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Ms Glenda Jackson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I believe is a member of the Select Committee to which he refers. Everyone in the House welcomes his interest in this debate, but this is clearly the first time that he has turned his mind to the Bill, because he is under a total misapprehension with regard to the introduction of road user charging within London. Boroughs must fit into a mayoral strategy. It will be for the mayor to decide whether to introduce such charges. Boroughs must be part and parcel of that strategy, and the Secretary of State will examine how the money will be spent. The figures which the hon. Gentleman is tossing across the Floor of the Chamber are absurd. I am delighted that he has at last managed to manifest an interest in our deliberations.

Mr. Gray: I was merely answering an intervention by the hon. Member for Upminster, who suggested that charging should differ from borough to borough. I am surprised that the Minister was not clearer about the fact

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that I serve on the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. I am proud to do so. Given the hard time that we gave her on one or two of her appearances before the Select Committee recently, I should have thought that our faces, if not our names, would be engraved on her memory.

Mr. Ottaway: Perhaps she is too thick-skinned.

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend suggests that the Minister may be too thick-skinned to be aware of that. Perhaps he is right, but I would not be so ungentlemanly as to suggest it.

What is the purpose of road user charging? My thesis is that it will not achieve the aims that the Government have set up for it. It sounds like a frightfully good idea if it is to reduce road usage, but it will reduce road usage for the wrong people and allow those who do not care about the cost to continue to use the roads. It is rather like the recent increase in petrol charges, which has damaged my rural constituency, poor people and the disabled.

The hon. Member for Upminster also suggested that road user charging might enable disabled people to use public transport. I do not know about the disabled people in his constituency, but there are many disabled people in my constituency who could not use public transport under any circumstances. Flippantly to suggest that they should be charged off the roads in the hope that that will make public transport better is not a particularly caring point to make.

Mr. Darvill: The point that I made was twofold: first, that concessionary arrangements could be made for disabled people; and, secondly, that an increased investment in public transport might benefit some disabled people. I was not making a cursory suggestion; I was saying that there are two sides to the argument that road user charging could benefit the groups that we were discussing.

Mr. Gray: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his clarification. I hope that he will forgive me for misquoting him, but I was thinking on my feet. He makes a good point. The more reductions there are for old people and the disabled, the better. Even better, however, would be no user charging at all. We would then not have to worry about concessions for the old, the disabled and the poor.

Mr. Brake: The hon. Gentleman said that the Conservatives believe that congestion needs to be tackled. Perhaps he is about to explain how.

Mr. Gray: I am grateful for that question, but I fear that you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I launched into a wider discussion on transport and how to reduce congestion on the roads. We are discussing the proposals in the Bill for road user charging within London. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I could have an interesting discussion about reducing congestion in the context of the Select Committee, but I would be trying your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I dealt with it now.

I wish to concentrate for a moment or two on the three aspects of road user charging that I find particularly unattractive. Labour Members talk gaily about hypothecation, but Treasury officials with whom we did

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battle over 18 years have always gone to lengths to say that there can be no such thing. Hypothecation does not fit in the Treasury's theology, for the good reason that, if a public duty should be carried out, it should be carried out through taxation. Hypothecation is a misleading way of pretending that, somehow, taxation is being put to a particular use.

Worthwhile measures such as improving the transport infrastructure in London will cost much more than the funds raised through road user charging. If the Government then say, "We are sorry, but we don't intend to do those things because they are more expensive than the money that we have raised from road user charging," they will be wrong. If we have to look after those with asthma, reduce pollution and facilitate movement around the centre of London, the GLA should do that, irrespective of how much money it raises from road user charging. Treasury mandarins always tell me that hypothecation does not work for that reason.

If one is to hypothecate, additionality is crucial. It must be possible to demonstrate beyond any shadow of a doubt that the project for which the money is being used would not, under any circumstances, have been undertaken anyhow. The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee is discussing bus lanes, improving the roads and all kinds of projects that should be undertaken by any Government. Additionality, which is absolutely central to road user charging, means providing for transport users something that they would not otherwise have. If the money is simply used to improve the underground or the road lights in Clapham high street, it is a wrong use of road users' money.

My next point--it is the main thing that is wrong with the proposals--is that the arrangement must also be permanent. It must not be for just a few years. The GLA must not be able to say, "Londoners will not notice. We shall charge them a few pounds for a few years, and they will then forget about it. We shall then bring the charges into the mayor's funds," or, in the case of the Labour party, into the Treasury's funds. That is a straightforward con. The Government are telling the public, "We're going to take this money off you. We're going to pretend that it's for transport use of one sort or another. Don't you all want cycle tracks? Don't you all want to encourage pedestrians"--as the Liberal Democrats are always reminding us--"and don't you want to improve roads? I'm sure you're all very fed up with the congestion in London. It must be awful when you're trying to get to work and the roads are all congested. Don't worry, we're going to charge you £8 a time when you come into London, and we're going to use the money to put those things right for you. Aren't we a wonderful Government?" However, there is a postscript at the bottom in very small print, which reads, "But only for 10 years."

Mr. Bercow: Does my hon. Friend agree that the precedents that the Government have established in other areas of public policy in the past 24 months offer us no confidence that a road user charging policy would be operated on the basis of additionality--rather, the contrary applies?

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes that point extremely well. Our experience in the past 24 months shows that the Government will put a spin on the measure and will make out that it will help the public, but the truth is that it will help no one other than themselves.

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The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) alluded to revenue flows for the mayor. The Government are not even covering their nakedness by pretending that the revenue is additional, that it is for transport and that it is permanent. They have the brass neck to say, "It is only for 10 years and then we'll have the cash. What would the poor old mayor do if he didn't have road user charging, because he wouldn't have any money? The poor old mayor needs the cash. He needs the revenue flow. What's the point of having a mayor without the revenue flow? Road user charging is terribly important, because it gives the mayor some cash."

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham): Is the hon. Gentleman not overlooking the issue of accountability? The mayor will be directly elected by the people of London, and will be accountable for the policies that he or she puts into place. If a mayor were to do what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting regarding future investment in public transport in London, he or she would soon be accountable to the people and would be out of office.

Mr. Gray: The accountability point is a good one. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. It will be extraordinarily interesting to see in the manifestos of the various candidates for mayor whether they sign up to an £8 or £10 road user charge. Labour candidates--who knows, the Minister may be one--may be brave enough to say, "Please vote for me, because I'm going to charge you £8 if you come into London." I would be bold enough to say that accountability would work, and, if the hon. Lady were such a candidate, she would certainly not be elected.

It was interesting that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, when challenged on this point by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, went to some lengths to avoid saying whether a Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor would be upfront and would say that he would introduce road user charging. The Conservative party is clear: we would not bring in road user charging in London. We have tabled the amendment to prevent road charging from being introduced, so that, even if an elected mayor wanted to do so, he could not.

The Conservative party is the only party in the Chamber that has made its position clear--none of the minority parties is present, except the Liberal Democrats. Her Majesty's official Opposition are making it absolutely plain that we wholeheartedly oppose congestion charging in London. Our mayoral candidate will stand on that manifesto. The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) is quite right in saying that accountability comes into it, and, if mayoral candidates from other parties stand boldly in front of Londoners and say, "We're going to charge you guys for using our roads," they will lose.


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