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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have not been evasive; I have tried to provide as much policy information as possible. Clearly we have a policy disagreement here. The noble Lord and his party

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dislike the congestion charge. We think it is working well, and we continue to support the mayor and his efforts.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, when my noble friend is next in conversation with the Mayor of London, which clearly he needs to be as a result of this exchange, could he ask him how many people will become exempt from paying the congestion charge as a result of the extension of the congestion charge area? It would also be very interesting to know, although I doubt the information is available, how many of those people drive the so-called Chelsea tractors.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I should be very happy to make those inquiries.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, could we have more cycle lanes and better policing of cyclists who break the law and behave anti-socially?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, this is an important issue. I support cycle lanes, as do the Government, and the noble Lord is right to draw attention to enforcement issues.

Taxation: Air Passenger Duty

2.57 pm

Baroness Noakes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the rate changes will be enacted in the Finance Bill in the normal way and will have the full force of the law. The way in which the Government have announced and implemented the change is in line with parliamentary conventions.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, we have counsel’s opinion that, unless and until Parliament actually approves the air passenger duty increases retrospectively, there is no obligation on the airlines to pay. It is therefore unsurprising that passengers are confused about whether they will have to pay the extra tax if the airlines ask for it. Will the Minister give clear advice from the Government to airline passengers when they turn up to fly from Thursday morning onwards? Should they pay the tax or not?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is the airlines which will pay the tax. They must decide whether to absorb the tax or to charge passengers. Is the requirement legal? Of course it is. Anti-avoidance measures that deal with illegality generally follow this form—namely, there is an announcement with immediate effect—otherwise

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they would not be effective. Other measures similar to the airline passenger duty have also been announced. Last year, the oil companies were subject to an additional tax in exactly the measure applied to the airlines.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, is it the Government’s intention that the tax should raise revenue or reduce carbon emissions by reducing the number of flights, and which does my noble friend expect to be more successful?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend is well versed on taxation and will recognise that it can produce a dual benefit. It can increase resources for deployment on public transport and other environmentally worthy measures. It can also reduce demand because of the price increase. We estimate that by 2010, 0.75 million tonnes of carbon per year will have been reduced through the air passenger duty.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, to what will the revenues be devoted? Will all the money collected from the airlines go into the Treasury’s exchequer for general use or will it have a definite environmental purpose?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, this Government intend, as one of their crucial strategies for dealing with climate change, to increase the use of public transport. We will invest the resources available from APD in environmental measures and in increasing public transport. In the three years since 2004, we have increased in real terms expenditure on public transport by 4.5 per cent.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is not the test of the worth of the opinion referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, really whether an airline is prepared to push the matter in the courts?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as I indicated, it is the airlines which are legally obliged to pay the tax. We are aware that the airlines have been concerned about how the tax has been imposed, but I have not yet heard any airline suggest that it would test the matter in court. If any did, there are precedents against it.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the Minister has just stated that this tax will reduce the amount of carbon emitted by airlines, but this is on the same day that the second runway has been announced at Stansted. Does the Minister accept that the Government’s policy seems to be to raise revenue for this, but at the same time to increase the number of flights over British airspace?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, of course we have to strike a balance between our environmental objectives.

Noble Lords: Oh!

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we have to strike a balance. I hear the Liberal Democrats laughing, but do they take seriously this proposition? We have to strike a balance between the necessary growth of the economy and the wishes of the people regarding aviation. There must be a balance between that and pursuing measures which guarantee that Britain fulfils its role in reducing areas of climate change and carbon emissions. The Government are on a strategy to do that. We can certainly see an increase in aviation, which, the noble Lord will understand, makes a very small contribution to emissions: 2.5 per cent of our total emissions. I would expect the Liberal Democrats to recognise that that is relatively small compared with other aspects that we have to tackle. We have to strike a balance between that and the needs of the economy.

Lord Vinson: My Lords, the noble Lord has been good enough to almost answer my question. Instead of making the airlines a whipping boy, would it not be more sensible to tackle the real causes of CO2, which are carbon fuels, and to try increasingly to make this, like France, an all-electric country? We could have electric trains, and electric heating and lighting, for which we have the technology already. If we were to go nuclear we could reduce CO2 emissions by so much that we would not have to restrict the cheapest and best form of travel of the 21st century by overregulation. There are better ways of tackling climate change than just fiddling on the periphery.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, tackling aviation is not fiddling on the periphery because aviation emissions are set to increase unless the expansion of air travel is moderated. Of course, air passenger duty will play a small part in that. I agree with the noble Lord that there are other areas vastly more important than aviation, which is why the Government are committed to pursuing strategies that deal with the big sources of emission.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I do not disagree with the principle of increasing air passenger duty as a contribution to controlling climate change, but has my noble friend any comment to offer about the letter a number of Members of the House have received from the Association of Independent Tour Operators pointing out that, while the airlines are able to impose a surcharge to meet the increased duty, tour operators are bound by the European Union package travel directive and effectively prevented from doing so? As a result, they are being discriminated against. I declare an interest as the chairman of a consultancy that advises the travel industry.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we recognise that there are some difficulties for the tourist industry as a consequence of the tax. British Airways, for example, is absorbing the tax and thus putting itself in the same position as tour operators. For most travel within Europe, which constitutes the vast bulk of travel affected by the tax, the sums involved will not be massive. However, my noble friend has articulated

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the need to deal with climate change and will recognise that, while the tax is marginal to that, it is nevertheless a contributory factor and sends a signal to people.


3.06 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of the House, a Statement will be repeated later today. My noble friend Lord Davies will be on his feet again to repeat a Statement on the Casino Advisory Panel report. The Statement will be taken at a convenient time after 5 pm.

Digital Switchover (Disclosure of Information) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill [HL]

3.07 pm

Report received.

Clause 1 [The National Consumer Council and its territorial committees]:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Truscott) moved Amendment No. 1:

(a) in the case of the Scottish Consumer Council, the Council’s functions under sections 7 to 16, 18 and 20 to 25, so far as they are exercisable in relation to Scotland; (b) in the case of the Welsh Consumer Council, the Council’s functions under those sections, so far as they are exercisable in relation to Wales; (c) in the case of the Northern Ireland Postal Services Committee— (i) the Council’s functions under sections 7 to 11, 14 to 16, 18, 20 and 22 to 25 so far as they are exercisable in relation to Northern Ireland, and (ii) the Council’s functions under section 21 so far as they are exercisable in relation to consumer matters which relate to relevant postal services in relation to Northern Ireland. (a) impose restrictions or conditions on the exercise by a territorial committee of a function by virtue of subsection (3A); (b) give a territorial committee general or specific directions relating to the exercise of a function by virtue of that subsection.

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to speak to the government amendments to Clauses 1 and 37. In so doing I wish to acknowledge the thoughtful and incisive contributions made in Committee by the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer and Lady O’Cathain, and my noble friends Lord Williams of Elvel, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, Lord Borrie and Lord Whitty. I am grateful to noble Lords for the constructive way in which they have conducted all our deliberations on the Bill.

We have considered carefully the points made in respect of the functions to be accorded to the Scottish Consumer Council, the Welsh Consumer Council and the Northern Ireland Postal Services Committee. The amendments to Clause 1 are designed to provide the territorial committees with the power to exercise the key functions of the council and to enable the committees to exercise these functions within their relevant territories. In defining the functions to be given to the territorial committees under this amendment, I believe that we have gone further than some noble Lords may have envisaged in Committee where there was a focus on the core functions described in the Bill: the representative function, the research function and the information function, as provided in Clauses 7 to 9. This amendment provides these functions to the Scottish Consumer Council and the Welsh Consumer Council, and in addition provides the committees with the powers of investigation set out in Clauses 10 to 15 inclusive, the power to prepare and publish reports in Clause 16, the function of providing advice, information and guidance in Clause 18, the power to co-operate and give assistance in Clause 20, the power to undertake voluntary activities in Clause 21 and the supplementary powers set out in Clause 22. Information gathering powers in Clauses 23 to 26 are also provided to these territorial committees.

The powers given to the Northern Ireland Postal Services Committee also extend to the core functions described in the Bill: the representative function, the research function and the information function as provided in Clauses 7 to 9. In addition, the committee is provided with the powers of investigation in Clauses 10 and 11, the function of referring matters to the Postal Services Commission in Clause 14, the function in Clause 15 of making investigations into public post offices, the power to make reports in Clause 16, the provision of advice, information and guidance contained in Clause 18, the power to co-operate and give assistance in Clause 20 and the supplementary powers and information functions described in Clauses 22 to 25.

The committee will also be able to exercise the functions of the council under Clause 21—voluntary activities—in relation to relevant postal services in Northern Ireland. In addition, the amendments provide for the council to facilitate or improve co-ordination between the council and the Scottish and Welsh Consumer Councils and the Northern Ireland Postal Services Committee by imposing restrictions or conditions on the territorial

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committees’ exercise of functions and giving directions relating to the exercise of any function to the territorial committees.

There are very few instances where the functions of the council are not exercisable by the territorial committees and I should like to take this opportunity to explain to your Lordships’ House why this should be. First, in Clauses 4 to 6 there is an obligation for the council to provide a statutory forward work programme and annual report. It is anticipated that the territorial committees will have a very important role in the production of both the forward work programme and the annual report, which will incorporate their proposed activities and reported activities as appropriate and as agreed with the council. Consequently the statutory requirement would remain unchanged by the amendment.

Secondly, Clause 19 imposes a duty on the council to enter into co-operation agreements with designated bodies, including the Office of Fair Trading, the Financial Services Consumer Panel and the Ofcom Consumer Panel. We do not consider it necessary or desirable to replicate that requirement for each territorial committee because it would be unduly cumbersome to have a multiplicity of co-operation arrangements.

Thirdly, there is a function of the council in Clause 26 to provide information where required to do so by an authorised person. I hope noble Lords will agree that it would be onerous for the person making the request to be required to make the request for information to the council and each of its territorial committees. For that reason we have not provided that function to the territorial committees.

The amendments include a proposal to divide Clause 1 into two clauses for the sake of clarity, which I hope will find favour with noble Lords. Amendment No. 42 represents a consequential change to Clause 37 reflecting the proposed allocation of functions to the Northern Ireland Postal Services Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for at least listening to the arguments that my noble friend Lord O’Neill and I put forward in Grand Committee. I am advised that the amendments go at least three-quarters of the way towards what the Welsh Consumer Council wanted. I am informed by my noble friend Lord O’Neill that the Scots take the same view.

I have a slight problem with the proposed new subsection (3A) in Amendment No. 1. This allows the national council to impose restrictions or conditions on the exercise of a function by a territorial committee by virtue of subsection (3A). In other words, the national council can at any time more or less pull the plug. I should be grateful if my noble friend, when he winds up, will explore with us exactly what that means.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I was not able to take part in the proceedings so far on the Bill but I have read them with interest. The Minister has virtually rewritten this part of the Bill. Why on earth

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did the Government pay so little attention to the requirements of devolution that they did not do a lot of this in the first place? It seems to be an extraordinary waste of parliamentary time. Nevertheless, it is excellent that he has listened to the arguments and I am sure that everyone will be grateful for it.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as my noble friend the Minister knows, in line with the noble Baroness’s comments, there is more joy in this House for one sinner that repenteth. I was worried initially about the clauses on devolution but the discussions the department has had with Welsh and Scottish interests in the mean time have led to a very good solution which largely reflects the practice that has been conducted, informally and without statutory basis, by the National Consumer Council and its Welsh and Scottish counterparts over the past few years. In that sense, the anxiety of my noble friend Lord Williams may be slightly exaggerated. In practice, this reflects how the Welsh council operates now and how an expanded body would operate in the future. It is a very successful conclusion of this part of the Bill.

3.15 pm

Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan: My Lords, the correspondence I have had with the Scottish Consumer Council representatives “as is” tends to suggest that they are very happy with the outcome of these discussions. It is to the Minister’s credit that he took on board the anxieties of a number of us and the consumer councils in Scotland and Wales. They will now be able to operate effectively with the devolved Assembly and Parliament. How successful these things are will depend on experience, but the constructive approach adopted by the Minister is certainly giving the proposal a fair wind. My colleagues in Scotland are sympathetic to his intentions and objectives.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Whitty and Lord O’Neill for their kind words and to my noble friend Lord Williams for his conditional kind words, saying that we have gone a long way to meeting the points he raised in Committee.

New subsection (3A), which my noble friend Lord Williams mentioned, is about co-ordinating issues and consumer representation that transcend national boundaries. There is no attempt to rule from the centre, as it were. Individual councils will have the full role that is intended in the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, the department has been in contact with the consumer councils in Scotland and Wales, and they have supported these amendments fully.

To respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, we have moved on these points, but then that just shows that Members of the Grand Committee were doing their job. They made their points; we took them on board and brought forward these amendments as a result.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Lord Truscott moved Amendments Nos. 2 and 3:

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