HL Deb 02 November 2000 vol 618 cc1163-5

It shall be incumbent on the driver of a goods vehicle using a weight restricted route to provide evidence on demand to any police officer or member of the Vehicle Inspectorate or Trading Standards Office that he is using the route lawfully.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we return to an amendment which was debated in Committee. It concerns the illegal use of weight restricted routes by goods vehicles. In Committee, there was a long and learned discussion about signage and the effect of signage in making the role of the police easier by enabling them to stop and successfully prosecute the drivers of vehicles which are in the wrong place.

The main reason I am bringing back the amendment is that we also discussed at some length the ability of the police to prosecute the drivers of heavy goods vehicles travelling through weight restricted areas. At that time, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that the police were fully satisfied with the powers they had. Since that time, my noble friend Lord Bradshaw has sent evidence to the Minister about the dissatisfaction of at least one local police force with the situation as it now obtains. It indicates that the law is quite inadequate to enable the police to follow and prosecute the drivers of vehicles passing through weight restricted areas.

Almost no one in this country, wherever living, can be unaware of the misery that can be caused by heavy goods vehicles rat-running through residential areas. It is particularly galling if this is done over weight restricted routes where the vehicles should not be at all. If the police find themselves unable successfully to prosecute such drivers, we need a change in the law. I beg to move.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, the noble Baroness has made an extremely good point. I only wish she had included width restricted routes in her amendment as well as weight restricted routes.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we had a fairly wide-ranging debate on this at an earlier stage, in which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, participated. He claimed, as has the noble Baroness, that the present law is not enforceable and that it is difficult to prove an offence if a matter comes to court. He has indeed cited a police officer to that effect.

Our information and our view is that the power is not necessary. That is a view supported by ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, which we consulted about this proposal, and by the Crown Prosecution Service. There may be some local problems, but I do not believe that it is a national problem.

The present position is that if a lorry is stopped by the police having passed a sign indicating a weight restriction prohibition, the onus is on the driver to show that he was complying with the qualifying plate on the sign which allows exemptions to the prohibition. Any driver who was unable to give a satisfactory planation—for example, by producing a delivery note and so on—would face the prospect of receiving a fixed penalty notice. It is, therefore, in the interests of the driver to show the police that he was not committing an offence by producing that evidence. We see no reason to change the law in that respect.

I accept that there can be a problem with the abuse of weight restrictions, which are frequently introduced for environmental reasons, especially where they prevent lorries taking rat runs through residential areas. But the biggest problems arise where these restrictions have an "except for access" exemption. "Access" can mean stopping to buy a paper. A driver who does that before or after being checked by the police would still be "using the route lawfully" because he had a lawful reason for requiring access. But there would be no documentation that the driver could produce, to provide evidence on demand". as the amendment requires, for what would have been an ad hoc decision to go to buy a newspaper. In such cases, the police would have to follow the vehicle through the area to confirm that an offence had been committed, which does not seem a particularly sensible use of police resources.

The problem with these exemptions lies, in a sense, in the way in which they are phrased. "Except for access" is not a very useful exemption. That is why for the past 10 years my department has recommended to local authorities that they use the "except for loading" exemptions. These restrictions are much easier for the police to enforce because the vehicle has to be collecting from or delivering to a property in the restricted area. The onus is then on the driver to produce a delivery note or other means to show that he had a genuine reason for collecting from or delivering to that area. The police could therefore enforce such an order by stopping lorries which they felt did not have that evidence from leaving a restricted area.

The amendment also envisages powers being given to vehicle inspectors and trading standards officers. But, of course, neither can stop vehicles. That is a power which is vested in the police and that is where it should stay.

Although I appreciate the concerns behind the amendment, we do not believe that this is a widespread problem. If local authorities were to follow our advice on how they should provide notices of exemptions, it would be much easier for the police to enforce them. We all share the objective of better compliance, but I am riot sure that the amendment would lead to that. I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue her amendment.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, the Minister has given a detailed reply. Pending further consideration, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 312 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 313: After Clause 256, insert the following new clause—