HL Deb 17 July 2000 vol 615 cc673-9

(" .—(1) A licensing scheme under this Part shall make provision for compensation to cover costs in implementing such a scheme.

(2) Where levies are imposed under section 177(2)(a) and (b) the occupier of the premises or specified person shall be entitled to appeal to the licensing authority for compensation for the cost of implementing and managing any such scheme.

(3) Compensation shall include—

  1. (a) the cost of advertising the scheme on the premises or in the vicinity;
  2. (b) the cost of any equipment installed to manage or implement the scheme; and
  3. (c) the cost of implementing any changes to a licensing scheme.

(4) Any consultation carried out under section 184 shall include information about any proposed compensation, or not, which forms part of a proposed scheme or varying of a scheme under this Part.").

The noble Lord said: Not among the least of the joys of sitting on this side of the Committee—with which noble Lords sitting opposite will be all too familiar and to which we shall render them once again in due course—is the freedom to exercise a certain intellectual anarchy. That is a real bonus, although I miss the discipline of constructive thought.

The point behind making those introductory remarks was to enable me to approach a subject from a number of different angles. Occasionally, as is the case with the amendment before the Committee, I seek to try to help the Government.

The purpose of the amendment is to make it easier for a local transport authority to introduce a workplace parking scheme. Generally speaking, the target of such a scheme is not the occupier of the premises who will have to pay the charge but the person who drives to work. We have the wonderful concept of a new tax that will be imposed on one person in order to affect someone else. I find that slightly interesting.

The amendment would make it possible for a local transport authority to say to an employer in its district that, because it is intended that the charge should fall on those who drive to work, it will provide at the entrance to the firm's car park either credit card operated gates or cash operated gates, or that employees can purchase a monthly licence, or whatever. It would enable an authority to pay for the installations and subsequently take the money and do the accounting.

It is not my business to make the charges more palatable or acceptable. It is my belief that they will prove to be pretty unpalatable and that the government may reap the benefit of their being unacceptable. This amendment might help that process, which I should welcome.

It is a serious point. If the target of the workplace parking levy is the person who drives to work and not the person who occupies the premises and runs the business, it may be worthwhile considering a concession on the face of the Bill under which a local transport authority is enabled to put in the necessary infrastructure so that the actual target, rather than the legislative target, is the person affected by the introduction of the charges. That would probably help the Government forward greatly. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That is an interesting interpretation. As it was the noble Lord who brought the amendments forward, he is entitled to his own interpretation. It is not quite what the amendments say. As I read them, they are about compensation to the owner of the premises. There is reference to a specified person, but no reference to the circumstances in which such a person would be specified; there is no regulatory power to specify a person in terms of the cost of implementing and managing any such scheme. That could apply, whether or not the charge was made on the occupier of the premises or the individual car driver occupying a car parking space. Read literally, the amendment is neutral as to whether the charge is paid by the car driver or the employer. Be that as it may, it is an interesting argument in either case.

It is also the case, I am afraid, that the amendment as drafted would mean that there would be nothing to stop the person responsible for paying the workplace parking levy seeking compensation for the actual cost of paying the workplace parking charges. In other words, you pay the charge and you get it back in compensation, which would rather nullify the whole procedure. I can see that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, thinks that that is a very good idea. Noble Lords might well have pressed on with opposing the Question that Clause 177 shall stand part.

There is a serious point behind the amendment that I want to address, whoever will ultimately pay the charge. It is the question of keeping the burden of administrative costs to business to a minimum. We are seized of that; we do want to minimise the administrative burden.

The levy will simply require the occupier of a premises or any other person who may be prescribed to apply to the licensing authority for a licence to cover workplace parking needs. The cost involved in handling licence applications, issuing licences and enforcement schemes will be met by the licensing authorities from the gross revenues raised by the workplace parking levy. That means that the only administrative burden placed on businesses will be the requirement to estimate the workplace parking needs and to submit the licence application. In most cases that will be fairly obvious and it should be a straightforward task. But at larger premises, as may be imagined, the number of parking spaces is not the right measure—because parking spaces can be laid out tightly or loosely. Occasional inspections may be necessary in order to see how many people were there at the peak, which is the test used in the Bill; and in certain circumstances there might be an electronic gantry at the car park entrance to count workplace vehicles in and out. It might be to the advantage of the employer to do that.

I should emphasise that licensing authorities have no powers to insist that businesses install and pay for any equipment that is used for counting vehicles. So compliance costs in all these matters are, by definition, met by businesses. Local authorities do not meet the cost imposed on businesses when businesses satisfy demands for the payment of rates. We do not believe that businesses should be able to claim compensation from licensing authorities for complying with workplace parking levy schemes.

Lord Dixon-Smith

As so often, the Minister has been extremely helpful in responding to the amendment. One of the reasons for tabling it is that discussions have taken place about this kind of issue. In one or two places, people considering whether or not to introduce a scheme have held discussions with employers to see whether things can be done to make the imposition of the charges more acceptable or more administratively possible.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

None of that is ruled out by anything in the Bill. I merely made clear that nothing is imposed.

Lord Dixon-Smith

We have to be careful about what is imposed, compelled, left out or not permitted.

I am grateful to the Minister because I suspect that when I read his reply I will find that he has enabled me to devise a better amendment. It would be surprising if that were not the case because he has done precisely that himself in the past. I will need to consider carefully all that has been said but beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 182 agreed to.

Clause 183 agreed to.

Clause 184 [Licensing schemes: consultation and inquiries]:

[Amendments Nos. 248 to 259 not moved.]

Clause 184 agreed to.

Clause 185 [Matters to be dealt with in licensing schemes]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 260: Page 112, line 10, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: Clause 185 deals with the contents of licensing schemes and licences. Subsection(4) states: In setting the charges imposed by a licensing scheme under this Part, regard may be had to the purposes for which any of the net proceeds of the licensing scheme may be applied".

Regard "may" be had? Everything the Government have said reinforces that regard to the purposes shall be had if not must be had. We are back to the wretched business of the meaning of words. The Minister who replies will doubtless say that this is one of those wonderful occasions when "may" means "must". The problem for us ordinary mortals is that we have difficulty understanding when "may" means "must" and when it means "may". That may be pedantic but it is an important point. If regard is not paid to the purposes to which the money will be applied, the public will rightly be angry. I am sure that is not what the Government intend and it would not be helpful. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

The issue is not the word "may", "must", "shall" or "should" but whether we should highlight this aspect of a plan from others. Of course schemes will raise revenue but that is probably less than half the story. The introduction of charges will also have an effect on traffic levels, congestion, pollution and delays.

Under the amendment, local authorities would be required to have regard to the purposes for which the net proceeds were to be spent. That provision is, at best, unnecessary. Schedule 12 already provides that local authorities will be required to prepare plans setting out how net revenues from charges will be spent. If that provision is highlighted elsewhere, it could be interpreted as meaning that the emphasis when setting charge levels must be on funding local transport improvements rather than tackling congestion. We do not want to risk giving the impression that we are precluding local authorities from setting charges geared primarily to tackle traffic congestion that have as a side benefit the funding of transport improvements.

Clause 185(4) was drafted to make it possible for local authorities to set charges and so raise revenue to fund local transport improvement, and that is why "may" is used in this context. Charges should not be set only on that basis. I remind the noble Lord that as a condition for the approval of individual schemes by the Secretary of State there must be full consultation on the detail. No doubt that will also focus on those matters on which the money is to he spent. The amendment would reduce the flexibility of local authorities. We want to give them the right to design and implement schemes which can best deliver transport objectives which suit their local circumstances. I hope the noble Lord recognises that to pick out this item when the requirement is already available elsewhere along with other requirements is not helpful and may give the wrong signals.

Lord Dixon-Smith

I almost regret the Minister's response. I suspect that he has set me a dreadfully large amount of homework to verify the facts of the case. The difficulty is that we are dealing with the meaning of words in the English language. As to the relative importance of particular bits of this Bill and unheard of and unseen regulations—even worse, guidance—the position may well be as the Minister says. I shall do my best to check it. If I have a cold towel round my head and appear wan, as the Minister is wont to do on occasions, people will understand how that comes about. I am grateful for the Minister's reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 185 agreed to.

9.15 p.m.

Clause 186 [Licensing schemes: exemptions etc.]:

[Amendments Nos. 261 and 261A not moved.]

Clause 186 agreed to.

Clause 187 [Licences]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 262: Page 113, line 1, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Lord said: If I have read it correctly, as drafted the Bill provides that workplace parking levy licences should last for not more than 12 months. I am open to correction, but I believe that that is how the provision is drafted. That is slightly strange. I see no reason why it should not last for two years, five years or 10 years. My driving licence, which I have held for a number of years, does not expire until I am 70. I am immensely grateful to DVLA, or whoever was responsible for the regulation, for making it possible for me to avoid the need to reapply for my driving licence every year. I suspect that if I had to do so I would lose it. There are licences and licences. To put the opposite case, I am aware that a television licence lasts for only 12 months.

In this case we are considering, among other things, the confidence of those who have to pay this levy. It may well be that in particular circumstances they prefer the licence to last for longer than 12 months. After all, if it lasts for only 12 months there is nothing to prevent the local transport authority at the end of the period saying that it intends to raise the levy by 10 per cent. Some may regard that as an unreasonable proposition; others may believe that it is acceptable. I do not think that that is reasonable. If in arriving at a scheme an authority wishes to create licences which last for a period longer than 12 months I believe that it should have the ability to do so, and that is the purpose of the amendment.

Amendment No. 263 deals with variations of a licence. While it is a very small point, it is a matter of good business practice. The amendment requires applications for a variation in a licence to be heard within 30 days. I do not know whether that is an achievable target, but it should be. The reality is that across the country there may well be many businesses whose car parks have a capacity much greater than will ever be required under normal circumstances. Unless one has a very brutal system in which the licence is calculated on the basis of the maximum capacity, it may well be that there will be spare capacity. A car park with a capacity of, say, 1,000 spaces may have a licence for only 900.

Business circumstances change and it may be that an employer will want to increase his capacity because of expansion. It is not then unreasonable that the application should be heard within a reasonable timescale. I am not adamant that 30 is the appropriate number of days but if the Minister would accept the principle of what is intended to be a helpful amendment and return with another figure or an adjusted amendment, I should be delighted. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I have sympathy with Amendment No. 262. It would be helpful if in reply the Minister could tell us why any limit has been introduced and why it is one year.

Lord Whitty

There appears to be some confusion. We are dealing with a licensing system, which means that some people are charged for their parking places. It is not a direct or indirect form of parking control in the sense the noble Lord implies.

The effect of Amendment No. 262 would be to remove the condition that a licence cannot be granted for more than a year. Our intention is to safeguard business by ensuring that the licensing authority cannot require a business to take out and pay for a licence for several years at once. Amendment No. 262 would remove that protection.

Amendment No. 263—and here the confusion arises—proposes, within 30 days or will be deemed to be granted". I shall explain what I mean by the provision not being a parking control. The Bill does not allow authorities discretion over the number of vehicles covered by a licence, or whether a licence will be given. If an employer asks for and pays for a licence for 100 people, 100 vehicles will be covered by the licence. If the employer subsequently expands, as the noble Lord suggests, and asks for a further 50 that, too, must be granted. There is no discretion on local authorities as to whether they should grant or not, or whether when the year is ended they should renew or not.

We are seeking a price effect, not a rationing effect, and therefore there is a misunderstanding behind the amendments. The first would remove the safeguard for business and the second is unnecessary.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Will the Minister deal with the point suggested by my suspicious nature. A licence which lasts only for one year can be renewed the next year for the same number of vehicles but at a different charge.

Lord Whitty

That is always possible. It is also open to the employer to reduce the number of cars if the new charge is not acceptable to him. That, in a sense, is the point.

Lord Dixon-Smith

We are entering interesting territory. My noble friend points out that it is also possible for a business to decide to move to a different location. That might be an unforeseen consequence. The law of unforeseen consequence is universal and arises with monotonous regularity. Businesses do not have to relocate in this country, so the unforeseen consequences could have a degree of unpleasantness that none of us would want.

I shall study what the Minister said. There ought to be a position somewhere between the shaky quicksand on which he is standing and the more solid quicksand on which I am standing. They are both quicksands, but there ought to be a point at which there is an acceptable solution to the dilemma. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 263 not moved.]

Clause 187 agreed to.

Clauses 188 and 189 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 263A not moved.]

Lord Lea of Crondall moved Amendment No. 263B: Before Clause 190, insert the following new clause—