Ministerial Statements: 10th November- 11th November
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I would like to inform the House that a statement I made on 29 October 2014 during an Adjournment debate on South West Trains, Official Report, column 106WH, was incorrect. During the speech I stated that:
“We are seeing the most rapid rise in travel of anywhere in Europe. We have the safest and most punctual railways in Europe. We have the most improved railways in Europe, according to passengers. We are seeing an enormous rise in demand for these services…”
While we do have the safest major railway in Europe, as well as the most improved railway in Europe according to the European Commission, the statement on punctuality cannot be substantiated. While we do not have comparable statistics that show how our railway is currently ranked for punctuality, we can say that UK rail passengers are among the most satisfied in Europe with train punctuality and reliability.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): Following the 2013-14 winter of sustained wet and windy weather, I invited Richard Brown OBE to chair a review of the resilience of our transport networks to extreme weather events. The review was published in July and today I am publishing the Government’s response.
Richard Brown’s review examined the resilience of our major transport modes, assessed lessons learned and put forward more than 60 recommendations to improve resilience both in the short term and long term. The majority of recommendations quite rightly addressed the impacts of last winter’s weather which resulted in flooding, damage to transport assets and disruption to passenger services. The review did not look at the impacts of snow and ice as these were covered in the Quarmby review of 2010.
We accept the recommendations made in the review, and the response published today sets out in detail the actions being taken forward by Government and transport owners and operators to improve the resilience of our transport infrastructure and its operations. Good progress has been made since the review’s publication. Wherever possible actions have been put in place in advance of this winter, while other resilience activities have been planned for delivery as soon as practicable. Areas covered include asset management; communications; economics and funding; flooding; geotechnics; maintenance; supporting infrastructure; user behaviour; vegetation management and weather forecasting.
While there will always be vulnerabilities to our transport networks from extreme weather, the review has served to join up a lot of the existing work on resilience across transport modes and has prompted transport operators to take immediate action which should put them in an enhanced state of readiness to respond and recover from future severe weather events.
My Department will monitor the progress of the resilience activities set out in the Government response, and will provide a supplementary report next year to provide an update on the delivery of the actions highlighted in the response.
Copies of the Government response can be found in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/review-of-the-resilience-of-the-transport-network-to-extreme-weather-events-expert-panel
HGV Speed Limits
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I have today (28 November 2014) announced that the Government intend, following a public consultation, to increase the national speed limit for heavy goods vehicles of more than 7.5 tonnes on dual carriageway roads from 50 mph to 60 mph.
This complements the decision that the Government have already announced to raise the national speed limit for HGVs over 7.5 tonnes on single carriageway roads, and is part of a wider package of associated measures that the Government are bringing forward to continue to increase economic efficiency and remove outdated restrictions.
The national speed limit increase on dual carriageways will modernise an outdated regulation dating from the 1980s, better reflecting the capabilities of modern HGVs. It will help to free professional hauliers from unnecessary regulation.
The change will ensure that HGV speed limits are proportionate and better aligned with the limits for HGVs on motorways and single carriageways, and with other vehicles such as coaches and cars towing caravans. Our evidence indicates that actual average speeds are unlikely to change in response to the change in national speed limit. Our impact assessment, which has been scrutinised by independent experts, concludes that there is not expected to be an adverse effect on road safety, but we will be monitoring the impacts closely.
The speed limit increases for HGVs will be implemented via a change in the law to be put to Parliament during the next few months, with implementation scheduled for 6 April 2015. The existing limits continue to apply until the change has been put into effect. The amended speed limit will cover dual carriageway roads in England and Wales, unless specific lower local or urban speed limits are in effect.
The Department for Transport is publishing the summary of dual carriageway HGV speed limit consultation responses. The Department is also publishing an impact assessment.
Copies of these documents will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Patrick McLoughlin): I am pleased to announce to the House the details of the first road investment strategy, an ambitious £15 billion plan to increase the capacity and condition of roads for motorists across England.
The Government are investing in over 100 new road schemes over this Parliament and next, 84 of which are brand new today.
This major reform will add over 1,300 extra lane miles on motorways and trunk roads and fix some of the most notorious and longstanding problem areas on the strategic road network. These plans are published today in the first ever road investment strategy, which has been developed to keep the population connected and the economy growing.
Copies of the road investment strategy documents have been made available in the Libraries of both Houses and can be found on the Department’s website at: www.gov.uk/dft
EU Transport Council
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I will attend the last Transport Council under the Italian presidency (the presidency) taking place in Brussels on Wednesday 3 December.
The first item on the agenda will be a public debate on the draft Council conclusions on transport infrastructure and the Trans European Network. The UK has worked constructively with like-minded member states to help the Italian presidency develop these conclusions which seek to align transport with the EU 2020 strategy by recognising the value that investment in building and operating transport infrastructure and creating efficient networks can bring to growth and jobs. The UK will support the adoption of the conclusions as drafted.
Secondly, the Council will be asked to agree in principle a proposed Council decision authorising member states to sign the international convention on standards of training, certification and watch-keeping for fishing vessel personnel, of the International Maritime Organisation. This is a procedural decision giving member states permission to accede to the convention. It is necessary due to union competence over the mutual recognition of the qualifications of fishing vessel personnel by virtue of directive 2005/36/EC (which provides for mutual recognition across a range of professions). Some aspects of the decision as originally proposed were unacceptable to the UK, for example the use of inappropriate legal bases and a general lack of clarity over the scope of relevant competence. Through negotiation the UK has secured significant improvements to the decision and the UK is now content with the text to be agreed at Transport Council.
The presidency will aim for a general approach on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the implementation of the Single European Sky. The UK has been working hard with the Italian presidency and other member states to secure our objectives on this regulation. As a result I am pleased to say that we secured redrafting which has resolved the vast majority of concerns we had on this proposal. In terms of Gibraltar, our firm position is that it is part of the EU and must remain in the scope of EU aviation legislation such as SES. I expect further discussions to take place on this issue during the Council meeting.
Next on the agenda is a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) 216/2008 in the field of aerodromes, air traffic management and air navigation facilities. This proposal is part of a package with the Single European Sky (SES II+) regulation and transfers some SES provisions into the European Aviation Safety Authority system in order to simplify and clarify the regulation framework for the safety of air traffic management. As such we were very supportive and had just a few concerns which we have been able to resolve. We are therefore ready to support this proposal.
After this will be a progress report on the proposal to amend directive 2012/34 establishing a single European railway area, as regards the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail and the governance of the railway infrastructure, and the related proposal to amend Regulation (EC) No 1370/2007 concerning the opening of the market for domestic passenger transport services by rail. The Government support the presidency on their progress report, which is a very thorough summary of discussions to date. The suggestions for future options form an excellent foundation and mean that an agreement on the market pillar is now within reach of future presidencies. It is important that the remaining barriers to the single market in rail services are addressed.
There will then be a general approach on the proposal to repeal Regulation 1192/69 on common rules for the normalisation of the accounts of railway undertakings. The UK supports the repeal of this regulation which has become outdated and inconsistent with more recent EU railway legislation. It is a welcome example of legislative simplification and deregulation.
Under any other business, the Commission will provide information on EU satellite navigation programmes. The presidency will provide information on the recent European Aviation Safety Authority event on remotely piloted aircraft systems. The Lithuanian delegation will provide information on the road transport situation in the context of detailed inspections of Lithuanian vehicles recently introduced by Russian authorities. Also, the Latvian delegation will provide information on the work programme of their forthcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union.
EU Transport Council
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I attended the second Transport Council under the Italian presidency (the presidency) in Brussels on Wednesday 3 December.
The first item under consideration was on TEN-T, where the presidency opened proceedings by outlining the link between the conclusions and both the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 package and the launch of the Juncker investment package. Former commissioner Christopherson gave an overview of his interim report which he thought could provide transport projects for support from the Juncker package which is seeking to leverage investment from the private sector. Member states expressed their support for the conclusions which were adopted. Commissioner Bulc welcomed the conclusions and asked for transport to be the subject of the spring European Council next year and to be at the heart of the Europe Council 2020 strategy.
However the Council’s proceedings were dominated by discussions on the proposed general approaches on the two legislative proposals under Single European Sky II+. The general approach on the SES Council related amendments to the EASA regulation was agreed without comment and the related Commission declaration on the applicability of the EASA regulation to Gibraltar airport was accepted.
On the SES recast, I supported the presidency’s ambition of reaching a general approach on the condition that it respected in full the EU treaties and included Gibraltar airport within scope. Spain sought the exclusion of Gibraltar airport. In an astonishing move, the presidency proposed (i) to put in square brackets the current text in article 1, paragraph 5, which notes that the application of the regulation is without prejudice to the respective legal positions of the UK and Spain with regard to the dispute over sovereignty over the territory in which the airport is situated and (ii) to add a footnote stating that,
“the question on how to reflect the Gibraltar issue in the text is awaiting the outcome of discussions between Spain and UK.”
I objected in the strongest possible terms, emphasising that Gibraltar was included in the current SES framework, that any exclusion of Gibraltar was unjustifiable under the treaties and that I could not accept any proposal that did not make clear that Gibraltar was within scope.
At my request, the Council legal service opined that the Council’s agreement on the aviation content amounted to a general approach, but the consequence of the part not agreed by all member states, that is the part concerning Gibraltar, resulted in the general approach being partial.
Overriding my protest and the opinion of the legal service, the Commission welcomed the presidency’s proposal, and the presidency concluded that a general approach had been reached. I left the Council in protest at what was a completely unacceptable situation.
The Government are clear that EU aviation legislation applies to Gibraltar as is clearly set out in the EU treaties. We will continue to defend the inclusion of Gibraltar in EU aviation legislation. We reserve our position on the lawfulness of any other outcome and on our response, including the possibility of pursuing legal proceedings.
Following the Council, the Foreign Secretary spoke to his Italian counterpart last week to express our view that the dossier could not proceed to the next stage— discussions with the European Parliament—until the question of application to Gibraltar had been resolved. I am pleased to report that the Italian Foreign Minister gave his assurance that the Italian presidency would not seek to do this.
Although I was not present for the remainder of the Council, the UK Deputy Permanent Representative to the EU continued to occupy the UK seat. I can report that the following discussions also took place.
On Standards of training, certification and watch-keeping for fishing vessel personnel (STCW-F), the Commission restated its position with regards to the reservation considering that this was the only legally sound approach. One member state intervened to support the Council decision but indicated that they would make a declaration in respect of the legal base.
The presidency’s progress report on the fourth railway package was broadly welcomed by member states but led to an echoing of comments made by member states in October. Several member states made it clear that for them the technical pillar remained the priority. The presidency and Commission were clear that the technical pillar on its own was not enough and that the package should stay together. Many member states remained sceptical about mandatory competitive tendering and called for more flexibility on direct award provisions. Latvia stated the fourth railway package would be a priority for their forthcoming presidency. The Commission took on board member state comments and looked forward to progressing work under the Latvian presidency. In addition, a general approach was reached on the repeal of regulation 1192/69 on common rules for the normalisation of the accounts of railway undertakings, a welcome simplification measure.
Under any other business, the presidency informed the Council about the EASA event on remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) that recently took place in Rome which the presidency hoped would serve as a useful basis to continue discussions under the Latvian presidency.
Commissioner Bienkowska updated the Council on Galileo and EGNOS. She made very clear she was committed to ensuring the success of the space sector, that transport was a key user underpinning the success of EGNOS and Galileo and looked to member states to continue their support.
Lithuania drew Council’s attention to their recent experience of detailed inspections of Lithuanian registered vehicles at the Russian border and the negative impact this was having on the Lithuanian haulage sector. They called on the Commission and other member states to agree a common solution to help resolve the situation. The Commission took note although recognised the limited ability for action in the wider political context.
Finally, Latvia set out the priorities for their presidency. The fourth railway package would be one of their main priorities. On road, Latvia recognised the importance of weights and dimensions and cross-border enforcement files and indicated that the review of the Commission’s road safety strategy would be the subject of a policy debate. Latvia was explicitly clear that they would only continue work on SES II+ and airport slots if there was a consensus among member states. They also did not rule out the possibility of continuing work on air passenger rights. Finally, the incoming presidency would focus on technical requirements for inland waterways and would progress negotiations on the ports services regulation subject to progress made in the European Parliament. Latvia would hold three high-level events in Riga on EU-Asia transport links, RPAS and TEN-T corridors.
Operator Licensing and Roadworthiness Testing
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Claire Perry): I am today announcing the publication of two related public consultations that will close on 5 March 2015.
HGV Periodic Testing and Inspections Exemptions
Goods Vehicle Operator Licensing Exemptions Consultation
Historically certain heavier vehicles have been exempt from operator licensing and/or road worthiness testing. Some of the current exemptions are proposed for removal or modification either because of possible non-compliance with EU legislation or to correct anomalies between certain vehicles types that are currently exempt and those that are not.
The HGV testing scheme provides exemption for 37 classes of vehicle. We are proposing to remove or modify exemptions covering 10 categories of vehicle.
We are considering a modification to exemption number 15 in the current list of exemptions under operator licensing. Vehicles using this exemption operate in direct competition with other non-exempt vehicles and perform the same core function. Due to the commonalities between operator licensing exemptions and annual test exemptions the consultations will run in tandem.
The measures proposed are expected to improve road safety, update the legislation to reflect modern practices and ensure a fairer and more uniform approach for operators.