HC Deb 01 February 1978 vol 943 cc627-52

11.16 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Community Drivers' Hours Rules (Temporary Modifications) Regulations 1978 (S.I., 1978, No. 7), dated 4th January 1978, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th January, be annulled. On the last occasion when we debated the question of drivers' hours and distances, we were given a semi-assurance by the Government that they would press for a full debate to be held on the subject. On 4th April the Under-Secretary of State said: 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."—[Official Report, 4th April 1977; Vol. 929, c. 1069.] We have now seen what those representations have produced—a debate which starts at 11.16 and which must end at 12.30 a.m.

It was open to the Government to lay a draft of the regulations for approval in both Houses, and I believe that that is a point about which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) will wish to say something, if he catches the eye of the Chair. We have put down our Prayer because this is the only option left open to us.

Given the restriction of time, I shall seek to be brief. Let me make our intention clear from the outset. The regulations allow a phased introduction of the EEC regulations on drivers' hours and distances. There are serious reservations about those regulations throughout the whole transport industry—road haulage, freight transport and passenger transport—and there are serious reservations about the details of the transition period.

However, we are presented tonight, basically, with a take-it-or-leave-it situation. Everyone I have consulted would prefer this transition period to no transition period at all, so the Opposition will not seek to divide the House at the end of the debate. We shall, however, examine the detail of the transition period and, above all, seek a statement from the Government. It is worth making the point that, in spite of the undoubted importance of these regulations, this is the first time that the Government have come to the House to make a statement about them.

Because of the time element I shall concentrate on one major issue—the distance limit of 450 km in one day. The fact that there is a 450 km limit being introduced immediately contradicts the expressed hope of the Secretary of State. He is on record expressing confidence to the industry that the limit would not come in at all during the transitional period, or if it did, that it would not come in at once. The Secretary of State made that clear in the middle of last year, but he has not delivered the goods on that undertaking. I hope that he will tell us the factors that have made it impossible.

We have today a position of undoubted confusion. No decision was available to the industry until 5th January, relating to a phased programme that started a few days earlier, on 1st January.

It is important to stress the seriousness of the 450 km limit. It is obviously serious for road haulage operators in Scotland, just as it is for those in the South-West. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) has pointed out that great concern is felt in his constituency, where the main markets for local products are more than 280 miles away. A similar point was made by the National Farmers' Union. The West Country already suffers severe competition from Continental producers. Obviously there is concern throughout the country about this matter.

Mr. John Evans (Newton)

Is the hon. Member aware that the 450 km limit was laid down by the EEC in 1969. As the Conservative Party took us into the Common Market, would he tell the House what representations his party made about this iniquitous limit in 1972?

Mr. Fowler

We dealt with that point in Question Time. If the hon. Member wants to take it up with the Secretary of State, I hope he will ask his Front Bench what happened under the Labour Government in the renegotiations. We are debating the transitional period tonight, and I would very much hope that there is common ground between the two sides of the House in adopting a constructive approach.

It may be said that the 450 km rule could be avoided if one of two conditions are met. It may be avoided if there is a second driver, but the difficulty of that is that it pushes costs through the roof. Few firms will be able to offer that solution, particularly those that are suffering severe price competition already.

The second alternative is that the rule may be avoided by the fitting of a tachograph. That brings us into an area of undoubted complication. There are practical difficulties involved, apart from anything else. There are not even remotely enough calibration centres in this country. Even if operators wanted to observe the rule, they would find great difficulty in doing so. In Scotland there are only two or three centres, and the Freight Transport Association says that some of its members have to drive 200 miles to get to one. The same position applies in other parts of the country as well.

The next problem is the opposition of the Transport and General Workers' Union to the introduction of the tachograph. Again, operators are in all kinds of difficulties and the Government has put forward a compromise solution which euphemistically is called relaxation enforcement, although I do not like a situation in which the law says one thing and the enforcement authorities do another. It seems to me that that is the only possible compromise in the immediate future. I accept that, but I make this proviso—that everybody should be clear what the enforcement position is to be. This is a call that comes from all sides of industry. They want to know exactly where they stand in this unique and certainly unusual situation.

The Freight Transport Association would like to see a position where there is first a six-month general moratorium on enforcement which is in line with the Secretary of State's proposals, and, secondly, a 12-month stay on enforcement in respect of the 450 km limit, although the other requirements would come into force after six months. That proposal has been to the Secretary of State, and I hope that he will take the opportunity now to make the Government's position clear.

The position we must accept is that whether it is after six months or 12 months, sooner or later the 450 km rule will come into force. Therefore, we return to the question: what do the Government advise, how do they intend to help, and how do they see the situation?

It appears that probably the only way forward is for the road haulage companies and the unions to come to voluntary agreement at local level on the issue of tachographs. This is the view of John Silverman, Vice-Chairman of the Road Haulage Association, who made a statement on 26th November in which he said: I would welcome trade union co-operation in the fitting of tachographs by agreement locally between labour and management. He continued: I appeal to the responsible leaders of the trade unions whose members are engaged in road haulage urgently to rethink the situation and to concede quickly that it is in their own interests as well as ours to keep lorries working effectively to the maximum they are allowed to do within the new law. This means fitting tachographs, for which I plead trade union agreement. I understand that that basically is also the Government's position.

On 5th January, when the Secretary of State issued his Press release on EEC drivers' hours, he said: Now is the time for employers and trade unions to get together to make sense of the new situation. The health of the industry both on the freight and passenger sides is important to the strength and prosperity of the nation. We must now all accept the Commission's decision and show common sense and goodwill in working out the implication. That is all very well, and in general terms they are reasonable and sensible words, but it would be for the benefit of the House and for the industry if the Secretary of State for Transport could be more specific tonight. Will he say whether he agrees that the voluntary agreement on the use of tachographs is or is not a way forward?

Many other points could be raised if there were time in this short debate. For example, many will be concerned about the position of the passenger transport industry. Although the debate inevitably centres on the road haulage industry, it is worth stressing that these regulations will affect not only road haulage but the bus and coach industry and, as applied, they threaten the existence of some services—for example, the service from London to Stratford-on-Avon. What the Confederation of Passenger Transport wants above all is more flexibility to be given to the operator. I hope the Minister will say something on that matter.

In deference to other hon. Members, I confine myself to these two points. Will the Minister make crystal clear the position on the enforcement of these regulations because that is in the interests of the whole industry? Secondly, will he spell out his view on the introduction of tachographs and voluntary introduction and say where the Government stand? There is no question but that the industry wants some guidance from the Secretary of State. I think that it is entitled to some guidance from him. I hope that tonight it will get that guidance.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

In view of the number of hon. Members wishing to take part in the debate, I appeal for brevity in speeches.

11.31 p.m.

Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

Tonight I shall try to speak very quietly, because generally I get a bit passionate about these things when we get involved with the Common Market.

This is a very serious situation. I have taken part in many of these debates when we have not had the necessary documents before us or they have been the wrong documents, and so on. But tonight is a special night when the absurdity of the Common Market reaches new heights.

Because we have gone through these matters, the House of Commons has a procedure that says that we refer them to the Statutory Instruments Committee for examination. We have been overtaken by events. The Order Paper is always worth looking at. It says: The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have not yet completed their consideration of the Instrument. On 5th January, the Minister said: Five years after United Kingdom entry to the Common Market we now know the final timetable for the implementation of regulations on drivers' hours. We have had a welcome breathing space although I wish that the programme for the next three years had been more generous. Now is the time for employers and trade unions to get together to make sense of the new situation. The health of the industry both on the freight and trans port sides is important to the strength and prosperity of the nation. I have tried hard in negotiations in Brussels to create a tolerable framework for the future. We must now all accept the Commission's decision and show common sense and good will in working out the implications. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) is quite right. It is important that it goes on record.

But then, on 11th January, the Minister said: In spite of the transitional arrangements, adaptation to the wholly new legal structure and to the changes in actual limits that apply from this month cannot in practice be achieved immediately. A period of six months for `running in' is clearly sensible."—[Official Report, 11th January 1978; Vol. 941, c. 767.] What we are talking about here is men. I have been in contact with my colleagues in the Transport and General Workers' Union. They are sensible people, despite the phrases often used about them. They want to improve the conditions and pay, and so on, of the drivers they represent. But in these matters they do not want to be faced with some regulation being brought in and no one knowing what it is, and suddenly drivers in a specific area being told that it is being introduced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) knows that there is a very serious situation. A deputation came to the House because people were suddenly told that they would not be able to work existing work schedules as from January. It meant that if they were taking containers from Grimsby to Hull and back again, they would have to stop 40 miles short. The impact on wages is considerable.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

Despite the Humber Bridge, I think that my hon. Friend means Grimsby to Liverpool.

Mr. Ellis

Yes, I am sorry. However, all sorts of complicated things would affect their wages, and they had not had time to negotiate.

Let us look at what the employers have said. I refer now to the Freight Transport Association. It says: The Regulations which are to be debated on Wednesday evening are helpful in so far as they will allow a phased adoption of the onerous EEC requirements. Having said that, the whole drivers' hours situation is still far from certain and confusion abounds in the industry. The Regulations, which officially come into operation on 26th January are still not available, and indeed it appears that there is some doubt as to the official numbering because the Order quotes S.I. 6/78, whereas the typescript of the Regulation in the Association's possession is numbered 7/78! Therefore, we are in a position in which some people are saying one thing and others are saying other things. Prior to the October meeting—this is the Commission talking—there was a threat by the Commission to introduce proceedings for breaches of Regulation 543/69 in the case of Germany for a breach of the 450 km. provision, and following the October meeting decision the Commission was directed to work out the phasing-in period of the different provisions concerning the United Kingdom and Southern Ireland.

So we go into January, and still nothing is decided. It is coming into effect now. What a ludicrous situation—what a bureaucratic situation—that causes this appalling difficulty.

I know what the attitude of the TGWU is. Their leaders have had some criticism from their members, asking what the union was doing and what Parliament was doing to get us into this state.

I have explained what happened. Commissioners did or did not take decisions. Faced with a position like this, late in January, no appeal could be made. Certain regulations were imposed, with the consequence that we are in this position tonight.

We are glad that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) is not going to take his Prayer to a vote, but we regard the position as totally unsatisfactory. The union thinks that it is completely unsatisfactory. If we refused to bring in these regulations tonight, however, I understand that the whole of Council Regulation 543/69 would come into operation. I can tell the House that if that happened there would be a strike in the transport industry—a strike of tremendous proportions, not because of any irresponsibility on the part of the men in the industry but because we could not tell them that this new law was coming into effect merely because somebody in the Commission had done something, in the course of exceedingly complicated negotiations—something that we could not explain to them properly. We could not then go on to say "Deal with it by way of a nod and a wink, although this regulation replaces part of the Transport Act 1968 steps will be taken in consultation with both sides of the road transport industry to see that the position is taken care of "—in other words—" We agree that this is the law, but we will do nothing about it. We will write letters to chief constables saying that although there can be prosecutions we shall not be able to follow them up because wo do not know what the Community has done, or what the details are."

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Does the hon. Member agree that this is what happens—this abuse of the rule of law—when this House has lost its power to make the law for this country?

Mr. Ellis

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. In this respect the Opposition are failing in their duty. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield is tarred with the brush of the Common Market. He helped to get us into this system. The two Front Benches had Back Benchers pointing out the error of their ways. They fell between two stools. The Opposition cannot do their job properly, because they have a responsibility to get Common Market regulations accepted by the House.

Let me tell hon. Members what the union is trying to do. It has had a meeting and it is doing its best. It has issued the following statement: After considering all aspects and consequences, the National Trade Group Committee decided the following policy:— There is no change in the RTC Group policy in its total opposition to tachographs on domestic journeys (members should not allow themselves to believe otherwise). That the assurances given by the Secretary of State for Transport as to the phasing-in period should be accepted until proven otherwise. Any notice of a pending prosecution under the 450 kilometre provision should be notified to the National Secretary, who has been requested to inform the Secretary of State for Transport of the same. It is saying that it will not see its members prosecuted under regulations introduced at two minutes' notice and on which they, as responsible men, were not consulted. They are willing to negotiate, but have been denied the opportunity to do so. The union says: Negotiators in all companies in which an incentive bonus scheme operates are to commence discussions with the company or companies concerned:

  1. (a) to establish whether any loss arises for the category of driver and vehicle referred to in the 450 kilometer provision.
  2. (b) if any loss is entailed, to negotiate forthwith consolidation of any such monies on the particular journies concerned."
These are huge areas of negotiation which may take many months. They are difficult matters to negotiate, even between men of good will. The union continues: That the National Secretary prepares a comprehensive submission as requested, in conjunction with members of the National Trade Group Committee. That the action taken by the General Secretary and the National Secretary in gaining support of all transport unions and the Commission within the European Community to replace Regultion No. 543/69 with a more acceptable directive is endorsed; and this National Trade Group Committee calls on the Commission to produce the aforesaid draft directive without further delay. My union talked with the unions over there and it feels harshly about the Commission because it was given assurances that these matters would be looked at. In the event, it got nothing for its pains.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just a question of the powers of Parliament being challenged but that, in addition, a wide range of trade union agreements will be affected by some of these regulations?

Mr. Ellis

Indeed. These are fundamental and serious matters that cannot be changed at a minute's notice without trade unions and employers knowing what is hoped to be achieved and so on.

I know that the Minister is doing his best, but the directive that he is to put forward is not yet available. It is all very unsatisfactory.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

I like the regulations very little more than the hon. Gentleman does, but he has been talking about suddenness and the lack of notice in connection with proposals that should have come into force two years ago and have been postponed three times at the behest of the United Kingdom Government, in their reluctance to have anything to do with the Common Market, as well as of Ireland.

Mr. Ellis

People were arguing about whether the draft directive was realistic. The question whether it should be changed fundamentally was being argued. That is the point. Under the EEC's funny law, if no agreement is reached, certain things happen automatically. If a meeting breaks down or only part of a problem is solved, the whole holocaust descends.

It was put to me graphically by a union man who said that we were making life intolerable for him by chopping off his legs, but that if the Opposition's Prayer succeeded, we would be chopping off his head as well. That is the brutal situation we face.

I spent half a day with my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby talking to honourable men about this problem. They are affected and we could not give straight answers to their straight questions about how their pay and conditions would be affected if this proposal came into law.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield is one of the hon. Members who consented to Britain joining the Common Market. He got us into this situation and it ill behoves him to criticise the Government now. His Government knew that these provisions were around. The hon. Gentleman finished by saying that we are passing a law but that we should try to see that it is not enforced.

We are in a terrible position. I always thought that, when a law was introduced, it had been considered and that the ramifications were known, yet we find ourselves in a considerable dilemma. Many of my hon. Friends who know of my close interest in these matters, and my close contacts with my union, have asked "What should we do?" I replied "If somebody pushes the prayer, we shall have to vote against it and support the order". The truth is that we find ourselves in a disastrous situation.

To those who still believe in the Common Market I repeat what I have said about it throughout—that it is bureaucratic and unworkable. Surely it is up to us to say after this debate "It is a shambles. Please stop this sort of thing happening".

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

My hon. Friend is saying that we have to pass the measure before us because the situation would be even worse if we carried the Prayer. He said that, as we are defenceless, we should be placed in a position in which we should face wholesale strikes. Does my hon. Friend understand that the advancement of the trade union movement throughout its history has not always been the result of activity in the House? Perhaps some people outside should take action against the Common Market and its activities, the like of which have caused my hon. Friend to be so upset. I put it to him that it may be our duty to throw out this measure to support the Prayer and hope that it is carried. In that event, let us see some activity at ground level from those who were misled in the 1975 referendum. Let them provide the means for finally getting us out of the Market.

Mr. Ellis

I fully understand my hon. Friend's argument. Many of those at ground level to whom he refers did not understand the Common Market. They knew the way in which we conducted our affairs and they had enormous respect for the law. They are now bemused. They do not understand how the present dilemma has arisen. The issue has to be presented to those at that level.

I have been on the shop floor and taken part in industrial action. I was always reluctant to take action or to lead marchers when I knew that those I would lead would suffer. However, I have given certain advice to my union. The union is upset. It is not over-concerned about all the gobbledegook and nonsense that we meet in the House. It is concerned that an employer has told it how its members' conditions and pay will be affected. It is looking for some assurances. If the issue were put before the members on the basis of how their pay and conditions would be affected, they would recognise what was happening about the Common Market. They would take up the issue even though it might result in their losing wages. They would take that decision in the light of that consequence.

The union is seeking to get out of the difficulty to which I have referred. I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I end my remarks. I think that I have explained the position. The House is in a sad position tonight.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am glad that the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) referred to other hon. Members wishing to take part in the debate, but there is not much time left for them.

11.50 p.m.

Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)

At the time of the negotiations fishing and drivers' hours were the most important items for my constituents.

Reluctantly, because I believed that it was right for the United Kingdom to enter the Community, I accepted the position regarding drivers' hours, knowing that the current problem would arise in due course and cause the difficulties now facing us.

I agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis). The purpose of my intervention is limited. I agree that it is unsatisfactory to have an arrangement coming into effect to which the Government turn a blind eye and say "We are not going to enforce the law".

I want to know the facts from the Minister. My constituency is more than 280 miles—450 km—from virtually all its markets. At the time of the negotiations, I did not see much point in having a regional policy in the Community if we were to have this kind of arrangement. What is the purpose of a Community regional policy if the regions, one of which I represent, are grossly penalised by virtue of arrangements of this kind? I am in favour of being in the Community, but this is one aspect of it with which I disagree.

Does the Minister intend to turn a blind eye to this matter for six months or a year? I understand that he does. How long have transport operators in my constituency got before they know that the full rigours of enforcement will be brought to bear upon them? That is a factual question.

I understand that there have not been any prosecutions in the Community from the inception of the mileage regulations. I do not know why prosecutions have not been brought in the Community. Perhaps the Minister will answer that question. How long does he intend not to enforce these provisions?

Why have we still not got sufficient calibration stations in the South-West? Will he help to speed up the establishment of calibration stations in the South-West? If tachographs are fitted to vehicles, mileage problems do not arise. I understand that there is a calibration station in Barnstaple, North Devon, but there is not one anywhere in Cornwall. It is not possible for transport operators to take their lorries to North Devon every time they have them serviced to have the tachographs recalibrated.

There are special problems involved here. Perhaps the Minister will comment briefly on them in reply to the debate.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Does the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) wish to give a brief explanation of the problem and why the Statutory Instruments Committee has not reported? If so, I shall call him next.

11.53 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to explain why this document, headed "1978 No. 7" ought not to have come before the House as regulations that have been made. It ought to have come before us as a draft on a resolution by the Government asking the House to approve it. Indeed, it should have come as such before both Houses.

The document seeks to amend a pre-accession regulation by which we are bound. It is part of our law. Although it is not in the form of our law either by an Act of Parliament or by a Statutory Instrument, we are bound by it, but the time at which we are bound is delayed. That time is running out. The document seeks to extend the time. The regulations seek to bring into effect a Commission decision. We are not bound by a Commission decision unless we introduce it into our law.

The regulations can be made under the European Communities Act 1972. That Act gives the Government a unique discretion to choose the form in which the regulations shall come before the House. The Government do not have that unique discretion anywhere else in our law. Therefore, the House should watch that discretion and its exercise with care.

When should the Government choose to bring draft regulations before the House for consideration under the negative resolution procedure? Weight should be given to what Parliament has decreed in an Act should apply to documents of this kind. Under the Transport Act 1968, as amended, documents which relate to drivers' hours must be made after a draft has been put to the House. The Government could have done that.

On three recent occasions the Government have brought before the House orders in draft and objections have been made. The drafts have been withdrawn and the orders remade. If the Government had adopted that course we should have had more time.

The Government chose the easy course. They chose to bring the document before the House under the negative procedure. They should have examined Part VI of the Transport Act and acted as they should have acted. Every document should be in draft and this matter should have come before us in draft.

11.57 p.m.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)

Four weeks ago, from 9th to 16th January, my constituency was almost brought to a halt by a strike of 1,200 heavy goods vehicle drivers. It was a strike which received hardly a mention in the national Press or on television, but it was a strike which was disastrous for a port which depends upon the rapid movement of fish and of incoming supplies and a town which depends on food processing. It was a strike which almost wiped out some businesses and which caused 10,000 people to be laid off. It was a strike which was caused directly by the EEC transport regulations of which tonight's derogation is a part.

I am as enthusiastic about the EEC as the next man, provided I stand next to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on my left and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) on my right. I am as happy about the Market as I would be about any other disaster for this country—such as a Conservative Government. So in normal circumstances I would think of recent events as just another part of Common Market madness—something to be laughed at.

It is ludicrous that these regulations, made in October, did not reach us until 30th December. It is ludicrous that from 1st January to 26th January we had a legislative vacuum. It is ludicrous that, because of the misunderstandings and problems, we have to have an enforced "honeymoon" of six months and one year for the 450 km.—the only enforced "honeymoon" in history which cannot be consumated. But the laughter stops when the misunderstandings and confusion that such rushed negotiations produce—the differences over whether they are enforced and the arguments over whether the offences are endorsable—continue to inflict a crippling strike on Grimsby. Then the laughter dies on the lips and turns to anger. People still do not know whether the regulations are to be enforced. There is confusion.

The case against the regulations has been well stated. They are explosive. I quote from a letter from an employer in Grimsby, who said: Should the proposed Common Market legislation be implemented in its final form, or even interim form, I would anticipate that we would need to increase our tanker fleet by one-third and our general haulage vehicles by about one-quarter. These regulations are particularly difficult at a time of pay policy. Worse still, they are inflexible. Everyone wants more time off for drivers, but not time off away from home. The regulations are unrealistic. They will be enforced in a different framework and within a different discipline and legal structure from what will be done in the EEC. It is no wonder that drivers want split licences and the same kind of spot fines and the easier enforcement that has developed on the Continent.

The regulations are ludicrous, particularly in respect of the 450-km limit, which is a back-door method of introducing the tachograph. That limit allows transport going from Grimsby to Liverpool to return to within 10 miles of Grimsby and then to stop. That is the situation which will arise in a year, after the "honeymoon" period has ended.

I support the tachograph in principle. It is just that I do not want it in the cab. But I observe that, in fact, the tachograph is in force already and that, according to the EEC Commission's background report of 21st December, the tachograph becomes legally compulsory after 1st January 1978. So, according to that, we already have the tachograph. We have a situation in which the Commission is perpetually delaying its announced intention of delivering a warning to the British Government to implement the tachograph. It is a situation like "The Perils of Pauline". But we shall be in good company. So far, only Denmark has escaped censure for failing to implement some part of Regulations 543/69 or 1463/70. Proceedings in the European Court are already threatened against every other country for violating some aspect of these regulations.

The oddest situation is the one in which we find ourselves tonight, in which, if we agree to tonight's Prayer and throw out the regulations, we shall find ourselves back with the full majesty of Regulation 543/69 in all its lunacy. Since the Conservative Members who took us into the EEC are in part responsible for that state of affairs, because this is a part of the framework of regulations which existed when we came into the Common Market and which we accepted by the Treaty of Accession, they should have the courage of their convictions, press the Prayer and let us have the regulation in all its pristine folly so we can see the Market for the lunacy it is.

12.3 a.m.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

This is a great night for those who wish to recruit for the anti-Market cause. The whole matter that we are discussing is nonsense, but I ask to whom we are addressing our comments. Perhaps the Minister can be persuaded to arrange for Hansard to be printed in French and German and then to have it distributed to those who have some influence on these matters.

The hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) defended his decision to introduce the Prayer on the principle that the Conservatives did not correct the mistake that he admits his party made, which fits in nicely with the whole tone of the nonsense we are debating.

The regulations affect many areas in Scotland and England. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is affected. My constituency gives one example of the sort of nonsense involved. From my front door to this house is 301 miles by motorway. If one uses the old doddery A30, the mileage is 254. It is, therefore, legal to use the road which was outdated 100 years ago but not to use the motorway.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) will explain to me, in view of his close connections with the union in question, just what is the objection to the tachograph. Why should not a tachograph be put in a lorry? Why should not I, as a citizen, have some assurance that the regulations which apply to these mammoth vehicles are being adhered to in respect of speed, for example? I do not understand why the Transport and General Workers' Union has made such a song and dance about this for such a long time. I can tell the hon. Member that his union's insistence on the regulations will cause some serious financial consequences in my area. It will not affect so badly the areas that are within 200 miles of London.

Who in Europe is in favour of these regulations? It appears that no one enforces them. Will the Minister tell us how many prosecutions there have been in France for lorries doing between 280 and 350 miles? I happen to know the answer. It is zero. I do not know who is in favour of the regulations. I have contacted people whom I have met by chance in various European organisations and have found no one in any European country who is in favour of these regulations or who will publicly say so. Where is the pressure coming from to keep this nonsense of a bandwagon going along the road?

I hope that, within the regulations which exist, the opposition to the tachograph will quickly collapse and allow the West Country and areas such as Berwick to have some degree of fair competition with other regions of this country in trying to achieve prosperity for our people.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that the Minister wishes to reply at about 12.10 a.m.

12.6 a.m.

Mr. John Evans (Newton)

The only comment in the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) with which I agreed was that this is a rather ridiculous way in which to conduct important debates. I am in full agreement with that comment.

When we consider the full significance of the regulations with which we are dealing and recognise the hour of night and the length of time that this matter has been on the agenda, we can only wonder what the business managers of the House of Commons regard as important. In many respects this is something which will affect Scotland far more than the Scotland Bill, and we shall be interested to see what turns up in the future.

I say to Opposition Members—including the hon. Member for Truro (Mr Penhaligon)—that it is disheartening to come to this House on all these occasions when we debate EEC orders of one form or another and find them all protesting about the idiocies which come from Brussels and the Commission, because it was we who were denigrated in the 1970s for trying to put a counter-argument. Why were not Opposition Members arguing some of these issues in 1972 at the time of the so-called re-negotiations? It was because Opposition Members—including the Liberals—did not talk about them then that we are now stuck with the regulations.

The hon. Member for Truro said that no one is in favour of the regulations, and he asked where the pressure is coming from. It is coming from West Germany, from the West German politicians. The reason for that is that there is a great deal of Community traffic flowing through Germany, and Germany wants to turn traffic from the road on to rail. This is the method that the German politicians are using, and it is a very useful one.

When I read the report of the Second Reading debate on the Transport Bill which took place last week, I found that, with two minor exceptions, the EEC and its transport policies were not mentioned at all. I found it incredible, when there are so many issues before the Council of Ministers, emanating from the Commission, that will radically affect transport in this country, that no one should want to discuss these matters.

I have no intention of reading through the document that I have before me. It is from the Commission to the Council of Transport Ministers and is concerned with a working programme for the next three years. There are no fewer than 16 different matters relating to road and rail only. The document refers to the first directive on commercial vehicle taxation systems, uniform principles for the calculation of railway costs, direct tariffs for railways, road vehicle weights and dimensions, the setting of deadlines for and conditions of railways' financial plans, plans of action on social regulations for road transport conditions to be pressed ahead as soon as possible, and so on. There are many more subjects. All those are in the transport field, yet in the Transport Bill in the House of Commons we did not manage to discuss any of them.

I could scarcely believe my eves when I read the hon. Gentleman's Prayer to annul the regulations. I noted his point that this was the only way in which to get a debate. Whether that is true, I do not know, but I was surprised that 60 colleagues signed the motion. Surely this can be done through the usual channels. Certainly one assumes, from what the hon. Gentleman said, that he would have insisted that this vitally important matter should be debated.

The regulations will give us a temporary derogation for three years. Council Regulation (EEC) No. 543/69 comes fully into operation on 1st January 1981. Whereas the regulations will reduce the continuous driving time to four and a half hours, the Council regulation provides for four hours. The daily driving time in our regulations is nine hours and in the Council regulations it is eight. The comparative figures for the driving week or fortnight are 54 hours and 106 hours in our regulations and 48 and 92 in Regulation No. 543/69. These figures have a considerable impact on road haulage costing.

For passenger transport there is a difference. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was clearly successful in persuading his European colleagues in the Council of Transport Ministers that there would be cataclysmic effects on our transport system. The Council regulation does not distinguish between drivers of goods vehicles and drivers of passenger vehicles. There is no reason why it should. They are all drivers, even if one is behind the wheel of a goods vehicle and one is behind the wheel of a coach. However, my right hon. Friend is clearly well aware of the cost effect on our haulage system and our passenger transport services.

If the regulations are annulled we shall be in grave difficulties. My right hon. Friend will have to trot back to Brussels and say "I am sorry. The House of Commons would not accept them." The people there will think we have gone mad. They will say "You can have Regulation No. 543/69 as from now." If that happened, I do not know whether we could cope with the strikes that would undoubtedly occur in the transport industry.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that the Secretary of State will be given time to reply.

Mr. Evans

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend wants to reply, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but we were not allowed to fix the time for the debate. Many questions will have to be asked, and much more should be said about the regulation.

I finish on a point of fundamental importance. The regulation is about road safety, or so we have been repeatedly told—we have had the matter before us in the European Assembly for two years. No one will decry any aspect of improving road safety. But, although we are saying that a driver may drive for only a certain number of hours, we are not legislating against his taking a second job. There is nothing to stop a driver of a heavy goods vehicle performing his duties in accordance with the regulation and then taking a second job, even driving a taxi or a car.

That is the nonsense of the regulation. Clearly, we dare not regulate the life style of one section of the community alone. The nonsense is that we are not trying to outlaw moonlighting, which is widespread throughout the community.

12.14 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. William Rodgers)

It is not a question of my wanting to reply, but I assume that the House wants me to do so. I should be content to listen to what hon. Members have to say—they have raised important matters—but our debate ends at 12.30 a.m. and I understand that the hon. Member for Wellinborough (Mr. Fry) would like to say a few words before the close. Therefore, I regret that I am in any way curtailing the debate, but there is no alternative except not to answer the points that have been made.

I entirely agree with what has been said about these being very complicated matters. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) spoke of contention, concern and problems, and I would not dissent. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) used the words "ludicrous" and "bureaucratic", and I would not dissent from those expressions. When the hon. Member for Truro (Mr Penhaligon) said that we should like the whole matter to go away, I found it very difficult to disagree with him.

But we are stuck with the fact that if the motion to annul the regulations is carried, we shall lose the benefits—they are important benefits—of staged implementation. In other words, the full rigour of the EEC regime will come into force immediately. There will be no question of my going back to Brussels to explain anything. It would come into force immediately. The effects would be disastrous, as all hon. Members agree.

Mr. Skinner

I thought I heard my right hon. Friend say that if we carried this motion tonight the full force of the EEC regime would be brought in. I had always assumed—I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has changed his mind—that my right hon. Friend was one of the most fervent and fanatical Europeans. What he should be saying, if he believes what he said during the referendum campaign, is that the full force of the European legislation will be brought in and provide benefits for all the lorry drivers and everyone else. Why is he not saying that?

Mr. Rodgers

I did not use the word "regime", he did. I referred only to these regulations. What I have said is consistent with my views. I believe that these are undesirable regulations. We have to face realities, and the reality of the situation is that if the motion is carried we shall be faced with a situation even more unsatisfactory than that facing us now.

I took note of what the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said and I will consider the implications of his remarks, as will, I am sure, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House if there has been any incorrectness in our behaviour. We were faced with a situation in which it was import ant to make these regulations quickly because of the highly uncertain situation. If we have exceeded what was proper, we shall have learned from this experience. I appreciate the important points made by the right hon. Gentleman.

This debate is important not only to the House but to the industry as a whole, and I ought to place certain remarks firmly on the record. Regulation 543/69 was agreed by the original six members of the community before we were a member. The United Kingdom played no part in formulating it, and I think that this is to our credit. The regulation arose from circumstances in the six very different from our own because we have a long history of regulation of drivers' hours—social regulations as they are often called.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Accession, there was no renegotiation of the regulation. Strictly speaking, we were obliged, after five years' membership of the Community, to enforce the regulation in this country. The Commission had been given powers to defer it until 31st December 1977. It had no further power to grant deferment and, therefore, it was vitally important that the Government should do all they could to negotiate some amendment or some understanding about the regulation.

My objective, when the British presidency began last year, was to seek a situation in which the regulation could be implemented in stages from the beginning of this year. This was the best that we could expect. I should tell the House that the negotiations in which I took part with that objective in view were almost the most difficult I have known. They were delicate and they involved all other members of the Community. We always ran the risk that by not accepting what the other members of the Community wished we should find ourselves ultimately being obliged to enforce the regulation in full. It was not until 27th October last year, when we had a meeting of the Council in Luxembourg, that we succeeded in getting agreement in the Council of Ministers to a package which had important advantages for us in so far as there would be phased implementation.

Quite apart from the debate of 4th April last year, we kept in the closest touch with both sides of industry throughout our negotiations in the Community. It was essentially a combined operation in so far as both sides of industry and the Government were seeking the best possible terms in difficult circumstances and in the light of the fact that we had been blocked by the inability of the French to agree to the principle of phased implementation at the Council meeting in June. At the end of the negotiations, we secured agreement that we should implement Regulation 543 by stages over three years. The solution was, in my view, and, I believe, in the view of the industry, the best that could have been achieved in all the difficult circumstances. Shortly after the Council had adopted the new regulation, we sent our proposals for staged implementation to the Commission for consideration. To avoid unnecessary upheaval within the industry we proposed two stages over the three years, the first to last for two years and the second for one year, with full implementation in January 1981.

It soon became clear, however, that the Commission's ideas of stages differed substantially from our own, and in the event the Government were not aware of the contents of the decision until almost the end of the year. The actual decision itself did not arrive in the United Kingdom until 2nd January. The necessary orders—Nos. 6 and 7 of 1978—were laid in Parliament on 5th January and, in deference to the 21-day rule, were made effective from 26th January.

It goes without saying—and I agree with all that my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said about it—that the late arrival of the Commission's decision has given rise to confusion and uncertainty throughout industry. I can only say that, in conjunction with both sides, we have done our very best to sort out the difficulties.

The Commission's decision permits the gradual implementation of the Community driving limits in the following way. For buses, the daily driving limit remains at 10 hours until the end of November but is reduced to nine and a half from 1st December 1978, and reduced again to nine hours on 1st October 1979, going down to eight hours, with a provision for nine hours twice a week, on 1st January 1981. For goods vehicles, the reduction to nine and a half hours comes on 1st December 1978, but the reduction to nine hours is on 1st July 1979. The final re duction to eight hours is on 1st January 1981.

These are complicated regulations, and at one stage we had a choice between simplicity and finding a regime which would meet the somewhat different needs of the bus industry and of the road haulage industry. We decided to settle for the best terms we could get, and I believe that both sides of industry take the view that the formula is, in the circumstances, reasonable.

There is one change which has applied from the beginning of January. This is the imposition of a daily driving limit of 450 km for single-manned heavy articulated vehicles unless they are using a tachograph. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, the hon. Member for Truro and others that I think that the whole question of the compulsory use of the tachograph and the possibility of infraction proceedings is a separate issue.

I fully understand that having a 450-km limit causes particular problems in distant places like the West Country, particularly Cornwall, and Scotland. The industry would not have been slow to remind me had I overlooked that. This is a flaw in what is otherwise a generally favourable settlement and is why we have said that there must be a so-called honeymoon period of rather longer—of up to a year—in this respect as in the other cases.

Of course, the industry cannot be expected to digest the details of the agreement and of implementation immediately. In practice, there is a long-standing tradition that, where there are changes in drivers' hours, there should be a honeymoon period of this kind, during which enforcement officers concentrate more on education in the law and giving advice than on attempting to bring prosecutions. I am sure it is right—there are precedents—to follow this practice on this occasion, and it is fully accepted by the enforcement authorities.

Under the new regulation the United Kingdom has certain powers of derogation in respect of vehicles such as minibuses, and there are other types of vehicle and journey to which the Commission has power to agree derogation. We are consulting both sides of industry and all authorities and other bodies concerned about these powers, and it will take a little time before the final decisions can be made. In the meantime, of course, I would not want anyone to change operating practices in respect of the vehicles and purposes for which derogation is possible.

As I say, I have been in close touch, and my officials have been in close touch, with both sides of the industry on these matters, as on other matters such as the question of calibration centres, which also has been raised in the debate. I hope that together we shall be able to sort matters out and correct the misunderstandings which there have been.

I think that it will be quite a few months before we are able to reach finality on the various possibilities of derogation and before we have decided how best to harmonise the requirements of two sometimes conflicting codes. I recognise that this will create difficulties, but, as I have said, had we not been able to negotiate phased implementation there would have been far greater disturbance for the industry and disastrous implications for the economy as a whole.

We shall, of course, continue to work together not only to solve the remaining problems but also, over a period of time, in further negotiations in Brussels, to improve the basic regulation and to achieve some of the flexibility to which the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield referred. That is certainly my aim, which, I believe, will be endorsed on both sides of the House and by all those who have doubts about the present situation.

12.26 a.m.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Even after the Secretary of State's speech, anyone who has listened to this short debate must come to the conclusion that this whole situation is an unholy mess. It is an unholy mess constitutionally, legally and practically. Yet the only way by which the House can debate such an important matter is by the Opposition putting down a Prayer. I feel that hon. Members should be grateful to the official Opposition for having taken that decision.

It is right that we should debate this issue, and I must say that those who criticise the shortness of the debate have much on their side. I hope that the Government will take note of the protests made tonight and recognise that this is a complicated issue with many facets, and that the House ought to be able to return to it on other occasions.

Let me take one example of the difficulties which have arisen. Until 24th January, operators in this country were under the impression that this new set of regulations would do away with the obligations under the Transport Act 1968, and particularly Section 96. Two days before these regulations were due to come into force, it was suddenly realised that the EEC law was not on all fours with the British law.

Thus, we have reached the ludicrous state of affairs in which, perhaps alone in Europe, our hauliers are bound by one set of regulations in terms of drivers' hours and another set of laws governing hours of duty. Our transport operators, therefore, are competing on grossly unfair terms vis-à-vis their rivals in Europe.

It is obvious that this situation must be remedied. The Government have the opportunity to remedy it. At this moment, the Secretary of State is piloting his Transport Bill through Committee. Why cannot he add a new clause to put right that glaring anomaly?

So far we have had a few fair words, and the right hon. Gentleman has talked about consultation. But there is a strong need for action. Without that action, we shall find that industry will stagger along and not be able to do its job properly.

I could give a whole list of practical suggestions. I take, for example, the 12 months' period which is supposed to be the period when no one will be prosecuted. If an operator breaks the distance limit and at the same time offends against some other road traffic law—

It being half-past Twelve o'clock, the debate stood adjourned, pursuant to Order.