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Mr. Geraint Davies: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the impact of such charges will be first, to reduce the number of spaces, which will free up quite a lot of aggregate space for urban development; secondly, to encourage people to use public transport; and, thirdly, to encourage people to live near to where they work? Does he agree that those results are all environmentally beneficial and will probably lubricate the economy--people will take fewer journeys, on public transport, and there will be better use of urban space?
Mr. Syms: I am afraid that I do not share the hon. Gentleman's rosy vision. People live in particular areas because they like to do so. Many people live in the countryside because they prefer to do so. London is of course a nice place to live--I am sure that many areas of it are being regenerated, which I welcome--but taxation on workplace parking is not a productive approach. Costs will be substantial.
There is even the problem of definitions, which we discussed in Committee on several occasions. What qualifies as "a workplace"? In Committee, I used the example of a builders' merchants. If one is a builder, as I am--I better declare an interest--one would be charged for parking in a space at the builders' merchants because one is trade custom. However, members of the public who are buying garden furniture and perhaps a little cement would not be charged.
There is the issue of liberty. Local authorities will become involved in counting parking spaces and will have the right to enter people's premises to ensure that they are not trying to avoid the charge. In effect, there will be licences for parking spaces.
The proposal gives rise to many difficulties. It is instructive that the Government, who are a meddling Government, plan to introduce a workplace parking tax that will meddle a great deal in people's lives. I make no apology for the new clause, which would make the measure unworkable, as no sensible authority would go forward with it.
Mr. Geraint Davies: I shall make a couple of simple observations about the new clause. As I said in my earlier intervention, it would encourage business parking place charging as a form of taxation and as a substitute for normal rates. As I said in my second intervention, a workplace parking scheme could have beneficial effects and provide business incentives by reducing the number of spaces, increasing the use of public transport, and renewing and reviving some of the space at present used for parking.
The scheme would generate more red tape, but it would encourage those virtuous outputs. However, under the new clause there would be no opportunity for hypothecation to promote environmental benefits and more public transport provision to enable people to use public transport instead of their cars.
As I made clear in my interventions, the Opposition's agenda makes no sense, and their case shows no coherence. If they are against workplace parking charges, they should say so. Their new clause suggests that they are for it at a lower cost, but they are not willing to put in the investment to provide the public transport and environmental infrastructure needed to build a more sustainable Britain.
Mr. Don Foster: I begin by thanking the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) for his apology, which he made with his characteristic courtesy and generosity. I am grateful to him for that. He made it clear that in the context of the new clause, we are speaking about workplace charging.
As the House knows, workplace charging is intended as an additional measure alongside others that have been mentioned, not least road user charging, as part of the strategy for reducing congestion on our roads, to which I referred in an earlier speech.
During that speech, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who sadly is no longer in his place, challenged me by suggesting that all the current journeys that are made by car are absolutely necessary, and there was no possibility of reducing the number of such journeys. Amazingly, since that comment from the hon. Gentleman, into my hand has come some information which clearly demonstrates that he is unaware of the benefits that could be gained by persuading some of the people whose car journeys are less necessary to change to public transport.
I was interested to read that a motoring organisation, the RAC, concluded from one of its surveys that many car trips that are currently made do not have to be made by car. According to the RAC study, for up to 30 per cent. of car journeys, the trip was hardly necessary, or a perfectly good alternative was already available.
The challenge for all of us is to produce strategies that will enable us to persuade people who make unnecessary car journeys not to make the journey at all, or to switch to other modes of transport, preferably high-quality forms of public transport. Many strategies, in addition to those that the Bill proposes, are available.
I hope that the Government will accept the need to provide much greater support not only for rural buses, but for other forms of community transport. We could even be radical and consider tax breaks for people who have season tickets for different forms of public transport. We could consider more radical approaches to car pooling schemes. In my constituency, an organisation called Take 5 works with some of the major employers in the area to try to persuade them to co-operate effectively on finding ways of encouraging their employees to pool car journeys to and from work. Some big organisations--the best example is the British Airports Authority at Heathrow--have effective, computerised car pooling schemes.
We could consider a more radical use of variable speed limits, and make better use of our existing road network. Perhaps the Minister who replies to the debate will tell us about the Government's proposals for that. I am sure that you prefer to use public transport whenever you can, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but you may have noticed on the rare occasions when you use your car that drivers on motorways become infuriated with motorists who sit in the middle lane and clog it up. There is an urgent need for education about correct lane discipline on our motorways.
While other strategies exist, they do not deliver the goods on their own. It is therefore right for the Government to consider alternative strategies such as congestion charges, which we discussed in our previous debate, and workplace charging. Liberal Democrat Members believe that workplace charging has a part to play in the battle against congestion. We are less convinced about it than about congestion charging, but we acknowledge that the decision will rightly be left to local government. Local councils know the problems of their area best and are therefore best placed to make a judgment about the appropriateness of introducing workplace charging.
Fears abound that workplace charging will be introduced throughout the country and that it will be levied on the staff of a corner shop in a tiny village. That will not happen. It is not the Government's intention, as I understand it. I cannot think of a local council that would contemplate such a proposal.
The Government are keen to give local decision making full rein, but they are not prepared to be sufficiently radical. In Committee, we had an interesting, albeit unproductive debate about extending workplace charging. Many of us know about the problems that out-of-town shopping centres create and the volume of traffic that they generate. The number of journeys to and from such centres can be an added cause of congestion. Yet the Minister has been unwilling to accept the possibility of extending workplace charging to such locations because the Government have clearly said that it can be introduced only in areas that are congested, not in places where people's movement to and from them might cause congestion. I would hope that even at this stage the Minister may be willing to consider giving greater flexibility to local authorities.
If we go ahead with workplace charging as the Government envisage, it is right that the money raised, just as with the money raised from congestion charging, is likely to be best spent by being invested in making improvements in our public transport infrastructure and other related measures to improve the environment. On that basis, it would be wrong to accept the new clause, which would lead to moneys raised from workplace charging being used for a purpose entirely different from that originally intended, and one that we fully support.
It is strange that the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) should introduce a new clause related to how money raised from workplace charging should be used when he and his hon. Friends are entirely opposed to the concept. I suppose that we should be grateful to him for moving the new clause, because it has given us an opportunity to debate these issues.
As there is plenty of time for the debate to continue and as there will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to expand his views at great length, he might at least take a few minutes to explain whether the Conservative party believes that there is a congestion problem on the roads. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) was willing to acknowledge that there is a significant problem. He acknowledged also that it was costing business and individual motorists large amounts of money. However, it is not clear whether that is the official view of the Conservative party. It is--