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Drivers (Regulations)

Volume 941: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1977

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6.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will announce the final details of the transitional arrangements for the implementation of drivers' hours and distances regulations; and whether he will make a statement.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will announce the final details of the transitional arrangements for the implementation of drivers' hours and distances regulations; and whether he will make a statement.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there is considerable uncertainty and confusion in the industry because of the delay? Does he also recognise that in the generality of today's motorways and traffic routes, the distance of 450 km. is considered to be inadequate? Will he use his best endeavours to see that this is extended?

In the second part of his supplementary question the hon. Gentle man refers to one aspect of this problem where I am afraid there is no room for manoeuvre. However, I entirely agree with what he said concerning the present uncertainty and confusion. I wish that we had had a firm indication before now of the stages for implementation. He can take it from me that I am doing my very best to obtain a firm reply very soon.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Highlands area covers one-sixth of the land mass of the United Kingdom; that the railway network is extremely meagre, and that, therefore, the implementation of the EEC directives regarding hours and distances would place an intolerable economic burden on the region? Will he keep that in mind?

Yes, I shall certainly bear that in mind. That applies to other parts of the United Kingdom as well. In discussing those matters in Brussels prior to the decision on 22nd October, I was very fully aware of the importance of this matter.

Order. I made a mistake. I did not follow my usual rule of calling the other Member whose Question was being answered. I call the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton).

Is the Secretary of State aware that these EEC regulations will face haulage contractors and passenger transport contractors with new very inflexible restrictions and, in addition, that substantial extra costs will be forced not only on the industry but inevitably also on the end consumer, the customer? What action is the Minister taking? Will he now tell the House?

If the hon. Gentleman had listened a little more carefully he would have been aware of the extent to which we succeeded, at the Luxembourg Council, in negotiating an agreement by which the drivers' hours regulations can be introduced over a period of three years instead of having to be implemented from 1st January 1978. The industry takes the view that this is a very substantial gain, but I recognise that it still depends upon the final decisions of the Commission and, beyond that, on the ability of the industry itself to absorb the extra cost.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the shorter hours and shorter distances might be as acceptable to British drivers as to those on the Continent if the British drivers did not have such absymally low basic wages for so shocking a trade, having to live, as they do, on overtime and other perks?

I know that my hon. Friend is being helpful. I wish that I could entirely endorse all that he said. It is certainly true that some drivers of heavy vehicles are paid badly. I think that those firms which are responsible should look into that matter, despite the inhibitions which are bound to determine the outcome this year.

On the subject of the distance regulations, as the Secretary of State is aware, the deadline that he has put forward is 1st January 1978. Is he expecting the road haulage industry to meet that deadline? Is he also aware that as the fitting of tachographs is the only practical way of avoiding the new distance limits, there are many road haulage firms which want to come to an agreement voluntarily with their staff? What help are the Government planning to give those companies to resolve the obvious and clear difficulties that they have with the unions on this question?

Again, the hon. Gentleman raises two related but separate questions. On the first of his supplementary questions, I entirely understand that in the absence of any plain statement, though we are to implement the regulations from 1st January, the industry does not know the way in which it will be done. I regret that, but there is no way out of that impasse. I shall certainly inform the industry as soon as I have the information that is required.

The hon. Gentleman's second question deals with the 450-kilometre limit. As I say, this is something that we are obliged to take into account, but there is a great deal of scope because it allows for the carrying of two drivers.

As a member of the Transport and General Workers Union myself, may I ask whether the Minister recognises that many drivers in the Transport and General Workers Union feel that they are being subjected to pressures, since vehicles with tachographs fitted will be accepted as a way of twisting their arms? This is no way in which to achieve agreement. Since these regulations will have the force of law in January and the details are not yet cleared up—another example of Common Market legislation—will he agree that there should be no prosecutions until they are cleared up?

I think that we should be relatively relaxed about the situation, simply because there is no quick way round it. But I take the points made by my hon. Friend.

What advice would the Minister give to a Cornish broccoli grower who now discovers that he is 301 miles from London by the very expensively built motorway and 263 miles from London by the old A30, which goes through many villages?

I would hesitate to give any advice to a Cornish broccoli grower. These are issues that will have to be sorted out by the industry. The industry has found it possible to adapt to changes in the law. It has grown, it is prosperous and it has contributed substantially to Britain's economic strength. I think that in due course these problems will be solved.