Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should confine himself to the terms of the new clause and not go wide of them.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that the clause suggests that money raised from workplace charging should be used for a particular purpose. Yet the hon. Member for Poole, in introducing it, made it clear that he was opposed to such charging. I was merely seeking to ascertain whether he was opposed to it and whether he accepted that there is a congestion problem. If so, I wanted to know what proposals he would make for solving the problems.

Mr. Syms: A Government that raises £36 billion in tax should spend a little more than at present on increasing capacity rather than taxing and restricting people.

Mr. Foster: That is a helpful intervention. If money is to be spent on increasing capacity, the hon. Gentleman's implication is twofold. First, he would be prepared to take away some current Government revenues from the purposes to which they are being applied. Presumably that means that he would be happy to see less money spent on pensioners, health or education. Secondly--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going wide of the new clause.

Mr. Foster: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course I accept your stricture.

Unlike the Conservative party, we believe that congestion is causing a problem. We believe also that there is a wide range of strategies that can be used to address it, and that within that range there is a place for

10 May 2000 : Column 875

workplace charging. That is in areas where local authorities determine that it is the most appropriate way forward. We shall not be able to support the new clause.

5.45 pm

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and to resume the contacts that we had in Committee, although it is regrettable that the Government did not listen to the sensible arguments that we made. The proposals for workplace charging are totally pernicious. They will not work. They will not affect congestion in the countryside and small country towns that I know. They constitute a brutal imposition of tax on the benighted British road user.

British motorists and road hauliers are the most heavily taxed and the least rewarded in Europe. The Automobile Association has carried out a survey that shows that British motorists suffer from the worst road congestion in western Europe. They pay the most for petrol and diesel. They pay the most for their cars. They are the most highly taxed and they receive least return on investment in roads and public transport.

In the Budget, the Government trumpeted the increases in line with inflation on fuel duty and vehicle excise duty as a blinding flash of light that showed that they had seen reason at last, but British hauliers are still easily the most heavily taxed in western Europe. The vehicle excise duty on a heavy truck has been reduced only to £3,950 compared with £308 in Portugal, £328 in Spain or £358 in Luxembourg. I could continue, but I expect that other hon. Members wish to speak. Diesel costs 67p a litre in the United Kingdom, but 36p in Luxembourg and 35p in Belgium, so is it a surprise that Britain's hauliers are either closing or flagging out and going abroad?

Mr. Snape: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paterson: I am delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Snape: I realise that the hon. Gentleman normally sticks faithfully to the script provided by the Road Haulage Association, but, as he mentions flagging out, can he tell the House the percentage of foreign hauliers on Britain's roads and how much it has increased or decreased since last year?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman can worry about hauliers another time, but not during this debate.

Mr. Paterson: I shall follow your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will not be led down the wicked byways suggested by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), but I should be happy to give him those figures later. The Library supplied them to me last year.

The British road user is getting a lousy deal. Less than a sixth of the £36 billion taken in tax is put back into roads and local transport. The increases in line with inflation in the Budget were £715 million, but the Government will spend only £280 million extra on transport. In my rural area, which has not been addressed by the Government in any of these debates, 95 per cent. of freight goes by road and 67 per cent. of people in Shropshire drive to work in

10 May 2000 : Column 876

cars, but there is a £94 million backlog of road repairs and winter maintenance extends to only 22 per cent. of the network. Those are being ripped off by the Government. There is no other term for it.

Mr. Bercow: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Paterson: I am delighted to give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Bercow: I am listening to my hon. Friend's exposition with great interest and attention. Is he aware of the strength of opposition to workplace charging that has been expressed consistently and eloquently by an 82-year-old constituent of mine? Mrs. Elizabeth Zettl of High street, Buckingham, regards with repugnance the Government's damaging proposals. She travels across my constituency to undertake voluntary charity work in Buckingham. She would be savaged by the Government's proposals.

Mr. Paterson: I am delighted to hear about Mrs. Zettl and entirely sympathise with her predicament. Like every other motorist, £8 of every £10 she puts in her tank goes to Ministers, who spend it on other things.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should not discuss such matters, which are not before us. We are debating new clause 30, which was tabled by his Front Benchers. What goes in a constituent's fuel tank has nothing to do with the new clause.

Mr. Paterson: I listened carefully to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are discussing moneys that are collected under a licensing scheme. My argument is that the British road user is so highly taxed that he cannot afford to spend any more moneys on any other scheme. I support the new clause because it has the splendid effect of neutralising this thoroughly loathsome and pernicious measure to tax parking spaces.

Mrs. Zettl is in good company. The British Chambers of Commerce has said:

I think that they are understating the case. It is a cast-iron certainty that the charge will cause serious friction between employer and employees.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend helpfully points out that the charges are levied on the business or organisation rather than on the individual user undertaking his or her duties for that business or organisation. Does he agree with me that it is a legitimate cause for concern that charities could be savagely hit by the proposal for workplace charging? They would have to foot the bill, their revenues would suffer, and as a result they would

10 May 2000 : Column 877

do less good for the community. The measure is utterly pernicious, wrong-headed and should have no place in our deliberations.

Mr. Paterson: I entirely agree. Those points were made in Committee, but regrettably were ignored by the Government. My constituents who drive to the college in Shrewsbury, which is a distance of 20 miles, will also be clobbered. Some of them are the least able to afford a new tax. People who have to attend training may drive to Wrexham or Telford. They will not be heavily remunerated if they are changing jobs, so they are in the most vulnerable position and will not be able to pay these charges.

A scion of Sainsbury's sits on the Government Benches in the other place. I have had a letter from Sainsbury's development policy manager, Mr. Huw Williams, who says:

Sainsbury's is particularly concerned about the difficulties that it is likely to encounter in many locations in differentiating between parking provided for shoppers, which are therefore exempt, and spaces used by its staff.

Mrs. Zettl is also in good company in that the Institute of Directors has carried out a survey. It is a substantial organisation with a membership of 51,000, 48,000 of whom are based in this country. They were asked whether they supported strongly or opposed strongly allowing councils to levy workplace parking charges. An incredible 81 per cent. opposed the charges, 61 per cent. of them strongly. It was interesting that the directors were also asked about their likely reaction to the effect of this horrible measure. Only 12 per cent. considered that the charges would encourage people not to drive to their premises and, amazingly, 18 per cent. said that they would consider relocating. This measure will be counter- productive.

Those companies fear that people who visit them will vote with their wheels. In Committee, I cited the case of the towns in my constituency. A town such as Oswestry does not have one business that is more than 10 or 15 minutes' walk from a residential area. That shows the crass impracticality of the measure. Ministers have not worked in business or been to a country area such as Shropshire. It is obvious that, to avoid the charges, people will park their cars in the residential areas and walk into town. The measure is even more pernicious in that it will hurt businesses that are situated outside towns, where there is no option. People will park in the lanes and clog up the roads.

This is a thoroughly ill-thought-out measure. It is nothing less than a tax. It is a means of giving local authorities a method of raising money for local transport schemes that will not come from central Government. That is what it is all about. Time and again in Committee we came across the supine inability of Ministers to negotiate any battle with the Treasury and win. Every time, they came out worst, and they have had to muddle through and come up with such cack-handed schemes to replace money that should rightly come from central

10 May 2000 : Column 878

Government, if it is to come from anywhere at all. The measure gives local authorities the right to raise money for schemes, because it is almost certain that central Government will reduce their support.

This measure does not even have the support of what should be good, loyal councils. In Committee, I quoted Mr. Emmerson from the Telford development agency. He said that the agency was looking into the possibility of postponing putting this scheme into practice for seven years on the ground that Telford does not have any congestion. It is almost certain to have to go for a scheme in order to raise money. That proves the point. Ministers are incapable of negotiating effectively with the Treasury, and they are imposing through the back door yet another vicious tax, which will make every one of my constituents worse off and every one of the businesses in my constituency less competitive.

Ministers do not understand how things work on the ground. I support new clause 30 because it has the splendid feature of totally neutralising this horrible proposal.

Next Section

IndexHome Page