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8.30 pm

It was heartening to hear the support expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Brent, East, for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) and for Eltham. They each adopted a reasoned and thoughtful approach--cautious in some instances. Like the Government, they understand that the introduction of congestion charging or levies will need the consent of the people of London. It would not be possible for the debate to begin if the mayor and the boroughs were denied the powers that we have ensured will be enshrined in the Bill--powers that we believe will give Londoners the benefits and improvements in quality of life in this great city that we are committed to ensuring.

Mr. Flight: Like many Conservatives, I have been attracted by the concept of road pricing and the market principles that lie behind it, but the Government are profoundly mistaken if they sincerely believe that it will achieve the two objectives that they claim. Like the taxation of petrol, if it is to have any effect on usage, the charge will have to be very substantial. That would bear hardest on those in the middle of society and those for whom marginal expenditure is meaningful--often those bringing up children and paying mortgages.

My views against the principle were particularly shaped when I read a fascinating account of the early days of the London county council at the beginning of this century. It was a huge relief to Londoners when the LCC came in and swept away the various transport charges such as bridge tolls that were causing delays and congestion. I wonder about the practicalities of how the charges will work. Are they not likely to cause congestion? What is the position of someone who lives on the borders of London? What will the arrangements be for checking and presumably fining people if they have not paid their tax?

I have lived in London for 25 years. The hassle that Londoners have to go through to get a resident's parking permit is irritating, involving taking a form to their employer and getting him to sign and stamp it to confirm that they work for that firm. I suppose that we are now going to have another round of such bureaucratic hassle. I confess that I have driven to and from my workplace since I have lived in London, largely because I have worked late hours. The congestion seems to me to be less than it was 20 years ago. The main cause of that improvement is the building of the M25, which has taken a massive pressure of through traffic off London. It is naive to think that waving our fingers to promote public transport and a congestion charge will be a realistic answer to the problem.

The objective is clearly to raise money. The idea has nothing to do with reducing traffic in London. It would be politically impossible to think of anyone levying a charge high enough to discourage car usage. We are

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talking about yet another stealth tax. If the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) believes that the measure will be popular with Londoners, he is greatly mistaken. If he fancies his chances of being mayor of London, he will have to change his tune.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): The debate has been illuminating, giving us further confirmation of the Conservatives' emerging transport policy. We have learned that their candidate is to enter the mayoral elections with his hands tied in debates about road charges and the workplace levy. That makes it difficult for the Conservatives, to set out transport policies for the benefit of Londoners. It may explain why Steven Norris is at least beginning to consider the possibility of standing not as a Conservative but under an independent banner. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) has rightly said, during his time as a Minister and after leaving ministerial office, Mr. Norris was only too willing to acknowledge the fact that workplace charges were essential to deal with some of the fundamental problems of traffic and transportation in Greater London.

We have learned from the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), as he gropes his way towards a new transport policy for the Conservatives, that their ideas involve ripping out pedestrian crossings, removing traffic calming measures and getting cars to go faster on almost every road. It will be interesting to debate those policies during the election campaign next year.

Mr. Ottaway: Our policy is not to rip out pedestrian crossings.

Mr. Burstow: I am delighted to issue the press release confirming that tonight we have managed to persuade the Conservative party to turn away from the crazy policy of which we heard earlier in the debate.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South is right to say that road pricing and workplace charges are not a panacea. They are not the be all and end all of a debate on transport policy. He was right to draw attention to the need to recognise that there should be more investment in clean vehicle technology. I should like to draw the attention of the House to work that is being done in London, led by my local authority in Sutton, in pioneering the Zeus project on the development of low and nil-emission technology, in partnership with Southwark, Merton and other local authorities throughout the country. They are liaising with European partners to work alongside the manufacturing industries that provide our motor vehicles to ensure that they bring forward plans from their drawing boards and put them in the marketplace. That is happening. We are grateful for the support that we have had from the Government, but we wish that they could give a little more leadership by investing the public money for which they are responsible in such vehicles and so setting an example.

The Conservatives have tied the hands of their candidate, but Labour is effectively doing the same thing because of the way in which the Government are setting up the two potential sources of revenue.

It is clear that the Government have not addressed hypothecation, or the permanence of the scheme. I listened closely to the Minister, and I shall address some

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of her comments. Reference has been made to the report of the Transport Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs, and the three key issues identified in the report--hypothecation, permanence and additionality.

The Minister claims that there is 100 per cent. certainty that 100 per cent. of the net proceeds of the initial schemes will go into transport schemes in London. However, we are then told that hypothecation may continue into the future for specific schemes. The Minister has again rejected the idea that we should have the permanent hypothecation of resources, arguing that that would be gold-plating London Transport. Anyone outside this House who heard the argument that if a scheme went on for over 10 years, with the hypothecation of the revenue streams from the two sources of charging, we would be in danger of gold-plating the transport system would wonder where the Minister has been.

Ms Jackson: The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not what I said. I referred to the extension of the initial 10-year period, for example, for schemes such as a private finance initiative which would clearly run on for longer than 10 years. Such examples are included in the Bill, and will be entirely feasible. He is misinterpreting the review which will take place after the first 10 years of a running scheme. That does not mean automatically that hypothecation will end.

I have pointed out one scenario where hypothecation would, of necessity, have to continue, and I can think of many others. I did not say--I am clear that the hon. Gentleman does not think for one moment that I did--that, after 10 years, any form of transport in London would be gold-plated. The Liberal Democrats' argument for permanent hypothecation will not deliver the best possible value with the funds raised, and will not deliver the best possible public transport.

Mr. Burstow: I am pleased that the Minister has acknowledged that, after 10 years, our transport system will not be gold-plated by this Government. Undoubtedly, the Government are not putting in adequate resources to deliver that. Having said that, the key point is that if we are to persuade Londoners that the permissive powers to be granted to the mayor are to be invoked and used for the good of Londoners, we need to be able to say that the money that Londoners will pay will go back to the benefit of Londoners and London Transport. The Government are not prepared to accept that.

Ms Jackson: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will apologise to the House for misleading it in that way. The Government have made it abundantly clear that 100 per cent. of the net proceeds raised will be spent only on the improvement of transport in London.

Mr. Burstow: For 10 years--that is the key point, to which the Minister did not refer.

Ms Jackson: I did not refer to that because I had just, in some detail, evinced to him the realities of what he sees as the 10-year bar less than a minute ago. As he is clearly having difficulty in retaining the information, I will give it again. There will be a review after the first 10 years. That review does not automatically mean the closure of hypothecation. I have given one instance where there

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would be a clear need for an extension way beyond the initial 10-year scheme. That is my point. We do notaccept the Liberal Democrats' argument for permanent hypothecation for the reasons that I have, on more than one occasion, given to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.

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