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

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Mr. Foster: I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr. Atkinson. Like the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), I have no significant concerns about the regulations and want simply to pose questions to the Minister that will help local authorities that implement the powers granted by the regulations.

As I mentioned, I found it somewhat difficult to get hold of some of the paperwork that relates to the regulations. I am grateful to the Library for its considerable effort in obtaining documents, and especially copies of the 1998(a) legislation to which the regulations refer. I can tell anyone in the Library who might read the report of our deliberations that I found that rather less helpful than I expected because it referred me back to further legislation that I did not have the time to get.

One of the major worries expressed by local authorities that conducted the trials was that the amount that they received from the fines that were levied was insufficient to cover the cost of their work. I am delighted that the Government have rectified that by acknowledging the need to provide government support to local authorities. Indeed, I am delighted that the Government especially acknowledged in the documentation the problem that local authorities that successfully persuaded car drivers to produce low emissions from their vehicles were likely to receive a lower income and therefore be penalised as a result of their success. I am glad that the Government have taken both points on board.

However, worries have been raised by not only the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire, but other organisations involved in the two-year consultation following the Government's announcement of their intention. The regulations do not appear to take account of several worries raised by local organisations—at least not fully. Although I shall not name all the organisations, I would be grateful to hear the Minister's comments on and responses to their concerns. For example, several local authorities and other organisations wonder why the Government have decided to limit powers of local authorities so that they apply to only air quality management areas. If they wish to reduce pollution levels throughout the country, why have the Government decided not to extend those powers to a wider area? The reason might be financial or managerial.

On that point, however, I note with interest that the power of local authorities to address vehicle engines that are left idling for long periods is not restricted to a specific area and that all local authorities may act on that. I am sure that the Minister will be able to explain that slight conflict. Will he point out the relevant paragraph of the regulations that clarifies that distinction and says that councils may apply powers on idling offences in any area? I simply could not find it, although I am sure that it is there, and that the deficiency is on my part.

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Those consulted expressed a further concern about the publicity that will be given to the scheme. If provisions on high and unacceptable levels of emissions are applied only in AQMAs, members of the public who drive into that area might reasonably expect publicity to warn them that they are in danger of being penalised for having smoky exhausts. There will be those who say that it is tough luck; if vehicles are substandard, they should be sorted out. However, that would be to fly in the face of a sensible recent Government decision to make speed cameras—which are designed primarily to get people to reduce their speed, not to catch them out—very visible and to give speed traps a great deal of publicity. How do the Government intend to publicise the regulations, and what does the Minister expect successful local authorities to do about publicising the particular localities in which the powers can be used?

The Minister told us that the trials in a number of locations were successful. I have already asked what he understands by success. I am grateful to the Department for having published in great detail the responses to the consultation and to the trials and I am sure that all members of the Committee have read them diligently. It is not fair to say that the trials were a complete success. So unsuccessful were they in some cases that the Department chose to change the operation of the scheme significantly from the way in which it worked in a particular trial area. I note with interest the response of Birmingham city council:

    ''The pilot scheme showed no measurable evidence of improved air quality nor that the percentage of vehicles failing reduced.''

There are comments from other trial areas about inconsistency of penalty schemes and so on. As the Minister promised that he would give us some examples of the successes, I hope that he will acknowledge that the scheme was not an unmitigated success and that he will comment on the problems too.

Concerns have been expressed by a number of local authorities about the various concessions that are allowed under the regulations to motorists who, having been stopped, caught and done might be able to get some concession for their subsequent actions. That seems to be a reasonable approach. However, the Minister will be aware that there is concern about how those concessions will be judged, not least due to the interpretation of the word reasonable, as it appears in a number of cases.

There is also, as the explanatory notes make clear, a requirement that the police must be involved in the process before a test can be carried out by an authorised officer, because the police are the only people with the power to stop vehicles. That is understood. However, no reference is made to the cost of the police. Can the Minister make it clear that no additional burden will be placed on local authorities for the work of the police? If that is not the case, will he confirm that the Government's estimate of £4 million a year or £8 million over two years is intended to cover additional payments to the police? If so, what will the mechanism for recharge be? A number of authorities have asked that question.

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In conclusion, although I have asked a number of questions, as has the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire, I fully support what the Government are doing. However, during the lengthy consultation, concerns were expressed by a number of local authorities. We should therefore give the Minister an opportunity not only to explain in more detail the Government's thinking, but to clarify some of those issues for the benefit of local authorities, which I hope will take up the opportunities afforded to them under the regulations. My only fear is that, if as many local authorities as I hope will do so take up those opportunities, the amount of money set aside by the Government will be woefully inadequate.

4.54 pm

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): Briefly, I want to ask the Minister whether there will be any exemptions, particularly to the stationary idling offence. I have in mind those refrigerated vehicles that deliver food, whose drivers must keep the engine running because it runs the refrigeration plant, but there may be other categories of vehicle to which an exemption should apply because they do not deliberately cause an emission nuisance.

4.55 pm

Mr. Jamieson: We have had a useful debate. I thank the hon. Members for North-East Cambridgeshire and for Bath (Mr. Foster) for lending their support to the regulations. I shall deal with their questions as best I can, and if any of my replies are inadequate, I shall certainly back them up with correspondence, where appropriate.

The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire asked about the overall objective. The overall objective, of course, is to help local authorities that have responsibility for areas with air quality difficulties. We are helping them to reach their targets, and that will add to the national air quality standards at which we are aiming.

The hon. Gentleman then asked how many local authorities were failing to meet the standards. It is difficult for me to give a precise answer. We support the work of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in air quality management areas. However, we estimate that approximately 100 local authorities are having difficulty meeting the targets, but these extra powers will help them to do so.

The hon. Gentleman asked about pilots. There were pilots in Canterbury, Birmingham, Bristol, Westminster, Glasgow, Swansea and Middlesbrough. Generally, we found few teething problems, and the scheme was accepted fairly widely. A question was raised about who would stop motorists on the street. Of course, that must be done by uniformed police constables, although the testing would be carried out by local authority officials or people designated by them.

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Mr. Moss: Will the Minister point out to me where that is confirmed? Is it included in some other regulation that I have overlooked? I could not find anything in the Statutory Instrument to that effect.

Mr. Jamieson: It is in the Environment Act 1995.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): My hon. Friend the Minister says that motorists will be stopped by a constable, but as he will know, the Government are proposing to introduce police auxiliaries to back up constables. Would a police auxiliary also have that power?

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend raises an important point. Legislation passing through the House may provide for that. I cannot pre-empt what the House will do to that legislation, but it is a possibility.

I was asked about the cost of the local authority trials. The costs are potentially high, but local authorities do not need many officials or need to conduct many tests. We are hoping that there will be a deterrent effect on the people in a locality, which will be reinforced by advertising and other measures.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether some local authorities were likely to do without the funding. Yes, if authorities want to go ahead without funding, they are at liberty to do so. They will have some problems breaking even, but that is a matter for them. They must arrange their own priorities. It is not for us to dictate whether they should do so. I was asked about the timing of the test, the deferred test and whether section 45 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is a MOT test. The answer is yes.

 
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