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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Community Drivers’ Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007



The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Eric Martlew
Bacon, Mr. Richard (South Norfolk) (Con)
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Bone, Mr. Peter (Wellingborough) (Con)
Brown, Mr. Russell (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab)
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Clapham, Mr. Michael (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab)
Jones, Lynne (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen (Minister of State, Department for Transport)
Moran, Margaret (Luton, South) (Lab)
Morgan, Julie (Cardiff, North) (Lab)
Murphy, Mr. Denis (Wansbeck) (Lab)
Paterson, Mr. Owen (North Shropshire) (Con)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
Rowen, Paul (Rochdale) (LD)
Roy, Mr. Frank (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Sheridan, Jim (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab)
Slaughter, Mr. Andy (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
Sara Howe, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 12 June 2007

[Mr. Eric Martlew in the Chair]

Draft Community Drivers’ Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007

4.30 pm
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Community Drivers’ Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr. Martlew.
The draft instrument is needed in order to enable the 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.
The following key changes are introduced by the new EU regulation. The weekly driving limit is clearly set at 56 hours. A 45-minute break can only be split into two periods, the first at least 15 minutes, and the second at least 30 minutes. At least 45 consecutive hours of rest must be taken every other week. Bus and coach drivers on non-regular journeys are no longer allowed to postpone their weekly rest until the end of the 12th day, otherwise known as “the twelve-day rule”. Off-road driving that is part of a journey which includes public roads now counts as driving time. Operators are now automatically liable for infringements committed by their drivers, although this liability is conditional. Undertakings, consignors, freight forwarders, tour operators, principal contractors, sub-contractors and driver-employment agencies are now responsible for ensuring that contractually agreed transport time schedules respect the new EU regulation. Penalties can now be imposed on operators and drivers for offences detected in one member state but committed in another country. The derogation for minibuses with between 10 and 17 seats only applies if used exclusively for the non-commercial carriage of passengers. The new derogation for refuse vehicles only extends to household refuse—the collection and disposal of commercial refuse is not covered. Specialised breakdown vehicles are now only exempt if operating within a 100 km radius of their base. Vehicles used for the non-commercial carriage of goods are now only exempt if they do not exceed 7.5 tonnes. There is a new exemption for historic vehicles used for the non-commercial carriage of passengers or goods.
When we consulted on the domestic legislation that would be needed to facilitate those changes, two main areas of concern were identified. The first concerned the adverse effect that the new EU regulation would have on professional drivers when undertaking military training with the Territorial Army at the weekend. The new weekly rest requirements would make it difficult for a driver to complete a 36-hour period of training at the weekend and then resume work for his primary employer on a Monday morning. We have listened to those concerns and have written to the European Commission requesting a derogation as soon as practicably possible. I announced the details of this request to the House yesterday, through a written statement. We are optimistic that the Commission will agree to the request.
The second concern related to the definition of “historic” for the purpose of applying the new automatic exemption for non-commercially-operated historic vehicles. We have also listened to the convincing case put forward by the historic vehicle fraternity, and have decided to simplify our proposals by defining a historic vehicle, in this context, as one that was manufactured more than 25 years before the occasion on which it was being driven. We are satisfied that the approach taken to address both concerns is in keeping with the spirit and intention of the regulation and would not unduly jeopardise road safety.
4.34 pm
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Martlew.
It is worth pointing out at the beginning that we should only be debating the issue of enforcement. The introduction of the regulations occurred some time ago, has caused considerable controversy in the industry—one of the best regulated and probably best behaved in Europe—and has been onerous. It is worth stating that we cannot discuss the detail of the regulations or how they work, but rather, how they are imposed.
We will not oppose the regulation because the Minister has made it clear, in the documents that we have been given, that there are considerable sectors that get a pass—that have a derogation and are excluded. For example, paragraph 4.7 of the explanatory memorandum to the regulations states:
“If none of the derogations available under the new EU Regulation were exercised it would, in effect, bring large numbers of drivers and operators not currently subject to the EU drivers’ hours rules into scope (at considerable cost to industry).”
Paragraph 4.8 reiterates that point and states that non implementation
“would be contrary to ongoing de-regulatory initiatives, and could also place certain operators at a distinct competitive disadvantage compared to their foreign competitors.”
That point is repeated in the summary costs and benefits analysis, which describes the adoption of the discretionary national derogations as
“Significant—as it would bring a large number of drivers and businesses into scope of both the EU drivers’ hours rules and the separate EU road transport working time legislation.”
Although Conservative members of the Committee are strongly in favour of measures that ensure safety on our roads, we believe that, overall, the regulations are onerous and have been a burden, and that is clearly shown by the exemptions. However, we will not oppose them because we want those sectors that are derogated to take the benefit of that.
It is clear from some of the letters that I have received that the regulations will have significant cost implications. For example, Secure Cargo Assured plc, a business based in Bristol, stated that the
“cost implications will be dramatic”
and the service level may drop. It feels that the way that the new hours are imposed and restructured is “simply ridiculous.”
We should be looking at the methods of implementation. I have received a submission from representatives of the Freight Transport Association that reflects a tired resignation—they say that they believe that they have exhausted their arguments on the weekly rest during the lengthy co-decision process. I have had a similar submission from the Confederation for Passenger Transport UK, which says that its main gripes are with the EU regulation and that it hasmade a strong case on those points throughoutthe regulation’s progress, but ultimately to no avail. The feedback that it got from UK officials attending the European Council’s meetings was that its concerns were justified but that too few member states shared them for there to be a realistic chance of change. An important point is that that is not a case of companies wanting one thing and drivers another. There is so much agreement that a large batch of petitions have recently been delivered to Brussels signed by both employers and employees.
We are where we are, however, and all that wecan look at are the details on enforcement and, asthe Department for Transport summary of the consultation process showed, the biggest controversy concerned the issue of liability. Article 10(3) of the EU regulation states:
“A transport undertaking shall be liable for infringements committed by drivers of the undertaking, even if the infringement was committed on the territory of another Member State”.
However, the next point in article 10(3) is most important:
“Member States may make this liability conditional on the undertaking’s infringement of paragraphs 1 and 2.”
The industry representatives that I have mentioned have said:
“Currently the burden of proof is on enforcement staff to prove the employer has caused or permitted the driver's offence. However under new GB legislation, the burden of proof has been shifted onto the employer to prove that they can meet the statutory defence. (The statutory defence being that they have effective systems in place for scheduling, training and monitoring records”
and giving clear instructions to the driver himself or herself.
The FTA’s position was that it
“was concerned that the automatic liability and the transfer of burden of proof could result in operators having to go to court to prove their innocence. FTA has, however, received assurance in writing from the Minister that VOSA would not proceed with any prosecution unless they have proof that the employer could not meet the statutory defence.”
Will the Minister clarify exactly what he wrote to the FTA?
Dr. Ladyman: A bit of history.
Mr. Paterson: Yes, a long way back in history.
In food safety, the code of practice requires the prosecuting authority to take account of whether a due diligence defence is likely to succeed before pursuing a prosecution. In this instance, one would expect the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency to have its own code of practice and it is important that the code of practice is couched in a manner that is recognisable by the courts. Will the Minister agree to that today, rather than let the law evolve through a series of court cases?
The other area that is most contentious within the industry is the imbalance between regimes here and in other countries. In March, VOSA reported that of 74,239 British trucks checked for drivers’ hours infringements, 8.3 per cent. failed. In Germany, 38 per cent. of the 1,327 trucks checked, failed. In Austria it was 31.9 per cent. of 411 and Ireland sadly came top of the league with 36.6 per cent. of 4,316 failing. The difference is that the UK is the only country that ejects haulage firms from the industry for breaches of drivers’ hours laws. Article 21 states:
“Member States shall, where appropriate also withdraw, suspend or restrict an undertaking’s licence”.
The UK is unique in that respect.
Although the graduated fixed-penalty scheme, which we supported, was brought in by the Road Safety Act 2006, providing more effective measures against foreign firms, the consultation document was issued only last week and the scheme will not come into force until 2008. Will foreign drivers be subject to scrutiny and a subsequent penalty regime at the roadside that is at least as strong as that for UK drivers? The answer is that we do not really know. I would like a clear timetable from the Minister today because there is huge variation in the sanctions applied by different member states across Europe.
We would also like a definition of the word “journey” in the regulations. Article 4(a) introduces the concept of off-road driving, which is already increasing the cost of haulage in many sectors. However, confusion arises from the lack of a definition of “journey” because it is the first time that it has come up. Ultimately, any definition must come from a court of law or should be stated here today. Would it include a lorry queuing up for diesel or one that is waiting to deliver to a supermarket or depot? The Road Haulage Association put a definition to the Minister and it will be helpful if he tells us his current thoughts on what a “journey” is. Otherwise, we will let the provisions pass through and end up with a series of court cases, with the courts making our law rather than our elected legislators.
Article 10(4) introduces the concept of the consignor and freight forwarder having some liability, with the intention of reducing the commercial pressure on hauliers to break the law if their customers make unreasonable demands. That is a fairly novel concept and I wonder how the Minister sees it being enforced. Again, I would like that to be stated here rather than for it to emerge from court cases.
As the Minister touched on in his introduction,the weekly rest is still contentious. The new EU requirement to take a full 45 hours rest every two weeks is seen as problematic. Sectors such as the newspaper industry and the baking industry, which require seven-day operations, have already been significantly affected. Their drivers do not work long hours, but their pattern of work has been five and a half days per week, giving them somewhere in the region of 41 hours of weekly rest. They normally compensate for the four-hour shortfall by having extra time off mid-week, but the new regulations require the full 45 hours rest to be taken in any two weeks, effectively limiting every second week to five days of work. That affects some coach operators, particularly those who carry performing artists. I have been advised that the new weekly rest requirement could jeopardise the career of some small bands that cannot afford to employ numerous drivers and fly them to the next destination ahead of the coach, ready to resume duties after the necessary time off. The music touring industry says that that also delays a driver’s return to their family.
I have talked to the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which 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 the regulations on weekly rest to be inflexible as to when drivers should stop working and start taking their weekly or daily rest.
For example, a coach driver returning from Belgium to Plymouth who is delayed on the channel crossing by French port workers—or whatever happens in France—must stop travelling when his hours are up. Even if a relief driver is sent out to take the coach home, the driver must stop wherever he is and take a rest period of between nine and 45 hours depending on the circumstances. Even if he wants to travel home by train, he cannot: that situation seems oppressive, and I wonder whether the Minister could clarify it, as it is still a big issue of contention within that particular sector.
I would also like to mention tachographs, and cases where drivers on long bus routes have had to carry a timetable for the route they are working on as well as their work roster, enabling the enforcers of the relevant legislation to ensure that they were getting enough rest. One significant operator in Cornwall is so fed up with the extra burden that the regulations are imposing on him, that he has chopped up his long route into shorter ones, which hardly improves their passenger appeal.
On the question of enforcement agencies, in several cases, the regulations are already causing hauliers to change their locations to ensure that their trunk routes fall within the acceptable journey time. The experience of the operators and the tachograph readers suggests that the equipment could be updated. Apparently, they are still using old archaic methods such as Excel spreadsheets to analyse digital tachographs, and vet operators and drivers’ compliance. More modern systems could be implemented, and there are lessons to be learned from private companies. What are the Minister’s thoughts on ways to ensure that VOSA has the very latest equipment and the right tools for the job?
I repeat, the vast majority of UK operators intend to abide by this directive, and they have put a lot of effort into that over the last few years. However, they are exasperated by hauliers who come from other countries, which I have already listed, that are not as far advanced and do not enforce the law at home. To do that here we need agencies that are up to the mark with the very latest equipment. Will the Minister clarify what his plans are to improve our enforcement by those agencies?
Lastly, I would like to mention the Territorial Army and our military reserve forces—an area in which we seem to have a complete about-turn, which I am very pleased about. Comment 2.44, at the end of the Department’s summary of responses to the drivers’ hours consultation, is pretty brutal:
“The new EU Regulation changes nothing in this regard—drivers are already required to record the time spent undertaking these activities at the weekend as other work under the existing EU Regulation. To provide some form of derogation for reserve forces personnel would mean having to amend the EU Regulation itself. But there is absolutely no scope for doing so.”
That was pretty clear. I did not like it, but I thought it was clear.
We then had a fascinating exchange in the House of Lords, in which my colleague Earl Attlee asked about drivers’ hours regulations, and pointed out that military vehicles are not equipped with tachographs. He said that a vocational driver must have his tachograph disc from the previous week or two, to show the authorities his driving activity. He asked:
“How does a driver who has done some service driving over the weekend meet that requirement?”
Lord Bassam of Brighton came back with a splendidly honest answer:
“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.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 22 March 2007; Vol. 690, c. 1339.]
We have the Minister’s written answer today, which makes fascinating reading. I am delighted that he has written to the Commission to ask for an exemption from the regulation. However, I am intrigued as to why he writes:
“I am satisfied that such an exemption will not in any way jeopardise the objectives of Regulation (EC) 561/2006.”—[Official Report, 11 June 2007; Vol. 461, c. 38WS.]
That is surprising, given that he was previously so emphatic that there was absolutely no scope for an exemption.
I wonder, therefore, whether there is some hope for other sectors of activity. The Minister has addressed the question of the TA and reserve forces, but where do retained firemen stand in the matter, as they will be driving vehicles of more than 7.5 tonnes? Special constables might be involved, and what about St. John Ambulance and some health volunteers, lifeboat men, coast guards, and mountain rescue? We could all cobble together a list of volunteers who work at weekends and who may drive vehicles that come under the regulation. As the Minister has taken a welcome step on the TA, I wonder whether he might consider addressing those other sectors. The regulation will be a real burden on some very hard-working, loyal people who put in a lot of voluntary service at weekends.
To summarise, we are not happy with the burden of the existing regulation, but it has been passed and it is done. I have raised a number of questions on the detail of the enforcement, but we will not oppose the statutory instrument because large sectors are exempted in the derogations and we would not want them to get sucked in.
Will the Minister consider a comprehensive review not only of Regulation (EC) 561/2006, but of the means by which it is enforced, in perhaps two years’ time? That would provide a proper analysis, after some experience, of the cost of the regulation and whether it has been effective and improved road safety. It would also assess its impact on the competitiveness of our own industry.
4.51 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I am grateful to you for calling me, Mr. Martlew. As you know, I am exercising the right of Members of Parliament to take part in Committees of this kind. I have one or two very simple questions to ask the Minister.
The relevant documents say plainly that the changes are required because VOSA already has the right to enforce the regulations. When the Minister says that VOSA already has resources to enforce the requirements, is he certain that that is the case? How many traffic examiners are being trained and what is the cost of that training? May I also ask him whether traffic examiners are being told that they will not be required to maintain the same level of safety checks, and if so, what effect will that have on the regulation?
It is clear from the wording of the regulation that VOSA has the power to impose solutions on those breaking the terms of the legislation. Will the Minister assure me that that extends to foreign vehicles, and that there will be an active campaign to check them and ensure that they are not breaking the safety rules?
On the general organisation of VOSA, will the Minister assure me that the suggestion that it is being prepared for privatisation is not accurate, but that if that were the case, the powers set out in the regulation would continue for a privatised vehicle operating agency? If so, where has that matter been debated?
I am grateful to you, Mr. Martlew, for your tolerance.
4.53 pm
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Martlew, and a pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, who has favoured the Committee with her considerable expertise and experience and asked a few pointed questions. I shall listen with interest to the answers, should they come from the Minister.
The hon. Member for North Shropshire has favoured us with a comprehensive and characteristically well-thought-out exposition. I was mildly surprised, however, that he declared at the start that he does not intend to vote against the regulations. I have not yet made up my mind on the matter. I have a number of concerns, particularly relating to their impact on rural bus services. I shall wait to hear what the Minister has to say with regard to those before I make any decision.
Mr. Paterson: My point was that the pass has been sold on the regulations. They have gone through already, and, much as we would like to debate them and possibly amend them—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has received representations, as I have, stating that they are very difficult to work with—that is a done deal; it is gone. All we are discussing and voting on today is the enforcement, and if we vote for the instrument we win the derogation, exempting large numbers of operators.
Mr. Carmichael: If I may say so gently, the hon. Gentleman is confusing the roles of Opposition and Government. What he outlines is the Government’s problem. I am not here to pass bad law just to make things easy for the Government, and I do not think that any of us who take our responsibilities to this place seriously should be in the business of doing so.
To my mind, the law of unintended consequences is at work here, particularly in relation to rural bus services. I want to bring the Committee’s attention to some of those consequences. I apologise to the Committee; I may claim many things for what I am about to say, but that it will be exciting is not one of them, I am afraid.
The proposed changes will apply to all international journeys, and all national journeys, of over 50 km—that is 31.6 miles in old money. In the case of haulage, the 50 km is measured by reference to how far the driver drives from his home base. It is quite possible for trucks to carry goods much further than that without necessarily triggering compliance with the regulations. For the bus and coach industry, however, the process is more onerous, because the 50 km is measured by the total route length. That means that a person travelling for just one stop, but on a route that has an overall length of over 50 km, bears a greater cost simply because of the route length. That feature of rural bus services is growing in frequency.
There is a growing trend in the provision of many public services, such as health and education, for centralisation. In this case, that means that the people who rely on those services—those who are most socially excluded, to use the jargon—are increasingly reliant on bus services of a length greater than the50 km limit. That particularly affects rural areas, because obviously not many urban bus routes would run to the extent of 50 km. People who rely on bus services most often use ones that are already on the margins of profitability and need public support, in some way, shape or form, for their operation, and they tend to be either the young—for the purpose of education—the old, or those who cannot afford a car.
Two essential sets of changes are covered by the statutory instrument—those which were introduced in April and those which will be introduced in December. The changes from April have had a major impact already on bus services in Devon and Cornwall and, to a lesser extent, in Norfolk. The changes have been negative, by and large, and have reduced accessibility for those who rely on travel for access to services. Negative changes are also being implemented to the network in Suffolk, and the further break-up of the network is being considered by managers of bus companies elsewhere, including in Hampshire, Sussex and Oxfordshire. The changes in April related to the rest periods for drivers employed on the EU in-scope work. Whereas the former rules required the driver to have two consecutive days off together once every three weeks, that has been reduced to once every two weeks. In other weeks there must be at least one day off and, if more than one, they do not have to be consecutive. Any shortfall in total hours caused by having one day off rather than two has always had to be made up under EU rules, hitherto within the three-week period, but now within the two-week period. I hope that the Committee is following this.
I do not see any instance where a safety case has been made for those changes to the rules. Has the Minister made such a safety case? Has any research been done? Why should rural bus services be treated differently in that way? I have seen no evidence that rural bus services have a higher accident rate than urban or suburban routes.
There will also be a cost implication and, putting it bluntly, the funding for higher costs in rural areas is simply not available, whether from the private sector or local authority budgets. The consequence is that bus services will be cut and fares will rise even further above inflation. Alternatively, as the hon. Member for North Shropshire has mentioned, bus services in rural areas are broken up and fragmented to avoid having to comply with the regulations.
The change at the end of the year, which will come into effect in December, relates to how records are kept. The explanatory memorandum refers to
“governing the installation and use of tachographs”.
That derogation is being withdrawn. As things stand, it means that buses can be used efficiently and interchanged, on either a planned or emergency basis, between 50 km routes—those which are EU compliant—and drivers can undertake a mix of EU and non-EU work, so long as they carry the necessary timetables and rosters. That has been a long-established means of ensuring efficiency and flexibility in the rural bus sector. Coaching is generally not involved here as all routes are over 50 km and have services of sufficient frequency that dedicated vehicles and staff can be deployed.
At the end of the year, the derogation on timetables and rosters will be withdrawn. There will be no similar replacement. That means that all rural bus fleets will have to be fitted with a new style of EU-approved digital tachograph. Each piece of equipment involves money being spent, which the derogation allowed us to avoid. More significantly, the flexible use of drivers and vehicles between route types will be lost. That will probably lead to a greater administrative and cost burden to the operators—again, a significant cost burden on those most marginal routes.
Finally, I draw the Minister’s attention to the regulatory impact assessment, which states, in paragraph 5.7:
“There are general costs for operators associated with enforcement, but these are already incurred”.
Again, for rural buses that is clearly not going to be the case—they are to be equipped with tachographs for the first time and additional costs are associated with that. There will be the capital cost of putting digital tachographs in vehicles that have never previously had them. There will be a cost for additional drivers to cover the additional rest periods that are required, and a cost in the reduced flexibility and deployment of drivers and buses as a result of ending the derogation for timetables and work schedules.
All those constitute a higher administrative cost burden on operators in one of the most difficult and marginal areas of our rural bus service provision. I think that that is not what was intended when the regulations were conceived, but it is undoubtedly the practical impact that they have had and are going to have. Members of the Committee should be a little less blithe about just nodding the provisions through.
5.4 pm
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I want to clarify the time line of the regulation. I understand from the Minister that it became EU law on 11 April, but the statutory instrument will not become UK law until seven days after being approved by the House of Commons. We could have just accepted the EU regulation into law. It is also unclear whether there was any comment on that time line when the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments considered the draft. I do not understand why we have waited a couple of months to bring in our regulations, when the EU regulation has already been debated at length.
The Department for Transport’s notes state that one reason for having the statutory instrument is that we want to put in place new enforcement provisions. Many people will regard that as gold-plating. One criticism made of the Government is that the EU produces a regulation that we could accept straight into British law, but, oh no, they want to gold-plate it and make it stronger. That always puts our industry at a disadvantage to our competitors abroad. I hope that that is not the case, but it appears to be from the notes. The Minister certainly did not say very much about the new provisions. Will he clear up whether we need to bring them in or whether they are just gold-plating because civil servants in this country think that we ought to tighten things up?
5.6 pm
Dr. Ladyman: I shall try to deal with most of the questions, but some were quite detailed and there were quite a lot of them. I undertake to write to all members of the Committee about any that I do not manage to deal with.
I will start with the issues raised by the hon. Member for North Shropshire, who alluded to the fact that the regulations came about as the result of five years of negotiation. There was a hard-fought campaign and we consulted widely in this country about the attitude that we should take. We won some concessions and on other issues did not get as much of a concession as we would have liked.
I will not stand here and tell the Committee that the regulations are perfect in every way, shape or form. What I will say is that they are as good a deal as we could get. In areas where the deal is not as good as we hoped for, other member states had very strong and compelling reasons why a different position was appropriate. 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.
Mr. Carmichael: In the situation outlined by the Minister, is he satisfied that the principles of subsidiarity have been correctly applied?
Dr. Ladyman: Yes, otherwise we would not have accepted the provisions and they would not have been put forward.
The hon. Member for North Shropshire raised the issue of the liability of operators. I have pointed out that the liability is conditional. I know that people wanted me to explain that conditionality, but the principle must be that employers have some sort of liability where road safety is concerned. There is no point bringing in regulations that are intended to make our roads safer and then saying that employers can continue with work practices that effectively require their employees to break those regulations.
It is appropriate that employers should have some liability, but it needs to be conditional. If the employer is aware of the regulations and has acted properly by putting in place the right procedures, training staff so that they understand the regulations and organising work appropriately so that employees can reasonably meet the directive, the employer will not be found to be liable. On the other hand, if they have put in place arrangements that are clearly intended to encourage their employees to break the rules and have done so with either malice aforethought or simply by not thinking things through, clearly, liability will apply. I do not believe that any good employer has anything to fear from that arrangement.
The hon. Member for North Shropshire asked about off-road driving, and what the definition of a journey would be. The Committee should bear it in mind that we start from the principle of wanting to see road safety improved. We do not want people driving large vehicles around our roads who are tired because they have been driving for too long. It seems quite clear that whether a person is driving off-road or on-road, they are driving. They are becoming fatigued, and likely to have an accident. The definition of a journey, I am afraid, has to include any off-road driving.
I have looked carefully at the representations made by the RHA. Those recommendations were put to me by my officials without any advice as to whether I should accept the RHA’s view, so that I would look at them objectively. I did not find its argument convincing. I can understand why an employer might want a journey defined as on-road driving only, but from the point of view of road safety that made no sense to me.
The issue of enforcement was raised by the hon. Gentleman and by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich. The objective of our enforcement programme is to create a level playing field. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland accused me of gold-plating—
Mr. Carmichael: No, it was the hon. Member for Wellingborough.
Dr. Ladyman: I am sorry, the hon. Member for Wellingborough accused me of gold-plating, but that is simply not the case. We take regulations seriously. I know that it is the common view that these things are taken seriously in the UK and that everybody else in the rest of Europe ignores them. If people go away and objectively analyse these things, they will find that other member states are enforcing regulations just as rigorously as we are.
I am not saying that that is uniformly the case, or that every regulation is enforced even-handedly across Europe, but I can say that the haulage industry in this country has made clear representations that it complies with regulations to a greater degree than people from abroad and that it is therefore at a competitive disadvantage. We can put that right by ensuring that we have good enforcement in this country, and that, therefore, anybody who comes here who has not taken appropriate rest, or who commits any other road traffic offences, will be caught and punished.
Mrs. Dunwoody: My hon. Friend will be aware that one hazard faced by the British haulage industry is the clear evidence that large numbers of foreign vehicles have been stopped, certainly in the last three or four years, because they are manifestly breaking all the rules that he has said that they will keep. Evidence from police forces, particularly in the southern ports, shows that they have not taken action against those vehicles because the difficulty in enforcing the law where the driver has a foreign address is seen as an insuperable problem. Can he genuinely assure me that in future that is not going to happen, and that we can be clear that when VOSA officers stop foreign vehicles, they will have enforcement action taken against them?
Dr. Ladyman: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We are told continually by the industry that a large number of people from abroad are ignoring the regulations that should be enforced, and that all British drivers are good guys. Certainly, if we look at the statistics produced by VOSA, it is true that regulations such as those applying to driving hours are more likely to be broken by people coming here from abroad than they are by the UK hauliers that get stopped. Before saying that UK hauliers are blameless in the matter, however, it would be interesting to do the same survey in eastern Europe, and to see whether our UK hauliers are breaking any rules by the time they get over there. UK hauliers are not blameless. Statistics on vehicle prohibitions—vehicles that are unfit to drive for one reason or another—show that UK hauliers have a lower level of prohibitions than foreign hauliers, but the difference is not that dramatic. I am significantly concerned that UK hauliers are ignoring too many of the rules.
The other reassurance my hon. Friend wanted concerned whether we can be sure that people with a foreign address will be punished. As she is well aware, under the Road Safety Act 2006 we now have a fixed-penalty deposit scheme; in other words, we can ask an individual for a sum of money equivalent to the fine that they would otherwise be required to pay—a deposit which they then get back if found not to be guilty. If they do not have the money in cash when asked for that deposit, we can immobilise their vehicle and keep it until they are able to pay.
Mrs. Dunwoody: I am happy that the Minister has re-emphasised those changes, but I asked about whether or not they will be enforced. He will know that I am using clear statistics—for once in my life, these are not just my prejudices—that show that a number of foreign vehicles stopped during the last five years have not had any action taken against them. I am asking the Minister a very simple question. Under the changes, will the law be enforced? It is an important point.
Dr. Ladyman: It is indeed an important point, and I am glad that I have finally convinced my hon. Friend to use statistics and data, rather than her prejudices. During my tenure as Minister of State, I have insisted that we ramp up the effort of enforcement.
I have also pointed out at recent international enforcement conferences, that in most such cases, rules on vehicle prohibitions and drivers’ hours regulations had already been broken before the vehicle in question left the continent—before it was picked up in this country. Often, vehicles travel all the way across the continent through several other member states, breaking the same rules before they get here. That is not acceptable and we will encourage other member states to improve their enforcement.
Mr. Paterson: Will the Minister give way?
Dr. Ladyman: I would like to make some progress as I suspect that many members of the Committee would prefer to be somewhere else, but I will briefly give way.
Mr. Paterson: There is a bit of a Shropshire-Cheshire alliance here. The figures do support what the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said. If we are on 8 per cent., with a colossal 74,000 or more trucks being checked, the next country above that is the Czech Republic at 16 per cent., going up to the Irish at 36 per cent.—an enormously high percentage. The key point is this: does the Minister agree that we are the only country that removes an operating licence? That goes back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough. The disparity and the variation between sanctions in the member states is huge. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich is absolutely right. We want a complete assurance that there will be an improvement in VOSA’s method of regulation. What is the Minister going to do about the sanctions taken against those operators?
Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman is quoting figures that indeed show what he suggests. However, those figures are not from random surveys. They result from the VOSA enforcement action, which is intelligence-led and targeted. In other words, we will stop the people whom we think most likely to break the rules, so it will hardly be surprising if, in those circumstances, we get high levels of failure to comply with the various regulations.
It is not entirely fair to use those figures as if they were random samples, but the point is well made—we have decided to take those issues seriously. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, who asked whether they will be taken seriously in relation to foreign vehicles, that I cannot give her that assurance because we have to be even-handed. There will be rigorous enforcement against everybody. If more foreign vehicles are stopped, that will be as a result not of us discriminating against those vehicles, but of them breaking more rules than UK vehicles. We will be even-handed but rigorous in dealing with those matters.
Local bus services were discussed by the hon. Members for North Shropshire and for Orkney and Shetland. The new regulation will apply to bus drivers who operate on routes of more than 50 km. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, there is a separate exemption for regular services on shorter routes. In that respect, nothing has changed.
Representations have been made by people who operate rural bus services that the end of the world is nigh and that everything is doom and gloom, but it is not clear to me exactly why the EU regulation will have the negative impact that they claim. It will make some relatively modest changes to the core provisions on breaks and rest periods. People who operate bus services on routes of more than 50 km will have to fit tachographs to their vehicles, but, frankly, that is not the major burden that they are making it out to be.
The provision will improve safety for people who use such rural bus services, which I imagine they will consider a benefit, and probably improve the working conditions of the bus drivers as well. They, too, might see that as a benefit.
Mr. Paterson rose—
Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman wants to intervene, but let me give him this reassurance: there is no opportunity at present for further changes to be made to the regulations because we would get no support for that from the rest of the EU. On enforcement, if we get the derogation that we seek on TA reservists—I am optimistic that we will—we must come back to the House with another statutory instrument to implement it.
Between now and then, I will have another look at the representations made to me by the rural bus community. If there is something we can do, and if I become convinced that we need to do something, I will consider the opportunity for doing it at the same time. At this stage, however, I am not convinced of the need for that, although I take seriously the concerns that have been put to me.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the returnof tachograph records. We consulted on the figure of 35 days; he has asked for a longer period. I will give some thought to whether we can extend it slightly.
I have made my point about the volunteer reserve services and I do not think that there was a change of heart, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. Some time ago, I made Lord Attlee aware privately that I would seek the derogation—indeed, other colleagues in the House who sit on the Conservative Front Bench were made aware of that fact due to having a constituency interest in the matter—and I think that it is the right way to go.
The hon. Gentleman asked about other types of driver. Special constables have not been identified to me as having a special problem and drivers volunteering as retained firefighters are anyway exempt from the EU regulation when dealing with an emergency. I am not sure that there is necessarily a difficulty for other sectors.
With that, I think that I have dealt with the majority of the points that were made.
Mrs. Dunwoody: The number of examiners, size of budget, privatisation of VOSA—apart from those, the Minister has dealt with everything.
Dr. Ladyman: As my hon. Friend well knows, thereis no plan to privatise VOSA. We are considering opportunities to improve VOSA’s efficiency, which could include the injection of private involvement in certain things that it does, but we have no intention of privatising it.
As I pointed out earlier, the Chancellor announced that we would extend enforcement and that resources would be made available for that.
Mr. Bone: I just wondered whether the Minister would deal with the time line. Why were the provisions introduced in Europe before, and why are we two months behind? What was the position of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments?
Dr. Ladyman: As I understand it, after this affirmative prayer is heard in the Commons today, it will be considered in the Lords later this week. If both Commons and Lords approve the statutory instrument, it is returned to me for signing and will come into force some time after that. I expect that it will come into force in July. If that is not correct, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman. I think that I have dealt with all the points—
Mrs. Dunwoody: Safety checks?
Dr. Ladyman: My hon. Friend raises the issue of safety checks, but again, I do not think that she is being fair. It is stipulated that minimum levels of safety checking should be carried out; in other words, the level of safety checking should be appropriate. The level will increase in 2008 and 2010, so whoever has given her that information has not been entirely straightforward. If it is the same person who told her that we are privatising VOSA, I suggest that she treats any further information from that source with a grain of salt.
Mr. Paterson: I have one last question. Will the Minister comment on my suggestion that there should be a comprehensive review of the regulations and their enforcement in two years’ time?
Dr. Ladyman: I cannot make such a promise at this stage because there is no opportunity to get support from other member states for changes, at least in the short term. I promise the hon. Gentleman that we shall keep the situation under review. If it becomes clear that a window of opportunity is likely, and that other member states are prepared to consider changes, we would want to consider a thorough review and contribute to it at that time. I cannot give him a deadline for that at the moment. With that, I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,
That the Committee has considered the draft Community Drivers’ Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007.
Committee rose at twenty-seven minutes past Five o’clock.
 
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