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Heavy Lorries

Volume 32: debated on Thursday 25 November 1982

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I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition to the Government motion. I understand that the prayer is to be moved formally. We shall then discuss both issues in the general debate, and the voting at 10 o'clock will be according to what has been before the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we have clarification of the voting procedure at 10 o'clock? As there is a prayer and a motion, will the vote be taken first on the prayer? If the prayer is carried, will there then be a vote on the amendment and on the motion?

Order. There is no need for nodding heads. The question was addressed to me. The answer to the first question is "Yes". On the second question, there will be a vote on the amendment to the motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations 1982 (S.I., 1982, No. 1576), dated 4th November 1982, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th November, be annulled.—[Mr. Booth.]

4.4 pm

I urge the House to support the Government motion and to reject the Opposition amendment and the prayer.

The Government's basic approach to the problem of heavy goods traffic on our roads starts from the proposition that over many years not nearly enough has been done to control lorries or to ease the conflict between industrial needs and a decent environment. I recognise that nearly 10 years ago legislation known as the "Dykes Act" was put on the statute book as a result of the assiduous efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes). That Act affected lorry routeing, but the powers were not used nearly vigorously enough. We believe that those powers are only a part of the far more comprehensive approach that must be adopted to deal with the whole problem.

There should, therefore, be no mystery or wonderment in any of our minds at the way in which concern has grown immensely over the years, and at the resentment caused by lorry traffic on our roads in our towns and villages. There is no mystery about that. We are dealing with the quality of people's lives in the places where it affects them most—in their homes, where they seek peace and quiet, and in the communities in which they live. There cannot be a constituency in the land that is not affected by the damage, danger and disturbance caused by heavy goods traffic.

The problem did not begin with the Armitage report on "Lorries, People and the Environment". It goes back many years. In the past two decades, there has been a vast increase in the amount of container traffic moving towards the ports, especially those on the east coast and the south coast. It has increased in a way that could scarcely have been imagined before the container revolution. On some of the roads worst affected there have been very grave difficulties. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, she will wish to say something about some of those roads at the end of the debate. I think that all hon. Members recognise that the pattern of road freight that has now developed cannot be radically reversed. The mass of freight journeys will continue to be by road. More than 80 per cent. of all goods traffic now goes by road, and three-fifths of that is carried on very short journeys of under 30 miles. Of course we should like to see more freight carried by the railways and I shall refer to the potential for that, but, for the vast majority of journeys, there is clearly no alternative but to cope with the problem of heavy road freight traffic.

My right hon. Friend has said that 80 per cent. of all freight traffic goes by road. Will he confirm that the proportion that goes by rail must still go part of the way by road from the railway siding to the point of distribution?

Clearly, many shipments require first a road transfer to rail, then a rail journey and then another transfer to road. There is, however, some direct movement from warehouse to quayside. That is very welcome and I shall have more to say about it later.

My point is that the problem of heavy freight road traffic is already with us. The problem lies in the unacceptable impact of existing vehicles on our roads and in our towns and villages. It has been getting worse and the Government take the view that we should now deal with all aspects of it, including existing vehicles, to bring about the better conditions that we must achieve.

The Government's approach was foreshadowed in the White Paper a year ago, which in turn drew on the Armitage report. The proposals that we now put forward have been greatly developed and strengthened—rightly, I believe. It is our view not only that we should implement the bulk of the Armitage report but that we should go further. Comprehensive action is required in three main areas—in improving lorries, controlling where they go and better enforcement of stricter standards of control of heavy vehicles.

The Government have said that they will not permit an increase in the size of lorry trailers. On the contrary, we propose strict new controls on height and length. No lorry larger than those already in use will be permitted on our roads. The regulations against which the Opposition are praying bring in those strict controls. The Government have insisted on safer vehicles with sideguards, and rear under-run guards. That is an important and overdue development. When I talk about existing vehicles I mean that almost all new vehicles must carry sideguards down to the 3·5-tonner. The Government have also said that they will enforce mud spray protection. Mud spraying is most unpleasant when one is trying to overtake a vehicle on a motorway or when it passes through a narrow street. We hope that it will be mandatory by 1984.

As to maximum loads and weights, we have rejected the four-axle 34-tonner because we believe that it would do more damage to our roads. We have rejected the increased maximum weights for drawbar trailer combination lorries that cause special concern. We have also rejected the 40 tonne maximum weight, but we have proposed a maximum of 38 tonnes only if vehicles have an extra axle to spread the load. I know that that is not the common limit proposed by the European Community, but we have chosen 38 tonnes and we intend to stick to it.

When my right hon. Friend says that the Government intend to stick to that maximum weight, is he giving us a firm assurance that if the measure goes through the Government will not come back later to ask for higher limits? Can he also assure us that if a proposal is made at the European Commission for a standard 40-tonne limit we shall use our veto?

I am giving a firm assurance that a full load of 38 tonnes is the maximum that the Government can accept. We do not accept the higher limits proposed by either the European Commission or any other European body. We also reject the higher limits on axle weights, because they would not be acceptable on our roads.

Is that not a similar assurance to that given the last time the weight limit was increased? Did not the Government assure the House on that occasion that lorries with larger capacities would mean fewer lorries on our roads? In fact, there has been a great increase in lorries.

During the years there has been a reduction in the overall number of lorries. However, in due course, I shall deal with the amount of freight that can be carried in those lorries and consider whether the damage per tonne carried is reduced by our proposals. I believe that it is, and I shall put some figures before the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) was right to establish that that is the Government's firm position.

Our proposals will not mean increased trailer dimensions. However, we must accept that it cannot make sense to allow existing trailer sizes to be three quarters loaded rather than fully loaded. That is bound to mean, for a given amount of freight, more journeys and more damage. It will mean more part loads and more lorries being sent back to the quayside to pick up extra loads. That is how business is carried on and it is bound to continue unless we allow a larger load to be carried in existing trailers.

Road damage is a crucial factor in the proposed changes. The existing trailer loaded to a maximum of 38 tonnes with an extra axle will do no more damage than the 32½-tonner. That does not mean that I condone the serious damage caused by the 32½-tonners. I shall say something about it later. Overall, for each tonne of freight carried, the new five-axle requirement must mean much less damage, because 38 tonnes can be carried with the same average axle weight as the 32½-tonne vehicle.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that there is considerable anxiety in South Wales about the Severn bridge? Does he have any new information for the House about this vital matter that affects our economy? There have been suggestions that tolls should be scrapped because they reduce the free flow of traffic, and any hold-ups on the bridge could cause further damage to its structure. What is the Secretary of State doing to expedite the repairs to the bridge? Does he have any information about a second crossing?

I have no new detailed information on the Severn bridge, but the new proposals will make no difference to it. The repairs and any further changes, which I shall discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, will cope amply with either five-axle 38-tonne vehicles or existing vehicles. I hope that that answers the specific question of the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes).

The second axle—the tractor axle—at the front of the vehicle carries a heavier burden and the new limit will increase the weight on that axle by 3 per cent. That in turn would cause 10 per cent. more vibration than on existing lorries.

The weight on the drive axle will be increased by 3 per cent., but the weight on the other axles will be reduced. The reason for the increase is to achieve overall balance and stability. However, the overall axle weight is fractionally less than in the 32½-tonne vehicles. As vibration is caused by the overall axle weight, the problem would be no worse and for every tonne of freight carried it would be slightly better.

I have given way many times and I must now continue with my speech. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) will have an opportunity to speak later.

The bridge problem is especially serious because of the present lorry traffic. We all recognise that. The problem of bridge damage must, and will, continue to be tackled. The Association of County Councils is rightly worried about that. I believe that it is correct when it says that
"damage to bridges will not be increased by these proposals".

It was talking about the Government's lorry package and the statutory instrument that we are debating.

The Association of County Councils, whose members are the main highway authorities of the country responsible for most bridges and roads, and the planning authorities for the entire nation, welcomes, with provisos, the Government's proposals overall and the proposals on lorry weights. We should take that view into account. The right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) in a statement the other day said that the ACC opposed the proposals. That is not correct. It welcomes the proposals and recognises that while there is a problem of damage to bridges by lorries, the damage will not be increased by the proposals.

Therefore, all in all, the new vehicles on our roads will be more efficient, do less damage and be better loaded. They will be safer, not just in the equipment that I have described—the sideguards and the rear under-run guards, which are overdue—but in braking capacity. The lorries will be quieter by three decibels next April. There will be a further reduction in 1984. I should like to press on to far quieter lorries as fast as possible. The Government are now contributing £5 million towards research contracts that are necessary to accelerate the introduction of the really quiet lorry.

We have already taken steps to see that heavy lorries pay their full road costs through taxation and that the most damaging vehicles, which are not necessarily the largest, carry the most tax, which is important.

If the Secretary of State is satisfied that the increase in lorry weights from 32 tonnes to 38 tonnes, with the five axles, will not do more damage to the roads, why is he opposed to increasing the weight to 40 tonnes or 44 tonnes?

Because the standard axle weight, and the overall road damage potential of the 40 tonne lorry, is larger. If the right hon. Gentleman studies the research documents that have been provided in the Armitage report he will see that it is larger. It is right that 38 tonnes should be the maximum average axle weight that we should allow on our roads. Nothing larger should be permitted.

I have described the characteristics of the vehicles that we need to see, which will be better and which in many cases will do less damage than some vehicles on our roads now. I shall now refer to where the lorries go. Much more needs to be done and is being done to separate lorries from people. We require, and are building, many more bypasses. Work on 40 more has started in the past year. Over 180 trunk or local bypasses are under way. The whole bypass programme is now very large. There is no slippage in our programme.

How can my right hon. Friend expect somebody like me, with a constituency such as Devon, West, with the A30 and all the problems of Sticklepath and Okehampton, to support the Government's measures? The people are suffering. There has been a delay of three years on a bypass. That is just not good enough.

I fully share my hon. Friend's view about the problems in the South-West and in his constituency of Devon, West. If adequate preparation had been made four or five years ago, my hon. Friend would now be getting the roads that would provide relief from the present appalling problems. I sympathise with my hon. Friend, but unfortunately I cannot reverse and unscramble the past. We can take steps to see that he and his constituents are better done by in future.

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is acquainted with the situation in Bedford, which is a town of 100,000 people, but is bisected by two major roads, the A428 and the A6? The heavy lorries have to cross the pavements to get round the corners. It is an urgent problem. I ask my right hon. Friend earnestly to ensure that before anything is done, Bedford is considered.

As I have said, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will comment on some of the major difficulties, where traffic has been allowed to build up. My hon. Friend knows of my personal concern about his problem. He can be sure that I have it very much in mind.

The fact is that 220 towns and villages will receive relief from through traffic in the next four to five years. County authorities will be going ahead with 35 local bypasses this year and a further 35 next year. I have recognised that in some areas, particularly with roads leading to ports where there has been a vast growth in container traffic, there are serious problems. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will mention some of the cases that concern hon. Members.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State for Transport is addressing the House, but I believe that he does not have responsibility for transport in Wales and Scotland. Will there be a statement about figures for Wales and Scotland, or do the figures that he has given apply to those countries as well?

Order. I cannot help the hon. Gentleman. This is not a point of order. However, no doubt the Minister heard the hon. Gentleman's comments.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the regulations that are being debated and the humble Address that has been moved relate to regulations that cover Wales and Scotland as well as England.

May I ask my right hon. Friend a general question about the bypass programme? No one doubts my right hon. Friend's determination to go ahead with that programme. He accepts that it is an integral part of the package for heavy lorries. Will he explain the logic of going ahead with heavy lorries now when, under any programme, it must be decades before we complete the bypass programme? Surely, in the interests of people, my right hon. Friend must do the two together. Today's timing is wrong.

My hon. Friend may not accept—but I believe it to be so—that the 38 tonne lorry on five axles is no worse for the roads than the 32½ tonne lorry. Because of the freight that it can carry it will lead to less damage on our roads. In addition to all the other things that are necessary, of course bypasses and new safety provisions are necessary. It would be wholly wrong if we were not to press ahead on all the things that can reduce the damage on our roads and increase the quality of the vehicles as fast as possible. I do not understand my hon. Friend's view that those benefits of increased lorry controls and stricter controls on dimensions, length and so on, for the first time, should be held up. That would not benefit anyone suffering from the effects of heavy lorries.

The hon. Gentleman will concede that I have given way a great deal, which is right, because this is a matter of great concern, but I should like to continue with a major part of my speech on lorry routeing. Perhaps later the hon. Gentleman will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We have taken a tougher stance than in the past on lorry routeing. The Government believe that it is vital for local authorities to do a thorough job in imposing controls. As I have said, the authorities have powers to do so under so-called Dykes Act. However, we believe that they should be used more vigorously. We are using transport grant to see that they are.

Some counties are doing better than others, but overall there are now 2,300 schemes in England and Wales. I shall publish a record of those schemes as soon as the details are complete. Therefore, we are beginning to see the response that we want in that area. We are also introducing lorry action areas to help badly affected places. There was some doubt about the idea at first but there has been a positive response to them and local authorities have put up 60 schemes this year that the Government will support.

We should also consider moving traffic on to the railways where that makes sense—normally for longer-haul journeys. The Government welcome the transfer of freight to rail. That is one reason why we have increased the maximum grant rate to 60 per cent. for building railway facilities alongside factories and warehouses. Indeed, today I am announcing two more schemes, one of which alone will eliminate 10,000 lorry journeys a year to east coast ports.

It must also be made clear, however, that to win more freight, the railways must be efficient. They cannot expect to get a larger share of freight by artificial protection. I do not believe that British Rail wishes freight to be won in that way. It must be won in fair competition. The higher maximum grant rate will help but it is the efficiency of the railways that will pull freight back on to the railways. I should like that to happen.

I should like to deal with the third part of our approach. I have already mentioned vehicles and our intention to improve them so that there will be less damage to roads and stricter controls. I have also dealt with keeping lorries away from people. The third approach is tougher enforcement. It is useless having tougher restrictions unless they can be enforced effectively.

With regard to the second of those elements, does my right hon. Friend concede the vital necessity of increasing the concept of limits on access? Does he agree that although there are about 850 schemes under the legislation of 1967 and 1973, access has scarcely been reduced at all, and that it must be if heavier lorry weights are introduced?

Yes. My hon. Friend is entirely right, just as he was right to introduce the Heavy Commercial Vehicles (Controls and Regulations) Act 1973. I concede that more remains to be done with regard to access limitations.

This year, we have doubled spending on weighbridges. We are stepping up enforcement and recruiting more traffic examiners. The numbers have risen. Vehicles can be and are prevented from moving on until the load is reduced to the proper limit and offenders can be and are prosecuted and fined. The maximum fine for a single offence will increase next year from £400 to £1,000. It will increase under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1982.

The Magistrates Association is also considering advice that penalties for vehicle load offences should reflect the large commercial gain to be had from overloading and the damage that that causes to roads. Those are welcome developments. They will do much to prevent the overloading of vehicles which is a serious matter.

The gains to our environment from the changes that I have described are badly needed now. They are also obvious. With fuller loads, British Steel, for example, tells me that it will run 130,000 fewer lorry journeys a year. It needs the benefit of the cut in costs, and the benefit from 130,000 fewer lorry journeys to the environment is obvious. Sainsbury's reckon that four lorries can serve a supermarket if they can be fully loaded with the same sized trailers whereas it now takes six to do that job. BICC says that it could reduce its number of lorries by up to 25 per cent., depending on the size of the package of goods. Therefore, we have the chance to have better but not bigger lorries that do fewer journeys and bring less damage and disturbance. We should take that chance. I do not claim that it is a cure for an appalling problem that has been allowed to develop for years but it is a start.

My right hon. Friend knows that I am far from happy about the increase but it has been strongly represented to me that the change could help towards a substantial improvement in the economic recovery of the West Midlands—goodness knows, it is badly needed—and in the rest of the country as well. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that that improvement will take place as a result of the proposals?

Yes. Industry can unquestionably gain from the proposed changes. That should not be prevented. It is understandable that we hear a great deal from Opposition Members about jobs and employment. I look forward to hearing how the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness will reconcile that attitude with his opposition to the regulations. There is no doubt that the regulations will release immediate new orders throughout the lorry, trailer and components industries. They will open up export markets that are firmly closed at the moment and from which the present rules exclude them.

Truck and trailer manufacturers are at a low ebb and are being forced to impose redundancies. Every one of them wants the changes that we are proposing so that they can create new jobs, win new orders and prevent foreign competition from rolling in over them. It will almost certainly do that otherwise. Moreover, fuller loads will permanently cut transport costs. That is especially important for people in the more distant areas such as the South-West, the North-East and the North-West who have longer freight journeys to their markets. A vote against these measures is bound to be a vote against existing and new jobs.

That is not just the Government's or the employers' view. It is shared by the unions. The Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers vigorously supports the proposals. It has made the gains for a cleaner countryside, the gains for industry and the danger that it will otherwise be rolled over by Japanese competition, and the gains of greater export promise absolutely clear in a widely circulated pamphlet. I should like to know how the Opposition Front Bench can oppose measures when the damage of so doing is obvious, not only to those who argue in favour of them but to employers, operators and those who work in the industry. They have made their views clear to Opposition Back Benchers and I do not understand how the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness can oppose measures when their benefit to jobs is so clear.

No, I shall not give way. I have given way a great deal. Industrial gain was not the only argument in favour of the proposals. Nevertheless, we should do all that we can to cut industrial costs. That must be right. We cannot tell industry with one breath that it should be competing more and then in the other prevent it from cutting its costs.

The Government case is different. It is that every measure that is proposed helps the environment and helps tackle what was becoming an intolerable situation for the environment. The anxiety throughout the country about large vehicles that are too noisy, dirty and dangerous and travel on roads that were never designed for them, and, in some cases, were not even designed for the motor car, is understandably deep. The Government share that anxiety. Unlike our predecessor, we are determined to do something about it.

The Government have listened closely and responded to many of the worries that have been expressed. They are understandable. No one can question the Government's commitment to tackle the problem or the actions that we are taking. That is in stark contrast to the Labour Government who offered a few airy-fairy thoughts but did nothing to tackle the steadily worsening problem for which attention is long overdue.

In successive debates I have listened to the Opposition's views and arguments. If they prevail, they will stand directly in the way of a long overdue improvement in the lorry problem in the countryside and in our towns. They will also stand directly in the way of giving crucial help to industry and employment. Therefore, the Opposition's views are profoundly misguided and should be resisted. The Government are tackling a deep and long-neglected grievance in this island through the new lorry controls, and Parliament should support them wholeheartedly.

4.39 pm

I rise to support both the Prayer and the amendment to the Government motion.

I usually enjoy debates, but I come to this debate much more in sorrow than in anger. I listened with concern to the Secretary of State, who sought to cite those outside the House who support him in the proposition to put heavier lorries on our roads. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that, following the decision of the House to reject the Armitage report, the Government gave an assurance that they would consider the representations made on the issues raised by that report. They have done so.

The Association of Metropolitan Authorities has told the Government that it bitterly opposes the proposals, and it has no doubt listened carefully to the technical advice of the county surveyors and bridge masters of different areas. The Association of District Councils is also against the proposition. The Secretary of State will not be surprised to know that his rather selective quotation from one part of the Labour Party in no way alters the Labour Party's broad view, which is one of complete opposition.

The Secretary of State must answer not only to the Opposition and to the representative outside bodies that I have mentioned, but to the House. He must have some regard to the decisions of the House. Next week, it will be 10 years since the House made its first most important decision about the way in which we should deal with lorries. The House was concerned about the effect of three previous increases in lorry weights and it debated that issue. It is interesting to reflect on what the Conservative Front Bench then said. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) was then Secretary of State for the Environment and he said:
"I believe that the scale of our landscape and of our towns and villages is such that we cannot indefinitely allow these lorries, of whatever weight or size, to chunter through villages and along country roads."
More significantly, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who was then Minister for Transport Industries spoke in that debate. He told the House of the effort that he had made on behalf of this country at the European Conference of Ministers of Transport. He said:
"I have pressed in particular three arguments: first, the unrewarding and higher expenditure on maintaining and strengthening roads and bridges; secondly, the intrusion upon the environment in terms not only of physical damage but also of congestion, noise and fumes; and lastly, I have even used the argument, old-fashioned though it may seem to some, that people find these larger vehicles offensive and do not want them—a view which is, I am sure, widely shared in Europe."

That was the view of Conservative Members 10 years ago. Of course, a party is entitled to change its view in 10 years. Indeed, a party is the more entitled to press that view in the House if it has an electoral mandate for it. In the past decade I have not seen any assurance in the Conservative Party's manifestos that a Conservative Government would put heavier lorries on our roads. I would appreciate a little more consistency from the Conservative Front Bench. I would respect its view more if it adopted a clear line on where its sympathies lie and on where its policies are intended to lead us, instead of introducing heavier lorries and then saying that it appreciates the concern for all the damage that has been done.

Today, the Secretary of State is engaged in a most amazing act of conversion. He is asking the House to reverse two clear and firm decisions. The late Tony Crosland moved a motion on 29 November 1972. The House took a clear-cut decision. The motion simply states:
"this House, mindful of the environment, is against bigger and heavier lorries."—[official Report, 29 November 1972; Vol. 847, c. 511-559.]
There can be no doubt about the view of the House on that occasion. Indeed, there is no doubt about what the view of the House was when the Secretary of State published the Armitage report. I appreciate that the current Secretary of State has inherited the problem. He has had to decide whether to proceed with his predecessor's proposals. However, he cannot be unaware of the fact that the view of the House is clearly on record.

Quite remarkably, the Secretary of State is now asking us to subscribe to the proposition that, by increasing the maximum permitted weights of lorries, we can simultaneously make them less objectionable to people and less damaging to our environment, create more jobs, have more new roads, relieve communities of the problems of heavy traffic, make lorries quieter and safer and encourage freight shipment from road to rail. Those are the terms of the right hon. Gentleman's motion. Given his incredible claim, we are entitled to ask where he finds the evidence to support the idea that a 38 tonne lorry on our roads will achieve all of those benefits. We do not need to look into a crystal ball, because we can read the history books and the evidence of Armitage. We know what happens when heavier lorries are introduced on to our roads.

Every previous increase in the maximum weight of lorries allowed on our roads led to the introduction of more and more heavier lorries. A greater proportion of freight has been carried by road following such increases.

My right hon. Friend has demonstrated the historical shifting of feet. That cannot be denied or rebutted in any way, but the Secretary of State has now given a firm undertaking about a future stance. He has said that it will not be the Government's intention to increase the lony weight from 38 to 44 tonnes. However, the right hon. Gentleman is not in a position to give that undertaking, because he has not got the authority to do so. He cannot pre-empt a future decision. In addition, he has even got his simple arithmetic wrong. He said that under the new legislation a company could run four lorries, fully loaded, better than six lorries. If he does some simple arithmetic he will discover that that cannot be done.

I shall go into some of the arithmetic of the proposition. However, I shall not rest on that paint now. I simply invite the House to consider a matter about which there can be no debate. I refer to what has happened when heavier lorries have been introduced. I shall cite three significant examples of increases in lorry weights. In 1955 there was an increase to the 24 ton, four-axle lorry. At that time, lorries of over 5 tons unladen and under 8 tons were considered to be heavy lorries. The number of them increased from 26,000 in 1955 to 41,000 in 1960. The figure had leapt to 76,000 by 1965, and by 1970 the number of lorries in that category had increased to 132,000.

The next significant increase was the four-axle articulated lorry, which is regarded as the juggernaut of today. That was introduced in 1964. Lorries with an unladen weight of 8 tons were the heavy lorries of those days. In 1965 there were 24,000, in 1970 there were 55,000, in 1975 there were 96,000 and in 1979 there were 121,000 heavy lorries.

I would not claim that the only reason for that massive increase in the amount of freight carried by lorries was the bigger lorries. Of course, other factors, such as roadway construction, existed. However, I believe that had those lorry weights not been increased there would not have been such a great increase in the number of heavy lorries on our roads or in the amount of freight transported by road.

By 1972 we had the four-axle rigid 30-ton lorry on our roads.

I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is interested in jobs. In that respect does he not think it important that we keep in step with our European competitors? Should we not give our lorries and manufacturers a chance to compete?

I should have some sympathy with that view if it were carried objectively across the whole area of transport. If we want to compete with our competitors in Europe we should do what was done in France and West Germany. They took steps to ensure that a higher proportion of freight was carried on the railways than is the case in this country.

Will my right hon. Friend note that, as lorry usage and weights have increased, far from the Secretary of State's dubious proposition that jobs would be developed and preserved by increasing lorry weights further, the import of heavy lorries for use on United Kingdom roads has steadily increased so that over 50 per cent. of new registrations are for imported vehicles? That was not true 10 years ago.

There has been an increase in imports, but that is not peculiar to lorries. There has been massive import penetration in manufactured goods. However, by increasing lorry weights we have not increased the proportion supplied by British lorry manufacturers The Secretary of State has made an amazing claim that he is not proposing to increase vehicle sizes. There has been an increase in size with every increase in weight and this occasion is no exception.

In 1955 the maximum width of heavy lorries permitted on our roads went from 7ft 6in to 8ft. In 1964 it went to 8ft 2½in. The length of rigid lorries was increased in 1964 from 30ft to 36ft lin. In 1955 the length of the articulated lorry went from 33ft to 35ft. The story of their growth continues. In 1964 they went up to 42ft 8in and in 1968 to 49ft 2½in. Under these regulations their length will increase to 50ft 10in.

The Secretary of State distorts beyond recognition the meaning of the English language when he says that the regulations will not result in bigger lorries on our roads. One only has to read the regulations to see that, if they do nothing else, they increase the maximum legal length of the articulated lorry—now known as the 32½-tonner—from 15 metres to 15½ metres. How can the Secretary of State say that a 15½ metre articulated lorry is no bigger than a 15 metre articulated lorry?

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that a lorry that is only ½ metre bigger—that applies only to the front end of the lorry—will be environmentally better or worse?

For reasons that I shall come to, I believe that the bigger lorry is environmentally worse, but not solely on that ground. In 1964 we were talking about a much smaller increase of 2½in, but the increases have continued bit by bit. In 1955 we were talking of a 6in increase. From that time lorries have grown to the 15½ metres that is now proposed. Since 1955 there has been a massive increase in lorry sizes, and that has created massive problems.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to distort or change what I said. I said most carefully that there is no proposal to increase the dimensions of lorry trailers. For the first time the regulations contain a restriction on length. If the right hon. Gentleman opposes that, he opposes a restriction on the length of lorry trailers. There is a proposal for strict control of both the length and the height of trailers. If the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the extra 19in on the cab for insulation and safety, he knows perfectly well that the majority of cabs now made have that extra 19in, and some have been running on the roads. It is correct that enforcement has not been efficient enough in the past, and I am anxious to increase it. The regulations merely reflect the fact that there are a great many lorries on our roads of dimensions identical to those proposed under the regulations. There is no increase in the lorry trailer dimensions.

That is different from the claim of the Government Front Bench in the previous debate. We are now told that there is to be no increase in the length of trailers, although there is an increase in the overall length of lorries. The Secretary of State has mentioned trailers. May I draw attention to the amended regulation No. 19 of the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations 1982? That regulation allows the weight of a trailer that has axles at least 3 metres apart—a trailer that does not form part of the articulated vehicle—to be increased from 16,260 kg to 18,000 kg. The Secretary of State needs to explain the fact that he said that such vehicles would be no more damaging to the road. How can a trailer that does not increase in length or in the number of axles carry loads that increase from over 16,000 kg to 18,000 kg without becoming much more damaging to the roads?

The regulations are technical, and it might help the House if I explain the passage to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred. He is right that in item 3 of the table to be found on page 15 of the regulations there is an increase to 17 tonnes with the proviso that the vehicle has a relevant train weight of more than 32,520 kg. The increase from 16,260 kg to 17,000 kg is to allow the operator to move his load up to 17in either side and still remain within the maximum axle limits that have been set.

Obviously one could not have a total of 17 tonnes on the tractor axle and 22½ tonnes on the trailer axle because that would go beyond 38 tonnes, and that is not possible. The technical regulations must give the operator the flexibility to allow the operator to move his load and remain within the individual axle weight limits for each of the five axles. That is why the 16,260 kg has been increased to 17,000 kg.

With great respect, the hon. Lady is reading the wrong part of the regulations. Regulation 19(b)(iv) states that

"where the distance between the axles is at least 3 metres and the vehicle is a trailer"
the weight goes to 18,000 kg, not 17,000 kg. That is an increased weight in a vehicle of the same size.

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had used the figure of 17,000 kg because the 17,000 figure on the page to which he referred is the only change from the existing regulations. The figure of 18,000 kg in regulation 19(b)(iv) exists in the 1978 vehicle regulations.

In that case, the hon. Lady should have corrected the mistake in the explanatory note. The point I make is borne out on page 19 where it is stated:

"The maximum permissible weights for trailers not forming part of an articulated vehicle are increased in a case where the distance between the axles of a trailer with two axles is at least three metres from 16,260 kilograms to 18,000 kilograms."

It is an increase in trailer weight. The Secretary of State has confirmed that I was right in saying that the overall length of the vehicle is increased. I hope that the hon. Lady will confirm that I am right in saying that the maximum permissible weight of a two-axle trailer that does not form part of an articulated vehicle is increased.

I hope that she will also confirm that if the logic of the Secretary of State on the damage comparisons in the Armitage report in respect of the 38 tonne articulated vehicle is applied to the trailer, the trailer becomes a massively more damaging vehicle upon our roads. There cannot be a shadow of doubt that the increases appear in the regulations.

Much more arguable is the effect of the regulations on manufacturing and operating practices. It is part of the Secretary of State's argument that more jobs will be provided because people will immediately start to build new lorries. Yet the regulations appear in such a form that it will be possible to use existing tractors with three-axle trailers. There is no need to build new tractors to gain the 38 tonne advantage under the regulations. What is certain is more noise, more vibration, and more exhaust gas from the same tractors coping with much heavier trailers.

The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware that for some categories of goods—food is important in the lorry trade—modifications are required to the trailer before retailers can take advantage of the increased permitted gross weight. Companies will not wish to undertake modifications at an expense, which admittedly is not exorbitant, if they bring no advantages.

I accept that companies do not wish to be involved in unnecessary expense. The hon. Gentleman supports my argument. It is because companies do not want to be involved in additional expense that they will be tempted to use their existing tractors and to tow three-axle trailers carrying 38 tonnes with all the adverse consequences that I have mentioned. This casts the gravest doubt on the suggestion that 38 tonners introduced under the regulations will create more work for the lorry industry.

Is not the essence of the issue the inadequacy of existing roads rather than speculation about increased tonnage in decades to come? If, as appears inevitable from Select Committee evidence, there will be need for massive public expenditure on the reconstruction of existing roads, especially motorways. because of the havoc wrought by existing 32 tonne vehicles—notwithstanding the intervention of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), if he is listening, about the time factor in providing bypasses—the Government, especially this one, with their philosophy of minimum public expenditure, will never be able to cope with the problem should they continue in office.

I could not agree more. The overwhelming majority of people, realising the ability of the road system to cope with the 32½-tonner, are apprehensive about the Government's proposition to introduce the 38-tonner. It is worth reflecting on the road damage caused by running three-axle trailers. Anyone who has visited centres where three-axle trailers operate will see that they suffer massive tyre scrub problems. On tarmacadam roads in cities, during warm weather, they tear the road surface to pieces.

When the Secretary of State seeks to claim that the loading effect of the spread to the five axles is a factor to be regarded as conclusive in protecting the roads from damage, he ceases to study with any care the real proposition about damage due to axle weight. The logic and the arithmetic of the fourth power rule makes it clear that the most heavily loaded axle causes the most damage. Once any higher load is put on the drive axle, this inevitably causes more road damage. If the fourth power rule is accepted, a 10-tonne drive axle causes 16 times as much damage as a 5-tonne axle.

The Under-Secretary shakes her head. She does not understand the argument about fourth power or about Armitage. She may wish to intervene to say that I was right about the increased weight of trailers and to confirm her misunderstanding of the heavy axle weight ratio.

I should like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the explanatory note and regulation 19 where he and I seem to be at odds over the 18,000 kg. I was absolutely right in saying that the increase to 18,000 kg. for the weight of the trailer alone relates to drawbar trailers. It has nothing to do with what we are talking about. My right hon. Friend said at the start of his remarks that there would be no increase in the drawbar trailer combination to 38 tonnes. The 18,000 kg. refers only to drawbar trailers.

The right hon. Gentleman has asked about the fourth power rule. The fourth power rule does not apply to any individual axle. The internationally accepted method is to take the sum of the fourth powers of each individual axle. This gives the damage number contained in table 40 of the Armitage report. If the right hon. Gentleman studies that, he will see why the damage number for the five-axle 38-tonner is below that for the four-axle 32½ tonner. It is clear. It is internationally accepted. The figures have been published for over two years.

I am sorry but the hon. Lady is wrong. She can read the Armitage report. She has not read it. In calculating the damage number, Armitage did not relate it strictly to the sum of the fourth powers of the axles, as the Minister asserts. Armitage reasoned that if lorries had bigger net weights, fewer lorries would be needed. Armitage said that it was not fair to determine the damage numbers by comparing the sum of the fourth ratio of the axles. Rather, one should divide the sum of the fourth power of the axles by the net weight that the vehicle could carry, multiply by 1,000, and that would give the damage number. So the hon. Lady is wrong when she says that the damage numbers relate to one another in the ratio of the sum of the fourth powers of the axles. Armitage never claimed that, and it is not true.

However, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her statement that regulation 19 refers to trailers of drawbar combinations. I shall study her statement carefully. I stated the words of the regulation. I did not say "drawbar combinations". I said "trailers not forming part of an articulated vehicle". Those were my words, and I think that they are correct. The 18,000 kg refers to those trailers.

I want to pursue the question of the axle weight damage. It does not matter whether one takes the sum of the axles if one adds the sum of the fourth powers. Clearly, if one axle is much heavier than the others, that axle will add the greatest amount to the sum of the fourth powers. It must do so with large vehicles with drive axles of more than 10 tonnes.

One of the great services which Sir Arthur Armitage and his committee did for heavy lorries was to expose the extent to which the heaviest lorries on our roads fail to meet their track costs. They expose the fact that the lighter lorry and the car are subsidising to a large extent the heavier lorries. The Department of Transport's estimate of the amount of subsidy in 1982–83 for 32½ tonne lorries is about £1,134 per vehicle. That is the subsidy that they receive towards their track costs from other road users. It means that a total subsidy is being paid to the users of the heaviest lorries of about £86 million per year. I cannot imagine any other country devising a scheme which gave the greatest incentive in tax relief—in fact, a subsidy—to people who operate the heaviest lorries, while penalising in taxation the people who operate the lighter lorries.

Armitage called for the complete elimination of the subsidy at the earliest opportunity. The Government have not responded. The Government have introduced two Budgets since then—three, if one includes the October mini-Budget—but they have not attempted to eliminate the subsidy. Incidentally, Armitage also calls for the inclusion of a calculation of accident costs in road track costs. That, too, has been completely ignored by the Government.

I want to say a word about the Secretary of State's claim about the roads programme in general, and bypasses in particular. I remind him of what his predecessor did to the bypass programme in his White Paper. In 1980, 34 bypass schemes were withdrawn or suspended in the Government's White Paper. Two more were suspended in 1981. Among those that were withdrawn or suspended in the 1980 White Paper were the Milford bypass, the Saltford bypass, the Barton bypass, the Axminster bypass, the Whitchurch bypass, the Preston southern bypass, and others. I could go through the whole list, if the House wished. However, perhaps the House will take my word for it that 34 schemes were withdrawn in 1980 by this Government.

In 1981, a further two bypasses were suspended. On 25 October this year, the Secretary of State put out a press statement in which we learnt that five of the 36 that had been withdrawn or suspended were to be restored. In the same press statement, the Secretary of State said that a further eight new schemes would be added to the programme—not immediately, of course. Most of them are to be built by a successor Government, who will be committed to restoring them to the programme in 1986. The net effect of this Government's actions on the bypass programme is to reduce by 23 the number in the programme that they inherited. We have 23 fewer bypasses as a result of this Government's actions.

Those of us who study transport matters know that—this is not a party political point—expenditure on roads in this country has fallen over a considerable period. It has fallen in motorway and trunk road construction from £635 million—these are 1980 survey prices—in 1975–76 to £342 million in 1981–82. There has been a drop in expenditure of £193 million on new road construction. The share of new road construction borne by lorry fuel tax and excise duty has also fallen from about 26 per cent. to 21·4 per cent. The amount that the Government are paying towards maintenance is almost static, at a time when it is clear that many of our motorways are having to be resurfaced before the end of their design life, not as a result of bad motorway design—far from it—but because the number of maximum axle weights has increased much faster than anyone ever imagined would happen when the motorways were designed.

May I say, as the previous Minister's parliamentary private secretary, that I think the right hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair in talking about the reduction in the number of schemes going ahead in 1980. Will he admit, on reflection, that those schemes were dropped in 1980—temporarily, I hope—because there was not the remotest possibility of their being built with the resources provided by the Labour Government? That is the position that was taken following 1979, and that is why this Government felt that it was better to be honest and not pretend that the schemes had the remotest chance of being built with the resources that were then being made available.

I did not want to make a party point at that stage. I was talking about what happened over the lifetime of two Governments. I was generous enough to take a period, from 1975–76 to 1981–82, that covered both Governments, merely to make the point that there was a substantial drop over that period in the amount spent on major road, motorway, trunk road and bypass construction. The reasons for taking all the bypasses out of the programme is a matter that can be argued in the House. The Government are saying, "Let us have heavier lorries and more bypasses," when in fact they are reducing the bypass programme, even over the past three years.

We all recall that when the IMF—the bailiffs—came in there was a devastating cut in the road programme. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will note the figure, because it is a fact, that today spending on the trunk road programme is 19 per cent. up in real terms on the level that we inherited in 1978–79.

I am sorry that I cannot confirm that. One reason why I cannot do so is that the Government are not prepared to answer questions at the moment on the costs of the road programme at steady based prices. I have the last figures that the Government were prepared to publish on that, which do not allow me to check the Secretary of State's point. However, the Secretary of State's point is irrelevant to the essence of the argument. He cannot deny, and no hon. Member can deny, that there has been a substantial drop in the amount spent on roads over the period that I have quoted, or that the number of bypass programmes has also dropped. That is crucial to the whole argument.

Unlike other countries which have experience of running heavier lorries, we rely to an enormous extent on shifting freight by road. France and West Germany shift between 43 per cent. and 44 per cent. of freight by road. Here the figure is 77 per cent. I have been asked why, but that would tempt me into a debate on the rundown of investment in British Rail. Another reason is probably that the other countries do not subsidise heavy lorries and put a tax on freight.

Is there not another very important point—that in the other countries, waterway transport has not been neglected as it has been for 50 years in this country?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is remarkable that we, an island race, move such a small proportion of our freight by water.

The offer of more for the railways by way of section 8 grants for new sidings is one with which we are sympathetic. However, in the last year for which figures are available, only three section 8 grants have produced additional rail siding connections.

The combined effect of all these considerations is that none of the cosmetic promises—of pie in the sky and jam in the future—about the improvements that might come about can carry any weight. The anxiety that properly exists as to the dangers of greater congestion, more noise, smoke and vibration is as real as ever, and has increased. If the motion goes through, it will not be the last. It will not satisfy those who will continue pressing, inch by inch, tonne by tonne, to put up the size and weight of lorries. It will whet their appetite for further increases. This is the thin end of the wedge. I end with a reminder that Armitage called for an absolute reduction in the adverse effects of lorries
"on people and the environment."
As a result of the Government's action, lorries are taking priority over the consideratons of people.

Many hon. Members are hoping to speak. I appeal for short speeches so that fewer hon. Members will be disappointed.

5.24 pm

In spite of the gloom of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), I am prepared to accept what my right hon. Friend said—that the spending on the programme of trunk roads is 19 per cent. up on 1979. Harwich is an important link, particularly, as my right hon. Friend said, as the container traffic to the east coast ports is increasing. People in my region know how much they have benefited by the opening of the northern Colchester bypass. This is why the words of the Government motion make it easier for me to accept what is for many people the difficult decision to approve the heavier lorry maximum. The Government's motion states that it is the intention of the Government to build

"more new roads and by-passes, to relieve the community of traffic".
I accept this and I am glad that it is the intention of the Government. People in my area have benefited from this recently by the opening of the new bypass.

I am also glad that the Government intend to have more control over the routes that lorries take and over where they park. This is important, especially as the type of traffic that we have to the port sometimes takes short cuts through scenic country routes, and is dangerous for them.

The other point in the motion, which helps me to support the Government, is their intention to give
"more attractive grants to encourage freight shipment by rail."
Harwich, which I represent, contains the railway port of Parkeston, so I am naturally concerned about what grants the Government have in mind. From what I heard the Secretary of State say, I should like to press the Government to give further consideration to more investment in the rail ports, because this will relieve roads of heavy traffic. If this is the Government's intention, does this mean that they will have another look at the investment in train ferries? I know that this is connected with the privatisation of Sealink, but it is an important point that we must try to encourage more traffic to go through the rail ports. I hope that the Government will examine this again carefully.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Harwich, and I gather that he is supporting the proposal. Is he suggesting that the majority of people who live in Harwich will welcome the increase in the size of vehicles going through their streets?

We are hoping for a bypass very soon, but I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's point in a moment. We should encourage more heavy traffic to go by rail and we should see what investment we can make to help this. A long-term intention must be to try to get more industry near to ports and to encourage coastal shipping. I am delighted that there is a link between Teesside and Harwich. The development of this type of project is most important.

I welcome the intention of the Government to build more bypasses, but I should like to give them a warning. They should be careful not to encourage the proliferation of small ports near a major port, and therefore at its expense. In my constituency, permission has been given to develop two small ports, which will mean the building of two more bypasses. The environment will be spoilt by heavy lorries going through narrow streets of villages, and money might be held back for a bypass to the main port of Harwich, which urgently needs one.

Although this is what happens in my constituency, I feel that it reflects what is happening elsewhere. The two bypasses for the small towns would not be necessary without the proliferation of ports. I urge the Government to invest in major ports such as Parkeston because this will ease the heavy lorry problem considerably.

Is there an overall plan for productive public investment for roads and ports? The speedy building of a bypass for Harwich and Dover ports is vital, particularly with the increased lorry weights. It must take priority in the scheme to modernise the port. All this is delayed by the need to obtain finance for a big scheme to fill in land near the port. That is an admirable scheme for private or public investment but up to now we have been trying to get private financial aid. I hope we succeed. However, I ask my right hon. Friend to keep a fatherly eye on this scheme and help speed it up as much as possible. There is an increasing demand from shipping to use the port, which means that we must also make the bypasses a priority. We should do all that we can to extend the use of the port to heavier traffic in order to take it off the roads. Nevertheless, bypasses are vital. The time will shortly come when the M25 link will be completed, following which we must press ahead with the Chelmsford bypass link. Why stop there? Let us have a proper motorway link to the port of Harwich. That can and should be done as soon as possible.

Above all, I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider the investment that should be made to take traffic off the roads on to the railways and to consider the modernisation of ports. We are trying to do as much as we can by private enterprise, although there are delays because of financial problems. The second stage of the bypass is vital for the ports of Dover and Harwich. The Labour Government's delay in coming to a decision over those ports has prevented progress which should have been made a long time ago. I hope that we can now go ahead. It is with those thoughts in mind that I shall support the Government in what they are doing, although I know that it is a difficult decision for many hon. Members to make.

5.31 pm

I shall speak briefly this afternoon. 1 must declare an interest in that I am sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen. Therefore, some of my remarks will be directed to how the proposals will affect British Rail and my colleagues and union members who work there.

I think that it is with deep regret that the Government have felt it necessary to bring forward the proposal to increase lorry weights to 38 tonnes at this time. I have no doubt that many Conservative Back Benchers will have emphasised the dangers that will result to their villages and the environment. I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will be able to convince anyone that the heavier lorry will somehow improve the environment, increase job availability and cause less damage to the roads. They certainly will not convince the public. They will have an uphill job in selling such a message.

One can only accept the right hon. Gentleman's undertaking this afternoon that he will go no further than the 38-tonne limit on the basis that he is a sitting tenant. There is no guarantee that a future Secretary of State will not increase the loading limit to 40 or 44 tonnes and move in the direction of the EC general loading standards. That is the suspicion of the public at large and of many hon. Members.

One is bound to be suspicious of moves to create heavier lorries on what I would call an almost false prospectus. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman has an earthly chance of convincing a sizeable number of his Back-Bench colleagues about the rightness of this measure. I understand their loyalty to the Government and probably many Conservative Members will vote in the Lobby tonight, but I should not be surprised if many do not.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the shifting of freight and how it would affect jobs. He studiously omitted to say anything about the effect on British Rail. British Rail has already said that on its estimation the loss of freight will be somewhere in the region of 3¼ million tonnes—a lost income of between £40 million to £60 million.

The right hon. Gentleman has not said how I can explain to the members of the NUR the benefits of the measure to their employment and future. The bulk of the traffic that will be shifted on to the roads will be the heavy. dirty materials such as scrap, aggregate and coal. It is difficult to understand how the right hon. Gentleman will justify that to the areas which will see the unloading of traffic from the railway on to the roads.

I want to put one small but important point before the Minister tonight. At the moment most of the traffic that British Rail is worried about losing is that which would be dealt with by tipper lorries. There is a distinct worry about the safety of tipper lorries throughout the country, particularly articulated tipper lorries. At the moment there are about 13,000 30½ tonne rigid tipper lorries dealing with the sort of traffic that is being carried by British Rail.

Current legislation allows articulated tipper lorries up to 32½ tonnes—an increase of 2 tonnes. It has not been felt reasonable to take advantage of that increase because of the design costs. However, even more important, it was thought that it should not be done because there is a distinct question mark over the safety angle of articulated tipper lorries. The evidence produced in that quarter is quite astounding.

At the moment about 13,000 rigid tippers, 11 metres long, with a gross weight of 30½ tonnes, could under the regulations be replaced by a 38-tonne articulated tipper lorry, 15½ metres long. With an additional payload of about 7½ tonnes, it is not only a distinct possibility but a probability that there will be a movement towards the much bigger articulated tipper lorry.

The safety of the 32½ tonne lorry is already under question. A report has been produced by Dr. R. C. Keen of Bristol polytechnic. It was prepared at the request of a large mover of scrap material, who found from his own experience that articulated tipper lorries used on uneven ground were dangerous because the roll-over risks were high.

When representations were made to the Department of Transport, I would not say that it was not interested, but it was felt that it was not its problem because the roll-over risk occurred off the highway. It was unlikely that such lorries would topple over while they were on the highway, but it was suggested that they were dangerous when they discharged their load. Interest has now shifted to the Health and Safety Executive, which is deeply interested and worried by developments in this area.

If there is this increase, the safety aspect will take second place. I earnestly plead with the right hon. Gentleman to consider the regulations seriously with a view at least to confining the weight of articulated tipper lorries to 32½ tonnes. That would be a move in the right direction, which the Health and Safety Executive would welcome.

There was a serious accident last month at Grassmore, North Wingfield, Derbyshire, where, unfortunately, a driver working for the firm of William Tory Ltd. was killed while attempting to get out of his cab as it was turning over. Details of several such accidents have been researched by Dr. Keen and as a result he has put forward strong proposals. When the Under-Secretary of State replies, I hope that she will say that she will consider banning 38 tonne articulated tipper lorries. Such a ban would be a tremendous advantage to British Rail and would reflect the worry and anxiety that is felt about the safety of these lorries.

I am convinced that the main reason why the Government are going ahead and planning the implementation of the proposals is the pressure that they have been under from the Road Haulage Association. I can understand that. The association is interested in creating conditions in which its members will make as much profit as they can. I understand that it will go down every avenue in pressing its proposals one of them being that of the House. However, I do not believe that the Government will be able to sell this package to Mr. and Mrs. General Public.

Reference has been made to the damage that heavier lorries are likely to do to our roads. The members of the Select Committee visited Bristol last week and talked to representatives of Bristol council. They were worried about damage to pavements. It seems that lorries spend more time on the pavements than on the roads in the lovely city of Bristol. Damage is caused because lorries cannot negotiate certain corners in our cities.

The Government talk about constructing bypasses round small villages and towns and creating long runs for lorries. Have they considered why lorry drivers sometimes turn off the bypasses? The answer is fairly simple. Sometimes lorry drivers want to go to the loo, to have a cup of tea or to refuel their lorries. Facilities of that sort are not found on the bypasses. A driver will get to know that he can pull off the bypass and proceed to a pleasant small village which has a little cafe in which he can relax.

My hon. Friend has rightly made great play of the roll-over tendency of certain lorries. Does he agree that roundabouts constitute a major hazard? I have in mind the Denton Road, Silverlonnen and Springfield Road area of my constituency. It will be another three or four years before the western bypass is available. Does my hon. Friend agree that with five roundabouts on that stretch of road, the enormous juggernauts that are proposed will he prone to major accidents?

I know my hon. Friend's constituency well because I live quite near it. I am aware of the example that he has given. We saw the churned-up roundabouts and pavements during a recent visit to Bristol. There is some concern also about bridges, but it is played down. The Avon county council said that it was worried about well over 1,000 bridges. Its representatives told us that the council is considering no-go areas for lorries. Have the local road haulage associations considered the impact on the living of their members if widespread no-go areas are put into operation by the Avon county council? This could happen because of the danger that is foreseen when the heavier lorries travel along its roads and cross its bridges. It is a difficulty that the associations and the councils will have to face. British Rail has estimated that it will cost about £60 million to strengthen its bridges.

I said that I would be brief and I have tried to advance my arguments succinctly. I plead again with the right hon. Gentleman to give serious consideration to articulated tipper lorries and not to allow their weight to be increased to 30 tonnes because of all the associated dangers.

5.45 pm

I am grateful for this opportunity to intervene—I hope briefly—in this debate. I listened very carefully to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and he listed a number of improvements which I am sure the whole House will have wanted to hear. I am bound to say to him that I do not believe that these improvements can be judged as a panacea for allowing heavier lorries on our roads.

We start, in my view, from a very bad position. I am sure that the whole House will agree that the sight of large lorries struggling through high streets, vibration damaging our buildings, the smell of fumes in built-up areas and lorries struggling through our country lanes, are all matters that need to be dealt with and are long overdue.

One other matter is the question of spray from lorries on motorways. I sometimes wonder how it is possible for any vehicle to pass one of these lorries during difficult weather with any sort of visibility. Therefore, I welcome these measures, but what I say to my right hon. Friend is that these are measures which do not justify the introduction of heavier lorries.

I referred to the problem of vibration. I have in my constituency the beautiful old town of Knaresborough, one of the gems of this country. Knaresborough suffers from vibration, as many other towns do. Our bypass for Knaresborough and Harrogate is not due to be started until 1986 or 1987 yet we are in these regulations proposing that heavier lorries should be implemented directly.

The Armitage report refers to "our limited knowledge" of the problems of vibration. I am bound to say that I am not convinced that these heavier lorries will cause the same vibration as 32·5 tonne lorries. I am of the opinion that there is a case, made out by experts, that greater vibration will result—perhaps 10 per cent. That could have a considerable impact and cause damage where lorries are passing through a town, particularly where there are ancient buildings.

It is difficult to find any part of rural England that is not trampled by the bulk and belching fumes of heavy lorries, however occasional. There is no doubt that agriculture has a particular demand for larger lorries, for transporting feedingstuffs and fertilisers to ever-increasingly larger farms. This is, of course, significant. But how is any authority to ban lorries from these narrow lanes or, indeed, to ban heavy lorries from going along farm drives and doing considerable damage? We do not know specifically what sort of damage we can expect from the proposal for heavier lorries.

In the whole of North Yorkshire there is no single road or track or lane to which a lorry cannot have access. If we are, therefore, to go down the road of banning lorries—everybody wants to see them out of the way—how are we to police such a policy? This is a matter that I should like to draw attention to, and particularly having regard to the transportation of sugar beet.

The point has been made that this is an opportunity for industry, particularly in the Midlands, for which I have the greatest possible sympathy, to take advantage of the construction of new lorries to meet this demand. But how sure can we be that we shall not have a flood of lorries coming into the country from those manufacturers on the Continent who already are tooled up to construct them? Can we be sure that heavier lorries above the proposed limit already in service on the Continent will not, in fact, be coming into our country the moment that these regulations are implemented, if they are? I suspect that there will be cases where lorries will be coming into this country perhaps overweight in view of their extra capacity. I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, in her reply, to give specific attention to this matter of checking the weights and dimensions of lorries at the ports.

I have considered this matter with the utmost care, and I am bound to say that on this occasion I cannot support the Government in the Lobby tonight.

5.49 pm

I accept at the outset that a case can be made for the heavier lorry. I could not follow all the technical arguments between the two Front Benches, but heavier lorries may well do no more damage than those that we already have. That judgment, however, depends on technical evidence and the public are extremely sceptical— often with good reason—about that kind of technical advice.

The Government are on stronger ground when they say that heavier lorries will mean more efficient operation for the road haulage industry. I notice, however, that the argument that heavier lorries will mean fewer lorries does not loom so large now as it did in the past. Indeed, an editorial in Commercial Motor on 13 November took a very different view on the introduction of heavier lorries when it said:
"Unlike David Howell, we cannot see any reduction in the numbers of vehicles on the road as a result."
We should heed that warning.

If the public are to accept heavier lorries, there must be a compensating package of environmental protection measures to improve the current situation. The package that the Government now offer is a good deal better than that proposed in the White Paper of December 1981.

I particularly welcome the greater availability of section 8 grants to railways and waterways I wish that we had done more about that in the past. I especially welcome the idea of attracting more freight to the waterways because I live in and represent a riverside constituency in south-east London. I believe that the Thames is London's most under-used asset. An increasing quantity of goods is unloaded at Sheerness and Dover and then trundled into central London on juggernaut lorries when it would surely be more sensible to bring it into the heart of our city on that great, broad unused highway—the river Thames.

The Government package as a whole, however, is neither strong enough nor certain enough to meet the situation. If we support the Government today, we can be absolutely sure that heavier lorries will result. The environmental improvements and protections that the Government offer, however, are far less certain. Some necessary actions are not mentioned at all in the Government's document. Others are mentioned in the vaguest of terms, and for others the time scale for implementation is positively leisurely compared with the size of the problem.

On noise, for example, we all welcome the three decibel cut next April, but very few of our constituents are likely to notice a cut of that order in the streets in which they must live. The Government's proposals for major reductions are all in the future. The Government statement says:
"The Government's aim is to reduce the perceived noise from new heavy lorries to less than half its 1981 level"—
that sounds fine, but when?—
"as quickly as practicable".
That sounds a good deal less clear-cut or certain.

What about the quieter lorry—the QHV90 with a noise level of 80 decibels like the private car—which was promised for the 1980s? It seems that we are now talking about the 1990s. It should be made clear that we want far more rapid and determined action from the Government on noise.

The hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) rightly referred to vibration. That is hardly mentioned in the Government's latest statement. The White Paper of December 1981 made the extraordinary statement, "people dislike vibration". I suggest that they more than dislike it. They believe—with good cause—that it damages their property and it certainly makes life in many areas quite intolerable.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) represents an urban area of London, as I do. Does he agree that in practical terms vibration means that people's homes are frequently shaken so badly that the plaster falls and the owners are put to considerable expense? With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate, (Mr. Banks), I believe that this problem is often greater in urban than in country areas since housing is so much more dense.

I agree entirely. The damage caused is considerable and tangible, and the owner usually has no redress against anyone. There is also the question of the quality of life. Some people are greatly upset by constant vibration and it certainly makes life in many urban areas utterly intolerable. Any attempt to tackle environmental improvement must include effective measures to deal with vibration.

On enforcement of safety and loading standards, it would be churlish not to welcome the Government's statements about providing more weighbridges and more traffic examiners, but we are entitled to ask, "How many, when, and will there be enough?" The Association of Metropolitan Authorities suggests that 25 per cent. of vehicles inspected are already found to be overloaded. Will that be any less true of 38-tonne lorries? If lorry traffic increases, will future enforcement procedures be any more effective than in the past?

On routeing, I am glad to see that there is to be relief for 220 towns and villages, but we are told that this will take four or five years. The Council for the Protection of Rural England states:
"A Civic Trust survey showed in February 1982 that of the 551 settlements on trunk roads needing bypasses, 284 were not in the future programme. Moreover no assessment has been carried out of the number of settlements on local roads that need bypasses."
That certainly leaves a great deal to be done in the provision of bypasses.

What about those urban areas where bypasses cannot be provided and the routeing of lorries is extremely difficult in practice? Traffic coming through south-east London from the Kent ports and the docks at Tilbury to what is left of our industrial areas has to pass through residential and shopping centres. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) that this traffic spends a great deal of its time not on the road but on the pavement. Moreover, when the main roads are congested it seeks out "rat-runs". As fast as local authorities block those rat-runs by weight restrictions and so on, the lorry drivers find new ones. It is impossible to keep up a constant battle of this kind to force lorries out of residential areas in many of our major cities.

Long-distance goods movements are not the only problem. In south-east London there has been an explosion in the growth of warehouses. This means that heavy lorries make often quite short journeys carrying goods to and from warehouses throughout the city. That is all in addition to the longer-haul traffic that warehouses attract from further away.

The Government have said that where there is no other solution the problem in urban areas must be tackled by "lorry action areas". That is a fine-sounding title. It sounds vigorous and full of power and activity. It seems, however, that the Government have got no further than consulting about the criteria for the definition of lorry action areas. The Government's statement as to what action there will be sounds incredibly tentative. It says:
"Measures such as noise insulation and road resurfacing could be implemented in those areas to give relief from the worst effect of heavy lorry traffic."
Again, the situation demands far more concrete and definite action.

On action areas and bypasses in London, one also has to contend with the Labour-controlled GLC, which has a deplorable record on road maintenance. Clearly we cannot expect to obtain bypasses from the Government for all our constituencies. The only bypass that is likely to affect my constituency will bypass Hayes and Southall and pour 22,000 more vehicles per day, including scores of heavy lorries, into Northolt, because the GLC insists on terminating the bypass at the White Hart roundabout in Northolt. That is entirely unacceptable for a highly residential community. That is why I must oppose the Government tonight.

As you have appealed for short speeches. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I had better not follow the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) through the highways and byways of Hayes and Southall, attractive though the prospect no doubt is.

The Government appear to be relying on the existing powers of local authorities for local controls. Those powers in the past have been extremely ineffective. I have good reason to doubt that they will be any more effective in future.

I wish to refer briefly to the problem of the lorry when it is parked. The lorry is not only anti-social when moving but equally anti-social when parked. In my experience, it is usually parked not outside the driver's home but outside someone else's home. It is usually parked not in the leafy suburbs or the owner-occupied areas but on the council estates. All the action on overnight parking bans looks good on paper but is difficult to implement in reality. The enforcement agencies find it difficult to carry on patrolling whole areas to seek out—

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I should like to develop the issue of parking. We have similar problems in our constituencies. People cannot go in and out through their own front doors. They cannot go to bed at night or get up in the morning because of the noise. What is worse—this is no laughing matter—the ambulances and the fire brigade cannot get through to deal with emergencies. This, again, is confined to working class areas. Put the lorries in the Mall or outside Buckingham Palace and the Government would find ways of stopping it.

I sometimes suggest that the lorries should be parked in Blackheath. Then the lorry problem would be solved rapidly. I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). Lorries present a visual intrusion when parked outside people's homes. They also cause nuisance when a refrigerator runs all through the night or when a lorry pulls away at 4 am and wakes up the entire street. I understand that drivers must have somewhere to park their lorries but if the Government are seriously tackling this problem they should be providing more lorry parks, not on the edge of cities, but near where the drivers actually need them.

The Government have a case when they say that 38 tonne lorries will not make the present position worse but that is not the point. In many parts of the country the present position is unacceptable and intolerable. If the Government are anxious to introduce heavier lorries we have an opportunity to wring from them effective environmental protection. We have proved that because the Government have brought along a better package this time than they did last time. But they have not yet given us enough in terms of environmental protection. We would be foolish to give up until we have obtained a very much more convincing programme than has been set out before us today. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends will vote against the Government tonight.

6.2 pm

As in previous debates on this subject, I must declare an interest as a director of a company that has operations which include road transport.

I should like to refer immediately to one of the points made by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) about Blackheath. Heavy lorries are not only in Blackheath, they are all over Blackheath. They totally foul up, in many instances, the rush-hour traffic coming into central London. I hesitate to pursue that point because I wish to avoid speaking for too long. I agree with what he said about the need to restrict the parking of heavy lorries, particularly on other routes as well as in the back streets.

This is a highly emotional and technical issue. I should like first, to refer to a point made by the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. He knows as well as I that the debate is not about bigger lorries. It is fundamentally a debate about heavier lorries. The increase in size, which he mentioned, is on the cab only and is about half a metre. He is equally well aware that the fact that the size increase is to be permitted on the new lorries will make them more environmentally acceptable, quieter, more manoeuvrable and safer.

It is true to say that over the past two years most hon. Members have received a great many representations from all possible points of view on this issue. It is therefore worth stressing at the outset that we have now moved, and my right hon. Friend has now moved, substantially away from the position originally recommended by Armitage, particularly with regard to lorry weight limits. It would have been wrong to go along with what Armitage put forward. To allow an increase in weight on the existing four axle combination from 32½ tonnes to 34 tonnes, let alone 38 tonnes, would have been damaging. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has not gone along with that proposition.

The right hon. Member for. Barrow-in-Furness will also know from questions I have tabled that it would have been quite wrong to increase the weight of drawbar combinations. That would have led to a great deal more of them on the road. They are appalling and a major contribution to danger on the roads. Therefore, I am glad that my right hon. Friend has not agreed to that proposal.

My right hon. Friend has only been prepared to allow 38 tonne combinations on five axles. That is a reasonable compromise if there is to be any increase in weight. However, three axles at the front and two axles at the back are a better combination than the two axles at the front and three axles at the back, even with regard to the fact that there are thicker tyres than normal on the wheels of the three rear axles. Incidentally, I note with interest that the regulation does not define thicker tyres. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that later. We must recognise that, although they look worse, the three axles at the front and two axles at the back combination is, I hope, probably better environmentally. My right hon. Friend will consider—I had representations on this matter only esterday—whether the three axles at the front and two axles at the back combination rather than two axles at the front and three axles at the back should be encouraged by less unfavourable tax treatment. I hope my right hon. Friend will bear that in mind and also re-examine the whole question of lorry taxation. We have not gone far enough in that respect in covering track costs.

My right hon. Friend has done the right thing with regard to lorry weights. He has been much more restrictive than Armitage, and, at the same time, he has given some scope for a reduction in the overall damage done to roads.

This brings me to the question whether there will be fewer lorries on the roads as a result of the weight increase than would otherwise be the case. The issue must be examined in terms of a particular level of economic activity. That is common ground between us. I am doubtful whether the reduction in numbers will be as great as is sometimes supposed, not least because lorries start off full but very often the amount of load is reduced as they go along and therefore the lorry quickly returns to a weight of 32½ tonnes. Only on long runs will there be a substantial reduction in the number of lorries on the roads.

Will the change in weight result in any significant shift from rail to road? I am very doubtful whether it will. The rail traffic at the moment is largely composed of goods that are convenient to transport by rail, particularly coal, steel and other such heavy items. However, I believe my right hon. Friend should examine the point made from the Opposition Benches about the tipper-articulated lorry and whether an increase in its weight limit would result in any significant diversion from rail to road. I welcome my right hon. Friend's proposals for increasing the grant to help traffic on the railways. That is the right balance at present.

The increase in the bypass programme is important. I have spent most of the past 10 years trying to stop what was said to be a bypass coming to Worthing. All the four routes put forward by the Department went right through the middle of Worthing. I have finally managed to stop any such so-called bypass, so my problem now is to get a real bypass around Worthing. My hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary, who is to reply, knows that I am anxious to achieve that.

There is a danger that we spend too much on bypasses at a given moment of time but not enough on preparing for bypasses so that we do not have sufficient bypasses on the shelf if economic circumstances enable us to go ahead and build more. We need a store of bypass projects that have gone through those terribly time-consuming but wholly justified inquiries. My right hon. Friend should examine carefully the allocation of resources in that respect.

I welcome the fact that the increased weight lorry must have greater safeguards, such as backguards and sideguards. I hope that we shall make progress towards measures for preventing spray, which is very dangerous.

After two years of receiving representations—it is strange how these things happen—I received a representation only recently about the enforcement of penalties for overweight lorries. The representation suggests that the courts allow a margin of error and do not necessarily prosecute the drivers of overweight lorries unless they are 5 per cent., or in some cases 10 per cent., over the weight limit. It is important that the Government, by whatever means may be available, should ensure that all cases of overweight lorries are prosecuted. There is no argument in favour of a 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. margin. If we ensure that all drivers of overweight lorries are prosecuted, we may find that, despite the proposed weight increase, overall actual lorry weights on the roads will decrease.

I must stress that the penalties for overweight lorries are not sufficient, even when the law is enforced. We need powers to ensure that an overweight lorry is taken off the road and cannot return until its weight has been reduced below the legal limit. Such increased penalties would be a bigger deterrent than almost anything else. Word would get back quickly to Dover and the Channel ports where lorries enter the country.

Many court cases concern repeat offences. We should seriously consider taking action to ensure that if an operator is found repeatedly to be over the weight limits, his licence is placed in jeopardy. We must have more effective penalties. If we had, the total package of proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would stand a good chance, not only of improving the future position, but of improving the present intolerable situation.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend spoke about the future. Having got this weight increase, it would be wrong to say, "Let us allow pressure to build up and then have another increase later." It is not possible for Governments to bind their successors absolutely. None the less, a clear declaration by this Government that this is the end of the road for increases in heavy lorry weights is very important.

6.13 pm

My interest in the subject stems from the surgeries that I hold throughout my constituency. Not one day goes by without a constituent or a group of constituents complaining to me bitterly about the impact of the heavy lorry on their lives. Local authorities in Gower have made representations to me about the Government's misguided proposals to raise the maximum permitted lorry weight to 38 tonnes.

The last page of the Department of Transport's pamphlet "Lorries, People and the Environment: The Government's Policies in Detail", which was published on 4 November, states that Armitage proposed the raising of section 8 grants that are currently 50 per cent. and that the Government accept the proposal. The maximum grant has now been raised to 60 per cent. The Armitage report recommended that the standard grant under section 8 should be raised to 60 per cent. Nothing in the pamphlet refers to the fact that Armitage recommended that the Department of Transport should be prepared to pay grants of up to 80 per cent. where environmental factors justified such a high rate. The omission from the pamphlet may not have been deliberate. Perhaps it is the unintentional consequence of the pamphlet's brevity. However, if the Government accept that recommendation, we can look forward to fewer lorries on our roads and a higher proportion of freight being carried by rail.

The existing maximum lorry weight is 32·5 tonnes. We must ask the Government whether the maximum weight should be increased, given the current limits. According to Armitage, the number of lorries that jack-knifed in fatal and serious accidents fell to 174 in 1973. I cannot tell the House about the corresponding figures for 1973 to 1979, because in a written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) on 16 December 1981 the Secretary of State for Transport said that figures for before 1979 could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. However, in reply to me on 15 November, the Department of Transport stated that in 1981 196 lorries jack-knifed in fatal and serious accidents. That figures does not give us much comfort. The Government have not advanced a proposal to fit anti-wheel locking devices to prevent jackknifing.

In the year ended 31 March 1982, 20·67 per cent. of heavy goods vehicles failed the first part of the annual Department of Transport test. That represents 107,984 heavy goods vehicles. That is worrying, especially the high proportion of vehicles that failed because of unsatisfactory brake performance.

The pamphlet does not mention the speed of heavy lorries. I understand—the Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong—that the maximum speed of heavy lorries on all roads except motorways is 40 mph. Perhaps my experience is unique, but I do not often see lorries travelling below that speed on our roads. On motorways, the speed limit is 60 mph.

What about overloading? In the county of Gwent in South Wales the number of goods vehicle drivers prosecuted for excess weight offences rose from 260 in 1978 to 514 in 1980. It was no surprise to learn from page 38 of the 1981 report by the chief inspector of constabulary that, in a joint operation between the Gwent police force and other forces adjacent to and including the M4, they found, among a variety of offences, serious cases of mechanically defective and overloaded lorries.

My conclusion is that hon. Members welcome any steps by the Government to increase the safety of the 32·52 tonne articulated lorry. If the Secretary of State would care to fit five axles on the 32·52 tonne articulated lorry, that would be a sensible change and the current road damage would be reduced.

However, we must not allow the Government to use measures such as the fitting of sideguards to heavy lorries to form, to use a rugby football term, the dummies that we bought from the Government, while the Secretary of State for Transport scores his 38 tonne try under the posts. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) is not present. I wanted to say to him that I look forward to his assistance in the Lobby in achieving that end.

6.21 pm

Most of the speeches in the debate have had a constituency flavour. It was refreshing to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), which had less constituency flavour than most of the others. I have much sympathy for his comments about jack-knifing. That is a worrying aspect of the problem. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will answer that point in her reply.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) made a good point. I appreciated it as another riparian constituency Member. I represent the river constituency of Richmond, which is a little more upstream than his area. I support the suggestion that more use should be made of the river Thames. Anything that will get even one lorry off the roads of London and put its load on a barge on the Thames would meet with the approval of my constituents as well as the hon. Gentleman's. A major national artery runs through my constituency—the south circular road. At the moment that road includes much of the traffic going from the north and centre of England to the south coast ports. Before the M25 is completed, those vehicles are travelling along the south circular road.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary paid a visit to see for herself the present problems on that road. Hon. Members have mentioned lorries mounting pavements. They are constantly on pavements on the south circular. Most of the road in my constituency is no wider than the distance between the sword lines in the middle of the Chamber. That causes me much anxiety, my constituents trouble and traffic congestion. In a Adjournment debate in June I pressed the Minister to take action to deal with the problem.

We suffer not only from the south circular in my constituency but from other roads, such as one in Petersham. A major eighteenth century sewer collapsed and for 18 months the road was out of use and blocked. Many people were diverted for miles around. The area is only eight miles from Hyde Park corner. The underground sewerage system could not take the weight of heavy lorries and collapsed. There is also congestion in Barnes, which is in a suburban area, but is like a small village. It has narrow streets and has suffered viciously from heavy lorries.

The package that has been introduced today includes five points that I welcome. First, there are the regulations to make lorries safer and quieter. That is of assistance to my constituents. It will also be of great value nationwide. Second, more control over routes is to be welcomed. Third is special assistance to areas that are most affected, and fourth is the fact that there will be no increase in size in articulated lorry trailers. That is important. The Secretary of State was pressed on that matter. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have had meetings with the Secretary of State and hon. Members who have spoken so far in the debate have all welcomed that aspect of the package. Fifth is the decision to ban any lorries that are larger than those already in use. I welcome all those elements.

The weight increase that has been finally announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State after much coming and going, discussion in the press and rumours that no announcement would be made have shown that we have done much better than Armitage. We have come down from the Armitage recommendations. I was in the House when the statement was made on the Armitage report. Hon. Members on both sides of the House left the Chamber fairly convinced that it would be difficult to make the Government budge from the Armitage recommendations.

We then heard rumours that we would get a 40 tonne limit. That concerned many of us. We pressed the Secretary of State not to go for 40 tonnes. Finally, the decision was announced a couple of weeks ago that the limit would be 38 tonnes with a maximum of five axles. He also made the important announcement this afternoon that there would be no higher limits. He gave us a firm assurance about that, which virtually committed his successors—as far as successors can be committed in our system of government—not to come back to the House with a proposal to increase that limit. It is much to be welcomed.

I think that it can be divined from the comments that. I have made so far that I would prefer a 32 tonne weight limit. However, with the five points that have been pressed by so many people and conceded by the Secretary of State, combined with the 38 tonne limit, I am prepared reluctantly to support the package. The Secretary of State was prepared to react to the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Every hon. Member has a problem with heavy lorries in his constituency. It would be an odd constituency if he did not have a problem. All of us are concerned and worried about it. I welcome the fact that Ministers have agreed to shift, although I fully realise that Opposition Members and some Conservative Members would have liked the Secretary of State to go further.

There is a comparison to be made. Since the early 1960s in Richmond we have had a major problem caused by the noise of aircraft landing at London airport. I remember when the jumbo jet was introduced. A friend of mine in my constituency said recently that there was a local outcry when the jumbo jet was introduced. People said that they would be drowned in noise when these huge aircraft flew overhead. However, the introduction of the jumbo jet meant that larger aircraft were flying overhead with more passengers and quieter engines and that there was a lower growth in movements, than we would have had if we had continued with the old 707 and equivalents which used to fly overhead on the way to London airport.

There is a slight hope—I would not put it higher than that—in what my right hon. Friend has announced and expanded upon, that the package might end up by providing us with quieter and safer lorries with better and more efficient equipment, plying our roads with full loads rather than half loads. Perhaps there will not be as many as there would have been in 10 or 15 years' time if the package had not been introduced. I am prepared to give the Secretary of State the benefit of the doubt today.

There are just two other questions that I should like to ask my right hon. Friend. I did not notice any comment in his speech about his plans for responsibility for the control of roads in the Greater London area. I raised that matter with him in an Adjournment debate in June. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) mentioned it in one of the interventions that have been continually made throughout the debate.

The time has come for the Secretary of State to make an announcement about his plans for the control of the road system in Greater London. Why is it impossible for me to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State about a major national artery such as the south circular road in the House? The reason is that responsibility lies with the GLC over the river and it does nothing about the problem. The GLC is irresponsible about roads in London. The time has come for responsibility for major roads in the middle of London to go to the Department of Transport. Responsibility for minor roads should go to the local authority—the Greater London borough concerned. If my right hon. Friend could announce plans to introduce such measures as soon as possible, they would be greeted most favourably by all who represent London constituencies. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will mention that in her reply.

My right hon. Friend did not mention taking action to relieve the traffic problem on the south circular road or to take other decisions on inner city routes. We have often discussed the matter. I have also raised it with his predecessors. It is difficult to find a solution to the problem of the south circular. It is a major artery that runs amidst heavily built-up areas. Nevertheless, something must be done.

I do not believe that any careful thought is going into the problem except to say that any increase of traffic on the south circular will be picked up on the new M25. That may be true, but there should be deeper thought on the matter. Planning for action that will be taken not merely by the present Government—it cannot be solved overnight—but in four or five years' time. A scheme to relieve the intolerable pressure throughout South London that is caused by the build-up of traffic should be devised. Any comment that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State might make about this would be greatly appreciated, not only by myself but by other hon. Members who have the misfortune of trying to cope with the ever increasing build-up of traffic on that road.

For the reasons that I have given, I shall support the Government tonight, but I shall not cease to put pressure on them to continue to look for solutions to the appalling traffic problems that we all face.

6.32 pm

I am unequivocally an unrepentant conservationist and as such I should like as much freight traffic as possible to be conveyed by the railways. I know that the Secretary of State would also like that to happen—so did Armitage.

Why, then, are the Government demanding that rail freight makes a profit while allowing the subsidy on the heaviest high mileage lorries to rise to as much as £6,000 each per year? There is no support for the transfer of more heavy freight from the railways to roads. I am alarmed at the prospect of that happening, as it was outlined in yesterday's The Guardian. That newspaper carried a report saying that the railways expect another £40 million loss on freight traffic if the regulations are passed.

How does the Secretary of State propose to prevent such a transfer of traffic? It is no good intoning the usual platitudes about competition and market forces, the failure to tackle the problem of the taxation of the heaviest lorries—which are those which compete with rail freight—and properly to enforce the law concerning safety and operators' standards distorts the competitive framework against the rail system.

It is especially worrying that, although the taxation of heavier lorries has been restructured, the full recommendations of Armitage—that the subsidy to heavy lorries should be eliminated—have been ignored. Moreover, nothing has been done to include the public costs of accidents and damage to underground services in those calculations. May we please have some reassurance that those recommendations have not been lost sight of? May we have some idea of when they might be put into effect?

Much is made of the benefits of heavier lorries to industry. Armitage referred to between £120 million and £130 million a year but that included 44 tonne vehicles. It also suggested replating the existing maximum weight namely the 32·5 tonne articulated lorry to 34 tonnes. As matters stand now, the increase in weight will be smaller, drivers will almost certainly want higher wages and there will have to be more expenditure on roads and bridges.

How much benefit, therefore, will the consumer feel? I suggest that he will notice two things—bigger lorries and more lorries. Why bigger? Because for some classes of freight—bulk materials such as gravel, for example—the operator will swap his rigid tipper for an articulated combination which can be up to 40 per cent. longer. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) dealt with that matter earlier. I hope that the Secretary of State will make some move to stop that happening as, thankfully, he has done with regard to drawbar combinations.

Why more lorries? Because, inevitably, heavier lorries will mean further abstraction of railway traffic. That has happened before and it will happen again if, as we all hope, the economy starts to grow. If the Secretary of State does not agree, perhaps he will tell the House the year in which there will be fewer heavy lorries as a result of the regulations unless, of course, that is the consequence of the wholesale destruction of manufacturing industry, towards which the Government's policy in the past three years seems to have been hell-bent.

We are also told that the regulations will provide more jobs. Where? That will not be in the road haulage industry if we are to believe that there will be fewer lorries. Nor do I believe that there will be many more jobs in vehicle construction. Foreign supplies already have 60 per cent. of the market and will take advantage of the opening that has now been made for them. The opportunity will not I fear be taken up as it should be by our own manufacturers, although there might be a short-lived boost for trailer manufacturers. Nor is there much evidence to suggest that industry will become more efficient.

In some cases, such as the movement of bulk liquids, there will be advantages but are they sufficient to justify the damage to roads and the environment that the increase in heavy lorry traffic will bring? The carnage on roads that is partly due to the lack of proper law enforcement has not been mentioned much. Maintenance of law and order means that citizens are safe from robbery and violence. The Government have substantially increased spending on police but law and order also means the enforcement of traffic regulations. The right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) dealt with that matter. I refer to the enforcement of traffic regulations against the dangers that are created by lorries that are badly maintained, overloaded, speeding, running over unsuitable roads, throwing up a blinding spray, are not fitted with proven safety devices such as under-run guards and anti-lock braking devices and are driven by men who are working excessive hours.

Since the Government came to power, the number of enforcement staff has been reduced in the drive against Civil Service numbers. I have the figures here. I shall not waste the House's time by reading them. The numbers have dropped. They are beginning to increase but are still below what they were when the Government came into office. If I am not challenged on that point, I shall not give the figures.

Safety enforcement in road haulage is a bad joke. There are virtually no checks at nights or weekends. The operator standards in road haulage should be raised urgently. Why has the Secretary of State still made no move to enact the recommendations of the Foster report? As an immediate step, will the Secretary of State restore the numbers of traffic and vehicle examiners and say when he intends to implement the recommendations of the Foster committee? Those recommendations have wide support among the responsible majority of the road haulage industry. The Secretary of State's predecessor deferred action to await the conclusions of the Armitage inquiry.

Much mention has been made of bypasses. I shall not spend too much time on that matter. Nevertheless, local authorities and statutory undertakings also say that the increases in heavy lorry traffic will make it necessary to spend huge sums of money on strengthening bridges.

The hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks I spoke about Knaresborough which is a beautiful town with a number of bridges and big viaducts. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the problems of vibration in that area. He is absolutely right. Where is money to be found to strengthen those bridges? It would be nonsensical, for example, if the railways were made to pay to strengthen bridges for the benefit of competing road hauliers. The Secretary of State gave an assurance that the increases would be limited to 38 tonnes and I, like other hon. Members hope that that will be honoured. However, we are also worried about the effects of some of the heavier axles that are common on the Continent. For example, France allows 13 tonne axle weights. Will the Under-Secretary of State give an assurance that lorries with such axles will be kept away from our roads and bridges?

The Under-Secretary's "Yes", is on record. To many people it seems grossly unfair that the heavy lorry operator should get his way with bigger, heavier vehicles and that all the costs and safeguards should come along much later, if at all. The public will bear the extra costs of road construction and maintenance in the absence of a revision of taxation. We shall wait and wait for new bypasses. Some of them, will not be built until the turn of the century. We shall probably wait for efficient sprayguards, quieter lorries and better enforcement. On this issue, we on this Bench—such as we are—say that we are on the side of the public—[Interruption.] There are not all that many Conservative Members present either. If the public were asked about the 38 tonne lorry there is no doubt that they would overwhelmingly support our viewpoint and say that this is riot the time for such action. The Government should introduce improvements and law enforcement first and they might then give this matter some consideration. We say bypasses, quietness, safety and law enforcement first—larger lorries second.

Just what is life worth to the resident on a main road leading into a city? It is probably best to stand on the Archway Road on a wet Sunday afternoon if hon. Members want proof. Indeed, the Archway is probably one of the best arguments for saying that we should not come out of the EC. Virtually every lorry on that road is on its way to the Continent. Lorries pass at two-minute intervals. It is the most appalling place and one can only imagine what the people in that area have to put up with. Nearby Millbank is also pretty ghastly.

I have not, for once, spoken about my constituency. What is the Isle of Wight going to do about 38 tonne lorries? The situation is bad enough as it is. We cannot build a bypass. Lorries will come to the Isle of Wight because there are firms there such as Tesco and International Stores in situ. We shall have to put up with them. A previous Conservative Administration passed a resolution asking for the Isle of Wight to be exempted. If there is any way of doing that, such as through a lorry abatement order or the Dykes Act, may we have such protection? Such heavy lorries will not do us any good whatsoever. The argument is not about efficiency. The average load factors of heavy lorries are around 50 per cent., and better organisation in the industry could probably increase efficiency far more than heavier lorries. The argument is about quality of life and I submit that it is time to call a halt to the growth in lorry size. The motion before the House amounts to a eulogy of self-congratulations on the part of the Government about new bypasses, more jobs, greater efficiency, environmental benefits and greater road safety. The only certain fruit of the proposals is heavier lorries. Once they have been introduced, all the benefits will be consigned to the pending tray in the Department of Transport until they are dusted off the next time the road haulage lobby wants an increase. This time, we must have the amelioration first.

6.43 pm

The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) made one good point about the number of safety inspectors. I am sure that that will be welcomed in all parts of the House, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will respond to it. I do not challenge the hon. Gentleman's belief in conservation, but, judging by what he said, I challenge his understanding of the interest of the consumer, commerce and industry. His understanding of that seems to be about as good as his counting of his colleagues. He said "We on this Bench" when he was sitting in solitary splendour. He may be equally bad at counting the number of lorries that pass by.

For once, the hon. Gentleman did not make a constituency speech other than to say that it was impossible to bypass the Isle of Wight. It is possible to sail round it, but perhaps that does not count. Understandably, most hon. Members have raised constituency points. We all have a constituency interest, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) said. In Hove, our concern is certainly no less than the average, because the A27, a major trunk road, runs through a built-up area. We also get most of the traffic that goes to and from that flourishing small port, Shoreham harbour.

I agree with those who have said that, however many bypasses are built, the concern about lorries, people and the environment will continue. In my constituency we are awaiting the outcome of an inquiry into a proposed bypass that could take away much of the constituency's heavy traffic. We hope that there will be an early finding. Whether or not the bypass is built, there will still be a great deal of lorry traffic in Hove and Portslade because the factories, warehouses, shops and houses generate it. The effect of it on the people and the environment will largely depend on four factors. The first factor, size, creates the most confusion, although it should not. I cannot believe that the minor change in the size of vehicles that is proposed by the regulations will be detectable by the average observer. Indeed, it may not be detectable even to the more expert observer.

The reason for insisting that the vehicles will be bigger—even though one might readily accept that the extra length is fully justified and in no way detrimental—is that those in favour of the change constantly say that the vehicles will be no bigger. Technically and factually they will be. They can be 1ft 6ins longer.

I was not saying what my hon. Friend has accused others of saying, but I said that the change was so small that the average observer would not notice it, particularly as it effects the traction unit and not the trailer. Most observers are offended by the size of the trailer.

The second factor, noise, is far more important. Three decibels may not seem much on paper but it sounds a lot. A welcome improvement has been made and I look forward to the further improvements forecast in the regulations. They will be of immense help to those who live, work or shop near to the pasage of lorries. The third factor, safety, is equally important. The improvements in braking standards and spray suppression can only be welcomed as most helpful. Opposition Members—particularly the hon. Member for Isle of Wight—are concerned about the numbers. As has been said, it is self evident that fewer vehicles will be needed for any given level of goods traffic if those vehicles can carry heavier weights. Perhaps that can be most clearly demonstrated by considering the lorry traffic involved in food distribution.

Perhaps I should make clear an interest that is fairly well known to hon. Members. I am a director and substantial shareholder of a very large food retailer, J. Sainsbury PLC. However, my remarks are equally true of all other food retailers and about retail distribution generally. In its brief on this issue, the Retail Consortium said:
"The retail industry is so structured that the only practical method of distribution of goods is by road. Warehouses tend to be on the edge of towns and shops situated in the high street. Efficient distribution particularly in the food sector, relies largely on heavy lorries making deliveries."

I am convinced that all British industry will benefit from the Government's proposals. However, no industry is more dependent on road transport than the wholesale and retail food distribution industry. The experience of the company of which I am a non-executive director shows that the numbers issue can be clearly explained. It can be convincingly demonstrated that there will be a reduction in the number of lorries. J. Sainsbury has about 8·5 per cent. of the British retail food market. The co-operative movement as a whole is the largest retailer of food, but J. Sainsbury is the next largest in the United Kingdom. It does not require a great knowledge of mathematics to realise that if the figures that I have given are multiplied by 12, one obtains the equivalent figures for the whole of retail food distribution. The company has to get 90 million items—cans, bottles—into its stores each week for resale to customers. That represents about 3 million cases of "Coke" or bacon and so on. Most of those goods have to go first to a warehouse from either the point of importation or manufacture before they are transhipped to stores. The warehouses may be owned by the company or a distributor. That applies to most retailers and explains why, in round terms about 15 per cent. of the price of a basket of food reflects the cost of wholesale and retail distribution.

There is a well-known brand of baked beans which is manufactured largely in Wigan. My company distributes them to customers largely in the South and the Midlands. We are faced with the problem of getting the baked beans from Wigan to those customers. They go by lorry and each lorry carries 10 pallet loads of baked beans. That is a great deal of baked beans. I can assure the House that with a 38 tonne limit that same lorry, which will be no bigger although it may have a fifth axle, will be able to carry 14 pallet loads of baked beans. It does not require a great knowledge of mathematics to realise that there will be fewer lorries carrying that well-known label on their sides bringing baked beans from Wigan to the hungry southerners.

Surely that assumption is made on the basis that the market remains exactly as it is. If Sainsburys opens up shops, as it is in the middle of York, it will increase its needs for further deliveries. That means that it will want to have two 38 tonnes loads. We shall have two lorries instead of one. That is what happened in the past. Why should it not happen in the future?

I shall avoid discussing the suitability of the location of a proposed store with the hon. Gentleman.

It is obvious that there will be no more lorries. No more food will be sold because lorries are allowed to go round fully instead of partly loaded. I do not believe that the most optimistic of Heinz marketing men imagines that there will be many more baked beans sold in the South as a result of this proposal.

The economies that I have mentioned relating to goods inward will apply to the further stage of distribution—from the warehouse to the store. The company about which I have been talking operates a fleet of over 400 of its own lorries. A steadily increasing proportion of those vehicles—already over 150—is over 30 tons gross weight. They carry 42 roll pallets. Roll pallets are small pallets with wheels on each corner and two metal frames, and have the advantage of not being too big or heavy to be pushed around the sales area of a retail store while the goods are put on display. They are commonly used in the retail trade.

With a simple modification those same size lorries will carry the equivalent of 62 roll pallets instead of 42. For that reason, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, one of J. Sainsbury's average sized stores will be able to be replenished daily by four instead of six lorries.

I assure the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) and any other hon. Members who have doubted that fact, that for a substantial number of distributors—I believe the same goes for manufacturers—the proposed changes will reduce the number of lorries needed to carry the same amount of goods. By modifying existing lorries and replacing older ones, the company has said that there will definitely be savings in distribution costs of nearly £2 million within two years. Competition in the food distribution industry is such that the greater part. if not all, of those savings are bound to reach the consumer.

The community will gain from the reduction in the number of vehicles. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) that there will be a reduction for J. Sainsbury, and I know that that will apply to others involved in food and retail distribution.

The House will have found that analysis interesting, although it is theoretical. Are not those arguments more applicable to the own-account operators, like my hon. Friend's company, but not to the industry generally? Any increase in weight provides a once and for all significant boost for productivity potential which brings in small operators with their own lorries and more juggernauts on the road. Is chat not likely to outweigh any reduction in the own-account operators' vehicles?

I do not agree with my hon. Friend because it costs £35,000 or more to put a heavy vehicle on the road and operate it for a year. For economic reasons every effort is made to keep down the number of vehicles. Whether one is distributing on one's own account or to other outlets the benefit remains.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing said that there would be no benefit if one was on what is called a "milk round" dropping goods at a number of stores. If one can start with the equivalent of 62 roll pallets of goods in the vehicle instead of 42 the same benefits accrue to the milk-round vehicles as accrue to vehicles going to one store to drop the complete load.

No more food will be eaten because of the suggested changes. The same amount of goods will have to be carried, but they will be carried by fewer lorries using less fuel and making less noise. Industry and commerce have suffered from uncertainty about this matter for far too long. That uncertainty has led to delays in placing orders for lorries. That applies to my company. It affects the interests of vehicle manufacturers in the Midlands.

I believe that the Government's proposals will benefit the consumers, industry and the environment because there will be fewer lorries for any given volume of trade. I have no hesitation in supporting the proposals.

6.57 pm

I am a sponsored member of the Transport and General Workers Union. The opinion I shall advance is not solely that of the Transport and General Workers Union but also of its members who represent the bulk of lorry drivers who will be asked to drive the heavier lorries. I am sorry that Conservative Members have not placed more emphasis on drivers' views. In fact, I have hardly heard them mentioned at all, although Conservative Members have extolled the benefits of heavier vehicles.

This debate is about heavier vehicles and also about a position that is currently difficult to control. When the Minister winds up I hope that she will say that it is difficult to tell the weight of a lorry now when the goods are in an enclosed container. Not only can one not determine the distribution of the load within the container; one often does not know what it contains. Even now the de facto gross vehicle weight in many cases may be more than 32 tons.

There is a great difference between what the regulations say and what the actual carrying capacity unenforced tends to be. If there is to be art increase in the legislative weight to 38 tonnes gross vehicle weight, the de facto overall weight—because the law is not enforced sufficiently—could, in many instances, be higher. It is ironic that some of the overloading and some of the convictions for overloading occur when rail-borne Freightliner containers are put on the road. Many rail freightliner depots do not have proper weighbridges.

Conservative Members argue that the number of heavy lorries will not increase. It is already the case that the number is ceasing to increase at the previous rate. The reason for this is the downturn in the economy. With the collapse of the nation's manufacturing base, there has been no increase in demand for road haulage carrying capacity. The hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) talked about baked beans from Wigan. They are actually produced not in the Wigan constituency but in the Ince constituency. That traffic may be carefully controlled and, I hope, from his point of view, a growth sector. It does not reflect the overall road haulage situation. Many general haulage fleets have been taken off the road or have been reduced because of lack of growth in the transport sector, especially road haulage, as a consequence of the lack of growth in the rest of the economy. I am not sure where the increased demand is supposed to be coming from.

Hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Hove seem to think that the increase in gross vehicle weights will mean a reduction in the overall number of heavy lorries. I value highly the opinion of the editor of Commercial Motor, who said on 13 November:
"Unlike David Howell we cannot see any reduction in the numbers of vehicles on the road"
as a result of 38 tonners. That is the view of one of the main road haulage periodicals. It is not the view of an uninformed novice.

I had hoped to hear Ministers make suggestions for improving fleet utilisation. It is through improved fleet utilisation and a reduction in the percentage of empty running that a more effective contribution can be made to reducing the number of heavy goods vehicles. As the Under-Secretary of State must know, the main difficulty over improving fleet utilisation and decreasing the percentage of empty running is that ownership in the road haulage industry, thanks to denationalisation, is very fragmented.

How on earth can fleet utilisation be increased and empty running diminished when there are large numbers of small operators? To bring down the number of heavy goods vehicles, the Government should concentrate on improving clearing house and backloading facilities. Now that there is a more liberal transport regime that enables own account operators to do more backloading, this is an area in which the Government should be carrying out a study if they wish to bring down the number of heavy goods vehicles.

As the most effective parts of the Transport Act 1968 have not been implemented, there is a need to see whether that Act has had the effect of increasing the amount of backloaded traffic. Far too many of the contributions from Conservative Members reflect, like the Armitage report, the operators' view. Should not more attention be paid to the view of customers and the environmental view? There have been some precise quantifications of the benefit to operators. I should have liked to see more precise quantifications of the benefit to consumers and to the environment. I have seen no quantification of the so-called "social" benefits.

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) has left the Chamber. The right hon. Gentleman is a director of a firm with a large parcels collection and distribution centre in the Nuneaton constituency. When he talks about the length of the cab, he means really that an extension to the front of the cab will lead to far more sleeper cabs. This is a development to which the Transport and General Workers Union is totally opposed.

Heavier vehicles are being put on the road without adequate overnight parking facilities or overnight accommodation facilities for drivers. This means that the alarm clock will become just as much a part of drivers' equipment as the tachograph has unfortunately proved to be. I hope that those Conservative Members who urge an increase in cab lengths will also be insisting on increased facilities for drivers. Unless that happens, more drivers will have to sleep in lay-bys.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) was right in his interpretation and verification of the fourth power formula. That is an AASHO formula from the United States. I should have thought that there would now be enough British evidence about the additional damage caused by increased gross vehicle weights. Traffic has been using motorways in this country for nearly 25 years. I would have thought that it was now possible, instead of relying on German or United States experience, to carry out a much more precise British cost benefit study of heavy goods vehicles, especially in relation to the heavier axle weights.

The Under-Secretary of State quoted from the explanatory note. The hon. Lady knows that none of what she stated means a thing unless there is the means of enforcing the distribution of weight on a drawbar trailer or an articulated trailer. Half the trouble is that the Government's proposals for two axle tractors and three axle trailers are probably one of the worst axle patterns for achieving a good distribution of weight. How will the hon. Lady stop the overloading of the second axle on the tractor unit?

The right hon. Member for Worthing made a good point. A three axle tractor will, of course, achieve better weight distribution. The pattern chosen by the Government means that it will be difficult to enforce the law over the distribution on drawbar trailers and particularly on articulated trailers.

I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that it is a matter not just of the number of axles but of the distribution of weight on the axles. The only way her Department has of weighing the vehicles accurately is by shunting them backwards and forwards over weighbridges which are far too small and totally antiquated. Until the machinery is sensitive enough for vehicles to be weighed per axle, she knows that much of what she has said tonight simply cannot be enforced. It is a matter not just of quoting from a nice technical explanatory memorandum but of her Department having the technical means at its disposal to enforce weight distribution. At present it does not have those means, particularly for the second axle.

We can all talk about bypasses. I hope that even this Government have sufficient sense to build bypasses anyway. I imagine that many of the bypasses of which the Secretary of State spoke would have been built anyway. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) was not more tough with his Front Bench. He should have said that he would not vote for this proposal unless there was a bypass. He should have taken a much more stringent attitude. After all, Conservative Members know that once the next public expenditure review appears, bypasses will be easy to cut. So the Secretary of State's catalogue of bypasses does not cut much ice with me.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) was right to talk about the powers of local authorities to enforce penalties and regulations. As far as we can see, those powers will not be changed. I should have liked local authorities to be given increased powers to enforce what I shall call the Dykes Act. The Act of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) was a good piece of legislation. We thought that many more local authority powers would follow to enforce it—but no. The hon. Lady talks about "lorry action areas". To me, that sounds very vague. It is all very well to talk about lorry action areas, but it would be better to know which and where they will be.

I come back to what I said earlier. If this regulation is to be enforced, and if it is to be enforced by officers in the hon. Lady's Department, she will need many more officers than she has now, and she will need many more weighbridges. At docks and warehouses drivers often have to make substantial detours to find a weighbridge, and even then it may not be open. So even the most diligent driver, trying to keep within the drivers' hours and comply with all the regulations, often has to go out of his way to make sure that he has the correct weight.

Apart from the Netherlands, we are the only country in Europe which does not have a strictly regulated road haulage regime. In France, West Germany and most European countries, with the exception of the Netherlands, tariffs are regulated and access to the industry is regulated. In this country, once a person has obtained his operator's licence, little can stop him from putting more and more lorries on the road. We are not talking about a system where, by just increasing weights, we know exactly what will happen. We are talking about increasing gross vehicle weights in an extremely unregulated atmosphere with an extremely unregulated tariff regime. That is why I do not blame my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier), who expressed fears on behalf of his union.

I find it difficult to accept what the hon. Member for Hove said about baked beans coming down the M6 and the M1, because that is a controlled and a controllable situation. It is a regular flow. In fact, it is a timetabled flow. I know some of the drivers who are involved in it. Indeed, it is a computerised operation. There are not many road haulage operations that can be carried out in that way. Most operations are more fragmented and difficult to time and control.

The hon. Member will recall that when I spoke of the flow of baked beans from Wigan or Ince down to the South, I said that it reflected only part of the pattern of the retail distribution of food. That was the flow from the point of manufacture into the warehouse. A much more important part of the distribution pattern is from the warehouse to the retail store. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that total distribution of food in this country is a substantial generator of road traffic. The savings are there to be had, and will be taken advantage of in that industry.

I shall not pursue that argument, because I have spoken for too long already. In fact, the hon. Member for Hove has just admitted that what we are talking about tonight is not just a road haulage operator's decision. We are talking about a change in overall transport policy. The hon. Lady and her Department should understand that. We shall be talking about a shift from rail to road, a model shift, and my union opposes it not only because it is a transport policy change but because it has undesirable effects elsewhere. I hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends, aided and abetted—I hope—by several Conservative Members, will do all that they can to prevent this measure from going through tonight.

7.16 pm

We seem to be having a high tea debate, with baked beans going backwards and forwards up and down M1 and M6. I am glad that we were not fed a diet of fish fingers as well, by the 40-tonne load.

As we speak tonight, sometimes mentioning constituency interests, may I read a letter that I received yesterday from the Association of Kent Amenity Societies, telling me what to do in this debate. At the end, it contained a formidable sentence:
"We look forward to perusing Hansard after the debate."
Here we stand, in this difficult position. We have to satisfy our Front Bench, ourselves and, of course, our constituents. It is not a light matter.

When the idea of heavier lorries was first mentioned by the Secretary of State a year ago, I fired a shot in his direction, not to hurt him but to halt him.

No, it was not a plastic bullet. I meant just to miss him. I said, firing from the hip—using a phrase in haste—that I was "implacably opposed" to the whole idea. It was a phrase in haste that I chose wisely. I was not alone, of course. That shot, supported by a fusillade from around me—not just behind me, but in front, too—stopped him in his tracks. It stopped him for a year. He has thought again. He has come forward with some new ideas about improving lorries, controlling their standards and improving their safety. Above all, he has come forward with ideas on improving the roads.

Armitage was about people and the environment, as well as about heavier lorries. That is what concerns me and what must concern us all. Some of us may be haulage contractors or in the food distribution business, or thinking of the progress of British industry. We cannot ignore what Armitage reminded the public and the House about, as it studied this change. We have to be concerned about the effect on the environment and on the people.

There are moments when I do not hate heavy lorries, for example when I can pass them on motorways, particularly on three-lane motorways. We are blessed only with two-lane motorways in east Kent. I do not hate heavy lorries when I find that they are well driven, no doubt by the members of the union of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield). Often, they are well driven, and driven with proper consideration to other road users. Sometimes they are among the best drivers in the country.

However, on narrow trunk roads, winding uphill and down dale, I hate these heavy lorries. I hate them blocking the way in our country towns, in the village high streets and our narrow country lanes. I hate them when I see the damage that they can do to our country roads. In my constituency for some idiosyncratic reason, both the entrances to Canterbury are restricted because of road works. For nearly two years the A2 was pulled up because it collapsed under the weight of the vehicle traffic, which was underestimated when the road was made a few years ago. To complicate the problem still further, the A38 has also been pulled up, and that is the other entrance to our small city. I hate heavy lorries when they are involved in accidents or they scrape round roundabouts, bumping into motorists, pushing them into the side, knocking cyclists over, or just cutting into the barrier at the roundabout. It is and was because I did not hate them completely that I did not say that I was completely against them when I said that I was implacably opposed to these measures. I was just against the heavier lorries on the wrong roads.

I have received much support for my views from people everywhere. They are people who are concerned about our way of life, rather than just about our industrial and economic success. That point of view represents an important element in a civilised society. They saw something false in the argument that heavier meant fewer. They doubted the Minister's ability to keep the lorries off our narrow roads and lanes, and to support and back up the 1973 Dykes Act. I sat on the Committee and I gave all my support to that worthwhile measure.

People doubted whether the Act would get support, usage and enforcement by local authorities, backed by the Minister's authority. Their concern was also shown because they felt that the juggernaut—I do not mind using that word—was already big enough and heavy enough. Both Armitage and the Minister's White Paper a year ago expressed concern about braking effectiveness and the relative safety factors of vehicles as they are today. In particular the White Paper pointed out that there would be a relative increase in severity in accidents involving heavy lorries if we went for the heavier weights. In a rather frightening sentence, it suggested that the accidents would be "marginally more serious". The report did not brush aside the fact that accidents would be more serious. They would be more serious, but perhaps only "marginally" more so. This gives us pause for thought and the public the right to be concerned.

The public's concern has had an effect on me. I realised that I had touched a nerve in the electorate. There was widespread support for my hesitation to support the Government and for my resistance to the Government's measure. Other factors were at work as well. Quite apart from the Minister's rethinking in the past 12 months, and the other factors, are a whole series of initials that come across one's path, such as the CBI and the CIA. The latter stands for Chemical Industries Association, an industry in which I must declare an interest, and which did not neglect me. There is also the FTA, the RHA, the BRF and the SSMT.

In a nutshell, I was lobbied and lobbied heavily. They came to see me and I went to see them. I went to see the new lorries under manufacture, as I wanted to see that side of the coin and to see whether the new lorries would be safer and better constructed. I saw the provision for two-tier beds. I went to the motor show as well, having not been for years. I did not go to see the cars but to see the trucks and trailers. I have talked to drivers.

The hon. Member for Nuneaton is correct to remind us not to neglect the drivers, because they play an important part in the whole business of transport. There is a case for heavier lorries. The truck industry, as has already been mentioned, needs resuscitation as it is depressed. However, the restrictions and regulations for lorries still need strict and rigid enforcement. Sideguards, rearguards and anti-spray guards have all been promised. Better brakes, suspension to reduce the amount of throbbing and vibration, and quieter engines have all been mentioned. They are things that we must have.

We must ask the Government, if they get the measure through tonight, not to forget these cries for the other side of Armitage, which must be brought in. We need more effective checking and control, as has been said. I have done some checking of the weighbridges in Kent, and found two. I went to one, which was an axle weighing machine, which was quick and efficient. We should have hundreds more, but we have only about 200. We could have many more, and they are not difficult or expensive to install. We need all these things to ensure observance of the safety regulations. The Dykes Act must be enforced by local authorities.

Responsible men and women in the truck industries, manufacturers and hauliers, accept these points. Some have written to me to say how much they accept their responsibility towards others. They must learn, too, that if they get what they want tonight, they will have to live with the community. They cannot just ride away into the dusk and say how happy they are to have got the 38-tonne limit. They have a duty to live with the community and with society and to respect people in the way that they behave and observe these regulations.

We must have the right type of roads. The Secretary of State has done well to propose more and more bypasses. Our protest and resistance has had its effect on the Minister and on his colleagues. However, the Secretary of State must now deliver the goods. We often hear talk of the new motorways and bypasses. All too often, they could be castles in the air. I was dismayed to hear that in 1980, 36 bypasses had been taken out of the programme. I am not suggesting that this will happen, but I hope that my right hon. Friend knows that today, if the Government get this measure, we must have the roads that he has promised us and more, and they must not take years to appear.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State means well. He has been shaken by the feelings expressed to him from all over the country, but he must prove to us that he has the Chancellor right behind him with the bags of money necessary to implement his programme. The money must be there. The Department and the county councils must work to new types of priorities and get on with the job. This is particularly so in the South-East, which is the most neglected area of Britain for road development. The infrastructure in the South-East is ridiculous. Our road system in Kent is a disgrace. Getting out of London and down the Old Kent Road, through Deptford and across Blackheath to Falconwood and Welling, before one reaches a dual carriageway is a Victorian experience.

One goes down the A2 only to find that the motorway peters out 22 miles short of Dover and becomes an A road again. There is not a dual carriageway for the whole of its length. My constituents are not prepared to go on putting up with that.

However, the real problem is not the road to Dover, it is where the motorway ends 22 miles short of Dover. the road forks and the left hand fork goes to Thanet, Margate and Ramsgate—the second most important passenger port across the Channel after Dover, carrying much freight and passenger traffic and generating much traffic on the A299, the coast road. It is only 18 miles long and without doubt it is one one the most dangerous stretches of road in Britain. Multiple crashes are the order of the day. I know it backwards. I have lived on it for 17 years. Particularly at weekends and in the summer, death and injury are regular tragedies on that murderous road. I have told the Secretary of State about it and the Under-Secretary of State has—and I thank her for it—taken the trouble to come and see it for herself.

I know that the Department has prepared plans to make the road safer by turning it into a dual carriageway at a mere cost of £24 million for 18 miles. That is possible because there is little urban crowding on the road and masses of space to build another lane—not a motorway, just a dual carriageway, a trunk road. It is an easy conversion whch requires only the go-ahead from the Minister. I do not ask for it tomorrow or even next year, but I want a little hope tonight for my constituents. So far, the Minister has refused.

The Department seems to be prepared for the tragedies to continue, but I am not. I cannot live and watch the continuing tragedies of so many accidents on a road designed over 50 years ago when Britain's vehicle population was about 1½ millon. It is now over 20 million vehicles.

I have a duty to my constituents. This is not a minor road. It carries dense and dangerous traffic. However, the Department has hinted to me that it is neither dense nor dangerous enough to merit a dual carriageway. The irony is that that was not always the Department's view. In 1970 I went to the Department of the Environment to see a new young Minister and asked him for the modernisation of the A2 from the point 22 miles short of Dover. His officials turned to him and said that the A2 did not merit improvement because two thirds of the traffic took the other road—the Thanet Way to Ramsgate and Margate. I am glad to say that that Minister overruled his officials and told them to go back and think again. He is now the Secretary of State for the Environment. He has done very well. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to do likewise now.

For my part, I will, as one of my hon. Friends has said tonight, make that dreadful step and give the Minister the benefit of the doubt. I shall cross from resistance to support him and the Government tonight. He has come a long way in the past 12 months with his bypasses and his regulations and I shall not lie down in front of his juggernaut any more. However, I must ask him to remember my constituents because they are expecting him to help them in return by agreeing to make the Thanet Way a safer road as a dual carriageway.

I make a further appeal for brevity! Without it several hon. Members who have a strong interest in the debate will be disappointed.

7.32 pm

I share with the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) the honour of representing one of the two provincial centres of the Church of England. I also share with him a deep hostility to the proposal to increase lorry weights, partly because of the nature of the constituencies that we represent.

The only difference between me and the hon. Gentleman is that my hostility remains implacable and his has been dissipated by the appearance of the Under-Secretary of State to look at the problems in his constituency, though she did nothing about them. That is too light a price to pay for his vote. It may well be that he will be a little surprised at the reaction that will follow in his constituency when it is recognised that he has sold his birthright for such a small mess of pottage.

The case against the Government's proposal was made effectively by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth). The proposal does not hold water. It cannot be suggested that a proposal to increase either the size or the weight of lorries in the past has ultimately led to a reduction in lorry traffic. It is true that there has been some slight reduction in recent years because of the reduced growth in the economy. However, one day there will be a Labour Government—next year I expect—and there will be an increase in economic growth. When that happens, it is inevitable that there will also be an increase not only in general lorry traffic but in the supply of baked beans to Sainsbury's.

The right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that when people have more money in their pockets they also spend more on food. Indeed, they spend more money on all kinds of things. If there is a growing economy, there will also be the need to carry more freight. I would prefer that to be carried by the railways. The Secretary of State, who said that he shares that ambition, would do better to raise the cash limit on British Rail to allow it to invest more in the provision of freight traffic.

As has been suggested, new schemes are being proposed with the use of a specially designed tipper lorry on British Rail which will allow it to compete more effectively below the 200 mile mark, which is where its competitive effectiveness now ends. In doing so, it will be able to carry a good deal more freight than is now carried by lorries.

Nevertheless, I anticipate that the growth of lorry traffic will continue. It will not be reduced simply by allowing lorries to carry greater weights on the proposed axle limits. Therefore, that strand of the argument does not carry any weight.

The Armitage report was originally promoted on the basis that we had to achieve uniformity with the standards required in the Common Market. That no longer carries any weight because we will not allow 44 tonne lorries, only 38 tonne lorries.

In recent months, because of the lack of jobs in the West Midlands, we have heard a great deal about the idea which the Minister spoke about with such passion. It had not occurred to anyone previously, but it is now thought that if we change the nature of the lorry there may be more orders for the West Midlands lorry manufacturers.

If that were true, it might be desirable. However, there is no sign that the British lorry industry is competitive enough to deal with the competition from some of the Swedish and German manufacturers. When British Leyland brought out a lorry only two or three years ago, it was heralded as a great breakthrough, but it did not do very well in competition with Volvo or any of its major German competitors. I do not believe that it will now. If lorry weights were to remain at 32 tons there would still be the possibility of selling more lorries if activity revived and people were able to invest. That case is not made out, and I do not need to stress my reasons for that because they have been made in other speeches.

I want to address myself for a few moments to the problems of my constituency because it is relevant to the general issues that arise. I represent one of the great cities of Europe in which the lorry is becoming an increasing plague upon the residents and a considerable danger to the conservation of one of the most beautiful cities in Britain. If that danger is to be eliminated, it must be by controlling the use of lorries, particularly their size and weight.

When people say, as the Minister said to almost every hon. Member who interrupted him, "Don't worry about it, boys, we shall provide a bypass", I must point out that York has a bypass. In 1966, when I became a Member, my first move was to go to the then Minister of Transport to tell him that I wanted a bypass. The York bypass was built in 1972. I was grateful for it, but it went only halfway round the city. I still need a bypass for the north side of the city to get rid of the A19 traffic. The southern part of the bypass removed a substantial number of lorries but only 20 per cent. of lorry traffic inside the city. The rest of the lorry traffic was internally generated or was delivering to destinations within the city.

When we have 38 tonne lorries, they will travel along the bypass until they come to the nearest access road. They will then enter the city and travel past my constituents' houses as they proceed to deliver at the place where they make the Yorkie bar, or whichever bar the lorry driver eats. These lorries may deliver to National Glass, which has recently decided that no longer wants its sand to be transported by British Rail. Apparently, it will have it transported by large lorries. I suppose that this will mean that 38 tonne lorries will be travelling past my constituents' houses.

How am I to tell my constituents that all will be well when the northern section of the bypass is built? It will take only a small amount of the total traffic. I still want the northern section, so I do not want the Minister to cancel the project. I cannot pretend to my constituents that that bypass will solve the problem. Therefore, I do not accept the suggestion that we can overcome the problems of heavier lorries by building more bypasses. Bypasses help in some circumstances—for example, villages where there is not internally generated traffic—but they do not help much in a city such as York.

We tried to use the hon. Gentleman's Act—the Dykes Act—to overcome some of the problems before the building of the northern section of the bypass. The traffic that is generated in the Teesside area travels down to Hull. When I visited the Minister of Transport in 1967 the official told me, "You cannot have a bypass that encircles the city. It will not matter about the northern section because the traffic from Middlesbrough to Hull will go down the A1 and along the M62, when we build the M62. We shall do that anyway, so do not worry about that." Therefore, like a silly little man—I was naive about such matters in those days, but I have become a good deal more cynical since—I believed him. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) is right to guffaw. I should never have believed him.

When the M62 was built, the lorry drivers came down the A19 through my constituency and out of it on an inadequate road to Hull. They did so because they wanted to cut time. That was in their interests and in the owners' interests. The owners did not want their drivers to use the M62 because that meant spending a few more pounds on the cost of transportation.

We in York tried to do something about that. We tried to use the Dykes Act. We tried to stop access for through lorries anywhere within the area of the A19 from Middlesbrough, the A1 and the M62. We proposed the largest lorry-free area in Britain, so we were told. The North Yorkshire county engineer was implacably opposed to it—and when he said "implacably" he meant it. He did his best to stop us, but the citizens of York applied pressure. We even had Conservative councillors saying that lorries should not come through the city. In the end North Yorkshire established a committee, which finally acceded to my constituents' request. It was proposed that we should have a lorry-free area.

What happened? The county engineer contacted his mates in West Yorkshire and Humberside. Those two organisations, which had no reason to be interested in the lorries running down the Al, suddenly started making pretentious noises about how it would not do to have the lorry-free area that we proposed. The Minister was also got at. He was told that if lorries were taken off the A19 it would have to be de-trunked, whatever that means.

At that stage the lorry drivers entered the controversy. They were much more forceful than anyone else. When they started telling Conservative councillors in North Yorkshire that it would cost a bob or two to use the Al and the M62, they did not like it. As a result, the scheme was stopped. That was democracy in action. Those who suffered most from lorry noise and those who would have had to pay the extra cost if it had arisen—they were prepared to pay it—were frustrated in their efforts. In the end, there was an inbuilt group of resistance composed of the county engineer and the freight operators. That group ensured that they did not get their way.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way after his fascinating description of the York scheme. Paragraph 227 of the Armitage report states:

"There is a great deal of local restriction on lorries under the Dykes Act and other powers. It would be easy to underestimate the large number and variety of such restrictions."
Much depends on how determined a local authority is to serve the interests of the local population. However, the main purpose of my intervention is to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that if hauliers, the haulage industry, the operators and the own-account operators are to get the enormous benefit that will flow from an increase in weights, notwithstanding other restrictions on dimensions, they must accept the overwhelming requirement of much more transshipment and restrictions on access?

In theory that must be right, but in practice that will not be the result. In practice the lorry owners will continue to say, "In these economic conditions we must cut every cost if possible. If there is a way of getting freight between A and B more directly, that is the route that we want to take." They will continue to apply pressure. The hon. Gentleman should not be as naive as I was in thinking that the owners will see the sense of his argument. We must determine whether we shall impose the obligation that he has posed on the owners.

Those of us who are opposed to the regulations, if we are successful in stopping the introduction of larger lorries, might add to the unit costs of transportation. Perhaps we shall lose some jobs, but I doubt whether that will happen. What does society want? What is it that we are after? We could probably provide a few more jobs if we increased prostitution or if we started making more bombs to be blown up somewhere else. There are so many objectives that can be espoused if the aim is to increase jobs or profit. However, most of our constituents do not want a society that relies so heavily upon large juggernauts. Surely we want to provide a quality of life for them on the understanding that they may be willing to pay a little more to have it. We should provide a quality of life for them that they will enjoy. That is the balance that must be struck.

There is a balance to be struck between the environment in which we live and the advantages that we can give to the economy of freight operators by introducing heavier lorries. I believe that that balance weighs heavily in favour of retaining the present quality of the environment. We should not exceed the present limit of 32·5 tonnes by one tonne.

7.49 pm

I agree with the final comment of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), but I disagree with his suggestion that the Secretary of State for Transport in the Labour Government established the Armitage inquiry purely because of Britain's membership of the EC. In fact, the then Secretary of State for Transport was under pressure to consider the introduction of heavier lorries. Rather than make a decision himself, he set up a committee to tell him what he should do. He left a very unattractive nettle for someone to grasp. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on grasping that nettle in the way he has and on finding a compromise between protecting people and the environment from over much intrusion by heavy lorries while giving industry and commerce the benefit of larger and more economic vehicles, which, in turn will enable them to be more competitive.

No hon. Member really doubts that the increase in the weight limit from 32½ tonnes to 38 tonnes, provided the heavier lorries run on five axles and thus do not do more damage to our roads, will mean other than that operators possessing those vehicles will be able to reduce their transport costs and compete on a more equal footing with their Continental competitors.

I will not give way. So many other hon. Members wish to speak that to do so would be grossly unfair to them.

Our decision to introduce the regulations—I believe that there will be such a decision later tonight—will help a wide spectrum of industry and the retail trade to hold down transport costs, with benefits for everyone, not least the housewife.

As an agricultural merchant in my constituency wrote to me:
"If Parliament wishes to have a more efficient transportation system, then the arguments which are geared to heavier and not larger lorries must be listened to. The increasing of weight will save this Company"—
the company is called H. Dolton & Son Ltd.—
"many thousands of pounds … The saving in our energy costs would be towards 10 per cent.… This saving would be passed on to the customer so benefiting them in the end, and making us more competitive with the competition of other Common Market Countries."
The issue of competitiveness has been raised by the General Council of British Shipping. It makes the simple point that companies handling containers, exporters and container operators will now find that, as a result of these heavier vehicles, they will be enabled to load their containers closer to the maximum weight of 30·5 tonnes, which a standard 40 ft container can carry, whereas at present they are limited to only 22 tonnes. They will be competing on a much fairer basis with their Continental rivals.

It has already been said that the decision to allow heavier weights on five-axle vehicles must mean a boost for the sale of heavier commercial vehicles. None of us can doubt that that will be good news for our lorry manufacturers, who have seen a fall of about 65 per cent. in sales of heavy goods vehicles between 1979 and 1981.

I welcome the proposed improvements in safety standards—the sideguards, the rear under-run guards, the new braking standards and the investigation into spray suppression. Like so many other hon. Members, I too, have been blinded by the spray from a heavy lorry on the M4 in wet weather. All hon. Members will agree that to pass a lorry in those circumstances is to take one's life into one's hands. I welcome the fact that the lorries will be so marginally larger that we will not, in fact, notice that difference. As has been pointed out, the difference lies in the tractor of the articulated vehicle.

I welcome the reduction in lorry noise. However, I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I remind him that in the Wilson report on noise of July 1963—nearly 20 years ago—Sir Alan Wilson proposed that motor cycle noise should not exceed 90 decibels at the A rating and other vehicles, including lorries, 85 decibels at the A rating. Now, 20 years later, we are not even getting down to the proposals in Sir Alan Wilson's report of 1963. I welcome the noise improvement in the regulations but I beg my right hon. Friend to press the industry to go faster in the direction of quieter vehicles.

Whether we were arguing about increasing the weights of the vehicles which we will allow on our roads or whether we were simply arguing that we should maintain the status quo, as so many Opposition Members have contended, heavy lorries are generally unpopular and the regulations will not change that. One of the reasons for that unpopularity is that heavy lorries have to use roads that are wholly inadequate for them. That state of affairs will remain for many years to come, despite the higher priority for bypass schemes.

I wish I could say tonight that the solution to that problem lies in attracting more freight on to the railways. As one who wanted to see the freightliners run by British Rail rather than by the National Freight Corporation, I do not have to defend my argument when I say that I no longer believe that that option is really available to this nation. I want to see as much traffic as possible travel on the railways but to believe that the railways can take back what they have lost to road transport is to wish for the moon. That moment is not going to come and I do not believe that British Rail believes it will come.

A moment ago I referred to the higher priority now being given to bypass schemes. I make no apology for referring to the proposed Newbury bypass. We want that bypass and we want it now, but we have been told that we must wait until 1986 before we will have it. In the meantime, we want to feel that the Department of Transport is sufficiently aware of the problems in and around Newbury. We are not conviced by its consultation document that it is as conscious as we would wish of the growth to the east of Newbury around the town of Thatcham. It is expanding not only in population but industrially.

I cannot in any way be other than delighted that in my constituency we are building something to be called the Royal Berkshire industrial centre. We have many claims for factory space on it, but it will generate a great deal of traffic, as will the new population in Thatcham. For the Department to tell us that the eastern route, which it might have considered has been ruled out without giving us in West Berkshire the opportunity to discuss that proposal, makes us feel that the Department is not as sensitive to the needs of West Berkshire and the problems in and around Newbury as it should be. If my right hon. Friend ever chooses to come to Newbury at peak hours he will be amazed by how heavy is the congestion on the A34. Something must be done about that and soon.

If I am worrying about the proposed new bypass, may I also tell my right hon. Friend that just north of Newbury, on the A34 at Gore Hill, he will find an even worse traffic problem. The A34 suddenly changes from a dual carriageway into a single carriageway although his Department, in its document about the Newbury bypass, described the A34 as forming
"part of the key route between the industrial Midlands and the South Coast including the important ports of Southampton and Portsmouth."
If the Department means what it says it cannot continue to leave the Gore Hill stretch of the A34 in its present state. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to give us in West Berkshire some hope that a road improvement plan will be introduced in the near future.

As I have said, if we imagine that our trunk road network is now adequate, except for the villages and towns that have not yet been bypassed but are to be bypassed in the future, we deceive ourselves. Many hon. Members have referred to the need to examine our whole road network. In saying that Britain does not yet possess a strategic network of roads, I believe that I say no more than the truth.

The British Road Federation estimates that £5,000 million needs to be spent on trunk roads alone to provide the roads needed for economic recovery. We all know that in the six years since 1976 overall expenditure on roads decreased by 30 per cent. and road construction by 40 per cent. Local authority expenditure also declined, although traffic increased. In the financial years 1982–83 and 1983–84 the Department is spending an extra 11 per cent. in England, but is that enough? The Government wish to encourage capital expenditure to improve the nation's assets and to help employment, so where better than on the roads?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend has seen the study by Cambridge Econometrics which suggests that an increase of £500 million in civil works such as road, water and sewerage works would produce 40,000 jobs in construction and 20,000 in the construction supply industry. Those jobs could be achieved at a cost of £2,300 each, compared with the £3,100 for a job through equivalent spending on employment subsidies, or £5,000 for an unemployed person.

My right hon. Friend has the opportunity to set in hand a new spending programme on the roads which would create new jobs and new national assets at a time when contractors' prices are both competitive and unexpectedly low. That network of roads would relieve many of our people of the environmental disadvantages of heavy lorries while providing our transport industry with the means to be really efficient and economic.

8.2 pm

The House has been taken on an interesting excursion into the highways and byways mainly of the South and South-East of England and I have been struck by the enormous difference between circumstances on the roads in the South of England and those with which I am familiar in Scotland.

The Scottish motorway network, such as it is, is completely detached from that of the rest of the United Kingdom. Heavy lorries must therefore pass through constituencies such as my own if they are involved in commerce between what is left of the industrial area of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

In 1979, the people of Scotland voted to set up a Scottish Assembly to be responsible for subjects currently devolved to the Scottish Office. From the point of view of my constituents and others suffering from road haulage related problems in Scotland, it would be far more constructive if the debate on these matters in relation to Scotland could have taken place in a Scottish Assembly in Edinburgh. Incidentally, I wonder where the Scottish Office Minister with responsibility for roads and the environment is today. He has not been present for any part of the debate.

We have heard some emotive speeches, particularly from Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) talked about juggernauts going through sleepy villages. Before I became a Member of Parliament, I used to drive a lorry. I do not know whether I am the only hon. Member who still holds a current heavy goods vehicle driving licence, but I assure the Minister that I never went looking for villages to drive through. I tried to get to the nearest trunk road and to stay on it until I was as near as possible to my destination. It is a pity that lorries and lorry drivers have been portrayed as such bogies by some hon. Members.

Having said, that, however, I believe that there must be effective designation of lorry routes. There is certainly confusion about the suitability of some roads, especially when drivers are unfamiliar with the area. Only three weeks ago, close to my home, a driver who was a stranger to the area drove a fully-laden 32-tonner over a bridge with a weight restriction of five tons. Miraculously, he got over the bridge and the bridge is still standing, but the lorry finished up in a neighbour's garden because the driver failed to negotiate a corner. Clearly, that road was not suitable for that kind of vehicle, but the driver concerned was unaware of the fact. I am sure that the situation would be improved by better signposting and the provision of better maps for drivers and haulage managers.

Clearly, a larger and better trunk road network is needed throughout the United Kingdom. I am perhaps more familiar with the problems than many hon. Members as my constituency contains a 55-mile stretch of the A1. To the credit of successive Governments, a number of bypasses have been or are being constructed on that road so that virtually all the communities in my constituency will have been bypassed within three or four years. Nevertheless, the road is still painfully inadequate. In the whole of that massive constituency of two former counties, there are only two miles of dual carriageway and there is no satisfactory east-west road.

The House will appreciate that such a long stretch of single carriageway is severely congested with heavy lorries, especially as a result of construction work for the Torness power station. Many hon. Members have referred to the need to transfer loads from road to rail. The Torness power station will involve the transport of nuclear waste and fuel within a few years, and its construction phase involves moving a massive amount of aggregate, cement and engineering materials. The power station site is within a few hundred yards of the east coast main railway line, but despite representations by many people during the planning process, all those materials have been going in by road, and none by rail.

I know a certain amount about the Torness power station project. Some of the components must travel by road because they are too large to be transported by rail.

My hon. Friend's point it partly relevant, although a significant number of the large components to which he refers are coming by sea. I was referring to the transport of gravel, cement and similar materials.

My constituency is a typical rural area. Its industries include quarrying, agriculture, fishing, forestry, saw mills and paper manufacture, all of which produce relatively bulky and comparatively low value products and all of which are now facing severe difficulties. They depend on road transport. Most of those commodities would certainly be more conveniently handled by rail, but that point is academic. There is no railway station in the Borders region of Scotland. Five former counties, including the entire constituency of the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), and Berwickshire in my constituency have no railway station. Although that argument may have been valid at one time and although I agree that it would have been better had those industries been served by rail, it is no longer possible because successive Governments have closed the railway lines. We are left entirely dependent on road transport.

I accept that lorries are not objects of great beauty, but they are vital to the economy of rural Scotland. Heavier, 38-tonne gross lorries will be even less beautiful. We all accept that, but we have the wretched things on the roads already, for the most part running underloaded. As they are underloaded, many of them are running uneconomically. There are more potential 38-tonne gross lorries on the road than there need be because they are running at only 32 tonnes gross. That problem has led to more congestion on the roads, certainly in my constituency, and probably every bit as much wear and tear on the roads as if the lorries were fully loaded at 38 tonnes gross.

I wish to protect lorry drivers' jobs and I am also desperately concerned about the economy of rural Scotland, which must depend on economic road haulage. Remoteness makes transport costs much more significant to industries in Scotland than in most other parts of the United Kingdom. I fear that heavier lorries may be necessary to prevent Scotland's rural economy from dying. That is why I have serious misgivings about the amendment tabled by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I do not trust this Government to keep their undertakings on the environmental protection of the country, and I shall certainly not vote with them, because I should not wish to give them a free hand in any respect. However, when my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) replies, he will be speaking to at least one floating voter on the Opposition Benches.

8.11 pm

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). I did not expect to hear defectors or potential rebels among the Opposition on this occasion, but the hon. Gentleman spoke with vigour and sincerity about his constituents' interests. He spoke with logical persuasion about the case for making greater use of lorries that can carry heavy loads. Like him, I represent a constituency with a large rural area and I suspect that many of our constituency problems are similar.

From that starting point of representing a rural constituency, I address myself to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If there is one issue on which my constituents are united and on which they feel most strongly, it is their opposition to heavier lorries. I have several times, both in the House and in public, expressed my deep anxiety and reservations over the proposals in the Armitage report about heavier lorries and, more recently, in the Government's response to that report, which was substantially to increase lorry weights. Like so many of my hon. Friends, I have had many representations from constituents. A variety of amenity groups in my constituency represent ancient and historic towns such as Midhurst and Petworth, and bodies such as the Chichester Society seek to maintain the fabric and preserve the architectural heritage of my constituency's main city, Chichester. Chichester has many of the characteristics described by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). Those lobby groups, environmental groups and amenity societies have not been slow to bring to my attention their grave anxiety about the effect of heavier lorries on the environment. Many constituents who live in villages and who feel beleaguered because of the effect of those large lorries on the quality of their lives have written to me. The most fearsome group—the group that no Member of Parliament can afford to ignore—and the one that has been most vociferous in its representations is the Women's Institute. We ignore the views of the Women's Institute at our peril. All the branches in my constituency were united in condemning the initial proposals for heavier weights.

There is a major problem with credibility. The Government have tried, rightly, to base their judgment and proposals on a careful analysis of the Armitage report. They have brought forward proposals designed to increase the efficiency of the transport industry, which they hope will regenerate industrial growth. Yet, however much one tries to persuade people that heavier lorries will mean fewer lorries, one is not believed because of what happened in the past. The tables in the Armitage report show that the heavier categories of lorries have increased year by year.

All other things being equal, it is undeniable that if the maximum weights of lorries are increased there should be fewer lorry movements. But other things are not always equal, and the lorry movements on our roads are much more a function of economic activity and the network of retail distribution than of lorry weight loads. In the past, the Government and reports such as Armitage have been wrong to state definitively that heavier lorries will mean fewer lorries. It does not necessarily mean that, and it would be much better, when one is trying to persuade the public that the weights are acceptable, if those who propose the change would come clean on that matter.

We have heard and read many times that the changes will not mean an increase in the size of heavy lorries. However, they do, and I do not regard 1½ ft extra as inconsiderable. Many of those who examine the total length of vehicles will feel that they are larger. If one sees the length of vehicles trying to negotiate narrow streets and corners in towns such as Petworth in my constituency, one can readily understand that people will notice the extra length.

Lorries already form a visible blot on the environment. They are disproportionate to the architecture of the towns through which they pass and many of the communities that they serve commercially. That difference in size is objectionable to many and it affects their assessment of their quality of life. I was an overt critic of the Armitage proposals and the Government's response to them, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury, I must recognise that the Government have responded to the concern expressed by me and many other hon. Members. It would be churlish of us not to recognise that now.

Many hon. Members were worried about the Government's initial response, which seemed to suggest that an increase in four-axle vehicles to 34 tonnes and of five-axle vehicles to 40 tonnes would be acceptable without having a major detrimental impact on the environment. However, many of us continued to stress to the Government that the proposal would be unacceptable politically in areas such as the one that I represent. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Sectretary of State, who has had a difficult job during the past year, for the way in which he responded to the views expressed on the matter. His proposal is that there will be no increase in the weight of four-axle vehicles and that the maximum weight will now be 38 tonnes, instead of 40 tonnes, as was proposed previously and the 44 tonnes proposed by Armitage. That is real progress. We know that in politics one must strike a balance, so a concession will be necessary from those of us who wish to give the Government the benefit of the doubt.

My remarks have little to do with the fact that some weeks ago the Government announced an important new bypass in my constituency, because I have pressed for a change for some time. The residents of Westhampnet were delighted by the news.

I say to my hon. Friends who may still be questioning which way they should vote, although I suspect that there are few present now, that I believe that what has been proposed is the best deal that we shall get. Therefore, we should accept it. I say that because we now have a firm assurance from my right hon. Friend that this is the last time that the Government will propose increases in lorry weights. When I asked him specifically whether the Government would use their veto and influence to prevent the European Council from moving from a draft directive to a mandatory directive for the member States on this issue, he gave the House a full reassurance.

There is a real danger that if we do not accept these proposals, although the Government, have made major concessions to those of us who were concerned about the original heavy lorry weights, this or a future Government will return to the House with a proposal for higher lorry weights. Therefore, while the going is good we should accept the deal that has been offered.

The package that has been presented is genuine and marks a victory for those who have campaigned strenuously, whether inside or outside the House. We have nothing to be ashamed of tonight if we support the Government's proposals.

We cannot ignore the fact that we live and trade within Europe and that the measure has beneficial implications for industry and commerce, particularly vehicle manufacturers. However, like some of my hon. Friends who have spoken in the debate, I reiterate the strength of feeling that the Government must follow through on the environmental aspects of the package. We do not simply want the heavier weights to be agreed tonight and to find thereafter that many other aspects, such as spray suppression, changes to lorries and improvements in the roads programme, are forgotten or delayed. Those are vital aspects of the issue and the only means by which we shall be able to deliver the issue in our constituencies.

With regard to the road building programme, I, like others, welcome the Government's commitment and the high priority that they give to improving bypasses in many of the towns that are worst affected. However, I believe that there is and could have been a possibility of higher public expenditure on the capital roadworks programme. The "Roads for England 1982" paper states that the cash allocation for the current financial year for new construction and improvement is £522 million. I believe that I am right in saying that that is a reduction on the allocation in the White Paper
"Policy for Roads: England 1981"
which stated that the actual expenditure would be about £15 million higher.

We are told in the autumn statement that there is to be no change in the expenditure White Paper proposals for the roads programme next year and that that will enable the momentum of the present roads programme to be continued. However, given the lower than expected outturn for the public sector borrowing requirement and the prospects of falling inflation and more expenditure flexibility next year, it would be worth while to consider the prospect, and for the Secretary of State to argue the case with the Treasury, of increasing the size of the roads programme and bringing forward many of the schemes that will radically alleviate the problems of heavier vehicles and increasing traffic in many of our towns and cities.

I am listening closely to my hon. Friend's speech, which contains much wisdom. I am grateful for some of the things that he has said. With regard to the road building programme, one of the reasons why the volume of roads being built is increasing is that the taxpayers' pound is buying more road, that is to say that the bids are coming in cheaper, so more roads can be built for the same amount of money. My hon. Friend may like to know that since the Armitage report, we have added bypasses to the trunk road programme to the value of £200 million and approved transport grants of £245 million for local bypasses. I hope to approve an extra £154 million for 1983–84. That is big money. As I said in an earlier intervention, there has been a substantial real increase in trunk road expenditure since the Government came to office. I said in that intervention that it was 19 per cent. I should have said 17 per cent. That is the considerable real increase since we came to office.

I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. I would not wish to hold back from paying a tribute to the way in which he has been able to maintain an increase in the roads programme during the Government's period of office.

That is effective expenditure in terms of alleviating the level of unemployment and gearing up recovery in other sectors of the economy. In considering any future flexibility that he might be able to negotiate with the Treasury, my right hon. Friend should remember that there is more that can and should be done. If we are to sell the package of heavier lorry weights in our constituencies it will be helpful to reiterate the good news that my right hon. Friend has given us on public expenditure and bringing forward the roads programme. However, many of us feel that still more could be done.

I give a slightly guarded but, for the first time, sincere, welcome to the Government's proposals, which I shall support.

Order. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman is hoping to catch my eye at 9 o'clock, so extreme brevity is required if many hon. Members are not to be disappointed.

8.27 pm

There has been a great deal of ambivalence in many of the speeches of Conservative Members. Many hon. Members are extremely uneasy and alarmed about the proposals that we are debating but have decided, for various reasons, that they had better support the Government.

It is ironic that in this day and age, when there is more concern about ecology, conservation and the environment than ever before, the pressure for heavier vehicles should not have been resisted by the Government. The Government might take note of the fact that the ecology movement in one important West European country has now become so powerful that the Green Party and its proponents may hold the balance of power in the West German Bundestag at the next election.

I warn Conservative Members and one or two Opposition Members that if they think that they can dismiss the conservation and ecology lobbies and simply back up the commercial pressures for heavier vehicles, with all the farrago of excuses that are brought forward to defend that, they had better look out electorally as there is a significant electoral kick in this issue.

There have been many comparisons with Europe. Three things must be said. The first is that public subventions to the railway networks in European countries are much greater than the subventions that we give to our railway system. The railways are a more effective means of shifting passengers and freight in Europe than they are in this country. We have grossly neglected the British Waterways for 50 years. Virtually the only significant waterway scheme that has been adopted, certainly since the war, is the South Yorkshire navigation. It took 10 years of blood, sweat and argument to get a fiddling amount of money out of the Government for that scheme. Indeed, I believe that we eventually had to get some of the money from Brussels to get it going. That is a significant difference between Britain and the European scene.

There has been much argument about the number of lorries that will be involved. When we are discussing road transport, we cannot just take lorries out as if they run on their own. We must consider the total number of vehicles on the roads and the effect that much heavier, longer and more dangerous vehicles will have on the other 14 million or so people who drive private cars and on the increasing number of people who try to ride bicycles and get not much help from lorry drivers when they do. Merely saying that there wil be a diminution in the number of lorries because there will be heavier lorries is no answer to the traffic problem.

I suggest, subject to verification, that we have the most dense traffic per mile of any industrial country. There may be one or two exceptions, but the density of traffic in Britain is extremely high on vehicle per mile of road calculations. In the light of that, we must carefully examine the proposals for the more dangerous, heavier and bulkier vehicles that are proposed.

Axle loading is, perhaps, the nub of the argument. It is a subject on which there has been much technical whitewashing by the proponents of heavier lorries. It may be that when the vehicle is standing still or moving at an even pace on trunk road, the axle loading over the five axles may produce less damage, or no more damage or pressure on the road surface than the lower weighted lorry. But lorries do not always do that. They stop, start, start on steep hills, go round roundabouts and go round corners. The fact remains that the thrust on the driving wheel to shift the inertia of 38 tonnes has to be greater by any standard than the thrust on a driving wheel that shifts 32 tons.

I do not know the engineering equations which are essential if one wants to work it out, but I should have thought that it was a matter of common sense that if one puts a thrust on a driving wheel, irrespective of how many other wheels there are, to shift an inertia of 38 tonnes, the impact on the surface of the road, however good it is, will be considerably more formidable than the impact of shifting a lower load. I am not an engineer and I do not know the relevant equations, but one cannot say that by spreading the load over five axles the problem has been solved. The problem of changing direction and speed, of stopping and starting, hauling up steep inclines and carrying out the manoeuvres that must be made every day is not solved.

My hon. Friend will be interested to know that his surmise is correct. I once witnessed a heavy lorry starting off from a set of traffic lights. The driver let in the clutch in such a way that the front two wheels left the ground and the notional axle weight on the leading pair of wheels was transferred wholly to the drive.

I am sure that that happens. There is also the assumption that the load will be even in all cases. I strongly doubt whether all lorries are so carefully and prudently loaded that the weight is evenly spread over the five axles.

There is no way in which the Secretary of State can pretend that a vehicle that is several tonnes heavier when it is starting, stopping, manoeuvring, backing, going round roundabouts and the rest will do less or no more damage to the road surface than a lorry that is several tonnes lighter.

I shall now deal with checking and controls. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities has said categorically that the existing laws on loading are widely flouted. It claims that in so far as checks have been made—the number is minuscule when compared with the number of vehicles and the mileage that is covered—25 per cent. of the lorries that were checked were overloaded. What evidence does the Secretary of State have, therefore, that all his controls and safeguards will work?

I read an interesting article in the New Scientist a little while ago. I am sorry that I do not have a copy with me. Speaking from memory, I am sure that it said that there is now a code call between lorry drivers—I think that they call it "Mermaid"—whereby lorry drivers can warn each other on their short-wave radios of checkpoints. They then pull in for a rest or take a different road to ensure that they are not embarrassed by the checks. Perhaps that is folklore. I do not know. Such things do not seem unlikely. That is an additional factor in the problem of controls and checks to see whether the laws are being obeyed.

Many hon. Members have mentioned bypasses. I have every sympathy with them. Those such as my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and all those who represent areas in which there are villages and country towns—of which I am very fond—want bypasses so that heavy lorries do not crash through their residential areas. I have every sympathy with them. However, it is impossible to bypass the West Midlands, South Lancashire or Greater London. Where does the Secretary of State think that the lorries go to?

I accept that lorries do not need to go through villages. On occasion, they may not need to go into the centre of York or Canterbury, but, by gum they must go into Birmingham, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester and the East End. That means that they will pass buildings and dwellings that will be affected by vibration, noise and all the problems associated with heavy lorries. Most hon. Members candidly admitted that people dislike heavy lorries. They damage the environment and are unsightly. I am not arguing that we can do without them, because they are necessary. I wonder whether the Secretary of State has found out what restrictions apply on the Continent in relation to night-time and weekend bans, or controls on the use of certain roads. I wonder whether we are using all the techniques for bringing such matters under control that are deployed in other countries. It would be interesting to know whether our controls are as strict, effective and thorough as those employed elsewhere.

Noise and vibration are fundamental problems. Much work has been done on noise, and I read recently that the Germans claim a breakthrough in the design of one of their heavy vehicles. They say that it is substantially quieter than anything else in the world. I have no means of checking that claim, but, if it is true, it is serious for the British lorry industry. If the Germans have produced a heavy vehicle that is substantially quieter than the British product, talk of legislation giving an open sesame to the British vehicle building industry could go by the board. We need to know whether the British heavy vehicle manufacturers have had any success about noise.

The Armitage report admits that more research into the effects of vibration is necessary. Vibration is a formidable problem and it will increase with heavier vehicles. I should like to know what the story is. The answer to that is crucial in assessing the damage that will be done to urban areas by lorries. There have been arguments about bridges. The Association of County Councils, which has looked into the issue, claims that at least £100 million additional expenditure would be needed to strengthen bridges. No official assessment has been made about the effects of such vehicles on thin-skinned roads.

We all assume that the lorries will run on motorways and trunk roads, but they will not do so exclusively. They will run on some of our minor roads. What research has been done into the potential damage? More seriously, the Armitage report categorically states:
"Little is known about the effects of lorries on underground pipes and it is difficult to say precisely what would be the effects of heavier lorries in urban areas."

What technical discussions have been held with the gas board, the water authorities and those responsible for sewerage conduits about the impact of heavier vehicles—vibration and weight—on those essential services nearly all of which are buried? Gas and water pipes are extremely important, and I understand that there is a considerable loss of water from fractured water pipes. Fractured gas pipes would be far worse.

I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, but I do not recall that he said anything about consultations with the gas board and water authorities about the effect of those vehicles on the service mains that lie under the roads of our major conurbations. We should be told the results of any studies that there have been.

The White Paper says nothing about damage caused by heavy lorries which stray off the road and may hit or scrape buildings close to the road. That can sometimes cause serious damage and occasionally loss of life. I understand that there are no official records of those incidents. An increase in lorry weights would obviously increase the potential damage to other buildings.

Bypasses do not solve the problem. Lorries do not spend their lives on them. They go into major conurbations to unload. There are few places where factories or steelworks are so neatly and separately sited that lorries do not have to pass people's homes, schools and hospitals. Whatever one does, such vehicles will cause a major environmental impact.

The White Paper is equally silent about how much the community has to spend each year on repairs to street furniture, paving and so on, damaged by the road haulage industry. We are trying to tackle a complex environmental problem with this order, but by no means all the problems have been thoroughly examined.

The Armitage report admits that no technical solution can be found to vibration and damage to underground pipes. I believe that the simplistic argument, that merely by having extra axles the problem is solved, is nonsense. Another problem is created. Three rear axles cannot be articulated. They are rigid. When a vehicle has to turn a corner or roundabout there is a scraping effect on the road surface which is increased by an extra axle and wheels. The suggestion that five axles will solve the problem is simply untrue. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) suggested that there was a conflict that must be sorted out between the economy and jobs and the environment. To some extent that might be true. If there is such a conflict our failure to resolve it is the result of sloppy thinking or bowing to vested interests. I believe that one could get greater efficiency in the transport system, and probably far more jobs, if the capital that is to be ploughed into making heavier and heavier vehicles was, first, put into the moderisation of the railway system, its sidings and stock and, secondly, put into improving and modernising our waterways which were once almost universally famous. There are possibilities for shifting heavy quantities of goods by the cheapest means of transport in terms of fuel and energy. That is an enormous advantage. It would also produce benefits for the environment if a proportion of the heavy and bulky goods and materials needed by modern industry could be taken off the roads.

The Government have taken a short cut, under pressure from powerful vested interests which are out for their own profit. That is the top and bottom of it. I do not believe that the pseudo-technical glosses that have been put on the regulations are valid.

8.45 pm

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) was right to describe axle damage as the nub of the problem. The most objectionable feature of the regulations is that they permit the raising of the axle weight to 10½ tonnes. If it had not been for that fact, I would have reluctantly accepted the package put forward by the Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend has made progress far beyond Armitage. However, a fundamental failure is his failure to deal with the question of axle loading. I find disingenuous the argument of the Government Front Bench that the new five-axle vehicle will produce an average axle loading of an acceptable level. This is contrary to everything that hon. Members have been told.

There is no doubt that damage is caused by the weight on the drive axle. The regulations permit a 3 per cent. increase on the drive axle which will result in a 14, 15 or 16 per cent. increase—the figures vary—in road damage per vehicle. The only offsetting environmental gain is the possibility of fewer vehicles. That is highly speculative. There are considerable doubts. One has only to examine the history of vehicle weight increases to see that there has never been a reduction of heavy vehicles in such circumstances. I do not believe that it will happen this time.

People are entitled to base their expectations on experience. People's experience entitles them to feel alarmed. Almost every decade, there have been increases in vehicle weights. In 1955, the weight was increased to 24 tonnes, in 1964, to 32 tonnes and now, in 1982, to 38 tonnes. There is already pressure from the Community for 40 tonnes. The Road Haulage Association says that 38 tonnes is not enough wile the CBI says that it is only a step on the road to the Armitage lorry.

It must not be assumed that the pressure will suddenly ease. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will assert that there is to be no increase beyond 38 tonnes. I am sure that the Government mean what they say. They cannot, however, bind their successors. The only way to ensure that the next step is not taken is by not taking this step.

The Government have missed an opportunity. It was not necessary to have the 10½ tonne axle loading. I have asked the question frequently, but never had a satisfactory answer. Why has Germany, not renowned for its failure in industrial efficiency and competitiveness, managed on 38 tonnes and a 10 tonne axle loading whereas we choose a heavier axle loading? The only answer that I have been able to obtain is that the Germans cheat. I do not believe that. The Germans have managed to maintain standards that we could have adopted.

One of the notable omissions of the Armitage report was any comparison with the major continental freight system of the United States. That is surely a continent from which we should have learnt. We are, after all, talking about the advantages of transcontinental freighting. On the United States inter-state highway, 9-tonne axle loading is the maximum. Why are we therefore told that 10½ tonnes is of fundamental importance and cannot be avoided? I do not feel that we have had all the facts or that there has been a proper examination. The cost of going for 10½ tonnes is excessive and that weight will be highly damaging to the environment.

Let us consider the costs. My right hon. Friend has not told us about the costs of maintaining and strengthening our bridges. So far it has been denied that there will be any significant costs. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, in winding up, will tell us about those costs. The county surveyor spoke of £100 million, and British Rail published a figure of £60 million. We have an admission from the Government that there will be some cost for strengthening the larger-span bridges. So the amounts involved are substantial.

Against that, I do not doubt that there will be savings to industry. It would be foolish to deny that certain major fleet operators will be able to operate fewer vehicles. However, I am sure that that will be offset by expansion by other fleet operators who, through cheaper rates, will expand their fleet operations. Nevertheless, in some areas it will be beneficial. There is no point in arguing about that. After all, Armitage spelt it out. He took into account all the industries, and the figure came out at about £150 million, give or take a few million. So the savings are there. However, we must relate that to 13½ billion of total road freight expenditure. That puts the matter in perspective. Certainly there will be benefits, but, equally, there will be major disadvantages.

There are environmental gains in my right hon. Friend's package. Many of them are in the future, but the heavier lorries will be in the present. My right hon. Friend rightly stressed the importance of enforcement, but we are entitled to ask, "How real are his proposals? How significant will they be?"

Then, too, there is the number of enforcement officers. We have been told that there they are to be substantially increased. I should point out that in 1979 there were 237 traffic examiners, while in June this year the number was down to 193. So my right hon. Friend has a long way to go, even to catch up on the position three years ago. If enforcement is to be meaningful, we shall have to tackle those numbers.

There is also the number of weighbridges. I am told that we have about 800 weighbridges or axle measuring implements at present, but perhaps one quarter of them will not be able to cope with the new heavier lorries. So there will be a net loss straight away, which will have to be offset by real determination on the part of my right hon. Friend to ensure strict enforcement measures.

I was pleased to see that the package contained the limitation to 32 tonnes of the towbar combination. That is good, because the road train, if it had expanded greatly on our roads, would have been something of a horror to the British motorist.

Another horror which my right hon. Friend has not dealt with is the articulated tipper. Why, if he dealt with the drawbar combination, did he not deal with the articulated tipper in the same way and limit it to 32 tonnes? The average British motorist will see these articulated tippers, which are much longer and larger than the current rigid bulk carriers, as a menace on the road. I do not want the Conservative Party to be the party of the articulated tipper. We should not encourage the trend to articulated tippers. The carriage of bulk aggregates will damage British Rail. My right hon. Friend should deal with that by putting the weight limit back to 32 tonnes.

I conclude on bypasses, which I consider to be the main issue. We are faced now with an unamendable regulation. I, for one, will vote against it, and I shall vote for the Prayer tonight. I shall do so reluctantly, because my right hon. Friend has gone half-way. Of course, he should have gone the whole way. It is beyond comprehension to the British public that we were presented with an Armitage package not very long ago, in which bypasses were an essential feature, yet within a short time the Government come along with heavier lorries, and expect us to believe that somehow the bypass problem has been solved, or is likely to be solved. It is inconceivable and, in my view, it is wrong. I accept that my right hon. Friend is doing all that he can to speed up the programme, but there are hundreds of small villages and towns throughout our country with no prospect of getting bypasses in the next decade, or even the next two decades. The country had a right to expect the bypass programme to move forward. We could have waited until it had moved forward dramatically before giving in to the heavier lorries. That is my main criticism.

My right hon. Friend, fighting for transport interests and better roads, and this Parliament, which should be doing the same, should not have been prepared to introduce the heavier lorries until we were certain that we had got the other parts of the environmental package. We could have got a better deal for the taxpayer and for the environment. We are acting too soon and we are not acting in the right way. For that reason, I shall reluctantly vote against my right hon. Friend tonight.

8.55 pm

I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments reported the instrument for elucidation, and we raised the question, brought up by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), of consultation. We were not satisfied, but to help the House we published a memorandum, and reported on that ground alone. I should have liked greater detail about the response.

Paragraph 2 of the Department's memorandum points out that the most contentious part of the consultation concerned the proposed increase in lorry weight. This attracted a great deal of comment both for and against. We should have liked to see a breakdown of that in detail. The matter is so contentious that the Government should not have brought the matter before the House but should have carried on reviewing it into the indefinite future. They are very good at that when they do not want to do things.

I am concerned that this is not so much a victory for a political decision as a victory for the organised Department of Transport. I have a deep suspicion—arising from the Peeler memorandum, which was leaked many months ago—that a particular scenario was to be followed which would be put into operation.

The Peeler memorandum was a note from Joseph Peeler to Sir Peter Baldwin, the Department's permanent secretary. He wrote:
"For the purpose of this note, it is assumed that we wish … to move, as soon as parliamentary and public opinion will let us, to a maximum gross weight of 38 or 40 tons. Ideally we should do this in harmony with our EEC partners … but there is a strong case for doing it anyway … At the end of the day, recommendations would be made by impartial people of repute who have carefully weighed and sifted the evidence and have come to, one hopes, a sensible conclusion in line with the Department's view."
We find that that scenario has been followed to the letter. It makes me suspicious that when the procedure in that document—which has never been denied as being a genuine Department of Transport document—is followed, it is the country and the House that are being hoodwinked. The scenario has been carefully prepared as a public relations exercise to soften up people to accept something they do not want.

The House is not only concerned about the intrusion of heavier lorries. Incidentally, no research has been undertaken about the effect of the weight proposed. No physical research accompanied the White Paper and was made available to the House. We forget that not only has the weight increased progressively over the past 20 years or so, as both my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) and the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) have pointed out. I do not have time to go into the statistics again, but the number of heavier lorries has also increased. What has not been mentioned is that the mileage of those lorries has also dramatically increased. Therefore, the degree of intrusion is all the greater.

The heaviest articulated lorries in 1979 covered 3,200 miles, double the mileage of 1966. Not only shall we get bigger and more intrusive lorries but they will cover dramatically more mileage. The suggestion that half a metre of insulation is necessary to produce quieter lorries is technically unjustifiable because we could achieve that within the existing dimensions by a more effective silencing system if that were required of manufacturers.

A massive intrusion cannot be avoided. The increased weight is bound to cause problems with bridges, particularly those of single span or with separate single spans of more than 14 metres because they will have to carry a greater overall load.

The Secretary of State is under an illusion when he talks about more jobs. According to the figures of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders the registration of new commercial vehicles over the past 10 years show that imports have been the real problem for commercial vehicle markets in Britain. They are now around 50 per cent. whereas 10 years ago they were only a small proportion of the total. I endorse the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley that we should divert the money that the Association of County Councils wants for bridges—it supports the Government's proposals—into the railway network to encourage a shift from road transport and not simply use section 8 grants. We should embark on a campaign to regenerate the railway network, particularly when, at the moment, British Rail is preparing a case for the closure of the 80-mile Settle to Carlisle line. That is an important network, a diversionary route from the electrified west coast line, which we should keep. That is the sort of priority that Government policy has resulted in. We should spend more on the railways and prevent any further intrusion of heavy lorries, which is what the regulations will result in.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I bring to your attention the fact that in the entire debate tonight, and in many previous debates on lorry weights, many hon. Members who hoped to speak have not been able to do so? I understand the difficulty, but I wish to draw your attention to the fact that no hon. Members were called who had either truck manufacturers or truck component manufacturers in their constituencies.

Order. The hon. Member must not challenge Mr. Speaker's selection.

9.2 pm

I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills). However, he will realise that in past transport debates I have given time out of my speech to allow other hon. Members to make their contributions. As tonight's debate is so important I feel that I need all the time available to me to deploy my arguments.

I should like to avoid a discussion on simultaneous equations of two unknowns or the fourth power axle ratios, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) is much better versed in such matters. Frankly, I do not know a great deal about the technical details.

This has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate on heavy lorries. All hon. Members have rightly deployed their constituency and trade union interests. I should like to take this opportunity to thank the Secretary of State for Transport for tabling a motion that allows the House to discuss this important issue free from normal constraints which would have applied had we just discussed the statutory instrument on its own.

After a previous debate on this subject the hon. Member who has the honour to represent the beautiful Georgian city of Bath (Mr. Patten) said to me in the Lobby that heavy lorries were about as popular as Dutch elm disease. That is an apposite comment, irrespective of which side of the argument one favours.

As has been borne out by speech after speech this evening, it is an indisputable fact of life that heavy lorries, even at existing weights are thoroughly unpopular with the vast majority of our constituents. Therefore, today's debate, centred as it is around the proposals to increase lorry weights, has afforded all hon. Members who have managed to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the opportunity to debate this important issue with the seriousness that it deserves.

Starting from the universally accepted premise—I doubt whether I shall be challenged on it—that heavy lorries are a nuisance and are unpopular with our constituents, it would be absurd to believe that we could significantly reduce their numbers. This is because the lorry, as a mode of transport, accounts for the majority of freight and goods shipments made every day throughout the United Kingdom.

The Armitage report states:
"For the first time since the horse dominated freight transport we have a method of transport which provides both trunk haulage and local delivery and collection. The lorry offers a universal door-to-door service for the simple reason that all suppliers and customers are connected to the road system."

I for one am grateful to Sir Arthur Armitage and his team for producing their report, even if I disagree profoundly with the major recommendations. For the first time that I can recall we have a serious academic study of the lorry and its impact on people and their environment. The report contains useful information and recommendations.

The terms of reference were:
"To consider the causes and consequences of the growth in the movement of freight by road and, in particular, of the impact of the lorry on people and their environment; and to report on how best to ensure that future development serves the public interest."
The words "serves the public interest" are important. It is not good enough to claim, as the Secretary of State has claimed today, that by increasing lorry weights British industry will benefit substantially, and hope thereby to buy off the objectors. There is a substantial body of objectors both inside and outside the House and it will not be bought off with a small package of ameliorating proposals of bypasses, noise levels, side guards and spray suppression. That is not good enough.

We have had a number of debates on the main recommendations of the Armitage report. On each occasion the House has clearly indicated to the Secretary of State that to increase the lorry weights as proposed by the Armitage report would be unacceptable. The Secretary of State's predecessor had to accept reluctantly that this House would not wear it. Unfortunately the present Secretary of State had this hot potato dropped rather embarrassingly into his lap on the first day of his appointment to his new job. He has spent the past few months trying to persuade his recalcitrant Back Benchers to accept a lower limit than that proposed in the Armitage report but a higher limit than that which now exists. No doubt we shall see later this evening whether the persuasion has been successful. I have already noticed one or two hon. Members peeling off from their original positions.

A week has not gone by when the Department of Transport has not swamped Members with a plethora of press releases on the virtues of the heavy lorry. I have before me a minor sample from my file of releases that I have collected over the past 12 months. They claim that the proposals will bring savings, control of the juggernauts and put transport on the move. This plethora of press releases emanating from the Department every day of the week was a softening up process.

It is our contention that the arguments that we deployed during the debates on the Armitage proposals still hold good in respect of the proposals that are included in the regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) asked me to try to persuade him of the arguments that lead me to hope that he will vote with the Opposition tonight. I shall attempt to do that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness disputed the Government's claim that the new tax on heavy lorries would make up for the fact that over many years that heavy lorry has not paid its track costs. None of the Armitage recommendations on taxation of heavy lorries has been implemented. The rebasing of vehicle excise duty from unladen to gross laden weight which occurred last month was designed to be tax negative.

My right hon. Friend said earlier that the subsidy identified by the Department of Transport for the heaviest four-axle 30·5 tonne vehicle in 1982 was £1,134. As there are about 75,800 such vehicles, the total subsidy this year is £86 million, but the Department of Transport has altered the method of assessing the lorry, in favour of the lorry. If the calculations had been done in the same way as last year, the total subsidy would be £100 million rather than £86 million. In recommendation 3 of his report, Armitage called for the elimination of the subsidy at the earliest opportunity. As my right hon. Friend said, we have had two Budgets and a new tax regime but the subsidy is twice as large as it was last year.

In recommendation 4, Armitage said:
"The public costs of accidents should be included in the calculation of road track costs."
Recommendation 5 called for a notional element of tax to be included for the damage to underground services. Neither of those two recommendations has been included in that taxation package. We contend that nothing has changed.

The issue of lorry size has been debated at length. Why do the Government continue to say that new lorries will not be bigger? First, they look only at the effects on articulated vehicles and, secondly, they do not consider that a half metre is an increase. I shall take the second point first. In one sense the Government are correct. A statement was made several years ago that more than half of the 32·5 tonne vehicles already exceeded the then limit of 15 metres. Therefore, increasing the length, like increasing the speed limit, is only legalising what already occurs. But a half metre on a 15 metre trailer is an increase in length of 3·3 per cent.

The "articulated vehicle only" approach is extremely blinkered. Lorries at the heavier end can be rigids—11 metres maximum length; articulated lorries—15 metres; or drawbar units—18 metres. Precisely because the weight limit is rising but the length limit remains unaltered, more loads will be volume restricted and operators will switch from short rigids to longer articulated vehicles. That point was made by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). That will mean a 41 per cent. increase in the length of those articulated vehicles or a 41 per cent. switch from rigids to articulated vehicles.

It is fallacious to assume that there will be no increase in size if the order is approved. My hon. Friends who have contributed to the debate have proved that.

It has been argued that increasing lorry weight will mean a reduction in their numbers. The Government in their original submission claimed that increasing lorry weights would mean fewer lorries. The Government have had to amend their original thinking on that matter because Sir Arthur Armitage, in table 38 of his report, made a prediction about lorry traffic. He predicted that lorry traffic of over 25 tonnes was expected to rise from 40 to 58 per cent. compared to the number of lorries operating in 1978. Those results suggest that for every two maximum weight lorries that went down the high street in 1978 there will be three in the year 2000. The general public are upset by heavy traffic. On the Armitage definition of traffic, by the year 2000 we could see an increase in traffic volume of at least 50 per cent. That point was made forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) dealt conclusively with the damage that heavier lorries are likely to cause to our environment. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) underpinned our worries about the increase in lorry weights and especially axle weights. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) and the hon. Member for Faversham said that British Rail expects to spend £60 million on bridge strengthening.

In The Guardian yesterday, the Association of County Councils, which the Secretary of State prayed in aid in defence of his package, is quoted as saying:
"More evidence of the cost of heavy lorries came yesterday from the Association of County Councils. In evidence to the Commons Select Committee on transport the Association said that extra work to bridges for which it was responsible would cost £100 million over the next five years."
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, who is a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Transport, visited Avon last week with his colleagues. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) informed me that the county surveyor of Avon said that if tonight's proposals go through, 1,100 bridges in that county must be surveyed at enormous cost. They may also have to be improved. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will answer the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport about the structure of the Severn bridge.

Does the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) realise that if those bridges must be strenghtened it will mean more work for the steel industry? He cannot object both to steel works closing and the need for bridge strengthening.

I did not hear exactly what the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Sir A. Costain) said, but to save him from rising again—I have plenty to say—I rest my case on what I said previously.

Enforcement is another important matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) asked some important questions that must be answered. The Government make two principal points. The first is that more traffic examiners are being recruited and the second is that there is a five-year programme for new dynamic weighbridge installation. In April 1979, the number of traffic examiners was 237, but by June 1982 it had decreased to 193. That is a reduction of 18 per cent. The complement—not the staff in post—in October 1982 was 225, which is still 12 below the 1979 figure. The Netherlands has more than 150 controllers who perform a smaller range of duties than those performed in Britain. Our number of inspectors is lamentable. Raising the maximum weight limit dramatically reduces the number of weighbridges that can weigh vehicles at or above the new limits. In the Official Report of 27 October 1982, in column 387, it was revealed that there are 856 public and private weighbridges and axle weighers in use. About a quarter of them could not weigh 40 tonne vehicles and the fact that the new limit is just under 40 tonnes, at 38 tonnes, will hardly make a difference. The Government's enforcement proposals appear inadequate because of the imminent loss of more than 200 weighing devices. Enforcement today is generally inadequate, which is hardly surprising because of scarce resources and cutbacks in administration.

I am informed that 19 per cent. of vehicles fail their annual test. We received today, through the post, evidence from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. The association says:
"There is now ample evidence to show that the existing laws on lorry weights are flouted to a very substantial extent. The extent to which vehicle weighing is undertaken varies considerably across the country and it is patently clear that only a small fraction of the number of overloaded vehicles are identified and prosecuted. Where weighing does occur, approximately 25% of intercepted vehicles are found to be overloaded and a good proportion were overweight to an extent which justifies the serving of prohibition notices."
The Opposition are therefore very sceptical about the Government's package on enforcement.

As to the economic effects of increasing the lorry weight to 38 tonnes, Armitage puts the annual savings at about £125 million. The figure has been revised to about £150 million at today's prices. The Government's own research paper, Transport Research Road Laboratory report SR590, suggests a cost saving of only 6·6 per cent. Even if one gives the Government the benefit of the doubt and agrees that there may be a saving of £150 million, will society or British industry receive that money immediately? No. The TRRL report suggests that it would take more than five years to build up those levels of saving, so the earliest they could now be achieved would be 1988. Since the tonnage lifted by road fell by more than 10 per cent. between 1978 and 1981, and since tonne miles fell by 2 per cent., even this target appears very doubtful.

Improvements in the design of heavy goods vehicles to reduce the risk of serious or fatal injuries in road traffic accidents are long overdue. The Armitage recommendations for the provision of under-run guards, new breaking standards and lorry spray devices were welcomed by many organisations and by all Opposition Members interested in road safety. However, the timing and the technical merit of the regulations that the Government either intend to introduce or have introduced leave a lot to be desired when they are scrutinised closely. The White Paper recommends the fitting of lorry spray devices—a measure that I have long fought for—to deal with the problem of spray thrown up in wet conditions, yet it will be another year or so before we shall have a British standard and even longer before lorry spray devices become mandatory. The safety package that will accompany increased lorry weights will not be complete because of those delays.

One of the most important omissions from the package is the failure to recognise the need to provide front under-run protection of HGVs. I draw the Minister's attention to a recent TRRL report entitled "Fatal accidents in Great Britain 1976 involving HGVs" by B. S. Riley and H. J. Bates. It is a very good document and there are many good recommendations in it. In the not too distant future, I hope that front under-run guards will become part and parcel of our everyday life.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that any vehicle manufacturer or user can buy a spray guard now? They are commercially available and have been demonstrated to many hon. Members.

I am aware that such products are on the market, but their use is not compulsory and I fear that only one or two operators are using them. They will become compulsory only when a British standard has been fixed, in about two years' time. That is our criticism.

It is not good enough for the Opposition merely to oppose the introduction of heavier lorries. We must seek to provide an alternative policy and strategy. In this context, I recommend the document "Labour's Transport Policy" which has been produced by the TUC-Labour Party liaison committee and to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and I made a not insignificant contribution.

The basis of our approach is freight integration, which the Government have ignored. The Government propose instead to increase the basic weight of heavy goods vehicles. Our document stales:
"The basis of our approach to freight transport has these features:
the mass of freight journeys will continue to be transported by road for the foreseeable future, but fair means must be used to get as much freight as possible on to the railway without sacrifices in costs and efficiency;
market mechanisms will not by themselves achieve the best distribution of freight amongst transport modes and the Government has a role in influencing this distribution;
the road haulage industry suffers from over-capacity, operating irregularities and low employment standards, and the Government needs to rectify these conditions;
heavy lorries are damaging to people, the environment and roads, and their use must be carefully regulated."

We propose a more imaginative use of resources. Clearly it it not practicable to take the bulk of the freight off the road and put it on rail, but it is certainly practicable to move 4 or 5 per cent. of it to rail. That would make a significant difference to the way in which British Rail operates. I am told that it needs only 4 per cent. of the freight currently carried by road to be transferred to the railways to make the railway freight business profitable. We should try to achieve that.

As I am running out of time, I must insist that the Government buy copies of the Labour Party document to acquaint themselves more fully with the provisions spelt out in it. It further states that
"our approach would be to:
concentrate on the expansion of rail facilities for bulk, long-haul movement;
encourage the development of trans-shipment depots which link trunk road and rail networks at strategic points in the goods distribution system;
take back-up powers to license the long-distance movement of freight by road;
promote agreements involving major freight consignors and the transport industries so that the needs of industry and the capacity of the railway are synchronised by means of government investment."
A programme of that kind would be of more benefit to the nation than simply increasing lorry weights.

Finally, I am sad to see that only one of the 91 recommendations in the splendid Foster report, commissioned in 1978, on operating provisions for heavy goods vehicles has been adopted in the White Paper and the statutory instrument. It would have been far better if the Government had accepted most of the major proposals in that report instead of trying to force the House to accept a weight increase for lorries that is unacceptable not only to the Opposition but, I believe, to the vast majority of our constituents. Therefore, we shall vote against the Government's proposals.

9.30 pm

Our starting point in the debate has been that existing lorries do too much damage to people and the environment, which is why action must be taken now to put things right. At the end of his remarks the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) commented on the transfer of 4 per cent. of freight currently carried by road to British Rail. I shall return to that matter in a moment.

I shall concentrate first on what the Government's proposals mean. They mean that we are taking action to control the unacceptable lorry, as it has been doing damage on our roads all these years. We are the first Government to come forward with a package of measures designed to bring that lorry under control. That has never happened before. The one thing that no one can say of this debate is that we have not had for the first time a comprehensive, practical programme that can make a real difference to the quality of people's lives.

Unfortunately, many exaggerations have been made this evening, but that always happens in such debates. However, above all, in my reply I must make a cool and rational analysis. I shall answer as many of the questions that have been asked as possible and write to the other hon. Members.

Let me start with the question posed in an article in The Guardian about British Rail and the effect of the Government's proposals on British Rail. We are not and never have been in the business of artificially protecting any mode of transport from competition, whatever it is. If any mode of transport can win traffic on the basis of better service or lower price, the economy gains, which is a gain for the people.

British Rail, not just the Government, want fair competition. That is why we are determined that there should be fair competition. In the debate we heard a good deal about lorry taxation in relation to British Rail. Many hon. Members have said that they believed that the subsidy to the lorry was what was wrong. That is exactly what was wrong throughout all the period of office of the Labour Government and exactly why the 38 tonne lorry will, from the outset, cover 100 per cent. of the road track costs.

Lorries as a whole cover more than their road costs anyway. There is no subsidy. However, I should like to say one thing to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), who referred to an incentive for the three-axle tractor as against the two-axle tractor. Both configurations—three-axle tractors and two-axle trailers, and two-axle tractors and three-axle trailers—are permitted by the regulations. I shall draw that matter to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

In lorry taxation the aim is that all types of lorries should cover the road track costs. That is why last October the taxation structure changed to the gross weight system.

That will make it easier for the new structure, which will contain tax incentives to use less damaging lorries with more axles. It will contain that incentive as the lorries will bear a lower tax rate for the same weight. The House can assume that the new tax structure will reflect the lorry track costs. That is exactly what it has been designed to do.

I was asked many times in the debate about section 8 grants. As hon. Members know, the rate of grant for transferring goods from our roads to rail and also to Sealink, Freightliner and inland waterways and estuaries, which can benefit the constituencies of many hon. Members, for example my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), is being increased to 60 per cent. The point of extending that grant is to get off the roads the traffic that can travel by rail and waterway.

Since 1975 there have been 118 section 8 grants at a cost of more than £36·5 million. Two more have been announced today. Now that we have extended the scheme, we hope that there will be more applications for those grants, because that is the way to get the traffic on to the railways, as the hon. Member for Westhoughton said.

It was said in the article in The Guardian that British Rail had suggested that it would lose so much. The gain that it has told us that it will get from section 8 arrangements is 2 million tonnes a year extra, which is almost the same amount as the possible loss from having a higher tonnage of lorry. That was British Rail's comment. The other sector that will be helped by the 38 tonne lorry is Freightliner. That is not my view, it is the view expressed in the Labour Party and TUC policy document.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to deal with the rest of this article. Tipper lorries and their safety have rightly been mentioned. Tipper lorries on roads at the moment are subject to exactly the same safety requirements as other lorries, but there is a recognised problem with the stability of a tipper lorry on a construction site. That is a different matter.

The increased payload can be accommodated on many different existing types of tipper but the regulations will prescribe a minimum length of 12 metres for vehicles that gross 38 tonnes to get the balance of the vehicle right. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) was worried about that matter. We expect most of the new and modified tippers to measure within the range 12 to 12½ metres. Although that is marginally longer than the present 11 metres, longer vehicles would not be safe or appropriate to the industry. That is the industry's view. By having those longer tippers, there will be a reduction in their number and a quarry, for example, could dispatch its product with 23 per cent. fewer 12½ metre articulated tippers at that limit.

I am obliged to the hon. Lady for accepting that there is a danger with tipper lorries. I understand that those lorries are now 11 metres long. Will she undertake, before she agrees to longer lorries, to consider all the danger aspects? There is ample evidence to suggest that they are dangerous at the moment at 32½ tonnes. According to the expert evidence that I have received, the 38 tonnes limit would make them extremely dangerous. Will she undertake to take all the advice that is available before she agrees to the new size?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that before seeing in the longer 38 tonne tippers, we shall consider what he said, and all the expert evidence. The industry has already said that 12 to 121/2 metre, 38 tonne articulated tippers are the largest that it wants to go to. I undertake to examine the matter in great detail. It is contained in the regulations.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Is she saying that the maximum length that is permitted by the regulations will be in excess of the length that is regarded as safe?

No. I am saying that what the industry finds best for its use, and what it will do with the additional weight if the House agrees to the regulations, is to keep vehicles to the 12½ metre limit, which is the limit in the regulations. I shall now deal with weights.

I apologise to the hon. Lady for intervening, but there is a point that I must make. I am grateful to her for giving way. She said that in a document the Labour Party had recommended, with regard to Freightliner, that the tonnage should be increased from 32 to 38 tonnes. If the hon. Lady would care to examine that document she would see that it does not say that at all.

I have not had the chance to read the hon. Gentleman's document yet. It was not that specific document.

I shall write to the hon. Gentleman when I see it with my own eyes.

I shall now deal with weights, as many right hon. and hon. Members have dealt with them. There is no increase for the four-axle lorries, which would have increased road damage.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for a Minister to quote a document as being a document of the TUC-Labour Party when she is not prepared to name the document?

I shall send the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) a reference, but I assure him that the document exists. In addition to the fact that there is no increase in the four-axle lorry weight, there is no increase for the drawbar trailer combinations. They are unusual on our roads, but they might have become more popular if the weight limit had been raised. I believe that we were right to reject the increase to 40 tonnes in view of the public concern.

The increase to 38 tonnes in the regulations applies only to the five-axle articulated lorry. That is the heavy lorry that is most commonly used not only in Britain, but in Europe, with which we do so much of our trade. Several hon. Members asked me about the savings on 38 tonne vehicles and the overloading and pressures on axle weights. I shall not go into the arithmetic involved, as I have been asked not to do so, but a 38 tonne vehicle that is properly loaded will lead to a saving of about 20 per cent. in damage to, and wear on, roads. That is not just the Department's view. It is agreed by all the bodies professionally concerned with road maintenance such as the Institution of Highway Engineers and the County Surveyors Society.

Those organisations would be the first to object if we proposed vehicles that damaged roads more. Indeed, they objected to the 34-tonne four axle vehicle and we rejected that vehicle. However, they have agreed that the 38 tonne vehicle with our configuration is acceptable, and will give advantages in terms of reduced wear and tear on our roads.

Even the Under-Secretary of State has said that there will not be an increase in weight when the load is properly distributed. If there are no axle load weighing devices or X-ray machinery to see what is inside the containers, how will the hon. Lady know whether the load is properly distributed?

I shall come to the issue of enforcement in a moment. It is the average axle loading that counts. On a 38 tonne five-axle lorry, it is 7·6 tonnes, compared with the 8·125 tonnes on the present 32·5 tonne four-axle lorry. It is 6·5 per cent. less and those are the internationally agreed figures.

There have been many comments about the damage to roads and bridges. However, the individual 38 tonne vehicle will be no more damaging than the individual 32·5 tonne lorry on our roads today. Four 38 tonne vehicles can do the work of five 32·5 tonne vehicles, which means that the 38 tonne vehicles are 20 per cent. less damaging than the vehicles that they will replace.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a two-axle, 16-tonne rigid lorry with a 100 tonnes payload does far more road damage at 11·9 than her proposal at 8·1?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct.

Several hon. Members mentioned damage to bridges. For 98 per cent. of our short-span bridges there is no problem with the 38 tonne vehicle. The ACC, which is responsible for the great majority of bridges in the United Kingdom, has told us that the lorries will not be any more damaging to bridges. It welcomes the Government offer to consider sympathetically TSG bids for repairs to some old bridges that have already suffered from the effects of existing traffic, including 32·5 tonne lorries. I can give the assurance that long bridges are looked at one by one. It is essential to consider the balance of traffic and the way in which each bridge is used.

Several hon. Members spoke about noise. Lorries are being made quieter through the reduction next year for the heaviest lorries from 91 decibels to 88 decibels. There will be further reductions down to 80 decibels. The strict test method that will be introduced in 1984 requires the new model lorries to be made quieter by up to a further three decibels. We are determined to set the pace in Europe and we show every sign of being the leaders in quietening lorries. We are, of course, also spending £5 million on speeding up the development of the quiet heavy lorry. That will be of great advantage to this country.

Many people misunderstand vibration. Most vibration is caused by a low-frequency emission that goes down as noise is reduced. Structures that are affected by vibration are at no greater risk from the 38-tonne lorry, subject to the same noise limits, and fewer lorry movements being needed to shift the same payload will reduce the effect of vibration. Most people notice airborne vibration. That is why we must have further noise reduction measures in the future to lessen that vibration.

One or two hon. Members have mentioned the problems of underground services. I know that that causes anxiety, but I hope that what I have said already about damage factors will reassure those hon. Members. Our information is that the change in lorry weights will not affect services significantly because it is the total axle loading that determines strain and not the total lorry weight. Many other factors contribute to damage. Armitage found no evidence that lorry traffic was the main contributor. It is something that is continually monitored.

I cannot give way to everybody who would like to interrupt me.

We believe that the introduction of the 38-tonner will reduce lorry numbers by up to 10 per cent.—8,000 fewer lorries—because the higher weights will minimise traffic. If one looks at all the figures since the mid-1950s one will find that we are moving three times as much freight with the same number of lorries. The Armitage figures for 1979 showed that we covered 64,000 million tonne miles compared with 19,700 million tonne miles in 1953 with the same number of vehicles. We have achieved that only by increasing the amount that lorries can carry.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the dimensions of lorries. New lorries will be no larger in any dimension than existing lorries. It is right that in order to give modern tractor units the extra space for noise suppression and better manoeuvring there should be a 0·5 metre increase in the overall length, but there is no increase in the trailer length. For the first time, the regulations are limiting overall height and length as well as width.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) mentioned safety measures. Everybody has welcomed sideguards, rear under-run guards and spray suppression developments. Everybody, including the Government, wants all safety measures to be developed faster. I believe that they will go a great deal faster than the hon. Member for Isle of Wight said.

I was asked about front under-run guards. The safety measures covered in these regulations are not the end of the story. I fully agree with the hon. Member for Westhoughton that front under-run guards would reduce the tragic consequences of head-on collisions with heavy goods vehicles. There is a good deal of research and development needed before we can specify the technical requirements necessary for a guard that will be effective and a practical proposition for fitting to the front of the vehicle. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory is actively working on that at the moment. In the meantime we believe that it is right to press ahead with sideguards and rear under-run guards, for which we already have the technical specifications, to give greater protection. We shall bring forward regulations on front under-run protection as soon as we have a cost-effective standard.

The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) expressed anxiety about jack-knifing. That has been a serious problem but from October this year all new heavy vehicles have had to be manufactured to meet new braking standards which have specific technical requirements to ensure the vehicle's stability when braking, to avoid jack-knifing. That is an advance which many hon. Members, I think, did not expect to see so quickly.

I wish to refer to lorry controls. We have had—in response to our requests—from county councils in their transport policies and plans, no fewer than 60 bids for resources to fund lorry action areas. Of those, 15 come from an authority, the Greater London Council, that opposes these measure, and a further 25 from metropolitan authorities. So much for not wishing to have these matters passed by the House.

On lorry controls, the Dykes Act, as it is known, has laid a framework that can be better activated by the county councils. I wish to see it activated and utilised more fully throughout the country.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's reference to the Act. Will the Government insist on more schemes of restriction of access and more transhipment?

The Government have taken further measures in the Transport Act this year to deal with the vexed problems of lorry parking and the extent to which an operator can expand his existing premises.

The Government give high priority to enforcement. It is an area in which Civil Service numbers, against the overall trend, are being increased. There will be 225 traffic enforcement inspectors by April and more appointments are envisaged.

A year ago, there were 25 dynamic weighbridges. That figure has already been increased to 35 and another five will be introduced over the next couple of months. We are examining 80 further sites to cater for lorries of the higher weight. We are concentrating on weighbridges at the ports.

On enforcement, we are spending this year £750,000, which is twice last year's figure, and a further £1 million next year. We have effective enforcement procedures. All the powers are on the statute book and overloading offences can be, and are, prosecuted. I intend to see that the powers are fully used.

The increasing number of weight checks shows that more prosecutions are being undertaken every year. We are paying particular attention to foreign vehicles. This year, about 15,000 will have been checked, compared with 11,000 last year. Many hon. Members have mentioned bypasses. The suspension of some schemes by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was necessary to provide a realistic programme. They had found, on coming to office, that there may have been schemes in a list but no work had been done upon them. It was misleading to the people involved to say that the bypasses were being prepared. Every scheme now brought back into the programme is under preparation.

Has my hon. Friend anything to say about the appalling problems of the roads in the West Country, especially the A30?

I am well aware that my hon. Friend wished to mention the West Country. I shall deal with that matter now. We are currently spending in Devon and Cornwall £60 million on trunk roads that are under construction at this time. West Country Members are rightly concerned about the provision of suitable highways. Following many years when little was planned for the South-West under the previous Labour Government, we have been encouraging the county schemes as fast as they can be prepared and built. In this year's transport supplementary grant, Devon and Cornwall had the whole of their capital bid, 100 per cent. for each, accepted. I hope to give them substantial allocations in 1983–84. I am grateful to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members for all that they have done in this respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) asks about his schemes. I have looked carefully at what he wants. He told me firmly that he is not prepared to put up with the lorries going through the centre of his town. I assure him that the plans for Bedfordshire are taking up much of my time at present.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale)—[Interruption]—that we shall continue the programme of which he spoke.

I can tell my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) and Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), that we are looking at the new traffic figures for the Thanet Way road. Following my visit to the area, I discussed safety measures that could be introduced quickly on that road, and I hope to have further discussions with Kent on the matter. [Interruption.]

My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) spoke of local road investment, [Interruption.] Virtually the whole bid from the county council for capital expenditure has been accepted this year, and I am confident that Wiltshire will get similar support in 1983. [Interruption.]

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) is concerned about the traffic in that town. The strategy is to get the traffic out of Cheltenham. That is why the Department's proposal is for trunking the A436 road. My hon. Friend knows that the objections that have been put to this trunking proposal must be examined in detail before a decision is reached.

Other hon. Friends have mentioned roads in the areas. Where a county council is the responsible highway authority, if the county council gives the scheme priority—for instance, in Petworth—it will get support through the transport supplementary grant system.

We agree that the situation with the south circular road is most unsatisfactory. However, I would be pre-empting my right hon. Friend's response to the Select Committee about roads in London if I said more tonight.

The debate tonight has continued to question whether there are benefits to industry. Industry now knows—we hope, as a result of the vote tonight—that it can get on with producing the larger lorry. We shall reduce some of the problems that we have had in the commercial vehicle sector over the past three years. Transport cost savings from the measures in the regulations tonight will also benefit industry—by at least £1½ billion over the next decade, and almost certainly more. The savings in transport costs will meet the costs of safety and environmental measures. There will also be benefits which can be passed on to transport-using industries and to the consumer in lower prices. Every major company with a large transport undertaking has testified to the savings, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) testified tonight.

The dire position in the truck building industry is one that cannot continue. Production in 1981 was half the level of that in the 1960s and 1970s. Uncertainty has done this to our truck industry. We know that manufacturers will be able to make economies of scale if they can build the same vehicles for both the home market and export. That means building 38-tonners. It is a chance to turn the tide of import penetration. I hope that the House will not tonight go on record as rejecting an opportunity to bring a great deal of industry back to the West Midlands and to the North, not only with new vehicles but with the fitting of side guards on existing vehicles, whose owners decide that they wash to have a gross plating weight of 38 tonnes. There is far more work in that.

We know from many sources that these proposals are wanted. Today in the Financial Times the motor industry correspondent wrote of the improvement of York traffic and York vehicles. That is a bonus of the 38 tonners.

All the measures in the lorry control package combine to give Britain the best opportunity we have ever had to bring the lorry under proper and enforced control, to limit the damage of the past and to bring a new era to road haulage transport in this country.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 232, Noes 295.

Division No. 19]

[10 pm


Abse, LeoDewar, Donald
Adams, AllenDixon, Donald
Allaun, FrankDobson, Frank
Alton, DavidDormand, Jack
Anderson, DonaldDouglas, Dick
Archer, Rt Hon PeterDubs, Alfred
Ashley, Rt Hon JackDuffy, A. E. P.
Ashton, JoeDunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)Eadie, Alex
Bagier, Gordon A.T.Eastham, Ken
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)
Beith, A. J.Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Benn, Rt Hon TonyEnglish, Michael
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N)Ennals, Rt Hon David
Bidwell, SydneyEvans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertEvans, John (Newton)
Bottomley, Rt Hon A.(M'b'ro)Ewing, Harry
Bray, Dr JeremyFaulds, Andrew
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Field, Frank
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)Flannery, Martin
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)Fletcher, L. R. (llkeston)
Buchan, NormanFord, Ben
Callaghan, Rt Hon J.Foulkes, George
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Campbell, IanFreeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Campbell-Savours, DaleFreud, Clement
Canavan, DennisGarrett, John (Norwich S)
Carmichael, NeilGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Carter-Jones, LewisGeorge, Bruce
Cartwright, JohnGilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Golding, John
Clarke, Thomas(C'b'dge, A'rie)Graham, Ted
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)Grant, John (Islington C)
Cohen, StanleyGreenway, Harry
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Cook, Robin F.Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Cowans, HarryHardy, Peter
Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)Harman, Harriet (Peckham)
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Crawshaw, RichardHart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Cryer, BobHattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cunliffe, LawrenceHealey, Rt Hon Denis
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)Heffer, Eric S.
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n)Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)Home Robertson, John
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Homewood, William

Hooley, FrankPenhaligon, David
Horam, JohnPitt, William Henry
Howell, Rt Hon D.Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)
Howells, GeraintPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Hoyle, DouglasPrescott, John
Huckfield, LesPrice, C. (Lewisham W)
Hudson Davies, Gwilym E.Race, Reg
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Radice, Giles
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Richardson, Jo
Janner, Hon GrevilleRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Jay, Rt Hon DouglasRoberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
John, BrynmorRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Johnson, James (Hull West)Robertson, George
Johnson, Walter (Derby S)Rooker, J. W.
Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Roper, John
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Jones, Barry (East Flint)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Jones, Dan (Burnley)Rowlands, Ted
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRyman, John
Kerr, RussellSever, John
Kilroy-Silk, RobertSheerman, Barry
Lamond, JamesSheldon, Rt Hon R.
Leadbitter, TedShore, Rt Hon Peter
Leighton, RonaldShort, Mrs Renée
Lestor, Miss JoanSilkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Silverman, Julius
Litherland, RobertSkinner, Dennis
Lofthouse, GeoffreySnape, Peter
Lyon, Alexander (York)Soley, Clive
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)Spearing, Nigel
McCartney, HughSpeller, John Francis (B'ham)
McDonald, Dr OonaghSpeller, Tony
McGuire, Michael (Ince)Spriggs, Leslie
McKay, Allen (Penistone)Stallard, A. W.
McKelvey, WilliamStoddart, David
MacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorStott, Roger
McNamara, KevinStrang, Gavin
McTaggart, RobertStraw, Jack
McWilliam, JohnSummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Marks, KennethTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Marshall, D(G'gow S'ton)Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Tilley, John
Martin, M(G'gow S'burn)Tinn, James
Mason, Rt Hon RoyTorney, Tom
Maxton, JohnUrwin, Rt Hon Tom
Maynard, Miss JoanVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Meacher, MichaelWainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Wardell, Gareth
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)Watkins, David
Moate, RogerWeetch, Ken
Molyneaux, JamesWellbeloved, James
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)Welsh, Michael
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)Whitehead, Phillip
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Wigley, Dafydd
Morton, GeorgeWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Moyle, Rt Hon RolandWilliams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Mulley, Rt Hon FrederickWilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Newens, StanleyWilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWinnick, David
O'Neill, MartinWoodall, Alec
Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWoolmer, Kenneth
Palmer, ArthurWright, Sheila
Park, GeorgeYoung, David (Bolton E)
Parker, John
Parry, RobertTellers for the Ayes:
Pavitt, LaurieMr. Frank Haynes and
Pendry, TomMr. Derek Foster.


Adley, RobertAtkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)
Aitken, JonathanAtkins, Robert(Preston N)
Alexander, RichardAtkinson, David (B'm'th,E)
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBaker, Kenneth (St. M'bone)
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBaker, Nicholas (N Dorset)
Ancram, MichaelBeaumont-Dark, Anthony
Arnold, TomBendall, Vivian

Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)Goodhart, Sir Philip
Benyon, Thomas (A'don)Goodhew, Sir Victor
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Goodlad, Alastair
Best, KeithGorst, John
Bevan, David GilroyGow, Ian
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnGower, Sir Raymond
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Blackburn, JohnGray, Hamish
Blaker, PeterGrieve, Percy
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGriffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds)
Boscawen, Hon RobertGriffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)Grist, Ian
Bowden, AndrewGrylls, Michael
Boyson, Dr RhodesGummer, John Selwyn
Braine, Sir BernardHamilton, Hon A.
Bright, GrahamHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Brinton, TimHampson, Dr Keith
Brittan, Rt. Hon. LeonHaselhurst, Alan
Brooke, Hon PeterHastings, Stephen
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n)Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Browne, John (Winchester)Hawkins, Sir Paul
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnHawksley, Warren
Bryan, Sir PaulHayhoe, Barney
Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A.Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Buck, AntonyHeddle, John
Budgen, NickHenderson, Barry
Bulmer, EsmondHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Burden, Sir FrederickHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Butcher, JohnHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Butler, Hon AdamHolland, Philip (Carlton)
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Hooson, Tom
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hordern, Peter
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Chalker, Mrs. LyndaHowell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Channon, Rt. Hon. PaulHowell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Chapman, SydneyHunt, David (Wirral)
Churchill, W. S.Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Irvine, Rt Hon Bryant Godman
Clegg, Sir WalterJenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Colvin, MichaelJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Cope, JohnJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Cormack, PatrickJoseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Corrie, JohnKellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Costain, Sir AlbertKimball, Sir Marcus
Cranborne, ViscountKing, Rt Hon Tom
Critchley, JulianKitson, Sir Timothy
Crouch, DavidKnight, Mrs Jill
Dickens, GeoffreyKnox, David
Dorrell, StephenLamont, Norman
Dover, DenshoreLang, Ian
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardLatham, Michael
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Durant, TonyLee, John
Dykes, HughLe Marchant, Spencer
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Eggar, TimLloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Elliott, Sir WilliamLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Eyre, ReginaldLoveridge, John
Fairbairn, NicholasLuce, Richard
Fairgrieve, Sir RussellLyell, Nicholas
Faith, Mrs SheilaMcCrindle, Robert
Fell, Sir AnthonyMacfarlane, Neil
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMacGregor, John
Finsberg, GeoffreyMacKay, John (Argyll)
Fisher, Sir NigelMacmillan, Rt Hon M.
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir CharlesMcNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Forman, NigelMcQuarrie, Albert
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMajor, John
Fox, MarcusMarland, Paul
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir HughMarlow, Antony
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Fry, PeterMarten, Rt Hon Neil
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Mates, Michael
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)Mawby, Ray
Garel-Jones, TristanMawhinney, Dr Brian
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMayhew, Patrick
Glyn, Dr AlanMellor, David

Meyer, Sir AnthonySt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Miller, Hal (B'grove)Scott, Nicholas
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Miscampbell, NormanShaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Shelton, William (Streatham)
Montgomery, FergusShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Moore, JohnShepherd, Richard
Morris, M. (N'hampton S)Shersby, Michael
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Silvester, Fred
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)Sims, Roger
Mudd, DavidSkeet, T. H. H.
Murphy, ChristopherSmith, Dudley
Myles, DavidSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Neale, GerrardSpence, John
Needham, RichardSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Nelson, AnthonySpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Neubert, MichaelSproat, Iain
Newton, TonySquire, Robin
Normanton, TomStainton, Keith
Nott, Rt Hon JohnStanley, John
Onslow, CranleySteen, Anthony
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.Stevens, Martin
Osborn, JohnStewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Page, John (Harrow, West)Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Page, Richard (SW Herts)Stokes, John
Parkinson, Rt Hon CecilStradling Thomas, J.
Parris, MatthewTapsell, Peter
Patten, John (Oxford)Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Pattie, GeoffreyTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Pawsey, JamesTemple-Morris, Peter
Percival, Sir IanThatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Peyton, Rt Hon JohnThompson, Donald
Pink, R. BonnerThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Pollock, AlexanderThornton, Malcolm
Porter, BarryTownend, John (Bridlington)
Prentice, Rt Hon RegTownsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)Trippier, David
Prior, Rt Hon JamesTrotter, Neville
Proctor, K. Harveyvan Straubenzee, Sir W.
Pym, Rt Hon FrancisVaughan, Dr Gerard
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyViggers, Peter
Rathbone, TimWaddington, David
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Wakeham, John
Rees-Davies, W. R.Waldegrave, Hon William
Renton, TimWalker, Rt Hon P.(W'cester)
Rhodes James, RobertWalker, B. (Perth )
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Ridley, Hon NicholasWall, Sir Patrick
Ridsdale, Sir JulianWaller, Gary
Rifkind, MalcolmWalters, Dennis
Rippon, Rt Hon GeoffreyWard, John
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)Warren, Kenneth
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Watson, John
Rossi, HughWells, Bowen
Royle, Sir AnthonyWells, John (Maidstone)
Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.Wheeler, John
Sainsbury, Hon TimothyWhitelaw, Rt Hon William

Whitney, RaymondYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Wickenden, KeithYoung, Rt Hon George
Wiggin, Jerry
Wilkinson, JohnTellers for the Noes:
Williams, D.(Montgomery)Mr. Anthony Berry and
Winterton, NicholasMr. Carol Mather.

Question accordingly negatived.

Lorries, People And The Environment

It being after Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the order this day, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the motion relating to Lorries, People and the Environment.


That this House, recognising the need to make lorries less objectionable to people, less damaging to the environment and more economic, thus increasing the competitiveness of British industry and creating more jobs, welcomes and approves the Government's comprehensive package of lorry measures, including more new roads and by-passes, to relieve communities of traffic; regulations to make lorries quieter and safer, to control their size more strictly and allow them to run with fuller loads by increasing maximum permitted weights for lorries so long as they have five axles; more controls on the routes lorries take and on where they park; special assistance for areas most severely affected by lorries; more attractive grants to encourage freight shipment by rail and inland waterways; and tighter enforcement of standards.—[Mr. Lang.]

Liaison Committee


That Mr. Paul Dean be discharged from the Liaison Committee and Sir Paul Hawkins be added to the Committee.—[Mr. Lang.]

Scottish Affairs


That during their consideration of the matter of the Hunter Report, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 64 (Meeting of Standing Committees), the Scottish Grand Committee shall have leave to sit from Ten o'clock until half-past One o'clock and that if proceedings thereon have not been concluded by that hour, the Chairman shall put any Question necessary to dispose of them.—[Mr. Lang.]

House Of Commons (Services)


That the Standing Order of 15th June 1979 relating to the nomination of the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) be amended, by leaving out Mr. Paul Dean and inserting Mr. Graham Bright.—[Mr. Lang.]

Merchant Fleet

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Lang.]

10.15 pm

It would be wrong for the House to allow the serious and continuing decline in the British merchant shipping fleet to pass unremarked and without a careful attempt in debate to discover, to propose, and to agree upon, remedies. There is an irony in the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was making almost precisely the same point some 25 years ago. I am glad to see present my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, whose character and wisdom I greatly admire. I shall be glad to hear his comments on these matters.

An all-party defence study group in another place earlier this year used a telling phrase when it referred to marine transport as the free world's Achilles heel. That is true. It is a matter of the greatest concern for our nation in particular. Shipping is essential to Britain for the transport of energy, raw materials and food, for exports and for continuous reinforcement and resupply in war. All life will come to a halt very quickly in our country if shipping flows are interrupted. Britain depends totally on "the safe and timely arrival of our ships"—to use the old phrase—in peace as well as war.

The structure of our merchant fleet has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. That is inevitable. What is worrying is that the size of the British cargo fleet has declined drastically. So, too, have the numbers of seamen available to man the ships.

I shall give the House some statistics. The United Kingdom owned and registered merchant fleet totalled 27 million deadweight tonnes at the end of September 1982. That is a reduction of 23 million tonnes deadweight—about 46 per cent.—since the end of 1975. That is a frightening fall in capacity. The truth is that our merchant fleet is in crisis.

In the past seven years the number of ships flying the British flag has fallen from 1,614 to 913. Every week there are two fewer British ships. We used to have the world's biggest fleet. Now we have been overtaken by Liberia, Greece, Japan, Panama and Norway. British Petroleum, the only major British-owned oil company and one of our largest shipping companies, has decided to get rid of 16 sbips—over one-third of its fleet. Without a strong British merchant fleet, this country will inevitably become increasingly reliant on foreign ships to keep us supplied. That is unacceptable.

What of defence? Our merchant fleet and our seamen are rightly called the fourth arm of defence. The commander of the Falkland Islands task force, Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, said at the conclusion of that campaign:
"I cannot say too often or too clearly how important has been the Merchant Navy's contribution to our efforts. Without the ships taken up from trade, the operation could not have been undertaken, and I hope this message is clearly understood by the British nation."
The fact that 54 ships of the Merchant Navy were called up to join the task force shows the vital role that merchantmen play in our defence strategy—and 31 merchant ships are still so engaged.

The Falklands campaign depended on merchant ships. It is not too far-fetched to say that it would not have been possible without BP's ships. Altogether, 12 of them were involved—six are still there—providing a vital fuel line for Royal Navy and merchant ships. Her Majesty's Government, a major shareholder in BP, seem to be indifferent to the effect that the decimation of BP's fleet may have on this country's ability to carry vital oil supplies in peace and in war.

Although statistically only 5 per cent. of our merchant fleet was requisitioned or chartered, in many cases the ships that were sent were virtually the only ones of their type with the characteristics required for a defence role—tugs, repair ships and deep-sea trawlers, for example. We used three of only nine big passenger ships that we have. The implications are ominous.

The decline of our merchant fleet, alas, is a continuing one. It involves not only the larger ships. The fishing fleet has also been decimated by the demise of distant-water fishing and the absurd failure—one can call it nothing else—to achieve a common fisheries policy within European Community waters. Fishing vessels and their crews can therefore no longer provide any substantial number of reserves to fulfil war-time tasks in minesweeping and as escorts. The situation is rapidly deteriorating. We are losing men as well as ships. The number of officers serving at sea has fallen from the peak of 36,000 in 1975 to 24,000 today—a decline of one-third. The number of United Kingdom ratings has fallen from 33,000 to 25,000 and 1,000 officers and 3,000 ratings are unemployed. From every point of view of self-interest, we cannot allow this state of affairs to continue.

Our merchant fleet is not only invaluable to our economic life in peacetime and at war as a carrier. It is a most substantial asset in other ways. It is a huge source of foreign exchange. For the past eight years, United Kingdom owned ships have made a net contribution to our balance of payments averaging £1 billion per year. Thus, United Kingdom ships are the second biggest contributors of invisible earnings to Britain's balance of payments. Capital expenditure by British shipping companies until 1978 averaged more than £l million per day. Recent years, however, have shown a considerable reduction in investment. At current prices, capital investment in 1981 was a mere one-quarter of that in 1975. That means fewer jobs. Today, 25,000 British workers are engaged in building new merchant ships. Three years ago, there were 40,000.

Another aspect of the problem is competition. By weight, 95 per cent. of the United Kingdom's external trade was moved by sea in 1980. That will always be so because no other form of transport can take the place of maritime transport in that context. Between 1979 and 1980, total imports by weight carried by United Kingdom flag vessels were constant at 31 per cent. However, exports fell from 47 per cent. to 37 per cent. By value, imports carried by United Kingom flag vessels fell from 45 per cent. to 39 per cent. and exports from 52 per cent. to 42 per cent.

Perhaps there is not much that any British Government can do about some problems—the deepening world recession and the increasing trend towards protectionism in the Third world and the United States of America—however much we may deplore them. But we should put our own house in order. Ship owners and trade unions must agree to cost-effective manning, developing the highest possible productivity in the use of a ship's crew, the interchangeability of ratings, the introduction of the unmanned engine room, flexibility in the technical and supervisory grades, and company as opposed to national bargaining. We must use the industry's seafaring manpower as effectively as possible because the industry's jobs depend upon it.

The Government must provide a fiscal regime—I say this in advance of the Budget—to encourage positive investment in shipping, free depreciation for second-hand ships and investment allowances for new ships. They will reap the benefit in a greater contribution to our balance of payments, more employment and a more adequate reserve of ships and men for times of emergency. Increased competitiveness is the key to the industry's future success. The Government have a duty to do their utmost to ensure that. Joint efforts by shipping companies, seafarers and the Government can achieve that competitiveness and yield benefits to all.

Britain has long believed in free trade; and the philosophy has served us well for more than a century. But, alas, an increasing number of our competitors now seem to take the opposite view. More countries wish to reserve a larger share of their seaborne trade to their national lines. That unpalatable practice has spread to the bulk trades. A free trading world is essential to shipping, but the difficulty of getting other countries to abide by the rules is a real one. The Government must be ready with countervailing powers if other countries do not abide by the rules. For example, the Government must resist the nationalist discrimination implied by UNCTAD. They must press to remove the legal uncertainties that will persist until the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea is ratified. They must make continuing representations against the extraterritorial impact of American anti-trust laws and the appallingly petty restrictions that are now being imposed in hydrography, about which I shall say something on another occasion.

Above all, the Government must expose the COMECON cost-cutting exercises for the aggressive imperialism that they are. Admiral Gorshkov, whose name will be familiar in the House, said:
"Soviet seapower, merely a minor defensive arm in 1953, has become the optimum means"
—we should note those words—
"by which to defeat the imperialist enemy and the most important element in the Soviet arsenal to prepare the way for a Communist world."
As the late Nye Bevan said,
"Why look in the crystal ball when you can read the book?"
The purpose is plain and it must be frustrated by the Government's determination to defend the interests of Britain and the free world.

We speak with pride—it is commonplace to do so—of our nation as a maritime nation. The reality is that today we are considerably less of a maritime force than the maintenance of our prosperity and our freedom require. I do not doubt that my hon. Friend will acknowledge the problem. I am sure that he is well aware of it. I call upon him, on behalf of our Government, to undertake determined action to ameliorate it and solve it, and to endeavour, in the nation's real interests, to restore our maritime pre-eminence. I hope that my hon. Friend will have some encouraging things to say to the House.

10.30 pm

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) for raising this matter on the Adjournment. It is a matter of great concern. It is a concern that I share completely. I shall cover as much ground as possible in the short time that is available to me. I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if at times I speak rather fast, but I am anxious to cover as much ground as possible on this extremely important subject.

Let me review the position briefly. The United Kingdom-registered fleet grew from 27 million deadweight tons in 1966 to its peak of 52 million tons at the end of 1975. Since then it has contracted by nearly 40 per cent. and now stands at 32 million deadweight tons—approximately its 1969 level. But the world fleet as a whole has grown from 544 million tons in 1975 to 687 million tons at the middle of this year. Our share of the world fleet has dropped from 9·7 per cent. to 5·1 per cent. over that period. We still have a large fleet—the sixth largest in the world, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, after Liberia, Greece, Japan, Panama and Norway—but its decline has been very substantial.

What is happening to our merchant fleet is not, of course, an isolated phenomenon. With the exception of a short-lived recovery in 1980, the shipping industry worldwide has been in the doldrums since the oil crisis of 1973. There have been too many ships and too much subsidised shipbuilding capacity chasing the limited cargoes generated by the slow growth of world seaborne trade. Let me give some facts: 76 million tons of world shipping is laid p—11 per cent. of the world fleet. Bulk freight rates have been cut in half since the last peak in 1980. There is twice as much oil tanker capacity as is needed to carry the world's crude oil. World seaborne trade overall is growing very slowly.

I wish I could tell the House this evening that there are many and early signs of better times ahead. But I cannot. The world recession, the growth of low-cost competition from the Far East, the limited prospects of growth in seaborne trade, the introduction of new technology and continuing subsidies for shipbuilding in so many countries provide no basis for easy optimism. The shipping industry itself expects to remain in the doldrums until at least the mid-1980s. But the Government are determined not just to stand idly by as mere spectators of this sad scene. No one could be indifferent to the plight of those who have lost their jobs.

Despite the job losses, however, the industry still employs some 65,000 people. Last year it contributed, as my right hon. Friend mentioned, a net £900 million to our invisible earnings; and this year the vital role that it can play in times of emergency was made very clear by the heroic actions of the Merchant Navy in the Falklands.

To the deep-seated problems of our Merchant Navy, there are no easy or obvious solutions, but, let me point to some areas where the Government can help. Our successful policies for controlling inflation give direct help to the shipowner in keeping down his operating costs. We have a corporation tax regime that encourages investment in shipping. We fight tenaciously for the interests of the industry in our international dealings.

I know that all sides of the industry want us to do something more. Unfortunately, if predictably, it is not always the same something.

I have received fairly recently, at my invitation, from the General Council of British Shipping and from the maritime unions detailed representations and proposals. I am extremely grateful for those responsible and constructive documents. I shall be discussing with the council and the unions all that they have proposed. I do not want to anticipate those discussions conclusively tonight, but it might help if I were to say something about five important areas—defence needs, cargo reservation, flags of convenience, competitiveness and Soviet maritime policy.

I shall deal first with defence needs. We recognise the vital dual importance of the Merchant Navy as an instrument of trade and as a weapon of defence. The ability of our declining fleet to meet the needs of the Ministry of Defence in times of emergency or war is kept under close and continuing review. The striking conjunction of the Falklands operations and the decline of the fleet naturally makes for grave concern. Our assessment is that defence needs can still be met. This matter is at the heart of our current review of what lessons to learn from the Falklands war.

With regard to cargo reservation, I believe that it would be deeply wrong to abandon the free trade principles upon which successive Governments have based their shipping policies. When times are hard the benefits of the free trading system can seem remote, especially for those whose jobs are at risk, or have been lost. But we should not allow the recession to become an excuse for adopting narrow protectionist attitudes.

The benefits of the free market, in shipping as elsewhere, are real and substantial. Were Governments throughout the world to embark upon a round of protectionism and subsidy for shipping, it could only be to the detriment of the United Kingdom industry. Some two-thirds of the industry's freight earnings—more than four-fifths for tankers—come from the cross-trades. These earnings and the jobs they sustain depend vitally on the willingness of other countries to keep their ports open to British shipping. If we close our ports and our trade to others, we cannot expect them not to close their ports and trade to us.

We and our partners in the European Community have agreed a position on the United Nations liner code that will keep the cargoes that are carried by the fleets of developed countries open to proper competition. We have to carry that forward. We must see that our European partners carry out the letter and the spirit of what they signed. We must persuade the United States of America that our action is an action in realistic defence of free trade and persuade them to uphold free trade in their own shipping relations with Third world countries.

The fact is that, despite the reduction of the fleet, Britain is still a major maritime power. London is a world centre of shipping. We play a leading role in maritime councils both at Government and industry level. Were we to be panicked into going down the protection road, I have no doubt that others would take their lead from us. The damage that would be done to this country and to world seaborne trade would be vast and irreversible.

I shall now deal with flags of convenience. Flags of convenience or open registries are regarded by many, particularly some people in the trade unions, with misgivings and hostility. They are attacked for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons are based on a complete misunderstanding of the vital distinction between open-registry ships and sub-standard ships. The two should not be confused.

Inability or unwillingness on the part of the authorities of any maritime State to take full responsibility for ensuring that its vessels meet international safety requirements is, of course, highly objectionable, but the proper approach to deal with such problems is through international agreements on safety standards and their enforcement by appropriate port State action as necessary. In the three months since the Paris memorandum on port State control came into force in July, 1,642 vessels have been examined, 558 of them in United Kingdom ports. I welcome that, but it would be a delusion to suppose that the competitive threat from open registries could be explained away in terms of sub-standard vessels and crews.

It should not need saying, but apparently it still does, so I shall say it again: open-registry vessels are not all substandard. The British flag, indeed, is termed by some as a flag of convenience. It is indeed an open registry and no country is more jealous of its safety record than we are.

For reasons that I have already explained, I do not believe that our response should be to put up protective shutters. On the contrary, we must and we shall resist action, such as is favoured by the UNCTAD secretariat, that would undermine international investment in shipping and damage the interests of our own fleet which has, of course, been the beneficiary of substantial inward investment. The effect of adopting the measures being promoted by the UNCTAD secretariat and by some people in this country on flags of convenience would be a shatteringly damaging effect on the United Kingdom fleet. Some 45 per cent. of our Merchant Navy is beneficially owned abroad—that is, by owners who use the British flag as a flag of convenience. If one got rid of flags of convenience, one would get rid of almost half the ships and half the jobs in the Merchant Navy. It would be an insane act. I cannot understand how anybody with the interests of the British Merchant Navy and British jobs at heart could advocate such an idea for one minute. I hope that we shall hear no more of it.

Cost competitiveness will continue to be very important for the fleet. Wage costs for crews from developing countries will indeed, for some trades, pose a crippling handicap, but much of our competition is from developed countries and some of our wounds are tragically self-inflicted. Let me give my right hon. Friend a pair of interesting, illustrative figures, provided to me by an important port user. They are for a medium-sized bulk carrier and are in round terms. The sum for Hamburg, in Germany, is £10,000 and for Immingham, in the United Kingdom, £34,000. Had I time, I could give a dozen similarly worrying comparisons with British costs. We must stop damaging ourselves in this way.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the problems posed by the Soviet Union's policies. Indeed, I am grateful to him for mentioning them. The present Soviet practices are not proper commercial practices and they pose a threat to fleets such as our own, whose operations are properly commercial. I shall give the House just six examples of how the Soviet fleet does not operate on what we would term a fair commercial basis. First, the funds for shipbuilding for the Soviet fleet all come from the State, not from fleet earnings. Secondly, the Soviet State bears all the loan interest. Thirdly, the Soviet State provides the insurance. Fourthly, the Soviet State sees that bunker costs are about 25 per cent. of what our ships pay. Fifthly, Soviet wages tend to be about one-third of comparable Western rates. Sixthly, the Soviet Union always buys goods on free-on-board terms and sells them on cost-insurance-freight terms. So it is scarcely surprising—although no longer tolerable—that the balance of United Kingdom-Soviet Union shipping operations is 90 per cent.—10 per cent. in its favour.

Furthermore, in cross-trades the Soviet Union can distort trade by non-commercial under-pricing unjustified by market conditions, often, for example, pitching its prices 25 per cent. below whatever commercial rate is offered by anybody else. The Soviet Union always undercuts it because it is not operating on a proper commercial basis. In February of this year, the Government gave notice to the Soviet Union of our intention to renegotiate the Anglo-Soviet maritime treaty. Officials of the Department of Trade are now in Moscow for this year's meeting of the joint United Kingdom—Soviet Union maritime commission. I assure my right hon. Friend that they will raise, very strongly, the matter of the renegotiation of this treaty.

I have touched on only a few of the component reasons for the decline of the fleet and on some of the things that we are doing to remedy it. I can promise my right hon. Friend that I hope to come forward with some more measures in the fairly near future that I trust will do something to restore the British Merchant Navy to the position in which both he and I wish to see it.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seventeen minutes to Eleven o'clock.