Clause 115

Local Transport Bill [ Lords ] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 8 May 2008.

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Powers of the National Assembly for Wales

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

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

We now move into another part of the Bill, concerning miscellaneous provisions. First is the trunk road charging scheme in Wales.

At the moment, Welsh Ministers exercise functions in relation to strategic Welsh management and they have the power to levy charges on trunk roads only to support local road pricing schemes. However, clause 115 goes well beyond that, with a huge extension of the powers. If I read this clause correctly, which I think I do, it gives Welsh Ministers tax-raising powers in Wales for the first time, as it allows them to implement a Wales-wide scheme on all trunk roads in the  Principality. That equates to a huge tax increase on Welsh citizens. It is a constitutional matter and should not be introduced through the back door of a Bill on local transport. It is inconsistent with the rest of the Bill as it applies to other parts of the country. The potential effect on the Welsh economy is huge, if tax-raising powers are to be granted to Welsh Ministers that they did not have before.

Photo of Siân James Siân James Labour, Swansea East

The hon. Gentleman mentioned tax-raising powers. It is important to point out at this juncture that the clause does not give tax-raising powers, which will remain very firmly here at Westminster. What it will be is an opportunity to put money raised on road pricing back into the local infrastructure. We heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough about concerns the chambers of commerce had in Sheffield. Similarly, in Cardiff, there are some serious concerns about traffic congestion and surely there must be local solutions for local problems.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

Absolutely, but the trouble is that I am going to disagree with the hon. Lady. She is wrong in her initial premise. I am certainly happy with her latter premises about local charging for local schemes, and that the money raised from a Wales-wide trunk road charging scheme could be used for Wales-wide schemes. My understanding of the Bill, and that of many Members of the Welsh Assembly, is that allowing charges to be made on a Wales-wide basis effectively gives the Welsh Assembly tax-raising powers. These are not tax-raising powers they have had before, and therefore this is a constitutional matter.

I suspect that the Government’s response will centre on the fact that the provision has been included at the request of Welsh Ministers, and that those Welsh Ministers have not yet decided where or how they are going to use the additional powers. It may well have originated from Welsh Ministers. I am not sure, therefore, why it has come to us as a framework power in primary legislation, as opposed to a legislative competence order. It is my understanding that when the Welsh Assembly desires a specific matter to be added to its legislative competency, the legislative competence order is the customary route. The Secretary of State would lay a draft order in Parliament that would require the approval of both Houses. That is, again, a different procedure from what we are being given here. If one looks at this clause, it is clear that there was a long discussion, much more erudite than any I can offer here—

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:15, 8 May 2008

I thank the Minister for her confidence in my erudition. No one who has read the proceedings of the Bill’s passage through another place could be anything other than convinced that this is a constitutional matter. It gives the Welsh Assembly, for the first time, the power to raise tax. On that basis and that basis alone—not on the basis that Welsh Ministers should not have the ability to reinvest in local schemes  but on the basis that this is a constitutional matter, that it is the first time that tax-raising powers are being given to the Welsh Assembly, and that they are being given through the back door of the Local Transport Bill—I cannot support this clause and I will ask my hon. Friends not to do so.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I support my hon. Friend. I am surprised that people have not taken to the streets in Wales in opposition to this particular provision. Maybe they are not yet aware of what is coming, but I think the fate that befell Councillor Jones in Manchester—I do not know whether he is Welsh, though he certainly has a Welsh name—will be affecting Councillors Jones en masse in Wales if the provision is introduced. In effect, Wales is being used by the Government as a guinea pig. That is what it amounts to. Wales is a guinea pig for a potential Britain-wide scheme. What message does it send to people who live in England but enjoy holidaying in Wales? The message is, “Don’t come to Wales: we’ll be taking more tax off you.” Barmouth’s loss will be Bridlington’s gain.

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

The clause will allow the National Assembly for Wales to pass its own legislation, in the form of an Assembly Measure, on road charging on the trunk road network in Wales. The revenues from any trunk road pricing scheme would have to be used for transport purposes, for example to fund new transport infrastructure or provide new services. Clause 115 has been included at the specific request of the Welsh Ministers. It is consistent with the devolutionary principles established in the Government of Wales Act 2006, and framework powers are being conferred on the National Assembly in a number of other areas of Government policy. The Welsh Ministers have yet to decide what role, if any, road charging may play in addressing current and future transport challenges. They do, however, wish to have the powers available that would allow them to adopt a coherent approach towards any road-pricing proposals that local authorities in Wales may bring forward, or any future UK scheme. The Welsh Ministers have also made it clear that if they were to introduce road pricing, it would be in the context of new road developments in those areas with the worst congestion problems.

Photo of Siân James Siân James Labour, Swansea East

Will the Minister confirm that any decision the Welsh Assembly takes on this matter would be taken only after full public scrutiny and full examination of the proposals? Given that 95 per cent. of the roads are under local authority jurisdiction in Wales, will she also confirm that it would only affect the 5 per cent. of the roads that are trunk roads?

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I certainly confirm what she has said. As I said before, the clause simply enables the National Assembly for Wales to pass its own legislation which, of course, would go through all the normal scrutiny. The Government of Wales Act 2006 does not allow the transfer of tax-raising powers to the Welsh Assembly. The powers in the clause are to do with road user charges. As I said, that is in response to a request from Welsh Ministers, which is entirely in line with the devolutionary process.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

As I predicted a couple of minutes ago, the Minister told us that the provision was at the request of Welsh Ministers. Her response at no stage addressed my point that the provision is giving those Ministers new powers, which they did not have before. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Swansea, East that the proposal would affect only 5 per cent. of the roads in Wales, but my point is that this is for the first time a tax-raising power that the Welsh Assembly did not have before. There is any amount of good legal argument that the measure is giving powers by the back door that were never intended by the 2006 Act. It is clearly a tax-raising power. It is clearly a constitutional matter. It should not be in the Local Transport Bill, so on this particular clause, the Minister and I will have to disagree.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 4.

Division number 21 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 115

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 4 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 115 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 116 to 118 ordered to stand part of the Bill.