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Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be extremely dangerous and premature, after only two full weeks, to make a judgment on the effect of congestion charging—and on the financial effect, not least on business and commerce?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I entirely agree. Some of the difficulties which were foreseen have not proved to be the case. There are many issues which have yet to be considered, not least the amount of traffic. It will take several months for a firmer conclusion to be possible.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords—

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we have plenty of time. We must not have an unfortunate fracas. Let us start with the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the congestion charge has been an utter disaster for Mr Steve Norris and the Conservative Party? It was very silly of them to condemn it in advance—even before its first day. Does he also agree that we might just possibly have alighted on a popular and effective measure for curbing the problem of excessive car usage in our towns and cities? This may be applied elsewhere, outside London, and is also being followed with great interest by other cities around the world, particularly in Europe.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I was sorry that Mr Norris—for whom I have much affection—made the huge mistake of appearing, on the day of his adoption as the Conservative candidate, with the Leader of the Conservative Party at 7 o'clock in the morning at Smithfield market. He must have known

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that the Smithfield market traders were going to withdraw their objection within 48 hours of this unfortunate public relations exercise. That is their problem, not the problem of the Government.

As I have said, we have been encouraging local authorities, with the availability of permissive powers, to introduce road user charging or workplace parking. There is no doubt that they will be influenced by the experience in both London and Durham.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, does the Minister agree that so far one of the reasons for the success of congestion charging in London is that bus priority measures were in force and cameras were used to enforce them? Can he give the House some assurance that these powers will be extended to places outside London? The department has been promising this for nearly a year, but it is always just around the corner.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that my noble friend Lord Macdonald gave the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, the appropriate Answer in reply to a Question for Written Answer on 16th January. He said—I am not quoting, because I do not have the text—that this is probably just around the corner. We are giving it high priority. That is the Question to which I believe he was referring about having cameras in bus lanes outside London. We hope to be able to introduce regulations next month.

Lord Carter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are pluses and minuses with this scheme? I have driven into Westminster every day since the charge was introduced, and I have yet to pay a penny. That is because every day I bring in a blue badge holder who is disabled, so the car is exempt. Our journey time has reduced by 25 per cent and it has not cost us a penny. I think it is a super scheme.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sure the Mayor will be delighted to hear that. However, I am not quite sure to whom my noble friend Lord Carter is referring as being disadvantaged by this. It seems that both he and his daughter do very well out of it.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, today I received my second penalty charge—that is in spite of having paid and having a receipt from the congestion people. I suspect that I am not alone. Can there be some form of ombudsman, because people will worry about receiving penalty notices after they have already paid? There is the worry that, because drivers are being asked to pay twice, the administration will take a considerable time to sort out. Do the Government intend to do something about this?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I did not bring my handcuffs with me, otherwise the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, might find himself apprehended as a persistent offender. I have no doubt that he will adequately defend himself by showing his receipt for

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paying the registration fee. I say that at some distance, because these matters are the concern of the Mayor, and not of the Government.

Lord Bowness: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the revenues of the congestion charge are those of Transport for London? They will go no way at all towards alleviating the commuter services to which my noble friend Lord Renton referred. What hope can he extend to those citizens of London and the Home Counties, who suffer the overcrowded, crumbling and unsatisfactory services, which are held out as public transport?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, is entirely right that the revenues from the congestion charge will go to the services run by Transport for London—and shortly to be run by London Transport. I do not really think he wants to go back over the unfortunate history of privatisation of the railways by his government, which led to the break up of the railway system in this country. The numerous contractual relationships with train operators were separated from track ownership. Much of that can be held responsible for the present condition of the railways.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, when considering extending congestion charging to other parts of the country, will the Minister consider the plight of low income families who have no practical alternative but to face congestion charges? They also face an extra 1 per cent on their national insurance, and incredibly high increases in their council tax charges.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the other parts of the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, are not related to the Question on the Order Paper. Clearly, however, the equity of a congestion charge is something that every local authority will have to take into account in making a recommendation. Local authorities are responsible to their electors, and that is a matter for them.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, agree that Mr Ken Livingstone deserves particular congratulations on having overcome his normal political disposition, to use market forces through the price mechanism to allocate scarce resources with such great success? He may well reap reward and harvest from unexpected sources in the forthcoming election regardless of whether he rejoins the Labour Party. However, will the Minister ask the Mayor whether he will consider extending the scheme to Chelsea, which could benefit from it as well?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I will communicate the views of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, together with those of all other noble Lords to the Mayor in the usual way. Whether the principles behind the noble Lord's question go back to Milton Friedman in 1951, as has been suggested, or

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further back—I have heard it said that it was T H Marshall who first suggested something like this—I really do not know.

Identity Fraud

3.11 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to protect United Kingdom citizens from identity theft or fraud.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the consultation exercise on entitlement cards and identity fraud which ended on 31st January asked for views on changing the law to make it an offence to use the identity of another person or a fictitious identity without reasonable cause. We are currently studying the responses received. We are also establishing a cross public-private sector work programme to tackle ID fraud. That will improve the checks on passport and driving licence applications and provide improved guidance on how those and other documents are used to verify identity. We are also looking at the feasibility of new IT systems such as a database of lost and stolen identity documents.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very detailed Answer. In the light of Mr Bond's horrific experience and the incredible figure of 53,000 cases of identity theft reported in 2001, costing £1.2 billion, have the Government any plans to introduce compulsory ID cards? If not, why not?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we published a consultation document last July on entitlement cards. We did not propose to make it compulsory to carry cards, but we are consulting on the issue of whether everyone should have one. We need to consider the extent to which such action can combat identity fraud and be useful in other ways as well. It is an issue that we need to address. The consultation ended on 31st January, and we shall produce the results in the next few months.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, what happened to Derek Bond in a South African prison is deplorable. Many of these frauds are undertaken for the purpose of obtaining identification documents, in particular passports. The Minister is aware, I hope, that each passport application requires a counter-signatory. In this case, the American courts will deal with the perpetrator. However, what action do the Government propose to take in relation to those who countersigned that passport, which effectively denied Mr Bond his freedom?

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