HC Deb 22 February 1988 vol 128 cc7-8
4. Mr. Chapman

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to his answer of 25 January, Official Report, columns 23–24, what estimate has been made of the percentage of heavy goods vehicles from abroad which are overloaded, in the light of the 24 per cent. of weighed vehicles which are found to be overloaded; and what actions he proposes to reduce this figure.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

A series of surveys carried out between 1980 and 1986 showed that 20 per cent. of foreign goods vehicles selected on a random basis were overloaded by more than 5 per cent. We propose to install weighbridges at Ramsgate and Immingham, the two major ferry ports which lack them. Consultations are also being held with selected port authorities about testing automatic equipment for weighing incoming lorries.

Mr. Chapman

Will my hon. Friend accept that the fact that one in five incoming vehicles is found to be overweight is a matter of deep concern? As the maximum penalty on a successful prosecution is only a £200 fine, should not, at the very least, magistrates courts be encouraged to impose the maximum fine?

Mr. Bottomley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There must be effective deterrents. We must be able to catch and deter them. Overweight lorries are unsafe, they are cheating and they cause more damage to the roads than they pay for. I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Minister satisfied with the situation that police forces, for understandable reasons, are not taking action when they know that the drivers will soon be out of the country, and possibly will not return for prosecution? There is a problem, and it is becoming an increasing worry.

Mr. Bottomley

Overloaded vehicles are prohibited movement until the load is adjusted, and that is one of the ways in which it cannot pay lorry drivers to overload. We need to use both deterrence and enforcement, as well as trying to ensure that the enforcement strategy is such that people find that it is not worth their while cheating.

Mr. Sayeed

Following the point made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), does it not make sense to seize part of the cargo of overweight lorries, take a lien on it and not hand it back until the fines are redeemed?

Mr. Bottomley

It would be right for us to go on considering effective ways to reduce this bad problem.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Will the Minister confirm that one of the problems identified after the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise was the danger posed by overloaded lorries on ferries? The Minister's complacent response to this problem will not do. What will the Government do, both in negotiations with foreign Governments and at British ports, to ensure that it is virtually impossible for lorries to risk life at sea by coming to this country overloaded?

Mr. Bottomley

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the last sentence of my initial reply.