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In the face of severe funding pressure we do not accept that Congestion Transport Innovation Fund guidance should, in effect, restrict the availability of funds for much needed improvements in
transport infrastructure to only those authorities that will consider local road pricing schemes. This risks blackmailing local authorities to conduct road pricing trials on behalf of Government in advance of a possible national scheme.
That is the answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsboroughit will not be a genuine choice. Blackmailing local authorities is not a new phenomenon for the Governmentthe Department for Transport is already doing it.
My local authority, the East Riding of Yorkshire council, is excellent. Ministers have admitted that it has been excellent in many areas in comments made not only in this Chamber but in Westminster Hall. Recently, it wished to introduce some traffic management improvement schemes for the town of Bridlington. The Government agreed to provide funds only if it included a park-and-ride scheme. Blackmail was used to force the local authority, against the wishes of the local population, to include a park-and-ride scheme for the town. In case the Minister of State does not know, Bridlington is a seaside town and tourist resort. I have yet to hear of any family with young children, with buckets and spades and lilos, who wish to get to the beach using a park-and-ride scheme. Bridlington needs not a park-and-ride scheme but an inner-town multi-storey car park. However, it has been forced to adopt the park-and-ride scheme because of arm twisting by the Minister and her Department.
The same thing happened in Birmingham. When the city council decided to remove some unpopular bus lanes, which were causing congestion, the then Transport Secretary, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in my hearing threatened to remove funding from Birmingham unless it reinstated the bus lanes. I say to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough that the Department for Transport is already blackmailing
Mr. Knight: Let us say under coercionthe Department for Transport, no doubt with the approval of Ministers, is telling local authorities that they cannot exercise their free local decision-making process. If they want Government funding, they must make certain decisions.
Although the Bill sounds innocuous enough, it will be a coercion tool to force local authorities, against their better judgment, to introduce road pricing. They will be told that unless they comply they will not receive money. They will be told to comply as a way of dealing with underfunding from central Government. All that is from a Government who have made great play of connecting politicians and Parliament with the people. The claim that people are somehow distant from politicians when they should not be seems hollow when the Government pursue if not blackmail, then coercion policies against local authorities.
Why is there no prerequisite for widespread and proper consultation? What is wrong with testing local opinion and then listening to it? The removal of the Secretary of States approval for local schemes is an
attempt to distance the Government from potentially controversial decisions, while forcing local authorities to gauge the acceptability of charging schemes. As the hon. Member for Lewes said, that is hardly leading from the front.
The use of the transport innovation fund to coerce local authorities to adopt road pricing schemes demonstrates that the Government do not believe in genuine devolution. The removal of the absolute requirement to consult the public before introducing a scheme, as the Bill proposes, is totally unacceptable.
Andrew Gwynne: The right hon. Gentleman is making an interesting case, but can he outline precisely what coercion the Conservative opposition group on Tameside council was under when, in the only debate that has taken place, it voted in favour, in a named vote, of the Greater Manchester transport innovation fund bid?
As the hon. Member for Lewes has acknowledged, polling shows that the primary concern of British motorists is the cost of motoring. The public will not support a scheme, local or otherwise, that seeks to increase significantly the cost of motoring. Will the Minister tell us the status of the 2005 Labour manifesto pledge that promised to move awaymove awayfrom the current motoring taxation system and towards a national road pricing system? Like the manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, it seems to have been ditched.
If road pricing schemes are implemented, many of us have genuine concerns about those who live in rural areas. How will they be affected as they go about their business? Evidence shows that residents of rural villages travel nearly twice as far by car as their urban counterparts. Although many in rural areas do not have personal access to a car, many of them seek to obtain a lift to and from town centres by asking friends to take them in their motor vehicle. Road charging schemes in rural areas could have a severe downside in terms of social effects unless other motoring taxes are reduced concurrently with the introduction of such a scheme.
It is already hard for deprived rural people to get a full range of services in their local market town. Many of them have to travel further afield to the bigger cities. There is rarely a suitable bus service in many villages and a car is often the only possible solution. A badly thought out charging scheme could have a devastating effect on those communities, and now without their having any say in the matter.
Although there are no specific proposals yet for a national road pricing scheme, one concern that many people in rural areas have expressed is that if it were introduced even on a local basis, it could encourage motorists to divert on to adjacent rural roads that are not designed to carry a high volume of traffic. That could add to road safety concerns.
It is clear from research we have commissioned as well as from other sources such as the No 10 e-petition that there is widespread opposition to road pricing. In the light of this we are concerned at the proposal that the requirement in the Transport
Act 2000 that promoters of the schemes consult all interested parties is to be dropped. We recognise that the associated guidance recommends consultation but remain concerned that the importance of comprehensive consultation is in effect downgraded by the change. We would press that the statutory requirement to consult be retained.
The main change is that there is less democratic control over charging. The Minister is giving up the power to require that there is public consultation, and charging authorities will no longer need approval of the Minister before introducing a charging scheme. This bill seems to make it even easier for local authorities to implement anti-car measures
The Bill would also allow the Welsh Assembly to make its own legislation on the making, operating and enforcing of charging schemes in respect of trunk roads in Wales. Trunk roads comprise the network of strategic through routes that are managed by Welsh Ministers. Obviously, it would be for the Welsh Assembly to consider whether, and if so how, it would be appropriate to exercise those powers. However, as I think the Minister acknowledged in response to my intervention, how can such a scheme be introduced in Wales which conforms to Labours 2005 election manifesto pledge to move
away from the current system of motoring taxation towards...road-pricing?
If the Welsh Assembly decides to implement road charging on all trunk roads in Wales, will vehicle excise duty be reduced for Welsh drivers? I doubt it. Will fuel duty be reduced for those motorists who fill up in Wales? I doubt it. I do not see how it would be possible to introduce such a scheme.
Mr. Knight: No, that does not answer the question. The hon. Gentleman has missed the point completely. The cost to the motorist would be higher. It may well be that the money raised would go on making local transport improvements, but in addition to paying fuel duty of 60 or 65 per cent., vehicle excise duty and for any permit for parking his vehicle, the motorist travelling through Wales would have to pay for using the trunk roads. That does not comply with Labours 2005 manifesto promise to move
away from the current system of motoring taxation.
It would be an additional tax wherever the money was spent, whatever it was spent on. If the Welsh Assembly is misguided enough to introduce such a proposal, my message to all holidaymakers is, Forget Wales; come to East Yorkshire and enjoy Bridlington, even if you dont use the park-and-ride scheme that is being foisted on it.
I was asked whether I was against a national road pricing scheme in principle: would I object to any national road pricing scheme? The answer is no. Any politician who is serious and wants to be constructive in this place should be open to argument, even if the argument is for a proposition that initially he is minded not to support. I would be happy to review the terms of a national road pricing scheme because it might have merits.
The other day I came across a speech by the Minister of Transport speaking in the House on 2 December 1920 when he was introducing vehicle excise duty. The argument Sir Eric Geddes adduced for introducing vehicle excise duty was that
the whole essence of the new taxation is that it shall be one tax, and that all the other taxes shall be merged in it or otherwise wiped out.
his payments will be in one tax, without irritating additions.[ Official Report, 2 December 1920; Vol. 135, c. 1489.]
Does that not hold true today? If there was a national road pricing scheme and it was the only fee that a motorist had to payif vehicle excise duty were abolished and the duty on fuel largely abolishedit might be acceptable, provided that there were exemptions for the disabled and other groups, and provided also that there were times of the day when the fee paid was less, perhaps even zero. If that were the scheme, it could make better use of our road space. A zero rating during non-rush hour periods would encourage motorists whose journey was not time-sensitive to drive outside usual motoring hours, thereby freeing up road space for those who were obliged to travel during the busiest time of the day.
Mr. Knight: It could do to a point. There is a difficulty the further back we go. I think that before 2001, manufacturers did not reveal what the emissions of the vehicles they manufactured amounted to. If we go back even further, to historic vehicles, there is no way of measuring their output unless they are brought into a testing station. I do not think we would want to go there for the gain that we would get. We could, if we wished, differentiate the charge for those vehicles if we had a rule that linked the scheme from the time when manufacturers made the information public. I am not convinced that I would want to support such a scheme, but it could be done.
A national scheme in the form of one tax replacing all others would have some attraction. I have not set my judgment in stone against supporting such a scheme. I would like to see the proposals first, but it might benefit many motorists. Certainly, it would be more logical than the London congestion charge scheme, which was introduced by a Mayor at the same as he phased out double-decker buses and introduced buses that take up double the road space. If the Mayor is against congestion, why on earth is he doubling the space occupied by buses?
I have a couple of specific questions for the Minister. The first concerns clause 50, which applies the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and is entitled Carrying of passengers in wheelchairs in vehicles providing local services. Admittedly this is a fairly small point, and I do not want to suggest that too much hinges on it.
Many tourist areas, such as the one that I represent, use historic vehicles to transport the public because they increase tourist interest. I believe that the local authority area represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill),
who is not in the Chamber at present, is the only one in the country to use a Sentinel steam bus to carry passengers. Part of the attraction and appeal of a historic vehicle is its period authenticity. Will such vehicles be exempt from the requirement for alterations enabling them to accommodate wheelchairs, which might completely destroy their character? I should not have thought that there were more than 20 in the country, but where they are used they are valued by the public, and I think disabled people accept that they are vehicles from a bygone age when their interests were not properly considered. I am certainly not aware that any disabled group in my constituency has campaigned for the right to board one of those historic vehicles with a wheelchair.
My second question concerns clause 120, which relates to foreign-registered vehicles. According to the explanatory notes that the Minister has kindly published to accompany the Bill, one of the purposes of requiring information about them is
to promote compliance with test certificates under section 47 or 53 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
I am a little puzzled about why a foreign-registered vehicle need comply with a British Road Traffic Act if it has a valid test certificate issued in the country where the driver lives and the vehicle is registered. Surely if a Spanish tourist, for instance, visits the United Kingdom for a holiday with a Spanish-registered car that has been tested in accordance with the rules in Spain, a fellow European Union country, he need not take any further measures in order to drive his vehicle on our roads.
I do not think that Conservative Front Benchers need apologise for deciding to vote against the Bill. There are some good bits in it, but in the main it represents a missed opportunity. I should have liked it to contain, for example, a moratorium on the construction of speed humps, which are a complete menace. They increase pollution in the form of both airborne particles and noise. We now have far more effective LED-operated flashing signs, and I think local authorities should be told to introduce more of those and stop constructing speed humps.
The Bill could have been used to trial a number of innovations apart from road charging. It could have provided for motorists to be allowed to turn left at a red light, as they are allowed to in Americaalthough because Americans drive on the other side of the road, they turn right at red lights. It could have provided for trials of traffic lights during non-busy periods being switched to amber in all directions to allow motorists to cross junctions with care. It could have provided for more use of flexible speed limits. Why should a 20-mph limit outside a school continue to be enforced when the school is on holiday, rather than being changed back to 30 mph? I understand that regulations introduced by the Ministers Department allow that to happen only if the sign is electronic, and that because electronic signs cost more, most local authorities retain the 20-mph limit when schools are not open because it is cheaper to do so.
There should be financial assessments of park-and-ride schemes so that we can find out how much they are costing local authoritieswhich would probably mean the cancellation of the scheme in Bridlington, for
instance. There should also be speed-limit audits, and speed camera partnerships should be abolished. All those provisions would have been welcome.
Mr. Knight: I certainly think that that should be debated, and we may be given an opportunity to do so if the Bill is given a Committee stagealthough I regret to say that owing to his elevated position on the Chairmens Panel, my hon. Friend will not be able to serve on the Committee. That will be the Houses loss.
This is a curates egg of a Bill. It is bad in parts. We should therefore not swallow it whole, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) says in her amendment. We should say to the Government Take it away, and give us something else.
Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) did an extremely good and lengthy job of obscuring the lack of Conservative interest in this important Bill.
Mr. Chope: Might not the lack of interest to which the hon. Gentleman has referred be due to the fact that so many Conservative Members are interested in listening to the President of France, who is giving an address elsewhere in the Palace?
The fundamental point made by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire about the Oppositions right to oppose is clearly right, and I do not blame the Conservatives for that. What raised eyebrows and prompted comments from Labour Members were the terms in which the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) opposed the Bill. According to the amendment, the Conservatives oppose it
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