HC Deb 15 July 1986 vol 101 cc953-75 10.13 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

I beg to move, That the draft Drivers' Hours (Harmonisation with Community Rules) Regulations 1986, which were laid before this House on 11th June, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps it will be convenient to take at the same time the following motions: That the draft Drivers' Hours (Goods Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 11th June, be approved. That the draft Community Drivers' Hours and Recording Equipment (Exemptions and Supplementary Provisions) Regulations 1986, which were laid before this House on 11th June, be approved. That the draft Community Drivers' Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 1986, which were laid before this House on 27th June, be approved.

Mr. Bottomley

The regulations and the order form part of a comprehensive revision of rules governing the driving time and rest periods of goods and passenger vehicle drivers and the use of tachographs. Taken as a whole, the new European Community and domestic rules will benefit drivers by reducing the maximum number of driving hours in a fortnight from 92 to 90 and by increasing the requirement for normal weekly rest from 40 to 45 hours. There is provision for this to be reduced, but the reduction has to be compensated within a three-week period. The minimum break time for most drivers will be increased from half an hour to three quarters of an hour and it will be made easier for drivers to vary their driving hours so that they can reach their homes and relax properly rather than be forced to spend nights in their cabs.

The new rules pay attention to the needs of drivers and they are not too complex to enforce. The Government are firmly committed to effective enforcement of the existing and the new regulations. The new European Community regulations clarify and enhance enforcement officers' powers to inspect and seize charts. They place a new duty on operators to check that their drivers are observing the rules and to take action if they are not.

We shall continue our vigorous enforcement policy and will be consulting both sides of the industry about ways in which it can be made even more effective.

This subject has been under discussion in the European Community for four years. Most goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes and most coaches are subject to the EC regulations on drivers' hours and tachographs unless they fall within a derogation.

New EC regulations 3820/85 and 3821/85 were agreed by the Council of Ministers on 14 November 1985 and will come into effect on 29 September 1986. Hon. Members will recall that in their draft form they were debated in the House on 3 December 1984. They apply directly to the United Kingdom and are not the subject of today's motion, apart from provisions for permissible derogations, but they underlie our debate.

The new EC regulations result from many months of negotiation and reflect the views of all the member states. We are not entirely satisfied with either the content or the drafting, but taken as a whole we believe that they are a significant improvement on the existing regulations and will bring benefits to both drivers and operators.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Will the Minister confirm that the British Commissioner responsible for road traffic matters and transport matters has indicated that he does not support the regulations and sees no need for their introduction? Will he also confirm that there is no mandatory obligation on the British Government to introduce these regulations and, as a great many drivers see no need for them, will he respond to that feeling by not bringing forward the regulations?

Mr. Bottomley

The Commissioner is well able to speak for himself and give his own views. As for the second part of the question, I intend to cover it in what I have to say.

Drivers in this country are subject not only to the EC rules on driving time and rest periods but also to the provisions of the Transport Act 1968 on duty periods, the total time a driver may work. Drivers not subject to the EC rules are subject to the provisions in the Transport Act 1968 on driving, rest and duty periods. With the introduction of the new EC regulations, it was necessary to re-examine the 1968 Act.

Under the present EC regulations, the existence of two overlapping sets of laws complicates operational planning. Under the new regulations, this duplication would be largely unnecessary since the new provisions on rest periods will on their own effectively limit the hours a driver can be on duty. To retain our existing weekly duty limit of 60 hours would prevent the use of a new EC provision which allows weekly rest to be reduced in one week provided it is compensated within the following three weeks. So we are proposing to abolish all 1968 Act limits on duty hours in so far as they apply to driving subject to the EC rules.

Turning to the four instruments before us, the Community Drivers' Hours and Recording Equipment (Exemptions and Supplementary Provisions) Regulations 1986 will provide for permissible derogations from the two Community regulations; where the drivers' hours regulation gives member states an option to modify the application of that Regulation, take advantage of that option, and require the installation and use of tachographs in certain parcels vehicles.

Regulation 1 revokes existing regulations providing for exemption from the existing EC drivers' hours and tachograph regulations. Regulation 2, with the schedule, provides for permissible exemptions from the drivers' hours regulation. In most cases the vehicles exempted correspond precisely to the categories of vehicles specified in article 13(1). The exemption limit for buses and coaches is increased from a maximum of 15 seats to 17 seats, both including the driver. This will be of particular benefit to private users of such vehicles. Hitherto we have taken the view that private driving was not subject to the EC regulations, but the new texts make it clear that they do apply to passenger transport. This is something we have asked the Commission to re-examine. In any case, our power of derogation will be used to ensure that, on journeys within the United Kingdom only vehicles with more than 17 seats will need to comply with the EC drivers' hours rules and to fit and use tachographs.

Part II of the schedule contains exemptions from the drivers' hours regulation under article 13(2) of that regulation. These exemptions require authorisation from the Commission. Application has been made for such authorisation and the regulation will not be made until it has been granted.

Regulation 3(1) extends to national non-regular passenger services the concession allowing the weekly rest period to be taken after 12 days of driving instead of six days. Regulations 3(2) and 3(3) provide that an alternative break provision can apply to regular national passenger services operating into or out of central London. For those services the three quarter hour break after four and a half hours of driving can be replaced by a half hour break after four hours of driving under certain circumstances. We are considering whether this might be extended to other cities.

Regulations 4(1) and 4(2) provide exemptions from the tachograph regulation for vehicles exempt from the drivers' hours regulation and also sea coal vehicles. The exemption provided by regulation 4(2) also requires authorisation from the Commission.

Regulation 5 applies the tachograph regulation to all vehicles carrying postal articles, other than letters, which would otherwise be exempt. "Letters" is defined by reference to the Post Office inland post scheme 1979.

In regard to the Community Drivers' Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 1986, this draft instrument made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 makes consequential textual changes to primary and secondary legislation to take account of the repeal and replacement of Council regulations 543/69 and 1463/70 by regulations 3820/85 and 3821/85.

I turn to the Drivers' Hours (Good Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1986. This draft instrument is made under the powers in section 96(12) of the Transport Act 1968 to modify the domestic drivers' hours code for goods vehicles which are outside the scope of the EC regulations. Under regulation 2 all of the domestic drivers' hours code is disapplied except for the daily driving limit in section 96(1) and the daily duty limit in section 96(3)(a). The time structure provided by a limit on spreadover in 96(3)(b) is removed. In consequence of the disapplication of section 96(4) of the 1968 Act, which provided for a statutory period of rest between two successive days, the definition of "working day" is amended. Regulation 3 replaces the existing provisions which provide for further exemptions for light goods vehicles with new provisions which have been altered to take account of the fact that all the domestic drivers' hours code, except for the two provisions on daily driving and daily duty mentioned, are disapplied under regulation 2.

Finally, we have the Drivers' Hours (Harmonisation with Community Rules) Regulations 1986.

This draft instrument is made under sections 95(1) and (1A) of the 1968 Act. Regulation 2 provides that the domestic drivers' hours code shall not apply to Community regulated driving but that the periods of driving subject to Community rules count towards limits in the domestic drivers' hours code. Regulation 3 alters the definition of "working week" so that, consistent with the definition of the "week" in article 1 of the drivers' hours regulation, it runs from midnight Sunday/Monday. This change is needed to synchronise the operation of the domestic drivers' hours code with the new Community provisions. Traffic Commissioners will be able to vary the date of making this change to suit the needs of individual PSV operators.

Taken as a whole, besides the benefits that I spoke of at the beginning of my speech, the new EC and domestic rules will benefit coach operators by making possible some longer day trips using one instead of two drivers; by easing the time pressures on some scheduled journeys; and by applying the same rules to tours within Britain as to international tours. They will provide benefits for lorry operators by allowing more flexibility in arranging work schedules, by removing the existing limits on duty time and by exempting operators on small islands, including the Isle of Wight, if the vehicles do not leave the island. They will benefit farmers by exempting from most limits their vehicles when used to carry goods within 50 km of base. They will benefit small businesses by exempting from most limits vehicles up to 7½ tonnes carrying materials or equipment for use in the course of the driver's work within 50 km of base.


Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

The Minister used the word "Finally". I hate to think that he intends to present such a one-sided account of the regulations and then sit down. Does he intend to address the very real concerns, of which he must be aware, that have been put forward by the Transport and General Workers Union before he sits down?

Mr. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman was probably here at the beginning of my speech, when he heard about the benefits that the regulations will bring to drivers. I intend to finish my speech and then to listen to the debate and respond.

The proposals contained in these instruments pay proper regard to road safety and they are consistent with our policy of reducing unnecessary burdens on industry. Trade unions and employers will be able to negotiate together new patterns of work which will allow both drivers and operators to benefit fully from the increased flexibility that is now available to them. I commend the draft statutory instruments to the House.

10.26 pm
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

I listened with interest to the Minister's speech. I was amazed by the Minister's complacency when he moved these very important and significant recommendations. I sense that both sides of the House agree with that statement.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)


Mr. Stott

Occasionally remarks like "rubbish" are made from a sedentary position.

These are very technical regulations, and by their very nature they are somewhat desiccated, as was evident from the Minister's monosyllabic delivery when he read his brief. However, just because they are technical and detailed does not mean that they are unimportant. They are very important. Many of my hon. Friends wish to speak during this one and a half hour debate. Therefore, I shall endeavour to keep my remarks to a minimum, but I make no apology for spending some time upon a very important and technical matter.

Before these regulations were laid before the House, the 1968 regulations provided for up to 10 hours driving at the wheel, up to 11 hours on duty, including driving, up to 12½ hours spread over—that is, booking on and booking off — and at least a half hour break for rest and refreshment after 5½ hours on duty. There were at least 11 hours of consecutive duty.

Because the law for the majority was simple to understand and enforce, it led to an improvement in road safety standards. That is demonstrated by the fact that the United Kingdom has a higher road safety standard than any other member state in the European Community. I am not proud of that, because there are still far too many accidents, but at least we can take some comfort from it.

In November 1984, statements were made by the Government in both this House and the other place about their intention to revise United Kingdom legislation which imposed limitations on regulation 543/69 for national journeys. The contention was that the proposed changes would eliminate the need to continue the limitations. The new regulations have now been published, and the Minister has told us about them.

Contrary to what the Government said, the new regulations will fundamentally change the hours of work and the rest periods, providing for an extension of driving hours and of the working day, and allowing, overall, for shorter rest periods. If the Government go ahead with these regulations, the permutations that will be available after 29 September will, in my view, and that of many people, especially those who drive heavy lorries, be impracticable and unenforceable.

In these regulations, the EC has apparently endeavoured to create greater flexibility for road transport operations and greater simplicity of enforcement, while increasing road safety and improving the working conditions of drivers. Against that, we must carefully examine what the Minister has said. Most United Kingdom drivers and operators are subject to national rules, which apply to journeys within Great Britain in vehicles over 3.5 tonnes maximum authorised weight.

In the past, national rules have comprised EC regulations and certain provisions of the Transport Act 1968. The new Government proposals, which are contained in these draft regulations, attempt to abolish the duty limitation on driving and work. I shall give four examples. We are now talking about statistics and figures. The current daily driving day, under existing legislation, is eight hours, but the Government's proposals will mean nine hours. The current number of hours for continuous driving is four, and the Minister now proposes four and a half hours. Weekly rest now totals 40 hours, and the Minister proposes that the figure should increase to 45 hours. Daily rest currently amounts to 11 hours, and in that regard, the Minister seeks no change.

Let us look at the figures for the current hours. They may be extended twice in any one week to 10 hours. Member states may fix minimum breaks of 30 minutes after driving periods not exceeding four hours for national passenger carriage on regular services. The daily rest periods may be reduced to 36 consecutive hours if taken at the base of the vehicle or driver, or 24 hours if taken elsewhere. Each reduction may be compensated for, en bloc, before the end of the third week in question. I apologise for giving such detailed information, but it is necessary to understand these regulations.

The emphasis on driving time limitations and the absence of any duty limits in EEC 3820/85 and the proposed national rules demonstrate a complete misinterpretation of the origins of driver fatigue. It reflects the commonly held view that driving fatigue is merely a factor of the length of time spent behind the wheel. It may be convenient to legislate for limits on driving times, but there is no empirical evidence to support driving time limits on road safety grounds.

Evidence showing that time spent behind the wheel is not a major factor in fatigue accidents was reported by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory in 1984. In a survey of 2,000 motorway accidents, involving heavy goods vehicles and passenger service vehicles it was found that fatigue was responsible for 11 per cent. of them. But the more important statistic is that 62 per cent. of those drivers had their accidents within 100 miles of beginning their journeys.

This is quite inconsistent with the view that limitation in driving time alone will reduce accidents caused by fatigue.

Research suggests that fatigue accumulates from mental and physical work in general and from irregular working hours which disrupt sleeping patterns and bodily rhythms. Many scientific examples demonstrate that. Dr. Ivan Brown, the assistant director at MRC Applied Psychology Unit, Cambridge, argues: There is a potential serious road safety problem among commercial truck and bus operators, where chronic fatigue is largely the result of bad law, which constrains hours of driving but fails to control hours of work, resulting in widespread flouting of the EEC Regulations and the general loss and disruption of sleep among drivers. There are other examples where scientists have found that it is not the time behind the wheel that counts, although that is important, but the working day and the accumulation of fatigue over that day. The chap clocks on and starts to load his vehicle, drives down the motorway for the maxiumum four and half hours under these proposals, then unloads his vehicle, loads it again and goes back to his depot.

The amount of time that the driver of the heavy goods vehicle is subjected to fatigue is not necessarily manifested in the time that he is behind the wheel. Fatigue is the combination of the time that he is behind the wheel and the time that he is at work. That is the significant point which the Minister has missed. What we must do is to put a duty limitation on the time of work, not on the time behind the wheel.

At some pain to my researchers and myself, I have worked out a couple of examples. As my basis, I used the regulations which the Minister has just annunciated from the Dispatch Box. Driver X takes nine hours rest period, which he is permitted to three times a week, from midnight until nine o'clock in the morning. He begins work at nine o'clock with loading and unloading work at the depot until 13.30 hours. He then drives to his destination, without a break, for four and a half hours. He will arrive there at 18.00 hours. At this point he has been on continuous consecutive duty for nine hours. He takes a break of 45 minutes and at 18.45 pm unloads and loads his vehicle for three hours until 21.45 pm. He then starts his four and a half hour drive back to the depot, arriving at 2.15 am.

The new regulations will allow him to work in this fashion until 15.00 hours on day two when he will have taken his daily rest periods. I have not made that example up. That is what will happen under the new regulations.

Let us take a further example: the abolition of the limit of 11 hours on daily duty. Driver Y takes his daily rest period between midnight and 9.00 hours and loads up at eleven o'clock He then drives to his destination without a break, arriving at 15.30 hours. After a 45 minute break he unloads and loads his vehicle commencing at 16.15 pm and continuing until 19.30 pm. He finishes his days work with a four and a half hour journey home and arrives at midnight. Driver Y would be operating legally within EC 3820/85 and he could repeat this 14½ hour work schedule for three consecutive days.

Over the past few weeks, I have painstakingly worked out what could result, in terms of a working schedule, if the regulations went through. The Minister may say that, in reality, that would not happen because the employer would not want his driver to do what I have described.do not know about that. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that the employer is an enlightened employer, and he may not want his driver to do that. However, there are many thousands of what are euphemistically called "cowboy operators" in the public transport field who would. Moreover, it would be legal for them to do so. They could do what I have described, and it would be completely legal.

There is no argument between the Minister and myself — nor was there with his predecessor — about the importance of road safety. I have stood at the Dispatch Box continually since 1979 and have addressed myself to the issues of road safety. I will not be found wanting by anybody in my concern for road safety. I do not doubt the Minister's concern either. I think that he is going about it the wrong way. I do not believe that it is a political issue. It is a common sense issue. I wish that the Minister would reconsider what he proposes, withdraw the regulations and have another think about them. If he does not do so, in my view and in the view of many people, he will be taking a retrograde step.

10.41 pm
Sir John Wells (Maidstone)

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport will be acutely aware of my personal anxiety about all matters of road safety. I shall not speak about the case in my constituency that is sub judice, except to say that I do not believe that drivers' hours contributed to that great tragedy. There have been other tragedies in my constituency over the past two years where drivers have conceivably dozed off for a second or two. There have been subsequent accidents with the loss of human life where the driver has not paid a heavy penalty, for reasons best known to the courts.

Many lorries from the continent go to the town of Maidstone and its neighbourhood. Maidstone anticipates the Channel tunnel in the foreseeable future, and it welcomes fruit lorries because they are its life-blood. Drivers work long hours. The fruit markets up and down the country keep hours rather like the House of Commons. The people of Maidstone see those drivers thundering through their town at every hour of the day and night.

The picture painted by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) of the changed hours in the two examples he gave of driver X and driver Y filled me with horror and dismay. I was also perturbed that my hon. Friend brushed aside the question that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) raised of the traffic commissioner of the EEC Why did my hon. Friend say that the traffic commissioner could speak for himself? I do not see him in the civil servants' box. I do not see him at the Bar of the House. He cannot speak to the House for himself. As God's representative in the House, perhaps my hon. Friend will speak for God for a moment.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The Financial Times of 5 July reported Mr. Stanley Clinton Davis as saying: I would have been happier if the council could have accepted other aspects of the proposal, notably the equivalent of a full weekend's rest for drivers and a better system for the control and enforcement of these regulations. That is clear enough, as are the EEC press releases. It is frivolous and lazy for the Minister to give such an answer.

Sir John Wells

I understand why the Minister did so, but perhaps in his reply he will come cleaner with the House. Many hon. Members wish to speak and I do not want to waste the time of the House, but I must emphasise the great anxiety in my area about lorry and coach safety. We should like a little better assurance than we have had.

10.51 pm
Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley, Central)

I have a special constituency interest in these regulations. Barnsley is only one and half miles from the M1 and only a few miles from the M6, so we have major motorways running north, south, east and west nearby. Consequently, it is in a perfect position for the siting of road haulage firms. Therefore, in recent years a multiplicity of large and small companies have come to operate from our area.

The Transport and General Workers Union branch 9/17 in my constituency, speaking on behalf of lorry drivers—the branch covers all the commercial firms and has up to 100 drivers in Barnsley and surrounding areas —is seriously concerned about the proposed changes in drivers' hours and rest periods. The drivers are not against change, but the present rules governing drivers' duty periods have been in operation for about 18 years, mainly to the satisfaction of lorry drivers, coach drivers, the TGWU and all the related unions. I am informed that all the unions affected by the changes are strongly resisting them. They fear — the Government appear to have admitted this—that within the regulations a 14 hour day is feasible. They have not agreed any of these changes with the Government, and there has been no unanimity on the new regulations on any of the European Economic Community Committees.

The TGWU sent a letter to the Department of Transport on 13 March setting out its objections to the regulations. It met Ministers on 30 April, and again expressed its concern. In particular, it stated strongly that the greater flexibility incorporated in the new regulations and the proposals to amend the provisions of the Transport Act 1968 would make enforcement more difficult and lead to increased driver fatigue. It is so seriously upset at the proposed changes that it is now issuing warnings to its men that being fatigued kills. It is so concerned about the well-being and safety of its members that its message is, "Sleep in bed and not at the wheel. Longer hours will lead to greater tiredness, and accidents will be inevitable." The union knows that bad employers will exploit the flexibility of the regulations to the detriment of its members. It fears that the effect of the regulations will be more tired drivers, and tired drivers are a threat to themselves and to everyone on the roads, including pedestrians.

Lorry, truck and coach drivers throughout the whole EEC, backed by the International Transport Workers Federation, have also combined to warn about the increased risk of accidents on the roads through fatigue. The ITWF has warned the Common Market Commission and the Council of Ministers that it is possible that a permutation of the new regulations could allow managers to operate drivers on six consecutive days, driving 12.5 hours on three days and 14.5 hours on three days. Two drivers on a vehicle could be on duty for a continuous period of 22 hours with two breaks of 15 minutes, and drivers on international coach trips could be on duty for 12 consecutive days before taking a rest day.

Employers can, and the fear is that some will, exploit the weaknesses in the regulations. There are bad employers and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) said, cowboy operators in the commercial truck business. Therein lies the danger and the unions' fears.

The Government intend to rescind the current 60 hours on duty limitation, and regulation 3820/85 recinds the current weekly driving hours limitation. Therefore, the union argues, driving hours will increase from eight to nine hours daily for all drivers, and, by the introduction of the sixth day working, they could then be called upon to work four nine-hour spells and two 10-hour spells, resulting in 56 hours driving and working in one week. They may not be called upon to operate for 34 hours the next week but what dangers will that one over-tiring and exacting week cause?

That is why the union, in its message to its membership, clearly states that the medical research studies in recent years have shown that excessive hours of work and inadequate rest lead to greater driver fatigue and increase the accident rate. The studies show that fatigue is often the contibuting or main cause of accidents. However, the employers and the Government have not accepted that. Drivers' health, safety and welfare are paramount. As the union states, Unless we can effectively campaign and succeed in retaining United Kingdom provisions for national journeys these will become secondary as drivers fall by the wayside, younger drivers will replace them, this is the practice now happening within the Community who have no on-duty limitations and work up to 90 hours in a week. The Barnsley branch of the Transport and General Workers Union —9/17 branch —drew my attention to this final message which they endorse from practical experience.

The union has painted a very worrying picture. According to the union: There appears to be no comprehension in the Department of Transport about the physical and mental demands on a driver or the effects of fatigue. Various studies of illness and injury have been made. These showed increased rates of hypertension, coronary heart disease amongst drivers plus a high rate of insomnia, headaches, fatigue, ulcers and other digestive disorders as well as musculature problems including pain in the lower back and neck. Difficult working conditions associated with the lack of adequate toilet and meal facilities, noise, traffic, vibration, all contribute to stress-related factors affecting drivers. However, the Department of Transport and the regulations take no account of that.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mason

I am making my conclusions.

My constituents say that they would like to know how rescinding the 11 hour on-duty time can be justified with no practicable means of enforcing the taking of the accrued rest hours. The Barnsley union continues: The change to a new fortnightly limit on consecutive driving will be impossible to monitor and enforce, while the abolition of the five-hour 30 minute continuous duty limit and its replacement with a four-hour 30 minute limit on driving will mean many drivers will never qualify for any break. Drivers will work longer hours. The inability to enforce what remains of the law will allow cowboy operators a free rein. They will compel reputable operators to work at least to, if not beyond, what would be legal. Looser drivers' hours regulations, coupled with a reduced police inspection rate when the Health and Safety Executive take over responsibility for roadside checks on vehicles carrying hazardous loads, will result in a cowboy's charter. My branch of the union has a great deal of responsibility for its membership and it is seriously concerned about the regulations. The Minister addressed the House with contempt this evening. I have never known a Minister bring forward regulations of such importance, of serious concern to many lorry, coach and truck drivers — I speak on behalf of my constituents — and make opening remarks that were an absolute disgrace. I hope that he will rectify the position when he replies. It is incumbent upon the Minister to answer the many queries that have been raised in all seriousness and I hope that he will be able to allay many of the fears that I have expressed.

10.54 pm
Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

This is a matter of great importance and one that involves safety. I am sorry that the Opposition should seek to make strident party political points when we are dealing essentially with matters that go to the heart of our transport system. As one who does not depend upon a research assistant—as the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) did—but who has been involved in industry and seen much of the distribution system, I know that there is a major fallacy in the hon. Gentleman's arithmetic—[Interruption.] I appreciate that some hon. Members may not wish to hear the fallacy, but they should bear with me for a moment.

The hon. Gentleman miscalculated, because he did not take into account the fact that, in many cases, drivers do not load their vehicles. I have visited depots in and around York and met drivers who belong to the Transport and General Workers Union, about which the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) spoke, and I know that the vehicles are already loaded before the measured time commences. If the hon. Member for Wigan is serious about transport—I think that he is, for he is an honourable Member, whom I have faced across the Chamber for some years now — during the recess he should go into industry, where he will find support for the measures.

I shall not rely, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) did, on quoting the Socialist former mayor of Hackney as the source of all erudition in this matter. The Opposition Benches contain much more skill than that on which he could have called.

Let us go to the root of the matter and consider the safety aspects of transport. My hon. Friend the Minister must be due some praise, for an increase in the weekly rest period from 29 hours to a minimum of 45 hours must be of interest.

I would ask the House to consider the equivalent of pilots' licences for the heavy goods vehicle and passenger vehicle industries. In the airline business, the qualified pilot can work only for a given number of hours. He cannot come off a plane, of whatever dimension, and immediately fly a smaller plane or another type of plane. However, that does not apply in heavy goods or passenger transport. Drivers who should be entering periods of rest can pursue gainful employment as drivers of other coaches or even taxis, for there is no correlation on the tachograph between the two forms of transport. I raised this matter in the House yesterday, in the hope that my hon. Friend the Minister would consider it today. We must consider the provision of personal logbooks for drivers. Then we could see the number of hours worked in a week or a month, which must be in the interests of traffic safety and of the drivers. Their periods of rest must be genuine, and not times when they are in gainful employment driving coaches and lorries.

Tourism has not yet been mentioned this evening. If, as is suggested here, there will be an increase in longer day trips for coach operators, and the application of similar rules to British and non-British companies, it must be in the interests of the development of United Kingdom tourism, which is the fastest growth industry in Britain. That is another reason for recommending the regulations to the House.

10.58 pm
Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

I found it no easier to understand the regulations than the Minister did to explain them. As someone who comes fresh to the problem, I am bound to say that the submissions of the Transport and General Workers Union were much easier to understand and a good deal more convincing than some of the Minister's comments. I know that he has valued his membership of the TGWU, and I should have thought that he would have given rather more weight to its submissions on the issue.

The Minister's case seems to rest on the argument of flexibility. and the fact that the new regulations permit daily driving and rest periods to be varied to suit operational requirements. I accept that that can be of great benefit to an operator, or a firm working on a tight schedule to get a job done or a delivery made. I also understand the Minister's point that on occasions that can be of great benefit to the driver, too. It can enable him to drive that bit longer to get home and have a decent rest rather than having a nap in the cab.

However, surely the message from various parts of the House is that flexibility involves risks, and the regulations provide for an almost infinite number of variations of daily, weekly, fortnightly and monthly driving limits and rest entitlements. Against that background, drivers will have great difficulty in keeping track of their own situation and entitlements. Whatever the Minister says about enforcement, it will be extremely difficult for enforcement authorities to keep track of what is going on.

The regulations provide the opportunity for unscrupulous employers, or indeed unscrupulous drivers, to take advantage of them, and to arrange for drivers to work over-long hours and to miss much-needed rest periods and meal breaks, with very little chance of getting caught. Such a situation must inevitably put pressure on the reputable haulier, the firm that is anxious to maintain standards and concerned about road safety. Such firms may be placed at a competitive disadvantage as a result of the operations of less scrupulous firms, which take full advantage of the flexibility that the regulations offer. That could lead to a general decline in the standards of the road haulage industry.

Other hon. Members have said that the 1968 limits that are being removed by the regulations were clear, precise and easy to understand. Since 1968, undoubtedly the situation on our roads has changed. In some ways, it has changed for the better, and in some ways it has changed for the worse. We have more roads, and in some cases better roads. We have more motorways, but at the same time there has been a substantial increase in car ownership since 1968. Commercial vehicles are in many cases carrying much heavier loads than they were then, and they are operating at much faster speeds. All those factors have increased traffic congestion and have certainly increased pressure on commercial drivers. As a result, they have increased the risk of fatigue. It seems to many of us that this is hardly the time to risk aggravating that fatigue by enabling drivers to work longer hours.

I know that the Minister argued on 25 June that There is no clearly established connection between driving hours and fatigue." — [Official Report, 25 June 1986; Vol. 100, c. 242.] That is an argument that many of us who drive either professionally or on an amateur basis will find hard to accept. Whether we argue about that or not, one point that we cannot argue about at all is one put to me by the Woolwich district officer of the Transport and General Workers Union. He told me that under circumstances of congestion and pressure, fatigue can kill. None of us can dispute that. The TGWU quotes a 1985 survey of drivers in international transport, which showed that over 7 per cent. of those drivers had been involved in an accident caused by falling asleep at the wheel. I do not think that any of us would argue with the finding of my local TGWU official that Any legislation to encourage this trend would be criminal. That is an indictment against the regulations.

I understand that after four years of negotiation in Brussels there is an inevitable temptation to take second best. The Minister has accepted that the regulations do not meet all the United Kingdom's objectives. When we are talking about vital issues of road safety, and thinking about the sheer size of the vehicles that are now on our roads I do not believe that we should accept the risks involved in accepting second best. I suggest that the Minister should take the regulations away and produce something that is a good deal more watertight and reassuring both to drivers and to the public.

11.3 pm

Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

I speak in the debate with a constituency interest in having one of the nation's motorways, the M4, running through part of my constituency. The motorway brought good communications to Swindon, and at the same time it brought with it the risks to users of that motorway. It is with that issue in mind that I speak tonight.

The issue of road safety has been brought home to hon. Members very clearly today with the anouncement of increased accident figures for motorways in the past year. Clearly, we must consider that question. I pay tribute to the generally high standards of professional drivers of buses, lorries and other forms of transport who use the major road arteries of this country. With few exceptions, they demonstrate a professionalism and expertise that is a credit to their profession and an essential feature of high road safety standards.

We are discussing the marginal or grey area where the regulations can be broken and bent. We must ask whether the regulations, whether they are old or new can be adequately enforced. I ask the Minister to tell the House, in closing the debate, how he equates greater road safety and security for all users of roads with an increase in the number of hours that a driver may drive on one day, whether it is from eight to nine hours, or indeed, on two days a week, for up to 10 hours. How is that conducive to greater road safety?

Secondly, how far would increasing the maximum number of hours driven in one stage from four to four and a half hours be conducive to road safety, when the break that follows that period is reduced from half an hour to a quarter of an hour? I am not sure what one can do in a quarter of an hour. I suspect that a driver can rush around to do the things that have to be done. Is that very much of a rest? I question the regulations on that basis.

The complexity of the regulations must be evident to all hon. Members. We have heard an explanation from both Front Benches. Most hon. Members would say that an administrator would need to concentrate hard to work out rosters with all the permutations and find out what can be done legally, let alone what they can get away with. I question the regulations on the basis of their complexity.

The advantage that has been put forward is in the flexibility of these regulations. I do not agree with that view. Flexibility, if it is positively and properly handled, can be beneficial. Then again, flexibility can lead to a labyrinth of complications that can be abused.

Finally, how can we be sure that these regulations, if they are passed by the House tonight, will be enforced properly? I would welcome perhaps a departure from his brief, and hope that the Minister will tackle the issue of road safety. Will the Minister say that we can expect to have an adequate level of enforcement of the regulations to ensure that they are not abused and that, as a result, the safety of other travellers on our roads is not put at risk?

I hope very much that my hon. Friend the Minister will take up the point put to him by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) in relation to a personal logbook. That seems to offer a way forward in ensuring that individuals will go by the book, literally. I hope that my hon. Friend will reply positively and sympathetically. I know that it is in his heart to do so because he shares my concern for road safety. I hope that the Minister will tell the House how he sees these matters and these problems being dealt with in the future.

11.8 pm

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Like right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House, and I dare say some from the Government Benches, I have been approached by many drivers from my constituency. I wish that I could convey to the Minister the sense of outrage they feel about the introduction of these proposals. I must say that their sense of outrage would be greatly increased if they had been able to attend and listen to this debate.

An overwhelming case has been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), speaking from the Front Bench, and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason). Indeed, there has been only one speech from the Government Benches in favour of the regulations. A hon. Member thought that it was relevant to pour scorn on the traffic commissioner in Brussels, who holds the same view as we do about the measure. The performance of the Under-Secretary of State has been pitiful and derisory. If the regulations are passed because of that type of persuasion, it will be an insult to the House and will do great damage.

All those who have discussed this matter listened with derision to the explanation of the Under-Secretary of State of what the regulations do: There is no clearly established connection between driving hours and fatigue.—[Official Report 25 June 1986; Vol. 100, c. 242.] What drivel! Apparently, that view is based on a proposition of the House of Lords Select Committee. I doubt that that Committee really believes that. It is especially comic that that statement was made at a time when the other place is complaining that it sits for too many hours and that it is suffering from fatigue. What ludicrous nonsense that is. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will listen carefully to hon. Members' comments. I am sure that he is passionately eager to assist with road safety and to introduce fresh measures to meet that aim. These regulations drive in the opposite direction. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed to proceed with them. If he does so, some of the blood will be on the Government's head. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the regulations and look at them afresh. That is what the House asks him to do.

11.10 pm
Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I am a Member sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union and I am currently chairman of the 31-strong group in the House. Yesterday, following a question by me we drew the attention of the House to the remarks of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport—the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) — in a written reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry). The hon. Gentleman made the idiotic comment that there is little relationship between fatigue and the hours that a driver spends at the wheel. The Minister's response was a carefully premeditated written reply to a written question. It was not made off the cuff.

The Under-Secretary of State comes to his present occupation with a reputation for caring about road safety. He is supposed to be an outstanding performer. We all care about road safety. If the House really cares, it will throw out these regulations. Conservative Members who are listening patiently must share our conservation and concern. They should not hesitate in the name of the House of Commons to reflect people's anxieties. They must say that they will throw out these measures and join us in the Division Lobby in opposition to them.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bidwell

Not at the moment.

Reference has been made to no less a man than the transport commissioner. He happens to be a former Labour Member who represented Hackney, Central. His scepticism about the changes has been recorded. He thought that they were a backward step. The changes have been opposed also by other bodies within the EEC set-up. The measures have been introduced because they have been discussed for a long time.

The regulations are a backward step. Manipulation and confusion will result. Calculations will be changed—for example, the hours of required rest will be changed from one week to another and there will be confusion about whether the hours driven in one week are to be added to the number for the following week. There will be hopeless confusion about the operation of the regulations.

I am disappointed that the Secretary of State for Transport is not present. The right hon. Gentleman is a newcomer to transport matters and I have been involved with them for a long time. I think that I am the senior member of the Select Committee on Transport. Most of the Select Committee's members are currently in Canada studying that country's railway system as part of a study of railways generally.

Commercial road transport drivers keep open Britain's main economic artery and we must be concerned with what they think about the regulations and the views of the union which mainly concerns itself with these matters. Surely the views of the drivers and their union are of great consequence. The International Labour Office has addressed its mind to transport matters, working conditions and safety generally. It has always emphasised that great weight must be attached to the views of employers and trade union organisations, and that above all responsibility should rest with Governments. The Government are evading the fundamental responsibility of ensuring that our roads are made safe by freeing them of fatigued drivers.

Mr. Porter

It would be helpful to the House to know if the hon. Gentleman is delivering his arguments, to which I am listening with great interest, as a representative of his constituency or as a delegate of a trade union.

Mr. Bidwell

Next week I shall be speaking at a public meeting called by my union to draw attention to the grave disquiet among union members and which should exist among the public once they become aware of what the Government are doing in imperilling their position on the highways.

The hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory), who is no longer in his place, has said that he has evidence that some drivers support the regulations. It is significant that he did not produce any evidence to support that contention. There has been ample evidence presented to the House that all those involved in road transport are gravely disquieted by the regulations.

In formulating the regulations the views of the transport commissioner as well as those of the transport committee and the social and economic committee of the European Parliament have been ignored. The social and economic committee is the statutory body that the Council of Ministers is required to consult.

Flexibility for the benefit and use of employers is the proposition that is before us. That is all that has been achieved. Bad employers will be encouraged by the manipulation that is possible of the regulations. Long hours are a killer. They kill the driver at the wheel and those who load vehicles before they take to the highways. Excessive driving hours and working hours lead to fatigue and loss of concentration. The 1985 survey of international transport drivers showed that more than 7 per cent. of drivers had been involved in accidents due to falling asleep at the wheel.

These matters have been well ventilated, and so I shall conclude by alluding to the aims and considered judgment of the International Transport Workers Federation, to which my union, the Transport and General Workers Union, is affiliated. The aims are a proper limitation on working hours as well as driving hours both daily and weekly, which is what the regulations do not achieve. There should be adequate rest breaks for meals and daily rest; the right of drivers to spend their weekly rest periods with their families; weekly rest periods long enough to allow drivers to enjoy a normal life to the maximum extent possible and simple understandable regulations— which these certainly are not—so that one knows what the position is and so that the regulations can be enforced to prevent the cowboy operators taking away work arid jobs. That is the aim of the decent drivers on our highways today who shoulder such a substantial burden of our economic welfare and our road safety combined.

11.19 pm
Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell), I am proud to be a member of the Transport and General Workers Union, which I have been for 34 years, and I am a responsible member of that union.

To the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter), I say that I will be speaking not only for lorry drivers and coach drivers in my constituency but for 100 per cent. of my constituents who are road users.

The regulations are quite appalling. The Transport and General Workers Union has made its views very clear to the Government, and has had a national campaign about the regulations. I found it appalling that the Minister, in addressing the House on these highly controversial regulations, gave an explanation that was less understandable than the explanatory memorandum contained in the regulations. There was not a mention of the enormous opposition that exists to the regulations. There has been a marked deterioration of working standards and conditions for drivers in this country that is dangerous not only to the drivers but to the public.

I wonder how the Minister will answer the figures put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott). What my hon. Friend outlined could and will happen under these regulations that the Minister has brought in under the sacred name of flexibility. This is not flexibility, but a marked deterioration in the conditions of work.

If I may turn to the public, as all my hon. Friends have said, a tired driver is a dangerous driver; that is inevitable, because he is tired. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan put his finger on the point when he talked about hours of work rather than hours behind the wheel. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory), who has left the Chamber, said that not all drivers load their lorries, and of course that is true. If the Government were concerned about road safety, they would have framed the regulations to deal with the driver who loads his lorry as distinct from the driver who does not. Just a little bit of care could have dealt with that. The Government have shown no sign of consideration for road safety.

What we are discussing for an hour and a half late at night after private business, tucked away at the end of July, will kill and maim people in the country. I beg the Minister to think again about the regulations.

As I have said previously when we have discussed harmonisation with Europe, let us realise what we mean by this. It must be borne in mind that the climate in this country is different from that in Europe. It is all right to drive on a lovely July night, but it is a different matter to drive through fog and snow in the winter. There are conditions in this country that drivers in Italy, the south of France, Spain and Greece do not experience. Their hours of work and hours of darkness are different from ours. In Scotland in the winter months most hours are hours of darkness. On the continent the conditions are considerably better and the climate is better. I hope that the Minister will reconsider this and will make amends for the disgraceful way that he introduced these highly controversial regulations by telling the House that he will go back to Europe and will think again.

11.25 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

I declare my interest at the outset as a sponsored member of the Transport and General Workers Union. I confess also—other hon. Members may do likewise— that I did not know that we were in EEC road safety year. It is clear from what has been said in these deliberations and from the remarks of the EEC Transport Commissioner that the regulations will do nothing to promote road safety.

The officer responsible for commercial transport matters in the TGWU, Jack Ashwell, wrote a blistering six-page critique of the regulations to the Minister on 3 June of this year in which he stated: There appears to be a mental block within your Department as to the consequences on drivers' health, safety and welfare". As I listened for 14 minutes to the Minister recite his departmental brief, I could appreciate why Mr. Ashwell took that view.

Reference has been made to some aspects of the Minister's written answer of 25 June to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry). Other aspects of it were interesting. For example, the Minister said: The trade unions consider that our proposals will lead to longer working hours, increased driver fatigue and hence increased accidents. It is true that the flexible work patterns allowed by the new rules may make longer working hours possible for some drivers occasionally, but those whose main work is driving will still be subject to effective limits. There is no clearly established connection between driving hours and fatigue. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) completely demolished that argument. It is clear that these regulations will be a charter for the exploitation of many drivers, that they will assist the activities of the many unscrupulous cowboys who have a presence in the industry and that they will damage the promotion of road safety.

The Minister went even further in his reply of 25 June, for he said: We believe that our proposals are consistent with our policy of reducing unnecessary burdens on industry while having proper regard to road safety. It will be up to trade unions and employers to negotiate together new patterns of work that would allow both drivers and operators to benefit fully from the increased flexibility now available to them."—[Official Report, 25 June 1968; Vol. 100, c. 242.] That shows that this is all about lifting burdens on industry. As we know, that is a euphemism for enabling exploitation to occur as some people make profits.

The letter from Mr. Ashwell added: The 1968 Act dramatically reduced the weekly on-duty hours from 72 to 60 hours. Yet with worse road conditions, greater traffic congestion, larger vehicles, higher speeds overall, all demanding physical and mental requirements on drivers, your Department sees fit to remove restrictions. There is no enhancement in either the driver's working environment or working conditions. In fact, longer hours lead to greater stress on drivers through increased fatigue. Your Department does not even pay lip service to occupational safety and health in road transport. Extending a driver's hours of work is contrary to existing medical evidence. Hon. Members have voiced their fears about the regulations. The Minister's pitiful attempts to justify the new provisions showed that the regulations are completely unsatisfactory and should be withdrawn immediately.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I am sure all hon. Members wish to hear the Minister. May I point out that he hopes to catch my eye at 11.33 pm?

11.29 pm
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I am not a member of the Transport and General Workers Union but I am the holder of a class 1 heavy goods vehicle driver's licence, so I have experience of driving goods vehicles, filling in logbooks and so on which some hon. Members have been talking about.

I also represent a constituency that includes 30 miles of the Al trunk road that is not dual carriageway. My constituents will be worried about the prospect of drivers making their way home, perhaps at the end of their legal driving hours under the new flexible regulations. In such circumstances it is inevitable that people will be suffering from severe fatigue and there will be more accidents similar to those of the past.

We are all in favour of flexibility, but it must be compatible with safety. I want to draw the Minister's attention to paragraph 3(1) of part I of the schedule to the Community Drivers' Hours and Recording Equipment (Exemptions and Supplementary Provisions) Regulations, which says: Any vehicle which is being used by an agricultural, horticultural, forestry or fishery undertaking to carry goods within a 50 kilometre radius of the place where the vehicle is normally based, including local administrative areas the centres of which are situated within that radius. The Minister should ponder for a moment on the flexibility that that will provide in the far north of Scotland which my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) was talking about. The Highland region of Scotland extends to 10,000 square miles. I understand from the derogation that I have just quoted that it will be possible for anyone transporting timber, fish or agricultural produce within the whole of that area to be completely exempt from the drivers' hours regulations and from the tachograph regulations. Can such flexibility be justified?

11.31 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I shall confine my remarks to the element of risk. The risk factor is mathematically calculable. There is a distinct risk that this ceiling could collapse. That is calculable. If any hon. Members think that is humorous, they should remember that the ceiling collapsed in another place, thankfully not on any of the Members and not causing severe damage. There is a risk that the seat on which the Minister now sits could collapse. That is calculable. There is an even greater risk that the seat which he represents in his constituency might be removed. That is certainly calculable.

There is even a risk that the Minister may give us straight answers to the questions that have been put to him and that he may choose a different tactic from that which he adopted on 19 May when, in answer to questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), he frivolously engaged in phrases about frogs, which eat with their eyes closed,… Burkina Faso, the land of the wise men and said: We can say that Anne Boleyn had six fingers or that 18 per cent. of people share their baths."—[Official Report, 19 May 1986; Vol. 98, c. 10.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must address the motion that is before the House. His remarks must not get too wide.

Mr. Cook

I am pointing out the risk that we may get straightforward answers to straightforward questions rather than hearing the Minister engaging in party games in the treatment of the nation's serious affairs. These statutory instruments are being given scant attention. All but two hon. Members have spoken vehemently and articulately against them. I hope that the Minister will treat them with the seriousness they deserve.

We have heard about wagons of fruit in Kent and about the lower incidence of risk in certain methods of transport. I represent a constituency in Cleveland where frequently ethylene oxide, caustic chlorine, highly concentrated sulphuric acid and other volatile and hazardous commodities are conveyed around the area. By increasing the hours of driving and the element of risk, we add to the danger of transporting such commodities.

If the Minister is content to run the risk of having to stand before us and report a major road traffic accident, he will also run the risk of having a name attached to him.

11.35 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley

I begin by dealing with the speech of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). Once I met an old friend of his and, although this is probably an apocryphal story, when I asked him what the right hon. Member was like in his youth, and why he was such a good writer and made his newspaper so popular, his answer was that the right hon. Member was good at vituperation when he had not concentrated on the detail. The right hon. Member's remarks about the speech that I made earlier this evening are ones which in the light of day when perhaps he is feeling less tired, he will wish to reconsider. I would not ask for an apology, but I think he treated the House and my speech with a degree less of respect than might have been expected.

I assumed at the beginning of the debate that hon. Members wanted to be taken through the regulations. As the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) said, they are complicated and technical, and they should not be made the subject of party politics. It is worth noting that not a single Opposition Member referred in detail to the regulations, or said which of them they regard as acceptable or unacceptable.

A number of serious points have been made on both sides of the House. I have had the opportunity to listen twice to Jack Ashwell, the national organiser of the Transport and General Workers Union. The union has some serious points to make and it performs a useful function in an industry that is difficult to organise. With better operators, with or without union representation, there is concern for the safety and welfare of the drivers. I pay tribute to the union—as I would, even if I were not, as the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) pointed out, a member of the union.

My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) referred to the personal logbooks of airline pilots. We shall consider that point. We remember the very grave doubts of the Transport and General Workers Union over the tachograph. For many years it was referred to as "the spy in the cab." I wonder whether the union or its members would favour a proposal that appeared to increase what could be interpreted as interference by the law in their lives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) and other hon. Members referred to the professionalism of heavy goods vehicle drivers. I emphasise the tributes that have been paid to them. Their standard of driving has improved. The safety of heavy goods vehicles has also been improved. The roads have also been getting better.

At the beginning of my speech I said that I thought that the new rules would benefit the drivers. Opposition Members and some of my hon. Friends have said that if drivers' hours are unduly extended, they will lead to greater fatigue and therefore to greater risk. That is self-evident. In my written reply I said that the link between drivers' hours and fatigue had not been clearly demonstrated, but that referred only to the narrow changes that we are discussing. I did not say that if people drive for hour after hour, or become involved in the kind of concoction that the hon. Member for Wigan described, there will not be a greater degree of risk.

Fatigue also affects those who are not the drivers of heavy goods vehicles. If hon. Members work through until about four o'clock in the morning, return to work at nine the same morning, work through until about eleven in the evening and after that, if it is a Thursday, drive for four or five hours back to their constituencies, I suspect that they are substantially more at risk of falling asleep at the wheel than are most heavy goods vehicle drivers.

If the maximum number of driving hours in a fortnight are reduced from 92 to 90, that is welcomed. If the requirement for normal weekly rest is increased from 40 to 45 hours, that is also welcomed. If the minimum break time for most drivers is increased from half an hour to three-quarters of an hour, that helps to deal with the point about 15 minutes which was also made in the debate. If it is made easier for drivers to vary their driving hours so that they can reach home and relax properly instead of being forced to sleep in their cabs, that, too, is welcomed.

I do not want to make too much of it, but it is fairly normal for a driver, because of congestion on the roads, to find that he has exceeded his hours, so he has to stop, find a telephone box and telephone his depot. Somebody has to drive a car to the vehicle and change places with the heavy goods vehicle driver. The new driver then takes the heavy goods vehicle back to the depot while the old driver takes the car back. That practice meets the letter of the law, but the flexibility provided by these regulations will reflect reality more, as long as there is compensation.

I was not surprised to see my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) in the Chamber, and I listened carefully to his speech. He referred to the possibility of international drivers, carrying fruit through his constituency, having accidents. He also made an appropriate but non-specific reference to a recent accident in Maidstone. By regulations affecting drivers' hours and by every means possible, I am determined to improve safety. That may mean enforcing the tests on heavy vehicles, where more could be done, or ensuring that there are more weight testing stations. Vehicles could then be checked for overloading, and for the number of drivers' hours.

In my speech, I mentioned a commitment to consult the drivers' unions and operators on how to make enforcement even more effective. I suspect that Britain's enforcement is the best in Europe, and that we take our rules much more seriously than some other countries. I hope to be able to work within the EC with both sides of the haulage industry. The best practices may then be spread, and we may be able to learn from others just as they can learn from us.

I actually welcomed some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. He is always worth listening to, but other hon. Members made rather more specific points. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) is in the Chamber. The Health and Safety Executive must be the enforcement authority, because under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act, there can only be one enforcement authority. We came to the view that as most mistakes or criminal errors among those carrying dangerous goods occurred at the place of loading, or at the place that the vehicle was operating from, it was better to transfer sole enforcement to the Health and Safety Executive. I explained carefully to a symposium in Middlesbrough, which was run by the Cleveland police, that safety was not being diminished. We can concentrate all the reports, some of which may draw prohibition notices. The police have the power, in effect, to take a vehicle off the road and to ensure that the report goes through.

I seriously believe that the new arrangements will lead to better safety as long as people get the right message. I could send the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central a copy of the relevant press release, and he might then be able to join me in spreading what I hope is the right message. The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) referred to his position as chairman of the Transport and General Workers Union group in Parliament. Two Opposition Members wrote to me quite separately from any representations made by that union. Most of the representations have come—

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 164, Noes 104.

Division No. 260] [11.45 pm
Alexander, Richard Brooke, Hon Peter
Amess, David Bruinvels, Peter
Ancram, Michael Buck, Sir Antony
Arnold, Tom Burt, Alistair
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Butcher, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Butterfill, John
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Chalker, Mrs Lynda
Baldry, Tony Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Batiste, Spencer Chope, Christopher
Bellingham, Henry Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Best, Keith Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Cockeram, Eric
Blackburn, John Colvin, Michael
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Conway, Derek
Bottomley, Peter Coombs, Simon
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Cope, John
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Couchman, James
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Cranborne, Viscount
Bright, Graham Crouch, David
Brinton, Tim Currie, Mrs Edwina
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Dickens, Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Page, Sir John (Harrow W)
Dover, Den Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Durant, Tony Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Eggar, Tim Pollock, Alexander
Evennett, David Porter, Barry
Eyre, Sir Reginald Portillo, Michael
Fallon, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Farr, Sir John Powley, John
Forman, Nigel Raffan, Keith
Galley, Roy Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Garel-Jones, Tristan Rathbone, Tim
Glyn, Dr Alan Rhodes James, Robert
Gorst, John Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Gregory, Conal Roe, Mrs Marion
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Rowe, Andrew
Ground, Patrick Ryder, Richard
Gummer, Rt Hon John S Sackville, Hon Thomas
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Hampson, Dr Keith Sayeed, Jonathan
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Heddle, John Shelton, William (Streatham)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hordern, Sir Peter Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jackson, Robert Speed, Keith
Jessel, Toby Spencer, Derek
King, Rt Hon Tom Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Stanbrook, Ivor
Lawler, Geoffrey Stanley, Rt Hon John
Lawrence, Ivan Stern, Michael
Lester, Jim Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Lilley, Peter Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Lyell, Nicholas Sumberg, David
Macfarlane, Neil Taylor, John (Solihull)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Terlezki, Stefan
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Maclean, David John Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
McLoughlin, Patrick Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Major, John Thorne, Neil (llford S)
Malins, Humfrey Thurnham, Peter
Malone, Gerald Twinn, Dr Ian
Marland, Paul van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Marlow, Antony Viggers, Peter
Mather, Carol Waddington, David
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Walden, George
Merchant, Piers Waller, Gary
Meyer, Sir Anthony Watson, John
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Miscampbell, Norman Wheeler, John
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Whitfield, John
Moate, Roger Wiggin, Jerry
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Wilkinson, John
Moynihan, Hon C. Winterton, Mrs Ann
Murphy, Christopher Winterton, Nicholas
Neale, Gerrard Wolfson, Mark
Nelson, Anthony Wood, Timothy
Neubert, Michael Woodcock, Michael
Nicholls, Patrick Yeo, Tim
Norris, Steven
Oppenheim, Phillip Tellers for the Ayes:
Osborn, Sir John Mr. Francis Maude and
Ottaway, Richard Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Boyes, Roland
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bray, Dr Jeremy
Ashdown, Paddy Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Bruce, Malcolm
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Caborn, Richard
Barnett, Guy Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Barron, Kevin Campbell-Savours, Dale
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)
Beith, A. J. Carter-Jones, Lewis
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clay, Robert
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Bermingham, Gerald Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)
Bidwell, Sydney Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Corbyn, Jeremy
Craigen, J. M. Madden, Max
Crowther, Stan Marek, Dr John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Dalyell, Tam Maxton, John
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'I) Maynard, Miss Joan
Deakins, Eric Michie, William
Dewar, Donald Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Dubs, Alfred Nellist, David
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Eadie, Alex O'Neill, Martin
Eastham, Ken Park, George
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Parry, Robert
Ewing, Harry Patchett, Terry
Fatchett, Derek Pendry, Tom
Faulds, Andrew Pike, Peter
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Flannery, Martin Prescott, John
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Raynsford, Nick
Forrester, John Redmond, Martin
Foster, Derek Richardson, Ms Jo
Foulkes, George Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
George. Bruce Robertson, George
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hardy, Peter Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Home Robertson, John Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Steel, Rt Hon David
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Stott, Roger
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Strang, Gavin
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Tinn, James
Lamond, James Wallace, James
Leadbitter, Ted Warden, Gareth (Gower)
Leighton, Ronald Wareing, Robert
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Weetch, Ken
Litherland, Robert Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Loyden, Edward Welsh, Michael
McDonald, Dr Oonagh
McGuire, Michael Tellers for the Noes:
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Mr. Chris Smith and
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Mr. Don Dixon.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Drivers' Hours (Harmonisation with Community Rules) Regulations 1986, which were laid before this House on 11th June, be approved.