Road User Charging (Enforcement and Adjudication) (London) Regulations 2001 and Road User Charging (Charges and Penalty Charges) (London) Regulations 2001

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The Chairman: Order. I remind the Committee that we are discussing London.

Tom Brake: My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is working on an answer to the Minister. Many more Labour authorities could introduce congestion charges but are not doing so. The Minister needs to respond on that, perhaps at a later date.

I understand that the draft that deals with representations against penalty charge notices will be completed by the end of the year. Will the Minister confirm that he is working to that time scale? Clearly, the draft has to be completed before 17 February. I understand that a change will be introduced to ensure that representations can only be made in writing. Will he be more generous and allow representations to be made in other ways?

5 pm

Mr. Randall: As a London Member, I have serious concerns about congestion charging, but it is not the role of the Committee to go into the rights and wrongs of that. I am worried that there is no forum in which my constituents and those of many London Members can discuss and consider the nitty-gritty.

Regulation 5(2) refers to different rates of penalty charge that ''may be specified''. Sub-paragraph (c) mentions ''different times of day''. One of my worries about the congestion-charging scheme that the Mayor of London will implement is that it will not operate on a 24-hour basis, but will start at 6.30 in the morning. I am concerned about road safety. People on the edge of

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the zone will make a great effort to get past the machines and ensure that they are outside it before the prescribed time.

Does the Minister have any idea how the provision on ''different times of day'' will be implemented? What are his views on that and on road safety?

Tom Brake: My understanding is that there will be no such rush, because cameras in the zone will pick up cars once they are in it.

Mr. Randall: My point is about someone a little way from the zone who knows that the clock is running down and tries to get into it before the relevant time. Perhaps I do not fully understand the system.

Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman may not fully understand the system. My understanding is that, if such a driver rushes into the zone, parks and is stationary by 7 am, that is fine. Perhaps others disagree.

Mr. Randall: We need to know. The matter needs to be clarified, because the road safety angle is important.

At the other end of the day, people may realise that they are on the edge of the zone. They will pull up, switch their engines off and hang around for quarter of an hour. Is it envisaged that penalty charges will be specified for different times of the day?

I am also fascinated with the idea of different charges for

    ''different parts of a charging area''

and ''different distances travelled''. The provisions seem a bureaucratic nightmare, and they are only a small part of the regulations.

My constituents, other inhabitants of London and the people who come into it ought to know exactly what is being set out for them. The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) and I are veterans of the Committee that considered the Greater London Authority Bill. That was a long-running saga, and the Opposition argued against many measures, but at that time we had nothing concrete to discuss.

I hope that the Minister will try to answer some of my questions. I would have asked many more, but I can see that hon. Members are anxious to get on with other matters that they consider to be more important.

Mr. Foster: There appears to be some confusion as regards the hon. Gentleman's question about where drivers will be picked up on camera. I have in front of me the Library briefing on the scheme, which suggests that there are cameras throughout the entirety of the zone. It says:

    ''It is not a 'cordon' scheme based solely on cameras at boundary points; any vehicle moving within the zone, whether or not crossing a boundary, will be monitored by cameras throughout the zone''.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will encourage the Minister to clarify that.

Mr. Randall: All I can say is that I shall do my best, but I may not always be as persuasive as I would like. The idea of roving cameras is fascinating, and I am

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sure that all members of the Committee would like to know more about that aspect.

5.5 pm

Rob Marris: Will the Minister clarify the situation in which his or my constituents in the west midlands are likely to find themselves when they drive down to London? How will they, or tourists, know that they are entering the forbidden zone?

5.6 pm

Mr. Spellar: It has been an interesting debate, which has ranged from discussions on the possible Conservative candidate for Mayor-including what I took to be a coded endorsement for the re-emergence of Lord Archer, if he is let out in time-to an allegation that the people of London are flocking to the Conservatives. That might be news to my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen), whose constituency is in the London borough of Hounslow, where not long ago a by-election took place in a ward that had previously been held by the Conservatives-by which I mean that a Conservative loss created the vacancy. Labour won the seat, the residents association came second, and the Conservative candidate came third. The assertion is therefore somewhat contrary to the evidence.

Mr. Foster: We obviously did not do well.

Mr. Spellar: I think that the Liberal Democrats had been around there before, so they had been found out.

It may be tempting to conduct a seminar for London Members on the intentions of the Mayor and the practicalities of the scheme, but those matters should appropriately be taken up in detail by representatives of London voters with Transport for London and the Mayor-save to say that it is the presence of the vehicle within the charging zone, whether it is still mobile or has passed through, that incurs the charge.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington asked about written representations. It is standard legal practice in regulations to require representations to be made in writing for evidential reasons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West rightly asked about people who live outside London. I suspect that by the middle of February most people will have an inkling that something is going on in central London; it might even make the national news.

We have discussed several details that are not relevant to the regulations. They are enabling regulations-the mechanism by which a scheme could be implemented-not scheme proposals. Like the previous regulations, they were properly laid before the House last year. That gave the Opposition a perfect opportunity to pray against them, but they did not take it. Now, much closer to the possible implementation date of a scheme, they are attempting to revoke the regulations. That is not the appropriate way in which to conduct such debates, and I urge my hon. Friends to reject such an approach.

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5.9 pm

Mr. Chope: The Minister argues that we should have discussed the regulations when no one's mind was focused on them. Surely it is much better to discuss such matters when there is increasing public awareness of what might be involved. Several points that have been made suggest that only when people realise that the Mayor is still absolutely intent on this ludicrous scheme do they sit up and take notice of what is involved.

From information that I have read, I understand that it is not presence in the zone but movement in it that entails a charge. If one's vehicle is in the zone at 7 am and has not moved by 6.30 pm, there will be no penalty. However, even Members of this House do not properly understand that, so constituents from Wolverhampton, South-West who are innocent and ignorant of the details of the scheme could come to London, could have their vehicle seized, with all the consequences of that, and could suffer the draconian penalties in the regulations.

That is another reason for the scheme to operate, if there has to be a scheme at all, without the draconian penalties in the first instance. Otherwise, people will say that the scheme is too complicated to take on board. There is an extremely popular misconception, which has been emphasised in this debate, that if one is able to get inside the zone by 7 o'clock and complete the rest of one's journey by 7.30 am, one will be saved from having to pay the charge.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for stressing that point. I hope that he will persuade the Minister to intervene on his speech before he finishes, because as I see it-I have examined the Library notes again-the hon. Gentleman's understanding of the scheme is correct and the Minister is incorrect. It seems that if I were to drive into London at the beginning of the week, pay my charge for going in, leave my vehicle parked for a week and then drive out, I would pay only once, which is what would be picked up on the system.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that the Minister will clarify that. The buck must stop somewhere, and surely it should stop with the Government, who have created the framework for the scheme and adopted, as part of their public service targets, measures to reduce congestion, including in London. I hope that the Minister will deal with that, because it will affect not only Londoners but people thinking of coming to London, and the difference could be between paying a fiver and paying £25.

There are other issues, such as what happens if people's cars are stolen. The regulations as currently formed suggest that if a car is stolen and put inside the zone, and if penalty charges are incurred and the car is then put in storage, that car can be disposed of after five weeks. I know many people who go away for holidays for longer than five weeks, especially retired people. Many of my constituents, who cannot abide life under this Labour Government, choose to go away for much longer than that, especially in January and February, to places such as Spain. If their cars are stolen and brought up to central London and parked

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inside the zone, what will happen? They will return to find that not only do they face enormous penalty charges, but their car has been sold for scrap or otherwise disposed of.

That is another aspect of the regulations that I think the Government will come to regret having approved. This nightmare will deter people from coming into London, which is why the charges are so strongly opposed by the London business community. Everyone interested in promoting tourism in London realises that the charges are a big turn-off to potential visitors, who will say, ''Let's go instead to a nice cosy place like Christchurch where you get much better service and the parking is much less expensive.''

 
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Prepared 6 November 2002