HL Deb 08 March 1979 vol 399 cc294-9

3.16 p.m.


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 what action they propose to take in the light of the European Court's decision on the subject of the installation of tachographs in British road vehicles.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport stated the Government's position on this matter in another place on 5th March. Briefly, the Government have reluctantly concluded that they must accept the decision of the European Court of Justice that the United Kingdom is in breach of its obligations under the Treaty of Rome. My right honourable friend will shortly open consultations with the employers' organisations and the trade unions on an appropriate timetable to achieve full implementation of the EEC regulation. He will also be consulting the European Commission, and in due course the necessary regulations will be laid before Parliament.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness for her reply and her reference to her right honourable friend's written reply in another place, I should like to ask her two questions. First, can she tell the House by what approximate date the Government intend to honour our obligations under the Treaty of Rome by implementing the decision? Secondly, can she confirm what I believe to be the case; namely, that the consultations with the interests concerned will be on the logistics and timing of the matter, and not on the substance?

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords; the noble Lord is correct. The consultations with the industry and the trade unions will be on implementing the regulations bringing into force the decision of the court. With regard to the timing, it is a little difficult at present, when we have just received the ruling from the court, to know exactly how long this matter will take. We need to consult the industry and the unions, and to give time to the employers to supply and to fit the tachographs to their lorries. I understand that about 500,000 vehicles have to be fitted, and the noble Lord will accept that that cannot be done overnight. We shall attempt to reach agreement with all the parties upon a practical programme of implementation, and as soon as we have completed the consultations the order will be laid before the House.


My Lords, will my noble friend be kind enough to direct my attention and that of other Members of your Lordships' House to the provision in the Treaty of Rome which refers to the installation of tachographs? At the same time, if this is a very important subject, can it be included in the Labour Party's Election Manifesto?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, fortunately, or unfortunately, I do not have any hand in drawing up the Labour Party's Manifesto. Article 189 of the Treaty provides that any regulation made by the Commission is binding in its entirety on the member States. This is a regulation which is binding on all the members of the Community; and all countries, except Britain, have so far accepted it. We now have to take the necessary steps to do likewise.


My Lords, when the noble Baroness is raising this matter with her fellow Ministers, and when negotiations are taking place with the employers' organisations and the unions, will she please draw attention to the urgent need for action being taken in so far as it has an enormous effect on safety? This is often overlooked.

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords; and, of course, anything we can do to improve road safety we are happy and anxious to do. We believe that there are some road safety aspects in the fitting of the tachograph, in that it ensures that the drivers are not overtired when they are driving, and things like that. We think it could also prove useful on the grounds of future productivity deals. It seems to have been used with very good results in the Federal Republic of Germany. We have yet to convince our own trade unions that they might have the same benefits from it.


My Lords, so far as the safety of lorries is concerned, surely the British record is far superior to the Continental record, is it not?

Several noble Lords



And from a purely practical point of view, when the unions, acting in sympathy with the drivers, "black" the installation of the tachograph, what happens?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, in so far as our lorries are concerned, yes, our road safety record is second to none in Europe, and we have much tighter control of our lorries on the roads, with this one exception of the tachograph. This now has to be fitted as a result of the decision of the European Court. We are hoping that the unions and the employers, both of which bodies have, up to this point of time, not been in favour of implementing it, are now going to come into consultations with us, and are going to see that lorries are fitted with these machines. I understand that, of the 500,000 vehicles which will fall within the scope of having to have a tachograph fitted, 100,000 are already believed to have it fitted, although at the moment we can only say that about 10,000 of those vehicles are actually using it. They are mostly the ones which are doing trade with the other European Community countries and which therefore have to have them fitted to meet the law of those countries.


My Lords, could the noble Baroness tell us why, in view of her very constructive reply towards the use of the tachograph, in her original Answer she used the word "reluctantly"?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, we are always reluctant to try to force anything on an industry in which both the employers and the employees are against both the installation and the use of the tachograph. We could see that there would be problems within our own industry which might have a very far-reaching effect on the economy of our country. We can see that, where our lorries go into other European countries, they have to conform with the law of those countries and have to be fitted with tachographs; and that seems to have been acceptable to our drivers. But there was a reluctance among both the employers and the employees towards implementing this particular part of the regulation, because there was a feeling generally, on both sides of the industry, that we were managing with our log books, which kept all the records and everything, and were able to cover the road safety angle and our drivers' hours. But this regulation goes in tandem with the EEC regulation on drivers' hours and working conditions, and this regulation is therefore necessary to implement the other one as well.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that the tachograph is a very similar instrument to the so-called "black box" which is installed in every international airliner, and that the installation of such an instrument in aeroplanes met with no objection from such organisations as the British Airline Pilots' Association, who have to fly and operate these aircraft, in the interests of their own and the public's safety?

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords; it has proved acceptable for use in aircraft. We now have to convince our lorry drivers and the owners of the lorries that it would be equally useful to them to have it in lorries.


My Lords, aside from the legal responsibility of the Government to conform with Article 189 of the Treaty, will my noble friend bear in mind that this particular item could have been renegotiated when the renegotiations took place in Dublin in 1974, and that it was not done? Will she draw to the attention of both the lorry owners and the trade unions that its implementation is not only now a question of law but is also a question of honour?

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords; my noble friend is quite right. I suppose that, with hindsight, this is one point that we might have taken into renegotiation of the Treaty in the early days. Whether it be fortunate or unfortunate, this was not one of the things renegotiated, and we now have to abide by the law of the Community.


My Lords, is it really the fact that half a million British lorries will have to have these tachographs installed in their cabs? I thought some smaller lorries might be considered to be exempt.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, we are having consultations with the industry at the moment, and we are looking to see whether there is any scope for exemption in the case of any of the smaller lorries, but our immediate information is that there are about 500,000 lorries which are likely to be affected. We believe 100,000 of them are already fitted with the tachograph, although, as I said earlier, only about 10,000 of them are actually using it.