HL Deb 26 July 2000 vol 616 cc529-31

(" . After subsection (5) of section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 there shall be inserted—

"(5A) No order relating to mobile cranes made under this section shall prevent the operator of the mobile crane from carrying a motor bicycle of no more than 250cc displacement with the vehicle."").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 401 I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 409. These amendments deal with totally unrelated issues but I am confident that I shall receive a full reply. Amendment No. 401 seeks to allow a small motorbike to be carried on a mobile crane. Current construction and use regulations prohibit the carriage of anything not strictly necessary for the operation of the crane. However, these cranes are expensive to run and sometimes can be very large indeed. One type weighs 138 tonnes. If a small motorbike could be carried, unnecessary movements could be avoided. I hope the Minister will look favourably at the principle.

I turn to Amendment No. 409. I remind the Committee that I have an interest. Amendment No. 409 deals with the need for a network of roads that can accommodate very high, wide or heavy loads. I am not convinced that sufficient attention is being paid to the need to maintain a suitable network. I believe the Minister is aware of the problem but sometimes highways and bridge authorities are very willing to move the problem somewhere else. That could result in an order for our heavy engineering industry going somewhere else as well. Perhaps the Minister would say what is being done about this problem. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

Amendment No. 409 concerns the movement of abnormal loads. I can inform the Committee that we are already tackling this problem. Officials from my department are engaged in the task of developing and seeking agreements on maintaining a strategic route network for moving heavy and high loads safely and economically. Any system for routeing abnormal loads needs to be flexible to take into account the varying circumstances, the time of the movement, the duration of the movement and the size of the movement. A legislative base, which is what the amendment provides, would be somewhat less flexible than what we hope will be the outcome of the administrative approach which we are already developing. It might preclude the development and use of other transportation systems—for example, on inland waterways—which might help in one instance and not in another. I hope that the noble Earl is reassured that we are administratively beginning to tackle that problem and that he will not therefore press his amendment.

Amendment No. 401 relates to heavy mobile cranes. There is a fairly strict requirement that mobile cranes should not carry anything. I remain to be convinced that a small motorbike should be an exemption from that requirement. Presumably, the intention behind the amendment is that when the operator of the mobile crane has arrived at his destination he can jump on his motorbike and go home. When we are dealing with capital equipment worth several thousands it is not beyond the wit of the operator to ensure that when the crane driver arrives at the site he has a means of transportation home, if that is the problem. I am not totally convinced that what seems to be a minor and convenient amendment for the operator is justifiable in that it could be seen as the thin end of the wedge. There are other ways of meeting that requirement.

Lord Bradshaw

I was interested in the Minister's reply to Amendment No. 409 regarding high and heavy loads. I am desperately concerned about the number of railway bridges that are regularly hit by high vehicles. One bridge between Aylesbury and Bicester has been hit several times this year. There is a tragedy waiting to happen. I hope that the Minister's officials working on the high and heavy load strategy will mark out on the map the bridges that are frequently hit by heavy lorries and will try to ensure that wherever possible routeing avoids them. There is a serious problem.

Lord Berkeley

They should also ensure that the drivers and owners of heavy lorries are prosecuted. When last we discussed this matter the answer given by my noble friend—perhaps it was his predecessor—was that Railtrack would prosecute only in cases of vehicles owned by large companies because those companies would be expected to know the height of their lorries. We need to go further than that. Perhaps I may make one comment on Amendment No. 401. The alternative to a motorbike is a pushbike, for which one does not need a licence.

Earl Attlee

The problem with a pushbike is that it would still not be essential to the operation of the crane. Therefore the mobile crane would not be able to carry a pushbike.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned the problem of bridge bashing. The most significant problem arises when relatively normal vehicles bash the bridge. They are not especially high ones. They are just a little higher than the minimum height limit of the bridge! I am not surprised by the Minister's reply to my first amendment. I am sure that I would have said exactly the same thing if I were in his position. I am very reassured by his response to Amendment No. 409. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 401.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 402 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 403:

After Clause 256, insert the following new clause—