HC Deb 11 February 1970 vol 795 cc1397-410

10.0 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Albert Murray)

I beg to move, That the Drivers' Hours (Goods Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 22nd January, be approved. This order is made in exercise of my right hon. Friend's powers under 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 goods vehicles. A separate order has been laid before the House for passenger vehicles.

Section 96 of the Act sets out the permitted driving times and periods of duty of drivers of goods and passenger vehicles. The House will remember that my right hon. Friend's predecessor announced in a Written Answer on 25th July, 1969, that: After discussions with representative operators' associations and the trade unions, I have decided that Part VI of the Transport Act which deals with drivers' hours and records should be brought into effect on 1st March, 1970…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1969; Vol. 787, c. 593.] Briefly, the order if approved, will have the effect of virtually exempting certain people like doctors, midwives, window cleaners and maintenance engineers from the drivers' hours rules when they choose to travel about in estate cars or light vans instead of private cars. These people are not really goods vehicle drivers at all, and the rules are not intended to apply to them. The order also includes a concession for drivers engaged in building, construction, and civil engineering work, so that time at the wheel while off the road shall not count as driving time. Other exemptions and concessions are contained in the Drivers' Hours (Goods Vehicles) (Exemptions) Regulations, 1970, which were laid before the House on 9th February.

In case hon. Members should wonder why the exemptions are split up in this way between this order and the regulations I have just mentioned I should explain that the regulation-making power is confined to emergencies and other cases of special need, while the order- making power is intended for more general exemptions and for modifying the provisions of Section 96, as has been done to give the concession to building and construction.

In the debates which took place in both Houses on the Transport Bill, and during extensive consultations with over 200 representative organisations after the Act was passed, a formidable number of claims for exemptions and concessions from the general rules were made, covering virtually every section of industry. To meet all of these would be to make nonsense of the whole legislation, and would reduce considerably the benefit which will accrue. Even so, a considerable concession was made by my right hon. Friend's predecessor during the Committee stage of the Transport Bill in this House—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member cannot deal with the parent legislation. We are not discussing other concessions, only those in the Order which he is proposing to the House.

Mr. Murray

When he proposed these, Mr. Speaker, he announced that the general reductions would be made in two stages instead of one. We have had the task of studying all the claims made for exemptions and concessions with a view to allowing only those which are genuinely needed to prevent a serious breakdown in existing transport services. A number of concessions of this kind are being provided.

Turning to the order itself, Articles 1 and 2 are purely formal. Article 3 provides the exemptions for the people I mentioned at the outset. We have been persuaded by arguments advanced both during the passage of the Transport Bill through Parliament and in subsequent consultation with representative organisations that the full force of the drivers' hours limits ought not to be imposed upon people who drive only light vans for purposes not including the general carriage of goods. Among these are the doctors, nurses, midwives, vets, repair mechanics, window cleaners, and so on, who use a small van or estate car for their work where others might use a private car.

Also in this class are commercial travellers carrying samples, and the road patrols of the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club and the Scottish Royal Automobile Club who, although they may sometimes carry a spare can of petrol and tools, do not carry goods in the normal sense.

The Minister has no powers under Section 96(12) of the Act to exempt these drivers from a daily limit of 10 hours upon their actual time at the wheel, but I do not think this is likely to be restrictive in practice.

Article 4 of the order deals with the concession to the building and construction industry. The House will recall that Section 96(9) of the Act continues the present concession for the driving of vehicles elsewhere than on the road in the course of operations of agriculture and forestry. This concession is designed mainly to enable time lost in the winter months, when vehicles often cannot go on the land, to be made up when the weather is more favourable. The order provides a similar concession for vehicles used elsewhere than on the road in the building and construction industry, which is also subject to the vagaries of the weather.

A concession of this kind was asked for when the Transport Bill was before Parliament and, while my right hon. Friend's predecessor made it clear during Report stage that such concessions as were given would be few, he said that where there were particular problems they would be considered. He quoted the building industry as an example of an area in which the Minister could, if he thought fit in the light of representations, make exemptions.

Since the Act was passed, our officials have had meetings with representatives of the building and construction industry, and we are satisfied that some alleviation of their problems is justified The concession means that driving in the building and construction industries on site work off the highway does not count towards the 10-hour daily driving limit in Section 96 (1) of the Act. Nor does such driving count in computing the limit of four hours driving in any day, which is the point at which a driver becomes subject to the drivers' hours rules. Thus, a driver in the building and construction industry will not be subject to the rules unless on any day he spends more than four hours driving on a road.

Some hon. Members may feel that the exemptions do not go far enough, but they represent a consideramle concession to the interests concerned. We believe that a fair balance has been struck between the competing claims and the necessities of the Act.

10.9 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

My main criticism of the order is that, except to a person who can carry all the complicated provisions of Part IV of the Transport Act, 1968, in his head, it is completely incomprehensible unless that person sits down with the Act before him and, Section by Section, works out what it means. Even then, unless one is a lawyer or a person familiar with dealing with Acts of Parliament, one is likely to get the provisions wrong and become confused. It is unfortunate that an order of this complication, relating as it does to a Section of an Act of equal complication, should apply to the part of the transport industry which it does.

It must be remembered that the road haulage industry is only 50 years old and started in a small way with a tiny number of concerns. To this day a large proportion of the businesses are small and do not have large staffs, but are run by practical men more familiar with the technicalities of maintaining a vehicle than with interpreting complicated regulations. It is true that many belong to large organisations which no doubt will help them to understand what the order means. But the organisations themselves are in some difficulty because these regulations are to come into force at the same time as a number of other orders of great complication. The transport industry, which over the years has developed on recognised lines, is being pulled up by the roots and is having to start again in a different legal framework. Even in the large organisations there will be difficulty in advising their members as to how to cope.

I am told, for example, that there is some difficulty as to what constitutes a "statutory break on duty". One legal opinion is that a driver will be on duty during his lunch hour if he is in charge of a vehicle. I am quite sure this is not the intention of the order or indeed of the Act, but we shall need to watch carefully interpretations given to some of these orders.

Orders and regulations of this sort may be not so difficult for the large nationalised industries or the large road haulage concerns, but the small firm with ten vehicles or less and with very little staff except perhaps a girl in the office, and a legal adviser in the form of a local solicitor who is more conversant with conveyancing than very much else, will have great difficulty in interpretating them. There may also be real difficulty in regard to records. There are many who rely on the Road Haulage Association Record Book and the Official Drivers Record Book, but there is sometimes difficulty in obtaining them. Drivers are chosen for their driving ability rather than their ability as clerks, and I am sure that mistakes will be made in entering up these documents.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope the hon. Gentleman will come from his general observations to the exemptions laid down by these regulations.

Mr. Wilson

I am criticising, Mr. Speaker, the general tenor of the order, and I am about to say that I hope we shall interpret the order generously, bearing in mind the difficulties of those who will have to deal with them. I hope that when a breach of the regulations occurs it will be borne in mind that genuine mistakes can be made in interpretation. I hope that it will be assumed that those who break the regulations are not wilfully flouting them.

I think it will be out of order to comment on the Act, but I have always had some doubt as to whether Part IV of the Act is not open to misunderstanding. This is another reason for hoping that the Ministry will interpret the regulations with a certain degree of flexibility. It seems to be generally assumed that the regulations will assist in road safety on the grounds that by limiting men's hours they will be less likely to be tired and less liable to have accidents—

Mr. Speaker

Order. With respect, the hon. Gentleman is going back to the Act. We are dealing with certain exemptions and he must keep to them.

Mr. Wilson

I am suggesting that there should be flexibility in dealing with these regulations because it would be a great mistake to suppose that they will assist road safety. One has only to consult the Road Research Laboratory to discover that most accidents occur at the beginning of journeys rather than at the end of them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say whether his Department attaches importance to the road safety need in introducing these regulations, or whether there is some other reason.

One cannot make much general comment on the regulations. The exemptions are reasonable. No doubt other parties would like to be exempted as well. However, it is always open to the Minister to add any class of user who is found to suffer hardship as a result of not being exempted, and no doubt such cases can be dealt with on future occasions.

Subject to those qualifying remarks, I think that hon. Members on this side of the House will have no objection to the Order.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

I intervene to congratulate my hon. Friend on bring in this order and to ask him one question. Will he make it clear that, where a driver does not drive for more than four hours at any one period, he will be exempted from the regulations?

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)

This debate is necessarily a narrow one and must be confined to the Order. I will not speak at any length upon it, except to join with the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) in expressing the hope that, because of the complexity of the details of the Order and the relevant regulations, some degree of leniency will be shown to drivers and transport managers in the early stages of their operation.

I am glad to hear that some of the arguments deployed in Committee and on Report have at last borne fruit, and no doubt it is as a result of those arguments and the consultations to which the Minister has referred that the exemptions are being made. I give a warm welcome to the paragraph which deals with vehicles used by commercial travellers. However, it is hard to understand why such a user should have this exemption when it is not extended to someone carrying perishable goods, such as fish. I will not elaborate upon that, but the hon. Gentleman will know from correspondence that I have had with him that I am concerned about the fishing industry.

Basically, we welcome the Order. It falls into line with many of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) and others who served on the Standing Committee which considered the Transport Bill.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

As the Minister said, these exemption regulations are to coincide with the operation of Part VI of the Transport Act, 1968. It is perhaps right and significant that the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) have taken part in the debate, because they both played a constructive rôle in the deliberations of the Standing Committee which considered that Measure. I hope that the Minister will bear their points in mind, the principal one being to inquire why we have had such a delay in bringing forward these exemption regulations only about three weeks before the operation of Part VI, when a period of 15 months has elapsed since the passing of the 1968 Act.

It seems strange that we should have had this period of 15 months and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Truro rightly said, we should have complex regulations which will decide whether certain people in certain trades are exempt from certain restrictions in Part VI and have only three or four weeks to determine this question. Will the Minister indicate why there has been this long delay and why there should be only three or four weeks for those who may be affected to determine whether they are exempt or not?

We are all very pleased that the Minister has decided to include the building industry in the exemptions given in the Act to agriculture and to forestry. This point was repeatedly stressed from both sides upstairs. It was pointed out that the building industry faced the same problems as forestry and agriculture in the use of vehicles not on a road. It is sensible arid wise that the Minister should make this concession.

On the other hand, there will be considerable confusion about the other exemptions spelled out in paragraph 3(2). Obviously questions will inevitably arise from them. The first, on which I should like the Minister's advice, relates to commercial travellers. The Order refers to a commercial traveller…carrying…no goods other than goods carried for the purpose of soliciting orders". What precisely is meant by that? Does it mean just samples, or will advertising and display materials also be counted as goods carried for the purpose of soliciting orders"? Certainly many people concerned with selling goods—

Mr. Bessell

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. For example, I wonder what would be the situation of a commercial traveller, acting for a cloth factory, carrying bunches of cuttings or bales of cloth. Would bales of cloth be treated as articles for the purpose of soliciting orders or would they be articles for sale?

Mr. Taylor

I am grateful to the lion. Gentleman. This is one of the many questions which I hope the Minister will clear up. Is it just a question of samples, bales of cloth or bars of chocolate, or will advertising and display material also be included for this purpose?

It is clear that the normal carriage of goods for sale is not included. But we want to know how far we can interpret goods carried for the purpose of soliciting orders". In Article 3(2)(a) we see exemptions for medical practitioners, nurses, midwives, dentists and veterinary surgeons. The Minister has explained why these professions, going around in estate cars and the like, should be exempt.

One point which has been put to me by some of my colleagues in Scotland is that certain child care officers engaged in going round visiting children who have been boarded out by local authorities use vehicles of this nature and, when travelling in the Highlands and Islands, have to go long hours and may find—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot seek to amend the Order.

Mr. Taylor

No, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

But he may denounce it.

Mr. Taylor

I am not seeking to amend it. I am wondering whether a child care officer would be included in one of those names. I understand that in recent legislation "medical practitioner", particularly as a result of the Social Work (Scotland) Bill, has been extended a little. I wondered whether social workers and child care officers might be included in the general definition.

Another important question which arises is precisely how we will interpret the carrying out of any service of inspection. The point which arises is whether this relates solely to someone who is engaged on his own going round to inspect, maintain or clean, or whether someone participating in a general service of this kind will be included if his service is one of many taking part.

We cannot discuss a possible amendment to the Order, but I wonder whether it would not be wise for the Minister to withdraw it, because it would appear to he simpler to have a general exemption, except the restriction on driving time, for all people using light vans. That would he simpler. It would prevent many of the anomalies which are otherwise likely to arise, as they have arisen over the past 30 years as a result of similar exemptions given under the carrier licensing system.

The light vans which we are considering are not in the normal course of events used in the same way as road haulage vehicles are used. To avoid the confusion which has arisen in the past under licensing exemptions, it might be wise for the Minister to withdraw the order and think again so that we could have a clearer definition and wider exemptions in respect of light vans.

It could be argued that the way might be open to abuse and that a state of affairs could be provoked in which the keeping of records was not permitted, but I understand that the keeping of records is not required in respect of the exempted categories under the Order or from all other light van operators, whether exempt or not. This brings me to the question: how will the regulations be enforced? How shall we draw a distinction between a medical practitioner, nurse or midwife and any other person using a light commercial vehicle?

Moreover, how real will the exemptions be? We are picking out certain categories of people in particular circumstances who are to be exempt from certain provisions of Part VI of the Act. So far as I know, no one who operates a light vehicle of this sort, of under 30 cwt. or 3½ tons plated weight, is subject to the normal regulations in respect of road haulage vehicles which are to become operational after 1st March. How, therefore, can these be regarded as real exemptions, since one cannot see how the restrictions in Part VI can be applied to any user of a vehicle under these weights?

Is the order just a gesture towards those engaged in the activities covered, or, if not, how will the distinction be drawn? Without the formal keeping of records—we know that we are not to have the tachograph—how will the distinction be drawn and how will the exemptions be made real exemptions?

We on this side support the introduction of Part VI of the Act, although we should like to have had matters better planned and a little more time for consultation and preparation, but we are not altogether happy at the form of this Order. In the circumstances, it might be wise if the Minister were to consider withdrawing it and, in due course, bringing forward a more flexible and more readily enforceable Instrument and giving genuine exemptions.

10.28 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

As you said, Mr. Speaker, the form of the order is somewhat narrow. We have had to proceed in this way, with an Order subject to the affirmative procedure for part of the exemption and modification provisions, and with regulations for other matters, since I am bound by the terms of Section 96 of the Act which gives me order-making powers under subsection 12, and regulation-making powers under subsection 10.

I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) about the inevitable complications in a complex matter of this sort, but, by not making many exemptions, we have made them much easier to comprehend than they would have been if we had made a mass of exemptions. I can tell the hon. Gentleman—I do not know whether hon. Members have seen it—that we have put in the Vote Office a copy of a guide in simple language which will be distributed to the road haulage industry for its drivers and others setting the matter out clearly. Basically, the question of the number of hours driven and the number of hours on duty is fairly simple and, I think, well understood. I hope that the publication which is available in the Vote Office will be of assistance.

The question of record books is covered by regulations. I do not think the obligations in future will be any more onerous than those of the past. The numbers of columns which have to be filled in is fewer than in the past. The very interesting and difficult conception of when a man is on duty and when he is not was not initiated by us. It has been with us since the 1930 Act as have controls of this kind.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) asked about people who drive fewer than four hours a day. Provided a driver does not drive for more than four hours on any day of the week he will be exempt, but if he drove for a longer time on one day and less than four hours on the next, that would not exempt him.

The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) asked about carriage of fish. There is an exemption for that. I would have no power to introduce it in the Order before the House because it is a case of a special need which comes under Section 96(10). On representations made about perishable goods, my officials are meeting those concerned next week. If need can be shown, I shall consider whether regulations should be made in that particular case. I am bound to make absolutely clear that, for reasons of avoiding complexity and to make the order as effective as possible, I shall not agree to exemptions unless a very strong case is made for them.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) asked about delay. I was not sure whether he thought we should have implemented the Sections of the 1968 Act earlier than 1st March—I gather that he does not—or whether there should be a longer time between the House considering the matter and implementation. It can be argued that it would have been beneficial to have had a bigger gap, but the main reason has been the very extensive consultations which have taken place over the last 15 months. All the regulations we are making are regulations exempting people. Everyone knew that they would come into force on 1st March. This was announced last July and was widely publicised in the general Press, and especially in the trade Press. We have had consultations and circulated draft orders and requested comments from 200 or 300 bodies representing many thousands of people involved. I should have thought that no one was unaware of the date they are to come into force. For that reason we are perhaps a little later than we might have been, but the draft Orders have been before the House for some time.

The hon. Member for Cathcart also asked whether in the case of commercial travellers advertising material would be allowed to be carried. I understand that that would be so. We are exempting from the drivers' hours regulations people who are not actually concerned with the commercial carriage of goods. Many doctors would not fall within the scope of Part VI of the Act because they drive private cars and not estate vehicles, but if it suits their convenience to drive estate vehicles we think they should be exempt. The fact that we are making these exemptions has been widely welcomed. To extend them to include all light vehicles up to 3½ tons would make a significant change in the whole concept of the carriage of goods.

Mr. Bessell

Could the Minister answer the point which I made in my intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor)? Would a commercial traveller, working for a woollen factory and carrying bales of cloth, which might be for sale or might be samples, offend against the Order if those bales were sold and not merely samples? It is difficult to distinguish between samples in that case and those contained in a bunch of samples.

Mr. Mulley

The division of powers between the legislature and the judiciary is that we make the laws and the regulations, and they interpret them. Observations of Ministers are not necessarily of interest to the court. But I think that the meaning of the Order is clear, that he should be carrying …no goods other than goods carried for the purpose of soliciting orders…". It is reasonable for anyone seeking to sell cloth to carry bales, I think, just as, when one goes to the tailor, he produces various lengths of cloth, because one likes to see the drop of a long piece of cloth rather than just a snippet at the end. A good case could be made here, but we can draft this legislation only in general terms. If there were a dispute, the facts would be for the court to decide. If a man used his van to deliver material and this was not incidental to his work of promoting a sale, that would be a matter for the court to interpret. But I do not think that any difficulty can arise here.

I do not know whether child care officers would be covered by this. Despite the large number of bodies that we have consulted, including, of course, the local authorities, I understand that there was no suggestion that this was a problem for them. The point is new to me tonight, but I understand that we have had no request for them to be included in the exemptions. The whole point of these extensive consultative arrangements was that we should be aware of any difficulties. I will take advice on the question which I was asked, about whether they would come within these categories, and write to the hon. Member about it.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

Could the Minister deal with my second point? Perhaps I did not make it clear. I was trying to understand the criteria on which this list of exemptions was based. I understood him to say that it was those which were not commercial. But commercial travellers are included. Is it on grounds of safety? I do not see that nurses or midwives are safer than anyone else. Or is it just that exemptions cannot be avoided in these cases?

Mr. Mulley

I thought that I had made it clear that it was a distinction between those using what could be called a commercial vehicle for their own convenience but were not engaged in the commercial carriage of goods, that they were not delivering things—although midwives might be delivering in another sense—and those that were carrying goods. Not many of these categories are engaged, like van and lorry drivers, in delivering goods.

I cannot accept that we should withdraw the order, since then these exemptions would not take place. I am sure that those in the building industry and in the categories of light vans would be very incensed if, having gone through the legislative process, we withdrew these concessions. We could bring in the effect of Part I of the 1968 Act about the first stage of drivers' hours, but, for the reasons I have given, that would be wrong. It is widely known and welcomed that we are making this step forward, since in many respects we are behind many other countries in the hours which drivers are permitted to work. In those circumstances I think it is right that these exemptions should be made. There are other exemptions which, because of the technicalities of the Act, must be made by regulations and which I cannot deal with in terms of this Order.

I hope that with this explanation the House will agree that the Order should be made.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Drivers' Hours (Goods Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 22nd January, be approved.