Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (6th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 8:38 pm on 20th March 2023.
Moved by Lord Moylan
176: After Clause 77, insert the following new Clause—“Traffic emission road charging schemes(1) This section relates to schemes under which drivers are charged for using roads within a specified zone (affected roads) according to the traffic emissions of the vehicle concerned.(2) A devolved authority may only introduce such a scheme if, before the scheme is introduced, consent to the introduction of the scheme is granted by all local authorities which have affected roads within their boundaries.(3) In considering whether to grant consent under subsection (2), the relevant local authorities must have regard to their duties in relation to air quality under section 83A of the Environment Act 1995 (duties of English local authorities in relation to designated areas).(4) Where consent is sought under subsection (2), the question of whether to grant consent must be considered by the relevant local authority in full Council.(5) Where such a scheme has been introduced by a devolved authority before the coming into force of this section, the devolved authority must request consent to the continuation of the scheme from all local authorities which have affected roads within their boundaries.(6) In considering whether to grant consent under subsection (5), the relevant local authorities must have regard to their duties in relation to air quality under section 83A of the Environment Act 1995 (duties of English local authorities in relation to designated areas).(7) Where consent is sought under subsection (5), the question of whether to grant consent must be considered by the relevant local authority in full Council. (8) Where consent is sought under subsection (5) and not granted, the devolved authority must cease to implement the scheme within three months of the decision not to grant consent.(9) In this section—“devolved authority” means—(a) Transport for London,(b) the Mayor of London, or(c) the Mayor of a Combined Authority;“local authority” means—(a) a district council,(b) a county council, or(c) a London borough council.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 176, I will speak also to Amendment 178B, both of which are in my name; I am grateful to the noble Lords who have given them their support.
In our discussion of the Bill, we have had much debate on the powers of mayoral authorities and the balance between upper-tier authorities—local authorities, regional authorities and mayoral authorities—and those lower down the chain. These amendments continue that debate in a different way. With noble Lords’ agreement, I will start by speaking to Amendment 178B; I will come to Amendment 176 after that.
Amendment 178B is very brief and technical but has quite a lot of effect. It amends the Greater London Authority Act to allow the assembly to amend the mayor’s budget by an absolute majority, rather than requiring a two-thirds majority, as now. Although it is drafted to apply to London, if granted this would have a wider effect, because there are other metropolitan mayoral authorities with similar arrangements for the scrutiny and passing of a mayoral budget. I will speak about London, from my experience, and the other matters can be taken later.
When the Blair Government set up the Greater London Authority through the 1999 Act, they were wedded to the idea that it should have a very strong mayor—a sort of Nietzschean super-figure bestriding the capital and, crucially for our purposes, able to impose his or her own budget on London, even if opposed by a majority in the elected assembly. No reason was ever given for this, as far as I understand, and it entailed a significant denial of the norms of democracy. When he was mayor, Ken Livingstone, who had a certain sense of irony, used to sit in the public gallery of the assembly when his budget was being debated. Every time he lost a vote and there was a majority against, he would give a little chuckle and declare a triumph, because although 50% or even 60% of the members were voting against that provision in his budget, it had no effect because they could not achieve a two-thirds majority.
When it was set up, it was explained that the Greater London Authority’s powers were strictly limited to it being a strategic authority for London; it was not meant to be a delivery authority. The mayor did operate four functional bodies in addition: Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police, the fire and rescue authority and the London Development Agency. Although the architecture around the development agency later changed slightly, that position remained. However, the powers of the mayor have increased very significantly. As the Government have made clear in discussion on this Bill, the intention is to increase the powers of mayors in other parts of the country as part of their devolution and levelling-up approach.
We are seeing mayors accumulate more powers and larger budgets. For example, the Mayor of London is now responsible for the housing budget for London, which is billions-plus. These powers are being accumulated but the co-decision and scrutiny functions that go with them are not being kept up to date. In fact, the Government recognise this. It may not be government policy yet, but I even saw in a newspaper that the Government were speculating on increasing the scrutiny of elected mayors by setting up panels of local MPs to scrutinise what they were going to do. There is no need to do this: the assembly exists. The scrutiny body is there already: it needs empowerment, which this amendment provides. I am putting a burden on my noble friend by inviting her to explain why we should be denying democracy in our great cities and urban areas—such a burden that quite possibly she will decide to agree with me. I look forward to that very much indeed.
Turning to the question of balance of powers, we come to Amendment 176, which is drafted to cover the whole country and is not specific to London. However, I will speak of it in London terms because of my own experience and allow noble Lords to draw parallels with other areas. It relates to the ULEZ charge—a power the mayor has in fact had since the foundation of the Greater London Authority; road user charging was in the Greater London Authority Act as far back as 1999. It has been expanded in geographical terms. Under Ken Livingstone, it was small and very focused. There was a low emission zone around Heathrow Airport and a congestion charge around just the very centre of London. It has been expanded to include not only inner London, which has already been delivered, but outer London as well—the current proposal—into areas wholly different from inner London and best understood by their own elected councils. Yet, they have no say.
This amendment would give councils that say, not just in London but in other parts of the country. It would give a power of co-decision with local councils in the extension of a road user charging scheme—ULEZ in this case. It would require that that decision be made in full council. It would not be a decision of the executive arm—for example, the cabinet or the locally elected mayor. It would also be retrospective, so that existing schemes would have to be subject to such a vote in order to continue. It would also ensure that local councils have regard to their air quality duties under the Environment Act when making their decisions. Nobody is in favour of poor air quality; it is a question of how to get there.
Of course, Londoners and those in adjacent counties value clean, healthy air, but they are groaning under the proposed burden of a rushed ULEZ imposed during a cost of living crisis. A wholly inadequate scrappage support scheme is attached to it which, in large parts of outer London, is not strictly necessary because of their very different, almost rural characteristics. This is evidenced from TfL’s own impact assessment of what ULEZ is going to achieve. Residents look to their local councils to express their voice. Our job is to empower them to do this.
This measure is supported by members of the Liberal Democrat party and Liberal Democrat councils, and the ULEZ proposal has been opposed publicly by Labour Party Members of the other place. I hope that my amendment will command the widespread support of your Lordships’ House, not least of the one party not mentioned so far—the Conservative Party—when my noble friend comes to reply. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, not least for taking me down memory lane. He began by describing the Greater London Authority Act. I had the honour, and sometimes the pleasure, of taking that Bill through this House from the Front Bench, along with my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I remember the debates very well indeed. The noble Lord’s references to the prospective Mayor Livingstone were slightly wide of the mark. As I recall, the then Labour Government were terrified of the threat of Mayor Livingstone—and it was a threat as far as they were concerned. We spent much of our debate on the Greater London Bill discussing measures to reduce his powers. However, we should not divert too much into history.
I welcome Amendment 178B, on the budget. As it happens, when we were doing the Greater London Bill, I was the leader of a London borough council. I was certainly the only council leader in the Lords, and perhaps the only one in Parliament at that time. I went on to lead the Liberal Democrats on the Greater London Authority for its first eight years. I remember only too well the first eight years of Mayor Livingstone’s budget. Never once did he come close to getting majority support for it. It was always passed, because it had to be, but always without the two-thirds majority to amend it.
That has continued to be the case throughout the life of the Greater London Authority. In both of the last two years, in the preceding debate on the budget—it is a two-stage process—there was not even majority support for the mayor’s budget. When it came to the all-important final decision, a two-thirds majority was not there. So I entirely support what the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said about the need for some democracy there and that the practice for majority support for a budget should apply, as it does virtually everywhere else.
I move now to what I call the ULEZ amendment, although it is not strictly speaking a ULEZ amendment. The expansion of the ULEZ to outer London is hugely controversial in outer London at the moment. I should declare an interest, as I was a leader of a London borough council for 13 years—incidentally, a London borough council that has been under Liberal Democrat control for the last 37 years and has won the last 10 elections with a majority, so we must be doing something right there.
ULEZ is hugely controversial and is causing a lot of upset. This amendment is not about the particular proposals for its expansion; it is more about the relationship between the London boroughs and the mayor. That needs to work on a form of consensus. The mayor has the strategic authority, as you cannot deal with a subject as important as air pollution on only a borough-by-borough basis. It must of course be dealt with on a London-wide basis, in this case, so from that point of view I am wholly in agreement. However, the borough and the borough councils have to do the mechanics and implementation, and they are getting most of the heat from the objections here.
I could all too easily divert myself into talking about the shortcomings of the mayor’s present proposals, but I do not want to. I say that as someone from a council that strongly supports any measures that will genuinely reduce air pollution and tackle that issue. But the way the consultation was conducted and the way the implementation is being proposed owe everything to the mayor’s awareness of the timetable he has to meet before the next mayoral election—he wants the expansion firmly embedded in good time before May 2024—and nothing to good common sense.
This amendment is actually about the relationship between the Mayor of London and the borough councils, particularly their leaders. I was very much minded to put my name to this amendment, but I did not do so and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, knows why: I think that proposed new subsection (2) is wrong. It says that
“before the scheme is introduced, consent to the introduction of the scheme is granted by all local authorities” within the affected area. That gives any one authority the power to veto, in effect, the whole scheme. That is simply wrong.
With every possible respect for the noble Lord, would he accept that it would in fact allow the mayor to tailor the scheme to include those boroughs that are willing to have it and exclude those that are not? It would not veto the entire scheme for other boroughs that wished to see it implemented as the mayor had proposed.
My Lords, I accept that a mayor, were he or she so minded, could act in that way. However, I have to say that the current mayor has shown no interest whatever in conceding anything to any of the boroughs, let alone to one single borough. We could get to a state in which the mayor allows one borough—I will not name one, although Bromley comes to mind, remembering the trouble we had with the introduction of the Freedom Pass—to opt out and the mayor could accept that, but I would not want to put that responsibility on some future mayor.
It would be much better if we stuck to the majority principle that we were talking about just now; the boroughs should have the right themselves to opt out of the scheme. I would hope that they would not do so, but they could have the right to opt themselves and their area out of it, but not the right to either stop it for everywhere else or rely on the benevolence of the mayor—little of which we have seen recently—to opt that borough out. So a much better way would be to reword the amendment. I suspect that the noble Lord is not going to press this to a vote tonight, although a lot of people in London think he is: much better that we come back on Report with clearer, better wording to try to achieve what we want to do.
I think, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said, that what this amendment is actually about is the relationship between an executive Mayor of London—in a sense, a presidential system—and the borough councils, which are essentially a parliamentary system. Nobody has given enough thought, and there are many other examples, to how we match the mismatch between a presidential and parliamentary system. We have a situation now where the boroughs are all, in a sense, elected parliamentary bodies, with borough council leaders playing an increasing role through London Councils in the running of London, and a presidential-style elected mayor who has all the power vested in the mayor, with none vested in the boroughs and none, for that matter, vested in the London Assembly either. I say that with some regret after serving as an assembly member—indeed, as the leader of the Liberal Democrat group there—for eight years.
I hesitate today to ask for a reconsideration of the government of London—I am not sure I would want to go through all of that again—but that is, in essence, what this amendment is about. If we can agree a slightly different form of wording for this to come back on Report, I should be happy then to give it my support.
My Lords, I rise to speak only to Amendment 178B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, in the interests of embracing an extraordinarily rare consensus. It would be ideal, for the Green group, for my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, former London Deputy Mayor and long-time London Assembly member, to be here, but unfortunately she is otherwise engaged, so you get me, a resident through many of the years that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, was talking about. I say “embracing a rare consensus” with enthusiasm, because I was buoyed last week by the fact that we saw the Government table their own amendment to the UK Infrastructure Bank Bill following a Report stage at which the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, had put down an amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and I had both signed it, and that actually ended up in law. So, you never know; maybe the same kind of unusual consensus of the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Greenhalgh, the Greens, the Lib Dems and others all backing Amendment 178B might get to the same outcome. We can but hope.
I think the case has already been very strongly made for this: this is democracy. But I just want to make one additional point, which is that the London Assembly is, of course, elected through a proportional system, so the majority there reflects the views of the majority of the public. That is unlike local authorities, which are elected by first past the post systems yet need only a simple majority to overrule the administration’s budget.
We heard a lot in our debates on the Bill earlier today about tidying up and fixing up past inequities and infelicities; well, this would be a real democratic addition and a real tidying up. I entirely back the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and all the others who have signed this amendment. Let us see where we can get with it.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 176, in particular, in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Greenhalgh. Beyond the focus of the amendment on low emission zones, I think in this Bill—which promotes, after all, outsourcing a range of decisions to greater numbers of local and regional bodies—one area where local authority decisions are clashing not just with mayors but with local citizens, in terms of their needs and wants, is in restricting and controlling people’s car use and movement, in the name of tackling the supposed triple threats of air pollution, climate change and congestion.
Instead of improving mobility infrastructure, it seems to have become policy to restrict the use of the infrastructure that already exists and to limit travel choice options. During the pandemic, scores of low-traffic neighbourhoods, for example, were introduced using bollards, planters and camera enforcement to block through traffic in residential areas. They were introduced by councils of all political shades to encourage people to walk and cycle instead of using their cars. There has been quite widespread public disquiet and growing protests against these town hall impositions.
An example of the effect that they can have is 53 year-old Christiane Comins, who has multiple sclerosis. Although a blue badge might make her exempt from the proposed LTN in her neighbourhood, Barnsbury, she explains:
“Because I’m disabled, I’m not only reliant on taxi journeys to and from the hospital but also reliant on friends coming to visit me … I am reliant on food deliveries to the house.”
An LTN will stop these. Meanwhile, Nicholas Mason explains that how long it takes him to pick up his granddaughter in Tottenham has tripled. We can talk about levelling up, but we have to consider when decisions such as these are having such a negative impact on ordinary people’s lives. It is those sorts of stories that give us the context for an increasingly hostile public reaction to clean air zones wherever they are being implemented, not because people do not want clean air but because of the problems democratically.
Amendment 176 addresses the important democratic deficit in terms of the clash between the London mayor and local authorities which might well be opposed to the expansion of, for example, the London ULEZ, which has been explained very well by previous speakers. This is not a technical matter of a clash between local councillors and Sadiq Khan, and it is certainly not party political. I think that is an important thing to stress. These clean air zones are happening all over the country, and they are controversial with the public all over the country. As with all broader traffic schemes, public consultations are often ignored, and that is gnawing away at faith in local democracy and devolved bodies, and we should take account of that.
This tussle between whether individual boroughs need to give TfL permission to install cameras, to allow roads to be charged and so on, and whether the mayor has the right to overrule dissent and force unpopular decisions on residents in a wide range of boroughs needs to be addressed in a Bill that is proposing more mayoral powers and more devolved bodies because I think that faith in local democracy is at stake.
One thing I found galling was when Sadiq Khan recently proclaimed at the Partnership for Healthy Cities Summit held at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel:
“I stood for re-election. I received more votes than any sitting mayor in [the] history of [UK] elections, so the silent majority are with me in relation to the ULEZ”.
The slightly inconvenient fact is that the expansion to cover all Greater London was not included in Mayor Khan’s 2021 election manifesto. We also now have a legal challenge after it emerged that the mayor’s officials secretly ordered hundreds of numberplate-reading cameras worth £15 million in April 2022, a month before 60% voted to reject the ULEZ expansion in May. This is after accusations of voter gerrymandering, where, for example, 5,200 votes from those supporting the FairFuelUK campaign were not even counted. It is no wonder that people feel that these traffic schemes are accompanied by sham consultations, and as this whole Bill is dependent on saying that it is giving ordinary people more control, we need to consider the consequences of those who consider that they know better ploughing ahead regardless.
Then there are the embarrassing recent revelations about the Birmingham clean air zone. Again, this is not party political. I note that this clean air zone was championed by the Conservative mayor, Andy Street. We now know that one in 20—up to 50,000—fines has been successfully challenged, and the council has backed down and scrapped penalty charge notices after motorists refused to pay because they believed the fines were unfair. That was only to the end of 2022. A further 20,000 have not even been pursued by the council. Despite this, the council still expects to make a whopping £50 million profit by the end of 2023. At a local rally in Birmingham last week organised by local campaigners and the campaign group Together, this was denounced as a stealth tax. However, Birmingham City Council justifies these profits and zones by saying that it is about improving air quality in the city.
In London, Sadiq Khan boasts that his ULEZ requires vehicles to
“meet the toughest emissions standards enforced by any major city in the world” and claims that 4 million people now breathe cleaner air and that toxic air has been reduced by 50%. Indeed, the mayor has a forthcoming book called Breathe aiming to help create a world where we can all breathe again. TfL’s director of strategy and policy goes further, claiming:
“Thousands die prematurely each year as a result of toxic pollution and it causes children to grow up with stunted lungs and increases the risk of dementia”.
I am afraid there is a danger that we end up with scaremongering misinformation to justify these clean air zones. According to government statistics, between 1990 and 2008, PM10 has declined by 53%; black smoke emissions have declined by 85%; carbon monoxide by 69%; nitrous oxides by 49%; methane by 53%; and lead by 98%. Of course, we all want clean air, but we do not want scaremongering.
Distorting the data and evidence to justify political behaviour change and amass money for municipal coffers is a real threat to any faith in democracy— which I thought the Bill was trying to promote. It is also worrying to read in the Times that the traffic counters being used to monitor the impact of low-traffic neighbourhoods—which are cited by councils to show success and are the primary source of data in academic studies cited by the Department for Transport—are, in fact, faulty, misleading and underreporting.
Yet, on this sort of dodgy evidence, those paying the cost are those who can least afford it. The Mayor of London’s office will pocket £400 million per year by expanding ULEZ, but this is a raid on household budgets. In this levelling-up Bill, it is those on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum who are less likely to be able to upgrade their vehicles and far more likely to own older vehicles. They may be people like Steve Cowan from Dagenham, who notes:
“I’ve just spent five years paying off the truck on finance and working my arse off, then they bring this in.”
As his mum lives in a care home in Chingford, he says
“I’ll have to pay the fee whilst going back and forwards to see her … I also work on the other side of the water in Erith and will have to pay £12.50 every time I leave my door.”
Meanwhile, a self-employed carpenter from Eltham is in despair and speaks for so many when he says:
“I can’t afford to buy another vehicle … the ULEZ is just a way to make money.”
Jeremy Hunt told us last week that his budget would save the average driver £100 next year, but that £100 will be spend in two weeks travelling into a ULEZ zone, and in three weeks in Birmingham’s clean air zone. In the process, this is creating public cynicism about the motives, with few convinced that this is anything to do with clean air. It is also undermining relationships between many members of the public, as well as between local and regional democratic institutions. Amendments 176 and 178B go some way to rebalancing these arrangements, but my main concern is to restore some public faith in local democracy.
My Lords, I want briefly to point to what I regard as the principle behind all the discussion that we have had tonight; that is, the difference between the powers of the London mayor and the way they were established, as opposed to those of combined authority or metropolitan district council mayors being established by the Bill.
There are lessons to be learned. All through the debate on the devolution clauses in the Bill, some of us have been consistent in pointing out that mayors attracting more individual powers to themselves—by adding the roles of the police and crime commissioner and fire and rescue, for example—will end in tears, as will this. Our local democracy depends on hearing the voices of, in this case, other borough leaders—and, in the case of combined authority mayors, of leaders in those areas and others—and then coming to a decision based on what they have heard. The minute you get individuals who believe they can make a decision without reference to the views of others, trouble ensues. I urge the Minister to refrain from those aspects of the Bill that seek to accumulate power to a single person. It may look good on paper, but it will not work well in practice.
My Lords, this has been an interesting short debate. I will concentrate on Amendment 176 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan—and I thank him for clearly introducing both his amendments—because I want to focus on why traffic emissions are so problematic and on the issues around air quality, which basically underpin what we are talking about here.
As we have heard, the amendment proposes that a devolved authority—Transport for London, the Mayor of London or the mayor of a combined authority—could introduce a road-charging scheme only if all local authorities with roads in scope consented to the scheme. We also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about concerns regarding a potential veto on this, and I agree with him on that.
For road-charging schemes already in operation, however, it occurs to me that consent would need to be retrospectively sought, which is also a concern. If consent were not granted, the local authority would have three months to end the scheme. In considering whether to grant that consent, local authorities, as the noble Lord said, would need to have regard to their duties relating to air quality as defined under the Environment Act 1995.
Noble Lords have mentioned the Greater London Authority Act 1999, under which transport is a devolved matter—in London, primarily the responsibility of the mayor and Transport for London. They have the power to make decisions relating to road-charging schemes such as the one that would be affected by the amendment. The road network does not align with borough boundaries, of course, so it is not possible to implement road-charging schemes based on which boroughs support them. That is one of the reasons why Parliament granted the power to make decisions on London-wide road-charging schemes to the mayor. The Government have said that there are no plans to review the provisions within the GLA Act, and I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that today.
The ULEZ scheme has been mentioned, and that would clearly be affected by the amendment if it went through. It is worth noting that 85% of vehicles seen driving in outer London already meet the required emissions standards and therefore would not be liable for the new charge. As I said at the beginning, though, I want to look at air quality, particularly around related illness and death from air pollution.
In 2019, figures say that toxic air contributed to more than 4,000 premature deaths in London. I am aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, queried some of the figures and statistics around deaths and illness from air quality. Much of the information on deaths linked to air pollution comes from the World Health Organization. There has also been a Lancet commission on pollution and health. I would like to quote from the section titled “Pollution-related death”:
“In 2019, pollution was responsible for approximately 9∙0 million premature deaths”— this is not just in England; clearly it is worldwide—
“Air pollution … remains responsible for the greatest number of deaths”.
I think it is really important that we put that into the context of this amendment.
The greatest number of deaths attributable to air pollution in London were in the outer London boroughs mainly due to the higher proportion of elderly people in these areas who are more vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution. If no further action is taken to reduce air pollution, recent statistics expect that around 550,000 Londoners will develop diseases related to poor air quality over the next 30 years. If you then think about the cost to the NHS and our social care systems, just in London, it is estimated to be around £10.4 billion by 2050. Over 500,000 Londoners suffer with asthma and are therefore more vulnerable to the effects of toxic air, with more than half of these people living in outer London. In a previous mention of air quality, a noble Lord—I apologise that I cannot remember who—said that they would support anything that improves our air quality.
We need to look at the impact ULEZ has had so far in central and inner London. So far, harmful NOx concentrations along roads are estimated to be 46% lower in central London and 21% lower in inner London than they would have been without ULEZ. There are 74,000 fewer non-compliant vehicles in the whole zone on an average day, a reduction of 60%. There are 47,000 fewer vehicles overall in the zone, which is a reduction of 5%.
The number of schools in areas exceeding the legal NOx limits fell by 96%. We know that children are far more vulnerable, partly because they are still developing and partly because they are smaller and nearer to the exhaust pipes. The drop of 96% is from 455 schools in 2016 to just 20 in 2019. Five million more people are expected to breathe cleaner air as a result of expanding ULEZ to outer London.
The mayor is also looking at a scrappage scheme and other ways to help residents. For the scrappage scheme, the mayor is providing £110 million of funding to support Londoners on lower incomes, disabled people, charities and micro-businesses. As part of this scheme, Londoners receiving certain benefits can apply for cash grants of up to £2,000 to scrap their non-compliant vehicles. Disabled people who want to scrap a non-compliant wheelchair-accessible vehicle can also apply for grants of £5,000. Charities, sole traders and micro-businesses registered in London can apply to scrap a van for a £5,000 grant or a minibus for a £7,000 grant.
More funds would allow more grants to be made. The mayor recently wrote to the Prime Minister asking the Government to match his funding for scrappage. The Government have provided scrappage funding in other cities, including £120 million in Greater Manchester, £42 million in Bristol, £38 million in Birmingham and £30 million in Bradford. We commend the Government for doing this, but they have not extended the same support to London. Can I ask the Minister if she can explain why this is and whether it is something that would be reconsidered?
In conclusion, toxic air is killing, or contributing to the deaths of, many thousands of people in the UK every year, and the Conservative Government have not tackled the problem yet—we had much debate about this during the passage of the Environment Act. While this is a matter for the Mayor of London, during his leadership he has taken action to tackle killer air pollution and to put the health of residents first. I am sure that noble Lords have worked out by now that we do not support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. But we think it important to point out that, alongside the existing ULEZ, the mayor has supported Londoners, micro-businesses and charities to scrap or retrofit their non-compliant vehicles, so funds are available for the extension. We now need action from government and mayors across the country to do everything they can to stop the air pollution that is causing so much harm.
My Lords, Amendment 176, tabled by my noble friend Lord Moylan, would change the local consents required for traffic emission road-charging schemes to be introduced, and apply these new requirements retrospectively. I reassure the Committee that this amendment is not necessary for regions outside London as it maintains the status quo. In London, the amendment as drafted could remove established devolved powers from an elected mayor and as we have discussed in Committee, this is not our intention for devolution.
In London, under the Greater London Authority Act 1999 the mayor has the authority to create a new road scheme that charges users, or vary one, so long as doing so will directly or indirectly facilitate the achievement of the policies and proposals in the mayor’s transport strategy. As drafted, this amendment could be in conflict with the Greater London Authority Act, and it would potentially create legal uncertainty and conflict between the mayor and the London borough councils.
The Department for Transport has not made statements in support of the ULEZ: Transport Ministers have been completely clear that this has been a matter for the mayor to decide. I understand that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has been engaging and will continue to engage with MPs whose constituents may be impacted by the proposed ULEZ expansion.
Outside London, charging schemes have been introduced for addressing congestion issues, improving air quality and raising funds for investment in new transport infrastructure and improving transport quality. The Transport Act 2000 already sets out how road-charging schemes can be introduced. In combined authority areas, these powers are held between the combined authority and the local traffic authorities—that is, the constituent authorities of the CA. Therefore, outside London local authorities are already required to introduce schemes and existing legislation already delivers what this amendment seeks to achieve.
Additionally, the amendment would require the reconfirmation of a number of existing charging schemes and it would allow any local authority unilaterally to revoke them. These schemes have been introduced and agreed locally and, where they cover multiple local authorities, agreed jointly. Decisions on whether to amend or revoke these schemes would therefore also be made jointly, as the powers in the Transport Act 2000 already ensure. I nevertheless recognise how important this issue is not only to my noble friend but to many others, and not just in London. I am happy to meet with him to discuss these matters further.
Amendment 178B, also in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan, seeks to lower the threshold for amending the Mayor of London’s final draft budget from two-thirds of assembly members present and voting to a simple majority. While the amendment would undoubtedly strengthen the power of the London Assembly and mirror the voting threshold applied at earlier stages of the assembly’s consideration of the mayor’s annual budget, it must also be balanced against the benefits of the current strong mayoral model in London. I agree with my noble friend that it is crucial in any of these systems that we have strong audit and scrutiny. That is why the Bill strengthens both audit and scrutiny committees in these new authorities.
I recognise my noble friend’s interest in and experience of London governance matters and I would be pleased, as I say, to engage with him not only on his earlier amendments but these. Perhaps we might review the operation of London’s devolution settlement separately from the Committee’s consideration of the Bill, and I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment at this time.
My Lords, I am very grateful for what was a very valuable debate and I shall briefly go through those who spoke.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, put his finger on it by saying that this is really a question that will not go away: about the balance of powers in areas that have strong regional government—combined authorities, metropolitan mayors and so forth—with the local councils, the constituent councils. As my noble friend the Minister made clear, those arrangements differ in different parts of the country, but we have to learn lessons from them and apply those lessons in an evolving way to existing structures; we cannot just dig our heels in and say that what was good in 1999 is good for ever. We have to be able to improve things; we understood that. On the question of subsection (2), I had a strong sense, listening to the noble Lord, that we were actually in violent agreement, but I am going to speak to him afterwards to discover if there is a difference between us and what can be done to reconcile our understanding of the boundary issue.
I was very grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I give some credit to the Green Party here as an example of what can be achieved by a more democratic scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Only a few weeks ago, in consideration of the mayor’s budget the Green Party put forward in the assembly a costed amendment that would have required the mayor to introduce lavatories at up to 70 London stations. It got a majority in the London assembly; it was supported by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats; of course, it fell. Having a majority is not enough in this sort of democracy. There is something very strange about that; however, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her support.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, was right to point out that the weakness of process and the rushing of air quality measures is provoking a backlash and cynicism among the voters. She also expressed very well the genuine and real suffering of those who face the prospect of the current proposed ULEZ scheme in London. I have to be honest: what I would expect if this amendment were passed is not that boroughs would actually block a mayoral scheme to introduce a ULEZ; they would moderate it, because they too are interested in better air quality, and so are local people. They would have their say, so it would be introduced in a slower and more manageable way, with more local consensus and better support for those who are in need of making what can be a very expensive transition.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, drew on a very long experience of local government again to put her finger on the question of the democratic deficit. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, made it abundantly clear that the Labour Party stands four-square behind the Labour mayor’s proposal to impose a ULEZ on outer London; there was not one word of criticism.
She mentioned the estimate of 4,000 premature deaths in London. I do not dispute that figure, but it is difficult to know what it means: is a premature death 10 years before you would have died or a week before? These are difficult figures to interpret, but that figure I regard as reliable and I am not disputing it in any way. However, I want to point out is that when I was deputy chairman of Transport for London—a post that came to an end in 2016—and on the board, the figure was also 4,000. The measures are introduced—the local traffic neighbourhoods, the ULEZes—but the estimated figure never changes. So is it really doing any good?
When the noble Baroness has to point out what good it is doing, she does not say that the figure of 4,000 is coming down. Instead, with a very clever shift, she turns to the measurement of air quality and the number of schools passed and so on—but the question is outcomes, not outputs. The question is whether it is having that health effect. The estimate is amazingly stubborn—I would just say that.
There is a balancing issue. The noble Baroness made a point about boundaries and the possibility of a Swiss cheese type of scheme with boundary issues, and she has a point, although I think it is perfectly manageable. If Bromley or Kingston resiled from the scheme, we would just draw the boundary somewhere else until they were persuaded to come on board—I think it is quite manageable. The point I make to her is there is also a glaring boundary issue between the Greater London area and surrounding counties. Those people in the surrounding counties are also affected, because they will not be able to get to their customary shops, their places of work and their often elderly and immobile relations, as we heard—but that boundary causes her no difficulty at all. A boundary between London and Surrey causes her no difficulty, but a boundary between Kingston, say, and the rest of Greater London is something that she feels is a block to the whole scheme. We need to be a little more honest about the fact that all these schemes have hard edges and there will always be sufferers, which is why time and consensus are so important.
I turn, briefly, to my noble friend. I was of course disappointed to hear her defend the status quo so resolutely, but greatly encouraged by the fact that she is willing to meet and discuss, prior to Report, both these issues with noble Lords who have spoken and taken an interest. I thank her and look forward to those discussions. In the meantime, with the leave of the Committee, I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 176 withdrawn.