HC Deb 19 March 1984 vol 56 cc687-8
1. Sir William van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with the operation on roads for which he is responsible of the weight limit for heavy commercial vehicles.

6. Mr. Rathbone

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with the present method of road checks on lorry weights.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I want to see more effective enforcement of the law against overloaded lorries. It is for the licensing authorities and other enforcement agencies to decide on the best means of doing this. I have increased the resources available to the licensing authorities in the field force of traffic examiners and in providing many more weighbridges. I will ensure that lack of resources does not inhibit their enforcement work.

Sir William van Straubenzee

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that it was an essential quid pro quo for the increasing of the weight limits that there would be strenuous enforcement of those increased limits? Does he further agree that recent prosecution figures, particularly in the county of Kent, for obvious reasons, are to put it mildly, disturbing?

Mr. Ridley

I agree with my hon. Friend, and any deficiencies in staff in the licensing authorities are being put right. He will agree that the extra facilities that we have provided give the licensing authorities all the resources they need to make sure that the law is enforced. It can be enforced by prohibiting a lorry from proceeding—which in some cases can be quite a severe penalty—by prosecution, or by both.

Mr. Rathbone

I, too, welcome the my right hon. Friend's reassurance that adequate funds are being made available for these activities. Is he aware that I welcome the fact that he is seeking better ways of controlling lorry weights, contrary to what he said recently, when he said that he was satisfied with the controls in hand? Is he further aware that I, too, believe in the need to reassert a philosophy of "divine discontent" with regard to this policy?

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friend will be aware that enforcement is a matter for the enforcement authorities, not for me. It is the same relationship as the Home Secretary has with the police. He can give them the powers and the manpower, but after that is up to them to enforce the law. The same is true of the licensing authorities. There has been much more activity, which I believe will have a deterrent effect as well as helping to catch those who are currently exceeding the limits.

Mr. Jim Callaghan

The right hon. Gentleman may have seen reports in the newspapers over the weekend about damage caused to London bridges by heavy commercial vehicles. What steps is he taking to ensure the safety of the public on bridges?

Mr. Ridley

The only bridge that I am aware has been damaged is Hammersmith——

Mr. Callaghan

What about Westminster bridge?

Mr. Ridley

—and the 12 tonne limit on Hammersmith bridge has been exceeded by buses, which can weigh up to 15 tonnes. Heavy lorries cannot be blamed for that.

Mr. Moate

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the letter that was sent out by a number of licensing authorities saying that prosecutions of heavy lorries for exceeding the limits should not take place unless they were overloaded by more than 10 per cent.? How does he reconcile his intentions as stated and the statutory limits imposed by Parliament with those guidelines sent out by the licensing authorities?

Mr. Ridley

Those instructions were sent out not by the licensing authorities but by an official in my Department. I think it has been said that it was done without the knowledge of myself or my Minister of State. [HON" MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The letter was designed simply to coordinate the activities of different licensing authorities, and it pointed out that prohibition from proceeding was a very effective way of enforcing the limit; indeed, that is exactly what it has done.

Mr. Snape

The House will be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's confession, which contradicts the two denials that he has made so far in the House about the origin of the circular. Will he acknowledge that his view of effective enforcement appears to be that lorries should be heavier and faster, presumably on the ground that the quicker they travel over the bridges the less damage they will do?

Mr. Ron Lewis


Mr. Ridley

There is nothing to answer from that facetious remark of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape).