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Viscount Simon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his response to my amendment. I am glad that he will consult widely, except that those who, as a result of chronic illnesses, cannot travel by public transport, will not be thrown up by that consultation as they are few and far between. That can be ascertained only from a general practitioner. I shall read carefully what my noble friend has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 172 [Penalty charges]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 208:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 172 deals with the payment of penalties for vehicles that have travelled through an area where a congestion charge applies. Once again, we have the issue of whether the owner or the driver should pay. At an earlier stage we said that we believed it should be the driver; we still feel

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that that is the situation. I suppose that the Minister will say that it is a matter for regulation, but I do not apologise for raising the matter again.

Amendment No. 209 deals with a slightly narrower point. The subsection makes it a criminal offence to remove a notice of a penalty charge unless one is the registered owner of the vehicle or someone acting with his authority. In the amendment we seek to add the words:

    "with intent to avoid payment of a charge imposed by a charging scheme under this Part".

I admit to being puzzled. If someone drives through an area in which a charging scheme applies, it is highly unlikely that he will stop in the middle of the area or when he gets to the other end and obligingly wait for someone to put a ticket on his car. I believe that he will either be seen, stopped and obliged to pay the charge or he will be recorded as having been there and a letter will catch up with the owner in due course. I am puzzled as to how someone will remove such papers from a vehicle. Perhaps I have missed the point.

Amendments Nos. 210 and 211 deal with a third matter. As drafted, the Bill enables the national authority, the Secretary of State or the Assembly for Wales to give the transport planning authority the power to charge anyone who removes evidence, and can give them the power to enter a vehicle to obtain evidence if they believe an offence has been committed. It is one thing to give them that power, but the Bill, as drafted, can also make it a requirement of the national authority to do that. I do not believe that is necessarily a good point.

When this matter was discussed earlier the complaint made was that if some authorities had the power to enter to collect evidence and others did not, that may create anomalies. That is perfectly true. It seems to me that the Bill enables the Secretary of State to say in relation to one scheme that someone will enter and in relation to another scheme that someone will have the option to enter. Such anomalies could arise under the present wording of the Bill.

Amendment No. 212 deals with the issue of removing notices that require people to pay the penalty charge from a vehicle with the intention of avoiding payment. I am not sure who will remove notices with an intent to avoid payment. It seems to me that such papers would arrive by post. Perhaps I have misunderstood the matter, but I believe that these technicalities ought to be discussed. If they are debated now, subsequent regulations may be made clearer.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there may be some misunderstanding. First, I shall distinguish between a criminal offence and a civil matter and, secondly, I shall describe how the enforcement may work.

The criminal offences are contained in Clauses 172 to 174. They cover the intentional acts of non-payment, which include interfering with charging equipment to avoid payment, and offences that are needed to ensure that the civil enforcement of a charging scheme is not undermined, which include the unauthorised removal of a penalty charge notice from a vehicle windscreen.

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The noble Lord seems to believe that that is not the way in which the schemes will be enforced. That may or may not be so. In some circumstances, certainly in the initial stages of introducing congestion schemes, prepayment may be shown by a licence on the inside of the windscreen in the same way as parking permits work. If a car is parked without a prepaid permit to enter the congested area, it is likely that a traffic warden or other person may place a penalty notice on that car.

That relates to criminal charges, but the simple non-payment of a charge will be a civil matter, which will be akin to non-payment of an on-street parking charge in areas where that has been decriminalised. As in the case of the 1991 Act, dealing with decriminalising, we propose that the registered keeper of a vehicle should be liable to pay penalty charges that would be due for non-payment of a road user charge.

Amendment No. 208 would make the driver of a vehicle liable for penalty charges in all cases. While superficially attractive, it would prove to be unenforceable as it would be necessary to place the responsibility on someone to identify who the driver was at the time. Therefore, in relation to charging, it would be the vehicle that would have a permit or otherwise, or a payment system or otherwise to enter that congestion area, and it is therefore the keeper or owner of that car who will be required to identify who was driving or to meet the charge himself.

Amendments Nos. 209 and 212 deal with criminal intent. Amendment No. 209 would constrain the offence of unauthorised removal of a penalty charge notice to those cases where it was removed by a person who intended to avoid payment of a charge. Amendment No. 212 is similar in relation to wheel clamping.

Requiring proof of intent would make some charging schemes unenforceable; for example, it would be difficult to enforce them if there were no effective sanction preventing any person from removing a penalty charge notice from a windscreen, whether or not he had a direct financial interest. If the person concerned were a passenger or stranger and not directly liable for the charge, he could act without risk of prosecution. Therefore, logically, I hope that it can be seen that the balance between criminal offences and civil matters is represented in the Bill and that it follows the precedent set in the Road Traffic Act 1991 regarding keeper liability.

Amendments Nos. 210 and 211 would remove the ability of the appropriate national authority to make regulations to prescribe how some important aspects of the charging scheme are to be enforced. Therefore, there would be no central provision and enforcement would be left entirely to the discretion of the charging authority. Some degree of discretion is necessary in this area but, in certain cases, not total discretion. Therefore, in certain aspects of the scheme the national authority must be allowed to prescribe how important aspects are to be enforced. It is not the case that the national authority must so prescribe but, if it does, those prescriptions must be followed. These provisions

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provide a robust framework from which regulations can be drafted for the fair and effective enforcement of road user charging schemes.

I hope that the noble Lord is reasonably clear about the various distinctions that I have attempted to make and that he understands why I do not believe that his amendments will work. Therefore, I hope that he will withdraw Amendment No. 208.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, as usual the Minister has given a courteous and full explanation, and I am rather more clear than I was. However, I could not help thinking that if someone drove into an area where a congestion charge was in place and was silly enough to park in the middle of it so that a warden could put a notice on his car, he should probably be paying a double penalty for lack of care and attention. I do not believe that drivers are that stupid and, therefore, I do not believe that many people will be caught in that way.

The Minister's reply has been helpful and I shall study it with care. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 209 not moved.]

Clause 173 [Examination, entry, search and seizure]:

[Amendments Nos. 210 and 211 not moved.]

Clause 174 [Immobilisation etc.]:

[Amendment No. 212 not moved.]

Clause 176 [Traffic signs]:

[Amendment No. 213 not moved.]

Clause 177 [Preliminary]:

[Amendment No. 214 not moved.]

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 215:

    Page 107, line 7, at end insert--

("( ) A licensing scheme shall be introduced only after the majority of the public transport improvements outlined in the local transport plan have been implemented and successfully in operation for the minimum of six months.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment reverts to a point raised at an earlier stage. The introduction of these schemes raises a severe question in everyone's mind. In part, they are intended to provide a certain amount of additional funding for transport improvements. By putting up the cost of using a car, they are also supposed to provide a disincentive to using a car. Such a scheme is perhaps worth while. However, I suspect that in the end the effect of such schemes will prove to be inflationary and will be paid for one way or another by us all.

That said, if the schemes work, it is implied that alternative forms of transport will be running reasonably before they are brought into operation; otherwise, they will do no more than generate revenue. We do not believe that they should be simply revenue-generating schemes. They will have validity only if alternative modes of transport are in place before they are introduced. This amendment gives effect to that

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small and general principle and I believe that it would be well worth sticking to it. I hope that the Minister will treat it with sympathy but I suspect that he may not.

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