Bus Drivers’ Working Hours — [Sir Graham Brady in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 6th June 2019.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington 3:00 pm, 6th June 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I agree with him entirely about the marketisation of the bus sector, and the pressures that that has put on bus drivers and the hours that they work, and the pay and working conditions that they suffer as a result. Of course, that does not apply to tube drivers, for whom that has not been allowed to happen. We have seen widening divergence in tube driver and bus driver pay in the capital; it is a good example of what has been allowed to happen through marketisation of local bus services. I thank my hon. Friend for coming today. I know that many others hoped to be here, and were it not for the by-election in Peterborough, I am sure a great many more would have been here. Unfortunately, that is just a scheduling problem.

When I met Brake, the road safety charity, it was extremely impressed by the campaign and put its full support behind it, as did London Bus Watch. Mr Brady, you will not be surprised to learn that many bus drivers have approached me to share their stories and the reality of what is happening under existing legislation. Across the country, their responses have been clear and consistent. For example, a bus driver in Cornwall drives on a route longer than 50 km, so it should come under strict EU rules for long-distance drivers, but the local company exploits a loophole and splits the route into three, so that the same driver can continue the route and they do not have to comply with EU working hours restrictions—a simple example of how companies work the system. In Liverpool, a driver who used to work for Stagecoach said that drivers were regularly forced to work 12-hour shifts day after day, which caused fatigue. There are many other examples, but time does not permit me to give them.

There is also concern about who enforces legislation. What are the roles, and how are the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and the traffic commissioners resourced? It is disturbing, and may come as a surprise, that very few councils and local authorities have any bus safety data at all. Following a Freedom of Information Act application by one of the campaign groups, 46 of the 74 councils and local authorities approached said they had absolutely no bus safety data; eight said they did, and 24 are yet to respond. There is clearly much to do.

It is evident that what happened on that day in Coventry city centre could have happened anywhere, and it is unlikely to be the last such accident. In fact, what motivates me, and, I am sure, Rowan’s family, is our determination to ensure that there is no repeat of the Coventry crash, and that no worse tragedy ever occurs. I fear it is simply a matter of time unless the Government act.

I sum up by repeating that it is simply common sense to align the working hours legislation for local bus drivers with that for long-distance bus, coach and lorry drivers to bring safety to our streets, and to avoid an even more serious tragedy, but that must not impact on drivers’ pay. That is sensible, pragmatic and certainly not radical. We need only look at the legislation and what happens in Germany and the Netherlands, where daily driving cannot exceed nine hours, with an exemption twice a week, when it can be increased to 10 hours. Total driving time is limited to 56 hours a week, with a total fortnightly limit of 90 hours, and drivers have 45-minute breaks after four and a half hours of driving time. That is what happens in other European countries.

We must also introduce independent, regular health checks. Coventry was an example of an individual being suspected of being in ill health, but for some reason, that was not exposed, though it should have been. Through the Bill, I urge the Minister to provide for more regular, independent health checks to ensure the safety of all our passengers and other road users. That could be introduced via a simple statutory instrument, if the Government so wished. I urge the Minister to review the matter with his colleague and the Secretary of State. In the meantime, the family and I will continue to press for the introduction of Rowan’s law. We have come a long way, but we will continue until Rowan’s legacy is fulfilled.