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European Community (Transport Ministers)

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 24 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he plans next to have an official meeting with his opposite numbers in the EEC Council of Transport Ministers.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to meet his ministerial colleagues in the EEC.

At the next Transport Council on 20 February.

There are still lingering doubts and anxieties since the last transport Question Time. Will the Minister make it clear to his transport colleagues in the EEC that there is no confidential departmental plan to increase maximum lorry weights, by stealth or other means?

I shall make that clear to my colleagues in the Council. The House fully understands the position, and there is a later Question on this matter.

In advance of the Secretary of State's meeting, and in view of what is contained in the Commission draft directive, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in principle, he is in favour of a double standard set of specifications for heavy vehicles within the Community?

I do not entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman means about double standards. My primary concern is that the weights of lorries operating in this country are not increased. This was discussed in conjunction with dimensions, at the last Council meeting. I recognise that there is a difference. I am not prepared to see any movement with regard to weights. Dimensions must be considered together with weights.

When my right hon. Friend meets his counterparts, will he make it plain to them that the British public are not prepared to accept heavier lorries by the simple expedient of adding two more axles? Will he confirm that the Road Research Laboratory recently concluded that the main damage caused by heavy lorries is from vibration noise, which would not be reduced by adding any number of axles?

I entirely agree that the objection to heavy lorries goes much wider than the axle weight and the damage that they do to the road. It is a difficult matter. Recent circumstances have made it clear how dependent we are, for better or worse, on heavy goods vehicles. We must strike a balance between the needs of the environment, which are paramount in the case of weights, and the important contribution that the road haulage industry makes to the British economy.

When my right hon. Friend meets his colleagues, will he raise the question of assistance to waterways and to the lighterage industry? The present arrangements may be satisfactory to some other members of the European Community, but we are not benefiting from this assistance as much as we should.

For largely geographical reasons waterways are not as significant in the United Kingdom as they are on the Continent of Europe. I know that my hon. Friend has a particular interest in the future of the River Thames as a waterway, and I shall certainly bear his remarks in mind.

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that regardless of their weight, lorries cannot operate if the roads are not kept clear? Many EEC lorries are coming into East Anglia from the ports, but we are short of salt and cannot keep the roads clear. It is indispensable that the Government should procure from the docks supplies of salt for the county councils to enable lorries to run on our roads.

I entirely agree that supplies of salt are essential to maintain the safety of our roads. If the county council that the hon. Gentleman has in mind has a specific and immediate problem, I hope that he will let me know, and we shall do all that we can to help.