HL Deb 09 November 2000 vol 618 cc1753-5

(" .—(1) The Secretary of State may by order implement a scheme for the charging of foreign lorries and large passenger vehicles on entering the United Kingdom.

(2) The scheme may apply different charges for different classes of vehicle.

(3) Before implementing a scheme under this section the Secretary of State shall consult United Kingdom local authorities, road haulage and passenger vehicle operators, the European Commission and any other bodies which appear appropriate.

(4) The effects of the scheme must be reviewed annually.

(5) No order may be made by the Secretary of State under this section unless a draft of the instrument containing it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 27. I am enormously grateful to the Minister for drawing my Britdisc Report stage amendment to the attention of his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has of course seen the value of it and hopes that it will pacify the haulage industry somewhat. That is why he announced it yesterday; but that is all he did. There does not appear to be much detail available.

In Committee I moved a similar amendment, which applied only to vehicles carrying abnormal loads. In his reply at col. 553 on 26th July, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, drew the Committee's attention to the eurovignette directive, which would limit the maximum cost of a vignette to 1,250 euros: about £800. Does he believe this will be enough to have the desired effect of making foreign hauliers pay their full track costs, and is that the objective of having the Britdisc? To be fair to the Minister, the proposed reduction in VED will be welcome and I am sure that the Minister will say that both have to be considered together. Will the Minister seek a relaxation of the vignette regime from our EU partners or will he adhere to the current EU maxima?

Some of the extra costs arising from increased foreign lorry flows fall disproportionately upon certain local authorities. Will any of the receipts from these charges go directly to them or will they all be kept by the Chancellor?

The brief Statement by the Chancellor yesterday in another place was stated to be an intention, but little in the way of a timescale was given. As we know, time travels very fast. The Britdisc has been our policy on these Benches since April 1999. When will the Britdisc be implemented? It would seem that there is no chance of getting the scheme off the ground before the next election. I hope we shall see it in the election manifesto of the party opposite. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is right. I summoned the Chancellor of the Exchequer to my office immediately after the debate, and demanded that a Britdisc should be put in place. He, as he always does, listened very carefully to what I said and agreed to it. No—you cannot do that sort of thing from the Dispatch Box: irony never works!

Of course the noble Earl is right in saying that the Chancellor only gave the barest outline of his proposals in his pre-Budget report. It was already a very long report and it is difficult to include all the detail. However, I can confirm a number of points which he may find helpful. First, as I said last time, we are not talking here about a eurovignette; we are talking about something more comparable to the individual scheme which Austria operates. Even so, we would first have to conform to the maximum limits of charges, which have only been in force since last year. They were agreed after several years of difficult negotiations between member states, and they may he renegotiated at a future date, although currently there are no plans to do so.

The second point is that any vignette or Eurodisc of this kind would have to apply to UK lorries as well. I rather teased the noble Earl last time by asking if it really was his policy to add the eurocharge to the existing VED. He will be aware of the Chancellor's announcements on VED yesterday and he will also be aware that in repeating the Statement in the debate following the repetition of the pre-Budget report Statement I said that it would be our intention to temper the wind to the shorn lamb. In other words, we would be looking at the possibilities of reducing VED to UK hauliers to compensate for the fact that they would have to pay this extra amount.

The noble Earl asked me about timing. This is a proposal, as the Chancellor made clear, for consultation. It requires consultation with the haulage industry of course, but it also requires consultation with our European partners and I cannot give him any date for the implementation of it, any more than I can give him any more details at present of the options on which we will be consulting. There is no point in making up our minds about the details if we know we are going to be consulting about them. I believe that the eurovignette scheme took at least 18 months to come into force, even though there were already detailed plans in place when a decision to go ahead with the scheme was taken. We are not at that stage yet and I do not wish to mislead the noble Earl by encouraging him to think that it is going to happen very quickly. We are not at that stage yet. I do not wish to mislead the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, by encouraging him to think that it will happen quickly. He may know better than I when the next election will occur, but even so, as I say, I do not think that it will happen quickly.

I am grateful for the noble Earl's welcome to the Chancellor's proposals. The Chancellor will be grateful to him for that. I hope that I have eased his mind on such details as can be given. I hope therefore that he will not press the amendment.

8 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's response. He said as much as he could at this stage. We look forward to the consultation on the proposal. One day it will come to fruition. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 28: After Clause 266, insert the following new clause—

("Quiet lanes and home zones and rural road speed limits