HL Deb 04 December 1975 vol 366 cc784-98

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a short, technical and, I hope, uncontroversial Bill. It makes certain changes in our minimum driving ages, and gives the Secretary of State wider powers to make regulations about drivers' hours. In both cases the Bill is needed because of an EEC Regulation concerning these matters. Under the Treaty of Accession these provisions have been in force in this country for international journeys since April 1973, and are due to come into force for internal journeys on 1st January 1976. The changes in minimum driving ages and related driver licensing provisions are contained in Clause 1 and Schedules 1 and 2. I hope, incidentally, to show that any changes will be considerably less extensive than might be supposed from the amount of detail contained in the rather lengthy Schedules. Perhaps before explaining what these changes are, I should say a word about why any changes are necessary at all.

To put it as simply as I can, the reason is that the EEC Regulation—it is No. 543 of 1969—operates on some vehicles but not on all, depending on the type of vehicle and, in some cases, on the purpose for which a vehicle is being used. In the case of goods vehicles, its minimum age provisions are governed by the criterion of permissible maximum weight, and in the case of passenger vehicles by seating capacity. These are the criteria used generally in Europe. At the moment our criterion—which dates back a long time—is unladen weight. Since these EEC provisions will take direct effect on 1st January, this would mean—if we did nothing—that we should be in a situation in which minimum driving ages would be governed by the EEC Regulation in relation to those vehicles to which it applies, and by the existing provisions of Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 where it does not apply. This would be an impossible situation in administrative and enforcement terms, not least because minimum age restrictions have to be evidenced on our driving licences. It would be quite impossible to do this if we had a mixture of criteria—related not only to unladen weight and permissible weight for goods vehicles, for example, but also according to the use to which a particular vehicle was being put.

The previous Administration considered this matter and, after full consultation with all interested organisations, decided that the best solution was to realign our minimum age criteria with those used in the EEC Regulation and—as I have said —generally in the rest of Europe. The then Minister for Transport announced this in a Press notice issued on 19th February 1973. The Government endorse this conclusion. Permissible maximum weight is really a more sensible criterion of vehicle size for driver licensing purposes than unladen weight.

For technical reasons, the Bill replaces the present minimum age criteria contained in Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 by an amendment to Section 96, the effect of which is that a person will be disqualified from holding a driving licence for the various categories of vehicle unless she or he has attained the specified minimum age. As I have said, these categories are redefined in European terms. The practical effect of these changes will, however, be small. No one over 21 will be affected at all. And Schedule 2 secures that no driver, of whatever age, with an existing entitlement, will be affected. In the case of goods vehicles, people between 18 and 21 applying for a licence for the first time on or after 1st January will be restricted to vehicles not exceeding 7.5 metric tons maximum permissible weight instead of being restricted to those not exceeding 3 tons unladen weight. The main effect will be on 17 year olds who, on first licensing, will be restricted to a goods vehicle not exceeding 3.5 metric tons—that is, about 30 cwt. unladen—instead of one not exceeding 3 tons unladen as at present.

So far as passenger vehicles are concerned, new drivers under 21 will be limited to nine-seaters. This is the only effect that the Regulation and the Bill will have in entitlements to drive passenger vehicles. I stress this because a certain amount of misunderstanding has arisen over the provisions in Article 5(2)(c) of the Regulation. This requires anyone driving a passenger vehicle with more than nine seats to hold a certificate of professional competence to drive passenger vehicles. May I state quite clearly that it is our intention to regard an ordinary driving licence as satisfying this requirement.

Very briefly, then, these are the practical effects of Clause 1 and the related Schedules. The opportunity has also been taken to make a corresponding change in the threshold at which the requirement for a heavy goods vehicle driver's vocational licence applies, changing it from 3 tons unladen to 7.5 metric tons permissible maximum weight. Again however, Schedule 2 contains suitable transitional provisions to ensure that existing drivers are not disadvantaged.

Before leaving this aspect of the Bill, I should perhaps call your Lordships' attention to Clause 4(2), in which provision is made for Clause 1 and the related Schedules to come into force on 1st January next. This reflects the hope at the time the Bill was prepared. It is a hope that is now, of course, most unlikely to be realised. The Government will propose a suitable amendment at a later stage to reflect a later Royal Assent.

My Lords, what I have said so far concerns only Article 5 of Regulation 543 of 1969. The remainder of the Regulation deals with driving periods and rest periods for road transport crews. My honourable friend the Minister for Transport has received representations from employers' associations and unions in the road transport industry that the implementation of these provisions in present circumstances would impose heavy financial burdens on the industry and would cause dislocation to vital services owing to the shortage of crews. This is because the Regulation is more restrictive than the drivers' hours requirements in force here under the Transport Act 1968. In addition, the Regulation is currently under review and it would clearly be undesirable to introduce changes in drivers' hours twice in quick succession, as we would have to should the Regulation be altered.

For these reasons, my honourable friend has requested that the coming into force for internal journeys be deferred to allow for a period of adjustment. This request is due to be considered by the Council of Ministers of Transport on the 10th and 11th December, together with a similar request from the Republic of Ireland. At the same time my honourable friend is seeking to have amendments made to the Regulation which he considers would make it more acceptable to those concerned in this country. He is not alone in this, for several Member-States have found parts of the Regulation to be unrealistic, and are also in favour of making it more flexible.

Having said that, I should make it clear that the principles of the driving and rest provisions, which have arisen from concern with road safety and social conditions, are perfectly acceptable to the Government, and are indeed principles which have been recognised in road transport legislation in Great Britain for more than 40 years. Our own legal requirements, however, have developed in a different way from those in the EEC Regulation, and our own requirements will continue to apply to some types of transport operation that are not covered by the EEC Regulation. So we foresee that when the EEC Regulation is implemented problems will arise from the simultaneous operation side by side of two different codes. These problems will be particularly acute for drivers whose work brings them first under one Code, then under the other, possibly in the same day. To remove, or at least limit, these problems will require a fairly radical change in Part VI of the Transport Act 1968, under which existing drivers' hours rules are laid down, as well as supplementation of Regulation 543/69.

The opportunity of this Bill has, therefore, been taken to seek the necessary enabling powers so that, when the time comes to implement Regulation 543, it can be fitted smoothly into a compatible legal framework and so that those who work in the road transport industry can operate within a properly integrated system of control. The power to implement Regulation 543 is already given by Section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972, but this power is not wide enough for all that ought to be done when the Regulation extends to internal transport as well as international journeys.

Clause 2 of the Bill effects the changes, and is intended to do two things: first, to provide a power for the Secretary of State by Regulation to adapt Part VI of the 1968 Act to ensure compatibility of operation with the EEC Regulation. This adaptation could include the substitution in Part VI of the entire framework of the EEC Regulation, the actual hours provisions in that framework being adjusted to what is required for drivers outside the scope of the Regulation. The power would also extend to enable Part VI to be adapted to take account of the operation of any other relevant Community provisions, whether directly applicable or not. Secondly, Clause 2 would extend the enforcement provisions of the 1968 Act to any directly applicable Community provisions relevant to drivers' hours and records. This would be achieved by extending to internal journeys the enforcement provisions of the 1968 Act which were applied by Schedule 4 to the European Communities Act to international journeys. Clause 2 also makes provision for supplementary and consequential provisions, particularly in relation to record-keeping.

Clause 4(2) makes provision for Clause 2 to come into force on such days as the Secretary of State may appoint, and different days may be appointed for different provisions. This is in the hope that deferment of Regulation 543 will be granted and in order that the powers of adaptation of the 1968 Act can await the amendment of the Regulation.

Clause 3 clarifies the provision in Part VI of the 1968 Act which confers jurisdiction on magistrates' courts to try summary cases for the contravention of the drivers' hours and records requirements. Section 103(7) of that Part at present provides that proceedings for a drivers' hours offence may be commenced in any court having jurisdiction "in the place where the person charged with the offence is for the time being ". As amended, the section would make it clear that proceedings could be instigated in a court with jurisdiction for the place where the person charged was driving when evidence of the offence first came to light, the place where the offender is or where he resides when proceedings are commenced, or the place where the offender normally operates. This Bill enables Her Majesty's Government to meet their obligations under the Treaty of Accession in relation to minimum driving ages and drivers' hours. I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a smooth and speedy ride. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Melchett.)


My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, on his new appointment to another and equally important Department, and if he is able to present his future briefs with such clarity and force as he has presented this very complicated measure today, then all of us will look forward to hearing from him increasingly in the future. I am sure that it is the wish of the House, also, to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and other members of the Government on their new appointments and to wish them all good fortune in their new posts, wherever these may take them.

It must be quite rare for a Bill to arrive in this House and to receive such a warm welcome from noble Lords—certainly it will receive a very warm welcome from these Benches—and from all sections of this industry, the road haulage and transport industry, and, I understand, from the passenger-carrying industry as well as from other interested organisations outside the industry, in the form of the road safety organisations, to which the noble Lord referred.

The harmonisation of our legislation with EEC regulations can often provide complication, delay and dispute, but happily today there is to be no dispute and I hope that there will be only the minimum delay. I think, however, that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will agree that this Bill is, in parts, and particularly in the Schedules, which amend past legislation and define new terms and phrases, an immensely complicated Bill. Sadly, it is necessary to have this complication in these definitions, but the noble Lord has explained the Bill's purpose and, thanks to his excellent and clear analysis, the measures contained in it are not after all so fearsome. The industry feels that the age regulations are entirely reasonable, being either merely new wording or new definitions. I understand that there have been a few problems over vehicle weights but that the Department and the industry have reached an acceptable compromise, certainly of two of the minor problems which arose. As the noble Lord pointed out, the driver's age limits will not mean that any person who wishes to make a career in road haulage will be precluded from holding a licence after 1st January 1976; this is due in great measure to the industry's new apprentice scheme, which allows young drivers over the age of 18 to learn to drive heavy goods vehicles and, as soon as they are 21, to acquire a heavy goods vehicle licence.

As we have heard, the Bill is necessary so that the Road Traffic Act 1972 may comply with EEC Regulation 543/69. There is one aspect of the Regulations which has given rise to concern in the industry. As I understand them, the Community rules lay down that on any international or internal journey there is a time and distance limit. It seems that no driver may drive for more than eight hours or 450 kilometres in any one day—I understand that the British or Anglo-Saxon measurements are approximately 280 miles—whereas on a journey wholly within the United Kingdom there is a time limit, already laid down, of 10 hours, but there is no distance limit. This worries the industry and, as the Minister in another place is next week to take part in negotiations in Brussels, all of us hope that a new compromise agreement can be reached, since the continuing firm adherence to Regulation 543/69 has already given rise to concern in the Community; the industry here sees some serious additional costs arising should the Minister not manage to find an acceptable solution. A two-year deferment of the application of Regulation 543/69 to the Act would be most acceptable, and I believe that this is what the Minister is likely to seek. Certainly we shall be very grateful if he can find a solution to this problem, which is becoming more evident every day.

As the noble Lord pointed out, this Bill is the result of the United Kingdom's accession to the European Economic Community. Any harmonisation measure can be complicated, but it need not necessarily be so. This Bill, however, defines, amends and explains the Road Traffic Act, in so far as it covers this Regulation 543/69. All of us here, and I believe the whole of the industry, wish the Minister success at his meetings next week in Brussels. We support and applaud the measures contained in the Bill, subject to the possible deferment of some aspects of the hours and distances. We on these Benches will do our best to give the Bill a speedy passage.

5.7 p.m.

The Earl of DENBIGH

My Lords, I wish to reiterate what the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said about the new appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. I, too, wish him well in his new Department. We on these Benches do not see any really major problems with this Bill, although I feel that the measure is concerned mainly with two aspects of the EEC Regulation: the limitation of drivers' hours and the compulsory fitting of the tachograph, which was due to be implemented I understand on 1st January, but what the noble Lord said about the talks taking place on 11th December may to some extent resolve this problem. The reduction in hours from 10 to 8 per day will cause certain problems, and the restriction of vehicles to 450 kilometres a day will inevitably lead to an increase in costs.

It has been pointed out by the North of Scotland Transport Association that there will be certain problems in the Highlands of Scotland, since under the 1968 Act special exemptions were made because of the traffic conditions there: in terms of bad roads, tourist traffic and, in the winter, on account of the weather. As there has been no real improvement either in the road situation or in the weather, perhaps special consideration should be given to the North of Scotland, and the Highlands in particular. The North of Scotland Transport Association estimates that by complying with these EEC measures there could be an increase in costs of between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent.

The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, referred to the question of distance restrictions to 450 kilometres, which in my mathematics is 281 miles, but I am sure we will not quibble over one mile. Certain motorway journeys will be made to look a little ridiculous by this restriction. For example, in the case of a heavy goods vehicle travelling from Glasgow to London on what is virtually all dual carriageway and motorway there will be an enormous wastage in time and stopping. I understand that the timber industry is also likely to be hard hit by these new Regulations because, with the specialised timber trucks which they use for carryinguncut wood, they are on a one-way journey pay load only. The Freight Transport Association has claimed that these EEC measures are likely to result in an increase to the overall hauliers' bill of some £650 million. Nearly everybody I have talked to seems to think this figure excessively high, but it will give a considerable increase in the cost of freight.

I should like to say a few words about the tachograph, which records speed, time, distance, non-driving time and rest periods and, with certain optional extras, can also record engine speed and other event data. The tachograph has been in use in Germany since the early 1950s and it has been used in the original six Member countries of the EEC since 1970. None of the unions of those countries has regarded the introduction of the tachograph as being a "spy in the cab", as it has been dubbed by the media in this country. It is looked on as a help in stopping "cowboy" hauliers. Also, if it is fitted with certain options, it can be a help in fleet maintenance and preventive maintenance, with possible by-products in the safety line. However, Mr. James, of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said last July that the union would continue to maintain its opposition to the tachograph, no matter what the EEC Regulations laid down.

As matters stand, I feel that there is likely to be fairly strong resistance because already, in 1967–68, the union has forced the Government to drop this measure. In a way, the road hauliers, too, are likely to be against the measure, as the cost promises to be of the order of £100 a vehicle. In addition, being specialised machinery, the tachograph will require skilled maintenance and people to interpret the data. More expense will therefore be incurred in training that staff. Also, no date has at yet been fixed for when this is likely to be required.

I would point out that these Regulations and the requirement to comply with them have been known about for a considerable number of years, yet we are only now, less than a month before the Regulations were due to be implemented, discussing a Bill. It is quite clear that a long period will elapse before implementation will be possible. Add to that the active hostility to the measure of the Transport and General Workers' Union and also a fear of loss of earnings resulting from shortened hours (which may not be well founded) and there could be a considerable amount of conflict over the whole question of complying with the EEC Regulations. I think it possible that the only way in which we can influence the other EEC Members—and there are other countries which are keen to see the hours driven and the mileage restrictions changed—is to comply with the Regulations as soon as possible and to try to bring about a change from within by complying with the Regulations.

Finally, in regard to the driving age limits, I have already mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, in the debate on urban transport, that I should like to see the freeing of single gear mopeds from licensing restrictions. I did not receive a very warm reply on that occasion and I have no doubt that I shall do no better this evening, but I should like to bring it to his attention because the moped is an extremely convenient method of transport, particularly in rural areas where public transport is totally inadequate. Such action would be of great help to many people.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, I felt that I could not let this Bill go through without saying a very few words, as it was on this subject that I made my maiden speech on the Second Reading of the Transport Bill in 1968. When the appropriate part of the Bill dealing with drivers' hours came before your Lordships, the then Government expected it to go through in a couple of hours. I am afraid that, with my controversial Amendments, it lasted three days. I note with surprise that I am the only Peer who took part on that Bill who is speaking this afternoon.

The Regulations as drafted at that time for the Transport Bill were made at the instigation of the then Minister of Transport, Mrs. Castle. I believe I am right in saying that, despite many forebodings, she had taken them out of the then proposed draft EEC Regulations. Many people warned that the restrictions on drivers' hours were unworkable but, in her own inimitable way, Mrs. Castle brushed aside those warnings and carried on regardless. Happily, succeeding Ministers of Transport took a more moderate and practical view by not implementing the Statute as laid down by issuing modification orders, Since then, EEC Regulation 543/69 has become law and has proved unworkable and unenforceable in the original six Member-States, where it has been in operation for the past five years. Indeed it is known that at least one Government has recently publicly proclaimed that it will not enforce the regulation as it now stands, but will apply less restrictive limits. The European Commission is already working on a revision of the Regulations.

It is accepted by both sides of the House that, as it stands, this Regulation would be extremely damaging to the entire road transport industry in its efforts to serve the public need and, furthermore, the national economy. The right honourable gentleman, the Minister of Transport, is to be warmly congratulated on his forthright stand in Brussels to prevent the holocaust and the chaos that would have ensued had the Regulation been enforced at this time. It would equally have been rather absurd to change the present British law in January, as it would have had to be altered again when the revision was made, as the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has rightly said. Deferment as sought by the Minister is the only logical solution, and I should like to join with the other speakers in wishing the Minister well at the meeting of the Council of Ministers in a few days' time. Should anything untoward happen and he is not successful, the EEC Regulations will become law in 28 days' time. Unless the present Bill is enacted, there will be a legal vacuum, in that there will be no penalties for contravention of the Regulations' requirements.

As no date is fixed for the commencement of Clause 2, it is hoped that the Minister will not be placed in the unhappy situation of having to introduce Clause 2 at the same time as the other clauses. It would be encouraging to think that the Bill represented only a fall-back and gave no cause for concern, but Clause 2(1)(c) raises certain queries and I may find it necessary to introduce Amendments in Committee.

Meanwhile, I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, could explain the Government's intentions in respect of the following points. First, in lines 9 and 10 of page 3, why has it been necessary to include the words in brackets, "whether directly applicable or not", and why is it necessary to seek power to amend provisions to which the Community Regulations do not apply? That would be possible under subparagraph (a) on line 12. In either case, the Minister has the power under Sections 96 and 101 of the Transport Act 1968 and this would he an unnecessary duplication.

I should have liked to follow up the question of the tachograph and other matters raised by the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, but I feel that that might be a little controversial and that it would not serve any really useful purpose. However, I should like to make the point that I gather that the unions are in agreement on the passenger side with tachographs. So they are not absolutely "agin" them. Subject to the queries which I have raised, while the Bill cannot be welcomed, I recognise that it must be accepted.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, first, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, and the noble Earl, for their kind remarks. I suppose that this may be my swan song so far as DOE legislation is concerned. It has not been quite as controversial a debate as some I have had, particularly those on the Community Land Act and other matters. I suppose that this is a good note on which to go out. I am extremely glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, that industry is happy over the ages and weights limits. I know that very full consultations have been carried out both under the previous Administration and by my honourable friend and the officials of the Department. I am pleased to hear from the noble Lord that this is now felt to be satisfactory. With regard to the time and distance limits, I accept, as all noble Lords have said, that these would impose very heavy financial burdens. I am not sure that I go all the way with the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, and accept that it would be a holocaust and chaos. But certainly it would be expensive. My honourable friend accepts that, and I acknowledged that in my speech—


My Lords, I am very tempted to follow the noble Lord. The noble Lord referred to the 1968 Act. The regulations were not as he said, but were brought in by the modification orders. As has been repeatedly said in the past years, it would be a disaster. I am afraid I can only reiterate the word "holocaust". I am so sorry.


Well, I am sorry, too, my Lords; but at least we all agree that it would be expensive. My honourable friend is well seized of this point, and I am extremely grateful for the support which has been expressed by all noble Lords for my honourable friend's stand over this matter. I join with everyone in hoping that he will be successful on 10th and 11th December. It is for the reasons which noble Lords have stated that my honourable friend is doing his best for the British road transport industry.

The noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, raised the question of tachographs. In fact Clause 2 is not concerned with the implementation of the EEC tachograph regulation. The definition of Community rules in the enforcement provisions in Clause 2 is wide enough technically to refer to the tachograph regulation, but the enforcement powers, with one minor exception, refer only to drivers' written records. This exception concerns the powers of enforcement officers to inspect records. Even these general powers would not at present apply to inspection of tachograph records, because this was specifically excluded under the terms of the relevant commencement order for Part VI of the Transport Act 1968. The tachograph regulation itself can be implemented by regulations under Section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972. Therefore I very much hope that this Bill successfully avoids that particular hot potato.

The noble Earl also asked me about Scotland. I am advised that this provision which we were discussing is concerned with driving limits. The 1968 Act concessions are for certain industries and relate to duty and spread-over limits. An implicit 13-hour limit may have some marginal effect so far as Scotland is concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, asked me about the regulation-making power in Clause 2(1)(c). The powers in Section 96(12) of the Transport Act 1968 to modify the drivers' hours provisions would not enable the Secretary of State to make the kind of structural changes in Part VI of the 1968 Act which would be necessary to ensure complete compatibility with Regulation 543. The provisions in Clause 2(1)(c) were modelled on those in Section 4 and Schedule 4, paragraph 9(3) of the European Communities Act 1972, which enabled the Secretary of State to adapt Part VI of the 1958 Act by regulations in order to ensure compatibility of operation between Section 96 and the EEC Rules as they applied to international journeys. The regulation-making powers are simply to ensure that if and when these provisions come into force in this country, industry will be operating under a sensible and uniform system of rules, or, at least, as sensible and uniform as it is possible to make them.

The noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, also mentioned in passing the matter of a Bill being introduced rather late. Of course it has been introduced as soon as we possibly could introduce it at the start of this Session. I have a feeling that had it been introduced in the last Session there would have been complaints, certainly from all noble Lords opposite, and possibly from a great many of my noble friends as well. We had quite a lot to do in the last Session. It is unfortunate because part of the subject matter with which the Bill deals will come into force on 1st January, and it is for that reason, as I have said, that Amendments will be proposed by the Government at a later stage.

The noble Earl then touched on a subject close to my heart—that of mopeds. As a moped driver, I entirely agree with him that anything that can be done to encourage this useful and sensible form of transport is highly desirable. However, one must acknowledge that—I dare-say because of the stupidity of all other road users and pedestrians—the accident rates for us poor moped drivers are rather high. The injuries per mile are considerably higher for two-wheeled vehicles than they are for cars and other vehicles, and accidents to people of a younger age tend to be rather higher than those to older people. Therefore, I do not think it would necessarily be advisable to alter the age limits for this excellent form of transport.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.