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Lorry Traffic (Regulations)

Volume 19: debated on Tuesday 2 March 1982

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3.30 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for regulating lorry traffic.

Road transport is vital to twentieth century industry, and it is absurd to pretend that we can do without the lorry. However, we are all concerned about the damage which heavy lorries can do when they are allowed to use roads which were never designed to take them. We may not love the lorry but we must learn to live with it.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has told the House about the various measures he is taking to tackle the environmental damage which is caused by lorries. Fie has substantially increased the bypass programme and is providing new advice to local authorities on how to use their powers to ban lorries from unsuitable roads. That is where my Bill, although modest, has an important part to play.

Many hon. Members will know that county councils have wide powers under the Road Traffics Regulation Act 1967 to control the movement of heavy lorries in their areas for amenity and other purposes. Those powers were strengthened by the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act 1973 which is often known al the Dykes Act after its sponsor, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). Enormous environmental benefit has resulted from the 850 or so orders made under those Acts but there is scope for more.

One effect of the Dykes Act was the introduction of a definition of heavy commercial vehicle into the 1967 Act. In 1973 it was still fairly common in legislation to refer to vehicles in terms of their unladen weight in imperial units. The present definition relates to vehicles exceeding 3 tons unladen weight. Recent changes in the transport industry mean that lorries now tend to be classified by their maximum gross weight—the weight of a lorry carrying its maximum permitted load. That weight must be shown on a plate in the cab of a heavy lorry. That maximum gross weight is sometimes known as the plated weight and it facilitates the checking of overweight vehicles.

Despite those trends, the present definition of heavy commercial vehicle in the 1967 Act continued to be used extensively by county councils in making traffic regulation orders until August last year. The new traffic signs regulations came into force then and prohibited the use of road signs showing restrictions in unladen weight. In accordance with an EEC directive, new signs also had to be metric, although provisions for existing signs to remain until the end of 1989 has been made.

The House will appreciate that all road signs must correspond to a road traffic regulation order if they are to be effective and enforceable. The present incompatibility is causing problems for county councils which must devise their own definitions of the orders. That cumbersome arrangement is inhibiting and the public must put up with noise, vibration and pollution for far longer than is necessary. I understand that the Department of Transport consulted interested organisations last year under the provisions of the draft amending regulations. Apparently, there are legal obstacles to proceeding in this way and thus a change requires primary legislation.

It is most undesirable that difficulties should be placed in the way of county councils that wish to observe or improve amenities in their area by introducing lorry controls. It is essential that county councils be given every assistance to use their powers to the full. This Bill is a positive way to help ensure that the powers which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East was instrumental in producing almost a decade ago continue to be used to good effect. The Bill is intended to serve that general purpose. It will simply amend the definition of heavy commercial vehicle in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 and bring it into line with the terminology now used for road signs, vehicle and driver licensing and other matters relating to heavy lorries.

The new definition would apply to vehicles exceeding 7·5 tonnes maximum gross weight. That figure is supported by the local authority associations and the road haulage industry. It also has the advantage of being the threshold for HGV licences so that a driver will know whether the vehicle he is driving contravenes a restriction. In addition, the requirement for rear chevrons has been changed to that figure recently so that vehicles exceeding 7·5 tonnes should be easy to identify.

We should do all that we can to help the police in their difficult task of enforcing these regulations. I am confident that this measure will be welcomed generally, by county councils, police, industrialists, road hauliers and, most important of all, thousands of ordinary people throughout the country who will benefit if lorries are banned from the streets in which people live and shop.

I am not out to knock lorries. The British lorry manufacturing industry needs all the encouragement it can get at the moment. No-one representing a regional constituency with so much manufacturing industry, as do I, would wish in any way to make national distribution more difficult. However, it is a question of balance and we need regulations and controls. I therefore trust that the House will give its full support to the introduction of this short Bill for the purpose that I have outlined.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Lee, Mr. Hugh Dykes, Mr. Chris Patten, Mr. Keith Wickenden, Mr. Christopher Murphy, Mr. John Major, Mr. Richard Needham, Mr. Gerry Neale, Mr. Barry Sheerman and Mr. Ken Eastham.