Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for his response, and particularly his assurance that the products of these revenue streams must be additional. I am bound to say, however, that, whatever Schedule 12 may say, it does nothing to reinforce the point of additionality, or, at least, it does infinitely less than his assurance does. His assurance is quite clear.

Schedule 12 requires the keeping of separate accounts and the annual publication of them. That will deal very neatly and properly with the issue of revenue raised and revenue spent. But it does not actually deal with the issue of what happens to the other revenue streams that local government has. Although that may help to make what is happening more obvious, it does nothing to guarantee the continuity of those other revenue streams. That is what I would call a

17 Jul 2000 : Column 628

"peccadillo" in what was a helpful reply, and one for which I am grateful. I will study with care what the Minister has said, as is my wont. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 223A:

    Page 102, line 29, at end insert (", and

( ) specify an alternative route for through traffic that can be followed if a vehicle is unable or unequipped to pay the charges required").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 223A deals with the question of producing an alternative route for through traffic if a scheme is introduced. The purpose of the amendment is to tease out something about the administration of these systems. As my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil, who is no longer in his place, said, we always need to remember that the purpose of roads is to help movement. The difficulty we shall have at some point in the future is that some towns will go for automated systems of charging. That will be good and fine, provided that there is a national standard and nationally agreed equipment. We may well be coming to that, but we are certainly not there yet. The alternative would be to put at the border of a district something such as one sees at the end of the Dartford crossing. I happen to have the border of a district on my land. It would be a marginal joy to me if the local transport authority came along and said that it required three or four acres of land in order to put in a tolling station for the benefit of the local community. It would also benefit me somewhat. So I declare an interest in this question.

There is a serious issue, because we will have to provide systems which will permit the charging of through traffic. If we are to have these schemes, one cannot afford to let the issue get away, not for the monetary reason but for the reason of principle. Therefore, I brought the debate on to the Floor of the Committee so we could see what was going on.

Amendment No. 224, which is grouped with Amendment No. 223A, would permit different charges for different classes of road user. At present, the Bill provides for different charges for various circumstances but it does not refer to different classes of road user. When we were having a debate on motorcycles, it occurred to me that it was a perfect example of what I mean with this particular amendment. I believe that different levels of charging for different classes of road users is entirely appropriate. I thought that that should be added. There is an amendment to that effect in the group.

Amendment No. 225, which is also in the group, deals with the question of the publication--we are in the business of informing the public--of the reason for imposing different charges for different cases. I have no doubt that I shall be told that that will be part of the pre-consultation and that these details will be gone into. In my experience, a good many people will not wake up until after the scheme is in place. They will suddenly say, "I have heard nothing about this; I know nothing about it". The public would be disadvantaged

17 Jul 2000 : Column 629

if the reasons for differential charging are not a part of the scheme so that they can be read about at that stage. I hope that at the very least the Minister will be sympathetic to that point, although I have no doubt that his sympathy will be much as it has been so often this afternoon. The noble Lord is so charming. It is very difficult to argue with him. He agrees with you but says that there is no need to do anything about the point that you are raising. These are important little amendments.

To go back to where I began, the problem of dealing with through traffic for long distance journeys will be a considerable one, particularly initially. It would be a trifle unfortunate if we were to step back to the 18th century and have tollgates as one crosses from one local transport authority to another. That is almost implicit in the situation that we are creating. I beg to move.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: I thank the noble Lord for his explanation of this group of amendments. I feel that I must almost apologise for finding myself yet again in general agreement with the intentions behind his amendments, if not the exact proposals.

The purpose of Amendment No. 223A is to require that a charging scheme must specify an alternative route for through traffic that can be followed by vehicles unable or unequipped to pay the charges. I am sympathetic to the practical point about giving people the option either to pay a charge or take an alternative route. We would expect that schemes will be designed to give information to motorists so they can choose whether or not to enter a charged area or structure. If they do decide to enter the area, they should be prepared to pay the charge. That is the same for currently tolled bridges.

However, while I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord is seeking to achieve, I think it is undesirable to have such a requirement for a number of reasons. It would prevent a charging scheme proceeding if an alternative route was not available, as is the case in the schemes being developed in the Peak District National Park and by Durham County Council in its attempts to protect the unique world heritage site of Durham city.

Furthermore, the alternative route would have to be suitable for the class of through traffic which the noble Lord is considering. However, one purpose of a charging scheme could be to encourage a shift between modes to protect the environment which would be rendered pointless if diversion of traffic was encouraged. I remind the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said that he does not envisage approving schemes unless some public transport alternative is available. It is not clear exactly what the noble Lord means by "unable"--unable because the driver has forgotten his or her money? We could be moving into a legal minefield with this amendment. Therefore, I cannot support it for the reasons I have outlined.

17 Jul 2000 : Column 630

Subsection (5) of Clause 170 provides examples of some of the factors under which charges may vary. Those include different charges on different days and different charges at different times of day. The list is not, however, exclusive or exhaustive. Other possibilities are not ruled out and to add,

    "different classes of road-user",

as Amendment No. 224 seeks to do, is not necessary. Furthermore, Clause 171 specifically provides for exemptions and reduced rates of charges. Using these provisions, charging authorities could also, if they wished, charge lower rates for local residents or other classes of road user.

Amendment No. 225 would require that a charging authority must specify the reasons for charging different amounts in different cases. I agree with the principle, but my preference would be for local authorities to include a justification for different charges when they consult locally on their proposals. That could also be one of the factors we consider in scheme approvals. I would add that local authorities, if challenged on the issue by an application for judicial review in the High Court, would in any case have to be ready to justify different charges.

I hope that with those reassurances the noble Lord will agree that his amendments are unnecessary and will agree to withdraw Amendment No. 223A.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I shall certainly agree to study with great care what the Minister has said. As always, he argues his case persuasively and sympathises with my intentions. I find that quite charming and indeed--dare I say it?--disarming. But one needs to be certain that even with what he has said--again, he must forgive my scepticism--we have dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. Although I am infinitely more happy than I was before we had this short debate, I cannot be entirely satisfied. I shall have to give the Minister's reply more thought than is possible immediately on the Floor of the Committee. I shall study the noble Lord's remarks very carefully when they appear in Hansard. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 224 and 225 not moved.]

Clause 170 agreed to.

Clause 171 [Charging schemes: exemptions etc.]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 226:

    Page 103, line 14, at end insert ("which shall include exemption for recognised emergency services, people undertaking repairs to public utilities, and doctors, nurses and mid-wives visiting patients").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 243 to 247 and Amendment No. 261. This group of amendments deals with the question of exemptions. I have tabled them in part to tease out, if that is possible, what the Government are thinking in this regard. These are very important issues.

The Government have apparently accepted that the concept of universal charging is inappropriate. They have done so because they have recognised that,

17 Jul 2000 : Column 631

particularly with regard to people working for the health service who have to travel to and from work for duty at all hours of the day, it would not be appropriate that they should be included in these charging schemes. That is fine. But many other classes of user will also come within that category one way or another. As the principle is the same, this group of amendments crosses over into workplace parking levies.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Why did the noble Lord choose this specific case? Why did he not choose five, 10 or 15 other cases? Could not all such cases be mentioned in regulations which can be considered later? All the Government are doing is making room for the provision later on of certain circumstances. The noble Lord has chosen one circumstance. Why did he not choose another, or five others?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page