved. Freddie’s parents, Donna and Scott Hussey, also spoke of their own experience and their subsequent campaign to improve trailer safety, and it was a great honour for me to have a chance to discuss these issues directly with them.

As the Committee will be aware, the Department and its agencies have undertaken significant work as part of our continuing commitment to improve towing safety standards since the tragedy. Highways England leads the national towing working group, which brings together a range of towing stakeholders to address the issue. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency reviewed and published further guidance on safe towing practices alongside launching the “Tow Safe for Freddie” campaign. A large number of existing measures deal with the safety and roadworthiness of trailers, and we continue to review them. Like motor vehicles, almost all trailers must now be approved before they may enter service. That may be undertaken at the level of manufacturer and model, or on an individual basis for bespoke or custom-build units.

There is an annual roadworthiness examination that applies to larger trailers with a gross weight of more than 3.5 tonnes and trailers in a number of other categories. Under that regime, about 250,000 trailers are tested every year. I am pleased to say that the units exhibit high standards with a pass rate at first test of almost 90%, but—it is important to say “but”—as has been noted, the regime applies overwhelmingly to commercial trailers, with a minimal number of non-commercial trailers falling within its scope. As the hon. Member for Bristol South noted, about 1.4 million trailers fall outside the current testing regime despite weighing more than the vehicles they are towed by, which do require an MOT.

On Second Reading, the hon. Lady asked how our report will be undertaken, and I would like to provide some clarity today. The report will draw on existing data, but we are looking at what else may be included to inform a full and proper consideration. Members will understand that when producing such reports, it is crucial that we are able to speak with authority and make recommendations that are informed by data. The Department for Transport has a worldwide reputation for the quality and comprehensive nature of its work in data collection and use. I would like to reassure Members about an issue raised on Second Reading by saying that the data used in the current reporting systems is comprehensive and world-leading. It informs the Department’s work on road safety and is reviewed regularly.

The reporting form used to capture information on accidents contains many different data categories, allowing us to understand and identify trends in road traffic collisions. It provides details about the roads, vehicles and persons involved, as well as any injuries that occurred. Reporting systems continue to be refined to improve the depth of the data that informs departmental assessments. I am happy to share the contents of the reporting form with Members, if they would find it useful.

The hon. Lady is right to point to the under-reporting of accidents. Levels of under-reporting appear to be fairly consistent, which is a challenge to overcome, as I hope Members understand. The wholesale development of new reporting systems to collate new data would require several years’ work and is not achievable in the timeline of this legislation. It is crucial that the reports are based on validated and verified data to assess the issue, so the STATS19 accident data will inevitably form an integral component of the report we undertake. The report will, however, provide the starting point from which we can consider whether significant changes are necessary to how we report on trailer safety. Due attention will be paid to the challenge of under-reporting of accidents and we will consider what other types of data we may be able to obtain to inform our recommendations beyond that contained within STATS19. Working with stakeholders in the sector may well comprise an element of this undertaking.

The debate on these issues has been valuable and I thank both Members and peers for their thoughtful and considered contributions. As Members will be aware, on Report in the Lords, Baroness Sugg confirmed my intention to undertake a report on trailer safety, and the continuing discussion, both in the House and with stakeholders at the trailer safety summit, reaffirmed this commitment.

The Government amendments before the Committee today are intended to ensure that we can deliver fully the intent of the amendments made in the other place. That will be achieved in a manner that reflects the extent of our devolution arrangements. Should the safety report recommend that periodic testing is extended to cover all trailers weighing over 750 kg, that may be achieved through an extension of the existing safety regime. The proposed amendments replace the amendments tabled on Report in the Lords and comprise two additional clauses within part 2 of the Bill. Both amendments include in full the recommendations peers sought on the issues of trailer registration and trailer testing.

The provisions in new clause 1 on trailer safety will replace those proposed in the Lords. The new clause details the report to be undertaken and states that it must be published within one year of the legislation coming into force. The report will cover the number and causes of road accidents that involved trailers and caused injury or death to any person involved. The data contained in the report is not restricted to those points, but will contain that as a key thrust of the considerations. The report will cover recommendations sought by peers on whether regulations should provide for an extension of compulsory registration and testing requirements to apply to all trailers weighing over 750 kg.

The reporting period will cover a continuous period of at least 12 months and end no earlier than 18 months before the provision comes into force. That will allow the Department for Transport time to validate and fully consider the substantial body of data that will underpin the recommendations in the report. “Reported Road Casualties GB” is published each autumn, and we anticipate that the proposed timeline will allow us to draw on, at a minimum, the release later this year.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

I am listening with interest to the Minister. Does he plan to capture data about trailers weighing more than 750 kg? There is potential in the legislation to make registration of trailers weighing more than 750 kg compulsory, if that is substantiated by the data.

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

As I said, the report will make recommendations on whether regulations should provide for an extension of compulsory registration and for testing requirements to apply to all trailers weighing more than 750 kg.

Amendment (a), tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol South, further proposes that the report will consider the

“levels of compliance with existing provisions relating to the construction, condition or safety of all trailers.”

A great deal of data is already recorded for those trailers that are subject to an annual test and checked at the roadside by the DVSA. The information may well prove valuable in the assessment of the safety of trailers generally, although hon. Members will be aware that it will not cover data for the great number of trailers to which the hon. Lady refers, which are not currently subject to the regular testing requirements. Nevertheless, a consideration of the compliance with those provisions will contribute to the report.

With a trailer population outside the annual test regime in excess of 1.4 million, each weighing between 750 kg and 3.5 tonnes, it is difficult to gather a robust data sample for those trailers to inform the consideration in the report. While the Department will consider which data sources we may draw on to inform any judgments on the standards of roadworthiness of light trailers generally, there is a need to be proportionate in how we gather data in the context of a wider enforcement strategy.

Larger trailers are the focus of existing enforcement, because they have long been recognised to pose the biggest risk. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol South will appreciate that our position at the moment is that the amendment should not be made. The Department is keen that the report should be beneficial and will examine which additional sources of data we may draw on to inform a full consideration of trailer safety and compliance with both existing provisions and any new provisions that may arise from the report.

Regarding amendments (aa), (b) and (c) to new clause 1, tow bar safety was raised on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Rotherham, and it is certainly an important issue when considering trailer safety. She spoke in particular of vehicles to which a tow bar has been subsequently been fitted, but which carry safety concerns. It is worth focusing here on the definitional question whether “tow bar” covers only the attachments merely to cars or the towing vehicle, or whether it also captures the attachment part of the trailer and where it attaches. That raises questions about definitions that make her amendment hard to carry through, but I will speak to both halves of the question.

Car and vehicle tow bars are subject to examination at annual tests. Cars and heavy vehicles with tow bars fitted are subject to checks both on the mechanical condition and on the relevant electric fittings. The rates of failure of tow bars of this kind at annual tests are extraordinarily low. The figures are published, and in 2016-17 the number of tow bar defects accounted for 0.001% of total defects for cars and light vans—an absurdly low figure. In the case of heavy goods vehicles, the rates of failure are also very low. Nevertheless, Members are right to raise concerns about the consequences of a tow bar failing. At the trailer safety summit, I saw evidence of the state of some tow bars that had been allowed to deteriorate.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

I took the opportunity of the extended lunch break to call my garage, RH Motors, which does MOT testing, and asked about trailers and specific tow hitches. Staff there had recently been on the training, and they said that the threshold for notifying a problem with a tow hitch as a fault is very high; it tends to be due to acute corrosion. With the new regulations having literally just come in, they were not sure whether more guidance had been issued for MOT stations. Will the Minister consider that for future guidance?

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

That is an interesting question and I will certainly consider it. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning it. At the trailer safety summit, we saw evidence from the police force in Somerset of the condition to which some tow bars had been allowed to deteriorate. It is a source of genuine concern. However, it is worth pointing out that the scope of the amendment goes rather further than our discussion on Second Reading. In the proposed form, the report would require an assessment of all accidents involving a trailer to determine whether the tow bar may have contributed. While the contributing factors are recorded, which may allow us to discern such a link, the amendment would oblige us to assess retrospectively accidents for which the data has not already been recorded, which would be very difficult.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:45 pm, 22nd May 2018

I will address this point later, but as the police gather data around the causation of accidents, is it not right that they should also record whether or not causation is related to the towing equipment of a vehicle?

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

It is certainly true that police gather information on factors that may bear on causation—of course, causation itself is a judgment rather than a fact. The case for recording such data is under active consideration, but we are concerned about the balance between the amount of potential infraction and the good that it would do by creating an additional burden in an already very full assessment process. That is precisely one of the things that would come out of the wider assessment we are doing now, and is therefore of a piece with the direction of travel of the Government. We recognise that this is an important issue: I have asked officials to consider in the safety report what data may inform further investigation, and this may cover exactly the points raised by the hon. Lady.

The vehicle defect contributory factor is a useful starting point, which is already in the report. Relevant case studies may allow us to explore within that category the question of tow bar safety. Tow bars are clearly integral elements when taking a full picture of the trailer safety situation, and it is correct that they are considered in the report, although I hope, for the reasons outlined, that the hon. Member for Bristol South will not press her amendment.

The hon. Member for York Central has tabled amendment (b) to new clause 1 to outline with greater clarity that the report will cover both commercial and non-commercial trailers. To assuage any concerns that hon. Members may have about the scope of the report, it is important to say that the current drafting covers all accidents involving trailers in Great Britain, without distinction between commercial and non-commercial usage. Those terms are not actually defined in the Bill and may be shaped by the consultation, so it would be premature to insert that requirement. There is no trailer weight category excluded from the trailer safety report, so making the amendment would not change any of the requirements on the Secretary of State set out in new clause 1. I hope the hon. Lady will not press her amendment.

Under amendment (d) to new clause 1, the Secretary of State would be required, for each year following the first report, to lay subsequent annual reports on trailer safety, compulsory registration and periodic testing. The first report will provide a valuable opportunity to consider trailer safety in depth and, as I have said, will draw on recent data recorded under existing recording systems. We also wish to consider how else we can bring in additional data or contributions from industry stakeholders, to ensure that we consider the full breadth of issues relevant to trailer safety, but at this stage I do not deem it appropriate to make a commitment to further reports without knowing the outcome of the first report. Either way, the effect of this amendment would be to place a costly requirement on the Government, which is not necessarily warranted unless the first report turns out as feared. None the less, I am happy to consider the need for further reports based on an initial assessment of the overall waterfront, which the first report is designed to do. If the report recommends further registration and testing of trailers, that will take considerable time to implement, and it is important to be aware of that. Equally, if an extension of registration and testing is not recommended, an immediate further report may well offer no additional value.

The parliamentary debate has been valuable and considered. As my noble Friend Baroness Sugg said, we have considered extensively trailer safety and what more Government can and should be doing. That underlined my commitment to undertake a report on trailer safety. The process will allow us to consider how to take this matter forward, but I hope the hon. Member for York Central will be minded to await the initial report before making further commitments as to how this issue is best addressed.

I have gone through this quite thoroughly, and I commend the amendment to the Committee.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the Minister for the way he outlined new clause 1 and responded to the many amendments before us on trailer safety. I would like to speak to many of those amendments, and indeed an amendment to an amendment.

First of all, may I welcome the progress made in the other place by my noble Friend Lord Tunnicliffe? His contribution particularly focused on trailer safety, and it is right that we acknowledge that, as well as the contribution made by Baroness Sugg to the progress leading us to new clause 1. It is clear that we will be supportive of the new clause, because we believe it is an improvement on the substantive Bill.

In making such provision for the inclusion of more trailers, should the evidence point to more trailers needing registering to keep the public safe, regulation should be brought forward. It has been welcome to hear that the Minister will be making those considerations once the report has been put together, but in response to his speech, I want to question how he envisages building up a more robust database. He refers to, in the time period allowed, not going to the depths of all the sources that could be available for formulating such a report, so it would be good to know how he plans to proceed. My amendment (aa), which seeks to have further reporting, could be a source of addressing a more in-depth study.

We could not have been more moved by the speech made on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South. Of course, we all know of her tireless and tenacious campaigning to improve trailer safety following the tragic death of young Freddie Hussey. Just three years old, his life was taken by a trailer that was out of control—a trailer that was only 2 tonnes in weight, that lost connection and then moved forward to failure, due to the position of the handbrake on the trailer. That demonstrates how important it is that we look at the detail of trailer safety and design fault, as well as operator poor use and malfunction. I trust that in the report, we will be able to look at those fine details, because that will be informative for the Minister in determining the best mechanisms to reduce risk on our roads. Ultimately, this is what I believe new clause 1 is trying to achieve: a real understanding of the risks that are presented and the nature of the faults, and therefore what measures can be taken to improve public safety.

Other safety features could also be included—for instance, tyre safety. We certainly know that incidents—some of them tragic—have occurred as a result of the ageing of tyres, and the Minister may want to consider bringing that under regulation and going further than just trailers. We also need to make sure that the work is comprehensive, so looking at weight limits could be an important consideration. I appreciate that we are looking at commercial and non-commercial trailers; I made the point earlier that the ownership of a trailer should not make a difference to the risk. We need to ensure that that is comprehensive. It may be that the data and the evidence show that 750 kg is not the right weight limitation. We need to keep an open mind and trust the reporting of incidents when considering that.

I will ask what I believe is quite a simple question on the changing jurisdiction. The Bill sets out that reporting will be for the UK, but the new clause talks about England, Wales and Scotland. What has happened to Northern Ireland? Will the Minister consider separate data for Northern Ireland, which I appreciate will probably be under a different jurisdiction? Will he take that into account, or was the new clause a tidying-up measure to remove Northern Ireland from the data sources?

My amendment (aa) is to amendment (a) to new clause 1, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South and is incredibly important. It would provide for monitoring incidents and ensuring that we create a culture of the highest standards. While many trailers are privately constructed, it is important that they are built to the highest safety standards and subject to inspection. The Minister’s comment on the scale of this and how we can bring in inspection regimes was interesting. The offer of free tow bar checks from the leadership of the National Trailer and Towing Association, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham set out on Second Reading, is certainly a progressive step that could well address the question that the Minister posed in his opening remarks.

We need to ensure that trailers, whether for heavy duty or occasional use, are up to standard, and therefore a one-off test may not address the issue. Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham gave evidence of that when talking about the corrosion of trailers. We need to understand more about the lifecycle of trailers to ensure that safety is adhered to. Amendment (a) seeks to ensure that the report considers the construction, condition and safety of all trailers.

My amendment (b) to new clause 1 considers a point that the Minister addressed in his remarks on commercial and non-commercial trailers. As I have said, the risk seems to occur across the board, but we should look at recording the distinction between commercial and non-commercial trailers, because there may be a higher propensity in the non-commercial field, for example, of the attachment of trailers to create a higher risk, because the full operation of locking down that attachment may not be as efficient as when done by people who do it every day as part of their work. We therefore need to look at the distinction across the board to identify where risk sits in the system, and gathering data on that would be invaluable.

My amendment (c) to new clause 1 looks at the reporting of road traffic accidents, which the Minister referred to earlier. I believe that the police gather comprehensive data on accidents, and directly correlating or associating those with a trailer incident will be invaluable in understanding the risks created by trailers. The amendment would be an important inclusion in the Bill. We are not asking for additional work to be done, just for inclusion in the Minister’s report. I hope that he will consider that further.

My amendment (d) to new clause 1 looks at the ongoing requirements to ensure that we have reporting. As the Minister rightly set out on the first report, the timescale would not allow for the depth of consideration that is required to understand trailer safety issues. On subsequent reports, I trust that he will respond in the spirit in which the amendment has been written and assure the Committee that we will be able to consider the matter further—given that a one-off report marks only one moment in time, as opposed to the depth of the issue—and perhaps consider improvements in the industry, so that there can be clear benefit as we move forward.

Amendment (e) is just a tidying-up amendment.

I want to mention the work of the National Trailer and Towing Association and the speech that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham made on Second Reading. Throughout that debate the most staggering statistic shared was that 91% of inspections carried out as part of the free tow bar check fail to meet safety requirements. That highlights that experts in the sector are identifying that there is a problem. I believe it would be negligent for the Committee to ignore that evidence. Therefore it is crucial that we gather the data on tow bar safety and hitching equipment, as well as looking at brakes, tyres and lights, which my noble Friend Lord Tunnicliffe raised in the House of Lords.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South 3:00 pm, 22nd May 2018

On the point about compliance, which is part of the purpose of my amendment, it is also distressing for the people carrying out those checks, in garages and such places, to tell people that they are not compliant and would fail a test, and, because they have no real ability to make that person do something about it, then see that trailer go onto the road. We need to find some way of supporting the next stage of those checks.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

I thank my hon. Friend, who has so much expertise in this field: I think we are all in awe of her knowledge. She is right. We debate things in this House because we care about public safety. We want to know the detail because that is important in order to make informed and correct decisions. If there is risk—and clearly there is; we have heard the evidence—we need to respond to it. It is on our watch, and we fail the public if we do not; and, tragically, we could fail the public severely. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point about how we should take this issue forward. It is incumbent on the Minister to look into these matters and give assurances that he will bring forward proposals about how we address the whole issue of the safety of trailers, attachments, tow bars and operators’ use of them. We can then inform the industry that we have heard them and take these issues seriously; that, ultimately, should legislation be required, we will not be afraid to enact it; or, should stronger advice and support from the Department for Transport be needed to educate and support the industry and users of trailers, that we will take that forward as well. I trust that the Minister will consider that and I look forward to hearing his remarks.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Robertson. My purpose in trying to amend the Bill, working with the noble Lords, on Second Reading and here in Cttee, has always been safety, following the representation made by my constituents, Donna and Scott Hussey, about their tragic loss. I am grateful to the Minister and Baroness Sugg for their support through the Bill and for the wider campaign on the family’s behalf.

My main issue with the Minister’s amendment was the loss of “comprehensive”, without specifying any new consideration. That led me to be concerned about the Government making a further report based on the existing data, which would not take us any further forward than we were before the Lords debated it. I therefore tabled the amendment to push the Government to make an assessment of roadworthiness and, as we have just said, of compliance, which would inform that report.

I am assured by the Minister’s comments. He has said that they will look at the existing data and what else needs to be included. Although he reiterated that the data is considered comprehensive, those statements acknowledge the need to look further and wider.

On the STATS19 form, the Department has admitted that it is difficult for a police officer who attends the scene after an accident to identify the factors that contributed to that accident. For those who have not read it—I can send it round—the STATS19 form is hugely complicated and difficult. Hon. Members can imagine filling it in on a quiet road of a dimly lit evening and deciding what it is necessary to report in it. It is the basis of the evidence collated. There are 78 factors to choose from. It is a subjective issue for the police, who I have been working with to inform the system from the bottom up. That is my concern—that we look more widely at doing that. The Minister has heard that loud and clear on a few occasions, and I look forward to working with the civil servants to try to address it.

My work in the last three years has convinced me that the wider issue is weight and its distribution. Driver awareness is really important, and I am grateful to the DVSA for its campaign, which will continue. On driver behaviour, we want to make driving with an unsafe trailer as socially unacceptable as drink-driving or driving with a mobile phone. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham said, tow bars and their attachments are also very important. Those issues apply in the commercial and non-commercial sectors, which is a point that has been made well today, including by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central.

I, too, have met the National Caravan Council, which is concerned about the issue. It has been running a scheme for several years, as have others. We need to learn from best practice across the industry. No one wants to have unsafe trailers on the road, and I look forward to working with all those organisations to continually get the best data, share good practice and inform the report.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the problems with caravans is that they are often parked up all winter, and therefore the brakes are likely to be seized or the tyres to have deteriorated? When the DVSA carries out checks on the A64 to Scarborough, it finds lots of defects on caravans. I wonder whether the National Caravan Council advises people on how to give their caravans not only a spring clean but vital maintenance.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. We have similar issues on the route down the M5. I have worked with Avon and Somerset police, and they feel that issue acutely. They would like more resources to be able to do more stop-and-checks on the motorway, and throughout Somerset and Devon. Highways England’s work in the towing safety group is largely determined by the prevention of accidents to stop the back-up along the M5, but we want to look much more at safety. Vehicles are being kept over winter—in some cases, several winters—in large farm areas or other areas that are not checked. Perhaps people do not realise the danger that can be posed by things that they have not seen eroding over that period. That is why driver behaviour and education are so important, but ultimately, mandation may be the only way forward.

Working with the police, I have seen some shocking examples of agricultural and leisure vehicles, such as horse boxes and boat trailers, and photographs thereof, that show that it is a major issue. I understand the issue of proportionality and the risks associated with establishing a new bureaucracy, but—as my hon. Friend for York Central said—the key point is that we do not know the scale of the problem, and we do not know how it impacts on both the commercial and non-commercial sector. That is the point we have to get to. It does not matter whether the accident is caused by a commercial or non-commercial vehicle, it is still an accident and, potentially, a death. I will continue to work with the Government and all parties on this, but I emphasise again that this is why better data connection and the sharing of knowledge and information are key.

I am happy not to press my amendment, given the assurances that the Minister has given. I have a question for the Minister. We have kind of piggy-backed on the Bill, which is an enabling Bill that may not be enacted, as I understand it. Will the Minister comment on what happens, if the Bill is not enacted, to the work done to highlight trailer safety, the report, and the provisions and assurances that have been made? If the Bill is not required, how will the provisions that we have agreed and discussed be taken forward?

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I welcome the approach taken by the Minister. It is heartening to hear how he is genuinely open to discussion, debate and new evidence coming forward, and I am optimistic that the consultation is genuine—rare in this day and age—and that it will actually influence this Bill so that we get the strongest and safest legislation.

I welcome the Government’s amendment 3, new clause 1 and the associated amendments already taken from the other place, but I also want to speak in support of the new clauses tabled by Labour Front Benchers and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South.

I want to talk about tow bars. I am referring to the retrofitted tow bar or tow hitch to a motorised vehicle, and I particularly support amendments (a), (c) and (e) to new clause 1.

I start from the position that anything on the road that involves a motorised vehicle has to be roadworthy, hence the need for cars and light commercial vehicles to have an MOT, likewise the associated checks for heavy goods transport vehicles and the attachments that they tow. From my position—I think it is common sense—it cannot be right that, currently, trailers under 3.5 tonnes can be without such scrutiny. As the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby has said, some of them sit in a field or garage for a long time and are then taken straight out onto a highway or motorway without any due regard for their fitness or safety, and indeed without any legal responsibility to have any due regard for this.

Looking specifically at tow bars, I have to admit that the Minister has done a vast amount of research on this and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South has immersed herself in the topic. I came to it two weeks ago by accident, in that I was invited by my constituency business—Rotherham Towing Centre—to come and see their work. They are proud to be only the second facility in the UK to be accredited by Horizon Global, one of the world’s largest towing equipment suppliers. As an accredited centre, customers can be sure that the tow bar fitted to their vehicles is safe and secure, but the reality is that anybody can fit tow hitches and tow bars to their vehicles. The consequences of tow bar failures can be catastrophic, and many of us are aware of horrific incidents—not least the case of the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South. Unsafe towing can result in serious injury, damage or indeed death. Yet currently there are no legal requirements for tow bars to be fitted by qualified professionals, or indeed for there to be specific standards with which the tow hitches and their fitting need to be aligned. The Minister has an opportunity to change that. There is nothing to prevent an unsafe badly fitted tow bar from being used. As I have already said, at the MOT stage, tow bars have to be seriously unsafe for them to be considered a failure.

I welcome the Minister’s comments on this, but hope he is able to give serious consideration to including the amendments, particularly amendment (a) to new clause 1 as the Bill moves forward.

I want to move on to trailers. I welcome the Minister’s saying that the recording of data is going to be from 750 kilograms to 3.5 tonnes, and also that he is looking at trailers, full-stop, rather than making the distinction between commercial and non-commercial at this point.

As we know, trailers over 3.5 tonnes are required to have a yearly inspection. It seems ridiculous that this does not apply to all trailers, not least a 3-tonne trailer. Where do we draw the line on this? Even a 1-tonne trailer, if it becomes detached from its vehicle, could easily destroy a building. The dangers to motorists are clear and well known. The risks to pedestrians are also obvious.

I want to reiterate the important point that my hon. Friend the Member for York Central highlighted. The National Trailer and Towing Centre has been so disturbed by the potential dangers and those that have actually occurred, that its members have been offering free visual checks for trailers and then making recommendations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South said, they are only recommendations, but they are for what action needs to be taken to make the trailers safe and roadworthy. Since the scheme began, 91% of the trailers it has seen have failed, which means that 91% of the trailers it has said are not fit for road use are still on our roads.

I have to bring back the example that I gave in the Chamber, because it amuses me and is a very real scenario. The week that I went to the Rotherham Towing Centre, a trailer that had been fitted as a catering trailer was brought in by the new owner. The new owner had bought it on eBay. As the trailer was being towed home, a wheel came off. During its subsequent inspection—we have to assume the new owners probably would not have taken it in for an inspection had the wheel not come careering off down the M1—the centre condemned the brakes, the tyres, the hitch and the lights. The bit that amuses me is that the only thing that was not condemned and was in working order was the deep-fat fryer.

The Bill provides us with an opportunity to give the law enforcement agencies the same powers that they have over motor vehicles. If a motor vehicle does not have an MOT, and is therefore not seen to be safe on the road, it will be impounded and scrapped, thus removing the potential for fatal accidents. The Minister has the chance today to put similar protections in the Bill for trailers and tow hitches. The amendments passed in the other place, those tabled today and the Government’s new clause go some way to addressing those glaring safety omissions.

The additions do not call for compulsory registration of trailers and safety checks. If the collated information on trailer-related accidents proves that there is a danger on our roads from trailers and tow bar failures, will he reassure us that he will act to introduce mandatory regulations? I know the Minister will say yes, but I ask because I want to take the Committee to the wording of clause 13(1), which the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun mentioned. It says that the regulations

“may provide for the compulsory or voluntary registration of trailers kept or used on roads in a register kept by the Secretary of State.”

In the kindest possible way, that is not the strongest wording to suggest that the Minister will take this danger off our roads. Will he go further and say that, if the evidence reaches a level at which he believes there is a safety risk, he will make the registration of trailers compulsory?

My final point is that I hope reporting will enable the Minister to make an informed choice. Will there be additional resources for the agencies will collate the information?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy) 3:15 pm, 22nd May 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I will be brief. I want to put on record a tribute to the work done by the hon. Member for Bristol South. When somebody gets elected and spends a lot of time in this place, they want to be able to say that they have made a difference. After three years of campaigning, the hon. Lady has been able to include in this Bill clauses that could make the difference, and obviously in the future they might lead to further regulations and a further enhancement of road safety, which would be for the benefit of us all. I thank her for her work, and commend the Minister and Government for an unusual approach—they actually worked with the hon. Lady to get to this point and to further improve the legislation.

My one “but” would be about the tow bar amendments. We have heard some fantastic examples of the risk and the potential weak point in the system—how tow bars are fitted and the subsequent maintenance work required. Hopefully the Minister will reflect on what he has heard, particularly the statistic that there is a 91% inspection fail rate, which should cause alarm bells to ring.

I congratulate both the hon. Lady and the Minister, but the Government must still consider those other aspects.

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

I am grateful to all colleagues for the very thoughtful and intelligent contributions they have made. I will pick up on each of the issues they have raised.

Perhaps I can start with the hon. Member for Bristol South who, in many ways, is the mother of these amendments. Her point about the importance of affecting driver behaviour and driver education has also been made separately and forcibly to me by the hon. Members for Rotherham and for York Central—it is very important and well understood. In due course, there may well be a case for extending our road safety communications more widely. As the hon. Member for Bristol South will know, we are effective in many ways on road safety education, but it is important that we cover all aspects, so I am grateful to her for that comment.

The hon. Lady asked whether the trailer safety report will fall away. The answer is that it will not. That is because I hope and suspect that the Bill will be enacted—with the support of the Opposition, it certainly will be—and even if it is not enacted, the Government have made a commitment to produce a report according to the standards we have outlined.

Let me pick up on a couple of points made by the hon. Member for Rotherham. Of course, it is an offence to use a trailer on the road that is not roadworthy or that is in an unfit condition. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight, as several Members have, the 91% figure found on the assessment. Without getting too philosophical—the House will know my background in this area—there is a difference between data and evidence, and small numbers of data. We need a more comprehensive view. When we have one, we can legislate if we need to with certainty. If we need to regulate, we can do so with all the comfort and assurance that we would need.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

I completely agree with the Minister, but capturing illegal, un-roadworthy vehicles tends to happen when things go wrong. The likelihood of the police stopping someone unless one of their trailer lights are out is incredibly slender. It is more about prevention and having a register. Regular checks would enable us in most cases—something could go wrong the day after the test—to guarantee more likelihood of compliance.

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

One great benefit of the Bill is that it has brought into the foreground a set of issues. It is the beginning of a conversation and a process of reflection that the Government need to have, and it will go well beyond the Bill itself. One can imagine what the different elements of that would be. The first might be education and public awareness, the next stage might be specific intervention, and so on all the way up the tree. I would not rule any of that out—it is just a matter of understanding the basis on which we operate.

In a way, it is a cautionary tale. The hon. Member for York Central mentioned tyre safety, which is another serious issue. She will know that Frances Molloy has campaigned in a very admirable way, having had a bereavement that was just as devastating in its own way as that of Donna and Scott Hussey. The view she has taken is that all tyres over 10 years old should be banned. In fact, in answer to her original campaign, the Department set out in guidance that no tyre aged over 10 years old should be fitted to the front steering axle of a bus. The effect has been remarkable and transformative in that we have seen very little infringement. We have tried on two previous occasions to commission what we considered to be an evidentially robust means of investigation. I am pleased to say that, after several years of trying and failing, we now have a process in mind. That is an example of how one can do an awful lot in advance as part of the process of evidence-gathering—that is what we are trying to do in the context of the Bill.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

I concur with the Minister on the need for good inspection regimes, whether that is applied to tyre safety, tow bars or trailers. Will he therefore look at what the tow bar industry is doing with regard to the free inspections it is offering the public? Perhaps the Government should support that while looking at the wider issue of trailer safety.

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

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that. At the trailer summit, I had a chance to talk to the people running the programme, but there is no doubt that we can do more.

The hon. Lady rightly mentioned a range of issues that might have a bearing on this—design fault, operator misuse or the safety of the equipment. All those factors need to be included in the comprehensive consideration I have described. I have said that we expect that to include more data and sources. The vehicle defect category may offer more scope for enlargement if we want to gather more data. She has rightly stressed having an open mind, which is very much what I bring.

We want to involve an expert consideration with stakeholders as part of our reflection. I have found that enormously helpful in other aspects of my portfolio—walking, cycling or road safety—but it is an integral part of the discussion. When we are trying to bring an amorphous body of data under control, it is important to include case studies, which we can do. I hope therefore that what we achieve will be genuinely rich and satisfying, and provide the basis for proper further consideration and, if necessary, action.

Amendment 3 agreed to.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

For the sake of clarity, although we have just debated new clause 1 and the various amendments tabled to that new clause, we have not yet reached a decision on those matters. That point will come when all the Bill’s clauses have been discussed, shortly before we conclude our consideration of the whole Bill. Either my co-chairman or I will call that matter for decision at that point.

Clause 13, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14