My Lords, the Department for Transport is undertaking a feasibility study to explore ways of delivering better targeted enforcement on foreign heavy goods vehicles. One option is a time-based charge for the use of UK roads. Current arrangements already provide for foreign offenders to be dealt with in the UK courts. However, the department will shortly be consulting on new provisions that will in effect introduce on-the-spot fines to help to simplify the process.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I still find it puzzling that we still allow foreign lorries to use our roads without charge. The advent of a lorry pricing scheme, which has been implemented in Germany, would overcome that problem. I ask the Minister particularly to ask that this consultation is carried out speedily, not like some consultations in the past, which have been dragged out over five years.
My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that any regulations introduced are a result of the Act that came into law last November. We are engaged in this consultation with a view to introducing the necessary regulations, and he will recognise that the Government share his concern about the abuse of the situation in which foreign lorries make no contribution at all while causing considerable wear on UK roads.
My Lords, will my noble friend expand a little on the German system to which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred? When we have discussed this in previous years in your Lordships’ House, Ministers have said that the German system was not working properly and was not approved. Does he agree that it is working and is proving to be highly effective, and is a good example of a system that could be introduced into the UK very quickly?
My Lords, it could not be introduced into the UK very quickly. Let me bring to the attention of the House the fact that the German system is a road pricing system, although just for heavy goods vehicles. We are looking at a vignette, which is a charge for a licence for a limited time—a day, a week, or a month—on British roads. We think that that will prove to be more cost-effective.
My Lords, the Minister replied to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, about trying to deal with this problem more speedily. Will the Minister comment on the problems that it is causing our road haulage industry—problems of which I am sure he is aware? A lot of firms are going bankrupt purely because foreign lorries can, say at Calais, put 1,000 litres into their tanks at 20p less a litre than they would pay here. They can then come to this country and undercut our firms. Surely something should be done about this very rapidly.
My Lords, there is a limit to what we can do. First, we cannot avoid the fact that foreign lorries can have such extensive fuel capacity that they can fill up and spend the whole of their time in the United Kingdom using fuel that has been purchased abroad. There is no obvious solution to that. The second problem posed by foreign lorries is that we must be able to enforce the law with regard to them. That is why we introduced in the 2006 legislation the potential for on-the-spot fines. However, I think the noble Lord will recognise this limitation: we are bound by European legislation and can force foreign lorries to meet only the costs that they incur in relation to the maintenance of the roads. We are not allowed to introduce whatever charging system we wish for foreign vehicles.