HC Deb 17 June 1981 vol 6 cc1076-112 7.13 pm
Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

I beg to move, That this House, conscious of the problems caused by existing heavy lorries, is opposed to the Armitage recommendation of 44 tonne lorries. I have just learnt, to my great surprise, that the outcome of the debate will probably be the complete endorsement by the House of the motion tabled by the Opposition. Therefore, I open my mouth with the greatest trepidation. I can only worsen the position at which we have arrived.

Nevertheless, the serious problems that have been caused by the huge increase in the use of heavy lorries in Britain —following the last two occasions on which the House sanctioned an increase in lorry weights —has resulted in massive opposition to the proposal in the Armitage report that lorry weights should be raised again, and especially the proposal that the 44-tonne lorry should be allowed on the roads in Britain.

The heavy lorry is identified in the minds of a large number of people —probably the majority —with road congestion, noise, vibration, smoke, smell, serious or fatal accidents and damage to buildings, gas mains, sewers and water pipes. The Armitage report has not convinced most of those concerned with the issue that the problems of heavy lorries in Britain can be solved, or even lessened, by a series of proposals that contain within them a recommendation to increase lorry weights. The failure of Armitage to convince the majority of concerned people stems from two considerations. First, the analysis, the assumptions and the judgment that the Armitage report contains are suspect in many respects. Secondly, the Government are suspected of being unwilling to carry through a number of the proposals contained in the report that could lead to some amelioration or reduction of the problems of heavy lorries.

I wish tonight to deal with those two elements in that order. If Armitage is wrong, if the assumptions on which the report is based are wrong, if the analysis is wrong and if the conclusions are wrong, we should not endorse Armitage —irrespective of whether the Government are suspected of not proposing to carry out the recommendations that involve a large measure of public expenditure, which Armitage judges to be necessary to deal with the problem. The extent to which that suspicion of Government may be justified would only worsen the problems that would have stemmed from accepting what is basically a wrong judgment.

Armitage is attacked on many grounds. The fundamental error in his assessment is contained in that part of the report where he states that if we have heavier lorries we will have fewer lorries. A large part of his report rests on that basis. He contends that having the 44-tonner will lessen, rather than increase, the problem. That fundamental error arises from the Armitage committee ignoring the thorough review that was undertaken. That is revealed in the first chapter of the report. It shows that with each significent increase in lorry weight that has been permitted in Britain there has been a massive transfer of freight from the railways to the roads. No acknowledgement of that is made by the Armitage committee in its calculations of the road damage and the ill effects that would flow from having the 44-tonner on British roads.

Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that with the trend towards heavier lorries, the number of light lorries has dropped considerably? The overall number of lorries on our roads has dropped considerably over the years. If the Armitage recommendations about lorry weights were implemented, either in full or in part, it would not mean a reduction in the number of lorries now, but in the future number of lorries that there could be commensurate with the increase of traffic on our roads.

Mr. Booth

I cannot accept that suggestion if we are talking within the terms of Armitage. It depends on how one defines a lorry. Armitage has defined a lorry in the first chapter of the report. As we have introduced heavier lorries to our roads there has been an increase in the very smallest and the largest. Those under 30 cwt have increased in number as have those of the maximum size permitted by the law of the day. Where there has been a diminution in the number of lorries following changes in the permitted maximum weight, that has occurred in the middle range. When eight-tonners were allowed on our roads, the number of five-tonners decreased. That has been the pattern.

The fundamental error of the Armitage report is that it ignores the massive transfer of freight from our railways to our roads. In 1953, two years before the gross weight of lorries was increased to 24 tons, there was more freight in tonne-mileage terms carried on the railways than on the roads. In 1958, only three years after the 24-tonner was allowed on our roads, 30 per cent. more freight was being carried on our roads than on our railways. In 1963 there was 130 per cent. more freight being carried on the roads than on the railways. in 1964 the 32½-tonne lorry was introduced. That was followed by another great wave of transfer of freight from rail to road. By 1968 three times as much freight was being carried on British roads as on British railways. In 1979, the last year for which the Armitage report presents figures, five times as much freight was carried on our roads as on our railways.

The roads were carrying more and more freight both as a percentage of total freight moved in the United Kingdom and in absolute terms while the railways were losing freight in percentage and in absolute terms. That has been the pattern. We cannot ignore the lesson of our post-war history. If we go for another massive increase —an increase from 32½tonnes to 44 tonnes would be massive —in lorry weights, one of the most probable consequences will be yet another massive shift of freight from the railways to the roads. I question whether our railway freight system could stand that.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, West)

I am sure that the House is impressed by the figures that the right hon. Gentleman has recited. Will he tell us how many miles of railway track have been taken up and how many miles of new bypasses and motorways have been constructed in the same period?

Mr. Booth

I do not have those figures but I do not think that they are crucial to the argument. There are about 12,000 network miles of railway and about 200,000 road miles. Irrespective of the legislation that we transact in the next few years, we shall require many lorries on our roads. Given the ratio of railway network to road network, we shall be unable to bring about a major reversal. We shall be unable to introduce a system in which all our freight is carried by rail, or 80 per cent. or 50 per cent. However, it is possible that we can initiate another wave that will cause movement from rail to road and substantially damage our environment by introducing more heavy lorries to our roads and making even less effective the railway system, which, if anything, needs to be made more effective for freight carriage purposes.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the transfer of freight from rail to road has been a conscious decision on the part of most of the main manufacturers? They have chosen a system that suits their firms best and that is the most efficient. Is not there a danger in preventing the most efficient and economic distribution of goods?

Mr. Booth

Manufacturers have chosen the means of shifting their goods which is the cheapest or the most suitable for their purposes. Whether it is cheaper or more suitable to carry freight by road or by rail depends in part on the weight of lorries available on roads. The 32½tonners are available and most manufacturers do not consider using the rail container system unless there is a journey in excess of 200 miles. If the maximum permitted weight for a lorry were halved, it might be that 100 miles would become the economic point of balance.

There is no inherent advantage to our total freight movement in having the present weight of lorry. However, as we allow that weight of lorry to operate, the roads provide a cheaper way of shifting goods and, therefore, traffic is taken away from the railways.

The Armitage committee made a fundamental error in assessing the effect of introducing the 44-tonner. It has chosen to use a damage number formula by which to calculate the relative damage done by different types of lorry. In that formula there is divided the sum of the fourth powers of static axle weights by the payload of the vehicle. The Armitage committee argues that, given that one is shifting the same amount of freight, the acceptance of a larger vehicle will mean that there will be fewer such vehicles on the roads and there will be less road damage. That is the argument reduced to the bare bones. It is based on a uniform tonne-mileage formula and it produces unrealistic figures.

Even if we accept the argument of the Armitage committee and accept the damage number formula, the committee proposes that we should allow on our roads a lorry that is more damaging than the existing 32½tonner and even more damaging, by its own formula, than the 44-tonner. It is proposing that we should have the four-axle articulated 34-tonner on our roads. That would be more damaging, according to the tests and the Armitage formula, than 44- or 32½tonners. We are contending that there is an argument not only against 44-tonners but against any movement in that direction. Even for those who accept the Armitage committee's assessment of damage, it is an argument that applies with greater force to the 34-tonner. That is seen by reference to table 39 and recommendation 51.

Mr. lain Mills (Meriden)

If the right hon. Gentleman is basing his argument upon the 34-tonne lorry in total, will he inform the House how many lorries of 34 tonnes would be involved?

Mr. Booth

Given the four-axle articulated configuration, one could virtually run the 32½tonners at 34 tonnes. that is, in effect, what the Armitage report says. That being so, a large number of 34-tonners could quickly appear on the roads.

The formula that the Armitage committee has used to calculate damage numbers is subject to grave suspicion among many highly qualified automobile engineers. I am qualified in another engineering discipline. The committee has chosen to use a formulation which depends on the sum of the fourth powers of individual axle weights. It is a formula that has not been tested in the United Kingdom. It has not been subjected to scientific tests. However, it has been tested in the United States. I took the trouble to ascertain how the tests were conducted. It seems that the lorries ran at a fixed uniform speed on a perfectly flat surface. No allowance was made for any variation of speed. No allowance was made for any dynamic effects or for any variations in the condition of the suspension systems. Those conducting the tests did not even measure the damage made when the lorries made turns. Measurements took place when the vehicles made a straight run at a uniform speed.

That is a good way for the scientist to isolate the fourth power effect. However, that does not correspond to the real world in which lorries earn money for people and carry goods for them. I do not believe that the speed of heavy goods vehicles and the conditions of their suspension system do not have some bearing on the degree of damage which they inflict on our roads.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

If my right hon. Friend has any doubts, can he come to Graham Road in Hackney where there is a good example of the damage which is done? The lorries not only damage the roads and the houses, but knock down all the guard rails.

Mr. Booth

I am sorry if the natural attractions which would normally cause me to respond with alacrity to an invitation to come to Hackney have been spoiled by lorries knocking up the roads there. I shall bear the invitaion in mind.

We must deal quickly with the contention that Armitage is not as bad as many people are making out because it is arguing only for heavier lorries and not bigger lorries. It is true that Armitage is proposing only a small increase in length of the articulated vehicle. It is proposed to increase the length only to 51 ft. However, it is also proposed that the existing articulated vehicle should be allowed to run as a 44 tonne draw-bar combination. Existing owners of the 32-tonne articulated vehicle would be able to put a trailer section on the back of the lorry. That will increase the lorry's length by 20 per cent.

Armitage also proposes that the existing three axle rigid 24-tonne vehicle should be used as a 44-tonne draw-bar combination. That will increase the lorry's length by 64 per cent. Those draw-bar combinations would be allowed to run on the roads at the length of 59½feet. We do not see many such lorries at the moment. There are many on the roads and autobahns in Germany and in other countries that have experience of allowing high weight draw-bar combinations. It is slightly to misrepresent the situation to say that Armitage is not arguing for bigger vehicles. The draw-bar combination vehicles are massively bigger vehicles than we are accustomed to on our roads.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there could be a seriously detrimental effect on development areas, particularly areas such as the western parts of Wales, where it would be virtually impossible to live with those lorries, especially if there were trailers behind them? That is another argument in that context.

Mr. Booth

It certainly is. I shall refer shortly to the way in which we must approach that problem.

Armitage strangely underestimates or ignores a number of serious problems of the heavy lorry. The report devotes only one paragraph to the effect of heavy lorries on underground pipes. I do not know how Manchester councillors feel about that proposition, particularly when one reads the 1977 report of the inquiry into serious gas explosions. At the end of the report Dr. King concluded that the increasing number of heavy lorries was a serious cause of gas main ruptures.

The evidence of the British Gas Corporation to the Armitage inquiry strongly reflects the same view. The National Water Council states that a large proportion of its sewers and water mains repair bill results from the use of heavy lorries. Of equal concern to me is that Armitage fails to evaluate the effect of vibration caused by lorries on buildings. If Armitage does not know and if we in the House do not know what the effect would be of the vibration caused by a 44-tonner on old buildings in a number of our constituencies, we would be ill-advised to sanction any such increases until some proper, effective and convincing experiments had been carried out.

The damage to bridges is dealt with in a surprising way in the Armitage report. That is a major issue. Armitage says that the reason why 44 tonnes and no more is recommended is that that is what our bridges will stand. However, the argument on what our bridges will stand is based on the assertion that those of our bridges that were built before 1922 were brought up to standard by "Operation Bridgeguard". The bridges were not strengthened to the standard required by "Operation Bridgeguard", but were allowed a 25 per cent. stress allowance below the requirement of "Operation Bridgeguard", on the understanding that the older bridges would be more quickly replaced.

It is for the Secretary of State's Department to tell us whether those bridges have been more rapidly replaced. I cannot see the evidence of that. However, I can see the evidence of major bridge owners, such as British Rail and the British Waterways Board, feeling great concern as a result of preliminary surveys on the effect on some of their bridges of 44-tonners. As yet we have no knowledge and convincing tests to show what would be the effect of two 44-tonners passing at mid-span in the centre of some of our wider span bridges.

Armitage's major claim for the increase in lorry weight is that transport costs will be reduced. The report says that that justifies bringing in its recommendations, provided that we can also do that in a way that reduces the adverse effects of lorries on people and their environment. The benefit to be gained is precisely quantified. The report says that we would save between £100 million and £160 million a year if we acted in accordance with its recommendations. That is suspect. It depends on the assumption that there would be fewer vehicles on the roads. If I am right in my contention that every major increase in lorry weight means a shift from rail to road, Armitage's calculation on road damage is wrong. It also depends on for how long those bigger lorries would have full loads, part loads, are empty after having dropped off a load or when they are going to pick up a load. The percentage payload carried by a heavy lorry has a large bearing on its operational cost.

It is certain that a 44-tonner is more expensive to produce and maintain. Armitage, backed up by other studies, contends that the heaviest lorries do not pay their track costs. The heaviest lorries —the 32-tonners —have been failing to meet their track costs by amounts which have varied between £35 million and £85 million a year over the last five years. They have been subsidised by those who operate lighter lorries and cars on our roads. Their contribution has subsidised the track costs of our existing heavier lorries.

Therefore, I believe that if we have heavier lorries on the roads the only way of making them meet track costs would be to impose a massive increase in taxation on those heavy goods vehicles. Depending on which perspective one takes, the effect would be either that the cost would be passed on to the public —to the person who purchases the services of the heavy goods vehicle operator —or it would be an amount which one should knock off any calculation of the advantage to be gained by bringing those heavier lorries on to the roads. I take the latter view.

I have one more criticism of the report, which concerns the approach to lorry action areas. If we adopted the proposal, we should have considerable arguments about which relatively few areas should benefit from Government grants. If it was agreed that we should deal with the problem more widely than proposed, the cost would be enormous. The Noise Advisory Council estimates that it would cost £1,600 million merely to insulate the houses of those who already suffer noise from a new road higher than the Government's criteria for noise compensation. That shows that the cost of heavy lorries cannot be measured only in terms of the freight charge to customers.

I put it to conscientious hon. Members who know their constituency problems that, even if the area in each of our constituencies worst affected by lorry noise was given a Government grant, we should still not have completely solved the problem. We should merely have made our constituencies fit the needs of bigger lorries. Perhaps we should take the opposite approach, and make our lorries and transport system fit the needs of our people and towns.

Our major conurbations will not be helped by bypass programmes, much as I should like to see the programme extended. The M25 will not cause a vast drop in the number of heavy lorries that rumble through London. The evidence shows that most of the 32½tonners on London's roads are there to pick up or drop loads and not because they are passing through. We must start thinking in terms of lorry bans, weight restrictions and transhipment depots outside our major conurbations, so that smaller vehicles can take the loads in.

We are also concerned about the Government's response to the Armitage report. Shortly after the previous transport debate, on 21 January, in answer to a question the Secretary of State said: Clearly, we should try to reach decisions on the report as soon as we can." —[Official Report, 21 January 1981; Vol. 997, c. 908.] However, the Government have not made such decisions, although they have made decisions closely related to the problems posed by Armitage and by Foster, for that matter. If they have taken any decisions, they have not communicated them to the House, so we have a number of questions for them.

What are the Government's views about the impact of the Armitage proposals on trunk road expenditure and the bypass programme, which are crucial to the argument about heavy lorries? In 1980–81, expenditure on English trunk road construction and maintenance was only £422 million. In 1979–80, it was £466 million, in 1978–79, £446 million and in 1977–78, £430 million, so it is lower now than at any time since 1977.

Bypasses are crucial to the Armitage argument, and the Government estimate that we have acquired about 400, yet this year only 10 will be opened and next year only eight. Eighteen bypasses in two years hardly shows that the Government have decided to accept the judgment of Armitage.

The Government have not made a decision whether to extend section 8 grants, which could have significant bearing on the amount of freight carried by rail. They have not decided whether to make the grants for rail sidings eligible for Sealink or Freightliner, as recommended. Neither have they dealt with the country planning anomaly, which denies section 8 grants to developers who are required as a condition of planning consent to put in railway sidings. They have not moved on the enforcement provisions of Armitage, which clearly show a need for more manpower. We also need a decision on axle weight indicators, particularly in the light of what the Government have discovered about overloading, not only by British operators. Foreign operators also have a bad record, and they should have more experience than we have of operating heavy lorries. The Government have not moved on the need for a more appropriate penalty for severe overloading. We have had two Transport Bills from the Government, and neither has touched on the Armitage proposals. What is even more surprising, neither contains legislation on the provisions of the Foster report, which has been around for much longer.

In June 1980, in response to his hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter), the Secretary of State said that he welcomed the Foster report, and particularly its objectives of promoting road safety, helping to protect the environment and preventing undue damage to our roads. He accepted the general conclusion of the report that we could improve our road haulage operation in many important respects. He went on to say that the report contended that deeper and wider scrutiny was required than its terms of reference allowed, so he had determined the Armitage inquiry terms of reference in such a way that it could consider the interrelated environmental issues and thus make possible a wider perspective. At that time, he judged it right to consider the Foster and Armitage proposals together. Therefore, the Government have decisions to make and communicate to the House.

To argue that the proposed lorries would not be much bigger than existing lorries is to miss the point. The concern stems from people's experience of existing lorries.

Mr. Waller

We knew that the Opposition were opposed to 44-tonne lorries from the motion, but the House has a right to know whether they are in favour of any increase in lorry weight, because jobs may depend on that information.

Mr. Booth

I am sorry if I have not made matters clear. I thought that I had spelt out our detailed objections to the 34-tonners. We object to many of the Armitage proposals to increase lorry weight. Our objection is not confined to 44-tonne lorries.

I believe that the Armitage report fails to meet its own standards. It states in paragraph 139: There must be an absolute reduction in the adverse effects of lorries on people and the environment". Yet the report is based upon the idea of an increase in heavy lorry mileage. It rejects any kind of limitation or quantity licensing and it displays an inability to quantify many of the dangerous effects of heavy lorries.

It is for those who believe that there is a case for the heavy lorry to make the case. It is not for those who argue that much needs to be done to cope with existing lorry problems to prove that even more must be done to cope with heavier lorries. In putting forward the motion tonight, I believe that we are expressing the view of the majority of people represented by Members of the House. I hope that our decision will reflect their verdict on the heavy lorry proposal.

7.50 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Norman Fowler)

I know that many hon. Members wish to speak. I shall therefore try to be brief. My hon. and learned Friend will deal more fully with the arguments at the end of the debate.

I remind the House of the main events leading up to the present position. The inquiry was originally set up with terms of reference that had been announced by the Labour Government. The inquiry, under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Armitage, was independent. It reported in December last year, and we had a debate —I concede at once that it was at very short notice —on 27 January. Early in that debate it was put to me by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) that some outside organisations which would like to put their views on the report had not yet had time to do so. I immediately expressed the Government's willingness to receive representations up to the middle of March, and in effect a little later, before they would start looking for decisions.

Subsequently, the Select Committee on Transport examined Sir Arthur Armitage and his assessors. The Select Committee recommended that the Government should make a full statement of their intentions in respect of the complete set of recommendations before individual proposals were brought forward, and that more than the usual time should be made available to the House to debate any proposals brought forward under the statutory instruments procedure for amending regulations to increase maximum lorry weights.

I should like to make it clear straight away that the Government accept those recommendations of the Select Committee. It is our intention to publish a statement setting out our response to the report as a whole, and I assure the House that there is no question of proposals on lorry weights being put forward without adequate time for full debate.

But we are not at that stage tonight. The House will appreciate —if it does not already, having heard the speech of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) —that the report contains much complex argument, and makes 58 recommendations covering a wide range of issues. A large number of organisations and individuals have put their views to me, and some have raised important technical questions on which I have thought it right to have detailed discussions. Although we have made a lot of progress in those discussions they are still not quite complete, but I hope that they will very shortly be so. It is right that we should take time to consider very carefully the large number of points that have been made to the Government on the report. We want to build where we can on points of agreement and develop a set of proposals that properly meet the widespread concern about lorries and the environment.

Later I shall tell the House what are the main arguments that have been put to me on the report, and what have emerged as the central issues. Let me say first where the Government stand on the recommendation for a 44-tonne lorry, which is the subject of the motion.

The 44-tonne lorry on six axles is the heaviest type of lorry proposed in the Armitage report. There are some particular worries about this vehicle to which the right hon. Gentleman has properly drawn attention. To increase the maximum weight from 32.5 tonnes to 44 tonnes would take us in one jump from having the lowest to having one of the highest gross weights in Europe. It is significant that the European Parliament only last month debated this issue and resolved against the 44 tonnes lorry proposed by the Commission in its most recent directive, recommending instead a European agreement on the basis of a top weight of 40 tonnes.

It is clear from what industry has told me that there are relatively few heavy traffics which could take advantage of such a high weight as 44 tonnes. The most significant are probably bulk liquids, steel construction materials and fully loaded containers. It is perhaps significant that these are types of traffic for which the railways are competitive over many routes, and the substantial cost savings offered by the 44-tonne lorry could in some cases lead to loss of rail traffic to road. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that.

It is clear that the greater part of industrial benefits could be obtained with a smaller top weight. The calculations done for the Armitage inquiry suggested that on its recommendations we could expect 30,000 vehicles of 38 to 40 tonnes, compared with fewer than 5,000 vehicles of 44 tonnes. Not only is there much less potential use for these very heavy vehicles, but our domestic commercial vehicle industry is not at present well placed to produce the nesessary equipment.

The Government have decided, therefore, that the response to Armitage that we shall bring forward in due course will not contain any proposal for a maximum weight as high as 44 tonnes. Accordingly, we are not opposed to and will in no way seek to oppose the motion.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

My right hon. Friend has to some extent made the point that I was about to make. He referred to fully loaded containers as being among those traffics that might benefit from a 44-tonne limit. That is not my understanding of the representations made by container users, who, on balance, do not expect to have to go to 40 or 44 tonnes.

Mr. Fowler

As my right hon. Friend says, I think that I have made the point in the decision that I have just announced.

I should emphasise that the decision does not prejudge what we may propose in relation to the Armitage recommended weights for four and five-axle lorries. We are still considering this. Perhaps I may briefly summarise the views that have been put to the Government.

Mr. Fry

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are many recommendations in the Armitage report that would benefit the environment. These will be expensive. The cost of putting them into effect was to be covered by the advantages of increased lorry weights. Has my right hon. Friend been able to calculate the limit that he will suggest that will give the benefit of those environmental advantages?

Mr. Fowler

If my hon. Friend will stay with me for a moment, I shall try to set out the arguments, which form the next part of my remarks.

As my hon. Friend rightly says, on the one hand I have been pressed by all sectors of industry to accept heavier weights. The main reason is that as they see it, there would be a reduction in transport costs. Although heavier vehicles would be individually more expensive, the argument is that fewer of them would be needed. Many companies have done detailed calculations of cost savings. The national estimate, based on a TRRL survey, suggests that we are now running about 9,000 more heavy articulated vehicles than we would need if we permitted individual vehicles to carry more weight, as proposed by Armitage. By cutting out these unnecessary vehicles, industry could save in its transport costs.

It has also been put to me that the heavier weights proposed would bring particular benefits to international trade. An increasing proportion of our trade with Europe goes by road throughout, and goods shipped to and from other continents are increasingly carried in standard maritime freight containers. The result of our present weight limit is that a standard 40 ft. container being shipped to or from the Far East can be loaded only to two-thirds of the weight for which it is designed if it is to be carried for any part of its journey on roads in this country.

An international road haulage journey is similarly restricted, even though the great majority of the journey may be on continental roads. This adds to the price of our exports in foreign markets, and penalises our industry in competition with foreigners. Finally, our commercial vehicle industry has told me that it would greatly benefit from having a home market for the types of heavy road equipment that are dominant in export markets. The arguments from industry have been put to me by a great range of specialist trade associations, and by the Confederation of British Industry. I have also had over 200 letters from individual companies, and from operators generally.

On the other hand, all the major national environmental organisations have sent me detailed submissions expressing their opposition to any increase in lorry weights. The great mass of letters from individual members of the public and from organisations such as parish councils and women's institutes express concern and opposition to heavier lorries. I recognise and share the widespread public concern about the nuisance from heavy lorry traffic —the size of the vehicles, the noise and vibration they cause —that underlines this opposition. The basic line of argument put to me is that heavy lorries are a major blight on our quality of life, and that we should therefore reduce our reliance on road transport, reduce the numbers of lorries on our roads, and improve standards of safety, noise, and so on for those lorries which we cannot do without. Many views of individuals are, of course, coloured by particularly bad local road conditions.

A number of other organisations have also raised with me technical engineering questions about the effects. of heavier lorries on roads, bridges and underground pipes. The local authorities and the statutory undertakers are, of course, particularly concerned with those questions, and my Department has been having a number of discussions with the main organisations concerned.

This is not the occasion for a comprehensive review of all the arguments, but I should like to draw attention to some of the more important underlying issues.

First, there is the right hon. Gentleman's point that heavier means fewer. Many industrialists and operators have said that they could reduce the size of the fleets if they were allowed to carry heavier loads. For example, the milk coming every day from the West Country to London is at present transported in lorries which each carry the maximum load of 20 tonnes. If that could be raised to, say, 25 tonnes, the vehicle fleet could be reduced by 20 per cent. There are a number of similar examples from other industries.

Of course, it is essential, as Sir Arthur Armitage proposed, that heavier vehicles should be controlled so that they are not bigger or noisier than existing maximum weight vehicles. I give categoric assurance that any increase in the legal limits on lorry weights would, if that were decided —and no decision has been taken —be associated with new legal restrictions on their length and height to ensure that heavier would not mean bigger.

The effect on roads, bridges and underground pipes of the heavier lorries proposed would depend upon the detailed rules for axle weights and axle spacing. This is a technical engineering question on which I have received a great deal of detailed comment from professional engineers in vehicle manufacture and operation. Final conclusions have not been reached on all aspects, but there is general agreement that the vehicles proposed by Armitage could be satisfactorily designed and operated and would not be significantly different from existing vehicles in the damage that they cause.

It is necessary to reduce the environmental problems caused by the lorry, and one of the most effective ways of doing this, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out., is through the roads programme.

Mr. Booth

I did not point it out.

Mr. Fowler

In that case, I should like to point it out. I think that very few people would dispute it. I have sought to give priority to schemes that will take traffic out of towns. In the White Paper on the roads programme I included as many bypasses as possible. Since then, work has started on bypasses for Gloucester, Bowes in County Durham, and Bere Regis in Dorset. We have also invited tenders for bypasses for Berwick-upon-Tweed, Dorchester on Thames and Ipswich. These schemes will bring relief from noise, danger and nuisance to many thousands of people.

But the strategic routes are also important. Although motorways account for only 1 per cent. of the length of highway, they carry over a third of the mileage run by the heaviest lorries. As the road programme is completed, they will take more of this traffic away from roads in built-up areas. Last month we let the last two contracts on the north-eastern part of the M25. These should be completed in 1983. Traffic will then be able to get from the Al to Tilbury and the Channel ports without going through London. We are also just starting work on the M54 to Telford and the M65, which will bypass Accrington, Burnley and other towns in north-east Lancashire.

I have been reviewing the programme scheme by scheme with the intention of bringing forward as many bypasses as possible. During the last year I have been impressed by the severity of the problems which are being experienced in far too many places without any early prospect of relief. I do not need to spell out the difficulties. The scope for change is bound to be limited. But developments since the last White Paper may give me the opportunity to advance a few schemes. In carrying out the review, I shall certainly be concerned to use the funds available to me to relieve as many people as possible from heavy lorry traffic.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Fowler

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths).

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

What my right hon. Friend has just said will be very welcome. Will he do his utmost to improve the planning procedures —the length of time that it takes from the initial proposal to have a bypass, all the way through to acquisition? The laying of the concrete is easy. The most difficult part is getting through the procedures.

Mr. Fowler

We struggle with that problem more or less daily in the Department. We have to achieve a balance between what is right in terms of the general public interest and trying to meet the interests of individuals who are concerned. I take note of what my hon. Friend says, and we should like to improve the position in that respect.

Another major issue discussed by Armitage is the taxation of lorries, and that again was mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. The House is aware that the Transport Bill, now in its final stages, contains provisions that will enable the Government to change the structure of vehicle excise duty so as to redistribute the burden from less damaging vehicles to the heavier, more damaging types, so that the taxation can be directed more squarely at them.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned section 8 grants. The Armitage recommendations have been generally supported. There is a general desire on both sides of the House that the railways should be helped to obtain a good share of the bulk traffics requiring the types of special loading facilities and other equipment for which section 8 grants are available. I am sympathetic towards that objective, and we are looking to see what changes might be justified in terms of value for money and help to the environment. I accept the argument that waterway facilities could in certain circumstances attract traffic which would otherwise go by road, and that grants should therefore be available to waterway users on the same basis as section 8 grants are for users of the railways. We would want to introduce legislation at the first opportunity.

It is clear from representations made to me that noise from vehicles is a very important issue, and that a reduction in vehicle noise limits would do more probably than any other change in vehicle standards to improve the environment. The Government are determined to tackle this problem. We have already announced new tougher limits, which will come into effect in 1983. And we have put proposals to industry for very much tougher limits by the end of the decade. We can look forward by then to a generation of lorries no noisier than most present-day cars.

Mr. Sidney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

The right hon. Gentleman has not alluded to representations made to him —and certainly to the Armitage committee —by trade unions, and in particular by the Transport and General Workers Union. That union caters for many of the workers who will be involved in any changes. The Secretary of State will need their co-operation. Did it cross his mind to ask the TUC and the CBI to nominate a representative on the initial committee of inquiry? If he had done so, the operation would not have been so abstract and academic.

Mr. Fowler

We shall take into account anything that the Transport and General Workers Union or the trade union movement may wish to put to us on that point. However, the Armitage inquiry was not meant to be of the type that includes representatives from every known group. Indeed, I do not think that that was the intention of the former Secretary of State for Transport, either. It was not that type of inquiry.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he is not contemplating a 44-tonne lorry. However, he led the House to believe that that was because the demand by industry was small. Is he influenced by the damage factor of axle weights, or by industry's demand? According to Armitage, those two factors come together for the 38-tonne lorry.

Mr. Fowler

We are more influenced by the demand factor. However, I hope that I have made it clear that we have not come to a conclusion on the 38 or 40-tonne lorry.

Let me summarise the main points. On lorry weights we have decided that it would not be appropriate to bring forward proposals for as great an increase in maximum gross vehicle weight —that is the 44-tonner —as proposed by Armitage. We are still considering the arguments for and against an increase to some lesser figure than 44 tonnes. Whatever we decide on this issue, I shall make a comprehensive statement on Armitage covering all the main recommendations. We accept that the House will want a proper debate on the Government's proposals, and I repeat that there is no question of the Government's implementing proposals to amend the regulations on lorry weights without the fullest consultation with all interested organisations and an opportunity for a full debate in the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Apart from Front Bench speakers, 18 hon. Members have indicated a wish to contribute to this short debate. Therefore, I appeal for self-restraint.

8.14 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

I shall try to bear your strictures in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and keep my remarks brief. My first and perhaps deepest concern can be compressed into a short question. If it is not to be 44-tonners, what will the limit be? It is apparent from the Secretary of State's remarks that some increase in lorry limits —probably, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said, to 38 tonnes—is inevitable as a result of the Armitage report and the non-stop pressure from the Department of Transport both now and in the past. The Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment —when it had transport responsibilities —have publicly said that they are the sponsored directorate for the road haulage industry. As such, they have done a pretty fine job over the years.

A predictable intervention was made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry). He implied that people chose to send their goods by heavy lorries because they were more convenient and flexible and cheaper. The Department's figures show that such transport is cheaper because our heaviest goods vehicles do not meet their track costs. In addition, the transport of those goods is subsidised by other road users and, in particular, by the private motorist. I hope that those who belong to organisations such as the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club will do the sensible thing, which is to resign their memberships and save their money. Over the years, those organisations have singularly failed to point out to their members that the average car driver is directly subsidising that great hulking, stinking, and often dangerous brute that may be blocking the motorists' road.

Mr. Fry

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned my intervention, perhaps he will make it clear whether he is satisfied with the heaviest lorries covering their track costs —as contained in legislation before Parliament—or whether he wants to charge an extra amount in order to penalise very heavy lorries?

Mr. Snape

I should like to see heavy goods vehicles paying their true track costs. I do not accept the figures that successive Governments have put forward, because they ignore such things as accidents, delays, pollution and damage to roads and buildings. Even with his blind adoration for heavy goods vehicles, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not tell us that they do not damage roads, pavements and buildings. That damage is paid for not by the road haulier but by general taxation. More often than not it is paid for by the car driver.

My stricture against the motoring organisations is that for years they have been part of the road promoting fraternity. Not once have they told their members that their interests have not been adequately represented by successive Governments. They have certainly not been adequately represented by the motoring organisations. They have been content to go along as part of the great road promotional business.

The promotion of bigger, better and wider roads has been best undertaken by the Department of Transport. The average civil servant —who gives the impression that his head was filled at birth with pre-mixed concrete —is concerned only to build a bigger and better road network. Such civil servants are not interested in the competitor to the road haulage industry, namely, the railways. Why? The answer is that they can play at building roads. They do so extremely well. They are not allowed to play trains, because they are run by the British Railways Board. Therefore, they have no direct interest in the operation of that industry. As a result, they spent the post-war years building up a system of transport which, unlike any other country in Western Europe —or in the United States of America for that matter —is virtually dependent on the heavy lorry.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

My hon. Friend suggested that the costs were paid not by the road haulage industry but by taxpayers. In Graham Road, Hackney those who pay for the safety rails that are knocked down week after week are the ratepayers of Hackney.

Mr. Snape

I apologise to my hon. Friend for overlooking the great damage caused in Hackney, as elsewhere, by the heavy goods vehicle. I accept his view. The last people to pay for the damage are those in the road haulage industry. The damage is always paid for by someone else. No wonder the road haulage business is profitable and that it is the ambition of many drivers to own their own vehicles. It is easier for any driver to own a vehicle and to put it on the road in this country than it is in any other Western country, including the United States. The fact that so many drivers are anxious to become owner-drivers is not only because the road is provided for them by someone else but because they do not need to worry about the cost of the damage that they do.

Unlike any other force in Western Europe, our police have the reputation, quite correctly, of being easy on the heavy goods vehicle industry. On the Continent there are those models of efficiency, the Germans. One sees no heavy goods vehicles on German roads on Sundays and bank holidays, because the Government will not have them. On the roads of some of our other rivals, competitors or colleagues in the EEC, such as the French and the Italians, there are no heavy goods vehicles on the roads on Sundays and bank holidays, because the Government have banned them.

Regularly on foreign motorways one sees squads of police doing nothing else but carrying out checks on heavy goods vehicles. In this country it is possible to drive for years in a clapped-out, overloaded, badly maintained lorry and be 100 per cent. assured that one will not be stopped by the police.

The Department's examiners —there are not too many of them, incidentally —have conspicuously failed to control the growth in lorry traffic, especially the growth in dangerous lorry traffic. The only people who appear to be concerned about lorry weights and standards are the various county councils, among them, to their credit, the Kent county council —an area from which most of the prosecutions for dangerous and overloaded lorries emanate.

Until two or three years ago it was the intention of the Labour Government to introduce a network of lorry routes because of the indiscriminate use and driving of heavy goods vehicles. That proposal did not meet with the approval of the civil servants in the Department of Transport so, in the subtle way that they have, they quietly persuaded both Governments that the network of lorry routes was unnecessary.

In 1973 the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) introduced a measure to attempt to control the heavy goods vehicle at local level. It was called the Dykes Act. Most local authorities, including mine, do not use the Dykes Act. When I tried to persuade my county council to use that Act in my constituency I was told that Stewart Mustow, in Birmingham, does not like the Dykes Act. As he does not like it, it is not used; therefore it has not been used by the West Midlands county council since it was passed in 1973. Many of my constituents, like those of many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, continually express their concern, anger and annoyance at the obtrusive nature of heavy goods vehicles.

The Secretary of State pointed out that Armitage had said that there was a need for more and wider section 8 grants, but one of the problems with section 8 grants is that where, for example, it is a condition of planning permission that a factory or a warehouse should be rail-connected, that factory or warehouse is not eligible for a section 8 grant. It is nonsensical, but that is my understanding of the problem.

If one casts one's mind back to 1978 one remembers that the Armitage report arose as a result of a leaked memorandum between two civil servants in the Department of Transport. The fact that it was a one-man inquiry meant that the Department first relieved itself of any possibility of embarrassment because of the dangers of a minority report from the environmental interests so brusquely waved aside by the Secretary of State. That inquiry was loaded. Every piece of evidence that went to Armitage from the Department of Transport favoured the introduction of heavier goods vehicles. As a result, the Armitage inquiry produced the result that the Department set out to get. I am concerned that Sir Arthur Armitage said that his recommendations were in no way a package. As a result of the inquiry, the United Kingdom is likely to have bigger and heavier lorries, more and more nuisance caused to the motorist and people living in towns and villages, and greater problems for many of our cities and towns.

The inquiry was rigged. The Department will now go ahead and introduce heavier goods vehicles, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of our people are fed up to the back teeth with the heavy lorry and its acolytes.

8.26 pm
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

I give a warm welcome to the announcement by my right hon. Friend about there being no move towards a weight of 44 tonnes. I welcome his promise of full consultation before further decisions are taken and that consultations will be in the House and with the relevant bodies outside.

I dispute the sweeping statements of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) about my right hon. Friend not being concerned with environmental interests. My right hon. Friend's speech gave the lie to that. The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening with his customary attention.

Heavy lorries are a major concern to my constituents. I have had many representations about them, especially because of the significant increase in lorries over 28 tonnes over the past 10 years. The increase has been about 250 per cent. The problem is seen as serious by my constituents, because so many of the large heavy lorries coming up from the Channel ports use residential roads that are not suited to their use. That causes problems for other traffic, danger to cyclists and pedestrians and considerable annoyance and discomfort to the residents, who feel hostile towards these machines. It is vital that action is taken to tame and control the menace.

I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends are serious when they make statements such as that made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) in the debate on 22 May, when he said that the Government are determined to ensure that the damaging effects of lorries on the qualities of our lives are reduced. …Our main aim, however, is to reduce the damage at present caused by heavy lorries." —[Official Report, 22 May 1980; Vol. 5, c. 614.] That was an admirable statement, and if the Government are serious about it, they must use their influence and financial power to help local authorities, such as the GLC and the London boroughs, to arrive at a sensible solution.

The Armitage report contains some sensible proposals. Each hon. Member could pick out one or two. I instance merely the proposal that each class of lorry should pay in tax at least its full road track cost, and the recommendations on noise. I am delighted that the recommendation on full track costs has already been incorporated into the Transport Bill.

However, the report also has many deficiencies. The economic arguments were not adequately investigated and did not conclusively favour heavy lorries. According to table 31, savings of only 5 to 7 per cent. would be achieved by moving to 35-tonne lorries, and savings of only 7 to 14 per cent. by moving to 40-tonne vehicles. The argument is not conclusive, especially when one remembers what a relatively small part of total costs is represented by transport costs for almost any sector of industry.

The arguments of the environmentalists were not given adequate priority in the report, which was not sufficiently realistic about the availability of public funds. One example is financial assistance to local authorities for the lorry action areas mentioned in paragraphs 340 and 341 of the report.

As the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) pointed out, according to Transport 2000, even if all the funds were spent at £6 million a year on the double glazing recommended by the Armitage report, it would take until the year 2247 for that task to be completed.

It behoves those of us who criticise the report to make some practical suggestions about the way forward. The major initiative in Greater London must come from the GLC and the relevant London boroughs. The Government have a part to play through the early completion of the M25 in 1985. I should welcome confirmation from my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary on that point. Early completion of the motorway would be a great help to my constituents, because it would hold out the prospect of many heavy vehicles going round London and avoiding the area that concerns my constituents.

It is encouraging that the GLC transport committee recently agreed to initiate an independent inquiry into the possibility of a ban on heavy lorries in London. I hope that all those who are interested in the matter will give evidence to that inquiry. The GLC's idea is a good one, because it allows not only for the possibility of a total ban in Greater London, but for the possibility of smaller area bans, such as that introduced in North London, where 50 square miles have been covered, and conditions for residents in places, such as Enfield, Barnet and Southgate have been greatly improved. I understand that my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary has noted that development with approval.

I hope that a similar scheme will be introduced in South London and that when the M25 is completed places such as Carshalton, Beddington, Wallington and St. Helier will be incorporated into the scheme.

I am pleased that I have had a favourable response to my efforts not only from the controller of transportation and development at the GLC —Miss Audrey Lees —who served on the Armitage committee, but also from the director of technical services of the London borough of Sutton. I urge the Government to support local authorities' efforts and to provide the finance to enable them to go ahead with their schemes.

Without such financial help and the necessary environmental protection it would be foolish for the Government to allow significantly heavier lorries on our roads or to condone any of the other manic objectives of the road haulage lobby. We should pay attention to the point made by Transport 2000, which says: Transport is a cost, not an end in itself, and its increasing share of gross, national product is a trend we should seek to reverse. That is not a Luddite statement. It merely points out that transport is essentially a cost, whether to industrial users, customers or the general public. It is an environmental, social and economic cost. We have every interest in seeking to minimise it.

The answer must lie in a judicious combination of restrictions, where they are appropriate, improvements in existing vehicles, many of which are foreshadowed in the Armitage report, and sensible road building programmes, of the sort that I suggested earlier when speaking about the early completion of the M25. I hope very much that the Government will be robust on this matter. Even though we have two excellent Ministers from the Department of Transport dealing with these issues, I hope that they will not forget to put on their environmental hats from time to time and take due account of that interest. I am able to feel optimistic.

I conclude my speech with a choice quote to which I shall endeavour to hold my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who said on 27 January that nothing should be done that is attractive to the road haulage industry unless the public and this House are satisfied that what is being done is not causing environmental damage".—[Official Report, 27 January 1981; Vol. 997, c. 874.] I hope that the Government will live up to their promises.

8.35 pm
Mr. Tom Bradley (Leicester, East)

The previous debate on this subject on 27 January was most unsatisfactory. It was hurriedly convened, and inadequate in length, and there was no particular question before the House on which hon. Members were able to reach a decision. I felt last last Thursday, on the announcement of the business for this week, that the Opposition had done a service by ,giving up some of their time to enable us to return to this subject.

I felt that way particularly because the Under-Secretary of State, whether unwittingly or not, during the debate on 27 January, gave the impression that he regarded the debate as discharging the Government's undertaking to consult the House before they took a final decision on these matters. I welcome very much the Secretary of State's assurance this evening that the Government will consult hon. Members further before tabling any recommendations.

It was because the debate on 27 January was so unsatisfactory that the Select Committee on Transport, of which I have the privilege to be Chairman, decided to give Sir Arthur Armitage and his colleagues an opportunity to explain their reasons for reaching the conclusions contained in their report. That opportunity was provided on 25 February.

On the basis of the evidence that the Select Committee took, it is clear that Sir Arthur did not design the reportas a package, which was the theme constantly reiterated by hon. Members during our debate on 27 January. We said in paragraph 11 of our second special report to the House: We believe that it would be a misrepresentation of their Report meaning the Armitage report— to regard it as a package designed to justify the introduction of heavier lorries or, conversely, as a package designed to force environmental protection measures to be taken under the threat of the impact of the introduction of heavier lorries. Although the main recommendations of the report specify the need for much tougher standards on noise, smoke and vibration, a heavier tax on larger lorries, more bypasses and so on, it is nevertheless the case that the introduction of 44-tonne or 42-tonne lorries will arouse hostility in every constituency.

I acknowledge that the axle spread proposed for 44-tonne lorries may reduce the damage factor. There is no hard evidence to question the Transport and Road Research Laboratory's judgment that heavier lorries will not cause greater environmental damage than is caused by existing heavy lorries. However, there must be doubts about the conclusion that the introduction of heavier lorries will lead to a reduction in the number of heavy lorries on the road and consequent savings.

That view has been challenged by many eminent transport economists, particularly Professor David Starkie of Adelaide university, who wrote to the Select Committee on Transport, drawing attention to Sir Arthur Armitage's claim in paragraph 359: Much of the benefit"— of heavier lorries— should feed through to prices to the consumer. Starkie pointed out to us that the saving in road freight costs, as suggested by Armitage, of between £120 million and £190 million, represents only about 0.1 per cent. of final consumer prices, or, as Starkie put it the equivalent of three days of inflation at the current rate. So even on Armitage's own calculations the benefit to the consumer is likely to be negligible.

Professor Starkie also claims that on the basis of previous academic studies and experience the reduction in mileage achieved by allowing much heavier lorries on roads would be nearer 3 per cent. than the 8 per cent. suggested by Armitage in paragraph 406 of his report. If that is true, the reduction in the nuisance caused by heavy lorries would at best be marginal, and no one could be expected to notice it.

In view of the apparently small advantages, and the doubts about the environmental impact of heavier lorries, particularly on bridge structures, we must ask ourselves whether the introduction of heavier lorries is worth while. Public suspicion is justified by the failure of Governments to come to grips with environmental damage already known to be caused by goods vehicles. It is unreasonable to expect the public to support the introduction of heavier lorries which will intrude into their environment, unless we can make every possible provision to secure the amelioration of damage suffered by the recent increase in lorry traffic.

Although Sir Arthur Armitage may not have intended his report to be regarded as a package, we as politicians must regard it in that light. So, before allowing heavier lorries on to our roads, we should insist on firm Government guarantees on the recommendations listed at the conclusion of the report. There is no use the Government's saying that industry needs to know what kind of lorries it will be able to use, unless at the same time they reassure those who suffer from the impact of these vehicles about the steps that they propose to take to protect them from the consequences. That is why the Select Committee concluded its short report by recommending that a full statement of the Government's intentions in respect of the complete set of recommendations should be made to the House by the Secretary of State before individual proposals were brought forward.

The Select Committee also concluded that where proposals were made to take action on major issues, such as maximum lorry weights and axle weights under the statutory instrument procedure, more than the usual time should be made available to the House for the proposals to be fully debated before such action was approved.

I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State's assurance that he accepts those recommendations. I hope that in the meantime he will pay serious regard to what he has heard tonight in this debate.

8.43 pm
Mr. Eric Cockeram (Ludlow)

I welcome the opportunity to debate Armitage. This is a subject on which much prejudice exists. All people and parties concerned have had the opportunity to give evidence to the committee and there has been time for that evidence to be weighed impartially and for a report to be produced.

I said that there was much prejudice on the subject. That was brought home to me by a letter I received from a constituent who opposed the proposal to introduce heavier lorries. The letter contained a leaflet which had been issued by several organisations—the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Transport 2000 and others. The somewhat emotive heading was "Do you want heavier lorries?" It is hardly likely that there would be a "Yes" to that question.

The letter was dated 3 December. By courtesy of the Post Office it arrived on 9 December, the very day on which Armitage was published. That showed that, although neither my constituent nor the publishers of the pamphlet had been able to consider the report, which was published six days after the letter was written. They had made up their minds in advance. I hope that no hon. Members approach the matter in a similarly prejudiced manner.

Among the facts that are revealed, some of which we knew beforehand, is the dramatic decline in the tonne mileage carried by British Rail. Over the past 25 years, British Rail's share of the tonne mileage of freight in this country has dropped from 42 per cent. to 12½per cent. The British road transport industry is clearly an essential part of the country's economy —as Armitage called it, the "essential sinew of the economy". Road transport is competitive, flexible, speedy and essential.

Mr. Snape

And subsidised.

Mr. Cockeram

I was coming to that. I say "essential", because even the freight that is carried by rail has, in most cases, to start and end its journey by road. We cannot all live next to stations and goods yards. Lorries represent only 3 per cent. of the vehicles on our roads, but they are intensively used and therefore represent 8 per cent. of all mileage.

No one disputes the fact that the increased load-carrying capacity of lorries would lead to fewer lorries. I shall quote one sentence from paragraph 418 of the conclusion of the Armitage report. It says: The net economic benefits would be greater if the types of heavier lorries to be allowed were such that they did no additional damage to our bridges. We propose a way in which this can be achieved". The method in question is the intensive study that was undertaken by Armitage of the principle of axle weight. I shall not go into the technicalities and the power of four, and so on. That is involved. In layman's terms, I can sum it up by saying that two axles of 8 tonne capacity do less damage than one axle of 10 tonne capacity. The conclusion one reaches is that the number of axles and the consideration given to the spread of the weight load is more important than the overall maximum.

Armitage proposes a number of items. I do not intend to mention them all, because I intend, like other hon. Members, to be brief. However, some aspects need to be reiterated on the question of prejudice. First, no change is proposed in the width of lorries. It is to be 2½metres, as now. Then there is the height of lorries. At the moment, there is no limit by law. Armitage proposes a limit of 4½metres. At the moment, the maximum length of lorries is 15 metres. Armitage proposes 15½metres —19½inches longer. That is not much, but there is a good reason for it, and I am surprised that no Opposition Member has mentioned it, because it is important. Armitage proposed that the maximum length of the lorry should be marginally increased from 15 metres to 15½metres because the international standard container that is used by shipping lines and others throughout the world has a length of 40 feet. If a lorry carries a container and the total length of the lorry is limited to 15 metres, the driver in the cab is constricted. If an extra 19½inches are allowed, the driver's cab can facilitate the driver in a number of ways, by giving him support facilities, and can cut down vibration and noise for the driver. That is something that we should all welcome.

Armitage proposes more expenditure on roads and bypasses. I believe that this part of the report, too, should be implemented. We should not forget that the road transport industry—petrol tax and all taxes from vehicles —yields about £8 billion a year. That is vastly more than is spent on roads. At one time, expenditure on roads was 50 per cent. of the yield from transport taxes. Today, it is less than 30 per cent. There is a margin there that can be used for bypasses.

I do not want to indulge in a long speech on the merits of rail and road, because they both have their part to play. The consumers should make the final decision as to which method of transport they use, but we should not overlook the fact that the railways are substantially subsidised by the taxpayer, whereas the road transport industry as a whole makes a net contribution to the Exchequer.

Armitage makes a total of 58 proposals. They include higher standards for noise control, which we welcome; higher standards for smoke control, which we welcome; higher standards of vibration control, which we also welcome.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

Who are "We"?

Mr. Cockeram

We also welcome the higher standards for brake control and tougher penalties for overloading.

The hon. Gentleman has asked who "We" are. I do not know. If he does not welcome higher standards of noise, smoke, vibration and brake control, let him say so. Most of the citizens to whom I talk welcome higher standards of control of those matters.

Armitage also recommends that lorry taxation should be increased to cover the true track costs. I welcome that, too. That is only reasonable and right.

If Britain continues to run its road transport industry, which is a vital industry, on a maximum of 32½tonnes, one of the lowest in Western Europe, it cannot expect our vehicle industry to be among the leaders in Europe. If we want to sell our vehicles abroad and to trade with customers on the Continent, we must move with the times, too. That means increasing the total weight from 32½tonnes. I welcome the Armitage proposals.

8.52 pm
Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I declare my interest, in that I am sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union. The union is very disappointed with the Armitage report, because it did not seem to pay due regard to the whole environmental effect on the road workers for whom the union substantially caters. I have already said that in an intervention during the Secretary of State's speech, and I said it at greater length in my speech last January. I do not intend to take long tonight, because that is already on the record.

The House should be reminded that although the Government have, thankfully, stepped back from the commitment to 44 tonnes, they have not stepped back from what will in their hands inevitably become an increase in road freight tonnage. That is what underlies the Minister's speech tonight.

The Opposition have been exactly right, first in complaining about the limited nature of the earlier debate and now in pressing the motion. The Government are to accept it, because they have no choice. If they had tried to vote against the motion it would have been understood that they were committed to 44 tonnes.

It is still not clear —and it is not likely to be clear from the debate —what the Government will be committed to. All sorts of figures have been bandied about. It is my union's view that there could be far greater efficiency in the use of the existing amount of freight haulage stock on British Roads. The present tonnage is ample. Single-journey loads, are commonplace.

It is a fact of life that we have far too many road vehicles chasing too few goods. In the Union's submission, that is the essence of the matter. I ask the Minister to give it further study, using extreme caution. In my view, the Armitage report did not do so. I have already suggested that it could not, because it did not bring together people with experience of working day after day in unsavoury weather conditions, working unsocial hours, and so on, to maintain and operate Britain's transportation system. They are the people who matter. They must be won over to any considerable changes in the present system. Having ventilated that view earlier, I shall not repeat it now.

I have read the observations in the national press about the Armitage report. I do not refer to the journals that present the views of Labour Members ½namely, a better usage of our transportation system involving the old Socialist idea of integration of existing modes of transportation that can be vastly improved, and the cutting out of the cut-throat competition that has been encouraged by the Government and that adds to the wastage and cluttering up of our highways.

The Western Mail does not usually advise people not to vote Tory at elections. I am not an avid reader of that newspaper. It advises caution about the Armitage report. The Daily Telegraph is a better-known paper. It is sometimes described as the Bible and Prayer Book of the Conservative party. It said that it would be wrong to tip 44-tonne vehicles on to British roads because of the present rate of road reconstruction. There will not be a rapid burst of activity to provide even the roadways recommended in the Armitage report.

The M25 has the green light to go ahead. There will be a massive circle around London. But freight vehicles will still have to traverse London to reach their offloading points. There will be considerable problems both in the inner city areas and over a wider area. The Government dare not cast a blind eye on those problems.

I am a motorist, but I try to avoid travelling on the motorways. It is a frightening experience for any motorist to pass a commercial vehicle approaching the present maximum limit of 32 tonnes when it is raining. It throws up spray that is so bad that it is similar to running into thick fog at speed. To allow the draw-bar, trailer-type commercial vehicles on our present road system would mean greater hazards for the motorist, unless we provide in the longer term —I shall not live long enough to see them —highways solely for the use of freight vehicles.

An environmental objection exists in many parts of Britain about our present road system, let alone the fear of a massive increase in lorry tonnage as envisaged in the Armitage report. I dare say that that is envisaged also in the minds of the Ministers who are bending to the pressure of the Common Market countries.

My union believes that the operation of road transportation in most Continental countries is well known to be grossly inefficient. It is often run on a one-man, one-vehicle basis. That is a wasteful system. There is much greater efficiency when it is collectivised. There is much better planning in the total use of road haulage vehicles when that occurs. Much less time is spent running a lorry that is empty. Better planning will ensure that 32-tonners run with a full load on both the outward journey and the return journey. That is the way to reorganise British transport.

When the next Labour Government take office my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) will be a good Socialist Secretary of State for Transport. It is possible that he will be better than any of his predecessors, because he will have the right spirit and the right ideas, which he expresses in the Chamber.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will never engage in a wide-ranging inquiry without calling in representatives of the workers, either from the sub-committee of the TUC's general council or directly from the transport unions. Unless he does so he will not get an intelligent answer. I am sure that if Sir Arthur Armitage were put alongside practical transport workers the result would be something really good and representative of the voices of transport workers. Forthwith I shall tread in fear and trepidation of the Government's real intentions for 44-tonners.

9.2 pm

Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

The greater part of what I wanted to say has been made redundant by the happy circumstance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State having said that we are not to proceed with the 44-tonne lorry. I welcome that decision, but it is rather unwise of those of us who are worried about heavy lorries to concentrate so much of our fire on the 44-tonne lorry. The 44-tonner is rather like a vicious dog that the Government keep in a kennel. Every now and again they bring it out to snarl and bark at everybody. When it is put back in its kennel, people are so relieved that they accept with gratitude any smaller changes that may have happened at the same time.

In answering the many letters that we have had from our constituents on this issue, many of us have reassured them that the Armitage report is recommending, not that we should have larger lorries, but that we should have heavier ones. That has been said on more than one occasion this evening. However, there is only one sense in which that is true.

The Armitage report recommends increasing the weights that various different types of lorry are allowed to carry. If those weight increases are implemented, the relative economies of operating the different types of lorry will be altered. I understand that the operator of a 32-tonne lorry can carry more or less the full pay load, and therefore run it economically, without violating weight limits. However, an operator will not be able to allow one of the larger lorries to carry its full pay load. It will be limited to 32 tonnes, and the operator will not be able to run it economically. If the recommendations in the Armitage report are implemented, the operators of larger lorries will be enabled to operate them economically. That will mean that we shall have more of the larger lorries on the road. It does not mean that larger lorries will get any larger, but we shall have more of them.

Our constituents are right to say that the Armitage report will mean larger lorries, in the sense that larger lorries will be rolling past their windows. In that respect the answers that we have been giving them have been wrong. I quote briefly from paragraph 353. It states that the Transport and Road Research Laboratory concluded that, if freight volumes remained fixed at 1977 levels the 780,700 32.5 tonne lorries used in 1977 would be replaced over several years by a combination of 26,400 32.5 tonne lorries and 42,200 heavier lorries, a total of 68,700. Armitage says that the total is slightly less. However, it is worth remarking that those 42,000 heavier lorries are probably five-axle articulated lorries that would otherwise not be on the road. That is 42,000 new heavy lorries on the road. That is the point that I want to make. There is a sense in which Armitage means heavier lorries.

Much in Armitage is sensible. However, on the whole the changes confer benefits on road hauliers but do not extract many concessions from them. Many small towns, villages and country lanes are already being pounded by heavy traffic for which they were never built. It is a pity to implement a major series of changes which confer benefits on the road hauliers without taking the opportunity to extract from them the significant concessions that we need in country areas. Therefore, I am glad about the 44-tonne decision. However, that is not as important as other weights. I am more worried about 40-tonne and 38-tonne lorries. We should tread carefully in that area.

Mr. Waller

Will my hon. Friend accept that it would be unfair to impose the expensive recommendations that make up most of the 50 recommendations in Armitage while at the same time not allowing the economic benefits? Does he agree that the converse also applies?

Mr. Parris

There must be a trade-off. In that trade-off we must extract concessions at the same time as conferring benefits. I am not sure whether, in Armitage, we extract the concessions that people in a rural constituency such as mine would want.

9.7 pm

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

I candidly admit that I am not convinced of the argument in favour of any increase in lorry weight. An hon. Member said that, unless that were implemented, we would have the lowest maximum lorry rate in Europe. That is probably true, but we are perhaps the most densely populated country in Europe. What I want to say revolves around the report's concept that separating the people from the lorry is not possible in the United Kingdom.

I believe that if 44-tonne lorries were allowed and they were restricted to the motorways of Britain, probably no great harm would be done. From my front door in my constituency where I was brought up to the nearest motorway is about 100 miles. That is how far it is to the nearest inch of motorway. Therefore, the restrictions to motorways would be of no great assistance to the economy of the far West.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West made a point about the size of larger lorries. It is true that the size of the largest lorry will not be significantly greater than that of the largest lorry to be seen on United Kingdom roads now. There is no doubt that the number of the largest lorries in my constituency and the hon. Member's constituency in Derbyshire would increase dramatically if the report were implemented —certainly by half, and perhaps even more than that.

The Opposition's motion is that 44 tonnes should not be accepted. It seems that the Government will accept nearly 40 tonnes. The estimate of those large lorries is contained in table 32 to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Of 42,200 extra large lorries expected to be on our roads, if the report were to be fully implemented, only 2,600 are stopped from going on the road because of the Government's announcement tonight. The figures of 2,600 out of 42,200 extra large lorries is very small.

Much has been said about the impact on urban areas. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) would again make the valid point which has been made well by the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth). Other Members have also referred to the problem in urban areas. The hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) said that the problem could be solved in his constituency if there were a bypass around it. That would be difficult in my constituency as it stretches from coast to coast. A bypass around my constituency on that basis might solve many problems caused by lorries.

It is said that the problem in urban areas is insoluble, because many of the lorries have to go into the towns to make deliveries. It is no easier to solve the problem in rural areas. There is not a ghost's chance of this Government, the Labour Party or even the great Liberal-Social Democratic alliance, when we get the power that I am sure we shall get in the near future, finding the money required to separate people from lorries.

To do that only in my constituency, which is the one that I know best, we should need bypasses around St. Blazey, Sticker, Zelah, Carnon Downs, Ladock, Mitchell, Blackwater, Probus and Grampound —and that would not even solve the biggest problem of getting the china clay from the north of St. Austell, where the pits are, to the ports to the south of it. No doubt I have upset a village somewhere, but I worked hard on the list, so perhaps I have not. Building the bypasses to make the larger lorry environmentally acceptable would solve unemployment in my constituency for a long time, but there is not a ghost's chance of any Government building all those bypasses, and only by doing so can the report's objective of separating large lorries from people be achieved—and that would only solve the problem in one constituency. We should have to multiply the cost by the 300 or 400 other rural constituencies. I do not claim that my constituency is particularly bad. No doubt any of my hon. Friends could prepare a list as long, if not longer.

The separation must be achieved to avoid damage to roads and houses. We talk about the fourth and fifth power of axle weight damage to roads. What is the axle weight power of damage to houses? In the little villages in my constituency we have houses built 150, 200 or even 250 years ago of old cob, earth and stone. They were built by shuttering. The men came home from the mines, dug earth out of their gardens and threw it between two pieces of wood. Each night, they added a foot on. That is how the old cob houses in much of rural Britain were built. They did not know of British standards in those days, but the houses served people well.

The cracks in such village houses are frightening. People who live in them are worried to the point of despair. They worry about their houses more than about the roads, which the county authorities are responsible for repairing if they crack. They have to repair their own houses. If a serious fault occurs, I would bet my bottom dollar that every single official for miles around would claim that it had nothing to do with him, and the whole load would fall on the householder. The Minister receives many submissions from county surveyors arguing for roads to be better maintained in areas like mine and, I suspect, the Minister's constituency. The reason is the impact of the much heavier lorry over the last 15 or 20 years.

Would the Minister write to me on one local point? The report refers to height restrictions, and suggests a special exemption for glass. A surprising number of submissions have been made to me suggesting that the provision should be extended to broccoli, which is a light vegetable and contains more water than anything else. An enormous effort has to be made to get even a few tonnes on the back of a lorry. As the broccoli crates are piled up, lorries leave the far South-West looking more like a triumph of man's ability to construct scaffolding than anything else. The danger to bridges is zero. They scarcely want to lose their own broccoli on the way. They know by now, although they perhaps discovered by trial and error, the height of the bridges on the route from the far South-West to London. The broccoli industry is significant in my area during part of the year, and several people have commented that a height limit could seriously affect the economy of that industry.

I look forward to hearing the Government's view when they eventually announce to the House what they intend to do about larger lorries. There is little in the report or in the debate today to convince me that any increase at all in lorry weight is required. It is true that we should then have the lowest weight in Europe, but we are also about the most densely populated country. I do not believe that the basic premise of the Armitage report of keeping separate the large lorries and the people affected by their noise can be satisfactorily achieved in any other way.

9.15 pm
Mr. Chris Patten (Bath)

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) into the problems of broccoli transportation. I welcome this further, albeit short, debate on the Armitage report. I am surprised, once again, at the determination of the Opposition to try to make a party political issue out of the question whether one favours heavier lorries. I am not sure of the reasons for that. Listening to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), I thought that it must have something to do with NUR sponsorship and reselection, but as he has gone off for refreshment, he cannot help us on that.

I think that we can set the mind of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) at rest on this party political issue. As Government Whips are chosen for their perspicacity as well as their looks I cannot imagine that they would seek to drive through the Lobby those of us who do not regard heavier lorries as the touchstone of our Tory beliefs, today or on any other occasion.

I wish to make three brief points. The first concerns the environmental and economic arguments underpinning the Armitage report, which I do not think is at present in danger of being killed by kindness. The second relate; to the environmental package. The third relates to the linguistic issue examined by the Select Committee on Transport —the question of when a package is a package. I should like to suggest a package of my own.

I take first the economic argument. The Armitage report states, in paragraph 139, that we should maintain and develop the economic benefits which heavy lorries have given us". Some organisations, which are understandably parti pris, have taken the argument further. I notice that the Freight Transport Association, which doubtless does a very valuable job for its industry, went on to argue that there is an indisputable link between freight movement, GNP and prosperity". To reduce that argument to the absurd does not involve travelling very far. Presumably, when we are extremely prosperous we shall all be driving 44-tonne lorries. That is just one of the questionable economic assumptions underpinning some of the arguments in favour of moving more freight by road. I do not take the point that what has stood between this country and an economic miracle in the past decade has been a paucity of heavy lorries, or that the less than onerous restrictions—far less onerous than in other countries —that we have already placed upon lorries have been a brake upon economic progress in this country. I do not believe that for a moment.

I also do not believe in the proposition that bigger means fewer. I believe that that argument falls strictly into the "Tell that to the Marines" category of expert assurance.

It was demolished earlier by the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness, to do him justice, as I am always anxious to do. It was also referred to by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport.

I wish to deal briefly with two points relating to the environment. First, we must remember the background against which we are arguing this matter. It is more than 10 years since my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) spoke of the lorry as representing a growing and undoubted nuisance. Since then, the nuisance has been no less a matter of doubt, but it has grown a great deal and nobody has done much about it. So when I consider, for example, the Armitage proposals on noise, I do not think that they go far enough. I think that the 1990 target for an EEC directive laying down a noise limit of 80 on the A-weighted decibel scale is simply not ambitious enough. that would mean that we would not have a generation of quiet lorries until nearly the end of the century.

Given that my right hon. Friend said, in his interesting speech in January —he was interesting then, but what he said was much more welcome this evening —that we should regard the quiet lorry as being standard throughout the country and not an exceptional showpiece, I am sure that he will welcome as much pressure as possible to achieve that standard on noise as soon as is practicably possible, and certainly a good deal sooner than Armitage was suggesting.

Vibration is a particular problem in my constituency, where so many of my constituents have to live beneath the shadow of the passing thundering juggernauts. I welcome the suggestion in the Armitage report that we should attempt to limit ground-borne vibration, but I do not think that that is nearly enough. I do not pretend to understand all the arguments about fourth power relationships, but two things seem reasonably clear.

First, in his speech in reply to the debate in January, in a cheerful metaphor, the Under-Secretary of State said that talking about heavy lorries with more axles was like talking about a large lady wearing slippers. He suggested that she did not do as much damage to the floor as a smaller lady wearing stiletto heels. I do not want to abuse the metaphor, but when we are considering the effect of vibrations on old buildings, what matters is the weight of the lady rather than her taste in footwear.

That point was made nearly 10 years ago by the Royal Institute of British Architects, which pointed out that it is the whole weight that operates below the surface as a vibrating source, and that this was the crucial factor when considering the structural effects, on eighteenth century and older buildings, of passing lorries and other vehicles.

While there is some evidence of the effect of vibrations on, for example, St Paul's and other cathedrals, and old churches, there is not nearly enough for us to be certain about the precise amount of damage caused by passing heavy traffic. That point is more or less conceded in the Department's own supplementary material presented to the Armitage committee.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion of the Civic Trust in its evidence to Armitage, when it said that in economic theory lorry users could be taxed and the recipients of vibrations compensated but in practice this does not happen. In an ideal world, lorry users would try to discover what costs they are imposing on others but since they do not do so, Government as guardian of the public interest has a duty to do so. Ignorance is used as a reason for not compensating those who bear the cost and also for taking no steps to reduce the cost". I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us shortly about the additional steps that the Government are taking to reduce our ignorance of the effects of vibrations.

I was delighted by what my right hon. Friend said about considering the proposals in the way that the Select Committee had suggested. I hope that we shall press ahead with some of the environmental changes suggested by Armitage. I hope that we shall go rather further in one or two particulars. Let us also, as the right hon. Gentleman said, bring forward some of the bypass projects, and particularly the Batheaston bypass. I remember the Under-Secretary of State, at the end of the debate in January, saying that he was looking on it with a favourable eye, and that he would consider the possibility of resuming work on the bypass as soon as possible. I took it at the time that a wink was as a good as a nod, and I should be extremely grateful for confirmation of that—if not this evening, then certainly later this summer.

Let us go ahead with the environmental measures and let us do something—as the jargon goes —to civilise the lorry. Let us take more steps to protect the quality of life and to preserve our architectural heritage. Let us take more steps to get on with building the Batheaston bypass. When we have done all that, we can return to the question whether to have heavier lorries.

9.24 pm
Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

There must be something wrong with our debates if I have to sit down at 9.30 pm, when 91 out of 165 minutes of debating time will have been taken by Front Bench spokesmen. Other hon. Members have only 74 minutes in which to speak. However, I shall be as brief as possible.

The Armitage report does not do much for Hackney. I have expressed that view many times, and I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me if I centre my remarks on Hackney. The roads in Hackney represent a short-cut from the M1 and the North to Tilbury and the docks at Dover and Folkestone. Therefore, the resolution of the lorry problem should be seen in the context of Hackney. It is a typical example. The Armitage committee did not take sufficient care to examine such areas. Armitage could have invited me to point out some of the aspects that crystallise and encapsulate the argument.

One road of grave concern is Graham Road. There have been many arguments and rows about it. From time to time I may have co-operated in attempts to stop lorries by illegally walking across the road to show everyone what happens when the vehicles are stopped for only a few minutes. The scene is extraordinary. The argument that all the vehicles that pass through Hackney stop in London is false. We have done a survey. I do not say that it is completely accurate, and we cannot claim that it is statistically provable, but the residents' association has spent much time and money on it. The residents' association discovered that about 80 per cent. of the juggernauts that pass down Graham Road have no reason to be there. They do not stop in London, and they use Graham Road as a through route. It found that a smaller proportion—46 per cent. of the remaining vehicles —had reason to come through Hackney and needed to stop somewhere in the vicinity. I hope that that illustrates the fact that vehicles do not have to come through Hackney because of a need to deliver in London.

It is argued that when the M25 is completed, in 1983, life will be much easier. Life will be easier only if the Secretary of State bans heavy lorries from going down Graham Road. The right hon. Gentleman said that when the M25 was completed there would be a ring road and vehicles would not need to go along Graham Road. Will he confirm that he will take positive steps to stop their doing so? That assurance would help my constituents. They face another two years of misery, but if we can assure them that the Government intend to prevent heavy vehicles from travelling through that area after that, it will help.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) mentioned costs. He rightly pointed out that the road haulage industry does not pay the full track cost. That is certainly true of Graham Road. Safety guards have been put up for pedestrians, because vehicles travel not only along the road, but over the pavements. So many people have been injured and killed that guard rails have been put up. They are notional safety guards. They are a warning to pedestrians that they should not cross the road at that point. Although there is a crossing and traffic lights, the railings are a warning to the pedestrian to ensure that he does not cross there.

The railings and traffic lights are knocked over week after week, and pedestrians are continually harassed. One would have thought that action would be taken to protect the pedestrian, but that is not done. Hackney borough council keeps replacing the guard rails to try to protect pedestrians from the vehicles that keep knocking them down.

Many cars are sandwiched between these juggernauts and the pavement as the lorries turn left. Car drivers believing themselves to be free of the lorry to turn left are squashed by the back of the lorry. Drivers and passengers are in danger of serious injury. The vehicles are not stopped, but we build out the kerb—so that the road becomes almost a hazard in itself —to try to stop someone who lives in Hackney from crossing the road, in order to allow a juggernaut from Germany or Paris to turn left from the middle of the road. In doing that we make sure that the driver cannot see what is happening. The pedestrian is in even more danger because the rear of the lorry hits the guard rail and ensures that it is knocked down at the point where adult and child pedestrians are waiting to cross the road.

I have asked everybody in authority in Hackney to see the problem. I have blocked Private Bills in the House. I have done everything that I can to force action by the local authority. As a result, I have had help from the GLC. Did it block the lorries in Hackney, in Graham Road? No. The GLC went to Barnet, which does not have the same problems, as it is not near the M1 and does not have the same number of heavy lorries, and all lorries are now banned from the London borough of Barnet.

I do not object to that, because, as the House knows, one member of my family lives there. However, it is no help to the people of Graham Road in Hackney to know that the London borough of Barnet is well taken care of. Barnet does not even begin to have the problems of Graham Road. Hackney. I see nothing in Armitage that seeks to understand the problem or to give advice or make recommendations on how to solve the problem.

Now that the GLC is under the control of the Labour Party it has decided to call for an inquiry into a lorry ban in London. it is a costly business. The Secretary of State for the Environment is taking more punitive action against London generally and individually in the boroughs.

Millions of pounds are being withdrawn from London. How does the Secretary of State believe that the Greater London Council and the London boroughs can undertake the urgent and necessary work that follows from Armitage? How can he say that that must be done, while at the same time his right hon. Friend is taking more and more money away from London and making it impossible for it to carry out its work?

Mr. Snape

Is my hon. Friend aware that in Paris, for example, the heaviest goods vehicles are banned from the middle of Paris for no fewer than 12 hours a day, and that other smaller goods vehicles are banned from the centre of Paris at other times of the day? I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that if that works in Paris, it would also work in London.

Mr. Brown

The Greater London Council would be able to adduce those arguments and make powerful recommendations. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider providing more money. I understand that he went one stage further by calling in the GLC either yesterday or today to warn it that because of its expenditure to try to help public transport, in order to reduce the amount of private transport he is threatening to withdraw the 1 per cent. subsidy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that that is not true and that he does not intend to take punitive action against the GLC because it has tried to solve the traffic problems in London by its proposal to reduce fares.

I shall end now. Time is short, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker for calling me at this late stage.

I welcome the Government's decision not to have 44-tonne lorries, but I do not believe that a case has been made even to go beyond the present position. Existing lorries are too heavy if we are to allow them to continue to flood down Graham Road in Hackney and New North Road in Shoreditch. The existing problems must be solved before we decide to allow heavier lorries. Only then will it be possible for my constituents to consider the prospect of even bigger lorries driving past their doors.

9.35 pm
Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)

Everyone objects to the damage done by heavy lorries. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) referred to them as a menace, but we all depend on lorries to an enormous extent. Sir Arthur Armitage referred to the road transport industry as the "essential sinew" of the economy.

Some of the debate has centred on the relationship between road and rail. It is important to remember that, even if rail could increase its share of freight by 50 per cent. the preponderance of traffic carried by road is such that there would be a relatively small reduction in the number of lorries on our roads.

When Sir Arthur recommended a 44-tonne lorry, he saw the recommendation standing on its own in both environmental and economic terms. We should not lose sight of that. He saw environmental advantages in heavier lorries, bearing in mind the proposed axle weights and so on.

Sir Arthur told the Select Committee that the advantages of 44-tonne lorries also apply to 38-tonne and 40-tonne vehicles. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take account of the interests of lorry manufacturers and the carriers of goods as well as of those of the residents of our villages, towns and cities.

Only a few carriers would go for 44-tonne lorries, but the number would increase considerably if we went for 38-tonne or 40-tonne lorries. The arguments for 38-tonne or, preferably, 40-tonne lorries are considerable.

The number of lorries involved is an important environmental consideration. Between 1949 and 1979 the vehicle mileage of lorries only doubled, while that for all motor vehicles went up by six times. The reason was the trend towards larger lorries. That trend will continue. It will be promoted, without detriment to the environment, if we agree to 38-tonne or 40-tonne lorries. I accept the reasons that have driven my right hon. Friend to come down against 44-tonne lorries.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) said that it may be nearly the end of the century before we get a quiet lorry. But I would argue that it will be a considerable improvement if, within nine years, we can get a lorry that is as quiet as the average motor car of today.

Sir Arthur told the Select Committee: Your complaints in your postbag deal with really an impression that lorries are going to be bigger. They are the same as the ones cruising about now except that the 44-tonners have six axles. Yes, I think you will be able to tell, but you will not be able to tell by anything else but the extra axle. That is why I believe that the arguments in favour of bigger lorries are so strong. I accept the weight of evidence that Sir Arthur received.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East suggested athat the inquiry had been rigged. That is grossly unfair to the excellent assessors who sat on the committee. They have enormous experience of the medical, social and environmental aspects of transport in this country. The case exists for 44 tonnes. It also exists for 42 tonnes and for 40 tonnes. I am confident that when my right hon. Friend reaches a decision, it will be a decision in the interests not only of all those who use our roads but of those who live close to them.

9.40 pm
Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

This has been a good debate, although perhaps a little of the punch has been taken out of it by the fact that there will be no vote at its conclusion. No doubt, also, more hon. Members would have wished to speak if the motion had not been accepted by the Government. By agreeing to the motion the Government have made it clear that the 44-tonner will not be acceptable. The debate has, however, shown the increasing concern of hon. Members about large lorries and their consequences.

There is increasing scepticism among hon. Members about the findings of what is a highly complex report. I praised the report in a previous debate because I considered the information that it contained to be valuable for those wishing to examine the arguments. The disagreement arises over the judgments that one makes from the mass of material in the report. Many hon. Members have shown increasing scepticism of judgments derived from some of the statistical data in the report.

Many hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), have questioned the whole basis of freight allocation determined solely by market cost and the continuing relocation of freight from rail to road that an increase in lorry sizes has tended to encourage. The Opposition do not accept totally that to impose a fairer track cost on the lorry is the best way to achieve freight allocation and to get the best utilisation of investment in road and rail.

The arguments about environmental cost, in noise and in damage to pavements and gas pipes, show the increasing concern that exists about the full extent of the cost of the damage. Figures are given in the Armitage report. The feeling among hon. Members seems to be that the cost is considerably greater than that given in the report.

The benefit to the consumer was questioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport. He quoted a professor in Australia whose arguments about the benefits to the consumer of an advance to larger lorries seemed to impress members of the Committee. The whole thread of the argument in this debate has been to question the economic costs and the advantage to the community involved in a move to heavier lorries.

I think that the House generally will reject the case put forward by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram), who suggested that it was necessary to move to larger lorries because Europe had larger lorries. The logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument would be to opt for the 50-tonne lorry seen in Holland. Europe is not prepared to move to the 50-tonne lorry. The recommendation of the European Commission to the European Parliament, which was rejected, was, I think, for a 40-tonne lorry. That shows that not everyone has been pushed to the logic of saying that a 50-tonne lorry gives a better competitive advantage than a 40-tonne lorry or a 32-tonne lorry. Generally, the House has not accepted that kind of logic.

The continuing discussions in the Department of Transport are evidence of the questioning of some of the premises on which argumenets have been based. In the earlier debate, the Secretary of State said that he hoped that the consultations would be completed by mid-March.

We do not complain that consultations are taking place. It is good that the arguments should be looked at by the Secretary of State. I hope that he will approach critically the arguments put by my right hon. Friend about the formula used to assess the axle weight ratio. That is a crucial argument, because the damage equation depends on the figure being right. My right hon. Friend questioned the research that had resulted in the formula.

While we can be clear that no regulation will be brought before the House to permit 44-tonners, the general feeling is that the Government are minded to allow lorries larger than 32 tonnes. There is a possibility that lorries will be heavier but not necessarily larger, although with certain trailers they could be longer.

Our debate has shown that people believe that there will be larger lorries. We can only hazard a guess at the figure that the Minister will arrive at when he decides what size of lorry will be permitted. One of the reasons that the Minister gave for not accepting 44 tonnes was that industry did not demand many vehicles of that size. Table 32 in the report shows the demand for each lorry size. The demand for 44-tonne, six axles is only 2,600 vehicles. The maximum demand hovers around the 38-tonne mark.

About 70 per cent. of the demand for lorries over 32 tonnes is for lorries of 38 tonnes. If the Secretary of State is influenced by the criterion of the maximum demand, he is likely to decide on a limit of 38 tonnes.

There are other factors to be considered. The question of axle weights for various sizes has to be considered. The 38-tonne lorry axle weight is one of the lowest. The only lorry with a lower axle weight is the 32-tonne lorry. The third factor that will be in the Government's mind and in industry's mind is the economic advantage, and that estimate seems to be at a mid-point between 5 per cent. and 13 per cent.

Having listened to the advice that he receives, and having consulted the various organisations, the Secretary of State may finally decide on the 38-tonne vehicle. The evidence of damage, the environmental effects and the freight allocation arguments put by my right hon. Friend are all of equal validity in respect of that vehicle.

The Secretary of State said that he would first produce the Government's comprehensive view of the report —that is welcome —and that then there would be a debate. I assume that the debate will be not on the regulation but on the paper produced by the Government on the Armitage report. If that is so, we welcome it and look forward to the next debate on the subject.

9.50 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I am reassured by the general tone and nature of this debate. There has been a wide measure of agreement on both sides about many features of the Armitage report. As we have so many partisan debates on transport, it makes a change to welcome and agree with an Opposition motion, as we have. Unfortunately, even when one agrees with the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), it is difficult to do so in a spirit of complete accord. I received, by chance, a copy of a statement that I believe he has circulated this evening to describe the total agreement between both sides. It begins: The Government's backing away from 44 tonne lorries is a major blow to the powerful heavy lorry lobby. However, the Opposition's campaign to flush out the Government's position is only a partial victory". If this is a victory, it is the easiest victory that the right hon. Member has had, and probably the easiest that he will ever have, because, as I tried to explain, we agree with him about the 44-tonne lorry.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) went further than anyone else in the debate by going through all the old arguments that underlie these feelings that somehow Armitage is a fraud and a rigged inquiry, and part of a device by which the faceless men in the Department of Transport are moving in the direction of heavier lorries. We heard all the old stuff about the Peeler inquiry, and so on. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East clearly had not listened to the debate. It is unfortunate that there remains a section of the environmental lobby, including many people who are genuinely concerned about these matters and want to protect the public interest in matters affecting villages, and so on, who believe all this stuff. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram) said, we have all had leaflets that were plainly printed and prepared well before the Armitage report was completed and available.

I hope that our debate this evening and the welcome statements of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the Government's position will reassure people that our study of these matters is objective, that we are concerned about the environment, and that we fully recognise the kind of views that are held not only in the constituencies of West Derby, Carshalton and Truro, but in every rural constituency in England. My right hon. Friend and I are genuinely fairly green men. Everything that has been said and done on the subject of heavy lorries and the environment by this Government and by the Armitage report so far should reassure the general public that we understand the concern that certainly exists.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)

Will my hon. and learned Friend give a more tangible reassurance to those who are properly interested in the environment? This proposal comes from a draft EEC directive in 1979, which I understand is still under discussion. That draft directive will require the unanimous consent of the Council of Ministers under article 100 of the EEC Treaty. If it gets that it becomes, under article 189, part of the law of this country and we have to wear it, will-nilly. Will my hon. and learned Friend give, on behalf of the Government, an unqualified undertaking that our Ministers will withold their consent from the directive imposing the 44-tonne requirement?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to have the opportunity of saying "Yes". I shall also take the opportunity to deal with the point that constantly arises in these debates, that somehow all the concern about heavy lorries arises out of the EEC. There is such an EEC directive, but it is a fairly dead issue at present, because this country will not agree to it —nor, I think, will several other European countries. The Armitage report rejects the EEC recommendation, and Sir Arthur points out that acceptance of the directive as it stands will involve unacceptable damage to bridges in this country, and will involve high expense.

We are seeking a solution that matches our needs. It will be a British decision, made in the light of the report. When we reach it we shall begin, on the basis of that, to have discussions inside the EEC, if the matter is raised again, to try to reach acceptable harmonisation, because there are trading benefits if we can harmonise at some level.

When we are all agreed that we are concerned about the environment and the damage that lorries can do to the quality of life, let us acknowledge that Sir Arthur Armitage and his assessors were on the same side. Whether they got it right or wrong, the report put forward propositions in the belief that their acceptance would be of benefit to the environment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow gave a fair and balanced description of some of the 58 recommendations, many of which I believe will have a wide welcome —the proposed restrictions on dimensions, the recommendations on noise, and so on. Sir Arthur Armitage advises that heavier lorries will mean fewer lorries. That advice has been challenged in the debate. Not surprisingly, there are considerable doubts about it. It is the key matter on which we must in the end make our decision. We should not lightly reject the recommendation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) said that he regarded that advice as being strictly for the birds. He will have to produce arguments to demonstrate that. He may be right in the end; we may all come to the conclusion that Sir Arthur's advice is wrong, but it is well researched.

Table 32 has been cited. It should be read together with paragraph 353, about the likely change in pattern when the heavier weights are allowed. It is based on research by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. It was not plucked out of the air, and it was not a product of the road haulage industry. The proposition is advanced that the overall number of lorries of 32 tonnes and over will be 10,000 fewer in this country if the lorries are allowed to be more fully loaded. If that is right, and we reject it, we shall have made a dreadful mistake.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) that if one asks his constituents or mine "Do you want heavier lorries?" the chances are that they will reply "No". But I think that if we asked them "Do you want fewer lorries?" they would say "Yes, please". Therefore, we must have a serious response to the argument and come to a decision whether that case can be sustained.

The Government have no view on that. We are examining the case and we shall want more time to consider it, because we must come to the right conclusion for the sake of the environment as well as industry.

Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton)

How does the Minister know that we do not have lorries of 44 tonnes gross weight now? As he does not have the enforcement mechanism, the weighbridges and the weighing machines, and as we are talking about many existing lorries carrying existing containers, how can he possibly say that we do not have many 44-tonne lorries?

Mr. Clarke

I thought that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East was the only man that I had ever met who believed the preposterous proposition that we had weaker enforcement methods in this country than in other Western European countries. Nobody involved with the road haulage industry will agree. I am glad to say that I think that standards of enforcement in this country are much higher than in many Western European countries.

Mr. Snape

Name one.

Mr. Clarke

We continue to do work on equipment for detecting axle weights. We have regular campaigns against lorries near the ports. I do not believe that standards of enforcement in most Western European countries are as high as those achieved by the police and the traffic inspectors here.

I have dealt with the "more means fewer" argument. I agree with the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness that that is the key issue on which we must come to a conclusion. The Government need more time to come to other conclusions.

We must take the economic arguments seriously, because we are an industrial country. If there are those who nurture the theory that there is a conspiracy with the road haulage industry, I point out that it tends not to be the road haulage operators who put forward the claims about economic benefits. It is those who manufacture goods, own-account customers and people with bulk loads such as beer, petrol, flour who think that they would derive great benefits.

We shall consider all 58 recommendations. We have accepted one tonight. The others will now have to be responded to as a package. We shall handle the matter in the way recommended by the Select Committee. Therefore, there will be full debate, and a considered package will appear in due course, taking full account of the views put forward in the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, conscious of the problems caused by existing heavy lorries, is opposed to the Armitage recommendation of 44 tonne lorries.