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Mr. Mallon : Why is the Minister making no reference to the largest industry in Northern Ireland--agriculture?

Mr. Viggers : As the hon. Gentleman took nine minutes to speak, having undertaken to take five, I might have had

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more time to reply to his questions. [Interruption.] I would not have raised that ungracious point with the hon. Gentleman if he had not chosen to criticise me.

In the case of Harland and Wolff, the House will be aware that the Government are anxious to achieve an early and successful privatisation of the company. That approach has been endorsed by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. We have been working to find a privatisation structure which is right for the company and which will obtain the approval of the European Commission. We continue to study in detail the proposals put to us. Although there is no certain outcome to the discussions, there are encouraging signs of positive progress. The attitude of the management and the work force will be critical in that process. I welcome the approach and the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) in this matter. He quoted the words and the attitude of the Prime Minister when she made that point. It is in everyone's interest that the company attains the higher levels of performance required in today's extremely competitive shipbuilding market. This is vital if we are to achieve a successful privatisation and a more secure future for the company in the longer term.

Turning to Shorts, as has already been indicated, our intention is to restructure Shorts' balance sheet. I announced 10 days ago the initial restructuring, involving £390 million of convertible stock. I can tell the hon. Member for Belfast, East that the list of approximately 30 companies which had expressed an interest in Shorts was reduced to a dozen to whom we sent the information memorandum and, based on the responses to the memorandum, we have now, with the advice of Kleinwort Benson, our professional advisers, identified two company interests, which may be joined by a third, with whom we are holding detailed discussions.

We believe that to be the best basis and way ahead for the company, and we are moving anxiously to seek privatisation on that basis. It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Speaker-- put the Question on the motion, pursuant to Order [3 March].

Question agreed to.


That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 28th February, be approved.

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Commercial Vehicles

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I point out to the House that in respect of this document, 4311/89, on the derogation of weights of heavy commercial vehicles, the Select Committee on European Legislation received from the Minister a memorandum. Having considered it at a meeting some weeks ago, the Committee requested further information from the Minister which he sent to us in a memorandum dated 6 March. This the Committee received today at its meeting and it made a further report to the House, dated today, our 14th report, which is now available in the Vote Office.

I regret, Mr. Speaker, that no earlier notice was given of this, but because of the timescale, it was not possible to do so. Hon. Members, therefore, who took their papers from the Vote Office prior to 6 pm today may not have the full set of documents.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity of saying this to the House.

Mr. Speaker : The whole House is obliged to the hon. Member for what he has said.

10.2 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon) : I beg to move,

That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4311/89 and the Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Department of Transport on 6th March 1989 on the weights and dimensions of commercial vehicles ; notes the development of the circumstances which justified the derogations accorded to the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland from certain provisions of Directive 85/3 ; and supports the Government's intention to ensure that a premature end date to the derogations is not imposed on the United Kingdom.

I turn at once to what the hon. Member has just said in his point of order in which he rightly drew the attention of the House to the report of his Committee, which I have had an opportunity to read and which the whole House should read. I hope that it will become clear in the course of my remarks that all the points that he makes and all these matters the House will, I am sure, wish to reconsider on a future occasion as the situation unfolds.

Perhaps I ought to apologise to the House for the fact that this debate has been arranged at short notice, but I think that most of the House, including hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, will wish to have had this debate before the Transport Council meets next week. I wish to be in the position when I go to it of being able to give the views of the House of Commons.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East) : We are right behind the Secretary of State.

Mr. Channon : That rather worries me. I only hope that there is not a knife in the hon. Gentleman's hand if he is standing right behind me. But that is a most unworthy suspicion.

The point that I want to make seriously to the House is that this matter is urgent at the moment and will continue to be an important subject to which the House will want to turn its attention. Tonight we shall examine the proposals in document No. 4311 before they are discussed in Brussels. The document is a report on the suitability of the bridge infrastructure in the United Kingdom for use by

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five and six-axled lorries weighing 40 tonnes with a drive axle loading of 11.5 tonnes, as is general throughout the European Community except in Ireland.

The House will be aware that in 1984 we obtained derogations from those limits for five and six-axled vehicles because certain parts of the road network in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland were not strong enough, and it was recognised in a Council directive that the requirement for substantial improvements of the relevant portions of our road network, especially bridges, would take some time to complete.

The next meeting of the Transport Council in Brussels takes place on Budget day--Champion Hurdle day, perhaps I should call it--and the draft directive which accompanies the report in document No. 4311/89 is not formally on the agenda of that meeting. But it is relevant for there is a proposal on that agenda which concerns two, three and four-axled vehicles. That proposal was the subject of debate in the House on 16 June 1988, when the Government sought the House's endorsement for the objective of keeping to current axle spacings and limiting the axle weight to 10.5 tonnes to safeguard our bridges. Retaining the limit on axle loading, as distinct from the proposed small increases in gross vehicle weight below the 40 tonne level--which is also part of the proposal--has remained the Government's main objective in what have been difficult and lengthly negotiations. I must warn the House that that directive is subject to majority voting since the Single European Act has come into effect. I shall argue strongly in Brussels that the derogation on axle loading throughout the range of two, three and four- axled vehicles should be the same derogation as that of five and six-axled vehicles. It may be that other member states, which already have the heavier weights, will argue that any new derogation should be time limited- -perhaps at 1996 as, indeed, the Commission's report suggests for the five and six-axled vehicles. However, it would be wrong for the new derogation on the smaller vehicles to be prematurely time-limited.

On our existing derogation that applies to five and six-axled vehicles, the directive in 1985 provided that it would be the subject of a Commission report on Britain's infrastructure, which is what is relevant tonight.

The Commission's report and the accompanying draft directive say that our derogation should end at the end of 1996. At one stage it had the ridiculous idea of ending our derogation in 1992. Therefore, even 1996 is an improvement. I do not agree, however, that that is good enough. For the sake of completeness, I should make clear that the draft directive with the report would also allow in one special circumstance for vehicles carrying the 40 ft., International Standardisation Organisation containers to be loaded at 44 tonnes, where that is part of a combined transport operation involving rail carriage and only end distribution by road. That is an exception and one that is not an issue in the normal limit of 40 tonnes and our derogations to 38 tonnes.

In February 1987, the Commission drew three conclusions. First, it said that design standards for bridges in the United Kingdom were similar to those in other member states ; secondly, that older United Kingdom bridges were equivalent to bridges in other EC member states which did carry 40- tonne vehicles ; and, thirdly, as

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only a small proportion of older United Kingdom bridges had been assessed, a strategic plan of assessment and possible strengthening should be drawn up to enable the Commission to make a proposal. In November of that year my Department published the bridge census and sample survey report that looked at bridges on local roads. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic announced on 24 November 1987 a 15-year programme for the rehabilitation of bridges on trunk roads. That programme includes general bridge maintenance as well as strengthening for the requirements of modern heavy lorries. The first 10 years or so of that programme will include the assessment and strengthening of the older bridges--notably the pre-1922 bridges--to make them capable of carrying up to 38 tonnes gross laden weight, and, incidentally, 40 tonnes should that prove necessary.

The important point that the House and the Commission should understand-- because I do not believe the latter does--is that 15 per cent. of bridges in the United Kingdom are pre-1922, compared with, perhaps, only some 3 per cent. in Germany.

Mr. Prescott : Why is that?

Mr. Channon : Because the bridges are older, it means that they need more work done on them. They were not built to the standards that we require today.

Mr. Prescott : It was really the RAF.

Mr. Channon : I thought that the hon. Gentleman might say that. I nearly said it myself, but I shall need the support of the German delegation next week. I hope, therefore, that Hansard will attribute the remark to the hon. Gentleman rather than to me.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : It will be reported as an interruption.

Mr. Channon : Yes, an interruption.

The latter part of our bridge programme will concentrate on the more modern bridges, which are already designed to carry the heavier weights, but which will still need major capital maintenance. Later this month I am expecting a further report from bridge consultants on the state of the concrete bridges in the country. I have no reason to assume that that report will be optimistic.

What the various sample surveys show is that, in Great Britain, there are some 11,400 bridges on trunk roads and of those 2,600 need detailed technical assessment to see whether they can cope with heavier vehicle weights. On a sampling technique we estimate that about 1,200 will need to be strengthened. The Commission says that 230 will need strengthening, so there is a considerable difference of opinion. On the basis of the figures- -they are only estimates--our trunk road bridge strengthening programme is planned for completion by 1998.

The sample survey of local bridges, including those owned by statutory undertakers and other bodies, produced the estimate that of some 50,000 local bridges, about 11,250 are expected to be below standard. Local authorities have been making their own plans for tackling those, and a few may have already embarked on work programmes. But it is not likely that the necessary strengthening work will be more than partially completed by the end of 1996.

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The costs are considerable. For trunk roads they will amount to about £70 million, including about £9 million in the current year. We shall have to make a final estimate when the assessment is completed. For local roads the figure is enormous--some £600 million. An extra £27 million has been included in the public expenditure provision for 1989-90 to take account of the known position. I should make it clear to the House that these are not extra costs for the 40 tonnes-11.5 tonne-axled lorries. The vast bulk of the expenditure is required in any event to make our bridges suitable for the modern heavier weights that they already carry.

The Commission report notes that the higher weights proposed may lead to faster deterioration of our roads and bridges. It cites data from earlier reports on the effects of increasing the maximum permitted weight from 32.5 tonnes to 38 tonnes. It notes that the Armitage report concluded that 38- tonne vehicles with five axles were less damaging than 32.5 tonne-four- axled vehicles. At the time of the Armitage report in 1980 it was generally accepted that heavier vehicles with more axles were generally less damaging to the road infrastructure. The Armitage recommendations were, of course, based on the premise that the drive axle weight of vehicles should be a maximum of 10.5 tonnes.

I agree with the Commission that the United Kingdom's bridges will not be suitable to carry the heavier-weight vehicles with the heavier drive-axle weights until there has been a major programme of bridge assessment and strengthening. Where I disagree--I believe that the House will share my disagreement--is about the scale of the problem. There are some 1,200 bridges on the non-motorway trunk roads that need strengthening, but the Commission says that there are 230 such bridges. On local roads, we estimate that there are about 11,250 bridges below standard, but the Commission estimates that there are about 4,000. The reason why there is such a difference of opinion between us is that the Commission has excluded bridges that have a capacity of 7.5 tonnes as it does not believe that those bridges will carry heavy loads. That is not true. Under the code the category includes all bridges that fall short of the next highest category of 16.5 tonnes. It is unrealistic, therefore, to imagine that the smaller bridges in this country will not be required to carry heavier loads if that was the requirement throughout the country.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : My right hon. Friend will notice that in paragraph 2(1) of the Commission's report the comparison that is made between the United Kingdom and other member states is confined to four other member states only. Seven member states are missing from its calculations. I have the greatest sympathy with the views that have been expressed by my right hon. Friend and I have grave reservations about the views of the Commission. Why is it that it has chosen only four other member states with which to make a comparison when there are seven others with which comparison could be made?

Mr. Channon : My hon. Friend raises an extremely valid point. I shall seek to convince the Commission that the report that I am sure it prepared in good faith is, nevertheless, misleading about the problem that the United Kingdom faces. I shall be careful in choosing my words, but my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the

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fact that the report is inadequate in that respect as indeed, for the reasons that I have given, it is inadequate in a number of other respects.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I support the view of the Secretary of State that the Commission's view seems to be wholly inadequate. However, will he confirm that the views of the interfering busybodies from the Commission could be endorsed following the passage of the Single European Act if a majority of states take the view that the Commission's report is right rather than the view of the Government of this member state?

Mr. Channon : The situation varies depending on whether one is considering two, three and four-axle vehicles or five and six-axle vehicles. On two, three and four-axle vehicles, we have no derogation and any directive put forward on them will be subject to majority voting under the Single European Act. For five and six-axle vehicles, we do not accept that derogation should end in 1996, as is proposed, because we do not think that our bridge infrastructure will be suitable and it would be unduly burdensome to meet that date. We would never have been willing to agree the derogation in the first place without the Council's commitment on seeking agreement to end it unanimously in relation to five and six-axle vehicles. I wanted to try to explain to the House that the two issues are linked and that, therefore, it is very important that hon. Members and people outside the House should understand the difficulty that we face and that we may have to face as early as next week.

The Commission has also made the suggestion of a partial network of major routes for heavier lorries. With a significant proportion of bridges weight -limited, it would be difficult to suggest a comprehensive network. As we all know, there are many journeys that begin and end off major roads and enforcement would be a difficult problem. We have begun a major programme of strengthening work so that the older bridges in the trunk road network will be able to carry a full range of modern-day goods vehicles. Local authorities will have to press ahead with similar plans for their roads. It can be argued--and is argued--that there are substantial potential economic benefits from using heavier vehicles, as the explanatory memorandum describes. Those benefits have been estimated at about £76 million a year. The House will be interested to note that a more recent survey of business intentions carried out by the Freight Transport Association estimates that the potential savings to industry could be as high as £200 million a year. If that is so, benefits could be passed on to consumers in lower product costs and there would be other less quantifiable benefits to the public. Vehicles able to carry their full design weight need to make fewer journeys.

As the House realises, although I am not sure that everyone outside does, I must stress that the new heavier lorries are no bigger than the existing lorries. You, Mr. Speaker, or any member of the public would not be able to distinguish a 40-tonne lorry from an existing 38-tonne lorry. The only difference is the greater payload. That means that fewer of them would be needed on the roads, so it is argued that there would be an environmental benefit too. That argument would carry more force if those lorries were fitted with air suspension, which can not only reduce wear and tear on roads, but reduce noise and increase safety.

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This is not simply a question of economics. The United Kingdom road infrastructure simply will not be able to carry the heavier vehicles by the date that the Commission proposes. I hope, therefore, that when I go to the Council next week, I shall have the support of the whole House of Commons. I draw the House's attention to the motion. It asks the House to take note of the various documents and then says :

"and supports the Government's intention to ensure that a premature end date to the derogations is not imposed on the United Kingdom." That is what I am asking the House to agree tonight. I hope that it will be possible to agree that without a Division. I would like to be able to tell the Council that this was the unanimous view of the House of Commons.

Mr. Snape : If it becomes necessary, will the right hon. Gentleman use his powers to veto the proposals at the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Channon : I do not have the power to veto the proposals on the two, three and four-axle vehicles. [Interruption.] Well, I shall go through it again. The two, three and four-axle vehicles will be discussed next week. I do not have the power to veto those provisions but I hope that I have the power of persuasion and, fortified by the support of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), I should imagine that I shall be irresistible. Failing that, we shall see.

On the question of the five and six-axle vehicles, in answer to the hon. Member for Keighley--

Mr. Cryer : For Bradford, South.

Mr. Channon : Yes, I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon--I meant the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). Times have changed and things were better in those days. The hon. Gentleman was less heavy in those days.

I have already explained to the House that the unanimity rule applies in relation to the five and six-axle vehicles, so that will not be an issue at the Council meeting next week. As I have already said, we expect that the Council will treat that as a matter in which unanimity is provided and I have also said that the House of Commons will be consulted, so there is no question of us giving way on that point at present--unless we can have a date that is acceptable bearing in mind that our bridges will have to be strengthened for the lorries to use them. That is not an issue between us at the moment and it is not something that the Commission has suggested. The proposed ending of the derogation is most unsatisfactory and I am asking the House to agree on that point--

Mr. Prescott rose --

Mr. Channon : Yes, I shall give way, yet again.

Mr. Prescott : I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. This is an important point and we appreciate that he is in the process of negotiation on two matters. However, is he prepared to say at the Council meeting that he is to attend shortly that he will be prepared to use his veto if the Council attempts to impose the 1996 date on him? I should like to hear him say that, yes, he will use the veto.

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Mr. Channon : I am choosing my words with some care to try to maximise my chances of getting my own way. In his usual helpful way, I know that the hon. Gentleman will want me to get the result that is most satisfactory for the United Kingdom.

Mr. Snape : What is the Secretary of State's record on that?

Mr. Channon : As it happens, so far I have rather a good track record in the Council meetings, in spite of the hon. Gentleman's perpetual calls for my resignation, which we shall no doubt hear again next week-- [Interruption.] Well, I shall try not to resign before Budget day.

As I have said, I have chosen my words with some care and hope to get a satisfactory result next week or, if not, to be in a position to report further to the House of Commons--

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Channon : Yes. I have almost finished.

Mr. Gale : My right hon. Friend has mentioned several times--I understand that it is the basis of the directive--that the derogation is based on bridges. As he is taking a message from this House to Europe, will he take a clear message from the people of Kent who are worried not only about bridges but because we do not want heavier lorries until the entire road infrastructure is suitable for carrying them, which may be a long time ahead?

Mr. Channon : I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his characteristic robust support. I think that the whole House will support me --I hope that it will--because that would very much strengthen my hand in the difficult negotiations next week. For tonight, I ask the House to support the Government's motion. 10.22 pm

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : The House will be grateful at least for the way in which the Secretary of State presented his case. We have seen a new and revitalised Secretary of State. In deputising for his hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, I can tell him that he is almost as good as the original when it comes to wit and humour. The Secretary of State will do very well. In general, we welcome what the Secretary of State said, although I noticed that he was careful not to give a direct answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). There has been a surprising turnabout in the Secretary of State's attitude over the past few weeks--

Mr. Cash : Get on with it.

Mr. Snape : I shall explain in a minute. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) should curb his natural impatience and I shall tell him how the turnabout arose. The Select Committee on European Legislation recently considered these matters. On 21 February 1989 it issued an advisory brief stating :

"Although the conclusion of the Commission is unambiguous, and it has submitted a draft Directive which it suggests hopefully should be agreed by 1 July this year, the Department's EM is ambiguous, giving no firm indication of the Government's line".

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The same Committee looked again at what was emerging from the Department on these matters on 6 March and said :

"The supplementary now submitted is explicitly opposed to the Commission's proposal but complicates the issue by pointing out that the Government will be seeking at the next Transport Council to defend the United Kingdom's maximum 10.5 tonne drive axle weight in relation to two, three and four axled vehicles without the protection of unanimity."

While we welcome this dramatic conversion, I hope I will be forgiven for asking how it came about. Did it have anything to do with the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East sent the right hon. Gentleman a letter, a copy of which I have with me, urging him to veto the regulations?

That letter was dated 1 March. By 3 March the new Channon had emerged, and the man who will be heading for the EEC on Wednesday has been strengthened by the support he has received from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. I know that he welcomes that support--he told us earlier that he did--and I hope that he will defend British interests as robustly as he implied he would and will tell his fellow Ministers that this House agrees with him--or perhaps I should say that he agrees with this House-- that the regulations should be opposed.

Mr. Cash : As a member of the Select Committee, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that he is being less than disingenuous in criticising the Government for their ambiguity because the Select Committee said in its most recent report :

"The Committee notes that the Government disagrees with the Commission's proposal."

In that context, I cannot see how he can claim that the Government are being ambiguous.

Mr. Snape : I do not want to get bogged down in a discussion about who said what. I was quoting from an advisory brief from the Committee dated 21 February, so I cannot be accused of being ingenuous--

Mr. Cash : I said "disingenuous."

Mr. Snape : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correcting me. One gets free instructions from a solicitor when taking part in these debates late at night. It is rare for them to give anything away for nothing, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stafford for his efforts.

The fact that the Secretary of State has changed his mind is to be welcomed, although he could not resist going in for the usual propaganda by claiming that the introduction of heavier goods vehicles into this country will mean, first, that they will carry more and, secondly, that there will be fewer of them. We have heard that story frequently over the years and we may be forgiven our wry smiles on hearing it yet again.

Looking back at the history of legislation on heavy vehicles, it is interesting to note how often it has been stated that the latest demand for heavier vehicles would, if approved, result in fewer such vehicles being on our roads. The first time I heard that argued was in 1943 when, making a plea to remove the then 20 mph speed restriction on heavy goods vehicles, the organisation which is now known as the Freight Transport Association claimed :

"Enabling heavy goods vehicles to go faster will mean that there will be less of them on our roads."

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That song has been sung for nearly 50 years. It was not true in the 1940s and it is not true now. Conservative Members know it is not true because they have heard it being sung for as long as I have, and my recollection in the House goes back 15 years.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield) : It is a fact.

Mr. Snape : The hon. Gentleman who represented Ashfield until they rumbled him--now the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith)--says it is true. If and when he is released from the confines of the House, which we hope will be sooner rather than later, and he takes a look outside, he will find that even in the short time that he has been back here as a Member the number of heavy goods vehicles on our roads has increased dramatically. I hope that I do not have to spend the few minutes available to me explaining those realities to Conservative Members.

As for the argument that speeding up the vehicles will help--again an argument that has been around for 50 years--if hon. Members look at the congestion on the M25 I hope they will recognise that it is immaterial from the point of view of reducing numbers how much the vehicles carry. If they are not going anywhere in any case, we can easily see that there might be more of them rather than fewer.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : We are waiting for the hon. Gentleman to say something pertinent to the documents we are considering. Having attacked the interesting contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), the hon. Gentleman went on to attack my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith), without saying anything of substance. Does he not agree that the trend should be to encourage the gradual development of heavier lorries, coupled with the logical and rational zonal and local restrictions which are needed? If we compare what happens here with what happens in France, in Paris juggernauts are prohibited and there is trans-shipment into smaller vehicles, which seems to work well. Why does not the hon. Gentleman support with more enthusiasm the excellent provisions of the Dykes Act--the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Control and Regulations) Act 1973--drafted by me, aided by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford? It has contributed to some 675 schemes up and down the country for restrictions on the access, parking and movement of heavy lorries.

Mr. Snape : I am a great advocate and proponent of the Dykes Act. It is sad that more local authorities did not adopt it as enthusiastically as a handful have. On the first part of his intervention, I will tell the hon. Gentleman why things do not work as well here as they do, for example, in Paris or in other parts of the EEC. It can be summed up in one simple word- -enforcement. The enforcement of the law on heavy goods vehicles is scandalously low. I will give some statistics to illustrate that in a moment. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State is somewhat wearily shaking his head. I think it is a bit late for him to be out. Of course, he is a great man for talking about a crackdown on cowboys in relation to heavy goods vehicles. When it comes to cracking down on cowboys, he is about as successful as the Indians in the films that I used to watch when I was a boy. On enforcement, it is the hon. Gentleman's bow and arrow against the repeating rifles of the cavalry, I am afraid [Interruption.] The officers had swords ; I am talking about the Under-Secretary.

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Enforcement is the great problem. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), who is such a great European enthusiast, ought to recognise that one reason why my hon. Friends and I are sceptical of these and other proposals about heavy goods vehicles is that the level of enforcement in this country is as low as it has ever been.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York) : In view of the comments the hon. Gentleman has just made about enforcement, will he deplore the attitude of the Transport and General Workers Union in not acting more strenuously in regard to its members, exposed in "Transport Week" last week, who indicated that they will continue to flout the law? Is he relying upon the state rather than his powers in that trade union?

Mr. Snape : We all know well that if individual drivers in the heavy goods vehicles and road haulage business were to tell their employers that they intended to abide by the law, it would be an open invitiation for them to be shown the door. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory), whose anti- union credentials are well known in the House, is a most enthusiastic supporter of legislation undermining the rights of individuals, including lorry drivers, at their place of work. I would be grateful for a period of silence on the hon. Gentleman's part with regard to enforcement.

In these matters I rely on articles in a recent publication, "Transport Week", which set out starkly and categorically the Department of Transport's failings in connection with heavy goods vehicles. I have met Karen Miles only once, when she came to a press conference at the House. I have no reason to suppose that she is a member of the National Union of Railwaymen, so I would not have thought that we could automatically mistrust what she has to say about the Department and enforcement. We are concerned by the fact that enforcement is so appallingly weak.

Although I hope that I do not have to quote from Karen Miles, article too extensively, her article states :

"Research by Transport Week among the 219 traffic examiners"-- and that is all there are throughout the country--

"responsible for ensuring HGV and PSV operators comply with operators' licence regulations, including drivers' hours limits, has revealed a growing feeling of powerlessness to control the rising tide of law breaking."

The article went on to state that

"Detailed discussions with traffic examiners and senior traffic examiners in 6 of the 9 traffic areas have uncovered some startling failings in the enforcement system."

The article explains that in the north-east, in Leeds, there is no money to bring prosecutions of HGV offences until April. The Conservative party may be proud of that level of enforcement, but I must stress that Labour Members are extremely unhappy with that deplorable level of enforcement and we shall demonstrate that unhappiness through our determination to ensure that there is no easing in terms of axle and all-up weights of heavy goods vehicles until we get some assurances about these problems.

I hope that I have at least partially answered some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Harrow, East and that I can take him some way towards believing that enforcement is vital, but is not receiving the important consideration that it deserves from the Government at the moment.

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