– in the House of Lords at 2:57 pm on 1st February 2011.
To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to introduce road pricing for lorries in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, we plan to introduce heavy goods vehicle road user charging to ensure a fairer arrangement for UK hauliers. We are still finalising details of the proposed scheme, which will include off-setting measures to help UK hauliers. The scheme must operate within relevant EU legislation and apply to both UK and foreign hauliers. Primary legislation will be required.
I thank the noble Earl for that reply, but why are Her Majesty's Government introducing a paper-based system for charging for road use, which will be both expensive to operate and open to abuse, when all the other countries in Europe have adopted or are adopting electronic systems, which have the scope to be adapted to deal with congestion and environmental damage?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. First, we have not fixed which scheme we are going to adopt, but it is unlikely that we will rely purely on a paper vignette. EU states have indeed moved from paper to electronic vignettes. Various possibilities are still being considered by the Government, but it is most likely that HGVs will be monitored for compliance by the use of automatic number plate reading linked to a database.
What progress are the Government making to implement the Conservative election commitment to make foreign hauliers pay appropriate dues when in this country on our roads? Have the Government found a way of doing that by road pricing without also further penalising UK hauliers, already being hit by the increase in fuel prices and the Government's VAT increase?
My Lords, the whole object of this policy is to create a level playing field for UK operators, so we intend to charge a vignette to all operators to operate in the UK, but at the same time to create off-setting measures for UK hauliers, possibly by reducing the rate of vehicle excise duty, or by other measures.
Is the noble Earl aware that the cost of the number plate recognition scheme used in London is about 30 per cent of the revenue? Why is he not going for a distance-based system, which has been introduced in much of the rest of Europe, where the costs of collection and fraud are said to be very much less?
My Lords, we have learnt from the experience of the London congestion charging scheme, but the technology is not completely appropriate for what we are planning. When VOSA patrols the strategic route network, it will use automatic number plate reading technology to scan all commercial vehicles to ensure that they have a valid vignette.
Can the noble Earl explain what he means by a vignette?
My Lords, in the past a vignette was a piece of paper that was attached to the windscreen, but we are now considering a virtual vignette, which is what I mean by an electronic vignette. It is not necessarily a piece of paper on the windscreen, but it is a means for UK and foreign hauliers to pay to use UK roads.
Is my noble friend able to clarify whether this review will cover the situation of foreign lorry drivers who do not have adequate insurance? Indeed, some of them are not even qualified to drive lorries.
My Lords, the principal authority for ensuring compliance with UK regulations is the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency. It may have a role in ensuring compliance with lorry road user charging, and it certainly has a role in ensuring that foreign goods vehicles comply with all our regulations.
Does the Minister agree that the most advanced and used system in Europe is the German one, which is not based on paper, or even on registration recognition, but on satellites; that that is the way forward; and that that is what the previous Government were exploring and it has been abandoned by the present Government? Will they not go back to look at the longer term and to try to get the best system for our country, not a halfway house measure?
My Lords, the satellite scheme was abandoned by the previous Government, not by this Government. They abandoned it because they spent £65 million on it and achieved nothing. It is also important to remember that our problems are different from the problems experienced by continental countries, which have a far higher proportion of foreign heavy goods vehicles operating on their territory.
My Lords, in the absence of proper road pricing, can the Minister tell me what steps the Government are going to take to try to alleviate congestion, particularly on motorways and trunk roads?
My Lords, the objective of the lorry road user charging system is purely to create a level playing field for UK hauliers who are experiencing unfair competition from foreign hauliers using cheap fuel purchased on the continent. This equates to an advantage of about 12p per mile on a maximum-weight artic.