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Foreign Goods Vehicles: Requirements

Volume 492: debated on Thursday 21 January 1988

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3.4 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are taken to ensure that foreign-registered vehicles using British roads comply with British restrictions on dimensions and weight of vehicles.

My Lords, all goods vehicles, including foreign registered vehicles, entering the ports and travelling on the roads in Britain, are liable to be stopped and checked by the department's traffic examiners or the police to see that they comply with our legal requirements for vehicle dimensions and weights. Local authority trading standards officers also make regular use of the department's weighbridge sites.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does his reference to the liability to be checked mean that, in practice, all vehicles go over weighbridges?

My Lords, obviously we do not check every vehicle but we try to check a number. We have an increasing programme of checks to be made. Last year 5,700 foreign registered vehicles were weighed. In the coming year we propose to raise that figure to at least 8,800. Over the next few years we plan to provide additional weighbridges around the country.

My Lords, in view of what the Minister has just said, is he aware that on 11th January his honourable friend Peter Bottomley mentioned the figure of 8,800 in a Written Answer? However, he said that they comprised only 3 per cent. of the number of inward journeys. Is that not a shockingly low number? In view of the interest that there is in this country concerning the use of weighbridges for outgoing lorries, could not the matter be raised again with European Transport Ministers with a view to weighbridges being used at both ends of the journey?

My Lords, of the 3 per cent. of vehicles weighed, many are regular visitors and therefore the chances of any one vehicle being caught is heightened. As regards weighing at ports, as part of ferry safety operations we are required to weigh lorries which are boarding ferries. We are also in consultation with European countries to ascertain whether they will make similar arrangements on the Continent.

My Lords, will the Minister say whether the present United Kingdom maximum axle weight requirements are in line with European requirements? Will he also say what are the weights in the United Kingdom and Europe?

My Lords, we are not in line with Europe. The maximum weight on the Continent is 40 tonnes; at present we have a temporary derogation to a limit of 38 tonnes.

My Lords, I do not have the figures for axle weights; I was giving the figure for maximum weights.

My Lords, surely in an age of automaticity it should be possible that lorries are automatically weighed as they roll off the ferries and, if they are overweight, an indication light signals to stop them. Is it sensible to pick on 3 per cent? Are we sure that we are picking on the right 3 per cent? A very big load can be very light and a very small load can be extremely heavy. Therefore, ought not this to be done automatically, thus reducing the manpower and increasing the effectiveness of our control?

My Lords, more weighbridges are being planned at ports for weighing lorries which leave the ferries. We are also examining methods of increasing the number of lorries weighed by using new technology and faster weighing equipment. Consultations are under way with a view to mounting a pilot project at five selected ports to test a range of options for increasing the number of weighings at ports.

My Lords, I am sorry to return to the point, but when my noble friend Lord Peyton was Minister of Transport years ago there was far more worry about the axle weight than the total weight of the vehicle. Is the emphasis no longer on the axle weight, and is it not the axle weight that causes damage to bridges rather than the total weight of the vehicle?

My Lords, we are still concerned with axle weights. I indicated to my noble friend that I did not have the figures for drawing a comparison between Europe and this country in respect of axle weights; I have only those figures for total weight limits. Axle weights are indeed important as regards roads and bridges.

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can suggest how we might overcome the dilemma? A number of people break our laws who, if they were citizens of this country, would appear before our courts. However, those people leave our country almost immediately but what can we do about it?

My Lords, if foreigners are caught in this country they are prohibited from further movement until their load has been adjusted. In some cases instant courts have been convened to coincide with foreign vehicle checks and the appropriate penalties have been imposed.

My Lords, in view of the damage done to motorways and the road safety aspect, can my noble friend say whether it is the intention and object of the Government to ensure that all incoming vehicles are weighed and that we do not rely on the fallacious method of trying to guess a vehicle's weight by looking at it?

My Lords, I cannot say that at present we intend to weigh every single vehicle that enters the country. However, as I said, we intend to improve our resources for weighing the vehicles and to increase the number of checks and weighbridges.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell us what will happen when the Single European Act comes into force in 1992? Surely then there will not be any restrictions on the movement of vehicles within the European Community?

My Lords, our derogation from the 40-tonne limit is temporary but we have said that we cannot accept any increase in the total weight or axle weight until our roads and bridges have been surveyed and strengthened where necessary. That will inevitably take many years to complete and no early increase in lorry weights is contemplated. In any case, any increase could not be brought into effect without the approval of Parliament.

My Lords, can the noble Lord inform us what proportion of the 3 per cent. tested complied with, or did not comply with, our regulations?