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 be 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.