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Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): There are two fundamental questions: first, is the congestion charge a good thing or a bad thing; secondly, if we reach the conclusion that it is a bad thing, what can the Government do about it? An ancillary point is what the Labour party said that it was going to do about it and whether it has misled the people of London.
What is the point of the congestion charge? The Mayor of London is telling the people of London that the centre of the city is congested, which is not in London's interests. Accordingly, he will use his powers under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and impose a road user charge in a small, defined area in the centre. He argues that that will remove the congestion and improve the environment. Let us put aside the alternatives for a second. In my judgment, it is a classic piece of anti-car socialist envyRed Ken in his finest colours. His true purpose is to tax a certain group of Londoners and raise money to subsidise the underground because the Government are slowly but surely letting it slide into chaos. The congestion charge is a policy that I oppose and I am pleased that the Conservative party opposes it too. It is a policy supported by the Liberal Democrats.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The hon. Gentleman will remember that I, like other London Members, was involved in the Greater London Authority Bill. Does he accept that, whether he or I support or oppose congestion charges, it is a proper matter for the regional authority to decidein this case, the Mayor and the Greater London Authorityor is it his position that the Conservative party should not allow it, even if, at a less than national level, it is considered appropriate?
Richard Ottaway : Central Government should intervene and I shall argue that they have the powers to do so. Since the hon. Gentleman and I served on the GLA Bill, then the longest Bill in Parliament, with the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), I have gone to the Opposition Back Benches. I do not speak for the Front Bench, so he will have to put the question
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he agree that congestion charging was proposed during the election campaign for the Mayor of London in May 2000, but only on the basis that there would be a manifest improvement in public transport before such a charge was introduced? Everyone in London would agree that such an improvement has not been manifest. On that basis, is it not important that we in Parliament, while recognising the importance of devolved London government, have some voice to ensure that an inequitable tax is not foisted upon members of our constituencies and beyond?
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when his party was in government, the former Minister, the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), went on record as advocating a form of congestion charging? The issue is not clear-cut. Some people in all parties are against the issue in principle and some are against the specifics of the current proposals
Richard Ottaway : I think that the hon. Gentleman has the wrong Minister. That idea was floated in a Green Paper. It did not surface in a White Paper. After consultation, it was rejected and certainly never appeared in a manifesto.
As I was saying before I was interrupted, the Conservative party opposes the policy although the Liberal Democrats support it. The Labour party introduced the power to charge, then said that it opposed it, then supported it and now is not sure. That is not so much the third way as all three ways at the same time. Congestion charging would cause chaos. It would hinder rather than help London's economic development. It would tax those who cannot afford it. It would have no beneficial impact on the environment, but might worsen it.
The Government legislated to provide general powers for the introduction of congestion charging inside and outside London. Their current line is that they are waiting to see how the proposed charging works in London before they introduce other schemes. The Government have given themselves powers to veto the introduction of congestion charges outside London, but claim that they do not have such a power in respect of charging in Londonthe Prime Minister pointed that out at Prime Minister's questions two weeks ago. I shall challenge that stance but, before I do so, it would be helpful to evaluate the merits of congestion charges.
The Mayor says that traffic in London is getting worse, spoiling the environment and must be curtailed. That statement completely ignores the fact that traffic growth in central London in the past 20 years has fallen by 2 per cent. The real growth is occurring in outer London boroughs, where traffic has increased by more than 50 per cent. in the past 20 years. Mercifully, there are no proposals to introduce congestion charging in those boroughs. However, there is an additional factorthe plethora of traffic-calming measures introduced by the Government since 1997 and, more recently, by the GLA. Protection of pedestrians and cyclists is essential but we should accept that such measures will have certain consequences. Traffic in my constituency has been visibly slowed. The zebra crossing has been replaced by the pedestrian light, which often stops traffic for longer than necessary.
We all want less congestion. Those who want clear roads are usually those who simply want to be able to drive down them without frustration. Traffic jams are a regulatory mechanism. Virtually everyone in a traffic jam is there because he or she wants to be. If a road is clear of traffic, more motorists use it, which causes a traffic jam, and so the process continues. The Mayor
On fairness, who will be hit hardest by the charge? Not the fat cat City boss driving his car to the City, who will not be deterred in the slightest because he will add the charge to his office expenses. It is the little man who will be hit hardestthe poorest in society. That will include the evening shift worker who comes into town in the afternoon so that he can drive home late in the evening, the mother on the school run who has no alternative but to pay the charge, the pensioner who wants to go to the shops, and charities. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that the additional cost will be £5,000 a year.
Even the Mayor's agencies are complaining. The Metropolitan police authority is concerned that the charge will have an impact on recruitment and retention of police officers. Small businesses, such as newsagents, will be affected. The London fire and emergency planning authority estimates that 70 per cent. of its staff drive to work. Those people will be hit hardest.
The puzzling feature of the proposals is that the present incumbent of the mayoralty has always argued for the poorest in society. The measure is a regressive tax and it will affect the poorest in society hardest. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that motorists in the poorest fifth of the population commit up to 24 per cent. of their total expenditure to running their cars. Low wage earners must be flexible about where they find work. People on low incomes already find it tough enough to find work in the capital and hon. Members of all parties constantly refer to the lack of low-cost housing. To take another £1,250 a year out of income, after taxation, is equivalent to another £25,000 on a mortgage. That will be the impact.
The proposals fail the first test, as the tax will be regressive, and will hit hardest those on the lowest incomes. It is not a fair tax, but a poll tax on wheels. Even more extraordinary is the existence of an alternative. Section 296 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 allows the Mayor to impose a workplace parking levy, which would hit the highest earners in our society, not the lowest. It would be easy to implement and would almost certainly raise a high level of revenue, yet I have heard no one in the Labour or Liberal Democrat parties recommend it. I strongly suspect that the Mayor has a touch of the Prime Minister's radicalismone can be tough on something, as long as there will be no fighting back. The workplace parking levy would affect big business, which the Mayor is keen to suck up to. The working classes will give him much less trouble.
The second test is whether the charge has a purpose. The claimed purpose is to improve the quality of the environment and to meet the obligation, under section 30 of the 1999 Act, that the Mayor cannot introduce such a measure unless it promotes an improvement of the environment in Greater London. Is the traffic of central London causing pollution? If so, is the congestion charge needed to remove it? The Mayor's proposals pay little attention to technological progress in the production of the clean car. The average car now produces only 5 per cent. of the toxic emissions that it
Ironically, research has shown that the most polluted street in London is Oxford street, the only one where cars are not permitted. The only vehicles going down it are buses and taxis and we all know the difficulties that they have with their emissions. The irony is that they, the most polluting vehicles in London, will be exempt from the congestion charge. So how effective will the charge be in reducing pollution?
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I agree that great technological advances are being made that affect the cleanness of cars, but however clean a car is, will it not create the same amount of congestion?
Richard Ottaway : Two cars are needed for a traffic jam, but I think I get the drift of the question, which raises an important point. Is a traffic jam pollution? The inference to be drawn from the intervention is that it is.
Tom Brake : Whether a traffic jam created by zero-emission cars produces pollution is debatable, but it is not debatable that traffic jams have a clear and heavy impact on businesses, which must bear the costs of the slowing down of the movement of their goods.
Richard Ottaway : The centre of London seems to be doing all right at the moment without the congestion charge, but with the introduction of the charge the businesses the hon. Gentleman mentioned will be affected. In fact, congestion outside the zone may worsen. Helpfully, Labour-controlled Croydon council issued a press release last week entitled, "Ensuring congestion charge avoiders don't harm Croydon", which says that the Government have given the council £41,000 to carry out a consultation exercise. Multiplied over the 32 London boroughs, that comes to £1.3 million.
Bureaucracy seems to be good business under Labour. The Government introduce a tax and then give moneys to authorities to work out how to avoid its impact. The press release says it all. A congestion-charging zone cannot exist in isolation, as there is bound to be a knock-on effect. For example, plenty of traffic transits London using the Embankment. It would be forced south or north of the charging zone area. The City of London has expressed concern about the environmental impact on Tower bridge, which is just outside the zone and will become a focal artery for traffic trying to avoid it. The bridge is regularly raised, which will hardly ease congestion, as the area will be packed with vehicles avoiding the charge. Congestion outside the area will grow. To make matters worse, the Mayor is introducing no-car lanes on key routes such as the A40 to discourage traffic outside the zone.
The absolute chaos that will follow the introduction of the zone does not bear thinking about. The shambles will be total and gridlock complete. As the Mayor knows from his days in the Greater London council, one needs to shut only the odd key road to have a huge impact on London's traffic. He shut one lane of the A4
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): Will the hon. Gentleman explain why, just before the 1999 Act allowed local government powers to introduce congestion charges, Westminster city council distributed to every household a copy of Westminster Reporter, which said that the time had come to introduce congestion charging and that the only barrier was the fact that the Government would not allow the council to do it?
Richard Ottaway : I have absolutely no idea, but perhaps the hon. Lady would like to take the matter up with Westminster council. I take it from that intervention that she is in favour of the congestion charge.
The third test is whether the tax is efficient. The Mayor has made no secret of the fact that he hopes to impose the charge to subsidise the London underground. That is an obsession with the Mayorhe did that when he ran the GLC and, now that the Government have given him powers to raise extra taxes, the temptation to do it again is irresistible. However, the sums raised for the funding of the underground will be risible and will barely scratch the surface of the extra funding that is needed.
In August 2000, Transport for London estimated that the scheme would raise £200 million a year to give to public transport projectswhich is code for the London underground. However, it is now expected that the scheme will raise only £628 million in the first five years of its operation and that, as the budget is revised, projected costs will rise and revenues fall. Although an extra £100 million for the underground will always be welcome, it will not make that much difference. Yesterday's Evening Standard said that the Government had cut funding for the underground. People are concerned that, for every pound raised by the charge, the Government will cut their subsidy by £1.
Congestion taxes require significant mitigation measures and a network of cameras and monitoring equipment. Transport for London admits that the total cost of implementing the scheme in London will be up to £560 million in the first year. Roland Berger, the international transport strategy consultants, warned last November that the system had already been rejected as dated by almost every other world capital and that rushing into a system of levying one basic charge over a rigidly defined area would simply push congestion from the centre to other parts of the capital. Will it even reduce congestion inside the zone?
In Singapore, the technology is sophisticated and fine-tuned to control traffic flows. The half a dozen arteries into the city centre have different rates at different times of day. There is one rate for entering during the rush hour. Half an hour later, the sum is reduced. That system is effective and evens out the traffic
Those are the three tests. The question now is what the Government should do about it. Will the Government intervene to prevent the disaster that will happen? I do not know why I should try to help them out, as the chaos that will result from the proposal is likely to happen just before the next general election. I shall then point out, with some relish, which party introduced the measure. However, I put London first and I would like to give the Minister some advice on the way out of the minefield into which the Government are walking.
Until now, the Government have said that it is a matter for the Mayor. The Prime Minister made that point to me at Prime Minister's questions two weeks ago. They have been saying that they can only tinker with the proceeds of the schemethat they do not have the power to block it. The tinkering comes under paragraph 16 of schedule 23 of the 1999 Act, and I am sure that the Minister will use his powers with diligence when it becomes necessary. Section 143 of the Act gives the Secretary of State the power to direct the Mayor to change his transport strategy if he considers it to be inconsistent with national policy and likely to have an adverse effect outside London. Personally, I think that gridlock in the capital will have a dramatic effect outside London, and the only astonishing thing is that the Government fail to recognise that fact.
The real power for the Minister, however, is contained in section 30 of the 1999 Act, which relates to the general powers of the authority. The Act says that the authority should have the power to do anything that it considers will further any of its principal purposes. It goes on to define those purposes as
The proposal breaches the general powers of the authority. The good news for the Minister is that section 30(7) gives the Secretary of State powers to issue guidance to the authority concerning the exercise by the GLA of its powers. That power is unfettered and can be used widely. It is clear that the Government have the power and the grounds to intervene. The only question remaining is whether they have the guts. Frankly, I am not sure that they have. This horrendous issue will have a profound effect on the capital and they are sitting like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming bus.
During the London mayoral election in May 2000, everyone's positions were clear. The Liberal Democrats were in favour of congestion charging and have remained so. The independent Mayor was in favour of it. The Conservative party was implacably opposed, and we thought that the Labour party was too. It campaigned on a manifesto that said, "New Labour, New London", and "no congestion charges". The Prime Minister endorsed that manifestoit had his picture on page one and his signature. On 13 April 2000, during the campaign, the Prime Minister made his move. An article in The Times of that day stated:
That was the position of the Prime Minister and the Government. Not wishing to fall out with their leader, Assembly candidates fell over themselves to agree. Trevor Philips, leader of the Labour group on the Assembly, and Deputy Mayor, said that he would not support the congestion charge until improvements were made to the underground. It will be a long time before that is put to the test. The Mayor got his mandate. He had been clear, and the electorate responded accordingly. However, he did not have an unfettered right. The London Assembly has the power to overturn the Mayor's budget if there is a 70 per cent. majority against it. It was a good election for the Conservative party, and we came out the biggest party in the London Assembly. Labour were not far behind, and it came second. That meant that the 70 per cent. needed to prevent the congestion charge was present. Ever resourceful, the Conservative party took the words out of the Labour party manifesto, incorporated them into a motion and invited the Labour party to support it just three weeks after the election.
The high-flying rhetoric of opposition to the congestion charge proved to be nothing but deceit. Labour Assembly Members voted against the motionhypocrisy of the highest level. They wanted the congestion charge after all. However, Ministers are more wary than naive Assembly Members. They know that troubled waters lie ahead and they distance themselves, saying that it is not their responsibility. Nevertheless, the powers to intervene exist.
Unless there are substantial improvements in London's public transport, a congestion charge will exacerbate current problems. The right way to make progress is to hold a public inquiry. In about three years, Edinburgh intends to implement a congestion charge, but after a public inquiry. The full impact of the charge should be assessed and the views of boroughs such as Wandsworth, Kensington and Chelsea should be incorporated.
Using central London as a pilot scheme will pose a significant risk to its social, economic and environmental well-being. Of all the places in the United Kingdom, the centre of London is the last place where a pilot scheme of this nature should be held. As the Brett report, commissioned by Westminster council, concludes:
Mr. Roger Gale (in the Chair): Order. Four hon. Members have indicated in writing that they want to participate in the debate and a further three are standing. The Liberal Democrat spokesman, the Opposition spokesman and the Minister must also speak. I therefore prevail on hon. Members to keep remarks brief to allow the maximum number to participate.
I do not think that congestion charging will work. I accept that the Mayor decided that he had a mandate to go ahead with it and is determined to have it, but until we improve our public transport, people will not accept that it is fair.
I want to draw attention to the ridiculousness of the zone. I should like the whole proposal to be dropped and I urge the Minister seriously to consider holding a public inquiry if he has the powers to do so, because real and necessary consultation that allows people to understand what it will mean and how unfair it will be has not yet taken place.
Although there have been exemptionswe welcome those that the Mayor has added after consultationanomalies will make the situation more expensive for some public services. I draw particular attention to my local hospital, Guy's and St. Thomas's. Staff have recently written to Transport for London pointing out that they were
Kate Hoey : I have not gone into the detailed costs, I just know that the hospital would not put its serious concerns in writing if it did not feel that the proposal would have a bad effect on it and its services. There is also the question of exemption for dependent patients and their carers. A range of issues is involved. Until the scheme is working we shall be unable to work everything out, and we shall be faced with huge problems afterwards.
When the scheme was proposed and looked as though it would happen, I thought that it would affect central London. However, the boundary has been drawn through the centre of my constituency in Kenningtonthrough the heart of a conservation area and a community that has suffered a huge amount over the years but has managed to keep together and maintain its community feel. Congestion charging would cover Kennington, while Harrods, which in my view is in the centre of London, would not be covered.
I recently attended a meeting of 400 people in Kennington. People are only beginning to realise what charging will mean, which is why we need a public inquiry. When people discover that the powers that be are treating Kennington as central London, but not Harrods, they will think it nonsense. Splitting my
If there is a need for congestion charging, which I dispute, it should have begun with a small pilot scheme in the core of central London. If we were all to draw maps of central London, the scheme should be piloted in the middle of them.
As the hon. Member for Croydon, South said, lights have replaced pedestrian crossings in the past year or two. Cars therefore stop for longer when nobody is crossing the road, which causes pollution that affects people waiting at bus stops for buses that do not come because we have not improved public transport. There is a vendetta against the car. Having a car was something that gave me independence. Many women will not get out of their cars no matter how much public transport improves. Some may use their cars less if public transport improves, but until we see an improvement we shall not force people out of their cars. All that will happen is that people will be prepared to sit for longer.
As the hon. Member for Croydon, South said, charging will not affect people who are rich, who own businesses or who are Members of Parliament because they will pay and continue to use their cars. The people who will suffer will be those in my constituency who have got a job and saved up to buy a car, even if it is a second-hand banger, which they see as an important part of their lifestyle. They will suffer and it is wrong that we are allowing this to happen without a public inquiry.
The Government have the power to intervene and I urge them to do so with reference to my residential constituencyhuge numbers of Members of Parliament live there, but I know that that will not influence the Minister, who also lives in the area. We must examine the scheme and stop it before we damage the Mayor's role.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): It is a great pleasure to follow the common-sense words of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). I must apologise to the Minister because I must leave slightly early to attend a constituency engagement, but I shall read Hansard in great detail tomorrow. I shall be brief because I know that several other hon. Members want to speak.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said. Devolution of power to the regions has led to some momentous decisions, which on face value mean that other matters are outside the remit of the House. Although many Conservative Members were not in favour of a London Mayor, we must now work with that position as it is clearly here to stay, and we must ensure that we put the interests of Londoners first.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) made an interesting and thoughtful contribution that covered many of the most important points. I want to touch on a few issues that have not been discussed in great detail.
Like the hon. Member for Vauxhall, I believe that the exemptions issue is a can of worms and entirely arbitrary. Given that London is the economic powerhouse of the country, every last accountant, banker and solicitor going into central London is a key worker. Therefore, the concept of restricting key workers according to some arbitrary lobbying of Ken Livingstone is entirely wrong. It is clear that the key worker concept is open to abuse and uncertainty.
I am also concerned about the financial viability of the proposal. It is agreed that there must be radical improvements to London's infrastructure, and in particular its transport infrastructure, before a road charge can be considered. That applies to the underground system too. As Bob Kylie has made clear, it will take at least 10 years to make any fundamental improvements to the underground system. From the moment when the decision is made on how the investment will work, the tube will get worse for the next three or four years before it gets better. That decision will simply be the first part of the problem.
The Mayor has placed great reliance on London buses, and endless advertisements on the television, radio and billboards talk about the importance of buses. Although there are improvements, they will not make anything like the difference required to ensure that the problems with the congestion charge will not come home to roost.
The proposed scheme was intended to raise about £200 million a year. It now seems clear from all the statistical analysis that the maximum amount will be around £125 million a year. It is difficult to see how that will improve London's public transport. There will also be vast implementation costs. In the past week, there has been the revelation that Ken Livingstone has had to sign a number of preliminary contracts, which means that, even if he decides tomorrow to do away with the scheme, there will inevitably be a cost of about £20 million to London's taxpayers. As there are now 53 weeks until the scheme is due to be implemented, a massive amount of infrastructure work needs to be done. Even if the scheme got the green light, it would not be operational by the beginning of next February, so the congestion charge could become something of a shambles.
I know that I speak for myself; I am not sure that I speak for my party, but I shall allow my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) to make the party view clear. I speak as the Member of Parliament for the constituency most directly affected by the congestion charge, if it is brought into play. It is incumbent on us to put the interests of Londoners first. I shall support the Minister if he now takes the initiative and holds a full public inquiry.
The Government can rest assured that they will have the support of London Conservative Members if the interests of Londoners are put first. I am greatly concerned that the Mayor of London does not want to incur the wrath of environmentalists by cancelling the charge himself, although my hunch is that, given the political situation, he is as keen as anybody to ensure that he does not have a congestion charge nightmare on his hands during his re-election campaign in the run-up to May 2004.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I, too, applied for a debate on this subject and I am delighted to congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) on his success in securing this timely debate. Like him, I speak as an outer-London Member but, unlike the two previous speakers, the scheme does not include my constituency. My assessment on behalf of my constituents in Ilford and Redbridge, which include many underground and railway stations, is that they will gain nothing from implementation of the scheme. The wrong scheme is being introduced at the wrong time in the wrong way.
There has recently been controversy about a residents' parking scheme in Seven Kings. My constituents will be charged £5 to enter central London, but under the Mayor's strategy they will be entitled to a 15 per cent. reduction on journeys in, which will have to be taken by other forms of transport. There is no way in which the 86 bus can go all the way from Romford to central London in anything like the time that it takes on the tube or suburban rail lines. My constituents will use the Central or District lines or the suburban lines from Liverpool street to Southend or from Fenchurch street to the east. Those lines are already jam-packed at rush hour, and it is unbelievably unpleasant to get on a Central line train at any time between 8 am and 9.30 am. It is the same in the afternoon.
My constituents will either pay the £5 charge to drive into central London every day, or they will have an even more unpleasant journey on public transport. When they get home from work, they will see outside their houses and all around cars owned by county commuters from Hertfordshire and Essex who have come in and found a tube or suburban line station near which to park to enable them to get to work. The whole of outer London will become a car park for county commuters. There will be no benefit to my constituents whatever.
I raised these concerns during the original consultation but, needless to say, my views were completely disregarded. I expected nothing else, because the Mayor is obsessed with getting the scheme through before his next election. His timetable is unrealistic; he wants the scheme to be introduced in February next year and he is using technology that is untested and unproven.
With a mayoral election in spring 2004, I am tempted to let the Mayor get on with it and suffer the political consequences of introducing such a disastrous scheme. However, that will not be good for my constituents or anyone else in London, whether within the central zone or outside it. It is in the public interest that those of us who are worried about the matter speak out now. If the scheme goes ahead regardless, we will at least be able to
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I undertake to speak for a couple of minutes only. I have a direct constituency interest in the proposal because the boundary of the zone goes from Tower bridge on the northern edge of my constituency and cuts through the north-eastern part of Southwark until it joins the Lambeth border at the end of Newington Butts. North-east Southwark is in the zone, the rest of the borough is out of it and the boundary goes through my constituency, in a similar way to that described by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) in relation to her constituency.
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have been consistent in the principle of their positions. We have supported in principle a congestion charge and the fact that London government should decide on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) will speak on behalf of our party on that general principle. I have made my views clear at both rounds of the submissions that have been called for by the Mayor and Transport for London and have put in submissions on both occasions, including earlier this month.
I want to raise some matters that I believe are important with the Minister. It is appropriate to bring to Ministers' attention matters that might influence their decisions about whether to intervene in the way in which the 1999 Act allows them. I have put the case for the boundary to be in a different place. It is nonsense for it to go through the middle of communities, boroughs and postal districts. Illogically, that will break up natural patterns of movement and put people on either side of a boundary that they will have to cross regularly. I have asked for the boundary to be moved outwards, so that it naturally takes in the whole of communities in my borough and elsewhere.
I have put the case for a buffer zone, so that people who live just outside the zone but whose natural movements, for which they have to use private transport, come within ittaking the children to school, going to see an elderly relative, shopping, going to the doctorcan be covered without having to pay the £5 daily charge. I am surprised that that idea has not yet been accepted. I hope that Transport for London and the Mayor will accept it, but if they do not, it will be helpful to bring other pressure to bear in examining the issue. There is a strong view in my constituency that it would be right.
Like the hon. Member for Vauxhall and others, I think that although the exemption extensions made by the Mayor between rounds one and two are welcome, other categories have not been thought through. The
As my constituents have become aware of the issues, they are increasingly persuaded that the Mayor should use his power to hold a public inquiry. My judgment is that the scheme is a good idea in principle, but that it must be shown to work, stack up and be fair. That will provide public confidence in it. I hope that the Mayor and Transport for London will agree with my view.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) on obtaining the debate and, in an era when Conservative policy seems to change from day to day, on staying true to what was Conservative policy during the passage of the Greater London Authority Bill. He was opposed to the measure then and is now; I supported it then and do now.
I shall set part of the argument in context, thanks to a helpful briefing from Transport for London about whether the proposals will actually go ahead. As we know, the Mayor has held a consultation period during the past 18 months, which, I believe, closed in January 2002. Transport for London is reviewing all the representations and I understand that the Mayor will issue a report, then make a decision later this year, on
The arguments advanced by hon. Members who oppose the introduction of congestion charging in London are exactly the same as those that would have been advanced when residents' parking was first proposed. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) spoke about county travellers coming in and using his constituency as free parking. That happened in my constituency. The problem was solved when my local authority introduced a residents' parking scheme. I have never heard anyone ask for such a scheme to be abolished. On the contrary, I get letters from constituents saying, "Please, when may we have a residents' parking scheme?"
The bottom line is that traffic must be managed. We must control it; it cannot control us. It destroys people's lives. Several hon. Members, quite properly, put forward the concerns of their constituents. I put forward the concerns of my constituents, many of whose lives are
Those are the issues that must be tackled. It is absurd to argue that this is a sneak tax that is being imposed on the people of London. Where does the money for improvements in transport and the environment come from? It comes directly from income tax or it is raised from people who use the benefits of their cars and have to pay for the privilege. We accept that we have to pay for the privilege of parking. Our ability to park where we would ideally like is continually reducing. In inner and central London, methods of controlling traffic by making it more difficult or more expensive to park have reached their apotheosis. It is not possible to reduce traffic any further in that way. We have to use other ways of managing traffic and of ensuring that people who stay in their cars have to pay for the privilege.
Mike Gapes : Does my hon. Friend not think that it would be more sensible to improve public transport before introducing such a scheme so that the capacity is there to take the people who are giving up driving?
Glenda Jackson : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We are seeing improvements in public transport in London. [Hon. Members: "For goodness' sake!"] Hon. Members may scoff, but improvements are under way near this place. There are changes in road routes, a greater preponderance of bus lanes with more cameras so that people who still insist on driving their cars down them will be fined, and more and better buses that are more accessible, clean and green. It is absurd to think that public transport in London can be transformed without the added money that will come via congestion charging and the other plans to introduce money into the public transport system.
I found it astonishing that the hon. Member for Croydon, South was suddenly a passionate advocate of the needs of the poorest people in Londonthis from a member of the party that fought tooth and nail against the introduction of a minimum wage. He also referred to housing. His Government absolutely decimated the building of public housing in London.
Ms Buck : On the conversion of the Conservative party to the cause of the poorest, Westminster City council generates £88 million a year from its parking charges. The charge does not discriminate between rich and poor, neither are there exemptions for nurses, teachers or other public sector workers. It is extraordinary hypocrisy for Conservative Members to justify such income for that council but deny it as a means of raising money for investment in public transport.
Glenda Jackson : It may be the first thing that they buy, but it is extremely difficult for them to maintain it. Old bangers make a sizeable contribution to pollution in London and, in many cases, are dangerous. However, some people are too poor to afford even an old banger. They are entirely dependent on public transport, particularly buses. Buses are the first target in the Mayor's plans to improve public transport in London. It is beginning to work: the number of people who use buses during the day in London has increased by 6 per cent. and the figure is even higher for night buses.
There will always be difficulties when we attempt to change the entirely erroneous belief of virtually everyone in this countrynot just in Londonthat someone who owns a car has an absolute right to drive it where and when they like and park it where they like. We must not only improve the environment of London but ensure that its economy is sustainable. Traffic in London costs far too much. It must be properly managed and it must make a decent return to improve public transport.
Kate Hoey : My hon. Friend has talked a lot about the environment. Does she agree that it is ridiculous that there has not been an environmental audit of congestion charging? How will it affect communities and what will happen on each side of the boundary?
Glenda Jackson : An environmental audit has been done in part, if not in totality. The mayoral advisory cabinet with responsibility for the environment in London will examine the matter in some detail. However, the basic principle stands. The Labour Government took a major step forward in breaking down the barrier against hypothecation that had precluded many advances for the common good. Congestion charging is hypothecation. The money raised must be spent only on improving public transport.
Improving transport in London improves transport for everyone. I supported the measure when I helped take the GLA Bill through the House and I support it now. The Mayor will consider the responses to the consultation and the boundaries may be amended. However, the basic principle is right and proper. The Mayor was elected and congestion charging was part of his manifesto. The most recent MORI polls show that 51 per cent. of the people of London support congestion charging, and I am one of them.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): A marker has been put down. We will have to return to the subject, because many people wish to speak on it. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) expressed a view that is contrary to the majority view. There is no point in rehearsing the arguments against the measure. I would not drive into London if public transport were improved, but would much prefer to come in on the
Angela Watkinson (Upminster): Does my hon. Friend share my concern and surprise that fire fighters are not designated as key workers? Many fire fighters who are stationed in the charging area live outside it and they cannot get an exemption for their home-to-work travel, as the Secretary of State refused it on request.
The impact on areas just outside the zone and in the suburbs will be huge. The scheme is impractical and will be expensive to implement and I urge the Government to use their power to give all Londoners a break. The scheme may be regarded as well intentionedI give the Mayor thatbut it is fatally flawed and we should not go ahead with it until we have thought it through properly and public transport is improved.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I wondered why we were to have this debate on the Government's policy on congestion charging in London, as that is a devolved matter. Of course, the Government need to consider the impact of congestion charging in areas where the Greater London Authority has boundaries, or if there are motorways, but hon. Members know that the Greater London Authority Act 1999 unequivocally gave the GLA those powers.
Tom Brake : I am aware of that, and I will ask the Minister only one question on that point. As the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) said, there is evidence of support for congestion charging, which hon. Members must remember. There will be concerns as the details of the scheme emerge, and the role of the Mayor and Transport for London is to address them.
I want to concentrate on the Conservative position on the issue in case any hon. Member is under the impression that the Conservatives are, and have always been, implacably opposed to congestion charges. In 1996, Lady Olga Maitland, who is no longer in the House, asked whether the Government had any plans to introduce road tolls in London. Steven Norris gave a
There was no categorical denial of support for congestion charges in London. The section on road congestion in the Tory manifesto talks about introducing new regional traffic control centres, extending the use of variable speed limits, and
Presumably, "necessary powers to act" could include congestion charges and workplace parking charges. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) seemed to advocate support for that system and for Singapore-style charging on entry. I can only anticipate his complaints if a scheme were introduced under which people had to pay a charge each time they went through a zone. The hon. Gentleman seems to be confused about whether he or his party supported that. He argues against the scheme that the Mayor proposes, but argues for the scheme in Singapore.
Richard Ottaway : To save the hon. Gentleman wasting his time, I mentioned the Singapore proposal to show how the scheme could be run more efficiently if it were introduced. As I said at the outset, I am against the proposal, as is the Conservative party, and I voted against it in when we dealt with the GLA Bill in 1999.
The Labour position is one of lukewarm endorsement. If one examines what the Labour spokesman has said in the Greater London Authority, one can see that he is urging the Mayor not to rush the introduction of road charging. The Labour party is in favour in principle, but does not want it done too quickly. The view being expressed in the GLA is not the same as the one being expressed by some Labour Members today.
The Liberal Democrat position has been consistent and clear. In principle, we believe that congestion charges would be helpful and would raise revenue, which is a point that hon. Members have not tackled. Many argued that London Underground is underfunded, including the hon. Member for Croydon, South, who then went on to say that the £100 million that would be raised would be insufficient. He did not take the next logical step, which would have been to explain from where the necessary additional funding would come to make up the shortfall. The charges could play a role, but equally we have made it clear that congestion charges will work only if the public transport improvements have been made and can be seen to have been made. In our submission, we made it clear that it has not been sufficiently improved.
The debate has shed some light on what some hon. Members do not want but, unfortunately, not on what they would want to be introduced instead. I will finish by asking the Minister one question. Will he confirm today that the Government will not interfere in congestion charging schemes other than in areas where there is an overlap with Government interestthe motorway network, for exampleand in authorising the scheme and how revenues will be allocated, which is rightfully the Secretary of State's role?
Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar): It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway). In view of the shortness of time, I hope that he will forgive me for giving only simple congratulations, rather than saying the many magnificent things about his career that I would want. He laid down three clear tests, which were of fairness, purpose and efficiency, and demolished the proposals on every one. That clearly demonstrated that we are about to see a real mess in London.
Mr. Pickles : I will deal with them in a moment, because I thought that they were all over the place, as always. They were in favour, but against the detail. They think it is a wonderful idea, but do not like how it will work in practice.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) painted an unforgettable image of Harrods as an out-of-town shopping centre, but described Kennington as a community cut in two, saying how expensive it will be to take a sick child by car to visit the doctor. It may be just a few streets away, but it will cost £5 and her contribution was telling. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) spoke about key workers and said that if the Government wanted to bury the toll tax, the Conservatives would co-operate. That would be the case. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) rightly said that this was the wrong scheme in the wrong place at the wrong time. His comments on the No. 86 bus from Romford could work for almost every bus route in London.
I assumed that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate would be present to apologise for the mess created by the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and for allowing the possibility of congestion charges. Her remarks on the issue have been refreshing. It is clear that the measure is about paying for the privilege of owning and using a car. We should forget the poor, because according to the hon. Lady they are not entitled to a carthey have to go by bus. I have seen correspondence that she sent to the Conservative group at the Greater London Assembly in which she said that the minimum wage was there to pay for things such as congestion charges and the toll tax. There are many reasons why the minimum wage was introduced, but I did not think that it was
Mr. Pickles : The hon. Lady should talk to her friends, because the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate says that these folk are not entitled to a car. How they managed to slip from Hampstead and Highgate into the centre of town despite being so poor, I have no idea.
The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) says that the Liberals are in favour of the measure. I think that there is consistency among the Liberals. Within London, by and large, they favour a congestion charge; it does not matter that, in the rest of the country, they are opposed to it. However, I shall make one prediction: the closer we get to congestion charges, the more we shall see Liberal "Focus" leaflets saying that the measure is not quite right, that they do not like it in a particular place and then that they are absolutely opposed. Indeed, we have had a taste of that today.
We can talk about whether the Mayor has already committed £20 million, whether or not we have congestion charging, whether he has signed up to two secret deals, and the fact that the date for introducing the measure jumps between the end of February and the end of March. We want to know who will pay for it. Will it be taxpayers or the poor people of London?
We airily say that we should introduce the measure when the infrastructure can support it and when there have been significant improvements in public transport in London. I know that the Minister never gives way when he is speaking, so I shall make my point now[Interruption.] I have it on record. I recall asking the Minister's boss how often he had travelled by tube during peak times and he said, "Not for a long time." He had to think back to his school days for the last time that he had travelled at peak time. The Minister says that there have been improvements, but there have been no significant improvements. Most of the underground lines are operating at peak capacity and some of them are operating at 120 per cent. capacity.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South talked about the Central line, but it already moves about 8,000 people every 15 minutes, so where will the capacity come from? London Transport says that it will put 200 new buses on the line. When we ask whether they are new or replacement buses, it says that some are replacement buses but some are virtual buses. I bet that you do not know what a virtual bus is, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and you are probably the most intelligent person in the Chamberwe will not put that to a vote. A virtual bus is a bus that apparently travels faster. What will that achieve? The answer is an extra 7,000 passengers at peak times, but the Central line carries 8,000 every 15 minutes, so that will make no difference.
Even if the congestion charge is successful and manages to reduce by a small percentagelet us say 5 or 6 per cent.the number of people coming into the city centre by car, those people will still have to come into the centre and there will be no room on public transport for them. Unless the Minister is about to say that white-gloved guards will be employed on the underground to push people on to the tube at peak
The hon. Member for Ilford, South said that there was a case for giving the Mayor plenty of rope with which to hang himself. That would be one of the most expensive lynchings ever. As an implacable opponent of capital punishment, I must say that this is a unique form of capital punishment, one that punishes our capital. [Hon. Members: "Oh dear!"] Well, it was a pun. I thought it was worth doing.
Finally, I should like to set the record straight. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) has been looking through Hansard. I cannot remember whether he found something from 1996, 1896 or 1920. Occasionally in the distant past, the Conservative party briefly thought about congestion charges. We now realise that it is a stupid idea. It will not work. We are introducing new policies, so we cannot make any policy commitments, but this matter has been through our policy board and I can state categorically that the Conservative party is opposed in principle to congestion charging.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. David Jamieson) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) on securing and introducing this important debate. In the interests of clarity, I should declare an interest. I have a residential property inside the proposed zone. I also have an excellent Member of Parliament to represent me, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who is well thought of not just by me, but by many others in the area.
The debate became quite interesting. I thought at one stage that it would be a battle between Hampstead and Highgate and Vauxhall. A variety of views have been expressed. I should first like to put one important point on the record. The Government have no power to veto the proposed congestion charges. The decision on whether congestion charging should be introduced in central London is a matter for the Mayor. He has an obligation to listen to the views of hon. Members. I am sure that he will pick through Hansard tomorrow, going through most carefully the varying views that have been expressed.
If the hon. Member for Croydon, South will allow me, I shall answer briefly the question posed by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). Unusually, he asked just one question: normally he asks 51. He asked whether the Government would interfere with any plans for congestion or workplace charging outside London. The Government would never interfere in those plans. Outside London, the Government must approve the plans and will do so on their merits. We have no power to interfere with or veto the congestion charging that has been proposed in central London, but we have the power to look at the spending plans, which
The hon. Member for Croydon, South performed some wonderful and intriguing intellectual gymnastics. He started off in his usual way by saying that this scheme was all based on socialist envy, as if the Mayor or the Government were going to be hard on better-off car owners. Curiously, he moved on to say that it would hit the poor and that it was a regressive tax. That is quite a departure. Perhaps that has been through the policy board too. Conservative Members are now advocates for the poor: I do not think so. Their record has never suggested that[Interruption.] However much the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) chunters on, he will not convince me that it is the Conservative party that is fighting for the interests of the poor. It is interesting, too, that we heard no alternative from the hon. Member for Croydon, South, nor from the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar, from whom we heard only that the policy body said that it did not favour congestion chargingend of story.
The hon. Member for Croydon, South made an important point about other parts of the 1999 Act and asked whether the Government had a power of intervention, the answer to which is, alas, no. The hon. Gentleman asked whether we thought there was a need for direct revisions to the transport strategy; they are justified only when the strategy is manifestly counter to Government policy and would be detrimental to areas outside London. I hope that that is helpful. He also mentioned traffic-calming measures in parts of London, which he thought were somehow the Government's fault. I thought that they were introduced by local government.
Mr. Jamieson : We gave local authorities generous amounts of money for local transport plans, particularly in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The democratically elected councillors in the areas, some of whom are Conservative party members, decided to introduce the measures; it is for local authorities to take such decisions on behalf of people in the area.
The hon. Gentleman thought that he was giving some clever quotes from the documents before him, but the Labour party view in the mayoral elections was clear: we were opposed to the introduction of congestion charging in the Mayor's first term. The document made it crystal clearthe hon. Gentleman quoted selectivelythat we were not opposed to the principle. If we had been, we would not have introduced the GLA Act, which was steered through Parliament so capably by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson).
Mr. Jamieson : It meant no congestion charges in the Mayor's first term. If the hon. Gentleman reads the small print, he will see that that is what it says. I see that he has only got to the front page; he may be colouring the thing in, and not actually reading the words inside it. The mischievous expression on his face shows that the hon. Gentleman knows what it says inside and knew it before he spoke in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall made a powerful speech in which she said that there should be a public inquiry. The Mayor will have listened to her view and that of other hon. Members. Under the 1999 Act, the Government have no power to do what my hon. Friend suggests, but the Mayor can call a public inquiry if he thinks it appropriate. Until my hon. Friend's speech, I had not realised that Harrods is outside the zone and that the Flipper fish bar in Kennington road, which does excellent fish and chips, is inside it. My hon. Friend said that women would be forced out of their cars. I see plenty of men and women on my regular journeys on the underground and the 159 bus.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), in a powerful speech on behalf of his constituents, said that the proposal had no tangible benefits. I hope that the Mayor will take careful note of what he said, because he always speaks well on these matters.
Mr. Jamieson : No. I want to refer to what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said. He asked whether we could step in, but the GLA Act does not give us any power or authority to do so on these matters.
In a powerful and impassioned speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate made the important point that many people do not have access to cars. About 40 per cent. of my constituents probably do not.
It has been an important debate and, as usual, I am allowed little time to deal with all the matters raised. If any hon. Member feels that I have not dealt with an issue in sufficient detail and would like to drop me a line, I will ensure that they receive a written response.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Time is up. I am not taking a point of order. We move to our next debate, introduced by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), on the appropriate use of blood in the national health service.