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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:19 pm on 6th June 2019.

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Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Scottish National Party, Linlithgow and East Falkirk 3:19 pm, 6th June 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I am delighted to take part in this interesting debate, introduced by Matt Western. I pay tribute to his work on this issue, and I wish him every success with his private Member’s Bill.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his account of the tragedy that took place in Coventry. The hours worked in that case were truly shocking. Perhaps even more shocking is that those hours are perfectly legal. I also thank him for raising the splitting of routes to avoid the 50 km long-distance requirements. That is unacceptable, and I am grateful to him for mentioning that today. Jim Fitzpatrick highlighted how fatigue causes crashes, and I could not agree more. I am grateful to him for the statistics he used to illustrate that point.

The Scottish National party has been a powerful advocate for fair working hours and working practices, so it will come as absolutely no surprise that I fully support the change being sought. A limit of 56 hours in a week or 90 hours over two weeks seems perfectly reasonable. In fact, I would not want to be driving for that many hours. I certainly would not want to see someone driving the hours they are driving now on local routes. I fail to see why any difference between the working hours of local bus drivers, long-distance bus drivers and HGV drivers should exist, other than it being an accidental mismatch from historical pieces of legislation. The average driver’s hours are 42 a week, which suggests that there would not be insurmountable problems for bus companies in facilitating a more respectable number of hours. It certainly would not put people out of work.

In saying that, I should point out that the SNP supports the full devolution of employment law to the Scottish Parliament. We do not have control over that, so the debate is particularly relevant for me, as it allows me to make these points. In Scotland, we have control over transport policy, and we have tried to prioritise the provision of quality bus services. In general, we believe that the current model for providing bus services, where public authorities have the power to intervene, including through subsidies, is generally the right one. However, we need to do more. That is why we are trying to strengthen the powers through our Transport (Scotland) Bill to allow transport authorities to run their own services in some cases, or to take over whole networks or parts of areas. In that melting pot, it would make great sense for Scotland to have control over the hours drivers may work. That would assist us in boosting public confidence in the safety of the service, which is a point I am happy to make here, as this Parliament has that power just now.

Another area of concern is that many of the protections and rights secured for our workers have flowed directly from our membership of the European Union. It is imperative that those are not put at risk by any Brexit race to the bottom. It is worth pointing out that the UK rules on drivers’ hours are slightly different from the EU’s. Under UK rules, after 5.5 hours of driving, a break of 30 minutes must be taken. Under the equivalent EU rules, a driving period of no more than 4.5 hours gives drivers a break of 45 minutes. I am not a professional driver or a professional transport person, but on the few occasions when I have had the misfortune of having to drive from my constituency to London—a journey that took me longer than 5.5 hours—I needed a considerably longer break. I say that as someone who is not regularly driving every day. While I may not be a professional driver, starting from a more relaxed position and coming out severely fatigued would worry me from my personal experience.