I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
We live in an age where people carry less and less cash around with them. That is obviously due in part to disposable incomes falling owing to the Governments huge tax increases. It is also true because we live an age of chip and pin, so people are becoming increasingly reliant on debit and credit cards. We can often use those cards throughout our constituencies in the smallest of corner shops, yet does it not seem extraordinary that it is not possible for that payment method to be used for tolls on either of the Severn bridges, the gateway to Wales? This is a marvel of British engineering and it seems a shame that chip and pin technology and payment by credit card cannot be used.
Mr. Andrew Davies, the Assembly Member for South Wales Central, found that a particular problem when one of his constituents wrote to him saying that he had come across the Severn bridge only to be told to go back to Bristol to get some cash. At that point he wrote to Severn River Crossing plc and was told:
I can advise that the Severn Bridges Act 1992 governs the current Tolling Operation of both Severn Crossings. Unfortunately, this legislation does not allow payment by credit or debit cards at the Toll Booths.
That was confirmed by the Deputy First Minister. That confirmation not only acknowledged that that Act governs the toll arrangements, but added:
It seems, therefore, that it is possible for us to make provision that the Severn bridge be able to use what is common technology everywhere else.
I remind the Minister her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) on 24 April this year said:
We want it to be as convenient as possible for people to pay tolls at the Severn Crossing.[Official Report, 28 April 2008; Vol. 475, c. 36W.]
I hope, therefore, that the Minister will, at the tail end of the Committee, agree that this is an uncontroversial proposal that would bring the Severn bridge into the 21st century. Her agreement to it would speed the Committees proceedings.
I support the new clause, as do Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament from Wales. In this day and age, it seems ridiculous that people can pay only by cash. The different ways in which people can pay the M6 toll make it considerably easier to use that road. On that basis, this is a sensible new clause.
I shall be brief. I want to know why we cannot go all the way with technology on these toll points. For the past decade, America has had fully automated systems whereby no one is employed at the toll pay pointpeople simply throw money into the basket or swipe a cardyet here in the UK we are still employing people to sit all day in little booths to take cash off the drivers. Why can we not just fully automate the toll points?
That is an important issue. It has been raised a number of times, particularly at Transport questions in the House. The hon. Member for Wimbledon is right to say that there are legal barriers to using credit card payments. There are also practical and financial issues that we would need to resolve.
In November last year, a working group was set up to consider the options and identify the issues of credit card usage. The group consists of the Highways Agency, Severn River Crossing plc, the Welsh Assembly Government and the Governments representative. We hope to hear its findings and recommendations in early autumn. I feel that it would be inappropriate to pre-empt the groups findings by changing the legislation now, but I assure the Committee that after the group presents its recommendations, we will certainly consider its findings and take any appropriate action. I hope that I have persuaded the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause.
I am grateful to the Minister for those words of reassurance. I hope that she will take away from our brief debate the idea that it could be speeded up, and that she might be able to bring something forward that we can put into the Bill on Report. Accepting her reassurances that the processes are under way and asking her and her officials to think carefully about whether we might put it in on Report, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
I am sure that the Committee will be glad to know that I am not rising to oppose the motion. I want to extend my profuse thanks to you, Lady Winterton, and to Mr. Taylor, for the inspiring way in which you have presided over our proceedings. I am sure that all Committee members endorse those thanks.
I am grateful to all Committee members from all parties for our lively debate and discussion over the past few weeks. The quality of the debate has been a clear reflection of the quality of the Committee and the level of interest in the Bill. We have not always been in agreement, but there has been a great deal of interest in the Bill from both sides of the House, as well as in forensic scrutiny of all the clauses. We have been able to do that; in fact, we have had to go further than the time allocated for the Bill. I am very grateful to the usual channels, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North, for his important contribution in driving us through our discussions.
I thank the Clerks to the Committee, as well as the Hansard writers, who have done an excellent job in assisting us in our deliberations. I thank in particular my officials from the Department for Transport. I hope that members of the Committee will agree that they have been very open to discussing the Bill and have been as helpful as they can.
It has been an honour and a privilege to serve on the Committee under your chairmanship, Lady Winterton, and that of Mr. Taylor, and I am very grateful for all the support that we have been given.
Like the Minister, I thank you, Lady Winterton, and Mr. Taylor for the way you have guided us through our proceedings over the 10 sittings. I also thank the Clerks and the Hansard reporters. I give special thanks to my colleagues, who have provided help and advice: my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire and my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby and Kenilworth, for Harwich and for Ilford, North. The Minister was right to say that this Committee has shown great interest in the Bill. I am grateful to Government Members for listening to my argumentsI know that they rarely agreed with them. The Minister was right to say that we have had interesting and excellent discussions.
I also place on the record my thanks to the Ministers officials. She very kindly offered the Opposition the chance to have briefings and to clarify issues before bringing them to the Committee. I am grateful to her for that. I also thank her for allowing her officials to speak to me. That was a great help.
I am grateful to the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK and to the Campaign for Better Transport, which helped me to frame about four of the 150 amendments that I tabled. More particularly, I place on the record my thanks to my researcher, Mr. Carlton Jones, who helped me with the other 140 or so amendments that we tabled. As the Minister said, we have had a chance to investigate the Bill in some depth. Clearly, there were issues about timetabling, but through the good offices of the usual channels, we have had the chance to deliberate in Committee for longer than was originally scheduled. I think that the Bill, as it proceeds to Report, is better for our scrutiny.
I add my thanks to you, Lady Winterton, and to Mr. Taylor for presiding over the Committee during the 10 sittings. The debates have been interesting and good-humoured, and I pay tribute to the Minister for listening to discussions on a number of amendments and to contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. There is still some work to be done on the Local Transport Bill. On a number of occasions, there have been disagreements between the two sides of the Committee, between the Opposition parties or between some of the Opposition parties and the Government. I look forward to further debate on Report.
I associate myself with the remarks concerning our Chairmen, both of whom have been excellent. I would like to add one further point. Opposition Members are sorry to hear that the Minister is suffering with her throat. Clearly, she needs some fun and sunshine, so I invite her to come and spend some time in Bridlingtonprovided that she does not use the Humber bridge, she can currently arrive there without having to pay any road tolls or charges.
Before I put the final question, I would like, on behalf of my co-Chairman, David Taylor, and myself, to thank the Minister, the Front-Bench spokesmen and other hon. Members for their kind remarks. This has been a very interesting Bill. At times, the Committee has had its foot on the accelerator; at times, it has gone rather slowly in congested areas. It has also taken a few detours, but we have reached the end of our journey and the end of the Committee stage and I congratulate all those who have taken part on conducting themselves in the best traditions of the House of Commons.
In particular, I thank the Clerks Department and especially our own Clerk, who has guided me so skilfully through various pitfalls; the Hansard writers, who always make us sound much better than we actually are; and of course the police, who have ensured that the proceedings have been conducted without interruption.