HL Deb 18 May 1976 vol 370 cc1295-9

4.27 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge) rose to move, That the Road Traffic (Drivers' Ages and Hours of Work) (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, laid before the House on 14th April, be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order is a parity measure and parallels the Road Traffic (Drivers' Ages and Hours of Work) Act 1976. The order gives effect within Northern Ireland to the provisions of Council Regulation EEC 543 of 1969 about minimum ages of drivers and gives the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland wider powers to make regulations about drivers' hours. The approval of the order will thus ensure uniformity of approach within the United Kingdom to the provisions of this EEC regulation.

The order has been made by the "urgent" procedure because the provision of the EEC regulation relating to minimum drivers' ages came into force for internal journeys within the United Kingdom on the 1st January 1976. In consequence, since that date driving licences in Northern Ireland have been issued which are in conformity with that regulation and, in so far as the regulation departs from present Statute Law, out of accord with that law. It is clearly desirable to remove the cause of that anomaly as quickly as possible and the purpose of this order is so to do.

In fact the differences between the EEC regulation and Northern Ireland domestic law on drivers' ages are not very substantial. The main effect will fall on 17 year olds, who on first licensing will be limited to driving goods vehicles not exceeding 3.5 metric tons permissible maximum weight—that is, about 30 cwts unladen—instead of their present entitlement of 3 tons unladen weight. Persons between the ages of 18 and 21 years will be restricted to goods vehicles not exceeding 7.5 metric tons permissible maximum weight instead of their present entitlement of 3 tons unladen weight. Persons over 21 will not be affected at all. Where passenger vehicles are concerned, the only effect of the EEC Regulation as reflected in this order relates to new drivers under 21 years of age who will be limited to driving nine-seaters inclusive of the driver.

Article 3 of the order substitutes for Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 a new section which contains a Table showing the minimum ages at which a person may drive vehicles of different classes. The classes are defined in terms consistent with the EEC regulation. The new provisions will apply only to first applicants for a driving licence. Persons with existing entitlements to drive will be safeguarded from the new restrictions by the provisions of Schedule 2. The opportunity is also being taken to alter the threshold at which the requirement for a heavy goods vehicle drivers' vocational licence applies, from its present 3 tons unladen weight to 7.5 metric tons permissible maximum weight. Schedule 2, however, contains provisions which safeguard existing entitlements. For example, those with recent experience of driving vehicles which become heavy goods vehicles by reason only of the change in threshold will he able to claim an appropriate licence without further test.

Articles 4 and 5 deal with the subject of drivers' hours, which, of course, also come within the provisions of EEC Regulation 543/69. The United Kingdom position on this regulation has already been fully explained to this House during the passage of the Road Traffic (Drivers' Ages and Hours of Work) Bill. It was due to come into operation for internal journeys on 1st January 1976, but has been deferred until 1st July 1976 with hopes for further deferment after that. The present framework of drivers' hours and so on is governed by the Road Traffic Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 and permits an 11-hour driving day as against 10 in Great Britain and 8 as proposed by the EEC Regulation. I should mention, in passing, that action is in hand to bring the maximum driving day in Northern Ireland into line with the standard 10 hours in Great Britain.

Article 4 provides that the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland may adapt, by regulations, Part IV of the Road Traffic Act (NI) 1970, to ensure compatibility of operation with the EEC regulation. For example, the EEC regulation applies to most, but not all, goods vehicles. It might be that the Department would wish to extend its provisions to vehicles not covered at present; and this Article enables them to do so. The Articles also gives power to extend the enforcement provisions of the 1970 Act to any directly applicable EEC provisions. So, if EEC Regulation 543/69 were amended at some future date, the Department could issue appropriate regulations without recourse to primary legislation. Finally, Article 4 makes provision for supplementary and consequential provisions particularly in relation to record keeping.

Article 5 clarifies the powers of magistrates' courts in adjudicating in cases of contravention of drivers' hours and records requirements. In Northern Ireland such cases are at present dealt with under the provisions of the Magistrates' Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 1964. These powers however are limited. This Article seeks to overcome difficulties which can arise under existing legislation by providing that proceedings can be instituted in a court with jurisdiction for a place where the person charged was driving when evidence first came to light, the place where the offender is or where he resides when proceedings are commenced or the place where the offender normally resides.

Moved, That the Road Traffic (Drivers' Ages and Hours of Work) (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, laid before the House on 14th April, be approved.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I understand and accept the reason for the urgency procedure being used with respect to this order and I support its passage, but with one question which I should like to ask related to Article 4; namely, drivers' hours of duty. The noble Lord explained that Northern Ireland permits an 11-hour driving day as against 10 hours in Great Britain and eight hours as proposed by the EEC Regulation. I understood the noble Lord to say that action is in progress at the moment to bring the Northern Ireland driving day into line with that in Great Britain. Even that is of the very greatest importance to Northern Ireland. Road haulage firms in the Province will have their costs affected by that move and of course if there was a move to institute an 8-hour driving day for road haulage firms based in Northern Ireland, it would have an enormous effect on costs, particularly so now that the Belfast-Heysham ferry has ceased so some journeys from the Province are longer than necessary. Of course any increase in prices for road haulage firms in Northern Ireland are transmitted into higher prices, particularly for such things as animal feeds which already are more expensive in the Province because of the costs of haulage.

I should like to ask whether the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment is entirely a free agent in making regulations —to which the noble Lord also referred in his speech—about drivers' hours. I believe I am right in saying that the EEC are themselves looking at the eight-hour driving day provision which has not been found to be satisfactory in many of the EEC countries. But, leaving that aside for a moment, if there is to be an eight-hour day in Europe, am I correct in interpreting what the noble Lord said this afternoon as being that the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment would be free to make whatever regulations it likes about drivers' hours? If I am right in that assumption, what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government in this respect? With those two questions, I support the passage of this order.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support and will answer his two questions. The reduction from 11 hours to 10 hours in Northern Ireland is a matter for negotiation between the parties concerned, and this is going on at the moment; it is in no way connected with this order but it is a bringing into line of Northern Ireland practice with British practice. Regarding the second point, under Article 4 the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment have powers to amend both the length of the driving day and the classes of vehicles to which the enforcement provisions refer but within the limits imposed by the EEC regulation. In other words, at the moment the EEC regulation is eight hours, but the United Kingdom has deferment of this until 1st July. Discussions are taking place and there may be further deferment. If the EEC altered this and said, "We are going to have nine hours or 10 hours", the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment, without coming back to the House, would be enabled to follow that regulation. Equally, the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment can attend to negotiations which they inevitably have with trade unions and employers. So the Department only have power to vary these things in relation to the limits laid down. I hope that answers the noble Lord's question.

On Question, Motion agreed to.