HL Deb 12 May 1971 vol 318 cc1123-35

5.30 p.m.

LORD MOWBRAY AND STOURTON rose to move, That the Draft Drivers' Hours (Passenger and Goods Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1971, laid before the House on April 8, be approved. The noble Lord said: This Order is made by my right honourable friend in exercise of his powers under Sections 96(12), 101 and 157 of the Transport Act 1968. For drivers of goods vehicles it extends certain exemptions already available under the Act and under the Drivers' Hours (Goods Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1970 to drivers of goods vehicles used for additional types of work. The House may remember that the 1968 Act imposed a number of new restrictions on drivers' hours. These hours were already controlled under the Road Traffic Act 1930 as consolidated in 1960 Rules were laid down by Statute defining in minute detail what was, and what was not, permissible. It was widely predicted at that time that these rules would be unworkable; and the new legislation finally came into force with a mass of exemptions and modifications.

My Lords, in practice these rules did not work. This is an industry where wage costs account for some 70 per cent. of total costs, and inflation has hit it hard. Last year the effect on the biggest single operator, the National Bus Company, was to make it lose £4 million. This was partly due to widespread industrial action and falling traffic, but the restriction on drivers' hours was estimated to be a very important factor in this set up. Traffic must be carried as and when it arises, and if, from Monday to Friday, the public needs its buses chiefly in the morning and evening rush hours, then staff need to be available at those hours. If at weekends the public likes to make an excursion by coach, it may be the stage bus driver on Monday to Friday who will drive the coach. Different rules for buses and coaches are scarcely the best thing for the driver and company concerned. Tight new regulations could in fact have only one outcome, which they have duly had: a reduction in service. We have all heard questions put to myself and other noble Lords in debates on this point on the reduction of bus services, and lack of amenity for people in rural areas.

Perhaps I might give the House some figures. To allow for an increased shortage of drivers resulting from the new provisions, a sample of 51 undertakings made a planned reduction in their stage services of some 540,000 miles per week. By July of last year they were losing a further 460,000 miles per week unplanned, because no driver was available. They were also losing 420,000 miles a week on excursions, tours, school contracts and private party work. All told, this represented about 6 per cent. of their corresponding mileage in the previous year, far more than the marginal annual reduction attributable to the inroads of the private car. In one week last July, 47 per cent. of the scheduled mileage lost was in the peak travelling periods, and many companies estimated their loss of excursion traffic at more than 50 per cent. Departmental files bear eloquent testimony to what lost mileage means in terms of the bus that never came, loss of time at work, children late home from school and, as your Lordships have often mentioned, elderly folk bereft of their only means of transport. The drivers, too, have had new worries. A voluntary extra turn may run foul of the law. Drivers have also suffered because operators, from a sense of public duty, have concentrated on keeping stage services running at the expense of private party and excursion work, which has always appealed to the bus driver as a pleasant variation in his daily work.

My Lords, such stringent provisions could only be justified if the dictates of safety or industrial welfare warranted them. As for safety, let me say at once that there has been no significant variation in the figures for injury accidents involving public service vehicles between 1969 and 1970. Let me also say that research into drivers' behaviour, both here and abroad, has failed to demonstrate any correlation of length of driving time and accidents, or changes of behaviour liable to lead to accidents. As for industrial welfare, it is not the function of legislation, or this Order, to supplant normal collective bargaining about conditions of service.

I should make it absolutely plain that the Order before us in no way derogates from the right of workers in the bus industry to negotiate with their employers as they have previously done. What the Government propose is to relax and simplify provisions affecting drivers' hours in the interests of the travelling public and the industry itself. We believe that the chief instruments of control should be driving time and rest time, that hours of duty, as such, are in the main better left to industrial agreement. What we can do by way of new regulations is, of course, handicapped by the complicated provisions in the 1968 Act from which we have to work, but it is our firm intention to work toward a simplification of the basic provisions when an opportunity becomes available for primary legislation. We have also done what we can to simplify matters by preparing an explanatory leaflet for this Order, which it is intended to circulate very widely among operators and drivers. Copies of the draft leaflet are available in the Printed Paper Office.

I come now to the Order itself. In doing so, I would emphasise that nothing within it alters the daily limit of driving time. This remains at 10 hours per day, as prescribed in the 1968 Act. Part I of the Order is formal. Part II deals with drivers of passenger vehicles. Article 3 of Part II revokes the Drivers' Hours (Passenger Vehicle) (Modifications) Order 1970. Article 4, paragraph (1) defines the drivers to whom this part of the Order applies. These are drivers who spend all or the greater part of their relevant driving time driving passenger vehicles. No distinction is now made between drivers of stage buses and others. This is an important simplification.

Paragraph (2) of Article 4 prescribes the maximum period of driving (51 hours) permissible without a rest break of at least half an hour. It also provides that a driver may work a "straight through shift" of 82 hours provided that he has rest breaks during that time amounting to at least 45 minutes. A driver will now be able to undertake another spell of driving within his daily limit of 10 hours after completing a "straight through shift" and taking a rest break of at least 30 minutes which must follow it. This will help the Industry in covering peak hours and late journeys for which there may at present be no driver available.

Paragraph (3) of Article 4 extends the working day to 16 hours. The purpose of this is to allow flexibility for manning the early morning peaks and the late evening services. It is also of value in facilitating extended tours and long day excursions, which were unduly cramped under the previous rules. It must be clearly understood that the 10-hour limit on driving still applies and that the nightly rest requirement effectively rules out any danger of working 16 hours day in day out.

Paragraph (4) prescribes a daily rest between working days of at least 10 hours, which may be reduced to 8½hours on 3 days a week. The 8½hour rest period is no novelty; it was allowed to bus drivers by the March 1970 Order, but it had to be followed on each occasion by a 12-hour rest. This rigid alternation of 8½hour rest and 12-hour rest occasioned great difficulty for operators and was the cause of many a bus in the early morning peak hours being unmanned. In this Order we are substituting a more flexible provision which will remove one of the main causes of irregular running during the morning peaks and the nonappearance of evening buses.

Paragraph (5) removes the limit on duty hours for the week subject to the conditions which I have mentioned. Paragraph (6) provides that a driver must have at leas, one continous period of 24 hours off duty in every two successive weeks, but without the previous requirement for the 24 hour period to comprise a full day. Paragraph (7) provides certain exemptions for part-time drivers. The complexity of this paragraph is, I am afraid, due to the wording of the original Act. Essentially, however, it means that people whose driving time exceeds four hours a day on not more than two days a week are required to comply with requirements affecting drivers' hours only in respect of those days. Those who drive for less than 4 hours a day are exempt already. This concession should facilitate the use of part-time drivers from among other employees of the operator rather than having to recruit them from outside. Paragraph (8) is a consequential provision.

I come now to Part III of the Order. This provides for minor concessions for goods vehicle drivers engaged in cinematography, radio or television broadcasting, and quarrying work. A general exemption from all but the daily 10-hour driving limit was provided by the Drivers' Hours (Goods Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1970 for persons driving light goods vehicles for certain specialised purposes not including the general carriage of goods; for example, doctors, nurses or fitters who use a small van or estate car for their work. Article 5(a) of Part III extends the 1970 Order to cover film operations and broadcasting staff.

The 1970 Order also extended to drivers engaged in building, construction and civil engineering work an exemption already provided by Section 96(9) of the Act whereby time spent driving off the public road in the course of agricultural and forestry operations is not counted as "driving" for the purposes of the Act. Article 5(b) of Part III now extends this exemption to drivers engaged in quarrying operations.

My Lords, I do not pretend that the effect of this Order is to reduce the law on drivers' hours to simplicity itself. What we are doing is to ease the shoe where it pinches—pinches the operators, the drivers themselves and the travelling public. If the Order passes into law, I understand that we may hope to see immediate and progressive benefits in an industry which ranks among the progressive and essential services of our economy. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Drivers Hours (Passenger and Goods Vehicles) (Modifications) Order 1971, laid before the House on 8th April, be approved.—(Lord Mowbray and Stourton.)

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I am certain you would like me to express to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, our earnest congratulations for the excellent and explicit way in which he has introduced this Order. We have got to remember that the reason for the original Order was to try to give more safety, not only to vehicle drivers but to those who use the roads of our country, to prevent the drivers from becoming overworked and to provide an opportunity for the vehicles to be checked. Whatever else I come now to Part III of the Order. might have been done, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that as a result of this legislation vehicles to-day are in very much better condition.

As to the stress that may have been put on the drivers, on many occasions there was proof beyond any shadow of doubt that they were working excessive hours and becoming a menace on the road to other users. To remedy that, the Act and the Regulations were introduced. I am bound to tell the noble Lord I was duly impressed with the statistics he provided this afternoon. I am certain that your Lordships' House was also impressed by the statistics applied by the same Department when they were promoting the original Order. All they are doing to-day in the same Department is to produce certain other statistics to show how wrong they were in tile first place. That may well be so, but I do not know, as I am not competent to judge. I hope the Order will work and will not result in any increase in road accidents. I hope those who understand it will find themselves in agreement with it. All I can say is I am not competent to judge on it—I have not sufficient expertise and I was unable to analyse the statistics which were poured forth in ten minutes this afternoon. For that reason, I would certainly raise no objection to the Order.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I will not take much time of the House because there is a most important debate on the most wonderful and most nourishing fish in the world—the herring, which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, extolled for years in the other place. I am delighted to see that he is extolling it again and trying to protect it from all kinds of things that might happen. I assure the noble Lord that I will not stand between him and his herring for more than a minute.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, for the explicit way in which he has introduced this Order. I simply want to reiterate that I hope there will not be a continuous appeal for an extension of hours. I am sure that on that side of the House there is much concern at the hours a man is working at the wheel in any industry and for the safety of pedestrians and others. We do not want exploitation of the driver, whether in the national transport industry or private enterprise, at the expense of the safety of the public. I request from this side of the House that there shall not be a continual appeal to extend these hours, after the struggle we had to get them within what I hoped would be reasonable limits. Therefore, I think the matter is not worthy of a big debate. Nevertheless, it is worth our pointing out that we should not continuously ask for an extension of these hours. I hope your Lordships will not feel that we have taken too much time from the important debate that is to come on.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, having been one of the people who are extremely doubtful about this part of the Transport Act 1968, I can do nothing but welcome the small relaxation which this Order gives to public service vehicle drivers and the even smaller relaxation it gives to drivers of goods vehicles. I, too, agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, that it is essential that people should not be allowed to drive for excessive periods of time. The Order, by keeping the 10 hours driving maximum, does prevent this. I should have liked to see more relaxation given to drivers of other forms of goods vehicles. Certainly in the North of Scotland, where distances are very great, the present legislation creates enormous difficulties. I hope, from what the noble Lord, the Minister, said, that in the near future more general legislation will be introduced which will enable drivers in the more remote areas, at any rate, not to drive more than 10 hours a day but to have more flexibility as to how those 10 hours can be taken and how waiting time shall not count. This is the real difficulty in the North of Scotland, particularly when you are driving loads to market, or doing that sort of thing.

My Lords, I welcome this Order. It is a step in the right direction, but looking at the 1968 Act, I think there is still more that can be done. Incidentally, when the 1968 Bill was going through Parliament I thought there was absolutely' no scientific evidence at all that fatigue caused many accidents in the case of professional drivers. The opposite seems to be rather the case. Fatigue undoubtedly causes accidents involving what I might call non-professional drivers— noble Lords here, who are not used to driving for long periods of time and who suddenly set out for their holidays. That is a danger. I cannot see that we can do anything about that. I think it would be an unwarranted interference with the liberty of the subject if we said that ordinary people should not drive for more than ten hours in any one day. But in my opinion this is where fatigue really causes accidents, and not with the professional drivers, who on the whole are extremely good drivers and are very careful.


My Lords, I hope that what I am going to say will not be outside the very wide limits usually extended to speakers in your Lordships' House. While agreeing with everything that has been said, I should like to stress that one of the causes of accidents, even with reduced hours, which of course have been introduced in the interests of both the travelling public and the drivers themselves, and of the ordinary users of the road, is the lack of parking spaces. Road safety would be greatly 'increased by the provision of far more parking spaces on some of the roads, other than the dual carriageways, which already have spaces provided at the ends. All too often one still sees drivers pulled up on comparatively narrow roads along which there runs a great deal of traffic. Admittedly the reduction of hours of driving will mean a reduction in the number of accidents, but I think that the provision of more parking spaces for these drivers would help a great deal, too.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, the Government are absolutely right to bring in these very necessary modifications to the Orders. Like other noble Lords, I do not wish to be unpopular by prolonging this debate, but I was involved in the discussion on the 1968 Act in your Lordships' House when this subject was debated very fully. I remember that the Government at that time expected to get it through in two or three hours. In fact, we found it necessary to take three days over it. It was not part of a filibuster, either, because at that time I was very new to your Lordships' House— I was still wet behind the ears— and I did not know what the word "filibuster" meant.

Noble Lords on this side of the House warned the Government at that time about the difference that this legislation would make, and on March 15, 1970— one year after the time originally proposed— the Government then brought into force the amended regulations. Within a short time of the change in the law, it was obvious that the position was extremely grave, and therefore the industry started preparing a case for submission to the Minister to prove the need for relaxation. Not only has this law, which has been so ably referred to by my noble friend, been impossibly difficult to operate, but it has been equally difficult to understand. It was so complicated that even the enforcement officers did not fully understand all its implications.

The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, mentioned this question of safety. There was no evidence put forward by the previous Government that P.S.V. drivers were unsafe by reason of driving long hours. There has been an experiment recently, in twenty companies, and even with the new changes there have not been any less accidents. So that the argument of safety I am afraid does not hold water. As to the regulation on vehicles, I am afraid I cannot tell the House whether they are in any better condition or are worse, but so far as public service vehicles are concerned I should imagine that they continue to be maintained at night and to the same standard. As to the statistics which the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, said had been "cooked up", I had-pen to know that these are very recent figures presented by the industry, not by any particular Government Department.

Mention was made of the drivers themselves. They were against the hours laid down for the 1968 operators, and for many years shift work as been increasingly unpopular. Most drivers have tolerated this only because of high wages. I am sorry to have to disagree with the trade unions here, but I feel that in this instance they do not represent their members' interests but follow political principles of keeping the working hours down regardless of the consequences and without justifiable cause. I can back up this statement by saying that when I conducted an experiment in the summer of 1968, and thus met a considerable number of drivers, over 90 per cent. of them were against any form of reduction in working hours at all. We have talked about and all round this subject, but we have not mentioned the poor public in any great detail, and they are the people who have suffered most.


Would the noble Lord allow me one sentence? I apologise. That is no test, I would say to the noble Lord. When, early in the nineteenth century, we had children down the pits at seven years of age there were some parents who wanted to keep them down there because they were making some money. So I do not take it as a test that if a man wants to work until he nearly drops that is good for his health or for society.


I enjoyed that interruption by the noble Lord, who gives some colour to this debate, as he always does. But if a man wants to work to earn money to have a reasonable standard of living, he should be entitled to do so, and it is quite a different matter from children of seven going down the mines. I, too, have done my homework, and paid attention in the history class some years ago.


I did not mean that in any sense disparagingly.


I think I can quite happily wind up. Another question which was also brought up was that of the Common Market. The regulations in these countries have only just been started, and I should think they will probably have to think again. In Italy, they have not begun at all. Finally, we must remember that all this overtime is not compulsory unless agreed to by the unions, and that no driver will have to work unless he wishes to.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to congratulate the Government on making these more flexible regulations, particularly in so far as they make it easier to use buses for the conveyance for recreational purposes, more especially of young persons, from the congested parts of Scotland to the hills. This was a point that my noble friend Lord Selkirk was especially interested in, and he regrets that he has been unable to be here to-day to express to the Government his gratitude and that of the skiers in the congested areas. One point that I should like to make in connection with what my noble friend the Duke of Atholl said, is that unless you make it possible for the buses to take these young persons, then they go in their rickety-rackety cars, they spend the whole day out on the hills, and they return in their rickety-rackety cars. In those circumstances, the possibility of accidents is very much greater than if they go in buses driven by skilled drivers.


My Lords, I, too, welcome this Order. There are just two points I should like to make. First, the length of drivers' hours has not had any effect upon the roadworthiness, and therefore the safety, of the vehicle itself. It is other sections, happily, of the 1968 Act which have had the desired effect in that respect. Secondly, I wonder whether the Minister can say how these new hours compare with the hours permitted to Continental drivers? I have at the back of my mind a feeling that our hauliers are working against some unfair competition in that the influx of foreign trucks, which in any event are larger than ours, with their own drivers permitted to drive longer hours, means that the operation ex the Continent can be less expensive than our own operation. If the Minister is able to give any information on that, I should be obliged. I appreciate, however, that he may not have this information, in which case perhaps he would let me know in due course.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, if I may I will answer the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, first. The Continental Orders are much less wide than ours and by next year they are going to be more restrictive still. The Continental E.E.C. Orders apply only to regular journeys of more than 50 kilometres, which is about 30 miles. Our information is that the vast majority of bus journeys, in fact about 80 per cent. of them— and we are discussing bus passenger transport— are made within this distance. The E.E.C. regulations apply only to long Continental journeys. They do not apply to the kind of journeys that most bus drivers make, which are usually in stages of up to 30 miles. The Orders are not concerned with total daily mileage but with the mileage involved in one journey. These regulations therefore do not apply.

We are proposing in our negotiations for entry into E.E.C. to ask for a five-year period in which to merge any problems of this sort; so this is a problem which will not arise in the near future and applies only to a small proportion of the journeys undertaken by the drivers we are discussing; and for these under 50 kilometre journeys our hours are better than those in the E.E.C. regulations.

In general, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have spoken for the welcome they have given this Order which noble Lords will understand is designed to make for greater flexibility and for a more pleasant life for the public, for the operators and the drivers. The noble Lord, Lord Hoy, talked about conditions of vehicles. I have every confidence that the operators will not find this too great a problem. Vehicle inspectors are extremely strict with public transport vehicles and it would be a very unwise operator who failed to carry out the proper maintenance required for the safety of his passengers.

On the point about tired drivers noble Lords have been kind enough to accept my assurance that this was not a problem. If I may, I will read a quotation from a publication of the Road Research Laboratory. It says: Vehicle driving has many aspects that will facilitate prolonged vigilance without deterioration of manipulative skill. Firstly, there is usually a continuously changing input of information into several sensory channels. These inputs of sight, sound vibration and accelerations have strong effects on the arousal mechanism of the body that preserve interest and vigilance. The immediate consequences of skill reduction and errors of judgment are easily understood so that motivation for self preservation is persistent. Finally, the manipulative skills of driving are generally speaking easy and pleasurable for most people. In the experienced professional driver the task is greatly overlearned and consequently skill is resistance to deterioration from the fatigue effects of prolonged stress. I think that with those few words, the fears of noble Lords will be allayed on the safety aspect.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, raised the question of "stinking fish" — which somehow crept into this debate. I will leave this subject to the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, to deal with. This is something that I do not think needs to be thought about here. We are in a framework within which the industry will be content. They have ample skill with regard to safety. I do not think there is any intention to ask for further concessions. We have met fairly largely the varying demands of the various bodies asking for this and that. We have not completely given everyone what they want because we have applied our own judgment; but I do not think that noble Lords need have any fear on that point. My noble friend the Duke of Atholl slightly widened the debate. When more legislative time is available we may consider primary legislation which might take care of his point among others. That would also apply to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, on his point about more parking places.

My noble friend Lord Teviot who, with his experience of being a bus driver and a union member we are pleased to have on this side of the House, ranged over a wide range of subjects. I thank him for his remarks and say how grateful we are to him. My noble friend Lord Balerno as usual had wise words for us on this question. In general, we are obviously agreed that if we can get more people into buses the roads will become less congested. I hope that these regulations will do that. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also gave us the benefit of his advice, for which we are grateful. As I have said, these regulations represent the maxima possible. I suppose that if an operator were stupid enough to jeopardise his goodwill and lose his employees he might abuse these regulations; but the hours which are laid down we consider to be sensible. We have an undertaking from the employers in which they say that they have no intention of trying to use the revised regulations to impose unacceptable or unduly onerous duties on their employees and thus to jeopardise the good public record of their industry.

On Question, Motion agreed to.