Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twentieth Report


COM(00) 137

Draft Directive amending Directive 96/53/EC laying down for certain road
vehicles circulating within the Community the maximum authorised
dimensions in national and international traffic and the maximum authorised
weights in international traffic.

Legal base:Article 71 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department:Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Basis of consideration: Minister's Letter of 13 February 2002
Previous Committee Report: HC 23­xviii (1999­2000), paragraph 14 (17 May 2000)
Discussed in Council: 4/5 April 2001
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared (decision reported on 17 May 2000), but further information requested


  13.1  In May 2000, the previous Committee cleared a Commission proposal for the adoption of a maximum length of 15 metres for rigid buses and 18.75 metres for buses and trailers. The proposal contained a number of provisos, including that such vehicles should meet the turning circle requirements for 12 metre vehicles and the outswing requirements for 18 metre articulated buses. In addition, all buses and coaches over 12 metres would require at least three axles, and a "grandfather clause" would allow a transitional period for vehicles not meeting all the requirements. The previous Committee concluded that:

    "In the light of the Government's assurances about safety, the environment and the infrastructure, we are content to clear the document and have no questions to ask."

  13.2  On 6 February 2002, we considered a short letter from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr David Jamieson). The Minister told us:

    "Following the scrutiny clearance the UK maintained the line that we would only accept the increase in overall length of rigid buses and coaches to 15 metres provided the safety requirements of existing vehicles was not compromised.

    "Although during subsequent negotiations other Member States accepted a relaxation in the proposed manoeuvrability requirements the UK obtained a derogation from these requirements until the Commission has carried out research into and reported on the effects of the revised proposals.

    "The draft Directive has been accepted by the European Parliament and it will be adopted during the Spanish Presidency over the next six months."

  13.3  We sought clarification from the Minister, since it appeared that the manoeuvrability requirement and therefore potentially the safety requirement had been reduced compared with the version of the proposal we cleared in May 2000.

  13.4  The Minister replied on 13 February 2002 that the manoeuvrability test originally proposed by the Commission was relaxed during the European Parliament's first reading on 3 October 2000, in response to lobbying by businesses for less complex vehicles. Political agreement on a common position was subsequently reached at the Transport Council on 4/5 April 2001 when there was insufficient support amongst Member States to block these changes. The common position was formally adopted as an "A" point by the Council on 27 September. The Minister says:

    "The Commission made no formal proposal to amend its original proposal. However, in the lead up to the Council meeting a number of Member States showed support for the EP amendments, although a substantial minority, again including the UK, were still expressing concern over the road safety implications. In the event there was insufficient support to block these changes to the Commission proposal, but we succeeded in obtaining two major provisions in the Common Position. The first was a derogation for the UK (and Portugal) to allow the original Commission proposal for the manoeuvrability test to be applied for a period of three years and the second was a requirement for the Commission to review the revised test procedure in that period and, if necessary, bring forward proposals to tighten the limit values."

  13.5  The Minister says that the UK will be monitoring other Member States' experiences with the less manoeuvrable vehicles during that period. He adds that the outcome is the best that could be achieved and is essentially the same as the original Commission proposal cleared by the Committee.


  13.6  The previous Committee emphasised the safety requirements as defined by the manoeuvrability test when clearing the original proposal. It said:

    "We note the Government's support for this proposal and we see the case for harmonisation in this area. We believe the Commission may be proved mistaken in assuming the 15 metre buses will be a niche market rather than the norm. However, in the light of the Government's assurances about safety, the environment and the infrastructure, we are content to clear the document and have no questions to ask."

  13.7  The text subsequently underwent a significant change. However, the Department failed to refer the revised proposal back to us for further consideration or to keep us informed of developments until after political agreement on a common position was reached in the Council. This is highly unsatisfactory, especially on a politically sensitive issue. We ask the Minister to inform us how the Department will ensure that such breaches of the scrutiny requirements do not occur in future.

  13.8  The Minister says that the UK will be monitoring the effect of the longer, less manoeuvrable vehicles in other Member States. While we recognise the importance of this, we would also expect the Department to monitor the effect in the UK of the longer, more manoeuvrable vehicles which will be allowed in the UK during the three-year transitional period, with a view to estimating the effect of relaxing the manoeuvrability test. There may be significant differences between the UK and other Member States in the suitability of the infrastructure, especially as regards road layout and design and congestion, for accommodating longer, less manoeuvrable buses, which would call into question the validity of any comparison between the UK and other Member States. We ask the Minister what monitoring of this sort his Department plans.

  13.9  We understand that local powers to restrict vehicle lengths will be unaffected by the Directive. We ask the Minister to confirm this, and to set out in what ways, if any, the Government envisages greater use of local restrictions to deal with the negative effects of allowing the longer, less manoeuvrable vehicles on UK roads.

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