HL Deb 17 February 1970 vol 307 cc1094-9

4.0 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, before I become a little forthright, I should like to say how much I welcome the exemptions provided in the Order presented to us this afternoon. One could hardly have dreamed of the outcome of Part VI of the original 1968 Transport Act, which has little bearing on what we now have set before us. Your Lordships may recall that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in his 41-minute speech at the Second Reading of the Bill devoted less than a half minute to this subject. He said, again, that this is a policy to increase safety on the roads. Therefore, the first question that I should like to ask him is this. How with these exemptions have the Government quantified safety and what research have they made into safety? Would they give us the latest figures of accidents involving vehicles in these categories? Have they been rising or decreasing? I feel that this is important because it has a very real bearing on the upheaval that the industry has had to face.

I should also like to ask the noble Lord this question. As it is now February 17, and these Regulations are to come into force on March 1—incidentally, a year after the Government intended— does he really consider that the industry has enough time to study them properly? It is true that this publication was made on January 24, but it still cannot be taken for granted that these Orders are necessarily accept by Parliament. And all these people who have now received exemptions have previously been in the dark.

The third point I should like to mention is the one of records. I very much welcome the abandonment of the horrible tachograph, and fully appreciate that it is essential to keep records in order to enforce this law. But if your Lordships will turn to Schedule I, Part II, you will see that the driver's record sheet, which the driver has to fill in himself, although comprehensive, is far too fulsome and it is grossly unfair to expect a driver to fill in all these details after a heavy day. I doubt very much whether he will do it properly. Therefore, could the noble Lord please ask his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport to design a more simple and practical form?

Lastly, with the leave of the House, I should like to say how disappointed I am that, even at this late hour, it is not possible to move the Drivers' Hours (Passenger Vehicles) Order. The industry is extremely perturbed that previous exemptions have been withdrawn and they do not know what the position is to be. Can the Minister give an assurance that these Orders, and a guide to these Orders, will definitely be printed by March 1? Also, with the leave of the House, I would ask the noble Lord whether he can give us a guide as to when the Drivers' Hours (Passenger Vehicles) Order is going to be presented to us.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support what my noble friend Lord Belstead has said. I think we can give a qualified approval to these Amendments—they are indeed Amendments—to the Transport Act. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us before this discussion is over whether the Passenger Vehicle Orders are going forward as they are, or whether they are going to be amended further? My noble friend Lord Teviot has made the point that it is now only ten days before these Regulations come into operation. The Government have had eighteen months to produce them, but those who have to operate them—and very many people do—are going to have very little time indeed to digest an extremely complicated packet of rules. There are two Orders; there are two sets of Regulations; there are two Explanatory Memoranda. It is a pretty solid lot, and if any of your Lordships care to put them together and understand them in under three hours, then I think you are capable of absorbing facts very quickly. I agree entirely with my noble friend that these are very complicated matters.

I should like to go on to two other points quite shortly. This Order, we are told by the Special Orders Committee, deserves no special attention. I am sure that the Special Orders Committee have dutifully fulfilled their task, but ought we not to give them a rather fuller and more detailed task? There is in these four Orders very extensive use of what is called the "Henry VIII clause"; that is to say, in effect the Bill itself is re-written. It is not simply a question of subordinate legislation; passages have been put in. As my noble friend has said, some of them were admittedly passages which we wanted to put in before, and they have now been added to the Bill. Should we not have these more carefully drawn to our attention?

The disadvantage of these Orders is (hat we cannot amend them. The only thing we could do would be to throw them out. Apart from the time element, which makes it quite impossible, if we threw these Orders out an immediate constitutional issue would arise. This is legislation by bureaucracy, pure and simple. I know that the noble Lord will say that it has been going on for a long time, but this is a pretty extensive packet.

May I also put this point? Are we not really making a terrible blunder of a very simple matter? We are trying to regulate the hours of driving. Broadly, none of us differs on this. This is a perfectly proper subject for a degree of regulation. We have first of all a part of the Transport Act—10 clauses. I do not think many people really understood those clauses. I believe that my noble friend Lord Hurcomb did, because he has worked in the Ministry of Transport and understands the patois which is normally spoken in that Department. I am not at all sure that many other people understood them. There are two Orders, two sets of Regulations, and Explanatory Memoranda. It is a terrible packet for a very simple thing. All I can say is that to a large extent this is being written outside Parliament. I hope that the noble Lord will bear this in mind. I know that this Government are not the only Government who have acted in this way; but, with very great respect, this is a very bad case to achieve an extremely simple result.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am not quite certain how the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, could suggest that the Order in front of us is government by bureaucracy. The bringing into force of Part VI of the Act is done, as I understand it, by an Order made by the Minister according to the Act. The Order is laid before Parliament, but it does not require Parliamentary approval. That is my understanding of it. The Order that we have in front of us to-day is to make exemptions from the Act that Parliament passed. I should have thought, then, that the welcome that has been given by noble Lords opposite was thoroughly justified. We have considered, during all the stages of our debates, and since then in consultation with some 200 different organisations, all the points put forward, and we have come forward with these proposals in this Order.

A question has been put to me by two noble Lords about the position of the Passenger Vehicles Order. I understand that this is still subject to the Statutory Instruments Committee procedure in another place. So far as I know, my right honourable friend has no intention, at least from his point of view, of amending the proposals which have already been through our own Special Orders Committee. But I thought it would be wrong to ask this House to approve that Order —the Passenger Vehicles Order—while it was still in that early stage in another place. But I hope that that Order will be before Parliament shortly, and that I shall be able to deal with it at an early date.

I will certainly look into the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, about whether the form can be made simpler. This of course is outside this particular Order, because here we are dealing with exemptions, and not with matters arising under the Act. But I will certainly see what can be done and will write to him. I fear also that I have no figures of the accident rate for this class of vehicle. I will find out, however, and let him have them. In any case, I am certain that the noble Lord, with his own experience, will agree that for this particular class of vehicle the number of fatal accidents is not so serious as that for heavy vehicles, which are involved in very many more accidents. For this reason we felt that we ought to bring this type of vehicle into the general provisions of the Act.

It would be wrong to say that these vehicles, simply because they do not come under the operators' licence, or the quality licence, will be free to be driven in any condition that the driver may wish to have them; because, of course, they will be subject to the annual test, in common with all other vehicles, and they will be subject to spot checks by the police. So I think the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, does not stand up.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question?


My Lords, I have not even started with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, yet.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way, because this seems to me to be germane to the basis of the Order. If the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is referring to spot checks I do not think that is a detail. Surely if drivers' records need not be kept because these vehicles will not be subject to an operator's licence, the system will not work.


My Lords, what I have been seeking to explain is that this Order deals with exemptions. The exempt drivers are of a limited class of person, and from all the information that is available to us these drivers are unlikely to reach the type of driving period that we had in mind as regards a safety factor.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, asked me about the commercial traveller and the problem of his goods. The proposed Order is specific: the words in Article 3(2)(b)are: no goods other than goods carried for the purpose of soliciting orders … My advice is that this clearly refers to samples. This would not permit a commercial traveller to carry goods in a van and to sell those goods from that van. The Order has been drafted in this way to permit the driver to carry samples, to take orders, but not to sell those particular goods. If there is any doubt on the legal drafting I think that, as we often do, we shall have to fall back on the decision of the courts.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, also asked me whether the list was complete, and he suggested we should include probation officers and child welfare officers. All I can say to the noble Lord is that they might well have been included if their associations and organisations had approached my right honourable friend, but in fact they did not. However, we will look at the way in which Part VI of the Act will work, and if further representations are made we will certainly take them into account. I would remind the noble Lord that, as I said earlier, we have already had discussions with some 200 different organisations. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, complained that the Order was only just being presented to Parliament, and said that few organisations will know what is in these Orders. But in fact we have been holding these consultations since 1968. We have had close connections with the major organisations, as we always do in the drafting of these Orders; and although the Order is to come into force shortly, I have no doubt at all that the organisations interested in it are aware of the contents.

My Lords, I personally do not think we shall have all the difficulties which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, had in mind about the dual-purpose vehicle. It is clear that the drivers of these vehicles will be required to keep within the Act, other than those who are exempted by this Order or any subsequent Order, or by the Regulations which I have described earlier, dealing with emergencies. I think the genera! feeling of noble Lords who have spoken is that they welcome the Order, shall I say, so far as it goes. If we go further it will be as a result of careful thought, but always taking the interest of safety as the primary object of our exercise.

On Question, Motion agreed to.