HC Deb 27 July 1988 vol 138 cc498-519 9.49 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 6048/88 on social legislation relating to road transport. In December 1985 the EC approved two regulations —3820/85 and 3821/85—prescribing the maximum permitted driving hours and minimum rest periods for drivers of goods and passenger vehicles, and providing for the use of tachographs for checking drivers' activities. The House debated the regulations in draft form in March 1984 and the related Transport Act 1968 regulations on 15 July 1986. Those concerted regulations, which apply to both domestic and international driving, came into effect on 29 September 1986.

The EC regulations were in many ways a "British kilometre post" or a "European milestone". Against the decision by the Council of Ministers in May 1985 to implement the single market by 1992, they were an attempt to provide harmonised rules on driving in the interests of fair competition, improved working conditions and road safety, while at the same time providing sufficient flexibility to meet the diverse needs of a modern transport industry. Those regulations were not everything that the United Kingdom Government would have wished. They represented the results of over two years' difficult negotiation with other member states in Europe. But as a package, they were acceptable to us.

The draft proposals that we are considering tonight, those contained in EC document 6048/88, have two strands. Both relate to the 1985 regulations. First, there is a proposed directive aimed at better enforcement of the regulations. Making sure that the agreed rules are complied with by means of more and standard checking procedures must be in everyone's interest. The Government fully support the aims underlying the directive on checking procedures. The second strand is the proposal for a new regulation amending the regulations. The Government are opposed to the proposed changes to the existing regulations.

The drivers' hours and tachograph regulations have three main objectives—to promote road safety by requiring drivers to have adequate rest and breaks and preventing excessive driving, to ensure that competition between hauliers and coach operators in this area is fair and on a common basis, and to give drivers reasonable conditions of work and leisure and prevent their exploitation.

To achieve those objectives within what the regulations provide for, efficient, effective checking on a standardised basis by all member states is necessary. The directive sets out to achieve that. It has been discussed in detail by officials in Brussels and was considered by the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg on 20 June. There is widespread support. Agreement on the details is close, but it cannot be approved until Parliament has pronounced on the requirements. The opinion of the European Parliament is also required. In explaining the draft directive to the House, I will endeavour to indicate where modifications to the Commission's proposals contained in document 6048/88 are contemplated by the Council.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Minister say that nothing could happen until the House of Commons did something. Is this not one of the matters covered by article 100A whereby it can be considered by a majority vote? Or am I quite wrong in that?

Mr. Bottomley

I am not sure. If I can give my hon.Friend an answer in a moment, I will. I would prefer to explain why the——

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend does not know. That is outrageous.

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend has asked me a question. Perhaps I might be allowed to respond in my own way to the question he has chosen to ask.

The first part of what is proposed is acceptable, subject to minor modifications. The second part is not only not acceptable to us, but we think will be unacceptable to all member states. Therefore, the point raised by my hon. Friend does not appear to be terribly relevant.

The main substance of the directive is contained in draft article 3. This specifies—article 3(1)—the annual level of checking to be carried out by member states—30 per cent. of vehicles in circulation and 30 per cent. of operators. Modifications to this have been suggested and the Council looked favourably on an alternative of checking 1 per cent. of working days carried out under regulations 3820 and 3821 in each country as represented by the daily tachograph charts. At least 15 per cent. of the checking of charts under the alternative regime would have to be carried out at the roadside. Neither the Commission's original requirement nor the alternative proposal would cause difficulties for the United Kindom. Our checking is done by the Department of Transport and Northern Ireland traffic examiners as well as by police officers. The Department of Transport's national enforcement plan sets out, among other things, the checking requirements for traffic examiners. They will meet the levels proposed in the directive. We are planning to check over 1 million daily tachograph charts a year.

Articles 3(2) to 3(6) specify that the checks should be carried out at the roadside and at the operators' premises, and give the items to be considered by investigating officers. Modifications considered by the Council would further amplify these requirements by giving better and more detailed guidance on what these checks should entail, which would be useful.

Article 3(7) requires the numbers and results of checks to be conveyed to the Commission annually. We consider that this requirement is already present in article 16 of EC regulation 3820/85.

Article 3(8) requires authorities to carry out checks at operators' premises at the request of another member state concerned. This would cause no difficulty for the United Kingdom. We consider such co-operation necessary to prevent those who abuse the rules escaping detection by crossing national borders.

More general requirements for simultaneous checking operations and the exchange of data between member states are set out in articles 4 and 5. Article 4 requires member states to carry out simultaneous checks on four specified days each year. While we support the underlying idea of highlighting the importance of checking and demonstrating member states' commitment to it, we feel that to pre-advertise the dates of the combined operations would be somewhat naive. I suspect that this is one of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) had in mind. The Council has considered an alternative whereby member states would carry out at least twice-yearly concerted operations with at least one other member state. This would be a better arrangement. I suspect that those who break the rules would think that it is a worse arrangement, which is one of the reasons why we support it.

Article 5 specifies the data that are to be exchanged between member states on breaches of the regulations. Article 17(3) of regulation 3820/85 and article 19(3) of regulation 3821/85 already require data exchange, and we consider the further proposed provisions to be unnecessary. The Council has considered an alternative which would simply specify that the bilateral data exchanges under the present regulations should take place every 12 months, while allowing other specific requests on demand. This is a better and more flexible solution.

Articles 1, 6 and 7 are purely definitional and procedural. Article 2 lays down 1 January 1989 as the date for implementing the directive. Again, this would cause no problems for the United Kingdom.

The Government's position on the proposed directive is one of support, subject only to the minor modifications I have outlined. Enforcement of the rules is crucial. I feel confident that the House will want to give its support to the objective of achieving better standardised checking procedures among all EC member states. The draft regulation in EC document 6048/88 would have the effect of amending the present regulations 3820 and 3821/85. The House will note that the intention of the proposal is to clarify certain definitions in order to avoid misinterpretation and abuse. This is a laudable aim, but examination of the draft articles shows that either the real aim or the effect is to change radically the present regulations.

Agreement on regulations 3820 and 3821 came only after more than two years of hard and detailed discussions in Brussels. Both sides of industry were consulted during those discussions. In those negotiations we could not expect to have it all our own way, but there were positive results. Benefits for drivers were increased weekly rest, up from 40 to 45 hours, and decreased driving, down from 92 to 90 hours in a fortnight. Benefits for operators were increased operational flexibility, with the ability to increase daily driving from 9 to 10 hours twice a week, and to postpone part of daily and weekly rest subject to later compensation for the drivers. Both sides would have wanted more, but the new rules represented a reasonable, hard-won compromise arrived at between member states and, overall, the best deal we could negotiate for both sides of the road and passenger transport industries.

The regulations were implemented less than two years ago. Quite significant costs were involved in implementation. It meant retraining the whole of the work force in the freight and passenger industries as well as officers in the enforcement agencies. Those costs were borne by Government, operators, unions and police forces. They applied not just here but across the whole of the Community. It is too soon to contemplate radical changes, and that is what the small print of the draft regulations implies.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

My hon. Friend listed all the organs that had to pay the cost of this. Has he not missed out the most important one —the consumer, to whom all the costs are, in the end, passed on?

Mr. Bottomley

I apologise to the House for dealing with the technical issues in the main. When I was taking the draft regulations through the House, as the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) will acknowledge, I made it clear that the aim was not to increase costs to consumers or the end users of the transport industry but to provide flexibility, as we called it. The Transport and General Workers Union, and some who spoke in support of its views from the Opposition Benches, argued for a relaxation of drivers' hours regulations and the abolition of some of the duty hours requirements. During those debates, there was no suggestion of increased costs to those paying for road haulage. My argument was to allow flexibility so that drivers would not be faced with ludicrous situations. For example, a driver might run out of hours half an hour's drive away from the depot. He would have to ring up the depot manager, who would come out in a car. The driver would drive the car back and the manager would drive the truck back. Such situations are ludicrous, even before we move on to the provisions in the new regulations.

My hon. Friend has rightly made a point that the Government take seriously and, if there were a choice, we would want to ensure that we were taking cost compliance analysis fully into account. The House can be assured that this issue comes up neither under these regulations nor in the changes that came two years ago. No doubt the hon. Member for Stretford will correct me if I am wrong on that.

I was explaining why the second part of the draft directive is wrong. It comes too soon because the industry is just beginning to settle down under the new rules, because industry and Governments—not just this one— should not be asked to bear the additional cost that would be involved and because the changes proposed would bring no new benefits and would in fact bring disbenefits. To put it less diplomatically, it is just wrong and should not happen.

In opening up the regulations for revision, as is proposed in the draft regulation, it is not certain that the United Kingdom could retain some of those important points, hard won in negotiations last time round. The draft regulation has not been considered in detail by officials in Brussels or by the Council. It would seem that it commands no significant measure of support among member states. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East will accept this point. The answer to his question, which I should have been able to answer immediately, is that the directive and regulations would be subject to majority voting by the Council, if necessary. I hope that my speech has made it plain that this is not necessary and that the unacceptable second half does not have support, while the acceptable first part does.

Many of the difficulties arise in the context of definitional points contained in article 1. This would change the present definition of the "week" from the fixed period between midnight Sunday to midnight of the following Sunday to any period of seven days, this period starting when the driver starts driving following a weekly rest period. It is difficult to see any benefit whatsoever in this change. It would be to revert to the position that existed before regulation 3820. The "fixed week" was introduced in the present regulations to counteract the abuses under the "rolling week" system. The proposal would simply reintroduce those abuses. If every driver has a different starting point for calculating weekly rest and compensation requirements, the difficulties of both comprehension for drivers and enforcement are enormous. That was the position which existed before Septernber 1986. At a more practical level, the change would involve altering the software systems used for computer scanning of charts by enforcement agencies and commercial bureaux. I do not regard that as the most important reason for imposing this definitional change in the regulation to change the regulations.

Article 2 refers to the mandatory exemption from the social regulations of vehicles used for sewage, flood protection, water, gas and so on. It seeks to limit this exemption to vehicles used by public authorities or under contract to public authorities. The present regulations exempt all vehicles carrying out the specified transport operations. We fought hard to achieve that during the earlier negotiations. If private operators are competing with public authorities for the same work, they must compete on equal terms. That is fundamental to this Government's policy and the requirements of the single market. We would not find the proposed amendment acceptable.

Article 3—amending article 6 of the existing regulations —would limit driving to nine hours—10 hours twice a week—in any 24-hour period. The present regulations define these driving period limits as coming between claily rest periods. This amendment would prevent a driver who had driven for nine hours and then taken an 11-hour claily rest from driving again for another four hours. That seems to be an attempt not only to limit driving, but to limit total working duty time. The House will recall that that was raised during the discussions of regulation 3820 but found no support among member states. We would not wish to see duty limits reintroduced through the back door by this proposed regulation.

There is a great deal more at this level of detail inherent in the draft amending regulation. I would be willing to explain further if the House wishes. I have probably sufficiently demonstrated the point that if the laudable aim of the draft regulation were to clarify definitional points, the draft before the House is flawed. I would not claim that the regulations as we have them are perfect, but they represent a reasonable compromise set of rules capable of practical enforcement. If and when the draft regulations come forward for detailed discussion in Brussels, the United Kingdom Government would wish to make the points I have explained to the House.

10.6 pm

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) asked about consumer interests, but the other interest that should be taken into account in our discussions is road safety.

We must establish a balance between the number of hours that drivers work and the costs to industry and the consumer, while ensuring that drivers are not forced to work overlong hours. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that that is in everyone's interests. In 1984, in a transport debate, the Minister of State, Department of Transport, now Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said: There is no disagreement about the broad objectives of the regulations. Since the 1930s, Governments of all complexions have recognised that commercial pressures can lead transport operators and drivers to indulge in excessive driving that can endanger both themselves and other road users … one's own common sense is enough to show that tired drivers are dangerous."—[Official Report, 3 December 1984; Vol. 69, c. 132.] I agree with the Minister that the regulations, in common with a lot of European legislation that comes before the House, are not helpful. It is a mystery to me why there is such mad pressure to introduce some sort of European standardisation when it would not be in the interests of the consumer or road safety.

The way in which this matter will be dealt with by the Council of Ministers is important. I hope that when the crunch comes the British Government—should they find themselves isolated—will be able to prevent the introduction of the regulations.

The directive is a different matter and it contains some things of merit. However, the Minister is right to draw attention to the nonsensical idea of having four days a year.——

Mr. Peter Bottomley


Mr. Lloyd

Yes, Eurodays on which the forces of law, order and enlightenment will move to prevent abuse by the already extremely suspicious travelling commercial traffic. It is obvious that they will be just as prepared for those Eurodays as the Department of Transport. It is a ludicrous idea and why the Commission put it in the directive is a mystery.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge the sense of the Commission's suggestion that about 30 per cent. of vehicles should be checked every year. The Minister claimed that the Department would have no problems with that, but I am a little more sceptical. I know that the Department of Transport insists that it is on the way to being able to check such numbers, but I am not sure whether that is based on accurate statistics of how many vehicles are already checked. There are considerable difficulties with enforcement. The number of traffic inspectors is relatively small—perhaps fewer than 200 are in charge not only of enforcing tachograph compliance, but of the overloading of lorries and so on, all of which takes considerable time.

In June this year Department of Transport inspectors, in co-operation with the police, cracked down on foreign vehicles on the Ml. It was found that about nine out of 10 of them were in breach of regulations of one sort or another—not all to do with tachographs. If we are serious about enforcement we shall need more traffic inspectors, and unless the Minister can tell the House that the money and political will are available for such enforcement, by providing more inspectors, it will not take place.

The aim of checking 30 per cent. of vehicles a year is laudable, but enforcement is bedevilled by various factors, including the growth of international traffic. With the approach of 1992 and of much traffic from the non-English speaking world, Britain's police will face considerable problems. I note in the directive the suggestion that police should be issued with a language chart which will allow them to converse at least at a basic level with non-English speaking drivers—or with those who choose to be non-English speaking when their vehicles are pulled up at the roadside. I am assured that the scheme operates successfully in Germany, where the police have comprehensive language charts that allow them to monitor and enforce their traffic regulations. That is not done here, so I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to the quality of the charts for his inspectors and the police who will be involved.

I also draw the House's attention to another point raised by the Minister—the connection between roadside checks and checks at premises. It is critical that both are done. Roadside checks are important, but if there is no follow-through at the place of work where the tachograph records are kept for a longer period there can and will be widespread abuse of the system.

It might be useful if I mentioned to the Minister an amendment to the directive that was proposed in the European Parliament by a Labour Member, who said that it would make sense to have a regulation that made it compulsory for all drivers to be issued with consecutively numbered record tachograph discs, so that when stopped drivers would have to show—this could easily be checked —their tachograph records. Otherwise, they could say that they had slipped in new ones five minutes before and did not have the other ones because they had just taken over their cabs. It is important that such physical checks take place.

The relevant trade unions, which have always taken a line that is undeniably related to the safety of their members and that would avoid their being pressurised by their employers, have told me that it would be valuable if the discs were signed by an authorised employee of the company concerned. The argument runs that an authorised signature would wonderfully concentrate the minds of those involved, and there would be no systematic attempt to abuse the tachograph system. Such abuse is unfortunately all too prevalent now.

I want to make a number of points on the existing situation. The Minister has drawn attention to the importance of recognising how impractical the proposed new regulations are, but it is equally important to recognise the problems of the present system. There is no particular merit in the European Commission's proposal. The Commission has not helped us, but we must recognise that there is the potential—some would suggest that it exists already—for large-scale abuse.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that tachograph charts should be signed by the operator when they are issued to the driver or when they have been checked by the operator after being used by the driver?

Mr. Lloyd

Both. It would be helpful if the company took steps to guarantee that the discs issued to drivers were recorded and that they were signed back in at the end. That would establish a proper mechanism by which to check which discs went out.

There are abuses of the present regulations. Under the present system there is a global limit of 90 hours over two weeks and an allocation of up to 56 hours in any one week. It is difficult to avoid the possibility of a driver working 56 hours in two consecutive weeks. In the first week of a four-week cycle he could operate for only 34 hours a week, allowing him to operate for 56 hours in the second and third weeks, to be followed by 34 hours in the fourth week. That is against the spirit and perhaps even the letter of the regulations. However, without enforcement, that is difficult to stop.

Article 3 provides for limited driving periods of 56 hours for one week or 90 hours for two weeks. Does that mean any period of two weeks, however defined, or two consecutive weeks? That may be a question of semantics, but it is not unimportant if a driver operates 56 hours on two consecutive weeks.

In the same vein, there is a real question about rest periods. The Minister said that he did not want to reintroduce the old system of duty hours through the back door. Nevertheless, there is a widespread practice of getting round the regulations whereby a driver uses his rest period for loading and unloading so that rather than being a rest period it is merely a period during which the tachograph is not operating.

It is important that the rest period should be a physical break, not simply an alternative form of work. Drivers can operate many hours a day while still complying strictly with the letter of the regulations. Fatigue is dangerous, as the then Minister for Public Transport said in 1984. That fatigue is dangerous whether it is caused by loading and unloading or by driving. I hope that the Minister will address that point.

It has also been suggested that there is fairly wide abuse of the tachograph system in terms of the weekly break entitlement. It is possible to ask a driver to pull over to the side of the road, but the driver's tachograph record over a long period is not always examined. The weekly break entitlement of 45 hours is spelt out in the regulations, but, because it is possible to take advantage of the exemptions and move to a 36-hour break, or even, in some circumstances, a 24-hour break, drivers can regularly operate with 36-hour or 24-hour breaks without compensating in the following weeks, and that is a widespread abuse.

There is some advantage in article 5 of the Commission's regulations because that makes it clear that any compensation has to take place in the following week, not simply over a prolonged period. That depends on the mechanisms for enforcement. I hope that the Minister will turn his attention to how that breach of the regulations could be avoided.

I should like to put a technical point. Under article 4 the break of 45 minutes in every four and a half hours driving period would have to be taken within that period. The present position is that the 45-minute break can be taken after the four and a half hour driving period. There is a difference of interpretation between the police and the Department of Transport. The police argue—they are supported by some of the trade unions—that for every four and a half hour driving period there should be a 45-minute break. The Department of Transport seems to argue that as long as the 45-minute break is taken after the initial four and a half hours, it is possible to continue the rest of the nine or 10 hour driving period without any extra break. To that extent there would be an advantage in the idea promoted by the Commission that the 45-minute break should be integrated into the four and a half hour period. It would avoid dispute between the Department of Transport and the police. On this issue I think that the Department of Transport is wrong.

This is a fairly technical debate, but it is important because we are talking about road safety. I have already made it clear that I do not see the relevance of the European Commission's proposals for new regulations. However, some aspects would be useful. The Minister should continue with his declared intention to ignore the Commission on the regulations. I note that tonight the Prime Minister was distancing herself significantly from the European Commission. I am sure that that will give heart to some Conservative Members. On that issue, if not on much else, I have some sympathy with the Prime Minister's position. The Minister should note the position of his leader and make it clear to the Commission that the regulations would be dangerous in terms of what we are trying to promote. However, I hope that he will accept that it would be sensible to introduce some aspects into the British legal system because they would enhance road safety in Britain.

10.23 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I want to ask three specific questions. The Commission's proposals on driving hours are outrageous. The starting and finishing times for weekly and daily driving would become less suited to the irregular patterns of work within the road haulage and passenger transport industries as would the compensating rest period arrangement. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Minister said about the outrageous proposals.

How will the regulations be determined? I have become concerned—from what she said today it seems that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is also concerned —about the attitude of Ministers in the Council to the issue of majority voting or unanimity. The Prime Minister said that she is concerned that some of the directives coming before the Council are unsuited to common sense and to the interests of the United Kingdom. When we discuss the directives I ask Ministers repeatedly whether we are dealing with an issue of majority voting or unanimity. The Minister, as always, has been extremely courteous and said that this was an issue for majority voting.

The biggest worry is that the Commission in its quest for an extension of its powers is forcing, under article 100A, issues that should never be matters for majority voting. I suspect that the proposals should probably be dealt with under article 75, which would, according to the paper, have been an issue for majority voting and that the proposals are simply an extension or clarification of the 1985 regulations on driving hours.

Whenever proposals come up before the Council, the Government must first ask whether there will be an unanimous or a majority vote. If the Government take the view that the decision should not be taken by a majority vote, they must challenge the decision at the first instance because, unless the challenge is issued immediately, it is impossible to alter the basis of the consideration, unless there is unanimity in the Council.

Even if the provisions will not be effective—I suspect that they may come under the treaty of Rome's regional article 75—I ask my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues to inquire about the basis of voting before discussions start. If they do not, they may find themselves with their trousers down, having something pushed through by majority vote. I appeal to the Minister to have a word with the Home Secretary on the issue of summer time which was found out, belatedly, to have been decided on the basis of majority voting. It is too late to change that, unless everyone else agrees.

Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us what was the view about article 2 of those who were at the Council meeting. The most worrying things about the proceedings in the Commission are the extension of Socialism and the favours for public enterprises. The Minister will know that, in almost every aspect of the Commission's current policies, we see all the things that we thought a Thatcherite Government were against—extension of subsidy, control, centralisation and protectionism. The Minister must surely be aware that the Commission, under the present leadership, and the Council are forcing through measures that we in this country have fought against.

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that, for example, local authorities are now instructed that they must put services out to competitive tender to ensure a fair balance of decision-making, but, if he looks at article 2, he will see that there is a specific proposal that private contractors should not be treated in the same way as public authorities. I appeal to him to look at page 7 of the document where it states specifically that article 2 would amend article 4 by excluding from its scope only those vehicles used by Public Authorities or under contract to Public Authorities in connection with the provision of the public services listed in paragraph 6. It goes on to state that With the increasing 'privatisation' of public services, this ensures that private operators who provide such services are not exempt … unless they are under contract to Public Authorities. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister to say what were the views of the various members of the Council on article 2, which is simply an extension of Socialism and undermines a Bill that the Government fought hard to get through this Parliament. The Minister must be well aware that under majority voting, although drivers' hours themselves may be rejected, it is possible for some compromise to be brought forward which might include something of that sort. I hope that the Minister is watching that, and that he can give us some kind of assurance.

I also appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister to tell us what he means by saying that we must ensure that enforcement is improved. He must know what the rules are and what is happening. He must know some of the standard stories that I have been passing on to him, for example, about Southend. He will know from his colleagues and from Ministers in the Foreign Office, who have been helping me, that although Community regulations made it an essential part of Community law that a bus could go from Ostend to Frankfurt, there were discussions four years ago between the Foreign Secretary and Herr Genscher, who was then the appropriate German Minister. The Minister will know that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office took infraction proceedings at the Commission and that there were flights across the sea to German Departments, but that there was constant blockage against Community rules. The final blockage was when the authorities in Frankfurt claimed that they could not find a parking space for the bus.

My hon. Friend the Minister may also be aware from a question that I asked this week that a firm called Upsons in Southend runs splendid buses to Germany. The company has been astonished to find out that it is now being charged a levy of so much per metre, per passenger for taking a bus into Germany. If we are to have equal treatment and fairness, it is unlikely to be lawful for that to be done.

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that a rather different attitude is adopted to transport regulations from that adopted to other regulations. I hope that he will come to Kent to see some of the ports where we have the appropriate arrangements for testing vehicles that come from abroad. He should ask some of the operators and inspectors about the percentage of vehicles found not to conform with the current regulations.

I hope that the Minister will think about my three questions and give me some assurances. I ask him to clarify the status of the proposal to amend European Community document No. 3820/85. Is it dead? Will the Council not discuss it again? Is the Council planning a mini-directive to cover only certain parts of the document? It is rather a sad moment for parliamentary sovereignty, this being a day when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made some splendid remarks about Parliament's control of this sort of matter. We are discussing an issue which was discussed in the Community on 20 June. We want merely to know what the next step will be. Is the issue dead or is it still alive? Will we see a mini-directive, with article 2 being passed by a majority vote?

10.31 pm
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) has made most of the main points, I wish to ask the Minister only four simple questions, which I hope he will answer.

First, will it be possible for a driver to work two weeks of 56 hours each back to back, and to continue to do so?

Mr. Peter Bottomley


Mr. Marshall

Thank you. Secondly, can the Minister guarantee enforcement of the regulations? There are only about 200 Department of Transport inspectors. How will he manage to achieve his target of 1 million checks per annum? Is that figure sufficient? It will amount only to about a 30 per cent. check. Should not the Minister be setting his sights higher?

Mr. Tony Lloyd

My hon. Friend has asked an important question about 56-hour back-to-back weeks. Would he care to——

Mr. Bottomley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd

With respect, I do not think that I am in a position to do so.

Would my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) care to press the Minister on the issue? The Minister maintains that the regulations will prevent the working of 56-hour back-to-back weeks, but are the enforcement provisions sufficient to guarantee that a driver who is confronted with two 56-hour weeks will not say, "Of course, I am going to work the two weeks." Enforcement is important.

Mr. Marshall

Some of us have doubts about the sufficiency of the enforcement provisions. The Minister may be able——

Mr. Bottomley

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) would not allow me to intervene. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) for allowing me to do so. The hon. Member for Shettleston has more courtesy than the hon. Member for Stretford.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) was intervening in the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) when the Minister asked him to give way. That is why the hon. Member for Stretford did not give way.

Mr. Bottomley

I did not think that I would get away with that observation, Madam Deputy Speaker.

There cannot be more than 90 hours worked in any fortnight. That means that anyone who works two 56-hour weeks back to back is breaking the law. Sadly, we have begun to learn—if we did not know before—that passing laws does not make people obey the law. We know, however, that there cannot be total enforcement, for that would mean that nothing else would happen. We must create the right conditions and penalties so that individuals find that the chances of being caught, multiplied by the penalty, bring them into the paths of righteousness.

Mr. Marshall

I have my doubts. I think that there will still be a temptation to break the law.

Thirdly, I ask the Minister to estimate the increased costs that will be incurred by the road haulage and coach industries, and by Government, who will be responsible for implementing the regulations.

Fourthly, thousands of overloaded lorries are entering Britain. If the inspectors are spending all their time checking drivers' hours, how will they be able to check vehicles to ensure that they are not overloaded, especially those that are carrying hazardous and toxic substances or dangerous chemicals? What measures does the Minister propose to take to prevent overloaded lorries entering and leaving Britain in even greater numbers when inspectors are spending all their time checking drivers' hours?

10.35 pm
Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

My hon. Friend the Minister has told us that steps are being taken under article 100A. I have said on many occasions as a member of the Select Committee on European Legislation that the expenditure memorandum, copies of which we have been supplied with, states clearly that matters are proceeding under article 75. I have great difficulty in understanding how that switch is taking place. One can only conclude that it is more convenient to deal with it under article 100A, for the reason that it will be dealt with by majority voting. On 23 June, an article of mine appeared in The Times in which I clearly stated that I was very concerned about the way in which this matter was proceeding. There is increasing evidence of creeping federalism in Europe.

It may be that at this late hour this is a glazed-eye subject, and that it is just too boring for the British Parliament, whereas this issue is being suborned—and this is just one instance of it—by a system within which there is an increasing tendency for the Commission to take more and more power over this Parliament. We must face the fact that that is happening.

The Prime Minister has made her own position entirely clear. She is deeply concerned about that drift. M. Delors of the European Commission has made it clear that he wants European government. I am not—emphatically not —against the European Community. Nor am I against sensible conclusions, some of which may have to be discussed and negotiated within the Council of Ministers. What I am against is the apparent bypassing of the House in respect of important legislation. A matter of this kind would be dealt with in a Bill on a line-by-line basis. Instead, we are presented with a series of continuing documents, which come before the Select Committee on European Legislation, and which are then referred back to the House at a late hour, when they are not capable of being intelligently discussed. I note that my hon. Friends seated behind me are nodding in approval at what I say, for the simple reason that what I say is absolutely true. There is no question about it.

Even in our own governmental paragraph, under the heading "Policy Implications" there is almost total condemnation of the provisions we are now considering. However, my hon. Friend the Minister, understandably, has made the best of the dog's dinner with which he has been provided. He has said that there are two halves——

Mr. Peter Bottomley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that some of this is absolute nonsense. However, it is clear which bits are nonsense and which are not. The reason why I am delighted to move the motion is that we want support in achieving the sensible bits, and support in getting rid of the nonsense.

Mr. Cash

I am delighted to hear my hon. Friend say that. He is receiving great support from me in making the argument for continuing opposition to those parts which, from the point of view of the consumer, and from that of my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) and for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), contain a considerable amount of nonsense. It is nonsense of a kind that would do credit to Edward Lear.

As I recently stated in a memorandum I wrote on this very subject, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to return to Brussels in the knowledge that the United Kingdom Parliament profoundly disagrees with the nonsensical parts of the provisions.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

I hope that I am not beating the hon. Gentleman to his punch, but he makes an important point. It is not good enough to acknowledge that some parts of the provisions are nonsensical and to seek agreement at Council of Ministers level or wherever. It is important that Parliament should recognise that, almost by definition, much of this legislation—whether it concerns traffic regulations or any other matter—is totally irrelevant. The hon. Gentleman addressed a point of principle about which areas are sovereign.

Perhaps the Minister will address another question. Given that the Prime Minister has placed on record the fact that she is extremely suspicious of this creeping federalism, to use the hon. Gentleman's own phrase, why does she not do something serious about it, because she is head of the Government?

Mr. Cash

The plain fact is that we have passed the Single European Act, and within the context of that Act are provisions that are subject to majority voting.

According to the explanatory memorandum, these measures are being taken under article 75. In his introduction, however, the Minister said that they were being taken under article 100A. The Select Committee on European Legislation—I was present at both sessions— recently cross-examined the Treasury solicitor on the use and misuse of article 100A. The Minister may or may not know—I am telling him because it is something with which the Committee is familiar—of the increasing tendency for the Commission to say, "We want the Common Market to operate." We in the United Kingdom Parliament also want the Single European Act to work effectively, but if there is a tendency for article 100A to be misused, we are forced to abide by majority decisions that may be invoked in a manner that is—to use the technical expression—ultra vires.

How can we deal with that? Not by saying, "Oh, well, that is just too bad; it is ultra vires." We must go off to the European Court for the matter to be determined on judicial review, in the context of the powers of the Court of Justice and article 177 of the treaty of Rome. We are in a new ball game. It is a question not of whether the House wants something done, but of viewing the matter through the telescope of the treaty of Rome and working out whether we are in a position to defend ourselves after the event.

If the Minister has grave doubts about whether the policy implications of his document dated 13 June suggest that the nonsensical parts should be dealt with effectively, he has no option but to take appropriate action in the Court of Justice. That appears to be the only means by which we can retrieve the situation at this stage. It is not good enough for us to wring our hands in the House and to say that we do not like this, that or the other.

Will the Minister bear in mind that a great deal of time would be saved, over and over again, if the United Kingdom Parliament were brought into consideration of these questions earlier rather than at this late hour? I notice my hon. Friend the Minister looking at his watch, and I do not blame him. We would then be in a position to influence such consideration. Matters of this kind that would otherwise be dealt with by a billion Parliaments on a line-by-line basis should not be dealt with in such a truncated fashion.

If we are to do what the Prime Minister wants us to do, for heaven's sake let us consider the legislation earlier and in a proper way. By improving the scrutiny process of the European Legislation Committee and other Select Committees, we may at last be able to retrieve some of the power that has moved from this House.

10.43 pm
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

I heartily endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) has said. I was gratified to hear my hon. Friend the Minister comment on some aspects of the proposed change in the legislation, especially those relating to article 1.

Let me first declare an interest, as I want to mention a specific example of how badly article 1 will affect the operator concerned if it becomes law. I am a non-executive director of National Express Ltd., which is one of the success stories of the Government's deregulation policy in that it is now a privatised business and performs a vital and valuable function for the community.

A few facts and figures will give the House some idea of the extent to which this operator—the biggest national operator—has grown during the last few years. It carries 15 million passengers a year and its vehicles travel 5 million miles a week. There are 1,500 services and 900 coaches. It is an extensive operation. That does not include the Scottish City Link partner, which has about 150 coaches. It is a much smaller operation but it is extremely important. It is a unique European organisation. Its services are interlinked. They convey passengers from Penzance to John O'Groats and right across the country. They go to parts of the country that British Rail cannot reach and they are provided at a price with which the user is well satisfied.

The cost to the company and to other coach operators of having to accept article 1 and a return to the rolling seven-day week would be substantial. As the services are interlinked, to have drivers and those who run the coaches starting their weeks at different times and on different days would make it very difficult for the company to get the drivers on the right services at the right time.

When the European Commission looked at this aspect I do not think that it was aware of the extent of this type of operation, thanks to our policy of deregulation and free enterprise. There is no equivalent operation on mainland Europe. More power to my hon. Friend's elbow in combating the effects of article 1. It will only lead to passengers having to pay considerably more if article 1, the rolling seven-day week, has to be implemented.

Mr. Cash

Can my hon. Friend say how the Council of Ministers would be able to deal with his point?

Mr. King

I regret that I cannot answer my hon. Friend's question. I am presenting a factual case that I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will take on board and use in evidence to the European Commission. I hope he will say that there are exceptions to what is happening elsewhere in Europe and that our Government's deregulation policy will almost certainly be extended to Europe in 1992 when European operators develop similar systems.

The rules are designed to ensure safety. Despite all the miles covered and the number of passengers carried, I am happy to be able to tell the House that according to the statistics with which the company has supplied me nobody has been injured or killed in the last two years. Many people believe that coaches are unsafe and that they are more prone to accidents than otherforms of travel, but the facts do not support that belief. Coaches provide a particularly safe form of travel. I hope the company's record of nobody having been injured or killed in the last two years will continue indefinitely. The safety of passengers must come first. The present rules and regulations came into effect two years ago. They have probably played their part in ensuring a high standard of safety.

It seems to me that there is often wide discrepancy between how each country interprets the spirit of the rules that are laid down. An olympic contestant has been banned from competing for life because he took steroids, yet some other European countries might not have inflicted such a high price. Russian children are probably fed steroids for breakfast. The requirements are laid down generally and we are all supposed to obey them, but some member states—and ours in particular—are a little more disciplined than other countries in enforcing them. Can we be sure that Spain will adopt the same determination to check vehicles, to look at tachographs and to implement safety requirements? The existing European laws say that it should, but there is some argument as to how conscientious some of our European partners are in containing drivers' hours, vehicle weights and so on.

Mr. Cash

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not simply a question whether the member states can look into these matters; that it involves their manpower, whether they can afford to do that, and whether the European Commission can provide the level playing field that is supposed to result from the proposals? Fair competition is not possible without an enormous amount of extra bureaucracy and expense for the member states and the consumers, unless there are sufficient people to make sure that the laws are being exercised in a manner which is fair to all.

Mr. King

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am not suggesting that there should not be European laws. We want to get those laws absolutely right. Of course their implementation will vary from state to state, depending on financial ability and the determination to police those laws, but that does not remove the necessity of having laws that are sensible and are worth implementing. We require uniformity across Europe for the standards whereby we produce, trade and provide services, but that may take some time.

The proposals that we are considering do not go very far to establish a broad consensus as to how we should regulate drivers' hours. As I have illustrated, in the United Kingdom there are circumstances which make the implementation of the rolling seven-day week which the European Commission would like, very difficult and wholly unneccessary.

10.53 pm
Mr, Peter Bottomley

I remind those who read Hansard that our debate has shown that the House of Commons, on both sides and in many ways, takes seriously its debates on European draft directives. A variety of points have been made. We have heard the major constitutional points, which may be seen to follow from the Single European Act. Other issues have been brought forward concerning precisely when a three-quarter hour break may come in a four and a half hour driving period. We have heard examples from the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), from the Chairman of the Select Committee and from my hon. Friends who have spoken for the general interests of drivers and for the coach industry. I also understand that our debates are of concern to people in other parts of the country. I had to decide whether to wear my Transport and General Workers Union tie or my United Road Transport Union tie today. I am not a member of the URTU. I was sent a tie because it was rather jealous that I was always wearing the TGWU one.

I look forward to Friday when, at the suggestion of a member of the national executive of the TGWU road haulage section, I shall go and see it at work in west London. I suspect that I shall not hear too many complaints about the regulations that were taken through the House two years ago. There may be some, but in general we have managed to combine safety with flexibility.

The hon. Member for Stretford rightly reminded us that this is, in effect, a continuation of yesterday's debate on transport safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) reminded us how safe coach travel is. We intend to make it safer still by, for example, having speed limiters which will ensure that the reduction in speeding by coaches continues. There is less speeding in the road haulage industry. That is not true for light vans, but there is an improvement in major freight distribution.

The professionalism of drivers must be praised again and again. Not everyone reaches the highest standard, but we want to get the average standard up, the bad people out and the good to be able to earn their reward rather than for them to be cheated by the cowboys who break the hours regulations and the weight limitations.

I shall not go into enormous detail about our enforcement plans, but even without allowing for the efforts of the police, the Department of Transporfs own plans would meet the acceptable part of the draft directive's targets on checking tachographs. We take all the actions mentioned anyway.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) mentioned buses. I understand that the service from Southend to Frankfurt has now been approved. I shall not even dare read out Germany's explanation for the levy because I am not certain that it is acceptable to me, let alone to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

What does the Minister think of it?

Mr. Bottomley

I have not had responsibility for buses for very long and I suspect that my hon. Friend the Minister of State may want to take a view of his own. The change in the ministerial team took place only about 24 hours ago, so my hon. Friend ought to allow us slightly longer to have some effect.

The House should not be too frightened of getting involved in discussion and negotiation in Europe. When I was at another Ministry, an anonymous Minister from another Community country asked me to explain why Britain is not so keen on the Vredeling draft fifth directive. It was after dinner and I was tired, and I said that half the people in Britain who oppose it have not read it and the other half who oppose it have read it. I thought that that was quite an entertaining answer, but he nodded wisely and said, "Nobody has ever explained it to me that clearly before."

If necessary, I shall continue to explain clearly in Europe, and to others who are interested, why some of the definitional changes that are proposed are crazy. I shall also explain why we should not put the private sector at a disadvantage when it provides services which were provided in Britain by a state authority, and still are in some other countries.

I should like to refer to the first joke in the April edition of Reader's Digest. Mr. Gorbachev is supposed to be driving to Moscow airport to meet the Prime Minister, and his driver refuses to break the speed limit, so they change places. They are stopped by the police but are let off because the junior police officer who stops them tells the senior officer that there is a very important person in the car. "Who was it?" asks the senior officer. "I do not know," says the junior one. "How do you know they are very important?" asks the senior one. "Well, the person in the car had Comrade Gorbachev as his driver."

I argue that the House provides the very important person for the country. When people make a half-baked proposal which they think will improve safety or flexibility, but which will not, they should see how Russia is learning the British lesson. It is that deregulation, competition and privatisation, while maintaining necessary safety standards, are all-important. If we had not had competition in the coach industry, as a result of which National Express is doing quite well and firms in Southend are running services to Germany, consumers would not be in such a good position. They would not be in that position if we did not have that small extra flexibility combined with protection for the driver in the drivers' hours regulations.

I doubt whether we would have obtained that flexibility without the European Community taking an interest. We would have found it more difficult to make changes domestically. We owe something to Europe, and many of us are willing to move forward with the single European market and we will be willing to argue our case. We will not succeed all the time, as I said two years ago when we discussed other draft regulations.

If the House will forgive me, I will not become involved in too many of the arithmetic questions raised by the hon. Member for Stretford. I pay tribute to the way in which the hon. Gentleman persistently does his homework and brings forward interesting points.

We should understand that the key point made by the hon. Member for Stretford related to the 56 hours back-to-back. That would be illegal. The sensible proposals included in the motion and my speech related to how it will be possible to achieve higher standards of enforcement in other European partner countries. That is what the good bit achieves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) reminded the House that we should be very careful about simply accepting declarations of article 100A and should be prepared to use the European Court. I do not think that I am fully qualified to answer my hon. Friend's points, but I will ensure that they are passed on to those who wish to know that there is very strong support in the House for ensuring that, where possible, the European harmonisation is achieved to maintain minimum standards and to recognise equivalent standards elsewhere rather than simply to go for the common denominator which may be most convenient for the person who knows very little of what he is talking about.

One example is driver licensing. It is worth reminding the House, the people of this country and the rest of the European Community that this is the only country—with the possible exception of Ireland—which has a thriving minibus industry, not just in their manufacture, but in use by community groups, student organisations and people going to parties who hire them when one person drives and the others drink. No other country has that provision because their licensing requirements do not allow people to drive a minibus or vans weighing between 3.5 and 7 tonnes.

I hope to convince the rest of Europe not that Britain must eliminate that provision and service for the handicapped, poor, unprivileged and the elderly, but that the rest of Europe should consider what is happening in this country. I hope that they will discover that there is no road safety case for this ludicrous harmonisation although we are slightly bound by that in the Vienna convention. I hope that we can extend the provision to the other 200 million or more people in Europe so that they can enjoy what we have enjoyed here, so long as the safety case is made.

Mr. Cash

Which member states are in favour of the nonsensical provisions? Given that there is majority voting and presumably the member states in favour of the nonsensical provisions are against my hon. Friend the Minister, how can we carry the day? What can we do about that when we make protestations under the provisions of the explanatory memorandum policy, the implication of which could not be more emphatically condemnatory of the provisions? What on earth are we going to do about it?

Mr. Bottomley

I was not at the Council of Ministers meeting. However, I understand that no country supported the redefinition point. If one did, I suspect that the point would have made further progress. It is worth noting that the implementation date is supposed to be September this year. If others had supported it, that support would have been declared and I could have given the names off the cuff. I do not think any one else supports it.

A child who experiences darkness for the first time thinks that it will never become light again, but it becomes light in seven hours; the cycle is repeated. There may be, discussions, the cycle will be repeated and we will end up with the nonsense being jettisoned. The good things will be brought in and the level of enforcement will rise for the rest of the Community to the levels enjoyed in this country.

I hope that, partly as a result of this debate, there will be an opportunity for the private sector to come in and for competitive tendering—this is one of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East—to come about. We want improved enforcement and opportunities for the private sector. However, the basis of the consideration is an issue to which the House will want to return rather than have me go on too long about it now.

This has been one of the better debates which should inform people in the Community and the Commission. I hope that the European Paliament will come to the same view as the House—that we want to do the good things, not the bad ones.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

The Minister has not answered my question about article 2, but perhaps he will say under which article the directive is proposed. Is it article 75 or article 100A? If it is article 75, will he ask his clever advisers —some of us are worried about the extent to which they are keeping up to date with European affairs—why the explanatory memorandum says that the voting procedure and a qualified majority apply, because article 75 of the treaty of Rome says: For the purpose of implementing Article 74 …the Council shall, acting unanimously until … the second stage, … lay down, on a proposal from the Commission". It clearly says that under article 75 there is not a majority vote but unanimity until the end of second stage.

Will the Minister say under which article the directive is proposed and why he mentioned qualified majority voting when article 75 of the treaty is abundantly clear? Is it not time that he arranged for his clever people to go on those splendid courses on Community law? These matters are terribly important, because every one of us will be affected by what the Community does.

Mr. Bottomley

I hope that those who read the debate will realise that the House is united about enforcement, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East supported, is unanimous in wishing to get rid of the nonsense in the draft directive and will not be too put off by the dissection of article 75 and the issues on majority voting that my hon. Friend raised. I do not want us to appear reluctant to work with others in the European Community because to achieve enforcement we need to do so. The best thing that I can do about the precise point that my hon. Friend raises is write to him and have a copy put in the Library. If that is unacceptable to my hon. Friend, he can now say why.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

We are having a vital debate about future transport policy. I am merely asking under which article the directive is being proposed. This is one of the few opportunities that we shall have to discuss a Common Market proposal that will affect every person in the land. If we do not know under what article the scheme is being proposed, we do not know on what basis the majority voting will be conducted or on what basis the Minister will address the Council. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, are one of the fairest-minded people that I have known in the Chair, but we must be given an answer before the debate concludes.

Mr. Bottomley

The simple answer is article 75.I do not want to go into detail about the more complicated answer, because I suspect that my hon. Friend knows more about it than I do. I encourage my hon. Friend to listen to me for one moment because it might be helpful to him and the House. We want to lift the parliamentary reserve on the good things, such as enforcement in other countries. We believe that not one other Community country supports the proposal to amend the regulations. We should send a clear message from the House that we are all united about that, rather than have our lawyers and those of the Community spend time on a point that my hon. Friend makes inside and outside the House effectively and frequently.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Why does the explanatory memorandum say one thing but the treaty of Rome something different?

Mr. Bottomley

I thought that it was the right answer. If it transpires that I was wrong, I shall have no difficulty in saying that I was wrong. If it transpires that I was right, I shall write to my hon. Friend and say why I was right.

Mr. David Marshall

Earlier, I asked the Minister to give some idea of the costs involved, but it appears that he will not answer that question. I draw his attention to his Department's memorandum to the Select Committee on European Legislation. It says: changes envisaged would impose further expense and new burdens on the road haulage and coach industries and would involve significant cost to central Government. The Minister must have some idea what the additional costs will be. Will he give them to the House?

Mr. Bottomley

I believe that the additional costs of the first part of the enforcement will not be significant because our existing enforcement plan covers what the draft directive would require. That is why we would be prepared to accept that part, subject to this debate and the parliamentary reserve that would have to be put on in the Council of Ministers. We have made it plain that we regard the regulation to amend the regulations as unacceptable, and we have given our view that we think that other member states regard it as unacceptable as well. We have said that if members states came together and said that they wanted to accept the regulation to amend the regulations, there would be significant costs. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsburg) made that point first, and it was then made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East. As we have the implicit support of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, people in Europe had better watch out, We are not having it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 6048/88 on social legislation relating to road transport.