HC Deb 12 May 1982 vol 23 cc733-4
3. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a further statement on the Armitage committee report proposal on heavy lorries.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Howell)

I hope to do so shortly.

Mr. Foulkes

An essential element of the Armitage report was the speeding up of bypass construction and the creation of new bypasses. In written replies to me the Secretary of State for Scotland has said that there will be no such speeding up in Scotland and no new bypasses in the Scottish programme. If the Secretary of State for Transport is foolish enough to allow these juggernauts on to the roads of England, will he ensure that they stop at the border?

Mr. Howell

The overall commitment to more bypasses has substantially increased——

Mr. Foulkes

Not in Scotland.

Mr. Howell

—and during the next two years more than 220 new communities will be bypassed with projects now about to start. I believe that that is part of the Armitage approach, as are steps to ensure that vehicles are improved, and that there is improved control over where they go, to keep them away from villages and high streets, and improved enforcement. Those changes are widely needed and they will be welcomed by those who suffer from the effects of heavy goods vehicles.

Mr. Adley

Does not my right hon. Friend sometimes feel that those who have studied Armitage least are most vociferous in their objections to the overall proposals? Will he take every opportunity to stress that there is an overall package in Armitage that has substantial environmental advantages for our people as well as the oft-quoted disadvantage of heavier lorries?

Mr. Howell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is entirely correct. The Government and the Armitage report propose that a serious problem—that of the impact of heavy goods vehicles on the environment—which has got worse over the years, should now be gripped and tackled comprehensively by improving the vehicles, improving the control over where they go, improving enforcement and by other measures. I am sure that that is needed. It should have been done before, and I believe that it is overdue.

Mr. Sheerman

Is the Minister satisfied that, along with the move towards heavy lorries, if that is inevitable, safety standards will be maintained? Has he concerned himself with braking standards for these larger vehicles; with under-run guards side and rear; and with the fact that it will be far more difficult for a young driver of 21 to move straight to 38-tonne and 40-tonne vehicles?

Mr. Howell

I am concerned with all the specific issues that the hon. Gentleman raised. As to the heavier payload on existing containers, I know the hon. Gentleman realises that we are not talking about, nor would we tolerate, larger trailer containers. We are talking about a larger payload on the existing trailers, but with improved braking and standards for side and under-run guards. I believe that that is very necessary.

Mr. Moate

Why should it be necessary, in terms of competition, for the United Kingdom to have heavier lorries or heavier axle loadings than West Germany?

Mr. Howell

In practice, axle loadings throughout Western Europe are similar. Indeed, in many countries they are higher than here. If there is to be a heavier payload on existing trailers—we certainly shall not tolerate larger ones—it is better spread over five axles than over four.

Mr. Stott

Notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) said about the important recommendations in the Armitage report, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in their written submissions to him the local government organisations have not changed their view despite the publication of his White Paper? Will he also confirm that their view is that the British road system is already pathetically inadequate to cope with the existing number of heavy lorries and that his proposals to increase lorry weights will seriously worsen an already bad situation?

Mr. Howell

The local authorities have developed their views and recognise the urgent need to tackle the heavy lorry problem, not to duck it as the hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting and which I believe would be wholly wrong. Heavy goods vehicles damage roads and bridges, but there will be no question of additional damage in any heavier payload or any heavier maximum weight. Nevertheless, the damage from heavy goods vehicles already exists, and that must be tackled vigorously.