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Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I support the amendment. It seeks to bring some much-needed discipline to road haulage, particularly international road haulage. I have read the effectiveness report of the Vehicle Inspectorate. It is a long and detailed document. It indicates that, of vehicles stopped--which, I accept, are a selected proportion of vehicles, because many that are thought to be compliant are not stopped--up to 20 per cent are overloaded. When that is set against the fact that, of the defects found by the Vehicle Inspectorate when heavy lorries are inspected, the top three categories, which far outweigh the rest are brake defects. So we have lorries that are overloaded, with faulty brakes. That is completely unacceptable. I find it rather strange that society and government, which seek to impose onerous standards on rail and air operators, are so reluctant to act in this area where it is known that there is gross abuse of the law.

In designing the amendment, we sought to deal with the places where it is known that abuse is greatest; namely, at ports. However, we were advised that to single out ports, even if we weighed British and foreign lorries equally, would still be regarded as discriminatory under European law. Therefore, in order to comply with European law, we had to add some inland depots. We chose some of the larger depots that do not automatically weigh vehicles. Some places, like quarries, weigh in any event. They have to do so because that is part of the bill of sale relating to the contents of a lorry.

Weighing lorries is not a very onerous business. The lorry is driven over a weighbridge and the weight of each axle is clocked up on a clock that everyone can see--like a big digital clock that you might find at a railway station. It would only be necessary to detain any lorry that was found to be overweight. Therefore, most lorries would pass automatically.

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A study of the vehicle inspectorate's reports shows that lorries that prove to be overweight almost always have other faults. Lorries whose drivers have worked over the hours' limit, which are badly maintained and otherwise in breach of regulations, almost always come from among the population that weigh heavy. Those concerned disregard all the regulations. They are not selective. They do not just overweigh; they do everything that is wrong.

In the interests of fair competition, road safety and the protection of our road network--which is in a pretty poor state--I believe that the Government ought to take the matter in hand. The Government have gone to a great deal of trouble on the question of vehicle excise duty for lorries. The consultation document on reform of vehicle excise duty was published today, with a questionnaire for everyone to fill in about VED. I am sure that many people would like a consultation on road safety for vehicles, especially as regards the weight of vehicles. I urge the Government to consider this amendment most carefully. This proposal has widespread support among reputable haulage companies, as well as among the population at large who suffer from the effects of overweight lorries and the damage that they cause to the environment and to health.

7.45 p.m.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, although I have much sympathy for this amendment--indeed, I was involved in its gestation--I sometimes wish that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, would locate his lorry-bashing mode switch and turn it to the "off" position. However, there is a real problem in this area. An effective targeting of enforcement effort is the objective of the noble Lord's amendment.

Ports are large generators of lorry traffic operating at or near maximum gross weight. In particular, the ISO shipping container transport business is extremely competitive. The necessary skeletal trailers are in abundant supply, second-hand and are very cheap, simple and robust. A high standard of livery is not required in this industry, which contrasts strongly with other sectors of the industry such as the parcels business. To put it simply, it is a cut-throat business with many operators ready to step into the market and sail very close to the wind.

In that market situation, what is an operator to do if he is invited to move a container that he suspects is overloaded? Unless there is a reasonable prospect of being detected or stopped, many would just cross their fingers rather than lose a customer. A similar argument can be applied to the unaccompanied ro-ro trailer business. However, if this amendment were agreed to, it would be impractical to move an overloaded vehicle out of the port area, or, for that matter, any other freight facility covered. But perhaps more importantly, those consigning goods to the UK would be rather more careful about sending an overloaded vehicle or a container which could not legally be moved by industry standard equipment.

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There will naturally be concerns that this amendment could result in a considerable amount of unnecessary and time-consuming weighing. I do not believe that that will happen. If I did, I would be opposing the amendment on the grounds that it would be unnecessarily burdensome on industry. The usual type of weighbridge now in use is of the dynamic axle type, described by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. There is, of course, the question of the cost of the equipment. But I believe that that would be negligible compared to the total cost of a major freight facility of the type that your Lordships are discussing.

Further, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has responded to the suggestion that I made on Report; namely, to allow the Secretary of State to exempt certain facilities. He would have to be careful not to end up with only the ports being affected. Noble Lords also need to be aware that it is fairly standard practice for facilities such as supermarket distribution centres, parcel company hubs, steelworks, large factories and quarries all to have their own weighbridge facilities. I should like to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about supermarket distribution centres because they generally have a dynamic axle weighbridge to ensure that none of the vehicles leave the centre overloaded. They have such facilities, first, to ensure that they do not fall foul of the law; and, secondly, in order to maximise payload.

There is a problem with smaller goods vehicles being overloaded. But this amendment is targeted at larger and heavier vehicles. Noble Lords will be aware that there is a considerable traffic of heavy vehicles that have been loaded to capacity by volume rather than by weight. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned that fact. However, it would be possible for the Secretary of State's regulations to provide that weighing is unnecessary if no axle on the vehicle weighs more than, say, seven tonnes. That could be very easily determined by a "Go or No-Go" weighbridge. As that weighbridge would not be used for enforcement purposes, it would not need to be of evidential accuracy and, therefore, it would not need to be very expensive. I shall not weary the House at this hour by describing how that could be done. However, I can assure noble Lords that it would not be difficult.

Finally, we may be forgetting about the driver. An experienced driver should be able to detect if his vehicle is seriously overloaded. But if he was just running near, or possibly slightly over, the maximum weight, he would spend the whole journey worrying about the situation. That would not be good for his health, nor would it be good for road safety. He would inevitably tire faster and might lack concentration. However, if he had a clean weighbridge ticket, he could relax in the knowledge that he was operating within the law, because most of the other things that can go wrong are within his control.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I shall start by recognising that the scheme set out in this amendment is very different from that which we considered earlier. I am grateful for the consideration

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that has gone into its framing. It is much less all-embracing and, of course, it is permissive. I do not believe that it goes as far as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, would wish us to believe. I do not think that it would be possible for the Secretary of State to make exceptions and say that one major facility should be covered by the scheme and that another should not. That would be going too far. Indeed, if that were to be done, it would almost certainly be challenged in the courts. Similarly, for reasons that are self-evident, it is not possible to have a scheme that covers only the ports, as recognised by my noble friend Lord Berkeley.

My noble friend has repeated the points that I made in response to the earlier amendment and I do not feel disposed to rehearse them again. However, I should emphasise that road safety is enormously important to this Government. We are proud that we have the best record on road safety, but we are not complacent about it. We are always looking for better ways of improving safety. When we are looking at ways to improve safety, it is important for us to consider the best use of resources. Clearly we are concerned with road safety, with issues of road damage and with issues of unfair competition--especially between good operators and less-good operators.

Perhaps I may summarise the fundamental trouble with this amendment without repeating what I said previously. The very locations that would be covered by the scheme are those where it is least likely that there will be overloading. The locations with over 25,000 movements a year are fundamentally those locations used by the larger operators. We said last time, and I think it was generally agreed, that the larger operators are much less likely to be guilty of overloading than the smaller and more dodgy operators, who will simply not appear on the weighbridges to be set up under this amendment.

My fundamental objection to this amendment is that it is an indiscriminate approach to weighing all lorries of a certain kind. Those lorries of a certain kind are the least likely to be guilty of overloading. In that case, targeted enforcement of the law is much more appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked a legitimate question: what would we do instead of the amendment? I think I said last time that we are working with the Road Haulage Forum and we are looking at the possibilities of mobile weighpads. We do not have a timetable on it yet but we hope to move quickly and we want to follow the excellent advice of the Commission for Integrated Transport and establish a modern, intelligence-based enforcement system, involving better targeting of inspections and additional tools. This makes efficient use of resources and will minimise disruption to responsible hauliers. The amendment would affect all lorries indiscriminately and particularly those of responsible hauliers, which would make things difficult.

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