HC Deb 10 May 2000 vol 349 cc842-67 'Moneys collected under a charging scheme shall be used solely and exclusively for the purpose of improving roads and public transport for the benefit of those who are subject to the charge.'.—[Mr. Syms.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.34 pm
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

First, I wish to declare an interest. Hon. Members should be aware of it from the Register of Members' Interests. I am a director of a family business with interests in road haulage and building and which owns property that may be affected by workplace parking. So hon. Members should see any comments that I make on congestion charging or workplace parking within the context of my interest.

In general, Conservative Members are opposed to congestion charging. We believe that it is a tax, and should be seen within the context of a Government who take £36 billion in road taxes and put only just over £5 billion back into transport spending.

Rather than spending the money raised from taxation, the Government's solution to transport problems is to seek further ways to tax the motorist and interfere in people's lives so that they may gain a little more money for public transport schemes. The millions of motorists in the UK pay substantial sums for using their vehicles. People often use their cars for their business or their family—the necessities of life—and will be upset that the Government's desire is that they should pay substantially more for the privilege.

The Bill sets out a regime under which local authorities or the Greater London mayor may set up schemes for congestion charging. That is bad news, but those of last Thursday's elections that returned Conservative councillors were good news for people against congestion charging, because Conservative councils will oppose it.

Given the exchanges during Prime Minister's questions a few moments ago, it is interesting that the elected mayor of London—the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)—is committed to charging, but that nine Conservative members were elected to the Greater London authority. Will the Minister confirm that, as the Prime Minister said, Labour members of the authority will stand by their manifesto and oppose congestion charging? The regime for Greater London is such that, if two thirds of the authority oppose the mayor, they will carry the day. The arithmetic of nine Conservative and nine Labour members means that congestion charging for central London can be blocked. It would be useful if the Minister would confirm that that is so.

The public and the electors of London would be interested to have confirmed the attitude of the Labour party and its members of the GLA. Big money is involved, and the matter will have a major effect on the new authority and the mayor.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

In speaking out against congestion charging, does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative opposition on the GLA is reinforced by the election in the west central area of Angie Bray, which we warmly celebrate? She can be relied on to be a continuing and articulate opponent of the mayor of London on that and other matters.

Mr. Syms

I am sure that Angie Bray will be an excellent member, and that all nine Conservatives will make a major contribution to the new authority. It would be good to have some clarification of where the Labour party stands on whether it is worth pursuing some of the schemes involved. Motorists pay £36 billion in road taxes—nearly £1 in every £7 collected in taxation. Yet the Government's policy is to collect more tax from the long-suffering motorist.

We should have preferred to strike schemes out completely, but we have tabled the new clause because it is not always possible on Report to table the amendments that one would want. We aim to ensure that if, in the face of Conservative opposition, a local authority unfortunate enough to have a Liberal or Labour majority or a coalition, wants to proceed with a scheme, the money collected must be spent on improving the area subject to charge. It is a belt-and-braces proposal; the Bill reflects the Government's intention that money should be spent within the area, but we wish to re-emphasise that point to protect those who pay what may be large amounts.

The Government set up ROCOL—the review of charging options for London—because of the provisions in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. The ROCOL study considered various options and charges that ranged from £2.50 to £10 a day for driving in central London. The most likely figure seemed to be £5 a day according to the study. Such charges could affect 200,000 cars and 50,000 commercial vehicles and could result in traffic being diverted, as most charging schemes do—up to 50,000 vehicles could be diverted out of the central area.

The ROCOL study suggested that one would need 150 places where vehicles could be stopped and inspected and about 400 enforcement staff. My understanding of the study—the Minister may have a different view—was that such charging would have a marginal benefit in terms of traffic congestion. However, we already have capacity problems on the underground and on buses, and charging would lead to even more overcrowding even if only a few more people decided to travel in that way.

If the charge were £5 a day, the yield would be between £260 million and £320 million in central London. No doubt the exchanges during Prime Minister's questions could mean big money. If that sort of money could be taken off people who have to come into central London, as well as a lower figure in other city centres throughout the United Kingdom, motorists would be paying substantial sums. The ROCOL study suggested that operating costs might be £50 million a year.

Such charging schemes would have a major effect on those who have to drive into our city centres. They would also affect poorer drivers, not merely the wealthy. In Committee, we discussed the fact that those who drive Rolls-Royces and Aston Martins may not mind paying £5 a day to drive around central London. Indeed, the charge might be to their benefit. However, many people are struggling—even in London, many people suffer deprivation and poverty. Those people may also wish to come into central London, but would find it difficult to pay that sort of charge regularly. The charge would be a regressive tax and the Opposition oppose it.

New clause 28 sets out to ensure that, if the measure were implemented in the teeth of opposition, the moneys would be used to benefit those who are subject to the charge. The genesis of the argument on the issue is that when charging was first proposed for London, in the Greater London Authority Bill, the Opposition moved an amendment to ensure that there would be a link between the charge and where the money was spent. A 10-year guarantee was written into the 1999 Act to ensure that the income generated from congestion charging would be used to the benefit of transport in the area concerned.

New clause 28 does not propose a definite period. It would be unfair to institute a new system, particularly given the £36 billion raised in road taxes, to raise money for an area, only to abandon that system and use the money for other things—as another means of taxation.

The Opposition are concerned because, even though there has been talk of hypothecation, it has been suggested only for a limited period. The cost of setting up and implementing charging schemes will not be insubstantial. Although the income from the schemes would initially cover the costs, in the long term we are concerned that the money should be spent to benefit the people who pay the charge.

There are concerns about congestion charging in general. Who should be exempt? During our many hours of happy deliberations in Committee about who should be exempt, we received representations from all sorts of organisations. Trade organisations, such as the Association of International Courier and Express Services, raised concerns, as did organisations that deliver parcels and always have to be nipping in and out of city centres. We were informed about some exemptions for emergency vehicles, but the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club and so on expressed concerns about whether those exemptions affected them.

3.45 pm

There are major problems with congestion charging. We oppose it in principle because we believe that a Government who tax motorists at the rate that they do should not be looking for another means of taxing drivers, of controlling drivers and of discriminating against drivers—because, for most people, the car is not a luxury but a necessity.

Perhaps central London might be the one example where there are some public transport alternatives to car use, but those of us who represent shire counties know that most people do not have an alternative. If my local authority determines that it wishes to use the legislation to introduce congestion charging, it could have dire consequences for people living out in rural Dorset who may wish to visit Poole. The charge will have a deadly effect on rural dwellers, who do not get many of the benefits of those who live in towns, and who need a car to get to school or to the health centre, and to go shopping.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Does the hon. Gentleman think that his authority should have the right to decide for itself whether to apply that charge?

Mr. Syms

It is probably better that the legislation is framed to allow the local authority to decide for itself, because it gives the Conservatives an opportunity to capture the authority and block it, and it provides a valuable campaigning mechanism for the Conservative party. I admit that, from a political point of view, congestion charging has many benefits for the Conservative party. I am sure that, if such charging is implemented and pursued by many authorities, including Labour authorities—and those controlled by the Liberal Democrats, who have shown a degree of enthusiasm for the policy that would worry any right-thinking person—we in the Conservative party will be the bastion of freedom and will defend people's ability to go about their ordinary life, dealing with the things that they need to deal with without undue state interference and excessive taxation.

New clause 28 would be an improvement on the Bill. I consider that congestion charging is a socialist measure, if I may use that word. When it is implemented throughout the United Kingdom, it will distribute money from people who need to use their vehicle to governmental organisations such as local authorities, who, in my opinion, do not spend money as well as the ordinary British public do.

I have always had a great feeling that money is better spent when it is in the pockets of hard-working people and their families. It is a form of regressive taxation to transfer money in such a way. I regret that the charge will penalise those who are less able to afford it, who I think will see in the Conservative party a one-nation party, standing up for their interests—standing up for people's right to go about their day-to-day business without excessive interference by the state, and without the overlay of further taxation.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I am not absolutely sure what the hon. Gentleman means. Is he saying that if a local authority already has on its books the right to carry out congestion charging and that money is being directly diverted to a transport system that benefits the people of that community, an incoming local authority that was Conservative controlled would automatically abrogate those powers and insist on the dismantling of the transport system?

Mr. Syms

For local elections, the local manifesto will be produced by the people in each political party who know their local area and its priorities. My party opposes congestion charging in principle, but of course we are a diverse and large party, and we are growing larger by the day. Certainly, since Thursday, there are many more Conservatives up and down the land. The number of Conservative councillors has doubled since the present Government came to office.

Mrs. Dunwoody


Mr. Syms

It is basically for the local councillors to determine what they wish to do, given their priorities.

Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South)

The hon. Gentleman referred to one-nation Conservatism and almost gave the pledge that all Conservative councils would not introduce congestion charging. For clarity, will he answer the question that he has already been asked? Does he foresee circumstances in which Conservative councils may introduce congestion charging or not use that money for the purposes that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) described?

Mr. Syms

Of course Conservative councils will have to deal with the situation as they find it. Legislation and local transport plans are drawn up in such a way that, if there is a change of political control, there can be a change of political direction. Any incoming authority will have to judge, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) suggested, whether the kerfuffle and fuss of dismantling a scheme will be worse than keeping it going for a while, particularly if set-up costs are taken into account. However, they are matters of detail that responsible Conservative councillors will consider after they have won control of local authorities.

The House is dealing with the Bill and with principles, and the Conservative party is clearly opposed to the proposal.

Mr. Bercow

We have got principles.

Mr. Syms

Conservative Members have principles; that may appear shocking.

The new clause would ensure that, when charging schemes are introduced, the benefits of them actually go to the areas for which they are intended. We had much debate in Committee about whether moneys could be used in other areas or those next door, and all the surveys that I have seen suggest that there is substantial opposition to charging. The only silver lining for the Government is that, when people are asked whether they would support a scheme if the money were used for transport schemes, the response is occasionally more positive.

Our new clause is designed to be helpful. If the Government think that charging is the way forward, they will accept it. That might be a palliative for Conservative Members, who would otherwise consider the proposal to be an offensive socialist measure. I take great pleasure in moving the new clause.

Mr. Snape

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) chose to move the new clause. In our protracted Committee stage, he was always the voice of sweet reason among Conservative Members. He normally avoided controversy as much as he could. I realise that such conduct would not automatically be approved by some of the Conservative Members sitting behind him, so he has had to stiffen up his act for Report.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman described congestion charging as a socialist measure—Labour Members are not often accused of introducing them these days. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reminded the House today, such a scheme first saw the light of day in a Conservative party document, so it is difficult to describe it in that way. I am sad that the hon. Gentleman had to go through convolutions as he moved the new clause; he is much better leaving the nasty stuff to the hon. Member for North Essex, who has somewhat belatedly joined us. It was much easier, in Committee, to knock the hon. Member for North Essex around a bit, but, if the hon. Member for Poole has decided to adopt the mantle of North Essex, he can expect to be knocked around a bit himself in this debate.

I do not know how many allies the Conservative party will plead it has for the new clause. The hon. Member for Poole trotted out all the sad old statistics about how much money motorists and road users pay and how little, comparatively speaking, they receive in return. Figures can be bandied around day and night, but they always fail to include to any great extent the costs to the police, the courts and hospitals and the costs of congestion and pollution that road users—most of us fall into that category—create. Motoring organisations all too often use such figures to argue against proposals such as the one that emanated from the Conservative party.

In the hon. Gentleman's private moments—if he is ever allowed any—he will have to concede that we cannot proceed as we are. The fact that more and more people understandably desire to acquire and drive motor cars—most Members are motorists—means that, sooner or later, the point of total gridlock will be reached in many towns and cities even if it has not been reached occasionally already.

Conservative Members, especially the hon. Member for Poole, are always short on solutions to the problems of congestion. They no longer propose to return to the great car economy so beloved of Lady Thatcher, which involved applying the predict-and-provide theory to road space, because they know full well that, in most parts of the country, building new roads is enormously unpopular.

That is especially true of—let me describe them as non-controversially as possible—the more affluent Conservative parts of the country. People living in those areas often demand the freedom, as the hon. Gentleman puts it, to drive their car wherever they like. However, proposals to widen motorways, build new trunk roads or make life easier for motorists are normally greeted with an enormous outcry and the best legal brains are immediately engaged to frustrate any local authority—or even the Government—wishing to bring forward such a proposal. The hon. Gentleman's speech is therefore long on problems and short on solutions.

Amazingly enough, the hon. Gentleman does not, these days, speak for business. The Conservative party always used to claim that it was the voice of business, but, in doing so, it draped itself in a false cloak. Now, however, even business acknowledges that something has to be done about congestion. Indeed, to a limited extent, the voice of business, the Confederation of British Industry—whose comments I shall come to in a moment—has come round to the view that some form of congestion charging is essential in many of our towns and cities if total gridlock is to he avoided.

I am not saying that we should rush into anything overnight and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will underline that in his reply. There must be adequate consultation. However, is the hon. Member for Poole seriously suggesting that we should deny local authorities the right to make up their own mind on the implementation of such schemes? That appeared to be what he was saying. He went on to claim that there was popular opposition to those schemes, which was likely to boost the Conservative party. I am surprised that he, of all people, should use that populist argument. I accept that times are bad for the Tory party and that any threadbare, right-wing policy is going to be brought out of the locker, dusted down and given a run out.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Snape

I shall give way in a moment, if he will allow me to finish this thought.

I can well understand the desire of the hon. Member for Poole to pose as the motorists' friend. However, most thinking motorists know full well that we cannot go on as we are. Many of them, even dedicated Conservative voters, must have misgivings about the empty-headed nature of much of the opposition from Conservative Members. This strikes me as an appropriate time to give way to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray).

Mr. Gray

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is only half-headed, for giving way. His point about the Conservative party having a difficult time is silly. Does he think that the Conservatives winning 600 council seats from the Labour party last Thursday is an indication of bad times for my party? Does he agree that that result is, in part, a consequence of his party hammering the motorist in the past two or three years?

Mr. Snape

If I go too far down that road, I am sure that you will call me to order, Madam Speaker.

The Conservative party reminds me of a boxer who has managed to climb off the canvas and is now on his knees. In those circumstances, any referee would stop the contest. However, if the hon. Gentleman feels that the Tory party is up and running, even though many commentators, like me, believe that it is on its knees, then good luck to him. I am not averse to a bit of good cheer from Tory Members from time to time. It has been pretty hard work sitting on these Benches looking at their miserable faces for as many years as I have done, and anything that cheers them up is to be welcomed.

However, I fear that the Conservatives' joy may well be short lived, because of their mindless opposition to the Government proposal. Talking of mindless opposition, I see that the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) is about to intervene.

4 pm

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)

As one of the mindless Opposition, perhaps I may point out to the hon. Gentleman that, in the rural constituency that I represent, which does not have public transport to any extent—it does not have any buses—the Government's taxes on fuel have hit families, particularly those on below and average earnings, extremely hard. The Government are proposing to make the lives of those people even more difficult and costly, because when they drive into a town, they will have to pay a tax to do so. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) said that the proposal is a regressive tax; it will hurt people who can least afford it.

Mr. Snape

Those people will have to do no such thing. The proposals give local authorities the right—presumably after consultation, as I said to my hon. Friend the Minister—to introduce such schemes. Local authorities are not in the business of committing political suicide. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's local authority took advantage of the rural bus scheme introduced by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr. Atkinson

indicated assent.

Mr. Snape

The hon. Gentleman nods, so I am sure that the more concerned members of his electorate will be aware that, under the Conservatives, there were no buses at all but, under a Labour Government, there is a subsidy that would help bus companies to run in his area. I repeat that Conservative Members should stop falling for their own party's propaganda. We are not saying that in every town and city there will be a fence, a barrier through which it will be impossible to drive a car without paying an enormous sum. The Bill is about giving local authorities the right to decide for themselves. That appears eminently democratic.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich)

Is my hon. Friend aware of a recent article on transport in the local paper of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin)—it is a pity that he is not present—in which it is said of him: He knows there is a problem with gridlock. He knows people must be encouraged to sometimes choose an alternative to the car…? Is that not what some of the Bill is aiming to achieve?

Mr. Snape

Alas, if only such a sensible fellow had ever participated in our deliberations in Committee or the House. I have a copy of the article. The photograph in it is pretty poor, but it looks like the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin). The caption underneath it reads, "suitable traffic on suitable roads". I am sure that, in his heart of hearts, like the hon. Member for Poole, the hon. Gentleman, as principal Opposition spokesperson on transport, agrees that there is much common sense in the Bill and wishes that he did not have to behave in such a daft way in opposing everything that the Government propose, and denouncing it, as did the hon. Member for Poole, as a wicked example of socialism penalising those least able to pay congestion charges.

Enough of the Conservative party; let it enjoy Thursday's minor triumph. I want to put a couple of points to my hon. Friend the Minister.

Before motorists and others are asked to pay congestion charges, they will need some reassurance on how any money raised will be spent. I look forward to my hon. Friend assuring the House that he will indicate to local authorities—I will not say direct because we do not like directing local authorities; we believe in democracy in local government—that revenues raised must be spent directly on transport. I hope that he will again say to local authorities that, before introducing such schemes—I repeat that they have a right to do so—they should ensure that proper public transport is available as an alternative in their areas.

I break off to apologise to the House. I should have declared an interest when I got to my feet as the chairman of a bus company that is part of the National Express group. I apologise to you, Madam Speaker, and to the House for forgetting to do so. I declared the interest in yesterday's debate, but I understand that one must do so daily. Before any Conservative Member points out any of my failings, I apologise.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Snape

I knew that I was letting myself in for something; I give way.

Mr. Howarth

I say to the hon. Gentleman, your neighbour, Madam Speaker, that we are all aware of the important post that he holds and the interest that he carries. We feel that the House is much better informed as a result of his outside interest. He does not need to declare his interest—Opposition Members are aware of it throughout our debates.

Mr. Snape

I am delighted that even a normally combative soul such as the hon. Gentleman recognises expertise when he listens to it.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Snape

Just a moment; one hon. Member at a time.

I only wish that some of the common sense displayed by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) would permeate the Conservative Front-Bench team.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am a little concerned about my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who seems to be going soft in his middle age. I am delighted to be reminded that the hon. Gentleman—who has always reminded me of no one more than Detective Inspector Jack Frost—is a successful capitalist. Moreover, his expertise can be invaluable in our deliberations. Will he tell us by how much over the years, in the fulfilment of his important duties, he has managed thereby to enrich himself?

Mr. Snape

Not only would that be the cause of considerable gossip, not least among some of my hon. Friends, but it would be outwith the rules of the House. Any declaration that it is necessary for me to make, I have made in the Register of Members' Interests. I urge that the hon. Gentleman, whose ever-fertile mind all of us on both sides of the House respect, turns up that entry and works it all out for himself.

We should introduce the proposed scheme, after full consultation. In its parliamentary brief on congestion charging, which I assume was sent to hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Confederation of British Industry stated that it is essential that the revenue raised is ring fenced for transport improvements and that investment in viable transport alternatives for road users takes place before any local charges are introduced. Subject to this, we believe that congestion charging has the potential to secure benefits for transport users. Nothing could better illustrate the gulf between the Conservative party and reality than the fact that the CBI sees the sense of the proposals that the House is discussing. Even the CBI has written off the Conservative party for the purposes of sensible opposition. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can give the reassurances that I requested.

As a last duty, Madam Speaker, I apologise for leaving the House for a few moments after I have spoken. I intend to return as quickly as I can.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). So often over the past five months, he and I have done battle, disagreeing time after time about issue after issue, and I fear that I must do so yet again today.

The hon. Gentleman described the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) as long on problems and short on solutions. Judging by the speech from the hon. Member for Poole, the sad truth is that he is short on the problems. He does not begin to understand the nature of the problem that the Bill is intended to tackle. His total opposition to measures such as congestion charging and his desire to be the friend of the motorist through thick and thin show his total failure to understand the problem that motorists face.

To support the new clause is not to be anti-motorist or anti-car. I enjoy driving my car, but when I drive it I do not like sitting in traffic jams for hours on end. We must find ways of reducing car use so that when people do need to use their cars, they can get about more easily on our road network.

The problem is enormous. According to the Confederation of British Industry, which the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East quoted, the cost of congestion on our roads to business and commerce is £20 billion a year. The Royal Automobile Club estimates that the cost of congestion on our roads to motorists is a staggering £20 billion. In terms of costs to business and commerce and to individual motorists, congestion is a huge problem.

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman prays in aid the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce. Does he therefore agree with those organisations in their wholehearted opposition to workplace parking charging?

Mr. Foster

So far, I have not mentioned the British Chambers of Commerce. We are currently discussing road-user charging. The hon. Gentleman served on the Committee that considered the Bill. He therefore knows that there is a significant difference between road-user or congestion charging and workplace charging. We shall debate workplace charging later, when I shall make similar points. Both congestion charging and workplace charging are worth considering. Decisions can best be made locally, by councillors.

Mr. Gray

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again so soon. I am ready to overlook his condescending manner in pointing out that we are currently discussing congestion charging, and in making a few nice comments about serving on the Committee that considered the Bill. If he cares to read the new clause, he will discover that it covers both congestion charging and charges for workplace parking. I regret that he got to his feet without even reading it.

Mr. Foster

I am grateful for that clarification, which makes the new clause even more incompetent, as I shall show shortly.

Mr. Bercow

I do not wish to break the sequence of the hon. Gentleman's argument—in so far as he can establish one. However, does he understand that the premise on which he began his argument is both woolly and false? He bases his argument on the belief that there is widespread frivolous—and therefore unnecessary—use of the motor car, yet the overwhelming majority of people use their cars because they need to do so, not out of hedonistic self-indulgence, with which the Liberal Democrats want to do away.

Mr. Foster

The hon. Gentleman again demonstrates the lack of Conservative party thinking. Of course, in many circumstances people use their motor cars because there is no adequate alternative. However, those motorists currently face the considerable problem of congestion on our roads. We must find ways of easing that. The best method is to introduce more attractive alternatives that work at the right time, in the right place and at an affordable price.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that it is woolly to say that the current cost of congestion is £20 billion to industry and £23 billion to motorists. According to the British Medical Association, pollution from that congestion causes approximately 24,000 deaths a year. Surveys show that, in London, a motorist spends one fifth of his or her time in the motor car stationary. That is a complete waste of a motorist's time.

In Victorian times, when people travelled by horse and cart, average speed was 11 mph. Today, when people travel in motor cars, the average speed in London is an amazing 11 mph. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is surprised at that, but those are the statistics. The average speed of a motorist in London is the same 11 mph as in Victorian times, when travel was by horse and cart. Millions of people suffer from asthma that is caused by the air pollution that results from congestion on our roads. We must tackle that significant problem.

Liberal Democrat Members believe that road-user charging and other measures, including the possibility of workplace charging, can help to provide solutions. However, there are provisos, which we made clear in Committee. They are now supported by the Deputy Prime Minister and, I believe, the Government. We should not introduce such measures unless significantly improved public transport alternatives exist for those who would otherwise suffer from the imposition of the charges that we are discussing. I am delighted that the Government have said that they will not accept, approve and authorise a road-user charging scheme, nor a workplace charging scheme, unless those commitments have been met. As the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said, that applies until it can be demonstrated that there has been widespread consultation.

4.15 pm

We are pleased that the Government have acknowledged that the majority of the revenues that will come from the charges and levies will be used to improve public transport. However, the hon. Member for Poole is suggesting that all the money for all time must be devoted to that purpose. He removes immediately the possibility of something that he supported in Committee. At that stage, he supported the idea that some of the money from charging should be used, for example, to pay for the costs of roadside emission testing. That was one of the concessions made during the Bill's consideration in Committee. There may be other measures that would be of benefit to the wider environment that could come from expenditure of some of the moneys.

I suggested earlier—

Mr. Bercow

Will hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster

I shall not give way now. I want to make another point, which I would like the hon. Gentleman to intervene on. I am sure that he will, because he is very good at doing so.

Even if I supported the broad thrust of the Conservative Opposition's arguments against the charges and levies, I would have considerable difficulty in supporting the new clause. It reads: Moneys collected under a licensing scheme shall be solely and exclusively for the purpose of improving roads and public transport for the benefit of those who are subject to the charge. I have some difficulty in understanding exactly how that will work. If I am driving my car in a charging area, I am subject to the charge. The money so raised will be used to improve public transport for me to use. However, the minute that I use that public transport, I am not subject to the charge. Therefore, public transport is not for my benefit. It appears that money will be raised that cannot be used by those who are persuaded to get out of their cars and to use public transport.

We will almost have a strange new form of apartheid. I can imagine that at bus stations throughout the land there will be two different bus shelters. There will be buses for those who have always used them and buses for those who used to use their car.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has pointed out that the new clause covers both workplace charging and road-user charging because it is incompetent in both regards. However, the hon. Member for Buckingham was extremely keen to intervene a short while ago and I said that I would be happy to give him that opportunity. When he intervenes, he might like to explain his understanding of the new clause.

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. The purpose of congestion charging and workplace charging is to get people off the roads and on to buses. The hon. Gentleman is saying that people in buses will not be paying workplace charges or congestion charges. That is the precise purpose of the tax. If it is not that, what is it?

Mr. Foster

Only a few minutes ago the hon. Gentleman was proud of himself for picking me up for not having fully read and understood the new clause. He is now demonstrating a far greater lack of understanding of the clause than even I, in my humble way, have achieved.

It is my party's view that road-user charging and workplace charging levies may have a part to play in helping to reduce the problems that are created by congestion on our roads. We believe that decisions must be made at local level by local councils and that no scheme should be introduced unless there has been widescale consultation. Nor should such schemes be introduced unless and until there has been significant improvement in alternative public transport opportunities for the people in the area concerned.

The new clause is defective in its use of language, but my final point is that it would create another problem. People often travel from one local authority area to another. The second authority may introduce the charging scheme, but, nevertheless, those travelling from outside will still need to benefit from improved public transport. In Committee, the Minister accepted that it will be possible for a local authority to pass the money that it raises from charging regimes to a neighbouring local authority to help it to improve its public transport if doing so can be shown to produce the benefit of reducing congestion overall. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will confirm that that is still the Government's intention. We shall not support the new clause, but we shall support the Government in their intention to introduce those opportunities for local councils.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster)—a fellow member of the Standing Committee—in discussing road congestion and congestion charging. To begin on common ground, I suggest that we are all familiar with that issue and that we are anxious to address it not only because it is of concern to us as Members of Parliament—we find it difficult enough to make our way to the House if we travel by car—but because it causes difficulties for our constituents. Our constituents are anxious that we should deal with congestion, and we are anxious to address it.

The hon. Gentleman is clearly right to say that industry and commerce have drawn attention to the enormous cost that congestion imposes on them. When one is stuck in a traffic jam and those who are on the other side of the road are equally stuck, it is interesting to speculate on the cost to industry and commerce. It is an astronomical sum and it is therefore the duty of Parliament to try to do something about congestion. It is frustrating to be stuck in traffic, which causes bad temper, accidents and so on.

Mr. Bercow

I am sure that my hon. Friend enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) almost as much as I did, notwithstanding the fact that the hon. Gentleman was not supported in the Chamber by a single other Liberal Democrat Member. Does my hon. Friend agree that it was especially unfortunate that in his exposition the hon. Gentleman did not mention the dramatic increase in vehicle excise duty in the past three years? His enthusiasm for workplace and congestion charging remains undiminished despite the dramatic new imposts on vehicle users.

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to that clear omission by the Liberal Democrats. I am sure that they were not anxious to say in their campaign in south-west Hampshire that they would impose further charges on motorists. We in the Conservative party recognise that our constituents are exercised about the burdens being imposed on motorists. They feel discriminated against, not only because of the charges that my hon. Friend mentions but because of the tax regime, especially as it applies to those who require a motor car or a van for their job. Travelling by bus or train is simply not realistic for company sales reps or those who work for the utilities. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said at Prime Minister's questions today, the Government have imposed further regulation on motorists in many ways.

Mr. Snape

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth

Of course; I always give way to a representative of the bus industry.

Mr. Snape

I am not here in that capacity, but never mind; I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way anyway. Does he accept that it is our dependence—some would say over-dependence—on the motor car that has enabled many of us to live quite a long way from where we work, which leads to more and more people driving long distances to work every day? If he acknowledges that, does he also accept that the more people drive to work, the more congestion is caused in city centres because that is where most of them are heading? If he is against the Government's proposals, could he come up with any ideas that would enable people to continue commuting by car for ever and ever amen?

Mr. Howarth

I am pleased to say that the hon. Gentleman is a friend of mine. As a west midlands Member, he should be careful about being too critical of the use of the motor car, because he comes from and represents a part of the world—as you do, Madam Speaker—where the motor car is an extremely important component of the local economy. I am a former west midlands Member, and companies in my former constituency were suppliers to the motor industry. We should be careful before we penalise that industry too severely.

The hon. Gentleman invites me to say how I think the matter could be resolved. I know that he has to leave, but if he has a little patience and can stay with us a bit longer I shall try to answer his question.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) intervened, I was about to mention him because he has referred to people's need to use the motor car. It is not the frivolous use of the car that is responsible for congestion on our roads. The motor car clearly confers a flexibility that public transport does not provide. That maxim applies right across transport. When British Midland put on a couple of flights a day between Heathrow and Birmingham, very few people used the service. If there were six flights a day more people would use the service because it would provide flexibility. The flexibility of the motor car is very important.

The motor car also provides an element of safety, which is why so many mums and dads drive their children to school. They do not walk or cycle. A great number go by car because parents are concerned about the safety of their children. Those are not frivolous uses of the motor car. They may be undesirable, but they are not frivolous, and it is not for us to tell people that they should not use their motor car if they believe that that is the safest way to convey their children to school and they derive reassurance from that.

Furthermore, I cannot be the only Member who believes that the motor car serves as a mobile office. Twenty years ago we did not have mobile telephones. Before the advent of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), we did not have pagers either. We now have pagers and mobile telephones, and there is no doubt that they enable us to do a certain amount of work while travelling. If we are stuck in a traffic jam, there is a silver lining to the cloud in that we can use the mobile phone and do things that we would not be able to do in a Committee meeting in the House.

My former hon. Friend the mayoral candidate, Mr. Steve Norris, once explained the advantages of the motor car. We can listen to the stereo, the news is available and we can have the use of the office. It is unquestionably a fact of life that the motor car provides us all with a mobile office. Another reason why people are prepared to put up with the discomfort of congestion is that they can do something else in the meantime. They are not prepared to trade that flexibility and the advantage of having the motor car for public transport services that may be less reliable, less flexible and not give them the same travelling environment that the motor car does.

4.30 pm
Mr. Bercow

My hon. Friend rightly points out that nowadays the car can be used as a mobile office. Does he agree that, although rail travel has many advantages, one of the besetting sins of modern rail travel is that, while trying to work on the train, one is often obliged to submit oneself to conversations being conducted by others on mobile telephones at a very loud volume—conversations in which one is not in any way interested, but which are very distracting?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The situation that he describes will be familiar not just to Members of Parliament but to the public, and is a cause of great concern.

I promised the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) that I would answer his question. He asked what was the solution. The new clause is helpful, but I think that ultimately the solution will lie in the marketplace. The market will determine—people will decide—that the trials and tribulations of congestion are so great, and cause so much frustration, that the trade-off is not worth it, and they will seek alternative means of transport. That is even more likely to happen when alternative means of transport present themselves as being more attractive than they are today—which is perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing the operators of the private sector train industry.

Earlier this week I was talking to Sir Richard Branson on the Terrace, as I am sure Labour Members were. He has great hopes and is very committed to the new trains that he is introducing on the west coast line. Perhaps it is time that trains offered a more bespoke service to the business traveller. I have travelled with West Anglia Great Northern, which provides a service of a different order to that provided by some other companies. It goes out of its way to attract the business traveller—for instance, with free newspapers.

There will come a point at which people will say—indeed, I suspect that they have already said it in communities served by WAGN—that it is better to travel by train, because the company puts itself out to assist the business traveller, than to struggle with the motor car. Ultimately, the marketplace must determine these matters; I am not convinced that we will be able to do so here.

The Minister is providing a panoply of arrangements for congestion charging. A bloke called Frank invited me, and others with London residences, to support him in the mayoral elections last week. I gathered that the said Frank chappie was not in favour of congestion charging. Is that Frank's document that I see before me? The Minister is most helpful. Does he by any chance see a reference to congestion charging in the document? Does he see a reference to Frank's being in favour of congestion charging? I suspect not. It is a bit ambivalent.

If this fellow Frank was not in favour of congestion charging and, indeed, made that the key issue on his platform at last week's mayoral election, and if the Labour candidates for the London Assembly gave an undertaking—which the Prime Minister told us today was irrevocable—not to impose congestion charging, there does not seem to be much point in putting this measure in the Bill. What if, far from espousing the new opportunity presented by the Government, the flagship authorities positively distance themselves from it? We are spending a great deal of time on something that does not seem to have too many legs.

Mr. Tony Clarke

The hon. Gentleman says that the policy does not have too many legs, but, to a man, Conservative Members have opposed congestion charging. The hon. Members for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and for Poole (Mr. Syms) have both done so. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that congestion charging exists already? If people travel to London or to any other city in Britain, they will find not only high car parking charges but parking meters, which act as congestion charges imposed by local authorities. What is the difference between a high car park charge, a parking meter and a congestion charge sensibly proposed by a local authority to reduce pollution?

Mr. Howarth

To a certain extent, a parking meter is a voluntary charge—people decide whether they will accept it or not. They can find a place that does not have parking meters and take the tube or whatever, but congestion charging is a mandatory charge that they can avoid only by not coming into the area where the charge is levied. There is, I grant, a similarity; I shall not be stupid about it. However—I do not wish to detain the House too much longer—the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd. and the Engineering Employers Federation have both made it clear that they are very concerned about congestion charging.

Mr. Snape

What about the CBI?

Mr. Howarth

The Engineering Employers Federation has a lot more to do with the constituency of the hon. Gentleman than the CBI.

Therefore, I believe that new clause 28 is a good measure. Schedule 11 provides for hypothecation of the net proceeds of receipts from congestion charging. The new clause says that the people who are to pay the charge should be the beneficiaries of it. There is no difference between the Opposition and Government on the principle of hypothecation. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) is saying that there is a case for the proceeds to be used solely and exclusively for the purpose of improving roads and public transport for the benefit of those who are subject to the charge, which seems a perfectly sensible proposition.

Before congestion charges are imposed—if they are—may I put the following suggestion to the Minister? One way in which congestion could be reduced is by adopting the type of policy that is used in Germany. I am told that we use it here, but I see no evidence of it, save on the A4 at Slough. In Germany, it is called die grüne Welle—the green wave. Traffic lights are sequenced so that, if people travel at a constant speed, the lights turn green as they approach them.

On our main roads into and out of London, we should introduce the policy of a green wave—it is nothing to do with the Green party, of course. At the moment, people set off from one traffic light and see that the next one in the distance is green, but, by the time they get to it, it has gone red. That must have a substantial impact on the volume of congestion in our major cities. I make a suggestion to the Minister—he can take it up for free: that practical proposition could be applied to traffic management in cities and will benefit the travelling public.

Mr. Snape

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth

I am sorry, but I have already spoken enough and I will not give way; forgive me.

Mr. Gray

I rise briefly to speak to an important new clause and to give the Minister the maximum time to reply to the debate and, by some means, to try to explain to the listening public and to others why he intends to bring in what will without question be a very damaging new stealth tax on the motorists of Britain, following the great increases in petrol tax and in vehicle excise duty.

There is no question about it: when the Minister brings in his congestion and workplace charging, it will be massively unpopular throughout the country and damaging to motorists. [Interruption.] If his response is that it will not be unpopular or damaging to motorists—the gasps from the Labour Benches suggest that that will be his response—I suggest that it will not do the work for which it is designed because, presumably, only those people who do not wish to pay the tax will get off the road.

Congestion and workplace charging have three possible purposes. The first, of course, is to reduce congestion; I will come back to that. The second is to raise funds for the specific purpose of improving public transport in general; that is what the new clause is about. The third—I have a shrewd suspicion that it may be the most realistic—is to raise funds in general for other Government purposes. It is perfectly legitimate for Governments to decide to introduce a new tax to fund services such as schools or hospitals. Although there is nothing wrong with doing that, we must be clear that that is what we are doing.

The first option—introducing a tax to reduce congestion—seems the least likely to be successful. Let us imagine what would happen if there were such a tax. Let us imagine that the congestion tax for London was a punishing £10 per day, and that the parking charge was £3,000 annually—which is the figure being put around by the Road Haulage Association. Let us imagine that the people of London faced those taxes. What would happen when poor people and disabled people who had to get to work in London were driven off the cleared roads of London?

Two things would happen. First, the roads would be clear for exactly the wrong type of people—those who simply do not mind paying the tax, such as Members of Parliament. The roads would be nice and clear for us to get to this place easily, especially if parking charges—as in the Government's carefully crafted Bill—did not apply to parking at the House. The roads would also be nice and clear for fat cats in the City of London. However, the poor and other people who cannot pay, the ill and disabled, students and people going to football matches, doctors attending emergency surgeries and people going to man fire brigades, would simply not be able to work.

Nevertheless, good luck to the fat cats and to Members of Parliament. We know that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions likes the road to be clear for his two—or more—Jags. However, the tax will not reduce congestion.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gray

The hon. Gentleman has just strolled into the Chamber, at the very last minute, without attending any of the debate. Now he wants to get a bit of a mention in his local newspaper by making a cheap intervention. In Committee, his interventions were simply not worth listening to. However, if he sits still and listens quietly, he might learn a thing or two. I have no intention of giving way to him.

The second problem with the principle of trying to reduce congestion by using congestion charging is the possible consequence of success. If the roads of London were clear, all those who currently stay at home because of road congestion would say, "I know what we're going to do—let's drive into London, into the city, because there's no congestion." The tax will have an effect exactly opposite to that intended. It could—if it works at all—increase congestion.

New clause 28 deals with how the money raised from such swingeing taxes—if they are introduced—should be used. I should point out that the Labour party seems to be in some disarray about whether charges will be introduced. Although Labour councillors in London's new Assembly seem to be saying that they do not want congestion charging, which they know would be electoral suicide, Mr. Livingstone—who, I believe, is still a Labour party supporter in one way or another—is all in favour of it.

The Government also seem to be all in favour of congestion charging; they propose to introduce it. They also included a congestion charging provision in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Although the Assembly Members do not favour it, the Government do. However, let us imagine that Assembly Members did favour it. What would happen to the money? As I said—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. As the hon. Gentleman will know, transport in Greater London is dealt with in other legislation, not in the Bill. Perhaps he will speak to new clause 28.

Mr. Gray

Forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the point that I was making is that the 1999 Act makes provision for congestion charging and charging for workplace parking. That provision was the first national exemplar of how such charging should work.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If we debate that subject, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to talk about those matters. However, new clause 28 is quite clear about what it deals with.

Mr. Gray

I had not intended to talk that much about the 1999 Act, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although it offers a useful exemplar.

The new clause specifies precisely what should happen to the money that will be raised by congestion and workplace charging, whether it is raised in London or elsewhere. The Bill's provisions will, of course, apply across the nation—as you correctly said, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There are two possibilities for what will happen to the money, the first of which is that it will be truly hypothecated. I shall deal with that possibility in a moment.

Secondly, the money could be used like normal taxation, for services such as schools and hospitals—as I said, that is a perfectly legitimate ambition of any Government. It reminds me of a comment made in this place by Mr. Lloyd George. When introducing vehicle taxation, he said that he needed to tax cars because more money needed to be spent on roads. He intended to hypothecate the money from vehicle excise duty and spend it all on improving Britain's roads. Today, 90 per cent. of that money is spent for other purposes. As long ago as Lloyd George's time, hypothecation was shown to be a myth.

The Government pay lip service to hypothecation. They say that they want to bring in a huge new tax on motorists to improve public transport. That is politically attractive, because there are people who will say "I don't mind paying the tax if it is going to get other people off the road so that I can use my car."

4.45 pm

However, there is no linkage between the places where public transport needs to be improved and where the tax would be raised. The tax would plainly be raised where congestion is worst—primarily the inner cities and some of the bigger towns—but much of the public transport improvement is needed in the countryside, in small towns and in the suburbs of our large towns, where provision is wildly inadequate. In London, for example, the tube is very important, but it exists only north of the Thames. To the south of the Thames there is only the Northern line. Would the money raised from congestion charging north of the Thames be used to improve public transport south of the Thames?

There is also no linkage between those who would pay the charges and those who would benefit from the spending. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) made a good point about that. People coming into a city would pay the tax, but would not benefit from the subsequent improvements in public transport.

Thirdly, there is no linkage between the amount that would need to be spent on improvements to public transport and the amount that might be raised by the tax. What if the tax were seriously inadequate? Would the Government top it up in areas where it did not raise enough?

The Whip on my right hand side is making worrying noises about sitting down and giving the Minister time to reply. It is important that he should reply, because this is a wildly misplaced policy, as his colleagues in London are beginning to realise. That is why they object to it. It will not raise anything like enough for the public transport improvements that he describes. The policy is a public relations con designed to attract voters who would be happy to pay the tax if it cleared the roads of other people, but there is no evidence that the money raised would be spent on the public transport improvements about which the Minister has talked so often. For the money to be hypothecated properly, as it must be, it will need to be additional and permanent, not just for 10 years. It must also be targeted at those who pay the tax, who are not necessarily the same people who are suffering from traffic congestion.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

We have had an interesting debate, which, mercifully—with the possible exception of the speech of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray)—did not simply cover the ground that we had already covered in Committee.

We all recognise that the use of revenues raised by road user charging is an important issue that will be central to the success and public acceptability of any charging scheme. I should say at the outset that I cannot accept the new clause, but I should like to explain the reasons and remind the House of the ground-breaking arrangements for the use of the proceeds from charges that are already contained in schedule 11.

The Conservatives seek the indefinite hypothecation of the revenues raised by local authority road user and trunk road charging for spending on road improvements and public transport for the benefit of those who are subject to the charge. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) highlighted one of the clause's defects when he asked whether someone who was no longer subject to the charge would be entitled to receive the benefit. There are issues relating to people who do not own a car or people who have not used their car for particular journeys before the introduction of charging. I fear that if the new clause as currently drafted were incorporated in the Bill, it would almost certainly be an invitation to the litigious to challenge the validity of any road user charging scheme. However, I do not intend simply to fall back on the point that we believe that the new clause is defective. We accept it in the spirit in which it was offered and will address it in those terms.

It was a real pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) who had the difficult task of presenting the case for a new clause that was designed to make the best use of the proceeds of road user charging, while at the same time swearing his party's undying opposition to the principle. It was not surprising that there was a smile on his face as he went through that process. I was reminded by the observation by my hon. Friend the Member for West Brornwich, East (Mr. Snape) that the hon. Member for Poole had presented the voice of sweet reason from the Opposition Benches in Committee.

The hon. Member for Poole raised the issue of London, as did a number of hon. Members. As you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the legislation does not cover London, other than in a few consequential ways. The powers in respect of congestion charging and road user charging were given in the Greater London Authority Act 1999, so this Bill is of more relevance to other areas. However, as the London issue has been raised, let me make it absolutely clear that it is for the mayor to decide whether a congestion charge should be introduced. That is the arrangement in the Greater London Authority legislation.

It is not the role of the Assembly to promote particular proposals; that is for the mayor to do. The role of the Assembly is to scrutinise, and its Labour Members will certainly scrutinise closely and carefully any proposals from the mayor, to ensure that they have been properly thought through, are well judged, proportionate and deliver real benefits for London.

Mr. Syms

The Conservatives oppose congestion charging, and I understood from the Labour manifesto on which the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and the Assembly Members stood for election that there would be none of it for four years. Do I take it therefore that the Labour party and the Conservative party could combine to stop the mayor introducing such a scheme for at least four years?

Mr. Raynsford

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by reminding him of the terms of the manifesto that my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) put to the electorate of London. He said: As mayor, I will have the power to introduce congestion charging. However, while I am not against congestion charging in principle, I do believe that we need to have public transport alternatives in place first: and if we are going to have them, we had better do it properly. Transport experts say that a proper electronic scheme could barely be introduced before the end of the mayor's first term. That was the policy set out by the Labour candidate, and I have no doubt that Labour Members of the Assembly will follow a similar approach in scrutinising carefully, as is their responsibility, any proposals from the mayor.

Although he opposed charging, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East, the hon. Member for Poole conceded that the decision should be left to the local authority. I welcome that view, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be ingenious when he—or perhaps it will be one of his hon. Friends—moves new clause 29, which refers to making, varying and revoking charging schemes, and would make it impossible for any scheme to be introduced without an affirmative resolution of the House. I would be most interested to know how the decision is to be left to the local authority in the light of that proposed new clause. That is a pleasure for us to look forward to later in this afternoon's proceedings.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East, in his usual highly informed and colourful way, stressed the importance of local authority discretion and sought reassurances about the application of the proceeds of congestion charging to improve public transport arrangements in the areas concerned. He will know that we have already given assurances that the proceeds must be used for the purposes of transport in line with the individual authority's local transport plan. Approval will be given only to schemes that have demonstrable benefits in line with such plans. I hope that my hon. Friend is satisfied with that assurance.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) emphasised again the importance of local decision making. He asked about co-operation between authorities, using the proceeds of congestion charging in neighbouring areas, if appropriate. I can happily give him the assurance that he seeks. That will be possible—provided, as I said in response to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East, that the application is consistent with the authority's local transport plan.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who apologised personally to me for not being able to be here for my winding-up speech, gave a paean of praise to the joys of motoring. He cited the mayoral candidate, Mr. Steven Norris—to whom, incidentally, and perhaps significantly, he referred as the mayoral candidate rather than the Conservative mayoral candidate—as an advocate of motoring. Indeed, he quoted Mr. Norris's well known and much quoted comments about the pleasures of travelling in a motor car, but he sadly disappointed us by not reaching Mr. Norris's punchline about the implications of travelling on public transport with, I believe the phrase was, "dreadful human beings". Such an approach should not govern rational decision making about the benefits of respective forms of transport.

We have set out the principle of hypothecation and confirmed that hypothecated revenues will be available for 10 years, following which there will be a review. It seems a bit rich for the Conservatives to be pressing for the indefinite hypothecation of revenues from charges that they claim to oppose in principle. It is all the more curious, given that their 1996 Green Paper, which was in favour of giving local authorities charging powers, contained no guarantee that the revenues would be spent on improving local transport. That is an indication of how far the Conservative party has moved away from any credible position on transport.

The Bill represents a major breakthrough by guaranteeing at least 10 years' hypothecation for any charging scheme starting in the first 10 years. Unlike the previous Government, we recognise that that is crucial to the success and acceptability of a charging scheme. This is a new provision, and it is right that it should be reviewed after 10 years. In any event, it would not be appropriate to guarantee hypothecation indefinitely, because that might not deliver value for money in terms of transport improvements in the medium to longer term. That is why the Government intend to conduct an informed review of the hypothecation arrangements in schedule 11 before the hypothecation guarantee expires.

The review may decide that 100 per cent. hypothecation of charging revenues for transport spending should continue. Indeed, many hon. Members believe that more than 10 years' hypothecation will be necessary. However, that is not a decision that we need to take now. It will be much better to take it later, as is provided for in the Bill.

As for geographical coverage, I am sure that local authorities will want to spend much, perhaps all, of their net resources on improving the attractiveness and accessibility of the charged area. However, it may not be sensible to spend all the money in that way. Better road maintenance and better street lighting in suburban areas might well be an appropriate use for part of the proceeds from a scheme that derives its revenues from a city centre charge. That option is open to local authorities, and it is better that the decisions should be taken locally than centrally. That is why the Bill allows the money to be spent for any transport purpose covered by the local transport plan. That is surely the right approach.

I invite the hon. Member for Poole to think again and to resume his role as the voice of sweet reason on the Opposition Benches by withdrawing new clause 28.

Mr. Syms

I am afraid that I am disappointed by the Minister's response, and we shall press the new clause to a vote. We heard the hon. Gentleman reading from the small print of the Labour manifesto for the Greater London elections. We shall live in interesting times, and the Prime Minister's comments will come back to haunt the Government.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 129, Noes 376.

Division No. 189] [5 pm
Ainsworth, Peter(E Surrey) Gibb, Nick
Amess, David Gill, Christoper
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gray, James
Baldry, Tony Green, Damian
Beggs, Roy Greenway, John
Bercow, John Gummer, Rt Hon John
Beresford, Sir Paul Hague, Rt Hon William
Body, Sir Richard Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Boswell, Tim Hammond, Philip
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Hawkins, Nick
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Hayes, John
Brady, Graham Heald, Oliver
Brazier, Julian Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Browning, Mrs Angela Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hunter, Andrew
Burns, Simon Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Butterfill, John Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Cash, William Jenkin, Bernard
Chope, Christopher Key, Robert
Clappison, James Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Lansley, Andrew
Collins, Tim Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Cormack, Sir Patrick Lidington, David
Cran, James, Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Day, Stephen Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Duncan Smith, Iain Luff, Peter
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Evans, Nigel MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Faber, David Maclean, Rt Hon David
Fabricant, Michael McLoughlin, Patrick
Fallon, Michael Madel, Sir David
Flight, Howard Major, Rt Hon John
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Malins, Humfrey
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Maples, John
Fox, Dr Liam Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Fraser, Christopher Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Garnier, Edward May Mrs Theresa
Moss, Malcolm Swayne, Desmond
Norman, Archie Syms, Robert
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Ottaway, Richard Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Page, Richard Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Paice, James Taylor, Sir Teddy
Paterson, Owen Thompson, William
Pickles Eric Townend, John
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Trend, Michael
Prior, David Tyrie, Andrew
Randall, John Viggers, Peter
Redwood, Rt Hon John Walter, Robert
Robathan, Andrew Wells, Bowen
Robertson Laurence Whitney, Sir Raymond
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Whittingdale, John
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Ruffley, David Willetts, David
St Aubyn, Nick Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Shepherd, Richard Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Yeo, Tim
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard Tellers for the Ayes:
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Mr. Keith Simpson and
Streeter, Gary Mrs. Eleanor Laing.
Abbott, Ms Diane Cann, Jamie
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Caplin, Ivor
Ainger, Nick Casale, Roger
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Caton, Martin
Allan, Richard Cawsey, Ian
Allen, Graham Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Chaytor, David
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Chidgey, David
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Church, Ms Judith
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Clapham, Michael
Ashton, Joe Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Austin, John Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Ballard, Jackie
Barnes, Harry Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Bayley, Hugh Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Beard, Nigel Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Clelland, David
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Clwyd, Ann
Berry, Roger Coaker, Vernon
Blackman, Liz Coffey, Ms Ann
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Coleman, Iain
Blears, Ms Hazel Colman, Tony
Blizzard, Bob Connarty, Michael
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Cooper, Yvette
Borrow, David Corbett, Robin
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Corston, Jean
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cotter, Brian
Bradshaw, Ben Cousins, Jim
Brake, Tom Cox, Tom
Brand, Dr Peter Cranston, Ross
Breed, Colin Crausby, David
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Browne, Desmond Cummings, John
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Burgon, Colin Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Burnett, John Dalyell, Tam
Burstow, Paul Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Cable, Dr Vincent Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Davidson, Ian
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Dawson, Hilton Humble, Mrs Joan
Dean, Mrs Janet Hurst, Alan
Denham, John Hutton, John
Dismore, Andrew Iddon, Dr Brian
Dobbin, Jim Illsley, Eric
Donohoe, Brian H Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Doran, Frank Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dowd, Jim Jamieson, David
Drew, David Jenkins, Brian
Drown, Ms Julia Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Edwards, Huw Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Efford, Clive Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Ennis, Jeff
Fearn, Ronnie Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Field, Rt Hon Frank Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Fisher, Mark Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Fitzpatrick, Jim Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna Keeble, Ms Sally
Flint, Caroline Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Flynn, Paul Kelly, Ms Ruth
Follett, Barbara Kemp, Fraser
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Khabra, Piara S
Fyfe, Maria Kidney, David
Gapes, Mike Kilfoyle, Peter
Gardiner, Barry King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
George, Andrew (St Ives) King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Kirkwood, Archy
Gibson, Dr Ian Kumar, Dr Ashok
Gidley, Ms Sandra Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Godman, Dr Norman A Laxton, Bob
Godsiff, Roger Lepper, David
Goggins, Paul Leslie, Christopher
Golding, Mrs Llin Levitt, Tom
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Linton, Martin
Grocott, Bruce Livsey, Richard
Grogan, John Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gunnell, John Llwyd, Elfyn
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Lock, David
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Love, Andrew
Hancock, Mike McAvoy, Thomas
Hanson, David McCabe, Steve
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet McCafferty, Ms Chris
Harvey, Nick McDonagh, Siobhain
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Macdonald, Calum
Healey, John McDonnell, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) McFall, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) McIsaac, Shona
Hepburn, Stephen McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Heppell, John Mackinlay, Andrew
Hesford, Stephen McNamara, Kevin
Hewitt, Ms Patricia McNulty, Tony
Hill, Keith MacShane, Denis
Hinchliffe, David Mactaggart, Fiona
Hodge, Ms Margaret McWilliam, John
Hood, Jimmy Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Mallaber, Judy
Hope, Phil Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hopkins, Kelvin Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Martlew, Eric
Howells, Dr Kim Maxton, John
Hoyle, Lindsay Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Mitchell, Austin Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Moffatt, Laura Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Moore, Michael Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Moran, Ms Margaret Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Snape, Peter
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Soley, Clive
Motley, Elliot Southworth, Ms Helen
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Mountford, Kali Stevenson, George
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Mudie, George Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mullin, Chris Stinchcombe, Paul
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen) Stringer, Graham
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stuart, Ms Gisela
Norris, Dan Stunell, Andrew
Oaten, Mark Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Neill, Martin
Öpik, Lembit Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Organ, Mrs Diana Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Palmer, Dr Nick Temple-Morris, Peter
Pearson, Ian Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Pendry, Tom Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Perham, Ms Linda Timms, Stephen
Pickthall, Colin Tipping, Paddy
Pike, Peter L Todd, Mark
Plaskitt, James Tonge, Dr Jenny
Pollard, Kerry Touhig, Don
Pond, Chris Trickett, Jon
Pope, Greg Truswell, Paul
Pound, Stephen Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Prescott, Rt Hon John Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Primarolo, Dawn Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Purchase, Ken Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce Tyler, Paul
Quinn, Lawrie Tynan, Bill
Radice, Rt Hon Giles Vaz, Keith
Rammell, Bill Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Rapson, Syd Watts, David
Raynsford, Nick Webb, Steve
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Welsh, Andrew
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N) White, Brian
Rendel, David Whitehead, Dr Alan
Roche, Mrs Barbara Wicks, Malcolm
Rooney, Terry Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Roy, Frank Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Ruane, Chris Willis, Phil
Ruddock, Joan Wills, Michael
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Winnick, David
Ryan, Ms Joan Wood, Mike
Salter, Martin Woolas, Phil
Sanders, Adrian Worthington, Tony
Sarwar, Mohammad Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Shipley, Ms Debra Wyatt, Derek
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha Tellers for the Noes:
Skinner, Dennis Mr. Mike Hall and
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Mr. Clive Betts.

Question accordingly negatived.

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