Clause 278 - Lorry road-user charge

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 22nd June 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

This is another apparently innocuous clause that, if we scratch it, looks less nice underneath than it appears on the surface. I wish that we could just nod this through without making a few remarks, but we cannot. The primary purpose of the clause is to assign responsibility for preparing the lorry road user charge to Customs and Excise. The clause has a secondary purpose in new subsection (4)(b), which is that the charge

''shall be administered and enforced in accordance with such provisions as Parliament may determine''.

In other words, I presume that the provision confers general powers that would enable the Government to

vary whatever is introduced by order. Perhaps the Minister can tell me whether that is the case, as I could not tell from reading the provision.

The introduction of that charge raises some big questions, which we have hardly debated at all. My first thought was, ''When will we get a chance to debate these matters?''. The progress report that was published with the Budget seems to be a support document for the clause, as it cannot be linked to any other. I see that there is an agreement or an acceptance that there will be a debate when the legislation—the framework legislation, judging by its description—on the structure of collection and administration of the charge and key provisions is introduced in spring 2005.

Several timetables—technical and legal—are set out in the document and parliamentary scrutiny barely gets a mention in any of them. Page 17 is the only spot on which I can find it, so that is why I am so concerned to ensure that some points are put on the record. For example, in paragraphs 1.4 and 1.5, there are lengthy timetables setting out how the legislation will come into force. There is no mention of legislative scrutiny.

I will only allude to the big questions that the Customs and Excise will have to consider when the provisions are passed to it. I will not try to answer them. That is for a later date. It is worth anyone who is interested in the proposed new charge taking a look at the extraordinary document by Professor Alan McKinnon, entitled, ''Lorry Road User Charging: A Review of the UK Government's Proposals'', which is no doubt being studied intently by Customs, although it does not yet have responsibility until the clause is enacted. It is a devastating assault on the Government's proposals in principle and practice.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon 3:00 pm, 22nd June 2004

Order. I am listening to the hon. Gentleman quite carefully and I am looking at the clause. He seems to be dealing with the question of the level of the charge and whether it should be levied at all. The clause is quite narrow. It details only how and by whom such a charge, if any, should be dealt with.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

I am trying to set the framework for what I think Customs will want to consider when it assumes responsibility for the clause. The primary purpose of the clause is to give it that responsibility, and I would like to make some suggestions about what Customs will want to consider. I hope that that is in order, particularly as a Government consultation document on the subject was published with the Budget and this is the only opportunity to discuss those issues. With your permission, Mr. McWilliam, I will continue.

Professor McKinnon's document is a devastating attack on almost every aspect of this proposal, which Customs is almost certainly examining.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Order. The hon. Gentleman is clearly out of order. The clause does not deal with the lorry road user charge per se, or the basis on which it is levied. It details how the charge is dealt with after it has been levied. The clause is incredibly narrow, if he cares to examine the wording. He should be careful as he is discussing matters far too broadly.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

That is all right. I will give it a rest.

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Thank you, Mr. McWilliam. As you quite rightly say, the clause is limited. As the hon. Member for Chichester said, its primary purpose is to assign responsibility for operating a lorry road user charge to Customs and Excise. Responsibility will pass to the new, integrated Revenue and Customs department when that is set up.

The clause also specifies the accounting arrangements for money collected as lorry road user charge. It deals only with those two points. It does not confer general powers and subsection (2) does not give the Government any power to do anything beyond those two points without further reference to Parliament.

Fuller details of the scheme will follow in future Bills. That may be the opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to pose his bigger questions, although there are always opportunities in the House for the Opposition to raise points and to ask big questions.

The inclusion of the clause in this year's Finance Bill will give suppliers certainty when they are preparing to bid to provide the services set out in our recently published procurement prospectus, so that they know with whom they will be negotiating and, eventually, contracting.

The lorry road user charge is being developed to modernise the method of taxing heavy goods vehicles. We will charge them according to the distance that they drive in the UK

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Order. Now the Minister is going wide.

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Thank you for that guidance, Mr. McWilliam.

The provision is part of our programme of modernising the method of taxing heavy goods vehicles. Customs is already working on developing the lorry road user charge in close co-operation with the Department for Transport, other parts of government and, in particular, the industry, which has played an influential role in the development of our ideas.

The clause and the publication of progress report 3, alongside the Budget, mark a new phase in the lorry road user charge programme. It is an important step, which has kicked off the procurement exercise for the technology involved, and I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 278 ordered to stand part of the Bill.