HC Deb 18 October 1972 vol 843 cc233-7
1. Mr. Sydney Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now introduce, and enforce nationally, limits to length and load of large vehicles in relation to widths of streets and roads and the parking of such vehicles.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend is discussing with local authorities the problems of heavy traffic; access of vehicles to particular streets must be a matter for local decisions.

Mr. Chapman

Does my hon. Friend not agree that there is a need for a comprehensive review of the whole situation permitting 40-tonners to use certain motorways and yet forbidding 10-tonners to use certain streets in our towns and villages? This must be done nationally rather than locally, for the latter would make it too haphazard.

Mr. Griffiths

I accept that there is a problem in that a large vehicle can be a nuisance; but it is also a necessity, so what my right hon. Friend is seeking to do is to civilise the large vehicle by making it cleaner and quieter and forbidding it in some areas where it is too large to go. When we come to individual streets and lanes, I think this must essentially be a matter for local decision in the light of local circumstances.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Yes, but when will the Minister admit that all he is giving out at the moment are sops to the environmentalists? Is it not time we got down to planning a national lorry grid for heavy goods vehicles? When will there by some clearly depicted signs of no-go areas for heavy goods vehicles in towns?

Mr. Griffiths

I am afraid that the hon. Member is starting the new Session by being just as wrong as he was in the old one. By-passes are being provided for 89 historic towns; there is a £10 million programme for lorry parks; local authorities are being encouraged to provide them; the road programme is making provision by which large vehicles will be able to move more rapidly and with more adequate parking facilities available in local communities.

Dr. Stuttaford

When will my hon. Friend announce a decision on axle weights? When he does announce his decision, would not that be the time to say whether we need lorry routes?

Mr. Griffiths

The matter of axle weights is being discussed by my right hon. Friend with our future partners in the European Community and certainly I will convey to him my hon. Friend's suggestion that that might be the appropriate moment at which to make a further statement on national route discrimination policy.

Mr. Crosland

Speaking as one not always a favourite figure with the environmentalist lobby, may I ask the Minister whether, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield) said, he accepts that sometimes sops to the environmentalists are highly desirable? I know that he is concerned with the problem, but will he not accept that there is a growing disquiet in the country about both the length and weight of these heavy lorries, and that this is a disquiet which goes far beyond the confines of the narrow environmentalist lobby and concerns a very large section of the public?

Mr. Griffiths

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. There is no difference on this point. I am sure that he agrees that it must be the right policy to try to limit size and axle weight, and that power-weight ratios must also be looked at, but that at the same time it is equally necessary to see that, in order that our commerce can be benefited, the large vehicle has a proper route to use but is not encouraged to go into those city centres and narrow lanes where it has no right to be.

31. Sir D. Walker-Smith

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the present position in regard to the negotiations with the European Economic Community in respect of the maximum permitted weight of lorries; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Ministers of the acceding States are being invited to consultations with the Six in Brussels on 6th and 7th November. My right hon. Friend will continue to press there our opposition to the weight limits proposed by the Six, particularly the 11-tonne axle limit.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Does my hon. Friend appreciate the very widespread concern and apprehension throughout the country over this threat to our environment? Is it not essential that the efforts of his right hon. Friend and mine are successful in this regard and that the increasingly heavy lorries are not allowed to add to what paragraph 10 of the White Paper "Development and Compensation—Putting People First" very properly calls the intolerable noise, vibration, smell, congestion and risks to person and property in [...] many towns and villages"?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend has very much in mind the point that my right hon. and learned Friend has just mentioned, and his policy can be summed up simply. It is to civilise the heavy lorries.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that there are already large numbers of heavy vehicles which exceed the present construction and use regulations for overall weights and axle loads? If the Minister cannot enforce the present axle rates, how will he be able to enforce future rates?

Mr. Griffiths

If the hon. Gentleman knows of any specific cases, which he can document, of lorries contravening the law I hope that he will bring them to the attention of the proper authority. Enforcement is not easy, but my Department, together with the police and local authorities, inspects a large number of vehicles, and the number is increasing each year.

Sir R. Thompson

Whatever the outcome of the present negotiations, would not my hon. Friend agree that the right place for these enormously heavy loads which shake our cities to pieces and make driving on motorways a nightmare is on the railways? Will he devise a system of licensing or charges which will make it much more advantageous to put these loads where they properly belong?

Mr. Griffiths

My right hon. Friend is anxious to give to the railways all the support that makes sense in terms of a viable transport policy, but it is an inalienable fact that most goods that go by rail must first be taken to a railway station and at the other end must be removed by another motor vehicle. It is equally a fact that many loads are not capable of being carried through some of the tunnels on our system. My right hon. Friend is anxious to assist the railways, and our record demonstrates that, but, at the same time, one must have some regard to the importance of the road haulage industry to the national economy.

Mr. Bradley

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why his right hon. Friend abandoned the concept of quantity licensing as early as July, 1970, if he is so anxious to divert traffic from road to rail?

Mr. Griffiths

Because it was a thoroughly bad concept which was doing no good to the road haulage industry and no good to the efficient distribution of goods and services.