rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 14 May be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this instrument is needed to enable provisions of a new, directly applicable, EU regulation on drivers’ hours, Regulation (EC) No. 561/2006, to be fully enforceable in Great Britain. The regulation came into force throughout Europe on 11 April 2007. We believe that the new rules strike a fair balance between improving road safety and working conditions for drivers and the economic needs of industry.
Two concerns have been raised about the new rules by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He pursued them with his customary vigour and concern in this House on an earlier occasion. The first concerns members of the Territorial Army who are HGV or PSV drivers. The new weekly rest requirements make it difficult for a driver to complete a 36-hour period of Territorial Army training at the weekend and then resume work for his primary employer on a Monday morning. This is a legitimate concern, which we accept. We have written to the European Commission requesting a specific derogation on this issue. As noble Lords will be aware, that was announced in a Written Statement on 11 June. We are optimistic that the Commission will agree to this request. The noble Earl’s second concern relates to the definition of “historic” for the purposes of applying the new exemption for non-commercially operated historic vehicles. We have amended our proposals by defining a historic vehicle as one that was manufactured more than 25 years before the occasion on which it is being driven.
I also understand that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, expressed concerns that private HGVs used to transport historic vehicles, often traction engines, to events are no longer exempt because of the new weight restriction of 7.5 tonnes on vehicles used for non-commercial carriage of goods. This restriction is directly applicable and cannot be disapplied.
All I can say in conclusion is that the regulations have already been considered and approved by the other place. I look forward to the issues that I have not covered being raised in debate. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 14 May be approved. 18th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)
My Lords, before calling the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I have to inform the House that if it is agreed to, I cannot call the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, due to pre-emption.
rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after that and insert, “this House, having regard to the cost implications for rural bus services and the social exclusion that will result and the lack of response of Her Majesty’s Government to the facts put forward at consultation, declines to approve the Draft Community Drivers’ Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007”.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the speech I shall make is not political or anti-European. I find it fairly objectionable that a regulation is already in force by the time it reaches this place so that we are talking after the event. I hope that that does not mean that the Government cannot pursue some changes to the legislation or exploit the derogations that have been put in place by other people. I am aiming my remarks at the officials who negotiate.
The regulations we are debating impose a limit of 31.5 miles as the maximum distance over which a local bus route may operate unless it complies with the new rules introduced by this legislation. They impose onerous limits on drivers’ hours and rest periods. Although the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, referred to improved safety and improved conditions for drivers, there is little evidence that safety is at issue with rural bus services. It may well be in towns, but I am not talking about bus services in towns, which do not operate over such distances and are basically compliant.
I wish to concentrate on rural areas, where operations are long in time and distance. I am thinking of the rural transport needs of places such as Cornwall. Medical and educational services have increasingly been centralised. In Cornwall, they are basically provided only in Truro, which is a long way away from many places.
In that county, a small bus operator entered the market some time ago when the dominant operator gradually withdrew. He has provided services over a lot of the county that are applauded by many people. Among them, he introduced a service from Bude to Truro. That is where the hospital and education facilities are. He was hailed for so doing. That journey takes two and a half hours running through deep rural areas. Under the regulations—or rather, to avoid the costs associated with the regulations—the route has now been split into three parts, with changes necessary at Boscastle and St Columb Road.
Such changes gave rise to a letter written to the manager of the bus company that I would now like to read to the House. It states:
I am very concerned by your new bus time table.
I am nearly eighty, have cancer, and have to go to Treliske for fairly frequent out patient appointments.
Until recently I could go from Wadebridge to Treliske on one bus. Now (since 6th April) I have to go to St Columb, change buses, go to Truro Victoria Sq., change buses, another bus to Treliske—a nightmare six buses for every appointment. Why?
Please restore the Wadebridge to Treliske bus in your summer time table”.
There is no evidence that the drivers of that company wanted the changes. In fact, the senior driver there went to the managing director and berated him for introducing the changes which cause a lot of inconvenience. The buses that are supposed to connect along the route do not always do so because of road works or holiday traffic and the quality of service has been badly undermined. So there is no pressure from drivers in rural areas and there is no evidence of safety being jeopardised.
Who negotiates these regulations? Who do they think will benefit? In June 2004, the small bus operators met the then Minister, Tony McNulty, who was sympathetic, but the issue was passed to officials who took no notice and added that the rural bus operators would have to pay out of their profits for the changes being made.
Rural bus operators do not make much profit. I know that the Minister knows that inflation in the bus industry is well in advance of that which we are told about by government. It is three times the inflation rate, because insurance costs, fuel costs and wages go up. It is beyond the resources of most county councils to afford the increases even to sustain existing bus services.
When you read the small print of the regulation, as was pointed out to me at a meeting that the Minister kindly arranged, the Finnish representatives had secured a derogation in Article 13.3 in respect of vehicles operating in predefined areas with a population density of less than five persons per square kilometre. I have two questions for the Minister. If the Finnish delegation was wise enough to support a derogation, why do not we not use the opportunity of negotiations to protect rural services? Are our negotiators so ignorant of rural affairs that they do not comprehend the issues involved?
If a county council in England were to certify a sparsely populated area as being served by a rural bus service, could it not be covered by that derogation, already won by the Finns, and a list of such services be furnished to the Commission?
The regulation worsens services for rural bus users, puts up the cost of services that remain, worsens the lot of the probably most socially deprived rural poor, makes life difficult for rural bus drivers, who have to explain the complicated regulations, and limits access to centralised facilities.
It is essential that those who go to Brussels understand and promote the interests of rural communities, not simply the issues pertinent to London and the Home Counties. Most small businesses in rural areas, be they involved in farming, retailing or buses, suffer from that lack of understanding and neglect by officials.
I shall invite noble Lords to vote against the regulations as a wake-up call to officials that the rural community is fed up with the way that it is being treated. It needs to be taken seriously.
No doubt the Government will expect a lot of credit for introducing free travel for the elderly, especially from April 2008, when it becomes national, but what advantage will there be to rural dwellers if their services have been fragmented or, indeed, disappear? I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after that and insert, “this House, having regard to the cost implications for rural bus services and the social exclusion that will result and the lack of response of Her Majesty’s Government to the facts put forward at consultation, declines to approve the Draft Community Drivers’ Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007”. —(Lord Bradshaw.)
My Lords, I received the note that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, sent to all Members this morning and read it with interest because this area of legislation is of interest to me. What I cannot understand from his contribution is why he did not define the costs that will be incurred by the operator. It may be that in the judgment of the House, that sum is too small to warrant the exemption, the effective opt-out, from the legislation that he has called for. We may be talking about 0.5 per cent, 0.25 per cent or 20 per cent of turnover. We have no idea. The noble Lord’s contribution has been very interesting, but he missed out that particularly significant area of debate which I am sure will be of interest to the whole House, including my noble friend.
My Lords, I support the amendment to the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. I congratulate him on a rather unexpectedly robust speech from the Liberal Democrat Benches on the EU. He said that he was not against the EU. Of course, I have to declare an opposite view: I am against the EU. This very legislation is an example of why I am against the EU.
The Government were clearly caught on the hop by this, although I do not understand why; they have spent four years negotiating the regulation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I wonder what on earth the Government and our UKREP people in Brussels were doing during those four years. They must have been aware of the problems of rural bus services and, indeed, of the Territorial Army, during those four years. I do not know why they did not do something about it before it came before us tonight. That is quite astonishing. If they did not know anything about it, why not? Our representatives there are paid to do these jobs, after all.
I ask that in particular because I tabled a Starred Question on this very subject on 22 March. I do not think that the Minister was then particularly well briefed. He acknowledged the important part played by the Territorial Army reservists in our forces, but did not appear to recognise the effects of the legislation on those reservists. When I asked him whether the Government had sought a derogation for the Armed Forces, he replied:
“I am not aware that we are approaching the matter in that way. If there are problems—
that is a big if—
“with the way in which the regulations work, I am sure that we will have further discussions to ensure that the necessary flexibility exists”.—[Official Report, 22/3/07; col. 1339.]
So on 22 March, we were not asking for a derogation. Cut to Monday 11 June and, lo and behold, the Minister issued a Written Statement, to which he has referred. I shall quote briefly from it:
“I am today announcing that I have written to the European Commission requesting an exemption from Regulation (EC) 561/2006 on drivers’ hours for professional drivers when undertaking military training with the volunteer Reserve Forces or acting as instructors in the cadet corps at the weekend”.
It referred later to the rest periods, which,
“would enable a driver who finishes his normal driving duties on a Friday to complete a 36 hour period of training as a volunteer reservist or as an instructor in the cadet corps during the weekend and then resume his normal driving duties again on a Monday morning”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/6/07; col. 38WS.]
Will the Minister clarify exactly what this means? Will drivers or instructors be able to start work for their regular employer on a Monday morning after their weekend duties with the Territorial Army? It is important to be clear about this.
This morning, I received a letter from a Territorial Army reservist, which I would like to share briefly with your Lordships. He has asked not to be named, but I can say that he serves with the 3rd Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. He was working for the Post Office. He says that,
“the way things are now is that … I was given the following options. 1. Leave the TA 2. Leave the Post Office 3. Change duties so I don’t drive the lorries 4. Take unpaid leave to cover the rest time. I have taken option 3 as the other options are unacceptable but this means I have had to give up a £60 a week pay rise as all HGV drivers were given this to cover the new rules in the post office … So on the whole I think things have not gone … well”.
“So in the tradition of the TA I have had adapt and overcome but it has cost me £60 per week to serve my country”.
I, too, think that things have not gone so well.
This really will not do. Is it not shameful that what is still sometimes called the mother of Parliaments has to petition the unelected and unsackable European Commission to change the law affecting our Armed Forces? Is it not humiliating that neither the other place nor this House has any say at all in EU legislation? It is, I am afraid, a case of, “Swallow it whole and swallow it now”. Although I wholeheartedly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I point out to him that if he divides the House, which I am very happy to hear he will, and if we win the Division, the Government will be put in the tricky position of having to go cap in hand like a naughty schoolboy to the headmaster’s office in Brussels and explain that, “shock, horror”, the British Parliament—how dare it?—has voted down an EU regulation. That is simply not allowed, is it? Nervous breakdowns all round. I am really looking forward to the Minister explaining to Brussels that it is all a horrible mistake, and then explaining to this House that yes, Parliament is sovereign, but not that sovereign.
I end by reminding your Lordships of the unsavoury fact that most of our laws now come from Brussels. Thousands of regulations pass every year into UK law without Parliament ever seeing them. The Minister may look slightly perturbed, but it is absolutely true. Indeed, more than 2,000 of them were passed in 2006 alone. Those are the laws that we cannot touch; not one syllable, not one word, not one comma of them. They go straight into law. That gives rise to a serious question that is put not by any Minister in this Government or, I am afraid, by any Opposition spokesman, but by Roman Herzog, the former President of the German republic, when he learnt that 80 per cent of German law is actually made in Brussels. He said:
“By far the largest part of the current laws in Germany are agreed by the Council of Ministers and not the German parliament ... Therefore the question has to be asked whether Germany can still unreservedly call itself a parliamentary democracy”.
The time has come for our Parliament to ask itself the same question.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak from the Conservative Front Benches on the regulations and the proposed amendment to it. I have some questions to put to the Minister, and some strong comments to make on which I would like him to comment. I have quite a lot of sympathy for the amendment, although I make it clear that we on these Benches will not vote for it. Although the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, made some very valuable comments, I do not support much of what he said.
Dr Ladyman, the Commons Minister responsible for negotiating this legislation on behalf of UK, said:
“I will not stand here and tell the Committee that the regulations are perfect in every way, shape or form … This is the best compromise that we could get and currently there is no prospect of sufficient support among the other member states for any further changes. That does not mean that we will not get them, but at the moment there is not much chance”.—[Official Report, Commons First Delegated Legislation Committee, 12/6/07; col. 13.]
That is pertinent to what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, and is not a particularly ringing endorsement of what we are being asked to consider in your Lordships’ House today. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said about our competence in negotiation, particularly on rural issues. We should at least give Dr Ladyman credit for his honesty. However, if he is not particularly keen on the legislation, what hope do the industry and those affected, particularly in rural areas, have? One can tell by the sheer number of derogations applicable to the regulations that they are simply too blunt and arbitrary an instrument to achieve what they set out to do, however well meaning they may be. At this point, let me emphasise that we on these Benches take extremely seriously the whole issue of road safety and the measures designed to deter those who are unfit to drive safely on our roads.
I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on a number of points. The vast majority of UK operators intend to abide by the regulations. However, they are exasperated by hauliers from other countries who flout such regulations. During the passage of the Road Safety Bill, we discussed at some length allowing UK authorities the ability to enforce and prosecute foreign drivers for offences committed in this country. Will the Minister say where we are in achieving this objective? Will foreign drivers be subject to scrutiny and a subsequent penalty regime at the roadside that are at least as strong as those for UK drivers? We in this country seem to be extremely good at enforcing—or, as some have put it, gold-plating—EU legislation, to the detriment of UK interests, while the evidence in other countries is that they are much less rigorous about doing the same thing. In addition, effective enforcement depends on agencies having the capacity and equipment to do so. Will the Minister clarify what his plans are to improve enforcement by the relevant agencies? Will he say in particular whether VOSA has the resources to carry out such functions? If it does, will he tell us how many additional traffic examiners are being trained and the cost of that training? I shall also probe the Government on their definition of “journey”, as my colleague in the other place did.
In addition, weekly rest is still contentious. The Confederation of Passenger Transport is still campaigning in Brussels on the coach industry’s problems with weekly rest. Previously, the coach industry regulations stated that drivers could postpone taking weekly rest for 12 days, and then take two days’ rest together. Drivers in the goods industry are required to take weekly rest after a maximum of six days. The Confederation of Passenger Transport felt that the regulations on weekly rest were inflexible about when drivers should stop working and start taking their weekly or daily rest. I therefore wonder whether the Minister will clarify the matter further today.
Despite large sectors being exempt in the derogations, notable groups will still fall foul of the regulations. My noble friend Lord Attlee will comment on this in a moment. It is a pity that he has not had the chance to do so already. He has been heavily involved not least with the Reserve Forces, and I am sure that he will go into much more detail when he has a chance to speak. I simply ask the Minister what plans the Government have to include other notable groups in any future application for derogation, and whether he is entirely satisfied that no other groups, such as retained firefighters, coastguards, and community transport and mountain rescue volunteers, will be unfairly penalised as a result of being included in the regulations.
Finally, as in the other place, I ask the Minister whether the Government would consider a review of these regulations after a suitable period so that we may assess their impact, their cost and whether they have been effective in improving road safety.
My Lords, it might be a convenient moment to speak to my amendment, perhaps in a different tone from the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and despite the fact that he has taken some of the wind out of my sails. Before speaking to my amendment I should remind the House of my interests: I am still a serving TA officer, patron of the Road Rescue Recovery Association and president of the Heavy Transport Association. I have quite a long speech, but the underlying EU directive is the equivalent of primary legislation, and the subject is complex and multi-faceted. I think that it would help your Lordships if I explained some of the problems facing the TA.
First, I have an observation on the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Surely, it should be possible to split a route into two so that if a current route, say, route 9, with a length of 60 kilometres, is split into routes 9A and 9B, neither of which exceed 50 kilometres, the problem disappears. It seems to be rather loose drafting in the EU regulations.
I cannot deny that the new EU regulations are needed to further improve road safety. Among other things, drivers will be issued with a driver’s smartcard to put into the digital tachograph, but there will be only one card per driver, per licence holder, which will be invaluable in stopping drivers from working under two names. With the old style of analogue tachograph, drivers could easily work continuously for one employer during the week and for another agency at the weekend, which, obviously, is extremely dangerous and undesirable.
Unfortunately, these regulations and the underlying EU directive do not meet the needs of the voluntary Reserve Forces, which is why I have tabled my non-fatal amendment. The Minister refers to it as a difficult issue. The regulations define rest as,
“any uninterrupted period during which a driver may freely dispose of his time”.
But, once under military law on a weekend exercise, a vocational driver does not, by definition, have time at his free disposal. Being engaged on a weekend field exercise does not count as rest; it is classed as “other work”. All vocational drivers who are members of the volunteer Reserve Forces have to keep a record of all the work they do while on duty, irrespective of whether this involves driving duties.
As the Minister said, in a Written Answer the Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, stated that under these regulations,
“a vocational driver must take a regular weekly rest period of at least 45 consecutive hours, which can be reduced down to 24 hours every other week, before recommencing work”.—[Official Report, 24/5/07; col. WA 139.]
Unless the driver is able to complete the required weekly rest period before commencing his weekend training—he will not have a problem if he takes Thursday and Friday off work, but he will if he works the full five days—he must take the required weekly rest period as soon as the training finishes. But that would mean that a driver who finishes training at 5 pm on Sunday would not be able to recommence work until 5 pm on Monday afternoon if taking a reduced rest period, which he can do only once every two weeks, or 2 pm on the following Tuesday if he is taking the full 45 hours. That is impractical for most employers. It is their legal duty to ensure that their drivers have sufficient rest, which they might not have had if they start driving first thing on Monday morning after weekend training. Of course, it is ironic that, should he drive a minibus of scouts 200, 300 or 400 miles for a holiday, that would not be a problem under the regulations. The problem is that military service is not time at one’s free disposal.
Arrangements between the employer and the reservist could be made. However, the driver cannot be certain when an exercise will finish. I have been very surprised sometimes to finish an exercise six hours later than I anticipated. But the driver will not be able to give his employer a precise time when he can start driving professionally again. If the driver is driving for a builders’ merchant, I do not think that the yard foreman will be very pleased when the driver leaves work on Friday saying, “I might be able to start at seven o’clock on Monday morning, but it might be Tuesday morning”.
If a driver completes a full week’s driving, he will not be able to commit to a full weekend’s training if he has no option but to start work again on Monday morning. This would have a severe impact on a small infantry unit, which may have only a few HGV drivers, many of whom will drive for a living. TA units could be confined to base at weekends because they do not have enough drivers to undertake their training. In addition, many large logistic units will be deprived of a significant proportion of their HGV drivers, many of whom are needed to support the Regular Army on operations.
I welcome the Written Statement by the Minister of State, Dr Stephen Ladyman, informing the House that a derogation had been sought by the Department for Transport for an exemption to the weekly rest requirements for professional drivers when training with the volunteer Reserve Forces. It is a tightly drafted derogation or request for derogation. However, the Minister admits that,
“it may take some time for the European Commission to respond to my request”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/6/07; col. 38WS.]
In the mean time, all reservists will need to comply with the regulation as it stands. It is the employer who is in difficulty, not the TA. There is no possibility of the TA turning a blind eye to the problem; it is in the hands of the employer. To be fair to Ministers, this problem has always existed; we have not recognised it. But does the Minister agree that waiting 18 months is impractical for the TA and vocational drivers?
The EU regulations also apply to recovery vehicles, which are used to rescue lorries and cars that break down. Unfortunately, I have not given any notice to the Minister, so he may have difficulty in answering me fully. I do not have any difficulty with the regulations being made to apply to recovery vehicles. In any case, there is a 100-kilometre radius of exemption. In fact, I had some anxiety when the regulations did not apply to recovery vehicles. However, what happens if a recovery vehicle is despatched 80 kilometres from the operating centre, which is comfortably within the exempt area, and then the customer requests that the casualty vehicle is moved to another location 120 kilometres from the operating centre, outside the radius? Clearly, the recovery vehicle and the driver fall within the scope. The problem is whether the driver should insert a disc into the tachograph when he leaves base, even though he could not know that he would be leaving the exempt radius. Should he comply with the rules as soon as he knows that he is leaving the exempt radius? But how does he remember all the other work he did during the past 15 days? Does the driving done beforehand count as driving hours and, if so, how? How is the driving undertaken in the previous 15 days to be treated for the purposes of the legislation?
Let us make no mistake: industry is content to implement the regulations. I have not been asked to resist them. However, how the regulations will work in practice is very important. At the moment there is uncertainty, and industry does not understand how these regulations are to be implemented in the circumstances I described. An interesting point is that, if the EU regulations were primary legislation, I am sure that they would not pass scrutiny because they are too vague. I understand that I may not get a full answer to my points about recovery vehicles this evening. Perhaps if I draft some suitable Questions for Written Answer, the Minister could give me some detailed answers that would explain to industry what it is supposed to be doing.
Another concern with the regulations, to which the Minister referred, is that they will have an impact on genuine users of heavy-goods vehicles weighing over 7.5 tonnes. The people at whom the regulations were aimed were those pretending they were private users when they were actually commercial. As the Minister said, these vehicles are often used privately in connection with steam rallies to move exhibits. There might be a perverse incentive for someone facing these difficulties to use a historic vehicle that is exempt because it is over 25 years old; but such an older vehicle will not have all the safety and environmental features of a newer one, and its harmful emissions would be significant, especially when it is used loaded.
Considerable effort will have to be put into these vehicles to meet a new requirement to keep the tachograph sealed and calibrated. A number of enthusiasts were caught out last month when their vehicles unexpectedly failed the goods vehicle MoT test because the tachograph was not sealed and calibrated. It worked perfectly but it was not calibrated. The regulation will also present maintenance problems. If the gearbox has to be removed, unless it has an electronic tachograph with an umbilical cord, you will lose the sealing on the tachograph. This will cause more expense and labour.
The cost will be disproportionate compared to the safety benefit of the regulation as it applies to historic vehicles, as the cost of calibrating and sealing a tachograph will be comparable to the annual insurance bill. It costs around £50 to pay for the calibration and sealing but only about £100 for the insurance. I argue that the cost of calibrating is disproportionate. An owner will usually have to take time off from his day job to take the vehicle to be calibrated, thereby losing either a day’s pay or a day’s holiday. Younger vehicles will be less attractive to preserved vehicles enthusiasts, as they will need to comply with the regulations. In that way we could lose some of our heritage.
When moving his Motion the Minister was very unhelpful in regard to the private use of heavy-goods vehicles. If I was in his position, I would probably have to do the same. However, he should not underestimate the damage that these regulations will do to the reputation of the European Union at places such as tractor engine rallies. The enthusiasts will suffer the extra day when they have to take the vehicle to have the tachograph calibrated which they might otherwise spend on maintaining the vehicle.
My Lords, I have sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I was in the Territorial Army at one stage and in a driver training unit when I did national service a very long time ago. I understand what he is talking about.
I want very briefly to address the case made by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. According to our briefings, these rules apply to the whole of Great Britain and these regulations will crucially impact on already disadvantaged rural areas. Certainly the areas in Wales which I am familiar with have only 75 to 80 per cent of the GDP of the UK and a very low-wage economy, which disadvantages many people who cannot afford to run alternative transport. Indeed, young people trying to get to work depend very much on bus services, as do the elderly.
I declare an interest as the former Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, the equal largest constituency in England and Wales, and I am the president of a dial-a-ride organisation for disabled and elderly people. We have five buses which travel over 100,000 miles a year within the specified rural area.
Our sparse population is not adequately provided for in these regulations. If you turned the county of Powys around 90 degrees, it would run across the south of England from the Severn Bridge to 11 miles beyond central London. That is the kind of area that I am talking about; sparsity of population is an enormous problem.
Another issue is the distance of 31.6 miles which my noble friend Lord Bradshaw mentioned. Because so many schools have been closed, all the buses that go through my village taking children to school exceed that distance on a round trip. I would like to think that the people who have been gold-plating these regulations understand the difficulties in many rural areas. We also undertake cross-border journeys—for example, between Brecon and Hereford or Newton and Shrewsbury—which exceed these distances considerably, and we have a bus route of 100 miles, from Cardiff, Merthyr, Brecon, Abergavenny and back to Cardiff, serving rural areas.
We must have derogation for our sparsely populated areas. I am familiar with the Highlands of Scotland; in mid-Wales we have a similar population density. This issue must be reviewed. I fear that some of the gold-plating has been done by people who work in places such as Woking. I was at the railway station there one day, and I counted 146 trains going to the same destination from Woking station. We lost our railways 40 years ago. We were promised bus services to replace them. We had six trains a day; we now have none. People should realise the deprivation of sparsely populated areas and the impact these regulations will have in making things unaffordable. Powys school transport costs £5.5 million. A French company has come in and underbid the local contractors. I am in favour of the EU but that is the kind of thing that is happening at the moment.
My Lords, I support especially what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has said. I will be brief; I was not going to speak but I think I can add something to it.
I declare an interest in that I am the honorary Colonel of the Rangers, which is a Northern Ireland infantry battalion, and I am also on the National Employer Advisory Board, a UK-wide board set up to advise the Government on their relations with employers and reservists and vice versa. I am not speaking as a representative of that board. I only indicate that as an interest and therefore that I am aware of some of what the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has said.
At present, somewhere between 7 per cent and 10 per cent of our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq are reservists. Our forces could not survive without their support, and I know that the Government fully recognise that. That shows what an incredible omission it was in the first place to leave the volunteer reserve out of this derogation. It is not criminal; I do not mean that, but it is simply amazing. The secret of the reservists is those who employ them. We can maintain the reserves’ support only with their employers’ support. The reservists will never be full time, so their first obligation is not only to their families but to their employers and their full-time jobs. It is not a matter of whether we want to please the employers. That is why the National Employer Advisory Board was put together. It is fundamental and vital.
Moreover, if we have a problem in any particular sector of employers—in this instance it is obviously the hauliers—it will haemorrhage if it is not worked out. The employers are incredibly supportive at the moment, but they cannot be so for ever if we do not carry out what should have been our obligation in the very first place. Last year I went to Basra as part of the National Employer Advisory Board. We took an employer who has 12 lorries and 12 drivers. Two of his drivers are reservists—12 per cent of his workforce.
This is not a funny little thing that hits the odd driver; it affects many key people. If they are unable to do their reserve training on a weekend, it does not just hit their personal training; it hits someone else who should be training—be it on Javelin, mortars or whatever—because the first person has to drive the truck, which means the second person does not get the training. That is vital. I visited the Royal Irish Rangers last week when they were training in Brecon. Because of the lack of funds—although my point is not about lack of funds but lack of foresight—they cannot fire Javelins in practice. They therefore need every minute of practice and training they can get, but if you have to take someone out of that because he happens to be able to drive a four-tonner, he will not get that training. Everyone is well aware of what goes on in Afghanistan, and I would hate to be responsible for anyone not being there with the correct amount of training. Take the Ulster Transport Regiment. Fifteen per cent of their people who have been deployed since Op. TELIC 1 have done HGV driving for a living.
I plead that people listen to the amendment and that the Government do what they always can: to expedite something they should have done in the first place. They have a responsibility to our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this discussion. It has been valuable and helpful. I entirely respect the different positions taken by noble Lords on the real and meaningful issues that have been raised. I do not wish to belittle anyone’s contribution to this debate in my comments. I will try to address many of the issues that have been raised. It has been a long debate on a statutory instrument, which is unusual.
I start by reminding your Lordships’ House of the simple fact that the EU drivers’ hours rules are intended to promote road safety. A number of noble Lords made reference to that; the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, supported the regulations on that basis. They are also about promoting decent working conditions for drivers and fair competition. As such, they are of prime importance to the road transport industry and drivers throughout Europe. It is right, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, that we update domestic legislation to ensure that we can continue to take effective enforcement action, something pleaded for by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and that industry can take advantage of any available flexibility—for example, in the form of those national derogations we have adopted.
I also remind your Lordships that we consulted widely in preparing this instrument. That is one of the reasons why it has taken so long to get to this point. I heard the criticism made by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, on that issue. Without this instrument, domestic law would not be fully in step with EU law and our ability to prosecute for non-compliance with the new enforcement provisions would be compromised. That can only have an adverse impact on road safety.
The first major issue in this debate was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who made a heartfelt plea about rural services in rural communities. I understand that plea and I have a great deal of sympathy with it. However, it is not the way to achieve the outcome which he wants. I take issue with some of the arguments he advanced in making his case, and I will cover those points.
The Government are committed to supporting the provision of bus services to local and rural communities in particular, and our record is good. Since 1998, we have provided local authorities in England with the rural bus subsidy grant, totalling £450 million. That grant supports more than 2,000 services and 33 million passenger journeys a year. In addition, the rural bus challenge programme has provided £110 million for more than 300 schemes around the country and encouraged many different approaches to rural transport provision. Rural bus services are also provided through local authority-funded bus support from the revenue support grant, with more than £300 million a year in England outside London.
Because of that, it is widely acknowledged that rural access to bus services has been improving. Between 1998 and 2005, the proportion of households in rural areas in Great Britain that were within a reasonable walking distance—13 minutes, say—of an hourly or better bus service increased from 45 per cent to 54 per cent. That is a measurable improvement.
Passenger vehicles which are used on routes longer than 50 kilometres have been subject to the EU drivers' rules for some time. However, operators have had the choice of using a tachograph or keeping timetables and drivers' work rosters in the vehicle to demonstrate compliance. The new EU regulation removes the latter option and now requires tachographs to be used. Operators will have to fit a tachograph in all vehicles which are used on routes longer than 50 kilometres, but they have until the end of December this year to do so.
At the time the EU regulation was being negotiated, the Government received little evidence to suggest that this change would cause problems for operators. I accept that pressures on rural bus operators may have changed since then, but now that the regulation has come into force, our flexibility to provide dispensations for particular circumstances is limited, and there is little prospect of securing the necessary level of support from other member states to change the regulation.
However, in the light of the points made by the noble Lord and others, we are prepared to take the matter away and do some further work to assess the extent of the problem and examine possible solutions. As I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate, I cannot give any assurances or guarantees today because any measures would have to meet the constraints imposed by the EU regulation and other relevant legislation. But as a first step, officials from the Department for Transport would be willing to meet representatives of rural bus operators to discuss the issues in more detail. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that we are genuinely sympathetic to his concerns and that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.
The noble Lord referred to the provision for sparsely populated areas for which the Finnish had argued. Article 13(3) may provide some scope for a limited exemption for bus routes which are longer than 50 kilometres and predominantly serve sparsely populated areas. The EU regulation covering sparsely populated areas applies to those with an average population density of fewer than five people per square kilometre. It is fair to say that there would be relatively few cases in Great Britain where this provision could be applied, but we are more than happy to explore this with the bus operators.
It is clear from this debate and the debate in another place that it is the rural operators, perhaps operating at the margins, who have belatedly raised this issue. It is not that we sought to put the issue on one side or that we ignored it; it genuinely did not hit us in the face immediately when we started to work through this EU regulation. I take issue with the noble Lord’s comment that this is becoming increasingly commonplace because of the centralisation of state-delivered services. I have seen no evidence of that, and he did not produce any. I also take issue with the argument that the regulation will lead to greater cost for rural dwellers. If there is evidence of that we will be happy to look at it, but we have not seen any to date. I also take issue with the assertion, or assumption, that rural bus drivers are disadvantaged. Rural bus drivers need as much protection from the effects of having to work long shifts on long routes as any other driver. I would have thought that it was stressful driving through narrow country lanes, having to negotiate difficult roads and having to stick to a timetable. They require the protection that this regulation requires as much as anybody else.
I therefore reject the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that officials were unaware of rural problems. We are of course aware of problems for rural bus services. That is why we have had in place for the past decade a strategy to try to address concerns about previously depleted rural bus services and why we have reinvested in them.
The regulations have been subject to parliamentary scrutiny; there has been opportunity for Parliament to comment. A detailed explanatory memorandum was prepared. Extensive consultation on the regulations was circulated to a wide range of interests. It is not fair to say that the Government have not thought about these matters and listened to points made over time.
Perhaps I may run through some of the questions raised during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, referred to the comments in another place by my honourable friend Stephen Ladyman about the regulations being a compromise and perhaps the best that we can do. In a sense, anything that is arrived at by qualified majority voting inevitably involves some give and take within the European Parliament. My honourable friend was merely reflecting on that process. We cannot because of that approach insist on particular provisions, but we must try to secure for the United Kingdom the best possible deal.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, also raised questions about enforcement. All commercial vehicles and drivers are required to comply with the law, irrespective of whether their operating base is in the UK or elsewhere. The new regulation means that penalties can be imposed on operators and drivers for offences detected in one member state but committed in another country. The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency targets the non-compliant by using modern technology such as the automatic number plate recognition system to spot operators who have a poor track record of compliance. VOSA has also made considerable efforts to share information about non-compliance across Europe, because we would prefer tired drivers not to enter the UK in the first instance. We have also taken enforcement action on non-GB HGV operators, which is now easier, and reduced the burdens on the courts as a consequence. The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced new measures to allow foreign offenders to be issued with on-the-spot fines, so making sure that we attack that problem by using financial penalties without necessarily clogging up the courts.
We have launched a consultation on the graduated fixed penalty and deposit scheme, which seeks to improve enforcement, and are looking for comments by the end of August. The scheme will enable penalties to be graduated to reflect the severity and number of offences committed. It will be very helpful.
We have taken other measures with immobilisation and are conducting pilots in ensuring more effective compliance. VOSA has effectively doubled the number of enforcement checks on potentially non-compliant vehicles during the last financial year. This financial year, it will increase the number of checks by a further 20 per cent. It has committed 10 extra front-line staff around the country to extend the work of the south-east international pilot nationally. A lot of enforcement activity is therefore going on.
I think that the noble Lord raised the removal of the 12-day rule. Bus and coach drivers on non-regular journeys are no longer allowed to postpone their weekly rest until the end of the 12th day. All bus and coach drivers must take a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, which must be increased to at least 45 hours once a fortnight after no more than six days’ driving. We considered these new rest requirements carefully in light of views put forward by both sides of the industry, but the removal of the rule should not be unduly onerous.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made a very well informed contribution to our debate and I am grateful to him for his comments, particularly his invitation to me to respond to him in writing or through the medium of Written Answers on the issue of recovery vehicles, which I shall do. He asked how long it would take to get a derogation and said that 18 months was too long. I agree with him about that. We hope to get an answer sooner than that; in the mean time, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency will take a pragmatic view towards enforcement. As an interim measure on that, we have agreed a pragmatic approach to enforcement with the Ministry of Defence and VOSA, so I think that we can deal with and manage the process in a sensible way—and that is the spirit in which we intend to approach enforcement.
The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, asked about reservists starting work again on Monday morning. That is precisely why we are after the derogation, and I am optimistic that we will achieve that. They would need to take a nine-hour rest period after training and before driving; that makes sense in the context of the stresses and strains to which the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred in his impassioned plea.
I do not accept the allegation made by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, that there is gold-plating in this provision. There is no evidence of that at all. We honestly seek to ensure that we implement this in a way that benefits the bus industry in particular. I heard what he said about problems in his former constituency—I accept that there is an issue here; I made that point earlier. However, we are not in this position because of gold-plating. We are in this position because we had to negotiate a hard deal, which we have done honestly. The oversight with regard to the Territorial Army reservists, which was the issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was just that—an oversight. I was surprised that it did not come up through the consultation, which was after all rigorous and extensive.
As I have made all those points, I hope that noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments this evening.
My Lords, we have had a long debate and it is time that we moved on. The regulation that we are debating was signed on 1 May 2006 to come into effect on 11 April 2007, so Parliament does not get any say over this. The regulations never appeared here for anybody to discuss them.
I shall answer only one question because of shortage of time. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, mentioned cost. What it will mean is that rural bus operators will have to fit tachographs, which cost £600 to put in and £100 every time the seal is broken to reseal. In addition, they will need more drivers to provide a given level of service and drivers’ pay will be reduced, because they can work only a certain number of hours, which will increase stress for the drivers. The safety case that has been argued is totally unproven. With that, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
had given notice of his intention to move, as an amendment to the Motion in the name of the Lord Bassam of Brighton, at end to insert “but this House regrets that the regulations do not meet the needs of Her Majesty’s Reserve Forces”.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I shall not move the amendment.
Amendment not moved.
On Question, Motion agreed to.