Will my hon. Friend accept my disappointment? The escorting of heavy loads by professional and highly skilled police officers causes a disproportionate cost to the council taxpayer. It is time that that was reviewed. Can my hon. Friend tell us why the Home Office cannot make available a total figure of the cost to local authorities of escorting heavy vehicles? Such a figure might alert her to the need to review the situation with some expedition.
As my hon. Friend is aware, we recently completed a public consultation on proposals to introduce private escorts for abnormal loads on motorways. Charging is not the answer. Police time should not be taken up escorting such vehicles on motorways. We are trying to find a solution that will ensure that lorries are properly escorted by qualified escorts. The police should not have to do that, except on minor roads. That is what the consultation document was about and what we have been considering. We shall publish proposals soon.
Does the Minister accept that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) is uncharacteristically wrong? Charges are not the answer. The answer is precisely as the Minister said—relieving police of the duty of escorting heavy loads. Police are for fighting crime, not for dawdling along motorways behind mobile classrooms and grain silos.
Will my hon. Friend look closely at the matter of traffic policing, particularly in relation to lorries? May we hope that she will introduce a Bill that will deal, for example, with the issue of impounding unsafe lorries? The police may not be required for escorting heavy loads, but they are certainly required to carry out multi-agency checks to ensure that there are no unsafe vehicles contributing to deaths in our communities.
I thank my hon. Friend. We would certainly turn to her for her expertise, and to the Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs that she chairs, before we introduced legislation to do what she has asked.