ROAD TRAFFIC (FOREIGN VEHICLES) BILL [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd February 1972.

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10.30 a.m.

Resolved,That if the proceedings on the Road Traffic (Foreign Vehicles) Bill [Lords] are not completed at this day's sitting, the Committee do meet on Wednesday next at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Mr. Eldon Griffiths.]

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I beg to move, That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Road Traffic (Foreign Vehicles) Bill [Lords] ought to be read a second time. The Bill deals with the enforcement of our law on foreign goods and passenger vehicles. Over 30,000 journeys a year are now made in this country by foreign goods vehicles, and more will assuredly come as our trade with Europe increases. These lorries, like all vehicles on our roads, are subject to our laws, but not all observe them. They may be too heavy, too big or even mechanically unsafe; they may not carry the requisite permits; they may not obey our rules on drivers' hours and records. Yet, as matters stand, we cannot effectively enforce our laws against them.

I should not like to exaggerate the scale of the problem, but recent checks at our ports have revealed that as many as half the incoming foreign lorries are not carrying proper documentation, and that as many as 60 per cent. are over-weight. The Committee may be interested to hear of two examples. At Southampton, out of 18 foreign vehicles weighed as they came off the ferry one day last November, 12 were overweight, some by a wide margin. Out of 27 other vehicles checked that day at Southampton for correct documentation, 12 had deficiencies of one kind or another.

Again, at Felixstowe, where I recently watched foreign lorries being examined, the results of a one-day check made there and at Harwich should convince the Committee of the need for a Bill such as this. The vehicles involved in the check came from Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Finland and the Netherlands. Seventeen out of one group of 21 were not carrying the proper documents; 18 out of another group of 27 were over-weight; eight of those which were over-weight weighed more than 38 tons and one weighed 49 tons, as compared with our maximum permissible weight of 32 tons.

I am sure that the Committee will agree that such abuse of our laws must stop. The overloading damages our roads and bridges. There is a potential threat to road safety and to the environment of our small villages and historic towns, as I know from experience in East Anglia. Moreover, a situation in which the foreign operator can get away with excessive weights or with the contravention of drivers' hours is unfair to our own road hauliers, who are obliged to abide strictly by our domestic laws.

It is true that, when we catch these lorries in flagrante delicto, as it were, our examiners attempt to prosecute, but I must tell the Committee that enforcement is difficult and often ineffective. It can prove impossible to serve a summons on the foreign driver during the normally very short time he is in the country. Equally, the foreign owner or operator is usually resident abroad and, hence, beyond the normal jurisdiction of our courts. All we can do at present is, as I know the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) recognises, to report the contraventions to the foreign Governments concerned. That is not an effective sanction, since one has to go through many channels, with all the delay that that involves.

A further disadvantage arises from the system of permit documentation. Some European countries restrict international road haulage across their territory by annually imposed quotas. In the case of British lorries travelling to and from Germany, Italy and France, the quotas of permits available are by any measure inadequate. There has been much complaint about that in the trade. British vehicles going to the countries in question are required to produce their permits, failing which they are not admitted. Yet many foreign vehicles arrive in Britain carrying no permit. That is not only unfair, but it weakens our bargaining position with the Foreign Governments concerned, for, if lorries from those countries come here without permits, their Governments tend to believe, from the evidence of the permits which they issue, that our lorries are carrying a larger share and theirs a smaller share of the trade than is really the case.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I am glad to see that I have the assent of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), who knows a great deal about the matter. The other countries in question are accordingly encouraged to keep their quotas down, to the disadvantage of our hauliers.

However, if foreign vehicles were forced to carry permits, as provided for in Clause 4, the assumptions which I have mentioned would be undermined and our bargaining position on quotas would be considerably strengthened. Indeed, I am advised that we may actually be able to negotiate increased quotas as a result of the passage of the Bill. That would clearly be very helpful to our international road haulage industry and to British exports.

Taking into account, therefore, the threat posed by over-weight lorries to the structure of our bridges and roads and to historic town centres, the unfairness to our own operators, and the bargaining point with regard to quotas of which I have been speaking, the case for bringing the foreign lorry more closely under control becomes both compelling and urgent.

As well as lorries, there are buses. Buses and coaches are coming here in increasing numbers as the tourist trade develops. There is little evidence that foreign public service vehicles offend against our legal requirements, but, while strengthening our enforcement powers, it seems prudent to include coaches and public service vehicles. Indeed, though foreign public service vehicles are at present exempt from our licensing provisions, the European Conference of Ministers of Transport, which I know the right hon. Gentleman to have attended on occasion, has resolved that a control document will henceforth have to be carried on all internation journeys by buses as well as by lorries.

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

The Minister referred to several foreign countries. I have myself seen such large vehicles coming direct from countries such as Spain and have wondered whether they contravened regulations. For example, they bring perishable goods from Valencia direct to our provincial markets. Also, how does the Bill fit in with the Common Market?

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I should like to deal with that point later in my speech, since I know that it is one upon which the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park, among others, wishes to touch. As regards Spain, the short answer is that a number of countries in sending their lorries here would normally require them to observe their own domestic laws. But, unfortunately, in a number of checks which we have made in this country, we have found that the vehicles contravene not only our laws, but even the stricter weight and size laws of their own countries. It may well be that our inspection, if not our enforcement, is better than theirs.

There is no reason to expect opposition to the proposals in the Bill from the foreign Governments concerned. They have already specified in the bilateral road haulage agreements that our road traffic laws are to be observed by their operators visiting this country and that if their hauliers break our laws they must take the legal consequences.

I am glad to say that the European Economic Commission has been consulted and it, too, makes no objection. There will be no conflict with any obligations resulting from our signing the Treaty of Rome and accepting the Community's relevant regulations. There will be no attempt to afford protection to our trade by this means. There is no attempt in the Bill, or within the policies of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries to discriminate on the grounds of nationality against one vehicle or another. The Bill seeks only to strengthen our domestic enforcement procedures to the extent that is necessary to secure compliance by the foreign vehicle with the laws which already apply to it, but which have been more evident in the breach than in the observance. The different enforcement procedures referred to in the Bill are necessitated solely by the different and peculiar circumstances of the foreign operator and driver while in this country.

The powers sought in the Bill are modelled on existing enforcement procedures. Thus, British vehicles which are mechanically unsound or overweight, and hence a risk to public safety, can be, and are, prohibited from proceeding on a road. Clause 1 of the Bill reaffirms that power and extends it to cover failure to comply with the requirements relating to drivers' hours and records and operators' licences or permits in lieu thereof.

These powers will be implemented mainly at the ports of entry. An offending vehicle will normally be stopped from going on our roads until the necessary remedial action has been taken. If it would cause obstruction to take that remedial action where the lorry is standing, then the vehicle may be directed to a suitable place to avoid jams and obstruction. Under Clause 2 the lorry may be granted an exemption from the prohibition, allowing it to be moved a short distance—for example, to a garage, for repair. But if these requirements are not followed, the vehicle may be detained, and under Clause 3 the driver may be arrested without warrant. This may sound strong medicine, but without it the Bill will have no teeth, for a foreign driver could simply defy a prohibition notice with impunity, knowing that the normal procedure of issuing a summons to him would be ineffective.

Clause 4 seeks to ensure that the vehicle has the appropriate permits or, in the case of a public service vehicle, an acceptable control document. If it is not carrying the appropriate document, the prohibition procedure would apply.

Clause 5 merely clarifies existing law to make quite certain that the authorised officers who already have power to weigh vehicles can exercise such power at the ferry ports. I am sure that the Committee will recognise the importance of efficiently applying the law at the ports.

Clause 8(2) provides a period of one month's grace before the powers can be implemented. I think that is right, for during this period my Department will engage in full scale publicity at all levels at home and abroad. I hope that there will be no excuse for foreign drivers or operators to claim that this change has been made without their having been given adequate warning.

I assure the Committee that all foreign Governments whose vehicles come to Britain, together with all organisations such as port authorities and ferry operators, will be fully informed of the powers in the Bill. The drivers and operators will be acquainted with the powers of enforcement and the legal provisions which have to be complied with, and explanatory leaflets will be available in as many foreign languages as is practicable and relevant.

Given the widespread publicity and perhaps a few exemplary cases of enforcement, if that should be necessary, my right hon. Friend has every confidence that foreign commercial vehicles will quickly come to realise that they have to comply with British laws. In effect, we shall be insisting, if the House agrees to the Bill, on the principle of reciprocity. British hauliers visiting the Continent must, and generally do, carry the correct documentation and comply with the foreign requirements. We shall be insisting, if the House passes the Bill, that foreign lorries observe the British law in the same way. The Bill aims merely to ensure that all foreign hauliers visiting this country have the same respect for British law as their Governments expect British hauliers to show to theirs.

The Bill is unashamedly an attempt to improve our environment by keeping out of it a small number of lorries which are not suitable to it. But I would not want it to be interpreted as a piece of discrimination against the road transport industry, for while it is true that the heavy lorry can be a nuisance, noisy, smelly, over-heavy or over-sized, it is a necessity if goods are to be transported efficiently and relatively cheaply, not only along the main transport routes, where the railways have a rôle to play, but along that criss-cross network of internal routes where people and industry are situated.

I do not think the Bill is contentious. No doubt the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park and others will wish to raise a number of detailed points, but I commend the Bill to the Committee with only one word of misgiving: I cannot understand why the present Government or preceding Governments, of any political complexion, did not introduce it long ago.

10.49 a.m.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

The Committee will appreciate that we should not be meeting under the auspices of your chairmanship, Sir Ronald, if the Bill were contentious in principle. The Opposition accept completely the case eloquently put by the Under-Secretary of State that we must have effective means of enforcing our own domestic legislation as regards foreign vehicles visiting us. But it does not follow that we shall act as a rubber-stamp for everything in the Bill. The Minister at least is not open to the criticism that has been expressed in some quarters about the Ministers responsible for the European Communities Bill. Had the same drafting been applied to that, we might have met our 1,000-Clause target, for there is a great deal in the Bill which, on first sight, seems not absolutely necessary to the Minister's objective.

I hope that we shall not hear the kind of argument that we heard frequently during the discussions on the Highways Bill from the same departmental stable, when it was suggested that the Government were taking powers which they would never use. Apparently, they could be trusted to administer the thing properly, but they wanted to have the powers just in case. The Bill seems to go a long way in giving powers when the case for their exercise is not self-evident.

In passing, I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State that, while we want to see strict observation of the law about foreign vehicles, we must not be complacent. Once or twice during his speech I wondered whether he thought everything was well with the enforcement of our domestic regulations for our own road transport. The great nuisance and inconvenience which arises from large foreign vehicles must be stopped, but there is still much to do in enforcing the existing law, quite apart from considering improvements of it, for our own vehicles. Anyone who drives 100 miles in this country without following at least one lorry belching out black smoke—which was made illegal many years ago—is very lucky indeed. We cannot be complacent. I am not suggesting that the measures in the Bill would be appropriate for our domestic purposes, but the Minister must not think that he will solve all the amenity problems associated with road transport by the effective enforcement of rules for foreign vehicles. I am sure that he is not complacent, but I hope that, in arguing for this Bill, he will not assume that all is well with all the other vehicles apart from the 30,000 to which it is directed.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. Perhaps I should remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill deals with foreign vehicles only. He must not comment too long about our own vehicles.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

You anticipated me, Sir Ronald; I was about to move to another point. However, I have referred to a relevant consideration to which we must pay attention. If the powers-that-be cannot enforce the law when they have adequate powers, that is a valid argument against their being given more powers in another sector. We may have to spend time in discussing that matter in Committee.

The Under-Secretary said that various Governments have been told about the Government's proposals. Have they been consulted? It is one thing to say, "We must take additional measures to enforce our law because your people, for reasons of language and because they are here for only a short time, are getting away with murder and clearly we must do something about it"; it is another thing to show them the text of a Bill such as this. I can imagine the reaction of a road operator, say, in Belgium, if someone came in and said in Flemish, "Have a look at this, mate; this is what we have got to live with." The Bill will cause considerable reaction on the Continent, because it is not clear that it is in line with continental practice.

In many ways, our problem is easier than that of the countries of the Six because they have long land frontiers. It is much more difficult to make checks at every possible point of entry to a country with large land frontiers than it is through the ports. I accept that it is proper to do it at the ports. but I am not sure that we should give wide powers to permit a constable in any part of the country to arrest people without warrant for an offence which is not subject to imprisonment. The maximum fine proposed by the Bill is £200, and to give every constable in the country the power of arrest without warrant is to go a long way. We shall want to know why, if the Minister's examiners do their job at the ports, such far-reaching powers are necessary. We have an open mind about it, but if the job is done at the ports the need for these powers is not self-evident.

A lot is made of the question of drivers' hours in the Bill. The Under-Secretary has not told us that, when his right hon. Friend was trying to get us into the Common Market, he proposed on the Floor of the House that our drivers' hours should be much longer, although they were already longer than the hours of continental drivers. One of the things in the Treaty that we shall be considering later is cutting the hours. The idea that our vehicle operators are grossly penalised in comparison with their competitors is not right.

I stress the question of whether we have had consultations with the Governments concerned and, perhaps more relevant, with the freight transport operators concerned. I have not discussed the matter with them, but from an article in Motor Transport of 19th November, 1971, it seems that the Freight Transport Association is totally opposed to the Bill, not because it affects it, but because it does not see the advantage of it that the Under-Secretary has mentioned. I quote from the article: The Government's proposals for controlling foreign goods and passenger vehicles are to be opposed by the F.T.A. because it feels they will give officials almost dictatorial powers. Instead it proposes that foreign vehicles that do not comply with British law, e.g. are overweight, mechanically unsound, do not have the necessary permit etc. should be prohibited from leaving port areas.Strict checking of vehicles in the port area would effectively concentrate enforcement, be in line with continental practice and be more likely to be accepted by foreign governments. Additionally persistent offenders should be barred from operating into the United Kingdom. It may be that, since 19th November—and we should be interested to know this—the Minister has had talks with the Freight Transport Association and has persuaded it that its fears are invalid.

Has the Minister had consultations with our own trade unions? They have a great deal of experience of these matters, and I do not rule out the possibility of retaliation against our own drivers and vehicles if this difficult exercise is not well carried out. On balance, we need more permits for our vehicles in foreign countries than the reverse.

We must watch very carefully how this matter is handled. There is no evidence that much thought has been given to it. If it has been thought through, is it feasible, for example, to have Clause 8 in the Bill, which provides: This Act shall come into operation at the end of the period of one month beginning with the day on which it is passed. It is impossible to know what day that will be. The Royal Assent to Bills is liable, through varying circumstances, to slip. It is impossible to plan any publicity campaign for the Bill if a date cannot be given. The Under-Secretary will know that his Department is not very clever at picking dates for bringing legislation into force. For example, when the regulations raising the age limit for motor cycle riders were brought in the week before Christmas, whatever the merits, it could have been done at a different time. It was not by any means, the most well-chosen date.

In a matter of this sort, I am prepared to give the Minister more powers. I am prepared to accept that the Bill should come into force at a date to be fixed by the Minister after there has been time for proper consultation and for printing leaflets in different languages. He must accept that most of the drivers involved will not speak English. Will he have language courses for the police forces throughout the country? Does he expect this to be done as a big administrative exercise throughout the country and not merely in the port areas? That is what he is asking powers for, and, if he is asking for such powers, he must want them for a real purpose, not merely to add to the armoury of unused weapons which governments like to have.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps I could help him on one point. A foreign lorry can become over-weight by the load that it picks up within this country and with which it sets off to the port of embarkation. It might pick up a load which is excessive according to our regulations in, say, Birmingham and proceed to Felixstowe. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we should allow that lorry to move with impunity on our roads until it gets to the dock area and can be weighed.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

That is not a good thing, but if I felt that every British operator kept strictly within the law, I should be more willing to go along with the hon. Gentleman. I do not imagine that many foreign lorries will be doing local work, picking up goods in Birmingham, for example, dropping them in Manchester, and then going on to Liverpool. If there is a check at the ports, both coming in and going out, the attraction of being over-weight will be very limited because foreign vehicles could be detained and effective action taken before they were allowed to leave the country. The real complaint is about size, not so much whether they are, like some of our own lorries from time to time, a little over the weight.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I have no wish to intervene further because I can see that the right hon. Gentleman is struggling a little to maintain his own point. If the checks were solely within the port area, and a lorry, having collected a load from Birmingham, was proceeding to its port of embarkation, Felixstowe or wherever else, and travelling with a grossly excessive weight, there would be no means of determining whether that weight was excessive until it got there. I cannot believe that that is acceptable.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I agree that in an ideal world there would he no lorries travelling over-weight. However, if this kind of check is to he made, what kind of staff will he needed, and where are the specified places? In order to deal with the problem of 30,000 lorries, shall we have checks throughout the country, and all sorts of prohibited lorry depots? There is no evidence to suggest that a good job is being done in checking our own operations. It is always better to deal with the larger problem than with the smaller one first. I merely put that forward for consideration. I attach great importance to the way in which this will be handled vis-à-vis the foreign operators and countries concerned, and I do not want to find that our own lorry drivers abroad are arrested without warrant and subjected to imprisonment.

The argument is put that we are merely acting in exactly the same way. I do not think that it will happen very often. I have faith in our own administrative system, and I am sure that our authorities will not exercise unreasonably the enormous powers for which the Government are asking. But when Parliament is asked to look at a Bill, we must examine it to see whether the powers are excessive.

This is an uncontroversial Bill, but the Under-Secretary did not say that today, of all days, it might be thought controversial to extend the powers of the Stormont Parliament, which seems to be the object of Clause 6. It is, perhaps, pushing it too far to say that the Bill is without any controversy at all. I ask the Under-Secretary and his advisers, between now and the Committee stage, to see whether the public relations impact of the Bill, as a terrifying dictatorial document, can be smoothed and improved. I am sure that the whole Committee is with him in what he wants to do, to prevent the abuse of our laws by foreign vehicles simply because it is impossible to bring them to court through the normal processes of our own law, as we do our own offenders. Nobody is quarrelling with what is sought to be done, but, when we examine the Bill in detail, one must have reservations about the proposed way of doing it.

11.5 a.m.

Photo of Mr Philip Holland Mr Philip Holland , Carlton

The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) seemed to be criticising the Bill on two counts; first, that it is too comprehensive in its provisions, and, second, that it tries to bring into effect on foreign vehicles laws which govern our own vehicles but which are not enforced, the suggestion being, apparently, that perhaps we should not try to bring into effect a law which is not already being enforced domestically.

I sympathise with the view that we do not want too much law. The less legislation we have the better, except when it is absolutely necessary. But, provided that it closes all the loopholes, I am content that the Bill should be a little too comprehensive.

As I understood my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the nub of the Bill is that it provides the same measure of control over the weight, size and efficiency of alien goods vehicles and heavy vehicles as we already have over indigenous heavy vehicles. I welcome a Measure designed still further to limit the total size and weight of goods vehicles. To the extent that our own goods vehicle manufacturers and designers tend to produce vehicles that are within the legal limits, the offenders, the producers and operators of over-size vehicles, tend to be foreign concerns.

In bulk transport terms, the larger the vehicle the lower the unit costs. We all want to see costs come down. But there is a price in terms of road congestion, air pollution and hazard to life and limb which must take prior consideration beyond a certain point in the developing size of commercial transport vehicles.

There is a particular hazard to life and limb which has not been touched on by either my hon. Friend or the right hon. Gentleman, a hazard which is greatly increased with every increase in the length and weight of commercial vehicles. Those of us who spend a fair slice of our lives driving along the motorways and trunk roads of this country—most hon. Members with constituencies outside London do that—recognise that one of the worst hazards that we encounter is the impenetrable cloud that attends the heavy vehicle in wet weather, the cloud of mist that is almost fog, which brings visibility to nil as it follows behind and seems to escort the lorry, making vision along its offside virtually impossible. In very wet weather, and especially if the vehicle is long and large, one can hardly see the tailboard when comes within 25 yards. The only way to get out of the difficulty is to take the bit between one's teeth, to accelerate, in appalling conditions, and try to pass the vehicle through an area in which one is virtually blind.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

Has not the hon. Gentleman ever thought of using his windscreen wipers?

Photo of Mr Philip Holland Mr Philip Holland , Carlton

Yes, indeed, but I was talking about very wet weather when the windscreen is being cleaned the whole time. It does little or no good, because one is facing the mist that comes straight off the side of the wheels and, particularly with the multi-axle vehicles, creates a pool of fog through which one has to drive. It is not the windscreen that one cannot see through; the fog is beyond the tip of the bonnet, simply because of the density of the cloud created by these vehicles. I have had this so often on the MI that I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman seems mystified. Trying to pass these vehicles presents a serious hazard. I have recently seen an editorial about it in one of the motoring publications, so I know that I am not alone in my contention.

The hazard increases with the length of the vehicle and the number of axles, because a fresh infusion of spray comes from each row of wheels. The longer the vehicle is, therefore, the further one has to drive in a semi-blind condition. I am merely stating the facts; there is no reflection on the skill of the professionals who drive these vehicles.

It is not possible to say that we should not have any heavy vehicles on our roads. The fault probably lies in the design of some of the vehicles; they are too open-sided, and there is no protection to prevent spray being thrown out. It is a serious hazard.

So on all counts—on road congestion created, particularly in towns, by the very large vehicles coming over from the Continent, on the hazards created by the ones to which I have referred in detail, and on the question of pollution, to which the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park referred, it is necessary that action be taken. We see the black smoke belching from exhausts, particularly from the long vehicle on which the exhaust goes straight up at the back of the cab and spreads outwards, gradually settling on everybody in the area.

For these reasons, I welcome any measures which will help to stiffen control over the large commercial vehicle. Once one goes beyond a certain load size, it is time to start thinking in terms of railways and inland waterways. I should like to develop this theme, but it may be out of order, so I shall not pursue it now. I just throw it out as a thought.

I welcome the Bill. It seems a little comprehensive, but if the provisions are necessary to close all the loopholes, I accept that, and I hope that the Committee will support its Second Reading.

11.12 a.m.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

I am loth not to discuss the experience to which the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) has referred, though I fear that if I continued along that road I should be out of order. Suffice it to say—I feel that this is relevant to the Bill—that the kind of hazard he has mentioned is not created only by foreign vehicles; it is created by our own vehicles, too.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. If the hon. Member will relate what he wishes to say about British vehicles to the Bill, that will be in order.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

I am most grateful for that guidance, Sir Ronald. To continue in that vein, I think it right that the Minister, when he replies, should talk about tightening up the rules and regulations affecting foreign vehicles.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

May I make a bit more progress? I should like to make my speech.

At the same time as we in this country are tightening up on the Construction and Use Regulations, particularly the over-weight regulations under the Road Safety Act, 1967, it is right that we should do the same for foreign vehicles, and this is precisely what the Bill is designed to do.

My criticism echoes the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley). I give due praise and commendation to the efforts of the Freight Transport Association, which has summed up the case against the Bill admirably. I am not lobbying on behalf of the Freight Transport Association—on many matters, I do not agree with it—but I think that its admirable and well prepared criticisms on the Bill sum up my case more than adequately.

I am in the unusual position of being in sympathy with the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State this morning, but I cannot help feeling that, in the noble endeavours which he proposes, he is tackling things slightly in the wrong way. I do not know whether he has had the experience of trying to bribe his way with cigarettes and free bottles of whisky past the police and the customs officers at the far end of the Monte Bianco tunnel; or the experience of sitting peacefully in his cab and then suddenly finding one of those Italian outrider-type motor cycles overtaking him and flagging him down. The wagon is then examined and a list of faults is listed in Italian, and a 50,000 lire on-the-spot fine imposed. When a receipt is asked for and insisted on the whole matter is dropped.

These are the kind of experiences with which British T.I.R. operators are familiar when they go to the Continent. When this happened to me—I have been on quite a few T.I.R. trucks—I argued that we should take powers to enable us to do the same to the Italians as they have been doing to our chaps for quite a long time. If I wanted a Bill to enable us to mess Italian T.I.R. trucks around in the same way as they have messed ours, it would be this Bill. In the context of getting one's own back and of being able to do to foreigners as they so often do unto us, this is precisely the right kind of Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Park is absolutely right that foreign operators and foreign Governments will see this Measure precisely in that kind of context. The arguments about the transport of goods between countries in the Common Market are not just drivers' hours arguments or permit arguments; they often relate to what the Italian and French police do in making themselves a nuisance to our drivers as a matter of deliberate policy. I fear that many Italian and French drivers and operators, the two that come into this country most frequently, will think that under the Bill our police will do exactly the same sort of thing.

The trouble is that, until we have a common transport policy in the Common Market—we certainly do not have one yet—and the emergence of something more than Community quotas of road haulage licensing, within the Six or the Ten there will be quite a few "beggar my neighbour" policies. They can alter the quotas, they can stiffen the penalties and the enforcement, and still this "beggar my neighbour" policy could fit in with the Bill.

So I applaud the noble aims of the Under-Secretary of State. I think that it is absolutely right in a domestic context, and in a Common Market and international context, that we should in some way tighten up the rules and regulations. He is right when he gives the figures from Felixstowe and Southampton and says that the so-called foreign juggernauts are breaking the law and something should be done about it.

I suggest, however, that the place to do this primarily is in the docks. Do not let the lorries leave Dover, Felixstowe, or Southampton until we have made absolutely sure that they are not over-weight, that they have a quota permit and that they are observing the drivers' hours regulations. This is surely a better way to do it than by making random roadside checks, with the power of arrest without warrant even by village constables. Let us place the emphasis on the docks. I do not know how the Minister can do it, but I should like to see the Bill strengthened so that enforcement is carried out mainly at the docks.

Having been "up the road" a bit in the past, I know what roadside checks are all about. The word gets round that the policeman is down the road and there are some good ways of dodging him. One knows the spots where the Ministry's inspectors usually operate. I know all the well-known dodges, and the T.I.R. drivers are getting wise to them as well. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman thinks that making random roadside checks in the accustomed places is the best means of enforcement, I do not agree.

Much of the difficulty arising from over-weight vehicles in this country belonging to foreign operators stems from our 32 tons gross vehicle weight regulations. When we are in the Common Market the Ministers will have to eat their words about these regulations. When we have a standard Community axle weight and a standard Community gross vehicle weight, we shall not encounter any of these difficulties.

I must confess that I was surprised to hear the Under-Secretary supporting the draconian powers of roadside prohibition. I have tried to envisage village constables receiving lessons in how to arrest people in French. I am not sure how the police in Nuneaton will cope, because they have to deal with a fair amount of traffic coming up the A5 and the M6–M1 Midlands motorway link. I am sure that some of the police I know in Nuneaton will not be able to arrest people in Italian or French. It seems to me that we are placing stringent powers in the wrong place.

Does the Under-Secretary suggest that it is only the foreign operators who are carrying out the "fiddles"? He knows as well as I do the kind of "fiddles" which take place in the licensing authorities with forged permits, and so on. We know that the French quota is only about half of what we should like it to be. We know the sentiments of the Italians about some of our wagons "piggy-backing", "kangarooing", and so on. It is not only a question of foreign operators coming to this country without permits; a fair number of our drivers go to France without permits or with forged permits. The hon. Gentleman must not think that there are no "fiddles" done in this country. There is a certain amount of reciprocity in this respect.

Photo of Mr Philip Holland Mr Philip Holland , Carlton

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that because there is "fiddling" in one direction no attempt should be made to provide powers to stop it in another?

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

I was coming to the point which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would like me to make. I would wish all "fiddles" to be stamped out, but I should have liked it to be done in consultation with other Governments because everybody has to "fiddle" a bit until we have an adequate Community quota which covers all the countries in the Common Market.

I believe that the main emphasis of this legislation ought to be placed on the docks. I echo the sentiments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park. We ought to be checking both incoming and outgoing vehicles at the ports. I cannot understand why a Milan operator who receives a back-load from Birmingham should leave this country at Felixstowe. However, I accept the point made by the Under-Secretary that if the lorry is over-weight between Birming- ham and Dover, our Ministry inspectors and policemen ought to have power to stop him en route. Nevertheless, to avoid the objection about messing their wagons around, why cannot the powers in this country be restricted to weight and permit or licence evasion? If we allow all of the powers suggested to be visited upon the kind of back-loading situation which the hon. Gentleman has just described, we shall lay ourselves open to all the accusations which the Road Haulage Association, the Freight Transport Association and even the hon. Gentleman's Department have been making against the Italians and the French for a long time.

I applaud the sentiments of this Bill. I think that its aim is a noble one, but, as the Under-Secretary knows, it all depends on enforcement. Unless we can have effective enforcement procedures, I am afraid that it will not work. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that he has devised the most effective means of enforcement? I do not think he has. What he may have devised instead is a Measure which, I am afraid, will provoke retaliation on the Continent and which could lose us a very valuable bargaining lever in keeping the Common Market transport policy as liberal as possible.

No haulier in this country is under any illusion that, by going into the Six or into the Ten, we are facing a series of countries with very much more restrictive transport policies than we have in this country. Here I may part company with some of my colleagues. However, in order to keep the transport policy in the Six as liberal as possible, we may need a few bargaining levers, and Bills along the lines of this Bill may lose us some of those valuable levers.

11.25 a.m.

Photo of Mr William Clark Mr William Clark , East Surrey

I welcome the Bill, but I look on it as a short-term Measure because it is bound to be changed as soon as we enter the Common Market. A standard transport policy for the E.E.C. must evolve. Even now there is tremendous jealousy and a certain amount of among the Six about how the lorry drivers of the various countries should operate. For example, it is considered that the lorries of the Dutch are too big, and that they go too fast for their size. Consequently, this can only be a stop-gap Measure, because it is essential that we have a common transport policy.

When considering a common transport policy, we must bring containerisation into our deliberations. One reason why lorries are being made larger is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) says, to bring down the unit costs. Most of these lorries are containerised. They cannot necessarily go on the railways. There comes a point when, in order to maintain the present competition between lorries and containerisation from ships and railways, we must consider whether to allow the lorries to get bigger to the detriment of the environment in this or any other country. I am sure that the E.E.C. discussions must take this into account.

I welcome the Bill. I do not think that many of its provisions will be used. I do not think the Ministry has paid enough attention to the influence and control that we have at the ports. If a foreigner wants to bring a vehicle into this country, wherever he comes from or however friendly we may be with him or his country, he must obey the laws of this country. In no circumstances would I let him out of my sight until I was convinced, first, that his lorry was not over-weight, secondly, that it was not over-sized, and, thirdly, that he had the proper documents. I should spot-check many of the documents, even to the annoyance and frustration of the lorry driver. This would have some effect on drivers who are coming into this country with forged or altered permits.

It has been said that a driver might go somewhere to deliver his load, travel to Birmingham to pick up another load and then go on to the port of exit. If it is found on examination that his lorry is overweight, he can be fined. I accept that there may be some difficulty in collecting the fine as he is getting on to the boat to go back to wherever he came from.

I was rather surprised when my hon. Friend said that bilateral talks had been held and that the other Governments involved had been kind enough to agree that their lorry drivers should obey our rules. I do not think this is any concession on their part. If I go to France I except to obey French rules, or if I go to Italy I expect to obey the Italian rules. It is no concession by any Government with which my hon. Friend had conversations to agree that they must obey our laws.

Suppose that drivers are fined for driving overweight lorries which means they have been on our roads overweight; they have not been caught red-handed on the roads but have been caught in the dock area. It will probably be difficult to enforce payment of the fine. Will my hon. Friend tell us whether, in the bilateral talks, the Governments said that they would insist that their nationals paid the fine?

In this country when goods are transported by road the onus is on the lorry driver not to overload his vehicle and on the owner of the lorry, who would have to pay the fine. With foreign vehicles, it is difficult to do this because the owner is abroad and the lorry driver will not have £200 with him. He will be caught just as he is going home, and we do not want to go to the stupid length of putting him in gaol for a few days.

I should have thought that the Ministry would put a certain onus on whoever loads the lorry—that is, the factory. With a consignment from a factory in Birmingham to somewhere on the Continent, I should have thought that it was up to the factory to ensure that all was well. Why should the people in the factory overload the lorry? If it is a 30-tonner, why should they put 35 tons on it? If the lorry is stopped as it goes out and it is found that the load is three tons over the permitted weight, I think that a penalty should be imposed on the person responsible for the loading—the owner of the goods.

I should like to take up the point of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) about the Bill coming into operation one month after its passage. It will be very difficult, because all the regulations will have to be printed in five, six or seven languages. I should think that the Bill will be on the Statute Book by July or August this year, and that 1st January, 1973, will be an effective date for the necessary publicity, pamphlets, and so on. I urge my hon. Friend to look again at Clause 8(2).

I also urge him to look again at our control over vehicles coming into and going out of ports. The onus of over-loading a lorry should, in the case of foreign vehicles, rest on the person whose goods are on that lorry and who has agreed to its overloading.

I welcome the Bill, and I am sure it will receive a Second Reading, although it may he necessary to make some alterations in Committee.

11.33 a.m.

Photo of Dr David Clark Dr David Clark , Colne Valley

I am in complete agreement with the Minister's final sentence when he said that he was rather surprised that a Measure of this sort had not been introduced before. It is a surprise to me, and I know that a number of bodies and people have been pestering him for some time to take action on these lines.

I welcome the Bill with certain reservations. I like to think that this is not a Bill directed entirely against foreign owners but that it also represents a general tightening up of the enforcement of the law in this country against all over-weight, over-length vehicles and vehicles which do not carry correct documentation. I hope that that is so. I was encouraged to see only this week, on 7th February, that Section 16(7) of the Road Safety Act, 1967, is being invoked. I hope this is a sign that the Government are planning to do something to keep a check on the lorries which are not observing the law.

I speak not as someone from the road transport industry but as a member of the community. I have for long argued against the moves, which did not come to be effective, for larger and heavier lorries in this country. Obviously the purpose of this Bill is to ensure that foreign lorries comply with the laws of this country. As this point worries me, would the Minister say whether this is a short-term Bill? When we go into the Common Market, will we have to adopt the weight and size limits for European lorries? There has been comment in the Press that the countries of the Community would like a 42-ton maximum instead of our present 32-ton maximum. Information on this point would be most useful to everyone concerned.

I should like to talk mainly about an omission from the Bill. I take it that the general object of the Bill is, to try to make the roads of this country safer. The Minister is probably aware of the increasing amount of bulk chemicals being carried in this country. There have been some rather disturbing accidents in the last month or so when chemicals imported from abroad have not been sufficiently labelled.

The legislation on chemical bulk carrying is enshrined in the Petroleum and Inflammable Liquids Order, 1971, and the Inflammable Substances Order, 1971. But it is not very effective when it is enforced against British chemicals, and it is even more ineffective when enforced against foreign chemicals because, as the Minister knows, many of these chemicals go under trade names. There are so many new developments that it is very difficult for the fire services to deal with these liquids if there is an accident.

Should not we have tried to make this Bill a little more effective perhaps by adopting the system that operates in some states of America under which lorries which cross state boundaries have to carry a fairly well detailed card saying how to deal with the chemical, not only if it touches the skin of a person, but also if there is an accident? This matter is causing a great deal of difficulty for the fire and accident people. One of the weaknesses of the Bill is that we have an opportunity to tackle this problem, but we are not tackling it.

I am at variance with my colleagues who argue about checks at the docks, although I agree that the checks should be concentrated in the dock area. I still think that the Minister is right in insisting that there must be some powers for spot-checking lorries outside the dock area.

In summary, generally I welcome the Bill. I am sorry it has not been introduced before. I am disappointed that it might be only short-term and that larger lorries may come into this country as a result of our entering the E.E.C. I hope, that the Minister will elaborate on that matter.

11.40 a.m.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. We have ranged from the possible extension of the powers of Stormont, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield Park (Mr. Mulley) mentioned, to the idiosyncrasies of Italian motor cycle police and their possibly being suborned by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huckfield), to the problems of overtaking eloquently described by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland), and to issues of road transport policy within the European Community, mentioned, in particular, by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. William Clark).

I am sure, Sir Ronald, that you would not permit me to deal with all these points in detail, but I detected one theme running through nearly all the speeches, namely, that the large lorry, foreign or British, can be a nuisance but that it is a necessity to our economy. This dilemma of a necessity being also potentially a nuisance confronts all of us who are concerned daily with the problems of the environment, pollution, road safety, and the economic provision of transport for our industry. You, Sir Ronald, have shown much interest over many years in the problems of road safety and transport, and you know that we attempt to tackle the dilemma in a number of ways. We try to build better roads, to bypass our historic cities, to hold down the size and weight of lorries, and reduce their smoke and noise. We take road safety action through the Construction and Use Regulations. Yet none of those measures can be effective without enforcement. The Bill is directed solely to enforcement.

The right hon. Gentleman, in his characteristically moderate and well informed speech, asked whether there had been consultations with foreign Governments. It is not the practice for the Government of this country to ask foreign Governments whether we may introduce legislation into our own Parliament. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend has taken the opportunity afforded by his talks with the French, Spanish, Swiss and other Governments to tell them about our proposals and intentions. No opposition was found from them. Moreover, all United Kingdom embassies have been thoroughly briefed to provide answers to questions about the Bill from road transport organisations in European or other countries. We have also given to the European Commission, for its information, a detailed resumé of our intentions, and again there was no opposition.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

Would it be possible for hon. Members to have a copy of that resumé?

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I shall look into that. If I can be helpful, the right hon. Gentleman knows that I shall. The Committee will excuse me if I do not deal in detail with the problems of weights and sizes within the E.E.C., but perhaps I might give the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) the reassurance that Press reports that we shall be shoe-horned into 42-ton weights for lorries in this country are not true. The transport policy of the E.E.C. is in a state of flux. We shall join in the negotiations as we become members. I assure the Committee, and through the Committee the public, that my right hon. Friend will press—and has already pressed—very strongly the merits of restraining the increasing size of lorries in the interests of the environment and the comfort of the peoples of all the European countries, and in terms of the economic disadvantages of roads and bridges if the weights constantly go up. We are by no means being pressed inevitably by the E.E.C. into such weight increases.

A question was raised by the right hon. Gentleman and others about the possibility of retaliation. In response to the speech of the hon. Member for Nuneaton, I must make clear that this is not a matter of getting our own back or tit-for-tat; it is a matter of enforcing on foreign vehicles the British law. I have no reason to expect retaliation against British hauliers as a result of the Bill. It aims only at enforcing existing road traffic laws which already apply, except that they are not working. That is the only change sought here: to make certain, in the peculiar circumstances of the foreign lorry driving in this country, that the existing laws shall apply. We shall give the fullest publicity to the Bill. Indeed, we have already done so.

I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, East and other hon. Members that the period of one month following the passage of the Bill and the Royal Assent would be relatively short if there were not quite a lot of advance notice to those concerned. But I cannot accept that they have not been given the fullest advance warning. Indeed, the debates taking place in another place and in this House are being followed by the road transport associations. But I shall certainly look at the point that has been made.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

I was concerned not so much with the shortness of time as with the problem that we cannot predict what the date will be. Any new scheme of this sort makes more sense if it is brought in on, say, 1st April—perhaps that is not a very good day [Laughter.]—or 1st May, perhaps, instead of 27th April or some such date. The Government would have no option, by the terms of the Bill as drafted. I am only asking them to see whether it would be wise to leave the date to the Minister's discretion, a course which I should not oppose. He would then have to take responsibility if the whole operation went wrong. That is probably why he wants it in this form.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

The right hon. Gentleman has made his point, as have other hon. Members. I shall consider it I do not think that I can say more now.

The powers available to our examiners and to the police under the Bill will be used in a sensible and reasonable manner, as I am sure the Committee will expect. They will be used in an escalating manner, so that lorry drivers and operators are not just pounced on without warning, overnight. I give the assurance that they will be enforced mainly in the ports, which are the collecting point where vehicles are brought together at both the point of coming into the country and going out. My right hon. Friend and our examining staff will certainly expect to place the main weight of enforcement at the ports, where the weighbridges are available—or, if they are not, we shall take steps to see that they are. I cannot go further and say that there should be no powers outside the ports. That would be wholly wrong and would leave us exposed to situations in which the law was still being flouted.

As to consultation with British domestic organisations, I can say at once that the unions have been most fully consulted, as have the main freight transport associations, the R.H.A. and the F.T.A. From all those who have been consulted the only opposition has been on the narrow point of enforcement outside the ports, referred to by the hon. Member for Nuneaton. That came only from the F.T.A. There was no opposition from the remainder, and the trade Press as a whole has given the Bill good support.

A point has been made about dictatorial examiners. I must reject any such suggestion. Our examiners will simply enforce the law as it has existed for some time in respect of our own vehicles. They will not be given additional powers, save those necessary because of the particular circumstances of the foreign lorry, namely, that the driver is here for only a short time and may well leave the jurisdiction of our courts. Some steps are necessary to cover that.

I think that it is widely known that in some countries there are enforcement procedures which, though not quite as drastic as those described by the hon. Member for Nuneaton, are, to say the least, exceedingly inconvenient. British vehicles travelling abroad may not be offending against the laws of the country in any way but they can be held up for long periods because the police, in France or Germany, believe that private motorists going on holiday should have priority of movement. Great delay and inconvenience is caused to our hauliers on that account.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

The main point which I was trying to make was that not only do we run a risk in having arbitrary powers of roadside check but roadside checks are not all that effective. The word gets round that the inspector is down the road, and the foreign driver feels that he is being picked upon. Whatever the hon. Gentleman says about the need for roadside checks—to a certain extent, I agree with him—there will always be the feeling that the foreigner is being discriminated against.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

No doubt, anyone who is stopped and has action taken against him by the police considers that he is being discriminated against. That is common knowledge. I cannot help that, for if foreign vehicles come in in large numbers in contravention of the law, the law will continue to be broken, and that cannot be fair to our own industry or right for our environment.

On the question of the power of arrest, I can only say that it already exists for our uniformed police, and the Bill makes clear that they must be in uniform. Indeed, the Road Traffic Act, 1960, provides such a power, for example, where a constable reasonably suspects a person of being in somebody else's car. There is a whole range of other provisions under which constables have the power of arrest, including the Road Safety Act, 1967.

Photo of Mr Fred Mulley Mr Fred Mulley , Sheffield Park

Could we have an example of a power of arrest without warrant for an offence which is not subject to a term of imprisonment?

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I shall have to look at that. I suspect that I could answer it by referring to Section 24, which deals with breath tests, but I am not certain, nor do I think that you, Sir Ronald would allow me to pursue the matter much further. All I cart do is draw the Committee's attention to the main points which I made at the outset. There can be no doubt that many of the foreign lorries coming into the country are breaking the law. At the moment, our law is not effective because the enforcement procedures are insufficient. The Bill provides for effective enforcement procedures, and I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Mr Antony Buck Mr Antony Buck , Colchester

Clause 3 provides for a fine not exceeding £200. Might it be appropriate to have a greater penalty for a second or subsequent offence, so as to deal with the persistent offender or the firm which persistently contravenes our law? Perhaps my hon. Friend will

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Russell, Sir Ronald (Chairman)Huckfield, Mr. Leslie
Brown, Sir E.Jopling, Mr.
Buck, Mr.McNair-Wilson, Mr. Patrick
Clark, Mr. DavidMulley, Mr.
Clark, Mr. WilliamPink, Mr.
Coleman, Mr.Roberts, Mr. Albert
Griffiths, Mr. EldonRobertson, Mr. John
Holland, Mr.

consider that between now and the Committee stage.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I shall be glad to do so. I should point out, however, that the persistent offender might find it very inconvenient to have his vehicle impounded regularly. But I shall consider the suggestion.

Photo of Mr Albert Roberts Mr Albert Roberts , Normanton

The Minister has spoken of heavy vehicles on old roads meandering through our picturesque villages. This is certainly a problem in the Yorkshire dales. Has consideration been given to compelling vehicles above a certain size to travel only on major roads or motorways? Also, what consideration has been given to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) concerning vehicles carrying dangerous loads? Is it possible to legislate for these consignments, chemicals and the like, to be confined to such roads as I have mentioned?

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

It would be possible to legislate on both matters, though not under this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Road Traffic (Foreign Vehicles) Bill [Lords] ought to be read a Second time.

Committee rose at five minutes to Twelve o'clock.