HL Deb 05 March 1970 vol 308 cc519-30

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Order, laid before the House on February 19, be approved. I am particularly conscious that we have still some important business to come before the House and also that I have in front of me a very long and detailed speech—necessarily so, in view of the complexity of the Order—but I think I should prefer to face the wrath of my officials for not delivering this speech than the wrath and displeasure of your Lordships' House if I went through it in detail. I will do so, of course, if I am asked to. But this Order was fully explained in another place when the other place approved it.

The House will know that Part VI of the Transport Act 1968, that Part dealing with public service vehicles, will be brought into force on March 15. This Order has the object of providing modifications which are necessary in the view of the Government to help the position created by shortage of labour in certain undertakings, and also to meet a number of other points. I have particularly in mind the point which the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, raised in an Amendment, I believe, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, on his behalf, dealing with vehicles that took tourists on skiing. I believe there was another Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wakefield of Kendal. I gather that these points, which were argued with great force, have been accepted by her Majesty's Government, and the modifications are provided for in these Orders.

I hope that the House will think we have gone about as far as we should go. Clearly, we should like to see drivers' hours reduced to what is provided for in the Act, but we recognise the present difficulties and think it would create too much hardship, particularly to those who travel during peak hours, if we were to bring the full power of the Act into force. Therefore, we put forward these modifications believing that they will meet most of the problems of the passenger transport undertakings, and also will have regard to those matters we had in mind when we placed the Act on the Statute Book. My Lords, if there are any questions on this complex Order I shall be happy to answer them; but I hope that with these few words of introduction the House will give approval to this Order.

Moved, That the Draft Drivers' Hours (Passenger Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1970, laid before the House on 19th February, be approved.—(Lord Shepherd.)

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for explaining the purpose of this Order, and may I assure him that his explanation gained, rather than suffered, by its brevity. We have noted that the Order has had a slight jerk in its transmission, and that its starting date is now to be the 15th of this month, but we hope that despite his slight jerk its action in the future will flow smoothly.

I feel that I should congratulate the operators' organisations and the Ministry of Transport officials for the immensely long and complex negotiations which they have had at the end of which they have managed to reach agreement. These Regulations introduce some welcome flexibility into Part VI of the 1968 Trans-port Act, and they should go some way to meet the anxiety expressed by noble Lords on this side of the House when we were discussing Part VI of the Bill on the Committee stage. It is fair to remind the House that our anxiety was that the Bill as drafted restricted driving hours with such rigidity that many desirable activities would be handicapped or indeed altogether prevented. The various concessions made in these Regulations serve to vindicate our efforts on that occasion. They also confirm what we should wish to have confirmed: that we were indeed acting in the best interests of road safety. This was a point on which the noble Lord speaking for the Government expressed some doubt from time to time, sometimes rather forcefully, and I am glad that we are now vindicated.

I should like to make a brief comment on one or two of the major concessions. First of all, the weekly limit of 60 hours in Clause 96(5) of the Act is to be extended to 72 hours in a week and 132 hours in a fortnight. In Committee I moved an Amendment to extend the weekly limit from 60 to 66 hours. It is true that I moved it somewhat tentatively, and it was firmly resisted by the Government spokesman. In the face of the resistance I withdrew my Amendment, but I recall that many noble Lords spoke in that particular debate and it will again have been some satisfaction to my noble friends and myself to have confirmation that we were on a good point. This would apply especially to my noble friend Lord Teviot, who strongly regretted my withdrawal of that Amendment; and evidently, in the light of his expert knowledge of the situation, he was right.

I notice that in sub-paragraph (6) of paragraph 3 of the Order this concession is to be withdrawn in October, 1971, and I would urge the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to recommend his right honourable friend the Minister not to be firmly committed to withdrawing either this concession or the concession in paragraph 4 of the Regulations. I am sure that it is just not possible to tell how these Regulations will work in practice, particularly with regard to the concessions for the stage carriage drivers in paragraph 4. We are all aware that most local bus services are seriously undermanned and therefore need all the flexibility they can get in order to keep their services running for the convenience of the general public, with their existing manpower. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was good enough to refer to his consideration for the interests of the travelling public and I would ask him and his right honourable friend the Minister to keep this before their minds, and although they have these commitments in the Order, not to close their minds to the possibility of continuing the concessions if it appears to be necessary.

Another concession which deserves to be mentioned is in paragraph 5 of the Regulations. It allows a spread-over driving day to be extended from 14 hours under the Act to 16 hours. My noble friend Lord Selkirk, who I am glad to see in his place, made an eloquent plea during the Committee stage for such a spread-over, to provide for sports excursions, and in particular he was interested in skiing parties to the Scottish Highlands. I must congratulate him on the success of his campaign, which in the event has carried the day.

The third and last concession I should like to refer to is that of double manning. We dealt with this during our debate on the Bill and were told then that it was not feasible to allow double manning of buses—that is to say, carrying a second driver in the bus—because as the second driver, even when resting, was in the vehicle, he would still technically be on duty. There is an implication in the Regulations that this will not now be so, provided he is seated in his resting seat. Therefore I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, whether he will confirm that the second driver, when he is resting, is technically off duty, and also, if he can, to say a word or two as to how he sees this double manning arrangement working in practice. I may say that it could be extremely valuable for long-distance work and a great help to operators.

My Lords, may I say one word about enforcement? On Tuesday last I read in The Times that vehicles are now being driven—this is on the freight side, and presumably next week on the passenger side they will be driven—without the new driver's log book being carried and completed. According to The Times, the million new log books printed by the Stationery Office are not suitable because they do not have sufficient space in them, and apparently a new printing is being made by the industry which is not yet ready. The writer of the article in The Times said that the Minister of Transport regards the first three months of the introduction of these Regulations as a transitional period, during which time his 223 enforcement officers will concentrate on education and advice. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, whether he can confirm this and also, that drivers will not be prosecuted during this transitional period while they are wailing for log books and learning the complexities of these Regulations.

That is the short-term aspect; but on the long-term enforcement aspect noble Lords will remember that during our debate on the 1968 Act we discussed Clause 97, from which we knew that effective enforcement depends upon the introduction of the tachograph, colloquially known as the "black box", which was regarded by the Minister and also by the Prices and Incomes Board as essential for effective enforcement, and indeed for increased productivity. The Government spokesman resisted our Amendment on the Committee stage to make this a compulsory condition from the start, on the grounds that there were not enough tachographs then in existence to fit every affected vehicle, and he told us that it would take eighteen months before enough could be manufactured. Twenty months have now gone by since those happy days when we were discussing the Transport Bill in this House. There-fore by now there should be a plentiful supply of tachographs available, and I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to inform the House what is the Minister's timetable for the implementation of Clause 97 in regard to the fitting of tachographs.

With those comments, my Lords, I have only to add my further request to the Minister that he will ask his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport to watch closely the working of these new Regulations, and that he and his officials should be fully responsive to representations from the representatives of the industry, if experience shows that further flexibility is needed. We all of us want the same thing: to get the right balance of road safety considerations on the one hand, and practical working on the other. With those comments I am glad to welcome the Order.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, with my noble friend I should like to say how grateful I am for the exemptions and relaxations which have been made in Part VI of the 1968 Act. I do not wish to repeat what a climb down it has been for the Government; obviously they did not do their preparations. I should briefly like to consider one or two other exemptions which could have been made, although I have been informed that they were not made because it was thought that the industry had had their ration. Whether that is right or wrong, I do not know. The exemption that I should like to mention in particular is that where the Act or the Order allows a special contract carriage driver a 14-hour spread-over, he must always have not less than four hour's rest; but with a 12½ or a 16-hour spreadover (or 14 hours for a stage carriage driver) the rest period is the time by which the spreadover exceeds 10 hours, which is sensible. But as it is, if an express driver had a 13-hour spread-over he would have to take four hours' rest, leaving him only nine hours for driving and other work. Therefore, I think the industry would have been grateful to have had the rest related to the time in excess of 10 hours in all cases. Various people in different parts of the country commented on that point.

Another exemption I should like to point out is that in Section 96(7), to assist part-time drivers, which is unpopular with the unions. I must say that, speaking as a union man, one does not always relish the thought of part-time drivers. They do rather unsettle the industry. Other industries seem to have coped with the problem very well: for instance, the nursing profession and hospital services generally could not exist without part-time nurses, so I do not see why the transport industry should not be able to cope with part-time drivers. How-ever, I shall deal with that point when I come to the staff situation.

The staff situation in the passenger transport industry is the cause of much concern. As was mentioned in another place, London is 15 per cent. below par and in the Provinces the figure is 13 per cent. Indeed, the honourable Member for Nuneaton, Mr. Huckfield, mentioned that in his area of the Midland Red it was no less than 50 per cent. below. I know that in the Midlands, where there is a great deal of industry with a lot of money to be earned, the buses rather take the last place in the queue. I believe that now is the time for a Commission to be set up to go into the staff situation thoroughly, because there are some systems of work which encourage staff to remain. Money is not the answer. I know that in the other place it was said, "Put up the wages". That may be one thing, but I think your Lordships will agree that money is not everything. There are other conditions which should be looked into, and if this Commission were set up to look into working conditions I am sure that it would help.

The question of putting up fares was also raised. Nobody has mentioned the public in the debate in the other place or in this House. It would be a great mistake to put up fares unnecessarily. I know that through a Money Bill the Government helps the industry to buy vehicles, but I think the public has had as much as it can take in fares increases, especially in rural areas.

Perhaps I may mention the R.T.I.B.— I know that this is not strictly relevant to this Order. Could they be given training grants for staff? To relieve staff shortage there are firms who train drivers before they actually join the staff, but who do not at the moment get a grant. I feel that the function of the R.T.I.B., also with a survey of training needs, could do much to alleviate the shortage of drivers.

My last point is on the question of safety. After the short debate on Drivers' Hours (Goods and Services), a noble Lord told me that he would not think of driving ten hours a day in his car even when he was a younger man than he is now. I should like to say, although comparisons are odious, that the man who drives a lorry and the man who drives a car have quite different attitudes. When you are driving a lorry and doing it as a job, you are doing only that and concentrating on that, and you are fully capable of doing so. I would hate to drive ten hours at a time, or 60 hours a week in my car. With regard to safety figures, although I look forward to a reduction in the number of accidents involving public service and goods vehicles, I very much doubt whether that hope will materialise. With regard to the enforcement of this Order, I know that the associations have taken an extremely responsible view; they have had many meetings with the employers and have had packed meetings. So I think we can look forward to this Order being functional.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Government for the improvement in flexibility brought about by this Order. I am glad that it was possible to bring in this provision on double manning, on which we put a certain amount of pressure on the Government but they were extremely reluctant to do it at that time. I think the flexibility effected is a great improvement.

I must ask the noble Lord a specific question in regard to bank holidays. I do not suppose for a moment the noble Lord has looked at the Act of 1871. It is almost entirely concerned with bills of exchange and what happens when they fall due on bank holidays; it really has nothing to do with holidays at all. We have a practice in Scotland of having holidays not on bank holidays. I am looking at the Order, paragraph 5(4); I take it that this would cover conditions for the service of the public when there are holidays, so that there is more flexibility. It is a common practice for Edinburgh to have a spring holiday and people go to shop in Glasgow. They have a holiday on another day in Glasgow and go to shop in Edinburgh. Can we not have that paragraph changed to show that it is not wholly tied to bank holidays? I read it as tied wholly to bank holidays; I think it should be tied to public holidays which are declared at certain times. I should like the noble Lord to look at that point because I frankly think this paragraph has little application to Scotland as it stands at the present time.

I have two other points, the first a very curious one. I see that long tours arc shown in the Order as tours of five days, but as tours of six days in the Explanatory Memorandum. I am not sure why this is so; it seems odd that there should be that variation. While I agree with what has been done, the way in which it has been done is really appalling. The measure has been compared in complexity to a Finance Act or a Land Com-mission Act, but really we are doing a perfectly simple thing. The Minister in the other place specifically said that he had decided not to give latitude to the Traffic Commissioners. I should have thought that this was essentially a matter in which latitude should be given to the Traffic Commissioners, instead of tying it up with Regulations which, as was said in the other place the night before last, not one Member of the House fully understood—and I doubt, in fairness, that one Member of this House really fully understands.

To give an example, we have some-thing called "periods of rest"; they can be half an hour, three quarters of an hour, one hour, one and a half hours, two hours, four hours; or if you want to go for slightly longer periods, eight and a half hours, nine and a half hours, eleven hours, twelve hours. Every one of those has to be recorded by the driver at the time, and the Explanatory Memorandum tells him what pencil to use when he is properly recording it. That is not a practical proposition. A degree of burden is being put on this industry which is out of all proportion to the benefit which will accrue. Noble Lords have been shouting for four years about productivity and cost effectiveness. There has never been a measure with less cost effectiveness than the Order we are looking at now.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I can only say to the noble Earl that I should certainly need notice to be able to reply to the points dealing with the 1871 Act. I should need to get the help and sup-port of my noble friend Lord Nugent —my noble friend in this particular case because he and I are well aware of the number of Transport Acts passed since 1871. One might find that the 1871 Act has been removed from the Statute Book or amended considerably. But I will look into the point.

With regard to the definition of a bank holiday, it is a holiday in the area in which the vehicle is driving or is being used. With regard to complexity (and on this I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk), the difficulty is that the Act itself is very difficult to draft, and therefore when amendments are being made to it, in order to provide for the modifications for which we have been asked, the complexity is inevitably increased. What we have been trying to do here is to match our demands to the operators' needs; to fit in with the varying working schedules required by them and by their drivers. This is the reason why we have these wide-ranging periods of rest. I do not see any other way of doing what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has asked us to do —that is, to take a flexible view of the situation and not to be rigid.

I am most grateful for the support that has been given to this Order, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, feels that he is thoroughly vindicated about the line that he took during the passage of the 1968 Act. As I have previously said to the noble Lord, wisdom and understanding are not something held entirely on this side of the House. But we all agree, surely, that road safety and the removal of the risk of fatigue to drivers is necessary. I think one should also recognise that although we have gone a long way in the 1968 Act, and with the slight modifications here, we are still far behind the standards demanded on the Continent.

May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that certainly we shall keep a watchful eye on the way in which the present Order operates. Clearly, if between now and October, 1971, when some of these provisions will cease, further amendment is needed, or the industry feels that the Order should continue in force for longer, then of course my right honourable friend will be only too willing to receive representations from them. But I think that at this stage we should keep our eyes on the target of reducing as quickly as possible the periods for which a driver is both at the wheel and at his work.

In regard to the log book, of course the driver of the public service vehicle will not himself keep this book. These records will be kept by the bus operators, and will be scrutinised from time to time by the traffic commissioners. Responsibility for seeing that the log books are correct lies with the driver, and also with the company. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said that he had read in the newspapers that the Minister of Transport will regard the next three months as a transitional period, and he asked me whether or not a driver would be prosecuted. Clearly, the fact that this Order becomes law does not of itself enable one to say that a driver will or will not be prosecuted. If he contravenes the law, or if the bus operator breaks the law knowingly, then clearly they will be open to prosecution. But I can assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend regards the next three months as most important, not only in regard to proper liaison between the Ministry and the commissioners with the bus operators, but also as a good period for education of drivers and of all those who are concerned in public service transport.

The noble Lord asked about black boxes, referred to in Clause 97. I think I should say that it was not intended that these black boxes should operate in regard to public service vehicles. Since the log books are kept by the bus operator, the problem does not arise. In the case of a lorry, which is not the subject of this Order, I understand that there is no immediate intention of bringing this particular part of the Act into force.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, also asked me specifically about Article 5(2), (3) and (4), which deal with the driver on a double-manned vehicle. I think I ought perhaps to read my note on this point, so that there is no misunderstanding. My Lords, a driver on a double-manned vehicle can take his statutory rest periods during the day while travelling as a passenger on the vehicle, provided that he has a seat reserved for him when he is not driving, and pro-vided that he has 12 hours' rest after wards. This means that he is taking his rest period while on duty. The rest periods taken on the vehicle mean "on duty", in the Minister's view, because the driver is under instructions from his employer and is not free to do as he pleases. At the same time, under Article 3 of the Order the working week for public service vehicle drivers has been extended to 72 hours on duty, with a maximum of 132 hours per fortnight. My right honourable friend considers that with this extended limit double-manned operation on the present scale and use will be practicable, and he did not feel it necessary to provide a special further extension of duty in addition to this. He will however be prepared to consider this question again when, at the end of the transitional period, in October, 1971, the weekly hours are reduced to 60.

The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, again raised the question of part-time drivers. Of course part-time drivers can drive public service vehicles, provided they have a licence and do not come within the compass of this Act or of this Order, so long as they drive for less than four hours per working day.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Rather than having four hours a working day the industry asked for 20 hours in a working week, which I believe has not been considered and is perhaps not logical. But a little more flexibility would have been appreciated.


My Lords, I quite understand. The difficulty, of course, is that if we start making exceptions from this four-hour period, both in terms of lorries and of public service vehicles, we run into great difficulties, and perhaps also do the very thing for which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has been criticising Her Majesty's Government in this legislation: making this matter even more complicated than it is. Although the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, would perhaps wish the Order to go further, I feel that the House will support it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.