§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
It gives me particular pleasure to move this Second Reading, because it is one of my first acts as one of the two joint presidents of the newly formed Association of London Government. The ALG, as we shall have to learn to call it, was formed by the merger of the two associations that previously represented the boroughs in London (the London Boroughs Association and the Association of London Authorities). I am sure that everyone who has an interest in seeing London maintain and enhance its status as a world city will applaud the initiative of the leaders of the LBA and the ALA in overcoming their differences and joining together to form a united voice for London local government.
I regard it as a great honour to have been chosen as one of the association's founding presidents. It is good to see in his place—I was going to call him my noble friend—the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, my fellow joint president, who will be winding up the debate. I hope that this will be the first of many opportunities for us to work together to ensure that the voice of London local government is heard. Perhaps I should say that I have had a message from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, who fully supports the Bill and has sent his apologies that for reasons of local government duties he is unable to be with us this evening.
The Bill is the sixth Private Bill to be promoted by Westminster City Council on behalf of the other London authorities. In common with all the preceding Bills, the process was overseen by the LBA and the ALA, and of course it is now the new association which takes on that 551 responsibility. It follows in a long tradition of London local government Bills by seeking a number of new powers to enable London's local authorities to face the many and disparate challenges that have arisen with the passage of time. They are cases in respect of which central government are unwilling to find parliamentary time for national legislation. I shall return to that aspect in a moment.
The provisions of the Bill range widely from new powers to improve London's worsening air quality to powers to control the proliferation of car boot sales. I suspect, however, that noble Lords who have put down their names to speak in the debate may be interested in particular in the air quality provisions. I shall later concentrate on Part II, which deals with that matter.
Part I sets out the Short Title and the major definitions. It also contains an "appointed day" clause so that boroughs can choose whether they wish to make use of the part of the Bill relating to car boot sales. Part II deals with vehicle emissions, to which I shall return in a moment. Part III will give London authorities powers to enforce bus lanes by using remote cameras in order to relieve the police of that responsibility and allowing them to concentrate on their other more pressing priorities. If Part III is passed into law it will mean that local authorities will take over the responsibility of pursuing and issuing penalty charges to those who are photographed in bus lanes in breach of regulations. The Bill provides that this particular offence should be decriminalised. The boroughs will be able to issue fixed penalty charges which will he a civil debt.
The proper enforcement of bus lanes is a high priority for the London boroughs which are working together to construct a 300 mile pan-London bus priority network. That must have the support of all who wish to see a growth and improvement in public transport in order to reduce congestion on our roads. The network will reduce the delays experienced by buses and will make them a more attractive option for travellers. Although the technology is still being developed, I believe that the ultimate intention is that the buses themselves will carry the cameras to detect drivers entering bus lanes illegally. I suggest that that may well prove to be a most condign deterrent and much more effective than the occasional copper lurking behind a lamp-post, much of which we see in this area today.
Part IV will make available to London boroughs the new system for licensing car boot sales. The boroughs do not wish to ban such sales because they often provide a valuable service for residents and help voluntary bodies to raise funds. However, there have been problems in some areas. Under existing legislation, a number of boroughs in outer London have had difficulty in controlling large car boot sales held in unsuitable areas. The Bill will give the boroughs the power to require organisers to make suitable arrangements to prevent excessive road congestion, provide sufficient parking and control litter. The boroughs will have the power to refuse a licence to a promoter who has not complied with the conditions on previous occasions or if the organisers do not satisfy them that they have made proper arrangements to deal with these matters.
552 Part V contains amendments to existing entertainments licensing legislation to bring the system in London into line with that operating in the rest of the country. This part enshrines present practice in statute and is included in the Bill as a tidying-up exercise primarily in order to make civil servants happy. I am always pleased if we can make civil servants happy and in this case the part is included at the specific request of the Home Office.
However, the boroughs' altruism in allowing the Home Office to use this Bill to promote its legislation has not been reciprocated. Despite repeated requests, the Home Office has refused to make any contribution towards the costs of promoting the Bill and I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will relay this gripe to their right honourable friends in the Home Office. It is not a good precedent. If a government department wishes to use a Private Bill, it should help the promoters.
Part VI contains a number of technical, miscellaneous provisions, including a power for boroughs to deal with excessive emissions from such things as tar boilers and generators on the street; and an amendment to allow Tower Hamlets council to be included in the list of boroughs participating in the London Local Authorities (No. 2) Bill, which is now in another place. If any noble Lord wishes to know more about that Bill, I shall do my best to explain it.
I turn to Part II of the Bill, which seems to have generated the most excitement. Your Lordships will remember that during the passage of the Environment Bill I sought to persuade the Government that they should include in that Bill a general, national power for local authorities to undertake the kerbside testing of vehicles suspected of polluting the air. I am grateful that my noble friend Lord Ullswater is present on the Front Bench, although his noble friend Lord Goschen will reply to the debate. Although the amendments that I moved attracted support from all parts of the House, my noble friend on the Front Bench found himself unable to give any commitment that these powers would find their way into the Bill that is currently in another place.
So, we have to return to this London Local Authorities Bill to try to secure the necessary powers but, of course, limited to the London boroughs. I have no doubt that it would be very much better if the powers were national and contained in general legislation. However, only this week my noble friend Lord Ullswater confirmed to me that, although the Government are wholly sympathetic with the principle underlying the amendments on emission testing, which I brought forward, they are still some way from being in a position to bring forward government amendments during the progress of the Environment Bill.
In a letter to me dated 11th April, my noble friend Lord Ullswater stated:However, both your amendments and similar clauses in the London Local Authorities Bill"—it applies to this Bill as it did to the general Bill—raise complex problems in relation to both charging regimes and the allocation of police resources".553 One of the advantages of having been in Government is that one can recognise the code. In this case, the code is perfectly clear; my noble friend is having serious problems with his honourable friends at the Treasury and the Home Office.
Traffic in London is now the biggest cause of poor air quality. It is also clear that a substantial proportion of that is emitted from a small number of badly maintained cars which make a wholly disproportionate contribution to the deteriorating air quality in London. I am told that the RAC gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee in another place to the effect that 10 per cent. of vehicles were responsible for more than half the emissions of carbon dioxide from vehicles. Those vehicles are the "gross polluters", and Part II of the Bill is designed specifically to deal with them.
It has been said—and it was said in our debates on the Environment Bill—that the police already have these powers. However, it is widely recognised that the police have other priorities. It is simply not realistic to expect the police to carry out the very specific testing and enforcement that is needed if these polluters are to be taken off the road. The answer is that the local authorities have the interest and the motivation, and they should have the powers, to do that and so free the police to get on with their more important responsibility of fighting crime.
In Part II, the Bill provides that the local authorities may stop and test vehicles to see whether a vehicle meets the MoT emission standard. If the vehicle fails the test, the owner will be liable for a fixed penalty charge and will be required to remedy the defect that is causing the excessive emissions. Failure to produce within 56 days a certificate signed by an approved examiner showing that the vehicle now complies with the standard will make the owner liable to a criminal fine of up to £5,000. If we wish to be serious about air pollution we must take these stringent powers.
Your Lordships will recognise that the first stages of this process are, in effect, decriminalised, with fines being replaced by a civil fixed penalty charge, the proceeds of which can then be recycled to cover the costs of the enforcement of the work.
In Schedule 1 the Bill also makes provision for an adjudication system similar to that recently introduced for the new borough parking scheme. The intention of that is to make sure that the courts are not clogged up by motorists challenging the increased enforcement necessary to achieve cleaner air. Evidence has reached me that that has proved to be a very effective and acceptable system for parking and there is no reason why it should not be equally acceptable in this regard.
So far, so good, and I do not believe that any of that is unduly controversial. But I now turn to what is certainly controversial; namely, the stopping power. When I moved amendments to the Environment Bill last month, they did not include a stopping power. However, when the Bill was deposited, it did include a power for local authority officers to stop vehicles on the highway to test their exhaust emissions. Objections to the stopping power are the basis of the sole petition which has been lodged against the Bill jointly by the RAC, the AA, the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage 554 Association. I note the names of those noble Lords who are to speak in the debate and I have no doubt that we shall hear their arguments deployed eloquently this evening.
Of course, I recognise the concerns that have been expressed about that particular provision. In turn, I must ask noble Lords to recognise the reality that those vehicle emissions provisions would he entirely ineffective without the stopping power. As I have said, the police already have powers to deal with vehicle emissions but simply do not use them because they have other priorities. If we want a local authority to have power to test vehicles but leave them to rely on the police making sufficient uniformed manpower available to let them use it, it will be a classic case of willing the ends without willing the means.
I believe that that measure needs to be thoroughly examined when the Bill goes into Committee. If the Petitioners, who clearly want to see the offending vehicles removed from the road—and I look forward to hearing confirmation of that this evening—can provide some solution which both meets their objections and achieves the main purpose of Part II, that might well be the way forward. However, the London boroughs, having reconsidered the matter in the light of the petition, believe that they must continue to press for the local authority stopping power. They do not relish the prospect and they recognise the concerns about people other than policemen stopping traffic. Perhaps the Government can help: if the Treasury can be persuaded to let the proceeds of the charges go in part to paying for additional police manpower to be deployed solely on stopping vehicles, leaving the local authority testers with the task of carrying out the subsequent testing and enforcement, then that could be a way forward which meets the anxieties of those worried about the stopping power as well as those who are to pay for the necessary police activity to carry it out.
Part II of the Bill also seeks to give the London boroughs powers to deal with the drivers of vehicles who sit in them for long periods leaving their engines running. I had an example of that the other evening when a hotel lobby was filled with fumes because the driver of the bus outside refused to turn off the engine. That is quite unacceptable. Local authority environment officers should have the power to order that the engines be switched off.
The aim of reducing pollution by targeting the so-called "gross polluters" is extremely important. There has been a great deal of anxiety about air quality in London and other major cities and its impact on respiratory disease. I have seen that within my own family. This Bill attempts to tackle the problem. Westminster City Council estimates that increased enforcement of vehicle emission standards could reduce emissions within its area by up to 25 per cent., which is an extremely valuable prize to seek. The power to issue fixed penalties reflects the widely recognised principle that the polluter should pay. The power to recycle the penalties to pay the costs of enforcement is equally sound in principle.
555 I commend the Bill to the House. No doubt, the points at issue between the promoters and the petitioners will be argued over during the Committee stage, but I hope that the House will allow the Bill to proceed to that stage. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time—(Lord Jenkin of Roding.)
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, first I thank my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding for his very clear exposition of what is contained in the Bill. Also, I congratulate him on his appointment as joint president of the new combined association. I congratulate also the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, on his joint presidency of that organisation.
My noble friend is quite right to say that I shall confine my remarks solely to Part II. I have absolutely no objection nor any views whatever on the other parts of the Bill.
In making the case for opposing Part II, I should like to state firmly from the outset that I support the general intentions of the Bill as outlined by my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Boding. There is no argument about the importance of tackling the air pollution caused by vehicle emissions. That is a problem in many of our towns and cities, in places with higher pollution levels than London. It is clear that we do need measures to ensure that vehicle emission standards are properly and fairly enforced. The Government have, of course, already taken steps to tighten enforcement. As my noble friend Lord Jenkin said, the disproportionate effect of gross polluters—the 10 to 15 per cent. of vehicles which cause 50 per cent. of air traffic pollution—means targeted enforcement during the year between MOT tests is necessary, and I fully support it.
Although I agree with the spirit of the aims which lie behind this part of the Bill, there are practical considerations within it which I do not think are acceptable. I would like briefly to set out my main objections to the Bill as it stands.
First, we should be sure that new legislation is really needed. There are already laws in force under construction and use regulations which provide the necessary legal framework and sanctions for tackling polluting vehicles. Enforcement is not happening on a large scale because there are insufficient resources available to effectively tackle the problem on our streets. But shortage of money does not mean the existing regulations are wrong and that we necessarily have to scrap them and start all over again. I am not against new legislation, but the real issue is how to find the resources to enforce the law, and if there is to be new law, it must be carefully drafted, and consistent with the many related pieces of road traffic legislation already on the statute book.
Moreover, the existing construction and use regulations apply across Britain. Traffic emissions are a national problem and should be dealt with on a national basis, rather than just in London. This Bill would allow for the establishment within London of 32 separate emissions testing operations which, in theory anyway, 556 could set 32 different penalty charge levels, connected only by a general code of practice. So not only would there by no nationwide standards for the operation of emissions testing, but, within the capital itself, penalty fine levels and operational guidelines would be decided by each individual borough, which I believe is unacceptable.
If the argument of the London boroughs is that emissions enforcement would be more effectively controlled and financed by local authorities than by the police and vehicles inspectorate, then surely that argument applies equally to our other great cities. It would therefore surely be preferable for national legislation to be introduced to deal with the issue. The Government have intimated that they might bring forward legislation of their own when the Environment Bill is debated in the Commons and I urge the Minister to take that course. I was disappointed to hear the quotation from the Minister's letter to my noble friend.
I now wish to deal with the most controversial section of the Bill: the proposal which would give local authority employees the power to stop vehicles on the public highway. At present this power can be exercised only by a police officer in uniform, under Section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1968. There are very good reasons why that is so. Police officers have an authority which is recognised and respected by the public. The police are perceived to have the right to order your car to stop, in the same way that when motorists see a flashing blue light on a police vehicle they know they should move out of the way and let it pass. We must not allow the authority of our police to be diluted by giving away some of their fundamental and basic powers.
There is another important consideration to take on board. The proposal raises issues of safety and security, particularly for lone women drivers or drivers responsible for valuable loads. Anyone who has read the news stories of car-jacking and of criminals who steal valuables by smashing the windows of cars which are stopped at traffic lights or are stuck in traffic jams, will know that personal safety while on the move is a very real concern to many motorists. Many of those attacks occur in broad daylight. Of course, I am not suggesting that the councils' monitoring units would pose a threat, although motorists may well be bewildered, angry or frightened at being ordered to stop by a council official in a yellow jacket and a strange uniform; or, indeed, not even in a uniform at all.
Giving those officials the authority to stop vehicles, however, might well open a door to abuse by both opportunistic and organised criminals. The RAC—of which I have the honour to be a member of the public policy committee—and the AA have expressed their great concern at the potential risks to lone drivers. The Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association and the Confederation of Passenger Transport fear that the proposals would leave vans, trucks and buses more vulnerable to hijack and robbery. I hope that your Lordships' Select Committee will look most carefully at the proposals in that respect which are contained in the Bill. I should point out to my noble friend Lord Jenkin that we are not asking for the police 557 actually to carry out the tests; we are merely talking about the people who stop the vehicle—there needs to be, perhaps, only one policeman.
I said earlier that if it is decided that existing regulations are inadequate and that new legislation is needed, there are some key points which I would want to see included. I believe that it is essential that we set down in statute rules which ensure that the operation of emissions testing is fair and that the same standards apply for the whole country. Only three years ago Parliament enacted a major revision of the road traffic Acts, one of the purposes of which was to re-establish consistency in road traffic offences and penalties. It would be a mistake now to start unstitching that excellent work.
I turn now to the question of penalty charges. The Bill would allow initial penalty charges up to a maximum of £1,000 which is equivalent to a level 3 fine under the construction and use regulations. If the offender failed to rectify the problem, the council would have discretion to prosecute and impose fines of up to £5,000. I do not want to see draconian fines being handed out to motorists who are unaware that their cars are at fault and who would be alarmed to learn that they were unnecessarily contributing to air pollution. We should heed the example of the United States, where technological awareness and a recent national Clean Air Act have meant that all new cars now have to be fitted with an on-board diagnostic—the so-called "Green Box"—which informs the driver through a light on the dashboard when his car is exceeding accepted emissions limits. Over 80 per cent. of American motorists respond to the signal and take action to rectify the fault within the next 50 miles. The small minority who do nothing to improve the performance of their vehicle are then fined by the authorities. It seems to me that it would be sensible, in due course, to introduce on-board diagnostics to cars in the United Kingdom. There is no reason to believe that British motorists would not respond in the same responsible way as American drivers when advised that their cars are at fault. Initial fines should, therefore, be kept low to act as a prompt rather than a punishment. Stronger steps could then be taken through sharply rising fines if corrective action is not taken within a stipulated time limit. That approach would be consistent with other similar technical offences under the construction and use regulations.
It is important that any new legislation proposed by the Government should set out a uniform structure for penalty fines. That is something that the Bill fails to do. I have already described how the Bill would allow for 32 separate penalty charge levels. Such inconsistency in setting penalty charges is unacceptable. Another concern is that some councils might seek to use the new emissions enforcement powers to raise revenue for other areas of council spending. That must not be allowed to happen.
If we are serious about tackling emissions, there is a good case for dedicating revenues raised through enforcement to the financing of continued testing, which, as my noble friend suggested, could include paying for the time of the police officers who would 558 have to be present when vehicles are stopped. Treasury rules should be changed to allow that reimbursement to be additional to the core Home Office funding. Therefore, the Bill should include a clause which ring-fences that new revenue for emissions control. The aim of emission enforcement should be to improve the environment, not just to raise money.
As my noble friend said, I recognise that funding from that source may not be adequate if the levels of the initial penalty are kept low, as I believe they should be. However, I propose another solution to my noble friend, and to the Government. At present, revenue from parking has to be used by the local authority for a limited range of highway-related purposes. Could the Government not widen the scope of the permitted uses for parking revenue to include paying for emissions control measures? That would make new funds available and, indeed, give local authorities increased discretion. I urge my noble friend the Minister to include such provisions in the Environment Bill which is now before another place.
Standards must also be set for the training and qualifications of the people who will be carrying out the emissions testing. Officials of the Department of Transport Vehicles Inspectorate are trained to a high level and operate to rigorous guidelines when testing vehicles. Nowhere in the Bill is it made clear from what higher authority those authorised officers will receive certification.
Similarly, I am not satisfied that the operational guidelines for testing will be clear, or that the appeals procedure is either clear or fair. There are problems with the way that the Bill has been drafted which could potentially open up conflict between council officials enforcing the tests and drivers at the receiving end of penalty notices. It is also, in theory, possible for a driver to be in double jeopardy: once from a local authority enforcement officer, imposing one level of penalties, and once from the police imposing another under the construction and use regulations. Surely that cannot be right.
I turn finally to Clause 5, which deals with stationary vehicles. The intention of the Bill is clearly to prohibit the running of engines while a vehicle is stationary. But an engine can be left running when,it is required to be worked for purposes other than driving the vehicle".That loosely-drafted phrase would seem to exempt a stationary bus or coach, which has its engine running to keep the engine working, or so the driver could argue. Yet those buses which have their engines ticking over while the driver eats his lunch are a major part of the problem described by my noble friend. I hope that the Select Committee will also look carefully at that point.
In conclusion, I should like to reiterate that sensible proposals for effective emissions testing, on a national basis, are important if we are to deal with air pollution in our towns and cities. Unfortunately, the Bill now before us does not achieve that objective. The role of the police in stopping vehicles must remain. That is an absolutely fundamental point of principle for which there is a great deal of support. If that means that alternative funding for police officers must be found, so 559 be it. I have briefly suggested—although, I hope, positively—how that could be done. I also hope that the Government will, before long, bring forward proposals which will resolve some of those problems. I trust that members of the Select Committee will look carefully at the points that I have made when the Bill is placed before them.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, perhaps I may echo the congratulations expressed by my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara to my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding—and, indeed, to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton—on their new appointments. As my noble friend Lord Jenkin said, it is perhaps appropriate or apposite that he should be undertaking the promotion of the Bill this evening.
In his opening remarks, my noble friend Lord Jenkin referred to the previous debates we have had on the subject, most notably as regards Part II of the Bill. Indeed, it is that part of the Bill upon which I should like to concentrate tonight. We discussed the matter at fair length on 9th February on the sixth Committee day of the Environment Bill. I do not propose to reiterate the points I made on that occasion because they appear at col. 326 of Hansard of that day.
My noble friend said:I hope that the police will do more to combat real crime rather than stopping vehicles puffing out smoke".—[Official Report, 9/2/95; col. 329.]I thought that was rather unkind of him. However, I did not take the matter up at the time. But he will know that the random stopping of motor cars, whether it be for puffing out smoke or for other reasons, gives police the opportunity to detect other serious crimes. Therefore I do not think this is particularly a question of wasting police time.
My noble friend also said in his opening remarks that during the passage of the Environment Bill—notably on 9th February and 9th March—his amendments received widespread support. What my noble friend did not say was that while there was some support given at that time, when my noble friend put the amendment to the House by way of a vote on 9th March your Lordships' House rejected the amendment by 89 to 56. That was a not inconsiderable majority. It is important that we recall that. Perhaps the primary reason for the rejection was the unhappiness that your Lordships felt with regard to the stopping powers. My noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara has discussed this matter on more than one occasion. I agree with his remarks and I do not wish to repeat comments other than perhaps to say that I remain fundamentally opposed to the introduction of a further army of officials who, I suppose, would wear some sort of uniform and have new and perhaps not widely recognised powers. There are too many of these people about already. They are confusing not only to people in London but to people in other cities too. Even if a new force were to be created for the stopping of motor vehicles for the purpose of emission testing, there would be dangers to the stoppers. We read too often, sadly, of cases where the police in pursuance of their proper duties seek to stop a motor car on suspicion of 560 something or other and are shot at or attacked. Of course no one likes that. However, one has to recognise that the police have been given a long and thorough training to deal with such activity. I cannot see a private army of stoppers, employed by the combined local authorities or indeed by any other local authorities, having the wisdom or perhaps even the physical power. That is an additional reason for not empowering another army of people.
I rest my case largely on the existing law being better enforced. Indeed the Freight Transport Association, together with the Road Haulage Association and the other motoring organisations have petitioned against Part II of the Bill. The FTA says that it,recognises the current pressures on police resources but believes there are a number of ways by which police presence at such checks could be funded".I shall not take up the time of your Lordships tonight on that matter. No doubt the FTA in its evidence to your Lordships' Select Committee will outline its ideas in that regard.
I have spent most of my life involved with the motor industry, and to some extent the haulage industry. I recognise that some commercial vehicles, coaches, taxis and indeed motor cars are gross polluters. I recognise that we have passed the stage where something must be done about that. For one thing I would prefer to see the emission check in the MOT test carried out on a vehicle's second anniversary because it is not only some older vehicles but also some ill-maintained vehicles which can give problems. An ill-maintained 18 month-old vehicle with 30,000 miles on the clock—that is not an impossibility—can also be a gross polluter. If what I suggest were adopted it would tighten up the scheme and it would not cost the operator any more than the present arrangements.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara that if local authorities are to be given the authority to operate a testing station, there has to be a national level of standards and a national level of penalties. One cannot envisage one local authority—my noble friend spoke of 32 in London alone—or 60 or 70 local authorities imposing their own standards and their own penalties. I support my noble friend on that point. I was also disappointed to learn from my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding of the letter of 11th April from my noble friend Lord Ullswater. I would have hoped that his remarks to us during the passage of the Environment Bill that the Department of Transport was taking certain steps as a matter of urgency would have shown, as it were, a green light for further and more comprehensive national legislation to deal with this problem. That matter is a disappointment. I hope that my noble friend who is to reply to the debate can give us more encouragement or say something about a timescale.
I would like to see greater efforts made to deal with this problem. I am not averse to the worst vehicles which are gross polluters and which cannot be reasonably repaired and brought back to a reasonable standard being taken off the road. That may be hard on a certain group of people but we cannot go on in the way we have been doing in the past few years. The life of a motor car now is something like 11 to 14 years and 561 we cannot afford that kind of timescale. I would like to see a national scale of penalties and national testing standards within the framework of the national law. I hope that, as my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara said in his closing remarks, your Lordships' Select Committee will have regard to those points when it deals with the matter.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I make it clear that I welcome this Bill and support the whole of it. In doing so I am glad of the opportunity to welcome the formation of the Association of London Government. Throughout the past 10 years on almost every occasion when, as a London councillor, I have discussed London matters with representatives of business and other organisations, I have been told how much better it would be if there were one voice speaking for London local authorities. I am delighted that we now have that. I join others in congratulating two noble Lords on their appointments as joint presidents of the association.
With regard to vehicle emissions, it is self-evident that action is required, together with steps to enforce that action. The Government have acknowledged the need to act but so far have been unable to commit themselves on how they will achieve those ends. The noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, made it clear during the course of the Environment Bill that he was sympathetic and was extremely open when the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and I went to see him to talk about this subject. I was grateful for that. We said then that it would be far better if the emissions provisions extended beyond London. However, if there is no possibility of providing for them beyond London let us at least achieve what we can for our capital city. Too often, as we know, the best is the enemy of the good. The capital is very important; let us lead the way.
It also occurred to me that it would have been better if the recent photographs of the Secretaries of State for the Environment and Transport crouching next to exhaust pipes, exhorting the public to ensure that their emissions are not noxious, were backed up by enforcement powers.
I agree with noble Lords who have indicated the importance of demystifying the subject. At the risk of confirming the reputation of women drivers, I admit that it was only when I asked my garage to check emissions from my car, which has a catalytic converter, that I was told that a green light would light up on my dashboard if there were a problem. I did not know that, but perhaps I am not good enough at reading the handbook. A couple of days ago, having had my car tested, I realised after a little scratching of my head that the computer printout I had was not a calculation of parts and VAT but was a slightly idiosyncratic reading of the gases that were emitted. I have not yet been able to establish whether that was good or bad. I mention that to flesh out my point that it is extremely important that the ordinary driver ought to know what he or she is doing to the atmosphere and be able to translate the information into everyday language.
562 I recognise the anxieties that have been expressed about vulnerability in the event of stopping and checking by others than the police. In relation to the dangers of imposters, it occurred to me to wonder whether an offence would be committed if an authorised officer were impersonated. I am fairly certain that it is an offence to impersonate a police officer. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, knows whether it would be an offence to impersonate an authorised officer under the Bill.
As a woman who frequently drives alone, I am well aware of the dangers of carjacking, breaking into cars, and so on. I am quite frightened about that. If I were signalled to stop at a point which looked dodgy I think that I would take the risk of driving on and not stopping. There must be ways of ensuring that the operation looks authoritative and proper.
I also believe that we should not have to rely on the police force to enforce everything. The police have many important matters to occupy their time. There are many offences with which only they can deal and there is much preventive action which only they can take. In the absence of funding for the police to deal with stopping vehicles to allow emissions to be checked, it is perfectly proper to deal with the matter in the same way as parking enforcement.
I recall that during the course of the Environment Bill some concerns were expressed about rights of appeal. The noble Lord is quite right in saying that the provisions for appeal in respect of parking enforcement in London are working quite well under the new regime. I am sure that there will be public comments that local authorities will try to make money out of the operation in the same way as allegations were made that they tried to take money out of parking enforcement. However, I am certain that their ambition will be to work themselves out of a job in this particular area. Incidentally, I support the comment about some of the proceeds being recycled towards the police if that will help the operation.
With regard to funding, it seems that the Treasury and the Home Office want to have their cake and eat it, or perhaps not to use their cake and not to allow others to eat it either. If there were other ways of achieving the objective I would support them, but there are not; nor have other mechanisms been worked out. Therefore, I warmly support the provisions of the Bill relating to vehicle emissions.
I should like to say a word on two other topics covered by the Bill. I support the proposals relating to bus lanes. That issue is linked to air quality because, provided that the buses themselves are properly maintained, the more buses are used then the fewer cars there will be on our roads. The use of remote cameras should prove an effective deterrent. That seems to have been the experience with regard to speed cameras and cameras at traffic lights. I believe that that experience will be replicated.
Turning to car boot sales, one always learns something during the course of any proceedings in this House. I now discover that the collective noun for buyers and sellers is a "concourse". The problems which have been identified are the very real problems of traffic 563 and disturbance, although there are many more problems with regard to car boot sales which cannot be addressed in the Bill. I am thinking in particular of the theft (and I use the term deliberately) of copyright in the pirating of records, videos and magazines. The loss to British industry runs at many millions of pounds.
Therefore, I welcome the requirement for names and addresses to be displayed at such sales. I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell the House whether the names and addresses will have to be displayed at individual pitches, literally on the car boots, rather than simply listed at the sale. If he is not able to give an answer tonight I shall understand. This issue is particularly important. There is a risk of unsafe goods being sold at such sales where the seller is, by definition, mobile and may not easily be found when the sale is over.
I have two final questions for the noble Lord. Will it be possible for a local authority to refuse a licence if it is not possible for adequate arrangements to be made within the terms of Clause 20(4) (b)? Secondly, what are the views of the magistrates, to whom an appeal can be made? In giving magistrates powers to deal with appeals, are they able to give an order for compensation if a licence has been refused? If that were the case, I would feel ambivalent on that point.
Having raised those few questions, I wish the Bill well. I know that Bills of this type do not necessarily move as swiftly as others through Parliament, but I hope that this Bill will move as swiftly and successfully as is practicable.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, first, I acknowledge with appreciation the kind words about the joint presidency of the new body for London local government. It was referred to by my fellow joint president, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, whom I have known for many years. At one time he could have been my Member of Parliament for Enfield, east, but he was poached by another place where he served with distinction. We have many common interests, not least our desire to serve the people of London. He and I were grateful to be given the opportunity jointly to provide a voice for London local government. We both look forward to occasions such as today to demonstrate that when it comes to the interests of local government, not only both sides of the House but all sides of the House are involved. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, also demonstrated that.
There is no political animus in this subject, as I shall show and as has been pointed out. There is a long history of anxiety on the subject and the Select Committee which will examine the legislation in due course will be well served in reading the well informed debate. The contributions have been balanced and I do not believe that a single nonsensical point has been made throughout the hour or longer, all points have been serious. Because this is a private measure, I do not speak on behalf of my party but broadly on behalf of my interests in local government. I ask the House to acknowledge that.
564 The Bill is the product of the research and thought of 32 London boroughs. One may make much play of those whom they represent and on whose behalf they speak, but the Minister and the Select Committee would do well to recognise that after the difficult period that has faced London local government, we now have proposals which have been endorsed by the two bodies. They speak on behalf of their constituent members; we now have one body which speaks on behalf of its constituent members. Thus the case so splendidly put by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is endorsed by those who modestly seek to represent the views of Londoners.
I should also make it clear that whatever the other interests to be served, the London local government bodies which I know are concerned with the health and hygiene of people who live and work in London as much as with any other interests. It is not a dirty phrase to say that one speaks on behalf of certain interests, nor has that been the case this evening. The interests on whose behalf I speak or with whom I claim credit to he associated are primarily concerned with the health and hygiene of people who live and work in London.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, it is right to remind both ourselves and the Select Committee that although Part II of the Bill is controversial, there are other good parts. I acknowledge that Members of the House who spoke forcefully against the provisions of Part II recognise that if other parts of the Bill do not have their approval, they do not take exception to them. London government and the mechanism whereby Westminster City Council has been the agent have a good record over the years in producing legislation which is peculiar to the capital city.
We remind ourselves that in the Bill there are powers to enforce bus lanes, the licensing of car boot sales, amendments to existing entertainment licensing as well as other powers. In recent years, the London local authorities legislation has covered such matters as night cafe licensing, street trading, abandoned shopping trolleys, crime prevention, reconnection of gas, water and electricity services, special treatment premises, distribution containers, burglar alarms, and scaffolding licences. Each of those is important to the lives of people who live and work in London. I have no doubt that if Londoners were invited to say which aspect of living and working, particularly in the centre of London, affected them adversely daily, they would say that it was congestion, the problem of transport and ancillary matters.
We have probably reached a situation where the arguments that have been deployed in support of Part II are valid and have good authority. The Select Committee on Transport in the House of Commons recently made a report, Transport-related air pollution in London. Among other things it stated:We also recommend that the Government should give favourable consideration to a possible proposal from the Association of London Authorities and the London Boroughs Association for private legislation to give local authorities in the capital the power to carry out emissions checks on vehicles and to serve the driver, where necessary, with an enforcement notice requiring remedial action to be taken. Such a system could be financed through a fixed penalty charge".565 That was the view of the Commons Select Committee on Transport. In my view, that is a reasonable argument to pray in aid.
The Department of the Environment and the Home Office were consulted during the drafting of the Bill. The Department of the Environment made its support public in its air quality strategy, Air Quality: Meeting the Challenge, which was launched at the beginning of this year. The report said:the Government welcomes the LBA initiative in bringing forward proposals in the London Local Authorities Bill to extend kerbside emissions testing powers to London local authorities. The proposals may present an opportunity to increase the level of roadside emissions testing in London, supplementing testing already carried out by the Vehicle Inspectorate, and may provide a blueprint for future initiatives elsewhere in the country.On top of that, we had valuable debates on the Environment Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, served the Committee well by giving us an update on government thinking. I do not believe that there is any argument but that we would all prefer national legislation, uniform application, and so on. I do not disagree; but we do not have a perfect world. Frankly we should not wait until either global resources or manpower mean that the will is universally felt before we take an initiative. The way our legislation is treated, London local government is able by itself to produce a plan or scheme which we believe will meet the problems.
However, those who spoke against the provisions in Part II quite rightly drew our attention to the problems that will be created. If we solve one problem, then we create others. I do not argue that there is only one solution, I believe that the Select Committee will be presented with a number of alternatives. To the best of my knowledge the London local government authorities will be perfectly willing to consider and listen to such alternatives, provided the desire to deal with the pollution is dealt with.
My experience before coming to Parliament was with the Co-operative Movement and often the idea of an amalgamation or merger between a group of co-operative societies was generally accepted. That is, until someone said: "We'll start by amalgamating society number one with society number two". "Oh no", one would say, "we are in favour of amalgamating all 12". We would say: "Yes, but you've got to start somewhere". "Well, don't start with us. We will merge one into 12, but we are not prepared to be picked off", would be the reply.
The problem for the Co-operative Movement and many similar democratic organisations is that where democracy is a vital force, it enables people to say no, even if that is ultimately to the detriment of their interests. I echo the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, in thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, who, without a direct responsibility in this matter, is here tonight to listen to the arguments and perhaps take them forward in some other way.
I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, put forward the powerful argument that although provisions were already in place, they were not being enforced 566 because of a lack of resources. He asked how we were to find the additional resources required. The promoters of the Bill will be able to respond to that. In fact, they will be obliged to come forward with arguments.
The Bill may be queried substantially not with regard to testing but as regards stopping. If the great solution is that that should only be done by police, then the resource implications must be considered. We must examine how the problem of providing the resources can be tackled. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, pointed out, there is an ideal solution; but there are also half-way houses: ring-fencing of the income and enforcement provision only to the extent that the money raised can be used for that purpose.
I cannot believe that the Select Committee and those who will plead before it are not able to come up with some solutions. In the absence of positive proposals from the Government about solving the problem of devoting to this area sufficient resources in terms of police or traffic wardens, there is a strong case for retaining the local authority stopping power. I very much hope that the valuable provisions of the Bill will not be rejected or even that Part II is rejected simply because we have not examined how to overcome the problems.
I believe that the petitioners against the Bill are perfectly justified in bringing forward their arguments. They argue from a particular point of view which is substantially that of the motorist and the industry. I speak here with sympathy for their problems but primarily for the interests of Londoners, those who live and work in London. I cannot believe that, despite the problems which have been brought to our attention, problems of resources and priorities, especially with regard to the police, we shall not find a solution that is acceptable to all.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and every other speaker in the debate tonight. They have alerted the Government and the Select Committee to a genuine problem. I believe that they may come back at a later stage with a solution.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, it may be helpful if I give the House the Government's views on the Bill at this stage. We broadly welcome the proposals in the Bill for the improvement and development of local government services in London. We are sympathetic to the aims of the particular proposals of the Bill to give London authorities the power to enforce vehicle emission standards. We are still actively considering whether proposals could be brought forward on a national basis in the Environment Bill. However, I am unable to give any commitment in that respect at this stage.
However, there are certain aspects of the Bill about which we have reservations. In particular, we wish to highlight our concerns about the proposal to extend to authorised council officials the power to stop vehicles in order to enable the emissions tests to be carried out. This proposal raises a number of difficult issues, such as what powers the council should have to deal with 567 vehicles which refuse to stop and what the council's response should be to possible unrelated offences, such as drink-driving.
There are other aspects of the proposals which raise complex issues, including the availability of police resources to assist in local authorities' enforcement efforts, which again the Government are still actively pursuing. There are also a number of points of detail to be discussed with the agents for the promoters.
We have considered the proposal to deal with motorists who leave their engines running unnecessarily. We believe that the provisions of the clause will present possible enforcement problems. A similar offence already exists in relation to noise from stationary vehicles. I understand that experience has shown that in practice that offence is very difficult to prosecute and indeed very difficult to prove. The Government do not wish to see the same difficulties arising in respect of emissions from vehicles. We do not support that proposal.
The Government welcome in principle the proposal in the Bill to allow local authorities to take an active role in the enforcement of bus lanes, using camera technology. We believe, however, that it will first be necessary to determine whether that camera technology will work and whether it is acceptable to the public. We are willing to discuss with the promoters how best to take forward the proposals in this part of the Bill.
With the shortest speech this evening, I end by saying that the Committee will be in a far better position to consider all those points and hear expert evidence on them. Therefore, I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and proceed to its Select Committee stage in the usual way.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
My Lords, in winding up this brief debate, let me say how grateful I am to all those who have taken part. The good news is that everybody apparently agrees that this Bill should go to a Select Committee. The less good news is that there are clearly a number of obstacles, which those on whose behalf I moved the Second Reading will have to address and overcome. I am in the happy position that a good deal of what might have fallen into my concluding speech has already been said with great eloquence by my fellow joint president of the ALG, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. It would clearly be a work of supererogation if I were to repeat many of the points which he made.
However, I was asked a number of specific questions. To many of them I have to say that the answer does not apparently lie in the Bill or in my briefing. I shall have to ask the ALG whether it can perhaps provide me with some of the answers.
I believe that we all share the anxiety to which the stopping power gives rise. We should all very much like to see an alternative which made it unnecessary for local authority officials to have that power. I am sure that some of the difficulties could be overcome. The suggestion that there would be 32 different systems with 32 different penalties and 32 different standards is—if I 568 may say so with the utmost respect to my noble friend Lord Brabazon—a little fanciful. The Bill would provide for a standard system of penalties. The existing standards under the construction and use regulations are the standards by which vehicles will he tested. They apply not only throughout London but are the same standards that apply nationally. I do not regard it as impossible that if we have to go down the route of having local authority officials doing the stopping, they, like traffic wardens, could be supplied with an easily recognisable and distinctive uniform. I take the point that it should be an offence for anybody to impersonate them, just as it is an offence to impersonate a policeman or, I believe, a traffic warden. I feel that some of the difficulties can be addressed.
The real point has been brought out extremely well in almost every speech; namely, how much better it would be if the police could have the stopping power and the necessary resources could be found and ring-fenced from the proceeds of the charges and fines that will be made. That seems to me to be the most appropriate source. I hope that I was not being unduly optimistic about the words that my noble friend Lord Goschen used in his brief but extremely helpful address when he said that the Government were still actively considering national legislation and were concerned about the power and the availability of police resources.
If we can just go that one step further and recognise, for instance, as in the waste tip charges that were brought into existence by the Budget and the Finance Bill, that you can have revenue in an environmental sense to be used for other environmental purposes, so we could use the fines here to pay specifically for extra police resources to be deployed for these duties. My noble friend was absolutely right. These are points to be discussed with the promoters.
I fear I cannot he quite so optimistic over what he said about the difficulties of enforcing legislation to switch off engines. He returned to the same argument that we had from my noble friend Lord Ullswater on the Environment Bill on the question of noise. With great respect, these are two totally different things. The problem with noise enforcement is that you have to establish a qualitative test: is the noise such as to be causing a nuisance? One can understand that environmental health officers and local authorities could have great difficulty in establishing that with sufficient certainty so as to bring a case in order to penalise somebody who is not switching off his engine.
In this case it is a simple question of fact: is the engine running or is it not? Is it running unnecessarily or is it not? My noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara asked whether some tightening up is needed in the drafting. That may well be, but it is not like a noise issue. It is not a qualitative test. It is a straightforward test of whether or not the engine is running. These queues of lorries waiting to take refuse away and the queues of buses waiting for their passengers to come back—these are profound nuisances. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, during the debates on the Environment Bill, talked about the bus station in his constituency, so I hope we can scotch this argument that because the noise 569 regulations have been difficult to enforce therefore the proposals in this Bill about switching off an engine cannot he supported.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked a number of very specific questions. She particularly asked about names and addresses being given in regard to boot sales. Here I would refer to the Bill, which provides in Clause 22(1) that,Any person who holds an occasional sale shall display his full name and business address and the full name and business address of the person appointed to receive and answer complaints about the occasional sale in a prominent position at the place where the sale is held".It is specifically the organiser whose name and address must be there. If somebody actually has his car boot open, or whatever they do at car boot sales, and is actually selling goods, it is up to the purchaser to make sure that he knows who he is dealing with. The Bill provides for the organiser to do that.
The noble Baroness also asked whether a local authority can refuse a licence. As I read the Bill, referring to the granting of a licence we have the clause dealing with cases where the borough council has not refused to grant a licence and therefore shall be deemed to have granted a licence. From that I assume that a local authority can refuse to grant a licence if the conditions have not been met or if on a previous occasion the conditions have not been complied with.
Lastly, I come to the points made by my noble friends Lord Lucas of Chilworth and Lord Brahazon of Tara. I am grateful to them for recognising that the proper place to hammer out these arguments is in a Select Committee. I am quite sure that is right and I am also 570 sure that the great majority of points they have made can he met with the support of the Government in recognising that there should be charges which are not fines but which are civil debts accruing to the local authority concerned and which can then be deployed in meeting costs, including police costs, incurred in enforcement. That must be the right way forward. If my noble friends on the Front Bench are having some difficulties with some of their colleagues because this represents what might be thought of as a further move in the direction of what is sometimes called the hypothecation of revenues or the question of the altering of priorities in respect of police manpower, in the end we really have to decide: do we want to clean up London's air? Westminster says that there could he a 25 per cent. improvement as a result of the powers contained in the Bill. Is that something we want? I think that if one were to put that question to Londoners now—those who walk the streets and who go about their business in the centre of London and in busy shopping areas day after day—the answer would be an overwhelming "Yes, let's get on with it".
Therefore, let us give the Bill a Second Reading and remit it to a Committee. Let the Committee then address the many concerns that have been raised perfectly properly this evening, in the hope that we can eventually send the Bill to another place rather more swiftly than the previous London Local Authorities Bill which was introduced, I think, three years ago and has only just gone to another place.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before nine o'clock.