Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: My Lords, all these amendments relate to prescriptions on the face of the Bill which, in most cases, are best dealt with by the provisions of each scheme, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, or, alternatively, by regulations. Amendment No. 203 refers to emergencies. Clearly there will be occasions when a motorist will need to undertake a journey in an emergency, but there are many ways in which such circumstances could be accommodated within a scheme rather than giving a blanket concession from charges once per month, irrespective of whether or not that provision is used for an emergency. That seems to me to be the least satisfactory solution. Although I wholeheartedly accept that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, does not speak for the Mayor of London, that is perhaps a slightly better provision. Indeed, there may be better ways yet for meeting this problem. It is a matter best dealt with by individual schemes rather than spelling out such provision on the face of the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 204 and 226 are slightly different in that they require the schemes to be kept under review if they no longer meet the objectives of the local transport plan. This would place some obligation on government. London transport authorities will need to keep schemes under review, but the provisions suggested in these amendments would mean that a scheme must automatically be revoked if it no longer helps to meet the objectives of the LTP. That is perfectly sensible in principle; but, in practice, it would be far too blunt an instrument. Authorities need to be able to give careful thought to how and when they revoke a scheme. Of course, many of these schemes include contractual obligations with other bodies, and the sudden revocation of a scheme may well cause significant financial losses to the authority. We are committed to keeping the schemes under review--indeed, local authorities will need to do so--but the amendments do not seem to suggest the most sensible way to ensure that that is accomplished.

I believe that there is some misunderstanding as regards Amendment No. 205; it is almost the other way round. The aim of the clause is to prevent the new road user charging powers being used simply to impose on-street parking charges. The effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to open up the possibility of road user charges being levied as a sort of second tier of on-street parking charges. This could be achieved if a charging scheme were introduced and exempted moving vehicles. Therefore, Clause 170(3) provides the safeguard to prevent this happening. The noble Lord's amendment would remove that safeguard.

30 Oct 2000 : Column 716

Amendment No. 206 relates to the setting of charges and would delete the provision that states that a charging authority, when it sets charges, may have regard to how charging revenues are to be spent in accordance with Schedule 12. As the noble Lord said, Schedule 12, and everything that we have said in relation to the Bill, provides that every penny of the net proceeds from road user charging and workplace parking levy schemes will be retained by the charging or licensing authority for at least 10 years to fund transport improvements. However, the effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to increase the number of judicial challenges that a local authority could face were it to charge rates at particular levels with the objective of specifically funding a particular transport improvement, as well as tackling congestion more generally under the local transport plan.

The flexibility with which charging authorities can set charge rates to fund particular transport improvements is an important part of this provision. The noble Lord's amendment would call that into question. That would not be in the interests of improving transport choice--for example, not being able to fund a light-rail scheme, only a general provision in relation to congestion--or of encouraging modal shift.

Amendment No. 213 deals with signing an alternative route for through traffic. Clearly one would approve of such a measure in general; indeed, in some cases, marked alternative routes would definitely help to relieve congestion in city centres where there is a road user charging or a workplace parking levy charging regime. We certainly expect schemes to be designed to give information for motorists stating not only that the scheme is in operation but also giving them a choice of whether or not to enter the charged area; in other words, before the point of no return. It is important that motorists know that if they decide to enter the area they must pay the charges. It also means that they should know whether there is an alternative route. Although that would apply to most city centre schemes--indeed, probably all of them--an alternative route may not be available in certain other situations. For example, there may not be an alternative route as regards the small-scale charging schemes that are being developed by Derbyshire County Council in the Peak District National Park, or in the relatively small city centre scheme being promoted by Durham County Council to preserve the world heritage site within Durham city. Depending on one's destination, there would not be an alternative route. I believe that some degree of flexibility is required and that would not be allowed by the noble Lord's amendment.

In general, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, says, these issues are provisions for and tailored to individual schemes. The noble Lord usually wishes to devolve such decisions to local authorities. I should have thought, therefore, that he would accept that point.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her remarks about the considerations of the Mayor of London.

30 Oct 2000 : Column 717

The Minister is always helpful when he replies. It is always useful to have his remarks reported in Hansard. One then has a record of the Government's intent on these matters. That is extremely useful for reference. There will be those who in future will be glad that we have had this debate. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 204 to 206 not moved.]

Clause 171 [Charging schemes: exemptions etc.]:

Viscount Simon moved Amendment No. 207:

    Page 103, line 14, at end insert ("including exemptions in respect of people who are registered as disabled and people who have a chronic illness which prohibits them from using public transport").

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in proposing a similar amendment in Committee, my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston mentioned my inhibiting illness which does not allow me to travel by public transport. He then continued to address the problem of disabled people travelling on public transport but said nothing about those people who, for various chronic health reasons, are completely unable to travel by public transport. He may not have understood the problem affecting a small number of people but it is for that reason that I shall take slightly longer than might have been necessary. Notwithstanding the very small number of people affected, the problem should be addressed. I shall not address the problems of disabled people who cannot travel by public transport because my noble friend said that that would be covered by regulations.

In a letter sent to me during the Summer Recess, my noble friend said that he would be working closely with disabled people, representative groups and others in order to ensure that the proposed exemption is both workable and fair and that he intends to consult widely. Even then he referred only to disabled people.

Some noble Lords will be aware of my personal problem which prevents me from travelling by public transport in that I can have a serious allergic reaction to certain allergens in about five to 20 seconds. But I am not--I repeat: not--in any other way disabled in the generally accepted understanding of the description. Within most parameters I can work normally.

My noble friend says that he will consult widely. I assure him that I have written and spoken to the British Medical Association in order to put forward conditions which might be covered by the amendment. Its reply was that this would be difficult because the chronic illness would be in an extreme form. Consequently, it advised me that the only person who could confirm that a patient might be subject to an exemption from road user charging who is not disabled and does not claim disability living allowance would be a general practitioner. Therefore, wide consultation will not bring to the surface any of the problems encountered by this small section of the community.

30 Oct 2000 : Column 718

My noble friend may well say that a GP might abuse the system. This has happened before, as we all know. But this could easily be checked in one way or another and any such GP could have his or her attention drawn to any inconsistency that might become evident. I wonder whether the Minister has considered the possibility of a GP issuing an interim exemption before a government body issues one which will then last for a longer period. In this case the patient would have the immediate exemption with a longer certificate to follow in due course and the government body would have before it a record of the GP's submissions thereby affording a check on individual doctor's submissions.

While it is true that I have a personal interest in the amendment, there are others like me who would benefit from the inclusion of the amendment on the face of the Bill. They might have lung, psychiatric or dermatological problems. This Government like to take care of minority interests and those people who might be worthy of the exemption covered by the amendment are a very small minority. Why should that small minority have to suffer the unfairness of road user charging when they cannot travel by public transport?

I remind my noble friend of his written words to me: that he seeks a system which is fair to everybody who might be affected. Unless the Government agree to the amendment, or make similar proposals, the situation of the few people who, although unable to travel by public transport, find themselves charged despite that inability will be extremely unfair. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, anything that I say does not detract from what my noble friend Lord Whitty said in a letter to my noble friend Lord Simon during the Recess. I hope to be able to build on it because I recognise that a legitimate point is being made even though it is a difficult point to deal with. I recognise also that my noble friend made a particularly constructive speech in which he has made a number of suggestions for ways to tackle the difficulties. I can assure him at the very least that all the points he makes are part of the ongoing consultation process.

I remind the House of the system as set out in Clause 171. The Bill allows the Secretary of State to set national exemptions in England from road user charges or the work based levy through national regulations. Every charging scheme has to comply with such regulations. Local authorities can add their own local exemptions if they wish to, but they cannot take anything away from the national exemption. As my noble friend Lord Simon recognised, we have given our assurances--I repeat them today--that we intend to grant some form of national exemption from both road user charges and the workplace parking levy for disabled people.

I appreciate that my noble friend is not disabled and that he has distinguished his condition and that of others from disablement. He is right in saying that anything we do has to be workable, fair and

30 Oct 2000 : Column 719

enforceable. So we are working closely with disabled people, groups which represent disabled people and other interested parties. I can give him an assurance that in so far as there are groups representing those who may not be disabled but are not able for the reasons he set out to travel on London Transport they will be, and are being, consulted as well.

One option we are considering is some form of exemption based on the orange--it will now be the blue--badge system. That is under review. Organisations which represent disabled people, including our own statutory advisers--the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee--recognise that there may be need for some tightening of the rules on eligibility to protect the scheme for those for whom it is essential. As part of the review we also consider the question of what is the best approach for our national exemption for disabled persons formed from the new charges. We hope to issue a new consultation paper shortly and we expect that the overall review process will take about 18 months.

I can assure the House that we intend to consult widely once the details of our proposed exemption are drawn up. I can assure my noble friend that Clause 171(1)(a) is already drafted widely enough to provide the type of exemption that he seeks, if that is our decision following consultation. But we have to consider his concerns, and the helpful suggestions he has made, alongside the concerns of others and as part of the consultation process. I should also add that whatever national exemption is decided on, local authorities can grant additional exemptions if they wish.

On the basis, therefore, that the Bill provides for everything that would be necessary to allow the kind of exemption which is posited in this amendment, and on the basis that it would be better for it to be part of the wide-ranging consultation process which I have described, I hope that my noble friend will find it possible to withdraw the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page