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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002 and Special Grant Report (No. 94) (HC 885) on Funding for Enforcement of Vehicle Emission Standards 2002

Seventh Standing Committee

on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 26 June 2002

[Mr. Peter Atkinson in the Chair]

Draft Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 94) (HC 885), on Funding for Enforcement of Vehicle Emission Standards 2002.

Mr. Jamieson: I wish first to say what a pleasure it is to be in Committee under your chairmanship again, Mr. Atkinson. The regulations will provide local authorities with powers to help them reduce the number of polluting vehicles on England's roads, and thereby improve air quality. They do not create new offences, but they give local authorities powers to enforce existing offences. The powers are optional and have already been trialled successfully by several local authorities. The regulations impose no new burdens, although we hope to encourage local authorities to adopt them.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): Obviously, we shall debate the trials, but the Minister rushed over the matter when he said that they had been successful. Will he explain a little about his judgment of what is and what is not successful?

Mr. Jamieson: Yes, as the debate continues, I shall be pleased to do that. After the hon. Gentleman makes his contribution, perhaps I will cite some examples of that success.

Mr. Foster: So will I.

Mr. Jamieson: So we will celebrate together.

The regulations provide two sets of powers, the first of which will enable local authorities with particularly bad air quality problems—designated as air quality management areas and mainly in the inner cities—to carry out roadside tests of vehicle emissions and to issue fixed penalties to drivers of vehicles that are causing unnecessary pollution. Unfortunately, many drivers pay little attention to their vehicles until the MOT is due. The National Audit Office has estimated that up to 20 per cent. of vehicles on Britain's roads exceed legal emission limits. We hope that the threat of a roadside test and a possible £60 penalty will encourage more drivers to take proper care of their vehicles.

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The second set of powers will enable local authorities to request drivers to switch off engines left running in parked vehicles, and to issue fixed penalties in the few cases when people refuse to co-operate. Some drivers do that for one reason or another; sometimes in coaches in busy town centres or when they are waiting outside schools or railway stations. Such pollution can be extremely unpleasant, not to say unhealthy, for those nearby. Local authorities will give wide publicity to the new powers. No one should be in any doubt about how to avoid a penalty. There are 25 regulations. I shall not detain the Committee by explaining them all now. However, if hon. Members want me to elaborate on them, I shall be pleased to do so.

The special grant report on funding for the enforcement of vehicle emission standards will enable the Secretary of State to grant funds to certain local authorities that are conducting roadside vehicle emission tests, thereby supporting their efforts to improve local air quality. Local authority powers to conduct such tests are contained in the proposed Road Traffic (Vehicle Emissions) (Fixed Penalty) (England) Regulations 2002 which have recently been laid before the House. It is proposed that the powers tackle the large number of vehicles on Britain's roads that cause avoidable air pollution.

Under the regulations, local authority personnel will be able to issue a fixed penalty of £60 to the driver of any vehicle that fails an emissions test. Our intention is that the prospect of a fixed penalty will act as a deterrent and encourage more drivers to take proper care of their vehicles. Participating local authorities will give wide publicity to their new powers and will, we hope, need to issue relatively few penalties. That is what happened when the scheme was trialled by local authorities over the past few years.

Although my colleagues at the Treasury have given approval for local authorities to keep the revenue from the fixed penalties, roadside emissions testing will not be self-financing. My Department wants to ease the burden on local authorities by providing grant support towards the cost. We have set aside from the Department's allocation in the 2000 spending review approximately £4 million for the purpose for this financial year and the next. I am asking for the Committee's approval to pass the money on to local authorities by means of a special grant. The report contains seven clauses and three annexes. If the Committee requires further elaboration, I shall be pleased to provide it.

4.35 pm

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr. Atkinson.

In essence, Conservative Members support the measures and will not detain the Committee long. However, I have several questions. If the Minister can answer them today, that is fine, but if he cannot, I shall accept his writing to me at a more convenient time.

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Have the Government any overriding objectives in introducing the proposal? Is it a general approach to improve air quality standards in certain key towns and cities, or are they setting targets for the two-year funding period? It is not clear from the Minister's comments whether they are targeting money to achieve specific ends.

Regulation 4(1) refers to the matters in relation to which a person can be stopped and have a test done. Regulation (4)(2)(a) refers to circumstances when

    ''the emission of smoke and other vapours and substances from vehicles is such that it is, or is likely to become, significant in determining whether or not the air quality standards or objectives will be achieved within that authority's area''.

The provision is aligned with stated objectives that local authorities are trying to meet. In light of what the Government are trying to do, how many local authorities, especially larger, urban authorities, are failing to tackle the problem of appropriate standards for air quality, because of vehicle emissions? Is it a large number, or are they restricted to several key areas, in particular, inner-city conurbations? It would help the Committee to know the scale of the problem to enable us to measure whether the Government's allocation of grant resource to the problem will do the job and satisfy the need. How many local authorities does the Minister believe do not meet air quality standards and objectives?

The Minister spoke of some pilot, or trial, schemes. Perhaps he will go into more detail and inform the Committee how many pilots and trials were conducted and, if possible, say which local authorities did them and whether any problems were experienced in implementing the policies. He said that they had been introduced successfully. Does that mean that there were no teething problems and that things sailed through, or were there problems that needed ironing out?

Someone from the council, for want of a better term, will have to be at the roadside with other colleagues, dressed in a recognisable uniform, and stop people in cars on the basis of a suspicion—perhaps clouds of smoke emitting from the rear of the car—that there is a problem. In those trials, did people do what they were asked to do by council officials and pull over and comply with the request? Or was it necessary to involve the police and have a more authoritarian presence to ensure that people complied with the request to stop and have their vehicle tested?

What costs were involved in the local authority trials? In a large local authority area, with hundreds or thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of cars passing through it each week, a fairly large team of people would be required to tackle the problem. I made a quick back-of-the-envelope guesstimate, and I think that £100,000 would probably be on the low side for the overall annual cost of providing that kind of service. The Minister will no doubt put me right if I have got my figures wrong, but by dividing £4 million a year by £100,000, it can be estimated that about 40 local authorities can be assisted. If the costs of running the operation were double that amount—£200,000 a

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year—only 20 local authorities could be helped with the grant money. That puts the provisions into perspective.

The regulations will enable local authorities to use the measures whether or not they get a grant. Are any authorities embarking on carrying them out without a grant, and are the local authorities that are unlikely to get a grant embracing the measures of their own volition?

The regulations refer to a test that can be taken in situ when the official stops the car. Alternatively, the official or authorised person can instruct the driver to present himself for a test situation within 14 days. The driver must also get the certificate that is referred to under section 45 of the Road Traffic Act 1988(a), which I think is an MOT certificate; perhaps the Minister will confirm that that is the case, as I have not had the opportunity to seek out that Act.

Mr. Foster: I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman had difficulty finding the 1988 Act, because neither the Library nor the Vote Office—or any other organisation in the House—could provide a copy of that document.

Mr. Moss: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for helping me out of a hole. I thought that it was because of the incompetence of my researcher that I could not discover the 1998 Act, but I now understand that it is not readily available. That brings me to the explanatory memorandum that goes with the regulations; I understand that it was not available in the Vote Office until yesterday. The fact that we have not had the right paperwork is a problem for those of us opposing the regulations.

Do the Government have any figures relating to how many drivers are not obtaining appropriate MOT certificates? Is it 5 per cent., or perhaps 10 per cent.? Is it a part of this drive not just to improve the air quality by imposing the tests and penalties, but to make sure that more people are sent along to get their MOT certificate—or failure notice, which is just as valid as it shows that the driver presented themselves for a proper test?

Finally, what if someone fails to stop when requested to do so by the authorised person and drives off? Frankly, it seems likely that that will often occur, because the very people who are causing the problem are those who drive old cars, who wreck and abandon them, who do not have an MOT, and who do not pay tax on, or insure, their vehicles. We are dealing with a section of the community that will not comply readily with someone who stops them at the side of the road. What recourse do local authorities have under the regulations to pursue such people, and how are they to do so? Is it simply a matter of taking down the number of the car and following it up in the usual way?

On balance we accept that the regulations are good, but we have some reservations about the practicalities of the measures. I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in response.

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4.44 pm

 
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