Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the noble Lord moved his amendment so well, with such eloquence and at such length, that he deserves a full reply from my noble friend—as I can still call him, because he called me so in another place. I was

30 Jan 2008 : Column 632

puzzled why the amendment was tabled. It seemed at one level to be a throwback to an earlier view by the Conservative Opposition of the Assembly, but to anyone objective this proposal is four-square within the remit of the devolution settlement. Indeed, any part not within that remit is excluded, namely the traffic signs. Therefore, having hoped to understand the motive for this, I remain puzzled, but I am glad that it will not be pressed.

4 pm

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I spoke on this clause and the issues that it involves at Second Reading and I thought that that would be enough. I pointed out that, in my view, it was very unwise of the National Assembly to seek these extensive powers, which are not being sought for England. Indeed, when it was proposed that England should have such powers, there were 1.8 million hits on the No. 10 website objecting to the proposal. Therefore, the powers for England are not in the Bill.

The reputation of the National Assembly will not be enhanced in Wales or elsewhere by the acquisition of these powers. We all know that roads are vital, particularly in Wales, to the national economy. That is especially so for the major east-west routes: the M4 in the south and the A55 and A5 in the north. It is inconceivable that there should be charges for the use of those roads in Wales but not in England. We are assured that these powers will be used only to help to finance the Newport southern bypass. However, as my noble friend on the Front Bench pointed out, the powers are not so confined in the Bill. What use is made of them is entirely dependent on Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government; they may decide that other schemes require the use of these powers. I hope that they will not use the powers to the disadvantage of the people of Wales or as a means simply to raise money.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, does or does not the noble Lord accept the assurances given by Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones, a former colleague of ours in another place whom I know the noble Lord respects personally—indeed, he represents the island from which the noble Lord draws his ancestral roots—that his recent statement on the BBC was a description of Welsh government policy?

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, of course I accept the words of Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones, who was good enough to tell me the precise intentions personally. However, the whole point is this: the use of these powers will not necessarily be confined to that individual Minister, who holds the important position of Deputy First Minister. What about the future? We transfer these powers for a considerable length of time and irrespective of any individual office holder. This House has never refused the National Assembly for Wales anything and my noble friend on the Front Bench and I do not propose that we deny it these powers. However, we are honour bound to point out the inherent dangers in the misuse or abuse of these powers in Wales.



30 Jan 2008 : Column 633

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, seeks to protect the National Assembly for Wales from making mistakes. In a sentence, let me say that these Benches are content with Clause 113 being in the Bill.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, listening to the comments of noble Lords this afternoon, I was initially somewhat puzzled. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, seemed to be both moving and not moving his amendment in the same breath. I might be wrong, but that is how it sounded to me and I wondered why this was. Then I worked it out. He wanted to move the amendment but he also wanted to withdraw it later, having heard what I had to say, so I shall put on record what is in front of me to remind the House why Clause 113 is here.

My noble friend Lady Morgan explained very clearly in Committee and on Report that we have made a commitment to draft parliamentary Bills in a way which gives the Assembly the wider and more permissive powers to determine the detail of how provisions should be implemented in Wales. This clause simply inserts a new matter into Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act to allow the Assembly to make its own legislation in relation to the making, operation and enforcement of charging schemes in respect of trunk roads in Wales. Trunk roads comprise the network of strategic through routes managed by Welsh Ministers, accounting for roughly 5 per cent of roads in Wales by length. It would be then for the Welsh Assembly to consider whether, and if so how, it would be appropriate to exercise those powers. This would be done through an Assembly measure, which would need to be debated in the Assembly and subject to its scrutiny procedures.

I do not know what my right honourable friend Mr Hain said when he met the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I was not there to listen. But in general terms I understand that Welsh Ministers have made it very clear that, if they were to introduce road pricing, it would be to tackle areas with the worst congestion problems. Their intention is very clear, and we have also been very clear that we do not see these powers as enabling tax raising, which was a charge the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, made at an earlier stage in the legislation. The Government of Wales Act does not allow us to devolve tax-raising powers. My noble friend Lady Morgan told the House on Report that the application of proceeds does not affect whether something is a tax or a charge. That depends on the link between the payment and the service received by the payer.

It is important for public accountability that revenue raised by road-pricing schemes is spent on transport. We have been clear about that from the outset. The framework provision is clear, too, that the Welsh Assembly Government must require any revenue raised by a trunk-roads charging scheme to be spent on transport-related purposes. That would mean using the revenue on the provision of transport infrastructure and services in Wales to help develop the transport network and, linked to that, economic regeneration in parts of Wales. I am sure those measures would be in line with the Welsh Assembly

30 Jan 2008 : Column 634

Government’s transportation policies and programme. It has been said before in the House that trunk-road charges are already within the legislative competence of both the Scottish Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are therefore not creating a precedent with these Welsh provisions; we are simply following the path as set out in the devolution settlement in line with the Government of Wales Act.

I am looking forward to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, withdrawing his amendment. Some nonsense has been said about the intention behind this part of the Bill. I have been very grateful for the support from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. With all his experience on these matters he has been most helpful. I am clear in my mind and the Government are certainly clear that we are simply acting to ensure that the Government of Wales Act works well and fairly, and that the Assembly can take measures which make much more sense to it in dealing with the problems that it has to tackle on a regular basis, such as congestion on the trunk-road network of Wales. I am sure that the Assembly will make intelligent and forensic good use of that opportunity and that the people of Wales will welcome that.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those words. They were not, of course, what I was hoping to hear. As I said I would—I apologise for confusing the protocol; it is time I did a few more Bills—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 115 [Vehicles authorised to be used under operator’s licence: fees]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 8:

(a) in the opening words, after “is not authorised to be used under that licence by virtue of subsection (1)” insert “on or after the relevant day”;(b) in paragraph (b), for “a prescribed fee” substitute “the prescribed fee (if any)”.(a) the day on which the vehicle was first in the lawful possession of the licence holder,(b) the day on which the licence came into force,(c) if a day not more than one month after the later of those days is prescribed for the purpose, the day so prescribed.”.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment has to be considered with Amendment No. 10, so I shall speak to them both. I explained on Report that we were considering tabling a further amendment to the as yet uncommenced Section 263 of the Transport Act 2000, which currently abolishes the “margin concession” for goods vehicle operators. I am sure that that section of the Act is widely understood.



30 Jan 2008 : Column 635

Section 5(2) of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 currently requires the registration number of every vehicle used by a goods vehicle operator to be specified on the operator’s licence. This is primarily to aid roadside vehicle enforcement by VOSA and the police. However, when a goods vehicle operator adds a new vehicle to its fleet, it has a one-month grace period—a sort of window—before the registration number must be specified on the operator’s licence to aid operational flexibility. That is called the margin concession.

I am aware that, understandably, concerns have been raised by the haulage industry that commencing Section 263 to abolish the margin could impose a disproportionate administrative burden, particularly in situations where goods vehicles are hired out to operators on very short-term contracts. VOSA is also concerned about the considerable additional costs that could be imposed on it, which would be passed on to the industry through the fees it charges.

Therefore, following a commitment made in the 2004 White Paper, The Future of Transport, the Department for Transport announced in November 2006 that, as part of a package of reforms to streamline the operator licensing system for buses and goods vehicles, it would consider options for minimising the burden of immediate notification. That work is continuing.

However, we think that it would be sensible to further amend Section 263 of the Transport Act 2000 now to allow further flexibility, should the move to immediate notification not prove to be the best solution. Therefore, the amendment is helpful. It would still allow for immediate notification—either when the vehicle first came under the lawful possession of the operator or when the operator’s licence was first granted by the Traffic Commissioner—but it would also provide additional flexibility for the Secretary of State to specify in regulations a grace period of up to one month. This would allow the margin to be reduced in the event that we need to balance improving enforcement against minimising additional administrative burdens. Any changes to the existing margin—either to abolish it or to use the regulation-making power—would of course be subject to full consultation with the traffic commissioners and the goods vehicle industry.

I should add that the amendment would maintain the flexibility introduced in the Report stage amendment on fees to allow the levying of a fee for specifying a new vehicle on the licence to be optional, rather than mandatory as at present. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 121 [Extent]:

Baroness Chapman moved Amendment No. 9:

“( ) sections (Carrying of passengers in wheelchairs in vehicles providing local services) and (Carrying of passengers in wheelchairs: supplementary provisions);”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 10:

“( ) section 115;”

30 Jan 2008 : Column 636

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 122 [Commencement]:

Baroness Chapman moved Amendment No. 11:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 12:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Amendments of financial provisions relating to schemes]:

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 13:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have tabled this amendment once again, as we feel that the matter that it relates to deserves further attention and we would like the Government to comment further.

We have often questioned the motivation behind the Government pushing forward local road-charging schemes, rather than national ones. That was commented on just now in the debate about Wales. We have argued that local schemes will allow government the huge benefit of observation with none of the political responsibility. As a localist, I welcome local decision-making. That can be justified, provided that local authorities are the drivers behind the introduction of road-pricing schemes.

4.15 pm

The provision in the Bill for all revenue raised from road-pricing schemes to be spent on local transport policies is also reassuring. However, another common opinion is that the transport innovation fund provided by central government has helped to push local authorities towards road pricing. We would not like road pricing to be pushed in this manner. One potential method of turning encouragement into coercion could be the reduction of grants given by local government when funds from road-pricing schemes start to be introduced. More subtly, the assumption that a certain amount of money could be raised could force local authorities to raise funds through road charging without the choice to do so—the Government forcing them to do so through funding policies.

I have already stated that one of my main concerns about road charging is that it represents the partial devolution of funding, and that local areas would be better served if they were given all road taxes. If the Bill proposed a radical overhaul of road financing and taxation, we could be more receptive. As it stands, however, I would like the existing forms that local authorities receive to be protected following the enactment of the Bill.



30 Jan 2008 : Column 637

On Report, the Minister stated that road pricing would have no impact on the revenue support grant or on local authorities’ ability to raise council tax revenues. However, I am not wholly reassured by this. There are plenty of examples of cases in which Governments of all parties have assumed that local government can do various things—the supposed impact on efficiency savings is one. We would like a further commitment from the Government—which is the reason why I have raised this matter again today—that this will not be the case. These are very difficult times for local authorities, with grants and income frequently being reduced or tipped away in one way or another. I understand that the Government are unlikely to accept the amendment, but it is very important to place it on the record. There is a very strong feeling about this issue in local government, and I would like the Minister to comment further. I beg to move.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I was intrigued to see that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, had tabled this amendment again, because I felt that the answer that we received from the Minister went as far as a Minister can go at this stage in giving that reassurance. I share some of the noble Lord’s disquiet, but it is very difficult for the Minister to give assurances, simply because local government finance has now become so complex that very few local authorities—I say this in all seriousness—fully understand how their grant has been calculated. When they query it, it is not uncommon for them to find that the civil servants who put the numbers together do not entirely understand it either. It is very common for both government and local authorities to assert opposite things and for both to be correct, bizarrely enough. Regardless of any promises made by the Minister, it would be very difficult in practice to work out whether an authority had been negatively treated. The most important point here is that individual schemes need to be understood; local authorities will want reassurance about how their income will be treated at that level.

I share the noble Lord’s concern that central government has rather bludgeoned some local authorities into considering road-user charging simply by saying, “If you don’t have a road charging element, we won’t give you transport innovation funding”. Central government has used that rather heavy stick with which to beat local authorities, but unfortunately while we have the current local authority arrangements whereby central government calls the shots, that is sadly inevitable.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his explanation of the purpose of the amendment. I am a bit disappointed in him because he is a good localist, and like me he has enjoyed many years’ grace and pleasure in local government. I thought that he had listened to what I said the last time around, and mistakenly assumed that we would not see this amendment again. The amendment is very limited, since it would add only to the provisions of Schedule 23 to the Greater London Authority Act, to state, in that instance, that the funding provided to authorities in London should not be negatively influenced by any revenue from a local charging scheme.



30 Jan 2008 : Column 638

As the noble Lord observed on Report—he probably did again today; I did not catch it, but may have missed it—the public acceptability of schemes such as road pricing increases when that revenue is linked to spending on transportation. That has to be the case, as I made clear to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Some of the Government’s own research establishes this important point and we acknowledge it. The Bill therefore contains provisions to give charging authorities and the general public certainty that all net revenue from charging schemes will be spent precisely on transport policies. Such provisions have been supported for that reason.

As for central government funding, I am sure that noble Lords will be aware—given her experience, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, will certainly be aware—that block capital funding and revenue support grant are currently allocated on the basis of a broad formula. The noble Baroness says that the formula is difficult to understand, and I agree; it is very difficult. When I used to look at our annual budget with the old borough treasurer—latterly with the director of finance—it took a long time to unravel the various elements. Parts of it always seemed unfair because they did not seem to apply to us while other bits did, and I could see their wisdom. Yet others seemed to relate to London boroughs rather than Brighton. But there we go.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page