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Lord Dixon-Smith: I cannot recall the appropriate quote from the Queen of Hearts in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but I have the feeling that there is one there somewhere, if only I could remember it! However, I wish to focus on a point made by the Minister. He said that, if an inquiry were established without an independent chairman, it might be open to successful challenge in court. The noble Lord is perfectly right. If we do not stipulate that the chairman should be independent and a local authority makes such a mistake, that would be the inevitable result. It is precisely because I thought that we should avoid the waste of time and money that would be involved in such a case that it seemed to me desirable to put such a provision on the face of the Bill.
Anyone who stops and thinks for only a short while will realise that there have been a number of occasions when local authorities have managed to get themselves into a procedural muddle. They have been taken to court and it has caused a great deal of vexation. Part of the purpose of legislation is undoubtedly to try to avoid such situations arising. If we achieve that aim by the simple addition of a few words that actually cost nothing--except, perhaps, a minor deflation of the Government's ego--I really do not see why we should not do so.
We find ourselves in a rather strange situation. I shall study the Minister's response because we are dealing here with quite a few amendments. However, it seems to me that this may well be a issue to which we shall return at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Among other things, Clause 170 deals with the classes of motor vehicles in respect of which charges are imposed, as part of the matters to be considered in charging schemes. Our amendment provides that such vehicles must have more than three wheels. That sounds rather curious, but the object of the exercise is to tease out the Government's feelings about motorcycles.
Obviously, the object of road congestion charging schemes is to reduce congestion, but motorcycles contribute to reducing road congestion. The man, or commuter, on a motorcycle takes up far less room than someone driving a car. Therefore, it seems reasonable to hope and expect that motorcycles are either excluded altogether from the category of vehicles that should be charged or, alternatively, if they are included, they should be charged at a lower level. I beg to move.
Viscount Falkland: As a practising motorcyclist, and one of long standing, perhaps I may amplify what my noble friend has just said. From my personal experience of riding my motorcycle in various countries, there is no charging system that does not distinguish between four-wheeled vehicles and those with two or three wheels. Anyone who travels on a tolling autoroute in France, along an autobahn or on to an autostrada will find that there are reduced charges for motorcycles. That indicates the difference in terms of the wear and tear, pollution or anything else that is taken into account in order to assess the kind of charges that should be levied. It is an indication
This country has a long history of motorcycle manufacture and use. After all, the motorcycle was almost, but not quite, pioneered in this country. We made a significant industrial contribution to the design and manufacture of motorcycles to the extent that, pre-1960, we were probably the major manufacturer of machines for pleasure, for commuting and for motor sport. With that background, it is rather curious that there is now an equivocal attitude at local authority level to motorcycles. The way in which motorcycles are treated for the purpose of parking, which was discussed under another part of the Bill, is extremely uneven. That applies not only within the London area but generally throughout the United Kingdom.
In the transport plans of various local authorities no distinction is made between motorcycles and other forms of vehicle in terms of the pollution that they are alleged to produce or, indeed, as regards the wear and tear, the costs to taxpayers and the causes of congestion. Motorcycles cause far less pollution and congestion than other vehicles. The Bill as drafted will not encourage local authorities to take a more rational view of that problem.
I am sure noble Lords will remember that the Budget of March 1999 provided tax relief for motorcycles used for commuting as they were regarded as a green form of commuting. Therefore, there is a clear recognition that motorcycles and scooters comprise a different class of vehicle in terms of assessing charging schemes.
As my noble friend said, this is a probing amendment on which it would be useful to hear the Government's views. Thus far the Government have made some encouraging comments about motorcycles. The number of motorcycles and scooters on our roads has grown immeasurably over the past three years. My noble friend talked of a man on a motorcycle. However, current registrations show that more women are applying for motorcycle licences.
Noble Lords may not have used the facility themselves, but there are good motorcycle taxi facilities available. I am told by fellow motorcyclists with whom I chat when waiting at a red light that it is largely women who use those taxi services. They recognise that they are the best way to get to airports or to meetings. Women now form an important part of the motorcycling community. They complain most vociferously about the uneven and unreasonable--as it is perceived--view of some local authorities which bracket together the larger, more polluting vehicles and motorcycles.
As I say, it would be helpful if the Minister would say whether the Government distinguish between motorcycles, scooters and other vehicles in this regard. That would enormously encourage those who have tabled the amendment and the expanding group of people of all ages who use motorcycles. I do not say that they use them for pleasure because in this Anglo-Saxon environment in which we live I notice that
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not know which cruel person allocated this amendment to me for a response. On a previous occasion in Committee I made it clear that I am frightened of bikers. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned scooters. Forty years ago I used to ride a scooter. I was frightened as much of myself as of anyone else, particularly when I fell off, as I frequently did.
Motor vehicles, as defined in Clause 197(1), already exclude electrically assisted pedal cycles and other forms of unpowered modes of transport. This leaves us with the question of whether it is right, as the amendment suggests, that the Bill should automatically exclude all powered two wheelers--that is, motorbikes and scooters--from charges in all circumstances. I am not convinced that this would be the right way to proceed.
We addressed this matter in our consultation paper Breaking the Logjam. We sought people's views on the merits of a national exemption for motorcycles from road user charges. Over 60 per cent of respondents thought that there should not be a national exemption. Many suggested that the matter should be left to local discretion. We recognise the merits of an exemption from charges for motorcycles. It could overcome a number of practical problems that might be encountered if they were subject to road user charges.
However, I remind the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that we are discussing congestion charging. There are issues of pollution and also of noise pollution. I do not think motorcycles would be regarded favourably in terms of noise pollution. However, we are principally discussing congestion. It is undoubtedly the case that a two-wheeled vehicle takes up less horizontal road space than a four-wheeled vehicle, or even a three-wheeled vehicle such as a Reliant Robin or a motorcycle with a sidecar. A charging authority might decide that it is appropriate to charge motorcycles if they contribute to local congestion problems.
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, referred to motorways in other countries. However, in the centre of Rome or Bologna the congestion is caused almost entirely by two-wheeled vehicles and pedestrians. The fact that it will be open to charging authorities to charge motorcycles at a reduced rate on the basis that two wheels cause less of a congestion problem than four wheels is a perfectly rational solution. If that is what the noble Viscount seeks, we seek the same thing.
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