In commenting on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), the Minister seemed to ask why we were having a debate on the Third Reading of the Bill. He described this as a purely technical Bill which the former Conservative Government had accepted.
But the regulations which the Bill empowers the Minister to introduce are being changed and we greatly hope that they are capable of being changed much more before being applied to the United Kingdom. One reason for the debate is the Press coverage of what appeared to be the changes in the regulations which were recently discussed in Brussels. For
example, The Times of 4th March has the headline
Compomise suggested on EEC lorry regulations.
The Financial Times of 5th March said:
Driving hours rules eased.
Those of us who had made a considerable study of the question were aware that, far from making the matter easier, in certain respects the suggested regulations will make it much worse. Surely it is our responsibility to see that the implications of these regulations are fully debated in the House so that the powers that be in Brussels may be fully aware of the strong feeling shown tonight, particularly by Conservative Members from Scotland. We have a duty to impress upon the Minister that there is strong feeling on the question and that we are far from satisfied with what has been proposed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield rightly pointed out the main disadvantage of the new regulations. I will make two points which he did not make. The first concerns the proposed rest days under the latest proposals from Brussels. As I understand it, these would amount to no less than a 39-hour gap, particularly at weekends. This would cause considerable difficulties in the operation of a turn-round in shift, whether it be for haulage or for bus services.
Secondly, there is the proposal that there should be 28 working days' holiday. This will add considerably to the bill of both the haulage industry and the bus industry. The Government must bear this in mind in negotiations they undertake.
One point which has hardly been touched on is the fact that technically speaking we in this country are supposed to have tachographs. There was no special dispensation on the issue of tachographs. It was quietly left on one side while we awaited the outcome of the deliberations over the question of drivers' hours.
As researches in the United States have shown—where in some States tachographs are essential and in other States they are not—there does not appear to be any indication of any great advantage either on grounds of road safety or of efficiency in the road transport industry.
In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) made an eloquent plea to the effect that there were considerable difficulties in the West country, particularly in Cornwall, about distance and the mileage limit. Difficulties exist not just over the problem of distance. As my hon. Friend said, there are real difficulties concerned with the longdistance coach operations, particularly excusions. The type of people that use excursions are those who usually cannot afford to run their own car or buy a ticket on British Rail at the present level of fares. Therefore, probably the worst-off section of the Community will suffer if this fact is not taken on board.
Most of the dispute that appears to be taking place at Brussels arises because these regulations are being put forward as social regulations rather than as transport regulations. What is needed is a look at the whole matter from a transport point of view, because this is where the main difficulties are arising. I hope that the Minister will inform his hon. Friend who is conducting the negotiations at Brussels that this is what the Conservative Opposition want him to do.
There have been three excellent interventions by my hon. Friends, and especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) whose love for the EEC is well known. Indeed, he expressed his feelings in his usual eloquent way tonight. Certain questions were asked by my hon. Friends and I hope that the Minister will give some answers tonight. I think that the Minister has been—as he was in Committee—somewhat chary of giving answers. When I asked him questions similar to those asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) about the period of delay, he said to me:
I am sure he"—
that is me—
would not want me to go into the whole of the negotiating position of the Government in the negotiations which are taking place on whether there should be exemption for certain parts of the industry and whether we should apply for exemption from the regulations."—[Official Report, Standing Committee H, 24th February, 1976, c. 30.]
We are asking for some assurances on these points because unless we ask for them now we shall have very little
opportunity to ask for them in the future. Probably the next opportunity will be when the regulations are brought back to the House for us to decide in an hour-and-a-half whether we accept them. I remind the Minister that but for Conservative Members in the other place we would not have had the affirmative method of adopting these regulations. They would have been subject to the negative procedure.
We believe that the Government must do more to come clean. They must indicate that they fully have the interests of the British transport industry at heart. If the Minister can show that, he will have the complete support of the Opposition. However, if he goes to Brussels and it is suspected that he will meekly submit to the latest version of the regulations, we assure him of an unfriendly welcome when he brings those regulations back.