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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, why should not the whole cost be borne by the contractor in such circumstances?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord will find that I will deal with that question later in my speech. If not I will contact him. In answer to the noble Lord during the past 15 months the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers have worked closely together to develop the idea that suitable trained and qualified personnel could replace the police when escorting some loads on motorways and certain dual carriageways. These roads have been chosen because they provide for the easiest and safest movement of the loads, without such private escorts requiring special powers such as to stop and direct traffic.

As mentioned by my noble friend Lord Lucas, as an experiment an unmarked police vehicle with amber flashing lights--which, in fact, is more visible at a distance than a blue flashing light--was used to escort an abnormal load on a long motorway journey between Rosyth and Hatfield. It was completed successfully in all respects and the journey time was reduced by some five days over a similar load travelling under normal procedures. Therefore, that amount of saving of time must be taken into account when we are looking at the cost of such operations.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mason, that movements on roads which are likely to require control and direction of other traffic will continue to remain with the police. I know that other noble Lords mentioned that fact. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, talked about situations where roundabouts are involved. We envisage that the police will be involved in all those areas where other movement of traffic occurs.

The police are keen to realise the manpower savings which private escorting could provide. The problems of manpower resources have prompted non-police escorts on some loads, as mentioned by several speakers. Neither the Home Office nor the Association of Chief Police Officers has been involved in the scheme which is being used by the North Wales Police as an independent force initiative. It is understood to be meeting the purpose for which it was set up and we are monitoring the outcome with interest.

The private escorting of certain abnormal loads would not mean that the escorting function currently carried out by the police would be put out to tender. That would not be practicable. It would rather be a case of private operators acquiring the necessary qualifications in escorting and then making their services available to hauliers. The hauliers themselves could train staff to carry out the function, and the cost of the escorting would be met by the haulage industry. The outline

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proposals envisage no change affecting the overall responsibility of chief officers of police for the safe escorting and management of abnormal load movements. I can also confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that every movement of a load with a private escort would be subject to the agreement of the chief officer of police for the area concerned, having due regard to agreed national criteria. Moreover, in answer to my noble friend Lord Lucas, I can say that any regulations applying national standards for escorting would be likely to be implemented through changes to the Motor Vehicles (Authorisation of Special Types) General Order. As regards my comments concerning a national criteria for private escort duty, I can confirm that that would also include proof of qualifications of the personnel involved. As I mentioned earlier, changes to those regulations would require further public consultation.

In finding ways to minimise the disruption to other road users, the movement of these types of loads at night is being investigated. That possibility was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Mason. The benefit is that there is less traffic on the road to be disrupted; the drawback is that there is the danger of vehicles travelling at faster speeds suddenly coming across a large, slow-moving convoy. The advent of modern lighting on vehicles and roads appears to make the load and escorting vehicles more conspicuous. So it could become beneficial to move at night; indeed, some police forces are already ensuring that movements are carried out at night, although the individual circumstances still have to be taken into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raised the issue of the safety of loads on our roads. Although the frustration of those held up by the movement of abnormal loads is understandable, such movements do not cause additional danger to road users. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Mason and Lord Berkeley, that the movement of abnormal loads must be carried out with safety as a top priority.

In summary, I hope that it can be seen that the movement of large, indivisible loads on our road system is unavoidable and necessary for the functioning of our domestic industries and to provide for the competitive export of goods from our heavy industries. While it can be appreciated that those movements cause disruption to other road users, the procedures which have to be followed are designed to minimise those effects. However, we acknowledge that road usage has changed over the years and those procedures are under review. Any changes will result in reduced disruption without compromising road safety.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, before the House adjourns, I cannot resist saying that I own a silver flask which was given to me by my then government car service driver. It is engraved with the words:

    "To my abnormal load".

        House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before eight o'clock.

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