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Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee (on Recommitment) on this Bill.
The Bill provides that the owner of a vehicle shall be liable for any charges payable for the keeping or using of a vehicle on a particular road. That is fine, assuming that the relevant charge is paid, but there are, unfortunately, numerous occasions on which the person liable to pay the charges inadvertently is not responsible for his car.
I can best illustrate that point by referring to my son-in-law, whose car was taken from outside his house in Notting Hill some years ago. The police found it about a quarter of a mile away. The thieves had thoughtfully changed the number plates which made identification somewhat of a problem. The car appeared to have been used for almost everything except transport purposes. Under the terms of the Bill, my son-in-law would have been liable for any charges incurred during the time the vehicle was stolen. We do not think that is right.
This simple little amendment is designed to ensure that in such unfortunate circumstances, or in others that people can envisage without too great a stretch of the imagination, the owner should not be liable for the charges that we are discussing. I believe that it is appropriate to include the amendment on the face of the Bill. The question of who should, or should not, pay taxation in particular circumstances is an important matter. Taxation should be introduced by legislation, not regulation. This is a point of principle.
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation of the amendments in this group. I am pleased to be able to start our deliberation on Part III by entirely agreeing with the spirit of the noble Lord's amendments. However, I hope that I can assure him that his concern will be dealt with through regulations.
Clause 162 provides that the registered keeper of a vehicle will be responsible for paying road user charges unless regulations under subsection (2)(b) of that clause provide otherwise. We intend that these regulations will provide that where a vehicle is reported to the police as stolen or taken without the consent of the registered keeper, any charges incurred will be the responsibility of whoever took the vehicle. We also propose a similar approach for penalty charges, using regulations under Clause 172, and that the same approach will apply in London. I hope that with those reassurances the noble Lord will withdraw his amendments.
Lord Dixon-Smith: The Minister's response is satisfactory to a large degree in that he has addressed the intention of the amendment. I suspect that on a number of occasions as we progress through this part of the Bill Divisions will occur over what should or should not be on the face of the Bill. As I say, I question whether it is appropriate to introduce taxation through regulation. I shall need to reconsider the matter. Whether my patience on the matter runs out before the end of the day's proceedings remains to be seen. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: The amendments in this group are designed to ensure that the money raised through road user charging and the workplace parking levy--which we totally support--is used for the right purposes. The Bill is a little ambivalent on that point. As one of the main objects of the Bill is to get traffic off the roads, that money should not be spent on road building. It should, for example, be spent on better public transport services and on facilities for cycling or
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I have some sympathy with the amendments--although they are somewhat prescriptive in the sense that if the money can be used only for the purpose of reducing road traffic and not, for example, for improving safety on the roads, we shall get into a difficult situation. However, can the Minister tell the Committee the relationship between this Bill and the Road Traffic Reduction Act, which places an obligation on local authorities to reduce traffic in their areas?
Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for explaining the thinking behind these amendments. Although I am unable to accept them for reasons that will become clear, I am sympathetic to his concerns.
As drafted, the Bill contains the safeguard that local authority charging schemes must help to achieve the policies in a local authority's local transport plan. We have already said that the Secretary of State's approval for schemes introduced in England will depend on the local authority demonstrating that its scheme will have a direct impact on tackling local congestion problems. In particular, we have said that we do not envisage approving schemes that are designed only to raise revenue. We will want each scheme to state clearly its objectives and to set out how its performance will be monitored against those objectives. Consequently, I contend that the noble Lord's amendments are unnecessary.
Further, I fear that the noble Lord's amendments would create unintended difficulties because of the way they have been worded. As drafted, the amendments would mean that a scheme could not be introduced if it resulted in a reduction in the growth of local traffic levels rather than in an absolute reduction in local traffic levels; nor would a scheme be able to proceed if it resulted in a reduction in peak-hour congestion by encouraging the redistribution of road use over the remainder of the day rather than in an absolute reduction in total traffic. Reducing traffic growth or encouraging better use of road space could bring significant benefits to areas where charges are introduced. I do not believe that it would be right to rule out those possibilities.
For the record, I should like to assure the Committee that we shall be working with charging authorities and funding research to monitor the impact of road user charging schemes to make sure that we learn lessons and pass on best practice to others.
I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that I do not feel that anything in the Bill will be at odds with attempts to reduce congestion elsewhere. On the issues of congestion and pollution, we have said that we are looking to local authorities to begin to benchmark at local level what is required across the country. We are very grateful to the Commission for Integrated Transport--on which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, sits--for its advice on how best that may be introduced by local authorities.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I thank the Minister for his explanation and reassurances. I shall read what he said. I think it unlikely that I shall come back to this matter at a later stage as I believe that I have received enough reassurances in regard to the Government's intentions and their proposed ways of putting them into practice. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.