Local Transport Bill [ Lords ]

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Clause 104

Abolition of power to require consultation or inquiries for English schemes
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Stephen Hammond: I shall probe the Minister on a matter that we discussed earlier. The clause removes the ability of the Secretary of State to engage in consultation on the subject of an English road pricing scheme, or to hold an inquiry in respect of it. The Government will claim that this is a localist measure and on one level that is true, but as have explained before, the problem with removing the Secretary of State’s power to consult on or approve such a scheme is that nothing has been put in its place.
The Government have taken the first step and put the power to make road pricing schemes in the hands of local authorities. They must now take the second logical step, to transfer the whole consultation and inquiry process and power from the Secretary of State to the local authorities and put those obligations on the local authorities. A moment ago, the Minister said, “There is the expectation”, and I am sure that she will say that it is inconceivable that a local authority would implement road pricing without consultation, but that is not good enough. I can see no good reason why local authorities currently have the discretion not to consult or hold an inquiry, but there is a safeguard in that the Secretary of State has to confirm the road pricing scheme. It is crucial that local authorities are obliged to consult and I would prefer the Bill to go further than that and require local validation, but there is a robust case to say that the imposition of a local road pricing scheme can be done only if the local authority is obliged to consult.
Ms Winterton: I reassure the hon. Gentleman in the same way that I have before: changing the power of the Secretary of State does not have any effect on the ability of local authorities to consult. We will still expect them to consult in the ways that I outlined previously—that is, through the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 and the other ways that I mentioned. The removal of the power makes no difference to that whatever.
Stephen Hammond: I hear the Minister’s reassurance. I am usually delighted to accept her reassurances, but in this case I am not. This issue is so fundamental that it should be dealt with in the Bill. I am extremely concerned that it is not, and that there is a major loophole. The Bill rightly goes one step towards giving local authorities the power to make local charging schemes, but it does not take the next logical step which would impose safeguards and obligations on them. I remain extremely concerned about that.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 5.
Division No. 20 ]
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
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Hammond, Stephen
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Leech, Mr. John
Wright, Jeremy
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 104 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 105 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 106

Supplementary provision as to charging schemes
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Knight: I have a question for the Minister, but I am not entirely sure whether this is the place to raise it. If I can raise it and remain in order, I will do so now.
The Minister spoke earlier about leaving local decision making unfettered in some respects, but, if we have to have charging, there are certain aspects for which it would make sense to have uniformity. What are her plans to make it easier for motorists who are likely to enter two separate charging areas to make one payment in advance?
I am thinking of a business man who lives in Derby. If the hon. Member for Derby, North gets his way, there will be charging in Derby. The business man’s place of work may be in Birmingham, which, let us say, has its own scheme. In both cases, the motorist has to travel on roads subject to charging schemes at times when they are in force. Will there be provision for that motorist to be able to apply to a single point to prepay, let us say a year ahead, rather than have to make daily payments? That would be time-consuming and unnecessary in this age of technology.
Stephen Hammond: The clause has an innocent title, but behind it lie a number of issues that need to be explored. It enables the Secretary of State or other appropriate national authority to make regulations about fairly specific elements of road charging schemes: who pays, how they pay, where they pay, how the money is collected and so on. Given that the intention is to put road pricing decisions in the hands of local politicians, I do not understand why that power is appropriate.
It appears that the Secretary of State, despite giving local authorities the chance to put a scheme in place, is ensuring that she has the power to micro-manage road schemes. That prompts the question whether this whole part of the Bill is just a chance to introduce a national road pricing scheme by the back door. It seems to me that schemes should be introduced, defined and implemented by local politicians, after validation by the local electorate, with the needs of local people in mind and tailored to local circumstances. If that is the Government’s intention, as they seem to have stated, I am not sure why the Secretary of State will make regulations about the specifics of how, by whom and from whom money is to be collected. Such things should be defined by the local road pricing scheme.
Why does the Minister want that regulation-making power in the Bill, and why does she want those matters to be set out in regulations rather than in guidance? Will it be a one-way process of the Secretary of State making regulations for local authorities, or will local authorities be able to make representations to the Secretary of State about the regulations that she intends to make?
Ms Winterton: The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire and the hon. Member for Wimbledon mentioned the importance of consistency for road users in schemes. The right hon. Gentleman raised the possibility of having one account if that were considered helpful.
We would like to see co-operation on achieving that. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is currently guidance, but we are taking the powers in question in case they are needed in future for the benefit of the road user. If we were unable to achieve co-operation, we could make regulations to ensure the interoperability that the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman referred to. That is the simple explanation.
Mr. Knight: Can the Minister confirm that it is her intention to at least encourage schemes to offer a one-stop shop for payment, so that a motorist in the circumstances that I mentioned earlier could pay up front? To give an example, when I was last in America, I was being driven by someone who had to go on four different toll roads, not all operated by the same authority. He had affixed to his windscreen a disc, which I think had a metallic strip in it. When he went up to a barrier, it recognised the strip and opened, and he had to take no further action. There was no time-consuming telephoning or giving of card details. He had prepaid for the whole year. If we are to have these schemes, we should have that sort of payment scheme.
4 pm
Ms Winterton: That is exactly the kind of approach that we want to see.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 107

Suspension of charging schemes
Mr. Knight: I beg to move amendment No. 265, in clause 107, page 84, line 4, at end insert—
‘(d) any specified motor vehicle.’.
The thinking behind the amendment is as follows. I told the Committee of my interest as chairman of the all-party historic vehicles group. Across Britain, many historic rally events take place on a regular basis. In some towns and cities, they have a heritage festival to celebrate their long association with transport. Coventry does that and it would not surprise me if Birmingham did it as well. Fundraising charitable organisations often have charity parades involving historic or classic vehicles for fundraising purposes.
The Bill gives power to authorities to suspend charging schemes for special occasions. It allows for part of a charging scheme to be suspended—the authority could choose to suspend two or three streets down which a rally was taking place. It also gives permission to exempt any class of motor vehicle. What it does not do is to give power to suspend the scheme for any specified motor vehicle. It may well be that there are vehicles of different classes in a classic parade or rally.
In every such case that I have been made aware of there is a requirement by the organisers that the vehicles must be pre-booked into the rally. The organisers will have a list of registration numbers of those cars genuinely taking part in the charitable event. It would therefore make sense to give the operators of the scheme a power to exempt only those cars that are taking part in the rally or parade.
That is what my amendment would do. It is not by any stretch of the imagination a wrecking amendment. It is a helpful amendment, because it would allow the charging of everyday vehicles to continue on the dates when the rally or festival was taking place. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
Ms Winterton: As the right hon. Gentleman has said, his amendment would mean that where a charging authority operating a scheme is partially suspending a scheme, it could do so in respect of specific vehicles. As currently drafted, the clause allows for the partial suspension of a scheme in the event of an emergency or to facilitate a temporary event—for example, a parade, or carnival—to take place. That means, as he said, certain roads within the charging scheme could temporarily have the charge suspended to allow traffic to be diverted down them so as to avoid a road closed for an event such as a marathon.
Where, for example, an historic vehicle rally was being held within the charging area it would already be open to the charging authority, using the power in clause 107, to suspend charging on the roads that the rally would use and for the duration of the rally. Under the Transport Act 2000, it is already open to any local charging scheme to provide for exemptions or to reduce rates of charging which could be applied to defined events. A scheme could be drafted to exclude from the charging scheme vehicles taking part in a rally or charitable event. It would be possible, if vehicles were officially in the rally, for specific vehicles to be exempted from the charging scheme. I hope that is helpful.
Mr. Knight: I think I have got what I want. I would like to reflect on what the Minister has said when I can see her words in the Official Report . I thank her and on that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 107 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause s 108 and 109 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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