Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
rebate of levy
I beg to move amendment 1, page 5, line 4, leave out subsection (3).
I had the opportunity to have an informal chat with the Minister earlier today about the amendment. Although I am aware that technically it may not do the job exactly as required, I shall outline its intent and the background, and I hope the Minister will address both the intent and what is proposed, and deal with the requirements in due course.
The background to the amendment is correspondence from the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, from Miss Amanda Brandon, the legal and policy executive of the BVRLA, and the legal director, Mr Jay Parmar. The BVRLA, as the Minister and colleagues who were on the Committee will know, gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee on 4 December. In response to a question from the Chair of the Committee, Mr Parmar said:
“However, we have some serious concerns about the drafting of the Bill and the impact it could have both financially and economically on our members”.
He went on to say:
“To give the Committee a feel for the figures, we have estimated that our members tend to dispose of around 20,000 trucks every year, so if we look at a typical fleet that is being disposed of being between band E, as proposed in the Bill, and band G, we believe that, under band E, with two months unused lorry road user fee available, the figure is around £1.06 million, and for band G it is £1.6 million. That is the amount that we would not be able to reclaim under the Bill, which would result in a loss of around £2.7 million each year to UK operators. That starts to give the scale of our concern.”––[Official Report, HGV Road User Levy Public Bill Committee, 4 December 2012; c. 35-36, Q87-88.]
I am sure that the Minister has seen the correspondence received this week from the BVRLA, which says:
“The BVRLA is fully supportive of the Bill’s key aims of creating a level playing field between UK and foreign hauliers and ensuring foreign operators make a fair contribution towards using UK roads. However, clause 7(3) will impose a new cost burden on UK owners as they will be restricted in the amount they are able to claim as a refund for the unused proportion of the levy. A vehicle owner today is able to obtain a VED refund without such a restriction when it is being sold or SORN’d”—
a reference to an off-road notice, as the Minister knows. We had this exchange in Committee, so he is very familiar with this territory.
Mr Parmar goes on to say:
“To put our concerns into perspective, we estimate that our members alone stand to lose up to £2.7 million each year as a direct impact of the restrictive impact of clause 7(3). This cost impact will be greater if the entire affected UK HGV parc is taken into consideration.”
Finally, he says:
“We are unable to mitigate against this loss as the vehicle may be de-fleeted for a period of time before being able to find a buyer and when a new buyer is found, then due to market conditions, it is not possible to expect the buyer to pay towards the cost of any unused portion of the levy.”
On 6 December in Committee, I moved amendment 4, a probing amendment that sought to delete subsection (5) of clause 7, which says:
“The Secretary of State may specify conditions with which a person must comply before making an application for a rebate.”
At that time, I had the pleasure of making reference to West Ham United’s great win against Chelsea. Sadly, West Ham has won only one game since we were in Committee, and the Minister knows how long ago that is, so it is not a matter of any satisfaction to me to remember that. This was the Minister’s response to the amendment:
“It is important to retain subsection (5) for administrative purposes. It means that the Secretary of State…will be able to set conditions around making applications for rebates”.––[Official Report, HGV Road User Levy Public Bill Committee, 6 December 2012; c. 94.]
With that reassurance, we withdrew the amendment, because the Minister had clearly said that the matter was covered. The BVRLA’s letter of this week supported our tabling that amendment. It remains concerned because it thinks that the British road haulage industry will take a £2.7 million hit. The ambition on both sides of the House is to help British road haulage against foreign competitors, and yet the BVRLA is still dissatisfied and unhappy with the Government’s response.
Technically, the amendment may not address precisely the issue that the BVRLA wishes to address. However, it has continued to raise the issue of the £2.7 million deficit, and we are keen to hear what the Minister has to say on the matter.
I thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for tabling his amendment. I hope that I will be able to persuade him that it does not deal with the concerns raised by the BVRLA, which I should like also to address. I want to try to prove to him that his amendment would potentially, if we were not careful, give a free £200 to an awful lot of people. I hope he will agree with me on that. We discussed the point about clause 7 in Committee when the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) raised the issue of 10 monthly and 12 monthly payments.
Removing clause 7(3) would remove the annual rebating formula and mean that all the rebates would be made under subsection (4), which applies to all periods of time over one month and less than one year. Under the European directive, the charges and rebating formula must be the same for both UK and foreign-registered vehicles.
In selecting the charges for different time periods, we have chosen to offer the annual levy at a discount compared with the purchase of 12 monthly levy payments. That is also compatible with the Eurovignette directive, which states that the annual charge may be no less than 10 times the monthly charge.
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment would not have its intended effect, which I believe is to ensure that UK hauliers would be able to claim the rebates in twelfths rather than tenths, as proposed by the Bill. As he has rightly pointed out, I am aware of what the BVRLA has put together. It has been lobbying for a change to the calculation because at the moment it estimates that a UK operator could incur a small loss when it delicenses a vehicle—typically when it is sold—compared with the existing rebating regime for vehicle excise duty, which rebates in twelfths. The BVRLA has identified that a small extra cost to operators could be introduced by the way in which the levy is rebated compared with how VED is rebated.
Currently, when a vehicle is delicensed—typically when it is sold—the previous owner can claim back the outstanding whole months of VED, with the rebate calculation done in twelfths. From the introduction of the levy in 2014, UK operators will only be able to reclaim VED on the same basis that the levy can be reclaimed, namely in tenths. Setting the annual rate at 10 times the monthly rate complies with EU law and will maximise the revenue from the monthly charges. That means, in effect, that it is discounted when compared with the cost of the 12 monthly levy charges.
The decision to offer rebates in tenths was made, as I explained in Committee and as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, to prevent foreign hauliers from paying for a year, using a vehicle for a month and then reclaiming 11 months. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment would have the effect—although this is not its intent—of removing that.
I accept the explanation about tenths and twelfths and that we do not want to give an advantage to foreign hauliers, but the question that was raised in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) has still clearly not been answered to the satisfaction of the BVRLA. When someone surrenders VED—a tax disc—they can claim back, but if a vehicle is off the road while it is in the process of being sold, which could take two or three months, and is accruing the levy charge, can that be claimed back? If it can, I think that will answer the problem.
I hope that I am about to address exactly that point. I welcome the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk to his place, because he raised the point about the levy rebate, which I hope my opening remarks have addressed.
The BVLRA estimates that rebating the charge in tenths rather than twelfths might cost its members, as the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse has said, up to £2.7 million a year. That estimate is on the high side, to say the least, because the BVRLA assumes that half the refunds would be for vehicles in the most expensive levy band, whereas, in fact, only 4% of the UK fleet is in that band. Most UK vehicles—83%—are in bands costing between 36% and 65% less. I would therefore question whether the cost is as high as estimated.
The BVRLA also assumes that all refunds are claimed in the 10th month of the VED cycle for each vehicle, which is a worst-case scenario. In fact, there is a peak in vehicle disposals at around month three or four of the cycle, reflecting the fact that vehicles are often purchased in September and sold in January, to deal with Christmas business. The loss for any vehicle at this point is some 60% or 70% less than the worst-case figure.
We estimate that most vehicles will lose in the region of between £30 and £50 when delicensed. That is not a regular event, but it would happen, for example, when a vehicle is sold. The loss therefore needs to be set in the context of the vehicle’s whole lifetime, which can be about 10 years. For example, a typical vehicle that lasts 10 years and is sold twice during that period at a typical stage in the VED-levy cycle would incur between £60 and £100 in rebate costs over its life, because the loss is incurred only when the vehicle is sold or delicensed for other reasons. That cost equates to about £6 a year. Operators can avoid that cost by selling the vehicle taxed or by disposing of it only at the end of the VED-levy cycle so that there is no amount to reclaim.
As the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse said, the BVRLA gave oral evidence to the Committee and raised this point, but it did not give it the prominence that it has been given subsequently. I am pleased that we have been able to discuss it today because it did not feature in our discussion about levy rebates. I am pleased that I have been able to clear the point up. The BVRLA could have submitted written evidence on this point to the Committee, but it did not. It is helpful that it has been raised by way of amendment this afternoon.
The point I raised on instinct, on looking at the Bill, was that this was not a level playing field between those who come into the UK and pay the levy, and those who are in the UK and pay duty and now the levy. Although the Minister has said that the loss will be 70% less than the worst-case scenario and only about £6, it is still not a level playing field. There will be a loss for the leasing companies in the UK. The companies say that the loss will be £2.7 million a year. If it is 70% of £2.7 million a year, it is still a large hit for British business.
As I have said, the figure of £2.7 million is predicated on half the vehicles in the fleet being in the largest band, whereas only 4% are in that band. There will be a very small loss, if there is a loss at all. The £2.7 million figure is clearly an overestimate.
I seek to persuade the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse that under the amendment, all rebating would be done under clause 7(4), which is designed for shorter periods of time than one year. Rebating the annual levy under that subsection would not resolve the tenths versus twelfths issue, but it would allow some foreign operators to drive on the UK’s roads for free for up to two months when they purchase an annual levy. That is because, as we discussed in Committee, they would be able to claim a rebate for whole outstanding months at the monthly levy rate, rather than at the discounted rate.
As well as the potential for free use of the roads, a further consequence of using clause 7(4) as the rebating mechanism would be to allow anyone to make a claim for more than they had paid, without ever driving on the UK’s roads. For example, if an operator purchased a levy starting at a future point in time, say 1 February, and immediately asked for a rebate, they would be able to claim 12 times the monthly rate because the levy period would not have started. That would contrast with the actual cost of the 12-month levy, which is discounted to 10 times the monthly rate.
The consequential amendments would mean that clause 7(4) could also be used for annual rebating and would remove the references to clause 7(3) in clause 7(8), which deals with the level of the rebate. Given the unintended consequences of providing updates only through clause 7(4), and given the relatively small value of the typical loss, which is incurred only if the vehicle is delicensed or sold, we do not propose to change the rebating formula from tenths to twelfths.
I will keep the situation under review. I hope that with those reassurances, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse will withdraw the amendment.
We are very grateful to the Minister for his response. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) raised this matter strongly in Committee. We supported the inquiry by the BVRLA because this seemed to be an issue that was slipping through the cracks. The Minister reassured us in Committee. He has said solidly that he will keep the matter under review. We do not want to see this develop into a disadvantage for British road haulage.
Given the assurances that the Minister has reaffirmed today, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
As the House knows, this Bill introduces a new levy for all heavy goods vehicles that weigh 12 tonnes or more and that are kept on, or use, the UK road network. The levy is aimed at recognising the damage that HGVs do to our roads, so that a contribution is made for that.
The Bill has, I am pleased to say, enjoyed cross-party support as it has proceeded through the Ways and Means motion, Second Reading, Committee and now—I hope—Third Reading. With some exceptions and questions it has been broadly welcomed by industry, with agreement on the fundamental point that vehicles that use and cause wear to our roads should make a payment to take account of that. The HGV road user levy will, for the first time, require foreign-registered HGVs to make a contribution to the costs of maintaining the road network that they use.
Subject to the Bill being passed in the House today, although the financial burden of road maintenance will be largely borne by UK taxpayers, from April 2014 it will no longer fall solely to them. Our intention is for the levy to apply to all categories of public road in the UK, and to UK and foreign-registered HGVs equally. The Government plan to implement the levy from April 2014 for UK and foreign-registered hauliers, and I am working to ensure that the process to procure and develop the necessary vehicle payment systems is completed. That is being done to a short time scale, but as I stated in Committee, I am confident it can be achieved.
As stated in previous discussions, UK hauliers will pay the levy in a single transaction with vehicle excise duty—VED—when it is renewed from April 2014. Foreign hauliers do not currently contribute to road maintenance through a vignette or other form of payment, even though such charges are common in other countries and our hauliers pay them when they use roads overseas. Foreign-registered hauliers who have long enjoyed an advantage over our own haulage industry will now have that advantage removed. All main parties have wanted to introduce a measure to correct that imbalance for many years, and I am delighted that this Bill, which will go a long way towards addressing it, is receiving its Third Reading.
HGVs play a crucial role in our economy by supplying businesses and servicing consumers. More than two thirds of goods moved within the UK travel by road on an HGV. It is estimated that foreign hauliers make around 1.5 million trips in the UK annually, and the levy will ensure that they pay a fair amount when they use UK roads, and increase opportunities for UK hauliers in international trade.
As colleagues in the House may be aware, any form of road user charge is subject to strict conditions set out in the Eurovignette directive, in which the maximum daily charge is specified as €11, which is likely to rise to €12 by 2014 to compensate for inflation. By that stage it will equate to about £10 per day, which is what we intend to charge to the largest foreign vehicles that use roads in the UK. I recognise that many trips by foreign hauliers last longer than one day, so they will also be able to pay the levy for different periods—daily, weekly, monthly or annually, for up to one year. For the largest vehicles, the annual charge will be £1,000, and proportionately less for the smallest vehicles. Overall, most vehicles that come to the UK are in the heaviest two bands.
The Government have estimated that the revenue gained by charging foreign hauliers will probably be between £18.7 million and £23.2 million annually. I appreciate—this was discussed in Committee at some length—that that may not be an enormous sum in the grand scheme of things, and I am sure some of my colleagues would like it to be higher, but the levy is set at the highest level allowed by the Eurovignette directive. Other measures—principally the reduction in VED—mean that nine out of 10 UK vehicles will pay no more than they do now. That will ensure a fairer deal for UK-registered HGV operators, who should not, and will not, have to bear an additional financial burden as a result of the levy. As we have announced previously, details of vehicle excise duty will given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in due course.
With those brief comments, I hope that the House supports the Third Reading of the Bill.
I delighted that I have been joined on the Opposition Front Bench by the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), and by the newest member of the shadow transport team, my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue).
Despite the previous debate, this is a good Bill, and the Opposition welcome it, as we did on Second Reading. I commended the coalition for introducing it to support British haulage, and I commend the Minister and his predecessor, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who was the architect of the Bill—he built on that which Labour left him when it left office. It is clear from pre-legislative scrutiny and debates in Committee that the Bill has cross-party and cross-industry support.
The Opposition raised a number of issues in Committee: hypothecation, visible evidence of payment, rebates, meandering Irish cross-border roads—an issue covered by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and others—and road safety. We also dealt with the Bill’s timetable, enforcement and reduced pollution certificates. On all those issues, I am happy to say that the Minister was able to respond so positively and provide enough reassurance that none of the amendments we tabled was pressed to a Division. It is to the credit of the Minister and his officials that they responded so positively to the probing to which we exposed them. He reassured both sides of the Committee that the Bill should be supported.
I should make one or two brief comments on the issues we have raised. The Minister made a stout philosophical defence against hypothecation, and the Opposition could not argue against it because we too would have opposed hypothecation. He therefore made a lot of sense when he said that hypothecation was not an appropriate way forward.
On enforcement and the question of using some of the money as supplementary funds for the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency, the Minister reassured us on his confidence in the system. We have moved on a lot—we have the success of the congestion charge in London and the technology for automatic number plate recognition cameras—and the Committee was reassured that we have the technology to ensure that the system works.
The one question on which those on both sides of the House have raised concerns was road safety and the disproportionate number of crashes caused by foreign vehicles. Perhaps the Bill will deter some foreign hauliers from coming to the UK, which might in turn reduce the number of crashes caused by foreign hauliers. In that respect, the Bill will have an impact on road safety.
The Opposition also raised the question of giving a tokenistic measure of support for road safety. We suggested using some of the money raised—either from fines or the levy—for road safety purposes. It was suggested that The Times cycling campaign, which has been championed by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State and other hon. Members, was an appropriate campaign to benefit from the levy. That was clearly not going to happen, but we considered it and demonstrated cross-party support for the campaign and for road safety in general, and so indicated that we need to maintain our rigour in respect of trying to reduce the numbers of people killed and seriously injured on our roads. This measure ought to help in that regard.
The Bill is a good Bill. It will make a contribution to rebalancing the playing field for UK hauliers. The previous Government should have introduced it. I discussed the matter with the Treasury Minister responsible at the time, and he too could not work out why we did not introduce it. I assume it was too late in our legislative cycle. That is slightly embarrassing, but Labour has none the less supported the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee, as we support it on Third Reading.
We appreciate the efforts of officials and my hon. Friends who supported the official Opposition in Committee. We also appreciate the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), the Chair of the Select Committee on Transport—she was in the Chamber on Second Reading and is here again on Third Reading—whose Committee helped in our deliberations. We want the Bill to make progress and are pleased we are debating it today.
I very much welcome the Bill. I understand that the Minister is bound by the vignette-type legislation from Europe, which means that we can charge a maximum of €11 a day, and in the future we must look to increase that significantly. Someone running a heavy goods vehicle from France is helped significantly by the fact that the diesel is 10p to 20p a litre cheaper. A lorry coming over here can have a couple of tanks of diesel on it and deliver goods all over the country using it—so there is still a very big advantage to be had. Moreover, a British lorry using motorways all the way to the south of France will have to pay nearly €1,000 for a return trip at the péages. It is bad enough with a domestic car, let alone the charges for an HGV.
This is a good start to making the playing field more level, and I recognise that the shadow Minister was graceful in accepting that it should have been done on Labour’s watch. I am glad that he supports the Bill. I welcome the Bill, but our hauliers have suffered greatly over the years from unfair competition, with lower-priced fuel coming across in the lorries, which then do a lot of business in this country because they can outbid our hauliers. I look forward to seeing this levy rise substantially.
I have one final point. Many foreign lorries that come over here seem to have a sat-nav system for domestic cars, and they end up going down some of our rural roads, taking out bridges and walls—even cottages. It is very hard to reverse those huge HGVs when they have gone down a tiny country lane or through a very small village. That also needs to be looked at seriously.
I, too, welcome the Bill and I agree that it has been a long time coming. The Transport Committee first looked at this issue midway through the last Parliament, which is quite a few years ago. We continued in the present Session, and we looked at the issue in two ways. First, we looked at it in relation to the haulage industry, including fair treatment of and fair competition for the British haulage industry. Secondly, we looked at it in relation to road safety. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) has said, we noted the high proportion of accidents caused by lorries from the continent. We attributed that to lower safety standards, and noted issues that we felt needed to be addressed and action that should be taken.
The Transport Committee in the last Parliament certainly shared the frustration that no action was taken. It did appear at one stage that a Bill would be brought forward on the subject, but it did not happen. I am pleased that the matter has been taken up in this Parliament. It is important that the Bill should have been looked at in such detail in Committee, and it is stronger as a result. I give it my full support, and to those who question the worth of Select Committees, I say that it might have taken at least two Parliaments and many years, but we have got there in the end.
I, too, join the welcome for the Bill from both sides of the House. Until now, foreign-registered lorries using our roads have not paid anything towards their construction or maintenance, whereas UK hauliers pay tolls and other charging schemes when they travel around the rest of Europe. Clearly, foreign vehicles cause a lot of wear and tear to our roads on the approximately 1.5 million trips they make to the UK each year, and it is not right that the UK taxpayer has to foot the Bill for all of that wear and tear. The Bill will change that by introducing a levy on all heavy goods vehicles. For the first time, foreign-registered hauliers will make a contribution towards the wear and tear they cause to our roads.
The introduction of the levy will help to level the playing field between UK hauliers and those from the European mainland. I accept that, because of the European directive that limits the daily charge to €11, the effects of the Bill will be limited, but it is still a welcome step in the right direction and I hope that the €11 limit will be increased significantly in the future. I also welcome the Government’s intention to make consequential reductions in vehicle excise duty to ensure a fair deal for UK HGV drivers. It has been estimated that 94% of UK hauliers will pay no more than they do under the present arrangements.
From a constituency point of view, I welcome the Government’s decision to exempt islands’ goods vehicles—goods vehicles restricted to working on a small island—from the levy. Given the appalling state of the roads on the small islands in my constituency, it would not be right to impose on them the same levy as for those using motorways on the mainland—that aspect of the Bill is certainly fair.
The Bill has gone through the House without amendment—indeed, without any Divisions—so I am sure that Third Reading will be unopposed. I wish it a speedy passage through the Lords.
I want to raise a couple of issues just to put them on the record. We have had a debate, and eventually an agreement, not to press any of the worthy amendments to a vote. As my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) said, the Bill has been a long time in gestation, going back to our time in office. People wanted to see something done, a point made by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), and felt strongly that there was an imbalance and a disadvantage to the UK haulage business for many reasons, including diesel prices and the lack of any contribution to our road network.
Some of the points that have been raised are sound. Kent county council made an excellent contribution to the argument for hypothecation on the basis that a large percentage of the vehicles coming into the UK use its road system that it then has to maintain. Given that the Government are now in the ludicrous position of rate-capping every council—they call it council tax freezing; it is rate capping—the money available to Kent through the normal levy powers is diminishing, so it was looking to see whether this measure would bring some money into its coffers to help it to maintain its roads. However, we are told that it will all go into the Consolidated Fund—into the back pocket of the Treasury.
A colleague from the north-east of England made a good case for the need to upgrade the poor quality roads in the north-east of England. The point was made very well that to drive from Scotland to Tyneside, a major European hub for roll-on/roll-off transport and tourism, it is necessary to drive down what is virtually a country road for about 20 or 30 miles. I have done that journey and can verify that feeling of having lost my way because there is no decent road network leading to that major port. I can see why hypothecation would make a lot of sense. I made a bid for hypothecation for a major bridge project in Avon gorge in my constituency, a choke point where accidents happen all the time. It was decided, however, that there would be no hypothecation.
I still question the decision that the money raised should all go to the Consolidated Fund. There are two points about that. One of those points is to level the playing field up in terms of making charges on those from abroad who use the roads, and who at the moment do not do pay. However, everyone who gave evidence from the Freight Transport Association made a bid for some, if not all, of that money to be put into the road network. The idea that some of that money will go into the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency and some into registration recognition cameras is a small point in policing, but that does not raise the quality of the road network, which is what the transport companies were speaking about.
The question we need to ask over the years is whether the money going into the Consolidated Fund comes out at the other end so as to benefit the road user in any way, particularly heavy goods vehicles, which deliver goods to the shops, homes and companies in this country. That is one question that I leave to be considered over time. It should be looked at in the review that the Minister kindly offered during the debate on the amendments. I like the idea of reviews, because although I am sure the Bill is grand and well thought through, there is always the law of unintended consequences to be taken into account.
The second thing I want to address is the question dealt with by our amendments today. In reading the Bill, one thing was clear to me. I do not know the kind of transport detail that the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton and others seem to know—including, possibly, the Chair of the Transport Committee—but I have a large number of heavy goods vehicle depots in my constituency, in and around Grangemouth, which is the only recognised totally inter-modal hub in Scotland. It has road, rail and a major shipping port—the biggest container base in Scotland. People tell me that cashing in their HGV licence at particular times can be sensible business; the problem now is that they have to work out how to cash it in at the same time as not losing money on the levy. I know that the Minister said that the figure of £2.7 million that the leasing companies gave us was high—possibly every vehicle had to be in the worst category, and so on. The point I was asking about was the principle and what, on first look, I thought was a dislocation between the fact that someone who does not come into the UK and does not pay their levy—because they are not coming in—faces a zero sum and the fact that someone with a British-registered vehicle who pays the levy but cashes it in at the wrong time will be out of pocket.
The Minister says the figure turns out to be only £6 a year. That may be the case, and that may all right for the industry. However, the industry would not have rung the alarm bells—it perhaps rang a bigger bell that it should have—if it had not felt that there was some justification being made for the concept of placing an imposition on UK hauliers. That was not the point of the Bill; the point was to place an imposition entirely on non-British-registered vehicles coming into the country. If, as a consequence, we put an imposition on what is an already very burdensome industry to work in, with the cost of diesel and all the regulations that have to be faced—I get it all the time, and I sympathise with Malcolm’s, Russell’s and all the others based in my constituency who tell me they carry small amounts, but over a large number of vehicles and a large number of trips, which makes them uncompetitive compared with others coming into the country—we will have failed in what we set out to do. We set out to level the playing field up, not push UK road hauliers up a bit further so that they do not bridge the gap to the point intended by the levy.
We need to ensure that the review is a serious promise from the Minister—that he will look at the consequences and at the figures at the end of the year, and that every year he will talk to the people in the road haulage industry and see whether we have got it right. I commend him and his team for bringing the Bill forward. I know it is difficult—it was difficult for my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse when we were in government to do this—and the Minister has marched a long mile. I just hope that he will continue seriously to review the unintended consequences of the clauses that we were concerned about and that, at the end of the day, if they need amending, he will come back and amend them on the Floor of the House.
I, too, commend the Minister and the Government for bringing this Bill forward. I fear that it will be lost in the media tomorrow, given the previous business in the Chamber today. However, the wider population would welcome the Bill. When I speak to hauliers across my constituency, I know that they are grateful for the freezing of fuel duty, but this Bill starts levelling the playing field up.
I hear what the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) said about hypothecation and Kent, and all the rest of it, but I would make this argument. People might think that the High Peak is a little rural backwater, but believe you me, they probably all walk, sit and drive on the limestone that comes from our area. If we are going to hypothecate, which I do not think we should, I would argue for more money because our roads get so much stick from the wagons that carry that limestone.
That was what we inherited in 2010, but we will do what we can.
I welcome the proposals, as I have said. We have lots of haulage in the High Peak. I know that the local quarries try to use rail when they can, but road is the best option because of the rurality of the area. I see more and more foreign wagons coming in and out. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who is no longer in his place, made the point about foreign wagons not following their sat-navs. On Saturday night, I was trying to get through part of my constituency and, lo and behold, a huge wagon was blocking the road for the umpteenth time. It had got stuck under a low bridge, and the driver had probably not seen the road signs. That seems remarkable to me, as Derbyshire county council does everything it can to divert those wagons, but it still does not seem to work. The big operators in the High Peak, many of which have dozens of wagons, and even the small owner-operators who cart stone will welcome the measures, given the amount of foreign wagons that are coming in. This is all about supporting our local British businesses, and the Bill goes some way towards doing that.
I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton about what we can charge. I would like to charge more, provided that the discount on vehicle excise duty was available for our own wagon drivers, and I hope that one day we will be able to do so. We shall have to see how the EU goes on that one. There is unfair competition at the moment, and the foreign wagons have the advantage, which is wrong. When our wagons go across to Europe, the drivers have to pay road tolls. That applies, for example, to those who drive the length of France, unless they avoid the main autoroutes. These measures are trying to straighten some of that out. As I have said, I would like to see the maximum charge increased if possible. We have also talked about the damage to the roads. Those wagons are big, and many of us will have had people come into our surgeries to complain about the noise of them going past at all times of the day.
I welcome the Bill. We had a good Committee stage, with quite a few amendments and some good discussions. It was quite a pleasant Committee to be on, actually. I applaud the Minister for bringing forward the Bill. I will resist the temptation to go on about how nothing happened for 13 years, but I have got it on the record anyway. I thank the Minister and everyone involved in the Committee. Let us now bring it on and get the measures up and running by next April, or as soon as we can. I can assure the Minister that I am not saying all these nice words just to get my bypass, but will he bear it in mind?
I should also like to thank all the Committee members, the Minister and the shadow Minister for working together so well to get this Bill through. It is always good to see positive work coming out of the House. We all like to see that happen, and this is a good example of it. The House can be proud of this good work.
I represent a constituency in Northern Ireland in which road transport is, to put it simply, the key to the economy. It is also the key to the economy of Northern Ireland. The Freight Transport Association and the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association have collectively expressed concern about clause 7(3), which deals with the cost burden. They felt that there had been a clear undertaking that there would be no extra costs for UK hauliers. The FTA has stated that there will be a cost of some £2.7 million, but I understand that the Minister has given an assurance that that figure has been greatly overestimated. If that is the case, it will be good news. I hope that he can give us confirmation of that, and reassure the FTA and the BVRLA that the provisions will not adversely affect their industry. It will be important to get such an assurance on the record in Hansard, because the people out there who contact us will want to know the final word on the matter.
The FTA has identified three issues
“where current details are sparse or under review and where further consultation is expected”,
and I would like the Minister to give us some clarification on them. The first point is that the arrangements for the operation of the levy in Northern Ireland involve the only UK land border with another EU member state. The second point is about compensation arrangements for holders of RPCs—reduced pollution certificates—which will be withdrawn following the introduction of the levy. The third point is about the mitigation of the disproportionate increase in charges for operators of 2x2 axle, 28-tonne articulated vehicles—commonly referred to as “urban artics”—used for deliveries to pubs and retail stores in town and city centres. I ask this question because I have some of them in my constituency, and I suspect that other Members will have them in their constituencies as well. We are not being awkward; we are just looking for the necessary clarification. I am sure that the Minister will give us the reassurance we need in his response.
It is not often that all the political parties work together to initiate legislation on behalf of an industry. There seems to be a real willingness to make sure that it all happens—for my constituents in Strangford and for those involved in the freight trade business. There are many of them. I wish to represent them at the highest level in this House. I therefore seek reassurances from the Minister.
It is a pleasure to join the voices welcoming this Bill. I remember that when I was elected, the very first oral question I was selected to ask about was on this very topic. Sadly, it was too far down the Order Paper to get heard that day, but we are now three years on and we have finally tackled this problem. It is a big issue when haulage businesses small and large feel that there is unfair competition whereby overseas hauliers can use our roads without paying anything. As we heard earlier, they sometimes do not even buy fuel over here, while our hauliers pay a large amount of money. I think this Bill takes us towards the fairness whereby those who use our services and our roads should pay for them. The Government could do further work in different areas to get to the same place, but that is not for today’s debate.
My view is that vehicle excise duty has had its day, and that its long-established purpose is now usurped by different ways of enforcement. We could move to a stage where we do not need the duty and have a separate charge for all hauliers to use our roads. That would probably be a lot easier to administer than the scheme we are going to end up with, but I guess that the Minister will say that it is a Treasury decision so we cannot get into it today, but I think that is the direction in which we should travel.
I have never been a fan of hypothecation, but I see logic in using this revenue to address some of the issues affecting our main trunk roads. If someone happens to live near them and is blighted by the noise and the pollution, that presents a real problem, and there has been a lack of money to deal with it. I have two sites on the A38 in Amber Valley, which are down as priority sites for noise remediation work. Unfortunately, that means that it will not actually happen until something like 2020, so this money could be used to accelerate that sort of work. The Minister is more than welcome to come and hear how much noise is created. I think it would be a positive step to say, “It is lorries that cause that noise; here is some extra revenue taken from lorries; let us tackle that issue.” That could take away the blight from which nearby residents suffer.
Overall, I give this measure a warm welcome. It is long overdue. I look forward to April 2014 when we will start to see it in place. I wish the Minister all the best for getting in place everything that he needs to progress the Bill.
With the leave of the House, I would like to make a few concluding remarks and to respond to some of the points made in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) made the case, as did several other Members, about the size of the fee charged. As I have explained earlier on Third Reading, on the Ways and Means motion and on Second Reading, we are limited to what level of fee we can charge. I am sure that we will, as with other aspects of the Bill, keep it under review. My hon. Friend went down the line of suggesting that sat-navs be used for HGVs, but I am going to leave that issue for another day.
I welcome the support of hon. Members across the House, and I particularly welcome the support of the Chairman of the Select Committee and the points she made about road safety. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) mentioned those reports, too, and I think road safety is one issue that has cross-party support, with all of us determined to continue the UK’s good record on road safety and never to be complacent about it. We all want to see it continually improving.
I remember that I was glad in Committee to satisfy some of the concerns of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) about some parts of his community. I also noted his plea for a higher charge.
I was not entirely surprised to hear the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) refer to the Tory Chancellor’s back pocket, as he had used the same phrase several times in Committee. Although he expressed sympathy for Kent, he will be unsurprised to learn that I have little. If it were to exchange its proportion of these sums for a hypothecated amount, it would be considerably less than the Chancellor made available for local road maintenance in the autumn statement, and continues to make available.
However, the hon. Gentleman was right in saying that I had promised to bear in mind the views of the BVRLA. I understand the concern that the organisation has expressed about size, but the analysis shows that the number of vehicles likely to be affected is relatively small. Even when the “urban artics” mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) are taken into account, it is clear that 98% of the fleet in the United Kingdom will be less than £50 worse off. In fact, very few people will be worse off as a result of the Bill.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) enjoyed the experience of serving on the Committee. I think that it was an enjoyable experience, although I am not sure that all Bill Committees are quite as enjoyable or, indeed, give Bills such a speedy passage. I am glad that my hon. Friend did not press the point that he raised on Second Reading about the Mottram-Tintwistle bypass. I know that the Highways Agency owes him a letter, and I have chased that up today. He will receive letters from both the agency and me, but no promise that the bypass will necessarily arrive.
My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) may not have been able to ask the oral question that he had tabled, but he certainly made his points eloquently this afternoon, and I thank him for his contribution.
The hon. Member for Strangford raised a couple of issues that we also considered in Committee. Our discussions about criss-crossing of the border continue, but I am convinced that we shall reach a satisfactory conclusion with the Government of southern Ireland. As for the small “urban artics”, the hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that although some are in lighter weight categories, they often have fewer axles and are therefore disproportionately damaging to the network.
Vehicles with reduced pollution certificates pay lower rates of VED. Because some are paying the minimum levels set by the Commission, we cannot reduce the levels further. Our solution is to change the nature of the benefit provided for vehicles holding RPCs. In future, such vehicles will receive a grant to the current value of the VED discount. I hope that that addresses the concerns expressed by the Freight Transport Association.
I thank all Members who have taken part in our informed, constructive debates, not just this afternoon but throughout the Bill’s earlier stages. I also reiterate my thanks to the Chairmen of the Committee and the Clerks who supported it. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse for acknowledging that the Bill deserved all-party support. His scrutiny was constructive and sensible, and I was delighted to have his support for the Bill. I wish it a speedy passage.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill read the Third time and passed.