Congestion Charging

– in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 4th March 2003.

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Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative 3:00 pm, 4th March 2003

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the working of the London congestion charge, they will facilitate the introduction of congestion charging in other cities.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the Government have facilitated the introduction of congestion charging. The Transport Act 2000 provides permissive powers for local authorities to introduce road user charging, or workplace parking levy schemes, to assist in the management of congestion. I am sure that all local authorities are looking with interest at the experience of the introduction of congestion charging in both London and Durham.

Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. In Answers to previous Questions, Ministers were always extremely anxious to dissociate themselves in every possible way from the congestion charge. Would he pass on my congratulations to the Mayor of London and ask when he is going rejoin the Labour Party?

On a more serious note, must not the corollary to congestion charges be better public transport? Is the Minister aware—and I do not blame him if he is not—that my train from Sussex to Victoria this morning was, as always, a quarter of an hour late? Every carriage was crowded, dirty and old. When are we going to hear from the Government about that? When are we going to see those improvements in trains and the Tube that we have been promised for so long?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Renton, looks back at the record—and I have never been accused of being a Livingstone groupie—he will see that I have always supported the principle of congestion charging. I have always expressed the view shared by the Secretary of State, that successful congestion charging, in addition to being technically successful, must have the support of the people in the city. It must also lead to improvements in public transport.

In addition to the £16 billion which is being spent on the Tube in London over the next 15 years, the Mayor of London has already introduced 300 new bus services, and provided an additional 11,000 seats in the peak hours on buses. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, had such an unhappy train journey.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be extremely dangerous and premature, after only two full weeks, to make a judgment on the effect of congestion charging—and on the financial effect, not least on business and commerce?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I entirely agree. Some of the difficulties which were foreseen have not proved to be the case. There are many issues which have yet to be considered, not least the amount of traffic. It will take several months for a firmer conclusion to be possible.

Photo of Lord Williams of Mostyn Lord Williams of Mostyn President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, we have plenty of time. We must not have an unfortunate fracas. Let us start with the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the congestion charge has been an utter disaster for Mr Steve Norris and the Conservative Party? It was very silly of them to condemn it in advance—even before its first day. Does he also agree that we might just possibly have alighted on a popular and effective measure for curbing the problem of excessive car usage in our towns and cities? This may be applied elsewhere, outside London, and is also being followed with great interest by other cities around the world, particularly in Europe.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I was sorry that Mr Norris—for whom I have much affection—made the huge mistake of appearing, on the day of his adoption as the Conservative candidate, with the Leader of the Conservative Party at 7 o'clock in the morning at Smithfield market. He must have known that the Smithfield market traders were going to withdraw their objection within 48 hours of this unfortunate public relations exercise. That is their problem, not the problem of the Government.

As I have said, we have been encouraging local authorities, with the availability of permissive powers, to introduce road user charging or workplace parking. There is no doubt that they will be influenced by the experience in both London and Durham.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister agree that so far one of the reasons for the success of congestion charging in London is that bus priority measures were in force and cameras were used to enforce them? Can he give the House some assurance that these powers will be extended to places outside London? The department has been promising this for nearly a year, but it is always just around the corner.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I think that my noble friend Lord Macdonald gave the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, the appropriate Answer in reply to a Question for Written Answer on 16th January. He said—I am not quoting, because I do not have the text—that this is probably just around the corner. We are giving it high priority. That is the Question to which I believe he was referring about having cameras in bus lanes outside London. We hope to be able to introduce regulations next month.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are pluses and minuses with this scheme? I have driven into Westminster every day since the charge was introduced, and I have yet to pay a penny. That is because every day I bring in a blue badge holder who is disabled, so the car is exempt. Our journey time has reduced by 25 per cent and it has not cost us a penny. I think it is a super scheme.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am sure the Mayor will be delighted to hear that. However, I am not quite sure to whom my noble friend Lord Carter is referring as being disadvantaged by this. It seems that both he and his daughter do very well out of it.

Photo of Lord Tanlaw Lord Tanlaw Crossbench

My Lords, today I received my second penalty charge—that is in spite of having paid and having a receipt from the congestion people. I suspect that I am not alone. Can there be some form of ombudsman, because people will worry about receiving penalty notices after they have already paid? There is the worry that, because drivers are being asked to pay twice, the administration will take a considerable time to sort out. Do the Government intend to do something about this?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I did not bring my handcuffs with me, otherwise the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, might find himself apprehended as a persistent offender. I have no doubt that he will adequately defend himself by showing his receipt for paying the registration fee. I say that at some distance, because these matters are the concern of the Mayor, and not of the Government.

Photo of Lord Bowness Lord Bowness Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the revenues of the congestion charge are those of Transport for London? They will go no way at all towards alleviating the commuter services to which my noble friend Lord Renton referred. What hope can he extend to those citizens of London and the Home Counties, who suffer the overcrowded, crumbling and unsatisfactory services, which are held out as public transport?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, is entirely right that the revenues from the congestion charge will go to the services run by Transport for London—and shortly to be run by London Transport. I do not really think he wants to go back over the unfortunate history of privatisation of the railways by his government, which led to the break up of the railway system in this country. The numerous contractual relationships with train operators were separated from track ownership. Much of that can be held responsible for the present condition of the railways.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, when considering extending congestion charging to other parts of the country, will the Minister consider the plight of low income families who have no practical alternative but to face congestion charges? They also face an extra 1 per cent on their national insurance, and incredibly high increases in their council tax charges.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the other parts of the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, are not related to the Question on the Order Paper. Clearly, however, the equity of a congestion charge is something that every local authority will have to take into account in making a recommendation. Local authorities are responsible to their electors, and that is a matter for them.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, agree that Mr Ken Livingstone deserves particular congratulations on having overcome his normal political disposition, to use market forces through the price mechanism to allocate scarce resources with such great success? He may well reap reward and harvest from unexpected sources in the forthcoming election regardless of whether he rejoins the Labour Party. However, will the Minister ask the Mayor whether he will consider extending the scheme to Chelsea, which could benefit from it as well?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I will communicate the views of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, together with those of all other noble Lords to the Mayor in the usual way. Whether the principles behind the noble Lord's question go back to Milton Friedman in 1951, as has been suggested, or further back—I have heard it said that it was T H Marshall who first suggested something like this—I really do not know.