HL Deb 09 November 2000 vol 618 cc1759-62

(".—(1) The Secretary of State shall review the operation in relation to rural roads of the provision made by and under—

  1. (a) Part VI of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (speed limits), and
  2. (b) Schedule 9 to that Act (orders) so far as relating to orders under that Part.

(2) The review shall in particular include consideration of whether (and, if so, how) the law should be amended to facilitate the introduction of rural road hierarchies.

(3) A rural road hierarchy is a system under which rural roads are categorised by a local traffic authority (by reference to the ways in which they are used) for the purpose of subjecting different categories of rural roads to different speed limits.

(4) The Secretary of State shall consult—

  1. (a) the Scottish Ministers, and
  2. (b) the National Assembly for Wales,
when carrying out the review.

(5) The Secretary of State shall publish a report of the review before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.

(6) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of the report before each House of Parliament.

(7) In this section "local traffic authority" has the same meaning as in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 272 [Commencement]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 30 and 31: Clause 272, page I77, line 16, leave out second ("and"). Clause 272, page 177, line 16, at end insert ("and section (Report on rural road speed limits)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 276 [Extent]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 32 and 33: Clause 276, page 178, line 23, leave out ("and 266 to 268") and insert ("266 and (Quiet lanes and home zones) and 267 and 268"). Clause 276, page 178, line 26, leave out ("section 265") and insert ("sections (Type approval: individual exemptions), 265 and (Report on rural road speed limits)").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 12 [Road user charging and workplace parking levy: financial provisions]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 34: Schedule 12, page 235, line 2, at end insert (", a London traffic authority's and the Greater London Authority's").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 35 to 39.

The Bill provides that local authorities shall have the power as a tool in their transport planning to raise either congestion charges or workplace parking levies. One might have thought that in that situation one was discussing a local tax raised locally for local purposes. It is a matter of regret that that is not what Schedule 12 provides. Schedule 12 provides that these local taxes set and determined locally for local purposes may remain so for 10 years. After that period, it is an option and the Government will review the situation. Of course, they may do the honourable and decent thing and allow the situation to continue; but they may not. That seems to me to be a new departure in local taxation which is somewhat different from the situation which arises over fines—they tend to find their way into the Government's hands—which are the product of traffic offences committed locally and the result of local procedures.

As we heard earlier, sometimes local authorities are not even allowed to keep the costs of collecting those revenues. In this instance, this is a purely local affair for 10 years after which the Government can get their sticky fingers on the money if they so choose. That is a novel principle in local government taxation which I find to be thoroughly wrong and obnoxious.

The purpose of this group of amendments is so to amend Schedule 12 that we make it possible for the product of this revenue to remain with the local authorities for the long-term future. We provide that, if the original purpose for which the money was required ceases—it has to be transport related initially—that money can be kept locally in aid of the local rate fund.

The question was raised as to whether we could include London. London is included, whether it is the Greater London Authority or one of the boroughs which raises the charge.

At this hour, I do not wish to go beyond the basic principle. The ramifications are extremely dangerous. I do not think that we should accept the dangerous principle that it is proper for the Government administratively to decide that the product of a local taxation decision should be drawn into the Government's coffers after a period of time. These amendments would make it possible for the revenue to remain locally. I beg to move.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the novel part of these provisions is that the revenue from such road user charging would be totally hypothecated. It would be hypothecated for public transport purposes for 10 years or for any scheme started within the 10 years. That is an important principle of charging, in delivering our integrated transport policy at the local level, and of giving effect to the local transport plans on which so many local authorities are now enthusiastically engaged.

As drafted, the noble Lord's amendments would depart from that principle. They would offer local authorities the option of using the revenue from new charges, for example, to reduce council tax—not after 10 years but from the moment a charging or licensing scheme is introduced. That is not appropriate. From the way the noble Lord moved the amendment I do not think that it was his intention. We believe that this situation has to be reviewed in 10 years' time because ultimately under hypothecation one may well run out of appropriate transport expenditure in which to engage. But that hypothecation should stand for a significant period of time. Ten years seems to be the most appropriate.

We discussed this issue during some lengthy discussions on the Greater London Authority Bills. We accepted that 10 years is an appropriate period. We believe that that should be the case more generally in this Bill for all local authorities. Clearly, if there are transport needs to be addressed after 10 years, the hypothecation could well continue. But we need to build in a review period. It is not an interference in local judgment. It will be up to the local authority whether it continues the scheme and what it spends the money on from the scheme within the framework of its local transport plan.

I believe that the noble Lord's anxieties are misplaced. The amendment would lead almost to the opposite of what the Bill is about; namely, the delivery of an effective integrated transport system at local level. I hope that he will not pursue the amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, if he will give me an assurance that, in the event that the local authority has nothing to spend these charges on in the transport field, the charges can then cease, I have no difficulties with what he suggests and would be happy to withdraw the amendment. However, when we discussed the matter earlier, that did not appear to be the situation. Once the charges start, they run. There is a difficulty.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, no, there will be a review after 10 years as to whether the charges are still needed. Charges are needed on the one hand for funding; and on the other hand to achieve certain changes in the traffic behaviour to fit in with an integrated transport plan. It may well be that the funding element may diminish over time. I suspect that the period will be considerably longer than 10 years, but the traffic management dimension is unlikely to diminish. I cannot, therefore, give the noble Lord that assurance.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, there is a fundamental difference between us on the issue of when a local tax is not a local tax. What local authorities are being asked to introduce is a national tax which may be applied for a time for local purposes. I do not think that that is proper. It is too late in the evening to divide the House, although I am immensely tempted to do so, because there is an important principle involved.

I am not satisfied with the Minister's answer, but in the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 35 to 39 not moved.]

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Whitty.) On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn. In moving the Motion, perhaps I may place on record our thanks to the staff for the long hours that they have worked on this Bill and all this week. In particular I thank the Hansard writers, who have worked very long hours.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

House adjourned at twenty-one minutes past eight o'clock.