HC Deb 03 December 1984 vol 69 cc132-45

12 midnight

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 5937/1/84 and of the Department of Transport's Explanatory Memorandum dated 28th November 1984; and welcomes the Government's broad support for the proposals to make the Drivers' Hours and Tachograph Regulations more flexible and easier to understand and enforce. This motion concerns a proposal to amend the Community regulations which deal with the conditions of work of coach and lorry drivers. It is a subject of great complexity but nonetheless important for that.

The social regulation was first adopted in 1969, before we entered the Community; however, just a year before, that, in 1968, the United Kingdom had introduced a revision of our own rules in the Transport Act 1968, which the Labour party introduced. When we joined the Community we made it clear that we did not think much of its arrangements, but we accepted them with a long phasing-in period. Regulation 1463/70, requiring the use of tachographs was also adopted and has now, by and large, been accepted by the industry, although it is still a source of irritation from time to time.

Dissatisfaction with the rules governing hours and rest periods, however, is increasing. There is a widespread feeling that they no longer meet the requirements of the industry or the drivers. It is not only the United Kingdom that thinks that. The Commission and other member states have also come round to that view.

There is no disagreement about the broad objectives of the regulations. Since the 1930s, Governments of all complexion have recognised that commercial pressures can lead transport operators and drivers to indulge in excessive driving that can endanger both themselves and other road users. Although the research evidence about fatigue is less than clear—and certainly does not lead to firm recommendations about which limits to adopt—one's own common sense is enough to show that tired drivers are dangerous. It also makes sense to have common international rules which can be applied to drivers irrespective of nationality, so that transport costs, and thus competition are not distorted.

The Commission published its proposals to deal with these problems in March of this year, after over two years of discussion with representatives of both sides of the industry as well as Government experts. In May this year the Council of Ministers agreed some general guidelines to be followed by officials in considering these proposals. They said that there should be increased flexibility in daily driving, but within a reduced average driving week, and there should be an increase in weekly rest.

A possible package of measures has emerged and is set out in the annexes to the supplementary memorandum of 28 November. The Council will be considering that next week, although it is unlikely that any firm decisions will be taken.

The Commission's proposal has three main parts. The first contains proposed amendments to the existing drivers' hours regulation, EEC 543/69. The second contains proposed amendments to the tachograph regulation, EEC 1463/70, and the third part consists of a draft Council recommendation on implementation of the regulations.

Taking first the draft amendments to the drivers' hours regulations, there are a number of proposed amendments to the definitions in article 1. Most of these are aimed at clarifying the existing rules, particularly as regards driving on private roads, but a particularly important proposal is that the week should be defined as fixed from Monday to Sunday, rather than, as now, being the last seven days at any time. That is fundamental to some of the other proposals in the document. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) will agree that, without this, the regulation becomes almost impossible to enforce.

Article 4 of the existing regulation provides automatic exemptions for certain types of vehicle and use. The Commission proposed that it be redrafted in the interest of clarity. There is still some discussion about which exemptions should appear in this article, and which in article 14, which deals with exemptions that member states may themselves grant for certain specialised and localised activities. We attach particular importance to paragraph 10 of article 4, which will make it clear that vehicles used for private purposes are exempt, and this should apply equally to passenger and goods vehicles.

Article 5 deals with the minimum age of, and training for, professional drivers, and we are broadly content with the proposed amendments.

The present article 6 is redundant and is to be deleted. The new article 6 will deal with driving times. The present maximum daily driving time is eight hours, extendable to nine hours twice a week for certain vehicles. The Commission proposal is to extend this to nine hours with provision for 10 hours twice a week. This would not go as far as our own 1968 Act, which allows 10 hours every day, but we regard it as acceptable.

This extended daily driving period will be contained in a slightly shorter average working week. The Commission's proposal to reduce the weekly driving time from the present 48 hours to 45 hours is not acceptable to us or to most other member states. The latest proposal is to retain the 48 hours maximum a week, but to allow not more than 90 hours in a fortnight, so that the average would be reduced from the present 46 to 45 hours a week.

The existing article 7 deals with the maximum period of continuous driving. The present regulation says that no period of continuous driving shall exceed four hours. The Commission proposed to amend this to no period of continuous work shall exceed 4½ hours, excluding waiting time". There is a provision under our 1968 Act which specifies a maximum of five and a half hours' continuous work. I can understand the argument that if a driver is doing work other than driving, such as loading and unloading it can be just as tiring as driving. However, there are some serious practical difficulties in introducing the concept of duty into the regulation, and that is one of the main unresolved issues at present for a large number of countries.

Article 8 deals with the breaks that a driver has to take between hours of continuous driving. At present, these must he either one hour, in the case of large vehicles, or half an hour in the case of smaller vehicles. In each case there is provision to take the break in shorter periods. The Commission proposes one hour for all vehicles, but we and most other states regard this as too long and the discussion at present is whether the period should be 30 minutes or 45 minutes.

I now come to daily rest periods, which will now be article 9 instead of article 11. The present provisions are for 11 hours in the case of goods vehicles, reducible to eight or nine hours twice a week. For passenger vehicles, the provision is either 10 hours, or 11 hours, reducible to nine or 10 twice a week in some circumstances. The Commission proposes 12 hours for all vehicles, reducible to nine hours not more than three times a week. I apologise for the seeming complication, but this is the fact of what we have before us.

We and most other countries consider that this is too long and would prefer to retain the present 11 hours with reductions to nine hours not more than three times a week. There is also a proposal to allow the rest period to be split into two periods, of which one should be at least eight hours on, which would be of particular assistance to the passenger industry.

The new article 9 would also deal with weekly rest periods. We and most other countries considered that the original Commission proposal of 48 hours was too long since it would effectively prevent the working of a regular 5½-day week, which is still common practice in the industry. A number of other proposals are under consideration, based on an average of 42 hours' rest a week, though possibly measured over a fortnight or longer period. The figures I have quoted are for single-manned vehicles; additional provisions will be needed, as now, for vehicles with more than one driver. This is an area where, above all, we need flexibility to cope with varying patterns of work and, in particular, to enable drivers on long international journeys to spend as much time at home as possible.

There are then number of consequential amendments, before we come to existing article 12a which prohibits bonus payments related to distances travelled or the amount of goods carried unless these payments are of such a kind as not to endanger road safety. The Commission proposes to delete this, and we agree.

There is then new article 13 which deals with emergency situations and with which we are broadly content.

I have already referred briefly to new article 14, which lists the exemptions that member states may themselves grant for certain categories of transport. We regard it as particularly important that the wording of this article should make it clear that member states may specify in their national measures the scope of the exemption within the categories described. The proposed exemptions for agricultural vehicles and for vehicles used for specialised purposes and for only short journeys are also of importance and need careful consideration. We welcome the proposed exemptions for vehicles confined to isolated islands and for vehicles used in exceptional circumstances not foreseen in the regulation.

The remaining provisions are, again, consequential on drafting.

I turn now to an issue that was not in the Commission's proposal but was included in the conclusions of the 10 May Transport Council. The EC regulation is concerned only with driving time—the time actually spent behind the wheel—and rest periods. But in our 1968 Act we also have provisions regulating, for goods vehicle drivers only, total hours of work and "spreadover" — the maximum time between starting and stopping work on any one day. These provisions apply on top of the EC rules to driving on journeys within the United Kingdom, and this is a further complication. It has been suggested that the EC regulation should cover duty hours as well as driving hours, and I know that some trade unionists in particular would welcome that.

I have considerable reservations about this suggestion. It seems to me that it would make the regulation even more complicated than it is now—our own regulations already have to provide a number of exemptions and special provisions — and it would be very difficult to get agreement on comparable rules on a Community basis. Moreover, for passenger vehicle drivers we found that duty limits were wholly impractical — they were abandoned in 1971. I would not wish to hold up the many other desirable changes in the regulation to which I have referred in an attempt to insert duty hours limits at this stage.

But if duty hours are not to be covered in the EC regulation, should we do anything about our domestic laws? I cannot answer that until we know what the new EC provisions will be. But the need to look at our laws again in due course will not be overlooked.

In the tachograph regulation, most of the proposed amendments are consequential or in the interest of clarification. However, the proposed new article 16 would require tachograph charts to be numbered, used in numerical sequence, and recorded by the employer. While such a move might help in enforcing the tachograph regulation, it would, in our view, be unworkable in practice. We understand that the chart manufacturers cannot guarantee completely accurate numbering of charts; there would be a substantial additional administrative burden on operators and considerable difficulties for drivers who in any one week may drive several different vehicles with different models of tachograph. Therein lies the problem of doing something which appears to be sensible.

The same problem arises on new article 17. In addition, the provision in paragraph 5 of that article for crew members to retain tachograph charts will need to be looked at in the light of what is agreed about the fixed or rolling week to which I referred earlier.

The draft recommendation on enforcement would recommend to member states certain principles for organising checks on drivers' hours, including the percentage of vehicles to be checked annually and a framework for fixing penalties. We are sympathetic to the need to improve enforcement throughout the Community, but I think that the proposed provisions need more detailed consideration, especially when they purport to lay down how many vehicles should be checked annually.

I have discussed the main matters under consideration. Because the subject is so complicated, the Department has consulted not only the principal unions and trade associations in transport, but many other bodies that have an interest. They are united in saying that something should be done to clarify the situation. The employers are concerned about proposals to extend the rest periods, not because they want to curtail them, but because they wish to retain flexibility, particularly in industries like agriculture and construction, which depend on light nights in the summer. The unions, as I have said, wish to see limits on duty in the regulations.

The Commission's proposal as it is shaping up in discussion seems to strike a reasonable balance between the competing pressures of employers and unions and the overall considerations of public safety which are important. There are still matters on which we are unhappy and we shall pursue those in Brussels. It is disappointing that, after three years of discussion, more progress has not been made and that next week's Council meeting will not be able to take firm decisions. But I look forward to hearing the views of the House tonight and to its support for the Government's pragmatic position.

12.17 am
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

I do not want to delay the House for longer than is necessary, because we have had a long day. However, it is right that we put some of our observations on the record, because this is an important matter.

Has the Minister complied with a recommendation of the Select Committee on European Legislation? The Committee's report says: In view of the importance of the issue raised the Committee recommend that this instrument should be further considered by the House. They look to the Department however to keep them informed of developments so that they may review their recommendation in good time before the instrument goes to the Council for adoption. Has the Minister complied with that recommendation? I have been in touch today with the Department and with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who is Chairman of the Select Committee, and it seems that the answer is unclear.

Over the years, the Minister and I have shared the important policy objective of improving road safety. Collectively, we have put on the statute book legislation to improve road safety and save lives. However, I believe that the regulations, which the Government have asked the House to accept, will be harmful to road safety.

I begin by outlining some of the regulations that the members of the Transport and General Workers Union and the Freight Transport Association regard as important and agree upon. The hon. Lady has already mentioned some of them. In particular, the week as defined on a fixed basis from 00 hours on Monday to 2400 hours on Sunday is an acceptable starting point for all the calculations.

Secondly, the definition of "driving" is included for the first time as time which is spent behind the wheel of the vehicle. That may seem obvious, but it is the only time that that has been defined in regulations.

The third point on which we can agree relates to the exemptions for small passenger vehicles and the proposed increase from 15 to 17 nationally does not apply if carrying goods other than passengers' personal effects". This is the familiar jargon of European legislation. Having ploughed through it, I think that we can agree with it.

Fourthly, the new wording for rescue vehicles includes other vehicles when used in a temporary emergency. Once again, that seems patently obvious, but once again we must get the syntax right. As the Minister will see, few of the regulations that the Minister has introduced tonight find common ground with the TGWU or the FTA.

The 1968 Act was introduced to reduce the hours of work of drivers of commercial vehicles in the interests of road safety and driver fatigue—a proper and adequate proposal at the time. I am given to understand that the 1968 Act provisions are in operation today. Those include up to 10 hours driving at the wheel; up to 11 hours on duty, including driving; up to 12½ hours spread over booking on to booking off; at least a half hour break for rest and refreshment after five and a half hours of duty; at least 11 consecutive hours off duty between working days; 60 hours a week on duty; and at least 24 consecutive hours off duty. Those provisions of the 1968 Act found a generally favourable reception among the trade unions and those principally involved in road haulage.

I have with me the professional driver's handbook of the TGWU, which sets out the conclusions of that Act and which is the bible of road hauliers' employees. That is the book on which they operate. The proposals that the Minister is asking the House to consider tonight include a combination of amendments to both daily driving hours and the rest period hours. Those proposals are opposed by the European transport unions. Their opposition is soundly based.

Everyone accepts that a major cause of road accidents is driver fatigue. It is nonsense for anyone glibly to imply that an extension of working hours and a reduction in the daily rest period enhances the driver's working conditions. Safety and health depend on the avoidance of fatigue. Fatigue can be caused by both long working hours and inadequate rest and sleep. Accumulative fatigue can be caused by repeated periods of work with insufficient rest periods to enable the driver to recover.

According to the Government's statistics, fatal accidents resulted in 47 per cent. more goods vehicle drivers being killed in the second quarter of 1984 compared with the same period last year. Serious injuries fell by 8 per cent., but 426 were still seriously injured and the number of those slightly injured rose by 2 per cent. to 1,678. Sixteen fewer people were killed or injured by goods vehicles during the first six months of this year, yet there was an increase of 53 people who were killed or seriously injured while riding bicycles, which is a slightly disturbing figure. Any measure that can add to driver fatigue will increase inevitably the dangers of fatal or serious accidents occurring on the roads of Britain and elsewhere in Europe. That prompted Mr. Jack Ashwell, the national road haulage officer of the Transport and General Workers Union, to say to an audience listening to a speech on road safety that a driver died when he fell asleep at the wheel after driving 760 miles in two days. An eye-witness saw his lorry swerve across the lanes and plough across a roundabout and up a slip road before ploughing down an embankment. The tachograph showed that he had been driving for nearly 30 hours during 42-hours.

The changes that the Commission is proposing and the Government are asking us to support—we are being asked to approve them tonight—are, as the hon. Lady has said, a complex equation involving the juggling of arithmetical sums involving drivers' hours and rest periods. The Minister has set out the ramifications of these complicated regulations in her usual astute way. After we have distilled this almost incomprenhensible European document, we find that the regulations amount to an extension of hours and a reduction of rest periods. In the 1968 Act, there was an outcry when hours were reduced from 72 to 60. Yet in 1984 we have the ridiculous situation where employers' representatives in the European Community want to increase driving hours to 10 hours daily and to reduce the daily rest period away from base to eight hours uninterrupted or nine hours with the possibility of an interruption, of which six hours would be interrupted and a maximum of 30 minutes' driving time. It is proposed that the daily 11 hours on-duty limitation should be rescinded, as in the rest of Europe. That sound like gobbledegook to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if it does not to you, but that is what the Commission's regulations are proposing.

The House should consider carefully the consequences of the regulations, even though the hour is late. The implicit promise of extra rest hours at a later stage does not reduce driver fatigue on the day in question. Adequate rest is necessary at all times if accidents are to be prevented, and surely that is what the House wishes. Hours spent "resting" in the cab of a lorry without the necessary provisions for meals, toilet facilities or personal hygiene do not fall into the category of rest. It is on that basis that the unions in the transportation business in Europe, including the United Kingdom, are opposed to the regulations. On the balance of the argument, I, too, am opposed to them.

The Freight Transport Association is none too happy about the tachograph proposals. That is clear from its briefing which came to me this morning. Part of it reads: Employers are required to number charts, issue charts in numerical sequence, maintain registers covering the issue and return of charts and keep completed charts and registers for two years. This suggestion has been made before by the Commission, and the Association remains opposed to the introduction of such provisions on the grounds that they would be of little practical benefit to the enforcement agencies and impose yet another burden of non-productive work on the operator. The requirement for completed charts to be retained for two years is a nonsense and an impossibility to justify."

I hope that the Minister will bear those comments in mind. She alluded to the difficulties in trying to legislate for those possibilities.

The Minister must be aware that any regulation that provides for options within the provisions makes a mockery of law enforcement. I am referring especially to the tachograph and the intention to rescind the requirement to retain the two or seven previous days' discs. To suggest that adequate enforcement can be maintained by visits to company premises and an electronic analysis of discs is misleading not only Parliament but the industry and the public at large. The Government's evidence to the Select Committee on Transport showed that the Department had 235 traffic examiners who have a wide range of duties, including roadside checks on vehicles in connection with weight and dimensions. The examiners are spread over 11 traffic areas, and I believe that it will be physically impossible to transfer road checks to company premises and maintain the same standard of enforcement on drivers' hours and rest period regulation.

In paragraph 219 of the Select Committee report, the Government stated that the police examine records on roadside checks arising from stopping the vehicle for other reasons. How can the law be enforced, as the only disc that the driver will be required to produce is that particular day's disc? That is what I understand from reading the document.

In essence, the proposals mean that checks can be made only at the company's premises. The level of enforcement officers is such that only a small percentage of those premises could be visited, thus eliminating the effectiveness of roadside checks and frustrating the implementation of the law which all of us support.

This is a complicated issue, as the Minister has already outlined. I have spent most of the day looking at the complicated regulations. I have said to the House that I believe that there are sound reasons for scepticism and for opposing some of the regulations. Late though it is, I say to my hon. Friends that we should register our opposition to the Commission's proposals. I do not believe that the recommendations, principally those on road safety, are beneficial.

I return to what I said at the beginning of my speech. The Minister and I have shared many a Standing Committee on transport issues, and both of us have been rowing on one oar with respect to the provision of road safety legislation. We have much of which to be proud.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

It was a long time ago.

Mr. Stott

It was a long time ago. as my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Prescott

She has changed since then.

Mr. Stott

My hon. Friend will recognise that I am a retread in this position. I look forward to locking horns with the hon. Lady on perhaps even more contentious issues than this one. Given what we have heard this evening and the provisions contained in the document, I ask my hon. Friends to register a protest against the regulations.

12.33 am
Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) that we should register a protest against these regulations.

I am a sponsored member of the Transport and General Workers Union. We as a union oppose this directive and the reasoning behind it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan said, this measure means an extension of hours and a reduction in the rest periods from either those stipulated in our 1968 legislation or in the ECC's previous legislation. This measure means a worsening of conditions for drivers.

The Commission says that there are three aims behind this document—greater simplicity, more flexibility and better enforcement.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, I spent a considerable time reading the regulations. He said that they are goobledegook. The regulations are not simple. They are far more complex than the original regulations and are extremely difficult to follow. I agree that there should be greater simplicity of regulations—either ours or those of the Community. There is no simplicity about this ECC draft document.

One of the aims is to give drivers more flexibility so that they have more free time when on their home ground and less free time when away from home. That is difficult to understand when one considers the normal life and duties of the long-distance lorry driver. By the nature of his occupation, he is not at home much because, like us, he has to be away from home most of the week.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan talked about a 10-hour driving day. This House began sitting today 10 hours ago, although I have not been in the Chamber for 10 hours. We are talking about a driving day lasting from the time the House sat until now. That is too long to serve the interests of road safety.

We are talking about regulations which could result in the deaths of drivers and passengers and of innocent pedestrians in Britain and throughout Europe. It is deplorable that we should be discussing that at this time of night. Prime debating time should be given for the discussion.

That we are discussing the regulations at this time highlights the issue. We are talking about a half-hour extension to duty or driving. We have been on duty for 10 hours, but we have not been speaking for that time. Most of us are tired, so I shall not burden the House with a long speech.

The same applies to drivers. Being on duty might involve not only driving the vehicle but unloading it and other duties in connection with the vehicle. Is it suggested that a driver is refreshed by unloading his vehicle and that he is still fit to drive? That is not in the interests of road safety.

I have been approached by people in my constituency, which has an interest in road haulage. Firms in the area carry gases and dangerous chemicals. Pressure is put on many drivers, because of unemployment, to skip the rules, to do that much more, to get there that much quicker and to fit in another journey. That happens under existing rules.

Flexibility is fine, but if it encourages employers to persist in that pressure, our lives are affected. We must do nothing to encourage employers to put on that pressure.

The directive is said to improve enforcement. I hope that it does. On television we see clapped-out overland coaches which should not be on the road travelling from one end of Europe to the other. Greece is often mentioned in this respect. We hear of drivers changing over on motorways when their vehicle is travelling at speed. One driver jumps into the driver's seat and the other vacates it to have a couple of hours sleep before changing over again. This can happen when the coach is carrying 40 or 50 passengers. We need some enforceability if that is to happen.

I notice that one of the exceptions in the rules relates to passenger transport journeys of less than 50 km. If the Secretary of State's bus legislation on local routes in Britain is passed, he may need to include local routes as well, because some of the owner-drivers, and the drivers who will be driving in urban areas on crowded routes, will be greatly tempted, in the competitive world that the Government are trying to create, to spend far more hours at the wheel. Therefore, I am not so sure that local passenger transport should not come within the provisions of the rules, even though the majority of member states seem to want to exclude it.

Driving conditions are not uniform throughout Europe. Our regulations concerning drivers' hours should be far more generous than those in other European countries. In winter, in the worst conditions, we have far more hours of darkness in which our drivers have to drive, because of our geographical position at the north end of Europe. The farther north one goes — especially in Scotland — the fewer hours of daylight there are, but drivers still have to drive and to carry their loads in the long hours of darkness. Therefore, we should be more generous on that account.

The most stressful conditions for a driver, obviously, are in winter. Apart from possibly Ireland, Britain is the wettest country in Europe, and wet roads are a hazard. They are difficult to drive on, they create slush, and they are stressful for drivers. Apart from possibly Germany, we have snow, ice and fog far more often than the south of France, Italy, Greece and other European countries. Therefore, if we are to have uniform European regulations, or any decisive voice in improving the regulations, ours should be the best, because our drivers in Britain have the worst and the most stressful conditions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan is right to say that the regulations are bad for our drivers in their conditions of work. They are bad regulations for pedestrians, for cyclists and for other road users, because they can create stress and danger. This House should vote against them, late though the hour is.

12.43 am
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I should like to make a constituency point relating to the revised article 14. Having listened to the debate, I have been struck by the complexity of the proposals, especially as they are meant to be a simplification. I have been somewhat confused as to how one can put together a working day, a working week or a working fortnight, taking account of periods of work, periods of driving, and rest periods, and maintain some degree of flexibility.

The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) mentioned a tragic accident where the driver had been driving for 30 hours out of the previous 42 hours. I was not aware whether that was within or outwith the present laws. I imagine that it would be outwith them.

One important point that has already been raised in the debate is referred to in the explanatory memorandum attached to the draft council regulation. Paragraph 2.2. says: The number of infringements has remained relatively high; and the passage of time has not produced any sign of a clear downward trend in infringements for the Community as a whole. Far too many accidents have been caused through drivers being tired, and many of them may be due to infringements of the regulations. From what I have heard so far, I am not convinced that the Government are taking any steps to improve the enforcement of the present regulations. I therefore seek further assurances from the Minister on that. Moreover, at a time when there is already concern about fatigue, we regard with considerable anxiety any regulations which would lengthen the time of driving.

The constituency point relates to the exemption of certain island areas. Reference is made to Crete and Corsica. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the exemption also covers all the islands off Great Britain. The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) stressed that one must be careful about applying uniformity. This is a welcome example of uniformity not being applied. In many areas of my constituency it would be virtually impossible. I therefore welcome the exemption for itself and as evidence that the Government and the Community see fit to exempt island communities where the general law would to some extent be nonsensical if applied in detail. Now that that principle has been accepted, I hope that we may look forward to the Government's accepting that in other legislation, too, there should be different rules in the very difficult circumstances that often pertain in our islands.

12.46 am
Mrs. Chalker

With the leave of the House, I seek briefly to respond to the debate and perhaps to reassure the House on some points, although I suspect that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) intends to get his nightly exercise whatever I may say. I see that he confirms that.

I believe that the hon. Member for Wigan was referring to the further explanatory memorandum issued on 28 November. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who is no longer present, nodded when I mouthed that, so I believe that everything that his hon. Friend queried was properly carried out.

I hope that the hon. Member for Wigan will take my comments on the 1968 Act in the spirit in which they are intended so that the record is correct. As he knows, I have the benefit of advice from the Box which, sadly, he does not have, and it is important to get this absolutely straight.

The 1968 Act allowed 10 hours of driving, but the European Community regulation at present allows only eight—as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, that is not enforced—with a proposed limit of nine hours, which will be enforced. The 1968 Act requires 11 hours' rest, as does the European regulation now and for the future. Taking the figures overall, the proposed provisions will still be less fatiguing than those under the 1968 Act.

I appreciate why the hon. Gentleman understood the provisions as he did because I, too, have seen the letter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State from Mr. Jack Ashwell of the TGWU. Understanding of the matter was not so clear as I would wish, so I will try to put it into the context of the serious question of accidents. Any increase in accidents is clearly deplorable, but the figures quoted in the letter were not relevant to this situation. Drivers' hours limits have not changed in 1984. We are investigating the causes behind the figures, but when the daily driving limit dropped from 10 to eight hours there was no appreciable change in the accident figures, so although no one wants fatigued drivers on the road I think that we must accept that the relationship between fatigue and accidents is not quite so simple as some people suggest.

The hon. Member for Wigan knows — I have not changed my view about this, any more than he has—not only that we shall take the necessary steps to ensure that the regulations do not allow any cause for greater fatigue —we should like to see less fatigue on the roads—but that we must look at the facts as they are and make sure that we do not marry together matters not directly connected.

The hon. Gentleman also said that he had gained the impression that the daily rest would be reduced in length. There is no proposal to reduce the length of daily rests. As I said just now when dealing with the 1968 Act, the daily rest would be longer under the Commission's proposals.

I hope that I do not need to take up every single word that the hon. Gentleman uttered and that he will accept from me that the Government are concerned to ensure that driving time is reasonable, that adequate rest is taken and that the provisions are enforced.

I was glad to hear what the hon. Gentleman said in describing the Freight Transport Association brief that he had received this morning. I am inclined to agree that a system under which every tachograph chart had to be numbered, used in numerical sequence and recorded by the employer would be unworkable. However, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman and to the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) that two charts are not enough. A week's charts are the minimum number that should be inspected. Could one ask the driver to keep a chart of that length, or should one put pressure on the operator to adopt an efficient system? I tend to favour the idea of concentrating on the operator as well as on roadside checks on the drivers. One could reasonably ask that a week's charts should be kept at the operator's premises. The charts for such a period could be more easily analysed by computer than the charts for odd days picked up at the wayside—and computer analysis will come in future.

We are increasing the number of our staff involved in enforcement. It is interesting to note that the police are doing almost twice as much as the Department's own traffic examiners. It is the police who stop vehicles on the roads and also visit company premises to check the weekly record of those whom they have stopped on the road for what they suspect to be infringements.

There was a notorious case which arrived on my desk recently in which one operator was responsible for 1,400 separate offences. The police have, rightly, taken that case up, and we shall give them any help that they need in taking the matter to its logical conclusion.

The right hon. Member for Halton also spoke about the question of pressure to skip the rules. I could not agree with him more. If there were pressure to skip the rules, that would be completely wrong. However, with computer analysis of the charts, the operator's collection of the charts from any operation can be checked, and the operator is under pressure to keep to the rules. That is most important.

While I know that there were infringements by certain coach operators there has been considerable tightening up through the Bus and Coach Council code of conduct in this country. In addition, I went to a special meeting with Commissioner Contogeorgis about the hours that continental coaches were operating and what was happening on the road. Every Minister of Transport has discussed this issue with the Commission as a result of the initiative that I took about 18 months ago. I am anxious that, as we efficiently operate construction and use regulations and widen their remit throughout the Ten and beyond, we should have even safer coaches on the roads.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) asked about article 14 on exemptions and its application to the islands. All the islands in the United Kingdom are covered, so he can rest assured. In regard to the awful accident that the hon. Member for Wigan mentioned, a man driving for such extensive periods is outside United Kingdom law, existing EC regulations and the proposed changes to EC regulations. Nobody is content for drivers to drive unreasonable periods of time with inadequate rest periods. The matter is complicated. The only hope that I can offer the hon. Gentleman is that it is getting simpler. We are trying to make matters logical and sensible. There will always have to be some exemptions, but we are trying to ensure that these hours of duty and rest regulations are conducive to greater safety. I therefore hope that the House is able to accept the motion.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 102, Noes 55.

Division No. 32] [12.58 am
Alexander, Richard Newton, Tony
Amess, David Nicholls, Patrick
Ancram, Michael Norris, Steven
Ashby, David Osborn, Sir John
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Baldry, Tony Parris, Matthew
Batiste, Spencer Pawsey, James
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Powley, John
Bellingham, Henry Raffan, Keith
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Rathbone, Tim
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Rhodes James, Robert
Bright, Graham Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Brinton, Tim Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Bruinvels, Peter Roe, Mrs Marion
Buck, Sir Antony Rossi, Sir Hugh
Burt, Alistair Rowe, Andrew
Cash, William Sackville, Hon Thomas
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Chope, Christopher Sayeed, Jonathan
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Conway, Derek Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Coombs, Simon Skeet, T. H. H.
Cope, John Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Couchman, James Soames, Hon Nicholas
Dorrell, Stephen Spencer, Derek
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Dover, Den Squire, Robin
Durant, Tony Stanbrook, Ivor
Evennett, David Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Hawksley, Warren Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Henderson, Barry Stradling Thomas, J.
Key, Robert Sumberg, David
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Taylor, John (Solihull)
Lang, Ian Terlezki, Stefan
Lawler, Geoffrey Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Lightbown, David Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Lilley, Peter Thurnham, Peter
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Tracey, Richard
Lord, Michael Trotter, Neville
Lyell, Nicholas Twinn, Dr Ian
Macfarlane, Neil Waller, Gary
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Maclean, David John Watson, John
Major, John Watts, John
Mather, Carol Wheeler, John
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Wood, Timothy
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Yeo, Tim
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Moynihan, Hon C. Tellers for the Ayes:
Needham, Richard Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Neubert, Michael Mr. Archie Hamilton.
Alton, David George, Bruce
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Bermingham, Gerald Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Boyes, Roland Lamond, James
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Caborn, Richard Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Loyden, Edward
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cowans, Harry Madden, Max
Cunningham, Dr John Marek, Dr John
Dalyell, Tam Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Meadowcroft, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Nellist, David
Dewar, Donald Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Dubs, Alfred Park, George
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Parry, Robert
Fatchett, Derek Patchett, Terry
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Pike, Peter
Fisher, Mark Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Prescott, John Stott, Roger
Radice, Giles Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Redmond, M. Welsh, Michael
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury) Tellers for the Noes:
Snape, Peter Mr. John McWilliam and
Soley, Clive Mr. Don Dixon.
Spearing, Nigel

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 5937/1/84 and of the Department of Transport's Explanatory Memorandum dated 28th November 1984; and welcomes the Government's broad support for the proposals to make the Drivers' Hours and Tachograph Regulations more flexible and easier to understand and enforce.

  2. c145
  4. c145