§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
[pursuant to his reply, 24 June 1986]: Since the meeting referred to in the answer given to the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) on 6 May, I have received a further letter from the union reiterating its concerns about the proposed changes.
In response to a request from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has agreed to meet a delegation from the union.
The reply given to other representations is as follows:
Most drivers of goods vehicles above 3.5 tonnes have their driving times and rest periods controlled by the EC Regulations. In addition, within Britain, duty times (total working periods) are controlled by the Transport Act 1968.242W
On 29 September new EC regulations on drivers' hours and tachographs (3820/85 and 3821/85) will come into force. These regulations were agreed in Brussels last November after two years of negotiations. Although they do not fully meet all our objectives, we believe they will benefit both sides of the road haulage industry. Drivers will get more weekly rest (up from 40 to 50 hours), longer breaks (up from half to three-quarters of an hour), and less driving (down from 92 to 90 hours in a fortnight). New flexibility will permit daily driving and rest periods to be varied, subject to later compensation, to suit operational requirements. This facility will help both operators and drivers, who will have a new right to specify where compensatory rest is taken.
With the introduction of new rules on driving time and rest periods, we have had to re-examine the 1968 Act rules on duty times and "spreadover". The industry already felt strongly that to have two overlapping sets of rules complicated its operational planning; under the new regime it will be largely unnecessary. For example, allowing for a normal daily rest of 11 hours and two 45 minute breaks, a driver will have 11½ hours available for duty, which is only half an hour more than the existing 1968 Act limit of 11 hours. To retain the existing weekly duty limit of 60 hours would prevent the use of the new EC provision which allows weekly rest to be reduced in one week provided it is compensated within the next three weeks. So we are proposing to abolish all the 1968 Act limits on duty hours in so far as they apply to driving subject to the EC rules. (The limit on daily duty will be retained for driving not subject to the EC rules).
The trade unions consider that our proposals will lead to longer working hours, increased driver fatigue and hence increased accidents. It is true that the flexible work patterns allowed by the new rules may make longer working hours possible for some drivers occasionally, but those whose main work is driving will still be subject to effective limits. There is no clearly established connection between driving hours and fatigue. The House of Lords Select Committee in its thorough scrutiny of the EC regulations was unable to establish a firm link. It recommended that drivers should be given the ability to reach home and relax properly rather than being forced to take makeshift rest in their cabs. Abolition of duty limit will give drivers more freedom to do this.
We believe that our proposals are consistent with our policy of reducing unnecessary burdens on industry while having proper regard to road safety. It will be up to trade unions and employers to negotiate together new patterns of work that would allow both drivers and operators to benefit fully from the increased flexibility now available to them.
Draft statutory instruments implementing the changes have been laid and will be subject to affirmative resolution of both houses.