Local Transport Bill [ Lords ]

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Clause 97

Local charging schemes to implement policies of ITAs
Graham Stringer: I beg to move amendment No. 14, in clause 97, page 79, line 16, at end insert—
‘(3A) A local charging scheme shall not be made unless a referendum of all electors within the boundary of the relevant integrated transport area has been held and a majority of electors are in favour of the establishment of a local charging scheme.’.
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that congestion charging schemes will not go ahead without a referendum of all the people in the area of the integrated transport authority. However, the real purpose is to have a debate related to the last debate on what the local validation process and method of consent should be. I accept that there are all sorts of flaws with referendums and that people vote on other issues. They vote on the popularity or unpopularity of local authorities and the Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe pointed out, voters may not be able to easily envisage the benefits of a scheme.
Having said that, with something as toxic as imposing a new tax without any relief in taxation elsewhere, we have to be clear what the method of consent is, and I have not been very satisfied with the process of the transport innovation fund bid as it applies to congestion charging in Manchester. We have heard the Opposition state that the Government have said that TIF bids will go ahead only where there are congestion charges. I believe that to be the case, but of course, the last but one Secretary of State for Transport said on a number of occasions on the Floor of the House that this absolutely was not to be a condition that would be looked at. When his successor visited Manchester, he told the passenger transport executive group not to bother applying for extra funds to extend the tram system if it did not have a road charge. His exact words were that congestion charging was the “only show in town”.
That is the background. The Government say that this is enabling legislation and how could any reasonable person who supports and believes in local democracy, be against enabling legislation? I am certainly not, but that is not the reality that we have experienced in Manchester. The reality is that this is enabling legislation with the Government behind it, twisting arms. The Government want to look at Manchester as an experiment in road pricing congestion charging, having withdrawn support for a national road pricing scheme. The arguments for doing that have been various and many. Some have been odd.
Most of the economic damage done in this country by congestion—distinguishing it from other countries in Europe, with the possible exception of the Netherlands—is inter-urban congestion. That is what really puts the price on. That relies on reports such as the Eddington report, which in my opinion was heavily influenced by Treasury thinking and not so much by Eddington himself, having known his views beforehand, read the report afterwards and been unable to match them. He pointed out something that is regularly quoted by the Government: there is more congestion in cities than on the inter-urban network. Well, there is a surprise. Cities are concentrated, focused places. There is always going to be congestion in cities, particularly successful cities. That is not necessarily a complete argument for putting on a congestion charge and taxing people extra.
I disagree, on an evidential basis, with what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe said about the evidence of people moving to public transport where public transport is provided. Certainly, over the past seven years on trains and trams in Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and London, as the services have become more frequent, the growth in passengers has far exceeded the growth in car traffic.
The case that has been made for introducing a particular, special tax in Manchester and nowhere else, as an experiment, has been very dodgy, particularly considering what the Government are using for their congestion projections; one thing that we can say is that projections are always wrong. It was projected the price of petrol would rise to and remain steady at $50 a barrel. I do not blame the Government for that, because few economists expected oil to be at $120-plus now. However, that is where the price is, and that is likely to affect congestion and growth in traffic; certainly, in the early ’90s it affected the growth in traffic. It would also help if the 2 million vehicles that drive around our cities and roads unlicensed and uninsured were taken off the roads—that would be a major contribution to getting rid of congestion.
How are we going to validate the introduction of a congestion charge? Of course there will be consultation, said the Minister. However, will it conform to Cabinet Office standards? There were guidelines for the Manchester TIF consultation, but when the Manchester TIF bid was put in the consultation was a sham. It did not conform to Cabinet Office guidelines, although we were told that it would.
Will the whole process of consultation be transparent? The TIF bids so far have not been transparent. When I put freedom of information requests to the Department for Transport—to find out what the correspondence between the Greater Manchester authorities and the Department for Transport had been—I am told that it is commercially sensitive. How is it commercially sensitive? People have a right to know.
Mr. Leech: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the vast majority of people in Greater Manchester do not know the details of the proposed scheme?
Secretaries of State have said that we must bring in a congestion charge. Can the Minister tell me that she expects that, if opinion polls are carried out, they will not be carried out by the promoters of the scheme, but independently, so that they can be checked? The client of the polling organisation should be independent and all the conversations between and documentation from those bodies should be available to the public.
I say this out of a party-political vested interest, apart from anything else: the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire was right. Dr. Roger Jones, the former Irlam councillor, is a friend of mine even though we disagreed on the congestion charge, which was the only real issue in the election in Irlam. It was the worst result in Irlam, a traditional Labour seat, for the last 35 or 36 years. I do not want my hon. Friends who are Members of this House, or my friends who are Labour councillors, to lose their seats.
Most of the opinion polls show that 80 per cent. of the public in Greater Manchester are against this scheme, though I accept that no one really knows the details of it. If the public do not have a referendum or the chance to be satisfied that there is a thorough consultation that represents their views, they will take out their anger or disagreement with the scheme on Labour councillors and MPs. I want to avoid that by ensuring that integrated transport authorities are not set up or highway powers transferred without the consent of people and with the active opposition of some councils.
We heard this morning that these powers could be transferred against the wishes of some councils and against the wishes of the population, and then a congestion charge scheme could be imposed, again without complete consent. Politically, for my Government and for my party in control of four local authorities in Greater Manchester, to introduce a tax on top of other taxes at the present time is, quite frankly, bonkers.
When the prices of food, fuel and other necessities of life are going up, it is not sensible to look at a new tax on top. That does not invalidate the case for congestion charges as a principle. That may well exist. However, to have a charge in one place without any compensation elsewhere would be a huge mistake. I look forward to my right hon. Friend’s answers about the transparency of the process and the validation of any process, whether it be a referendum or a deep consultation.
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Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): I support the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley, for a number of reasons. Consider the extension to the congestion charge in London. The Minister said earlier that she expected councils to consult, but the then—fortunately no longer—Mayor of London did consult but ignored the consultation when it was clearly against the extension. I fully agree that it is unlikely that a referendum will be put in the Bill, but there needs to be a mechanism that residents can trust that is not run by people who want such schemes in place. That goes for whichever political persuasion the people in control of an area may be.
The other important factor is the difference between road charging and congestion charging. People must be able to see that the congestion charge will ease congestion. Out of interest, yesterday I met a delegation from the Dutch Parliament, where they are looking at a national congestion charge or road charging scheme, but intend to scrap their equivalent of road tax and taxation so that people will not necessarily pay more unless they are driving substantially longer distances, so they will not be penalised. That truly is congestion charging, rather than road charging or extra taxation.
Some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman were perfectly correct. Let us take an area just outside or on the fringes of London, like my constituency, so we are outside the congestion charge zone. We were told that the congestion charge would ease congestion. In fact, congestion has not gone down over the period of time. It is exactly the same as when the congestion charge was first brought in. That is with more buses, even after the debacle of Metronet and the money that was wasted on that. However, improvements to public transport have not eased congestion whatsoever, and that is according to official Government statistics, or should I say Greater London authority statistics?
I fully support what the hon. Member is trying to introduce. There has to be a mechanism that people will trust. Then they will not feel that the people who they have elected to represent them, from whatever political party, are letting them down. When the Minister says that she expects that councils will do this, it is great to expect it, but it does not necessarily mean that they are going to do it or that they will listen to the results. That needs to be enshrined in the Bill.
Mr. Leech: I, too, lend my support to the amendment. I hope that the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley will choose to push it to a vote.
I cannot resist the temptation to point out that the amendment is in line with Manchester Liberal Democrat policy and contrary to Manchester Labour party policy as far as local congestion charging schemes are concerned. During the elections only last week, members of the Labour party in Manchester were suggesting that the Liberal Democrats in Manchester were all over the place on congestion charging. It is completely the opposite way around. The Manchester Liberal Democrats fully support a referendum before any local congestion charging scheme is introduced. It is the Labour party that seems to be completely divided on the issue.
I am not suggesting for one second that the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley is all over the place on the issue. He has been completely consistent in his opposition to the congestion charge in Manchester. However, his colleagues are not in line with his views on the congestion charge or with his obvious support for a referendum prior to any charge being introduced.
It is only fair to say that Roger Jones fell foul of the congestion charge proposals in Greater Manchester. It is a great shame that the campaign was waged against him purely on one issue. It was disappointing to see the resources put in by the anti-congestion charge lobby to try to defeat him over the issue. Local government is not just about single issues, but a whole range of issues. Regardless of one’s political views or political opinions, Roger Jones served the people of Salford in Irlam and the PTA very well. I do not always necessarily agree with the views they espouse but it was very disappointing that the anti-congestion charge lobby attacked him in the way that it did.
That said, councillors in Manchester, other parts of Greater Manchester and anywhere else where a local scheme might be proposed should beware of what happened to former Councillor Jones in Irlam. In future there should be full support given locally before a scheme is introduced.
I hope that the amendment is pressed to a vote and that, hopefully with some support from Labour Members, we can defeat the Government on this issue.
Mr. Knight: The hon. Gentleman may not like it when a single issue carries a lot of votes but the message is that politicians should beware if they are seeking to advance policies that the general public detest. My party has been there. We pushed ahead with the poll tax and look what happened to my party at the subsequent election. There is a warning here for Labour Members.
I return to the very brave speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley. He was responsible for a devastating attack on the Minister. He left the Minister’s assertions in tatters and left her naked in terms of her argument.
The idea that this is an enabling provision and that local councillors are free to apply their judgment with the knowledge of local circumstances to this issue is just not happening, as he rightly said. On Second Reading, I referred to a similar case in my constituency where the local council wished to carry out road improvements in Bridlington and was told bluntly by the Department for Transport that unless it incorporated a park-and-ride scheme, it could not have the money.
We know from the report in The Times and other comments that have been made, including from the hon. Gentleman, that the Government are doing the same thing on road charging. They cannot say it is a matter for local councillors because they are—I was going to say “blackmailing” but perhaps that is a little unparliamentary—arm-twisting local councillors into making decisions that they would not otherwise make. That is why I am pleased to support the amendment.
It is important to look at what is happening to the cost of motoring. As the hon. Gentleman said, if this was an attempt to shift the tax that motorists face from one or two other sources into road charging, we would be having a totally different debate. It is not. It is to be an additional imposition on the motorist against a background where tax on drivers is up £600 a year. According to yesterday’s Daily Telegraph:
“Figures compiled by the AA show that the average motorist pays more than £1,800 annually in fuel duty, car tax, VAT on petrol and other levies—an increase of more than 50 per cent in little more than a decade.”
It goes on to say:
“When Labour came to power in 1997, the Government raised a total of £31.3 billion from motoring taxes... By 2006, that had increased to £45 billion and increases in fuel duty and excise duty are expected to lead to a tax take of at least £48 billion this year—a 53 per cent rise.”
No wonder electors are saying, “Enough is enough. We do not want to have to pay road-user charging as well.” That is why poor Mr. Jones lost his seat.
Mr. Leech: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, in real terms, the cost of motoring has fallen, whereas the cost of travelling by train or bus has risen?
Mr. Knight: I do not think the information provided by T he Daily Telegraph would bear out that assertion. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read yesterday’s paper, which I am sure is available in the Library.
My only criticism of the amendment relates to drafting. It might be impossible ever to get a yes vote, because the amendment says:
“A local charging scheme shall not be made unless a referendum of all electors within the boundary of the relevant integrated transport area has been held and a majority of electors are in favour”.
If the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley had referred to “a majority of electors voting are in favour” there would not have been a problem. However, the amendment could be taken to mean that a majority of electors on the electoral role had to be in favour, and I do not think that threshold would ever be reached if that test were applied.
That is a minor criticism, however, and I think that the principle of having a referendum is a good one, particularly in the light of the arm twisting of local decision-makers that is going on. Someone has to be able to express a free and unfettered voice on the issue before such a proposal is introduced. Although many Conservatives feel that referendums are alien to our system of democracy, for the reasons that I and the three previous speakers mentioned I think that this is one way to proceed, which is why I support the amendment.
Stephen Hammond: I, too, rise to support the amendment. It is extremely important and goes some way toward the position that I outlined earlier—that there is a need for local validation of these schemes. I accept the argument already made by several Members that local electors exercise the function of local referendums at local elections, and Mr. Jones, a week later, is probably feeling that that is what happened to him. None the less, there are imperfections to that argument, because in a number of areas elections are held only once every four years, so the referendum element of a local election cannot really happen.
The problem with the amendment was outlined by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe when he challenged me earlier, which is that it is highly likely that there would be no chance of a scheme being accepted as people are initially reluctant to vote for a congestion charging scheme if they are going to have to pay more money.
While I fully support and see the need for referendums, no matter how alien the concept may be, the amendment would have benefited from wording such that it allowed a referendum to occur either at the time of the congestion charge being introduced or—as I mentioned happens in several international cases, where a time limit is set after the introduction of a congestion charge for the scheme to be validated—six or 12 months afterwards. There have been cases of schemes then being accepted.
That would have had the benefit of answering the criticism that I am sure the Minister is about to make, which is that, to all intents and purposes, the amendment would wreck the ability of local authorities ever to introduce congestion charges. However, the principle of local validation is correct, and despite its imperfections the amendment would take us a huge step forward toward ensuring that local consent was given to local schemes. I shall certainly support it.
Ms Winterton: I want to re-emphasise that what is happening is not a massive change from the situation at the moment. However, we have had that argument and I will simply address the idea of having a compulsory referendum.
The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, which amended the Local Government Act 1999, imposes a duty on local authorities to involve local persons in the exercise of any of their functions, where appropriate. The functions to which that duty applies include establishing a local road charging scheme.
Local schemes are tailor made to tackle local problems, and, as such, we believe that consultation should be appropriate to the scheme proposed and to the local situation. We have tried to take a flexible approach to the forward consultation, which local authorities should follow, and do not feel it appropriate for central Government to impose a specific form, such as a compulsory referendum. The aim of the Bill is to devolve responsibility for decision-making to the local level, and it would run contrary to that to start imposing restraints and inflexible duties from the centre. For that reason, I cannot accept the amendment and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley will withdraw it.
3 pm
Graham Stringer: I am disappointed with that response because, while I am not totally wedded to the idea of referendums, I think that reasonable people can see advantages and disadvantages in them. On something as controversial as this, I would expect a rather better response as to how validation—the involvement of local people—should take place, to quote my right hon. Friend the Minister. There was no answer on the secrecy involved in communications between the Greater Manchester authorities and the Department for Transport. There was no answer on why a TIF bid—which has been with the Government for so long and involves about £3 billion of public expenditure—should have remained secret. There was no attempt to justify whether there was some commercial basis to this.
As the debate has continued, having raised those issues about referendums, I became slightly more wedded to the idea of referendums to decide the principle of a road charging scheme. It would be difficult for two reasons to do what the hon. Member for Wimbledon wants, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe implied—that is, have a referendum once the scheme is up and running. First, a lot of money has to be invested in kit, and that goes away, but secondly, the nature of the TIF bid on this occasion is that more than £1 billion of taxpayers’ money is being tied into funding trams and train improvements. So, it would not be realistic to vote no at that stage—once the scheme is in, it is there for 30 years.
Stephen Hammond: The hon. Gentleman makes absolutely correct points, but the Bill could deal with circumstances whereby the money raised from local user charging would not necessarily be connected to a TIF bid. My circumstances take place without the consequence of a TIF bid because TIF, although it has been extended, is due to run out in about 2013, or 2018, after the extension? But there is potentially no reason why these schemes should necessarily be connected to TIF. My understanding—I am sure that, thanks to his knowledge of the Select Committee, the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—is that the proposal I have outlined is exactly what Stockholm has done.
Graham Stringer: I accept that the particular circumstances applying in Manchester will not necessarily apply everywhere else, but I do not think that we should take the Stockholm model. The referendum held by the boroughs just outside Stockholm produced a vote against having a congestion charge. The conservative parties won an election opposing a congestion charge, but when they got elected they imposed a congestion charge because they needed a deal with the Greens. Stockholm is a particularly bad model for how to respond to the views of local people. However, I accept that there can be exceptions.
My right hon. Friend the Minister did not really make the case for why referendums are suitable for deciding whether there should be a mayor in Hartlepool or elsewhere. That, in some ways, represents a less fundamental change in local democracy than the changes being discussed here. Why was a referendum appropriate in Scotland to set up the Scottish Parliament, which has relatively trivial tax-making powers compared to this proposal? That was a huge change, but if we look at the taxation side we see that the Scottish Parliament may raise a relatively small amount—it has never used that power.
The recent history of referendums is much more in line with achieving such constitutional change than the Minister gave credit for—more than for tax-raising changes.
Mr. Knight: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the city of Edinburgh had a referendum on the issue?
Graham Stringer: The city of Edinburgh did, and in that example people voted against a congestion charge.
I want to discuss two other points that were brought up in debate. I am not really party political point scoring, but the Liberal Democrats in Greater Manchester are all over the place—Liberal Democrats in Rochdale have a totally different view from Liberal Democrats in Manchester. That it is not party political point scoring because the same has happened with the Labour party. The Labour party in Bury has a different view from the Labour party in Manchester.
The fact is that a new tax is being forced on people in Manchester to carry out investment in the tram system that was promised in the Labour party manifesto—people want the public transport—but this has been a difficult decision for all political parties in Greater Manchester. However, I will not have it that the Liberal Democrats have come through united and integrated. That is simply not true.
Mr. Leech: If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said, he would know that I referred to Manchester Liberal Democrats, not Greater Manchester Liberal Democrats. We have been clearly in favour of a referendum.
Graham Stringer: The fact is that this is a scheme for Greater Manchester and the Liberal Democrats are split on the issue. I will not repeat the previous points.
I realise that, in recognising Roger Jones as a friend of mine, I did not also pay tribute to his work as chair of the PTA, where he worked closely with all political parties to the benefit of public transport in Greater Manchester. He did a good job as a local councillor in Irlam and it is a pity that he became the focus for anger about the possibility of a new tax in Manchester. The loss is to the Labour party and to the people of Irlam.
We may return to the matter, or something similar, on Report, but having made those points I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Hon. Members: No.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.
Division No. 19 ]
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Hammond, Stephen
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Leech, Mr. John
Scott, Mr. Lee
Wright, Jeremy
Betts, Mr. Clive
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Laxton, Mr. Bob
McCarthy, Kerry
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Stewart, Ian
Stringer, Graham
Watts, Mr. Dave
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Question accordingly negatived.
Graham Stringer: I beg to move amendment No. 15, in clause 97, page 79, line 16, at end insert—
‘(3A) Where all of the constituent councils of an integrated transport area agree a resolution opposing the making of a local charging scheme the scheme shall not be made.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 16, in clause 97, page 79, line 16, at end insert—
‘(3A) Where a majority of the constituent councils of an integrated transport area agree a resolution opposing the making of a local charging scheme the scheme shall not be made.’.
Graham Stringer: The issues surrounding these amendments are similar to those surrounding amendment No. 14, so I will not repeat the arguments. The amendments talk about not going ahead with the scheme if a majority of councils are against it, or not going ahead if all the councils are against it, which would be possible although unlikely.
I wish now that I had tabled one or two more amendments along these lines to test the Government’s view: one to see what would happen if one council were against, and one taking up the idea put forward in a different debate by the hon. Member for Lewes, speaking for the Liberal Democrats, that perhaps the threshold should be a quarter of councils.
The point of principle is, how far should these schemes be allowed to go if one, two, three or four councils—or 10, 20, or 30 per cent. of councils—oppose to them? Should it be up to the integrated transport authority, or should the integrated transport authority have the power to take action as an unelected body to repress the views of elected councillors? There should be a number, although that is open to debate. Perhaps a majority, or all of them, is too high. If those councils objected, given the deficiencies we discussed when we came to secondary representation and possible co-option on to these bodies, there should be some ability for one council or a number of councils to have a veto over a proposed scheme. After all, councils are directly elected.
Ms Winterton: May I say first that I think it unlikely that an ITA will propose a scheme that is opposed by all its constituent councils, given that at least a majority of the ITA membership is made up of members from the constituent councils? Where a scheme was to be made jointly between the ITA and a local authority or authorities, as allowed for in clauses 96 and 99, those local authorities would need to consent to the scheme being made.
Amendment No. 16 would stop a charging scheme being made in an ITA region if the majority of the constituent councils agreed that the charging scheme was wrong for the area. That could damage local accountability and it could mean that a local authority was prevented from making a charging scheme just within its own area because the majority of local authorities within the ITA area disagreed.
However, I know that concerns have been raised about the delegation of road charging powers to ITAs. I am quite prepared to look at whether, at the point of delegation, road charging should have to be agreed by a majority of constituent councils, which answers some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley. I would be prepared to look further at how the road charging powers could fit with the governance arrangement and, if necessary, return to it on Report.
3.15 pm
If I may, I will give my right hon. Friend the arguments back. Although they are not arithmetically exact, there is a certain political soundness to them and there would be some relationship between the political make-up of the integrated transport authority and that of the constituent local authorities—they would be similar, if not exactly the same. It might be that a lower figure than 50 per cent. is needed to stop the Labour party or the Conservative party or whoever it might be repressing those authorities against their wishes, given that there is a democratic deficit in the process.
In Greater Manchester, the 10 authorities have a rule when they talk to each other. It is not a statutory rule, but they need a two-thirds majority of authorities to carry the scheme ahead, so if four—or perhaps three—authorities are against it will not go ahead. It seems to me that in an area with 10 authorities, having three opposed should be sufficient to stop a scheme. That represents an enormous number of people, and those representing them are directly elected. The figure might be two in the west midlands. The difficulty with these percentages is that the nice, round figures never quite correspond to the situations in the six metropolitan authorities. Some areas, off the top of my head, have five, seven, four and 10 authorities involved.
I am thankful for my right hon. Friend’s reply. I hope that we can discuss these matters again and, on that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Stephen Hammond: I beg to move amendment No. 293, in clause 97, page 79, line 23, at end insert—
‘(5) A local charging scheme which has effect wholly within an integrated transport area may only be made if the proceeds of such a scheme, if any, are to be reinvested in the achievement of local transport policies of—
(a) the charging authority, and
(b) the Integrated Transport Authority for the integrated transport area.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 294, in clause 98, page 79, line 40, at end insert—
‘(5) A joint local charging scheme which has effect wholly within an integrated transport area may only be made if the proceeds of such a scheme, if any, are to be reinvested in the achievement of local transport policies of—
(a) the charging authorities, and
(b) the Integrated Transport Authority for the integrated transport area.’.
No. 295, in clause 100, page 80, line 34, at end insert—
‘(5) A joint local-London charging scheme which has effect partly within an integrated transport area may only be made if the proceeds of such a scheme, if any, are to be reinvested in the achievement of—
(a) local transport policies of the non-metropolitan local traffic authority, or the non-metropolitan local traffic authorities, by which the scheme is made,
(b) local transport policies of the Integrated Transport Authority for the integrated transport area, and
(c) policies and proposals set out in the transport strategy prepared and published by the Mayor of London under section 142 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999.’.
No. 296, in clause 101, page 81, line 20, at end insert—
‘(4) A joint ITA-London charging scheme may only be made if the proceeds of such a scheme, if any, are to be reinvested in the achievement of—
(a) local transport policies of the eligible local traffic authority, or the eligible local traffic authorities, by which the scheme is made,
(b) local transport policies of the Integrated Transport Authority by which the scheme is made, and
(c) policies and proposals set out in the transport strategy prepared and published by the Mayor of London under section 142 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999.’.
Stephen Hammond: Earlier, I said quite clearly that a national scheme is both unpopular and unrealistic. However, I suspected that some degree of road user charging, or increased use of tolls on our roads, could be part of the package that tackles congestion and raises money for infrastructure projects. Such schemes may well be taken up by local communities on the basis of need and demand, but they require local validation, as we have just discussed.
Some provisions in the Bill on local road pricing are broadly to be welcomed. However, it is one thing to make it easier for local authorities to plan and implement local road pricing schemes, but quite another to take their arm behind their back and twist it hard to get the promise of implementing them. That is what the Government are doing.
The Government should not be using public funds to pressurise local authorities into introducing these schemes—it should be up to local authorities to decide how best to structure their bid for Government support to tackle congestion, according to what they think is going to work best in their area. If those schemes are local congestion schemes, they should be locally validated and the funds raised should be reinvested in local transport infrastructure. They are user charging funds and technically not taxes. Money raised as a result of road charging schemes where they are neutral, which is our policy, are user charges. Therefore, they can be reinvested.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition recently announced that the Conservative party proposes to free local authorities from the constraints that the Government have put on them through funds ring-fenced for local schemes within the transport innovation fund. Instead of forcing local authorities to treat this money as a national congestion charging budget, we will allow local people to use the money for new green travel initiatives that really suit their communities without imposing the prior specification on the schemes.
I accept the argument that one way to get people out of their cars to reduce congestion is for them to see improvements in public transport provision. It seems right that the charges that are raised from the local congestion charging scheme should be reinvested in those local improvements. I am concerned that these clauses will not necessarily ensure that that happens. I accept that they go some way towards it, but the Bill would be greatly improved if my amendments were inserted in those clauses, stating that the local authority could proceed towards implementing the scheme only if the proceeds were to be reinvested in the achievement of the local authority’s transport plans or in local transport infrastructure.
Congestion charging without the provision of attractive alternatives to the car will at best merely raise the cost of living and at worst harm the local economy. I fully support the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire that the scheme should be neutral. It should be neutral at a local level as well. I support the idea that the moneys raised by congestion charging must be put towards securing local improved alternatives.
Mr. Leech: Will the hon. Gentleman explain how a cost-neutral scheme could be introduced as a local scheme?
Stephen Hammond: We, as a Government, would ensure that the national framework was in place such that the scheme was neutral. Therefore, it would be neutral at local level as well.
I am convinced that these amendments, which would ensure that the proceeds from the schemes were reinvested in local transport, are the right way forward.
Ms Winterton: The hon. Gentleman is quite right—this is an important issue. Work carried out on the public acceptability of road pricing has shown that the use of revenues from any local charging scheme for reinvestment in improvements in local transport is an important factor. That is why the Transport Act 2000 already requires that all net revenue from all charging schemes be spent on facilitating the achievement of local transport policies. It will be amended by the Bill, because under existing legislation the requirement in schedule 12 to the 2000 Act says that the net revenue to be spent to facilitate the achievement of local transport policies extends only to schemes made within 10 years of the 2000 Act, and only for the first 10 years of the scheme.
Through clause 114, the Bill will remove that restriction so that revenues from all local schemes are invested in achieving local transport policies, and not just for the first 10 years of the scheme. That certainly reflects the importance, which we probably jointly agree on, that the public attach to the revenue from local charging schemes being certain to be spent on improving local transport.
I think that we are in exactly the same place on this, and perhaps the amendment is merely probing in that it is on the record that the changes we are making are as set out.
Stephen Hammond: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation, and I take her reassurance that clause 114 will in effect do what my amendments seek to do. I therefore accept that they are unnecessary. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 97 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
3.26 pm
Sitting suspended.
3.45 pm
On resuming—
Clause 98 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause s 99 to 102 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 5 agreed to.
Clause 103 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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