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Lord Whitty: I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, makes an unusual distinction between politics and life. Palatability is one of the tests that the national authorities must meet in relation to the scheme. Therefore, it is important that with the introduction of a workplace parking scheme those who have been consulted--businesses and local people--can see a benefit for their area in terms of congestion and traffic flows. That is part of the total assessment and an authority will be judged on it, as it will be on the technicalities of the scheme itself.

The amendment specifies two further restrictions. The first is the date. The noble Lord is correct to say that we envisage that schemes will take some time to introduce, partly to give time to assess public opinion. We believe that it will be four or five years before there are major schemes in operation, although some may come before that. However, there is no point in specifying an artificial date for the start of schemes at 1st January 2004. If authorities are able to introduce schemes before that, which are supported, we shall encourage them in doing so.

The other obstacles are hopelessly mechanistic. The amendment says that before a scheme starts, spending on transport infrastructure must have increased by 20 per cent on current levels and

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congestion must have been reduced by 20 per cent--again on current levels, I assume. If I were to make a party political point, I could argue that the money available has already increased by 20 per cent, and no doubt we shall receive further good news from the Chancellor and from my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston later this week. That may meet the spending criterion, but it may be inappropriate to put a 20 per cent hurdle on congestion benefits, particularly given the timescale. Some may take longer to reach such benefits. Local people, local businesses and the community at large might think it ridiculous to reject a scheme that has given a 19 per cent improvement in congestion.

The Secretary of State will have to make a judgment on whether a scheme is robust and has sufficient public support and whether it will lead to reductions in congestion and produce other environmental benefits, but it is not sensible to specify figures in the Bill.

Another problem with the amendment, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, is that the requirement will be ineffective unless the legislation includes a definition of congestion. I know to my cost that that is not easy, and no definition is included in the amendment. I hope that he will not pursue the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I was well aware, when I tabled my amendment, of the arguments that it was mechanistic and too detailed. However, it seemed important to try to tease out what the Government meant by the statements that had been made. With all deference to the Minister, I cannot say that I feel any great confidence arising from his reply. Nor was there the precision I was seeking. But perhaps that was too much to hope for. I do not want to get into statistical arguments about past, present or future levels of expenditure. We all know that we can prove almost anything if we are selective with our use of statistics. I am as guilty of that as anyone else. The public become confused when we have such debates.

I think that the Minister intended his reply to be helpful and I found it so. I shall study it with care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley moved Amendment No. 240:

    Page 107, line 28, at end insert--

("( ) A licensing scheme shall be agreed at a regional level between local transport executives and charges shall be consistent across that region.").

The noble Lord said: I apologise for not having been here to move Amendment No. 237. There are a number of reasons for that. One is the swiftness with which we went through the amendments immediately before it. Another is that I could not work out what I had meant by it when I tabled it.

However, I know what I mean by Amendment No. 240, to which I shall speak briefly. It deals with a problem that we all know can arise when particular freedoms are devolved to certain areas. When a scheme is set up, however good it is for that area, some

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industries may decide to move to the next-door area and take away the benefits that their presence brings to free themselves from the restrictions of being in that area. My suggestion--it is only a suggestion at this stage--is that licensing schemes should be agreed at regional level so that conditions are consistent over a large area. That would make it harder to evade the schemes and reduce the likelihood of patchwork provision. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: Regardless of the detail of the amendment, I support the point that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, makes about the need for schemes to have more than just a local and parochial basis. If we had regional authorities, they would be considering exactly these issues. I do not know whether we would support consistent charging, but we would certainly like a regional element to the decision-making.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I think that both the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, support the idea of the workplace parking levy. I am afraid that the amendment would hinder the concept. I recognise the merits of consistency, but we think that it should be for individual local authorities to decide whether to introduce a scheme in their area as part of their local transport plan.

The Bill already provides that local authorities can work together to bring forward joint schemes, which, if they could be organised, could well cover a whole region. However, some authorities may prefer to wait to see the effects of a scheme in a neighbouring authority. One authority may have such an urgent need that it will want to go ahead without waiting for anybody else. The amendment would rule out both possibilities.

We also believe that local authorities should have the flexibility to apply different charges, not just between one authority and another, but in different parts of their area, and to decide when the charges would apply. I know that the word "consistent" does not mean the same as "uniform", but the search for consistency might be a drag on the establishment of workplace parking levies, rather than helping. Congestion problems vary between and within authority areas. Our approach enables local authorities to design and bring forward the schemes that will best help to tackle traffic congestion, which they know about, and promote local transport objectives, which they set.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her support of the idea behind the amendment. I still think there is much to be said for it, but I accept what the Minister said. There is a finely balanced argument to be had about how much power to give at what level. I take the Minister's points and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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7.30 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 177 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Dixon-Smith: In opposing this Motion, we are seeking to excise Chapter II of this part of the Bill. We thought that we should have this discussion because, as this is proposed, it is a straightforward increase in corporate taxation.

The occupier of the premises is to be the person who pays the bill. We have heard that in the vast generality of cases that is what is intended. We need to know that that is what is intended. One must then ask: what will happen? This provision is supposed to reduce congestion and pollution. There is a question as to whether the employer can pass the charge on to his employees. If this Bill is supposed to act as a disincentive to employees to travel, it might have been more honest for the Bill to require those employees to pay the charge; but it does not. And so it is an increase in corporate taxation.

Ultimately, who will pay for that? Again, we should be quite clear about that. In effect, this will become a cost on business. It will have an inflationary effect because businesses will seek to defend their financial position. Therefore, there will be a little price rise here or a little price rise there or even, heaven help us, a big price rise somewhere else. That is what will happen. The impact of that on the economy, particularly in those sectors which are not immediately highly competitive, may be extremely damaging and may have an adverse effect on the economy as a whole.

We do not believe that the workplace parking levy as proposed will have the desired effect on travel and transport which the Government envisage because of the way it is put on the face of the Bill. So we thought that we really should argue the case against this clause and it is patently obvious that that is what I am now doing. I do not expect to receive a great deal of sympathy--why should I?--from Ministers on the Bench opposite. But I do not apologise to the Committee for raising the issue. I commend the Motion to the Committee.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: It is not possible for us on these Benches to support the Motion that this clause should not stand part of the Bill. That is for various very simple reasons. It may be argued that workplace levies will not be imposed very often. It is assumed that it will not be a popular method of attempting to reduce congestion and pollution in towns and cities.

Other methods are available which are used elsewhere; for example, prohibiting entry into towns between certain hours. There is a whole range of other options. But this Bill does not oblige local authorities to go down this route; it enables them to do so if it is a suitable adjunct to their general purpose of reducing traffic, traffic congestion and the damage that that causes in the context of their local transport plans. As such, it is a useful tool which local authorities can use if they wish to do so. No doubt if pilot studies are

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carried out of this tool and how it operates in practice we shall all learn a great deal more about it and its potential usefulness. Therefore, I am not prepared to support the Motion.

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