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Lord Dixon-Smith: As so often, the Minister has been extremely helpful in responding to the amendment. One of the reasons for tabling it is that discussions have taken place about this kind of issue. In one or two places, people considering whether or not to introduce a scheme have held discussions with employers to see whether things can be done to make the imposition of the charges more acceptable or more administratively possible.
I am grateful to the Minister because I suspect that when I read his reply I will find that he has enabled me to devise a better amendment. It would be surprising if that were not the case because he has done precisely that himself in the past. I will need to consider carefully all that has been said but beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Regard "may" be had? Everything the Government have said reinforces that regard to the purposes shall be had if not must be had. We are back to the wretched business of the meaning of words. The Minister who replies will doubtless say that this is one of those wonderful occasions when "may" means "must". The problem for us ordinary mortals is that we have difficulty understanding when "may" means "must" and when it means "may". That may be pedantic but it is an important point. If regard is not paid to the
Lord Whitty: The issue is not the word "may", "must", "shall" or "should" but whether we should highlight this aspect of a plan from others. Of course schemes will raise revenue but that is probably less than half the story. The introduction of charges will also have an effect on traffic levels, congestion, pollution and delays.
Under the amendment, local authorities would be required to have regard to the purposes for which the net proceeds were to be spent. That provision is, at best, unnecessary. Schedule 12 already provides that local authorities will be required to prepare plans setting out how net revenues from charges will be spent. If that provision is highlighted elsewhere, it could be interpreted as meaning that the emphasis when setting charge levels must be on funding local transport improvements rather than tackling congestion. We do not want to risk giving the impression that we are precluding local authorities from setting charges geared primarily to tackle traffic congestion that have as a side benefit the funding of transport improvements.
Clause 185(4) was drafted to make it possible for local authorities to set charges and so raise revenue to fund local transport improvement, and that is why "may" is used in this context. Charges should not be set only on that basis. I remind the noble Lord that as a condition for the approval of individual schemes by the Secretary of State there must be full consultation on the detail. No doubt that will also focus on those matters on which the money is to be spent. The amendment would reduce the flexibility of local authorities. We want to give them the right to design and implement schemes which can best deliver transport objectives which suit their local circumstances. I hope the noble Lord recognises that to pick out this item when the requirement is already available elsewhere along with other requirements is not helpful and may give the wrong signals.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I almost regret the Minister's response. I suspect that he has set me a dreadfully large amount of homework to verify the facts of the case. The difficulty is that we are dealing with the meaning of words in the English language. As to the relative importance of particular bits of this Bill and unheard of and unseen regulations--even worse, guidance--the position may well be as the Minister says. I shall do my best to check it. If I have a cold towel round my head and appear wan, as the Minister is wont to do on occasions, people will understand how that comes about. I am grateful for the Minister's reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: If I have read it correctly, as drafted the Bill provides that workplace parking levy licences should last for not more than 12 months. I am open to correction, but I believe that that is how the provision is drafted. That is slightly strange. I see no reason why it should not last for two years, five years or 10 years. My driving licence, which I have held for a number of years, does not expire until I am 70. I am immensely grateful to DVLA, or whoever was responsible for the regulation, for making it possible for me to avoid the need to reapply for my driving licence every year. I suspect that if I had to do so I would lose it. There are licences and licences. To put the opposite case, I am aware that a television licence lasts for only 12 months.
In this case we are considering, among other things, the confidence of those who have to pay this levy. It may well be that in particular circumstances they prefer the licence to last for longer than 12 months. After all, if it lasts for only 12 months there is nothing to prevent the local transport authority at the end of the period saying that it intends to raise the levy by 10 per cent. Some may regard that as an unreasonable proposition; others may believe that it is acceptable. I do not think that that is reasonable. If in arriving at a scheme an authority wishes to create licences which last for a period longer than 12 months I believe that it should have the ability to do so, and that is the purpose of the amendment.
Amendment No. 263 deals with variations of a licence. While it is a very small point, it is a matter of good business practice. The amendment requires applications for a variation in a licence to be heard within 30 days. I do not know whether that is an achievable target, but it should be. The reality is that across the country there may well be many businesses whose car parks have a capacity much greater than will ever be required under normal circumstances. Unless one has a very brutal system in which the licence is calculated on the basis of the maximum capacity, it may well be that there will be spare capacity. A car park with a capacity of, say, 1,000 spaces may have a licence for only 900.
Business circumstances change and it may be that an employer will want to increase his capacity because of expansion. It is not then unreasonable that the application should be heard within a reasonable timescale. I am not adamant that 30 is the appropriate number of days but if the Minister would accept the principle of what is intended to be a helpful
Lord Whitty: There appears to be some confusion. We are dealing with a licensing system, which means that some people are charged for their parking places. It is not a direct or indirect form of parking control in the sense the noble Lord implies.
The effect of Amendment No. 262 would be to remove the condition that a licence cannot be granted for more than a year. Our intention is to safeguard business by ensuring that the licensing authority cannot require a business to take out and pay for a licence for several years at once. Amendment No. 262 would remove that protection.
We are seeking a price effect, not a rationing effect, and therefore there is a misunderstanding behind the amendments. The first would remove the safeguard for business and the second is unnecessary.
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