HL Deb 16 February 1981 vol 417 cc485-6

3 p.m.

The Earl of Avon rose to move, That the regulations laid before the House on 13th January be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to explain why we are introducing these regulations. The House may wonder why it is necessary to take the seemingly odd step of reducing the maximum speed limit for vehicles used on factory sites and for road construction purposes to 18 miles per hour. Usually in such cases you would expect to hear arguments about the benefits we expect to road safety; that is why speed limits are usually changed. But in this case the vehicles are hardly used on the roads. The reason, therefore, has nothing to do with road safety. The reason is simply that, without such a speed limit, the vehicles concerned would be subject to the European Community Drivers Hours and Tachograph Regulations, which exempts this type of vehicle only if it has a maximum authorised speed not exceeding 30 kilometres per hour or about 18 miles per hour.

The answer in the longer term must clearly be to sort out the European Community regulations themselves. Certainly, the burdens of compliance with the relevant requirements for vehicles of this kind must outweigh any social and safety benefits derived from them. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is urging his colleagues in the Council of Ministers to review the relevant legislation and remove obscurities and inflexibilities of this kind. But as your Lordships know, reviews take time and this country's history of non-compliance with these particular community obligations has left us in a less than ideal position from which to seek changes—at least until we are fully complying. In the short term, therefore, we have chosen a quick and practical approach of reducing the legal speed limits of the vehicles concerned to the level which will bring them into the exempted category.

Your Lordships may possibly think that a reduction in the speed limits for these vehicles may bear a little harshly on those who operate them. But it must be borne in mind that such vehicles would normally be used on roads only when travelling short distances from one site to another. Even if some operators do suffer some inconvenience, it seems a very small price to pay in order to remove the requirement of having to fit a tachograph.

It may also be argued that vehicles which are already exempt from the EC tachograph regulation by virtue of their ownership—for example, fire, police and local authority vehicles—will not benefit from the proposal which will merely reduce their speed. This was certainly a point to which we gave very careful consideration before making the regulations. However, I am pleased to say that none of those whom my right honourable friend consulted—and those included manufacturers, local authorities, road construction contractors, the trade unions and the police—put forward any argument that the proposal would cause any real practical hardship.

We have also taken the opportunity—and this is an entirely separate issue from the tachographs point—to include in the regulations a definition of the term "living van". This may look a little curious at first sight. Certainly most of us would say that we know what we mean by "living van" without having to have it defined in regulations. But, in fact, there is at present a rather grey area which this definition will, we hope, remove. This is because there has been a growing practice of using vehicles like old coaches to carry things like cars and horses. If the owners of these coaches also use them to sleep in—they may perhaps put a camp bed in them—are they then goods vehicles or living vans? If they are living vans, they would not, for example, be subject to the goods vehicle plating and testing scheme. We have therefore sought to remove this ambiguity by relating the definition to the primary purpose for which a vehicle is used.

To conclude, my Lords, in view of the unlikelihood of an early amendment to the EC tachograph regulation, we consider that it is right to take the quick practical steps contained in these regulations to achieve what must be a sensible exemption. We shall, of course, continue to make every effort to achieve a long term solution by making the appropriate amendment to the European Community Drivers Hours and Tachograph Regulations.

Against this background, I recommend that the regulations laid are justifiably and sensibly conceived and will eliminate an unnecessary expense on the operators of the vehicles in question. They will also cause very little hardship in other directions. I therefore beg to move that these regulations be now approved.

Moved, That the Motor Vehicles (Variation of Speed Limits) (No. 2) Regulations 1981, laid before the House on 13th January, be approved.—(The Earl of Avon.)

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, we on this side of the House are grateful to the noble Earl for explaining so clearly the purpose of these regulations. I am sure that the noble Earl is right when he says that, as reviews take time, it is better to press on with these regulations in the meantime. I am glad to hear that the Government have consulted all the trade and other organisations and I understood the noble Earl to say that they all agreed with what was proposed. Certainly, from our side of the House, we support the Government as regards these measures.

On Question, Motion agreed to.