My Lords, I support the amendment. It seeks to bring some much-needed discipline to road haulage, particularly international road haulage. I have read the effectiveness report of the Vehicle Inspectorate. It is a long and detailed document. It indicates that, of vehicles stopped--which, I accept, are a selected proportion of vehicles, because many that are thought to be compliant are not stopped--up to 20 per cent are overloaded. When that is set against the fact that, of the defects found by the Vehicle Inspectorate when heavy lorries are inspected, the top three categories, which far outweigh the rest are brake defects. So we have lorries that are overloaded, with faulty brakes. That is completely unacceptable. I find it rather strange that society and government, which seek to impose onerous standards on rail and air operators, are so reluctant to act in this area where it is known that there is gross abuse of the law.
In designing the amendment, we sought to deal with the places where it is known that abuse is greatest; namely, at ports. However, we were advised that to single out ports, even if we weighed British and foreign lorries equally, would still be regarded as discriminatory under European law. Therefore, in order to comply with European law, we had to add some inland depots. We chose some of the larger depots that do not automatically weigh vehicles. Some places, like quarries, weigh in any event. They have to do so because that is part of the bill of sale relating to the contents of a lorry.
Weighing lorries is not a very onerous business. The lorry is driven over a weighbridge and the weight of each axle is clocked up on a clock that everyone can see--like a big digital clock that you might find at a railway station. It would only be necessary to detain any lorry that was found to be overweight. Therefore, most lorries would pass automatically.
A study of the vehicle inspectorate's reports shows that lorries that prove to be overweight almost always have other faults. Lorries whose drivers have worked over the hours' limit, which are badly maintained and otherwise in breach of regulations, almost always come from among the population that weigh heavy. Those concerned disregard all the regulations. They are not selective. They do not just overweigh; they do everything that is wrong.
In the interests of fair competition, road safety and the protection of our road network--which is in a pretty poor state--I believe that the Government ought to take the matter in hand. The Government have gone to a great deal of trouble on the question of vehicle excise duty for lorries. The consultation document on reform of vehicle excise duty was published today, with a questionnaire for everyone to fill in about VED. I am sure that many people would like a consultation on road safety for vehicles, especially as regards the weight of vehicles. I urge the Government to consider this amendment most carefully. This proposal has widespread support among reputable haulage companies, as well as among the population at large who suffer from the effects of overweight lorries and the damage that they cause to the environment and to health.