HC Deb 24 April 2001 vol 367 cc153-4
3. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

What recent discussions he has had with local authorities regarding the introduction of congestion taxes. [157183]

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

Through the charging development partnership, my Department is engaged in continuing discussions with a number of English local authorities about the role that congestion charges may have in relieving local traffic problems and promoting wider travel choice through improved public transport services and facilities. As the hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware, his county council of Hampshire, which I was pleased recently to designate a centre of excellence for integrated transport planning, is a member of the charging development partnership, and last year was allocated £300,000 to carry out several studies into the implications of road pricing and workplace parking charges, to assist its decision making on those matters.

Mr. Swayne

The Minister will be aware that not all local authorities can match the standards achieved by Hampshire county council. Will he assure the House that he will refuse any application to implement such a charge unless the local authority can demonstrate a clear and appreciable improvement in public transport prior to the application?

Mr. Hill

I am happy, if slightly surprised, on this occasion to agree with the hon. Gentleman on both points. Any proposal for a charging regime is subject to the final approval of the Secretary of State, and one of the criteria that he will examine is whether there are already clear commitments to, and achievements in, improving local transport.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

As chairman of the all-party motorcycling group, I am delighted that the Government, through the motor cycle advisory committee, have acknowledged the significant contribution that motor bikes and powered two-wheelers can make to reducing congestion and pollution. I appreciate that this is a matter for local authorities, but will the Minister encourage local authorities to consider exempting motor bikes and powered two-wheelers from congestion charges?

Mr. Hill

I am grateful for that characteristic intervention from my hon. Friend, Blears the bike. The Government appreciate warmly the contribution that motor bikes and powered two-wheelers can and do make to the reduction of congestion and pollution on our roads. I am sure that local authorities contemplating charging regimes will want to bear in mind those important considerations.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

Is this not another example of the Government's vendetta against the motorist? Not only do we have the highest petrol price in Europe as a result of the Government's policies but, in the London scheme, a motorist who has to travel in every day could end up paying £1,250 a year. Residents, including many who are council tenants, could end up paying a charge of £130 for owning a car, whether or not they use it. Is not the Minister ashamed that, yet again, Labour has broken its pledge of no new taxes?

Mr. Hill

The hon. Gentleman does his best to make his point. In all seriousness, not only is congestion a cause of immense frustration to the travelling public, but it costs the economy billions of pounds every year. Every study has concluded that congestion charging is the most effective way to cut congestion, but essentially it will be for local authorities to make their own decisions. As I have indicated, the Secretary of State will have the final say and will look for evidence of local consensus and robust plans for local transport improvements. We have stipulated that, at least for the first 10 years, all proceeds of congestion charging must be ploughed back into local transport improvements.

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