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Lord Whitty: I am always grateful to the noble Lord when he is helpful. I understand what he is driving at. The problem is that the amendment would lead to the opposite situation, because it would require all local authorities involved to agree before a joint scheme could be revoked. That would make it impossible for a single authority to decide that it was no longer in its own interests to participate.

Our general approach has been to avoid having too many barriers for authorities that decide to revoke a charging scheme. Therefore, the consequence of that approach is that a single authority would have the right to revoke its part of that scheme.

The noble Lord is concerned that the right of a single authority in a joint scheme may be used precipitately as a result of this clause. There will be plenty of other safeguards to ensure that that will not happen. In practice, a scheme would not be agreed or approved unless there was a clear period of notice before any of the participating authorities could withdraw from a joint scheme. No doubt there would be also a number of other contractual arrangements in relation to the operation of the scheme which all participating authorities would have to consider.

Therefore, although the noble Lord's amendment appears to be aimed at stability, in fact the nature of the schemes will provide a fair degree of stability. The requirement that all authorities participating would jointly have to agree the revocation is too onerous and would reduce the flexibility and accountability of the individual local authorities concerned. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord not to press the amendment despite the fact that I recognise his good motives in that regard and he points to a problem. However, this amendment creates another problem.

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5 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: We are dealing with a question of what I can only describe as relative problems. But what the Minister has not said in his reply is that the individual local authority which is participating in a scheme may withdraw from the scheme in relation to its own territory. The Bill says that it can revoke a scheme.

I accept that there will be a great number of safeguards. Obviously, any joint scheme will have fairly tight contractual arrangements, such as periods of notice and so on. I accept that there will be a degree of stability. But we need to be extremely careful about the words on the face of the Bill. I can understand an authority in a joint scheme being able to revoke a scheme in relation to its own area so that what was formerly a joint scheme would no longer apply in that area. The Minister says that if a transport authority which is part of a joint scheme wishes to withdraw, the whole scheme will go. That is beginning to fly in the face of the earlier remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, about the intended disincentive effect of the existence of those charges. These are supposed to be matters of national significance, with the purpose being to provide a major disincentive to all traffic permanently and for ever. But here, a local transport authority may revoke a scheme because it does not like it. Therefore, that impact will immediately be lost.

It seems to me that that is an inconsistency in the Government's position as between one amendment and another, although it is not relevant to this amendment. I shall study what the Minister said and, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 167 agreed to.

Clause 168 agreed to.

Clause 169 [Charging schemes: consultation and inquiries]:

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 207:


    Page 101, line 23, leave out ("may at any time") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 207 is grouped with a large number of other amendments. Paradoxically, the Minister has already spoken to this amendment which makes mandatory consultation on the introduction of a charging scheme.

We have had this debate on many occasions. I am sure that we shall continue to have it. In his reply, the Minister will no doubt say, as he has done before, that in legislation, the word "may" is normally used and for "may" read "shall". But if one were to refer to the dictionary, "may" does not mean "shall". It is as simple as that.

When these schemes are being introduced, it is important that the obligation to consult is of the widest and, indeed, that obligation should be spelt out on the face of the Bill.

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Other amendments in this group seek to ensure that the people who are consulted are "interested" people. The Bill provides something about consulting such other people as the local transport authority considers desirable. It should be "such other interested people" who are desirable. It should not be those whom the local transport authority considers desirable but rather those who are interested or their representatives. Likewise, there will always be affected organisations; for example, those interested in the transport organisations or representatives of business and commerce. They should be consulted. Such matters should be on the face of the Bill.

Wrapped up within this group of amendments is another amendment which is highly desirable. The amendment requires the local transport authority, when it is undertaking consultation on the introduction of a charging scheme, to introduce a cost-benefit analysis; in other words, to show to the local community that it will receive something back for the money which it is being forced to contribute. That is not at all unreasonable. It will be an extremely useful discipline for the local transport authority to have to stop and think with care and in detail what it will do with the funds which it is extracting from its community or, indeed, from visitors or people simply passing through who will be likely to be caught.

These amendments are repeated in relation to the workplace parking levy. The same arguments hold good in relation to that. If we are to have these schemes, it seems to me that they must be very well thought through in the first instance and then very well explained and acceptable to the community. If they are not, all that will happen is that there will be a political revolution come the next local elections and somebody will be brought in who will do something different. That is the nature of politics. The comparison between these charges and levies and the poll tax has been made.

It may well be that when those charges and levies are in place at some point in the future, they will have a similar impact. I should not go so far as to say that that is certain, but it is certain that there will be extremely negative reactions to the introduction of those charges if the consultation process is weak--under the Bill, there is potential for that--and if, more importantly, the community cannot see that it will gain, rather than lose, as a consequence. I beg to move.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My noble friend makes an extremely good point. It is far from my intention to suggest that the whole of officialdom is high-handed, arrogant and rude. I really do not make that suggestion. However, undoubtedly parts of it suffer from certain defects. That being the case, I think it unwise to use the words "may at any time". In the unlikely event that the charging authority is not naturally good mannered or considerate of the rights of others, it should be obliged to consult. My noble friend is right. He has done a good service to the Committee in making the point by moving the amendment. I hope that the Government will at least

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give it serious thought, if they do not decide to accept it. I can see no reason why they should not do the latter.

Lord Lea of Crondall: I wish to speak to Amendment No. 263A in this grouping. The measures in Part III will need all the support they can get when they come to fruition. Much still has to be done to integrate transport policy with the workplace. Both limbs of the measures in Part III have much to do with the workplace, which is the main cause of peak period congestion, and we now have the proposal for a parking charge.

I would go only some of the way with noble Lords opposite in predicting revolution as a result of the Bill coming on to the statute book, either for national government or local government. There will certainly be much debate in the workplace when the Bill comes to fruition. Amendment No. 263A is connected to Amendment No. 263B, which has been moved to a different part of the grouping and to which I shall speak later. It is important that we have reassurance on the face of the Bill that employers will be consulted. That, in turn, will act as a stimulus to employers to draft their own green transport plans, which I shall come to later.

Lord Berkeley: I rise briefly to support the comments of my noble friend Lord Lea on Amendment No. 263A. I support everything he said. Perhaps I may add that I am pleased to have received a briefing from the Confederation of British Industry which states that, in principle, it supports the scheme. That is significant.

The CBI has attached to its support a number of conditions. The main one in connection with this amendment is that it would prefer to see the need for consultation to be a statutory requirement. If it is not, it would like to see the Bill accompanied by statutory guidance as to how consultation can be achieved. We spend a great deal of time on this and other Bills talking about consultation, and the discussion can sometimes become ethereal. However, all noble Lords who have spoken so far in Committee have stated that it is a practical necessity to get ownership of this scheme for those who will be affected by it. I am not so frightened. I believe that if it is explained properly, many people will support it and see the benefits which will come to them. However, I believe that, at the very least, statutory guidance should be issued so that there is consistency of consultation where such schemes are proposed.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: Perhaps I may say, at the outset, that we believe that effective consultation will be central to the charging or levy scheme at local level. The Government attach considerable importance to that. Indeed, as we said in our response to Breaking the Logjam, consultation with local people and businesses will be one of the core elements of any local scheme before it is approved by the Secretary of State. It is clear that consultation is a major part of that process.

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Moreover, we have emphasised that charging schemes should support the objectives of a local authority's local transport plan, which is subject to extensive consultation. Every road user or workplace parking scheme will contain much detail and have a direct impact on the interests of many sections of the community. It must, therefore, be subject to a separate and detailed process of public scrutiny and consultation.

Furthermore, Clause 169 provides a power for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly to direct a charging or licensing authority to undertake further consultation if the appropriate national authority deems that the original consultation was insufficient.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, anticipated, in providing for such consultation we have used the normal terminology "may". I see no good reason to change that. To ensure that that is turned into full and effective consultation we shall issue guidance. In due course, regulations will be issued using the powers in Clause 167(3). We shall list a number of consultees, the core of which will be similar to those for traffic orders. It will include additions, such as chief police officers, district councils in two-tier authorities, RDAs, national parks authorities and so forth, where appropriate.

For workplace parking schemes, which do not affect such a wide group of people, a simpler list of statutory consultees will be more appropriate. It will include, for example, neighbouring authorities likely to be affected and a requirement to consult and actively involve local people, local employers, local trade unions, transport operators, transport users, representative groups--for example those for the disabled--and such organisations as are appropriate in the locality. In some cases that would require consultation with other public bodies. The guidance will clearly spell out the need to consult widely and meet the objectives set out by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and others.

Amendment No. 263A was spoken to by my noble friends Lord Lea and Lord Berkeley. The amendment would place a requirement on the Secretary of State to draw up model guidelines on consultation with employers, along the lines the CBI would want. I assure my noble friends that we fully intend to issue such guidance. At present, through our Charging Development Partnership, we are working closely with those local authorities which have it in mind to introduce such schemes. We shall need to learn from that partnership and build on the experience it has encountered in issuing and developing guidance.

In the mean time, every charging scheme will need the approval of the Secretary of State or the National Assembly and will therefore be subject to careful scrutiny before it starts. I assure the Committee that we do not intend to approve schemes unless there has been appropriate consultation with people and businesses.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, also drew attention to Amendments Nos. 210 and 242 on cost-benefit analysis. Again, we shall issue guidance to authorities on the way in which they should assess the

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likely impact of the scheme. That will be slightly wider than traditional cost-benefit analysis. They will need to look at the benefits to the community as a whole and the impact on the environment. However, it must be a robust assessment of the impact of that scheme.

On that front and on the consultation front I hope that my assurances have convinced Members of the Committee that the Bill as it stands and the regulations which will follow meet all their objectives in this regard. I hope, therefore, that they do not see the need to move their amendments.


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