HL Deb 29 November 1982 vol 436 cc1106-28

5.58 p.m.

Lord Underbill rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations [S.I. 1982 No. 1576], laid before the House on 16th November, be annulled.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, noble Lords will appreciate that the regulations are extremely technical and complicated. To a non-engineer such as myself even the memorandum does not put the points in a way which I can readily understand. Therefore, I am particularly grateful that the Government have issued a further memorandum which sets out some of the points in a very much more understandable form.

I must congratulate the Government on their publicity for their proposals. These are just some of the department's many statements, many of them reporting speeches by members of the Government, particularly Ministers, in support of the Government's proposals regarding heavy lorries and their general package. The Government have recognised quite clearly that they must lessen public concern about the heavy lorries proposals. There is general recognition that there is public resentment even of the present lorries because of their noise, their dirt, their speed, their intrusion and the congestion which they cause.

In saying that, I want to make it absolutely clear that I appreciate to the full the importance of road haulage. My comments are in no way an attack upon road haulage. Road freight is vital to the nation's economy, for some 80 per cent. of the total freight tonnage is carried by road—often with door-to-door advantage. At the same time we must recognise that road traffic uses three times more energy than rail; rail has the capacity to take more freight and its use would help to relieve congestion on our roads. Another point I wish to make perfectly clear is that, of course, there will be general welcome for some parts of the Government's package. The proposals in the regulations to provide for maximum length, maximum height, for rear under-run protection and for sideguards are all welcome—as are the steps proposed towards reduction in lorry noise, albeit vaguely limited, improved braking standards and possible development of spray suppression.

Most of those items are essential even if we had no proposal to increase lorry weights. One of the important points put forward by the Government is in relation to heavy lorries. We are told in particular that this increase is essential in order to save the haulage industry £150 million a year. Incidentally, I note that Ministers frequently prefer to use the figures £ 1 ½ billion over 10 years to put greater emphasise on the saving. Of course, savings are important, but we must recognise that a £150 million a year saving is only a fraction of the some £14,000 million which is spent each year on consumer costs for road haulage. This, I am told, is just one-tenth of a penny in the pound. Does that justify this saving, important though it may be? Does it justify the other factors which are involved in the proposals for heavy lorries?

The assurance is repeated by Ministers time and time again that heavier lorries will mean fewer vehicles. Past experience—and Armitage makes this clear—is that, whenever heavier lorries have been introduced at various stages through the years, that has never been the way things have worked out; heavier lorries have come and there has been an increase in the number of vehicles. Many organisations in this country just will not accept the assumption that heavier lorries will mean fewer vehicles.

I must ask, why the increase to 38 tonnes? The present maximum is 32½ tonnes. The EEC propose up to 44 tonnes on six axles. That was accepted by the Armitage Report published in December 1980. The Government White Paper published in December 1981 proposed an amendment to 40 tonnes on five axles. The present regulations propose 38 tonnes on five axles. I must ask, why this move from the original concept? I am not suggesting that we should revert to 44 tonnes but we shall be interested to hear the Government's arguments. Arguments have been put forward time and time again that heavier lorries do not mean larger lorries and that heavier lorries with additional axles would mean less damage to roads. Armitage saw no reason for excluding 44-tonne lorries. Paragraph 404 of Armitage stated: The 44-tonne lorries which we propose would do no more damage to the environment than lorries between 32.5 and 40 tonnes, would cause less damage to roads and no more damage to bridges and would give greater savings in transport costs.

The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, speaking for the Government in our debate on Armitage on 19th April this year, said that the Government had seen some need to fit the Armitage proposals to our circumstances and for that reason had rejected proposals for 44-tonne lorries. I would ask the Minister to explain in his reply today what were the circumstances in which the Government had to change their original intentions in the White Paper, which itself was a reduction in that which was proposed by Armitage. The Government White Paper proposed an increase to 40 tonnes and the accompanying note by the department justified that proposal on the basis of fourth power law, to which I will refer later. Yet the Secretary of State, on the Second Reading of these regulations in another place on 25th November, stressed that 38 tonnes is the maximum that the Government can accept. In col. 1026 of the Official Report I find that the Secretary of State said: We also reject the higher limits on our axle weights, because they would not be acceptable on our roads".

Yet the White Paper published earlier had said that 40 tonnes would be acceptable on our roads. The same point was made by the Under-Secretary of State in reply to that debate in another place (col. 1097); she said: I believe that we were right to reject the increase to 40 tonnes in view of the public concern".

But there is public concern about the proposed increase to 38 tonnes, so perhaps the Government will listen to what is being said and will not proceed with a maximum of 38 tonnes.

Local authorities and their associations have expressed in varying degrees their concern at the Government's proposals. I have a note dated 26th November from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities in which the following is stated: The Association of Metropolitan Authorities is totally against any increase in permitted lorry weights. We are not convinced that the benefits, if there are any benefits, would outweigh any damage to the environment, to living conditions, to our roads and bridges.

In a note which accompanied that statement, I find the following: The Association believes that heavier lorries will cause increasing damage to people's homes and privacy, added danger to pedestrians and further damage to roads, services and buildings".

It would appear that Armitage, the Transport and Road Research Laboratory and the Government all base their acceptance of heavier lorries on tests carried out by the American Association of State Highway Officials—which, if I have to refer to it again in the course of my remarks, I will call AASHO—between 1958 and 1960. This point was raised in the debate we had on the 19th April and I do not want to repeat all those arguments. But even Armitage expressed some uncertainties and I will paraphrase what Armitage said. Paragraph 377 said there was some controversy about measurement of damage by axle weights. Paragraph 379 stated that the fourth power law had been criticised by operators. Paragraph 382 said that assessments of damage made by fourth power law were approximate and that there was still much uncertainty as to how axles damaged roads. Nothing the Government have said has cleared away all these doubts and uncertainties. In the debate to which I referred, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said that the TRRL had examined the AASHO tests and concluded that they were well-designed. From my reference to the TRRL Report 590 it seems that it was an analysis of the position based on the acceptance of the AASHO tests and of the fourth power law. A digest of Report 590 states: The report is a contribution to the assessment of heavier vehicles but does not attempt to evaluate road damage in money terms nor are effects on bridges, road safety, traffic or the environment considered".

In fact, Report 590 of the TRRL states in chapter four: There is considerable debate about the applicability of the fourth power law for certain types of vehicles and road construction, but it has been taken as the best means of calculating the overall damage effects of a changed axle spectrum. There is also uncertainty about the best method for calculating the effects of heavier vehicles on bridges".

We know that many local authorities and their associations have expressed concern in particular about the possible effects of heavier lorries on bridges. The paragraphs I have referred to from Armitage leave room for considerable doubts, and the remarks of Ministers in the other place upon these regulations hardly give grounds for full acceptance of the case.

There do not appear to have been comprehensive tests on road damage by lorries undertaken in this country. The AASHO tests were undertaken between 1958 and 1960 in America. I am wondering whether the EEC before issuing its directive had given any thought to carrying out proper tests on an international basis on this question of road damage. Armitage was very definite in stating that lorries create 15 per cent. additional costs of road construction and that 90 per cent. of damage to roads is caused by lorries.

On one thing there is general agreement, Armitage included; there is insufficient knowledge about the effects of lorries on underground services, pipes, sewers and water mains, and about the effect of vibration by lorries on buildings and road furniture. This matter was raised in a Question in your Lordships' House on 20th October. In a supplementary question, I referred to the need for more research to be carried out into these matters. Armitage had stressed the need for research to be conducted on these matters. Following that Question, the noble Earl, Lord Avon, with his usual courtesy and efficiency, wrote to me and said there was no need to hold up Armitage recommendations for heavier lorries for further research to be carried out. I would say that there is no need to hold up safety and environmental proposals in Armitage in order to get through any proposals for heavier lorries.

A report, which noble lords may have seen, appeared in the Guardian on 24th November, which pointed out the limited use of existing articulated tipper vehicles, and that the experience has been that their use has been unsafe and uneconomic. With the Government's proposals in these regulations, a possible change to a 38-tonne articulated tipper could lead to a substantial shift of bulk freight from rail to road. This would be against the Section 8 provisions which the Government seek to encourage. The report also said that this could lead to a considerable increase in heavy lorry traffic in areas where there are coal mines, gravel pits, quarries or steelworks. This was brought up in the debate in another place on 20th November. I am sure that anyone reading that debate would agree with me that the Minister's replies on that particular point were somewhat unconvincing.

The noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, said in our own debate on 19th April—and with this I agree, and I think all noble Lords would agree—that the first requirement is to take lorry traffic away from the places where people live and work. The Government argue that their plans for by-passing towns and villages will help to do this. But many of the places that need to be by-passed will not be dealt with by 1990. What is the position of other communities, smaller communities, on other than trunk roads? A recent Civic Trust survey stated that only a quarter of communities with more than 500 persons on roads used extensively by lorries were actually by-passed, and that 55 per cent. of those communities which have not yet been by-passed had no plans whatever for bypassing. Incidentally, in our debates, the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, referred to the M25 and how, when completed, that would relieve through traffic. But Armitage made absolutely clear that the M25 would only relieve some 5 per cent. of the lorry traffic now going through London, because all the rest—95 per cent—had business somewhere in the London area.

That leads on to the general problem of lorries coming into towns, something that will not be resolved by lorry routes. Lorries seek access to towns, often using narrow, congested roads for access, for delivery, for collection and for overnight parking. That will not be solved by by-passes. Those vehicles will still need to have access. Neither will it be solved by lorry routes. While lorry routes can be useful, noble Lords will appreciate that what some lorry routes will do will be to transfer the problem from one area to somebody else's doorstep. Also the Government have said nothing in their proposals about possible development of transhipment or break-bulk depots. If we are to have the heavier lorries, surely they will be essential if those same lorries seek to have access to our overcrowded areas.

My Lords, there are many points on which questions have not been fully answered by the Government, and while we want to see the package to civilise the lorry in many ways carried through, this should not be in order to get through at the same time heavier lorries, with all the accompanying menaces for our environment.

6. 17 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, should have taken time this evening largely to repeat the arguments that he laid before us in our debate on 19th April. He has added nothing new, whereas the Government and the media generally have answered many of those questions. Of course, the real reason is that those who are opposed to lorries will remain implacably opposed to lorries, whatever is done. But, of course, they cannot escape the fact that lorries are part of our life without which we would not survive. The noble Lord, Lord Stone, shakes his head; he shook his head in April. I do not know how he thinks he can compulsorily transfer freight from road to another mode if we live in a free society, because at the end of the day it is the consumer who chooses the mode, and consumers have progressively chosen, for a variety of reasons, the road mode. That British Rail should succeed in increasing their share of the market I hope most fervently—and I really do mean that—because there are undoubtedly a great many substances and varieties of goods which might be better carried by rail. But they will have to alter their practices, their pricing, their mode of operation, to suit the customer who pays.

This is the first complete package of proposals brought before the country in, I think, post-war years. As such it is to be welcomed. We have had two attempts before, the Dykes Act and the Foster Report, but neither of those in fact attempted to make any kind of balance between on the one hand the "no lorries at any price" lobby, and those who want to go all the way. This package, I believe, does.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, spoke about public resentment against the existing lorry. Of course, there is resentment against the existing lorry; it does intrude into our lives and has done so progressively. This is precisely why in 1979 this Government set up what is now known as the Armitage Inquiry. There are those who say that Armitage started off by being biased. I do not accept that at all. Armitage produced a whole range of options, of which the Government have selected those most beneficial to meet both sides of the argument.

The measures might perhaps be described as being those against the lorry or, it might be truer to say, to improve the lorry itself—braking, under-run guards, splash guards, silencing, and so on—for which the industry itself will have to pay. To ensure that the industry pays its fair share of track costs, because there is no subsidy any more, the licensing fees have been quite dramatically altered. In fact, if one takes a typical 32-ton 4-axle articulated vehicle, prior to the March 1982 Budget an annual licence cost £1,200. Since October of this year, with the introduction of gross vehicle weight taxing, it is £ 1,820—a net increase of about 40 per cent. on licensing alone. Do not let anyone be persuaded that the industry is not going to pay for the improvements which the environmentalists are, quite rightly, asking for and even demanding.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asks why we have not gone to a 44-ton 6-axle lorry which, as Armitage points out, will do even less damage? Probably the real reason is that the various benefits that might accrue could easily be offset by the non-benefits. The noble Lord talked about the numbers of lorries. He will recognise, I am sure, that the biggest increase in the number of lorries always ends up at the heavier end of the spectrum. The figures that I have taken out show that between 1960 and 1979 there was a net reduction in the number of lorries on our roads, although it must be admitted that in 1965 there was a slight increase. There is no doubt that, unless alternative modes of transport are sufficiently competitive, when there is an upturn of business and when the factories are churning out more goods, road transport will play the appropri- ate part that it has always played in being an extension of that production line and there may well be a return to larger numbers.

Having said that, there is no doubt that as Armitage and the Government have made abundantly clear, there are huge cost benefits to be gained to two or three elements. The first is to the consumers of goods because if road transport costs, which are a significant part of the end product price, can be reduced, halted or curtailed that will be reflected in the price in the shops. There is no doubt about that. There will be benefits to the industry itself. Those benefits will pay for the improvements that we are looking for. It is estimated that reducing the decibel rate of noise can progressively cost the industry up to £120 million a year. That is £1.2 billion over 10 years, to use the phraseology of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and is a considerable amount of money. The improvements in braking, under-run guards, and so on, are estimated to cost about £40 million. All those improvements must be paid for and it is not unreasonable to suppose that the money should be earned by increased carrying capacity and increased efficiency.

I asked a colleague of mine in the transport industry to conduct a short and very small survey. Yesterday he gave me the result of a visit to South Wales where he talked to 80 operators. Of those 80 operators, only four said that their kind of business would warrant going into the 38-ton, 5-axle vehicle. People do not jump into this size of vehicle for the fun of it. A tractor unit alone costs about £40,000. A refrigerated trailer costs about £45,000. The cheapest all-purpose trailer, other than the platform-to-container, costs about £25,000 and one must bear in mind that the life of such a piece of equipment is not much more than five or six years. People do not buy heavier vehicles to carry heavier loads just for the fun of it. They do so because there is a need. The British Chamber of Shipping reminds us in a broadsheet issued a few days ago that, current road restrictions in the United Kingdom apply only to the first or last few miles of a journey that may be of many thousands of miles since containers are shipped all over the world. United Kingdom exporters are therefore forced to use more containers than necessary with a consequent unnecessary increase in freight cost and are disabled from competing with their continental rivals on the same terms". Therefore, they are looking for this benefit. The last area of benefit, of course, is for manufacturing industry. I know that my noble friend Lord Montgomery has something to say about that.

These things are for the benefit of all of us. There is no doubt that a quieter vehicle, with the additional axle, better braking, splash guards and all the other things that are contained in the regulations and the other proposed regulations, is of benefit to the community. So at the end of the day there has to be a balance. Whether noble Lords who oppose these regulations feel that the balance has not been fairly struck is entirely up to them. They will form their own opinion. I think, perhaps in my heart of hearts, that the balance has not been fairly struck. I should have liked to see a bigger lorry, but not bigger in size because the Government have made it clear that, apart from the half-metre on the tractor unit only, the lorry must not be bigger. In this context, when I say bigger I refer to the load-carrying capacity. I should have liked to go further, but one cannot always have it all one's own way.

The Government have proposed—it is in the regulations and quite clear—for the very first time ever that trailer lengths may not exceed existing lengths. Therefore, there will be nothing bigger there. For the first time the Government have set out width and height limits. So lorries cannot get bigger. I say to my friends in the haulage industry that it is now for them to make sure by the general appearance of their vehicles that they are less obtrusive than hitherto. That is the area from where most of the argument comes. A friend of mine told me the other day that one seldom hears a complaint about an articulated lorry in the Guinness livery, or in a petrol company livery, because people can identify with the need for the goods to arrive at a certain destination; their petrol station, their home-heating plant or the local pub. Where the intrusion to the eye occurs is with that unidentifiable box on an unidentifiable vehicle that is dirty; that has waste paper, perhaps—I make no criticism of that industry, I just use that as an example—spilling out of it. That is where the intrusion comes in.

For those who argue, yes, but, they should not go through towns and villages, of course they should not go through towns and villages. I hope that my noble friend the Minister is going to remind the House of exactly how many miles of new lorry routeing, motorway or otherwise, of how many bypasses, and so on, are going to be constructed perhaps before the end of this decade. The relief comes in moving them away as well as in lessening the numbers. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, made some play with this fourth power rule, and he quoted the TRRL reports and Armitage, as indeed he did in April. He then asked why there had not been comprehensive tests in the United Kingdom. I cannot see the point of embarking on an exercise to confirm what the AASHO tests have shown. These tests, however imperfect one body or one group may see them to be, have worldwide acceptance. Until somebody produces something better, we should go along that route.

There is one particular point on which the noble Lord touched, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, also raised it in our April debate—that is, as regards large, heavy lorries going into towns, where are the proposals for the transhipment, break-bulk depots?—because we have not heard too much about them, although I think that the noble Lord opposite will remember that I mentioned the Penrith depot. There have been two others since April; one in the West Country, and the other escapes me at the moment.

If perhaps British Railways with some of their surplus land could be brought together with some local authority and some central Government help, and with private sector finance, we could easily see these depots being built, though again there are objections to where they are going to be built, because they have to be built near the towns. Then we might get away from that problem. That would enable local authorities to implement more effectively the proposals contained in the so-called Dykes Act.

If the Government have not gone quite as far as everybody would wish, there are two sides to that point. I believe that these measures go a tremendously long way towards meeting the complaints against the large lorry. I believe that it is up to the railways—they have the Section 8 grants, and some have been made already—and they have the opportunity. I do not believe that in our kind of society an opportunity should be provided by denying other people their opportunities. At the end of the day, such denial would appear in our housekeeping bills. That, I suggest, is what nobody in your Lordships' House wants. I believe that the Government have gone as far as at this moment in time they could reasonably go. I should like to see some changes in another five or six years' time when we have assimilated this package. I hope that your Lordships will reject the Prayer in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, it is always difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, in his homage to the heavy lorry. I feel that the lorries versus people argument is often wrongly put—not by the noble Lord, but in front of the general public. That is why I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who has sought in his Motion to annul the regulations to allow us all to question the Government about these regulations in this more general context of lorries and people.

We accept that 90 per cent. of the regulations are necessary, and indeed are welcome. Also, there are factors that will, hopefully, create more employment as a result of them. The position that we take from these Benches is one of whether the considerations of conservation, environment and quality of life are going to be protected by these regulations and are not just given a sort of blessing by them in words only. It may be worth a moment to say that anyone who talks about the environment, the quality of life, is classified to be on the side of the righteous, and anyone who puts arguments against is considered to be on the distaff side. It is not quite like that when it comes to these regulations.

As I see it, it is in the form of a balance sheet: a balance sheet where on one side the environmentalists are—and I think that is where a majority of sensible people are—requesting more by-passes, and indeed the Government have recognised this, and asking for more heavy lorry parking. We are indeed asking for more depots of transfer in big cities. We are asking for more strengthening of bridges, more safety, more inspectors, more weighbridges, and more heavy rail freight. That is on one side of the balance sheet. On the other side, we want to see whether these regulations are going to produce less damage to pavements, sewers, water pipes, underneath the streets, and to historic buildings which are damaged by vibration, and noise, of which we also want less. We also want less pollution.

In the debate in another place these points were raised by many Members of Parliament. But interestingly enough, having read it, I could not find a single Member of another place who went so far as to welcome these regulations. I think that this was an oversight. They went really to question how it would affect their constituents, who were frightened by heavy lorries. This is a general feeling which is difficult to quantify. There is no doubt on looking at that debate that members of all parties—and most of them seem to have been from the Minister's side of the House—were considerably worried about the effects that these regulations might have.

There was one exception which came from the honourable Member for Hove, Mr. Tim Sainsbury. He argued that the new regulations should improve the flow of baked beans from Wigan to all points south. I am well aware of this feeling of relief that we all have that at least there is one good side to these regulations. The point that the honourable Member was making was not only about the flow of baked beans, but that the flow of this kind of freight would not be affected by the regulations. The load would be evenly distributed over all the axles.

One of the doubts raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and by many Members of another place, is this: when there is a mixed cargo on one of these heavy lorries, how is one to ascertain whether the loading is correctly distributed over the axle? That can only mean more weighbridges. I believe that of the 800 weighbridges now installed in the country, 200 are not suitable for that kind of assessment. Thus, my first question—this follows the queries raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—is whether the new regulations, when they become effective, can be tested at all weighbridges, and how many of the present weighbridges contain equipment for assessing whether the load in a closed container is properly distributed.

To paraphrase an intervention in another place by Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson, the Member for Newbury, a study by Cambridge econometrics suggested that an increase of £500 million in civil works, such as road, water and sewerage works, would produce 40,000 jobs in construction and 20,000 in the construction supply industry. Those jobs could be achieved at a cost of £2,300 each, compared with £3,100 for a job through equivalent spending on employment subsidies, or £5,000 for an unemployed person. Will the regulations do anything to progress the very necessary civil works which are now outstanding throughout the country, and which are directly related to the increased density or increased weight of traffic which will occur as a result of the regulations?

The Minister of Transport, Mr. David Howell, said in another place that since the Armitage Report we had added by-passes to the trunk Toad programme to the value of £200 million and approved transport grants of £245 million for local by-passes, and the Minister said he hoped to approve an extra £154 million for 1983–84. "This is big money", he said. By my arithmetic, that comes to about £600 million. I would like your Lordships to bear that figure in mind because the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mrs. Chalker, said that the 38-tonne lorry would, from the outset, cover 100 per cent. of the road track costs. My question is: will the £600 million in works specified by the Minister of Transport be covered by the duties and road taxes imposed on heavy lorries?

I ask that question because the Under-Secretary was categoric that the regulations would pay for themselves and there would be no subsidy element in road track costs. I find that difficult to accept, although 1 should be pleased if the Minister would confirm it for me. I would go further and hope that this is not just the end of the number of by-passes that require to be built. There remain outstanding a great number for which plans have been made but for which no allowance has been made on the financial side. I understand, further, that another £ 100 million is required for the strengthening of bridges. Is that also covered by the taxes paid by the road haulage industry?

Is it possible, as Armitage implied, that a 4 to 5 per cent. switch of heavy freight traffic from road to rail would solve many of British Rail's freight problems and, indeed, bring about its profitability? Bearing in mind that about 70 per cent. of all heavy freight on the Continent is carried by rail and only 44 per cent. of heavy freight is so carried in this country, it seems that a very small change in policy is needed—with, I imagine, only a small incentive—to bring about a loss-to-profit situation, as put forward by the rail industry.

I wish to finish with a generalisation, one which may extend the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I spent two weeks in the great city of Los Angeles, a city dedicated to and designed around road transport. They are now faced with the immense problem of installing a railway; they wish to run one from the airport to the centre of the city and a railway from the city centre to San Diego. The wayleaves or rights have gone; there is nowhere in that great city where they can put a railway system which they now find they require.

My worry is that if the enthusiasm which Her Majesty's Government now seem to have for road transport goes too far, the time may come, as the rail system and routes are closed down and the tracks are used for other purposes, when they may be required again. I would give, as only the one example, the line from Stranraer to Dumfries, which I fought to keep open in 1959 when I first stood as a candidate in Galloway. Once the systems are shut, they are unable to be reopened. If Los Angeles is now thinking of installing a rail system, rather late in the day, I am wondering whether our Government will protect the rail system in this country for the future, or whether they will go further with the roadification, if I may use that word, of rail routes.

In The Times today I read that the Government's Centre for Policy Studies, or Think Tank, has taken on a Mr. Ibbotson, a retired railway chairman—of Southern Region, I believe—mainly, it seems, because he has written a book in which he has suggested that the railways should be converted into roads for highspeed buses and lorries travelling at about 80 m.p.h. with specially trained drivers. May I ask the Minister to indicate the terms of reference of the Centre for Policy Studies with regard to plans for using railways for more roads? Is it the Government's intention to use the new 38-tonne lorries on converted rail tracks?

Would the Minister also give some advice about speed limits? I am interested to note Mr. Ibbotson's suggestion that high-speed buses and lorries should travel at 80 m.p.h. down converted railway lines. The present speed limit on motorways for heavy lorries is, I understand, 60 m.p.h. Would the Minister confirm that? Would he also confirm that it is the same limit for long-distance buses? Why was it that during the rail strike, when I had to drive to Scotland, between the Preston and Carlisle section of the motorway I had great difficulty in overtaking buses doing in excess of 100 m.p.h.?

Noble Lords


Lord Tanlaw

Perhaps I may have temporary leave to exceed the speed limit, my Lords. What is the speed limit for long-distance buses on such routes, and how well is it monitored? I ask that because it is difficult for private vehicles to proceed along motorways, often in difficult conditions, when, as I say, buses are travelling in excess of 100 m.p.h. The Minister will perhaps give consideration to those points when replying to the debate.

6.49 p.m.

Viscount Sidmouth

My Lords, the regulations which are the subject of this debate have been presented by the Government as though they were a long-needed charter for the proper control of heavy lorries, with the hope, no doubt, that any dissentient voice will either be silenced or else dismissed as being opposed to a package so desirable from an environmental point of view. Without doubt, most of us would agree that reduction in noise, better safety regulations, more by-passes, and taxation related to damage caused, are very desirable objectives. But they are all very much required in relation to the large fleet of existing 32-tonne lorries, to which in fact very few of the provisions of the package would apply. What we are actually being offered are some declarations of intent to sugar the pill of the introduction of the 38-tonne lorry.

Of course, the Minister has for some time been under pressure to increase the maximum permitted weight of lorries in this country by up to 35 per cent., and he has yielded to this to the tune of about 17 per cent. Since the size of the trailer is very rightly not to be increased, the extra traffic to be won for road transport will be largely the kind of tonnage loads which are currently transported in the main by railways and waterways, and of which, most people would agree, less, not more, should be carried by road.

There is a suggestion that the introduction of heavier lorries would mean fewer such vehicles on the roads. It might be so temporarily if 38-tonners could overnight be substituted for existing 32½-tonners. But by the time that the changeover could be completed, the only effect would be that any possible reduction in numbers would have been overtaken by the further transfer to roads of traffic from railways and waterways.

In introducing the regulations and the so-called package, the Government admit that the environmental cost of road transport is already too great and must be reduced. They do not really spell out the material cost of doing that, but it will be high. Most of the items listed are already overdue at the present rate of traffic. Research into noise reduction has been in hand since 1971, and prototypes halving noise levels to 80 decibels were demonstrated four years ago. Noise tests for lorries could, and should, be introduced now, and certainly not await the "further research" advocated by the Government.

Improved braking performance to conform to EEC standards is also long overdue, bearing in mind that a 38-tonner, at a speed of 50 m.p.h., which is recommended in the Armitage Report, will generate an increase of 71 per cent. in impact force, as compared with an existing 32½-tonner at 40 m.p.h.

Sideguards and rearguards are also welcome improvements, though they will not effect existing lorries. Finally, in this regard the need to do something about spray is acknowledged, but presumably this, too, will have to await "further research". Enforcement of the new regulations will have to be strict, and will entail increases in the establishment.

Turning to the question of access, I would say that the addition of 20 by-passes is welcome. However although some 200 are, I believe, under construction or in the pipeline, even this total is less than half the number which, it has been estimated, are urgently required. In my opinion it will certainly be the end of the century before they can all be completed. Even so, the problem of access will remain. As the Armitage Report made clear, the essence of road transport is its door-to-door facility, without the need for transhipment. If this is to be maintained, the heavy lorries will still require access not only to towns and cities, but also to villages and country lanes. "Taking the lorries away from the people", for which the report also called, however desirable, can be achieved only through a drastic rethinking of the whole basis of road transport.

Finally, we come to the vexed question of damage to existing roads, bridges and underground pipes and sewers, as well as houses and structures. It seems difficult for experts to reach agreement in quantifying the damage, probably because in addition to the axle load, there come into the equation a number of other factors, such as speed, springing, load distribution, and many others. However, it seems reasonable to suppose that bridges—certainly those over 20 metres in length—will be adversely affected by increased lorry weight, and many will need strengthening. Vibration, which affects underground services as well as structures, must also have a correlation with weight.

It should be borne in mind that the specification for the new 38-tonner yields a "standard axle" of 1.96, which is 25 per cent. more than the "standard axle" of the existing 32½-tonner. Furthermore, the amendment permits an increase in axle weight to 10.5 tonnes, despite the assurances that no increases would be allowed. It is difficult to believe that the increases will not lead to greater damage.

All in all, the heavier lorries will place a heavy burden on the public purse in the form of structural damage or the improvements necessary to prevent it. In the past this element appears to have been underestimated, or played down. A current case in point—there are several cases that one could quote—is that of the premature and costly repair programme which has been found necessary for the Severn Bridge. While it is true that some of the programme is due to an underestimate of the amount of traffic using the bridge, I understand that there has also been a failure to appreciate the amount of damage that it would actually cause. I believe that the raising of the maximum weight of lorries to 38 tonnes has not been justified and that its cost in material and environmental terms has not been fully spelt out. Therefore I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for bringing forward the Motion, and I support it.

6.56 p.m.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for giving us the opportunity to press the Government on some of the points arising from the regulations. Speaking as a predecessor of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, in the Department of Transport, I personally am convinced of the economic arguments for heavier lorries, but in the absence of any real indication by the Government of much speedier implementation of the necessary environmental improvements, I cannot at this stage give my unconditional support to the regulations.

I accept all the arguments put forward by the manufacturers and the road haulage interests, but I believe that the environmental impact also must be considered. We are worried about the inadequacy of our existing roads to carry the larger vehicles and the heavier loads. We believe that there will be a need for massive public expenditure on the reconstruction of some of our existing roads, and since the Government's philosophy is one of minimum public expenditure, how can we be sure that they will cope with the problems—and cope with them quickly?

We need many more bypasses before the heavier lorries ought to be approved. I accept that this is an integral part of the package now being offered, but why cannot we have more bypasses before the weight is increased? We should like to see more freight moved on to the railways, and we welcome the increase in the greater availability of the Section 8 grants. We should also like to see our major rivers and our inland waterways used much more for freight transport, and thus take some of the juggernauts out of our cities and villages.

What about the timescale for all the environmental projects that really are needed? The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, referred to the noise element. We used to talk about having quieter lorries in the 'eighties. It seems to me that we are now beginning to talk about having quieter lorries in the 'nineties. Can we really expect determined action from the Government on noise levels—and quickly—and are the Government willing to give even financial help, if necessary, for more research into noise levels?

When are we to have more weighbridges and more traffic examiners? All three of the major local authority associations have said that they are against the regulations, and in one of its documents the AMA has suggested that 25 per cent. of the vehicles that are now inspected are overloaded. Will there necessarily be less overloading with the increased weight limit? Will the future enforcement procedures be better than those that we have at present? Will the required staff be trained—and quickly—and will the money be found to do that?

We are also concerned, all of us, about the effect of the juggernauts and other heavy traffic through our inner cities, through our historic town centres, and through our lovely old villages. We are worried, too, about damage from vibration—not only to our historic buildings, but to the homes of people who live on the lorry routes. Lorry action areas have been referred to, but how long will it be before we get them? As I understand it, consultations are only just beginning.

Meantime, how do we prevent the heavy lorries finding their own alternative routes through residential areas when the main routes are congested? What help is going to be given to the local authorities to provide parking facilities for lorries? Too often they park outside the home of the driver and, because of their size, outside his neighbours' home as well. They wake everybody up when the lorry starts off in the early hours of the morning; and sometimes, if they are refrigerated vans, they keep everyone awake at night. It is not possible to implement an overnight parking ban for lorries until the local authorities are able to provide conveniently situated lorry parks.

These are problems that have been with us for a long time, and they are not going to go away; but I think the Government have to accept that if these regulations are approved then, to be sure of having public support for the heavier lorries, they must come up with a much more convincing programme of environmental protection and safeguards than we have seen or heard to date.

7.1 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I must first apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for not being in my place when the debate started. I understand there was a somewhat rapid change in the tempo of the previous debate, and my intelligence on the subject was clearly quite inadequate. That is by way of explanation rather than being an excuse; but it means that I did not hear all that he said, and I shall naturally read it tomorrow with interest.

It is difficult to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, as she is a considerable expert on environmental matters. Indeed, I have listened to her previouly in this House on this subject, and even earlier, when I was concerned with local government. But I think that there are still misconceptions about lorries and the damage they do. The fact of the matter is that lorries are here to stay; we cannot halt the wheel of progress. This was put much more eloquently than I can put it by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth.

Furthermore, one does not need to look at lorries totally in isolation. Of course railways are important. The fact of the matter is that rail freight in Europe is on a massive scale, but this has not precluded a major development in road freight transport as well. These things can, and indeed do, run in double harness; and in the sort of society that we are trying to create in this country it is, as my noble friend Lord Lucas said, ultimately the consumer who will make the decision.

I was also interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, had to say. I think I ought to point out to him that Los Angeles is rather a different proposition from Stranraer; and however optimistic may be the projections about Stranraer, I do not think it will equate with Los Angeles until well into the 22nd, if not the 23rd, century.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for giving way. The point is that it has already happened in Stranraer. There is no railway between Stranraer and Dumfries.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

That may be, my Lords, but it does not mean that there could not be in the future. As to the other point which the noble Lord made—and I think that perhaps this is a personal matter—it may be he should take to flying. I appreciate, of course, that, if he does take to flying, at its present speed it will actually be slower, but it might be safer.

For my part, I welcome these regulations, and I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Avon on their introduction. As he will remember, ever since the debate on the Armitage Report initiated by Lord Underhill in April, I have been pressing him, by means of both oral and written Questions, that something should happen, and it is very gratifying that the egg has finally been laid. Of course, the egg may not appeal to everybody—nothing ever does—but it will certainly be welcomed very widely by manufacturing industry. It will be welcomed, not only by the heavy goods vehicles manufacturers; it will be welcomed also by the suppliers of parts and components, and all the many ancillary industries which are part of the heavy goods and transport industry.

In this context, of course, 40 tonnes would have been more desirable than 38. Forty tonnes is the maximum weight allowed on the Continent, and it would have been more sensible to go for the same regulations as are in force in the EEC. But 38 tonnes is very acceptable, and it is at least a decision. In fact, what industry wanted was decision on this matter, and decision we have finally had. For that reason, I hope the Government will reject the Motion moved this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill.

7.6 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, I shall be even more brief than I thought I was going to be. I think your Lordships have listened to a very high standard of debate so far. I cannot consider myself in any way technically minded so as to be able to enter into some of the arguments that have been put forward, and there is very little room for original thought. But I believe this order to be sound, comprehensive and sensible, and the reasons are simple. For one reason, the distribution costs in relation to the overall cost of a manufactured product are high. Perhaps I am oversimplifying this, but, surely, allowing lorries to carry heavier weights will, hopefully, mean that prices can be held and, therefore, that inflation can be kept down, especially concerning food prices, in which respect, undeniably, I think, this Government have a very good record.

Before one gets on to the subject of roads, surely one has to take account of pollution. With these more modern lorries, the risk of pollution is very much less. I think that we as a nation have a fear, or anybody has, really, of anything being big or larger than ourselves. It is a sort of psychological paradox. What is more, people have always become terribly fussed and worried about lorries. In fact, I think one feels a jolly sight safer crossing a road when there is a lorry coming, rather than a car, because one knows that it is going to stop. On the whole, the drivers are better; and the modern lorry is less likely to stink than the average car.

One is also delighted to see the higher priority given to by-pass schemes. If we err as a nation, we do so by trying so hard to please everybody, which is impossible. One can think of many towns and villages where a by-pass is so overdue and where one would have gone ahead if there had not been endless complaints, some petty complaints, by some people. I think people always agree that there is a need for a by-pass, but never that it should be anywhere where it can affect them. In the end, when by-passes or motorways have been built, there have been few grumbles because, on the whole, they are constructed with taste and, in some cases, even with elegance, especially when it comes to bridges.

It is not necessarily lorries which make for congestion; it is still, I am afraid, the private car. Furthermore, as to transferring things to another mode of transport, to rail, that is a very old argument. When you consider the number of railways being closed, in consequence there are very few left, and they are not the ones which would be terribly suitable for freight, anyway. They are generally branch lines, which would not carry much freight. Therefore, I would agree with most of your Lordships tonight in supporting the Government, and I regret, on this occasion, not to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill.

7.10 p.m.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, in speaking to these Regulations, S.I. 1982 No. 1576, perhaps I may thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for giving the House the opportunity to discuss them, and also for his presentation, which was very modest and very equal-handed at the beginning. At the same time—something which I confess I forgot to do last week—may I congratulate the noble Lord on his appointment as Deputy Leader and say how nice it is to have him in that capacity?

My Lords, emphasis this evening has been placed on the need to protect people, buildings and the environment from lorries and, particularly from annoyance, as well as on capacity—and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, made this point. The Government share that concern. The whole community has been worried and is worried, and recognition of the seriousness of the problem and of the fact that action is needed has been the basis of the Government's approach throughout. That is why I look this afternoon for support for this package, which, for the first time, makes a comprehensive, practical attack on the problem.

The Government are determined to control lorries and to grapple with what was threatening to become an intolerable situation. What we are talking about is the quality of people's lives: the choice to live relatively free from danger, dirt, damage and disturbance. Almost every Member of this House knows the problem from his own experience. Disturbance by traffic generally and lorries in particular is a matter of consuming concern in many communities throughout the land. The problem has not been evenly spread. Fortunately, many of the lorries have gone by motorway and high quality roads away from residential areas and shopping streets. Nevertheless, too many people have been badly affected.

All this has happened with existing lorries. This is the key to the whole lorry situation. Lorry problems are here with us now. They are not some figment of the future which will be created by heavier lorries. It is the failure to understand it which has put so many people, people committed to protecting the environment, on the wrong side of the argument. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, spoke about the balance sheet. I hope that, as I go through my remarks, he will see that the pluses really are the commitment which we intend to fulfil. If I may explain, first, the Government set up the Armitage Inquiry. It is worth going back to that report. It was Armitage which first authoritatively described the causes and consequences of the growth in lorry traffic and the effect on people and the environment; and the committee mapped out a way forward. They concluded that there must be improvements to cope with the effects of existing lorries. They made 58 detailed recommendations. We have accepted, in whole or in part, 51 of them and gone beyond some of them. Armitage did not make the mistake of concentrating on the weights issue. It produced a comprehensive package of measures, covering the whole spectrum of the environmental, safety and economic effects of lorries.

But this debate has, rightly, paid attention to the weights issue. It bears repetition perhaps that Armitage saw an updating of our outmoded weights regulations as helping the environment. I should like to quote the final paragraph: We strongly believe that the measures which we recommend provide a way of significantly reducing the effects of lorries on people and the environment without putting at risk the vital rôle of road freight transport in our economy. They enable us to gain economic advantages and substantial environmental advantages. They considerably reduce the effects of heavy lorries on people and the environment. Heavier lorries help in the improvement. Heavier lorries, even when considered in isolation from the wider changes affecting all lorries, would bring both economic and environmental benefits. The validity of that conclusion, and the supporting evidence for it, have not been seriously challenged. And the Government accept the fundamental analysis and main recommendations of this distinguished inquiry. But I submit that there has been much more to it than that.

In the light of the Armitage Report, the Government published last December their White Paper, Lorries, People and the Environment, which set out their basic approach. But, since then, we have very substantially improved on our package of measures. We really have listened to and responded to the representations which have been made. When I say "responded to", the sheaf of press notices which the noble Lord produced might have some relation to this. The package deals with three main themes: improving the lorries themselves; controlling and influencing where they go; and enforcement of standards.

We have reduced the proposed increase in the maximum weight of 5-axle articulated lorries from 40 tonnes to 38 tonnes. My noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Montgomery reflected the opposite view to this. However, I am sure that this is the prudent course. The great bulk of the economic benefits, the cost savings, from heavier lorries can be obtained from 38-tonne lorries. British industry has relatively little call for 40-tonne, as opposed to 38-tonne, lorries. Individual 38-tonne lorries on 5 axles are no more damaging to the roads than existing 32.5-tonne lorries, and overall will mean there is less damage done to the roads to carry the same amount of freight.

We have abandoned altogether the proposal to increase the weights of 4-axle articulated lorries to 34 tonnes. This has disappointed many hauliers who wanted to use their existing lorries at higher weights without alteration. But the Government are not prepared to allow any lorries which will do more damage to the roads than existing lorries. We have abandoned any suggestion that there should be an increase in the weights of drawbar trailer combinations—that is, lorries pulling trailers. These are little used in Britain, in contrast to the Continent. Nor is there any question of our accepting lorries which would cause substantial additional repair costs to bridges. One or two noble Lords quoted from the AMA. Perhaps I may quote from the Association of County Councils, a major bridge owner. They have accepted that 38-tonne lorries, as proposed, cause no additional damage to bridges overall, and that where problems do exist, these are generally caused by existing traffic. I might add that the ACC, which represents the great majority of highway, traffic and planning authorities in the country, has welcomed broadly the Government's package of measures.

We are making lorries safer. From last month, higher braking standards were required. Sideguards and rearguards are to be mandatory. We have gone beyond Armitage in committing ourselves to a mandatory requirement to cut down spray, as soon as a standard is agreed in BSI. Lorries are being made quieter. From April the limit for the heaviest lorries will be reduced from 91dbA to 88dbA. This will be followed by a stricter test method in 1984 which will require all new models to be quietened by up to a further 3 decibels; 38-tonne lorries will have to meet exactly the same, fast improving, standards as 32.5-tonne lorries. And tighter noise limits will also reduce low-frequency emissions, which cause most vibration. There will be further substantial reductions in lorry noise. We are pressing for the fastest possible action by the European Community on this, and putting some £5 million into research contracts as part of the Quiet Heavy Vehicle 90 Project. Even though we improve the lorries, we should do all we can to get them away from people and I think my noble friend Lord Lucas made this point.

So we have taken action on many more bypasses. In the last year design work has been started or resumed on bypasses for nearly 40 more communities. The whole bypass programme is now very large indeed. Altogether 220 towns and villages will have relief from traffic in the next 4 to 5 years. And these are not empty or vague promises. Work is under way. This year, for example, Government financial assistance should enable counties to go ahead with 35 bypasses—and a further 35 next year. By the end of the decade virtually all towns on trunk roads that need bypasses should have them. Since Armitage, we have added bypasses to the trunk-road programme and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, quoted the figures so that I shall not do so now. I shall come back to the point that he raised about it later.

We have taken a tougher line on lorry routeing, backing up advice and encouragement and circulars to local authorities—who rightly have the responsibility because only they have the local knowledge—with financial incentives through a transport supplementary grant. We have also accepted the novel idea of lorry action areas to help especially badly affected places, where re-routeing is not possible. Local authorities have responded enthusiastically. We hope to support 60 schemes in the next TSG settlement, which will be made soon.

We have strengthened the grants to get freight on to the railways and canals where that makes environ- mental sense. The maximum fate of these "Section 8" grants has been increased to 60 per cent. The grants have also been extended to waterways and to Sealink and Freightliner, just as both British Rail and Armitage wanted.

Some people say we should not introduce our package of measures because of the possible effect on BR. But no one, least of all BR, wants artificial protection. What we all want is free and fair competition. We shall tax the 38-tonne lorries fully to cover road track costs from the outset. This will ensure fair competition. And BR envisage that the more generous Section 8 grants will bring them substantial extra business.

We have stepped up enforcement, recruiting more traffic examiners and increasing expenditure on weighbridges by 50 per cent. Many more lorries are being checked now—and perhaps this is the figure that we all ought to look at; 25 percent. more than in 1980. Enforcement authorities can and do detain vehicles and prevent them moving on until their load has been reduced to the proper limits. This is a big deterrent.

It could be argued that all our proposals are desirable and that we should have all of them except for the proposed increase in weights. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, put that point herself. I am afraid that we do not accept this. The increase in weights, as Armitage made clear, itself contributes to improving the environment by reducing the number of lorry journeys for a given amount of freight: fewer journeys to cause disturbance, noise and accidents.

British industry, too, will make big economic savings. The whole of industry agrees. Many individual examples have been given, and those who read Hansard of the other place last week will have seen some. Incidentally, rather than what the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, suggested, I think that the point which the honourable Member for Hove was making was that there would be fewer lorries coming down from Wigan with baked beans on them. A 38-tonne lorry can offer 20 per cent. or more payload than a 32.5 tonne lorry. How can we in one breath tell industry that it must become more competitive and in the next say that it cannot have the means to do so? There will also be a boost for United Kingdom trailer and lorry manufacturers.

If I may now answer one or two points made during the debate, to take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, about the articulated tipper lorries, we expect most of the new and modified tippers to measure within the range 12 to 12½ metres. Although that is marginally longer than the present 11 metres, longer vehicles would still not be necessary to carry the load. This I understand is the view of industry. By having these longer tippers, there will be a reduction in their number; and a quarry, for example, could despatch its product with 23 per cent. fewer 12½-metre articulated tippers at that limit.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, also produced the fourth power rule. If I may, I shall in response confine myself to two points, as my noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned this matter. First, this is an internationally recognised way of calculating road damage used by highway administrations in many countries and, in the opinion of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, gives the best representation of the damage caused by axles of different weights. Secondly, whether the fourth power rule is exactly right—whether it should be, for example, a fifth power rule—is not critical to the question of whether the 38-tonne vehicle will cause less damage. The fact is that the 38-tonne vehicle has one axle that is very slightly—3 per cent.—heavier than at present, balanced by substantially lighter trailer axles. However the calculations are done, the saving in road damage from the trailer with the extra axle is far more significant than the additional damage from the heavier drive axle on the tractor. Armitage concluded that the fourth power law is the best single approximation there is and is universally used by authorities responsible for road design and lorry weights.

The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, made a point about the higher proportion of freight going by rail in Europe. This is mainly because of international traffic which is not available to British Rail. Armitage studied this point. I quote from paragraph 46 of his report: International traffic accounts for over 20 per cent. of all rail tonnage in France and West Germany, compared to 2 per cent.in this country. Indeed, excluding this international traffic, British Rail have the same share of all freight traffic in terms of tonnage as the railways do in France and West Germany and a greater share than on other European railways". The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, also spoke about vehicle taxes. The vehicle excise duty, like other taxes, goes into the general expenses of the Exchequer. The point is that heavier lorries of 38-tonnes will have to pay for all of their allocated road track costs thus ensuring we believe fair competition. The noble Lord also quoted from Mr. Ibbotson. I feel that I cannot comment on an article which was written today in The Times. He also questioned the speed limits on motorways. I must say to him that if he is trying to overtake buses going at 100 miles per hour, he is confessing to something and I hope that parliamentary privilege will allow him to escape from the judges! Next time he sees a bus travelling at over 70 miles per hour he will know that that bus is disobeying the law. The speed limit for lorries is 60 miles per hour on motorways.

The noble Lord spoke about weighbridges. All dynamic weighbridges allow one to weigh individual axles, even of a closed container lorry, so one knows how well the load has been distributed inside the lorry. The modern weighbridges are being installed quickly. We already have 35; we shall have five more soon, and we are looking at sites for a further 80.Ihope that that will give the noble Lord some confidence.

The noble Viscount, Lord Sidmouth, in his interesting speech, suggested at one stage that we had no regulations now on European Community braking standards or their noise. But of course in fact we do because last month we introduced higher European Community braking standards. The present noise regulations will be substantially strengthened next April. The noble Viscount also mentioned standard axles of 38 tonnes and 32.5 tonnes. They produce almost exactly the same pressure.

The standard axle of a vehicle is of course a number representing the amount of damage that vehicle does to the road. It is calculated by adding the fourth powers of each individual axle and dividing by 10,000. If I may give an example, 64+104+84+84equals approximately 21,000. Therefore standard axles from such a four-axled 30-tonne vehicle have a value of 2.1. Noble Lords who have studied Armitage will find that in paragraph 377.

We are debating this evening not only the general issues affecting lorries, people and the environment but also a specific Motion to annul Statutory Instrument 1982 No. 1576. Perhaps I may therefore tell the House very briefly what this contains. It deals with four aspects of the construction and use of heavy goods vehicles. These are: maximum weight, maximum dimensions, the fitting of rear underrun protective devices and the fitting of side guards. I have already gone over the reasons why we have decided to permit an increase in weight. We have also decided, for much the same reasons, that detailed control is necessary of the spacing between adjacent axles. This is achieved by the table set out on page 17. The maximum weight on wheels and single axles are set out in the table on page 13.

The new figures for the length of articulated vehicles and semi-trailers are in the table on page 3. The figure of 15.5 metres is an increase of 0.5 metres on the existing legal limit which, as I have explained, is incompatible with the slightly longer and improved tractor units that have come into use during the past 10 years.

The figure of 12.2 metres, which is 40 feet, controls the length of new semi-trailers to ensure that the increase in permitted total length does not result in any increase in the semi-trailer part of the articulated vehicle. Rear underrun protection is dealt with on pages 4–6.

The provisions on sideguards in regulations 46C and 46D are set out on pages 6–9. This requirement breaks new ground as there is at present no international standard, and only a few countries have the most rudimentary provisions designed to cover the space at the sides of vehicles, to prevent pedestrians and cyclists from getting trapped under the vehicle. Rear underrun protection and sideguards will be a requirement on all new trailers manufactured after 1st May 1983 and all new motor vehicles manufactured from 1st October 1983 and first used on or after 1st April 1984.

Taken together, these provisions will result during the coming years in a progressive reduction in the number of fatal and serious accidents in which heavy lorries are involved. The regulations will reduce the number of heavy articulated vehicles and increase their safety through the fitting of sideguards from next May. Over a longer period all lorries, regardless of weight, will become safer as sideguards and rear underrun protective devices are fitted by the manufacturers. Improved braking standards on new lorries from last month will also help sustain the reduction in accident rates which we have seen over the last decade.

I recognise the genuine concern of your Lordships about the environment. As I said, the Government share it. The regulations, with all our other measures, show that this is one instance where we can serve industry and the environment at the same time. In every single measure in our heavy lorry package the environment has been considered. The package as a whole will be good for British industry, let the lorries run fuller and add an extra axle to make sure there is no extra damage to the roads. In this way we can help industry, jobs, costs and have fewer of the lorries which caused the trouble in the first place. I commend these regulations, my Lords.

7.31 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said, the Motion has provided an opportunity for noble Lords to question the Government, and various noble Lords have taken advantage of that opportunity. I want to comment on just one contribution, that of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, because I must reject what he said—that moving this Motion was opposition to all lorries at any price. I thought I had made that position absolutely clear in the opening words of my speech, but I wish to stress that what many noble Lords and myself seek to ensure is that the lorry is made more acceptable; and a number of speakers emphasised that point as well. There was general agreement, as I expected, to the proposals in the regulations which lead to safety improvement and to environmental improvement. But, as many noble Lords have said, there is a long way to go yet, particularly in dealing with improvements in the environment.

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Avon, for his detailed reply, which I am certain other noble Lords as well as myself will study with keen interest when we read Hansard in detail tomorrow. I hope the Government will take serious note of some of the expressions of concern that have been voiced this evening. I hope the Government will monitor the developments, and I am certain that other noble Lords will themselves monitor what happens when these regulations and other proposals in the Government's package come into effect.

I adhere quite firmly to the criticisms of and objections to the heavy lorries which have been supported by other noble Lords, but I shall not be pressing the annulment of the regulations, which after all have been approved in the other place. I believe the debate has been helpful and I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I stress again my hope that the Government will recognise the serious points of concern which have been expressed. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-six minutes before eight o'clock.