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Lorries (Maximum Loads)

Volume 941: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1977

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32.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made towards agreement within the EEC on maximum loads carried by commercial vehicles.

The Commission is now completing work on detailed proposals for maximum weights and dimensions. I understand that it hopes to publish these proposals shortly.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the British road haulage industry is at a considerable disadvantage compared with many of its EEC competitors? As the industry is now to suffer from a whole plethora of EEC regulations on distance limits, drivers' hours, and enforced training, is it not time that the Government took action to remove some of the disadvantages?

The industry always claims that it will come to a sticky end, but it never does. I think that it will overcome its present problems, however much it may complain about them meanwhile. The hon. Gentleman knows that this is a divisive issue. It can be argued that larger vehicles would be good for economic growth but that they would be unsatisfactory from an environmental point of view. We have to strike a balance between the two views.

Will my right hon. Friend disregard the siren song of the lobbyists on the Opposition Benches and bear in mind the fact that the heavy goods vehicles that the Opposition wish to introduce are 30 to 50 times more likely to cause accidents and serious injury than are equivalent loads carried by rail?

I shall not listen to siren voices on either side of the House, even when one of those voices is that of my hon. Friend.

The posture of the Secretary of State in all EEC negotiations seems to be to cause the maximum amount of confusion and chaos in the road haulage industry, particularly as regards distance limits, which we were once told would be abolished unconditionally but have now been accepted unconditionally by the right hon. Gentleman. In those circumstances, why should we have any faith in the right hon. Gentleman's negotiating position on lorry weights?

I am not sure that I have declared my negotiating position on lorry weights. Therefore, I do not see how, or how not, the House can have faith in it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one reason for motorways being so badly worn—this matter has been raised many times—is that lorry weights are already excessive? Consequently, the damage done to little towns and historic villages is very great.

My hon. Friend knows the distinction between overall weights and axle weights. It is axle weights that do the damage. Difficult issues are involved, and I think that the House will want to discuss them in due course. We are always in negotiation with the Community on these matters.