Consequential and Other Amendments

Part of ROAD TRAFFIC (DRIVERS' AGES AND HOURS OF WORK) BILL [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th March 1976.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries 12:00 am, 8th March 1976

The proposals announced last week will have an effect on the working of this Bill if the Minister is prepared to fight for that. My main criticism of the Government is that they do not appear to have done anything about improving the situation. The Minister seems to think that the road haulage industry is represented only by its governing body. A large number of road hauliers have telephoned me to say that the Bill will ruin them. I intend to explain why.

We want to know what the Minister will do about deferring this legislation and the very important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart. This is enabling legislation which will give rise to regulations, on which we shall have a debate of at best an hour and a half, with no possibility of amendment. That is quite unsatisfactory on such an important issue.

I will not go over the argument about ages, because that has been touched on. I am concerned about the hours of work and the distance limit of 450 kilometres or 280 miles. Will the limit on hours refer to eight hours behind the wheel or to an eight-hour working day? As my hon. Friend said, coach trips will be curtailed or become very expensive if a driver can be on duty for only eight hours in any day. Even if he drives for only four hours and spends the next four with his feet up on the pier at Blackpool, he will not be allowed to drive home.

This applies not only to coach trips for the elderly or for tourists but also to trips to various sporting events. If the round trip exceeds eight hours, including two hours at a stadium, two drivers will be needed, which will add enormously to the expense.

But my main criticism relates to agriculture. I want some practical answers from a Minister who so far has given none. Time as well as distance is important here. There are only 108 miles of motorway in Scotland, mainly running from east to west, including 40 miles be- tween Edinburgh and Glasgow which are not generally used for the transport of livestock. That, and the fish trade from Aberdeen, is mainly on a north-south axis. On very few agricultural runs will the vehicles be able to exceed their speed limit of 40 mph and will thus have much lower average speeds than vehicles which can use the motorways. So the combined formula of hours against mileage will be much more important in Scotland than in areas with an extensive motorway network.

What does the Minister expect will happen to the haulage of livestock? Countless hundreds of loads of sheep and lambs travel from the far North and the Borders to the South of England. What will happen to his lorryload of livestock when the driver reaches the 280-mile limit at Birmingham? He cannot park in a lay-by or at a service station for a prolonged rest period. The stock has to be watered. Are the Government prepared to set up lairages and staff to look after livestock in transit?

This applies particularly to the movement of dairy stock. As I am sure the Minister is aware, most heifers and dairy cows are sold within a day or two of calving. They are milked before they leave the market of an evening and it is vital that they are milked as soon as possible the next day, which is normally when they reach the farm to which they have been sold. However, that farm may be more than 280 miles away or more than an eight-hour drive away. What is the transport driver to do with a load of cows desperately in need of milking with nowhere to go and do the job? The Minister has not taken on board just what a problem this will cause to the livestock haulier.

There is also the problem of movement to the market. The country livestock haulier, with perhaps four or five vehicles at the most and a driver for each lorry, has to bring stock to the market from the crack of dawn. Those same drivers have to distribute the lambs or cows to their new owners later that night. That will involve a much longer day than the eight-hour day.

The Minister must tell his colleagues in Europe that sufficient thought has not been given to this measure, that he accepts criticism for not realising the problems earlier but that he cannot allow this to continue now that the full facts have been brought to light.

I accept that the Scottish Freight Transport Association is in favour of the Bill, but it says specifically that there must be more flexibility than is apparent at present and that special industries should have the right to special consideration. That covers the livestock haulage industry. The Scottish Freight Transport Association is also concerned that costs are likely to increase by £300 million, of which £70 million will be increased costs in Scotland. In a country where transport means so much that will be a severe penalty.

Mr. Patrick Hunter Gordon of the Scottish Council for the Development of Industry has been in touch with me from Inverness. That Council is an important body in Scotland. Mr. Patrick Hunter Gordon is concerned about the formula, to which I referred, of distance in relation to a driver's hours, how far a driver can travel over the difficult Scottish roads and the possibility that the driving period should be lengthened.

All those issues need a practical answer tonight, not just the theoretical one of having further discussions with the industry. Before the Bill is passed I want to know what the poor lorry driver will do on the M6 when he reaches Spaghetti Junction and has to let about 300 lambs out of his truck. The Minister is heading into practical problems left, right and centre. Will the Minister return to Europe to seek greater flexibility, greater deferment and a greater practical knowledge of what this is all about?