PQs 2-4 September

PQs  2-4 September

Air Traffic Control

Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Scottish National Party)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment he has made of the potential effect the Single European Sky initiative and its accompanying targets will have on (a) job numbers in and (b) safe and efficient air traffic services provision by National Air Traffic Services.

Simon Burns (Chelmsford, Conservative)

The Single European Sky (SES) initiative aims to modernise the European air traffic network to deliver a seamless, safe, sustainable, cost-effective, high performing and modern European air traffic management system capable of meeting future capacity needs.

The Government is a strong supporter of the SES initiative because of the benefits it is delivering to UK business and passengers.

How NATS En Route Ltd (NERL), the UK’s regulated en route air traffic control service provider, meets its SES obligations, including targets on safety and cost-efficiency, as well as capacity and environment, is a matter for NERL and the UK’s independent aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (the CAA).

 

Unmanned Air Vehicles

Mr Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what evaluation his Department has made of the level of sound emitted by unmanned aerial vehicles and the effect such sounds have on communities living in areas where they are used. [R] [166498]

Mr Dunne: The noise emitted by unmanned aerial vehicles has been evaluated where necessary to ensure compliance with environmental, health and safety legislation. No other assessments have been made.

It is Ministry of Defence policy to mitigate, as far as is reasonably practicable, the effects of environmental noise that its activities produce. Unmanned aerial vehicles are intrinsically less noisy than most types of military aircraft.

 

Rail Safety

 

Lilian Greenwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment has he made of the capability of his Department, Network Rail, London and Continental Railways and the Rail Safety and Standards Board to undertake the functions transferred to them by the abolition of BRB (Residuary) Ltd; and whether any additional resources will be provided to those bodies in order to fulfil their new responsibilities. [167404]

Stephen Hammond: The public consultation, in 2012, on the proposed abolition of BRB (Residuary) Ltd set out the rationale for the successor bodies having the capabilities and being best placed to deliver the responsibilities transferring. Since then the Department has been working closely with BRBR and the successor bodies to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities. This also includes the transfer of certain staff from BRBR to London and Continental Railways Ltd and the Department under TUPE regulations.

 

Road Safety

 

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op):

Certain specific suggestions are worthy of consideration. Indeed, any new assessment might come to similar conclusions. They include changes such as making the granting of licences easier. As previously mentioned, the VCA is the only body in the UK that can grant type approvals to SMEs that want to operate only in the UK. There is scope to funnel down the process, which at present appears top-heavy and cumbersome, to give manufacturers and businesses more involvement. That would take some of the work load off the VCA and run down costs on both sides. Businesses that I have spoken to are unhappy with the current process that the VCA operates. For example, the agency already has a lot of the information that manufacturers have to supply. The duplication that the companies have to undertake costs money and time, and seems unnecessary. Perhaps this has been overlooked, and it could be identified by a new, updated assessment.

Furthermore, a common complaint from the industry is that the support offered to it has been found wanting. Manufacturers feel left out of the loop and abandoned, and are unhappy with the general lack of communication about a matter that is so vital to their continued existence. The Government need to communicate their plans better. It is also imperative that the Government look at the UK system and make it as easy as possible for small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, to comply with the new regulations. The FSB supports that proposal and believes that that should happen.

Mr Speaker, I thank you once again for allowing this debate, and I look forward to the Minister’s response. I am sure that he and I both want the same thing: for manufacturing to thrive in the UK. The directive does not necessarily have to hinder manufacturing by firms such as Truck Craft Bodies. Improved safety and access to bigger markets are of course in everyone’s best interests. However, because the directive involves such a radical change from how manufacturers have previously operated, it is imperative that it should be monitored closely. That has not happened so far, as we have seen from the lack of any real assessment or scrutiny by the Government since the initial impact assessment in 2009. I sincerely hope that the Minister will take on board the suggestion to hold another assessment soon, before full implementation in 2014.

7.24 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on securing this debate. He said in his opening remarks that he had a passion for manufacturing and for small and medium-sized enterprises, and he was generous enough to suggest that he suspected I shared those passions. He was right. He was also right that tonight’s debate provides an opportunity for us to discuss the effect on businesses of directive 2007/46/EC. I would like to thank him and his office for their assistance on some of the thoughts he might express tonight; I hope that my response will thus be more informed.

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has recently asked a number of questions about this directive, so I am pleased to respond to this evening’s debate. Before

 

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I talk about the directive, it would be right and proper to reflect on the significant progress made by the UK automotive sector. This is explained in the automotive strategy that was published in July, which was the culmination of work led by the Automotive Council. It is very encouraging for all of us to note and learn that the UK car industry is currently vibrant, particularly at a time when other European markets face significant challenges.

The UK produced 1.58 million vehicles in 2012, with £6 billion of investment in the industry by vehicle manufacturers over the last two years. That is good news for the UK. Some challenges have been presented at ports, and I am pleased to help the industry overcome them. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman—and, indeed, the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group—would welcome that.

I turn, if I may, to the matter in hand. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is concerned that the directive could have a detrimental effect on businesses. Just as he set out his concerns, I shall set out exactly how I think on the issue and briefly explain what the directive is all about. It concerns the approval of new road vehicles at EU level. It covers new road vehicles with four or more wheels, and there is a mandatory obligation on the UK, as on all member states, to apply its provisions.

The directive was implemented in the UK on 29 April 2009 by the Road Vehicles (Approval) Regulations 2009, SI No. 717. The hon. Gentleman was right to point out that the key element of the directive was to establish a single European market for motor vehicles, meaning that a vehicle approved to pan-European standards can be registered anywhere within the European Union, without further testing or obstruction to placing it on the market anywhere within the EU. The dates of application depend on the vehicle category: it has already been implemented for most vehicles, and will be fully implemented in October 2014, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, for the largest goods vehicles.

Approvals under the directive are available from member states’ approval authorities. In the UK, this means the Vehicle Certification Agency, supported by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency and the Driver and Vehicle Agency in Northern Ireland. Approvals are enforced through the registration scheme operated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Only motor vehicles with the appropriate certificate can be registered for use in the UK. Manufacturers can choose whether to use the UK approval authority or one from another member state for the pan-European approval.

Approval of the directive is a regulatory simplification matter, as it avoids manufacturers having to comply with potentially 28 different sets of national regulations and requirements. On that basis, it was supported at the outset by the high-volume producers. Producers of specialist and low-volume vehicles are also covered by the small series or the individual approval schemes created by the Department. These are essential provisions and are key to helping overcome the burden of EU-wide rules for UK SMEs, and throughout the process the Department has always sought to provide clear advice and assistance to such companies. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence that companies, including SMEs, have not considered that to be the case, I shall be delighted to consider his representation.

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Prior to implementation, during 2007-08, officials worked closely with the various sectors affected by the new requirements. That included hosting, in conjunction with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, a road show involving 12 events around the United Kingdom to build engagement with industry.

At the time of the implementation of the national regulations, a full impact assessment was undertaken and published by the Department. Its objective was to determine how to implement the directive in a way that would minimise the burdens on UK businesses while maximising the safety and environmental benefits. Two options for implementation of the recast framework directive were assessed, the first being to implement only the pan-European scheme and to accept and issue only European approvals, and the second being to implement the pan-European scheme together with national schemes for small series approval and individual approvals.

A “small firms impact test” considered the financial and business implications for the companies. Some 250 SMEs were consulted as part of a telephone survey, and face-to-face interviews were conducted with 20 members of an overall group of 35 SMEs that had been carefully selected from the sub-sectors to provide a representative and balanced assessment. In addition, the Department sought the views of the Small Business Service and its successor, the Enterprise Directorate, in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, as well as the views of the Federation of Small Businesses and a number of other stakeholders.

The SMEs that were consulted advised the Department that type approval would be too onerous for some companies, and it was therefore important to have the option of national approval schemes. It was clear that the EU-wide scheme could have a fairly major adverse impact on SMEs, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 250 employees, so UK regulations were developed to incorporate option 2—the national approvals option—alongside the mandatory pan-European scheme.

I accept that, on the face of it, the provision of national schemes under option 2 would appear to be gold-plating, as it goes beyond the EU minimum. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the last Government adopted the correct course of action, which the present Government have continued. It does have a beneficial impact on SMEs.

I have engaged in correspondence with the hon. Gentleman about Truck Craft Bodies Ltd and the effect that the directive has had on its business. As he will recall, I explained in a reply to him in May that the cost that the company had incurred for the approval of its vehicles was significantly less than the original estimate. I think he will accept the macro-point that the cost burden on UK business of accepting option 2 is significantly lower than the pan-European option would have been.

Officials at the VCA met representatives of Truck Craft Bodies Ltd on 8 November 2012. I believe that they have supported the company and helped it to prepare the relevant documentation for its product range. Two more other site visits were made to the company’s premises in April and May 2013 to carry out approval work. The company now has seven vehicle types approved, with a fee cost for work by VCA of less than £11,000. On the basis of its current rate of production, that

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indicates an average certification cost of £18 per vehicle over three years. It is worth noting that the VCA fees are set on a cost reimbursement basis, following the public consultation. That reflects the cost of providing the approval service to industry.

The hon. Gentleman made several comments about the impact assessment. I can assure him that the VCA does not request information that it already holds. Again, I make the offer that if he can produce evidence that the VCA has asked for information that he believes it already holds, I will be happy to consider that. However, we do not believe that the agency requests information it already holds. It is also true that every vehicle converter must have a commercial relationship with the original vehicle manufacturer, and there are competition and confidentiality issues if information supplied to one company is made freely available to another. That would have an impact on any decision to undertake a further impact assessment.

This is a matter that the wider motor industry and trade associations may wish to address, rather than  have Government create more rules or regulations. The Department and its agencies continue to work with industry, both directly and through its trade bodies, to identify any matters where there is a lack of clarity in the application of regulations or a need for administrative adjustments.

It is important to recognise that the directive was finalised six years ago and the UK regulations were created four years ago, so the opportunity for any changes before the regulations are fully implemented is relatively minimal. However, the Government are not complacent about our commitment to removing unnecessary regulatory burdens, and if there is evidence that that is not happening I will instruct officials to redouble their efforts. Indeed, there will be a meeting between the VCA and the industry trade bodies to discuss that on 30 September.

The hon. Gentleman should also by now have received a reply from my colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about whether any funding was available to help mitigate the costs that Truck Craft Bodies Ltd has incurred. I understand that information has been provided on checking for possible sources of funding and on the business link helpline, which provides advice to those who wish to improve and grow their operations.

To summarise, under its European obligations the UK had to implement the directive. The Department worked towards doing that in a manner which offered a high level of consultation and of assurance in respect of safety and environmental aspects, while limiting the burdens on UK businesses. There is a long history of regulating certain aspects of safety and environmental protection on road vehicles to provide a level playing field for industry, and in order to protect consumers, road users and society in general.

I hope I have satisfactorily explained the Government’s position on the approval of new vehicles. I have invited the hon. Gentleman to write to me about any evidence he feels he has about any specific occasions, and I will be delighted to see it. We are aiming to limit the impact of the directive wherever possible. We are aiming to limit the burdens on industry, and I hope the hon.

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Gentleman will be reassured by what I have said, but if he has any further issues he wishes to raise, I will gladly respond to them.

Question put and agreed to.

 

Young Drivers

Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make an assessment of the RAC Foundation’s report entitled Young Driver Safety Solutions to an Age-old Problem published in July 2013 and its conclusions on (a) a minimum learning period that contains requirements to drive in all conditions and (b) placing limitations on newly-qualified drivers. [166829]

Stephen Hammond: We intend to issue a green paper which will cover these issues later this year.

 

Transport Safety

 

(Lasers: Safety)

Henry Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when she expects her Department’s project to consider risks to public safety caused by hand held lasers to aircraft and being led by the Public Safety Directorate/Public Order Unit to report its findings; and if she will make a statement. [167206]

Damian Green: I have asked my officials to consider this matter in conjunction with the Department for Transport and advice on the nature and scale of the risk, the current response and whether measures should be taken to deter malicious activity and reduce any risks to public safety. This review will be completed before the end of the year.

(BRB Residuary)

Lilian Greenwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment has he made of the capability of his Department, Network Rail, London and Continental Railways and the Rail Safety and Standards Board to undertake the functions transferred to them by the abolition of BRB (Residuary) Ltd; and whether any additional resources will be provided to those bodies in order to fulfil their new responsibilities. [167404]

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Stephen Hammond: The public consultation, in 2012, on the proposed abolition of BRB (Residuary) Ltd set out the rationale for the successor bodies having the capabilities and being best placed to deliver the responsibilities transferring. Since then the Department has been working closely with BRBR and the successor bodies to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities. This also includes the transfer of certain staff from BRBR to London and Continental Railways Ltd and the Department under TUPE regulations.

 

 

 

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