HL Deb 20 October 1982 vol 435 cc118-20

2.52 p.m.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they expect to announce their proposals for goods vehicles with particular reference to maximum weights and axle arrangements.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the Government have put forward a comprehensive and improved package of measures to reduce the environmental damage caused by lorries and to make our road freight industry, as well as the firms who depend on it, more efficient. These proposals cover road construction; grants to encourage the transfer of freight from road to rail or waterway; lorry re-routeing and control; lorry action areas to alleviate the effects of heavy traffic; new noise and safety requirements; changes in operator licensing: limits on lorry dimensions; and a new taxation system. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport hopes shortly to announce detailed proposals on lorry weights and axle arrangements, and to bring forward the necessary regulations.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that most interesting Answer, may I say that it does not quite answer the Question? Therefore, I would like to ask him two supplementary questions. First, is he aware that the heavy goods manufacturing industry and related ancillary support industries are suffering from what is in effect a planning blight by the lack of decision in this matter? Is he further aware that the European competition is growing and suffers no such disadvantage, and is in fact making inroads into an area of activity which has formerly been dominated largely by domestic manufacturers? Secondly, may I ask my noble friend if he remembers that in June this year, in answer to a Written Question, he stated that an announcement would be made very shortly? What does that now mean? In the light of the imminent decline of this very important industry, would he not agree that a decision and an announcement is really very essential?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the Government are indeed aware of the considerations my noble friend has put to the House this afternoon. The Government are still determined to press on with the package. We believe that at the moment there is more general acceptance by the public of this package, of which increased weights are a logical part. My noble friend asked me to comment on the expression "very shortly". I find it a little dangerous in this House to comment on dates, but I still think it will take place very shortly.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it is not a fact that the Armitage Report, of which I hold a copy in my hand, expressed uncertainty as to how axles actually damage roads and expressed the view that there was insufficient knowledge on certain aspects; for instance, the effect of lorries on bridges, on underground pipes and on pavements and also the vibration effect on buildings? It expressed the view that there should be more research into these matters. Can we have an assurance that before heavier weights for lorries are introduced this research will be completed?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments. Of course, he is totally correct: the research is going on all the time. As far as bridge damage is concerned, our objectives are to take remedial action to repair damage caused by existing traffic. As he says, we are continuing to experiment with road weights.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Earl, since he mentioned the Goverment's very welcome measures to transfer traffic from the roads to rail and waterway, will comment on the fact that the dock labour boards are in fact blacking any effort to transfer cargo to waterways while not blacking any effort to transfer it to road, on the grounds that it is the equivalent of dock labour?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I cannot confirm what the noble Viscount has said, but it is an interesting comment and I will indeed check up on it. We have recently extended the scheme to inland waterways and also to BR subsidiaries. Freightliner and Sealink, and raised the maximum rate of grant from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent.