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Drivers: EU Regulations

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 22 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What effect European Union regulations on driving hours will have on volunteers in the Territorial Army, the fire service and special constables.

My Lords, the new European regulation on drivers’ hours will have a similar effect on volunteers to that of the existing European regulation. Compliance with the prescribed rest requirements will determine how much time professional drivers can spend as volunteers. With the exception of emergency work, any time spent as a reservist, retained fire fighter or special constable will count as other work, not rest.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Can he therefore confirm that these regulations will mean that people who wish to serve in the Territorial Army, the fire fighting services or as special constables will not be able to do so if they have already met the hours specified in the regulations; that is, they will not be able, for example, to drive for the Territorial Army because the time will count as working time and they will already have used all their driving hours?

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord’s interpretation. I am sure that matters will proceed pretty much as they have done since the current regulations were put in place in 1985. There are some variations to the way in which the regulation will take effect and it is true that there will be a slight problem in terms of organising operations that reservists have to drive on in order to take account of their fully paid work. The important point here is that we need to ensure that proper health and safety regulations are in place so that they and those who work with them are protected from tiredness. We do not want operations to be undermined by tiredness.

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, will advise the Minister that we depend greatly on our military reservists in military operations. There is now a high degree of confusion within the reserve community and among employers about the exact situation regarding the requirement for rest periods. Can the information be put on the Ministry of Defence website via the Department for Transport so that everyone knows what the rules are? If this has implications for the number of our reserves, can we have a statement on how it is to be handled by the Ministry of Defence?

My Lords, I am sure it can be put on the website. I know that the Ministry of Defence fully supports the spirit of this legislation and for many years has had measures in place to ensure that people are not unduly exposed to the risks I referred to earlier. I agree with the noble Lord that there is a dependence on reservists. They play a very important part in our operations.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that limitations in character may not become apparent until a soldier is tired—very tired? If we adhere to the drivers’ hours regulations and the working time directive, which also impacts on the TA, we run the risk of promoting soldiers in the TA who have some limitations in capability.

My Lords, it is important that those who serve and do a highly valued job in the Territorial Army are fully fit for work. That is what the regulations aim to ensure.

My Lords, I understand that the Government spent around four years negotiating these new regulations, yet the consultation paper states that with regard to the derogation,

“the existing position remains virtually unchanged”.

Will the Minister tell us what they negotiated?

My Lords, I am not going to attempt to get into the micro-detail of negotiations from the Dispatch Box today; it could take some hours, I am sure. We were arguing about some of the impacts and some of the detail. That is quite right as some of the detail can have an effect on our ability to provide for the Territorial Army and the other reserve services.

My Lords, the retained firefighters cannot arrange when they go out with their machines; they have to go out when the fires occur. Will the Minister give us an absolute assurance that these regulations will not in any way affect the operation of retained fire services, where they exist?

My Lords, there are two points here. First, it is clear that the EU regulation has not been identified as having a significant impact on the ability to recruit or retain retained firefighters. Secondly, drivers volunteering as retained firefighters are exempt from the new EU regulation when dealing with an emergency.

My Lords, will the Minister define “significant”? Have we lost people who would have been able to serve?

My Lords, I am not aware that we have lost people who would otherwise be available to serve. I am clear that this has not had an impact on the retained fire service.

My Lords, if I may come in on that, the Commission apparently said that it was possible to seek a derogation from the regulations for the Armed Forces. Have the Government sought such a derogation for the Armed Forces?

My Lords, I am not aware that we are approaching the matter in that way. If there are problems with the way in which the regulations work, I am sure that we will have further discussions to ensure that the necessary flexibility exists. That would be very important.

My Lords, under the drivers’ hours regulations, a vocational driver must have his tachograph discs from the previous week or two to show to the authorities what his driving activity has been. Military vehicles are not equipped with tachographs. How does a driver who has done some service driving over the weekend meet that requirement?

My Lords, that sounds like an incredibly good question. I am so confounded by the noble Earl’s knowledge and wit that I will have to retreat and find a Written Answer for him.