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Lord Dixon-Smith: This clause concerns the creation of trunk road charging schemes and I thought we should debate whether or not it is appropriate or useful. What will happen when a trunk road passes, as many do, through a town centre? A specific example is the A3 through Portsmouth, which is virtually the only means of accessing the Isle of Wight--which gives Portsmouth the power of ransom over the island. It would have to be a Secretary of State scheme because the A3 is a trunk road, so he should exercise extreme caution. He may find that doing what one community wants would have untold consequences for another down the road.
Regrettably, there are many towns without bypasses. We may hear something to improve that situation within a few days. One never knows what the future holds. In this rather leaky age, there have been occasional minor hints that even I can understand. One has to be careful when talking about England and Wales (where the appropriate national authority is the Welsh Assembly), but where a trunk road passes through a number of urban centres, another problem is how to congestion charge private travellers or commercial users--who might pass through 10 town centres in a day. There are technical problems to solve before charging schemes can work in the way that the Minister wishes.
Lord Berkeley: There are many different ways of reaching the Isle of Wight and they do not all involve travelling through Portsmouth. It is clear from Clause 166 that a trunk road charging scheme can be used only if the local traffic authority agrees. If Hampshire County Council is the charging authority, presumably a scheme need not cover the whole county but could apply to only one or two towns. I considered tabling an amendment to delete subsection (2) because I am enthusiastic about trunk road charging but Clause 166 is good as it stands and I oppose its removal.
I am obliged to my noble friend for speaking to the Question whether Clause 166 stand part. My forlorn hope is that someone somewhere will remember that originally roads were designed for movement. When I wallowed in the Department of Transport and vaguely suggested that from time to time, it was regarded as an old-fashioned and wholly reactionary idea that I should cast out of my mind without delay. It is still my belief--I hope that it is not entirely misconceived--that roads exist to help people to move around and are not intended primarily as parking lots.
Highway authorities and the organisation known as the Highways Agency are apt to forget the principle that, on the whole, roads are intended to facilitate movement, and they find every possible means to obstruct movement. Almost every week I travel the road to London from the M3. I salute the inventiveness of the Highways Agency in finding new means to obstruct the traffic. It never leaves that stretch of road alone. All of the authority's most energetic and inventive minds--I do not suggest for a moment that the number at its disposal is in any way limited--are devoted to finding, with minimum effort to themselves, yet further means to create bottlenecks. When those bottlenecks have been created, they remain totally unmanned and nobody cares for them. The bottlenecks, being very obliging, stay where they are and nobody does anything about them.
Without trying to be facetious, I ask the noble Lord to remind these bodies, in particular the Highways Agency, that they exist to help people to move around. I hope that what is sought to be done under this clause will not be used to add to the number of people whose
Lord Whitty: I have come to understand that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has at some point, and possibly repeatedly, been deeply scarred by the activities of the Highways Agency. I can only convey the authority's apologies to him and assure him that its practices and techniques are now directed at exactly what the noble Lord seeks; namely, to speed up maintenance and complete it as rapidly as possible and to ensure, as far as possible, the free flow of traffic. That is also the objective of this clause. We want to make sure that appropriate traffic, both economic and passenger, which has no other means of moving from A to B is able to get through.
As to the other point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, the Explanatory Notes were based on the original clause numbers prior to the Grand Committee stage. I believe that the clause to which he refers is now Clause 177. No doubt the noble Lord will return to the point.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, suggests that we should remove this clause. This is a very important but limited clause. It is not a provision of the kind to which my noble friend Lord Berkeley referred. The clause provides for two very limited circumstances in which congestion charging can be raised on the trunk road network: one relates to bridges and tunnels and the other, on which the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, concentrated, relates to those cases where part of a trunk road affects any local charging scheme. The power can be used only at the request of the local authority in order to complement its own charging scheme. That scheme will itself have been subject to a substantial period of consultation. In the case of Portsmouth--to correct my noble friend, Portsmouth is a unitary authority and therefore has highway responsibilities--the authority would be required to consult the Isle of Wight and other surrounding authorities, businesses and others within its own area. Therefore, that consultation would already have taken place.
The power does not permit the Secretary of State, or the National Assembly, to introduce widespread charges along the whole length of the road; nor does the Secretary of State have to agree with the local authority to impose charges, if requested, to complement the scheme. Therefore, in circumstances where it seems to the Secretary of State that the scheme is detrimental to the general flow of traffic or to neighbouring authorities, he will have the right not to accede to the request.
In general terms, however, it is important that as to those stretches of trunk road which impinge on the local authority area where major diversion would otherwise occur or the scheme would be undermined, the Secretary of State should have ability to raise charges. Therefore, this clause is necessary, and I hope that the noble Lord will not continue to oppose it.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that it would be remarkable if in debating a Bill of this kind, there was universal agreement on the amendments. I should be wholly surprised if somebody, perhaps even the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, did not oppose the Question that the clause stand part.
The Minister has spared me the necessity of explaining the difference in status between a city as important as Portsmouth and a county council as significant as Hampshire. The fact is that Portsmouth will be a local transport authority, which was implicit in the response of the Minister.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. If he achieves nothing else, he always makes us think. His statement that roads are to facilitate movement is fundamental. That is very nearly a point on which there is a fundamental division within the Committee. One may argue about what facilitates movement; occasionally, even limited restrictions do so. Therefore, in this matter there are deep shades of grey.
I was delighted to hear the Minister say that in considering its particular problems Portsmouth would be obliged to undertake a very wide degree of consultation. Therefore, the Minister is supportive of a group of amendments in my name which are to be debated later. The Bill provides that the local transport authority may do something. We believe that the word should be "shall", not "may". I should be satisfied that Portsmouth would consult the Isle of Wight if the Bill said that it should do so. However, the Bill does not say "shall" but "may". We shall turn to that point later, and I am delighted to have the support of the Minister for those amendments.
We have had a very good debate. As is very often the case with clause stand part debates, the purpose of debating the Question that Clause 166 shall stand part is to be clear exactly what will be the consequences of what we seek to do here. Often, Bills are obscure in that regard.