HL Deb 15 November 1984 vol 457 cc463-80

6.26 p.m.

Lord Kings Norton rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on EEC Social Regulations for Road Transport (19th Report, 1983–84, H.L. 221).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This report is the outcome of an inquiry conducted by that sub-committee of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities which deals, among other things, with transport. Some of your Lordships' may wonder what Social Regulations can possibly be.

Well, broadly, they are those which deal with the hours of duty, hours of driving, hours of rest and the general comfort of the drivers of heavy commercial vehicles, not only for their own wellbeing but in the interests of road safety.

This inquiry derived from EEC Regulation 543/69, which defines the working hours of drivers of large goods and passenger vehicles and fixes minimum rest periods. It also provides for the keeping of records to help the enforcement of these limits. In this connection, another regulation requires the installation of tachographs in most of the vehicles concerned. Incidently, the tachograph, which was extremely unpopular when first introduced here—it was called, you will remember, "the spy in the cab"—seems now to be accepted as the successor of the log book.

We took evidence from a wide range of witnesses, including the Freight Transport Association; the Road Haulage Association; the Transport and General Workers' Union; the United Road Transport Union; the Department of Transport; medical witnesses skilled in such matters as fatigue; and Members of the European Parliament. At the time of our inquiry, which lasted from the beginning of December 1983 until the beginning of March 1984, the rules to which British drivers were working were extremely complicated. Indeed, they still are.

Drivers are subject to national rules whch embrace both the EEC regulations and certain provisions of the Transport Act 1968; international rules applying to vehicles on international journeys where the EEC regulations apply; domestic rules applying to smaller vehicles, to which only our own Transport Act applies; and what I might term mixed rules applying when the driver moves from the area of one of the sets of rules I have mentioned to another. But improvement is on the way.

Soon after the sub-committee had finished taking evidence, the Commission in Brussels published new proposals. Had they been other than in fact they were, the committee would have had to extend their inquiry to examine them. However, the Commission's proposals were very much in line with our subcommittee conclusions, so that what I have to say about those conclusions can be assumed to be in broad agreement with the line being taken by the Commission. Indeed the Commission may, at this very moment, be contemplating further proposals which I feel sure will be in general agreement with the views of your Lordships' Select Committee.

The committee's conclusions are summarised in paragraph 31 of the report. Not unexpectedly, the first conclusion is that the EEC regulations as they stand are unsatisfactory and too complicated. The commission agree with this; and the latest proposals of which the committee were aware at the time they wrote their report offered considerable simplification and are, in the committee's opinion, an important step in the right direction.

Not unnaturally the sub-committee began by associating the permitted number of driving hours per day with fatigue. This proved, however, to be too simplistic a point of view. Many accidents apparently occur in the early hours of the permitted driving period and can be associated more reasonably with boredom than with fatigue. In fact, if a driver were uniformly alert throughout the day, he would not, apparently, in an eight or nine-hour spell, be reaching the dangerous fatigue threshold. This is not to say, however, that driving hours should be significantly different from what is now the rule, and the maximum allowable period should be associated with the natural desire of drivers to sleep at home as often as possible.

At the present time the maximum hours driving permitted is eight. We concluded, however, that without diminishing road safety a basic nine hours could be permitted, and we found that the commission's proposals were precisely that. As noble Lords who have read the report will have discovered, the maximum driving hours are of course associated with minimum rest periods and the driving hours are related to the total working hours. For most drivers a working day includes some loading and unloading, as well as driving, and this has to be taken reasonably into account.

Whilst regulations may possibly be amended to give greater flexibility in the interests of the driver spending as much time as possible at home, on long journeys it is inevitable that he must sleep as comfortably as possible en route. The alternatives for drivers who must spend a night away from their base clearly are either good, reasonably priced accommodation on the road—which we learned was difficult to ensure—or acceptable accommodation in their vehicles. It is important that so-called "sleeper" cabs should be properly equipped, and your Lordships' committee believe that minimum standards for the design of sleeper cabs should be laid down. The sub-committee discovered from the evidence of the United Road Transport Union that, whereas a few years ago drivers had been greatly against sleeper cabs, more recently opinion had swung heavily in their favour. This is clearly conducive to efficient long-distance operations and it deserves support by the provision of comfortable bunks, good ventilation and safe heating.

If the current proposals of the commission are accepted by the Council of Ministers, we shall have a maximum driving day of nine hours, extendable to 10 hours twice a week, but controlled by a weekly driving time per calendar week of 45 hours. There will be a daily minimum basic rest period of 12 hours, reducible in certain circumstances, but controlled by an overall minimum weekly rest period of 48 hours.

Your Lordships' committee believe that these proposals are reasonable, and I hope that the commission will not propose any significant modifications to them; I do not think it will. It is absolutely vital, however, that they are enforced. Enforcement in this country is well conducted and generally effective. Some other countries do not achieve comparable standards of enforcement and I cannot over-emphasise the importance of our third conclusion in paragraph 31 of our report: Better enforcement in all countries is needed not only for road safety but to control unscrupulous operators".

In drawing attention to the report before your Lordships I have not attempted to discuss its 15 conclusions seriatim. I believe that I have, however, dealt with the matters of major concern to the committee in the context of road safety and consideration for the driver of the heavier vehicle—driving hours, rest periods, comfort in the cab and regulation enforcement. I shall be grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply can tell us that Her Majesty's Government agree with us. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on EEC Social Regulations for Road Transport (19th Report, 1983–84, H.L. 221).—(Lord Kings Norton.)

6.36 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, my first duty on behalf of your Lordships is to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, on the concise and clear way in which he has presented this important report on matters relating to the social regulations of the EEC.

If the noble Lord will not mind, I feel I ought to spend a moment on personal explanation as to why I am speaking again tonight. I was not a member of the committee. The Clerk to the Committee intimated that the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, wondered whether I would speak. During the war when I was a very junior boffin in the Directorate of Scientific Research, the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, was my chief. During those days I never ceased to admire his great work on science and technology and I never ceased to admire his powers of persuasion. I still have those powers of persuasion dominating my actions tonight. I am sure that your Lordships will sympathise with me that I had no option but to re-organise my programme for this evening and speak on a matter on which I have some experience. I have already apologised to him, to the Minister and I now apologise to the House if another prior engagement will prevent my waiting to the end of the debate.

I am glad to make a few remarks in this debate because this question of lack of sleeping arrangements for drivers, particularly of heavy commercial vehicles, in my view, amounts to a public scandal—if it has not already become a real public scandal. The failure to provide adequate sleeping arrangements, in an age where road transport is of such importance, is having a grave consequence upon road safety. This grave situation has so far been largely ignored by Parliament, ignored by employers and the public and the effect of the lack of sleeping arrangements on road safety has not been adequately appreciated.

The evidence given to the committee may be a little conflicting on this point, but the main evidence in support of my contention comes from Mr. Moore (who is the regional officer of the Transport and General Workers Union) and is to be found on page 43 of the report, I say to your Lordships that we cannot lightly dismiss this evidence, whatever may be said internationally, in regard to the general environment for the sleeping arrangements of drivers of heavy commercial vehicles.

If I may take up your Lordships' time for a very few moments, I should like to refer to the evidence given by Mr. Moore to be found on page 43. Incidentally Mr. Moore is a member of an international body concerned with international regulations relating to the living conditions of heavy vehicle drivers. He said that it used to be illegal for a lorry driver just to settle down in blankets and cushions for the night. But, he says, it is not so now. This practice is proliferating, he says. It is going on all round, the whole time. Should a driver, he asks rhetorically, be somebody unique who is literally sleeping on the job? He then goes on: In spite of the remit of this Committee, you"—— and he says this about one of the witnesses who had raised this question of sleeping arrangements in lorries— have highlighted one of the most important social aspects. This bad practice is increasing all the time, and purely its social implications are things we should not countenance". Then one of the members of the committee pointed out to him that there were vehicles known as camper vehicles which were used quite frequently and enjoyed for camping arrangements by the owners. He was a little strenuous in his objections to that kind of observation. He says, . . . going on a camping trip is an adventure once a year; doing it literally every night of your working life is not quite as attractive". Then he goes on to say: Can you visualise being cooped up in the cab of a lorry in the sort of temperatures we had recently without proper heating? He was referring to the period of cold weather of last year. He goes on to say: There have been deaths from asphyxiation where drivers have left little gas stoves running to heat them up in the night and they have been found dead in the morning because they had closed up the windows and exhausted the oxygen". He concludes by saying . . . We do not believe that working people should be subjected to that method of taking their rest and relaxation; nobody else in industry or in the community is subject to that. Why should a lorry driver be an unpaid security man and all that goes with it? My Lords, that evidence in my view—and I have read all the reports—has not been strongly rebutted. It comes from the Transport and General Workers Union, and Mr. Moore is a responsible member of that union, with international experience. The recommendation of the committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, indicated, is to be found in paragraph 31. In my humble view, the recommendation is not strong enough. The recommendation has sub-paragraphs (d) and (e) and, in view of the importance of the matter and in view of the evidence to which I have referred, I feel that I must read both sub-paragraphs (d) and (e); sub-paragraph (d) reads: Where distance permits, journeys should be arranged so that drivers can return home to spend their leisure hours and to sleep". Sub-paragraph (e) reads: Sleeper cabs may be necessary where better accommodation is not available. But a code of practice is needed on their design and use". My Lords, I agree that properly-equipped sleeper cabs would no doubt partly solve, at any rate, this great problem, if a code of practice were to be complied with. But how can we arrange for all employers to adhere to that kind of practice? If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, my view is that, in the face of the evidence of the Transport and General Workers Union, far more attention should be paid to this real problem than would appear to be suggested by the committee in those paragraphs that I have read.

6.45 p.m.

The Duke of Portland

My Lords, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the following developments which have taken place during the six months that have elapsed since the committee's report was published. On 21st September, the European Economic Communities' Commission sent a report to the President of the Council on the position as regards harmonisation of social legislation relating to road transport. This report contains various statistics for the year ended December 1981 together with comments relating to difficulties encountered by firms endeavouring to conform to the EEC regulations. In particular, the German Federal Republic suggested that a booklet should be published outlining briefly the main social provisions concerning road transport.

A second point raised by Germany concerns the difficulty of observing the required rest time after continuous hours of driving on roads with heavy traffic. This difficulty is due to the lack of space on parking areas, particularly during holiday periods. The final conclusions of the EEC Commission contain the following comments. I will quote: For the moment, on the basis of this report, it can only be said that the number of offences has remained high and there is no noticeable trend towards improvement. The administrative effort spent on efficient checks does not therefore always and everywhere appear to be adequate. The picture of the sanctions imposed is even more doubtful. In many cases, they bear no logical relationship to the gravity or frequency of offences. Generally, they are ineffective both from the point of view of serving as a punishment and as a deterrent. As part of our efforts to improve the situation, the annual reports can serve as helpful guidelines. But to achieve this, total figures which cannot be compared with the number of officials employed on checks or the checks carried out are not very meaningful. More attention should be paid to the type of offences committed and, in particular, to finding out the reasons. Only a deep analysis of these aspects will in the end lead to a better operation of the whole system. It is principally for this reason, as well as because of the request received from Governments and the two sides of the road transport industry, that the Commission Services started their review of the provisions of the Social Regulations in road transport. The aim of the review is to make the Regulation simpler, more flexible and better applied and enforced throughout the Community". My Lords, this is in total accord with the recommendations of the Select Committee as set out in the 19th Report on 15th May last. A further development reported in the press on 8th October is that the transport Ministers of the European Commission are trying to reach final agreement on a package of measures governing road haulage, road safety, communication projects et cetera. These include a provision that working hours for truck drivers should be made more flexible.

These long overdue efforts to reach agreement are the result of pressures, especially that of the European Parliament, having arraigned the Council of the EEC before the Court of Justice for not carrying out the provisions of the Treaty of Rome. The court had oral proceedings on the case in September. The Advocate General will make his recommendations on a verdict next March and the court is expected to rule towards the end of 1985. It is a long time. Perhaps this threat of a distasteful verdict from the court will cause the 10 Governments to hasten to reach an agreement. Time will show. My Lords, the procrastination must surely stop.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I have read with much interest your Lordships' Select Committee's report and I would join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, and his committee for the extensive inquiry they have undertaken. I did come myself latterly into the work of the Sub-Committee and I am conscious of the hard work of all concerned. The position was made even more difficult—this has been mentioned already—by the constant threat of EEC proposals while the study was going on. Ever since then I have felt it is not profitable to study the aspects of this report in too great detail. Rather I think it preferable to make a few general points which I hope that your Lordships and those who represent us in Europe will bear in mind.

It seems to be universally agreed that the existing regulations are unsatisfactory, and efforts have been made for nearly 10 years to introduce substantial improvements. Unfortunately, because of the diversity of interests and the theoretical approach of many of those involved in the discussions—from which I completely exonerate the noble members of the Sub-Committee—every attempt so far has proved abortive. One reason for the poor enforcement about which the European Commission has continued as recently as September to complain, is the relative impracticality of much of the law. So we have, to use this awful expression (I am afraid I cannot think of another one) this "chicken and egg" situation. But we must emphasise the importance of practical realities. It is difficult to think that the proposed changes are not a step in the right direction, but I have been left in no doubt that in the passenger transport industry, with which I am most familiar, there remain areas of great concern.

The noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, will forgive me if I say that in the splendid nine minutes of his succinct speech he did not mention passenger transport once. Perhaps he thought that I would do so, and indeed that is what I am doing. It has long been the view of the passenger transport industry that they should come under a separate and distinct regulation, recognising the nature of the services that they give to the public. One could also go on and say that of course safety is important and therefore it is equally important to recognise the exceptionally good safety record, compared with other vehicles, of the PSV. Would anyone benefit from unnecessary regulations?

The restraint on drivers of goods vehicles, with their less demanding cargo, are not so great as on drivers of passenger vehicles. It is common ground that drivers should sleep in a comfortable bed, preferably at home wherever possible; and, because this is true for their passengers, coach drivers have a less need because they have bunks rather than sleeper cabs. Certainly this is an area where the safety of the driver must be given proper consideration. However, it is a surprising element in recent Community proposals that the advantages of using two drivers on a vehicle in certain circumstances have been ignored and provision omitted, unless there is a bunk on the vehicle. This is completely illogical.

I am afraid that I shall not be as succinct as the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, but I know that he has to rush off. I hope he will forgive me if I say one or two things that he said and I am doing it completely off the cuff rather than keeping to my brief. I am talking here of the heavy goods vehicle driver rather than the coach driver, and I am rather talking about what the driver has in mind, just to balance it. I read the evidence which was given by Mr. Moore of the Transport and General Workers Union, and I also followed the point of my noble friend Lord Torrington, who I think asked: why should a driver have to be a sort of security man?

One pont I do not think has been mentioned is that 90 per cent. of the members of the Transport and General Workers Union did ask for sleeper cabs. I know that when we inquire the situation is very different: we go for referendums. If it was about capital punishment one would get the whole country clamouring for that. And then when the matter comes to Parliament, while I am quite sure that some of us might agree with it, some of us might not. In this case I feel that if 90 per cent. of those drivers wish to have sleeper cabs we should really consider their views at greater length. Perhaps I may take three or four sentences to explain it—because I am afraid I am going to be slightly longer than the noble Lord's nine minutes. If we look into the driver's mind, he probably would not want to sleep in his driver's cab every single night. He might get to a point where it has not been possible to arrange to go and find Mrs. Bloggs in the street or to go to some hotel. There might be some night he would want to sleep in his sleeper cab, and there might be some night when he would want to go to an hotel or even find Mrs. Bloggs.

I feel that the code of practice which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran—I do not know if it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, but it was certainly mentioned—is very important. To deny people a code of practice—and I am rather thinking from the viewpoint of the driver's mind—I do not think is all for saving cash; quite often it is convenience. I think these options should be open to him. In regard to blankets and sheets, all right, they are his blankets and sheets—Mrs. Bloggs, or whoever, might find him flannelette sheets, or something which might not suit. I have been terribly domestic at this point and perhaps I should move on to other matters, but there is another side of the coin, apart from Mr. Moore's. He might have certain views himself and, as I said, I read his evidence with great care.

Now I shall return to my prepared speech. When it comes to fatigue the position is complex, though when driving undoubtedly sleep is fundamental to an alert mind. Having said that, there are so many other factors involved that are wholly beyond statutory control, that to indulge in future research would at the present time be a total waste of time and money. Maybe we shall have some breakthrough in wider fields of research which will open the door to new thinking, but for the present we will heap confusion upon confusion.

I speak with some feeling on this subject because I myself have been a volunteer guinea pig in this field. At the time of the 1968 Transport Bill, I devoted virtually the whole of the Summer Recess to longdistance coach driving, with an exhaustive programme professionally scheduled and monitored by Dr. Tim Hunt, whom I regard as a most eminent scientist and medical doctor, who has investigated this subject and who also gave evidence (and very well too) to your Lordships' committee. I urge, in the light of personal involvement, that we concentrate upon the practicalities of transport operation affecting both drivers and employers, because there is no evidence of any single accident being caused by fatigue. There has been confusion with such things as boredom and fatigue, and maybe boredom is the more relevant of the two. But, my Lords, how do you legislate to overcome boredom? Or how do you legislate for a man not only to rest but to enjoy deep sleep?

Turning to the specific constraints placed upon drivers, it must be recognised that none of these can be looked at in isolation. It is the package of controls which must be looked at in a composite way to be sure that the benefits actually outweigh the disadvantages. So far as the passenger transport operation is concerned, it cannot be said that any package so far produced has achieved a positive balance.

Despite the apparent contradiction in the phraseology, the proposal to move to a fixed week from Sunday to Saturday, instead of a rolling week of any seven days, is a most important move to increase flexibility, although it may be of less significance for drivers of goods vehicles in certain countries in continental Europe, where they are banned from the roads on Sundays and sometimes also on Saturdays.

I shall not go into the details of specific limits which are better left for negotiation by the experts. I would however, in conclusion, refer to the committee's conclusions on exemptions from fringe activities as a concept which I view with caution. The only reason for exemption of an activity is that it can with safety and without introducing unfair competition be left on one side. Having said that, it has to be understood that EEC regulations relate solely to social progress. The only reference that they make to safety is specifically to reserve that aspect for consideration by member states. We in Great Britain have laws based on safety considerations and these are less restrictive than the regulations introduced by our friends in the Community. Please let us not lose sight of this important factor.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, for his very concise summary of the conclusions of the committee, but also for other reasons and, first, for arranging for my co-option to Sub-Committee F for this particular purpose, because I have not been a regular member of that committee. I also appreciated the helpfulness of the witnesses, which, to a great extent, was due to the chairmanship of the noble Lord, who drew out the sort of information that was required. Also, in the report there are a number of extremely useful memoranda which I am certain those who are interested in the whole question of driving conditions will keep by them and find extremely useful.

I ought to make it clear that, both as a member of the committee and in the position that I am occupying at the moment, I agree with the conclusions of the committee. There are two particularly outstanding features to which I should like to refer at the outset. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, has said, the committee was generally sympathetic to the criticism that the present regulations are unsatisfactory, partly due to the fact that domestic regulations have to be attached to Community regulations. This is explained at the beginning of the document.

I noticed that the Transport and General Workers' Union stressed that they did not want to have, just for ease of operation, a universal standard which was less effective than the one we have. They wish to have a minimum EEC standard, supplemented by United Kingdom standards which will be further advanced. I notice that this view was supported by the Department of Transport representatives, for in paragraph 240 they say that there should be more scope for national derogations for domestic journeys. The Freight Transport Association representative reminded us that international lorries form only a very small part of road haulage in this country, and we should be very wary of supporting harmonisation on the back of international movements. The Department of Transport representatives also complained of the loose wording of EEC regulations which made matters difficult, in contrast to the benefit we have in the United Kingdom of precise legal wording of our regulations.

The other point which I noticed and welcomed is the attitude of the members of the committee to the question of social conditions. Noble Lords may remember that when we considered the question of road haulage quotas in the Community, comments were made that the general attitude of the Community seemed to be little concerned with social conditions, and in the recent draft regulations the concern of the Commission seemed to be mainly in respect of safety aspects. But it is clear from looking through the report, and also from being present at the meetings, that the committee was concerned not only with the important question of road safety, but also with the human attitude. This is reflected in the various recommendations to which the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, has referred.

I was disappointed with the Department of Transport's evidence on page 51—and I suppose that this will reflect the view of the Government, since they do not speak for themselves alone—that the Government are concerned with road safety and conditions of competition, but that conditions of work are matters to be settled between employers and employees. If that is the case, why then do we even have United Kingdom regulations dealing with conditions, hours and so on?

The committee took the view that the regulations should have social conditions in mind, and I think that noble Lords will agree with that. That is reflected, in particular, in the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, on the question of the practice of drivers sleeping in their cabs. On this, I hate to be critical of Government representatives, but the Department of Transport representative stated at paragraph 199 that they had no particular views on improving conditions and saw no objection to drivers sleeping in stationary cabs. I hope that that will not be the reply that is given tonight. As the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, said, we ought to have a definite statement from the Government on this matter. As has been said, the Transport and General Workers' Union representatives expressed great concern at the increasing tendency towards the use of sleeper cabs. Many drivers are forced by circumstances to sleep in their cabs, because there is inadequate proper sleeping accommodation, if there is any at all.

As a side issue, the union also complained that there are now more lorries, but fewer decent eating places. The Little Chef eating places are mentioned in the document. I am not criticising them, because I find them very good. I use them and I praise them for their friendliness and general cleanliness and service. But so many of these places are being established which, according to the union, have inadequate facilities for lorry parking and a tendency to discriminate against lorry drivers using the premises. They say that on the old trunk routes there were always plenty of places where a lorry driver could stop, but things are becoming difficult now that lorries are using the motorways. That is a matter which requires serious consideration by both the department and the unions. I would emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, said, that the Transport and General Workers' Union stress that no other worker is encouraged to sleep alongside the machine he works, yet that is what lorry drivers are expected to do.

They also add that, where it is necessary to stay overnight, there should be adequate allowances paid to employees. As the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, stressed, a different viewpoint was put by the United Road Transport Union, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, referred. The noble Lord also referred to the fact that 83 per cent. said that they were in favour of sleeping in the cab, but in a previous survey 96 per cent. said they did not want that. It must be added that when the representatives of the United Road Transport Union were asked about this difference in five years, they said with great frankness that the reason must be financial. The drivers get their allowances, but it seems that the Treasury do not take much notice if they use them for other purposes. That is a frank statement which should be taken into consideration, in case the Government take the view that in one union everybody wants to use the sleeper cabs, but in the bigger union the members do not want to use the sleeper cabs.

I was surprised by the attitude of the department towards standards being laid down for sleeper cabs. The attitude presumably reflects the views of the Ministry. When it was put to the department that minimum standards should be laid down for sleeper cabs the representative said, in answer to Question 202: There may be a case for that. It has not been put to me. If it were, then I would have a reservation about that sort of matter being dealt with in legislation, particularly in European legislation". Where else can one lay down criteria for the standard of sleeper cabs, unless they are laid down in the construction and use regulations which apply to other kinds of motor vehicles? I hope that in their reply the Government will be perfectly clear about this point.

It causes me concern that in the memorandum submitted by the Transport and General Workers' Union, which is to be found on page 27 of the report, there is reference to a decision taken by the Community at the end of 1980 to set up a drivers' cab working party. This working party met in January 1981 when the Commission produced the findings of a previous study group set up in 1976. The Commission works very speedily! Since then the working party has been completely dormant. The union's complaint is that since 1981 the working party has ceased to exist. This is a tragedy. Criteria must be laid down if drivers are to be required to sleep in their cabs when they are making certain journeys. I am very pleased that this is one of the recommendations of your Lordships' committee.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord who is speaking on behalf of the official Opposition, but may I ask him whether he rejects the evidence given on behalf of the Transport and General Workers' Union by Mr. Moore?

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I thought that I was completely endorsing, amplifying and confirming 100 per cent. the evidence given by the Transport and General Workers' Union.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I apologise for interrupting him.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, my point is that the union complained that the Commission set up a cab working party to lay down criteria but that it had not met since 1981. It has just folded up. If drivers have to sleep in their cabs when they are making particular journeys, criteria must be laid down for the dimensions and equipment of the cab. The union is in complete agreement about this.

The committee placed great emphasis upon the human question. They said that lorry drivers should have the same opportunity to be able to return home and enjoy home comforts as the rest of us. It was because of this factor that I was influenced to support the recommendation relating to the extension of daily driving hours. If there is to be the right to sleep at home, there must be flexibility, so that a driver can complete his journey and reach home. Flexibility allows for delay on the journey. A driver may not reach his destination because he is delayed; therefore he may have to stay away from home overnight.

There was conflicting evidence on daily driving hours. As the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, stressed, a previous EEC regulation reduced the maximum number of daily driving hours from 10 to eight. The proposal was that the number of daily hours should be nine, with the possibility of up to 10 driving hours per day on two days a week. Both the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association favour the reintroduction of a 10-hour driving day, while the Transport and General Workers' Union want an eight-hour driving day. Their argument is that the eight-hour driving day has led to road safety, but the union were unable to produce concrete evidence that the eight-hour day has had any effect upon road safety. The United Road Transport Union prefer a 10-hour working day, with a nine-hour maximum driving day. It was pointed out that one result of the survey was that 74 per cent. of drivers favour an extension of maximum driving hours. It may be said that drivers want the number of driving hours to be increased. However, the union said that a small majority of drivers want to retain the existing maximum for the working day as distinct from driving hours. This point ought to be taken into consideration.

It has been emphasised that before arriving at the decision to approve or endorse the proposal to increase driving hours to nine, considerable attention was paid to the effect of fatigue on driving. The Transport and General Workers' Union referred to surveys of fatigue which had been carried out on the Continent and in America. However, the results of those surveys were not available to the committee. The members of the committee pressed all the witnesses to produce the results of survey work which had been carried out in order to establish whether there was a connection between fatigue and road safety. Strangely enough, the Department of Transport was definite in its evidence that research had established no clear relationship between the length of driving time and accidents. I do not recall any documents being placed before the committee to establish that contention; nor do I recall any documents being placed before the committee by the other side. Therefore, the committee has recommended that further research should be undertaken. I am surprised that the department, through the medical associations and the TRRL, has not carried out substantial research. I was also surprised that when they were asked this question the union said they had not carried out any research. It is most important to establish a connection between fatigue and road safety.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord on this point, but could he indicate what kind of research has not been covered? If the noble Lord could give some ideas to the department or to others to follow up, it would be excellent.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, it is not for me to say. The committee wanted to see the results of research but nobody could produce such results. The report points out that the committee asked this question time and time again. That is why the committee has recommended that much more research should be carried out. The committee would not have made that recommendation if the requisite information had been placed before it.

I was very pleased that the committee dealt with the maximum driving day and pointed to the fact that many drivers may find that they are already fatigued by having carried out hard physical work before they begin driving. This point was amplified by the union representatives and I am pleased that the committee has paid attention to it. Various witnesses stressed the importance of the need for drivers to have regular breaks. I support the recommendation of the committee that there is a case for allowing drivers to adjust these breaks to suit individual needs but that there should be a statutory requirement for there to be a substantial break after driving for four hours. These are very sensible proposals which ought to be considered.

Attention was also paid to the problem of adequate daily rest periods and the need to avoid irregular shifts. The committee argued that irregular shifts were a contributory factor to fatigue. This demonstrates that the committee were concerned not only with road safety matters but also with general social conditions. Paragraph 27 of the report illustrates the committee's concern. They say that there should be a careful check—and I quote— that the changes proposed by the Commission will in combination favour stable and humane shift arrangements". Other points could be made. However, I believe that those which I and other noble Lords have stressed demonstrate that the committee is naturally concerned with road safety. But I also believe that its recommendations lead us to the conclusion that it is concerned, too, with the human considerations of proper conditions for the important profession of lorry driving.

7.20 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, and his colleagues and particularly my noble friends the Duke of Portland and Lord Teviot, and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who have spoken today, for the splendid way they have got to grips with this complicated subject. When I sat down to attempt the same at the weekend, I appreciated all the hard work which must have gone into the report. The committee have managed to cut through the jargon and have produced conclusions which have the ring of common sense about them.

Perhaps I may begin my remarks by bringing the House up to date with progress in Brussels. Your Lordships will have seen from the department's explanatory memorandum of 9th May that the Government gave a broad welcome to the Commission's proposals, while criticising some details. The Council of Ministers on 10th May laid down guidelines to be observed by officials in their detailed discussions; these conclusions are contained in the supplementary memorandum of 19th June. Since 10th May, there have been a number of meetings of officials to consider the Commission's proposals. While I cannot anticipate the outcome of those discussions, I can say that all member states have shown a general willingness to make changes in the regulations. It may take time to get detailed agreement and to examine the draft to eliminate nonsenses which have plagued these regulations, but there is no doubt that changes are on the way.

As your committee noted, the main reason why the road haulage and passenger service industries are subject to legal restriction of driving times and rest periods is road safety. We are concerned about the safety of drivers themselves and of other road users in the context of a highly competitive industry. But if our sole concern was safety, then it would be logical to apply similar rules to the driving of all vehicles, including cars. That would be unreasonable and unworkable, but it does make sense to have rules for commercial drivers of large vehicles, to ensure that they are not forced by competitive pressures into dangerous driving practices. And since nowadays much commercial driving takes place across international frontiers, those rules have to be harmonised internationally.

However, as your committee also noted, the connection between driving times, fatigue and road safety is by no means clear. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory document referred to in paragraph 18 of the committee's report demonstrates how difficult it is to conduct empirical research into these topics and come up with firm conclusions on the "right" hours of driving. In any case, in considering proposals to amend the existing law, we have to take account not only of objective evidence about fatigue, but also of the many different patterns of work in the industries concerned, both here and in other EC countries. We have to take account of demands by employers for greater freedom to plan their operations as effectively as possible, and by the drivers for improvements in their conditions of work. And we have to be sure that it would be possible for the police and traffic examiners to ensure that any new requirements are observed in practice.

Because the issues are so complicated and involve so many different interests, the Department of Transport has taken particular care during the past three years while the regulations have been under review in Brussels to consult widely with employers' organisations and the trade unions to ensure that their views were taken fully into consideration. The negotiations in Brussels are by no means over, and the department will continue to consult the industry as new ideas emerge.

At the end of the day, it will not be possible to satisfy everyone, but what emerges from the discussions in Brussels should be something that represents an improvement on the present unsatisfactory position, and takes full account of the needs of the industry as well as of its drivers and of other road users.

I turn now to some of the specific conclusions of the report. The committee suggested that the hours limits should be constructed so as to encourage drivers to get home for rest as often as possible. We agree; it would represent an important step towards better working conditions. We are therefore attracted to the idea that daily and weekly rest periods might be shortened in certain circumstances, provided that compensatory rest is taken not too long thereafter.

The Government are also attracted to the proposal for a longer driving day—nine hours, possibly extended to 10 hours three times a week—provided that this does not involve extending the driving week. The Commission proposed that the weekly driving limit should be reduced to 45 hours. But this would affect adversely drivers on very long trips—they would not be able to get home so early. So the majority view among member states is that the weekly limit should stay as it is at 48 hours but the fortnightly limit should go down to 90 hours.

While I realise that your committee recommended that the fortnightly limit be abolished, we think that this is a case where simplicity may have to be sacrificed for greater flexibility. The committee endorsed the Commission's proposals for longer daily and weekly rest periods. The Council of Ministers also called for an increase in average weekly rest. But the 48 hour weekly rest period proposed by the Commission would prevent the working of a regular 5½ day week which is essential to some industries, and is not acceptable to us, or indeed to most other member states. Agreement is likely to be reached on some lower figure.

The committee drew attention to the need to maintain regular shift patterns. This cuts across the objective of getting the driver home when he is on a long trip, although we see the problem. We do not think that the Commission's proposals will lead to widespread irregular shift working. There is clear evidence that drivers value most of all the facility to get home. This came over strongly during the French drivers' blockades last February, and in an opinion survey conducted by the United Road Transport Union in the United Kingdom, whose members preferred a long driving day, presumably for this reason. We think that very few drivers, or employers, will accept unreasonable shift patterns.

I turn now to one of the issues on which your committee commented and on which there is still a considerable divergence of views. That is, whether the EC regulation should seek to control total working, or duty, hours as well as actual driving time. Under our 1968 Act. lorry drivers are limited to 5½ hours of continuous duty without a break, and to 11 hours' duty in any day and 60 hours in any week. There are no comparable limits in the EC regulations (so they do not apply to British drivers on international journeys) and since 1971, these duty limits have not applied to drivers of passenger vehicles.

There are now suggestions that duty limits be introduced into the EC regulation. Your committee noted that there was a case for reducing the maximum weekly hours that goods drivers may work under the EC rules. The Government agree that there should be constraints on hours available for work. But we think the simplest way of achieving that is by a combination of maximum driving hours and minimum rest periods. If the Commission proposal were accepted in full, a driver would, on a normal nine-hour driving day, have only two hours available for other work once breaks and daily rests were taken into account. It scarcely seems worth complicating the regulation to have a daily duty limit as well. A similar argument applies to weeky duty. We think it is best left to member states to judge whether duty limits are necessary.

A particular aspect of this problem is the limit of four hours on continuous driving. Since this limit applies only to driving, it means that if a goods driver stops for any reason—for example, to unload goods—there is then no requirement on him under EC rules to take a break; although after 5½ hours he comes up against our 1968 Act limit. Your committee supported the Commission's proposal of a limit of 4½ hours on continuous work for goods drivers (but not for passenger drivers). The Government agree that in principle there should be a limit and that it would be sensible for it to appear in the EC rules, but the exact formulation of the rule needs further consideration, to ensure that it is clearly understood and readily enforceable.

I now come to the rather vexed question of sleeper cabs. There seems to be some confusion—possibly because there appear to be two Mr. Moores. One is from the United Road Transport Union and the other from the T & GWU, and they seem to disagree on whether or not they like sleeper cabs. It is difficult to see how the Government could provide that sleeper cabs sould not be used. They are necessary in some circumstances—for instance, on long overseas journeys to the Middle East or across frontiers where there are substantial customs hold-ups.

The committee recommended a code of practice for sleeper cabs and bunks in vehicles. The department is investigating the possibility. It has written to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to ask whether a code of practice would be practicable, given the variety in vehicle types. Consultation will take place more widely later, but it was felt that our inquiries should have a basis in fact.

I turn now to enforcement, to which my noble friend the Duke of Portland also referred. The Commission has been pointing out for years the inadequacy of enforcement of the drivers' hours regulations in member states. Its eleventh report on the subject, to which the noble Duke referred, is the latest in this catalogue of complaints. I am happy to say that the Commission regards the United Kingdom's enforcement arrangements as a model for others to follow, but there is always scope for improving the effectiveness of law enforcement.

When the committee was taking evidence, the Department of Transport was introducing into all its traffic area offices a system of computerised tachograph chart screening. That programme is complete. It now has the capacity to look at 6,000 to 7,000 charts a year, using these devices. Some police forces are adopting similar techniques. The computer makes it easier to look for cases of systematic abuse of the law, rather than isolated instances. It is therefore aimed at the unscrupulous operator. The courts have shown themselves ready to impose stiff penalties for blatant offences. Recently short custodial sentences were given for a particularly bad case. Let me emphasise that the department and the police are determined to find and prosecute the tiny minority of operators and drivers who endanger road safety in this way.

My noble friend Lord Teviot mentioned particularly the passenger transport side. We feel that a separate regulation for passenger transport drivers would lead to further complication, but some variation on the basic framework of the rules may be necessary. We are seeking to clarify the rules on double-manned vehicles in the Council committee. We are aware of the need for these provisions for the coach industry.

Finally, I should like once again to congratulate the committee on its report and to thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The Council of Ministers will be discussing this subject again at a meeting next month, and it will be particularly helpful to have had this debate in advance. The Government will take fully into account the views that have been expressed here.

The subject of drivers' hours is complicated, but it affects the working lives of several hundred thousand people who work in the goods and passenger transport industries. The Government objective in Brussels will be to negotiate conditions that balance the interests of operators, drivers and of the general public.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Kings Norton

My Lords, first of all I should like to thank all those who have contributed to this debate this evening. They are not numerous but they are all distinguished and all knowledgeable. Coming first to my old friend Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, I enjoyed his pleasant references to the distant past, so distant that the grandfather of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, was a Minister to whom we were responsible at the time. He was a distinguished Member of this House. I rather feel that the noble Lord will emulate his distinguished forebear.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, did not think that we emphasised the sleeper cab problem sufficiently. I hope that he agrees that in my few opening remarks I did. We appreciated the problem, and it is quite evident that everybody concerned with these matters this evening understands how important it is. I believe that the best way to get a general EC basic requirement for minimum conditions in sleeper cabs would be for us here to produce something ourselves; whether by way of the British Standards Institution or the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders I do not know, but I am quite sure that something could be done.

I hope, too, that progress in the EC on transport matters will be encouraged, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Portland, said. There is this extraordinary circumstance in which one institution of the Community is taking another institution of the Community to the International Court of Justice. That ought to frighten both of them in the end, and I hope that it will cause them to move faster than they have in the past in practically all matters concerned with European transport.

I hope that when Lord Teviot reads his Hansard tomorrow he will find that I did mention passenger vehicles, and indeed some of what I had to say applied equally to passenger and heavy goods vehicles. When I referred to commercial vehicles I was thinking not only of those carrying freight but of those carrying people.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, of course spoke with great knowledge and with the wisdom with which he supported the inquiry throughout. We were delighted to have him as part of the committee at that time and his help was invaluable.

Coming to the reply from the Front Bench, I shall have to read it in detail tomorrow before I can express myself as entirely satisfied. Nevertheless, I felt that the Government had the attitude towards the simplification and improvement of the regulations which we all desire. It will be no good proceeding in the regulatory area without the agreement of the Commission in Brussels and the Council of Ministers. We hope that in the Community these matters will be dealt with with rather more expedition than they have been in the past. I think that that is all I can say this evening. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty-four minutes before eight o'clock.