HL Deb 03 March 2003 vol 645 cc600-2

2.52 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they intend to implement the European Working Time Directive on the railways before they implement it on the roads.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, the Government are required to implement the Horizontal Amending Directive which extends the Working Time Directive to all railway workers or non-mobile workers and some road transport workers by 1st August 2003. However, drivers subject to EU drivers' hours rules are subject to a more specific working time directive called the Road Transport Directive, which was adopted only in March 2002 and is required to be implemented by March 2005.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that between now and the time of implementation, it will be quite impossible to recruit, for example, sufficient train drivers and signal engineers to make up for the extra employees who will be required to implement the directive? Is it necessary to implement the directive so soon? Why does the road transport industry have a derogation until 2006 or 2009, depending on the size of vehicle? Will the directive be implemented by other European countries or will we, once again, be zealots for introduction while other people please themselves?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I hope I made it clear in my Answer that we have no option about this. It is a piece of a directive that we have to implement by 1st August 2003. It is as simple as that.

In 1998, the railway sector signed the railway social partner agreement, which was incorporated in the Horizontal Amending Directive in 2000. So the railway sector has had five years in which to implement this regulation. The idea that it has suddenly been sprung on the sector is misleading. Five years is a perfectly reasonable amount of time, and the sector has had three years since it knew the final date. There were no objections to the railway sector's inclusion in the Horizontal Amending Directive, along with its timetable for implementation, during the course of negotiations which came to a conclusion on 1st August 2000.

As with most legislation coming out of Brussels, there has been plenty of time to take notice of it, deal with the situation and even recruit people. There is no derogation on the Road Transport Directive, which was adopted only in March 2002 and is required to be implemented by March 2005.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, my noble friend will he aware that the regulations from his department to implement the directive into national law were published only this winter. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group, but this applies to all rail passengers or freight. Until those details were published, it was not possible to get into the nitty-gritty of how many new drivers and signalmen were required. So in fact the Minister is allowing only six months for training people, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, would take several years. Has the Minister told his colleagues in the Department for Transport? How many trains will have to be cancelled because of the shortage of drivers from 1st August?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, if I may say so, the noble Lord is being somewhat naïve. The industry had notice of the legislation, which is quite clear. All that was required was the detailed regulations to implement it. I cannot see that it is that difficult, over this period of time, to take action to deal with the situation. Very precise derogations apply in terms of certain categories such as night work limits, which are there to help the industry.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, leaving aside the railways, could one of the reasons that the Government are not implementing the directive on the roads at this time be that it is part of the wider agenda of waiting for the second regulation on road transport, which is currently before Ministers at the Council of Europe? That would impose heavy penalties on the road haulage industry. Why did the Government oppose that regulation at the beginning but have now changed their mind?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, the Road Transport Directive was adopted in March 2002 and is required to he implemented in March 2005. We will implement it by that date. I cannot believe that the noble Baroness is suggesting that we should bring it forward so that we are, as she would say, gold-plating this and putting our industry at a disadvantage compared with the industry in the rest of Europe.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, although I agree with my noble friend that it is hardly zealotry to want to implement these measures for road and rail—after all, it is 13 years since the original Working Time Directive—it was nevertheless always intended that road and rail directives should, for obvious level playing field reasons, be implemented simultaneously. Is my noble friend aware that this two-year gap—or discrimination as the rail industry will argue—opens up the possibility of legal intervention by the Commission, which would have every chance of success?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I am not certain that that was ever intended. There are three situations here—the Working Time Directive, the Horizontal Amending Directive and the final three bits of directives which apply to the specific areas of aviation, seafaring and road transport. It is not true that the Road Transport Directive is the only bit of legislation controlling drivers' hours. The tachograph rules limit driving hours for these drivers to a total of 90 hours per fortnight. So regulations already cover road transport to some extent. There is also a question about how Schedule 14 would apply to the situation, with some dispute as to the legal meaning.

Back to