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Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving away. It is often the case that the local authority does not need to grant planning permission because the centres are small--perhaps farms. Therefore, there will be only the traffic commissioner's proceedings going on. How will the local authority have the control the Minister says it should have when the traffic commissioner is specifically disbarred from taking that into account?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, if it is not a planning application, then a planning issue does not arise. There may, however, still be a traffic issue which is a matter for the highways authority. In some cases the highways authority may not be the same as the planning authority. Therefore, we are talking about three potential areas here. Nevertheless, the traffic impact is covered by the responsibilities of the highways authority.

If the noble Baroness is saying that there should be greater liaison between these various public bodies, I would not necessarily dissent. Clearly, there are parts of the country with which she or her noble friends are familiar where there has not been adequate liaison. This is not a question of powers, it is a question of co-operation.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. However, I am rather frustrated that I have not been able to explain adequately that there is a gap in the legislation which prevents the network and the overall effect of these applications being considered.

The Minister referred to the highways authority having its input, but it can do that only if a planning application is forthcoming. At that point it is allowed to have an input. But in many cases a planning application simply is not required.

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The Minister also mentioned that it is possible for the highways authority to place a traffic regulation order. But one would then be banning all the heavy vehicles from that route, even the ones that were already there and had perhaps been operating for many years. The issue here is what to do about new applications. However, I can see that I am getting nowhere. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 303A not moved.]

Lord Berkeley moved Amendment No. 304:

    After Clause 255, insert the following new clause--


(" . In the Road Traffic Act 1988, after section 41 insert--
"Compulsory goods vehicle weighing scheme.
41ZA.--(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring the weighing of any goods vehicle using a major road freight facility, port or premises and the provision of a weight report to the driver of the vehicle.
(2) In particular regulations made under subsection (1) may make provision with respect to--
(a) the method of weighing such goods vehicles;
(b) the form and contents of the weight report;
(c) the number of such reports that must be provided to the driver;
(d) the driver signing and returning a prescribed number of such reports to the operator of the facility;
(e) the keeping of copies of such reports by the operator of the facility; and
(f) the production of such copies by the operator on the request of prescribed public authorities.
(3) A weight report provided in accordance with regulations made under this section may be produced in evidence in any proceedings for an offence under this Part relating to the weight of a goods vehicle.
(4) In this section "major road freight facility, port or premises" means any such facility, port or premises--
(a) having facilities for the carriage of goods by road, and
(b) having an annual throughput of more than 25,000 goods vehicles each exceeding 30,000 kilograms gross vehicle weight,
or more than one such facility, port or premises where they are under common management, control or ownership, share a common access to the highway and together have that annual throughput.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 304 standing in my name and in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee.

In Committee the same group of noble Lords proposed this scheme for the compulsory weighing of HGVs leaving premises where the number was 10,000 lorries a year. It did not find great favour with the Minister. One of the main reasons was that there were too many sites and it would therefore be too much of an imposition on the industry.

We have consulted further. We have returned with an amendment that allows the Secretary of State to make regulations which require the compulsory weighing of HGVs. The Minister does not have to, but we hope that he will accept the amendment. I see this

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as part of a package of measures which are aimed at making the drivers of road freight vehicles obey the law better. Many noble Lords have tabled amendments. I am grateful to the Minister for accepting so many of them, whether they were proposed from this side of the House or by the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives. This is yet another one.

Is there a problem with overweight lorries? I have had the benefit of reading the latest government transport statistics for 2000. There is a good deal of good information in them. I find that 400,000 goods vehicles are registered in the country. They average 100 miles per trip. In a Written Answer of 20th August I was told that 64,000 HGVs were weighed by the vehicle inspectorate last year and that 5 per cent were found to be overloaded by more than 5 per cent. Five per cent of 400,000 lorries is 20,000 lorries. If they operate for 300 days a year, there could be 6 million offences a year. I am sure that better statistics are available, but that shows the scale of the problem. I calculate that a lorry is at risk of being checked every six years. A Written Answer of 4th August showed that the average fine for the offence is £300. So a driver has a good chance of getting away with it for six years; and when he is caught, he is fined £300.

As we know, over-weight lorries cause more road damage and more accidents. Transport 2000 has recently published a leaflet which states that 17 per cent of fatal accidents are caused by HGVs; and, of course, the heavier the lorry, the worse the problem. How can the law be better enforced? In Committee I mentioned a portable weighbridge, which my noble friend the Minister thought was quite a good idea.

We then come to the question of how many sites. We have taken on board what my noble friend said and we think that sites with an annual throughput of more than 25,000 goods vehicles is probably about right. We do not have the statistics on how many lorries go into distribution centres. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has been trying to get the figures, but they are not available. If we use, as an example, the ports, Aberdeen, Tyne and Ipswich would be below the threshold but Hull, Portsmouth, Dover, Ramsgate, Felixstowe and London would be above it. The bigger ports would have to weigh the lorries but the smaller ones would not. The regulations we propose would require the facility operator to give the driver a print-out of the lorry weight. If he then chose to go out and break the law, he would face prosecution.

I conclude by asking: why not? Why allow 6 million offences a year to be committed, with the risk of being caught once in six years and being fined £300? I am sure that the drafting of the amendment could be improved. I hope that my noble friend will at least consider the matter and perhaps do us the honour of accepting the principle of the amendment and coming back at Third Reading with better drafting. I beg to move.

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5.30 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I should like briefly to add my voice to that of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on this matter. It is clear that overloaded or wrongly loaded lorries are a danger to the safety of other drivers. They cause far more damage to the road surface than correctly loaded lorries and they give the whole road haulage trade a bad image, a matter to which the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has referred on a number of occasions. What is proposed in the amendment is an extremely important move. I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically on it. The proper weighing of heavy goods vehicles, so that they are soundly and correctly loaded, would contribute to better road safety, a point close to the hearts of noble Lords on all sides of the House.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment. In Committee, some amusing defects of the original amendment were identified by the Minister. There is a view that overloading is not the problem that it once was and that the advent of 44-tonne vehicles will mean that more vehicles will tend to "bulk out" rather than "gross out". In addition, much of the traffic running at or near maximum gross weight is under the control of reputable and scrupulous operators. Good examples are supermarkets, parcel companies and tanker operators. Statistics show only a small percentage of vehicles to be overloaded. However, if operators who are not prone to overloading are extracted from the calculations, the picture might become rather different. I am sure that the Minister is aware of that and that a large proportion of over-weight traffic emanates from ports. For a variety of reasons, ports cannot be targeted on their own, so the net has to be cast wider. I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on the level of fines for overloading offences. From what I have read, the fines are often well over £1,000.

I do not know what the noble Lord plans to do with the amendment, but if he returns with it at a later stage, it may benefit from a specific provision allowing the Secretary of State to exempt certain locations or facilities.

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