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Heavy Lorries

Volume 983: debated on Wednesday 23 April 1980

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asked the Minister of Transport what consideration he has given to varying the top speed at which lorries may be driven on motorways.

We have no change immediately in mind, but we have submitted a memorandum on lorry speed limits to the committee of inquiry under Sir Arthur Armitage. This memorandum, which will be published shortly, puts forward possibilities for reductions in the limits applying on motorways to certain categories of lorry-trailer combinations.

I welcome what my hon. and learned Friend has just said. Is he aware that there are no fewer than three different speed limits for commercial vehicles on motorways? As such a large number of lorries seem to flout these speed limits, is there not a case for introducing a single speed limit, strictly enforced, or for governing lorry engines down to the relevant speed limit as set out in the statute?

I have no doubt that everybody responsible for the management of road transport is aware of the different speed limits which are calculated on the size of the vehicle. I do not think that there is any case for altering the present system to the extent suggested by my hon. Friend. Enforcement is a matter, and no doubt a problem, for the police and the Home Secretary.

Is the Minister aware that when these heavy lorries drive faster and faster on motorways there is greater danger in rain or wet conditions? Is he aware that these lorries spray water so that it resembles fog, making conditions on the motorway very dangerous? Will he do anything about this?

There is a great deal of research being done into ways of reducing lorry spray, but I am afraid that all the technical advice that I have received continues to say that the perfect solution has not yet been found. I assure the hon. Member that we shall make all the necessary changes to regulations once we have found the answer to a particularly worrying problem.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the problem of enforcing speed limits on lorries from the Continent, particularly those using the A28 and the A2? Will he ensure that the police are able to apprehend and prosecute them before they leave the country?

I am not sure that the problems are quite as grave as that. The police attempt to enforce the limits. We always look into complaints that foreign lorries are somehow exempted from the speed limits, compared with our national lorries. If we can do anything to tighten up the procedure to ensure that a German driver obeys the law just as much as a British driver, we shall do so.


asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement on the progress made by the Armitage committee on heavy lorries.


asked the Minister of Transport when he expects to receive the report of the Armitage inquiry on heavy lorries.


asked the Minister of Transport when he expects to receive the report of the Armitage inquiry on heavy lorries.

Sir Arthur Armitage and his assessors are now considering the written and oral evidence presented to the inquiry. I understand that Sir Arthur hopes to submit his report by the autumn.

In considering that report will my hon. and learned Friend pay due attention to the impact of heavy lorries on the A95—the road which feeds the whisky to the A9?

All the road maps in my Department stop at the Scottish border. North of that border the responsibility is that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I assure my hon. Friend that the reason for having inquiries is that we are concerned about the impact of heavy lorries on the environment generally. I am sure that the problem is not confined to England, but is just as serious in Scotland.

Will the Minister make it clear to Sir Arthur Armitage that many of us feel that the road haulage industry enjoys an unfair advantage over its major competitors because working hours laid down by the EEC are normally flouted in the industry and also because log books provided by lorry drivers are regarded as a joke. If the Minister is aware of this, will he do something about it?

Our policy is to ensure that there is no unfair advantage enjoyed by any mode of transport dealing in freight. We want to see them on an equal footing as far as possible, so that they can compete fairly for the traffic. I agree that the log book is easily abused, and that is why it is a good thing that we finally got round to introducing tachographs. The last Government sadly failed to introduce these for many years.

Will my hon. and learned Friend agree that this is a matter of the utmost environmental importance? Will he consider the suggestion that, before any Government decision is taken, on maximum lorry weights, this matter should be discussed fully by the House of Commons?

Without a doubt. For that reason the Government have reserved their position in the EEC. We have entered into no formal consultation with the EEC about its proposals, and we have no intention of moving on this subject until we have had time to consider Sir Arthur's report, and the House has had time to consider it. Although we are not responsible for the business of the House, I would expect that the House would debate this matter once the report is to hand.

Will the Minister accept that no committee on heavy lorries will make any impact at all on the lives of people living on heavily-trafficked urban roads which are used by juggernauts which have nowhere else to go? Therefore, will he go ahead and build the western bypass for the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, thus relieving the misery of many thousands of my constituents?

One of the main priorities in the roads programme, which will be set out in the White Paper that we are about to produce, is to get heavy traffic out of residential areas and away from people, particularly in areas where there is no alternative route at present. I am aware of local pressure for the Newcastle western bypass, but I must ask the hon. Member to await the White Paper in order to get up-to-date news of where this project stands in the programme.

Will my hon. Friend draw the attention of the Armitage committee to the environmental effect of heavy lorries on roads in rural areas? I have in mind particularly the effect on buildings and on the atmosphere. One specific example is the A350 in my constituency where the buildings of Bland-ford and other villages along that road are seriously affected by the level of heavy road traffic at present, and would be badly damaged by any increase in heavy vehicle size.

I do not believe that Sir Arthur and his colleagues have been left in any doubt about feelings in many parts of the country over the impact of the heavy lorry on rural areas where roads go through villages. My Department has submitted a great deal of evidence to Sir Arthur on this aspect of the problem, along with many others. All the evidence that we have submitted to the inquiry will be published and made available to the House and to the general public.

Should not the Department of Transport have submitted to the Armitage inquiry a very heavily weighted view in favour of the transfer of freight from road to rail? Is it not in the country's longer-term interests, because of the increasing price of fuel, to realise the advantages of rail as opposed to road transport, and move inevitably in that direction in order to save fuel in the future?

All attempts at direction of traffic from one mode of transport to another are completely doomed, and no Government have ever found any way of putting that into practice. We use the arrangements of section 8 grants to those customers of the railways who need some assistance in putting in facilities for rail transport where they can demonstrate some environmental advantage by doing so. The present pattern of oil prices will improve the competitive climate in favour of the railways over the next few years. This means that the railways will need to organise their freight business in such a way that they are in a position to take advantage of that and attract customers on to the tracks.