HL Deb 26 July 2000 vol 616 cc515-8

99C. Any person who—

  1. (a) drives a vehicle on a road in contravention of a prohibition imposed under section 99A(1) of this Act,
  2. (b) causes or permits a vehicle to be driven on a road in contravention of such a prohibition, or
  3. (c) refuses or fails to comply within a reasonable time with a direction given under section 99A(2) of this Act, 516 shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale."").

The noble Earl said: The amendment stands in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Marsh. It may be convenient to speak also to Amendment No. 428.

This is an important amendment. The Bill contains most of the text of the Road Traffic (Enforcement Powers) Bill that I introduced during the previous Session. The principal effect of that Bill would have been the impounding of illegally operated goods vehicles. I am very grateful to the Minister for having introduced the necessary amendments in the other place and for the credit that he has given me publicly and on an earlier amendment.

However, there was a smaller, but still important part of my Bill that has not yet found its way into this Bill. We all know how important it is to limit the number of hours that a lorry or coach driver can drive before he takes a rest. Without sufficient rest, drivers of such heavy vehicles are a danger to themselves and to other road users.

The rules on drivers' hours are complicated and it is easy to fall foul of them. Fortunately, we do not need to go into the details. However, no rules, however detailed, are effective if they cannot be properly enforced. At the moment, if a policeman or a vehicle inspector realises that the driver of a foreign-registered lorry or coach has driven for longer than he should have done, he can insist that the appropriate rest period is taken immediately. However, if a UK driver exceeds his hours, the authorities do not have the power to make him rest immediately. Of course, a driver who flouts the law in that way can still be prosecuted, but in the mean time he will have driven when he was too tired to do so safely. He may even have had an accident, but he still cannot be stopped from driving.

Prosecution is not enough. There must he a power to prohibit movement. The amendment would give the police and vehicle inspectors the power to require the drivers of UK-registered lorries and coaches to take overdue breaks or rest periods immediately, or at least as soon as the driver can get to a safe place to take that rest. Prosecution remains an option, but the important point is that drivers who may be unsafe because they have driven excessive hours cannot continue until they have rested. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I support the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who has done sterling work on the subject. I hope that he will be rewarded today with the success that he deserves.

There is no doubt that exceeding proper driver's hours is implicated in many road accidents, which shows how dangerous it is. I am sure that we all support action being taken on that.

This is a rainbow amendment—I colour my amendments according to who puts them forward and I have four colours on this one—and it deserves the support that amendments coming from all sides of the House often receive.

Lord Berkeley

I am the third part of the rainbow. Many of us debated this provision when we considered the noble Earl's Bill a year ago. Amendments were made—I believe that the Government may have tabled some of them. I think that the Government were happy with the Bill when it left this House, so I hope that my noble friend the Minister will say that he is happy with it today.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and others for tabling Amendments Nos. 391 and 428, which would tighten up the enforcement of drivers' hours. Together with Clauses 253, 254 and 255 and Schedule 29 on HGV impounding, the amendment formed part of the noble Earl's Private Member's Bill last Session, which ran out of time. We made it clear then that the measure is fully in line with our aims. For that reason, I am pleased to be able to tell the noble Earl that we can support these two amendments.

At present, the vehicle inspectorate and the police have no formal power to prohibit the drivers of vehicles registered in the UK who have exceeded their permitted driving time from continuing their journey. They have powers to prohibit the drivers of foreign-registered vehicles, under the Road Traffic (Foreign Vehicles) Act 1972, but for vehicles registered in the United Kingdom the only available remedy is prosecution, which does not necessarily prevent the driver from continuing his or her journey.

For road safety reasons, it is important that enforcement officers are able to prohibit a driver who is found to have reached or exceeded the daily driving time limits or taken inadequate rest. Prohibition is an option for other infringements as well, such as when a driver fails to produce any record sheets detailing his daily activities or when those records have been falsified.

Prohibitions will not be unduly onerous and will normally be the same as the period of rest that is due. For example, when a driver should have taken an 11-hour daily rest period but has not done so, the prohibition will normally be for 11 hours. For other infringements, the length of the prohibition will depend on the circumstances in which it was imposed.

In some cases, prohibition might be more effective than prosecution. The power would also act as a deterrent and it would remove any grounds for complaining of discrimination between UK and foreign-registered vehicles. Above all, it should ensure that exhausted drivers do not continue to drive when they are a danger to themselves and others. I hope that the Committee agrees to the amendments.

Earl Attlee

I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the amendment and for his further explanation of the details.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 392:

After Clause 256, insert the following new clause—