Skip to main content

Transport: Cross-Channel HGVs

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 18 March 2010


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proportion of cross-Channel heavy goods vehicle traffic is undertaken by foreign operators.

My Lords, I thank the Secretary of State for that Answer. Does he agree that we can’t go on like this, with UK operators subject to significant vehicle excise duty and very high fuel costs, while continental operators pay much less for their fuel and absolutely nothing to the Treasury for the use of our infrastructure? What, if anything, is the Secretary of State going to do about this?

My Lords, the Government have undertaken several reviews to explore the possibility of charging foreign lorries in this country, which I take to be the implicit proposal in the noble Earl’s question. They most recently considered a vignette scheme in the context of the freight data feasibility study. However, the cost benefits of this scheme were not persuasive, and we do not propose to take it forward at present.

My Lords, is the Secretary of State aware that large numbers of cross-Channel freight drivers carry freight on the return leg of the journey, and can he be satisfied that it represents fair competition for British drivers? Is he also aware that, in some cases, the rules on road traffic drivers’ hours are being breached?

My Lords, under existing EU rules, foreign lorries are allowed 30 days in the UK. They can come over empty and can carry as much freight as they like on journeys within the UK while they are here. However, from the end of May, those EU rules will be changed; foreign lorries will be able to undertake only three jobs in seven days, and they will have to come over to the UK loaded. My noble friend’s concerns are therefore being taken very much to heart in policy, and improvements will be made in the very near future.

My Lords, it is often asserted that foreign operators’ involvement in road traffic accidents in the UK is disproportionately high. Is there any evidence of this, and if so, is it a question of driver training or inadequate vehicles? Do the Government collect any data on the numbers of accidents involving UK drivers when they are in continental Europe?

My Lords, I do not have those latter figures. However, in terms of roadworthiness checks on UK and foreign HGV motor vehicles and trailers, the prohibition rate is higher for foreign-registered vehicles than for UK-registered vehicles. That is precisely why two years ago we announced the £24 million package over three years to allow the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency significantly to increase its safety checks on high-risk vehicles on international journeys and to recruit more enforcement staff.

In addition, we introduced a scheme whereby the police and the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency have the power to issue fixed penalty notices. These measures have been rolled out successfully, and, in the period from April last year to the end of January this year, approximately £3 million was taken by VOSA examiners in financial penalty payments from foreign lorries that were found not to be roadworthy. I have been out with a team of VOSA inspectors and have seen them in operation. They do excellent work in this area and are having a big impact on improving the roadworthiness of foreign lorries.

My Lords, will the Minister explain what the cost-benefit analysis showed? Surely a vignette scheme is very cheap to run.

If only that were the case, my Lords. What it showed is that the cost of setting up such a scheme and maintaining it would be very high and that the benefits would be lower.

The benefits would be lower, but the point is that there are not very many collection points nationally; they would only be at the major ports, such as Harwich, Hull, maybe a port in the north-east and Dover and Newhaven. How can that be a particularly expensive project?

I will be very happy to provide my noble friend with the details of the cost-benefit work that was done.