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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Recording Equipment) (Downloading and Retention of Data) Regulations 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mrs. Janet Dean
Bone, Mr. Peter (Wellingborough) (Con)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing, West) (Con)
Carswell, Mr. Douglas (Harwich) (Con)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Walthamstow) (Lab)
Goodwill, Mr. Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian (Leeds, North-East) (Lab)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
Keeble, Ms Sally (Northampton, North) (Lab)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
MacShane, Mr. Denis (Rotherham) (Lab)
Morley, Mr. Elliot (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
Salter, Martin (Reading, West) (Lab)
Stuart, Ms Gisela (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)
Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
Glenn McKee, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 14 January 2008

[Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair]

Draft Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Recording Equipment) (Downloading and Retention of Data) Regulations 2008

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Recording Equipment) (Downloading and Retention of Data) Regulations 2008.
It is a pleasure to see you presiding over our business today, Mrs. Dean. The instrument is the final stage of a series of legislative changes that are necessary to reflect the introduction of digital tachographs throughout the European Union. EU drivers’ hours and tachograph rules require most heavy goods vehicles and some buses and coaches to be equipped with a tachograph to monitor drivers’ driving times and rest periods by recording the time, speed and distance of journeys. The rules also require that drivers and operators keep records of hours worked.
The first generation of analogue tachographs recorded the information on paper discs. However, due to increased abuses and manipulation of the equipment, digital tachographs were developed and, for vehicles first brought into service on or after 1 May 2006, those new tachographs are now mandatory under EU legislation contained in regulation No. 561 of 2006. The digital tachograph records information electronically on both the unit fitted to a vehicle—the vehicle unit—and on a magnetic card, which is personal to an individual driver, the driver card.
The instrument is needed for two reasons. First, EU legislation requires member states to ensure that the data necessary to enforce the rules can be made available for at least 365 days after recording, and under conditions that guarantee the security and accuracy of the data. Because of the risk of overwriting the data or their loss for other reasons, the EU regulation makes regular downloading of data mandatory, but the rules leave the frequency of downloading to individual member states. We need to specify that frequency.
Secondly, EU legislation imposes record-keeping requirements that are inconsistent with existing domestic legislation. We therefore need to amend our domestic legislation to avoid conflict and placing drivers and operators in a position where they cannot comply with the law.
The draft regulations insert into the Transport Act 1968 new provisions—sections 97D and 97E—which specify when data must be downloaded from both the vehicle unit and the driver card. Those devices have a finite memory capacity and, when that is used up, earlier data are overwritten. Following consultation with industry, we have selected default periods of 56 days for vehicle units and 28 days for driver cards. In most cases, that requirement should in itself ensure that data are not overwritten.
However, some operators—for example, those engaged in multi-drop delivery—may need to download data more frequently because of the volume of data stored. The draft regulations require more frequent downloading, if that is needed to prevent reasonably foreseeable overwriting of data.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Given what the Minister has said, I wonder whether there will be a significant increase in costs to our industry because we are switching from domestic legislation to new EU law.
Jim Fitzpatrick: If the hon. Gentleman waits until the end of my speech, I will quantify how we think that moving to electronic tachographs from manual tachographs will provide a saving for the UK industry. I shall then refer to the calculation.
The draft regulations also require downloading in circumstances when access to a vehicle unit or driver card may be lost, such as when drivers leave the employment of an operator and/or when vehicles are sold. I should mention at this point that those requirements apply only to the most important data, namely, those that are relevant to enforcement of the drivers’ hours rules. A vehicle unit also contains detailed data on the speed at which the vehicle is moving at any moment during the previous 24 hours of its use. That is not strictly relevant to the rules, but it could be of use in the event of an accident, for example, and so need be downloaded only when a police officer or vehicle examiner requires it. New section 97F is inserted into the 1968 Act to achieve that.
In addition to the driver card, the new EU drivers’ hours regulations provide that, from 1 January 2008, drivers are required to keep with them for inspection at the roadside any analogue charts and manual records, including hard copy printouts taken from digital tachographs when a driver card is missing or malfunctions, relating to the current day and the previous 28 days. Existing domestic legislation requires drivers to return such records to their employer within 21 days. Those two requirements are incompatible, so the regulations, through the insertion of new section 97C into the 1968 Act, will extend the period for returning records to 42 days and clarify the type of data to which the obligation applies.
The draft regulations provide for the enforcement of the new requirements and make specific provision for proceedings against corporate and unincorporated bodies for offences under the drivers’ hours and tachograph legislation generally. The burden of record keeping is now placed firmly on transport operators, many of whom are small companies. The regulations make some improvements to the procedures for prosecuting corporate and unincorporated bodies and, by imposing liability for non-compliance on the directors of companies as well as the companies themselves, will enable enforcement authorities to target individual wrongdoers who might hide behind the corporate veil. That is laid out in new section 102C of the 1968 Act.
4.37 pm
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean.
The Minister said that the measure is intended to avoid conflict between EU and UK legislation, and I suggest that there is also no conflict between the Front Benches on the sense and, indeed, sensibility of these practical measures. I draw from my own experience as, for a number of years, I was an HGV driver carting not only potatoes to the McCain factory in Scarborough, but sulphuric acid up and down the A1. I know all too well the operation of the tachograph system, which is a vital contributor to ensuring road safety and compliance with drivers’ hours regulations.
We must not forget the terrible consequences of driving while tired. The Great Heck rail disaster at Selby was caused, of course, not by an HGV driver, but by a driver who had been sleep deprived all night and sadly caused that dreadful accident. We must pay tribute to the professionalism of operators and drivers who not only comply with the regulations when driving their vehicles, but exercise common sense in ensuring that they are well rested and do not start their driving spells when tired.
The old paper analogue tachograph discs, as the Minister said, were open to abuse: drivers could change the discs and the time on the vehicle’s tachograph when they started the day’s work, only to catch that time up later in the day. They could also put another driver’s name on the disc at the start of their shift and change it later in the day. The driver card has tightened up on that and means, for example, that drivers working for two firms will not be able to get away with moonlighting as they could in the old days, when catching it would depend on checks being made on both firms.
The old analogue systems were open not only to abuse, but to human error. I must plead guilty to occasionally putting my disc in the wrong way by mistake; it did not record on the back. On particularly windy days, tachograph discs have been known to blow out of the cab across a muddy yard, which makes them difficult to read and use. The new system will therefore rule out not only deliberate abuse, which some haulage companies and drivers might get involved in, but pure human error.
The provision seems sensible, but we must take into account the storage capacity of the personal discs and the vehicle memory cards. The speed data can be stored for only 24 hours. Paper records had an advantage in that respect because a permanent record was kept and, if a company’s vehicles were perceived to have been speeding regularly, checks could be made of the analogue cards. That is one slight downside to the digital system. However, as speed limiters are now almost universally fitted to trucks, speeding is less of a problem than it was, certainly as far as motorway driving is concerned.
I am pleased that the Government listened during the consultation and did not, as so often happens, use consultation as a smokescreen for something that they had already decided on—perish the thought. In this case, they have listened to industry representations and acted on them. I am grateful to the Minister for listening and for making the required changes.
I will not detain the Committee for very long, but I have one or two questions to which I would like the Minister to respond. First, what is the current frequency of roadside checks on vehicles? Who is equipped to read the data? One would expect the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency to have that equipment, but do motorway patrol police officers or Highways Agency officers have it? What is the chance of a driver being pulled over and caught? How often does that happen? Secondly, what is the current level of non-compliance, as detected by such checks? Is that likely to be policed increasingly following these changes?
Thirdly, I have a question about older vehicles. As we know, digital tachographs must be fitted only to new vehicles. There is no retrospective aspect to the regulations. Can we have an assurance that older vehicles fitted with analogue tachographs and classic vehicles not fitted with tachographs will not be required to fit digital tachographs? I must declare an interest in that as the owner of a 1927 truck. Many people in this country use horseboxes fitted with analogue tachographs and so are private HGV owners. The retrospective imposition of digital tachographs would be a step too far.
We have heard from the Minister that a number of vehicles will be exempt from the regulations, such as vehicles making regular stops, which includes refuse vehicles and service buses on routes of less than 50 km. However, as the Minister is aware—we have corresponded on this issue—the 50 km rule has raised some difficulties for bus operators in rural areas. Any bus operating on a route of over 50 km, or 31 miles, has to fit a tachograph. That has presented big problems for some companies, not least due to the fact that the drivers of those vehicles are limited on the overtime that they can take. In some cases, Saturday services have been jeopardised. Although I understand the need to ensure that fatigue-related accidents do not take place, is it really right to make buses on rural routes subject to these rules, where the stress that the driver is subject to is often less than on some urban routes? That would require tachographs to be fitted and presumably drivers would have to adhere to these rules and be limited in the hours that they can work.
I hope a way forward will be found on this problem. The operators woke up to this issue slightly too late for changes to be made during the formulation of the legislation. Nobody expects that buses such as those operated by National Express on inter-city routes should be exempt, but there is a case for some buses operating on rural routes to be exempt. That said, we support these changes as being sensible and logical. I am very pleased to support the measure.
4.44 pm
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): May I, too, say that it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean?
The Passenger and Goods Vehicles (Recording Equipment) (Downloading and Retention of Data) Regulations 2008 is a bit of a mouthful, but this is a common-sense approach to dealing with the frequency of downloading relevant data from digital tachographs in Britain. The regulations do not appear to be controversial, which makes a refreshing change when we are debating the issue of the transfer and retention of personal data. I am sure that the Minister will be relieved that the data with which the regulations deal are unlikely to attract the levels of attention that other personal data have recently attracted. However, we need to ask ourselves three questions: will the regulations improve safety on our roads; are they a proportionate response by the Government; and what are the cost implications?
On safety, only yesterday I heard on the radio the news of an HGV driver who was sentenced to four years in prison for falling asleep behind the wheel and killing another motorist when his vehicle ploughed into the back of a car. We must not forget that the regulations are designed to make our roads safer by ensuring that drivers abide by time restrictions and thereby limit the scope for driving while too tired.
I also agree that the regulations are a measured response. There will be plenty of time for employees to return their records to their employers. The regulations will not introduce an excessive administrative burden in terms of the time it will take to download the information. The cost is also reasonable; I think that 40p each time for the driver to download a driver card and £2.49 to download a vehicle unit is not excessive. The overall cost of £10 million to the industry will be far outweighed by the expected £15 million savings on administration costs by 2009 from digital tachographs.
I notice that there were only a few objections to the proposals, most of which actually relate to the administrative burdens that drivers and businesses will be subjected to regardless of the regulation. I am glad to see that the concerns raised about the original plans to require drivers to return records to their employers within 35 days have been addressed. The extension to 42 days should be adequate. On that basis, the Liberal Democrats are happy to support the regulations.
4.47 pm
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): May I ask the Minister to explain, for the benefit of those who are not experts, what a transposition note is? We know that one is available from the penultimate paragraph of the explanatory note to the regulations.
I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby said about heritage vehicles. I too hold a heavy goods vehicle licence. I used it when I had a more marginal seat—I used to spend half a day driving a bus before each general election, just in case I needed to find some other way of earning a living.
I also recall, twenty years ago or more, taking regulations through Parliament about drivers’ hours. I would be grateful if the Minister could say whether there are any outstanding questions on which drivers’ representatives are not satisfied. I think that there are probably none, but I would be grateful to know on the record whether there are still points on which the Transport and General Workers Union and other representatives would wish to persuade the Minister to proceed differently.
Can the Minister look forward and indicate, perhaps in writing to the Committee afterwards, whether there are further technical advances in mind? For example, is automatic reporting of the data by mobile phone, bluetooth, or in some other way expected? Is there a group of technical experts, either under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe or the EU, looking for ways to take the human hand away so that the information is available automatically? I suppose that the way I would put it in layman’s terms is ‘remote meter reading’.
Finally, will the Minister ensure that people check Hansard to see whether a redundant ‘not’ crept in and changed the meaning of one sentence of his speech?
4.49 pm
Mr. Bone: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean.
May I direct the Minister’s attention to new section 102C? I wonder whether there is some gold-plating there—that is, additional regulations not required by the European Union or in previous domestic legislation. As I understand it, the previous position was that a company could be fined, but individual directors, the company secretary, or indeed an employee or manager of that company could not be picked on. It seems that new regulations have stripped away the protection of limited liability, treating limited companies as though individuals are liable to prosecution who would not have been under previous legislation. I wonder whether our colleagues in the European Union have such legislation, and whether it is another example of the Government taking an opportunity to add further regulation to EU legislation.
Peter Bottomley: It would be interesting to hear from the Minister whether the reference to “neglect” is absolute—whether action could be taken against an officer who had merely failed to spot something that had should have done, or whether it means a level of behaviour that is deliberate, intended and major.
Mr. Bone: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. He points out that the regulations are not clear, and that the matter would be interpreted by the courts if it is not clarified. The Minister may have a good reason for implementing it, but it seems as if this additional regulation is not required by the EU directive and is, in effect, gold-plating.
4.50 pm
Jim Fitzpatrick: I can assure the hon. Gentlemen, in respect of their last questions, that the provision is not gold-plating. We have transposed the legislation as expeditiously and efficiently as possible. With regard to the question about transposition from the right hon. Member for Worthing, West—
Peter Bottomley: No, not right honourable.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I am sorry, the hon. Gentleman has such a distinguished record that I assumed that he had been admitted to the Privy Council. However, the explanatory memorandum includes the transposition note that describes the requirements of the EU regulations, which have been implemented by the provisions within UK regulations. That has been placed in the Library of the House.
The hon. Gentleman asked about erroneous nots, and we will check that. He also asked about the attitude of the unions, but that has not come through during the consultations. As explained, we have taken cognisance of the responses received during that period, as referred to by the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington, but none came through from them. With regard to the question about automatic reporting of data, there are some suggestions that that will be possible, but it is still a long way off and there are no signs of its imminent arrival.
Mr. Goodwill: I understand that in the Federal Republic of Germany there is a road-charging system based on satellite technology. Does the Minister know whether the Germans have plans to introduce that sort of system, as they are already halfway there?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I would be very surprised if that were not being considered by a number of EU states. It is on the radar, if the hon. Gentleman will excuse the electronic pun. At this point, our intelligence suggests that it is not planned for the immediate future, but I cannot imagine that that sort of transmission of data will not become a feature of future transport activities. I am not able to advise whether the Germans are any further advanced than we are with regard to introducing those measures.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough asked about prosecution of individuals. Much UK legislation has a similar provision. Part of that provision is needed to ensure that unincorporated bodies are caught, but it also tackles phoenix companies, which we have discussed earlier in a variety of Committees. If an offending company is fined, it cannot simply be wound up and a new one set up, releasing the individuals involved from liability. We can track the individuals responsible and hold them to account.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington asked whether the measure will improve road safety. That is certainly our expectation because it will be harder to fiddle or abuse the system, helping us to improve safety. It will be easier for employers to check and ensure that drivers are compliant.
The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby makes a good point in paying tribute to the industry and the individual people who work in it, and I am happy to join him in that tribute. He described the scope of his own qualifications, and I am afraid I cannot match that any more than I could the last time we shared a Committee together. By virtue of his experience as a European parliamentarian, he has huge expertise in biofuels, which he analysed in depth in a Committee some years ago.
The hon. Gentleman raised a number of questions, the first of which was the frequency of checks. My understanding is that last year VOSA was required to check 1 per cent. of the days worked by drivers whose vehicles were in scope. From 1 January this year that became 2 per cent. Last year’s requirement was met and we have no expectation that this year’s will not be. It is a requirement, therefore VOSA will have to comply.
The hon. Gentleman asked about levels of compliance. On drivers’ hours offences, in 2005-06, for example, one offence was detected for every 27 charts checked that belonged to EU drivers. That is a much higher rate compared with that of UK national drivers, where one offence was detected for every 99 charts. The hon. Gentleman also asked about the retrospective fitting of digital tachographs. The answer in relation to that is no; it applies only to vehicles registered after May 2006.
The regulations do not impact directly on the rural bus service because both the old and new EU regulations apply to bus drivers operating on routes over 50 km—31 miles. In that respect nothing will change as a result of this measure. However, the new EU regulation has changed some core provisions on breaks and rest periods. In addition, drivers on regular services and routes of over 50 km now need to record their hours using tachographs rather than keeping written records.
I may have told the hon. Gentleman—I apologise if I have not—that I recently met representatives of rural bus operators and the Confederation of Passenger Transport to explore the extent of the problems and possible solutions within the constraints of the EU legislation, which as he said, was spotted late by the industry. We agreed to provide further clarity on what constitutes a route for the purpose of the 50 km limit and officials from the Department will hold discussions with VOSA and the CPT on that issue shortly, so there may be some progress in that respect. On reading equipment, VOSA officials certainly do have that equipment and some police officers do. Not every police vehicle has the appropriate equipment to interrogate the cards, but some certainly do.
On the final point that the hon. Gentleman made about historic vehicles, the EU regulation exempts historic vehicles used for the non-commercial carriage of passengers or goods as defined in the legislation of the member states in which they are being driven. As I think he is aware, we consulted on the definition of an historic vehicle for the purposes of applying the automatic exemption in the light of the convincing case made by the historic vehicle fraternity, of which he may be a member, and we simplified our original proposal based on an existing national exemption. An historic vehicle is now defined as one manufactured more than 25 years before the occasion on which is it being driven. We are satisfied that such an approach is in keeping with the spirit and intention of the EU regulation and will not jeopardise road safety. The exemption for vehicles manufactured before 1 January 1947 also continues to apply.
We are grateful to the official Opposition and to the Liberal Democrats for their support of the measure. I commend the order to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee rose at two minutes to Five o’clock.

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