Clause 104

Part of Local Transport Bill [ Lords ] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 8th May 2008.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:45 pm, 8th May 2008

I shall probe the Minister on a matter that we discussed earlier. The clause removes the ability of the Secretary of State to engage in consultation on the subject of an English road pricing scheme, or to hold an inquiry in respect of it. The Government will claim that this is a localist measure and on one level that is true, but as have explained before, the problem with removing the Secretary of State’s power to consult on or approve such a scheme is that nothing has been put in its place.

The Government have taken the first step and put the power to make road pricing schemes in the hands of local authorities. They must now take the second logical step, to transfer the whole consultation and inquiry process and power from the Secretary of State to the local authorities and put those obligations on the local authorities. A moment ago, the Minister said, “There is the expectation”, and I am sure that she will say that it is inconceivable that a local authority would implement road pricing without consultation, but that is not good enough. I can see no good reason why local authorities currently have the discretion not to consult or hold an inquiry, but there is a safeguard in that the Secretary of State has to confirm the road pricing scheme. It is crucial that local authorities are obliged to consult and I would prefer the Bill to go further than that and require local validation, but there is a robust case to say that the imposition of a local road pricing scheme can be done only if the local authority is obliged to consult.

While I accept the proposition that the Secretary of State no longer has to approve the scheme, what concerns me about clause 104 is that unless something else is put  in its place and despite what the Minister said earlier—unless she will now reassure me that that commitment appears elsewhere in the Bill—there is a possibility, however unlikely, that schemes could be implemented in a local authority without any consultation by local transport authorities or integrated transport authorities.