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Earl Attlee: My Lords, the Minister should not be surprised that I moved the amendment. Can the Minister explain why the then Minister, Glenda Jackson, wrote to Miss Angela Smith MP, in October 1997, stating that the Government believed that the

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PSV licensing regime provided an adequate alternative in other respects to the PHV licensing regime and that there were no plans to remove the option?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thought I had just explained that. A number of representations have been made to us that in the past two years there has been a growing number of cases. The letter to which the noble Earl referred was written more than three years ago. The situation has clearly changed since then. A number of cases which require some further action have been drawn to our attention and to the attention of local authorities.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I shall study carefully what the Minister said. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 306 to 310 not moved.]

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood moved Amendment No. 311:

    After Clause 256, insert the following new clause--

("Use of weight restricted routes by goods vehicles

It shall be incumbent on the driver of a goods vehicle using a weight restricted route to provide evidence on demand to any police officer or member of the Vehicle Inspectorate or Trading Standards Office that he is using the route lawfully.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we return to an amendment which was debated in Committee. It concerns the illegal use of weight restricted routes by goods vehicles. In Committee, there was a long and learned discussion about signage and the effect of signage in making the role of the police easier by enabling them to stop and successfully prosecute the drivers of vehicles which are in the wrong place.

The main reason I am bringing back the amendment is that we also discussed at some length the ability of the police to prosecute the drivers of heavy goods vehicles travelling through weight restricted areas. At that time, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that the police were fully satisfied with the powers they had. Since that time, my noble friend Lord Bradshaw has sent evidence to the Minister about the dissatisfaction of at least one local police force with the situation as it now obtains. It indicates that the law is quite inadequate to enable the police to follow and prosecute the drivers of vehicles passing through weight restricted areas.

Almost no one in this country, wherever living, can be unaware of the misery that can be caused by heavy goods vehicles rat-running through residential areas. It is particularly galling if this is done over weight restricted routes where the vehicles should not be at all.

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If the police find themselves unable successfully to prosecute such drivers, we need a change in the law. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, the noble Baroness has made an extremely good point. I only wish she had included width restricted routes in her amendment as well as weight restricted routes.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we had a fairly wide-ranging debate on this at an earlier stage, in which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, participated. He claimed, as has the noble Baroness, that the present law is not enforceable and that it is difficult to prove an offence if a matter comes to court. He has indeed cited a police officer to that effect.

Our information and our view is that the power is not necessary. That is a view supported by ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, which we consulted about this proposal, and by the Crown Prosecution Service. There may be some local problems, but I do not believe that it is a national problem.

The present position is that if a lorry is stopped by the police having passed a sign indicating a weight restriction prohibition, the onus is on the driver to show that he was complying with the qualifying plate on the sign which allows exemptions to the prohibition. Any driver who was unable to give a satisfactory explanation--for example, by producing a delivery note and so on--would face the prospect of receiving a fixed penalty notice. It is, therefore, in the interests of the driver to show the police that he was not committing an offence by producing that evidence. We see no reason to change the law in that respect.

I accept that there can be a problem with the abuse of weight restrictions, which are frequently introduced for environmental reasons, especially where they prevent lorries taking rat runs through residential areas. But the biggest problems arise where these restrictions have an "except for access" exemption. "Access" can mean stopping to buy a paper. A driver who does that before or after being checked by the police would still be "using the route lawfully" because he had a lawful reason for requiring access. But there would be no documentation that the driver could produce,

    "to provide evidence on demand",

as the amendment requires, for what would have been an ad hoc decision to go to buy a newspaper. In such cases, the police would have to follow the vehicle through the area to confirm that an offence had been committed, which does not seem a particularly sensible use of police resources.

The problem with these exemptions lies, in a sense, in the way in which they are phrased. "Except for access" is not a very useful exemption. That is why for the past 10 years my department has recommended to local authorities that they use the "except for loading" exemptions. These restrictions are much easier for the police to enforce because the vehicle has to be collecting from or delivering to a property in the

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restricted area. The onus is then on the driver to produce a delivery note or other means to show that he had a genuine reason for collecting from or delivering to that area. The police could therefore enforce such an order by stopping lorries which they felt did not have that evidence from leaving a restricted area.

The amendment also envisages powers being given to vehicle inspectors and trading standards officers. But, of course, neither can stop vehicles. That is a power which is vested in the police and that is where it should stay.

Although I appreciate the concerns behind the amendment, we do not believe that this is a widespread problem. If local authorities were to follow our advice on how they should provide notices of exemptions, it would be much easier for the police to enforce them. We all share the objective of better compliance, but I am not sure that the amendment would lead to that. I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue her amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, the Minister has given a detailed reply. Pending further consideration, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 312 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 313:

    After Clause 256, insert the following new clause--


(" . After section 41(5) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 there shall be inserted--
"(5A) Regulations under this section shall provide that articulated tanker vehicles designed and used to carry cement can be operated at 48,000 kilograms gross train weight."").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have tabled the amendment in order to make some sense of a Parliamentary Question in another place to which the Minister's honourable friend, Mr Hill, gave a holding answer on 10th July. The question related to the inter-modal competition organised by the shadow SRA earlier in the year. In response to the Question of my honourable friend Mr Jenkin, the Minister wrote:

    "The cement road tanker to be conveyed on the intermodal wagons will have a maximum weight of 40 tonnes to which the traction unit would be added".--[Official Report, Commons, 12/7/00; col. WA563.]

A three-axle, 44-tonne tractor will weigh about eight tonnes; therefore, the gross train weight will have to be 48 tonnes. Hence the reason for my amendment. At this point I hasten to add that I would be in deep, deep trouble if the Minister accepted my amendment. I do not believe that anyone is proposing to increase the maximum gross train weight to 48 tonnes.

The Minister, Mr Hill, answered a further searching question from my honourable friend on 24th July. My concern is, first, that the figures given do not add up. Secondly, the payload of the road trailer was given as 25.8 tonnes, but the Blue Circle company wrote to me recently claiming that it could achieve a payload of

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around 30 tonnes. The question the Minister has to answer is, who is right: his honourable friend or Blue Circle?

Since tabling these amendments, I have received some interesting but worrying briefings and interest from the trade press. First, there is the question of the organisation of the competition. I have no problem with the competition in terms of innovation, but the time-scale set was so short as to appear only to favour a solution that was already more or less in existence. Furthermore, is it correct that the winner was selected without ensuring that the safety case could be made to the relevant authorities? The cement trailer appears to be extremely light, even for road, let alone rail use. Is the Minister confident that it is robust enough and could be certified for rail use? Wet leaves are one thing, but wet cement would be something else again!

Finally, what is the status of the Mega 3 rail wagon that is used to carry the cement and other road-going trailers? Is it registered with Railtrack for use on the national rail network? How many of these wagons are in existence and are there any technical difficulties with the wagon itself?

There is no doubt that the piggyback system makes a great deal of sense. I hope that it will be possible to make some of the loading gauge and other enhancements sought by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. If the Minister cannot answer all my questions tonight, I shall not be surprised; however, I hope that I shall receive a letter from him before the next stage of the Bill. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the amendment would add a new clause after Section 41(5) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to allow for the operation of articulated tanker vehicles, designed and used to carry cement, at a gross train weight of 48,000 kilograms.

I do not think that I need to go through the history of how we have announced that we shall allow vehicles of up to 44 tonnes from 1st February 2001, except to say that the decision followed 20 years of discussion and work undertaken by the Commission for Integrated Transport, which conducted the most thorough investigation into the effects of 44-tonne lorries for 20 years. The balance between the damage that might be caused and the benefit of a reduced number of vehicles is part of that investigation.

Now, having taken a decision to allow 44-tonne lorries, we have a proposal to allow 48-tonne lorries. I really do not think that it is reasonable to expect that we should move on in that way. There seems to be no end to this process.

To meet the general increase to 44 tonnes, goods vehicles will have to be equipped with road-friendly suspension and have six axles, three on each unit. The cement carrying vehicles would have no difficulty in meeting these requirements. However, the weight of the tri-axle on a semi-trailer would not be permitted to exceed 24,000 kilograms. I am informed that, in practice, an articulated vehicle weighing 48 tonnes

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would be required to operate with a trailer tri-axle weight close to 27,000 kilograms if it was to present any goods carrying advantage. I should also say that UK road and bridge infrastructure has not been specifically designed to allow this additional axle weight.

I must also add that EU vehicles are not permitted by EC Directive 96/53/EEC to operate freely within all member states with tri-axle weights above 24,000 kilograms. The use of the vehicles proposed by this clause may, therefore, be viewed by other member states as a barrier to trade.

The noble Earl asked a number of detailed questions, including a reference to correspondence which no doubt I should have seen, but I am afraid that I have not. He suggested, rightly, that I should not be able to answer all his questions on the spot. I shall write to the noble Earl, and I shall certainly do so before the next stage of the Bill, which takes place next Thursday.

We have decided to allow six-axle 44-tonne lorries only after taking careful account of the fact that these lorries cause less road wear than existing 40-tonne, five-axle vehicles. We have balanced carefully the saving in lorry miles against the effect on rail freight. We do not propose simply to move the goal-posts by another four tonnes, as would be provided by the amendment.

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