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Drivers’ Hours and Tachographs (Amendment) Regulations 2020

Volume 809: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Drivers’ Hours and Tachographs (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

Relevant document: 41st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, these regulations are the first to be made under the powers conferred by Section 31 of the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020. By reason of urgency, it was necessary to make these regulations without a draft being laid and approved by both Houses of Parliament. The urgency was that these regulations needed to be made and to come into force before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, to ensure that the rules relating to drivers’ hours and tachographs could continue to be enforced in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in respect of vehicles engaged in commercial road transport, under the terms of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, or TCA.

Drivers’ hours rules are central to keeping our roads safe and protecting driver welfare. They set maximum driving times and minimum break and rest times for most commercial drivers of both lorries and coaches. For example, the rules mean that after 4.5 hours driving, a driver must take a 45-minute break, and daily driving time is normally limited to nine hours. The consequences of driving any vehicle when fatigued can, of course, be catastrophic, and the potential risks associated with heavy commercial vehicles are particularly severe.

These rules are enforced by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency at targeted roadside checks, but also by visiting operators’ premises. The principal tool used by enforcement officers is the record generated by the tachograph, a device installed in relevant vehicles that records the driving, rest and break times of individual vehicles and drivers. The regulations amend domestic legislation to ensure that the roads chapter of the TCA, which covers the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules applicable to journeys between the UK and EU from 1 January 2021, can be enforced. They do this by providing that the EU drivers’ hours regulation and the EU tachographs regulation, which are retained in domestic legislation by the EU withdrawal Act, will apply to journeys between the UK and the EU, as well as domestic journeys in the UK. The regulations also clarify that the AETR rules apply to journeys between the UK and countries that are not EU member states.

As I said, the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules are important to public safety, and this instrument is required to ensure that such rules can continue to be enforced effectively. The policy area of drivers’ hours is devolved with respect to Northern Ireland. While, for the sake of efficiency, this SI makes amendments to the retained EU regulations on a UK-wide basis, this does not affect the devolved nature of the policy.

To conclude, keeping these regulations in force is essential for ensuring that the drivers’ hours and the tachograph rules applicable to journeys between the UK and EU member states under the TCA are enforceable. These rules are at the heart of the road safety regime for commercial vehicles. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing these very important regulations. I agree that it is necessary to keep enforcement at the top of the list, because it is all to do with road safety, and I welcome these regulations without question, apart from that of enforcement. There is nothing new about our discussion of enforcement, but it is worth asking the Minister a few questions about how it is done, because we have had issues recently about number plate recognition. Apparently, the system that recognises number plates, for congestion charges and such things, no longer links with the systems in the rest of Europe, so it looks to me as if any truck, car, coach or anything with non-UK registered number plates will probably get away with no enforcement at all, because it will be too difficult, time-consuming and labour-intensive to chase them up.

I have a few questions for the Minister. One is simple; she outlined the answer, which we should probably all know. How does the DVLA monitor tachographs? Obviously, it can be done at people’s premises, although I do not imagine an army of several thousand DVLA staff is employed to do this. Is it ever done at motorway service areas or at ports where lorries congregate? It would be nice to know how much monitoring takes place and how often it happens.

The regulations say that some 500 offences are reported to the DVLA every month. This is quite a high figure. I assume that a large proportion of these offences relate to long-distance trucks, many of which have probably come from or are going to the continent and may be in a hurry. It is well known that about 80% of them have non-UK number plates and non-UK drivers. How do the Government think they can be followed up, given that the number plate recognition service is going back to manual? What are the reciprocal arrangements for British-registered trucks going to the continent? Will they also be subject to enforcement? As we have often noted, in places such as France, they will stop you if they feel like it and ask questions afterwards.

A few years ago, I had a friend who was a long-distance driver working for a truck delivery company. On one occasion he was asked by his employer to drive a truck from the south-west to Glasgow, another from Glasgow to the south-west, and a third from the south-west to Glasgow, all within 24 hours. He had more than one tachograph. How is such a situation enforced? The number of trucks does not matter. Driving for this length of time is highly dangerous without the usual rest period.

Finally, will the Minister comment on the headline in last Sunday’s Observer about the DVLA’s failure to protect its workers from coronavirus. Apparently, 500 cases were reported out of a staff of 1,800. Staff were refused permission to work at home and were told to turn off their test and trace apps so that they would not make a noise. Do the Government think that this is an example of good employment practice? I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

My Lords, I support these regulations. Using tachographs to control drivers’ hours is highly beneficial and helps to reduce accidents caused by lack of sleep or overwork.

When my daughter was a trainee solicitor, one of the partners at her law firm was known as the prince of tachographs because he was instrumental in advising lorry drivers on their use in the late 1980s, when they were first introduced. I am pleased to say that he now sits as Lord Justice Hickinbottom in the High Court.

While it is reassuring to see legislation on the continued use and enforcement of tachographs, what extra measures have the Government introduced, or could consider implementing to assist lorry drivers in using their tachographs to help alleviate the delays they are now facing as they cross to and from Europe with deliveries? I have heard of drivers, who are invariably paid by the delivery, refusing to take deliveries abroad due to the sheer amount of time they take—at least double or more. I suspect that those drivers’ hours are also playing a part in those delays.

I seek assurance that the Government are considering the impact of the tachograph regulations on our current trading arrangements with Europe by lorry and whether relaxing or amending the rules on tachographs could help to alleviate the delays we are seeing to goods. It is important to the UK that we keep deliveries free-flowing and do not impede trade elsewhere. Perhaps, where helpful and appropriate, the use of tachographs could be moderated to lessen those delays until a smoother system is in place.

My Lords, I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about enforcement now that we do not have such good access to international information on number plates. That is a particular issue because 85% of lorry drivers going across to mainland Europe are not UK-based, so enforcement is key.

I also endorse the noble Lord’s comments about conditions at the DVLA in Swansea. Will the Government ensure that there is a full investigation into why so many employees have caught the virus, and into employment practices that do not seem to be in line with government guidance?

The regulations are another example of the legislative contortions that we have got ourselves into by being outside both the EU and the single market, but at the same time wanting to mirror EU standards. I cite one sentence from paragraph 2.7 of the Explanatory Memorandum:

“Although the EU Exit Regulations will come into force on IP completion day”—

which, by the way, has passed—

“because the Mobility Package came into force after the EU Exit Regulations were made, the EU Exit Regulations do not remedy these deficiencies.”

A great deal of concentration was required to understand what the Explanatory Memorandum was trying to explain.

The desire to track EU regulations is very understandable—especially on logistics, where smooth liaison for drivers operating internationally is essential. The experience of the past few weeks has already revealed many problems with the day-to-day operation of Brexit that were overlooked by its advocates. One has to wonder whether the experts—the drivers and haulage companies—could have been engaged earlier to try to find solutions to these problems.

I wonder how we will keep this up in the long term. The EU has recently announced 82 transport policy and legislative proposals for the coming year—all part of its green deal. I know that the Government are anxious to make their mark on climate change issues, so I assume that the UK will want to at least keep pace with that. It will be extremely difficult to keep pace with changes in EU regulations in this field and in many others.

I have a question about tachographs. Paragraph 2.8 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to clarifying the types of tachograph applicable in the UK. If a lorry is to be driven in the EU, will the tachograph have in future to conform to EU standards too? I tend to assume that it will, but I should like the Minister’s confirmation. What will be the situation for drivers in Northern Ireland?

Before Christmas, when lorries were queuing through Kent because of restrictions due to the outbreak of the new strain of Covid, the Government suspended the restrictions on drivers’ hours and required rest periods. Is the lifting of restrictions still in force? If so, why? Are the delays still significant enough to require this? I ask because, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, drivers’ hours regulations are so important to road safety generally and the lifting of the rules was general and not specific to Kent.

Finally, do the Government have any plans to vary these rules? Recent news suggests that they intend to lower employment regulations and reduce standards. The example of tachographs and drivers’ hours is a classic case of regulations that benefit individual employees but are also of great importance to our safety and security generally.

I thank the Minister for her concise explanation of the content and purpose of these regulations. I must say, I also found the Explanatory Memorandum heavy going.

These regulations ensure that the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules for commercial road transport, lorries and coaches in the trade and co-operation agreement are applicable to journeys between the UK and the EU and can be enforced. They were laid under the “made affirmative” procedure, meaning that they applied instantly when they were laid shortly after the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU was concluded late last month. That agreement made no changes to the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules applicable to journeys between the UK and EU.

The Government have said that these regulations are needed urgently to ensure that the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules can continue to be enforced under the terms of the trade and co-operation agreement, and that the urgency arose because there was such a short period of time—a few days—between the conclusion of the agreement and the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

Due to the tight deadline for making these legislative changes, and with the agreement of the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland, these regulations include changes affecting Northern Ireland even though the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules are a transferred matter for Northern Ireland. Indeed, such was tightness of the deadlines that, on top of the regulations being made under the “made affirmative” procedure, there was no time for consultation on them, for an impact assessment or to update an earlier impact assessment that was apparently completed.

We are not opposed to the regulations since they do not represent a change to the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules; we accept their necessity. However, Parliament’s role in scrutinising this legislation has been marginalised, to say the least. In the debate so far, a number of questions have been asked and issues raised.

I note what the Minister said about the importance, safety-wise, of the regulations on drivers’ hours and the potentially serious consequences for the drivers concerned and other road users if they are not adhered to.

As has already been said, we gather that the Government are reviewing legislation on workers’ rights and protections even though we have barely cut our ties with the EU. Could the Minister say if the drivers’ hours rules applicable in Great Britain are currently under review and, if so, whether consultation will be somewhat greater than it has been in respect of these regulations? Have there been any discussions with the road haulage industry and coach industry on drivers’ hours regulations, or have the Government sought their opinions and views? Have the trade unions representing drivers been involved in any such discussions or been approached for their opinions and views? What is the view of the Department for Transport on the existing drivers’ hours regulations and whether they should be changed, and, if so, in what direction and in what way?

The drivers’ hours regulations can be enforced through the use of tachographs. In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases of tachograph falsification. In light of the importance the Minister rightly attaches to adhering to the drivers’ hours regulations, do the Government have any further steps in mind to clamp down on such tachograph falsifications? My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to some practices that seem to take place.

Hauliers have played a key role over many months in the provision and availability of essential supplies during the current pandemic. They both need and deserve the protections the current regulations provide if properly enforced—as they should be.

The Government have introduced a temporary relaxation, until the end of March, of the enforcement of the retained EU drivers’ hours rules in England, Scotland and Wales for drivers involved in the international carriage of goods by road and between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. These measures include extending the EU daily driving limit and reducing the daily rest requirements. This has been largely necessitated by the prospect of delays at our borders following our withdrawal from the EU and the lack of government notice and guidance to the haulage industry—or indeed anybody else affected—on what needed to be done to adapt to the changes arising from our withdrawal. What impact, if any, do these regulations have on the current relaxation and enforcement of EU drivers’ hours rules, and what impact does the current relaxation of EU drivers’ hours rules have on the application and enforcement of these regulations?

Finally, in light of noble Lords’ comments on enforcement, safety and Brexit during this debate, what assessment was made of the safety implications of temporarily extending the EU daily driving limit and reducing the daily rest requirements? Could the temporary relaxation of EU drivers’ hours rules have been made while we were members of the EU, or was it possible only because we cut all ties with the EU at the end of last month?

My Lords, we have a small but perfectly formed group considering these regulations today and I am grateful for all contributions. I shall endeavour to answer as many questions as I can in the time available.

On the point raised by my noble friend Lady Gardner, the roads chapter of the TCA specifies that the drivers’ hours and tachograph rules applicable between the UK and the EU are consistent with those set out in the EU drivers’ hours regulation and the EU tachographs regulation, which have been retained from EU law. As I am sure my noble friend will appreciate, this means that the flow of drivers and their trucks either way between the UK and EU is facilitated by the work that noble Lords are doing today. Therefore, she should feel reassured that no delays at the border are caused by tachograph issues. I am pleased to say that, at the moment, there are very few delays at the border anyway. That is because we have seen greater trader and haulier readiness than, certainly, I was expecting, which is positive. That is even in the context of the slight curveball that the French and, latterly, the Dutch threw by requiring testing for hauliers as well. While it was a difficult time after the testing regime was implemented, it has all calmed down significantly now. I am pleasantly surprised at the amount of readiness out there, which just goes to show that, sometimes, when the Government encourage people to do something, they really do it.

I also reassure noble Lords that the TCA means that a new generation of tachographs will be installed in UK vehicles used internationally when they are ready. Drivers’ hours and tachograph rules will also be applied to some light goods vehicles, which we think will help road safety too. So, there is a lot of co-operation between the UK and the EU particularly in respect of these international movements, drivers’ hours and tachographs.

I turn briefly to fines, non-compliance and enforcement. We take this incredibly seriously. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who asked whether there was an army of enforcement officers waiting at the roadside to catch recalcitrant hauliers. Yes, there is; that is exactly what we have. Data for 2019-20 from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, the DVSA, show that officers stopped more than 66,000 vehicles on the road. From those encounters, they issued more than 12,000 fixed penalty notices for drivers’ hours and tachograph offences. One driver might have got several of those, so it is not necessarily the case that a high proportion of people are doing wrong. However, I am afraid that it was foreign drivers who picked up most of those fixed penalties—77.2% went to non-UK drivers. That is why the regulations are so important.

A range of fines can be applied to the driver. For UK drivers, it is a fixed penalty notice; for non-UK drivers, financial penalty deposits also play an important part in the enforcement regime. That means that the driver has to pay the fine there and then, the DVSA being well versed in collecting the appropriate funds at the roadside to ensure effective enforcement for those who do not follow the rules.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, requested more information on the DVSA and its activities. It has a large group of enforcement officers out on the roadside. They go to motorway service areas, ports, venues and other places—anywhere where one would imagine there is a significant number of hauliers. Visits to operators are often done on a risk-based system. DVSA has some quite good computer software which looks for those who are likely not to be following the rules as much as others.

The noble Lord was worried about the number plate recognition system. I reassure him that the national NPR system works for registration numbers irrespective of where the vehicle originates. DVSA probably has a bit more information on UK vehicles than non-UK ones, but that does not mean that the NPR system does not work; we can identify those vehicles. Virtually all vehicles now have digital tachographs. The driver inserts their own card, which they then transfer from vehicle to vehicle, meaning that the DVSA can compare the two to see whether a driver has been driving without using a card. The noble Lord told the Committee about his pesky friend who seemed to be doing something that was not entirely within the law—I hope that he has ceased and desisted from doing that now. Drivers who use more than one card are usually easy to identify because the DVSA has the IT systems to check card validity.

On the issue of tachographs, we are always looking at how we can improve enforcement, particularly around tachograph falsification. The Department for Transport is preliminarily considering developing an additional range of sanctions, including in the context of non-UK operators’ responsibilities. We will take that work forward in due course.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the lack of access to EU systems, but that is not the case here. The UK remains connected to the TACHOnet system, which is used by the DVLA—the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which is different from the DVSA—when it processes tachograph card applications at the outset. Basically, this prevents a driver having more than one tachograph. It is also used by the DVSA when doing its roadside checks so that it can get access to the EU information.

The noble Baroness mentioned the EU mobility package changes, and I apologise for the state of the Explanatory Memorandum and its being unclear; I will take that back to the department, and perhaps we will be able to improve it for the next time. I reassure her that work is already under way on the mobility package amendments: a draft negative resolution was laid for sifting in Parliament in early January. Unlike this SI, the changes are not operation-critical.

There is currently a relaxation of drivers’ hours; indeed, we have had a number of these, as we have had discussions with the haulage industry and the freight sector about how they feel freight and goods are flowing, the impact of Covid-19 on staff absences and whether specific issues within the system are causing goods to back up. We feel that there is a risk of continued disruption to the supply chain, so we extended the relaxations until 31 March. However, the understanding is very clear: they can be withdrawn earlier if circumstances change—so we do keep it under review. We are very cognisant of driver welfare and road safety, and we are very clear that normal drivers’ hours rules are to be followed unless it is absolutely necessary not to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about reducing workers’ rights. This Government recognise the importance of drivers’ hours rules to driver welfare and road safety. I am not aware of any proposals in this area, so there has been no engagement or consultation, except for talk about temporary relaxations. The Government have no long-term plans to reduce workers’ rights.

In closing, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about things that they may have read about the DVLA in the Observer. I say to them: do not believe everything that you read in the media. I speak to the CEO of the DVLA very frequently: I last spoke to her on Sunday, and we went through all the allegations in the Observer. There are some very interesting comments, and all I can say is that I do not recognise them.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, may be interested to know that the CEO, Julie Lennard, will be at the Transport Select Committee tomorrow. I believe that she will put his mind at rest: the DVLA has the very highest standards on staff welfare. It follows the guidance from Public Health Wales and the Welsh Government to the letter, has frequent conversations and discussions with Public Health Wales and shares its plans with it. As such, I am reassured that DVLA staff are being looked after as well as possible. We must also recognise that the services it provides are critical to the functioning of our economy, and to enabling people to get to medical appointments and undertake essential journeys. I am sure there will be more on that at the TSC tomorrow.

That was a slight diversion from the SI before the Committee, but I commend the regulations.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.