Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about the need for cross-Channel rail freight. It is very desirable. I am grateful for the Minister's reply. I shall study his comments carefully. I shall obviously have no opportunity to bring back this matter and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 22 not moved.]

Earl Attlee moved Amendment No. 23:

The noble Earl said: My Lords, some may think that this amendment deals with exactly the same issue as the previous amendment. It does not. The amendment deals with the new attempt by officials to goldplate yet another perfectly sensible EU directive and further alienate the people from the EU.

I do not believe that it is necessary to create any specific offences. No person manufacturing, installing or even operating railway equipment would not want to adhere to the technical interoperability standards. First, there would be no point, as the objectives of the directive are laudable; secondly, the persons involved are highly responsible, and if they were not they would be experiencing severe difficulties with the regulatory authorities; and, finally, if there was a management failure which caused a problem, the HSE would get involved, which has available a wide range of sanctions--and it has sharp teeth.

For the Minister to convince the House that the directive has not been goldplated, he will have to tell us where in the directive it states that the member states must create criminal offences. I have studied the directive very carefully and I cannot find where it suggests that member states should create criminal offences. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, many regulations implementing European Community new approach directives, of which the interoperability directive is an example--other railway directives may also be examples--contain a free-standing regulatory regime which specifies offences and penalties. If the subsections in the amendment were to be deleted, the Government would be restricted to creating offences and penalties only to the extent permitted under the European Communities Act in relation to the

9 Nov 2000 : Column 1745

implementation of directives. In relation to any wider use of these powers, there would be no such powers except in the areas already covered by the health and safety legislation.

As I said at Report stage, we envisage that these penalties will be at a similar level in respect of offences created under regulations made under this clause to those which are already available for enforcement of railway safety, in particular the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The wide scope for the penalties that can be imposed is because existing legislation provides for unlimited fines to be imposed in certain cases. The Government consider it essential, therefore, that similar offences should carry the same penalty, irrespective of which set of legislative provisions apply.

The proper implementation of EU directives requires appropriate steps to be taken to enforce them. That may include criminal sanctions--it frequently does--in relation to directives which deal with safety.

I hope that I have convinced the noble Earl that provisions on penalties and enforcement are necessary in order to fulfil the requirements under this, and potentially other, railway directives. I hope that he will not pursue his amendment.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. As it is unlikely that anyone will be charged with any of these offences, I see little point in pursuing the matter further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 24:

    After Clause 263, insert the following new clause--

("Type approvals: exemptions

. In section 63 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (obligatory type approval certificates, certificates of conformity and Minister's approval certificates), for subsection (5) (power to make exemptions by regulations) substitute--
"(5) The Secretary of State may make provision for securing that, subject to such restrictions and conditions as may be specified by or under the instrument by which the provision is made--
(a) the use of vehicles is exempted from all or any of the preceding provisions of this section for purposes specified in the instrument or in such an area as is so specified,
(b) goods vehicles are exempted from the provisions of subsection (2) above, and
(c) there are issued in respect of vehicles or vehicle parts, in such circumstances as may be specified in the instrument, certificates of temporary exemption exempting the vehicles or vehicle parts from the provisions of subsection (1) above for such period as may be provided in the certificate.
(6) Subject to subsection (7) below, the power conferred by subsection (5) above is exercisable by regulations.
(7) That power is exercisable by order in relation to--
(a) specified vehicles, or
(b) vehicles of specified persons;
and an order under this subsection may be varied or revoked by a subsequent order of the Secretary of State."").

9 Nov 2000 : Column 1746

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment has been brought forward in response to representations on type approval made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, at Report stage.

The current wording of the Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to exempt vehicles from type approval only through regulation. Type approval is a system that is used to harmonise vehicle safety and environmental standards, thereby reducing technical barriers to trade. It is gradually being extended to cover many more vehicle types and more vehicle components.

The amendment, which would replace Section 63(5) of the 1988 Act, gives extra flexibility by adding to the existing regulating power an order making power. This has been limited to specified vehicles and specified persons, thereby distinguishing when regulations and orders should be used. I believe that it meets the noble Earl's concern that specialised vehicles would be caught by type approval.

The added flexibility to exempt vehicles by issuing an order will help ensure that as many generic classes of vehicle as possible are included within the scope of type approval. But where specialised vehicles--for example, prototypes or vehicles which are constructed for specific purposes, such as carrying abnormal loads--could not meet all the type approval requirements, they could be exempted by order. I believe that was the objective of the noble Earl's intervention last time. I thank him for bringing the point to our attention and I trust that the amendment will meet with his approval. I beg to move.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the amendment, and for his detailed explanation. In the overall scheme of things, it is a very small change; but it is a very useful change, and I thank the Minister.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Berkeley moved Amendment No. 25:

    After Clause 263, insert the following new clause--


(" . In the Road Traffic Act 1988, after section 41 insert--
"Compulsory goods vehicle weighing scheme.
41ZA.--(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring the weighing of any goods vehicle using a major road freight facility, port or premises and the provision of a weight report to the driver of the vehicle.
(2) In particular regulations made under subsection (1) may make provision with respect to--
(a) the method of weighing such goods vehicles;
(b) the form and contents of the weight report;
(c) the number of such reports that must be provided to the driver;
(d) the driver signing and returning a prescribed number of such reports to the operator of the facility;
(e) the keeping of copies of such reports by the operator of the facility; and
(f) the production of such copies by the operator on the request of prescribed public authorities.

9 Nov 2000 : Column 1747

(3) Regulations made under subsection (1) may provide for exemptions from the requirement under subsection (1) for--
(a) specified classes of goods vehicles;
(b) specified classes of major road freight facility, port or premises; and
(c) specified circumstances.
(4) A weight report provided in accordance with regulations made under this section may be produced in evidence in any proceedings for an offence under this Part relating to the weight of a goods vehicle.
(5) In this section "major road freight facility, port or premises" means any such facility, port or premises--
(a) having facilities for the carriage of goods by road, and
(b) having an annual throughput of more than 25,000 goods vehicles each exceeding 30,000 kilograms gross vehicle weight,
or more than one such facility, port or premises where they are under common management, control or ownership, share a common access to the highway and together have that annual throughput.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands also in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw.

I have altered the amendment since I brought it forward on Report, to make it even more flexible: to permit under subsection (3) regulations to provide exemptions for places where heavy lorries are weighed. The purpose of the scheme is to reduce accidents and damage to roads and bridges from overweight lorries. In the context of some 3,500 road deaths a year, the best estimate is that about one in five involves a heavy lorry--so we are talking about 700 deaths a year, plus all the serious injuries that are caused. It is clear that overweight lorries cause a disproportionate number of accidents, because they are not capable of stopping and manoeuvring in the same way as those that are not overweight.

It is worth pointing out that road damage goes up to the fourth power of the weight of a vehicle: so, if my maths is correct, a 50-tonne lorry causes 2½ times the amount of damage that a 40-tonne lorry causes. It is significant. In addition, it is unfair on those who obey the law that those who do not can carry extra weight and therefore receive more payload and revenue.

The purpose of the scheme would be to ensure that, where premises have more than 25,000 lorries a year through the gate, all lorries leaving would have to be weighed and the drivers given a print-out of the weight. If the driver chose to continue driving and was stopped by a member of the inspectorate or the police, he could be charged with knowingly driving an over-weight vehicle.

I suspect that, given modern equipment (a dynamic bridge) the weighing can probably be done in much less than a minute. How much would such a system cost? As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said on Report, it would cost about £20,000 to install. So, spread over 20,000 lorries a year, at £1 per lorry, it would almost be paid for in the first year. It is very cheap.

9 Nov 2000 : Column 1748

How many weighbridges would be needed to cover the sites? I have done a check on the major ports, and about 15 ports or port areas would be covered. The best estimate that I can obtain from the industry is that there would be a further 150 to 300 other sites in the UK. Of that number, some, like quarries, already have weighbridges, because they sell their material by weight, as do oil companies. They have a means of measuring the weight because, obviously, they do not want to supply more than they sell. I suspect that such places as supermarket distribution centres would not need them at all and would be given an exclusion, because virtually all their lorries would bulk out before they weighed out. So, I think that in the end quite a small number of weighbridges would be needed. Some of those who operate common user facilities could probably make some money by providing facilities for those whose lorries were found to be over-weight to unload some of their goods and store them for future collection.

So such a scheme is practical. The question is: is it necessary? In 1997, there were about 15,000 convictions nationwide relating to light and heavy vehicles that were overweight. If we take as an example the biggest port, Dover, about 1½ million trucks go through it. I recently heard that, about five years ago, Kent County Council set up a weighbridge in Dover for quite a short time. Over the period of those checks, 40 per cent of lorries that came through the port were found to be overweight. On 20 per cent of those, the county council took action. Even taking a figure of 20 per cent, if it is multiplied by 1½ million, that makes 300,000 convictions a year, had the scheme continued for a year. That is roughly 20 times the number of convictions for the whole of the UK in 1997. The reason the council did not continue the scheme for very long was that, when the Treasury heard about it, I am told that it said, "Ha, ha, we'll have all the fines. We're not even going to allow you to offset the cost of the operation", which was quite significant. So, after a few weeks, the county council thought that it was on a hiding to nothing and that there was no point in continuing.

Dover and other ports are special cases. But according to a Written Answer that I have received, at least 5 per cent of lorries at other sites would be found to be overweight. If we take away those that do not overweigh, it leaves a higher figure.

In response to my amendment on Report, my noble friend Lord McIntosh basically said that such a provision was not necessary and that the Government were doing this anyway. He told us about the design weight compared with the legal limits and about bulking out and weighing out. It is true that 70 per cent of lorries bulk out--which leaves 30 per cent which do not; they weigh out. My noble friend talked about reputable operators, of which there are a great many--though not always, I suggest, through Dover! But there are certainly a large number of reputable operators overall.

I agree with my noble friend that a balance has to be struck. This amendment provides an effective way of doing so. It is cost-effective. If we are looking at a site

9 Nov 2000 : Column 1749

in Dover, and if one machine were enough, if my calculation is right, it would cost less than 10p per conviction. That is good value for money.

What my noble friend did not say last time--this is my reason for tabling the amendment again--was what, if the Government did not like my amendment, they intended to do instead, apart from continuing to talk to the industry. There has to be an alternative. Whatever the commitments in the Government's excellent White Paper, they are being diverted. The commitment to reducing damage to roads and road accidents is being overtaken by the need to placate the truckers. It is ironic that the truckers will probably see very little of the 8p that the Chancellor is alleged to have offered them yesterday. I suspect that it will end up with the major customers; it will probably also end up with the oil companies, which will put up their prices to compensate.

I hope that the Government will at least consider this proposal. If they will not accept my amendment, perhaps they will offer proposals or a timetable for bringing forward some other provision which will enable the large number of overweight lorries to be put in check and brought to justice. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page