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("( ) Where a local charging scheme is introduced in order to fund improvements to facilitate the achievement of policies in the charging authority's local transport plan, the charging scheme shall cease when the relevant improvements have been paid for.").

The noble Lord said: I have tabled a series of amendments which seek to determine exactly what are the Government's intentions as regards these new taxes. Perhaps I may put it this way: are those intentions honourable and straightforward? Are the taxes intended to be levied locally and then used for the benefit of local people? Furthermore, if an authority cannot think of a good use to which to put them, will they cease? That, I believe, is what should happen.

Unfortunately, the Bill provides otherwise. It states that such taxes can be initiated locally, but subsequently can become national taxes. In my view, that would impose on local transport authorities the odium of having to introduce a new tax which subsequently would be pocketed by the Treasury, to its benefit. I do not think that that is an appropriate way of approaching this.

This amendment provides that, where a local transport authority sees the need for particular improvements to help with traffic flows within its own area, it should be able to design a charging scheme which relates directly to those improvements. Thereafter, the charge should cease.

It is conceivable that the Minister will say that that is perfectly possible. However, we have encountered many problems in the Bill on the matter of hypothecation. The best assurance that we have received so far has been that schemes begun within 10 years from when the Bill comes into effect will have revenue hypothecated to them for a period of 10 years from their initiation. However, anyone familiar with the development of the transport industry over the centuries--from the time of the horse and cart, through to stage-coaches, canals, railways and so forth--will know that one needs to deal with a constantly evolving situation. Transport demands change all the time, and the problems to be solved change alongside them. People will always seek new and often radical solutions.

However, it is almost always the case that those who deal with such problems at the local level know best what needs to be done to improve their own particular circumstances. I have every confidence that if charging schemes are introduced, they will be used well and in the local interest. That is right and proper. However, I am also of the view that if an authority cannot think of

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any scheme to be funded by the new charge that would significantly improve matters, either the new charge should not be introduced or--this is probably more likely because I suspect that all authorities will be able to devise new schemes--when no more valid ideas are put forward, no more charges should be levied.

That does not mean that the charging system would become invalid. That is because if, after a number of years, new problems are revealed, the power will still be in place under the Bill to introduce a charging scheme to fund the necessary changes to solve those new problems.

This little amendment addresses what is in fact a very important principle for local transport authorities, for local government generally and, indeed, for national government. If the amendment were accepted, that would signal that national government had accepted--almost for the first time in my long experience in local government--that local government can, and does, behave responsibly and that it acts in the interests of local communities. That, in itself, would be rather novel. I accept that the amendment may not be perfectly worded, so if the Minister would like to take it away and bring forward an improved version at a later stage, I should be a happy man.

I repeat: the issues that lie behind this little amendment are both profound and important. I felt that it was important for us to hold a short debate--even if that debate is to be held between only myself and the Minister. I am sure that we shall have several fascinating discussions across the Table today. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: The noble Lord has rightly said that the amendment raises an important philosophical point. It goes to the heart of the purpose for which road charges are to be levied. If the amendment were accepted, it would reduce road charging to an entirely pragmatic and practical device for dealing with local problems: for example, easing some physical phenomenon causing congestion or introducing some scheme to even out traffic flow through the day so as to lessen congestion.

At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that the Bill had been conceived in the context of wanting to deal not only with practical issues but with environmental ones. In the broad environmental context, the secondary purpose of road charging is to deal with physical problems in local areas. Its primary purpose, however, is to deter people from using their cars as much as they presently do. If that is the primary purpose and it is the Government's intention that it should remain so, I very much hope that the amendment will be resisted. However, I should be grateful if the Minister would reassure the Committee that one of the reasons for charging, whether on trunk roads or in local areas, is to deter traffic and to encourage people to find other means of going from A to B, or indeed to encourage them to travel less.

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If that remains the primary purpose of road charging, it could reasonably be said that it will never be achieved. It may work slowly and gradually, but the prospect of lifting the charges simply does not arise, because the necessity to restrict traffic growth will continue, and indeed increase. If we take seriously the recommendation of the Royal Commission that we must cut CO2 emissions by 60 per cent over the next 50 years, there will have to be an enormous reduction in road traffic use. Charging schemes can play a part--not the only part--in achieving that reduction. The amendment goes to the heart of the philosophy behind the Transport Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister would respond on that point.

4 p.m.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising an important issue. It goes to the centre of the objectives of the charging scheme.

The Committee should be assured that we do not envisage approving charging schemes that are designed simply to raise revenue. The right reverend Prelate went straight to the heart of the matter. We can confirm that we expect the charges to have a direct bearing on local congestion problems. We believe that, to be effective, the introduction of charges must be matched by increased spending on local transport to provide people with real alternatives to the car. Our ground-breaking hypothecation guarantee will ensure that that can happen.

However, it is clear that the introduction of transport improvements alone may, in many cases, not be sufficient to reduce congestion. It is likely that the restraint effect of a charge to enter a town or city will be an essential part of the package that manages traffic demand and delivers lower congestion. One can envisage a situation some years hence where significant transport infrastructure improvements have been paid for through a charging regime, congestion has been reduced, and an authority may decide at that point to discontinue charges. But there is the other important consideration: sustaining the reduction in congestion. That may require that road user charges are kept in order to restrain traffic. It would therefore be wrong to rule out the possibility of local authorities deciding that charges should continue.

Amendment No. 202 ignores the important traffic demand management effect that the charges will have. I hope that, with that explanation, the noble Lord will agree not to press his amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his contribution on the problems created by congestion, particularly carbon dioxide and other noxious emissions produced by the internal combustion engine. Those problems will be solved not as a result of provisions in the Bill but as a result of developments taking place in the motor industry, as we still call it, because what will happen over the next 25, 30 or 40 years is that the internal combustion engine will become out of date.

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I should declare not so much an interest as a fascination. I chaired the sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee which examined the future of the internal combustion engine specifically in regard to exhaust emissions. There is the obvious progress that is being made with the internal combustion engine, but that is not an answer in itself. The committee arrived at a conclusion that surprised me; namely, that we shall see fuel-cell-powered cars on the roads. Initially, they will still produce carbon dioxide, but not all the other noxious emissions. Ultimately, they will be hydrogen powered and will produce nothing except water. At that point we shall face an ethical dilemma. We shall have completely non-polluting vehicles that are absolutely silent. I can see the time coming when we put bells on them, rather like bicycle bells, so as to warn pedestrians that they are coming--but that is a slight red herring. That is the way in which the industry is moving. The provisions in the Bill to deal with pollution will not provide a solution before the motor industry itself provides the technical answer.

Congestion could be argued to be a voluntary tax paid by society for the benefit of enjoying a reasonably high degree of mobility. I would always rather pay a voluntary tax than a compulsory one. It is a simple principle. The Minister seems to be saying that he would prefer the situation to be the other way round, and that we should reduce the need to travel. That need could have been reduced voluntarily, apart from the fact that we have spent 30 or 35 years developing a society in which we do need to travel. Anyone who thinks that the hundreds of thousands of housewives whom I see shopping every week, coming out of the supermarket with a trolley laden with goods that must often weigh more than a hundredweight, are going to carry that home on a bus has another think coming. They will pay a road congestion charge if they have to, because, sadly, there is now no alternative--unless we return to having large numbers of small shops and, more importantly, unless housewives are prepared to spend the time to go shopping every other day, as my mother used to do. I do not think that that kind of reverse revolution in society will take place. The issues are important. I do not believe that the situation will necessarily be better if these moneys are continued on a national basis rather than being decided locally.

There are two possible outcomes. One is that local authorities levy the charges and they are called in aid of other local expenditure, which may or may not be reasonable. If we are simply creating another form of local revenue, so be it. But that is not what we are told the Bill is about. If the money is to be part of the national revenue, we are in an even worse situation. The initiative for introducing the charges will have been taken locally. There is no certainty, apart from the small piece of blackmail in the guidance to which I have referred, that local transport authorities will necessarily introduce these charges all over the country. There is no compulsion to do so. I can envisage that they may not be introduced by a number of authorities in less well advantaged parts of the country than the South East. Not the least of the

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problems that any government in this country face is that after a time they are seen as representing the South East. Many parts of the country may be reluctant to introduce charges, where there is high unemployment and too many socially disadvantaged people. Welcome though an additional source of revenue may be, the disincentive to industry and other employers would be such that not introducing charging would be a positive incentive.

We should not blithely assume that everybody will leap into road charging with any speed. There will be considerable caution. In any event, Ministers in the other place have touched on traffic flow improvement in an area being seen before charges can be introduced--post facto. We need to consider little parts of the proposal as well as its totality.

The Minister answered in favour of the right reverend Prelate, who I think is wrong. Nevertheless, I will study the noble Lord's response. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 163 agreed to.

Clause 164 [Joint local charging schemes]:

[Amendment No. 203 not moved.]

Clause 164 agreed to.

Clause 165 [Joint local-London charging schemes]:

[Amendment No. 204 not moved.]

Clause 165 agreed to.

Clause 166 [Trunk road charging schemes]:

On Question, Whether Clause 166 shall stand part of the Bill?

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