(HANSARD) in the first session of the fifty-third parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the thirteenth day of june in the fiftieth year of the reign of




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Monday, 28th January 2002.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.

Congestion Charging

Baroness Scott of Needham Market asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress is being made with plans to manage traffic congestion in the major towns and cities of the United Kingdom.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, reducing congestion is a key target in the Government's 10-year plan for transport. Many policies in the plan will contribute to achieving this. In particular, we have planned for £59 billion to improve local transport in England, with a further £25 billion for London. Local authorities are best placed to tackle congestion in their areas, and they and the Mayor for London have discretionary powers to introduce congestion charges or workplace parking levies as part of their integrated transport strategies.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I declare an interest as a member of the Commission for Integrated Transport. The congestion targets contained within the Government's 10-year strategy are based on the introduction of 20 workplace parking schemes or congestion charging schemes outside London. Given the Government's apparent ambivalence towards charging in London, can the Minister give some assurance to local authorities that if they bring these schemes forward they will be welcomed?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, given that the noble Baroness is a member of the commission, I am sure she

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is aware that the Government have set up a body whereby 35 local authorities which have expressed interest in introducing congestion charging are working closely with the Government and the department to explore how best and when it could be introduced, if it is judged to be appropriate in their areas. The premise is therefore false—there is no ambiguity by the Government. They are clear that congestion charging should be introduced only when there is public support for it and it has been properly thought through and consulted upon.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is concern in London about the proposed charging? Is he further aware that there have been reports that, if the Greater London Authority does not come up with a scheme to reduce traffic at the same time, the Government may not approve the GLA's plan? Can my noble friend explain how the Greater London Authority can introduce measures to reduce car traffic and encourage people on to public transport if it cannot raise any money to do so through congestion charging or workplace parking levies?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I should be very surprised if some concerns were not expressed about the proposed introduction of congestion charging anywhere in the country because it will clearly have an effect on the cost of travel for some people. On the other hand, the benefits of well-produced schemes should outweigh such concerns. The GLA has no powers in terms of the proposed congestion charging for London, although the mayor, should he decide to introduce it, would at least have to consult with the GLA upon it. The current position is that the mayor has indicated publicly that in the middle of February he will say whether, in the light of his latest consultation, he intends to proceed with the revised scheme as proposed last summer, or to put it off for further consultation or other forms of discussion. My noble friend is right, the revenues from congestion charging—which is where the Government have some

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locus; they have to approve the spending plans—will be a major source of finance, potentially generating £130 million per year.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the Minister aware—or has he come to suspect—that that answer was drafted by a super-cautious minion in the department? Is he further aware that many people are now in a state of mourning over the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, who was starting to do some very effective work in the Department of Transport before he got buried alive in the tomb of the Cabinet Office? I invite the Minister's attention to the old problem—which contributes to congestion—of people who are allowed the quite unforgivable and unreasonable privilege of digging holes in the highway wherever they want.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I sincerely hope that all of my briefing has been drafted by super-cautious civil servants, for very good reasons. It is an excellent start to the week to hear such praise for my noble friend Lord McIntosh. I am sure the whole House endorses that.

Noble Lords: Lord Macdonald!

Lord Filkin: My Lords, it is even better to have compliments for two members of the Government within five minutes. We are really pleased to endorse them. Seriously though, my noble friend Lord Macdonald made a major contribution to transport policy in Britain. He is now making an equal contribution in the Cabinet Office. I am sure that we shall experience the benefit of that in years to come.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, speaking as a member of a local authority, is the Minister aware that the Mayor of London is already reported to have signed contracts of some £20 million with companies to implement congestion charging, and that this money will have to be paid whether or not the scheme is ultimately introduced? Will he indicate whether the Government will give support to London boroughs to compensate for this extra amount if congestion charging does not come about?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I cannot comment on whether or not the mayor has signed contracts as allegedly reported in the papers. I find it impossible to believe that a properly advised elected politician would sign contracts of that scale without a clause making it subject to the necessary consents—and the necessary consents have not, as yet, been given. It is perfectly possible that these are forward contracts subject to X, Y and Z and not of the nature described by the noble Baroness.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, the Minister may have seen the statement in today's edition of the Financial Times that we are to lose 2 million bus journeys next year as a result of companies withdrawing because of

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congestion. Will the Government stop using the figures in the 10-year plan and face up to the reality that most local authorities will find it extremely difficult to implement congestion charging without the full-hearted support of the Government?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I find it difficult to understand any rumour that the Government are not in full-hearted support of properly prepared congestion charging schemes brought forward by local authorities. Indeed, we expect that there will be one or two such schemes over the next couple of years. The 10-year transport plan indicated that eight such schemes could be introduced.

The idea is one that I should have thought the noble Lord would support. Under the scheme, local politicians have to develop a consensus within their communities—with both business and the public—that the level of congestion in the area is bad, that public transport improvements have been put in place to deal with the displacement that is likely to take place, and that, therefore, they are ready to move forward on congestion charging. I believe that this will happen over the coming years. Therefore, I believe that the impression that there is hesitation is wrong.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, if the Government are encouraging the pedestrianisation of town centres, will they ensure that adequate arrangements for access and parking are made for disabled drivers and that this is not overlooked?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, how town centre pedestrianisation schemes are handled is largely a matter for the relevant local authorities. However, the noble Lord has a relevant comparison. When town centre pedestrianisation schemes were first proposed, there were many voices saying that they would mean the end of western civilisation and the collapse of retail trade in town centres. In practice, the reverse happened. Properly implemented congestion charging schemes may well have the same potential to deliver benefits to all sections of the public.

Rosyth-Zeebrugge Ferry Service

2.45 p.m.

Lord Burnham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they have made a grant of £12 million to a Greek-flagged ferry company operating between Scotland and Belgium.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, in November 2001 the Secretary of State announced his decision to award grant towards the capital cost of setting up a new ferry service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge. The scheme has since been refined. The Government will now pay £10.9 million to Forth Ports plc to assist with the cost

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of a ro-ro terminal for the new service. No grant money will be paid to the Greek ferry operator, Superfast Ferries.

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