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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I may not have expressed myself very well. I was saying that if a private escort were authorised by the police, then the haulier should have the option of escorting his own load or using a professional escort company.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I still think it is contradictory if they have the right to escort their own loads, and they want to call upon the police to carry out certain duties as well. However, that is another matter with which I have no time to deal, although I believe we have plenty of time for the debate.

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Once again, I congratulate my noble friend on initiating the debate. It has been a valuable hour or so. I think that he has derived some entertainment and some useful information from it. I thank him once again.

7.19 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the nature of our construction and heavy engineering industries means that it is often necessary to move abnormally large loads from one point in the country to another. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mason, for raising this interesting subject, and I thank all noble Lords for giving me notice of their areas of concern. I listened with interest to all their points which I shall attempt to answer. If I do not, I shall of course deal with them in writing at a later date.

The movement can be to a point in the UK where a facility is under construction such as a new power station, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, or moving an assembly or machine to a port for export. It is government policy to limit the use of roads for the movement of abnormal loads where possible. However, the use of alternatives, such as rail or air, is severely limited by the weight and bulk of these loads. There are some inland waterways available. But in general that system is not compatible with loads of these sizes. Where possible, a heavy load will be transported to a port and shipped around the coast to another port in the UK closer to its final destination to reduce road mileage.

The nature and size of abnormal loads are extremely varied and their movements are closely controlled. I should, perhaps, explain how the system works. Regulations require the movement of abnormal loads to be notified to the relevant highway authorities, bridge owners and the police before they can move. They also specify construction standards for the vehicle such as maximum weights, maximum axle weights, braking standards, marker boards and lighting equipment and, reflecting the size of these loads, lower speed limits than those generally applied to goods vehicles.

Most abnormal loads are moved under the provisions of the Motor Vehicles (Authorisation of Special Types) General Order 1979. These regulations permit the movement of loads over 38 tonnes and up to 150 tonnes in weight, 27.4 metres in length or 5 metres in width. Part of the definition of an abnormal load is that the load cannot, without undue expense or risk of damage, be divided into two or more loads for the purpose of carriage on roads. The loads should therefore be of a minimum size and the procedure ensures that the structures on the highway such as bridges and culverts are able to withstand any high axle weights; that there are no physical obstructions in the case of a load of large dimensions; and that the route is feasible with the minimum disruption to other road users.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, raised the issue of these regulations being outdated and inconsistent with the requirements for general goods vehicles. The regulations are now 17 years old. In answer to the noble Earl, we are producing draft regulations to consult by the middle of the year. Because the regulations controlling the use

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of ordinary goods vehicles have changed in this period there are a number of anomalies which have to be addressed. For example, as 44 tonne vehicles on 6 axles are now allowed for combined road-rail transport, the necessity to notify abnormal loads which weigh less than that will be considered.

For the largest and heaviest loads--that is, on loads wider than 5 metres, longer than 27.4 metres or heavier than 150 tonnes--written permission is required from the Department of Transport, which will also specify the exact route to be followed.

The necessity for this authorisation can frequently result in discussions between the manufacturer and department to ensure that the move is necessary and the item is reduced in size as much as possible. Hauliers and manufacturers are always encouraged to contact the department as early as possible, even prior to the object being made if possible, to ensure that moving it by road is feasible. Around 10 to 15 per cent. of applications to the department for movements are rejected on the grounds that the load is divisible or because the size of the load and/or the distance of the journey would cause quite unacceptable delays and disruption to other road users.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raised the issue of railway locomotives travelling on the road. Where these are required to have the Department of Transport's authorisation to move, permission would be given only where the locomotive could not be moved on the rail system; that is, where the destination is not connected to the rail system--such as museums--or it could not be moved on the track for safety reasons.

Locomotives are generally so heavy that they require Department of Transport authorisation. If it is at all possible to move them on the rail network we would not give permission. The trains referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, must fall below the 150 tonne limit and are therefore free to be moved as abnormal loads under the special types general order.

The "ownership" and consequently the responsibility for the protection and maintenance of the roads and the structures on them is varied. Bridges, for example, can be the responsibility of the Department of Transport, local authorities, British Rail Property Board, Railtrack or the British Waterways Board. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested that the current system could be improved by better co-ordination of notifications. It is true that this fragmentation of responsibilities makes it difficult and time consuming for hauliers to check a route. However, while it may seem desirable for a central agency to co-ordinate notifications, given the number of bodies involved it would not be practicable and would almost inevitably result in an increased layer of bureaucracy.

Over the years a number of routes have evolved as being preferred for the heaviest and high loads. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggests that these routes should be given statutory status. However, as the needs of industry are also constantly evolving, there is not a

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strong case legally to protect these routes. In the case of the largest loads, where the Department of Transport is involved in the selection of the route, the department monitors any proposals for changes on roads used on a regular basis and notifies the relevant highway authority of its special usage. The case of high loads is more complex as high loads which are light and not otherwise abnormal are also affected. Many of these roads are actually local authority owned but generally they are receptive to approaches from the haulage industry and the department when told that proposed changes would affect its use as a high load route.

The route is chosen to minimise the disruption to other road users. Inevitably, that means using the widest roads available to allow other traffic to pass. In order to enhance road safety, the police usually escort such loads to warn other road users of their presence and, where necessary, direct traffic to enable the load to pass. The widest roads generally available are the motorways. Thus, invariably these are often used. The timing of the movement is generally in the hands of the police. That is for two reasons. First, they have the operational responsibility for road safety and traffic management and have local knowledge of the times that roads are likely to be at their busiest. Secondly, they will usually choose to provide an escort to ensure safe progress. Thus the timing of the move is subject to police resources being available.

The noble Lord, Lord Mason, in his opening remarks raised the issue of police involvement in escorting the largest loads. The involvement of the police in the movement of these loads is under review. At present some 1½ million movements are notified to the police in the UK each year. Of these, some 10 per cent. would require escorting, the cost of which is generally met from police resources. Current arrangements for escorting can be complex, particularly where a load passes through more than one police area, necessitating a change of escort vehicle. The resultant delays and difficulties for hauliers are both inconvenient and costly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and my noble friend Lord Lucas asked about charging. Section 15 of the Police Act 1964 provides that a chief officer of police may provide at the request of any person special police services at any premises or any locality in the police area for which the force is maintained. That is subject to any payment to the police authority of charges on such scales as may be determined by the authority. What constitutes special police services is a matter for the chief officer concerned and the police authority to determine in any particular case. By definition, however, it is unlikely to include routine services.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, the costs of advertising and providing a telephone inquiry point for the Avonmouth to Didcot loads were borne by the contractors. Most of the police escort costs were also met by the contractor. Each move was in three parts:

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two runs during the night and one, where a complex manoeuvre over a bridge was involved, took place during the day--

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