|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I start by reminding your Lordships House of the simple fact that the EU drivers hours rules are intended to promote road safety. A number of noble Lords made reference to that; the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, supported the regulations on that basis. They are also about promoting decent working conditions for drivers and fair competition. As such, they are of prime importance to the road transport industry and drivers throughout Europe. It is right, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, that we update domestic
19 Jun 2007 : Column 174
I also remind your Lordships that we consulted widely in preparing this instrument. That is one of the reasons why it has taken so long to get to this point. I heard the criticism made by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, on that issue. Without this instrument, domestic law would not be fully in step with EU law and our ability to prosecute for non-compliance with the new enforcement provisions would be compromised. That can only have an adverse impact on road safety.
The first major issue in this debate was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who made a heartfelt plea about rural services in rural communities. I understand that plea and I have a great deal of sympathy with it. However, it is not the way to achieve the outcome which he wants. I take issue with some of the arguments he advanced in making his case, and I will cover those points.
The Government are committed to supporting the provision of bus services to local and rural communities in particular, and our record is good. Since 1998, we have provided local authorities in England with the rural bus subsidy grant, totalling £450 million. That grant supports more than 2,000 services and 33 million passenger journeys a year. In addition, the rural bus challenge programme has provided £110 million for more than 300 schemes around the country and encouraged many different approaches to rural transport provision. Rural bus services are also provided through local authority-funded bus support from the revenue support grant, with more than £300 million a year in England outside London.
Because of that, it is widely acknowledged that rural access to bus services has been improving. Between 1998 and 2005, the proportion of households in rural areas in Great Britain that were within a reasonable walking distance13 minutes, sayof an hourly or better bus service increased from 45 per cent to 54 per cent. That is a measurable improvement.
Passenger vehicles which are used on routes longer than 50 kilometres have been subject to the EU drivers' rules for some time. However, operators have had the choice of using a tachograph or keeping timetables and drivers' work rosters in the vehicle to demonstrate compliance. The new EU regulation removes the latter option and now requires tachographs to be used. Operators will have to fit a tachograph in all vehicles which are used on routes longer than 50 kilometres, but they have until the end of December this year to do so.
At the time the EU regulation was being negotiated, the Government received little evidence to suggest that this change would cause problems for operators. I accept that pressures on rural bus operators may have changed since then, but now that the regulation has come into force, our flexibility to
19 Jun 2007 : Column 175
However, in the light of the points made by the noble Lord and others, we are prepared to take the matter away and do some further work to assess the extent of the problem and examine possible solutions. As I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate, I cannot give any assurances or guarantees today because any measures would have to meet the constraints imposed by the EU regulation and other relevant legislation. But as a first step, officials from the Department for Transport would be willing to meet representatives of rural bus operators to discuss the issues in more detail. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that we are genuinely sympathetic to his concerns and that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.
The noble Lord referred to the provision for sparsely populated areas for which the Finnish had argued. Article 13(3) may provide some scope for a limited exemption for bus routes which are longer than 50 kilometres and predominantly serve sparsely populated areas. The EU regulation covering sparsely populated areas applies to those with an average population density of fewer than five people per square kilometre. It is fair to say that there would be relatively few cases in Great Britain where this provision could be applied, but we are more than happy to explore this with the bus operators.
It is clear from this debate and the debate in another place that it is the rural operators, perhaps operating at the margins, who have belatedly raised this issue. It is not that we sought to put the issue on one side or that we ignored it; it genuinely did not hit us in the face immediately when we started to work through this EU regulation. I take issue with the noble Lords comment that this is becoming increasingly commonplace because of the centralisation of state-delivered services. I have seen no evidence of that, and he did not produce any. I also take issue with the argument that the regulation will lead to greater cost for rural dwellers. If there is evidence of that we will be happy to look at it, but we have not seen any to date. I also take issue with the assertion, or assumption, that rural bus drivers are disadvantaged. Rural bus drivers need as much protection from the effects of having to work long shifts on long routes as any other driver. I would have thought that it was stressful driving through narrow country lanes, having to negotiate difficult roads and having to stick to a timetable. They require the protection that this regulation requires as much as anybody else.
I therefore reject the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that officials were unaware of rural problems. We are of course aware of problems for rural bus services. That is why we have had in place for the past decade a strategy to try to address concerns about previously depleted rural bus services and why we have reinvested in them.
The regulations have been subject to parliamentary scrutiny; there has been opportunity for Parliament to comment. A detailed explanatory memorandum was
19 Jun 2007 : Column 176
Perhaps I may run through some of the questions raised during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, referred to the comments in another place by my honourable friend Stephen Ladyman about the regulations being a compromise and perhaps the best that we can do. In a sense, anything that is arrived at by qualified majority voting inevitably involves some give and take within the European Parliament. My honourable friend was merely reflecting on that process. We cannot because of that approach insist on particular provisions, but we must try to secure for the United Kingdom the best possible deal.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, also raised questions about enforcement. All commercial vehicles and drivers are required to comply with the law, irrespective of whether their operating base is in the UK or elsewhere. The new regulation means that penalties can be imposed on operators and drivers for offences detected in one member state but committed in another country. The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency targets the non-compliant by using modern technology such as the automatic number plate recognition system to spot operators who have a poor track record of compliance. VOSA has also made considerable efforts to share information about non-compliance across Europe, because we would prefer tired drivers not to enter the UK in the first instance. We have also taken enforcement action on non-GB HGV operators, which is now easier, and reduced the burdens on the courts as a consequence. The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced new measures to allow foreign offenders to be issued with on-the-spot fines, so making sure that we attack that problem by using financial penalties without necessarily clogging up the courts.
We have launched a consultation on the graduated fixed penalty and deposit scheme, which seeks to improve enforcement, and are looking for comments by the end of August. The scheme will enable penalties to be graduated to reflect the severity and number of offences committed. It will be very helpful.
We have taken other measures with immobilisation and are conducting pilots in ensuring more effective compliance. VOSA has effectively doubled the number of enforcement checks on potentially non-compliant vehicles during the last financial year. This financial year, it will increase the number of checks by a further 20 per cent. It has committed 10 extra front-line staff around the country to extend the work of the south-east international pilot nationally. A lot of enforcement activity is therefore going on.
I think that the noble Lord raised the removal of the 12-day rule. Bus and coach drivers on non-regular journeys are no longer allowed to postpone their weekly rest until the end of the 12th day. All bus and coach drivers must take a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours, which must be increased to at least 45 hours once a fortnight after no more than six days
19 Jun 2007 : Column 177
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, made a very well informed contribution to our debate and I am grateful to him for his comments, particularly his invitation to me to respond to him in writing or through the medium of Written Answers on the issue of recovery vehicles, which I shall do. He asked how long it would take to get a derogation and said that 18 months was too long. I agree with him about that. We hope to get an answer sooner than that; in the mean time, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency will take a pragmatic view towards enforcement. As an interim measure on that, we have agreed a pragmatic approach to enforcement with the Ministry of Defence and VOSA, so I think that we can deal with and manage the process in a sensible wayand that is the spirit in which we intend to approach enforcement.
The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, asked about reservists starting work again on Monday morning. That is precisely why we are after the derogation, and I am optimistic that we will achieve that. They would need to take a nine-hour rest period after training and before driving; that makes sense in the context of the stresses and strains to which the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred in his impassioned plea.
I do not accept the allegation made by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, that there is gold-plating in this provision. There is no evidence of that at all. We honestly seek to ensure that we implement this in a way that benefits the bus industry in particular. I heard what he said about problems in his former constituencyI accept that there is an issue here; I made that point earlier. However, we are not in this position because of gold-plating. We are in this position because we had to negotiate a hard deal, which we have done honestly. The oversight with regard to the Territorial Army reservists, which was the issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, was just thatan oversight. I was surprised that it did not come up through the consultation, which was after all rigorous and extensive.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, we have had a long debate and it is time that we moved on. The regulation that we are debating was signed on 1 May 2006 to come into effect on 11 April 2007, so
19 Jun 2007 : Column 178
I shall answer only one question because of shortage of time. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, mentioned cost. What it will mean is that rural bus operators will have to fit tachographs, which cost £600 to put in and £100 every time the seal is broken to reseal. In addition, they will need more drivers to provide a given level of service and drivers pay will be reduced, because they can work only a certain number of hours, which will increase stress for the drivers. The safety case that has been argued is totally unproven. With that, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Earl Attlee had given notice of his intention to move, as an amendment to the Motion in the name of the Lord Bassam of Brighton, at end to insert but this House regrets that the regulations do not meet the needs of Her Majestys Reserve Forces.
( ) In issuing a direction under sub-paragraph (9), the chief finance officer shall have regard to the separate respective statutory functions of the London Assembly and the London Transport Users Committee.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment would place a duty on the authoritys chief finance officer to have regard to the respective statutory functions of the London Assembly and the London Transport Users Committee, otherwise known as TravelWatch. TravelWatch is a vital service for Londoners, and transport is one of the most vital public services in the city, as we all know because we all have to use it. Indeed, that importance is acknowledged later in the Bill in the clauses on health and inequality.
The amendment would ensure that TravelWatch is given appropriate consideration by the chief finance officer; that the work of TravelWatch, which is a service invaluable to all Londoners, is considered for sufficient funding; and that funding will not be given at the expense of the Assembly and its important scrutiny function. I hope that the Minister will have overcome the objections she made in Committee, which seemed rather lacking in weight. Her argument was that only if the LTUC were to expand its functions would it be proper to consider its budget.
I reiterate that the amendment does not seek to make substantive suggestions for the make-up of the LTUC budget; rather, it rightly places it near the top of the chief finance officers priorities. I beg to move.
Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I will find myself repeating what I said in Committee, and I hope that I can do so with greater clarity, because I thought that I had given reassurance on this issue. However, I am happy to put the noble Lords mind at rest. I offer my reassurances again and hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
The amendment seeks to address a concern that any change in the statutory functions of the London Transport Users, CommitteeLondon TravelWatchcould lead to a significant increase in the budget requirement for the Assembly and adversely affect the ceiling by which the Assembly may increase its budget by amendment. With the GLA budget-setting process at the forefront of our minds, I presume, I would like briefly to set out the background.
Clause 13 inserts into Schedule 6 to the GLA Act 1999 new paragraph 5A(9), allowing the GLAs chief finance officer to direct that specific amounts should be left out of the calculation for determining the ceiling beyond which the Assembly cannot amend its own budget. That is intended to deal with unusual, one-off or occasional items, such as the Olympic precept. The London Transport Users Committee does not come into this category. Placing a duty on the chief finance officer to have regard to the functions of the Assembly and the LTUC in issuing a direction relating to the Mayors budget would, therefore, have no bearing on its content.
Aside from that, there is no need for the type of safeguard that the noble Lord wants, because under Clause 12 the LTUC budget forms part of the
19 Jun 2007 : Column 181
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|