Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Clinton-Davis: I do not usually oppose my noble friend, because he served me well when I held the transport portfolio when my party was in opposition. However, I believe that the right thing for my noble friend to do is to make representations at the proper time to my noble friend the Minister. What I have said about the noble Lord applies equally to him. Both have made out good cases individually. But it is wrong at this stage of the Bill, which is lengthy enough in any event, to make representations on behalf of individuals or organisations--unless my noble friend has reasons that are not apparent to me. My experience indicates that he has an open mind on the matter, that he has representations in mind concerning individuals and organisations, and that he does not need the help that either my noble friend or the noble Lord opposite is prepared to give.

Lord Swinfen: On the question of road user charging and workplace levies, I have great sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. But as regards road user charging, it is likely that automated schemes will be introduced to check moving traffic. People will either have to buy in advance the right to take their vehicles into certain areas, or be billed afterwards. Therefore, are the Government proposing increased allowances for

17 Jul 2000 : Column 636

people who are registered disabled so as to take account of road user charging and to reimburse them for it? In the long term, that is probably the most practical method of dealing with the matter in order that there will not be delays at checkpoints while the validity of a driver, or indeed the passenger if that person is so disabled that he or she is unable to drive, is checked to verify that the vehicle is exempt. In relation to disabled people who must use a private vehicle, there should be a proper exemption from the workplace parking levy.

It would be helpful if at this stage the Government would indicate what they have in mind in the way of exemptions, or compensation for lack of exemptions, in regard to both road user charging schemes and the workplace levy. That could help us at later stages in the Bill and might well mean that we need not table quite so many amendments in future. I am sure that the Government have given themselves plenty of time to think about this matter.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: I should like to thank noble Lords for raising the important matter of exemption from road user charges and workplace parking levies. I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for lending me his considerable weight in matters of procedure. Some of the suggestions by Members of the Committee for possible exemptions or concessions make good sense, but again we differ on the approach.

The Government's response to the consultation paper, Breaking the Logjam, sought views on possible exemptions or concessions. We invited views on what exemptions from charges or other concessions should be specified nationally, and what exemptions or concessions would be best left to local discretion. A copy of the response was placed in the Library in February.

In England, we are proposing that there will be a national exemption from both road user charges and workplace parking charges for emergency vehicles. We are proposing that there will also be some form of exemption from both charges for disabled persons. In addition, we are proposing some form of exemption or concession from the workplace parking levy for National Health Service hospitals.

However, we are firmly of the view that these national exemptions from charges should be specified in regulations rather than on the face of the Bill. This regulation-making power is provided by virtue of Clause 171 for road user charging and Clause 186 for workplace parking levy. This will ensure that we can work with appropriate interest groups, such as organisations that represent disabled people, to ensure that our proposed exemptions or concessions are workable and equitable. That could not be guaranteed if we sought to specify exemptions now on the face of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Simon proposes an exemption for registered disabled people and those with chronic illnesses that prevent them from using public transport. I was sorry to hear of my noble

17 Jul 2000 : Column 637

friend's inhibiting disability, which does not allow him to travel by public transport. The work done by the Commission for Integrated Transport shows that of all European countries, the UK is foremost in provision for travel by disabled people on public transport.

I am grateful for the opportunity to restate our commitment, in our response to Breaking the Logjam, to some form of exemption in England for disabled motorists from road user charges and the workplace parking levy. We are undertaking further work, so it is too early to say what the best approach to an exemption will be. We are working with experts and representative groups to develop our proposals, on which we will consult in due course. Key issues will be who should be included in the scope of an exemption and how an exemption can be enforced fairly and effectively. We are firmly of the view that the best way is to use the power in Clause 171 to make regulations--rather than put something prescriptive in the Bill. I hope that my noble friend will therefore agree not to press his amendment.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Berkeley for raising the important question of how public sector organisations and charging authorities themselves should be treated. His amendment would prevent regulations made by the Secretary of State from exempting charging authorities or other public sector bodies from road user charges--but it would not prevent a charging authority from exempting itself from road user charges or from offering local exemptions to other public sector bodies.

We said in response to Breaking the Logjam that we do not envisage approving a workplace parking levy scheme if exemptions are proposed simply on the basis that buildings are council owned. The same logic applies to a charging authority's liability for road charges. Nor do we propose widespread exemptions from road user charges for public sector organisations. The public sector bears part of the responsibility for causing congestion and would reap the benefits of reduced congestion. It must therefore bear its part of the responsibility for tackling congestion. Widespread public sector exemptions would be impossible to justify to other sectors of the economy and would undermine the effectiveness of schemes to tackle congestion.

We propose, however, national exemption from road charges for emergency vehicles--which have no discretion over the time, destination or means by which they travel, and whose work is often a matter of life or death. We propose that regulations under Clause 171 should provide for national exemption. As the police, fire and ambulance services are public-sector bodies, Amendment No. 227A would prevent that happening. I hope that my noble friend will accept my reassurance on the treatment of charging authorities and that they will not duck their liability for charges, and that my noble friend will understand that a national exemption for emergency services is essential.

17 Jul 2000 : Column 638

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, proposes a number of exemptions additional to those we intend to specify in regulations. I have made it clear that we are committed to giving local authorities responsibility for devising charging and licensing schemes that reflect local circumstances, priorities and needs. On that basis, we have kept national exemptions to a minimum. Local authorities may want to add other locally decided exemptions but we are firmly of the view that decisions about others and concessions--other than the small number that will apply nationally--should be taken locally in the design of an individual charging or licensing scheme.

Local authorities may want to set a threshold that exempts the first few parking places at a building from the workplace levy--and there are good arguments in favour. A threshold could help small businesses and reduce the administrative effort of managing and enforcing a scheme. However, in advance of working with the first levy scheme proposals and giving further consideration to the impact of thresholds, we are not in a position to consider whether a national threshold is appropriate or the level at which it should be pitched. The threshold of 10 parking spaces proposed by Amendment No. 244 might work in one town but another level might be more appropriate elsewhere.

Amendment No. 243 suggests that any business in a rural area should be exempted. These are enabling powers, so it is for each local traffic authority to decide whether and where to use them. Each is subject to our approval and we have said that in approving schemes, we envisage and expect that every scheme will have a direct bearing on local congestion problems--rather than simply being a means of raising revenue. If a rural area has no congestion problems, our expectation is that there will be a presumption against our approving a scheme--although the Secretary of State would have to give fair consideration to the merits of any put forward.

As to Amendment No. 245, I accept that there may be merit in giving exemptions or concessions to businesses that have agreed green travel plans that minimise their employees' reliance on car travel. I hope the Committee accepts that it would be best to tackle the matter locally, perhaps with guidance or regulations--not least because of the problems of definitions exemplified in the amendment's wording. A "green transport programme" is not defined in statute and there could be endless arguments in the courts over what constituted a significant reduction in the need for travel by car.

Amendment No. 246 suggests that all parking by any shift workers should be exempted from the workplace parking levy. Workers driving to a shift that began at 9 a.m. would be adding to peak-hour congestion in the same way as any other workers. There would be no logic to their exemption. I accept that there is a concern about people working during the night, when there may be little alternative to driving. Local authorities will be able to limit the hours when a parking licence is required, to exclude evenings and nights if that makes sense locally. It is worth noting that a licence to park a maximum of 50 vehicles,

17 Jul 2000 : Column 639

for example, will cover 50 vehicles during the day shift and an entirely different 50 vehicles during the night shift at no additional cost.

I accept also that there is then an issue about how shift handovers are managed. For a limited period, as one shift departs and another arrives, there may be an unavoidable need for excess parking. We intend to give guidance to local authorities to ensure that such situations are dealt with flexibly. We envisage that an employer would be allowed additional parking during a defined shift handover period at no extra cost.

We propose a national exemption for emergency vehicles from the workplace parking levy and road user charges but not for parking by employees at, say, an ambulance station. The public sector must take its share of the responsibility for congestion, and there would be the same value in public sector employees switching from car commuting as any others. Having spelt out at some length and in detail the Government's position on exemptions from new charges, I hope that noble Lords will agree to withdraw or not move their amendments.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Swinfen: The Minister did not answer my question about moving vehicle charging, where it may not be possible to identify whether the driver or passenger of a vehicle is disabled. Will there be some form of compensation for disabled people who might otherwise be exempt when they pass through a charging point?

While the Minister was speaking another thought came into my mind. A number of people work from home and often have assistants or secretaries who visit them. Will a workplace charge be levied on a person who works from home or his secretary or assistant? At some stage that may be a contentious point.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page