HL Deb 10 May 1978 vol 391 cc969-73

2.48 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the recommendation of the Prices and Incomes Board in 1965 that tachographs should be placed in the cabs of lorries to protect the drivers from having to work unsocial hours and against exploitation, they will now bring in a regulation to implement this recommendation.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, in recommending that the use of tachographs should be jointly discussed by both sides of industry, the Prices and Incomes Board in 1965 were concerned with increased productivity rather than protecting drivers against exploitation. The Government are happy to see the voluntary use of the instrument for domestic journeys and have already made the regulations necessary to permit such use.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, in view of the fact that Section 97 of the Transport Act 1968 states: … no driver shall drive a vehicle to which this Part of the Act applies unless … there is installed in the vehicle in the prescribed place and manner equipment for recording information as to the use of the vehicle", and as I think I heard the noble Baroness say that regulations had been made—Section 1(3) says that the Minister "may make regulations"—may I ask the noble Baroness why, if regulations have been made, this Act has not been carried out?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the regulations have been made to allow tachographs to be used on a voluntary basis. There is still opposition among drivers against the use of tachographs; it is a matter for voluntary agreement between employers and employees whether they are used. The new lorries which are now provided have the tachograph built into them, unless the person purchasing the lorry specifically asks for it to be replaced with an ordinary speedometer. In the meantime, we still have very stringent control over drivers' hours and distances by means of the log books that have to be kept and are regularly inspected.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that her Answer tends to confirm a feeling that the Government believe in an extension of the principle of non-applicability of the law to powerful trade unions? Would she say why the Government continue to support such a policy, in view of the evidence of nearly all public opinion that that is not in accord with the wishes or the interests of the public, including trade union members?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I did not accept that we were encouraging people to go against or not to observe the law. We have ensured that lorries which are taking loads into Europe are and must be equipped with the tachograph, which they must use. It is still a question of voluntary agreement between the firms and the employees as to whether the tachograph is used, even if it is installed in the lorry, but we are satisfied that we have considerable and stringent tests and that our drivers are subject to inspections as to whether they are keeping their log books, and action is taken if they are not carrying out the law.


My Lords, I fully understand the position stated by the noble Baroness about the unions not liking the tachograph, but are the Government themselves not aware of the great value of the tachograph in giving information on so many matters, including safety? Following from that, I should like to repeat the question I asked the other day. Why do the Government not do more in the way of educating the public about what the tachograph is? Has the noble Baroness read the article by Mr. Bernard Levin which appeared in The Times a few weeks ago? Why is there not a little educational encouragement from the Government about this?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, there have been many articles, not only from Mr. Bernard Levin, on the value, or otherwise, of the tachograph. The Government have done what they can to persuade our drivers and the employers of drivers who are operating in this country only, to use the tachograph. We are told—but we have no firm evidence of our own—that there are certain advantages to both the drivers and the employers if the tachograph is used. However, at this time—and we have advised the EEC of this—we believe that if we were to impose the compulsory use of the tachograph on domestic traffic, it would provoke severe and serious industrial dislocation in many sectors of the economy. We think that it would probably involve unacceptable wage demands without necessarily resulting in any offsetting gains in productivity, and we do not think that we can accommodate that in our vital counter-inflationary measures that we are enforcing at the moment.


My Lords, is not Europe basically the trouble here? Has Europe not convinced the British working man that this is a gadget which it proposes to impose upon him, whereas he feels that it is b. well not going to happen?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I do not know that Europe has tried to impose anything on the British working man. Some sources tell us that the West German drivers find that the tachograph is to their advantage, and that they have been able to improve productivity. However, we have not enough evidence to be able to persuade our own domestic drivers at the moment, and we cannot risk any dislocation in our transport system at the present time.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, is it not a statement of fact that the tachograph should now be imposed by law under our Treaty obligations, and that we are ratting on our Treaty obligations by not imposing it? Furthermore, are we not doing this because Mr. Law of the Transport and General Workers' Union in Birmingham says so?

Baroness STEDMAN

No, my Lords. The Commission has submitted to us its reasoned argument as to why we should go in for compulsion and we have given our reply. We are told—although we have not yet been informed officially—that the matter is to be referred to the European Court. We must now wait until that has taken place—or rather until we know officially that that is to take place. We have given our reasoned response to the Commission's argument. A copy of that response is in the Library, and any noble Lord can see it. I should have thought that, upon reading it, noble Lords would see that it makes sense.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness deny that innocent, and perhaps valuable, lives might be saved by the universal use of this instrument?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, we have no evidence to support such a statement at the moment.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this eulogising of the tachograph and productivity is nothing compared with the safety of the British lorry driver? He is still one of the finest in the world. Statistics on road accidents in West Germany, and indeed in Europe in general, compared with those in Britain, will show clearly that the tachograph has not solved the European problem (outside Britain) of death on the roads? I should rather play softly, softly, than try to impose upon the British lorry driver something to which he already objects.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right.


My Lords, the noble Baroness has said that she has no evidence either way on this. Therefore, how can she agree with statistics quoted by the noble Lord behind her? Either she has evidence that the tachograph saves lives, or she has not. If we are to run against the general rule of law in the EEC, would it not be a good idea to start collecting evidence on whether or not there is a case for tachographs in this country?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, what I was saying was that we have no evidence. We are told by the West German people that there is a saving and that it is to the drivers' advantage to use the tachograph. We have not been convinced by any evidence that has been put forward and we do not know that there is necessarily any saving of life. We have no statistics to prove whether or not the use of tachographs has saved lives.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us still believe—


My Lords, it is eight minutes since we embarked on this Question. The House is obviously very interested in this matter, but I think I detect a feeling that we have perhaps had enough of it.