HL Deb 02 November 2000 vol 618 cc1165-7

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

"(5A) Regulations under this section shall provide that articulated tanker vehicles designed and used to carry cement can be operated at 48,000 kilograms gross train weight."").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have tabled the amendment in order to make some sense of a Parliamentary Question in another place to which the Minister's honourable friend, Mr Hill, gave a holding answer on 10th July. The question related to the inter-modal competition organised by the shadow SRA earlier in the year. In response to the Question of my honourable friend Mr Jenkin, the Minister wrote: The cement road tanker to be conveyed on the intermodal wagons will have a maximum weight of 40 tonnes to which the traction unit would be added".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/7/00; cot. WA563.]

A three-axle, 44-tonne tractor will weigh about eight tonnes; therefore, the gross train weight will have to be 48 tonnes. Hence the reason for my amendment. At this point I hasten to add that I would be in deep, deep trouble if the Minister accepted my amendment. I do not believe that anyone is proposing to increase the maximum gross train weight to 48 tonnes.

The Minister, Mr Hill, answered a further searching question from my honourable friend on 24th July. My concern is, first, that the figures given do not add up. Secondly, the payload of the road trailer was given as 25.8 tonnes, but the Blue Circle company wrote to me recently claiming that it could achieve a payload of around 30 tonnes. The question the Minister has to answer is, who is right: his honourable friend or Blue Circle?

Since tabling these amendments, I have received some interesting but worrying briefings and interest from the trade press. First, there is the question of the organisation of the competition. I have no problem with the competition in terms of innovation, but the time-scale set was so short as to appear only to favour a solution that was already more or less in existence. Furthermore, is it correct that the winner was selected without ensuring that the safety case could be made to the relevant authorities? The cement trailer appears to be extremely light, even for road, let alone rail use. Is the Minister confident that it is robust enough and could be certified for rail use? Wet leaves are one thing, but wet cement would be something else again!

Finally, what is the status of the Mega 3 rail wagon that is used to carry the cement and other road-going trailers? Is it registered with Railtrack for use on the national rail network? How many of these wagons are in existence and are there any technical difficulties with the wagon itself?

There is no doubt that the piggyback system makes a great deal of sense. I hope that it will be possible to make some of the loading gauge and other enhancements sought by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. If the Minister cannot answer all my questions tonight, I shall not be surprised; however, I hope that I shall receive a letter from him before the next stage of the Bill. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the amendment would add a new clause after Section 41(5) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to allow for the operation of articulated tanker vehicles, designed and used to carry cement, at a gross train weight of 48,000 kilograms.

I do not think that I need to go through the history of how we have announced that we shall allow vehicles of up to 44 tonnes from 1st February 2001, except to say that the decision followed 20 years of discussion and work undertaken by the Commission for Integrated Transport, which conducted the most thorough investigation into the effects of 44-tonne lorries for 20 years. The balance between the damage that might be caused and the benefit of a reduced number of vehicles is part of that investigation.

Now, having taken a decision to allow 44-tonne lorries, we have a proposal to allow 48-tonne lorries. I really do not think that it is reasonable to expect that we should move on in that way. There seems to be no end to this process.

To meet the general increase to 44 tonnes, goods vehicles will have to be equipped with road-friendly suspension and have six axles, three on each unit. The cement carrying vehicles would have no difficulty in meeting these requirements. However, the weight of the tri-axle on a semi-trailer would not he permitted to exceed 24,000 kilograms. I am informed that, in practice, an articulated vehicle weighing 48 tonnes would be required to operate with a trailer tri-axle weight close to 27,000 kilograms if it was to present any goods carrying advantage. I should also say that UK road and bridge infrastructure has not been specifically designed to allow this additional axle weight.

I must also add that EU vehicles are not permitted by EC Directive 96/53/EEC to operate freely within all member states with tri-axle weights above 24,000 kilograms. The use of the vehicles proposed by this clause may, therefore, be viewed by other member states as a barrier to trade.

The noble Earl asked a number of detailed questions, including a reference to correspondence which no doubt I should have seen, but I am afraid that I have not. He suggested, rightly, that I should not be able to answer all his questions on the spot. I shall write to the noble Earl, and I shall certainly do so before the next stage of the Bill, which takes place next Thursday.

We have decided to allow six-axle 44-tonne lorries only after taking careful account of the fact that these lorries cause less road wear than existing 40-tonne, five-axle vehicles. We have balanced carefully the saving in lorry miles against the effect on rail freight. We do not propose simply to move the goal-posts by another four tonnes, as would be provided by the amendment.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's response to the detail of my amendment. The only point I would make about 44-tonne vehicles is that there have been three detailed reports on whether we should go for 44 tonnes: there was the Armitage report in the 1980s, the report of a Select Committee of this House, and now the report of the Committee for Integrated Transport. All have concluded that we should go for 44-tonne vehicles. I look forward to the Minister's letter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 314: After Clause 256, insert the following new clause—