HC Deb 25 February 1970 vol 796 cc1339-61

10.0 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bob Brown)

I beg to move, That the Drivers' Hours (Passenger Vehicles) (Modifications) Order, 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.

The Order is made—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will hon. Members wishing to leave the Chamber not linger?

Mr. Brown

The Order is made by my right hon. Friend under his powers in Section 96(12) of the Transport Act, 1968, to make certain modifications to the requirements of Section 96 of the Act as they affect drivers of public service vehicles. Other exemptions, to cover cases of emergency, are contained in the Drivers' Hours (Passenger Vehicles) Exemptions Regulations, 1970, which were laid before the House on 9th February. It is the first, more general, exemptions that are the subject of this Order.

When the Minister's predecessor announced last July that stage I of the Transport Act requirements would be brought into effect this March, he said that it would be necessary to provide certain exemptions—permanent exemptions—to deal with special categories of passenger services, and also that some additional temporary and transitional exemptions might be necessary because of the immediate effects on essential public transport services and on earnings. Since then, we have had extensive consultations with the operators' organisations and the unions, and as a result we are satisfied that the exemptions provided for in the Order are genuinely needed. The exemptions are, as I have said, permanent or temporary.

First, the permanent exemptions. These are limited to the drivers of certain specialised kinds of express and contract services. They will make the requirements a little more flexible for holiday and excursion coach services, in particular. They are really adjustments rather than exemptions, since in most cases there are compensating conditions attached.

The temporary exemptions, on the other hand, are primarily for stage bus drivers. First and foremost, my right hon. Friend is most anxious to reduce these drivers' hours. At the same time, the present labour shortages in the bus industry are serious, and I know that hon. Members are well aware of this. For this reason, my right hon. Friend thinks that it is clear, as his predecessor foreshadowed, that there must be some adjustment of the stage I requirements in the initial stages. Otherwise, services would have to be drastically curtailed, many of the cuts would fall in peak hours, and the public—workers and schoolchildren especially—would suffer hardship. These exemptions are transitional. Several of them are expressly limited to expire 19 months hence, on 4th October, 1971. The rest are intended to continue for the duration of stage I only.

Turning to the Order itself, the legal expression of the provisions is inevitably complicated, but an explanatory leaflet has been prepared for the guidance of operators and drivers to show what the new hours requirements will be, taking the provisions of the Act and the Order together. Copies of this leaflet are available in the Vote Office. Taking the provisions of the Order in turn, their practical effect is briefly as follows.

Articles 1 and 2 are purely formal. Articles 3 and 4 cover the exemptions necessary to deal with transitional problems on the stage bus services and, in particular, to give the extra flexibility necessary to cover peak period working. Article 3(2) allows the statutory rest period between working days for stage bus drivers to be reduced from 11 hours to 81 hours, provided that the driver has at least 12 hours rest next day. The exemption cannot apply more than three times a week. If the 91 hours rest allowed once a week under the Act itself —Section 96(4)(b)—is taken advantage of, the exemption can apply only twice a week.

This succeeds a provision under present law which allows the rest period to be reduced to nine hours—and on one occasion a week to eight hours—if the driver has 12 hours rest next time. This facility is a great help to operators in time of staff shortage, for it means that a driver who has finished duty at, say, 9 p.m. can, if there is no other driver available, take an early turn at 6 a.m. the following morning. If he had to wait 11 hours until 8 a.m., it would be too late for the morning peak. Article 3(3) is merely a consequential provision to alter the definition of "working day" in Section 103 because of this exemption. This exemption ceases to have effect on 4th October, 1971.

Article 3(4) amends the 60-hour working week requirement in the Act so as to provide for a 132-hour fortnight for public service vehicle drivers, so long as not more than 72 hours are worked in any one week. This extension is necessary to take the fullest advantage of the provisions which will, for the present, give public service vehicle drivers only a fortnightly instead of a weekly rest day. It expires on 4th October, 1971.

At present, the Act itself—Section 96(6)(b)—already exempts stage bus drivers from the weekly rest day requirment, provided that they have a fortnightly rest day. This exemption is extended to all public service vehicle drivers by Article 3(5). If this fortnightly rest day exemption, and the corresponding hours exemption in Article 3(4), were limited to stage bus drivers, operators needing to use the exemptions would not be able to schedule their drivers for express and contract carriage work on one or two days in the week—as they often do▀×to give them welcome variety of work.

Article 3(5) also includes a condition that not more than 13 working days may be worked in a fortnight. This condition ensures that when the driver does have his 24 hours off in the fortnight it is a full day, and not the afternoon of one day and the morning of the next. Otherwise, the shift system might be so manipulated that a driver seldom had a full day off, although conforming to the letter of the law.

Article 4(2) enables stage bus drivers to continue to work a straight-through duty of 8½ or 8 hours, including layover time, so long as this is the only duty worked in the day. This allows a practice permitted under existing law to continue. It enables the operator to schedule a duty without the statutory half-hour break after 5½ hours under Section 96(2), which on some routes can mean either a half-hour wait before the service continues, or a change of driver. The driver must, however, have 45 or 40 minutes free of driving in the course of the duty. This is the layover allowed at the terminal points for documentation, inspection of the vehicle and so on. This kind of duty is liked by many drivers because it shortens the working day.

For stage bus drivers who work spreadover duties, that is, spells of duty interspersed with off duty time, the maximum spreadover is extended from 127½ to 14 hours. The work content however must remain at 11 hours. Operators need this exemption for the same reason that they need the reduced rest period between working days, in order to make the best use of voluntary overtime in the interest of keeping the maximum number of buses manned during the peak hours. For example a driver who has been on duty from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. could do overtime from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in order to cover the evening peak. This, again, is a temporary exemption to meet transitional difficulties and will end in October, 1971.

The remaining exemptions in Articles 5 and 6 are for the permanent adjustments of the provisions for express and contract drivers which I referred to earlier. It is convenient to start with Article 5(3). This provides for the 4-hour rest period during a 14-hour working day, applicable to these drivers, to be aggregated and not continuous, provided that there is a rest period of at least 12 hours at the end of the day; and for a 16-hour working day containing a six hour continuous rest period, not more than once a week. Under Articles 5(2), (3) and (4), if a driver takes his statutory rest periods during the working day on a double-manned vehicle, he must have a seat reserved for him when he is not driving, and a 12 hour rest at the end of that day.

Article 6 provides that, in the case of long tours run on a three-week cycle, the driver is exempt from the fortnightly rest day requirement so long as he has two periods of 24 hours off duty in the three weeks. The kind of services that will be facilitated by these adjustments are the long day excursions where the passengers do not want to stay too long in any one place or where, conversely, they want a long stay at one destination; the cases where two drivers are carried because more than 10 hours driving in the day is involved: and the tours lasting several days where the passengers like to have the services of one driver throughout and his rest day may therefore need adjustment.

The House will appreciate that in introducing the Transport Act provision, it is necessary to strike a fair balance, taking into account both the interests of the drivers and those of the travelling public. My right hon. Friend is satisfied, after the very full consultations that have taken place, that the proposals in the Order strike a fair balance. But in moving the Order he would wish to emphasise again the temporary nature of the exemptions relating to stage bus operation.

It will be necessary for both sides of the industry to consider, well before the expiry of these exemptions, the adjustments that will need to be made in anticipation of the coming into effect of the stage I provisions in their original form. In my right hon. Friend's view it will likewise be necessary, in the course of the next year or so before these exemptions expire, to review the situation in regard to the implementation, by a further Order, of the provisions envisaged for stage II.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I am seriously perturbed by this Order. As long ago as June, 1967, my hon. Friend's predecessor after considerable discussion, with all the interests involved —trade unions and others—of the form of the control and restriction of driving hours which should be embodied in legislation, seemed to meet the unions attitude. Due notice was given to the bus operators of the intended restrictions.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary emphasised that these modifications in the arrangements are of a temporary nature. Surely sufficient time has elapsed since June, 1967, for operators, who have been aware of the intended restrictions to be placed on driving hours, to have adjusted their arrangements accordingly? If three years have not been sufficient for them to have made these adjustments, I cannot see how another 18 months, till October, 1971, will prove an adequate time.

It is clear from the Order that the Minister is leaning over backwards to meet operators who have failed to face up to the obligations which they understood would be imposed on them. He has not gone far to meet the requirements of the unions, the real needs of drivers and the desires of the public in relation to driving conditions in 1970. By merely modifying rest periods and extending hours that drivers may work he is achieving nothing.

My hon. Friend explained how he understood the feelings of the unions and the men and took their views into consideration. Is he aware that his predecessors did the same? They, too, had in mind the views of the unions and the difficulties and dangers of over-straining drivers. They tried to solve these problems by the provisions which they introduced. Now, after all the warning that has been given and after three years of increased road traffic, the Government are merely modifying those provisions. Are they aware that the provisions, which were introduced three years ago, were considered to be the minimum necessary then?

It has been argued that during periods of staff shortage it may be necessary to curtail rest periods and extend driving hours to keep services flowing. But adequate notice has been given of the arrangements which are necessary to overcome these problems. If we are now being told that because operators have fallen short in making arrangements we must introduce provisions in their favour, we are thereby departing from the original principles on which this legislation was based.

It has previously been argued that because the rates of pay of busmen are low, they must work all the hours that God sent to make up their pay and keep the services flowing, and this seems to be the argument for curtailing rest periods and extending driving hours. Is my hon. Friend aware that drivers are being forced, by low wages and bad conditions, to drive excessive hours and that the restrictions imposed by the 1968 Act were introduced because of this state of affairs? As these conditions are no less dangerous now, it is all the more reason to protect drivers and the public, and I find it difficult to understand why the Government are introducing these modifications. The men's unions are firmly opposed to the Order, particularly to Article 3(2) and (4) and Article 4(2)(i) and (ii). Even at this late stage the Government should think again before promulgating the Order.

It may well be said that there is need for dispensation in certain cases. This may be so, although it is difficult to understand why it should be necessary after the three years which have elapsed since the original proposals. If operators have failed, for one reason or another, sometimes because they have been unable to do so, to meet the provisions of the Act, surely some means can be established by which particular cases could be referred to the Traffic Commissioners for special consideration so that limited temporary exemptions could be given. We should not go further than that. It is wrong to provide in an Order complete blanket loopholes for all operators whether they are capable or incapable of complying with the provisions of the 1968 Act.

I greatly hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will think again about the Order.

10.21 p.m.

Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I intervene not so much to discuss the merits of the Order as to complain about its unintelligibility. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary did something to mitigate that and also mentioned a leaflet which he said was obtainable from the Vote Office. I have here a leaflet, from the end of which I gather that it is only one of the leaflets which are obtainable. The leaflet makes the Order a little clearer.

I have constituents who do not understand the Order and who, therefore, do not know how much to charge their customers for, say, a one-day coach trip to Bournemouth. Before an Order such as this, which is to come into operation next Sunday—

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

The Order is to come into operation on 15th March. Through some misunderstanding, the Vote Office has been issuing the unamended Order.

Sir R. Russell

I am glad to hear that it is not to come into operation so soon as Sunday.

Article 5(3), even when read together with the Transport Act, 1968, is unintelligible. It is almost as bad as certain Sections of the Land Commission Act and some recent Finance Acts. Is it not possible to produce Orders which are more intelligible to the general public? Possibly the leaflets which are available go some way towards making the Order clearer. The one which I have had the opportunity of glancing through does not relate to express or contract carriers. It is too much to expect coach operators to be able to quote in advance for a day trip to Bournemouth which is to take place next June. They should be able to do so now, but, because of the state of the Order, cannot do so.

I ask that in future more consideration be given to making Orders more intelligible. If this cannot be done, because of the necessity to have legalistic language, I hope that the explanatory leaflets will be issued at a much earlier stage so that they can be studied long before Orders and Regulations come into operation.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)

I have the honour to be a member of the Transport and General Workers Union, and I have been very closely connected with it in discussions on the Order. The union has held discussion with my right hon. Friend to which I hope he will refer.

I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. John Hynd) said. The Order is a compromise document. I think that my right hon. Friend would have a fair case if he said that, like many Ministers, he is faced with a situation he inherited, and that over the years drivers have had to work far too many hours. I pay him the compliment of saying that he seeks to redress that by means of the Order.

Hon. Members on both sides must have some idea of what it is like to drive on the roads of this country today. Article 3(1) of the Order talks of 60 hours a week and 72 hours, and of drivers working two weekends before they have a day off. It is deplorable that men are sent out to drive heavy vehicles for long periods. My experience is only of driving a reasonably light car. I drive frequently from Bristol to London, a journey of about three hours, and I have then had enough; I want to rest. But men take heavy buses out on the roads with many people on board and drive for hour after hour. It is not good enough.

I understand the situation my right hon. Friend faces. I know it very well, coming from the City of Bristol, where for years the bus service has been the subject of heavy complaints. My answer is that we must have more drivers, and it is necessary to offer more pay to attract drivers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a little wide of what we are discussing.

Mr. Ellis

I am guided by your wise words Mr. Speaker. The point I seek to make is that the Minister has been forced into the present position to some degree because he cannot go as far as he would like in prescribing shorter hours for bus drivers owing to staff shortages. I make merely a passing reference to the fact that the community must face this situation and provide higher wages to attract men into the industry, so that they can work more civilised hours having regard to the conditions on our roads today.

My union has the greatest reservation about the Order. We accept the difficulties the Minister is in, but we very much look forward to the day when he can lay Orders for hours more in keeping with present conditions on the roads. We shall not take violent exception to the Order provided my right hon. Friend can give assurances that he is not satisfied with the situation.

I appreciate that the document is very complex and difficult to understand, but my right hon. Friend has been forced into a recognition of the situation and has sought to alleviate the problem where he could without bringing the whole of our transport to a grinding halt. That was the dilemma he was in.

Having said that, and made the excuses I can for my right hon. Friend and realising his position, I hope that he will stay in his job a lot longer. I hope he will have recognised that he has a very full slate in dealing with this ques- tion, and I hope that he goes from strength to strength. The union members who man the buses in my area and elsewhere recognise, from the point of view of safety, health and their livelihoods that they have not had the recognition they should have had from society as a whole. I look forward to the day when they get that recognition, when our bus drivers are remunerated properly and work civilised hours. I know that my right hon. Friend hopes that too.

10.31 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) in drawing attention to the complexity of the Order and the great difficulty one has in understanding some of its provisions. In the preamble, there is the statement that it has been made after consultation with representative organisations, and I am sure that the officials of the Ministry, the unions and the operators who carried out these negotiations understand the provisions well.

But the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments is charged with the duty of examining every Statutory Instrument laid before the House, including draft Statutory Instruments such as this one, and if the Instrument requires elucidation, or if its drafting appears to be defective, the Committee may report the matter to the House.

On this occasion, the Select Committee was very concerned about the wording of the Order. In particular, it drew attention to Article 3(2) and the introduction of a new sub-paragraph (c) into a section of the principal Act. I am sure that there cannot be more than a handful of hon. Members who can put their hands on their hearts and say that they understand what that sub-paragraph means. It is almost unintelligible as it stands.

Therefore, the Select Committee asked for a memorandum from the Department explaining what was meant by these provisions and how they could be made more understandable to those who have to understand them. The Order must be understood by bus drivers in particular, since it refers to those who drive "stage carriages"—an extraordinary term for a bus, but there it is—and I am sure that many of them, if they saw sub-paragraph (c) stuck up on the notice boards in their garages, would laugh themselves silly and would not understand what it was all about.

The Select Committee had a helpful memorandum from the Department and I express our gratitude to the official of the Department who gave evidence on the subject. He not only explained the provisions to the Committee but produced a pamphlet, the draft of which is now before the House, and in particular the table attached to it. The wording in that table goes a long way to make the provisions clear to those who have to operate them. From that point of view, both pamphlet and table are of great value. Because it is the intention of the Department to explain it to the operators and bus drivers in this form, the Select Committee felt that it did not need to report the matter to the House as one requiring further elucidation.

My fear is that perhaps all these good intentions and good efforts by the Department may be wasted. There is no obligation on any operator to distribute this pamphlet or to put up this table attached to the pamphlet on a notice board. A contractor can hide it away and do nothing about it. Normally, the operators are anxious that their drivers should know the provisions and there is co-operation between drivers and operators in trying to understand them. This is not so in all cases. I understand that in some cases the operators make their own translations, as it were, of the Orders and stick those upon the notice board. It would be far better if there were some obligation upon the operators to make known, by posting on the notice board or by distributing pamphlets, the version issued by the Ministry.

This is the authentic version and the authentic table. It explains things well. If some operators are to be allowed to make their own interpretation and put that on the notice board, or if some of the smaller operators avoid letting their drivers know anything at all about it, because they want to make greater modifications than the Order makes, the Order will fail to have proper effect and it will be dangerous in that it makes some exemptions and may be used as an excuse for making greater exemptions. I should like to see an obligation in the Order for the operator to exhibit properly the version that the Ministry has issued.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

I do not have to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend the fact that in dealing with the enforcement of bus drivers' hours we are dealing with a rather different situation from that with which we dealt a couple of weeks ago when we considered road haulage drivers' hours. The difference is that when any Statutory Instrument is brought before this House referring to a reduction in bus drivers' hours it will, by and large, be enforced. That is not, I submit, the case in the road haulage industry.

It is a great importance, when we are talking about reduction in bus drivers' hours, to get the fact right and bear in mind the very varied conditions which operate in the industry. I concur with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) who said that we are dealing with a predominantly low-wage industry. I would have to go a long way before I found comparable examples of men working such long hours per week for comparably low wages.

When I consider the exemptions that the Minister has made in this Order, both temporary and permanent, I cannot help feeling that there is a much more simple solution and that is to pay the drivers a lot more money. When I look at the peculiar exemptions we have had to make to certain categories of carriage and when I look at the staff shortage on the ground, I cannot help wondering why a great deal more talk has not been heard over the past six months about increasing the wages. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the staff shortages in various parts of the country and the consequent need to make exemptions.

I represent a constituency where, over the past year, my No. 1 complaint from constituents has been from disgruntled passengers about the Midland Red Bus Company. This service is now part of the National Bus Company which is, through previous Transport Acts, a State-owned bus undertaking. We are now facing a situation in the Midlands when staff shortages and the competition from the private motor car means that public transport, particularly that provided by the Midland Red, is at near crisis point.

Midland Red now have to go before the traffic commissioners to ask permission to withdraw most of the Sunday services and even some weekly services, because of staff shortages, which will be made worse by the Order. Even some of the profitable routes, on which Midland Red relies to offset the less profitable routes, cannot be run because of staff shortages.

In Nuneaton, during one week, staff shortages were almost approaching 50 per cent. Competition from highly-paid jobs elsewhere is such that if Midland Red and other bus companies in certain parts of the Midlands do not increase wages they will find it difficult to get any staff at all. I hope that in the continuing review the Minister will bear in mind the pleas not only of the operators but of the Transport and General Workers' Union.

I have recently had letters from many headmasters complaining that only 75 per cent. of the children had arrived at school in the morning because they could not get buses. I have had letters from disgruntled nurses who cannot get to hospital for vital duties. I have had letters from villages—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting rather wide of the Motion.

Mr. Huckfield

I am trying to say that there is a close connection between the staff shortage, with the danger of an imminent crisis in public transport, and the difficulties which will be brought about by the introduction of the Order. I hope that these permanent and temporary exemptions will soon be rendered unnecessary by an increase in wages.

Two weeks ago I had a meeting in my constituency with operators of workers' services, excursion services and contract services in North Warwickshire, who told me that they would need a 20-hour spreadover for their drivers to enable them to continue services to their customers. I find that difficult to support entirely, and I know the Minister feels likewise. I am glad that he has been able to grant up to a 16-hour spread- over on certain days, and has clarified the point about the second driver being carried on the bus, so making possible the operation of longer tours and excursions. But even here the basic wage in the industry is much too low.

The review promised by the Minister will have to be undertaken in the light of advances in productivity represented by the increasing number of one-man operated buses now coming into service. I hope that this will mean that fewer drivers will be required and that some of the temporary exemptions will be lifted.

I also hope that, with the operation of some of the other parts of the Transport Act, especially the bus grants, the fuel tax offset and the grants from local authorities, many bus operators will find themselves in a better position, with the result that they will not be faced with the necessity of having to go before traffic commissioners and to the Minister and plead for these exemptions.

I ask my right hon. Friend to watch the increases in productivity which will be brought about by one-man operated buses. I hope that he will take serious note of the progress which local authority and Exchequer grants are expected to make in improving the financial situation of the National Bus Company and its various component parts. Above all, I remind him that there is a much more simple answer than all these exemptions. It is to increase the basic wage and lower the basic week of the bus driver.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

We have had an interesting debate, with authoritative speeches from a number of hon. Members who have a great deal of experience in the matters to which this Order relates.

Despite all the conflicting views which have been expressed, we all agree that this is perhaps the most complicated Order that we have seen for a long time. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has made a great contribution to the House by his diligent study of various Orders. When he is heard to say that an Order is very complicated, and difficult to understand, I hope that the Minister will consider whether such Orders can be made more clear and less legally worded in future.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) said, it is obvious that such Orders, because of their nature, must be a little complicated. However, this one has gone a little too far. It is almost a legal nightmare. If the right hon. Gentleman has any doubt about that, I refer him to the top of page 2, where he will see the words: (2) Section 96(4) shall have effect in relation to drivers to whom this Article applies as if after the words 'paragraph (b)' in paragraph (a) there were added the words 'or (c)' and there were added after paragraph (b) the following paragraph … It may be no comfort to my hon. Friend to know that the leaflet which is issued to explain it says that consideration is being given by the Ministry to consulting with the Welsh Office about the need for a Welsh language version.

It is important that the content and meat of the Order should be clear to those who will be affected by it.

Perhaps the explanatory note which is available to us could be made generally available to the industry. I do not suggest the operators should be under any compulsion, but it might be that the Minister could ensure that they have these notices readily available in all places, and certainly to the drivers under their control.

My second question concerns the point that the right hon. Gentleman dealt with when he intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South about the date of operation. We are aware of the various drivers' hours provisions stemming from Section 96, which come into operation on 1st March. As published originally, this Order specified that it would come into operation on 1st March, but, as the Minister said, it has now been changed to 15th March. Will the operation of Section 96 also be delayed for passenger service vehicles to 15th March, to coincide with the Order? It must be the case that the exemptions in the Order will take effect at the same time as Section 96, but the Minister should make that clear. Will the Minister also tell us why there has been this delay? Obviously, it would have been tidier and perhaps more in the interests of the industry if the reduction of hours in this case could be made to coincide with others.

Section 96, from which the Order stems, makes concessions to passenger vehicle operators, because of the great difficulty of coping with peak demands, to which the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) referred. In this industry, when dealing with the complex problem of peak demands, almost all spread over shifts, obviously regulations which would apply generally would not necessarily be helpful when dealing with this situation.

We must remember that in some areas there are serious staff shortages of 10 per cent. and above. The hon. Member for Nuneaton referred to one case which was greatly in excess of that. There is obviously a serious situation.

While some hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. John Hynd), expressed regret that we had to have these regulations, it is crystal clear that if we did not have them the problem would be even more serious. It is obvious that if, in the short term, forgetting what has happened in the past and what may happen in future, we were not to have the Order placed before and considered by us, the problems of the industry would be very serious indeed.

There could, in fact, be a reason for even more flexibility being given in particular cases to cope with special circumstances. While the industry is grateful for the concessions made by the Order, its gratitude can be compared with the position of an innocent man whose prison sentence is reduced from 10 to five years.

Will the Minister make clear, particularly in relation to the questions raised by the hon. Member for Attercliffe, whether it will be possible to have regulations made to cope with particular circumstances? The attitude of the Opposition to the Order will certainly stem partly from what answer the Minister gives.

Under Section 96 (10) (b), the Minister is able to make regulations enabling the traffic commissioners to deal with cases of special need on a local basis. Will he tell us whether it is his intention that such regulations may be made? I am not thinking about general circumstances. I am thinking, for example, of the Isle of Wight, where bus operators have to cope with the special problems of fitting in with the tides and ferry services, "wakes" weeks and public holidays, and special circumstances which could arise from flu epidemics and the like—in other words, particular circumstances.

Will the Minister tell us in general, while not committing himself to particular regulations, whether, in certain circumstances, he intends to give the traffic commissioners the right to issue such exemptions? Will he also tell us whether it is his understanding that the Order, which will involve a change, will result in the employment of more part-time drivers? There are strong feelings in one of the unions involved that this is not the way to solve the problem of shortage of drivers. Does the Minister believe that this will result in the employment of more part-time drivers, and is this desirable?

Section 96(4) provides for 11 hours rest, but Article 4(3) of the Order provides for a 14-hour spread-over. On this basis, with the 11 hours rest on top, work schedules would obviously have to be based on 25 hours. As there are 24 hours in the day, it seems difficult to fit this in. Would it not be better to refer to a 14-hour spread-over with 10 hours rest, which would add up to 24 hours? It would be tidier and would also conform with several other provisions.

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Gentleman refers to 11 hours' rest point. I would point out that there is no obligatory period of rest. There is provision in the exemptions for varied periods of rest.

Mr. Taylor

I was referring to the provision in Section 96(4) of the parent Act: Subject to the provisions of this section, there shall be, between any two successive working days of a driver, an interval of rest which— (a) subject to paragraph (b) of this subsection, shall not be of less than eleven hours". Perhaps the Minister will explain whether there is a point there about which we should be concerned.

Article 5(3) provides for a 14-hour spreadover, with a four-hour rest period. As the hon. Member for Nuneaton said, there can also be a 16-hour spread-over if there is an amount of rest within that time which adds up to the amount by which the working time exceeds 10 hours. In other words, both are related to the 10 hours. But it appears that, if there were a 13-hour spread-over, that is, between 12½ and 14 hours, with a four-hour obligatory rest period within it, there would be only nine hours available for working and driving.

It seems more logical to relate all rest periods to 10 hours. That appears to arise only between 12½ and 14 hours, but, if there were a 13-hour spread-over, because of the compulsory four-hour rest period in that time, there would not be a 10-hour working day.

Those are the small points on which I should like the Minister's comments. In general, we accept that the Order lays down a sensible and practical way of dealing with an unsatisfactory situation. There must be flexibility in an industry such as this. Without flexibility, the problems faced at present would be even more serious. We are all aware of the serious shortage of drivers and of the special circumstances which arise from time to time. The Order will be helpful, I am sure that the concessions which have been made are appreciated by the industry, and we shall, in the circumstances, support the Motion.

10.58 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

The interesting debate which we have had has illustrated a Minister's difficulties in approaching this problem. It is necessary to concern myself with hours of work, but I feel that I have a responsibility also for the interests of the travelling public. Hon. Members have shown that there are, indeed, two sides to the argument. I tell the House frankly that what I have done has caused satisfaction to neither the unions nor the operators.

I take, first, the important question of the date, raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). It is intended that not only this Order, but all the Orders and regulations associated with it, will come into force on 15th March. The rules relating to goods vehicles are to come into effect on 1st March. I confess that I had intended them both to come into force on 1st March, but, as the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), made clear—I make no complaint about it, because it is a very complicated Order—the Committee, at its first meeting, asked for further explanations and information.

I think that I am right in saying that the Committee meets at fortnightly intervals. I thought it right to add 14 days, since it would have been wrong to come here tonight and ask the House to consider an Order which would come into force on Sunday next. That would not be treating the House with proper courtesy.

I have consulted the operators, and I understand that this short extension of time will not cause any difficulty to them. Indeed, I believe that in several cases it is of some assistance, giving them a little more time to rearrange their schedules. I do not believe that any difficulty has been caused by the delay, though I wish to make clear that the whole system, assuming that the House is good enough to pass the Order tonight, is to come into force on 15th March.

I willingly concede that the Order presents great complexity. We have, however, possibly underrated the capacity of those working in the industry to understand and grasp complicated concepts like spread-overs, swing shifts, and the like. The people in the industry are familiar with the whole concept of scheduling, which is a complex operation. Indeed, in each garage there is a committee of the men which is concerned with the management in working out the schedules. They are the people who need to know precisely what is involved. I am certain that on the trade union side they will be so informed.

I certainly give the assurance that the Ministry will do all it can to see that the memorandum and the information is given the widest possible circulation. I have no power, however, either under the Act or in any other way, to compel operators to post the information on notice boards. That is a point that the House might bear in mind if we have further legislation on the subject.

I thank the hon. Member for Crosby for what he said about the official who appeared before his Committee. I am sorry that we were not able to provide the information for the earlier meeting of the Committee, because I was fully conscious of the difficulty. We considered whether we could make the Order simple, but its purpose is not merely to inform those who are concerned with the new hours. It must have legal effect. Therefore, the drafting of Statutory Instruments is often a very complex matter. They have to be prepared in a form that ensures that, in the event of prosecution, a case can properly proceed.

I should like to pay tribute to the work of the officials of my Department who have been concerned in lengthy consultations and who have worked on and helped draft these documents over a long period. It has been a most difficult time and I wish to tell the House how much I appreciate the work that has been done. We shall certainly consider whether, on any subsequent occasion, we can make for greater simplification, but I would not want, on grounds of simplicity, to lose the legal validity of what we are trying to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. John Hynd) is. I think, the only one who has challenged the concept of the exemptions. He courteously told me of his special difficulty in not being able to stay for the remainder of the debate, and I assured him that the House would appreciate why he was not able to be present to hear the reply. Since he is a neighbour of mine in Sheffield, I do not know that he realises how difficult things might be in other parts of the country. This is because we have a fairly good undertaking in Sheffield, although my constituents tell me that the position is by no means perfect.

The problem is to strike a balance between the needs of the travelling public and those of the operators. As the operators are almost entirely either municipal undertakings or companies of the National Bus Company, the private profit element scarcely arises on the stage carriage services.

As to the question of complexity and intelligibility, everyone I have met—and I have been to many meetings with both sides—has pressed me to make Orders of this kind more complex and unintelligible. They have wanted to include more exemptions and to try to get, as they put it, more flexibility. A one-man coach operator in my constituency came to see me, not to complain of the complexity, but, I can tell the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell), to give me his own list of additional complexities.

It is extremely important that we get the maximum flexibility. It is obviously not possible to include all possible exemptions, but the Order gives the opportunity of dealing with an emergency situation or working out a schedule to get the odd change from one day to another. The fact is that on municipal undertakings, and in London, there is, on average, a 17 per cent. shortage of crews, and in the National Bus Company the average is 13½ per cent. In some cases, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) said, the figure is substantially higher. It would, therefore, have been wholly irresponsible not to try to make some allowance for this difficulty.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe was less than fair when he said that we had not gone very far. Until 15th March the maximum work hours are 98 a week. There is no provision whatever for a rest day, and I understand that many drivers work on their rest day regularly and do not have a real rest for a very long time. By means of what is called the swing shift, a driver has 24 hours off by finishing work at 2 p.m. one afternoon and starting again at 2 p.m. the following day. On each day, however, he can do a full shift of work, which does not seem to be right as a rest day.

I have provided in the Order for at least one complete day off work a fortnight, and a maximum working period of 132 hours in a fortnight. This is a substantial step forward and, as my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, we stress that these are temporary exemptions. Unless some other action is taken, they will, for the most part, automatically lapse on 4th October, 1971. This is a date chosen to coincide with the introduction of the new winter schedules, which I understand is the most convenient time for such a change.

I believe that, when we bring this into operation, the operators and the unions will see the need to improve efficiency and recruitment, so that they can face the situation when these temporary exemptions expire. The hon. Member for Cathcart suggested that they might consider employing part-time drivers. I think that they will have to consider some radical remedies if they are to get the necessary crews to maintain the service which the public want.

Pay has been mentioned on a number of occasions, but this is not within my jurisdiction. Clearly, this is an important aspect, but we must remember that, if there are pay increases, in all probability there are fare increases, too. This is a consequence which must be faced. I submit that we have put forward a reasonable balance to try to reduce drivers' hours, not only on the ground of road safety, but on the general ground of hours of work. Until drivers' conditions are improved, we shall not get the necessary recruitment, which, by itself, is the only way to get the better service and reliability which is so important.

The hon. Member for Cathcart suggested, as have many operators—municipal, National Bus Company, and private —that there ought to be more flexibility. I have turned down more proposals for exemptions than I have accepted, as I think it is right to make a real start on reducing drivers' hours.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that there was a need to deal with special needs on a local basis. I do not see that there is a need to make regulations to provide for the traffic commissioners to give further exemptions on a local basis. I think that the operators and unions must face these problems during the next 18 months, if they are to provide the crews to maintain the necessary services. It would be counter-productive if they could get an exemption for every temporary difficulty. This is not a case of just a few shortages in one or two cities or counties. This public transport problem is very widespread and it would not be right to give the commissioners these special powers.

I have not heard of any particular problem in the Isle of Wight. In our long consultations I think that we would have heard if they had expected problems. Influenza epidemics are a general problem and not confined to this field. The hon. Member has a strange opinion of the speed at which the traffic commissioners could work if he thinks that they could grant exemptions in time to produce practical remedies when there was a 'flu epidemic. It is important that, if cases go before the commissioners, the grounds of objection should be fully discussed as well as the operators' case.

So it would not be right now to invoke my power under the Act to give the commissioners this jurisdiction. It is essentially an emergency provision and should not be regarded as a normal arrangement to deal with drivers' hours.

As for the 14-hour spread-over, these figures are maxima and most schedules at the moment do not reach the ceiling we are providing for. But this will give flexibility. On many schedules, this is one of the problems of peak hour operations and drivers' hours generally. Almost every day, the crew start and finish work at different times. We have not made an arithmetical error by adding 14 and 11 and thinking that it made 24.

The 16-hour provision was particularly requested as an exceptional measure by the contract and express operators and applies only to them, to provide for a party going on a day's outing to a football match, or to the seaside, where the party does not want to come back too early. They may want to be away 16 hours, but the driver would be driving only two or three hours at the beginning and end of the journey. In the middle, he would be watching the match or having some recreation. It would be difficult without a long spread-over to meet this particular need. It is not intended that the stage carriage operators should use all the 16 hour period.

I thank the House for the considerate way in which it has considered the Order. I apologise again for the complexity. I also thank the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments for its great kindness to us and I endorse the tribute already paid to it for the great work, unheard for the most part, which it does behind the scenes to assist us in these important matters.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Drivers' Hours (Passenger Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.