Local Transport Bill [ Lords ]

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Clause 110

Power of national authority to require information from charging authorities
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Stephen Hammond: I want briefly to probe the Minister on this clause. It is to do with the transfer of information between Government and local authorities and I see nothing wrong with those powers.
The Secretary of State is allowed to charge local authorities a fee for disclosing information to them but local authorities do not have the same luxury of being able to charge a fee, so it is a one-way power. Given that the disclosure of information is bilateral, will the Minister confirm that I have read the clause correctly and say whether she would consider giving local authorities the ability to charge a fee as well?
Ms Winterton: The clause will allow the Secretary of State in England and Welsh Ministers in respect of the scheme in Wales to request information about a charging scheme or a proposed scheme from the authority developing it.
As the Government are removing the Secretary of State’s approval role, we still want to ensure that central Government have appropriate access to information about local authorities’ use of their road-user charging powers. We are already working with authorities that are developing proposals for road pricing and we hope that that relationship will continue. However, it may be necessary for the appropriate national authority to request information beyond what is made available informally. This provision states clearly that the information should be that which the authority already has or can reasonably be expected to acquire. Therefore, we think that this should impose no extra cost on a properly run scheme. The Government’s intention is to be able to access information about how a scheme works, to ensure, for example, interoperability of systems and technology or to understand the effectiveness of different approaches.
With regard to the ability of the Secretary of State to charge a reasonable fee for supplying information, the main reason for including this in the Bill is so that the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency can recover its costs in supplying information that charging authorities will need to enforce their schemes. That is an ongoing operational cost and we have made it very clear that any charge would cover only the costs of supplying the information.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 110 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause s 11 1 to 114 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 115

Powers of the National Assembly for Wales
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Stephen Hammond: We now move into another part of the Bill, concerning miscellaneous provisions. First is the trunk road charging scheme in Wales.
At the moment, Welsh Ministers exercise functions in relation to strategic Welsh management and they have the power to levy charges on trunk roads only to support local road pricing schemes. However, clause 115 goes well beyond that, with a huge extension of the powers. If I read this clause correctly, which I think I do, it gives Welsh Ministers tax-raising powers in Wales for the first time, as it allows them to implement a Wales-wide scheme on all trunk roads in the Principality. That equates to a huge tax increase on Welsh citizens. It is a constitutional matter and should not be introduced through the back door of a Bill on local transport. It is inconsistent with the rest of the Bill as it applies to other parts of the country. The potential effect on the Welsh economy is huge, if tax-raising powers are to be granted to Welsh Ministers that they did not have before.
Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman mentioned tax-raising powers. It is important to point out at this juncture that the clause does not give tax-raising powers, which will remain very firmly here at Westminster. What it will be is an opportunity to put money raised on road pricing back into the local infrastructure. We heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough about concerns the chambers of commerce had in Sheffield. Similarly, in Cardiff, there are some serious concerns about traffic congestion and surely there must be local solutions for local problems.
Stephen Hammond: Absolutely, but the trouble is that I am going to disagree with the hon. Lady. She is wrong in her initial premise. I am certainly happy with her latter premises about local charging for local schemes, and that the money raised from a Wales-wide trunk road charging scheme could be used for Wales-wide schemes. My understanding of the Bill, and that of many Members of the Welsh Assembly, is that allowing charges to be made on a Wales-wide basis effectively gives the Welsh Assembly tax-raising powers. These are not tax-raising powers they have had before, and therefore this is a constitutional matter.
I suspect that the Government’s response will centre on the fact that the provision has been included at the request of Welsh Ministers, and that those Welsh Ministers have not yet decided where or how they are going to use the additional powers. It may well have originated from Welsh Ministers. I am not sure, therefore, why it has come to us as a framework power in primary legislation, as opposed to a legislative competence order. It is my understanding that when the Welsh Assembly desires a specific matter to be added to its legislative competency, the legislative competence order is the customary route. The Secretary of State would lay a draft order in Parliament that would require the approval of both Houses. That is, again, a different procedure from what we are being given here. If one looks at this clause, it is clear that there was a long discussion, much more erudite than any I can offer here—
Ms Winterton: Surely not.
4.15 pm
Stephen Hammond: I thank the Minister for her confidence in my erudition. No one who has read the proceedings of the Bill’s passage through another place could be anything other than convinced that this is a constitutional matter. It gives the Welsh Assembly, for the first time, the power to raise tax. On that basis and that basis alone—not on the basis that Welsh Ministers should not have the ability to reinvest in local schemes but on the basis that this is a constitutional matter, that it is the first time that tax-raising powers are being given to the Welsh Assembly, and that they are being given through the back door of the Local Transport Bill—I cannot support this clause and I will ask my hon. Friends not to do so.
Mr. Knight: I support my hon. Friend. I am surprised that people have not taken to the streets in Wales in opposition to this particular provision. Maybe they are not yet aware of what is coming, but I think the fate that befell Councillor Jones in Manchester—I do not know whether he is Welsh, though he certainly has a Welsh name—will be affecting Councillors Jones en masse in Wales if the provision is introduced. In effect, Wales is being used by the Government as a guinea pig. That is what it amounts to. Wales is a guinea pig for a potential Britain-wide scheme. What message does it send to people who live in England but enjoy holidaying in Wales? The message is, “Don’t come to Wales: we’ll be taking more tax off you.” Barmouth’s loss will be Bridlington’s gain.
Ms Winterton: The clause will allow the National Assembly for Wales to pass its own legislation, in the form of an Assembly Measure, on road charging on the trunk road network in Wales. The revenues from any trunk road pricing scheme would have to be used for transport purposes, for example to fund new transport infrastructure or provide new services. Clause 115 has been included at the specific request of the Welsh Ministers. It is consistent with the devolutionary principles established in the Government of Wales Act 2006, and framework powers are being conferred on the National Assembly in a number of other areas of Government policy. The Welsh Ministers have yet to decide what role, if any, road charging may play in addressing current and future transport challenges. They do, however, wish to have the powers available that would allow them to adopt a coherent approach towards any road-pricing proposals that local authorities in Wales may bring forward, or any future UK scheme. The Welsh Ministers have also made it clear that if they were to introduce road pricing, it would be in the context of new road developments in those areas with the worst congestion problems.
Mrs. James: Will the Minister confirm that any decision the Welsh Assembly takes on this matter would be taken only after full public scrutiny and full examination of the proposals? Given that 95 per cent. of the roads are under local authority jurisdiction in Wales, will she also confirm that it would only affect the 5 per cent. of the roads that are trunk roads?
Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I certainly confirm what she has said. As I said before, the clause simply enables the National Assembly for Wales to pass its own legislation which, of course, would go through all the normal scrutiny. The Government of Wales Act 2006 does not allow the transfer of tax-raising powers to the Welsh Assembly. The powers in the clause are to do with road user charges. As I said, that is in response to a request from Welsh Ministers, which is entirely in line with the devolutionary process.
Stephen Hammond: As I predicted a couple of minutes ago, the Minister told us that the provision was at the request of Welsh Ministers. Her response at no stage addressed my point that the provision is giving those Ministers new powers, which they did not have before. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Swansea, East that the proposal would affect only 5 per cent. of the roads in Wales, but my point is that this is for the first time a tax-raising power that the Welsh Assembly did not have before. There is any amount of good legal argument that the measure is giving powers by the back door that were never intended by the 2006 Act. It is clearly a tax-raising power. It is clearly a constitutional matter. It should not be in the Local Transport Bill, so on this particular clause, the Minister and I will have to disagree.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 4.
Division No. 21 ]
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Leech, Mr. John
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
Wright, Jeremy
Question accordingly agreed to.
Clause 115 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 116 to 118 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 119

Disclosure of information relating to foreign-registered vehicles
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Knight: I want to ask the Minister about the operation of the provision—its enforcement. We all agree that where a vehicle is foreign registered, its driver should obey our laws, even if the laws in the country of origin are different. For example, many German drivers are used to driving at very high speeds on their autobahns. Even in France they have a top speed limit of about 80 mph. While they are over here, at least under the present Government, they ought to adhere to our limit, which is currently 70 mph.
However, even if that information is shuffled around, what improvement results from the enforcement process? That is my concern. Let us say that a driver comes over to the UK from Cyprus and brings his vehicle with him. He exceeds the speed limit and the vehicle is photographed by a number of speed cameras. He parks in parking bays and does not put money in parking meters. He receives ticket after ticket. When he leaves this country, taking his vehicle with him, how will those ticketable offences be pursued?
Ms Winterton: The clause was inserted because, during our consultation process leading up to the Bill, we received a number of representations from public authorities pressing the Government to allow them to receive information about the owners and keepers of foreign-registered vehicles. Many councils, especially those in London, have significant problems with foreign-registered vehicles committing parking, congestion charge and other traffic offences. The clause will allow local authorities, Transport for London, the police and others to seek and receive information from the Secretary of State to enable penalty notices to be issued to keepers of foreign-registered vehicles.
It is right to say that, although the provision will let local councils and others obtain information about foreign-registered vehicles and send a penalty charge notice, it does not guarantee that such data can be obtained in all instances, nor does it guarantee payment from evaders driving foreign-registered vehicles. However, the experience of Transport for London shows that, of cases where it is possible to obtain information about foreign-registered vehicles, 38 per cent. of outstanding charges are collected. It is not the answer to all the problems, as the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire has probably spotted, but it is at least a step along the way. We have drafted such a measure in response to requests from several public bodies that would find it extremely useful.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 119 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 120 and 121 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 7 agreed to.
Clauses 122 and 123 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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