HL Deb 19 April 1982 vol 429 cc430-56

6.2 p.m.

Lord Underhill rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they will be taking with regard to the proposals on the Armitage Inquiry into Lorries, People and the Environment.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name and, in doing so, I would stress that this is the first opportunity that your Lord- ships' House has had to discuss the Armitage Report and the Government's proposals to it as set out in their White Paper of 1st December. I start with the premise that road freight transport is absolutely essential to the economy of our country. Eighty-three per cent, of the total freight tonnage is conveyed by road. In 1980, if we take all freights conveyed by all means measured in tonne-kilometres, some 63 per cent. was conveyed by road and 12 per cent. by rail.

Having said that, it must be pointed out that the average energy used per tonne mile is three times more by road than that by rail, and rail's advantage in this respect should be increased with general electrification. The Armitage Report itself draws attention to the fact that there are 40 million tonnes existing long-distance road freight which is suitable for conveyance by road. That would be significant for BR, but from the total freight conveyed by road would be very insignificant, although the percentage would be much higher if one took the heavier lorries only travelling over 125 miles.

Other countries handle these matters differently. I am simply making a statement about it, not suggesting that we should follow. Much greater financial help is given to the railways, far more rail electrification and there is quantity licensing of lorries. In fact, paragraph 127 of the report points out that EEC countries have a far more interventionist approach to the question of transport.

We cannot consider the question of lorries—whether heavy or otherwise—in isolation and I am sorry that there is little reference in the report to the possibility of giving serious consideration to an integrated transport policy. The Government make no reference to this in their White Paper. The report, quite properly, stresses the advantages, of the lorry in its door-to-door service to customers and that the entire distribution system and also some industries are actually built around the system of our lorries.

Over the past 33 years there has been a continuous trend towards heavier lorries, and this is set out in Table 1 in the Armitage Report. In 1960 there were 10 times as many lorries over eight tonnes as there were in 1946, and in 1979, 100 times as many. It is claimed that heavier lorries will lead to a smaller number of vehicles on the roads. That has not been borne out in the past. The Government accept the estimate set out in the Transport and Road Research Laboratory Report, SR590, that if freight remains at the 1977 level, over a number of years roughly 79,000 32½-tonne lorries will be replaced by only 69,000 lorries.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, will my noble friend give way for a moment? I apologise for being late, but perhaps we could look at this quotation. I cannot follow it. At page 152, at paragraph 4.2.1 it says that the total amount of heavy lorry traffic would be reduced by allowing heavier lorries. That is the axis of their entire argument, but it assumes that the impedimenta of traffic is static. I do not know how, logically, anyone could accept that. The roads of Britain are bad enough now without anything else. I am sorry that I interrupted, but I wanted to impress that upon my noble friend.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, my noble friend makes a point with which I shall deal in some of the following figures. It is claimed that two-thirds of the existing 32½ tonners will be replaced by 43,000 heavier lorries, 80 per cent. of which will be 38-tonne and 40-tonne vehicles.

What is the evidence for this? The total carriage of freight by road was 1,525 million tonnes in 1967, and this fell to 1,435 million tonnes in 1977. But the number of heavier lorries increased during that period. Another TRRL Report, SR572, also points out that the actual load factor of lorries over eight tonnes has declined from some 65 per cent. to 50 per cent. over the past 10 years.

The other research laboratory report to which I referred, SR590, on page 22 refers to operators' estimates of the number of vehicles that they may need in their fleet if heavier lorries came into being. It says that there could be a plus or minus of 3 per cent. in fleet numbers and then admits: this introduces an element of uncertainty, both in the number of vehicles expected and in the magnitude of the operating cost savings. That is in the TRRL report. The same report on page 7 says: While there are considerable cost savings in carrying more goods on heavier goods vehicles of up to 24 tonnes gross vehicle weight, additional savings from using even heavier vehicles are very much less and the cost per tonne-mile levels out beyond 26 tonnes GVW, implying that savings are small for heavier vehicles. That was confirmed by evidence given by the National Freight Corporation to Armitage, when they said: If the 40 tonner were loaded at less than 90 per cent. of its payload potential, it would cost more to run per tonne-mile than a 32 tonner". Even if the aspirations of the number of lorries was achieved, what would be the cost? Paragraph 118 of Armitage suggests that there is a danger of us getting this matter out of proportion. It says: it would be foolish to sacrifice a large part of the clear economic benefits of lorries for the sake of marginal environmental improvements to which few attached any significant value". But then it compensated that statement in the final sentence of the same paragraph: There must be improvement, both for the sake of the quality of people's lives and because, without it, resentment and hostility towards the lorry will increase and put at risk the economic advantages of the lorry". The Secretary of State put the position succinctly on 21st January 1981 in the other place, when at column 824 he said: The essential question is whether we can get the economic effects of the lorry without paying an environmental price that the public would regard as too high. In other words where does the public interest lie? That I suggest, is the important issue which faces us in the debate tonight on this Question.

Paragraph 139 of the report, which I paraphrase, says that the objective must be to reduce substantially the adverse effects of lorries, and reduce the problems caused by lorries in as many as possible of the places which would suffer large deterioration in conditions if nothing further was done. I would ask your Lordships: do the recommendations of the report match up to that statement? It is claimed that the heavier lorry will save the haulage industry some £150 million a year, and help to provide a still more efficient and economical service. But I understand that the user expenditure on road freight per annum in 1979 was £13,500 million—the actual user cost. The £150 million represents 0.1 per cent., and a tenth of a penny in the pound if that was conveyed to the consumers.

Armitage looked then at the various problems. In paragraph 133 it said that these are such places as where conditions will become seriously worse; on roads carrying very heavy traffic; places unlikely to be by-passed before the end of the century. In evidence to Armitage the Department of Transport said that 500 such by-passes will be required. But it stated that the county surveyors challenge this and said at least 600 would be needed. I note that on 5th March this year the Department of Transport press notice stated that 35 new local by-passes at a cost of some £130 million are to be constructed, and in the next four to five years some further 220 towns and villages will benefit from by-passes. I do not believe that the press notice stated the actual cost.

I would ask the Minister: how many towns of 10,000 population or more will not have a by-pass by the end of the century? What about the places with below 10,000 population? Surely they have to be by-passed as well. It is no good looking only at the major roads, because lorries of all sizes go on minor roads as well as major roads. Paragraph 58 of the report stresses: roads [will] have to be constructed to higher standards to accommodate lorries must be made stronger, and bridges be built higher and stronger, and gradients be reduced; and that lorry traffic adds 15 per cent. on road costs. Paragraph 59 goes on to say that lorries account for over 90 per cent. of the road damage, and that major maintenance work is having to be done on motorways earlier than was anticipated.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, may I stop the noble Lord again? I have been following, too. Again, this is a marvellous situation. There is no estimate given. We get these estimates of what the lorries will do, but what about the farmland and the number of gallons of milk lost because new roads are cut in new areas? There is no assessment anywhere in this report of the effect on the balance of payments because of agricultural losses through the diversion of these roads. I am glad that the noble Lord has given me the opportunity to get that point on the record.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I am certain that what my noble friend has said will be followed by the point that, even if we were able to improve all the main highways with by-passes, there still would be the problem of lorries coming off motorways and on to other roads, into conurbations, warehouses, factories and distribution points, et cetera. This point is emphasised in paragraph 229 of the report. This says that although the M.25 will be useful we must not overstress the importance of the M.25 because 95 per cent. of the lorries coming into London do so because they have business in London, and only 5 per cent. go straight through. Therefore, the M.25 will not avoid the problem of all the lorries coming off there and coming into London.

Paragraph 82 of the report says that the intrusion comes most from lorries using inadequate roads, and that even the heaviest lorries are being used increasingly for delivery to shops. That will be amplified if the heavier lorries are to be used by distribution to shops. Paragraph 112 says: Any conclusions about the location of lorry problems are therefore extremely tentative. Unfortunately, I think there is too little in the report about the possible development of break bulk depots, and of transhipment depots which may be run jointly by industry or even by local authorities in order that we can, if there is an advantage in heavier lorries, avoid the heavy lorries coming on to the inadequate roads about which Armitage reports. There is nothing in the recommendations about this. An independent survey would appear to be required. There is nothing whatever in the Government White Paper.

Paragraph 132 makes a statement that it seems probable that the total of environmental damage done by lorries in the period to the end of the century will grow, but not by the same proportion as the mileage of the heaviest lorries. I would suggest that that is of poor satisfaction to anybody who is suffering inconvenience, and will suffer increased inconvenience.

What will be the effect on bridges? This is dealt with at some length in paragraphs 391 to 400. I have not time to go into great detail, but the consultant engineers, Husband and Company, commissioned by the department, suggest that if bridges are to be strengthened expenditure of some £1,200 million will be required to cover the bridges on the A. roads and also on the minor roads. County engineers do not accept the figures given in the Armitage Report. They say they want far more surveys. British Rail, which is the largest bridge owner, is said to dispute the assumptions on bridge damage contained in the report. It is emphasised that the problem could be more serious if a number of heavy lorries follow each other, no matter what the number of axles. Despite this, Armitage recommends the heavier lorry, and the Government in the White Paper set on one side, I would suggest rather superficially, what could be the effect on bridges. It says that 200 bridges on trunk roads may have to be assessed. I should like to know how they got that figure. What about the minor roads, and all the other roads on which the heavier lorries will go?

What is the effect on underground pipes? There are about 125,000 miles of gas pipes, and 200,000 miles of water mains. The British Gas Corporation expressed to Armitage on the explosions which took place in Manchester in 1977, the view that heavy lorries were the serious cause. The National Water Council, also in evidence to Armitage, said that the impact of road traffic on underground services causes considerable damage and is responsible for a large proportion of sewer and water mains maintenance repair bills. However, what does Armitage say in paragraph 60? It says: Lorries probably contribute to damage to [underground] pipes … although there is no evidence that they are the main cause of damage or even a main contributor. Paragraph 390 says: Little is known about the effects of lorries on underground pipes, and it is difficult to say precisely what would be the effects of heavier lorries. Surprisingly, despite that and without solid evidence, Armitage proceeds, although stating that more research needs to be done on the question.

We find the same lack of evidence with regard to vibration. Paragraph 94 says: There is no objective comprehensible evidence on the effects of vibration"; and paragraph 97 speaks of ignorance about the effects of vibration on old buildings. The same is said in paragraph 88: There is no usable nationally-based representative series of statistics about lorry noise", although the Noise Advisory Council has estimated that £1,600 million would be needed to insulate against noise from all traffic, the figure having been based on the Government's own criteria. Is the question of noise to be included in the annual testing of heavy goods vehicles?

The report states there is no research at all on the effect on pavements, verges and road furniture where lorries leave the highway, and paragraph 104 says: There is no conclusive evidence about the trends in smoke fumes from individual lorries in recent years. But despite all those reservations, the recommendation is put forward for 44 tonne lorries, which the Government have rejected in favour of 40.

While I must not delay your Lordships for too long, I must refer to the question of the determination of the number of axles. Armitage points out that the amount of road damage by vehicles depends on weights imposed through the individual axles. However, I find that paragraph 378 states: What is known as the fourth power law for determining road damage has been derived from experiments carried out by the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) between 1958 and 1960". There have been criticisms—I hope the Minister will be able to answer them—that those American tests were carried out at a constant speed of 35 mph on good quality surfaces—flat and straight—and took no account of highway conditions, corners and gradients.

The Government's White Paper makes clear that their determination on the number of axles is based on those AASHO tests. I find that even in the TRRL report to which I referred, SR590, there is considerable doubt about the applicability of the fourth power law on certain types of vehicles and road construction. Nevertheless, it has been taken as the best means for calculating the overall damage effects of a changed axle spectrum. There is also uncertainty about the best methods for calculating the effects of heavier lorries on bridges". Thus, we have not only Armitage expressing doubt about the fourth power law but the TRRL report expressing such doubts. Yet the Government accept it in their White Paper as the justification for heavier lorries.

I wish to emphasise that there are conflicting interests; while the manufacturers of lorries obviously want a quick decision—because they want to know what to do—problems have been put up by other bodies, including local authorities, who suggest that many surveys have yet to be made. Over and above the Government White Paper issued on 1st December, the Government have asked local authorities—certainly they have asked the AMA—for details on six important aspects on which they could not possibly have done detailed work yet. I should like to know whether the Government intend to hold up their final decision until they have received real answers to some of the problems that have been set.

Far too many doubts are expressed in the Armitage Report, and there are far too many issues about which Armitage says there is need for more research and information. Indeed, I should like to know whether the Department of Transport has a section dealing with the environment so that all matters can be considered within that department. If so, may we be told the size of that section? In my view, the Government White Paper does not deal with those doubts and reservations. It deals with a number of them rather superficially and, based on that, my Question asks what action the Government propose to take.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for raising this subject because it is about time the Government responded to the Armitage Report and recommendations and made clear what is their attitude to those recommendations. Indeed, I am not sure why the Government are apparently so hesitant about committing themselves to the Armitage proposals. Perhaps they are backing away from the apparent conflict of interest between those who are part of the environmental lobby and those who wish to see an efficient and integrated transport system in Britain. I should be grateful if, when he replies, the Minister would spell out clearly whether it is the Government's policy to have integration in all sections of the transport industry, for that is the attitude of these Benches, which is based on the urgent need for integration of the interests of both the environment and an efficient transport industry. Of course that means compromise, but it need not necessarily mean confrontation, or in this case inaction, on the part of the Government or an inefficient road transport industry.

As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, the main recommendation in the Armitage Report is to alter the specification of heavy vehicles in line with the EEC. I am really in no position, without the knowledge of Lord Underhill, to question the technical details of that; I can only assume that the report is accurate and that all the evidence put before it is what is available to us today on which to make decisions for a transport policy. I would therefore agree with Sir Arthur Armitage in his statement to the House of Commons Transport Committee on 25th February 1981 when he said: There would be a help for both the economy and the environment if you increased the weight but not the size … of lorries … but did not in any way lower safety standards, noise standards or vibration standards. If that is what the Armitage Report is saying, then we accept it, and we accept the general recommendations contained in the report in the hope that they will reduce the transport and distribution costs of industry and commerce by about £400 million per year—£150 million due to increased carrying capacity and £225 million due to changes in speed limits—without any direct cost to the Government or taxpayer. If those savings can be achieved, that should have a particular impact on the transport of bulk materials, especially foodstuffs, agricultural supplies, produce, fuels and so on, which must be of benefit to the consumer because of the lowering of costs of transport.

As for the technical considerations, I understand that the proposals will result in a lorry which is no bigger in load space than the existing 32.5 tonne lorry; the extra 19 inches in length is included on the basis of enlarging the driver's cab for increased safety and comfort. The increased number of axles and their configuration is, I assume, to make the heavier lorry less damaging to the roads and underground pipes and bridges referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I cannot dispute any of that; I am assured by the report that it is correct and, if it is, we accept it. If it can be proved—and perhaps the Government will guide us on it—should we doubt it? If we do not doubt it, then I can see nothing wrong with the proposals.

The reason why we accept the changes is that technically the 40 tonne lorry is no bigger than existing lorries. It is apparently safer and environmentally more acceptable. Nevertheless, it is a very large lorry indeed and the big "if" we have concerns the building of by-passes around towns, villages and any conurbations through which the lorries will be diverted. If the Government say we are not to build the by-passes, then we must oppose the change and ask the Government seriously to reconsider what they are doing in terms of their transport policy, because, without the by-passes yet with the lorries, there will be created a massive confrontation with the environmentalists and indeed with anybody who wants to live a civilised life in this country. Therefore I assume all along that the road-building programme will be integrated in terms of timing with the legislation that is to introduce new and heavier vehicles on to our roads.

I also accept the argument that has been put forward by the road transport lobby that there will be an increase in job security. First, the heavier lorry will keep United Kingdom industry competitive, and, secondly, it will, it is hoped, provide new jobs in the construction industry, in the building of the new by-passes, dual carriageways and motorways which will have to be provided in conjunction with the introduction of new lorries. Thirdly, the heavier lorry will provide certainty and an established home base for the motor vehicle and allied industries for the foreseeable future. Fourthly, it will reduce transport costs for industrial and commercial developments in rural areas. So people living in the country will, in theory, benefit from a decrease in transport costs.

I should like the noble Lord the Minister to answer one question in particular. Will the by-passes be constructed before the specifications become law? I shall be much reassured if he is able to say that that will be the case.

Armitage has also referred to the question of heavy vehicle parking in central parts of towns and cities. We strongly believe that there is a need to separate the requirements of the driver from those of his vehicle during a night's stopover. In each case the requirments are completely different. I feel that this is a matter for local councils. They have a responsibility to their ratepayers to prevent large lorries from parking in the centre of cities or towns where no facilities are available. We must bear in mind that the driver must have an overnight stopover, rather than sleep in his cab, and so there must be some meeting of minds on this question. It is up to the local authorities ot provide lorry parks on the outer rims of cities or towns, and so avoid drivers having to take vehicles into the centre of cities. I do not see how this can be achieved in any other way. If ratepayers find heavy vehicles parked in the centre of towns or cities, they must look at their representation and perhaps change their councillors, or at least form a deputation. This is entirely a local responsibility, not a national one.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, quoted many statistics, and I shall add only a couple more. I am sure that he will approve of them. It might be worth mentioning that the capacity of one freight train is the equivalent of 60 heavy lorries. A double-track railway can, I understand, carry the freight equivalent of 1,000 to 2,400 lorries per hour each way. Those figures give some idea of the maximum comparative capacities of road and rail.

The question remains—I have raised this on previous occasions in the House—of how the switch of 40 million tonnes of freight from road to rail can be achieved. Many ideas have been put forward, and I should like the Government to look at an old suggestion which I believe has considerable relevance in an integrated transport system for the future. It is simply that the revenue collected from all road transport and from fuel oil taxes for transport should be pooled to create an integrated road/rail and inland waterway system, operated by a single Government body. Here I take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. The motorways were not designed for today's load factors, and it is the overloading of the motorway system that is causing the break-up of the surface, requiring extra expenditure. Yet the extra expenditure is not passed on to the heavy lorry operators.

I believe that there is a good case for a Government body becoming responsible for all main motorways and bypasses, as well as the permanent way of the railways, including all its fixtures and fittings. The railways would then become the operating company and would pay a suitable rent to the Government body. This is not a new idea. In the United States, Amtrack owns all the track and the various operating railroad companies pay rent for the use of the track. I believe that many of the existing problems regarding the financing of British Railways—with the muddle that the Government seem to be in in distinguishing the capital programme from the revenue programme—could be greatly eased if the Government were to consider the idea that, in the same way as they own the roads, they should own the railway track. British Rail would become the operator and would pay rent.

I believe that that would greatly assist in costing the efficiency of the railways in their operations and manning levels, while at the same time it would put them on a more competitive basis with roads used by heavy freight traffic. This parity cannot be achieved until the British Rail electrification programme is further ahead than it is at the moment. I ask the Government to look again at why they appear to be delaying British Rail's electrification programme simply because it would appear that there is a temporary drop in world energy prices.

It may be worth reminding the noble Lord the Minister of something that was said by Sheikh Yamani in a most remarkable speech in London on 31st March this year. He reminded his audience that consumers— that is, consumers in the Western world— may be confronted with the unpleasant possibility of all the admirable activities carried out over the past 10 years in the development of new and renewable energy sources coming to a sudden halt. Faced with a gloomy outlook of future energy prices, the economic feasibility of projects under way in those sources could change dramatically. Already many such projects that had been planned for development in the last few years were either abandoned last year or, at best, rescheduled for execution at a later point in the future. Any further drop in the international price of energy will only aggravate this situation". What Sheikh Yamani was saying was that many of the alternative energy projects—and I include among them rail electrification, or having a proper, efficient rail system in this country by the turn of the century—have been put back or delayed simply because there appears to be no problem with regard to energy; the energy crisis has faded away for a while. This represents a very false sense of security, and I hope that the Government will confirm that they are not suffering from that at the moment.

Finally, I should like to say a few words about the EEC. The EEC proposals are based essentially on the 40-tonne lorry. When agreed, these proposals will become legally applicable for transport purposes within the EEC, which includes this country. If the United Kingdom withdrew from the European Economic Community, the consequences would be detrimental and almost unthinkable. There would be double handling charges at both ports, and there would be different regulations, different standards, and so on. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will persuade those members of his party who are very enthusiastic about withdrawal from the EEC that that would be quite disastrous in terms of road transport across the continent. There would be no beneficiaries at all, and the costs to the consumer would be far greater. The cost to British industry would be almost catastrophic. I hope that the noble Lord will use his knowledge and influence in this area to effect a change of heart perhaps—or perhaps not, I do not mind, really. But the more people there are who believe that the EEC is really beneficial to this country in terms of jobs, the happier everyone will be.

I believe that the Armitage Report and the requirements in it are designed merely to keep in step with EEC requirements, and we from these Benches fully support them. I look forward to some constructive comments from the noble Lord the Minister when he winds up, so as to help us in our further deliberations on the creation of an integrated transport system, of which the Armitage Report is part.

6.40 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I welcome the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on the Armitage Report, though I have to say to him that I do not really agree with his view, despite his persuasiveness and, indeed, despite the help from his noble friend Lord Davies of Leek. I would only say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, that perhaps he has been absent from Wales too long, and that he has got the wrong end of the stick on this occasion.

I wish to concentrate my remarks on the proposal in the Armitage Report to allow lorries to increase to the standard now prevailing in the Common Market of 44 tonnes from our existing 32, and the consequences this report has on "land take". As a farmer, who must insist on the most economic method of transport from his farm to the consumer or from his supplier to himself, I hope that the Government will allow weights of 44 tonnes—and this despite the fact that I live in a village. I am convinced that heavier lorries will damage my peace no more than the present lighter ones, and it must be a fact that there will be fewer of them as each will carry more. I am sorry to say to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to whom I listened very carefully—I hope he will not mind my saying this—that I thought he was adopting a rather Canute-like approach to the problem and the particular figures he took out of the Armitage Report. I think the point about the damage to the environment is the size of the lorry, not the weight, and as I understand it the size will not be increased.

However, I note that one of the suggestions to alleviate the problems of lorries is the building of more roads and bypasses, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek—and certainly I can agree with him on this point. Here I must declare an interest, because the proposed M.40 is going to go through the farm that I tenant in Oxford and is going to take 30 acres and approximately a mile and a quarter of the farm, apart from dissecting it.

The problem I should like the Government to consider and, indeed, to answer is that if these new roads are going to be built they should look again at the hardship caused by dividing farms in half. The severance of farms can be ruinous and destroy one's life's work of farm improvement; and the terms of compensation are totally out-of-date, dating back to at least 1968, I think, if not before. In particular, I ask the Government to consult with the Ministry of Agriculture to find out how farming has changed over the last 10 years and how, as a result of these changes, the severance of a farm is so very much more serious than it was in 1968.

Although it may not have reached the Department of the Environment, there has been a very exciting and, I think, admirable revolution in farming techniques and yields since 1968, and this, in particular, on the more difficult, unstable soils that in the 1920s were not even cultivated. If roads dissect farms many of these new techniques, which have enabled these higher yields to be achieved, and greater efficiency, become impossible, so making the farm uneconomic in the 1980s, let alone the 1990s; whereas perhaps a similar dissection in the 1960s or 1970s would not have had half the consequences. To give one very small example, dissecting a rectangular-shaped field into two triangles, particularly on unstable soils, causes disastrous compaction; and it is problems of this sort that I want my noble friend to consider with his department.

Sadly, the terms of compensation operated by my noble friend's officials do not seem to recognise, even, the difference between stable and unstable soils; and certainly I have very grave doubts whether the rules now used—I am not blaming his department; they have to go by the rules—understand the finesse now achieved with the present method of under-drainage of these soils, the difficult ones in particular. There is also the problem of accommodation bridges, the rules for which date back to 1968. I need hardly remind your Lordships what has happened to fuel prices since that date, and the further you have to travel to bring in your corn or your cattle, obviously the more fuel you use. All these points were, I believe, discussed by the Leicht Committee, and I ask the Government when they will take note of them.

There is one other, small point (but perhaps I consider it not small) and that is that, at the moment, compensation is based on the gross margin loss of the land taken. In fact, it should be based on the total return lost from that acreage, as the taking away from the farm of an acreage will not reduce the farmer's fixed costs one iota. I cannot expect a precise answer to these problems from my noble friend tonight, but I hope I will get the answer that he will look at these problems. I hope he will be able to accept tonight that the principle of compensation, particularly to the tenant farmer for severance of his farm by these roads to take these lorries, will be that the farm should be returned to its former efficiency—even, for instance, if it means, on occasions, a completely new layout of, say, the drainage system. Unless this principle is accepted there will be no good will from those who have their livelihoods taken from them for these new roads and lorries, and I fear that cases as shown by that delightful comedy My Father knew Lloyd George will occur more and more often.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and, indeed, the terms in which it is written. I should perhaps advise your Lordships that I have myself been advised mainly by the CBI on this occasion, and my noble friend on the Front Bench will be surprised to hear that I am giving preference to that advice over the counter-advice given to me by the Isle of Wight, who, on the whole, hate big lorries whatever size they are; but, then, the Isle of Wight has only about half a mile of dual carriageway, so it is really rather different from anywhere else in the country, as I often say to my noble friend.

I was disappointed in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, because with the greatest possible respect to him—and I respect his views, and not only his speeches, normally very much—he seemed to have dug out of the Armitage Report all that he could find that was adverse and paid but little regard to the well-balanced conclusions at the end. We can all find the adverse bits, but there are a lot of good points about the proposals, to which I shall come. But the thing about which I entirely agree with him is the importance of a decision, and I hope my noble friend Lord Bellwin will be able to give us one. I say that for the point which was raised by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that above everything else the manufacturers need to know. They are in a state of limbo because they do not know what axle weights are going to be required of them, or when, so that they can make the right sort of vehicles and so that the purchasers know which vehicles to buy.

The importance here, my Lords, above everything else, is our share of the EEC market. I suspect my noble friend Lord Lucas will be referring to these things, so I shall just put it in the mind of my noble friend that a decision is really getting vital, and we would hope to get it as soon as practicable.

Now the question of the EEC which I have mentioned was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and he touched on the point, which I think perhaps I might be allowed to emphasise, that the EEC proposals are in the main based on a 40-tonne lorry, and when this is agreed it will be obligatory legally for us to allow in 40-tonne lorries even if we do not have them ourselves. So we shall be at a grave disadvantage: not only will our manufacturers not be building lorries which are being used on the Continent, but also we shall have to let these vehicles in whether or not we like it. That is one of the things that we have to bear. It means, therefore, that the outline programme of the Government, which includes the by-passes to take these vehicles, is going to be necessary anyhow, whether or not we have these vehicles. I would not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and say, "Don't let us have the specifications introduced here until such time as the by-passes are built", because in the nature of things the by-passes are going to take quite a long time to build. There are one or two bypasses which I should have liked to see in the Government programme but which are not there—like that around Tarporley in Cheshire on which we had a lot of discussion when I lived there six or seven years ago. It is not in the programme. We must get on with these things.

I should have thought that we need to make a decision and accept the fact that, as a European nation, even if we do not stay in the Common Market—although I think we shall—we shall need the roads and need to compete with the transport. I agree, although I believe the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, does not agree, with the view that the Armitage package will reduce the transport and distribution costs of industry. My noble friend behind me made the point about increased garage capacity. It seems to me it must be so, unless we find ourselves carrying more; and in the nature of things this is unlikely because the particular saving will be in the transport of bulk materials, especially foodstuffs, and agricultural supplies and produce. Foodstuffs, as I know from my other work, are stabilising because the population is stablised, so, in the nature of things, that large chunk will not change much and bulk materials from heavy industry which do not go on rail will, I should think, stay much the same.

There is every reason to suppose that we will not have extra lorries. Armitage forecast that the total number will drop when the size goes up. Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said, the lorry is no bigger in load space. The only extra space is in driver comfort and, therefore, with their extra axles they cause less trouble for roads and bridges. It was bridges that the noble Lord, Lord Underwood, made such a fuss about; and the answer to it is that it will be better for his bridges and not worse.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the noble Lord's thesis is correct if one accepts the fourth power law which apparently even Armitage has questioned—and I am referring to the fourth power law which determines the weight on each axle. Even Armitage has expressed some dubiety about this. It is all based on the American experiment.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I should not have thought that this was a subject which I read into Armitage. Otherwise, his main recommendations are not as substantiated as I read them to be. Probably that is as much as I should reasonably burden your Lordships with at this stage because a great many important points were made by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, with whom I agreed except for his (dare I say?) Quango that he was going to set up to manage from the centre all the transport systems in the country. I do not think that that sort of body is likely to work any more than other bodies like it have worked.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, the noble Lord may have misunderstood. My suggestion was that the Government owned the railway tracks as the Government own the motorways; so that it gave some sort of parity to rail freight. It would be a Government body. That was the main purpose of my argument and not just the setting up of an administrative body.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, of course, I understand that, but I think that we can leave it as one area in which I do not agree with the noble Lord. In other respects, I agree with him. I hope that my noble friend not only can give an answer today on when he foresees a decision being made, if he cannot give an actual decision, but I hope he will bear in mind that from industry's point of view, not only do we want to know the answer but industry as a whole favours the proposals, hopes very much that they will be brought into being and that the gloomy forebodings of Lord Underhill are not given the priority he would have wished.

6.55 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, in joining this debate, I feel that I should declare my interest in the subject matter of the Unstirred Question. It is simply that I am the president of the Institute of Transport Administration. That is the only interest that I have to declare in this matter. It is the Institute whose membership includes road, rail, sea and air administrators who sent a telegram shortly after the publication of the report to the Minister at the time accepting the report as a package and hoping—that was in 1980—that something shortly would come of it. I can understand the modus operandi of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, tonight. He has put down an Unstarred Question; he has not put down the ordinary kind of Motion for general debate which we might have expected and which both he and I hoped for on a Wednesday. So it is not unnatural that where he has doubts in that long report he should pick out all those points about which he has doubts and ask questions.

The doubts come perhaps from those things of which he is not fully aware, so those which are more readily understandable by us all were not brought out by him. I do not agree with some of the conclusions that he came to in asking that long list of questions and I rather agree with the noble Lord who suggested that he had selected perhaps the worst of Armitage. Some noble Lords may think those are the best points. I think there are some better ones. I think we make a great mistake in picking out particular bits and not treating Armitage, with its 58 recommendations, as a total package. That is the thing; for, whichever way you argue, whatever answer my noble friend will give, it must, I suggest, be prefaced by the words "On balance". There is no right and no wrong in this.

I believe that the report—and this is the first time we have been able to discuss it—demands our congratulations to the chairman and its members. They were, all of them, quite independent of the various lobbies that have emerged so vociferously over the last two years. I think the report is balanced and I believe also—and this is confirmed by my noble friends —that it is not only the transport industry, whether road or rail, but all of industry who generally subscribe to the package and who say, "We have had this independent report; we have talked and talked for years. When are we going to get on and do something about it?"

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, gave a quotation. If I have it wrong, I ask him to correct me. I believe he quoted from a debate in another place the words, "There must be improvements to the environment". I think I am right. That goes without saying. Notwithstanding any advances in numbers of vehicles and weights of vehicles or whether they are motor cars or not. There are now something over 15 million motor cars licensed on the road and something like 20 million vehicles—a huge increase. How is improvement to the environment going to be met? It is going to be met by industry and the taxpayer in taxes. In particular, it is going to come from the people who use road transport. There has to be a quid pro quo.

The costs of meeting environmental requirements are going to be heavy. There is no practical or technical difficulty in meeting the environmental demands regarding the vehicle or the route. It is how much one is prepared to pay that is the difficulty. For example, a current 32 tonne two by two axle articulated vehicle costs around £35,000 or £40,000. It lasts for something like five years. A tri-axle tractor unit adds something like £5,000. Anti-locking devices on the braking add from £1,500 to £2,000 per vehicle.

The Foden and Leyland so-called quiet vehicles, which have been running for the past two years with the latest development in noise suppression and so on, are going to add .25 gallons of fuel per mile to the operating cost. That is not an insignificant amount when you think that the average vehicle will only cover six or seven miles to the gallon. All these matters are within our grasp, they have just to be paid for.

In my right honourable friend the Minister's press release of 26th March, when he talked about the new basis for lorry taxation contained in the 1982 Finance Bill, he said—I am going to paraphrase for the sake of time—that first they were determined to get a position where all groups of lorries pay their fair share of the costs of building and maintaining roads. Taken as a whole, lorries cover the costs but the heaviest groups fall short. That is what he said about taxation.

In putting that into effect he is suggesting in October of this year that an average 32-tonne two by two lorry—two axles on the tractor unit and two axles on the trailer unit—currently taxed at £1,651 will go up to £1,820. That is a not inconsiderable increase you will accept, my Lords. Secondly, he goes on to say that moreover it makes sense to recognise that road damage depends on the number of axles over which the weight of the lorry and its load is spread, and there is to be a different rate there. On a gross 32-tonne vehicle on five axles that taxation figure is proposed to drop to £1,350. That is one side of the cost.

The other side of the cost is how much the customer is going to pay. We have had from my noble friend Lord Stanley the typical argument that I would expect from a typical customer. I look at my noble friend not as an operator or supplier, but as a customer. He wants to get his goods, his fertilizers and so on, on to his farm as quickly, expeditiously and as inexpensively as he can. He wants to take his goods to market in exactly the same way.

It is the customer who demands the method, the mode of transport; and it is no good the noble Lord, Lord Stone, shaking his head, because there is no way in a free society that one can control the mode by which people move their goods or themselves. I suggest any other way would be futile. Indeed, I think it goes back to the early 1930s when we had laws which promoted by way of taxation traffic to rail—and I do not want to get into a road/rail argument—and it failed.

People will choose the easiest and most convenient way of moving themselves and their goods. It can be seen in the use of the motor car. There is no denying it and there are no controls that are going to alter that unless one puts in pecuniary controls that make life totally impossible. I believe that there are three main points at issue here in accepting the broad tenor of the Armitage report and that we should move to a heavier vehicle. The first is, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, pointed out, our commercial motor vehicle building industry has to compete on equal terms with other suppliers. They cannot because they do not know what to build. If they know what to build it, then they can do it. They have to build what I can best describe as a pan-European vehicle, not one for England, another for France and another for somewhere else.

Noble Lords have already pointed out that there are overriding economic advantages to industry, and that means to society at large, by going to the bigger vehicle. If one looks at a heavy vehicle as an extension of a factory, an assembly line, the cheaper those goods can get to the ultimate consumer, the more orders will be obtained and the more jobs will be created. The whole society benefits. There is no doubt about that at all. If we did not have heavier lorries, the environmental disadvantages of today's traffic would not go away. But the increase in the overall weight coupled with all the regulations that are sensible and proper to incorporate at one and the same time covering noise—looking to 1983—axle weights, vibration, braking, steering, and so on, all of which are technically feasible, are literally 12 or 24 months away from being able to be put into practice. They can then bring the environmental advantages that we want.

My noble friend the Minister will no doubt remind us of the road build programmes, the by-pass programmes, and I do not want to go into that. But make no mistake—and the Windsor cordon experiment proved it—if one takes lorries from one area, everybody says "Fine, they are off my doorstep". However, they are going in most cases to appear on somebody else's doorstep. One cannot entirely move that problem away, however many by-passes one builds.

The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, made a very pertinent point on transhipment depots and parking areas. Some local authorities are absolutely appalling and do not take advantage of the powers that are currently available to them. Others—the Penrith depot is one—are excellent. The co-operation of the local authority, one of the major oil companies, the Department of Transport and the operators in the area is a splendid example of what actually can be done. There are others. There are the lorry routes and the action areas. All these matters are palliatives, not cures. They can never be cures. We need in this island a transport system similar to that which we have. It has to move into the 20th century and it has to move competitively. I believe that Armitage, as a package—some parts are bad and some are good—shows a reasonable balance. I believe it should be accepted and implemented as quickly as possible.

I suppose I could best sum up my feelings by saying to the Government: "What are you going to do?" and reminding them that we have proposals with regard to noise levels, with regard to taxation and fair shares and we have proposals for by-pass programmes. What we must now have for the sake of all industry are firm proposals with regard to the weight question and—of the greatest importance to industry and to the community, and I do not mean the European Community, but the community at large—we must have a date for the implementation of those proposals. Without that—I will finish on the point which my noble friend almost suggested that I should make—we are going to lose the opportunity of shipping our manufactured goods which I do not believe are going to remain static; I believe they will increase and 40 per cent. of them go to Europe anyway. The bulk of them go in standard 40 ft. ISO containers and their capacity has to be maximised. Therefore, they have to go in a lorry capable of carrying the weight. We need that decision and I do ask my noble friend, whatever answers he gives to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to answer this one please: how much and when?

7.12 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I too welcome the raising of this subject by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. The Armitage Report and the action that the Government propose to take on it is very important to this country and to the people who live here. We are all concerned about the movement of lorries and the effect they have on our environment. I speak with some feeling, as I live in a house which is more than 200 years old and which lies within 10 feet of a main road in a beautiful and ancient village, which has been in dire need of a by-pass for at least 30 years to my personal knowledge. I speak naturally of my own village of Writtle in the county of Essex. We at last now have a by-pass planned for the year 1985/86 but this is still dependent for its completion on future years' transport supplementary grant.

Lorries thunder past our house daily, so naturally I want to see the Government carry out their promised programme of by-passes to historic towns and villages so that the lorries may proceed without hindrance, more safely, at a higher speed and without endangering people's lives in the places where they live. It seems to me important that the number of lorry movements should be kept to a minimum so that an increase in weight per lorry would be an advantage as long as the weight per axle is limited so as not to increase unduly the wear and tear on the roads and nearby property. I also welcome new regulations to be brought into force, I understand, by 1983 to reduce the maximum noise limit on lorries.

I am glad, too, that the Government are to make new regulations to ensure the provision of the extra axle to reduce individual axle loads on the heaviest lorries, and also that the width of lorries is not to be increased, that the height is to be regulated—I believe for the first time—and that the length of lorries is to be only marginally increased to allow better accommodation for the drivers and thereby reduce their fatigue. I hope, too, that the rear and side guards will be made mandatory as soon as possible, and I welcome the fact that improved braking standards will be required next year. All these increases in safety standards are of vital importance in reducing people's instinctive fear of heavy lorries. I hope they will be shown to increase the safety of lorries in practice.

Most goods in this country travel short distances and we all want to see our local shops, industries and farms supplied with the goods they and we need. It is important that, wherever possible, the long-distance trade should go by train, but it must be realised that most goods travelling by train will also be involved in two road journeys: one at the beginning and another at the end of their travels. Both these journeys will disturb people locally and will also increase the cost of the goods because of the added commercial costs of transfer between the two forms of transport—a cost we, the consumers, will have to pay. I therefore believe that we must accept that many goods will always travel by lorry for our own, the consumer's, convenience.

This Government often say that local government should spend less on revenue and more on capital expenditure. In most services capital expenditure eventually increases revenue expenditure too, as it results in increased running costs: heating, lighting, cleaning, staffing and so on. Highway expenditure alone does not do that to the same extent. A new road will need less maintenance and the only increased expenditure is to cover loan charges. If the Government can therefore increase transport supplementary grants to local authorities, as indeed Essex has done this year—and I am very grateful to them—and allow them to cover both capital and loan charges on the use of that money, they will be encouraging local authorities in capital expenditure which provides employment for the construction industry.

The taxes resulting from the vehicles being taxed on laden rather than unladen weights should in my view go entirely for financing the necessary by-passes of towns and villages. If the Government carry out this policy, it should in a number of ways contribute to our economic recovery. The relaxing of restriction on lorry weights should help industry and commerce to provide our goods at lower prices, and also enable us to compete more effectively in overseas markets. Also, the provision of better roads should help to carry our own goods more effectively, both to us (the consumers) and to our export markets overseas.

I speak with some feeling of the roads through Essex to the haven ports of Harwich, Ipswich and Felixstowe. A few weeks ago I was speaking to industrialists in Birmingham who, to my surprise, shared this interest as their goods from the Midlands vitally need good roads to these haven ports. So that is a national need.

I hope very much that the Government will continue to put forward an integrated policy of providing better roads and sensible but less restricted regulations on lorry weights. The Government's own statement that the package is designed to get safer, quieter and cleaner vehicles on the road as fast as possible, and to take the lorries away from where people live and work, is a policy that I hope the Government will pursue vigorously, to the benefit of this country and of the people who live in it.

7.18 p.m.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I want to trespass on the time of the House for just about five minutes, having sat through the debate. I apologise for not having got here in time to put my name down. I want it to be understood that while one is criticising it does not mean that one does not appreciate the amount of work that the Armitage Inquiry and all the people who worked on it did. Nevertheless, I think other points of view ought to be aired. While paying a tribute to Sir Arthur Armitage and the people who are there involved, naturally they would take a point of view that would be on the side of lorry transport—

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

Why, my Lords?

Lord Davies of Leek

There is nothing wrong in that because they are experts. There is nothing wrong in taking a point of view that is opposed to what I say—I will certainly give way.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I just wondered why he said they would "naturally" take that view. There is nothing natural in their taking any one particular view.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, they have certainly taken a point of view here that I do not like—and that is the end of the argument! I gave way for the noble Lord to ask a question and I have given a fair answer. This is the kind of world in which we live. This is a debating chamber, not a prayer. I happen to remember Beeching and the absolute joy and enthusiasm exhibited for the Beeching Report. I should have liked the Armitage Committee to look into the hundreds and hundreds of miles of railway embankments that could have been made into roads in many areas and be used now for transport. That must be done.

One of the tragedies is that we have "Beechingised" the railways of Britain and that is one of the most dangerous things to do for the strategy of this country. I remember the movement of children from great cities during the last war. If we had not had railway trains in those days, what would it have been like to move millions from Manchester, Liverpool and London? But we gave all that away. I have suggested that part of the defence budget of Britain should be put into transport.

Kipling said "Transport is civilisation", but on reading this report it seems that there is a bit of civilisation that was missed. Paragraph 136 admits that, The total volume of emissions from the lorries is likely to increase, though at a slow rate". Then, paragraph 137 states that: The position with vibration is similar". The noble Baroness talked about her area being shaken. This Palace, where the judges sit, is shuddering every day as the lorries move outside this beautiful building—

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt?

Lord Davies of Leek

I seem to be upsetting people.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am not at all upset. But, quite apart from the shuddering, would the noble Lord not think that there is a great problem here? If he stood on the pavement edge at the corner of Bridge Street and Parliament Square, as I hope the Minister will be able to say he has done, how long is it before his feet are run over or his legs are broken?

Lord Davies of Leek

Exactly, my Lords. We are increasing the problem without looking at it in depth. Life at the Archway in London now is a misery. No matter what everyone does, that road will be there for years and years, and the problem of moving valuable property to get a road for the lorries is still very much there.

Let me quickly spike down a couple of other points. On emissions, have we given up the search into the chemical effect of lead poisoning on the child mind? That should have been looked at. They are playing it down now, but lead, in its effect on children, is a serious matter—that should have been looked at in depth. It should have been in the report. Again, how much real work is being done by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory into the throwing up of spray by the heavier lorries with the extra axles? I have used the M.1 when life can be dangerous, and if a windscreen wiper fails it can be serious. Does the noble Lord want me to give way again? I shall need six minutes rather than five.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I did not understand why the noble Lord was talking about lead, because I did not think there was any lead in diesel fuel.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, the diesel fumes are still more poisonous. One should know that. It takes only a slight knowledge of chemistry to understand the reason for the poisoning, but I shall not go into that in any more depth. An estimate of accidents is given. I do not take that. Finally— and your Lordships will probably be pleased that I have said "finally"—this is too expensive for our economy and I am quite sure that the Armitage Report could not go through as it stands.

Before I sit down, I shall quote from the First Report of the Select Committee on the European Communities 1981–82—and I appreciate the work that it did—which states on page ix the opinion of the Committee: The Commission argues that a substantial portion of present road traffic should be transferred to combined transport, in order to secure the expected benefits in relief of congestion, improved safety and efficiency". That means that we should now be looking more seriously than we have done before at the combined use of road, rail and canals. We have thrown away millions and millions of poundsworth of our economy and the effort of our ancestors, which would have been of great use to us today. I sincerely hope that, before we accept this report "on the nod", more attention will be given to many of the realities which the Armitage Report missed.

7.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

My Lords, the Government greatly welcome this opportunity to hear the views of the House on this most important subject and, like others, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for introducing this debate in the way he has done. May I also say that I am grateful to all noble Lords, and to my noble friend Lady Platt, for what I consider to be the really constructive comments that everyone has made. We shall study them very carefully.

I am glad to see that the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was specifically linked to the Armitage Report. It is a report which is too much stigmatised and too little read and considered. The Armitage inquiry was established by the Government in 1979 to look at the whole range of problems caused by the great growth of lorry traffic. The Armitage inquiry was an independent inquiry, which received a great deal of evidence from organisations and individuals. It produced a full and detailed report. It is not just a report about lorry weights. Far from it: only seven of its 58 recommendations were concerned with lorry weights. Sir Arthur Armitage and his expert assessors, for whose work the Government were very grateful, produced a formidable, comprehensive series of proposals for dealing with the environmental problems caused by lorries and ensuring that we have an efficient freight transport system.

As everyone now knows, the Government issued a White Paper on Lorries, People and the Environment in December 1981 which built on the recommendations of the Armitage inquiry. We have had many representations about the White Paper and we are carefully considering them. We are now reaching the stage where the Government can come to final conclusions. They are certainly determined to do so. There has been too much delay in this matter, over a long period of time, to the detriment of people's quality of life, the environment and British industry and jobs. Without exception, noble Lords who have spoken will be glad to know that we will be making a final announcement very shortly. If your Lordships ask how shortly is "shortly", I would reply that we should need to have another debate on that. But your Lordships who hear me speak from this Dispatch Box, not for the first time, know that if I say "shortly" I mean "shortly".

Of course, this is an extremely contentious, difficult and emotional subject. That is entirely understandable. For all the reasons spelled out so clearly by Armitage, lorries create many problems. We all know that from our own experience. We in this House have a great fund of knowledge about and care for the built environment, historic towns and the countryside. We will have no difficulty in drawing on that to provide eloquent testimony to the effects of lorries.

The fact of the matter is that nobody loves lorries. Whatever we do, we shall never make them desirable objects, though in some parts of the country more lorries would be a welcome sign of more business activity and more jobs. But it is no use merely beating our breasts on the subject. It is no use yearning for a golden age preceding the invention of the internal combustion engine. Most of all, it is no use doing nothing. To do nothing only allows the situation to get worse. The real question is: how can we help to civilise the lorry, improve the quality of life for people who are suffering from its effects, make lorries safer and quieter, and, at the same time, make sure that the country gets an efficient, responsive freight transport system? We shall achieve that only if we approach the subject with cool and careful deliberation.

That is exactly what the Armitage inquiry did. It made many suggestions to improve the environment. We built on that in the White Paper. In a moment, I will list some of the things that we are doing. But that is not the complete story. The White Paper was more than a beginning. It contained very substantial proposals, but we have already gone beyond the White Paper and will be further extending our proposals before making the final announcement to which I referred a moment ago. Our whole approach is based upon a recognition of the seriousness of the problem and a determination—and I do mean a determination—to deal with it. That was Armitage's main message and, if I may say so, no previous Government have taken it.

The first requirement is to take lorry traffic away from the places where people work and live. By-passes, where they are possible, can be the most effective way of doing this. We see our programme of by-passes as an essential part of our strategy for reconciling our dependence on lorry traffic with the need to protect and improve the environment. Already this year we have announced the addition to the trunk road programme of 15 by-passes. More than 120 schemes are now in preparation. Over half of these will have been built or will be under construction by the middle of the decade. By the end of the decade we shall be able to devote even more of the available resources to the few by-passes which will still be required. We should not forget that other schemes for strategic routes, such as the M.25, will also relieve communities of through traffic. Motorways are among our most effective by-passes.

The transport supplementary grant settlement, announced in December, will enable 35 more local authority by-pass schemes to go ahead. My right honourable friend will continue to give favourable treatment to proposals for by-passes by local authorities. The 20 or so trunk road by-passes now under construction, together with the local schemes under construction, will take traffic out of nearly 100 communities, and at least another 120 towns and villages will benefit from schemes to be started in the next two to three years. By any standards that is a substantial achievement. I hope that this will be gratifying to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, who in particular emphasised this aspect of what we are doing—as, for that matter, did other speakers. I hope they will feel encouraged by it. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, it is not possible to say how many towns will not be by-passed by the end of the century, but I say again that by the middle of this decade nearly half of all the new schemes started will be by-passes. That illustrates the urgency which the Government attach to this particular aspect of the problem.

Another way to keep lorries away from people is by designating lorry routes or prohibiting lorries from particularly unsuitable roads. Armitage recognised, and we accept, that responsibility for lorry routing must remain with local authorities and that they have the necessary powers. The local authorities themselves agree. Only the local authorities in fact have the local knowledge to do the job properly. But as we all know, the performance of local authorities using the same powers varies greatly. We want to encourage local authorities to do more to control lorries. But lorry control schemes, it has to be said, are not always possible. It is not sensible, for example, merely to transfer lorry nuisance from one group of residents to those living on an alternative route. But, even so, more undoubtedly can be done, and we shall shortly issue a circular which suggests how authorities can take a fresh look at the scope for additional controls in their areas. My right honourable friend will, in addition, be announcing further measures to assist and encourage the use of lorry control schemes.

We are also giving serious consideration to the idea of "lorry action areas" for places exceptionally badly affected by lorry nuisance and unlikely to be helped by methods of diverting traffic. Local authorities will have additional powers and additional financial assistance to carry out local relief measures, such as double glazing or better quality road surfaces.

We are making lorries safer. My noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, referred to this point. Sideguards, to protect pedestrians and cyclists—the most vulnerable road users—will be made compulsory. So will rear under-run guards on lorries, to protect motorists. Better braking standards will be required for all vehicles manufactured after October this year. We are looking into the best way of making compulsory some sort of spray suppression equipment. Everyone who is really concerned about road safety will recognise the contribution that these measures will make to reducing the number of accidents involving lorries. I am happy to say that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has given our package of proposals its full support.

Lorries are being made quieter. We have already set a reduced noise level of 88 decibels for the heaviest vehicles and this will come into force next year. We are looking beyond that to 1990, when we want to see lorries as quiet as the family cars of 1981. When I said that last time we debated this matter, I noticed one or two smiles around the House. Well, I am saying it again today, so that should be an indication of the confidence which I have. All these standards must be enforced. We are increasing enforcement effort, with more staff and equipment, to deal with overloading and other safety standards. All these measures contribute to a comprehensive, effective attack on the lorry problem.

But Armitage also argued for heavier lorries. One would think from the public and parliamentary reaction that both Armitage and the Government had made no other recommendations, but it is worth going back to what Armitage himself said. There is no question of heavier lorries being in some way a quid pro quo for environmental improvements. On the contrary, to quote Armitage; Heavier lorries, even when considered in isolation from the wider changes affecting all lorries, would bring both economic and environmental benefits". That is the last sentence of the whole Armitage Report. The Government accept the logic of that report. However, we have, I believe, improved on Armitage's weight proposals.

Sir Arthur Armitage himself saw the need to compromise on the EEC proposals so as to fit United Kingdom circumstances. We in turn have seen some need to fit the Armitage proposals rather better to our own circumstances. For that reason, the Government have rejected Armitage's proposals for 44-tonne lorries. We are now considering the reactions to our proposals on weights, as on all the other proposals in the White Paper. I am not able to announce our main decision today. However, there are certain general points about heavier lorries which are valid and which will remain valid, whatever are our final decisions.

Many of our lorries are already designed to carry more weight than the law now allows them. If we allowed them to carry more goods, we could have fewer lorries to carry the same amount of freight. That, as Armitage pointed out, will itself bring environmental advantages. It will also mean a reduction in industry's costs. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, I do not believe that we can just brush this aside—though, knowing him as I do, I doubt whether he does brush it aside. Nevertheless, I attach probably more importance to the point than does the noble Lord. For example, using 38-tonne lorries instead of 32.5-tonne lorries gives savings in transport costs in the range of 5 to 9 per cent. The benefits to industry have been conservatively estimated at £1.5 billion over the next decade. The benefit will be greater if there is further economic growth, as I am sure there will be. We are in no position to reject such economic gains. Areas such as Scotland and Devon and Cornwall, distant from large markets, have most to gain.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I hope that some grants will go to the local authorities for all this wonderful work which the Minister is envisaging. I hope a formula will be found to get some money to Scotland, to parts of Wales, which I am accused of having left for a long time, and elsewhere. Can the noble Lord say whether any money will go to the local authorities for this work?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I specifically said earlier, in connection with relief and other work, that we do not expect authorities to do it without it costing money and that we are cognisant of that fact. In principle, therefore, I do not quarrel with what the noble Lord says. However, the transport supplementary grant has to be part of the whole scene. There could be big savings for bulk freight, and anyone who is sceptical should simply ask British industry or British shippers—and my noble friend Lord Mottistone made the point, as he so often does, for them. These important benefits will also extend to agriculture, which is a major user of bulk freight. Fertiliser, oil and other goods will be delivered to farms more efficiently. There will also be savings in the cost of moving produce from farms—especially for heavy produce such as sugar beet, potatoes and milk, but also for many other horticultural products where some use could be made of the increased payloads.

I can assure my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, that the Government are fully aware of the problems which farmers may face when agricultural land is taken for new roads. As a first step, we take considerable pains to keep the amount of farmland we take down to the absolute minimum. This factor is always taken into account in the selection of routes and in detail design. Inevitably, we cannot always avoid taking agricultural land. Nor, I am afraid, can we always avoid the particular problem to which my noble friend very properly referred—namely, that of farm severance. We do pay compensation to a farmer who loses his land, and the compensation takes account of any additional loss in the value of his land because it has been severed. I am only too aware that the compensation point is always a controversial question; that is one reason why the amount of compensation is determined independently by the district valuer and why the landowner has a right of appeal to the Land Tribunal. Wherever we can justify doing so, we will on request provide accommodation works, bridges or underpasses for farmers whose land is severed. I hope that we can be as liberal in providing works of this sort as is consistent with the need to protect the public purse.

Having said that, I must acknowledge the point made by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley. I note that the farming community feel that we are not as liberal as we might be—particularly, perhaps, over the standards of work which we provide. I listened very carefully to what my noble friend said on this. I can and do assure him that we will look at his point on compensation. I can tell him that my right honourable friends are looking again at this problem at the moment.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, if my noble friend will give way for a moment, the real problem that is worrying us mostly is the updating of the terms. If he assures me that that is one of the things at which the Government will be looking, it will make me happy.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, we want to read very carefully what my noble friend has said. He made his points extremely well and, obviously, with expert knowledge. I can certainly undertake that the last point he made will also be considered.

Heavier lorries will do less damage to the roads. For example, a 38-tonne lorry which will have five axles will do 20 per cent. less damage than the existing 32.5-tonne lorry. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to this matter. May I say that Armitage critically examined the evidence of research results on road damage? The tests undertaken by the American Association of State Highway Officials to which he referred involved, I understand, lorries running on roads of widely differing strengths. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory have examined the AASHO tests and concluded that they were well designed. Indeed, authorities throughout the world use the fourth power law as giving the best overall indication of the damage done to roads by vehicles.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned his concern about bridges. I will send the noble Lord a technical note by the department describing the effects of heavier lorries. I hope he will see from that that our expert advice is that the great majority of bridges will suffer no more damage than they do now, although some bridges with very long spans will need to be assessed individually. I could go into quite some depth but time is pressing and I believe it would be better if I dealt with that point in the way I have suggested.

New controls on lorry dimensions will be introduced for the first time. There will be a height limit on heavier lorries—the first time we have had a height limit. There will be no increase in the width of the lorry. There will for the first time be a limit on the length of semi-trailers. A small increase of ½ metre in the total length of lorries will improve their turning circles, leaving space for additional noise insulation and sleeper cabs. We shall ensure, as a minimum, that heavier lorries meet all the safety standards of existing lorries. But we shall go beyond that. For instance, from the outset all heavier lorries must have sideguards.

In looking at all these proposals, I would ask the House particularly to bear in mind two important points. The first is the overwhelming importance which lorries now have in the freight system. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, rightly said, lorries carry more than 80 per cent. of all inland freight. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, asked whether the Government want an integrated transport system. Of course we want to help railways and waterways, which have environmental advantages. We are taking special measures to do so, including much higher taxes on lorries to ensure that they pay their way, and grants to finance new railway and waterway facilities.

Only this month, we announced grants of more than £2 million towards the cost of providing rail handling facilities for industry. This will take 1½ million tonnes of coal and gypsum off the roads, and more than 500 heavy lorry journeys each day will be avoided. More than £500,000 went to a Blue Circle Industries' cement works in Derbyshire, and it means that their coal will now be carried by rail instead of by road, which would have affected Sheffield and villages in the Peak National Park. Nearly £80,000 went to Storey Brothers near Manningtree in Essex (and I am sure that my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle will be glad to hear that) and this will help to avoid coal being carried by lorry from Coventry—particularly through the narrow roads of Constable Country. Where we can, we are helping industry to take advantage of the benefits of rail freight and keep lorries out of some of our most beautiful countryside. But it is unrealistic to believe that we can turn away from the lorry as the provider of the great majority of our freight. The Government are all in favour of integration if this means efficient, co-ordinated operation—but not if it is an excuse for bureaucratic control and inefficiency. We believe that the transport modes should operate in a framework of fair competition which will encourage efficiency and innovation.

As I come to the end of my remarks, the second point I want to stress is, what would be the consequence of our not going ahead? The consequences of rejecting our proposals would be that matters would get worse, not better; worse for people whose lives are badly affected by lorries, worse for communities, worse for the economy. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who is always so knowledgeable in this field. He was so right when he referred to the fact that a total package was what was needed, and that is exactly what we have in mind. I endorse his tribute, and the tributes paid by others, to the Armitage Committee, and we shall want to read and consider carefully what my noble friend has said.

I have other points to make and would like to refer to them all, but I think not, in view of the time factor. I hope that noble Lords will excuse me if I do not do so. May I just say something to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek (who is always a delight to listen to, whether he puts his name down before hand or not) on his point about converting railway lines to roads? This has been done in some cases but a general problem with many of the lines which were closed by Beeching is that they serve areas of declining transport need. It would not make economic sense to convert all of them to roads. Nevertheless the noble Lord's point does have merit.

So, my Lords, I ask you to bear with us a little longer to await our further announcement, which will reinforce the great efforts, the unique efforts, which my right honourable friend is making to deal with the too-long neglected problems created by lorries.