HC Deb 04 April 1977 vol 929 cc1039-68

10.49 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam) rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not like hon. Members to stand this side of the Bar of the House: it is disorderly. If hon. Members can stand there, they can stand anywhere.

Mr. Horam

I beg to move, That this House takes note of EEC draft Regulation R/642/76 of 10th March 1976 on the harmonisation of certain social legislation relating to road transport, the Minister for Transport's explanatory memorandum of 23rd April 1976 and the Secretary of State for Transport's supplementary memorandum of 31st March 1977. The regulation which covers the question of drivers' hours and rest periods is Regulation 543, which was introduced in 1969. This limits most drivers' hours to a maximum of eight as opposed to 10, which is the number in this country. As the House knows, we have sought and achieved successive deferments of the application of Regulation 543.

Draft Regulation 642 covers a number of modifications to Regulation 543, such as working time, mini-buses and the 450 kilometre rule, but it has raised the possibility of further deferment of the drivers' hours regulation. This draft regulation was proposed in March 1976, but progress has been slow. Thus, at the last Council meeting in December six questions were put by the Committee of Permanent Representatives to obtain the views of Ministers so that there should be, in effect, guidelines.

Three of the questions—Nos. 3, 4 and 5—which are listed in the supplementary explanatory memorandum before the House do not matter as much as the others to the United Kingdom. On No. 6 there was no agreement at the meeting of the Council of Ministers. No. 1 raises the question of a different regime in each of the countries of the EEC, and there was almost no support for it. No. 2 raises again the question of a longer transitional period, and discussions on it proceed. Therefore, I thought it worth while adding to the explanatory memorandum in order to explain what had transpired at the last meeting of the Council of Ministers so that hon. Members might be clear about the basic questions confronting us on the draft regulation.

It may help hon. Members if I say a few words to put the EEC social regulations in their chronological context. The United Kingdom has a long—and, I think I may say, honourable—record in this field. We have had legislation controlling hours of driving and rest periods for commercial vehicle drivers since the early 1930s, which one may reasonably call the dawn of commercial road transport as we know it today. That legislation survived with little change until 1968, when the foundations of our present law on the subject were laid.

The Transport Act 1968 maintained the emphasis on protecting the public from the dangers which arise when a driver becomes overtired, but it carried the idea a stage further by introducing a control over the other duties on which a driver may be engaged in the course of his employment and over the length of his working day. Behind this concept lay the desire not only to improve road safety but to improve the lot of those who work in what had become one of the most important industries of the country.

Road freight carries more than 65 per cent. of goods transport in the United Kingdom in terms of tonne/kilometres. Transport by bus and coach has, of course, been giving place to the private car but still accounts for 12 per cent. of all passenger/kilometres. Bus patronage in Great Britain is the highest in the European Community, on the basis both of the absolute number of trips and of the number of trips per head of population.

The Transport Act 1968 had its critics. But when this House passed the Bill it was giving its approval to a progressive measure, recognising at the same time that everything could not be achieved in one leap. Provision was made for a stage-by-stage implementation. Even with this relatively cautious approach, Ministers found that a very sensitive judgment was needed to determine the point at which progress towards better conditions for the drivers could affect the capacity of the industry to provide a particular service to its customers. With the regulations made at that time a balance was achieved. It did not meet everybody's wishes or long-term ambitions by any means, certainly not those of the trade unions, but it is a practical compromise.

While that was going on in this country, the European Community was pursuing a somewhat different course. Moved principally by Article 75 of the Rome Treaty and the Council decision of 13th May 1965, the Community was seeking to harmonise the conditions affecting competition in transport by road, rail and inland waterway, to achieve a measure of social progress for those working in transport, and to improve road safety. One of the earliest achievements of this policy was the Council Regulation No. 543 of 1969 which regulates driving time and rest periods for commercial vehicle drivers, but not working time. The Community always intended to regulate working time at a later stage.

Regulation 543/69 is the regulation currently in force for most of the heavier types of commercial transport in the original six member States of the Community and more recently in Denmark. It does not apply to regular passenger transport on routes not exceeding 50km.

When the United Kingdom acceded to the Community we accepted Regulation 543, together with the rest of the existing EEC legislation. There were misgivings on the part of transport experts because Regulation 543 is considerably more limiting than existing United Kingdom law, and it was no doubt in response to those misgivings that a period of grace was negotiated. The regulation was to come into force for international transport only from 1st April 1973. This gave us no problem, and its application to national transport operations was postponed until 1st January 1976.

On 1st January 1976, Article 5 of the regulation was given effect for national transport; this deals with minimum ages and professional qualifications of drivers. But it had been realised for some time that the provisions on driving time and rest periods would raise very great problems when applied to United Kingdom national transport. The Government had therefore addressed a request to the Commission for deferment, under the transitional provisions of Article 135 of the Treaty of Accession. The Commission granted this request, and the deferment has since been extended to 31st December this year.

These difficulties continue and are so large that it is of great importance to obtain—if we can—a further period of grace for the United Kingdom before the Community regulation is put into full effect for national transport. That has been a prime objective of Government policy. And I shall return to the point later.

Mr. John Evans (Newton)

My hon. Friend made the point that the British Government had sought and obtained successful derogation from Regulation 543 of 1969. Can he confirm that the British Government cannot obtain any further derogations from it after 31st December this year, and that if the United Kingdom regulation does not come into force on 1st January 1978 Regulation 543 of 1969 will automatically operate in full?

Mr. Horam

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. Only this regulation that we are now debating raises the possibility of further deferment being achieved. If we do not get this regulation, the existing regulations will come into effect on 1st January 1978, replacing the current law on drivers' hours.

It must not be imagined that Regulation 543 has not created difficulties for other member States too. Knowledge of this enabled us early in 1975 to join with others in suggesting that the regulation needed to be made simpler and more flexible. The Commission initiated a review, making it clear that any formal proposals for amendment of Regulation 543 would have to include the proposals that the Commission had already placed before the Council for supplementing the provisions on driving time and rest by provisions to control working time. They were not covered in the original regulations. In the result the Commission produced draft Regulation R/642 of 1976—the document which is the subject of this debate. The draft would consolidate Regulation 543 with the provisions proposed to control working time and with amendments proposed to make the regulation more flexible.

Although R/642/76 contains some useful ideas, it may have fallen into the trap of going too far too soon. My impression is that most member States are unwilling in present economic circumstances to take this substantial step towards further social progress. Most would like for immediate purposes to do no more than make the relatively minor changes in Regulation 543 on which there is already fairly general agreement. I make this point now so that hon. Members may be aware in advance that some of the articles on which they may wish to express views, such as limits of working time, are in fact unlikely to come before the Council for decision in the immediate future. But, of course, I would still be very interested to hear hon. Members' views.

In these circumstances, the policy of the United Kingdom while it has the Presidency of the Council is to seek to bring forward those proposals for revision of Regulation 543 which stand a chance of adoption at a Council in June, following the guidelines laid down by the Council of 16th December 1976, outlined in the six basic questions in the supplementary explanatory memorandum. This would be only a first stage in the revision of the regulation and would not preclude other changes at a later date.

Among the items in this first stage, the most important from our point of view would be a provision to spread the impact of Regulation 543 on national transport in the United Kingdom and Ireland over a further period of years. I emphasise that this will be extremely difficult to negotiate, not only because of legal problems inherent in the transitional provisions of the Treaty but because of the political situation in other member States. I would not be surprised if we found it necessary to lay down in the regulation dates for a staged progress towards full compliance.

The problems for this country are real. They are basically problems of cost and of manpower. In addition, there are practical operational difficulties which are felt particularly acutely in the passenger sector of the industry. These will be difficulties for the transport manager, the tours organiser, the clerk who makes up the duty roster, the driver, maybe the driver's wife, and certainly the bus passenger who may find that the last bus leaves one hour sooner. The basic necessities for sorting out these difficulties are time and money. These difficulties are now better understood by our European partners.

Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)

Do our partners in the EEC recognise the present political situation in this country? Do they recognise that many of these regulations are abhorrent to the people of Scotland because they will put up the cost of transport immeasurably?

Mr. Horam

We do our best to take account of all opinions. That is one of the reasons why we are trying to obtain a further transitional period before the full force of the measures takes effect in this country. I cannot say now what else might be included. All member States have a list of amendments they would like to make, and we shall have to move within the sphere of common agreement, which may be quite small.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Since there are likely to be many changes before the final document is agreed, has my hon. Friend approached the Lord President to see whether we shall be able to debate the final document?

Mr. Horam

I have not yet tackled the Lord President. I believe in getting one agreement at a time. When we see what happens after this debate, we can consult the Lord President. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) will have his own views to put.

I do not, however, envisage that the Council will be ready to accept amendments which would in any case intensify the difficulties of conforming to the social regulation.

I should now turn to the amendment put down by Opposition Members. I should say at once that I have considerable sympathy with the ideas underlying it. I can see a good case in principle for arguing that this EEC legislation which I have been discussing is more appropriate to the control of international traffic than the control of national traffic under the varying circumstances of the individual member States. At one stage, specific proposals of the Economic and Social Committee were put forward to this effect, but they foundered through lack of support.

Most member States argued that it would be basically wrong for driving hours, which are basically a social provision, to be different in each member State. Member States have adhered to this, and Denmark has only recently joined the list of countries which have agreed to this approach. It is, after all, an object of social progress which most trade unionists and most countries have long desired—namely, a reduction in driving hours.

The amendment calls upon us to ensure that there is a different regime in each country, but, of course, the problem is in accepting the wording "ensure" Given the fact that there is so little support among member countries for the proposal that each country should have a different regime, it is almost impossible—since we have to get agreement between all European countries—to ensure that the Opposition's wishes are met in this matter.

This is not something that is in the discretion of the Government. Given the Council's reaction in December, we are unlikely to find the general acceptance that would be required to meet the spirit and wording of the opposition's amendment. Furthermore, the Government of the day accepted the obligation to implement Regulation No. 543/69.

Our discussions at Brussels have been on the basis that we need a further transitional period and further power to deal with vital national problems but that overall we recognise that we must in due time honour our commitments.

The amendment refers to "certain limits." There appear to be reasonably good prospects for ensuring that in all the member States national Governments have power to take certain kinds of traffic out of the scope of the regulation. I would hope, for example, to exclude minibuses, milk floats and people making deliveries of milk, ambulances and certain other categories.

I am anxious to get reasonable flexibility in this sector. I think that we can hope for reasonable progress. I do not think, however, that that is what the Opposition have in mind in their amendment. This is an area where we could meet not only the spirit of their amendment, to which I am sympathetic, but the letter of the amendment. But I do not see any prospect of agreement that we should retain powers to take all or most of our national traffic out of the scope of the regulation.

I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans). If we do not get agreement on the regulation, the existing unamended Regulation No. 543/69 comes into operation from 1st January 1978.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

We have had two or three deferments of the application of the previous regulation. Can the Minister say why we would be prevented from having yet another deferment if we sought one?

Mr. Horam

I understand that, basically, it is a provision of the regulations. Under existing provisions the Commission can no longer give us a derogation after 31st December this year. That is the position as I understand it. I cannot go any further than that.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

If that is the situation, is it not possible for the Government to ask for amendment of this regulation?

Mr. Horam

I understand that that is not possible.

Mr. John Evans

Does my hon. Friend accept that the regulation lays down that derogation can be given only until 31st December 1977 unless the Council unanimously agrees to amend the regulation? Does he accept that there is not a snowball's chance in hell of the full Council unanimously adopting a proposal that Regulation No. 543/69 should be amended?

Mr. Horam

My hon. Friend has considerable knowledge of these matters and I cannot compete with that. But my judgment of whether the Opposition's proposal has a chance of getting through in the unanimous terms that he suggests is that it has no such chance. That is why we are proceeding in the way that we are.

It is the Government's judgment that the best course for achieving the aims on which there is general agreement on both sides of the industry, and probably on both sides of the House, is to get an affirmative answer on the question of the transitional period. I think that that is also the position of the trade unions, which want deferment for a further period of years.

Hence I hope that the Opposition, while accepting that I am sympathetic to their broad position, will accept my view that their approach might cause some damage in leaving us in the "Catch 22" situation referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newton. I hope they will agree that the Government's approach is the best in the foreseeable circumstances, and I hope therefore that they will not press their amendment.

11.11 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Question, at the end to add: but calls upon the Government to ensure that, within certain limits and following a Community procedure, less restrictive provisions should apply for national transport than for intra-Community transport. I shall speak briefly. I think that there is a great merit in what the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said on this point: that once the negotiations have been completed the Minister should come back to the House with the new proposals. That would go a long way towards allaying fears on this specific matter.

Basically, the House is being asked to give its views on the new proposed rules for road passenger transport and road haulage. The fact that the next meeting of the Transport Ministers is in June will give us an opportunity of stating our views.

The Minister has clearly recognised that the crucial proposals are those concerned with hours of work for drivers and the distances that drivers may travel. There is no scope for disputing the fact that these rules, if applied, would have a highly damaging effect on our bus and coach industry. They would increase costs and, therefore, put up prices and fares. Services would have to be reduced, and the deficit of passenger transport operators would be made worse. It is for these reasons that the proposals are opposed in one way or another by the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association, the Confederation of Passenger Transport and the T & GWU.

Some of the greatest difficulties are faced by the bus and coach industry. Britain still has the highest level of bus patronage in Europe, both on the basis of total number of journeys and per head of population. In Britain there are about 8 million passenger journeys by stage carriage bus services a year compared with 6 million in West Germany. It follows, therefore, that any regulations of this sort will have a greater effect in Britain than elsewhere.

The main regulations proposed are reasonably well known. In particular, there is the regulation which would reduce the allowed driving time from 10 hours, which is the current rule in Britain, to eight hours. It also lays down more restrictive hours on a weekly and bi-weekly basis. The effect would be to reduce the time that drivers can drive. This would reduce the earnings of the drivers and it would impose a manpower demand which would push up total costs. The passenger transport industry puts the total cost at between £100 million and £150 million a year.

The net effect would be to increase fares or to have more support and subsidy. Probably it would be a mixture of the two. Certainly this would affect the number of passengers travelling, because if fares are increased there are many who will choose other means of transport.

These rules generally apply to journeys of over 50 kilometres, and the assumption may be made that this excludes the stage carriage services. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many stage carriage journeys come within the rules as they are. They also affect excursions and long-distance coach services. Many of these services fall into the four to five-hour category—a return journey in 10 hours—and under these rules, if they are applied immediately, such services would be barred.

Tourist services using old-established routes, rather than motorways, such as Liverpool to London via Chester, a journey which takes nine to 10 hours' driving time, would be barred. Day excursions run by the National Bus Company, such as the Manchester to Scarborough trip with a stay of five and a half hours at the destination, would have to be changed. The stay would have to be cut down to three and a half hours, and it is highly dubious whether such excursions would continue.

Three reactions to the regulations make the point about the effect on the passenger transport industry. The Scottish Bus Group commented that in its type of operation it would be impractical to have a section of drivers wholly employed on routes of less than 50km and another section on routes of over 50 km. The Wallace Arnold company has said that the imposition of the regulations would have a completely destructive effect on the leisure services enjoyed by the public. Some local authority undertakings, Bournemouth for example, calculate that overall the proposals will add about 41 per cent.—or £550,000—to their wages bill, excluding the cost of additional administrative staff.

The position is similar in the road haulage industry. There is a restriction on drivers' hours, and heavy lorries are restricted to distances of 450 km, or 280 miles. This means that some journeys will not be practical. The Freight Transport Association estimates that the additional cost will be between £350 million and £450 million a year.

Another effect will be the complete reorganisation of the freight distribution industry in this country. Faced with this position, it seems that there are broadly two choices when it comes to the negotiations. We can seek a further deferment of the regulations, or we can seek to negotiate changes in them. We welcome what the Minister said about the Government seeking a further deferment.

The House is put in real difficulties when it comes to the Government motion. It was put down only on Friday, and the first sign that there was to be such a debate was given on Wednesday of last week. Since then we have sought as best we can to have consultations with the industry, but the industry wants more than that.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport has said that any relaxation falling short of British law will be of little or no practical value. The Freight Transport Association wants to see EEC legislation applied only to international journeys, or maximum powers of delegation to member States. It is true that there is widespread dissatisfaction with the first regulation, No. 543/69, in member States of Europe.

Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

There are all these bodies making representations, and the hon. Gentleman is saying "Horror, horror" about all the regulations, yet Conservative Members were advocates of our entry into the Common Market, which states that we must have harmonisation. As my hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, there is no way out of this impasse. It is a bit rough of the hon. Gentleman saying on behalf of himself and his party "We're in this mess" when the Conservatives got us into it.

Mr. Fowler

I shall come on to that. What the hon. Gentleman says about R/543/69 must be substantially correct. I am not seeking to dispute that that is the position. I am trying to help the Government. I think that that would be a reasonable attitude for hon. Members on both sides of the House to take. It seems to me that what would help the Government most in the negotiations that they are to continue would be an indication of how the industries and the public feel about the regulation in order to add to the representations that the Under-Secretary is making. I see that the Under-Secretary assents to that.

Mr. Jay

If the regulation is so exceedingly damaging, will the hon. Gentleman explain why the previous Conservative Government apparently accepted it?

Mr. Fowler

We have tried to explain that. It seems to me that there are two things we can do tonight. We can have a debate that goes over the old Common Market ground, and if that is what the right hon. Gentleman wants he is entitled to it. But I am trying to help his Government by taking that debate a little further and trying to strengthen the Minister's hand in the negotiations which we all know must take place.

It is worth stressing again that it is clear that in several countries in the Common Market Regulation 543/69 has not been enforced. In putting forward our amendment we asked for a change, and there seems little doubt that this carried great support. It had the industry's support, and it seemed that it also had the Government's support.

When giving evidence to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, the then Minister for Transport, the hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert), said: Two years ago"— he was speaking in May 1976— it seemed extremely unlikely that there was any possibility of change, whereas now I think it is agreed that the need for change is universally recognised. Those words were not forced out of the Minister but were used in his opening statement to the Committee. It is that change that we are urging upon the present Minister.

Mr. Horam

Was not my hon. Friend talking about the need for new regulations, on which I think there is general agreement? That is why we have the possibility of new regulations covering this subject. I think that there is dissatisfaction with the general way in which R/543/69 has worked. I am sure that my hon. Friend was referring to that.

Mr. Fowler

If the hon. Gentleman looks further back in his hon. Friend's evidence, he will see that the matter is more fundamental than that. In an earlier passage—I emphasise again that this was his opening statement—his hon. Friend said: There is, as the Committee will be aware, widespread dissatisfaction with the first regulation 543/69, throughout the member states of the Community. It has been variously described as 'unrealistic', 'inflexible' and very difficult to enforce' …. He later described the "unenforced 450 kilometre limit" as "universally unpopular."

Mr. John Evans

Will the hon. Gentleman follow the logic of what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said? We are discussing a new regulation stemming from the unhappy workings of R/543/69. That is why we are here.

Mr. Fowler

I should not have given way to the hon. Gentleman. Of course I recognise that, but I am arguing that the previous Minister's attitude was to suggest that a more fundamental change was appropriate and possible.

Mr. Horam indicated dissent.

Mr. Fowler

I urge the Under-Secretary to read the evidence given to the Select Committee by his hon. Friend.

I am very conscious of what the Under-Secretary has said tonight. We on this side of the House wish to be as helpful to him as we can be. We want to reinforce the case that he will make in June. We want everybody concerned to be aware of the great concern on this issue in the road haulage and passenger transport industries and, above all, among passengers and the public generally.

Although we shall not force a Division tonight, we only take that view following the Minister's assurance, and we urge him to take note of the views expressed in this debate. Indeed, it would satisfy the House even further if the Minister were to accept the proposition put by his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—that the Minister should undertake to consult the House further following his negotiations. We wish him well in those negotiations, and we hope that we shall hear more about this subject at a later stage.

11.26 p.m.

Mr. John Evans (Newton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not hear the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) move the amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

The hon. Member did so at the beginning of his speech.

Mr. Evans

This is a tremendously important debate on a matter that will have far-reaching consequences on the transport industry of the United Kingdom. This matter touches not merely road transport but very much wider considerations of transport policy within the EEC. Not only does it embrace road haulage. It covers rail, inland waterways and air transport.

There is considerable dissatisfaction within the European institutions, particularly in the European Parliament—of which Opposition Members think so highly that they want to elect Members there directly—about the lack of realistic progress in the implementation of a common transport policy. The whole concept of transport policy involves the removal of the distortions of competition—which is a favourite expression among many Europeans. Indeed, the effects of the regulations on road haulage in terms of cost will be high, and it could alter the whole system of costings of transport in this country.

It surprises me that the NUR and other railway unions have not examined more closely the implications of the EEC regulations on road transport. If our trade unions were to pay close attention to those implications, I am sure that they would fall into line with their colleagues on the Continent who are demanding implementation of the EEC regulations on road haulage because of the unfair competition between road haulage and rail. It may be that sooner or later the railway unions in the United Kingdom will wake up to this fact. It is important to point out that many sections of organised workers on the Continent—sections not within road haulage—are demanding implementation of these proposals.

It is true to say that Regulation 642/76 replaces Regulation 543/69. There is controversy over the success of Regulation 543/69. Much of the content of that regulation was demanded by the Continental trade unions to protect them from some of the practices of Continental employers. However, the situation in this country is different because we have a powerful trade union movement which has always been able to protect the interests of the workers. Now that the British trade union movement is playing its full part in the Economic and Social Committee of the EEC, I hope that we shall have a profound influence on the thinking of fellow workers on the Continent.

There is a "Catch 22" situation in regard to the regulations. My hon. Friend the Minister has said that if we do not succeed in getting Regulation 642/76 on to the statute book, Regulation 543/69 will automatically come into force. That will mean a limitation on the length of journeys allowable to heavy lorries, and it is on that subject that I want to concentrate.

The new regulation lays down that, if a tachograph is not fitted following the implementation of the regulations, it will be illegal to drive a lorry for a full eight hours with a second crew member and that the journey will have to end after 450 km. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench have to face the difficulty that in this country transport workers are wholly opposed to the whole concept of the use of tachographs.

Thus, if the new regulation is not passed and the old regulation comes into force, it will not be legal to drive heavy goods vehicles in Britain for more than 450 km in one eight-hour stretch, and that will obviously cover a considerable number of journeys within the United Kingdom. It is worth pointing out that it is on the removal of this provision of the 1969 regulations that employers and trade unions on the Continent are united. Plainly, modern vehicles can be driven much further than 450 km in an eight-hour day, which is a nine-hour day with a spreadover. That is why employers and trade unionists on the Continent are anxious to have the new regulations introduced.

I was interested to hear the Minister say that amendments had been proposed by other countries. These are technical amendments, but I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that, quite apart from ourselves and Ireland, those countries do not like the spirit or the substance of the regulations. For the United Kingdom and Ireland there are serious problems. It is fair to point out that when the European Parliament adopted these regulations in 1969 some parliamentarians accepted that the United Kingdom faced difficulties with these regulations.

The Conservative amendment is at best hypocritical and at worst dishonest. The wording seems to be closely similar to that used by the European Conservative Group in the European Parliament in December when, under pressure from me, that amendment was withdrawn on the ground that it was unrealistic and utterly unacceptable to our European counterparts. I am sure that the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) would like to make it clear that everyone who spoke in that debate made it clear that the amendment proposed by the European Conservative Group was utterly unacceptable.

Some of my hon. Friends mentioned the discussions when we joined the European Community. It is fair to point out that the information given to me as Chairman of the Transport Committee of the European Parliament was that there were no deliberations in 1972 on transport policy or these regulations. Colleagues within the European Parliament have made it clear that there were no discussions during the renegotiations. It seems that both sides were silent about the ramifications of Regulation 543/69 and its possible effects on the British transport industry.

Whatever the arguments for and against joining the Community, it increasingly seems that those who fought on an anti-Market platform were logical throughout. The new transport policy is a logical extension of our joining the European Economic Community. Amendments of this nature suggest that we can have the best of two worlds. It is not possible to have two worlds. Whether we like it or not—and I do not like it so very much—we are members of the EEC. This regulation has been in force since 1969, and it is dishonest and hypocritical to suggest that a second set of regulations should be laid down for us.

I moved an amendment in the European Parliament to give a further derogation of three years to Britain because of our special problems. With our regional policies and our economic problems, this regulation presents problems to us. The European Parliament accepted the situation and agreed that we should have a further derogation of up to three years. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will confirm that this is the line that the Government will take. We need this provision written into the regulation. If this regulation does not come into force, the earlier one will remain and it will be worse for us. If we do not get a further period of derogation, I suspect that the British people will again feel that they have been severely conned by our entry into the EEC.

11.36 p.m.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

I am grateful that the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) mentioned the tachograph. It was my impression that, in theory at least, the law on the tachograph applied here, although it may be that the law is not being enforced. This is in line with the Alice-in-Wonderland position of our transport policy, and my doubts and fears are not allayed by the Secretary of State's memorandum.

For example, in outlining the six questions which the Department of Transport put, it stated Question 6 as: Does the Council think that the minimum total rest time per week provided by Regulations (EEC) 543/69 is adequate or not? The reply was: No Member State opposed the principle of an increase in the minimum total rest time per week, and the Council asked that a practical proposal regarding the minimum total rest time per week and provisions concerning spreadover should be drawn up and submitted to them. It is just this question of weekly rest which concerns our bus and coach industry. Indeed, it goes so far as to say that perhaps the minimum thing is to establish that a period of weekly rest or daily rest can begin in one week and end in the next. As the regulation stands, it would mean a weekly rest period of 39 to 40 hours. On the present running of the British bus and coach industry, it is impossible to fit that period of rest into the six-day week which most firms operate.

If this kind of regulation applied to factories, it would make many of their working hours illegal. For example, it would be impossible to work the hours from 6 a.m. to 1400 Monday to Friday, alternating with weeks of working 1400 to 2100 hours Monday to Friday. The bus and coach industry has misgivings about what has been conceded already. It is not just a question of negotiating new or better terms. It would appear that in this respect the pass has been sold already. I hope that we shall get some explanation, or at least encouraging words for our industry, from the Minister. I am restricting my remarks to the bus and coach industry because other hon. Members want to take part in the debate.

We cannot stress too much how dangerous the situation is. The cost has been caluculated at between £100 million and £150 million, but that kind of figure is purely theoretical. If these new hours were brought in there would simply not be enough people with the proper PSV licences to fulfil the need.

This is clearly shown in information provided by one of the National Bus Company subsidiaries, giving rotas at four of its depots in the East of England. To start with, they show 12 different systems of rota weeks, of which, if everything went according to plan, only three in one case and six in another would conform to the EEC regulation. However, because no week is perfect, because some men are ill and some buses break down, in no case at all do the rotas in the four depots conform to the regulation.

In those circumstances, the bus industry could not maintain its present fares structure or, probably, anything like its present level of service. In many rural areas particularly, services would virtually end. In view of the vote on the Budget Resolution earlier tonight, that is of great importance to many millions of people.

Therefore, we must impress on the Minister that what he already appears to have agreed is a serious threat. Unless something like the existing British Law is decided, the Minister—or, by that time, my hon. Friend—will be confronted with truncated services and an inevitable shortfall in passengers. There will be the enormous problem of how large a subsidy will have to be found from the taxpayer or the ratepayer.

When the bus industry is in what the Minister recognised to be a delicate situation, this could be a death blow to public transport in many areas. I cannot believe that Labour Members want that. Although we know that in many areas people have to rely on their private cars, we on the Conservative Benches realise that a section of the community will always need public transport if its to have any mobility at all.

I make no excuse for concentrating on this small area. Unless this decision is taken quickly—preferably before the Secretary of State ceases to be Chairman of the Council—we may have lost our chance for good. Hon. Members on this side have a high regard for the Secreteary of State—I am delighted to see that he has joined the debate—but in this instance we must be united as a country and as intransigent as possible in the deliberations in Brussels.

Otherwise, not only will the British taxpayers have to pay ever-increasing amounts for proper service but there will be enormous problems in co-ordinating public transport which will vitiate whatever ideas the right hon. Gentleman puts in the White Paper that he hopes to present next month. With those words, underlining what I regard as a serious position, I look forward to some reassurance from the Minister.

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Hamish Watt (Banff)

It is too bad that this regulation should have to be debated at such a late hour and that we should have such a short time in which to debate it. It is vital that the Minister should be aware of the damage that it can do to remote areas, particularly those I know best, in the North-East of Scotland. Damage can be caused to coach tour operators, who have to travel considerable distances in the North of Scotland to reach any large centre. Areas such as my own, and others further north, are particularly affected.

A group of people may wish to charter a bus to visit Glasgow or Edinburgh for the day. It is impossible for the coach to get to one of those cities and return in the same day and remain within the hours and mileages laid down in the regulation.

Tremendous damage will be done to the livestock hauliers in the North-East of Scotland. There are nearly 450 miles to travel from Thurso, where many of the lambs are sold, and Carlisle where they are taken. It is impossible for the lorry driver to keep within the times and mileages laid down and make such a journey. Often there have to be several pick-up points before the driver can set off on his journey south. Because there are few motorways in Scotland the time taken to cover the distances in the North of Scotland is much greater than that taken to complete the other part of the journey when the motorway is reached.

I impress on the Minister the need to go to Europe and insist on a derogation clause for all livestock transport north of a line of the Edinburgh-Glasgow motorway.

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

What about us?

Mr. Watt

I have mentioned the lamb sales and the same applies to calf sales. If a derogation clause is not possible, I plead with the Minister to obtain a derogation covering say, 12 weeks, particularly in the autumn, when the young and immature lambs or calves are moved further south to the fatteners in England and the South of Scotland.

There is another section of livestock transport that is particularly vulnerable—the livestock hauliers who take live pigs from the North-East of Scotland down to the factories in Carlisle and Manchester. The lorry driver has to start off early in the morning and may have up to 10 pick-up points before he can begin his journey south. It is impossible for him to get to his destination within the time and hours laid down in the regulation. Is the driver to stop somewhere and allow the pigs to wait in the lorry for the night, or will someone else have to take over? We must have an answer to these serious questions.

There is another section of the hauliers in the North-East of Scotland who will be particularly hard-hit—the hauliers who carry whisky. Whisky often has several origins. It is common for a blender to require a lorry-load of six, seven or eight different whiskies, which are picked up from the excellent distilleries around the north. That means that the lorry has several pick-up points. By the time that the driver roots out the Exciseman or the manager, or whoever is in charge of the bond, he is unable to pick up his load and take it to his destination. As the load is excisable, it cannot stop along the road, because there are no bond transport parks where the lorries can be kept safely. It is vital, in the interests of security, that the load goes straight to its destination. It will be impossible for the hauliers to observe the rules stipulated in the document we are discussing.

For these reasons, I ask the Minister to pay special attention to the needs of the North-East of Scotland. The lorry drivers in all these cases are well aware that there are times when, because of the seasonal nature of their work, they must work long hours. However, if taken over a full years they do not work excessive hours. They have no objection to the lorry owners having a harvest, as it were, at their harvest time, which is at the time of the lamb sales or the cartage of the pigs at various seasons. It is the wish of the lorry drivers as well as the wish of the hauliers that this regulation be changed to take account of the special circumstances pertaining throughout the North of Scotland.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

I know that the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt) will forgive me if I do not directly take up the points he made in his speech.

I have had communications with the Transport and General Workers' Union, of which I am a sponsored Member, to discover the union's views on this regulation. The union has sundry and diverse problems arising on the document and is up to its neck with consultation. I believe that the ideas spelt out by my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) would be advantageous to the union if there could be derogation so that these weighty matters could be thrashed out.

How can a driver's hours whilst travelling with the lorry in a ferry be taken into account? This point has not been raised so far.

I thought that the best speech made so far tonight was that by my hon. Friend the Member for Newton. My hon. Friend told the House that he had had an amendment accepted by his colleagues in Europe to secure a further derogation for three years. I hope that that will be the Government's posture when they return to the negotiations, because my hon. Friend the Member for Newton has been a friend and ally in this matter.

It has been said in the debate that this regulation comes on top of the Budget proposals in relation to transport. To put it rather differently, the House is indeed a strange place. This affects the whole of our transport policy against which what the Budget does is as peanuts. The majority of Members have gone home, however. This always happens before debates such as this take place. We see only about a tenth of the documents that go to the Scrutiny Committee, yet those of us who take an interest in the various measures that do come before us invariably sit here getting crosser and crosser at the lack of interest.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) has gone. He waxed lyrical about the dangers of this document, saying how careful the Minister should be and lecturing my hon. Friend the Minister, as did the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). Hon. Members say "How did we get into this position? Who did the negotiating?". Both Front Benches have been implicated. Hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, when attacking the Minister, suddenly realise their own dodgy ground. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newton said, it is a Catch-22 situation. It is no good pounding the poor chap and saying "This is potentially disastrous. If we do not do something we shall get EEC Regulation 543 because there is no other way out, short of getting the whole of the Commission to agree"—and there is not a snowball's chance in hell of that.

Members on the Government Front Bench do not take that line. They know what they are stuck with. It is atrocious for hon. Members to make party political or constituency speeches and then rush out of the Chamber to make sure that they are printed in tomorrow's newspapers when often—[Interruption.] I am talking about the hon. Member for Wellingborough.

Mr. Moate

I agree with almost everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, but, in fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), it should be pointed out that he was one of those who voted against the principle of United Kingdom membership of the EEC.

Mr. Ellis

I apologise unreservedly to the hon. Member for Wellingborough. He is one of those noble souls in the House who can, with good heart, lay about him, but I wish that he would not just lay about my hon. Friend the Minister. In fairness, he should clobber his own Front Bench as well.

Let us have many more of these occasions. Perhaps more hon. Members will attend the debates and perhaps they will be reported in the Press. It is often said what a marvellous thing the Common Market is, but when it comes to individual measures hon. Members see the holy light and say "This is dodgy. The Minister had better watch it. He had better be intransigent and hold up the matter and wave the flag", after having sold the pass on the principle of the Common Market.

I hope that we shall have many more occasions like this. I hope that somebody will hear our voices crying out from this Mother of Parliaments and that we shall get through to the public the fact that the Common Market has its problems and that the snags are many, as some of us at least expected.

11.58 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)

The hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) has had his little bit of fun, but this is a serious debate, or it should be, and I certainly shall not speak in criticism of the Government or of the Minister. I accept that they are in a very difficult position, but we should try to be helpful and should strengthen the Minister's hand in the difficult negotiations.

There is no doubt that the regulation will have serious effects on certain areas, particularly in the South-West. I am always horrified when I listen to members of the Scottish National Party. They consider only their own areas, wanting derogation for just one area. These problems affect many areas, particularly in the South-West. It will be difficult to send our produce to London and other parts because of the regulation.

I am in favour of harmonisation. There should be overall harmonisation. However, I cannot understand why there cannot be variations in each of the countries concerned. In Germany and other countries, where a lot of trailers operate, it is probably necessary to have a second man and various other restrictions.

We have a good safety record in this country and I should have thought that with careful and persistent negotiations we could arrive at regulations that were suitable for the needs in this country. This is what I hope the Government will do. In Committee—I sit as a member of our Select Committee on this matter—we found that there was real opposition from all sides of industry. That continues. There has been no change, and both management and men are concerned at what is going on.

I hope that this will reinforce the Minister in his desire and efforts to obtain the change or derogation that is required. The Government were previously optimistic about the prospect of securing favourable changes. I take it that the Minister is not now so optimistic. That is what worries me. We ought to be able to do something.

I criticise the Government on this, because if one is a member of a European club and wants to obtain changes, one must show that one has been a good European. Unfortunately, it always seems that this Government are bad members of the club. It is no wonder that they cannot obtain any concessions at all. It is much easier to obtain a concession if one has been a good member of a club. In agriculture and other areas we have not been good European members, and that does have an effect. People say this country is always opposed to everything.

I certainly wish the Government well in these negotiations and changes and I hope that they will be successful because unless they are it will have a dramatic effect on certain areas of this country.

I cannot for the life of me see why there cannot be these variations to suit the needs of certain countries. I hope that the Government will take that line strongly. After all, if we can get a derogation for a certain length of time, who knows what will happen in that period? It may be that through careful negotiations it will be seen that some of the things that have been instituted are not working out in practice and that we shall then obtain the necessary changes. I wish the Government well, because much is at stake.

12.3 a.m.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

I wish that when we talk about European regulations everyone would not parade their European records before speaking. I voted for Europe and I think that this regulation is absolute, total nonsense. There is no illogicality in saying that. I am a Member of Parliament, and much here is nonsense, as well. I do not see why, because one is a member of something, one must defend every full stop and capital letter of it.

What is so strange about the regulation? I cannot understand the provision about the 280-mile limit. I cannot believe that a regulation is more sensible in Europe than here in Britain. The distance from my front door, in my constituency, to this House is 302 miles via the new, expensive motorway. Using the ancient and much-criticised A30, the distance is 264 miles. This regulation means that in order to comply with the law somebody driving from my house to the House—although I cannot imagine why he should wish to do so—would be forced to go by the old single-carriageway route linking West Cornwall with London and would not be able to use the motorway because of the distance.

Mr. John Evans

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the new regulation does away with the 450-kilometre limit it a tachograph is fitted?

Mr. Penhaligon

I am glad that the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) has attended tonight, because he explained many of the regulations in his speech. That would be an improvement. I have never been able to understand why the transport workers in this country are so vehemently opposed to tachographs. I can appreciate the emotiveness of the spy-in-the-cab angle, but I do not think that they have anything to fear from tachographs in their cabs. Perhaps they would solve the problem.

I do not understand the pressures for 450 kilometres. In Europe, especially in France, I imagine that the regulation is ignored and that no attempt is made to implement it from Monday to Friday. Perhaps the French approach of ignoring regulations that do not make sense should be followed in this country on occasions.

I have yet to hear any good reasons for the criteria on which hours and distances are based. I have seen no accident statistics to suggest that there is anything wrong with the regulations in this country. What do the people in Brussels say when the Minister puts that argument? Do they deny it? Do they say that we have more accidents in this country or that we should have fewer if we adopted their regulations?

12.6 a.m.

Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)

I intervene because in a debate on 17th December I was the only Member of the European Parliament to anticipate the tone of this debate.

I respect the work of the Chairman of the Transport Committee, but he asked me to withdraw my amendments. I found it difficult to summarise the objections of the Conservative Group at that time and, to a certain extent, I had to speak for myself. There were differences of attitude among Conservative Members in the Parliament and in my Committee. I said in the Parliament: we have no alternative but to reject Mr. Seefeld's report". Mr. Seefeld, a German Social Democrat, was rapporteur in respect of the draft regulation that we are discussing. Throughout, he gave the impression of complacency and, in my view, did not reflect the views of many employers and trade unionists—although the whole matter had been discussed by representatives of employers and trade unions in the Economic and Social Committee.

There has, therefore, been considerable thought given in the European Parliament the Council of Ministers and the Economic and Social Committee to the differences, particularly to the differences affecting the new members—Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) as chairman of the Committee, implored me to remove my first amendment. He spoke forcibly, but I was asked by the President to maintain the amendment.

A German Christian Democrat, Mr. Mursch, referred to the fact that we had been rushed, and when I summarised the position of the Conservative group I mentioned that we had been rushed, because the meeting of the Council of Ministers was to follow shortly. I withdrew the amendment on one condition—that the Commission gave a factual report on the difficulties that would be faced in the new year.

Mr. John Evans

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if he had not withdrawn his amendment it would have been overwhelmingly defeated?

Mr. Osborn

That is an important point. Yes. The hon. Member for Newton is in the Social Democrat Group, and since members of that group were obviously pressed by trade union representatives, he had to go along with them.

This is the dialogue in the European Parliament. The hon. Member for Newton was the chairman. He may have been neutral, but the Commission realised these difficulties.

The Minister has given us an excellent set of questions that were put to the Council. There are several possibilities before us. The first is the derogation for three years. Another is the amendment that seeks to differentiate between national and international transport. There were discussions that the three-year derogation might be extended to five years, hut, as hon. Members have said, the Minister, as President of the Council at this time, has a difficult task with other countries in the Community, although he has considerable support from Denmark and Ireland. But even in the Assembly, let alone the Committee, there is good will towards us in the predicament in which we find ourselves.

Obviously this amendment once again refers to the use of the tachograph. I make my view clear. If I believe in production control in a factory or in orderliness in a factory, in the long term I cannot resist the concept of both those who manage and those who are managed learning the benefits of the tachograph.

When I speak to German trade union leaders who point out the value of tachographs for their members, I must listen to them, as I must listen to Mr. Jack Jones, who says exactly the opposite. There are arguments on both sides. In the Committee, in Europe, we have a chance of doing something. I think that hon. Members will accept that in the long term some form of order, if it applies in the factory, may well be of benefit in the cab of a lorry as well.

My hon. Friend has put forward an amendment in Europe so that we can see the advantages and have some trials. I hope that the Commission will again put forward proposals to the Parliament. But, meanwhile, the Minister has to engage in difficult negotiations to provide some form of derogation. I fully support the contention of the amendment that was put forward by the Irish, which I presented for them, as a way out of this problem for the three countries of Denmark, Ireland and ourselves. I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment.

12.13 a.m.

Mr. Horam

I think that all hon. Members agree that, as was stated by the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans), this is a very important subject that will have far-reaching consequences if we do not get it right.

I wish to thank the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) for the general tenor of his remarks and his willingness to consider withdrawing his motion. There is a general recognition of the need for a change in Regulation No. 543/69, which is not as wide or as fundamental as that suggested in the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It concentrates on the 450-kilometre rule but does not extend to the tachograph.

I do not think that the remarks of my hon. Friend the then Minister for Transport suggested that he thought that every country in the EEC should be different, even given my hon. Friend's views on the Common Market. My hon. Friend accepted that we should fall into line once we decided to go into the Common Market.

I should like to give the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield an assurance that I shall certainly make representations to my right hon. Friend the Lord President about a debate, but finally it is for my right hon. Friend to decide in his own due time.

I say to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) that we have not yet sold the pass, as he suggested, and we have not yet agreed any specific figures on the issue about which he was talking. We have accepted that there will be some increase in rest periods, but we have not agreed hard figures and that is what really matters.

From the trade union point of view we think that there should be some improvement in this matter. There is not just one side to the question, however. I say that also in relation to the remarks by the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt). Drivers as well as operators should be considered. My heart leapt when he said that we should pay special attention to the needs of the North-East, but then I realised that he was talking about the North-East of Scotland. I shall, however, look into his comments.

In answer to my hon. Friend the member for Newton, I say that of course we accept his point about the sort of period we would want by way of deferment. Three years is the very least we would ask for. This matter is too important for us to consider a short transitional period. The costs which have been mentioned by the Opposition are perhaps exaggerated, but we accept part of that case. We must, therefore, have as long as we can to adjust to the new regulations, but I accept the general thrust of his point and I would not want to be tied to the number of years we might ask for.

I say in reply to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) that there is no evidence that the eight-hour period produces a greater safety record than the 10-hour period. We have consistently argued this in the council. There is no evidence that we are wrong and that they are right. The general case is made out by them on the social issue rather than specifically on safety grounds.

I must now conclude my speech since we are running out of time. If there are other points to which I have not replied I shall find them by studying the Official Report and I shall reply to the hon. Members concerned.

12.16 a.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler

I am grateful for the manner in which the Under-Secretary has replied to the debate. I am particularly grateful for the assurance that he will seek another debate when the position on the regulation is clear. It may reinforce the hon. Gentleman in his representations to the Leader of the House if I say that that approach would find approval in all parts of the House.

We in the Opposition seek to be helpful in the amendment. In view of the assurance that the Minister will press the negotiations on behalf of the road haulage and passenger transport industries on which we place particular importance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of EEC draft Regulation R/642/76 of 10th March 1976 on the harmonisation of certain social legislation relating to road transport, the Minister for Transport's explanatory memorandum of 23rd April 1976 and the Secretary of State for Transport's supplementary memorandum of 31st March 1977.

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