Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Gray: Is my hon. Friend aware of the report by the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs on the integrated transport White Paper, which was produced last week? It comes to three clear conclusions on congestion charging. The first is that it must be 100 per cent. hypothecated. Secondly, it must be totally additional to any present expenditure. Thirdly, it must be permanent. We know that the Government are proposing congestion charging for 10 years. The Sub-Committee was plain that it must not form a revenue stream for the Government, the Treasury or local government.

Mr. Ottaway: We talk of nothing else in Croydon. I intend to address all three points that my hon. Friend has sensibly and wisely raised. Early reports suggest that the congestion tax could raise £200 million a year. First, it must be questioned whether that is enough. In Committee, the Minister made it clear that this money would not necessarily be used as a subsidy for London underground, and referred to road improvements or traffic-related improvements. I venture to suggest that improving London's roads or traffic-related schemes will need more than £200 million a year.

We congratulate the Government on the halfhearted establishment of the principle of ring-fencing and hypothecating the proceeds of any congestion tax. However, any congratulation must be tempered by two factors, one of which we believe to be fatal. First, the funding is ring-fenced for only 10 years in the Bill. That obviously prompts the question: what will happen after 10 years. In our opinion, the answer is clear. The money will go to the Treasury coffers. If it is to be ring-fenced, that should be the position in perpetuity and not for a limited period. To that extent we welcome the conclusion of the Sub-Committee to which my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) referred.

Secondly, the greatest weakness of the Government's proposal--in our view the fatal one--is the additionality factor. I have no doubt that a Chancellor seeing a mayor with a revenue stream of £200 million a year would immediately dock £200 million from his transport grant to London, with the result that the people of London

5 May 1999 : Column 1007

would be no better off. If the Minister is to reassure me that that will not happen, it will be clear that the Department has fought the battle over hypothecation. If so, why does it not fight the battle over additionality and enshrine the result in the Bill?

We do not have to look far for a good current example, and that is next year's funding for London underground, about which there has been much discussion today. All the early signs are that that funding will have to come out of the road maintenance programme. If ever there were a classic example of having to rob Peter to pay Paul, this is it.

Mr. Edward Davey: The hon. Gentleman is exactly right about additionality. Why, then, did the Conservative party not support my hon. Friends and me yesterday when we tried, through an amendment to clause 86, to ensure that the Greater London Authority transport grant increased year on year, so that funding from central Government to Transport for London would not be a problem?

Mr. Ottaway: Because I had no idea that that is what the Liberals were voting on. As I read the amendment, it described something entirely different. In any event, I do not feel slavishly bound to follow the Liberals through the Division Lobby on every occasion. We know that they have a pious coalition deal, which they keep denying. The Conservative party makes up its own mind, introduces its own amendments and votes when it thinks appropriate rather than letting the Liberals decide for it. The Liberals could easily have joined us in the Lobby just now, as their spokesman endorsed every point that I made on the public-private partnership.

We oppose the congestion tax because it is a back-door tax--a stealth tax. It will not solve the problems of congestion in London, it will not ease pollution, it will damage local economies and it will hit the vulnerable. I urge the House to support our amendments.

Mr. Darvill: I support the Government amendments and oppose the Conservative proposal to delete clause 222. The Government's proposal is not to impose road charging. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) rightly said in his intervention, the permissive provisions in the Bill would allow charging by the mayor and the London boroughs.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) said that the balance between public transport and road congestion was moving the other way. That may be so in some areas, but surely it is a matter for each London borough to decide in accordance with local circumstances. On a Londonwide scale, it is a matter for the London boroughs, the mayor and the Greater London Authority to put before the electorate. If the Conservative amendment were accepted and clause 222 deleted, that possibility would be removed from councillors and candidates at the GLA election next year, which would be a disservice to the people of London.

Mr. Gray: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the conclusions of the oft-quoted Transport Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport

5 May 1999 : Column 1008

and Regional Affairs? The Sub-Committee's report on the White Paper on integrated transport were published last week. The hon. Gentleman's colleagues concluded that it would be wrong to allow any local authority to make up its own mind about congestion charging, as that would drive traffic into the neighbouring local authority.Labour members of the Transport Sub-Committee therefore supported a regional strategy only for congestion charging. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore differ from his hon. Friends on the Committee?

Mr. Darvill: Yes. Local councillors need to take a broader perspective. I would propose a sub-regional approach. Councillors and members of the GLA will have to think much more broadly. I have not read the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I understand the argument. My view is that the debate must take place on a Londonwide basis, recognising local conditions and the position of Londoners as a whole and the commuter transport implications.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that the Government were not advocating road user charging, despite the appearance to the contrary--after all, as he knows, clause 222 dangles that prospect. In the light of what his hon. Friend the Minister said earlier, in a characteristically arrogant fashion, about the likelihood of a Labour mayor being elected, would the hon. Gentleman advocate a Labour mayor supporting such charges--yes or no?

7.15 pm

Mr. Darvill: The debate on the Labour manifesto and the manifestos of candidates for mayor will take place in the coming months. I recognise the point made by the hon. Member for Croydon, South about the balance.

In answer to the question from the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), if the clause is removed from the Bill, that debate will not take place. It is taking place now in the Chamber, but, if the amendment is accepted, there will be no possibility of candidates for mayor and the GLA, and councillors in the London boroughs, debating the matter locally. For that reason, the provision should remain in the Bill.

I recognise that there will be competing arguments. For example, when a bus lane is created, there is often opposition from car users, but support from those who use the public services. There is opposition from people who may be affected by rat running as a result of the new bus lane, and local measures may be proposed to avoid that. All that takes place locally.

I support the measure because the revenues to be raised from the charges are hypothecated. I have some sympathy with the argument of the hon. Member for Croydon, South about the longer-term nature of the investment. The longer term must be taken into account in the decision-making process. The hypothecation of the revenues over a longer period would give much greater scope for investment. However, in subsequent elections, a party that opposed hypothecation after, say, 10 years could put its alternative proposals to the electorate. Those proposals might be unpopular, but parties would nevertheless need to consider the long term when formulating their policies.

Mr. Gray: Am I right in thinking that the hon. Gentleman is arguing in favour of hypothecation being

5 May 1999 : Column 1009

permanent? If so, does he realise that it will be necessary for him to vote against the Government in the forthcoming Division?

Mr. Darvill: I said that I had some sympathy with the argument for longer-term hypothecation. However, I support the Bill because it moves in an important direction and, with regard to hypothecation, it is unique in law making in this country. That is warmly welcomed, and the benefits will become apparent. It enables the argument about road charging to take place against the background of the resulting benefits and the scope for investing the revenues in public transport.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman's tone is immensely reasonable. What is less reasonable is his unwillingness to tell us whether a Labour candidate for mayor should advocate road charging. As his party has included the provision in the Bill, does he understand that some of us are eagerly waiting, with beads of sweat on our brow, for Pandora's box to be opened so that we can discover the earnest intentions of Labour Members?


Next Section

IndexHome Page