HL Deb 01 March 2001 vol 622 cc1275-7

3.7 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they have taken to strengthen resources directed to law enforcement in the road haulage industry as part of a package concurrent with the introduction of 44-tonne lorries.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the Government have been working on a package of additional lorry enforcement measures in consultation with industry and unions in the Road Haulage Forum and its subgroup on compliance and enforcement. The package, which will cost £6 million over three years, includes projects: to increase the number of examiners available for roadside and other checks; to provide equipment to increase the scope and mobility of roadside checks, including weighing machines; to augment advice and education initiatives to prevent offending; to enhance data collection and analysis for targeting purposes; and to improve roadside inspection facilities.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I declare an interest as a member of the Commission for Integrated Transport, which recommended to the Government that 44-tonne lorries should be introduced—which I believe is happening this month. At the same time, the commission said that enforcement measures should be enhanced. Can the Minister confirm that the receipts from O-licences are running ahead of expenditure on enforcement?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct: 44-tonne lorries have been allowed on roads since 1st February, in line with the recommendations from the Commission for Integrated Transport. So far as concerns income and expenditure for Vehicle Inspectorate enforcement, the VI operates on a basis of revenue equalling costs. It is intended that, following consultation, the full cost of the additional enforcement to which I referred will fall on the O-licence income after a transitional period.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I welcome the extra enforcement measures that my noble friend the Minister just announced. Can he tell the House who will pay this £6 billion over three years—will it be the industry or the Government?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend misheard me rather grossly arithmetically: I said £6 million, not £6 billion. The figure is for the administration of the various enforcement enhancement measures to which I referred for extra examiners and equipment, as well as more adequate road-side facilities and their administration. The cost, which will eventually be an ongoing cost, will be covered by the income from the O-licences. We shall obviously have to have a fee review in order to achieve that aim. Such a review will take place later this year.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Home Office consultation paper on road traffic offences is not very encouraging, as it concentrates on penalties rather than the prevention of accidents in the first place? Why is the Minister not paying greater attention to the compulsory re-training of errant drivers?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it is possible that the noble Earl has not read the Home Office consultation paper as carefully as he normally reads such documents. It deals largely with penalties, but included in the latter are options for requiring retraining or the retaking of the driving licence for substantial offences. I agree with the thinking behind the noble Earl's question that, clearly, the whole point of deterrents as regards road traffic management and road safety issues is to ensure that we have better drivers on the road. Therefore, those options are included in the Home Office paper to that end.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Minister mentioned inspection in the package outlined in his Answer. We have recently seen what astonishing damage can be done by a Land-Rover and trailer getting on to a railway track through a crash barrier. Can the noble Lord say whether there is any programme for inspection of crash barriers to ascertain whether they are up to the standard required as regards the 44-tonne weight to which this Question refers?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I should, first, stress that anything that I, or anyone else, may say in this respect has no bearing on the tragic accident that took place yesterday. As my noble friend Lord Macdonald made clear last night, the facts of that accident will be subject to some very detailed inquiries. Until we receive the results of those inquiries, any conclusions on that particular incident are matters only of speculation.

In relation to crash barriers, I can tell the House that there are standards relating to barriers over railways, as applies to bridges in other areas. The Highways Agency and the local highway authorities meet those standards. Clearly there is a continuous upgrading of those standards. Continuous assessments are also made to ascertain whether or not those standards are adequate in relation not only to normal traffic but also to larger lorries. The possibility of a major incident involving a 44-tonne lorry must be taken into account in terms of all road safety measures, including barriers and others.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, in terms of vehicle miles travelled, does the Minister agree that, in general, heavy goods vehicles are probably less likely to be involved in accidents but more likely to be involved in serious accidents? Further, can the noble Lord say whether anything is being done by way of this new supervisory package about driver practices such as, for example, tailgating on motorways, and so on?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct to suggest that driving of HGVs is relatively safe. Nevertheless, because of the nature of the vehicle, when there is an accident it can have very serious consequences. The question of professional drivers was addressed in the road safety strategy that we produced last year. A working party investigating that issue has just produced an interim report relating to the management of professional drivers, including HGV drivers, van drivers and those who drive company cars. It recommended that those concerned should take more responsibility for the way in which their drivers operate on the road, and that, in effect, the kind of requirements on health and safety that are evident in factories and offices should also apply to the management and the practices of employed drivers who are using the road. The statistics for company car drivers are the opposite of that which applies to lorries. Therefore, those findings make the report very important.