HC Deb 19 December 1979 vol 976 cc773-808 10.15 pm
The Minister of Transport (Mr. Norman Fowler)

I beg to move, That the draft Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Recording Equipment) Regulations 1979, which were laid before this House on 29 November, be approved. I shall seek to be reasonably brief, because I know that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to speak. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will reply to the points that may be raised in the debate.

These regulations are intended to bring to an end the controversy and uncertainty that have surrounded the application of the EEC tachograph regulation in this country. It is not a recent argument and it certainly pre-dated our entry to the EEC. Indeed, it was Mrs. Barbara Castle, when she was Minister of Transport, who first introduced statutory measures for compulsory tachographs in the Transport Act 1968. So several years before entry to the Common Market the case was considered sufficiently strong for a Labour Minister of Transport to include it in an Act of Parliament. Although never implemented, it remains on the statute book.

The EEC law on tachographs came in a year or two after that, in 1970. It made the use of tachographs compulsory in most goods vehicles over 3½ tons gross and in passenger vehicles not on regular services. So the position was that when we joined the Community we accepted this regulation as part of our commitments under the Treaty of Accession. We should have begun phasing it in in 1976.

However, we decided not to do this. Instead the then Government introduced a measure which allowed a tachograph to be used as an alternative to a log book on a purely voluntary basis. That was essentially for the convenience of the increasing number of lorry drivers on journeys to other EEC countries where the regulation was enforced.

In 1978 the European Commission took us to the European Court for not complying with EEC law. The United Kingdom's counsel argued before the court that we already had a highly effective system of enforcing the law on drivers' hours which effectively achieved the purpose of the tachograph regulation. That was our case. He also pointed to the substantial costs which introduction of the tachograph would impose on the industry and the possible consequences in industrial disruption.

The court rejected this case. It ruled that none of these arguments could alter our fundamental legal duty under the Treaty to give effect to Community law. The court's ruling was on 7 February this year. On 5 March the then Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers), announced that the Labour Government had accepted that decision. Let me emphasise that it was an acceptance not just by the Secretary of State for Transport but by the last Labour Government, binding at the least those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who were members of that Government. The right hon. Member for Stockton added that he would be consulting the employers' organisations, trade unions and the Commission on a timetable to achieve full implementation. In due course, he said, he would lay the necessary regulations before the House.

That was the positon that we inherited and on 21 May I made it clear that the Government accepted and supported the statement of the last Government. Like them. I believe that the ruling of the European Court is fundamental in this case. Respect for the law and the judgment of the European Court is the only basis on which the Community can function. In other areas we seek to insist that other member States obey the law. Surely it follows that we have to do so ourselves. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, speaking about the European Community on 23 October, said, we believe in the rule of law and we must obey it. That is fundamental to these draft regulations.

I also believe that the opposition to the tachograph has been very considerably overstated. I agree with The Guardian, which said in a leader that the tachograph has real road safety benefits. I also agree with those who say that it probably does more than anything else to eliminate the cowboy operator—the operator who is prepared to break the rules.

The tachograph is a device which looks much like an ordinary speedometer. It is a combined speedometer and clock which records automatically on a paper disc the vehicle's speed, distance travelled and time spent on the road. The intention is that it should simply replace the log book as the main record for purposes of enforcing the rules on drivers' hours. It is thus essentially an aid to road safety, helping to keep tired drivers off the roads.

It can achieve more than this if drivers and their employers are prepared to work together to make the most of it. It can assist drivers to improve their own professional skills and achieve substantial savings in fuel consumption as well as in wear and tear on engines and tyres. It can give management information on the use of vehicles, and help to increase the efficiency and productivity of the operation. It presents absolutely no threat to the honest driver in this country. Indeed, some European trade unions, as I know from a visit to West Germany, believe that it is a positive benefit to their members.

The essential purpose of the draft regulations is to enable the existing EEC tachograph regulations to be brought into full operation in the United Kingdom in a smooth and orderly way. They are the product of long and detailed discussion with representatives of the road haulage and freight transport and bus industries.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The right hon. Gentleman says that the German trade unions have accepted this in principle. Have the French and Italian trade unions accepted the tachograph? Is he aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House know that they abuse the system and that they refuse to operate it in many areas?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Member is confusing two matters. I think that he is referring to the problem of enforcement in those countries. I do not claim that in all EEC countries the regulation is enforced to the standard that we would expect. I understand that the EEC is examining that problem. Many people genuinely believe that it is a safeguard for the driver and not the threat that many people in this country wrongly believe it to be.

I take the opportunity to pay full tribute to the constructive way in which these consultations have been approached. I appreciate that representatives of the industries would have preferred to avoid compulsion, but they have accepted that the law must be implemented, and their comments and advice have been both constructive and helpful.

It is no secret that the European Commission pressed us very hard to give effect to the ruling of the court in what I considered to be too short a period. Of course it recognises that we cannot achieve full implementation of the regulation overnight, but it felt that, as we had already been in breach of our legal obligation since January 1976, there was a strong onus on us to come into line quickly. I am glad to say that I persuaded it to accept that a longer transitional period was necessary than that which it had originally suggested and thought necessary.

Under these proposals tachographs will have to be fitted in accordance with a programme phased over two years, starting with the newest vehicles and ending with the oldest. The use as opposed to the fitting of tachographs in place of log books will become compulsory on domestic journeys from the beginning of 1982. In the meantime, there will be no change in the existing rules which allow the use of a tachograph as an alternative to a log book on a voluntary basis.

I recognise that this timetable is still fairly tight. Its practicability depends largely on there being enough approved tachograph calibration centres across the whole country. At present there are nearly 200. By this time next year we aim to have 450.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Is the Minister saying that this is not his policy and that he is just the messenger boy of an alien institution, over which we have no control, introducing law into Britain?

Mr. Fowler

That is a remarkably silly intervention. The alien institution to which the hon. Gentleman refers was something for which the vast majority in this country voted.

I shall, of course, be keeping a close watch on progress during the phasing-in period. If for any reason the programme should prove to be impracticable, I would not hesitate to take whatever steps appeared to be necessary in the circumstances to put matters right. Let me assure the House that it is no part of my scheme that drivers or operators should find themselves on the wrong side of the law through practical difficulties with the programme which are no fault of their own and be put at risk. But I firmly believe that the job can and will be done in the two-year period.

There are special problems in the remoter areas of the country, particularly in parts of Scotland. It is true that at the moment there are not enough approved tachograph centres to meet their needs. I recognise that this is a real problem and I have already taken steps to deal with it. My Department will very shortly be publishing details of a special new modified standard for centres in such areas.

Islands present a related problem. Even with the modified standard for approval, very few of them could support a tachograph centre. Vehicles would have to go by ferry, sometimes over considerable distances, to have tachographs installed and calibrated. I have no powers to exempt the remote islands from the requirements of the EEC regulation itself. But, under my draft regulations, vehicles based on the United Kingdom islands which are not connected by road to the mainland need not have tachographs fitted until the end of the phasing-in period on 31 December 1981, irrespective of the date of registration of the vehicle. In other words, operators can choose the most convenient moment to get their vehicles fitted within the overall two-year period.

Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton)

The Minister will realise that there are certain parts of the country in which no calibration stations exist. He says that he proposes to make arrangements and take action. Is he trying to assure the House that he will by the end of the statutory period have sufficient calibration stations to cover the whole of the country without operators having to go long distances to have their vehicles calibrated? What he says goes a lot further than any Minister ever before. Does he understand what he is saying?

Mr. Fowler

I sometimes think that the hon. Gentleman should give other Members the credit for understanding what they are saying—apart from himself.

I explained that at the end of the consultation period, in which we took the views of industry—that was the purpose of the consultation period—we came to the conclusion that there were special problems in the remoter areas and the islands. We shall be publishing details of a special new modified standard for tachograph centres in such areas. However, the point is that this will greatly reduce the capital investment in these tachograph centres and allow such centres to be set up. If the hon. Gentleman wants to pursue this matter, he is entitled to do so, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will seek to give him more information. The hon. Gentleman is right: what I am saying is new, and that is why I am saying it during the debate.

I know that many people would like to see the range of exemptions from the EEC tachograph regulation extended, but in this country we have to implement Community law as it stands. If we want changes, they will have to be brought about through the legislative processes of the Community, with the agreement of all nine member States.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

What puzzles me is how his policy squares with the Conservative Party's election manifesto which, roughly translated, said that we must get the Government out of the small employer's pocket, we must release all these energies and allow these freedoms to operate. How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile the introduction of these massive controls—the spy in the cab—merely as a result of the activities of the Common Market, with the Conservative Party's manifesto?

Mr. Fowler

One of the Government's major planks is to observe the rule of law. As I have said, that is exactly what we are seeking to do here. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are not alone in this. The Labour Government also accepted the European Court's ruling. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not, but we do not yet have a party that is able to take in all the prejudices of the hon. Gentleman.

I have taken steps in my proposals to ensure that vehicles will not have to be taken off the road simply because it is not possible to get the tachograph system repaired or resealed immediately. My draft regulations provide a defence against convictions for using a vehicle with a defective or unsealed tachograph if it can be proved that it was not reasonably practicable for the equipment to be repaired or resealed. I believe that this provision, which is also new and which I have again included as a result of comments made during my consultations, will greatly reduce the costs incurred as a result of a vehicle being off the road, and so remove one of the most serious worries of the vehicle operators.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Can my right hon. Friend say how much this scheme will cost, how many additional civil servants or others will be employed, what the capital cost of the scheme will be avid what he likely cost will be to any operator who has to go back and forth to have his tachograph calibrated?

Mr. Fowler

I am not running away from that question. There will, of course, be additional costs on the industry. We know that. There is no secret about that. That has been known for a long time. I am sorry that it may come as a surprise to my hon. Friend, but that is the position—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is the cost?"] The estimates vary considerably, but it is obviously in tens of millions of pounds for the industry.

I believe that it is high time that we got the tachograph question settled in this country once and for all. The mistrust and general uncertainty generated by years of argument have been of no help whatever to the industry as a whole, or to the management and drivers who work in it. The sooner the whole matter can be firmly settled, the better it will be for all concerned. The central question in the debate is one of respect for the law. I believe that that is right; it is basic and essential.

I ask the House to support the motion.

10.34 pm
Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

This seems to be a day for saying that we must obey the law. I understand the point that is being made, but, in view of the statement today on the Bingham report, it is an unfortunate day upon which to make it. The regulation follows from the European Court's decision of February 1979. I do not want to avoid the implications of the statement made by the Labour Government concerning the decision of that court.

The former Minister of Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers), said in February 1979 that he had reluctantly concluded that he must accept the decision and that in due course he would lay the necessary regulation before the House for its consideration. His case was based on the phrase, "in due course". That statement was made after a period of delay, when the Commission was asking for the law to be complied with. As the Minister has pointed out, for three years we refused to implement the tachograph requirement for several reasons. Those reasons are relevant to our decision tonight.

My right hon. Friend said then that he believed in a voluntary system. The House passed legislation in line with that belief and the tachograph was not made compulsory. It was consistent with his decision that the installation of the tachograph should be voluntary and not compulsory. He did not think that the regulation would be helpful to industry, and he acted accordingly. Because the Commission disagreed with the Labour Government's attitude and did not accept the Labour Government's justification for it, it took the issue to court. The court said that, according to Britain's treaty obligations, we should implement the tachograph decision.

Despite what the Minister said and despite all the consultations and decisions, both sides of the industry are still opposed to the compulsory installation of the tachograph. The Freight Transport Association would prefer not to have the tachograph. When opposing the Commission's attempt to impose the tachograph, we argued that it was expensive for the industry to implement and for the consumer. I was interested to hear the Minister say that the cost of implementation would be tens of millions of pounds. I do not know whether I shall shock him, but the estimates given in 1978 were £100 million just to install it. The latest statement by the Freight Transportation Association puts the cost at £350 million.

Mr. Fowler

Probably the best estimate is between £200 million and £300 million compared with operating costs of substantially more. The hon. Member has put the cost of the tachograph with the cost of the vehicle, which is a very small percentage of it.

Mr. Prescott That is a debatable proposition. I shall not pursue the points about the tens and hundreds, but the Minister might like to go away and reflect on some of his answers.

Insufficient consideration has been given to the implications of the compulsory imposition of the regulation. Even if we accept the Minister's argument about a cost of £250 million to £300 million, that is nearly three times more than the estimate in 1978. Goodness knows what the cost will be in 1981, 1982 or 1983, with the present rate of inflation.

Mr. Roger Monte (Faversham)

Will the hon. Gentleman make his argument clear? Is he saying that if there had been a Labour Government they would not now be introducing these regulations? That is hardly credible.

Mr. Prescott

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman listens to my speech before judging whether it is credible. After hearing my arguments, the House will be better placed to assess my conclusions on what action should be recommended. The Minister clearly demonstrated that we should go through the arguments first so that we understand the implications of the regulation before making judgments, although he made his judgment and brought the regulation before the House.

Secondly, the Minister has said that overall tachographs would be safer, but the lorry drivers and owners do not agree. However, I rest my case, not on the arguments of drivers and owners, but on the Foster report published in November 1978. That was an inquiry into road haulage industry operators licensing. The report said: We believe that there are as good and perhaps better ways of spending the money tachographs would cost, on safety. The judgment of the European Court will probably make our recommendations irrelevant, but if not we would recommend leaving it to operators and drivers to agree on the installation of tachographs where both find it useful. Thirdly, the argument is that the regulations will eliminate obstacles to competition, although the owners totally oppose compulsory imposition and it has not been argued that road haulage is a monopoly industry. If anything, there is an excess of competition, which can lead to lowering of standards.

The present checks and laws could perhaps be improved, but, as the Minister said, they are generally adequate, and the compulsory imposition of the regulation could lead to serious disruption. The Government claimed that a lorry drivers' strike would have had wide-ranging effects. If lorry drivers go on strike, there is considerable disruption, as last winter showed. The previous Government were concerned with imposing wage controls, and compulsory imposition would certainly have considerable consequential repercussions on wages, affecting their anti-inflation policy. We also reject the argument that the regulation will eliminate obstacles to competition.

We have the regulation before us because of the European Court's decision. It is said that we are in default of our obligation under the Treaty of Rome. The judgment of the court did not say that the regulation should be imposed because of safety, to remove obstacles to competition, or to make for better enforcement in the industry. It said: It cannot therefore be accepted that a Member State should apply in an incomplete or selective manner provisions of a Community regulation so as to render abortive certain aspects of Community legislation which it has opposed or which it considers contrary to its national interests…practical difficulties which appear at the stage when a Community measure is put into effect cannot permit a Member State unilaterally to opt out of fulfilling its obligation. The regulation is clearly being imposed because it is a constitutional requirement or a legal obligation arising out of a treaty.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Nantwich)

Does the hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that the Government should not honour the international obligations which the Labour Government undertook to honour?

Mr. Prescott

That sort of argument is constantly before us—on fishing, lamb and a number of other issues. We have seen the stopping of the clock in the Common Market. A number of Treaty obligations are not being implemented or delayed. I sat for four years in the European Parliament and was constantly told that import controls were illegal, yet I served on a committee where Commissioner Davignon brought in such controls almost every week. There are many bends and twists in matters relating to the interpretation of the Treaty in the Community. The French understand that much more than us and that is why they have a better deal.

Mr. Fowler

Do the Opposition accept the decision of the European Court? That is a basic question. The Opposition should make their position clear.

Mr. Prescott

If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to the beginning of my speech when I quoted the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, who was the Minister responsible for saying that in due course the obligations of the Treaty would be implemented, he would have heard me make clear that the previous Government observed the court's decision.

Mr. Fowler

Is that the position of the Opposition?

Mr. Prescott

Yes, it is the position of the Opposition. I am bound to say that to the right hon. Gentleman. That is why I started with that fact clear in my mind. However, the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) asked me whether the obligations should be totally accepted. Certainly, in the instances of fishing and lamb, it is argued that we should be sticking to but not necessarily totally observing the letter of the law.

A number of consequences could be triggered off by the compulsory imposition of the regulations. The Minister should realise that he is not free from the consequences which might follow if the regulations are passed. Indeed, the consequences may even be counterproductive to his declared aim to ensure that the regulation is implemented.

The Freight Transport Association—the industry, not the unions—has said: Given a free choice, therefore, industry would oppose the compulsory installation and use of tachographs and it firmly believes that the case for such a regulation has never been proven beyond the point of the UK having to accept such a ruling as part of its condition of entry into the Community. The industry also believes that, if the regulation is accepted, it will be in considerable difficulties. The Minister referred to those difficulties. He referred to the timetable, the 500,000 lorries in the country, the 195 to 200 present centres and the aim to achieve 450 centres. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary winds up the debate—which the Opposition will not be doing because of the time that I have taken in the debate—he will explain how capital costs will be reduced to allow out-of-the-way places to be able to deal with the calibration points. The industry says that it wants three years and it asks the Government to delay the implementation of the measures by one year.

The drivers feel strongly about the spy-in-the-cab proposal. Their grievance is that they have been told that it is being implemented to harmonise Community legislation. But the EEC regulations will lead to longer working by the drivers. They may not be driving for as many hours but they can work a lot longer under these regulations than under our legislation. Drivers could become more tired by the implementation of the legislation. The Minister said that the requirement to keep records for two days only rather than seven will make it easier for drivers, but a requirement of seven days in order to see whether the drivers work their rest-day periods at the weekend is dealt with under our legislalation. Offences on the Continent such as speeding are dealt with differently from Britain. There are fines on the spot which are not recorded at a central registry as is the case in our system. Therefore, the Commission's licensing provisions are affected.

The Commission is bound to have to take into account before granting a licence any speeding offence. So though we may be harmonising provisions on hours with the tachograph, the penalties will be much harder on drivers in this country than they are likely to be on drivers in the rest of the Community.

We are also concerned that more restriction on hours will mean that fewer places will be available where drivers may stop on motorways—or even lorry parks—which may cause them to contravene regulations. That was a point raised with me by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry).

The Minister must be aware that the Commission is reviewing some of these matters. One of the Commission's recommendations to Governments, under the European transport agreement, is to allow lorries that go through any Community country to countries outside the Community to go through Community areas without a tachograph but with a log book.

Already exemptions are being made. On the one hand, the Commission takes us to court and we are told that we cannot adjust the regulations, yet, on the other hand, exemptions are being given to EEC lorry owners and drivers going to countries outside the Community via the Community without a tachograph. That is a peculiar inconsistency.

The position that we shall adopt tonight is consistent. We ask the Minister to withdraw the regulations. First, the full implications of putting this measure into effect should be considered. Secondly, the consolidation of the existing road traffic laws and the offences under them should be considered. If the Government wish to harmonise them, it should be done through the Transport Bill that is now being considered in Committee.

Thirdly, the implications of the Foster report on control of lorries should be considered. Fourthly, the Government should await the outcome of the referendum that the trade unions are conducting to decide whether industrial action should be taken because of the imposition of this regulation. I believe that the final decision will be made this week.

Finally, the Government should mitigate the cost to the industry and the consumer of the imposition of the regulation. If it is not withdrawn tonight, the inevitable conclusion drawn by the industry will be that Parliament is forcing the regulation down its throat, not for safety reasons or better control on competition, but because of an obligation under a Treaty for which we must all pay. The Minister could mitigate the effects of the regulation by withdrawing it tonight.

10.52 pm
Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)

I want to talk about the special problems which these regulations will pose for my island constituents.

On 12 November I asked the Minister whether any special consideration could be given to vehicles based on the Scottish islands, and my right hon. Friend said in his reply: No exemption is provided in the EEC tachograph regulations…and the United Kingdom cannot make such exemptions unilaterally. He added: I am however considering what can be done within the regulation to deal with the special problems which implementation of the regulations will present to island based vehicles."—[Official Report, 12 November 1979; Vol. 973, c. 460.] Indeed, my right hon. Friend has been as good as his word, at least in part, in that in the regulations vehicles on the islands off the coast of the United Kingdom, other than the Isle of Wight, will have until 31 December 1981 before having the tachograph fitted. But that is only a concession to put us in the group at the end of the table. Vehicles registered before 1 August 1973 have until 1981, so we are merely put into that category.

I welcome this concession, because it will help my island constituents, but the extent of it is not great and does not deal with the long-term and continuing problem that the tachograph will impose on these islands. It is not only the fitting of the tachograph that is the problem, but the need for recalibration two or three times a year, and the need for resealing each time the seal is broken. Each time that happens on an island the lorry will have to go to the mainland to the nearest calibration centre. If a fault occurs in a tachograph, the vehicle cannot be used again until it has been to the centre and the fault has been rectified. Considerable difficulty and chaos will be caused on the island.

The island of Islay is known to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. If a 16-ton lorry based on that island had to go to the nearest calibration centre at Glasgow, it would take at least two days to reach the centre. It would leave the island at the beginning of the first day and it would perhaps return to it at the end of the second day. The total cost for a £10 test fee would be £264. That assumes that when the driver reaches the calibration centre he will be able to drive straight in. If he is not able to do that, he will be on a three-day visit to the mainland. That will increase the cost to over £300.

I am pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend is aware of the special problems of the islands. However, as the House may know, our current United Kingdom legislation on plating and testing makes a special exemption for island-based vehicles. I cannot understand why the tachograph legislation cannot make a similar exemption. If we have to persuade our EEC colleagues to do that, let us set about persuading them. I fail to understand what influence a lorry based for the whole of its working life on the island of Mull has on free trade between the partners of the European Economic Community.

I support the principles and ideals of Europe, but it is this sort of bureaucracy that brings the Community into considerable disrepute. Despite some of the remarks by Labour Members, I appreciate that on long and medium haul journeys there are some major safety positives to be gained from fitting tachographs in lorries. As a Member who represents an agricultural constituency and wishes to see the French obeying the rules of the Common Market on mutton, I recognise that we are under a similar obligation to do likewise in respect of tachographs. However, I make a special plea to the Minister and the people of Europe on behalf of my island constituency. If what I am seeking can be met by the instrument before us or by the plating and testing regulations, surely it can be met by the ongoing regulations that govern the tachograph.

I do not see the Common Market breaking apart by making such a small exemption for the islands round our coast. The small exemption that I seek would be of great benefit to my island constituents. If made, it would show that the Common Market is concerned with the remote areas of the United Kingdom. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to give my constituents and one some hope that the Government will press our case on our European partners and ensure that they look favourably on the making of an exemption for my island constituency.

10.58 pm
Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

I declare an interest as a sponsored Member—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield). I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that.

Mr. Huckfield

I accept, of course, what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I declare an interest as a sponsored Member of the Transport and General Workers'Union. I have close connections with the Birmingham and district 5/35 commercial branches. Members of the branches, as some of my hon. Friends know, and as I think the Minister knows because some members live in his constituency, have been vociferous in their opposition to the introduction of the tachograph legislation that is now proposed.

The magnitude of the problem over which the Minister thinks he can skate lightly has not yet been revealed. We are talking about the introduction of tachographs in about 600,000 vehicles. The bulk of the installations will have to be completed in less than two years. The timetable is January 1980 to October 1981. I do not make that two years.

I am glad that the Minister has been forced to admit that the total cost of installation could be about £300 million. That estimate is on the low side. Much of the equipment will have to be imported. We do not know the price of the imported equipment. We do not know the exchange rates. I am willing to bet that £350 million is a better estimate.

We shall also have all the problems of installation, over which the Minister skated lightly. For example, why must we so slavishly follow the timetable to which the Irish Government adhered? I do not understand that. In a letter of 26 October, the Parliamentary Secretary told me: Nor are we 'slavishly' following the Irish timetable—or, indeed, following it at all. In fact, the Government are pretty well exactly following the timetable to which the Irish Government adhered.

Anyone who takes a cursory glance at the map will find that we are dealing with two totally different countries. The geography, the road network, the whole conditions of transport, the whole infrastructure, are totally different in the Irish Republic, yet we still have roughly the same time scale laid down simply because the Minister has taken it into his head that the Commission attaches importance as a precedent to the timetable offered by the Irish Government.

Who will pay for this in the end? Who will pay the £350 million? It will be the consumer. The Government have already put up the cost of living by 17½ per cent., on their own estimates, by their own Budget. By how much will installations of this kind put up the cost of living again, as a direct result of these policies?

I have always found the Freight Transport Association a very reasonable crowd. Its members certainly are not mavericks, a bunch of wild men. The association has said that the installation period should be at least three years.

We must take into account the vastly different circumstances in different parts of the country. Cannot the Minister understand that it is not just the Highlands and Islands that we are talking about? We are talking about the fact that there is not a calibration station anywhere between Newcastle and Edinburgh. When we talk about Wales we are not talking only about rural Mid-Wales. There are vast parts of Wales which do not have calibration stations. Yet the Minister says that it will be all right as long as the employer has shown that he has taken reasonably practicable precautions. How can the Minister dare even to try to enforce such a condition?

Will the Minister say that we shall have 24-hour calibration stations up and down the country? Are they to be open morning, noon and night? Does he not realise that lorry drivers work at night, that we have overnight trunking, that the bulk of heavy road freight in fact moves at night? Are the stations to be open 24 hours a day, or is that matter the kind of reasonably practicable exemption that employers will be able to plead?

The basic trouble is that this is yet another of those actions under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972 that we have to take. The Minister thinks that he must do it in precisely this manner, and I strongly disagree.

It is true that regulation 1463/70 does not allow for different circumstances in different countries. But I am sure that the hon. Gentleman could have pleaded extenuating circumstances before the Commission, in view of the need to set up the calibration stations, the large number of vehicles and the resistance on both sides of the industry. It is not simply the Transport and General Workers'Union or the United Road Transport Union. Surely it would have been possible for the hon. Gentleman to plead something different.

Then the right hon. Gentleman talks about the abolition of log sheets—the lorry driver's dream. I do not know what he will do with all those gentlemen in black raincoats who wait in cafe doorways at three o'clock in the morning. I am not sure whether he proposes to make them redundant. If so, the guessing game that lorry drivers usually play will have to end.

But it is not as easy as that. One cannot simply put the clock in and take the log sheets out. For example, what will happen to the measurement and recording of non-driving time? Even the most sophisticated clock on the market does not record the time that the driver spends out of the cab. It is a clock, but it cannot measure the time that the driver spends in connection with his driving duties.

Does not the Minister appreciate that even in Germany, where there has been hitherto a fairly rigid adherence to the tachograph and its regulations, there are still numerous cases of lorry drivers working 90 hours a week because the tachograph cannot measure non-driving time? It is not possible to get rid of log sheets in that way. There will have to be some provision for measuring more than one driver. There will have to be some provision for measuring shifts. There will have to be some kind of provision whereby non-driving time and on-duty time—the spread-over period—are measured. But the Minister does not understand that. He seems to think that it is a very simple mechanism—out with the log sheets and in with the clock.

Then the Minister tells us that it is a great safety device. I doubt whether he has the figures to prove that. He ought to know that the accidents occurring to heavy goods vehicles per 100 million miles have been diminishing. I will give the Minister the exact figures. Heavy goods vehicle accidents fell from 202 per 100 million miles in 1971 to 152 per 100 million miles in 1975, so HGV accidents are declining all the time. If the Minister can produce statistics to show that increased safety has been achieved as a direct result of the installation of the clock, I shall be very interested to see them, because we have not seen any such figures.

I rather fancy that the Minister is governed by his haste to introduce these regulations and not by any real need to introduce them. He does not seem to appreciate that there are numerous American and Canadian precedents showing that these devices have been installed purely for management reasons—not to measure hours, not to cut accidents, not to increase safety performance, but simply as a productivity and management measuring device. Cannot he understand that there is a great deal of feeling on the union side of the industry that this is the reason why a good many employers would like to introduce these devices in this country—not as an aid to safety, not to reduce accidents, but simply as an aid to management?

The Minister ought to know something of what a modern tachograph can do. It is not simply a clock in the speedometer. Does he know that the kind of device that he proposes to instal in the lorry driver's cab can, for example, measure whether a lorry driver started off five minutes late, whether he broke the speed limit by 2 mph, whether he forgot to switch over, whether he put down the wrong mileage on his sheet to London, whether he misspelt the destination town, whether he was caught opening the clock when he should not have been, whether he stopped on an unauthorised break, whether he took too long changing over, whether he took too long before setting out, whether he took too long roping down, whether he overslept by eight minutes, whether he changed into the wrong gear, whether he was too heavy on the brakes, or whether he went up and down the gearbox too rapidly?

All those can be measured on the tachographs which are on the market—and that is before the admission of the silicon chip into the tachograph. We shall soon have a tachograph that can tell the colour of the driver's socks. That is the kind of technological progress being made in the industry.

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman is making a fundamental case against the tachograph. Unlike many other hon. Members who will speak in the debate, the hon. Gentleman was a member of the last Administration. Did he accept the recognition by the then Secretary of State for Transport and his own Govern- ment of the European Court's decision on the tachograph? If he did not, why did not he resign?

Mr. Huckfield

I am quite clear on what my hon. Friends have said. I believe and they believe that there is no need to introduce the tachograph in this fashion. That is the position which has been adopted, and that is what was said from the Opposition Front Bench. It is quite conceivable to go to the European Commission to plead the extenuating circumstances that we have in this country. There is no need to adhere slavishly to the kind of pattern and timetable that were followed by the Irish Government.

I shall finish with this question, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I realise that other hon. Members wish to speak. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman understand that the Italians get round this by a procedure of fines, bribes and fiddles on the spot? I could tell him a few, if he wishes to know them. Cannot he understand that the French get round it by having a man in the firm whose permanent job is to pay the fines. Cannot he understand that the Belgians get round it simply by ignoring the regulations? Does he not know that the Belgians, until fairly recently, had a driving limit of 1,200 hours over six months governing lorry drivers? How the Dutch get round it, we shall never know. No one understands how the Dutch manage to make their haulage rates per ton so cheap.

I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that there is widespread abuse. There are widespread fiddles and widespread evasion on the Continent. I do not see why both sides of the British road haulage industry should be so severely penalised in this way.

11.11 pm
Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)

I consider the tachograph to be a totally unwelcome, unsatisfactory and expensive European fact of life. When that is accepted, we must make the best use of this measure.

The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) seemed to pose all the reasons against but offered no real practical solutions for. It is vital that, if this measure has to be accepted, it is accepted with practical realism to make the best of an undoubtedly bad job. Its strength is the availability of legal and practical analysis of events shown on the sheet. For those hon. Members who have never seen it—I suspect there are many—I have some in my possession.

Its weakness, however, is the high cost of well over £350 million a year and the inevitable bureaucracy that will be involved. I suggest, therefore, that flexibility is the only answer to the problems. I welcome the flexibility my right hon. Friend has shown in the changes he has made in the regulations as a direct result of the observations of practical people who have to live with it. One example is that the sheets have to be retained only for two days.

I should like to ask hon. Members whether, having seen the sheet, they consider it would be practical for it to be kept for a longer period in someone's pocket. I have had 18 years' working experience. Hon. Members should perhaps try for themselves.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that it is practicable for the police, trying to enforce driving hours regulations, to find out whether a driver has had a rest day in the last seven if there is only a two-day log?

Mr. Mills

The right hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that, while the driver has to keep the sheet for only two days, for all practical purposes the employer keeps it on a spike in his office. The right hon. Gentleman's point has no validity.

I wish to be brief as I know that a number of hon. Members wish to contribute. Flexibility is needed by the haulage industry in its use of the benefits. I have seen an analysis showing the accident benefits. This defies other forms of analysis. It is a real benefit. Flexibility is needed by the Ministry of Transport, perhaps going beyond that shown by my right hon. Friend. Tachographs represent the least acceptable face of our membership of the European Community. It is tragic that in the latest green Euro-document this represents the only contribution to European transport. New horizons are not created in this way.

Making the best of a bad job leaves some questions to be answered by my right hon. Friend. How will the regulations affect crews of two or three? Will they still have to use the EEC log books? Or will one driver use the tachometer sheet?

It is vital that flexibility is shown over the number of TCCs. I have discovered that in my constituency of Meriden, which encompasses a large stretch of the M6 and all the M42, save about 10 miles, there are at present no TCCs. The hon. Member for Nuneaton might be interested to know that.

I feel strongly that, by the time the necessity to fit tachographs is arrived at, we must ensure that there are either relaxations or sufficient TCCs to do the job. The nearest to my constituency is in Birmingham. I ask my hon. Friend to define more clearly those valuable suggestions that he has already made in the proposed section 97A on this point and how he thinks the term "reasonably practicable" will be interpreted.

I should also like a repair to a damaged tachometer or a broken seal to be considered on an exemption basis by the road hauliers themselves on a temporary basis, particularly in the first two years up to 1984 in which the regulations will apply.

I also ask my hon. Friend to say whether fork-lifts and dump trucks over 3½ tonnes will still require tachographs, as many of these will undoubtedly not have to leave factories, so it seems irrelevant to have them.

Cheap haulage is essential if we are to achieve the consumer prices that we want. While implementing the regulations—it seems to me that we have no choice, and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who say anything else must be living in the sand—could we not consider a period of two years' grace during which we interpret "reasonably practicable" in a free, gentle and reasonable way? If we have no choice with these regulations, I suggest that that kind of flexibility is the only answer to the points raised by the trade unions and the road hauliers.

11.17 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)

The essence of the argument against the tachograph generally is that it is being imposed on us as part of the mindless drive towards standardisation stemming from the Common Market.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made out a telling case against the pressure that has been put on this country. Therefore, I hope that he will join me in opposing these regulations and the pressure that has been imposed on us. This pressure takes no account of national circumstances, particularly our safety record of heavy goods transport. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) pointed out, our safety record is very good and is getting better. Indeed, in many instances it is better than the records of many countries that use the tachograph.

There is a danger that the tachograph could be detrimental to our safety record, because it allows eight hours' driving time. That is what it is regulating. It is not regulating the stresses, strains, pressures and exhaustion produced by preparation and loading time and all the other activities imposed on drivers. These aspects and the effect on a driver's constitution are not measured. All that is measured is eight hours' driving time, and that is permitted. Therefore, the use of the tachograph makes possible a posse of exhausted, strained and stressed drivers driving vehicles with mechanical safety devices in their cabs designed to measure safety.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not under the misapprehension that we are changing the drivers' hours regulations in some way. I am sure that he appreciates that the restriction is eight hours' driving time whether measured by a log book or a tachograph. We are arguing only about the device that measures drivers' hours.

Mr. Mitchell

I would argue that there is a conflict with our regulations. I suggest that our approach is better, because of our regulations, than this mechanical recording device which is to be installed in the cab of a vehicle. It takes no account of the stresses and strains on the driver or of the reality of accidents that usually occur in the first two hours in areas near to base. These pressures are not measured by the tachograph. I do not accept the safety argument for the tachograph.

On the basic argument, I should like to emphasise a local note. I cannot speak for national pressure and interest groups, but I can speak about the opinion of the two sides of the industry in my constituency—an area with important transport interests that will be vitally affected by the use of this device. Those interests feel that this device is being imposed on them without their consent. Indeed, both sides of the industry locally view it with reluctance and hostility. They see it as interference with the present balance. On my assessment, the employers are more against than for the tachograph. Most of them if they have an attitude towards it at all, regard it as a nuisance which could upset the delicate balance of negotiations in the industry.

The Common Market is imposing not only personal surveillance in the cab but complete interference in collective bargaining in this one industry alone. That is resented on both sides of the industry. Employers see the possibility of the delicate balance being upset by this intrusion.

The opinion of the drivers has been demonstrated all too clearly by the fact that Grimsby suffered from a long, difficult and expensive stoppage over the tachograph in January 1978. For a whole week the port and town were brought to a halt by a drivers' strike localised to the area and precipitated by the fear that the tachograph was to be imposed on them.

The tachograph was part of the complex of feelings and complications which produced the strike of January this year. We have therefore suffered two serious strikes caused by the tachograph. The owner drivers see it as yet another unnecessary restriction on their operations.

The threat to the industry caused by the tachograph—resented in my constituency—poses other problems. The tachograph regulations do not operate in the same framework of law enforcement as is applicable to the rest of the country. We have a much stricter framework of enforcement in this country than in Europe and a machine designed to operate in a more lax enforcement context is now being forced into operation here.

The drivers see themselves as the forgotten men of industry. They know that British industry depends on lorry drivers, but they see themselves badly treated as a group. This feeling of alienation was one of the causes of the transport strike of last January. They feel that something extra is being imposed on them without any acknowledgement of the problems that they face. There are problems of accommodation, of parking and of keeping on driving. In very difficult circumstances, they are being forced to live a hand-to-mouth existence. In other words, they feel that up to now nothing has been done for them and here is something more being imposed on them. The tachograph is being imposed without any of the ameliorative factors which exist on the Continent.

The drivers say that if the tachograph is to be imposed on them they should enjoy the same advantages as their colleagues on the Continent. There should be on-the-spot, or, at least, seven-day fines. Why should drivers have to travel down to South Wales from Grimsby for court proceedings when that kind of disadvantage is not faced by lorry drivers in Continental countries?

Our lorry drivers want standard fines and split licences so that offences committed in the private sphere do not necessarily count against a man's job. They want to enjoy the same advantages as Continental drivers if they are to be forced to accept the tachographs.

There is also a problem of administration and recalibration. It exists because there are not enough calibration centres. Though the number is to be increased, there will still be the problem of lost time. Recalibration is necessary not only for a breakdown in the tachograph itself but with any difficulties with the speedometer cable, the gear box and even, I understand, if there is a puncture in the drive wheel tyres. All this will cause queues at calibration stations with resulting lost time in an industry whose economy depends critically on making the maximum use of its vehicles.

Lost time for a driver is lost time for the industry and there are not enough calibration stations. Even the extra provision of such stations will not benefit a place such as Grimsby which has only one calibration station within reasonable distance and which will face long queues of waiting drivers.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mitchell

I am sorry, but time is short and I cannot give way.

If the Minister cannot eliminate the queues at his own testing stations, how can he provide an adequate calibration service for an industry which will be under strain?

We receive a trickle of reports from the Continent about fiddles with the tachograph. The Minister has given full answers to a series of questions which I tabled. I was prompted to ask those questions by drivers in Grimsby. We have heard of how Continental drivers use duplicate discs, throw-out discs and how companies hire unemployed men and use their names to back a disc. We have not heard how such fiddles can be eliminated in Britain.

The device is being forced upon us. We are unprepared to operate it. The industry does not want it. It regards it as another grievance on its grievance-littered back. The timetable is not of our choice. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton said that we were close to the Irish timetable. It was argued in the Irish debates against the tachograph, to paraphrase Robert Emmet, "Let no man count my mileage whereas no man who knows my mileage dare not question it. Let not ignorance of machinery harrow my way to the grave".

I do not wish to end on such a note as that, but I mention it only because of the Irish precedent and the timetable that we must follow.

The industry believes that it labours already under a series of grievances. It sees this as another unnecessary intrusion into its complex labour relations and its already sophisticated and adequate enforcement machinery. I share the industry's frustration. When told that the industry does not want the tachograph, hon. Members are forced into making half apologies and inadequate explanations. We have to say that it is necessary because of the European Court's ruling. It is another example of how Parliament has lost control over our destiny. We are in an inadequate position to deal with an industry which is angry about this device.

11.27 pm
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Given a free choice, almost no hon. Member would support the compulsory introduction of the tachograph. However, we have no free choice. The Freight Transport Association states: Given a free choice, therefore, industry would oppose the compulsory installation and use of tachographs and it firmly believes that the case for such a regulation has never been proven beyond the point of the UK having to accept such a ruling as part of its condition of entry into the Community. The association has opposed this measure for a long time. It states: Nevertheless…UK operators now accept that they have no alternative but to follow the ruling of the European Court and that the regulations before the House are an inevitable consequence of that ruling. That is our position. We have no alternative but to follow the ruling of the European Court. That is a sad and sorry situation, but it is a fact of life.

I sympathise with many hon. Members who object to the tachograph and object in principle to the Treaty of Rome. Of course they find this unacceptable. But they must understand that the Labour Party committed its Government to accepting the ruling of the European Court. The Freight Transport Association, in its document, makes it quite clear. It says: we recognise that Parliament cannot amend the regulations before it". Labour Members are deceiving their supporters and the House if they believe that we have any option. Many of us might regret the current situation. The simple question we have to ask is: while the Community exists in its present form, and we are members of it, do we or do we not respect the rule of law? This matter has been to the European Court. There have been efforts made by successive Governments to try to gain time and to amend the position for our benefit.

Can we honestly complain about the French disobeying the rulings of the European Court over lamb and then refuse to recognise its rulings in respect of another matter? The position is unpalatable for almost all of us, but we cannot alter things. It is wrong of Labour Members to try to put forward a different proposition.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, here again, we have a proposal which is not in the interests of this country but which we must accept simply because we are members of the Common Market?

Mr. Moate

The position is that £350 million in unnecessary costs will be imposed upon industry. There is no disguising that. Eevery hon. Member has to answer the question: do we or do we not believe in the rule of law? We might, many of us, wish to change that law, and we ought to do so. Until we change that law—and it might come sooner than many of us expect—we have no option but to accept the situation. Let us try to gain time, exemptions and flexibility.

The Labour Government were forced into accepting these proposals. This Government are in exactly the same position. We are carrying out their inheritance as much as our own. We have no option but to proceed. The whole House ought to be supporting my right hon. and hon. Friends in respect of these regulations which are being imposed upon us. They will produce very little benefit. There will be some benefit in some areas, perhaps. Generally speaking, they will be a considerable disadvantage to this country. They arise from our Treaty obligations.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

Does my hon. Friend agree that tachographs are already in use in about 10 per cent. of lorries in use in this country and that many managements and unions who successfully operate those fleets claim that they represent a considerable benefit, not least a financial benefit?

Mr. Moate

I conclude by saying that many of us would accept that, voluntarily installed, throughout many parts of industry these devices would be beneficial. To act compulsorily is wrong. Compulsion would normally be opposed by this House. In these circumstances, as a result of a pre-accession obligation—undebated at the time of accession and arising from an unamendable Bill—we have no choice. The proposal deserves our support and that of the Opposition.

11.33 pm
Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)

I wish briefly to convey to the House specific areas of concern about the tachograph which have been put to me by both sides of the road haulage industry in my constituency—an industry based upon important firms and the port of Goole. I have heard considerable doubt expressed as to the viability of the timetable laid down on page 4 of the regulations. Doubt has been expressed as to whether there are sufficient tachometers and whether they can be installed and calibrated in time.

Although the Minister said that he would display a measure of flexibility in implementing these provisions, it does not appear to me, from reading the regulations, that the flexibility rests with him. The flexibility will rest with the enforcing authorities. He is not in a position to tell us whether the authorities will fail to abide by the letter of the regulations. The article dealing with reasonable practicability, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) referred, relates not to the installation of the tachometers but to keeping them in good repair. We shall run into a problem over the timetable for installing these pieces of equipment.

Secondly, I have heard some concern expressed about the admissibility of the tachograph record as evidence in courts of law. The proposed section 97Bwhich is set out on page 3 of the regulations says that it would be admissible evidence under the part of the Transport Act 1968 to which the new section will belong. Does this mean that, in relation to other road traffic offences which are not in that part of that Act, the tachograph will not be regarded as admissible evidence in a court of law?

11.35 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

If the regulations are approved tonight, the use of the tachograph will become compulsory in this country by 31 December 1981. To begin by expressing a purely personal opinion, I suspect that when we reach that stage, and thereafter, it will be difficult to remember what all the fuss was about when it came to installing tachographs.

I accept that at present there is a great deal of concern about tachographs.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

If that date is reached and it is found that, because of manufacturing problems and the question of calibration, it is not possible for all the vehicles to which the regulations apply to be so fitted, will the Minister give an undertaking that he will not put the British transport industry into a situation where it has to take vehicles off the road in order to comply with the law?

Mr. Clarke

My right hon. Friend said in his opening speech that he would consider the position if that arose. We are certainly prepared to be flexible, but flexible within the two-year limit which has been achieved by my right hon. Friend as a result of hard negotiations with the Commission and which, I can assure the House, is not the time limit which the Commission would have preferred. Within that time limit, there will certainly be flexibility, but the time limit has been arrived at following consultations. It is our belief—it is the only basis on which we put the regulations forward—that there should be no practical problems in implementing the regulations.

Let me tell the House why I think that some of the concern which is expressed about the tachograph will prove to be misplaced. Obviously there is great concern about the tachograph. There is great concern about heavy lorries generally amongst the general public and those who drive heavy lorries. The first concern must be road safety. I acknowledge that, as the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) said, the road safety record of heavy goods vehicles is steadily improving. In order to maintain those safety standards, we have rules on drivers' hours. There is universal acceptance of those driver's hours. It is desirable, in the interests of the safety of lorry drivers and members of the public, that an eight hours' driving maximum is adhered to.

What we are talking about, therefore, is what means are to be used to measure the maximum period. The debate is about whether we should stick to the traditional British log book or move to the European and other international standard tachograph.

Mr. Les Huckfield rose

Mr. Clarke

May I deal first with the points raised by other hon. Members? If I give way to interventions, I shall not reply to those who have spoken in the debate. I have already referred to the hon. Member.

Let me deal with what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said about the penalties imposed on British drivers and with what the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said about the differences between penalties here and those in the rest of Europe. The penalties for breaches of the drivers' hours regulations are our existing penalties. Nobody is talking about relaxing the penalties on drivers for breach of the drivers' hours regulations. They are not affected by these regulations. We are talking about merely whether the necessary records should be kept for enforcement of drivers' hours by somebody writing down in a log book what he has done, or by having a speedometer-type device with a card which records what is done and making manual records at times—for instance, for a driver to record his duty time in the usual way when he takes the tachograph card out of the machine.

I come to the question of cost which was raised by the hon. Members for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) and for Kingston upon Hull, East. There is great concern about the cost.

As my right hon. Friend frankly conceded, there is no escaping the fact that considerable capital and running costs will be involved. We do not dispute the global figures that have been put forward, but they are all extremely vague. I do not dispute that they are of the magnitude of £100 million, £200 million or £250 million. But they must be viewed against equally vague total figures of £15,000 million in relation to the operating costs of vehicles. That is an extremely loose estimate on which I would not rely, but it is of the right order.

Let me try to produce some realistic figures, because all the others are extremely vague. We estimate that for a particular vehicle the fitting of a tachograph would cost about £300, and that the annual cost of recalibrating and maintaining it would be about £45. The total operating cost differs enormously depending on the size of the vehicle, but it is about £20,000 to £30,000 a year. Yet here we are talking about £345 with regard to the tachograph

Another aspect of the cost is that of the calibration centres and the costs of going to those centres, particularly in outlying areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Mackay) asked about the islands in Scotland and outlying areas generally. I was pressed for more details about the new lower standards that we are prepared to approve to meet this important point. These will apply to new centres that are more than 25 miles by road from another approved centre. That will be of particular benefit in parts of Scotland and Wales. The main difference in the full approval standard will be the standard of testing equipment that is needed. Remote area centres will not require the very expensive rolling road for tachograph testing. Other changes will reduce the need for building works or for bigger premises. Therefore, these changes will make it much easier for tachograph centres to be paying propositions in areas where there are few commercial vehicles. Centres are coming along well in other parts of the country. We expect there to be a network, and that new lower standard for approvals will ensure that it is extended much more widely.

In the brief time that is left I can devote no more than another minute to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll. However, I should like to deal with the question of the islands. We envisage that the network of centres will get as far as the islands. For example, by the end of 1981, with the sort of reduced capital costs about which we are now talking, there could well be a remote area tachograph centre on the island of Mull, and we know that on certain Scottish islands tachograph centres are being built. Therefore, facilities will possibly be available on the islands. If not, lorries will have to go to the nearest mainland station. Oban will almost certainly have one. We do not foresee the need to travel to Glasgow which my hon. Friend foresaw. I hope that his constituents will be reassured that the cost of attending the centre will be substantially less than he feared. That is another concession that we have made.

One aspect which could prove to be expensive is if a seal is damaged and the tachograph is returned to be resealed. However, a person will be able to use the defence that he has gone to a centre as soon as reasonably practicable. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) asked me to define "reasonably practicable". This will be a question for the courts in each case. All that I can say is that it is a familiar phrase in the law. I have been familiar with it for many years in respect of the Factories Acts, and it gives rise to no difficulties there. I do not think that it will give rise to any difficulties under this legislation.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Does the Minister accept that we would comply with the directive and the requirements if under the new section 97A we substituted the sum of £1 for £200 and retained the use of the log book? I shall not go into what that implies, but it is quite clear what we are doing; we are retaining the present system while complying with the directive.

Mr. Clarke

That sounds terribly ingenious, and I am sure that it would have the same measure of success as the previous Government's arguments before the European Court when they tried to avoid applying the regulation. However, I cannot answer that point in two minutes when the hon. Gentleman has produced it from his pocket and read it out.

I turn to the EEC requirement, which is the point of the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is a long-standing opponent of

the EEC, but he accepts the legal obligations that flow from our membership. Of course, this is an EEC requirement. That is why we are here. That is not in itself a reason to be against it. The hon. Member for Grimsby would be against motherhood if that was a requirement of the EEC. It so happens that this is an EEC requirement, although not wholly an EEC requirement. Mrs. Barbara Castle tried to introduce tachographs in 1968. Austria, Switzerland and Sweden now have them, and while we are members of the EEC we must abide by the rule of law. The Community cannot work without abiding by the rule of law. The international community cannot function if Western industrialised countries such as Britain defy the rulings of courts.

We must comply with the ruling and we must approve the regulation, as we have won a good battle with the European Commission to get a two-year period of grace and a sensible and flexible timetable within that period.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 108, Noes 25.

Division No.130] AYES [11.45 pm
Alexander, Richard Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Renton, Tim
Aspinwall, Jack Hooson, Tom Rhodes James, Robert
Banks, Robert Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Beith, A. J. Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rossi, Hugh
Berry, Hon Anthony Lang, Ian Rost, Peter
Best, Keith Lawrence, Ivan Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Bevan, David Gilroy Le Merchant, Spencer St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Blackburn, John Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills)
Bright, Graham Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Silvester, Fred
Brinton, Tim Lyell, Nicholas Sims, Roger
Brotherton, Michael Macfarlane, Neil Speller, Tony
Bruce-Gardyne, John MacGregor, John Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Cadbury, Jocelyn MacKay, John (Argyll) Squire, Robin
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Major, John Stevens, Martin
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Mather, Carol Stradling Thomas, J.
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Maude, Rt Hon Angus Tebbit, Norman
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Mawby, Ray Temple-Morris, Peter
Chapman, Sydney Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thompson, Donald
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Meyer, Sir Anthony Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Waddington, David
Colvin, Michael Mills, lain (Meriden) Wakeham, John
Cope, John Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Waldegrave, Hon William
Dorrell, Stephen Moate, Roger Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Waller, Gary
Dover, Denshore Murphy, Christopher Ward, John
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Needham, Richard Watson, John
Eyre, Reginald Nelson, Anthony Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Faith, Mrs Sheila Neubert, Michael Wheeler, John
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Newton, Tony Wickenden, Keith
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Normarrton, Tom Wilkinson, John
Forman, Nigel Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Parris, Matthew Wolfson, Mark
Fox, Marcus Patten, John (Oxford) Younger, Rt Hon George
Garel-Jones, Tristan Penhaligon, David
Gow, Ian Pollock, Alexander TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Rathbone, Tim Mr. Peter Brooke and
Hawksley, Warren Rees-Davies, W. R. Mr. Robert Boscawen.
Heddle, John
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham) Huckfield, Les Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Skinner, Dennis
Crowther, J. S. Lamond, James Soley, Clive
Cryer, Bob Marshall, David (Gl'sgow.Shettles'n) Spearing, Nigel
Cunliffe, Lawrence Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Welsh, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)
Dixon, Donald Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Golding, John Molyneaux, James Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours and
Grant, George (Morpeth) Parry, Robert Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.
Haynes, Frank Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Recording Equipment) Regulations 1979, which were laid before this House on 29 November, be approved.