Fourth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Wednesday 6 November 2002
[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair]
Road User Charging
(Enforcement and Adjudication)
(London) Regulations 2001
The Chairman: Is it the wish of the Committee that we debate the two statutory instruments together?
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): No, because the Government have already admitted that the first set of regulations, which relate to enforcement and adjudication, are defective and not consistent with the other set. In those circumstances, it would be better to keep the debates separate rather than muddle them up. We should deal with the enforcement and adjudication regulations first.
The Chairman: I call Mr. Chope to move the first motion.
Mr. Chope: I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Road User Charging (Enforcement and Adjudication) (London) Regulations 2001 (S.I., 2001, No. 2313).
It is a pleasure to serve on a Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Hancock. I hope that we will not take up all the allocated time, although that is a possibility.
I begin by referring members of the Committee to the report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, if they have not already seen it. That Committee consists of Members from both Houses, who are, in many senses, the unsung heroes. They study statutory instruments in depth and detail to find out whether they are mutually consistent and whether, if passed, they will result in clear and easily understood law.
Members of the Joint Committee spotted something that I am sure this Committee would have noticed if we had examined the instrument in 2001. They spotted defects and inconsistencies in the two sets of regulations and issued a report. In the course of their inquiry they obtained evidence in a memorandum from the Lord Chancellor's Department, which admits that the Road User Charging (Enforcement and Adjudication) (London) Regulations are inconsistent with the other regulations that we will discuss later.
The inconsistencies were not discovered yesterday. The memorandum came from the relevant Department on 19 October 2001, which, I hasten to add, was the Lord Chancellor's Department not the Department of Transport. I cannot understand why regulations that are being promoted by the Lord Chancellor's Department are being defended by a Minister from the Department of Transport. However, on 19 October 2001 the Lord Chancellor's Department apologised for inconsistencies and omissions in the regulations, and officials said that they would amend
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them as outlined in the memorandum before any charging schemes came into force. Frankly, it is a poor show if, more than a year later, the regulations have not been amended as promised.
It would be more appropriate for the Government to withdraw the existing regulations and introduce a fresh, amended set. When someone needs to look up the law it is much easier to refer to one set of regulations without having to search for subsequent amendments. We want to make the law more coherent, visible and transparent. The regulations are not exactly voluminous, even though they have far-reaching consequences, so surely it would be sensible for the Government to withdraw this statutory instrument and include the amendments in a new set of regulations.
I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation of why the amendments have not been made. I tabled a parliamentary question and was told that something is about to happen, but we do not know when that will be. Meanwhile, 17 February 2003, that ghastly day when Londoners will have to pay additional penalty charges, is fast approaching. All hon. Members would want to draw attention to and comment on the Government's indifference to the plight of Londoners, but perhaps more so in relation to the main regulation that we will discuss after this. I remind hon. Members that, as a result of the legislative process, we have left ourselves very little control over congestion charging in London. Were we to throw out these regulations we could completely kybosh the whole scheme.
In the light of the Secretary of State's back-pedalling on the issue in recent weeks, we may hear from the Minister that the Government have decided that they will not proceed with the regulations after all. They may perhaps play tit-for-tat with the Mayor, who, as I understand it from last night's paper, will kybosh the London Underground public-private partnership and refuse to take control of that company for another two to three years. That will completely destroy the PPP and waste an enormous amount of Londoners' money.
This issue is very serious. I am sure that we will need all the time available to discuss the substance of it when we come to the next set of regulations. The best solution is to withdraw this statutory instrument, which is more technical than the next one, and replace it with properly amended regulations.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I should like to echo the concerns that were expressed by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). Clearly, it is a great pity that a mistake was made in the original statutory instrument. It is fortunate that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments spotted that mistake. However, we would not support the withdrawal of these regulations so that a revised instrument could be produced at some point in the future. London and its elected government have made a decision about congestion charges, and to try to kybosh that, to use the hon. Gentleman's words, at this point would be regrettable. We think, therefore,
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that this proposal is appropriate and we would not support a revised statutory instrument.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I was merely hoping to intervene on the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake).
The Chairman: He has finished.
Mr. Randall: There is not, as the hon. Gentleman said, just one mistake. A series of regulations has been reported for defective drafting. The public would want to know why hon. Members feel that it is perfectly okay to pass defective drafting after the defects have been discovered. Goodness knows, there is plenty of defective drafting that we sometimes wish we had not passed. When a defective draft is laid before us, it is important that we should consider how to deal with it.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the sensible thing would be to wait and hear what the Minister will do to put right what the Government have got wrong, so that we can find a sensible way to pass these regulations with the problems sorted out, get them into operation quickly and get on with congestion charging in London?
Mr. Randall: I am always keen on sensible ideas, but it would have been more sensible if the Department had told us beforehand what was going on. However, in the spirit of consensus, I will allow the Minister to speak, so that we can hear what he has to say.
The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar): It looks as though the consensus is about to disappear, with the possible exception of Labour Members.
I am not sure whether the kybosh is a weapon that is related to the boomerang, but the hon. Member for Christchurch should explain why the Opposition did not take the opportunity to pray against the regulations when they were first laid before Parliament. As he rightly said, that was way back in summer 2001. He is now trying to have the regulations revoked, and even that is being done at quite a late stage. That does not show a particularly responsible attitude towards the matter.
The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the fact that, last October, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments reviewed both sets of regulations. It identified a practical, operational issue in the regulations relating to charges and penalty charges, and a number of technical inconsistencies in the enforcement and adjudication regulations, which we are considering at the moment. The Department for Transport undertook to amend both sets of regulations. Draft amendments to the regulations were put out for consultation between 28 June and 9 August, as we always have to consult ourselves to death on such matters. I expect that the amendments will be laid shortly. Therefore, the proposal to revoke the regulations is unnecessary. It has more to do with political point scoring than with matters of practical administration.
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Mr. Chope: If the Minister wishes to be provocative, he is succeeding. I would have thought that he would apologise for the delay in coming forward with the amendments, although perhaps that is not the tradition in his new Department. The need for the amendments was identified as long ago as last October, and I would have thought that the Minister would give a reason for the delay. The Minister says that some consultation took place in the summer, but why did it take from October 2001 until the next summer to produce draft amendments?
What does the Minister think about my point that, for clear law-making, it is much better to have a coherent set of regulations-as could be achieved-than a set of regulations with amendments to it? I am disappointed with the Minister's response.
The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 2.
Division No. 1]
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
David, Mr. Wayne
Foster, Mr. Don
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Spellar, Mr. John
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Randall, Mr. John
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the Road User Charging (Enforcement and Adjudication) (London) Regulations 2001.
Mr. Chope: I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Road User Charging (Charges and Penalty Charges) (London) Regulations 2001 (S.I. 2001, No.2285).
We want to debate the regulations because they are on a hot topic. When the proposals for road user charging were first brought forward, it was suggested that they might reduce traffic by as much as 12 per cent. and that there would be a net revenue gain of up to £200 million a year for transport projects in London. We now know from various statements from the Mayor that it is most unlikely that there will be any significant reduction in traffic. Indeed, it seems to be accepted that congestion and consequential adverse effects on the environment are more likely to be increased than reduced by congestion charging.
The costs of implementation will be higher, and the yield from the process much lower, than was originally forecast. Already, there is talk of the operating costs being in excess of £1 million a week. We think that that is £1 million a week being wasted. The scheme would be a gross burden on Londoners. If there is money to spend on transport, it would be better to spend it on repairing the pavements and improving road safety in central London than to fritter it away on an expensive and convoluted scheme. The other day, I went into a Lambeth local office to renew a resident's parking permit and met a person from Capita Services, a
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company that continues to bounce back despite its failures in Government contracts. He said that he wanted to get a permit to allow him to go around Lambeth to stick up enforcement cameras not only on the perimeter, but throughout the zone.