Clause 106

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

Alert me about debates like this

Supplementary provision as to charging schemes

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

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I have a question for the Minister, but I am not entirely sure whether this is the place to raise it. If I can raise it and remain in order, I will do so now.

The Minister spoke earlier about leaving local decision making unfettered in some respects, but, if we have to have charging, there are certain aspects for which it would make sense to have uniformity. What  are her plans to make it easier for motorists who are likely to enter two separate charging areas to make one payment in advance?

I am thinking of a business man who lives in Derby. If the hon. Member for Derby, North gets his way, there will be charging in Derby. The business man’s place of work may be in Birmingham, which, let us say, has its own scheme. In both cases, the motorist has to travel on roads subject to charging schemes at times when they are in force. Will there be provision for that motorist to be able to apply to a single point to prepay, let us say a year ahead, rather than have to make daily payments? That would be time-consuming and unnecessary in this age of technology.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

The clause has an innocent title, but behind it lie a number of issues that need to be explored. It enables the Secretary of State or other appropriate national authority to make regulations about fairly specific elements of road charging schemes: who pays, how they pay, where they pay, how the money is collected and so on. Given that the intention is to put road pricing decisions in the hands of local politicians, I do not understand why that power is appropriate.

It appears that the Secretary of State, despite giving local authorities the chance to put a scheme in place, is ensuring that she has the power to micro-manage road schemes. That prompts the question whether this whole part of the Bill is just a chance to introduce a national road pricing scheme by the back door. It seems to me that schemes should be introduced, defined and implemented by local politicians, after validation by the local electorate, with the needs of local people in mind and tailored to local circumstances. If that is the Government’s intention, as they seem to have stated, I am not sure why the Secretary of State will make regulations about the specifics of how, by whom and from whom money is to be collected. Such things should be defined by the local road pricing scheme.

Why does the Minister want that regulation-making power in the Bill, and why does she want those matters to be set out in regulations rather than in guidance? Will it be a one-way process of the Secretary of State making regulations for local authorities, or will local authorities be able to make representations to the Secretary of State about the regulations that she intends to make?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire and the hon. Member for Wimbledon mentioned the importance of consistency for road users in schemes. The right hon. Gentleman raised the possibility of having one account if that were considered helpful.

We would like to see co-operation on achieving that. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is currently guidance, but we are taking the powers in question in case they are needed in future for the benefit of the road user. If we were unable to achieve co-operation, we could make regulations to ensure the interoperability that the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman referred to. That is the simple explanation.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Can the Minister confirm that it is her intention to at least encourage schemes to offer a one-stop shop for payment, so that a motorist in the circumstances that I mentioned earlier could pay up front? To give an example, when I was last in America, I was being driven by someone who had to go on four different toll roads, not all operated by the same authority. He had affixed to his windscreen a disc, which I think had a metallic strip in it. When he went up to a barrier, it recognised the strip and opened, and he had to take no further action. There was no time-consuming telephoning or giving of card details. He had prepaid for the whole year. If we are to have these schemes, we should have that sort of payment scheme.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.