Thursday 22 May 2003
[SYLVIA HEAL in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
The Government were asked—
Drug Use (Schools)
What assessment they have made of the proportion of pupils who have had experience of (a) soft and (b) hard drugs by the time they leave school, broken down by (i) independent and (ii) maintained schools. 
The 2002 school survey on smoking, drinking and drug use suggested that 36 per cent. of 15-year-olds had used some form of drug in the preceding 12 months; 8 per cent. had taken a class A drug during that time.On the question relating to types of school, the last available information, in 2000, indicated no discernable difference.
The last available evidence is now quite distant and my information comes from visits that I have made to a great many universities as higher education spokesperson. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest a rather higher prevalence of drug use among those who come from the independent sector—not surprisingly, perhaps, given that most of them tend to be from the richer sections of society. Would it not be a good idea to do some rather better and more up-to-date research to check those figures? It might be of interest to parents in deciding whether to send their children to one sector or the other.
I am not sure that it will do the hon. Gentleman's party in the south of England much good to say that drugs are rife among those who attend schools in the independent sector.As this is our first question, I take the opportunity to say that drugs are an issue of tremendous importance to young people, parents and communities throughout the country. They will welcome the fact that, for the first time, we parliamentarians have taken the opportunity to consider the issue across the Government, and to allow the Government to be scrutinised and held to account by opposition parties. On the specific point raised by the hon. Gentleman in respect of there being no discernable difference in 2000, it is not particularly helpful to make sweeping statements about the nature of schools and links between that and drug use. Our aspiration is to use drugs education to maximum effect to influence young people's behaviour, whichever school they might have attended. However, I am willing to consider the case for next year's study being clearer on the nature and scale of the problem in different schools, although I am not persuaded that that would be the most worthwhile use of our resources.
I concur with my hon. Friend the Minister. Rather than categorising schools, would not a better use of resources be a look at who is taking drugs and, more particularly, the development of a long-term study to consider young people's susceptibility to addictive behaviour? It is important that we start at the youngest age possible. Too often, researchers look at the problem only once young people have been taking drugs for a considerable period. We need to begin earlier; we need to look at those who are likely to start taking drugs.
My hon. Friend is right. There is a growing awareness and understanding of the importance of addressing those issues from primary school age onwards. We are putting significant resources into curriculum content and continual professional development for those working with primary school children.My hon. Friend's comments on young people who are particularly susceptible to such addictive behaviour are worth considering. Most useful would be a look at existing evaluation, research and analysis to ensure that it takes adequate account of his concerns, and we shall certainly seek to do that.
I am glad that the Minister has mentioned drugs education. What evidence does he have that it works? As far as I can see, there seem to be as many different education programmes as there are illicit drugs, and they are delivered by bodies as diverse as the police and reformed addicts. Which programmes are the most effective and what impact have they had on stopping young people experimenting with drugs?
Our policy is quite clear. We have devolved resources to local education authorities and schools so that decisions are made locally about which provisions are most appropriate and respond to the requirements of the personal, social and health education national curriculum.It is not appropriate for central Government to prescribe models, although that is not the same as saying that we do not want to learn from good practice or to study drugs education programmes that work. That is one reason why we have launched a project to study the effects of drugs education in 30 schools up and down the country over a relatively long period. The impact of such programmes on behaviour cannot be established in the short term. What is required is a longer-term study of young people's access to drugs education, and one would hope for a reduction in drug use in that cohort later.
Following on from that, I commend the Government for their educational initiatives in schools. However, one of my concerns is that teachers are often not fully aware of what is happening out in society—they are not really in tune with cultural changes. What measures have been introduced to raise their knowledge and awareness?
I can assure my hon. Friend that unprecedented resources are going into focusing on the issue at the initial teacher training stage. Equally important, if not more so, is continual professional development. We need the experts in PSHE to feel comfortable and confident about delivering drugs education in schools and to know when it is appropriate to call in specialists to assist them. In that respect, we should not forget that there is a role for external voluntary organisations, as well as the police, in some cases, to come into schools to assist teachers. As I say, there is unprecedented investment.The curriculum support materials that we now provide are far more effective than they were. We are in the process of clarifying and reissuing guidance to front-line teachers and head teachers on what constitutes appropriate drugs education at the beginning of the 21st century. We must ensure that our approach gets through to today's generation of young people, and that requires a far better understanding of how they will respond. It is no good turning them off—we must turn them on so that they take seriously the credibility, integrity and relevance of the drugs education programme.
Does the Minister share my concern about recent survey evidence that suggests that 86 per cent. of primary school children think that cannabis is legal, while 79 per cent. think that it is safe? Does he also share my concern about the evidence given to me by the Department of Health in a written answer on 11 April? It indicated that the use of cannabis has increased markedly among teenage children since the Home Secretary announced his intention to downgrade it to a class C drug. That is particularly true of 15-year-old girls, among whom its use has increased from 25 to 30 per cent., according to the Department's figures. Are the Government giving children the very dangerous message that cannabis is okay? Should not the policy change before more children are damaged?
If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman does no one in the House a service by presenting a misleading, factually incorrect statement on the current situation. There are absolutely no data to support any such linkages between the attitudes or behaviour of young people and the decision on the declassification of cannabis. It is clear from Government policy, in all the drugs education programmes and other programmes that we promote, that cannabis is unsafe and a risk to health. We do not want our young people to take cannabis in any circumstances or with any sense of justification. There is no evidence to suggest that young people's attitudes or behaviour have changed as a consequence of the reclassification of cannabis within the criminal justice system.
The Minister makes the case that the increase in drug use among children since the policy was announced is coincidental. He may or may not be right. Would it be reasonable for the Government to take seriously concerns about the increase in cannabis use among very young children? The figure for the 11 to 14-year-old age group has risen to 14 per cent. Indeed, there are increases in every category: the figure for 14-year-olds has risen from 18 to 19 per cent., and that for 15-year-olds has risen from 30 to 32 per cent.Among girls, there has been an even greater increase. The figure for 15-year-old girls has risen from 25 to 30 per cent., and that for 14-year-old girls has risen from 16 to 19 per cent. Those figures come from the Department of Health. Surely they are a cause of concern to the Government. Is it not time for Ministers in all Departments to pause and reflect on whether they are sending the wrong message and causing the damage?
:Of course the figures are of concern, and cannabis use is far too high. The issue that divides us is how that should be tackled. The main motive behind the reclassification decision is to create a credible message that young people are prepared to listen to. They will not listen to us if we pretend that cannabis, harmful as it is, is as dangerous as heroin or crack cocaine.We must have a credible differential message when we are dealing with young people in the modern age. They are not prepared simply to accept messages handed down from on high. Sadly, many young people have friends who take cannabis. They know about its effects, and we have to engage effectively with those people. If we are going to do that, we have to send a credible message. We decided that a credible message is a differentiated message—cannabis is harmful, but not as harmful as class A drugs, which do massive damage to our communities. It is harmful to health, and people should not take it. If people in this House and elsewhere helped to get that message across, they would be behaving a little more constructively.
Cannabis (Medicinal Use)
If they will make a statement on progress towards licensing cannabis for medicinal purposes. 
GW Pharmaceuticals has completed its advanced clinical trials on the development of a medical preparation of a cannabis-based drug. A dossier of those findings has been submitted to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency—an agency of the Department of Health—for evaluation. The assessment is one that all prospective new medicines must go through, and it is designed to protect public health. In consultation with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Government are considering how the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 would apply to the cannabis-based medicine, in the event that the agency approves the safety, quality and effectiveness of the product. The Government will seek Parliament's agreement to any necessary changes to the regulations.
When I raised the matter with the Prime Minister on 3 July 2002, he said:
Foolishly, I thought that he had used the words "urgent consideration" in the normally understood sense of the term, not in some Government or civil service manner. Will the Minister approach the matter with rather more vigour and urgency than appears to be the case at the moment? The law puts people such as my constituent, Biz Ivol, in an unspeakable dilemma whereby they are forced either to suffer unbearable pain from a disease such a multiple sclerosis or to put themselves on the wrong side of the law, thereby exposing themselves to all sorts of dangers, not least facing drug dealers and the possible ill-effects of self-medication."As he probably knows, we are currently reviewing the issue of cannabis and people with diseases such as multiple sclerosis. We are not yet in a position to state the findings of that review, but we are giving it urgent consideration."—[Official Report, 3 July 2002; Vol. 388, c. 225.]
I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what we will and will not do, which is in no way out of line with what the Prime Minister said. We have encouraged GW Pharmaceuticals to do this work, and we shall encourage all the relevant health authorities to conduct the appropriate evaluations in good time. We do not want any unnecessary delays in that regard, because the initial findings of the evaluation were extremely positive.However, we do not say that the normal, necessary procedures for properly evaluating the safety and appropriate use of a drug ought to be thrown in the bin in the case of cannabis, and that instead we ought to have a completely separate fast-track procedure. I hope the hon. Gentleman realises what a dangerous precedent that would set. In this country, we have procedures to protect our public health. All new drugs must be properly evaluated, and cannabis must be evaluated along with those. On the bright side, given the speed at which things are going, we hope that if they go well and the evaluations prove to be positive, there could be a product on the shelves before the end of the year.
As a result, in part, of the lack of urgency with which the Government have considered the medicinal aspect of cannabis and the mixed messages that they have sent, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) referred, there is a side issue to this debate—the proliferation of cannabis cafés.We now have three cannabis cafés in Worthing, although it does not exactly have a reputation for being smack alley. Bongchuffa is one, while in my constituency Buddies Hydroponics—[Laughter.] The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department may think that this is a laughing matter, but it is not if one resides in the vicinity of one of those cafés. Such things are being marketed as a community service to elderly people with multiple sclerosis and other related ailments. In truth, such activities have become big business and they act as magnets. The cafés attract all sorts of lowlife and impressionable young people, and they indulge in drugs illegally. If those drugs are illegal, why is action not taken? The mixed messages that the Government send out allow people to think that they can get away with it. When the police try to raid those premises, they cannot muster the resources to bring a prosecution. Such things have been happening for months in my constituency, so what is the Minister going to do about it?
Order. The hon. Gentleman must draw his question to a close.
I should clarify what I was laughing at—the hon. Gentleman's public school accent getting round the name of the cannabis café in his constituency. I found it somewhat amusing, but I apologise, as I should not mock the way people talk, especially not with my midlands accent.Let us try to make things absolutely clear and stop trying to spread confusion among people. Even if the GW trials go well and the appropriate approvals and evaluations to bring in a medicine are obtained, that will not mean that smoking cannabis will be legal. It is not legal now, and it is not going to be; rather, the product that GW Pharmaceuticals will produce and test, which will be available to relieve certain people, will be. The hon. Gentleman asks why action is not being taken, but has he directed that question to his local police? Did he take the matter up with other people if the answer was not satisfactory? There are cannabis cafés in this country. Prosecutions have been brought against those who have used, owned or supplied them, and closures have been effected.
I wonder whether I might make a plea. This is a question and answer session. If questions and answers are concise, we will, I hope, make good progress through the list.
I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, as I have not been to a public school in my life. I shall try to use terms that he can understand. He has not answered the question. Such cafes continue to trade and make a large amount of money—£30,000 a week in profits, so we gather—because people have the impression that they can get away with it. Secondly, Sussex police say that they do not have the resources to mount raids on such places that will result in prosecutions. How is he going to help the police to ensure that they can close down such places, if they are illegal, and give local residents the service that they expect for the taxes that they pay?
If the premises are illegal, action should be taken against them, and I remind the hon. Gentleman of what I regularly tell Conservative Members: we now have record numbers of police officers.
If they will make a statement on treatment and rehabilitation for drugs misuse. 
Drug treatment was identified as a key component of tackling drug misuse in Britain in the Government's 10-year drug strategy, published in 1998. The Government set a public service agreement target to increase the participation of problem drug users in treatment programmes by 55 per cent. by 2004, and 100 per cent. by 2008. The target is supported by a substantial increase in funding for drug treatment to £236.1 million in the financial year 2003–04.
I thank the Minister. The links between drugs and crime and drugs and social exclusion are well established and indisputable. May I ask, in this ground-breaking, cross-cutting Question Time, when the Minister and her counterparts will meet the Welsh Assembly Government's ground-breaking and cross-cutting Minister for Social Justice and Regeneration to follow up on the £18 million that was announced last summer to consider further community-based drug treatment and rehabilitation services in south Wales, particularly as the dealers of south-west England are now targeting the south Wales valleys and see the area as a cash cow?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The problems relating to the links between crime and drugs challenge every Administration. We are making progress through the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, introducing models of care, which is a national service framework for substance misuse, driving down waiting times, modernising services and getting more GPs and specialist prescribers involved. It is important that good practice be shared, both in England and in Wales. I shall be delighted to ensure that good practice is spread for the benefit of communities in every part of the country.
Do Ministers agree that one way of getting people into treatment and rehabilitation is via a social housing provider? Since the imprisonment of the Cambridge two, Ruth Wyner and John Brock, workers in the sector have been left feeling very insecure, which hinders good practice. Their vulnerability arises from the wide interpretation available to police officers in enforcing section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Police Federation has suggested that section 8(d) should be redrafted to read, instead of "knowingly permits", "knowingly and wilfully permits" the production or supply of controlled drugs.In a letter to me earlier this month the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), said:
Workers are pleased to hear of that intention, but what specific measures, if not the recommendation of the Police Federation, will the Government take to reduce the vulnerability felt by those workers?"We do not want those professionals who carry out harm reduction and care policies when working with drug misusers to be in fear of prosecution."
That uncertainty and worry has been raised with me a number of times in connection with the proposed extension of section 8 to cover other drugs and substances. We have decided for the moment not to go ahead with that, and that news has been well received by people involved in treatment and harm minimisation provision for the homeless and those in other housing situations. As an alternative, we have included a proposal in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill to give the police powers to close down crack houses within 48 hours. We shall see whether that is effective before we go along with the proposal to extend section 8.
Have Ministers had a chance to read the excellent three-page article in The Guardian today? It is by someone for whom I have great respect, Nick Davies. He has a deep insight into the drug abuse problem, and he summarises many of my thoughts on the problem.As successive Governments have bolted on so many policies we have been creating something of a monster and the whole situation has become rather complex. Nick Davies reckons that there are 44 funding agencies, and that 40 per cent. of the Bristol drug action team's time is spent treating patients, while 60 per cent. is spent dealing with bureaucracy—filling in forms, pulling agencies together and so on. Do Ministers agree that in the very near future we should set up an independent review of the effectiveness of Government policies on drug treatment and combating drug abuse? We could even consider a royal commission.
Yes, I have had an opportunity to read the article in The Guardian. It presents a fairly unbalanced report of current circumstances. It highlights important issues of administration, but it takes one perspective and makes the same allegations about the whole drug sector. In local communities throughout the country, people working in that sector do excellent work to fight the scourge of drugs, which causes so much distress. I acknowledge that Bristol has had problems. However, one of the authors of the information for that article was in a prime position to do something to improve services, but he chose to leave his position.There is a desire across Departments to reduce bureaucracy and streamline funding systems, which the DAT manager in the article could have done. We do not want to spend our time on unnecessary bureaucracy. However, we are talking about a significant amount of public expenditure, so we must ensure that we monitor it to get value for money from the treatments. For years, one of the problems in drugs treatment has been that, because it has grown up from a diverse set of providers, it has not had the rigour that we have seen elsewhere. That is what we are introducing by establishing the national treatment agency.
Liberal Netherlands and illiberal Sweden are at opposite extremes in the drugs debate. Unlike this country, both treat drug addicts in primary care using medical intervention by doctors in their equivalent of the national health service. Why, for most addicts, do we not do so?
For most addicts we provide primary and secondary care, and we are increasingly engaging GPs in drug treatment services. We have just put on a course for 400 GPs and 40 prison doctors to give them greater expertise in prescribing medication and supporting problem drug misusers as patients in the community. The engagement of GPs has a significant effect on the success rate of people who enter treatment. It is vital that we provide a good primary care service.Where people have more complex and specialised needs, it is important that specialist consultants and practitioners address their addiction issues, so that we provide the right service in the right place at the right time. That requires a range of care, including specialist rehab, detox, structured day care and counselling, and GP-prescribing services. We want to ensure that the NHS provides a range of services to support people wherever they are, to get them into treatment and to free them from the misery of drugs.
Is not the problem that the Government have said that they want to double the number of drug treatment places, but careful examination of the figures to which they refer reveals that they apply to the number of people who are in contact with drug treatment agencies? The two are not the same. That relates to the previous question.Last February, the Audit Commission said that so far as drug treatment was concerned there were long waiting lists and limited treatment options; care management often failed to address drug misusers' wider social problems; and a lot of treatment was inconsistently delivered. Would it not be better to follow the Swedish model, for instance, and aim to provide intensive drug treatment places? That could be done; it would probably mean providing another 8,000 beds, but it is certainly an affordable proposition if the will is there. That might start to have an impact on reducing drug addiction and, above all, rehabilitating young drug addicts.
First, I say to the hon. Gentleman that treating problem drug misusers was hardly a priority for the Conservative Government. Because we recognise the scale of the problem in our communities, there is, for the first time, massive extra investment and a range of services. The hon. Gentleman's approach is fundamentally misconceived. He advocates a one-club policy, which would mean that we had in-patient detoxification only. He well knows that different drug misusers have different problems and need different kinds of care, including GP prescribing, specialist intervention, detox and rehabilitation. The world is a lot more complex than the hon. Gentleman seems to think, and it is important that the NHS provides a range of services in the right place at the right time to address people's needs.
We are now halfway through this question and answer session. With the assistance of all hon. Members, I hope still to succeed in making good progress.
What assessment has been made of the link between drug abuse and gang culture. 
Research in Manchester last year, funded by the Home Office and undertaken as part of the targeted police initiative, suggested that drug-related offending was only one element of a patchwork of violent and non-violent crimes committed by gangs.
May I raise with Ministers the appalling experiences, ranging from intimidation to serious assault, that my constituents have had with gangs of young men? Gangs regularly break into blocks of flats and inhabit the stairwells specifically to take drugs, and when under the influence of drugs they continue to vandalise the entire estate. Will Ministers make me aware of any work that their Departments are doing to tackle gang behaviour and gang culture? Secondly, will they say whether they are considering any creative solutions, such as attaching youth workers, not just police, to specific schools? Will they fund the measures that work, and give more money for estate and neighbourhood wardens, and for youth services?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out some of the problems. There is, of course, the youth inclusion programme, which is specifically aimed at people who have been involved, or are at risk of getting involved, in crime. Also, there is the positive futures programme, which is being extended to 67 projects across the country. It is designed for, and aimed at, people who are at risk of getting involved with drugs. We must see to it that all those programmes are targeted at the right people, are joined up, deter people from crime and keep them out of gang culture. Where best practice has been learned—as it has in south Manchester because of the size of the problem there—it must be spread to areas just as badly affected.
The Minister may be aware that those who deal with gun crime in London, Operation Trident officers in the Met, say that 99 per cent. of the crimes that they investigate are fuelled by crack cocaine. The Minister may also be aware that, in the past 10 years, the street price of cocaine has dropped by a third, and that of crack by a fifth. There are huge profits to be made. I gather that one 19-year-old owns four properties, bought with the profits of trading crack cocaine.I have a straightforward question: what policy do the Government have to cut the number of people who are addicted? That is the cause of the market. How will they catch and deal with the people in the gangs that kill at random because the profits make life something that does not count for much?
On the latter point, the police standards unit held a conference in Bradford not long ago, to enable Operation Trident and others dealing with gang culture—and in particular gun culture, which is often associated with crack cocaine—to learn best practice from each other, and so that we could get a more effective police response to the kind of criminality that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.The national crack plan is there to ensure that we tackle areas in which there is a specific crack problem. As the hon. Gentleman says, crack is a very real problem. It is not as uniform a problem as heroin, but areas that are affected are developing the appropriate treatments. We do not have the breadth of knowledge going back years that we have in dealing with heroin addicts, but crack addiction can be treated. We must ensure that it is treated and that the treatment is available wherever it is needed.
If they will make a statement on their policy towards dealing with the problems associated with benzodiazepine addiction. 
The Government are working to prevent benzodiazepine dependence and to ensure that treatment is available for those who have developed such dependence. Action has been focused on preventing addiction or dependence occurring in the first place by warning GPs and other prescribers of the potential side effects and dangers of involuntary addiction. Treatment is available in both primary and secondary mental health care settings and in specialist drug misuse services.
Do the Government accept that the nature of the mental and physical side effects of benzodiazepine addiction is such that there are tens of thousands of people—possibly hundreds of thousands—who are suffering in despair, isolation and silence as a result of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) called a national scandal as long ago as 1994? Is there not a case for greater co-ordination between Departments? The size of the problem must be established, then the problems must be dealt with: the correct scheduling of benzodiazepines, the treatment of addicts and the difficulty that some addicts have in claiming the social security benefits to which they are entitled.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which we take seriously. In 1980 there were some 24 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines. Prescriptions decreased quite dramatically as more evidence emerged about the dangers of addiction. In 2001 there were 13 million prescriptions—almost half the 1980 figure.Among the performance indicators for primary care trusts is one on the need to reduce benzodiazepine prescriptions even further and to ensure that they are not inappropriately prescribed. We also have guidelines from the Committee on Safety of Medicines which say that benzodiazepines should be used only for short-term relief of severe anxiety symptoms, not for mild anxiety, and only for insomnia if it is severe and disabling. We are trying to narrow the circumstances in which they are prescribed. National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidelines on anxiety management are being prepared and are likely to be published this time next year; they will ensure better treatment for the people involved. We have also put an extra £300 million into mental heath services to ensure adequate provision of treatment.
When they expect to have in place a nationwide drug education programme for 10-year-olds, and if they will make a statement. 
All primary schools are required to teach children about drugs. It is up to schools to decide the most appropriate programme to meet the needs of their pupils and the requirements of the national curriculum. The Government are boosting drugs education in all schools through new guidance, training and support for teachers.
This is my first cross-cutting question, Madam Deputy Speaker, so forgive me if I make any obvious mistakes. I congratulate the Government and the Opposition on this welcome innovation. I hope that the exchanges will be conversational, rather than a replica of what is said on the Floor of the House. Perhaps the heavyweight top table could look again at the seating plan in this Room because rather than getting the dialogue going among old colleagues, it replicates some of the worst features of the main Chamber.
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman put his question?
My right hon. and hon. Friends and others will know that in Nottinghamshire every 10-year-old undertakes a course on 10 consecutive Fridays on what is called DARE—drug abuse resistance education. Many people have attended and I hope that the Minister may see an example of it soon.Normally, a local police officer, or sometimes a teacher, gets involved with the children and teaches them to say no not only to drugs but to drink and cigarettes. That works wonders for the self-esteem of youngsters, so they break through a lot of the barriers. Will the Minister consider using the DARE programme or, indeed, any other programme, as a national model to be followed in some regard by other authorities? There are many good schemes here and there. I hope that the Minister agrees that it would be a great shame to come to the end of the second term of a Labour Government without a nationwide inoculation against the worst excesses of drug abuse by young children.
In the daily speculation about the future leadership of the Conservative party, my hon. Friend has never been mentioned as a potential solution.
I would like some of the Short money.
Anything is possible.My serious response to my hon. Friend's question is that I agree entirely with the objectives. We also agree that in influencing the behaviour of primary school children through drugs education, the stakes are incredibly high. Where we differ is on the means. We have backed away from prescribing a one-model approach to the provision of drugs education in this country. Having said that, programmes such as DARE need closer analysis so that we can learn from them for the national strategy. I give my hon. Friend an undertaking that when, in the near future I at last visit his constituency I shall visit a school where the DARE programme is being implemented. We can then reflect on some of its lessons for the wider drugs education policy in this country.
What steps are being taken to prevent those who leave prison from committing drug-related offences.
Offenders who have misused drugs need access to a wide range of support on leaving prison. That may include treatment for drug dependency, but equally important is assistance with housing, employment and life skills such as literacy. The key to delivering that support is effective links between prisons and agencies that operate in the community. With significant new money having been made available, we are working to improve those links, for example by building single points of contact in drug action teams in the 25 DAT areas in the country with the highest levels of acquisitive crime.
My hon. Friend knows of the high-achieving track record in reducing crime of our community safety partnership, which has existed for a long time—it was one of the first in the country. Operation Trident drove some crack cocaine dealers out of London. Sadly, they came to Plymouth, and crime has started to rise again there. Does he understand the frustration experienced by its police division? It is so innovative in tackling such matters, some 600 former prisoners have come back to Plymouth in the last year. Some Government programmes are working well, but the final piece of the jigsaw that we need in Plymouth to help former prisoners in the way that he describes does not exist.Does the Minister agree that bringing to Plymouth a programme such as the one he has mentioned would be a wise investment, as it would provide best value for the money spent in prisons? Will he give his colleague sitting to his left, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, a nudge over supporting our invest to save round 6 bid this year, so that we can get best value for money from all the magnificent programmes that the Government have been implementing to tackle drugs in our cities?
In fairness to my colleague to my left, there is significant new money in the updated drugs strategy. The biggest single gap that we identified in that programme was the need for us to provide schemes such as those in which Plymouth has been leading the way—for example, joined-up working with drug offenders. We are determined not only to provide both the link for those coming out of prison and the correct connections with community services and treatment, but to reach a position in the 30 basic command units where we have a handling strategy for drug offenders or drug addicts whereby we can pass on all the relevant information. We do not want them to fall between the grating and become lost if they refuse treatment and offend. We want to pick them up, so that we can continue to make progress.
I am most interested by what the Minister says. Can he bring us up to date about the progress being made with the prospects pilots that are under way for short-term prisoners? He has touched only on the period when people have left prison. Given the tremendous progress in the United States, where there has been a 15 per cent. reduction in misuse, can the Home Office Minister explain why there is still no comprehensive programme in prisons in this country? On what date does he expect to implement one?
There is a comprehensive system in prisons. Neither the Prison Service nor I pretend that it can deal with every single prisoner with a drug problem, but there has been considerable growth in the provision available. There is a joined-up system called CARATs—the Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice and Throughcare scheme—which provides an assessment at the start and then access to various treatments. It also provides through-care for people leaving prison.One of our biggest problems is the huge number of drug offenders in prison who are serving short sentences. Due to the offences that they commit, such as shoplifting, they are released from prison quickly, although they are not out on licence. Changes to the updated drugs strategy should plug that gap in provision, and changes that we are making through the Criminal Justice Bill will plug some gaps in the justice system, so we can help to monitor prisoners when they are released back into the community and try to prevent them from reoffending.
Given that figures show that two in three people who are arrested have taken one or more illegal drug, is it Government policy that, on release from prison, everybody with a known history of drug use should have an immediate referral to somebody who can deal with the risk of their reoffending and continuing their drug use? If that is Government policy, is it already in place on the discharge of all prisoners? If not, when will it be?
The hon. Gentleman has hit on the nub of what we need to achieve. No, that policy is not in place, and, yes, it needs to be.We are doing work in the 25 drug action team areas that cover the 30 high-crime BCUs in the country. We are trying to develop a system that means that we do not lose people, so that they do not come out of treatment when they come out of prison—a seamless system in which they are, effectively, handed over to people who are warned not only about when they are coming out, but their needs, so that we can pick them up and work with them outside prison. We are trying to do that in 30 areas initially, to get the system as robust as possible. Then we will roll it out nationwide as quickly as we can.
Drug Treatment And Testing Orders
What progress has been made in reducing the time between the issuing of a drug treatment and testing order and its implementation.
There is a national standard requirement for the implementation of drug treatment and testing orders. It comprises two conditions: within one working day of the order being made, the offender should attend an appointment with the probation service; within two working days, contact should be established with a treatment provider. The latest DTTO figures show that 89 per cent. Of appointments are being kept. That compliance rate is more than 5 per cent. higher than it was over the preceding six months.
My supplementary question is probably more relevant to the Health Minister. Do Ministers recognise that NHS providers of drug treatment services are not responding quickly enough in some areas? They are not meeting this national standard to respond to the orders made by the courts.Recently, in Reading Crown court, a heroin addict was sentenced to a drug treatment and testing order after committing more than 40 offences of burglary and criminal deception to fund his addiction. Do Ministers agree that it is nothing less than shocking that the local national health service treatment service told him to come back and start his course in four weeks, which triggered yet another drug fuelled mini-crime wave? Will they authorise a review of the failure of NHS service providers in that regard?
My hon. Friend is right. We face a problem: capacity in the drug treatment sector must be increased. We are starting from a low base, because that sector was not a high priority. Most of its capacity has come from very good voluntary sector providers, but they have not had the same of models of care, of standards and of work force development as other sectors. With the advent of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, capacity in the sector is now growing at a fairly phenomenal rate. Our estimates for growth for this year have been exceeded, so people are beginning to see the drug field as a worthwhile place to work and somewhere to build a career.We are building better occupational standards to provide good-quality treatment, but my hon. Friend is right that there is much more to do to ensure that people can receive good, high-quality treatment from day one. That is exactly what we plan to do. With the criminal justice intervention programme, we plan to provide a Rolls-Royce service. As soon as people are referred, whether as a result of arrest referrals or of DTTOs, they will be held in the system and they will have a personal adviser to guide them through it. Increasingly, we need not only to refer for treatment, but to retain people in treatment and see them successfully through the programme. I acknowledge that we have much more to do, but the system is substantially improved from what it was a short time ago.
What joint actions have been put in place with their EU counterparts to prevent drugs from entering the UK through the enlarged EU.
The UK works closely with other member states to deliver the EU drug strategy, and works closely with countries joining the EU.The EU drug strategy includes a commitment to ensure that candidate countries develop and implement drug policies that are in line with existing EU standards. To that end, the Union is providing pre-accession assistance to candidate countries, which includes locally-based accession advisers and twinning projects.
I am conscious of the fact that the existing EU 12 have many direct access points for drugs. With my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), I visited Europol and the Amsterdam drugs team as part of the police parliamentary scheme. On one aeroplane, the Schipol team found 48 people, each of whom had swallowed a kilo of cocaine to bring it to Amsterdam. There are already lots of routes.When I visited Colombia, I saw the coca fields being sprayed. The person in charge of the police there named a number of countries which were soon to be members of the enlarged EU, but were then outside the Union, that provided routes for Colombian cocaine into Europe and through Europe back to the USA, because it is more difficult to bring it in through Mexico or similar countries. The problem is huge, so are we giving the resources to the border police and drugs squads that will be necessary in an enlarged EU to prevent a flood of cocaine and heroin from entering the EU and, eventually, the UK once enlargement takes away the existing barriers?
My hon. Friend raises a genuine concern. I emphasise that, in joining the EU, candidate countries are required to sign up to closer co-operation with other member states on such matters.Fighting drugs and organised crime is not only a matter of controlling access points, which my hon. Friend is rightly worried about, or of frontier controls. In any event, the UK would retain its essential checks for drugs crossing our frontiers. Enlargement will allow new levels of cross-border co-operation in the fight against drugs and organised crime, and most major drug investigations are already carried out jointly or with the help of European partners. EU enlargement should be seen as the chance for a significant increase in cross-border co-operation, which will allow our law enforcement agencies to work much better when dealing with the problem that he is rightly concerned about.
It is clear from what the Minister says that eastern Europe, including a number of entrant nations, is an increasingly important source of illegal drugs. Given that, and given the importance of secure borders in the fight against drugs, can he tell us why Customs and Excise is planning to withdraw 40 per cent. of its officers in ports such as Holyhead, Pembroke and Swansea?
Over the next three years, Customs will increase resources on frontier controls and combating organised smuggling. That will involve staff from some low-volume, low-risk entry points being deployed in intelligence-led mobile teams, which will allow us to deal with the methods of modern smugglers.The hon. Gentleman, in the context of his question, is right: 95 per cent. of British heroin originates in Afghanistan. The supply routes come through some EU candidate countries, which emphasises the importance of the work that we are already doing, and increasingly so, with countries such as Turkey to intercept those drugs before they reach United Kingdom borders and the United Kingdom's streets.
What initiatives they are taking to combat the drugs problem in rural areas and market towns. 
All areas are covered by the drugs strategy, including those in rural locations. Funding is made available pro rata to need for every local drug action team to buy a wide range of services to meet the needs of rural communities.
Is the Minister aware of the increasing problem in the small market town of Thirsk, together with Sowerby, in Vale of York? Drugs-fuelled crime is rising to an alarming extent, with young offenders in particular turning to prostitution to fuel their drugs habit. That is a source of great social concern, but it is especially worrying to the local community and residents. What action do the Government propose to take to give the police more powers to clamp down heavily on the crime of prostitution?
We are trying to increase the number of police on our streets. Thankfully, we have achieved record numbers and the rate of recruitment to the police force is the highest since 1976. We are trying to supplement police numbers by growing the extended police family through the addition of community support officers, accredited schemes and neighbourhood wardens to give people reassurance and a visible presence in their neighbourhoods and in areas where there is a serious crime problem. I am not aware of the problems in the villages to which the hon. Lady refers, but I am aware that there are particular problems in rural areas. The Home Office is conducting studies on how young people in rural areas are affected by drugs to assess whether methods need to be used in rural areas that differ from those that are necessary in the urban environment.
Only last Saturday evening there was a murder in my home town—the first time in many years that a crime of such significance had taken place there. We have also had a spate of suicides by young people, some of which have been linked to the drugs scene.I want to mention the outstanding success of Operation Emperor in Dumfries and Galloway, which led to the arrest of more than 70 people in the town of Stranraer, some of whom received hefty jail sentences. It was a joint operation between Dumfries and Galloway constabulary and Strathclyde constabulary during an 18-month period. However, there are many other parts of the locality where people are frustrated by what they consider to be significant inaction. Does my hon. Friend agree that public confidence can be renewed only when operations such as Emperor are carried out? Of course, they can succeed only with the support of and information fed in by the general public.
My hon. Friend touches on a couple of important points. No matter how good the police force is on its own, there is a need to establish good and effective working relationships with the community. Intelligence and feedback are essential to the investigation of serious crime and we need to work at lowering the barriers. Different police operations in different parts of the country are designed to build those links and grow that confidence.My hon. Friend raises the issue of deaths and suicides as a result of drugs. For the first time, we have seen a drop in drug-related deaths, which is very welcome. There is a new emphasis on harm minimisation in the updated drugs strategy, but we have a lot further to go, as other jurisdictions have a better record over many years than this country on drug-related deaths.
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), the Minister made much play of record police numbers. Is he aware, however, that once one adjusts those supposed record numbers to account for shifts and for the fact that people may be in training, on courses and off ill, one finds that the number of deployable officers is going down, particularly in my constituency? What does he say about that?
We have to have a figure of some kind so that we can compare trends. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept that there was shift working in the police force when the Conservatives were in government. There is still shift working, but there are record numbers of police. That may be an uncomfortable fact for him, but it is a fact none the less.The hon. Gentleman knows that we are carrying out a programme of work as part of the police reform agenda. The Conservative party has supported some elements, but has been less supportive of others. The programme is designed to free up police time and to put as much of that resource into the front line as possible. I ask his party to continue to engage positively with the reform agenda, because it is right that we have the necessary police numbers and that we relieve officers from unnecessary duties so that as many as possible are on the streets doing the job that our constituents want them to do.
Urban Charging Schemes
[Relevant Documents: First Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2002–03, HC 390-I, and the Government's response thereto, Cm5818]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.— [Charlotte Atkins.]
I start by drawing attention to the Transport Committee's important report on urban charging schemes. It was published in February, shortly before the major central London charging scheme started, but after the smaller Durham city centre scheme had begun.I also thank our Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), for the way in which she conducted the wide-ranging inquiry that enabled the report to be produced. She is unable to be with us this afternoon, because she is officiating at the opening of a major highways project.
It is a pretty rare thing to have such a project being opened these days. Can the hon. Lady enlighten us as to what it is?
I am assured that the project is of great importance and I understand that it is in my hon. Friend's constituency. That shows the importance that she attaches to her constituency and to the vital work of the House.The report is set firmly in the context of the Government's policy of producing an integrated public transport programme and of recognising the key importance of reducing congestion. The report recognises the important steps that the Government have taken in giving new urban charging powers to local authorities and the London Mayor, in association with the London Assembly. The Committee also noted that the Government had made possible the hypothecation of revenues secured from charging schemes. Furthermore, they have produced a framework and a forum to enable local authorities that are interested in introducing schemes to meet, discuss ideas and exchange information. The Committee noted with concern, however, that the Government's expectations and enthusiasm for new charging schemes seemed to have waned between the publication of their White Paper "Breaking the Logjam" in December 1998 and the publication of the 10-year transport plan in May 2002. It noted that, in July 2000, £2.7 billion a year of revenue was expected to be secured from urban charging schemes. By December 2002, however, that had fallen somewhat to £1.3 billion a year. We noted that congestion was a major problem that was due to increase, unless measures were taken to combat it. Government information states that 80 per cent, of the 1.6 billion hours wasted by drivers and passengers on British roads in 1996 was lost through congestion in urban areas. In 1996—–97, one third of vehicle journey times in the central London rush hour was spent in stationary vehicles. There is no doubt about the importance of the need to take action to deal with congestion. While the Committee looked at proposals for workplace parking in Nottingham and road charging schemes in Bristol and Durham, it concentrated its work on the central London scheme, recognising the great importance that would be attached nationally to the success or otherwise of that project. We welcomed the Mayor's readiness to take action and recognised his political commitment to ensuring that some action was taken to attempt to deal with congestion. What were our key findings and what is their relevance to future schemes? The report shows the importance of stressing the prime objective of reducing congestion and putting forward road charging schemes, and ensuring that reduction of congestion is achieved without displacement of congestion to other areas. We urged the Government to develop a more meaningful and understandable definition of "congestion". We stressed the importance of seeking independent monitoring of the central London charging scheme, in addition to the monitoring that was being undertaken by the Greater London Assembly. It was, and is, important that particular concern is paid in that monitoring to issues such as how low-paid people, public service workers and the voluntary sector are affected. I am pleased that the Royal National Institute of the Blind has become involved in monitoring the scheme. It has drawn attention to the importance of providing adequate information to members of the public who are blind and partially sighted about schemes and concessions on charging schemes, as well as to the facilities themselves in order to enable disabled people to move around and not to be impaired in their mobility because such schemes are being introduced. The report recognises the importance of linking charging policies with improving public transport, and that that is done both before and after charging schemes are introduced by improving access to and availability of alternatives to the car. That is why one of our recommendations is that there should be permanent hypothecation to local transport schemes of additional funding secured by charging schemes directly to assist local transport projects, in addition to money that was already destined to go to those local areas. The Committee also recognised that successful reduction of congestion through charging schemes might lead to a reduced income stream, and we felt that that was something to which the Government should pay attention. We also felt that it was important that attention should be given to developing the technology involved in charging schemes. Electronic charging technology should meet national standards and be compatible with European systems that are being developed. That is particularly important for developing inter-urban charging schemes, such as those advocated in some of the multi-modal studies. That is also important for freight. The Government have already agreed to what is virtually a nationwide user charging scheme for 2005. Treasury proposals for distance-based road user charging on freight to replace vehicle excise duties on UK-registered freight vehicles are planned to start. The Freight Transport Association has expressed its concerns about some aspects of the issue. The Committee recognised that urban charging was not appropriate everywhere. Much as we felt that urban charging could make a major difference in certain areas, we thought that it was equally important to recognise that it should be for local authorities to take decisions on introducing urban charging schemes in local areas. We also felt that the Government must ensure that they continue their financial support to local authorities that decide not to go ahead with charging schemes to deal with congestion.
Does my hon. Friend accept that we should not be talking only about urban congestion charging? There are opportunities for a massive improvement in public service provision in market towns, for example. There is an awful problem in Stroud, where we have one of the highest rates of car ownership in the country and a deteriorating bus service. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State. Department of Transport, came to talk to us about bus strategies. Could we have the opportunity at least to consider congestion charging? Perhaps the Committee ought to consider congestion charges outside urban areas in some future inquiry.
I accept my hon. Friend's comments. It is important that issues concerning congestion are addressed wherever they may be found. I hope that consideration will be given to how my hon. Friend's point can be addressed when the success of existing charging schemes is assessed.Although urban charging schemes are far from a panacea for urban congestion, a scheme that is fit for the purpose and properly targeted, assessed, supported and implemented could make a significant and positive impact. That was the conclusion that the Committee reached. It is too early to assess properly whether the London scheme has been successful, although some reports that have emerged suggest encouraging results. If charging schemes are to be given the full opportunity to work, it is important that the Government take a stronger lead to enable the potential of urban charging to be explored in the context of strengthened and integrated public transport. We welcome both the initiatives with which the Government have come forward and the opportunity for local authorities to take their own decisions, whether in cities, towns or elsewhere. However, we should like the Government not to lose their nerve in this matter. While giving local authorities maximum opportunity for their choice, the Government should be willing both to take a lead where that is appropriate and to assist local authorities that wish to go forward with charging schemes in determining whether it is an effective way of dealing with the major problem of congestion.
I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) by commending the report to those hon. Members present. I want to concentrate on three topics: the nature of congestion and some of the things that the Committee discovered when taking evidence both on this report and on the reports that the Committee made on the multi-modal studies; briefly, the two schemes that are now operating; and, finally, how the evidence and experience that we have acquired from those two schemes may or may not be applied to other cities.One of the things that we discovered is that urban congestion accounts for 80 per cent. of the congestion in this country. Some 20 per cent. of congestion on our motorway systems is inter-urban. That fact is not especially interesting in itself. However, it is interesting that the United Kingdom is different from all other—except perhaps one—European countries in that they have urban congestion, but do not have inter-urban congestion. That 20 per cent. level of inter-urban congestion, while not unique to this country, is very within Europe. It is surprising, when we have questioned professors and Ministers or taken written evidence, to find that nobody knows what is the economic impact of that congestion. I suspect that there is not much of a negative economic impact, although there are all sorts of health and pollution issues connected with urban congestion. Urban congestion is often a measure of the success of a city. A city that lost its rush hour during the early 1980s recession was a city in trouble. That city would have done anything to get its rush hour and its congestion back because losing those was a measure of economic failure and decline. I can think of one city where that happened, but I do not wish to point it out because that would be pejorative.
The hon. Gentleman says that, in his view, there is no negative economic impact. I would like him to substantiate that. Why does he think that, over a number of years, the Confederation of British Industry has published very substantial figures on what it assesses to be the cost of congestion?
That is an easy question to answer. It is simple to do the arithmetic—the duration of a traffic jam multiplied by the number of the people in a traffic jam. One could say that that is a cost. That is what the CBI and various other people have said. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is a different thing to take that figure at face value. I remember, when we had Professor Begg in front of us, asking him what the economic impact of that was, and he said that he did not know. The people in that traffic jam could be going to work early, coming back later, and doing more work. No one knows what the impact is; I urge the Government to find out. I also urge them to concentrate on the inter-urban problem.I suspect that congestion, particularly within cities, is a bit like the old line about tax: there is only one thing worse than paying tax, and that is being too poor to pay tax. There is probably only one thing worse for a city than having congestion, with the problems that it brings, and that is not having congestion. The Committee, the Government and various independent departments in universities should investigate that matter. We looked at two congestion schemes. The first was a small scheme in Durham that ran around its peninsula. The scheme has stopped people dropping off husbands and wives, polluting and congesting that area in the process. That has been highly successful. Putting a charge of about £2 on that route has reduced congestion by 20 per cent. The area is environmentally better and there has been no damage to the economy. In fact, the local economy has probably benefited. It is very difficult to use that specific small scheme as an example of how congestion charging would affect major conurbations such as Bristol, Manchester or Birmingham. At the other end of the scale, we have London, one of the world's great cities. It has one of the largest schemes ever attempted. In terms of reducing congestion, it has been a moderate success. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside is right to warn us to be careful and not to jump to any conclusions. The technology appears to have worked and congestion has lessened. We do not yet know what the economic impact is; it is difficult to disaggregate the impact of the congestion charge in central London from the failure of the Central line and the fact that there are fewer American tourists in London, but there is some evidence that fewer people are shopping in the west end. That has had an economic impact, which will take time to work through the system. Although the report indicates that other cities will be looking at London and Durham to assess their success, it will be difficult for them to learn a great deal except on the technological side, because one scheme is so small and the other is so large. Looking at the evidence—I am thinking particularly of Greater Manchester, but it applies to other cities—there are a number of common factors. First, there is the belief that high-quality public transport should be in place before, not after, congestion charging; and secondly, the notion that where urban centres are competing with out-of-town shopping centres or smaller urban centres, there should be a level playing field. In the case of Manchester, from the evidence that it gave to the Committee, there is a reluctance to say, "Yes, we shall introduce a congestion or workplace parking charge," when the Trafford centre at Dumplington just outside the city centre boundary has free parking. In the city centre one has to pay to park, so to add another charge would almost certainly lead to cars and shoppers moving out to the Trafford centre. That means longer journeys for the cars, probably more pollution caused by those longer journeys and economic decline in the city centre. I suspect that most cities that have competition from out-of-town shopping centres or other centres—in Manchester's case that would include Bolton and Stockport—will not introduce congestion charging until those two conditions are met. I cannot resist saying that Manchester suffers from the fact that it has made the mistake of employing, in Control Plus, the most anti-shopper, anti-tourist set of people possible to control parking. They do not actually wear jackboots, but they have metaphorical ones on when they hand out more parking tickets than any other group of people in the country. They are motivated entirely by targets and profit and they have lost the sense that parking control should be about antisocial parking. They have been a disaster and the sooner that Manchester city council rips up their contract and throws them out the better. They have set records in upsetting people, they give out record numbers of tickets on bank holidays when there are no parking restrictions and they are offensive. With such handicaps, I cannot see Manchester city council going for the additional handicap of a congestion charge. My hon. Friend talked of how we had welcomed hypothecation, and she mentioned the use of the moneys from congestion charging for 10 years£I suspect that in London's case it will have to be longer£to pay for the necessary improvements. We did welcome the hypothecation and the money might well be ring-fenced. However, the Minister and I know, as do others who have been involved in local government finance, that when our friends in the Treasury do the sums, they will add up that money and other grants and they may well take money from another pocket and say, "That should not be there." There is no way that that can be guaranteed by the Government in a changing, complicated financial system of support grants to local authorities, and there is no way that the Treasury will guarantee it. That money is ring-fenced and will be dedicated, but I am suspicious. I do not trust the Treasury not to take that money out of another pocket and put it elsewhere. Certain towns, cities and urban centres are considering congestion charges, but London has one massive advantage over the rest of the country: its buses are still regulated. The rest of us have had the disbenefit of bus deregulation since the mid-1980s. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister appeared before the Committee when he was in charge of transport and said he believed that the buses must be re-regulated for there to be a properly integrated transport system. I agree with him. That is sensible. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State for Transport came before the Committee and said that re-regulating the buses was not on the agenda. That is a pity, because many urban centres are congested not by cars, but by empty buses competing for passengers on scarce road space. I believe that competition in such a privatised system should take place at the tendering stage. There are many different ways for bus companies to benefit from a commercial activity. They could respond quickly to the market, but in a deregulated system there is a complete waste of road space that adds to the congestion. I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider and agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that such systems will not work if the buses are not re-regulated. I understand why the Secretary of State said what he did; he does not want to bring any financial instability to the bus industry. I recognise that that is a serious consideration, but I want to bring transport stability to our great urban centres and the deregulated bus system is not helping. If there are to be extensions of congestion charging to other urban centres, there must be support and a consensus among all the interested parties—the private and public sectors, the travelling public and the bus companies. I was concerned when I listened and read the evidence that showed, especially in the Nottingham scheme, that there was a direct conflict between the evidence presented by Nottingham city council and that of the private sector on their support for the scheme. If schemes are to work, the vast majority of interested parties must be on board, although it is never possible to get everybody involved. There can be benefits from road charging in such schemes, but they must be done properly and appropriately. That will not be the case in every city in the UK.
I also commend the report. I shall explain my views on congestion charging and the scheme introduced in London.I would not have introduced the London scheme as it was introduced, and I would not have done it at the time that it was done. Before I carried out such a scheme, I would have done various things first and considered other options. My objectives are the same as those of everyone who wants to reduce congestion in central London, but I am concerned about the long-term impacts that the charge will have on that area and the communities around it. I calculate the income to be about £180 million a year, without taking out the costs of running and managing the scheme. It is estimated that in any week 98,000 people pay the charge—my figures are on the basis that everyone is paying the full charge, not the discounted rate that is available to people who live within a certain area. There are 15,000 fines a week which come to about £1.2 million. Rolling all those figures up makes about £180 million. That income is simply not enough to carry out the programme that was talked about when we first held a public debate about congestion charging in London. The first figures that were bandied around were in the region of £350 million, which would be reinvested in public transport in London. Those figures have steadily come down. Just before the implementation of the congestion charge in London, £80 million was mentioned. I suggest that the current projected income from the charge will mean that less money will be available to reinvest in London's public transport network than was previously anticipated. We therefore have a problem. The congestion charge was designed to be a revenue-raising exercise, and that was part of the debate that preceded its introduction. All those years ago, we were debating how to raise revenue to invest in expanding and improving London's public transport network. We will not achieve anywhere near enough income to invest in transport in the way that we expected.
The hon. Gentleman says that the charge is just a revenue-raising initiative. In the Government's response to the Select Committee's report, they made it clear that they would not authorise a congestion charge scheme that was solely about revenue raising, and that it had to achieve a reduction in congestion as well. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government have failed?
There are various ways of achieving an objective. The Government are right to say that they will not just impose a tax, but that there must be an outcome. That is a credible position.There should be two objectives. We do not have enough revenue coming into our public transport network, and that is true of many major cities in this country. To resolve that problem, we must have somewhere for people to transfer to so that they can travel in and out of a major city such as London. My constituency is in south-east London so I know the situation very well. At peak times, the rail network is running at overcapacity. We have pixies—people in excess of capacity—on our rail network. People in my area say that we have pixies because the timetable is away with the fairies, but that is a separate issue. The problem is that, because there is no London underground station in that area, a congestion charge in the centre means that the only option for travelling into central London is heavy rail, which is already running at overcapacity. Where do those people go? If we just want to reduce congestion in central London, we must provide an alternative to which those people can transfer. Any approach towards introducing a congestion charge has to be two pronged. First and foremost, there must be the objective of reducing traffic. We can reach that objective by imposing a charge both to dissuade people from using their cars and to raise revenue to invest in public transport. Getting people to transfer from their cars to public transport must be one objective, otherwise we would simply be displacing traffic or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) said, damaging the city centre's economy. There is no evidence yet to prove that argument, but that has always been my worry about the impact of the draconian measure that the Mayor has introduced for traffic congestion. I am not saying, as the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) suggested, that the charge is only revenue-raising, but that was the original incentive. If we are honest about what we were doing in local government before we entered Parliament, as we sat in transport committees in town halls around London, we were talking about how to raise money to invest in public transport. We needed a hypothecated method of raising money to reinvest in public transport. The congestion charge is not raising enough money, and I am concerned about its impact on low-paid workers—those who work in the public and voluntary sectors. Have they disappeared from the roads? What has been the impact on public services? We need proper measures to monitor what is going on within the congestion charge area to ensure that those who need public sector workers are not suffering, that low-paid workers are not penalised and that people are not being forced from living in a certain area. I come from central London and have many friends and relatives who still live and work there, so I understand the problem. There is talk now, although I do not think that there are any specific proposals on the table, of widening the congestion charge area in London. That causes me a great deal of concern, because the only people who are forced to pay the congestion charge are those who live there. Nobody else is forced to pay it. Those who work in the zone have the choice of using public transport. From time to time, however, car owners who live in the area will have no choice but to pay the congestion charge. That is a penalty on people for living there. Why do they have to pay? It is because they happen to live an area to which people drive from outlying areas, thereby creating congestion problems. The only people who have the freedom to avoid paying the charge are those who do not live in that area and can therefore skirt around it. That is a fundamental flaw in the concept of congestion charging. There are other ways by which we could have raised money before imposing the congestion charge.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the taxation is highly regressive for those on modest and moderate incomes?
I could not agree more. The charge is a flat-rate tax that is imposed on everyone, and that is a flaw.One of my pet projects—the Minister might want to leave the Room to laugh about it—is based on the fact that I believe the Mayor does not have enough revenue-raising powers. There are many out-of-town developments around London and other cities. They provide free parking, and generate an enormous quantity of traffic in and around the development, yet there seems to be no charge, or environmental cost, levied on the development that could be hypothecated and reinvested in transport networks. In Nottingham, we considered a scheme of workplace levies, which I support. It would be possible to raise such a levy, and a modicum of money made by a city could be hypothecated and reinvested in its transport network. It need not produce a punitive figure. For a city the size of London, if we added together all the parking spaces that could be charged for, we could be talking about raising significant sums of money. Similarly, in respect of free parking spaces in out-of-town developments—I can think of enormous ones, but I will not name and shame them—a small charge could be made for using each parking space on that land. The fee would not be paid by the person parking the car, but would be passed on to the business operating on that site. A supermarket, for example, could put a small extra charge on some of its goods to cover the costs, and pass them on to the customer that way. We are talking about a revenue-raising stream that comes from people parking their cars. That money could be reinvested in our public transport network. If we charged a small sum for parking spaces—the amount would be far less than that charged to those who drive into central London—we could raise a significant amount, far more than we are raising through the congestion charge, and we could do that without the huge bureaucracy that was needed to back up the congestion charge. Also, the charge would focus not on a small section of car users in London but on everyone in London, and would widen the area from which we raise money. Less would be charged to each person, but when the money was added up, the sum could be significantly greater than the amount that the congestion charge looks likely to raise, as things stand. There are concerns about businesses in central London. The CBI recently suggested that a quarter of the 520 major businesses in central London that it surveyed were thinking of relocating, and had named the congestion charge as a reason. Other surveys have suggested that the majority of businesses find the charge satisfactory and are not critical of it, but time will tell. I have heard anecdotal evidence on the subject from my constituents. One business person has a number of vans that make deliveries across London. He does not know until the end of the day, and sometimes not until the next morning, which vans went into the congestion charge zone, and has a great deal of difficulty administering the payments. There are problems with flexibility, and he says that he might pay the congestion charge unnecessarily on some days and forget to pay, and so incur a penalty charge, on others. He is concerned about that; he is running an independent business and does not have time to administer the charge in that way. On the issue of displacement, let me point out that there has not been the growth in use of the London underground or buses that was anticipated before the congestion charge came in. If those people have simply disappeared, that must add to concerns about the impact on businesses and trade in central London. We will have to monitor that closely to ensure that the charge is not having an adverse effect on business. We have to enter into a genuine debate about the future of the congestion charge, because it may have to change significantly. Trafficmaster has suggested that there has been significant growth in traffic on roads outside the congestion charge zone. It measured the times for journeys such as that from Dartford to my constituency of Eltham as one of the indicators, and it has suggested that at peak times that journey now takes significantly longer. There is evidence to suggest that there has been some displacement; people are still carrying out their journeys, but are skirting around the congestion charge zone. There has been talk of widening the net to catch those people, because not enough people are going into the congestion charge zone. They are avoiding paying, and we need to chase them by extending the boundary of the congestion charge to generate the income that was desired from the scheme in the first place. Either the scheme has worked, and all that we are concerned about is reducing traffic, or it has not, and it has merely displaced the traffic and moved the problem elsewhere so that the boundaries have to be altered. We cannot have it both ways. We should also consider the issue of inter-urban charging, which was the subject of another of the Committee's reports. As I said, people who live in the congestion charge zone have no choice but to pay the charge if they use their cars. However, those who choose not to drive into the area can avoid paying the charge. My community of Eltham, in south-east London, is at the junction of the A20 and the A2, and we suffer all the problems of congestion every morning. As I explained, there are few alternatives to driving into London, other than the overcrowded trains. That has an enormous impact on air quality and other environmental factors in my constituency. Many people drive through Eltham into central London. Indeed, the same thing happens all the way round London, but it is particularly significant in the south-east, where there is no underground. Those people then park in places such as Westminster and Camden, with the result that local authorities across London take in about £380 million a year in parking fees and penalty charges. Many of those people drive through constituencies such as mine and leave their pollution behind, but they go on to places such as Westminster and pay the parking fee. Westminster will use that income to subsidise lower council taxes, but my constituents will get absolutely none of the money. That takes me back to my earlier point. The Mayor should get a proportion of the money from parking charges, given that people throughout London suffer in some small way because others drive through their communities. At present, the people who benefit most are those who get the income from parking charges in central London. We need to address that, because my constituents would benefit enormously if some of that money were invested in public transport links. They would then have the choice of not using their cars or cramming themselves on to already overcrowded trains. Traffic congestion and rail-heading cause enormous problems in my constituency, and money from parking charges could help to deal with those problems if it were fairly distributed, rather than ending up in the coffers of a few fortunate local authorities in central London, which can make enormous sums We mentioned that the total projected income from the congestion charge was £180 million before administration costs were taken out. Westminster city council alone makes £80 million in parking fees, and if we multiply that across all of central London, we are talking about significant sums that could be invested in the London transport network. I talked earlier about people being displaced, according to the Trafficmaster survey, and I want to return to my example about people travelling from Dartford into Eltham. In that respect, I can see a direct comparison between someone using their car on a motorway and someone using a train service. I can therefore see a justification for charging a toll on motorways. However, we cannot do that in isolation on one stretch of motorway, because people will attempt to skirt round it to avoid the payment. However, people will pay a charge to use the road if they think that the charge is pitched at a realistic level that it is reasonable rather than punitive, and that a direct benefit will come from it. The Government must look in more detail at the possibility of inter-urban charging schemes for motorways. I refer back to my point that local communities suffering from schemes such as the congestion charge cannot avoid paying it, but people using motorways and driving through those communities, who are forcing the congestion charge on them because they are causing congestion in those areas, are paying nothing for their journey in from places such as Dartford to Eltham—or other places around London. Inter-urban charging that is set at a reasonable level can make a significant contribution not only to reducing traffic, but to raising revenue to invest in public transport—and, hopefully, to diverting people from using their cars unnecessarily. The Mayor has taken a brave step. I commend him for not sitting back and saying, "We should do nothing because the scheme could prove to be unpopular and that would cost me votes." However, I would not have introduced the scheme in the way that he has. He has reduced traffic congestion, but that was not the only issue at the front of our minds when we were talking about reducing traffic and raising revenue to invest in London's public transport network. We must have a detailed survey of the impacts of the congestion charge scheme. I am pleased that the Mayor has said that he will participate in an independent review and that the Select Committee has indicated that it welcomes that. It is vital that we understand the impact of the congestion charge, because many other cities are looking closely at it to decide what they should do about their traffic congestion problems. Only by understanding the real impact can we convince people that they must act to do something to combat the problem. However, there are a variety of measures that could be taken that might allow those cities to raise revenue to invest in their transport networks without penalising businesses and local communities in the way that I fear that the congestion charge has.
I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) cannot be present today. I am sure that she would have put her case forcefully. However, I am happy that she has found another Member to stand in for her, who made a good job of introducing the debate an hour or so ago.It is interesting to note which hon. Members are present to participate in this debate. Several Members who very vocally opposed congestion charges and predicted that they would have various impacts attended our debate of 11 February, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) on being here today because he is the only vocal opponent of congestion charges who has had the courage to attend this debate. It is worth reminding Members of what some of them said. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) predicted:
Whatever one thinks about congestion charges, they have not done that. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the scheme was being rushed through with woefully inadequate technology. I admit that there were some problems with regard to registration numbers, issuing tickets and so forth but, on the whole, the technology has coped relatively well. The hon. Gentleman finished his remarks by saying that,There are now six days to go until Ken's car tax turns London's already congested roads into utter chaos."
I cannot see that nightmare today."a nightmare is about to befall the city".
What does the hon. Gentleman have to say about the concerns expressed by the London chamber of commerce that there is a potential shortfall of about 25 per cent. in business activity in London as a result of the congestion charge?
I hope that I will cover that point shortly, as it is valid and worthy of investigation.Then there was the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who claimed to have shown what nonsense the scheme was and predicted that
> I accept that those people may have been hit with extra traffic, but we shall have to see whether that extra constitutes a huge amount when we examine the outcome of the scheme more carefully in the months or years to come. The hon. Lady also predicted that there would be"People living on the boundary of the zone will be hit by huge amounts of extra traffic".
I would dispute whether that was accurate. She almost closed her remarks with the comment that"no fewer cars coming into London … than there were … after the congestion charge starts."
Again, that is not actually true."Londoners do not need or want the charge, and its effects will be quite bad."
The hon. Member for Christchurch said that the congestion charge is
That is what Steve Norris pledged on the very day that the scheme was introduced when, whatever one felt about the scheme, one could already tell that it was probably going to work and that the predictions of chaos were not going to come true. The hon. Gentleman went on to say:"grossly unjust, unaffordable and unnecessary. That is why the Conservative party is unequivocally pledged to abolish it at the earliest opportunity."
and then added:"It is an insult to the people of London who are going to suffer this grave injustice",
On the day that the scheme was introduced there were small numbers of demonstrators but, again, Londoners on the whole have not got on to the barricades to demonstrate week after week against the introduction of congestion charges. The hon. Gentleman closed his comments by saying that"The people of London should demonstrate to the Mayor that there is so much resistance to the charge that it is not sustainable."—
As I said, I commend the hon. Gentleman on being present today, but it is a pity that some of the other opponents are not here to explain why their dire predictions of chaos, catastrophe and nightmares in the city have not come true. Hon. Members have made a number of useful points, in particular the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer). I accept that it is not easy to demonstrate the financial impact of congestion, although the CBI has put forward some figures. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is easy to calculate that time spent in traffic times an hourly rate equals x, and so on. However, it is surely equally true that it is quite simple for a delivery firm to work out that if traffic is moving x per cent, faster and if it is thereby making one, two, five or 10 more deliveries a day, the unit costs go down. One can apportion a figure that way and although it will not be 100 per cent, accurate, it will be a reasonable figure for the cost of congestion. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I think that there is a cost to congestion. Surely it cannot be a coincidence that some of the most productive cities in Europe—I am thinking of Helsinki, Zurich and some cities in Scandinavian countries—tend to be less congested than others. To satisfy the hon. Gentleman, I would say that neither he nor I have figures that we can swear by, although I tend to support the CBIs position more than his."The congestion charge is an appalling scheme".—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 11 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 183–203WH.]
I think that we are almost coming to an agreement. We were talking about two slightly different things. On the one hand, there is the undoubted cost and there are different ways of measuring it. On the other hand, however, academic work on the economic impact has not been done, which is much more difficult to do, although it is possible. We could all benefit from knowing about that and I assume that the hon. Gentleman does not disagree that we should have that extra knowledge.
I agree with that point. When that analysis is done perhaps the point that the hon. Member for Christchurch made about the impact on businesses will be picked up on. I understand that the Federation of Small Businesses is going to conduct a detailed survey on the impact, which will be welcome and will perhaps give us something concrete about the impact on business, as opposed to something fairly anecdotal.Hon. Members can quote examples of businesses that have been affected, but equally I can refer to a conversation that my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) had with the chief executive of a major retail company in London. It is one of the largest companies in the country and its name is one that everybody would recognise. That chief executive said that the scheme has been a success. He found that when people come to purchase major capital items or white goods, they drive. If they are paying a local authority parking charge of £3 or £4 per hour, the £5 on top does not make that much difference. Otherwise, more people are coming to the shop via public transport. We can all point to anecdotal evidence to support either case. We need concrete evidence in the form of a significant report from an organisation, such as the Federation of Small Businesses, London First, and so on, to discover what is really happening. The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) referred to commuters who travel from south London. I travel from south London. My local train company is South Central; his is Connex. The evidence shows that there is no noticeable change in the numbers of people who are travelling by those services. That is because there has been a drop in the number of discretionary trips that people are taking into London in their cars. A couple of weeks after the congestion charge was introduced, I had a meeting with the managing director of Connex, who said that he had been surprised to find that there had not been any difference in passenger numbers on its services. From his point of view, that is probably a good thing because, as other hon. Members have said, it would create problems and put the timetable in the lap of the fairies. I turn to the issue of whether the scheme is a regressive step. I accept that there are poor people who own a car who have been hit by the scheme, but I hope that hon. Members will accept that the poorest people do not own a car, so will have benefited from improvements in public transport. As for the point on superstores, that is one that has been highlighted in previous Select Committee inquiries and reports. I move to the Government's response to the Transport Committee's report. Other Members have not focused at length on that. In the introduction, there is a lukewarm endorsement of congestion charges. Getting support for the scheme was a bit like extracting teeth, so that endorsement is welcome. The response states that
I suppose that that is as good as we are going to get. However, the Government's response highlights a number of issues to which I hope that the Minister will turn."it is now running and although it will take time to evaluate the effectiveness of the scheme, it appears to be working well."
I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to correct something that I said earlier. When I mentioned the CBI, I meant to say the London chamber of commerce. If its study proves to be accurate—a quarter of the 520 major businesses that it surveyed in central London were thinking of relocating as a result of the congestion charge—would the hon. Gentleman be concerned about that? Would that not suggest that the Government are right to take a cautious approach to whether it is the resounding success that the hon. Gentleman suggests it is?
I agree that if that were proved to be correct, it would be an issue that needs to be addressed. However, what we must do is identify the various impacts and factors on business. Many businesses in central London may have experienced a downturn. The question is how much of that downturn is associated with fewer tourists coming over from America, rather than the impact of the congestion charge scheme. The analysis must establish what percentage of the impact is congestion-charge related.We know that the lorry road-user charging scheme is to be set up. Can the Minister say whether the technology for such a scheme could be applied to other vehicles, such as cars? If we have a national road-user charging scheme for lorries, will it be possible to roll it out in future for inter-urban charging purposes? The Government say that they will not approve a scheme unless its primary purpose is to reduce traffic congestion. What would the Government do if, subsequent to a scheme's being introduced, it were proven that it did not reduce congestion? Many other factors come into play. For instance, if Westminster decided substantially to reduce its car-parking charges—for a driver who comes and parks for eight or 10 hours they are much more significant than the congestion charge—and much more traffic came in, what position would the Government adopt? Would they say, "That is tough. The scheme is now in place and we cannot look at it again"? Is the rule that a scheme must reduce congestion one that applies only at the point at which the Government authorise it? The Government say in their response that, with London agencies, they are
Can the Minister comment on what the Government will do if they are not at their most efficient, and how efficiency is calculated; is it about how quickly a driver can get across a particular junction or how safely a pedestrian can cross? In one of its recommendations, the Transport Committee asked that a consistent and coherent strategy to address urban congestion be introduced. In their response, the Government welcomed the Select Committee's support for the view"reviewing traffic signalling at each of these junctions … to ensure that the timings are at their most efficient".
That is not quite what the Transport Committee was saying. It was saying that it wanted the Government to provide a consistent and coherent strategy or framework in which local authorities could consider introducing congestion charges. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on that point. The Government go on to say that they have provided a clear lead on urban charging. The Select Committee disagreed with that. The fact that the Government have facilitated the introduction of urban charges does not constitute a clear lead on the issue. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley made an extremely important point about the revenue being additional to existing funds coming from central Government. The Government say in their response that they consider"that local authorities are best placed to respond to local congestion problems".
Again, that is not exactly the Committee's point. Of course, it is additional. However if, as the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley says, the Government chop by an equivalent or greater amount the income that a local authority gains, they will not be responding to the Select Committee's point. I accept that it is difficult to guarantee that a local authority will get a certain amount of money over the next number of years to invest in transport and that, if it introduces a congestion charging scheme that creates additional revenue, the Government will not cut the amount that they contribute because they know that it will be offset by the congestion charge revenue. The Minister needs to give greater reassurance than is contained in the response, because it only confirms the obvious, rather than reassures Members that such revenue will be additional—and ongoing additional—money. It is unfortunate that the amount that is being chopped from Transport for London's budget in terms of grant appears—perhaps over-coincidentally—to be of the same magnitude as the amount that will be raised through congestion charges. In the Government's response, they say that local authorities"The revenue raised through charging … additional to, local transport funding provided by central government."
if they deliver solutions to congestion problems. Can the Minister tell us how and to what extent that will occur, and who will be the judge of whether they have delivered those solutions? At paragraph (x) on page 7 of the response, the Select Committee suggests that local authorities should be allowed to introduce only"will be increasingly rewarded in future settlements",
if they provide an"electronic road user charging systems"
for those who do not have "access to electronic technology". In their response, the Government agree only to approve schemes that meet that criterion. Can the Minister confirm whether that means that if, for example, a company that was introducing a scheme decided that it would provide the electronic technology free of charge or at a discount, the Government would allow that as an alternative to providing an"alternative and convenient means of paying the charge"
"alternative and convenient means of paying the charge",
I can envisage future inter-urban charging schemes that require some kind of electronic gadget in a car. The Government's response might preclude such a scheme from being introduced. I am seeking further clarification on whether I have understood what the Government are saying on that matter. To conclude, I agree that it is too early to assess the impact on business in London and that the matter needs to be looked at further. The detailed survey that the Federation of Small Businesses will carry out will be helpful. There has clearly been a reduction in traffic in London. Whether there has been an increase in congestion at the boundaries and in outer London needs to be examined more closely. It is interesting to note that King's Ferry, which runs commuter bus services in from Kent, has apparently had to revise its timetable and has chopped 20 minutes off its time because of the success of the scheme. That at least suggests that the speed of radial movements coming from a long way out of London has improved. It has clearly improved within the congestion charge zone. There may only have been an increase in congestion around the orbital routes. There is talk of extending the scheme to Westminster and parts of Kensington and Chelsea. There has been a U-turn on that issue by those local authorities which, having opposed congestion charges, now want the scheme extended. While we could support that, there comes a point where the scheme is extended so much and so many discounted residential charges are provided, that it does not pay its way or raise any revenue. That would have an impact on the reduction of congestion, because more people would be contained within a larger zone and they would be paying only a relatively small price for living and driving within it. On the whole, in London the scheme has been a success. The hon. Member for Eltham said that there had not been any impact on bus usage, yet according to the figures that I have, there has been an increase of 6,000 passengers compared with the period prior to the introduction of the scheme.which was not electronic? Can it be one or the other?
I wish to clarify the point that I made. I said that there has not been the increase that was anticipated, because Transport for London or London Buses allowed for 14,000 extra bus passengers and significantly more than that on the underground, but neither increase was realised.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that point. The record will show the point that he was seeking to make.I want to conclude my remarks by saying that I hope that the Minister will look seriously at the urban charging scheme that has been introduced in London. On the whole, it has been a success, although the business impact needs to be looked at. The Transport Committee desperately needs a clearer position statement from the Government on where they stand on this important issue and the contribution that they can make towards public transport, particularly in urban areas throughout the country.
As the first person to participate in the debate who is not a member of the Select Committee, from a neutral standpoint I congratulate it on producing a thought-provoking and well researched report.For those of us who have been slightly puzzled by the Government's ambivalent attitude, it has become apparent during the debate why they are sitting on the fence so much. All the contributions, apart from that of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), effectively damned the system with faint praise. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) is a worthy substitute for the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), whose presence we miss. I thought that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside introduced the debate in an exemplary way, emphasising the Committee's main findings and pointing out key issues that we might address. The hon. Lady highlighted the question whether congestion charging would displace congestion from the zone in which the charges apply to an area outside it. From the evidence produced by the Committee and published in the Evening Standard to mark the third month of congestion charging, it is clear that in large parts of London outside the zone there has been an increase in congestion and journey times. That conclusion is based on evidence supplied by Trafficmaster. Therefore, the charge is having the effect of displacing congestion from inside the zone to outside it—the very effect that the Government said they did not want to achieve. It is valid to emphasise the issue of monitoring. I, too, have received representations from the Royal National Institute of the Blind, which expressed its worries about this and other such schemes, and the importance of being able to assess its impact on individuals who are not as able-bodied as others. It is significant that in the scheme so far—by mid-March—about 100,000 blue badge holders had registered for discounts. When we hear about the number of vehicles using central London, we must recognise that those 100,000 people with blue badges are not making any contribution to the payment of the charge because they are exempt, and rightly so. I shall repeat some points that I made in the 11 February debate to the effect that the exemptions should be much more widely drawn, short of abolishing the scheme, which Conservative Members would like to do. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside referred to the scheme's linkage with improvements to public transport. As she made clear, those have not occurred. Instead, the economics of public transport in London have deteriorated badly over the past year, and the projections are even graver.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Committee drew attention to the importance of that point? For example, it recommended that hypothecation should be continuous and not restricted to 10 years.
I accept that. I was about to say how much subsidy is already going into buses in London—£400 million a year, and Mr. Hendy said that it will increase to £500 million a year next year and that, within a few years, it will be £1 billion a year. That is not sustainable. That sum cannot be recouped from the congestion charge. It is a revenue subsidy, and it is doing nothing to improve the public transport infrastructure, such as building or extending rail schemes.There is a crisis. It was originally expected that Transport for London would receive increased revenue from the underground and the buses as a result of the displacement of people from the roads, but we have seen no evidence of that. A few more people are using the buses, but the enormous shortfall in bus revenue is coupled with a massively increased subsidy. It is escalating by £100 million a year, which is unsustainable. It is said to be too early to assess whether the London scheme is a success. The only person who thinks that it is not too early to make such an assessment is the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, who said before it started that it was bound to be a great success. He made fun of what was said during the 11 February debate, but many of the concerns expressed by Members on both sides of the House have been shown to be valid and have been borne out in practice. The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) made some important points, and I hope that the Minister responds to them. The hon. Gentleman emphasised how important it is for the economy to tackle the congestion problem on the inter-urban road network. That is the biggest difference in transport arrangements between us and the countries of mainland Europe or the United States. The implementation of the working time directive will be a big competitive problem for us, relative to other countries in Europe, because it will impose rigid restrictions on the number of hours that lorry drivers can work. If lorry drivers are unable to travel the long distances on British roads that they can on continental roads, that will put a real burden on our economy. We should address that matter urgently. The hon. Gentleman also expressed suspicion about hypothecation. Like him, I have experience of local government, and I have tried to confront the Treasury on various issues. He is right to be extremely suspicious. All money raised through taxes or charges is the property of the Treasury, and it will always be so. We shall delude people if we say that we will get any extra benefit from those charging systems. The evidence of London First is on page 63 of the report entitled "Urban Charging Schemes", and paragraph 4 states:
As we have discovered, almost all the revenue is being absorbed by administration costs. The only surplus is probably coming from the penalty charges that are being imposed to a great extent on innocent, or perhaps forgetful, drivers. If they continue at the current rate, those charges could generate about £80 million a year. Although people who are the victims of the penalties will not be marching in the streets, they will not suffer in silence for ever. Next year, they will have the chance to express their views on the injustice of the system, and they can vote for a Mayor who will scrap it."We have been campaigning consistently for more resources for transport in London. In our consultation with member companies between 1997 and 1999 we established that they were prepared to accept that business should make some contribution. About 40 per cent. felt that the increased cost would be a problem but over 90 per cent. believed that this would be worthwhile if the revenue was hypothecated for improvement to the transport system."
I share the hon. Gentleman's misgivings about the amount that the scheme will raise. Nevertheless, it will raise some money. His party has pledged to abolish it. Will Londoners have to pay the cost of that, or will it be paid by a future Conservative Government or another source?
At present, the burden of the scheme on the London economy is negative. Scrapping it will produce an overall benefit to London's economy. We can become more involved in that debate as we come closer to the mayoral elections. The Conservative party's line is that it is an absurd imposition on Londoners to charge them more than £100 million a year, which is just going on administration costs. Most of that administration is carried out in Coventry, not in London.
The hon. Gentleman's last point may be accurate, but money is being raised by the scheme and the Mayor is investing it in London's public transport. You have pledged to cut off that revenue stream, so how will you fill the gap?
Order. The hon. Gentleman is referring to me and I am not responsible for anything.
I think, Mr. Pike, that the world would be a better place if you were responsible for some things.The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question must be looked at in the round. He suggests that the matter will be the biggest issue. I have already drawn attention to the fact that, as we speak, the cost of subsidising London buses will increase to £500 million a year, rising to £1 billion a year. The net yield from the scheme is a small proportion of the subsidy that is currently going into London buses.
The hon. Gentleman's point is important. We are not a million miles away on the merits of the congestion charge. Nevertheless, money is being raised and without the scheme there would be a gap—as the hon. Gentleman says, a Conservative Mayor would cut the number of London buses.
I certainly did not say that and the hon. Gentleman knows it, which is why he tried to put those words into my mouth. All I have done is draw to his attention and that of other Londoners the projections that have been published by Transport for London. If things carry on as they are, within a few years the subsidy that they will have to pay for the buses will exceed £1 billion a year. It will be paid not by the national taxpayer, but by either the bus users or the taxpayers of London. The hon. Gentleman will have to face up to such a reality in the run-up to the next general election, and it will be addressed by the great expert on such matters, Mr. Steve Norris, who knows a lot about transport.
I shall not give way at the moment, as I want to make progress. The hon. Gentleman has made some important points. As he said, we have much in common. I wish to re-emphasise his point on the revenue shortfall. It is clear from the evidence of London First that, when the scheme was set up, net revenue of £250 million a year was expected. Just before the scheme began, it was estimated that there would be net revenue of £150 million. It appears that the figure will be far less than that, and it will be dwarfed by the subsidy that is already going into London buses.
The hon. Gentleman identifies the fact that there will be a shortfall in revenue raised. Does his party propose to make good that shortfall? If so, how?
I am sure that all will be revealed when the mayoral candidates declare their manifestos for the election. I do not know about the hon. Gentleman's party, but we Conservatives delegate responsibility for the mayoral elections to our candidate and his campaign team. Transport for London has been given delegated authority to balance the books as far as public transport is concerned, and I am sure that our mayoral candidate will want to address what Mr. Hendy—a Transport for London official—says is unsustainable. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr. Hendy says:
He says that bus subsidies would need to rise to about £1 billion to maintain the service. I am sure that Mr. Norris, if not the other mayoral candidates, will be considering that. I share the concerns about the charge being a regressive tax and about its impact on low-paid workers. The comments on widening the zone and there then being a charge on local residents were also valid observations. As one who, during the week, lives inside the zone and is entitled to a 90 per cent. discount, it would be wrong of me to think that this is the end of the story. For a relatively modest sum, I can avoid paying the full penalty of the charge, but all the other costs to people living inside the zone have gone up. If they want someone to deliver to their houses or carry out work, a premium is being charged on vehicles and workers coming into the zone. The costs for residents inside the zone have therefore gone up significantly. I want to talk about exemptions, which the Government have still not addressed. They have said that they are looking at the issue, but urgent action is needed to widen exemptions. Those who are most adversely affected by the charge are small businesses inside the zone and residents living just outside. Why is it not possible for residents who live, say, within a mile of the edge of the zone to register for some discount for a reduced rate of travel in the zone—travel that may be part of their everyday lives? It is clear from the evidence presented at the beginning of the debate that all the economic costs are falling on either those who are forced to stop using their cars because they cannot afford to pay the charge or those who are paying the charge reluctantly and who have to cut other items of expenditure. Those people are suffering. The people who are benefiting are those who have the charge paid for them by others or those who are so well off that the cost makes no difference. Such an allocation of the tax burden is offensive in the extreme. In the end, that will be the downfall of this unfair charging regime. It probably also explains why the Government are still sitting on the fence. I want to speak briefly on what the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said about the warnings raised during the 11 February debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) used the word "chaos". I do not know whether the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington has seen that word used in recent reports on how the system is operating, particularly outside the zone where there is increased traffic. The chaos referred to by my hon. Friend has happened outside rather than inside the zone, as predicted by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) in whose constituency I live during the week. She said that there would be extra traffic outside the zone and emphasised the injustice of the charge for people who live just outside, but who have to travel inside as part of their everyday life. Quite a lot of evidence is coming in from other reports. The funny thing about reports is that if they do not confirm people's prejudices they say, "Well, we must have something independent." I understand that the report produced by the London chamber of commerce is an independent survey of 520 businesses. Its findings should be enough to concern the Government greatly, because London—particularly central London—is the engine of the British economy. Small businesses are essential to that economy, but they are suffering a lot as a result of the charge. That message must be taken to heart by the Mayor and the Government when they think about exemptions. The Government cannot abolish the charge—that is for the Mayor to decide—but they could insist on much wider exemptions. The road haulage industry has a point of view on that. The Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association are keen to have exemptions for their members. One can see why. People do not drive heavy goods vehicles or vans into the centre of London during the day just for the fun of it. They do so to provide services. Heavy goods vehicles doing a quick "in and out" a few hundred yards into the zone for only one delivery pay the same as a steamroller travelling round in central London all day and causing enormous congestion. That is another fault with the charge: it is the same for everybody, irrespective of how much use they make of the roads inside the zone. In that respect, it is very different from the new road haulage charge that will be introduced. The Government have announced that they support it, as does my party. That charge will be related to the use that is made of the roads by a heavy goods vehicle, rather than there being an arbitrary fixed charge, which is one of the big problems with the system under discussion."The future mayors face hard choices about transport priorities."
I have information that might interest the hon. Gentleman. There is evidence that hauliers are organising their deliveries more efficiently—they ensure that they use a smaller number of vehicles. Does he agree that that is a positive outcome of the scheme?
Order. Before I call Mr. Chope, I remind him that we want to hear the Minister's response.
I do not think that it is a benefit to have 15 or 20 vehicles on the road doing what one could do. That is a bigger subject, however. I, too, wish to listen to the Minister. I thank the Select Committee for enabling us to have this productive debate.
I congratulate the Transport Committee on producing the report and on its success in getting the report brought before the House through the Liaison Committee. I, too, am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) was not here to open the debate; she always does so with great capability and forcefulness. I was, however, delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) fulfil that role most capably.The report is helpful, especially as it focuses on the London congestion scheme. It is not only in this country that there is interest in that scheme; many other cities are looking closely at it. When one attends meetings in other countries with people in transport, it is clear that there is substantial interest throughout the world in what is happening here in London. This is the third debate on the subject in less than nine months, and the other two were held before the scheme was introduced. Like the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), I think it significant that attendance at the debates has differed so much. The contributions today were also very different from those that we heard before. The hon. Members for doom and gloom have absented themselves this afternoon, although I am not sure why. I daresay they may attend in future to express other concerns, or even to withdraw some of the comments that they made in previous debates. Some strongly worded comments were made, and I am surprised that the hon. Members who made them have not attended to give further support to those views. I should like to mention some of the other methods that the Government are using to reduce congestion, because during the debate we have mostly focused on congestion charging. The Select Committee's report highlighted the growing feeling that traffic congestion in many towns and major conurbations has reached unacceptable levels and, unless we deal with the problem, the undesirable consequences of urban congestion will only get worse. Traffic growth and congestion are faced by all successful economies. Our economy is doing extremely well. I often say that 1.5 million more people are in work since 1997, so more people are travelling to work. Indeed, more people are travelling for leisure and pleasure because they have more money in their pockets. That greater wealth gives greater opportunities for car ownership and more opportunity for business and leisure travel. We must weaken the link between prosperity and traffic growth. Select Committee members will soundly agree with me on that. We can do that through better planning policies aimed at reducing dependency on cars, by improving public transport alternatives and by encouraging more people to walk or cycle. However, more than anything, we must all think more about how we get from place to place; we must all think about the journeys that we take, about whether they are necessary and about whether some of them could be combined. We cannot leave that to everyone else; we must all take responsibility for it in our own way. There is much that we can do. Business and individuals could undertake their journeys more sensibly and sustainably. There is no single magic answer to congestion. We can travel more freely on our roads only if we apply a range of measures and attitudes. We can do much to use and manage our roads more effectively. One such area is that of school travel. The Government are committed to reducing the need for the present level of car use for the journey to and from school, which contributes substantially to congestion, especially in urban areas. To reduce car use we must increase choices for children travelling to school and improve road safety. Like the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), I live in the zone, near a school. Since the congestion charge was introduced I have noticed that many more children are walking to school, partly because they have a short distance to travel, whereas previously they travelled by car. I would suggest that walking is not only safer but much healthier. Also, the congestion and confusion often found outside schools has been reduced, as has the danger to children who walk to school. We have asked all local authorities to include in their local transport plans an integrated strategy for reducing car use and improving children's safety on the journey to school. We have also asked them to include separate targets for modal shift and plans for monitoring progress, and to say how they will work with schools to develop school travel plans. To help authorities to do that, we have awarded 57 bursaries for them to employ staff dedicated to promoting travel plans for schools. Working together, local authorities, schools and parents—and, indeed, children—can help to reduce the number of car trips. There is already a lot of good practice for others to emulate, and some schools have achieved dramatic reductions in car use in a short time. In fact, I am soon to visit a school that has encouraged the use of the bicycle. Whereas only four or five children used to cycle, now so many do so that the school can allow only one year group at a time to cycle to school, because it does not have the capacity to keep all the bicycles in the school. In some places, there are localised problems that need to be dealt with. For example, in December, the Secretary of State announced a £5.5 billion package of major national and local transport measures to tackle congestion and to improve safety, reliability and quality of life. The improvements tackle some of the country's most serious transport problems. My right hon. Friend announced up to 1,600 traffic management schemes, more than 400 new or improved road junctions and up to 55 new or extended park-and-ride schemes. To minimise the disruption caused to road users by street works—another huge source of congestion—highways authorities have, since April 2002, been able to charge utilities up to —2,000 a day for each of their street works which overruns an agreed deadline. So far, 120 authorities have taken up those powers. We have made it quite clear that if that does not reduce disruption sufficiently, new powers will be activated that allow utilities to be charged a daily rate from the start of the works, regardless of whether they overrun or not. Pilot schemes to test those new powers have begun in Camden and Middlesbrough. Utilities excavating the street have to pay up to £750 a day for the duration of the works. Those developments will go a long way to reducing the disruption that drivers experience, and they will improve the overall journey times on the road network, including, most importantly, those for buses. However, although we can increase the capacity in the systems to manage the strategic road network better, that is a lot more difficult to do in our towns and cities, where most of us have experience of congestion. Indeed, 80 per cent, of congestion is to be found in urban areas. Time wasted in congestion costs business and people every day. Traffic congestion degrades and pollutes the environment in which we live and bring up our children. Congestion charging is a way of confronting each of us with the questions that we have always been reluctant to ask ourselves. Do I need to be here now? Is this journey necessary, or could I organise things better? Congestion charging provides an incentive for motorists to look more critically at the real cost of their travel decisions, and at the possibilities for using alternative means of transport. Of course, it also secures additional funds through a hypothecated revenue stream for spending on improved local transport systems. As the Secretary of State has said on many occasions, congestion charging is just one of a number of measures that can be used to tackle congestion. It is not the answer in itself; authorities might have to think about the role that they can play in creating an overall strategic vision for their town or city. As we made clear in our response to the Select Committee's report, the Government's firm view is that all proposals for the introduction of charging must have the reduction of congestion as their primary and continuing objective. We also recognise that the public's perception of congestion charging is important for its acceptability. Not only do people have to understand the principles underlying charging, but they need to see the tangible benefits that it can bring. Local authorities and the public must be open-minded in considering how congestion can be managed in their community. The process of dialogue and consultation may result in options other than charging being considered and taken forward. That is good, and entirely consistent with the theme of local decision making. As the Select Committee recognises, charging can be a powerful policy tool and it can benefit all road users. It is important to remember that we have no one-size-fits-all solution. Local authorities need to make use of the flexibility afforded them by the legislation in designing their schemes to meet local needs and solve local problems. For example, a scheme for central London, Manchester or Birmingham might be entirely different from a project in the Peak district, where there is congestion at the weekend. I take issue with the Select Committee's suggestion, which has been mentioned in some of the contributions, that the Government have been lukewarm on this matter. Congestion charging is available because the Government listened to local authorities and gave them the powers to go ahead with it. We did not produce a blueprint in Westminster or Whitehall and say, "This is what you have to do." We allowed local authorities to take democratic decisions in their own areas. That is the best way forward.
Just to clear this up once and for all, will the Minister take the opportunity to say that he will be extremely happy for local authorities to introduce congestion charging if that is what they decide to do?
Absolutely. If a local authority has developed a scheme, has consulted properly locally, can show that it will reduce congestion and can demonstrate all the features that are needed under the legislation, of course the Government will be very supportive. However, we would want to know that the scheme had local support and that there had been proper consultation. Our approach has not changed over two or three years. What is different is that there are those who are trying to say that the Government should have a blueprint or a master plan. We are not minded to do that—such things are best determined locally.There has, rightly, been a good deal of talk about the impact of congestion charging on low-paid workers and other key public sector workers. That is an issue that we would expect authorities to consider fully when designing schemes. They will be required to monitor the impacts of schemes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Stringer) said, the legislation allows authorities to proceed but they must consider carefully the scheme's impact on their community and fine-tune it as appropriate. Local authorities also have the ability to build exemptions and concessions into their scheme. In determining the level and scope of those they need to bear in mind their possible impact on the effectiveness of the scheme.
I have been following the Minister's arguments carefully. Can he explain why local authorities outside London, if they are thinking of introducing a congestion charge, should have to do that with the disadvantage of a deregulated bus system, which is not the case in London?
I can see the direction in which my hon. Friend is tempting me to go, but local authorities will always have to devise a scheme within the confines of the systems that operate in their own areas. Durham brought in arrangements based on the transport system in that city. My hon. Friend raises an interesting but separate argument. We may examine it on another day.My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, in a careful and considered opening to the debate, talked about permanent hypothecation to give a long-term view of schemes. We shall keep that in mind, especially if an authority wants to spend some of the money on a long-term project. A tram scheme, for example, may need financing over far more than the 10 years of hypothecation. My hon. Friend also made an important point about developing technology and ensuring its compatibility where appropriate. It was important to ensure that there was compatibility between the services operated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the technology used for London's congestion charge, and that seems to have worked satisfactorily. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) spoke with some eloquence, although I was not sure in the end whether he was for or against the scheme. He also talked about the Mayor's revenue-raising powers. I took careful note of his comments about charging in out-of-town car parks. The Government had originally thought of extending the workplace levy to retail sites and out-of-town centres. However, when the Bill that became the Transport Act 2000 was going through Parliament, we felt that further work was needed, so the issue was not included in the Bill. The Commission for Integrated Transport is considering it, however, and I assure my hon. Friend that it is not off the agenda. We shall return to it in time. My hon. Friend also mentioned the money available for outlying boroughs. Some £50 million is available to the Mayor to implement local traffic mitigation measures in outlying boroughs. It is for the appropriate authorities to catch his attention and talk through some of the issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley made an important point about the scheme's effects on business, and I know that the Mayor is having to monitor those carefully. We shall also be considering such issues, because they are important for London and for possible future schemes. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington kindly did the initial part of my job for me by summarising the comments made last time by what I called the voices of doom and gloom, so I have now thrown that bit of my speech away. If I may spoil things for a moment, however, he should read some of the election literature that went out in Bristol. If he does, he will find that the Liberal Democrats implacably opposed the congestion charge scheme there. I know that there is a different message on every doorstep with the Liberals, but there also seems to be a different message for every town. The hon. Gentleman may want to pop to Bristol to rap his colleagues gently on the knuckles.
Like the Minister, I am all in favour of local decision making.
But the hon. Gentleman said that we needed a national policy. A moment ago, he asked me whether the Government would support any scheme, so let me ask him a question. If he were doing my job, and Bristol came up with a congestion charge scheme, would he support the Liberal Democrats current position or would he take our line? I will give way if he wants to respond, but I can see that he is not going to—perhaps he will do so in a future debate. In any case, he needs to get his lines of communication sorted out.Talking of lines of communication, I turn to the contribution by the hon. Member for Christchurch. Interestingly, he spoke from the Back Benches today—perhaps he was afraid that something he said might be deemed to be Tory party policy. In any case, he said in our previous debate that congestion charging was a grossly unjust system. I wondered whether his tone had not changed very slightly since then—perhaps as a result of that weekend he recently spent with his colleagues. In any case, it is interesting that the Conservative party's mayoral candidate is very much opposed to the London scheme and would scrap it. The hon. Gentleman was a Transport Minister in a previous incarnation—it was just before 1992, when the electorate decided that he should do another job for a while. In 1991, he presided over the London congestion charging research programme, which concluded:
That is from a report initiated during his time at the Department for Transport. Furthermore, those of his colleagues who held senior ministerial jobs have been very supportive of congestion charging over the years. I am surprised that Conservative Members are not supportive today, but there we are—that was their past, and we look forward to their future. If I have not covered any points, I shall be happy, as always, to engage in correspondence with hon. Members."Congestion charging could, however, significantly reduce congestion and the environmental impacts of traffic".
It being half-past Five o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.
Questions Not Answered Orally
To ask the Government what the minimum professional qualification is for making an assessment of heroin addiction treatment needs. 
The Government are committed to ensuring that any person making an assessment of heroin addiction treatment needs is qualified to do so. Best practice in the assessment of heroin addiction involves assessment skills from a multidisciplinary team, and for addiction treatment the team may often involve a doctor and nurse or trained drug worker.
To ask the Government what steps they are taking to increase the level of drug awareness in schools. 
The Government's strategy to increase drug awareness in schools involves supporting schools and launching a major new publicity campaign aimed at young people and their families. To support schools, the Government are making £20 million available for drug education via the standards fund in 2003–04; providing an additional £2 million to support training for teachers and Connexions advisers; and revising current guidance to schools. The new publicity campaign to be launched shortly will drive home the risks of class A drugs and encourage pupils and their parents to seek further help and advice.