HC Deb 20 June 1988 vol 135 cc829-30
6. Mr. Chapman

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress he has made in taking action against overloaded foreign heavy vehicles entering the United Kingdom.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

During the present financial year the Department's traffic examiners will weigh nearly 50 per cent. more foreign lorries than last year. In addition, we propose during the next few months to install automatic screening equipment at the major ferry ports.

Mr. Chapman

I welcome that development. However, will my hon. Friend confirm that it still means that fewer than 5 per cent. of such lorries are weighed? Given that a recent survey showed that more than one in five are found to be overweight, would not the best deterrent be, not only more screening and weighbridge facilities, but for the courts to impose much more severe fines for what are serious and dangerous offences?

Mr. Bottomley

Yes. It is worth recognising that most foreign lorries are regular visitors, so, even though the one in 20 figure is low, the chances of a regular visitor who overloads being caught are fairly high.

I do not have ministerial responsibility for the sentences that magistrates impose, but I notice that the fine imposed, instead of the maximum £2,000 fine, is usually about 10 per cent. of that, so the deterrent value is not as high as a higher fine.

Mr. Spearing

How far does the action that the Minister will take follow the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General's report? Will the automatic weighing be for every vehicle and every axle, even if it is a coarse weight? Would it not be better to do that, and is it not sensible to weigh every axle as it comes off the boat?

Mr. Bottomley

That is obviously true. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is contained in the reply from the Department to the Committee.

Mr. Irvine

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the new screening devices, which I am glad to hear he proposes to introduce, will weigh the vehicles in motion as they pass through the ports, so avoiding congestion?

Mr. Bottomley

That is the point of screening.

Mr. Cryer

Is not the administration involved in the screening and checking of on-road vehicles, which hon. Members on both sides of the House will endorse, an enormous expense? Would not the Government be better off spending money and effort in transferring road weights to rail, to make sure that the freight goes on rail in preference, and, in so doing, helping to keep railways, such as the Settle-Carlisle line, open? That is a magnificent main line route to the north and it can carry——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I did not call the hon. Gentleman to ask a supplementary on the previous question.

Mr. Bottomley

We recognise that the hon. Gentleman would have liked to get in on the previous question. In answer to this question— [Interruption.] The hooligan tendency is putting on a lot of pressure. The answer is that between the section 8 grants and the Channel tunnel there is more encouragement for heavy freight to use the railways for longer journeys, and that is to be welcomed.