Roads: Charging — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:13 am on 18th November 2010.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 11:13 am, 18th November 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government how they will implement their commitment to introduce lorry road-user charging.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, heavy goods vehicle road-user charging is being introduced to ensure a fairer arrangement for UK hauliers. The details of the scheme and offsetting measures to help UK hauliers are still to be finalised. It must operate within relevant EU legislation and apply to both UK and foreign hauliers. New legislation will be needed.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

I am grateful to the noble Earl for that Answer, but my Question asked how the Government were going to do it. Will the Government go for time-based or distance-based charging? As regards coming to that decision, is he aware that time-based systems are fully open to fraud-30 per cent of revenue in Switzerland is lost through fraud-and that the costs of implementing them are about 40 per cent of the revenue, compared with 10 per cent for those that are distance-based? Can the noble Earl assure me that he will take that into account when coming to a decision?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, it may be helpful if I run through the options. The Government are looking at options that are simpler and cheaper than the satellite-based lorry road-user charging system that the previous Government failed to implement. A time-based charge would be the simplest option, but it has the difficulties that the noble Lord outlined. Distance-based charges based on tachograph readings, or roadside equipment detecting vehicles as they pass, have advantages, but they are more complex and significantly more expensive to implement. The Government expect to be able to give more details in the spring.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Liberal Democrat

Will the noble Earl also consider the number of accidents that are caused in this country by foreign-registered vehicles? They of course pay no tax, they use fuel from outside the country and they burden the health service with a lot more work.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord makes an important point of which my department is well aware. However, the objective of the lorry road-user charging scheme is to ensure a competitive and free market for all operators, whether UK or foreign.

Photo of Lord Kinnock Lord Kinnock Labour

My Lords, I strongly welcome the action being taken by the Government in pursuit of an entirely necessary policy. In view of the various complications, could not the Government, so far as concerns both heavy vehicles and other vehicles, pursue the cruder but nevertheless effective course of abolishing road fund licences and heavy goods licences and replacing them with fuel charges, which would at least produce an equitable and economic relationship between road use, the nature of vehicles and the effect on the environment?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point. One problem that we experience is foreign vehicles coming in with very large fuel tanks, sometimes containing in excess of 1,000 litres of fuel, which enable them to travel all around the UK and then leave without buying any fuel here. There is also an EU directive on the minimum vehicle excise duty rate.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

What does the Minister think of the German satellite tracking scheme? It is more expensive than some of the alternative systems that are available, but does it not provide an investment that could be built on in future and used to track all traffic?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord makes an important point. We are looking very closely at what our European partners are doing. It is important to remember that their problems are slightly different from ours. European states have a lot of through traffic. We do not have so much through traffic, but we do have lots of foreign vehicles coming to deliver to the UK.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat

Will the Minister confirm that the plans will include a close look at the prepaid plastic card system for distance travelling, which is likely to be gradually and increasingly adopted in all European member states and will create a single market in road haulage costs?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord makes an extremely good point. It is one of the obvious options to look at.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Shadow Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales)

My Lords, what is the Minister's explanation for the length of time that is being taken over the introduction of the scheme? The Government courted the heavy goods vehicle industry in this country by saying in their manifesto that they intended to introduce a scheme. The coalition agreement and the business plan of the department stated that the scheme would be introduced, and yet we are now looking at a delay of at least four years before a scheme is introduced. Why is this, and will the Minister also rule out a charge that must be paid not just by foreign heavy goods vehicle operators but also by home-based hauliers?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, on the noble Lord's substantive point, we are anxious to avoid making the mistakes of the previous Government, who spent £60 million of public money on a satellite lorry road-user charging scheme that achieved absolutely nothing.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

Why is the tachography option more expensive-which is what the noble Earl said-when all it would require would be an entry reading and an exit reading to provide a calculation based on a multiplication of the cost per mile?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord is quite right: it is an option that we are looking at very carefully. However, he will also be aware that it is quite easy to interfere with the operation of the tachograph-for instance, by placing a large magnet on the transducer or an illegal switch in the electrical circuitry.