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Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman prays in aid the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce. Does he therefore agree with those organisations in their wholehearted opposition to workplace parking charging?

Mr. Foster: So far, I have not mentioned the British Chambers of Commerce. We are currently discussing road-user charging. The hon. Gentleman served on the Committee that considered the Bill. He therefore knows that there is a significant difference between road-user or congestion charging and workplace charging. We shall debate workplace charging later, when I shall make similar points. Both congestion charging and workplace charging are worth considering. Decisions can best be made locally, by councillors.

Mr. Gray: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again so soon. I am ready to overlook

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his condescending manner in pointing out that we are currently discussing congestion charging, and in making a few nice comments about serving on the Committee that considered the Bill. If he cares to read the new clause, he will discover that it covers both congestion charging and charges for workplace parking. I regret that he got to his feet without even reading it.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful for that clarification, which makes the new clause even more incompetent, as I shall show shortly.

Mr. Bercow: I do not wish to break the sequence of the hon. Gentleman's argument--in so far as he can establish one. However, does he understand that the premise on which he began his argument is both woolly and false? He bases his argument on the belief that there is widespread frivolous--and therefore unnecessary--use of the motor car, yet the overwhelming majority of people use their cars because they need to do so, not out of hedonistic self-indulgence, with which the Liberal Democrats want to do away.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman again demonstrates the lack of Conservative party thinking. Of course, in many circumstances people use their motor cars because there is no adequate alternative. However, those motorists currently face the considerable problem of congestion on our roads. We must find ways of easing that. The best method is to introduce more attractive alternatives that work at the right time, in the right place and at an affordable price.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that it is woolly to say that the current cost of congestion is £20 billion to industry and £23 billion to motorists. According to the British Medical Association, pollution from that congestion causes approximately 24,000 deaths a year. Surveys show that, in London, a motorist spends one fifth of his or her time in the motor car stationary. That is a complete waste of a motorist's time.

In Victorian times, when people travelled by horse and cart, average speed was 11 mph. Today, when people travel in motor cars, the average speed in London is an amazing 11 mph. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is surprised at that, but those are the statistics. The average speed of a motorist in London is the same 11 mph as in Victorian times, when travel was by horse and cart. Millions of people suffer from asthma that is caused by the air pollution that results from congestion on our roads. We must tackle that significant problem.

Liberal Democrat Members believe that road-user charging and other measures, including the possibility of workplace charging, can help to provide solutions. However, there are provisos, which we made clear in Committee. They are now supported by the Deputy Prime Minister and, I believe, the Government. We should not introduce such measures unless significantly improved public transport alternatives exist for those who would otherwise suffer from the imposition of the charges that we are discussing. I am delighted that the Government have said that they will not accept, approve and authorise a road-user charging scheme, nor a workplace charging scheme, unless those commitments have been met. As the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said, that applies until it can be demonstrated that there has been widespread consultation.

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4.15 pm

We are pleased that the Government have acknowledged that the majority of the revenues that will come from the charges and levies will be used to improve public transport. However, the hon. Member for Poole is suggesting that all the money for all time must be devoted to that purpose. He removes immediately the possibility of something that he supported in Committee. At that stage, he supported the idea that some of the money from charging should be used, for example, to pay for the costs of roadside emission testing. That was one of the concessions made during the Bill's consideration in Committee. There may be other measures that would be of benefit to the wider environment that could come from expenditure of some of the moneys.

I suggested earlier--

Mr. Bercow: Will hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: I shall not give way now. I want to make another point, which I would like the hon. Gentleman to intervene on. I am sure that he will, because he is very good at doing so.

Even if I supported the broad thrust of the Conservative Opposition's arguments against the charges and levies, I would have considerable difficulty in supporting the new clause. It reads:

I have some difficulty in understanding exactly how that will work. If I am driving my car in a charging area, I am subject to the charge. The money so raised will be used to improve public transport for me to use. However, the minute that I use that public transport, I am not subject to the charge. Therefore, public transport is not for my benefit. It appears that money will be raised that cannot be used by those who are persuaded to get out of their cars and to use public transport.

We will almost have a strange new form of apartheid. I can imagine that at bus stations throughout the land there will be two different bus shelters. There will be buses for those who have always used them and buses for those who used to use their car.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) has pointed out that the new clause covers both workplace charging and road-user charging because it is incompetent in both regards. However, the hon. Member for Buckingham was extremely keen to intervene a short while ago and I said that I would be happy to give him that opportunity. When he intervenes, he might like to explain his understanding of the new clause.

Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. The purpose of congestion charging and workplace charging is to get people off the roads and on to buses. The hon. Gentleman is saying that people in buses will not be paying workplace charges or congestion charges. That is the precise purpose of the tax. If it is not that, what is it?

Mr. Foster: Only a few minutes ago the hon. Gentleman was proud of himself for picking me up for not having fully read and understood the new clause.

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He is now demonstrating a far greater lack of understanding of the clause than even I, in my humble way, have achieved.

It is my party's view that road-user charging and workplace charging levies may have a part to play in helping to reduce the problems that are created by congestion on our roads. We believe that decisions must be made at local level by local councils and that no scheme should be introduced unless there has been widescale consultation. Nor should such schemes be introduced unless and until there has been significant improvement in alternative public transport opportunities for the people in the area concerned.

The new clause is defective in its use of language, but my final point is that it would create another problem. People often travel from one local authority area to another. The second authority may introduce the charging scheme, but, nevertheless, those travelling from outside will still need to benefit from improved public transport. In Committee, the Minister accepted that it will be possible for a local authority to pass the money that it raises from charging regimes to a neighbouring local authority to help it to improve its public transport if doing so can be shown to produce the benefit of reducing congestion overall. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will confirm that that is still the Government's intention. We shall not support the new clause, but we shall support the Government in their intention to introduce those opportunities for local councils.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster)--a fellow member of the Standing Committee--in discussing road congestion and congestion charging. To begin on common ground, I suggest that we are all familiar with that issue and that we are anxious to address it not only because it is of concern to us as Members of Parliament--we find it difficult enough to make our way to the House if we travel by car--but because it causes difficulties for our constituents. Our constituents are anxious that we should deal with congestion, and we are anxious to address it.

The hon. Gentleman is clearly right to say that industry and commerce have drawn attention to the enormous cost that congestion imposes on them. When one is stuck in a traffic jam and those who are on the other side of the road are equally stuck, it is interesting to speculate on the cost to industry and commerce. It is an astronomical sum and it is therefore the duty of Parliament to try to do something about congestion. It is frustrating to be stuck in traffic, which causes bad temper, accidents and so on.

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