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I know that my noble friend and I would be very pleased to debate at great length the budget process of the Greater London Authority, but we are not going to. We are talking about an important point of principle. We are all agreed that there is nothing more important than the budget. I am quite certain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the other place would love to be able to get his Budget through each year with only one-third of the votes in the House of Commons. My message to him would be, Dream on. We must live with the nightmare. This is an important principle. The Mayors budget should be agreed by a simple majority of the Assembly, and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this instrument is needed to enable provisions of a new, directly applicable, EU regulation on drivers hours, Regulation (EC) No. 561/2006, to be fully enforceable in Great Britain. The regulation came into force throughout Europe on 11 April 2007. We believe that the new rules strike a fair balance between improving road safety and working conditions for drivers and the economic needs of industry.
Two concerns have been raised about the new rules by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He pursued them with his customary vigour and concern in this House on an earlier occasion. The first concerns members of the Territorial Army who are HGV or PSV drivers. The new weekly rest requirements make it difficult for a driver to complete a 36-hour period of Territorial Army training at the weekend and then resume work for his primary employer on a Monday morning. This is a legitimate concern, which we accept. We have written to the European Commission requesting a specific derogation on this issue. As noble Lords will be aware, that was announced in a Written Statement on 11 June. We are optimistic that the Commission will agree to this request. The noble Earls second
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I also understand that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, expressed concerns that private HGVs used to transport historic vehicles, often traction engines, to events are no longer exempt because of the new weight restriction of 7.5 tonnes on vehicles used for non-commercial carriage of goods. This restriction is directly applicable and cannot be disapplied.
All I can say in conclusion is that the regulations have already been considered and approved by the other place. I look forward to the issues that I have not covered being raised in debate. I beg to move.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, before calling the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I have to inform the House that if it is agreed to, I cannot call the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, due to pre-emption.
Lord Bradshaw rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after that and insert, this House, having regard to the cost implications for rural bus services and the social exclusion that will result and the lack of response of Her Majestys Government to the facts put forward at consultation, declines to approve the Draft Community Drivers Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the speech I shall make is not political or anti-European. I find it fairly objectionable that a regulation is already in force by the time it reaches this place so that we are talking after the event. I hope that that does not mean that the Government cannot pursue some changes to the legislation or exploit the derogations that have been put in place by other people. I am aiming my remarks at the officials who negotiate.
The regulations we are debating impose a limit of 31.5 miles as the maximum distance over which a local bus route may operate unless it complies with the new rules introduced by this legislation. They impose onerous limits on drivers hours and rest periods. Although the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, referred to improved safety and improved conditions for drivers, there is little evidence that safety is at issue with rural bus services. It may well be in towns, but I am not talking about bus services in towns, which do not operate over such distances and are basically compliant.
I wish to concentrate on rural areas, where operations are long in time and distance. I am thinking of the rural transport needs of places such as Cornwall. Medical and educational services have
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In that county, a small bus operator entered the market some time ago when the dominant operator gradually withdrew. He has provided services over a lot of the county that are applauded by many people. Among them, he introduced a service from Bude to Truro. That is where the hospital and education facilities are. He was hailed for so doing. That journey takes two and a half hours running through deep rural areas. Under the regulationsor rather, to avoid the costs associated with the regulationsthe route has now been split into three parts, with changes necessary at Boscastle and St Columb Road.
Until recently I could go from Wadebridge to Treliske on one bus. Now (since 6th April) I have to go to St Columb, change buses, go to Truro Victoria Sq., change buses, another bus to Treliskea nightmare six buses for every appointment. Why?
There is no evidence that the drivers of that company wanted the changes. In fact, the senior driver there went to the managing director and berated him for introducing the changes which cause a lot of inconvenience. The buses that are supposed to connect along the route do not always do so because of road works or holiday traffic and the quality of service has been badly undermined. So there is no pressure from drivers in rural areas and there is no evidence of safety being jeopardised.
Who negotiates these regulations? Who do they think will benefit? In June 2004, the small bus operators met the then Minister, Tony McNulty, who was sympathetic, but the issue was passed to officials who took no notice and added that the rural bus operators would have to pay out of their profits for the changes being made.
Rural bus operators do not make much profit. I know that the Minister knows that inflation in the bus industry is well in advance of that which we are told about by government. It is three times the inflation rate, because insurance costs, fuel costs and wages go up. It is beyond the resources of most county councils to afford the increases even to sustain existing bus services.
When you read the small print of the regulation, as was pointed out to me at a meeting that the Minister kindly arranged, the Finnish representatives had secured a derogation in Article 13.3 in respect of vehicles operating in predefined areas with a population density of less than five persons per square kilometre. I have two questions for the Minister. If the Finnish delegation was wise enough to support a derogation, why do not we not use the opportunity of negotiations to protect
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If a county council in England were to certify a sparsely populated area as being served by a rural bus service, could it not be covered by that derogation, already won by the Finns, and a list of such services be furnished to the Commission?
The regulation worsens services for rural bus users, puts up the cost of services that remain, worsens the lot of the probably most socially deprived rural poor, makes life difficult for rural bus drivers, who have to explain the complicated regulations, and limits access to centralised facilities.
It is essential that those who go to Brussels understand and promote the interests of rural communities, not simply the issues pertinent to London and the Home Counties. Most small businesses in rural areas, be they involved in farming, retailing or buses, suffer from that lack of understanding and neglect by officials.
No doubt the Government will expect a lot of credit for introducing free travel for the elderly, especially from April 2008, when it becomes national, but what advantage will there be to rural dwellers if their services have been fragmented or, indeed, disappear? I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after that and insert, this House, having regard to the cost implications for rural bus services and the social exclusion that will result and the lack of response of Her Majestys Government to the facts put forward at consultation, declines to approve the Draft Community Drivers Hours and Recording Equipment Regulations 2007. (Lord Bradshaw.)
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I received the note that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, sent to all Members this morning and read it with interest because this area of legislation is of interest to me. What I cannot understand from his contribution is why he did not define the costs that will be incurred by the operator. It may be that in the judgment of the House, that sum is too small to warrant the exemption, the effective opt-out, from the legislation that he has called for. We may be talking about 0.5 per cent, 0.25 per cent or 20 per cent of turnover. We have no idea. The noble Lords contribution has been very interesting, but he missed out that particularly significant area of debate which I am sure will be of interest to the whole House, including my noble friend.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I support the amendment to the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. I congratulate him on a rather unexpectedly robust speech from the Liberal
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The Government were clearly caught on the hop by this, although I do not understand why; they have spent four years negotiating the regulation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I wonder what on earth the Government and our UKREP people in Brussels were doing during those four years. They must have been aware of the problems of rural bus services and, indeed, of the Territorial Army, during those four years. I do not know why they did not do something about it before it came before us tonight. That is quite astonishing. If they did not know anything about it, why not? Our representatives there are paid to do these jobs, after all.
I ask that in particular because I tabled a Starred Question on this very subject on 22 March. I do not think that the Minister was then particularly well briefed. He acknowledged the important part played by the Territorial Army reservists in our forces, but did not appear to recognise the effects of the legislation on those reservists. When I asked him whether the Government had sought a derogation for the Armed Forces, he replied:
I am today announcing that I have written to the European Commission requesting an exemption from Regulation (EC) 561/2006 on drivers hours for professional drivers when undertaking military training with the volunteer Reserve Forces or acting as instructors in the cadet corps at the weekend.
Will the Minister clarify exactly what this means? Will drivers or instructors be able to start work for their regular employer on a Monday morning after their weekend duties with the Territorial Army? It is important to be clear about this.
This morning, I received a letter from a Territorial Army reservist, which I would like to share briefly with your Lordships. He has asked not to be named, but I can say that he serves with the 3rd Battalion the Princess of Waless Royal Regiment. He was working for the Post Office. He says that,
This really will not do. Is it not shameful that what is still sometimes called the mother of Parliaments has to petition the unelected and unsackable European Commission to change the law affecting our Armed Forces? Is it not humiliating that neither the other place nor this House has any say at all in EU legislation? It is, I am afraid, a case of, Swallow it whole and swallow it now. Although I wholeheartedly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I point out to him that if he divides the House, which I am very happy to hear he will, and if we win the Division, the Government will be put in the tricky position of having to go cap in hand like a naughty schoolboy to the headmasters office in Brussels and explain that, shock, horror, the British Parliamenthow dare it?has voted down an EU regulation. That is simply not allowed, is it? Nervous breakdowns all round. I am really looking forward to the Minister explaining to Brussels that it is all a horrible mistake, and then explaining to this House that yes, Parliament is sovereign, but not that sovereign.
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